§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ 11.11 p.m.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Hore-Belisha)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
The Bill has been so fully discussed that I doubt if the House would like me to explain its main objectives again. They are, of course, to retain for us our preeminent position upon the Atlantic, and for that purpose to secure that those companies which are in competition with one another should be united. These matters have been fully discussed, and I am sure the House is ready to give the Bill its Third Reading.
§ 11.12 p.m.
§ Sir STAFFORD CRIPPS
One does not wonder that the hon. Gentleman uses so few words, because it is so impossible to commend this Bill to the House. We do not believe that this is the way to relieve industry in this country. We believe that far more fundamental measures are necessary before you will be able to do that, but I presume that we must look upon this as such effort as can be made within the system under which we are living at the present time, unfortunately, and we believe it will be futile, except as a temporary expedient to employ a certain number of men upon the building of these ships. It is only because of that that we do not propose to vote against this Third Reading. The country is crippled by having a National Government as it has now, and even their very small and ineffective Measures must not be opposed too strenuously. I do not believe that any Government has ever asked the House of Commons to pass a Bill in this form before—a blank cheque to the Treasury for £9,500,000 upon an experimental service, as to which there has never been any test, and with no provision by which the House can recall its permission to proceed with further vessels if the first vessel, which is admittedly an 724 experiment, fails to win the blue riband about which the hon. Gentleman is so extremely anxious.
When one reads the operative part of Clause 1, Sub-section (1), one finds that the Government, presumably because, as we understood from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, they must abide by their agreement, have put themselves into the position of having absolutely no legal guarantees of any sort in an Act of Parliament as regards this money. There were, we thought, certain matters which could have properly been adopted in order to protect this generous Government in the loaning of this money. They might even have had someone to watch their interests, but they cannot do that because the Cunard Company would not like it and have not agreed to it. They might have put in a fair wages clause, but they cannot do that because the Cunard Company have not agreed to it, and it might upset the settling of the agreement with other parties.
Surely, if we are to go in for this sort of generosity, we may as well put on some kind of control in order that we may see that our generosity is not wholly misplaced. It strikes the ordinary individual as rather extraordinary that when we vote £9,500,000 for an experiment of this sort, we do it without any safeguards of any kind, but when we discuss questions like unemployment benefit and such like matters, we put in the most stringent safeguards of every conceivable kind to see that none of the money is in any way wasted or misspent. Although this is going to employ a certain number of persons, it is not going to do it in an economical way, or indeed in the best way for the country. Having said that, I do not want to detain the House to-night, but will simply reiterate that had it not been for the fact that this is one of the few suggestions that the National Government have been able to put forward to re-employ anybody, we should certainly have opposed it for its complete unsoundness in finance, and also because we believe that this is one of the most vicious ways in which capitalism wastes its resources. As there is the hope of this employment, while protesting against the Bill, we shall not vote against it.
§ 11.15 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I enter this Debate to restate my case against this Bill. I hope that the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), for whom I have a great personal regard for his ability and capacity, will not object if I offer a word or two of criticism of what he has said. I have a respect for his reasoning. I have recently read a pamphlet which he has written on the question of Socialism and I think it is one of the best things I have read for some time. I wish the same reasoning powers had been applied by him to this Bill. In effect, he says that the Bill is bad; its financial Clauses are bad, but, as it provides work, he would not vote against it. May I remind him of the fact that he divides against the Admiralty Vote. That Vote provides work, but he divides against it because it is for armaments. As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, it will not be long before this boat becomes an armament too. It will be a troopship; it will be a potential carrier of arms. It will be potentially as much a part of the Naval armaments as a Naval boat itself. The hon. and learned Gentleman will divide—quite rightly—against the beet-sugar Measure. Whatever may be said about the Navy, beet-sugar is not armaments. There is no more peaceful thing than beet-sugar. One may say that the wrong people got the money in that case, but at any rate it provided work. I think that I voted for the beet-sugar subsidy myself in the first instance because I thought it was experiment worth trying; and at any rate it provided work, if that is to be the test. But if we want to spend public money we can spend not merely £9,500,000 but £900,000,000 and find an excuse for it in the fact that it would be providing someone with work. For, indeed, it was an early argument of the Socialists that the millionaire provided work. It may be I am unjust in this observation, but I feel that had it not been for certain outside influences, and had the Labour movement voted on this subject on its ordinary everyday merits, they would have divided against this Bill to-night.
Is this the best way in which the nation can spend £9,500,000 at the present time? The Labour party must answer that question. If it is a question of providing work 726 I submit that there are a hundred better ways of spending that money. The other day we debated pit-head baths and the provision of decent social surroundings for the most harassed section of the community. It is estimated that £8,000,000 would provide every pit with a bath, a gymnasium and a canteen. Would it not have been better to spend that £8,000,000 now, this year, in providing the hygienic necessities for the mining community instead of taking 10 years over it? I regard the present request for £9,500,000 as a form of organised blackmail on the community. I represent a division near where this ship is being built, and I should be wrong and lacking in political knowledge if I said that the proposal under consideration is not popular in the West of Scotland—in some ways it is—but I have never done in this House the things that are popular and I am not going to start now. [Interruption.] I do not want to be led away from my subject by hon. Members. This thing may be popular, but I trust that we come here to do our duty and to face the consequences, and I will take them on.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
On questions of cleanliness I leave it to the hon. Member to judge. His reputation is so high that he can be safely left with that. I say that to my mind this proposal is organised blackmail. A ship is started and is half finished. While it is half finished every man sees a possible job of work there. It lies there, an advertisement, and undeniably a force, because men want to finish what they have started. When next the Company wish to blackmail the Government, let them start a ship, and leave it, and it will create a force with the public agitation behind it which will blackmail money out of the Government. That is what has been done in this case, in my view. Men have seen jobs, and they want jobs. Men are human and they have seen their work there.
727 This method of getting behind the Government is wrong and is one of the most vicious methods that I have ever seen. To-day we are providing money, although there are other means by which it could be provided. It is said that 10,000 men will be given work for 18 months; make it two years or three years. This £9,500,000 of public money could have been given to the unemployed. Every cut could have been restored to them in full. Their children's allowances could have been increased, and sums of money could have been spent upon boots, clothing and other human necessities which would have provided work. What are we doing? We are providing two ships and £9,500,000, some of which will go to the 10,000 workers. When those workers have built the ships, we shall give those ships as valuable assets to a rich company, free. Hon. Members say that we shall get the money back; but everybody in the city knows that it is not coming, and that there is not a cat's chance of it coming back. Hon. Members know as well as I do that there is very little chance of our receiving a penny back. In giving the money to the unemployed, we should be giving it to those who need it.
I heard the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) the other day speak with sentiment, and he was, I think, proud of it—about the welfare side of the mining industry. Other hon. Members thought that it was sob-stuff. When we speak like that about human beings, that is what it is called; but the Blue Riband brings sentiment galore. Hon. Members can pour it out wholesale, but such sentiment must not be used for the children because then it is sob-stuff. An hon. Member has said that we must make the "greyhound of the Atlantic" travel fast; that is sentiment. Do not let us be overawed by too much sentiment. Let us get down to the facts. Not only, in this case, do we provide two ships, but we also provide £1,500,000 for working capital in order to make sure that the ships run well. Then we shall say to the company: "There are two big ships for you; beautiful ships that are to capture the Atlantic trade—the cream of the traffic—and there is another £1,500,000 to run them". We are told that the men who run the company know all about it.
728 I would like to know from the Government—although other hon. Members speak for the Government I want the Government to speak for themselves, and particularly the President of the Board of Trade, who knows something about shipping—what there is really outstanding about the chairman of the Cunard Company? What is there outstanding about his knowledge of shipping? We see things on the Order Paper every day attacking poor people, and Noble Lords are not immune from criticism either. This chairman has no overwhelming, unchallengeable knowledge of the North Atlantic trade; he is comparatively speaking a newcomer in the business. Not only he, but others of his colleagues are not outstanding in their knowledge of this matter. But, in any case, this is making them a present of, first, two ships, and then £1,500,000 of public money.
It is said that this is to provide work. What is the basis on which it is to provide work? A merger company is to be formed, and part of the conditions is that two ships now running are to be replaced by one. Two ships, which now carry two captains, two sets of officers, and two crews, are to be replaced by one. What does that mean? It means that you must have fewer men for this ship which is to help to solve unemployment. I admit that it is a job for 10,000 men; call it 20,000 if you like. But it will mean in the years to come, not a job, but that you have given £9,500,000 which succeeds temporarily in giving jobs to 10,000 men, but permanently throws out an equally large number. Where is the solution of the unemployment problem there? I may be wrong; I may be unduly pessimistic in these matters; but I come back to the issue that has been raised time and again—if this is a good business proposition, calculated to do what it is said it will do, why is it not floated as any other business proposition would have been? If it has all this behind it, what a criticism it is of the rich. If the blue riband of the sea means anything such as they say it means, why is it that the rich in this country have not provided the money themselves? If this sentiment is so noble and so high, why has not the money market been resorted to for an enterprise so laudable? Why have they not taken the risk? Even if they lost, was the great nobility of the cause not greater than any loss? It is because even they, 729 though they may talk of sentiment, know that the business project behind it is not of sufficient value for them to venture their money in.
Yesterday we debated a fair wages Clause, the insertion of which in the Bill was refused. We were told that the firm who are building this ship, and those associated with them, are the finest shipbuilders in the world. As to that I am not qualified to judge, and I would not say that they were not the best. But while they may be capable shipbuilders, there are those in the industry whose wages are not at all creditable to those who employ them. Rather than be a party to these proposals I would pass out of public life altogether.
§ 11.36 p.m.
§ Mr. ALBERY
There has probably never been introduced into the House a Bill which has carried with it more unanimously the good wishes of the whole House. I do not suppose there is a single Member who does not wish to assist what the Bill desires to achieve. But I doubt if there has ever been introduced a Bill on which the House has been given so little assurance and so little information and been left in so great doubt whether it will in fact achieve that which we desire. There is one Member of the Government with a great knowledge of shipbuilding and all that concerns it. If he had thought fit to address the House on the subject, he would have carried the whole House with him. I think there would have been no opposition to the Bill if he had said that in his considered opinion it was not only desirable but would achieve the object it was intended to achieve. Unfortunately, we have been left to our own resources. We have had to make our own enquiries and, frankly, the result of those enquiries has not been encouraging. The only information given was by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in that the Cunard Co. believe in the scheme and believe it will be a success. It is a great company and has been a credit to the country and to the British flag, but one cannot disguise from oneself the fact that in this matter the Cunard Company is an interested party. When this goes through, as no doubt it will, I can only hope that it will achieve all that is intended, 730 but in the circumstances I do not care to share in the responsibility for passing the Bill.
§ 11.39 p.m.
§ Mr. DUNCAN GRAHAM
There are quite a number of interests in the House of Lords now affected by this Bill. As I have listened to Debates on other days I have, more or less, had a feeling that I should like to say something and I am going to say it now. I am not catering for popularity here or anywhere else. If the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Albery) or the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) represented constituencies similarly placed to Clydebank and Dumbarton, there would have been no opposition to the Bill from them. They are not any better than we are.
§ Mr. ALBERY
I do not see what right the hon. Member has to make that statement. If I do not come here to represent such a constituency as his, I have not at any time insinuated in any way that he was actuated, in any attitude that he might take up, by other than proper motives, and I do not think that he is entitled to make such an insinuation.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
Possibly not, but, if the hon. Member had been living for two or three years in a locality such as my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) represents, he would have had a very different case in regard to this matter. That does not mean that I am one of those who think that the Cunard Company are exceptionally fine employers. I do not know anything at all about them, and I am not going to say anything either to their credit or discredit. But I know something about that part of the country, and ray hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) knows about it too. He knows that there is no other part of Scotland which has been more badly hit by unemployment during the last two or three years than Dumbarton and Clydebank. The whole of the West of Scotland is badly affected, and has been for a number of years. My sympathy goes to the building of this ship, because it will give employment. That is the only reason why I am supporting 731 it. I support it because there are no other industries in Clydebank and Dumbarton.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
That is perfectly true, and there is the Calico Printing, in the Vale of Leven, but the industry of Clyde-bank and Dumbarton is shipbuilding. There have been some thousands of men idle there for the last few years, considerably more than 50,000. There is little or no chance of the men engaged in that particular industry in Clydebank and Dumbarton being able to find employment anywhere else in any other occupation, because unemployment in the other industries in the West of Scotland is as bad as in shipbuilding or engineering. The view that I take on this matter is that anyone who opposes an attempt to relieve the situation in Clydebank and Dumbarton really takes up the position of saying that these men should be permanently unemployed, that this particular locality should be marooned, and that it should be left entirely outside the ordinary civilisation of this country.
Apart from, and in addition to, that, I represent a mining constituency, and I am near an engineering and iron and steel constituency, and I hope that the building of this ship will be helpful. When the building of the second ship is considered—and I trust that both will come to the Clyde—I hope that those who are opposing this matter on this occasion and are cheering the opposition will not put forward claims for the Tees and the Wear, which are as equally affected by the shipbuilding difficulty as Clydebank. I look forward with hope to a considerable number of men being taken off the unemployment register not only in Clydebank and Dumbarton, but in Motherwell and Hamilton. But that does not mean that I agree with the policy pursued by the Government in handing over the control of the building of this ship to the Cunard Company. It does not mean that I have shed any belief that I held so far as Socialism is concerned. I am still a Socialist and shall continue so, no matter whether this ship is built by a private company or by the State. The thing that influences me is the necessity of getting men into work, and I plead with my hon. 732 Friends below the Gangway, who are equally anxious to see men drawing wages rather than unemployment benefit. The important thing is to get men off the unemployment register. Two or three years may elapse before these ships are built and a great many things may happen between now and then. There may be an entirely different Government in power. The benches may be occupied by different people, and an entirely different policy may be pursued. The problem before us is immediate—to get men off the unemployment register. That does not apply only to the County of Dumbarton, but it covers the whole of the West of Scotland. I am very pleased that the Labour party, as a whole, have agreed not to vote against the passing of the Bill and I sincerely hope that my hon. Friends below the Gangway, who sometimes profess to have a higher regard for the unemployed than other hon. Members—
§ Mr. GRAHAM
I was a Member of this House when the payment in respect of the child of an unemployed person was 1s. and I was a Member of the first Government that increased the payment by 100 per cent. from 1s. to 2s. It has remained at 2s. ever since. Some of my hon. Friends, for propaganda purposes and nothing else, submitted an Amendment that the allowance should be increased to 5s. a week. I did not vote for that.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
I shall have an opportunity on another occasion to deal with that matter. In any case I do not stand for men being paid unemployment benefit rather than wages. The course which the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) would appear to favour is that they should have more unemployment benefit and continue to be unemployed. I am not standing for that. The hon. Member is not merely a Socialist Member of Parliament but he claims to be chairman of a trade union.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
I wanted to draw attention to the fact that as chairman of a trade union the right hon. Member would not be particularly anxious that the members of his organisation should be idly drawing benefit from his trade union rather than getting work and paying their contributions.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
I hope the Bill will pass and that the result of its passage will be a very considerable increase in the number of men working in the West of Scotland.
§ 11.50 p.m.
§ Sir JOHN WARDLAW-MILNE
I will not detain the House for five minutes at the outside, and I shall probably take less. I certainly do not intend to take part in the Alice-in-Wonderland Tweedle-dum-and-Tweedledee battle which has been going on between the hon. Gentlemen on the benches below me. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down was doing less than justice to certain hon. Members of this House when he—indirectly at any rate—accused them of having no desire to see employment increase merely because they were doubtful about the propriety of this Bill becoming an Act of Parliament. I should not be doing justice to myself or to my duties in this House if I did not say that I was extraordinarily doubtful as to the decision to which the Government have come. I am certain that they have judged the matter very fully, and gone into it very carefully, and that, having come to the decision to which they have come, the way in which they are doing it is the only way in which the matter could be carried forward.
I would, however, point out that the House has had no information whatsoever as to the facts upon which the Government have come to this decision. My hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury said, in a statement which he has repeated more than once, that the Government had come to their 734 decision to maintain our supremacy on the Atlantic. That is, no doubt, a desirable thing to do, but, when it goes to the extent of this sum of money, I should have felt a great deal happier if the Government had told me that they were satisfied, as a result of careful enquiry, first, that there was a reasonable chance of their getting a large proportion of these advances repaid at some time or another; and, secondly, that they were fairly certain that there was a reasonable chance of these ships being successful. It is not possible for anybody, however long his connection with shipping may have been, to say that ship of this kind cannot pay. The same kind of thing was said, no doubt, when ships like the "Mauretania" were built many years ago.
At the same time, there is this to be considered. Great as those ships were in those days, the present ones are much greater. We are in the position to-day of building 75,000–ton ships. I speak subject to correction, but I think there are very few ports in the world into which those ships can go. They must travel on a certain line and nowhere else; there are practically no other ports available for them. It is the experience of most Governments in the world that subsidies to build ships result in subsidies to run those ships. Anxious as I am to see the Government extend in every possible way expenditure which will bring about real employment, I am bound to say that the House has not had much information upon which to satisfy itself that the Government have come to their decision on grounds which would appeal to any ordinary business committee as suitable for the advancement of such a large sum of money. While I cannot oppose the Bill, and anxious as I am to provide employment, and while no human being can possibly say that the thing will be a failure or that the money will not be repaid, at the same time the House is entitled to a little more information that it has received in the past about the grounds on which the Government are so sure that we are not encouraging a very large expenditure on a scheme which has very little chance of being a profitable venture.
§ 11.54 p.m.
§ Mr. DICKIE
Like my hon. Friend, I shall not detain the House for more than 735 a few minutes. I rise merely to make an appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary on two points which have emerged during the course of the Debate. Before making that appeal, I desire to dissociate myself entirely from the line taken by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham). I come from a shipbuilding area which is as badly distressed as the West of Scotland, but the last thing in the world I should ever think of doing is to appeal to the Government to build Cunarders merely for the purpose of giving employment. If there is any validity in the argument then the solution of our problem is to be found in the building of twelve of these ships and distribute them among various shipyards. It is Alice in Wonderland economics, with which I should never wish to be associated. I view with some misgivings the spending of this huge sum of money on the finishing of 534 and the provision of a second ship. I agree that when work was stopped on the building of 534 the Government found themselves in a difficult position having regard to the fact that our maritime prestige was at stake, and I think that they came to a wise decision. They had come to a wise decision in enabling the Company to make provision for a second ship. In a case of this kind one ship is of no use; two ships are essential to meet the requirements of the service. This is the point upon which I should like an assurance from the Financial Secretary. A few days ago he said that when the order for the building of the second Cunarder was placed, it would be on a purely commercial basis. That is the only basis upon which such an order ought to be placed, and I am not going to join in the scramble as to whether it should go to the Clyde, to Birkenhead, or to the Tyne. It is a purely commercial matter, but I want to put this point. We who represent shipbuilding areas in England and Scotland are gravely concerned at the amount of financial assistance which is being given to shipbuilding firms by the Government of Northern Ireland on condition that they place their orders in the Belfast shipyards. The House has been reminded that the amount of money is about £12,750,000.
§ Mr. DICKIE
I only desire to call attention to the fact that such a policy places English and Scottish yards at a great disadvantage. I rose principally to stress the point which has already been made by the hon. Member for Southampton (Sir C. Barrie). During these Debates we have heard a lot about British prestige on the seas, and I agree that it must be maintained in this particular class of travel, but I say emphatically that British maritime supremacy does not rest upon the luxury liner. It has been built up by the tramp steamer which has made this country the carriers of the world, the tramp steamer is the shuttle of the Empire's loom.
§ Mr. DICKIE
We are faced with subsidised shipping all over the world, and my point is that when such a large sum of money is being given away it is a case for consideration as to whether some assistance might not be given to this particular section of the shipping industry.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is an argument which might be put on a suitable occasion, but this is not an occasion to raise it.
§ 12 m.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
I only want to ask one specific question. The sort of speech to which we have just listened and the speech of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham) make some of us feel profoundly uneasy about this Bill. I am all for constructive expenditure of any kind, but £9,500,000 is a large sum, and this is a very speculative enterprise. I would support what the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) has said. We have not been told by the Government, in spite of repeated requests, what principle is causing them to take this particular action. That is the first thing which we have not been told. Secondly, we have not yet been told why they think these two particular ships are likely to prove a commercial and financial success. The Second Reading Debate was enough to cause anyone considerable apprehension. As has been pointed out, the one member of the Government to whom this House would listen with the greatest respect on the subject is the President of the Board of Trade. We have not had the benefit of his advice on this question.
737 The expert on shipping we listened to was the hon. Member for Southampton (Sir C. Barrie) whose speech simply consisted in saying: "This is a splendid start; we are starting with two Cunarders but it is only a beginning. We hope to go on and subsidise in the next few years the whole of British shipping". That is why some of us are to-day apprenhensive of the expenditure of this large sum. The enterprise admittedly is of a speculative character. If I may ask the Financial Secretary one question, it will be this. I think everyone is agreed, and it is confirmed by the hon. Member for Southampton, as an expert, that the success of this enterprise, if it is to be successful, will depend almost entirely upon the question of speed. We may ask, therefore, before we part with the Bill whether the Financial Secretary cannot give an assurance that this ship, or ships, if constructed, will at any rate be faster than any other ship of a similar character in the North Atlantic trade.
§ 12.3 a.m.
§ Mr. PALING
I want to offer an objection to the way this business has been conducted. When this Bill was brought before the House we were told that it was because agreement had reached a certain point. That has been proved untrue. Then there is the fact that the Bill went through the ordinary stages, and, when an amendment was set down, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, who were responsible for particular Amendments, did not oppose a single Amendment on its merits. In other words, the House had no opportunity of altering the Bill by any Amendment. When the Amendments were reached each representative simply said: "We have made an agreement and a bargain from which we cannot depart, and however good the Amendment may be, we cannot do anything here." The Chancellor must have known it would have to come before the House of Commons, and he took away its power to amend it in any shape whatever. He simply said: "I have made my agreement, and I will use my power as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and our enormous majority, in order to force it through the House of Commons without the alteration of a comma". We 738 cannot help it now, for the Government will force it through, but I hope it is not a precedent for the future, and that, if any agreements are to be made, the House will have the right to alter them if it thinks fit.
§ 12.5 a.m.
§ Mr. CHARLES WILLIAMS
I would like to thank the Government for two concessions which are of considerable importance. In the first place, they met us with an assurance yesterday that the Cunard Company would pay fair wages to the men engaged on this ship, and I think every Conservative Member of Parliament will congratulate the Government on having given that assurance. Although we know that the Cunard Company do pay fair wages, it is essential that we should secure as good wages for the men as are possible.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. I hope I shall not now be accused of any lack of gratitude for what we were given on that occasion. It seems clear that this is a subsidy of one of the worst types possible. You are taking an industry which is absolutely vital to this country, and you are hitting that industry very hard by heavy taxation, and then you are taking the taxpayers' money with which to subsidise that industry. I cannot see what is the good of going on drawing money out of an industry on the one hand and, on the other hand, putting it back by means of a subsidy. Many of us in this House realise the difficult position as far as this particular ship is concerned and have a genuine desire to see that the ship is built. We have full sympathy with the object aimed at, but surely it could have been achieved in some better way than by the mere granting of a subsidy. As an illustration, would it not have been possible to give the Company a very much larger remission of profits for Income Tax purposes than four per cent.? I give that as an illustration.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I will not follow that line any longer, but it is very difficult at this time of night to get up and say 739 anything against the policy of a Government that has a colossal majority. I realise that the difficulties are there, and I have never thought it was my job merely to say what I thought was in the interests of common popularity. If I had done that, it might have been easier for me, but I have no intention of doing so. I feel very deeply indeed about many of us having been asked to support and vote for a Bill of this kind. The principle of subsidy involved in the Bill is definitely against the policy which we were returned to this House to carry through. I may be blamed for the fact that on the Second Reading I was unable to vote in the same lobby as the Government, but at any rate I was in extraordinarily good company, with more than half the Cabinet, and I would like to explain the very difficult position in which I find myself in supporting a Bill like this. I would naturally like to work in as close co-operation with the Government as possible—that is what I am here for—but it is a little difficult when I find that practically no member of the Cabinet who is a Liberal has supported this Bill once, all the way through. I say quite honestly that I want to work with the whole of the members of the Cabinet as it is constructed to-day. But how can I go down into my Division and talk to Liberals, as I have to do, when the point that I am met with is that none of them supported the Government on this point? As my hon. Friend opposite said, the best shipping advice that can be obtained in this House should be given us on this occasion. I believe that subsidies are the wrong principle with which to meet the question of employing people, and I regret that the Government has taken this method of forcing the House of Commons, with very little explanation indeed. They have not even told us the speed of these ships, and that is not the best way in which the House of Commons is likely to be able to deal with the troubles of unemployment which we have still to face.
§ 12.12 a.m.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I only rise because of the speech of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham) and certain interjections by the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood). The 740 hon. Member for Hamilton made the suggestion that when any proposal was made from this quarter, it was done for propaganda purposes.
§ Mr. D. GRAHAM
No, I did not say that. I said that I had supported an increase of 1s. in the children's allowance and the hon. Member's friends had put down an Amendment to increase the allowance by 5s., for propaganda purposes.
§ Mr. MAXTON
The reason why I put that Amendment on the Order Paper was that I hoped to get 5s. for the children of the unemployed. I hope the hon. Member will give me credit for being as honest in my intentions in my Parliamentary work as is generally conceded to Members of Parliament. I cannot remember any occasion when any of us here accused the hon. Gentleman of doing anything but casting every vote for his own good reasons. The question of popularity would always be one of very secondary importance to him, as it is to me, but he must allow to my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) and to me the credit of genuine and serious reasons for opposing a Vote in this House which we know better even than he would at the outset be a popular thing to give. It would be a popular thing on the Clyde to-day to support the expenditure of £9,500,000 for the building of a Cunarder, but if I have any political vision at all, I want to say to my hon. Friends the Members for Dumbarton Burghs and Hamilton that I do not think this will be a popular thing a few months hence. I want to say to the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs—and I am sure he will take it as friendly on my part—that I do not believe that the proposal for the building of this ship on Clydebank will meet with universal approval in the other part of his constituency.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Let me just tell the hon. Member that he makes a mistake. It has the entire approval of Dumbarton as well as Clydebank.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I was not in Dumbarton, but I was in Clydebank, and I found a minority of citizens who were not particularly enthusiastic.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
That is sometimes the case. Certain people went down there and opened a new branch, and found that that was quite true.
§ Mr. MAXTON
The hon. Member must not assume that when the party to which we belong takes the proper steps to further its political philosophy, that that action is directed against him in his Division. He must realise that it is the duty of every political party to further its own point of view as actively as it can. He took it as being an affront to himself, but he must not take it as being anything of a personal nature, any more than we took it as a personal affront when he left us and associated himself with hon. Members there.
§ Mr. MAXTON
That is not a very patriotic thing to say. We are discussing the question of £9,500,000.
§ Lieut.-Colonel ACLAND-TROYTE
The hon. Member is discussing a personal matter with the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood).
§ Mr. MAXTON
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will cast his mind back, and if he was following the earlier part of my argument—assuming that he has not just awakened in the last minute—he will recollect that I was making certain references to public opinion in the Clyde area. It is a popular thing now to build a Cunarder; I venture to suggest that in 12 months from now, when the work is done and when the ephemeral satisfaction with a few people being in work has finished, the West of Scotland will not think that anything has been done for the permanent restoration of the shipbuilding industry, nor for the permanent advantage of the shipping industry which is so important to the West of Scotland. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury quoted a speech from me with considerable effect the other evening, during the Second Heading Debate. I had not treasured the speech in the same way as he seemed to have done. I went and refreshed my memory about it and I found that what he had quoted was not the speech which I had made, but a very much better speech than I had made, compiled by choosing the most suitable 742 extracts from different parts of that speech. If he will refresh his mind again, he will find that what I said was that the stoppage of work on that ship was a very serious blow to the shipping prestige of this country; and that I pointed out, further, that this ship was started, when a Labour Government was in office, by private enterprise, at a time when there was supposed to be a financial panic in the country, and when nobody trusted the future of the country because there was a Labour Government in office. The Company were prepared to take the risks on its own shoulders—all the risks of building and of sailing—at that time. When a National Government is in power, which is supposed to put private enterprise on its feet, the whole thing had to stop.
The enterprise was a sound capitalist proposition in the early part of 1931, when a Labour Government was in power, when we were rushing headlong to disaster, according to the prophets, when nobody in the business world had any confidence in the future; but when the Government of safety came in it had to be stopped. The furthest that ever I went in support of this scheme was to make a suggestion that the Government should in some way secure that this company should be able to raise cheap money for itself in the market. My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton and I have spoken on the same platform on many occasions, and we know each others political philosophy very well. Did he ever dream, in his wildest moments, that he would ever put it down as one of his political principles that public money should be given to private capitalism for private capitalism's purposes without check or control? And yet he sits there to-night as a Socialist.
§ Mr. MAXTON
In these days, when we have Socialists sitting in the National Government, we must not be too saucy or pernickety about the definition of Socialism, but in my earlier, more simple, days it was a definite tenet: Never give public money to private enterprise without Government control. I have attended most conferences of the Labour party until recently, and I do not know of the 743 one at which that doctrine was given up. The important thing for Government supporters to note is that this marks a departure from a principle, a big general principle, that was to govern the whole of the operations of the National Government. The most responsible Ministers have told us repeatedly that the policy of stimulating employment by pouring out public money on work schemes had been proved up to the hilt to be an impossible, a futile policy, that the amount spent per man employed was far out of proportion to the value gained. I do not say that they were right when they took that stand against public works, I do not say that if they discovered the error of that point of view they were not right to depart from it, but I say that if they wanted to depart from it they should have done it in some sort of a planned way. They should not say "We will chuck £9,500,000 here and £9,500,000 there and £9,500,000 somewhere else." If they are reversing the policy they worked on, and are starting on a policy of stimulating industry by public subsidy, let us have the plan. I think we could have got much more for £9,500,000 than we are getting here. The hon. Member for Southampton (Sir J. Barrie) is not here to-night, but I do believe that £9,500,000 spent in giving small grants could have provided a tremendous stimulus for the smaller branches of shipping. Instead of giving the money to one company they could have done for shipping what it is proposed to do for housing—they could have reconditioned ships.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is a topic on which the hon. Member must not embark on the Third reading of this Bill.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I say that to spend the whole of this sum on two ships, a proceeding which adds nothing really permanent to the equipment of our merchant shipping, seems to be the poorest way of spending public money. My Friends and I oppose this Bill not because we do not want people to get work but because, if money is to be spent to stimulate, it ought to be spent in such a way as to produce the greatest stimulus over the widest area and with the most permanent good for the biggest section of the community. Those are 744 sound principles. I agree with other hon. Members who have said that the brains of the Government as a whole were never applied to this proposition. I cannot believe that this scheme was ever looked at in the right way. They are a Government made up of men of experience from all political parties and of varying political philosophies and if they had applied their minds to the question of what is the best thing to do for shipbuilding, shipping or general employment I believe they could have produced a much more intelligent, more useful and more fruitful scheme than is represented by the Measure we are discussing.
§ 12.28 a.m.
§ Mr. BRACKEN
I have no intention of making a long speech to-night, but as we are to vote £9,500,000 of public money I feel it desirable that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury should produce to the House the figures of the estimated earnings of the ships, which must have been supplied to him and were, I presume, checked by the President of the Board of Trade who is responsible for the shipping industry to this House. It is important for the House to know what are the estimated earnings of these ships, and also whether the Board of Trade did check the figures of the Cunard Line's estimate. As the President of the Board of Trade is responsible for the shipping industry to this House, we ought to hear from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury or from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade whether these figures have been carefully cheeked. Their is another point about which we would like information. We are told that the main reason for building these ships is because they will maintain a greater speed than any other vessels on the Atlantic. That may be the case, but I would like to know whether the Financial Secretary has taken the trouble to consult with the Commercial Counsellor at Berlin regarding the earnings of the "Bremen" and the "Europa." I have been making inquiries to-day, and I regret to say that the profits of these ships are nil as far as I have been able to discover. They can only cross the Atlantic because they are heavily subsidised by the German Government.
745 We are being told that if we vote this money we shall have the speediest vessels on the Atlantic, but what we really want to know is whether these ships are going to pay. At present Germany has the two speediest ships on the Atlantic, and they do not pay. Italy also has two fast ships running between New York and Southampton. Neither of these ships pays without a large subsidy from the Italian Government. I hope that the Financial Secretary will be able to assure the House that he has made inquiries regarding the earnings of these foreign vessels which are so much faster than our own.
Everyone in the House ought to protest most strongly that the President of the Board of Trade, who is responsible to us for the shipping of this country, or his Parliamentary Secretary, did not condescend to take part in this Debate. I think I might be able to supply a reason. He knows a great deal about the Shipping industry. He has had to clear up one of the worst messes ever made by bad finance in shipping, and perhaps he thinks that in the future he may be called in to clear up a similar mess created by his colleagues in the present administration.
I must say that I am surprised at the Government. I am not one of their most vehement critics. But I have always been unconvinced by, but interested in the arguments they have put forward against spending public money. As far as I can discover, they will only spend money on things like this Cunard Line subsidy, which is a gamble or a wanton speculation in shipping, or on things like the Codex, which gives so much pleasure to the present Chancellor. I want to protest against what has happened to-night. I think that the Socialist party are right in not opposing this Measure. They have had given to them the best piece of propaganda since this Parliament assembled. This is one of the most scandalous instances I have observed of improvident State Socialism. I hope the Lord President of the Council and other right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench will not in future tell us that the Socialist policy of doling out public money on all sorts of gambles is wrong in principle. They have proved to us to-night that it is the real policy of the Conservative party.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA rose—746
§ Mr. C. WILLIAMS
On a point of Order. Can the hon. Gentleman speak without the consent of the House?
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
I was about to ask for that consent. Should the House refrain from giving it to me. I shall resume my seat. If the House desires me to reply—
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
On the point of Order. Has the House no protection or no means of getting the President of the Board of Trade here except by doing a thing that I am loth to do, that is, objecting to a Minister against whom I have no personal feeling?
§ 12.35 a.m.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
I am sure that the hon. Member would recognise that no Measure would be defended from this Box unless it were supported by the concurrence of the Cabinet as a whole. Whatever is said is said with the concurrence of the whole Government. This happens to be a Treasury matter, because it involves the expenditure of public money, and my hon. Friend must assume that it represents the united policy of the Government. The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) reproached me with having made some extracts from a speech of his which were not consecutive. I ask the hon. Gentleman to believe that I should be very loth to allow myself to fall into such a breach of etiquette. I quoted the hon. Gentleman in a consecutive passage, which I venture once again to read to the House. I only do so because it will, perhaps, satisfy my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne), who wanted in concise form a declaration of the Government's policy.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
Yes. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will await the extract. These are the words the hon. Member for Bridgeton used: 747To us, the greatest maritime nation of the world, the greatest shipbuilding nation of the world, the fact that we should stop operations in such a way on this mammoth liner, which has attracted the eyes of shipping people throughout the world, will be a deadly blow which will have much wider repercussions.I do not know what part of that the hon. Member desires to retract. It seems to me an admirable and a patriotic exposition of the policy of a great maritime nation. You have ruled, Mr. Speaker, several times during this discussion, that the Third Reading of a Bill is very much restricted. I beg my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster to recollect that the reasons for this policy have been expounded in the greatest detail. [Hon. Members: "Never."] Memories are short, and perhaps I may be pardoned for reminding the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) that far from it having been the case that no statement has been made about the capacity of this ship, on Second Reading I began my speech in this way:In December, 1930, the Cunard Company, in pursuance of a considered policy designed to maintain their outstanding position on the Atlantic, decided to lay down a ship which in size and speed was unlikely to be excelled by any other in existence or in contemplation. It was to be of 75,000 tons gross, the largest ship afloat, and of such a speed as to maintain a programme of fortnightly sailings across the ocean during the year, which no other service can at present provide."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th March, 1934; col. 1823, Vol. 286.]That, I think, is a complete answer to my hon. Friend. What the earnings of this ship will be I cannot take the risk of prophesying, and I therefore cannot answer the hon. Member for North Paddington (MR. Bracken). It may be that our hopes will be disappointed. We have, however, decided to take the risk, and we are encouraged in taking that risk by the positive knowledge, which should meet with 748 the approval of any inflationist like the hon. Member for East Aberdeen that we shall put at work several thousands of people, upon a ship which, otherwise, having already had £2,000,000 worth of work spent on it, would go to rack and ruin. There will be, as the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) well knows—the hull being in his own constituency—positive advantages to many thousands of unemployed men, and even if we should be wrong, and even if we should fail to retain our proud position on the Atlantic, there will be some people who will be grateful to His Majesty's Government for undertaking a policy which at one time was unanimously urged on us.
§ Sir J. WARDLAW-MILNE
Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, may I ask whether he claims that the statement he has made is an answer to the very simple and quite courteous question that I put to him? I said that he had given me no estimate as what the result of running the ships was likely to be. He has answered that by saying that at the beginning of his speech on the Second Reading he gave long details, but that was no answer.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third Time, and passed.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ It being after Half-past Eleven of the Clock upon Thursday evening, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
§ Adjourned at Seventeen Minutes before One o'Clock.