§ 3.17 p.m.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
(in evening dress): I beg to moveThat an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:Most Gracious Sovereign,We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.The whole House was gratified that His Majesty was able to open Parliament in person, but with our feelings of devoted loyalty and true affection there mingled to-day a keen remembrance of former occasions when the ceremony was performed by his beloved father. I am deeply conscious of the honour that is mine to-day as one of the Members for the City of Dundee in moving this Address. Dundee, the third City in Scotland, to-day takes pride of place among the constituencies of Great Britain, and I am assured that my constituents are completely satisfied with that situation. They are keenly appreciative of the honour which has been done them through their Parliamentary representative.
The fact that the Member selected for this honourable and onerous duty is a woman has, I believe, been appreciated as a compliment not only to the women Members of this House but to the vast number of women electors throughout the country. I will not liken this occasion to the crumbling of some fortress wall which has defended the citadel of male prerogative, for, being a native of Edinburgh, I must beware of using a military metaphor lest I bring to the minds of hon. Members an ephithet, somewhat ungallant, used by that stern Scottish reformer, John Knox, when describing organised womanhood in his day. I prefer to think of this occasion as the opening of a gate into a new field of opportunity, and I believe the gate is being thrown open with true, if somewhat tardy, hospitality. If in these new and novel surroundings I acquit myself but poorly, when I sit down I shall at least have two thoughts for my consolation—it has never been done better by a woman before, and, whatever else may be said about me, in the future from henceforward I am historic.
15 The legislative programme outlined in the Gracious Speech will be welcomed by the people of this country with a sense of satisfaction and relief. The programme is designed to bring greater security to individual citizens, to the economic and political life of the country and to the nation as a whole. We are all rejoiced to read:the general trade and industrial outlook continues to be favourable, and that there is good ground for expecting that there will be further improvement.As the Special Areas Act is to be extended, I trust that some schemes will be evolved that will bring to those parts of the country that have not shared as yet in increased industrial activity the benefits that other parts of the country are enjoying, where men and women have returned to work after years of misery and unemployment.
Thanks to the revival in trade and the more stable financial condition of the country, large numbers of people have now greater economic security, but I believe that a very large proportion of our population has not yet the security that comes from good health and real physical fitness. Therefore, we welcome the assurance that proposals will be introduced for more comprehensive efforts to improve the physical condition of the nation. Much has already been done for the health of the people, but there are gaps in our health services, and I am glad to think that those gaps are now to be filled up. The people of Scotland will await with interest the result of the examination of the report on Scottish Health Services, and I know that they will welcome the Bill for further developments of maternity services in Scotland. If this programme for health and housing that is before us is fully carried out, is it too much to hope that before long we shall find infant Britain starting life with the best possible chance that medical care and good organisation can give it, growing up under good housing conditions and having the benefit of good health services throughout life? We note that he will go into national health insurance when he starts work. The economic welfare of the country is bound up with the mental and physical well-being of the individual, and I believe it is for the benefit of the whole community that 16 there should be proper regulation of hours and conditions of work. Therefore, I welcome the legislation to consolidate and amend the factory laws.
Reference has been made in the Gracious Speech to the further development of agriculture and fisheries. The best news to Scotland to-day will be that the hopes of the Scottish agriculturists are to be no longer deferred, but that a Bill is to be brought in to deal with the special problems of Scottish agriculture. I think most of us are agreed that if we are to attain in this country a higher standard of physical fitness, we must find some means of bringing back greater prosperity to the countryside, but that physical fitness and that higher standard will not be attained until we have more people working on the land and producing a larger proportion than at present of the country's food supplies.
What of the health of the political life of the country? I think we are all aware of symptoms of intolerance that may tend to undermine our free political institutions. Action that is deliberately provocative and organised barracking are not compatible with British ideas of the free expression of opinion, and I am sure that not only hon. Members in this House but the vast majority of the electorate will welcome with thankfulness and relief the assurance that a Bill is to be introduced to give powerto deal more effectively with persons or organisations who provoke or cause disturbance of the public peace,My hon. Friend who is to second the Address will deal with those passages in the Gracious Speech which refer to international relationships, but I feel that I cannot sit down without a brief reference to a subject which is uppermost in our minds at present. I remain a convinced supporter of the policy of adherence to the League of Nations, and I am glad that the Government have made suggestions for the better working of such a body. The men and women of Great Britain are passionately anxious to maintain peace, and they are thankful that the Government have kept them out of entanglements that might lead to war. There is no diversity of opinion between men and women on the subject of peace, but in war time there comes a distinct cleavage between the burdens of suffering each is called upon to bear.
17 There are no scales whereby we can balance up the sum of human suffering, but I believe I speak for the women of Great Britain when I say that if ever the time comes again when women wait and men fight, there is one form of suffering they demand that they shall not have to undergo, and that is the suffering that comes from the knowledge that the fighting forces are not properly equipped and that human lives are being sacrificed because due preparation was neglected. A strong Britain, strong not only in her defence forces to deter aggression, but with her strength founded on the wellbeing of the individual and the mutual responsibility of her people can, I believe, bring to a world that is restless and almost despairing a real measure of hope and faith.
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ Mr. HAROLD NICOLSON
(in a uniform of the Diplomatic Service): In rising to second the Address so ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh) I wish to associate myself with her in expressing gratification that His Majesty was able this morning to attend his first opening of Parliament in person. I think that all of us who were present at this morning's ceremony realised that His Majesty symbolises not merely the great traditions of our imperial past, but the hopes of what may be an even more enlightened and certainly a more humane future. I appreciate the compliment which has been paid me in having been asked to second the Address this afternoon, and I am conscious that it will be much appreciated not only by my own constituency but by the whole City of Leicester, in the representation of which I have the honour to share. My own division has behind it, or it had until November last, long and honourable traditions of progressive representation. True it is that a few years ago—maybe in a moment of temporary blindness—they refrained from electing my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill)—
§ Mr. NICOLSON
For many years they sent to Parliament the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities, my immediate leader, a 18 man who has had a long and arduous journey all his life; who has helped to create a great party and a great Coalition, a man who, when the acrid dust of controversy has settled down, will emerge as a statesman of peculiar vision, as a politician of unsullied integrity; as an organiser of great persistence and as a human being who has faced the ordeal of resounding triumph and of resounding discomfiture with a dignity which is given him by a sturdy Scottish tradition and a simple Scottish faith.
The City of Leicester is classed by many economists as among the most prosperous towns of the country, though I confess that when I see the less fortunate of my constituents and observe the conditions under which they are still living, I exclaim to myself that if this is what economists call prosperity they are even more unimaginative and inhuman than I had even supposed. The City of Leicester, nevertheless, is prosperous under an enlightened and progressive council who not only preserve and beautify the historical sites with which the town is surrounded, but is able to give to her citizens a social and economic life and amenities such as few cities can possess. But she is not complacent in her prosperity. The hon. Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson) who, I think, has recently been hiking in that area, will bear me out when I say that the City of Leicester is always ready to grant a warm and generous sympathy to citizens of districts not as fortunate as themselves.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee has dealt not only with great calm and intelligence but, what is more important, with great sincerity of thought with the domestic legislation referred to in the Gracious Speech, but she has left it to me to devote most of my remarks to the realm of foreign affairs. Before I pass to foreign affairs I should like, with the permission of the House, to be allowed to release two of the innumerable bees which hide in my bonnet, and allow them to buzz for two minutes. My hon. Friend has referred, and rightly, to the general gratification we all feel at the prominence given in the Gracious Speech to the question of physical training, and I am confident that in carrying out this programme of fitness the Government are aware, and will remain aware, that it is not a programme to be approached either from the barrack yard, the drill 19 sergeant or the gym instructor point of view. We do not want to create a new generation of witless and muscle-bound young men and women. We want to create a generation capable of absorbing and responding to what are going to be great opportunities, and I trust it will be realised that fitness is based on maternal and child welfare, on careful school sanitation and food, and, above all, upon a comprehensive plan of nutrition such as I understand is now being examined by the Ministry of Health. My second bee is a little bee, and will not buzz long. It is clubs. I observe with some apprehension a reference to clubs in the Gracious Speech, and although I am sure that the Government will be cautious in suppressing bogus clubs, yet I trust that in any orgy of legislation they will not still further diminish the liberties and amenities of the people. I earnestly hope in particular that they will do nothing to hamper the admirable activities of those working men's clubs which form the centres of amenities and welfare in our industrial towns.
I now pass from my apiary to the wider world. The Gracious Speech begins, as is customary, with the statement that our relations with foreign Powers continue to be friendly. Such a statement at this moment, in a world which is racked by anxieties and may even be racked by tension, may bring a somewhat wry smile to the lips of some, but yet it is a fact that within the last 12 months our relations with foreign Powers, not only with the smaller Powers but with the greater Powers of Europe, have considerably improved. Russia, for instance, is beginning year by year to lose her old memories of resentment and suspicion, and is coming to regard us not as a protagonist of intervention but as the upholder of the sane principle that one country must not interfere in the internal affairs of another. The German people have in the last few months accorded to the British people a degree of sympathy and friendliness which cannot but encourage those who desire to see an agreement between us and Germany based on equal and equitable negotiations. To France, passing at this moment a delicate transition period under inspired and cautious leadership, we stand, I think, closer than we have stood for several years. As regards Japan, 20 as the Gracious Speech suggests, it is possible in the near future that the Sino-Japanese negotiations will lead to a successful conclusion and that the clouds which have so long hung over the far East will be lifted.
As regards Italy, that country within the last few days tendered us in the person of its triumphant leader and in a speech which was not so gracious, an olive branch, or, I might say, a twig or sprig of olive. It is true that the olive branch was tendered to us in a mailed fist, but let us ignore the fist for a moment and seize the olive branch. Let us recognise that the Italian people —although I regretted to observe recently that the walls of their factories and houses had inscriptions advocating the early demise of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary—have not forgotten old memories of our friendship and respect, and that they still accord us when we visit them that charming hospitality to which we have been accustomed, and still welcome us as honoured guests. It would be foolish none the less were we to derive from these favourable symptoms the impression that the anxieties and perplexities which assail this country were in any way unjustified or exaggerated. I believe that these anxieties are due not merely to events abroad, but to an uncertainty as to what the policy of this country ought really to be, and I believe even more that the perplexities are due to the fact that we are conscious as never before that the old firm unity of British opinion in foreign affairs is no longer as reliable at it was. I think the Gracious Speech will go far in that it provides certain definite and clear objectives, and will go far to diminish anxieties.
The perplexities will take longer to remove, because I think we must admit that the old slogans, the old national watchwords, have lost their potency and that recent events, such as in Abyssinia and also in Spain, have diminished general confidence in the League of Nations. It is true also that the apparent collapse of what was some time ago the greatest common factor in our opinion on foreign affairs has encouraged many of the younger generation and some of the older generation to envisage British policy not in terms of our own 21 needs and character, but in terms of foreign theories whether of the Right or the Left, and it is true that in comparison and in confrontation with the hysterical unanimity of the totalitarian States, the clash and counter-clash of our discordant opinions, the glorious uproar of our free speech, does convey a certain impression of disharmony. We must admit that the British public are not at this moment united or certain in regard to what they want, but let us also admit and assert that they are perfectly and overwhelmingly united on what they do not want. They do not want war; they do not want dictators in any form whatever, and they do not want to lose what they now possess. Upon these three great national negatives a unity exists which is as solid and far more strong than any unity which the totalitarian States can boast.
It is for that reason that I welcome so warmly those passages in the Gracious Speech which confirm these three great national negatives, which will tend to unite opinion. Our defences are defined as being aimed not at any aggrandisement either national or Imperial, but in defence of what we now possess, and among these possessions surely the most precious is that security and independence upon which alone our authority and influence can be based. The Gracious Speech makes it perfectly and abundantly and explicitly clear that that authority, maintained as it will be, will be directed to the appeasement, political and economic, of the world, and it also makes it clear that if we maintain our influence and our authority in Europe, general disarmament by air and by land will, whatever Signor Mussolini may say, come to exist upon this earth. In conclusion I welcome, as my hon. Friend did, with great warmth the assurances given us that the foreign policy of the Government is to be based not upon any entangling alliances aimed at specific groups of Powers, but upon regional agreements freely negotiated on the Locarno model, and upon a League of Nations so fortified, so reconstituted and so reformed that the future directors of British foreign policy will once again feel behind them the pulse of a united British people, united in confidence, in courage, and in faith.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
The pleasant duty falls to me of congratulating the two hon. Members who have so admirably carried out their difficult task of moving and seconding the Address. I think the hon. Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh) will always hold a special place in the history of this House, for she is the first woman who has undertaken this arduous duty. She said that in any case no woman had ever done it better than she had, and I think it will be a long time before any woman can do it better. In its simplicity and sincerity, her speech was a model for the occasion. I would like also to congratulate the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Nicolson) both on the buzzing of his bees and on his delicate walking on the difficult paths of foreign policy. Both hon. Members referred to the honour done to their constituencies. It is always rather difficult to go back into history, but I noticed that there is one common denominator in the constituencies of Dundee and West Leicester, and I wondered whether the selection of those who represented them indicated anything in the nature of what one might speak of as defence against a possible armed aggressor, or perhaps an armed neutral below the Gangway.
To turn to the Gracious Speech from the Throne, we have a long document covering many subjects. I hope that the Prime Minister, when he speaks, will give some indication of the course of the Debate and the course of business which he envisages the House will follow until Christmas. In the Gracious Speech there are some features which we welcome. We think it is high time that the question of disturbances caused by various uniformed groups should be dealt with. I speak here particularly in the interests of my constituency, where much of the trouble has been caused. It is most deplorable that there should be the kind of scenes which have been going on in East London, because for 30 years I have seen a, steady growth of better feeling in East London between the adherents of different creeds, and people of different races. That peace has been wantonly broken at the will of one ambitious person. We on these benches stand unequivocally for peaceful change, for law and order, and for the rights of free speech, and we shall carefully examine whatever legislation is introduced in order to see that our rights 23 are preserved, and that whatever steps it is necessary to take shall be effective, but shall do no more than is absolutely vital. It is time that steps were taken against the introduction of methods that are entirely foreign to our political life, and I wish that steps could be taken to deal with the arch-disturber, and not merely with the gulls and hirelings.
To turn to another point, I welcome the fact that at long last a Bill is to be introduced for the reform of factory legislation. We have had to wait a very long time, but we shall examine the provisions of that Bill and will endeavour to improve them. I notice also the proposal to take over the main roads, the numerous smaller Measures indicated and a Measure to remove the anomalies of Ministerial salaries. All those are matters which are not of first-rate controversy and matters which we shall face with an open mind, study carefully, and endeavour to improve. I welcome the fact that the question of Ministerial salaries is to be reviewed. We have waited a long time for that Measure, and in the past Governments have undoubtedly been hampered by the need for the rigid allocation of Ministers to seats due to their historic status or to the particular salaries which they carry. If that matter is dealt with, I hope that there may be reform on another matter at the same time—
§ Mr. ATTLEE
If the hon. Member will have patience I will come to that. I was referring to the allocation of Ministers between the two Houses. I think that the rigid rules which apply in the case of the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State often hamper the more convenient arrangement of Ministers.
Coming now to the main body of the Gracious Speech, what strikes me is the omissions. The words "unemployed" and "unemployment" are not used in the Gracious Speech. There are still more than 1,500,000 men unemployed, 324,000 of them having been unemployed for over 12 months. There is in the Gracious Speech no recognition of the urgency of that problem, beyond just one reference to the continued improvement of general trade and industry and general prosperity, and the extension of the Special Areas (Development and Improvement) Act. In the whole of the Gracious Speech there 24 is no realisation of the condition of the unemployed.
The next thing which impressed me is the striking partiality of the Gracious Speech. It is curious that there is to be provision for the maintenance of the mercantile marine, but that there is nothing about the men who go down to the sea in ships. It seems to me curious that we are asked to make special provisions for the mercantile marine by a Government which has done its utmost at Geneva to oppose the charter for seamen. Whether we consider the mercantile marine merely for its position in the national economy or whether we consider it as connected with the sea power of this country, the foundation of the mercantile marine is the men who serve in it. Unless there is a healthy, well-contented and well-paid body of men, there will not be a proper mercantile marine. I notice again, as a matter of contrast, the anxiety about fat cattle. We on these benches are anxious about human beings. There is a rather surprising change in that the Government are at last beginning to react to the physical condition of the nation. Their reaction seems to me to be very belated. The physical condition of the nation is not something that has sprung up during the last year or so, but is the result of our industrial system and particularly long-continued unemployment and the lack of nutrition among the masses of the people. I am not very much struck by the reference tocomprehensive efforts to improve the physical condition of the nation.The Mover and Seconder of the Address alluded to this. I would like to know what it means. Does it mean only physical training? Gymnastics and physical training are very good things in their way, but you cannot build up the physique of the nation unless you feed the nation. The question which faces us is that, at a time when everything is supposed to be wonderful, there is widespread malnutrition and there are masses of people whose physical condition has been brought down because of the neglect of this Government to deal with any of the major problems by which we are faced.
When I consider the Gracious Speech as a programme—or more than a programme, a plan—what strikes me is the 25 studied ignoring of the realities of the situation and the entire failure to indicate any plans for dealing with our major discontents. Take, for instance, foreign affairs. No one would gather from the paragraph in the Gracious Speech that the international sky was overcast. No one would gather that during the past year we had the Abyssinian failure, we had the League of Nations fatally weakened, we had a steady increase of anarchy throughout the world, and we had Ministers impressing upon us the dangers of the situation. There is no indication that the Government will try to deal with the causes of world unrest. I am not one who suggests that the Government must take the entire blame for the international situation, but let them take their share of the blame. If they are not prepared to play their fair share in the world, they are not worthy to be the Government of a great nation. I see no indication that the Government realise the drift of events and the urgency of taking steps to try to prevent that fatal drift carrying us down into the abyss. There is no indication of an endeavour to deal with the causes of unrest, particularly the economic causes in which the political discontents are rooted. I do not intend to say more this afternoon on the foreign situation, for that will be dealt with no doubt at a later stage in the Debate, but one cannot but recognise the steady deterioration of the international situation which has continued and increased throughout the whole period during which the present Government and their predecessor have ruled the destinies of this country.
In home affairs I find the same lack of realisation of realities. I notice that there is very little allusion to the financial condition of the country, except the ominous note thatThe Estimates for the Public Services will he laid before you,and immediately afterwards a reference to the strengthening of our Defence Forces. We are in the position of making enormous expenditure on armaments, and at any other time, if a Government were to spend that amount on the social services, the City of London would be up in arms. We should be told that the Budget would be unbalanced. We 26 should have our attention drawn to the trend of trade—and the trend of trade is such that we are heading for an adverse balance. But there is no consideration fore these matters in this Speech. It is assumed that everything is well. We are supposed to be prosperous. We are supposed to-day to be in a boom, and a boom to-day means that we have 1,500,000 unemployed. Those are the conditions in a boom when capitalism is working at its best—1,500,000 unemployed arid widespread malnutrition. We cannot afford more for the unemployed than the bare limits of the means test, and 4,500,000 of our people are living below the minimum standard scale of the British Medical Association. Our school-children are suffering from malnutrition. Look at the recruiting returns. You cannot get the people even for the Defence Forces. I do not say that these recruiting returns are all due to the immediate malnutrition of this year or last year, but they are the effects of the neglect of mothers and children in the past. It is little good piling up armaments if you allow the life of your people to be such that the people are not physically fit.
Then what of the depressed areas? There is no hope in this Speech for the people of the depressed areas. The first paragraph, dealing with the general trade and industrial outlook, as was quite frankly admitted by those who spoke earlier, does not touch the question. No one suggests for a moment that the Special Areas (Development and Improvement) Act is going to deal with the hard core of the problem. It is not going to deal with Jarrow. It is not going to deal with South Wales. The problem remains, and it will be intensified when the new means test regulations come into force. It is clear that there is an enormous loss to this country, besides an enormous amount of human misery involved in the continued neglect of this problem. Yet the Government have no plans whatever for dealing with it.
The situation in which we are to-day is a very precarious situation. Much of this so-called prosperity is due to the armaments boom. Much of it is due to a certain boom in private houses which may collapse at any time. At present we are told that we are in a capitalist boom, 27 and a capitalist boom is inevitably followed by a slump. We are not in a real boom, and you have just those conditions which always precede a slump. You have wild speculation. You can read in the "Times" of 2nd November of speculation rising and rising—feverish speculation—and when you get that you always have, sooner or later, a set-back, and you return to conditions in which unemployment mounts again. The Government have been forced to make some beginnings with planning. They have had to abandon entirely the old idea of a laissez faire self-acting mechanism, and where they do take any action at all they are forced towards planning. Thus we have the proposal which is called the unification of mining royalties. I do not quite know what that means. Last year we had a legal interpretation of it by the present Minister for the Coordination of Defence, who said it meant nationalisation. If it means nationalisation, why not bravely describe it As such instead of talking about "unification under national control"? But dealing with mining royalties is not enough. You will never deal with the depressed areas until you have dealt with the mining industry as a whole, until you resolve to organise our supplies of fuel on the basis of a fair living for the men who get the coal, and not of sweating the men who get the coal.
Then, as regards the nationalisation of the main roads, there again we have a beginning of planning, but the real vital thing is left out of this Speech altogether, and is left out of the Government's policy, and that is the proper distribution of wealth in order to utilise to the full our human resources and our physical resources. That is where the real weakness of this Speech lies. The hon. Member for West Leicester talked about this country presenting a united front to the rest of the world, but you cannot present a united front under a system which is based on social injustice. It is useless to suggest that we can neglect any of these differences. These differences are vital. They are realities of the life of the country to-day. We say that this Speech with its small Measures—useful Measures perhaps, some of them—might be all right in normal times, if you are content with 28 capitalism, but it does not really meet the problem of the present day.
You are frustrated at every step in every endeavour you make to build up this country, as long as you cling to the out-worn system of private property. You may, for a moment or two, get hectic prosperity by spending money on armaments, but sooner or later you will slip down again. You will get neither peace nor prosperity on the basis of the Government's policy, or as long as we have Speeches like this Speech from the Throne, which, in all its proposals, leaves untouched the major problem, and that is the existence in this country of two nations, the rich and the poor. We have a system under which the poor suffer all the time and under which, when you try to defend your country, you find you cannot get adequate people to do so, because capitalism has not even been intelligent enough to feed the people on whom it depends for its own defence.
§ 4.8 p.m.
The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Baklwin)
The occasion of the opening Debate in a new Session, hallowed by the ceremonies of old times, is one on which, as it were, the lists are marked out and the ground prepared for the tournament which is to follow shortly afterwards, and in accordance with tradition we have had the two speeches by the Mover and the Seconder of the Address. Once more it is my duty to rise, as I have so often risen on one side of the House or the other, to offer my sincere congratulations to those who have carried out that difficult task sc, well. I think the longer any of us have been Members of this House, the more we wonder at the wealth of talent there is in the House for meeting these most difficult and trying occasions, and I say with perfect sincerity that each year I feel that I have never heard that task discharged with greater delicacy or with greater skill. I am glad indeed that it has fallen to me in my time to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Dundee (Miss Horshrugh) on being the first woman to speak on such an occasion. I am not sure that she did not refer to herself to-day as an historic monument, but whatever the phrase was, it was adequate, and it will be agreed that her handling of her whole subject was admirable.
29 I felt once more, as I always do feel, the skill with which my hon. Friend the Member for West Leicester (Mr. Nicolson) can put a closely-reasoned and cogent case without the aid of a single note. One thing that will probably remain in my mind longer than anything else after to-day is the fact that there are but two cities in Great Britain—Dundee in Scotland and Leicester in England. But I would like to assure the Leader of the Opposition that no such subtle thought as he suggested passed through my mind or that of the Chief Whip—who is a far more subtle man than I am—as to any association which might make common history between those two great cities, though from references made in the course of the Debate, I gathered that there might have been some cause for those who are always anxious to find a reason which is not apparent.
The Leader of the Opposition asked me the questions which he always asks on this occasion, and I will answer them to the best of my ability. I would say that when the business is announced on Thursday, I hope we shall be in a position to give more information about the course of the Debate on the Address and the business in the immediate future. To-day I can say that, after consultation with the Leaders of the two Opposition parties, it has been agreed, and I think the House will think that this is a good arrangement, that Thursday shall be devoted to the question of foreign affairs in their widest aspect. The whole situation to-day as the House knows and as was stated in the Debate at the end of last Session, is one of great difficulty and great delicacy. I think Members of the Opposition as well as Members en this side of the House feel that odd speeches on the subject of foreign affairs, made in the course of a debate on miscellaneous subjects, might not be helpful to the cause which we all have at heart and that, as there are so many Members deeply interested in this subject, it would be well to allocate a whole day to it during which it might be discussed and during which the Foreign Secretary might have an opportunity of putting clearly before the House the general foreign policy of the Government at this time. It was on that matter that the Leader of the Opposition asked a question during the Debate at the end of last Session. I hoped at that time that an opportunity might 30 soon arise for such a discussion and for such a statement, and for my part I welcome it, and I hope the House will welcome it too.
While on foreign affairs, I would like to make one observation about the Treaty that has been made with Egypt which is alluded to in the Gracious Speech. It is, I understand, now before the Egyptian Parliament. That discussion, of course, will be ended before long, and I can assure hon. Members that in accordance with the undertaking given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, an early opportunity will then be afforded this House for a discussion on that subject. As far as I can see, I think it may be the week after next. I should not like to name an earlier date, but I hope it may be possible to have it then. The Debate will, of course, take place before the Treaty is ratified by His Majesty's Government. I am sure the House as a whole will not wish unduly to anticipate the opportunity that will be given at that time for a full discussion on this most important subject.
Then again, with regard to Palestine, on which a statement will be made on Thursday of this week, it is a source of great satisfaction to His Majesty's Government that the so-called Arab strike should have been called off after it had lasted for six months. The situation has improved, in our view, to an extent that will allow us to despatch the Commission the constitution of which was announced some time ago. I think it is very important that while the Commission is engaged on this work, which is very difficult and very delicate, we should avoid as far as we can such controversial treatment of that subject as might inflame feelings that have not subsided and that are only too ready to be inflamed on either side; and it is our earnest hope that the parties in Palestine will cooperate to the fullest extent with the Royal Commission, and that the result of their labours may be satisfactory and inaugurate, if this be not too much to hope, in a land where we have had too many disappointments, an era both of prosperity and of peace.
I should like to take this opportunity of expressing my gratitude to an old colleague and an old personal friend, Lord Peel, and to all his distinguished 31 colleagues for undertaking this task. It has been done at great personal inconvenience to some of the members of the Commission, and I am sure there is no one who will fail to realise what a difficult task it is, and what a great sacrifice of time and labour any man must make who undertakes a task of this kind. The Commission, I think, is a strong one, I think it is an impartial one, and I would like to emphasise, not for Members of this House or indeed for our own country, but for foreign countries, what they do not always realise, and that is that a Royal Commission in this country is an entirely independent body, uncontrolled by His Majesty's Government and perfectly free to report in any sense that they think fit within the terms of their reference.
There is another note in the Gracious Speech about the Imperial Conference. Some have felt that too long a time has elapsed since the last Imperial Conference. Various reasons have made it difficult to hold it in the last year or two, and it is agreed now that it shall take place about the same time as we expect the Coronation to take place, that is, in May; and it will be a very good thing, in my view, that those events should synchronise. We shall be only too glad to have representatives from the Dominions with us at that time, and we have some problems, grave alike to us and to them, problems in the way of defence, problems of an economic kind, to which we shall have to give our best attention when the time comes.
The Leader of the Opposition said, as lie so often does—and I suppose there are none of us who at some time have not to offer a pinch of incense on the altar of our gods—that we should never do any good under a capitalist system, and that all that was wanted was to change it. If he can show me a system worked otherwise which will produce even as much good as we have, I will be ready to listen to him. Whatever time may be left to me in public affairs in this country, although I shall never be satisfied with what is done, I see no cause to cease to struggle as I have done, to do what is possible for the country within the limitations that exist to-day, the limitations of the capitalist system, and the House will realise that the whole of 32 the King's Speech is prepared for work under the system under which we live; but I am, not going to hazard any opinion to-day as to what we might or might not do under another system, and I think I am too old perhaps to learn new tricks.
Under this much-maligned system let us consider for a minute or two what we have achieved and, I freely admit, what we have not achieved. What we have achieved is that through this year the oversea trade has continued to expand. In the third quarter of this year the imports exceed those of last year by a substantial percentage and similarly the exports of our goods by a rather less percentage. The expansion in industrial production has also continued, the total in the second quarter of this year was greater than in any previous quarter, and the steady improvement in retail trade has also continued. The numbers of insured workpeople are at this moment, I believe, higher than they have ever been, and nearly half a million more than the year before. But it is well to remember that while we consider that some of the causes of this great improvement are causes that have been within our power to effect, such as the establishment of confidence by the balancing of Budgets in successive years, by the protection given to the home market, an adequate protection which does not remove the incentive to increased efficiency, by the stimulus given to oversea trade, within the Empire and outside the Empire, by the various trade agreements and cheap money—while it is quite true that they have all played their part, trade has not yet become so general throughout the world that we have had in this country, or in any country, the prosperity that might be ours if that trade could become more general.
Therefore, you come back to that old question that the very prosperity of trade itself depends on the will to peace in the countries of Europe, on the will of the countries in Europe to trade instead of devoting nearly all their attention to making arms, to the lessening of the restrictions and quotas, and to freer trade throughout the world. Until we can get these things, there must always be anxiety, with any Government that will be in power in this country, always anxiety, because all the causes are not at work that tend to ensure a greater continuity in trade and to broaden enormously the basis on which trade rests. A 33 source of amazement to me as an individual, and I think it must be to anyone who has studied this question, is the expansion of the home trade, of the edifice that we have succeeded in building up on home trade. We are being assisted, I am glad to think, by an increasing export trade, but, broadly speaking, we have attained such measure of success as we have without the aid of any general improvement of import. and export trade from one country to another throughout the world, that is, with international trade still crippled by the War and by all those restrictions that followed after the War.
But I am glad to think that, so far as we can see, the prospects are for a continuance of good trade. The house-building activity is still being maintained; industrial and commercial building is expanding; there is no sign yet, I am told, of what I believe has been an anticipated slackening in house building; there is little sign at present of any decline, and if there should be, it is counterbalanced by work under the railway and road development, the clearance schemes, and the Defence programme. The effect of the Defence programme is beginning to be felt now through all the engineering industries. But I come back to what I said two or three minutes ago, that we cannot enjoy a full measure of prosperity until there is a really substantial improvement in our oversea trade, and that can only come when the international situation will allow it. There can be no question, in my view, of a great export trade for this country and this country alone. It is an international trade which all countries must share, and I cannot myself see immediate prospects of the world tending to take the steps that would help. Yet we must keep on and do what we can, the best that we can do, in the cause of peace and in the hope that wisdom in this world may prevail.
The exceptions, of course, to the general prosperity are those, to which allusion has been made, in certain areas in this country, and those exceptions have always troubled me—and I think I may say they have troubled the Government, and they would any Government that happened to be in power—because of the little that we have been able to do, except in some parts where improvement has been felt from the general improvement 34 outside; but these are questions that undoubtedly, as with many other questions, which I do not propose to discuss at length to-day, will be discussed by themselves, on which many Members will desire to speak and on which many Members of the Government who deal specially with them will also have something to say, The House, I think, is aware from the Speech that the special legislation will be continued by the Expiring Laws Act before Christmas, and the place of Mr. Malcolm Stewart, the present Commissioner, will be taken by Sir George Gillett, who was Secretary to the Department of Overseas Trade in the Government of hon. Members opposite between 1929 and 1931.
The Leader of the Opposition seemed rather, I thought, to ignore the importance of the Bill to deal with royalties. That is, from whatever angle you approach it, an extremely difficult and complicated subject, but I think that the difficulties have been surmounted now, and I hope before very long—I cannot give the date yet—we may be able to put the Bill before the House; but it is quite obvious that that unification—I take no objection to the use of the word—of royalties under national control—unification expresses exactly what you want to get by it, unification of the royalties instead of having them in a large number of hands—is absolutely essential before you can proceed to take many of the further steps which we believe to be essential to this industry, and with which we hope to deal again before very long. But the first Bill in connection with coal that will come will be the royalties Bill.
I would like to say a word or two about a Bill which has attracted some attention on both sides of the House, and that is the Public Order Bill. If ever there was a Bill which in my view it is the duty of the whole House to attempt to shape, it is that Bill, because its subject touches every one of us whatever our political views may be. I regard the Public Order Bill as a matter of great importance and of great urgency. I referred to the matter at the end of last Session in a few sentences. I referred to the mutual antagonism of certain elements—elements unimportant in themselves in this country but provocative of serious disorder. I want to make one or two observations on the subject. The foundation of our liberties consists in 35 stable government based on law and order, and stability of Government as we know it depends upon freedom to criticise and discuss policies and alternatives. But freedom in turn depends upon tolerance, tolerance even of views with which you may not yourself agree. But tolerance must be mutual. All British citizens without distinction are entitled to carry on their lawful occupations without fear of violence or intimidation. Respecting law and order themselves, they are entitled to the protection that accompanies law and order.
Those are, very briefly, my views on that subject, and I think that probably they are the views of everyone in this country. We will not tolerate for one moment the intimidation of any parties in this country, and we have all of us, recognising the evil, to put our heads together when the Bill is put before us as a basis for trying to deal once for all with this matter. We believe that our proposals will go very far to discourage a repetition of such events as have recently been seen in some parts of the country, particularly in East London.
A year ago, I remember, the Leader of the Opposition and several members of the Opposition took exception to the fact that we had not included a Factories Bill in last year's programme. The fact it that at the General Election we had such a magnificent programme of social work that it was quite impossible to get it done in one year, and quite impossible too to get it done in two years. We have had each year to select such Measures as we thought we could get through this House. We think there is a good year's work here. That is what everyone desires. We have this year included a Factories Bill. I hope that the Bill will be introduced before Christmas, and that we shall be able to deal with all aspects of the subject. The existing law we consider to be out of date, and it is spread over a large number of amending Measures. The new Bill will be not only a consolidating Measure, but a Measure of revision bringing existing laws up to date, and it should give us a greatly improved provision for safety, health and welfare in the factories, and I do not think it will lay any undue burdens on industry; it is a Bill that I think industry can afford, and it is a Bill that in every way is due. Here, again, I 36 appeal to the House as I did with regard to the last Bill. I do not think there are any serious aspects of controversy in this Bill, but that it is a Bill which the whole House might be asked to co-operate in making as thorough and good and useful a Measure as it can be made.
I do not wish now to say much about agriculture. That, again, is a subject on which many members are qualified to speak and on which the Minister for that important Department should speak also. There will be certain Measures connected with agricultural interests which will be introduced soon. I do not think this is the occasion for me to make any special pronouncement about what we hope to do. That will naturally come later.
With regard to the allusion in the Gracious Speech to the Ministry of Transport and what is called the Trunk Roads Bill, that fulfils an undertaking given by the Minister on 6th July last. We regard this as a very important step in our plans to improve the highway system of the country. The Bill proposes to transfer from the county councils to the Minister of Transport as highway authority 4,500 miles of principal roads which constitute the national system for through traffic in Great Britain. These will henceforth become a national charge, both as regards their maintenance and improvement. Consultation has already taken place with the association of local authorities and their co-operation has been invited in regard to the administrative features of the whole scheme. The railway freights rebates Bill arises from the fact that the revision of railway assessments places the fund in debt and reduces its future revenue, and our object in promoting the Bill is to remedy the situation by enabling rebates to be continued on a modified basis.
Perhaps one word on housing might not be out of place because three-and-a-half years have now elapsed out of the five-year period of slum clearance. It is satisfactory to find that, excluding a few large towns where progress must necessarily be slower, 94 per cent. of the houses included in the original programme submitted by the local authorities have already been included in the clearance orders, but in the course of their work the local authorities, as was to be expected, have found some enlargement of their programmes 37 necessary. This work will be tackled vigorously, and doubtless it is a matter on which the Minister of Health would desire to be heard during the Debate on the Address.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I think the figures refer to England and Wales. There is much work to be done under the Act relating to overcrowding. Local authorities have found that about 340,000 houses out of a total of about 9,000,000 inspected are overcrowded. But this is well within the capacity of the local authorities.
We attach importance to medical care for young persons, to which reference was made by the hon. Member for Dundee. We fill a gap there between the school medical service and the age of 16.
I would say a word or two about Ministerial salaries. I was very glad to find that the Leader of the Opposition gave the proposal a general blessing, though I quite admit that, not having seen the Bill, he will be at liberty to take his own line if he finds in it anything to which he objects; but as a general principle I doubt whether many Members of the House would object to the equalising of salaries. That, broadly speaking, must be the main part of any Measure of that kind. There are other things besides that in the proposal, but equalising is the main thing. This is a matter which was discussed by the House on a Private Member's day and a Motion in favour of it was passed on a free vote by a very large majority. It is a question that I wish for many reasons had been tackled before. I confess that a good deal of responsibility rests on me, but Sessions have been very crowded, and quite honestly I always felt perhaps a rather foolish delicacy in dealing with the matter. It is a much more difficult matter for any party Government than for a Government which calls itself a National Government, to deal with. It is a Measure, again, in the shaping of which I hope the House will lend all the assistance that it can.
I would like to dot the i's and cross the t's of what the Leader of the Opposition said. I perhaps have had more experience of the oddities of the present system than any man in the House. For six 38 months during the War at a very busy time I did the work of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, which is a very busy piece of work both in the House and in the office. I did that with the status of a Junior Lord of the Treasury unpaid. I took a not unimportant part in the government of the country for four years from 1931 to 1935, quite happily and quite content, but at 40 per cent. of the salary of nearly all the rest of my colleagues, and I felt that that would not be tolerated in any trade union in the country. It is not for me to criticise the capacity for skilled work as between myself and any of my colleagues, but my work was not so far inferior to theirs that it ought to have been rewarded with 40 per cent. of the pay.
Those are two sides to the problem. A third aspect is one on which the Leader of the Opposition only touched. Perhaps I have had as much experience of the forming of Governments as any one else in the House. It is an altogether wrong principle that there should be members of the Cabinet receiving a certain sum as their salary and that there should be other Members receiving 40 per cent. of that sum. In theory all Cabinet tasks are equal. We are a body of equals in every sense of the word, but inevitably there are associations attached to various grades of salary. It must be so. It is the same all through the world; it is bound to be with every kind of task. When a position carries a higher salary it is naturally regarded as being more important, both for the work itself and in its status. That presents an enormous difficulty to the man who is forming a Government because he cannot well ask senior colleagues who have been accustomed to be on what I will call class A scale to take offices that are in class B or class C. I ask the House—and I mention only two, and there are several of them—whether for sheer hard work, for sheer importance to the country there are two offices more difficult and more hard worked than the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Agriculture? So I think the situation is intolerable and is one that should be put right. Once more I invite—and I invite with confidence—the co-operation of the Whole House in putting the matter right. If it is once put right it will be much fairer for all Governments that come in the future. All parties in 39 the House will benefit from it, and no party in the House will throw stones at another party for having brought about so desirable and overdue a reform.
I will say one word about the course of business before Christmas. The Debate on the Address will occupy the remainder of this week and run into next week. I hope to announce on Thursday the day on which the Debate will be brought to a close and what subjects of discussion will be taken. We hope to get before Christmas—
The Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, which will extend, among other Acts, the Special Areas (Development and Improvement) Act;
- The Public Order Bill;
- Legislation to impose a levy on imports of beef and veal;
- The Trunk Roads Bill;
A Bill to continue grants to local authorities up to 31st March next in order to complete the grants payable to them during the period of postponement of the second appointed day under the Unemployment Act.
- A Bill to amend the scheme of railway freight rebates;
We shall ask the House to approve the draft Instruments of Instructions to the governors of Indian Provinces and of Burma under the new constitution; and to consider a number of further draft Orders in Council, which I hope will not and believe do not raise any points of difficulty or controversy. There are a certain number of additional Import Duties Orders which have accumulated and await the approval of the House. Any other Measures which it will be found necessary to deal with before Christmas will be announced in the usual business statements. I have one statement which, I think, will be received with gratification by some Members, and that is that I do not propose to make any interference with the facilities for private Members at present. Private Members will have the facilities which are allotted to them under the Standing Orders for the discussion of their Bills on the Fridays, and for the discussion of their Motions on the Wednesdays which are set apart for this purpose.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
It is in no perfunctory spirit that I exercise my privilege of associating my hon. Friends and myself with the well-deserved congratulations which have been extended by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to the Mover and Seconder of the Address, for surely their delicate and important task has never been more admirably performed. When the hon. Lady the Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh) was making history, I could not help reflecting how sad it is that others who have to make history do not always do it with the same coolness, dexterity and sound good sense which she exhibited in her speech this afternoon. As for the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Nicolson), the House has now learned to look forward to the contributions which he makes to our debates, and we all enjoyed to-day the feast of wit, epigram, and audacity to which he treated us. Audacity is a virtue in which this Government has shown itself lacking, and I hope that the association of the hon. Member with the Government on this important occasion indicates that his influence and that audacity which he so often shows in his speeches will permeate through the inner recesses of the Cabinet.
When I turn to the Gracious Speech, I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that there are a number of proposals put forward which I warmly welcome. Some have been mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister. There are the proposals for dealing with the salaries of Cabinet Ministers for factory legislation and for the unification of royalties. I am very glad to see that the Prime Minister has come rather belatedly to the conclusion that a Measure for dealing with the unification of royalties is a necessary pre-requisite for Measures for undertaking the reconstruction of the coal industry. That was the case which many of us argued last Session, and we thought it most unfortunate that the Government should have made the mistake, which the Prime Minister now admits, of introducing a Measure of reform before dealing with this important question of the unification of royalties. We welcome, too, the proposals for improving the physical training of the people of the country, and I 41 particularly welcome the little addition to his brief which was made by the hon. Member for West Leicester when he assured us that the importance of a policy of nutrition would not be lost sight of in considering this policy. I also welcome warmly the proposals which are to be introduced to deal with the problem created by the Fascist party in this country. I feel sure that if the Government intend to nip in the bud the growth of private armies in this country they will receive support from every quarter of the House as, indeed, they will in taking measures to suppress the very beginning of racial and religious intolerance in our political life.
When I have said that, I have exhausted, I think, all the grounds on which I find myself in agreement with the Gracious Speech. Naturally, we look first at the opening paragraphs in the Speech, and we look at them with our minds preoccupied with the gravity of the international situation. The Prime Minister said truly that some of us who have been in consultation on this subject agree that it would be a good plan if a day could be given on which a debate on foreign affairs could be concentrated, but I would like to say this to the Prime Minister—and I hope that he will not consider it in any way a breach of the understanding that was reached about Thursday—that I find very great interest and profound anxiety about the international situation among Members of all parties, and I cannot help doubting whether one day will be enough for the debate. I hope that consideration will be given to the question whether arrangements cannot be made for giving a second day in some form or other—it may not be necessarily as part of the general debate—for the discussion of foreign affairs. If we look at the international situation as it was a year ago and consider it as it is at the present time I find it difficult to follow the hon. Member for West Leicester in the rather optimistic survey of the present conditions which he gave us. He spoke of the sympathy and friendliness which inspired the German Government towards this country. I find very little evidence of sympathy or friendliness in the failure of the German Government to answer the Government's Notes on the Treaty of Locarno.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I am grateful to the hon. Member for the correction, and I hope he will understand that the last thing I wanted to do was to misrepresent what he said. It is a pity then that the sympathy and friendliness of the German people find so little expression in the policy of the German Government, that they refuse to answer the Government's Notes on the arrangements to be made for the Locarno Conference. Even now the Government are able to say only that they will persist in their efforts to bring about a meeting—it is not even certain that they can bring about a meeting of the five Powers. Nor do I find any evidence of sympathy in the speech of General Goering. Fifty nations were following the lead of this Government a year ago in united resistance to aggression, and now the Government are unable even to bring five Nations into conference on the preservation of peace in Western Europe, and we are exposed to the flouts and gibes and threats of Italian and German statesmen. A year ago we were launched on a policy of steady and collective resistance to aggression and we had the support of 50 great nations in that policy. The Secretary of State for War, after a year of the Government's conduct of foreign policy and, as I believe, as the result of it, said, speaking only four weeks ago, that the prospect of Europe was enough to terrify the stoutest heart. A year ago the Government's election manifesto spoke of British influence which was so conspicuous, but there is very little sign of the strength of British influence in international affairs to-day. It is true that Ministers have lost the initiative which they seized at Geneva in September of last year—and the fact that they did seize that initiative and assumed the responsibility of taking the lead among the nations of the world does justify the Leader of the Opposition and the rest of us who condemn their policy in holding them in large measure responsible for the deterioration in the foreign situation since then. If they have lost that initiative, let them at any rate support the hopeful initiatives which are now being taken by the French Government in international affairs.
43 On the initiative of M. Blum measures are being taken to revive the work of the Disarmament Conference, yet I do not see in the King's Speech any mention of that work. Again, a vitally important initiative has been taken in economic disarmament by M. Blum. The Prime Minister spoke of the need of "more general trade" if we were to revive the trade of this country, if we were to do anything really effective for the unemployed. As he truly said, export trade is not the only trade of this country but world trade. M. Blum has taken promising steps to lower the barriers to export trade. He has expanded French quotas—he has removed 100 of them altogether—and has lowered French tariffs. His lead has been followed by Italy, by Switzerland, by Latvia and by Holland. Why has it not been followed by this country; and why is there no mention in the King's Speech of definite measures which will be taken to support and to follow up the lead which M. Blum has given?
There is another important omission from the King's Speech. There is no reference to the very important report, published a day or two ago, of the Royal Commission on the Manufacture of and Trade in Arms. I think the House will be indulgent to me if I remind it that it was on the initiative of the Liberal party that this matter was raised in the House last Session and on our initiative that the Government set up this Commission. Certainly it was so. It is no use the Lord President of the Council denying it, because I can quote from a speech by the Secretary of State for the Home Department, who was then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in which he acknowledged it across the Floor of the House. It was on our initiative that the Commission was set up, and, indeed, we were greatly criticised at the time, both in the House and in the public Press, for having allowed ourselves to be "led up the garden path." It was said that we had given the Government the opportunity of setting up a whitewashing Commission which would result in a report of no real value, and we were criticised in the public Press of the Left and in this House on those grounds.
But we took the responsibility then, and I am going to take the credit now, whatever the Lord President of the 44 Council says. Now the report has been published and it has been everywhere well received. I pay a tribute to the Government for their choice of the members of the Commission, who represented widely different schools of thought, and it is very remarkable that those men and women, representing so many different schools of thought, should have reached a unanimous conclusion. The conclusions of the Commission are of very great importance from all aspects of this very complicated problem. I notice that, on the one hand, the supporters of the Government have acclaimed the report and that Dr. Addison, who speaks for the Socialist party on this matter with very great authority, because he was for some time Minister of Munitions during the War, says:After a first reading of the report I am favourably impressed. Indeed, the Commission has gone considerably further than I expected.This report contains a massive and persuasive statement of the case for important reforms. First, for the effective organisation of the armament industry by a controlling body, with executive powers, acting tinder the authority of a Minister responsible to Parliament. Second, for the strict limitation of profits in armaments manufacture. Third, for the international control of the trade in arms, in accordance with the proposals of the United States Government. Fourth, for the conscription of industry in war-time—a proposal which, it will be recognised, raises very grave problems. I do not for one moment suggest that the Government have had time to consider or to bring before us at once definite proposals under that head, but the proposals under the other three heads are all of great importance and) deal with a matter which is greatly exercising the minds of people and especially of young people in this country. I am inclined to think that this report will provide firm and sound ground upon which public opinion can be rallied and focussed on the urgent need of suppressing the evils, so far as it can be done in advance of general disarmament, of the private manufacture of and trade in arms. The report has been in the hands of the Government for more than a month, and I do not think it is premature for me now to ask the Government what they propose to do about 45 it, and whether we shall have the opportunity, during the present Session, of passing legislation about any of the matters with which the report deals.
I turn next to home affairs; and there are two paragraphs on which I would meantime venture to offer a few observations. First of all there is the paragraph which relates to Scotland. The Welsh Members may be inclined to envy the Scottish Members in having a paragraph to themselves. At the same time, I am afraid that a number of matters upon which Scottish opinion is most exercised at the present time find no mention in this paragraph. For example, there is the growing demand in Scotland, which has been voiced by the Convention of Royal Burghs and by leaders of public opinion, for an inquiry into the working of the Rating Act of 1929. That subject is arousing great feeling, especially in the small burghs of Scotland, and I would ask the Government to set up that inquiry.
Then there is the question of farm servants' wages. That is a matter which has exercised us for the last year or two, and has been the subject of debates in this House. Eventually the Government set up a committee, presided over by Lord Caithness, to go into this question. They presented a report last summer, in which they recommended the establishment of Wages Boards, and I would ask whether the Government intend to ask the House to give effect to their recommendations. Then there was the promise made by the Government in their Election Manifesto that the provision of water supply and drainage in sparsely-populated areas would be dealt with. It is a matter of immense importance in the rural districts, and especially in the Highlands of Scotland, and I would press the Government to say whether we shall have proposals to deal with water supply and drainage in sparsely-populated areas in Scotland laid before us this Session. Lastly, there is the five-year road plan. A whole year has passed, and still it has not been begun in a number of counties in Scotland. I hope we shall get some assurance that the five-year road plan will be put promptly into operation.
The other subject in connection with home affairs with which I want to deal is the Special Areas. I share the astonishment of the Leader of the Opposition 46 that there is in the Gracious Speech no reference to unemployment. The only reference to Special Areas is the statement that the Special Areas Act is to be continued. That Measure has not fulfilled the hopes of those who introduced it into this House, and it will need amendment, but I gather from what the Prime Minister said that it will be introduced under the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, a procedure which will preclude its amendment, and I think that in that case it will prove to be useless in the future. The figures for unemployment in November, 1934, as shown in the "Economist" last week, when compared with the figures for last September, show that the improvement in unemployment in the Special Areas, in spite of this special legislation, is actually less than the improvement in employment in the country as a whole. But, indeed, the case is really worse than those figures, taken at their face value, would suggest, because even such improvement as has taken place in the Special Areas is due not so much to increased employment as to transfers. It was hoped that the effect of the legislation would be not to facilitate the transfer of people from the Special Areas, but to revive the economic life of those areas and to give men a chance of employment in their own localities. I suggest, therefore, that it will be useless to continue this legislation unless we have an opportunity of amending it and making it a better Act, and, I would add, once we have done that, an opportunity of bringing in other areas which are just outside the Special Areas but which need help just as much as the Special Areas themselves.
The one policy which would really help the Special Areas most of all, which would cut at the very root of their problems, is economic disarmament. In the interests both of the revival of the depressed areas and of peace, economic disarmament is the most urgent problem of the day. As regards peace, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs said so two or three weeks ago in his speech at Sheffield, but his colleagues will not listen to him. Tariffs and quotas breed battleships and aeroplanes, and not until our Government respond to the French initiative and use the League of Nations for economic as well as for military disarmament can the evil spirit of 47 nationalism be exorcised. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his speech at the bankers' dinner a few weeks ago, said:Adjustment of currencies must be followed by a relaxation of trade restrictions.But he added that the Government had not in contemplation any change in the system of moderate protection which they have established. There is no hope for the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs there—no hope for peace; and yet, unless we can open the international markets to trade, the capitalist system will jam and war will be the only way out. Of course there is a difficulty in breaking down the glass houses which have been erected round these new vested interests by the protective system, but we must make a beginning if we are to revive international trade and if this phrase in the Gracious Speech is to be anything more than a phrase and is to be translated into action. We must make a beginning, and I suggest to the Government that a very sensible beginning would be for them to announce their willingness to reduce tariffs and expand quotas by one-twentieth. That would be a, good start. It would not satisfy me, it would not be the whole policy, but it would be a good start to make, and would begin to thaw the ice of which the Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke in one of his speeches. It is only if we do that that we can hope to restore prosperity to the depressed areas, for the economic factor which is common to the depressed areas is that they all depend upon exporting and maritime industries, and unless we can revive those industries there is no hope of reviving the economic life of the depressed areas. For their sakes, therefore, and in the interests of peace, I appeal to the Government not merely to give verbal assurances to the House, such as are given in the King's Speech, that they will maintain their efforts to secure a freer exchange of goods throughout the world, but that they will tell us what definite measures they are going to take to follow up M. Blum's initiative.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I associate myself with the words that have been spoken by previous speakers with reference to the Mover and Seconder of the Address. 48 Every tribute that could be paid has, I think, been paid. I can add no more to what has been said, except that a large proportion of the women of this country will be asking to-night not only: "What did the hon. Lady the Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh) say?" but, "What did she wear?" While not posing as an expert in that matter, I would say that the two hon. Members who performed this task to-day were as handsome a couple as ever performed it. There is, perhaps, something wrong in the fact that the hon. Gentleman carried a weapon, while the lady arrived with empty hands. As she was making historic associations for Edinburgh I should have thought it might have been proper for her to carry in the ancient weapon of Jenny Geddes, without any intention of using it upon any opponent whom she might not like. I congratulate them both. I know they will not expect me to accept the political philosophy contained in either speech.
I do not feel that I can associate myself with the Labour party or the Liberal party in their regret that, in the one case, this was not a Socialist Speech, and, in the other, that it was not a Free Trade Speech. I have no illusions, whatever the Leader of the Opposition may have, in believing that this is a Socialist Government; nor have I any of the illusions which the leader of the Liberal party seems to have that this is a Liberal Government. The fact that one or two former friends of his and one or two former friend of mine, have been allowed to remain in the Government, does not make it Socialist or Liberal—or indeed National. I do not make demands upon the Prime Minister, as the others did, because I remember that old dogs should not be asked to learn new tricks—although I know that he has a certain responsibility for the many pups that are coming on. I certainly would make this criticism, that while it is obviously the duty of the Government to maintain the Capitalist system of society, it is their duty, as it would be the duty of any business man, to see that the Capitalist business of 1936 functions in the circumstances of 1936; and that the ideas, plans, methods and principles which were sufficient for the system 25, 30 or 40 years ago are quite inadequate to meet existing conditions.
49 My big criticism of the King's Speech is that the Chief Whip seems to have had a good deal to do with it, because there is in it a maximum of Parliamentary controversy. Inside a fortnight or three weeks, this King's Speech will have us all upstairs in committees, fighting like the very devil about a collection of trivialities, all of them containing a minimum of alleviation for the people of the country but a maximum of good committee controversy. Oh, there will be a lot of good fun going, upstairs, over these Measures, particularly if the Factories Bill is the same as that which got an airing some eight or nine years ago, when the late Mr. Arthur Henderson gave it a run round the House. If I remember rightly, it was 90 pages in length at that time. Successive Governments have always taken it out of the cupboard and added a little more to it. It must be a huge tome now, codification in the main. Codification was the great bulk of it and amendment was a very trivial bit. We have a habit that we can get more enthusiastically interested about a little thing if there is good controversy in it than we can about some really great Measure. The weakness of it is that there is no guiding principle.
What are the Government trying to do? Is there any mass attack upon poverty? Here we have had appreciation from the Prime Minister, the hon. Lady and the hon. Gentleman, of the fine condition in which the country is to-day, yet we have hunger marchers almost calling at the House. A huge mass of our people are asked, when the means test operates, to live upon a few paltry shillings; yet they are told that the trade of the country has improved tremendously during the years in which this Government have been in power, and that greater improvements are in prospect. Men, women and children are crying for bread. The Prime Minister talks about the housing problem. My hon. Friend the Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) raised a question here of two families in his constituency in the East End of Glasgow whose houses were shattered by the storm on Monday last. He went to every responsible official in the City of Glasgow, and to the Scottish Office, but no alternative accommodation could be found for those people. They 50 were told to go back and live in a house which had been declared by the master of works in Glasgow to be dangerous to human life. Yet we come here to-day and pat ourselves on the back about the general improvement in the condition of the country.
Some point was raised on Thursday, and by the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Nicolson) to-day, that a Democracy has the disadvantage, as compared with the authoritarian State, that we are only a medley of voices and that there is no one clear resounding sound. I believe it is true that, in this Democracy, there is no clear resounding sound, but it is not necessarily true that a Democracy should be merely a babble of contradictory voices. Indeed, where the Government have the minds of the people as well as merely their crosses on polling day, and have the hearts and the spirits of the people behind them, and are really interpreting what the people are feeling and demanding, that Government's voice is as authoritative as the voice in an authoritarian State, whether in home affairs or in foreign. It is not due to the fact that we are a Democracy, but that in recent years we have been an uncertain, shifty, unprincipled Democracy that did not know what it was trying to do in the long view, either in home or in foreign matters.
My hon. Friends and I take the view that the attack upon poverty is the fundamental problem of our time, more fundamental than the Fascist problem or the war problem. The nation which can first show to the world a way in which all its people can live freely, happily and clear of poverty, will be doing the greatest thing for world peace. Fascist leaders come to power largely because the people are tired and see no way out of poverty under Democracy, and they get the spirit going for war because the people are made to believe that the enemy which keeps them poor is outside. The dictator is enabled to arm to the teeth because the people are made to believe that when some enemy—Germany, Great Britain, Abyssinia or Spain—is crushed, their poverty will be removed. Everybody here knows that the poverty problem is an internal problem to any one country, and must be solved inside the frontiers of that country. Without throwing overboard their Capitalist principles, the Government could quite easily 51 in the Session that lies in front of us, have made an attack upon the whole problem of housing, health insurance, health and physical conditions, in a principled way, instead of putting forward a collection of trivial things which will ease the problem for somebody here and there, undoubtedly, but is nevertheless a collection of little frippery scraps.
The Government are making a big attack upon the poverty of Cabinet Ministers. I accept absolutely the Prime Minister's argument as to the equalitarian basis for the remuneration of Cabinet Ministers. I think that he made that case absolute, and that there is no reason why any one Cabinet Minister should be paid more than anyone else He will have no difficulty with me or with my hon. Friends in bringing that Measure before the House, so far as its equalitarian aspect is concerned. When he comes to say what shall be the monetary basis of equality, there may be some difference. Ministers usually hold special responsibility, but there are not such big differences from the responsibility held by the ordinary Member of the House. Perhaps the gap which divides the nonofficial Member from the Member of the Government should be definitely marked in terms of the cash, to indicate that they have a superior claim to the ordinary Member of the 615. All of us who have been here for any length of time know what are the accidents of chance which decide whether a man is to be official or unofficial. Hon. Members on the back benches opposite know all about that.
A general level of £600 a year for Cabinet Ministers—which would be putting them on a 50 per cent. higher level than the ordinary Member—would seem to me to be a reasonably generous arrangement. [AN HoN. MEMBER: "Too generous!"] My hon. Friend says that it would be too generous, but I am always disposed to be generous. I can see the point as regards moving Ministers from one position to another, but let me put it to the Prime Minister that perhaps a more important task for him, and a more difficult task for him, which I have seen hampering him in his work during the time he has been Prime Minister, is not the moving of a Minister from one position to another, but the moving 52 of a Minister outside altogether. I am sure it must give him very great qualms to think of one of his colleagues passing from the lofty heights of £5,000 a year to the £400 of a back-bencher. It would make the gap a little less wide, and perhaps there would not be the same wrenchings of heart in turning away a colleague who might still be a good friend although obviously not performing adequately the work which a Cabinet Minister is called upon to discharge. That is the one bit of the poverty problem which seems to be directly and frontally attacked.
This Government, with a good mandate from the country, a reasonably fresh mandate from the country, having passed over its first year, is now at the year that really matters, is now at the year that is really decisive. During the first year the impetus of the General Election carried the Government along. During the second year, genuine intelligent work has got to be done, with results that will show in the years that follow, for a very rapid deterioration begins to take place as you get further and further away from your election mandate. It is not here. The great impetus towards national reconstruction, towards national regeneration, towards a general lifting of the national life in home and foreign affairs on to a higher level than it has been, is not inside the four corners of this Speech, and I say that the Government, in not having it there, are losing what is to-day a tremendous opportunity.
In the year that lies in front of us, things are going to happen in Europe, things are going to happen among the great authoritarian States. They are all going ahead with a clear idea where they are going, and the extraordinary and pathetic thing in these times is that the nations that know where they are going, even if they are going in a wrong, and a damnably wrong, way, have the advantage over those nations that are looking back into the past and have no idea where they are going for the future. External events and internal events will compel the Government to-day to do other and different things from those which are included inside the four corners of this Speech. I urge the Prime Minister to look ahead, and not to regard the Session which is in front of us as merely a Session to be put through with as little disturbance and bother to 53 the Members of the Government as possible, but as a Session in which big, really constructive things are to be done, and in which a definite attempt is to be made to give the workers of this country a chance to live decently for once.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Sir SAMUEL CHAPMAN
A retiring back-bencher does not stand a very great chance of saying a few words on the Address, but I should like to say a few words on the remarks of my hon. Friend who has just sat down with reference to the smallness of the Measures which the Government are going to introduce. Before doing so, however, I would presume to say, on behalf of the Scottish Members, how greatly we appreciate the brilliancy with which the Mover of the Address has acquitted herself. She said that Dundee would be pleased; but not only Dundee, but the whole of Scotland, will be pleased. We have long known my hon. Friend's eminent abilities and the great work she has done in Scotland in a hundred and one ways, and we thank the Prime Minister to-day for crowning a certain number of years of her career with the honour which he has conferred upon her and upon Scotland by asking her to move the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech from the Throne.
We are to have extremely important matters before us during the Session, although my hon. Friend who has just sat down tried to minimise them. If I may presume to say so, I have been a bit of an athlete all my life. I have played cricket for Scottish counties, and have been president of as many cricket clubs as, perhaps, anybody else in Scotland. When an important Measure is foreshadowed for the physical training of our nation, I feel that it must be really seriously taken in hand, and I should like to say something which perhaps may guide those who are going to draw up the new scheme for improving the physical condition of our people. Reference has already been made, and it is mentioned in the Gracious Speech, to a wonderful report issued by a committee on Scottish health problems. It is one of the most wonderful reports ever submitted to the House of Commons, and I would venture to suggest that every Member should read it as if he were going to sit for an examination. When my hon. Friend who has just sat down 54 says that we do not do anything for the people, I would ask him just to read this report, and see how it is supported during the coming Session by what he calls the Tory Members for Scotland; I myself am going to support it body and soul. It states that the objectmay be described as care for the physical quality of the people as a whole. This expansion in scope and aim reflects the changing spirit of the times, as seen in a growing humanitarianism and the conscious application to social ends of the ever-increasing resources of scientific knowledge.If I know anything of Scottish politics, and I have been in them for half a century, the two things which touch the imagination of the people of Scotland at this moment, and which are at their very heartstrings, are the love of order and the love of kindness. That is the spirit of the Scottish nation at the present moment, including all parties, because I am sure my hon. Friend who has just sat down would not like me to say that he is not in it. The spirit of kindness animates the whole Scottish nation, and we shall back up the Government in doing everything that is possible by reasonable and practical legislation. My hon. Friend talked about abolishing poverty, but I have been in this House for 14 years and have never yet heard him make a practical suggestion for the abolition of poverty.
§ Sir S. CHAPMAN
I think it was Sir Walter Scott who said that there is something fascinating about mixing with your opponents and hearing their extreme opinions. It is no use only listening to your own side, and I always like to listen to my four hon. Friends on this side, as I am sure the whole House does. I told' my constituents only last Friday night that I sit sometimes on the same bench as four gentlemen who represent the extreme opinions of Glasgow, and that I often think, when I sit alongside the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), what a different constituency his is from the constituency of South Edinburgh which I represent. I asked my constituents, "Am I right in saying to you that you, because you are in good circumstances and happy conditions, sent me to the House of Commons to do everything possible to ameliorate the conditions of those who live in Gorbals and 55 other places and who are not in the same circumstances as yourselves?" And, of course, with a unanimous voice, they said, "Yes."
§ Sir S. CHAPMAN
My hon. Friend wants to take me off something serious in order to reply to interjections of his which have been replied to a thousand times, and which, if I remember rightly, were torn to pieces recently by the Home Secretary. The Scottish committee to which I have referred say in their report that not enough is done to advise those belonging to the age group which is most receptive in these matters, namely, young adults. They point out that, while it used to be the case that only very fit people of either sex indulged in games, all that is now changed; practically every young, middle-aged and old person who is at all fit plays games, and many who are not fit also play; and they make the following recommendations:It should be a function of the Department of Health to assist in the provision of facilities for healthy recreation, and the Department should have funds at its disposal for this purpose.It should be made obligatory on local authorities to make ample provision in their housing and town planning schemes for playing fields and other facilities for healthy recreation; and the local authorities, in cooperation with employers, juvenile organisations, the Playing Fields Association and other bodies, should endeavour to meet the needs of the community for these facilities.What facilities are going to be provided and what instructions given to town councils in order to carry out the desire of the nation that all young fellows from 15 to 35 should have ample facilities to enjoy athletic games? The hon. Member who spoke last said the Government were going to bring in small pottering Measures. I appeal to them to make this one of the greatest Measures that have ever been introduced and put the hon. Member to shame. The Chancellor of the Exchequer at Margate said, wisely and rightly, that we must not imitate the methods of other countries but must act according to British traditions. There are two ways of governing the world, by force or by persuasion. We put force on one side and rely upon persuasion, through the House of Commons and the Constitution. We want to provide a 56 scheme which shall be worked by town councils to satisfy the desires and inclinations of the youth of the country.
I occasionally go into the slums, of which there are still a few in Edinburgh. The four hon. Members from Glasgow on this bench do the same thing and it has been a tower of strength to them, because they get information at first hand about the masses of the people. But do not let them think they are the only ones who go into the slums. If you know anything about the decent young fellows of the working class who have come out of the slums and are now in better houses—we are going to get them all out of the slums—you know that, while they desire to enjoy fresh air and manly sport, they still suffer poverty. I know many who have to cadge for football boots, and there are hundreds and thousands who would enjoy sports if they had not only facilities for playing fields but the necessary equipment. We put on different clothes when we play golf or cricket. I ask the House to think of these young fellows who have to play football in their everyday boots and shoes and clothes. How would any of us like to have two or three hours on the golf course or shooting grouse in the hills of Perthshire and not go home and have a bath and a change? If we are going to tackle this question in the right way, using no compulsion but working in accordance with the desires and inclinations of the youth of the nation, we shall have to give them facilities for equipment. This is a much wider question than some of our friends think. It will be no use establishing isolated cricket or football clubs; you will have to establish athletic clubs throughout the country. The membership should be limited to 500 or a thousand. [Interruption.] That interruption shows how easy it is for these gentlemen from Glasgow to misunderstand a plain statement. That is why they get into so much trouble.
There would have to be a special physical trainer for each unit and there would have to be equipment given to those who wished to join. The Edinburgh municipality has 34,000 acres of ground, and there are, happily, many facilities for recreation, but not the facilities that there ought to be for the young working fellows. Outside Edinburgh there are glorious open spaces and, with 57 good will on the part of the town council and good organisation and the expenditure of a little money, half the young fellows of Edinburgh who look on at football matches but have never had facilities for playing would come out in their thousands and take part in these manly sports. What I am saying will sink in at some time or another. It is not particularly new. Ancient Rome and Greece did the same thing. If you had these clubs there would have to be committees, and I would suggest that five or six should be selected from the membership themselves. There are hundreds of thousands of kindly disposed sporting men who take not the slightest interest in the proceedings in this House—they are not built that way—but give them something to do in the way of sport or open air exercise and they will go miles to attain their own desires and will help the poorest of the poor and will devote their whole lives to it. In am convinced that there are young men from the Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen who are waiting to be asked by the Government to help. You would have eminent professors and sporting men, and perhaps doctors, and before you knew where you were you would have such a spirit of enthusiasm for open air exercises that you would have no need to worry about the health of the young fellows of the country. As a pretty old hand at athletics I say that the time has arrived when, if taken at the flood, we can get such a wave of enthusiasm for physical exercise as will astonish the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and we shall have done something to relieve poverty by giving health and strength to youth to fight the battle of life.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Mr. DENMAN
We have had the pleasure of a considerable volume of Scottish eloquence, and it is perhaps time for a mere Englishman to get in and express his satisfaction at the Speech which has been read from that Chair. The satisfaction of National Labour is naturally strong because we cannot help recollecting the King's speeches of 1929 and 1930 and feeling assured that, if we could have had a speech of this kind in either of those years, we should have been extremely glad to think that many details of our programme were being accomplished. Of course, we know, as many 58 Labour people have always known, that you cannot fundamentally attack the problems of poverty in the course of one Parliament, and it is unfair and a delusion to tell democracy that any Parliament can. We know that the person who makes that statement to an electorate is fundamentally untrue to democracy, because that kind of change is not attainable by democratic methods. A sudden change from one state of society to another is attainable only through the medium of a dictatorship. We who have always believed in democracy know that this process of amelioration can only come gradually. As an item in the process of evolutionary Socialism, which was our policy in 1929, what satisfaction we should have enjoyed if we had been offered the nationalisation of royalties!
§ Mr. DENMAN
Royalties were an essential part of the Labour programme in 1929. It was not in the King's Speech, but it is a thing we have always advocated, and now at last we see a prospect that coal is to be placed alongside gold as being nationally owned.
§ Mr. DENMAN
It will not be the property of the Crown but presumably of some public authority who will administer it in the public interest. That is the kind of advance which the National Government can properly make, and we for our part are glad to be supporting a Government competent to carry such measures. Not only in the specific category of evolutionary Socialism are we making progress, but in the general work of social amelioration. We are quite properly in this Parliament utilising the better times in which we live to develop social services so that when bad times come the workers will have a better buttress than they had in 1931.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being present—
§ Mr. DENMAN
I was commenting on the wisdom of developing the social services in good times so that they would act as a buttress if and when the bad times and the slumps come.
59 There is one particular provision in the King's Speech about which I should like to ask a question of the Government. It is stated that there is to be a Bill to deal with ministerial salaries, and the Prime Minister referred to the Debate that we had in the last session in which a Resolution was carried in favour of equalising these salaries. It was an unfortunate fact that on that occasion the Motion was so framed as to make it impossible to move an Amendment which had, I believe, widespread approval, and which certainly needed discussion which would have provided for a salary for the Leader of the Opposition. I want to ask the Minister who will be in charge of this Measure not to overlook that point in preparing the Bill, because I believe that while you are revising the salaries of the officers of the Government you ought also to take into consideration the special position of the Leader of the Opposition. The case for giving a salary to the Leader of the Opposition is tolerably familiar. It is done, I believe, in Canada and the reason, which is a very good one, is that it is a whole-time job, and that it is exceedingly undesirable that a man in that position should be tempted to utilise the status his official position gives him for the purpose of augmenting his income. I am glad to say that leaders of the Opposition have been singularly free as a general rule from making any financial use of their official position, but obviously, if they are people of small incomes, the £400 a year they get as salaries in this House is really inadequate to enable them to play their part properly. I believe therefore it would be the general view of the House that the Leader of the Opposition should receive as such an official salary.
To recommend this official recognition of the Opposition is in some discord with the concluding argument which I wish to address to my hon. Friends opposite. I wish to point out to them that the party game in these days is singularly out of place. Perhaps I have no right to appeal to them, but I want to draw their attention to some significant facts in the position of Labour at the present time. We have had recently two very interesting statements of points of view made by prominent persons both concerned with the maintenance of demo- 60 cracy, and with the part that Labour should play in helping to maintain it. The first comes from the Prime Minister of Sweden. The House is no doubt familiar with the fact that the Prime Minister of Sweden gained a very notable victory for Labour at the recent election. Instead of thereupon appointing a party government he quite deliberately brought into his Cabinet members of the Agrarian party who had fought him in the previous election, and at the same time he made a very significant declaration of his reasons. Mr. Hansson said:In time of unrest among peoples and nations when democratic and parliamentary systems of government are being pushed aside or threatened by dictators, it seems more than usually necessary to safeguard the system of government by the people by creating the broadest possible foundation for the work of the government"—and so on. Though he had a majority, a mere party government was inadequate to maintain the current needs of democracy. I will come nearer home to a second extremely interesting declaration made in a letter by the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps). No doubt Members opposite will have read it. He was there discussing alternative policies of the Labour party, and although this is the policy he rejected, it is nevertheless stated with the lucidity and convincingness that one expects from so clear a mind. He writes:It must surely follow that if it is our duty to support rearmament it can only be in order that we may make the existing British Government—whatever its political texture—as strong as possible. We cannot under these circumstances remain an opposition force, for by that opposition we shall weaken the very Government that we declare it is necessary to strengthen. There is only one sensible thing to do under these circumstances, and that is to get into the Government as soon as possible and exert the maximum of pressure from the inside. This pressure, as MacDonald argued in 1931, will be far more effective than anything that can be done from without, and it will not weaken but strengthen the Government vis-a-vis its potential enemies abroad. There can be no case made out that I can see for supporting the Government on the main plank of its platform—rearmament, recruitment, and physical fitness—while at the same time sniping at it upon minor matters.I gather from the bench opposite that all subjects in this Speech are minor matters. The major matters are those referred to by the hon. and learned Member, for which, I gather, the Gov- 61 ernment have, in the main, the support of the Opposition. It is quite true that the hon. and learned Member rejects the course of co-operation because he wants a Government by class-conscious workers. But I put it to the normal members of the Labour party whether they really want to wait to exercise their maximum influence until the time comes when there will be a class-conscious workers' Government. I am not going to argue the merits of such a, Government. I think that it is essentially rather an un-English conception, and I certainly do not see it coming in this country for many years. I personally do not want to see the official Labour Opposition in a position of prolonged futility, sterilising its own forces and its own personalities from the normal work of Government for a long period of years. The hon. and learned Member thinks that there is no real third course. He observes:Between these two alternatives there lies no middle path, except that of complete confusion and disillusionment, for the people of this country.I am not so blind to the realities of the position as to suppose that the co-operation pictured by the hon. and learned Member is at present possible, but it really would be deplorable if we had to wait again for a major war before the democracy of this country could receive the re-inforcement their co-operation could give, with the Government as truly national as it would be with the trade unions and the Opposition adequately represented. Meanwhile, we of the National Labour Group shall go on inviting Labour supporters throughout the country, as we have done hitherto, to support the present Government as long as they continue on the lines of progress exemplified in the Gracious Speech and continue to be more effective practitioners of central and left central policy than the Labour party itself.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. TINKER
I understand from the speech of the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) that he wants the members of this Party to join the National Government. I do not look upon it as a National Government, but as a purely Conservative Administration. I agree that occasionally they grant some little things such as the National Labour Group asks for, and give a formal sop because that group happens to belong to the 62 National Government, but by no stretch of imagination could it be said that the present Government is a National Government. The next Prime Minister who, I understand, will be there before very long, is the purest-blooded Tory who ever sat on the benches opposite, and there can be no question that if the new Prime Minister is the man we have in mind, even the small things that are granted now will not be granted. The National Labour Group will not even be allowed a Seconder of the Address in reply to the King's Speech.
§ Mr. TINKER
Reference has been made to the allocation of time. The leader of the Liberal party said he hoped that more than one day would be given for the discussion of foreign policy. If that course is adopted I hope it will not be at the expense of domestic matters. Important as the national situation may be, I believe that we are neglecting many domestic matters because of it. If more time is to be given to a discussion of international matters and foreign policy, do not let it be taken away from time that would be otherwise given to dealing with domestic matters. In regard to the King's Speech, I should like to refer to the proposed unification of coal mining royalties under national control. When that scheme is brought forward I hope that one or two points will be recognised. From these benches we have urged that when the question of mining royalties is dealt with regard shall be paid to the damage that has been done in mining areas where the local authorities are being burdened with increased rates because of the subsidences that have taken place. I trust that when we come to buy out the royalties, and I am certainly in favour of it, some regard will be paid to the damage already done and that some money will be deducted from the amount payable as compensation for the royalties in order to recompense the local authorities who are bearing a greater burden than they ought to do on account of subsidences.
With regard to the statement in the King's Speech thatVigorous action for the provision of housing accommodation to replace slum dwellings and abate overcrowding will be maintained.63 I heartily agree with that proposal, because it relates to one of the burning questions of the day. In my constituency, which is a go-ahead constituency, there is a keen desire for better houses. The young married couples desire to get houses of their own. They have the means to pay the rent if they can only get the houses. Many families ask me to visit their houses, and I have visited a good number. Last week I went to two houses, and I felt that it was a disgrace to our civilisation that such houses should exist. Therefore, I am pleased that the Government intend not to abate their efforts to provide better houses for the people. Every assistance in that direction will be given from these benches.
In the King's Speech there is reference to a proposalto extend to persons with limited income voluntary insurance for the purpose of pensions.I hope the Government will make this provision more comprehensive. I should like to draw attention to a, few serious anomalies. One anomaly is in regard to the position of the wife of an insured man where the husband has reached the age of 65 and the wife has not reached that age. This is a serious problem. The man may be unemployed, and when he reaches the age of 65 he is taken off unemployment benefit and receives an allowance of only 10s. if his wife has not also reached the age of 65. If the man has saved anything the money has to be used before he can claim any relief. I do hope that this matter will be dealt with when the Government bring forward their Bill. The right hon. Gentleman opposite is perhaps glad that he will not have to face that question again. I always felt that he had sympathy with us, although he had to reply on behalf of the Government that our suggestion could not be carried out.
The subject has been taken up by various associations and societies. For instance, at a meeting of the Denbigh County Council at Colwyn Bay recently, it was stated:There were in the county a large number of unemployed men approaching the age of 65. When they attained that age their unemployment allowances would cease and their wives, if younger, would be left without benefit. The result would be that husbands would be forced to apply for public 64 assistance. Most men married women younger than themselves, and the burden on public assistance was likely to be an increasing one.The Ancient Order of Foresters at a recent session stated that a deputation had met the Minister of Health and had requested the payment of pensions to wives when their insured husbands became entitled thereto, providing such wives had reached 60 years of age. I should like the Government to try to bring in the wives who have reached the age of 60. I should also like that provision to be extended to single women who are insured and have reached the age of 60. Whatever may be said about the disparity between men and women, they is certainly a disparity in regard to age. A woman in the industrial field cannot hope to compete with a man when she has turned the age of 60. There is nothing more saddening than to see women about the ale of 60 working in factories and other places. I always feel that the time has come when they ought to be relieved of that necessity. Certainly it is a sad reflection on our English life. Therefore, I hope the Government will consider the question of the two classes of women to whom I have referred being admitted as pensioners.
Now I turn to the great problem of the day, the present unequal position of the people of this country in regard to wealth. There is no mention of this subject in the King's Speech, although it is a very serious one. I wonder whether Members of the Government are really alive to the present position in the country. Last July I read a speech made by the Minister of War at a banquet in London, when he said that everybody in this country was perfectly satisfied and well-off. If he meant that, he is not alive to the position in the country. If he did not mean it, it Ns as said only to please American visitors to whom he was speaking. There is a terrible depth of poverty prevailing. Here I would draw attention to a statement made by Sir Benjamin Dawson on his appointment as chairman of the Bradford Central Division Conservative Association. He said:I toured the Division and when I had finished my tour I felt thoroughly ashamed of my country, thoroughly ashamed of the National Government, and thoroughly ashamed of the Conservative party. The pigs on my farm are better housed and fed than some of the people I saw that day.65 That man felt his position, and before he was elected chairman he wanted the members to know exactly what he felt. I am pleased to see the Secretary of State for War is now present. I have been referring to a speech that he made at a banquet on 23rd July last, when he said that everybody in this country was perfectly satisfied and content. I am comparing that statement with the actual position.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Duff Cooper)
I can assure the hon. Member that I never said anything of the sort. I had just been replying to some American guests who had commented upon the state of happiness they saw in this country. At that moment a Debate was taking place in this House on the Unemployment Regulations, and I said that I only wished the House of Commons could hear what the American guests had said about the general contentment and conditions in this country. I never said anything like that attribued to me by the hon. Member.
§ Mr. TINKER
In that case I withdraw the remarks that I made, but in the newspaper that I have quoted it appeared as if the right hon. Gentleman had made such a statement. Perhaps he will thank me for giving him a chance to deny it.
§ Mr. COOPER indicated assent.
§ Mr. TINKER
I am trying to show the actual position. I have here a statement about the Ascot races.Ascot yesterday broke its own totalisator record, when the receipts were £131,955, the largest amount ever taken in a single day's racing in Great Britain. The previous record was £104,891.That statement appeared in one of the leading newspapers on 18th June last. It is well known that the wealthy people go to Ascot, and it is deplorable that money should be treated in that way and spent on betting when there is another side to the question. Here is a statement about weavers' wages. It. is a propaganda statement got out by the Weavers' Association, and it has not been disputed.In order to bring its case for better wages for the weavers prominently before the public, the Weavers' Amalgamation has appointed a Propaganda Committee which, as a beginning, has had large posters put up in all parts of Lancashire. These are headed 'Give the weavers a square deal.'66 The statement also gives the amount of wages. In the week ending 15th February, 1936, out of 44,903 weavers only 861 earned over 50s. a week; 2,078, 45s. to 50s.; 4,845, 40s. to 45s.; 7,945, 35s. to 40s.; and 9,607, 30s. to 35s. As many as 16,571 earned less than 30s., 2,093 earned less than 25s., 'and 903 less than 20s., and the statement says:These wages inevitably tend towards poverty and ill-health. These wages are a disgrace to the cotton industry and cannot be justified.You can imagine how these people feel when the Secretary for War is appealing for recruits to keep the country safe from foreign aggression, and they are aware of the Ascot record and their own wages. The question they put is that the Government should deal fairly with the wealth of the country before they are called upon to defend their country. These men believe that this is the best country in the world, but they do desire a better equalisation of the wealth it possesses than is the case at present. Let me say how this could be brought about. Mechanisation and science have so improved things that we have unbounded wealth in the country. The Government with their stereotype mind say that there cannot be any change; that it must be a gradual development. They are not dealing with the situation at all. I suggest that they should think about shortening the hours of labour. Let me give one or two figures on this point. We have been meeting the coal-owners of Lancashire lately, and it is found that in 1931 66,335 men were employed. In 1936 there were only 55,509, a reduction in the number of 10,826. But during the same period the output had increased by 27,000 tons. If we are to have the benefit of science, the only way is to see that the men employed in this 'arduous industry share in the benefits, and we can do that by shortening the working day and give employment to more men. The Government, however, are not attempting to deal with the question in this way.
Then there is the question of holidays with pay; a principle recognised in some places. As Members of Parliament we get a long holiday, but if our pay were stopped I think there would be a riot, and that we should be coming back to London about it. In many municipalities and Government offices holidays are given 67 with pay, but when we come to the ill-paid workers, the mining industry and the cotton industry, it is not a question of holidays with pay. If they have holidays there is no pay. When they have holidays at Whitsuntide or August the men go back wondering what will happen when they draw their next pay; whether they will be three or four days pay short. All the time they are taking these few days holiday there is behind the thought of what is going to happen when they draw their money at the end of the week. If the Government really wanted to represent the feelings of the people they could deal with this question much more adequately, and we on these benches can never rest satisfied until it has been dealt with. The Prime Minister has said that if anyone can tell him any system which is more beneficial than the present one he will examine it. I am attempting in this speech to arouse the attention of the Prime Minister and his colleagues to the fact that there is something which can be done to deal with these grievances under the present system. We can never be satisfied when there is such a vast amount of wealth in the country which can flaunt itself at Ascot and other places and, on the other hand, a large number of people in want and poverty. There will always be a conflict between hon. Members opposite and ourselves until that gap has been bridged.
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ Sir ERNEST SHEPPERSON
I apologise to the House for intervening for a few minutes, but I do desire to take this, the first possible opportunity of referring to that part of the Gracious Speech which deals with the industry of agriculture. Those who represent agricultural constituencies are naturally pleased to hear the announcement that measures are to be introduced during the coming Session to deal with the difficult problem of the meat producing section of British agriculture. They are thankful to the Government for the promise, but their pleasure I am bound to say is somewhat marred by the knowledge they obtained during the last Session of the nature of the long-term policy of the Government. With that knowledge they feel that the Bill contemplated will not meet their desires. When the long-term policy was announced there was disappointment in the agricultural areas, due possibly to two causes— 68 first, that the sum made available was not sufficient to meet the costs of production, and, secondly, that the long-term policy deviated from the levy-subsidy principle, which agriculturists had been led to expect was the contemplated policy of the Government to be applied to meat as to other agricultural products.
I am voicing the views of agriculturists in this House and throughout the country when I say that we were very sad indeed to hear that the right hon. Gentleman had left the department of Agriculture and taken another office. The late Minister of Agriculture has given a great deal of time and energy to the industry, and he has helped it very considerably. British agriculture is grateful to the late Minister of Agriculture, and on behalf of my fellow agriculturists I wish the right hon. Gentleman every possible success as Secretary of State for Scotland. "The King is dead, long live the King!" We regret the departure of the late Minister of Agriculture, but equally we welcome his successor, and we wish him success in his new appointment. The late Minister of Agriculture set out to bring about agricultural prosperity. He went a long way towards that end, but he did not arrive there. We have not yet got agricultural prosperity and it is left to the successor of the late Minister of Agriculture to cross the t's and dot the i's of his predecessor's policy. I hope he will do this with a firm hand so that agricultural prosperity can be realised throughout the country. He has the opportunity in the present Session with the meat measure which is coming before the House.
I want to assure the Government that agriculturists are not satisfied with the long-term proposals of last Session, and I appeal to the Minister, in the interests of agriculture as well as in his own interests, to amend some of those proposals. British agriculture does not want the profits of motor manufacturers or of aerial engine makers, but they do desire the costs of production which they are not getting at the present time. Does the House realise that many farmers this year purchased cattle in the spring and kept them the whole of the summer and then had to sell them in the autumn at a lower price than they gave for them? I appeal to the Minister to amend the long-term policy and to maintain, with regard to meat production, the levy-subsidy principle which was a successful 69 policy in regard to wheat. Make a levy on all meat imported into this country. Let it be a flexible levy to be raised or lowered to such an extent as will keep solvent a fund from which deficiency payments can be made to the British meat producer and give him what he wants, and ought to have—the costs of production plus a very little profit. The producer would be satisfied with a little profit. If the new Minister can amend the proposals that he will bring before the House to that end, he will receive the thanks, the gratitude and the affection of the whole agricultural community of this country.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. ELLIS SMITH
The speech made by the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) reminds me of an incident which took place in 1926. During the negotiations that were taking Place, the representatives of the trade unions and the representatives of the Cabinet retired, and left in the room Lord Birkenhead on the one side and Mr. Herbert Smith on the other. Lord Birkenhead tried to draw Mr. Herbert Smith into conversation in the way in which he often did with a view to compromising those whom the other was representing. Mr. Herbert Smith asked Lord Birkenhead whether he had heard the story of the spider and the fly, and Lord Birkenhead nodded affirmatively. "Well, my noble Lord," said Mr. Herbert Smith, "you may think you are the spider, but I am not the fly."
Hon. Members on these benches take the same attitude towards the plea made by the hon. Member for Central Leeds. It would be easy for me now to make speeches similar to those which I made from 1924 to 1931, but I do not intend to do so. I would however tell the House of an experience I had during the Recess, when I travelled to many parts of the country and found that in the poorer parts, particularly in the mining areas, there is one thing which is uppermost in the minds of the people. These poor people do:lot raise the questions of unemployment, pensions, the international situation, or any of the things one would expect them to speak of; the thing which is uppermost in their minds is the betrayal by the Lord President of the Council of the principles for which his party stands. The right hon. Gentleman has been responsible for more disillusionment among ordinary men and women— 70 particularly the generations which preceded me—than any other individual in this country. I will not, however, dwell upon that, except that I would say to the hon. Member for Central Leeds that I do not complain, because I had expected that betrayal. But I do resent appeals being made to the younger generation that they should be prepared to betray the same principles. During the Recess I also attended a week's school to consider the international situation. I can recall a statement made by Keir Hardie in which he appealed to the people of this country to beware of bogs and fogs, and said that unfortunately the Government of the day often prepared a bog or a fog in order to take people's minds away from things at home and concentrate them on foreign matters.
During the short time I shall address the House, I wish to deal particularly with one question which is hardly mentioned in the Gracious Speech. It is true that the Gracious Speech says thatVigorous action for the provision of housing accommodation to replace slum dwellings and abate overcrowding will be maintained.I wish in the first place to say that vigorous action for the provision of housing accommodation to replace slums is not being carried on. The other night I heard the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health speaking on the wireless. The right hon. Gentleman has a pleasing voice, and listening to him one would have thought that the millennium had been brought about. One would have thought that the facts which I intend to place before the House were not facts. I have analysed the annual report of the Minister of Health, and that report shows that little progress is being made in the provision of houses to be let to the people who require them. The houses needed more than ever by the people of this country are houses which can be let at 10s. a week or less, and such houses are not being built. During the past six months 174,000 houses have been built, mostly for middle-class people who can afford to buy them and for the better-paid sections of the working class, such as the artisans. 145,729 houses have been built by private enterprise, but only 18,793 have been built to let at rents which working people can afford to pay. 47,073 houses of a rateable value of less than £13 a year have been 71 built, but of those 27,198 were provided by local authorities for slum clearance. They replaced houses already taken down, and made no contribution towards lessening the housing shortage.
I do not complain about houses being pulled down; my complaint is that the slums are not being pulled down quickly enough. I am appealing for a great national housing policy to be carried through by the Government. According to the report recently issued, the survey showed that 3.8 per cent. of houses are overcrowded, and Sir Raymond Unwin, who is a recognised housing expert, states that the percentage would be considerably higher if the standard set were the proper one. I would like to direct the attention of the House to another speech made by the King, only a few weeks ago. He interrupted his holiday and paid a surprise visit to a housing exhibition at Olympia. He suddenly saw something which stood out owing to the fact that it had been brought out in bold type, and on reading it his comment was, "Pretty grim."
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member must not quote anything said by His Majesty with a view to influencing the Debate in this House.
§ Mr. SMITH
I thank you for your ruling. All that I wished to do was to show that I was not exaggerating the position by quoting something that has been said by the King. The conditions with regard to housing are indescribable. I wish more hon. Members realised the conditions which exist in many of the poorer parts of the country. Take, for instance, the report of the Unemployment Assistance Board. According to the "Times" the conditions in the houses are deplorable. That newspaper, in a leading article, dealt with the districts which come under the Unemployment Assistance Board and said it was common for women to spend many hours dealing with rats, vermin, bugs and that sort of thing. This is not something which is said by hon. Members on these Benches. It is all right for hon. and right hon. Members opposite to smile at those conditions, but if they were living under them they would not be so ready to smile.
It is because I visited many of those houses during the Recess and talked with 72 the people living in such conditions that I made up my mind to take the first opportunity of doing my duty, no matter what anybody else does. As individuals we cannot do more than speak for the people we are proud to represent. I am speaking particularly about parts of Lancashire and the North Staffordshire area, but what applies to those areas applies equally to West Cumberland, the North East Coast and many other industrial areas in the North. Those conditions are not the fault of the women, for their houses are a credit to them, in view of the conditions in which they are living. They keep the houses as clean as possible. Sometimes while I was talking to the mothers, the daughters were cleaning the furniture with cream so that one could see one's face in it. That is an indication of the way in which those people would react to improved conditions.
I would like to give the House one or two examples. I have in my hand a postcard—which can be examined by any hon. Member who wishes—from a poor woman who says she is "fed up" with living and thinks about taking her life because of the conditions in which she has to live. I have a letter which I will read to the House:I should be pleased if you would look into my case. It is urgent. I have had another little girl taken away to hospital—that is two in a fortnight. I had to pay £5 for the key of this house. I have had five cases of fever in it since I came, and there are ten of us living in a two-bedroomed house. I am almost 'fed up' with it, and they take no notice of me. There is no bottom to the grate—half a door—the bedstead legs have fallen through the ceiling. So you can see what kind of house we live in.That is typical of the conditions which exist in the area of which I am speaking. One could understand such conditions if there were no material, but there is material in abundance. There are mechanised methods of producing bricks which were not dreamed of when we were younger. Fourteen per cent. of the building trade workers are unemployed. The National Government have a great opportunity. I hope they will speed up the provision of houses in order that these conditions may be remedied. We have had great inventions in our age. There is wireless; one can listen-in to all parts of the world. Television is being 73 developed. The "Queen Mary," a luxury ship, is a credit to the people who built it. Surely if we can provide those things, if we can build the "Queen Mary" within the relatively short time it was built, it is not too much to ask that this great nation should make up its mind, through the Government—and I can promise them full and wholehearted support from this side—to deal with these deplorable conditions, which are a disgrace in the year 1936.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Dr. Morris-Jones.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.