§ [FOURTH DAY.]
Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [3rd December].
That an humble Addres be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:—
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—[Mr. Wakefield.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. DAVID GRENFELL
I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add the words:but regret the failure of Your Majesty's advisers to indicate any effective policy for the restoration and maintenance of peace, the reduction of armaments by international agreement, and the removal of the economic causes of war, the failure to recognise the need to plan the economic life of the country on the basis of public ownership in order to abolish poverty in the midst of plenty, and the omission of any adequate proposals for dealing with unemployment, including the abolition of the means test, the distressed areas, and the just claims of the miners for an immediate increase in wages.Having heard the Debate for three days we now feel it necessary to submit this Amendment to repair the most serious defects in the King's Speech. That document has been discussed for three Parliamentary days, and we are now prepared to submit definite alternative proposals to those contained in it. We are accustomed to regard the speech from the Throne as a kind of general agenda for the Session with the necessary reserve and the modest amount of rhetoric suitable for the occasion. The first Speech in a new Parliament, coming as it does after a General Election, is generally expected to contain a statement of the new Government's policy for their ensuing term of office. In this Speech there is no sign of constructive purpose or indication of great faith and no hint of plan. After four years of unfruitful administration in which the Government have been 448 engaged in attempts to cut down the nation's standard of living by all kinds of devices, we are frankly disappointed. Having witnessed the futility of economies, cuts, reduction of useful expenditure, limitation of trade and restriction of production, we had hoped for a change in national policy and an expansion of productive activities and distribution for the service of the whole people.
The Election came a year before the last Parliament expired. The Prime Minister called the Election. He fired the first shot—perhaps I should correct that; he made the first speech in defence of his Government, but he offered no plan for bold action to deal with the existing internal danger which threatens the vitals of this nation. The Prime Minister and his colleagues seemed to be assured that, haying survived the most acute phase of an industrial and commercial crisis which fell upon this country and upon all others a few years ago, we could now proceed with defensive preparations until the next economic blizzard strikes us with greater force and with more devastating effects. The Government suffer from their own propaganda. Charges of failure and neglect have so frequently been levelled against the Labour Government of 1931 that the present Government have induced themselves to believe that the small alleviation which we share with other countries has been due to their policy. I noticed, however, that the Prime Minister said on Tuesday that we had failed to realise the progress that had been made by this country since the opening of the last Parliament. He himself is not optimistic. He said:If you are recovering from the kind of economic disaster that lasted from 1929 to 1931, or into 1932, recovery must he slow.… Nothing is worse than the feverish ups and downs of booms and slumps alternating."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd December, 1935; col. 67, Vol. 307.]I am glad that this Debate has been conducted with less misleading insistence on the cause of the economic disaster, which the Prime Minister now dates back to 1929, and not to 1931. I would not say anything about the Election controversies as reflected in the King's Speech if hon. Members opposite had not tried once again to misrepresent our position with regard to the League of Nations and the means test. I wonder how many Members opposite realise that 449 the Labour party stood openly and firmly for the League, the whole League, and nothing but the League. The hon. Member for Rusholme (Mr. Radford), whom I do not see in his place to-day, has found it difficult to box the electoral compass, and has not yet even found his bearings. I have just looked up his speech and that of the Foreign Secretary. If what he has told us is right, we must conclude that his presence here is due to a gross political miscarriage. The hon. Member and those who join him in denouncing the Labour party have no right to be here by virtue of votes won by such means. We supported the League because it is the only instrument which can safeguard peace in the world as it is. This institution is one in which we have all renounced aggression. While we have been pledged to restrain aggression through the League, we are not prepared to condone aggression or be accessories to it. Hon. Members who oppose sanctions cannot avoid being accessories. To supply weapons or to stand by when we witness an assault brings us in our own laws within that category. The hon. Member has been badly confused. I wish we could find out how many among the hon. Members opposite are here by the same kind of mistake.
In the Amendment we declare once again that we stand for a League policy of peace and a reduction of armaments by international agreement. We go further. The League of Nations needs to be clothed with greater authority for the primary purpose of promoting peace. The League must fail and fall into discredit unless it is charged with authority to bring to the service of all nations the various elements of industry and wealth production. To make free access to these elements and raw materials the League or some similar super-international authority must be able to offer access to the territories where raw material is available. We do not hide from ourselves that this is a departure from the ideas of conquest and invasion in pursuit of which the Italians are now in Abyssinia seeking the oil, fuel, gold, rare and indispensable metals which Italy's soil does not hold and seeking a domination over a people whose home is bespoiled to serve Italy's industrial ambition. World territory is parcelled out, not by a plan to 450 secure the world's interest, but for the exclusive profit of nations who have gone far from home to conquer and colonise in the past.
The struggle for new territories and for domination goes on with great danger to the peace of the world. Italy and Japan are on the march. There will be counter-marching, bloody conflict and consequent devastation unless we can build up by working together a world economic structure through which the bountiful treasures of the soil, sub-soil, water and air can be brought into industrial service and the satisfaction of human wants. But we have not brought into plan the economic life of our own country. There is no sign that hon. Members opposite recognise the need for planning. We see the effect of overlapping, duplication and enormous over-production in industry after industry. We have poverty here, as they have in all industrial countries. This social disease is due to preventible conditions; it is due to the lack of organisation in production and distribution. The incentive of profit enables us to attain high production, though with much waste of energy and material. There is no similar incentive to maintain high consumption. Thus we see unemployed men and their dependants unable to play their full part in the privilege and necessity of consuming the food, the clothing and all the other necessaries of a full life if production and the use of the goods produced are to maintain a final balance. This is apparently impossible under capitalism.
The day before yesterday the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary gave four explanations of what he regarded as the failure of the Labour party during the Election. The first was the personality of the Prime Minister; the second the confidence of the people in the capacity of the late Government; the third the Socialist programme put forward by the Labour party; and the fourth the fact that people seek more and more to co-operate in politics. We are responsible only for the third item; we puff forward a Socialist programme. We acknowledge that the Prime Minister is a very popular Prime Minister. If I were not a Socialist I would he inclined to vote for him myself. I wish the Home Secretary were here, because I would like him to give the House the benefit of his 451 estimate of the vote value of the popular Prime Minister, after that the vote value of the popular Government, and after that the vote value of the desire among people more and more to work together in politics; and when he has taken into full account the vote catching value of all those three points will he then tell the House whether there is a majority for or against Socialism in the Spen Valley? Will he then estimate the size of the anti-Socialist majority in this House and the country?
It is time we shed a good deal of this nonsense about anti-Socialism. The British people are no longer afraid of Socialism. A generation is growing up which does not know the old-style Conservatism and Liberalism, and is prepared to face economic facts, and this generation will decide for Socialism unless Members opposite, and the Government to which they entrust authority, are able to show that capitalism can deliver the goods in this country, can solve the problems with which the country is beset. I do not like to count unhatched votes, but what do hon. Members say is the explanation of the considerable increase in the Socialist vote in this country? The explanation is that private ownership is not giving satisfaction. I would offer examples rather than arguments to convince this House. A short time ago the United States of America came to the brink of a social catastrophe worse than has been known in any country in the world. That country of great wealth, of immense productive capacity and with a happy absence of old-time traditions which chafe and prevent development on modern lines has been the ideal site for capitalist exploitation, and yet in the United States, less than three years ago, all the banks were locked up and the individual wealthy man or poor man had no access to any of his claims to wealth.
In Germany there is a very serious political development. Let those who simulate fear and apprehension of Socialism in this country look to Germany. There is a new kind of government pledged to new principles. Nationalsozialmus is the German word for what is now known as Nazi. National Socialism is said to be the creed of Germany. That is not the kind of 452 Socialism which we on this side of the House want. It has very little resemblance to the kind of Socialism which we believe this country will have within the lifetime of many of us, and I wish long life to the Prime Minister and many other people to see such Socialism brought in here. I think the Prime Minister would have Socialism if it were good English Socialism. Italy is committed to a kind of Socialism, a bastard kind it is true; not the kind we want, but there it is. And there is a Socialism in Russia which is very removed from the Socialism of Italy and Germany. So already we find that two-thirds of Europe is under some kind of Socialism or part-Socialism and nearly half of Asia.
The claims of public ownership are gaining ground because of the failures of private ownership. Take the example of coal. We shall wish to say something about coal in the days ahead. Take the three great industries of coal, light and power. Coal looms large in these days because coal is said to be a declining industry, and yet vast profits are made from the distribution of coal. Electricity is only a form of the distribution of coal, the coal being sent through slender wires instead of in open trucks on our railways. Gas is a form of distribution of coal, being sent through tubes. Then there are liquid fuel and the other byproducts of coal. All these sources of energy are drawn from coal. The mining industry is said to be working at a loss, but enormous profits are made for private interests by the distribution of the products of this great industry. In this industry for generation after generation great efforts have been put forth. Every seam of coal is known, every section proved, in more than a score of coal fields. A shocking mess exists in the process of production. Waste, the closing down of pits, loss and irreparable damage have been witnessed in the last few years.
The present Minister of Labour, one time Secretary for Mines, threw boundless energy, to which we all pay a tribute, into his two years' work in that Department, and endeavoured to bring sympathy as well as understanding to the service of that industry. If he were here to-day I am sure he would agree with us that the condition of things in the mining industry is infinitely worse 453 than two or three years ago. A condition of steady decline and a closer approach to ruin is falling upon this industry. The mining industry is fundamental to the progress of this country. Upon it has been built the whole superstructure of our industrial and commercial life. Our iron and steel industry, our transport industry, our textile industry, all these have been built upon the foundation of the coal provided by the mining industry. And yet we are told that this industry cannot provide a living wage for the people employed in it. I shall come to that in the final remarks I have to make, and I am very glad to see that the Home Secretary is now here, because he will have that little problem in election arithmetic submitted to him by some of his friends before the Debate is over. I would like to have his answer to-day, if possible, because it is very important that we should have those figures on Monday.
In this industry at the present time there are 300,000 people unemployed, in this fundamental industry, in which there has been so much concentration upon increased individual output. In the last 14 years, 500,000 people have been displaced. In the coalfield in which I reside, more than 200 pits have been closed, and in the Kingdom well over 1,000 have been closed in the last 15 years. The amount of trade and employment has not improved, and there is a steady decline. I urge the Government not to take too much comfort from the fluctuation which now appears to indicate a small improvement in the volume of our foreign trade. The Minister of Labour knows that, because I noticed his report for 1934, and although he does extremely well in trying to whistle to keep up his courage, his effort has failed completely, and there is no conviction in that document. The King's Speech offers no consolation or relief to the present problem of unemployment. There are still 2,000,000 people unemployed in this country; we have still our distressed areas and we have still the imposition of the means test. There is no indication in the King's Speech that radical treatment is to be attempted in any of those subjects.
I would like to say a word about the means test because that, too, is fundamental. Hon. Members who are prepared to sit in this House for the next four years must examine their credentials once again. The Noble Lady the 454 Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) stated that she fought on the means test. I have seen all kinds of election literature from grave to gay and from serious to frivolous, and I have seen a variety of posters, illustrations and phraseology. I have not seen one poster yet supporting the means test. I do not think that the Noble Lady had a poster "Vote for Astor and the Means Test." I should be very surprised if any Member of this House had one word in his election address in which he asked for support in order to continue the means test. Hon. Members are here on false pretences in that respect; they have no mandate to continue the means test. They went to election and sought all kinds of evasion. They tried to divert the issue by charging hon. Members on this side of the House with the responsibility for the means test. That is about the most dishonest trick and it is not a laughing matter. We shall never get fully right with our political problems unless all sides of the House face the realities and the truth of the situation.
This is the whole story of the means test: Let any Member who cares to do so after to-day's Debate accompany me to the Library, where I will spend as much time as he likes consulting the records for 1927, 1928, 1929, or as far back as he likes. He will find that not one word was said in this House by any representative of the party on this side, or of any party, in favour of the means test, until September, 1931, when hon. Members there, having joined hands with certain people whose departure from the Labour party we do not regret, and having considered the May Report in which the means test recommendation first officially appeared, imposed a means test under the pretence of economy and for the purpose of meeting the economic situation. The point was first raised by hon. Members sitting on that side of the House, and was first submitted to the House by Members on that side. We challenged it from the first day, and we have repudiated it in principle and in its application step by step and day after day. There is not one tittle of responsibility with anybody on this side of the House for the imposition or the continuation of the means test.
455 If hon. Members went to the Election seeking to divest themselves of responsibility by charging Members on this side, any votes they got by this process are votes given in error. Those votes should be cancelled and should be repudiated, and those who were elected on that category should withdraw from presence in this House. I will charge the Prime Minister and the other Ministers with their conduct of this Election, and particularly in respect of the part of the country where I reside do I charge the Prime Minister. He knows that in the distressed areas where unemployment is the real problem for the electors, the case for the means test was never put. There were 10 unopposed returns in South Wales, and the Government did not offer an opinion in those constituencies or put up anybody to champion the means test. I do not know exactly what took place in the Durham divisions, but we know the results. An overwhelming majority of the people in the areas where the means test is a living issue, voted against the Government.
Are their votes not to be given some additional weight because of their acquaintance with the results of the means test? I challenge the Government to-day; it has no mandate for the continuation of the means test. We have fought that means test in this House, and we shall continue to fight it outside. I utter this word of warning: there are several political factors which contribute to the downthrow of the National Government—or the Conservative Government—in this country, but there is not one which should bring more discredit upon them than the imposition of the means test, which is not only a grave injustice to the people who have suffered from it, but which reduces the purchasing power of the whole community to which the means test is applied.
We complain of the presence of poverty in the midst of plenty, and the phrase has been used by people in all parts of the House and the country. It is estimated that.20 per cent. of the people are beneath the poverty line in this country. I put it higher than that. We might try to draw a poverty line in this House, each hon. Member drawing the poverty line at the level which he regards as suit- 456 able for himself and his family. If every hon. Member on that side of the House drew a graph of the necessities and the amenities which he regarded as necessary for his own comfort and Members on this side did the same, I would be content to have the mean of that graph as a general poverty line for the whole country. Our datum line is too low. There are still 20 per cent. of the people who are not properly fed and clothed, and who are not allowed to play their part as consumers in this very involved and complicated system by which we all give service to each other. The existence of poverty is due to the refusal by hon. Members opposite, and those who think with them, to recognise that poverty should have no place in a system such as ours, when we have such a multiplication of man-power.
I am anxious not to trench too much upon the merits of the wage claim, but I will give an illustration of the kind of service which is placed at our disposal by the mining population. We have 750,000 mineworkers in this country. On an average, year by year, each miner places at the disposal of the British community 300 tons of coal a year. That is the quantity produced by every miner who works in and about the mines. That 300 tons of coal represents an enormous value in the industrial life of this country. It multiplies the man-power of the nation to an extraordinary degree, which is almost incredible to the non-technical man. I have gone carefully into the question of the mechanical value of coal of late years, and I find, in the production of electricity, for example, that the quantity of coal required to produce a unit of electricity has declined from 3 lb. in 1914 to 1¼ lb. in 1935. The quantity of coal required to produce a unit of electricity has been reduced by almost two-thirds. Coal, therefore, has been multiplied in value three times by that process; it is three times as valuable as it was, owing to that very change in the scale of consumption.
What is the real value of coal? One ton of coal, the product of one workman in one day, converted into mechanical power, will do as much work as one man working for six years. One day's work of a man in the mine is multiplied into six years' labour of a man working outside the mine, in assistance given to him 457 by electricity, steam or gas derived from coal. One week's production in the mine confers upon the community a labour value equal to a whole lifetime of one person. The community enjoy that benefit. Will any Member in this House say that, in a community so rich in producing power, so benefited by science and the progress of industry, we can afford to have poverty—the old kind of grinding poverty which disgraced this country half a century or a century ago? We cannot afford poverty. It renders our machinery, our wonderful production, worse than void. The more we perfect our machines, the greater our economy in power, the more we throw our people on to the scrap-heap, on to the pave-merit to wend their hopeless way to the Employment Exchange to seek the comfort which they cannot get from the miserable allowance which is granted them day by day in the form of benefit or unemployment allowances.
Will the Home Secretary, who regards our advocacy of Socialism as the explanation for our defeat, will any Member on the other side tell the House how we are to go on with our wonderful improvement in production unless we raise universally the standard of consumption for the whole of our people? That is the problem which has baffled the politicians of all countries. There is only one country that is exempt from this great test, namely, Russia, and her exemption is only temporary. I hope she will manage it in the end, but for the moment she is catching up arrears in production, and has not this problem of surplus production which is the problem of the United States and other highly industrialised countries. She has a generation's work to build up the industrial power which we now have at our hands. There must be a plan in British industry, a plan which will give the widest possible measure of distribution. It will be a plan founded automatically on a high standard of purchasing power for all the people of this country.
The miners of this country, giving freely their indispensable services, and conferring a greater advantage upon the nation than do any other class of people, are now making an application which is thoroughly in line with the scientific needs of modern society. They are themselves forced to ask for higher purchasing power, because no other body exists to 458 offer it to them. Their trade union organisation, makes application for the modest sum of 2s. a day. Their present wage is £115 a year. The additional 2s. a day, spread over a year, will make about £25 a year. They are asking this House, they are asking the country, for an average annual wage of £140.
There is no opposition to that demand in this country. Let me warn the Government. Public opinion has been on the side of the miners as it never was before. We have not made that demand because we want to arouse public opinion. We should have liked to withdraw from the picture a little, if that were possible. We have been too much in the picture in the last 15 or 16 years. But we are driven out in search of bread once more. The people of this country want to give us bread, but the capitalist system stands in the way. Can hon. Members explain to me why these people, who give so much, receive so little Why cannot the Prime Minister say: "The miners well deserve this, and more; I will make a decree that the miners shall receive this demand which they are making"? He cannot do it unless he joins with us this day, without further delay, in imposing restrictions upon the present system of private ownership, price fixing, wage determining and enslaving conditions which prescribe so low a standard of life for a most indispensable section of producers in this country. I should be con tent to leave this Amendment to stand on the merits of the miners' case. If the Prime Minister or any hon. Gentleman opposite can rise in his place and say that a decent living wage can be provided for the workers in industry without changing our economic system, we are not wedded to shibboleths, we are not wedded to isms, on this side of the House. We want decent conditions for the people whose life we have shared and from whom we have made our emergence on to this scene.
We make our demand in the name of justice; we make our demand to-day as a political demand in the centre of political authority in this country. If our miners are forced once again to come out of their pits on strike, let me warn the Prime Minister and others in this House that it will be a difficult job to get them back. There will be bitter feelings and bitter fighting. I do not want that; nobody here wants that; we 459 have had enough of it. We want justice and we want conditions of humanity in this above all matters. We believe that that cannot be attained finally, that this matter will not be placed beyond the scope of dispute and controversy, until we have a Socialist system. If hon. Members opposite, including the Home Secretary, distrust so much the change in system which we propose, the responsibility falls upon him and those who share that view with him of showing that the present system will work with justice to the workers who serve in industry.
§ 11.45 a.m.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
The hon. Gentleman has made, as he always does, a most interesting, delightful and moving speech. I had almost said convincing. And I will certainly say this of it. When he said that at present public sympathy is on the side of the miners, he was undoubtedly right. I think the feeling of every section of the community is that the miners are having too harsh a deal, and that their demands at present are essentially justified; and, while there are obvious difficulties of an economic character, many of us on this side of the House will join with Members opposite in resisting any attitude on the part of the coal owners which we regard as unreasonable; because in the past the record of some, at any rate, of the coal owners has not been good, especially in the matter of reorganising the industry. I agree that public opinion on the whole at the moment is definitely on the side of the miners.
One sentence in the hon. Gentleman's speech amused me a little, when he gave Russia, Germany and Italy as examples of Socialism. I admit that he said it was a bastard Socialism, but he implied that there was something to be said for it. He went on to say that Members on this side were completely removed from that conception of political and economic statesmanship. I say, Thank God for that. The more completely we are removed from German, Italian and Russian conceptions the better.
The main problem raised by the hon. Gentleman was, I think, the problem of under-consumption, the problem which is really puzzling us all to-day, the problem of poverty in the midst of plenty; and it 460 is to that question, from the capitalist point of view, which I propose to address myself. It is a great relief that I no longer have to complain about the Gold Standard. Time was when I had to give a quarter of an hour of every speech I made to that; but at last we were mercifully forced off the Gold Standard, with beneficial results which have prevailed ever since.
But this problem of poverty in the midst of plenty remains, despite the fact that this country has during the last two years enjoyed a very marked measure of industrial revival in many industries. My own constituency in the North-East corner of Scotland is in some respects a microcosm of the whole country. On the one hand you have a glut of agricultural produce and 'a glut of herring; and, on the other, you have definite malnutrition, you have farm produce and herring sold at unremunerative prices by those who produce them. You have farm workers with wages less than the miners—£52 a year with a few small perquisites—and within a few miles you have Fraserburgh and Peterhead in which there is abject poverty and destitution because they cannot get the produce of the farm workers and the fishermen at reasonable prices. I believe the only way of dealing with this problem is to try to promote increased consumption by any and every means, rather than restrict production simply in order to keep prices up. In order to marry agricultural production to potential consumption you must have a definite consumers' policy, and pay the consumers to eat rather than the producer to restrict. That seems to me fundamental.
During the last hundred years the greater part of the national income was expended each year in the production of capital goods. That is how our whole industrial system and industrial population have been built up, by creating the means or still greater production in the future, in order to meet the requirements of expanding markets abroad and an ever growing population all over the world and in this country. To-day we have a completely different situation. We have technical efficiency in production advancing by leaps and bounds through scientific development, and we have markets closing down against us all over the world; we have a stationary popula- 461 tion in this country and one which in the next few years will begin to decline. Science has not only made it possible but absolutely necessary that human beings should live more abundantly and have more leisure in the future; and, if this cannot be achieved within a measurable space of time, it would have been better if we had never bad any scientific development at all. If we cannot achieve it within a measurable space of time, undoubtedly the system that we are trying to operate at the moment will break. Whether Socialism would be any better I do not know. I do not think so. But I still think we can remedy the situation within the general ambit of the present capitalist system. The acid test of capitalism to-day is whether we can swing over to a sufficient extent from the production of capital goods to the production and consumption of consumable goods. That same problem is facing Russia.
The problem is both international and national. The freezing up of international trade owing to international economic war all over the world must make this process infinitely more difficult. Prohibition, quotas, exchange restrictions, export subsidies—all these things are deadly enemies of not only capitalism but of humanity. All I would say is that I think the last meeting of the Assembly of the League of Nations was very encouraging, because in the midst of a great international crisis they devoted three days to the discussion of this problem of under-nourishment, and of increasing consumption throughout the world. By raising the question of malnutrition in the Assembly, Mr. Bruce rendered an incalculable service.
But I want to speak to-day on the national aspect. What have we done? Here I come inevitably to the agricultural problem, which has not been raised much in this Debate, but which is just as important from the national point of view as the coal problem. We have subsidised agriculture a lot during the last few years, but in the wrong way. The only real success has been wheat, and even that has not been wholly beneficial, because the wheat subsidy is now definitely smashing the oat growers in the North. They can sell wheat for poultry feeding in competition with oats at a price with which the unsubsidised oat-grower cannot compete. But the wheat subsidy is the only one that can be said 462 to be even operating efficiently. Take milk. It is getting better now, but until they started tackling distribution it did nothing but raise prices to the consumer and diminish consumption. Now the thing has been changed and it is working better. I agree that we have to experiment; but it seems to me entirely wrong to approach this question, especially where subsidies are concerned, from the point of view of the producer rather than the consumer. You want to increase consumption, and benefit the producer that way. Take beef. A good deal of the subsidy has been clearly beneficial, but not all. The running of the subsidy has been lacking in efficiency. There have been various abuses in the marts, and you still have the central control of prices at Smithfield. Really, so far as the marketing of beef is concerned, the farmers are still in the grip of the Smithfield market as much as ever they were. They have made a little out of the subsidy, but the distributing side has not been tackled at all.
Beet sugar, of course, is a terrible case. But you cannot blame this Government for the beet sugar subsidy. In fact, I do not blame this Government for anything. [An HON. MEMBER: "Stand on the white line."] I am not standing on any white line. I am merely pointing out the fact that the agricultural legacy which this Government inherited from every Government since the War was an appalling legacy, and that when the present Minister for Agriculture took over, the industry was an absolute shambles. I wonder that he has been able to keep agriculture going at all. As for the beet sugar subsidy, I for one opposed it at every stage. Millions of pounds have been poured out in order to continue, or rather to create, the growing of a commodity of which there is a world glut, and has been for years past, in this country; and a large part of that money has found its way into the pockets of the Dutch operating companies. We have to face up to that. The Minister has to face up to it. You cannot suddenly shut the whole thing down, because it would not be fair to the people who started to grow sugar beet on the assumption that they would get a subsidy.
But our whole policy with regard to agricultural subsidies has got to be revised in the light of our experience, be- 463 cause it is haphazard and unfair in operation, and it is wasteful. We have not really touched marketing at the distributing end, which is really the important thing. One gets an impression in agriculture that in the emergency the Minister has been presented with a crowd of problems affecting different agricultural commodities, and has dealt with them seriatim, without having any real theme behind him, or any long-term agricultural policy.
What are we to do now? There is still a gap. I think that it will be admitted by hon. Gentlemen on all sides of the House that the gap between the price paid to the ordinary agricultural producer in this country and that paid by the ordinary housewife is still much too wide. There are only two ways in which that gap can be closed, and you will never get consumption up and malnutrition checked until the gap is closed. You can close it to some extent, but not entirely, by adopting schemes of reorganisation of marketing; and I am not at all sure that you ought not to complete the circle by subsidising, not the producing of any individual commodity, but directly the consumers themselves; and thus completely close that gap by the two methods of efficient marketing and subvention. If you are going to give a subvention to agriculture it is far better to benefit the producers and consumers generally, and the nation as a whole, rather than to hand it out to a single producer of a commodity like wheat at the expense of the producer of oats. A general solution of that kind seems to be far more satisfactory than the giving of a specific subsidy to a specific article or product. The best thing that was ever done for farmers since the War was the Derating Act, because it applied generally and fairly all over the country.
I want now for a moment or two to direct the attention of the House to a question which, I am sure, will come before us often during the next few years, the question of malnutrition; and that is to the investigations which have been made, and to some of the results which have been made public, by Sir John Orr, the head of the Rowett Research Institute. I am particularly interested because some of the experiments 'which he has been carrying out have 464 been carried out in my constituency. He has for instance taken the average diet of some of the children in the town of Peterhead as a sample of what not to give to rats and compared it with the ideal diet, which is not very much more expensive. I have seen the rats, and the difference between the rats fed on the ideal diet, and the rats fed on the typical food that is given to the children of the working classes in Peterhead is absolutely fantastic; and the immunity of the ideally fed rats from disease by comparison with the other rats is also most striking. I believe that we are only at the beginning of very great and valuable experiments with regard to the whole question of nutrition. The tentative conclusions to which Sir John Orr has already come are that diseases due to malnutrition or to wrong nutrition, which is just as bad, are still very prevalent, particularly in the distressed areas. If you take the mortality rate of the distressed areas, among children and women particularly, it is admittedly higher than in other parts of the country.
There is another thing. He has come to the conclusion—and I am sure that he is right—that food is much more important than housing. When you have a lot of rather expensive new houses provided by municipal authorities, and some of the working classes have to pay a higher rent, in many eases that rent is paid at the expense of food, with disastrous results. Therefore, I think we have stressed this housing business a little too much, and at the expense of food. Nobody denies that houses are valuable; but where the need is desperate, food is much more important. We have been inclined to put the provision of houses above food in the past. Cheap food means less poverty, less disease, and a lower cost of social services in the long run. Sir John Orr points out that 10s. per head per week taken as the expenditure on food, which is the lowest level, means a consumption of one pint of liquid milk per head per week, which is grossly and totally inadequate. With wages of £2 and over, he points out, consumption at once rises to five pints per head; and similarly with regard to eggs and fruit, with enormously beneficial results. He says that if the diet of all families with an income of less than £1 per bead per week could be 465 raised to the level attainable by this level, it would mean 10 per cent. increased consumption, or £100,000,000 a year increase at retail prices—increased consumption of agricultural produce. Would not that do more good to the farmers than anything else you can give them?
Sir John Orr says that he wants to reconcile the interests of agriculture and health. He has made proposals to this end. I dare say that some of them are impracticable. I do not know. He suggests that we ought to have public utility corporations to manage the processing centres, such as bacon factories, slaughterhouses, milk depots and so on, and that they should buy direct from the farmer at a price to be fixed by them and sell direct to the distributor at a price also to be fixed by them and published, thus cheapening the cost of distribution, and enabling the public to know exactly how much they ought to pay in the shops for their food supplies. I am not so sure that public utility corporations are as efficient as all that. In the past it has not been found to be the case. I do not think that they are sufficiently efficient at the moment. But that is not prejudice; it is merely an argument. These proposals ought to receive the very serious consideration of the Government. In this way I think that you could really increase the national prosperity, because money paid to the farmers flows immediately back to the towns, and you would certainly increase national health by increased consumption of animal products and fresh fruit and vegetables. No doubt I shall be accused, as soon as I sit down, of having made a Socialist speech. If this is Socialism, then I am a Socialist. But no one has yet accused and denounced the firm of J. Henry Schroeder in the City of London of being essentially a Socialist institution; and I will quote to hon. Members a statement in their last quarterly report on this matter:The under-nourishment of vast numbers of the world's population synchronises with agricultural depression and glutted markets for foodstuffs. It need hardly be said that the cure, or even the partial amendment of these two evils, would have an immense effect on general prosperity. Through better nourishment, a healthier and more vigorous population would be enabled to grow up; and diseases, 466 that cost so much to remedy, would be checked. At the same time, increased consumption of food would put more money into the hands of the agricultural classes and countries, enabling them to increase their demand for machinery, fertilisers and goods, and to meet their debt charges more easily. Thus, the industrial producers and distributors, who have been hard hit by the reduced buying power of the agriculturists, and the many bondholders and investors whose incomes have been reduced by defaults, would also feel the benefit; and some of the chief causes of the recent depression would be removed or amended.I believe that to be entirely true. I suggest to the Government that there are certain steps that can be taken at once. If you do not want to go in for a large and ambitious policy without further investigation, I agree with my hon. Friends opposite that one step to be taken in the way of increasing general purchasing power would be the abolition of the family means test. We on this side of the House do not believe that you can abolish the means test altogether. Let us not differ on that, but work together for what we can agree upon. If we could abolish the family means test, it would do an immense amount of good from this point of view. Then should really begin the reorganisation of marketing from the distributing end. That is essential if you are ever going to diminish the price gap. And I think the Minister should start on beef. Then I want to put forward a plea for a more ambitious policy with regard to the provision of milk for children, particularly in distressed areas. I should like to see liquid milk given absolutely free to children under five years of age, and to mothers as well. I should like also to see a much more intensive propaganda amongst the working classes with regard to the kind of food they ought to eat. I do not think they know anything about it; and a great deal of the malnutrition is due as much to the fact that they get the wrong kinds of food as to the fact that they do not eat enough. Part of the trouble also in my opinion is the reluctance of the young women of this country to cook. They would much rather turn things out of tins, which is much more expensive, and not half so nutritious. We want to increase the consumption of meat, milk, fish, and vegetables in this country because we can produce them much better than any other country and because they are more nutritious than any other kind of food.
467 There is another point in reference to the distressed areas which I should like to make. It is quite apparent that we cannot swing this country over to the production of consumers goods at anything like the speed necessary to salvage the distressed areas in the course of a few years. That will take a long time; and what troubles me a little is that the housing boom, which has really carried our industrial prosperity on its back, may reach saturation point in another two years. We must have something to put in its place. There is also the question of coal, and technical improvements; and we must take into account that we cannot count on our export markets as we have in the past. Therefore, if we are to do anything in the distressed areas, apart from merely relieving them, we have still to find an outlet for capital goods.
Where is that outlet? There is still the home market; but it is limited in extent; and that is why I do not believe in the schemes of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) for building every road and bridge which will be wanted in this country during the next 10 years in two years. What is going to happen after that? So far as foreign markets are concerned we have to face the fact that China is going, that in another two or three years hence, at the present rate of Japanese progress, China will be gone. For whatever hon. Members may say nobody is going to war for the Chinese market. We have therefore to face the real possibility that China is going, and that America will become increasingly self-supporting, and in saying America I include both Canada and South America. As for Europe, for the time being the less said about it the better. Where can we look for foreign markets? It seems to me that there are still two outlets for capital goods produced in this country—two fields which are comparatively undeveloped, Russia and Africa—the whole Continent of Africa. South Africa with its gold production is one of the richest countries in the world; and I think we could do a great deal more in developing the East African colonies for which we are responsible, many of which are suitable for white people. We should develop them, and spend more money on them than we have hitherto. We have a duty to do this, because there are other countries in 468 Europe which are looking on these colonies with covetous eyes, and if we do not make the most of our opportunities and responsibilities, they will put forward strong claims to take these colonies from us.
Then there is Soviet Russia. Since 1931 they have paid off 1,400 million roubles of debt. What other country in the world has done that? At the end of 1932 they owed Germany 1,000 million reichmarks. To-day they owe about 125,000,000 reichmarks; and by the end of next year they will have paid off all the credits that were extended. Our experience in regard to the credits we made to Germany bas not been nearly so happy as that. I think that we should try to do a deal with the Soviet Government, a reasonable deal, on the basis of a long-term loan, and on the understanding that the loan shall be spent on capital goods produced in this country. If we brought it off we should be doing a service not only to the distressed areas, but to the nation as a whole. I thank the House for listening to me so patiently. My only object has been to try to put forward some constructive suggestions.
§ 12.11 p.m.
§ Mr. QUIBELL
I am very fortunate in being called upon to follow the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) who has just made such an interesting speech. He has referred to the efforts of the Government to bring prosperity to the agricultural industry, and has mentioned the subsidies which have been given to the industry in order to bring about that prosperity. We have given a beet-sugar subsidy, a meat subsidy and a wheat subsidy. I do not think that we could have put the farming community more completely on the dole than we have. The last time I was privileged to speak in this House I appealed to all sections to co-operate for the purpose of bringing prosperity to this stricken industry. Perhaps rather foolishly, but nevertheless sincerely, I believed that if we could only bring prosperity to agriculture it would reflect itself in two ways; first, we should get an assurance from the farmers—as we have—that it would enable them to employ more labour and more regularly, and give higher wages to agricultural labourers, and eventually extend unemployment insurance to the agricultural 469 labourer. What has been our experience? I live in an agricultural county and I represent a division which is agricultural but for the town of Scunthorpe, which is a steel centre. The farming community have taken the dole, but I have found that on some farms where previously 12 and 13 men were employed there are now only four, five or six. They seem to be satisfied to take all that has been given them by this House and the country, but it has not been reflected in the amount of the wages paid, the number of men employed or the regularity of employment.
§ Mr. TURTON
Will the hon. Member tell me whether the wages are higher to-day than before the agricultural policy was adopted?
§ Mr. QUIBELL
I shall come to that in due time. I have investigated a particular case, a farm which I know and on which I have worked, and while hon. Members may be able to write penny pamphlets on agriculture telling us how it should be done, I think that a little practical experience is worth all the penny pamphlets in the world. I worked on a farm in my own division, a farm on which I was born. I am proud of the fact that I represent that division. On that farm there were 13 of us working. How many are employed there to-day? The farmer in those days brought up a big family. Finally he bought his farm, then retired, and he lived in the village in which I was born. He has retired very comfortably indeed. But he farmed his land; he employed labour on it, and as a consequence made farming a success. I regard him as one of the greatest friends of the parish in which I was born because he employed the most labour and farmed well.
§ Mr. QUIBELL
He paid me 1s. a day. That is why I allowed him to stamp my cards, and I left. He paid the farm labourers 15s. a week. But he did employ labour.
§ Mr. QUIBELL
Yes, 15s., but what was the price of wheat then? The right hon. Gentleman knows. Potatoes were sold 470 at any price even in those days. At any rate this farmer managed it and he is very comfortably situated now. Very foolishly perhaps I thought that all the improvisations and helps given recently to agriculture would have resulted either in more employment or more regular employment or better wages. But they have not done so. Eighty thousand men have gone out of employment in the countryside since subsidies have been given to agriculture. I am told by farm foremen, men who have been brought up on the land, that the farmer is willing to take the subsidy, that in some cases it pays all his rent and in some cases pays for all his labour. The farmer takes the subsidy, but on some farms of between 300 and 400 acres only three or four men are now employed. I am not now blaming the Minister, but I think that the granting of subsidies to agriculture should have been made conditional upon the farmers employing more labour and paying better wages. I could take hon. Members to places in my division which are truly distressed areas. But when has there been a time when agriculture and the countryside have not been distressed areas, so far as the labourers are concerned. We should insist on more labour being employed. There is no security in the countryside, and in many cases the best men have been driven into the towns.
I and others went down to Berkshire to look at one of those beautiful farms run by large-scale farming methods. I had a look round. There were no horses, not one; beasts, none; store beasts, none; sheep, none. All we saw was motors, an international harvester and machinery all over the farm. It was a great demonstration farm of the kind that we were told was necessary in order that we might again bring prosperity to agriculture. We went into the fields. After a while the gentleman who farmed the place came along with a stick and a dog, the only real things on the farm. We asked him for an explanation how it was done. He replied, "Oh, the international harvester in the field reaps and threshes. We burn the straw and then take the grain to an elevator, where, after a drying process, the corn goes into the bags and in a fortnight it is back in the village to be made into flour." I asked him how many labourers he employed, and he replied, "Not one." 471 It was all machinery and hopelessness. The only people employed on this farm were two mechanics. The right hon. Gentleman who was Minister of Agriculture in the Labour Government accompanied us on that visit.
After having seen this farm, which to me was beautiful farming by Oxford, we went about 30 miles to another place and saw a farm which I considered to be the kind of farm that should be encouraged, and the only kind of farm that will be made to pay in this country, namely a mixed farm. On that farm there were horses, milk beasts, store beasts, pigs, everything that makes a place look like a real English farm, and 12 or 13 men were employed. Herdsmen got over £2 a week and their houses. Contrast that with the large-scale machinery farm, lifeless, soulless, a tragedy which I hope the Minister of Agriculture will never encourage. This mixed farm was made to pay. The farmer lives in a beautiful house and he deserves it. The brains and brawn of himself and his men have produced a farm to be proud of. The employment of labour and horses in place of mechanical appliances made it a farm of which any man would be very proud. That sort of farming is the real solution for the agricultural industry.
I want to bring prosperity to the countryside. I do not believe we can let agriculture "go hang" because we cannot grow wheat in this country on the same scale as Canada. After all, England is ours and we should make the best of it. But I do not agree with the principle of the subsidy. Along with one of the former Members for Leicester, Mr. Frank Wise, I remember putting before the farming community at Brigg and several other places two proposals that would do something really for agriculture, and at the same time preserve for us the benefits of cheap food in the world market. Take the question of wheat. Under the subsidy undesirable things are happening. Last Monday I spoke to one farmer who was growing wheat the second time, wheat following wheat. Every hon. Member in this House who knows anything about agriculture knows that that is an entirely wrong cropping. But that farmer is doing that particular thing because barley is fetching such a shocking price that it does not pay him to grow 472 it. I would stabilise wheat at 45s. a quarter. That would encourage the farmer to grow it. If we stabilised the price, it would ensure that the farmer would grow more wheat, and the more of it he grows the better from my point of view.
So far as barley is concerned, the same principle operates. I cannot see why the brewers who dipped their hands into the pockets of the taxpayers to the tune of £14,000,000 cannot at least afford to pay to the home grower of malting barley the same price that they pay to the foreigner. Surely, that is only asking them to do the patriotic thing. Barley has been sold at less than £1 a quarter recently. No man living can grow it at that price. The Minister could deal with that side of the matter. Before the brewers buy foreign barley they should be compelled to take English malting barley, and give the English farmer who grows it a proper price for it. There is no protection involved in that proposition. It is merely common justice to give to the home producer, providing that it is good malting barley, the same price that would be given to the foreigner.
With respect to wheat, I am going to say something with which possibly my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) may not agree. I would stabilise the price at 45s. a quarter. In my own little village of Messingham there used to be three mills, but they have gone. When I was here in 1929–31 the millers tried to fill me up with the story that you could not make a loaf out of English flour. The fact is that I have seen the wheat growing, fetched the flour from the mill and then I have eaten the loaf myself. The three mills that used to be in operation in my village supported six families, but they have now gone. In the same village a man grows his wheat but the English miller will scarcely look at it. The amount is so small that the big miller at York or Selby does not care whether he gets it or not, because he can buy thousands of quarters from the ship and take it to the silo straight away. I would make him take every quarter of wheat of marketable quality that the English farmer can grow at an economic price. That would encourage the farmer to grow wheat of a marketable quality in much larger quantities. I have consulted with farmers in my division and 473 met them frequently and most of them believe that the two things that I have mentioned would do more for agriculture than all the subsidies that have been given to it.
Reference has been made to beet. The man who is director or manager of a beet factory is usually a financier and does not know the difference between a beet and a mangold. He is a banker, and he enters into what is called the "cow partnership." He has the milking end of the cow, and the farmer has the feeding end of it. The banker knows that the best end is at the factory, and he is managing very well. So far as the incidence of the subsidy is concerned, when it was first granted it was granted on two or three conditions. It was believed that those conditions would apply. It was said that the subsidy would mean the employment of labour, secondly, that it would provide us with a commodity of common use and, thirdly, it would do the farmer an enormous amount of good. All I can say is—and the Minister knows it as well as every Member of this House—that the incidence of the subsidy is a scandal. I have nothing to say against the subsidy being granted, but I object to the banker, the financier running away with the greater part of the subsidy and leaving agriculture languishing as it is now and has been during the last four years. So far as the labourers are concerned—I am sorry to have to say this—they have nothing for which to thank the National Government. The Government have had four years in which they could have done something for the labourer, but he has been driven from the village to the town, and his labour has become more casual. We see in the newspapers in Lincolnshire statements that you cannot get sugar beet labourers. The reason for that is that during the last year or so 13,000 of them have been driven to the towns. The principal reason for the scarcity of good labour is that there has been no security for the agricultural labourers in regard to unemployment insurance, and they have been driven to the towns where there is some little security but where, unfortunately, they have created a very difficult problem.
There is another point on which I should like to touch the Minister, because 474 I know that he is guilty. I and other hon. Members sat on the Committee which dealt with the Land Drainage Bill, which we were told was going to do something not only for agriculture but for unemployment. We honestly believed that, but, again, I was deceived. I have learned my lesson. The land drainage scheme is not receiving the financial assistance that it should have received from the Government. In regard to the incidence of rating, the Government have allowed a gross injustice to continue for four years. There are men living in little villages who have a garden about half the size of the benches from which I am speaking, and they are charged a rate of 30s, and are receiving not the slightest benefit for the rates they pay. It is on annual value, and some of these men are paying more than some of the farmers. Let me cite one practical case.
Take the case of Brigg. There has been a special meeting there about this matter in which they blamed me for the Land Drainage Act, but the guilty party is sitting opposite to me now. Brigg is divided into three parts, but it is the part in between the river and the Ancholme which is rated. That is the only part in Brigg that is rated. It is just in the middle and consists of working-closs property. The Minister knows the facts, because I wrote to him and I tried, through several channels, to have this grievance met. It is not a small grievance by any means. It is a very big grievance there and it is a matter which may have lost votes to men like myself who were fighting rural divisions. The Trent and the Humber bound my division, and I have no doubt this helped to lose us many votes. But as far as the justice of the matter is concerned, the Minister knows very well that if he had had the will he has had the time and the power during the past four years to remedy it. As regards the Land Drainage Act we were misled. It has placed a burden on the shoulders of these poor fellows who live in cottages down in the Trent Valley and on the Humber banks, a burden which it was never intended either by the Committee or by Parliament that they should bear. I urge the Minister at the first available opportunity to amend the Land Drainage Act so as to remove this injustice from the poor people who now suffer under it.
§ 12.38 p.m.
§ Mr. TURTON
One thing for which hon. Members opposite can be thankful is that despite the disappointments which they suffered in the results at the Election they have the advantage of having the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) back again in this House with his practical knowledge of agriculture. During the last Parliament the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) acted his part most valiantly. With little knowledge of agriculture he put up a display of rhetoric and argument which always delighted the House. The hon. Member for Brigg has, I know, spent many years in the industry and I am surprised that he should complain that a farmer had followed a crop of wheat with another crop of wheat instead of a crop of barley. I have a certain experience of agriculture and I know that two white crops in succession, whatever they are, will damage the land. The reason why farmers in this country are trying to grow wheat and nothing else is because other branches of agriculture are not paying. It does not pay the farmer to put a fallow crop into the land because the livestock industry is not paying to-day.
The speech of the hon. Member for Brigg can be divided into two parts. In the first part he complained that the farmers were not passing on their subsidies to the farm labourers. In the second part he complained that mixed farming was not paying. I agree with that part of his speech and I suggest that it is because mixed farming is not paying to-day that we have disorganisation in agriculture. Where subsidies have been given my experience is that they have been passed on to the other partner in the industry, the farm labourer. In my part of the country agricultural wages have risen until to-day they are higher than they have been at any time since 1926, and only this month they have been raised by another 6d. They are not nearly high enough—we are all agreed to that—but if you go to Canada or the United States and see how other countries have weathered this agricultural storm, you will find that there agricultural wages have fallen by 48 per cent. to 50 per cent. It is because of the policy of marketing boards, subsides and protection that agricultural wages in this country have not dropped to 476 the depth to which they have dropped across the Atlantic.
I want more help for agriculture. To quote the hon. Member for Brigg I, want, if you like, more protection for agriculture. I want the brewers to pay 45s. a cwt. for good quality malting barley. That is what I call protection and what I should also call a subsidy to the industry—the very subsidy to which the hon. Member for Brigg objects in other branches of agriculture. But do not let us quarrel about that point. What we want the Government to do is to continue their present agricultural policy by protecting each branch of the industry and securing that the advantages of that protection infiltrate right through the industry. Those of us who are engaged in mixed farming or who watch others engage in mixed farming are not satisfied with the position in relation to malting barley, in relation to beef and also in relation to a matter on which I was surprised the hon. Member for Brigg did not touch, namely, the condition of the poultry and egg industry.
We all want as much food to be consumed at a reasonable price as possible, but that food must be produced at a profit, so that those who produce it can pay their way. It is the task of the Government now to encourage, not the production but the consumption of home produced foodstuffs. The Government have started that policy. I do not know how the hon. Member for Brigg would tack his agricultural policy on to the Opposition Amendment. The only solution for agriculture proposed in the Amendment is the public ownership of property—I suppose the land—but that would not increase the consumption of foodstuffs or allow the producer more profits. What the Government have been doing will produce those results. Take the provision of milk for school children. Nearly 2,000,000 children have been drinking nearly 3,000,000 gallons of milk per month. But for that provision that milk would not have been consumed. The school children could not have afforded it and the farmers in that case would not be getting the price that is being paid for the school children's milk, but a lower price, that is, the manufacturing price. This year in Bishop Auckland, under the guidance of the Minister of Agriculture, the Potato Marketing Board tried the experiment of selling potatoes to the un- 477 employed at half the current retail price. What was the result? The amount of potatoes consumed doubled.
§ Mr. BENJAMIN SMITH
If you reduce the price you increase the output. That is the way all over the country.
§ Mr. TURTON
That meant a profit to the merchant because of the higher output and it was an advantage to the farmer because potatoes were being used which otherwise would have gone to waste. I appeal to the Government to follow up these experiments by a general policy of encouraging the consumption of home-produced agricultural goods. Farmers in this country are I believe prepared to enter into any such arrangement. It is difficult to increase consumption where there is a large difference between the price on the farm and the price in the shop. That is a problem that has to be tackled. Why do you get that large difference? Why is it, to take the ordinary example of the cauliflower, which a farmer sells for 1d. and for which the consumer has to pay 8d., that there is this tremendous difference in price? I believe a good deal of it is due to the present rating system. If you have in a town one shop selling cauliflowers, then there is one rate assessment that has to rank as an overhead charge, but if you have 20 shops selling cauliflowers, there are 20 rate assessments that have to be deducted from the gross price of the cauliflower. There are 20 times the overhead charges, and I do not believe that that system is fair. I believe the rating system is one of the reasons why you have a great difference between retail and wholesale prices.
I do not agree with the right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) that the Co-operative movement would solve the problem. We have found in agriculture, when we have wanted to get a better price for our commodities and a cheaper price in the shops, that it was not the co-operatives which entered into such an agreement. When you had the farmer demanding a better price for milk, it was not the co-operatives who said that they would give it and still keep milk cheap. In fact, you found that the co-operatives were the most violent protagonists for cheap milk prices for the farmers and dear milk prices for the consumers.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I do not think the hon. Member ought to make statements of that kind unless he knows, because they are not true.
§ Mr. TURTON
I hope, if I have said anything untrue, the right hon. Gentleman will get up and tell us exactly what part the co-operatives played in that matter of arbitration.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
Ask the Minister of Education about school milk. He knows that the Co-operative movement saved the school milk scheme.
§ Mr. TURTON
That appears to be changing the subject. Let the right hon. Gentleman get up in his place later and tell us exactly what part the co-operatives played.
§ Mr. TURTON
I know he had full knowledge of the facts, and I can rest assured that he will tell us exactly what happened. I think the time has come to revise the whole system of rating and also the system of shopkeeping in this country. The time is ripe. There is a lot to be said for the licensing system, as in the sale of beer. I find that shopkeepers in the country districts are being penalised by travelling shops that come into the towns and pay no rates and can, therefore, compete on advantageous terms with the shopkeepers in the country towns. That is causing a great deal of disquiet and also of bankruptcy, because we have too many shops and too big a difference between wholesale and retail prices.
We in the country districts, both those who are farmers and those who are agricultural workers, have a great deal of sympathy with the coalminers in this country. I know that the agricultural wage earners are getting only half the wage of the men who work at the coal face. At the same time we have a great deal of sympathy with the coal miner, but if you are going to put up the coal miner's wage, I would ask you not to put up the price of coal to the agricultural labourer. When you are living on 31s. 6d. 479 a week, as my constituents are living, coal is a very great luxury and is far too dear for them already. I believe that coal need not be so dear. My constituency is 30 miles from the Durham collieries. At the pit-head I could buy coal for 18s. a ton, and I think I can fairly say that if we bring it by road by modern transport, if we are allowed to do so by the Minister of Transport and the licensing system, we should have to add on something like 5s. to 6s. a ton. That would be 24s., and yet if you buy it retail in my constituency, you pay between 33s. and 35s. a ton, and if you buy it by the sack, as most of my constituents have to do, you have to pay 37s. 6d. a ton. When I walked to the House this morning I looked to see the price of coal in the coal carts in London and say that it was 2s. 5d. to 2s. 7d. a bag. The miner has his wage ascertained, not on the 2s. 5d. or 2s. 7d., not on the 1s. 9d. a bag in my constituency, but on the 18s. a ton at the pit-head.
One part of the Gracious Speech that I welcomed more than any other was that part which related to the system of re-organising the coal selling arrangements. I believe that you will get far more improvement both for the miners and for those who work in the country from this scheme than from any other system of dealing with this coal position. We have sympathy with the coal miners. We in the agricultural constituencies realise that we are part of the towns and that they are part of us, and I ask those hon. Members who have no agricultural industries in their divisions, to realise the difficulties of agriculture and that farmers and farm labourers should work at a profit, and to help us to put the agricultural industry into the position which it should occupy in this country.
§ 12.53 p.m.
§ Mr. A. JENKINS
It is with a good deal of diffidence that I take part in these discussions at so early a stage after my entry to this House. I would not have taken part so early were it not for the fact that the position in the mining industry and the negotiations in connection with the workmen employed in that industry have reached the difficult stage at which we find ourselves to-day. From the Press reports this morning, it appears that the coal owners are again relying 480 upon district arrangements in order to compel the men to continue working for the present very low wages which are paid in the industry. I listened with a good deal of interest to the remarks which fell from the last speaker regarding the prices paid for coal in the various towns and cities of this country, and I agree with him that those prices are too high. One sees those prices marked up in shop windows from time to time, and it is extraordinary to see the difference between the pithead price of coal and the prices that are charged to the consumers, and particularly the domestic consumers, of coal.
I have here a statement issued by one coal factor asking for 42s. per ton for Northumberland coal produced at the pit top at 11s. 1d. per ton. Another statement relates to Yorkshire coal at 48s. per ton, whereas the average pithead price of coal in Yorkshire, the average cost of production, is round about 13s. per ton. It is perfectly true—I want to be fair on this point—that the coal that would be sold by the factor would be large coal, and there would be certain small coals in the whole of the coals that are produced at the pit top. It is remarkable what differences exist in the pithead prices and the prices charged to the consumer, and the last speaker is correct when he says that the miner does not get the benefit in wages from the prices that are charged to the consumer.
Since 1921, when the present miners' wages agreement was fixed, there has been, either consciously or unconsciously, a definite attempt on the part of the people who control the industry to drain away from the pit tops much of the prices that are ultimately obtained for coal. We see that in the most marked form in the Welsh coalfields. We have selling agencies and subsidiary companies that are now taking very substantial sums of the money that is obtained for coal. Indeed there are some very large colliery companies who transfer the coal from the pit tops at a certain fixed price—a price fixed artificially by a committee of coal-owners. They transfer that coal to themselves as subsidiary companies, and then transfer it again to another subsidiary in France, or Genoa or the Argentine, and many other parts of the world, and the profits that are made upon the transference of coal from one subsidiary to 481 another never enter into the pit head price which determines the workmen's wages.
That is a very important factor, and when we in South Wales some time ago were dealing with the miners' wages claim before the Bridgeman Tribunal, the Tribunal then expressed some concern as to whether the miners in the ascertainments were getting quite fair treatment as far as the price of coal is concerned. This is shown very markedly by a table we prepared in connection with that application for wages improvement. There were for the years 1931, 1932 and 1933 profits made by 10 of the most important colliery companies in South Wales, and the largest of those companies profits as published in their balance sheets—they were public companies—amounted to £4,282,265. For those three years the ascertainments which determined workmen's wages in South Wales showed a loss of £86,702. That indicates clearly that profits might be made by colliery companies, by established subsidiary companies, and various other undertakings, and yet the colliery ascertainments will always show a loss.
I have a more marked statement than that relating to the year 1933. This applies only to the Welsh coalfields. The colliery ascertainments during that year showed a loss of £188,446. Eight of those large colliery companies during that same year showed profits in their balance sheets of £1,442,000. We shall have to be careful when the establishment of the central selling agency which is mentioned in the Gracious Speech is brought about. It is possible that the pit-head ascertainments would show no improvement although improved prices would result from the central selling agency. Therefore we shall not have to expect too much from that central selling agency unless the workpeople have some representation upon it. It is an extraordinary fact that the workpeople never have had representation upon these committees. In the South Wales coalfield to-day the committee that fixes prices at the pit top is a committee composed of coalowners only, and the workpeople have no representation and no knowledge as to what action is taken by the committee. That must result in suspicion 482 and doubt. When you have colliery companies who can make profits at the end of the year, and when the representatives of the coalowners write to the daily press that the colliery ascertainments are showing a loss, you can hardly expect even the public to accept both those statements from the same people.
§ Mr. JENKINS
I would give way quite willingly to the hon. Member. I was referring to the difference that exists between the results of the colliery companies shown in their annual balance sheets and the ascertainments of the pit head prices of coal. That policy has been going on since 1921. Might I point out that time after time we have made representation to the coalowners in order to change the basis of those ascertainments. What is the reply? An extraordinary reply of which I would like hon. Members and right hon. Members to take note. I have been in these negotiations since 1921. We are told by the coalowners' representatives that the present agreement as to ascertainments was made by national negotiations. When we ask for a review of that arrangement locally, we are told by the coalowners that this is a national agreement. We then say through the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, "Make representations to the coalowners in order to vary those arrangements," and the coalowners reply that there is no national committee with authority to deal with these agreements, and therefore the coalowners refuse to deal with them locally, and they say there is no authority at all to deal with it nationally.
Hon. Members will have been disturbed quite naturally over the position that has arisen in the coalfields again. Hitherto there has been a tendency on the part of some people in this country to blame the miners for being too ready to strike. Let us cast our minds back to 1921. There was a lock-out then in order to drive down wages to a very low level. The coalowners succeeded after a three months' stoppage, which must have involved this country in many millions 483 of pounds of expenditure. That was after the Sankey Commission's Report. Very little notice was taken of that report. For a few years the struggle went on, the miners bearing their burden of low wages, and then we arrive at 1926. Again there was a lock-out with a seven months' stoppage of the mining industry. I wish the Prime Minister were present at this moment. After a stoppage of seven long weary months the Prime Minister of the time agreed to an increase in the length of the working day. We reverted to the eight-hour day, and by that act alone unemployment in the mining industry was increased by 130,000 men. We have really never recovered from that state of things. I would like hon. Members to get a correct conception of what has been happening in the mining industry since 1921. The coalowners have believed and have held steadfastly to the view that the British miners could be compelled to work long enough, to work intensely enough, and to work for little wages enough to out-compete the miners of every country in the world. That has been the policy pursued by the British owners.
Time after time I have made representations to the coal owners asking them to endeavour to enter into agreements with foreign countries. Recently we have got the English-Polish arrangement. We have seen no benefit from that. The tragedy of the whole thing is that it is so late. There was the possibility of an arrangement with Germany six years ago, but, owing to the policy of the coal owners, we are now faced with organised subsidies levied upon internal trade in Germany in order to compete against British exports. May I ask hon. Members opposite if they think it is fair that the miners employed in those areas of this country where they have to produce coal for export purposes should be called upon to bear the whole of that burden? Is it necessary to the economy of this nation that coal exports should be maintained? If it is, I say that that miners—and I am sure I shall get a measure of support in the House for this—should not be called upon to bear that burden. It is a burden which the whole nation should bear, and bear fairly. Let me try to indicate what the result of this 484 policy has been. In South Wales in 1920 there was paid in wages to the miners £65,600,000. In 1921 followed the three months stoppage to which I have referred, and in 1924 wages had fallen to £30,400,000. Wages were cut in half and the weary road of poverty in South Wales began. Year by year the pressure of the coal owners has compelled these miners to accept still lower wages, and by the time we get to 1933 they had fallen to £14,500,000. These figures indicate clearly what has happened to South Wales and there are other coal mining districts in a similar plight.
What is this House going to do? What is the Prime Minister going to do in the present critical negotiations for wages? Are we again going to capitulate to this wrong policy of the coal owners? That would be a very great blunder indeed. I have many friends among the coal owners, and I hope that I am not speaking too bitterly about them, but the tragedy is that whatever the coal owners do they do much too late. I see references in to-day's "Times" to the statement of the coal owners in their opposition to the claims that are being made on behalf of the mine workers. I wish hon. Gentlemen would cast their minds back to the earlier periods. Almost exactly similar statements were produced then. I would urge upon the Government to take what steps are necessary in order to see that the mine workers get a fair deal and wages sufficient to maintain themselves in comfort. Is it necessary that mine workers, who run such risks, whose toil is so arduous, whose lives are so difficult, should not be permitted to have sufficient wages to maintain their homes in decency? I live in a mining district and know some of these men. It is possible for anybody to know men whose lives have been spent in the industry and who are faced now with a situation in which they cannot have the chance of seeing their children ever wearing anything new. Can hon. Members opposite realise what that means to a good citizen, to a citizen who has put his best into his industry, who years ago may have had some balance, and has now seen it disappear? The days come and the days go, and their wives and children have to depend upon clothes cast off by more fortunate people.
485 That is not justice, and in this first speech that I make in the House I ask the Government not to make the blunders they have made in the past, not to capitulate to the coalowners' policy all the time but to say that it is part of the duty of a Government to see that the mine workers and all other workers in the country shall have justice. If that is done, we can get a satisfactory settlement of this mining dispute and miners wages can be put on a better level. In the end that will be far better for the country than again precipitating a stoppage in the mining industry. I hope that definite steps will be taken to-day. I hope that in the course of the next few days we shall hear that the miners are not goaded on—that is what it means—driven on, to cease work in the mines in order to struggle for existence. I beg the Government to take a firm stand on this matter. They have had sufficient experience, 14 years' experience, of the coalowners, 14 years' experience of the value of low wages and no organisation in the industry. Let us now try the other side. Let us have good organisation in the industry and reasonable wages. By that means we shall have peace in the mining industry, and a much greater measure of satisfaction and of beneficial results to the whole community of this country.
§ 1.16 p.m.
§ Mr. SANDYS
May I be allowed to compliment the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. A. Jenkins) on the speech which he has just delivered? I think the House listened to that speech with unusual interest and attention. The hon. Member showed an intimate knowledge of the conditions prevailing in the mines and a deep feeling for the problems of the miners, and also his earnest determination to see that the conditions of the miners in this kingdom are radically and rapidly improved. I do not think there are any Members in any section of this House who do not join with him in hoping that a great improvement will be rapidly achieved.
I have been struck during the first few days of this Parliament by the wealth of constructive thought and of sincerity and earnestness which has been displayed in speeches from the back benches of the Labour Opposition. I am sorry to see that that constructive thought has not been reflected in the same way in the 486 speeches from the Front Bench of His Majesty's Opposition. We might have expected that the Labour Front Bench, enriched as it has been by the return of absent colleagues, might have been able to give us a greater wealth of thought and constructive proposals, but it seems that, flushed by the victory which they claim at the polls, the Labour Front Bench have rather forgotten the duties of His Majesty's Opposition. There has been, in my opinion, a trifle too much sarcasm and too little constructive criticism and thought. The back butchers have been left to do the thinking and to show sincerity for their cause. We might have expected that ex-Labour Ministers, during their enforced holiday of four years, would have thought out some practical proposals, and it is surprising to find them returning here to join their colleagues who occupied those benches during the last Parliament with no such constructive proposals or thought to put before us. It was all very well for hecklers in the Election to confine themselves to shouting at the back of the hall, "What about the means test?" but I do not think that is worthy of His Majesty's Opposition. The Labour party went to the poll at the last Election with no constructive alternative to the National Government. They relied purely upon the swing of the pendulum, and they were sadly disappointed.
There has been much speculation as to the reasons for the results in this General Election. The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell), who opened the Debate, in common with his colleagues on previous days of this Debate, accused the Government of exploiting the unanimity of all parties in their support of the League. In the interesting paper which he read to us he said that the Labour party had stood all along for the League, the whole League and nothing but the League. It is hardly necessary to deny a statement of that kind. A few minutes ago we had only to look across to the benches opposite to see the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) sitting with the Gangway between him and his former colleagues on the Opposition benches. Can the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley rise in this House and tell us that no differences over the policy of the Labour party towards the League of Nations divide him from his colleagues? I think 487 the silence of the right hon. Gentleman throughout these Debates has been a very notable feature of them. I do not think there has been any discussion on foreign affairs in this House for a very long time in which the right hon. Gentleman has not taken part. The division of opinion in the Labour party on the very question of support or not for the Covenant, the whole Covenant and nothing but the Covenant was one of the chief reasons for the overwhelming majority and overwhelming measure of confidence which His Majesty's Government received. The electors did not feel inclined, at a moment of grave international crisis, to entrust the destinies of this country to a party which on that issue was split from top to bottom.
The Opposition accuse the Government of having made many promises during the Election and of then producing a King's Speech which contains only a few vague phrases. In all sincerity I believe that the Gracious Speech contains as full a programme of work and of constructive legislation as could have been expected of any Government at any time. The scope, and the detail which it contains came as a surprise and an encouragement to most of us.
In the Amendment which has been moved by the Opposition a reference is made to the ineffectiveness of the Government's policy for the limitation of armaments. I would now like to deal with the Naval Treaty which is referred to in the Gracious Speech. For a number of years we have been limited in our construction, design and strategy by the terms of the existing international naval agreement. The disadvantages of this agreement have, from a technical point of view, been very great, but I am sure that there are no people in this country—or at any rate very few—who, possessing any sense of responsibility to the taxpayer or to the cause of peace, would not gladly welcome an opportunity of renewing that Naval Treaty and of retaining it in its essentials. Unfortunately it seems unlikely, much as we should desire it, that we shall have an opportunity of renewing the Treaty and of retaining it the same in its essential parts. Japan has made it fairly clear that she will not agree to a renewal of the agreement on the basis of the maintenance of the ratio 3-5-5 be- 488 tween herself, the United States and Great Britain.
That is a new problem facing us, and I wish to take this opportunity of dealing with it, even at this late moment, before any naval agreement has been reached. We have no fear in this country in regard to naval construction by the United States of America because, apart from the community of tradition and race, there is no clash of vital interests between ourselves and the United States. I do not think that responsible statesmen on either side of the Atlantic contemplate the remotest possibility of armed clash between these two great English-speaking nations. On the other hand we should not be honest with ourselves if we said that we were in the same happy position in regard to Japan. We have interests in China and territory in the Far East for the security of which we are responsible.
The ambitions and aspirations of Japan are an unknown quantity, and as they become revealed day by day they seem to get larger. In the past we have been upon an excellent footing with the Japanese Empire, and I sincerely hope that we shall be able, with mutual understanding on both sides, to maintain that attitude of harmony and friendship between two great seafaring nations. We have little to gain by insisting upon rigid equality between ourselves and the United States of America in the matter of sea power, but, on the other hand, we have everything to lose by allowing the ratio of strength to be weakened between ourselves and Japan.
We would welcome the renewal of the Naval Treaty as it stands, or without essential modification, but if that cannot be, I urge His Majesty's Government to see that we retain as much freedom as possible in regard to design and general construction. It is essential for us, if the ratio at present established is to be changed, that we should be able to decide for ourselves how we are to meet that new situation in naval affairs. In the Gracious Speech is a reference to the hope that this conference will meet with success. We all joint in that hope. But I sincerely trust that "success" may be interpreted in the widest sense. It would be far better that this great conference should assemble and disperse without 489 reaching an agreement than that we should allow the balance of power in the Pacific to be upset and the peace of the Eastern Hemisphere to be jeopardised.
I would like to make reference to a matter which has not been raised to-day, but which comes very closely under the general heading of armaments, and that is the question of aviation. We cannot think of the Air Force without also thinking of civil aviation. We are encouraged by the extensive reference in the Gracious Speech to the improving of our air communications, and I hope that His Majesty's Government will introduce their proposed Measures with the very last possible delay. The importance to us of civil aviation cannot be exaggerated. In the past the position and the greatness of this country were founded very largely upon the activities and the enterprise of our mercantile marine. In the same way to-day, the greatness and the position of Britain and of the British Empire will to some extent depend upon our ability to develop our civil aviation and to secure for ourselves a very large share in the carrying trade of the air.
In deciding the assistance and the encouragement which they propose to give, the Government will, I hope, spread their net as widely as possible. In the early days of aviation it was almost inevitable that contracts, assistance and encouragement by the Government should go to a very few undertakings, but now that so many new enterprises, courageous undertakings, have sprung up during the past few years and have shown their value, we could with advantage take a longer and a broader view. We shall need all the experience, ingenuity and enterprise available if we are to overcome the complexities and the problems of civil aviation. I would therefore urge His Majesty's Government, when deciding upon the assistance that they propose to give to public companies, to bear in mind the danger and the disadvantages of even partial monopoly. I would ask them not to lose sight of the ultimate benefits and advantages of spreading their encouragement over as wide a field as possible, and of inviting as many concerns as they can to make a contribution in a smaller or a greater degree towards the improvement and the progress of British civil aviation.
§ 1.35 p.m.
§ Mr. KIRBY
I would ask the indulgence of the House in making what, I think, will be a few quiet and very simple observations on certain matters which appear in the Gracious Speech. I have come to this House representing one of the Liverpool constituencies, and there are two or three things upon which my election was fought. They were the application of the means test, the question of housing, and the question of relief for the distressed and special areas. I want to speak on these points, in the case of two of them very briefly. With regard to the means test, I have noticed that some hon. Members on the other side have stated that in their opinion Members on this side are not quite clear in their minds as to whether or not they are in favour of a continuation of the means test, either in its present form or in some new form, or whether they are in favour of its abolition. On that matter I want to make it perfectly clear that, so far as my election was concerned, I stood for the absolute abolition of the means test in any form whatever, and it was on that stand that I was elected to this House.
I do not want to go to any great length in condemning the means test as we have it to-day, firstly because it has been very ably dealt with by other Members, and secondly because I know that it will be dealt with by others who have, perhaps, greater first-hand knowledge of it than I have myself. I know, however, from my own experience that the application of the means test in the constituency which I represent has been, beyond any doubt, the cause of breaking up what hitherto were very happy homes. I know personally young men and young women who, through the application of the means test to the family and the household, have been deprived of public assistance and unemployment assistance, with the ultimate result that, owing to the shrinkage of family and household income, they have in hundreds, and indeed in thousands of cases gone to live in other families than their own as lodgers. The sad result of all this is that we find that in hundreds of cases young men who have been, so to speak, driven from their homes in such circumstances have eventually, without the customary parental control, drifted into bad com- 491 pany. They have joined what are called "cellar clubs", some of them good and some bad, and at the bitter end many of them have been led into crime and finally have found themselves in prison branded as criminals.
On the other hand, it is a well known fact that many of the young women who have had to leave home in the circumstances I have described, and who have lost the advice and care of a mother have got into bad company, have got into trouble, and eventually have got into a state that I would rather not speak of at all. We know as the result of experience that many of these young men and women, some of whom are now 20, 22 and 24 years of age, who have never had the opportunity of employment, have been driven from home, have got into the bad company and bad ways that I have mentioned—not all; only some of them of course—and have then got to that stage where, as unemployed men and unemployed women, never having had the opportunity of doing a day's work in their lives, they have got married and children have been born to them; and they have had to go for the means of existence to the public assistance committee, and look like doing it for the rest of their natural lives.
I am not standing for that sort of thing, and I do not think the Members on these benches will stand for that sort of thing. We want to make our opinion quite clear, and I will try to make it clear in the simple words that come to me. I would put it in this way. If young men and women who are growing up to-day are deprived, by reason of the state of society in which they live, of the right of working for and earning their own living, then it is the duty of the State to them as individuals, irrespective of what their family income may be, to compensate them for that loss of the right to work and the right to earn wages which would keep them off the public funds. The only test that we shall apply is the question whether or not it is possible to give those people useful employment, and, if that has been denied them, then we say that they have to be kept out of public funds without any application of a means test at all.
492 With regard to the question of housing, I want to ask right hon. and hon. Members on the Government Benches not to be too self-satisfied and complacent as to the progress being made, either in regard to slum clearance or in regard to the housing of the working classes generally. I think it is true to claim that in the City of Liverpool we have made our contribution to that problem to an extent which will bear comparison with anything done by a city of comparable size. In round figures, we have built, since the end of the War, over 30,000 ordinary houses, besides many hundreds possibly thousands, of dwellings in tenements. But, in spite of that, it is my personal experience as a member of the Liverpool City Council dealing with these matters, that the situation in Liverpool so far as the housing of the ordinary working classes is concerned is no better, and probably much worse, than it was 10 or 12 years ago. In the housing department we have had no fewer than three complete registrations of applicants for houses. The first two registers were scrapped in order to bring a further one up to date, and on the third register we have over 80,000 families applying for corporation houses. It is true that some of those who have made application have done so rather light heartedly and, if they were offered a tenancy, might not accept it, and it is also true that some thousands of applicants have had their desires satisfied. But, for all that, we still have a possible 50,000 families whose wants in the majority of cases have not been and will not be satisfied, at any rate in the next 10 years. I know of families which have been making continuous application for the last 10 or 12 years and are still as far from getting tenancies as when they made their application.
In addition to that, we have a system whereby certain applications can be recommended for special priority by the medical officer of health, who is allowed to make the recommendations on two grounds only. One is the question of very serious overcrowding and the other is the existence of tuberculosis. On the medical officers' list alone there are over 2,000 names, many of which have been there for a number of years and very few of whom have the slightest opportunity of being accommodated even though the medical officer says they are the most urgent cases he has come across. The 493 reason is that, owing to the withdrawal of the subsidy for the building of houses on the outskirts of the city, it has not been possible to fix rents at a level low enough to enable the people who are recommended by the medical officer to accept them when they are offered. You have the extreme cases of man and wife with eight, nine and ten children living in one room, some of the family suffering from tuberculosis, being offered the tenancy of houses at 12s. and 14s. a week, and families receiving public assistance paying 4s. and 5s. a week rent who are unable to take the tenancy of corporation houses when it is offered to them.
Two things are most urgently needed if the Government are going to solve the problem of providing houses for the poorest of the poor. First of all, they must restore the subsidy in order that the rents may be made to fit the incomes of the people who need the houses and, in regard to slum clearance schemes, it is not sufficient merely to say that the local authority shall have this and that power to acquire sites and property in order to carry out a slum clearance scheme if at the same time they are to give a very wide measure of protection to landlords and landowners so that the local authority is held up by long and expensive litigation. In addition to the restoration of the subsidy, it is necessary to give local authorities compulsory powers of acquisition whereby it is possible on, say, three months notice to gain access to any land or property desired for slum clearance purposes. If there is any objection by land or property owners in regard to compensation, that must be fought out before some tribunal after the job has been got on with.
Liverpool is one of the districts classed as special areas, and I want to make an appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for more generous treatment in regard to the maintenance of the unemployed. I hope none of my friends from distressed areas in other parts of the country will think I am ignoring them. In making my case for Liverpool I am making the case for the other distressed areas as well. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has stated publicly, and to deputations from Liverpool and other places, that the Government are already meeting 95 per cent. of the cost of maintaining the able-bodied unemployed. In 494 spite of the fact that distressed and special areas have sent many deputations to London during the past year, I believe the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his final interviews, has said that they would not get another penny. It seems to me that there is a great deal of misunderstanding as to what constitutes the able-bodied unemployed and what kind of burden the local authorities have to bear in these areas. I believe that the claim of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in regard to meeting 95 per cent. of the cost refers only to the able-bodied coming within the scope of the 1934 Act, but there are others who do not come within the scope of that Act and are maintained wholly by the local authorities.
I want to give an example of how this burden of the maintenance of the able-bodied unemployed has affected Liverpool. In 1930 and 1931, under the Labour administration, the cost of maintenance of the able-bodied unemployed in Liverpool amounted to £273,470. Under the National Government two years later, in the year ending 31st March, 1933, it had risen from about £273,000 to £619,386, and by 1935, that is the year ended in March last, it had risen to £1,048,000, and the estimate for 1935–36 the current year is £1,389,531. That is the effect of the attitude of the Government in regard to the maintenance of the able-bodied unemployed and upon the rates of the city of Liverpool as far as unemployment is concerned. In diagnosing the cause two things stand out. The first is the policy of the National Government in regard to quotas, tariffs and the rest of it which has had the effect of strangling the trade of Liverpool and closing up miles of our docks, and secondly, the action of the Government in transferring thousands from the Employment Exchanges to the city rates.
In regard to the claim of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he is meeting 95 per cent. of the cost as far as category No. 1 is concerned, that is, the unemployed coming within the scope of the Insurance Act, he is probably correct. But in regard to the rest, I shall have to challenge his figures. In the category to which he refers the cost has been met with the exception that we have £72,000 per year to find in Liverpool, which means roughly a rate of 3d. in the £, but in regard to the able-bodied 495 unemployed who do not come within the Unemployment Insurance Act we have a cost amounting to £374,000 odd, equal to 1s. 3d. in the £. These people consist to some extent of hawkers, pedlars, shopkeepers, black-coated workers and so on whose earnings were over £250 a year, and it also includes persons who are temporarily sick and are insurable persons under the Act, but who have been sick for over two weeks and been deprived of benefit. In addition to that, having assessed the additional amount at £300,000 odd, I also include in the amount £54,000 per annum which we are making by way of repayment to the deficiency arising from the postponement of the appointed day. On the top of that we have many other charges, but as I have taken up so much time I will not go into details. We spend, for instance, £528,000 every year, equal to a rate of 1s. 10d. in the £, in looking after the ordinary poor such as the widows and dependent children and aged and infirm persons, and on top of that we spend over £900,000 per year in regard to hospitals, institutions, mental hospitals and the like, the cost of which has been very largely swollen by increased unemployment in our particular city.
Finally, we find that the cost to the City of Liverpool in regard to the maintenance of the unemployed is £1,389,531 That is the estimated cost for this year. In regard to ordinary relief it amounts to £528,765, and in regard to hospitals and institutions to £990,000, making a total of £2,908,296, and all we get from the Government in regard to the maintenance of the able-bodied unemployed, including the block grant of £180,000 per year, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer tells us for the first time should be devoted to the relief of unemployment, is £942,291, leaving us with a total net cost to the rates of £1,966,005, or roughly 7s. in the £. I want to put it in another way which will show clearly that the Government of the day have not met the annual cost as far as the maintenance of the able-bodied unemployed in Liverpool is concerned. In category No. 1, which is the category covered by the remarks of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I believe, we have to find £72,000, after making allowance for the block grant and all the rest 496 of it, and in category No. 2 we have to find £374,338, making a total of £446,338. We have to find under those two headings alone a rate of roughly 1s. 3d. in the £, and if on the top of that you put the ordinary poor, that is, those who are not supposed to be available for unemployment benefit, but those who are neither sick nor infirm but would be available for employment if we could find them employment, we have to find no less a sum than £528,765, making a total net cost to the rates of Liverpool of £975,000, equal to a rate of 3s. 6d. in the £.
I suggest to the Government that it is grossly unfair that cities like Liverpool suffering intense unemployment over a long period, unemployment which has been increased very largely by the activities and policy of the Government, should have to suffer to this extent, and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should suggest for a moment that he is meeting 95 per cent. of the cost. It may be true that in the last few years Liverpool has had its unemployment slightly improved. At the same time, if there has been a general improvement in trade, as the Government claim, then, obviously, the position of Liverpool would have been very much better had there not been this policy of tariffs and protection which has operated in favour of Birmingham and other such places, and had there not been the dispute with Ireland and the consequent breaking off of trading relations, at any rate, up to a point, with that country. I ask the Government of the day to consider the points that I have raised and not to be too complacent and self-satisfied with their operations, and not to think for a moment that we on this side of the House are forgoing our claim with regard to the abolition of the means test. If they want to see increased prosperity for shopkeepers and other traders in this country brought about, they should make it possible for people like the ratepayers of Liverpool to have rather an easier time than they are having at present.
The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister in his speech the other day said something to the effect that trading estates were to be set up and that it was hoped that they would be set up in special and distressed areas, and that to some extent, at any rate, they would relieve 497 unemployment in those particular areas. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Anderson). It is no good asking the traders and manufacturers of this country to go to a place like Liverpool and other distressed and special areas where they have this great burden of unemployment. Our rates are 16s. 2d. in the £, at least 3s. 6d. of which can be definitely allocated to the maintenance of the unemployed. You cannot get in a system of private enterprise and competition manufacturers and other traders voluntarily to go to these districts in order to begin new industries. The Corporation of Liverpool have done their level best to attract industries to Liverpool. They are prepared to advance the capital sums to build the factories which we want the manufacturers to set up, but the response has been almost negligible. I would be prepared if I had control of the city of Liverpool to give them the land free, if they would only come there and set up their factories and give our people work and a better standard of life than they are getting to-day.
You will have to use compulsion. Until you use compulsion and plan these things from the national standpoint you will get no more satisfaction in Liverpool than you have to-day, and that is very little. On the Order Paper of the House I notice an Amendment which has been put down by six hon. Members who sit on the Government benches, members of the Conservative party who were recently returned for Liverpool. Their Amendment deals with this subject, I do not notice that any of them are present to-day. None of them has been present during the past two or three days. All of them except one were in the last Parliament, and, in spite of what they said during the recent Election, none of them has faced up to the Government in regard to the distressed areas. I challenge them to do it now, if any of them are here to-day, and, if not to-day, then I challenge them to do it on Monday. They have not faced up to this problem, nor have the Members of the Government, and I ask them to pay attention to it.
§ 2.7 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE
I am sure the House will have listened with interest and sympathy to the last speaker. There is no doubt that the City and Corporation of Liverpool have a good advocate in him. 498 We heard a great deal that we have not heard before about the financial statistics of that great city. The speeches this morning have ranged over a singularly interesting and wide circle of subjects. Agriculture had an interesting discussion by itself. I am not going to make any comment on those speches, for much the same reason as that given by the Junior Member for Oxford University (Mr. A. P. Herbert). I was, however, interested in the appeal which was made, in a maiden speech, for the coalminers. I hope that we shall hear many more such speeches, because I believe that the hon. Members who make them are knocking at an open door The Government are an are greatly in sympathy, as they have shown by their manifesto, with the miners. There is not a Member of this House, and there is not a person in the country, who would not willingly pay an extra 2s. 6d. per ton for coal if they knew that it would go directly into the pockets of the miners. [HON. MEMBERS: "That would not be enough."] I mention 2s. 6d. as I would have mentioned some other sum. The country is behind the miners in their determination to get a better deal, and the Government have shown by their two plans for operating the mines that they have the miners' cause at heart.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE
The record of the Government in the last four years will stand comparison with that of their predecessors. They have undone practically all the harm that the Socialist Government did during their term of office, and this House would do well to be satisfied to leave this matter in the hands of the Government, who deserve so well of the country.
There is one further point with which I should like to deal. It was dealt with in detail by my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby). I refer to the question of greater milk consumption. I am glad that the Secretary of State for Scotland is here, as I know that this question of increased milk consumption has a warm place in his heart. Yesterday, I made an appeal to the Minister of Health that he might substitute milk for medicine in the National Health Insurance scheme. We all know what the panel doctor or any other doctor does in regard to medicine. A 499 patient goes to see him, perhaps somewhat hysterically, suffering from something, but they know not what. They are given medicine and their faith in that medicine is so great that nature is really allowed to do the cure, without any great harm being done by the medicine. We know that we are safe with milk. We know that it does the job, although it costs more. You may pay 3s. 6d. for a bottle of medicine which perhaps costs 2d., but when you pay 7d. or 8d. for a quart of milk you know that you are getting something that will do more good than all the bottles of medicine in the world. I would ask my right hon. Friend to press this matter on the notice of the Government. It would tremendously help the dairy farmers of Scotland and England and would have a most beneficial effect on our young people, especially those who are suffering from malnutrition, "T.B.", and other ailments. It would have a most beneficial effect on the future of our people.
When Mr. Speaker made an appeal to the House in a very wise suggestion that there should be shorter speeches and more of the cut and thrust of debate I was so moved that, metaphorically speaking, I cast my set speech behind me and proceeded to sharpen my rapier. I have listened to the debates that took place, but I find no one to thrust at. Some hon. and right hon. Members on the Socialist benches did make attacks on the Government in a blundering sort of way, but they were dealt with by those who knew how to do it better than I. For instance, the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) used the bludgeon very skilfully and effectively in regard to the tortuous meanderings of the Socialist over the means test. I do not think that there are two Members of the Socialist party in this House who, if they were asked to put on a piece of paper what they mean by the means test or the abolition of it, could do so,
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE
I remember that the late Leader of the Labour party, who was too honest to remain the Leader, saying in 1930 that he believed the principle of the means test should 500 be maintained. I remember also the present right hon. Member for West Stirling (Mr. T. Johnston) stating when, as Lord Privy Seal, he moved a Resolution at the Scarborough Conference of the Socialist party, against the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), that a form of means test must be maintained. He carried the resolution by an overwhelming majority of the Socialists present at that conference. I can only imagine that the right hon. Member for West Stirling in his unhappy absence from this House for four years has not been an fait with all that has been taking place. I wish he were here to-day. He is probably spitting out more poison from the sanctum of the "Forward." I do not like attacking anyone who is not here. I like to get my facts right, and if my facts are wrong I want to be told so. Perhaps the right hon. Member for West Stirling will tell me whether I am right when he comes back on Monday after his week-end holiday.
I hate to have to come back to the subject of the means test, but it was thrown at us throughout the Election. At every meeting the question was asked: "What about the means test?" In the midst of our most oratorical period the question would be asked: "What about the means test?" I stood for the principle of the means test throughout the Election. I made no bones about it. I did not hesitate about it, and I had a majority of over 12,000. If the means test was a vital necessity to the right hon. Member for West Stirling at the Socialist Conference in 1930, and if it was a necessity in 1930 in this House for the right hon. Gentleman, who used to lead the Socialist party, and did it so well, then surely it is vital to-day. Conditions have not changed so much that this test, which means so much apparently to hon. Members sitting on the other side of the Gangway, is no longer necessary. I therefore ask them to apply their minds honestly and straightforwardly to this subject, which as trade unionists they know perfectly well no trade union would drop. There is no answer to that suggestion.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman not distinguish between a means test and an Income Tax test.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE
No, I do not make any distinction whatever, because according to some of the official leaders of the Socialist party they are for a complete abolition of all forms of means test. I do not think that that coincides with the views held by a number of leading trade unionists. There have been one or two speeches on the Address which one feels bound to criticise, and yet as they were maiden speeches one feels that possibly the atmosphere of the General Election was still animating them. We know what a General Election does. Every one of us makes rather exaggerated statements at such times. Therefore it would possibly be unfair to deal at any great length with those maiden speeches. I started by saying that the Socialist party needed a bludgeon. They certainly do not need a rapier, because there is nothing in the Gracious Speech to thrust at. Neither a rapier nor a bludgeon being really effective at the moment, or necessary, the only thing I can offer to the Socialist party is my sympathy. I have listened for the last three days to their tortuous, vague and despairing efforts to justify themselves in being an Opposition at all. The trouble with the Socialist party is that they cannot find any real reason for being an Opposition. That is a very difficult position to be in. They look at the Government programme and they find it so all-embracing and comprehensive, so designed to affect and improve the conditions of every section of the community, that they say to themselves, "How are we to deal with this programme?" So they sat down and they have an Amendment on the Order Paper to-day.
I have read the Amendment, which was moved so sincerely by my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell). I admired the way in which he moved the Amendment, which calls attention to failures—which do not exist—in the National Government. He showed a complete ignorance of what has been happening in the last four years. I have a great deal of sympathy with the Opposition, and in fact my personal regard for many of them, including the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), is so high that I hesitate to give them a word of advice. But I would say, when they are going to the country next time let them be honest. That may be asking too much of them; it is making a big 502 claim on their party loyalty. But let them go boldly to the country and say, "Give us your votes for our policy of nationalisation, of socialisation," or whatever their particular line of approach to the country may be at that time. But let them be clear and say, "If you do give us your votes, it may mean a million or two million added to the unemployed, more distress and disorder in industry, the dismemberment of the Empire, and in fact the finishing of the job that we started to do and nearly succeeded in doing in 1931, that is, ruining the country." Let them say, if they will, that they are satisfied that out of that chaos there will grow up something saner and more beautiful for the world as a whole, but do not let them try to cloud their purpose under vague and sentimental appeals about £1 a week for everyone, old age pensions of £1 a week at 65, and things of that sort. If those proposals were carried into effect we would be back to the days of 1931, and there would be no money for pensions or benefits or anything else.
Happily the majority of the people refused to be misled or bribed at the General Election, and so we have the country again to-day under the wise and sane guidance of a National Government. Although the record of the Government and the trust of the people are untdoubtedly largely responsible for the great success that we had at the Election, I would like to associate myself with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in saying how much we owe to the character and personality, and particularly to the speeches and broadcasts, of the Prime Minister. I saw the effect in my own constituency. They affected the vast unattached Liberal vote, and the votes of all who were satisfied that in the hands of the Prime Minister they were safe for a square deal. That is why my majority was well maintained. I would again say about the Prime Minister, and especially his broadcasts and speeches, that he did allay the fears of war which some of our more irresponsible newspapers had created in the minds of the people and which the Trade Union Congress vote at Brighton had increased. The Prime Minister saw that danger, and in one night the whole atmosphere of the country changed.
503 The country did not want war then and does not want war to-day, and the country looks to the Prime Minister to keep us out of war. That is why he has the people's trust so completely. The people realise that sanctions must, be imposed, if possible to stop this war and also to prevent further wars, but many people are concerned as to the lengths to which sanctions are to go. I have heard critics say that sanctions against Italy so far have been no good at all, because they have not altered the conduct of the war and have merely taught Italy how much she can draw upon her own resources and how much she can do without. But there is another point to balance that out. It is that the imposition of sanctions has taught the nations that subscribed to the Covenant of the League how easy it is to co-operate. They had thought of it before; they visualised co-operation under the League with tremendous suspicion and doubt. Now they see how easy it is, and nonmembers of the League see that there is still a vitality and strength in the League, which fact gives us hope that they will eventually rejoin the League.
The only thing in regard to sanctions that we must regret is that they have been so misinterpreted by our Italian friends, who think they are a direct attack by the British Government on Italy instead of being a form of punishment exercised by the whole world on account of their wrong-doing. I do not speak for those who are theorists, I speak for the ordinary man-in-the-street. We do not want war, we do not want to be dragged into a conflict which would spread like a prairie fire and envelop Europe in a great conflagration before we knew where we were. For we know if this happened—not alone would the civilisation of Europe be in jeopardy—but in which might well disappear all those ideals in defence of which we had originally ventured into the arena of conflict. We do not want an Italian or Abyssinian victory. Either would be dangerous. We must try to get a peace which will be satisfactory to the League. This is where I differ a little with the Prime Minister. We want a peace not that is satisfactory to Italy or Abyssinia—that would be too much to ask. How could you get a peace which would be satisfactory to a nation whose country 504 has been invaded and at the same time to the country whose armies have invaded that country? We must try to get a settlement which will be satisfactory to the League. The League has assumed the quality of a judge and it must therefore accept the responsibilities of the judge. Therefore, while any settlement must be satisfactory to the League, it is the duty of the League to see that both Italy and Abyssinia regard it as fair. It must not be a settlement like some of the Peace Treaties, Trianon and Versailles, which were hammered out at the point of the bayonet and left nothing but fear and revenge he-hind.
That brings me to the point raised in the Amendment and to the memorable speech of the Foreign Secretary at Geneva some time ago. From that moment Treaty revision as removing the causes of war became a matter of practical politics instead of theoretical discussion. In this field again I am happy that Great Britain taken the lead. It was a particularly appropriate time for doing so. If you have nations who got certain territorial advantages out of the late War feeling compelled to find means of expansion and to go to war to find territories in which to expand, how much greater the danger of war from those countries whose territories and colonies were taken from them and yet which have a constantly increasing population. When the Foreign Secretary mentioned this matter at Geneva he was really starting to deal with a fundamental question which is going to prevent wars in the future. This unhappy dispute between Italy and Abyssinia will, we believe, be shortly brought to an end, and then will be the time for the Foreign Secretary and the Cabinet to throw their weight into the further problem of trying to persuade those countries who have subscribed to the Covenant and those who have not to come together and find out how the Peace treaties can be so revised as to take away any feelings of fear and revenge and bring in their place mutual confidence and trust upon which the peace of the world really depends.
Let me say one word on the question of disarmament or rearmament. I feel that the Government are absolutely right in their programme of rearmament, which is long overdue. Ultimately we 505 had to take economic protection, after three generations of Free Trade, because it was necessary in our own interests, and so we must now resume physical protection against the dangers which threaten us in Europe and in the world. Although Germany is rearming, I think we are at the present time nearer to genuine disarmament than ever before. At the moment all nations have something to gain by giving. All can gain security and economy. Previously France and Italy who were very fully armed had nothing much to gain by giving, but to-day if they give they can very properly turn to others and say, "You give too." The Anglo-German Naval agreement has been criticised, but in my view it is one of the best pieces of work for armament limitation that has ever taken place since the War. We have been waiting three and a half years for the Disarmament Conference to produce something, it has produced nothing and, therefore, we and Germany took our courage in our own hands and brought about the first real genuine limitation of armaments since the War.
I really think that we are now nearer genuine disarmament than ever before; and we shall be even nearer it the stronger our own bargaining power it. When the British nation is efficiently equipped to carry out its great dual responsibilities, then not only will its words travel further for peace, but it will have a most deterrent effect on those who seek to break the peace. I hope that under the Prime Minister we shall gain courage in dealing with these matters. The Prime Minister went into the General Election although warned by his friends that it was a bad time and criticised by his opponents that he was not playing the game. He realised that the last Government had done their job. They had brought the country out of the morass into which the Socialist Government had thrown it, and put it on the road to prosperity. He realised that that was the time, if we are to make the further progress which is necessary, to take counsel again of the people and ask for their confidence. They gave their support wholeheartedly because they trusted him, and because of the record of the Government. The country has given the Prime Minister stability at home, and a majority in the House of Com- 506 mons, and he can go forward armed on all sides with the confidence of the people, and with confidence abroad, and proceed with the great programme that is outlined which will bring more prosperity and comfort to the nation.
§ 2.34 p.m.
§ Mr. CHARLES BROWN
The hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Lieut.-Colonel Moore) seems to have returned from his electoral experiences in a very pessimistic frame of mind. His observations of the means test interested me very much. In his heart he hopes that the reinforced Opposition will be able to bring such pressure on His Majesty's Government as will result in the means test being abolished, and then he believes that he will not have the same experience in his division as he had during the recent electoral contest. Obviously, he was greatly disturbed by those questioners at his meetings who frequently asked "what about the means test." I suggest that he should stand by us in the efforts that we shall make during the months and years that lie ahead of us to have this means test abolished. May I assure him that there is no difference in our ranks on that matter at all although he has made a great effort to prove that there were such differences. I ask him to stand by us and help us to obviate any future electoral difficulties such as those experienced by him a few weeks ago.
I have risen mainly to deal with one matter which concerns my own area but before doing so, I would like to offer some observations on the speech of the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) who I am sorry is not now in his place. No speeches by supporters of the Government do more to confirm some of us in our Socialist opinions than the speeches of the hon. Member for East Aberdeen. I am sorry too that the Noble Lord the Minister without Portfolio is not at present in his place. He has been listening intently to the Debate this morning, and I hope that he will give some attention, in the reflections which I understand it is his duty to make, to the speech of the hon. Member for East Aberdeen. I never listened to a more vivid description of the chaos, confusion and contradictions of the capitalist system than that given to us to-day by the hon. Member. He looked far ahead 507 and far afield and he only confirmed the views of a number of us as to the impasse into which the capitalist system is steadily and surely taking us.
I am very glad of the sympathy which has been expressed even by supporters of the Government during this Debate with the miners and the miners' cause. I am also glad of the sympathy which has been expressed with the miners' demand for increased wages. I hope, however, that some Minister will take particular note of what I am about to say. I notice in the Press a report that the Secretary for Mines had received representatives of the Industrial Union—the Spencer Union as we know it. I suppose that the Government with their usual impartiality wish to hear every side of the case, but I warn them that if they imagine that the representatives of that organisation speak for the miners of Nottinghamshire, they are under a great illusion.
I need only point to what happened in the recent General Election. Sitting beside me here is my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger). He represents the most northern constituency in Nottinghamshire which runs to the borders of the Yorkshire coal-field. I have no doubt that his presence here is largely due to the fact that in Nottinghamshire we have recently had a series of mining disputes one or two of which have been prolonged for relatively long periods. Miners in that area have had to fight for weeks in order to retain even the miserable standards of life which they have at present. The presence in this House of my hon. Friend is largely due to the terrible conditions under which the miners of that area have been living and working. My own division adjoins that of my hon. Friend and nearer to the city of Nottingham is the Broxtowe Division represented by another of my hon. Friends. The part of the city of Nottingham in which there is any considerable number of miners, namely West Nottingham has also gone back to our party. If Ministers take undue notice of what the representatives of the Industrial Union say about conditions in Nottinghamshire, they will be making a grave mistake.
I know that the Nottinghamshire coalfield has been regarded for some time as a weak link in the chain of the Miners' Federation, but there is not the slightest 508 doubt about the fact that the men who belong to the organisation to which I have referred, in the main—there are a few exceptions here and there—belong to it because they are compelled by the managers of the collieries concerned to joint it. As regards conditions in the Nottinghamshire coalfield, there are men living in company houses under conditions which I have no hesitation in describing as those which would be applicable to miners compounds. As far as expressing themselves in the field of industry concerned they are utterly unable to do so. But give them an opportunity, under the secrecy of the ballot to express their opinions, and they register, almost as one man, their unqualified condemnation of this bastard organisation which exists in the county of Nottingham. It is only because the representatives of that organisation have been received by the Secretary for Mines that I rise now, not particularly to protest against the representatives of the organisation being received, but to utter the warning that it does not represent in any way the opinion of the miners of Nottinghamshire.
§ 2.42 p.m.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
In addressing myself to the official Amendment of the Opposition to the Gracious Speech from the Throne, which is now before the House, may I say that we regard this occasion as important. Although we are often described in the country from a different point of view, we always desire that the function of the Opposition in this House should not be one merely of opposing the Government. We consider that the Opposition is not merely intended to be destructive but is intended to take its full responsibility, for the time being, in connection with constructive proposals to assist the rank and file of the nation, as well as special sections of the nation, to meet the difficulties with which they are at present confronted.
One wishes that the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Boroughs (Lieut.-Colonel Moore) had not so speedily disappeared from the House after addressing it. One might have offered one or two observations to him before his departure on that week-end holiday to which he referred. He appeared to direct to these benches certain remarks as to the necessity for what he called honesty in election 509 appeals. If I may deal with that matter, not from hearsay but from actual example, I suggest that we can judge of the honesty of the appeals made to the country by some which were circulated in my constituency. I have here one headed with the doleful title, "A Programme of Disaster." It contains the following:What will you get if you vote Socialist? The Socialist Party as a Government of dictators. Parliament to be robbed of most of its powers and Government orders in place of Acts of Parliament.We have always, I believe, as an Opposition, taken the line that we want a free and full democracy in this country and that we want to make our contribution to that free and democratic government to the best of our ability. When we go to the country, we get the kind of statement which I have just quoted, but when we get a proper comment from the Prime Minister in this House, we find that he stated on the 22nd May of this year:The Labour party as a whole have helped to keep the flag of Parliamentary government flying in the world through the difficult periods through which we have passed…. I want to say that, partly because I think it is due, and partly because I know that they, as I do, stand in their heart of hearts for our Constitution and for our free Parliament."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd May, 1935: col. 371; Vol. 302.]That was the more honest statement, and if the candidate in question had quoted the Prime Minister and not made the kind of statement which he did make in an endeavour to put fear into the hearts of the people, it would have been better.
Mr. J. HENDERSON STEWART
The hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), in his book which was issued, said nearly precisely what was in that pamphlet.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
He certainly, to my knowledge, said nothing of the sort. Perhaps the hon. Member will produce the quotation on which he bases himself, and then I have no doubt he will be duly answered. We want to maintain a free Parliament and free democratic government, and it is in that sense that we address ourselves to the items which have been included in the Gracious Speech. It may be that the line we take 510 will be criticised from Tory benches as revolutionary, but every measure for improving the social lot of the people in this country has in the past, at some time or other, been called revolutionary. If you will look at the history of Parliament for the last 120 years, you will find that every such proposal has apparently been regarded as revolutionary, and even since I first entered the House, 13 or 14 years ago, I have seen Conservative Members opposite criticising Labour and Socialist proposals to deal with the difficulties of the nation as being revolutionary and impossible, and have, within that period, seen those very Members adopting the Labour proposals piecemeal, very often perhaps not yet giving the full benefits which the Labour proposals would have given if we had had a Labour majority for them in the country, but nevertheless adopting them, just as they are now proposing in the King's Speech to adopt Section 1 of the Coal Mines Act of 1930 as part of the way out of the difficulties now confronting the coal industry. I ask hon. Members opposite, therefore, to bear in mind that if our proposals do seem on occasion to be revolutionary, they are put forward from the sole point of view of the construction that is necessary to get rid of the great problem of poverty in the midst of plenty and to give a proper standard of life and opportunity to all people. It is because we believe that our Socialist proposals are the only really constructive proposals that can be made, that we offer them to the House with all sincerity.
When I listened to the Prime Minister on Tuesday last, I could not help feeling impressed with his general demeanour. I felt that here was not the leader of a great, victorious party in the country; I felt, the longer I listened to him, that here was a man burdened, borne down, over-weighted with the problems that are facing him at home and abroad, that here was a man who was facing an outlook both abroad and at home that could only be described as sinister; and when he addressed himself, as he did towards the end of his speech, to some of his own supporters in the country with regard to their duty at home in the circumstances, I felt that he was all the time teling himself that he had no conviction in his mind that his appeal would be any 511 use whatever. He left this House that night, as far as I could see, with no real remedy put to the House which he had belief in as likely to be efficacious to deal with the situation with which the country is confronted. We have confidence in our Socialist principles, because we say that they are principles which, if Labour had been listened to and Labour's policy adopted ever since 1918, we should not now be facing the sinister outlook, either at home or abroad, that we are facing to-day. It is necessary, therefore, to remind the House that very largely in the place of war preparations and international debt, our proposals and measures would have been for peace and disarmament, for the reconstruction of industry, for interfering with that restraint on international trade that has arisen, and for the general social provision of the people, and if the country had listened to Labour and given a majority in favour of Labour's policy, we should not be facing to-day the sinister conditions with which we are faced.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
That is the kind of interruption from which unfortunate candidates have had to suffer during the recent Election. The first point that we deal with in our Amendment has reference to the position abroad, and although the time to-day is very short, I should like to say a word or two on the questions of a constructive peace policy and of disarmament. As I listened during the Debate to speeches from the Government side on this matter, I failed altogether to understand what the real policy is in regard to peace in relation to the League of Nations. We all met the claims which were made on their behalf during the general election that they were wholly in support of the Covenant of the League, and always had been. They also said, of course, with regard to the dispute which has unfortunately arisen between Italy and Abyssinia, that they would support to the full the actual policy of the League, but when we come to listen to them on the question of armaments, then apparently we never seem to know on which leg they are standing, whether on the leg of policy which stands solely for the maintenance 512 of a collective peace system, or whether on the leg of policy which stands solely for the right to take unilateral action, either in regard to international negotiations for treaties or in regard to the provision of actual national defence. When you look at their documents, however, you begin to find that they leave their trail behind them. I remember the White Paper of the Government issued on 11th March, 1935, as a preliminary announcement to the House of the great re-armament programme which they apparently now have in view. On page 4 of that White Paper it is said:It has been found that once action has been taken the existing international machinery for the maintenance of peace cannot be relied upon as a protection against an aggressor.I take it therefore that what the Government really want to say to the country and to the House, and what is really behind their policy, is that they do not really believe in collective security being possible. We have quoted from the benches on this side of the House the statement made by the Prime Minister at Glasgow, and we listened in vain for an answer from the Minister for League Affairs as to whether that is not the position of the Government. It is quite plain that if they have any policy at all in this matter, it is that they do not really believe in the effectiveness of the League at the present time for the maintenance of collective peace, and they want authority from this House to go even to an unlimited expenditure on armaments in order that they may be able to secure peace in the future.
I wish the Government would remember a little of the history from 1914 onwards. I wish they would go back and look, for example, at some very wise words spoken by the late Lord Oxford and Asquith at a great Peace Congress in London in 1908. He was speaking then about just the same kind of naval campaign in which the Government are now engaging: "We want: eight dreadnoughts and we won't wait," was the cry at that time. Lord Oxford and Asquith said then to the Peace Congress, "What are these things intended for? Are they to be playthings? Are they to be looked at?" "No"; said Lord Oxford and Asquith, "They are intended to be used, and before many years are over perhaps by a remarkable accident or incident in 513 Europe the whole thing will go off." It was within six years of that that the almost chance incident of the assassination of a duke led to the complete fulfilment of the prophecy of Mr. Asquith, as he then was. I do not believe that the Government can really think for one moment that the wide expansion of naval or military armaments is necessarily going to be any security for peace at all in the future, and it is an entirely wrong approach to the problem altogether.
I also ought to say how much some of us deprecate the line of appeal of the Prime Minister to the country on these matters. I think he intended once more, as Tories have so often intended, to use the most devastating emotion—the emotion of fear—to stampede the electorate into overlooking some of the acts of omission and commission of his Government. He suggested in regard to the British Navy, and especially in regard to aircraft attack, that the most powerful of the battleship sections of the fleet were not prepared to deal with aircraft attack. Most of these ships, he said in effect, had been laid down before aircraft attack had been anticipated or properly provided for. I cannot find any one of the 12 pre-war conceived capital ships we at present possess that was finished before 1915. Some were not finished before 1916, and one not before 1917. I cannot find that any one of them was laid down prior to the Navy having its own' air wing, and I refuse to believe from my knowledge of the Plans Department of the Admiralty that they had not prepared themselves against aircraft attack which they were perfecting for their own use against other Powers. When you come to look at the developments which have taken place in regard to aircraft defence in the case of the British Fleet, the Prime Minister was speaking in such a way as to mislead—whether intentionally or unintentionally I do not propose to say—the electorate of the country as to the true facts of the situation.
I shall have other opportunities, apparently, for speaking again on these matters when the Government give us in full their detailed plans, but I think at this moment, as we are within a few hours of the opening session of the Naval Conference which is being held as a direct result of the London Naval Treaty of 1930 to which we were parties, that 514 we ought to have if not to-day, on Monday, some statement from the Government as to what is to be the policy in some detail of the Government at that Naval Conference. I recall, of course, that it was perhaps a few days after the opening of the Conference in 1930 that the House was able to get anything like a detailed White Paper of the policy, but I hope it is not going to be said that the vague, general, and, I think, very unwise Paper of 11th March is really going to be the basis of the Government's detailed proposals now to the Naval Conference. I hope, therefore, that the Minister who is going to reply this afternoon, although he may not be able to give an answer of a specific kind, will see that this matter is brought to the notice of the Prime Minister, so that some answer may be given on Monday as to whether and when a White Paper can be laid for the information of this House as to the actual programme which is to be put before the Naval Conference.
Many of us here tried in vain during the course of the Election to get anything like a detailed answer from the Prime Minister or the Government as to what the real programme of expansion of armaments is to be. It was absolutely vital that the electorate should have known what is proposed and how it is to be paid for. I think that the Opposition is entitled to say to the Government, especially having regard to some of the things that have been said about the financial position in 1931, that it is very vital that they should let us know what they are going to do.
I referred just now to the position in the armaments race of 1908 to 1914. I wonder if hon. Members opposite are thinking now in, comparative terms of the financial side. We commenced a great armaments race about 1907. We were in war partly as a result of that in 1914, but in the financial circumstances in which we commenced that race we were at least reasonably able to afford it. We commenced the armament race in 1907 with a total National Debt of £690,000,000. You are commencing this with a National Debt of £800,000,000,000—a very different position. We commenced that race in 1907 with an Income Tax of 1s. in the £, which was described morning after morning in those days by the "Daily Mail" and the "Daily Express" as a dreadfully high 515 imposition as the result of a Radical-Socialist Government. Here we will start the race with an Income Tax of 4s. 6d. in the £. In 1907 we started the race with a total imposition by way of what we call indirect taxation, that is, Customs and Excise, upon the consumers of no more than £70,000,000. To-day, if I add the Minister of Agriculture's imposition upon bread, we start this race with an imposition upon the consumers by Customs, Excise and wheat subsidy of £304,000,000. In 1907 we started the race not owing as a Government a penny to any foreign Government. To-day we start the race with a debt of over £900,000,000 to America—not being paid by the people who demanded that we should pay, but not being repudiated.
When you take account of these four comparative sets of financial circumstances, I want to know exactly the extent of the armaments programme and how it is to be paid for. It seems to me, judging from the callousness of the Government, which can calmly place a tax on the bread of the poorest people, the unemployed man, the old age and widow pensioners, the under-employed men, the people who, as my hon. Friend in that admirable speech which he made this morning said, are well below anything like a reasonable datum line between poverty and sufficiency, that they will all have to pay this. When you consider these circumstances, I believe the Government will be quite willing and callous enough to go on adding to the charges on the consumer in order to raise cash for this purpose. I am warning the Government that in the light of the financial facts that I have put before the House—and they cannot be challenged; I have looked them up—there is no great taxable reserve left in our common people to meet a great charge.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
So far as the National Debt is concerned, does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that it is only a transference of money from one pocket to the other of the same taxpayer?
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I think that there is a great deal in that point, but I am now talking about taxable reserve. I am really very anxious about the hon. Member; he is a brand really worth plucking from the burning. May I point out to 516 him that the amount of indirect taxation, £304,000,000, four-fifths of which is paid by the working-classes, is very largely affected by the volume of the debt and the payments on it year after year. Does it matter to the working-classes, who are taxed on their commodities, that it is only a transference from one pocket to another? We are concerned with what our people when they have paid their taxes, have left to live on. They are not concerned how much has been transferred from one individual to another. I say that, in fact, there is not the taxable reserve in the nation to-day to meet a great expenditure on armaments.
In these circumstances. I beg the House, and I beg the Government, to look at the international situation with a new spirit and with some endeavour to make a change. I hope, for example, that in the Naval Conference we are not going to listen all the time to the kind of statement that was made about the conversations in the last 12 mouths, that we are going to move to a different basis than we had in 1930, that we are not going to talk about what is called the common upper limit or the qualitative nature of naval armaments and the in the end find ourselves in just the same bitter intensive race for armaments. We on this side of the House want real attention to be paid, first, to the removal of the economic causes of war as far as possible, and, secondly, to securing an improvement in the juridical machinery which can be used for the settlement of disputes.
Many of us welcome—it is perhaps belated but still we welcome it—the speech of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs at Geneva on 11th September. We were very much interested in his reference to the possibility of the re being a conference later to discuss the redistribution of some of the economic resources of the world, so as, possibly, to avoid some of the major questions of dispute between nations and to give legitimate fulfilment to the reasonable aspirations of other peoples. I am sorry that there is no reference to that in the King's Speech, but I feel that although such a conference might be welcome it will not take us very far unless we, as the leading nation and Empire in the world, are prepared to give a lead. I feel that we need, above all, at this moment a lead from this country which would show to 517 the world that we undertake that whatever dispute may arise to which we may be a party internationally which has not previously been settled by conciliation or diplomacy shall be referred by us without reserve—and I emphasise those two words "without reserve"—to the Court of International Justice for settlement. I do not think the Government have gone as far as that. I shall be very happy to listen to the Minister when he replies, but I do not think that has been said. If it has been said, will the Minister tell us whether the reservations which were notified to the American Ambassador in regard to the Kellogg Pact still stand? That is very important. I want an offer to be made from this country, without reserve, that in all these matters we are willing that each case shall go to the Permanent Court of International Justice for settlement. If it has not been made on that basis I beg that that shall be done at once.
In the short time I have left I should like to turn to what is said in the Amendment about the position at home. The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell), in moving the Amendment this morning, said so much about general conditions that I do not need to stress them at any great length. On this side we are all grateful to him for the presentation of that human as well as economic case for the miner which he put to us. But we would add this. What he said about that particular industry and in general is now no longer the theory and philisophy of Socialists. It is something which is accepted, in principle at any rate, by leading industrialists, financiers and economists. The quotation read to us by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) from a very well known City financial house is some proof of what I say. If he continues his interest in this subject he may come across a book published in America called "The Charter of Plenty," which is by no means to be called academic or convinced Socialism. It proves mathematically and statistically that there is much under-consumption in the United States of America, and that the actual productive machinery available, plus labour, could provide every one of the citizens of America with a reasonable standard of life, and that the development to the nth degree of 518 further production, by the application of labour power to capital plant would give them a still higher standard of life. The only thing that seemed to be lacking was what the hon. Member was lacking this morning. I could not help remembering when he was speaking, the old story of the rich young man who had great possessions and to whom the Master said: "One thing thou lackest." What he lacked was what the hon. Member lacks, apparently the finer perception necessary to make him give up, in his life and in his outlook, the motive of private profit. In the whole of his case he admitted the facts upon which Socialists have based their philosophy, their principles and their practice for a good many years.
When one looks at the efforts of the Government, it has to be admitted at once that the Government are bound to go on muddling through, unless they take some specific Socialist planning action. When you look at the speeches made by Ministers from the Government Front Bench during the last 12 months or so you find evidence of what I am, submitting to the House. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that we had recovered 80 per cent. of prosperity. We had a wonderful illustration of 80 per cent. prosperity from the hon. Member for Everton (Mr. Kirby) who made such an admirable speech, and who showed what prosperity means in the great ports of this country and what is meant by the new and wonderful salvation of industry which the Government have found by way of protective tariffs. On another occasion, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that he had no hope of any really substantial reduction in unemployment in less than 10 years. Possibly by 1941 or 1942, if things go well for him, there may be a substantial reduction of unemployment. The Prime Minister said—and he regards it as a virtue to say it—that he never has and never will say that he is able to cure unemployment.
All those declarations have made it perfectly plain that there is no alternative available to a planning of industry and construction which will bring the products of modern machinery, referred to by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen and by my hon. Friend who opened the Debate, increasingly to the great mass of the people. The Minister who 519 is to reply is very cheerful about it and may regard it as a joke. Perhaps he will say if it is not true that the productive power of machines, plus labour, could, if it -were used for the purpose, give a proper standard of life for everybody in this country. Is that true? What stands between us and that achievement but the greed and selfishness, not merely of individuals—I do not want to blame individuals—but of a system, that imposes the necessity for private profit, and unlimited private profit, between production and that which is actually used by the mass of people in our country?
It is on that basis that we submit, in this Amendment, that there is no cure for the situation without a national planning which is for the public good, and which is therefore based upon public ownership. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen, who, I must confess, is about the only Member on the Government side who has spoken a great deal about some of the subjects referred to in our Amendment, went so far as to indicate quite plainly that planning is necessary, and we on these benches know that, partly as a result of the great advocacy of Socialism that there has been in the last few decades, there is now a recognition of the need for planning, and there are attempts at planning. The Minister of Agriculture has made some of them. I will not say any more about that to-day because no doubt he and I will have an opportunity of exchanging views on it at a later stage. I can promise him that I will tell him just what I think about his schemes, and I am certain that he will tell me what he thinks about me.
There are other bodies with that aim. There is the League of Industry, there is the Society of Industrial Reorganisation, there is any number of other bodies dealing with planning; and anything that will bring immediate relief to the suffering people whom we try to represent in this House will be welcome. But I know that, unless you remove from that kind of planning the ultimate motive of private profit, you will simply within a very few years reconstruct and re-enact all the conditions of poverty in the midst of plenty that you get to-day, for you will have the old basis of one section of the people taking far too much individually of the product of labour, you will have a 520 large amount of saving by some while others will remain on or near the poverty line, and you will have what the hon. Member for East Aberdeen illustrates today—you will have re-investment going on regularly, as in the past 60 or 70 years, mainly in the direction of capital goods production instead of a wide expansion of production of consumable articles at prices at which the common people can buy; and you will have developing all the time upwards and upwards the pyramid of difficulty which lies in production for profit instead of production for use.
We say, therefore, without any hesitation at all, that our practical constructive suggestion to this House—let Members on the other side call it what they will at the moment; let them call it revolutionary Socialism if they like—we say that the constructive alternative we have to offer is one which the Tories will inevitably be brought to live under, whether they do it in stages and by their own initiation or whether finally they do it because a majority of the people will that it should be so. One thing is certain, and that is that, neither in this country nor in any other country in the world, will a modern race of people, to whom education and knowledge are now available, continue to suffer in classes, in these present days of scientific development, as they have hitherto suffered. They will never consent to that. Man will be free and will get justice; he will struggle till he is free and till he does get justice. It is because we believe that the policy of the Government as enunciated in the Speech from the Throne makes no real contribution in that direction that we once more offer our constructive alternative, and beg the House, as we have begged it on many occasions before, to take it before it is too late.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ Lord EUSTACE PERCY (Minister without Portfolio)
We have had a most interesting Debate, and one of its chief interests has been that it has been valuable and suggestive in direct proportion to the length of the distance that it moved from the terms of the Amendment on which it took place. The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell), in his very remarkable speech, was uncomfortable during the first few minutes 521 when he was saying what had to be said about the terms of the Amendment. Then, having shaken his wings loose, he soared into the Means Test, the coal dispute and the question of nutrition, and the Debate has remained on that level of the things that really interest hon. Members opposite and hon. Members on this side of the House. It was left to the right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) to make a desperate attempt in the latter part of his speech to bring it down again to the terms of public ownership. I think the hon. Member for Gower was rather annoyed by the Home Secretary's remarks about the Election as a condemnation of Socialism but, after all, is not the course of the Debate a justification of all that my right hon. Friend said? It was not until the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough tried to get us back again to the terms of Socialism and public ownership and other matters, in most of which hon. Members opposite believe quite as little as I do, that we began to feel uncomfortable again. We were only enlivened by that beautiful re-interpretation of one of the most familiar stories in the world. We used to be told that we should sell all our goods and give to the poor. We are now told that all we need do is to renounce the motive of private profit. I think the second is a very much easier way than the first. It is very much easier to renounce an abstract proposition than to give up your money. I shall perhaps return to this question of Socialism in my concluding remarks.
I want to follow hon. Members into that freer air where they really talked about what they felt. It may be that in what I say I shall, by the standards of the right hon. Gentleman, give the impression of being uncertain, the impression which the Prime Minister gave him the other day. I do not mind about that. I would rather give the impression that has been given by every speech from the back benches opposite, which has been the note of the whole Debate, and notably the note of two remarkable maiden speeches, those of the hon. Members for Pontypool (Mr. Jenkins) and Everton (Mr. Kirby)—the impression, in Hooker's words, of "growing into a composition and union among ourselves"—than the impression of being quite certain of their own 522 strength, their own impeccability and their own record. May I remind him—I am impelled to do this because of what he says about the Prime Minister—that when Shakespeare tried to depict the state of mind with which a man took on the responsibilities of his office he did it in these words which he put into the mouth of Fortinbras:For me, with sorrow I embrace my fortune.That was the burden which he thought the Prime Minister was bearing, and that surely, is the right spirit in which to enter into any kingdom rather than the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough to-day, of complete satisfaction with his term of office and complete assurance that if the Labour party had only been in power from 1918 to now we should be living in paradise. The only thing I will do is to give the last of that quotation of Shakespeare:I have some rights of memory in this kingdom.The Prime Minister has some rights of memory in that kingdom which criticisms of right hon. Gentlemen opposite are not likely to wipe from the mind of the country.
After all, the keynote of this Debate has been the question which has been described as the question of poverty and plenty. It is that to which the hon. Member for Gower devoted most attention and on which my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) made a very remarkable speech. The hon. Member for Gower went so far as to say about Socialism that if one could only see in the coal problem, or in this nutrition problem, the chance of private enterprise doing the job, he would not stand up for shibboleths and would not care about Socialism. It was merely a question of how this job could be done.
On this question of nutrition, of making available to consumers what is undoubtedly at the present moment a surplus of consumable wealth, we are far more on the road to success than, I think, is realised by any hon. Member who has spoken. The very remarkable figures which have been quoted, are the figures which were in part published by Sir John Orr, and I welcome the compliments which have been paid to those investiga- 523 tions and to the publication of those figures. The whole investigation on which those figures is based is one which was prompted and carried on by the Government, and publication of those figures was designed to awaken public attention to the real need and possibilities of a policy of nutrition. The most remarkable thing about this figure is that if you adopt a much more radical basis than the basis which was attributed to Sir John Orr, of an extra expenditure of £100,000,000—if you adopt the more radical basis of bringing the whole of the lower 50 per cent. of the population up to the standard of consumption of the next 20 per cent., so that 70 per cent. of the population are on the level of a per capita expenditure on food of 10s. per week per head—if you do that and calculate the amount of extra consumption of various foodstuffs in the diets of the various income groups of the population which that would involve, and compare that with the actual increase in consumption in the period 1924–32, the remarkable thing is that over a very large range of commodities you need in some cases only slightly more, and in some cases not as much as the growth in that first period.
I mean that if you repeated in the future the growth in consumption which was actually realised in the period 1924–32, you would for most of the commodities have solved nearly the whole problem. For only a few commodities like fish, and, strangely enough, cheese, would you need any very much greater increase in consumption than was actually realised in that earlier period. I hesitate to remind my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen that this enormous growth in consumption of essential foodstuffs in the period 1924–32 took place at a time when we were on the Gold Standard. Therefore, I say that this growth is a perfectly feasible proposition, given certain conditions. I claim, moreover, that the policy which the Government have been pursuing is, in its broad outline, the policy which is most likely to assist such a growth in consumption. We have had a policy of making available the accumulated surpluses of foodstuffs in the world and at the same time not allowing those accumulated surpluses to break our home agricultural production. We have had, in other words, a combined policy of low tariffs and subsidies, and we have recog- 524 nised that the subsidy policy is best based, as the wheat subsidy is based, upon a low tariff.
There have been many criticisms, especially by the hon.. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell), of the actual incidence and effect of some of our subsidies. All those criticisms are perfectly arguable criticisms. I will not go into the merits of any of the subsidies on this occasion. We shall have many other opportunities of going into that question. That broad policy, if the subsidy is rightly directed, is the policy which this country ought to pursue. I do not mean to say that that policy as hitherto developed covers the whole of the ground that can be covered by a Government policy directed to the stimulation of essential consumption. I do not think the House would expect me to-day to go in detail into the question of what additions to that policy may be necessary or possible. But let me refer to the additions proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen. In the first place he dealt with the means test. He mentioned beef marketing, and again I do not think there is any difference of opinion as to that. He then referred to free milk for children under five years of age in schools in special areas. Of course, the trouble of that is, speaking of my own area of the country, Tyneside, that children do not go to school under five years of age. We have still rather a prejudice in Northumberland and Durham against children going to school when too young. But it is pertinent to point out that the growth of the nursery school movement, which is now going on in the special areas under special subsidies from the Special Commissioner, has a very direct bearing on I his question, for milk as well as other foods is provided in nursery schools as part of the curriculum, and while the managers of nursery schools and the local authorities, have the power to reclaim costs in suit able cases from the parents, that power, used in some cases, does not really affect the fact that free milk is given as part of the ordinary curriculum in the nursery schools.
Then, with regard to propaganda, I am not quite sure that my hon. Friend is right in saying that Sir John Orr's study of this question reveals the need for intensive propaganda. On the contrary, 525 apart from certain areas of the country where green vegetables are a comparatively unknown commodity—there are one or two exceptional cases—Sir John Orr's investigations rather show that if you can once provide the purchasing power that power is on the whole very wisely spent in extra food. On this point let me utter one word of warning, because I think it is too little realised that a rise in consumption of that kind, a raising of the whole lower half of the population to the standards of the next 20 per cent., would not increase the consumption of certain very important foodstuffs. As potatoes have been mentioned, let me remark that potatoes are one of those commodities of which the per capita consumption is as large in the poor home as in the rich or well-to-do home. There, again, there are exceptions in certain parts of the country, such as Bishop Auckland. You may greatly increase the consumption in Bishop Auckland, but what I have stated is true of the country as a whole.
I would ask my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen to consider for a moment what he really meant when he talked about directing the subsidy to the consumer. How can you subsidise the consumer? Observe that this increase of consumption is effected by increasing the per capita income of the family. Not all that increase of income goes into food; only a percentage of it does. Does my hon. Friend propose to give whatever it may be, say £1 a week, to every home, knowing that half of that, or 7s. 6d. of that, is going into food? If he does propose to go in for an expensive policy of that kind some of the subsidy would probably go into greyhound racing or things of that sort. They are hardly the subjects for a subsidy. People who talk about subsidising consumption very often, indeed usually, do not mean subsidising the consumer but subsidising the distributor of certain products, and that is the real point which has to be thought out. It has been pointed out that a subsidy to the producer has certain disadvantages, but I do not know that a subsidy to the distributor would be exposed to any fewer of the disadvantages which have been so profusely pointed out by hon. Members opposite. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) would prefer that form 526 of subsidy. I am only concerned here to raise that problem, and to suggest that hon. Members who have taken such an interest in it should consider that question.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
If the right hon. Gentleman will read my speech he will find that my idea is to take such control over the distribution side as to make sure that any subvention that is given does reach the consumer. That would be essential to a reduction of the price of foodstuffs.
§ Lord E. PERCY
The hon. Member does mean a subsidy to the distributor, and that is a proposal which can be discussed on another occasion. I agree with the hon. Member as to the danger of regarding the housing boom, on which so large a part of our expansion of employment has been based, as being necessarily permanent, but I think he was answered by an hon. Member opposite who pointed out the enormous amount of new house building which is coming along behind the private enterprise building boom. I found it rather difficult to follow the hon. Member for Everton on the subject of housing. He advocated the restoration of the housing subsidy in order to deal with the rehousing of families who were living in his constituency 12 in a room. There is a subsidy for such rehousing. And I was left rather in doubt whether the particular problems to which he referred needed any new subsidy at all, when you consider the overcrowding subsidy and the slum clearance subsidy. He did not make out a case for the need of a subsidy on ordinary houses, council houses, built apart from that. In my own constituency the council are now able to build houses, owing to the low rate of interest, without a subsidy, which meet the needs of the ordinary low-paid working class family, and they are doing it because they are a progressive Conservative municipality.
I must not cross swords with the hon. Member for Brigg on the subject of land drainage. I will leave him to the tender mercies of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture or I will leave the Minister of Agriculture to his tender mercies—I am not sure which—on some other occasion. Nor, I fear, can I satisfy the hon. Member for Everton in regard to the very elaborate figures which he gave about the needs of Liverpool and 527 the claims of Liverpool against the Ministry of Health. In an extremely effective and interesting maiden speech the hon. Member criticised some of his colleagues in the representation of Liverpool for not being here to-day and for not having taken this opportunity to urge the claims of Liverpool. I think he will find that the least effective way of raising a very detailed statistical case without notice is to raise it in a Debate on the Address and that his colleagues in the representation of Liverpool are probably waiting for the Bill which the Minister of Health is going to introduce in two or three days, dealing with this very subject, in order to present their demand on that occasion. I think it is to that occasion that I must postpone a detailed answer to the hon. Member's figures.
The hon. Member gave more than one set of figures and, as far as I could follow at least one set of figures, it seemed to me to justify the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Exchequer was bearing nearly 95 per cent. of all that could legitimately be called support of the able-bodied unemployed. The hon. Member included in the municipal expenditure on able-bodied unemployed the whole of the municipal expenditure on hospitals but expenditure on hospitals is not expenditure on the able-bodied unemployed. That is all I will say on that subject at present.
The hon. Member for Pontypool made a very impressive speech on the mining situation. Clearly it would be inappropriate for me at this moment to express any views on that subject, but I appreciate the spirit in which the hon. Member spoke, and if I think that perhaps he confessed other people's sins too much and his own too little, that is a fault in which we all share. I should like to say that if we conduct this investigation into the coal industry in the spirit in which he made his speech, we shall not go far wrong, and we may look forward with some confidence to a real settlement.
May I say a few words about the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough on the subject of armaments? He asked about a White Paper. I can only say that I will make inquiries on that subject and represent to my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the 528 Admiralty what the right hon. Gentleman has said. His own arguments against the policy of the Government seemed to rest on three grounds, and the first of these was a misquotation. I think he said that in our White Paper we said:It has been found that the existing international machinery for the maintenance of peace cannot be relied upon as a protection against an aggressor.On that basis, he accused us of having deserted the League of Nations altogether last March. Let me read the whole sentence, including three or four words which the right hon. Gentleman left out, I think inadvertently:Events in various parts of the world have shown that nations are still prepared to use or threaten force under the impulse of what they conceive to be a national necessity, and it has been found that once action has been taken, the existing international machinery for the maintenance of peace cannot be relied upon for protection against an aggressor.Surely the only thing one can say about that remark is that it was extraordinarily prophetic of what we have actually experienced since those words were written. The second ground of the right hon. Gentleman's objection was that all our capital ships had been laid down either before or during the war, and therefore they must be sufficiently protected against modern aircraft. I know the right hon. Gentleman has made that remark on platforms before. Does he really think that the offensive power of the air has not increased by one iota in the last 20 years? Really, the right hon. Gentleman has been at the Admiralty himself, and he knows that that argument is not worth the paper on which it is not written.
The third argument of the right hon. Gentleman was that, whether a rearming of this country was necessary or not, this country was so poor that it could not afford it. That is a dangerous argument, with which I do not agree, and the very fact to which I have referred, about the enormously increased physical wellbeing, the enormously increased consumption of necessary foodstuffs to-day among all classes of our people as compared with before the war, would itself be a sufficient refutation of the contention that we are so much poorer than we were before the war that, Whether it is necessary or not, we cannot 529 afford to protect ourselves. That argument, I hope, will be consigned to oblivion.
There is one last word about Socialism. In the few remarks that have been devoted to this subject in this Debate, I do not think that any remark has been made which clarifies in my mind what is the connection between public ownership and any of the problems with which we are trying to deal. That connection has not been mentioned by the right hon. Member for Hillsborough or by the hon. Member for Gower, who gave the whole case away when he said that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was quite wrong and that the country was now not afraid of Socialism. Not afraid? In the great days of the growth of the Labour movement, when the Labour movement grew by inspiring a whole section of this population with heartfelt enthusiasm for the idea of a great co-operative commonwealth, then were days when it would not have been enough to say that the people of this country were not afraid of Socialism. But that ideal in the course of years has been transmuted more and more into a kind 530 of parrot-like semi-Marxism, of which the best that hon. Members opposite can say is that the country is not afraid of it. The Labour party has gone wrong in the last 20 years, and the best hope for this country is that it will get back again to the old ideal on which it grew in the past, and which, I fear, has nothing in common with the Marxist philosophy which some members of the Labour party now attempt to preach.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Sir G. Penny.]
§ Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 2.
§ Adjourned at Four o'Clock until Monday next, 9th December.