§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I beg to moveThat this House recognises that the widespread poverty of the people cannot be removed within the framework of the capitalist order of society, which is not progressing towards prosperity but heading for collapse, and condemns the present policy of the Government as foolish trifling with a serious situation.This is the third time I have had what is humorously described as the luck of the ballot. On the first occasion I introduced a Bill to nationalise the Bank of England, which your predecessor in office, Mr. Speaker, ruled out of order. On the next occasion I introduced a Bill to provide a living wage for all workers in this country. On that occasion, it achieved a Second Reading, but the Labour Government which was in power at the time was unable to offer it further facilities. I am just wondering, after these two failures, what the prospects are for the Motion I have brought forward to-day. The House will observe that on the two previous occasions I was carrying out the advice which is always given by senior Members of this House to junior Members, to try and be constructive. The Motion before the House to-day shows clearly that I have abandoned the folly of my youth. It is purely destructive in its nature. It represents a change that has come over my own way of thinking as a result of my experiences in this House and in the country.
I have been driven to the conclusion that before we can start to solve the central problems confronting the people of this country, the first and necessary thing is to persuade the people of this country that their faith and belief in the existing social order must go; a definite idea must be arrived at, that society, if it is going to be a secure and decent thing for the mass of the people, must be built right from the foundations on entirely different principles from those which are operating to-day and which have operated in the past. I notice that there are three or four Amendments on the Order Paper, and I gather, therefore, that there is not complete assent in the House to the point of view which I have indicated and to the Motion which embodies that idea. The Motion readsThat this House recognises that the widespread poverty of the people cannot be 1184 removed within the framework of the capitalist order of society, which is not progressing towards prosperity but heading for collapse, and condemns the present policy of the Government as foolish trifling with a serious situation.One of the Amendments seems to question the existence of this widespread poverty. The Amendment which comes from the Liberal party suggests that we should set up an inquiry to find out whether the widespread poverty really exists. I had the benefit of a private conversation with one hon. Member whose name is attached to this Amendment, and he asked me how I was going to prove the existence of this widespread poverty. I said that I was going to cite private conversations that I have had with Members of this House. In this House I perpetually hear hon. Members say "I used to be fairly well off, but I am a poor man nowadays." But the type of poverty that I am concerned with is not the type of poverty that they are worrying about. The majority of the people of this country think that the man who is drawing a salary of £360 per annum as a Member of Parliament is a very wealthy man. Make no mistake about that. To the mass of the people of this country the man with an income of approximately £7 per week—
§ Mr. MAXTON
Less Income Tax, and less a lot of other deductions, is regarded as being in a different world from anything they have known. That probably is as good evidence as one need produce to give some indication of the poverty of the mass of our people, but I am going to bring in support of my claim that poverty is widespread the evidence of observers other than myself, and evidence which is different from the statistical evidence of which everybody in this House is well aware. Three millions unemployed is a figure, and as a figure it is a little worse than two and a half millions, but not so bad as seven or eight millions in other countries. But it is only a figure, it is arithmetic, and the constant repetition of these figures creates a kind of mind in the politician which puts the human aspect into a secondary place. I have here a typescript copy, which I got only yesterday, of a speech delivered over the wireless the night before last by a gentleman called Mr. Howard Marshall. I do not know him, but from 1185 inquiries I have made I am led to believe that he has undertaken a survey of the conditions of the people of England on behalf of one of the big Conservative journals. He has been giving wireless talks on his experience since, I understand. In this talk he described his visit to Glasgow. He described the constituency that I represent in this House. He said:It is a vast problem, then. I saw representative types of these insanitary houses in various parts of the city, and there is no doubt whatever that they should come down at once. They are tall blocks of houses, many of them with dark spiral stone staircases, and on each floor there are passages where you will find several rooms let to separate families.Darkness—that is your first impression —dark stairs, dark landings and dark rooms. Aged—that is your second impression. One house I saw in Dalmarnock, half of it below street level, was 300 years old. Naturally it was damp and decrepit in every way.Mind you, this is a description by a Tory:The Glasgow people fight with splendid spirit against their conditions. The woman in this house had kept it wonderfully clean. Practically every family has its brass nameplate on the front door, and every plate I saw was brightly polished.But it is not the houses alone that are unsatisfactory. It is the way they are grouped and crowded together, so that you may dive through a narrow passage and emerge into a dirty courtyard where, as often as not, there is an open ashpit where refuse of every kind is kept. These courtyards, and the houses which lie behind those which front the street, are called back lands. As an example of what they are like let me tell you of one I went into near the Broomielaw, which is the sailor town of Glasgow. The courtyard here was small. On three sides of it were tall tenements. Beyond was a factory wall. There was thus scarcely any through ventilation. On one side was the communal wash-house, which served all the houses, a tiny, extremely squalid place, with wire-netting over the window. Through this netting I could see a woman at the copper. Outside the washhouse—and this is what worried me—right alongside the open ashpit, was her baby in its pram. It's a dreadful thing living here, said the woman. Look at those children.' There were three or four youngsters digging up the filth which had collected between the paving stones in the court. A woman complained that the flies from the midden in the courtyard made it impossible for her to open her window in the summer. There was a widow with six children who managed to joke about her semi-basement room in a house like a Mediaeval castle, though she ended up by 1186 saying, For pity's sake get us out of here.'That is the terrible document of a newspaper man sent to write up interesting material for his newspaper. It is obvious that he has been convinced that the people are living in very terrible conditions indeed. There carne to me yesterday, also by the post, a letter from an old friend of mine:Dear Jim,—I notice that you are going to tell the House of Commons something about poverty on Wednesday. While I know that you are thoroughly conversant with the subject, 1 do not think you will find anything worse than the one before me as I write. My landlady, aged 53, is in bed. She is a mental and physical wreck. Night and day for the past 10 weeks we have sat up awaiting the end, which indeed will be a mercy. The woman is dead, all but the opening and shutting of her eyes. This awful condition has been brought about by poverty.Including the father and mother there are eight in this family, four sons over 14 and two still at school. The eldest, now a man of 26, is a weakling, has never worked and receives no relief. He was some months in a sanatorium and was discharged as cured. He came home quite fit for light work, weighing eight stone four pounds. The second son, aged 22, has been idle three years. The third one, aged 17, is an apprentice slater, wages 10s. weekly. The fourth one, aged 15, to augment the family income took a job going with milk; hours 6 a.m. to 12 a.m., wages 6s. The father is a labouring man. When working his wages never exceed £2 a week. When the means test was put into operation "—by us here—the only son drawing any relief was reduced to 11s. per week. The father then had a spell of unemployment and the mother found great difficulty in making ends meet. Then one day I observed what was to me a great plot for an O. Henry. At one end of the table sat the young man; at the other end sat his mother. They were both trying to assure each other that they were well. They tried to persuade each other to take a little nourishment which the mother somehow bad obtained. As I witnessed a scene, I knew how ill they both were.I took the young man to the medical officer of health. As a discharged patient from a sanatorium, I thought it was the medical officer's duty to prevent this man from falling a victim to the scourge. I was wrong. The medical officer could do nothing until another doctor certified the patient. The man's weight had now gone down to seven stone two pounds. In a poverty-stricken home it was hard to pay for a private doctor, but more sacrifice had to be made to get the man medically attended. Eventually I got the private doctor to give me a line to the medical officer stating that 1187 the man was threatened with tuberculosis. The medical officer, apparently with economy in mind, would do nothing until the man was X-rayed and consumption revealed. I was sent to Ruckill Hospital. Daily in that place you will find, as I did, queues of young men affected by the means test sent for examination because tuberculosis is suspected. My visit to the hospital went for nothing. The plates did not show consumption. I took the man home, not as one wanted, but to tell a distressed mother that her son was unfortunate and could not get sanatorium treatment because his health was too good. Is not that a hellish condition? A mother has to feel sorry because her son has not consumption. At the end of a month I went back to Ruckill. I do not know what the plates foretold this time, but the man got away to a sanatorium for two months. When he came back his mother's health was in a precarious state and it meant another mouth to fill without an extra penny to do it. It drove the woman crazy. She lies now in the condition I have already stated.The letter goes on to describe further depths of misery and suffering, but I leave it at that. I do not wish to harrow the minds of the House or my own feelings on this matter, but I hope that I have brought back into this Chamber a full sense of the human aspect of our work here and a full realisation of the terrible human consequences of the things which we may do or leave undone here from day to day. I turn from that, assuming that the House now accepts as proven the existence of widespread poverty in our land, of poverty which we cannot wipe aside by saying that it is not so bad, and that there is nobody who is not managing to get along somehow, and that kind of thing. That is not human. That is not defensible and as is shown by the previous quotation which I gave the conditions that are to be found in Glasgow are to be found in every other big city in our land.
Since I have been in this House successive Governments have gone on the assumption that they were dealing with a temporary condition of things out of which one day we were going to emerge into the bright sunshine of prosperity. We always talked, and we talk still, of the day when normal conditions will be restored. I cannot remember during my life any normal conditions that I want to see restored as far as working-class life is concerned. We are suffering here from a variety of that type of thinking which has always been found where people look back to some golden age of the past. We 1188 look back to-day to some golden age when people were well off. I do not know when it was. I cannot remember any time during my boyhood or early manhood when people were really well off. There is no normal situation such as a situation of prosperity for the mass of the people.
During the whole of last century while capitalist industry was expanding, when British industrial and manufacturing prestige was practically unchallenged in the world, when we were penetrating into every corner of the globe, when the. Empire was expanding, the people at home were in desperate poverty always. To pass through this period of disturbance into smoother waters, as far as I can judge, is really the aspiration not of the common people but of the capitalist class, who, certainly, can look back to a time when profits were easy to make, when businesses were easy to build, when new enterprises were easy to project and carry to success. That is what is being looked forward to as the "normal times" and the "good old days," and, undoubtedly, there were great days in the last century for private enterprise, but there were no great days for the common people.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I am just wondering where the interruption connects with what I was saying. It is true that there were periods when a larger proportion of the then population was employed than is the case to-day, but they were employed under conditions of abject poverty. I have waited for 10 years for this temporary phase to pass. Every year responsible Ministers of the Crown have told me that prosperity was to come in the following year. Whatever kind of Government sat there, next year was always going to be the great year of delivery—until a couple of weeks ago when the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with very great bravery and great wisdom, postponed his prophecy from next year until a date 10 years hence. That is much safer. It is longer before your lie is proved. It was honest and brave to say it, but the statement was essentially untrue, because there is not going to be prosperity under the capitalist system at the end of the 10 years, any more than there has been prosperity at the end of 1189 the previous one-year periods. The only difference is that there is the hope that you will not be called to account so soon for the failure of your prophecy.
I want to put our Socialist view of the situation. We believe that we are living in a revolutionary age, one of those periods in the history of the world that have been repeated again and again in which one form of economic or social order, having worked reasonably well and satisfied the needs of the people for a certain time, becomes obviously unsuited to the existing conditions. Everybody becomes dissatisfied, and evidences spring up of the decay and deterioration of the system. There are any number of evidences to-day of the deterioration and decay of this system. The institutions of the last century, monarchical or Parliamentary, are falling into disrepute in every corner of the world. Legal procedure, conceptions of political liberty, ideas of political tolerance—all these, if not gone, are suspect even in our own land. Financial institutions are ceasing to have the confidence and regard of the people. Large-scale fraud and dishonesty begin to evidence themselves among those who are controlling and directing large enterprises. We have only to look at our newspapers to-day to find that in our own land there are some gangs who regard it as reasonable and intelligent to organise definite commercial crime for the sake of enriching themselves.
In every corner of the globe we find exactly the same thing. Last night we were trying to set right the affairs of Newfoundland from here. Some other time we hear about a Kreuger in Scandinavia. Another time we hear about corruption and graft of one kind or another in the United States of America. All the evidence goes to show that the moral codes which supported the institution are falling rapidly into disrepute. All these revolutionary ages have always terminated in the uprising of same new class with new demands and new ideas which make a definite break with the past in this country as in other countries. The outstanding example in this land was the Cromwellian revolution, when a new class springing up felt it necessary for their progress to curb the power of an autocratic monarch and to devise a political machinery that should place power in the hands of the rising influx. 1190 Similarly, there came along the rising manufacturing class which developed in Lancashire and Yorkshire, and made Free Trade its great political principle. We are at another revolutionary age, more fundamental than those which have taken place before, and that revolutionary situation has not developed merely in Great Britain, but is to be seen in every corner of the globe. We boast that England always faces these difficult situations more capably, more courageously and more benevolently than any other country in the world. If that be true, never was there a time more than now to demonstrate its truth.
What have we done? When the crisis came upon us in 1931 in an acute form a Government was there capable of perceiving it, because it was there before and it is here now. But in 1931 it had been thrown up in a clearer and more acute form. The disease has been there all the time. In 1931 the temperature was high. It is capable of going higher and higher. What was the real essence of the crisis of 1931? I have seen nothing presented so clearly to the mind as the statement which was made in a special issue of the "Economist" about a year ago by Sir Henry Strakosch, who said that, taking all the consuming power of the world in 1929 as being represented by the figure 100, the commodities in the world to meet that consuming power of 100 was represented by the figure 84, or roughly 10 months' supply. In 1929 there were in the markets of the world goods sufficient to maintain all the people of the world at their then rates of consumption for the ensuing 10 months, supposing not one stroke of work was done during that period. Then, he said, by July, 1931, that figure of 84 had increased to a figure of 230. That is, in July, 1931, there were in the markets of the world goods sufficient to maintain the people of the world, on the standards to which they were accustomed, for two years and three months following, supposing no stroke of work was done in the interval.
Then came the crisis. From the beginning of history men had dreamt of an age of plenty, a period at which mankind would arrive when all the problems of material existence would be solved. There would be abundance and there would be ease. It arrived in July, 1931, and immediately the statesmen cried, 1191 " Crisis ! The world's markets are glutted with goods. Tighten your belts and face privation." Since that time this House of Commons has been guided by this Government, which contains within its ranks the most distinguished statesmen that the three parties in this State has thrown up in the last 25 years, all of them with a free mandate, because the electors said, "Do anything you like. There is the power, and take it in lumps. Suspend the normal workings of our Parliamentary machine. Alter the British Constitution in any way you please. Change our whole basis of taxation. Alter our whole method of international trade. Impose more severe taxation on us, and reduce us all to a lower standard of life, but make the system work so that we will all get back into jobs again." The House of Commons has not interfered in any serious way. The Government have been allowed to do everything that they wanted to do and could think of doing. After 18 months of continually imposing heavier and heavier privations on the people, the last state is worse than the first.
The one thing on which, the Chancellor of the Exchequer based his claim to be meeting the situation was the fact that now money can be got at very low rates of interest. That is the success of the Government—there is now money available at very low rates of interest. But that is nothing to be proud of. That is an additional evil symptom. You get your unemployed machinery and, of course, there follows surely and certainly, as the night the day, the unemployed man. And just as the unemployed man means low wages to the employed man, so unemployed money means low rates of interest for money that is employed. That should not be taken as a sign that we are moving towards prosperity, but as another sign that we are moving towards collapse. From this side of the House, and sometimes even from the other side, there have been calls for some amelioration of the lot of the people, which, has always been met with a blunt refusal.
The basic cause of the trouble is that the people are poor, and every proposal that is made to make them less poor is rejected with scorn. Whether it is the unemployed man, the sick man or the employed man on low wages, there is a refusal to do anything to alleviate the 1192 conditions, and always the reply, which I am accepting, that it cannot be done without bringing the system down in collapse. That is the answer. If you ask for the absorption of the 3,000,000 unemployed by distributing the labour over the whole community by reducing hours, it cannot be done. If you ask for better benefits for the unemployed, we cannot afford it. If you ask the Government to maintain the housing subsidy, and to make a big drive to get everyone in a good house, it cannot be done. I agree. You have proved your case too well. Your capitalistic system cannot relieve the people of poverty, and it is no good for my hon. Friend the Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) and his colleagues of Worcester College, Oxford, coming and telling me that what we have to do is to go back to that glorious age before the industrial revolution, when each man sat under his fig tree which he had planted. It is a beautiful dream, but quite impossible. If he and Worcester College study their history, they will find that, for good or ill, you cannot go back to the past. You have got to make up your mind that the present cannot continue, and you have got to make up your mind consciously to go into the future boldly and with courage. The mass of the people, particularly the upper and middle classes, are afraid to face the future, afraid to go boldly forward facing the world with their hands and their brains. They are afraid that if they have not go their stocks and shares and estates, life will be too difficult for them. The educated people, the aristocracy, the blue-blooded people are afraid to face life; the captains of industry, the great bankers, are afraid to face life on the same conditions as that poor woman in my division who faced it with a laugh. Unless this nation can believe in an age of plenty and this House can plan for an age of plenty, a plenty in which all of us will participate, then the people outside are going to sweep up, as they have swept up before, and wipe us and this institution out of their way, and bring in their own social order, in their own way, by their own methods.
§ 4.16 p.m.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
I beg to second the Motion.
It is a long while since the case that we desire to present has been placed 1193 before the House of Commons in such moving and eloquent terms as have been used this afternoon by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton). My fear is that the few remarks that I may have to make may detract from the force of my hon. Friend's eloquent statement, because I do not feel it possible to add much to what he has already said. The question of the poverty of the people has been discussed many times in this House during recent months. I dare say there are those Members of the House who charge my hon. Friends and myself on this side, and not merely just this group, but my hon. Friends above the Gangway also, with too much iteration of this fact. At any rate, we propose, as long as the condition of the people remains what it is, and as long as we are here, to put their case with as much iteration as the case for other sections of the community has been put on other occasions by those who represent them. John Bright declared that the secret of agitation was constant iteration, and, however monotonous it may become that this case should be put, it will be presented, because it is the most important question which this country, which this House, and which the world have to face at the present moment.
I have discovered since I have been in this House that, as a matter of fact, we are always engaged here upon the question of poverty. Most of the legislation in this House arises from poverty. We very rarely legislate for any section but the poor. We are always dealing with the poor. Are they sick? Can we afford to keep them well? Can we afford to maintain hospitals for them? Can we afford to insure them against unemployment? Can we take half-an-hour off their day, or add 1s. a week to their legal wage? Always this House spends its time in discussing the question of the poor—a remarkable situation—but we never consider how rich we can make them, how we can utilise our resources to put them above the reach of poverty. We only discuss how to escape the immediate dilemma by handing out some little palliative that will keep the sufferers quiet until the next row takes place, when the next election comes along; and then we all say once more, "Send us back, and we will show you what we will do to rectify these evils."
1194 Like my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton, I have looked at the Amendments on the Paper, and they are very remarkable. Those hon. Members who have put them there want to know whether there are these poor people, how many there are, what is the incidence of this poverty. But what is the essential difference between the condition of the people now and the condition of the people when Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman declared, in 1905, that 30 per cent. of the people of this country were perpetually on the borderline of poverty and starvation? What has changed since then? Let it be remembered that that declaration by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, and the fact that it could not be disproved, was the death-knell of Free Trade. It killed Free Trade, and it meant the rise of the Labour party. It meant the rise of the working-class party, and what we have to be careful of now is that that rise of the working-class party does not become so enmeshed in the idea of saving the situation for the capitalist section of society, that they will adopt the worn-out shibboleths of the party that preceded them.
The hon. Member for the Mossley Division (Mr. Hopkinson), in his Amendment, says we must escape from Socialistic legislation. From what Socialistic legislation in particular are we to escape? Shall we go back to the time prior to the Factory Acts? Shall we go back to the time when this House, against its will, was compelled, in sheer mercy, to come to the rescue of the people here, [...]o poverty-stricken and broken that the world knew there was no hope for them other than the help this House could give? Is that the Socialistic legislation from which we are to escape? We are constantly told that you cannot change human nature, and I believe that is true. Human nature does remain practically the same. This House always has to say, "Thou shalt not." That has been the great emphasis of the so-called Socialistic legislation. "Thou shalt not" work children 12 hours a day. "Thou shalt not" adulterate foodstuffs. "Thou shalt not" make thee a yardstick 35 inches long. It has always been "Thou shalt not," and if it has not been that, it has not been worth having. The rule of unrestrained capitalism, which has been the foundation of everything done here, has led to this position.
1195 Then there is another Amendment on the Paper, that tells us that we have not yet got sufficient Protection. I give every section of the House credit for sincerity. We all have our beliefs and points of view, and we all hold them sincerely. Naturally, we emphasise our points of view; but Protection? Surely, if there is a discredited system anywhere, it must be tariffs.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
Anyhow, it has failed, and the outstanding failure, surely, is the United States of America. If there is a failure of Protection to protect the people of any given country, surely it is exhibited in the United States of America to-day. There are also those mortals who look to a changed currency, a managed currency. None of these things will work. Some may work for a time, but none will alter the facts of the case in any permanent manner. I agree with my hon. Friend that since the time when he and I first entered this House, we have listened to very many prophecies. Always we have been going to turn that mythical corner. Now, as has been pointed out, we do not expect to turn it during the next 10 years. I was asked my opinion about that statement of the Chancellor. Did I think he was too pessimistic I think he is too optimistic. I think he is entirely optimistic.
Fancy talking about a solution 10 years hence. The next 10 years will superimpose their own distinctive problems upon the problems already existing. It must be apparent to even the foggiest thinker that as time progresses, science progresses faster than man's capacity to deal with its output. I speak as a layman, and I speak probably in the presence of those who know far more about these things than I do, but I suggest, with all modesty, that starting from where we are to-day, the next 10 years are likely to see greater scientific and mechanical changes than any previous 20 years through which this country has passed. If that is even approximately true, the next 10 years will superimpose upon our immediate difficulties a new set of difficulties entirely of their own, which will want dealing with in their own way. Obviously, the forces which have 1196 caused our present distresses will continue, and even if, to use the Prime Minister's phrase, we took away these 2,000,000 of scrap and wiped them out completely, the next 10 years would produce their own 2,000,000 of scrap; the wiping-out process would go on eternally, and at the end of it all we should be precisely where we are at the present moment.
Statements have been made by eminent gentlemen on the situation that confronts us, all showing the tremendous amount of bewilderment that exists in the minds of men who do not agree with the point of view accepted by my hon. Friends on this side. I cannot give the exact dates when these statements were made, but they were about the time of the crisis of 1931. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) said this:It is very extraordinary and very odd that we should be suffering from the overproduction of the things we all want.The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) said:The modern world is suffering from the curse of plenty. Who could have thought that cheap and abundant supplies of all commodities should find the science and civilisation of the world unable to use them?Of course, they have been jerked out of their wonted channels. Their orthodox political economies do not meet the new conditions. Adam Smith cannot deal with this situation. Adam Smith wrote his wonderful "Wealth of Nations" in a. time of scarcity, and it does not explain an age of plenty. It does not pretend to deal with it. This age of plenty finds the Adam Smiths unprepared with theories as to why it arises and how it can be dealt with. Here is ex-President Hoover; he is talking about the conditions in the United States at, the time when the economic blizzard struck them:We have an equipment and a skill in production that yields us a surplus of commodities far beyond any compensation we can usefully take by way of imported commodities. There is only one remedy, and that is by the systematic permanent investment of our surplus in productive works abroad. We thus reduce the return we must receive to a return of interest and profits.Ex-President Hoover visualises an export of American commodities demanding no effective return beyond interest and profit; no return from the point of view 1197 of goods of equal value or equal quantities. That is a pretty good position! We must, he says, export and take back only the profits, and when we have got the profits we must export them and must go on exporting and taking in order that we may go on exporting and taking again, but we must never imagine that we are going to consume these goods ourselves. This country is in the same position. Mr. McKenna, speaking to the American Association of Bankers, said that we were in the same position and that we could only now export on long credit; otherwise, we were bound to smash. That brings its own answer.
May I put this in conclusion. Here we are—and I think the hon. Member for Mossley will agree—living in a wonderful world, in a scientific age and a world in which science and inventiveness have advanced far beyond what any man dared dream 50 years ago. James Watt, tinkering over his kettle in Glasgow in 1774, could not by any stretch have imagined what the outcome would be. The world could not have imagined it. All the wonderful things of science and invention have been handed over to the hucksters. Instead of being dealt with in the scientific spirit in which they were evolved, the hucksters have dealt with them and said: "These shall not be used unless they yield a profit." We are practically masters of the material world. Man is so powerful that he can dive to the depths of the ocean, and with a naked light he can carve up steel as a hot knife carves through butter. He can soar in the, air at 20,000 feet and sail along at 250 miles an hour. He has circled the globe. He is master of the ether, and he can hear speeches from Australia, 17,000 miles away. We can do wonderful things, but we cannot feed ourselves adequately, we cannot clothe ourselves properly, and we cannot erect habitations of a decent character in which to dwell. Until we have become masters of these material things so that we can satisfy our material wants, until we can bring leisure of an ennobling character to all mankind and satisfy mankind's material, ethical, and spiritual needs, this system must be accounted a failure. We sincerely believe that it will and must fail and that it will ultimately be replaced by that system which hon. Members ridicule, but which to us brings a measure of hope because we believe 1198 that only when these things are owned and controlled by the people as a whole will they be used in the interests of a classless community.
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) introduced a note of sincerity and deep passionate conviction for which we always look from him, and I am sure that many Members of the House felt with me that it was good on occasions that our complacency should be shattered, even if ruthlessly, by a speech such as that to which we listened, which opened the windows and brought home to us from one who knows the facts as well as anybody in the House the devastating circumstances of poverty in which so many of our people live. It seemed to me that the hon. Gentleman's speech really fell into two parts which were not very well related. He first referred to the human aspect of the poverty problem, and that part of his speech captured the sympathy and imagination of all of us. One might have pointed out, perhaps, that much of the devastating poverty that he described could equally well be found in Soviet Russia or in other systems of society than our own. One would not quite agree with him that the industrial advancement of the nineteenth century had brought no advancement to the wage earner. Probably it would be more nearly true to say that the wage earner in work to-day is better off than he has ever been, and that the man who is unfortunately not in work and has to be maintained on the dole is probably maintained better than the man in full work 40 years ago. These are statements that can be established on economic foundations, but, at the same time, they do not leave us with any sense of satisfaction.
We followed the hon. Gentleman with sympathy and approval in the criticism that he made of the economics of gluts. There is nothing that stings the social conscience of mankind so much as this possibility of enormous productive capacity and bountifulness of nature, and at one and the same time the inability to distribute the products of nature or of the machine. In that matter we agree with the hon. Gentleman whole-heartedly. What I listened for in vain was an answer to two questions which arose in my mind 1199 when I read the Motion. These were—what exactly is the hon. Gentleman attacking and to what does he ascribe the fundamental features that he has described, and what would he put up in its place? At the end of his remarks he seemed to be attacking something that none of us on this side of the House would be prepared to support. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Wall-bead), in the very powerful speech which he has addressed to us, also attacked it. It was the rule of unrestrained individualism, the chaotic anarchic individualism, the industrial apostasy of the nineteenth century. That was the target of his attack. If he is attacking that, he will find many friends here. We certainly never intend to see again or to re-erect that shoddy structure which used man as its material and passed him on to the scrap heap at the end of his working life without provision for his old age or ill-health or the incapacities he sustained in his working life. That system has gone for good.
The constructive problem is what is to be substituted in its place. It is there that we do not get very much help from my hon. Friend or from hon. Members on the other side. To them capitalism is a fetish. It is a bald unpleasant name which covers a multitude of sins, and which, as both the speeches to-day have shown, serves for hon. Members opposite to describe the discredited industrial structure of the nineteenth century. To me capitalism is no fetish at all. It is merely an expedient, a method of giving the highest possible incentive to the human being to do service. If any better expedient can be devised, I shall co-operate with the hon. Gentleman in bringing it into operation. The hon. Gentleman really approached the mark when he said, as he said in another speech recently, that the mandate that was given to the Government was to make capitalism work. I prefer the phrase individualism—to make individualism work. This Parliament has a, great chance of devoting itself to that task. In a few constructive remarks I want to throw out, merely as indices, the sort of way in which I should like to see that problem approached.
This fundamental cleavage at once becomes between my hon. Friend and 1200 me, that he believes that private ownership or individualism is a bad thing, and I believe it is a good thing. I want to see it spread as a fructifying incentive among our population. He cannot believe that, and therefore it does not come within the ambit of his philosophy to disseminate it. To me, as I say, there is something ennobling in the incentive ownership gives which, up to date, one has not been able to find in any other system of society. What are the methods by which constructively we can extend ownership so as to poise our society upon a surer foundation than that upon which it rests at present I am wholly against irresponsible talk about the wholesale cutting down of social services. Those services, introduced in the early part of this century, were established for the purpose of shoring-up a system which had evaded its responsibility, and it is on their existence that the system as we know it has survived during the last 25 years. But, on the other hand, those services have been, and are increasingly becoming, rentiers upon the very capitalist system which my hon. Friends are always deriding. They were erected in a haphazard way, no one stopping to work out actuarially what the cost was going to be or where the burden was going to fall, simply because there were enormous reserves of the capitalist system, in the shape of great estates and great fortunes, which could be taxed at heavy rates. Because there were those great deposits to tap it has been possible to go on pushing forward these services in a haphazard way without any relation to the earning power of the community from year to year.
The first thing we ought to realise is that we must fix some proportion between the amount of money annually spent in the form of social services and the total national income. The present haphazard method must inevitably keep wages low, and as, in my belief, high wages are the secret of a property-owning democracy, I am against ill thought-out methods the effect of which is to keep wages low. Professor Henry Clay worked out some little time ago, in a most interesting paper, the effect of the development of the social services upon wages, and came to some remarkable conclusions. He told how, as the social services increased, the wages curve, which had been rising, 1201 tended to flatten out and, ultimately, to droop, showing that the burden of communal expenditure upon industry acted directly upon wages, I believe that to be perfectly true, and I think we have got to determine, as a matter of policy, what is, roughly, the right proportion of the national income to be taken by the State and spent on behalf of the individual. My hon. Friend's philosophy would lead him to the attitude that ultimately the maximum expenditure ought to be undertaken by the State and the individual left with a pittance in his pocket to be used as pocket money—to buy himself cigarettes with, if he wanted them. Our philosophy is at the other end of the globe altogether. What we want to see is the State taking the lightest possible toll of the individual and leaving the largest possible amount of his earnings in his pocket, and it ought to be the business of Government, according to my view, so to direct the surplus expenditure which the individual retains as to enable him to found for himself a stake in his own community.
We ought to recognise the direct toll which taxation is levying on the wage earner at the present time. We hear a great deal about direct taxation, but much less of the indirect taxation which impinges on the wage earner in order to provide the Government with money to spend collectively for him at almost every turn of his life. It is taxed in the matter of beer, tobacco, petrol, unemployment insurance, health insurance, import duties, rates, entertainments and so on—there are a score of taxes, the effect of which in the aggregate must be to deprive the wage earner of spending and saving power to a very considerable extent indeed. I think it was Mr. Morrison who, in an illuminating paper written shortly after the last election, pointed out the obvious truth that the time has come when the development of the social services must be paid for by the wage earners themselves, and that it is for them to consider whether they prefer their money to be communally spent or whether they desire, as I feel they would prefer, a system in which they will have a surplus of their own to invest as a stake in the country. We ought to strengthen by every means possible the machinery of collective bargaining, so as to ensure that no industry may come to 1202 the State for assistance in any of the many ways in which the State can assist industry without being in a position to present it with machinery for fixing fair wages, fair standards of hours and, if possible, bargaining as to the distribution of the proceeds of the industry among all those engaged in it, whether employers or employed.
I want to see an all-in insurance scheme adopted by the Government and coupled with a bonus, payable either in cash or land, at a time when a man is thinking of retiring from the industrial field, so as to induce as many people as possible to go out of industry armed with some small capital sum or with land with which they can perform useful service for their declining years. I want, above all things, to see the Government more active—perhaps that is unfair—to see the Government pressing forward by every conceivable means with the consideration of the question of the hours of labour. I was extremely glad to hear from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour the other day that there was no foundation whatever for the belief which has been disseminated that the Government are not enthusiastic about attempting to reduce the hours of labour. What advantage can it possibly be to the wage-earners of this country that they should see each advance of science cutting away from them their employment? Yet such is the case at the present time. Every advance in ingenuity, every new piece of machinery, instead of being hailed by the workers as being the greatest conceivable blessing to them, as lightening their toil, is looked on by them with terror and fear as depriving them of the means of earning their daily bread. I hope that in co-operation with the trade unions it will be possible to make an advance along the lines of seeing whether, in selected trades to begin with, the amount of leisure cannot be increased.
Every Government seems to be pursuing a mad reverse of the ideal in this matter of employment. Obviously the whole process of civilisation ought to be to unemploy people, not to employ them. The progress of civilisation ought to bring more leisure, and the problem of the next 25 years is not how to get more men at the loom but how to give people education and the equipment with which to employ their leisure. Following on what my hon. Friend was saying, that 1203 industry had brought nothing to the wage-earner of to-day, but that conditions were as bad as they have ever been, one remarkable fact meets the eye. During last year, a year of unparalleled depression, a year of taxation which burdened and crippled the rentier and the capitalist, the small wage-earner of this country saved £7,000,000 more than he did in the previous year.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
I think it was stated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the President of the Board of Trade. The new investments in the Post Office and in War Savings certificates amounted to £7,000,000 in the last year.
§ Mr. MAXTON
Will either the Chancellor of the Exchequer or anybody else assert that that is due to investments by small wage-earners?
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
I should rather doubt whether my hon. Friend is right about that. In the case of War Savings certificates, I think the people with the higher ranges of income already had their quota of them, and therefore the purchases of last year represented purchases by people who had not previously held them and who presumably came from the wage-earning classes.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I do not want to interrupt again, but this is a point. The explanation has been given to me that these investments, not merely in War Savings certificates but in co-operative societies and friendly societies, are the proceeds of the sale by small shopkeepers of their businesses. They were being unsuccessful or they were wound up, and those people have been putting their investments into funds of that description.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
There is no doubt it is a, matter which is not readily susceptible of proof. Perhaps we might be on safer ground if I said that these savings, both in War Savings certificates and Post Office Savings Bank deposits—even a better test—come from the area of the extremely small capitalist, the capitalist who is a wage earner or has a small business. Wherever it comes from, however, there is something like £7,000,000 more of small savings. And what is it doing? It is lent to the Gov- 1204 ernment. It is the business of the Government, in my opinion, to redirect that saving. The great capitalist is not going to be able to finance industry in the future, nor do we want him to do [...]0. What we desire to [...]ee is an inflow of capital from those small sources into the industries of the country, and every possible step should be taken by the Government to assist that flow, so as to spread property much more widely than it is spread at the present time, and give to the small individual the responsibility we all want to see him have for the industrial development of the country.
How is that to be done? I think it could be done, in the first instance, by an alteration of the Trustee Act, which is long overdue. I would like to see the prior charges of approved industrial undertakings placed upon the Trustee Act, to see in that way the small savings of the people diverted into those channels. It is their responsibility now, because I do not think the great capitalist is going to be able to do it much longer. He is far too keen to put his money into Government debt. It is essential that we should start a flow of small savings into the industries of the country—into approved securities, I would say, because nothing could be more fatal than to land small capitalists in a few more Hatry crashes. It might be done by a simple alteration of the Trustee Act. I think it ought to be coupled with some kind of—not perhaps an investment board, but some kind of certification by the Board of Trade of new issues, so that there would be some information given to the public, without engaging the responsibility of the Government, to ensure that the wastage of savings in the last 10 years is not going to be repeated. The inclusion of prior charges in a trustee list would also give the Government the opportunity of satisfying itself as to the conditions prevailing in an industry which sought inclusion, and that could be used as a definite method of giving the Government some control, and of giving some incentive to industry to see that good wages and conditions and fair profit-sharing prevailed within it.
The development of the deposits in the building societies must fill us all with satisfaction, even in these hard times. A note of warning is worth sounding in 1205 that connection. I do not know whether everybody has visualised the problem that the building societies are building up in the next 25 years. You run a great danger, unless you make house property liquid—which sounds a contradiction in terms—of facing a period when your population will be to some extent immobilised, because people will own their houses and will not be able to sell them, and if they want to move to another district they will not be able to walk away with them. Side by side with building development, the Government ought to consider whether it can set up some kind of corporation which shall have the assets and the means of disposing quickly of house property, so that the small investor in house property may be able to dispose of his assets when he wishes to change his district or his employment, or when he dies. In the new capitalist order, as I visualise it, you have to give the small capitalist the same advantages as the great capitalist had. The capital of the great capitalist was always liquid. He, had his stock exchanges, his auctioneers and his different methods of turning capital into cash. It would be wise, in view of the great development of the building society movement, that some consideration should be given to the possibility of making capital of that kind more liquid.
I will conclude on this note: Like the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil, I am no pessimist. I look forward to an era of enormous prosperity, of greater prosperity, probably, than the world has ever seen. I believe that we are only suffering growing-pains at the moment, and that it would be a mistake to face the prodigality of nature and the inventiveness of man with fear, frightened of the future. In the new order that is coming, it is in the dissemination of ownership, the spread of responsibility among the people, and the linking of a whole democracy into a property-owning community, that the stability and the prosperity of the country lies.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ Mr. HICKS
I rise to support the Motion moved by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton). I was particularly impressed by the manner in which he moved it, and by the facts that he offered so effectively in support of it. The hon. Member for Central Nottingham 1206 (Mr. O'Connor), in his contribution to the Debate, stated that the hon. Member for Bridgeton had excited the sympathy of most hon. Members. That is very true. I do not say that in any mean spirit. I am sure that there is nobody in this House or outside who can view with complacency the extent of the poverty and handicap to which millions of our people are subjected to-day. The hon. Member for Central Nottingham, as I have no doubt other Members from the Government Benches, will be saying that Socialist proposals for a solution will not get us anywhere. He said that we regarded capitalism as a fetish. That is not correct. Capitalism is very real it is not a fetish. Its ramifications and its ravages are too extensive for us to regard it in any sense as a fetish. The hon. Member also said that he wanted to see individualism brought back. He is asking the Government to work individualism. How can you make a central Government responsible for individualism? It is a contradiction in itself.
The fact is brought out in very bold relief that Governments are more and more called upon to deal with issues that private individuals were previously able to deal with. With the march of economic development, Governments will be called upon more and more to deal with the problems arising therefrom. Governments will not be able to escape responsibility for industry of any magnitude which is necessary for the general life of this country. You cannot expect me, in speaking to this Resolution, to agree with the policy of the Government. I regard the Government as the representative of capitalism and landlordism, and a very efficient representative at that. They have used this House and its machinery to steam-roller through any legislation or any Measure that they have considered necessary to bolster up vested interests, in any degree that they have considered right.
I heard the cheers when the hon. Member for Bridgeton was referring to the fact that the Chancellor, in the brave statement which he made the other day, said that we must look forward to another 10 years before we are able to get out of the difficulty. The Government and its representatives are prepared to 'accept and to face the prospect of another 10 years of unemployment. I 1207 would like to see where the proposals to stop that are coming from. The Government's only line of action appears to be piling on taxes, lowering wages, stopping public works, preventing the development of housing progress and cutting down social services. That is the sort of thing the Government have done since they have been in office, and the burden upon our menfolk and womenfolk in the country has become a great strain. It is impossible to conceive a more amazing moral or mental bankruptcy than that of the Government in their proposals for dealing with the situation. The Government must be regarded as the political executive of capitalism in Great Britain. I would say that very definitely. All phases of its policy have been directed towards maintaining, conserving and advancing the capitalist interests in this country.
I can hardly agree with the part of the Resolution which says that the Government are "trifling." What the Government have done has been more than trifling in the way they have lowered human standards in the workers' home., in this country. The Government is no foolish lamb, stupidly trotting its way to the slaughter. Whatever stupidity may be alleged against this Government, I am sure that the Government cannot be accused of innocence. The men In our Government are men of keen intellect, great public knowledge and experience, and great capacity. I suppose that it would be very difficult to find men in any Government who have had a richer experience than the men in our Government. They represent the present social system and all that it stands for, and the enormously wealthy and infinitely resourceful capitalist class of Great Britain. Yet they are paralysed with the problems that the system has thrown up.
The Government have at their disposal all the accumulated knowledge and the vast literature that has been written upon the subject, all the probings of the Royal Commissions and the work of all the great economists, every one contributing to an analysis of our present system. The Government have colossal resources, great organisers, great administrators, scientists, engineers, electricians and technicians; they have land, plant and machinery. Nothing is short, either in material needs or in. capacity, experience 1208 or information. The "Times" newspaper, on 7th January, 1933, wrote this very remarkable passage:In practically every branch of production machines are now performing in a few hours tasks which formerly required the handiwork of many men for many days; and the power of the machine to stimulate the production of mines and of factories is supplemented by the power of scientific discoveries to stimulate the production which depends upon growth. It is as true to-day that the scientist can make two ears of wheat grow where one grew before as that the engineer can mine two tons of coal where one was mined before. The productive capacity of the twentieth century State is, indeed, almost without limit, and in the world as a whole there is either actual or potential abundance of food, clothing, and heat—to mention only the prime necessities of life.That is the contribution of the leading organ of Toryism in this country to the problem with which the Resolution deals. There never was, in the history of human society a Government with such opportunities as this Government, and yet, having such opportunities, their contribution to the solution of the problem has been very small indeed.
In the modern world, where industrial development, science and invention have reached their apex of achievement, to be discussing the fact that we are adding to the misery of the people and to the numbers of the unemployed, suggests either very callous indifference to human welfare or that individualism, in rising superior to social responsibility, is bankrupt of capacity to deal with the situation. Of the 45,000,000 people in Great Britain, roughly 40,000,000 are living a very uncertain existence; they are either working for wages or are dependent on wages for a livelihood. Their opportunity in industry is very insecure, irregular and uncertain. The general conditions under which they are living have been inquired into by commissioners from our big national newspapers—the "Daily Herald," the "Daily Telegraph," the "Manchester Guardian," the "Evening News" and others—whose energy and capacity we all very much appreciate. They have told us of the abominable overcrowding and the slum and housing misery of millions of our people. A very large number of those 40,000,000 people are still, as regards housing accommodation, without the ordinary decent requirements for a civilised existence. They are existing in alums which are vile and 1209 foetid and vermin-ridden. The reports from investigators, medical officers of health and others, will show that rats and mice abound in very many instances. And yet, in this age of great capacity, with science and invention available for harnessing to industry, hours of labour that could be employed in putting those conditions right are idly cast away at the Employment Exchanges.
On the question of employment and the reduction of unemployment, I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor) that one of the problems that we shall have to consider seriously in the near future will be the organisation of recreation as well as of work. That is a problem to which the House might well devote some time. The number of people such as I have just referred to, who are living in our slums, is estimated at over 3,000,000, and it is generally accepted by social workers that that is an under-estimate. Even the ancient troglodyte—the cave dweller—had a certain range of opportunity so far as fresh air was concerned; he was not imprisoned under such abominable conditions as many of these people are. I wonder whether some of our people do not ask themselves sometimes what the centuries of civilisation have contributed towards their human happiness, and whether they are better off in their general conditions as a result? The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) mentioned some of these terrible conditions in his own constituency, and they can be multiplied in every constituency—in every industrial constituency, at any rate—throughout this country. The 3,000,000 unemployed with their families comprise at least one-sixth of the total population of this country, and the present Government, by its general policy in regard to cutting down social services and cutting down benefits, has been calculatedly responsible—it cannot be innocently done—for driving these people down to a standard of existence which is below what is ordinarily regarded as a minimum.
Mr. Seebohm Rowntree, whose authority will be accepted by all who take notice of investigations into conditions of life and poverty, made, as is well known, an investigation to ascertain what was the lowest standard of subsistence for a man, his wife and three children. He has recently gone into the 1210 question again, and has published fresh figures for January of this year, which show that a man, his wife and three children should have at least 31s. 6d. per week in order to maintain themselves in a state of physical efficiency. Our unemployment pay for such a family is 29s. 3d. But, to the figure of 31s. 6d., rent and other expenses have to be added. I suppose that 15s. would not be regarded as an unreasonable rent in London for a man, his wife and three children, or 10s. in the provinces. As compared with these figures, our unemployment benefit in such a case amounts in the aggregate to only 29s. 3d., which has to include the rent, no other provision being made for it. On the other side we see heaped-up wealth that has been produced by our own people. There is no magic way of producing wealth; it is only by the application of labour power to nature-given material that wealth is produced. We see piled-up wealth on the one side, and, on the other, these millions of people subjected to a poverty-line lower than that which is regarded by the experts as a minimum. How can we expect them to escape the ravages of disease and illness?
It is impossible for us to look at the question from any other angle than that the distribution of wealth is totally wrong. There is heaped-up wealth which these people have laboriously produced, and yet they are prevented from touching it. We speak sometimes of the gold reserves in our banks, and of the idle money in the banks. While you have the gold in the banks, you have these little jewels of humanity, boys and girls of a great Imperial race, being destroyed in the foul, disease-ridden slums in which so many of our people are compelled to live. The more the workers produce, the less there is available for them. The harder they work, the quicker they become unemployed. The more work that is done, the lower the standard of life of the workers.
The capitalist system is defended to such an extent that one would think it was a divinely inspired system. The defenders of the capitalist system in this and other parts of the world, where there are mountains of wealth and an abundance of agencies to supply their own brothers and sisters, their own flesh and blood, with all the things that are necessary for their livelihood, say that it is 1211 wrong for them to have that wealth. If they are asked why this problem should not be solved, why the people should not have more food, the answer of capitalism is: Destroy the food; burn the coffee; make briquettes of the wheat; fire the boilers with wheat that could be used for human consumption. The fish that has been caught in the sea, instead of being distributed, is put back into the sea or used for manure. If they are asked why it is that people do not have better clothes, the answer is: We will burn the cotton, or dig it into the soil; we have too much wool, and too many textile operatives and tailors. That is why our people are shabbily dressed. Let hon. Members go into their own constituencies and see whether the people are properly dressed and shod. It is not because we have not the means. Why are the people not properly housed, when we have so much land, when we have so much building experience, when we have 20,000 architects unemployed to-day, when we have 400,000 building trade workers unemployed, when we have large quantities of idle plant and machinery? What a ridiculous and amazing contradiction and confusion the whole thing is.
The Motion speaks about widespread poverty and the methods employed to tackle it, but anyone who examines the system will wonder what steps the Government or their representatives are prepared to take to tackle this problem in anything like a practical way. The whole thing appears to us to be beyond common understanding. The system which the Government represents is failing more and more, and it is bound to fail. Its representatives are fighting all the time for markets that are not there. They are fighting with the people of other big countries for markets in the same areas. This is sowing the seeds of international commercial rivalry and international war. War is not caused by the perverseness of character of individuals, or because some representative of a State may say things that are irregular. Wars are much deeper-seated than that. The reasons for them are generally commercial rivalries. I should like to read a short quotation from the late President Wilson, speaking at St. Louis in September, 1919, after the last War. He said:Peace! Why, my fellow-citizens, is there any man here, or any woman, let me 1212 say is there any child, who does not know that the seed of war in the modern world is industrial and commercial rivalry? The War was a commercial and industrial war; it was not a political war. The reason that the War we have just finished took place was that Germany was afraid her commercial rivals were going to get the better of her, and the reason why some nations went into the War against Germany was that they thought that Germany would get the commercial advantage of them. The seed of the jealousies, the seed of the deep-rooted hatred, was hot commercial and industrial rivalry.What is the position to-day? Our country, and all capitalist countries, have produced more goods than there is an effective demand for in the home market, and they are all pushing for markets in other parts of the world, attempting to drive out competitors — Americans, Germans, French, Belgians, Scandinavians, Czechoslovakians, or whoever they may be. Each is trying to outbid the other. The evidence of that is the 30,000,000 or 40,000,000 of unemployed people that there are in the world to-day. They cannot be employed in industry again under capitalism until it is possible to expand markets and get additional buyers for the commodities that are produced. Where are the markets? They are already covered by the effective industrial countries that I have mentioned, and there are others; and, side by side with all this, we have an ever-growing development of capacity to produce more commodities than we are producing to-day. Since we are able to produce more commodities than ever before, one would say, in the ordinary scheme of things, that the home and family ought to be richer by that greater capacity; but, instead of going on looking upwards, we go backwards and downwards. We see more produced and less consumed; we see faster work and quicker unemployment; we see rationalisation, machinery, and so on, bringing the total of our unemployed up to the many millions at which it stands at present. And they are the people who have produced the goods.
Those who represent this present order have to ask themselves whether the problems which the present order throws up are not being created much faster than any action which they are able to adopt to overtake them. Every day and every week you find yourself further behind. You think you are able to get 1213 cheap money here and then you find that another country goes off the Gold Standard. If you think you have a market because you have gone off gold, another country goes off and the competition goes on again. I have never spoken of any capitalist as being an individual who is full of brutality It is not the man but the system with which he is associated. Since you have been in power in wage cutting you have led employers. We are £10,000,000 worse off since you have been in office than we were before. You have reduced unemployment benefit; you have imposed a means test which is lower than the amount of unemployment benefit. The hon. Member for Central Nottingham spoke in regard to the savings of the people. The Government have looked after the savings of the poor people when they became unemployed. If they have two or three shillings in the bank they must take them out before they get any relief under the means test. The Government have looked after their savings in a very effective way. You have reduced the wages of the workers in public employment.
§ Mr. LOVAT-FRASER
Does the hon. Member remember that it was his party that introduced the means test?
§ Mr. HICKS
I am stating a few things that you have done which have contributed towards unemployment. Not only have you led the employers in wage cutting, cut down the miserable benefit of the unemployed, and imposed the means test, but you have curtailed industry, aggravated unemployment, closed down housing schemes and public works—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir DENNIS Herbert)
If the hon. Member will be good enough to address the Chair, we may know better whom he means by "you."
§ Mr. HICKS
They have crippled the social services and made cuts in public education. When you come to examine the work that the Government have done, the Motion is justified in every possible respect. We cannot accept the position as it is. We cannot accept the fact, when we have the capacity to bring better and brighter lives to our people, that we are going further and further down in the 1214 social scale. To remain quiescent in such circumstances is wrong. There can be no moral justification for it. No Government, however powerful it may be in intellect or numbers, has the right to stand between people and the means of satisfying them. This restriction that is being imposed upon people is criminally monstrous—the wilful destruction of foodstuffs while people go hungry, wil-fully putting people out of employment when they should have the opportunity of using their skill and capacity to feed, clothe or house the people.
There is, in the opinion of the Labour party, only one way. However long the capitalist system goes on, the contradictions that it will throw up will be greater and greater. The central Government will be called upon more frequently than ever to tackle these problems. It will not solve them. Industry organised for individual welfare instead of the social welfare is bound to bring in its train the contradictions that I have mentioned. Until the country agrees to change the basis of production from private to public enterprise, until the main industries are taken over by the people for the people, until they are properly and effectively planned, until Great Britain is regarded as a unit, perhaps a unit inside the bigger unit of the British Empire, and the material resources of the world are used for the purpose of providing greater happiness and comfort, contradictions such as we have today will be intensified and will show themselves more glaringly, and international wars brought about as the consequence of economic rivalry will be re-instituted. All the countries in the world are better equipped in man power, machines, aeroplanes and death destroying agencies than ever they were before. However useful this system has been in the past, it has reached its limit of usefulness to-day in the direction of guaranteeing millions of men and women a better life. Let us take a fresh point of view upon it. Do not be afraid of fresh ideas and of examining something different from what our forefathers had. I believe that, by these agencies and the establishment of the system of Socialism nationally and internationally, the problem of poverty will disappear and human happiness will be alleviated.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
It is customary, if any Member makes a special effort in the way of a speech, to compliment him on it; and it often happens that those compliments are not altogether sincere. But everyone who listened to the speech that initiated the Debate will agree with me that it was from every point of view such a speech as added to the reputation of the speaker. I could not help thinking as I listened to the hon. Member that if only I could speak like that, I could cause a revolution, though one of a very different kind from that which he contemplates. I propose to give some hints as to the nature of what I think is going to be the real revolution that is coming, for I would remind the House that the hon. Member threw down a challenge towards the end of his speech. He said, "Turn away from the past and look to the future if you dare face the future," or words to that effect. He knows very well that I recognise that he, in his way, has been preparing for a certain future. He knows that in my very humble way 1 also have been preparing for a future, and I hope he will agree when I say that I fully recognise that his whole life and his whole actions have been guided by a really profound love for the people of the country. As I recognise that, and as he knows that I recognise it, perhaps he will give a little recognition towards a similar spirit in what I have been doing, although in every single point of policy I am diametrically opposed to him.
I well remember the days when I worked as an apprentice and the days after that when I had to do a great deal of work at the coal face in the pit. In those days there were old men working with me to whom Socialism all their lives had been in the nature of a religion. Generally speaking, they were men who had absorbed the ideas of William Morris, those somewhat vague but extraordinarily beautiful ideas of a co-operative commonwealth for this country and ultimately for the world. It is one of the saddest things one can observe to see how that faith has been destroyed and that magnificent vision of a great and happy future for mankind has been taken away and has left nothing whatever in its place.
The House will perhaps pardon me if I trace as far as I can the experience of 1216 the world in Socialism and subsequently the experience of the great world protest of what is called "Individualism." The hon. Member for Bridgeton being a Scotsman possibly like myself, occasionally dips into a book called the Bible. Being a Scotsman no doubt he dips into it with a view to finding suitable terms of invective with which to overwhelm the capitalist class. But I need hardly remind him that the experiment of a cooperative commonwealth was tried some 2,000 years ago in a city called Jerusalem. There was then a body of men who held all their goods in common and no man deemed his wealth his own. As far as we are able to ascertain, from the somewhat scanty information vouchsafed to us, that society worked admirably for a time; until at length it attracted to its circle a gentleman and his wife of the name of Ananias and Sapphira and it broke down most lamentably, because they kept back part of the price.
Surely, that is the history of socialistic and communistic communities all through the ages. As long as there was a great ideal as the motive for their action they succeeded, but sooner or later to every one of those communities there came an Ananias and a Sapphira who kept back part of the price. If we take the latest and greatest of all these experiments, we find that what happened was adumbrated on a small scale in the story to which I have referred. It will be remembered that when the man and his wife kept back part of the price, Peter rose up and put them to death for their sins. So too Lenin discovered there was only one way of dealing with those who interfered with the running of a communistic organisation, and that was to get rid of them by death at the earliest possible moment. Having adopted that method, he was able to attain to a large degree of success, and it is quite possible that in Russia within the next two or three years there may be a complete guarantee of material existence—food, clothing and lodging—to every citizen, but at what an expense. At the expense of everything that separates men from the beasts.
As I say, the hon. Member and I have in our differing ways devoted ourselves to solving problems—to solving perhaps the greatest problem of the age, which is not a material but a moral one, the problem of giving a new hope to the 1217 millions who are at present hopeless and see no future, of giving them once more a bright and happy future to look forward to and something to work for, even if they cannot expect to get it within this generation or the next few generations to come. What the hon. Member works for is the changing of institutions. What I work for is the changing of individuals. And I shall win, as the whole history of mankind has shown up to the present. Always has the selfishness of men and women wrecked every experiment towards the co-operative commonwealth of his ideals. But I, who have been convinced for many years that it is utterly useless to attempt to get progress by changing institutions, maintain that the whole history of mankind shows most conclusively and manifestly that progress is only to be obtained by changing individual men and women.
Let us apply that to the immediate question under debate. In order that the hon. Member's Utopia may materialise, in order that his co-operative commonwealth may flourish, it is essential that there should be at any rate a majority of the people of the community in question who are willing to work and to give their service and their lives, not for their own advantage, but for the advantage of their fellow-men. Ono thing we know, unhappily, too well, is that there is not in this country or in the world to-day anything approaching to a. majority of men and women willing to undertake those obligations to give their best work and best thought without regard to personal reward, or to their families. Therefore, what we call the capitalist system exists. It was not a system which anybody designed or set up. It is simply the state of affairs which must exist in any community where the majority of men and women are selfish rather than unselfish. I say that for the present, at all events, it is utterly foolish and wrong to suggest to those unhappy people to whom I have referred, to those unhappy people who have lost that great ideal of Socialism which sustained them in hope so long, that there is any possibility of a realisation of their dreams until they themselves are manifestly and distinctly changed from what they are at the present time. That there is the possibility of a change we all know.
During the War we were entirely under a system of State Socialism, and it 1218 worked, and we are paying for it now through the nose. But the fact remains that millions and millions of men and women in this country were willing to work, to fight, and to suffer everything that men and women can suffer, and not to ask any reward whatever from the State which was employing them. Those who are everlastingly, like the hon. Member for Bridgeton and his friends, demanding the abolition of war should at least recognise that the only possibility in these days of any realisation of their Socialistic dreams is when the nation is engaged in a war for its very existence and we live as a Socialist commonwealth.
Let us turn to the other side of -ale matter. I have suggested that it is useless to change the organisation of society; useless because that organisation will change itself when men and women have changed themselves, and fitted themselves for some other form of organisation in industry and in society. Just as I have said that capitalism is merely the state of affairs which exists among selfish men and women, and cannot be altered without the complete wrecking of their prosperity and depriving them of their livelihood, so this dream of a social commonwealth, such as the dream of William Morris and his friends, is only realisable, and is inevitably to be realised, if once that condition exists that men and women think more of their neighbours than of themselves. Therefore, I maintain that this much maligned capitalist system under which we live at present must still continue in some form—and here I make my challenge to the hon. Member for Bridgeton. While he devotes himself and his great powers of oratory to endeavouring to alter a system which cannot be altered until men and women are altered, I, in my humble way, have spent my life in preparing for that alteration in the outlook of men and women which alone can bring about in the future the co-operative commonwealth of his dreams.
The way I have gone about it is this: I came to the conclusion many years ago in my industrial life that it was useless to attempt to convert the whole bulk of the men and women of the country, but that it was possible to make an enormous advance if one could convert even a few and if those few were in a position of responsibility, and thus to initiate this 1219 new era for which we both long and which is the ideal of us both. In other words, I reached the conclusion that it was within the bounds of possibility so to alter the outlook of those who control the industries of our country under this capitalist system of ours that they could take the first stages towards the ideal of our dreams. So important do I deem these matters that I have never for one moment hesitated in my own conduct of affairs to feel my way step by step towards that better and happier time for the workers which he and I have devoted our lives to bring about, and by experiments in industry to see what happened when you adopted new methods of remuneration and of dealing with work and for getting continuity of labour even in these depressed times. The results of what I have done amount largely to this: that to remove that poverty which we all deprecate so much there is at the present time but one practical thing we can do. What is wanted is that, when the weekly pay day of the country comes round, instead of the paltry millions which are paid out in the pay-bags at the present time, the aggregate amount must be vastly increased. In other words, we must initiate a campaign for more wages.
But before hon. Members above the Gangway and the hon. Member for Bridgeton agree too closely with me upon this point, I would say to them that more wages at the present time in many cases mean lower rates of wages than what are being paid to our people in many of our industries. That is what I meant in the Amendment which I put upon the Order Paper, but which I do not propose to move as the Debate will follow a more useful course if Amendments are not brought in at the present stage. What I meant was that the actions of successive Governments—for no party in the State is guiltless in this matter—have all been devoted, like the actions of the trade unions, to raising the rate of wages without any regard whatever to the aggregate of wages paid throughout the country in each week.
It is useless to have a few fortunate railwaymen, for example, employed at a. high rate of wages when there are scores of thousands of railwaymen already thrown out of employment and others who are being thrown out. What is the 1220 reason? In the case of the railwaymen it should be obvious to everyone. It is not the directors and managers who decide what the rate of wages for railwaymen is to be. They cannot decide. It is those who use the railways who decide every time what the wages of the railwaymen shall be. When wages boards or Governments go about the matter in the way in which it has been gone about up to the present and say, "this railwayman ought to have such and such a rate of wages," unless they have consulted the users of the railways first, they condemn that railwayman to perpetual unemployment, as has been the case in thousands and thousands of instances during the last few years. But if the public were allowed, as formerly they were allowed, to say what the wage rate of the railwayman should be, then the railwayman would get the wage instead of having to go upon the dole as he does at present. I pray hon. Members above the Gangway to think over this matter before I pass from it, and to think it over most carefully, whether what we want is not more wages in the aggregate rather than high wages for a few lucky individuals and the rest of our unfortunate people living on the dole.
The House will pardon me for making my speech a good deal longer than is my custom, but the tone of the speech of the hon. Member for Bridgeton was so elevating and so lofty that I am tempted to do my little best to rise even though it be to a short distance, up to those heights to which he has risen. I have said that, so far as I can see, there is no hope for mankind and no hope for industrial mankind unless there is an immense change in the outlook of men and women, and I have also stated that it is very much easier to change the outlook of a few capitalist employers of labour than to change the outlook of the whole bulk of the workers.
Therefore, I think it is right that I should endeavour to link up those arguments, and, as far as I can, show what I contemplate will be the development of industry during the next two or three generations in this country. The times have changed very much. There was a time when, generally speaking, the great fortunes of the country were in the hands of those men and those families whom the whole of the people of this country 1221 were inclined to regard as the best of our citizens. That time has gone. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has seen to that. He destroyed those people. He destroyed them utterly, and we have been suffering from the loss of them for many years since.
Now, in the course of the War and subsequently, we found the general tendency was for the great accumulations of money in this country to be in the hands of people to whom I do not wish to be unkind, but whom I think I might rightly describe as the sort of people that no decent young man would ever like to be like. In the days when I was a youngster, there was something rather creditable in a lad going into industry and making a great fortune. It raised him in a certain degree to something like the same social status as those old great landowning families of the country who had hitherto represented our rich. But since the War and since the era of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvou Boroughs, I venture to say that any young men going into industry might well question their seniors and say, "If I work here in industry and devote all my talents to making this business a great and a prosperous one, is it not just possible that at the end of it I may find that all my efforts have simply resulted in making me like Mr. So-and-So or Lord So-and-So? If that is the case, then success in industry is not for me."
I have spoken partly in jest over these matters, but the fact remains that among the young people of to-day going into industry with the prospect of taking up responsible positions, the money motive is not nearly as powerful as it used to be even in my recollection. I think that the time is rapidly coming—in fact, I think that it is almost on our doorstep—when we shall find young people coming into industry without worrying too much as to whether they will make great fortunes, but coming into it for the reason that I am running my industry now—I am getting nothing out of it—namely, for the sake of doing a thing as well as one possibly can and showing that one can do it better than the other fellow. In other words, the sporting instinct which has distinguished all classes of our country for so many generations may, I 1222 think, become the mainspring of energy and enterprise in industry, instead of that broken mainspring, the desire for great possessions. I find in going about the country among people of all classes and in talking to young people whether in the coal-pit or the board room, there is a possibility that this is not wild idealism on my part. This at least I know—that the experiment I have made of regarding an industrial concern merely as a means of sport and not as a means of gain, is a successful one, inasmuch as I proved by six years' experience that industry is a game which is worth the playing for the sake of the game, even when someone else gets the silver-plated toast rack and you get nothing.
In his unregenerate days, when he was not afraid of trite catchwords, the hon. Member for Bridgeton would say: "Let us have democratic control and ownership of capital." I am going to make him a present of part of his demand. I have tried for some time now the experiment of democratic ownership of the capital of my own concern, and so far as my experiment has gone I have proved that there is no harm whatsoever in democratic ownership of capital—provided there is not democratic control. For some years now I have not owned the capital which formerly belonged to me. The whole of the capital in my business belongs to my employéps—but the degree of autocracy with which that little concern is conducted is unequalled in any industrial concern in the country. In support of my view that we can run industries successfully with democratic ownership of capital, provided that we maintain autocratic control, I am going to bring against the hon. Member the evidence of the poor, downtrodden wage-slaves with whom I have worked and whom I have consulted from time to time in the course of the experiment.
I said to them, at the very beginning of the experiment: "I do not see in the very least why you should not own the capital of this concern of ours, rather than that I should call it mine, because so long as it is capital neither you nor I can blue ' it. Therefore, it does not make any difference whether I transfer it to you or keep it in my own name." They understood that. I then said: "What about democratic control? This involves you once a year in elect- 1223 ing from among your number representatives who are to decide "—this is the decision which has to be made by all capitalists—" how much of the product of the industry is to be paid out in wages, and how much should go to capital." That is the crucial question which the capitalist employer has to decide year by year. After some conversation, they agreed that what would happen would be this: in the first year they would think who among their number were the best people to control the matter and to decide the very difficult question already mentioned. They would say: "We will choose those who have been successful in their own private affairs, those who have accumulated a little capital of their own and are preparing to retire at a comparatively early age, so that they will be wage slaves no more. We will elect them because they have been rather good in managing their own affairs."
I then said: "Suppose we run into a rather bad time. Suppose the Government pass another Coal Mines Act"—which would inevitably mean hard times for us, because our customers are the collieries. "When there was no bonus to be added to the weekly wage and when the demand was made by your committee for a reduction in wage rates because they could not afford to pay what was required, what would happen?" We know that, like the hon. Member for Bridgeton, they would go to the local equivalent of Glasgow Green and say: "Here is a committee of brutal capitalists making capital the first charge on industry, instead of making the wages of the workers the first charge. Perish the thought !" And inevitably at the next election those would be elected who would be pledged to give the whole of the product of the industry in wages and to keep nothing whatsoever for capital. So that, in three years, in the case of my own concern, the show would be in bankruptcy.
By all means let us have democratic ownership of capital if it pleases anybody, because it makes no difference so long as it is kept as capital; but for heaven's sake allow those who are capable of running the show successfully to keep control of what is the very lifeblood of the nation and the workers.
1224 The whole of my life I have been sitting on brass tacks, and it is very difficult for me to get into the rarified atmosphere in which the hon. Member for Bridgeton moves. But I think I have justified the opinion that occasionally even a practical shopkeeper like myself can show some signs of imagination, some sign of looking forward to a better and a happier future for the workers of this country and the workers of the world. Socialism, so far as the intelligent workers of this country are concerned, is as dead as a, door nail, and the hon. Member knows it. I look at the party opposite, the Socialist party, and what arises again and again to my mind in regard to the creed which they find it so profitable to support is summed up in the words of a poet who was quoted the other day in this House for the first time for some years:Its frame still stands without a breach,Though blood and warmth are fled;And still it speaks its wonted speechBut every word is dead.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
I am sure that every Member of the House has enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson). I was deeply interested in it, because I believe him to be very sincere in the belief that he holds, but I am bound to draw the attention of the House to the fact that we are not discussing whether there are good employers and bad employers in the capitalist system of society, but whether the system of capitalism is able to bring itself back into a, state of prosperity and abolish the widespread poverty of the working-classes. The hon. Member made one or two statements which I should like to analyse. He said that before we can have any state of society such as that outlined by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) we must have a, complete change in the attitude of individuals. We must have, in the words of the Leader of the Opposition, which I heard nearly 20 years ago, "a complete change of heart." Speaking as a Socialist, it is not only essential that we should believe in a new gospel but that besides being a, Socialist one must have the spirit of Socialism and be able to enunciate it, not as a professional politician or advocate, but as something for which one is prepared, if necessary, 1225 to make sacrifices to bring about the realisation of one's aims and ambitions.
When the hon. Member said that before we can have any change we must have a complete change of heart in every individual, I must cross swords with him. He seems to assume that human nature is absolutely selfish in its entirety. I disagree. I say that conditions and environment create selfishness within human beings, but that mankind is not selfish at the very bottom. Where would you get a more complete demonstration of the lack of selfishness in the working class than the fact that they go into industry, that they go into the bowels of the earth, that they produce the coal that is required for the well-being of every human being in the nation, that they produce the wealth and, having produced the wealth, they place it into the hands of the class that has never done anything in the production of it. Is that a selfish act on the part of human beings, who are prepared to allow themselves and their families to endure the greatest privations of poverty and distress, while they give to the class who have done nothing to produce the wealth extremely pleasant surroundings and good conditions 2 Surely that is a demonstration of the lack of selfishness on the part of the working classes. While I believe that a change of heart may be desirable in a large section of people and that we have a task in bringing about the atmosphere for a Socialist state of society, the hon. Member has a greater problem before him in attempting to convert the large employers of labour and the landowners to his point of view about benevolence in industry under a capitalist administration.
Selfishness may be a part of the makeup of individuals, but suppose the hon. Member and I sat at a table under present conditions, and he enjoyed a splendid course dinner. After the dinner he goes to a comfortable home, buys good clothes, and has a chance for recreation, education and all the finer things in society. On the other hand, I, an unemployed man, am compelled to sit at the table and to hear him order anything that he desires. I am compelled to have bread and margarine And a bowl of tea, which does not satisfy my wants, but the money in my pocket dictates that which I am to eat and drink. Then I go home to a slum where the gas has been 1226 cut off, through inability to pay. I go to A bed that has no blankets, because of inability to provide them. Does he say that, if I am a reasonably-minded man, with the blood of an ordinary human being, I am not to develop in my mind and heart a desire for a complete change? If that is selfishness, then I agree with the hon. Member. It is simply the desire to have that which nature intended every human being to have, and the capitalist system of society cannot provide that in any shape or form for the great mass of human beings. The hon. Member for Mossley gave us a disquisition, in an egotistical fashion, of what he has done in industry. I saw a great Amount of egotism in his statement.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
I am very sorry if I appeared to be egotistical, and I apologise to the House. I thought that it was necessary for my argument to mention one or two personal matters. I apologise sincerely.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
Despite all the poverty that has arisen in this country, there has been no effort made by any Government to deal with the situation. They remind me of a man who, in jumping off an omnibus, which unfortunately has suddenly moved forward, clutches the rails and is suspended in mid-air. If he had jumped off at the proper time he would have met with no injury at all. That is true of the capitalist class of this country, and of the Governments of this country. Because there is. a certain amount of inconvenience to be met with in arranging a new social order, they are not prepared to face this inconvenience, and they hold on and on to a system which is collapsing, which is gradually becoming bankrupt not only in this country but in every part of the world. They will hold on to the ownership of the means of life until eventually great disaster will overtake them. Every person can see to-day a desire on the part of men and women for a change. There is a growing belief in force to bring about the desired change from capitalism to some better ordered state of society. There has been a gradual evolution of thought in the minds of men and women and they are now prepared to back every form of force to effect that change.
You may deprecate the growth of unconstitutionalism in this country and in the world, but that unconstitutionalism 1227 has been created by the constitutionists of this country, of this House and of the world. It is not the Communist, or the anarchist, or the hon. Member for Bridgeton, great as I know his powers of oratory are on the platform, who are responsible for that growth; it can be traced to the failure of successive Governments and successive politicians to bring about any effective change in the conditions and lives of the people. I admit that Socialism can make little headway if there is a decent state of society, when men and women can earn decent wages and live in good houses; but when they are unemployed and living under the conditions in which many of them do to-day, they become dissatisfied and ask why they should be living in a state of poverty.
We had a great deal of reform in this country at one time. When the Liberal party were in office and in power they gave us a greater scale of reforms than has any Government since. They were in office during a period when capitalism was in the ascendancy, when it was finding new markets and opening up new routes, when this country was the workshop of the world; and out of the profits which were made by investments in backward countries they were able to give a certain amount of social reform to the common people of this country. But with the gradual evolution and development of that system of society, the Liberal party came to a dead end. The War period practically ended social reform in this country, with one or two small exceptions. Since the end of the War every Government in this country and every statesman have gone into office believing, expecting and hoping that at the end of 12 months or two years there would be a different state of society and of trade. But stagnation and creeping paralysis have overtaken industry, not only in one country but in every country in the world. With a growing productive power on the part of the working classes, individually and collectively, there has been a reduced power of consumption. These are contradictions which no system of society can keep in operation for very long. If you are going towards a glut of things and if, on the other hand, you continue to displace labour, it means that you must give additional powers of consumption to the 1228 common people if you are to cope with the situation.
The Liberal party failed. The Tory party failed. The Labour party, in the few months in which they were in office in 1924, failed. A Tory Government came in again, and failed. The Labour party during two years of office completely failed to make any attempt to stop the rot. They did more—they became the fire brigade of capitalism. They attempted to damp the revolutionary aspirations of the working classes of this country and tried to put capitalism on its feet again. They attempted to keep it alive by pumping labour oxygen into its lungs. The Labour party has been used for the same purpose in every part of the world. There is not a Labour party that has not attempted to work the capitalist system and they have been thrown out of office periodically as a complete failure, because they have applied themselves to the problems of the day as Liberals and Tories would have applied themselves, and have attempted to keep at work a. system which is unable to work in any shape or form under present conditions.
The working classes at one time believed in Liberalism, and then they had faith in trade union activities. The Labour party in 1929–31 attempted to solve the problems which Capitalism was throwing up until eventually they were overwhelmed by them, and the National Government came in with a flourish of trumpets. Young members of the Tory party came in like high-spirited racehorses, but they are now trotting along like a lot of old cab horses. They see that there is no hope of doing anything at all; they see that the Government cannot deal with the situation. And not because they are not able men. On the Front Bench there have been eminently able men, but they have attempted to deal with a situation which cannot be dealt with within the confines of the capitalist system. The hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) says that since the Government came in the wages of the working people have been reduced by £10,000,000. Were they not being steadily reduced during the Labour party administration? Were there not protests against the reductions? Did not the Labour party have something to do with the Anomalies Act, by which 241,000 1229 people were put on Poor Law relief? Are they going to take credit that during their period of two years in office things went down and down? No Government can stop that because the Government do not own and control the means of life. It is the private employers in industry who own and control the means of life, and the Government are only the tools of the bankers and the employing class. Those who own the economic means of life control the Government and determine the policy of the Government.
The Labour party failed. They attempted to create the feeling that when they got back into office, not because the people believed that they are better, but because they are driven from one party to another in attempting to solve present day problems, that they were going to reduce unemployment, restore wages, abolish the cuts and the means test, give all widows pensions, and all spinsters pensions as well; raise the old age pension to £1 per week at 60 years of age and raise the school-leaving age. To attempt to make an intelligent section of the community believe that you are going to do that is simply stating what you know to be untrue and impossible; and it makes it all the worse because the Labour party know they cannot do what they have promised the working classes they would do. There can be no change until there is a change of heart. There can be no change in the lives of the common people until there is a change of system, from private ownership to public ownership, the means of life being controlled by the community.
Nature was kind in intention. It gave us land and raw materials, health: and ability, energy and creative powers, for every human being. These powers should be utilised but they will never be used within the confines of the capitalist system of society. The Labour party have made promises to the people of this country which they have never attempted to fulfil. They have tried to make them believe that when they come into office again they will deal with all their ills, when they know that they have no power to do so without a change in the present system. They have simply attempted to do the same as Liberals and as Tories—work the present social system. I say quite frankly that, as far as we are concerned, we believe that poverty will never 1230 be eliminated except by a change in the present system of society. The Labour party, if it is their intention to defend the interests and profits of the ruling classes, are bound to fail. In this country there is a growing belief in the common people that by their own power and by their own hands they will bring about a social revolution and achieve working class ownership and control.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Commander COCHRANE
I certainly do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) into the family squabble which he has attempted to carry on with the party above the Gangway. The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) when he began his speech was candid enough to say that he would be destructive, and I certainly think that the hon. Member for Shettleston has added his meed of criticism. I do not propose to follow either of the hon. Members. I prefer to devote myself to considering whether the capitalist system which has been so much abused to-day is really as dead as the hon. Members would wish it to be. As a test I would take a question which, is obviously in the minds of all hon. Members who have addressed the House, and that is the question of a glut, of idle money and idle men, or, as I prefer 'to put it, whether the rapidly increasing productive power of the world is being used in the most effective way to reduce poverty. That is a question which we must consider, and it is one which has undoubtedly given rise to grave doubts in the last few months. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in a speech at Edinburgh a few weeks ago, described it as "one of the gravest problems facing the statesmen of the world." I think that that is a true description. The problem cannot be put better than it has been put in a summary of conclusions in a book published a year or two ago by the International Labour Office, and called "Social Aspects of Rationalisation." It referred to the displacement of labour by machinery and stated:It is possible that this tendency will continue in future and will become more and more general and distinct. The consequent unemployment should then be considered to an increasing extent as a sort of physiological unemployment. By this we mean the sort of unemployment that must 1231 be accepted as normal, since its causes cannot be abolished without injuring general progress.I invite attention to that last sentence. I think that "progress" is a much-abused word. For my own part, I refuse to accept it in the sense that industrial development which causes increasing unemployment should rightly be described as progress. If the development of machinery and the ever-increasing displacement of labour are to continue, it will make no difference whether they continue under a capitalist or a Socialist system, so far as the lack of employment among the people is concerned. Indeed, I think it must be clar that under Socialism there would be no cure for this distressing state of affairs, because the statement which I have quoted is in accord with the materialist doctrine of all Socialism—the idea that the production of wealth and its distribution were the only problem with which we had to deal. I believe that there is a fundamental mistake there, for I am sure that the people of this country do not wish to be idle and dependent on State charity. That is the meaning of it if an ever-decreasing number of people are to produce the wealth required for the consumption of the remainder. Clearly then the remainder must be recipients of charity from the State, whether it be directly in goods or whether it be paid in money. In other words we are reaching a stage at which we must seriously consider whether the present wage system is a satisfactory medium for distributing the wealth of the country.
The problem is undoubtedly becoming more and more serious. I am certain that the only way in which we can reach a solution of the difficulty is to make people more self-supporting. There is a direct issue between us on this matter—either State Socialism, with its system of doles or charity, or the development of a capitalist system which, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor) said, would lead to a property-owning democracy. I would carry it a stage further and say that, while I value a property-owning democracy, I value still more a property-owning and producing democracy. That, I believe, is the ideal which we all wish for, and I think no one more than the hon. Member for Bridgeton and his friends. I cannot help thinking that they 1232 have a good deal of the individualist in them. Otherwise why do they often sit in crowded discomfort on the bench they occupy instead of enjoying the more spacious ease of the benches behind the Labour party?
We must recognise that in everyone there is a desire not only for political liberty but, what is more important, economic liberty and security. I regard security as of great importance. I do not think that any advocate of the Socialist system would care to say that if the whole power of the country were handed over to him he could provide not only the material things, but also the life of activity as well, which is what the people really want. That can only be done by retaining for them a measure of freedom and liberty to work out their own salvation and to provide for themselves. It so happens that as this problem has become more and more insistent, the possibility of dealing with it also exists for the first time for many years. For the first time since the industrial revolution we have a Government armed with the necessary authority and power of legislation to put into effect whatever design they wish for the industrial structure of the country. Whatever we may think of tariffs, we have at any rate an opportunity of devising and carrying out a policy which will enable industry in this country to be carried on to the benefit of the greatest number of people in this country, and I believe that it is on those lines that we must develop. That clearly means that we are to try, in the words of an Amendment on the Paper, "to spread productive capital more widely amongst the people of the country." If we are to do that we must also spread industry more widely, for the two things go together.
Not only is it loss of employment which we are suffering from this so-called rationalisation of industry, but over-centralisation is adding much to the misery of the people throughout the country. I invite any hon. Member to go to-day to those places where there is least poverty. Where are they'? They are those districts where there are numbers of industries, and where the whole community are not dependent on one single industry which may fail them at any time. That, I believe, is an object lesson which we should expand. I do not wish to attempt to go any further into the matter to-day. 1233 I would rather leave it as a suggested idea, not as a mere aspiration, but as something which can be put into effect and which I trust will be put into effect, for I believe it would go a considerable way in finding a solution for the poverty which we all so much deplore.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. PICKERING
I would like to pay my tribute to the remarkably fine speech of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton). As we listened to him we all felt certainly that he had a very great heart, great eloquence and great imagination. I speak because the hon. Member made reference to an Amendment which is on the Paper and to which my name is attached, and he pooh-poohed the idea of the need for an inquiry. I quarrel with the hon. Member's Motion from the beginning, for it is absolutely misleading. It refers to "widespread poverty." I would not for one moment try to minimise the seriousness of the situation today. I think that the position is deplorable and a desperate challenge to our statesmanship, but I do not see it expressed in those words of the Motion. It was suggested by the hon. Member that there was no need to ask what poverty is. From the way he speaks of it there is very serious need to ask what is meant by poverty. Poverty is not the trouble to-day. If we go back 30 or 40 years we find that there was poverty of a very different kind from anything that exists to-day. People could starve in those days, and they do not starve now. There were slums existing by the thousand then where they do not exist in tens now. That cannot be denied.
Poverty has been diminished during the last 30 years. Compared with 30 or 40 or 50 years ago there is really no poverty to-day. And that poverty existed under capitalism. The hon. Member wants us to overthrow the present system, which he calls capitalism. Yet we are told by hon. Members opposite that the present state of things is no longer capitalism we are told that now we are in a state very little distinguishable from Socialism. I dare say that if a captain of industry of 50 years ago were to return and find what our methods of organisation were to-day, he would say, "This is nothing but Socialism." The fact is that we do not get any further by bandying about these words "capitalism" and "Socialism." As my name is attached to the 1234 Amendment which I have mentioned I feel that I must in the short time at my disposal say something of the reasons why we ask for an inquiry. The terms of the Amendment are:That with a view to assessing the extent of existent poverty, an inquiry should be instituted, with the assistance of the appropriate local authorities, to determine what, in each locality, is the cost of maintaining a reasonable level of subsistence and how many persons are in receipt of wages below the ascertained level of subsistence.Poverty is at the present time prevalent. I know of many families with £4 or £5 a week who are poverty-stricken, and I know of other families with the same number of persons and only half that amount of weekly income, and they are healthy, strong and happy. Poverty depends very much on the individual, but there ought to be a certain level below which it could be said that poverty existed. It would clarify the situation if there were in each locality a subsistence level below which no wages should fall. That would not touch the higher paid industries. It would affect only unorganised and lower classes of labour. There should be such a level and if it were found that wages below that level were being paid, special inquiry ought to be made and reasons demanded for the payment of such wages.
If wages were forced up to a subsistence level it would mean a certain amount of spending and the gradual return to employment of many who are now unemployed. We ought to know exactly what we are talking about when we talk of poverty. It might do good to some people who are always pulling long faces to learn, as the result of inquiry, that they were by no means as poverty-stricken as they imagined. From a varied experience among the poorest classes I could tell stories of how some people refuse to be in a state of poverty, even though they have practically nothing on which to live, because ther spirit triumps over poverty. Our people ought to be encouraged to make the best they can of what they have got. That is not to say that I do not wish to give them much more. It is no consolation to me to know that anyone is worse off than 1 am. I am sorry for that; I wish that all our people could be much better off than they are, but we must not sap their moral, and there are some people who are 1235 poverty-stricken no matter how much they have.
The real disease of to-day is not poverty but idleness—enforced idleness. At one time our Socialist friends used to declaim against a certain class whom they called the idle rich. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, there has been growing up a. large class who can only be called the idle poor, people who have to be maintained in idleness. It is this disease of idleness which is responsible to a great extent for the mental state that prevails in the world at present. It is demoralising for a man to be kept idle. A man needs work to be a man in the proper sense. I have no love for shibboleths and I care not whether you call a system "capitalism or" Socialism," but we must take every step possible to do away with this disease of idleness and this new class of the idle poor. I hope that the National Government, which was given a doctor's mandate, will realise that if it endeavours seriously to grapple with the problem of curing this great disease of idleness the people will rejoice. They will stand anything from this Government as long as the Government show a determination to do away with the great disease of to-day which, I repeat, is not poverty but idleness.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Mr. GORDON MACDONALD
I desire to join in the chorus of congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) on having brought this Motion before the House, and on having proposed it in one of the most brilliant speeches to which it has been my pleasure to listen in this House. It gives me great pleasure to support very warmly on behalf of the Labour party every contention contained in the Motion. I was at a loss to understand why the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) thought it advisable on this occasion to criticise the Labour Government for not having introduced more Socialist measures during their term of office. During that term of office the hon. Member for Bridgeton and I disagreed on many occasions and we had occasion on one Friday to express our views as to whether it was reasonable or not for the Labour Government to introduce purely Socialist measures. I then 1236 contended, as I contend now, that this House during the Labour Government's term of office, was not a House elected to introduce Socialist measures. It was an anti-Socialist House by a very large majority. I agree that it might have been debatable, whether the Labour party ought to have taken office or not, but I do not think that now is the time to discuss that question, and certainly this Motion is not the occasion for the hon. Member for Shettleston to deliver his usual speech of vituperation against the Labour party. His speeches seem to consist of that and nothing else and I do not think the House desires to hear, time after time, the hon. Member for Shettleston using opportunities like this in order to criticise the Labour party instead of devoting a little more of his time to representing Shettleston and showing—
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
The Labour party attacked the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) first. They tried to keep him from representing Shettleston and they lost their deposit.
§ Mr. G. MACDONALD
All I have to say is that I do not like to see the hon. Member for Shettleston using opportunities like this to criticise the Labour party on the ground of something which they have not done. As regards the Liberal party I am surprised to find that they are the only section of this House who do not agree with the first contention of the Motion, namely, that the House recognises the existence of widespread poverty. Every other Amendment accepts that part of the Motion. No Members have ventured to put down an Amendment to that contention except Members of the Liberal party.
§ Mr. PICKERING
The point underlying our contention is, not that there is no poverty, but that the phrase "widespread poverty" scarcely describes it.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
I am not at all surprised at the Liberal party asking for an inquiry. That is nothing new. They have become almost as expert as the Prime Minister in instituting inquiries. But I object to the Liberal party trying to impress upon us that there is no widespread poverty. I agree with the Mover 1237 of the Motion that there is no need to produce statistics to prove it. Any Member of this House who knows his own division will admit at once that there is widespread poverty. As regards the second contention, that poverty cannot be removed within the framework of capitalism, I can understand that it is not accepted by the majority of the House. I do not think that the hon. Member for Bridgeton expected a majority of Members to accept that contention. But if he made a verbal alteration in it and made it read to the effect that poverty had not been cured within the framework of capitalism I think that contention also would have been accepted by all with the possible exception of the Liberal party.
Beyond doubt capitalism has failed to remove poverty. I am prepared to give capitalism credit for its achievements. It has done many good things for this and other countries. In my opinion it has been the means of solving the problem of production. We in the Labour party as Socialists grant at once that capitalism has solved the problem of production and poverty is not due to that problem not having been solved. What capitalism has failed to accomplish is the distribution of the goods produced in such a way as to prevent poverty. Surely every party in this House has for its sole purpose the elimination of poverty. I can understand that there are differences of opinion. There are those like the hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor) who believe that poverty will be removed more quickly and effectively within the present capitalist order than under a Socialist order. I was not surprised when the hon. and learned Member said that in Russia, a Socialist State, widespread poverty existed. I admit that 15 years of Socialism in Russia, after more than a century of capitalism, has not been long enough to remove poverty, but I ask others to admit—however prejudiced they are against Russia—that 15 years of Socialism in that country has improved the status and life of the vast mass of the Russian people.
The hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham, however, used a sentence which we on this side felt inclined to cheer. He said that the only indication of progress is the provision of 1238 enjoyable and beneficial leisure for all the people. We accept that statement. He told us in another sentence that he supported capitalism because it was the method which gave the highest incentive possible to do good for the race. That is the fundamental question. To us, capitalism is a social order under which the only effective incentive to industrial, commercial and economic activity is private financial gain. We question whether private financial gain, though an effective incentive to individual effort, is the best incentive to social life. Our contention, and our only reason for supporting the Motion, is that any social order which has as its motive personal and private financial gain, must fail to provide for all the people the type of life which they are entitled to enjoy.
The third contention of the Motion is that the capitalist order of society is not progressing towards prosperity, but heading for collapse. I need not adduce any argument on behalf of that. Throughout the capitalist world, and in every country where capitalism is firmly established, we have that position. The hon. Member for Bridgeton pointed out that they are doing everything they can to prevent the collapse of this system, which would be to the disadvantage of many of the upper classes. I agree that Socialism presupposes a very high standard of morals and life. I would have those who support capitalism to remember that it is a weak argument to support capitalism because it does not call for as high moral character as Socialism does.
If we are to get Socialism working effectively in the world in the interest of all, we want a much higher type of character. That may mean hard work for a long time until the welfare of the human race is the only motive. Until that becomes the greatest possible desire of the greatest possible number, we shall fail to solve this problem of poverty. I agree that capitalism does not mean widespread. poverty in the House of Commons. I agree that capitalism is not a very bad system for us in this House; that, I feel, is our greatest danger. Capitalism has brought to us, as Members of this House, a decent standard of life. The danger is that we shall not be able, therefore, to change that system. I remember in my mining days, when I was confronted with my 1239 individual economic problem, I had a burning desire to help in the solution of the general economic problem. I confess, as every honest man in this House must do, that, as our individual economic problems show signs of being solved, there is danger of our enthusiasm to solve the general problem being damped. That hinders the solution, for the fact is that it means for a vast number of people the possibility of sacrificing some of those things they have enjoyed hitherto. What has made reform difficult in every country, and every generation, is the danger to the interests of certain classes.
We have a tremendous task. No one need worry over that very much for a while. I was criticised for saying some months ago at this Box that it would be years, or scores of years, before any Government sat on those benches, backed by a majority of the electorate, to support Socialism. I still say our task is a tremendous and gigantic task. Although it is tremendous, and although it is gigantic, I am still satisfied that, however slow progress may be, we must change the incentive to industrial economic activity from private financial gain to social good if this problem is to be solved. Parliamentary institutions are threatened. There is no danger to any Parliamentary institution, which deals effectively with this problem of poverty. The only danger to Parliamentary institutions is if they fail in their main function, and do not give the people a full and healthy life.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of PENSIONS (Major Tryon)
The tone of this Debate, if I may say so, was set from the moment when, in order to describe the sufferings of people badly housed, the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) went to Conservative sources and found there a sympathetic, faithful and, I am. sure, a true account of evils we all deplore. I take it that so far as these evils exist there can be no party difference between us, but only as to the methods by which we should make things better. A reference to that particular part of Glasgow, and its housing, I heard myself upon the wireless. I hope the authorities of Glasgow will actively push on with the Government scheme for making slum clearances, which places no restriction 1240 upon the corporation. That is the right means for dealing with the particular point with which the Debate was started.
But we are dealing with much more than the problem of slums. This is a proposal completely to revolutionise our trade, commerce, and the whole life of every person in the country. It is extremely unfortunate that, throughout the speeches, we have not gained the smallest knowledge of how this is to be done, and who is going to manage it. Is it to be managed by some of the Members of the late Government who still sit opposite us? I am sure that if it is to be managed in the spirit displayed by the last hon. Member who addressed the House it will have a much better chance of success than if it is advocated in the gospel of hatred, so often used by Socialist speakers for the purpose of producing the millennium. The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) desires that we should help each other, work for the good of all, and not for hatred, which is much more frequently used as an argument why people should adopt Socialism.
We have not had in the speeches any examples of countries which have successfully adopted Socialism, or mention of the time needed to bring it into operation: It is true that the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) in a peroration which, I think, must have been practised on platforms, told us that under his policy poverty would disappear. That is a large promise to make. He hurried to the assistance of the late Labour Government in the last election when poverty was not disappearing very rapidly. We have had the Russian five-year plan. The five-year plan has had to be made into a 10-year plan before it can be successful. We have just had a definite statement from the Front Bench opposite that it will be at least 15 years before anything can be expected to develop, because it is the case that the Russians have had only 15 years. Is it suggested that there will be the same problem in 10 years' time under the present Government, but that if you vote for the others it will be 15 years before anything is done?
§ Major TRYON
In a more cautious moment the hon. Member talked of 1241 scores of years before the Socialist party, really believing in the proposals put forward by the three or four members sitting on the benches below the Gangway, sit on the Treasury Bench. Scores of years seem a long period to have to wait.
§ Major TRYON
; Scores of years do not seem to suggest great hurry. There are other methods. Some dictator is to order the working classes about—so we heard in the Debate between Sir Oswald Mosley and the hon. Member for Bridgeton. The hon. Member for Bridgeton, being elected, is able to put his case tonight, but Sir Oswald Mosley is not able to be present because, although I understand he stood at the head of a National party, the whole of that party did not obtain as many votes as the humble Member who is now addressing the House. The proposers of this Motion are hopeless of anything being done within the framework of the capitalist system. We can say for this country that in a moment of peril throughout the world, with Parliaments falling and revolutions and fighting in every direction it stands more fast than any other country in the world. I hardly think that in this moment of world-wide peril this country can be expected to adopt the sweeping Motion now before the House. We are also a democratic country, and I do not think anyone will claim that the Motion will get support from the electorate. There is no support for this huge change.
Would it not be well to consider what is being done under the capitalist order? The people of this country, even in this terrible time, are, under the capitalist system, better off than any other people, and they are better off than they were some years ago. I have some interesting figures of what is being done under the capitalist system. We are at the present moment spending £125,000,000 a year in old age pensions, War pensions, widows' pensions, blind pensions, and contributory old-age pensions. Under the capitalist system this £125,000,000 is being 1242 spent, not for wealthy people, but in helping those suffering in various ways, or who are old and infirm. These pensions are being paid to nearly 4,000,000 people. The people who have gained in the last few years are people with fixed incomes. The people with fixed incomes, as everybody knows, are not capitalists. The people with fixed incomes in this country are those millions of pensioners—War pensioners, old age pensioners, and others drawing their pensions every week. They are far better off now, in this distressed moment, than they were a few years ago, because the pensions have remained fixed and the cost of living has unquestionably gone down.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
Surely the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is not suggesting that contributory old age pensions are a cost to the State when contributions are payable by the employers and the employed?
§ Major TRYON
; No, I was taking the State contribution in that particular case; I was not taking other contributions. From local authorities, out of the rates, there are various benefits to the extent of £47,000,000, and there are benefits to individuals, falling upon the municipalities, amounting to £131,000,000 a year. That is under the capitalist system. I was very much interested in the Amendment which is the last one on the Order Paper. There is a good deal in it. You must test the system not only by its own merits, but the burden you put upon it.
The hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor), in a most interesting speech, pointed out that it may well be that the tax and burden of these social services are making it difficult for the system to carry on. I deduced from that not that we should abandon the capitalist system, as is proposed in this Motion, not that we should reduce the social services, but that we should try to fortify the industry of this country to enable it to give more employment and to carry these social services and, when the state of the country allows it, to improve them. We have heard nothing from the other side of the way in which the present Government have brought about changes, and I think it would have been fairer to mention the troubled state of the country 1243 when the Government took over control of its affairs. Certainly the state in which we were at that moment has been improved, and the general decline has undoubtedly been arrested.
I was a little astonished, having sat and watched a Labour Government for two years, to read the statement in this Motion that the action of the present Government has been trifling. The Government have done, in passing Measures and in various other ways, as much in a single Session, the first one, as is often accomplished in the four or five years' lifetime of a whole Parliament. As the Motion directly alludes to the Government as only carrying trifling Measures, I would like to suggest what has been done. Within the first year we barred the abnormal imports of agricultural produce. That is, I suppose, but trifling. We barred the abnormal importation of manufactured goods. We have passed a Measure imposing a 10 per cent. duty on practically all the imports into this country. Hon. Members may or may not agree with it, but to say that that is a trifling Measure is ridiculous. Perhaps if we had done nothing at all, we might still have—
§ Major TRYON
The hon. Member has very quickly made an addition, which would have made the Motion rather better than it is, but I am dealing with it as it stands on the Paper. Then we came to the problem of balancing the Budget, which had a possibility of a deficit of £170,000,000. When we took office that Budget was balanced. When it is said that we are only trifling with these matters, I cannot help reminding the House that we have, as a Government, introduced new tariffs which have already increased the revenue by £30,000,000 compared with last year. That is not trifling.
§ Major TRYON
I am not aware that new works which have been put up in this country, including new works in Darwen, have in any way lessened the income of the country. It was after this tariff had been passed and these changes 1244 had been made, that our trade balance with the world, which was so extremely serious, was improved by those means by which we were able to make that huge conversion, which is one of the great exploits of the present Government. I will not go into the whole problem of Imperial Preference, but surely, in a year in which one ship set out across the Atlantic containing such diverse Members of this House as the seven who set out in perfect harmony on that occasion, it should not be said that the Government have done nothing but trifle with the situation. I mention this, not because this is a Vote of Censure, but because I do not think those words, "foolish trifling," ought to refer to a, Government which, in its first Session, produced a complete change in our whole national trade policy.
I ask hon. Members opposite to believe that, though we do not believe in Socialism, we believe that if these social benefits are to continue and these rates are to be maintained, we must have adequate trade, adequate finance, and a sufficiently strong nation to be able to carry on all that we are now doing for our people. We believe that this is not the time—indeed, I believe the time will never come—when it would be right to make this change, and I ask the House to vote against this Motion, first, because in any case this is not the time to make a, revolutionary change; secondly, because it is perfectly clear that the electors of this country are not in favour of its being made, and we are still a, representative body, and the country is governed by Parliament; and, finally, because no suggestion or detail whatever has been offered to this House as to what the hon. Members who moved this Motion would do. It is all very well in debate to read out a perfectly true account of the housing situation in Glasgow. We agree on that, but because there is bad housing in one particular town, that is no evidence that the State should take over and manage the whole business of the country. Therefore, for all these reasons, and because we think individual enterprise—which is the proper expression, not "the capitalist system"—is more in accordance with the traditional spirit of our people, I ask the House to reject the Motion.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I want to say a word in reply to the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald), whom I regret not to see in his place, regarding what the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) said. The Labour party spokesman, in a very gentlemanly way, complained of the tone of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston. Need I remind him that we are not any longer in that party, that we are a separate group, and that, as such, we are entitled to criticise them?
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
The hon. Member interjects, "Thank God." That may be so, hut it is not long since his Leader pleaded with me to come back and join him and his party. I know that expression was only used in a fit of temper and is, therefore, forgivable. I have said equal things in temper, and so I can forgive others for doing it. I do not complain about their attacking me, but they complain that we criticise them in this House. What right have they to complain, when in my own division they have put up a candidate against me? Unfortunately, the candidate was in the High Court on a criminal charge. I never complain. I have never once complained about them. I have fought Communists, and I have fought everybody sometimes. Anyone has a, right to oppose me who thinks he has an ideal worth putting forward, and I have never objected to their opposing me, but they must not complain when we, in the House of Commons, make criticism of them. When they go to my union and drive me out of my union, and get me refused political help, they must not complain that I put my case in the place in which I have been elected to serve. The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) knows how he was treated at the Election, and not only are they doing that, but they are trying to penalise humble followers of mine and of us on this bench.
We have brought forward this Motion, and we have stated our case. What is the case that is to be defended? The simple test of a system is this: Does it give to the great mass of the people, not only now, but for the future, a full and secure home life? The right hon. and 1246 gallant Gentleman the Member for Brighton (Major Tryon) gave some figures about old age pensions in the course of his good-natured reply. He said that they had been given security, 10s. a week security. Yes, they have been given security in their poverty, because that is what 10s. a week means, and, when the right hon. and gallant Gentleman quotes the old age pensions, he fails to perceive that alongside of them comes a system of increasing poverty. He did not attempt to argue that a year or two ago the great mass of the people had higher incomes than they have now. Nobody denies that they had higher unemployment benefit and that they had no means test, and the capitalist system now comes along and says it must lower the benefit.
There is not a man in this House who will deny that the figures for unemployment may go up. Nobody has ever seen them at 3,000,000 before, and they may go up still further. If they do, unemployment benefit under this system must come down. I recently met a leading official in connection with unemployment insurance, and he said: "We can maintain the unemployed at the 3,000,000 level at present, but let it reach a much higher figure, and the figure for maintaining the unemployed must come down." What does that mean? It means that the greater the difficulties into which capitalism gets, the only section that must bear the brunt of solving the problem is the working people.
The only point ever made against us is this: You do not come, cut and dried, down here and tell us your future order. Those who started to mould the capitalist system could not have framed the system before it developed. Is the present system right or wrong? Is our contention a better contention? Our simple, elementary claim is that wealth is socially produced, that all wealth, whether it is the clothes we wear or the house we own, is the result of social, necessary labour applied to the raw materials of mankind. We say that if wealth is socially produced, if everything we have comes of the social productivity of mankind, wealth, being socially produced, ought to be socially owned and socially used.
Question put,That this House recognises that the widespread poverty of the people cannot be 1247 removed within the framework of the capitalist order of society, which is not progressing towards prosperity but heading for collapse, and condemns the present
§ policy of the Government as foolish trifling with a serious situation."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 42; Noes, 255.1249
|Division No. 75.]||AYES.||[7.30 p.m.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South)||Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Groves, Thomas E.||McEn[...]ee, Valentine L.|
|Banfield, John William||Grundy, Thomas W.||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)|
|Batey, Joseph||Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton)||Maxton, James|
|Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Cape, Thomas||Hicks, Ernest George||Price, Gabriel|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Hirst, George Henry||Thorne, William James|
|Cove, William G.||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Slivertown)||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Cripps, Sir Stafford||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Wallhead, Richard C.|
|Daggar, George||Kirkwood, David||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Lawson, John James||Williams, Dr. John H. (Llaneliy)|
|Edwards, Charles||Leonard, William|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur||Logan, David Gilbert||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Grenfeil, David Rees (Glamorgan)||Lunn, William||Mr. Buchanan and Mr. McGovern.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.||Crossley, A. C.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)|
|Allen, William (Stoke-on-Trent)||Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard||Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport)|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Culverweli, Cyril Tom||Hume, Sir George Hopwood|
|Aske, Sir Robert William||Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)|
|Athol[...], Duchess of||Davison, Sir William Henry||Hurst, Sir Gerald B.|
|Atkinson, Cyril||Denman, Hon. R. D.||Hutchison, W. D. (Essex, Romf'd)|
|Ba[...]e, Sir Adrian W. M.||Denville, Alfred||Iveagh, Countess of|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Dickle, John P.||Jamleson, Douglas|
|Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet)||Donner, P. W.||Jennings, Roland|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Drewe, Cedric||Joel, Dudley J. Barnato|
|Barrie Sir Charles Coupar||Duckworth, George A. V.||Johnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields)|
|Beauchamp, Sir Brograve Campbell||Duggan, Hubert John||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks., Aylesbury)||Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.)||Jones, Lewis (Swansea, West)|
|Beaumont, Hn. R. E. B. (Portsm'th, C.)||Dunglass, Lord||Ker, J. Campbell|
|Belt, Sir Alfred L.||Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey||Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose)|
|Bernays, Robert||Eimley, Viscount||Kerr, Hamilton W.|
|Boothby, Robert John Graham||Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Kirkpatrick, William M.|
|Borodale, Viscount||Eniwistle, Cyril Fullard||Knebworth, Viscount|
|Bouiton, W. W.||Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare)||Knox, Sir Alfred|
|Bower, Lieut.-Com. Robert Tatton||Evans, David Owen (Cardigan)||Law, Sir Alfred|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univ.)||Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.)|
|Bracken, Brendan||Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen)||Lees-Jones, John|
|Briscoe, Capt. Richard George||Everard, w. Lindsay||Leighton, Major B. E. P.|
|Broadbent, Colonel John||Ford, Sir Patrick J.||Lennox Boyd, A. T.|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Fox, Sir Gifford||Levy, Thomas|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'I'd., Hexham)||Fremantle, Sir Francis||Lindsay. Noel Ker|
|Brown, Ernest (Lelth)||Galbraith, James Francis Wallace||Liewellin, Major John J.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H.C.(Berks., Newb'y)||Ganzoni, Sir John||Lloyd, Geoffrey|
|Browne, Captain A. C.||Gauit, Lieut.-Col. A. Hamilton||Loder, Captain J. de Vere|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Gluckstein, Louis Halle||Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander|
|Burnett, John George||Goodman, Colonel Albert W.||Lyons, Abraham Montagu|
|Campbell, Vice-Admiral G. (Burnley)||Graham, Sir F. Fergus (C'mb'rl'd, N.)||Mabane, William|
|Caporn, Arthur Cecil||Grattan-Doyle, Sir Nicholas||MacAndrew, Lt.-Col. C. G. (Partick)|
|Carver, Major William H.||Graves, Marjorie||MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr)|
|Castiereagh, Viscount||Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||McCorquodale, M. S.|
|Cautiey, Sir Henry S.||Griffith, F. Kingsley (Mlddlesbro, W.)||Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)|
|Cayzer, Sir Charles (Chester, City)||Grimston, B. V.||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)|
|Cazaiet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Guinness, Thomas L. E. B.||McKie, John Hamilton|
|Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)||Gunston, Captain D. W.||McLean, Major Sir Alan|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N.(Edgbaston)||Guy, J. C. Morrison||McLean, Dr. W H. (Tradeston)|
|Chapman, Col. R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Hales, Harold K.||Macmillan, Maurice Harold|
|Chapman, Sir Samuel (Edinburgh, S.)||Hamilton. Sir R. W.(Orkney & Zti'nd)||Magnay, Thomas|
|Clarke, Frank||Hammersiey, Samuel S.||Maitland, Adam|
|Clarry, Reginald George||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest|
|Clayton, Dr. George C.||Harbord, Arthur||Manningham-Bulter, Lt.-Col. Sir M.|
|Collins, Rt. Hon. Sir Godfrey||Hartland, George A.||Margesson, Capt. Rt, Hon. H. D. ft.|
|Coiville, Lieut.-Colonel J.||Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Marsden, Commander Arthur|
|Conant, R. J. E.||Hasiam, Sir John (Bolton)||Mason, David M. (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Cook. Thomas A.||Headiam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M.||Mason, Col. Glyn K. (Croydon, N.)|
|Cooke, Douglas||Hepworth, Joseph||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John|
|Copeland, Ida||Herbert, Capt. S. (Abbey Division)||Merriman, Sir F. Boyd|
|Courthope, Colonel Sir George L.||Hope, Capt. Hon. A. O. J. (Aston)||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)|
|Cowan, D. M.||Hore-Belisha, Leslie||Milne, Charles|
|Craddock, Sir Reginald Henry||Hornby, Frank||Mitchell, Harold P.(Br'trd & Chisw'k)|
|Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Horsbrugh, Florence||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. C, (Gainsb'ro)||Howard, Tom Forrest||Morgan, Robert H.|
|Cross, R. H.||Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.||Morris, Owen Temple (Cardiff, E.)|
|Morrison, William Shepherd||Runge, Norah Cecil||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Munro, Patrick||Russell, Altxander West (Tynemouth)||Templeton, William P.|
|Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Russell, Richard John (Eddisbury)||Thomas, James p. L. (Hereford)|
|Newton, sir Douglas George C.||Rutherford, John (Edmonton)||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)||Salt, Edward W.||Todd, A. L. S. (Kingswinford)|
|Nunn, William||Samuel, Sir Arthur Michael (F'nham)||Train, John|
|O'Donovan, Dr. William James||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Ormsby-Gore, Rt Hon. William G. A.||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|Patrick, Colin M.||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart||Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyon|
|Peaks, Captain Osbert||Sanderson, Sir Frank Barnard||Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)|
|Perkins, Walter R. D,||Savery, Samuel Servington||Wallace, John (Dunfermline)|
|Petherick, M.||Selley, Harry R.||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Peto, Geoffrey K.(W'verh'pt'n,Bllston)||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)|
|Pickering, Ernest H.||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)||Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)|
|Power, Sir John Cecil||Simmonds, Oliver Edwin||Wardlaw-Mline, sir John S.|
|Raikes, Henry V. A. M.||Skeiton, Archibald Noel||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.|
|Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)||Slater, John||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Ramsbotham, Herwald||Smith-Carington, Neville W.||Weymouth, Viscount|
|Rankin, Robert||Somerveil, Donald Bradley||Whiteside, Borras Noel H.|
|Rea, Walter Russell||Somervllie, Annesley A. (Windsor)||Whyte, Jardine Bell|
|Reid, Capt. A. Cunningham||Sotheron Estcourt, Captain T. E.||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Reid, James S. C. (Stirling)||Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.||Wills, Wilfrid D.|
|Roberts, Aled (Wrexham)||Spencer, Captain Richard A.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall)||Spender-Clay, Rt. Hon. Herbert H.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Robinson, John Roland||Stanley, Lord (Lancaster, Fylde)||Wise, Alfred R.|
|Ropner, Colonel L.||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westmorland)||Wood, Sir Murdoch McKenzie (Banff)|
|Rosbotham, Sir Samuel||Stevenson, James|
|Ross, Ronald D.||Storey, Samuel||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)||Strauss, Edward A.||Commander Cochrane and Mr. O'Connor.|