§ 3.13 p.m.
§ Mr. NOEL LINDSAY (in Court dress)
I beg to move,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.I am deeply sensible of the honour which is to-day done to me and, through me, to the great city of Bristol, part of which I have the honour to represent, a city which has in the past contributed very largely, not only to the Debates of this House, but to the councils of the nation. One has only to mention such names as that of one of the greatest men who ever sat in this House, Edmund Burke, and more recent names familiar to many Members still in the House, names of men like Michael Hicks-Beach, and George Gibbs and the last Conservative Member who preceded me in my constituency, that very much loved man, Walter Long. Any modest man who finds himself in this position must naturally ask, "What is the principle of selection?" I have come to the conclusion that I owe the honour very largely to my names. I have three names, none of which is wholly my own. The first, I share with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland; the second, which was my grandmother's, with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Montrose (Lieut.-Colonel Kerr), who is to follow me, and the third with my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. K. Lindsay), who, last year, acquitted himself so nobly on a similar occasion. It seems to me that there is just a suspicion of clannishness about all this, and, if I may adapt a Parliamentary formula, I would, while thanking the Prime Minister for the honour which he has done me, give him notice that he must not let his enthusiasm for Scotland run away with him. I think perhaps he may be forgiven on this particular occasion, for, after all, I am one of those renegade Scots of whom Dr. Johnson said:The finest prospect a Scotsman ever sees is the high road that leads to England.10 All those who have listened to the Gracious Speech from the Throne must have been deeply impressed with the range and extent of the subjects which are dealt with therein. There can be few men put in my place who have had such a tempting variety of subjects spread out before them. The whole House, and indeed, the whole nation, shares in the "anxious concern" expressed in the Gracious Speech for the maintenance of world peace. It is obviously more fitting that that subject should be dealt with by my hon. and gallant Friend who is to follow me, who bears such a distinguished military record, than by one who spent the years of the war, if not in the cradle, at any rate in the schoolroom.
We Are to-day awaiting with the deepest of interest the report of the Joint Select Committee on Indian Constitutional Reform, the culminating point of seven years of earnest and anxious labour. There must be many Members of the House who find themselves in my own position, who are themselves without personal knowledge of Indian affairs and who must seek guidance first from those to whom we are accustomed to look for political leadership, but above all perhaps from the fundamental principles of Imperial responsibility. Such Members might do very much worse than spend a few hours in re-reading those great repositories of political wisdom, the speeches and writings of Edmund Burke upon American affairs. I would only venture to remind the House of one passage, written as long ago as 1769:We have a great Empire to rule, composed of a vast mass of heterogeneous Governments, all more or less free and popular in their forms, all to be kept in peace and kept out of conspiracy with one another, all to be held in subordination to this country; while the spirit of an extensive and intricate and trading interest pervades the whole, always qualifying and often controlling every general idea of constitution and government. It is a great and difficult object, and I wish we may possess wisdom and temper enough to manage it as we ought.It is in the spirit of those great words, written more than a century ago, that this House will in the near future approach its very responsible task.
A Government which was faced with the stupendous task of re-writing a consitution for a continent might very well have shrunk from adding to its labours. 11 That is not the case. We find in the Most Gracious Speech from the Throne an extensive programme of domestic legislation which, in the less strenuous days of the 19th century, might have provided material, not for one Session, but for many Sessions. As one who himself took a humble part in the deliberations of Lord Moyne's Committee, I particularly welcome the promise of legislation to deal with overcrowding, a most vital aspect of the problem of housing. Any hon. Member who sits for an industrial constituency must long ago have realised that there is no greater single benefit which can be conferred on the people of this country than an ample supply of cheap housing and the ending of those deplorable conditions of overcrowding in which far too many of our industrial population are to-day living. We in this House are most of us fortunate enough to know from our own lives the value of happy and comfortable homes, and it is our clear duty to do what we Can to spread among others those benefits which we ourselves have known and valued.
I welcome also the promise to deal with the evils of ribbon development, a promise which is qualified, it is true, by the expression, "If time permits." I am sure the Prime Minister will take it from me when I say that the House will not grudge time for this object, if by the expenditure of a little time we can save even a few lives or preserve even a few of the rapidly vanishing beauties of the country. Indeed, throughout the whole of the Most Gracious Speech from the Throne the question of time is most important. It is obvious that we are embarking upon what will be a long and arduous Session. We shall not stint either our time or our labour if, at the end of that time and labour, we can sincerely say that we have, in the words of the Gracious Speech, promoted "the happiness and well-being" of those people who are committed to our charge, whether in this country or in the Empire.
We have recently heard, and notably from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, some talk of the co-operation of the different generations in the work of government. I see my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) sitting upon the Front Bench 12 below the Gangway. He has recently described himself as an old man and has told us that he is within a few days of his sixtieth birthday. If he may properly be described as an old man, I am sure that, after listening to him last week, the House will have appreciated and understood the old country proverb which says, "The older the fiddle, the sweeter the tune." If I may digress for one moment, the musical metaphor seems to be particularly appropriate to the right hon. Gentleman. Last week we had what was obviously a prelude, this week I am afraid we may have a lament, and I certainly hope it will be a long time before we have a swan song. The right hon. Gentleman is a consumunate virtuoso. I think perhaps, if I may carry the musical metaphor one stage further, he is happiest in that elementary musical exercise, "theme with variations."
I apologise for the digression, but I mention the right hon. Gentleman only because I am about to follow his example and make a personal disclosure to the House. In a matter of some five weeks I shall celebrate, not my sixtieth, but my thirtieth birthday, and I feel that the honour which is done to me to-day is perhaps not so much a personal honour as an honour to the whole of the younger Members of this House. I speak with some diffidence, but, if I may venture to attempt to interpret the views of the younger Members, I think that, where-ever we may sit, we would say that we are all of us firmly determined to proceed with the work of reconstruction, without interruption either by external, warfare or internal conflict. We claim, of course, no monopoly for that point of view, and I only mention it, because I can only speak for the younger men and perhaps because some of the younger Members are sometimes more closely in touch with the great post-War electorates.
In every constituency up and down this country there are vast masses of people who own no fixed political allegiance, but who are stirred and moved by two fundamental human motives. The first is the desire for security. They want to know that, if they build a house, they will be allowed to inhabit it in the years to come. They want to know that, if they plant a garden, their children will enjoy its fruits. Above all, they want to know that they can plan their lives without a 13 constant dread of the terrible interruption of war. But there is a second motive. Security alone is not enough. I know that my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council is a great admirer of the writings of the late Mr. F. S. Oliver, and I would venture to remind the House of one passage in those writings. The late Mr. Oliver, in his book on "Walpole," states;Danger is the inseparable companion of honour. The greatest deeds in history were not done by people who thought of safety first. It is possible to he too much concerned with one's own salvation.The Lord President has recently reminded us, in a very striking speech in Bristol, that "the improvement of the conditions of the people" is a fundamental branch of Tory doctrine. If I do not transgress beyond the limits of controversy permissible on this occasion, I would venture to say that we on this side do not believe you can achieve that by any rigid control of the life of the people by the Executive of the day, but, on the other hand, there is a growing realisation of the need for a greater measure of forethought and of conscious control of economic forces. We in the urban areas have watched with very great interest the beginnings of such forethought and control in agriculture. The Gracious Speech reminds us that that control is to continue and that special consideration is to be given to the needs of the distressed areas. Every Member in the House will welcome the special care which is to be given to those sorely afflicted districts. But you cannot localise economics, and what you have already done for the field you may one day have to do for the factory; what you are doing to-day for Jarrow and Merthyr Tydvil, you may one day have to do for Bristol and Montrose.
The Gracious Speech from the Throne is the measure of our task to-day. Peace and war, India, industry and agriculture, the conditions of the people—all these things have to be handled in such a way as to combine order with progress, security with a reasonable hope for the future. A revolutionary, either in a red shirt or a black, need have no care for the life of the people or for the historic continuity of English constitutions. Our task is a harder one and much more worthy of accomplishment. It is our task to reform without oppression, to reconstruct without demolishing, to re- 14 build without destroying. It is because I, for one, believe that the Gracious Speech from the Throne shows that His Majesty's Ministers are accomplishing that task, not only with vigour but also with vision and imagination, that I now move.
§ 3.28 p.m.
Lieut.-Colonel CHARLES KERR (in the uniform of the Royal Company of Archers, King's Body Guard of Scotland)
I beg to second the Motion.
I wish immediately to say how much I congratulate my hon. Friend who has just sat down. I think we all expected a brilliant speech from him, and we have got it. He has made it a little difficult for just a simple archer, without his bow and arrow, to try to rise to his height of eloquence, but I will do my best. I find that this is the first time that a Member for Montrose Burghs has had the great honour of seconding this Motion. My constituents and I are greatly privileged, and when I think that in 100 years only 200 Members are so selected, I feel much perturbed at the importance of the occasion. I crave the indulgence of the House for any shortcomings on my part.
The reference in the Gracious Speech to international trade is of the utmost importance, and it is a matter of great satisfaction to know that in the last year trade within the Empire and with foreign countries has increased. I feel that this is greatly due to the care which the Government have taken in arranging as far as possible for the stability of sterling. It is also a matter of great satisfaction to feel that something is to be done to help the shipping industry and, in particular, the tramp shipping, and the herring industry. I hope that some consideration will be given to the smaller fishing vessels. If we take our minds back to wartime and remember those gallant civilian sailors and fishermen who did such magnificent work throughout the War under really terribly trying conditions, I feel that the whole House will agree with me when I say that there is no section of our community which deserves better of us than they do.
I come to what is, I think, the greatest tragedy of our time, which must command our complete sympathy and help. I speak of the distressed areas. I have read the report and can speak from per- 15 sonal knowledge, for after all each town has its own little part of distress and some of the small places are just as bad as the big places. I feel that there is no sacrifice that any of us here would not be willing to make to alleviate those conditions. It is terribly difficult to know how to do it. A false step may make things worse, but if, as a result of what is going to take place, a scheme that shows promise be arrived at, I feel that money should not stand in the way. The proposals outlined by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I think, have within them great potentialities and great chances of success. I feel that when we know a little more about it than we do now the whole House will be at one in favour of any scheme that is put before it. It is evident that we are going to have a very strenuous time, but I would like to refer to the past year. The result of the Government's policy has been very satisfactory. There must be few people in this country to-day who are not better off and have not felt that there is coming to them something that was not coming last year.
I propose to go back to the first paragraph in the Gracious Speech. In all our hearts there is a great longing to help, not only here but in the world. Britain is looked upon in the Empire as the mother country. I am not without hope that some day we shall have to refer to the League of Nations as the mother of the world. That is an aim for which, I think, we all ought to try. The word of a nation which is completely unanimous must carry great weight in these difficult times. I am distressed to hear all this talk of war. Surely an emotional fear of war is not going to help. We can only help by careful, continuous work carried on in the right spirit. The nations outside the League of Nations make it very difficult, and I am hoping that in the near future the nations outside will again be in the councils of the League. No nation has tried more than we have by example, by good will, by offering to cancel debts—in fact, we have done that—and by willingness at all times to enter into discussions on fiscal and currency questions.
There has grown up of late an acute nationalism among nations. This is dangerous. Armaments come, as far as 16 I can see, from two causes—the cause of fear and the cause of aggression. I do not think there is a nation in the world that does not know for certain that we are only out for defence and for the provision of protection for our home and liberty. When I try to read between the lines of the Gracious Speech I find there a splendid spirit of good will and kindliness, not only to our own people but to the other nations. I feel that if only that spirit could be spread throughout the world no difficulties would be insurmountable. I do not think I can conclude better than by quoting those wonderfully brave words of a very gallant lady as she walked out to meet her death. The words were these:Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I should like very whole-heartedly to congratulate both the Mover and the Seconder on their speeches. If the Seconder will allow me, I should like specially to congratulate the Mover, because he is a young man, and it is a treat in these days to be able to say that the House of Commons is still producing the kind of men of whom we read who lived here in the past and made their names by great speeches on great occasions. I am probably one of the oldest men here, and I much appreciate what the hon. Member said about the younger Members of the House. I think that the younger men who are in the House, and, if I may say so, the younger women too—[An HON. MEMBER: "They are all young."] They must settle that themselves. I have always felt during the three years of this Parliament that the young men had a great opportunity and a great mission to fulfil. As everyone knows, I have never recognised the Government as a National Government. I take the line that we on this side represent nearly one-third of the electorate. All the same, I have had a hope—perhaps a very vague hope—at the back of my mind that the younger people who came in at what was considered a crisis would have gone just a bit deeper than their forebears did into the reasons why poverty exists in the modern world. I would like the hon. Member who moved the Motion to remember that there is nobody who wants a society rigidly controlled, but that everybody wants security, not only from 17 war abroad, but from day by day war at home. Modern life for the masses to-day is insecure. It is no use allowing ourselves to be fobbed off on that question, and, therefore, in the weary hours that are often spent in this place waiting for Divisions, I would like to see the younger Members opposite and whatever younger Members there are among us meet together, in company with my hon. Friends below the Gangway on this side, to consider whether it is not possible for their side to convert us or us to convert them. Because we are up against the greatest human problem the world has ever known. We may skate round it, and talk of all kinds of remedies, but the root remedy has not yet been discovered or applied by anybody. About that there can be no doubt whatever.
I notice that the Mover and the Seconder of the Address spoke of the variety of subjects dealt with in the Gracious Speech, but neither of them pointed to what, though it has become rather usual in these days, is an entirely new departure in the legislative efforts of this House. We are now continually discussing how to help particular trades, from herring fishing to iron and steel and from coal to potatoes. We have left far behind the old doctrine, which used to be declared in this House, that the business of the State was to leave industry alone, to leave the great capitalists and captains of industry to carry on their business without any interference from the State. Now, like a set of workmen starving from unemployment, employers come cap in hand for a subsidy here and a subsidy there to enable them to stand at all on their feet. I think the House, and especially the younger Members, ought to try to face up to the problem of why it is that British industry cannot carry on without State aid, why it is that the tramp steamers are now to be subsidised with either a large or a small sum, why it is that the herring fishery has got into the plight it has. It has nothing to do with any villianous efforts on the part of Socialists or Communists, hut, in our view, it arises from the very simple fact that human society has developed so far in scientific discovery and in methods for the production of goods that production has tremendously outstripped consumption. We have learned how to produce, but we have not yet learned how to dis- 18 tribute, and until that problem is settled all the proposals to which the two hon. Members have called attention are, in our judgment, just beating the air. We shall, of course, on another occasion, deal with this question at greater length.
I want to say this, however, in regard to the proposals set out, so far as we understand them, that very little, as a matter of fact nothing, is said about general unemployment. One would imagine that unemployment affected only the North-east Coast, hut, as everyone knows, it is scattered all through the country, and it is also well known that even the great increase in the number of people employed is no guarantee at all that we are on the high road to recovery. One of the reasons I say that is that the industries in which more people are engaged are the new light industries which take on children and women. One of the commissioners in the depressed areas dealt with the question of the large number of women employed now, and made a suggestion, which I am glad to know the Government did not take into account, that there ought to be some restriction on their employment. My point is that women and young people are employed there because they are more adaptable to the machinery and the particular industries that are being set going, and nothing which has been proposed here deals with that problem.
The same is true of another proposition, namely, that we should consider whether employers and employed can come together—first discussing it separately and later together—to see whether it is not possible to shorten hours without reduction of wages, and, if that fails, whether we cannot have reduction of hours, reduction of wages and reduction of profits. I understand that is what the Government are going to discuss. But I would point out that if we were to reduce hours and reduce wages we should only have spread out the shortage, we should not have increased consumption, which is the fundamental thing to be done. The mere spreading of the area of shortage does not, in my view, help the situation one bit, except, I grant, that the men concerned would not feel life quite so hopeless if they had something to do; but no country can really live and prosper along these lines.
I do not propose to speak very long, but I want to say a word or two about 19 India. We have stated our view in the House many times. In our opinion no settlement in India can be permanent which is not accepted by whatever there is that is vocal in India to express the view of India. I take no stock of those who say, "Those are only a lot of politicians." There are people in England who say that about us, and think we are a pretty bad lot, anyhow, but I have never taken the view that a politician was any worse than any other scoundrel in the world—the sort of nonsense that because I come here I have suddenly got a treble dose of original sin does not affect me in the least. I heard all that nonsense when the Irish question was discussed. We have to deal with a country where there is great unrest, and in trying to settle that unrest we must give heed to those who are able to speak for the people there, and in our view no settlement of the Indian problem can be satisfactory which is not acceptable to the people of India, that is, those people who are vocal in India. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Yes, certainly. If you like to take a plebiscite of the whole of the people, well and good, I will agree to it; but we know perfectly well that it cannot be done.
It is said there are going to be prolonged discussions, and I am looking forward—with glee I was going to say—to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) and his friends once more "pasting" the Government very thoroughly. Whether they get a big following in the Lobby or not I do not mind, so long as they have their merry-go-round. It will be quite enjoyable. I always like to hear the right hon. Gentleman speak, and like it better when he is punching the other fellows instead of our side. We owe him a deep debt of gratitude for the description of his hon. and right hon. Friends that he gave us a day or two ago, and I am looking forward to enjoying some more of it. But he must not expect us to help him.
We shall enjoy what he says, but we shall not vote for any die-hards or livehards or any people of that sort, because we shall fight this Bill by putting down our statement of our case—if we have one against it—[Laughter]. Certainly, if we have a case against the Bill we 20 shall put it down and discuss it, as it is our business to do, and we shall certainly try to amend the Bill in whatever direction we think best, but we shall not take any hand in trying to assist anyone in injuring even the smallest step forward in India along the road to self-government. I am glad to hear the right hon. Member for Epping cheer that. As an old Parliamentarian I should have thought it would be quite natural for him so to do, because the question of India is one that transcends everything else in the life of our nation and in the life of the British Commonwealth of Nations. If this country is able to put the people of India not merely on the road to self-government but to give them real self-government it will be the biggest achievement of any Imperial Power that the world has ever known, because we shall be handing back to a nation something which we ourselves cherish, and which we hope will enable them to live a fuller and a better life.
We only regret that during all these months and years of discussion the economic condition of India should be left as it is. While we talk here of our poverty and our distressed areas let us never forget that in that great continent there are millions of people who just live from hand to mouth from one year's end to the other, that disease and famine are the lot of millions of people, and that at the moment precious little is being done for them. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] In our view, the question is of the greatest importance and overides everything else.
I want to say one or two words about war and peace. I would like the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, if he will and if he is able, to tell us what is the present position of the naval discussions. I know that he may say that it is impossible to make a statement at the moment, and we shall have to be content with that, but in spite of what the hon. and gallant Member for Montrose (Lieut.-Colonel Kerr) said about this talk of war I think all of us must be realists about it. The world is re-arming, whether we like it or not. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has told us that we have to spend more money on armaments this year. I think that is a very terrible thing. We must discuss these things. Who wants to talk about war? I would rather talk about peace, and I am sure the hon. and gallant Member would, 21 but the conditions of the world are as they are, and I myself feel that whether we like it or not, we are in exactly the same position as when either Sir Edward Grey or Lord Rosebery, at a very similar time to this, said Europe was rattling to barbarism. We escaped only very narrowly at the end of the last War. Every hon. Member believes that whether the next war be in the Pacific or in Europe it will be the end of civilisation.
People are talking about pacts and about coming together against one great nation, but you have already rolled that nation in the dust; you have already crushed her as no other modern Power has ever been crushed, and yet we are standing fearful and alarmed at what she might do. Is it not time that the world of men and statesmen tried to discover some better way? I am not apportioning blame. We are to blame; all nations are to blame. The treaties, and the hatred that was engendered during and at the end of the War are very largely responsible for the position in which we find ourselves. I would like to ask the Prime Minister, is it not possible even now to evolve a scheme whereby instead of Germany and France arming against one another and ourselves arming against I do not know whom, we might once more make an appeal to the statesmen of the world to come together and, like common sense men, find a way out of this inferno? The greatest soldiers among us would say that war is hateful, brutal and bestial, and that they only engage in it because they are obliged to do so for what they consider the best interests of their country. Is it not time that some of us went out into the world, on the lines of the concluding words of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, and cried from the housetops that patriotism and national interests are not enough, and that the only thing that is worth while is to build a new civilisation on the foundations of peace, brought about by comradeship, co-operation and love?
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald)
Ever since I came into this House it has been my pleasure to listen to speeches by the Mover and Seconder of the Address that have had a peculiar quality of their own and made everyone who listened to them feel envious of the Mover's and Seconder's achievement. 22 To-day has been no exception. We have to congratulate not only our two hon. colleagues but their constituencies on having sent them here. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who seconded the Address, with that quiet sincerity of his, showed us how the ordinary person, looking round his State and his country and judging its present condition, welcomed the Gracious Speech as being wide in its outlook and comprehensive in its proposals. The hon. Member who moved the Address did something more than claim by word of mouth that he belonged to a new generation. His tone, his outlook, his instinct for touching upon points that not only really matter to-day but are going to matter still more in the future demonstrated to us, without any advertisement on his part, that he did belong to a new generation. The voice he lifted up in our midst made me, as I sat in my place here, feel that it was the voice of a new generation which I for one most gladly welcome and will do everything possible that will make that voice find a larger audience and a more powerful influence in the country.
Perhaps I may take up the last point of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. He asked whether I could say anything about the Naval Conference. Well, I must say, not just at this moment. There are certain phases, as the right hon. Gentleman will have seen this morning, that are still in progress, but before this Debate finishes I hope that, perhaps, the Foreign Secretary will be able to give the House a report as to how the conference has gone up to date. I am very sorry, but at first I did intend to do so. Yesterday morning I hoped to carry out my intention to say how matters stood, but in the last 26 hours there has taken place a new movement upon which I had better refrain from talking, so that the House may have the whole story complete in its essential form.
If the Mover and. Seconder carried out their duties in a traditional way, the Leader of the Opposition failed in one respect. It has become customary with the right hon. Gentleman—if I may presume to say so—to tell us year after year that there is nothing in the King's Speech. To-day, I am not quite sure, but my feeling is that he is rather complaining that there is too much in it, in the sense that he did not think that it could 23 be carried out. I will be perfectly candid. When this list of subjects passed through my hands, and I saw it first of all, some doubts like those came into my own mind. If there be one thing which a Government ought not to do, it is to overcrowd the King's Speech and afterwards, at the end of the Session, to meet the House and say: "We regret that so-and-so has not been introduced, because there has been no time." I hope the House will believe me when I say that after full consideration the Government believe that it is a good programme, and that with the hearty cooperation of the House we can carry out every item that has been mentioned in the Gracious Speech from the Throne this morning. We certainly intend to do it, and I hope the House will give us the backing necessary to complete this programme before this time next year.
The first thing in the Speech is the reference to foreign affairs. That is not put in for traditional purposes. The most serious consideration before this country at the present moment is the state of foreign affairs and foreign relations. There is no doubt that the political situation has become uncertain and has become rather jumpy, and that events have happened during the last 12 or 18 months in Europe that have not increased confidence and that have been the cause of great concern between nation and nation. If the ideas of the right hon. Gentleman, which he referred to just before he sat down, are ever to be carried out, it must be upon the basis of international confidence and good will. You can go to Geneva, you can have the most eloquent speeches, either in your mind or on your paper, but, if you find that piping as skilfully as you can in the market place you are piping to deaf ears, distracted minds, or minds that are absorbed with other things and other thoughts and with the disharmonies of Europe rather than with its harmonies, at the end of your piping you will say that you have piped but they have not danced.
Now it is clearly laid down here, and we have laid it down in order that there might be no doubt about it, that the Government propose to carry on strenuously their co-operative work at Geneva through the League of Nations. In addition to that, this country alone, using its influence separately, can handle problems that arise from time to time in 24 such a way that our influence alone can smooth difficulties over and can induce people to approach their problems and difficulties, and their quarrels, in a frame of mind that is looking for peaceful solutions. That has been done again and again during the past 12 months, and we shall continue to pursue that policy. I regret very much that very well-meaning people in our own country talk about peace and the possibilities of war in a way that does not help peace. Everyone must follow the line and make the contribution which he thinks is the best, but at the same time I hope that people will keep their eyes open to the study of consequences and that they will recognise very seriously that by dividing the peace forces and the peace mind of this country they are not contributing to the world's peace.
When one faces this peace problem, not at one's fireside and in a pious sort of frame of mind—I wish that were the problem, I wish that were all we had to do; then how happy and successful we should be—but at an international conference, one is not faced with the genial fire burning in front of one, with a calm mind and with no problem at all except that of working out in one's own imagination the state of the world that one would like to see. There we have to face the problems of peace. Why does one nation refuse to agree amicably to settle its difference with another? One has to go from stage to stage. Weeks and months go, and close examination of the problems of peace still has not resulted in a complete solution of all those various problems. The Government, through its own diplomatic channels, using its own influence, will continue to pursue peace and do everything it possibly can to bring it about. Moreover, we do that not merely as a pacifist Government; we do that as a Government wishing to promote the industrial and economic interests of this country.
There is a doctrine, with which I never agreed, and I agree with it less now than ever I did, and that is that history has an economic basis. I do not agree with that. I have written against it, I have preached against it, all my life, and I shall go on doing so till the end of the chapter. It is not Socialism; it is a misrepresented Socialism. What do we find to-day? I heard someone say from the benches opposite the other day that as 25 long as you had economic rivalry you had not peace. I do not know, but I say this, that until you have peace you cannot have economic prosperity, and that, therefore, is one of the reasons why we want to pursue peace. One of the reasons why we go to Geneva again and again for the purpose of getting agreements, getting tranquillity, getting international confidence upon which we can base a fabric of peace, is that we want security and stability for the working classes and for the economic interest of this country. We shall never get that until we have got peace.
We have, I regret to say, to look upon a position at the Disarmament Conference which is certainly not despairing, but it is not too hopeful. We are going to Geneva—I think it will be at the beginning of the year, when the Disarmament Conference meets again—we are going to Geneva determined to make another trial, and more trials if necessary, to get something substantial and international out of the deliberations of that Conference; and the Gracious Speech says that in the meantime we shall take up certain points which we believe are ripe for solution and which can be separated from a general international agreement—matters like the private manufacture of arms, matters like some of these conventions which are now in draft at Geneva but which have not been finally discussed or settled. We wish to come, and I want to assure the House that we shall take every opportunity presented at Geneva of coming, to an international agreement that will bring nations closer together, will increase their mutual confidence, and will broaden the basis of good will upon which ultimately the real fabric of international peace will have to be built.
In the meantime, as the right hon. Gentleman opposite admitted, at any rate by implication, we have to consider matters of defence. As regards defence, we have reduced, we have stood still. The London Naval Agreement gave us power to call an Escalator Clause into operation. We had plenty of ground for calling that Escalator Clause into operation, but we wanted to demonstrate clearly and definitely to every Power in the world that we would wait, that we would give them an opportunity, that we would urge them to adopt the same steps as we had adopted. But that cannot go on 26 for ever. We never called the Escalator Clause into use, but we cannot go on and on. We have proved to the whole world—and there is not a single representative of any nation at Geneva who will dispute this—we have proved to the whole world that our armament is not an offensive armament, is not an aggressive armament; and, if it has to be strengthened, as it will have to be on account of the needs of the nation, I believe that when that strength has been made we shall never be accused of having made it in order to increase our offensive power against unarmed nations. That will come under Supply. The Budget, I believe, will be drafted in such a way that the necessary equipment for defence will be included in the Money Votes that the House will be asked to pass.
On India I propose to say nothing now, but to remind the House that the Indian situation is one which has been steadily maturing. On account of the education that we have given to India, the political example that we have given to India, it is, whatever one's views may be, sheer folly and blindness to believe that our relations with India, our policies pursued in connection with India through the generations, the pledges we have given to India, would never come to maturity. They have come to maturity now. This moment was not created by any party, either in India or here. This moment we have now to face has been created by the policy of this country and its relations to the Indian Empire. We shall give the House full opportunity for discussion, but when I say "full opportunity" I do not mean licence. I hope that every question of importance may come before the House, but a, roaming, roving discussion day after day and week after week I do not believe this House would allow us to give. I believe that the House wishes this matter, with all its importance, to be decided swiftly, but in a businesslike way, and, while it is being decided, to retain enough time to carry forward the domestic legislation which takes its place in the Gracious Speech from the Throne. That, at any rate, is the meaning that the Government put upon what the House should do.
The House must remember that the preparations for this have been long, have been patient, and have been thorough. There has been a series of 27 Round Table Conferences; there has been a White Paper summarising the results and, not the position of the Government on the matter definitely and finally taken up, but the position of the Government up to that time. That was sent to a Joint Select Committee, which was attended at one of its stages by most influential Indians, whom we were glad to welcome here and whom we were delighted to have as co-operators in the conference which has produced the report which is now ready for delivery. That report will be in the hands of Members to-marrow. The Bill will follow. The Bill, in the very nature of the case, must be a big one. It must be bulky; it must be rather complex; it must have a good many Clauses in it; and it will require, as I have said, a reasonable time—a fair time; and I am sorry to say that, in order to provide that time, I shall have to ask the House to-morrow to pass a Resolution giving the Government private Members' time throughout the Session. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I think private Members will see that that is absolutely necessary. I hope the result in the end will be the passing of a Bill which will take its place among other great monuments of political wisdom which mark the evolution of our Imperial Constitutional fabric. I am convinced that that will be the result of the deliberations of this House.
As regards trade, the Gracious Speech is very brief, but very definite. We are to pursue the policy which we have been pursuing, and which has resulted in such good effects on our trade position in this country. With regard to shipping, the right hon. Gentleman asks why we are subsidising it. That is a very easy question to answer. We are subsidising it because we are being competed with by subsidies given by other nations. We have offered again and again to other countries—let there be no mistake about this—to come to agreements which would make subsidies unnecessary. At the International Economic Conference we made that offer, and I myself interviewed several representatives of subsidising countries. I think there was some promise at some time that something might be done, but nothing has happened. It is quite true that there are more ships on the sea flying foreign flags than there 28 used to be, and it is quite true that world commerce has been reduced, but that is not what British shipping is suffering from. British shipping is suffering from the fact that nations are subsidising their fleets in cash, and that is not fair competition. All that we are proposing to do is to establish some measure of equality. Here and now, in this place, the Government let it be known to other countries that, as soon as they are willing to come to an arrangement that will be fair, we are prepared to come to that arrangement.
With regard to housing, how often did we hear during the last Session that our housing schemes were failing? That is not true. We are determined that our housing schemes shall succeed still more. Slums are going to disappear—we do not say next month—[An HON. MEMBER: "Next century?"]—we do not say next century. That is an inaccuracy that is so troublesome. We say that we expect the slums to be cleared in this country in the next five years, and the figures show that that progress is being made good. But we were never satisfied with only a slum clearance plan. Those of us who have lived in such houses know that there is something in some respects even worse than slums, and that is overcrowded dwellings which cannot be condemned as slums. Our start has been good, and we are now preparing for the second chapter—the second part of our housing policy. We propose during this Session to introduce, and go through with, a Bill dealing with overcrowding in England and Wales, and another Bill dealing with the same problem in Scotland. I want to make it quite clear to the House that, when we talk about rehousing overcrowded people, we do not mean rehousing them outside towns. Since the War 2,500,000 houses have been built, but apparently they have had no appreciable effect upon the state of overcrowding in the inside of towns. Therefore, our plan is to deal with overcrowding in the inside of towns, and to supply proper accommodation to the people who have to remain inside the towns within the area. We are prepared to give the necessary assistance from the Government, and the Bill will contain provisions which, once we have got overcrowding out of the way, should prevent it occurring again. We shall protect the houses which have been built to displace 29 overcrowded houses, and not allow the new houses to become as bad and even worse.
So with distressed areas. A Bill will be introduced very shortly. I see that the political complaint is being made that our plan is not going to apply to the country as a whole. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] You cannot do it. The great weakness of all unemployment schemes up to now has been that none of them differentiated enough in the character of unemployment. We talk about unemployment. I hope that I shall not be misunderstood when I say that there is no such thing, and by that I mean that there is nothing which is a uniform problem with every unemployed roan and woman presenting precisely the same problem to the State. Unemployment is not a featureless thing. Unemployment in the whole, in the mass, in the globe, is a mass of a thousand and one problems sometimes applying to individuals, and not to a group of individuals at all. Now, for the first time, the Government are differentiating between unemployed and unemployed. The Government are taking an area, a specially defined and examined area; they are going to take an experimental area, and not to begin and end there, but, just as a scientist takes his test tube into his laboratory, works out his results and their reactions, so we begin with that area for the purposes of discovering from the experiments cures, methods of handling, ways of spending public and private money, approaches to unemployment, and, having gat these things out from a limited area, which nevertheless is representative in its problems of the whole country, we are going to extend the results of our working the moment that those results have been established.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
My hon. Friend must not go into this logically. Logic ends in death when you are dealing with human affairs. We want, not a nice tight little snug section which we have selected, but we want an area which gives us in sufficient intensity the complicated problem of unemployment, 30 and then, dealing with that area intensively, drawing deductions from what has happened in that area, extend our methods and experience elsewhere. If that had been begun 10 years ago, we should be much further on the way to a solution than we are to-day. The great thing is that you must have your types; there are conditions which are present all over the country, but not so concentrated as they are in these areas, and by experimenting in the concentrated area you can reach your universal cure. If hon. Members would only read very carefully and study very carefully other experiments abroad—there is a great deal of advertisement about them, you can always get a headline, and if we get a headline people imagine that something has been done—if you would study carefully the experiments which have been conducted abroad—or rather, not experiments, but the work conducted abroad on the assumption that a whole nation can be dealt with at a time, you would find that the failures are all owing to the fact that the work was not precise enough in its application to the actual problem.
There is one other point in connection with this subject. I was perfectly amazed to find that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor's figure of £2,000,000 has been taken again and again by some responsible speakers, who really ought to have known better, as the sum which we were going to devote to this work. My right hon. Friend made it perfectly clear.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
It will. Again and again, we hear false prophecies made as to our intentions, but it was perfectly clear from my right hon. Friend's words—I happened to be one of those who knew what he was going to say before he said it, and whether he said it correctly or incorrectly, I knew what was his intention; and in this case his intention was amply fulfilled by his words—that this was a sort of token payment. Who is going to say how much is going to be required? It would have been sheer folly for us to have said £20,000,000, £50,000,000 or £100,000,000. That is not the way to do it. It is an unbusinesslike way to solve this question, because we desire to get some real solution, and not merely a stop-gap solution. An un- 31 businesslike way was to give those big sums. The businesslike way is to say, "I mention a sum which I put at your disposal. It will be sufficiently big for you to feel confident that you are going to get what is necessary. The ground has been surveyed. The problem is now clear. You go down. You face it. You deal with it. You spend money on it, and I will stand by you." That is the position, roughly and generally, of the Government.
There is one thing also I want to say about the method which is being adopted. I was quite certain that when the name of Mr. Stewart was mentioned, the majority of hon. Members would not be familiar with it. That is all to the good. I am able to say, from a considerable number of years of personal acquaintance, that this is just the person we want. Mr. Stewart himself has run experiments from his own pocket. He has financed them. He is keenly interested in this work. His relations with his own workpeople are perfectly ideal. Only the other day, when a hobby of some of us—a very extended experiment on land cultivation and land settlement—was rather trembling in the balance, Mr. Stewart came to the rescue. He ought to have had a salary. He said, "No, I want to do some public service. I do not want the money; I can live without it. Please allow me to do some service in working out a problem at which I have been working for years and years, and I do not think we have quite got the solution to it yet." I say that is the type of man we ought to use far more than we are using, and I am simply delighted that Mr. Stewart saw his way to give up his business—for I understand it means giving up the whole of his business interests—and to Dome and enlist himself in the army of voluntary workers, and try to solve the problem and successfully combat unemplyoment.
That, generally, is the outlook of the Government for this Session. It is a large programme. It means heavy work, I know it. After having gone a great deal into the amount of work which is entailed, having seen the sketch plans which are available, I do say that if we will all lay our heads together and make up our minds to use our time, devote the best of our abilities, and become 32 co-operators even from a critical point of view rather than cantankerously partisan, this programme can be carried out, and this time next year when we meet to prorogue this Session, we shall be nth) to look back on one of the most fruitful sessions that this Parliament or this country has known.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
May I ask a question which I ought to have put, and that is, will the right hon. Gentleman please tell us the course of business for the next few days?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Of course the right hon. Gentleman will remember that the Debate on the Address always runs for two or three days, and on Thursday the usual business statement will be made.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
We want to know how long the general Debate on the Address is going to run, so that we may know when to put down, if we wish, an Amendment.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I do not like to give a final answer, but I will give an answer on condition that it may have to be revised on account of business. I think that we ought to follow what has been rather the custom for the last two or three years of finishing the general Debate on Wednesday or Thursday. If the right hon. Gentleman will be good enough to discuss it through the usual channels, I will then announce the business to the House.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Major Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
I desire to associate myself with the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister in their tributes to the hon. Members who have so eloquently and effectively discharged their duty this afternoon. The task of holding firmly to a course of thoughtful and penetrating comment on public affairs between the Scylla of empty platitude, on the one hand, and the Charybdis of provocative partisanship on the other, is about as delicate as can fall to a Member of Parliament, and I feel sure that the whole House has admired the wit, grace and accomplishment with which those hon. Members have discharged it this afternoon. We are grateful to them for their dignified inauguration of the debates this Session.
33 The Prime Minister has given us a speech in another vein, but let me say at once that I am equally grateful to him, and was equally glad to hear his robust, eloquent and forthright exposition of the policy of the Government. But when he came to claim that the Gracious Speech from the Throne is so comprehensive in its outlook that it must demand almost universal acceptance, I noticed that the House itself, immense as is the right hon. Gentleman's majority, was not impressed by his claim, and I am certain that the country will be even less so.
He made it plain that the chief task that confronts us during the coming Session will be the Bill for constitutional reform in India. In the absence of the report of the Joint Select Committee it would be useless to comment upon the merits of the Government proposals, but I feel bound to express my regret, as a Member jealous for the rights of the people's representatives in this House, that the report of the committee is to be discussed in the first place by representatives of the Government with some outside body before it is debated here. I remember the bitter reproaches that were levelled by Members opposite against the Labour party in the last Parliament for truckling to the Trades Union Congress. Consultation not on details but on fundamental principles by the Government with a body, which represents only a section of the people, on vital issues of policy before they had been discussed in this House of Commons, which represents all the people, was held up to the condemnation of the electors at the last general election and was condemned by them. Yet now we see the Government pursuing the very course which they then rightly denounced. The Government should repose upon the confidence, not of any outside body, but on that of the House of Commons, and, if that be true of any Government, it is surely true, above all, of a Government which claims to be a National Government. Therefore, I say let the Government free themselves as soon as may be from these sectional entanglements and look to the House of Commons for justification of their Indian proposals.
Apart from India, there are two main issues to which reference is made in the Gracious Speech and upon which public 34 attention is mainly concentrated. The first, of course, is peace and disarmament, the observations upon which of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Montrose (Lieut.-Colonel Kerr) were so widely appreciated in the opening stage of the Debate. It is not my intention to probe into the conversations, vital as they are to the maintenance of peace and of the trade and commerce of the world, which are now proceeding between the Government and representatives of the United States and Japan. Let me only say that it was on the basis of close understanding and co-operation with the United States, and of friendship with Japan, and of consideration for her vital interests, that the political and economic problems of the Far East were boldly faced at Washington in 1921. The whole House will wish the Government well in their endeavours to consolidate and extend the gains for peace, disarmament and trade which were won at Washington 13 years ago.
In this sphere of peace and disarmament, however, it is the Disarmament Conference, the Bureau of which is meeting at Geneva to-day, that must he uppermost in all our thoughts. The Prime Minister gave what was to me a rather bewildering appreciation of the situation. In one passage of his speech he assured us of the Government's determination to achieve success at the Disarmament Conference, but in another passage towards the close he warned us to expect swollen armaments Estimates and a programme of rearmament for this country. Of course, the prospects of the Disarmament Conference mainly depend, as is indicated in the Gracious Speech, upon the atmosphere in which the discussions take place, but I wish the Prime Minister had told us a little more about the steps that the Government are taking to improve it.
I am not one of those, if any there be, who have invariably condemned the Government on disarmament. There have been many contributions made by leading Ministers which have been most helpful to the cause. Of the Prime Minister's sincerity in it I have not the slightest doubt. There was the wholly admirable speech of the Lord President of the Council two years ago on air disarmament and there were the peregrinations of the Lord Privy Seal, the journeys that he took to all the capitals of Europe; but, jangling 35 across these harmonies, came the discordant voices of the Service Ministers raising every kind of difficulty to air disarmament, talking, as the First Lord of the Admiralty did, of "the international dream of disarmament." Lastly, 10 days ago there was the frontal attack in this House by the Foreign Secretary, which the Prime Minister to-day seemed vaguely to echo, on the very people who are devoting themselves in this country to the organisation of public opinion in favour of disarmament. By all means let us concede that the atmosphere needs to be improved if agreement is to be reached, but let our Government play their part and, the greater the difficulties of the task, the less the justification for them to waste their time and their strength in attacking the friends of disarmament in this country. It was just two years ago almost to the week that the Lord President of the Council made his speech on air disarmament. What about the young men, he asked:It is really for them to decide.… If the conscience of the young men should ever came to feel with regard to this one instrument—that is the aeroplane—that it is an evil and should go, the thing will be done; but, if they do not feel like that—well, as I say, the future is in their hands. But when the next war comes, and European civilisation is wiped out, as it will be and by no force more than by that force, then do not let them lay the blame upon the old men. Let them remember that they, they principally, or they alone, are responsible for the terrors that have fallen upon the earth.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1932; col. 638, Vol. 270.]Since that speech was delivered the Disarmament Conference has dragged on at Geneva and other speeches have been made in a very different tone by the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Secretary of State for Air. Now the young men, and others with them, are revolting. They have taken the Lord President at his word. The right hon. Gentleman did not say, "Leave it alone. Trust the Government. Leave it to us." He said the future was in their hands, and they have accepted the responsibility which he speaking for his generation declined and threw upon them. They are organising public opinion, and they will express their views in the peace ballot, and, if Ministers dare to upbraid them, their 36 rebukes and their self-contradictions will recoil upon their own heads.
Meanwhile, what are the matters on which we are told in the Gracious Speech strenuous efforts will be made to obtain separate agreements in regard to disarmament. The Prime Minister mentioned two. He did not mention, as I hoped he would, the setting up of some central commission to administer such agreements as may be reached, and he did not mention budgetary limitation or, at least, a step which I understand there is a hope of securing—budgetary publicity.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I did not mention a lot of these smaller points. Do not assume that we are opposed to them because I did not mention them.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I did not for a moment intend the House to draw that inference from my remarks. I wanted to know if budgetary publicity was one of the subjects which were being segregated for separate treatment and on which it was hoped to obtain an early agreement, because that is certainly a subject upon which those of us who have been following these deliberations at Geneva had hoped that an early agreement would be possible.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned control of the international traffic in arms. The state of public opinion in this country on the arms traffic was clearly revealed in the immense public interest that was taken in our Debate on this subject ten days ago. We put down an Amendment calling for an inquiry to which the Foreign Secretary made no direct reference but on which he observed in passing:If we desire to examine this serious problem, not by a fishing inquiry dealing with every rumour and detail that can be found about the conduct of a trade which is not confined to this country, but by an inquiry which really studied the proposal of State monopoly from the point of view of national security and the like, the Government would have no reason to have any difficulties about it."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 8th November, 1934; col. 1327, vol. 293.]That is exactly one of the points which we proposed should be one of the subjects of inquiry. Then the Prime Minister in a speech at Southampton a week ago said:If the critics want a roving commission to inquire into armaments—a committee without terms of reference we shall never agree.37 We made it clear in the Debate ten days ago, if I may quote my own words, that "the actual terms of reference to a special Commission would obviously be a matter for careful adjustment." A good working basis for such an adjustment would be the terms of reference to the United States Committee which is now investigating this question. Of course, the inquiry should not be limited to one or two points of detail but terms of reference could certainly be adjusted on the basis suggested by the Secretary of State for the Dominions in a speech at Newbury last Friday, when he said that:the Government will welcome an inquiry into the whole situation of the private manufacture of arms.Now, therefore, I ask the Prime Minister: Is that an offer which the Dominions Secretary was authorised to make on behalf of the Government? If so, what steps do the Government propose to give effect to it, and with what powers do the Government propose to arm the Commission of Inquiry?—for the powers, as I said in the last Debate, are the essence of our demand. I ask the Government for a definite answer to these questions before the Debate closes. But I hope there will be other opportunities in the course of these Debates for the Government to make clear their attitude and intentions with regard to the whole sphere of disarmament policy. Let the Government give the country what the noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) desiderated in the Debate ten days ago—a sense of drive and determination behind their policy.
The other main issue with which public attention is preoccupied is that of unemployment. The Prime Minister referred to the Bill which, as is indicated in the Gracious Speech, the Government propose to introduce in the course of the next few weeks. He said it would give powers to the Government to undertake a great experiment. That is a different conception of the Measure from that which was put before the House by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Labour in the Debate last week. We were then told that the commissioners who were to be set up and given very important powers were to try to co-ordinate various activities, but their functions were not, on the one hand, to overlap those of local authorities, or, on the other hand, those of Government Departments. 38 They were just to see what could be done here and what could be done there to improve conditions in the depressed areas. The idea, that they were going to find a solution through their activities to the problem of unemployment in all its various aspects, as the Prime Minister has reminded us, throughout the whole country, is a conception which is absolutely new to this House of Commons. If I found one thing clearer than another from the speeches of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Labour last week, it was that the Bill was intended to be a very useful and helpful Measure but not to get to the root of the problem of unemployment.
In the first place it would deal with none of the major recommendations of the commissioners who were sent by the Government to report on the situation in the distressed areas. For example: The nationalisation of royalties, recommended by successive Government commissions and urgently required for the effective reorganisation of the coal industry; also the raising of the school age, the case for which is overwhelming on its educational and social merits alone and is greatly fortified by the reports of the Government's investigators; also public works, not relief works but enterprises which will provide not merely useful work for the unemployed, but the means of improving our industrial equipment, like the tunnel under the Tyne which is recommended by the Civil Lord of the Admiralty, and the project, which is not mentioned by the Scottish investigator, but which is none the less important for Scotland, the road bridges over the Forth and Tay opening up a great new artery of transport along the east coast of Scotland—these are a few of the suggestions on major issues of policy in the reports of the Government's investigators, but issues with which the commissioners to be appointed under the new Bill will not be empowered to deal, and to deal with which no measures are forecast in the Gracious Speech from the Throne.
Then there is land settlement. The new commissioners may be able to help one scheme of land settlement here or one scheme there, but it is time that the problem of land settlement was envisaged by the Government on bold lines, admitting of varied treatment according to the 39 needs of different groups of applicants and conditions in different parts of the country. Therefore, in the absence of any reference in the King's Speech to these four major issues of policy which were raised in the reports of the Government's own investigators, I would ask the Government for further enlightenment on them before the close of the Debate.
In the second place, I regret that the Prime Minister made no reference in his speech to the relegation of the herring fishing industry to a paragraph low down in the King's Speech in which we are assured not that action is to be taken, not that a Bill is to be introduced, but that the problem is receiving the attention of the Ministers. The present crisis in the herring industry is of unexampled gravity. it has aroused great public interest, and it inevitably excited the attention of the Government's investigator in Scotland. Although he was not charged to investigate that problem, yet it was so acute that his mind was drawn to it as soon as he found himself in Scotland, as it has spread unemployment and distress through all the fishing towns. Moreover, as I have stated before in this House, the plight of this industry is the inescapable result of the Government's economic policy. We had a Committee on the Fishing Industry as a whole which reported a few months after the National Government was formed. It reported that the branch of the fishing industry which was most in need of help was the herring fishing industry. The Government then introduced the Sea Fish Bill, which contained no measure which applied to the herring fishing industry except the appointment of another committee. When we protested, we were told that the Government fully realised the urgency of the herring problem and would ask the new committee for An interim report on herring. That report was presented to the Government last August. All sections of the industry have been drawn into consultation by the Government, and surprising unanimity upon the necessity for immediate action was evinced by those represented—action before the next fishing season. But now we are not promised a Bill upon a problem which should have been regarded as a matter of urgency, but are merely told that the problem is engaging the attention of Ministers. I hope that 40 every Member who recognises the importance of the fishing industry and its sore plight, only partially and perhaps only temporarily alleviated by the Exchange Agreement with Germany, will press the Government for the introduction of a Bill before Christmas.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
Has the right hon. and gallant Gentleman any reason to suppose that legislation is not going to be introduced, and if it were not to be introduced, why should the Government mention the herring industry in the Gracious Speech?
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I think it is quite clear from the list of the various matters which are noted in the King's Speech as being the subject of legislation, which, the Prime Minister said, is long enough to engage the House for a very long time, that the herring fishing industry is not to be the subject of legislation, as it only says that the problem is engaging the attention of Ministers. But I am asking the Government.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I hope that the Government will give an assurance both to the hon. Member and myself that this Measure will be introduced before Christmas.
In the third place, we realise that not even the recommendations of the Sea Fish Commission in regard to the herring fisheries, nor the proposal for the subsidy to a branch of the shipping industry, nor the proposals of the Government's investigators to deal with the problems of the distressed areas get down to the root of the economic problem in those districts or the troubles in those industries. That root, whether you look to the Tyne, to Scotland or to our fishing towns, lies in the strangulation of our export trade by the economic policy of the Government. It is no answer to say that our export and re-export trade in the first 10 months of this year has increased by the miserable amount of 7.4 per cent. over last year, or more than 7.3 per cent. over the year before, the worst year of our export tradesince 1905. You are comparing the level of our export trades with the mark which represents the nadir in the world's slump. Now the world is on the mend. The demand all over the world for goods and investment is increasing, and it is idle 41 to suggest that we are the only country in which those conditions are improving. If Ministers were not more anxious to boast of their achievements and to please their Protectionist supporters than to point to the things which are really hopeful portents for our trade, they would point to the fact that every country of the world, with one or two exceptions, is sharing in the recovery.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I am very glad that the hon. Member has raised that point. I was a little doubtful whether to trouble the House with a quotation from the speech of the Lord President of the Council at Bristol which raised the point the hon. Member behind has raised, but, as he has done so, I will give the quotation. The Lord President of the Council said at Bristol that if he compared the figures of the industrial output of various countries during the first six months of this year with their output for the first six months of 1928, Germany, Italy, France, the United States of America, Holland, Belgium, Poland and Czecho-slovakia had all suffered substantial declines, whereas we had secured a slight increase. But he added that we owed that excellent state of affairs to tariffs. All the countries he mentioned as suffering a decline had enjoyed the benefits of tariffs, if so they be, for much longer than we have and have had much higher tariffs than we have. Moreover he omitted to mention that there had been many more increases in production than our own, and while the increase in our productive output in the period selected was 4.6, that of Sweden increased over 7, Roumania over 16, Denmark and Italy over 23, and Japan over 49 per cent. The truth is that we are not keeping our country in the van of world recovery. That is the reason why we have two and a-quarter million of unemployed, and the problem on our hands of the distressed areas is at bottom the problem of the strangulation of our export trade. Sir Arthur Rose, the Government Inspector in Scotland, puts his finger, albeit a little gingerly, on the root of the matter when he says in paragraph 100 of his report:It is perhaps a platitude to say that world conditions are chiefly responsible for the position of affairs in Glasgow, and the long term view is that reduction in tariffs and other hindrances to international trade 42 would go far to remedy matters, and possibly that is the only real solution.Except for bilateral trading agreements, the effects of which are insignificant, as was shown in the masterly analysis by my hon. Friend the Senior Member for Dundee (Mr. D. Foot) which he submitted to the House last July, the Government are still heightening instead of lowering obstacles to international trade, and we are even threatened now with fresh restrictions not only on our foreign trade, but also on our trade with Dominion countries. The Leader of the Opposition and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when we were discussing the distressed areas last week, shook their heads together over the Table of the House about the evil and apparently inescapable results of scientific labour saving devices upon unemployment. Why, if that had been the attitude of our forefathers we should have come through the industrial revolution as a little agricultural country bereft of Empire and left behind by the march of history.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
Perhaps the hon. Member will kindly look up the speech of the right hon. Gentleman first, and then perhaps he will be able to explain where I go wrong. I did not say for a moment that he criticised the adoption of such devices, but I remember that he said that they led to unemployment, and that we were not catching up with the development of these industrial devices.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I think that what I said—and I have said it many times here—was that the tremendous increase in scientific discovery and invention had led to tremendous productive power which we had not yet settled how to use or how to distribute the goods we produce.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
That is the point. It is true that unless markets are sought and developed, and unless our international trade is extended and we are again to lead in the development of the new countries, we shall not find an outlet for all this great production, and people never can again be fully employed, and this country can never again be a vigorous centre of a great civilisation.
This is true; of course, of other great vigorous industrial countries. In the 43 United States of America, as shown by the utterances of Mr. Wallace, Minister of Agriculture, and President Roosevelt; in Canada and now in France the tide of opinion has turned definitely against economic nationalism and towards freedom. In France the new Prime Minister, M. Flandin, on taking Office, declared:Managed economy has won the support of those who look to a neo-capitalism in which the interest of the community is supposed to replace individual profit.… But, now that the temples of managed economy are falling to pieces, I observe a general return to our economic order founded on liberty. …Nothing is more urgent than to fight against taxation, fixed prices, price rules and monopolies. … We must return gradually to a more liberal system.Recently we received wise words of counsel from one of the greatest of our Imperial statesmen, General Smuts, who declared at St. Andrews University, last month:Among the many sad experiments we are trying in the world is a new system of building up walls between us and our neighbours. We are trying to import the methods of the Great War, of the Western Front, into the commercial relations of peaceful life. Barbed wire entanglements, fences and a no-man's-land seem to be going up round every country. We shall have to break down these barbed wire entanglements because in that economic isolation, economic nationalism, I see only the doom of trade and the doom of good relationship in the world.That is the direction in which we must move if we are to revive industry in the distressed areas and restore the prosperity of our people.
There remains one other subject of great importance, which does not attract the same public interest as the other issues to which I have referred and to which no reference is made in the King's Speech. Nevertheless, it is a question which ought to receive the consideration of the Government and of the House, in a Session of this Parliament, which may be the last and which will otherwise certainly be the last but one. I refer to the system of election to this House. It is the present system of election which is responsible for the composition of this House which, however great its merits may be, is a gross distortion of political opinion in the country. No one can deny that public interest in the proceedings of Parliament would be much greater and that the business of Parliament would be more efficiently conducted if so many of 44 the leading figures of the Opposition parties had not lost their seats at the last election. The Labour party suffered most, and our party suffered in a less degree. Next time it is bound to be the Conservative party, and I shall regret it equally.
It is not good for Parliament and it weakens the democratic system when a General Election has arbitrary results which are produced by a few balancing votes, not generally the votes of the most politically intelligent people in a constituency, but the votes of people who do not take much interest in politics until political issues obtain huge newspaper publicity at a General Election. These balancing votes distort the representation of the nation in this House and deprive the country of the services of the most experienced leaders. Nor is it sound that Governments can be returned to power when their parties can only claim the support of a minority of the electors. Even the enormous majority enjoyed by the Government of which the Lord President of the Council was the head in 1924 was furnished by a minority of the electors. Luckily, it was an inoffensive Government. It adopted no revolutionary methods. Next time, or the time after, it may well be the Socialist Party that will snatch a majority in this House on a minority vote in the country. If that happens I do not envy the leaders of the Socialist Party their responsibility, hounded on, as they will inevitably be, by their extremists to action which will lack the sanction of a democratic majority in the country. Certainly no Conservative and no friend of democracy and political freedom can contemplate that situation with equanimity.
Some Conservatives advocate strengthening the House of Lords, but their wiser leaders know that no House of Lords can be an effective barrier against the misuse of a Parliamentary majority in the House of Commons. There is only one sure bulwark of the representative system in this country, and that is to make it truly representative. I would therefore ask the Government, many of whose members are committed personally to the principle of electoral reform, whether, and if so when, they intend to lay Measures with that object before Parliament.
45 It has been my duty to draw the attention of the House to many gaps in the Parliamentary programme of the Government for this Session. It would have to be a very complete programme of legislation before so drastic a Measure as the confiscation of the time of private Members could be justified to this House. In the circumstances which I have described such a proposal would be indefensible, and I would urge the Government to withdraw it and rather to encourage the co-operation of private Members in dealing with many of the urgent issues which are neglected in the King's speech, and upon the successful handling of which the welfare of the nation depends.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I will not detain the House for more than a few minutes. I associate myself with others who have congratulated the two hon. Members opposite in moving and seconding the Address. They did it with that restraint and in that dispassionate mood which is always regarded as characteristic of King's Speech day in this House. They showed a restrained and dispassionate examination of the situation which was in pleasurable contrast to the speeches of the leaders and betters who have succeeded them. Particularly about the Prime Minister's, there was a vehemence and declamation which seemed to me to be completely out of keeping with what is regarded as the spirit of this day in the House of Commons. I am afraid that the right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) allowed himself to be infected by the Prime Minister's bad example. I appreciate what the two hon. Members opposite have done and I should be very glad to excuse them from attendance during the period that I am addressing the House. recognise that they have had a serious ordeal. If I had been through such an ordeal I should want to withdraw from the Chamber. If they feel that now is an appropriate point for withdrawal, I shall not regard it as a personal grievance but rather as a compliment.
May I return to the speech of the Prime Minister in its reference to the King's Speech. The thought that was in my mind all the time that he was addressing the House was the marked contrast between the House itself and his approach 46 to the House on the occasion of what is probably the last King's Speech of this Government, compared with the spirit and atmosphere of the first King's Speech of this Government, in 1931. There was then Confidence, enthusiasm and spirit on the Front Bench and on the benches behind. To-day, there was a very indifferent attendance of Members who support the Government and there was, very obviously, an indifference of attitude on the part of those present. The spirit and confidence of 1931 has evaporated. It struck me that hon. Members opposite feel that their doom is so near that it is no good their worrying very much about it.
The King's Speech does not convey any other impression than that the Government, who set out to reconstruct the country, to solve unemployment and put us on the high road to success, have now decided to content themselves with the less ambitious and less spectacular odd ends of Parliamentary legislation. The condition of the shipping industry is to be attended to. A subsidy is to be given to tramp shipping, because we have been subject to unfair competition from foreign countries. We are an unlucky nation among the nations, we are never treated fairly. We should have disarmament in the world if the other fellows would be ready to play fair. There was some corn-plaint about a football match the other day because our opponents did not just do things according to the English standards. There was a similar complaint recently about a yacht race. It is most unfortunate that decent people like ourselves can never find anyone who will just play the game according to our standards. May I say, quite seriously, that I do not think Great Britain will do itself much good in its world standing by becoming a little peevish every time things are not going well. It is very much better to take your licking with a stiff upper lip and to smile and laugh if possible. [HON. MEMBERS: "We are not licked yet!"] Whether we are licked or not, there is no need to weep about it.
It would be much better for the Government to approach the question not merely of tramp shipping but of shipping and shipbuilding. I speak from a constituency which is situated in a great shipbuilding and shipping area, second to none. We should approach the whole problem of shipping and shipbuilding, not 47 from the point of view of who is not treating us fairly, but how to get the finest mercantile marine that we can possess. That would seem to be a more constructive and more statesmen like way of tackling the situation, and a way that would probably be conducive in the long run to better results. Do not let us merely try to beat an opponent, but let us try to provide ourselves with a mercantile marine in all its branches which will be a model for other nations to copy.
With regard to the proposed housing legislation mentioned in the King's Speech, the Prime Minister was more cryptic than he usually is on the various subjects with which he deals. I gathered from what he said that this is a proposal for the construction of large tenements in our big cities and industrial towns. He made the point that the two and a quarter million houses built since the War had made little impression upon the problem of overcrowding in the big cities, and that the proposed scheme is one for erecting houses in the large centres of population. Presumably, that means the erection of big tenements, because the problem of all the big cities up to now has been the difficulty of finding suitable land, particularly in the London area, within the confines of the borough. The right hon. Gentleman intimated that a similar Bill applied to Scotland would be introduced. I do not know what hon. Members representing English constituencies feel about the matter, but may I express very strongly the hope that the Government will not in Scotland proceed with the erection of big barracks of tenements for the housing of the working classes? The service fiat may be a good thing for wealthy couples, but it is not a place in which to bring up children.
Children should have ready and easy access to open air and playing grounds. The fact that working-class people have had to bring up their children in tenements has condemned a large section of these children to inefficient physical conditions for the whole of their lives. We in Glasgow have known all this; the tenement has been our standard method of housing our population. It produces rickety men and women to an extent not known in any other city, because it takes away sunlight, fresh air and opportunity for exercise, and everything else which is 48 most necessary at a most important stage of life. We are just beginning to get away from it in the City of Glasgow and I hope that the Government will not push us back into barracks again.
The Prime Minister, in his reference to unemployment, said that it was not one but several problems. I wish it were permissible in this House for the Prime Minister as head of the National Government to detach himself for half an hour and stand here in my place and criticise, as an independent Socialist, the theories he has just propounded as head of the National Government. I should have no objection myself, and I have no doubt—I pay him this compliment—that after he had examined line by line and letter by letter his own speech on unemployment there would be very little left worth having. As a destructive critic of a purely Conservative view of the unemployment problem he could make a much finer job of it than I. He must realise, if he reads his speech again—that is if he ever perpetrates the folly of reading his own speeches—that the statement he has made to-day is the orthodox Conservative description of unemployment, a description which they made away back in pre-War days and which they have continued to make ever since. They have remained stable; that is the great thing about Conservatism, it does not move; here we stand and here we rest, and finally, they say, everybody comes round to their view sooner or later. As long as I maintain my present powers, I am going to use them, whatever may happen to me later on is a matter which will have to be confronted later on, but as long as I have my present powers and Socialist outlook I am going to criticise the Conservative expressions which have fallen from the lips of the Prime Minister.
It amounted to saying that this problem is insoluble on a large scale, it is defeat, and all that the Government can do is to make minor adjustments and apply palliatives. We must get the export trade going it is said. The right hon. and gallant Baronet supported that view. He said improve the export trade. When the Minister of Labour was speaking on the depressed areas he pointed out that the export trade was better last month than it had been at any time since January, 1931. I was impressed by that figure and looked up 49 the appropriate statistics. I found this extraordinary fact, that there is no relation whatever between high export figures and high standards of employment. Indeed, when the export trade in 1931 was infinitely higher unemployment figures were also higher. The export trade in October, 1934, was better than it was in any previous month; unemployment figures worse. I hope that a little more examination will be given before the theory is accepted, as the last word of political wisdom, that when you increase export trade you also increase opportunities for employment.
There is another thing which I missed from the Gracious Speech, and it struck me as folly on the part of the Government. There was a reference, only a casual reference, towards the close of his speech by the Minister of Labour about a serious attempt, in co-operation with the trade unions and employers, to bring about some reduction of hours and increase in wages, one or the other. I had hoped that this was serious policy on the part of the Government. They must recollect that during their three years of office the capitalist community in many directions has improved its position. I read a most extraordinary statement in one of the newspapers during the last fortnight, that the City of London has improved its holding in stocks by £290,000,000. That is something which somebody has got out, of this National Government. But during the three years of this National Government the state of the working classes, so far as wages are concerned, has been in general deteriorating. Employed workers have found their position getting steadily worse—
§ Mr. MAXTON
I do not think that any of the hon. Baronet's colleagues from industrial areas will support his denial.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I wish the hon. Member could indicate to me the points and places at which the actual earnings o of workers in one industry or another have been tending upwards?
§ Mr. MAXTON
That is surely dodging the issue. It does not meet the only point I was making, that the tendency of wages is to go down, for the hon. Member to say that any advantage which can be claimed is because prices have also gone down. The hon. Member knows that the price of a large number of the most important commodities has gone up, and it is the deliberate policy of the Government to push them up. It is because the Government's policy has failed that the position is not as bad as it might have been. The Government have to congratulate themselves on the relative failure of their efforts. If the Minister of Agriculture had been successful goodness knows what the position of the industrial working classes would have been. I make the statement that the general tendency has been downward. The Minister of Labour in his speech last week indicated an intention of doing something in a Governmental way to reverse this process. Hon. Members who have been returned to support the National Government as Conservatives will remember—I remember it very well because it accompanied me during all my active life as a Socialist advocate—that the Conservative party in advocating tariffs and Protection always told the workers that they were in favour of higher wages and better hours, but that it could not be done until the country was protected by a tariff wall. We have had a tariff wall for three years. The Conservative party of this country made a promise to the working classes. Where is there any evidence even of an attempt to give effect to that promise? The ordinary worker sees the Conservatives now as cheats, men who do not understand the meaning of an honourable bargain.
§ Mr. MAXTON
No, that is not the word; there was a gentleman's agreement. There was no hard-and-fast document signed, no contract; it was a gentleman's understanding. But there is not the faintest sign of an attempt in any direction to improve the lot of the employed worker, and indeed I have seen a statement in a newspaper, whether inspired or not I do not know, whether 51 misinformed I do not know, that the Government have resisted the proposed scale to be put up by the Public Assistance Board as being too generous. The Public Assistance Board are proposing certain standards of treatment for the unemployed and the Government, the National Government, are questioning these proposed scales as being too generous. I should have thought, even from the narrow electioneering point of view, which must be becoming a more serious consideration for the Government every week and every month, that the Gracious Speech might have contained some reference to some attempt to improve the lot of the working people. There is absolutely no reference to it whatever. In discussing the first Gracious Speech introduced by this Government I suggested that the problems confronting this and other countries would not be solved by setting out with the idea of finding work but that the problem should be inverted and that they should try to satisfy the needs of the 40 odd millions of our population; that the problem should be looked at as one of organising industry to provide the people with good standards of life, and that if it became merely a question of searching for work then nothing but failure could be the result. This Parliament is reaching the end of its office and the Government are probably making their last statement to the country.
§ Mr. MAXTON
The hon. Member who interrupts may have a better inside information than I have, but I have been in this House in several Parliaments, and all the signs are present, both in the country and in the House, all the symptoms that precede early demise are showing. I do think that this King's Speech is the last production of this particular combination. The Government must recognise that it represents failure and defeat. It represents the poor end of what I think was described in 1931 as the beginning of a great and gallant adventure. The gallant six hundred who came in in 1931, shouting and cheering behind their trusted leaders—
§ Mr. MAXTON
No, I do not think so. My interrupter must address that interruption to some defender of the Government; it is quite inappropriate to apply it to me. I admit that there was a tremendous difficulty. But the Government went out of the frying pan into the fire. I hope most earnestly that some alternative will open up by which it will not be necessary for them to come out of the fire back into the frying pan. The hon. and gallant Member who interrupted me undoubtedly must recognise that this King's Speech represents failure, failure even from his own point of view, failure from the point of view of the large proportion of the Members who came in on the Government side of the House. The Prime Minister's speech to-day was the nervous, hysterical utterance of a man who was trying to make up with vehemence for lack of argument, a man who had lost confidence in himself and in the people with whom he was working.
Some months still remain during which the rank and file Members of the House may do something to create a new spirit, a new atmosphere both in the country and in the House. To me it is a pathetic thing that at this period in the history of the world, when mankind's opportunities are greater than ever before—for undoubtedly the mastery we have over material things now has never been paralleled before—it is a shocking thing that we are unable to make any serious attempt to cope with purely material problems, and can do nothing to bring hope and confidence into the homes of millions of the people. This Government of all the talents spends three years with practically unlimited power behind it, with tremendous support in the country, and comes to us to-day with all the major problems of the country still unsolved, with war still hanging over the heads of every citizen in the land, with poverty hanging over the heads of a huge proportion of the people in the land, and it can produce nothing but this miserable collection of tinkering trifles, that make no fundamental difference whatever in human affairs.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. HOLFORD KNIGHT
I want to snake a few observations on the business before us, but before I do that I would 53 offer a comment on the interesting speech of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton). The hon. Member is a past master of political innuendo. He has presented to us the mere figment of his own imagination as to the present position of the Government, the work which it is proposing to lay before the House and the fate which awaits it. That innuendo will be reproduced by the industrious scribe from Scotland who every week presents my hon. Friend's speeches in this House as the most important contribution of the week to the nation's problems, and by that means the innuendo will gradually get currency in the country. But it bears no correspondence to fact. The hon. Gentleman took a part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister which, I say with respect, he misunderstood, and he gave to it a meaning which is the wrong meaning and not the meaning in which the House understood the Prime Minister's statement.
§ Mr. KNIGHT
I ask the hon. Gentleman to allow me to continue and to give to other Members the indulgence which is always given to him.
§ Mr. MAXTON
But surely the hon. and learned Member does not object to my assisting him in his arguments?
§ Mr. KNIGHT
This idea that Members from England require the assistance of Members from Scotland is an illusion which should be buried. I do not want any assistance from the hon. Gentleman in my argument, and he is not going to divert me from the observation I intended to make. The hon. Member represented the Prime Minister as saying that the problem of unemployment could not be dealt with as a whole, that it must be dealt with in parts. The Prime Minister did not say that the problem of unemployment could not be dealt with as a whole, for in express words he described that as the principal policy of the Government. What my right hon. Friend did say was that the Government were basing themselves on the reports of the four commissioners for the depressed areas, and were going to take the inferences to be drawn from those reports and to embody them in legislative and administrative proposals. But the Prime Minister warned the House that the general 54 problem of unemployment is so varied that the inference to be drawn from particular reports did not necessarily apply to all aspects of the problem. My hon. Friend, who is usually fair in controversy, went a little beyond the mark in twisting the observations of the Prime Minister in a way which did not do justice to the work of a very, very anxious man.
§ Mr. KNIGHT
The House will not only see the anxiety of the Prime Minister but will also see the anxiety of the hon. Member for Bridgeton not to lighten the Prime Minister's anxiety. I invite any Member on the Labour benches who may not have quite the same outlook as the hon. Member for Bridgeton to affirm that the purchasing power of the working classes and their general conditions have not improved tremendously during the last three years. My observation is that during the last three years, by the Measures which the Government have adopted and by their administration, notwithstanding the curtailment of public assistance which was necessary owing to the condition of the nation's finance, the general position of the working classes, their standard of living, their housing accommodation, the general conditions under which they live and work, have substantially improved as a result of the work of the National Government. I frankly tell the House that if it were not so I should not remain on these benches. My main concern is to represent my constituents, who are workers by hand and brain, and if I were not satisfied that that had been the result of the work of the Government I should not be here at all. It is my sincere view that those results have followed and that any voice raised in this House alleging that those results have not followed, is not speaking the truth on behalf of the organised working classes in this country, or the unorganised working classes, for it must be remembered that two-thirds of the workers are outside the union altogether, but is merely speaking for little pockets of political agitators here and there, whose main business is to create as much, trouble as possible for any and every Government.
§ Mr. GEORGE HALL
A question has been asked concerning the conditions of the working people in this country. I 55 put it to my hon. and learned Friend that so far as the South Wales miners are concerned the wages in 1933 have been £4,000,000 less than in 1930.
§ Mr. THORNE
Is the hon. and learned Member not aware that the cuts in wages which were taken from the wage earners in 1931 have not been restored by a long way?
§ Mr. KNIGHT
I agree at once that I should have excepted the mining industry from my general observation, and I intended to do so, but so far as the rest is concerned I think my statement was a perfectly true statement.
§ Mr. MAXTON
Does the hon. Member except also the other distressed areas that were mentioned here the other day? That was not imaginary distress.
§ Mr. KNIGHT
The hon. Member is still under the impression that there are Members of the House who cannot understand ordinary things as well as himself. Of course, the depressed areas were not within my statement, but on general lines what I said is true, that the general position of the working classes has very much improved in the last three years, owing to the work of this Government, and there is not a constituency where the leaders of the working classes will not admit it.
I rose, however, not to deal with that point, but to make a few observations on a particular aspect of the work opened up by the King's Speech. A subject of major importance which is referred to in the King's Speech is the question of disarmament. Our consideration and discussion of all questions of internal reconstruction must be conditioned very largely by the success or otherwise of our labours in regard to disarmament and peace, and there is no other aspect of the work of the Government which is causing greater disquietude at the present time.
The ordinary people of this country among whom I count myself, apply to this question of disarmament the considerations and tests which they would apply to their own concerns. When they find a conference which is discussing this all-important business, sitting month in and month out for two or three years as the Disarmament Conference has done, with no result, ordinary people naturally 56 ask, "Is it in the right hands?" They are asking that question to-day, and I ask, "Is the chairmanship of the Disarmament Conference in the right hands? Would any improvement be effected if those labours which have been sincere and devoted were under other direction I "This is an extremely important matter and no personal considerations ought to weigh with any Member of the House in relation to it. The country is concerned about the prolonged delays in connection with the work of the conference and they want to be satisfied that His Majesty's Government are convinced that the guidance of the conference is in the right hands.
§ Mr. KNIGHT
It is not a question directed towards my hon. Friend. It is a question directed towards the person who sits in the chair of the Disarmament Conference. This House is invited in the King's Speech to consider the work of the Conference, and I am within the rules of Order in asking the Government whether they are satisfied with the present guidance and control of the Conference. There is widespread disquietude and a fear that the Conference is drifting to disaster, and the country want to be assured that that drift is not due to any lack of energy or efficiency on the part of those who are responsible for the conduct of the Conference. I make that inquiry as one who has followed these matters for a long time. I do so on my own responsibility. No one suggested that I should ask that question. I made a reference here to this subject three years ago and I repeat it to-day because the work of the Conference shows no improvement now as compared with the position three years ago.
I now turn to the passage in the Gracious Speech in which the Government declare that strenuous efforts will be made to secure international agreement on such matters as are capable of separate treatment. With the permission of the House I am going to return to a subject with which I ventured to deal when I made my maiden speech five years ago. It is a matter in connection with which I have taken some part since the end of the War, basing myself in the main on conversations with important American citizens. I suggest to the Gov- 57 ernment that the most important avenue which they can follow up to secure a system of international amity, while the League of Nations falters in that work, is the avenue of co-operation between this nation and the United States. I believe that a basis of association between the two countries can be found and that such a partnership would result in untold benefits to the world. It would show us a way out of the impasse into which international affairs with regard to disarmament have drifted.
I see the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) in his place. As he knows I gave attention to this matter many years ago, and I have occasionally brought it to his notice. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he has an unparalleled opportunity of laying the foundations of co-operation between ourselves and the United States by bringing within the ambit of international discussion the question of the policing of the high seas. The trade routes on the high seas are the arteries of world commerce. Increasingly the trade of the world is being carried over those routes. The days are past when any special claim could be made to ownership of those routes. It is true that there is the need to secure control of the routes in the absence of international agreement, but as this is a historic difficulty between ourselves and the United States—a difficulty to prevent which I believe America came into the late War and a difficulty which was dealt with by the late President Wilson in his Fourteen Points—is it not highly desirable to consider the question of a system of public law embodied in a covenant in the charge of the League of Nations, a system of law which would apply not only to the land and the air, but to the sea as well
This is a very large matter to consider on the present occasion, but I would press upon the Government that in the conversations which are proceeding with the United States Government they should take the best way which they think open to them of indicating their readiness to discuss the plan of a rule of law at sea dealing with the question of authority to interfere with ships of other nations and of having it embodied in a scheme under international sanctions. I submit that that is one of the best ways which can be found out of 58 the present international difficulty. I apologise for having taken up the time of the House to this extent, but I think all hon. Members realise that the main question which is exercising the people of the country to-day and especially the women of the country is the question of peace. Any effort which the Government can make to remove the causes of war or to remove any menace to peace will redound to their credit as no other proposals would. As I say, the matter to which I have referred is a historic difference between ourselves and the United States, and the time has come when we should do our best to remove it. I suggest to the Government that their efforts to reach international agreement on such matters as are capable of separate treatment, pending the success of the League for which we all hope, should be directed in the first place towards this question as one which might be suitably raised at the present time.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. TINKER
The hon. and learned Member for South Nottingham (Mr. Knight) has already cleared up his reference to the miners. I now ask him to clear up his reference to the chairman of the Disarmament Conference. Is he accusing the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Arthur Henderson) of being one of the causes of the failure of the conference? I would like him to make that point clear as there seems to be some sort of imputation—
§ Mr. KNIGHT
I make no imputation. I apply to the work of the conference what I and the majority of people outside would apply to the work of any other conference. If a conference has been prolonged for two or three years without being able to reach success, it is a matter for serious consideration whether the chairmanship of that conference is in the right hands or not.
§ Mr. TINKER
I am not sufficiently well-informed enough on these matters to undertake at this stage either to defend the right hon. Gentleman or otherwise, but I wanted to have made clear to the House what was in the hon. and learned Member's mind when he made that statement. Turning to the 59 proceedings of to-day one thing which struck me forcibly was that the House was not full as it usually is upon these occasions. As a rule, practically all the 615 Members of this House put in an appearance on the opening day of the Session and one wonders why the attendance was not so large to-day. I think the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) put his finger on the cause when he said that many Members opposite were losing faith in this Government. I would remind hon. Members opposite, however, that they are elected to come to this House, and to attend to their duties and it is not fair to their constituents that they should stop away on an occasion of this kind, even though they should seek to excuse themselves by saying that nothing is likely to happen on the first day, and that the House will rise early in any case. I think these are opportunities which private Members should take advantage of and I would point out that when private Members' time is being taken by the Government, it will be argued that the private Members themselves do not at present take full advantage of the time allotted to them.
It is usual to deal with a King's Speech in one of two ways, either by pointing out its omissions or by criticising what is in it. The omission from this Speech which I particularly regret is the omission of any reference to the raising of the school-leaving age. I had expected something in that respect because this question is agitating the minds of people in the country. On Saturday last the Workers Educational Association, a fine body of people who have paid close attention to this subject, passed a resolution asking the Government to do something in that direction. I would remind hon. Members opposite that the Junior League, the Members of which are supposed to be the coming people of the Conservative party at their conference last month also passed a resolution to the effect that the school-leaving age should be altered. Apparently, all parties in the country are advocating this reform, and one would expect the Government to take notice of those representations. The President of the Board of Education when dealing with this matter in July said it would cost £8,000,000, a sum which was not to be treated lightly, but I 60 submit that the country would benefit to a far greater extent than is represented by a sum of £8,000,000 if we raised the school age. It would be one means of relieving unemployment—a problem with which we shall have to deal sometime or other.
Then I would ask how it is that there is no reference in the King's Speech to another matter bearing directly on the unemployment question, namely the question of the shorter working week. It is true that last week the Minister of Labour touched upon this matter, but I would rather have something better. I do not think you are going to get a body of employers to recognise it until the force of law is behind it. Another question that was mentioned last week was that of overtime. While we have so much unemployment in this country, it looks bad that we have so much overtime, and I did hope the Government would have dealt with that question. They might have put something in the Gracious Speech as a warning to the employing classes that overtime should be done away with until such time as we have all our people in employment. On the question of the distressed areas, I want to ask why Lan-cashire has not been mentioned? The Gracious Speech last week said:I regret that unhappily some areas have not shared in this improvement and their special conditions are receiving the sympathetic attention of My Ministers.Lancashire is not mentioned at all, and I want to draw the attention of the House to the position of Lancashire. Lancashire has a population of about 5,000,000, and at present we have nearly 400,000 out of work on the books of the Employment Exchanges, which is probably one of the largest numbers for any part of the country. It may be argued that there are other places with large populations that have the same number of unemployed, but in Lancashire we have our black spots, equalising the depression in the county with any of those areas examined by the commissioners. I put a question last week with regard to the position of the mining industry and these are the figures that I got: In 1921 we had employed in the mines of Lancashire 104,800 people; in October, 1934, that had fallen to 59,400, or a decrease of 43 per cent. Lancashire depends upon coal and cotton. I could not get the figures of unemployed in the cotton industry, nor the number 61 of mills closed down, but I have been able to get figures showing that just before the War there were in the factories of Lancashire some 60,000,000 spindles; in 1931, 8,000,000 of those had gone; in 1934, 6,000,000 further had gone; and it is estimated that there are still 13,000,000 spindles too many; in other words, to meet the requirements of the present time, about 33,000,000 out of those 60,000,000 spindles would suffice. If you put these figures together, you will realise the industrial distress of Lancashire. We have not very many Labour Members from that county at present. There are only five of us, but there are 60 or more representatives from Lancashire in the House, and I urge upon the Conservative representation of the county to prevail upon the Government to do something for Lancashire. The question wants examining and some help should be given. The Prime Minister's statement to-day on that question was very weak, and I hope we in Lancashire shall not have to wait until they have spent a great deal of time in going into details.
To turn to another point, I want to refer to the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week, when he talked about "men of light and leading" not being found in the depressed areas. I should have thought he would have understood that the "men of light and leading"—or, in other words, wealthy men, because he meant that—clear out whenever they see signs of any depression. They leave that neighbourhood, and in many cases they leave before the depression comes, because they will not live in surroundings that are not very nice to them. Therefore, we find that these men who are called "men of light and leading" leave because it does not pay them to stop there. You will get these wealthy men stopping there when it pays them to stop there. The Minister of Labour made a startling statement. In trying to tell us why industries did not go to these places, he said:You cannot expect the birth of new industries in the rather unkempt graveyards of the old. There is not one prospective employer, looking for a site for a factory, who, taken first to the Great West Road, with its neatness, tidiness and newness, with all the signs of growth and progress, and then to one of the derelict areas with the relics of past industry all around, would not be influenced in favour of the first and against the second. It is that bias, 62 a real bias, which exists in the minds of prospective employers."—[OFFICIAL REPORT 14th November, 1934; col. 2099; Vol. 293.]The graveyards of those places are being created at present in many of our industrial centres. The graveyards the right hon. Gentleman referred to mean slag heaps, pit heaps, and derelict buildings. I come from a place which for some time has been agitating about burning pit heaps, and my attention has been drawn to one of them having burst into flame. In the mining industry, when trade is slack, the coal that would otherwise be sold as inferior coal is dumped near the pithead, and in this case a heap 100 yards square has burst into flame. Within 50 yards of it are houses, and within half a mile is the centre of a town of 15,000 inhabitants. When the wind is serving, you get all the sulphur fumes from these pit heaps spreading right over the place. The outcry has been great, and there is no law to deal with the matter unless we can get people to come forward and prove that they are suffering in health as a result of these fumes—a very difficult thing to get them to do.
There is an example of what will become graveyards in the future, "unkempt graveyards," and nothing is being done while this is happening. Surely in any civilised country some attempt ought to be made to get the employers to recognise that they cannot do this thing lightly. What I am saying now is happening in every coal-producing area in this country, and whether it is right or wrong, the people have to accept it because they have to get their livelihood. I have in my possession letters from schoolmistresses telling me the conditions in which their children live. In one case 35 could not come to school one week because they were suffering from chest complaints. I have letters from the inhabitants and from a trade union complaining about their workpeople suffering because of these fumes. Last Saturday I went to investigate the matter for myself, and I got a very graphic description from a woman, who came to her door and said, "How is it you cannot stop this happening?" I said, "We are doing our best." She said, "If my chimney gets on fire, I am taken to the police court and fined, yet here there is something going on that is equal to a thousand chimneys and nothing is done. That man 63 gets away with it, but I have to go to the police court because I am causing danger to the inhabitants." I thought that was a very striking illustration. Collectively, nothing can be done, but individually that woman can be taken to Leigh police court and fined because she is doing something against her neighbours.
I urge the Government to do something immediately in regard to derelict areas and not to allow this kind of thing to go on. I urge the Government that it is time we had a Ministry set up under the title of Ministry of Preparation, not of reparation, not waiting till events happen and then dealing with them afterwards. The time has come when Parliament must plan ahead and not wait until fate overtakes it, till a tremendous volume of unemployment comes along and then talk about remedies. That is not sufficient for men who are sent here to lead the nation. It has been said too often that Governments never lead, they only follow. They have never given a lead yet, and it appears to me, from the speeches that we have heard to-day, that they do not intend to give a lead. The hon. Member who spoke before me said the conditions of the people were not as bad as they were in 1930–31. While I am not prepared to dispute that at the moment, will he tell me that they have so improved that one can look with any pride on the situation? If there is a slight improvement, is it sufficient for us, with all the wealth at our command? Is it sufficient to have 2,000,000 unemployed, as we have now, with 500,000 who have been out of work for years?
Is it not time that the Government set about seeing that these things were remedied, with all the backing that we have? What is required is some directing from the Government, some intention to deal with the situation as it ought to be dealt with. They have now been in office for three years, and they can go for five years, and they will go the whole period, I have no doubt, because they know what is waiting for them when they go out, but while they are in at least let them try to make the job a decent one and show the people that they have been worthy of the trust put in them. Probably my words will have no effect on the Government, but 64 I have to utter my complaint in the hope that it may have some effect and trust that when the next King's Speech comes along the raising of the school-leaving age will be one of the chief reforms that is going to be aimed at.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. CLARRY
I should not have intervened this evening if I were not aware that the question of the distressed areas is one of considerable urgency, and I consider it desirable that several points which I have in mind should receive the attention of the Government, and particularly of the commissioner dealing with these matters. The outline given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week of the Government's attitude towards distressed areas has aroused considerable renewed hope to people in South Wales—who had almost lost hope, owing to the long period of distress through which they have passed—that something of an effective nature will be done. I do not think anything effective can be undertaken in South Wales unless it carries with it a material increase in the production of coal. New factories and works, unless they are large consumers of coal, will have little or no effect on the coal industry. A factory might be set up which would merely take some current for running lathes or machines, and it would not make any material inroads on unemployment in the mining areas.
If we assume, as I think we safely can, that the only benefit that can arise in the South Wales area must depend on an increased production of coal, we might look for a moment at two avenues for that increased production. One, of course, is increased exports, which have fallen off materially, during the last six years particularly. Exports affect also the docks, the railways and shipping. I would like the commissioner and the Government seriously to consider putting into operation something which I believe would have a material and beneficial effect without bringing in machinery to any material extent. I refer to an export bounty on coal and coke from South Wales, excluding, of course, anthracite which needs no bounty as there is a definite and assured market for it. In the larger industries the big coal consuming undertakings are steel works and associated coke ovens, which should be encouraged apart from any scheme of 65 local rationalisation and big business. The local conditions of the areas should have first consideration particularly when the Government are concerned.
Speaking of coke ovens brings me to another suggestion which is current and has been discussed for many years, namely, low temperature carbonisation. There seems to be in the public mind some magic about that process. Probably people do not realise that high temperature carbonisation has been in existence for well over a century, and has been highly and scientifically developed during the last 20 years. High temperature carbonisation is carried on in gas works and coke ovens. I may explain, without being technical, that the difference between high and low temperature carbonisation is that in the latter there is a larger liquid product and a less gaseous product. Otherwise, they are very similar, although the coke is not so hard in the low temperature process. If low temperature is advocated to any material extent, careful consideration should be given to its effect on the market, because in the case of the low temperature plant about 13 cwts. of coke are made available per ton during or after carbonisation, and this must necessarily eat into our coal markets. It is not so easy and plain sailing as one would think, but reasonable development of low temperature carbonisation might be undertaken, always bearing in mind that the two rivals of carbonisation—coke ovens and gas works—each have an assured market for their products. In the case of plant for low temperature carbonisation put down in the ordinary way, the products have not necessarily an assured market. Therefore, marketing conditions should play a big part in any scheme.
That leads me to my final suggestion, that something should be done to absorb a great deal of coal and at the same time meet a demand in this country which is not met by home products. It would seem to be an ideal way out of our difficulties. I do not suggest that hydrogenation is an ideal process from any point of view, but it does meet a great difficulty. We have the necessity to import large quantities of petrol, which amounted last year, without the duty, to £15,000,000. At the same time, we have areas with first class coal and miners idle on the surface waiting to bring it up. Petrol being a liquid hydro- 66 carbon fuel and coal being a solid hydrocarbon fuel, it has now technically possible to change the coal into petrol. It would seem fundamentally and in principle to be the ideal form of solving some of the difficulties in our coalfields. I have investigated this question for a number of years and, as far as I can see, there would be every justification in South Wales for five new hydrogenation plants each capable of producing 100,000 tons of petrol per annum. Even that amount would not cover more than one-quarter of our requirements. It would not interfere with any other industry in the area or anywhere else.
This seems to me to be a very proper scheme for encouragement by the Government, and particularly for putting into operation some form of subsidising wages, which is advocated by the commissioner in his report. It has been attempted in many cases during the last five or ten years, but has been found almost impossible to put into operation primarily because it interferes with existing industries. In this particular case it appears that it would not interfere with any other industry, because the production of petrol is entirely new. If some encouragement is to be given to companies or undertakings—I do not suggest what form they should take—to erect plant to produce petrol from coal, I would like the Government to consider the possibility of subsidising wages during the construction stage. I think it might be done on some such basis as 10 per cent. of the wage bill during construction stage paid on the site, and perhaps during the first year of working operations 5 per cent. of the wage bill paid on the site. That would interfere with nothing and would give the requisite encouragement to the starting of a new industry which we have every reason to believe would be successful and economical, although it has not yet been proved by balance sheet figures. It is a matter well worth trying. I beg the Government to give these points close and urgent consideration, because, if something can be done on those lines, it will have the effect of heartening the men, of circulating more money, of giving them a different outlook, and of making us—partially, at any rate—independent of imported fuel.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. LYONS
The Debate to-day, as was to be expected, has ranged over a 67 wide field, but in some of the speeches from the other side, which were full of criticism and declamation, we looked in vain for any single constructive suggestion for meeting the difficult problems of the day. I wish very much that when an hon. Member, either here or outside, tries to make some contribution to the urgent problems which the Government have to face, he would endeavour to put forward some constructive proposal which would be of advantage, and not seek to gain a little personal or political capital by trying from every angle and without any regard to the facts or circumstances to belittle the Government and the country. I was reminded by the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) of his own position when he spoke about distorted electoral representations. I do not want to follow him through his many wanderings, or to say much about his speech in his absence, but I thought it remarkable that he should make some complaint about distorted representations when it was due to his support of the Government, which he afterwards withdrew, that he was made a Minister during the first Government of 1931. I wonder how many of his colleagues would have been returned except for the support which they promised to give to the National Government. Would they have been returned if they had merely persisted in the old party shibboleths which would lead the country nowhere?
§ Mr. DINGLE FOOT
Many of the hon. Gentleman's own colleagues received thousands of Liberal votes at the last general election on understandings which have not been honoured.
§ Mr. LYONS
Those of my colleagues who received Liberal votes did not come into the House and then rat the Government they promised to support. They supported the Government in treating great problems in a broad, national spirit, and I have yet to find one of my colleagues who obtained Liberal votes who got into the House and then withdrew the support which he promised to give to the Government, on which promise he got the votes in the first instance.
After three years of this Government we might very properly take credit for the fact that they have overcome the 68 greatest financial crisis which the country has ever known. To-day we are starting a new Session with the knowledge that the financial crisis is behind us. When a criticism is made by an hon. Gentleman opposite about the amount of benefit which the capitalistic classes, as he called them, would receive from the Government, we might ponder on the great measure of financial benefit that has been received by millions of working people in this country and by the 2,000,000 people who are unhappily not in work. They find to-day, at any rate, that their benefits are in no way endangered. The emoluments to which they are entitled from the State by virtue of their contributions have never been suspended, and to-day, perhaps more than at any time since the passing of the Bill a few months ago, they are completely safeguarded in the benefits to which they are entitled and the purchasing power of that income.
I want to share the view which has been expressed by the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) on the question of hours. I have no doubt that the House will accept the assurance given last week by the Minister of Labour that a conference is immediately to be held to examine this problem from every angle. I think the time has now come when we can evolve by mutual co-operation a dual scheme, first, of "work-sharing" and distribution of overtime and the distribution of work to men who have been unemployed for long periods; and, secondly, a curtailment of the working day and the working week. I am sure the Minister of Labour will give full consideration to the report which has just been submitted to him by one of his own officers who has investigated the experiment tried by a well-known firm of manufacturing chemists in the Midlands which has continued the system of a five-day week after giving it a probationary period. Because it is not in the King's Speech in so many words, that is not to say that some such system will not be put into operation generally. I think we all have complete confidence in the undertaking given by the right hon. Gentleman last week, and I have no doubt the conference to which he referred will get to work speedily. It is our hope that it will be successful, so that this experiment may be introduced on a widespread scale for the benefit of 69 the workers of this country. I believe we ought to supplement a guaranteed period of work with a guaranteed period of leisure, giving fuller opportunities for enjoyment for the workers through the introduction of the seven-hour day or the five-day week and without diminution of earnings.
I would like to say one or two words about the reference made in the Gracious Speech to further Imperial air communications. We have recently seen a tremendous achievement in British aviation, and, without minimising it in any way, I feel that when people begin to talk of those vast spaces, long distances and record times we get a little panicky about speeds and records without any relation to the facts. I am glad to see that measures are to be introduced to accelerate Imperial air services. During the last Recess I had an opportunity of going to the Cape and back by the Imperial Airways Service, which is a marvel of transport and perfected organisation. There is no doubt that in an Empire like ours air services are of vital importance, and any possible acceleration of them should be undertaken. We must not stand still, because the air may very well become the road, the rail and the sea of the future, and it behoves us to marshal to our imperial aid every improvement in air services.
As regards the over-riding problem of peace, I do not suppose there is any division of opinion among thinking men and women. It is the hope and the determination of every one in this land that there shall be lasting peace, not merely in this country, but all the world over. I did not like the reference made by the right hon. Member for Caithness, who, I am sure, is just as devout in his desire for peace as we are, when he spoke about the frontal attack made last week by the Foreign Secretary. I do not think any Government could have worked harder for peace than have the present Government during the last three years. No greater efforts for peace could have been made than those which have been put forth, in times of great difficulty, by the Foreign Secretary. The whole position in Europe in the last three years has been fraught with the gravest danger, and I tremble to think what the position, not merely of this country, but of the whole Continent would have been if we had not had the 70 Government we have to speak for the whole mass of the people in their profound desire for peace—headed by a Prime Minister and a Foreign Secretary who, supported by all their colleagues, have left no stone unturned to use the great influence of this country in the councils of Europe towards securing world peace and world understanding. It does not help the cause of peace for a right hon. Gentleman who has been himself a Member of this Government to criticise the speech of the Foreign Secretary as being a frontal attack on a misnamed peace ballot which is opposed by many thinking people.
We are approaching a momentous year, in which there will be great celebrations throughout the whole Empire, and I venture to hope that the Government, who have shown their desire to knit closer the Empire, to secure Empire markets and to extend the system of Imperial preferences, will take advantage of the presence in England of Dominion and other overseas statesmen to form a nucleus of what might very well become a permanent Imperial Economic Advisory Committee, a committee to be in constant session, dealing with all the great problems which affect every country having allegiance to the Crown. There is no real difference of opinion in the conceptions of citizenship, progress, justice and liberty throughout the Empire, and I feel we ought to take advantage of the opportunity next year to form an Imperial Conference for all time, because in that way we should be doing a great work towards furthering the unity of the Empire.
However much the Opposition may criticise the Government, we have seen in the last three years that whereas every other country in the world has gone down, that its difficulties have become greater, its unemployment has increased, and it has had to suspend the liberties of its citizens, the British Empire has been able to maintain sanity, solvency and even prosperity, and I deeply deplore any attempt to gain personal or party capital out of a pose of defeatism. At all times we in this country have faced our difficulties and overcome them, and in these last years we have kept the social services of the country almost intact. The little diminutions that were necessary were shouldered by the men and women concerned, who did not fear to face the facts, and the "cuts" 71 then inflicted were the first to be restored when circumstances permitted. At no time have we suspended any of the freedom which we have had. Our social services and our freedom have been maintained on a bigger and wider scale than exists anywhere else in the world. I wish those hon. Members who are so keen to criticise would bear in mind those outstanding achievements, which are the envy of the whole world.
We know that we are facing a Session which is fraught with problems of great magnitude. I believe that the Government, setting its face to the facts, can meet those problems without any surrender of British principles. When it is so foolishly said that industry after industry is in a worse state, I wish that some of those hon. Members who speak, or think they speak, for free imports, would come to the constituencies in two or three industrial areas and see how men and women who were erstwhile supporters of their political faith are now united in saying, "This is not a question of political expediency, it is a question of grave national importance; it is a matter of the economic welfare of trade rather than of political argument," and at the same time note the great benefits which tariffs have brought to various industries. Trade after trade in my division is working at greater pressure, giving more secure employment to more people and at a bigger wage, than has ever been the case at any time in the history of those particular trades and industries.
The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) had a few sarcastic remarks to make about what we term unfair competition. This country has had to encounter unfair competition from many foreign nations and in many ways in the past. It was unfair competition that caused our markets to be invaded by dumped goods. I hope that in the coming year the enterprise of industry will be assisted by the Government giving adequate protection beyond the present safeguarding of industries legislation by a greater control on imports in the case of those industries which to-day are faced by competition from foreign countries where the same standards do not prevail as in this country. It is not for us to dictate to any foreign country what standard of life its workers should have. 72 It is our duty to safeguard, and to improve where we can, the standard of life of our own workers. We already have protective Measures in many industries, and I may say that I could never understand why a trade unionist was not the strongest of protectionists if he applied an honest mind to the question. We now have control of imports to give some kind of protection to finished products, and what I desire to see is some additional check by way of prohibition or increased tariffs to keep out goods coming from those countries which have an entirely different standard of life—helped possibly by a manipulated currency—to compete unfairly with our own. Speaking for the industries of my division, I hope I shall be with them in resisting for all time any attempt to diminish the standard of life which our workers in Leicester enjoy. At the same time, it is idle, while resisting that attempt, to encourage the sale in this country, more or less freely, of goods which we know are made by sweated labour and in shocking conditions—according to our standards.
Finally, the right hon. Member for Caithness said, "We want to extend markets." Of course we want to extend markets, but we cannot provide markets for our goods if we are to continue to allow our own markets to be the dumping ground of the world. We have a great market in the British market. Every manufacturer in the world knows the value of the solvent British market, and I am happy to think that at long last a British Government were determined to face the facts and give some measure of protection to that home market for the benefit of the millions of men and women engaged in industry. Let us remember that the number of men and women under national insurance who are now engaged in industry is greater than it has been for many years, and not minimise our improved industrial and financial situation.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. GEORGE GRIFFITHS
This is the first time in my life that I have been in the House to hear the King's Speech and what has impressed itself upon me is not what is in the Speech but what is left out. I have read it and re-read it and read it again. The Prime Minister stated that the Leader of the Opposition 73 had not much to say about what was in the Speech. The Prime Minister waxed hot about this speech, and his references recall to my mind the story of the little boy who, in going through a wood in the dark, whistled in order to keep up his courage. I also looked at the King's Speech from this standpoint—the things which were left out which affect the workers at home, those who have been looking to this House to do something for them. No mention is made in the King's Speech about the mining industry. I wondered why there has been no change whatever in the Minimum Wage Act for miners since 1912. That Act gives a minimum wage below ground for able-bodied workers in the South Yorkshire area of 75. 6d. per head. Last year the average time worked in all Yorkshire was some-think like three and a-half shifts per week, and half the workers were going home starved.
The hon. and learned Member for South Nottingham (Mr. Knight)—of course, he apologised afterwards—said that with the exception of the mining industry industries were better off financially than they were in 1931. So far as the mining industry is concerned, wages have not gone up but have gone down between 1931 and to-day. A commission, or an independent court, in South Wales have in the last few days given, for the first time in that period, an increase in wages—a very small increase. On 26th July I put a question to the Minister of Labour in this House as to the number of people who were signing on at the Employment Exchanges in my division in 1929, and the number signing on in 1934. These are the figures—they are not my figures but those of the Ministry of Labour: The number signing on at the Employment Exchange in South Kirkby in 1929 was 924; in 1934, it was 6,261. In Barnsley in 1929, it was 3,785; in 1934, 14,826. In the Wakefield area in 1929, it was 5,147; in 1934, 9,311. Hon. Members who talk about industry reviving should come to my division and talk that sort of stuff there. They would then begin to ask themselves whether they knew anything about it, so far as that division is concerned. The reason I quoted the figures was to suggest that it is time something were done for the men who are out of work in my division. I was hoping that some suggestion would be made in the King's Speech 74 as to an attempt to do something about it, if only for the Government's own sake when they go back to the country.
I was also hoping that the Government would have given consideration to a Compensation Act, in regard to the mining industry. That is an overdue Measure. During the last 12 months, more than 160,000 men were injured in the mines and 990 odd were killed. When the men who work short time on three and a-half days per week are injured and get compensation, they find that the compensation is on a very low level, amounting to starvation for them and their wives and children. The situation is that immediately a man meets with an accident he has to go to the Poor Law for assistance. We ask that if an industrial worker is injured he should be looked after according to a standard of living equal to what he enjoyed before he was injured, so that he can recover more quickly than at present. The compensation in the mining industry for an adult worker is as low as £1 per week. I cited a case in the House the other day when I asked that, in the new Poor Law Act which was passed last Friday, a, Clause should be inserted not to take into account one-half of the compensation when a man was applying for Poor Law relief. The Government turned it down entirely and refused to insert the Clause in that small Bill, and the compensation which a man receives is taken into account to 100 per cent., and not to 50 per cent.
In regard to the distressed areas, hon. Members on this side of the House will later on put their points of view, but is there any area more distressed than my own division, in regard to which I have already quoted figures? Thousands of people are out of work, with very little prospect of getting work. One of the reasons for that is the mechanisation of industry. I think it was the Commissioner for Durham who stated that when mechanisation comes into the mining industry not less than 30 per cent. of the workers are swept out of it. I make bold to say that that percentage is low, and that it should be not less than 40 per cent. I was hoping that there would be some proposal in the King's Speech for helping such distress as that which exists in my district. I was amazed that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his statement last Wednesday, should have quoted only 75 from three lines out of about 25 of a paragraph in the report of the Commissioner for South Wales. It was a sentence that threw a slight upon the people who are left in those areas. The sentence which he quoted, by Sir Wyndham Portal, was:I regard the area as suffering from the disadvantage of not having the outstanding type of people resident in the district, which they had in years gone by.That is Sir Wyndham's last sentence, but if we go to the second paragraph of the summary entitled "Characteristics of the Area" we see this:I find them very intelligent, with a thorough grasp of all duties and functions falling on their councils.The Chancellor of the Exchequer could not have said that about the type of people who have left the district. I knew that type of people in my own district more than 25 years ago, and nobody could say that they had a thorough grasp of the duties and functions falling on their councils. Hon. Members opposite will, I think, agree with the statement in the report. Great credit is due to our men in that area. The paragraph goes further than that and states that the people not only knew something about the government of their own districts, but about national and international politics. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was very much wanting in simply quoting those few words out of the chapter.
I want to go a little bit further. On the same day as the Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke, the Minister of Labour pleaded with us on this side of the House not to make party credit or advantage out of the reports of the commissioners. He said, in effect, "Do not go down to your divisions and pull these to pieces. I could go to my division and make as good a speech or as devastating a speech against these reports as you could do." I went down to my place last Friday. I am not much of a speaker, but I did what I could in opposition to what the Minister of Labour asked. He did not want us to take any advantage but my mind went back to October, 1931, and I remembered what advantage the people who are now on the Government benches took against us in regard to the Post Office and other 76 matters. I shall not be prepared to keep quiet on these matters.
There is another thing. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, speaking last Thursday night about the shortening of hours, wanted to know if we could get a shorter working week negotiated between the employers of labour and the Trade Union Congress, and he threw out the bait as to whether reduction of hours would require reduction in wages. We say emphatically that the worker cannot suffer a reduction in hours with a reduction of wages, because he is already on the grass level.
§ Mr. LYONS
May I point out to the hon. Member that not one of us who have taken any part in trying to bring about, through co-operative effort a reduction in the working day or the working week, have ever suggested that that should entail reduction in wages. We have said that the working day or the working week should be reduced without any diminution in the workers' wages.
§ Mr. GRIFFITHS
I was not speaking about the hon. Member for East Leicester (Mr. Lyons). Possibly the hon. Gentleman was not in the House at the time. This is what the Parliamentary Secretary said:What we think ought to be done in this country is to see, industry by industry, whether it is possible to shorten hours without reducing wages, and, if it is not possible to do it without reducing wages, to see what sacrifices the employers or the men respectively are prepared to make."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1934; col. 2296, Vol. 293.]The hon. and learned Member for East Leicester knows quite well that the men to-day cannot stand any reduction in wages, especially in our industry, and we say, therefore, that we cannot agree to it. If an attempt be made to negotiate a reduction of hours, we shall be prepared for it, in order that more people may be absorbed in industry, but we are not prepared to accept any reduction in the wages of the workers of this country. I am glad that the Minister of Health is here. There is not a word in the King's Speech in reference to maternal mortality. The Minister, on the 20th June, stood at that Box and bemoaned the fact that in 1932 some 3,000 mothers died. We asked him what he was doing about it, and he 77 said, "Well, we are just going to see whether there will be any progress during the next 12 months, when we"—
§ Mr. GRIFFITHS
I have not the words here, but I will find them. The Minister made the statement that they were going on the same lines this year, and were going then to review the situation. This year the maternal mortality rate is higher than it has been since 1911, and the infant mortality rate this year is 4.32 higher than it has been since 1911. What the Minister has done since the 20th June to try to bring down maternal mortality has been to send out, on the 10th October, a Circular, No. 1433, a circular which, practically speaking, is not worth the paper on which it is printed. It is not circulars that the mothers of this country want; they want something practical done to save their lives; it must be deeds, not words. We ask the Government, in the last 12 months of their life, to do something for the mothers. It is all right for the Minister to smile, but he would not have smiled if he had been at Euston Road when 1,500 women came there from every part of the country to protest against the high maternal mortality rate. They were in earnest, and they were not of one political section; they belonged to all political parties, and they felt that this matter was a very grievous one.
I said that the percentage was 4.32, but I am sorry to find that it is 4.51; and the total deaths last year directly connected with maternity were 2,618, while those indirectly associated with it—those are the words—were 828, or a total last year of 3,446. In the West Riding, from which I come—in the administrative area, not the whole county—the rate was 6.90, and in the entire county, including the boroughs and cities, it was 5.91. I was talking to a midwife last Friday who came to me 78 after I had finished my meeting at Ryhill, and asked, "What are you going to do for these mothers? Is this Government going to do anything at all for the mothers who are dying?" She went on to say that the reason why the mothers in her district were dying in maternity was malnutrition. She said that the women were not getting sufficient to eat, and that, when they came to this vital matter of giving new life to the world, they had not the strength with which to stand this, the greatest crisis of their lives. I am bitterly disappointed that in the King's Speech there is no reference to the minimum wage, that there is no reference to compensation, that the distressed areas are being placed in a watertight compartment, and that there is no word about maternal mortality. I made a note which may be laughable in a sense. In one part of the Speech it is stated that:The conditions of agriculture and the reorganisation of the herring industry are closely engaging the attention of My Ministers.When I read that, I thought to myself that, putting it in the everyday language of Yorkshire, it means that the Government have now got to fish and chips in the King's Speech.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
I have never heard a criticism of the King's Speech which did not complain that there was very little in it, and I was not surprised to hear that criticism from the hon. Gentleman opposite. I make no apology for keeping the House here to-night, because, anyhow those Members who support the National Government will realise how very difficult it is for a back bencher on this side to get in a speech on any subject, when there are two speeches from the benches opposite to every one from ourselves. The Gracious Speech contains this sentence:My Ministers have for some time past had under consideration the further development and acceleration of Imperial air communications, and Measures to this end will be brought forward in due course.This is the first time that I have heard civil aviation mentioned in any King's Speech, or any proposal that we were going further ahead with this subject. The hon. Member who has just spoken has been pleading for the revival of an old industry. Here I am talking about a 79 new industry. I am not talking about the air from the point of view of armaments at all, but as a new industry which has to be developed, and for which there is an enormous future. I would like to see it developed in this country to such an extent that we should become, so to speak, the air-building nation of the world, as we have been the shipbuilding nation of the world. There are many things to be done. It is, I think, in these days of international thought, regrettable that we cannot fly across France when we want to do so, that we cannot fly across Italy—that Imperial Airways have to take their passengers by train because they cannot fly across Italy. It is preposterous that small countries like Persia can stop our great lines to our possessions in the Far East. These are things to which the Air Ministry will have to give very grave consideration, in order to clear away these disabilities.
The point, however, to which I desire to draw the attention of the House is this: We have, I think, got past the idea that aviation is just an armament, and that it is created simply to do harm to our fellow-men. Aviation is something very much bigger, which has to be developed, and, as I look upon it, it "butts in" on the Secretary of State for the Dominions, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, the Board of Trade, and in every interaction of the mother country with the Dominions and Colonies. It is of vast importance, and I feel that not for long will this great subject be tied up and, so to speak, become the perquisite of one Ministry, and that a War Ministry, namely, the Air Ministry. The subject is too big, and it is ridiculous that that Department alone should deal with it.
If I were a Mussolini in this country, I should be inclined to put back the Secretary of State for Air and the Under-Secretary of State into the places which they formerly held. I am not criticising them from any personal point of view, but I would point out what became very obvious the other day when we had the great race from England to Australia, namely, the lamentable technical equipment of this Island in aircraft matters. It was, I think, perfectly absurd that a commercial machine from America was faster than our scouts. That shows that there is something wrong somewhere. 80 There was a time when from the technical point of view we were far ahead of every other nation. That was a time when I did not worry about our having a very small Air Force, because I knew that it was technically far superior to any other; but our present position of having a very small Air Force and a very bad one seems to me to be quite intolerable.
I do not want to harp upon the military side, but when later on proposals are put before us with regard to intercommunication between this country and the Dominions, I hope the Secretary of State for Air will be able to tell us that he has gone very thoroughly into this question of the technical side of aviation, and that he is not taking for gospel everything that he is told by the officials within his Ministry. We have to remember that in a very curious way, aviation having been, so to speak, born in the War, the State got control of it during a very early and very difficult time, and it has never given up that control. The heavy hand of the State stops all initiative in the development of aviation to-day. It is a very curious thing that, whereas under stress one firm can produce in only seven months a machine which won the England-to-Australia race, the type of night bomber which is being put into service to-day was designed seven years ago. There must be something wrong in the organisation of the technical side of that great Ministry when a machine which is about to be put into production was designed seven years ago. There is nothing wrong with our engineers; there is nothing wrong with our scientists. It is that somewhere within the organisation of the Air Ministry there is such a delay as to stifle the production of up-to-date machines and to stop all form of initiative.
It is not the State's business to produce new types of aircraft or to stop the development of new types, but that is what it is taking on. The manufacturer of aircraft wants to get orders; that is his business—to try to make money. He knows that, if he puts forward something which is new, something which is revolutionary, his chief opponents will be the State technicians within the Air Ministry. What does he do? He simply says, "What a marvellous Ministry it is," and is always prepared with out-of-date designs to put before them. That is not the way to conquer the air; it is not 81 the way by which this country is going to lead in the air. The whole matter is so important, and the measures which the Government are putting forward are so well-intentioned, that I hope that, when they are put forward, the Secretary of State will be able to tell us that he is not only dealing with the subject in an imaginative way, but has cleared away the debris with the object of seeing that English aviation is not only a service which flies round the world slowly, but one which flies round the world with equipment second to none in the whole world.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. OSWALD LEWIS
I want to take the opportunity afforded by this Debate of calling the attention of the Government to a growing irritation about the unemployment regulations for seasonal workers and the way that they are being carried out. I think hon. Members will remember that during the Debates on the Anomalies Bill the intention of Parliament with regard to seasonal workers was made clear, that, where a man followed an insurable employment for part of the year and was in the habit of getting uninsurable employment for the rest of the year, he should be entitled to benefit when following the insurable work during the season and not in the off-season. That regulation has been far extended. I can give the House cases of men who for many years past have been in industrial life working at insurable employment all the year round, and are yet classes as seasonal workers to-day because they are not following the same kind of insurable work the whole year. For example, there are yatchting men who work afloat part of the year, and work in shipbuilding yards as engineers during the rest of the year. They can show by records that they have clone this for years; yet they are treated to-day as seasonal workers, quite contrary to the wish of Parliament.
In addition, the position is made more difficult by a decision of the Umpire, 82 which I understand the courts of referees consider binding, that in such a case a man must show 25 per cent. of insurable work in each of the last two off seasons, not two off seasons added together. Everyone will see that that will obviously lead to great cases of inequality as between men following the same occupations. Take the figure of 160 days as representing the period of the off season, of which 25 per cent. would be 40 days. One man does 80 days in the last two seasons while another does 160 in one off season and perhaps 20 in another. You could then have a position in which the first man did 40 days in off seasons and obtained benefit, while the other man had a total of 180 days and did not qualify.
I think I have said enough to show the House that there is reasonable ground for ill feeling and irritation among those concerned. I have particularly in mind the men engaged in yachts, afloat during the summer and doing engineering work during the winter. They are a class of men of whom I should find it difficult to speak too highly. They are not the kind of men who do not try to find work. They are men whose records show years of steady work. I maintain that it was never the intention of this House that they should be deprived of benefit. I see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour in his place, and I implore him to look into this matter sympathetically and to see if something cannot be done to remedy what anyone who has this class of labour in his constituency will tell him is a real grievance.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Mr. C. Edwards.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.