§ But grave as is the international situation, there are a large number of people in this House and outside who regard domestic affairs as being certainly of equal importance, and no smoke-screen that the Government can devise can blur the picture in the minds of masses of people of the situation of the unemployed. It is good that we should remember at this time before the House breaks up that there is a domestic problem which is exercising the minds of more people than the international situation is to-day. I cannot understand or I cannot fully explain the reluctance of the Government not only to deal with the problem of unemployment, but their reluctance even to discuss the problem of unemployment. They have shilly-shallied with unemployment. They have shown a cynical contempt for the plight of the unemployed in this country, and when they had an opportunity this week to face that situation they chose to hide it behind the fog of discussion on the international situation. The Government mean to slink away to the country this week without rendering any account of their stewardship to the House of Commons, which they have bamboozled and treated with a contempt which the House ought to resent. They do not mean a word to be said about unemployment or the distressed areas. They think they can go away with a programme of rearmament up their sleeves and say nothing whatever about the domestic situation. In 1931, exactly four years ago, I was vilified and lampooned as one of the men who ran away. Who is running away now? Here are the Government doing everything they can this week to deprive the House of an opportunity of discussing what is, to a very large number of people, a very vital matter. I believe that one of the factors in the present Italian situation, not the only factor but one of them, is that Signor Mussolini was driven to bring home to his people the dream of a great Roman Empire in order to get them to forget their serious economic position at home, and this Government appears now to be pursuing precisely the same policy 370 by trying to turn the eyes of our people to Abyssinia in order that they may forget South Wales—and Wakefield. That can never happen.
The history of this Government's dealings with the problem of unemployment and the problem of the unemployed makes very sorry reading. I remember the hopes that were raised in a most unscrupulous way four years ago in the General Election. Appeals were made to the electorate to give an undisclosed doctor's mandate to the Government to restore trade and diminish unemployment. Nobody can deny that that was the case. The Government were returned to power in 1931 with a phenomenal majority. They did not lift a single finger to help the unemployed. They did place new and heavier burdens on the unemployed. They have robbed the unemployed of £60,000,000 during their term of office. All these appeals to the unemployed and about unemployment during the General Election were forgotten after the Election, and it was not until 1932 that they ever thought that a word might be given to the world that they were considering the unemployed at all. In the King's Speech of 1932 we were told:
My Government intend to bring forward Measures dealing comprehensively with Unemployment Insurance and with the treatment of those unable to obtain work, and the considerations I have mentioned will be borne in mind in framing their proposals.
Nothing happened for a whole year, except that the unemployed were smarting under new humiliations. In 1933, in the King's Speech, the House was told:
You will be invited to give immediate consideration to a comprehensive Measure which will put Unemployment Insurance on a sound and permanent footing and will establish a new system for the assistance and welfare of the unemployed outside insurance.
Two years after this Government came back to office, two years after these humiliating conditions had been imposed upon the unemployed, a Bill was introduced, after two years' consideration by a Government of all the talents, drawn from the best minds, so I understand, in the three political parties. After two whole years the Bill saw the light of day on 8th November, 1933. By 23rd November, 15 days later, this House was presented with another and a different Bill. I draw the attention of the House to
these facts, which have been mentioned before. We had a Second Reading of the Bill at the end of November. I have quoted in the House, and I will not quote them again in full, the most extravagant claims which were made for this Bill by Members of the Government. The Minister of Labour of that day, patting himself on the back in a way which seemed to me to be indecent in public, said that he regarded it as one of the most comprehensive and constructive pieces of social legislation introduced for many years. As he saw the possibilities of the Measure in his mind, and feeling the glow of oratory within him before the close of his speech, he was even more extravagent and called it the greatest Measure of social progress presented by any Government for many generations. The Bill was to be the great charter which was to free the unemployed from charity, which was to put the system on a new basis and which was to give humane and generous assistance to the workers, whether in insurance or out of insurance.
§ The Government got their Bill on to the Statute Book towards the end of June of last year, two and three-quarter years after they took office. In the interval they had revolutionised the fiscal system of the country in the interests of the big industrialists. They had begun to pour out millions of pounds in doles to industrialists, without a means test, without any inquiries, but two and three-quarter years passed before they got on to the Statute Book the shining example of social legislation which was to bring in the millennium for the people who were unfortunate enough to lose their work. The new regulations operated on the 7th January, 1935, and there broke out a storm of protest unparalleled in the history of this country. Men and women of all parties and of no party, people of all kinds of social circumstances, representatives of every church in the land raised their voices of protest against the inhumanities that were being committed under the legislation.
§ At the beginning of February, when the country was in a state of complete turmoil, we had the Debate in this House and we had the spectacle of the then Minister of Labour, the Number 2 Minister of Labour, having to get up 372 and say: "I must suspend for the time being the operation of these regulations, because, in spite of the fact that we have now had over three and a-quarter years in which to deal with this problem, the result of our efforts is a set of regulations which prove to be unworkable and which the country will not tolerate." Nine months have elapsed since then. What has been happening behind the scenes in the meantime? The chief thing that has happened is that Minister of Labour Number 3 appears on the scene. He has brought his great mind to bear on the problem, following on all the discussions that there had been, presumably, if the Government were doing their duty since the end of October, 1931.
What has been happening during all these weary months? The Government have had four years in which to do something. They promised legislation three years ago. They have had the minds of three Ministers of Labour devoted to the problem, and they have latterly been assisted by the Unemployment Assistance Board, yet we are here to-day in a situation where, after a further nine months, the Government have not a single word to say about the revision of these hated regulations. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour gave an answer on Tuesday which was very interesting. The House might have thought now that he had been in office some time, now that the Government have been in office four years, and seeing that nine months have elapsed since the beginning of this Session, the right hon. Gentleman was suddenly faced with this problem for the first time. He said:
As the right hon. Gentleman is well aware, the subject is one of great difficulty and complexity."—
A great discovery on the part of the right hon. Gentleman:
and in view of the importance of a right decision, not only to the unemployed but in the whole fabric of our social life,"—
A good piece of word spinning—
it is essential that before new arrangements are submitted to Parliament for approval they should first be examined thoroughly from every standpoint."—OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd October, 1935; col. 2, Vol. 305.]
Putting that reply into ordinary English, the English of the man-in-the-street, it means that after nine months the Government are in just as big a hole as they
were nine months ago. They have no proposals ready, for reasons with which I am not familiar. What is the truth about this unsatisfactory position? It must be one of two things. Either the Government are completely baffled by the problem—the Prime Minister admitted in the Summer that he was—or they have some solution up their sleeve which commends itself to the supporters of the Government but which they dare not bring down their sleeve before the General Election; a policy which they are ashamed to produce. What is the secret that is working in the right hon. Gentleman's breast? Is it that he is really baffled and completely at a standstill in regard to the regulations, or is it that there is forming in the minds of the Government a policy which they dare not before the General Election tell the country that they mean to impose?
§ It seems to me to be unfair to the people of this country to leave this question at this time suspended in mid air, and we are entitled to ask this perfectly plain question. Have the nine months of their anxious thought yielded nothing? Have the Government reached no conclusions of any sort, apart from the obvious electoral bribe to which I will refer in a moment? If they have nothing to say now, before the House rises, they stand condemned before the people for having betrayed the unemployed. We learned with astonishment that the Government are going to increase children's allowances. [HON. MEMBERS: "Some of them."] Yes, some of them, not all of them. They are going to increase the allowances of certain children of parents who are receiving statutory benefit. It is extraordinary that this should have been cast upon the world at such a time, because the Statutory Committee strongly recommended this increase to the Minister in a report which was dated 4th July. It was mentioned in the report of the Statutory Committee as early as February but not as a definite recommendation. It was said then that an increase of one shilling in children's allowances would cost about £1,350,000 a year. The cost now will be only £1,250,000 so that their delay has saved the fund £100,000. It may be they delayed for that reason.
§ In the recommendations that were made there was one which I did not approve myself, but it is important that the House 374 should be reminded of it. There was a proviso that in making this addition to children's allowances the total benefit to any claimant should not exceed 41s. per week. The Minister in his note on the report, which he is required to make under Part I of the Act, says he is not adopting this suggested proviso as the issue is another one that wants a lot of consideration. "It is one," he says, "that requires a full discussion in relation to the present Order." In other words, "Perhaps this proviso will be adopted after the Election. We will be generous to the unemployed now. We will impose no new limit. We will not give children's allowances with one hand and take them away with the other from those with large families. We will not make a maximum of 41s. because of all these considerations involved, the chief one being the General Election." After the General Election they will come back with a mandate to do precisely that kind of thing—if they get back. It is this kind of treachery to the unemployed against which I am protesting this afternoon.
§ Why are the Government to expect thanks for these small crumbs? We know, and the Government have known for many months, that there has been a substantial surplus in the Unemployment Fund. It is not their fund. It is a fund to which they subscribe, but to which working people and employers also subscribe, and the £1,250,000 they are giving away does not belong to them. It is money the people have contributed. I have very great objection to the Government using the Unemployment Fund for purposes of political bribery, for that is what this new proposal means. The question was so simple, taking away this complicated question of the 41s. which needs so much consideration. The question of an additional 1s. was so simple that it might well have been settled in July, before the House rose, but it is left until a General Election looms up and the Minister has been to the House and declared that he has not a word of comfort to give to the unemployed. He says, "We must do something, so we will put another shilling on children's allowances." That seems to me to be doing what my hon. Friends have been accused of, exploiting the unemployed for party purposes, and doing it in the most blatant possible way. If the Government had done anything substantial to 375 produce and follow a coherent, constructive policy for dealing with the restoration of trade it would not have been so bad, but they have not done that. They and their policy remind me of an old definition of metaphysics—a blind man in a dark room looking for a black hat that is not there.
§ The Government's constructive policy as regards unemployment is precisely the same as it was in July. I do not remember that I got any reply to the arguments I used then about the trade position. I said our trade position was precarious. I said our trade position, in so far as it was advantageous to us, was due to accident and not to design on the part of this Government. I think I showed that it was not so much our actions here but actions elsewhere, and the fact that we slipped from the Gold Standard unwittingly, that has caused what improvement there has been. I had no reply whatever to those arguments and so far as I know no member of the Government, not even the Home Secretary, who followed me at Luton, has tried to deal with these arguments.
§ The more we try to face our difficulties the better. My complaint is that right hon. Gentlemen opposite never do face the argument. They always put up something entirely irrelevant to the arguments put by this side. The real test of our economic situation is to be found in the depressed areas. They are the symptom of the economic disease from which we are suffering. There you see the results of the Government's policy. In the distressed areas of this country are concentrated some of our basic industries, coal, iron and steel, shipbuilding. If there had been a return of 80 per cent. prosperity, there ought to have been a 80 per cent. return to prosperity in those depressed areas. If it be true that the economic situation has improved, if it be true now that the nation is treading the pathway to prosperity, there ought to be signs of it in the depressed areas. There are no signs. The Government do not seem prepared to lift a finger to deal with that situation. It threw contemptuously £2,000,000 to them. It has done nothing more. If the Government want to apply sanctions they might apply some sanctions to the people responsible for economic policy in this country, and especially in the distressed areas.376
The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, when asked a question by a Government supporter on this matter of the depressed areas, made a most evasive reply. It is even more evasive than the right hon. Gentleman. I withdraw the word "even"; it is more evasive. This was a question by the hon. Member for one of the Newcastle divisions who asked:
What special measures, if any, are proposed by the Government to assist the depressed areas, especially the North-East coast and whether it is intended to put into operation all or any of the recommendations of the Special Commissioners for those areas?
That was a perfectly intelligent and simple question. This is the Prime Minister's answer:
The Government have made a close examination of the reports of the commissioners and of all other relevant factors. The commissioners—with the full co-operation and support of the Government—have been increasing and extending their activities in accordance with the terms of the Special Areas (Development and Improvement) Act, with results which are likely to be beneficial and, accumulatively, of considerable importance.
That statement is just meaningless. It was no answer to that question, and when the same hon. Member put a supplementary and asked whether there was not to be any definite proposals put before the country, the Prime Minister said:
That does not arise from my answer.
I know that form of answer. It is the easiest one to give, but it did not answer the second point that was put. Then he was asked by my hon. Friend here as to whether the Government meant to increase the sum of £2,000,000 in the distressed areas. And we get this great constructive and illuminating reply from the Prime Minister:
I have nothing at this moment to add to what I have already said."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd October, 1935; col 4, Vol. 305.]
That appears to be the Government's policy with regard to the depressed areas up to the present moment, unless we get some statement of policy to-night.
§ I think the Government have very seriously under-estimated the importance of this problem of the distressed areas. I remember the first speech the right hon. Gentleman made as Minister of Labour. He was appearing in double harness with the Prime Minister at one of those 377 Saturday afternoon gatherings in the summer which seem to be the favourite kind of propaganda in the Conservative party.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
The present Prime Minister. I had a newspaper cutting of his speech. Unfortunately I lost that before I spoke in the House subsequently, but I have been reminded of it since. The Minister of Labour raised a sheet of paper with a small black dot on it and told of a boy who was asked what it was. The boy said "A black dot," and the Minister of Labour said that it was a black dot on a white piece of paper.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
Then, after getting this very important fact made quite clear to his audience—that this was a black spot on a white piece of paper—the right hon. Gentleman went on to say "That is true of the country. That spot is the depressed areas. Always remember the white paper." A political commentator said of him—[An HON. MEMBER: "Hannen Swaffer."] Yes, it was Hannen Swaffer—Several Tories in the audience cheered. They were too far away to see the blot. Tory Members of Parliament on the platform were delighted. Mr. Brown was in front of them. There was no black spot on the back of the paper.I am bound to say that this infant-school method of teaching the peurile minds of the Tory party what the distressed areas are seems to me to betray a complete ignorance of the fundamental importance of this problem. It is not a case of a black spot on a piece of white paper. It is a case of a cancer eating out the life of this country. What are the Government going to do about the depressed areas? Are they going to be content with hearing these great words of the Prime Minister on Tuesday, or are they going to produce a policy here and now and tell the House what it is they mean to tell the country? The Government have been preening itself on the fact that there are more people at work. It is very little comfort for the 2,000,000 people out of work. It is no answer to say that there are more people at work if you have three or four festering sores 378 in the country which are draining the nations vitality. There is little pride to be taken in that. I have raised this question to-day primarily as a protest against the Government's refusal or inability to declare a policy regarding the unemployed to this House, a question which it has discussed for four years.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
It is this Government which is going to the country. I do so also as a protest against the shameful political profiteering, which is all that the increase in the children's allowance is. A million and a quarter of money, not their own money, does not cover up their misdeeds and neglect of the general body of the unemployed. I do so because I think it is unfair to leave the unemployed of this country throughout the winter months in a state of uncertainty as to what they are going to have. I do so because the Government know that if they alter the standstill arrangements they will alter them for the worst, and they dare not tell the country. I do so as a protest against their admitted and complete failure to deal with the problem of the depressed areas, and because it is perfectly patent to everybody that the Government has no coherent policy for dealing with the economic depression. Political stunts will not this time blind the eyes of the electors to the terrible and indeed tragic position of the distressed areas. We part, to go our several ways, with a Government which has been prepared to give time to discuss what is admittedly an important matter but which is ashamed to face this House on a fundamental domestic issue. It is four years ago, or a little over when Mr. Snowden, speaking on 15th September at the close of a very important Debate, used these words:I have admired the way in which they have cheered to keep their spirits up"—that is the Labour party—and I have admired those who have done that knowing—knowing—that only a few weeks, possibly, remain before the place which knows them now will know them no more."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th September, 1931; col. 801, Vol. 256.]It will know many of us again. But there are those in this House to-day, carried in on a wave of panic in 1931, who will be seen no more. If the Government try by a trick election—and we 379 welcome the election—to pretend that they are concerned about international affairs when they are laying their ground bait for an increased volume of armaments, they will be mistaken. We shall go to the country and hold the Government responsible for the plight of the people. We are prepared to abide by the result.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Mr. KINGSLEY GRIFFITH
I must apologise to the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) if I interrupt the course of the discussion which he has started. The Minister of Labour and the right hon. Gentleman know that I almost invariably take part in the Debates on unemployment, and had I known that this opportunity would have come to-day I should undoubtedly have devoted myself to that subject, but I have been asked to say a final word on behalf of my own party on the subject of international affairs and I do not think the House would tolerate it if a back-bencher tried to devote himself to these two subjects at this stage in the dissolution of Parliament. May I give an answer to the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) who criticised a statement made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) in answer to the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft). I should like hon. Members to notice the question asked by the hon. and gallant Member and compare the answer given by my right hon. Friend and the answer given by the right hon. Member for Epping. They will find that the answers are practically identical. The question put by the hon. and gallant Member was—I am reading from the OFFICIAL REPORT:What would the right hon. Gentleman do in those circumstances?That was in regard to military sanctions, and my right hon. Friend replied:Take the same lead at Geneva for enforcing further sanctions as the right hon. Gentleman has for enforcing economic sanctions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd October, 1935; col. 52, Vol. 305.]The answer given by the right hon. Member for Epping was, "go the whole way with the whole lot." Allowing for a difference of style natural to the two right hon. Gentlemen, I should say that there was no difference whatever. In 380 dealing with the international crisis I am anxious not to embarrass the Government. That has been said by many other hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), and I hope that I shall be more successful than he was in not embarrassing the Government. At the end of a Parliament one cannot help casting one's mind back over the whole course of its history. I remember that our activities here started with the Statute of Westminster, upon which there was a Conservative revolt against the National Government, and that it ends with a Debate on a subject upon which there is another Conservative revolt. In the interval between these two revolts there have been innumerable other revolts, including that of the Liberal party, but it appears that it is against us alone that these disagreements are held to be a charge. The other bold rebels seem to have prospered by their rebellion; nothing has been done in regard to them. They seem to have prospered, and an unending succession of fatted calves have been killed in their honour. I should say that the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth is almost tired of a diet of veal; for us alone has been reserved the cold shoulder. It seems to be a hard world, but I will reserve any further remarks on this subject for the volume which I may publish, "Memories of Ten Parliaments," which may come out in the year 1965.
I am going to pass to the actual election issue put before us by the Prime Minister. I should like to ask him how he expects to get a mandate on the issue of foreign affairs at the present election. You can lead a horse to the water, you can lead the electors into the garden or up the garden, but you cannot determine what flowers they are going to pick when they get there. The electors will make the issue of this election for themselves, and a great many of those who vote against the Government, indeed the majority, will vote against the Government on the matters which have been put forward to-day by the right hon. Member for Wakefield, the means test and the depressed areas. A great many of those who vote for the Government will do so for all kinds of special reasons, because their particular local industry has benefited by a subsidy or some special trade measure, or because they 381 are going to get benefit out of a pig scheme, or a milk scheme, or a mangoldwurzel scheme. None of those who vote in this way can give the Government any kind of mandate on the question which is said to be at issue. That is the difficulty in which I find myself and in which many electors will find themselves. But, even suppose you can get attention entirely concentrated on the issue of foreign affairs, and suppose the "Times" is right to-day when it says:The lines of the Government's foreign policy are plain enough by this time for everyone to understand, and no intelligent elector can say that he does not know what he is being asked to vote for.If that be true, what is the intelligent elector to do in a constituency like Middlesbrough West, which I know, where you find first a Liberal who supports the Government in the imposition of sanctions, a second candidate who also, I understand, supports the Government in the imposition of sanctions, and a third candidate, the National Government representative, who uncompromisingly opposes the Government in the imposition of sanctions? He has said in most unequivocal and irrevocable terms that he will never support sanctions of any kind, economic or otherwise, whether in combination with other nations or not. In that case, which is typical of many, the only way for the elector to express agreement with the National Government is to vote against its candidate. An extraordinary situation. The National Government in hundreds of seats will get a better mandate from the seats they lose than from the seats they win. A most extraordinary situation. I am sorry that in the international crisis, when the real national voice and decision would have been of enormous value and influence in the world, the whole situation is being obscured by the conditions under which the election is being held. I support the foreign policy of the Government. I have drawn certain lines in time; if one can do that. I draw one line immediately before the speech of the Foreign Secretary at Geneva, and I draw another one, provisionally, at the date of Sir Eric Drummond's recent visit to Mussolini. I am told that these lines exist only in my imagination.
Take the first line. We have been told that the Government's foreign policy has been one piece of fabric without a join 382 or a seam. To my mind the seams stick up several inches; you cannot miss them. Can it be denied that the speech of the Foreign Secretary at Geneva came as a considerable surprise to Members of the Opposition and as a tremendous surprise to members of his own party. Many who are now sailing on the good ship The League of Nations must feel rather as if they had been shanghaied—I think that is the proper expression. However, they are there now, and I hope that they will stop there. But the speech also came as an immense and disastrous surprise to M. Laval and many people in France. I am told that whoever else did not know, Signor Mussolini knew; he had been told all the time. I wonder how he was told? Is it not possible that something like this may have happened. Someone said to Signor Mussolini, "His Majesty's Government cannot view with equanimity the actions of the Italian Government if such and such a thing should happen," and Signor Mussolini said, "I know their equanimity. I will march into Abyssinia on Monday; they will send a strong protest to my ambassador on Tuesday, and on Wednesday they will ask my ambassador to dinner in order to make it clear that no offence is meant. Carry on with the war." I cannot help wondering whether on the previous actions of the Government they had not some reason for thinking that such might be the course of events.
I think it would have been timely if the Government had made some sort of public pronouncement that would have made the position plain to the eyes of the world, even at the time of the Debate in this House when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) made a remarkable statement as to what he thought the action of the Government ought to be. On that occasion I, following the right hon. Gentleman, in my humble capacity invited the Government to say that that was their policy. They did not do so then in any sort of plain and unequivocal language. At that time it was not too late for Signor Mussolini to withdraw. He had taken some steps but he was not irrevocably committed, and a great deal might have been done by a pronouncement at that time.
I am also drawing a line at the other end of the period of Sir Eric Drummond's visit to Signor Mussolini. I have been 383 told that it is in an imaginary line and I hope that is true. I accept entirely the statement of the Minister for League of Nations Affairs that there has been no change of policy but I think he would agree that the things which appeared in the Press were extremely alarming to anybody who was watching the situation from a League of Nations point of view. I cannot help quoting the Press because we have been referred to the Press by the Prime Minister for some of our most vital information. I find it stated in the Press that the situation between ourselves and Italy is easing, that a better atmosphere prevails between ourselves and Italy and, finally, that Italy is pleased with our Foreign Secretary. Of course Italy and ourselves are old friends. Unfortunately, one of the two old friends is at the moment badly wanted by the police—we cannot deny the fact—and the other old friend represented by ourselves is a member of the police force. Translate the remarks we have heard into those terms and we find that the situation is eased as between the burglar and the police; that a better atmosphere prevails between the burglar and the police and, finally, the placards say that the burglar is pleased with the police.
To bring it home personally to the Prime Minister may I say that I believe there are two days in the course of the summer when, wherever his visible presence may be, the right hon. Gentleman's soul and spirit are at Lord's cricket ground? If on such an occasion he was doomed, as so many of us are, to rely on the Press for information and he saw a placard saying "Eton pleased with Harrow bowling," I do not think he would be reassured as to the course of the match. That was precisely my feeling when I saw placards of the kind I have described. I find in "L'Oeuvre," which is, I gather, a paper of some influence in France, the following passage:It is thought in London circles that as Mussolini is not reported to demand any of the uplands of Abyssinia, Great Britain would not be intractable regarding any other part of Abyssinia.I hope we may receive some assurance that there is nothing in those remarks. They would seem to indicate a position which might be expressed by adapting the words of the old song: 384We'll tak' the uplands and ye'll tak' the lowlandsAnd we'll get to Addis Ababa before ye.I trust that it will be made clear that we are not going to bargain with the territory of the injured nation. I desire to express the warmest appreciation I have at my poor command, as a humble citizen of the British Empire, for the conduct of our Foreign Secretary and our Minister for League of Nations Affairs within the limits of time I have mentioned. I have been proud of them as my representatives at Geneva. I felt that they were avoiding the temptation to take the easy path and the line of least resistance; that they were taking the leadership in international affairs which I think ought to be ours in the councils of the League, and, above all, that they were showing that they could read a plain document like the Covenant of the League and make it out to mean what it obviously does mean in ordinary English.
It may seem superfluous to praise statesmen for being able to read a document of that kind, but from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) it is apparent that he reads that document quite differently, or rather does not take the trouble to read some parts of it at all. I gave the right hon. Gentleman notice in the ordinary course that I intended to refer to his speech, but, unfortunately, he has had to leave the House early. But he apparently thinks it is possible to be a member of a club and to refuse to be bound by its rules. To put it in another and perhaps more cogent way, he believes that this country can be one of the principal underwriters of a great policy of international insurance, and then when a claim is made should say, "No, we are not going to meet that claim. We do not like the colour of the claimant's face or some of the claimant's domestic habits," and that on those grounds we should refuse to meet the plain obligations undertaken.
One really impressive part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook was that in which he referred to the tragedy of Gordon at Khartoum. He is old enough, like some others in this House, to have had that humiliation brought personally before him. It was handed on to me 385 from my father, but I cannot help remembering it. When he said that the tragedy of Adowa was the same to Italy as the tragedy of Khartoum was to us and that Italy was now only doing the same thing as we had done when in the Omdurman campaign we redressed the balance by subsequent action, so far I think he was mainly right. I am not concerned to dispute what he said. But surely he is leaving out one important fact, namely, that between the date of Adowa and the present day Abyssinia has been made a member of the League of Nations on the invitation of Italy and with Italian support. What if, in the interval between Khartoum and Omdurman, we had pressed for the inclusion of the Mahdi and his tribes in a League of Nations, surely the campaign of Omdurman would have been impossible. We should have been wrong had we undertaken it in those circumstances. With the greatest respect for the right hon. Gentleman, whose presentation of his case, particularly when it is inclined to be a losing case, always wins the admiration of the House, I think he has left out one of the most important factors in the situation and I am glad that the Government have shown a greater sense of their responsibilities.
I want to say something of military sanctions. I am not a fire-eater. I think I may say that I know enough about war never to want to see it again, either for myself or anybody else. I earnestly pray for this above everything, that the measures which the Government have already taken to meet the situation may be the only measures needed and that it may not be necessary to go further. That is my great desire, but can any hon. Members opposite say that in no circumstances and in no event would they support military sanctions? I would refer them to the admirable speech of the hon. and learned Member for Cirencester (Mr. W. S. Morrison) in which he explained the need for the British Navy in order that the League might be able to function and we have heard the same line of argument from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping.
§ Mr. GRIFFITH
The hon. and gallant Member is quite correct. Also we heard yesterday from the Minister for League 386 of Nations Affairs that you cannot play your part in a fully-armed world without the means to do it. Does not that imply the use of military sanctions? What is the good of saying that we must have armaments in order to play our part in the League if a cardinal point of our policy is that in no circumstnaces in no conceivable event are we ever going to use those armaments? It does not seem to be a sensible conclusion. I share to the full the feeling of everybody in this House and I put it from my own point of view and that of my own local regiment when I say that I would not count the whole of Abyssinia worth the bones of a single private soldier of the Green Howards. At the same time it is more than Abyssinia that is at stake to-day. It is the whole future of the world and if the League does not act now a great many more private soldiers of the Green Howards may die eventually because weakness was shown at a critical moment. Therefore, although I hope and pray that military sanctions may never be needed, I envisage that in the last resort we could not shrink from them.
I would say in regard to armaments that you cannot discuss armaments in the abstract. The need of this country for armaments depends upon the position of League of Nations affairs, upon how the policy of collective security succeeds, upon the armaments of other nations and particularly upon the armaments of those nations who are outside the League. All those circumstances have to be taken into consideration. What I deplore is that this question of armaments should be brought into the cockpit of a General Election at this time when the essential features for deciding the question are not in our possession. I will tell the Minister for League of Nations Affairs what I am afraid of in this matter. In the atmosphere of elections, with which he is familiar as much as I am, we may find people drifting to opposite extremes. We may find one lot of people drifting into the position of saying, "Let us abandon every kind of armament and then declare war on all the other nations." On the other hand you may find people saying, "Let us pile up armaments; let us measure our victory at the Election by the extent to which we can multiply armaments, but let us at the same time resolve not to use those armaments or allow them to be made into an 387 influence in the general affairs of the world." Both those conclusions to my mind are lamentable.
What I want is sane, balanced consideration and conclusion as to what are the needs of the country in the matter of armaments. If I am convinced that some advance and some increase is necessary I should vote for it, whatever the electoral consequences because I owe a responsibility to the people of the future. But I do ask that the question should be considered still in the mood of collective security as long as that lasts. The old cry:Come the three corners of the world in armsAnd we shall shock them.was well enough for its day. I trust that day is past. If I may use a paradox we ought to try the miracle of squaring the circle. We ought to try still to bring the three corners of the world to the round table where, I think, there is yet a chance to achieve a real programme of disarmament. It may be that in some parts of my speech I have appeared to be critical. Perhaps in the minds of some here I have been unduly critical. I do not wish to end on a critical note although we are just about to go into an electoral battle. Still foremost before my mind is the great speech of the Foreign Secretary at Geneva. I cannot forget it. I do not want to forget it and I do not want it to be lost in the conflicting cries of the General Election. I want it to continue to be heard and to be the key to our foreign policy in the future, whatever Government may succeed this one, and I want it to take its rightful place as one of the decisive speeches of the world.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
Never before have I intervened in a debate on foreign affairs or on the international situation. In doing so to-day I realise fully how much has been said during the past few days by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who have much more knowledge and experience in these affairs than I have. I realise that in some respects nothing more need be said and that although the Opposition asked for a debate on the international situation they think perhaps now that that debate ought to 388 come to a close. Some of the greatest speakers whom we have heard during the last two days have told us their point of view. We have heard the point of view put forward by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for League of Nations Affairs, but I believe that at a time like this the point of view of every hon. Member in this House should be considered and that, however difficult the situation is, each one of us should try, from our personal point of view, to look at matters as we see them to-day in the world and try to play some part in the great work of building up peace throughout the world.
I am glad that I have the opportunity of following the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith) and that I start upon the note on which he left off, the note of congratulating the members of this Government who, in Geneva, have put forward what they believe and what I think is the point of view shared by the enormous majority of people in this country. I have one advantage in speaking in this Debate, and it is that I have had the honour and privilege during the past three years of being a member of the British Delegation to the League of Nations Assembly. I have seen there the League in working. I had the great advantage of being there during those weeks in September when the great speech was made by the Foreign Secretary, and I shall never forget the influence that I believe was felt when that great speech was made and when it was followed by all that has been said by our Minister for League of Nations Affairs in the Council Chamber. I think, above all, we have to keep our minds on this fact, that the quarrel between the League and Italy is a quarrel started by Italy, as a member of the League, definitely giving up the method of settling disputes by consultation round the Council table and deciding to settle them on the battlefield and by slaughter. The main dispute between the League and Italy is, I believe, a dispute which had sooner or later to come before us, the dispute whether in future international arrangements are to be settled by bloodshed and bombing or by consultation, discussion, and debate. That is our problem to-day, and I believe that if we look at it from that point of view, we shall realise that the first great victory in this crisis will be 389 won by the League when consultation and conference take the place of fighting in Abyssinia.
During this Debate we have heard a good deal on the subject of an honourable peace, and we have heard some feeling expressed by hon. Members that they were not altogether easy about the present situation—it was underlined rather by the last speaker—and the fear that, because we were told things seemed rather better, they began to feel doubtful about the Government policy. But surely the first sign of the situation being better should be the first sign that some idea of conference and consultation, and not continued fighting, was possible. That would be the first victory. As to an honourable settlement of the dispute and the fears that have been expressed that somehow or other—perhaps I am putting this too crudely and reading into the words or writing into the speeches of hon. Members what they did not mean—our Government were going to let down the Abyssinian people and in a weak moment give way to the aggressor, I wonder how many people have read and studied the document that was produced by the Committee of Five and the suggestions made then for a solution of the problem, which were put before the Governments of Italy and Abyssinia. We are surely not, at this time, going to consider what must be the ultimate scheme that is adopted. I do not think any of us would consider it a great victory and triumph for the League that we simply went back to the state of affairs existing a year ago, that we left Abyssinia exactly as it was, that we said she had a right to do exactly as she liked there and that her behaviour in all national and international affairs was correct as a member of the League of Nations. I believe that there is no one of us who thinks that. I believe more and more that we in this country and people in the other countries have to remember that the present is not the time merely for a discussion of the ultimate solution of the problem, but to press forward and find a way from the battlefield to the council chamber in the dispute that is in existence. The British Government have been trying, as we heard yesterday in that brilliant speech of the Minister for League of Nations Affairs, in every possible way to bring about a peaceful settlement, and I hope we shall all keep that view in mind.
390 The majority of the speeches made here have been in favour of that, but on one or two occasions I have wondered if there is any danger of people mistaking the machinery and the means of the League for the end. There are some people whose interest in the working of the League of Nations and in its machinery is so great, and their desire to see it tried full out is so keen, that I sometimes fear lest, in the minds of those people, there would be some disappointment if we were not forced to go to the full length of economic and financial sanctions, but found a peaceful settlement and Italy came back again to the Council table for discussion without the full machinery of sanctions having been set to work. I think that is a danger, and that we have to realise that what we really want to do is to bring about peace. The machinery of the League of Nations is one of the additional means which we have tried in these modern days for bringing about peace, so let us beware of any who may wish to see no other method of bringing about peace because of their anxiety to see the machinery of the League of Nations at work, to see the wheels go round.
In nearly every speech the objective of a peaceful settlement has been kept before us, but when I listened to the speech of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) yesterday, I wondered if he was making the best use of the term "reconstruction," and whether his words did not seem framed rather to awaken mistrust between the nations. I asked myself, "Is the best cement for binding together the nations of the world in friendship a mixture of doubt and innuendo and statements the veracity of which could not be proved in public?" Whatever our feelings may be, party or political, whatever our ideas as to the working out of this scheme of sanctions, surely nothing should be done at this moment to direct our attention away from our great aim, which is peace. I have been glad to hear during the debate almost unanimous praise for the work of His Majesty's Government in these difficult days. I was interested to note from the last speaker the lines drawn fore and aft a particular event with one piece in the middle that was perfect. He almost reminded me of the speech of the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), 391 in which there seemed to be spots and lines marking out areas distressed and otherwise. But there was very clearly that line drawn by the last speaker, showing a time when he believed all was well, and a time of doubt before and a time of doubt in the future.
As to the handling of this dispute, it has ben suggested that action was not taken in time. We have heard various suggestions made during this Debate as to what might have been done had, as it has been said, our Government woken up to the state of affairs before August or September. But those doubts vanished when we had that speech yesterday from the Minister for League Affairs, and we saw that at any rate in this dispute from the very first our Government were aware of what was happening and that every effort was made, both inside and outside the League, to find methods of conciliation. The dispute went, as we heard, to the League Council. It was the British Delegation that kept it there in the forefront. As we have read in the report of the Committee of Five, very definite arrangements were come to by France and Britain for helping forward some means of peaceful settlement, and those schemes were adopted by the Committee of Five and went into the report that was made to the two countries in the dispute. I think, therefore, that with regard to that part of the handling of this matter my hon. Friend who has just sat down may have drawn his lines a little incorrectly.
The minds of many hon. Members have perhaps gone back for a year or for two or three years, and the idea has been held that the policy of the Government had been drifting, that only now had there come a change, and that if the Government had said this and done that one year or two years ago, the situation would have been very different. Again, I can only speak as I see the matter and as I have had the honour and privilege of seeing it for the last three years. I remember well my first visit to the League of Nations Assembly in 1933. At that time my right hon. Friend who is now the Secretary of State for the Home Department was the first delegate of Britain. I have been told, and I have heard people say both inside and outside this House, that our policy has changed, that we were not 392 saying the same things then as we are to-day. My mind goes back to that first speech that I heard in the Assembly, delivered by our chief delegate, my right hon. Friend the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon), who was then our Foreign Secretary. What was in that speech? If any hon. Member looks at that speech to find out whether our policy was different then, he will find that the chief delegate of Britain then pressed the League of Nations Assembly that further and greater efforts should be made in the Disarmament Conference, that no longer should there be delay, and pointed out the dangers of delay.
Another year elapsed. Again in 1934 I was at the League of Nations Assembly, and again I listened to what was put forward before all the nations of the world as the British policy. The chief delegate for Britain then put forward the view of Great Britain, and there is one sentence in that speech which remains with me. He pointed out, after a difficulty about minorities had been voiced, what we in Britain could not allow to happen under the ægis of the League. One nation, he said, could not by unilateral action free itself from treaty obligations; and during these last three years I have seen and heard the same policy being enunciated before the nations of the world. I think nearly every speaker in this Debate has pointed out and appreciated the magnificent speech that was made on behalf of Britain by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. I heard that speech, and I listened to the comments on it, and I know the effects of that speech. I would ask hon. Members, if there is any doubt now as to the meaning of that speech, to read it once more. I have read it and re-read it, and I have come to the conclusion that the power, the worth, the value of that speech was not merely the fact of what was said, because I believe that practically everything in that speech had been said before, and it was not merely the clarity, the arrangement, the way it was delivered—the value of that speech was that it was made in the right place and at the right time. I do not believe that any delegate to the League of Nations Assembly considered that it was an utterance of new British policy. Of that I am absolutely and utterly convinced.
I was there when the speech was made, and what was the great effect of it? The 393 moment of tension, of triad and testing had come. The Abyssinian quarrel was before the Council of the League of Nations. At that time it was being considered by the Committee of Five. Everybody was wondering whether the nations which had stood by the League in the past, who had not yet been tried to the uttermost, would stand firm. The moment of testing had come and there were doubts. It was that speech, which was a repetition of the policy which had continually been put forward, to my knowledge in the last three or four years, that laid doubts at rest. I shall never forget the words that were spoken to us, not by one delegate, but by many. They knew that the time of testing for the League had come, and the greatest compliment that was paid to us and the British nation was this: "Britain always stands by her word—not a new word, but the word she has given in the past."
The policy was not a new policy but one that had been put forward during the whole time, at any rate, of this Government being in office. We have heard complaints of the pace at which things had been going. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cirencester explained last night how the whole framework of the League had been made so that it would work slowly with the hope that public opinion and pressure would come to bear on any quarrel and so that only in the last extreme would measures such as sanctions have to be taken. I know from personal experience that the British delegation cannot go to Geneva as dictators. They go as parts of that body, not to dictate, but to work in the machinery which has been provided. The machinery works slowly. I sometimes think that in the setting up of the machinery of committees of the League of Nations the model taken must have been the mills of God. I only hope that the results will come equally near those of the model, and that it will grind exceeding small. I know from my experience as a rapporteur of the system of committees, sub-committees and sub-committees of sub-committees, and how, even when they report to the general committee and you think they have finished, they have often to have a drafting sub-committee. Machinery like that may seem to us ludicrous and not the right machinery with which to deal with a crisis such as this.
394 I would remind hon. Members that, although the machinery works slowly, it does contain a great idea and a great ideal. If we can with patience work that machinery and improve it, we shall still have a machinery, or parts of a machinery, which will bring to the world the one thing that is necessary, namely, some means of giving up war and settling disputes by consultation. Some hon. Members are uncertain in their support of the policy of the past but others are doubtful of the future. I have listened to nearly every speech in this Debate and have read and re-read them all. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) was sorry that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had not made a pronouncement more robust. I wondered whether he wanted a pronouncement more in the style that would come from Rome. He objected that the Secretary of State had not begun or ended or put somewhere the words "The League of Nations must not fail." Surely the time for mere words is passed; we have now got by actions to see that it does not fail. The criticisms of hon. Members opposite have mostly dealt with their fears for the future. Were sanctions enough? How far were we going? Doubt has been expressed over and over again as to how far the Government meant to go, would Britain stand firm.
I was interested in the speech of the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) yesterday. He spoke of sanctions, and he wanted sanctions and more sanctions, even at the cost, if necessary, of bringing suffering and starvation. Hon. Members opposite, and especially the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen, gave us a sketch of what was happening now that arms and troops were passing from Italy to Abyssinia, and the right hon. Gentleman asked what we meant to do about it. He promised support for further energetic measures, but it was not very clear what he meant. The words he used were:… any further measures which, with vigour and energy, they may effectively take to bring this lamentable conflict to an end, will also receive our full endorsement."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd October, 1935; col. 58, Vol. 305.]He said that he and those who are with him will give support to further measures. We were told during that speech that in 395 these difficult times the right hon. Gentleman did not want in any way to make things more difficult and there had to be restraint in language. I am sorry that in that restraint of language we did not get something rather more clear as to what he meant exactly.
§ Mr. K. GRIFFITH
Does the hon. Member think that the words she has quoted from my right hon. Friend are less strong than those of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who spoke this afternoon, and said, "Go the whole way with the whole lot"? My right hon. Friend said that we could not act alone.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
I agree, but I am not in any way comparing the speeches of the right hon. Member for Darwen and my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). I am not entering into any personal or party controversy over them. What I am trying to find out is the real meaning of hon. Members and we shall want to know the real feeling in the country.
I asked the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) the specific question whether he would use force against Italy if economic sanctions were not effective, and he gave no reply.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
Many of us heard and studied with interest the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. He referred to the necessity of armaments and said:The world has never found security or peace in the piling up of armaments. We must, of course, have adequate defences, otherwise we should simply be handing over the world to the militarists. If the peace-loving democratic Powers like Britain, France and the United States were to disarm and if the militarist Powers were to increase their armaments, the affairs of mankind would be handed over to them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd October. 1933; col. 56, Vol. 305.]At the end of his speech, having expressed the approval he would give to what the Government had already done, came the words to which I have referred. We were left in uncertainty as to the further measures which he mentioned. I gather from the speeches of most hon. Members who have to some extent criticised the Government that their fear is that the Government's policy does not 396 go far enough and that they want it to go further, especially when the leader of a section of a great party talks of further measures. When the hon. Member for East Woolwich spoke of sanctions to the verge of suffering and starvation, every thinking person must realise that if we are to have a policy of sanctions and collective security it does not of necessity mean a policy of disarmament. In the past there has been an idea that if we were members of a collective system it should go a great way to having no armaments at all.
In listening to the speeches in this Debate and in reading them, one sees that the very people who are anxious that there should not be fresh armaments express their realisation that even inside the collective system a certain degree of armaments is an absolute necessity, and being part of a collective system, does not necessarily mean there will never be any use of force. Does anyone suppose that the hon. Member for East Woolwich would think if we brought any nation to the verge of suffering and starvation, it would not retaliate by force? Last night I heard a discussion when the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) was speaking, as to whether we should speak of rearmament or increased armaments. It was merely a juggle with words. I hope that we shall get away from these minor disputes. It has been shown in the Debate that every Member of the House, with one exception—the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury)—realises that even inside a collective system there must be adequate armaments. Once or twice during the Debate, when the Government were criticised, the words "Too late" were used. We had a chorus of "Too late" from the hon. and gallant Member for North-East Bethnal Green (Major Nathan), and the hon. Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone) also brought out these words. They might have to use them also if action is not taken in connection with armaments. We have been told over and over again by Opposition speakers that in a collective system armaments and force can be used. If so, surely we must have them in adequate amounts before it is too late.
We see to-day within the collective system nations with a high degree of 397 armaments. We see also nations outside that collective system heavily armed. At the present time we are passing through a crisis in which the League is practically united against one nation which has a great degree of armaments. I think also that we should visualise the occasion when inside the collective system in future we might be faced with the case where one nation with armaments has become the aggressor and is in alliance with a nation outside, alike with heavy armaments. The right hon. Member for Darwen said that a certain amount of armaments were necessary for our defence, but we could not leave all the armaments on the side of the militarist nations. I believe that it has been proved absolutely during the last few weeks that we must see to it that we do not run the danger of having the collective system very lightly armed against any aggressors either outside the League or inside the League with heavy armaments.
All I plead is that we should have adequate armaments and that we should not leave it too late. I do not believe that there can be any real dispute between any members of different parties on that subject. I was very much struck at Geneva by the number of people who told me, and those whom I have met since I came back, that if there were a war they would run to the first recruiting station and be ready to fight for the cause of the League of Nations. That is a different thing from fighting for one country alone, they said. I read in a newspaper a report of a speech of my hon. Friend the Senior Member for Dundee (Mr. Dingle Foot), and I am glad of this opportunity of being able still to use that term because within a few short hours we shall be brought down to a drab state of equality. I read in that speech that he was among those who would be willing to offer their services to fight for this great system of collective security. We all know that he would go, and that would be another occasion on which I cannot follow. But I ask hon. Members and those who are so ready to go out when the moment comes, to reflect whether it may not then be a case of "Too late" if we do not see to it that there is the equipment for the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, if we do not see in time that our regular forces are sufficiently strong to withstand the first brunt of an enemy's attack? If the 398 collective system required and our defence necessitated that different districts should be held and blockades supported and our forces were not strong enough, would not the efforts of the people who would go forth in support of it be wasted because we had not prepared in time? Without in any way infringing the rules of this House I would like to ask, "Would it be much help to the collective system if we have feet without arms?"
During the last few days we have all realised the gravity of the situation, we have all realised that the time of the testing the collective system is now. We have all been proud of the part that Britain has taken and the lead Britain has given. I know that some people will tell us that we ought to have waited, but I would ask, Has the time come when a great nation like Britain should not be the first to express her opinion? Are we to wait for a lead from any other country? We were told by my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen that among our sins of commission in the past, among the things that have, perhaps, brought us to the present situation, were the Ottawa Agreements. I put my mind back to that meeting of the Assembly in Geneva and I wonder where I could find the slightest connection between the Ottawa Agreements and what we were doing there. We saw there, and we were all proud to see it, the unity of the great British Commonwealth of Nations. We heard the speeches of the delegates of each Dominion coming forward with a particular contribution to the debate coming to join in the collective system in its time of trial and giving to the debate a particular and local contribution. If that is the result of the Ottawa Agreements I am glad those Agreements were signed. We saw something else, and let us not overlook it. We saw a unity among the nations of the world such as has never been displayed before. We saw 50 nations, and more, in unity supporting the cause we have at heart. Talk of the Ottawa Agreements having split up the world and having created a closed door, so putting the peoples of the world against us, seems to be the talk of people who do not see the situation as it is to-day and are living in a world of theory.
One more word on the subject of armaments. It has been agreed during the 399 last two days that what we want are adequate armaments and armaments in time. I have often heard it said that the time might come when this country might be invaded from the air. We have been told about bombs being dropped on defenceless women and children. I wish for a moment to speak, from a point of view which I have never before put in this House. From the time I had the honour to enter this House as a representative of the City of Dundee I have done my best always to put forward a view which was not alone the women's point of view but the point of view of both men and women, of the people of Great Britain, and particularly those I represent.
On no single occasion, either here or at Geneva, have I put forward what I believe was a view confined to women only; but I want to speak now particularly as a woman. There are very few subjects which we can divide up and treat from the man's point of view and the woman's point of view, but there are some. Men have voiced their horror of the bombing of defenceless women and children and women agree but I would remind hon. Members of what would also be the feeling of the women of the country if our preparations for meeting such an attack were not sufficient. What would the feeling of the women be if this country were invaded from the air, if we had the aeroplanes of a foreign nation overhead and our aeroplanes going up from this soil to defend us, and they were going up not to fight merely against fearful odds but against hopeless odds? What would be the feeling of the women of this country if it were found that there were insufficient supplies for the Army and the Navy; that men going out to defend them were killed because there was no ammunition; that their men were sent to a certain death because there was an insufficiency of supplies? I have addressed many peace demonstrations of women's societies up and down the country and also in Geneva, and I know their strong feeling for peace and their eagerness for peace, but I say that if in the days of peace we are not prepared to defend ourselves and to defend the collective system the women of this country will blame us and we shall deserve it.
To-day we are taking great decisions as to the policy of this country. As I stand here I think of the days to come, 400 when another generation will be in this House of Commons representing the people of Great Britain. They will turn up the pages of the OFFICIAL REPORT and they will see what was the state of affairs to-day and how we spoke about it. They will read the warnings which have been given by those who are in the best position to know the state of our defences and the dangers we are up against, and if they read that those warnings were given and that we did not heed them, I believe we who at present represent Great Britain will go down to posterity not with honour but with dishonour.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I am not unmindful of the gravity of the international situation, but I am extremely sorry that the House cannot give at least one day to the consideration of great social issues which are of at least equal importance with the present international situation. No one in this House will say that the Prime Minister lacks the breadth of understanding which is necessary to make an adequate speech, but as I listened to him yesterday when he was explaining why he could not give us a special day for a Vote of Censure I felt that he was particularly ineffective. I was not impressed by his statement in the way that I often am. While it is of great importance that the country should understand the present international situation I feel perturbed to think that after the many years during which we have suffered from the problem of unemployment we are not to have an opportunity, under proper conditions, of considering that grave question, one of the gravest the country has had to face for many generations.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) has dealt with one aspect of unemployment. Another aspect to which I wish to draw attention is the situation in those particular areas which once were called "depressed areas" but now are known as "special areas." I do not draw attention to them with a view to isolating them or dealing with them apart, but because they represent the very heart of the unemployment problem. When this House first met in 1931 the spokesmen of the Government definitely acknowledged the gravity of the unemployment situation in particular areas. There was 401 reason for that gravity. As far back as 1927 a member of the Royal House whom I shall not mention came North, with characteristic humanity to investigate for himself the situation there. At that time the country was extremely disturbed. So disturbed was it that when that highly-placed personage came North a great staff of pressmen from Fleet Street came with him, and the reports they sent to the newspapers were given almost the same standing as reports from the Abyssinian front at the present time. Everyone will remember those days. The sympathy of the people was touched and they wanted to know what they could do. The Government were so disturbed that they refused to have a second visit to the South Wales area. A report was given which was never published. As a result of the discussions and revelations at that time the Government set up the Transference Board. Does the House understand that at that time there were only 1,000,000 unemployed, and that to-day there are 2,000,000, and that three-fourths of that 2,000,000, namely 1,400,000, are in four of the areas out of the eight divisions in Great Britain?
The Government might well be disturbed at the position in 1931. They said then, "We have many problems to deal with and we cannot find the time to give to this question, but what we can do we will do." And they gave a small grant of £25,000 to the National Council of Social Service. I criticised and doubted the wisdom of that grant at the time. That was not a criticism of voluntary effort. I knew that organisations had been working in various parts of the country, voluntarily, silently and obscurely, and I knew the good work some of them had been doing. The mistake was that the Government did not allow those people to go on in their own obscure way in order that any experience that was built up could come from the bottom, but gave some finance to the National Council of Social Service, who knew nothing about the situation and smiled charitably at people from the top. I have seen this thing at work and I say that it is unworthy of this nation that the question should be treated in that way.
Who are the people to whom we offer a kind of charity and kind of voluntary effort? Some of them are young and 402 some middle-aged, and are men of ability who would rival any hon. Member of this House in their sense of independence. In many cases they are men who made and manned trenches and played their part in the critical hour of this nation's history. They are of a peculiar type of independence, so far as the mining industry is concerned. The social service organisations have failed to touch the basic facts in these areas. The men will not have that kind of thing. It was clear to us very soon that the Government have failed. Well meant as the effort was, and as many of the people were, for doing that work, it failed in that object.
The scheme quietened the country's conscience for about two years. Then came revelations. The "Times" newspaper, a great organ which generally favours the Government of the day, sent a representative to one or two of the areas, and in three articles the "Times" observer told the people of the country what we had been telling the House—we who were direct from the areas, and were only 50 against 500. We are an insignificant—perhaps the most insignificant—Opposition, in point of numbers, that there has been in our political history. With the "Times" representative it was another proposition altogether. The descriptions of the writer in the "Times" underlined what we had said. They were given a vividness by reason of the shock he sustained in the face of what he saw. Those articles found their way into all kinds of quarters where we were not likely to be heard. To the credit of the British people, of whatever class and walk of life they belonged, they were deeply concerned and touched by the information they received and the descriptions they read.
The Government had to do something about it, and so, in 1934, about April, they sent out investigators. Why should they have needed any further investigation? There were surveys by skilled men from various universities, and there were the "Times" articles placing on record what that writer had seen. There was abundant information in the possession of the Government. The Government knew that conditions were not getting any better. Anyhow, the investigators went out, all of them Government members and all skilled men at their jobs. They were found within the ranks of the 403 Government, not behind the Government, and they set on record, with calm, clear evidence, figure and fact, a state of things which disturbed this House and disturbed the country. The Government had to do something again, so in July, 1934, I believe it was, they appointed their Commissioner. He has been acting now for at least a year, and he has published one report. The report was of such a nature that the Minister of Labour himself, just before the House rose in July, felt called upon to defend the Government against that report, which was a scathing thing. The report said that everywhere the Commissioner turned to do anything he was stopped by those who were acting for the Government. There was a very quaint statement. I am very sorry that I have not the report by me at the moment, but there was a paragraph which might well be used by an artist of the fame of George Robey. The Government had failed; the Government's representatives had blocked the Commissioner's efforts at every turn. They are blocking them now. The Government Commissioner has done nothing to relieve the situation in any of the areas, not from want of will but because he cannot, from the terms under which he has to operate.
Let me tell the House a very simple fact. Are hon. Members aware, and are the Government aware, that the Commissioner or his representatives cannot do the very elementary thing of removing some of the old pit heaps, waste heaps from collieries, into great clay holes that are standing by the very side of those heaps? They have no power to do that. The House did at least think that the Commissioner could deal with the amenities. We were very critical of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement when the Commissioners were appointed, but I think it would be agreed by those who were here that the general impression was that the Commissioners, although they only had £2,000,000 to work with, would deal with amenities among the first things. They cannot do the most elementary things along those lines. So, from beginning to end, the Government have utterly neglected to touch the fringe of the problem of the depressed areas. They attempted to limit the areas. They said, "We will narrow the front so that we can operate more easily 404 and do something practical," and so, in the special areas—we described them as special areas on that occasion—they have left out one of the counties which are most gravely affected, the Lancashire area. In the areas which are left, nothing whatever has been done.
It is not that nothing might be done. The other day the local authorities, bringing pressure to bear upon Members on all sides of the House, made a most modest demand that the unemployed should be completely taken charge of financially by the Government. That was a very modest claim, because those areas have been burdened for years in a way that would be beyond belief to the people of this country. Take the simple instance of a deputation of which I was a member a week or two ago. There are other members from the north who were there at the time. Durham County Council submitted to the Ministry of Transport a proposal in which they assessed the works—not relief works—of a constructive nature which were necessary to the well-being of the county, to the extent of £8,500,000. The Ministry of Transport admitted that the works were practical and necessary constructive works. In fixing their five-year plan, the county council said, "We cannot be responsible for all this expenditure because we have too great a debt." They made selections from that programme, which they reduced to a value of £3,000,000—less than half. They then submitted their programme to the Ministry of Transport, and the Ministry reduced the £3,000,000 to £1,300,000.
The House must understand the very grave effect that that had from the point of view of that locality and other localities. If the county council, under the arrangement obtaining at that time, had consented to carry out the programme of £1,300,000, it would have increased the county highway rate by 8d. We saw the Minister of Transport the other day and he agreed that there would be an increase of grant. I want to draw the attention of the House to the fact that the county council will only be able to carry out constructive schemes to the extent of about one-fifth of what the Ministry of Transport states are the actual needs. Indeed, the Ministry said to the county council, "In this programme you are doing nothing for the 405 weak bridges," and the county council replied, "We cannot." That is typical of the kind of thing that is going on. They have gone from one stage of debt and despondency to another, until I marvel that they carry on their work at all.
But behind all this is the far graver question of the men and women and their families. For one who has seen this thing over the years, and has seen the decay of men and women, it is almost impossible to speak in measured terms. I see accounts sent to the Members of this House about how many calories it takes to keep a man, a woman or a child, but I never take any notice of them. It is not for lack of calories that men are ill; they are ill for lack of work. These men have gone from stage to stage of despondency, and how does this House treat them? The only effective thing that the Government have done has been to take millions of pounds from the people in these areas, and not only has their income been cut down, but the men themselves have been reduced to a standard of dependence upon members of their families that is very humiliating. I am sure that, if hon. Members had understood what they were doing, they would not have insisted on this being carried out.
Let me give an instance. Here is a case of a man 45 or 50 years of age, a high craftsman, the kind of man that I heard spoken of when the Territorials first went in. Somebody said, at the second battle of Ypres, "Oh Lord, it is the Territorials." "Yes," said somebody else, "but they are miners, and they can dig," and that was appreciated at that time. This man of 45 or 50 is in his prime, he has wisdom and experience both in regard to his craft and in regard to dealing with any particular dangers that might come along. Indeed, I should say it would pay a company to engage a man of that kind rather than younger men. He is strong, he has all his faculties and powers, he has his experience, and his family have looked up to him as the man who has kept the family going. Sometimes people speak of the miner as a man who would get out of his job as soon as possible, if he could, because it is so difficult and dangerous, but I say here, careless of contradiction, that he has a rare pride in his work. The day comes when his son is working, or perhaps he 406 has more than one son working, and, because he has sons in his home, who have been taught to look up to and depend upon him, he is robbed of any right to unemployment insurance benefit without the slightest opportunity of getting work. He goes round and round like a rat in a cage without the slightest opportunity of work, and he is conscious that he is dependent upon those who are younger than he, and who have always looked to him for strength and succour. There are cases where a pit has been idle for long periods, and, when the pit begins again and his son starts work and gets wages the father loses his allowance. No heed whatever is taken of the long period during which there has been no income, and the household resources have been sapped.
This question is the hard core of the general unemployment question, with which it is usually allied. One of my hon. Friends was informed this afternoon that there had been a reduction of 80,000 odd in the number of miners employed in the last four years. That is the case in every other big industry—steel, cotton, and all those great basic industries upon which the nation depends and which are of vital importance to it. It is a fact that the number of men that are being employed is decreasing, and that decrease will continue. It may be, of course, that that will not be the case in some industries in the Midlands and in the South, which produce commodities of a light nature, but they are not basic industries.
My main point is that the Government are going to the country with no programme, no statement, upon a great question of this kind. I do not think, and I never have thought, that this is a question with a one-sided solution; it is a question the solutions of which are many-sided. It is not a question that can be settled in a week, or a month, or even in a year or two. When the Prime Minister speaks of the increasingly improving position in this, that, and the other way, I see no more reason for believing that it will touch those areas in the future than I have seen in the past, four years. The Government are going to the country now without any programme, and they are doing worse than that. Take the question of the regulations to which attention has been drawn by my right hon. Friend. Everyone knows what a difficult question that 407 is. Everyone knows that about nine months ago the country was angered over those regulations in a way in which it has seldom been angered. But the Government, apparently, are going to the country without telling the people concerned what they are going to do, but simply asking for a period of five years in which to do what they like with those people. That is unfair to the people, and it is unworthy of any Government.
Most people know that I am almost dispassionate as far as the election is concerned, but it is disgraceful to go to the country to get, if they are returned, a further period of five years in which to take advantage of the men and youths in those particular areas, who number three-quarters of the whole unemployed, and fasten upon them regulations which will further lower their standard of life and income. My hon. Friend opposite thinks that I am wrong, but I should be very pleased indeed if I could go back and take part in this election in the ordinary way without feeling that the Government were deliberately tricking these men and taking advantage of them in their poverty.The rich man's wealth is his strong city: the destruction of the poor is their poverty,was never more exemplified than it has been during the past four years, and particularly by the manner in which this appeal to the country is to be organised. I do not care what Government is in office. If it were a Government of my own party I should challenge its ability to deal with this question through the Minister of Labour. It cannot be done. There are Members who think that the Abyssinian question is the one of most vital importance, but the question of most vital importance is that which affects the morale of your citizens, and there is nothing that so undermines the morale of the people as unemployment has done during the last few years. Nothing has so taken the heart out of them as the hopelessness with which they are faced. I wish it were possible to appeal to this Government, but the time is past. But I hope at any rate that the people outside, that wider tribunal, will challenge every Member of this House, irrespective of party, as to the conduct 408 of the Government in relation to unemployment and the way in which unemployed people have been treated during the past four years.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Brigadier-General Sir HENRY CROFT
I am sure everyone will agree that the speech to which we have just listened was one of great sincerity, and I should like to assure the hon. Gentleman, when he discusses the question of the depressed areas, that some of us feel just as deeply on the subject as he does. I had the honour, during the Great War, of commanding some 6,000 or 7,000 miners from Durham and Northumberland, and I can bear out every word that he has said with regard to their pride and their feeling of dignity in regard to their work. I am convinced that there is not a Member of this House, to whatever party he may belong, who is not determined to do everything he can to try to better the lot of these splendid citizens of ours.
If I might just throw out a word with regard to this subject, I would ask my hon. Friend, when he feels somewhat bitterly against His Majesty's Government, to consider for a moment in all fairness the change that has taken place in the situation of the people of this country since August, 1931. He indicated just now that the problem of the depressed areas was linked up with industry as a whole, and that, of course, is perfectly true. It is because I feel that we should not imagine that the plight of the depressed areas can be cured without raising the general prosperity of the country that I would urge my hon. Friend to remember that, since the Government adopted their economic policy, we have 1,000,000 more people at work, and have actually halved the number of unemployed in the manufacturing industries of the country, while our exports have increased, in spite of a world decrease in exports, until we are back at the first place among the exporting nations of the world. Can anybody conceive of anything which is going to give more immediate aid to the miners, who are the heart of the problem in the depressed areas, than getting ahead with that process here and now?
I want to say a word or two with regard to the subject of the Debate, for which the Opposition asked, with reference to the foreign crisis. I well under- 409 stand that the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) was very anxious to lead our thoughts in other directions, because if you come to examine the views of the Opposition on this subject it will be very evident to the House and to the country, I think, why they desire as little said about this subject at the present moment as possible. In dealing with this world crisis we have to be very level-headed in our actions, and we ought to refrain from any word which is going to harden the hearts of people with whom we hope to work on the Continent of Europe. It is very easy for pacifists to slay dictators in their speeches, but I doubt whether these same gentlemen will be quite so ready to take part in the action which may follow their policy.
We have had such a large part in leading the League of Nations towards mobilising opinion with regard to this crisis that it appears to me that it behoves us to be very calm and judicial in the way we weigh up differences of opinion. I particularly regret the violence of the language of one whose name used to ring through Europe, the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), because when you are trying to get all the help and assistance in your collective action from one of the great nations of Europe which you can, it seems hardly the time when you should make utterances which are unbecoming to that calm which I should like to see and which make it difficult for that country to realise our friendship. With regard to the wisdom of the League of Nations and the perfection of its machinery, I think that we are not called on at the present moment to discuss that. There may be differences of opinion. I for one have always held the view that the greatest disservice you could do to the great ideal of collective action was to try to make the League of Nations gallop before it could trot, and I am sure that those who take a more extreme view than the Government are not doing any good service in suggesting that extreme measures should be taken. But for better or worse, we are in the League, and I for one without any hesitation whatever support such action as has been taken by the Government, and I doubt whether in honour we could have taken any other course.
410 I rejoice that it has been made so abundantly clear by the Prime Minister and spokesmen of the Foreign Office in the last few days that our position is clear, and that we stand most firmly by all the utterances which have been made; that our policy has not changed, and that we are prepared to carry out literally the statement of the Secretary of State at Geneva. I am one of those who does not believe that the Government could possibly have considered going at a greater pace unless there had been a spontaneous expression of opinion from the whole of the nations in the League that they were prepared to go to further steps. I think it has been made clear that they are not prepared for any such policy. Therefore I rejoice that the policy of the Government at the present moment in dealing with this problem is one of ostracism and not one of war. A nation, like an individual, can trade with anybody it chooses; it can withhold its financial and economic facilities, and that is not an act of hostility as far as the question of war is concerned. When we have these dramatic demands which we have seen occurring so frequently from irresponsible quarters, that we should cut the communications of a Power which is at war and starve its army, that not only would mean war but a most sanguinary war, bringing troublous times upon the world. I am absolutely convinced that the overwhelming majority of this country would blame any Government which landed us into a European war in such a cause. It must be our sole aim and object to confine the tragedy and not to extend it.
Let me say a word with regard to Italy and the long tale of outrages against the Italian colonies by the tribes which we are told are not under the control of the Emperor of Abyssinia. Some of us have for many years known of the raids, slave trading and depredations on the whole of that great border between the South-Western corner of Abyssinia and Kenya Colony, and we know of the appalling fate of so many British subjects along that territory. Some of us have also known that in the Kenya portions again and again there have been raids. I think that I am not exaggerating when I say that had the inhabitants of that country been any other than Abyssinians, who we felt were hardly responsible for their actions, we could again and again have 411 regarded the raids as a subject for correction, if not for war.
We ought to appreciate that fact, and in my belief had the Italian Government seen fit to go to the League of Nations and to present its memorandum, on the assumption that the evidence is true as far as it can be and is carefully documented—if that long story of difficulty and trial which the Italians have had to undergo along the borders of their colonies had been brought to the League and Italy had realised that the opinion of the world had changed, I believe that they would have had a sympathy from the whole world which does not apply now on account of the actions which Signor Mussolini has taken. Even at this date we ought to realise the particular position of our old ally, Italy, vis-a-vis Abyssinia, and I think that when, as I hope, some peaceful solution comes about, we cannot neglect the fact that we have for years past always ourselves agreed that Italy had some special interest in Abyssinia which is not the case with other countries. I only hope that we may see a change of attitude in the near future from that great man who leads Italy, and that he will appreciate the fact that the whole world is against him on his attitude. I hope that it may be possible that the whole approach to the League of Nations may be offered in a different spirit; I believe that he would find a remarkable amount of sympathy in other countries.
I would like to say a word or two with regard to the appalling danger of ill-considered words expressed in various ways. I most definitely assert that the official Opposition in this country and the Liberal party who sit behind me, by their enthusiasm for the causes which they espouse and their lack of caution in the words they have used, have to a certain extent imperilled the position of this country. I come first of all to the Trades Union Congress at Margate. I apologise for speaking of that body in this House, but I understand that they are the controlling influence on the gentlemen who occupy the Labour benches. The Trades Union Congress at Margate demanded any action in order to restrain Italy. Sir Walter Citrine, who I think moved the official resolution, said:There ought not to be the slightest doubt in the minds of the public of this 412 and other countries where British Labour stood on, this subject.He went on to say:To put at the disposal of the League of Nations such a measure of military, naval and aerial force as might be necessary to make the sanctions really effective, was a very important point of the Labour policy.It was a very important statement, one that was read widely throughout the world. I hope that now the men in the Navy, Army and Air Force will realise that their Socialist brethren at Margate, in that bracing air, wished to put them at the disposal of the League. "About to die for a cause in which you were not enlisted, we salute you"—that was the message from Margate. These same gentlemen, who are ready to put our armed forces at the disposal of the League, go further than that and make it clear that the forces of the Crown have got to draw their swords, not in defence of anything as vulgar as hearth and home and the women and children of this country, but in defence of Socialist policy. Sir Walter Citrine continued to say:Their demand must be for the use of all measures which were necessary to restrain the peace-breaker. They recognised that that might mean war. That was one of the things they had to face. They had to face the fact that there was no alternative except to take the risk of applying sanctions involving the possibility of war.When Sir Walter Citrine and his gallant colleagues said that war was one of the things they had to face, did they mean that they had to face it? Did he mean that all those hundreds of thousands of card votes were going to join up and take their part? I made very careful inquiries from the various recruiting agents, and from that day to this there has been no evidence of these gentlemen coming up. It takes six months to make a soldier at the very least. I should have thought that if they had been sincere in this there would have been a great rush, at least to the Territorial Army, which is 50 per cent. below strength. But that was not the most interesting part of Sir Walter Citrine's speech. He said:If they draw back now, was was certain and it would be impossible to restrain Hitler from carrying out his projected attack upon Soviet Russia. Now was the time to defend Soviet Russia by defending Abyssinia.That is a very surprising statement coining from such an important quarter, 413 and I think it explains why M. Laval has been so insistent in his demand for other forms of sanctions even wider than those which have been proposed at Geneva.
Now we come to the Socialist party proper who are obedient to the orders of Margate. They went even further west. They went to Brighton, and there they had a very vital discussion, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), who is much honoured in this House, felt constrained to resign his leadership solely because his colleagues demanded such sanctions as, in his opinion and that of others, would inevitably lead to war. I think all our sympathies must go out to the right hon. Gentleman because at least he has been logical and consistent. We have heard him in many Debates making precisely the same speeches as he makes to-day. He must have felt a certain amount of surprise when, in his retiring position on the back benches, he heard the newly elected leader who had replaced him because he was not prepared to dance the war dance, make his speech two days ago with hardly a reference to the mandate from the Trades Union Congress or from the Labour Party Conference at Brighton. It is not so long since hon. Members above the Gangway were describing the Government in the country as warmongers. They fought by-elections upon it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley was in the forefront, leading the party, and they declared their policy with very great emphasis. Now there has been a complete change round. The policy now is not, as it was then, Disarmament at any cost. It is a longer slogan than that. It is Disarm and fight. The Liberal party is not so very far behind hon. Members above the Gangway. They also have made their position somewhat clearer in the last day or two. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) drew a pathetic picture of ship after ship bringing supplies and reinforcements and ammunition to the Italian forces in Abyssinia, across the Mediterranean, through the Suez Canal, down the Red Sea, past Aden, referring much to what might be described as spheres of British influence. He said: 414I do not believe that this country or the world could tolerate a situation of that character.I asked him, I hope very politely, what he would do in those circumstances. He gave an answer which I think must make it clear that he is prepared to go very much further along the road to military sanctions. He said:Take the same lead at Geneva for enforcing further sanctions as the right hon. Gentleman has for enforcing economic sanctions. They have 200,000 men in East Africa, and the situation from a strategic point of view is not an agreeable one. I had not intended to go into these details but I have had to do so in order to answer the interruption of the hon. and gallant Member. I had not intended to go into these details because language of this sort ought really to be avoided in the Parliaments of Europe.It would have been far better for the peace of the world and the co-operation of nations if there had not been this stream of invective suggesting precisely that same policy of blockade and closing the Suez Canal in the columns of one of our leading journals during the last few months.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
The hon. Baronet has omitted my introductory words. I was not referring to the situation at this moment. I said:How long that resistance will endure we cannot tell, but we must contemplate the fact that the war is going on, that thousands and thousands of Abyssinians are being killed and that more and more of the territory of Abyssinia is actually being occupied by Italian armies, and that there is a prospect that the aggressor will be triumphant and the League humiliated. That is an eventuality which is intoleraable."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd October, 1935; col. 52, Vol. 305.]Then follow the words that were quoted. May I ask the hon. Baronet what he would do in those circumstances?
§ Sir H. CROFT
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. If he listens to my remarks, he will get some idea. I would beg him to remember that he is here contemplating that the war will be going on for some time and that, therefore, we must go for further sanctions. He deliberately indicated that he—and I expect he speaks for his party—is prepared to go the full length of sanctions even if they involve war—the blocking of the Suez Canal and the cutting of communications. I think it would have been much wiser for him when he was 415 asked what he would do, if he had said, "Call me in and perhaps I will decide if I am the future Prime Minister," but I do not know that that is very likely. What I would do is this. I would say, by every possible means, moral, economic and financial pressure, endeavour to persuade Italy to come back to the ideals of the League of Nations, but, if you attempt to starve her army or to cut her off from her base, that would be an act of madness which would turn Italian soldiers into super-heroes and, if you tried to cut off the British Empire from the East by blocking the Suez Canal, there is not a man in the country who would not fight to the last drop of his blood in such a position as that. I cannot believe that it would be really helping the peace of the world to risk the conflagration of a great war between first-class Powers, into which many other small Powers might be drawn.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
I gather that in the circumstances that I envisage the hon. and gallant Gentleman would do nothing?
§ Sir H. CROFT
I would certainly do nothing rather than drive the people of this country into a first-class war. I think the Government have adopted a policy that is statesmanlike. There is not a man or woman voter in the country who in the last election ever imagined that you were going to risk the lives of your soldiers, sailors and airmen in a cause such as this. You never told the people that the League of Nations was to be an instrument for war. You have always said it was an idealistic institution where you hoped you would find the nations of the world coming together to find arbitration and agreement.
I should like to say a word in regard to the immensity of this danger. People talk light-heartedly about the Italians being in a difficult strategical position. I have made some little study of this question of the Mediterranean and North and East Africa. Supposing such a calamity as a war with Italy was to occur, though I have not the remotest doubt that we should ultimately triumph, it would only be at the cost of a terrible loss of life. You would be taking on one of the greatest Powers of the world, with a wonderful up-to-date air force and fleet and a very large number of 416 submarines. Of course you could cut off the Italian Army from their base, but at what cost, and what would be the result, and what would happen to the League of Nations? Inevitably Italy would leave the League, and all the nations dependent upon her, whose life is so largely intertwined with hers, would leave the League the day that military sanctions were employed.
When I read in the Press utterances of people declaring how the navies of the other countries of the League of Nations would range themselves behind ours I shudder to think of the ignorance that is displayed. We all know that the French could only intervene with their fleet if they were driven to it. If you are going to have military sanctions and France is in the picture, she would have to expose the whole of her frontier to a first-class army which can mobilise 6,000,000 or 7,000,000 men, and her rich cities could immediately be bombed. Is it likely that the French would put all their strength into naval co-operation? You would have to rely on the Greek fleet coming to your aid; or is it the Swiss Navy? When you talk about collective sanctions on the sea, it means that the British Navy would have to take the whole burden. That is why I beg and pray that we may not have these light-hearted pre-election speeches saying that this country ought to go to any lengths in order that the ideas of the League may triumph.
May I say one other word by way of question to the Government? I warmly approve their policy. The speech of the Secretary of State at Geneva and that of the Prime Minister have been a tremendous relief to me, and I rejoice that I can feel whole-heartedly that I am with them. But there was one statement made at Geneva which has been very much repeated ever since by many of the Bishops and others who always seem so ready to catch hold of any idea which might protect the world, without considering the consequences to the British Empire. I want to know—I will not press it if it is inconvenient—what exactly is meant when it is said that we are going to make the raw materials of the British Empire more accessible to the rest of the world. I have given up a great many years of my life to study of this question. I happen to be a producer of six or seven raw materials in 417 the Empire. What raw materials of the Empire are not accessible to Italy? I only ask this question because it seems to me that it is a mistake at this juncture that we should hold out hopes that we can greatly help the world in the days to come by doing something that we have always been doing in the past. Of course, if it means that there may be a country which is contemplating aggression and which, therefore, is not able to have those raw materials, which may be cut off from her, that is an argument that I could understand, but surely we do not want to encourage that kind of argument.
As a primary producer in the British Empire for years past I have been endeavouring to sell my products to every country in the world. It is not a question whether they are accessible. Throughout the primary producing countries of the world producers have been practically giving their supplies to anyone who would take them. If any Italians like to come to Kenya, where I have some small interests, they can have my property for a great deal less than I paid for it. No one has ever attempted to stop them coming into those British Colonies or possessions, but there is the theory that is going round that you could solve the population problem of Germany and Italy if only there were new African territories available. It shows an extraordinary lack of proportion, which is evident to those who know those countries, when these remarks are made. In Kenya, which has been very much advertised, which is a very popular Colony, there are only 10,000 white men, women and children, and to say that you can solve the population problem of these countries is really too ludicrous. One of the leaders of the Socialist party, the leader of the London County Council, Mr. Morrison, said:I would be prepared to say that no individual State shall have Crown Colonies at all. All of them should be handed over to the League and administered under mandate and controlled by the League.Is that the policy of the Opposition?
§ Sir H. CROFT
I say that he made that statement in a speech and his remarks were cheered to the echo. This was at an official Socialist gathering.
§ Sir H. CROFT
I think that the whole country in the meantime will be aware of the fact that every single Crown Colony in the British Empire is to be handed over. We are getting on, and we know where we are.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
I heard that speech, and I distinctly heard Mr. Herbert Morrison say that with regard to that particular matter he was speaking entirely for himself.
§ Sir H. CROFT
I really rejoice to think that this is a suggestion that does not represent the views of the Socialist party.
§ Sir H. CROFT
This is getting more and more important. You repudiated your late leader the other day, and now you are repudiating your prospective leader.
§ Mr. JONES
I am sure that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will not wish to do Mr. Herbert Morrison an injustice. Mr. Morrison very carefully said in his speech that he knew that in what he was about to say he would be speaking his own mind, and he did not desire it to be understood to be committing anybody else.
§ Sir H. CROFT
I feel a tremendous relief, after one read that this statement was far and away the most loudly cheered in the whole of his speech, that the "Daily Herald" was wrong about that. Unfortunately, these ideas are bandied about, and they are not confined to the Opposition above the Gangway, because there was an eloquent passage in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), in which he said:Three quarters of the whole land area of the world is possessed by nine political units, and the other 50 nations are left with one quarter."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd October, 1935; col. 54, Vol. 305.]Surely, that means that he is prepared to make an alteration of those territories, otherwise why did he make that remark? I am afraid that he is rather forgetful. After all, he can hardly describe all the territories in the British Empire any longer as being one unit. 419 He has worked very hard against me for the last two or three years. I am not going to mention the name of the territory, but no one can say that that is any longer a British possession in the sense that we could part with it. You have given it self-government and you have to eliminate that unit. Is not that another unit? I should like to know the conclusion—
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
Again, the hon. and gallant Member has left out the salient passage of the part of my speech which he is criticising. It is the second time he has done that, and I am afraid that it is becoming a habit with him. Had he quoted the parts which are definitely relevant it would have precluded him from making the observations which he has just made. I will only read a sentence or two:I do not propose to go into all the details of these arguments, but to state my own conclusion that these grievances"—that is, of the dissatisfied Powers—cannot, in the present state of the world, be effectively remedied by any territorial adjustments or transfer of mandates. Although something might be done in those directions, they will not effectively meet the requirements of these great populations. A solution, if it comes at all, must necessarily be on economic lines, as the Foreign Secretary said some time ago."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd October, 1935; col. 55, Vol. 305.]
§ Sir H. CROFT
Then I am at a loss to understand why the right hon. Gentleman should have given this arithmetical calculation of the amount of the territory of the world. If he was not referring to British territory, what did he mean?
§ Sir H. CROFT
Then the right hon. Gentleman will resist any attempt to dispose of the British Empire as Dane-geld, and will go further and see that no attempt is made to hand over existing mandates of the British Empire. The right hon. Gentleman is not so ready to deny that that was the implication of his speech. The fact remains that these dangerous suggestions are being bandied about throughout the country. I know that there are people writing to the newspapers every day suggesting that if you part with a bit of territory 420 here or there you will satisfy Signor Mussolini or Herr Hitler. Presumably if you were to hand over the Palestine mandate to Nazi Germany that would satisfy them. But it would not satisfy them. They would want something else in the very near future. It would be exactly the same if you handed over the mandate for Tanganyika to Italy. It would not satisfy them. The most that Italy could possibly settle, if she had all Colonial Africa of all races, would in my opinion be 100,000. You cannot solve Italy's problem along those lines. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is completely converted to my interpretation of his speech?
I commend and I rejoice in the policy of His Majesty's Government. I think that they have done wisely. They had an extraordinarily difficult task. Once having entered upon that task, they could not have wavered, and I believe that when they appeal to the country, as they are bound to do, in order to show the whole world that the British nation is behind the Government of this country, and if they make it abundantly clear that they stand for peace, and only security for peace, which is adequate armed forces of the Crown, they will have a wonderful response from the people of this country.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman who has returned from Geneva upon the conduct of the affairs of this country. Every speech that has been delivered by our statesmen has added dignity and authority to the utterances of the British race. I believe that the overwhelming majority of the House are convinced that they will get an extraordinary response from the country. I believe that the country will say definitely and decisively that they repudiate the proposals which were put forward at Margate and at Brighton, and that they will support His Majesty's Government in pursuit of world peace by the policy which has been indicated in this Debate.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Mr. DINGLE FOOT
It is obvious that the speech to which we have just listened suggests that coming events cast their shadows before. It is the sort of speech which can only be made when the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) is beginning his election campaign. I feel that that speech, which will no doubt be delivered 421 on a number of occasions in the next two or three weeks, may be better received on the hustings at Bournemouth than in this House, because at Bournemouth there will be nobody, as is the case with the OFFICIAL REPORT, to correct the hon. and gallant Gentleman when he makes glaring mis-statements.
§ Sir H. CROFT
If the hon. Member can show that I made a single misquotation, I will withdraw it. I could not read the whole of the speech.
§ Mr. FOOT
I have no doubt that the House will be able to judge of that. At least such Members have heard the passage between the hon. and gallant Gentleman and my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel). In the course of his speech the hon. and gallant Gentleman turned upon us on these benches and asked us what we told the people of this country at the last General Election about the League of Nations, and whether we had ever told them that the League of Nations was to be regarded as an instrument of war. We never told them anything of the kind. What we did tell them, and have always told them in the Liberal Party, is that the Covenant of the League of Nations means what it says, and that we in this country have put our signature not to one clause or to two clauses, but to all the articles of the Covenant. It has been stated in this Debate that some of the articles of the Covenant have lost their validity since they were first signed in 1919, and the argument was developed at considerable length by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery)—I am sorry that he is not in his place now—that in some way or other this country had gone back upon Article XVI of the Covenant. The right hon. Gentleman said:The reasons for rejecting that Protocol"—that was the 1924 Protocol—were reasons which in fact and in substance were a rejection of Article XVI.At a later stage in his speech, he said: 422That was the policy of Locarno, and the policy of Locarno, if I may venture to say so to my right hon. Friend, was not merely an alternative to the Protocol but an alternative to Article XVI."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd October, 1935; cols. 183 and 185, Vol. 305.]That was the most remarkable statement made during the course of this Debate. Surely it must have been familiar to the right hon. Gentleman, if you look at the terms of the Treaty of Locarno, that in one of the annexes of that Treaty, the British Government set out, the interpretation which they place upon Article XVI of the Covenant. I have no doubt that these words are familiar to a great many hon. Members, but I will read them as they are very short:
§ "Draft Collective Note to Germany regarding Article XVI of the Covenant of the League of Nations (initialed at Locarno, October 16, 1925).
§ The German delegation has requested certain explanations in regard to Article 16 of the Covenant of the League of Nations.
§ We are not in a position to speak in the name of the League, but in view of the discussions which have already taken place in the Assembly and in the Commissions of the League of Nations, and after the explanations which have been exchanged between ourselves, we do not hesitate to inform you of the interpretation which, in so far as we are concerned, we place upon Article 16.
§ In accordance with that interpretation the obligations resulting from the said Article on the members of the League must be understood to mean that each State member of the League is bound to co-operate loyally and effectively in support of the Covenant and in resistance to any act of aggression to an extent which is compatible with its military situation and takes its geographical position into account."
§ That is initialled by, among others, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain). How can the argument possibly be advanced that the Treaty of Locarno was in some way a substitute for Article XVI when attached to that very Treaty is the re-affirmation, as I read it, by the British Government of their belief in the efficacy of that particular Article? We are now on the third day of the Debate, and in spite of what was said yesterday by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of League of Nations Affairs, we on these benches cannot help feeling that there was a very sharp distinction between British policy on and after the 11th 423 September and British policy before the 11th September. I know that the right hon. Gentleman denied that when he was answering something said by my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot). He gave a quotation from a speech that he made in this House on 1st July, when he told the House exactly what he had said to Signor Mussolini about the Abyssinian dispute. I am not going to read out the whole of the passage, which is a long one, but I agree that there is, at any rate, a broad hint given to Signor Mussolini in that passage.
§ Mr. D. FOOT
I will read it. He said that this country would regard it very seriously if he were to proceed with his Abyssinian adventure. I am perfectly ready to concede that to the right hon. Gentleman, but even after 1st July and even after the right hon. Gentleman had given that intimation to Signor Mussolini, the Government did not speak with one voice on that question. I am prepared to believe that the right hon. Gentleman himself has always pursued a perfectly consistent policy, but let me remind the House of one other very familiar quotation, and that is the speech made by Lord Londonderry on 27th July, that is, at a later date. He said that the pursuit and the maintenance of peace were the collective duty and responsibility of the States who were members of the League.Geneva was a common council board to which the nations could resort in order to secure the settlement of their disputes not by force but by agreement. If war broke out the League of Nations had failed in its primary object, though it could still be valuable as a mediatory influence and as an influence to limit the extent of the disaster.Like the right hon. Gentleman in the language he used in the House on 1st July, the Noble Lord was speaking in rather involved though perhaps diplomatic language, yet any ordinary person in reading that passage from the speech would imagine that all forms of sanctions were ruled out. The Noble Lord only went so far as to rule out actual military sanctions, but there is no suggestion that economic sanctions might possibly be em- 424 ployed. Once the war had broken out, in the view of Lord Londonderry, on 27th July, the function of the League was to exercise a mediatory influence and limit the extent of the disaster. Therefore, even after the intimation to Signor Mussolini the Government were not speaking with one voice. I do not believe that, outside the Treasury Bench, there was a single private Member of this House who, when the House rose at the beginning of August, really knew whether the Government intended to adopt a policy of sanctions, economic or otherwise. I should have thought, in view of the long correspondence that took place in the "Times" newspaper right through August and until the beginning of September, that a great many of the letters then written would not have been necessary and would not have been written if the Government had made it perfectly clear at an earlier stage that they would, if necessary, resort to a policy of sanctions.
In the coming General Election our attitude will be perfectly clear. If the Government continue with the policy that they adopted in the speech of last September then we are with them, and we shall give them in any future Parliament any support that we can so far as their foreign policy is concerned, but if there is a relapse into the sort of policy indicated in the Prime Minister's speech at Glasgow, we are against them and we shall oppose their foreign policy at every step. We are told of the mandate that they hope to get at the General Election. What sort of mandate can it possibly be? I would draw the attention of hon. Members to the speech to which we have just listened from the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft). There is one question which I think is at the back of all our minds, and which will be very much to the fore in every constituency in the General Election. It is the question that was put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen: If the sanctions now being employed prove insufficient to restrain Italy, what then? What step is to be taken then? That seems to me to be the issue at the General Election, and that is a question which every candidate will have to answer for himself. There are only two alternatives. Either you must employ sterner sanctions which will be sufficient to prevent Italy continuing in the Abyssinian adventure, or else you will have 425 to admit that the League collective system has failed.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
The hon. Member refers to sterner sanctions. If sterner sanctions fail, what would the hon. Member do then?
§ Mr. FOOT
It is difficult to contemplate all the possibilities. I find it difficult to contemplate the possibility that Italy would be able to go forward if the other nations were prepared to stop her at all costs. Certainly it is a reasonable calculation that if the other nations were prepared together to adopt extreme measures, such as cutting off communications, it would make it impossible for Italy to go forward. I think that everybody is entitled to assume that. Surely the question for each candidate is going to be this: In the event of the proposed sanctions proving ineffective, are you in favour of going further or are you in favour of seeing the collapse of the collective system? It would have been very bad for the League, and we all said so in the Debates last July, if Signor Mussolini had been able to defy the League and no sanctions had ever been suggested to be imposed. But it would be very much worse for the League and the collective system if sanctions were imposed and Signor Mussolini or any other aggressor was able to go forward successfully in spite of those sanctions. That would mean inevitably the collapse of the whole League system. That is the question which each one of us will have to answer for himself at the Election. In the different parties some candidates will say "Yes," and some will say "No." Some will be in favour of taking stricter and sterner sanctions and others will be against that course.
It is obvious that there will be three distinct parties among the Government's own supporters after the Election. There is the party which will be led by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery.) It may not be very numerous, but it does represent a certain section of opinion in this country. Then there is the attitude which has just been exemplified by the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth who said in effect that he was prepared to support the sanctions which had been taken up to now but that he was not prepared to go any further. Thirdly, there will be those who will support the attitude of the right 426 hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), and will say they are prepared to go the whole way. Therefore, it seems inevitable that as a result of the Election instead of the Government having their hands strengthened, their hands must inevitably be weakened by the divided counsels that will prevail during the Election and after the Election among the supporters of the Government in this House.
Let me deal with one other topic, which has been raised by hon. Members above the Gangway. I do so because it is a subject in which I have taken a good deal of interest during the lifetime of this Parliament. I refer to the failure of the Government to produce their unemployment regulations before the General Election. It is something like nine months since the standstill arrangement was produced, under which the unemployed were to get a higher scale, whether the Board's scale or the transitional scale. It was at the beginning of February, if my recollection serves me aright, that that arrangement was made, but it is much longer than that since the Unemployment Act became law. That Act received the Royal Assent on 28th June, 1934, over 16 months ago, and yet the principal section in that Act is not yet in full operation. Therefore, we are entitled to ask how much longer the Board and the Minister of Labour need before they are able to produce their set of draft unemployment regulations. I raise this matter because this is the only opportunity that I shall have before the General Election and the reassembling of the new Parliament to say how urgent it is that the standstill arrangement should be brought to an end. It is an extremely unsatisfactory arrangement. It was put forward in a great hurry in order to meet a very difficult situation which the Ministry of Labour and the Board had not foreseen, and it has produced certain anomalies which are absolutely indefensible.
I will give one example. A man came to see me the other day and explained that he and his wife had until recently been receiving 26s. a week. That is the old transitional scale, which is higher than the Board's scale. About a week before he came to see me the man's son, who had been at an industrial school in Edinburgh, had come home. The son was 16 years of age. The man notified 427 the Board of the change of circumstances in that there was a new resident in his household. The Board examined the case and said that the son would not have been under transitional benefit, that there was no transitional scale for the new household, and that therefore the man, his wife and son would have to go back on to the Board's scale of assessment. Under the Board's scale the assessment was 26s. 6d. The man had been receiving 26s. to keep himself and his wife and he was to have 26s. 6d. to keep himself, his wife and son of 16 years of age. That is one of many examples that I could easily give, showing how illogical and absurd is the working of this standstill agreement.
After nine months the House had a right to expect that the Board, with all its resources, and the Minister of Labour have been able to produce some fresh regulations which might be put before the House before the General Election. There are many of us who represent industrial constituencies and know that the question of the means test not only has been a foremost political issue in our constituencies for the last three or four years, but that it is likely to be one of the foremost issues at the General Election. It is a very unfortunate thing that the people who are going to be affected by these regulations when they are made should not have the slightest idea of the character they are going to assume in the next Parliament. Surely, it would have been the honest and straightforward thing to produce the regulations before the General Election and to let the electors judge of them. Does anybody really believe that it is necessary for the Board and the Minister of Labour to take nine months in order to do what is, after all, a comparatively simple task? It is very difficult not to suspect that the reason why there has been so much delay, so much dilatoriness over producing the regulations, is that the Government are determined that the electors shall not see the draft regulations before they are required to go to the poll.
We are told that the Government are going to the country as a National Government and that this is to be a national appeal. Coming from my particular constituency I should like to ask what sort 428 of national appeal it is going to be. Next door to mine is the constituency of East Perth, where some six months ago there was a by-election resulting in the return of a Liberal National Member. The hon. Member for East Perth (Mr. Norie-Miller) has been an ideal supporter of the National Government. He has voted for them on every single occasion he has been here and has never troubled them by opening his mouth. No sort of Government Whip could have any conceivable complaint against the conduct and record of the hon. Member for East Perth. But what has happened? After six months of blameless life in this House on the part of the hon. Member the news has come to us that the Perth Conservative Association have met and actually adopted a candidate to oppose the hon. Member at the forthcoming General Election. It seems to me that that conduct is a little mean. The Conservatives have 450 seats and yet they covet one of the miserable 30 seats that are possessed by their Liberal National allies. There has been nothing like it since David's shabby treatment of Uriah the Hittite. I have said already that this is going to be a very strange General Election and there are going to be, we shall all agree, a good many crosscurrents during that election. I believe in this forthcoming election the electors would do well to concentrate not so much on labels as on principles and policy, because the labels were never more confusing than they are at present. No doubt there will be voters in Sparkbrook and in Warwick and Leamington who will go to the poll on the same day to vote for support to the same administration and I do not think anybody in this House can say that they will be voting for the same thing or the same policy. In the same way, there will be voters in Bournemouth and in Doncaster who will go to the poll to support the existing administration; yet again no one can possibly say that the voters in these two constituencies would be voting for the same things. I hope and believe that in the forthcoming General Election the electors will concentrate not merely on the labels put out, not on the coupon which may be sent out by the co-ordinating committee of the present Government, but concentrate on the great and vital issues now before the country.
§ 8.2 p.m.
I was interested to hear, in the remarks of the last speaker, of his great sympathy for the National Liberal who, he fears, will not be successful at the election. I can only hope that this sympathy means that those Liberals who sit behind me will at the next election support that cause for which they were last elected, namely, the National Government.
But I am afraid that is too much to hope for. I want to revert to the subject that has occupied the attention of the House for the last two days, and may I preface my remarks with a word or two in reference to two speeches. The first is the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for League of Nations Affairs. I am extremely grateful to him for the speech he delivered in this House last night. I am grateful as a political supporter, I am grateful as an Englishman and I am grateful as a sincere believer in the League of Nations. The second speech to which I wish to refer was the speech of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs at Geneva in August last. It is impossible to exaggerate the influence that speech has had throughout the world. Its effect has been almost cosmic, if I may use the word. It seems to have synchronised with an outburst of public sentiment in this country. I am not quite sure which influenced the other most—whether it was that the sentiment in this country gave great additional force, to the speech, or whether the speech itself unchained a pent-up and almost unconscious national expression of opinion. At any rate, it meant, and it has been interpreted as meaning, that this country in the future intends to play an ever-increasing part at the League and in foreign affairs generally. There had been growing up a belief in the last few years that this country was rapidly becoming a second-rate Power, and that the disintegration of the Empire was about to take place. So much emphasis—I think unwisely—had been laid on the inadequacy and insufficiency of our defence services that people had begun to believe that we had none at all, and it was the greatest surprise, and a very healthy surprise, when 150 ships 430 of His Majesty's Navy appeared in the Mediterranean a few weeks ago.
As one who has always been a supporter of the League of Nations, naturally I am disappointed that they have not been able to stop the outbreak of the Italian-Abyssinian War, but I do not think one need despair. The task of stopping it has failed. The task still remains of bringing it to an end as soon as possible. There are two observations I would like to make in regard to that. Practically no nation to-day has any national or individual grievance against Italy. In spite of Italy, and taking into account the usual national hysteria and patriotic propaganda that we are accustomed to see on those occasions when one nation severs normal relations with another, it is a remarkable event that 50 different nations are unanimous in their condemnation of what Italy has done. Then, I think that those of us who are naturally depressed at the slow mechanism of the League—indeed there were some who imagined that on the day war was declared it was possible to put into operation full sanctions—those I say who are depressed at the slow and inadequate machinery which the League has shown would do well to remember that this is a totally new experiment in the application of international law. Events may well have shown that there are some deficiencies in the Covenant, and that some additional mechanism, or some alteration in that mechanism may be required in the future, but, after all, the pace of the League must be the pace of the slowest member.
Again, I think it well to remember that it is not the principle of collective sanctions which has failed. It is the League members who have failed to put them into practice. Does anyone doubt for a moment that if at any time up to the end of September last, England and France, supported by the other members of the League, had gone to Signor Mussolini and said, "We quite appreciate you may have a case and we are very anxious to study it. We will consider it sympathetically, but on the day you go to war you will find ranged against you the full force, economic and military, of 50 nations"—does anyone imagine that war would ever have broken out? Of course not. Even to-day if you could get those same nations to say to 431 Signor Mussolini that on a particular day, so many weeks or months hence, communication between Italy and the Colonies of East Africa would be cut off, does anyone imagine that he would or could prolong the war beyond that date? I am not saying that that is not a step that entails risk. Certainly it does, but I believe that that risk is infinitesimal compared to the risk of the failure and collapse of the whole collective system. In any case it is impossible to advise His Majesty's Government when or how they should take a step of this kind.
The position of M. Laval is one of extreme delicacy in France, both internally and from the point of view of French foreign policy. I think it was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) who said that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Foreign Affairs had grovelled to M. Laval to persuade him to come as far as he has done. I should think that was a very false metaphor. I should think the action of my right hon. Friend was much more a friendly and strong pat on the back which impelled M. Laval forward several paces beyond what he would like to have taken. It is perhaps worth while saying that the time may come, however, when if sufficient nations at Geneva continue to wriggle out of their responsibilities it will be up to us to say we shall feel obliged to leave the League, because on the one hand we do not want to, and we will not take, unilateral action, and, on the other, we do not wish to be a party to a system which has become pure hypocrisy. However, that is a card I think we should not play until the very last moment.
The real difficulty that this Government, and indeed the League, will have to face is this: If in a few months' time Signor Mussolini has gained an initial advantage in this war he may very well turn round and say, "The war is over. I always told you it is only a Colonial expedition. It is not a war." He will then offer to the Abyssinians terms not very much, perhaps, beyond the Paris proposals. I wonder what will be the attitude of either the Government or the League in that case? Could we advise the Abyssinians to refuse such terms if we were not prepared to give them any more concrete and 432 definite support than we are giving them to-day? I venture that prophecy because I think it is one that produces peculiar and difficult problems both for this country and the League. It is impossible to emphasise too strongly, even though it bas been already said in this Debate, that this is not an Anglo-Italian conflict. It is just as much a matter of regret to us that Italians are being killed and dying of disease as it is that the natives of Abyssinia should be killed and die of disease. Our only grievance against Signor Mussolini is the manner in which he has conducted negotiations previous to the outbreak of war, the complete cynicism with which he has treated the League and the arrogance with which he has rejected every attempt even on behalf of those who wish most to help him and thereby made it impossible for them to do so.
As the Secretary of State has said, our interest in this whole problem is the interest of the League. We are acting on behalf of peace, the future peace of Europe, and never, I think, has this country been more disinterested in any action that it has taken in regard to foreign affairs. Yet I realise there is hardly a foreigner who believes it. If you read even fhe most temperate of magazines and publications in the United States you will find everywhere there is this underlying suspicious that it is British self-interest that is governing our policy to-day. Personally, I see no reason to believe that altruism is incompatible with self-interest. In fact, Christian ethics confirm and endorse me in that belief. We are constantly told that reward does come to the righteous, sometimes even in this world.
There is only one other subject on which I wish to say a word, and that is in regard to Germany. It is not wholly unconnected with the present problem. We have heard a great deal about German rearmament. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) told us something about it to-day. It has to be seen to be believed. The other day I was in Berlin, and I went some 20 miles outside that town. Literally for miles and miles you find new barracks, parade grounds, officers' quarters in course of being constructed—most of them only begun in the last six or seven months—miles of new aerodromes and of training 433 grounds; and Berlin is only one of more than 20 cities which are military centres, and where you can see the same. If you go to the sea coast you find immense areas reserved for aviation. In certain towns, apparently, every young man you meet is in uniform. The whole country is in a state of war. No officer, no official member of the Nazi party, may have any communication or accept any hospitality whatever from a foreigner except under the direst penalties.
I do not believe that this military machine is being directed, or necessarily will be directed against ourselves; in fact, the reverse is the case to-day. The order is friendship with England, but one cannot help asking to what use this great military machine is to be put, how long it will be possible to justify even to the German people this vast expenditure without using it, and if a crisis should arise will the present or any future Government in Germany be any more able to control the machine than were the Kaiser and a few other well-meaning statesmen in Germany in 1914. It is often argued that the League has become merely an anti-German organisation. We have, I think, to show that the League of Nations is just as ready and anxious to solve the problems of the vanquished as it is to maintain the status quo of the victors.
Take the case of Memel. It is not a new problem. I have not just discovered it, but if it had not been for the Abyssinian dispute Memel would have figured far more prominently in the public news during the last few weeks. Without doubt it will figure prominently in the course of next year. It is possible that after the recent election Lithuania will make terms with the Germans. The announcement of the Secretary of State in regard to this matter yesterday shows that they are willing to make an attempt, but personally I think it highly unlikely. The nationalist feeling in Kovno, the capital, and the Nazi feeling in Germany will prevent any permanent solution of what is a purely artificial regime. Let us confess it was a mistake under the Peace Treaty to transfer these 140,000 inhabitants, who had been for 500 years under German rule, to the sovereignty of a foreign State. It was a mistake on the part of the Allied Powers and the League in 1924 to capitulate to the Lithuanian 434 coup d'état and establish, what I have described as a purely artificial regime.
What can be done? Are we going to wait until Germany solves this problem for us? Personally I should like to see some form of international control for a period of years, followed by a reconsideration of the question and possibly by a plebiscite. I have good authority for understanding that the Germans would to-day accept some such settlement. It is I think worth remembering that a great number of these Memel Germans, in just the same way as their compatriots in Austria, are not by any means pro-Nazi. What they are however, is anti-Italian in the one case and anti-Lithuanian in the other. Any form of German rule is better than foreign domination. If they could get a breathing-space under international control it is possible that the German nation would acquiesce and accept some peaceful settlement, whereas if we do nothing, the time is bound to come when they will take action at a time which suits them and reincorporate this district within their territory. I did not meet a single informed person who did not view the present situation as impossible. If His Majesty's Government say that they would have great difficulty with the guaranteeing Powers, France and Italy, I reply, do let us learn from the Abyssinian problem and at any rate state our view of the case and make some effort to solve the problem before Germany solves it for us.
The question is often asked, what you would do for Germany or Italy or any other country which can make out a good case for an alteration of the Peace Treaties or for economic expansion? The Secretary of State gave the lead in his speech at Geneva, and I am sure, like everything else he said, that it meant a great deal more than a mere statement of the problem. I myself would make very considerable economic concessions to Germany in Europe and outside, provided she came back to the League and provided it was part and parcel of a disarmament scheme. No solution, however, can be found for this or any similar problem by giving way to blackmail. If the League is successful in the Italian-Abyssinian conflict, it will gain immense kudos and prestige. You will find that Japan will be only too glad and ready to come back, and it is conceivable that under certain conditions Germany 435 might reconsider her position towards the League. The United States certainly will not join but would be far more ready to co-operate with the League than they are to-day. In any case, if it does succeed we shall have created a united peace front which in itself will represent such strength and security that any nation will hesitate to challenge or disturb it. Whether the League succeeds or fails, surely it is worth while taking considerable risks before we abandon the attempt and return to the law of the jungle. If it fails there will perish in the hearts and minds of many millions of people a hope which has been born of great enthusiasm and many sacrifices. If it does fail, history will never be able to lay the blame on this country and still less on the shoulders of His Majesty's present representatives at Geneva. No one will ever be able to say that it was the fault of this country or of the representatives of His Majesty's Government.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ Mr. RAIKES
There are one or two observations which have fallen from Liberal speakers that, I think, ought to be dealt with. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough West (Mr. K. Griffith) suggested that there was a revolt on the Tory side against Government policy, and it was suggested by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Dingle Foot) that Government supporters were very much divided on the question of sanctions. Let me make it quite clear that so far as any of those with whom I have been connected in certain instances are concerned, we are absolutely and fully satisfied by the statement made by the Foreign Secretary in regard to military sanctions. The Conservative party are solid for the Government policy of supporting the League through economic sanctions. The senior Member for Dundee did not go so far as to say that there was a revolt but he indicated that if the National Government came back after the Election, there would possibly be three schools of thought among its supporters—first, those not prepared to support any sanctions, second, those willing to support economic sanctions, and third, those who, like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), are prepared to go the whole way with the whole lot. I think there 436 are few in this House or outside who would be prepared to object to economic sanctions on the lines on which they are being run to-day and in regard to the third class those who are prepared to go the whole hog, it seemed to me when I heard the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping that he committed himself to nothing whatever.
In point of fact, even in regard to economic sanctions, which we are supporting, we are not going the whole way with the whole lot, because two or three nations have refused to co-operate. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping gives the sort of graceful answer which he is prepared to give to his constituents but one knows that if some countries refuse to join in economic sanctions, those countries are incapable of going as far as military sanctions. In regard to this country as a whole I think there is little doubt that the Government and their supporters are very much averse from going one step beyond economic sanctions, and that for one vital reason. If economic sanctions fail, with the League of Nations constituted as it is, military sanctions must also fail unless they are carried out by means of a European war. If economic sanctions fail, they will fail because a number of countries are not prepared to co-operate in those sanctions. Suppose that to be the case it may be said that we shall have to take sterner measures. If you are going to call a spade by its proper name those sterner measures must mean warlike action. With half the great nations of the world outside the League and a number of those inside the League apparently supporting Italy, you may in such an eventuality find the friends of Italy and the friends of the League facing one another and you will have just the same position as you had in 1914.
At its best, the League of Nations to-day—and we welcome what it can do—is in fact the balance of power. It only contains four out of the seven great nations of the world and one of those four, Italy, is a party to the present dispute. We have to face the fact that we are not dealing with a League that can align all the other nations against an aggressor and strike one united blow against such an aggressor. We have a League which is divided, and that being so, it must move gradually and carefully. 437 The present Government have given a lead to the world. They have led the vast majority of the nations within the League to a position in which they are prepared to make sacrifices for collective security. If you went in for military sanctions, you would actually be destroying the idea of collective collaboration.
The idea of economic sanctions is that every nation within the League however small should bear its part of the burden by sacrificing something in the way of trade in order to take action against the nation which is being condemned by the League. All these nations should be able to play their part in the gradual growth of collective collaboration but if you get on to these other sanctions it is not going to be a question of common action by all the nations in the League. In the Mediterranean for instance, it is the British Fleet and the British Fleet alone which would be relied upon to act. Indeed you would be asking Great Britian once again to pull the chestnuts out of the fire while everybody else stood by and watched. That is why the League as constituted to-day if it fails in the application of economic sanctions cannot be successful in the application of military sanctions. If the League as it stands had been regarded as being strong enough to make war against an aggressor there would have been no need for any of the area pacts which have been growing up within the framework of the League. Those pacts have been growing up because people have realised that a League which is not complete cannot be used as an instrument of war, and therefore nations who have certain definite common interests have been obliged to draw more closely together for mutual protection.
No one knows what the future may bring. We know that the League as it exists may achieve a great deal on the economic side. Should it fail on the economic side that is not a reason for going to war, or for trying to make it an instrument of war—which would mean the end of the League and possibly of civilisation. If it fails we must either rebuild the League in a new way under new conditions or else go back to the old system, but it is not for us to-day to talk of failure. Our task to-day is to try, through the Government, to make these sanctions effective, to stand loyally 438 behind the Government in the action which they are taking on the present lines and to seek to use the League as an instrument of peace and not of war.
Reference has been made, I think, by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) to the question of the depressed areas, and it has been suggested that the Government are neglecting those areas. That is not the case. Through the policy of rearmament employment must be brought to the distressed areas. It is not only members of the Labour Party who go to Jarrow and elsewhere to examine the local conditions. A good many of us have visited those areas and have seen the state of things existing there. I agree with much of what has been said about the depression among men who have been for years out of work and who see no prospect of getting work. But what has the Labour party to offer? Nothing. The Labour party believe, apparently, in risking the danger of war without tackling the problem of armaments. We are tackling the problem of armaments in order that we may have security, and in the next few years I look forward to seeing Tyneside blossom as it has not blossomed for years. The building of cruisers on the Tyne and elsewhere means not only work for engineers and shipwrights. It means that the steel-works which are now lying idle will be producing steel and that many of the pits which are now idle will be producing coal for those steel-works.
The rearmament policy of the Government although not advanced directly for the purpose of dealing with unemployment can do more in that direction in three years than all the talk of the Socialist party for the last 10 years. Hon. Members opposite may shake their heads but what has been our experience and what has been the result of all the talk about palliatives? They ask why do not the Government consult more closely with the Commissioners for the special areas? The fact remains that you cannot get men back to work unless you have jobs for them to do. There will be a job for men to do in the next few years in bringing the armaments of this country up to the level that we need in order to play our part in the councils of Europe, but we shall go forward, and we shall fight our election on the lines of peace and security.
439 The Labour party have tried very hard to get right away from the question of the international situation, because they know perfectly well that instead of standing for peace and security, they, or a good many of them, are prepared to stand for war without armaments. The election is largely going to be fought on that issue. The Labour party are cooing so gently now that the electors will want to know why their peace-loving and much loved Leader has been obliged to resign as a result of the war-like attitude of his rank and file in the past month or two. The electors will want to know why another leader of the Labour party has had to resign from the executive of the party because he had definitely stated that he would have nothing to do with war-like sanctions in regard to the present situation. It will be a fight on peace and war, and I am delighted that on this occasion the Government, having taken the courageous line which they did take at Geneva, can go forward standing for peace, fair play for the League, and sufficient armaments to back a great nation. On those lines we shall beat the Labour party hollow, and I am not sure that many hon. Members of that party who expect to come back will come back. In fact, I think the Labour party will barely fill four benches.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Mr. GEORGE GRIFFITHS
I did not intend taking part in this Debate until the hon. Member for South-East Essex (Mr. Raikes) spoke. I have sat and listened to the Debate for several days—I have been out to take a snack now and again and then returned—and I have been wondering what is the point of view of the Tory party, not the National party. I call them in the country the "Grand National" party, and I have been wondering what is their point of view on foreign policy. You get the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister making certain statements, and they are Tories; you get the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) making statements almost as opposite to them as is the South Pole to the North Pole; and you get the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) and the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) getting up and speaking too. I 440 was amazed to find that the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth this time did not agree with the right hon. Member for Epping, because for the past 12 months they have been like twins on the same bench, trying to overthrow their own Government, and the last speaker did all he could, along with them, on the Indian question, to attempt to overthrow the Government. They say at Bournemouth, "We are the only united party in the country," but when we discuss on the Floor of this House their foreign policy, there are hardly two men in the party who get up and say the same thing. Of course, it has been foreign affairs, Abyssinia, Italy, Egypt, but so far as the Labour party are concerned, the primary thing in the election will be the people at home.
I take up the challenge of the hon. Member for South-East Essex when he states, "We shall fight, this election on the Covenant of the League of Nations." We miners in the mining areas, when we sign a price list, do all we can to carry it out, but that is not the way of the Tory party in regard to the Covenant of the League. Some of them say, "We will go so far and no farther." The right hon. Member for Epping said he would go all the way, but we are not going to let this Government fight in the industrial constituencies on the idea of the League of Nations or what they call rearmament. We shall not call it rearmament in the country, but something more than that. When you look at the fact, as stated by our Leader here, that they have spent £1,900,000,000 since 1918 on armaments, and when you look at the armaments this year, which are something like £40,000,000 over and above what they were in 1918, or immediately after the end of the War, and then you say you are talking about re-arming, well, we in our constituencies are not going to let those two things be the principal things discussed. I invite the hon. Member for South-East Essex to come up to my division and talk that sort of stuff there. The miners there will want to know something else. The miners do not want extra employment by rearmament. We do not want to make armaments to blow out people's brains, but we want to be able to get employment whereby we can build a new society in this country.
When the hon. Member for South-East Essex talks about having been up to see 441 these areas, I can tell him that I have not been up to see them; I live in them. I do not pay a visit once every five years; I am there every week-end from this House, and I am with them during the week also. I know what it is like. I had a man who came into my front room the other day and said to me, "George, I have drawn one day's wage in a fortnight, and I have six youngsters." There was a man with a wife and six children, and he had had one day's wage to draw; and we are supposed not to be a distressed area. Ours is the El Dorado of the mining industry, in South Yorkshire, where, since this Government has taken office, we have 32,500 fewer miners in work. A question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) to-day was answered by the Minister of Mines, who said that there are 84,500 fewer men in work since 1932. That is what we are going to put in front of the men in the mining industry.
Then take agriculture; and the hon. Member for South-East Essex represents an agricultural district. An answer given to-day was to the effect that in 1931 there were 716,600 agricultural workers, whereas to-day there are only 672,000. There are 44,500 fewer men in the agricultural industry to-day, with the "80 per cent. of our prosperity" mentioned by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the 15th April. We are going to fight this election on unemployment and on the means test, and I challenge anyone to come into my division and fight me on either of those questions. I am living in a mining area and know what the conditions are. In the past five years it has hardly been possible to find a woman in the streets of my division with a smile on her face at the week-end. We have heard about the financial crisis of 1931, but the miners have a financial crisis every Friday night and every Saturday. We have been talking about Abyssinia for three days, but when hon. Members opposite get into the home trenches and make their speeches, let them give the people a chance to ask questions. They will ask questions about the very vital problems on the home front.
On 17th December last the Minister of Labour, who is now the Minister of Education, introduced a Bill. He brought in the Unemployment Assistance Board scales and said that they would 442 bring to the unemployed men on transitional payments—not the unemployed men on statutory benefit—£3,000,000 more money. Many of the Members who sat on those benches said they agreed and they were delighted. I remember that the hon. and gallant Member for Clitheroe (Sir W. Brass) rubbed his hands and said, "All the people in my constituency will get an increase." We on these benches told the Minister of Labour that the scales would not mean an increase to the men on transitional payment but a reduction in the majority of districts. Hon. Members opposite laughed at us. The House broke up for the Christmas holidays, and when the Unemployment Assistance Board scales were put into operation on 7th January many Members on the other benches not only had holidays but worry days. From 7th January until they came back to the House on 28th January, they did not know what to do with themselves. When the House resumed hon. Members from all sides rose up and demanded that the scales should be withdrawn. It was estimated that in South Wales there was a reduction of £25,000 under the Unemployment Assistance Board scales as against transitional payments. On the first Sunday after 7th January down in those valleys, the Sunday Schools, for the first time in their history, closed and the Sunday School teachers, the pastors and the trading folk rose up in protest against the inhuman Unemployment Assistance Board scales.
Then the Minister said, "We will consider it; let us look into it, there may be a mistake." There was a mistake. There are more mistakes than there are beef-steaks so far as we are concerned in our districts. We had a discussion on the 12th February, and I remember an hon. Member opposite pleading with the Government to alter the scales. The Minister said, "I will bring in a little Bill and we will call it a Stand Still order." So far as we are concerned on these benches when the election comes, it will still be known as a Stand Still order. A "stand still" is not something taken off the Statute Book; it is something left there so that the people who put it there can take it off when it suits their convenience. The Minister of Labour made a statement to that effect in a roundabout way on Tuesday, when 443 the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) asked if the Unemployment Assistance Board had yet brought in their scales. The Minister of Labour said, "It is a very difficult job and takes some reckoning out. We do not quite understand the psychology of the electors and we have been thinking this matter out, but we shall not be able to do anything about it until the spring."
The Government are saying to the unemployed, "Open your mouths and shut your eyes, and see what the Government will send you if they are returned." I am not sorry that the Minister gave that answer, because it will suit us. We shall be able to go to the electors and say, "The Government have had nine months in which to try and reconstruct their scales and they dare not bring those scales before you." I do not know what they will do with the scales in another five years. I suppose it is not really five years now, for the Prime Minister told us yesterday that in future governments will run not more than four years, because they will be afraid to continue for the fifth year lest the electors should say, "Why did you not come to us before?" We are not afraid of the election. The hon. Member for South-East Essex has now left the Chamber. I wanted him to stay until I had finished, because he stood up there like an old cock in a stack yard crowing. He said, "We are going to do so and so in the country." There are, however, political sides as well as his, and we will not allow this great National Government to say that the only two vital questions are the League of Nations and rearmament. We are going to fight the Government on the other questions I have mentioned.
I hope that there will be a settlement of the miners' dispute before the Election, but even if there is a settlement on the question of the 2s. a day and on the national wage question, there are a lot of other things to be settled. We have been pressing for a new Mines Act and for a reconstruction of the Compensation Act. My colleagues for four years and I since I have been here during the last 16 months have been pressing for them by questions across the Floor. We are told to-day that the Government are to set up a committee to inquire into nystagmus. The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) has 444 been asking about the setting up of this committee ever since he came back to the House. The Government now that they are going to the country propose to set up the committee. Why could it not have been set up immediately after they came into power? Then there is the question of the safety of the men in the mines.
Last year 1,078 of my colleagues were killed in the mines, and we say that it is time something was done. I went back to my constituency lately and went into the mortuary there and saw six of my own men, out of my own division, lying there dead. I felt when I saw them, "This is something that need not be." The nation should say it is something that shall not be. I had hardly finished looking at them from my front door when, at the back door, there were 19 men who had been burnt to death. At the inquest the doctor said those 19 men had been enveloped in flame from the hair of their heads down to their feet. That is not happening in Abyssinia, that is not happening on the foreign flank. It is happening here—not at a place which I visit, like the right hon. Member for Epping, but in a place where I live and where the people are crying for bread.
I will put this point across and then close. It is a most remarkable thing that those who are employed nearest to the raw materials are the people who get the least wages and the least profit, and, as one of my colleagues said, they get a raw deal as well. People will find that that is so in the case of the miners, the agricultural workers and the fishermen. They are the worst-paid workers, and yet they are engaged in our main industries—coal, agriculture and fish. I can tell the right hon. Member for Epping that we are not going to allow this Election to be "stunted up" on the issue of the League of Nations. If you apply sanctions to Italy—and we are not against them—there must be sanctions applied somewhere else, so that our people can get a real life on earth, instead of being starved to death while carrying the burden of industry on their backs.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Mr. PETHERICK
The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) has given the House a rehearsal of what, no doubt, is his election speech, and I should 445 think that in the next few days he will be even more fluent than he has been to-day. Let us hope for his sake that by that time he will be entirely word perfect. He arrogates to his own party and himself the sole right to speak for the working man. He tries to claim that no Government and no party will do anything, or has ever done anything, for the working man except his own Socialist party. He adverted to the fact that there was an increased number of unemployed in his division since the last Election. I am very sorry to hear that. I am sorry to hear that there is an increase of unemployment in any division, but I hope that when he is making out his election address he will not forget to point out that when his Government was in power the number of the unemployed rose by about 1,500,000, and very nearly reached the figure of 3,000,000, and that since this Government has been in power the number has fallen steadily, over the last few years until, it is now nearly 1,000,000 better than it was when the Government came into power. Hon. Members opposite cannot get away with it quite as easily as they claim to do.
The hon. Member also said that there is increased employment in the agricultural industry. Those who sit for agricultural divisions know, unfortunately, that there is a small increase, but hon. Members opposite forget that in the last few years there has been an intensification of mechanisation in the agricultural industry. However, if agriculture were so very much worse off, as we are led to believe, is it likely that the farmers would have been able to afford to give increased wages to the farm labourers in many counties? I would commend that point to the notice of hon. Members opposite because sitting for industrial constituencies, as so many of them—nearly all of them—do, they do not know very much of what is going on in the countryside.
May I now go back to the main object of this Debate, which is the discussion of the international situation? There is no doubt that this country wants peace and is determined to maintain it. It is also, I believe, almost unanimous, though not quite, in its determination to uphold the Covenant of the League. We did not need the peace ballot to tell us that. People in railway trains or in the 446 streets, almost everybody one meets, says that they are determined to do everything possible to maintain peace, but the methods of achieving this end undoubtedly differ, and, as hon. Members have pointed out, the degrees of affection for and belief in the League of Nations differ too. I believe there are three different ways of looking at the League of Nations and its advantages. There are enthusiasts who claim that anything said which reflects in any way on the efficacy of the League of Nations is practically sacrilege; but enthusiasts without ability are often the most dangerous people. Then there are those who claim that we should go in for what used to be called "splendid isolation," that we should leave the League of Nations and trust only in our own strength and the strength of our Empire.
But the great body of opinion in this country does not believe in or trust either of those sections. They believe that the League of Nations is a very great ideal, and are determined to follow is at long as they possibly can, as long as it appears to them that there is a hope that it will succeed in the long run. Furthermore, they are determined that this country shall maintain its obligations under the Covenant. I think that has come out not only in the public Press but in the House of Commons during the last three days. They are determined to do the utmost they can, and wish the Government to do so, to maintain the peace. We have been told during this Debate that the Government are on very dangerous ground and have been shifting their point of view latterly. I do not agree. The Government have been accused of steering between the Scylla of Sparkbrook and the Charybdis of Caerphilly. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) has, I think, since declared his full agreement with the Government's policy.
Another accusation levelled at the Government is that they did not act early enough or strongly enough. I think my right hon. Friend the Minister for League of Nations Affairs very clearly and concisely disposed of that charge yesterday. I ask hon. Members opposite who take up that point of view to remember this. We have endeavoured to set up through the League of Nations 447 the rule of international law, and therefore we cannot condemn a nation until it has been proved guilty before the international tribunal. During the last few weeks we have seen this rule of law beginning to operate. Far from being disappointed by the League, most of us, I think, were not only pleased but very surprised at the unanimity and to see how the 50 nations joined to declare that Italy was the aggressor.
We have tried in the course of these debates to discover what hon. Members of the Socialist party think of sanctions. We are told that they are in favour of sanctions. They have been asked how far they would go. May I ask them if they would go as far as military sanctions? I see that they are far too busy arranging their election campaign among themselves to answer that question, but it is a topic on which the country will require information. The country will like to know exactly where the Socialist party stands. The electors will be presented with various policies, including the Government policy which I uphold and the Socialist policy, and they will want to have the position made crystal clear. The policy of the Government has been made clear time after time in the course of the Debates, but the Socialist policy, and indeed the policy of the Liberal party, are still extremely obscure. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Dingle Foot), who is not at this moment in the House, went so far as to say that every candidate in the election would have to answer the question how far he would go in regard to sanctions, and whether he wouid go as far as military sanctions or war. That is carrying the agreement to differ rather far. There are no opposition Liberals in the House at the moment, but that remark will be remembered and made known in various parts of the country.
In the international situation which now confronts us we hear attacks almost solely upon Italy, and we do not hear very much of what goes on in the interior of Abyssinia. Those who have taken the trouble to read the Italian case, and who have examined the reports from people who have been in Abyssinia, know that conditions there are extremely bad. I will not say that law and order are non-existent but it is known that they 448 are very faulty. Atrocities of all kinds go on and the authority of the Government is extremely doubtful. Apart from the case against Italy let us suppose that we had been considering the case against Abyssinia. There is an engaging pastime in Manchester known as speculating in futures. It is sometimes rather interesting to speculate in pasts. Suppose that two years ago we had had a debate upon the internal conditions of Abyssinia; what would have been the attitude of various opposition hon. Members? Should we have heard anything about the absolute rectitude of the Emperor and of the Abyssinian case? Probably the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) would have referred to Abyssinia as "this dreadful blot upon the community of Christian nations" and the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) would have referred to the Abyssinians as "these imperialistic burglars." The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), speaking for the Liberal party, would have blamed the Government for not taking steps to put a stop to the appalling conditions prevalent in Abyssinia. It is sometimes interesting to speculate on what might have happened. We have only heard the other case.
The reason I mention this is not for a moment that I believe Signor Mussolini has taken the right step. I believe that he has been profoundly wrong in his methods and that he would have had a, very strong case if he had presented the League of Nations with evidence of the case against the Abyssinian nation and had urged the League to put right the appalling state of affairs in that country. He might have gone so far as to say "I presented this evidence to you and asked you to take action, and if you are unable to do so perhaps I may be obliged to take action on my own." Far from having antagonised the whole world, as Italy has done in the last few weeks, she would have had the world largely on her side. What will be the outcome of this? Who knows? Let us all hope, as I certainly do, that the League of Nations will have a triumphant success. That is possible, and we all sincerely believe and hope that it will be so. A triumphant success will establish the League for a very long time and will mean that we shall have substituted international order for some- 449 thing resembling international anarchy. If the League is, on the other hand, an abyssmal failure, we shall be free in this country to leave the League of Nations if we like, feeling that we are left with no security and with nothing but obligations. What I fear is that the League may have only a partial success, a situation that might be very dangerous.
I would refer for a few moments to the question of raw materials. We are told that it is necessary for Italy to have raw materials. We know that, and, as has been pointed out before, it is possible for her to obtain them if she can find the exports which the raw material producers in the various countries need, even if they are in the British Empire. I believe that it is extremely dangerous to dwell too much on the redistribution of raw materials. I hope that the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, when he made his pronouncement the other day with regard to the redistribution or the consideration of the redistribution of raw materials, did not mean in any case the handing over of political control to any foreign nation. I would not hand over, with or without their consent, one man, woman or child, whether black, yellow or brown to the mercies of anybody. If the outcome of this situation is not an unhappy one I believe that it will be due first of all to the fact that the League of Nations will be functioning properly and secondly to the fact that we sent the Fleet to the Mediterranean.
I know that the view in many foreign countries who are on our side in this matter is that if we are successful and stop the war, that will be mainly due to the League, but it will be due also to the strong action which we took, not only for our own protection, in placing the Fleet in a position in which, if it were called upon to fulfil its obligations, it would be able to do so. We are told that there is no necessity for an increase in armaments. May I remind hon. Members who take that view of what might have happened only a short time ago, if, instead of dealing with a Power which has only a strongish Navy and not overwhelmingly strong, we had been dealing with two or three Powers who were aggressors? While the League of Nations was setting its machinery in order our Fleet might very well have been sent to the bottom of the sea. There 450 is always a delay in getting political machinery into action, and if only for that reason, apart from many other reasons, it is necessary that our Fleet should be capable of defending this country in case of need.
For many generations we have been the friends of Italy. During the time of the Risorgimento this country gave every encouragement to the Italian nation and gave hospitality to many of the exiles. Since that time we have always been friends with that great country. I sincerely hope that we may return in due course to a spirit of amity. Signor Mussolini might do very much worse than remember the words of Cavour, speaking in the Italian Parliament in 1861, when he said:The man who lives quietly at home, and has neither debts nor enemies, appears to me to be a thousand times more independent than the richest landowner who has raised against himself the enmity of all his fellow-citizens, and cannot go out unless surrounded by Bersaglieri and soldiers.If you substitute for the word "landowner" the word "ruler", I think that the Duce might do well to observe those remarks. We are a peace-loving nation. We love peace, not only for its own sake, but because we believe that only by peace can we maintain freedom. It is for these reasons that I so strongly support the action of the Government during the last few weeks. I believe that it has given an example to the civilised world. It has taken the lead at the League of Nations, but at the same time it has made it perfectly clear that its object is not to bully into submission, but to bring back the world, and particularly Italy, to the paths of peace.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ Mr. NEIL MACLEAN
The debate today has been a sort of switchback arrangement, and certain supporters of the Government have evidently felt annoyed that we have endeavoured to keep the debate on a purely domestic problem. Several speakers have endeavoured to put us in the wrong for daring to introduce unemployment into the debate at this period of the sittings of the House. During two days, however, the discussion has ranged entirely over the international situation, and I venture to suggest that that period should have been sufficient 451 for the House and the country to have obtained enough knowledge of the situation. We are on the eve of an election, and we consider it absolutely necessary that the House should not rise without having discussed this problem, since nothing has been said about it by the Government since we adjourned at the beginning of August. It would be not only a tragedy, but a crime upon the people who have suffered, if the House adjourned without some demand for the righting of the wrongs they are undergoing were not made here. That is our excuse for daring to bring in this subject. Although various supporters of the Government have given a few words at the commencement of their speeches to the situation that exists here in our own country, they have switched back at once on to the international situation. I find, however, throughout the country where I have gone, that, while the people ask those of us who are in the House, and others who, they believe, have some knowledge of the situation, whether we believe that there is likely to be a war—not a war in Abyssinia, but whether we believe that we are likely to be brought into war—when we have answered them they immediately switch back on to the domestic problem and want to know what is being done about it.
In the Debate this afternoon, as far as we have been able to keep it on the unemployment question, those who have spoken from these benches have put the case very clearly. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) charged the Government with the manner in which they were raising the allowances to dependent children, and he accused the Government of offering the unemployed an election bribe. Whether I shall join him in accusing them depends upon what I hear later on. I want, however, to bring to the recollection of the House a similar bribe offered on a larger scale. Hon. Members will recall that, immediately the Armistice was signed, the country was plunged into another election, which resulted in the Coalition Government that met in February, 1919, and remained the Government until 1922. The retiring Government were faced with the problem of the large number of soldiers who, under the order issued with regard to those over 41, were being demobilised, and with the fact that there was no em- 452 ployment for those men to obtain when they returned to the places from which they had been recruited. They were unemployed, and others also were being thrown out of employment because of the closing down of war material production. The retiring Coalition Government issued an order to pay to the demobilised soldiers who had not found employment unemployment benefit, with allowances for their wives and children, and several million pounds were taken out of the Unemployment Fund to meet that expenditure.
I am certain that the present Home Secretary will recall that fact. It is not to be denied. The actual cost is to be found in the returns that were issued as a White Paper several years ago, and in the reports of the Ministry of Labour. The amount then paid was above the statutory amount ordinarily paid to those who were unemployed before the War. Here we have a recurrence of that. The Minister of Labour shakes his head, but I say that we have a recurrence of that. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who is now the Secretary for Mines, with several of his colleagues on the opposite benches, and backed by Members on these benches and below the Gangway, tried to get the Government, during the passage of the Unemployment Bill, to accept an increase of the children's allowances by that extra shilling, and the Government refused. Now the Government come along, after having dilly-dallied from July, when the report was presented, and say they are going to give this extra shilling.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
Yes, and if we go back further still we shall find that they refused any allowance at all to any dependants. You can go back any distance that my hon. Friend cares to go. The whole point is that what was done by a previous Government is not necessarily a reason why this particular Government should do the same thing in suspicious circumstances. Had either of the two Labour Governments come forward with a proposal of this kind on the eve of going to the country, the hon. Member would have been one of the first to denounce it and to say they were endeavouring to bribe people to vote for them.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
No, but the children do not get the money; it is the parents who get the money. The hon. and learned Member should be learned enough to know that. Discussion has ranged round depressed areas to-day. I represent part of an area which for some reason that has never been stated is not classified as a distressed area. The city of Glasgow is not included as a distressed area, and yet it contains within its boundaries more than one-third of the unemployed in Scotland. Figures given in the Ministry of Labour Gazette published on the 20th inst. showed that the total number of unemployed on the register at 23rd September, 1935, was 303,967, and that Glasgow had a total unemployed population of 102,020. Therefore, it will be seen that I am accurate in saying that more than one-third of the unemployed in Scotland are to be found in this one city, and in spite of that the Commissioner declined to include Glasgow as a distressed area.
There is another point. I have been approached by several firms in Glasgow to see if anything can be done in connection with a peculiar situation that has arisen. These firms are contractors, and have been doing a particular type of work for a long number of years. A certain contract comes along and is still waiting to be placed. Although the firms in Glasgow have been fortunate in the past in having the orders placed with them, on this occasion they are being told that it will be no use to quote as it is being asked that the order should be placed in a distressed area on the Tees or the Tyne. That is an absurd proceeding. It means that you are soon going to make Glasgow the most distressed area in the country. I want to ask what the Government are prepared to do on that score. If by their method of segregating certain districts and naming them in a special manner orders are to be diverted from other areas, they are going to widen the whole field of special areas and will be compelled to set up further investigators.
In the report of the investigations into industrial conditions in certain depressed areas, the investigator for Scotland, who examined the conditions in Glasgow, said:The justification for including Glasgow and other large towns in the investigation 454 is that their burden is increased by the extent to which they attract labour from other districts in spite of the depression of their own industrial units.I want to know what reason or line of argument was used to convince the Government that Glasgow was not to be considered as being within that category, and consequently was to be ruled out from receipt of any grants or special advantages attached to sums of money voted by the Government to be spent in these areas classified as distressed. The Government, in producing this volume, considered it necessary to print several appendices to the report by the various commissioners. A peculiar feature is that appendix B, which deals with conditions in Glasgow and the investigation made there, is not included. When the volume was first published I raised this matter with the late Prime Minister, who replied that there was no need to publish it. I asked that it should be placed in the Library, and that was refused. The only reply I got which made it possible for me to see that appendix was one that said that if I cared to go over to the Scottish Office I would be permitted to examine this appendix, which dealt with conditions in Glasgow. Members of this House have the right to examine the appendices not printed in a report. There may be an excuse when the appendices are too long to print, and it might then be agreed that a typewritten copy should be placed in the Library. I decline, as long as I am a, Member of the House, to go from one Government office to another to examine something which it is my right to examine inside the House of Commons. I am standing for the rights of every Member of the House in making that statement. If it is too expensive, I want to know why a copy cannot be placed in the Library.
Glasgow's problem is not affected merely by its unemployment. The Ministry of Labour Gazette gives us also the figures of Poor Law relief. There are 4,512 in receipt of indoor relief, 153,534 in receipt of outdoor relief and 102,000 adults unemployed, a total of 259,000. The population of Glasgow is slightly over 1,000,000, so that almost a quarter of the population is either unemployed or in receipt of Poor Law relief, yet the Government in its wisdom, or lack of wisdom, have advised the Commissioners 455 to put Glasgow down as not being classified as a distressed area. I think they might give another thought to the matter. Going before the country, as they are doing, they had no right to ride off with the idea that they could go immediately from the House to the Election on a three days' Debate on the international situation, however grave that may be. There is not a Member who represents an industrial or semi-industrial constituency who will not have more questions to put to him on industrial and domestic matters than upon foreign affairs. On the last occasion on which I spoke on unemployment I warned the Government that, although they were using the time of the House to discuss affairs in India, they would not be tried in the country over that India Bill, however important they thought it, but that the country would want to know what they were doing with regard to unemployment and what schemes they had to alleviate distress. It is to-day as clamant a necessity as it was when we adjourned in August for the Government to put forward schemes likely to prove effective in alleviating the necessities of the poor.
If grants of money are given for public work, the second largest city in the country, which has the largest number of unemployed, is not to receive any. It is not a distressed area. London, the parasite city, which attracts people from all over the world, the city with its bright lights, the city which is looked upon as a pleasure ground to everyone who wishes to have a holiday, can get grants for bridges, roads or almost everything it asks for. In a case of a city like Glasgow, and others that are distressed, there are so many inquiries and investigations, so many committees sitting to examine matters, that when we ask for money to carry out any public works we spend almost as much in fares as we ultimately receive from the Government to carry out the work. The Government will be asked what plans they have to remedy unemployment. They will not be asked anything about Abyssinia, or Italy, or the Suez Canal, or the Red Sea, or the number of warships that are there or going there. They will be asked what they are going to do to provide people in their own homes with sufficient food, clothing and recreation to bring 456 back to them the manhood and womanhood that they have almost lost. Their reply to that question will determine whether they come back or not. Those who answer that they will come back determined to do what they can to bring happiness into those homes, will receive the vote of confidence which will send them back here.
§ 9.43 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir John Simon)
The hon. Gentleman has now delivered the final challenge from the Front Bench opposite against this Government after four years of this Parliament's work, and it is natural that he should more particularly deal, on the eve of the Election, with the matters which he felt were of the closest importance to the great area for which he was speaking. I can assure him that what he has said will be very carefully considered. Much of what he has asked was the subject of an earlier challenge and discussion. He will forgive me if I do not myself deal with it for the moment because, truth to say, no one could possibly hope, in what may prove to be the end of the Debate, to deal with the enormous variety of topics with which the House has been concerned in the speeches delivered to-day. I heard the hon. Gentleman say, when he began, that there had been some complaint because speeches had been made on subjects other than international affairs. I heard no complaint. I certainly make no complaint. I think it is perfectly natural that the discussion should have ranged over a wide field. I merely observe that no one could hope to reply to everything in a reasonably short speech. I recall the famous observation of Dr. Johnson when he said, "Depend upon it, Sir, that when a man knows he is going to be executed in a fortnight it concentrates his mind wonderfully." Dr. Johnson may have been right, but when the House of Commons knows it is going to be executed in three weeks the very last thing it does is to concentrate on topics for debate.
I am going to make one reference, and one reference only, to the subject of international affairs, because I feel, and I think the great majority of the House feel, that after the speeches that were made by my right hon. Friend the 457 Foreign Secretary and by the Minister for League of Nations Affairs, together with the declaration made by the Prime Minister himself, the whole case has been stated to the House and to the country, and there is not the slightest need for anybody from this bench to add anything at all. There is, however, one observation which I am going to make at the request of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, because it deals with a matter which has appeared since these speeches were made, and it is very desirable in this last hour of the life of this House of Commons that as far as may be we should correct misunderstandings or misstatements, especially if they may have reactions outside this Island.
In a certain quarter this morning there were some very amazing statements published which alleged that His Majesty's Government had abandoned overnight their policy of whole-hearted co-operation with the League, and that we were already negotiating behind the back of the League with France and with Italy a settlement of this Italo-Abyssinian dispute, which the League would then be asked to accept, and to which Ethiopia or Abyssinia—I do not know which may be the more correct expression—would be compelled to agree. That is to say, there appeared this morning, after the statements which were made in the House of Commons, the plain suggestion in certain quarters that there is some intrigue afoot between London, Rome and Paris to present the League with what is called a fait accompli which would be detrimental to the interests of one of the parties and inconsistent with the principles of the League itself.
I speak with the authority of the whole Government when I say that there is no truth in this wild exaggeration at all. From the very beginning of the dispute, as I know very well, from December of last year, the policy of His Majesty's Government has been directed, among other things towards promoting, if they could, a settlement which would not only lie within the Covenant, but which would be acceptable to the two disputing parties. I trust that it is a perfectly right thing for us to try to do as the friends of peace endeavouring to promote international good will. The Franco-British suggestions, for example, which were made in Paris last August, were 458 based upon that principle, and so was the plan which was submitted at Geneva to both parties by the Council Committee of Five. And to that policy His Majesty's Government adhere. We are neither going behind the back of the League, nor have we ever for once moment contemplated doing so, and equally, as I think the House and the country thoroughly understand, we have no intention of wavering in giving effect, as a member of a collective system, to our obligations under the Covenant. Who does not hope that there may be a speedy and satisfactory conclusion? The conclusion must be one within the framework of the League and accepted by the three parties involved—Italy, Abyssinia and the League itself.
I pass to some other matters, making a short selection out of what will he admitted to be a very long list of topics raised. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), who opened the Debate to-day, delivered a very fierce and lively attack upon us under many heads, with one or two of which perhaps I may venture briefly to deal. The first one he mentioned will arise when we come to the proposal of the Draft Order which is in the hands of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and which is consequent upon the Report of the Statutory Committee under Part I of the Unemployment Act. But I will make one observation upon that. According to the right hon. Gentleman that proposal is nothing but an "obvious electoral bribe." If I understood him rightly, he drew a curious inference that it is also "treachery to the unemployed"; "exploiting the unemployed" and "a shameful political ramp," and all, apparently, because the Draft Order was deposited upon the Table of the House on the day on which Parliament reassembled. May I point out that in this matter—and nobody knows it beter than the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), who follows these things very closely—that the Act of Parliament provides that whatever be the terms of the Report of the Statutory Committee—it may be a most unfavourable time to the Government and the worst possible electoral asset—whatever the report of the Statutory Committee may be, it must be presented to the House within a certain period of time after the Minister has received it. The 459 Act of Parliament goes on to say that if the House is not sitting after two months have elapsed then it must be laid upon the Table immediately the House reassembles. Why the right hon. Gentleman, who is an expert on these things, should imagine that a simple compliance with the provisions of the Act of Parliament is properly to be described as an electoral bribe and a shameful political ramp, I really do not know.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I am not going to deal with that point now, as it can arise on the next Order. I can quite understand a certain feeling of annoyance because, after all, the explanation why it is possible for this independent Statutory Committee now to make this proposal is because of the great change which has occurred in the fortunes and stability of the Unemployment Fund. We all recall—and how useful it is on the eve of another General Election to repeat the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield uttered a few days before the beginning of the present Parliament. He said, speaking in September, 1931:The crisis was real, not an invention. During the last few weeks we have been, given society as it is, trembling on the very verge of national ruin.Well, in those circumstances it is very likely that the Unemployment Fund will not be found to be a very attractive source of additional benefit. It is not very surprising that a former Minister of Labour, Miss Bondfield, as some will recall, went so far as to say that it was "dishonest to go on borrowing from the Unemployment Fund." When the Unemployment Fund was not solvent and was borrowing at the rate, I think, of about £1,000,000 a week, anything like a proposal that could be made to-day would indeed have been an obvious electoral bribe and a fraud on the unemployed. What has happened is that the Fund has been made solvent, and now we are in an entirely different position. I am entitled to claim, and I do claim, that it is the policy which has been pursued in the last four years that has made that possible. To-day, according to this perfectly independent statutory body, it is possible to do what it would have been quite impossible to do if the country had 460 continued under the guidance and policy of four years ago.
I take another point and I take it the more deliberately because the right hon. Gentleman said that I failed to deal with it before. It deals with that mysterious subject the gold standard. Let me make the statement plain enough for anybody to understand. Not for the first time have the right hon. Gentleman and his friends been using this argument and they are preparing, I dare say, to use it in the country. "There was a time," they say, "when we were warned of the danger the country would run if we were faced with the disaster of being forced off the gold standard. It was a warning and a threat which was made the occasion for arousing feeling against us. Yet, hey presto! the time came in the lifetime of a succeeding Government, when we slipped off the gold standard. And nobody was any the worse and some are prepared to say it was actually to the public advantage. Here is a proof of another electoral ramp." That is the argument. And this is the answer. If a country is forced off the gold standard at a time when its budgets are unbalanced and its financial prospects are bad and at a time when a responsible Treasury official has reported that they can, if we go on like that we shall put in jeopardy the stability of the whole British financial system, then you lose the very last anchor that may prevent the country from sinking. But when a different set of circumstances arise and the matter is so handled, whether with the assistance of hon. Members opposite or without their assistance, that you get confidence restored and you get the credit of Britain raised, then the mere promise of Britain stands as a thing of real value that cannot be shaken. If in those circumstances the financial policy is one that involves going off the gold standard, the results are very different. I would ask hon. Members opposite at least to understand that difference it will be for them to determine when they address audiences in the country during the next three weeks, whether they will make it as plain to their audiences as I trust I have made it plain to them now.
We had, and quite rightly, some reference by the right hon. Gentleman to the position still existing in the 461 special areas. I pause to make this observation about that subject. He said in a speech in the House some time ago, and it was very fair and frank of him to say it, that this subject of the depressed areas was not a new one but that it was one which had greatly pressed upon the attention and anxieties of successive Governments for many years, including, I think he said, two Governments in which he held office. It was a perfectly fair observation, and I think the right hon. Gentleman did himself credit by making that declaration. But there is this distinction. As a matter of fact, the plight of the special or distressed areas, serious as it is, stands out all the more prominently to-day because of the general improvement in the position during the last four years. When the whole earth is covered with a flood nobody realises that there is some spot, if you could only reduce the waters, which might be a Mount Ararat, and that there are other places which are much more depressed. A very important reason why more and more attention is rightly being directed to those areas is because the broad results of the policy which the country has been following are such that the country as a whole has experienced so great an improvement.
It is not the first time that that point has emerged. I would remind the House of these interesting figures or facts. If one took the position of unemployment when the Labour Government came in in June, 1929, there were then areas in which the percentage of unemployment was much higher than the average, for example, in places like Durham, Cumberland, Northumberland, Lanarkshire and Glamorganshire. But the significant thing is that before two years were over the general average all over the country in regard to unemployment had risen in 1931 so much that in no single case did it fail to rise higher even than the previous figure two years before in the depressed areas. But when the tide of unemployment recedes, then you find out that there are areas which are the last to feel the benefit which they see others enjoying from returning prosperity. Therefore, it is perfectly natural that much may be made of the contrast, but it is unfair if the Government is to be treated, because of that, as if it were not both anxious and determined about it.
462 Take the heavy industries, which chiefly account for the concentrated unemployment in these areas—coal, steel and shipbuilding. In the case of coal everybody, of course, would agree that the restoration of the coal position to the pre-war level, the level before 1914, would solve or practically solve the problem of the depressed areas. But let us speak quite frankly and fairly about it. Nobody really expects that that will be the solution. One must face the fact that some portion of the industry has passed beyond recall owing to new fuels, new coalfields abroad, more economical use of coal and so on. These things manifestly make it unlikely that the whole of the pre-war quantum of production will again readily be required. Some part of the unemployment problem, so far as coal is concerned, created by these new conditions in the coal industry, must therefore be met by other means, but that does not reduce the importance of putting on a proper and profitable basis the coal trade which remains, and seeing how it may recover and how its prosperity may be promoted. If we take a, fair view—while I join in deploring that more has not been accomplished, especially for the sake of the distressed men and women who are concerned—it is unfair not to allow for what has been done.
Much has been done for the coal industry by trade agreements. That was a piece of Government policy. The trade agreements with Scandinavian countries have more particularly benefited the north-eastern and Scottish areas. The increase in our export markets is not as great as many people would like and as we would like to make it, but there has been a very substantial increase, and it is definitely connected with positive action on the part of the Government for this purpose. Of course, as the House realises, the present difficulty about coal exports to Italy is not due to the policy of sanctions at all. The situation is that firms which have been doing regular business with Italy find themselves unable to continue it, frankly because the extension of credit which they give to their Italian customers is exhausted. It would be wrong to let the men who feel terribly anxious about this matter think that it was connected with sanctions, and I know some of my hon. Friends opposite 463 well enough to know that they will be perfectly frank about that. But it is as well that it should be said here before we break up.
Again, I think that we are entitled to claim real credit for the actual establishment and putting into effect of the great Billingham scheme. That again is directly due to Government policy, to the Hydrocarbon Oil Act of 1933, and it indicates a direction in which help may be furnished which I should have thought would appeal to every section of the House. But I am far from saying that that shuts out the plain fact that other things remain to be done. The Prime Minister at Question Time urged that at the moment when a conference was going on with the Minister of Mines it would be better for him not to make any statement on the subject of coal at all. Of course I cannot anticipate any statement or the terms of the manifesto which in a very few days will be placed before the electors. But I will make this statement now. It will be found that Government policy for the future includes a programme of treatment and of action which we hope will make a real contribution towards improving the very grave and difficult situation of the coalfields.
With regard to iron and steel our first problem was to tackle what was then a hopeless state of disorganisation. That is a very painful operation which raises all sorts of obstacles and objectors, and it can only be done by a united Administration with the firm support of the majority of the House of Commons. That has been done, and as a result some out-of-date works have had to be closed down. But we have got in the steel industry of this country now what may fairly be called a planned system which is already showing results. The cartel agreement has given a prospect of a further expansion of the steel industry in the future, by which the special areas will certainly be specially benefited. All this painful operation is now beginning to produce the benefits which foresight hoped to secure. Month by month in that great trade undoubtedly the position is improving. The production of steel is increasing, and that means more employment, which not only has a direct bearing but also an indirect bearing on the problem of the special areas. It has a direct bearing, but even more it has an 464 indirect bearing because outside the depressed areas works are taking on more men, and there is an increasing opportunity for training and transference.
Then there is the shipbuilding industry, so vitally connected with the Tyne, the Tees, the Clyde and other great and famous centres of shipbuilding. I am sure that other hon. Members besides myself saw in the "Times" to-day or yesterday a very remarkable expert statement, which shows how the subsidy for tramp shipping is now beginning to have a real effect. In the last few weeks more orders have been placed than for a very long time past, and the position of the industry is unquestionably healthier than it was. While I am not going at this hour of the night to discuss the important question of the necessity for increased provision for defence, as to which we have made no concealment of our views from the country, I am entitled to say that as the programme is carried out, with the strictest regard to our duties as a member of the League, this programme will have this effect: It is employment in the distressed areas that will chiefly gain from it.
I have dealt with these three main industries, and, of Course, there will be much discussion all over the country as to what we are going to do. The Ministry of Labour tried the plan of training and transfer long ago, but at first it produced very limited results. It produced very limited results because, although you might have poor fellows who were very keen to be helped, none the less you could not undertake it unless you knew how to place them. Four years ago the real difficulty was to place the men who were trained, and nothing is more significant of the change that has come than that now we can accelerate this plan of training and transfer. Why? Because as the months go by the opportunities for giving these men employment which they are so eager to get are multiplied in various parts of the country. The other part of the problem is bringing factories to the men. It is no use at all for anybody, critic or supporter, to talk about that form of solution unless the foundation for it is laid, and the foundation for it is the creation of the general conditions under which alone enterprise is justified and is likely to be undertaken.
465 As long as the trade of the country is in a depressed state and there is no prospect to justify new enterprise you cannot expect to attract to these areas those who are prepared to undertake new enterprise. We have created the basis on which that effort can be developed further. I was interested in a report of the North-Eastern Development Council, and their suggestion for a trading estate. That, too, is a consideration which is not being overlooked. I have not for a moment sought to paint the picture in any rosy colours. No man at election time, or any other time, can fail to share in the general feeling of distress that more has not been possible, but I am entitled to claim that in the last four years this Government really has tackled this problem and has assailed it from many angles with the greatest courage. I know nothing in the record of hon. Members opposite or in their policy which gives me the slightest reason for believing that they are able more rapidly to bring about the improvement we all want to see.
There is one other point I should like to mention. It is inevitable that just before Parliament breaks up and an Election takes place things are said with an eye on the Election. I do not deny it. I am only concerned to make the point, that in judging the policy of the depressed areas in relation to employment and unemployment you must consider in how many ways they have really made use of the foundations which the Government have made and the country under their leadership has made, upon which alone you can hope to erect a more prosperous state of things.
Let me illustrate it by taking the case of the housing situation. I rather expected the right hon. Member for Wakefield, who had a long career at the Ministry of Health, to say something about it, but he did not. It is the policy of the Government which has stimulated the trade improvement clearly illustrated in the housing situation. Nobody can possibly maintain, and no one in the country would believe it if they did, that the building of houses in this country was running satisfactorily before 1931. I give all credit to the efforts made by the right hon. Gentleman but I am sure that he was not satisfied with the result. It was the change in general policy which really has led to the great success which every- 466 body can see has been attained. The situation was this: Local authorities were not doing their real job by attacking the worst evil, the slums, and private enterprise was not making its contribution by competing against municipal production, which was subsidised. In that situation you had these remarkable facts. The total housing output from all sources in the year ended September, 1931, was 195,000 houses, that is in the last year of the previous Government; 63,000 houses were local authority houses and 132,000 were due to private enterprise. As regards slum houses, miserable hovels, the thing was practically stagnant, there was but a mere trickle of reform going on. The policy was changed; and what was the result? We said, "Let local authorities do what they alone can do and tackle the major evil of the slums." We said, "Now that money is cheap and costs are low do not let us discourage private enterprise by subsidies, but leave private enterprise to come in and build houses to meet the yearly requirements."
The whole question is whether this change of policy produced good results, for it is the results that matter. I ask the House to observe these figures, which may be safely used for all purposes in the next three weeks. We have actually rehoused 280,000 slum tenants. These have actually been removed to decent houses out of the hovels in which they were living. Further, houses are in course of being built to accommodate 180,000 slum tenants. In about three years 460,000 slum tenants have been or are being rehoused and we have very reason to believe, if this policy is continued, that we can carry through the five-year programme for wiping out the abomination of the slum.
I say again that is not due to any magician's wand which this or that Minister has succeeded in waving, but to the fact that the foundation has been laid by sound financial policy and prudent administration on which, alone, a social reform of this sort can be achieved. Whereas altogether some 200,000 people were rehoused from slums in the last 60 years—and that applies to all Governments and all parties—in the last two or three years 460,000 slum tenants, as I say, have been or are being rehoused. In the face of facts like that, which cannot 467 be disputed, it is reasonable to ask hon. Members in explaining their views to the country and the electors when they come to form their judgment and express it to consider whether it is a fair view of the matter to say that we have merely enjoyed an inevitable share in the gradually returning prosperity of the world. There is not a word of truth in it. There is, I am glad to say, a certain improvement though a slow improvement going on in the prosperity of the world as a whole. No figures or at any rate no fair figures can be produced which would show its extent but the rate at which this country is regaining prosperity and improving far outstrips that of other countries.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
On the question of housing, can the Home Secretary tell us how many of the 1,000,000 houses that have been provided have been built for sale?
§ Sir J. SIMON
I am sorry I cannot give that figure, but if the hon. Member wishes for it I dare say the Department will be able to supply it. I would merely say that it cannot be disputed that this enormous increase in houses has greatly increased—prodigiously increased—the facilities for finding housing for wage-earners. I was about to make the observation that there is no test that can be suggested, the test of industrial production, the test of increase in exports or the test of reduction in unemployment, which does not show in fact that this country in the last three or four years has been improving at a rate which outstrips any return towards prosperity abroad. It seems extraordinary in those circumstances that we should be invited to change the policy which has succeeded in producing those results. We have come to the end of four years together and I remind myself of an observation made long ago by the greatest, I suppose, of Parliamentarians in the past. We have reached the point when, as Mr. Gladstone said:A challenge has been thrown down and must now go forward to the issue.I am not going to prophesy, but I am speaking in all good temper when I say that I trust that if this case be fairly presented, the people of this country will see that there is justification for asking 468 for a renewal of the confidence which we have enjoyed for the last four years.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Captain Margesson)
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.