§ [THIRD DAY.]
Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [20th November]
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:—
MOST GRACIOUS SOVEREIGN,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—[Mr. Noel Lindsay.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ 3.24 p.m.
§ Mr. MACMILLAN
When the Debate came to an end last night I was observing that the appointment and the reports of the commissioners in regard to the distressed areas had given universal satisfaction in the House and in the country. We believe that the appointments marked a recognition of the special importance of this problem, and I am not at all disappointed in the character of the reports. That which specially affects the part of the country which I represent, the report presented by the Civil Lord of the Admiralty, is a document of the greatest importance. He brought to his work three great qualities, intelligence, integrity and imagination, and, however much the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the speech that he made the other day, may try to minimise it, there are passages in that report which are of an explosive and even a revolutionary character.
The chief measures which the House has to consider for dealing with unemployment in general, and the distressed areas in particular, fall roughly into two categories. There are all those measures which are local in character and restricted in their effect, which open up wide hopeful avenues of future developments through which new channels of human sympathy and help can flow and which fall under the general category of what might be called salvage work. There are others which cover a wider field and are more comprehensive in their effect and more national in their character. The 262 importance of part of these reports seems to lie more in this second class of measure which is adumbrated than in the salvage work, however important that may be. The Chancellor of the Exchequer used one very cryptic sentence in his speech. He is a master of the art of saying just what he means to say and no more, and a very great deal depends upon the interpretation of this sentence:I do not propose to try to take the House through all these numerous recommendations or to say at what decisions we have arrived in the individual cases. Some of these recommendations raise very far-reaching questions of policy, which certainly could not be decided by reference merely to particular and limited areas. Others, again, require further investigation. Still others have been approved, and will in due course be carried out."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th November, 1934; col. 2000, Vol. 293]A great deal depends upon the interpretation of that sentence and as to how it will be followed up by the Government. I have been long enough in the House to know that very often when a Minister says that a suggestion carries with it or involves issues of general policy it means that he has made up his mind to do very little about it, and that that is a convenient way of saying so. I do not want to belittle in any way the salvage work. The Minister of Labour, in the speech with which he wound up the Debate, delighted and entranced the House with the way in which he explained all those various measures, each minor in itself but all cumulative in their effect. He somewhat redeemed the impression which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had made in the House earlier in the day. All those measures of physical recreation of the health, and of moral recreation of the life, of the unemployed, such as occupational centres and agricultural training, are helpful. It would not be unfair to say that the Government had decided to adopt the Society of Friends and to take over this great category of work, which is already in being—tentatively indeed and on far too small a scale, of private effort—and to put all their force behind it. I shall certainly respond to the appeal made by my right hon. Friend to do nothing to belittle that. It is of the greatest importance and it holds out the greatest hope for the future. It would be a bad service to the unemployed to make fun of it, to belittle it or to reduce its value and its importance in any way.
263 The commissioners were appointed for the purpose of correlating and coordinating. The Government, here again, have taken a wise step. I am not quite so sure about the areas in which the commissioners will function. I quite understand that, when you make what the Prime Minister called an investigation —a laboratory investigation—you take a selected field, and you take, of course, the field in which you see the disease you wish to study at its worst. But I think there is going to be serious ill-feeling in the country if all these benefits which the Government now propose to make possible for the unemployed are restricted to these particular areas. How are you going to justify leaving out Tees-side from the benefits which Tyneside is to receive? How are you going to justify leaving out Lancashire? If you take the figures of unemployment in particular areas, how are you going to say that Wigan, with 30 per cent. of unemployment, Blackburn, with 32 per cent., Birkenhead, with 38 per cent., and some of the other Cheshire towns where the figure rises to 50 per cent.—how are you going to say that these are to have none of the benefits of the salvage work, none of the commissioners' beneficent activity, and that you are going to continue the research experiment for another two or three years? That is what the Prime Minister told us the other day.
For 10 years in this House Members have been rising in their places to point out the vital importance of this problem. If research is pursued too long, the time factor will come in, and you may find yourself in the casualty ward while you are still trying to be in the dissecting room. As regards the wider issues other than the salvage work—the great national issues upon which the cure of unemployment really depends—research in South Wales or Durham is not necessary. A phrase once used on another subject by a great Tory leader is as true to-day as it was then. Speaking of the problem of the Indian frontier, Lord Beaconsfield used this famous phrase:The keys of India are not in Herat or Kandahar; the keys of India are in London.So it is with the problem of unemployment. The key lies, not in South Wales or in Durham, but in Downing Street and Threadneedle Street. My right hon.
264 Friend at the end of his speech introduced a series of suggestions which were of a national rather than a merely local character, and I welcome the fact that he alone, of all the Ministers who have spoken on this matter, has envisaged dealing with at any rate some of the problems on a national basis. He developed a very interesting theme, which was satisfactory and welcome to the House. He said he was going to try to get an agreement in the great employing industries on the subject of overtime. The rather farcical situation in which some people are over-employed, some are underemployed, and some are altogether unemployed, has long struck observers of our industrial life. On that question I would only ask my right hon. Friend whether he will consider also the questions that arise on such an appeal. I have been long enough engaged in industry myself to know that there are many things which one is prepared to do if one's competitors also are prepared to do them. There are many agreements of this progressive kind which employers can enter into if they are universally applied within the industry, and I think my right hon. Friend will find that, if he is to press this policy to its true conclusion and to produce good results from it, he may have to consider the development of compulsory powers to enforce the adoption of such a scheme.
My right hon. Friend also raised the very important question of the use of the Employment Exchanges for the filling of places. I think it is now something like 25 years since the system of Employment Exchanges was first begun. We owe it, like many other good things, to the Liberal Government of 1906. Will my right hon. Friend consider whether the time has not, come when the use of the exchanges, so far as the insured population are concerned, should be made compulsory as a means of recruiting? I think that that is a measure which would be of the greatest value in making a more effective use of this machinery. Finally, in the latter part of his speech my right hon. Friend made some reference to the problem of new industries and the localities to which they should be attracted. He said that there were two courses open—that you could either appeal to them to go to a particular area, or you could induce them to go. He left it uncertain where he would 265 finally make his decision, or whether he would make any decision at all. There is a third point. What I am going to say may not find universal agreement in the House, but some small experience leads me to believe it to be true. One reason which, apart from the question of the market and other considerations, is attracting a certain type of small industry to the South, is because the wage system is low and Ire conditions are bad. I believe it would do more than anything else to counteract that movement to the South if a good trade union movement were organised in the South of England. I believe that the enforcement of the highest standards of wages and conditions would be a very effective measure to deter what is at any rate a bad form of attraction from one part of the country to another.
On the wider aspect, I would like to refer particularly to page 106 of the report of my hon. and gallant Friend the Civil Lord of the Admiralty. The Chancellor of the Exchequer skated very lightly over that part of the report, but it struck me when I read it as being very remarkable. My hon. and gallant Friend certainly puts forward, for a Tory Minister of a Service Department, some very remarkable, and even revolutionary, suggestions. He says:The theory that overseas investments will provide an unceasing outlet for the growing industrial activity made possible by modern invention can, therefore, no longer be accepted as axiomatic; and it seems possible that this country may eventually he obliged to content itself with a balanced foreign trading account, somewhat on the lines now advocated by the London Chamber of Commerce.I do not know whether the Government or the House as a whole realise exactly what that proposal involves. The proposals of the London Chamber of Commerce raise fundamental questions of vital importance to national policy. As I understand them, it is held that any system of free trade in money is an anachronism in the 20th century. The proposals describe the international gold standard system, and in a lesser degree, the monetary arrangements now in operation in this country, as a system of free trade in money; and they suggest that the international gold standard system should never be re-established, and that our present monetary system in connection with foreign transactions should be 266 altogether abandoned. It is proposed that we should forbid all private buying and selling of foreign exchange, and that we should fix the exchange rate of sterling in relation to all other national currencies, and keep it fixed regardless of gold or anything else; that the central bank of each country should control all the foreign exchange transactions of its nationals; and that the central banks of the world should meet in a clearing house to set off their claims against each other, always at the immutable, fixed rate of exchange. The purpose of the scheme is, in a word, to ensure that a nation which has acquired claims upon another nation by exporting goods should accept the responsibility of exercising those claims by purchasing its customer's goods, and this at a fixed rate of exchange. It is, in fact, not only a complete system of Protection, but a complete system of Government control and regulation of foreign trade. Do the Government accept that policy? I have never seen a more revolutionary policy put forward by a Minister of the Conservative party. It goes on to say that a national policy will be required if we are to deal effectively with these problems. On the same page he says:It is impossible to promote effective measures for the rehabilitation of any one area without reference to the country as a whole.Do we accept that national responsibility? What are the national proposals which the Government have put, forward? He says the time has come for some form of national planning. What are the Government's views upon that? I trust that by the end of this Debate, or within a reasonable time, we shall have the formulation of such a policy. But these are not his only proposals. He mentions the raising of the school age. What is the Government's policy on that? We must consider whether we ought not to have a pension system for those who can no longer hope to seek employment. What is the Government going to do on that? He says we must take into account the question of the reduction of hours and the use of leisure now made possible by modern science and production. What is the Government's view on that?
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Mr. Oliver Stanley)
Perhaps it would be as well, as my hon. Friend has read the earlier part of the Civil Lord's remarks, 267 if he would read it in connection with what he is now saying. He will see in fact that the Civil Lord does not make any such proposals.
§ Mr. MACMILLAN
That is really hardly worthy of my right hon. Friend. It is true that in' his conclusions the Civil Lord uses words to make a little less severe the blow that he was about to enforce upon his colleagues. He covers it up with certain language in order to reduce the full bitterness of the point., but I leave it to the House to read these pages 106–109 and I ask them if I have in any way misinterpreted what the Civil Lord has said. He then raises the question of mining royalties. There is no obscurity about that paragraph. Will the Government's views on that be stated to the House? He raises the whole question of local government reform. He says—and I agree with him—that in modern conditions a river which was perhaps once a useful boundary to keep our ancestors from coming into England —the Tyne or the Tees—is not necessarily the right boundary for modern organisation and, if Tyneside is to be organised properly, we may have to have. a complete revolution in the rights and duties of local government. He made one further very definite proposition as to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer was still more obscure. The Chancellor said that rates no longer have an important effect upon industry and are no longer a burden upon a locality. There is a suggestion here as to the Poor Law situation in Durham, which receives a subsidy of £750,000 a year. Have the Government come to a conclusion on that part of the policy?
The Civil Lord has taken one glance at the economic problems of the country, and he has seen more in those few weeks than the Government have seen in three years. I do not know what course he will pursue. I do not know whether he will go through with his policy, whether he will continue in the Government, whether he will have regard to whether the Government accept his views or not, but I can promise him that, if he decides that he can no longer continue in a Government which rejects his views, he will have such a welcome and such a backing from the people of England that be will be able to lead a crusade which will overturn the Government itself.
268 Let us make some real survey of how we stand. Industrial production has risen within 2 per cent. of the highest year since the War—1929. We are in the singularly fortunate position for the moment of enjoying all the benefits of Protection without any of the evil effects which Free Traders prophesied. At the same time the prices of raw materials have not risen in gold prices to the full extent that might have been expected through currency devaluation. We are for the moment having the best of both worlds. We are not far from the boom of 1929. That was a boom year and we had 1,000,000 unemployed and the Government of that day was flung contemptuously from office. In the boom of to-day we have 2,000,000 unemployed. The tide is going up. The boom of to-day means 2,000,000 unemployed. What is the next turn of the trade cycle going to mean? I suppose 3,000,000, perhaps 4,000,000, perhaps such a pressure that the social and political system will not be able to stand it. After all, the Government must regard the situation as a, whole. The much abused capitalist system exists to create a surplus available for fresh capital. It must invest its surplus. If it cannot invest it abroad, it must invest it at home. At present it is unable, or is refusing, to do either. May I quote a short passage from a leading article a few days ago in the "Times"? They were dealing with the unexampled rise of Government securities and the tremendous boom in gilt-edged, and they used these words:The fundamental cause of the rise in securities is the difficulty of finding employment for money.. Owing to the severe contraction in international finance and trade and the restrictions upon oversea borrowing, the normal opportunities for the employment of money have been heavily curtailed. Traders are borrowing less to-day from their bankers than in any year since the crisis began. The supply of bills has fallen so low in relation 10 the credit available to buy them that the discount rate has dropped to the unheard of figure of a ½ per cent. The banks have, therefore, been driven in their search for income to increase their holdings of gilt-edged securities, which now stand, in the case of the London clearing banks, at the unprecedented level of £575,000,000. A few years ago the annual supply of new securities ranged from £187,000,000 to £422,000,000. In the last three years the average has been little more than £120,000,000 a year and even the present activity has not increased that figure very much.We are neither investing the surplus abroad nor at home. Money is, there 269 fore, all dressed up and nowhere to go. The cheaper we make it the less of it we use. Then the right hon. Gentleman said to the House the other night that the policy of investment on capital account had failed in the period 1929–1931. That is an argument which may be good enough for the platform, but it is really hardly worthy of my right hon. Friend. He knows well, when he says that £192,000,000 was spent in 1929 to 1931 and only 114,000 were employed, whereas during those years no money has been spent on capital account but 900,000 people have been put back into work, that the conditions are not comparable. First of all, we were in the period of the outrageous beginnings of the world slump. The Government of that day, heaven knows why, believed in the extraordinary doctrine that free trade could be continued and that we should benefit by pouring out money into internal wages, most of which was spent in increasing imports and thereby producing that lack of balance of payments which was the main cause of the crisis. We stood the whole burden of that inflation, such as it was, and the world shared the benefits.
Thirdly, we were upon the Gold Standard, and for every pound the Government inflated at that time in capital expenditure, the Governor of the Bank of England was forced to deflate another pound in order to keep us on the Gold Standard. There was no true inflation at all, so that the whole conditions to which his argument applied are completely different to-day. We have freed ourselves from those conditions, and, curiously enough, the best that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and my right hon. Friend can suggest on this part of the policy is just the same thing. I think that they used to be called, "expediting"; now they are called "accelerated priority." I see very little difference. They were the only elements of the programme the Chancellor of the Exchequer explained to us. My hon. Friend the Civil Lord has seen the point. He has put his finger upon it. If the system is to go on, it must expand either abroad or at home or both. If it cannot invest its surplus, it must reduce its surplus either by more leisure, more wages or greater social advantages, but 270 if it does none of these things it will sink of its own weight.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) said the other day, not without a certain humour, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had created new depression. We had depressed areas in South Wales and in Durham, but he had made a new one here in this House upon that Treasury bench. I do not know how they propose to deal with this new depression or whether they propose to have commissioners to investigate it. Some of the Measures I know they will not choose. They will choose neither the policy of transference nor the policy of new entrants. Mr. Disraeli once said that he saw before him a bench of extinct volcanoes. I would not be so rude, but there are a few disused slag heaps which might well be tidied up. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he is in his most deflationary and depressing moods, has a curious habit of falling into quotations, usually poetic-quotations. He used on this occasion a very unfortunate one, "Desperate diseases," he said, "need desperate appliances." If this be a desperate remedy, then what is his idea of a cautious step? Heaven alone only knows.
I do not believe that there are not other elements in the administration than these defeatist elements that appear to dominate it. In agriculture we have had an active and energetic policy because we have a man. The country is looking for just the same lead on its industrial side as it has got on its agricultural side. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has made mistakes. He has inflicted hardships, I suppose, upon, and even injured, certain interests. He has made the natural mistakes which belong to the development of any new and powerfully controlled progressive policy, and those mistakes have been forgiven. If my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, and those who control the industrial policy of the country, instead of giving us the attitude of mind he presented even last night towards the great problems of Lancashire and the reorganisation of its industries, were to take some of the risks, I can promise my right hon. Friend that he would have all the support which follows his colleague at the Ministry of Agriculture.
271 I feel very unhappy at the present state of affairs. Since this Government came into office I do not think that it can be said that I have not supported them loyally. There has been only one Division in which I have voted against the Government, and that was upon a matter in which I was deeply pledged to my constituents. We have supported the Government with a hopeful anticipation of their actions. We knew, when coming in after a Government which was the worst and the most ineffective, I suppose, in the whole of our history—
§ Mr. MACMILLAN
—that there would be a long period of salvage work which would occupy two or three years during which it would be necessary to content ourselves not so much with a forward programme as with making the foundations and the basis upon which we could go forward. I say frankly and honestly to Ministers that we are looking for the development and the exploitation of their own successes. It is because of the work of the last three years, and of the fact that the foundations have been well and truly laid, that we beg that they will not he afraid to go forward and to build upon them.
What is the position of the ordinary people in this country? I am convinced that to-day we have a situation unlike anything our fathers saw. We have a small body attached to the Conservative party, a small body attached to the Labour or Socialist party and smaller bodies attached to various sections of the Liberal party, but the great mass of middle opinion is still undecided. It does not make up its mind how it is going to vote or which way it will throw its force until perhaps somewhere much nearer the election, and it is faced with the curious dilemma that it is not given what it wants by any of the leaders of thought. It does not want to be Socialist. It may have to vote Socialist, for it is the only thing left to it if it wants to oppose the Government of the day. But in the main the ordinary man of to-day is not attracted by the views put forward by the Socialist party. Socialism means nothing to him. It does not thrill him that he is a postman rather than an engine driver. Although 272 he may be employed by the State he does not go about saying, "I am a. postman, and therefore I am a better man than you are, because you Are only an engine driver." He does not care for that sort of thing. He wants something. He wants freedom, responsibility and status. He rejects at once the old individualism which, beginning with the Reformation and going on with the industrial revolution, did not quite destroy but fatally injured the old organic conception of our society. He wants to see it rebuilt. He does not want Socialism or individualism. He wants neither the Jekyll nor the Hyde. He wants an organised system of society in which he has a place, in which neither the rights of the community nor the rights of the individual are over-emphasised, in which he can feel himself to be something different from what he has been in the past.
The Government to-day have an opportunity such as no Government ever had. I know that the time of the House for this Session is deeply pledged to the consideration of great constitutional questions which have to be decided. But let us be frank. How many Members are there in this House who know that to-day they do not represent accurately the views of their constituents? What do we suppose, in fact, would be the result if a Dissolution were declared to-day? I say to my friends, many of whom care deeply, would they rather fight the next election on a record or a programme? Would they rather go down on a record or a programme? If I am beaten on a programme, I have something worth fighting for. It is in the power of Ministers to give it to us. If they do not, they will place such a pressure on the whole system itself that it may collapse under the strain to which, in the coming years, it will be inevitably subjected.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ Mr. DAVID GRENFELL
I am sorry to stand between the hon. Member who has just spoken and the possibility of one of the Ministers demonstrating that they are not extinct volcanoes by belching forth an effective reply to the hon. Member. I will not this afternoon disturb anything that has been said by the previous speaker. I think that he rendered a service to the House by emphasising and dotting the I's and crossing the T's of the speech of the Minister to whom he referred. The 273 House, I think, will back up what the hon. Member said in paying a long deferred testimonial to the trade unions of this country. I have been in this House 12 years, and I have heard on occasions the cause and value of trade unionism discussed here, but I have waited long to hear from a Tory Member a full and frank confession of the value of trade unionism to this country.
I would like to follow that up for a minute or two, because I believe that if hon. Members opposite, and if the Government of the day, and any future Government which may come into existence in this country, are bent upon building up an industrial democracy, that democracy must be largely founded upon the consent and co-operation of the working people. Valuable as the trade union movement is, and will be, in building up this democracy of the future, more valuable to-day is the service given by the trade union movement in the demand for a greater purchasing power for the working people of this country. Those who control industry find themselves in a position in which they cannot exercise any pressure at all upon a rising standard of living. All their interests, all their powers and influence act in a contrary direction. The tendency of each individual employer and the tendency of employers in general is to demand reduction in costs even at the expense of a reduction of wages, and by the exercise of this influence they are compelled, in spite of themselves, to take part in a movement for the aggregate reduction of the purchasing power of the community.
Trade unions, on the other hand, are impelled by public opinion, by the working people themselves, the households and family circles, to make demands for a higher standard of living. I make this claim here—and I thank the hon. Member for giving me the excuse and opportunity—that there has been no greater civilising agency in this country than the trade unions. The highest-placed person, the most contented, most securely-placed person in this country owes his security, comfort and all the amenities of life to the fact that from below there has been built the foundation on which he can stand upon the higher level. I would ask the House to join with the hon. Member who has just spoken in urging upon the 274 Government the organisation, in the national interest, of the workpeople, so that they will be able to play their full part. It is not my intention, however, this afternoon to pursue that topic.
I make no apology for introducing the grave problem of peace and war. The Prime Minister the other night gave evidence that he was disturbed by what he called the activities of well-meaning people in our country. I confess that I want to be known as a well-meaning person, and in this connection I do not think a stigma attaches to the activities of people to whom the right hon. Gentleman referred. After all, we are living in a difficult time, and I want to assure the House in advance that I shall say nothing to-day that will aggravate the difficulties with which the Government and all of us are confronted. But I was displeased very much when I heard the Prime Minister, of all persons, complaining of the actions of people in this country who have talked about peace, who have organised for the promotion of peace and to demonstrate public opinion on this question. I did not like to hear the Prime Minister say that their activities tended to divide the forces of peace in this country. I do not believe that you can divide the forces of peace in this country by anything that has been done to which the Prime Minister referred. It is a sign of weakness on the part of the Government when they resent action being taken to make strong the forces of peace. That is all that has been done. I have signed the peace declaration in the affirmative. I do not feel the least guilty. I do not think that I have done wrong. I believe that I, and all who have acted similarly, have done the right thing; at least, I do not know what wrong can be accomplished by doing that.
The Prime Minister is not entitled to presume that people who have signed that form and given affirmative replies to the questionnaire have done so with their eyes closed to the consequences. I have had my eyes open—too wide open, I am afraid, for my own comfort as to possible consequences of actions inside and outside this House in recent years. I confess to have been very much alarmed indeed with regard to the present world situation, and I am sure that tens of millions of people have the same fear. All over the world there is a state of perturbation. I have listened on the wire- 275 less to speeches coming from all parts of the world. Signor Mussolini speaks to-night; Herr Hitler to-morrow, and there are speeches by selected persons in this country. The ordinary citizen is led to believe that this whispering gallery of alarms and sensations represents public opinion throughout the world. Silently listening in, the ordinary citizen wants to know who, speaks for him in these things. There is no one who speaks for him. I have listened to speeches made in this country. I listened to the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) the other night, and I must say that I was very glad indeed when he came to the point where he stressed the value of the League of Nations, because I agree with him, and I believe everybody else does, that unless we find some point of concentration, some point of application for the peace efforts which are taking place all over the world, none of the alarmist statements to which we have listened can be graver than the actual facts.
It must not be assumed that the people of this country have no opinions on the subject. Those who have no access to the broadcasting, those who only talk among themselves in their family circles and in their places of employment, have very strong opinions, indeed, on this question of peace. There is, to our credit as a nation, a tremendous feeling of revulsion against war, and against those who seem indifferent to its dangers. I have never known anything like the feeling which prevails in this country at the present time. It is not a feeling that our people are craven-hearted, or timid, or degenerated, but a feeling aroused by the increasing intelligence and knowledge of the working people, and, I believe, the higher standard of moral responsibility to which we have attained. There is nothing more cowardly and nothing more dangerous than to ignore the strength of that peace movement. There is a much more substantial body of opinion for peace than there is a feeling for war in any part of the world, and I urge the Government to pay attention to that. They have sent commissioners round the country to find how much distress exists in certain areas because of unemployment. I would like them to send commissioners round the homes of the people in this country, and to attend 276 village meetings, such as the meetings we attend. Let them attend meetings of workpeople in the industrial areas on this question of peace, and they will get a revelation of the discontent in the country with the Government and those who are responsible for the conduct of our foreign affairs.
There is in this country a deliberately engineered campaign for national isolation. Much misrepresentation is taking place. There is a very strong Press influence in favour of isolation for this country, a policy of detachment from the world, which is much more cowardly than anything else. This country is not by nature afraid of its responsibilities, and I think it is a most cowardly thing to suggest that we should isolate ourselves and remove ourselves from the responsibilities of neighbourliness which fall upon us as upon other nations. We are faced with this very difficult situation and we must try to find the best way through it, without shirking or escaping our responsibilities. The people of this country are prepared to be spoken to frankly, and they are prepared to speak frankly in return. They would welcome the strongest possible declaration by those who represent them in the cause of peace and disarmament, and I should be glad if the Foreign Secretary would make up his mind to speak out more explicitly and definitely on this question to-day than he has done in recent Debates.
People who are opposed to war take different lines and different methods. There is the isolationist who believes that we can get away from a wicked world and not be contaminated by the influence of war feeling in other parts of the world. There is the individual pacifist who sometimes represents the highest type of person in our modern society, but he isolates himself and loses whatever influence he might have. The isolationist and the individual pacifist find themselves in very much the same position, because while they are willing to accept penalties for themselves they remove themselves from a sphere in which they could render the most useful service for the preservation of peace. There is also the policy of disarmament, which has been receiving much attention and in regard to which I confess I have never been satisfied. I do not believe that the Foreign Secretary has played as large a part as he should have done on 277 the question of disarmament. I use the word "large" in the sense that, although he may have been a very effective debater, as he undoubtedly is, although he may have been keen to meet points raised and to present objections or reply to objections, he has not displayed that broader and wider sense of world statesmanship which is required. That is my main complaint against the right hon. Gentleman. I will not say that he is an extinct volcano, nor will I use terms which appear to be abusive and which have come from his own friends in other parts of the House, but I must speak strongly because I do not believe that that there has been real drive behind the movement for peace on the part of the right hon. Gentleman and other right hon. Gentlemen who shoulder responsibility with him.
There has been a good deal of controversy on the question of disarmament. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman what is to happen in regard to the Naval Disarmament Conference. The Prime Minister said yesterday that a reply would be forthcoming in the course of the next few days. If the Foreign Secretary could inform the House what is to happen he would help us very much in the further discussion of this subject. Disarmament, unilateral and universal, has for the moment, I think, broken down. I do not see for the moment any prospect of disarmament, and I frankly confess that I attribute the responsibility very largely to the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. Here I should like to deal with the question with which I had intended to begin my speech, and that is the reference in the King's Speech to the League of Nations.The maintenance of world peace does not cease to give My Government the most anxious concern. They will continue to make the support and extension of the authority of the League of Nations a cardinal point of their policy.It is because I believe that the Government have not been as assiduous or as courageous and insistent as they might have been in the direction of attaining disarmament that I want to urge upon them not to lose the smallest opportunity of buttressing and strengthening the authority of the League of Nations, in order that that body to which we belong may do something practical to prevent the outbreak of war. That is vital. We 278 want to gain time and to take every possible step to avoid the outbreak of war, and I do not know any body other than the League of Nations which could achieve that object. Therefore, I should like to know what "the extension of the authority of the League of Nations" means.
The League of Nations came into existence after the War in a world which was very much troubled, exhausted and bewildered by four and a half years of mutual slaughter, in the most gigantic struggle that the world has ever known. Europe was in ruins, and it appeared as if peace might be impossible to maintain. The League of Nations found itself established among much which was sordid and vindictive. The passions of war found expression in the Peace Treaties and in the principal Clauses. Those passions are in evidence to-day. The peace of the world is in danger of being broken now because of the spirit underlying the Treaties upon which European relations are based. There were critics of the Peace Treaties. The Prime Minister was one of the critics. There was no stronger critic of the Treaty of Versailles, the Treaty of Trianon and the other Treaties than the Prime Minister. He was partly responsible for the statement made by the Labour party in advance of the Peace Treaties on the important issue of the preservation of peace through the instrumentality of a League of Nations. The Labour party, in the document, "Labour and the New Social Order," to which the right hon. Gentleman subscribed, made the following statements, in 1918, before the War came to an end:We stand for the immediate establishment, actually as a part of the Treaty of Peace with which the present war will end, of a Universal League or Society of Nations, a Super National Authority, with an International High Court to try all justiciable issues between nations; an International Legislature to enact such common laws as can be mutually agreed upon, and an International Council of Mediation to endeavour to settle without ultimate conflict even those disputes which are not justiciable. We would have all the nations of the world most solemnly undertake and promise to make common cause against any one of them that broke away from this fundamental agreement.It is significant that that statement was made in 1918. At the end of a War in which nearly every nation in the world had been involved, the nations were 279 tired, but there was desire for revenge, and the Treaties that were made display that desire. There was, however, one bright, hopeful element of the post-war settlement, and that was the establishment of the League of Nations as an instrument for the preservation of peace for future generations. The Labour party held the views which I have quoted, and they have not gone back on them and I hope they never will. I should like to believe that the Prime Minister would endorse to-day that statement as strongly as he did in 1918, and that he and his colleagues will not relax their efforts in seeing that this system for the preservation of peace shall be supported by those who represent this country. In the Preamble of the League of Nations Covenant there are very definite promises of the kind of thing which the Prime Minister said with the rest of us that he would like to see in the Peace Treaty.
There was a definite pledge on the part of all the parties to the Treaty in regard to certain things which I will not quote now, because they are too long. In Article 8 there is a definite pledge in regard to the reduction of armaments and the conditions of the private manufacture of arms, a problem which is still with us, a problem provided for in the League of Nations Covenant, to which I shall refer later, because of the grave urgency of the problem and the serious implications upon our honour as a nation and upon the honour of our business people in this country, in consequence of things that have happened. Article 10 provides guarantees against aggression, Article 11 provides for action in case of war or threatened war, and Article 16 deals with sanctions. All those things which in 1918 we declared to be necessary for the safeguarding of the peace of the world were embodied in the terms of the Covenant of the League.
I would ask the Foreign Secretary whether the League has failed? If so, why has it failed? Can we have a statement as to what the Government think is the reason why the League has not been able to assert its authority? The question of Japan and Manchuria has been raised in Debate, and the right hon. Gentleman "got away with it." Whatever the circumstances were, I still think that 280 we did not face up to our responsibilities as we should have done in that crisis. I believe that much of the danger to the League of Nations and the danger to humanity at large had their beginnings in the lack of determination of the right hon. Gentleman and other people when the Sino-Japanese crisis occurred. I should, therefore, like to know what is the actual meaning of the reference in the King's Speech to the determination of the Government to extend the authority of the League. How is it to be done? By what means is the right hon. Gentleman going to assert his personal influence? By what means are we going to extend the authority of the League of Nations? The right hon. Gentleman does not appear to be too enthusiastic for his job, but I hope that he will tell us by what means that paragraph in the King's Speech is to be effected.
I will not enter generally into the question of disarmament. I would, however, like the right hon. Gentleman to say something about the Naval Disarmament Conference. We have had discussions about the disclosures of the United States Senate Committee on the private manufacture of arms, and I hope that the last word has not been said on that subject. I read in the newspapers to-day that the right hon. Gentleman's colleague, the Lord Privy Seal, at Geneva, adopted a rather determined attitude, I am pleased to say, in association with Mr. Litvinoff, on the position in South America. I was pleased at the position taken up by Mr. Eden in the controversy between Bolivia and Paraguay. I should like to quote two paragraphs from the "Manchester Guardian" and the "Times." This is a quotation from the "Times," of the 20th September, of what Senator Bone said:The Senate Committee is not investigating the morals of a nation, it is getting at specific facts in connection with certain deals in private munition business. I hope and confidently expect that those European countries which are not already dominated by munition makers and sellers will start similar investigations shortly. When our investigations, and those in other countries which we hope will follow, are finished I believe that every mother in this world will breathe more easily. I think that I speak for this Committee in saying that it desires above all other things to spare the coming generation of boys the horrors of another great war.281 The Prime Minister does not seem to be very much impressed. Let me read a passage from the "Manchester Guardian":The statistical Year Book of the trade in arms and munitions published by the League of Nations shows Great Britain to be the largest exporter of war material. During the five years 1928 1932 arms and ammunition to the value of over £51,000,000 were exported from 39 countries and colonies, and virtually one-third of this total was from Great Britain.There is a war going on in South America where thousands of poor people are stretched out on both sides of a desert line, with no water, no food. They are ill-taught, ill-fed, ill-equipped, and have no interest at all in the battle. They are just sent there to be slaughtered without any knowledge of the object of the struggle. These men are being kept in the firing line by organisations outside the two countries who are not at all responsible to either Government; deliberate organisations for the sale of arms and ammunition. Will the Prime Minister shake his head in disapproval of those people in our own country who have profited from the sale of arms and whose dividends are stained with the blood of these innocent people fighting in this part of the world; innocent people who have no knowledge of politics or of geography, and who have been told that they will get their daily rations if they go out to fight? I hope the right hon. Gentleman will keep his indignation and disapproval for those people in this country, thousands of miles away from the actual fighting, who are taking a shameful profit. Some of them move in high places and are associated with respectable society, some are members of our churches, and they are drawing their dividends from the exploitation of human misery and suffering.
I hope the House will give its instructions as far as it can to the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary to take it as their personal responsibility to stop the murder of these innocent people. Let them in imagination go to the Gran Chaco and see the terrible conditions under which these miserable, misguided peasants are fighting each other. It is their responsibility; munitions are being sent from this country, and large dividends, generous dividends, are being paid by munition firms and received by people in this country who pretend to be good 282 people. We shall no doubt be told that the Governments of these two nations are responsible.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Sir John Simon)
The hon. Member will forgive me for interrupting his speech, but surely in dealing with this subject he intends to do common justice to His Majesty's Government, which is the Government that has worked to get, and ultimately succeeded in getting, an embargo to stop this very thing.
§ Mr. GRENFELL
I have said that I am pleased to notice the efforts made by the Lord Privy Seal on the question, and the attempts that have been made to stop the battle of the Gran Chaco. The embargo was a long time coming, and I am not quite sure that it is yet complete. One side says that it is not complete, and the other side that it is. I hope it is complete, and that means will be found by those who have more responsibility in this matter than I.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald)
The hon. Member has a responsibility for stating the facts, and not telling half a story, which means that a responsibility is being put upon the Government which ought not to be put upon it at all. We were the first Government that moved internationally to set up an embargo. What the hon. Member quotes as having been said at Geneva is not the first intervention on our part. As a matter of fact, we have toiled and toiled for months to get an international agreement, without which it was no good at all, to stop all arms going into this war.
§ Mr. GRENFELL
The war has been going on for more than two years and hundreds and thousands of lives have been sacrificed. Horrible stories have been told of the sufferings imposed on these people. While you have a system which permits licences to be given in this country we are responsible whatever may be said. If it is said that the Governments of these two countries are responsible so much the worse. These two Governments have been instigated to declare war upon each other, and that instigation has come from outside. Those who supply arms can also supply a pretext for fighting. It is clear that there are certain vested interests behind one or the other and that is a matter which 283 should receive the attention of this House. We should do whatever we can to stop it. These Governments have been supplied with arms and money and the people concerned know that these things were taking place. Let me come quite briefly to what I regard to be the cause of the Gran Chaco war, and the cause of all other wars. The Prime Minister the other day said that economics were not the dominant consideration which led to war. I think he is wrong. I think that economics are a dominant consideration.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I said that the theory of the economic cause of historical events is wrong. I have said it for 40 years; and I say it to-day.
§ Mr. GRENFELL
The Gran Chaco is an example of my point, and if the Prime Minister will make inquiries he will find that it can be multiplied many times. In our own history we have not been perfectly clear from motives which might be called economic. The Prime Minister I hope will not allow himself to be divorced from the actual realities of the world situation, and will recognise that economic rivalry to-day is dangerous to the peace of the world. We have all kinds of economic conflicts taking place. Tariff walls are being built along all national frontiers. Are they not an expression of economic conflict and rivalry? We are paying subsidies to British shipping because somebody else is paying a subsidy to their shipping. The new idea is to subsidise against those who are subsidising against you. That is a competition in subsidies. How far can that go without having an implication on peace or war? How far can tariffs and subsidies go in our ordinary economic relations without being divorced from the possibility of war?
The sight we are witnessing to-day is of millions unemployed, idle factories in all parts of the world, national frontiers bounded by high tariff walls, and soldiers with bayonets and guns defending the mass inside the barriers, the volume of trade shrinking, and the size of armaments increasing. The Prime Minister 284 is not unaware that a. part of the improvement in employment is due indirectly to the war preparations of this country. The centres of employment where work is more active to-day are those which are not disassociated with war preparations. In Germany there is much more employment because more preparations for war are going on there. The relations between economic rivalry and peace and war is thoroughly established. How far is the race to go and what is the prize? The Government are concerned with distressed areas. I speak of South Wales where we have a population which has suffered grievously for the last 13 years mainly from the consequences of the last war. That is true wherever you turn, South Wales is not different from the Midlands, the North-East Coast or Tyneside. Economic causes are a dominant consideration in a question of peace and war. The right hon. Gentleman has been a keen opponent of war and an advocate of the cause of peace. I hope he will not allow himself in his present position of responsibility to be persuaded that war will come just because people do not like the colour of your hair or because they do not speak the same language. War comes through definite hostile interests and the war of which we are apprehensive will be due to this same cause.
The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Macmillan) has said that the reports of the commissioners have been lost upon the Government. I am afraid that a good deal of information in the possession of the Government has been lost upon them. What advantage can come to the unemployed from anything foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech? It is tinkering with housing, tinkering with agriculture, tinkering with the herring fishery. There is no suggestion of a plan of any kind. What is the constructive plan of the Government for the next year, or the next five years? The President of the Board of Trade has worked very skilfully and ably to achieve the immediate end of trying to balance the trade of this country with certain other countries, where the conditions are favourable. I find no fault with what he has done, although I do not think it is right and in any case it is too small to meet our necessities. In any case he has conceived an ideal and has worked towards it. But having achieved that ideal is that to be the end?
285 What is the plan for the future? Before we pronounce upon the value or merit of any plan we want to know what the Government have in mind. Have they in mind the prospect of perpetuating this system, with its alternative crises and booms, a system under which there is always a large mass of unemployment, under which there is always much poverty, a system with its recurring wars in which there is no individual or national security at any time? The time for that sort of thing is past. The time is over-ripe for the thorough and complete reconstruction of our national life, and the most important thing of all is to raise within our shores, without waiting for world recovery but without retarding that recovery—to raise the standard of living to the highest possible level without any loss of time. I believe that we can tide over our industrial and economic difficulties better by organising production at home than we can even by the most successful efforts of the right hon. Gentleman.
But what do the Government propose? Is it proposed to go on for ever as now, from 1934 to 1944 and 1954, with the certainty of an increasing mass of unemployment as our scientific attainments improve? I would like to hear the Government say that they are alive to the economic implications of all the world confusion of to-day, I would like to hear them declare that they will use their influence in the comity of nations, in the League of Nations; I would like to believe that they are determined to plan for ourselves a measure of national security for our own people and in the League to work with other people in opening the way for a new world system where we shall not be constantly threatened with hostilities. I appeal to the Government and this House to tell the world that we believe that a way out of the present impasse can be found; that we do not surrender ourselves willy-nilly to the certainty of another world war.
I believe there is yet time, but it requires strong measures and determined action; it requires courage and truth and the facing of realities. I would like from this country and this House a statement to go forth that the one way out of our present difficulties that we will not tolerate is the entry into another world war. I ask for a determined assertion that we will fight for peace, 286 that we are prepared to sacrifice a great deal in the cause of peace. When we have made that peace secure we shall have made possible the arrangements which must be made in order to free the world from the economic difficulties that beset it.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Sir PARK GOFF
I seldom intervene in Debate, and in doing so now as an old Member of this House I do so with the knowledge that the House always gives a hearing to any Member who knows what he is talking about. I am fully conscious of my own limitations, but I take courage from the fact that it is extraordinary how wonderfully well some people get on in spite of that handicap. All my life I have taken a very keen interest in foreign affairs. My many and various experiences as a King's Messenger was most interesting and most instructive, especially during the five years of the War, four years in the West and a year in the Baltic States and Finland, and the Gulf of Finland in 1919 and the Graeco-Turkish War in 1921. In my time I have visited all the Embassies and Legations, all the Consulates in Europe, from Archangel and Vardo and Vasso at the North Cape to Athens and Taranto and Cadiz in the South, beyond the Urals and the Volga in the East to Lisbon and Oporto in the West. I had the advantage in the last 18 months of visiting 15 countries. I hope the House will pardon this egotism. It is merely a plea in justification of what I wish to say.
To me Europe to-day presents a jigsaw puzzle which is very hard of solution. Taking a bird's-eye view of Europe I would partition it into four parts, Russia and the Baltic States, the Near East, Mid-Europe and the West. In Russia there has been a wonderful modification of that country's original policy. Russia has now entered the League of Nations, and I hope she will put into practice M. Litvinov's "Ideals of peace." We are witnessing drastic changes in Soviet Russia but we must not be deluded into any spectacular talk about disarmament. This talk sounds so well that it is necessary to examine it very closely. We find from the recent reports of the Commisar of Defence—hitherto the Commisar of War—that the war industry is the busiest in the country and that 287 Russia is a very large purchaser of armaments and of machinery for the production of war material. I hope her entry into the League may change her policy as regards her debts. There is a sum of £300,000,000 outstanding, and of that total £180,000,000 is a sum for confiscated British property there. We assume that Russia desires our good will and friendship. If so, she has an opportunity now of proving it in an honourable and practical manner. She has entered the field of international economic expansion, and from a large defaulting debtor she has become a great financier. Her financial operations in Turkey are on a very large scale and similar operations are going on in Persia and in other countries.
In the Near East everything is visibly changing from day to day with kaleidoscopic variations. It is no use harking back on our past mistakes. Rather let us learn salutary lessons from them. We ought to pay far more attention than we are doing now and than we have done in the past to that part of Europe. Turkey is in close touch with Russia, both in military and economic affairs, and events in that part of the world are worthy of very careful watching. The States of Arabia that we helped to create appear to have been somewhat neglected. It is time we gave more serious thought to their needs and requirements in that part of the world, to counterbalance the activity of the other nations in that zone. The whole Near East at the present time is undergoing a process of Westernisation, and we must not remain mere onlookers in that part of the world. To my mind our interests there are to pursue a policy of action, not to imitate Russia but to take our share in the necessary work and be in a position in this dangerous zone to use our influence in the cause of peace, to say nothing of the economic advantages which are bound to accrue.
Italy is playing an increasingly important part in mid-European politics to-day as a Fascist State. Nationalisation is paramount in the minds of the Italian people. Italian foreign policy to-day is centred on Austria, Italy is the self-appointed protector of Austria. She does not hesitate to unsheath the sword in defence of her protégé there. In my judgment it would be a very grave and serious mistake to allow one country to 288 appoint itself dictator of any other country while the very expensive machinery of the League of Nations is maintained for that particular purpose. Personally, I would like to see the Austrian question removed entirely from Italian policy and made an international question. By that means both Italy and Europe would be saved from a great deal of trouble. Italy is a member of the Four-Power Pact and, keeping in contact with her through that Pact, we can undoubtedly use our influence for good.
Germany to-day presents the appearance of an armed camp. The organisation of peace is far more complicated than the organisation of war. Germany's ambition for equality of armaments was met by demands for equality of disarmament. This not being acceptable, we were plunged into a competition of armaments against our will. Germany's difficulty is not created entirely by the Treaty of Versailles. She has created new ones for herself in Austria and elsewhere. Germany's complaint to-day is that she is surrounded by a ring of steel, and her armaments are said to be merely a precautionary measure for defence and not defiance. Whether that is a plea or an excuse is an abstract question and as such deserves an abstract answer. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has ever thought, in the language of the land of Fettes, "I ha'e ma doots." Those words should carry some weight as coming from the intellectual end of Great Britain.
Two open sores to-day in Germany are the Saar and the Polish Corridor. The ballot will settle the one, and I hope the bullet will not settle the other. The position of the Corridor has been and is a perpetual anxiety to the Baltic States. Mirabeau wrote over 100 years ago, "The national industry of Prussia is war." The Prussians once issued an order to the independent peasant race of Washubes in what is now the Polish Corridor, saying that all school prayers must be said in German. The peasants declared a school strike on the ground that the Deity would not understand German.
Having travelled extensively in the East and Western Hemisphere I have always deeply regretted and profoundly deplored the termination of the Anglo-Japanese Treaty. In my humble judgment the complexion of the world would be 289 very different to-day if that Treaty had continued. I looked upon the Treaty not so much as a guarantee of any specific object as for the mutual benefit of better international understanding. I am firmly convinced that the strength of our position in armaments will prove a dominating factor in world peace. Prior to 1914 the strength of Great Britain was the envy of every other nation not only as a great power in itself but as a valuable weapon of negotiation and authority in the councils of the nations. An indisputably strong Britain is the greatest guarantee for our own safety and is also a strong stabilising factor for peace.
The Pacifists in their misguided but well-meant efforts to frighten people into disarming are only fomenting the danger and causing wide-spread anxiety. To come nearer home, there is nothing to my mind so dangerous or so mischievous as war scaremongering by idle, irresponsible people who are even to be found in smoking rooms and clubs and places where they talk, and who think that even international athletic contests provide pretexts for war. There are also those who visit foreign countries for the first time and after a cursory glance they come back and write about them and profess to tell us all about those countries with the wisdom of Solomon, the accuracy of Euclid and the veracity of a George Washington. There is always someone somewhere who has some near relation married to some high official in the Kingdom of Heaven who occasionally supplies him with the most confidential and secret information. I find in going up and down the country that a very large proportion of the people do not understand or appreciate the enormous importance to us of foreign affairs and foreign policy. There is a deplorable lack of interest and indifference to foreign affairs. The general public do not realise and I do not think they have ever realised that our foreign policy or rather the conduct of our foreign policy is the pivot upon which our whole national destiny revolves.
There are, of course, two legitimate excuses for this state of things. In the first place, the bulk of the nation are not linguists. We have not the gift of tongues. I myself am one of those who was left out at the Pentecost. In the 290 second place, the average Britisher is not a migratory animal. He either does not get the opportunity to, or does not want to, or cannot afford to travel and so gain the advantages of geographical study. There are even some people who are not quite sure to-day whether Budapest is an Indian god or some new play. On the other hand domestic politics do not loom so large to-day as they have done in the past. There is practically no domestic controversy, and that leaves the field more open for the study of foreign affairs. Then I think we have a most valuable instructor on foreign affairs to-day in the British Broadcasting Corporation. Their first news is always foreign news and their second news is sporting news and the majority who want to know whether they or their favourite team have had any luck, must hear the foreign news first before they get the sporting results which they desire. That gives them a new interest in foreign affairs. It also teaches them where certain places are and who is who in European politics.
I have reason to know that this year has been to us a most momentous year and one full of alarms. We have had the dreadful assassinations of Herr Dollfuss, of King Alexander and of M. Barthou. History alone will record the great and important part which Great Britain has played in relation to Austria and Yugoslavia and the deep debt which we owe to those responsible for the conduct of our foreign policy. Yet we still hear outcries about so-called secret diplomacy. Diplomacy is of necessity secret. If you are playing a game of cards and you have a talkative and inquisitive person looking over your shoulder and discussing the merits of all the cards in your hand, it is neither to your advantage nor to that of your partner if you have one. There is a sort of impression abroad that an ambassador either lives in a glasshouse or in a cloistered cell with a private line to the Foreign Office and Heaven.
In going through some of my diaries recently I came across what I consider to be a great compliment to my country. In the years 1919 and 1920 I was working in connection with the exchange of Russian prisoners and a well-known Russian, Lenin's right-hand man, said to me, "What we dislike most of all is the calm superiority of you Britishers." That I think was a great compliment. I have 291 served under seven Secretaries of State. When I wanted to get any information about strange people whom I was going to see in various parts of the world I always went to the Foreign Office and got their information. Then I noted down the Foreign Office information in one column and my own information in a parallel column. It was very interesting to compare the two and it was also interesting to hear the comments of the other people upon the Foreign Office. As I was unpaid I was looked upon as a chartered libertine but it was a most interesting experience and it conveyed a great deal to me.
The future before us now is very difficult indeed and an enormous burden of responsibility rests on the shoulders of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and on the Foreign Office. I hope that we shall do all in our power to avoid confusing the issues or embarrassing the situation. Pride of race is deeply engraved in the heart and conscience of every nation. No one has a monopoly of patriotism. But it is "my country first and my country all the time" and in any national emergency all party feelings and differences disappear. It is always country before party. I think that our position in the comity of nations is visualised in the lines from "Hamlet":This above all—to thine own self be true;And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Sir J. SIMON
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rochester (Sir P. Goff) has made an interesting, and, in parts, an amusing speech which I am sure has been listened to by the House with great pleasure. In the course of his reminiscent journeyings as a King's Messenger to different parts of the globe he visited Austria, and the Saar and, I think, Yugoslavia, as I have no doubt he has done in actual service before now. While listening to him I could not help thinking that however poor may be the opinion which my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) has of the foreign policy of the Government, if he had the opportunity of consulting some of those in Europe who have seen the part which this country has played in the Austrian crisis, in the Yugoslav 292 crisis, in the Saar crisis—I am very far from saying that he would be satisfied, but I think perhaps he would be a little more generous in his appreciation.
I am not in the least concerned to spend the time of the House in justification of this detail or that, but I would ask the House to believe, and I think the great majority of the House will believe and do believe, that the part which this country has played in international affairs during the last year or two is a part of which they have no reason to be ashamed. It has been as much as anything else and I believe more than anything else, owing to the influence which this country has been able to exercise that many, dangers have been avoided and when the time comes for the books to be opened and for it to be seen whether the Government of this country did not do much to soothe the Austrian situation, to prevent the terrible dangers which threatened Europe in connection with the Yugoslav situation, to bind together the elements working for peace in Europe, I shall not be ashamed of the record of the Government.
I want, first, to reply to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Gower who asked me whether I could make any statement about the naval conversations. The Prime Minister on the first day of the Session indicated that it was not possible to make a full statement then, nor, of course, is it now, but it is right that the House should be informed within proper limits of the situation so far as it can be described. The conversations are still going on. Both the Japanese and the American delegations are concerned in them, and of course it would be very unwise, and indeed nobody would ask, that we should take upon ourselves to make a full declaration in this House merely because the conversations are taking place here. We have in all these matters to act in the closest accord both with the American delegation and with the Japanese delegation. Still it is possible to give some outline and that I propose to do.
May I be forgiven if, in the first place, I remind the House that the Washington Treaty which was entered into in 1922 would go on indefinitely unless notice were given to terminate it. On the other hand, the London Treaty of 1930 was 293 made for a fixed term of years and consequently will expire at the end of 1936, unless, as is contemplated and as is hoped, a new treaty can be negotiated. That is one of the differences between the two Treaties. The other difference is that the Washington Treaty which was entered into by the great naval Powers, is one which deals with limits in respect of capital ships, aircraft carriers and the maximum size of the biggest cruisers, whereas the London Treaty deals with cruisers more in general, with destroyers, and with submarines. Consequently, both Treaties are in effect involved in the present diliberations. The immediate reason for a meeting is a clause in the London Naval Treaty, but there is the connected fact that the Washington Treaty contained a Clause under which it is possible for any one of the signatories to give notice at the end of this present year, 1934, as the result of which the Treaty would cease to apply two years later, at the end of 1936. No signatory of the Washington. Treaty, I am glad to say, has given notice to terminate it, but we have reason to know that it is very necessary to meet the other parties in discussion, because, of course, the time is coming when such a notice might be given.
Since the middle of October we have been engaged with representatives of the United States and of Japan in preliminary conversations with a view to preparing the way for the Naval Conference which is due to take place, under the terms of the Treaty, in 1935. This is not the Naval Conference, but the discussions preliminary to such a Conference, and I may say that the Washington Treaty provides that there shall be a meeting between the Powers in 1935, whether the Washington Treaty is terminated by notice or not. The talks have been bilateral, between two nations and not the three together.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
Is the right hon. Gentleman speaking of the Washing- ton Treaty or the London Treaty?
§ Sir J. SIMON
Both Treaties. The talks are iii continuation of the conversations which took place last summer with representatives of the Governments of the United States, of France, and of Italy. In the event of the denunciation of the Washington Naval Treaty by one of its partners before the 294 end of the present year, then, as I have said, a Naval Conference must still take place under the terms of that Treaty in the course of next year. That, I think, explains the point the hon. Member has in mind. There is a similar provision in the London Naval Treaty for a Naval Conference in 1935, for the purpose, as I have said, of negotiating a fresh Treaty with regard to the limitation of those categories of ships with which the London Treaty deals.
It is, of course, common knowledge that the Japanese Government are not content with the Treaty ratio—5–5–3—laid down in the Washington Naval Treaty. During the present conversations they have made, to the United States and to ourselves, certain proposals, the general purpose of which is to establish, in substitution for the present Treaty system, a system under which each Power would be able to build up to what has been called a common upper limit, representing the total tonnage of all ships entitled to be possessed. There is, of course, a distinction between agreeing that such and such should be the common upper limit as a matter of right, and the actual size or measurement of the armament under that Treaty.
It is impossible for His Majesty's Government to give details of the Japanese proposals or of the suggestions put forward from various parties in order to reconcile the different views that have become apparent. I could not do that. Indeed, it is a common understanding with the Japanese and the American Governments that we do not make public declarations at this stage as to matters which are still under discussion and negotiation, and I am sure, the House will appreciate that that is a wise understanding, and it is one to which we shall most strictly adhere. But I can say this, first of all, that His Majesty's Government would regard a breakdown of the system of naval limitation as a great disaster for everybody, not merely for the three Powers now in consultation, but for the world at large. The financial evils and the political evils which would result from a renewed race in armaments are too apparent for me to need to enlarge upon them now, and the representatives of His Majesty's Government will continue these conversations—we have no intention at all of breaking them off—in the most friendly and conciliatory spirit 295 as long as there is any prospect of finding a way round these difficulties.
That is one statement which I wish to make, but I wish to make another because I think it is desirable that the House and the country as a whole should appreciate the character of this problem. Equality of security—that is to say, that every great naval State should feel that its security compares fairly with the security of others—is the unquestioned right of all of us, but that does not necessarily mean that all fleets should in fact be equal in size, because that depends upon the nature of the responsibilities and other things in each case. The whole purpose of our discussions here in London now is to reach, if possible, a basis on which an understanding can be reached without endangering the sense of security of any Power, and if that point can be located, even approximately, then we shall feel that the way has been adequately prepared for next year's conference, subject, of course, to the views of the other signatories of the Treaty, France and Italy.
There have been many Press reports—there always are—at different times that two Powers have been putting their heads together to arrange, confidentially and vis-à-vis a third Power, this or that or to make prospective arrangements without consulting others, whether it be a Government now in these discussions or a Government outside. Such reports are pure fabrications. We have at all times kept in the closest and the most friendly touch with the other parties in the present conversations, and we have kept the representatives of the French Government and the Italian Government informed of all developments of importance; and, further, we have kept in proper touch with the Governments of the Dominions, which are necessarily deeply and closely concerned with the question. I have even read a statement to the effect that these conversations have broken down. I take the opportunity here of saying that that is not so at all. We are continuing our work, as I have said, in the most amicable way, and while I do not disguise the difficulties of the problem—indeed, it would be very foolish to do so, or to speak with any false optimism—there is nothing that this Government is not prepared to do, 296 within the limits of its duty to this country and this Empire, in order to secure a naval understanding on this matter.
I turn to one or two other matters, and I should like at once to deal with the question referred to by the hon. Gentleman opposite and referred to in the Debate a fortnight ago, the question of the arms traffic. The Debate a fortnight ago was not a satisfactory Debate—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]—for more reasons than one. I will only mention two, and if hon. Members opposite will wait, they will see whether, when I have stated them, I have not stated them fairly. One reason, frankly, was because the actual question which was raised by the terms of the Motion put upon the Paper by the Opposition raised but a small corner of the subject. The actual question raised was whether or not we should legislate, in advance of anybody else, and here and now adopt a State monopoly of arms manufacture and the abolition of private manufacture, whatever other people did, as it was said, for the sake of example. That was the actual question raised. I doubt if, after that Debate, there can be very many people in this House who really think that would be a wise proposal to adopt. At any rate, the House did not think so, as it showed by the way it voted, but that is, after all, I quite agree, only a portion of the subject.
That is one reason, but there was a second reason, and I wish to state it with very great frankness. It is not unusual in. this House for hon. Members to criticise other people's speeches: it is not quite so usual for a Member of this House to criticise his own speech. Well, I am going to perform that very unusual task. I am conscious of the fact—and I say it with all sincerity to my comrades here in the House of Commons—that I did not succeed in presenting as I would wish to do the considerations which arise on this subject in a way which created the impression that I wished to create, and I think it is very much better to say so. If a speech is to be judged, not by the exact words which are used, but by the impression which, I will not say it sought to create, but which has been created about it outside, well then mine was a very unfortunate speech. [HON. MEMBERS "It was!"] Agreement is above rubies, and I am very glad there 297 is agreement about that, because I now want to deal with the subject afresh, and let us see how far we can go on agreeing.
There are two aspects of this matter, if we remove it from the narrow limits of the Debate of a fortnight ago and look at it as a very urgent and difficult problem, which very deeply disturb vast numbers of people in this country. There is, first of all, the international aspect, that is, the question whether we can get international regulation and control. There is, secondly, the question, which was not raised by hon. Gentlemen opposite, but which was included in an Amendment on the Paper and mentioned in the speech of the right hon. Baronet below the Gangway, namely, the question of a possible inquiry into this matter. I should like to say a few words about both these aspects, and I will first take the international aspect. The subject of the control and regulation of the international traffic in arms has been specially engaging attention at Geneva during the last few days. It is by no means a new question and it has come to the front again partly because of the proposal which has been made for a new method of work.
I should much appreciate it if the House will allow me to explain what the new method is. For a long time at Geneva in the Disarmament Conference the topic of discussion has been one continuous draft treaty of a great number of clauses, which have been strung out together like links in a chain, with the result that if we were to achieve success we had to achieve it all along the line. Undoubtedly, that is the object at which to aim, but the circumstances have become so difficult that it appears to some of us that it would be well worth considering whether we should not take certain specific topics which were capable of separate treatment and, without prejudice to the greater object, try and get those topics dealt with in a protocol and agreed to as quickly as possible. I hope to be permitted to say to the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) if he wants to know the author of the plan: I was. I made the proposal at Geneva in May of this year, and I gave as an illustration of what could be done a list of three or four things—chemical warfare, budgetary publicity, and the setting up of a Permanent Disarmament Commission.
298 Arms traffic control was yet another illustration. I am spending no time in blowing my own trumpet, but, for what it is worth, I did earnestly urge that line of work months ago. The other day the President of the Disarmament Conference issued a circular to the different States in which he put forward the same suggestion. I presume it will be regarded by hon. Gentlemen opposite as a really good one. That circular suggested, what I recommended, that instead of our confining ourselves to discussing one or other links of this endless chain, we should try to isolate certain subjects and deal with them more completely in a protocol. The word "protocol" in this connection really means that instead of having clauses and articles in a long treaty, you make a separate document to contain certain things and agree to it separately. As a matter of fact, it very often happens—it happened in the Naval Treaty at Washington and in the Locarno Treaty—that you secure success if you can make some agreement first on certain aspects of the matter.
For good or ill, His Majesty's Government made this proposal last May, and still think it a good proposal. It was brought up at Geneva the other day. We have indicated that we will do our very best to co-operate in that new method of work. May I point out, what is strictly relevant to the present Debate, that in the Gracious Speech this precise method of work is indicated in a sentence? It is this:They will continue to make the support and extension of the authority of the League of Nations a cardinal point of their policy. They earnestly trust that the general work of the Disarmament Conference may be actively resumed in a political atmosphere more favourable to the attainment of definite results. In the meantime, strenuous efforts will be made to secure international agreement on such matters as are capable of separate treatment.I am glad to say that one of the special subjects was the regulations of the trade in arms. Another was budgetary publicity. Another was the creation of a permanent Disarmament Commission. Following this policy which we laid down for ourselves some months ago, we have indicated at Geneva, through the mouth of my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal, that we would give that plan our approval and support, but I was glad to 299 see, too, that the Lord Privy Seal, when giving that support went on to say:We must remember that limited objectives are no substitute for disarmament itself.Let me indicate to the House what the prospects of international agreement are. The record of this country—if hon. Members wish to do their own country justice, leaving the Government out of account—is the best record of any country in the world. I do not say that on behalf of my right hon. Friends and myself but on behalf of the country. We have, as a matter of fact, worked for this thing at Geneva more persistently and longer than anyone else. I have in my hand what is known as the Arms Traffic Convention of 1925—a very valuable Convention, which, if it were put into operation, would do effectively a large part of what we want to do internationally. I am going to give some names, with no desire to rebuke other countries, but because it is necessary that our own countrymen should know what our record is in this matter. The British Empire signed and ratified the Arms Traffic Convention of 1925 promptly, and it remains ratified. There is a saving for the rights of the Dominions, but there will be no difficulty there. Let me give the House the names of the principal arms manufacturing countries that have not ratified the Convention. I do it without any desire to rebuke, but simply to show the facts. Belgium has not ratified it, Czechoslovakia has not ratified it; Italy has not ratified it; Japan has not ratified it; Germany has not ratified it; the United States of America have not ratified it. I am sure that everybody will agree that that is disappointing.
We have not left that matter alone; we have not said "There we are, we have done everything we should do, and it is a pity other people will not do the same." Everyone would wish in this matter to put this country in the position which it deserves. As a matter of fact, we are the people who have been continually pressing among the Governments, and I am very glad to see that we are to have the opportunity of cooperating, as I am sure we wish to do, with the United States. The United States representative, I understand, produced a draft the other day. I have not had the opportunity of examining its 300 terms, but I have not the slightest doubt that he is right in his account in which he said that it is made up from the Treaty of 1925 and from various subsequent efforts. There are, for example, things known as the Geneva Articles. As Articles they would not do for a protocol, but they could be changed in their form. That is a very important matter. I take the view strongly, first, that it is only fair to say that internationally we have worked for this throughout; and, secondly, that as the result of our efforts as well as the efforts of others there is a better prospect now at Geneva of getting international agreement on this subject than there ever was before. I will say a word about Bolivia and Paraguay in a moment. I am afraid I shall be a little controversial there.
I will conclude this part of my speech by saying that there seem to me to be three things which we ought to hope to get in such an international convention. First, there ought to be effective control as a result of international agreement on trade in arms. That is absolutely necessary. We take the view that that control secured by international agreement should include the prohibition of Government subsidies and the prohibition of export credits. That is going further than the Geneva Articles, but it is the present practice in this country. We take the view that the arrangements should be such as to secure that an effective embargo can be applied at a time and in a place where the peace of the world or the stopping of war makes it a useful instrument to use. Secondly, it seems to me that an international convention should provide for effective national control, on lines agreed internationally, of the manufacture of arms in all countries. We try to do that in this country by a system of licences and so on. There is no similar system in most of the countries of the world, and I am convinced that it would be a great advantage if we could get an international agreement about it.
In the third place, there must be reasonable publicity. We would not carry that to such lengths that it involved danger to national safety or an infinite multiplication of documents, but that in principle there should be publicity seems to be a very necessary part of an international agreement. I could develop this at great length, but I must come to the second aspect, which is the question of an 301 inquiry. How does that stand? As I pointed out, the Motion of hon. Gentlemen opposite did not ask for an inquiry, but the matter was referred to. If I may be so bold, I will quote one sentence from that unfortunate oration to which I have referred, which I think is still quite true, namely, that the Government would be opposed toa 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 … an inquiry which really studied the proposal of State monopoly from the point of view of national security and the like."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th November, 1934; col. 1327, Vol. 293.]was a very different thing. I did not at that time develop the matter further, because it was not the subject of debate, but I think it is thoroughly within the rules of order now, and I wish to make a statement rather more in detail. The exact terms of reference for such an inquiry undoubtedly require careful consideration. What I want to indicate is three points, three matters which would be very properly included in the range of such an inquiry. I have already said that all this hunting after every rumour—a fishing excursion—does not commend itself to good sense. It would be quite contrary to our ordinary practice and could do nothing but delay and confuse the whole issue; but there are three things which I venture to mention as coming within the scope of such an investigation. The first is: Is State monopoly in this matter practicable and desirable? It would be necessary of course to consider under that head the effect of the abolition of the private manufacture of arms in relation to national security, including the necessity of expansion, and very rapid expansion, during war. I believe there are hon. Gentlemen opposite, including my hon. and learned Friend who made a speech in the country the other day, who have a view about this and I think it should be thoroughly explored. This head would include questions about actual or potential industrial organisations in other countries, it would include the relative costs and efficiency of a State monopoly as compared with the present system, the effect of substituting the State for private manufacturers as the source from which other countries might purchase arms, and the effect of a worldwide system of State monopoly on the 302 production of arms. Those are all within the first head. There is a second branch of such an inquiry and it would be this. The inquiry would include consideration of the existing system of licensing and control in this country, and that involves such questions as this: "Is the system adequate; is it effective for its purpose; is it liable to evasion or does it provide a real control; if such a system were generally applied all over the world would it provide a remedy for the abuses which now exist?"
There is a third head, and here I am anxious to express myself with such precision as I can command, for it is rather a difficult thing to express. Supposing that such an inquiry did establish that State monopoly was not the practical way, and that therefore a system of private manufacture effectively controlled by licence and the like should be maintained, there is still a third question which is gravely exercising many minds and which it seems to me it would be very proper to include within the scope of the report which we might hope to get. Thoughtful people, decent people, all over the country are fully conscious of the possibility that demands for arms may be stimulated by means of improper pressure. Whether, I say it parenthetically, the suggested danger of foreign countries being stimulated to buy arms would be avoided by putting the manufacture and sale of arms entirely in the hands of great States is quite another matter. If a manufacturing State had arms to sell one would fear that it might have ways of influencing prospective purchasers far more powerful than private individuals. But that is another question.
What many people feel, and what I myself most deeply feel, is that I should like to be informed by a responsible and impartial report whether the undoubted opportunities which the system of private manufacture may afford in some cases, and in some parts of the world, for improper pressure could be dealt with more effectively through State action. I feel bound to add this, that it would he very unjust to armament firms and to those responsible people who may be connected with them, to imply that there is something in their business which essentially makes undesirable methods their practice and still less their monopoly. In certain parts of the world 303 a great deal of difficulty is sometimes encountered, but that is no reason why the inquiry which we propose should not be one which would report whether there is anything which could be done to limit abuses which may be incidental to the manufacture of arms.
I have made, I hope, a perfectly plain statement to the House. It is absolutely necessary to get rid of the idea that anything can be done by an immense roving commission. It would be a perfectly endless business which might do a great deal of injustice and it is not of the essence of the matter. Anyone can see what the problem is, and if we can get a body to consider the question which I have defined, within those limitations, I myself should be very much influenced in my final judgment by what they say and I believe the whole House and a great body of opinion outside the House would be very glad for that investigation to be made.
I have reserved until now a reference to the Bolivia-Paraguay matter, because though I always appreciate the personal courtesy of the hon. Member opposite in his contributions to debate in the House, I must say that I think he went—unintentionally of course—beyond the limits of anything that could be regarded as reasonable or fair in his reference to the Bolivia-Paraguay war and its application to His Majesty's Government. If one wanted to have an example of how this country and this Government—I will not treat the matter more personally—have really worked, and in the end not unsuccessfully, to stop a war by an embargo on arms, one could not have a better example than this case of the Bolivia-Paraguay war and, therefore, I hope the hon. Gentleman will not be offended if I state dogmatically one or two facts which he ought not to overlook. The first is this. It appears to be the opinion of some hon. Gentlemen that a priori every war in the world arises out of some economic cause. I am not claiming to know about every war, but there has never within my knowledge been a war in which economic causes have played a smaller part. The Bolivia-Paraguay war, this miserable conflict which has been attended I have no doubt with all the horrors which the hon. Gentleman described with so much feeling, and which 304 I detest and want to stop just as much as he does, is caused by the fact that the frontiers of the Chaco, that great area in the Middle of South America, have never been defined. The controversy has been going on for, I should think, over 50 years. No doubt it is quite true that one of the elements is that Bolivia would like to have a port on the great river that runs through—[HON. MEMBERS: "That is economic!"] But the real reason is that there has been simmering all this time a great dispute on the subject of a vast area, and I really do not think we do justice to ourselves or to contemporary history if we treat this as though it were some particularly unnecessary ebullition of capitalist feeling. It is a wretched and horrible business, and I want to consider what we have been trying to do to stop it. The hon. Gentleman paid a very nice compliment to the Lord Privy Seal. The more he pays compliments to him the more I am pleased. He wanted to pay a compliment to him because he wanted it to be inferred that the Foreign Office had had nothing to do with it.
§ Mr. D. GRENFELL
That was not my intention. I paid that compliment because I wanted to pay a compliment.
§ Sir J. SIMON
And so do I. Let us see what it is that the Foreign Office with the help and approval of the Lord Privy Seal has been doing. There is no difference between us. The initiative in this matter of the Bolivia-Paraguay arms embargo rests with this Government. It has from the outset been taken by this Government. At first it appeared to be a rather hopeless proceeding. I remember it as far back as a meeting of the Council of the League in, I think, November, 1932, two years ago, when it was pointed out that both belligerents were dependent upon foreign sources for their arms, and it was said, "Why cannot we get a cordon sanitaire around the area and starve the warmongers out?" We took up the matter with various Governments, and subsequently with the American Government, the French Government and the Italian Government, and in February, 1933, we got the Secretary-General of the League to receive a memorandum from us for which the British Government were responsible and in which we got the French to express concurrence, recommending that the 305 Council should take steps to impose an embargo. We pointed out that we had got the machinery to do it, and that we wanted other people to get the machinery. Although all the States that were members of the Council at that time accepted this proposal in principle—and it is sometimes a great phrase at Geneva, "in principle"—still nothing could be done owing to the failure on the part of some of the Governments, I do not say which, to get the necessary powers.
Further efforts were made, but finally the Council decided that they must try another road, which was to send a commission out to the Chaco. We did not let the matter drop, we initiated a discussion as soon as that commission had reported, because it reported that both belligerents depended on foreign supplies. On 17th May of this year it was the British Government who urged that the embargo proposal we had made in the previous year should be taken up again by the others with more vigour. In the meantime we did a thing here which I think should receive a little recognition from our critics. It caused a certain amount of trouble. We stopped the issue of any licences to allow the export of arms to this area, although no other country was doing the same. In fact, we have not given a single licence of any sort or kind for the export of arms to either side, or arms which we regarded as likely to be going there, since the 9th May. Though we did that other people did not follow our example. But very fortunately on the 28th May—I acknowledge it most gratefully—the United States, although unable, owing to their constitution, to impose an embargo like ours, issued a proclamation prohibiting sales being entered into inside their own country for the purpose of supplying arms to Bolivia and Paraguay.
We made repeated representations to the Foreign Offices of other countries. We addressed ourselves to Rome; I remember the despatches. We had some difficulty in getting co-operation with some important arms manufacturing States on the Continent, but finally on 30th July we did obtain the support of the Italian Government. Certain other Powers continue to hold out, and the files of the Foreign Office are full of arguments and entreaties and petitions on this subject. On 22nd August we at last reached a position in which all arms 306 manufactured in Europe were brought within the scope of this embargo, with the exception of those in Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Finland and Norway. We continued to press those four Governments, and full co-operation and support were at last obtained at the beginning of September.
In the face of that record, some portion of which must be known to hon. Gentlemen opposite, is it fair that we should have had from the hon. Member for Gower a speech in which he implied, hinted and insinuated that in this country we have a Government, and in particular that we have a Foreign Secretary, who in these matters are perfectly indifferent, who take no interest in them, and do not try to take a fair part in endeavouring to secure the authority of the League of Nations throughout the world? That is my first comment. Moreover, is it fair and right that our fellow countrymen should be so instructed outside at meetings, called I have no doubt with great sincerity to support peace—which I also support—and that in those circumstances there should be deliberate and persistent misrepresentation of our action?
In his concluding remarks, the hon. Gentleman made a moving appeal, and with what he said I found myself in the most complete sympathy. He urged that we should not take the view that the League of Nations had failed. I certainly do not take the view that it has failed. He informed the House that, in the terribly difficult situation in the Far East last year, the Sino-Japanese situation, I—he used this expression—"got away with it." I would prefer to say that on that occasion His Majesty's Government preserved the peace.
§ Mr. D. GRENFELL
I said that the right hon. Gentleman got away with it in this House. I did not say that he did anything improper in his relations with other people.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. As long as I do what is right by other people, I shall continue to get away with it in this House. In tones of great sincerity which I know are quite friendly, the hon. Gentleman finished by urging that we ought all of us to let it go out from this House that we are not hopeless on the subject of peace, but are determined so to conduct the affairs of this country in the world as to 307 save it from the horror of war. Yes, that is very good. Let it go out that we are all working for peace; but is that the tone which is adopted at some of the meetings which the hon. Gentleman addresses? He used a sentence in his speech in which he said that Ministers were not really supporting peace.
§ Mr. GRENFELL
I must protest. The right hon. Gentleman is not giving a correct interpretation of what I said. I deliberately held the right hon. Gentleman responsible in his position for some of the failures of his Government, but I have no personal animus and I did not express it in my speech.
§ Sir J. SIMON
There is nothing personal about this at all. I would rather put it in this way, because it is the real position, and I would urge the House to remember this: There is a very dangerous fallacy lurking in the phrase and the idea that there is a certain set of people in this country, very important and very sincere, who are the peace movement. The peace movement is universal. There is nobody in this country who is not working for peace; certainly no one can, with the slightest rhyme or reason, say that the Government are not working for peace. While I welcome the powerful arguments of my hon. Friend when he preaches the need of peace in the world, I would ask him and his fellows to observe that there is a sense in which there might be a danger of dividing the peace opinion. It is a false position, and an injustice to the people of this country, every one of whom wants to do all he can for peace. Let us try to find subjects of controversy in domestic issues. There are plenty of them which are very proper matters for controversy, but peace is the supreme interest of this country, and is the passionate object of all of us. I would, with great respect, ask for the generosity and the justice of hon. Members in recognising that that is the object for which His Majesty's Government are striving with all their might and all the effort that can be commanded.
§ 6.7 p.m
§ Mr. GRAHAM WHITE
I do not propose to trespass upon the time of the House for longer than is necessary to make one or two observations with regard to some limited aspects of the important 308 speech to which we have just listened from the Foreign Secretary. Perhaps he will allow me, and the House will perhaps expect me, to make some reference to what he said in regard to the speech which he made in this House about 10 days ago. I am sure that the House, with its great sense of sympathy and fairmindedness, appreciated very highly what he said in regard to that speech, because it is an experience which I suppose is common to every hon. Member that interpretations are put upon their speeches which were foreign to hon. Members' intentions when they spoke. In the case of most of us, that is a matter of small consequence; it is merely a matter of personal annoyance. In regard to a speech on an important occasion, made with the great authority of the Foreign Secretary, it would indeed have been unfortunate if the speech which he then made had not now been dealt with in such a way as to remove from friends and opponents alike the impression which was made upon them by it.
I am not clear in my own mind as to how discussion of the matters which he mentioned in connection with the all-important naval conversations could he continued by this House, but I am quite certain that it would be very inadvisable to try. One or two sentences fell from my right hon. Friend in regard to which I am sure the House will wish to express cordial and complete agreement. In the first place—I am speaking from recollection and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong—he said it would be an unmitigated disaster if the result should be a failure of those naval discussions and if that failure should lead to a renewal of the race in armaments. That is a matter upon which the whole House will be completely unanimous. Another sentence with which I was very much struck was when he said that the right of security was the equal right of all nations. I am sure that is a matter about which everyone in this House will profoundly agree. If we have any feeling with regard to that principle at all it must be one of regret that it has not at all times and on all occasions, since the Treaty of Versailles, governed the transactions which have taken place between those who were engaged in the War. If that had been the case we should hardly have been engaged in such a Debate as this, and the relationships 309 of the people of Europe and of the world would have been on a different basis than that which is unfortunately the case to-day.
I do not wish to say anything further in regard to the naval discussions except that it is a common practice, and indeed a fashionable habit for some people, to describe all international conferences of small importance as a waste of time, and to say that we should isolate ourselves and not go on these trips to Geneva, and all the rest of it. That practice is prevalent in some quarters. If there ever was an international agreement which was of outstanding value it is that very naval Treaty of London, which is now the subject of preliminary discussions and which will come up for consideration next year. The treaty which arose out of the Washington Conference has been almost the greatest single act of economy that has ever been made at any time. Our taxpayers have to thank the authors of that treaty for a saving of, I should say, £50,000,000 or £60,000,000, or something of that order, and the taxpayers of other countries have enjoyed similar great benefits from that treaty and that arrangement. We regret, although it is strictly within the terms of that treaty, that there has sprung up in the last few years a renewal of the building of capital ships, not by this country, but by other countries, upon an increasing scale. That is regretted by all who wish to avoid the greatest calamity of all, the resumption of competition in armaments.
I leave that subject now, and pass on to express the satisfaction of my right hon. and hon. Friends at the important announcement made by the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the holding of an inquiry into the manufacture and control of armaments. We noted with satisfaction the renewed efforts which had been made by His Majesty's Government at Geneva in connection with the proposal for the control of arms. The inquiry which was adumbrated this afternoon by the right hon. Gentleman responds to a feeling of great uneasiness—I would even go further and say anxiety, and unhappiness—in the minds of a very large number of people in this country. That feeling has been aroused by the statements, allegations and facts which emanated from the Senate inquiry in America. Public opinion has 310 been profoundly disturbed on this matter, and I am glad to know that something will be done to allay that unrest and anxiety. I speak at the moment for myself when I say that there is another reason why an inquiry should be instituted in this country, and that is that it is hardly fair to those engaged in the manufacture of arms or in closely allied industries that these allegations should remain without an answer, and that they should be left to suffer under the suspicion, in the minds of many people, that they have been, guilty of conduct which was not conducive to the public good. I think that, from the point of view of allaying public anxiety and doing justice to the manufacturers of armaments and the like in this country, it is essential that an inquiry should be held.
My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Caithness (Sir A, Sinclair), and some others of us on these benches, put down, on the occasion of the Debate some 10 days ago, an Amendment asking the Government to grant such an inquiry, and that Amendment was in fact argued by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Caithness in some detail. I am glad to find that the proposals outlined to-day by the Foreign Secretary embrace three of the four points to which we attach great importance, and which we ventured to put on the Order Paper of the House of Commons. If I may refresh the memory of the House with regard to those points, the last of them seems to be the first which has attracted the attention and impressed the mind of the Foreign Secretary, namely, the desirability of creating a Government monopoly of armament manufacture. That is an important matter, and, as appeared in the course of the Debate the other day, it is proper that conclusive facts and information regarding it should be laid before the country. It has been a subject of acute controversy, and it is important that, having been raised, it should be decided, so far as it can be decided, by an inquiry.
We stressed in our Amendment the necessity for inquiring into the effectiveness of the present methods for controlling the arms traffic between the United Kingdom and foreign countries. We know already that there is an effective machinery in this country, certainly as effective as, if not more effective than, 311 the machinery in any other country; but there again it is desirable that there should be an investigation, in order that there may be independent evidence to assure the people of this country that there is nothing open to criticism in matters of control. We mentioned also the question of the control of the trade in munitions of war, including the existing methods of promoting their sale. One matter to which we attach importance, but which was not mentioned by the Foreign Secretary, is that there should be an inquiry into the relations between the Government Departments and armament manufacturers. The Foreign Secretary, in specifying other points, did not mention that one, but the First Lord of the Admiralty, in reply to a question in the House recently with regard to certain correspondence which was alleged to have taken place in the past between Sir Charles Craven and, I think, an officer of his Department, said that, while he had himself made an inquiry which had satsified him, he would welcome an independent inquiry. I gather, therefore, that the Government will be prepared to cover all the points of substance embraced in the Amendment which we ventured to place on the Order Paper.
In conclusion, I would say that, while we attach very great importance to the holding of an inquiry which will allay the anxiety that has been aroused, and will enable a decision to be taken, the essence of the whole business is the nature of the inquiry and the powers which those who are to inquire ought to have. We do not wish for a roving or fishing inquiry, or an inquiry such as was referred to by the Prime Minister in his speech at Southampton—an inquiry without terms of reference; nothing of that kind had entered our minds. But an inquiry which is not armed with adequate power to send for papers, and to examine witnesses on oath if necessary, would not be worth holding. It would be better that there should be no inquiry at all than that there should be one which would not satisfy the public of this country that it is armed with adequate power to get all the information required, and that it has full authority to deal with this matter and to come to a conclusion which will remove all doubts for all time.
§ Sir J. SIMON
If my hon. Friend will be good enough to allow me to interrupt 312 him for a moment, I want to make it entirely clear, in case there is any doubt, that it is the proposal of the Government that there should be an inquiry. That is the proposal of the Government. But it is a very difficult matter to frame, and it really is not possible, if I may respectfully say so, to deal with these other matters. The particular kind of inquiry will of itself determine the power. I hope I shall not be expected to say more to-day than that we intend to have an inquiry within the limits I have mentioned.
§ Mr. WHITE
The right hon. Gentleman, in his speech this afternoon, pointed out that in a matter of this kind the terms of reference are a matter for very careful consideration, and I recognised that at the time. I am not making any attempt to press the right hon. Gentleman here and now, but am merely expressing the opinion of myself and my friends as to the lines on which, in our judgment at all events, the inquiry should proceed. No doubt, when the inquiry is set up, there will be an opportunity for Members of the House to discuss the matter, and, if any criticism is to be made, that will be the proper time at which to make it. I conclude by expressing my satisfaction that the Government have seen their way to set up this inquiry, which I am sure is called for by the public opinion of the country, and we shall await further developments with great interest.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Mr. COCKS
We have heard from the Foreign Secretary to-night a very plausible speech, but then we always hear very plausible speeches from the Foreign Secretary. In fact, I think one could say that, the weaker the right hon. Gentleman's case, the more plausible he becomes, because it is only when he has a really weak case that he is driven to put forth those unrivalled powers of advocacy which have enabled many a dubious person to escape his just deserts. Perhaps I might illustrate that by a story which was told me by an ex-Cabinet Minister, not of my own party. In days which were not so honourable, perhaps, as ours, a person came to him and said he thought his services were so great that he might properly be recommended for a peerage, and that in that case he was prepared to put down for the party funds 313 a certain sum, which was named. My friend said: "That is a very nice round sum, Mr. So-and-So, but, in' my view, in about six months' time you will be in Princetown." "Oh, no, I shall not," said this gentleman, "I have retained Sir John Simon." And so in the international sphere, when one country attacks another country against the principles of the League of Nations, or when some country starts to re-arm against the provisions of a Treaty, and someone goes to the Government of that country and says: "Are you not afraid of the consequences of breaking these international agreements?" I am afraid that they would sometimes reply: "No; the Foreign Minister of England is a great advocate, and he can put our case far better than we can put it ourselves." That is precisely what I think the Japanese Minister or delegate at Geneva said to the right hon. Gentleman—
§ Sir J. SIMON
No, he did not. It was said in the papers that he did, and I can give the hon. Gentleman the name of the paper.
§ Mr. COCKS
I quite accept the statement of the Foreign Secretary that that remark was not made, but, if it had been made, it would have been a justifiable remark, because that is exactly what the right hon. Gentleman had done in his speech on that particular occasion. The right hon. Gentleman complained a few minutes ago about meetings outside this House where the Government was attacked for its work regarding disarmament and peace. He said that his Government had the best record in the world. I associate myself with many of the attacks which are being made upon the Government, but I do not only make them outside; I make them here. I say that, in spite of all the plausible speeches that the right hon. Gentleman may make in this House, upon him, in company with Herr Hitler and whoever personifies Japan, rests the heaviest responsibility for the breakdown of the Disarmament Conference and almost the wreck of the League of Nations. Indeed, there are only three places in the world, or three sorts of places, where the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman 314 are greeted with pleasure, and sometimes with unholy delight. The first is Tokio, the second Berlin, and the third is in the boardrooms of the armaments trust in every country in the world.
Last summer the Lord President of the Council made a statement in this House which, I think, demands the most serious consideration of everybody in the country. He said that, although the disarmament negotiations had been going on for several years—I think he said 8½ years—they had not produced any tangible results. That is perfectly true; in fact, it is patent for all the world to see. Why is it so? Why have these prolonged, and often tedious and tenebrous, discussions, upon which the hopes of the world are fixed, produced no result at all? With the permission of the House I would like to suggest an answer to that very important question. As was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) earlier this afternoon, when the last war came to an end people, revolted by the terrible things that had happened during those four years, were resolved that if possible such a thing should never be allowed to occur again, and with that object they set up the League of Nations.
I suggest that the League of Nations was not merely a consultative system, to use the weak and indecisive phrase which has recently become fashionable, and which has been adopted by the Lord Privy Seal and also by the Foreign Secretary. It was not meant to be merely a place to discuss the evils of the white slave traffic; it was not merely meant to be a place to facilitate a discussion upon international labour legislation; it was not merely a place where the Foreign Secretary could secure dialectical triumphs before audiences of puzzled and unimpressed foreigners. It was intended to be a method by which war could be avoided and, although there were well-known gaps in the Covenant of the League of Nations, yet, generally speaking, it was a system to substitute arbitration for war. It was a system by which nations in the future should know that they would not have to depend for their defence on their own right arm alone, but, if unjustly attacked, should be supported by the remaining members of the community of nations. It was in consequence of that that by Article 8 the nations agreed to reduce their armaments to the minimum necessary for their 315 own national defence and for the maintenance of international obligations.
The Council of the League was instructed to draw up plans to that effect. To do the Council of the League justice, they did their utmost to draw up such plans. They set up a commission which worked on the problem for many years. There was a point 12 years ago when that commission came to certain conclusions. I have always felt that those conclusions contained are whole root and kernel of the matter. They explain why disarmament has never been brought about. They were, first, that no Government will reduce its armaments unless it receives in exchange a guarantee of security, and that that guarantee can only be found in a general defensive agreement binding on all the countries concerned to provide immediate and effective assistance in the event of one of them being attacked. Those were the resolutions drawn up by the commission appointed by the League of Nations to consider this question. Upon those propositions there was finally drawn up the famous Protocol of Geneva in 1924, which stated that aggressive war was an international crime and, therefore, any nation which started an aggressive war was an international criminal. It proposed to set up machinery by which disputes should in the last resort be settled. It said that the aggressor was the nation which either refused to accept that tribunal or refused to accept the award of the tribunal. It thus settled in a very clear and sensible way one of the most ancient problems in the world, the problem of "Who began it?" which was perhaps started in the Garden of Eden and is probably disputed to-day in every nursery throughout the country. It went on to say that, having found the aggressor in that way, the nation that was unjustly attacked had the right to call upon all the other nations signatory to the treaty to come to its defence. It was thought that, if this system were accepted by the world, an atmosphere of security would be created which would render possible a reduction of armaments. I feel that that was the longest step ever taken in the history of the world towards a system of international security and disarmament.
It was an immeasurable mistake when in 1925 that Protocol was rejected and there was substituted the regional 316 pact of Locarno. Although there is a great deal to he said for regional pacts, that is to say, for arrangements by which certain groups of nations should agree to defend a. certain frontier or to maintain the peace in a certain territory in which they have special interests, yet no such regional agreements can give that atmosphere of general security which alone will make disarmament possible. As M. Briand said on the very day that Locarno was signed:Only the adherence of the nations to a common protocol can induce them to renounce the competition in armaments.And he added that if the principles of the Protocol were abandoned, the nations would gradually return to their old habits and to the solution of their disputes by force, a statement which the passage of years has shown to be profoundly true. There followed after that six years of futile discussion at Geneva on the subject of disarmament. All discussions must be futile if they are conducted outside the realm of security. If you discuss these questions inside the realm of security, the problem of national defence becomes merged in the wider and simpler problem of international defence and it is then a comparatively simple matter for the nations to decide what form that international defence shall take, but when you discuss it outside the realm of security the discussion usually takes two forms. First of all, you have the representatives of the different nations going there and doing their best to see that, whatever happens, their country is not going to be weakened. They do their best to reduce those armaments which are supposed to be dangerous for their own country and to resist any reduction of armament which their own advisers say they should have.
Secondly, you have another set of experts, or perhaps the same set, engaging in all sorts of ridiculous technical discussions which remind one of nothing more than the cogitations of mediaeval schoolmen as to how many angels could pirouette on the point of a needle. In the heart-breaking years that followed the rejection of the Protocol you had discussions on this kind of thing, "Is the grease on the axle wheel of a gun carriage war material?" to which the answer given was "Yes." "Are the wood and the metal used in the manufacture of a rifle war 317 material?" The answer again was "Yes." "Is a complete rifle, fully constructed but locked up in an armoury where no one can have it, war material?" The answer was "No." Those are the actual results of many of the discussions that took place at Geneva. And so the discussions went on and delegates lost their tempers, and documents mounted high, and Lord Cecil lost his patience with the British Government and resigned, and the Lord President of the Council, as he said in a speech, viewed the proceedings with very little concern because he thought the delegates were merely "playing with the subject." During those discussions, right up to the time that the Disarmament Conference broke up, leading statesmen on the Continent, especially French statesmen, were making statements which showed clearly that they believed, as I believe, that the only way by which any disarmament can be brought about is by a system of complete security. At the end of one of those discussions the "Temps" said that the British attitude all through was an insurmountable obstacle to the attainment of "any general formula of security that would permit of a reduction of armaments." On 21st July, 1931, the French Government issued a Memorandum on disarmament which contained this passage:Armaments can only he reduced the more mutual assistance against an aggressor is reliably and rapidly organised. France would unreservedly co-operate in any system which comprises formal promises of effective mutual assistance in the event of aggression and thus allows each State further to reduce its armaments.M. Briand, speaking at a meeting of the League at Geneva on 11th September, 1931, said:The authors of the Covenant had foreseen the danger of international discord for a long period after the War and had provided for it. They had provided a solution of differences by means of international justice and collective sanctions instead of material force. The objects of the Disarmament Conference must be, not unconditional disarmament, but a reduction of armaments combined with recourse to juridical guarantees and sanctions.A fortnight before the Conference M. Laval met the Chamber with a programme which contained the following passage:All parties in France insisted on the same policy of Security, Arbitration, 318 Definition of Aggressor and Mutual Assistance. The Protocol was the most complete expression of the French conception. If the condition of immediate and effective mutual assistance were realised the technical questions could easily be solved.Seeing that that was the attitude taken up by the French and most Continental statesmen, that no disarmament could be brought about except under a system of national security, and seeing that the British Government of that day clearly showed that they were not prepared to enter into such a system and are not now, it is quite clear that the conference was doomed to failure from the very start, and that there was never, in spite of the super-human efforts of the President, any real moment when any effective disarmament could ever be brought about by that conference. The deadlock started at the beginning and has continued ever since. I have never felt that there was any possibility of the conference being successful as long as those two different attitudes were adopted.
Another event took place, which made the failure of the conference, if possible, even more certain, and that was the complete failure of the League in the Far East to defend one of its members from being unjustly attacked. I do not propose to describe in detail those events. They are now a matter for history—for the history of the past—and I am afraid the history of the future. Much of it can be read in the impartial pages of the Lytton report. I will just say this Under the Kellogg Pact no nation has a right to make war on another. Under the Covenant of the League of Nations no member of the League has a right to attack another member without first of all putting its case before the Council and getting a report or a, decision. The nations which signed the Nine-Power Treaty, would include Japan, agreed to take no action in China without consulting each other and agreed to respect the territorial integrity of China. Each of these three treaties was signed by Japan and each was broken by Japan, when three years ago she invaded Manchukuo, set up an independent State there which is now a Japanese protectorate, and followed this up by delivering a supplementary attack upon Shanghai.
The Foreign Secretary has said over and over again to the Opposition, "What you are charging me with is not declaring 319 war against Japan. "That is not the charge. The charge is that when he could have taken steps, especially in conjunction with America, to remonstrate with Japan because of her action, he did not do it. When America sent a Note to us in which she refused to recognise any situation arrived at as a result of a breach of the Kellogg Pact, we refused to sign it. Not only that but by declarations made by the Foreign Secretary in the House at that time he so encouraged the Japanese militarists to carry on with their career of illegal conquest that they have now become so strongly entrenched in the Far East that it is very unlikely that the problem will ever be settled at all, except perhaps in consequence of an economic breakdown or the absorptive powers of the patient and ancient Chinese people. What is more important is that they have become so entrenched and are so certain that the League will never check them whatever they do, that they are now threatening to proclaim an overlordship of China, and a Monroe Doctrine for the Far East, and they are now demanding, in spite of what the Foreign Secretary said about the discussions not being complete, naval parity with this country which is certain to wreck the Naval Conference next year before it is ever started. What is happening now is that the Government at this conference are reaping the fruits of the Foreign Secretary's failure two years ago.
I want to get back to the Disarmament Conference. It has now been sitting off and on for nearly three years, and has not produced a single result, unless we consider the rearming of Germany a result. I pointed out a few minutes ago that there was a deadlock at the very start. Knowing that the British Government was not prepared to enter into a system of pooled security, the French Government and other Governments put forward certain second-best and third-best solutions in the hope that perhaps, if they could not get complete security, they might get some faint resemblance to security by which some kind of reduction of certain forms of armaments might be achieved. I will summarise certain of these proposals which have been put before the Disarmament Conference. First of all, there was the first French plan by which bombing aeroplanes were 320 to be handed over to the Council of the League, and all aggressive weapons of a powerful character were to be retained only by those nations prepared in eventualities to hand them over for the use of the League. There was a second French plan of three concentric circles which involved the effective application of Article 16 of the Covenant. Then there was the British Draft Convention which proposed that in the event of a breach, or a threatened breach of the Kellogg Pact, the League should call a conference to discuss the best way of preserving peace or to use its good offices to restore peace or, if that were found to be impossible, to determine who was the responsible party. I have always considered that as a kind of conversazione proposal, a tea-party proposal for preserving or restoring peace after war has broken out. It would be about as useful as a tea-party or as useless. Then there was President Roosevelt's proposal that all nations should enter into a solemn and definite pact of non-aggression and, provided they had all limited and reduced their armaments, should agree to send no armed force of any kind across the frontiers.
Further, there was the proposal to set up an international system for the control and inspection of armaments, and coupled with it there grew up a. demand that arrangements should be made to guarantee the execution of the Disarmament Convention itself. The guarantees proposed by the British Government were of the nature of another tea-party on the lines of that proposed in the MacDonald Memorandum. We have also had the proposal for the Eastern Pact of Mutual Security. Practically all those proposals—and there were many others—have either fallen to the ground or made no headway towards acceptance because they did not give security, which is the only way in which any disarmament can be brought about at all. It is only by a system which will give absolute security in the particular sphere for which it is established that any method of disarmament can ever be carried out. The fact that those plans were second-best and second-rate and evoked no general enthusiasm is the reason why they have all fallen to the ground.
Take the question of the inspection of arms. Some of my friends have been 321 rather intrigued by that proposal, and have thought that if you could not get a. security system, you might get a second-best system in which inspectors might be appointed by the League to go into the various countries and inspect their arms and armament firms and see that they were not arming above the limits laid down by a convention which does not yet exist, or that they were not manufacturing forbidden weapons. I believe that under a security system such a plan as that would be possible. If we had a security system, the urge towards competitive armaments would be greatly weakened, if it did not disappear altogether. The inspectorate would then go into the various countries, not to find out forbidden arms at all, but to see which country was contributing its proper quota to the forces necessary to carry out international obligations. They would be inspectors, and not criminal investigators. Without security, the thing would be impossible.
I cannot conceive of any system which would cause more irritation than that with the least amount of benefit. What would happen? The inspectors would come in as criminal investigators to find forbidden arms. There would be an atmosphere of spying and suspicion. It would be worse than a Test Match. If a nation were making forbidden arms, they would not tell the inspectors where they could find those particular weapons. Therefore, we had another proposal put forward at Geneva that, in view of the fact that no Government would tell the inspectors where forbidden arms were to be found, a law should be passed in each country to say that any national who gave away his country's secrets to the inspectors should not be guilty of treason. I cannot conceive anything more fantastic than that outside the pages of "Alice in Wonderland." Can anyone imagine how such a law would be applied in Germany to-day?
The question of control brings me to another point. Everybody admits that in the world to-day there is a passionate desire for peace among the peoples of the world. I do not believe that that desire has been reflected correctly by the representatives, of the various countries at Geneva, including our own. There has been a great deal of insincerity in many of the discussions which have taken place 322 there. Take the question of control as an example. In the Memorandum issued by the Foreign Secretary on 29th January of this year, he said:The British Government were willing to agree to the application of a system of permanent and automatic supervision, if general agreement is reached on all other issues.That does not, mean very much now, because not only does it postpone supervision to a very remote contingency, but it does not say, even when they have obtained agreement on every other issue, what kind of supervision they would accept. In the German reply of 16th April, 1934, they said that they would agree to a system of supervision provided it was general. Statements have been made in certain quarters as to the reasonableness of that position, but long before those documents were issued it had been clearly stated that Japan did not intend to agree to any supervision at all. On 13th November of last year, according to a report in the "Manchester Guardian," the following statements were made at Geneva:Japan, after Russia had demanded that control should include Manchuquo, made a reservation against extending control to Japan. Mr. Stein (Russia) said that investigation must be applied universally and that no country or region neighbouring Russia should be exempt. Mr. Sato reiterated the Japanese reservation of last May (1933), against control. He said that in Japan's special situation she could not accept control, especially control which was automatic and on the spot. He considered that control should be a regional affair, and meanwhile made a reservation against any universal adoption of the system.It is clear that if Japan would not accept control, Russia will not accept control, and if Russia will not accept control, Poland will not accept control, and if Poland will not accept control, Germany will not accept control. Therefore the statements made, both in the Memorandum issued by the British Government and in the Reply issued by the German Government, both made at a time when they knew that Japan would not accept control, to the effect that they would accept control if everybody else did, meant nothing at all. They were merely a fraud upon the people. In fact much of the argument at Geneva reminded me of a passage in a recent book on Cromwell, written by the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. Buchan). I am sorry that 323 the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) is not present. Speaking of certain discussions initiated by Charles I, he says:Charles was not sincere. At the start of the discussions he had made the ominous stipulation that nothing which he conceded should be valid unless a complete agreement were reached on all other points, and, since he did not believe that a final understanding was possible his concessions on details were meaningless.That reminds me very much of many of the despatches and speeches which resulted from the Disarmament Conference, including some of those of our own Government
I come now to the attitude of the present Government towards Germany. The German Government came into the Conference, and after six months threatened to leave unless they were granted equality of rights. They also threatened to re-arm. For doing that they were gravely rebuked by the Foreign Secretary, who said that to bring forward such a demand for equality of status at that stage was "unwise" and "untimely" and that it could not be obtained by any peremptory challenge or withdrawal but only through patient discussion. Despite that rebuke, the German Government left the Conference. What was unfortunate was that we went after her to get her back. As a result, we made an agreement in December, 1932, to grant Germany equality of rights under a system which provides security for all nations. It was a great mistake and a misfortune. At the same time as such a system of security has never been set up that formula does not mean that Germany has yet been granted equality of rights. What happened? The German delegations, having got that declaration, returned to the Conference, not to secure disarmament but to achieve equality; in other words, to re-arm. Having exhausted every effort to obstruct the proceedings, they finally left not only the Disarmament Conference but the League as well. Herr Hitler came into power just before that time with a philosophy of militarism and paganism. He suppressed the German democracy and imprisoned the German pacifists, and, as everybody knows, the German Government are re-arming as fast as they possibly can—nobody is saying a word about it, although it is against all treaty 324 rights—not to get equality, but superiority of armaments in order to back up her diplomacy by force and to confront other nations with the fait accompli of a fully-armed State, a position which she has, perhaps, already attained.
It seems to me that the Government's policy towards Germany throughout has been to assist Germany to do that—because they are still suggesting that Germany should go back to Geneva, although everybody knows that whether Germany is a member of a conference or not she is simply playing the part that Themistocles did on a similar occasion, holding up the proceedings until she has fully re-armed. The Government by their attitude are unwillingly playing the game of Herr Hitler, and making the fortunes of armament firms all over the world. The Government seem to take the view that nothing can be done till Germany returns to the Conference; and seeing that Germany will never return unless she is accorded the right to re-arm and seeing that France will never agree to give her a legal right to re-arm, they have simply thrown in their hand and have decided that nothing can be done—excepting on the small points to which the Foreign Secretary referred to-day—except to return to the system of competing armaments, which everybody agrees will sooner or later end in catastrophe. I think that is entirely wrong.
In my view, the world has to choose to-day between an armaments race which will lead eventually to war and the destruction of civilisation, and a definite security system pledging each nation to use its forces in conjunction with the forces of other nations at any moment and in any part of the world against any nation which threatens to make war; in fact, to confront a potential aggressor with such an aggregation of force that he will never venture to break the peace. That is the only way by which peace can be preserved. In other words the only way to preserve peace is by the method of the judge and the policeman. We have got to have a judge to decide the dispute and a policeman to see that the edict of the court is not broken. I would also say that as it is the duty of every English citizen to come to the defence of the law if re- 325 quired so it should be the duty of every law-abiding country to come to the defence of international law and to prevent war breaking out or any criminal nation attacking a law-abiding one.
Moreover I believe that the only way by which Treaty revision itself can be carried out is within the realm of security. If you do not have this security system, the nations suffering from the territorial injustices of the last war can only remove those injustices by the method of war. With a security system that is not the case. Dr. Benes, the Foreign Minister of Czechoslovakia, has made an important speech on this subject in which he said that there were three conditions under which the Treaties could be revised. He made this statement on 25th April, 1933. He said first there must be no external pressure, and that agreement could only be reached by direct negotiation between' the peoples interested and with their free consent. His second point was that such an agreement would only be possible in an atmosphere of calm after some years of peaceful co-operation between the peoples concerned. It could not follow from any sort of terror, pressure or blackmail exercised by one Power against another.
His third point was that such an agreement was only possible if equivalent compensation was given. Under a security system certainly you would have an atmosphere of calm and security in which these negotiations could be carried on. We should have more than that. If the nations of Europe—this country, Italy, Russia and other nations—agreed to defend say the frontiers of Czechoslovakia against unjust attack we should have a friendly right to say to the Government of Czechoslovakia: "If you are going to be unjustly invaded we are coming to your defence because we intend to prevent any breach of the peace. But if that be so, it is only right that you on your part should render the possibility of invasion more remote by discussing in a reasonable spirit with other nations any territorial grievances which they think they have against you." I do not put it higher than that, but I say that this would be a better way of revising the territorial settlements of the last war than the method of war.
Can such a system be erected to-day? I believe that a few years ago it would 326 have been possible to devise some system of that kind which would have included every nation of the world excepting the United States of America. The United States of America, though standing outside the League, would have probably adopted an attitude of friendly neutrality towards any system founded to prevent any breach of the Kellogg Pact. But to-day, in the present temper of the present Governments of Japan and Germany, I do not think that it is possible. But the temper of those Governments is not necessarily permanent. Those Governments in time may be replaced by others which will be more internationally minded than those in power to-day. We have seen the speech of Admiral Saito reported in "The Times" to-day which shows that in Japan there is another point of view. There are also signs in Germany which augur not so well for the present regime. If you had a system of security and these countries were shown that they could not get their way by aggression and attack, this might help to bring about the particular effect I am suggesting.
I would suggest therefore that there should not be any attempt to bring Germany or Japan into such a system, because they would not come in. Their present policy is based on force and they are opposed to such a system. But we should give a lead with the object of bringing in all the other nations of the world. We should give a lead to all the nations comprising the League of Nations. If we appeal to them with all the force of our British historical tradition and our unrivalled power and spirit those nations would follow—or at least I believe they would follow. You would then get a system under which all of them would agree as between themselves to settle all their disputes by arbitration. All would agree to go to the assistance of any one of them which was unjustly attacked. I believe it would be possible to have a system of that sort. I believe that America, although we could not expect her to come into such a system, would still adopt an attitude of friendly neutrality towards it
But we have to face the facts and the facts as regards Japan and Germany are hard, steely and rocky facts which cannot be ignored. With a system like that we should have to maintain sufficient forces to meet any possible attack from outside 327 Powers, from Germany or Japan or from both together. They might have to be very large forces, but still they would not have to be so large as the present total of national forces, and to that extent there might be some disarmament. But far more important than any disarmament which might be achieved in the first stage would be the vast extension of the realms of law, arbitration and order which would be built up. Faced with that magnificent conception of a League of Nations armed with the sword of justice and ready if any nation broke the peace to go with overwhelming force and to thrust that nation's sword back to its sheath, or, if it had been drawn, to shatter the sword in its hand, there would come a response in the end from the peoples of Japan and Germany as well. When those countries came in, I do not think that America would take long to come in too. We should thus found a world system of nations linked together in the realm of international law.
It has been said in this House and in, important newspapers that the British people would never agree to what is called an extension of their commitments in this way. I feel that it is really only defining commitments we have already incurred as a member of the League of Nations. I do not believe that there would be any revolt of the people of the country. One must realise that if matters are left as they are without a security scheme, the spectacle of those two nations arming, with a will-power of their own and forces of their own, will sooner or later bring other nations into their orbit, and we shall be faced with a position far more serious than that of 1914. I believe that if some Proclamation were issued saying that, in view of the terrible nature of the international situation this country should come into a universal system of the kind I have mentioned, and that if the Proclamation was signed by the leaders of every Party in this House and by the President of the Disarmament Conference, and if it were placarded, as is sometimes done in France, all up and down the country, it would meet with an overwhelming response from our people. Then we might realise in the international sphere those words of Pascal quoted by Lord Davies in his recent book on "Force": 328Justice without force is impotent o Force without justice is a tyranny.Justice without force is a myth, because there are always the bad men; Force without justice stands condemned of itself.We must therefore put together Justice and Force; and therefore so dispose things that whatsoever is just is mighty and whatsoever is mighty is just.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Lord EUSTACE PERCY
The speech to which we have just listened is one of the most amusing instances of a certain type of thought to-day which I have heard for a very long time. The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks) said that we were in a dire dilemma in which we must take all or nothing, and that it had been so from the beginning. There must be a complete system of collective security and mutual obligation, or no disarmament. And the collective system which he envisaged was one in which the British Government would have the same obligations to use its soldiers and sailors, say, for the defence of the Polish Corridor as I should have if I were summoned to go to the assistance of the hon. Member for Broxtowe if he were attacked by footpads in the street. But then he bethought himself that this would not quite do. He said that of course you must remember that if you gave such an undertaking it would give you a right to go to Czechoslovakia—and I suppose the same thing would apply to Poland—and say:of course, you must settle reasonably with those with whom you are quarrelling.It only comes to this, that if I saw the hon. Member for Broxtowe being attacked by a footpad in the street, I should be under an obligation to defend him, provided always that he would agree exactly as to how much money he would be prepared to pay to the footpad if I helped him. That is not collective security. It is just on points of that sort that all these schemes for collective security break down. You do not really mean them. You mean to retain some right to bargain but not to accept an absolute police obligation. When I say "you," I am speaking in an entirely impersonal sense. An Englishman does not commit himself to absolutes of that kind. He knows that that kind of attitude is the attitude that has led to every war in the past.
I know that I am a very old-fashioned person compared with the economic deter- 329 minists on the Labour benches. I still take the entirely obscurantist view that war is probably due to self-righteousness and hate. Hon. Members on the Labour benches can never make a peace speech unless they have some little devil whom they can hate, either the armaments manufacturer, Japan, or somebody else. They must be allowed to pour out the whole of their hatred upon him, and then they feel quite convinced that the recording angel will write down their speech in the pure white letters of peace. That is not the way that peace is obtained, and that is not a good guide to international confidence.
Now that the Foreign Secretary is present, I should like to address myself to the speech that he has delivered tonight. I feel some difficulty in doing so. It is always difficult for any person with any sense of responsibility to criticise the speech of a Foreign Secretary on his subject, and it is still more difficult when the main critics are hon. Gentlemen opposite, who havé spoken as I have indicated and have, I think, shown all the essential qualities of war makers and none of the essential qualities of peace makers. It is particularly difficult to deal with such a speech when the Foreign Secretary has made such a generous reference to the previous Debate in a tone and in terms which—if it is not impertinent in one so young as myself to say so—which always capture the sympathy of the House. Nevertheless, I feel that I must make a criticism of his speech to-day. We who are often very uncomfortable about the Government's foreign policy—we who represent, I think, a far larger body of the Conservative party and the parties following the National Government in the country—we who felt uncomfortable and suspicious about the right hon. Gentleman's speech the other day—we do not represent a personal feeling towards the Foreign Secretary. We represent a doubt as to whether His Majesty's Government as a whole are taking the right line to get peace, which depends upon a sense of security. A sense of security must always depend fundamentally on knowing what your neighbour means to do, knowing how your neighbour acts and is prepared to act in certain circumstances, and what he thinks. In other words, it depends upon your having a reasonable assurance that you know what your neighbour's policy is.
330 His Majesty's Government, ever since they came into power, have been, as the Prime Minister is always reminding us, overwhelmed with the feeling that they have to get an agreement somehow and that the way to make peace is, bit by bit, to get people to agree to the line of least resistance. That is true, and I wish hon. Members opposite would remember that the League of Nations was not created for security, or for disarmament, or for any of these subsidiary things. It was created as the organ of agreement between the nations, and the real criticism that can be made of the policy of His Majesty's Government—not that I think that they have a greater responsibility than any other member of the League—in the case of the Manchukuo dispute was that instead of trying to arrive at an agreement with Japan in a most difficult situation, but one not unlike a situation which has confronted the nations of the world in the past, an agreement more or less on the lines finally suggested by the Lytton Commission, the League went through all the paraphernalia of procedure by committees, of arraigning Japan to answer before this committee and that committee, and then appointing a travelling commission of inquiry into facts which were known, which certainly any wandering journalist could have supplied by telegraph. It was this pompous paraphernalia of the procedure which was the real mistake in dealing with that matter.
I appreciate and I sympathise with the view of His Majesty's Government that the thing is to get the best compromise possible and that you may so easily miss your chance of compromise by declaring your policy prematurely. I agree up to a point, but why is it that the country does feel, I think very generally, a sense of dissatisfaction with the Foreign policy of His Majesty's Government? They do not attribute to His Majesty's Government the fault of being on the wrong side. The Foreign Secretary said that we have done certain things before other nations. We have done this and that. I agree. I think the right hon. Gentleman has always been on the side of the angels, but that is not quite enough:The sin I impute to each frustrate ghostIs—the unlit lamp and the ungirt loin.331 There is, perhaps, a little too much of the "lilies and languors of virtue" about His Majesty's Government. In dealing with a very difficult question they have had behind them in this country and throughout the Empire a malleable opinion, a fluid opinion anxious to be crystallised and anxious to follow a lead, but no lead has been given, beyond the assurance that these are very difficult matters and must be dealt with detail by detail.
I am not trying to conduct a post mortem for the sake of conducting a post mortem, but I am trying to relate facts to the circumstances of the present day. When public opinion looks back at the history of the Disarmament Conference it will see that there was a definite policy of broad principle to which we could have adhered from the beginning and which should have been clearly stated near the beginning, and that was that Germany's demand for equality of status was inevitable and must be met. I know that the Government did their best to secure equality of status for Germany, but it was just too late. I do not think, however, that it is only the responsibility of His Majesty's present Government. I think their predecessors never got to that point as early as they ought to have done. Among all the foolishnesses of the Treaty of Versailles the Arms Clauses were the worst. Over and over again in the history of the world we have tried to disarm nations by statutory terms, and over and over again we have failed. The French nation and the French Government are hardheaded enough to know that fact.
If we had had that policy more clearly before our eyes and we had more clearly stated it, I do not think that we should have drifted into the state of isolation which we are in to-day. We are often plagued in this country with the issue between the collective system and isolation. There is something worse than either, and I think His Majesty's Government have succeeded in finding it. They have found not the entrenched isolation of the independent nation but the enforced isolation of the rather bothersome little boy who has been sent to coventry. He supports France against Germany when it is Germany he should have supported against France in 332 the early stages, and then he swings round to Germany at the later stages when Germany has put herself in the wrong and the party he ought to be backing is France. The result of this fumbling of his mediatorial position is to leave us in a state of isolation, far more dangerous than the isolation in which Lord Beaverbrook and certain other irresponsible politicians would land us.
I do not want to talk about. this matter as if I were conducting a post-mortem, but I think the profound fear and the profound discomfort in the nation to-day arises from the fact that precisely the same situation, involving precisely the same factors, is now arising in the Pacific, and that we are facing just the same danger. There again you are dealing not merely with a problem of she limitation of arms but with a collective system, the whole system of Pacific peace set up by the Washington Treaties. The disarmament problem is a most important incident to these Treaties, but the Treaties are far more important. They involve a system of peace and security, as does the Covenant of the League of Nations; they are supplementary to the Covenant of the League of Nations, and the whole peace in that area depends on the maintenance of the Treaties. I do not think that hon. Friends of mine who sometimes talk about the Japanese Alliance do any real good to the cause of peace or security.
We have got to continue this system of security in the Pacific by a tripartite agreement with Japan and the United States. A system of security must rest on that tripod, and, moreover, the leg of the tripod we represent is not merely Great Britain but, far more important, Australia, Canada., South Africa and India. Here again we are dealing with the same tripartite policy. Are we going to be plunged into the same isolation? Are we again going to stand uncertainly between the two parties, trying no doubt to get the best bargain? Are we going to fall between two stools? If there be any danger of that, does it not arise from this fact, that again we have not got a clear policy, at any rate we have not stated a clear policy. In that situation the difficulty is this, that it is still in the melting pot, and it would not be right for anyone in this House to say anything which might appear to indicate par- 333 tiality as between the friendly nations with whom we have to deal, but surely the guiding fact of our policy in the Pacific should be that we are bound by every obligation of honour and interest to represent the policy of our Dominions bordering on the Pacific.
A question is involved here which does not arise to anything like the same extent in Europe; arid that is the unity and continuance of the Empire. Have we got any real system of consultation with our Dominions? Are we really laying down our policy for the future in consultation with them? If not, and if we were by any chance to commit the same mistakes and meet with the same failure in the Pacific as we have encountered at Geneva, it would go far to disintegrate the Empire. I am quite sure that it would wholly disintegrate the National Government. These are the anxieties that we feel.
Finally, may I say that the concession which the Foreign Secretary has announced to-day does not go any way to allay these fears. What after all does it amount to? Some hon. Members including myself felt seriously disappointed at the course of the Debate on this subject last week, and some of us expressed our feelings. But at least we thought that the Government had a policy. Our complaint against the Government was that there was no drive behind their policy, that they were sitting still with a perfectly good policy although nobody knew what it was; that there was no ginger put into it. Now we wake up and find that they have no clear and assured policy at all. They are going to inquire as to whether State monopoly in the manufacture of arms is better than the present system. What are they going to inquire into? We know what our manufacturers and merchants have been doing ever since the War. We have the facts. What are we going to inquire into? We are to have an inquiry not into the misdeeds of any manufacturers, not into the course of trade in armaments, but into policy, whether there should be a State monopoly of the manufacture of arms or not. That is a question of policy. What is the use of giving it to an expert commission? There will be a lot of inquiry, but hon. Members opposite and hon. Members on these benches, who have strong a priori views on the subject, will impugn the partiality of the member- 334 ship. It will be said that there are too many Socialists, or too many capitalists, or too many politicians, who have made up their minds already. And when the report is published it will convince no one except those who are convinced already.
At this moment we are in the act, as the Foreign Secretary has told us, of trying to force through an international agreement for the control of traffic in arms. It gives the appearance before our own people and before the peoples of the world that we are not quite certain whether our control of armaments is good enough and that perhaps we ought to have a monopoly. What is the good of trying to run our foreign policy on one assumption and then having an inquiry at home to decide whether that assumption is right or wrong? Really the Foreign Secretary's concession is only a concession to the Liberal party. Nobody else wanted an inquiry. The Socialist party never wanted it, as far as I know, and the League of Nations Union has never wanted an inquiry. I do not think that most Liberals in the country want the inquiry. There was a letter from a very well-known academic Liberal in the "Times" the other clay imploring us not to have an inquiry. It is only the Parliamentary Liberal party that have asked for an inquiry, possibly the only Parliamentary move they could make, not being able to make up their own minds. And because the Parliamentary Liberal party cannot make up its mind the Government have allowed it to unmake their own minds, and we are left with less of a policy than we had before.
I must honestly say that the doubts of some of us as to the clarity and determination of the foreign policy of the National Government have been growing steadily in recent years. We prefer a policy however vague to the sort of speeches which we have heard from the Opposition to-day, but one cannot support with great enthusiasm a Government when all one can feel about it is that at any rate it is more honest and more efficient than the Opposition would be in its place. We want to be a little more enthusiastically behind His Majesty's Government than that, and I would implore them to consider whether they cannot speak to the country, to the Empire and to the world, not in terms of detail but in that tone of authority 335 which General Smuts used on behalf of the Empire only a few days ago.
§ 7.40 p.m.
I do not intend to follow the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) except to say this. He has condemned the Government, he has condemned the Socialist party, and has found fault with the Liberal party. The only party with which he finds no fault is his own; and the only person who can speak with clarity in this House is the Noble Lord himself. I rather agree with, him when he says that the Socialist party do not want an inquiry into the manufacture of arms. Hon. Members on these benches are agreed that a State monopoly in the manufacture of arms would be an enormous improvement upon the present system of private manufacture. During the War the State factories came to the rescue of the country. If it had not been for them the War would have been over in two years. It is a well-known fact that the State factories manufactured weapons of every kind at less than half the cost of private factories. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has told us that the State factories saved this nation over £400,000,000. Monopolies to-day are a vast improvement on ordinary private individual trading. We have the Port of London Authority, the Central Electricity Board, the London Passenger Transport Board and the British Broadcasting Corporation, which in every case have been a great improvement on the private competitive interests which preceded them.
I listened to the speech of the Foreign Secretary a fortnight ago and thought that it was the worst speech he ever delivered in this House. In fact, it was so bad that he himself has apologised for it to-day. He has said that it was perhaps a very unsatisfactory Debate. What the Foreign Secretary really meant to say was that his own speech was very unsatisfactory. The hon. Member for South-west Hull (Mr. Law) who spoke later said that the Foreign Secretary had made a brilliant speech, but, unfortunately, as happens in many cases, after a brilliant speech there was a great fall in the stock of the National Government. The Foreign Secretary himself must have felt that as a consequence of 336 his speech there had been a great fall in the stock of his party in the country. To me as an ordinary back bencher, after having listended to that speech, it seemed that although the right hon. Gentleman understood the grave charges that had been brought against armament makers in general—charges of corruption, charges of bribery, charges of fomenting war scares in many parts of the world, charge's of distortion in many ways—the Foreign Secretary ignored them all and spent three-quarters of his time in proving how the people who are conducting the League of Nations Union ballot, were distorting that ballot for the purposes of their own. It seemed to me an extraordinary case.
I think distortion is wrong, whether used by the Labour party or any other party, but if there is any cause which justifies distortion it is the cause of peace. If I have to choose between those who distort in order to foment war scares in different parts of the world in order to sell munitions, and those who distort because of their pacifist ideals, I am coming down on the side of those who distort for the sake of peace. I really do not know how hon. Members opposite dare use the word distortion. I agree that every party in its general election literature tends to give a very propaganda view of its aims, but I believe that the people who went to the country three years ago under the guise of National Government perpetrate more gross distortion than any League of Nations Union was ever guilty of. I believe that the National Government was founded upon gross distortion of the case in 1931. Let me read a few quotations for the benefit of the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) and others. Here is the great J. L. Garvin, the dogmatic editor of theObserver":The Day! Strength or Ruin?Honour or Shame? Britain's Uprising. Betrayal Unmasked.Those were headlines in the "Observer" a week before the election. The Government used a famous Professor, Harold Clay, who said during the election:You can guess, therefore, what a shattering blow to credit throughout the world any fall in the value of sterling would inflict. Depositors in every country would become nervous, banks in every country 337 subjected to ruin, A breakdown of half the countries in Europe would not be an unlikely result.The Lord President of the Council was guilty of this distortion, as reported in the "Observer" of 25th October, 1931:If there were the slightest danger of a Socialist Government within the next week, pound notes would be worth pennies, and we should be at a loss to pay for the food from abroad which alone keeps us from starvation.The Lord President said in effect, "If you vote Labour this country will suffer from a financial crash and the people will suffer from starvation." That was gross distortion of the facts. A son of Lord Rothermere said:All those who through thrift have managed to put by a modicum of savings ought to realise that the return of the National Government to power to-day with an unshakeable majority is the only thing that will guarantee them against losing the lot.I do not suppose any hon. Member opposite believes that to be true to-day. I believe everyone recognises that these were grossly distorted statements, but I think the worst statement of all was in the "Daily Record" of Glasgow, which said:The MacDonald-Baldwin tandem represents, perhaps, the greatest combination of the human factors in social and national progress there has ever been in the leadership of our nation.The great men were going to do wonderful things. Here is a statement by the hon. Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Page Croft):Mr. MacDonald was Captain of the Ship of Government when it ran on the rocks in 1931. It was the powerful Conservative tug which came alongside and threw a life-line by which Mr. MacDonald succeeded in escaping the wreckage when, with a generosity hitherto unparalleled on sea or in politics, he was even allowed by the crew to fly his flag and strut the bridge as Captain of the rescuing vessel.The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) is a man of very great ability, and he has a son who, if not possessing his father's ability, at least possesses his vigorous language, and he said:We must get rid of Mr. Ramsay MacDonald. He is no longer an asset to the Conservative party or to the British nation. I cannot pretend to admire him. When he saw his cause was losing he turned and heaped insult on those who had helped him to rise from a lowly beginning to the highest position in the Government. He has done very well out of it. He has been 338 Prime Minister three times, second only to Mr. Gladstone, who was Premier four times. But we must get rid of him. We will make him the Earl of Lossiemouth or a Marquis, for all I care, if it satisfies his susceptibilities,He was the great man in 1931. In 1934 the cry is, "Make him Marquis of Lossiemouth!" Apart from the title of Duke of Shepherd's Bush that is the best title the right hon. Gentleman could have. Then the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) in a speech to the Ladies' Imperial Association said:Mr. Ramsay MacDonald had remained head of the Government, but he had to eat every word of his life's preaching in order to get the country out of the mess in which he had landed her in 1931.The hon. and gallant Member for Hands-worth (Commander Locker-Lampson) said of the Prime Minister:He should cease his vain perambulations of foreign lands in search of audiences. If he cannot lead he should drop out. I should prefer him to drop out. He could then become Lord of Lossiemouth and solve one at least of our most pressing problems.So I might go on quoting National M.Ps., who used the present Prime Minister to get two million votes for their party by distorting and faking the news, and who now turn upon him and rend him as those who betray their own party always are rended. I will now quote an even more impressive person, someone with much more authority on the subject of the Prime Minister and distortions. In the House of Lords on 25th April, Viscount Snowden said:I would suggest to the Cabinet that they should look into the case of the Prime Minister, not only in his own interest hut in the interest of the country, for it is a positive danger to the country that its affairs should be in the hands of a man who, every time he speaks, exposes his ignorance and his incapacity.I am certain that no one will dispute the statement that the views and the policies which were put before the electorate in 1931 were all grossly distorted, and to-day, in 1934, many hon. Members opposite admit this. Let me quote some Members of this House who take that view. The right hon. Member for Epping said:I thought there was a good deal of exaggeration about the crisis which arose last August and September, and a certain amount of manipulation.339 Then, "Time and Tide," referring to the Post Office savings lie, said:The attempt to turn a story of Government anxiety into an attack upon a vital national institution was either the result of gross ignorance or of grosser misrepresentation.Then there was the famous case of the charge that the Labour Government were the cause of the crisis. I wish that the Foreign Secretary were present. The right hon. Gentleman said in Birmingham on 16th March last:The last Labour Government did not cause the crisis. It would be most unfair to make such a. statement. The crisis was due to world conditions, and the almost universal depression.There are other Members who agree that the statements made in 1931 were almost all inaccurate, and all of them grossly distorted. But I rose not for the purpose of speaking about the charge of distortion against the League of Nations Union, but because I regret very much two very important omissions from the King's Speech. It is true that there is to be introduced shortly a Bill to deal with housing or with a special phase of housing, namely, overcrowding; but there is no mention in the Speech of the general question of housing. Most people seem to think that the housing problem has been solved because 2,000,000 houses or thereabouts have been built for sale. It is true to say that not 5 per cent. of the houses that are needed have been built to let at reasonable rents. Very many authorities agree that we need today over 1,000,000 houses to let at rents not above 10s. a week. In London the great bulk of working people could not afford to buy a house, and, even if they could afford it, in most cases it would be very foolish of them to do so as their wages are too low and their jobs too insecure to justify saddling themselves with the responsibility of buying even a £400 house. The only hope that the majority of them have is to obtain a house at some reasonable rent, not more than one-fifth of their income.
In every borough in London there is an enormous waiting list of people who are hoping that some day houses will be available at reasonable rents. In my own constituency of Hammersmith there are over 1,000 on the list, not people who will pay only 10s. a week, but people willing 340 to pay 15s. to 20s. a week. In West London there must be more than 100,000 families who are paying from a quarter to a third of their total income in rent. Men with £3 and even less a week are paying as much as 17s. 6d., 20s. and 25s. a week for rent. That often represents one-third of the man's income, and the amount left for food and clothing is far too small to ensure a decent standard of life. That is a gross scandal. Let any hon. Member take a walk into the East End of London, and if he is a fair-minded observer he will agree that it is not a question of how many houses ought to be replaced but whether there are any streets at all in East London which ought not to be pulled down and replaced.
I go through Shadwell, Whitechapel, Stepney and Poplar two or three times a week, and there is hardly a street into which I go which ought not to be replaced by any reasonable Christian Government. Housing conditions in London are a disgrace to any civilised capital. People are paying 15s. and 20s. a week for slum basements which would not be fit to house the dogs or horses of decent people. There is one borough in West London where there are nearly 10,000 basements for which high rents are being charged. While the Government may seek to take credit for having built an enormous number of houses for sale, until they have tackled the problem of providing 1,000,000 if not 2,000,000 houses to be let at reasonable rents, it is mere rubbish to say that the housing question has been solved.
An equally grave omission from the King's Speech is any mention of real educational reform. Why we should in these times, take from our schools 500,000 children as we did last Easter to put them into the industrial market is beyond me. Nobody to-day says that we are badly in need of workers. It seems to be agreed that we have too many workers. At least we have 2,000,000 unemployed. Yet in the three years since this Government came into power nearly 1,500,000 children have been pushed out of the schools and into the labour market to compete for jobs not only against other youths and girls but even against men and women. I cannot think of any reason why those children should be allowed to go into industry but I can think of a 341 great many good reasons why they should be kept at school. I think most people would agree that the problem to-day is how to deal with the steady displacement of workers in every industry which is being caused by modern machinery and other factors. I used to think that from the ordinary person's point of view, there were two safe jobs, namely those of the schoolmaster and the policeman but I do not believe that to-day. In the schools, for instance, the French master if he is not being actually displaced, is in less demand to-day because we can have French lessons on the wireless, and by means of gramophone records. Even the schoolmaster's job is being threatened by mechanical and scientific development. Then, owing to the growing traffic in our streets the policeman is gradually being replaced by automatic red, green and amber lights and Belisha beacons and so forth. I can see the time coming when policemen will be approaching various labour organisations and asking them to organise demonstrations and processions on behalf of the poor unemployed police.
If we want to deal with this problem of the number of workers and the work available for them we ought to try to provide reasonable retiring pensions at the age of 60 but even more important we must recognise that these 500,000 children are not needed and would be better at school, and that if workers are needed in industry there are 2,000,000 people to whom any available jobs ought to be given before we call upon the aged or the young to compete in industry. There are other reasons why children should be retained at school at least until the age of 15 or 16. The children of most hon. Members opposite remain at school until they are 17 or 18 or perhaps 21. That is a good thing for them but it would be an equally good thing for the children of the working-class that they also should remain at school. I cannot understand why members of the comfortable party, whose children have every advantage of education, should be so bitterly opposed to the children of the poorer classes enjoying the same privileges. There is no reason in logic for their attitude. If a first class education is a good thing for the duke's son it is an equally good thing for the dustman's son. From the industrial and economic point of view, from 342 the employers' point of view it is surely better to have intelligent well-educated workers than to have cheap child labour such as is being attracted into industry to-day.
Although I cannot find any logical reason why hon. Members opposite oppose this educational reform I can see very good reasons from the political point of view for their opposition. I hate to be too partial yet from my experience of hon. Members opposite and their attitude towards educational questions, I am compelled to come to the conclusion that, while they know it would be a good thing from a national and industrial standpoint to provide better education for all children, while they know that it is better to have factories and workshops run by educated men and women than by ignorant yokels, yet they also say "That would be all right if we could limit the cleverness and intelligence of these people to industry, but when you educate the working classes they are not so easily contented with the existing state of things." Hon. Members opposite while realising the advantages of education, also know that as long as the people were kept in a state of ignorance they did not mind living in slums and they could be induced to join the army and to go abroad to fight without knowing any reason for doing so.Theirs not to reason why,Theirs but to do and die.In days gone by when people were shockingly educated no questions arose of shorter hours or better wages or other reforms. The more ignorant the people the more contented they were. Hon. Members opposite know some history and they ask "If we give working-class children the same educational opportunities as those enjoyed by our own children, what will be the consequences?" There is no monopoly in one class of virtue or brains. Providence has given brains to the rich in some cases, and none in others. There are poor people who have brains and there are poor people who are brainless. As between the upper class, the middle class and the lower class the distribution is fairly well balanced. There are fools and ignorant people among both rich and poor. The chief difference is that the rich man's child has an abnormal and 343 unfair advantage over the poor man's child in the matter of education.
I do not want war of any kind except mental war, but if there is to be a mental war I want all to have an equal opportunity. If it is good for the rich man's boy to go to Oxford and get a first-class education let him by all means, but I want the working-class boy to have an equal opportunity of developing the brain that God has given him. I do not want the people of one class to be allowed to fight in the mental war with both hands free while the people of the other class are compelled to fight with their hands tied. But, it will be said, if we did that, the working-class boy would want to know more about wars and would require a better explanation of armament scares than the Foreign Secretary gave us a fortnight ago. He will want to know why one person, who is perhaps not particularly well endowed with brains, can live in a palace and enjoy a large income while he has to slave for £3 a week. He will want to know more about the inequalities in our society. So the policy is that when these children reach the age of 14, the age at which they begin to develop physically and mentally, they must be got out of the school and put to work in the coal mine or the factory. It is assumed that so long as they are kept ignorant they will do the same stupid things that their forbears have been doing for centuries. I believe that is the real explanation of why hon. Members opposite, as a party, have always opposed educational advance.
As a Socialist I believe that our policy provides the only solution of our economic difficulties. Hon. Members opposite believe on the other hand that individualism must provide the solution. We believe in fundamentally opposed philosophies, but surely we ought all to be in favour of having the very best informed electorate possible to hear and pronounce upon our respective views. If there is a well-informed electorate it will not be so easy for Socialist speakers to bamboozle people—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]—nor will it be so simple for Tory speakers to deceive them. Let each party be in a position to test its philosophy by an appeal to an educated people. As a Socialist, I want our people 344 to have the finest education the country can give them. If I were afraid my philosophy would not bear examination, I should say, "For heaven's sake, don't educate that boy or he will grumble at your palaces." That, however, is not my position, but the position of Members opposite. Let Members of all parties say, "We know that our policy is right and that thinking people will support us. Let us, therefore, make the people more thinking, better educated." If we do that and have a trial of strength in 10 years' time, with a finely educated body of young men and women as the chief voters, I am certain that Members on this side will be delighted to give such an idea their enthusiastic support.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Sir LUKE THOMPSON
We have listened with a great deal of interest to the hon. Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. West), who has just resumed his seat, and I want to assure him that we on this side are no less concerned than he and his friends that we should have a very highly educated and intelligent electorate. I should like him to remember that there is no other country in the world that spends anything like what this country spends on social services and education. I do not intend to follow him into all he said, but 1 should like to congratulate him on having given us an opportunity, after listening for some time to the question of foreign policy, to say something regarding the distressed areas and the policy of the Government in that connection. It is fair to say that when the report of the commissioners on the distressed areas first came out, and when the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer regarding the Government's policy in the matter was made, I felt a certain sense of disappointment. It is also true to say that after I had had some little time for reflection I felt that the attitude of the Government on the question was good and right.
As I have listened very carefully to the Debates between then and now, I think we can discern fairly and legitimately the clear difference that has existed in the opinions of Members in the House on this question. First, there has been the advocacy of the point of view that we should deal with the question of un- 345 employment in the mass, and, on the other hand, that it should be dealt with more specifically and, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, more from the group standpoint. Again I feel inclined, the more I examine that point of view, to agree with the Prime Minister's position. There is a great need for differentiation in determining this problem that is set up in our midst, and I am delighted that we now have the attendance of the Minister of Labour. The reason why I believe in dealing with it in groups is that we have such varied incidences of unemployment, ranging from Durham, with an average of 34 per cent., to, say, Northampton, with 3.9 per cent., and varying in incidence in Durham itself from 9.2 per cent. to 69.9 per cent. in the worst area.
Surely it is clear from these figures that you cannot quite deal with the problem in the mass by the same methods, that you cannot deal with all alike. It is for that reason that I have never taken a very doleful view of our industrial depression, notwithstanding the fact that to-day we have 2,000,000 people out of work, for it cannot be said that the country is suffering in every direction and in every area. As a matter of fact, it may be said that we are considerably prosperous in many directions, and these main features emerge, that we must ever remember that five-sixths of the insured population are to-day in regular work, with a better margin than pre-war, as is exemplified in the savings of the people, and when you examine the one-sixth that we have to deal with, the core of the problem seems to centre around 400,000 workers. Again, if we analyse these 400,000, we find that, certainly in the depressed areas, they are engaged in four or five of our staple industries.
I submit that when we are considering the distressed areas we have to approach the problem first from the point of view of the staple industries and secondly from that of the surplus of labour that will be left after we have dealt with the staple industries. I represent Sunderland, with 28,000 people out of work, and it is idle to say to me that we are likely to relieve industry there simply by subsidiary or partial employment. We want a complete return, as far as possible, of prosperity to the staple industries, and I think the Civil Lord of the Admiralty was correct when he brought before our special notice 346 the following figures, which are eloquent in themselves. He spoke of 166,000 being out of work on Tyneside and in the Durham area. Of these, 83,000 are registered in the shipbuilding, ship repairing, engineering, shipping, and coal trades, and how to get these industries away is our first problem.
I will make one practical suggestion, and I place shipping first, possibly alone, because I am more interested in that problem, seeing that upon shipping depend shipbuilding and the ancillary trades. We have 1,500,000 tons less of British shipping than we had in 1914; tramp tonnage, both near and deep sea, is only about half what it was in 1914; and the proportion of British tonnage to world tonnage is reduced considerably and is still diminishing. To-day it represents simply 29 per cent., where before the War it was 43 per cent. The result is that in your shipyards you have only 25 per cent. of the berths occupied, and in my own constituency I should say two or three. It is evident that that state of things regarding our shipbuilding is due, not altogether, but mainly, to the harmful hostile action of foreign nations in subsidising their shipping, a practice which has been going on now over a period of possibly 10 to 15 years. I very much welcome the suggested action by the Government and would urge that they should press their shipping policy with all the vigour possible. Restore British shipping, and you will restore shipbuilding. It is the only way to restore the staple industries. By restoring shipping, you will to a great extent keep coal and iron, and preserve your skilled labour, which is such an essential feature in our industrial concerns.
I suggested that the second part of the problem was to deal with surplus labour. I consider that the recommendations of the Civil Lord with regard to the particular area with which I am associated cover the ground very completely both as to the need for new industries and the various methods of dealing with the residual problem. That brings me to the tribute which I want to pay to the Government for appointing the commissioners so expeditiously. I say this because of the experience we have had in recent years. There has been great activity in our various areas, but it has only been through certain development 347 committees, and through personal and individual efforts. We have, however, never been able to bring into concrete form whatever has been attempted. It has often been suggested that we should lay schemes in deputations before Ministers of the Government, and as a result they have not reached any practical form. I am pleased to say that for the first time the Government are, as it were, coming down right in the midst of industrial areas through the commissioners who have been appointed. I very much welcome their appointment. I am not going to quibble as to whether £2,000,000 is adequate or whether it should be more. If it is not sufficient for our needs, I am very hopeful that, through the instrumentality of the commissioners, it may now be possible for the areas to work in close co-operation with the Government, thereby carrying to its fullest extent various ameliorating forces which will be conducive to reducing to a minimum the unemployment in our distressed areas. I hope that through the commissioners it will come about expeditiously.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Dr. LEECH
I have waited patiently during the last four days hoping to get an opportunity to address a few words to the House. During the waiting periods I have heard many speeches, some very distinguished and some most interesting. Perhaps the most interesting which I have heard, at any rate to-day, is the speech which has just been delivered by the hon. Member for Sunderland (Sir L. Thompson). I would remind the House that about 12 months ago, it was my privilege and pleasure to introduce—because I had the luck of the Ballot—a Motion on the shipping question and the shipbuilding industry generally. It was my purpose to develop that subject further to-night, but my hon. Friend has pinched my thunder, so I must get on to another subject. I would like to pay my tribute of admiration for the work that was done by the investigator, the Civil Lord, who came to our area on the north-east coast. He made a wonderful report, and I want to pay my tribute to him for it. We have been passing through very serious and trying times and have often wondered when something was to be done. I have on previous occasions spoken of my area as a picture of 348 tragedy, and I was very glad to know that the Civil Lord in his survey used words equally expressive of the conditions when he described them as "a picture of horror and a picture of stagnation."
The unemployment question has engaged the attention of everybody for some years, and I think all the speakers on this subject during the last four days have dealt with it pretty exhaustively. I do not want, therefore, to re-open the subject except to express my admiration for the courage of those unemployed men who have walked the streets for years, just bravely waiting in hopeful anticipation that something ere long would be done to ameliorate their lot. The Government have taken steps, and I think something is now going to happen. I believe I am right in saying that by way of relieving the unemployed we have spent something like £1,200,000,000. I want to suggest that this money might have been employed in another way. Many theories have been evolved from time to time on the question of new industries and much has been said about what the genius of mankind can do by way of developing these things, but progress is very slow.
I want to revive an old theory, namely, the theory of the Tyne-Solway Canal. This subject was first introduced something like one hundred years ago. Such proposals take a, long time to develop. I have occupied important city positions in the north of England, and I remember years ago we were talking about a new town hall. We are in the same position to-day; we still think we require a new town hall. The Tyne-Solway Canal was talked about a hundred years ago, and it is being talked about to-day. I believe it is worthy of the attention of the commissioner. It was said by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that we wanted a man of vision and of determination, a man who was able to penetrate the fogs on the commercial horizon. I believe we have got such a man. It is now for him to do the job. We shall all heartily co-operate with him in his task. I regard the Tyne-Solway Canal as being one means of alleviating distress, first, because I consider it a great project, and, second, because I believe the canal is capable of great commercial possibilities and will possess great strategic value.
349 To build a canal from the Tyne to the Solway is not a big project when compared with similar undertakings which have been successfully carried through—the Suez Canal, the Kiel Canal, the Panama Canal, and others. All those canals have been commercially successful and of great strategic value. Our own interests in the Suez Canal are extraordinarily important, due to the great vision of a man who saw—Disraeli. He saw the possibilities of that canal, and through his instrumentality this country got possession of £4,000,000 worth of the shares, and I think I am right in saying that the £4,000,000 of those days are now equal to £64,000,000. Those are striking, phenomenal figures. There is no reason why the Tyne-Solway Canal should not be equally successful—of course on a more limited scale. It would have great commercial advantages, inasmuch as it would collect together, so to speak, the industries which exist in Northumberland and Cumberland and lead to the development of the untapped resources of that area, which has hitherto been hampered by heavy transport costs.
The area has been surveyed over and over again by expert engineers from Newcastle and from the University of Sheffield, and they are satisfied that there is no geological or engineering difficulty in the way, and that the undertaking can be accomplished. I submit that it is one worthy of the attention of the commissioner. The cost would be approximately £30,000,000, and the work would occupy thousands of unemployed men. It is computed that if £4,000,000 were spent every year the canal could be built in eight years. Not only would the building of it stimulate industries which at present are dormant, but much time and money would be saved by the shortening by 340 to 360 miles of the voyage from the North Sea to the Atlantic. I have an abundance of literature on the subject of the various surveys, but this is not the time or the place to develop the proposal. I bring it before the House, however, in the hope that it will receive the attention of the commissioner. If he regards it favourably and the undertaking can be set on foot, he will be able to absorb thousands and thousands of our working people, and save large sums of money to the Exchequer, because instead of paying out millions through the "dole" we shall be spending money on a productive work 350 having great commercial potentialities and of great strategic value.
As regards new industries, I presume that it will be the duty of the Commissioner to confer with the existing boards in the district when investigating that question. There is in Newcastle the Tyneside Development Board. It has done some work, and could do more, but has been unable to function to its fullest extent owing to the lack of funds. I hope that the Commissioner, now that he has funds at his disposal—£2,000,000, and the knowledge that he can get just what he wants for any scheme if it be a proper scheme—will further this project, and that he will get into touch with and work with existing boards, who will enable him the more easily to get over difficulties which may appear to be insurmountable. For a man of determination and effort nothing is insurmountable. By effort and by will everything can be accomplished, insuperable though the difficulties may appear to be. It has been said that opportunity comes to every man sooner or later. I believe opportunity has come now, and that it is up to us to seize it with avidity and with a determination to win through. I believe the opportunity is here presenting itself to the Commissioner, is knocking at the door, and I hope that he will seize it. I do not wish to detain the House longer, but I would again refer to the fact that the hon. Member for Sunderland has been rather unfair in seizing upon my pet subject, which it was my pleasure to introduce to the House 12 months ago.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Mr. HENDERSON STEWART
I listened with pleasure to the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne West (Dr. Leech), and as I listened I remembered with regret that the members of his profession have no official title in this House. Members of the legal profession are "learned," and members of the fighting Services are "gallant,". The medical service ought to have a title too, something like "healthy" perhaps—"the hon. and healthy Member." That would scarcely do in the case of my hon. Friend, however, because I noticed unfortunately that during his speech he several times had recourse to his handkerchief. I would like, if I may, to draw not a red but an ordinary herring across the track of this Debate. I do not think that will 351 be out of place, because the condition of the herring fishing villages in the East and North of Scotland was referred to in the Report of the Commissioner who visited Scotland. They were scheduled by him as distressed areas. It is to be regretted that we have not a representative of Scotland present at whom to launch our charges. I do not know why we should have to unload them upon the representative of the Minister of Health. I am glad, however, that another Scotsman, the Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department, has now turned up, and if he sits there long enough he will realise that the people of the herring fishing districts of Scotland have a distinct complaint to put forward.
If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland had been present, I should have said that I hope he will not misunderstand this criticism or take it to be any complaint against himself personally. Scottish Members recognise and admire the work which the present Secretary of State is doing in Scotland, the tireless energy, unbounded enthusiasm, sympathy and sincerity which he has applied to his task, and, if in this case we are not altogether satisfied, we are certain that it is not his fault. If criticism is to be made now at the delay on the part of the Government in introducing some measure of reorganisation' for the herring trade, it is not intended in any way to disparage or to injure the Secretary of State for Scotland, but rather to support him in the bringing forward of urgent measures.
The delay in introducing a Bill, or some other Measure, following upon the report of the Sea Fish Commission, is both inexplicable and harmful; inexplicable because it runs counter to the most specific pledges that have been made by the Government in the course of the last year; and harmful inasmuch as this continued oyster-like attitude of refusing to say what is intended, whether there is to be any policy at all or whether any Bill is to be introduced at any time, is causing suspicion to grow in the cottages of the North of Scotland and in the sale rings of Yarmouth. That is a position which I very much regret, and, as a supporter of the Government, I feel it right to bring the matter to the notice of the Secretary of State for Scotland. The National Government have been having 352 a bad enough time recently without increasing that difficulty in connection with herring, but I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to emulate to-morrow the magnificent come-back which the Foreign Secretary made this afternoon, to the great pleasure of his supporters and to the acceptance I believe of the whole House of Commons.
I would like to recall some of the statements made by the Government in connection with this subject. I had the honour about a year ago—in December last year—of moving a Motion. Like the hon. Gentleman opposite, I was lucky in the Ballot. It was an emergency Motion in connection with the herring trade, and it was unanimously accepted by the House. That Motion set out that the Houseviews with concern the depressed state of the herring fishing industry.Every hon Member accepted, and the Government accepted, the suggestion that emergency measures were necessary and the Secretary of State for Scotland at the end of the Debate, in recognition of the position, made the announcement in relation to the Sea Fish Commission:We shall ask the Commission to direct their attention in the first place to the herring industry, and to submit a report to the House of Commons at the earliest possible moment.Why did he say that? Because, as he continued,I mention that in order to show how anxious and serious we recognise the situation to be."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th December, 1933; col. 1722–1723, Vol. 283.]A few days later the Secretary of State sent his letter of reference or instruction to the Sea Fish Commission in which he said—I am quoting from the report of the Sea Fish Commission—that theyshould deal in the first place with the herring industry, and should report upon it as a matter of urgency.The Commission in their report say:Our inquiries have been conducted under considerable pressure, rendered necessary by the urgency of the case.All who are interested in the matter know that the Sea Fish Commission were being prodded from all directions to hurry up and finish their inquiries and produce their report, so that the Government could do something quickly to remedy the critical situation. If the situation was a serious one, as the Secre- 353 tary of State said, in December, 1933, it is doubly serious now, and the anxiety has become almost ominous. The findings of the Commission, right through the report, emphasised what those who represent fishing districts have been saying for years. The report gave figures to show the financial distress; how the income of boats had disappeared; the fall in the share fishermen's returns and the almost hopeless condition of nets, gear and boats; and indicated that almost every boat in the fleet was overwhelmed with debt and almost every cottage in the fishing villages equally submerged. The Sea Fish Commission saw no hope of revival without drastic immediate reorganisation and financial support by the Government. In their report they said:Our survey of these problems will have made it clear that the industry stands in urgent need of reorganisation.The Government took precisely the same view of the urgent need of reorganisation. The Secretary of State said a year ago:I come, therefore, to the conclusion that the recent reduction of our markets cannot safely be treated as merely transitory.He went on to urge the establishment of a well-organised industry and said:Prosperity cannot return to the industry until some measure of reorganisation has taken place.And I invite the House to notice that the Secretary of State went much further than merely to demand reorganisation as a condition of prosperity. He gave us a pledge, which has been repeated several times since, that if the industry showed its readiness to carry through that reorganisation the Government would support it. On the same occasion he said:So far as the Government are concerned, I gladly give the assurance, that we will do everything in our power to assist any well-directed efforts of the industry to establish itself on a more satisfactory footing.And he went on in another part of his speech to say:If the industry will show the Government…by their action, that they are willing to face the reorganisation of their great industry, which is so vital for this country, I can assure my hon. Friends that we in the Government will do all that we possibly can to further the interests which all sections of the House have in view."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th December, 1933; cols. 1717–1724, Vol. 283.]354 That was an invitation, and, if you like, an exhortation to the industry to accept the principle of reorganisation and to say publicly and frankly: "We shall reorganise ourselves."
The industry has replied to that challenge. They met the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Agriculture a few weeks ago and, in a manner which I believe is unprecedented in the case of any industry in this country, unanimously accépted the recommendations of the Sea Fish Commission, with only certain very minor reservations. I am told that nothing of that kind has ever happened before to a Government Commission dealing with an important trade. I believe it was described by a not unimportant person who was present at the meeting as "terrifying unanimity". In face of those recognitions by the Government of the industry's distress, of the repeated acknowledgment of the urgency of remedial measures, and in view of the pledges of support for well-conceived reorganisation on the part of the industry, how is it possible for representatives of fishing constituencies, as I am myself, as well as for other hon. Members, to listen to these non-committal replies and to read in the King's Speech no more than a reference to the fact that the matter is being considered? No promise is given of any action. How can we listen without a growing anxiety on behalf of those whom we represent? These extremely non-committal replies, and the unsatisfactory reference to the matter in the Gracious Speech, cause us very great concern. I believe that the Government mean to do something in this matter, but I would ask them, why do they not say so now, and relieve our minds, and the minds of many fishermen, of great anxiety?
I listened yesterday to the Prime Minister on the question of the new Session's procedure, and I realise how fully occupied this House will be. I have been trying to work out a timetable on this question of a Herring Bill, and it seems to me to work out in this way. I assume that the reason why the Secretary of State for Scotland cannot give us a definite answer at the moment is that the Bill has not yet been drafted. I imagine that it will be the end of next month before that stage is reached, and that the Bill will be presented, say, at 355 the end of January, It will take at least a month to pass through the House of Commons and the other House—I am assuming that the recommendations of the Commission are accepted. It will be at least another month, or perhaps two months, before the proposed Herring Board is properly set up, and it will take at least another three months for the board to get into its stride, understand its work, and so on. It seems to me that, with the greatest possible expedition on the part of the Government and of this House, there will be no effective reorganisation of the herring industry until well into the summer, when the new fishing season will have begun and the reorganisation will not be worth anything. I sincerely hope I am wrong. My hon. Friend shakes his head, and therefore I take it that a more optimistic view is possible, but I would make this point, that, if we are to do anything effective for the industry along the lines of the Commissions recommendations, it must be done now—the Bill must be introduced into this House in the course of the next few weeks.
I do not think I exaggerate the time it will take for the Herring Board to get to work. The task of the board, if it is appointed and if it is to do its job properly, will be not only to license boats and to license curers and salesmen, not only to impose restrictions and introduce new rules into the industry. I regard that as a minor part of its duties. The big job of the Herring Board is a constructive job—to find new markets for the industry, abroad and at home; and, having some experience of that very problem of the marketing of food products, not only in this country but in most countries of the world, I know very well that you cannot get a board of that kind working, with its plans ready, its agents appointed, and its machinery established, in five minutes. It takes months to do that. My hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department has shown a certain amount of interest in a suggestion I made to him for exploring the possibility of markets abroad, and I am hoping that one day he may be able to state the result of his inquiries; but that is going to take months—
§ Lieut.-Colonel J. COLVILLE (Secretary, Overseas Trade Department)
May I say that I have given instructions for inquiries to be made in certain selected markets abroad as to the possibility of the increased sale of herring? That inquiry will take some time if it is to be a full inquiry, but I am satisfied that I shall have the information in ample time for the beginning of the next season.
§ Mr. STEWART
I am most grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend. The statement he has just made will be read with great pleasure to-morrow in Scotland and in Yarmouth. But it is an exact confirmation of my point. My hon. and gallant Friend started to do that particular work some weeks ago. He says that it is going to be ready by the time the season begins in June—
§ Mr. STEWART
Well, I will make it, May if my hon. and gallant Friend likes. My own experience is that, even in the case of an old-established firm, with branches already in all parts of the world and with a highly trained staff, it takes a long time. In the case of this new Herring Board, which has nothing to begin with—no experience, no staff and no agents anywhere—is it not going to take all the longer for it to get to work properly? The board will have an enormous responsibility. It will have to handle a business with a turnover at present of at least £3,000,000. It will have in its hands the destinies of some 30,000 or 40,000 fishermen and women engaged in the industry. Including their families, there will be 100.000 people dependent upon the good work of the board. I think it would be unfair and unreasonable to charge this new board, as I imagine we shall charge them, with these great responsibilities and the conduct of next year's fishing, without giving the board adequate opportunities to understand their work, to prepare their plans, and to create their organisation. Therefore, with every desire that the Government's scheme should be a success, I urge them, not only for the sake of the fishermen employed in the industry and their families, but for the Government's own sake, to expedite the completion of their Measure, its presentation in this House, and its ultimate placing upon the Statute Book.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. LOFTUS
Knowing how eager Members are to speak on other subjects, I hope only to detain the House for a very few moments. Unlike the last speaker, I take the sentence in the Gracious Speech from the Throne as a pledge from the Government that they will implement the report of the Commission, and I thank the Government for that promise. Like the last speaker, I fear that the pressure of events, with a busy Session ahead, may possibly make it difficult to get the Act through in time, but I also fear that in the Ministry itself, and in the industry itself, there may be hesitation as to the exact form that the Bill will take—whether it should adopt the full report of the Commission, or whether that should be modified lest it may lay too heavy a financial burden upon what is really a poor industry. I would beg that the Government will produce the Bill at the earliest opportunity, even if they are not quite certain about its exact details, and that the Bill, when ready, should be debated in this House on Second Reading on a Friday, thereby taking very little time. It should then be sent to a Standing Committee, on which would be co-opted Members representing the various herring ports, and all the Members of which would be animated by one object—to get a workable and efficient Measure for the benefit of the industry. In that Committee I am sure we could lick the Bill into shape and then it would come back to the House again on a Friday and, if that were done. I believe the Bill would be in proper working order before the fishing starts next June.
We cannot risk next year a repetition of what has happened this year. We cannot risk what happened in October, when from 7,000 to 8,000 fishermen were standing about in Yarmouth and Lowestoft, with the sea full of fish, drawing 15s. or 20s. a week pay for themselves and their families, relying on their share of the profits at the end of the season and, owing to the state of the industry, the chance of profit disappearing. I cannot speak highly enough of their patience and their courage under these trying conditions. I am sure we must get this Bill passed so as to be in operation before the fishing starts next June, otherwise we may have 358 the possibility of the same chaos again in the coming year.
No Government in our history, certainly no Government since the War, has done so much for the herring industry as this Government. It has done more during the last 12 months than has been done in the previous 15 years. It has passed the Anglo-Russian Trade Agreement, bitterly disappointing to the herring trade, I admit, but possibly it will bear fruit in future years. It has made a special agreement with Poland reducing the duty on our herring by nearly 50 per cent. and, as the result of that, last week the first cargo of fresh herring left England for Poland that has ever gone there. It has made special treaties obtaining a preference for herring with Finland and the other Baltic States and, above all, it has made the Anglo-German Agreement, which gives preferential treatment to herring as well as to coal and textiles. As the result of that agreement the whole condition of the industry was revolutionised in 24 hours. Before it, prices had fallen to 2s. 6d. a cran. Since 1st November, prices in the morning have never been below 30s. and have often been 35s. or 40s. a, cran, and in the evening they have never fallen below 24s.
I should like to thank the Government for making that agreement, and to express my gratitude for the facilities given by the. German authorities for its efficient and smooth working. It is the action of the British Government in making the agreement and of the German Government in facilitating its working which has saved our fishermen from complete disaster during the coming months. Finally, the Government appointed the Duncan Commission, which made loans for the reconditioning of boats and the replacement of nets. They have, for the first time in history, mentioned the herring industry in the Gracious Speech from the Throne. All that is the record of one year, and I feel that the Government deserve the thanks of everyone connected with the industry. I have put forward proposals and I have even used language which might have implied censure of the Government but, looking back, I feel that they have done everything they possibly could, and that their action has saved the situation, and I thank them.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present.359
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)
Under the Standing Orders, I cannot take a count between the hours of 8.15 and 9.15.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Mr. T. SMITH
An hon. Member who spoke from below the Gangway, said the National Government have been having rather a bad time recently. That is perfectly true, and I am inclined to think that they will continue to have a bad time if this King's Speech is all they intend to bring in to deal with some of the industrial problems now before the country. The speeches to which we have listened in the last hour and a-half have been rather different in tone and language from the speeches of those who tell us that prosperity is just round the corner. The Gracious Speech does practically nothing to deal with a number of industrial problems. It makes provision for the appointment of commissioners, but I hope Government supporters will not be lulled into a false sense of security in believing that that will materially alter the position in the depressed areas. I have read through the report for each of the areas. The Government refuse to put into operation many of the recommendations. I should like to believe that the appointment of these commissioners will make a material difference. In each report there is a reference to the tragic position in the coal trade, and I regret more than I can say that in the King's Speech there is no reference in any shape or form to the position of the mining industry.
The House ought to remember the changed situation in the coal trade. Last year we produced less than 210,000,000 tons, and the figures for the first 10 months of this year show that by the end of the year our production will be slightly under 220,000,000 tons. That is a tragic situation, and it has had its effect upon the numbers employed in the industry. Ten years ago there were more than 1,200,000 employed. To-day there are 766,400. For every three men who were employed in 1924 there are two employed to-day. From the point of view of employment, the position is tragic not merely in these four areas, but in nearly every mining district in the country. In Yorkshire during the past two or three years we have lost the services of something like 35,000 working miners. We 360 used to have more than 170,000 working miners, and now we have only something like 138,000. There is scarcely any hope at all in some districts unless something drastic is done for the people who have been thrown out of work.
Side by side with the fall in output due to bad trade and a variety of causes, there is the question of mechanisation which is increasing by leaps and bounds and displacing men in hundreds in nearly every district where machine mining is carried on. Scottish Members have great interest in machine mining as is revealed in the report in connection with Lanarkshire, and what is true of Lanarkshire is more or less true of nearly every district in the country. In certain parts of Yorkshire we have machines in pits which contain seams of six feet and more, and 10 or 15 years ago mining engineers would not even have dreamed of bringing machines into seams of that character. Machine mining is displacing men to such an extent that one almost dreads what may happen. It is largely the older men who are being displaced. Machine mining demands team work. Employers require young and active men, and thus they are putting aside the older men.
Sooner or later something drastic will have to be done with regard to the mining industry unless the Government are prepared to let it go on year after year without making the slightest attempt to deal with the problem of the coal trade. There is no reference in the King's Speech to anything for the benefit of the coal trade. Apart from one or two Trade Agreements, which have made no material difference to our total export trade, nothing has been done. The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart) shakes his head. It is true that while we have increased the export of coal to certain of the countries with whom we have Trade Agreements, the total amount of coal exported has not increased materially. If the hon. Member cares to look at the Trade and Navigation Returns which have just been published, he will find that in the first 10 months of this year the export of coal has increased slightly compared with the first 10 months of last year. But if we make no material advance in our export trade by the end of the year, the export of coal will be something like 40,000,000 tons as compared with 73,400,000 tons in 1913.
§ Mr. H. STEWART
The hon. Gentleman is no doubt speaking of his own area, and he will perhaps permit me to say that in the Fife area we are enjoying at the moment the greatest measure of employment in coal mining that we have experienced since the War, and we exported last week the largest amount of coal since 1918.
§ Mr. SMITH
The hon. Member has not quite grasped the significance of the statement I was making. It is true that certain localities have increased their export of coal, and that at Blyth, for example, they have had almost a record export trade, and it is also true of the district which the hon. Member has mentioned, but the Humber ports and South Wales, have lost what other districts have gained. The total quantity of coal exported shows very little advance upon the total quantity exported last year.
§ Mr. D. G. SOMERVILLE
We have increased our export trade to the countries with whom we have made Trade Agreements. It may not have affected the total output, but the exports have increased to the countries with which we have those agreements.
§ Mr. SMITH
Slightly, yes, but I am trying to point out that, from the point of view of the country, the export trade in coal is not increasing, and that from the point of view of production it is not increasing materially. I am trying to impress upon the House that in the mining industry there are at least 250,000 people out of work with no immediate chance of getting back into employment. I want the Minister responsible to remember that there are more distressed areas than the four covered by the investigation. In nearly every district of the coalfield we have depressed areas. In view of the fact that we passed a Motion yesterday to take away private Members' time, we shall be debarred from dealing with these problems as we should otherwise have done. I regret that there is no mention in the King's Speech that anything is to be done with regard to the mining industry.
We shall be forced to the position, sooner or later, of getting down to the question of shorter hours. I want to extract from the Minister some information with regard to what was said last week when we were told by the Minister of 362 Labour that consultations are to take place with the Confederation of Labour and employers with regard to the question of overtime and as to whether it is possible to work shorter hours. If agreement be reached with this body, will it be the subject of legislation, or will it be left to be carried out in a voluntary manner? Are the coalowners of the country to be consulted and asked to reduce overtime to a minimum and to consider whether a shorter day will be practicable or not. There ought to be a shorter working day in the mining industry. A seven hours bank-to-bank would be a step towards shorter hours, but I believe that even a 6-hour day would be practicable.
I should like to see the Government doing something to try to increase the consumption of coal in this country. If the Government are prepared to bring in any kind of proposals or to do anything to increase the consumption of coal, they will find that they will receive support from these benches. We consume about 40,000,000 tons of household coal a year, yet there are thousands of people who would willingly purchase more household coal if it were not so dear in certain districts. There ought to be more direct selling. It is a scandal that we should have the pithead price at about 12s. 6½d. a ton when there are householders in some localities having to pay as much as 40s. or 45s. a ton for house coal. If there were greater economy in the distribution of coal, I believe that it would be possible to increase the consumption of coal at home. I wonder whether the Government intend to allow the coal industry and other industries to go on in the same lamentable way as is the case to-day.
I should have liked to have seen the bann removed from local authorities with regard to public works development. The Minister of Labour the other night rather scornfully dealt with public works schemes which were in operation from 1929 to 1931 on the ground that they were very costly. It was not money wasted. I have before me an extract from an article in the "Economist" of 22nd July, 1933, which says:We do not accept the view that the public investment of recent years has been useless and extravagant. It is true that it has not proved a panacea for unemployment, but there is good reason to believe that the distress would have been more serious without it. The efficiency, as well as the 363 amenities, of the country has been improved. Something has been saved from our unremunerative unemployment expenditure, while a far more important item on the credit side is that many have been kept from demoralising idleness on the dole.I suggest that in these days, when we have a huge reservoir of money waiting to find investment, the Government ought to have lifted the ban on public works development. There is work of all kinds waiting to be done. In the Doncaster area there is a land drainage scheme which would cost £500,000 and which needs doing from the point of view of the safety of the population of the area. That scheme is held up because the local authorities concerned and the Drainage Board cannot get a big enough grant. There is work in all districts waiting to be done, and I suggest that this work should be put into operation, although it would certainly be no complete remedy for unemployment. The King's Speech is a remarkable document. I fail to see in it those great schemes of social reforms which the Prime Minister talked about yesterday. As usual, he made tremendous play with very little material. I say that when the whole of this programme has been put into operation, you will not have any material improvement in our industrial districts, and I regret that the Government have not got down to the causes of our industrial unrest, and that they have not recognised that remedies of a drastic character are needed. I hope that, sooner or later, there will be recognition of the fact that these industrial districts need to have more attention paid to them, so that the life lived in them will be a better life than they have at present.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ Major BEAUMONT THOMAS
I propose to detain the House only for a few moments, because although I do not represent what is known as a depressed area, I am associated with an industry which is of some importance to the known depressed area of South Wales. Before dealing with that particular area, I want to say a few words about the general question of the occupation—and I use that word advisedly—of our people. While I welcome the reports about the depressed areas and the proposals which the Government have put forward with regard to the appointment of commissioners, I must confess that I am very 364 anxious with regard to the whole of the future industrial prospects of the country. What I am concerned with more particularly is not how we are going to deal with the depression which at present exists in what are known as the depressed areas, but how we are going to prevent those depressed areas becoming even more depressed.
I was very disappointed when I put a question to the Prime Minister some two weeks ago dealing with the very important problem of the future economic planning of the Empire. The answer I received gave me the impression that nothing of very great importance could be done. I believe that this question of the depressed areas is very closely bound up with the whole problem of the economic planning of industry in this country, and with the economic planning of industry in the Empire. I think I am one of an increasing number of Members of this House who are interested in industry, who think that some form of Government direction will have to be applied to some of our staple industries. By means of social reform legislation of various sorts, we have completely upset the natural law of the survival of the fittest and I do not believe that modern civilisation can be carried on without some form of direction in the interests of those whose livelihood depends on the activities of our industries.
During the last three years we have done something towards the direction of industry. The Government have applied Protection to a vast number of the industries of this country. By means of that application, we have, to a very large extent, safeguarded our home market. Nobody inside or outside this House believes that we can support our 40,000,000 people at their present standards on our own markets alone. We have also to face up to this fact that, having applied Protection to our home market, and having taken that home market away from our foreign competitors, we have accentuated competition in the export trade. I think the Government have got to apply themselves to the big problem of our export markets. As hon. Members are well aware, foreign competition is extremely keen in the export trade, and many countries subsidise their exports. I noticed that last year in the iron and steel industry £3,000,000 was paid as compensation for idle workmen—idle because 365 as compared with the year 1913 exports were down by 3,000,000 tons. The requirements of the world to-day are no less than they were in 1913. They are very much greater.
The hon. Member who has just sat down talked about mining, but it must not be forgotten that the mining industry does not stand by itself. In fact, it would be very difficult to say that any industry to-day stood by itself. I wonder if the hon. Member realises that if the payment to idle colliers deprived of work through absence of orders for these 3,000,000 tons last year were added to the above sum, the total must have exceeded £4,500,000, or, in other words, 30s. per ton for every ton we failed to sell. That means that we could have subsidised the tonnage of steel to the extent of 30s. a ton in competition with the foreigner and could have obtained a portion of that market.
I hope that this question will be considered by the commissioners and that hon. Members opposite will do their utmost to co-operate with the commissioners. I, on my humble part, will do my utmost to endeavour to see that employers of labour in South Wales also co-operate. I cannot believe that something cannot be done to bring the question of unemployment compensation into some scheme whereby we could subsidise our export iron and steel industry. I know that it is a very difficult matter, but I believe that a man is very much better off earning £3 or £3 10s. a week than drawing the dole and earning, comparatively speaking, nothing at all.
I should like to say a few words with regard to South Wales. I do not think that anyone who visits South Wales can leave some of those valleys without carrying away with him some of the depression and despair which can be seen on the faces of those who have been out of work for many years in that area. Some of those valleys are the most depressing places I have ever seen, certainly a great deal more depressing than anything I ever saw in the War. Somehow or other, I do not know why it was, during the War we managed to have some hope. We always hoped that we were going to win through, but in some of the South Wales valleys there are vast numbers of people who have given up hope of winning through.
366 There is no short cut to the finding of a solution of this question in South Wales. We shall have to face up to the fact that the position in the world to-day is vastly different from what it was 50 years ago, when the carrying on of commercial enterprises in this country was a comparatively simple matter. It has been stated in one of the reports of the commissioners that in South Wales, as in other places, the industrial leaders of the areas do not take part in the local life of the community. I want to say a few words about that statement. I can assure hon. Members that the carrying on of business to-day is 10 times more difficult than it was a few years ago. I can think of many people in big industrial positions who, a few years ago, used to take regular holidays, and who to-day take no holidays at all. They have very little time to take any active part in politics, local or national. I think that is a very great pity but it is nevertheless true, and I do hope that the very closest co-operation will be given to the commissioners by all sections of the community in the depressed areas with a view to solving this problem.
It has been said, I think it is stated in one of the reports of the commissioners, that new industries do not go to these depressed areas. There have been rumours and there are rumours that industries which have been born, bred and brought up in the depressed areas are going away from them. In times past there were certain advantages for industry in South Wales. There was cheap water of a quality which was specially suitable for the tinplate in dustry. There was cheap transport. There were coal and other exceptional advantages which could not be found elsewhere. Those advantages no longer exist. It is possible by means of scientific application to have a good supply of the necessary water which is essential for the tinplate industry almost anywhere in England. Cheap transport and cheap power can be found elsewhere.
There is another very big factor which keeps industries away from South Wales. It may be that some hon. Members opposite will not like what I am going to say, but I believe it to be true. Whether we like it or not, the leadership of trade unionism in South Wales has not shown that co-operation which is essential if you want to see the prosperity of our indus- 367 tries go forward. It is a well-known fact, whether it be in the tinplate industry, the iron and steel industry or the coal industry, and the South Wales Miners' Federation is one of the worst offenders. They have only one policy before them, and that is the nationalisation of industry. So long as the employer is faced with that situation he will not, if he can put his factory elsewhere, put his factory in South Wales.
§ Mr. EDWARD WILLIAMS
I do not think that that statement should go unchallenged. As one of the South Wales miners' leaders for many years, I feel justified in saying that a reflection thrown upon the leaders of the South Wales miners should not go without challenge. Is not the hon. and gallant Member aware that Mr. Evan Williams, of the Coal Owners' Federation, resides in South Wales and has been substantially responsible for the lock-outs that have taken place in South Wales for many years? Will the hon. and gallant Member also explain why new industries are not established in Durham, on the Tyne, in Glasgow and elsewhere? Is that attributable to the South Wales Miners' Federation?
§ Major THOMAS
I was addressing myself particularly to South Wales, and I have no hesitation in saying that the attitude of the trade union leaders in South Wales has not helped in regard to the question of finding employment for the people of that area, because it is a well-known fact that the trade union leaders in South Wales are the political leaders of that area. My advice to trade unionism has always been that it should keep out of politics. I am well aware of the attitude taken up by the leaders of trade unions in South Wales, and I have no hesitation in standing by what I have said. You have only to read the deliberations of the Trades Union Congress of a few weeks ago to realise the position. There was no single speech which dealt with the peculiar problems which labour has to face in South Wales and elsewhere —the problem of how to retain our export markets out of which the wages of the men are paid. There was not one single speech or any deliberation of any sort or kind. It was politics from beginning to end. And politics have been the damnation of trade unions in this coun- 368 try. The other day I happened to be at a meeting of a joint industrial council and what impressed me more than anything else was, first, the somewhat petty attitude of the employers and, secondly, the complete ignorance of the business problem which faces those who have to manage the industrial activities of this country. Let me give the House one small problem which the tinplate industry of South Wales has to face.
§ Mr. D. GRENFELL
Is it not the case in the industry to which the hon. and gallant Member refers, the tinplate industry, that many of the leaders in the technical departments are men who have come from the ranks of the workers; and is it not the case that, having secured a sufficient number of men to take charge of these departments, the employers give the workers no voice at all in the management?
§ Major THOMAS
I have always been an advocate for encouraging the worker in every shape and form to get right from the bottom to the top in the tinplate industry. I agree with the hon. Member. There are many able men in the industry who have risen from the ranks of the workers, indeed, the most able men have risen from the bottom. But they have stuck to business, not to politics. That is my point.
§ Major THOMAS
What are we faced with in the tinplate industry, one of the most important in South Wales and one in which the mining industry and the iron and steel industry are also interested? The only export markets which to all intents and purposes are left to us are our Dominion markets. The whole of the Australian market comes to South Wales; not a single tinplate is bought by Australia anywhere but in South Wales. If Australia puts up tinplate mills with modern machinery it will probably have the effect of shutting down three or four mills in South Wales. That is the kind of problem which I want the House to consider. It is not only a question of the distressed areas but a question of preventing these areas becoming more depressed. It would be a calamity if, because of a lack of direction from the Government or through a lack of facing these facts and seeing what we can do, 369 we had industries being developed in Australia, South Africa and Canada without any thought as to whether they were sound economical business from the Dominions' point of view or from the point of view of South Wales. We have seen put into operation one of the biggest iron and steel plants ever known in South Africa. It will have an effect upon iron and steel works in some of our depressed areas.
The same thing applies in this country. I have seen a suggestion in a newspaper that tinplate works are to be erected in Lincolnshire. Those who make the suggestion know more about it than I do. Let me just consider that suggestion. We all know that it would be near a coalfield and that there is cheap ore there. We can produce steel cheaper there than anywhere else. Is the water good? Yes, perfectly good. Everyone knows that you require a certain quality of water. But what does it mean to South Wales if tinplate mills go up in Lincolnshire? I want hon. Members to consider that point, and I want hon. Members opposite to face up to it and the Government to face up to it. One hon. Member has mentioned the question of the planning of industry. I think that some form of direction is required, that you should use the best brains at your disposal in every industry. Some form of direction will be essential if you are going to carry on the staple industries of this country and enable them to maintain anything like the position they hold to-day.
I realise, we all realise, that as a result of foreign machinery men have been unemployed and that as a result of research we may require less coal. If as the result of research we are going to obtain more horse power per ton than we obtained before then less coal will be required, but that does not necessarily mean that fewer men will be occupied. We may have a shortening of hours. There are many industries in this country which would be agreeable to a shortening of hours, and if on our industrial councils we can get together and thrash these matters out we shall arrive at some solution. There is no question that industry, as a result of research and modern machinery, will employ less men, but that does not mean that these industries should be incapable of providing more occupation. It may be that 370 children will have to be kept at school longer and that the older people will have to be pensioned off at an earlier age. I know that the tinplate industry is perfectly prepared to thrash out a scheme of this kind, and that other industries are perfectly capable and able to do the same thing. After all is there any object in research or the use of machinery unless it be to give men more recreation?
I welcome the proposals of the Government so far as they go, but this is a much bigger problem than is contained in that report or than can be dealt with by one or two or a dozen commissions. It is a problem which has faced the country for years, the problem of unemployment, or shall I say occupation, which is a nicer word. It will only be solved by all putting their backs into it and seeing how it can be solved, and the sooner the question is taken out of the political arena the better. I hope that hon. Members opposite will give their fullest support to the operations and activities of the commissioners and their staff. I can promise that I will do my best to get employers of labour to cooperate as well. I hope that every Member of the House will do the same. This is one of the most serious problems which the country has to face. It may be that we are going to discuss for the next year the Government of India or peace, but neither of those things is as important to the man in the street as is this particular problem. It is a problem which has come up year after year. The present Government is in a position to deal with it better than any other, but it needs the co-operation of His Majesty's Opposition.
§ 9.57 p.m.
§ Mr. HICKS
The King's Speech has provided the House with an opportunity to range over many subjects and has produced many interesting speeches. In the general order of our business there does not appear to be any greater opportunity for Members to bring forward their points of view on matters on which they feel most strongly. The speech of the hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. Macmillan) was a valuable speech as were many others to which we have listened. The speech of the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken was like the curate's egg, good in parts. I think he 371 went out of his way in an attempt to catechise some sections of the community with regard to general conditions in his attack on the trade unions in South Wales with regard to an economic revival there. He expressed a desire that trade unionists should keep themselves out of politics. I am sure the hon. and gallant Member knows very well how industry has forced itself into politics. We are unable to free ourselves from industrial questions in this House. Coal is discussed here, iron and steel, textiles, engineering, agriculture, shipping. Whatever it may be, a subsidy or tariff or quota is asked for as an assistance to industry.
The free and unfettered opportunity for private enterprise to put its own business right has been available the whole of the time, but apparently industry has not been able to do it. There is no one in South Wales or anywhere else who would have been stopped if able to correct the mischief that has been done. It seems very late in the day to talk about trade unionists keeping themselves out of politics. The employers are in this House in very great numbers. As a matter of fact the Government are the friends of the trusts and combines and cartels. I regard the Government as the executive committee of big business, and this is the best place in which we are able to put our points of view in relation to that. I am sure that the trade union. movement generally and the trade unionists of the country never fail to respond to any reasonable invitation to discuss any difficulties that arise. The history and record of the trade unions indicates that very clearly indeed.
It is not possible for me to pursue that matter, as I intend to devote my speech to matters more nearly connected with the Ministry of Health, particularly housing and slum clearance. To me the outstanding feature of the King's Speech. is the Government's complacency in regard to those domestic matters and problems that are mentioned, the plight of the industrial area and the question of slum clearance. The Gracious Speech was very careful to avoid reference to unemployment and to the frightful contradiction in our present system under which we see widespread poverty in the midst of plenty. The Government's assumption in the Speech that something 372 really worth while is being done in regard to slum clearance is amazing. The Speech says:So great a measure of progress is being attained that my Ministers are able to contemplate the next step ill the process of im-proving the housing conditions of the people.I listened with astonishment to the Prime Minister when he said:How often did we hear during 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 … in the next five years, and the figures show that that progress is being made good.— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th November, 1934; col. 28, Vol. 295.]In my mind's eye I pictured the slums of Great Britain as I have seen them and as I know they still exist. I thought of the horrors in London. I thought of the East End, of Stepney, Poplar, Bethnal Green, far-spreading regions which are but one huge slum. I thought of Southwark, Bermondsey, Deptford, and the great areas in Kennington, Wandsworth, and Woolwich. It matters not which borough I mention in the London area; we have the slums. I thought of the countless dwellings clustering in those murky streets by the Thames, the damp and overcrowded hovels where the living and the dead are in the same room and the living and the dying in the same bed. I thought of Ancoats in Manchester, of the miles and miles of back-to-back houses in Leeds and in Birmingham. I thought of Gorbals in Glasgow. Slums are disappearing, it is said. Where are they disappearing? What justification is there for the statement? What does the great measure of success amount to? It is all very well for the Government to be engaging in general propaganda to that effect; I do not blame them for that, but the statement must be subject to analysis, and the facts provide the means of analysis.
All may seem bright and sparkling to some hon. Members, those who read Government publicity, but the facts are that the slums exist, that they are not mythical but very real. They exist in all their stinking filth and rottenness and it is the poorest people in the community who are compelled to dwell in them. The dwellers in the slums are aware of the facts. There are millions of people to-clay in Britain whose lot it is to live in slums. There are families yet undergoing all the 373 horrors of slumdom, living in dark basements—thousands of them in this city where the House of Commons is situated —in tumble-down hovels with leaky roofs, patched brickwork and bad floors, pestered by rats and other vermin. I am not saying these things to hon. Members to make their flesh creep. These are facts reported daily by medical officers of health and as to which abundant evidence is available in the event of their accuracy being challenged. We have mothers today watching their children grow up pale and sickly in surroundings such as I have described. We have menfolk robbed of all the decencies of home life. Home life to the man in the slums is miserable because happy home life cannot exist in such an environment.
The people who live in these places age not being fobbed off by Government propaganda to the effect that the slums are disappearing. The constituents of many Members supporting the National Government are not being fobbed off by such claims. They know that the slums still exist, in spite of bubble-blowing propaganda and publicity. There are at least 2,000,000 people living under over-crowded and slum conditions in this country. Some great authorities on housing, men and women who have devoted all their public lives to the study of the problem, place the number of slum-dwellers at an even higher figure. An ex-Lord Mayor of Manchester, Sir E. D. Simon, places the figure at roughly 4,000,000, and if an intimate survey were made, based upon real housing needs and the desire and willingness of the country to provide each family in the country with a home and to take the people out of these slum conditions, I believe it would be found that the latter figure was not an exaggeration but was well supported by the facts.
§ Mr. HICKS
There is abundant, printed information on the subject and if the hon. Member would like to familiarise himself with it, it is relatively easy to obtain. The statement which I made was that at least 2,000,000 of our people were living 374 at present under slum conditions. I added that Sir E. D. Simon put the figure at 4,000,000 and I suggested that a survey based on the, serious desire of the country to ensure proper modern housing for the people, would probably show that that figure was not an over-estimate What has been done towards abolishing this huge blot? The only slum clearance that is being made is under the Greenwood Act passed in 1930 during the. life of the late Labour Government. The figures show that in 1931, 400 houses were built under that Act; in 1932, 5,146: in 1933, 6,302; and in 1934, 15,058. That amounts to the building of roughly 27,600 houses for slum clearance from 1931 to 1934, while as I have said millions are still housed under over-crowded and slum conditions.
The housing schemes of the Government, said the Prime Minister, were succeeding. I say that there has not even been an attempt to meet not even a lame and halting approach to this huge problem. The pretence of the Government that the problem is being solved has only to be stated in an assembly of this character to reveal its hollowness in the light of the existing facts. If this is the rate at which the slums are disappearing, the bulk of the people who are now living in the slums will have reached the age of Methusalah before they can expect redress or relief. Not merely has the Government's campaign against the slums been marked from the outset by signs of failure but there are many evidences that their effort is already doomed. I have given the Minister of Health every possible encouragement towards tackling the problem in any way in which he has sought to tackle it. I have never said and I hope never will say anything which would damp any enthusiasm shown by the right hon. Gentleman or his Department for dealing with the question, but the facts are that to-day no sooner has any attack whatever been begun upon slumdom, than we find the dark forces of the slum landlords the rack-renters and racketeers, the owners of decayed and decrepit houses, coming up to claim compensation. We shall see when the forthcoming Bill is introduced what steps are proposed to deal with these people.
It is now that the Government are beginning to meet with that formidable entrenched opposition which has delayed serious slum clearance in this country 375 for generations. The Minister is under no misapprehension as to the forces which he has to meet in connection with this question and I hope that Members of the House will not be under any misapprehension as to the type and character of the opposition which will have to be overcome if any progress is to be made. In such circumstances we must recognise that the real fight for slum clearance is only about to commence. What has been done in the past has been largely in speeches with some little clearances here and there. The real tackling of the problem is as I say, only, commencing. You will find marshalled against anyone who attempts to stand against the vested interests, those who own these decrepit and undesirable properties, these ruinous and poisonous plague spots. The Minister will have a pretty rough time, and I imagine, from statements that I have seen and the agitation that is going on, that slum landlords will not be without some backing by representatives in this House. Perhaps the Minister of Health will tell us how long it takes for residence in slums to effect permanent injury to the health of men and women and especially of children in their early and formative years. How long can they live in such environment, robbed of sunshine, light, and fresh air, before there is permanent injury to health? And perhaps he will say how the Government's programme, as indicated in the King's Speech, relates to the health, well-being and happiness of those millions who are so affected.
It is obvious that a much stronger and bolder policy than anything yet contemplated by the Government is called for to tackle this terrible problem of millions of our fellow citizens who to-day are condemned to overcrowding and slumdom. Not merely is the Government's slum clearance slow, but their housing policy also is conducive to the creation of further slums. Most calamitous, in my opinion, has been the wilful limitation or destruction of public enterprise and public control in these matters, and the handing of them over to private enterprise, to building speculators and jerry builders, reducing what should be a great public service to a condition of relative chaos and disorder. Great complaint is made about ruining the countryside, about the appalling ugliness of "England's green and pleasant land," 376 and about indiscriminate ribbon development. At whom should the complaint he levelled but at the Government? The Government have deliberately encouraged it, and as a result we have these pretty little hire purchase houses, so enticing on advertisement leaflets, "sun trap" houses, "cherry orchards," "lily vales," and so on.
I once tried to collect the names of the societies who were building houses for the people in this country. They all have very wonderful names, but there were so many of them that I had to give up the task. They use such words as "sunny," "cheerful," "happy vale," "nightingales," and all that kind of thing. The houses have been built in a rush and with all sorts of material, and I say that as a practical man. They will inevitably produce problems as difficult to tackle as the slum problem is to-day, and they will inevitably produce slums. Poor families, under the stress of overcrowding, have been induced to buy, many of them on exorbitant terms, without guarantee from the builder of the quality of the houses, without being able to claim on the builder for maintenance or repair, and out of their low wages with unemployment, partial employment, and casual employment, never having, unless they deny themselves of food, the wherewithal to maintain the houses themselves or to give anything like maintenance to them. Houses are complex and sensitive structures and prone to dilapidation unless they are well built, and a number of these are not well built.
In my constituency the other day, the engineer of the council was reporting certain costs in connection with a dust destructor, and he said, "We do not lose all this, as we are able to sell our production to the builders." A councillor said, "I see; we shall have it back in ideal homes after the clinker has been made." Why do not the Government do something to warn house purchasers about this sort of thing? Surely they must have some responsibility. They have substantially limited the opportunity of building by public enterprise and by municipalities, and encouraged private enterprise, with the result that those are the houses which to-day are available for the people who want to buy houses on hire purchase terms, because very few of them are to let. Why do not the Government warn these house pur- 377 chasers of the dangers that beset them or pass some legislation which will protect them? Why should hundreds of thousands of those who purchase houses be the victims of jerrybuilt houses and have to live in conditions where dilapidations will be so swift that, with an incapacity to get the finance with which to maintain them they will quickly develop into slum conditions.
It is with considerable interest but not with great expectations that I await the Government's proposals to deal with overcrowding. Only one thing, in my opinion, can be done effectively to deal with this problem, and that is to provide dwellings within the means of the people who will occupy them. What have the Government done about that? The wilful destruction by the Government of the Wheatley Act, which was the one great piece of legislation to provide houses to let, and their failure substantially to increase houses to let makes one cynical about the seriousness of their intentions. One cannot help being cynical when one knows that such houses as are provided are not within the means of the people who have to live in them. We are, however, thankful for any small mercies which will relieve the housing position, and we will give any encouragement to the Minister or any one else who tackles it, but, until a social or public responsibility for housing is frankly accepted and becomes the guiding policy of the Government, there will be no real hope of solving this problem. Slums are due to private enterprise. To whom else are they due? They are not due to municipal or public enterprise, but only public enterprise can put them right. The Government should set themselves the task of making an effort to provide every family in the land with a structurally separate dwelling so that the people can have real family life.
I was hoping that the King's Speech would foreshadow a more drastic plan for the equipment and reorganisation of the country. The times demand a big conception and a huge endeavour. Unless there is a big conception and a willingness, not only to handle it, but to give it organisational content, nothing of any magnitude will be done to overtake arrears. Look at the roads for a moment. How much longer are we to have the winking lights, the Belisha beacons and the herring-bone crossings 378 to mark the places where accidents may happen? Does not reason tell us that the real trouble is the inadequacy of the roads? More than 2,000,000 people have been killed and injured in the streets and roads of this country since the War, and surely that fact is sufficient evidence to show that the roads are wrong and inadequate. Motor traffic is only one of the things that call for treatment, we ought to say, and say it with meaning, that old England is out of date. It ought to he the task and policy of the Government to bring it up-to-date. It ought to regard the roads and the buildings and houses as belonging very largely to the past. The Government ought to bring the country up to date and that can only be done by planning and organisation, by formulating great projects and getting them under public control. There is nothing to prevent private enterprise from doing it, except that it is quite incapable of tackling such a problem; we need the inspiration and the determination of a Government to tackle the thing.
Particularly do I say that planning is urgently necessary in respect of the building industry. We can only bring order out of the chaos which exists there by the Government deciding to work in conjunction with the municipal authorities. The latest reports of the Ministry of Labour show that in the building industry, where the need for labour is so clamant—at any rate it ought to be clamant—there are 165,600 workers unemployed. And this at a time when so many of our fellow countrymen are living in slums or otherwise in overcrowded conditions. That is little short of criminal in view of the situation prevailing, and reveals a shocking waste of the skill and capacity of those who would be willing and anxious to assist the community if only we were ready to organise the effort. Private enterprise cannot organise it, and we must fall back upon the Government.
The King's Speech holds out very little promise that these problems will be adequately dealt with, and I submit that the speeches on this and other subjects which we have heard during the last day or two entitle us to say that not only should the Government be criticised strongly but they should be roundly and thoroughly censured for their com- 379 placency in the face of such great social problems. The King's Speech does not visualise our problems as it ought to. It does not show up the incapacity of private enterprise to tackle the problems and proclaim the intention of the Government to lift them above party considerations and to deal with them in the interests of the country as a whole. Therefore, we submit that the King's Speech has left out the most material things necessary for a revival of our fortunes in this country and as the Government are responsible for the policy they deserve the severest condemnation.
§ 10.29 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Sir Hilton Young)
The speeches in this Debate have ranged over very interesting topics, particularly in relation to the depressed areas, but with those topics I will not attempt to deal, because they will be dealt with in due course by the Ministers who are more particularly concerned with them. Let, me rather apply myself to the speech just made by the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks), dealing with housing in particular. It needs a certain degree of insensitiveness in an hon. Member on those benches to challenge this Government for what they are doing in the matter of slums. What did the Labour party ever do to deal with slums and overcrowding? [HON. MEMBERS: "Nothing."] Not only did they do nothing, but they did the most cruel thing they could do. They passed a Bill which, in the hands of this Government, has been proved to be effective for the purpose of slum clearance, but after they had passed it and raised the hopes of the unfortunate dwellers in the slums they did nothing whatever. All that was done by the administration, which I have no doubt the hon. Gentleman supported, was to carry out a halfhearted survey of the slums which resulted in a report that the slum houses in the country amounted to something a good deal less than half of what was ascertained to be the number under the survey which we carried out. Am I not therefore right in saying that hon. Gentlemen are showing a certain indifference to the realities of the situation?
As long as this was only a plan and programme, it was quite open to hon. Members to say that they believed that 380 nothing would be done. Now that the plan and the programme have been interpreted into action at the rate at which it is being interpreted, it requires an actual indifference to the facts on the part of hon. Gentlemen to enable them to attack what is being accomplished. What the hon. Member's speech, in its more emotional moments, amounted to was that the evil of slums is enormous, that it is eating deeply into the vitals of the country—no Member of the House disagrees with him there and no Government has ever taken effective action to remedy it except this Government—and that there are slums still left in the country. Undoubtedly there are, but whoever held out any prospect of removing the evil in less than five years in the most promising areas, and necessarily slightly longer in other areas? The common ground, indeed, is as to the magnitude of the evil and the necessity of strenuous and continuous effort to remedy it.
When we come to the point at which the hon. Member seeks to introduce the impression that no effective start has been made for the conversion of the programme into action he is indeed showing a very peculiar indifference to facts. What is the programme before us now? To clear 280,000 houses, which are recognised slum houses ascertained by survey. When the hon. Member talks of the estimate produced by Sir Ernest Simon—I attribute it to him, on the authority of the hon. Member—what he presents to the House is that four out of every five wage-earners in the country live in a slum house. That is absolutely preposterous. The number of houses has been ascertained to be 280,000, and their abolition will mean the rehousing of 1,250,000 people. The House will remember that the period which we are just completing is a period of prepaation and organisation, and that, the next period is the conversion of the preparation and organisation into action. In the course of the year which ended on 30th September, 1934, the number of houses provided under the Housing Act, 1930, to rehouse the slum dwellers was 15,000. On 30th September, 19,000 houses were actually under construction. That is a continuous operation. The houses we have in sight as a result of the first single year in which we are beginning to earn the harvest from our labours, is 34,000, three times as many in that one 381 year as in all the three preceding years, including the years during which hon. Members opposite were responsible.
The House, with its knowledge of administration, will know that what we have to regard, at the outset of a great national five-years' campaign of this sort, is not only the achievement of the year, but the rate of progress which has been attained by the end of the year, because it is upon the rate of progress we achieve that our success depends. Up to the end of September, the number of houses declared as slum houses in Orders was 50,000. At the end of the year we were clearing slum houses and replacing them by new houses at the rate of over 50,000 houses a year. To clear 280,000 houses in five years you have to attain an average rate of at least 56,000 a year, and already we have reached practically the average rate.
§ Sir H. YOUNG
It means houses to be pulled down and new houses provided in their place. We have now achieved a rate of progress which will assure the success of the five-years' plan. It was not expected that by the end of September, 1934, we should have got near to the average rate, but as a matter of fact we have got up to it, and so we are in advance of our programme. That achievement of 50,000 houses a year cannot be explained away by any reasonable man with an open mind who considers the facts of the case. One can return to this House fully conscious of one's responsibilities in the matter of the engagements that were accepted by the Government at the outset of our slum clearance policy, and at the present time we can say that, with a continuance of the present rate and a likelihood that it will be increased, we can guarantee the achievement of the five-years' programme within that time. I can well understand the cry of despair, in a political sense, which arises from hon. Members on the benches opposite, but I have no doubt that when for a moment they shed that political prejudice, and disclose their common humanity with us, as they so often do, they will rejoice in their heart of hearts at this prospect.
The hon. Member asks us, "What is the change that has been effected by your work?" I will tell the House, apart 382 from the figures I have just given, the change that has been effected. It is that for the first time we have brought to dwellers in the slums, not only the hope, but a reasonable certainty, of a release from those intolerable conditions within a reasonable time. It has been my duty, in the course of the last few months, to pay visits to some 12 large towns, and my principal task on those occasions has been to assure myself by the living fact, as distinguished from the dead figure, of the spirit and the practice with regard to the slum clearance campaign in those cities. As to the spirit, hon. Members whose hearts are in this work would be infinitely encouraged to see the concentration of effort on slum clearance in all our great cities, and in our small cities also, while the rural areas are coming along with their proposals.
To our British mind, there may be particular encouragement in the fact that we now see what I would call a sporting spirit in the competition between city and city as to which is to be first. No louder praise is to be gained by anyone responsible for municipal government than when he says his city is first with its schemes, or has produced the largest schemes of slum clearance. It would be even more encouraging to hon. Members to go about in the cities and see the actual work of the transfer of the slum dwellers to the new houses now going on at ever increasing speed. This is the first year that we have been able to see it—this year in which we have 15,000 houses finished, 34,000 in sight and 18,000 actually pulled down or condemned. Now you can see in the bad old slum house the people sitting with their boxes packed ready to go into the good new houses and, springing up, the good new houses to which they are to go. I believe this irresistible movement is going to gain momentum until it reaches its maximum some year or 18 months hence. I believe the country is well assured of the spirit and will of the Government interpreting, as regards the vigour that is being put into this campaign, the spirit and the will of the nation.
Another part of the hon. Gentleman's speech was directed to an attack on building by private enterprise. I think that is explained by a—I think the smart word nowadays is a—psychological condition or complex in the mind of hon 383 Members opposite. They have a complex against a house that is built without a subsidy. Of a house built without a subsidy they say in the first place that it is not a house. They ignore the fact that it has been built at all. When the fact that it is being built is really too much for them, they say it may be a house but it is a very bad house. I completely traverse the account given by the hon. Member of the normal state and condition of the houses now being constructed by private enterprise. They are built under the by-laws of local authorities as to their materials and their situation in streets, and those by-laws enforce standards of accommodation which are in accordance with modern ideas and practice. As for the allegation that these housing districts are the slum areas of the future, any reasonable man need only look at them and compare them with the real problem, at which the hon. Member blinked, the problem of overcrowding and of the houses which were badly constructed 100 or 150 years ago. No one would dream of attempting a comparison between the two in their standards of housing accommodation.
I am conscious that this is a very distasteful subject and that there is nothing that they contemplate with more horror than the brilliant verification of the forecast of Government policy that the action taken three years ago would result in a great boom in the production of houses by private enterprise, and brilliant has been that verification. In the half year to September last this despised private enterprise added to the pool of houses in the country 134,000 houses, and in the course of the last year it produced over 250,000. Both those figures are a record in the production of houses by private enterprise over any previous time. It is contended by none that these houses are a sufficient provision for some of the most anxious aspects of our housing problem, particularly the problem of the small house to let to lower-paid wage earners, but equally it would be idle for any reasonable man to contend that they do not make a most important contribution towards the solution of that problem. When you consider the small houses themselves, the number under £13 in rateable value, or £20 in Greater London, houses suitable for occupa- 384 tion by wage earners of the lower economic status—not the lowest—the number of those houses built by private enterprise was, in the whole year to September, 93,000. No one can possibly say that that is not an important contribution. We may be asked what may be the effect of the contribution, but it must be admitted that it is an important contribution. If you consider, as indeed you should and must, the proportion of houses to let, I am in entire agreement with the hon. Member that a proportion of houses to let is essential for our purpose. I find that of the total number of houses built by private enterprise, 19,000 were houses to let—there again a very useful contribution to a most difficult part of our problem. No one would contend that it was a complete and adequate provision of houses of this class. So much for the effort of private enterprise.
I pass on to another aspect of the criticism addressed by the hon. Member opposite. He dwelt upon the state of unemployment in the building trade, but he is wont on these occasions to quote a single figure to show the number of unemployed in the building trade at any given time and not to give the House the benefit of hearing what is the true position in this matter, and that is the comparative prosperity of the building trade as result of the policy and activity of the present Government. Let me clear out of the way one misconception which might be implied from the observation of the hon. Member, namely, that employment in the building trade depends wholly or even mainly upon the building of houses. Many in this House who are familiar with the conditions of the trade will know much better than that. Small housing is only a comparatively small factor in the total volume of employment in the building trade. The total employment in the building trade, covering, as it does, if not the whole range of the activities of national life, at any rate, from the largest factory down to the smallest house, depends upon the general prosperity and the forward march of confidence in the nation.
§ Sir H. YOUNG
That is an interesting and striking illustration and I should be delighted to confirm it with the hon. Member, but it is not relative to the line of argument. The total volume of employment in the building trade depends upon the general prosperity and confidence in the nation, and the Government accept this barometer of success. In all these efforts to promote prosperity, I do not think that we need be afraid to accept this barometer. I have before me figures produced in October in each year of the employment in the building trade at the latest available date at the end of July. These are facts which are so gratifying to many hon. Members in the House and are so embarrassing to the hon. Member opposite. In 1934 the number employed in the building trade was 696,000; in the preceding year it was 626,000, and in the year before that it was 549,000. The barometer shows a satisfactory rise. The number of unemployed as between the end of July, 1933, and the end of July, 1934, had fallen from 152,000 to 125,000. The truth is that the return of prosperity and the return of confidence is bringing new employment to the building trade as to many another trade in the country, and the increased activity in house production both in relation to municipal authorities and private enterprise is playing a great part in the increased prosperity of the building trade.
The hon. Member made some reference to the approaching Bill in which the Government will develop its proposals in regard to overcrowding. Just as he did not succeed very well in attacking a Bill the contents of which he has not yet seen, so I should have little success in defending the contents of a Bill which I am not yet able to announce. On the whole, I think we had better defer discussion of the merits of the Bill until we have it before us, but this circumstance is relevant to mention to the House on this Motion. What is the occasion of the introduction of this new Measure? It is this. We have before us two stages in dealing with the problem: We have the stage of the attack on 386 the slums, and we have the stage of the attack on overcrowding. It was necessary that the attack on the slums should be organised and launched and should have reached a certain degree of conversion into action before we launched the attack on overcrowding. Had we not adopted that course and had we developed the overcrowding proposal at the same time as the slum proposal we should simply have delayed both. At the present time owing to the progress which I have described to the House, based on those figures relating to slum clearance, that work has reached such a degree of organisation and advancement that it is now possible to proceed with the second stage of the work and make an organised attack on overcrowding. The one is complementary to the other. The evils of the one are as great as the evils of the other.
The evil of overcrowding from the point of view of public health and the welfare and happiness of the people is greater than the evil of the slums. In the individual case the evil of the overcrowded house may be less than the evil of the slum house. I doubt it. I think there are cases in -Which overcrowding in even good houses produces effects as deplorable as the effects of the actually bad house in the slums. When I say it is a greater evil it is quantitatively greater. There is more of it in the country, and it is a greater evil because it is more elusive and difficult to grip. The slum house is there and you can see the bad bricks and walls, the falling plaster, the bugs, and the defective roof. Overcrowding can so easily elude your grasp, and, unless you take great care, you may drive it from one place, and it will reappear in another. Careful concerted action over the whole country at one time is necessary to deal with the evil of overcrowding, and on these principles the Government will proceed. It is a fortunate moment that this progress with the first stage of the work makes it possible to make a beginning with the second great task. In both cases we shall he guided by the same principle. Slums and overcrowding are evils which can no longer he tolerated in this country and whatever measures are necessary eventually to get rid of them are to be adopted by the Government, well aware 387 that it has behind it the overwhelming will of the whole people.
§ Ordered, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—[Lieut.-Colonel Sir Lambert Ward.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.