§ 3.10 p.m.
§ Mr. WAKEFIELD
(in the uniform of the Royal Air Force): I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:Most Gracious Sovereign,We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both House of Parliament.First of all, I must crave the indulgence of the House on this, the first occasion I am privileged to address it. It is with diffidence indeed that I approach the task entrusted to my care, for in touching upon the great political question of the day I must do so without introducing matter of a controversial nature, and I am not sure how that is to be done. I am still raw from the General Election. If, therefore, inadvertently I cross the white line, I beg the very special forbearance of the House for I am a beginner, steering my way through the formidable traffic without even a large red letter "L" attached to my person fore and aft. The whole House will regret that it has been impossible for His Majesty to open Parliament in person to-day, and our regret is deepened many times by the knowledge of the cause and the grief which has come upon him to-day. Our hearts go out to His Majesty in the loss of his sister, the Princess Victoria.
I am conscious, as representative of the Swindon Division, of the very great compliment paid to this young, rising industrial town. Swindon is much more 49 than a North Wiltshire industrial town. It is the nerve-centre of that great transport undertaking, representative of all that is best in British industrial life to-day, which has this year been celebrating the centenary of its existence. My constituents will hear with particular pleasure that part of the Gracious Speech which announces the guarantee by the State of a loan to be raised for the purpose of enabling the railway companies to carry out special developments. Communications are the arteries of the body of industry and, as such, must be elastic and ready for adaptation to the ever-changing needs of time. The efficient and economic distribution of the products of nature and mankind, so abundantly bestowed upon us to-day, deserves the most pressing attention. It will therefore be to the general advantage, and in particular to the advantage of those who are still seeking employment, that the railway companies should have at the earliest possible moment authority to proceed with their new schemes of development.
I feel diffident about talking upon railways with such an acknowledged expert as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas) on the Treasury Bench, but I feel on firmer ground when I speak on transport as a subject far above the right hon. Gentleman's head. Air transport is playing an increasingly important part in the affairs of the world to-day, and I listened with much content to the reference in the Gracious Speech to the fact that a Measure will be submitted to the House for promoting the further development of our civil air communications both in this country and throughout the Empire. The great traditions of our merchant marine should in the years ahead of us be an inspiring example before our eyes. We ought to see equally outstanding achievement in the air. This country has the men to carry out this great enterprise—pilots without equal in ability and fortitude, and mechanics unsurpassed in skill—and there are hundreds anxious to follow in the footsteps of those already trained in this great industrial undertaking. I hope to see this new industry expanding—and expanding in the distressed areas. Those areas offer great opportunities to any industry which is free to go where it wills, and does not need its market on its doorstep. The 50 making of aircraft is emphatically such an industry, and we have the insistent motive that our Empire lies all round the globe. Air transport has its own limitations, but it can solve the question of time, and so make a unique contribution to Imperial communications. We should so develop this branch of transport that not only the great Dominions and our Crown Colonies, but foreign nations as well, will so use these facilities, to their gain as well as to ours, as they used for so long to use our merchant marine for the transport of their passengers and goods.
Aviation is the most timely of the new works of science. Its transatlantic developments we can already envisage, and we know what it can do to improve conditions of life in remote and backward territories and to assist in the strengthening of the ties of Empire. Let us not forget that it is also an invaluable safeguard in this rather dangerous place, the modern world. The nation which has not neglected the air for commercial and social ends, which has its air liners and trained pilots and skilled mechanics, will never appear to be a defenceless and easy prey to the military aircraft of other countries. With all Members of this House, I pray fervently that the need to show by deeds that we can defend ourselves against attack from the air will never arise, but I am sure that there is far less likelihood for it to arise if it is known that we are able to reply. It is, I think, a great safeguard for peace to know that air warfare is no respecter of persons and that Government offices and the homes of rulers and administrators have become as much the front line as any newly dug trench. Just over 300 years ago, and about this time of year, efforts were made to expedite the business of this House from below. To-day we may still search the cellars, with various fears or hopes, but the real threat is from the clouds. No sovereign assembly but can be bombed, unless the peace is kept.
Ever since 1914 there has been a widespread realisation everywhere that war cannot be confined to professional combatants in particular areas, but that every man, woman, and child is directly involved. But the year drawing to its close has been memorable for providing us with a first example of international 51 co-operation on a collective basis to ensure the sanctity of treaties. Unless the peoples of the world can be confident that no recourse will be had to force for the solution of international disputes, or even to give effect to national aspirations, however legitimate in themselves, there can be no hope for the future of civilisation. Those brief mentions in the Gracious Speech bore witness to something momentous and pregnant for the future. We are witnessing our country co-operating with some 50 other States, members of the League, in the collective application of certain economic measures which it is decided must be taken against a State found to have resorted to war in violation of the Covenant. I have not, I know, been exceptional in the public opinion I have encountered upon this matter. There is no question of any towards any foreign Power, but there is no sort of doubt that His Majesty's Government can continue to represent Great Britain abroad fortified with the knowledge that the policy hitherto pursued carries with it the overwhelming support of our fellow countrymen, young and old, and that approbation for this great experiment of economic sanctions continues undiminished.
The action taken has been a momentous step towards rebuilding the old idea of international law. It is a policy that has meant sudden and sharp hardship for all kinds and conditions of men who earn their livelihood, either as manufacturers, or as merchants, or as workmen, in the import or export trades which are bearing the brunt of the embargoes, and I desire to take this opportunity of expressing my great admiration of the way in which those sacrifices are being borne, without complaint or agitation, because from the sacrifice of these men, the "unknown soldiers" of sanctions, may come, we hope and believe, a new security and a new machinery for ensuring that war and violence shall not pay. It is not, I hope, introducing an undue note of controversy if I say that defence is not to be regarded as an alternative way of spending money to the social services. Defence is itself a social service, with law and order the first duty of the Government. It is only to be criticised if it leads to neglect of other duties, treating a country like a 52 mediaeval fortress in which everything was sacrificed for strength against outside attack.
The Gracious Speech has shown that there is little plausibility in charging the present Administration with neglect of the health of the people, particularly the well-being of the young. In its simplest terms life may be a struggle for food. "I have been a, success," said the philosopher. "For 60 years I have eaten, I have avoided being eaten." It is rash to dispute with philosophers, but I should like to add that it also matters very much what you eat. The revival of agriculture goes hand in hand with a new realisation that we possess in the rich soil of England all the essentials of a healthy diet. Milk is perhaps the outstanding example of a commodity which under the present wise handling is being increasingly consumed and increasingly produced. British agriculture, nurtured by science, and sheltered in the transitional stage by tariffs, in being rebuilt itself, can build up the health of the rising generation. We have been too careless in the past and have allowed an impoverished agriculture to exist within a few miles of the people who have needed the fruits of the earth, fruits which never came into being. In the new uses being made of market surpluses, we may see a new line of policy, not less hopeful for the future and not less remarkable than the new policy of sanctions in international affairs. Both are departures from the old philosophy of stark individualism. Both arise from a keener sense of social responsibility.
We have heard in the Gracious Speech that the school age is to be raised. There is another school from which we have played truant far too long, and it is only lately that we have set to work to establish minimum standards of health. We must banish, in the admirable phrase of Dr. L. P. Jacks, physical illiteracy from our midst, knowing that in terms of individual happiness and national wellbeing the disease that flourishes under the benign shades of ignorance is an enemy in our midst long overdue for summary deportation. Good health, good education, the progress that we trust to see fostered in the next few years will make the country more and more the place we should like it to be.
External security is one essential; an unresting zeal for improvement at home 53 is another; and I wish that those whose zeal for improvement is so marked and so honourable would also recognise that in the world to-day their painful work may perish if the bulwarks and walls are insecure. We are no decadent nation, thinking of bread and circuses and careless of defence. We must have confidence in ourselves, knowing how many eyes are turned to us for guidance. The changes of the last four years, the new structures raised on the unchanging foundations of our national life, have shown that flexibility goes with strength. We have heard to-day of new steps to recast, to remodel, and to improve our resources in the face of possible challenges from our fellow men abroad, and more congenially of steps to recast and to improve the conditions of our fellow citizens at home. The task before us, we can happily say, can be approached with confidence because there is already confidence widely diffused among the people. A general sense that words spoken can be relied upon, that men can plan ahead and reap the results of their initiative, that those who build will not suffer the sudden irruptions of destructive waves, and that patience and courage in individual endeavours will enjoy their due reward. Because such assurance will be carried everywhere by the terms of the Gracious Speech, I now beg to move.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ Sir CHARLES BARRIE
(in the uniform of a Deputy-Lieutenant): In rising to second the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech from the Throne, which has been moved with such felicity by my hon. Friend, may I be permitted to congratulate him on the fine run which he has made? He has now, if I may continue the metaphor, passed the ball to me, and I hope I may steer clear of all controversial obstacles as successfully as he has done, and reach the goal in safety. I am deeply sensible of the honour that has been conferred on me in being asked to discharge the high duty of seconding the Address and through me on the town of Southampton, which is destined, I believe, in days to come, to be one of the most important seaports, if not the most important, in the British Isles. My colleague and I, who together represent Southampton, can daily see with our eyes evidence of the greatness of our Empire, to which we are proud to belong, and of the importance of the markets in 54 this country to every nation in the world, by the daily passing to and fro of the greatest ships that sail the seas. With the advent of the "Queen Mary" at the port, we await the greatest of them all.
The Gracious Speech contains much material for thought, but I may be pardoned, as representing a seaport town, if I make reference to that part which referred to the fostering of trade and industry, with special reference to shipping and shipbuilding. The President of the Board of Trade is to be congratulated on the manner in which he grappled with these problems in the late Parliament, and well he might, for is not shipping one of the most vital industries in this country from the Imperial point of view, as from all others? One of the most remarkable manifestations of modern times is the growing solidarity in the British Sisterhood of Nations. Whatever Government may be in power in any of these nations, common loyalty to the Crown is one and indivisible. The shipping link must, therefore, be so forged that the weld will remain unbroken. It has been said, and truly, that sailors are born and not made, and so well it might be in this sea-girt isle, for the sea is in our blood, and without shipping and a prosperous shipping community this country cannot maintain her pre-eminent position in world trade. The late war proved conclusively that without a Mercantile Marine, gallantly manned, our Fleet could not have held the seas, and it is a national duty to see to it that our Mercantile Marine is kept at full strength. We cannot, therefore, permit our Mercantile Marine to take a second place.
Moreover, have we not a duty to discharge to the men who man our ships, those whose valour during the war enabled our ships to remain at sea? The tragedy of unemployment has invaded their ranks, so that no fewer than 40,000 at one time have been out of employment. The tramp shipping subsidy, I am glad to think, has assisted materially, for where 327 ships were laid up at one time, only some 215 are now out of commission.
Nor under the same heading in the Gracious Speech can we fail to remember the kindred industry of shipbuilding. The welcome revival in this industry during the past year has done much to 55 relieve unemployment, not only in the immediate areas where the vessels are built, but in regions far beyond those which the sound of the builders' hammers may reach. Other industries have materially benefited, for no industry diffuses more work throughout the length and breadth of the land than does shipbuilding. We are grateful indeed for the improvement that has recently taken place, and the position is much better now than it has been for some time. No part of the country will benefit more in employment than the distressed areas from a development of our interest in the shipbuilding industry.
We note with satisfaction reference in the Gracious Speech to the conference which is shortly to be held in London with a view to the conclusion of a new international treaty for the limitation of naval armaments. It is well that that conference should be held in the country which has given the world a lead in this matter. May the Conference be crowned with success. No subject lies nearer or dearer to the hearts of the British people than peace, but with peace we must have security and the means of fulfilling our obligation under the Covenant. If we give heed to the old maxim of "Defence, not defiance," and maintain the means of safeguarding our Empire and our trade routes, then we shall assist in the maintenance of peace, and at the same time provide that safety which our obligations to the Empire demand. If I may, I will quote a few lines from a Trafalgar Day speech which I recently read:If we are strong the sea is a link joining us, ensuring our ability to act as one. But if we are weak the sea becomes a gap ensuring our opponents ability to deal with us in detail, to isolate each from the other and from the world. Yet all we need is a common will to uphold our strength and conserve our country. On these two things depend not only the future of the Empire but the peace of the world.Peace is no less essential in industrial affairs. We are gratified to see in the Gracious Speech, among the Measures which it is hoped to introduce, a Measure dealing with the coal mining industry. This is a pivotal industry in which a vast proportion of our population is engaged directly and indirectly. It not only affects those employed in mines, but gives employment to our ships and railways, and it serves as an exchange commodity in the markets of the world. With 56 a diminution in international trade we can ill afford to lose any part of our foreign exports. The conditions under which the coal miners work is not lost sight of, for the Gracious Speech contemplates a Measure for the revision of the existing provisions governing the safety of the workers in mines. Before I conclude my reference to trade and industry, may I voice the feeling of all in saying that we note with satisfaction that the cotton industry is to have special attention. This industry is one of the largest employers of labour in this country, and for that reason, if for no other, we profoundly hope that an early solution of its difficulties may be found.
Those who, like myself, gave time and consideration to the framing and the findings of the Moyne Report will note with satisfaction the reference in the Gracious Speech to the continuous endeavours which are to be made in the direction of slum clearance, house building and the abolition of overcrowding. No work to which the Government can set their hand can yield a greater return in the happiness, content and well-being of our vast and growing population. Much has been done, but much still remains to be done. With the willing co-operation of all, especially of our local authorities, and, indeed, in a measure, of the people themselves, we may look forward with confidence to the day when the stain on our national life will be removed. In my judgment, the crusade against the slums and the attack against overcrowding will make the social work of the National Government for ever memorable in the same way as their support of the League of Nations will make it memorable in the field of foreign policy.
In the forefront of Government policy, as indicated in the Gracious Speech, is the question of employment. No other problem so intimately touches the lives and happiness of any people. It affects the physical, social and moral well-being of individuals and families more than any other question. The requirements of life cannot be satisfied without the wherewithal in order to satisfy those wants. In social life unemployment saps the independence, respect, aspirations, joys and well-being of all. In a well-ordered family life employment enables a man, in the well known words, to "look the whole world in the face." The moral degenera- 57 tion that must take place among those who are unemployed is such that no nation desirous of having an A1 population can withstand it for any length of time. The problem is world wide, and not peculiar to this country alone, but in the present state of international trade and national aspirations an industrial nation such as ours must feel the full force of any such problem. Ameliorative measures and cures are not all cast in one mould, and if one way out does not succeed another can be tried.
As a Scotsman, although representing an English constituency, I cannot fail to note with satisfaction the reference in the Gracious Speech to the consideration that is to be given to the betterment of conclitions in Scotland, and that the same consideration is to be given to the raising of the school age as in England. For the benefit of my English colleagues I would remind them that there are certain very special problems affecting Scotland. There is, first, the problem of the industrial areas situated in the centre of the country which have been as severely hit as any other part of Great Britain, in particular, shipbuilding, coal mining and the iron and steel industries, not to mention the jute and linen industries in my own home town of Dundee and neighbourhoods. Then there is the fishing industry, the problem of which I know only too well as a late Member for Banffshire, an industry which gives employment to one of the finest classes of men in the country, who played such a magnificent part in guarding our shores during the Great War.
Lastly, we have the problem of the Highlands and Islands. Those who live in the outskirts of civilisation are sometimes apt to be forgotten, but I am certain that in their consideration of the conditions of Scotland, the special problems of the Highlands and Islands will not be overlooked by the Government. The problems of the present crowd in upon us with such insistance and complexity that it is difficult for us to find time in considering the pressing needs of to-day to envisage and provide for the future. But we have a duty to future generations as well as the present. For the decisions of to-day we are responsible, but these are the seeds. The harvest has yet to be reaped. Let us face our duty manfully, never forgetting that the sane view is the long view and that we are 58 trustees for the well-being of those who will follow us. Let our actions therefore be guided by our hopes and aspirations for the steady and ordered progress of humanity. If we do this, our time and labour will not have been misspent.
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I would like at the outset to associate myself with the sympathy expressed by the hon. Member who moved this Address with regard to the cause of the absence of His Majesty from our proceedings to-day. I am sure that he voiced the feeling of the whole House. I understand that we are to have an opportunity of expressing it at a later stage, and I will, therefore, say nothing more about it at the moment.
I next have the very pleasant task of congratulating the two hon. Members who have so ably performed a very difficult task. The hon. Mover is, of course, well known to many of us in other fields, and in a different garb. The ball has come to him immediately on his joining the Government ranks, and he has at once made his mark. We shall all watch with deep interest to see whether he becomes a leading forward, whether he remains in the back row or goes to the front, or whether he will be led away into any winging. The hon. Member interested the House and gave us that light touch which is always expected on these occasions. I watched him very carefully to see whether he put his foot across the white line, but it seemed to me that he kept well in the field. The hon. Member who seconded is, of course, an experienced Member, and he made a successful voyage. He dealt with a number of subjects, particularly with shipping and Scotland, which are well known to him. We shall in the course of the next few days also be touching on the subjects of ships and their crews, and, I am sure, with the reinforcements we have on our benches, of Scotland.
The Gracious Speech contains no surprises, and it seems to me to show very little appreciation of the urgency of the problems that are facing the world and this country in foreign affairs, or of the serious crisis at home. I should like, first, to ask the Prime Minister whether there is still a "lull in foreign affairs." Hon. Members will remember that lull that so providentially arrived recently. I confess that I find it difficult to know exactly 59 what its nature was, and I do not know whether it is still going on. There is still a war in Abyssinia and this lull seemed to me to be like the "quiet on the Western Front." I should like to know exactly what the position is, because after a lull we may have a storm, and we want to know what the weather conditions are at the present time. I was a little surprised at the first statement in the Gracious Speech. If that had read "My relations with foreign peoples continue to be friendly," I should entirely agree, but it puzzles me, considering the expressed devotion of the Government to the Covenant of the League of Nations, why they apparently regard a Covenant-breaking State as exactly in the same position as all other Powers. Article 16 says:Should any member of the League resort to war it shall ipso facto be deemed to have committed an act of war against all other members of the League.None of us is seeking for a war with Italy, but it is curious to use exactly the same term with regard to an aggressor State as you do with regard to the States in the League which are fulfilling the Covenant. I confess I am a little puzzled. Then I read that theGovernment's foreign policy will as heretofore be based on a firm support of the League of Nations.I could agree if we had not those words "as heretofore," because they really qualify the whole sentence. They show the nature of the firm support that the Government have given. The Government have not given a firm support to the League of Nations. I find in that statement on foreign affairs that fatal dualism that runs through all the Government's foreign policy, and I notice it also in the next paragraph, in which the Government are at one and the same time fulfilling the Covenant and also goingto exert their influence in favour of a peace acceptable to the three parties in the dispute, namely, Italy, Ethiopia, and the League of Nations.I find it extraordinarily difficult to see how that can be done. What we want to-day is the vindication of public law against the aggressor. Let us just glance at the whole situation. Can we imagine a situation in which the Home Secretary would get up and would deplore an outbreak of housebreaking but say that he hoped that he would shortly come to a 60 settlement which would be equally agreeable to the housebreaker, the victim, and the Home Secretary? It would be a difficult task. I am sure the present Home Secretary would be equal to it, because, after all, that is exactly the line he took in the case of Japan. But that would involve sympathy with the housebreaker. The issue that is facing us in the world to-day is the vindicate in of public law, and I do not see how public law can be vindicated by making agreements with an aggressor who is actually perpetrating a crime and intends to carry on. I cannot understand this double line.
I think that the principles of the League involve that aggression should be given up, that aggression should come to a halt, and that then you should make the settlement, and I find in this paragraph what, I think, has ruined League operations over the last few years, a constant balancing between League principles and imperialist leanings. The fact is the Government have always hankered after doing a deal. I think it is time this House had the full account of the whole proceedings in this dispute. I do not believe that such a grave situation has ever arisen before without our having had a White Paper setting out the full causes. Because this is not a thing which arose in the last few months. There are the whole of the dealings of the League and of this country with Abyssinia. I think that this first paragraph shows a failure to face up to the real issues. There is no allusion here to any constructive action for dealing with the causes of war. The Foreign Secretary said that something must be done to remove the causes from which war is apt to arise. What is proposed in the King's Speech? Nothing whatever. We have nothing except that the Government's foreign policyas heretofore will be based on a firm support of the League of Nationswith no reference at all to economic causes or any endeavour to face the really dangerous situation. The present situation is difficult and dangerous enough, but there is nothing here that suggests any positive endeavour of our Government to stop the drift back to world anarchy.
Again, I find the same dualism in the next paragraph, with regard to increased armaments. Increased armaments are, of course, the real point in this King's 61 Speech. All the rest is merely just a little dressing and trimming. I find here an antithesis between the fulfilment of our international obligations under the Covenant and the adequate safeguarding of our Empire. I want the Government to tell us just what they mean. Is not the collective system under the Covenant a guard for our Empire? Do not we intend to follow out the collective system? If we do not, what, I ask, is the good of our being in the League? We merely accept obligations without any protection in return. Here we have that dualism which runs through every proposal that the Government ever put forward on the subject of defence. On the one hand they talk about collective security; on the other hand they talk about national defence. I would certainly link with this paragraph the paragraph later on:A Measure will be submitted to you for promoting the further development of our civil air communications.I thought that the hon. Member for Swindon made an admirable point there, because he rather voiced my suspicions that this was not just a development of our air communications, of civil aviation, but that there was at the back of it an idea of increasing our resources for air warfare. I ask now, What has happened to disarmament? Disarmament has gone from the picture altogether. What of the air menace? How are we to meet the air menace? That has all gone, and all we have now is this increase in armaments. I do not wish to develop these points at any length. Colleagues on these benches will, in the course of this Debate, deal more fully with the question of foreign affairs.
I find exactly the same lack of plan when I come to the section dealing with our home affairs. There is no real grasp of the whole situation. There is no real, constructive plan. There are only a number of fragmentary suggestions. Unemployment seems almost to have moved out of the picture altogether. There was a time when every speech emphasised the concern of the country at the condition of the unemployed. That subject has moved right away now. I take it that the Government accept the present situation of having nearly 2,000,000 unemployed as something with which they cannot deal. There is no mention whatever of the means test. There was a good deal of talk 62 about it during the General Election, and very definite statements were made by Ministers of the Crown. There, again, we shall want a good deal more explanation from the Government. We have in the Gracious Speech merely a reference to "assistance to the unemployed," and that, as we gather from the Minister of Labour, is to be postponed almost indefinitely. We want a very, very full account of what the Government really mean in connection with dealing with unemployment insurance, because we have now temporary provisions which, apparently, are likely to last for some years. If they are to be temporary we should like to know, and if not we should like to know in what way the mind of the Government is moving.
As to the depressed areas, we heard a good deal about them in the election, but in the Gracious Speech there is nothing definite, only the same old statements about "special attention" and so forth.The development of any measures likely to be advantageous to themThere is no conception of dealing with unemployment as a great matter of reconstruction of the economic life of this country. There is also, no real attempt to deal with the most serious question of the unrest in the mining industry. What we have is a couple of proposals doubtful in themselves, proposals put forward years and years ago and steadily rejected by the Government then. Now we are brought to another crisis in the mining industry. What is the real crisis in the mines? It is that you have the intolerable condition of the miners being sweated by the rest of the community. The question is, how we are to see that the man on whose back the burden of our economic life really rests is to get a square deal. I notice that the hon. Gentleman who seconded the Motion was very grateful for the assistance given to the shipping industry. He rightly pointed to the importance of the shipping industry, but the mining industry is of equal importance and has a right to a fair deal. We shall not get a fair deal by tinkering little proposals like that to which I have referred, but only by a real reconstruction of the economic life of this country.
For the rest, we have a certain amount of trimming, and the words of the Gracious Speech will need a good deal of filling out. We have already heard something with regard to the educational 63 services, from which it appears that the raising of the school-leaving age will be a very minor matter, because there is to be no question of seeing that the poor as well as the better off shall be able to stay at school. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Because, as I understand it, there is no provision for a subsistence allowance, and without that, as everybody knows perfectly well, the poorer families cannot afford to let their children stay on at school. There are grave omissions from the Speech. There is no mention of factory legislation, although the reform of the factory code is long overdue. There is no mention of the reform of the Merchant Shipping Act, although there, again, there is the gravest possible need. There is no mention of dealing with the hours of labour and the right provision of leisure.
The second part of the Speech is merely a little dressing; the main part of the Speech is increased armaments. The contribution to the unemployment problem seems to be mainly increased armaments, and for our part we shall, in due course, challenge the whole conception underlying this King's Speech. Its policy represents a policy for a time when everything is going on quite well. To-day is not a time when everything is going on quite well. It is a testing time in international affairs, as to whether the world is to move forward to ordered peace or to slip back into anarchy. It is a testing time in home affairs, as to whether the Government are going to grapple with the grave matters of unemployment, the distressed areas, the proper distribution of leisure and the proper distribution of purchasing power. The policy indicated in this Speech seems to show an entire lack of grasp of the main essentials of the situation, and of what this country really requires, and we shall, therefore, challenge it all the way through.
§ 3.59 p.m.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Baldwin)
Reference has been made by the Mover of the Address and by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition to the grievous loss which has befallen His Majesty. I am sure that it will be the desire of the House that we should have an opportunity formally to express our sympathy with His Majesty, 64 and with that view I propose to put upon the Paper to-night a Motion which will be taken first thing to-morrow.
It is always the first duty of the two first speakers to utter words of congratulation and commendation to those two Members who have been selected for the most difficult task of moving and seconding the Address in this House on the first day of Parliament. I say parenthetically, curious as it may seem, with regard to the first observation of my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield), when he claimed the indulgence of the House as a new Member, that I always feel, and I am sure many of the old Members do, that in every House on re-election we should like to claim the same indulgence. No two Houses are the same; no reputation lasts the same from one House to another, and every one of us, from the most experienced Member to the youngest, has to make his reputation once more, and to try in each House whether that House is going to be good enough to listen to him or not.
Having said that, I will now proceed to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon and my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton (Sir C. Barrie) for those two most admirable contributions that they made. I am quite sure that I shall not be trenching on that controversy which we are all supposed to avoid to-day if I say that there are signs in both their speeches that they have had much experience in the last month in making speeches. There was a certain fluency about those speeches which we all acquire in about the third week of a contested election. I must claim the indulgence of the House because, unfortunately, not having had an opponent, I lacked that practice. One thing I should like to say about which I am a little nervous. The Leader of the Opposition has the advantage of me in having been educated at a school where they played Rugby football. He ventured on a figure of speech in connection with that game. I have never played the game in my life, but it has struck me that my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon made a very good try at the by-election, and was able to convert it into a goal at the General Election.
Now, as is customary to-day, I should like, as Leader of the House, to make a few observations on the King's Speech. 65 Before I do so I would like to say to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) who has spoken, that I desire as much as he does the fullest possible discussion on the very difficult foreign situation that faces this country. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is, I regret to say, confined to his house to-day, but I hope that he may be out to-morrow or the next day, and I am sure that he would be only too anxious to take part in the discussion if it should seem fit to the House that the discussion should range for some time on that question. It is an extraordinarily difficult question at the moment. I shall not propose to speak at any length upon it to-day, because it deserves a debate of its own. I would only say one or two things on the general aspect.
In regard to defence I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that Article VIII of the Covenant of the League of Nations says:The Members of the League recognise that the maintenance of peace requires the reduction of national armaments to the lowest point consistent with national safety and the enforcement by common action of international obligations.There is nothing there about the safety of any given country resting entirely upon the international protection that it hopes to get. The whole question is far too large to be debated in a speech of the nature I have to deliver now, but we shall be perfectly prepared to debate it when the occasion arises.
In regard to dualism, about which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Limehouse spoke, I quite agree that, superficially, there is a dualism, but as one who bears the chief responsibility to-day for the steering of our State through most difficult waters, I am going to lose no chance for this country of making peace in that area instead of war. The League is indeed on trial, and if the League, on the terms which have been so often quoted, can bring this terrible dispute to an end by the methods it is employing, I am sure that everyone who is a lover of peace will be grateful and thankful to see it, provided, of course, that the conditions laid down are conditions of safety. Difficult as it is, I will not say that it is impossible. If any statesman brought this country into war by neglecting anything which he could do with honour and in conjunction with 66 other members of the League, his name would very properly be held in execration. That is all I want to say on that point.
I want to proceed for a moment, following the line of my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon, when he was speaking about unilateral repudiation of treaties. It is true that the sanctity of treaties must be upheld, but that does not mean that a given treaty is incapable of amendment, or that, through all time, it must stand in the form in which it stands to-day. Modification of a treaty is one thing and repudiation is another, and it is unilateral repudiation that means the rule of force and not its modification by agreement. That is the great distinction. It is the tearing up of a treaty that modern Europe is determined, if it can, to prevent. Events this year have brought that out clearly, because there has been declared as the aggressor a country with whom all the countries of Europe were on terms of friendship, but notwithstanding that friendship all those nations have agreed to participate in the economic sanctions which have been employed so far, and are considering the further use of those sanctions in the future.
This country, it has sometimes been said, has been putting itself rather too much into the foreground. This country had to play its part, and to do so with other countries. A country with the influence and with the responsibilities of our country surely had to shoulder this responsibility in the face of all the nations when the time came. We had to speak out, and, just as we have done that, so, in conjunction with them, we shall explore at the same time whether there is an honourable way of bringing a cessation of this conflict on the terms that can commend themselves, after consideration, to both parties in the dispute and to the League of Nations. I say once more and finally that this is a difficult problem, but that it is a right problem to attack I have no doubt. If that be dualism, I must plead guilty to being a dualist.
I would say a word now about home affairs as envisaged in this document. We have only to contrast the feeling in the Debate and the state of the country at the opening of this Parliament with what the feeling was and the state of 67 the country at the opening of the last Parliament to realise the progress that has been made in the interval.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Political memories are short. [Interruption.] I am glad hon. Members agree with me. I was just going to observe that sometimes, in the best regulated minds, you find certain curious lapses of memory, and I believe that on the benches opposite there is a complete blank as to what happened throughout the whole of the year 1931. I always think it is extremely bad taste in this House to refer to recent conflicts that may have taken place—I have heard it done—but I have a dim kind of idea that something may have been said on this question in the heat of the conflict on one side or the other. The tendencies to-day are in the opposite direction to the tendencies in force four years ago.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I do not think that is quite true, but I will come to that point by and by. In this country there is to-day a much greater area of confidence, there is more work and the purchasing power of the country has improved. Unemployment generally has continued to improve, even at a time of the year when a large seasonal decline is generally in evidence. So far as they go those signs are good; they are based on confidence and will only continue as long as that confidence can be maintained. Apart from any unforeseen disaster that may occur abroad, I am confident that those conditions will remain as long as we can all pull together as a nation. It is true that the rate of improvement has slowed down a little this year, but that is not unnatural. If you are recovering from the kind of economic disaster that lasted from 1929 to 1931, or into 1932, recovery must be slow, and if it be a little on the slow side it is much more certain to be more enduring. Nothing is worse than the feverish ups and downs of booms and slumps alternating, but we cannot consider the position wholly stable as long as the foreign situation does not show more improvement.
68 The observation that was made—I am not quite clear who made it—about foreign countries, is not wholly accurate. There is improvement in some countries; there is not in others. The improvement that we all want to see in the development of international trade is very, very slow, and until that quickens and that form of trade develops we have not reached that ultimate stability for the continuation of the improvement that I believe we are seeing now, and may yet hope to see a little further, pursuant to the industrial policy of this Government of the last four years, which has really been based on attempting to create those conditions of confidence, protected by the moderate tariff which we introduced in order to create conditions in which industry could thrive. No doubt that up to a point, and a very considerable point, we have succeeded, and the progress that has been made has undoubtedly been a sound, economic progress.
We have done what we could in the way of trade agreements, where in some cases we have, by the use of a tariff, been able to give real assistance to our export trade. Of course, again, we were enabled to do that with regard to the Dominions by the Ottawa Agreements, and, considering the conditions of international trade, we certainly have derived a good deal of benefit that we could not have had had we not been in a position to negotiate those agreements. We are on the watch all the time, firstly to see where there is an opportunity of making any agreement or modifying any agreement with any foreign country, and we are also watching all the time to see what additional outlets there may be for our trade in any quarter of the world whereby employment here can be helped.
But when you are thinking of these questions you must come back—and the right hon. Gentleman touched on it—to one subject which has puzzled and defeated government after government, and that is the question of coal. I purposely am not going to say anything about the discussions which are now going on. I will only say that I sincerely trust that the discussions which are now proceeding—and I am sure all quarters of the House will agree with this—may result, not only in reaching an accommodation—and I use that word deliberately—but that they may arrive at a united intention to translate their desire into active agreement, 69 and that the way may be open to making further clear and considerable progress in the direction of the reorganisation of that trade which many of us have talked about for many years, but which none of us has accomplished.
I would now make some general observations about that great industry, and what we are proposing in the King's Speech to do. Those of us who have sat in the House since the War, as many of us have—I mean all the time since the War—will remember debate after debate on these questions connected with the coal trade, and the question has often been debated how and in what way the Government of the day can help that trade. The demands have been pitched in every key, from financial assistance to assistance in matters of trade organisation, and we have passed various Measures, perhaps the most important of which was the Coal Mines Act, 1930, in the time of the late Labour Government. We consider that the time has now arrived for further action in more than one direction. I do not wish to go into details of that trade, with which everyone is familiar, as to the causes of the decline, which we have had to fight in every way we can, in the consumption of coal; but I may remind the House in one minute of the increasing use of fuel oil, of the use of water power for the generation of electricity, of the constant and progressive economies in steam raising, of the closing of foreign markets to this country from a desire in certain foreign countries to find work for their miners, of the contraction of international trade, which has led to a reduction in the amount of shipping and consequently to a large reduction in the use of bunkering coal. We have had to fight against all these elements, and the effective demand for coal continues to be below the productive capacity.
We all know, of course, that the coal-mining business is carried on in many districts and in a very large number of separate units—a method of industry which cannot conduce to economy, and which undoubtedly tends to depress the general wage level. We believe that material assistance can be given to the industry by employing Part I of the existing Act in the matter of centralised selling. That, I hope, will be got on with at once. The Government are ready at the first moment when it is 70 necessary to take the administrative action that will be necessary, and I hope that in due course, as people say, the relative Orders may be presented to this House.
When you look at Part II of the Act you find that it deals with another side. It deals chiefly with the organisation of the industry—with, if I may so put it, its internal re-adjustment. I repeat what I said a minute ago about there being too much production in too many hands, and its ill effect. The underlying motive of Part II is co-operation—organisation for co-operation—instead of unregulated competition, and in that co-operation it is meant to deal with the case of pits where the margin between their proceeds and their cost of production is such, as I said a minute ago, as to exercise a continuous depressing effect on the general or average level of wages. In pursuance of such a policy of help, the Government have decided to bring in at an early date a Bill for the unification of mining royalties. We believe that to be an essential preliminary to the work that lies ahead. I do not desire to say anything at this moment on the merits of that question; there will be plenty of opportunity of debating it when the Bill is presented or in any general debate that may came on on these matters; but we are introducing it as part of the policy to assist the trade, and it may properly be considered in relation to the working of the Act of 1930 and the steps which have already been taken voluntarily in some districts for co-ordination. These matters, of course, will require the serious attention of the House. On their successful working out may well depend the peace and the prosperity reigning among one of the largest bodies of workers in this country and I regard our work in that direction as one of the most important among many important pieces of work which lie before the House this Session and in the Sessions which will follow.
I shall not say anything at the moment about the Bill which we are introducing quite soon, and which was introduced in the last Parliament, on the redundant spindles in the spinning section of the cotton industry. Members of all parties who come from that area are familiar with it, and it will be debated in full when it is introduced. But I should like to say a word 71 or two on what the Leader of the Opposition described as the little dressings and trimmings, because I myself lay the greatest emphasis on those little dressings and trimmings. Many of them are things that I have advocated for many years, but have never yet had the opportunity of bringing forward, and I rejoice to think that I may play however modest a part in bringing these things into law in this country while I still hope I am in possession of sufficient faculties to lend a useful hand.
We regard the social reform part of our programme as one of its most important parts, and we have decided to begin with our education plans. It is sometimes said that there is a good deal that we might have done, but it is some years since hon. Members opposite sat on this side of the House, and they may have forgotten that there is such a thing as overloading your programme. They may remember that a man who was a great hero of theirs in their fathers' and grandfathers' time, namely, John Bright, made the very pertinent observation that you cannot get 20 wagons at once through Temple Bar. It is true that Temple Bar has gone, but it is also true that the wagons that went through Temple Bar were but pillboxes compared with the lorries that go down the Great West Road to-day, and what he said then mutatis mutandis is true to-day. So it is that we have to make our choice as to what pieces of reform we will undertake.
There is a piece of reform that we are most anxious to get on with, and that is a Bill for the revision and consolidation of the law relating to the safety, health and welfare of factory workers. Legislation on that subject has been examined and contemplated by many Governments, not even, I believe, excluding the last Labour Government. We hope and purpose to introduce that Bill in our second Session. But I cannot help thinking that this House cannot make a better start in a new Parliament than to start on education. Apart from the importance of that subject, there is one practical reason, which is familiar to everyone who has studied the subject, and which must have been very much in the minds of the last Labour Government when they introduced their Bill, and that is that the preparation for bringing in such parts of the Bill as relate to the school-leaving 72 age requires a vast amount of work on the part of local authorities in the way of building, training and all the rest. If you want to begin to see the fruits of your legislation, you must, assuming that you are going to survive a normal term of office, legislate in your first year. Apart from that, there are many questions connected with the health and physique of the children and various subjects of that kind where progress can be made by consultation with the local authorities, and those will be got on with at an early date as soon as we are in a position to see that our Bill becomes law. I would add, that to my mind there is nothing of greater importance to-day than the all-round improvement, both mentally and physically, of our education. Since I have been in public life I have never ceased to preach the necessity for an educated democracy. It is essential for the life of this country. I am sure that everyone will be in favour of that Bill, because everyone would like to see an educated democracy, and there is not a single Member of the House who is not convinced from the bottom of his heart that if the democracy was educated it would send him to Parliament and no one else.
Although there is much more I would like to say on a subject that profoundly interests me, to-day one only desires, and it is only customary, to sketch the work of the forthcoming Session. There are others who want to speak, and I must get on. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the whole subject of defence is one of the gravest and one of the most difficult that any Parliament has ever faced. It will tax the House when we bring forward our proposals and when the Debates take place in which they will be explained, and when the House will have time to give free expression to its view. We are working very hard on them now, and I hope it may be not too long, when we come back after the Christmas Recess, before we shall be able to debate these most important and difficult matters in a manner worthy of them. I may add that, whatever your previous convictions may be on this subject, no more momentous subject for the democracy of this country could be debated, nor one on which it is more desirable to arrive, as far as we can, at common conclusions. After all, Governments may change, and I only 73 ask this: that when the Opposition come to discuss these matters they will discuss them, whatever their conclusions, with the responsibility of men who may at some date, distant or not distant, be called upon to say themselves, and to justify to the people of this country, whether they will maintain the work that will have been decided on by this Government, or whether they will take the responsibility of scrapping it.
We decided in the last Parliament to extend Unemployment Insurance to agriculture. Hon. Members opposite who were lucky enough to be Members of that gallant little band which held the fort pending the arrival of their friends who have now come to the rescue, often used to rally us because we did not bring that Bill forward, and they will remember also the pressure under which the whole of that Parliament worked throughout the four years. There are no Members of this House who were more grateful for the General Election, whatever they said about it, than those who held the fort then. We hope to get that Bill through in the course of this Session, so that unemployment benefit may be available for agricultural labourers in the winter of next year. It will be necessary, as the right hon. Gentleman said, to take an early opportunity of overhauling the arrangements for the provision of assistance to the able-bodied unemployed. That will be a very important piece of work for this House, and I hope that it may be undertaken before we have come together for very long after the Christmas Recess.
It is perfectly true, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that among other things the measures will entail a review of what is known as the needs test. The Government believe it is necessary, and they have always said so, to retain the principle that unemployment assistance to which no contribution has been paid as in the case of unemployment benefit, cannot be paid without regard to means. It will be necessary for this House to consider most carefully any alteration of the existing rules in order to remove any occasion of hardship, and in particular to ensure the integrity of the family being kept intact.
The right hon. Gentleman said that there was nothing in the King's Speech about the special areas. I have no doubt that before very long there will be a full 74 Debate on that subject, and so far as I am concerned when that occasion can be found I shall welcome the Debate, because I think it is most important that whatever progress is made should be reported to the House, and that in so far as Members can do so a common contribution should be made to helping in a matter which is felt no less on these benches than on the benches opposite, and with which all parties in turn, when in office, have attempted to deal. I do not propose, therefore, to go into any details at this moment of what has been done, except to say this: among the major schemes to which I think reference might be made to-day I attach some importance to, and view with some hope, the establishment of one or more trading companies charged with the duty of establishing and equipping estates in the special areas. The difficult legal preliminaries in this matter are being actively cleared away and there is every intention of proceeding at an early date to a practical issue which will result in factories being built by specially constituted trading companies, to be let at economic rents to industrialists who are prepared to establish new industries.
Although one does not allude to what one has said at outside meetings, I did allude to this subject at a public meeting lately. I would only repeat in this House my conviction that of all the things that can be done in those areas, the introduction of new industries is by far the most important, because in any area where the population is tied down to a single industry, and that industry a, distressed one, the hopelessness of having no work in their own industry and no alternative work is one of the principal causes of the despair which is inseparable from the prolongation of those circumstances. We have all of us said this before and we all know what the difficulty is. We all know there is at present no power of compelling people to go into certain areas. Anyone who has thought of the matter would know how extraordinarily difficult it is. But I cannot give up hope, if only people can be made to realise what their duty is, that here and there some of them will be found doing it. It was on that account that I exercised, in common with others, what pressure I could quietly in a matter that was so much advertised before we parted in the summer—the proposed removal of 75 certain works to another part of the country from Wales. I hope and believe that the efforts which I, with others, made privately have been successful. But I want this to come without that kind of pressure.
Perhaps some hon. Members did not read what I said in the country, and I repeat it: A great many people and a great many industries have benefited by the protection given to them by this Government, and there are many industries to-day—I instanced the steel industry particularly—which, had the conditions of 1931 been allowed to go on, would have been bankrupt at this moment and are now enjoying great prosperity. No one grudges them that prosperity. There are many more. But I do say that where men for years could not have expected to have enjoyed the propsperity that they have enjoyed—largely, I admit, by their own efforts, but their own efforts would have been futile without the help of the Government—it is their duty to see what they can give the country in return for what they have had. I would remind the House that these things were very clear to our fathers many long years ago. I would like the House to remember what William of Wykeham, that great Churchman, said in the reign of one of the last Plantagenet Kings towards the end of the fourteenth century that benighted century as I suppose many of us moderns would call it now. He said:The duty of men was to bend the shoulders in compassion, and prepare to spend all their might, their will, their work"—For what? For themselves?for the health and relief and benefit of their fellow men.There can be no better work for the men who have received well at the hands of the State to pay back their debt to the State, to those who are most in need. There are many cases in which this can be done. The difficulties of doing it compulsorily are almost insuperable, as hon. Gentlemen opposite, if they were to try it, would find, but I believe that help in that way and help that can be given would do more than anything else to make a change, not only a material change but a veritable spiritual change, in those neighbourhoods, and 76 such work would be a blessing to the country. I hope that before very long it may be possible that some of the changes that must be taking place in the re-allocation of work in connection with munitions, and in the movement to areas less liable to disturbance in case of trouble than places where some of them are situated to-day—I hope it may be possible to place some of those works in some of those special areas. I repeat again that what is good enough for the Government is good enough for anyone else. Let it not be a question of "all give" on the part of the Government and "all take" on the part of anyone else.
There is only one other thing I want to mention, and I am ashamed of forgetting it because it is a subject which has been near my heart for many years, before I had attained a position where I might have a hand in putting it through. That is the question of maternity and midwives. Here is a question on which there can be no political conflict. I will try to peg out a claim now early, by begging the House to see, when we come to that Bill, that if it is a Bill which commends itself to the House we may do our best to get it through this Session. I confess I thought two or three times before it was put into this King's Speech. I know quite well, knowing this House, knowing the work that has to be done, knowing how often something which no one could have foreseen has to be done in a moment, that this programme is over-full. I hope that we may be able to see that most important piece of social legislation passed before we go away for a well-earned summer holiday.
Now may I say a word about the business which the Government hope to get before Christmas? The Debate on the Address will occupy the remainder of this week, and I hope, will be concluded at the beginning of next week. The exact time is as yet a matter of agreement. It is very important to get the Money Resolution and all stages of the Bill to implement the agreement reached with the main line railways for granting financial facilities for their special programme of work. That, again, I do not think is a matter which will arouse much controversy. At any rate, we hope very much to get that. We must pass the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill and the Public Works (Loans) Bill, and we are 77 anxious to pass a simple Bill, which will be available to Members on Thursday, to continue the grants to local authorities which were authorised in the first place up to 30th September last when it was found necessary to postpone the second appointed day under the Unemployment Act. There is a Bill to provide for the reprinting of the Government of India Act as two separate enactments relating respectively to India and Burma. It has always been the intention of the Government to do this. The Bill will be introduced in another place, and I do not anticipate that it will prove in any way controversial. We shall have a number of additional Import Duties Orders to approve. I am informed that there is no great issue of principle in any of them, but the House will judge for itself when it sees them. If there should be anything else that is desirable to be said before Christmas I can deal with it in the usual business statements.
Another point which will be of interest is with regard to private Members' time. The 11th and 18th December are the two Wednesdays available to private Members for the discussion of Motions. The ballot to decide the precedence of the Motions will be taken on Thursday. There is only one effective Friday before Christmas for the Second Reading of private Members' Bills. The Government consider that, as the House has met so soon after the General Election and so near to Christmas, it will be more convenient to Members, and will give them more time to think out suitable Bills, if we postpone the Ballot until we meet in the New Year. I have caused conversations to take place through the usual channels and the Patronage Secretary tells me that the Opposition and the Opposition Liberals have no objection to this course. We naturally have to stop the presentation of Bills other than Government Bills before Christmas because, if we allowed private Members' Bills to be introduced, they would get places in advance of the Ballot, which would be unfair. The necessary Motion to carry this into effect will be taken to-morrow. I apologise for having been rather long, but I desired to make that statement on business, and to give some enlightenment as to the programme of Government business.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Major Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
In the first place I wish to associate my hon. friends and myself with the expressions which have fallen from the previous speakers of sympathy with His Majesty in the bereavement that he has sustained. It is impossible for sorrow to visit the King or any member of his family without touching the hearts of all his people, and we shall welcome the opportunity which will be afforded us to express our feelings in a more formal manner. Let me also join with the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister in congratulations to the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield) and to my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton (Sir C. Barrie) on the admirable speeches in which they moved and seconded the Address, speeches which did not fail to attain the highest standards—and they are very high standards—which have been set on previous occasions. I would particularly like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton for his references to Scottish problems, which I gladly endorse, and which I hope will be taken into careful consideration by the Government.
The Prime Minister said that at the beginning of a Parliament we all feel inclined to seek the indulgence of the House when we address it for the first time, and certainly I fully share that feeling, yet I do not think I have ever seen a new Parliament in which there were so many familiar faces. There are, indeed, many whose loss we mourn, but there are many whom we are glad to welcome back to our deliberations, and on both sides of the House we see the faces of men who have already established secure positions in Parliamentary life. And there is the Prime Minister with his great majority, obtained partly through the capricious working of an electoral system which distorts instead of reflecting the true opinion of the electors, and which ought to be reformed in this Parliament, and partly by the simple device of going to the country upon an issue which profoundly stirred the electors but upon which he had been assured in advance of the support of both the parties in opposition to the Government; indeed the support which was afforded to him from those parties was more consistent and more unanimous than was given to him by his own followers. The electors wanted peace. The dangers were, indeed, 79 plain to see, a ruthless and irresponsible dictatorship enabled, by its censorship and by the exercise of all the arts of propaganda—an exercise in which some democratic Governments nearer home are becoming fairly adept—to defy not only the economic pressure of some 50 fellow members of the League but the moral censure of the world, and none can set a limit to the time that it may take for that moral censure and that economic pressure to become effective in asserting the rule of law. The electors knew that a still more ruthless and more powerful dictatorship looms in the background. They knew, indeed, that the League of Nations was the only effective bulwark of safety.
What mattered it that the Foreign Secretary at Geneva in September had effected a complete departure in British policy towards the League of Nations from that which had previously been followed by this Government, a departure which might in turn be departed from? What mattered it that the Secretary of State for Air declared that collective security was the policy of the Socialists and would sooner or later involve this country in war? What mattered it that the Chancellor of the Exchequer demanded greater armaments for our national self-respect or that the Lord Privy Seal boasted of his success in retaining the bombing aeroplane? The electors trusted the Prime Minister to see the new Geneva policy through, and that throws a great responsibility upon him. They could not realise the pressure to which he will now be subjected. The secret of the Government's victory was the confidence of the electors in the Prime Minister. I do not know if the Government will continue to claim the title of National. If they do, I would deny it to them, because I believe there is no party in the House which does not, according to its lights, do its best to pursue the national interest and to promote the national welfare. But, if the Government claim to monopolise the title of National, the claim must rest, not upon the support of so-called Labour and Liberal Members of Parliament who are adopted by Conservative associations and returned by Conservative votes, but upon the personality of the Prime Minister, in whom we all feel some right of possession, in whose faith in Parliament and 80 democracy we place confidence and whom it may fall to our lot in this Parliament, as in the last, to support against many of those who would claim to be his political henchmen.
Never was I more puzzled to know what to make of a Gracious Speech from the Throne. [An HON. MEMBER: "Support of the League of Nations as heretofore!"] Does that mean that the Government are going to wobble back to heretofore? It is idle to pretend that there is any doubt about the reversal of policy made by the Foreign Secretary when he delivered that speech at Geneva. It is idle for anyone to doubt it who listened to the speeches in the last week of the last Parliament delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who acclaimed the change, or by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), who condemned it. Are the Government going to wobble back to "heretofore" or are they going to pursue consistently their new policy of throwing their whole weight into the support of the rule of law and collective security? We all regret that the Foreign Secretary is ill and has to go away for a holiday. No man has better earned a holiday after his long period of hard work both in his present office and still more at the India Office, and we all hope that he will return invigorated and completely restored to health. In the meantime we shall seek assurances from the Minister for League of Nations Affairs that the policy which he and the Foreign Secretary have upheld firmly in recent weeks will be pursued to its logical conclusion.
The Gracious Speech speaks of the possibility of obtaining a peace between Italy and Abyssinia which will be acceptable to the three parties—Italy, Abyssinia and the League of Nations. I share the inability of the Leader of the Opposition to understand what that phrase means. We all know in the practical affairs of life, when there are three parties whose claims have to be adjusted and we are trying to do it acceptably to all three, that it means the result is satisfactory to none. But while nobody loathes war more than I do, and no Minister wants peace more than I do, I say that a great historic issue has been joined between the League of Nations and Italy. The parties to the dispute are Italy and Abyssinia. The 81 League is no more a party to the dispute than a court of law which has been flouted and defied by a litigant. The issue between Italy and the League is not one between two equal parties but between the lawbreaker and justice, and the seeds of future wars will lie in any settlement in which justice does not prevail, and clearly prevail, over lawlessness and aggression.
What is no less vital, What are the Government going to do not only to fortify the defences of justice against aggression, but to eradicate the causes of war—those economic causes of war, in particular, which lie at the root of international friction and disarmament and of which access to Colonial raw materials is an important one, but only one? Are they going to be limited in their pursuit of that policy which the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs indicated at Geneva in September by the Ottawa Agreements? Are they, for example, prepared to abolish preferential tariffs and quotas in colonial markets, if general agreement can be obtained? If militarist dictatorships are to be thwarted and if peace is to be preserved, two things are necessary—first, firm loyalty to the League and an overwhelming force behind the rule of law, and, secondly, to remove the causes of war, a disposition—not to buy off dictatorships with territorial sops, but to redress the legitimate grievances of the discontented peoples of the world boar in Europe and in the Far East, to give them free access to colonial raw materials, and, by multilateral agreements for the abolition of quotas and the reduction of tariffs, to revive overseas trade and to raise the standards of living of all countries. Poverty and economic despair are the seed-beds of dictatorship and war, and both peace and economic recovery in this country depend upon economic recovery in the countries of our customers.
The Gracious Speech goes on to indicate that proposals to make good the deficiencies of the defence forces will be laid before us, and the Prime Minister has frankly told us that no more momentous subject will fall to be discussed by us in this House. Then, where are the heads of the fighting Departments Where are the heads of the Departments who will ask this House to vote the 82 money? They ought to be here. If substantial calls are to be made upon this House to vote large sums of money for armament, the heads of the great spending Departments must be here. The policy of the Government ought not to be expounded in that case in another place. The right place for the demand to be made and explained is at that Box and the heads of the Admiralty and the War Office ought to be here. I see the Secretary of State for War in his place, and I am sure that we all congratulate him sincerely upon his appointment. We know what fine work he has done for the League of Nations in the past, and we are glad to see him occupying his present position.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I do not believe that to be true for one moment, and I do not think that it is in his Department that expansion is contemplated. It is the heads of the Admiralty and of the Air service that we want to have on the Floor of the House. We shall indeed have to make an effective contribution to collective security commensurate with our resources and responsibilities on the sea and in the air, but none of us contemplates for one moment that the Government will ask this House to expand the Army again into a force which we could send abroad to fight in foreign countries. Therefore, I hope that the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Secretary of State for Air will be here to explain the proposals which the Government contemplate putting before the House.
It is very difficult indeed for us to tell on what scale the Government are intending to ask us to re-arm, and in the whole of the Government's electoral strategy there was nothing more remarkable than the reliance upon the art of mystification. On the one hand we had the Bournemouth Conference, we had compliments—deserved compliments—paid to the Prime Minister by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), we had the most generous replies from the Prime Minister, we had demands for great armaments made, rather oddly, by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and we were told that the verdict of the country on the question of rearmament was the most important issue 83 of the election. There was a general impression created that a great armaments programme was in contemplation and newspapers—not Opposition newspapers, but newspapers in close touch with the Government—were encouraged to suggest that a great defence loan was contemplated, and the impression was created, which was very useful for mobilising the Conservative forces, that a large rearmament programme was contemplated and that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping would find a place in the Government responsible for carrying it out. But as the campaign proceeded, and after that impression had been created and the necessary effect produced on the Conservative rank and file the soft pedal was introduced. We had a speech from the First Commissioner of Works saying that if the League of Nations was successful very little rearmament indeed would be required.
Finally, whereas at Bournemouth a proposal to call upon the Government to undertake to resume the policy of international disarmament was withdrawn—it was not even voted upon—and the proposers were told that it really was not practical politics at the present moment, when we came to the last broadcast of the General Election series of speeches, the Prime Minister devoted three paragraphs to this impracticable policy of disarmament—three paragraphs to international disarmament and only one negative reference to rearmament, in which he said that the proposals for rearmament would not hinder the development of the social services. Therefore, the country was mystified. No decision, no verdict has been given by the country on the question of rearmament. No definite proposals for rearmament were put before the country, and the controversy over rearmament is in exactly the same position now as it was before the General Election was held.
I agree with what the Prime Minister said, that it is a most momentous question, and that we have to make an effective contribution to the system of collective security and of the support of the rule of law. I agree that those proposals when they are brought before the House, will deserve and must receive our careful and unbiased consideration. But a most deplorable omission from the 84 Gracious Speech is that there is no mention of disarmament nor even of the proposed western air pact. The firm resolve to uphold the League in the present crisis should create a position in which the authority of the League, the new prestige and respect which it will have won, will enable not rearmament, but general disarmament to be undertaken, and the conclusion of an air pact should be the logical outcome. The hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield), in his interesting speech seemed to lay great stress upon, and to repose confidence in, the existence of the air arm as a force for peace—
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
If the hon. Member will forgive me, I do not think that I shall misrepresent him—as a force for peace, for this reason, as he humorously pointed out, that it brought the Ministers in charge of the Departments into the front line just as if they were in a front line trench. I do not know whether the hon. Member has served in a front line trench. I have, and I have also been in a Government Department, and on the whole, if I had to choose my shelter, when the hon. Member was in the clouds dropping bombs, I would prefer a Government Department to a front line trench.
For my part, I regard the Air Force and air warfare as the greatest danger which exists to civilisation, and I hope that the Government will be able to give us some account of the action which they contemplate to negotiate the western air pact.
The Prime Minister, referring to the other proposals in the King's Speech, stressed education, and we here are indeed glad to see this being brought into the forefront of the Government proposals. He then went on to refer to a social question which is not included in the King's Speech but which will be brought before us next Session, and that was factory legislation. But he made no mention of the failure to give effect to the proposal which was included in the Government's Election Manifesto to extend the contributory pension scheme to blackcoated workers. I should like to know whether that is to be proceeded with, and, if so, when, and whether possibly other matters are being 85 considered in relation to that proposal; for example, the extension of pensions to spinsters at the age of 55, who are, very often, in as much need of those pensions as any married woman.
As regards Unemployment Insurance, there, again, we are in the mists of the Government's creation. In the Electoral Manifesto they said that the question is not whether there shall be a means test, but what that test should be. We have a right to ask what the answer to that question is, and I hope that we shall soon be told. Nor is there any indication in the Gracious Speech that the Government intend to grapple with the evil of unemployment. The Prime Minister in his speech just now said that the rate of improvement had slowed down. That is quite true, but what is far more formidable is, according to the Unemployment Insurance Statutory Committee, which has the responsibility for the financial administration of the Unemployment Insurance Fund, that improvement is not only slowing down, but is going to slow down all this year and next year. Unless there is a revival in overseas trade, according to the report of the Unemployment Insurance Statutory Committee, at the end of next year, the unemployment figures are going to mount again, until in 1940 they will reach 21 per cent. That is a situation which demands effective measures to grapple with it. All that the King's Speech promises, and all that the Prime Minister in his speech to-day has promised us, is that the Government, in the phrase of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is going to continue as it has been doing. That, according to the report of the Economic Advisory Committee, which is quoted in the report of the Unemployment Statutory Committee, is not going to give us decreasing unemployment but after next year increasing unemployment. That is according to the report of the Government's own committee. Therefore, we need an assurance that the policy of the Government will be revised. The committee makes it quite clear where the root of the difficulty lies. It says that there will be no return to the pre-depression level of unemployment until I here is some return to the pre-depression levels of overseas trade. We shall certainly take the appropriate opportunities of urging on the Government the necessity of a policy of national development 86 and of multilateral agreement for the revival of overseas trade. The Government are now borrowing at the rate of 1 per cent. for short money and at 2¾ per cent. for a middle term loan. Now is the time to use that credit to undertake the enterprises which are waiting to be undertaken all over the country and which would give useful work to the unemployed.
We shall do our best to servethis House and to make our independent contribution, whether by criticism, suggestion or by support of the Government, for the promotion of the national welfare, which all of us in every part of the House are here to serve. We have to give effective political expression to the opinions of the 1,500,000 electors who supported us at the Election. We recognise that that will be no easy task for so small a party, but we shall perform it to the best of our ability, with the knowledge that no Member, however unpopular may be his views and however small may be the minority which he represents, ever fails, so long as he is doing his best, to receive fair play and generous treatment from this House.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Mr. DENMAN
As one who represents an even smaller group than my right hon. Friend who has just spoken, I feel that the Debate ought not to close on the note of criticism that was implicit throughout most of his speech. I should like to join in congratulations to the mover and seconder of the Address, who I am glad to see have gone to a well deserved tea. It is somewhat peculiar that in this House to-day, judging from some of the speeches that have been made, we seem hardly to have realised the magnitude of the result of the Election. One might have thought that we were simply carrying on from one Parliament to another, and had not been through the very remarkable experience of having seen the country give the most massive vote of confidence that any well-established Government of modern times has ever received. The National Government worked hard for four years and did unpopular and difficult things and on the whole achieved very noteworthy successes. The vote of confidence was not only a recognition of past successes but, even more, a hopeful anticipation of benefits to come.
87 I have referred back to the Gracious Speech of 1929 and compared the aspirations of the Labour Government of that date with those of the National Government of to-day. There is a remarkable similarity in a great number of the items. There is the same desire for the spirit of internationalism as expressed in the League of Nations. There is the same domestic concern about unemployment. There is the same desire that mining royalties should be nationalised. I rather think that education figured in both Addresses. The difference between the two occasions was this very profound one that whereas in 1929 the hopes then expressed came to comparatively little, we know that the present Government can fulfil the intentions that are set out in the Gracious Speech and will certainly do so in so far as time permits. I welcome one after another of these proposals in the Gracious Speech. In 1929 we should have been only too glad if we had been able to carry out most of them.
One of the most interesting problems of this Parliament will be to see how political thought is to become organised throughout the country, whether we are to continue what we call the national system of government or whether we are to revert gradually to the party system. The Opposition can fairly claim to have achieved an appreciable return to an effective party system. From the beginning in 1931 when they refused to collaborate with other people in the conduct of national affairs they thereby set a limit to the full realisation of the idea of national government. We all recognise that, but broadly there was within the national government representation of all main schools of thought, and there was certainly better justification for the statement that we enjoyed national government than the assertion of the Opposition that we were suffering from Conservative party government.
I admit that the result of the Election has meant an appreciable approach to a reversion to the party system, and I regret it. I believe, as we saw in the Debates in the last Parliament, that the area of common agreement in these days is so wide that we can do more fruitful work by co-operation than by conflict. As long as we in reality enjoy a Government that represents the great central 88 mass of public opinion, spreading well to the left on the one hand and being not unduly representative of the right on the other, then we have the most suitable kind of Government for dealing with the problems of the day. I was brought up to believe in party government. I thought that the clash of the flint and steel of opposing opinions was apt to produce a spark of truth, but it did not work that way. It meant undue delay, undue friction, and the work was not done. I deplore the fact that we seem to be moving towards party government. I suppose that ever since the war there have been many thousands of persons who have been looking for a party of the Left that would truly represent and be competent to carry out the left wing opinion of the day. That ideal was achieved in the great days of the Liberal party, but since the War there has never been a party of the left wing to accept the conditions that made a governing party of the Left possible.
There is broad agreement as to the policy that a party of the Left must pursue. I need not detail the items of such a policy because we all know what they are, but there are essential conditions to be observed if a party of the Left is to govern. It must be willing to conduct the day-to-day affairs of government. We all of us know, what is often forgotten in public controversy, that the Government do not sit on that Front Bench and erect structures of society in accordance with their own pattern. The amount of time which the Government have for building new structures is very limited. A great part of their energies is absorbed by carrying on the day-to-day work of government and of society as it is, and a governing party of the Left must always be willing to undertake that major task of government. It must also always be able to pay its way. The Liberal party never made the mistake of supposing that a party of the Left could depart from sound finance. A party of the Left must also always pursue a policy of growth rather than of catastrophe. That is well known to those who have been associated with and have worked in a party of the Left. In 1929 I thought that we had such a party of the Left, but that hope was disappointed; and there is as yet no sign of any such party prepared to accept the conditions.
89 We find ourselves to-day with a Government which is more securely representative of the central mass of British opinion than any we have had in our lifetime. It has associations with the Left and with the Right, and broadly it reposes on that rock of central British opinion which is perhaps the strongest thing we possess in this country. I have very great hopes that in the lifetime of this Parliament the Government will achieve all that is laid down in the manifesto with which we went to the Election. There are stormy times ahead. In so far as our little group is concerned, we have no illusions as to our size; we have little voting strength in the House and our vote in one Lobby or another will make no difference, but we speak for men and women of our point of view who from one end of the country to the other have voted in support of the present Government, and who, will continue to give it their consistent support as long as it fulfils the programme that is laid down. I congratulate the Ministry most sincerely upon its return with this magnificent force behind it, and I can assure it that in pursuing its task it will continue to enjoy the confidence of the Left Wing.
§ Mr. DENMAN
Hon. Members who laugh at that statement miss the whole point of the election. They miss the point that since 1929 thousands and thousands of persons have seen the complete futility of those who will not stand up to the obligations of government, and they have transferred their allegiance to a collaboration of statesmen capable of achieving great things, and whom they will support as long as they go on achieving great things. The only fear is that as Parliament goes on an over worked Ministry might grow tired and weary of well doing. The best safeguard lies in the number of young Ministers who man the second line and are capable of taking the places of older persons when they have done their work and need rest. Whenever the time comes I hope that the Government will be continually ready to draw on its great resources of youth and energy.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I congratulate the hon. Member on so ably filling the rôle 90 formerly occupied by the then hon. and learned Member for South Nottingham (Mr. Knight)—
§ Mr. MAXTON
who on these occasions always rose to maintain in the country the pretence that there was some tincture of Socialist thought associated with the present Government That is the rôle which the hon. Member has pursued today. I do not know whether he deceives himself, but his lecture to-day was a sound enunciation of classical Conservatism, and why he should attempt to associate it with Socialist ideas is a complete mystery to me.
I rise to express my profound regret at this King's Speech that has been placed in our hands to-day. I find nothing in it to stir my pulses in any way. I find nothing in it to justify the eulogies that have just been passed on the Government by the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman). I find nothing but profound disappointment in every paragraph in it. Never at any point is there a clear statement of big, bold action to raise the life of this nation on to a higher level than the miserable level on which it is to-day. If anything could add to my disappointment it would be the speech made by the Prime Minister in further illustration of it. There are a whole lot of well-known saws about evil communications corrupting good manners, and about a man being unable to touch pitch without being defiled; but the one quality which we used to regard as attaching to the Prime Minister was that he was plain, simple and direct. That was the quality more than anything else which returned the Government to office—the belief in the minds of the people that here you have a man who is simple, plain, direct and straightforward. He got all the more support from the country because he was in direct contrast to his predecessor as Prime Minister, who could make the simple things obscure, the direct things indirect.
But to-day the Prime Minister seemed to have taken over from Mr. Ramsay MacDonald not merely his place as Prime Minister but his roundabout, obscure, indirect and not honest modes of expression. I shall take great interest in reading to-morrow's OFFICIAL 91 REPORT. Some of the statements that he made in illustration of paragraphs in the King's Speech were Mr. Ramsay MacDonald at his best. The paragraph where he explained what was to be done on behalf of the miners was the most involved utterance that ever I have heard from the present Prime Minister in the whole course of my time in this House. I always had the feeling in these circumstances, as I always had when Mr. Ramsay MacDonald was Prime Minister, that the reason for the obscurity of diction was not that the man was incapable of saying things simply, plainly and directly, but because he was not clear in his mind as to what was going to be done.
I do not want to spend time here to-day in going into details; I hope that some of my hon. Friends will have an opportunity to speak during the Debate. Generally speaking, the first day is not taken as being the day of serious debate, and on this matter I do not want to depart from well-established traditions; but I want to make one or two references to matters that are here. I see references to the question of peace and war and to armaments. The King's Speech made the issue somewhat obscure to me. It was made more obscure by the utterances of the Prime Minister, and if anything was calculated to make the question completely dark, it was the utterances on the war question of the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Liberal party. It seemed that they were pressing the Government on to take military action against Italy. If that is to be the alignment in this House, my position and that of my friends is going to be very interesting—if it is to be a Conservative Government resisting a pacifist Opposition. Again I shall be interested to read the OFFICIAL REPORT, because it may be merely a matter of language. But it seemed to me that the speeches of the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Liberal opposition were an expression of regret that by this time His Majesty's Government had not got our forces overseas—and an expression that the Government had been criminally negligent in its military obligations.
I leave that, and come now to the question of the coal mines. With reference to the mining industry, I am very interested to note—I am sure that the new Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) will 92 be interested to note—that the forward policy of 1935 is to put into operation parts of the Act of 1930. So we progress. An Act was passed in 1930 by a Labour Government. It failed to make the faintest bit of improvement in the lot of the miners of this country. The conditions of other workers have fallen and risen. The miners, engaged in the most essential, the most disagreeable, the most arduous and the most unnatural labour that there is in our land, are still generally on the same level of remuneration as in 1930.
When that Act was passed they were getting less than a man with a wife and several children got under the operations of the Unemployment Assistance Board, operated in the meanest way. A working miner on the average in this country is getting less than what is paid in unemployment assistance, and all that is here is no promise to these men to put them on a living wage and to reorganise the industry on that fixed principle—that, whoever is going to get anything out of the industry, the fellow who goes down and risks his life is to have a living wage. That should be the basic principle. There is no mention of it here, just as there was no mention of it in the 1930 Act. It is not fair; it is not good enough; it is not playing the game by a million of our own fellow-citizens, fellows who are doing a job which no one here would take on at any remuneration. And you ask them to do it at a miserable level of £2 a week. All that is here is that, after all these re-organisations and readjustments have taken place, if there is a wage in the industry for the miners they may get it. It is not sound statesmanship; it is not in keeping with the claims of the hon. Member who has just sat down that their interest is in the general welfare of all sections of the community.
Let me pass on to the next item. Listen to the vague generality contained in this:Proposals for making improved arrangements for assistance to the unemployed.Where is the abolition of the means test? [An HON. MEMBER: "Nobody said we were going to do it!"] Every one of you said it in one way or another in every industrial district.
Lieut.-Colonel C. KERR
I did not. I really must challenge my hon. Friend. On 93 every occasion during the election when this question was raised—and it was raised nearly every night—I made it perfectly clear that I was in favour of a means test.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I know; I read reports of speeches. It did not end there. What Mr. Ramsay MacDonald said, and what was broadcast in nearly every constituency in this country by the National Government candidates, was "I would not remain a member of any Government that did not take steps to abolish the family means test." [Interruption.] Oh, yes. I will not make 100 per cent. claims.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I will make more than 1 per cent. claims. The Government Members know that in industrial constituencies and in depressed areas they retained their seats only by letting it be known very generally throughout their constituencies that they were prepared to make substantial alterations in the methods of administering the means test.
§ Mr. MAXTON
Will the hon. Member be quite candid and not try to deceive the House into the idea that he represents a great working-class constituency?
§ Mr. MAXTON
The hon. Member knows that he represents the best people of Newcastle, as one would naturally expect, but I do not believe that even he went round saying that he was prepared to continue the operation of the means test on the basis which has been operating during the last few years. Every hon. Member opposite made it known that he was prepared for substantial modifications in the means test. We know exactly their views. We know that it is their desire to give to the unemployed as little as they can possibly give. I am not going to enter into a controversy about this. I do not wish to stir the waters on the opening day of a new Parliament. So far we have all been trying to avoid controversy and, therefore, let me say that after many interruptions we have now established the fact that during the General Election Government candidates generally 94 made it known that they were prepared to alleviate to some extent the undue hardships which had been imposed. That was for the hustings; now we come to the King's Speech, and we find:Proposals for making improved arrangements for assistance to the unemployed.That is all. I want promise and achievement. The assumption always is that the two things are mutually destructive; that if you make a promise you do not fulfil it; that if you do something you cannot make a promise. Surely it is possible to get a Government which says that it will do something and then comes forward and does it. Surely we can get a Government which knows what it is going to do. The Minister of Labour did not get through Leith without making all sorts of gallant gestures of benevolence towards the mass of the unemployed. I know Leith. He did not get back here with a smile on his face, looking so contented, without having made the workers of Leith believe that something was going to be done in the matter of the means test, and done quickly. I hope we shall be told by a Government spokesman what is going to be done and how soon it is going to be done. I will conclude with making one more reference. I sit for a Scottish constituency, and I am deeply touched by the fact that there is one sentence in the King's Speech which promises something for Scotland. It is a very kindly gesture towards the Scottish nation, which contributes a fair proportion to the total strength of this House. The Gracious Speech says:My Ministers will continue to give close consideration to the further improvement of conditions in Scotland, and among Measures to that end a Bill will be introduced providing for the raising of the school age.That is awfully good. An Act was passed in 1918 which provides for the raising of the school age. I am glad that the Secretary of State for Scotland is in his place. I welcome him back after the storms of the Firth of Clyde. I am proud indeed that through his energy, activity and capacity, Scotland has one sentence in the whole of the King's Speech which contains the promise of one Measure for Scotland, notwithstanding the fact that the Measure is totally unnecessary, because the Act passed in 1918 still remains 95 on the Statute Book and only requires that the right hon. Gentleman should name the day. That power has been in the hands of the Secretary of State for Scotland since 1918, and although 17 years may be a short time as human affairs go, I beg him not to waste the time of the House and the Scottish Standing Committee by producing another Bill, but that he will simply go back to the Scottish Office in Whitehall and name the day so that the Act of 1918 may be put into operation.
I enter this caveat strongly, that if it is proposed to raise the school-leaving age without making any provision for the maintenance of the children we shall offer the maximum of hostility. I seldom speak as an educationist in this House, but I have had some experience of education affairs. It was my own profession, and I say that it is poor educational work to give a child an extra year at school if you are going to starve him. If I have to choose between the two—I do not think I should be compelled to have to choose—that is, between a child getting food and clothing and no education during the extra year, I should plump for giving him food and clothing rather than for further education. I hope that the Government will take steps to see that provision is made so that the child may be able to get this extra education with a provision for food and clothing, which I consider of vital importance. Those are all the observations which I have to make.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Viscount ELMLEY
I desire to speak only for a few minutes about a matter which is of considerable concern to the countryside, that is, the question of rural housing. In general I have great admiration for what the Government have done during the last four years, but I think if they will look into the figures relating to the houses built in the countryside, they will find that not so much progress has been made as there ought to have been. There are several reasons for this. One is that in the countryside, the sort of house which is useful to the town dweller is no good at all to the agricultural worker. The house required here is one which can be let at a rent of between 3s. and 5s. per week, but that is not the sort of house which gets built. I rather fear that the overcrowding 96 Act, which will do a tremendous amount of good in the towns, will not have such good results elsewhere, because there is nothing like the overcrowding in the countryside which you find in the towns, and when local authorities have made their surveys it will not be found possible to help the countryside as much as one would like. I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to this matter, because in the part of England which I represent there is a great deal of concern. The amount of work which local authorities in my part of the country have done in the last four years varies considerably. There is one local authority which has done very well, in East Norfolk. It has built 194 houses and demolished 21, but none of the other local authorities have done anything like so well. It would be an excellent thing to stimulate them from headquarters, because the result will be a happier and healthier countryside. People too often say to me that they cannot get married because they cannot find a house, and if sometimes they decide to take the plunge, get married, and live with their parents, it only creates overcrowding. I hope that in the next few years the Government will pay attention to this question.
I have read the King's Speech carefully, and it will be agreed that there is quite enough material in it to keep us busy during the whole of this Session. On the vital question of foreign affairs it is very helpful to know that we shall be able to speak with an almost united voice. I am certain that whatever the outcome of the present difficult position, the country does demand one thing, and that is that we shall show courage and firmness. If we do not show courage and firmness, the country will treat us like it did the Government of hon. Members opposite four years ago, and throw us out. I believe that the Government have put the country in a much better position than it was four years ago, and I hope they will continue along these lines, so that in four years' time, when the present Parliament comes to an end, we will be much more prosperous and unemployment much less than it is to-day.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Mr. LYONS
I hope that I may be allowed to offer a few observations on what I believe is the general appreciation of the work of the Government for 97 the last four years and the programme which has been indicated to us in the King's Speech to-day. It is perfectly idle for any Member of the Opposition to attempt to criticise the stand taken by the Government in recent years in connection with its work at the League of Nations. There can be no question that it is this country which has been the mainstay of the League of Nations through most difficult and trying times, and one trembles to think of what would have happened to the principle of collective security and the Covenant of the League of Nations but for the work which has been consistently done by the representatives of this Government in the counsels of the Nations. The difference between the Government and hon. Members opposite is that hon. Members opposite have only paid lip service to the principle of the League of Nations and collective security whereas the Government have fulfilled its obligations to the League and stood by the Covenant. The right hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) the leader of the Socialist Opposition and the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair), the leader of the Opposition Liberal party, would take measures which would strike at the very existence of the League and pitchfork this country into war. This country has stood firm by the League and no Government has done more to secure and maintain peace than the representatives of this Government during the last four years. It is not right to suggest that anything has been done or said by representatives of this Government that would militate against social progress, or that the measures which are being taken towards maintaining the efficiency of our defences would have that effect. We have been assured by the Prime Minister and his assurance will be accepted that nothing which is going to be done necessarily to repair the condition of our defences will interfere in the slightest with the programme of social reform.
I think it was significant that in all the speeches made to-day by those who claim to represent progress and by those who speak for the Socialist cause, there is not a word of commendation for the proposal to raise the school-leaving age. That is a matter which hon. Members opposite are supposed to have very much at heart but not one word has been said 98 by them to-day about that great step in social progress indicated by the Prime Minister and the Government. One of the things which many of us have been anxious for is an attempt to raise the school-leaving age and that for two reasons, firstly because of its effect in relation to unemployment and secondly because we feel that in these days when this country stands as the only custodian of a free civilisation full opportunity ought to be given for the education of the rising generation so that a proper standard may be maintained in the years to come. I should hope that such a proposal as this would be welcome to everybody in this House and to every student of social progress outside this House, as a real effort to cope with one of the great problems of the day.
This Government has been expanding social work where others in their wild policy, would have had to restrict that work, and it ill becomes any hon. Member to refuse them the public appreciation that is due to measures of the nature which are now proposed. Many things have been said in this House during Debates on the Ministry of Health, concerning the subject of maternal mortality. Many hon. Members opposite have professed an interest in that very important matter. I think they might on this occasion have given some commendation to the proposal that our great social services should be further expanded in order to cope with this grave problem. I, and and I am sure many other hon. Members on this side welcome the fact that the time has now arrived for the Government to bring forward a scheme of this nature. This is a problem which is pressing not merely in this country but in various parts of the world. Many hon. Members opposite and their supporters throughout the country do not appear to pay any regard to the facts of the situation in this respect. They insist, for their own small and party purposes, on associating maternal mortality with unemployment and malnutrition, ignoring the fact that the rate of maternal mortality is higher in towns in the South of England where there is no unemployment, than it is in the North of England.
§ Mr. LYONS
They pay no regard to the real problem and the proved facts, 99 and when the Government announce a proposal to mobilise the forces of science in the interests of the women of this country they remain silent and refrain from any words of appreciation on what is being done. A good deal has been said about the means test. Many of those representing the party opposite at the last Election and the previous Election made all kinds of promises. Our opponents promised almost the moon. We never attempted to compete with those promises. But nobody has been more zealous than the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) in bringing out in this House the fact that the means test was introduced by a Socialist Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "No !"] We desire that the means test should be applied with humanity and fairness but we hold that there must be a means test and I would only say to hon. Members opposite that it is idle for them to promise the moon. They must know perfectly well that many of the promises which were made were merely vote-catching promises which they would never be in a position to fulfil. [HON. MEMBERS: "You made them!"] No, they were made by the Socialists. My opponent promised everything that he could think of, without any regard whatever to any attempt to fulfil those promises.
§ Mr. MATHERS
May I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to justify or to give some authority for his statement that the last Labour Government introduced the family means test?
§ Mr. LYONS
There can be no doubt about the fact that among the measures which the Socialist Government had to introduce at a time of great pressure was a means test of the type adopted by all trade unions in connection with the payment of public money after the expiration of real insurance benefit. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] One thing which appears to have been unnoticed this afternoon is the fact that to-day we see public announcement that certain loans are to be undertaken by this country for public work of real national improvement. That represents, I think, the high-water mark of national credit. It is only because this Government have in the past four years so restored confidence that is has been possible to reach that high-water mark and create the 100 condition in which financial development can proceed with all the employment it will carry. The position of industry today is very different from that which it has occupied in recent years. In the city of Leicester, part of which I have the honour to represent, we have seen trade after trade increasing its employment, giving more work at better wages than have ever been known before and progressing in every respect. The basis upon which that improvement has been made is the confidence created by this Government in the minds of the people.
I hope that in any reconsideration by the Government of the present trade system of the country, which is now established, and which has passed beyond the experimental stage, they will not hesitate to make any changes which they think necessary, either in the level of the duties imposed against foreign imports or in speeding up the existing machinery. Every effort should be made to cope with unfair competition from countries which do not attune themselves to our standard of living and which even against a tariff wall can still compete unfairly with our own home industries. I hope too that in a little time we shall hear good results of the conversations that have been going on with the object of bringing about a shorter working week. We all know that the present Minister of Labour and his predecessor have been engaged in conversations with representatives of industry in order to see how far it would be possible without any loss of wages to decrease the working week. I look forward to finding that it will be within the functions of the present Minister to carry those conversations to a successful result.
I trust, also, that we may hear in the course of this Debate that the black-coated worker is to be brought into the scheme of insurance. I believe that a great improvement could be effected in the lot of the small tradesman and the man of small means who is outside State insurance to-day, and is deprived of that bulwark which the insured workers enjoy under the National Health Insurance scheme. Let us hope that means will quickly be found to bring that type of man into a comprehensive scheme by a development of our present national insurance system and further that the position of the spinster in relation to insurance will be considered. It seems 101 to me that she has a strong case for inclusion and for becoming entitled to benefit at a lower age. Progress such as this can be effected by a government that, has promoted stability and confidence. These are some of the matters which I hope the House will discuss.
Another important subject for real consideration is Empire development. It is noteworthy that the King's Speech intimates a proposed increase in Empire communications. Air services have done a great deal already to overcome the difficulty of distance. Speedy transport has annihilated the miles separating parts of our Empire. I would like to know whether there is in the minds of the Government any idea of, convening shortly another Imperial Conference and whether it would not be possible to set up machinery for a permanent economic council which should be constantly in session considering from every angle every phase of Empire trade development. Let us remember that the markets of the British Empire offer the best opportunities for British trade and that a great purchasing power lies within the Empire, and among the people who are united under the British flag and who share our conceptions of liberty and progress. I believe that the agreements reached at Ottawa in 1932 represent the beginning of a scheme of real Empire unity. By those agreements the Empire was put on the road to economic unity. I trust that this Government representing as it does people of all sections in this country will at the earliest possible opportunity convene another Imperial Conference with the object of completing that work.
In the last four years we have seen records made in house building in this country and we gather from the Gracious Speech that there is to be no arrest of the progress of housing or in the attack on the slums and on overcrowding. We would like it to be said in future that this Government had not only continued the work of its predecessor in attacking this problem but that in its lifetime the evils of slums and overcrowding had both been abolished. We can claim that in the last four years the National Government by its policy has saved the situation and has restored confidence where disaster was imminent. We can now build where others would break up. We look to the Government in the years to come to carry 102 on the work of social improvement and of peaceful and orderly development by the schemes which are indicated in the King's Speech. I believe that if they do so they will receive from the country a continued measure of support such as would never be given to any Government except one that really represented the nation as a whole, and which legislated, as I hope and believe this Government will, on a line of broad, national policy.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ Mr. MATHERS
Before proceeding to deal very briefly with one or two items in the Gracious Speech, I wish to answer the hon. and learned Member for East Leicester (Mr. Lyons) with regard to his assertion that the late Labour Government put into operation the family means test. I have here the document upon which most of the claims made by our opponents in this connection are founded. I find on reference to that document the words which have been torn from their context in order to justify the claim that the Labour Government established the family means test. The document is Circular No. 1069 issued by the Ministry of Health dated 3rd January, 1930, in the period of the late Labour Government, and I had better read the words used by our opponents to justify their assertion. Those words appear on page 3 of the Circular and are:In assessing the amount of relief to be afforded, the general principle is that income and means from every source available to the household must be taken into account subject to the statutory exceptions contained in Section 76 of the Poor Law Act, 1927.These words, and these words alone, are taken out and used in evidence against those of us who claim that the Labour Government did not institute the family means test. In this circular there is an appendix in which we are brought back to the first principles of the administration of Poor Law relief, and this is quoted:It is the plain duty of the Guardians to take precautions to ensure that the relief is adequate, and that the pauper is sufficiently fed, clothed, and lodged.I suggest that under the administration of the family means test, there has been no guarantee that those who were subject to it were adequately "fed, clothed, and lodged." In the text of the circular these words also appear: 103The Minister desires to point out that a general refusal of outdoor relief to particular classes without regard to individual circumstances is contrary to one of the first principles of poor law administration, which require that each case must be considered on its merits, and that a general refusal of any form of relief is contrary to the established duty of the Guardians to relieve destitution where they are satisfied that it exists. Where destitution is found to exist, it rests with the Guardians to decide on the appropriate form of relief, but in coming to that decision they should be guided by the needs of the individual household, and not automatically by rule.In particular the Minister most strongly deprecates the practice adopted in a few unions of ignoring the able-bodied man when assessing the rant of relief to his family, with the inevitable result, where no other resources are present, that the man shares, and thereby renders inadequate, the means of subsistence of the household.I suggest that that is an indication that there was no desire for new limitations of the powers of the guardians to grant relief, and that there is no justification for the claim that on the basis of this circular there was established by the late Labour Government a family means test on new principles. The circular indeed was an attempt on the part of the Minister, as he explained in an article that he wrote for a national daily paper that is not unknown to Members of the Government, although it is more intended for those on this side of the House. The Minister wrote this:Although the Labour Government was unable to undertake the drastic revision of the poor law, it did its best to humanise poor law administration, and Circular 1069 was an attempt in this direction.That is the declaration of the Minister himself that that was his intention. He had no power to alter the law, and he did not establish any new principle in the circular in regard to which our opponents castigate us.
Another point is this: Speaking as a Scottish Member, I am able to say that when this circular was issued, it applied and gave guidance only to authorities in England; it did not apply to Scotland. If any new principle in the administration of the Poor Law were involved, certainly the Government would have seen that that administration extended also to Scotland, but I am able to say that no similar circular was issued by the Department of Health in Scotland or by the Secretary of State for Scotland in any 104 way establishing anything contained in this circular. I hope that with this explanation we have heard the last of the charge that the late Labour Government established a family means test and thereby established a new principle.
I now want to deal briefly with one or two points in the Gracious Speech delivered to us to-day. I am disappointed with it. It is vague, perhaps necessarily vague, because within a document of this kind you cannot go into minute details with regard to what is intended, but I think we can say that the outstanding feature of the Speech is that it declares in favour of increasing the armed forces of the Crown. That is its essential feature, its main feature, and the greatest point that is made in it. The claim is made that this is necessary in order to carry out our obligations under the Covenant of the League of Nations, but if hon. Members will take their minds back to the days of the late Labour Government, they will find that that Government did give a lead in the direction of peace and disarmament, a lead that, had it been followed by the Government which succeeded it, would have made it unnecessary for any declaration of this kind to have been included in the Gracious Speech to-day, and would, I believe, have averted the catastrophe that has come upon the world of again seeing nations in arms against each other.
There were opportunities afforded to this Government of taking steps at Geneva in the direction of disarmament, but those opportunities were not accepted. Had they been properly accepted, it is possible that to-day there would not have existed the bombing aeroplanes that are being used against almost defenceless people in Abyssinia. It is with no pride, but in condemnation of the actions of the so-called National Government, that I say that we were the principal country that stood in the way of the abolition of the bombing aeroplane. We are asked to re-arm and to indulge in increased armaments because of the fear of war. I listened with very great attention and pleasure to the speech of the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield), in moving the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech, and I noticed that the one place where he hesitated was when he failed to make any reference to how the armaments that 105 we are being asked to build up were going to be used. He was vague there, and I think we are entitled to ask the representative of the Government who will speak later in the Debate, Against whom are we arming to-day?
We had the excuse put forward between 1908 and 1914 that we were building up armaments against the menace of Germany. War came, and let me say in parenthesis that we are being asked to do the very same thing to-day that we were asked to do between 1908 and 1914, to prepare for war, as it was put, in order that we might maintain peace. That is what we are being asked to do to-day, and as that ended in catastrophe in 1914 and proved to be a delusion and a snare then, so I believe will it work out to be a delusion and a snare to-day. Where is the enemy that we are arming against? I do not think that if we had used our opportunities properly, there would have been any need for the Government to show our sincerity in backing up our obligations under the Covenant of the League of Nations, and I am here definitely because of declarations which I made during the election campaign, and I am armed, as I take it, with authority to oppose anything in the nature of increased armaments for this country. I do not think we can afford it. We cannot afford the money, nor can we afford the provocation that it means to other countries to build up their armaments in competition with ours.
There are many points in this Speech to attract the attention of those of us who come from industrial constituencies, and I want to make mention of the rather vague reference that is made to the coal-mining industry. I would point out to the Government that they are now apparently willing to adopt a policy that previously they would have condemned as Socialism. It is said:In pursuance of a policy of re-organisation a Measure will be introduced to provide for the unification of coal royalties under national control.I wonder exactly what that means, and I hope we shall get some enlightenment before the Debate ends. Certainly the coal-mining industry of this country is in a very difficult position to-day, and I agree with those who make the claim that the first charge upon that industry should be an adequate living wage for 106 those who are carrying on the essential work in the industry, for those who in that industry in years gone by, for very largely the same owners who are responsible for it to-day, earned enormous profits, and who to-day, I think it can be said with truth, are not getting an adequate measure of the proceeds of their toil. The ascertainments that are made do not take into account everything that comes in the way of benefit, as the result of the labour of those who work and risk their lives in the bowels of the earth. I am here also to back up to the best of my ability the demand of the miners for a more adequate living wage. I had the opportunity of participating in the effort that was made on the industrial field in 1926 in order to prevent the worsening of their conditions, and I hope that on the political field on this occasion it will be possible for me at least to lend what weight one Member can to efforts that are to be made in order to see that those conditions are improved.
The complaint was made by the hon. Member for East Leicester that we were not sufficiently grateful for some of the good things indicated in the Gracious Speech. We are very glad to see that the question of maternal mortality is being tackled, and I am sure there is no one on this side of the House who will stand in the way of the best efforts that the Government can make being applied to tackle that very serious problem. We are glad also to see the indications by the Government that they will make provision for raising the school leaving age, but we remember how at Geneva not so very long ago, they opposed any idea of making allowances into the homes of parents from which the children would come who were given an extra year, or we hope ultimately an extra two years, at school. We remember especially the position they took up against the making of allowances to the homes in order to compensate for the lack of the potential earning-power of these children. We know that in many cases it would be a good thing to keep these young people out of industry and thus give the opportunity to those who are older to have jobs, for which otherwise these children might compete, reducing the standard of the jobs and making themselves into exploited material and, indeed, sweated labour.
107 We are glad to see the development that is to take place in that direction, and I would urge upon the Government the desirability of carrying it out on a comprehensive scale. We are told that their intention is that where beneficial employment can be found for these young people they will be allowed to leave school and thus break their educational opportunities and probably do themselves an educational injury. I hope that the Government will see better than that, and that we shall have a comprehensive scheme under which the young people will be kept definitely at school and allowances will be made to homes where they are required in respect of those who are kept at school. I look back to my own start in industry, and I remember very well coming from school one day at 12 o'clock and being told that there was a job for me on which to start at 1 o'clock the same day. I was then 13, and it would have been a great hardship in the home from which I came if the opportunity of taking that employment had been denied to me. That, however, does not justify the idea to-day that we should work on similar lines. We want to have an educated democracy, as the Prime Minister claims, and we want to give equality of opportunity in education, but I do not think that the method by which no allowances will be made in respect of children who are kept at school or by which they will be allowed to break their education if beneficial employment is open to them will meet the case.
I am interested to see the reference to Scotland in the latter part of the Gracious Speech. I am glad to think that a Bill will be introduced to provide for the raising of the school-leaving age in Scotland, but I wonder what the Government mean when they say that close consideration will be given to the further improvement of conditions in Scotland. Those conditions are certainly very bad indeed. In the industrial belt of Scotland there is a great amount of unemployment, and I think that the way in which the Government have limited the areas which they regard as "distressed" or "depressed" or "special" has been a mistake. They should extend those areas and not look upon themselves as merely guardians to deal with problems that exist acutely in particular areas, but should extend those areas to a 108 much wider extent. The county which I now represent here has suffered very acutely from unemployment, as a recital of one or two figures will show. From September, 1930, to September, 1935, the cost of able-bodied unemployed relief in the county of Linlithgow rose from £75 weekly to £330. The number of able-bodied unemployed increased by 412 per cent.—a very serious increase. These figures apply to the whole county, but the whole county is not scheduled as a special area. I hope that we may be able to cause the Government to see the wisdom of enabling the unemployed all over the country to get the advantage of any special arrangements that are made.
With regard to the speech as a whole, while we recognise certain good points in it and recognise that the Government have at long last been pressed along the line of taking action in the way that we would desire, we are inclined to look upon many of the points that they now put forward as an indication of what might be called a death-bed repentance. We have seen them during the past four years with adequate power to do all that is mentioned in the Speech. They failed to do it during that time, and asked for power at the General Election to enable them to carry through the projects which they now put before us. I hope that we shall be able to go beyond the terms of the speech and make greater progress than is indicated here. I am sure that it will be the desire of hon. Members on this side of the House to press the Government along that line to the utmost of their power.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Mr. RADFORD
I have never had the privilege of listening to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers) previously, and I do not know whether this is the first time he has addressed the House—
§ Mr. RADFORD
I was going to congratulate the hon. Member, not on the matter of his speech, but on the delivery and the excellence of it as a speech. I differ from him fundamentally in what he says. He says that he objects to the Government embarking on any strengthening of our defences and that it is waste of money. Does he realise that 16s. in every £ that the Government spend in 109 that direction will find its way as wages into the pockets of our workpeople in one trade or another, and a good deal of it in the special areas for which he and all other Members of the House have a special sympathy? Then he says that if the late Government had continued on the line of disarmament which had been laid down by the Labour Government of 1929–31, in all probability we should have secured disarmament all over the world. I think there is no question that for the whole life of the late Government they continued to allow the defences to remain at a level which, as the Home Secretary very truly said, was at the edge of risk. Did that disarming on our part achieve anything with regard to the other nations? It did not, and the hon. Member knows that as we reduced our Navy and other defence forces other nations increased theirs. Even peace-loving America increased.
I am not going to weary the House with a lot of statistics, but I well remember that up to 1934 we had reduced our Navy by a very large percentage, while America, Japan and Italy increased theirs by percentages varying from 60 to 95. I need not go further than to refer the hon. Member to speeches of some of his own leaders on the Front Bench. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander), who was First Lord of the Admiralty, made a speech, when he was standing at that Box with responsibility, in which he said that while we were reducing we saw other nations increasing their expenditure on armaments, and we began to ask ourselves whether we were doing the right thing.
§ Mr. RADFORD
Those I have quoted are innocuous, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will subscribe to them, even though he has now no responsibility. I think there is no question that there is absolute justification for the strengthening of our defences. Another speech has been made to-day by an hon. Member who seemed to imply that there was something incongruous or contradictory between strengthening our armaments in order to fulfil our obligations under the Covenant of the League and strengthening them for the defence of the Empire and our own country. I would ask hon. Members to visualise our country 110 being attacked by another country in the way that Abyssinia is being attacked at the present time by Italy. What protection, with all its collective security agreement, could the League give us for many weeks after the attack had begun? Even assuming that the League of Nations—in my opinion, very unwisely—embarked on military and naval sanctions against our aggressor, how many weeks or months would elapse from the attack being first launched before the League could be in a position to have its machinery working to give us armed succour? Where would we be, in these days of swift attack, not in a remote part of Africa, but where we were within two or three hours reach of aeroplanes and a half a-day's reach of warships, if we were merely to rely on what is described as collective security under the League? The hon. Member must know that under the machinery and processes of the League it would be two or three months before armed help could reach us and old England would have been starved long before that period had elapsed.
The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) expressed surprise that the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Socialist Opposition and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Opposition seemed to imply that they were dissatisfied with the Government for not having adopted a sufficiently strong or bellicose attitude towards Italy or for not having advocated a sufficiently bellicose course of conduct on the part of the League. I do not know why he was surprised for that is definitely their own considered and stated policy. The Socialist party, following their conference at Brighton and the previous Trades Union Congress conference, definitely committed themselves to urging that the Government should propose to the League of Nations that immediate steps should be taken to sever all communication between Italy and East Africa. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), who now sits on the third bench below the Gangway, and his hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), who sits next to him, are well aware of the truth of what I am stating, for it was their dissent from this policy that has resulted in their sitting below the Gangway instead of on the Front Bench above it, 111 where their abilities and their popularity would amply justify their sitting. There can be no argument about it; that was the Socialist party's policy.
§ Mr. MATHERS
I um most reluctant to intervene, but I attended that conference and heard that debate, and no such declaration was made by the Labour party.
§ Mr. RADFORD
I would give way if the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley would put the hon. Member right. He or the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol could do so in a moment. But there is no argument about the accuracy of what I have said, and I was only too thankful that that was the Socialist party's attitude, because it gave me a very comfortable journey during the Election, which otherwise might have been a difficult one for me. The hon. Member's policy seems to be on all fours with that of his party in that he objects to our nation arming as a means of preserving peace, but he would like to see us disarm while at the same time adopting a provocative attitude such as is calculated to bring on war in no time. What do hon. Members opposite think would be the result of using the British and French Fleets to sever all communications between Italy and Abyssinia? They must know perfectly well that no nation, even though it realised that it was faced with defeat, would allow a quarter of a million of its sons to perish of hunger and thirst on a desert shore to which their country had sent them to do their country's work. I believe that hon. Members were blinded by their hatred of Fascism into passing such resolutions as they did pass. The right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair), the leader of the Liberal party, is, I believe, one of the shining lights of the Council of Peace and Reconstruction, one of whose star proposals is to do what the Socialist party are suggesting. That is peculiar action for a body in whose title the word "Peace" appears.
I ask the representatives of the Government on the Treasury Bench to be good enough to give special attention to this point. Do not let them be led astray by any talk such as we heard in the speech made by the hon. Member for East Norfolk (Viscount Elmley) that as long 112 as the Government would go ahead with courage and determination in support of the League the nation would be behind it. Let the Government make no mistake. The nation is not unitedly behind the Government in support of any action which would land our country in war. Like other hon. Members here, I come before the House fresh from contact with my electorate. Throughout the election I never wrapped up my attitude on this question, but made it clear in my speeches and in my election address that I was willing to regard the issue in this election as being that our Government should continue in support of the League by peaceful means, but should avoid anything in the nature of military or naval intervention. And I am here, and I have come back with my majority treble what it was before—not owing to my good looks or popularity, but largely because the electorate approved of that attitude. I wish the Government to realise that the country is not in favour of our being parties as members of the League to action which would result in war.
Where would such a policy lead us, even if Italy could be crushed, as of course she could be, by the united forces of the League, and even if a European conflagration did not almost immediately follow as soon as we were involved with Italy? Where would such a policy lead in the future? No hon. Member would say that the League must adopt that attitude when dealing with a transgressor who can be crushed, but in a more difficult case must look away. No supporter of the League of Nations would defend that attitude. The League must behave consistently if it is to retain the confidence and respect of the men and women of the world. Assuming that we took the drastic action advocated by hon. Members opposite, that we crushed Italy and that no European war supervened, what would be the position of the League a few years hence? There is not a Member who does not know where there are danger spots in the world. We have no need to look wildly for them. Japan is accused, rightly or wrongly, of aggression in China. I put it no stronger than that, and hon. Members opposite are helping me if they say it is aggression.
§ Mr. RADFORD
Again, hon. Members know how near to trouble Japan and 113 Soviet Russia have been over that corner of the world. We know, also, that in the centre of Europe is a Power which is probably the most powerfully armed Power the world has ever seen, and that is Germany. Our relations are friendly, but Germany is there, and armed. Her expenditure on arms is quoted as £700,000,000 a year, as against our annual expenditure of £125,000,000. Germany is in many respects a dissatisfied nation. I ask those hon. Members who would like to see the League take strong action in the present dispute what their attitude would be if trouble broke out in the far corner of Manchuria or in the eastern half of Europe and the nation attacked were a member of the League. China is a member of the League. What is to happen if China complains to the League of an act of aggression against her? Soviet Russia is another member of the League. If either of those countries, either one at a time or simultaneously, complained about aggressive action, what must the League do? It must do what it has done in this unfortunate Italo-Abyssinia conflict, that is, hold its inquiries and, possibly, condemn the nations which have attacked Soviet Russia or China as the aggressors. Then it will probably try to impose peaceful sanctions, as in this case. Failing success in that direction what must the League then do? If the League has set the precedent of becoming an armed dictator and putting down by force of arms any war which it is unable to stop by peaceful means, then the League must adopt that course in the wilds of Manchuria or in Europe, and what prospect of peace in the world should we have then?
There is plenty of excellent work for the League to do. It has done great work during its short life. I will not weary the House by recapitulating all that it has done, because hon. Members know. There is no question about the League having done wonderful work, and it will continue to do wonderful work, but if it starts trying to play the part of an armed dictator that will be the end of the League. I hope our Government will use all their influence with the League to keep its work on peaceful lines, so as not to transform one unhappy war into a larger one.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Mr. TINKER
The hon. Member for Rusholme (Mr. Radford) based his speech on the speech of an hon. Member from these benches, but took that speech wrongly. My hon. Friend was attacking the Government for not acting on the policy outlined by the Socialist party. Had the Government used their influence during the affair between Japan and China as they have done in the present crisis, the existing situation would not have arisen. Had they been more firm with Japan I feel satisfied that the League would be in a better position than it is to-day.
§ Mr. MAGNAY
May I intervene for a moment? It is an appropriate point which I wish to put forward [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Mr. Speaker told us the other day that we ought to make this a debating Chamber and I want to put the point—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Although I said that hon. Members ought to engage in debate, I did not mean to advocate the interrupting of speeches.
§ Mr. TINKER
I will try to meet that point. When Japan invaded China we on these benches urged that the League of Nations ought to do something. No effort was made by our Government along the lines which they have taken in the present dispute. I remember asking the Government at Question Time to take some action, and hon. Members opposite shouted at me asking whether I wanted war. I replied "No," and that what I wanted was to see the influence of the League exerted to prevent Japan from riding roughshod over China. Nothing was done at the time, and the result was that Italy felt she could flout the League at any time, that the League never meant anything by its words. And so things have got to the present impasse. No one on these benches desires war, and if the hon. Member for Rusholme was returned because he fought against war we here can also rightly claim that we were returned for the same reason.
I want to come to domestic affairs. The Prime Minister said the Government were engaged on a lot of "ambulance work," and we say that it is bound to be ambulance work until the country takes up Socialism. One point with which I wish 115 to deal is the provision of meals for unemployed juveniles who are attending instruction centres. I wish to impress that upon the Minister of Labour, because I believe a deputation has met him on the subject and that he is considering it at the moment. During the Recess I paid a visit to some of these instruction centres, where I saw boys and girls of ages ranging from 14 to 18, and it was quite evident that they were in need of better sustenance than they were receiving. I had been invited by the secretary of the education authority of the district to see things for myself, and I feel that if other hon. Members had also seen those conditions they would be in favour of something being done. When necessitous school children in the ordinary day schools pass to a higher stage, though the same want still exists or, it may be, their want is even greater, the law steps in to say that nothing further can be done for them. Even though the local authority would like to continue to relieve the necessity of those children they are told that they must not do it, and that they will be surcharged if they do. I hope that in their ambulance work the Government will try to deal with that position.
Another point I wish to put forward concerns the national health insurance pensions scheme. Many times during the election I have been asked how I can stand behind legislation which takes a man off unemployment benefit at the age of 65 and puts him on pension when his wife is not 65 years of age and therefore cannot get her pension. Many of our people do not fully grasp Socialism when we are preaching it; it is difficult to get them to understand, but they do understand a matter such as I have just mentioned, and when we talk about Socialism they quickly bring us down to rock-bottom by saying, "What would you do with this state of affairs?" We tell them that under Socialism such a state of affairs would be removed, but while waiting for Socialism they want something to be done, and they ask, "Can you as a Member of Parliament argue that you are doing your duty when you allow a man to be put on pension at 65 and leave his wife without a pension?" I must agree that we are not doing our duty, and I hope that attention will be paid to that point. Where 116 the wife is younger than the husband she ought to get her 10s. when he gets his, and vice versa, when she is the older, she is entitled to get her pension at 65 even though the husband is still not 65. Those are points that need to be brought to the attention of the House during this time.
Another point referred to by the hon. and learned Member for East Leicester (Mr. Lyons) is the question of the black-coated workers being given the chance of becoming insured. I had a letter last week from a small shopkeeper who told me that he has to pay insurance for several of his employés, "but," he stated, "I am in no better way than they are, yet I am not allowed to join national insurance. What is likely to happen to me if my business fails, or when I reach the age of 65?" There is no pension for him. Can nothing be done in that direction? The House of Commons could usefully deal with that point of view when it comes to examining the things which are put forward by many of the people.
Now I wish to deal with the speech made by the Prime Minister and to touch upon the points with which he dealt. One of those points relates to the means test. I gathered from his speech that the Government are not prepared to remove the means test entirely, but that they are proposing to do something with it. One point in the speech was that the Government wished to keep the integrity of the family sound. Surely the Prime Minister must recognise that the only proper way to deal with the means test is to remove it altogether. I do not see how it can be patched up. When first it was introduced it was felt that the man who had means should be prevented from receiving public money if he had not contributed towards it, and it was not thought that the means test would touch the hard cases. No one would defend the means test in its entirety. I do not see how it can be amended or altered to make it work and I would urge that any attempt to make it workable will cost more by way of examination of claims and the keeping of officials to carry out the inquisition as to what income is coming in, than will be saved by putting the means test into effect. Following upon the means test is the terrible anxiety in most of the families who are affected by it.
117 Although we have not come back very strong—we are 160 and the Opposition altogether numbers 180—I feel certain that if it had not been for the means test we should not have reached our present number. I have been told wherever I have been, and by many voters who have been Conservatives in the past, that on this occasion they were voting against the Government because of the means test. I remember one case in particular in which a mother said, "I have voted Tory all my life until my son became out of work. He drew his 26 weeks' unemployment pay, and then he was told that there was nothing for him because other members of his family were working. I could never understand a Government which backed that kind of thing. We have tried to keep things straight, but because we are fairly well situated my family has to be hampered by the means test."
§ Mr. HERBERT G. WILLIAMS
If you did not have a means test somebody would have to find the money. Is it to be found by somebody else's brothers and sisters?
§ Mr. TINKER
When we take money from the public purse everybody has to contribute towards it. It should come from the rich every time. I would see that they provided the money. The hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) has won my admiration many times for the pertinent way in which he has found the weak spot on our benches, but I do not think he has found the weak spot this time. When the Government examine the means test they will find that it is not workable, and if they took a vote of their own Members they would find that the majority were in agreement as to abolishing it altogether. I hope that the Government will not waste the time of Parliament by further examining how far they can make the means test work, because it will be far better to put everybody on the same footing. Everybody who cannot find employment is entitled to support until such time comes. If the Government would do that, they could then set about regulating employment by cutting down the hours of labour so as to find work for everybody.
118 I am very pleased that the Secretary for Mines has come in; I have been waiting for him in order to speak about the mining situation. I want to draw the attention of the House to the position of the mining industry. The Prime Minister touched briefly upon it to-day. One felt rather curious about his position; I thought he hardly knew what to say and that he would have liked to say much more if he could. The position in the mining world is very serious. I do not want hon. Members to think that if we are quiet about the subject we are any less anxious for a settlement of the mining question. We come back fresh from the coalfields, and at every miners' branch meeting which we have attended the cry has been, "What are the Government going to do about our position?" We have taken a ballot, and every district has voted in favour of a stoppage. The result of the ballot was 93 per cent. in favour of that, which gives an indication of the feeling in the mining industry. We are waiting now for the Government to make a move. I hope that the Prime Minister will not hesitate to bring all the pressure he can upon the employers if they refuse to make some genuine offer to the miners. I do not want him to waste any time. We are holding back the notices in order to give every opportunity for all sides to come together, but if once the notices go in it means industrial war. We shall be determined on that, and that is why we are so anxious that the House of Commons, now that it is in Session, shall make no mistake about the coal position. Our demand—or our application—is nothing out of the way. We stated what the wages are, an average of round about £2 per week, meaning in many cases wages less than 30s. Sometimes they are just over 30s. That gives an indication of how the miners are living.
Those figures recall vividly to my mind a statement which was given to me at one of the meetings which I attended. The mayor-elect of Leigh had been going round the division that week, and he gave an illustration of how the miners' families were living. It was a case of a man, wife and four children. The husband was a surface hand receiving 7s. a day, 28s. for four days, and came home with 26s. to keep himself, wife and children. The poor woman appealed to the mayor-elect: What could she do with 26s.? The rent 119 of 8s. 6d. had to be met. The poor woman broke down. The mayor-elect said that was typical of four or five homes he had been in that night, and of many mining families. I am putting the lower cases. Seven shillings a day is the surface hand rate in Lancashire for an adult, and the average work is four and a-half days per week. It does not require much imagination to judge the state of the families who have to live on that kind of wage.
An appeal is going out from the miners. I know that supporters of the Government realise, as does everybody else, that something must be done. The coal-owners have had opportunities in the past to reorganise the industry and to control prices, if they had cared to do so. Would any hon. Member object to paying a little bit more for his coal if he knew that the wages of the miners were being made better thereby? Nobody would object to that. It is only a question of saying to the coalowners, "Use the power which you have to give to the miners something better than they are getting." It might be argued that the industry must be reorganised and the money must be got in before anything can be done, but, while I believe in reorganisation and dealing with prices, I think the money can be brought in quite well to meet the present demand. I do not want to wait until the money comes in. I would advise the coalowners to say, "We believe it can be done, and we are prepared from a certain date"—say, from 1st January—"to give an advance to the miners and to recoup ourselves later on." That is a way out of the difficulty which, if they cared to accept it, is open to them.
My last word—and I am putting it as plainly and as quietly as I can—is that the feeling in the mining world on this question is that we are being very tolerant. Those who have been in lock-outs and strikes know what it means to be involved in them. We may win ultimately, but even the winning is a loss because of the debts, the privations and the troubles that come along. There is not a miners' leader who would attempt to cause a strike if it could be avoided, but there arrives a time in men's lives when they are driven to the extreme point and when they say, "Come what may, we are fighting for justice." We do not want that to happen with the miners, and we appeal to the Prime Minister and 120 to his colleagues to do all they can to prevent that situation arising in the mining world.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Sir HENRY FILDES
A proportion of the remarks of the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) were addressed to a converted gathering in addressing this House. If we examine the mining situation we might readily find an opportunity for giving the miners the very reasonable request that they make for a wage. I think it would be agreed by everybody that the householder pays enough money for his coal to enable the miner to get a reasonable wage, and that it will be difficult for us by legislation to affect or alter the price which we obtain for export coal abroad. It would be a matter of some danger also to attempt to tinker with the prices of coal used by way of providing coke for smelting in our great industries. There is a fourth section of trade which has made very excellent profits, namely, our utility companies and corporations who supply gas and electricity. Large quantities of coal are purchased by municipalities in all parts of the country at rates which are obtained out of the sweated labour of the miners. I have seen figures which show that the total profit, after allowing for sinking fund, amounts to between £30,000,000 and £34,000,000 a year, and I am also informed that what the miners require is a matter of some £14,000,000 per annum. I recognise that the Government are tackling the marketing section of the industry. It is only by a proper method of marketing—not by any revolution—that the miner will be enabled to get a fair week's wage for a very arduous and hazardous week's work, and, if the matter is tackled in that way, I have every hope that our friends on the Opposition Benches will see that justice can be obtained for the miners without doing injustice to or imperilling the industries of our country.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. TAYLOR
I desire to refer to the absence from the Gracious Speech of any expression of intention to abolish the means test. I speak as one who has had experience of the means test. If there is one thing that stands out in my reading of history and my understanding of our people, it is the way in which we cherish our family life. Hon. 121 Gentlemen opposite have not had the experience that those of us who have gone through the means test have had of the terrible tragedy of seeing your children, whom you have brought up to be citizens, and intended to be worthy citizens, of your country, leave home and the influence of the father and mother. That is exactly what is happening under the means test.
I would put this further point. We want production, and we are anxious that a workman when he goes to his daily employment shall pull his full weight. Not so many years ago we miners were told that, if we would pull our weight and cease to ca' canny, we should win back for our industry the place that it once held, that we should recapture our foreign trade. To-day, however, while there are men on the means test, there are lads working in our mines at putting—to use the vernacular of our pits in Northumberland—which is probably the hardest work. Hon. and gallant Gentlemen opposite, and some on our own side, strenuously uphold the traditions of our people on the Rugby field, and some of our young men between the ages of 18 and 23 are upholding the traditions of the British workman by putting, that is to say, pushing 10-cwt. and 12-cwt. tubs about. You have a man on the means test, and his son is putting. The rate that he gets for putting those tubs from the face to the flat is probably 1s. 6d. per score. It varies, and the conditions under which the lads have to work vary. It is possible that the rate may be increased by 1d., or that, because the conditions are better, he is able to put a few more tons. One might expect that with that incentive he would put more, because then he would be able to take more home at the week-end; but under this abominable system, if I may use that expression, the returns go from the colliery office to the area officer, and the means test is regulated according to what that lad brings home. If for no other reason than our old tradition of family life, we ought to abolish it.
I want to put another point. On the eve of the Election, the late Government gave an extra 1s. to the children of those who are on standard benefit. Some said that it was vote-catching. I am not saying that at the moment; we were fortunate to get it; but what about the children of the men on the means test? 122 Take the position of men when they become unemployed in the first place. We are able, as working men, if we have been wise and have been members of the co-operative society, to accumulate some dividend, and, with that dividend and the clothes that we have, we live on our capital, because we are only existing on what we get even from standard benefit. During that time we and our families are able to live on our capital in the shape of clothes and boots. We struggle along, gradually coming from butter to margarine, and, when we have got to that stage, we go on to the means test, with its searching inquisition. We have seen our clothes deteriorate and the soles going from our boots. Therefore, I say it ought to have been mentioned that men who have been unemployed for such a period as to bring them on to the means test have a claim to justice and fair play in the interests of their children, and I deeply regret that omission from the Gracious Speech.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. E. SMITH
Since 1928 I have had the privilege of listening from a seat in the Gallery to Debates in this House, and it came to me like a breath of fresh air when I heard the speech that you, Mr. Speaker, made last week from the Benches opposite. In that speech you pleaded with the House that, in future, speeches should be made more on the basis of a Debate. It reminded me of the time when I sat in the Gallery listening hour after hour to speeches most of which had no relation to the hard economic facts outside. Therefore I, for one, want to pay a tribute to you, Sir, for having made that plea to the House, and I hope that the House will see to it—at any rate we on this side will—that the Debates in the House are based more on the hard economic facts than they have been.
The Prime Minister has said on several occasions that he is concerned about the preservation of democracy. It is good to hear him make a statement of that character, but I would ask him if he thinks that the following incident is democracy. A statement appeared in the "Manchester Guardian," the "Daily Herald," and the "News Chronicle" on 22nd November to the effect that, had the result of the General Election been different, an order for a new motor-ship might not have been placed. That was 123 contained in a letter addressed by the Commonwealth and Dominion Line to the hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward). The Line, referring to tenders for the construction of a motor-ship the order for which had been placed with Messrs. Swan, Hunter and Richardson, of Walls-end, stated:We had the tenders ready at the beginning of last week, but deferred placing the order until the result of the General Election was known. Had the result been different, it is extremely doubtful if we would have placed the order at all and I think your constituents in Wallsend may like to know that their vote of confidence in you and in a continuation of sane Government has brought an immediate reward.I would ask the Prime Minister whether he thinks that a statement of that kind helps to assist the continuation of a democratic form of Government in this country? I put down a question dealing with this matter, but understand that it has been ruled out of Order on the ground that there is no Government responsibility. I want to prove that there is some Government responsibility, and I do that in this way. The Commonwealth and Dominion Line is a subsidiary of the Cunard Line, and the files at Somerset House show that the Commonwealth and Dominion Line has nearly the same directors as the Cunard Line. The Government are responsible for an indirect subsidy to the Cunard Line. The "Queen Mary," which is now being built on the Clyde, has been built because of the indirect subsidy which the Government have given to the Cunard Company. That being so, and seeing that this company is a subsidiary of the Cunard Company, the Government have a direct responsibility for a statement of that kind, and ought to have investigation made into it.
I want now to analyse the Speech that we heard to-day. It states:My Government's foreign policy will as heretofore be based on a firm support of the League of Nations.The concrete fact is that the Government have not supported the League of Nations. The Government are very largely responsible for the present international situation. Instead of supporting the League of Nations, they repudiated it. It is easy to say that, but I want to produce evidence in support of it. At one time there was a possibility 124 of bringing about solidarity among the peace-loving countries; there was a great possibility, aye, a probability, of solidifying the peace-loving countries together. Just when there was a possibility of that, Lord Londonderry was primarily responsible at the League of Nations for preventing the internationalisation of civil aircraft. That was the beginning of the undermining of confidence amongst the peace-loving countries.
Later we had the signing, behind the backs of other Powers, of the Anglo-German Naval Treaty. That Treaty was a negation of the spirit of collective security. Just at the time when there was every probability of thinking about an acceptance of the principle of collective security amongst all peace-loving countries, the representatives of the National Government, behind the backs of the people, signed the Anglo-German Naval Treaty. Not only was it a negation of that spirit, but it was also a repudiation of the League. This is sufficient evidence to enable us to say that the National Government has not supported the League of Nations in the past and that the only political force in the country that is supporting the League is the Labour party.
Then there is the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker). He made an honest and sincere plea to the Government to deal with the mining industry. Coming down in the train I was reading the Report of the Samuel Commission, and I was reminded of the large number of commissions and inquiries into the coal industry. It would do everyone good to re-read that Samuel Commission Report and to realise that ten years after its publication we may be involved in a position similar to that of ten years ago. The Government claim to believe in law and order. They claim to be a Government for preserving law and order. If they believe in law and order they ought to see that law and order are preserved in the coal-mining industry. The only way to do that is to produce something of a concrete nature. That is what the miners are crying out for, not only for themselves but for their wives and children. Having analysed the King's Speech to-day, and being concerned about what may happen if the Samuel Commission Report is put into operation, I see the probability that the mining industry will 125 be put upon a more scientific basis. All thinking people want that to be done. But what has happened up to now where that has been done? We find that compensation has been paid to displaced owners and displaced directors, production has been increased and workers have been displaced, but there has been no compensation paid to them. In place of compensation their lot has been the imposition of the means test, a lot which those of us who have gone through it do not want to go through again.
As other hon. Members have stated, there is not a word in the King's Speech about the means test, despite the fact that occupants of the Government front bench in their speeches during the election said that a change would be brought about in the means test. I had some terrible experiences during the election. Here is the case of a family of five with as good a father as ever lived. He was told that he would not be allowed to draw any benefit. He went home and told his elder son that he would have to give a return of the whole of the income coming into the house or he would be dealt with by the public assistance authorities. The father thought a lot of that son. The son immediately replied, "If you give a return of my earnings, seeing that I am working overtime at weekends, I shall leave home rather than give that information."
That is typical of what is happening throughout industrial Britain. My old father-in-law threatened to commit suicide 12 months ago because of the position in which he was placed. One of my best friends committed suicide because of the operation of the means test, and had it not been for the fact that I am fairly familiar with the history of this House I would be inclined to say some very hard things about the people who have been responsible for allowing the means test to be administered as it has been administered. I hope I have said sufficient to convince the Government, and that in a very short time there will be drastic alteration in the administration of the means test, even if the Government are not prepared to go as far as we would go by withdrawing it altogether.
There is another question about which we are all feeling concerned, and that is raised by the fact that just before the election a shilling was given to the 126 children of fathers who were drawing benefit under the Unemployment Insurance Act. This has brought about the position that one child can draw the shilling while the child next door is not allowed to draw it because its father receives benefit under a different category. I appeal to the Government not to differentiate between children who are in no way responsible for the present position of industry. If it is right to give the shilling to one child it ought to be right to give it to the other.
In the Gracious Speech the Government propose to develop civil air communications, and that will mean the development of the aircraft industry. We have seen an enormous amount of capital being sunk in the aircraft industry. Production is increasing enormously. Yet no regard is being paid to the conditions under which the aircraft workers are working. We were told in the last Parliament that the Government would have regard to the profiteering that might take place in the development of the aircraft industry. When this question of the development of the aircraft industry comes up I hope we shall be able to bring pressure to bear on the Government so that they will apply safety first regulations to the building of aircraft, and that they will see that the workers are employed under decent conditions with decent wages.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. G. HARDIE
In the Gracious Speech to-day we heard for the first time about "improvement in the conditions in Scotland," and the raising of the school-leaving age. As has been pointed out, there is no need for the King's Speech to repeat anything regarding the raising of the school age in Scotland. That is already on the Statute Book, awaiting someone with the courage to give the word that will make it operative. In the 16th century in Scotland a Committee that was interested in education had its headquarters in Edinburgh. It is a remarkable fact that the purpose of that Committee was to direct its chief attention to the Highlands of Scotland and not the Lowlands, in regard to instructional education. Right through that century every effort was made, and, coming to the first charter given by Queen Anne to establish the rights of that Committee we find that all through, no 127 matter what the political opinions of the gentlemen and ladies concerned, they were really and truly interested in the education of the children. The contrast I make to-day is that with all our acquired knowledge of methods of education, with all the improvements in administering what is called instructional or vocational education, we are further back in the application to-day than we were in those early days.
When one visits what is called an instructional centre for unemployed youth to-day it is enough to break one's heart. It is not education in any form. If it were education, a wider general education, I should have nothing to say against it, because the one basis of vocational training should be the wideness of the field of the general education. The idea of education in Scotland since its inception has been not so much the sectional nature of it, but rather to give the broadest possible view to the understanding. The basis of Scottish education has always been, not to cram the mind with facts, but to set before the mind certain principles, and the evidence of success in education has always been measured by the fact that the individual can do deductive thinking. To-day, even with our degrees from great Universities, there are men in this House with three or four or five degrees after their names, who show by their speeches that they are incapable of any deductive thinking. That was my experience during the nine years I was in the House.
The Prime Minister said it was the intention of the Government to put up buildings that were to be used as factories, and then to try to induce certain individuals to start new industries in those factories. Prior to that the right hon. Gentleman said that the Government had given protection to the steel trade, and he added that, having in effect put the nation behind the steel trade, he hoped that those who were now getting huge profits out of that trade and other trades would see that something was done from a national point of view and not from the profit-mongering, individualistic point of view. The Prime Minister never made one suggestion as to what the new industries were to be in these new factories. From the Scottish point of view I raise one point. Not long ago the 128 industrial arm of the Bank of England advanced £1,300,000 for a certain purpose. As a result of that advance work was to be taken from Rutherglen, Coatbridge and Wishaw. Around each of these districts the local authorities have embarked upon huge expenditure in order to provide what is proper housing for the working people. Not a thought has been given to the fact that local authorities are now called upon to take over this financial responsibility While the capitalist, under no control, can move industry where he likes. That is a feature that has to be faced. I hope the Prime Minister will see what this means. There is to be no compensation of any kind for the working man for displacement. What is to become of the capital for which the local authorities have been made responsible? If you take from these districts the industries in which the men have been trained, what is going to happen?
The Prime Minister may try to insinuate that it is necessary to offer an inducement by putting up buildings in order to attract new industries, but he made no mention of any new industries. He mentioned a loan to be given to railway companies. I hope the House will pay particular attention to that. The Socialist outside says the capitalist system has failed and it has to call upon the Government for assistance before it makes its last plunge. Let us see what a subsidy to the railways will mean. There are railway works in my constituency and some years ago we had an example of capitalists who thought they knew the railway business better than the men Who ran it. They began by transferring certain works to the Midlands of England. Then they discovered that they had made some mistake, and I myself saw a big machine that had been transferred being brought back. All that expense is represented in the price of your ticket or the charge that you have to pay if you have goods carried. There is no reason why there should have been any disturbance, and there was no reason why the work should have been shifted to some place where there was no housing accommodation for the workers. Everything that was done at other places could have been done in Springburn. It was only a question of putting in machines. We can claim there, as we can in shipbuilding and marine 129 engineering, to have a condition of training that is envied by the world. The Scottish Members are determined that when questions come up in regard to reorganisation we are not going to sit quietly by and see things handled as they have been in the past.
In this industrial question decisions have generally been made by people who do not realise the conditions. No man can measure what it is to be without food unless he goes through the experience. No amount of imagination can put his mind in possession of that fact. No amount of imagination can realise a coal-dust explosion underground. You have to go through it. No one can understand what is meant by the means test unless he has been through it. The means test has destroyed family after family. Among my own personal friends it has brought a degradation which would have been impossible in normal circumstances. Young men and women bringing their wage into the home have a right to look forward to marriage. They have a right to put something by for that happy day. But under the means test this is to be denied to those who are not responsible for the fact of Government after Government allowing the capitalist system to continue in face of the fact, which has to be admitted by Tories and every type of thinker, that it is not a shortage of the world's goods that brings misery to these people. The only thing the Government 130 have done in the past four years is to stifle production, even reducing the number of nets going into the sea, not in order that people may not get fish but in order that certain people may get profits. I wonder what the great Master would say if he walked in here now and heard 615 Members saying: "We must throw this abundance back in the face of Him who sent it." What do you do with the land? You restrict production, not to save the nation but to save the capitalist system. Do you think you can do that with this continuous starvation? If you think you can continue with the means test and remain a strong nation, you will fail sooner or later. You are not only reducing the physical but the mental standard, and even those who believe in war might at least have this logic in their minds, that you will never be able to defend your country unless you are prepared to feed, house, clothe and educate the people.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Sir G. Penny.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.