HC Deb 23 November 1932 vol 272 cc73-211


Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [22nd 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. Roy Bird.] Question again proposed.

2.51 p.m.


I was very glad yesterday to be confronted with the indisputable evidences of the Prime Minister's physical vigour. I have been away from the House for some time, and one read statements in the newspapers which gave me an altogether false impression, and I was very happy yesterday to have my anxieties removed. When I heard the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister—these two veteran Socialists—going at each other hammer and tongs across the Table, with many thumps of the Box and much vociferation, I felt that I really could begin my speech by offering the Prime Minister, with all the feelings of one fractious invalid for another, my most sincere congratulations. I am very glad to do it, because I am afraid that they are very nearly the only congratulations that I shall offer him in the speech which I am going to make to the House.

It is about a year now since I stood here and welcomed the National Government on their assumption of their great responsibilities. It is not quite the same Government to-day. Two out of the three official parties and organisations in the country are tirelessly working against it, and, on the other hand, of course, the natural elements of Conservative strength and tradition are not developing the same degree of partisanship on its behalf as is usual in party Government. Still, there they are. Then I see behind me my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), who last summer would have rebuked me so sternly and majestically for any criticism of the National Government at a time of such great emergency, but who has now betaken himself to a sniper's post. I do not know how much assistance I shall be able to give to the Government, but there may be occasions when I shall be very ready to stand between them and the advice which he may tender to them.

We have had a year of conferences. There have been quite a number when one comes to think of them: the Lausanne Conference, the Danubian States Conference—dead almost as soon as it was born—the first Geneva Conference, the Ottawa Conference, the third Round Table Conference on India, and now Geneva again. Very little success, I think, has attended these conferences, except, of course, Ottawa. There may be a good many people who do not think much of Ottawa now, but perhaps their children may think more of it, and their grandchildren more still. That, at least, is our hope, and it is in that hope that this great act of faith and Imperial consolidation has been performed. But, with regard to the other conferences, I am bound to say that they all seem to me to fall under the criticism of trying to pay off realities with words.

There was one conference of which I had great hopes. All my life I have been a political opponent of the Prime Minister; it is one of my most consistent themes; but, at any rate. I think he will admit that I offered him good and loyal counsel when I urged in June that a World Conference should be called upon the money problem. I was very glad to see that the terms of the invitation sent by His Majesty's Government to the United States were in accordance with the suggestion which I ventured to make, namely, that war debts and tariffs should be excluded from, and that silver should be included in, the agenda. Of course, nothing would be excluded from the minds of those who were present at such a conference, but it appeared to me to be essential, if a close understanding were to be established between Great Britain and the United States upon this great undertaking, that the invitation should be couched in that way. I am sure that the best method of advancing this conference will be for the United States and Great Britain, as far as possible, to reach some informal understanding be- forehand on a general basis. The moment they have done that you may be sure that the nations of the Continent will be most eager not to be absent from a conclave so solemn and so august.

But what has happened to the World Conference? I must say I thought the announcement by the Prime Minister yesterday was very disconcerting. He told us a little while ago that he hoped it might meet before Christmas. Now it is clear that it cannot meet till mid-April. What has happened? Obviously, the right hon. Gentleman must have been completely out of touch with what was going on and with what the experts were doing. It is no good putting all the blame upon the experts. They may have mishandled the position but they only mishandled it because they have lacked that continuous supervision and that close touch that they require from their political chief. I really think this is a very serious and unfortunate development. It is too bad that they cannot meet till April. It is lamentable. Indeed, I go so far as to say that it is discreditable to the executive machine. It appears to indicate a lack of thoroughness and efficiency in the day-to-day conduct of business and in the following up of decisions where taken which, if extended over the whole field of Government, would be an explanation of many of the troubles from which we suffer.

I would urge the House not on any account to under-rate the paramount importance of this World Conference. During the year that the Government have held office the four main evils which afflict this country, and afflict the whole world as well, have all got worse. Unemployment has got worse. Taxation has got much worse. The obstructions to world trade have got worse and the price of gold mounts ever higher and higher in relation to the commodities it presumes to measure. The peoples of the world make a very simple request of their rulers. They say, "Give us a fair, stable standard of value by which we may measure the products of one country against another, of one class against another, of one trade against another, by which we may measure the services of the past against those of the present and of the future," and they say, "Give us a standard which will not. make us worse off the harder and the better we work." I do not believe that problem is insoluble. Mankind has achieved far greater discoveries and far greater triumphs than this new discovery which is now required if all the other discoveries and triumphs are not to go for nothing. But if all that the rulers of the different countries—I am not making any complaint particularly of our rulers—can say is that the currency question is unworthy of attention, that there is nothing for us but to tighten our belts, that there is nothing for us but to restrict both consumption and production—that is what is going on now; consumption by economy, production by regulation—and that this must continue until more gold is dug up or disgorged from its hoards, if they proclaim that plenty is no longer a boon to mankind, if they deny to millions and to hundreds of millions access to the richer tables, which science can now spread for them, not only will the World Conference share the fate of many other conferences but we shall be overwhelmed by miseries quite as real and terrifying as those of actual war.

I will ask the House to come with me and look at the various booths which are open at our world's fair. There is the Indian Hound Table Conference. I am not going to say very much about that because I understand that it is purely consultative in its character. It has no power to commit Parliament. There is no danger of our being told at a later stage: "This is all settled with the Indian representatives. You cannot go back on it. You must take it or leave it." I hope the Government will correct me if I go beyond what I ought to say in the matter. There is no question of striking a bargain at this Conference, of equal parties negotiating a treaty or anything like that. How could there be when the Indian delegates have no representative capacity of any kind? They are merely cultivated and estimable gentlemen and ladies whom the Government have desired to talk things over with, and they obviously have no power to give effect to any agreement that might be entered into between the two parties at this Conference. If that is so, I see no reason to complain that the British representatives are so entirely one-sided in their views—that they represent only one single point of view. The executive Government have the right to consult anyone they like and to employ any agents, however well trained or docile they may be, to enter into discussions on their behalf. But where the importance of the matter will arise is when we come to the composition of the Joint Committee. That is far more important; indeed it is crucial. It would be most improper if that Committee were a packed body, if both sides in this controversy were not fairly represented there.

After all, there are two sides. There is the view of the late Socialist Government, which has been adopted by the present Government, that there should be immediately erected a federal executive responsible to an All-India Parliament elected upon a democratic, or at any rate an extensive franchise. Then there is the view of the majority of the Conservative party and the overwhelming majority of the people who know anything about India. Those are not my words. I would not presume to make such a declaration. They are the words of the "Morning Post." This second view is not, as it is represented to be, a reactionary or die-hard point of view. It is that it would be, on the whole, better if we rested for the present within the ambit—I do not adopt all its proposals—of our own statutory commission, the Simon Commission, which recommended specifically that a provincial experiment should precede, and not be simultaneous with, an attempt to set up an All-India Parliament. Those are the two views, and I hope and trust that His Majesty's Government—in fact, I have great confidence that they will—will deal fairly by both of them. There is not the slightest reason why the Government should not have an effective majority. Of course, they must have an effective majority on a commission of this kind, but I hope they are not going, after having an effective majority for themselves, then to give the necessary representation to the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Lansbury) and to my right hon. Friend behind (Sir H. Samuel) because that would obviously distort the whole character of the commission. It would not be a commission on which a fair representation of both points of view could take place. After all, for this purpose, the right hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend are more Governmental than the Government. In so far as they differ from the Government, it is only in their excessive ardour. They are the storm troops in this attack upon our Indian position. I am bound to say that I think their representation ought to be included in whatever is the adequate majority which the Government think necessary to maintain. I hope that we shall have some insurance on this point during the course of the Debate or at a very early date, or at any rate that we shall have no difficulty in pressing for very specific claims during the long and strenuous Session which the right hon. Gentleman so eagerly forecast for us yesterday.

I come now to another Conference which deals with affairs nearer home, although it is situated abroad. I come to the Lausanne Conference. Everything which has happened since July last shows how unwise it was to bring the Lausanne Conference to a conclusion, and to bring it to a conclusion in the way in which it was presented, and to trumpet its results all round the globe before the elections in the United States of America were over. If we look back on those July days, when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was welcomed in triumph on his return, with all the Cabinet and Under-Secretaries drawn up at the railway station like a row of Grenadiers of varying sizes, we can see how absurd were the claims which were then advanced that Lausanne had "saved Europe," and that a "new era" had opened for the world. There is quite a lot still to be done to save Europe, and for many people it is very much the same old era in the world.

There is no doubt whatever that a great deal of harm and injury was done to the prospect of the settlement of the War debts by what happened at Lausanne. I ventured to warn the Government before this happened, in May or June of last year, of the extreme un-wisdom of making the Debt Settlement an issue at the American elections. The consequences of Lausanne have been to force all the candidates for Congress and the Senate, on both sides of politics, to give specific pledges and to make definite declarations upon this subject. We all know what happens at elections of that kind. We had one in this country after the War when a Cabinet Minister distinguished himself by saying that he would "squeeze the Germans until the pips squeaked." You have to recognise the weaknesses in human nature, and those weaknesses are not confined to this side of the Atlantic Ocean. The question of the settlement of War Debts has been largely removed, I am afraid, from the high circle of American statesmen who understand all the world position and all the arguments in this matter, and is largely now in the hands of obdurate assemblies, newly elected, whose members have all given specific pledges to their constituents. [Interruption.] I deeply regret that the problem which His Majesty's Government have now to face is the most torturing one a British Cabinet could have to decide. I need scarcely say that I will not anticipate their decision in any way, but I will say that I believe we are all agreed on one thing. If we alone among all the combatants of the Great War, victor or vanquished, were to be condemned, after receiving nothing from our debtors, to pay, for nearly two generations, a vast overseas indemnity as a punishment for the exertions we made in the War, and as a penalty for our good faith afterwards, it would be a situation which would indeed be intolerable.

If the House will be persuaded by me they will now embark upon a short voyage over a placid lake and come from Lausanne to Geneva. A melancholy scene will await them there. They will walk through streets crowded by machine guns, whose pavements are newly stained with blood, I presume, because of the conscientious scruples which prevented the use of the perfectly harmless tear gas, and they will enter those halls of debate where, with a persistency which rivals in duration the besiegers of Troy, the nations are pursuing the question of Disarmament. It is a melancholy scene. I have a great deal of sympathy with, and respect for, the well-meaning, loyal hearted people who make up the League of Nations Union in this country, but what impresses me most about them is their long suffering and inexhaustible gullibility. Any scheme of any kind for, disarmament put forward by any country so long as it is surrounded by suitable phraseology is hailed by them, and the speeches are cheered, and those who speak gain the meed of their applause. Why do they not look down beneath the surface of European affairs to the iron realities which lie beneath? They would then see that France does not stand alone in Europe. France does not speak for herself alone when she speaks at Geneva. France is the head of a system of States, some large, others minor, States, including Belgium, Poland, Rumania, Czechoslovakia and Jugoslavia, comprising many millions of human beings, all of whom depend for their frontiers upon the existence of the present Peace Treaties, good or bad, all of whom are armed and organised to defend themselves and to defend their rights, and all of whom look to France and the French army in very much the same sort of way as small nations before the War used to look to the British Navy in the days of its power. That is one side of the picture.

On the other side there is Germany, the same mighty Germany, which so recently withstood almost the world in arms; Germany which resisted with such formidable capacity that it took between two and three Allied lives to take one German life in the four years of the Great War; Germany which has also allies, friends and associates in her train, and a powerful nation which considers its politics as associated to some extent with hers; Germany whose annual quota of youth reaching the military age, whose annual contingent is already nearly double—I am not sure that it is not actually double by this time, at any rate it soon will be—the youth of France; Germany where the Parliamentary system and the safeguards of the Parliamentary system which we used to be taught to rely upon in the Great War, are in abeyance. As to Germany's Parliamentary system, I do not know where it stands to-day, but certainly military men are in control of the essentials of the position.

Germany has paid since the War an indemnity—the figures are disputed—of about one thousand millions sterling, but she has borrowed in the same time about two thousand millions sterling with which to pay that indemnity and to equip her factories. Her territories have been evacuated long before the stipulated time—I rejoice in it—and now she has been by Lausanne freed virtually, for all in- tents and purposes, from all those reparations which had been claimed from her by the nations whose territories have been devastated in the War, or whose prosperity, like ours, has been gravely, I will not say fatally, undermined by the War. At the same time, her commercial debts may well prove ultimately to be irrecoverable. I am making no indictment of Germany. I have the greatest respect and admiration for the Germans and the greatest desire that we should live on terms of good feeling and fruitful relations with her, but we must look at the facts, and I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the House, that every concession which has been made—many concessions have been made and many more will be made and ought to be made—has been followed immediately by a fresh demand.

Now, the demand is that Germany should be allowed to rearm. Do not delude yourselves. Do not let His Majesty's Government believe, I am sure they do not believe, that all that Germany is asking for is equal status. I believe the refined term now is equal qualitative status, or, as an alternative, equal quantitative status by indefinitely deferred stages. That is not what Germany is seeking. All these bands of sturdy Teutonic youths, marching along the streets and roads of Germany, with the light in their eyes of desire to suffer for their Fatherland, are not looking for status. They are looking for weapons, and, when they have the weapons, believe me they will then ask for the return, the restoration of lost territories and lost colonies, and when that demand is made it cannot fail to shake and possibly shatter to their foundations every one of the countries I have mentioned, and some other countries I have not mentioned.

Besides Germany, there is Russia. Russia has made herself an Ishmael among the nations, but she is one of the most gigantic factors in the economy and in the diplomacy of the world. Russia, with her enormous armaments, her enormous, rapidly increasing armaments, with her tremendous development of poison gas, aeroplanes, tanks and every kind of forbidden fruit; Russia, with her limitless man power and her corrosive hatreds, weighs heavily upon a whole line of countries, some small, others con- siderable from the Baltic to the Black Sea, all situated adjacent to Russian territory. These countries have newly gained their independence. Their independence and nationhood are as sacred as anything that exists in Europe, but we must never forget that most of them have been carved, in whole or in part, out of Russia, out of the old Russian Empire, the Russian Empire of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great. In some cases these countries are already in deep anxiety about Germany.

I have marshalled the facts, but I am sure I have not overdrawn the picture. Can any reasonable, fair-minded peace-loving person wonder in the circumstances that there is fear in Europe, and, behind the fear, the precautions, perhaps in some cases exaggerated precautions, which fear excites. We in these islands with our heavy burdens and with our wide Imperial responsibilities ought to be very careful not to meddle improvidently or beyond our station, buyond our proportionate stake in this tremendous European structure. If we were to derange the existing foundations, of force though they may be, we might easily bring about the very catastrophe that most of all we desire to avert. What would happen to us then? No one can predict what would happen to us then. If we had the sense that by the part we had played in European affairs we had precipitated such a catastrophe, then I think our honour might be engaged in a way beyond the limitations which our treaties and agreements prescribe.

We must not forget, and Europe and the United States must not forget, that we have disarmed. Alone among the nations we have disarmed while others have re-armed, and we must not be expected to undertake a part larger than is in our capacity to make good. For that reason the Note which His Majesty's Government—the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, it is no use pretending that they are not all acting together in the matter—sent to Germany a couple of months ago was a wise, a prudent and a necessary document. I think they might have prepared the public here and in Germany a little more for the terms of that Note, but that it was absolutely necessary I have no doubt. If at that moment, when General Schleicher, one of the most powerful men in Germany, had openly said that in certain circumstances Germany would arm whatever the law and the League of Nations said, if at that moment when all parties in Germany were competing against each other as to which could put up the bravest front against the foreigner, when electioneering was going on with foreign politics—a dangerous and delicate proceeding—if at that moment when it seemed, perhaps unwarrantably, that Italy was lending encouragement to the German view, we had added our approbation, or allowed it to be assumed that we approved of such a claim made by General Schleicher, His Majesty's Government would have incurred the most hideous responsibilities without any effective means of discharging them. I thank His Majesty's Government for their Note, and I should regret if anything has been said since which in any way weakens its effect.

Coming more closely to Geneva, I would like to say that I have watched the Disarmament Conferences which have now been going on for many years, and I have formed certain opinions about them. Disarmament divides itself into disarmament by scale and disarmament by ratio. Disarmament by scale is not so important, but disarmament by ratio, the altering of the relative positions of nations, is the part of the problem which excites the most intense anxiety and even passion. I have formed the opinion that none of the nations concerned in the Disarmament Conferences except Great Britain has been prepared, willingly, to alter to its own disadvantage its ratio of armed strength. I agree that there have been diminutions of armaments, but they have largely been produced, as they always will be produced, by the pressure of economic and political factors in a time when there is peace, but I do not think that any of these nations have intended to do anything which would destroy the status quo, and certainly they are not willing to impair their factor of safety. I prefer the expression "factor of safety "to another expression which has been used—insurance. Insurance is not a good word, because it does nothing to ward off the danger and it only compensates, or attempts to compensate, after the evil or misfortune has occurred. "Factor of Safety" is the phrase which I prefer, and I do not think that any nation has been willing to impair that factor. Therefore, the first phase of the Disarmament Conferences, going on for four or five years, the Preparatory Commission and so on, consisted in every one of these nations trying to disarm some other nation and a whole array of ingenious technical schemes were put forward by military experts, each of which was perfectly fair and reasonable until it was examined by the other side. Only in one case has this first phase of altering the ratio produced a success. The United States wished to secure complete naval equality with Great Britain, and we complied with their request. For the rest, I do not think that anything so far has been achieved by the discussions.

But for some time the second phase has supervened at Geneva. The expectation of general disarmament upon a great scale has failed. The hope of one nation being able to disarm its rival has been frustrated by the very stout and stubborn resistance which every nation makes to that process. Now, I am afraid that a large part of the object of every country is to throw the blame for an impending failure upon some other country while willing, if possible, to win the Nobel peace prize for itself. Again, we have had an elaborate series of technical manoeuvres by military experts and by Governments and their advisers. I am not going to particularise, I am not going to put too sharp a point to my remarks, because I do not like to say anything which might be offensive to great nations who have put forward schemes for disarmament which place them in such a satisfactory light and cost them so very little in convenience. But every time one of these plans is launched the poor good people of the League of Nations Union clap their hands with joy, and every time they are disappointed, nay, I must say, deceived. But their hope is unfailing. The process is apparently endless, and so is the pathetic applause with which it is invariably greeted. I repeat, that we alone have been found willing to alter continually our ratio of armed strength to our disadvantage. We have done it on land, on sea, and in the air. Now His Majesty's Government have said that we have reached the limit, and I think we shall all agree with them in that statement.

I am sorry to be so pessimistic, but really it is absolutely a/ duty to put the rugged facts as 1 conceive them before the House. I have constantly predicted, as the Prime Minister and the Lord President of the Council will bear me out, publicly and privately, that these Disarmament Conferences will not succeed in removing the danger of war, and I doubt if they will succeed in substantially reducing the burden of armaments. Indeed, I have held the view that the holding of all these conferences over the last seven or eight or nine years—I think they have gone on as long as that—that this process has actually had the opposite effect, has actually prevented the burden from being lightened as it would have been if we had trusted to the normal and powerful workings of economic and financial pressure. But these conferences have focussed the attention of all nations, of the leading men in all nations, upon the competitive aspect of armaments, upon the technical questions connected with questions of national security which they never might have heard of in the ordinary course. I believe it is quite true to say that this process has intensified the suspicions and the anxieties of the nations, and has brought the possibilities of war nearer to us than they were some years ago. That, I fear, is proved—I do not see how it can be disputed, startling and unpleasant as the statement can be—by anyone who looks at the facts of the European situation to-day.

We have steadily marched backward since Locarno. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) is not in his place. Many criticisms have been applied to him. All I can say is that since the War, Locarno was the high-water mark of Europe. Look at what a distance we have fallen since then. Compare the stats of Europe on the morrow of Locarno with its condition to-day. Fears are greater, rivalries are sharper, military plans are more closely concerted, military organisations are more carefully and efficiently developed, Britain is weaker. And Britain's period of weakness is Europe's period of danger. The war mentality is springing up again in certain countries. All over Europe, except here, there is hardly a factory which is not prepared for its alternative war service; every detail worked out for its immediate transformation upon a signal. And all this has been taking place under governments whose statesmen and diplomatists have never ceased to utter the most noble sentiments of peace amid the cheers of the simple and the good.

These are not pleasant facts, but I believe they are facts. I am sure they must be painful to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Everyone knows how ardently he desires to work for peace, and everyone knows that there are no limits to his courage in such matters in such a calling. He said last month, to a deputation from the Churches which waited upon him: I hope you will go on pressing and pressing and pressing. Do help us to do the broad, just, fundamental, eternal thing. We all admire such sentiments. Dressed in noble, if somewhat flocculent eloquence, they obtain the allegiance of all. But let it be noticed that there is just the same vagueness in this sphere of disarmament as is complained of in many quarters upon the Government's utterances in regard to domestic matters, and particularly unemployment. More precision is required. The question is: Have we gone the right way to achieve the purpose in hand? For more than three years my right hon. Friend has been Prime Minister and largely Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. This is the sphere which he has chosen to make peculiarly his own. It must be very depressing for him to feel that the position has definitely got worse during his stewardship, and to see how much worse it has got since Locarno. Everyone would like to do the "broad, just, fundamental, eternal thing," whatever that may be, but they would like to do it in a way which made things better and did not make them worse. I will not predict that no agreement will be reached at Geneva. Indeed, I think it would be disastrous if no agreement were reached there. But I do not believe that what is going to be done at Geneva is going to mean any great or decisive change in the position of the world, is going to mean any real progress towards the consolidation of European and world peace. On the contrary, I think it may well be that matters may so be handled that the situation will be greatly exacerbated by the termination of the Disarmament Conference.

I remember that after the Great War had begun a complaint used to be made by very upright men and women: "Why were we not told about this before? Why did we not hear before about all that was going on?" Everyone can remember that. And when the War was over there was a strong feeling in favour of what is called open diplomacy. In my experience, which extends over nearly a quarter of a century, of interior knowledge of the working of Governments, I cannot recall any time when the gap between the kind of words which statesmen use and what is actually happening in many countries was so great as it is now. These habits of saying smooth things and uttering pious platitudes and sentiments—I do not wish to choose invidious words—to gain applause, without relation to the underlying facts, is more pronounced now than it has ever been in my experience. Just as the late Lord Birkenhead used to say about India—I think it the beginning and end of wisdom there—"Tell the truth to India," so I would now say, "tell the truth to the British people." They are a tough people, a robust people. They may be offended at the moment, but if you have told them exactly what is going on you have insured yourself against complaints and protests which are very unpleasant when they come home, on the morrow of some disillusion.

There is a certain amount of exaggerated talk of what is called French ascendancy. I do not like the present situation; no one does. But there is this to be said about French ascendancy, the French system in Europe, or whatever you like to call it—it gives stability. As Lord Grey has recently reminded us, France, though armed to the teeth, is pacifist to the core. All the countries associated with France have no wish to do anything except to maintain the status quo. They only wish to keep what they have got and no initiative in making trouble would come from them. At the present time, and until or unless Germany is re-armed, France and her associates are, I believe, quite capable of maintaining themselves and are in no immediate danger of being challenged by countries which are dissatisfied with the status quo. There is nothing wrong in that. I am not saying that it is the last word. It could be improved, but there is nothing wrong in it from a legal or public point of view. The case of France and her associates stands on exactly the same treaty foundations as the League of Nations itself. Not only have they ample military force, as I believe, at present, but they have the public law of Europe behind them until it is changed.

I think we ought to feel assurance that there is something equally solid that can replace the French system before we press them unduly to weaken the military factors of safety upon which their security depends. Europe might easily go further and fare worse. I am not saying that I am pleased with the situation as it is. I am pointing out how easily we might, in trying to improve it too rapidly or injudiciously, bring about what of all things in the world we wish to avoid. I say quite frankly, though I may shock the House, that I would rather see another 10 years or 20 years of one-sided armed peace than see a war between equally well-matched Powers or combinations of Powers—and that may be the choice.

That I am a realist in these matters I cannot deny, but I am not an alarmist. I do not believe in the imminence of war in Europe. I believe that with wisdom and with skill we may never see it in our time. To hold any other view would indeed be to despair. I put my confidence, first of all, upon the strength of the French army; secondly, upon the preoccupation of Russia in the Far East, on account of the enormous increase in the armaments of Japan, and, thirdly, I put it, in the general way, upon the loathing of war which prevails among the nationals of all the countries not dissatisfied with the late peace. I believe that we have a considerable breathing space in which to revive again those lights of good will and reconciliation in Europe, which shone, so brightly but so briefly, after Locarno. We will never do that merely by haggling about cannons, tanks, aeroplanes and submarines, or measuring swords with one another, among nations already eyeing each other with so much vigilance.

Are there no other paths by which we may recover the spirit of Locarno? I would follow any real path, not a sham or a blind alley, which led to lasting reconciliation between Germany and her neighbours. Here at this moment if the House will permit me I would venture to propound a general principle which I numbly submit to the Government and the House, and which I earnestly trust they will ponder. Here is my general principle. The removal of the just grievances of the vanquished ought to precede the disarmament of the victors. I hope I have made that quite clear. To bring about anything like equality of armaments, if it were in our power to do so, which it happily is not, while those grievances remain unredressed, would be almost to appoint the day for another European war—to fix it as if it were a prize fight. It would be far safer to reopen questions like those of the Dantzig Corridor, and Transylvania, with all their delicacy and difficulty, in cold blood and in a calm atmosphere and while the victor nations still have ample superiority, than to wait and drift on, inch by inch and stage by stage, until once again vast combinations, equally matched, confront each other face to face.

There is another reason why I commend this to the House. I do not intend to detain hon. Members much longer but I am anxious to complete my argument. It must be remembered that Great Britain will have more power and will run far less risk in pressing for the redress of grievances than in pressing for disarmament. We can only promote disarmament by giving further guarantees of aid. We can press for the redress of grievances by merely threatening, if our counsels are not attended to, to withdraw ourselves at the proper time from our present close entanglement in European affairs. The first road of pressing for disarmament and offering more aid only leads us deeper and deeper into the European situation. The second either removes the cause of danger or leads us out of the danger zone.

I must illustrate this point a little more. Just look at where our present policy is leading us. Look at the situation into which we are apparently marching blindly and with a sort of helpless chorus of approval. We say to France and to Poland "Why do you not disarm and set an example, and respond to our gesture, and so on?" They reply, "Will you help us to defend ourselves supposing that you are wrong in your view of what our factor of safety ought to be?" Nobody keeps armaments going for fun. They keep them going for fear, not for fun. "We would gladly reduce," they say, "provided we get you in line with us for certain. If you will take some of our burden off our shoulders there will be no hesitation on our part in transferring that burden." And what they say to us, they say still more to the United States—or if they do not say it, they think it. But surely this is very dangerous ground for us. We are to persuade our friends to weaken themselves as much as possible and then we are to make it up to them by our own exertions and at our own expense.

It is as if one said—and I hope the Prime Minister has never said it and never will say it—"I will go tiger-hunting with you, my friend, on the one condition, that you leave your rifle at home." That is not the kind of excursion on which our old men ought to send our young men. We have, of course, serious obligations, which we have no intention of discarding, under Locarno. But under Locarno we remain the sole and free judge of the occasion, the sole and free judge of the interpretation put upon these obligations. Without our own vote on the Council of the League of Nations, which must be unanimous, we cannot be involved in war. But see now what the French propose in this latest scheme. They propose, quite logically and naturally, in responding to the pressure of Britain and the United States on disarmament, that the decision of the Council should be by a majority. That would mean that our fate would be decided over our head. We might find ourselves pledged in honour and in law to enter a war against our will, and against our better judgment, in order to preserve those very injustices and grievances which sunder Europe to-day, which are the cause of present armaments and which, if not arrested, will cause another war.

All I can say is that I am sure the Government will take no steps in that direction. It would be madness. These are not the days when you can order the British nation or the British Empire about as if it were a pawn on the chessboard of Europe. You cannot do it. Of course, if the United States were willing to come into the European scene as a prime factor, if they were willing to guarantee to those countries who take their advice that they would not suffer for it, then an incomparably wider and happier prospect would open to the whole world. If they were willing not only to sign but to ratify treaties of that kind, it would be an enormous advantage. I say that it is quite safe for the British Empire to go as far in any guarantee in Europe as the United States is willing to go, and hardly any difficulty in the world could not be solved by faithful co-operation of the English-speaking peoples. But that is not going to happen to-morrow. It is not in our power to anticipate our destiny. Meanwhile, we ought not to take any further or closer engagements in Europe beyond those which the United States may be found willing to take.

I hope that the League of Nations is not going to be asked now to do the impossible. Those who believe, as I do sincerely, that the League of Nations, is a priceless instrument of international comity, which may play as great a part as the most daring, hopeful founders ever forecast for it, should be especially careful not to put upon the League strains which in its present stage it is utterly incapable of bearing. I deprecate altogether the kind of talk that, unless the League can force a general disarmament, unless it can compel powerful nations in remote regions to comply with its decisions, it is dead—away with it. All that is as foolish as it is to grudge the small sums necessary to keep this precious international machinery in being. He is a bad friend to the League of Nations who would set it tasks beyond its compass.

There is only one thing more to say before I sit down, and it is suggested to me by the speech which my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council delivered last week. I did not hear it, but from all accounts it was one which profoundly impressed the House, and revealed the latent and often carefully concealed powers which reside in my right hon. Friend. But that speech, while it deeply impressed the House I have no doubt—and I have read it with great attention—led to no practical conclusion. It created anxiety, and it created also perplexity. There was a sense of, what shall I say, fatalism, and even perhaps helplessness about it, and I take this opportunity of saying that, as far as this island is concerned, the responsibility of Ministers to guarantee the safety of the country from day to day, and from hour to hour, is direct and inalienable. It has always been so, and I am sure they will not differ from their predecessors in accepting that responsibility. Their duty is not only to try, within the restricted limits which, I fear, are all that are open to them, to prevent war, but to make sure that we ourselves are not involved in one, and, above all, to make sure that if war should break out among other Powers, our country and the King's Dominions can be effectively defended, and will be able to preserve, if they desire to do so, that strong and unassailable neutrality from which we must never be drawn except by the heart and conscience of the nation.

4.8 p.m.


The speech to which we have just listened from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) seemed to me to cast a doubt upon the integrity and sincerity of the Ministers not only of this Government but of the different countries on the Continent of Europe who are taking part in the Disarmament Conference. He has laid down a formula which, in his opinion at least, ought to be accepted, but I can remember in this House when the right hon. Gentleman was among that crowd of Ministers who were demanding, in the language that he used in reference to a colleague of his at that time, that they must squeeze Germany until they made the pips squeak. I can remember in 1918, when the right hon. Gentleman was standing for Dundee, that he was asked the question if he were in favour of making Germany pay for the War, and he said, "Yes, pay to the last penny."


I have an extraordinarily good record on that point. I stated £2,000,000,000. Well, that was the figure fixed by the Young Plan 12 years afterwards, and I never swerved from it.


I must take exception to the right hon. Gentleman's correction, and I wish to correct him. The figure to which he is referring was with regard to the tonnage that had been sunk—2,000,000. I answered a question about the same figure the following evening when fighting that election, but I took an entirely different attitude and outlook from the right hon. Gentleman. He stated then that he was in favour of making Germany pay for the War. He stated that they had sunk 2,000,000 tons of British shipping, and that he was in favour of making Germany replace every ton of British shipping that had been sunk. I can remember also when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) returned from the Peace Conference when this House stood and cheered him. I can remember the speech he delivered shortly afterwards, in which he stated the purpose of the conquerors with regard to the German Kaiser, and his war advisers, and he promised this House, with the right hon. Gentleman sitting beside him, that he would have the trial of the Kaiser held in London. That was 14 years ago. Now the right hon. Gentleman comes to this House and tries to tell us that if they had accepted his advice, what a wonderful country this would have been. He spoke of Russia. He spoke of the wonderful war material that had been collected, and of the menace it would be if a conflict arose in the Far East. Does he not remember his own responsibility in the arming of Russia? Does he not remember that he, as Secretary of State for War at that time, handed over £100,000,000 of British money and war material to the White Russians in order to prosecute a war against the Republic which shortly before had been inaugurated? Does the right hon. Gentleman remember that?


indicated assent.


Then how dare the right hon. Gentleman come here to-day, 14 years later, and warn this country against the likelihood of a war in the Far East because of the wonderful war equipment of the Russian Republic? When one listens to the right hon. Gentleman in the speeches which he delivers in this House from time to time, one wonders if he has any memory. One wonders if he only lives from day to day, if the things which he said yesterday are completely forgotten, and the things which he said a year ago were, in his opinion, never said at all.

Duchess of ATH0LL

Does the hon. Gentleman not realise how very much Russia has added to her armaments under the Five-Year Plan? The situation is quite different from that of a few years ago.


It is true that it is quite different, because the Noble Lady evidently does not understand it She does not get Russian news first-hand, but gets it from White Russian translations. Meanwhile, I am dealing with the right hon. Gentleman, who has been the individual who has tried to lead the House up the garden in following his ideas. I can remember also what happened with regard to France and Italy, which countries should know the ability of this country to be generous. The right hon. Gentleman sat as a Cabinet Minister in the Government which excused France from paying us £400,000,000 out of a total debt of £600,000,000 I should like the right hon. Gentleman's attention. I am replying to him, and, no matter how humble may be the speaker who is replying to an ex-Cabinet Minister, he should receive the courtesy of attention while the reply is being made.


I have been attending most carefully to the hon. Gentleman, but I have never known the custom of the House interpreted in such a way that a Member cannot turn aside for one moment to address a colleague on the bench beside him.


It is not for one moment, but several moments, and it has happened several times. I want to draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that this country, through his action as Chancellor of the Exchequer, wiped out £400,000,000 of a French debt to us of £600,000,000 and that he also wiped out £524,000,000 of a total debt from Italy of £610,000,000, and agreed to accept only £86,000,000 of that total debt. He has been most generous with this country's money.


How much did I let off Russia?


I am afraid you did not let anything off Russia. Russia, seeing how generous you were to France and Italy, anticipated your generosity. The right hon. Gentleman is now stating in this House what we stated at the Inter- national Socialist Conference prior to the Great War, and what I stated at this Box in 1919, when I said that if and when a Labour Government came into power in this country, we would revise every one of the treaties that had been passed that year. Now the right hon. Gentleman is beginning to realise that the working man who was speaking from this Box at that time was anticipating his own desires and intentions by several years. He has been compelled by the events of the last few years to come round to the attitude that I and the party to which I belong took at that time, and I submit that it is trespassing upon the intelligence of this House, and is the height of effrontery, for an ex-Cabinet Minister who more than any other has been more responsible for landing this country into the mess in which it finds itself to-day, to come here and ask us to listen to his advice when his advice and his conduct of the affairs of the nation in the past have been largely responsible for the hideous and terrible condition not only of this country, but of the whole of Europe as well. I submit, therefore, that the next time the right hon. Gentleman addresses the House he should consider his own past and approach the House with sufficient humility to let them understand that he has a changed outlook entirely and that he is not blowing hot and cold upon peace and war as he has done today.

With regard to the Government's programme for the coming Session, as stated in the King's Speech, it is amazing to find in that Speech so little that really matters to the people of this country. The very first business that is to be taken is the London Transport Bill. One would have thought the large amount of unemployment and distress in the country would have made the Government realise that something other than a Transport Bill should be among the first Measures to be considered by this House. The Transport Bill, a mere reference to an Unemployment Bill, some talk of what is to be done with regard to foreign affairs—these things comprise the whole of the King's Speech, and, as was stated yesterday by a colleague on this side of the House, it is one of the vaguest of King's Speeches that has ever been addressed to this House.

The Government have now been a National Government some 13 months, and what has been their record during that period? They have extracted £10,000,000 from the unemployed by the operation of the means test; they have reduced benefits by £12,500,000; they have increased contributions from those who are in employment by £5,000,000; they have reduced the pay and pensions of soldiers, sailors, and airmen by £3,600,000; they have reduced teachers' salaries by £6,000,000 and general education by another £4,500,000; they have reduced the National Health Insurance grants by £850,000; they have reduced disablement benefit to unmarried women from 7s. 6d. to 6s. and to married women from 7s. to 5s.; they have reduced sickness benefit to married women from 12s. to 10s.; they have abandoned schemes amounting to £75,000,000 which were for the purpose of putting unemployed into work rather than hanging about in the manner referred to by the Prime Minister yesterday; they have cut down municipal housing schemes and scrapped proposals for land reclamation, smallholdings, rural housing, and slum clearance; they have refused to operate the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Act of 1931; and they have abandoned the Land Taxes and scrapped the valuation machinery. That is their record, though it is not complete, because it could be extended by the inclusion of a number of other things of a like character, and with that record they ask the people of this country to pin their faith in and base their hopes upon them.

We have had the Liberals retreating from the National Government. They have refused to countenance any longer co-operation inside the Government, and they have retired from participation in its affairs. They still support the Government in the Lobbies on occasion, but they told us when they resigned from the Government that they could not continue in it any longer because of tariffs. Their souls were shocked at the idea of imposing tariffs upon the people of this country, and their Free Trade principles would not allow them to continue longer in the Government. It was too much for their consciences. Their political consciences were severely troubled, and so they had to leave the Government, but their consciences were not troubled when the Government, of which they then formed part, were cutting down unemployment benefit, were reducing National Health Insurance benefit, and were setting up Poor Law machinery for the administration of the means test. What an elastic conscience is the Liberal conscience of to-day, shocked at the idea of imposing tariffs, but able to carry on in a Government that was starving the people of this country and breaking up families in the working-class areas because of the means test.

I want to ask Liberals in this House, who seem to treat this as a joke, why this country, which could afford to be so generous towards France and Italy as to wipe out hundreds of millions of pounds which they owed us, should find it necessary to be so harsh towards our own kith and kin. Many an unemployed ex-service man who is to-day drawing a disability pension and has been placed upon transitional payment has had a proportion of his disability pension taken away from him before he received any unemployment benefit under the means test. We could afford to be generous to France and Italy, but not apparently to our own soldiers disabled in the War. Why is it that this country should continue to rob the various funds that have been set up for specific purposes by this House 1 I ask that question deliberately and definitely. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) is not in the House at the moment, because here is another of the little matters of which he was guilty when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1925. I will quote a statement made by Viscount Snowden in 1929 with reference to the right hon. Gentleman, who was later a supporter of the Noble Lord: He robbed the Unemployment Fund of a revenue of £10,000,000 a year. If the revenue had been maintained at the figure at which it was in 1925, instead of there being a debt of nearly £40,000,000 to-day, there would not have been one penny of debt."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th December, 1929; col. 2212, Vol. 233.] That means that if that sum had been permitted to accumulate at the rate at which it was accumulating in 1925, mounting up by £10,000,000 a year, there would have been £60,000,000 in the fund in 1931, and the £115,000,000 which the Labour party borrowed, which, gave rise to the accusation that they landed the country into financial difficulties, would have been reduced by £60,000,000. The unemployed and the general public of this country are suffering to-day from the gross incompetence of the so-called statesmen during the past 13 or 14 years. They have robbed funds that were set up for specific purposes, so that they could make a particular item in the balance-sheet square. They have imposed taxation for one purpose and used the money for something else. If the Government desired to be perfectly fair and honest with the people, they would go to the country and ask them to ratify all the Measures which they have put through during the past year, and to agree to the Measures which they propose to put through during the coming year. I am certain that the results would be much different from the results of 12 months ago. There would not be the great majority behind the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council that he has to-day, and there would be a much bigger representation in the House of the actual mind of the people and a clearer expression of what the people really think.

I want to ask the Leader of the House if there is any likelihood of any of the suggestions in the report of the Committee on Finance and Industry being taken up and put into operation by the Government. I notice from the King's Speech that it is the intention of the Government to accept at once the report of the Royal Commission on Unemployment Insurance. [Interruption.] I may be mistaken, but it is well that we should put our assumptions to the Government, and, if we are wrong, that we should be told so. Only in that way can we draw from the Government some of their intentions. There has been presented to the House the report of the Royal Commission on Unemployment Insurance, and, following upon that, is an intimation in the King's Speech that it is the intention of the Government to bring in a Bill to deal with the unemployed. We surely cannot be blamed for associating the effect with a cause and for believing that the Bill will be shaped somewhat on the lines of the report of the Royal Commission. I do not know whether the Government intend to accept the majority or the minority recommendations. That, of course, will be understood by us when we see the Bill. Of one thing I am certain; the answer from the Government will be that the best thing we can do is to wait and see.

I would like to know whether there will be any Bill, or a series of Bills, brought in to carry out the pertinent recommendations of the Committee on Finance and Industry. Surely if the Government can be so swift in their decision to bring in a Bill framed on some of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Unemployment Insurance, it is not too much for us to ask them to bring in a Bill to put into operation some of the recommendations of the Committee on Finance and Industry. I understood from the Prime Minister's speech yesterday and from the King's Speech that the' Government are gravely concerned about the large number of people who are unemployed. They want to do something for those who have never been employed and to give them training. They want to see trade revived. I suggest to the Government that if they are anxious to do anything for the unemployed, anything to absorb those who cannot find employment, one of the first things which they might attempt is to bring in a Bill to shorten the working day. I will quote figures which I quoted a year ago at this Box when I put a question to the President of the Board of Trade. I am still waiting for an answer, and I hope that it will be forthcoming to-night. The figures have reference to shipbuilding. In 1923, 408,000 tons of shipping were built, and the number of workers in the shipyards producing that tonnage was 156,000. In 1929, the tonnage was 931,000, and the number of men employed, 157,000. In 1930, the tonnage was 879,000, and the number of men, 141,000.

I want to draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the significant fact revealed by these figures that in 1923 the average output of shipping per man was 2j tons. In 1929, the average was 5J tons, and in 1930 it was over 6 tons. There was thus a jump in eight years in the average productivity per man in the shipbuilding yards from 2j tons to over 6 tons. That is a net increase of 3| tons per man, or more than double the output of each man in 1923. Why is that? It is due to the reorganisation in the shipyards, to new methods of production, and to new types of machinery. I want to ask the Members of the Government, who have been so keen on tariffs and on telling the people about the prosperity that tariffs will bring and the increased amount of work they will provide, what hope can be held out to the workers in the shipbuilding industry where the productivity per man has increased to such a degree that in 1930 one man can do practically the work performed by two men eight years ago? Unemployment has gone up in the shipyards, and there will be no hope for them, even with their peak output, except by putting into operation a method of reduction of hours. Lord Leverhulme made a statement based upon his experience at the Ministry of Munitions during the War. He said: We can get into a working day of six hours all the work we are capable of when that work is monotonous, tending machinery and general work in a factory. To get the work condensed into six hours would enable us to produce not only everything we require, but to produce it without fatigue. What are the intentions of the Government with regard to the working day? Since they came into office, one of the things which they have done, which I did not mention in the record which I gave to the House earlier in my speech, is to reverse the seven-hour day laid down for the miners. They also turned down the recognition of the Washington Eight Hours Convention. In all matters affecting the rentier and capitalist class, however, the Government have taken measures through tariffs and taxation to make things easier and better for them. So far as conditions applicable to the working classes are concerned, the Government have gone about it to make matters harder, to make conditions worse, to make their lot in every way less endurable than it was prior to the present Government taking office. What do the Government intend doing in that respect? It is not merely a question of finding work for the individual. The finding of work for the individual may mean only a few individuals going back to work in their trade, because the figures I have just given regarding increased productivity in the shipbuilding trade can, with variation, be applied to practically every other industry. Rationalisation, new types of machinery and new methods of production have made it possible for the workers to produce greater wealth with less effort than was possible a few years ago; yet, in spite of that, the Government have evidently not yet realised that the reduction of hours is the solution to the problem if we are to find employment for the unemployed workers.

I would ask the Leader of the House to consider the points that have been put, and I hope that whoever is to reply to the Government will make a clear and definite statement of their intentions. It is not sufficient for them to say that they are going to open training centres for those young men and young women who have not yet seen the inside of a factory. For years there has been a large and ever growing number of young persons leaving school for whom no place can be found in industry, and appeals have been made to different Governments in the past as to the steps they would take to see that these young persons were absorbed into industry. There is the same problem in the case of the unemployed, for we have no work for close upon 3,000,000 people. There is a superabundance of wealth and yet people are starving. Evidently this country is not wealthy enough to feed them, it can give them only the meagre subsistence afforded by unemployment insurance benefits and transitional payment.

I hope that before many months are over the people will realise how hopeless is the outlook for them from any measures the Government have adumbrated in the King's Speech. I hope they will realise that, so far as they are concerned, it is not a question as between tariffs and Free Trade, because in neither will they find salvation. We have had 80 years of Free Trade and before that there had been 200 or 300 years of Protection, and under both systems we have had poverty and starvation and workers unemployed. More and more the people are beginning to turn to the view which we have been advocating for years. They are coming to understand what we mean when we preach to them the doctrine of Socialism. Sooner or later, probably sooner, than Members who support the present Government expect, and sooner also than some of them wish, the people will realise that it is only by voting for the programme of Socialism and sending Socialists to this House in as overwhelming numbers as they have sent the supporters of the present National Government, that there will be any hope for them and for the country, or any hope for the world.

4.50 p.m.


I do not agrees with very much of what has been said by the last speaker. Personally, I have every confidence both in the good intentions and the ability of the present Government, and I believe that future years will prove that during the past Session the foundation of a new economic life for this country has been well and truly laid. For that particular reason, I feel distinctly ungenerous in mentioning yet another burden that will be laid upon the shoulders of the Government, for I rise to call attention, as briefly as possible, to a very striking omission from the Gracious Speech. I refer to the omission of any mention of the coal mining industry. I do so with diffidence, because I can scarcely believe the Government are not well aware of the critical situation that may ensue shortly, and I cannot bring myself to believe that they have no plans to cope with it. I do so with the more diffidence, also, because the last thing I wish is to make more embarrassing an already difficult situation, or to be accused of tending to manufacture a crisis when none exists except in my own ignorant and disordered imagination. But, speaking not only as a mining Member, but also as a member of the genera] public, I must call the attention of the Government and of the House to I was going to say the folly of imagining that this Session can pass without well-considered legislation for the coal industry being placed 'before the House. The purpose of my speech is to beg the Government to make some announcement which will secure some measure of stability in that industry, because I believe that, in common with all other critical aspects of the world to-day, the great thing which is needed is certainty. What I ask from the Government is not so much a particular decision; I am not concerned so much with the decision they take as with the fact that a decision should be taken. The criticism I have to make of the Government is this: either they have not got plans laid to meet the situation that may arise on 7th July next, or else, having such plans, they do not realise the harm which is being done through the absence of a declaration of their policy, or how it is playing into the hands of the extremists both among the owners and the men. There is no need, I think, for me to go over the recent history of the mining industry. It is common knowledge that this industry, like all the other primary industries throughout the world, is suffering from the threat of over-production.

Last June the House passed the Coal Mines Act, 1932, one of the main provisions of which was to continue for a further period of five years Part I of the Coal Mines Act, 1930. That Act, by a regulation of production and prices, attempted—attempted, I say—to secure a fair return for both capital and labour. The first thing to remember is that no Government in this country, so far, has been concerned with the internal organisation of industry. It is only concerned with the reactions and the repercussions which trouble in any industry may have upon the rest of the country, and Part I of the Act of 1930, although it was a direct interference with the internal management of the industry, was only intended as a stop-gap compromise until the industry reorganised itself. In other words, the reorganisation of the industry is in the hands of the industry. That this is the policy of the Government is proved by the words of the late Secretary for Mines on the Third Reading of the Coal Mines Act last year. He said: All I can say of Part I is that we have, by the passing of this Bill‥‥given to the industry what they have asked in the sense of giving them five years for the working of Part I. These are the important words: On the implied condition that they will use that time to set their house in order. We cannot check the evasions, but they can. Further on, he said: We hope to receive their report, That is, the Report of the Mining Association, with but very little delay, probably in the next few weeks or month or two, and then there will be the consultations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd June, 1932; cols. 1468-9, Vol. 266.] That was on June 2nd. I think it is universally admitted that continued evasions have made of Part I a travesty of an Act of Parliament. I am not attempting to blame anybody, or to point out who is the villain of the piece. I believe that here, as always, the villain of the piece is to be found in human nature and circumstances, and I think it is hopeless, especially in the coal industry, to try to fix the blame on somebody, to go back into the past and conduct a species of search for the villain. Part I, when passed, is no business or concern of His Majesty's Government as such, except in so far as the failure of the mining industry to return to capital reasonable profits or, indeed, any profits at all makes the maintenance of the present level of wages impossible. That the coal industry is losing heavily is proved by the quarterly summary of the coal mining industry published by the Mines Department. In the June quarter Scotland lost as much as 9½d. per ton and Northumberland 7½d., and the average loss all over the country was nearly 2d., and that is not including matters like debenture interest, the expenses of keeping idle pits free from water, or bank charges. I think I am right in saying that to-day the economic position of the industry is infinitely worse, thanks to the fact that evasions of the minimum prices fixed under Part I have inevitably—I am not blaming everybody—spread like a rapid contagion in a crowded city.

This is the crisis before the country—that in July next the "gentlemen's agreement" not to reduce wages comes to an end, and at the moment the industry is making heavy losses, and unless something is done by somebody it will be impossible, with the best good will in the world on the part of the owners, to maintain the present level of wages. As to the present level of wages I would remind the House that the cost of living to-day is about 43 per cent, above pre-War, and in one of the economically worst-off mining districts, that of Northumberland, the level of wages is only 24 above pre-War. Further, the miner is not like the railway-man or the worker in an ordinary factory. He has no guaranteed week, and unless the pit in which he is employed stops for three days in the week he does not receive the dole. A very large colliery undertaking in my own constituency was this summer idle for over 50 days out of 90 working days. When I say the level of real wages is much below pre-War, or only just what it was before the War, I want hon. Members to remember that the miner is a day-to-day worker, almost literally.

It is my submission that the failure of the Government to declare a policy—though I have every confidence that there are adequate reasons for it, and it is those reasons that I wish to elicit—has put the Government, the owners and the men in a false position. The Government are waiting for the owners to produce Amendments to Part I, and the owners have given months of time, trouble and energy to trying to come to an agreement. I think it was unfair of the Government ever to expect the owners to come to an agreement. It was not realised that the mining industry is one composed of different and often mutually competitive parts, and that the diversity of interests between the different districts is such as effectually to prevent any real degree of unanimity being arrived at regarding reorganisation. Reorganisation must come from above. The Government are the only body capable of conducting negotiations with sufficient power behind them to enforce a decision. The men have tried district by district, to stave off the inevitable attack on wages, by entering into negotiations with the owners for a national wages agreement. The Government made a declaration of policy on the 25th October, when the present Secretary for Mines said: It is the desire of the Government that national conciliation machinery should be set up, by agreement between parties, for the discussion of all matters of national interest to the coalmining industry, not excluding questions relating to wages and conditions of employment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th October, 1932; col. 786, Vol. 269.] On the 8th November the Miners' Federation met the Secretary for Mines, and in effect asked him to put this declaration of policy into practice. The lack of decision of the Government forced the Secretary for Mines to say that he was unable to ask the Mining Association to enter into negotiations touching wages and hours nationally, but that he would be very pleased to write and ask them to enter into negotiations on other matters. I ask hon. Members, what other matters are there respecting the industry nationally? The Government have been put into an utterly false position.

The owners are forced into breaking the law. They are as honourable a set of men as; any, and it does not give them any pleasure to break the law. Although it seems an unusual thing to say about business men, breaking the law makes them absolutely miserable. The present situation is ruining the morale of the industry. The parties in it can never come to a decision among themselves. The men find themselves ignored by both owners and the Government—I mean the constitutionally elected leaders of the men's unions. One very serious aspect of this failure of the Government to declare a policy is that it is playing into the hands of the extremist section of the men. I think that there is a real possibility that the extremist element may take control of the mining industry. It is an element which does not believe in combined negotiation or in keeping to agreements. I do not wish to be an alarmist and I do not prophesy trouble, but I prophesy a situation which, if improperly handled, will result in trouble.

I do not ask to be told the Government's policy, but I beg the Government to make an announcement that they will not be content with another eleventh-hour promise or so-called decision, and that they are determined that the industry shall be so reorganised as to enable the present wages rate to be maintained. I have every confidence in the good intentions of the owners, and I know that the men are well led. I know that the Government are full of good intentions. I suppose that what I am doing is to blame the present political system. The man at the helm is so occupied in putting the vessel head on to every approaching wave, that he has no time to look at the breakers which may be farther away. Every Government in Europe is being forced into the position of an extemporised midwife as every crisis arises. I beg the Government to give this crisis a little pre-natal care.

5.5 p.m.


I hope that the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. G. Nicholson) will pardon me if I do not attempt to follow him in dealing with the very important issue which he has raised. It is clear that he has done well in drawing the attention of the Government to the grave troubles that may so easily arise in the mining industry, and in asking them to come to a definite policy in as early a time as possible.

I should like to turn back to the first two paragraphs of the Gracious Speech which deal with the World Economic Conference, and with the conference on Disarmament, subjects which, from their position in the Speech and from the language employed about them, are evidently not considered as the least important of the subjects which are covered by the King's Speech. In the first paragraph, the Speech says, rather vaguely, I admit, that it is the earnest hope of the Government— that the conference will be able to reach agreement on the measures required to deal with the causes which have brought about the present economic and financial difficulties of the world. There is at any rate one cause which, though contributory, cannot very well be dealt with at the conference itself, and which ought to be dealt with before the conference can meet. That is the question of our American Debt. There is no question which at this moment commands greater interest from the public and in regard to which there is a greater measure of uncertainty as to what we are going to do. There is one thing which we shall not do, and that is to repudiate our obligation. Repudiation is a double-edged weapon. It is not for us to reject Mr. de Valera's arguments, and to follow his example.

What my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) said is perfectly true, that if we are forced to pay, while others will not pay their debts to us, our position will be intolerable, in a moral, though not in a physical, sense. I do not believe that that burden, tremendous though it would be, would be actually beyond our capacity, if we have the courage to take the steps, unpleasant and difficult as they may be, that will be required. Let me remind the House that the problem lies not in the amount of the debt but in its transfer in dollars or gold on the other side of the Atlantic. The debt in itself, heavy though it is, is only a fraction of our domestic debt. The annual payments are only some 7 per cent, or 8 per cent, of our Budget. The difficulty lies in find- ing dollars and gold on the other side of the Atlantic. It is a difficulty caused in part by the policy of the United States. If the United States had been willing to accept our goods readily and freely, or had been willing to pursue a policy of consistent investment in this country it would have been far easier to have secured dollars or gold.

On the other hand, the difficulty has also been created by our own policy of the continuance of free imports, in a world where that policy only served to accentuate the dislocation of the world balance of trade. Ever since the War, we have bought from the United States on the average at least £150,000,000 a year more than we have sold them. That has constituted a debt, an immensely burdensome debt, and it is because the £50,000,000 or so of our War obligation has to be paid on top of that first £150,000,000, that it is so difficult. Further, our returning to the Gold Standard, and playing our part in a course which has appreciated the value of gold and depreciated the value of goods and services, has doubled the burden of the debt that was contracted some 10 years ago. To-day, happily, we are free both of Free Trade and of the Gold Standard. We can rectify our trade balance with the United States as we choose by imposing the necessary restrictions. We can pay in gold which is no longer wanted for the purposes of reserve to our currency, and which is kept in the vaults of the Bank of England more as a tribute to an old superstition.

In this situation, if I were challenged by an American to say how I would pay the Debt to him, I would say: "Here is £100,000,000 straight away, three years' payments. We do not want the gold in the Bank of England. We are not going to return to the Gold Standard for a long time. You can have it. We also give you notice of the termination of our commercial treaty, so that at the end of 12 months we shall be free to impose a special tariff upon the United States. The duties shall be paid in gold or in dollars, and, if American goods still come in under that tariff, that will provide the gold and dollars towards the Debt. If the goods do not come in, our trade balance will be so rectified that the task of finding the necessary money will be an infinitely easier one than at the present time. If that, and kindred measures, are unpalatable to the United States, I shall be prepared to consider any proposals from your side for the modification of the present arrangement." I put the thing somewhat crudely, in order to emphasise my point, which is that we are not in a position of complete helplessness, and that, while it is the duty of the Government to try to secure modification of an arrangement which I believe to be not only unfair to ourselves but prejudicial to the general economic situation, there is no reason for us to go in an unduly suppliant attitude or to accept any terms or conditions that may be suggested.

This question is, however, only one of the contributory causes to the world position, contributory with many other causes to the main cause, namely, the dislocation of the world's monetary system, which has brought about the disastrous fall in wholesale prices. It is now 18 months since the Macmillan Committee pointed out, with immense authority and with irrefutable argument, that the depression of the world and the condition of unemployment and of industrial stagnation were due in the main to causes which, whether in their origin monetary or not, were focussed through monetary action and led to the abstraction of a greater part of the world's gold supply from active service. That situation has destroyed the incentive to profitable production throughout the world, and has particularly hit the primary producer.

It is vital for us to know what is the Government's policy in this matter. They have had 18 months, and yet we have not had more than a very general and uncertain indication of their policy. We are told in the Gracious Speech that the whole situation of agriculture cannot be remedied until world wholesale prices have risen to a more normal level. But that statement is not accompanied by any declaration as to what the policy of the Government is with regard to restoration to a normal level. And yet everything depends on it—not only agriculture, but the whole of the arrangements that were made at Ottawa. Every arrangement made at Ottawa is in the air so long as the question of price level is not settled. If the currencies of the Empire cannot be maintained in stable relationship with each other, then clearly the whole effect of any particular preference may be wiped out at any moment by this or that Government going 10 per cent, or 20 per cent, off its present relationship to sterling. The Governments of the Empire presented that point with all earnestness at Ottawa. Mr. Bruce pointed out that the very first dry season would mean a curtailment of his country's imports and another depreciation of the pound. I see that at this moment the Government of New Zealand is on the very verge of being forced to abandon its present relationship to sterling. Again, as long as the Dominions and India have no purchasing power under present price conditions, so long will their preferences to us be little more than a gesture. As Sir Henry Strakosch pointed out at the Conference, at present prices no amount of preference would lead to the Dominions or India buying United Kingdom goods beyond an indispensable minimum. The Macmillan Committee laid down the objective of our policy in this respect. They said: Our objective should be, so far as it lies within the power of this country to influence the international price level, first of all to raise prices a long way above the present level, and then to maintain them at the level thus reached, with such stability as can be maintained. We recommend that this objective be accepted as the guiding aim of the monetary policy of this country. It would be interesting to know whether that is the guiding aim of the policy of this country, and what steps the Government mean to take to attain that objective, both here and at the World Conference.

So far as the latter is concerned, one thing is absolutely certain, and that is that there is no chance of establishing a single international monetary standard, gold or otherwise, in the immediate future. A single world standard would no doubt be an ideal solution if you could make certain that that standard was going to work, and was going to maintain such reasonable stability of prices as to prevent a recurrence of the disaster which has befallen the world in the last few years. Gold has entirely failed to fulfil that function, and I see no evidence in any direction that, under present world conditions, it can fulfil that function again. There is a world-wide depression, but it is world-wide, not because depressions must be world-wide, but because the world has been unwise enough to tie itself to a single worldwide standard which has proved unwork- able. I believe it would be far better for the nations to follow the advice which I gather was given them by the President of the Board of Trade the other night, and to allow the exchanges to find their natural level instead of trying to correct them by all these devices of additional tariffs and quotas and exchange restrictions, which are not the causes of, the present world trouble, but are symptoms of the desperate anxiety of Governments to remain tied to a standard which has long ago lost any real value.

I believe that any talk of restoring a world gold standard is pure waste of breath. I am certain that the industries of this country would never tolerate any such suggestion if it were made by the Government at the World Conference. The best that we can do is to encourage the nations, the United States particularly, by parallel action with ourselves, to do what they can to restore a normal price level. The best encouragement that we can give in that direction is by our own action, by giving a lead, and not by waiting, as seemed to be suggested at Ottawa, for a lead to be given to us by others. After all, we are in a much better position to give such a lead than most other nations. Once we are off the Gold Standard, we are in a position to have any price level that we like. I need not go into details, but it is perfectly possible for a Government which has a purely paper currency, such as we have, to fix that currency at such an amount and make such arrangements for its use in the credit system as either to raise or to lower the price level. The trouble is that, although we have had that power for over a year—and we have at any rate been saved from following the further disastrous decline in world prices—we are still, apparently, frightened to use our power. Those who are responsible for the monetary affairs of this country are like prisoners whose chains have been knocked off, but who have not the courage to get up and walk out of an open door. I should like, in this connection, to put the matter, not on my own authority, but on the authority of a very well-informed article in the very conservative "Times." It said: A country not on the Gold Standard is able to reflate independently. If it proves impossible to persuade other countries to commit themselves to really effective measures, Great Britain can proceed with reflation on her own account. … There is no need to wait for the conference before taking action. The attempt to persuade others will be immensely facilitated if we are already showing that we have the courage of our own convictions. Our international prestige is now high; it is a unique opportunity for this country to set an example and resume international leadership. The opportunity may not recur. The report of the Macmillan Committee was made 18 months ago. Matters were so urgent then that it ought to have been acted upon at once; and so prophetic was its forecast of the disasters which have since followed as to give it to-day infinitely more authority than it had then. I earnestly beg the Government to come now to a definite decision to frame a sterling policy suited to the needs of this country and of the British Empire, and of such other countries as are willing to attach themselves to sterling, and to make a success of that policy without delay. Then, when they go to the World Conference, they will be able to point to its success and endeavour to enlist the support of others in accepting the principle of our policy in measures which, under their varying conditions, they can adopt, and so pave the way to a situation in world trade which may perhaps subsequently lead to the possibility of the restoration of a single uniform standard. Let it be remembered, however, that stability of prices within an individual country is of far more importance than a rigid stability in all countries, however much this latter may interest bankers and traders.

There is one other point in connection with' the World Conference on which I should like to support the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) in appealing to the Government to give a definite lead. That is with regard to the most-favoured-nation Clause. The most-favoured-nation Clause in its present form may have been of some use to us when we had no tariff with which to bargain. But to-day it is an obstacle to any negotiations with foreign countries. We cannot make any special arrangement with countries that we wish to favour without having to give away far more than we get. And the same is true internationally; it has long been an obstacle to a mutual lowering of tariffs. I would add' that, apart from our own interest in the matter, the most- favoured-nation Clause to-day stands in the way of better mutual arrangements among other nations, such as the scheme for a mutual lowering of tariffs which has been recently advocated by Belgium and Holland. That scheme is definitely thwarted arid impeded by the most-favoured-nation Clause. I trust that we shall be broad-minded and generous enough not to insist upon the letter of our rights against any scheme that would make it more possible for the nations of Europe to bring down the innumerable and unnecessary barriers between them, and to do for Europe what we have attempted to do for ourselves at Ottawa. It would mean much, not only for economic regeneration in Europe, but also, I believe, for the restoration of political peace. I make bold to say that to get rid of the most-favoured-nation Clause—and no method would be easier than by a general resolution of the World Conference—would do far more for world peace than is ever likely to be done at the Disarmament Conference.

It is to that subject that I should like to turn next. In my belief the statement contained in the second paragraph of the King's Speech, to the effect that disarmament by itself will provide a foundation for lasting peace," is based upon a profound delusion. I believe that nothing has done more harm to the cause of peace since the Great War than the constant reiteration of the idea that armaments as such are the main causes of war, and that disarmament as such will bring about peace. Armaments are, of course, the instrument by which the disturber of peace will endeavour to achieve his purpose. But armaments are equally an instrument—and, indeed, the only instrument—by which those who wish to preserve peace can secure and preserve it. Armaments are the only weapon to-day, and have been throughout history, by which peace-loving civilisation can hold its own against the barbarian. Where would the peace of India be without the British Army? After all, this country enjoyed 300 years of profound peace and a higher degree of civilisation than it knew for more than 1,000 years afterwards, under the protection of the Roman legions and the Roman galleys. You have only to read the unhappy accounts of the British chroniclers from the time when the Roman legions and galleys were withdrawn to know what happens to disarmed civilisation in face of the cheerful, aggressive barbarian. Again, competition in armaments is not the main cause of war; it is a symptom of those strained political situations which may lead to war, but which the competition in armaments may often postpone.

I would ask the House to face this immensely serious question, and ask themselves whether they can think of a single war in the last 150 years that was brought about by competition in armaments. Take the Revolutionary War. Was it competition in armaments between France and the rest of Europe, or was it the terror lest revolution might spread throughout the world, that led the allied countries against the revolution 1 Since then wars have arisen, in Europe at any rate, almost entirely in order to satisfy the ideal of nationalism—to give to subject nationalities independence of the Governments which had hitherto ruled over them, or to unite the scattered fragments of a race into a single nation. Was the cause for which Byron died at Missolonghi one concerned with the competition of armaments? Was it to the cause of competition in armaments that Garibaldi, or Kossuth, or Pashitch or Venizelos gave their lives? Of course not. It was for an ideal, and, as long as men are prepared to fight for an ideal, so long is the status quo bound from time to time to be upset by force. I remember very well, over 20 years ago, listening to Mr. Tim Healy speaking from the opposite benches in this House and referring to Ireland as a nation. Someone on our side asked, "What is a nation?" And like a flash he replied, "What a man is prepared to die for." And, if you would die for a cause, you are not afraid of making others die for it too.

Take the other side of the argument. Has the absence of armaments prevented war? The longest, costliest and bloodiest war in the whole century between the Napoleonic wars and the Great War was the American Civil War, which arose between two groups of communities that were practically unarmed. It may be said that the competition in armaments just before the Great War was getting so burdensome that it may have played some part in precipitating the hasty decision of the Central Powers. That may be so; but it is equally true to say that the causes in Central Europe which brought about the Great War would have brought it about a generation earlier if it had not been for the predominant strength of the status quo Powers. Indeed, it was the weakness of Turkey, inviting attack by Italy and the Balkan States, that may be regarded as the real beginning of the Great War.

I have laid stress on this matter, not because J am opposed to disarmament—on the contrary, I would welcome any reasonable and practical plan for saving the burden and the possible suspicion connected with excessive armaments—but because I am convinced that disarmament, unless it is coupled closely with, and, indeed, made consequential upon, a settlement of political issues, may not only do nothing to secure peace, but may indeed do much to injure the cause of peace. I submit that the political issues must be dealt with first. These issues, I would add, are not susceptible of any cut-and-dried mathematical or arithmetical solution. These problems cannot be solved by 33 per cent, reductions all round. They are individual; they are local; they affect particular frontiers and particular groups of nations. The political and economic problem of Europe is one, and can only be settled if it is dealt with as one. The political and economic problem of the Far East is another, and can only be settled by itself, and I trust that we shall not listen to the mad militarists of Geneva who invite us to go and settle it for them. The problem of our own Empire is another, which will require more and more of our care and watchfulness. I believe that it prejudices any solution of these individual political issues to muddle them all up together and treat them as one problem under the label of disarmament.

The problem of Europe, as has already been pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping, is essentially just this: Whether the Versailles Settlement was a fair and possible one or not. If it was fair and possible, by far the best way of maintaining it till another generation became accustomed to it, is to do what my right hon. Friend suggested and see to it that the status quo Powers have a sufficient margin of strength to prevent any attempt to reverse that settlement. If it is not in every particular a fair and reasonable settlement, in Heaven's name let us devote ourselves, with all the patience and all the ability that we can, to finding a political solution which will automatically get rid of suspicion, fear and hatred. The trouble is that the Governments of the world have consistently shirked the real issues and have played about with the sham, issue of disarmament. It was so much easier with disarmament to say, "This is a matter for a Preparatory Commission, and then for another Preparatory Commission," in the hope that the thing might be postponed indefinitely. Unfortunately, these things cannot be postponed, and meanwhile the Governments of Europe—they are responsible, and our successive Governments have been equally responsible—have built up a Frankenstein's monster in the shape of a sincere, well-meaning, unintelligent public opinion, hypnotised by the continued identification of disarmament with peace and believing, in its genuine and admirable love of peace, that peace must somehow be secured by any measure of disarmament, the more sweeping the better, the more impracticable and the more foolish the better. The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so; and what will ye do in the end thereof? When I look at the various Conference proposals that have been brought forward and think of the gap, to which my right hon. Friend referred, between the realities of the situation, between what the Governments know to be their duty towards their own peoples, and the public professions of those Governments, I feel that the hopes that are founded on this Conference are destined to bitter disappointment, and the sooner the people of the country are warned of the true situation the better. All these things have naturally and inevitably their element of more or less unconscious hypocrisy. They all aim at a world disarmament consistent with maintaining the position of: each country. France is willing to adopt any scheme, however far-reaching, which puts irresistible power behind the status quo. I endorse, earnestly, my right hon. Friend's appeal that our Government, at any rate, should not commit itself to any engagement which means that we are in honour bound to intervene in every future European war. Italy wants a measure of disarmament that makes her equal to France. Germany wants equality, but only in the sense of being allowed to rearm. The United States is only too delighted to suggest big cuts which cause her no loss in prestige and power, but there again no cuts which interfere with the type or size of the battleships or cruisers that she likes to have. What of ourselves? I think we have been more sincere, but can we claim to be wholly free from the faults of others? I would ask anyone to talk about the abolition of submarines to a Frenchman and see the smile on that Frenchman's face. After all, here are we, the fifth air Power, suggesting that everyone else should come down to our level before we all diminish by 33 per cent. Italy, with an immense coast line, is the fifth naval Power. What should we say if Italy made the proposition that all navies were to be scaled down to the Italian level and then reduced by 33 per cent.?

These things do not arise from deliberate hypocrisy and dishonesty. The Governments have been forced, by the inexorable logic of the nonsense which they have talked and which they have asked and encouraged the people to believe, into a position from which they cannot honourably extricate themselves. I think the crowning instance of what is either dishonesty or dangerous absurdity is the proposition that this Government has made that, if an effective international control of civil aviation can be devised, all military and naval air forces should be abolished. I can only imagine one conceivable reason why most members of the present Cabinet have agreed to that proposal, and that is their profound conviction that no workable scheme for the control of civil aviation can be devised and that, therefore, the whole thing will only end in a gesture. I know very well that that proposal was commended to the House the other night in a remarkable speech by the Lord President of the Council. It was a very impressive speech, though to me a very disquieting one. It was a speech which dealt not so much with the problem of preserving peace as with the problem of mitigating the horrors of war. It was a speech which seemed to me to be obsessed with an altogether excessive fear of what the developments of science mean to the world. I think any reflection on the past shows that, with every advance of science, its dangers have always found their antidote. I entirely refuse to believe that the whole of civilisation is going to be wrecked merely because mankind has learned to fly. That sort of thing was said when gunpowder was invented. Speeches of the same sort might have been delivered 100 years ago about the danger of allowing steamships to come into existence which could go anywhere, in spite of wind and tide, and bombard an undefended country.

It is not necessary to go into technical matters but I believe that the problem of aerial defence can be solved. It may have to be met by differentiation on a larger scale than we have hitherto conceived of between combatant and non-combatant zones. It may become possible by infra-red rays to discover an aeroplane, in the distance, just as we learned during the Great War to discover a submarine beneath the waters. War is terrible, always, but the war of to-day is infinitely more merciful than the war of 100 or 1,000 years ago. More than that, I believe it is a profound delusion to think that the offensive character of war is going to make it more disastrous to civilisation. It is the long-drawn-out wars that ruin civilisation—the Peloponnesian War in ancient Greece; the 30 Years' War in Germany. If only the tank and aeroplane had reached their present stage of development in 1914, how much bloodshed, misery and economic disaster would have been spared to the world! I can think of no instrument that science has devised whose development might do more for the cause of peace and an understanding between nations than this new instrument of the conquest of the air. Nothing can do more to create the true international spirit, to enable peoples to mingle with each other and to get to understand each other.

I am afraid I have said some things that may be unpalatable to a good many Members of the House. I have said them because I feel profoundly that they are true and that they ought to be said. We have had far too much vague sentimentalism and far too much enunciation, of pious platitudes which have somehow had to be turned into half-baked plans. That has, I think, distracted our minds from the realities, not only of the dangers ever-present still in the world, but also from the realities of the true hope of a better world organisation. I believe that we can play a part as an outside friendly Power, exercising that "mediating and moderating influence" of which Canning boasted, to bring about a better solution of the European problem. With the example of our own effort at uniting the Empire before us we can go to the European nations and encourage them to get together among themselves, to bring into being something in the nature of a common European patriotism, in the light of which some of these intractable problems may have a chance of finding a peaceful solution. But in Heaven's name let us get away from the unreality, the make-believe and the deluding of the public which have been all too frequent in all nations, but, above all, in this nation in recent years.

5.48 p.m.


The House has listened with great interest to the speeches of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery); and, although we may not agree with many of their conclusions, yet we are compelled to admire the virtuosity of their achievements. It is said that in ancient Spain the rhythm of the "Cachu-cha," the national dance, was so compelling, that even the most venerable Cardinals, when they heard its strain, cast aside their robes and abandoned themselves to the lilt of the castenets. I think that the oratory of my two right hon. Friends has had this intoxicating effect upon the House.

But let us examine their proposals in detail, especially those on the subject of disarmament. What hope has my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping to offer to what he has called "the long-suffering and inexhaustible gullibility" of the supporters of the League of Nations? And in facing this question of disarmament, let us likewise sum up what he most graphically and aptly calls the "iron realities" of the case. Up to the present moment three different disarma- ment formulas have been laid before the League of Nations. The first, the French formula, aims at security through security pacts. These pacts conform to the long-established tradition of the Quai d'Orsai, which has always sought security for France in military alliances. The second formula, sponsored by our own country, aims at security through the reduction and limitation of armaments. And, thirdly, the German formula, aims at disarmament through equality of status. I think that the plan enunciated on behalf of this country by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs strikes a very happy and workable compromise between these three plans, and gives a sound basis for a final agreement.

The French plan has two excellent points. The first provides machinery for arbitration in the event of a conflict, and the second makes armies essentially non-aggressive by confining them to short-term service forces. But I cannot help feeling that the idea of an international police force is not workable. The French theorists say: "We must arm reason; we must fortify justice." Like the early church, the League of Nations must find another Charlemagne to back up, with material power, the new civilisation it is attempting to create.

But imagine for the sake of illustration, that some great armed conflict has just broken out. What unforeseen difficulties would arise if some great Power, like America or Japan, refused to send contingents to this international force? Secondly, imagine a war in Central Europe, and the concentration point of the international force to be Berlin. What organisation, what vast supplies of railway material and ammunition, would be required to meet the circumstances. Conceive, likewise, that the plan of campaign must, in necessity, have been worked out beforehand. The general staff of the defaulting nations would certainly know every detail of their plans, every move, in advance. Take another imaginary instance, this time of naval warfare. If Germany were the defaulting nation, the warships of the various countries of the world composing the international naval force would hastily assemble at Scapa Flow, or some such other point. Its moves known beforehand, might not disaster overtake this international fleet, in much the same way as the long awaited Russian Fleet was destroyed in the battle of the Tsushima in the Russian-Japanese War?

The French plan leaves out one important point which I conceive our own plan justifiably stresses. It does not talk of the so-called aggressive and non-aggressive weapons. May I make a humble submission in this respect? I know the great technical experience of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping, so I speak with caution, but I think that the lessons of recent wars have proved that the defensive, armed with the machine gun is so strong that the offensive, if it is robbed, or voluntarily limits itself, of these so-called aggressive weapons, has no chance of success. That is why various proposals have aimed at reducing the calibre of guns to below either 150 or 105 millimetres, and the size of the tank to under 20 tons.

As early as 1897, General Schlieffen, who succeeded Von Moltke as the German Generalissimo, decided to go through Belgium, in the event of war with France, to avoid the great barrier of frontier forts which the French had erected since the disaster of 1870. Likewise, the Japanese at Mukden, in the Russo-Japanese War, only snatched victory by outflanking the Russian front of 50 miles, having repeatedly failed to break through the Russian trench system. In the last war, it was the forts of Liege which held up the first attack of the Germans. Only after the enemy had brought up their great 11-inch siege howitzers, whose ponderous shells crushed the turrets of concrete and steel designed by the Belgian engineer Brialmont, did they succeed in breaking through. Later, it was the machine guns which brought the armies to a standstill on the battlefields of France. And, as my right hon. Friend has so vividly described in the History of the War, the succeeded phases of the campaign were marked by attacks preceded by furious artillery bombardments. Strategists realised the truth of the axiom "Artillery conquers and infantry occupies."

The battle of the Somme was preceded by a devastating bombardment of eight days and the expenditure of 2,000,000 shells. At Messines the firing of 11 mines, a bombardment of 19 days, and the expenditure of 4,283,000 shells, only snatched an area from the enemy of roughly 44 square miles. If these were the strategical lessons of the last war, might we not definitely hope that if the weapons which alone proved capable of breaking through the defensive systems, such as the heavy gun, the tank over 20 tons and poison gas, were either eliminated or abolished by international convention, we might keep a nation secure within its own frontiers; to use a simile, like a crab within its own shell. It was the British insistence on the abolishing of these weapons which inclines me to hope that, by compromising with the French idea of a non-aggressive army, we can carry the idea one stage further, with non-aggressive weapons of war.

In naval matters our Government are wisely pressing for the reduction in the size and tonnage of battleships, and for the abolition of the submarine. It is said that America, advised by her strategists, is the chief opponent of the abolition of the battleship. But technical experts have aptly pointed out that the German battleship "Deutschland," of only 10,000 tons, has twice as much cruising capacity as the great warship, the "Maryland," of 32,000 tons, belonging to the United States Navy. If we limit the calibre of guns and the size of battleships as our Government are trying to do, we may—if such were possible—limit our Navy to a mere police force. My right hon. Friend knows that the great attack on the Dardanelles, supported by the whole strength of their allied battle fleet, could not make great headway against the Turkish fortifications. I might suggest that if the large, expensive and vulnerable battleship was limited in size, it might serve the cause of peace just as it would aid international budgets.

The Lord President of the Council made, an extremely interesting speech the other day on the terrible prospect of a future enemy air attack. We know that experts tell us that enemy bombing planes, cruising at some 180 miles an hour, could be over London within half-an-hour of crossing the coast line at Dover or Sheerness; that the interceptor planes, only some 60 miles an hour faster could not reach the required destination even in time to intercept these raiders flying at a height of 20,000 feet. But the experience at the recent French air manoeuvres at Esquerdes, in the Pas de Calais, shows that a smoke screen could be rapidly placed over an area of one square mile-in four minutes by only 14 smoke-producing machines, thus entirely obliterating their objectives from the raiders.

I feel that some support must be given to the Government in the lead which they "are taking on the question of disarmament. I feel that it is a question which has its roots deeply embedded in the heart of the people, and that any government must really go forward. What are the alternatives? Are we to sit still and face another terrible war as in 1914, or shall we go forward with some new idea which will revolutionise our conception of international relations? My right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook said that weapons never caused any war. I maintain that they are the intoxicants which ambitious nations use to fight their way. It was one of my most vivid memories as a very young boy in Berlin to see the war fever created by the constant parade of weapons, the processions of Uhlans, and the military inside the city, and to see the war fever stimulated at the government of the Junkers. I admit that we cannot all at once abolish weapons. We cannot have a "Volstead Act" for disarmament of entire abolition, but a compromise might be reached by which we could limit the terrible destructive forces, so that our children who come after us may look forward to a securer and happier world.

6.0 p.m.


I come from a part of the country, the north east coast, which has suffered for 10 weary; years all the tortures of the damned. The northern group of Members of Parliament therefore looked very carefully at the-King's Speech to see what can be done by His Majesty's Government to assuage the conditions from which we are suffering in the north. "I can assure His Majesty's Government that we praise them for what has passed in; the last 12 months and we trust them for what is to come. We have no hesitation in giving them 6ur most implicit confidence, but we hope that at the earliest possible moment there will fee; measures introduced to bring amelioration of the dreadful conditions caused by the unemployment which has raged in our midst for so many years. Having said that on behalf of the northern group of Members of Parliament, I would claim the attention of the House to my observations in respect of the unemployed in my constituency.

A great cartoonist, Max Beerbohm, has depicted the Sign of the Age in the form of an interrogation mark, and I suggest that that can be said to be the true sign of this New Age. There is nothing taken for granted in any sphere of thought or action to-day. Certainly, the queues at the Employment Exchanges during the last 10 years have taken the form to me of a huge interrogation mark. Those queues have said to me: "Well, Magnay, you have been 30 years in politics. Thirty years ago you used to go, as a young Liberal, up and down the north country arguing for unemployment insurance, when it was not at all popular, when the percentage of unemployment was 2, and the average only 4 per cent. You call yourself something of a statesman, or at any rate, a politician." Then the interrogation mark of the queues that wind away round the Employment Exchanges says: "What are you going to do?" It seems to me that it was the Sphinx looking at us, with a stony unblinking stare, and saying: "Can you solve this riddle of unemployment? Solve it, or die." Unless we can solve it, and that right early, I consider that as an Empire we shall go the way of all past Empires, and civilisation as we have known it will cease to be.

I suggest that employment to us is a symptom of our disorderly way of conducting social affairs, and that that disorder is a consequence of lack of vision, lack of leadership, lack of statesmanship and lack of courage. There have been far too many Micawbers sitting on the Front Opposition Bench and on the Government Bench during the last 10 years, waiting for something to turn up. I suggest, with all respect, to past and present holders of office that they should cease to be optimists and pessimists and be stark realists. Unemployment, as I see it, is evidence of the topsy turveydom of this demented world. It is lopsided leisure which, like other results of the machine age, might be better distributed if we had any sense at all. That was one of the things that I argued for and preached about, up hill and down dale in the north country many years ago. That our people to have culture must have leisure, and that there should be fewer hours of work and more leisure in consequence, and therefore opportunities for better culture. The unemployment that we are suffering from to-day is just lopsided leisure which has not been properly distributed, like other benefits of the machine age.

I know that we can get no help from the financial experts. I have lost all patience with the financial experts. They are like doctors and chemists. They write their prescriptions in a dead language and an undecipherable scribble to mystify ordinary common folk. I, as a plain-thinking man and, I hope, as one who possesses a fair share of common sense, feel that the test which this Parliament must answer correctly is: "Who is to be master in this new age"? Anyone who thinks in pre-1914 terms is a Rip Van Winkle. He is sound asleep. The test of the new age is: "Who is to be master? The machine or the man"? As a liberal, I vote every time for the man, because man is an end in himself and not a means to an end. Everything in heavens above, or in the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth is for the service of man. Man is God's vice-regent, with powers of life and. death, and because man is an end in himself and not a means to an end, we have to address ourselves to the question, "Who is to be master, the machine or the man"?

The trouble with me is this, that if all the unemployed went back to work tomorrow and industry was going on at its fullest power, it would only mean flooding the world with more goods, which could not be bought and could not be used. There is any amount of goods today. What we need is an effective demand; that is, need, plus currency. Economists tell us that we are suffering from a condition of glut. This month the Government, and I voted for them, stopped meat supplies coming into England. Was that because my constituents, 14,000 of them on the dole, had enough meat to eat or had gone vegetarian? Nothing of the kind. They have not the wherewithal to buy the meat. [Interruption.] I voted for the main industry of this country, agriculture, to stand on its feet. At a recent harvest festival I sang with great gusto: All good things around us are sent from heaven above, Then thank the Lord, oh, thank the Lord for all His love. But the financial experts tell us we are wrong, and they are addressing the Almighty and asking him not to be so generous. It reminds me of an old story, which many hon. Members will remember, of the Scottish clergyman who was preaching in a time of drought. He prayed most fervently that the Lord would send the rain which was so much needed. While he was praying there came a thunder shower, whereupon the preacher exclaimed: "Now Lord, this is clean ridiculous." Economists are telling us that plenteous harvests are ridiculous. If man is to benefit from generous harvests and inventive genius in producing more cheaply he must have the money, the currency, to avail himself of those benefits.

Since 1921 the old order has been changing or, rather, cracking before our eyes, All classes have suffered. If we look at the record of bankruptcies and suicides we see that they have risen in an increasing ratio since 1921. There is hope in the fact that everyone is now prepared to consider any scheme which gives promise of betterment for the community, I suggest what the hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. Macmillan) has never ceased to tell us, with great advantage, that there must be a plan for world wide trade and for world finance. When the United States of America and France found in 1921 that they were in funds as creditor nations they—unused by training, technique and finesse—in the case of United States, and, in the case of France, by psychology and habit, were all unready to act in their new characters. The United States put her tariffs up to keep out goods, and, consequently, had to have gold. For a while, so long as she lent that money to Europe, no ill happened, but when she stopped lending; her export trade was cut off and she not only caused collapse of trade and unemployment within her own borders but she ruined the trade of Europe. The only way for trade to prosper here and in Europe is for America to mend her ways, and we hope that the recent elections in America will: mean better conditions for the whole world,

I am glad that the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. D. Mason) is present because I interrupted his speech last night and he told me in response to my interruption that the hoarding of gold did not matter to his argument. With all due respect to him, that was a silly answer. It reminded me of two teams of miners in the north of England who were playing football, when the ball burst. They said: "Never mind about the ball. Let us get on with the game." How on earth are we to play the game if we have not the means of playing the game? We must have the currency and, with all respect to my hon. Friend, it is just sheer nonsense to talk otherwise. We welcome the reference in the King's Speech to the World Economic Conference, and wish it God-speed. We also welcome the statement that all the methods of securing greater stability in the value of money through international co-operation will be explored. We were told the other day by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that we amateur economists are all so cock-sure. Greatly daring, I am going to suggest that the ordinary man in the street can see his way as well as the next one, and I say that we need sane reflation. We should try to persuade other nations to do likewise, but if they will not or dare not do so we should give effect to our declared policy of not returning to the Gold Standard unless and until there are adequate guarantees that it will be properly managed. The Government alone can give the necessary assurance to industry that reflation means controlled inflation to reverse the deflationary and ruinous policy of the last 10 years.

If hon. Members will look at my speech on the 10th June, on the Budget, they would notice the illustration which I used of the steam engine, which has been translated into newspapers on the Continent of Europe. I gave the illustration of the engine behind which I travelled down to King's Cross, and the working of the steam pressure gauge. That is what I mean by controlled inflation. The engineer watches the pressure gauge, he knows the load that he has to carry and he manages to get to his destination exactly on time, a thing which all the experts said', a hundred years ago, was impossible, until a plain man from the North, Geordie Stephenson, said that it could be done. He tried it out on his own colliery line, and what he did when he went to Manchester over the big Chat Moss, we can do if we have the heart and the guts to try.

It is not a new idea for the State to interfere in monetary matters. From time immemorial the State has determined the value of the coinage. The modern equivalent of coins is the monetary system as a whole. What we need to-day, first and foremost and all the time, is to create a standard of the value of money which our people can understand, and to be able to measure as easily as we measure a yard. They would then understand the true value of money, industry would know with some certainty what stability they could reckon upon and the result would be that we should get confidence and, in due course, prosperity.

6.15 p.m.


We have just listened to an interesting speech by the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay), and I wonder, holding the views he has expressed, why he is sitting on that side of the House supporting the present Government. I too think that all good things come from Heaven above, and I have been trying to see that some of them get into the homes of those poor people who are at present deprived of them. The Gracious Speech from the Throne which we are discussing is very vague and requires a great deal of understanding. The only speech we have had from the Government Front Bench is that of the Prime Minister's yesterday, which was also very vague and general in character, and no other Member of the Government has, so far, attempted to tell us what the Gracious Speech means. The Prime Minister chaffed my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) in having assisted in producing Speeches from the Throne equally as vague, but the Prime Minister did not take into account the circumstances under which a Labour Government had to prepare the Gracious Speech from the Throne as compared with the conditions which prevail at the present moment.

In 1924, and from 1929 up to last year, as the right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas) well knows, the Labour Government had to do quite a lot of flirting with hon. Members who sit below the Gangway, and also with the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), and when a flirtation is going on and is not likely to lead to a definite alliance, the parties have to be very vague and very general. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for the Dominions know very well that this was the cause of the vagueness of those Speeches from the Throne which were produced by a Labour Government. What a contrast with the conditions at the moment! There is no longer a minority Government but a Government with the largest majority that this country has seen for over 100 years. Not since 1832 has any Government had a majority approaching anything like that of the present Government but, notwithstanding their huge majority which will enable them to carry the most daring schemes through this Parliament if they had the will and the courage, they have produced one of the vaguest Speeches from the Throne to which this House has listened. And not only have they a majority in this House, but they have a House at the other end of the corridor which is quite prepared to carry out their proposals; proposals which an old trade union leader, I will not say a Socialist, cares to send along to them and ask for their approval.

We have had an interesting speech from the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). May I say on behalf of my colleagues how pleased we are that he is able to get back to his place in this assembly and show some of his old time vigour. His speech, and also that of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), dealt almost entirely with foreign affairs. I am not going to follow the speeches delivered by these two right hon. Gentlemen but I thank God that there are very few who share the opinions of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook with regard to the question of disarmament, and I hope that it will be a long time before there will be many people who will share the views he has expressed this afternoon. The right hon. Member for Epping referred to the Lausanne Conference and said that he thought the cheering of what was then regarded as a settlement was rather premature. That has manifested itself more during the last two or three weeks than at any time. I do not want to say a word which will interfere with the settlement of the American Debt question. We should welcome a settlement, but at the same time we think that Lausanne was the place where such a settlement should have been arrived at instead of giving away as much as we did then. It appears as though this is another case where America has had the best end of the stick.

There is a reference in the Gracious Speech to the conversion schemes and the need for the exercise of careful supervision over public expenditure. We extend to the Chancellor of the Exchequer all the credit to which he is entitled for carrying through the conversion schemes of the last two or three months. He has done a really wonderful piece of work, but, notwithstanding the success of these conversions, he will be the first to admit that the charges which still arise as a result of the War Debt, the interest on the War Debt and other costs, are responsible for the bigger portion of his Budget this year and will take the major portion of his Budget next year and succeeding years. These facts are forgotten sometimes when hon. Members are dealing with the question of economy. They think that all that is required is to cut down the amount of money spent on social services; that to make further inroads into the costs of those services is the only way in which we can economise and bring down the expenditure of the country. Let us assume that the costs of all the social services—education, unemployment, the State contribution to health and the Unemployment Insurance Acts, grants to local authorities, and pensions of all kinds—were wiped out and that this country went back to the point at which it stood 150 years ago, even then the Government would be faced with the task of finding money to meet an expenditure which would be two and a-half times more than the amount raised in the Budget in the year before the War; that is, to meet only the expenses arising out of the War. The interest on the War Debt, the repayment of the War Debt and pensions, which no one suggests should be reduced, the cost of the fighting services, these three items alone mean an expenditure two and a-half times as much as the total Budget of 1913–14.

I ask the House to face the position and to remember that when we are talking of economy we must keep in mind how the money is being spent, and that by making an inroad of a few hundreds of thousands here and there or a million pounds here and there we are not likely to make much impression on the amount of national expenditure during the year. It is just playing with the situation. The Minister of Labour about a week ago dealt with the amount of money which is being spent on unemployment insurance, the three party scheme; not the amount of money spent by the Government alone but the amount spent by the Government on behalf of the contributors to the unemployment insurance scheme. He said that between £600,000,000 and £650,000,000 has been spent and that the money owed to the Government was between £105,000,000 and £110,000,000. He also referred to the hundreds of millions of pounds which the Unemployment Grants Committee had approved for works, and to the expenditure on schemes sent in by local authorities for housing, roads and subsidies, amounting to about £700,000,000. The Minister of Labour also referred to the indebtedness of local authorities which has increased from £600,000,000 to £1,200,000,000, but he, and other speakers who dealt with the problem, did not refer to the cost of the interest on the War Debt during the last 10 years. Is it realised that from 1916 up to March of this year this nation has paid no less than £5,250,000,000 in interest on the War Debt and £630,000,000 in repayment of capital. When we talk of the money spent on the relief of unemployment let us keep in mind other costs which are out of proportion to the amount spent in alleviating unemployment.

The Prime Minister yesterday said that, this country is confronted with one of the greatest problems it has ever been called upon to solve. He was frank enough to admit that when the time comes, when industry reaches its normal production, there will still be the possibility that millions of men will not be re-absorbed, owing to the more scientific methods of production, and especially because of the application of the machine to production. That is going on in almost every industry in the country. One could take instance after instance, showing how the applica- tion of modern methods of production is displacing men on almost every hand. One of the most telling cases brought to my notice is the case of one of the largest electricity generating stations in South Wales, that of the South Wales Power Company. The managing director of that company told me a fortnight ago that in 1924 he required between 6 lbs. and 7 lbs. of coal to generate a unit of electricity, and that at that time he had 62 stokers employed on the old hand-fired boilers. He persuaded his directors to convert the boilers to machine-fired boilers. Almost at once he was able to dispense with the services of no fewer than 50 stokers, and to reduce the amount of coal consumed, per unit of electricity, from 6 or 7 lbs. to something like l½ lbs.

What can be said of that electricity station can be said of almost every other industry in the country. As a result of the application of the machine to production we find a glut of almost all the commodities required for the well-being of the human race. I have here a return showing the stocks of wheat in the world this year compared with the stocks in 1926. In 1926 there were 140,000,000 bushels of wheat in stock. In July of this year there were 440,000,000 bushels in stock. Take the case of sugar. In January, 1925, there were 2,900,000 tons, of sugar in stock, but in January of this year the amount was 8,600,000 tons. One could go through almost every commodity and find that the more scientific method of production is producing all these stocks of commodities, which are withheld from the people who require them.

I agree with the Prime Minister that when industry reaches its normal condition, this industrial nation, like every other industrial nation, will have to provide for a large number of people who will not be absorbed in industry. That is where we want the Government to have definite plans. I am not going to say that anything which will be suggested by this Government will meet all that we require. Our conception of what is required to put the world right is different from that of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead said that if it were a question of the machine or the man, he at all times would be on the side of the man. We say that unless the Government are going to control the trust, and control it very quickly, the trust will soon control the Government. The difference between us is that before we can bring back the advantages to the people, we will have to control the means of production, so that we can utilise the surplus to bring happiness and prosperity to the majority of the people. The worst thing in the race is to destroy hope. From what I can see in the Gracious Speech from the Throne there is very little hope or prospect in it of comfort for the very large number of people who are suffering now.

Take the position in my own district, or the position generally of the unemployed. Nearly 3,000,000 persons are registered as unemployed. Then there are the large numbers who have been struck off benefit, and those who are in receipt of public assistance relief. It can be said that there are 4,000,000 working days lost every day in the year as a result of unemployment. That is 24,000,000 working days a week. I am not going to calculate what that would be in a year, but at no time in the history of this country have there been so many people deprived of an opportunity which they ought to have, of providing the good things of life for themselves and their families. In considering the position of unemployment throughout the country one is very concerned. Living in London, or coming to London, one is inclined to think that, much as London is suffering, London has not jet faced up to the position as we who live in the distressed areas see it. Taking Great Britain as a whole we find that of the 12,360,000 persons who are insured, something like 26.9 per cent, of the men are unemployed, and 22 per cent, of all persons. Take London out of that total. It is true that 17 per cent, of male insured persons in London are unemployed. But compare London with Durham, where 46 per cent, of male insured persons are unemployed; or compare it with Seaham Harbour, the constituency represented by the Prime Minister, where no less than 46.8 per cent, of the males insured are unemployed.

In Wales 43 per cent, of the insured males are unemployed and have been unemployed for a considerable time, and unfortunately the county of Glamorgan is making a very much larger contribution to that dread total than some of the other counties. There are communities in South Wales—I have two in mind—where 96 per cent, of the male insured population are unemployed, where only four out of every 100 are working. Can I get the House to realise what conditions must be in districts like that? Yet the House is spending its time in discussing a Gracious Speech which brings no hope at all to the distressed areas of the country. The Speech promises us an Unemployment Insurance Bill. I know that the Minister of Labour will not commit himself to a statement that he is going to adopt or not adopt the majority report of the Boyal Commission. He cannot be expected to disclose the details of the coming legislation. But I do want to warn the right hon. Gentleman and the Government that there can be no further inroad into the starvation conditions under which the unemployed are existing to-day.

Is it realised that in some areas there are persons who have been unemployed for five, six, seven and eight years, and that during the whole of that period they have lived upon unemployment benefit? I know men in my own district who have lived for six or seven years under miserable conditions of that kind. Is it realised that it costs the nation nearly twice as much to keep a, criminal as it does to keep an unemployed man 1 If every unemployed man—I am not suggesting that he should do it—broke the law and was sentenced to a term of penal servitude, the State would willingly give twice as much to keep that man in detention as it is paying now to maintain him in unemployment. Those who are members of public assistance committees know that if those committees adopted in their institutions a dietary which would cost only 2s. a week for maintaining a child, the country would be in an uproar because of the meagreness of the amount allowed. I ask the Minister and the Government to take seriously into account the conditions under which the unemployed are living. I ask the Minister to convey to the Government what I believe to be the unanimous wish of the House, that no further inroad should be made into the already miserable conditions under which the unemployed live, but that there should be an increase in the amount of benefit that; is paid.

Like another hon. Member who has spoken, I am concerned that there is no reference in the Gracious Speech to the question of coal. There are few industries in this country in which there is as much unemployment as in the coal industry. I am not going to deal with controversial issues which must be raised next year unless the Government are going to take time by the forelock. I want to tell the Secretary for Mines how much we appreciate the fact that almost immediately after taking office he showed concern about the question of the export trade, and was successful in securing the services of some of our best known coal-owners to visit Scandinavia and see how far it was possible to develop the coal export trade in that area. There is a field for the extension of our export trade there. Before the War we supplied to the Scandinavian countries something like 90 per cent, of the coal that they consumed. At present we supply about 40 per cent. If we can only get back a fair share of that trade, realising at the same time what it is going to mean in international competition, realising that Poland and Germany will be very reluctant to give up any part of that market, it will bring some marked relief to the very depressed coal areas of this country.

I am a little concerned too about the very vague passage in the Prime Minister's speech of yesterday regarding hydrogenation. The right hon. Gentleman also made some reference to that subject in his speech during the unemployment Debate of a fortnight ago. I think it is time that the Government made up their minds regarding the question of the scientific treatment of coal. Scientists have proved conclusively that we can produce from coal, oil which can be consumed. The Admiralty have tried fuel oils derived from coal and have obtained results almost equal to those produced by oil from natural sources. The Air Ministry have conducted trials with petrol from coal with similar results. The War Office have also conducted trials with similar results. I ask the Secretary for Mines to pay special attention to this question. Let us see how far it is possible to make this nation self-supporting in these factors which are so necessary for power production. I am a great believer in the scientific utilisation of coal. I know it is going to cost money, but when we talk of hundreds and thouands of millions in the way that we have been used to talking of them since 1914, what is there in spending £10,000,000 or £15,000,000 or £20,000,000 if you like, on large scale experiments in oil extraction, whether by the process of hydrogenation or that of low temperature carbonisation? What I would say is: For Heaven's sake let us make a start.

Regarding other proposed Measures, it is surprising to find the support which we on this side are getting from certain newspapers in this country in the policy which we have advocated, not only as regards the control of industry, but also as regards the problem of unemployment. The "Evening News" is a paper which is not by any means distinguished for its association with the Labour party or the Socialist movement, and I was very interested to find in that paper last night the following passage: Unemployment is said to be one of the subjects with which the Government will concern itself during the coming Session. It must do more than just fuss with unemployment insurance. It has got to make up its mind whether unemployment is to be treated as an accident or as an integral part of the industrial scheme of things and whether it is better—or feasible—to employ all the workers for fewer hours, or some for longer hours and others not at all. I would like the Minister of Labour to take a note of that statement. Almost every country in Europe is prepared to consider the question of reducing hours with the exception of Great Britain. Definite proposals were laid before the Conference at Geneva a few months ago on the question of a reduction of hours, and I for one would like to see our Government taking the initiative in that direction. If the Prime Minister is sincere in what he said yesterday he must recognise that means will have to be found whereby numbers of those who cannot be absorbed under our present organisation, will get some other work. Then, if we are to have 2,000,000 or 3,000,000 unemployed why not allow us to select the persons who are to be unemployed? Hon. Members know from experience in their own divisions that large numbers of young men are unemployed at the present time while at the same time many old men are still engaged in industry. What an anomaly that men of 60, 65 or even 70 should go underground on every day when work is available, while their sons of 18 or 25 or 30 remain at home. It may be asked, why cannot there be an exchange? Simply because if the father gives up the work, there is no guarantee that the son can take his place.

We would readily agree to any scheme for the reduction of the pensionable age and for increasing the amount of pension to a point which would enable these old industrial workers to retire and to live in that degree of comfort to which they are entitled. The hundreds, of millions of pounds that have been and are being spent could be better spent on purposes of that kind than in the way it is being spent at present—necessary though that expenditure is. We go further and say that in cases where pensions would enable those receiving them to live in reasonable comfort, such pensions ought to be granted on the condition that the recipients would not compete with other people for jobs, which invariably has the effect of cutting down wages. I was astounded to hear that there is to be a change with regard to the custodianship of this House and that 50 men now in full-time employment are to be dispensed with because it is found that, by employing other persons who are in receipt of pensions, the work can be done much more cheaply. That kind of thing is going on in thousands of cases throughout the country. I think that this House ought to face this issue at such a time as the present, and that those persons who are in receipt of pensions sufficient to keep them in comfort should be obliged to comply with the condition that they will not compete in the labour market.

Agriculture is referred to in the Gracious Speech from the Throne. I should have thought that agricultural Members had already had sufficient to enable them to get along for a considerable time to come. If there is any industry which has been spoon-fed in this country during the last eight or 10 years it is agriculture. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] If there is any industry which has made no attempt to put its own house in order, notwithstanding all the concessions it has received from the State, it is agriculture. I hope that anything which is to be done for that industry will be conditional on the industry putting its own house in order without expecting the Government to come to its assistance on every possible occasion. We await with a great deal of interest the proposals of the Government in connection with agriculture. I hope that those proposals will take the form, not so much of spending money directly in assisting agriculture, as of replacing men on the land and developing our smallholdings. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs in his very able speech a fortnight ago mentioned that there were fewer failures among smallholders than among large farmers in this country. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we are the most backward nation in the world as regards the development of our soil. Let the Government make bold proposals. Let the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for the Dominions remember the proposals which were brought to this House when the Labour Government were in office. If those proposals were put into operation, something tangible would be done for agriculture.

I regret however that my colleagues and myself can see but little hope in the Gracious Speech from the Throne. We have been informed by the Prime Minister that this is to be a very strenuous Session. As far as we are concerned it is going to be strenuous Session, in that we shall resist strenuously any further inroads upon the standard of life of the people of this country. It is going to be strenuous because we shall have to resist the reactionary measures which will be forced on by this Government. We would have wished the Government to have come forward with bold schemes for meeting the national and the world situation and attempting to deal with those problems which to-day seem almost incapable of mastery. Had such bold schemes been mentioned in the Gracious Speech from the Throne, while, doubtless, we would have required the Government to go still further, yet such a Speech would have appealed to us more than the present Speech.

6.55 p.m.


The closing words of the speech to which we have just listened encourage me to ask the House to take note of two passages in the Gracious Speech from the Throne because they seem to carry a significance which is worthy of emphasis at the present time. One of those passages refers to plans which the Government have in view to enable agriculture as a whole to take its proper place in the economy of the nation. That is not a new idea in election addresses, or in Speeches from the Throne, but it is refreshingly new, coming in the second year of office of a Government which has already done something tangible to put that principle into practice with good results. The Government believe that the revival of agriculture and the creation of a healthy and vigorous countryside concern the whole nation and that the old idea that there is some antagonism between town and country and that the interests of one must necessarily conflict with the interests of the other is quite belated and does not fit in with modern facts. The Government, representing as we believe the main sections of the nation, are determined to put into force a policy which is national in that broader sense. The Minister of Agriculture used his own phraseology on that point when he said that the England which lost its agriculture, lost its life. The Government feel, looking at the question from that national point of view, that they must take steps to ensure that agriculture is not lost to England and that England does not, in that sense, lose its life.

May I ask the House to consider some of the means by which the Government have sought and are seeking to achieve that end. We have, first, the Wheat Quota. Although I represent a purely agricultural constituency in which cereals have a considerable place in agricultural life I, like other agricultural Members, realise that the Wheat Quota system may be overburdened with success. Wheat and sugar beet are two crops to which many farmers have been driven by sheer necessity, as offering the only prospect of covering their outgoings during this blizzard of low prices. But there is a risk that the barley-growers, the East Anglians, finding barley an impossible crop in present circumstances, may be driven into wheat and so overcrowd the wheat position. While expressing the appreciation which I know the agricul- tural community feel for the existence of the Wheat Quota and its success, so far as matters have gone, I would also express anxiety lest that system should be overburdened and submit that the Government ought to remember that a barley policy is also urgently called for.

The second means the Government have taken has worked with remarkable success. The Horticultural Products (Customs Duties) Act has brought new life to many beautiful parts of England where the cultivators are mostly small men. We have heard something about the extreme desire to bring back small men to the land. In my own constituency there are two or three substantial sections where this smallholdings problem has been saved by the Horticultural Duties Act. It gives a promise to the small man such as he has not had before, especially now that it is allied with the canning industry which is undergoing such remarkable development. The Prime Minister said yesterday, and indeed it is mentioned in the Gracious Speech, that one of the most distressful parts of the unemployment position is that so many young men and women have not known work, and the discipline and advantages of work, and are still receiving the dole.

In this development, which is taking place under the Horticultural Duties Act and the canning industry, we believe that we see a means of bringing back to the land a fair proportion of some of those younger people who are now unemployed, even in the urban areas. I speak as one who represents a mining area, and I know, because I am in the habit of presenting prizes at agricultural shows, that some of the best produce from land is that of miners in their spare hours, and I am persuaded that there is probably 10 or 15 per cent, of the unemployed to-day who, if given the opportunity, would find in work on the land something to save them from despair and keep them from rusting. It is one of the happiest of things that this counters the tendency of mechanisation to rule labour off the land. I have no doubt that other hon. Members, like myself, have been extremely interested in the work of the Society of Friends in bringing small men back to the land—to allotments or smallholdings. If hon. Members do not happen to have seen it, I would remind them of the report of the Society of Friends which appeared the other day in the issue of the "Field," and' also the most interesting article by one of the hon. Members for Devonshire which is full of humanity and humour, bringing out the extreme value of the voluntary and splendid work which the Society of Friends is doing.

That is a type of work which, with a little encouragement from those in authority in this House, might be duplicated and triplicated all over the country, wherever you have small committees of people in the urban areas. I know the Minister of Labour sympathises with this work. People are willing to give their time, and lend their money, if necessary without interest, for a period of years in order to enable schemes of that sort to be commenced and carried through with a measue of success. I am persuaded that this alliance of the Horticultural Duties Act with the development of the canning industry is a feature of agricultural policy which at this time may be of supreme value.

The Pig Commission Report points out the importance of getting pig producers to be "contract-minded." That applies also to the question of horticulture and the opportunity it gives to canneries to secure fruits and vegetables. If they are to develop their business, they must cultivate the "contract mind" of the allotment holder and horticultural producer, if necessary financing them to give them a start. The difficulty at present is to get fruit and vegetables to keep these canneries going. I hope they will make contracts with these small people so that when their harvest time comes they will not be left, as in my constituency, with beautiful fields of currants left rotting because they are not worth the labour of picking.

This phrase "cultivating the contract mind" is especially applicable to the bacon factory. The bacon curer is able to say to the small man as well as to the farmer: "Can you breed your pigs to this standard and strain, and undertake to deliver at a certain date 1 How many can you deliver to my factory?" If you can get in the bacon-producing industry co-operation between the bacon curer and the farmer, based on three or six months' contracts, you are going to ensure that the farmer, smallholder or villager will have his market, and not leave him with a loss, as has been frequently the case in my own constituency, where, in pigs especially, and almost everything else, the farmer finds that when they are taken to market they leave him a loss ranging up to £l a head or more.

I have referred to the wheat quota and the Horticultural Duties Act as measures by which the Government are endeavouring to give agriculture its proper place in the economy of the nation. There is a thid measure regarding meat imports. It is voluntary and its aim is not only to the advantage of the home and Empire producer, but also the foreign producer. It is temporary, and is a most interesting test of the value and real worth of the quality of Empire partnership. The desire of the Government is that we should, as far as possible, get good trade relations with the best of our foreign friends, on fair and reciprocal lines. If hon. Members have not noticed it, I would draw their attention to a telegram from Denmark which appears in the "Times" today. There they will see what effect is being produced in Denmark by the policy which the Government are following. They will find from the telegram that the foreign exchange control is in the hands of the Danish Government. The telegram proceeds: This means, in effect, that the Danish trade delegation will be able to offer British industry a master key to the Danish market, without touching any of the existing trade treaties. If the control system is retained for a period of two or three years, it is believed that the greater part of the Danish import trade will have been diverted into British channels, and that it will continue to flow naturally through these channels when the regulations are removed. That is a remarkable piece of evidence. We have now three measures by which the National Government are seeking to give agriculture its proper place in the national economy. They are not small things by any means. I would like to say that the agricultural Members of this House are grateful—and we include National Liberal as well as Labour Members. We are grateful to the Minister of Agriculture for the steps which he has taken. We are grateful to the Prime Minister. We have gone to the Prime Minister on two critical occasions, once just before Christmas last, and again about a month ago. The Prime Minister is a harassed man, and our Government are harassed from every corner of the globe, for they are called upon in all these world problems to assume on England's behalf a position of leadership to a degree never before known in the history of England, at least in my time. We are grateful to the Prime Minister for taking a personal initiative in this matter in order to help us, and to bring about the results of which I have spoken. A second passage in the Gracious Speech deals with the steps to be taken by the Government to enable the agricultural industry to put itself in a position to take advantage of a return to more favourable conditions. That is a most significant passage. I take it to be the policy of the Government to take any means, whether it be tariffs, quotas, or anything else—


Or Socialism—


If you like to call it that I do not mind the label, the point is whether it achieves the end and the whole purpose of the Government. The Prime Minister said that agriculture must show it is using its opportunities and its own initiative for its improvement, and that it regards tariffs rather as opportunities than as ends in themselves—that the home industry desires to put itself in a position to satisfy the needs of the consumer, and make up any deficiency that may arise. Most of us will agree with that attitude of the Government. When we come to the methods by which that better organisation is to be brought about, I have no doubt there will be a good deal of difference. Members of the Labour party desire a wise and all-pervading State to bring initiative and supervision; that the wisdom of Whitehall should flow through every channel, and that throughout the country there should be boards, committees, inspectors and all the other paraphernalia. I would ask whether the farmer has shown so much incompetence in the management of his own affairs? He has produced the best beasts in the world. Where is there any better pedigree stock? Wherever you go and they are building up their herds, their first thought is to go to England for stock.


To Scotland.


Yes, to Scotland. Perhaps Scotland is more favoured in regard to potatoes, and it is well to go there when you want a good potato crop. I am glad the hon. Member sticks up for Scotland.


It is truth I am sticking up for.


We are all sticking up for truth. When you come to crops, your wheat yield in England is finer than it is in almost any other part of the globe, and when you look round at the achievements of British agriculture, it is farcical to go on speaking, as my hon. Friend did just now, as though the British farmer was an awful fool and a regular hayseed. It is not true. The British farmers and agricultural labourers include a larger percentage of men of brain and initiative than you find, or than I used to find in my old constituency, in the industrial areas; but have you given him a chance by allowing the flood of imports to come in and make almost every one of his operations a dead loss? Have you given him the same chance that is being given to the iron and steel industry? No, and it is about time you did.

I hope the Government mean to follow out a line of policy which will give the farmer and the farm worker a chance of self-management, so that we may build up, under Government guidance and suggestion if you like, in concert with the distributive and retail trades, something of that kind of organisation which will enable the farmer to take full advantage of the Measures which we not only have passed but contemplate passing in the immediate future. In those Measures you must contemplate a certain element of coercion. You must have some means at all events of dealing with the kind of disloyalty of the small, numerically almost negligible, minority that ruined the hop scheme and, in my own part of the world, the milk scheme. The Ministry have set an example in this way by their emergency regulations, and they have done that through the agency of negotiations with the trade. There is a National Farmers' Union meat scheme which was put forward some time ago, under which the trade was going to be brought into co-operation. What has become of that scheme? I hope the Minister is keeping his eye on it. Then there is an egg scheme, which has been put forward by the National Poultry Council, and I shall be glad to know if the Minister is taking every means he can, as I feel sure he is, to encourage the agricultural industry in all its branches to work out its own salvation, to use tariffs as may be needed, in order to give it the necessary time to do that which has been done in the iron and steel industry, and to gain that confidence that, after all, its labours are not going to be in vain.

The hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. Roy Bird), in moving the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech from the Throne, brought to our remembrance the old Latin tag which his father translated as "They can, because they think they can." I am grateful to the Government, and I believe that the great body of agricultural Members in this House, whether Conservative, Liberal or Labour, are grateful to the Government, because, by the policy which they have pursued and are pursuing, they are giving the farmer reason to have faith in himself and in his future, and they are enabling him to realise that old Latin tag, "They can, because they think they can."

7.19 p.m.


May I ask for that indulgence which is usually extended to Members when addressing this House for the first time? I believe that my position is unique, in that I was returned as the Member for North Norfolk after contesting the same seat on four previous occasions. I may say, in passing, that I believe that political apprenticeship does no one any harm. It brings one into contact with realities, and if one is prepared to face facts, one finds it extremely difficult to sympathise with those who sit in opposition to the present National Government. Of those who were adopted in East Anglia 12 months ago in support of the National Government, no fewer than 100 per cent, were successful at the polls, and that is why I believe the present Government have such a vast responsibility to the industry of agriculture.

The present Cabinet have devoted more attention to the industry of agriculture in the last 12 months than previous Governments have devoted during the previous 12 years. They have conceded to this industry the right to protect itself against unfair foreign competition, longer hours of labour, and inferior working conditions. Furthermore, the Cabinet have produced the priceless gem which has taken the form of urban sympathy for rural districts. At the last election I received the support of many who had been Free Traders in the past. They may be Free Traders at present, but in spite of that, they are fair traders, they are people who are more concerned with the future welfare of this country than with the ultimate destiny of their once great party; and they will join with me, I feel sure, in congratulating the present Government on the imposition of a scientifically administered tariff.

The long-range policy announced by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, which includes the principle of quotas and quantitative control of imports and the adoption of the Report of the Pig Commission, the sugar beet subsidy continuing in the meantime, cannot fail to be of ultimate benefit to this industry. I have only one fear, however, and that is that the patient may die before the doctor arrives and that many farmers may find it necessary, within the next six months, either to pass through the bankruptcy court or to make deeds of assignment. I believe that farmers who find themselves in that position would be greatly helped by the extension of an agricultural credits scheme. The Government have a long and difficult row to hoe. They must make up for the negligence and indifference of their predecessors in office, and when I say that, I do not refer to any specific party or any particular Government; but if the precision and quickness of dispatch which were shown by the Minister of Agriculture in dealing with the crisis in the meat industry a few weeks ago are any sample of the attitude which he is prepared to adopt throughout his term of office, we in the agricultural districts may be truly proud of our representative in the Cabinet.

One realises that the Gracious Speech of yesterday has of necessity been based on economy and financial stringency, but I hope that at no distant date the Government will be able to see their way clear to adopt a bold rural housing policy. Local authorities in my district have done their best to interpret the Acts relative to rural housing which are already on the Statute Book, but despite that fact, the fringe of the problem has never been reached. I have never regarded with favour the principle of the tied cottage. I have seen it in operation, and I have come to the; conclusion that it is the medium of considerable discontent and ill-feeling between the farmer and his men, and it is certainly used as a pawn in the game of political agitation. Nevertheless, I fully realise that the smooth running of any farm would be seriously impaired if it were not for some system of service tenancy. That would apply more particularly in respect of stock men and team men, but I believe that if the number of houses in the rural areas could be increased, a modification in the present tied cottage system would be justified. There are rumours of economy at the expense of rural housing. I hope they may be nothing but rumours, because I believe that economy is no economy at all if it is penny wise and pound foolish. The days when private enterprise could provide houses at an economic rent disappeared during the War, and those days have not yet returned.

Now I come to a subject which is of little interest to me personally, but which is of the utmost importance to those whom I have the honour to represent, and that is the question of beer. I represent one of the leading barley-growing districts of England, and I am only voicing their opinion when I say that they regret profoundly that the Treasury was unable to extend a more sympathetic ear to the words of warning, which were expressed publicly and privately, as to what would be the disaster to the barley trade if the present high tax on the pint was to be maintained. One evening a few months ago 72 Members of this House went into the rebels' lobby. I was one of those rebels, and subsequent events have proved that our action that night was fully justified. I believe that the barley industry could be saved even now, if the Government could hold out some hope that in the very near future they would impose a definite tax on foreign malting barley and that without fail they would reduce the present high standard of taxation on beer. Otherwise, I see no hope but that the present situation in the barley trade must continue. The trade itself is either dead or dormant, the publicans are in despair, And thousands of quarters of barley in my constituency still remain in the stack unthreshed, and its ultimate destination at present must be as fodder for the rats.

I hope I am not being unduly antagonistic, but is there any hope, after all that has been said, of the Government reversing their decision and announcing that they are prepared to feed the British forces on home-grown meat? If some announcement to that effect could be made, they would at least be extending a sympathetic hand to a sorely stricken industry. We heard a few months ago that the definite reason for not being able to feed the British forces on home-grown meat was the question of £ s. d., but if the answer then is the answer now, may I say respectfully that some action should be taken which will bring about a closer relationship between the amount paid to the people who produce the stock and the amount that the people have to pay when they buy that self-same meat over the counters of the butchers' shops? If the public are prepared to pay a certain amount for their meat, then the farmers and their men should receive a fair proportion of the amount which the public are prepared to expend.

A few days ago the report of the Unemployment Insurance Commission was issued, and while that report contained no specific recommendations for including agricultural labourers in some scheme of unemployment insurance, I was glad to see that it recommended that, in the event of a statutory commission being set up, this question should be dealt with without delay. The clerk to the Norfolk County Council, of which I am a member, gave evidence before the Commission and expressed it as the unanimous opinion of the council that agricultural labourers should be considered in a scheme of unemployment insurance. Any Government has a moral obligation to the people in agriculture. Be it in time of peace or be it in time of war, the best stock in this country is drawn from those whose livelihood is dependent upon the prosperity of agriculture. Therefore, I suggest that it is the duty of the Government to make rural areas as productive as possible for the young men who are born in them. Otherwise, I fear that these men will trek to the large towns and cities in what unhappily must be at present a vain search for work. Speaking on unemployment in the House on the 8th November, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that although vast amounts of money had been spent on relief schemes, the effect had been to reduce by only a very small quantity the number of unemployed.

That may be the situation in the large cities, but I suggest that the situation in the agricultural areas is somewhat different. There is no labour in excess of the requirements. Those who are unemployed live in the hamlets and towns which are surrounded by farms literally crying out for our help, and it is my firm belief that these men, if economic conditions compel them to be unemployed, should be put on to schemes of a productive nature. There are hundreds of men in North Norfolk, and there may be thousands in a few months' time, whose sole occupation at the expense of public rates will be sweeping the roads. Such a state of affairs is not only demoralising to the men concerned, but is seriously detrimental to the farms which need their help. Factories may be able to shut their doors and stand still for a few weeks, but if a farm shuts its gates, it will deteriorate from the moment of their closure. I happen to be chairman of the first river catchment board constituted under the Land Drainage Act of 1930. There are many schemes which we have carried out, and there are schemes which we dare not carry out for the simple reason that we must levy rates on people who are already paying rates on schemes of relief which, as I have inferred already, are simply a subscription to subsidise idleness. Such a position in my constituency is not only illogical and incongruous, but most undesirable having regard to the fact that we are severely pressed financially. The Norfolk County Council was, for the year ending March, 1932, compelled to raise no less than £75,000, equivalent to a rate of 1s. 5d., for the relief of unemployment. In their budget for the year ending March next, this council expects to expend a sum of £86,000, equivalent to a rate of 1s. 8d. We must all agree that high taxation, excessive rates, and unemployment march hand in hand. They form a vicious circle and we find that at the end that we cannot take away from those who have to pay wages without adversely affecting those who receive them.

I therefore beg the Government to relax their orders to the local public assistance committees while their long-range policy comes to fruition, and to consider the situation in my district of Norfolk where the economic wage for an agricultural labourer is 20s. a week and the living wage is 30s. The farmer could prove his case through his auditors, and the local ratepayers should be called upon to subsidise the difference. The advantages of that must be threefold. It would reduce the burdens upon the ratepayers, it would be satisfactory to the labourer from both the financial and moral standpoint, and it would assist the farmers who, through economic depression, are compelled to let thousands of acres go derelict. Some people may think that I am now proposing a revival of the Speenhamland Settlement of 1795. They may say that it failed 137 years ago and that it would fail to-day. May I remind the House that since 1795, unemployment has become a national and, unhappily it would seem, a permanent problem, and I believe that the scheme which I have suggested should at least be given a fair trial. I conclude by assuring the Government that the rural areas fully appreciate the magnitude and the multitude of the problems which confront them. They are satisfied with the resolute determination upon which the Government are basing their policy, and as long as the Government are prepared to continue upon that line, we of the rural areas will give them our whole-hearted support.

7.38 p.m.


As an older Member of the House who made his maiden speech 36 years ago, I hope that the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Cook) will allow me to say how much pleasure he gave the House in his first speech, which to me seemed to be most successful and interesting. There is another personal matter to which I should like to refer. I think that I am one of the first among those with whom I am associated to address the House on a purely agricultural question since the present Minister of Agriculture took up his position, and I should like to say how very much we recognise the peculiar difficulties of his task and how much we admire and realise the great courage and ability which he brings to that task. His name in his part of Scotland has always been renowned for ability and courage, and so far as we can, we shall try not to make his task more difficult. It is a very difficult thing for a Minister of Agriculture to be, or at any rate to remain, popular. There was a predecessor of his in the last Conservative Government, who did his best and was always perfectly straight with the farmers, but the farmers' union in my part of the world had a slogan which they applied to him: "He that isn't with us is agin us." That Minister became as unpopular as that slogan would suggest.

Approaching the matter of agriculture in the desire to try to be helpful, I am glad to see that the Minister, in a speech he made on Friday at York, said that he could give no guarantee that there would be an economic price for the agricultural products of this country. I think that he is right in that, and I for one shall not join in the chorus, which must be almost perpetually echoing in his ears inside and outside the House, of those who, while no doubt thanking him for what the Government have done in the matter of wheat and meat, say, "What about oats?" or "What about barley?" or "What about wool?" or "What about hops?" or "What about beer?" or "What about store cattle?" or "What about store sheep?"—each according to the district from which he comes and to the different branch of agriculture in which his constituents happen to be interested. I could make myself very popular in North Cornwall if I were to take up that line, and if I have any fears as to my popularity there I shall have to ask the Minister of Agriculture and the 35 colleagues who came down to that extremely pleasant constituency last July to come down again and take part in our political discussions.

Farmers somehow or other have been led to expect far more from the Government and from Government action than men in other industries. When shipbuilders or engineers or railwaymen or mineowners are faced with ruin, they take the ruin which unfortunately comes to them almost philosophically; at any rate, they do not publicly claim that it is the duty of the Government to guarantee that their industry should be carried on on a profitable basis. The farmers do rather expect it, however, and I have read and listened to many a speech to that effect. It is almost a sealed pattern speech; they all say the same: "We pay regulated wages; we must have regulation through the Agricultural Wages Board. Why, therefore, should we not have prices artificially increased all round so that our industry shall pay satisfactory? We do not want any interference, for we know our own jobs best; we do not want any officials or any farming from Whitehall. Just give us profits and leave us alone." People all over the countryside can make that sort of speech, and many of them, I think, must do it in their sleep. The Minister himself must have heard that sort of speech several times already. When I happened to be responsible for agriculture in this House 17 years ago, when Lord Selborne was President of the Board in another place, I was quite unable to accept that view on behalf of the Coalition Government of that time. I am not going to turn round now and ask on behalf of my constituents or anybody else's constituents that the Government should do what I knew then and said then could not reasonably or possibly be accepted. I have never accepted and never will the whole policy of the National Farmers' Union that the nation can have as much farming as it chooses to pay for. That is a counsel of despair which no Government ought to adopt.

Having said so much, I must add that there is this new argument which farmers use, quite naturally, to which I cannot find a good answer. I have said that I can find a good answer to the argument which I have quoted, and if the Minister of Agriculture ever wants anyone to reply to it I am very much at his service; but I cannot find an answer when they say that the Government's policy has kept up prices of things like implements and machinery, linseed and cod-liver oil and a good many fertilisers and the feeding stuffs—quite certainly the Government, by their action, have prevented the natural fall following ordinary world prices which would otherwise have taken place in those things which are their essential raw materials—and ask "What about that; how can they compensate us for the extra prices we have to pay?" With great respect, I rather wonder whether the Minister of Agriculture was quite so right as he thought he was when in his speech the other day at York, he welcomed the new policy of the Government as a means of getting the tariffs of other nations down and in that way rendering the industry of agriculture in this country more profitable.

Speaking for those who sit on this bench, I must say that in our view the only hope of permanent prosperity for agriculture lies in a greater prosperity for the customers of agriculture, and that depends much more on getting tariffs and quotas down in other countries than on any other one thing. It has a very special importance with regard to the position of our farmers, because as things are now agricultural produce from the Dominions and from foreign countries is practically all concentrated on our market. It is shut out from the markets of other countries by their high duties, and if some of that food from the edges of the world, so to speak, could come to Europe and find entry into other countries besides ours there would be a sensible alleviation of the position here. But we cannot see—it may be due to some peculiar density of vision—how having a permanent policy of restriction by quotas here can help us to get the quotas of other nations against our goods taken off.

We are looking forward, all of us, to this World Economic Conference, we hope very great things from it, but our representatives, when they are talking about these things at that conference, will have to argue that when our Government put on a permanent quota against, maybe, meat from the Argentine or bacon from Denmark that somehow or other there is not a real restriction, and that it ought to be left on, but that when Germany puts a quota on our coal that is a real restriction and ought to be taken off. They will want a very clever man to argue that point successfully. My mind goes back to an incident of which I heard that great head of the Treasury, Sir Francis Mowatt, tell us in 1902, how when an important Minister of the Crown came to him and said that he wanted to be put on the track of a first-class man who was also a Protectionist, Sir Francis opened a drawer and, after pretending to look into it, said, "I can give you a Protectionist—several of them—but they won't be first-class men, or I can give you first-class men, but they won't be Protectionists." I hope the Government will have better luck now, and that their representatives will be equal to this task of distinguishing quota from quota according to whether we use it or other people use it. In our view this quota system is likely to be an extreme example of the good being the enemy of the better. The quotas imposed in the Ottawa Agreements may help at first, though there is very little in them except eye-wash; but we believe that they will prevent any world-wide recovery of agriculture, and therefore, in the long run, do much more harm than good.

I would like to say a word about meat and the difficulties which seem to me to be confronting the Minister of Agriculture in regard to it. There is a general over-production of meat in the world, as there is of all raw material; but that is not the only element in the situation. There is in connection with meat, particularly ham and bacon, not only a steady over-production now owing to the depression of world consumption, but there is a very pronounced tendency, in the case of the pig, to a wave motion, an alternation of periods of glut and scarcity, which makes the problem more difficult. I believe the Minister of Agriculture once published verses about the pig, and I think that before he has done he may be inclined to write more, but I am quite certain that they will not be suitable for publication, because I think that that animal is going to give him a very great deal of trouble.

I hold quite clearly that it is a perfectly legitimate thing for any Minister of Agriculture to be trying to arrange by voluntary agreements to smooth out this wave motion, and I hope he will succeed. If he confines his efforts to that, and succeeds in it, that may be quite compatible with the interests of the consumer. The latter will never get his bacon and so on at the absolute giveaway prices he has been paying lately, let alone get it for nothing. I am told that in many of the big towns in the Midlands great stocks of absolutely first-rate pig meat are piled up on the counters of the grocers' shops on Saturdays with a label, "Come in and help yourself. There is no charge whatever." No doubt that sort of thing would not happen if there were a Regulation to even out this wave-motion, but it is quite possible under a scheme of that kind to give consumers a steady low price and yet to get something like a stable position in the industry. The point I want to make is this, that if the scheme into which he has entered, apparently with some success for this month and next, is to be continued longer, and I expect he will feel that it should be, I am sure he will be up against this problem: other people will say, "Let us know where we are. You propose that we should limit our supplies. What are you going to do with your supplies? If we are to be under limitation are you in this country still to be free to increase your production of the regulated product as much as you please?" I am certain that if he says, "Yes" to that, it will be the end of all these voluntary agreements.

No countries will voluntarily agree to limit their production and to put no limit at all on ours, and therefore I feel pretty certain, although I believe he has said nothing about it yet, that if his scheme is to last he will have to impose an absolutely rigorous control. I believe there will have to be registration of every producer, I believe the producer will have to be limited strictly as to the amount of stuff he may send into the market, and I believe that every market and every butcher's shop will be under strict control and strict inspection. I believe that every beast and every pig sent in will have to be carefully graded, and I think that very probably the prices, both wholesale and retail, will have to be controlled as rigorously as they were during the War. The Minister knows as well as I do that farmers will not like that when it begins, and I feel sure that in view of that he will tell the agricultural industry beforehand what sort of control he will have to impose if he is to continue a voluntary system of restrictions in order to deal with the wave-motion, and find out whether the agricultural industry prefers better prices and a very stiff control, or lower prices and the present freedom.

I want to come to three points on which I think the Government might take action, even in the present circum- stances, in order to give some relief. I do not ask, "What about barley, what about oats?" and so on. I am going to describe three particular things, and, of course, I do not ask for an answer today, because they are all difficult things, or, very likely, they would have been done before. In many parts of England now the war which has been going on over the payment of tithe is reaching such dimensions that the Government really will not be able indefinitely to continue ignoring it. It is leading to a rather widespread lawlessness. Farmers know quite well that if they can manage not to pay tithe for two years it will be irrecoverable. They are making up their minds not to pay it, and hoping that if they hang on they will never have to pay. That is not fair to the Church and to other tithe owners, and it is not a good example to the countryside, because once lawlessness begins and once people are unable to carry out distraint sales, that feeling may very rapidly spread. I feel sure the Government will have to take notice of the position, and try to establish a new system on the basis of order rather than allow chaos to spread.

Secondly, if there are at this time any people suffering worse than others in agriculture it is the freeholders. The tenants are better off, because they have their landlords to lean upon, and landlords have to give bigger and ever increasing reductions of rents. In many districts the tenants are being kept alive by the ruin of the landlords. But the freeholders are in a much more difficult position. They have boucht their farms, many of them since the War—and in that case it was invariably at much higher prices than the farms are worth now—and they have heavy mortgages on them, often raised at a high rate of interest. I want the Government to consider carefully whether, on the security of the land, and up to the proper security of the land, they cannot, with money so cheap as it is at present, help the freeholders who are now so terribly burdened to pay off those mortgages on which the rate of interest is high and to substitute other mortgages with a lower rate of interest. I feel that that suggestion is worth looking into and taking seriously.

The third point, and the last of those things that can" be done now, concerns the point made by the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. T. Cook), namely, the big injustice which is the lot of the agricultural industry in the matter of Unemployment Insurance. Farmers and farm labourers, every time they smoke a pipe of tobacco, drink a cup of tea or have a glass of beer, pay their share in taxes, not only to the ordinary system of unemployment insurance to which the State contributes, but to the deficit, which has fallen on the State in so far as it has not been met by borrowing. That has been going on ever since the system of insurance against employment came in, and they have not received anything in return. I do not know what proportion of our taxation has gone into that scheme. Quite a lot I suppose, and no benefit has come to the countryside. It works particular unfairness and almost injustice to the farmer. The better farmers know that if they turn their men off there is no scheme working in an almost automatic way under which they can go into an Employment Exchange and draw their relief.

The only thing for them is the Poor Law, which works very much more slowly and rather less sympathetically, and which is feared. It is a matter of pride to keep out of it in our country districts, where there is quite a different feeling from the feeling towards unemployment insurance. The best farmers, knowing that feeling, and knowing how men in many cases will rather starve than go to the public assistance committees, naturally try to keep the men on, although it means almost ruin for them to do so. The less considerate employer will stand the men off, or dismiss them and rely very largely upon temporary or casual labour, instead of his permanent men. That is not satisfactory. I know quite well that the Majority Report of the Royal Commission on Unemployment Insurance did not recommend that agricultural workers should be brought within its ambit, but I do not think that the Government ought to allow that peculiarly difficult position in agriculture to continue without considering some scheme for putting an end to it.

Some years ago I worked out, with some friends, a special scheme for agriculture under which, if men had their cards fully stamped up for a certain period, the contribution would be decreased for men in steady employment. It would be perfectly right, from an actuarial point of view, to work down, after the men have been three or four years in employment, to a contribution of about l½d. by the man and l½d. by the employer. I do not think you could put that scheme into operation now. Unemployment was high then, but it is higher in many agricultural districts now. It shows how much better it is sometimes to do things at the right time rather than wait until they become much more difficult. I am sure that the Government should consider what they can do. I want to show that these schemes about which I have spoken are not the only contribution that we of the Liberal party can make to this very difficult question, the great question of the condition of our countryside. It thinks of the things which would still be there and would still be wrong, even if all branches of farming were suddenly made prosperous to-morrow by some magician's wand.

Farming is in a transition, but it is not a transition from an out-of-date order into a new and better order; it is a transition from some sort of order into almost complete chaos. The Government ought to realise that, even in these difficult times, and they ought to have their plans made. They ought to do something even now to begin to carry out those plans. They ought to do nothing which would conflict with their carrying out of those-plans. Unless they begin while things are still bad, and while they have the public conscience actively concerned about the conditions of our countryside, and if they wait, as the Gracious Speech seems to suggest they might be waiting, until prosperity begins to come again, they will find that a golden opportunity has been missed.

We say that the landlord-tenant system has broken down, and that until something can be put in its place, and has been put in its place, there will be no firm basis for reorganisation and better marketing, without which there cannot be a proper friendly feeling between town and country. Until we have that firm basis there will be no security for the investment of town money in country reconstruction, no basis for adapting the size of holdings to modern conditions, and, for the worker, no improvement in the agricultural ladder, which, in spite of its shortness, is at present a very rickety affair with several rungs missing. We have to face the fact that although our soil and our climate are the best in Europe for agricultural- purposes, we do not produce as much, and we do not maintain as many people on the land as they do in any comparable country. We are tending to lose ground, whereas in other countries they are gaining it very rapidly. The matter has nothing to do with Protection or Free Trade. It is something very much deeper than that, which will not disappear merely by waiting for the clouds to roll by. The root cause is that the landlord-tenant system has broken down.

I speak as a landowner coming from generations of landowners. I notice that the Minister of Agriculture spoke the other day as a farmer coming from generations of farmers. I wish I could say that, because it is the farmer who has done the work, and the landlord who has not done the work, in the generations that are past, and in the generation in which we live. I do not say that it is the landlord's fault only that things have broken down with him, although he has never really regarded his job as one of an eight-hour day for 11 months in the year, as many people in other jobs are doing. He has done his best. The reason lies down deep in the philosophy of the thing. As the Minister of Agriculture is a student of philosophy, I would like to quote for him one sentence from John Stuart Mill, who was thoroughly alive as an economist and political scientist: The reasons which form the justification of private property in land are valid only so far as the proprietor of land is its improver. What with heavy taxation, Death Duties and so on, landowners in England have ceased to be the improvers of the countryside. Unless a landowning family has a lot of money coming from outside sources, from town property or something like that, it cannot keep a big agricultural estate as it ought to be kept, and no one can keep it at all when there is a death in the family and Death Duties have to be paid. Therefore, the big estates are crumbling up in an untidy way, with no better system taking their place. That situation must be tackled.

How can it be for the best that one man should decide how farms should be cultivated, and that another should de- cide what are the buildings to be on it upon which the plan of cultivation must depend? That second man is probably impoverished and unable to adapt the buildings to the use to which modern agriculture demands that they should be put. The situation is breaking down into a system of unorganised and semi-bankrupt freeholders. There is no organic construction in sight. I believe it will be shown that the great work which was done by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and his friends, in their inquiry in the years 1903–1905, which was followed by the publication of what is called the "Green Book," will still be the basis on which reconstruction of the countryside must depend. It holds the field. The work has been done. The thing is perfectly easy to understand. The different steps are laid out. As time goes on, it only shows more clearly that there is no alternative to it. I hope that even the Minister of Agriculture, in spite of all his other labours, will be able to get some work done in examining that basis for a reconstruction of the countryside, in order that he might consider whether it does form the only basis of getting things upon a business footing.

I will run through three or four points that arise. You must have a new tenure to supersede the old, now that the estates are breaking up, and they must be administered by a new county land authority whose sole job it is to see that the best use is made of the land in their area. We have never had anything like that. Secondly, in the counties of greatest depression, even when the present crisis passes away, you will have the depression still, and you must therefore have a system ready to reconstruct the size of the holdings, not in a haphazard but in a planned way. There is a wrong size for an agricultural holding, just as there is a wrong size for the hole on a golf course. The plans must be laid to get hold of smaller, and in other cases bigger, holdings, because it is the nig and the small holdings which are really economic. We must have marketing schemes.

What is troubling the farmers now—and they say freely that they can prove it—is that there is too great a disparity between what the farmer gets for his meat and the price which the butcher charges. Farmers in. all these long years have never been able to get such a grip of their own meat industry as to show the country whether that allegation is true or not. The producer has been getting too little and the middleman too much. That is a terrible commentary upon the producers' lack of enterprise. That must be remedied, but it is of no use to try to make short cuts towards better marketing. Marketing schemes are the key to better credit and better transport rates, and to a better understanding with the towns, but the farmer must work them out largely for himself. I hope the House will believe me, because I have bought this knowledge with bitter experience; it cost me a good deal more than £10,000 to learn what I am saying now. You will not get the farmer to take the share which he ought to take, and which alone will make marketing schemes successful, in any marketing schemes that may be produced, unless and until he is certain that the results of the work he does will be enjoyed by himself and by members of his family in succession, without being locked up by a landowner or someone of that kind, who has done none of the work at all, when a fresh rent is fixed for the farm. All of this has been worked out in the book entitled "The Farmer and his Market," which I think any Member of Parliament can still buy for Is. I wrote most of it, but I do not get any royalty. We shall have to get down to that, and put things through on those lines, if we are really to do any good.

After having dealt with these questions to which I have already referred—a new tenure under a new authority, the reconstruction of the size of holdings, and marketing schemes—we must do more for the small man. The Minister said at York that it was no use trying to put more men on the land at present prices, but I think he is unduly pessimistic on that question. As was pointed out by the Land Commission of the Ministry of Agriculture in their last published report, a smallholder has fewer payments to make, he is given less credit, he does not indulge in mortgages, he grows his own stock, he is quick at adapting his methods, he consumes a lot of what he grows, and he works all the daylight hours, winter and summer. I believe that there are scattered over our indus- trial districts, and over our agricultural districts also, men with a real love of the land, who know the land, and have a hunger love the land, and who, if they had a chance of a piece of land, even at present prices, would make, it pay; and I think it is a pity not to start that sort of thing now, but to wait until the land gets more expensive and the money to buy it is more difficult to obtain.

Members for town constituencies may say, "Although the picture that you are drawing looks pretty fair, is not that policy of yours going to cost much too much?" I would reply that you will never have a healthy national life until you have healthy towns in a healthy country, and that, since you cannot get money out of the country now, the towns must help the country back to health. There are two ways of doing that, one of which is expensive and bad, and the other cheap and good. The bad one ignores all the things to which I have been referring which are wrong in the countryside, and tries to bolster up agriculture by Protection, the inevitable effect of which is higher food prices. Higher food prices can never be stable in an industrial country unless there is machinery which will have the immediate effect of increasing wages to the figure that would be needed in order to pay these higher prices; and, if there were such machinery in this country, and if there were an automatic and immediate increase in wages as soon as food prices went up, that would cost the towns a very much bigger amount, besides dealing with the matter in the wrong way, than the amount that they might be called upon through their taxes to raise for the purpose of putting the countryside right by a really scientific and modern scheme.

If the Government are serious about this matter, they ought to set up now a Ministry of Land Reconstruction, including the very best brains from the business world and the agricultural world, and they ought to work on the basis of the policy upon which the Liberal party and the Labour party are both in agreement. That Ministry ought to be given full powers and adequate money resources, and, as I have said, it ought to start now, when the land will be cheap, when money is cheap, when labour is available in all conscience—more of it than can possibly be used—and when the public conscience is awake about these things. It will go to sleep again if we let them drop. I beseech the Government not to say, as the Speech from the Throne rather indicated that they might, that we must wait in this matter for a return of prosperity. All Governments are apt to be rather like those very injudicious people who lived partly on one side and partly on the other side of a river, and who, when the river dwindled down into nothing in the summer said, "We do not need to build a bridge," while when the torrent ran high in the winter they said, "Now we cannot build a bridge." The torrent is running now; these things are difficult; but that bridge has got to be made, and agriculture and the countryside have got to be reconstructed. I believe that, looked at wisely, the present adversity is the Government's opportunity. They have the policy before them if they would but take it up, and they have a good deal in the legislation passed by the last Labour Government that would make it easier to carry out parts, at any rate, of that policy. The present Minister is a man of great power; he sees to the root causes of things; he would find helpers springing up on every side; and, if he will really go to the basis of the distresses and failures and weaknesses of our agriculture, if he will act on really big lines to make the situation better, if he will, as I hope he will, rise to the height of his great opportunity, he should be able to convert the Government on these lines and really get big things done.

8.22 p.m.


I regret that I cannot find myself able to agree with much of what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland), except in relation to one matter, and that is the subject to which I desire to address my remarks this evening. The right hon. Gentleman alluded to the anomalous position of unemployment in agriculture as compared with urban unemployment, and the same subject was also referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Mr. T. Cook), in a speech which, I am sure, greatly charmed the House. The position is one of great gravity. In the Eastern counties, which are best known to me personally, we have leached a point where funds, and the re- sources which are available for the payment of wages, are completely dried up. I know that some people think that the Eastern counties are the only arable counties in the country. They forget that almost all counties in England, and some also in Wales, have considerable portions of arable land within their boundaries, so that, since it is of course in the arable districts that there is the greatest amount of employment in normal times, the situation which has now arisen in regard to employment, or unemployment, covers a very wide area indeed.

In my own part of the country, we are getting through—with some difficulty owing to the inclement weather—three major autumn operations, namely, wheat sowing, the lifting of sugar beet, and the threshing of the crops of last harvest. These three operations will come to a conclusion within the course of the next few weeks, and then will come the crisis. What is to happen? Are we to be compelled to turn off into unemployment, not merely the casual workers, who will probably have to go first, but also many of the men who are regular employés on our farms? That is the position. How is it to be avoided? This decline in agriculture is not one of recent occurrence. It is not merely a temporary phase. We have had it with us ever since the end of the post-War boom in 1920, and things have been going rapidly from bad to worse, especially in those parts of the country that are arable and that give the greatest employment. Colossal losses have been incurred on hundreds of farms, and' wages in very many cases for a long time past have ceased to be paid from the profits of the industry but have been paid from other sources. Those other sources have been, in the first place, the working capital of the farmer, then such other capital as he might be able to borrow from members of his family. When that was exhausted, he has had to have recourse to the banks and to pay wages out of credit. All those sources are now completely dried up and the wage fund to-day in all too many districts has ceased to exist. The question I wish to address to the Government is: What do they intend to do about it?

It is easy to understand how the situation has come about. I will give a couple of very simple figures. The index figure for agricultural wholesale prices for September stood at 4 points above the pre-War datum line, and the index figure for agricultural wages stood at 120 points above the pre-War datum line. Since labour is the chief cost item in the farmer's operations, it is clear that it is impossible for him to survive and to continue to give employment to his men when the wage level is 120 whereas the price level of the proceeds of the labour stands at only 4 points above pre-War. I am not discussing whether the agricultural wage is too high or too low from the social point of view. I intend to treat it entirely from the economic point of view. The figures I have given are quite sufficient to show that the farmers' funds must be completely exhausted. It is, indeed, an impossible position. I do not believe that any other industry would have continued to pay wages at all under similar conditions. I believe that any factory in which those two conditions existed would have closed its gates long since. However, agriculture has an extraordinarily recuperative past, and I sincerely trust that, if we can bridge over the immediate future, the tide will eventually turn in its favour.

I should like to come to a remark made by the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall). He said that agriculture had been spoon fed by the State. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall rather gave the same impression when he said the farmer should not expect any assistance from the State. I should like to ask the attention of the House to one or two very simple facts. First of all, take the Agricultural Wages Act, which was imposed by the State on the industry. The error that we made in passing that Act was not that it was passed to stabilise agricultural wages but-that it was never linked to the economic price level of the products of the industry. If that link had existed, when the wholesale agricultural price figure fell, it would have become self evident that wages would have gone down with it unless the State had done something to support the wholesale price level, indeed unless the State had taken the very kind of action some eight years ago that it was proposing to take at this moment. Owing to that State action, we find that agriculture to-day is in a very parlous condition. I am not attempting to make political capital out of this. The situation is far too serious. Now we will take the return to the Gold Standard. That had the effect more than any one other thing, in my view, of giving us the present ridiculous and hopelessly low level of wholesale prices. I said 10 years ago that the whole deflationery process leading to the return to the Gold Standard would ruin industry and murder agriculture, and it has done both. There, again, is State action definitely applied in the most harmful manner to the great industry of agriculture.

There is a third and a more general consideration. It has been the policy of all Governments of all parties for something like 80 years to insist that our food market should be entirely open to the outer world to exploit at will. Surely action on the part of the State in that regard is something which agriculture may be allowed to put into the scale in asking for assistance. If you take those three things, the passing of the Agricultural Wages Act—which I am not for a moment saying should not have been passed, though I am criticising the form in which it was passed—the return to the Gold Standard, and the fact that we have been a country of free imports, you really get a fairly clear picture and a logical reason why agriculture finds itself in a hopeless condition to-day. I beg the Government to do nothing at this moment to return to the Gold Standard. It has been rumoured in the Press in the last few days that some of the countries still remaining on the Gold Standard intend to make it a condition of any agreements come to at the World Economic Conference that this country should return to the Gold Standard. I trust that our Government will proceed with great caution in that matter. I believe that it is wholly premature to consider it. The world is in far too great a condition of chaos to make it safe, and it will be almost impossible to decide at what level one should go back to the Gold Standard even if it be desirable to do so.

There are great forces urging the Government to return to the Gold Standard. Generally speaking, bankers, merchants, and those who deal with international commerce would always like to have a Gold Standard, because they are able to anchor all their transactions to something definite. Their attitude can be well understood. It is not so well understood that what suits the banker and the trade is diametrically opposed to the interests of the producer, and it is the producer whose turn it is now to be considered. The producer is far more important than all the bankers, merchants and traders put together. Production is the only source of wealth. When we consider, too, that of all the producers in the world the major portion are agricultural producers, we can get some picture of the caution with which we should proceed before we decide to return to the Gold Standard.

I have mentioned those causes for which the State in the past has been responsible and the evil effect on the industry of agriculture. We have allowed our food market to be filched from us by the foreigner under the system of free imports. We have allowed them to make our food market the sump and dump for their surpluses, and no one can deny it. We have invited them to do so. If that is so, is it not fair to take the matter a stage further? If the State has definitely pursued a course which has brought the great industry of agriculture to ruin, is it not right to say to the State that it has a responsibility to see that provision is made for the men who are likely to lose their employment as a result of the ruin of the industry? It is for the State to accept responsibility if those men should, unhappily, find themselves out of a job. It is true that although the State is supposed to be an inhuman monster, it is wonderfully human on other occasions, and in this respect the State is just as human as we are. Having made a frigthful blunder through the last two or three generations of time in regard to British agriculture, what does the State do 1 It says to the farmer: "You are a bad business man. You do not know your job. You do not work at your job. You are guilty of disorderly marketing and a host of other things." What is the truth? It is not so much that the farmer is guilty of disorderly marketing as that the State has given him a completely disordered market in which to sell. That is why I claim that the State should accept full responsibility for the present plight of agriculture.

I welcome very warmly the steps which have been taken by the National Government during the last 13 months. I think that they are more valuable than any steps taken by the Governments of the last 30 years. The plans which the Government now have in mind and in hand must take time to develop and fructify. The result of those plans, however successful they may be, cannot actually put any money into the farmers' banking account, from which he can pay wages again, for many months to come at the earliest. What is to happen in the meantime? What will happen if something like 100,000 agricultural workers come into unemployment during the course of the next few weeks as, I believe, unfortunately, they will do? What is to happen to them? Their only source of assistance will be, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall said, to go on the rates, and they will do this very reluctantly. In short, they will be kept, in so far as they can be kept, by the rural ratepayer. Let me draw the attention of the House to this point in that connection. The urban unemployed are not kept by the urban ratepayer, but by the taxpayer, including the rural taxpayer. In other words, the rural ratepayer, as a taxpayer, contributes towards urban unemployment, whereas the urban taxpayer, as a ratepayer, contributes nothing to rural unemployment. It is a most illogical position and cannot be accepted in face of the present position of affairs.

It may be argued that the position merely arises from the fact that as regards agriculture there is no unemployment scheme. If anybody should advance that as an argument for not coming to the assistance of unemployed agricultural workers, I would say that the taxpayer has, of course, scored heavily as a taxpayer by the fact that up to now there has been no scheme of unemployment insurance for the agricultural worker. I am not arguing as to whether or not unemployment insurance ought to be started for agricultural workers. I have grave doubts as to that, and the Royal Commission, apparently, has grave misgivings about it also. Therefore, I do not intend to discuss the wisdom, or otherwise, of adopting unemployment insurance for agriculture at the present time. Given success for the programme of the National Government, I believe that we shall be able to do without unemployment insurance in agriculture in the future, though there must be something to tide us over the interregnum before that policy has time to fructify in full.

The policy of the Government is undoubtedly being conceived on right lines. We are to encourage a large increase in production in the fields and on the farms of England. That, surely, must be a right policy. We are going to do more than that. We are going to graft on to production a system of processing. We are going to encourage the canning industry, and the establishment of more cheese and bacon factories and things of that kind. We are definitely going to go in for processing in addition to production, and to provide factories for the benefit of the farmer. That must all be to the good and on right and sound lines. I hope that we shall give to the farmer an ordered market instead of a disordered market. If we can do that, I hope that we shall also ensure that when the buyer comes to the food market he will be able to know whether the food is imported or home-produced food. I hope that attached to such a project we shall have a very forward "Buy British" campaign. I believe that those are the right steps towards achieving the restoration of agriculture in this country.

But we have to come back to the question: What is to be done in the meantime? That is the point to which I would ask the attention of the Government. Reluctantly, but, at the same time, relentlessly I am driven to the conclusion that the State must definitely face up to its responsibility in connection with the condition in which the industry finds itself at the present time. Until the long-range policy matures, the State will have to find a portion of the agricultural worker's wage, a portion of the social part, leaving the farmer to pay the economic part. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall suggested that it should be done from the rates. My suggestion is that unemployment is the taxpayer's rather than the ratepayer's responsibility. But leaving that point aside, the State definitely will have to take some steps either to see that a portion of the agricultural wage is met by the taxpayer or by the rate- payer. In my view, it should be met by the taxpayer rather than the ratepayer for the. reasons which I have already given. I believe that only in that way can the ogre of unemployment be kept away from the fair villages of our country. I believe that it would be infinitely cheaper for a portion of that wage to be found either by the taxpayer or the ratepayer, to keep these men in work, rather than let them fall out of work. Actually, the cash involved would be less. When we look at one side of the picture and consider that we should have the man in work, producing all the time, while on the other hand we should have him out of work, producing nothing and merely being a parasite for the time being on the rest of the community, surely the balance lies in favour of keeping him in work for the time.

Consider the matter from the trade balance point of view. One of our great national anxieties at this moment is that we have an adverse trade balance. Do let us remember that every ton less of food that is grown in this country has to be bought from and paid for to some country abroad. Surely on those lines it must be worth while to keep every single man in work on the fields if we possibly can by any means. I know the view of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. He has stated in this House, within the last week or 10 days, that he agrees that relief works as such are most expensive, extravagant and do not really meet the necessities of the case for dealing with unemployment. This is not a question of relief works. We have everything to hand to keep the agricultural labourers in work. We have the land, the machinery, the implements the farmers' skill and experience: all are available at this moment. What we want is a system which will enable us to keep the men in work on the land, and I would beg; the House to regard the question from that point of view.

In conclusion, I would ask the Government not to shelve the matter. Everybody knows that the Exchequer at this moment is not in a particularly happy condition and, therefore, no Member of Parliament would lightly put forward a suggestion that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should be called upon to find a sum of money for some new project, but I must ask the House to consider what is to happen if this assistance is not found. What is the alternative? If a portion of the wage is not to be found by the taxpayer, through the State, it has to be found by the ratepayer, through the rates. It is going to be found anyhow. It is surely a matter for the Government to decide which of the two is the right method and, having made up their minds as to which form the assistance should take, they should lose no time in putting it into operation, so that the men who are faced with unemployment within the next few weeks may feel that the Government are definitely attacking this matter, and that their future will be brighter than it looks at the moment.

I would ask the right hon. Gentleman when he replies to give some indications that the Government are really grappling with this problem. We cannot afford to allow the producers to fall out of production. I am. certain that if the farmers of England were told that so long as they paid the economic portion of their workers' wages the social part of the wage, or whatever you like to call it, would be met from some other source, they would strain every nerve to keep their workers on the land, where we all wish them to be.

8.49 p.m.


I do not wish to detain the House for more than a few minutes, but as the representative of a large agricultural constituency I felt that it was only right that I should on their behalf express my gratitude for the reference to agriculture in the Gracious Speech from the Throne. I had thought that it was agreed in every section of the House that agriculture was passing through the greatest crisis of its existence, but I was astonished to hear in the closing part of the speech of the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) that he thought the State had done too much for agriculture in the last few years, and that agriculture had been spoon fed. I do not think he would find very much support for that point of view if he went down to the rural parts of the country. I can only say that I have been living with farmers all my life, I have been farming my own land since the War, I keep my farm accounts, which tell their tale, and the farmers amongst whom I live tell me exactly the same tale.

I want the House to understand that it is not only one branch of farming or one section of our country that is suffering at the present time. Every branch of agriculture and every part of the country is in the midst of this appalling depression in agriculture. In my own county of Devonshire we have been fortunate in the last few years compared with the eastern counties and some other parts of the country, but within the last few months, since the terrible fall in prices, we have found ourselves in a position which is absolutely desperate. I want the Government to know that we are very grateful to them for the courageous action they have taken recently in deciding to restrict the imports of foreign meat. I think it is an extremely courageous action to have taken and a step which I suppose no Government could have contemplated taking in any previous Parliament. I feel confident that the step will result in bringing back the position of the livestock producer to the place that he was in some six or nine months ago before prices made the last tremendous fall. But I would like the House to realise that even before then, for the last three or four years, agriculture has been going through a very depressed time, and that even if we get the immediate fall in prices arrested we shall not be in a position to expand our production as we should like to do.

The industry within the last two or three years has been depressed and more and more men have been leaving the countryside. A good deal has been said in this Debate and in previous Debates about land settlement. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) made a very powerful plea for land settlement in a recent speech. Everyone who is interested in agriculture wishes to see a larger number of men, contented men, settled on our soil, but I do beg the Government not to rush into this question of land settlement until they are quite satisfied that when they have settled men on the land they will be able to make a living and be able to show profits. We have had great benefit from the Horticultural Products Act, and where land and markets are suitable for smallholdings to produce fruit, vegetables and other commodities for which a market has been assured under that Act, there is no doubt that smallholders will have every chance, certainly a far greater chance than they have had in recent years, of success, but where they are trying to embark on ordinary farming, livestock and other branches of agriculture, I should like them to be extremely careful until they are quite certain that the industry has got back to a profitable condition again.

It cannot be denied that the British farmer has the reputation, and rightly so, of being the best farmer in the world. Buyers come from all the countries of the world to purchase pedigree stock to replenish their flocks and herds. Our yield of corn per acre compares favourably with that of any other country, and for that reason it is all the sadder, when going about rural England, to see farms going down. You see land losing its fertility, fields want draining, and ditches want cleaning, weeds, which should have been cut down, still growing. No farmer likes to see his land get into a bad state of cultivation. He knows what is wrong and how to cure it; he knows how to prevent it and how to get his land into a high state of fertility. But if he is unable to show any profit or to put on the labour which the land requires, the farmer has no other alternative before him.

I hope that the Government will soon announce a permanent policy with regard to the pig industry. We are grateful for the restrictions already put on meat—they will be a great help to the industry—but we want to know at the earliest possible moment the permanent policy of the Government when these temporary restrictions have expired, so that the farmer can lay his plans for the future. We also want to know the permanent policy of the Government in regard to meat. When the temporary restrictions come to an end, what is going to happen? Are we going back to the quota system proposed at Ottawa, or can we expect the Government to make agreements with the Dominions to give us a better quota regulation than was visualised at that time. It is essential, if the fanner is to lay his plans for the future and reap the benefit which the Government desires he should from their policy, that he should have some confidence in the future and a continuity of policy. Is it hopeless to appeal to Members of the Opposition for some continuity of policy in regard to agriculture? If the policy of quota restrictions proves to be a suc- cess, is it hopeless to ask them to give us their support? We must have continuity of policy and confidence if the industry is to go on. There is no need for any unemployment in agriculture at the present, or in the future. No one can make out a charge of inefficiency or that there has been a change of fashion. You may argue that the coal industry has suffered from the competition of oil, and that a change of fashion in some industry means that certain goods are no longer required by the public, but with agriculture that argument cannot be used. People have still to eat. The scientists have not yet inflicted synthetic food upon us; and I cannot understand why people should not be content to eat British food. If the British people will eat British food there is no necessity why there should be any unemployment in agriculture.

I want the Government to give their most serious consideration to the position of unemployment in agriculture as it exists at the moment before the effects of their policy can be felt. Various suggestions have been made during the Debate. As far as my county is concerned, almost for the first time this winter we shall find unemployment and distress among agricultural workers. A suggestion has been made that where agricultural workers have to go to the public assistance committee the county council should be able to use the money provided for relieving distress on certain relief schemes in rural areas for agricultural workers who are thrown out of work. No doubt in many parts of the countryside schemes could be suggested. Corners on roads could be made more visible, and rural roads and narrow lanes, which are carrying a larger traffic, could be widened in places where the land could be given, and there is no doubt that the men themselves would infinitely prefer to do some useful work than draw relief from the public assistance committee. Everyone will agree that it would be far better for agricultural workers out of work to be provided with some useful work than to draw relief. I want to know whether the Government will be able to bring forward schemes for the assistance of the potato and poultry industries. If we could get them on a paying basis, they would be a good foundation for a more successful land settlement scheme.

The question of marking imported produce is extremely important with regard to meat and poultry and eggs. I understand that there are large quantities of chilled or frozen turkeys already in store in this country waiting to be put on the market when the Christmas season arrives. It is only fair to the consumer, as well as to the producer, in this country that these birds in cold storage should be marked as such, and not put on the market in competition with the freshly-produced British product. If it is not possible for imported gas-stored eggs to be marked as such I ask the Government whether they cannot make an order that no imported egg should be marked as new laid, but that the term "new laid" should be reserved exclusively for home-produced eggs. That is not a difficult matter for the Government, and it would be a great help to the poultry industry. When they are making their new treaty arrangements with Russia, I hope that the Government will bear in mind the abnormal importation of cheap poultry which has been coming in from that country for many months, and depressing the market for home produced poultry. We do not ask for any favours. All we ask is to be allowed a chance of competing on equal terms with the foreigner. If we can have a fair chance in the home market and are able to compete on equal terms, I have no doubt that British agriculture will be able to play a most substantial part in correcting the adverse balance of trade, which is such a serious factor at the present time.

9.5 p.m.


I have listened with very great interest to the speeches of the last few hours. They have been characterised more or less by one main feature. The hon. Member who has just spoken has asked the Government to do something about potatoes and poultry. Previous speakers have appealed to the Government to do something about barley and pigs. One of the most striking things in this Debate is that Conservative Members are now appealing in all kinds of ways for the State to come to the assistance of the farming industry. I am very sorry the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Colonel Ruggles-Brise) has left his place, because he made a very interesting speech and I want to refer to it. He told us that the real crisis in agriculture would be upon us in a few weeks, and he went on to say that the State had interfered with agriculture in ways which had been detrimental to that industry. He instanced the Agricultural Wages Act and the State's action in regard to the return to the Gold Standard. Those two things, he said, had both affected agriculture in the wrong way. Then he called attention to another fact which, he said, had been very detrimental, and that was the open food market in this country, as he called it. It was very convenient on the hon. and gallant Member's part to leave out of his spech any references whatever to the State's assistance of agriculture in various ways.

It may be that hon. Members opposite do not think that the State has given all the assistance that it should give. Apparently they do not think so, because of the appeals that they are making here to-night. Someone has taken exception to the statement made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) that agriculture had been spoon-fed. I think that always the agricultural industry has been specially guarded by the Conservative party, as far as they were able to guard it, and they have in various ways attempted to give it assistance. Surely the House should remember how the agricultural industry used to pay half rates, and then quarter rates, and now no rates at all, except upon the residence in which the farmer himself lives. Then we get the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon saying that in this crisis the State must take full responsibility for agriculture. We welcome the conversion of the Conservative party to Socialistic principles. Agriculture, of course, has just as much right to protection as manufactures. We are not dissenting from that proposition at all. But do let hon. Members opposite realise all that is involved in their appeal. Let them remember that there may come a time when some others of us may want to push this State action much further than they desire it to go, at the present moment at any rate.

All that the present Government have done up to now has involved interference with trade on a nation-wide scale, and now the Government are being asked for interference in regard to agriculture on a similar nation-wide scale; and we on these benches welcome the way in which the Tory party is scrapping its age-long prejudices. Whole chunks of their philosophy are being thrown overboard every day in this House. No longer do they rely on individual enterprise, initiative and ability. The hon. Member who has just spoken said that British farming is quite efficient, that it is the best farming in the world. We do not dissent from his proposition at all. All we say is that in spite of that fact hon. Members opposite are compelled to come along in existing circumstances and appeal to the Government over and over again for assistance in all directions. So I think we ought to say a few words about some of the things which have been said, with which we on these benches agree. I agree with hon. Members who have spoken about the provision of some form of unemployment insurance for agricultural labourers. We here have been of that opinion for some time. But we have had some astonishing claims made from the other side too. The hon. and gallant Member for Maldon suggested that in some way the State should subsidise the farm labourer's wages.


Hear, hear!


The hon, and gallant. Member said "Hear, hear!" and he also represents an agricultural constituency. But surely if hon. Members who represent agricultural constituencies have a right to appeal to the Government to subsidise the wages of farm labourers, we who represent mining constituencies have as much right to appeal to the Government to subsidise miners' wages. Miners' wages, like agricultural labourers' wages, are far too low, and if Tory Members of Parliament have now reached the stage of political evolution that they ask for the subsidising of farm labourers' wages, let them rest assured that they will get demands for the subsidising of other kinds of wages at no distant date.

I listened yesterday with a great deal of interest to the Prime Minister's speech, after my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition had spoken. The Prime Minister seemed to be rather angry with my right hon. Friend. Out of mere curiosity I thought I would read the speech which the Prime Minister delivered on a similar occasion in opening the Debate on the Address in 1927. It is curious to find that in that speech the first thing that the present Prime Minister said to the Government of the day was, in effect, "Now you have said something in the King's Speech about agriculture, but where are your Bills? What Bills on agriculture are you going to produce?" I do not think the right hon. Gentleman had any right yesterday to be angry when he was asked what Bills he was going to produce on that very subject.

Stranger still to me is the fact that one of the next paragraphs of that speech in 1927 was that in which the present Prime Minister talked about the victimisation of miners. He complained that quite a lot of miners were being victimised because of their trade union opinions and beliefs. I could not help thinking that if he could come with me to-day into Nottinghamshire he would find that miners are being very seriously persecuted because of their trade union beliefs and opinions. Yet to-day the right hon. Gentleman is at the head of a Government which could remedy that state of things if it wished. The right hon. Gentleman did attack another Government four or five years ago because they allowed it to go on. Stranger still, in the same speech the present Prime Minister attacked the Government of the day because they were, he said, imperilling our trading relations with Russia. Here he is at the head of a Government which has given notice to cancel the existing Trade Agreement with Russia. How strange these things are, in view of the circumstances in which we now find ourselves.

To turn to another point, may I remind the House how in 1930 and 1931 the Protectionists, as they saw the figures of unemployment mounting, expressed the view in speeches and in the Press that their opportunity was coming. Many of them before the last Election, began to picture the future, as they saw it. They said that when their Protectionist system was in being, unemployment would rapidly diminish. They even talked to the workers about high wages inside a Protectionist system. They held out the prospect of abounding prosperity. Never before they said had there been such times for the workers in this country, as would be enjoyed, once they had established their Protectionist system. Well, now they have the power and they have begun to use it. I think it was the Financial Secretary to the Treasury who told us at the end of last Session that they had laid the foundations of the new England in the Import Duties Act and that the Ottawa Agreement Act was the superstructure which they were erecting on those foundations. So far the results are not very encouraging—are they? Let us look at them. Of course, it all depends on the point of view, but, so far, one of the results has been that everywhere in the country we have falling and not rising wages. I use the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) rather than my own. He told us to-day that everything is worse now than it was a year ago. Those are practically the words which he used and in view of them, I need not go through a series of cases which I might mention in support of my point.

I wish, however, to refer briefly to one instance because it concerns my constituency. We are told that tariffs are designed to encourage the establishment of new industries. The Board of Trade have some curious ideas about new industries. Industries which they think are new in this country are in some cases very old, and I do not understand how it is that they are so ill-informed on certain matters. A little while ago, apparently, they thought that the making of fine hosiery was a new industry in this country. It is not new here by any means. It happens that in connection with a certain branch of that industry machines from Germany have recently been imported into this country, but those machines are only a variation on a well-known English patent in connection with the maufacture of fine silk stockings.

Let me preface what I am about to say on this point by stating that I have no prejudice against the foreign workman as such. But I cannot understand the action of the Government in regard to these matters. They have said that they want new industries established here in order to find work for British workpeople. I obtained a reply recently from the Minister for Labour in which he stated that about 27 Germans had been granted permits to come into this country—in my area and just outside it—to work in the hosiery industry. The permits had been granted on the ground that these German workers were teaching British operatives to manipulate this, machine to which I have referred, and were also erecting the machines. To erect one of these machines, as I pointed out in a supplementary question, takes about a fortnight, and to teach a British operative to operate one of them takes two or three days at the most. It is only in the matter of a few "gadgets" that the German machine differs from the British machine. I cannot understand why long permits are given to these foreign workers to remain here manipulating this machine when British workers can well do so. There is only one explanation, and it is that these foreigners are working for lower wages than the British operatives manipulating the same machine. Why should the Government allow that kind of thing to continue

The Prime Minister was very much disturbed yesterday at the Socialist indictment which the Leader of the Opposition laid against the existing system. I do not know why the right hon. Gentleman should be so agitated about it, because many times in the past he himself has brought indictments against the capitalist regime. He prided himself on the fact that he was still a gradualist. A gradualist, I take it, is one who believes in the steady transformation of the capitalist system into some form of Socialism. I would not characterise the Prime Minister to-day as a gradualist. I would say that the Prime Minister to-day is definitely pursuing a policy of reaction. He has turned his back completely on all the ideals for which he formerly stood and has gone over bag and baggage to the Tory party. He has completely identified himself with the reactionary proposals for which that party stands. That State assistance for which they are now appealing, they may get, in some form, from His Majesty's Government as at present constituted but the real State action which is necessary to save, not only manufactures and agriculture but the masses of the people of this country, will only come when the party which now occupies these benches once more hold the reins of office.

9.23 p.m.


I wish to bring the House back again to the subject of agriculture. I know that some hon. Members are interested in the question of new processes in the manufacture of fine hosiery, but I do not think that that is a key industry of this country, and the Debate to-night has been largely concerned with agriculture. On that subject, I wish to say how much the agricultural members and the farmers and farmworkers appreciate the speedy way in which the Minister of Agriculture acted in connection with the recent meat crisis. Action was taken quickly; the results came almost automatically, and we feel that the long-range policy on which the Government have entered is going to be successful. I wish, however, to draw the Minister's attention to the present state of employment, particularly in the arable, districts. We are facing a most serious time just now. The work which usually goes on at this time of year, the lifting of the root crops and the autumn sowing, is nearly finished, and in another two or three weeks many more men in agriculture will lose their employment, because capital has gone out of the industry in vast quantities during the past few years owing to the losses which the farmers have made. It is impossible for them to obtain further credits to carry their men through this winter. The work of hedging and ditching and draining and repair of buildings and so on, which usually takes place in winter time, cannot proceed. This winter the men will not find occupation of that kind, and it was no exaggeration on the part of the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Colonel Ruggiles-Brise) when he said that we could expect another 100,000 men to be out of work before Christmas, unless the Government took action.

The policy of action which we are urging the Government to take is to tide over the difficult period between now and when their long-range policy comes into proper operation. It is with that in mind that I want to suggest to His Majesty's Government that they should take this action, and that it will not be wasted money. If the jobs that should be done this winter are neglected, the land, already not farmed as it should be in many parts, will get steadily worse, and production next year will be worse. The people thrown out of work have no means of receiving unemployment insurance benefit, and will have to go to the public assistance authorities. I do not know whether hon. Members appreciate how difficult it is for a farm labourer, living in some cases 10 or 12 miles away from the public assistance authorities, to go to get relief. In the Yorkshire Wolds to-day there are families who are almost starving but who are too proud to go to public assistance of this sort. There are men who have never known unemployment in agriculture, skilled men who have contributed—and I want to make a particular appeal to the Labour party in this connection—to the unemployment insurance of the other workers in industry for many years past. They have paid through tobacco, beer and in other ways substantial sums which have been given to other branches of industry.

The farm labourer this year finds himself in s. particularly tight corner, and I ask that at this time the State should come in and do something substantial to help us over the next few months. The critical time will be from 1st December to 1st April. The farmers themselves cannot assist us at all, and therefore we have to ask this House for some assistance. I suggest to His Majesty's. Government that they should definitely give the sum of money, which would have been paid to these additional agricultural unemployed people, to the farmers, in order that they may receive some help in maintaining these people at work during the winter. I suggest to the Minister that some sort of quota basis of labour should be given to the farmers, and that quota basis should have a datum line fixed upon a period where the men become increasingly dismissed. If the farmers had a quota definitely stabilised by the agricultural county authorities, then the people who were employed over and above that datum line during this winter should receive from the State a definite sum of money which would not be more than they would have received if they had gone to the public authority. These grants should be something less than the amount they would have received, and if the farmer got them I believe he would be willing even at this time to make up the amount; to the statutory rate of wages in order to keep these men at work, and to keep the land ready for next year's crop.

I calculate that if these extra unemployed are to go on to the public purse during this winter they will cost the State, or rather the rural ratepayers, a sum somewhere around £1,500,000. That sum will have been spent in giving these men and their families a very poor existence during this winter, and will have done nothing at all towards maintaining agriculture at a reasonable level to deal with the increased quantities which are expected from the land at this time. If this is granted it will do something in a substantial way to put us in a position to help the balance of trade in another year. These agricultural labourers are skilled in their trade. They have had a very difficult time during the past few years, and very few of the benefits that most of the community have had. They have not had electric light, or subsidised houses or unemployment insurance pay. They have lived on the land just as they have for hundreds of years past, and this winter they are going to be faced with privations such as most of the people in this country have never seen.

One hon. Gentleman on the Labour Benches said that agriculture had been spoon-fed. I think he represented a mining division. If there is any industry in the country which has been spoon-fed it is the mining industry. The miners have had far more from the national Exchequer than ever the agricultural labourers have had. I remember the time in this House when we voted vast sums of money to subsidise the miners. I also want to point out that although the coal-mining industry is a most important industry—and I am one of those people who believe that it is only through agriculture and mining that this country will ever again be a prosperous country—at the same time it is not faced with the disastrous importations that have so ruined the agricultural industry. Therefore, I do ask a little more consideration for the agricultural labourers at this time, when they need it. We are perfectly satisfied with the policy that the Government have laid down ahead, but we do ask for this temporary assistance this winter. I know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer finds it extremely difficult to make a grant towards agriculture in the form of credits. If this money is to be forthcoming from the public purse, whichever way it is granted, surely the Government can direct that money into channels where it will be useful? I know the Minister is quite capable of preparing a satisfactory scheme which will keep these men at work if the Chancellor of the Exchequer will find the money. I do ask him to urge on the Chancellor the real importance of maintaining stability in agriculture at this time in order to ensure the proper fulfilment of the long-range policy of the Government when it comes.

There is another point about which I want to ask the Minister. He is taking very important steps in dealing with meat prices, but there is a great difference between the prices which the farmer receives and those which the consumer pays. The right hon. Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) pointed out that the farmers had not supplied sufficient information. I can only say that the livestock prices are quoted every week, and as everybody in the country goes to the retail shops, the simple problem of mathematics in this connection is not very difficult to calculate. I am certain that the margin between the two prices is absolutely out of all proportion from the producers' point of view. I, myself, have all the meat that I buy sent from my own constituency to the West Riding of Yorkshire, where I live, and I am able to save 6d. per lb. by buying direct from the producers as compared with buying from the shops. If I can do that, I think it shows there is a discrepancy which should be corrected. I do not think it will be corrected without some action on the part of the Minister of Agriculture. I believe we shall have to come to a system of public abattoirs, where the farmer will have his meat weighed, graded, and sold according to standard, and where there will be regularity right through the industry, without these varying prices which occur in many of the smaller market towns. Some measures of that sort would open out real hope for the live stock industry of the country at this time.

Before resuming my seat, I wish to refer to the fishing industry. It seems to me to be ridiculous that we should be importing the vast quantities of fish that are being landed by foreigners on our shores when our own fishing industry is capable of handling everything that the people of this country need, and at a proper price. The large importations by foreigners are having a very marked effect on the general price level obtained by our own fishermen. I will quote an example of prices obtained at Flamborough only last week. The fishermen there are in-shore fishermen, and they landed 186 stones of cod last week and sold that fish at Flamborough at 1d. a lb. I took the trouble to check the price of fish sold in the industrial districts, and I could find nothing less than 8d. for the same quality of fish. They told me, when they wrote to me about this matter, that the price was brought down because of foreigners landing fish. I am certain that that is a line of action that the Minister might take to improve the position of our fishing industry.

If something is not done and the industry is not put upon a remunerative basis, no one will be left in it. It is a difficult and a dangerous task, and unless the fishermen get proper remuneration for carrying out this service, they are not likely to remain in the industry. At Flamborough, where there used always to be something like 50 boats, there are now, this last year, only about 18 or 19 operating, and I am told that no young men are going into the industry. I think the Minister might very well take some action in that matter. The industries of agriculture and fishing have very great confidence in the ability and power of the right hon. Gentleman to put these things right, and I can only assure him that any legislative Measures he may consider it necessary to pass will have the backing of all who are keen on getting these things put on a proper basis.

I am certain that this country can never recover its former prosperity unless we put this great industry of agriculture on to a really permanent and stable foundation. We have done a great deal towards it in some of the Measures that the Government have passed. I am particularly appreciative of the Wheat Quota Act, which has made a great deal of difference to my own constituents. In fact this year wheat seems to be the only remunerative crop that they have grown. The position of the barley industry there is entirely unsatisfactory, and something ought to be done in that connection at the earliest possible opportunity. There is no demand for barley for malting, although good class barley has been produced—probably one of the finest crops for many years. There is no market for it. The Government's intolerable burden and vested interests in the licensed trade have reduced the production of beer and consequently brought down the demand for barley to a very low level. The only other use for that crop is to feed it to stock. Next year the Minister's restrictions will, I hope, be made permanent and probably much more rigid than they are now, and I hope that that assistance, if it is given, may be the means of making the livestock industry profitable. Then perhaps a lot more of the barley could be used in that direction.

I beg the Government to give to the agricultural industry some encouragement for these next four critical months. I know that a lot of farmers, whatever they do, are bound to go under, but a lot can be saved, and a lot of the land can be saved if timely action is taken. I believe the money they would spend in this direction would not be wasted at all, but that the nation would find it extremely profitable, and I beg the Minister to do everything he can to induce his colleagues to see the seriousness of this great problem, to be fair to the agricultural labourers, who are entitled to consideration at this time, and to give to our farmers and their men some hope of carrying on through this winter.

9.41 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel WINDSOR-CLIVE

I think the speech of the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. C. Brown) gave us the reason why the Socialist party makes no progress in the agricultural constituencies. It was a fitting complement to the speech of the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. George Hall), and I am sure that agriculturists will be interested to hear that the Socialists think that too much has been done for agriculture. I want to ask my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture if he can give the House any information as to the duration of the present restrictions on imported meat, because I believe that on that decision very largely depends whether or not the present unemployment in agriculture can be arrested. I do not want to go into the question, mentioned by so many hon. Members, of the extremely critical period that we have to go through in the next few months, but that is the really serious point at the moment. We were told yesterday that the principal cause of unemployment in agriculture is the use of machinery. I dare say that has a good deal to do with it, but I believe that the real cause of the decreasing employment that has been going on now for so many years is the decline of arable cultivation. We can all see that in any part of the country, but I hope and believe that the Wheat Quota Act will do a great deal towards mending that state of affairs.

Now we have this unemployment caused by the fall in the wholesale prices of livestock, simply because farmers cannot maintain the number of labourers necessary. The Government have taken action, and it has been effective, because I know that in the various auctions in my constituency in the last few days the prices of livestock have improved, but these are emergency measures, and how long will they last? Is it intended that they shall remain in force until the arrangements under the Ottawa Agreements come into force, and, if so, does the right hon. Gentleman think that those arrangements will be sufficient? I am bound to say that I have some doubts on that point.

The Government have decided on the principle of a quota, as against that of tariffs, and I presume they came to that conclusion after full consideration of all the factors involved. Are they really satisfied that that method will be efficacious? I would like an assurance that the Government will watch this situation most carefully and, if the quota method does not seem to be doing what is wanted, that they will have no hesitation about trying another method, whether tariffs or something else. The Government must do what has been so long neglected by every party in the State. They must restore the prosperity of agriculture. We all know how, all over the country, you see land that is not nearly as well cultivated as it ought to be, and land that ought to be good grass land overgrown with thistles, and the drainage neglected, until it looks more like a snipe bog than a pasture for cattle and sheep. We want to continue the development of smallholdings and land settlement, but it is no use doing all those things until you have made it possible for a man to make a living out of the land.

There is only one other matter to which I wish to refer. I believe that the question of unemployment cannot be cured until we have solved the problem of Empire migration, and it cannot be substantially alleviated until we have restored the normal channels of trade. The Government have done a good deal towards that end in their policy. But there are a large number of men in my constituency whose normal occupation is quarrying stone for the making and repairing of roads. The reduction of expenditure on roads has meant that these men are unable to get work. For them the expenditure on roads is not in the nature of relief work; it is their normal occupation, and they are willing and anxious to carry it out. I realise fully that it is still urgent to maintain the most rigid economy in national expenditure, but I hope that when schemes of road work are put forward that are really useful and are not merely done for the sake of giving work, the quarrymen may receive some consideration.

9.46 p.m.


I hope that the hon. and gallant Member for Ludlow (Lieut.-Colonel Windsor-Clive) will forgive me if I do not follow him in the interesting speech which he has just made. I want in the few moments at my disposal to revert to the important subject which was introduced by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckrose (Major Braith-waite), namely, the fishing industry. The Gracious Speech has dealt very fairly and hopefully with the problem of agriculture, but I think that the Government should know that those of us who represent fishing constituencies are much disappointed, and perhaps a little surprised, to find that there is not a syllable referring to the fishing industry. The Government should know, too, that the disappointment which we feel will be reflected among tens of thousands of men and women along the coasts of this country. There is a close analogy between the fishing industry and the agricultural industry. It is not only that both these industries come under the general supervision of the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries; the similarity is deeper than that. In particular, the two industries are similar in the nature of the depression which has affected them.

The fundamental cause of the depression in the fishing industry, as in the agricultural industry, may be simply stated, even if it be not very simple in its solution. The fundamental problem is simply that the producer cannot sell his products at a price which will cover the cost of his production. That is the problem in both the fishing and agricultural industries. The Government have taken the most vigorous steps to deal with the agricultural problem, and a great many of us must regret that they have been unable to take similar steps to deal with the fishing industry. The hon. and gallant Member for Buckrose referred to the plight of the inshore fishermen. He pointed out the difficulties under which they were labouring, how impossible their position was becoming, and how much they were affected by the tremendous importation of foreign fish into this country. The considerations which apply to the inshore fishermen in the hon. and gallant Member's constituency and all round the coast apply with equal and perhaps greater force to the great industry of trawling. I have no time to indicate thoroughly how desperate the condition of the trawling industry is. In one fishing port the trawling section of the industry was run last year with a loss of something like £150,000. That is by no means a unique instance. A firm of chartered accountants made earlier in the year a survey of the accounts of some 800 fishing vessels which were roughly typical of the trawling industry, and as a result, it became apparent that the industry was being run at a considerable loss.

It is obvious that the industry cannot go on for ever under these conditions, and I appeal earnestly to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries to devise some policy of restricting the importations of foreign fish. I do not think that the precise nature of the policy matters very much, whether it be a legal quota or a voluntary restriction, or whether it be a substantial duty; but, if the Government wish to preserve this important industry, it will have to take some definite action very soon. I would like to assure the Government and the House that not only the trawler owners, but the owners of fishing vessels of all kinds, are affected by the importation of foreign fish. Every day hundreds of fishermen from the ports of this country go out to sea; I am thinking in particular of those who go out now in comparatively small ships, to fare forth into the ice and darkness of the arctic regions in the winter. They go there to endure unimaginable hardship, and they work, not like slaves, but like heroes, knowing that when they come back there will be next to nothing in their pockets. They know that one cause of this is the importation of foreign fish which is freely coming into the country every day.

There is one argument which is usually used when any question of protection for a particular industry is raised; it was used this evening by the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) in relation to the agricultural industry. He said that the agricultural industry had never done anything to help itself and that it should do that before it applied to the Government for aid. The hon. Member for Aberdare was sufficiently answered by the hon. Member for Devizes (Sir P. Hurd) and others, but no one who knows anything about the fishing industry would level the same kind of charge against it. That industry has never in the past come to the Government for help, and it has done everything it can to help itself. In my own constituency the industry is organised to an extraordinary pitch of perfection. It represents, indeed, a perfect example of what is called, I believe, vertical rationalisation, that is to say, every branch of the industry is organised and unified. The insurance of the ships, the managing of the ships, the manufacture of the ice, the manufacture of the various by-products which arise from the fish, are all unified in the most absolute and complete way. Not only is the organisation developed to a very high degree, but the trawling industry has since the War made definite efforts to improve its own conditions in the markets of this country.

Those efforts have been almost universally unsuccessful, for the reason that although they have been able to control their own enterprise they have not been able to control the foreigner. For example, the trawling companies embarked upon a most thorough-going and most expensive publicity campaign to encourage the consumption of fish in this country, and succeeded in doing that as the result of an expenditure of some thousands of pounds. But they found that they were not benefited by that increased consumption; the benefit went to the foreigner. In the same way, it appeared to some of the owners of fish- ing vessels in my own constituency that a certain part of the fishing grounds was being over-fished, and they met together and decided to divert their activities and to restrict the supplies of the particular kind of fish from that area, in the hope of raising prices. That was a perfectly reasonable thing for them to do, and a progressive thing. It showed that they were alive to the difficulties of their position, and were doing everything they could to meet those difficulties. But they found that when they restricted their supplies it only encouraged foreign fishing vessels to go to that area in increasing numbers, and to dump their produce here. And so, again, their efforts only had the effect of benefiting the foreigner and hitting British fishermen.

I was most interested a few days ago to read a speech delivered by the Minister of Agriculture in the country. It was to me a most heartening speech. He said in reference to agriculture that he was not wedded to any particular remedy or expedient, but was wedded to each and every remedy which he thought might be possible. If I may say so, that seems to me to be the most noble form of polygamy. I could not help contrasting with that the austere, the rigid, the almost terrible monasticism which the right hon. Gentleman seems to practise in his capacity as Minister of Fisheries. In that capacity he does not seem to be wedded to each and every policy, but at the moment he seems to be wedded to none. I am not trying to criticise the right hon. Gentleman, I am not trying to suggest that in his short tenure of office he has not done that which he should have done in relation to the fishing industry. I know that he has had his hands quite full in the few weeks in which he has been in office as Minister of Agriculture. If I may say so with all respect, it looks as if he would go down to history as one of the most vigorous and successful holders of that office we have ever had. I think he has the opportunity also of earning fame as one of the most successful Ministers of Fisheries we have ever had, and I hope he will not be slow to seize that opportunity.

9.59 p.m.


I feel I ought to join in the congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman which have formed a very important part of the Debate since 7 p.m. It has been something in the nature of a mutual admiration society, and at all events the right hon. Gentleman can congratulate himself upon the very good feeling that appears to have been created in the minds of hon. Members in all parts of the House. Particularly does that apply to Members drawn from agricultural divisions. Referring to the speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, if recent events are a true indication, were the fishing industry as strong as the agricultural industry, had it the same numerical forces on the back benches, fishing would have been cared for during the past few months. However, that is their misfortune, and if they have so far failed I hope he will persist, as agriculturists persisted until something was done for their industry. Anything that can be done by the Government either in initiating, assisting or even providing schemes of useful work in rural England during this winter ought to be done in order to find employment for the men who have been displaced. It is almost impossible to expect to transform that uneconomic and depressed industry into a prosperous one in the course of a few weeks. We do not expect even the National Government to accomplish that miracle. The men being the victims of a disordered, unfortunate economic system, applicable, perhaps, to the whole world, whatever can be done to find useful work for them ought to be put in hand at once. All the economy steps which were taken 12 months ago ought to be reconsidered. It would be more economical to spend money in finding work of a useful character for agricultural labourers than to leave them a burden upon the rates. It is true that farmers no longer pay any rates, and, therefore, the burden does not revert to the farmers, but it is a burden upon the districts, and, if speeches made to-day are a true guide, many of the districts cannot afford to bear the heavy charges coming upon them during the coming winter.

The recent measures of the Government in the form of restrictions, quotas and negotiations do not appeal to me as a form of statesmanship which is likely to solve the very real problem in this basic industry. For a Government to be pressed, pushed and even bullied into piecemeal activity, not having planned in advance and not having each step linked, as it were, with the next, may very well lead ultimately not to prosperity but to disaster for the industry they are trying to assist. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite persist in suggesting that Members of the Labour party are not interested in agriculture and have no desire to assist it. May I say once and for all that if they will discriminate between agriculture and farmers then perhaps they will better understand the ideas and the ambitions of those who sit on these benches? We are as anxious as the Minister himself that agriculture should be assisted, but we are not anxious to create a sense of false security. We are not anxious to apply piecemeal legislation, which has no relation to the real basic problems in the industry. Far rather would we design and plan ahead, and move step by step towards that plan, until ultimately we should know that the farmers were being assisted to assist themselves and that agriculture had been made permanently prosperous. That is preferable to creating commercial disturbances with this country's customers abroad and creating a sense of false security; that will not in any way affect the basic problems of the industry.

During the last few weeks the right hon. Gentleman and his Government have been indulging in restrictions, quotas and import; duties for this commodity and for that. The Government have attempted nothing so far as the basic problem is concerned. When the balance sheet is issued and a final estimate is made of the cost to the townsman, he will want to know what has been done on the positive side to warrant such a payment being made to agriculture. He will not be content with the present-day inefficiency, if townsmen are going to be called upon perpetually to pay the piper. May I here discriminate between what we mean by inefficiency and the usual interpretation of the term by hon. Members on the Conservative benches? When we talk about efficiency or inefficiency, we do not suggest that the individual farmer is not capable of producing the maximum amount of commodities on his particular farm, but that he has not learned the first lesson of how to market his produce.

We suggest that the present transition, through which agriculture is passing, is one in which we shall not create permanent prosperity by conceding a subsidy of £6,000,000 per annum for the production of wheat. Leaving that alone, we may turn to the restriction that has been imposed upon the importation of bacon. The import duty paid by consumers of bacon is £14,000,000 per annum. That leaves the problem as it was before. We shall not solve the problem merely by imposing a restriction upon consumers of meat of approximately £35,000,000 per annum. We have to think of agriculture in terms of drastic and comprehensive change in the whole organisation of the industry. It has been said, and I know this to be true, that when we talk of bacon we always ought to have in mind dairy-farming as a whole, and that when we talk of milk we ought to have in mind butter and pigs, too. Is there any hon. or right hon. Member who talks about agricultural efficiency who has ever attempted to suggest that agriculture in this country makes the best of its opportunities. In Denmark, where order is the rule and not the exception, success in bacon production has been due to the fact that the producers have allied their production of milk and butter to that of bacon. The very process of producing vast quantities of butter has left as a residue milk which acts as foodstuff for the pigs and so produces a quality which has found a ready market in this country, and has resulted in conditions being well-nigh impossible for the average farmer who specialises in any other method, but the one which we all know has been operating in Denmark for a very long time.

Therefore, the inefficiency to which we refer in regard to agriculture is not in the production of individual farms, but is in the marketing of the commodity once produced; and is, secondly, in not relating the production of one commodity to some other agricultural commodity which would be mutually helpful and would tend towards efficiency. This we regard as highly necessary in this country, which is the best food market in any part of the world. The hon. and gallant Member for Buckrose (Major Braithwaite) talked about what had been done for farmers. We must remember that agriculture has been relieved of the whole of its rates. Agriculture has been receiving £6,000,000 per annum for the past six years for the production of sugar-beet. They will be getting, in the next five years, £6,000,000 for the production of wheat. Import restrictions have been imposed on beef, mutton and lamb, and that will mean an indirect subsidy from the consumers of beef, mutton and lamb of £35,000,000 per annum.

The Minister, because of tremendous pressure from the back benches, has negotiated an arrangement whereby the imports of bacon are to be restricted by 15.3 per cent. If the right hon. Gentleman attains what he set out to attain, which was to go back to the 1929 prices with 1929 quantities available, then, on the 1929 consumption, there will be a further £14,000,000 per annum duty upon the consumers of bacon in this country. If we allow only £2,000,000 for potatoes and various vegetables, the bill will be brought up to approximately £63,000,000 per annum handed over to agriculturists in this country. Assuming that the thing works out as was stated by the Under-Secretary of State for the Dominions a short time ago, when he said that our object was to raise prices so that the producer abroad would be able to pay his debts to this country—[Interruption]—If the hon. and gallant Gentleman has any point to make I will give way.


I want to point out that in this country the agriculturist has been paid, and has been giving the money over to the people who buy his produce, solely because of the fact that we have allowed agricultural produce to be dumped here far below the cost of production.


The hon. Gentleman gave a reply to himself a few moments ago far better than I could give it, when he said that the margin between the price I of sheep and the price charged by the retailer to the consumers was so large that he himself imports all his meat from Buckrose into Leeds and gets it 6d. a lb. less than he would have to pay otherwise. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has paid some little attention to the margins between producers' prices and consumers' prices, and he will see that the problem of agriculture could be settled without the colossal burden being placed upon consumers of agricultural commodities. One Gould find many I examples, if one cared to to illustrate the necessity for the Government doing something more than appeasing the appetite of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen, so that they can go back to their consittuencies, feeling that they are quite safe till the next General Election. For the Minister of Agriculture, or for the Government as a whole, to dip their hands into the townsman's pocket in order to provide a bribe for agriculture, without agriculture doing anything to help itself, is indefensible. If the hon. and gallant Member for Buckrose and all his colleagues were willing to lower retail prices, I am not at all sure that the opposition would come from the Liberal or the Labour benches. Because of their unwillingness to do anything but try to raise the wholesale price without any guarantee to the consumer, we are obliged to persist in our opposition to these piecemeal schemes which have no finality so far as regards real efficiency in the agricultural industry.

I have here a letter from a farmer telling me about the prices ruling in shops in Nottingham for pork and lamb on the same day. He tells me that, notwithstanding the huge imports of bacon, and the flooding of the pork market as well as the bacon market—prices being so low that the producer is unable to eke out an existence—in three successive shops in one part of Nottingham pork loin chops were 1s. and 1s. 2d. per lb., or the same prices that were being asked in 1929; so that, if the producer is only getting 50 per cent, of what he originally got, the consumer is deriving no benefit. If the producer would follow his commodities down to the retail shop, he would see that it is not so much a question of the consumer begging his food from the producer as it is a question of the retailer exploiting both the consumer and the producer. Here is another example. Several weeks ago, some lambs were bought in the Nottingham market at an average price of less than 6½d. per lb. The offal would cover the cost of transit and slaughtering. Legs were 1s. 10d. per lb., chops 2s., and shoulders 1s. 8d. I have the name of the butcher here. I do not wish to give it in public, but am quite willing to give it to any hon. Member in private. These cases could be multi plied many times over—


Has the hon. Member the prices which the Nottingham cooperative stores are charging?


Like the flowers that bloom in the spring, that has nothing at all to do with the case. If the co-operative society in Nottingham, or in any other town or city in this country, were living side by side with other retailers and were taking advantage of farmers as producers and of consumers as buyers, a sensible scheme would compel the cooperative society as well as the private concerns to do the right thing; but merely to interject a question as to what the co-operative societies are doing in no way affects the general problem.

I have another example in connection with milk. The farmer enters into an agreement, together with a number of other producers of milk, with the United Dairies, Limited, who guarantee to pay 1s. 2d. per gallon for milk; but they find ways and means of whittling down that 1s. 2d. to 11¾d. They charge so much for transit, so much for the use of the churns, and on occasional days they do not call for any milk at all, leaving it on the farmer's hands. The farmer makes up his mind to retail his own milk, and, instead of selling it, as the dairy combine was doing, at 5½d. per quart, he is able to sell it at 4d. and make a bigger profit than ever he has done in his life. Instead of selling the 34 gallons a day which he produces on his own farm, he is now selling 70 gallons a day at 4d. per quart instead of the ruling price of 5½d. charged by the dairy company. If farmers would do something on these lines, they would not require the subsidies that are being called for by hon. Members in all parts of the House. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the policy of restriction is going to help the producer as he anticipates. Lord Astor, in another place, suggested that a certain figure will have to be paid by the consumer of meat in this country, and, of course, that applies to bacon also in the last analysis; while another Noble Lord, Lord Beaver- brook, suggests that this money will not necessarily find its way into the pockets—


We cannot refer here to a Debate which took place quite recently in another place.


I am sorry if I have transgressed the Rules. Perhaps I had better make a quotation from a newspaper which will cover the same point. It is suggested there that the higher prices which the right hon. Gentleman hopes to secure from the wholesaler, and ultimately from the retailer, will not necessarily find their way into the producer's pocket. The suggestion is that the five companies who form the combine which imports meat from the Argentine will be the people who will have all the bargaining power with the producers in the Argentine, and that the importers, and not the producers, might very easily get away with the swag. To that extent the producer abroad will be in no better position to pay his debts here than he is at this moment. I noticed in the "Daily Mail" a short time ago an article headed, "Watch the Profiteers." They said: Beware of the would-be profiteers. Particularly beware of those who preach that, because the Government is trying to assist British agriculture by restricting the import of foreign meat, the consumer will have to pay more. They gave a case where a farmer experimented to ascertain exactly where the leakage was, why it was that home producers were not getting a reasonable price, and where the margin was going. He bought a couple of fat lambs. They cost him in all £2 12s. 4d., including killing, the drover and the rest. He retailed them himself and secured for them £3 19s., leaving a profit of £l 6s. 8d., which he considered a fairly satisfactory return. He proceeded to the shops to get a similar example and to see how it worked out there. He found that the prices for the same parts of the carcasses throughout totalled £6 Is. lid., leaving a profit of £3 9s. 7d. on the original outlay of £2 12s. 4d. There it can readily be seen that, without imposing a burden upon the already depressed consumer in many parts of the country, there is an ample margin, if the Government care to deal with the retailer, to secure some benefit for the consumer, who is very likely to consume larger quantities, and ultimately do better for the producer than is the case at this moment. The "Manchester Guardian," referring to the restriction on the imports of bacon, makes this statement: As prices fell after 1929 with the increase of supplies, the importers and merchants struck new strata of customers, and every reduction in price actually did bring in a fresh class. In 1931 the total consumption was 13,000,000 cwts., or 2,600,000 cwts. more than that allowed by the quota. It is fair to assume that the process will he reversed as prices rise again. Every advance will cut out one of the strata and the people deprived of bacon will be the poorest in the country. I think that is perfectly obvious. It you increase the price to be paid by the consumer without paying some attention to the price charged by the retailer, you will deprive the lowest stratum of society of any bacon at all, and to that extent you will not help to solve the problem with which agriculture is confronted. These restrictions, quotas and import duties have been imposed. We have no means of short-circuiting them. We shall have to pay the price. One hon. Member has made a novel suggestion—it is conformable with one made in 1834—namely, that if the farmer can only pay £l a week wages and it requires 30s. to maintain the labourer, the Government ought to permit the Ratepayers to pay the extra 10s. of the labourer's wages. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will respond to that appeal. We shall not be many days behind in seeking a similar subsidy for mine workers, and he will have other industrial workers on his track. The right hon. Gentleman has done something, at all events, for farmers. I do not think that he has done much for agriculture except to confuse rather than to help to produce a real plan. He is not responsible for that. He has only been in office two or three weeks, and, as the most hopeful agricultural Member of this House, I would ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to leave the beaten track and to tell the farmers that for everything the Government do for the farming community, the Government will expect the farmers to do something for themselves. You will never get a scheme for the control either of the output or the marketing of potatoes unless such a scheme is superimposed. It will never come voluntarily. You will never get an ordered plan of production in agriculture unless some scheme is definitely prepared and well nigh superimposed by the Government. I regard the right hon. and gallant Gentleman as the one Member calculated to superimpose a successful scheme of organisation upon the industry, and he will not receive opposition from this quarter when he starts upon his journey, for rather will he receive every encouragement and assistance which we can give to them. As far as we can see, the net positive result accruing since the Government came into office, despite all the subsidies, restictions and quotas, is that we have a scheme for the co-operative distribution of hops. We might have had a scheme for the marketing of raspberries, but it has not gone through yet. No other marketing scheme, as far as we know, has emerged. That is scarcely sufficient for the payment which the townsman is called upon to make.

We therefore urge upon the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to insist upon an agricultural plan. We want a National Agricultural Council, but not one made up of landowners who are thinking in terms perhaps of bygone ages and not in terms of 1932 reforms. We want to see the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Act, 1931, used to the maximum extent. I have not time to quote what the Home Secretary said when Minister of Agriculture, when he boasted of how much money he had saved by not applying the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Act. He said that he had saved £1,000,000 because he had done nothing. He was a wonderful economist. He gloated over the fact that he had reduced grants for Drainage from £340,000 to £72,500. We want to know to what the paragraph in the Gracious Speech refers and whether, since his predecessor talked about the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Act, you are taking to a totally new policy, and whether drainage schemes will be encouraged instead of being discouraged, as has been the case up to the present moment. We want to know if the large-scale demonstration farm is to go on, and whether dairy, butter and pig production are to be encouraged? We want to know whether the Government are considering cooperative smallholding schemes. We do not want isolated smallholdings. We want smallholdings to be co-operative organisations, where it is individual production but co-operative collection and distribution, so that the maximum can be obtained from any organisation. We want to know whether the Government intend to do anything with regard to cottage holdings, how much more they intend to do with regard to allotments, and whether they are content with the £10,000 granted for seeds and whether it is the maximum. I would say to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that we have opposed schemes because we do not think that they affect the basic problem of the agricultural industry.

We want to see adopted a programme somewhat like that which was partially suggested by the right hon. Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland). But instead of going half the way we would go the full way and nationalise the land. We would have a national agricultural council, with county agricultural committees. We would survey vast areas and ascertain, determine and assess the layout of all farms, large or small, of combinations or of individuals. We would see to it that the best methods and the best machines were made available for all sections of the farming community. We would teach them how to market, and we would insist upon marketing being adopted throughout the country. We would free the farmers from auctioneers, merchants and middlemen and make them really free men, which they are not to-day. If the Government felt disposed to adopt these methods they would repopulate the countryside, create permanent prosperity and make the farming community as good as any section of the community—as modern men adopting modern methods and securing a modern income, because they exercise the same discretion, commercial and otherwise, that other people have been obliged to do.

10.31 p.m.


It certainly would interest the House if I could announce, here and now, that I was adopting all the sweeping and drastic policy enunciated by my hon. Friend the Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) in the concluding 30 seconds of his speech. I only fear that if I did so when I had to survey the vast area of which he spoke so eloquently I should find that it was repopulated with officials, running about, not producing food but filling up forms. I can only say that at the moment that seems to me a somewhat academic discussion. We are admittedly in a critical position in which it is necessary for us to take immediate action. I will, therefore, address myself rather more to the immediate action which we are taking than to the very long-range policy enunciated by my hon. Friend in the concluding passages of his eloquent speech.

In the first place, let me say, for it would be churlish not to do so, how much I am indebted to the House for the extremely sympathetic way in which they have received myself as the new Minister of Agriculture. I will say no more, because I think it is wrong for him that putteth on his armour to boast himself as he that putteth it off. I never knew a Minister of Agriculture whose popularity lasted more than six weeks, or perhaps not as long as that. No one, however, could ask for a Minister, or for a Department or for a Government, a more sympathetic reception and a more business-like reception than the House has given to the subject of agriculture this evening. It is strange how the temper and tone have changed. There have been a few of the familiar gibes, which I think we carry in our pockets on these occasions and which we cannot refrain from taking out and thinking how well they might be thrown at hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on opposite benches; but, apart from that, the House has shown in many ways its sympathetic appreciation of the subject. My hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Mr. T. Cook), whose maiden speech was a very notable contribution to the Debate, made us all feel that we shall certainly desire to hear from him again. Passing from junior to senior Members of the House, I would mention the speech delivered by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Sir (F. Acland). I certainly prefer to hear my right hon. Friend speaking about agriculture than about the general policy of himself and his friends.

We have had from the Labour benches too a genuine desire to investigate and elucidate, if possible, the problems with which the House is faced. It is true that the hon. Member for the Don Valley spent a considerable time in trying to prove that owing to a policy of restrictions, the limitation of output, an enormous sum was being levied, a subsidy he called it, on the town dweller and given to the dweller in the countryside. If I reckoned up the difference between the price of coal under the present scheme of restrictions and the price to which it would fall if every restriction was re- moved and it was left to unrestricted competition the amount of the subsidy would surprise him. Hon. Members on this side of the House will remember this against him in future Debates and will suggest that before any attempts at reorganisation are carried out all the restrictions should be taken off the industry and that it should be left to unrestricted, cutthroat and chaotic competition.


The right hon. Gentleman will concede me this that I have always stood for the unification of the coalmining industry and for its reorganisation, just as I do for agriculture.


Yes, but the hon. Member would remove one step towards effective organisation in the agricultural industry—namely, that some attempt to control the glut of production which is swamping prices in agriculture as it was in the coal trade, should precede further steps towards reorganisation. When the hon. Member and the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) were passing through their measure of restrictions they were chaffed a good deal by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) who claimed that they were doing it for the owners, but they did not allow themselves to be led away by the suspicion that you could do everything for the owners or the farmers without something percolating through to the good of the industry, or that you could destroy then owners or the farmers without bringing some disaster upon the industry. I join issue with the hon. Member for the Don Valley when he said that these steps form no part of a policy which is a concerted whole. I refer him to previous statements of policy, where every step that has been taken was outlined, and to one made on the 11th February of a policy which we have consistently followed. The step to which he objects most, the quantitative regulation of bacon imports into this country, was stated then and agreed to by a Government which consisted of hon. and right hon. Members below the Gangway who subsequently, on another issue entirely, dissociated themselves from the Government. If the hon. Member will turn to these statements, he will see that we have pursued a policy which was then outlined as a consistent whole, and which I believe has developed and will develop as a policy which considers agriculture as a whole and not as a series of disconnected industries.

It is all the more necessary while considering agriculture as a whole to attack the problem product by product. You cannot set up a great national council on agriculture for the reorganisation of agriculture. Each individual product has to be handled separately, because they demand separate treatment. They have been so attacked by various Commissions which have been investigating the various problems. The Pig Commission has only recently reported; the Milk. Commission has not yet reported, and there are other schemes which have to be brought forward. They have still to be examined. It would be foolish, and my hon. Friend would be the first to complain, if I drove forward without taking account of the schemes which have already been set on foot and carried out—proposals which he would then proceed to describe as forced upon me by pressure from subordinate back-benchers.

The policy of the Government as a whole with regard to agriculture needs no defence. The policy of the Government as a whole in regard to the fishing industry is undoubtedly in a more embryo stage. We did go ahead with the fishing' industry in giving the 10 per cent, duty which my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hull (Mr. Law) said was denied to the agricultural industry as a whole. It is a fact that 10 per cent, was conceded to the fishing industry and that we decided to leave the fishing industry to see what effect that had, while we went on with what he called polygamous adventures in agriculture. I was in fact compelled to investigate other methods of attack, since we decided that the general 10 per cent, tariff would not be applied to the agricultural industry as a whole.

As my hon. Friend knows, the application of the fishing industry came in due course before the Advisory Committee and had an interim report made upon it. The Advisory Committee called attention to a point that has been made repeatedly, to the desirability for further organisation of the fishing industry, so that the fishermen themselves could receive a due proportion of the price which the consumer eventually pays for the product.

I do not wish to go into the case of the fishing industry at greater length.

The various suggestions which have been brought up throughout the evening it would, of course, be impossible for me to reply to in detail. The suggestions will all be considered. I shall write to my right hon. and hon. Friends in regard to them, if that is possible, and at any rate I can assure them that they will have my most careful consideration. Suggestions have been brought forward with regard to assistance, or subventions in some way, of agricultural wages. Obviously such schemes require the most careful consideration. First of all it is very difficult to subsidise one set of persons working in an industry without subsidising everyone working in that industry. There is the owner occupier, to deal with whose case would be very difficult indeed. It would be almost impossible to leave such persons out of any such scheme, and the administrative difficulties of bringing them into a scheme would be insuperable. But it is not right for my hon. and right hon. Friends of the Labour party to look upon that suggestion purely as a subsidy asked for by agriculture and not given to any other industry. The short-time working under the Insurance Act has led very nearly to subsidised wages in many sections of industry, and it is one of the instances which the late Minister of Labour herself repeatedly brought to the notice of those who were interested in that particular problem.

Subventions of wages as a whole lead one into tremendous administrative difficulties. The fundamental difficulty about them all is that if you pay a man who would not otherwise be employed you will sooner or later be led to paying other men. Further proposals were brought forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall. I would willingly dally with him for a while in debate if the clock were not advancing, particularly on his references to John Stuart Mill and the question of whether indeed private property in land could be justified, apart from the improving of the land by the landlord. He drew the conclusion that as the improving of land by the landlord had stopped, the right of private property in land had also disappeared. I would only say that that is not my impression of the countryside and I do not think it is anybody else's impression. Even to this day the individual landlord is improving the land a great deal more than the individual bank which holds the mortgage.. Of all forms of landowning which at present exist I should say that mortgage holding by large trust and investment companies or by those who have made advances or bank overdrafts is the worst and leads to the least amount of improvement.


That is what it is all tumbling into as it goes away from the landowner.


I think that, in fact, such is not the case—that there is a great deal of landholding still in this country and that the landowners on the whole are still acting as partners in the industry and as partners who are continuing, not merely to improve the land but to act as a buffer in times like these, in a way that could not have been done under any other form of landowning. I shall not touch in detail upon schemes which are being worked. The hops marketing scheme was mentioned. It has worked and is working. The price of the best quality hops last year was £6 6s. per cwt. and hops are selling this year at from £9 to Eloper cwt. I will not speak in detail of the Wheat Quota Act. It also is working. The hon. Gentleman opposite suggested that we had given the wheat quota and had then gone away from it. Not at all. Payments under the Wheat Quota Act are being made and will continue to be made.


He did not say'that you had gone away from it.


I leave it to the OFFICIAL REPORT. The Wheat Quota Act is working and the maximum covering 380,000 cwts. is actually being paid in Norfolk. Next comes Cambridge and then comes Essex. In all those counties which were heavily hit in the past payments are being made before Christmas which will be of the utmost value to the agriculturists in those regions in helping them through a very difficult time. The immediate crisis, the crisis in stock-raising, for which it was necessary to take very sudden and drastic emergency measures still remains with us. It would be useless to expect that a crisis such as that could be dispelled by a wave of a magician's wand. The Seconder of the Address in a scholarly and thoughtful speech drew attention to the difficulties in which producers of livestock still were in this country, and the disaster that would occur to one of the oldest forms of our agriculture if they were allowed to collapse. We have not been unmindful of our responsibilities in that respect. I am asked what is the meaning of the following reference in the King's Speech: The various steps which they have taken combined with action upon the investigations concluded, or still proceeding, will enable the industry to put itself in a position to take full advantage of a return to more favourable conditions. We are operating product by product. We have received a report from the Pig Commission. We will receive a report from the Milk Commission. The crisis in the livestock industry obviously needs immediate attention and I am in a position to announce to the House now that we have to-day decided to appoint a Reorganisation Commission which will deal with the general question of fat stock. We have asked a chairman to serve and have already received his consent, and I am glad to tell the House that Colonel Lane Fox, who acted as Chairman of the Pig Commission, has consented to serve as chairman of this new commission. For the public service which he has just performed and for that which I hope he will perform in the immediate future the House owes him a great debt of gratitude.

In coming to this decision the Government are not unmindful of the valuable work done by the National Farmers' Union in different parts of the country. A scheme for the marketing of fat stock was prepared by the Union and submitted to my predecessor, and it is certainly my intention as soon as the Reorganisation Commission is formed to. bring it before them. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who have said that the farmers were doing nothing to help themselves have overlooked the remarkable change in agricultural opinion which has taken place in recent months and even recent weeks. I would draw their attention to the News Sheet of the National Farmers' Union for the 21st of this month, where they say: The deliberations of the council of the National Farmers' Union last week were very largely concerned with marketing prob- lems in respect of the major commodities and no one can say that the agricultural industry is not ' regarding tariffs as opportunities rather than as ends in themselves,' to quote the Prime Minister's words. It is the inauguration of an era of control of imports together with the pressure of an era of economic circumstances that has reconciled farmers to the prospect of control at home. These are words and that is a spirit which has never been shown before within our knowledge by the agricultural industry and the spokesmen of the industry. When therefore the agricultural industry has itself taken the trouble to prepare a scheme for the reorganisation of fat stock marketing, it is my duty to receive the scheme and transmit it as soon as possible to the responsible commission which will be able to review the matter in a way which will be more suitable than a review by the actual promoters of the scheme who are themselves engaged in the industry.

That is not all. It has been stated that the problem of retail prices requires very close attention in this connection, and it has been said that under these emergency measures there may be damage to consumers out of all proportion to the benefit received by producers in the measures which the Government is taking, and is determined to take and will press home for the raising of the wholesale level of prices. As I informed the House on the 7th November when I announced the intention of the Government to introduce a voluntary scheme for regulating meat imports, we consider it desirable that the operation of the scheme should be closely watched by an expert committee specially appointed for the purpose. It is proposed that the committee, which will be appointed jointly by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and myself, shall be composed of representatives of the trade, presided over by an in dependent chairman, and I am very glad to be able to inform the House that the chairmanship of this committee has been accepted—


What trade is the right hon. Gentleman referring to?


The meat trade. All meats are being brought under restrictions just now. The committee will include representatives of all the bodies engaged in handling meats; the co- operatives, big shops, small shops and others are being brought together to form this expert committee which will be presided over by an independent chairman.


What are they to do? That is very important.


I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what they are to do if he will tell me the course of the market in the next few months.


What are they to inquire into?


Let me repeat again that they are to watch as closely as possible the operation of the scheme of restrictions. I cannot, of course, go into details as to where the shoe will pinch; we shall find that out by walking upon it. This is a voluntary scheme of a novel character. It is desirable that the interests of the consumer should be kept closely in the front of the picture. We are setting up a committee to do that, and we are appointing an independent chairman to keep in touch with the activities of the trade.


What does the right hon. Gentleman—


If my right hon Friend would interrupt a little less, he would allow me to tell him more.


This is a very imortant announcement that the right hon. Gentleman is making at five minutes to 11. He could have had an hour—we would have given way—if he had told us that he wanted to make a statement like that. We are entitled at least to know what the proposal that he is putting forward is.


I will tell the right hon. Gentleman without any difficulty what the proposal is if he will sit quiet long enough to allow me to tell him.


Very cheap indeed.


Something seems to have come over the right hon. Gentleman in the last few days which is going far towards wrecking the respect which we have all had for him hitherto.


I do not want any respect.


I really cannot allow an argument of this kind.


When people argue with me, Mr. Speaker, I must—


I must be allowed to be my own judge of whether or not the right hon. Gentleman is arguing improperly.


And I must be allowed—




I cannot allow the right hon. Gentleman to argue with me.


I beg the right hon. Gentleman that he will excuse me, as I shall do my best to excuse him.


I apologise to you.


And I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman. We have succeeded in getting the chairmanship of this Committee accepted by the Marquess of Linlithgow. That, it seems to me, is the answer to what the Committee will do. He was the chairman of a Committee which was appointed years ago to investigate the distribution and prices of agricultural produce. The work of that Committee is historical. It is well known to Members of the House, students of agricultural economics, and agriculturists themselves, as well as the distributive trades both in England and Scotland, and I am sure the House will agree with me that we have been fortunate indeed to secure the services of the Marquess of Linlithgow, and that his acceptance of the chairmanship of this new Committee will inspire confidence all round. I do not think it is necessary to say anything further than that the name of the chairman is in fact the best guarantee that the work which we all desire to be done will be done, and done in the spirit which we should all desire to see.

The difficulties which still lie before the Government in developing their agricultural policy are very great. I do not wish to minimise them, and it is possible that the steps which we have taken will not completely succeed in grappling with what is admittedly a very difficult situation. I was asked by an hon. Friend whether the restrictions will be permanent. I can say that the policy will be permanent, and that the steps necessary to carry out that policy will be taken by this Government. I cannot say whether these particular steps will be permanent or temporary, in my view, it will be impossible or very difficult to put on such restrictions and then sweep them away altogether in two months' time. I certainly think they will be dovetailed into the general steps which we are taking in the future, under the Ottawa Agreements and under other steps, to grapple with the livestock situation

The fundamental thing to remember is that the Government have determined to do their utmost to grapple with what they believe to be the fundamental problem to-day, and that is the problem of prices. If we can grapple successfully with that problem, we shall grapple successfully with the difficulty, and if we cannot grapple successfully with the problem of prices, then not all the Acts put on the Statute Book will enable us to grapple with the difficulty or to deal with the desire which the House, in every part of it, feels, that is to say, to get the people of Great Britain more closely in touch with the land of Great Britain by which they live. I ask the House to accept these assurances and to believe that we shall pursue this policy in the spirit and by the methods upon which we have already embarked.

Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Captain Margesson.]

Debate to be resumed To-morrow.