§ [THIRD DAY]
Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [21st November],
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
§ Question again proposed.
§ 11.32 a.m.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add the words:But humbly regret that, by their mishandling of international and Imperial affairs, pursuing at home a policy of creating artificial scarcity in the interests of private profit instead of taking measures to increase the production of wealth and to ensure 4 better distribution of purchasing power, failing to reverse the unjust economies enforced upon the unemployed 416 and other classes and to restore and develop the social services, impeding the housing activities of local authorities, and refusing to initiate or finance public works calculated to develop our national resources and provide much-needed employment, Your Majesty's advisers are delaying the realisation of peace and disarmament, making no contribution to the solution of the world economic crisis, and neglecting their mandate to promote the welfare of the country.This Amendment, which stands in the names of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) and others of my hon. Friends as well as myself, challenges the record of the Government, and challenges the whole of the policy outlined in the Speech. In particular we are struck by the extraordinary air of complacency that runs through this document. I understand that the crisis of 1931 is a continuing crisis. Right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench have joined up "for the duration." The Prime Minister, indeed, assured us that he was only staying where he was for the crisis, and, as he is still there, we must presume that conditions are still critical; and yet one seeks in vain in this document for any real appreciation of the crisis or any definite policy to deal with it.
We had at the close of the last Session the final Speech, in which the catch of the season was enumerated, and there was extraordinarily little in the creel of the Government. The only fish that seemed to have been caught was doing away with Portuguese flag discrimination. For the rest, as far as international affairs went, it was a gloomy record of abortive conferences, a chronicle of failure; and now, when we come to an Address in relation to a Speech which is to outline the policy for the forthcoming year, we find in it a lot of fine sentiment, a lot of good general expressions, but extraordinarily little in the way of definite policy. It is rather like one of the Prime Minister's speeches; and it is noticeable that—and in this it resembles also some of the speeches of other Ministers—it is not so remarkable for what it includes as for what it omits. We have a brief survey of the world situation, in which our relations with foreign Powers continue to be friendly, and some general phrases with regard to working through the machinery of the League of Nations; but we have no refer- 417 ence to the really urgent problems of the world. I should have thought that we might have had a paragraph on the state of war that is existing in the Far East. I think we might have had a paragraph on the Sino-Japanese trouble, somewhat on these lines: "I regret the continued occupation by Japan of the territory of China, a country which relied on the pledges of my Government and others for its protection; and I regret that the failure to support by action the principle of pooled security has endangered the League of Nations and has led to insecurity throughout the world and a renewal of armaments." That would be a true statement. It would be looking the facts of the world situation in the face. The Government are going to continue to uphold the work of international co-operation by collective action. I hold that the policy of this Government has gone far to destroy the possibility of collective action, and I hold that their failure in this respect is really the reason why they had to give at the end of last Session such an extremely gloomy account of the Disarmament Conference.
There is another thing which has dropped out altogether—there is no mention of it—and that is the World Economic Conference. It is a curious thing when, in all the numbers of speeches of various degrees of gloom that we have had from Ministers during the whole of this year, the one bright spot was always the hope of that great international Conference. It came and went and, although it is nominally in existence, it is not even worth mentioning in the King's Speech. The reason why we have failed so dismally over these conferences is to my mind that the Government's idea is to enter a conference with an open mind. They never have any policy to give a lead. At the Disarmament Conference they waited for months before they gave any lead. There was a very uncertain voice in the World Economic Conference. One thing was said in the United States and another when they came to the Conference. There is an extraordinary failure to realise what is the proper function of experts. The Government are always looking round for policies and expecting to get them from experts. They had a preparatory commission of experts on disarmament and economics and so forth, but there does not seem 418 to be any real preparatory commission of the Government themselves. They never have a clear policy, and they never seem to put forward any general appreciation of the situation. I think there is another remarkable omission in regard to our friendly relations. There might have been a paragraph saying, "My tariff war with the Irish Free State, a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, still continues, and I am about to embark upon another with my nearest ally the French Republic." Those are remarks which might have been pertinent to our relations with the rest of the world.
Let me take another omission. There is no mention of inter-allied debts. In May the Prime Minister said those debts would have to be settled before any international economic conference could be a success. The House will remember the curious answers that we had as to whether the debt question would be considered at the Conference or alongside the Conference or after the Conference. Perhaps the fact that they have not been successful was one of the reasons why that Conference was abortive. We might also have mentioned the American debt. We get a reference to careful attention to sound principles. We know that the Government are extremely sensitive on paying debts, balancing Budgets and so forth. It would have been a cheerful note in this speech if we could have said, "We have again managed to make arrangements with the United States whereby we shall pay something like ls. 7d. in the £," and it would be interesting to know whether that was a general principle or a special principle, whether the view of the Government is that it is impossible to pay these foreign debts and, therefore, it is sound financial policy to pay a little bit on account. We might have known why that also was not a good policy for other people to go to their creditors and say, "I am very sorry. It hurts me more than you. I cannot pay the money, but I will give you a little on account." Many of my constituents are like that on a Monday morning. "I am sorry I have not the 10s. or 15s., but here is 6d. or 7d. on account." As a matter of fact, I congratulate the Government on the adoption of that principle, because it is a recognition of one of the grave facts of the world situation and that is that, owing 419 to the fall in prices, it is impossible that the moneylenders should get their full pound of flesh.
We challenge the whole foundation of the Government policy. It is based on a principle of scarcity and of so-called economy which is really parsimony. They say there is a steady growth of confidence in the future prospects of British trade and industry. I was not able to be in the House yesterday, but I was interested to read the speeches, and I noticed the great confidence shown in the future of the cotton trade and the growing prospects of the coal trade and the great enthusiasm for the Government's agricultural policy. I notice that another Member spoke very gloomily of the outlook for shipbuilding. This is the steady growth of confidence in the future prospects of trade and industry. Of course, confidence is a very nice thing, and I have no doubt that the Government are looking round for some confidence, because I notice a steady diminution of confidence in the National Government in the series of elections that we have had. I am aware that they are of no importance to the Prime Minister, who thinks they are a very good joke. I am pleased that he must have had such a happy time all the week, and I think he will have a happy time again next week. It is odd that the Prime Minister, who we understand is a great upholder of democracy, finds that the steady diminution of his supporters at each successive by-election of anything between 10,000 and 15,000 voters is a subject for mirth. We have had two years' experience of this Government. When the Labour Government took office, they were always expected to make a new heaven and a new earth in about two months, very often two weeks.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong. I challenge him to produce any suggestion on our part that in two months everything would be put right. If he looks up the records, he will find that the Labour Government was challenged almost as soon as it was in office. The present Government have had a run for two years and what has been their policy?They have been faced with world conditions, and world conditions were very difficult during the period of the 420 Labour Government. We have been told during the last two years that it was not the fault of the Government that we had to struggle with adversity in the midst of a world economic blizzard. We were told that only world action would set it right. The world action has disappeared entirely now from the King's Speech. There is nothing but tariffs and trade agreements of one sort or another. The World Economic Conference failed, and they are now relying on their methods of tariffs and trade agreements. We have been told by Minister after Minister that the great way of salvation is to raise the prices of food and raw materials and of what they call primary products. That is what they have been endeavouring to do during the last two years. Almost every week we have had little Bills putting little taxes on various items of the food of the people. According to all expectations that should have raised prices, yet in some cases it has and in other cases it has not. There is no doubt at all about the intentions of the Government and about the intent ion of the Government that increased prices should be found by the consumer. I put the matter specifically across the Floor of this House to the President of the Board of Trade on the subject of meat. He stated that provision had been made for the regulation of the quantities so that by a reduction in the quantity of supplies we could do what was necessary to preserve the high price level, and I asked, "Who will pay?" He said, "The consumers."
It is the policy of the Government to raise the prices to the consumer of both home and imported food. The argument which we are always given is that if only we can do that then the people overseas in Australia, New Zealand and the Argentine will be able to buy British goods. I confess that that seems to be an extraordinary proposition. I put it to a Conservative friend of mine, and he could not explain it either. He said that he could not see why you should take from the working man various amounts of money in the prices he paid for his food, thereby raising the cost of living for him so that he could not afford to buy British hoots or British hosiery, and hand the money to someone overseas in the hope that they might be able to buy them. It seemed to make this country the philanthropist of the rest of the world. could never under- 421 stand the policy whereby someone who wanted to sell goods had, in order to sell them, first of all, to give the money to the people who were to buy them. There was an explanation of it. There was something behind it as a matter of fact. We had it in that particular speech when the President of the Board of Trade, who is always very clear, gave us to understand that the real reason—he was talking of the Argentine Agreement—was the fact that we had 2500,000,000 invested in the Argentine and that there was a great danger that interest would not be paid. When one looked into it, we saw that our concern was not with the stock raisers but with the stockholders. The money was not given so that the Argentine people could buy British goods, but was merely a transfer from the consumers in this country, of whom the majority are the working-class and salary earners, into the pockets of the rentier class. That is the effect of these trade agreements, and it explains, perhaps, the policy of the Government and why the Government is a National Government. It is a National Government because it believes that the nation is the rentier class. The Prime Minister is devoting the latter part of his career to making the world safe, as far as he can, for the moneylenders.
Precisely the same thing applies when we come to their dealing with home affairs. We have had taxes, quotas and various things put on, all of which, we are told, are for the purpose of saving agriculture. I have heard some very interesting speeches made by Members for rural constituencies in this House in which they appealed to the townsmen. They said, "We know that our countrymen in the towns will be generous enough to do this to save the people in the countryside." The Minister of Agriculture gave us an illuminating instance of how this was being done when he told us that in 10 counties agricultural wages have been reduced, and he saw no occasion to interfere. Go and tell the townspeople now that whatever they are paying extra is not going to come to the agricultural worker. There is the farmer. I have been visiting some of the rural constituencies, and people met told me that almost every farmer in the country has an overdraft at the bank. That is not helping farmers in any way to buy British goods. But, 422 again, the moneylender was in danger, and the Government have come to the rescue. There is also a great deal of feeling about tithes in this country, and you find throughout that the policy of the Government has been to take money from the poorer classes of the community and give it to the well to do.
§ Vice-Admiral TAYLOR
May I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he is opposed to the farmer, the producer of food in this country, receiving an economic price for what he produces.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I am very much obliged to the hon. and gallant Gentleman. No. I want all workers to have fair remuneration for their work, but I object to paying excessive prices in order to relieve the moneylender. The point is that the whole of this country, the farmer and the agricultural workers and all, have been and are in the hands of the moneylenders and that the National Government are running the country in the interests of moneylenders.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
The hon. Member, no doubt, will have his chance. I will give only one example of the tenderness of the Government. There were some gentlemen who lent money to the United States of America. Lending money abroad is always a bit of a gamble. You never know what the foreign currency will do. They relied on the dollar. The dollar went west. At the end of the Summer Session when most Members were away from the House, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was able to introduce a little Measure which is going to cost us over £5,000,000 in order to make up to the unknown gentlemen, reputed to be "something in the City "—they are personally unknown to the Chancellor of the Exchequer or to any of his officials, so that he could not apply the means test—to make up to them the money which they lost in a gambling investment in America. These were not patriots who came forward to lend money to the country during the War. They were people who bought up the investments of patriotic Americans who put up money to help us to win the War. Is not that a surprising contrast? How tender-hearted they are to the moneylenders and how hard-hearted they are to the agricultural workers.
423 We have had the cuts which we have often discussed in this House, and the cuts in the social services. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will think of what is happening to the unemployed. To-day we have the extremely interesting figures given to us, not by a committee of Socialists at all, but by a committee of doctors of the British Medical Association, showing the amount of money needed to keep a man, his wife and three children in health. Leaving out rent, clothing and everything else they put the figure at 22s. 61d. a week. That is a very low figure. Mr. Seebohm Rountree, an investigator of great experience says that 36s. 4d. a week is the right figure. Here we have figures confirming what was said by a medical member of this House, the lion. Member for London University (Sir E. Graham Little) that what was happening in this country was that the workers and the unemployed were underfed. It is perfectly clear that when unemployed people have at the most 6s. 8½d. a week for rent, clothing and everything else, it means that, first of all, they are not very great buyers of British goods, and secondly, they cannot pay rents high enough to provide profits for the builders, to whom the Minister of Health is to entrust the rehousing of the people.
Only 6s. 81d. a week for a man, his wife and three children. It is obvious that if they are to pay their rent—and if they do not pay their rent they may be turned out—they will have to go short of food. We have clear evidence that these people are not getting enough food, and at the same time the whole policy of the Government is directed towards restricting the entrance of food into this country, because they say that this country is being ruined by a devastating rush of food. Restriction is the whole of their policy. How on earth, in view of the facts brought to light by the British Medical Association, can you expect to develop the home market for British goods?Not only the unemployed but the miners, the cotton workers, and masses of ill-paid workers are having to do without the necessities of life. Instead of taking measures for a better distribution of wealth in this country so that people would he able to buy the products of our factories, the whole policy of the Government is directed towards changing the distribution of wealth in favour of 424 the better-off. That we hold to be a wrong and mischievous policy and an extraordinarily stupid policy at this time of day, the kind of policy that might have been put forward and, indeed, was put forward with plausibility in the early years of the nineteenth century. Go to any town you like today and talk with any of the business men, and they will tell you that their difficulty is to sell their stuff and not to produce it. You can produce anything you like, but to have your modern factory equipped with the latest machinery capable of turning out a mass of products is utterly useless unless you have a population with a high standard of life, who can buy those products.
We say that the Government are doing nothing whatever to meet the economic facts of the situation. On the contrary, they are worsening it. The Government refuse to do anything to develop the resources of the country in material and man power. I could understand the Government if they said that everything depended entirely upon a better condition of the world and they were expecting to bring something off in a world economic conference and that, therefore, they would not take the trouble to do anything for development at home, but a Government that professes to be a National Government ought surely to try and utilise all the resources of the nation. But whenever we ask for something for the workers or the unemployed we get the old simile about the pint pot. We are told that you cannot take more out of a pint pot than you put in, and if we suggest that the pint pot, which contains the goods produced by the people, should also contain the products of those now unemployed, they say that that would be uneconomic.
I have here a quotation from a source that is not inclined to labour but to very strict financial rectitude, namely, the "Economist." It says:In spite of definite evidence of trade recovery "—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]
Yes, there are some signs—it is evident that not only experts but the great majority of the electors are anxious for a forward policy of housing and public works at home, a conscious attempt to use the powerful instrument of monetary control for the expansion of in- 425 dustrial activity and a sincere and determined attempt, to revive international trade.I believe that to be true. The Prime Minister is wrong if he thinks that the electors are only interested in peace. They are interested in peace, but they are also interested in the economic question. We have had no adequate proposals put forward in the King's Speech with regard to housing. Housing has been closed down so far as the municipalities are concerned. Since last March, when the contracts made under previous dispensations came to an end, we have only had 1,208 local authority houses erected. The Minister of Health is going to trust to private enterprise. It is thought to be wasteful to use national credit. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] That is a delusion of hon. Members. They cannot see that the amount of credit that we have in this country depends upon the credit of the country as a, whole, and whether it is in this pocket or that pocket there is only a certain amount of it. If we want to use the credit of the country in order to erect houses and we raise loans for the municipalities to do it at 4 per cent. or 3 per cent., we are using that some volume of credit exactly in the same way as if we go to the building societies and have to pay higher interest.
It is natural for the Minister of Health, who is, perhaps, the most devoted adherent of the profit-making system in this House, to depend entirely upon private enterprise, and to imagine that nothing can be done without profit. The slum clearance proposals of the Government are utterly and hopelessly inadequate. I do not know why the Minister of Health has been posting up notices throughout the country about the slums. Apparently those notices have been addressed to himself. We have masses of unemployed in the building trades. Go into the countyside where building materials are produced and you find quarries idle and brickworks not fully at work, and yet we have an utterly inadequate housing scheme put forward. A characteristic feature of the slum clearance scheme is the idea of reconditioning slum houses. I lived for many years in and I represent now a slum area, where the houses are utterly worn out. The houses are badly arranged in mean streets, and they are mean houses 426 and nothing can be done in regard to reconditioning them. It is far better to give a new house, but this is just the kind of Charity Organisation outlook of the Government. The Minister of Health reminds me of a lady who came some years ago to our district, whose object was to help the poor by showing them how to make a baby s cradle out of an old banana crate. That is exactly the Minister of Health's mind. You must make something for people to live in out of a hovel, although we are living at a time when the resources of civilisation are immense and when we can produce everything.
Then there is the question of developing this country. I do not wonder that some hon. Members opposite are sceptical about the agricultural programme because it is clear that the Government have no faith whatever in it themselves. If the Government were really going to make agriculture a paying concern they would take steps to see that it was developed, that the land in the Don Valley and other places was drained, instead of closing down main drainage improvements. There is no proposal to deal with rural slums. The Labour Government's proposal for building houses in rural areas has not been put in operation. Something is to be done for the smallholder in Scotland, but what has been done for the smallholder in England?How many people have been put on the land during the last two years? I do not believe there is any intention of taking in hand the question of reconditioning England; we cannot expect any public works programme or any great housing programme. When we are faced with this hard core of unemployment the most optimistic Ministers do not suggest that we can do anything with it. Are we to allow them to continue on what medical men now point out is a starvation ration Are we going to allow them to decay, or are we going to utilise them? If you cannot use them, if you cannot give them work, surely at least the Government could do something by reducing the hours of other people and thus give employment to more men. When we go to an international convention in regard to hours our Government is cold. The best observers of what is happening in the world to-day say that if we are to get the goods produced consumed you must 427 have leisure for the people, people who work long hours have no opportunity of enjoying much of the material comforts of life, and that it is only with a high standard of civilisation and adequate leisure that you can cope with the torrent of goods which are being turned out.
We have a narrow and out of date outlook on the part of the Government. They are not facing in the least the national problem or the world problem, which is essentially a problem of abundance. They are pinning their faith to restrictions, and even where there is an agreement with other countries they are all in the way of restrictions. We think that the King's Speech is an insult to the electorate. This Government, which is supposed to contain all the great brains of the Liberal and Conservative parties ought really, in a time which they still say is a time of crisis, to show some signs that they are grappling with the real problem. Besides the masses of the people there are the unemployed, and all that we have is the Bill which the Government are introducing, by which they are going to sweep away local self-government institutions and hand the matter over to a handful of commissioners. This from the Government that declares against Dictatorship. That is the measure of the depth to which the Government have sunk. They are looking around now for another stunt. The last stunt was one in which savings were going to be taken, but that has gone with the savings. They see the tide going against them in the constituencies and they are trying to trot out another stunt. I am much obliged to the hon. Member for Ipswich for his reference to the book to which I had the honour to contribute, but the man of whom I am most afraid in regard to democracy is the Prime Minister. Democracy where it has failed has failed through inefficiency. Democracy will save itself when it shows that it can deliver the goods, and I have not the slightest confidence, nor have many people in the country, in the Prime Minister's ability to deliver the goods.
§ 12.13 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Sir John Simon)
The hon. Gentleman in moving the Amendment of the Opposition has touched upon a large number of matters, and in 428 the course of the next few days' Debate we may expect many of them to be developed on one side and the other in more detail. I understood, through what are called the usual channels, that the intention of the hon. Member was to devote the main part of his speech to the international situation, and that is my excuse for standing at the Box now, though of course I am wiling, within the limit of my powers, to join in the wider discussion. But there are one or two things which it would be proper and useful to say on the subject of international affairs, and, if I may, I will make a short statement to the House on that matter first, and then, if there is time and inclination, I will in my concluding sentences be glad to join in the general knockabout business. I apologise to the House for occupying any time on a matter which, although of enormous importance, has been the subject of more than one Debate recently, but it is right that the House should be informed by me of the exact situation as it now stands after the meeting of the Bureau at Geneva.
I took part in a Debate on 7th November on international affairs and Disarmament. That was followed by what was called a Motion of Censure on 13th November, when I had to inflict myself on the House again. There was, of course, considerable reference to this broad subject on the opening day of the present Session, when the Prime Minister spoke for the Government, but I quite admit that there are one or two recent events which have not been stated to the House, and I propose to state them quite briefly. When the Prime Minister spoke on the first day of the Session I had just returned from Geneva after three strenuous days—and nights, if it comes to that—and at that time all that the Government could properly announce was that I had the impression that not only was there a determined spirit at Geneva, but there was a prospect of an agreement as to the course to be immediately pursued. Now the Bureau met on Wednesday, and therefore it is right that I should report the result to the House.
May I say, incidentally, that I wish to express my apologies to the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) who is not here at the moment but who intended to put a Private Notice question. I know, of course, that he and his 429 leader are not lost souls, but, at any rate, they are wandering spirits. Perhaps he will let me pin him down in his present position before he moves again. I was going to say with much sincerity to the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton that I was sorry not to be able to answer his question the other day, but, of course, it was most injudicious to make a statement as to what was likely to happen in the Bureau or Disarmament Conference until, in fact, agreement had been reached and the statement had been made in the proper place. This was the situation. Germany, as we know, and to our great regret, withdrew from the Disarmament Conference. That is now more than a month ago. There have been declarations from some other Powers which showed how difficult it would be to go on immediately just as if nothing had happened, and, consequently, a very grave question of procedure arose.
Let me state most frankly to the House that what we are speaking of at the moment is only procedure. The substance of the thing, the real thing, still remains to be pursued but, at the same time, you will never make progress if, while searching for international agreement on the subject of Disarmament, you cannot even agree on procedure. Therefore, it was a very necessary preliminary to see how far the next step would be generally and, if possible, universally agreed. There was a view held and expressed in this country by very important authorities, and it is a view which was also entertained in some quarters abroad, that notwithstanding this lamentable withdrawal of Germany, and the other circumstances, still the Conference should go on from day to day just as if nothing had happened, with a view to framing a complete Convention, and then should tender it and invite the absentee to sign it. May I submit to the House that, apart from the practicability of that procedure, because, of course, it could only be carried out if you were reasonably sure that you were going to get at every stage agreement from everybody else—apart from that, is there not ground for saying there may be some doubt as to the wisdom of that procedure?
After all, the essence of Germany's case—and let us face it quite frankly—is that she feels she has been treated in the past on a basis different from other people, and we shall never get anywhere 430 unless we try to look inside the German mind and understand Germany's feelings. Could you conceive any proceeding which was so likely to drive the iron into Germany's soul as to say, "Your withdrawal makes no difference. The rest of us will formulate the document, and when the document is complete we will tender it to you and request that you should sign on the dotted line '? I listened with the greatest respect to devoted supporters of Disarmament in this country and abroad who took the view that that was still the right course, but I am bound to submit to the House that I have had grave doubts about it. The whole question is, what is the object'? The object which everybody has at heart is to bring about general agreement, and I would assure the House, what I am sure would be confirmed by anybody who has seen the work at close quarters, through all these months, and, indeed, years, that, difficult as general agreement no doubt may be in any case, the only way in which you can reach general agreement is by the method of negotiation, and not by what I call the method of shots at long range.
Those were the considerations which were in my own mind and in the mind of the Government when the discussion as to this immediate procedure at Geneva took place. Germany is not a target for dictation. She is a partner in discussion, and the fact that she has been led—to the regret of all of us—to withdraw to a distance, greatly complicated the difficult question of what would be the immediate course to pursue. I say on behalf of the Government, and I am sure in this respect on behalf of the whole House, that it will make no difference to our resolve to do everything we can to make her again a partner in friendly discussions. For those reasons, the question arose at Geneva when I went there whether we should proceed by this suggested method, and there were two other considerations most relevant to be considered.
First of all, there had arisen in recent weeks a number of tentative suggestions—I do not call them offers—which came from the German side. Before the German elections were over, Herr Hitler made a pronouncement to the whole world in that sense. I remember that in a previous Debate I quoted to the House a phrase of Baron von Neurath 431 in which he spoke of Germany's trustful and honest offer, and perhaps, what is much more to the point, since the German elections, and, indeed, within the last few days, there has been published in the great French newspaper "Le Matin" a very remarkable interview by Herr Hitler with a French publicist of quite exceptional ability which certainly calls for considered examination by all who are seeking peace and pursuing it. Therefore, when we came to consider at Geneva what was the immediate course to follow, it did appear, on analysis, that there might be good reason for providing a certain space in which what have been called parallel and supplementary efforts might be made. Of course, if those who put forward that sort of suggestion have got at the back of their minds the ending or the crippling of efforts at the Disarmament Conference itself, then I say, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, we will have nothing to do with it at all. That would be a fatal blow to the whole work of co-ordinated disarmament, and we should be wholly opposed to that course.
Secondly, there was the reaction of other Powers. I wish here to acknowledge that Italy made a most valuable contribution towards agreement. The House will recall that there had been some very strongly phrased declarations made shortly before by the head of the Italian Government, but while I was at Geneva the Italian Government authorised their representative to explain that Italy's attitude, as regards this procedure, was what I think he of called plastic, that the Italian Government were not seeking either to unhorse the President of the Conference or to avoid its continued good work, but that they did feel that in the time immediately before us the most useful way of promoting the prospects of real agreement would he, not to go on day by day with these discussions, these challenging views, in the absence of an essential party, but rather to pursue supplementary and parallel efforts. They declared that they only desired to seek a solution where it could be found, that they were not committed to any one line, and that they were anxious to co-operate with the rest of us in whatever precise line turns out to be the best line.
432 In the same way the distinguished representative of France, acting on behalf of his Government, did not take up a rigid position. He was anxious for a course of procedure which would be so shaped as to produce the best prospects of results in the least possible time, and at the same time was as insistent as we were that the Conference must, he kept in being, that whatever may be the disappointments, whatever the delays, whatever the difficulties, nothing would be more fatal to the whole effort than to cast that method aside when you have not another method to substitute for it.
That was the situation which resulted in the meeting of the Bureau last Wednesday, when an absolutely unanimous view was taken. I must say that it did not look like it three days before. Do not let the House imagine that the Bureau is simply a Committee of the Great Powers. It is not. It consists of 17 States selected by a perfectly free vote of the whole assembly, the whole Disarmament Conference, and as a matter of fact the majority of the members of the Bureau therefore are small States, drawn from different parts of the world, many of them represented by statesmen and spokesmen of very great influence and authority.
The announcement that was then made by the President, who had taken part ire all these preliminary deliberations and with whom I am very happy to feel that the British Government co-operated throughout in the most completely friendly spirit—the President made an announcement which was then generally accepted by every member of the Bureau. I will call attention to three features of it. First of all, he announced that the suggestion had been adopted thatthe work of the Disarmament Conference would at this stage host be assisted by parallel and supplementary efforts between various States and the full use of diplomatic machinery.Of course, the thing is necessarily general, but I will say a word about application in a moment. That is the first feature to which I call attention. The second feature was thus expressed:These efforts shall be at once undertaken with energy, with a view to advancing in every way possible the work which lies before the General Commission.There are cases when people adjourn for the purpose of doing little or nothing, but this, whatever else it is, is a suspen- 433 sion which declares, with the assent of every member of the Bureau, that it is for the purpose of undertaking with energy work for advancing in every way possible what lies before the General Commission.
Thirdly, the President announced, as a result of these conversations and the proposals which were unanimously approved, that the Governments—not merely the great States but any Government which was able to do so—should keep the President informed of their efforts, and that they should report to him on the final results of those efforts.
I never desire in these matters of procedure for a moment to represent that they have the same importance or the same significance as the agreements we are all seeking to reach on matters of substance, but I do say, and I hope the House will think, that it is in fact a real satisfaction to know that whereas there might have been a most bitter controversy, owing to Germany's withdrawal, as to what was to happen next, with the result that those who want to see the Conference fail would only be delighted—instead of that, by good feeling and good sense and complete and friendly cooperation, there has been that unanimity on procedure which is an essential preliminary to agreement on substance.
That raises the point, what is going to be done now? I am not going to mistake promise for performance. It is much too difficult a case to speak in a jaunty and what hon. Members opposite call a complacent way. I shall say something about complacency in a moment: that is the knockabout business. Our view, arid we are already taking steps to follow it, is that we should play our full part in endeavouring to promote what have been called these diplomatic consultations. We have already made it plain to the French Government—unhappily that Government fell last night, and there will have to be a change of Government, but I do not believe that in this respect French policy will change—we have indicated to France that if they see their way to enter into closer communication with the German Government, with Berlin, they have our complete good will in so doing. If we can give any help in bringing about that closer association we shall be most happy to do so. We are indicating directly to the German Government and to Herr 434 Hitler himself that we have taken a most attentive note of the declaration that he and other representatives of Germany have recently been making, that the whole of our influence will be used for the purpose of trying to bring about again a spirit of negotiation and of cooperative action instead of keeping Germany at a distance.
We have communicated with Italy to say how well satisfied we are to learn that she is agreed with us as to the importance of keeping the Disarmament Conference in being, and how satisfied we are that the present procedure, which Italy has been urging upon us, is the correct procedure; and that we mean, along with communications with Paris and Berlin, to work in close touch with the Italian Government and its head, because that is the only means by which it is possible to keep contact between those different great capitals and great Powers. You could then prepare the ground for that which has to be done next at Geneva. I beg the House to believe that no one is more anxious to get on with what is called the Second Reading of the British draft than we are. Nobody has ever said "Substitute another draft for it." It holds the field. But there is a vast amount of work to be done before the discussion of the Second Reading of that draft could be usefully undertaken. That is not want of will or determination. It is the fundamental difficulty which faces the whole world, the enormous difficulty of finding a way of reconciling rival ambitions and separate suspicions and adjusting the whole of this elaborate scheme, not to suit us but to suit 65 nations in every part of the world.
In conclusion, on that, I shall endeavour to state in two or three simple propositions the view which we take of British policy in this connection at this time—and this is all I need say to-day on this particular matter. I would formulate it for the consideration of the House in these two or three sentences. First, the adjournment of the Disarmament Conference does not mean the adjournment of work for disarmament. It means the very opposite. The Government intend that this period of suspension shall be devoted without delay and without intermission to exchanging views between the different Governments in 435 order—I am almost exactly using the words of the President—to prepare the ground on which the Conference can resume its work, ground which at present has been so shaken by Germany's withdrawal. That would be my first proposition.
I think it would be useful to add a second. How those exchanges of views can best be carried on must depend on circumstances. As I have said, we are already taking some steps, but in the first instance at any rate, the Government consider that these exchanges should be conducted through the diplomatic channels in the form of bilateral conversations. Thirdly, we welcome the assurances of Herr Hitler that Germany's one desire is for peace and that she has no aggressive designs. We hold, as indeed the Prime Minister said when he spoke at Geneva, that Germany also has her contribution to make in order to render general disarmament possible in practice. We hope that as an outcome of the exchanges of views that are now going to be undertaken it will be found possible to translate those assurances into such concrete shape as will help to build up that international security which is an indispensable condition of disarmament. While it is useless, idle and provocative to discuss recent history and try to apportion blame, the fact is that Germany's announcement, not merely that she is going to withdraw from the Disarmament Conference, but that she has in her mind two years hence to withdraw from the League—that announcement, I say publicly, is in itself a fact which has increased the sense of insecurity, for after all, the League is the great central institution, the full working of which has been recognised as constituting the essential element of world security.
Lastly, if we admit those propositions, I would endeavour to state an alternative which at least cannot be accused of not having the feature of facing the real facts. The real facts are that the whole world, looking into this dark future, sees that the choice is going to be between regulated armament on the one hand and unregulated armament on the other. I say here, and I hope I can claim to speak for us all, that the whole weight of any Government in this country and any 436 House of Commons, the whole of British public opinion, will be thrown unreservedly into the scale on the side of securing regulated as opposed to unregulated armament.
I pass now to a less responsible part of my remarks on this occasion, and I hope for a few minutes with the House's permission to enjoy myself.
§ Sir J. SIMON
A little healthy controversy does no harm, and I shall not upset the chariot of Europe by anything I am going to say now. The hon. Gentleman opposite began his speech with a not unfamiliar taunt and phrase in which lie reproached the Government with complacency. I want to suggest one or two considerations to the House by which, perhaps, we may judge the value and virtue of such a reproach in the mouths of hon. Gentlemen opposite. It is a very unhappy fact that it is always the most recent history which is the most easily forgotten. The hon. Gentleman knows all about "1066 and all that," but he has passed a sponge over what happened two years ago. I would like to know, is it admitted or is it denied that in the last days of the late Government this country was facing a crisis?
§ Sir J. SIMON
I am obliged. I hear the Leader of the Opposition saying with great authority on behalf of his party that the country is facing one now. I might perhaps register that. Conceivably that may influence the wandering ghosts who are now considering what sort of habitation they would prefer. Is it disputed that two years ago this country was facing the gravest disaster that had threatened it since the War? [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] We must take either "yes" or "no," and I do beg of the Opposition to speak with a united voice.
§ Sir J. SIMON
After al], it is only two years ago. Is it admitted that we were faced with the prospect of an unbalanced Budget and a deficit which impartial opinion has declared would amount in one year to over £70,000,000 and in the next year to £170,000,000?Is it admitted that according to impartial official authorities 437 the balance of trade which had been £100,000,000 in our favour was £110,000,000 against us? Is it admitted that, in plain fact, instead of exports paying for our imports, we were purchasing enormous quantities every week that our exports could not pay for? Is it disputed that in these circumstances a very grave situation arose in regard to which, indeed, one Treasury authority—and the Treasury was presided over by a very distinguished gentleman—has certified to mean this, that "a continued state of borrowing on the present vast scale "—that is, the scale of the late Government—" without adequate provision for its repayment would quickly call in question the stability of the British financial system?" I gather that silence gives consent.
§ Sir J. SIMON
In these circumstances, may I ask one more question? Is it disputed that when that situation had to be faced the right hon. Gentleman opposite, the hon. Gentleman who spoke just now, and nearly all the Members of the late Government declined to take responsibility for what had to be done?
§ Mr. ATTLEE
May I say that I was not asked to take responsibility, because I was not consulted, not being in the Cabinet 7 I was merely told by the Prime Minister that he had decided to go in with my opponents.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman if I did him any injustice, but the occasions when I have worked with him have served to give me such a respect for his qualities and public spirit that I really for a moment thought he was a Member of the Cabinet. What I want to know is, What is all this about complacency? I will retort by saying that I do not believe that in the history of Parliamentary institutions there has ever been a greater piece of self-assurance than that the gentlemen who declined to be associated with the Government that was necessary in order to put that matter straight should now charge people on this side with complacency. As I said the other day in the House, the fact that you do not go into hysterics does hot prove that you are complacent. What it does show is that there is, indeed, a very great improvement in the national position, there is, indeed, a renewed hope in the land, there 438 is, indeed a new confidence in industry, there is, indeed, now a new and positive increase in our exports. It is true today that we, instead of being the third exporting country in the world, are the first, and it is true that all these things have happened in the last two years. I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his contribution to the argument. He agrees that the crisis is not over.
§ Sir J. SIMON
We have now the revised version. The right hon. Gentleman says that what he meant to say was that we were in the crisis, and was not.
§ Sir J. SIMON
Nothing is more agree able than that I should find, on the opposite side of the House, divided Be what has been called this substantial piece of furniture, so genial an opponent. I am sure I do not wish to import anything into this discussion that would affect our friendly relations. I will return to the proposition, which indeed was included in the speech of the hon. Member just now, that has become part of the stock-in-trade of hon. Members opposite. He referred to the very difficult situation which developed last year in the Far East, and he adopted an ingenious device and suggested that there should have been a different paragraph inserted in His Majesty's Gracious Speech dealing with the policy of this country in relation to that matter. The only thing which occurred to me, when I heard his rather long and rhetorical paragraph, which certainly would not have bee, accepted according to the best traditions of those who draft King's Speeches, was that it could be put much more simply. I say that, put more simply and tersely, the hon. Member's suggestion was that the King's Speech should have said, "I much regret that in these difficult circumstances we have not gone to war with Japan."
Let us follow that up a little to see whether, instead of being a mere casual 439 phrase, a little bit of rhetoric thrown off, it is not really part and parcel of the point of view of hon. Members opposite.
I desire to point out in the clearest terms that the policy of the Labour party with regard to international affairs, as recently expounded by its leaders in Parliament and elsewhere, is not only not calculated to help the League of Nations and further the cause of peace and conciliation, but it seeks to make the League of Nations an instrument in the nature of a super-State to which the State members of the League would be blindly fettered. The length to which this argument has gone in recent weeks is well worth considering. It is baptised under the convenient and question-begging phrase "sustaining the collective peace system of the world. ' I am content to say, with the late Lord Grey, that it is a very wrong view of the use that should be made of the League of Nations, to seek to start a larger fire in order to put out a smaller one.
We had a speech the other day from the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), one of the leaders of the party opposite, in the course of which he said in terms, according to the OFFICIAL REPORT, that in his view the League of Nations should support this collective peace system with economic boycott and with armed force if necessary. Why, Sir, as I listened to the hon. and learned Gentleman expounding the united view of the Opposition, that we must at all times be prepared to use Army, Navy and Air Force in any part of the world to sustain the peace structure of the world, I began to understand why the hon. and learned Gentleman was so anxious to insist that our Army, Navy and Air Force had not been reduced in size. He thinks we ought, in case of need, to intervene in the Far East by force of arms, always, of course, to sustain the peace structure of the world. We ought, I suppose, by parity of reasoning, if necessary to do the same thing in the interior of South America, in order to stop two neighbours there from carrying on a desultory warfare in the face of the most strong urging of the League of Nations. If that is the Socialist gospel, then the good people of Fulham have indeed been deceived. They voted for the Opposition candidate, and he told us in a most attractive maiden speech the 440 other day, which we were all glad to hear, that they did so because of their passionate devotion to peace. Now that we have had from the authoritative spokesmen on the other side, from the Front Bench opposite, that these are the calls which, according to them, our armed forces must at all times be ready to accept and respond to, it is evident that not only the scaremongers, but the warmongers, sit opposite.
§ 12.56 p.m.
§ Vice-Admiral TAYLOR
I am sure the Ions will be very pleased to have heard the speech which has just been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and to have learnt that other means are to be taken to bring about a settlement of the very difficult questions at Geneva. I desire to speak on this question of peace and disarmament. Not only this Government, but every Government since the War, have done their utmost in the policy they have pursued to bring about peace and a feeling of security on the Continent, and therefore in the world. They have, I think it is correct to say, endeavoured to bring peace through disarmament. That has been their main object all through these years—to bring about a general measure of disarmament, and, through disarmament, to bring peace to Europe and the world. I maintain that they are following in a will-o'-the-wisp, some thing they will never achieve, and that we shall only obtain disarmament after we have obtained peace and security. Disarmament must follow peace and can never precede it.
The whole of the energy of this country with all its sincerity—and no nation can doubt its sincerity in this matter of peace—has been devoted to bringing about a measure of disarmament. It has failed and it, will continue to fail if it merely pursues this policy of disarmament without doing something to remove the real causes of war. There are real causes of war in Europe at the present time. There are grave injustices to Hungary, Germany and Austria in the Peace Treaties. They are inherent in those treaties. The seeds of war are there, and if nothing is done by the Government and other great nations of the world to meet those grievances and to remove them, there will never be disarmament, but there is certain to be in the course of time an out- 441 break of war. We have done everything possible in accordance with the policy which the Government have pursued to bring about disarmament, but we have failed. The Prime Minister in his speech at the Mansion House the other day said that we had not put the cart before the horse. With all due respect to him, I profoundly disagree. More than that, I think that the cart has run down one side of the hill and the horse has galloped down the other, and both have come to grief.
Peace has not been advanced all these years. Will any hon. Member suggest that there is to-day a. greater feeling of peace and security on the Continent than there was? The answer must be in the negative. That is one failure. The other failure is in disarmament. We have disarmed, but no other country has done so. France desires security. She has been consistent in her demand for it, but has she ever defined what she means by security? Has she told the nations of the world what she will be satisfied with and what will give her security If she has not defined it, it is impossible for the nations of the world to be able to satisfy her claim. Let us see what we have done. As a member of the League of Nations, we, together with other Powers who are members, have under certain conditions to carry out an economic blockade of an aggressor State. That comes under the sanction clauses of the League. In addition, we have to use our armed forces, if necessary, to carry out that blockade. It would be impossible to do it otherwise. But that is not all. We have also the obligation of preventing a non-member of the League from carrying out any intercourse with the aggressor State. That is a very heavy responsibility. Take the case of the United States, a neutral country and nonmember of the League who has repeatedly stated that never again will she allow her trade to be interfered with as it was in the Great War.
Suppose a State is declared by the Council of the League to be an aggressor State, we have to bring about an economic boycott and to use our armed forces to carry it out. The United States might conceivably not agree with the declaration of the Council of the League and might continue to trade with the aggressor State. We are bound by the sanction 442 clauses of the League to take such action as is necessary to prevent the United States from carrying out that trade with the aggressor State. That means war with the United States. There is no question about that whatever. We are taking a very heavy responsibility under the sanction clauses of the League of Nations. They were passed in order that by the help of all nations in the League they might give greater security and enable the nations to bring about a reduction in armaments. France was not satisfied with that security. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) was then instrumental in bringing in the Locarno Pact to give greater security, and particularly to France and Germany, in the case of certain eventualities, and thereby enable France to reduce her forces. That was seven years ago. France has not disarmed, she is still not satisfied, and she still has not security.
What is there that will give France this security? The Disarmament Conference has broken down; the Government are pursuing the same course. What new facts are there which make the Government consider that where they have failed in the past they will now succeed? They are not taking any other steps to remove the causes of war and make disarmament possible. Therefore, I cannot understand how they think they can possibly succeed in bringing about any measure of disarmament. I would like to refer now to the Sino-Japanese dispute.
§ Mr. HOLFORD KNIGHT
Before the hon. and gallant Member leaves the question of blockade, may I ask him whether he would approve of international agreements as to blockade, the right of visit and search and neutral rights at sea? Does he contemplate any discussion on those matters?
§ Vice-Admiral TAYLOR
The question of search at sea has been decided for centuries by universal law, which was carried out in the late War. There is no question about that whatever. The courts have upheld the laws of the sea. They upheld them in the Great War and they will uphold them in the next war. There is no question about that. That does not come into the matter.
§ Mr. KNIGHT
Is my hon. and gallant Friend suggesting that other nations have accepted the findings of our courts?
§ Vice-Admiral TAYLOR
Most undoubtedly—of the prize courts. Most certainly they have always accepted them. I will turn to the question of the dispute in the Far East. The other day the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs referred to a speech made by the late Lord Grey regarding the dispute in the Far East, and quoted it as being obviously an opinion with which the Government agreed. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs this morning also indicated his agreement to that speech. The late Lord Grey said:The dispute in the Far East was a dispute between two nations on the other side of the world, and it was different from a European question. What more could the League have done?That is a very important statement—to say that because there is a dispute in the Far East it is different from a dispute upon the. Continent; the reason being that economic pressure could not have been applied to Japan unless it was done in co-operation with the United States of America. There is no doubt that economic pressure could perfectly well have been put upon Japan, or upon China for that matter. That they are situate in the Far East would make no difference in that respect. We could have denied our ports all over the Empire to Japanese produce. We could also have prevented goods from being exported to Japan. It would be a very serious matter indeed if the League of Nations is not to operate unless it obtains also the co-operation of the United States of America. It is a most invidious position for the League to be placed in. They come to a decision, yet that decision cannot be carried out by the members of the League unless the United States of America agree with it. That is a most dangerous position.
There is the position of our great Dominions of Australia and New Zealand to be considered if the League cannot take action because countries are in the Far East. What security is there for our great Dominions of Australia and New Zealand and other possessions in the Far East in the event of our having to depend upon the League to defend them? The members of the League could turn round and say to our Government, "We would like, of course, to help you, but these possessions of yours are in the Far East, and that is quite a different matter from 444 a dispute on the Continent of Europe. We cannot come to your assistance, they are too far off." That would be a most invidious position for us to be placed in. Lord Grey also said:I do not like the idea of resort to war to prevent war. It is too much like lighting a large fire in order to put out a small one.The Sanctions Clauses of the League of Nations distinctly say that in the event of a unanimous opinion on the part of the Council of the League, every member of the League is bound to take just that action which the late Lord Grey says he does not agree ought to be taken. I entirely agree with the Government and I entirely agree with the late Lord Grey. I have stated before in this House that I think the Sanctions Clauses should come out of the Covenant of the League altogether. They are a hindrance to peace, they will never be put into operation. We have the late Lord Grey and the Government of the day saying, "Of course we agree that we should not create a fire in order to put out a fire." But that is what is to be done under the Sanctions Clauses of the League, and I consider that so long as those Sanctions Clauses exist they will be a detriment to the cause of peace. They will prevent the United States of America from joining the League, and thereby weaken it enormously. I would like to see the League devote itself to the cause of peace, trying to bring about a settlement of international disputes by peaceful means. It should do everything it could in that direction, and, if it fails, should just recognise that, unfortunately, war will have to come, and leave it at that.
I want to get back to the question of peace, and I reaffirm the statement that we shall never get peace through disarmament. The policy which the Government are apparently following is to bring about peace through disarmament. I agree that they should endeavour to get disarmament, but they will never do so unless, running parallel with those endeavours, they take active measures to remove the causes of war, and there is no suggestion that that is to be done. I do not know how far these diplomatic conversations will go in the direction of discussing the removal of grievances arising out of the Peace Treaties, but I maintain that it would 445 be an act of good statesmanship, so far as this country is concerned, if we were to stand up to-clay and declare that we would have a revision of the Peace Treaties and a removal, so far as it is possible, of the causes of war, and give justice to Hungary, to Austria and to Germany. It is quite impossible that those nations, comprising as they do about 100,000,000 persons, can be kept down for all time in the position in which they are at present. Something has got to be done, and it should be done before it is too late.
Let me take the case of Hungary. Even before the Treaty of the Trianon was signed it was agreed—there were Debates in this House and in another place in which it was clearly brought out—that there were great injustices in the proposed clauses of that Treaty. M. Millerand himself wrote a letter at the time saying he recognised that there were injustices in that Treaty, and that they would be dealt with. They have not been dealt with, those injustices still remain. Two-thirds of Hungary has been taken from her, her minerals have been taken away and the best part of her agricultural land, and some 3,500,000 of pure Hungarian nationals are under foreign rule. The minority clauses of that Treaty have not been carried out. Those people are suffering from a sense of grave injustice. We as a nation have always stood for justice, we pride ourselves on our justice. It is due to our great sense of justice that we are the great nation that we are, and are looked up to by the rest of the world, and I would urge the Government to see that justice is done to Hungary.
Germany, Austria and Hungary are, rightly or wrongly, suffering from a sense of great injustice. There is no question about it. The feelings of those countries have been raised to a very high pitch. They have waited for 15 years, and although I admit that we have taken action to have the Financial Clauses of the Treaty of Versailles altered, that was not done solely in the interests of Germany, but to prevent the economic conditions of the world from becoming quite impossible.
We have now to try to remove the actual causes of war. If we do not take a step now, we shall merely force Germany and Austria into coalition. If 446 the Government of Austria should become Nazi, as it very likely will, what is going to happen? A combination between Germany arid Austria, with Czechoslovakia as the nut between the pincers of Germany and Austria. If we do not do something now to remove the grievances of Hungary, we shall simply force Hungary into coalition with Germany and Austria. If, on the other hand, we take steps that we can take now, and we say to the great Powers that we insist upon the Treaty of Trianon—take that first if you like—being brought up for revision, and if we do our best to give justice to Hungary, to Austria and to Germany, we shall have made a real contribution to the peace of the world and to the removal of the causes of war. When we have done that, disarmament will automatically follow.
The position in which this country has been placed by the unilateral disarmament which has taken place means that we are unable to guarantee the security of ourselves and of our Empire. That is an absolute fact. The greatest naval experts in this country at the present time have told us that we require 70 cruisers. We have only 50. Although the word "expert" is not looked upon with favour by sonic hon. Members, the experts know, at any rate, what they are talking about, and the country is very much stirred in this matter. It is realised more and more that we have not sufficient forces at our disposal to maintain our own security. Far better than we should, as soon as we can, get rid of our great entanglements on the Continent, and that we should assert ourselves and provide this country with the forces which are necessary for her security. Let us remove the causes of war, and by meeting the just claims of Hungary, Austria and Germany we shall have taken a real step in the cause of peace, 'and disarmament will automatically follow.
§ 1.18 p.m.
§ Mr. MAGNAY
I am not going to follow the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) in his argument that we need more physical force in order to take care of the destinies of the people. I would like to ask him and other Members of the House never to forget that, as a people and as a nation, we rely on great spiritual forces—
§ Mr. MAGNAY
—and that physical force is neutral, just as a motor car without the clutch in is neutral. It depends upon the minds of our people and our Government, and upon the spirit of the people as to how any force is used. I remind the hon. and gallant Member that in relying upon might and power, instead of spirit, which is the real force and energy of any civilised people, we ought first of all to think hard and think straight, in this very difficult and complex problem. As Goethe said many years ago, it is easier to feel or to do something than it is to think. Many people, as we say, "sweat on the top line," when they have to do a little bit of hard thinking, in order to see all the implications that are involved in their arguments. Many years ago, a great statesman, the late Lord Salisbury, advised every student of politics to study large maps. That was very sound advice, coming from that wise source, but since the spacious, leisurely days in which Lord Salisbury lived, we have come into a vastly different world. Whether we like it or not, the world is very much smaller, and we are up against each other's elbows as neighbours and as people.
I remember when I used to come down here every month in 1911 and 1912, as a member of the National Committee of the League of Young Liberals, the wireless apparatus was just being fitted at the Navy headquarters, and many a time, when I went there to watch them making it, I thought what a wonderful thing it was that the men in authority in the headquarters of the Navy could know where every ship was throughout all the seven seas, and could give each ship direction and counsel. I never imagined that on Christmas Day I should not only hear the Christmas message of our King Emperor but the voices of our people throughout the world, the different cadences and the different inflexions of the language. I never imagined that, sitting at my own fireside, I should realise that I was living in what is now a whispering gallery, and that I should hear the very hiss and roar of the falls of Niagara. But it is so, and as a consequence of the world being smaller, we are more highly nervous. The voyage that took, for instance, weeks to go to 448 Australia, can be done now in so many hours. I repeat that we are not only becoming more highly nervous but more self-conscious, as people and as nations.
I say to hon. Members of the Opposition who are opposing the Motion for the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne, that they should remember, when they talk so glibly about the necessity for peace, as if it were possible to get it by return of post, that the world—or if we only take Europe—is equivalent to a confusion. Each nation is expressing itself in accordance with its mentality and with its political genius, or lack of political genius. It is easy in this country, where our forebears bought liberty at a great price, to talk in terms of comparison, but we ought to talk in terms of contrast. Russia, Germany and Italy have not had the generations of liberty that we have so long enjoyed, and it is quite idle to talk in terms comparing England with Russia and Germany, who are expressing themselves according to their mentality, and to their political genius or lack of it. There is a dictatorship of the left in Russia, and of the right in Germany and Italy, and, if you go across the Atlantic, you will find a dictatorship of the centre—a financial dictatorship. It is idle to compare free England, with a. free Press and free speech, with these other places. It is more a contrast, and I suggest that one should always remember that fact when talking of the necessity for peace, which we all desire very much.
We need peace-makers, not peace-wishers. The angels' message at Christmas time is to men of good will, not of good wishes. The man who will go a long way out of his road rather than have a row, who wants to live a quiet, peaceable, leisurely life and not be bothered about his rights, was never any good to himself or anybody else. Such men will never be pioneers or reformers. Hampden said to one of his contemporaries—and, although we may talk of difficult times now, they are not comparable with those times—" Well, God mend all." "No, by God," said John Hampden's friend, "we will help God to mend all." That was one of the men of good will, the plain, russet-coated men whom Cromwell desired—not men who loved fighting for fighting's sake. Over and over again the best cavalry in the world were defeated by plain, russet- 449 coated men who knew what they wanted, and loved what they knew. It is men of good will that we require. Peace on earth will come to no one else but to men of good will.
To talk of peace as if it were a cause is, of course, sheer nonsense. Peace is a consequence. Righteousness must come first. "Justice" is the most sacred word in human speech. Justice must be done, and only when justice is done can we fairly expect peace to come as a consequence. If I hear, as I do, people saying that we are living in difficult times, that there never were such times, I say that in my experience I have never known them to be anything but difficult times. Jerome K. Jerome said many years ago—and all humourists are sane men; I do not say that all witty men are sane men, but all humourists with a genial flow, of kindness of soul are sane men—Jerome K. Jerome, who was a very sane man, said, in "Three Men in a Boat" many years ago, talking about that famous voyage up the Thames, that the only man who could talk of the good old days was Adam, and there was no record of what he said. Apparently they never did much good after they went into the greengrocery business. Of course, these are difficult days, and that is why we are here, to put them right and to keep them right.
I suggest, however, that we must have patience. I am sick to death—I am not pointing at anyone—of hearing Members in this House saying glibly that this should not be done, or that that could be done "by return of post." May I give an experience of my own which I think is apropos to this discussion? I am a Wesleyan Methodist of the fourth generation, so it will be understood why I have the superiority complex. We have great "assurance"; we know whether we are in the boat or in the water. Some of us thought many years ago that it was about time the differences between the various connections of Methodists were solved, and we thought that that would be a very simple matter. We sang out of the same hymn-book, we followed the same form of worship, we knew each other as Bill, Tom, Dick, Harry and all the rest of it when we met one another in the market place or in business. We thought it could be done quite easily; but was it?
450 It took 20 years to do that simple thing among Christian folks.
I, in the various courts of our Church, had to fight that cause up hill and down dale. I have gone to Sheffield, to Manchester, to Lincoln, to attend different conferences, knowing very well that my friend who was going with me would cancel out my vote every time, for he was against me. He was my dearest chum, but he thought, against me, that Methodist union was wrong. If that comparatively simple thing took 20 years to do, what can the Foreign Secretary and his able colleague be expected to do in three weeks to solve thousand-year-old animosities, between, say, the Teuton and the Gaul? How can it be done except with patience? I suggest that that is the first thing that we should have in mind in considering this matter.
The next thing, I would suggest, is to keep cool and keep our heads. Just as one sane man can save a crowd from going into a panic by keeping his head, so we in England can recover and maintain the moral leadership of the world if we will only keep cool, keep our heads, and see that fair play is done. Then I would suggest to all Members of the House, and especially, if I may say so with due respect and kindness, to my friends of the Opposition, that we should be grateful. I was taught in the old days to say, "Thank you" when anything was done for me that was worth while. It is an old-fashioned virtue, but I think we should do well to be grateful, especially to the Foreign Minister and his able colleague. The latter, I am glad to say, is a North countryman, whom we might expect to be an able colleague of so worthy a chief. I think we should do well to remember the hard and unselfish work that they have done, with no thanks, and with a Press, I am sorry to say, which takes every opportunity of following a policy of pin-pricks which must be very annoying. Although the Foreign Minister seems to be able to bear it in his sauve, polite way, it would be amazing to me if a North-countryman like the Under-Secretary should stand that sort of thing continually; it is not the way we are bred in the North.
I, for one, desire to express our gratitude to those who have, I am sure, done the best for us in the councils of Europe and in connection with the League 451 of Nations. Another suggestion that I would make is that we should be hopeful. Experience worketh patience, and patience worketh hope. That is why every old man is more hopeful than any young man. I would suggest, too, that we should keep our peckers up. We have nothing to be ashamed of. We have saved ourselves by our own exertions, and we can save the world by our example. We have all to justify, as a. House and as a Government, this sentence in the Gracious Speech from the Throne:The central purpose of My Government in international affairs is to promote and to sustain by every means in their power peace in the world.I am here this morning to express, from the North country at any rate, the absolute faith that we have in the Government that they mean well and are doing well, and to say to them, "Thank you" and wish them luck.
§ 1.35 p.m.
§ Mr. EDWARD WILLIAMS
We have all thoroughly enjoyed the hon. Member's reminiscences. We have to presume that he has filled some of the gaps in the King's Speech. I think we might summarise it by saying the Government are very anxious that the nation should keep its pecker up. It is very nice for the hon. Member to feel grateful to the Government and to advise us to be hopeful, hut can he expect the unemployed in South Wales and Durham to be thankful to the Government?
§ Mr. MAGNAY
I suggest that first things come first. That is what I meant to say. The peace of the world is of paramount importance, and it is no use saving candle ends when the house is on fire.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
The people in whom the Government should feel most concerned are those in most need, and they are the unemployed. Neither can we accept the statement that human nature of itself is vicious and inevitably leads to war. I do not believe, if anyone walked over the boundaries of the world, he would meet in any other land persons who are desirous of anything but peace. I agree with the previous speaker that there are certain causes of war which should be tackled. They are mainly finance, investments, the question of the 452 control of raw materials and private ar[...]aments. We believe that economic policy inevitably leads to war. So long as the means of production and distribution are in the hands of people who primarily interest themselves in profit, the causes of war will remain.
I rose mainly, not to apologise, but because I was partially responsible for interrupting the Foreign Secretary. He should not endeavour to obtain consolation for the result of Fulham by trying to chastise my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps). Fulham and the other results that we have had of by-elections indicate precisely how the barometer is at the moment. The country is certainly dissatisfied with the conduct of the Govern. ment. Most people who are thinking of our foreign affairs know that, after the Foreign Secretary apologised for the conduct of Japan—for that is virtually what his speech meant—the British Government was not prepared to carry out the substance of the Lytton report.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Eden)
Nothing of that sort was ever said by any representative of the Government.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
The Foreign Secretary definitely said he was not prepared to carry out Clauses 10 and 10 of the Treaty, and they were not carried out. If Japan was in the wrong, and if the British Government was a signatory to the Sanctions Clause of the Covenant, the Foreign Secretary should have said the Covenant itself should be entirely ignored by all nations, which would virtually mean the breaking up of the League of Nations, or should have carried out the intent of the signature which was placed on the document. It is not good enough for him to chastise Members on this side. He, representing the British Government, should have told them that the Government was not prepared through him to carry out the purport of the Sanctions Clause. Yesterday we had speeches by supporters of the Government about cotton, referring to the conduct of Japan. It is obvious to everyone that Japan is after raw materials and cheap labour in China, about 22 pence per day of 12 hours work for persons between 14 and 16, and their labour is coming into competition with Lancashire. These are the speeches 453 that we heard yesterday, all because Japan was encouraged by the Government to carry on the war in China which was inevitably bound to lead to mistrust in the League of Nations and ultimately to Germany leaving the League.
I agree with much that has been said in regard to other causes of friction in Europe. There is the Versailles Treaty itself, the injustices that were done to Germany, the snatching of the Saar and the enormous reparations that were expected to be paid, even the creation of Poland and the handing to Poland of Upper Silesia, and all the problems that arose from its formation. So it is really not good enough for the Government to excuse itself at this stage when it was not prepared to carry out the substance of the Lytton Report and enforce the Sanctions Clause of the Covenant. There are other matters which we should like to have been included in the King's Speech, which indicate the frame of mind of the Government, but I want to give others the opportunity to talk upon this matter.
I wish to refer to the coal trade. The coal trade is going from bad to worse. We find from figures published yesterday that output has gone down since 1913 from 283,000,000 to 209,000,000 tons, that there is an increase in the unemployed of 78,000 in 12 months, and that there are more than 350,000 miners totally idle. South Wales and Durham, industrial areas which really matter, are going deeper and deeper into the pit of despair. Local authorities can hardly carry on. Glamorgan is faced with a poor rate of 8s. 5d. in the £ and will be mulcted in heavier burdens when the Government's new Bill becomes law. Nothing is done in a tangible way to deal with trade. Wages have been depressed in 12 months by £61,000, they are going down and down, purchasing power is being restricted and poverty is on the increase. There is nothing in the King's Speech which indicates any endeavour on the part of the Government to rectify these grievous wrongs apart from further restrictions which are to be imposed on other nations.
Take what is happening with regard to France. It is affecting the South Wales coal trade to the extent of 78,000 tons. The reduction of 10 per cent. as far as that nation is concerned is roughly 750,000 tons. All these things must arise 454 from the attacks of the Government. Immediately you endeavour to build tariff walls you are at once creating economic discord and strife. Each nation will endeavour to obtain advantages in one way or another, and all these advantages will ultimately be paid for by the poorest of the poor in the land. There has been no reply from the Foreign Secretary, although he gave us a speech which he euphemistically called a "knockabout." We have had no reply to the speech made by the Leader of the Opposition on this side. Everything that has been done has enhanced the power of the rich and has depressed the conditions of the poor. It is for those reasons that we are placing this Amendment before the House, for, not only in matters of foreign policy but in their relationship to the conditions of the people at home, the Government have completely failed to alleviate the conditions and have certainly not fulfilled the proper functions of government.
§ 1.47 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
The Amendment to the Address is rather wide, but it is not my intention to follow the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. E. Williams) in his attack upon the Government with regard to the coal position. After all, the coal position was brought about generally by the lack of wisdom of the coal industry, not only of the men but of the owners, and it is rather late in the day to attack the Government in these difficult times.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
That is a view to which I do not think we shall ever agree on this side of the House. I hope that the Opposition is not going to suffer from tête montée on the question of the Fulham by-election. Everybody knows in this country that when anything goes wrong, in whatever walk of life it occurs, the Government are always to blame, and when the hopes of this country and of Europe fail through the action of Germany it is quite within the traditions of our people that they should vote against the Government because somebody else has blundered. I am certain that as time passes we shall not see those curious figures which are delighting the Benches opposite. I have listened a good deal to Debates upon dis- 455 armament during the last few weeks, and it would seem that we are all in this House agreed upon the desirability, but where we differ is that the Opposition seem to think that they could have done this job a great deal better than the Government. When we examine the record of those gentlemen I do not see where there is a grievance. Our two representatives at Geneva, the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister, almost ruined their political lives in the cause of peace. There can be nobody more sincere in their desire for peace, and the Prime Minister when he was the Leader of the party opposite was acknowledged by all to be a master in conference. It is curious that he has changed so much because he has crossed to this side of the House. In the Foreign Secretary we have a lawyer of unsurpassed ability. Therefore, we narrow down the issue to this, that, although everyone in the country is agreed upon the policy, should we have done better by being led by the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) and by the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) than by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary? That is really the point at issue, and nothing else.
I rather wanted to deal with another question altogether, the question of aviation, because I believe that a good deal of the fears and troubles and hates of the world have come about because in armaments to-day we really do not know where we are. The Lord President of the Council said that it was left to young people to make suggestions as to how we were to deal with this matter, but the Lord President is so subtle in some of his statements. His idea of youth and mine differ because he apparently includes second childhood. I should like to make a few remarks on the conditions in Europe relative to aviation. There was a time some years ago in which we knew exactly where we stood in armaments by the number of battleships and the numbers of divisions we had and what was the relative strength as between one country and another. Now all that has changed. It is true that we have a definite air force. There is an air force of definite size in every country, but that is not what people are afraid of. They know in their hearts that every civil aviation line to-day is a potential reserve 456 for military aviation. There is not a single civil air line running in Europe today except the Imperial Airway London to Paris service which could exist without a subsidy and which is not run entirely as a reserve for military aviation, not one. That is a very scandalous state of things. Nobody is doing anything about it at all.
I will put this technical point. I know that the House hates technicalities, but I think that this is an interesting point. Hon. Members know that what is called the Diesel or compression ignition engine has come into every walk of life. Lorries going up and down the street smell very unpleasantly when run on this particular engine. It is used on the railways and in ships, because it is economic. Have we found it in civil aeroplanes? There is not a single aeroplane running on it to-day. It is not technically difficult to run on. It would have huge advantages from the point of view of economy and lack of catching fire, a condition which is most essential in civil aviation. But it is not used. Why? Simply because aircraft with that type of engine would not be a good type for military use. That is the only reason. It proves my point that there is not a civil air line running in Europe which is not a potential reserve for military aviation.
I put this matter forward and I hope that the Under-Secretary will give it consideration and pass it on to the powers that he. I should like to see once and for all the separation of the military from the civil type of aircraft. I think that that can be done by compelling civil aircraft internationally to use heavy oil. If that were done you would get, first of all, civil aviation paying, and, secondly, the absolute divorcement of the military and the civil side. The moment that was done you would get the military machine so strong and superior from the point of view of manoeuvrability and of speed that it would be able to mop up civil aircraft, should they elect and be equipped to join in a war, like chickens. That is what we really want.
Provided that civil aircraft could not be used for war, and if we could get them away front the possibility of bomb dropping and that sort of thing, I believe that the fears of the people would disappear. You have only to glance for a moment at Germany. She has very 457 highly developed internal communications without having to leave the ground at all, yet she is running air services from one town to another which are entirely unnecessary. They are subsidised by the State, and she has the audacity, if you please, to advertise in the papers that one of her biggest machines is fitted with an automatic mail-dropping appliance, which, of course, is nothing but a potential bomb-dropping appliance. We shall never obtain the divorcement of military and civil aircraft unless we can compel some technical advance internationally. I hope, in putting this point to the Under-Secretary, that he will consult with the Air Ministry and see if something along that line cannot be done.
I regret to say that the whole movement now has the brand of Cain upon it, and it is a question whether those who gave their lives in the days of early aviation are going to be blessed or cursed for its introduction. It all depends upon the policy which is adopted at the present time. Unfortunately, the War came too early and compelled everybody to look upon aviation as a warlike thing. It is not a warlike thing. Of course, it has its warlike side, but it is really a great movement towards peace and internationalism; but it has never had that consideration. Even to-day civil aircraft is put under the military—the Air Ministry—and it has even gone down in status. Some years ago a, representative of the civil side was on the Air Council, but now he is not on it. The whole outlook of the Air Ministry must be on the military side. I do hope that soon we shall be able, in the wisdom of this Parliament, to divorce civil aviation for ever from military aviation and put it under another Department quite apart from the military side. This country needs more civil aviation than any other country in the world. Its possessions and its people are separated by greater distances than is the case in regard to the people and the possessions of any other country. Therefore, civil aviation means more to us than to any country, but the moment we talk about the desirability of getting on with the job it is linked up in everybody's mind with the military side. The sooner we can divorce militarism from aviation the better it will be not only for aeronautics but for the country at large.
§ 1.57 p.m.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
Much as one would desire to follow the last speaker and the Foreign Secretary, it is my intention to make some short references to the problem of agriculture. I should, however, like to refer to one thing that was said by the Foreign Secretary in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Lime-house (Mr. Attlee). He spoke about regulation and unregulation, and I think he displayed such an unregulation of logic that it is worth some little reference. The right hon. Gentleman asked us to judge the value and the virtue of certain things presumably on the basis of results. The only measure of judgment that the Foreign Secretary has is that for two years he has been Foreign Secretary, and for those two years he has had, presumably, full power to negotiate peace at Geneva and also to negotiate disarmament, but as the result of the two years efforts of the right hon. Gentleman he has explained to us to-day that he has not only made no progress, but that in the future they are going to start discussing the procedure that they will adopt when they begin again to talk about disarmament. If we are to take that judgment, I am afraid that it will not suit us very well.
The Foreign Secretary said something about the Opposition not speaking with a united voice. It may be that on occasion the Members of the Opposition are not perfectly unanimous, but let me quote from a book which I can recommend to the Lord President of the Council and every supporter of the National Government. The book bears the title, "A Stronger Hand at the Helm"—a perfect gift for all loyal supporters of the National Government. The book records many of the virtues of the National Government, particularly those of the Prime Minister, but when we come to the question of a united voice, let me make certain quotations. Here is a statement by the Under-Secretary of State for Air:By the end of 1932 the equipment of all regular units with machines of comparatively recent designs will be practically complete. We should have carried the process of rearmament a good deal further if it had not been for the financial crisis.On the other hand, the Secretary of State for Air, Lord Londonderry, speaking on 3rd July, 1933, said that: 459He was convinced that it was along the road of reduction and limitation alone that the ultimate abolition of war between the nations was to be found.We should like to see a bit of unity on the part of responsible Ministers. When the Foreign Secretary tells us how the Government are working for peace, it is well to remind him of a statement made by the First Lord of the Admiralty on 29th July this year, in which he said:Wars are not made by a strong British Navy; they are prevented by it. The British Navy is the guarantor of peace, not for ourselves, but for all the nations.It seems to me that not only is there failure to speak with a united voice on the part of Members of the Government but that when it comes to the question of warships or aircraft or any preparation for war there is a great disunity in the ranks of the National Government. There is only one further observation that I should like to make in regard to the Foreign Secretary, and that is when he attempted to twit my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) about the vast improvement in our import and export trade. I do not know whether the right hon Gentleman has examined the trade returns for the first 10 months of this year. If he had done so he would have observed that while the imports generally are down as compared with 1931 by no less than £153,000,000, bullion imports are up by £150,000,000. The right hon. Gentleman is claiming that the National Government have been marvellously successful because they have been importing large volumes of specie and bullion this year.
I want to make special reference to the question of agriculture, because the King's Speech is very remarkable not for what it states about agriculture but for its serious omission. There are two short references to agriculture, one relating to smallholdings for Scotland and the other to a Bill to extend the period of the sugar beet subsidy. Smallholdings in England apparently are forgotten. Cottage holdings and allotments or any extension of arable cultivation seem to have been forgotten in the King's Speech. When this Government came into office they vowed not only to the nation as a whole but particularly to agriculture that they were going to make agriculture pay, but after two years of the National Government there are more 460 bankruptcies than ever, and it seems to me that the only people who have been made to pay so far are the consumers of agricultural produce in this country. It is true that we have had the Wheat Act. I will not charge the present Minister with responsibility for that, but the Wheat Act did discriminate against the poor in favour of the rich and put a few million pounds into the pockets o the' wheat producers. We have had Customs Duties and the Ottawa Agreement, and we are suffering from restriction, almost unlimited, of imports, and yet so far as the industry as a whole is concerned it seems to be in a more parlous plight than it was two years ago.
I hope the Minister of Agriculture will tell us, after this policy of bit s and pieces and hotchpotch, without any sort of coordinate plan, what the result of two years of office has been in regard to restoring unemployed agricultural labourers to the land. Unless he is able to do that I am afraid that not only Members who sit on the Opposition Benches but agriculturists themselves must be severely disappointed at any lack of reference to the agricultural industry in the King's Speech. We have had the Marketing Scheme for one commodity, restriction for another commodity and a determined effort to increase the price to the consumer, without any sort of control over the retailer. This has been going on for the last 21 months, and there has never been any semblance of a national plan enunciated from the Government Bench. Neither the present nor the past Minister of Agriculture has conceived the idea of a permanent reorganisation commission. We have had the Pig Reorganisation Commission, the Milk Reorganisation Commission and now there is a Reorganisation Commission to deal with poultry and eggs.
Unless and until the Government see the wisdom of appointing a permanent reorganisation commission, so that the industry as a whole can be properly planned, not an easy task, I agree, there is no possibility of lasting prosperity and security being enjoyed by the industry. Duties on fruit, vegetables, potatoes, and dairy produce, may be effective in so far as they increase the burden on the consumer, but their effect upon agriculture is nil. Not one single agricultural labourer has been restored to the land. 461 I hope the right hon. Gentleman will tell us the number of people in agriculture unemployed two years ago and the number unemployed to-day. It is only after we have compared the price which the consumer has had to pay and the number of people restored to the land that we can judge as to the success or failure of the Government's agricultural policy. We have had one or two remarkable indications lately in the country. Stamford is a purely rural area and I have never seen such enthusiasm against a Government as there was in that constituency against the National Government. Caesar spoke with no uncertain voice, and but for the lordly attentions bestowed upon it I am doubtful whether even with their hunting influence they could have held that seat. Let me quote from a Noble Lord who at one time was a really good supporter of the Conservative party, although I am not sure that I agree with Lord Beaverbrook when he says that the present Minister of Agriculture ought to be punished. He probably deserves it, but I should not like to see the punishment carried out. What does Lord Beaverbrook say about the Government and their agricultural policy?You do nothing to carry out your Premier's pledge that farming must he made to pay. However, if your claim is conceded the Government must be denounced. For Why? Because the Government has failed to protect the farm labourers.I shall be able to show that the Noble Lord is perfectly correct. He goes on to say:Since the National Government came into power there has been a reduction in the wages of farm labourers in 25 counties in England and Wales.That is notwithstanding the prosperity restored by the National Government:In five counties increased hours have been imposed, and in 16 counties overtime rates have been reduced.And then the Noble Lord said that the present Minister should be punished for making promises which he has failed to fulfil. I put a question to the right hon. Gentleman a few days ago and in reply he told me that in this year of grace, following on a gift of £4,500,000 to wheat producers, a continuance of the sugar beet subsidy and a continuance of the relief given to agriculture under the Act of 1929, 10 county wages committees have reduced the wages of agricultural workers. When I asked the right hon. Gentleman, 462 who has the power, to invite the wages committees to reconsider their decision if he feels that the decision is unfair to the labourers, he said:Section 6 of the Agricultural Wages (Regulation) Act, merely enables me at my discretion to direct a committee to reconsider any minimum rate which has been. fixed by them. In none of the cases in question did I feel that the circumstances. called for the exercise of this discretionary power on my part."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November, 1933; col. 560, Vol. 281.]Therefore the right hon. Gentleman is so satisfied with the prosperity he has restored to agriculture that he considers these wage reductions justified. That is the last straw. Thus we have farmers and labourers in rural areas voting heavily against the Government, the Noble Lord declaring that the right hon. Gentleman deserves punishment, and the right hon. Gentleman himself admitting the hopelessness and futility of the Government's policy, yet in the King's Speech there is not one word about agriculture except the reference to smallholdings in Scotland. This is after two years of a National Government; not two months. Only two months after the Labour Government were in office hon. Members opposite put down Motions censuring us for not having solved the problems of agriculture, of mining, of textiles, and of shipbuilding, and of every other problem confronting the nation. This National Government have had two years of office and there are fewer persons employed than when they took office, more bankruptcies, lower wages for the agricultural workers, and the consumer has had to tighten his belt. After the election of these supermen one would naturally expect to see results, but so far the results have been disquieting not only to the rural but to the industrial part of the population.
I want to deal with a specific policy of the Government which is acting adversely on consumers. I refer to the bacon restrictions. Last Wednesday I pointed out that these wholesale restrictions would be bound to have the effect of increasing the price, that the lower orders of the working community would be unable to purchase bacon, which would mean that the selling of bacon would become a languid industry, and that, therefore, the second stage would be worse than the first. I have had many letters telling me that the bacon business is extremely dull and that the curers 463 themselves are calling upon the right hon. Gentleman's loan, of which we have heard nothing in this House, to a tremendous extent to compensate them for the guaranteed prices they were paying to the pig producers of the country. That is an alarming situation. The right hon. Gentleman, by certain agencies, got pig producers to enter into contracts with bacon curers for a vast number of pigs at certain guaranteed prices. The Government then proceeded to restrict the import of pigs. Prices naturally increased, consumption naturally decreased, and now the curers, having guaranteed these prices to the producers of bacon, are unable to sell their bacon at prices which will give them a return.
I understand that the right hon. Gentleman has loaned to the bacon curing industry £500,000, and that they are drawing upon this at a rapid rate. They have made up their minds that in the next contracts prices will have to fall fairly considerably. Our point is that this hotchpotch, this higgledy piggledy, method of the Government, wholly divorced from any sort of national plan or even a plan for a few years ahead, is doing grave harm to this industry. So far it has been a tremendous failure. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to restore security to agriculture, which after all is the major thing, instead of taking precipitate action in regard to bacon or milk or any other agricultural commodities, he should study his plan much more assiduously than he has done so far. Every phase and every section of the industry must be related to each other, otherwise there never can be real security and prosperity for the industry.
I have only one other word to say, and it is with regard to the question of land drainage. The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Limehouse this morning covered these points very well indeed, but I think that this special question requires special emphasis. More than 2,500,000 of our brothers and sisters are still unemployed, and the Government seem to be helpless and hopeless. They are burdening consumers by paying millions in direct and indirect subsidies to this and that industry, but are not able to find extra work for mineworkers, shipbuilders and other workers, and have no more hope for agricultural 464 workers than for the rest. With regard to land drainage, if the Royal Commission spoke the truth—and I am certain that no one in this House would deny that they did—there are at least 1,250,000 acres of land which is always subject to flooding, and the owners or the tenants of that vast area of land are certainly not employing the number of men who would be employed were the land adequately drained. The right hon. Gentleman may tell me that the Act of 1931 imposed duties upon catchment boards, that catchment boards have been set up; they have their rating powers; they can undertake these schemes of work if they desire to do so. But the Minister, after negotiating the passage of the Bill, gave a very definite promise to the catchment boards. They were all guaranteed, consistently with the economic situation of their respective districts, adequate financial grants from the State, because, after all, the fact that Parliaments for decades neglected their duty provides the problem confronting us to-day.
We want to ask the right hon. Gentleman when his Department and the Government are really going to make up their minds that the land of this country has got to be drained. If we are to assume from their apathy and indifference to this problem that they have no confidence in their agricultural policy, nothing more need be said. I know the right hon. Gentleman said it would be sheer, black treachery to put more on the land until we had made it more prosperous for those already on the land. The Government have had two years, and they still lack any confidence in their own agricultural policy. With all the good will and finance in the world, it would take many months before this land could be drained, and if there is hope of anything of value from the Government's agricultural policy, surely by the time the land is drained they ought to have placed agriculture in a really prosperous condition. We want to know, therefore, what action the Government are going to take not only for the purpose of restoring this derelict land back to cultivation, but for the purpose of providing work for unemployed agricultural workers in every county.
I know that in my own neighbourhood we have had two or three disastrous floods. Nothing is to be done this winter, 465 in spite of the Acts which have been passed and all the pretences, and the first heavy flood during this autumn or next spring will find 1,200 or 1,400 people again living in elementary schools like so many pigs in a sty. We are bound to charge the Government with absolute responsibility, and the Minister himself cannot escape some of that responsibility. In 1931, something like £340,000 was set aside for drainage. The right hon. Gentleman has reduced the sum this year to £61,000. They do not want the land drained. They do not want to restore more people to the land either on the big farm, the middle mixed farm or the cottage holding or allotment. That is our indictment. The Government have no confidence in their own policy. We are satisfied that from the productive side, and certainly from the business side, the Government have failed lamentably. They have imposed tremendous burdens on consumers without restoring more people to the land, and to that extent we are bound to conclude that the Government have made a colossal failure with their agricultural policy.
§ 2.22 p.m.
Miss LLOYD GEORGE
The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) has referred to land drainage and the necessity of placing unemployed upon the land. I would like to refer to one matter which was only touched upon in the Gracious Speech, and that is land settlement. We hear of experiments of all kinds and sorts being tried in various countries, and it is a very curious thing that, whether the Government be Liberal, Conservative or Labour, there is one policy which is common to all, and that is the policy of national development and land settlement. It is very significant that, whereas those countries have taken it up or intensified it when the crisis came upon them, we, on the other hand, have abandoned this policy the moment the crisis came upon us, as if it were a kind of luxury which we could afford only in prosperous times. I believe there is a growing feeling in this House, and certainly outside the House, that a policy of this kind was never more necessary than it is to-day.
I believe that Protection, at any rate, has done one good thing. It has done more to convert many people in this country who were doubtful of the urgent 466 necessity of national development, because, after all, national development is the only logical sequence to economic nationalisation. We who are in opposition on this side of the House believe that when we adopted Protection we postponed the day when tariff barriers would be reduced everywhere, and in that view we had the support of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) and his colleagues, who have just crossed, or rather been frog-marched across, the Floor of the House. This morning the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary spoke of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway as wandering spirits. I do not know that the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary is quite a stay-at-home. He himself is rather a nomad. Perhaps this means that he has at last settled down in his spiritual home. But the right hon. Member for Darwen left the Government on Ottawa. After all, it was the first step that counted. It was the Import Duties that made Ottawa possible. What did the right hon. Gentleman do when the Import Duties Bill was before the House Y There was Free Trade stricken down by the hand of the Government of which he was a Member, and the right boa. Gentleman, lamenting the fact, said, like Mark Antony:O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,That I am meek and gentle with these butchers.But the thing is done, and we all realise that it cannot be undone for many years to come. Whether we like it or whether we do not, we have to be realists in this matter. But is that the only policy of the Government for national development The Prime Minister sent a New Year's message to the News Letter "at the beginning of this year, and I quote his words:One of the most pressing aspects of unemployment in future would be to find new occupations outside large-scale industries. That means a new use of our resources, like land by settlement, a policy which the Government is thinking out.We hear a good deal about the policies which the Government are thinking out, but we have seen very little of them here. That message was 10 months ago and there is no indication of any policy of that kind in the King's Speech. There 467 are to be smallholdings, I understand, in Scotland, but I am sure that the Minister of Agriculture will acknowledge that Scotland's need is not any greater than ours, though perhaps Scotsmen are more proficient in exacting their dues. Ten months ago, and what has happened since? The county councils of the whole of the country have bought a little over 5,000 acres this year, and that will mean something like 231 holdings. This is in a year when the regular male workers in agriculture, those over 21, have shown a negligible increase, and the regular male workers under 21 have shown a greater decrease. That is a very serious factor.
What other policy is there? Last year the Government gave £10,000 to the Society of Friends. This year they are going to increase that sum to £15,000. Is that the policy which the Prime Minister forecast? I suggest that that is not a policy but a contribution to charity. As the hon. Member for Don Valley has just said, whenever anyone speaks of land settlement, the Minister of Agriculture always says—I think he could say it in his sleep by now—" What Is the use of putting more people on the land if the people who are already there are not making a livelihood "But the right hon. Gentleman's whole policy is directed towards raising agricultural prices, and surely the measure of his doubt about land settlement is also the measure of the success of his own policy, or of its failure. if he does not succeed in raising prices, the whole thing fails.
Miss LLOYD GEORGE
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman agrees so far. He has set up elaborate machinery for his purpose. In fact, we can say that he is showing the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) the way to put into effect a Socialistic dictatorship. The Government have their tariffs and their quotas. If there is anything worse than a tariff it is a quota, as the right hon. Member for Darwen so truly said before he voted for it. The justification for all this is that the farmer was paying, and is paying in many respects, more for the things that he has to buy, and is getting only the same amount as he was getting 468 before for the things that he sells. Agriculture is unilaterally disarmed among industries which are heavily armed, and it now has to wait for a probationary period.
The Minister says he is going to put all that right with quotas and restrictions. At any rate there was this said for a tariff: that if you had one it would not be necessary to restrict home production. I always thought that one of the main advantages claimed for Protection by right hon. Gentlemen opposite was that it increased home production. Here the Minister restricts production and inevitably in the end that will mean that he restricts employment. Inevitably, I believe, he will restrict consumption as well. There are restrictions of all kinds put upon almost everything except the retailer. He is the only man who can fix his own price and who is not penalised for fixing it at too high a rate.
If the right hon. Gentleman, instead of arbitrarily raising prices, had reorganised and improved the marketing system and the distribution of produce in this country, so that the produce can go to the place where it is needed, and so that, above all, the margin between what the producer gets and what the consumer pays is narrowed down, he would have done much better. I heard the other day of a farmer who was getting ls. 2d. for 12 lbs. of Victoria plums, and that same day Victoria plums were selling in the London stores at 6d. per lb. for jam-making and at 8d. per lb. for eating. There are wide discrepancies in prices for products. It seems to many of us that even under the new milk marketing scheme the margin is too wide, if the distribution were efficiently carried out. I understand that some farmers who are producer-retailers came the whole way from Lancashire to London to tell the Milk Board that they thought so. It may be said that a small increase here and there is not going to make very much difference, but a penny or three halfpence or even twopence makes a tremendous difference in the working-class home.
I cannot believe that this policy can be justified so long as there are people inadequately fed and children who are not able to get enough milk. We have all heard of the tremendous difference produced in the stamina of children who 469 have additional milk in their diet. Indeed they want all the resisting power that they have in order to combat the evil conditions under which some of them live. We were told some time ago that it was very hard for a working man to have to pay so much for his beer. We were told that if only the tax were taken off consumption would increase, that the working man would drink more beer. I submit that the same argument applies in this case, though the drink is different. If the present policy goes on and prices rise again, if the farmers are dissatisfied with present prices and prices go up, the same thing will happen here as happened with beer, and consumption will go down. The same thing will happen in the case of many other products, and that is what no Member of this House desires to see. The Department over which the right hon. Gentleman presides is not quite so pessimistic about land settlement as he is. For instance I find that in 1931 the Minister's Land Commissioners in their report said:We believe that the smallholders have so far weathered the present agricultural depression in a remarkable way. In all parts of the country they have been doing better than the larger farmers.That is not all. In their report of this year the Land Commissioners commend the experiment of the Lancashire County Council in medium-sized farms and they add:Although the area there may be particularly favourable to these types it is believed that there are a number of other counties in which similar holdings might be established with a real prospect of success.We have heard something of experiments with smallholdings in other parts of the country. I heard only the other day about the experiment in Cambridgeshire. There you have little colonies of settlers and the majority are holding their own even at present prices. I would quote to the House just one example. It is that of an ex-service man who got six acres from the county council. To-day he has 25 acres covered with row upon row of fruit stocks, grafted with every variety of apple, pear and plum. He employs at times as many as 25 men and boys and has a wide and ready market for his fruit trees and roses. When that small-holder got that land it was poor land, growing a very scrubby crop of oats. It has obviously now become of the greatest 470 value. I do not say that they have all been as successful as this man, who was evidently very enterprising, but they are making a living. Many of them, to begin with, were put upon derelict farms and they have improved the land to such an extent that a Scottish friend of mine who went down there told me that their farming could stand comparison with the farming in the Lowlands of Scotland. That is no mean compliment from such a source, and I ask the Minister what more could he want.
The capital value of the land is increased by these smallholdings. Is not that adding to the national wealth and national assets? Three families are living there now, where two lived before. Is not that a means of providing, not temporary but permanent employment for many who will never be re-absorbed in the industries of this country? That is the result of one comparatively small experiment. We beg of the right hon. Gentleman to extend the experiment. He does not need legislation; he has the Land Utilisation Act ready to his hand. Obviously if it is to succeed the Government must put money into it. But the idle money is there. It is no use saying that we shall be diverting money from industry if we use it for a national loan because it is not going into industry. Here, after all, is an investment, backed up by that national credit which the Government boasts of having restored and enhanced. It is no good restoring it unless we are going to make some use of it.
I do not believe that the Government any more than my hon. and right hon. Friends below the Gangway can serve two masters. They cannot serve, national development and City finance and they will have to make up their minds as to one or the other. We are told that we cannot afford this and we cannot afford that. There is a growing feeling in the country that there are some things which we cannot afford to neglect doing, and I believe this is one of them. I beg the right hon. Gentleman not to give a blunt negative to our appeal. I hope that he will, at any rate, take into consideration the policy forecast by the Prime Minister 10 months ago. We on this side are quite impotent. We can do nothing but we plead with the right hon. Gentleman most earnestly that he should consider and bring into effect this policy. We sin- 471 cerely believe that no real solution of our difficulties can be reached unless we settle large numbers of our people on the soil.
§ 2.42 p.m.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) must be gratified by the supreme tribute which the House has just paid her not merely in the attention which it gave to her speech, but in the remarkable fact that no one rose after her to continue the Debate it has often been said that it is woman's privilege to have the last word, but I am sure we have thought of that in the past, rather as a tribute to her pertinacity than to her success in ratiocination. But it appears that the hon. Member for Anglesey has in fact said so much that her speech calls for a reply from the Front Bench. With much of what she and the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) has said, I and I believe the Government for whom I speak, are in full agreement. But when she says that the Government cannot serve two masters, land settlement and City finance, let me point out that the Opposition also cannot serve two masters, low prices and high prices. They cannot serve the two masters, home production and oversea importation.
When I hear this cry that more people should be settled on the land and that there should be a much greater development of food production in this country, I say that the claim made by the Opposition that they are entirely impotent is not fully borne out by the facts. They are powerful and very powerful, and they must make up their minds one way or the other. May I give the House a simple calculation? The production of food and allied supplies in this country is much higher than people believe. Roughly speaking we produce, in one way or another, food for 20,000,000 of our population, which is a higher figure than that usually given. It is only of course a rough estimate, and it takes into account to some extent the higher values of the produce produced here at home and to some extent the fact that not all is edible that is produced in one way or another from the soil But, taking it by and large, we can accept as a formula that 1,000,000 people in this country produce food for 20,000,000 people.
472 I ask the House to follow out that calculation. It is suggested by some of my hon. Friends opposite and by no one more than the representatives of the house of George—if I may so refer generically to any hon. Members opposite—that we should settle another 500,000 people on the land. If 1,000,000 people produce food for 20,000,000, then another 500,000 would produce food for 10,000,000 more. That would be 30,000,000 in all which would leave the whole of the exchange trade of this country to be conducted on the basis that the whole world, including the British Dominions, supplied food for 10,000,000 persons. I shall be glad to hear that calculation disproved.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
It is a very interesting calculation, but I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he means the whole of the food consumed in this country, or only so much of the food consumed by the 20,000,000 as can be produced in this country.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
No. I am referring to the great gross staples, beef and mutton, butter and cheese, grain—though clearly we could not produce the whole of the grain consumed in this country. I will take the very interesting calculation given two days ago by Lord Lloyd, with whom I am glad to find the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) in agreement. The two wings of this converging assault certainly make us look to both our flanks. The whole of the beef and mutton production of this country should be done here, says Lord Lloyd, throwing over altogether the ideal of Empire Free Trade and going forward to an absolute extinction of any importation from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, or South Africa of any foodstuffs whatsoever. Still, however we take it, the settlement of any large number of persons on the land cannot involve anything but a great reduction in the importation of food into this country; and if there is anything in the argument so often brought forward by my hon. Friends from above and below the Gangway opposite, that if you cut down the importations into this country you must also cut down exportations from this country, let us take it that the policy of this House as a whole is an immediate, drastic, radical assault upon the export and import trades of this country. I call the House to witness that I have been urged 473 to that policy by the two representatives of the Opposition who have spoken.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE indicated dissent.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
On this matter I do not yield to my right hon. Friend. I have given some thought and attention to the question of the consumption of food in this country, and it is impossible to expect any very great increase in the gross weight of consumption of food. You may change food from one to another source, but in fact it is impossible to expect any vast increase in the consumption of weight of food in this country. I wish the House to face up to this problem, because it is one which will more and more engage its attention in the immediate future. The possibilities of food production in this country are very great indeed, but those who will the ends must will the means. It is not a case merely that we cannot afford it; it is a case that for big schemes of land settlement you must have drastic reduction of the importation of foodstuffs, and there is no escape from that. When I hear my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley inveighing against the price of bacon and at the same time or immediately afterwards urging that a great many more people should be engaged in food production in this country, he cannot have it both ways. At present levels of world prices food production in this country cannot be efficiently maintained. We cannot maintain our scale of living, our standard of wages, and increase vastly the food production in this country if we are at the same time to expose the food producers to the unlimited importation, at knockout prices, of job lots of food from all over the world.
We must make up our minds which way we are going to have it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) left the Government upon Ottawa. My right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs assaulted the Government upon Ottawa. They are both deeply opposed to Ottawa, 474 but again for two entirely different reasons—the right hon. Member for Darwen because it makes inroads on the policy of Free Trade, but the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs for the much more deadly reason that it makes inroads on a policy of Protection; and that is indeed a far more deadly attack upon the Ottawa Agreements than that made by the right hon. Member for Darwen. There are only three words necessary to defeat an Empire Free Trade candidate in any agricultural constituency in this country, namely, "Empire Free Trade." These words alone would defeat an agricultural candidate in any constituency in this country. The regulation of imports into this country, not merely from overseas but from the Dominions as well, is and must be an integral part of any agricultural policy in this country, and again we are moving into an era where huge developments, totally unthought of in this House but a few years ago, will need to be embarked upon.
All of us desire greater production of food in this country. Let me give one single example, namely, the production of pigs in this country, which has enormously increased. There is no danger whatever of finding too short a production of pigs in this country. My difficulty is to deal with the droves upon droves, the hundreds of thousands, of pigs which are rushing and squealing upon us from every part. The Pied Piper of Hamelin has nothing on me. I am in immediate difficulties, but on the other side of the national ledger, with trade from Denmark, with trade from Sweden, with trade from the Baltic States—
§ Mr. ELLIOT
With trade from Canada, too. I like to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs sticking to his principles, rigidly recurring to the fact that what he objects to about Ottawa is that it limited the unlimited system of Protection and restriction which he wishes to embark upon in this country. I do not wonder that he sits across the Gangway from my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen, for clearly they need some substantial distance to divide them in this House in case they fall into controversy as to whether Ottawa increased 475 Protection or increased Free Trade. The production of pigs has greatly increased in this country, and on that, pig for pig, I had to reduce the importation of pigs into this country; and who is now loudest in condemnation but the very Opposition, which comes and says, "Why do you not do more for land settlement? "It did not need any loans to increase pigs. As soon as it became a profitable proposition, or even looked like a profitable proposition, or even looked like a proposition under which people would escape the grossest forms of loss, to produce pigs in this country, bacon pig production expanded 70 per cent. in a few months.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
Surely the right hon. Member has not forgotten the statement issued on behalf of and by the National Farmers' Union, that an increase in the sow population would not reflect itself in the number of pigs available either for pork or bacon for at least 12 months, and does he now imply that when increased prices were made available in September, he got millions more pigs in November?
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I certainly am not suggesting that, but surely my hon. Friend, who has for so long attacked the policy of restriction, knows that it is a year since the question of reducing the foreign bacon supplies into this country came up, and was embarked upon with the sanction of this House. The fact remains that contracts were not made available, but the prices were made available—his accusation against me is that a year ago the price of bacon was 50s. and to-day it is 70s.—and as soon as bacon looked like a remunerative business, capital, labour, energy, organising ability poured into the business of pig production. The Opposition called on the Government to make loans to smallholders, to settle people on the land, for the Government to put their hands into their pockets. "Now is the time," they said, "to put your hands in your pockets and put the idle money to work." If the agriculturists in this country, or townspeople for that matter, can see a proposition that affords a shadow of remuneration the Government do not need to put their hands in their pockets to draw the idle money. The idle money is hurled at the industry, and the danger to us comes from over-production, not from under-production, in any of those 476 industries in which we are making a moderately remunerative price available for either agriculturists or industrialists.
The House will excuse me for having taken this more general line, but I do want the House to realise that the possibilities of food expansion in this country are great; that it can be expanded by increased production at home and decreased importation from abroad; and that the food producer in this country, or indeed in any other country, cannot compete with the selected producer on the selected spot in the selected climate producing a selected crop and dumping it very often as a surplus outside the ordinary range of profitable agricultural production. Therefore, you must insulate agricultural production in this country as it has been insulated in every other country if you are to get it to survive. An insulated market means an insulated price, and it is no use hon. Gentlemen opposite wishing to have it both ways. The insulated market gives security to the agriculturist, but at the same time the consumer cannot have the job lots at slaughter prices which may be hurled across the counters of the shops and which break every producer in the country. We are agreed upon that. Nobody would be more keen in developing smallholdings than myself, and for the reason that I should not need to do any more than tell the smallholder that the market will be there. If I can tell the smallholders that the price also will be available for his produce, I shall need to set up barriers to hold them off the land, and there will have to be shorter hours for the banks to keep them from lending them money.
My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley made certain particular criticisms, but he will pardon me if I do not deal at length with them this afternoon since time is short and there are other speakers who wish to intervene in the Debate. An opportunity will arise at an early date for debating both sides of the technical aspect of the bacon scheme in the Bill which I shall have to introduce to implement the arrangements come to between the two boards and the Treasury. With regard to the difficulties as to agricultural employment of which he spoke, I will refer him to some extent to the general argument I have attempted to lay before the House, and also to the fact that this year for the first time there was 477 an increase in employment in agriculture. The agricultural returns showed that for the first time for 20 years we had a turn upwards this year. There were more people returned as employed on the land on the 1st June than there were in the previous year. I do not claim any credit for that. The numbers are still far below what they were in previous years, and the increase may to some extent be due only to the fact that a very early summer brought a large amount of casual labour at an earlier period on to the land. I do not wish to exaggerate the fact, but I do say that, at any rate, there was a turn upwards for the first time for 20 years, and more people were engaged on the land this year than in the year before.
As for the hon. Member's other accusation, which he brought forward and buttressed by the support of the Noble Lord whom he does not always call in to reinforce his arguments, namely, his accusation as to wages, I say again that it is impossible to exaggerate the battle which has to be waged just now to maintain agricultural wages, let alone to increase them. In the United States, surrounded with tariffs, agricultural wages have fallen to levels which have not been known in that country for 30 years or more. In this country agricultural wages have been held steady, and I was delighted to see from a technical journal of the political complexion of my hon. Friends opposite that real wages had in fact shown an increase of 13 per cent. in recent months.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I would rather have an accident that saved me from disaster than an accident that landed me into disaster. If a motor car were to go off the road, I would rather it went off away from the cliff edge than on the side towards the cliff. Even if it be an accident, we are agreed that it is a happy and not an unhappy accident in this particular case. It is true that in the five years from 1926 to 1931 agricultural wages remained steady, although not only agricultural prices, but the cost of living, persistently declined. That is to say, an increase in real wages was continually taking place. It is true that with the accentuation of the agricultural depression since 1931, wages have fallen, but they have fallen by 478 an average of only 31 per cent., and are still 70 per cent. above pre-War, while agricultural prices have fallen to the pre-War level and the cost of living has fallen 3 per cent., so that it is only 43 per cent. above pre-War. For the million of men employed through the land the levels of remuneration are showing a remarkable resistance, a resistance backed up by Statute, to the catastrophic decline in the values of their produce. It is also true that even the sign of better times is firming up the labour market in agricultural areas. Only one cut has been made since May and three committees have made increases. I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey will be delighted to know that one of those increases is in Anglesey, and the right bon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) will be glad to know that one is in Carnarvon.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I will call the hon. Gentleman to witness that there are two to one against his argument—a very powerful double, if I may say so. Agricultural wages are carried on agricultural prices. Let the House get that firmly into its mind. I am sure we all accept it, but we accept it by lip service and not in our hearts. Agricultural wages are carried on agricultural prices, and we cannot have an improvement in agricultural wages unless we get an improvement in agricultural prices. My hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey said that you can get that out of the middleman. That is a great assumption, but, if it be true, there is no better way of securing that than by the very organisation of the Marketing Boards to which she took exception. She complained bitterly that there was organisation and over-organisation going on in the agricultural industry, and then with a sweep of fancy she carried me on to demanding an organisation of a similar wide sweep of the whole of the retail trades of this country as well. Well, it may come to that, but do not let those who demand this and that amount of organisation protest in any way about organisation which has already been undertaken; for an organisation of the retail trade, or a Government control of it through every step which might be necessary to bring 479 about the reductions which the hon. Lady has in mind, would involve meticulous interference in every detail of the day-to-day life of the distributive trades which would altogether throw into the shade the very minor adjustments and interferences for which I, as a Minister, have been responsible.
Finally, I wish to deal with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley with reference to land drainage. He says there are 1,250,000 acres of land under-cultivated due to the danger of flooding. 'That is true, but there are also 1,250,000 acres of land under-cultivated for many other causes, such as under-manuring, under-development and under-labour. What does it all come back to'? To the question of the level of prices. What is the use of bringing into cultivation 1,250,000 acres of land if you cannot sell the produce of it remuneratively? It is a process which has no end to it. We must make prices remunerative. When we have done that we have done everything; until we have done that we have done nothing. There are ordinary humanitarian reasons which would make us very desirous of helping in particular with the very distressing floods to which my hon. Friend's constituency is peculiarly subject. Naturally, we have bent our efforts towards dealing with that situation, and we shall do so in the future, but it is difficult when a. large number of houses have been built on a piece of land labelled on the maps "spillway" to prevent the river from doing what it is asked to do in the maps, and spilling itself there whenever there is much water.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
The right hon. Gentleman may leave a very wrong impression. The local authorities were not in a position to prevent private builders from putting houses on that land. They are privately-owned houses. The right bon. Gentleman had better tell the full story. If the local authority have not power to determine where houses should be built and where not, it is the fault of some past Government, and not of the local authority.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I am not at the moment attempting to distribute blame, because we agree that there is a humanitarian duty to the unfortunate people there.
480 We cannot simply fold our hands and say, "Your house is built in a hollow, and therefore every time the river overflows its banks you must be flooded." We all agree that a mistake was made, a, national mistake, for which the nation must take a certain amount of responsibility; and, indeed the Government admits a certain degree, of responsibility, and is showing it in a practical way by offering a subvention towards carrying out relief work. All I say is that that particular emergency is an emergency due not entirely to the general situation but to active human folly in putting down houses on an area which was actually marked "spillway" on the maps.
I apologise for detaining the House on these points when the time is so short and I have not touched on so many other subjects which I should have liked to deal with in something more than a passing reference. There is the great increase in home production which is taking place just now, which is one of the preoccupations of the Ministry of Agriculture, and also of those who are engaged at the Board of Trade in watching the export and import trades of this country. The increase in home egg production, even since 1930, has been phenomenal. It was 54.7 per cent. of the total in 1930, 57.3 per cent. of the total in 1931, 65.1 per cent. of the total in 1932 and is 68.6 per cent. at the present day. If it goes on at that rate it will, in time, wipe out every egg from Denmark and from all the other countries that send us eggs—every egg from Russia, every egg from China, and even eggs coming from Australia and other British Dominions. The difficulties in front of the Ministry of Agriculture are not difficulties of expanding production. The difficulty, as my hon. Friend said, is that of planning the trade of this country. Let him not think that no thoughts whatever are being given to this matter in the Department of Agriculture and in other departments. If we were willing to wash our hands of the problem we could not get rid of it, because it knocks at our doors in the morning and comes home with us at night.
Planning of the trade of this country is forced on us by the necessities of the case. We shall have to come frequently to this House in the months and years immediately in front of us, to 481 ask for sanction for wide and sweeping changes in the economic structure, changes that are forced on us by the necessity of that economic planning which is one of the major necessities of the life of this and other countries of the world. Let us attack this problem as a united House, realising that agriculture is one of our great industries. It is more than that; it is a mode of life. It may lead to certain restrictions in our foreign trade, but for the great purpose which we have in view a restriction of our foreign trade will have to be faced. Let us also face up to the fact that it will lead to a remunerative level of prices, and that we cannot have it both ways. When I ask the House for changes which may mean a higher level of prices in this country, let us pull ourselves together and face up to the fact that without that higher level of prices there is no future for agriculture in this country.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Sir F. Thomson.]
§ Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.