HC Deb 06 November 1936 vol 317 cc397-474


Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [3rd November]: That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty as followeth: Most Gracious Sovereign, We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—[Miss Horsbrugh.]

Question again proposed.

11.15 a.m.


I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add the words: But regret that Your Majesty's advisers fail to recognise that under the existing capitalist system the present improvement in trade and industry, largely stimulated by the world race in armaments, can only be temporary; that, whilst making tardy acknowledgment of the deterioration in the physical fitness of the nation, due mainly to long-continued unemployment, low wages, and consequent malnutrition, they are continuing to enforce a means test which intensifies this deterioration and to neglect the problems of those areas which have been most severely affected; and that they have no proposals for making the fundamental changes in the basis of society which are necessary in order to create a Socialist commonwealth in which the full resources of the nation shall be utilised for the benefit of the community as a whole. This Amendment was put down definitely as a challenge to the outworn theories upon which the policy of His Majesty's present Government is based, and to bring the Debate on the Address back to things which are fundamental and which are nearer home. Reference is made in our Amendment to two aspects of the whole problem, one that of the distressed areas and the other that of malnutrition. We are faced in this country to-day with a situation in which nobody denies our overwhelming capacity to produce, but in which somehow or other the machinery of production is not effectively at work and, in certain parts of the country, is almost at a standstill. The position of the depressed areas is really an outward and visible sign of the very serious fundamental and deep-seated disorder in the economic system. Some of the great industries upon which, in the past, the wealth of this country has largely depended are now in a condition in which wages standards would be regarded as deplorably low even by a trade board.

The Government have tried to hide the dreadful tragedy of the distressed areas under a perfectly neutral name, describing them as Special Areas. They have been called distressed areas, depressed areas and derelict areas, and those words are descriptive of the actual condition of the districts. One can understand, even from a superficial knowledge of those areas, the indignation which many of my hon. Friends and hon. Members on other sides of the House feel when they contemplate the desolate spectacle of South Wales, Tyneside and other parts of the country, where prospects of steady, remunerative work seem to become more and more remote as time goes on. The Government have done, on the whole, extraordinarily little to deal with this problem. Their first puny gift of £500,000, which was given two years ago, was spread over 24 local authorities, and the amount of relief which could come to the distressed areas from such a sum of money was obviously negligible. Later, the Government was moved to appoint an inquiry, and I think the results of the Commission of Inquiry brought home to hon. Members a, little more clearly the seriousness of the problem in those areas. Thereupon the Government made a direct contribution to the solution of the problem by providing £2,000,000 and two Commissioners, one of whom has recently resigned very largely, I imagine, in disgust.

In the Gracious Speech there are no proposals. All that is suggested is that, by the rather unfortunate method of using the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, the grant which has already been made should be continued for a further year. I think it is clear from the reports of the Commissioners—and I have no doubt that it will be doubly clear when we have the coming report of Mr. Malcolm Stewart, to which many of us are looking forward with interest—that the policy of the Government in dealing with the distressed areas has been a complete failure. The position to-day is that in these areas, scheduled by the Government as special, unemployment is two and a half times as severe as it is in Great Britain as a whole, and a very significant fact is that unemployment in those areas is not decreasing at the same rate as unemployment in the country generally. In other words, the Government have made no impression on this problem of the distressed areas. Even so respectable a paper as the "Economist," in its present number, says: When it is considered that practically the whole of the reduction in unemployment "[in the distressed areas]" can be accounted for by official and unofficial transfer, which was certainly not the object of the Special Areas (Development and Improvement) Act, it is evident that the results of the Act have been extremely meagre. The article goes on to say: But perhaps the most serious feature of the situation is the fact that during the period in question there has been a great in recovery in precisely those heavy industries upon which the Special Areas so largely depend. In spite of this, only Tyneside, Clyde-side and parts of Durham, which are benefiting from the revival of shipbuilding as well as from rearmament, show an appreciable improvement, while the economic position in most of the other scheduled districts is actually tending to deteriorate. There can be no doubt that the boom in heavy industry, upon which the Government has obviously counted for a solution, will not in fact solve the problems of the areas, even when it is having most effect, unless advantage is taken of it to put the areas on a sounder economic footing. That is the whole of our case against the Government, that they are not doing anything to put these districts permanently on a sounder economic footing. Mr. Stewart, in his report, points out that, although last year over 500 new factories were built and opened in this country, only five of them were in the depressed areas. The Government are not even lifting a finger to help these areas. Five hundred new factories were opened, and only five of them were in the distressed areas. The appeal that has been made by the Commissioners and by local authorities of all kinds of political complexion has been for the setting up of industries in those areas, and practically nothing has happened.

The only new contribution which the Government are making on the problem and they are boasting of it—is their rearmament programme; but it is perfectly clear that when the rearmament programme is completed, those districts will go back where they were, for the economic effects of a rearmament programme end with rearmament, whereas the economic effects of constructive production represent an ever-widening circle. When the rearmament programme is ended, it will be finished for good and all, and the industries will go back to their previous position. That is a very unfortunate situation, because the areas now feel that there is no hope. The men and women living under this cloud of unemployment year after year, their hopes shrinking day by day, are now becoming broken-hearted and broken-spirited. It is not merely the factories and mines that are derelict; the people are becoming derelict, and the effect on the morale of the people is bound to be serious.

That brings me to the question of malnutrition. There seems to be a curious reluctance on the part of Members and supporters of the Government to admit the existence of malnutrition. Every attempt is made to belittle any evidence which is brought forward to show that malnutrition is a fact. I do not want to go over the figures again, but it is just as well to remind the House of the facts. The British Medical Association set up a committee on nutrition and worked out in detail a diet to which they attached prices. Those prices are on the low side. We checked the figures in many parts of the country and found that the food set out in the British Medical Association's dietary could not be bought for the money suggested. In any case their estimate of the cost for an adult man, of food alone, was 5s. 10d. per week. For a family of husband, wife, and three children of the ages of 12, 10 and 6 respectively the estimate was 22s. 6d. per week.

Other inquiries have given us rather higher figures. Sir John Orr, setting an optimum standard, a desirable standard for the fullest physical health, estimates that what is necessary is an expenditure of 10s. per adult person per week on food alone, and he works out figures to show that more than a half of the people in this country have not incomes which enable them to spend that amount of money on food. He says there are 4,500,000 people in this country who cannot spend more then 4s. per week on food, and that there are 9,000,000 people who cannot spend more than 8s. per head per week on food. If that be so, malnutrition must exist. Our scientific men have worked out the kind of diet that is necessary to maintain physical efficiency and if people have not the money with which to buy that quantity of food, then those people must suffer, sooner or or later. I am not in the least impressed by the glowing reports made from time to time from the Front Bench opposite about the physical condition of the people. I think it must be plain to anybody that it is not a case of spending the money badly; it is not a case of bad cooking—it is the simple, stark fact that there is not enough money. There has been, as I have said, an enormous amount of evidence of this, and that evidence is increasing. The moral is clear. I put it again in the words of Professor Forrester who, speaking within the last two months to the International Conference of Agricultural Economists, said: A survey of the latest studies of nutrition….showed that to obtain adequate diet, a large number of people in highly developed countries needed more income even if all allowances were made for badly-directed expenditure and deliberate under-expenditure. The main cause of inadequate food supply and inadequate housing was not so much an ineffective use of incomes as the insufficiency of such incomes, however wisely spent., to provide the standards which the experts deemed essential for health and well-being. What contribution are the Government making to the solution of this problem? Not more food for school children, not more milk for school children, not an attack on the problems of maternal mortality. No, it is physical exercise. It is curious that this new-found zeal for physical efficiency should coincide with the new armament programme of the Government. It is significant that while the Secretary of State for War goes about making recruiting speeches the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Health are hinting that something must be done to improve the raw material for the Army. But open spaces, exercises, gymnasia—all the things which right hon. Gentlemen appear to have in mind—come a very long way after good food, good clothing and good housing. There will be no permanent improvement in the national physique as the result of exercising distorted and stunted bodies. The whole energy of the Government ought to be directed to the fundamental problem. Until the income of the people is raised to that level which will enable them to spend money to get that efficiency which right hon. Gentlemen suggest and desire, mere physical training will not have any serious influence on the situation.

On these two problems of the depressed areas and malnutrition we have indications of the failure of the existing system. This system under which we are living will work only if the wheels are greased with private profit. There may be, here and there, public-spirited employers who will run their mills, workshops or factories at a loss for a time, but our industrial activity is carried on in expectation of private profit. It does not matter how insistent human needs may be, unless there is a prospect of profit those needs will not be met. The cries of hungry children which ascend to the heavens will not produce one more ear of wheat in this country. Children may go about ragged and shoeless, but that will not turn one loom or set one boot machine going, unless there is a prospect of profit. The root evil is that things are produced, not primarily because they are needed by the community, but primarily because certain people think they can derive a profit out of making those things, and if it happens that there is no profit to be gained they cease making those things. As a result other people remain hungry and in need of food, of clothing, of shoes, of furniture.

That, in our view, is where the system breaks down. Because of that overpowering motive we shall always have, as we always have had, except during the time of the Great War, a standing army of idle people. The pool of unemployed people may expand or contract, but you cannot get rid of it as long as your motive in production is that of private profit. We have come to a time when it has been made clear that private enterprise, as cone ducted in the past, is incapable of facing the problems of its own creation. It sits hopeless in face of the distressed areas—no constructive suggestions of any kind, except a feeble trickle of money into these areas, not touching the fundamental causes which have brought them to where they are; malnutrition in what is still the richest country in the world, with an output per head which, properly distributed, would be adequate for everybody in this country without falling below Sir John Orr's standard, and yet we have millions of our people who fall below his standard not because of the poverty of the nation, but because of the distribution of the wealth that is produced. That cannot be right. It cannot be defended, either economically or morally, that there should be heavy aggregations of wealth in a few hands at one end of the scale and this malnutrition and semi-starvation at the other end of the scale. It is not good economically for the country, and it certainly is bad morally for every section of society, whether they enjoy the wealth or whether they suffer the poverty.

It is time, therefore, that it should be confessed that the system is not working effectually, and we ask for consideration of an alternative, an alternative which-is expressed in our Amendment. It is not a new principle. The principle of public ownership, while it has always been part of the theoretical basis of the policy of my friends on this side of the House, in practice has almost invariably been brought into being by people of the respectable political parties. In the days when the Labour party was a party of what were called in those days pure agitators—why "pure," I could never understand—in those days, when the representation of Labour in this House was rare, when our local authorities were in the hands of eminently respectable Conservatives and Liberals, it was these hardheaded, practical, business men who found that it was really good business for the progressive town to own its own waterworks rather than to farm the job out to a water company. It was the same Liberals and Tories who started our municipal transport systems, our municipal gas works and electricity stations.

That movement for public ownership in those spheres has never yet received any set-back, and in this country the area of public ownership increases year by year. Local authorities, once they try municipalisation, never adopt a policy of demunicipalisation. If a Labour council inherits municipal enterprises, it takes them to its bosom; if a Tory authority inherits them, it also takes them to its bosom and does not proceed to revert to the tendencies of the past. If it be a reasonable policy, and a practicable and successful policy, for a city or a. local authority to own its own, trams and buses, what logical reason is there against the nation owning its own railways? If it be right for a local authority to consume an enormous amount of coal in the production of gas and electricity, why should not the nation move a step forward and own the coal from which the gas and electricity are produced? If it be thought good and wise by the eminent city fathers in that great Conservative city of Birmingham to get powers for a municipal bank, is not the nation brave enough to think in terms of a national bank? There is no argument against that policy, none whatever, and we are not asking, therefore, for something that is untried and absurd.

We are asking for an extension of a method of production and control which in the past has proved to be eminently successful, and nobody in this House would revert to any different policy in those spheres of activity. We are asking that because, in our opinion, unless you have an increasing measure of public ownership of the basic industries and services, with full public control, you cannot utilise the nation's resources to the best advantage. We are seeing that in the depressed areas. Those areas are depressed because there is no central direction of energy in them, because there is no planning there. Everybody knows that the oil supplies of the world are not illimitable, that there are indeed serious questions about them in the near future. Coal is one of our most valuable assets, and yet, instead of thinking hard as to how coal can be more utilised, how it might even be used to supersede foreign-produced petrol and other liquid fuel, the coalmining districts are being allowed to dissolve in decay. What follows from that? It is not merely that the industrial capital is going, it is not merely that that is standing idle, doing nothing, it is not merely that whole districts are under a black cloud of despair; it is that that process means that you are getting at the same time an enormous wastage of social capital, which has been vested by our local authorities for generations.

That, obviously, is a misuse of our resources. If we were a nation putting the public interest first, prepared to organise our economic resources, we should not have the spectacle of industry sprawling into the countryside and the areas where there are all the advantages of industrial life slowly dissolving before our eyes—a shameful misuse of our national capital. With some vision, with a policy of public ownership, that kind of thing would not happen. It could not happen. But it goes even further than that. In a society like ours, which grinds out profit at one end and leaves you at the other end of the scale with a number of people whose physical fitness is much below what it should be, in a community that has the money to provide them with the means for remedying this, private enterprise is doing a disservice to the standard of citizenship in this country. It ought to be a crime for any employer to employ an adult at wages less than are necessary to enable him to carry out his duty as a citizen. It is that with which we are primarily concerned. Production is for the use of the people. A system of pmduction has no justification apart from the fact that it is there to serve the needs of the people. We are thinking in terms of people, and we do not believe that we can get the proper standard of life which our people deserve, nor the standard of citizenship that we have a right to expect, nor the vigour of mind and so on that are necessary under a system of this kind. Nor can it be carried out within a measurable distance of economic and social justice as long as one man's life is held in the palm of another. On that ground alone our Socialist case is justified. No man by his control over wealth should hold another man's life in his hands.

On economic grounds, on moral grounds and on broad national grounds I say that this policy of ours stands the test of criticism. We cannot do worse than is being done now under this old capitalist system which is leaving the distressed areas to die. If the system is so bad, we ought to be courageous enough to be prepared to make a change. I have suggested that hon. Members on this side of the House have, in the sphere of local government, been pioneers in the policy which we are putting to the House now. We are, therefore, asking for nothing revolutionary in that sense. We are asking for a large development of a policy which is winning more and more adherents in this country as time goes by, and which has to its credit certain successes. We have made very substantial headway. We are the youngest party in the House; we have not been in existence a generation yet, but we claim to speak to-day for 10,000,000 voters. We have made substantial headway with a policy which has not been too popular in the past, and that 10,000,000 is a great achievement. It is not a hard thing to change from Tweedledum to Tweedledee, to change from being a Conservative to being a Liberal, or vice versa, but to have succeeded within the old system of Liberals and Tories in gaining 10,000,000 adherents who express their distrust of the existing system and their faith in a new one, is an achievement of some importance which ought not to be belittled.

This Amendment, of course, will be defeated, for I assume that nothing said on these benches to-day and Monday will bring any new Members to this side of the House, but, in our view, instead of frittering away time on occasions like this in discussions of relatively minor measures, the House should face its major responsibility. The great responsibility which hon. Members opposite have to shoulder is the virtual breakdown of the capitalist system and the further responsibility of deciding what they are to do either to change it or to amend it so that it shall be tolerably human. I do not think that it can be humanised. I believe that it can only be changed, and completely changed, by substituting for the motive of private profit the motive of public service.

11.50 a. m.

The MINISTER of HEALTH (Sir Kingsley Wood)

It has been my fortune to follow the right hon. Gentleman on many occasions in this House and, as he knows, I have always closely watched his efforts with a great measure of personal sympathy and even with commiseration. I remember well that in the days when I stood at this Box helping my right hon. Friend to introduce various great Measures which have now been successfully placed on the Statute Book, like the Widows' Pensions Act and the great Local Government Act, the right hon. Gentleman's party insisted on his endeavouring to get the House to reject them. I think that few men have been given more hopeless and impossible tasks by their party, and in the Amendment, which the right hon. Gentleman has so carefully avoided so far as its general terms are concerned, they have about put the limit upon him. One can fairly say of the Amendment that the whole implications of it, and such statements as it contains, are wholly at variance with the facts, and can only be described as grotesque and absurd. I read the other day with a great deal of agreement the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison), who said: The Edinburgh Conference was by no means as good as it might have been. The party is passing through an intellectual crisis on foreign policy and armaments. After reading the Amendment and hearing the right hon. Gentleman's speech, I think that he might have added with equal truth, "and on industrial, social and health conditions of the day." I wish to deal with some of the matters that more intimately affect my own Department, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour will deal with questions relating to distressed areas on Monday. I want to deal this morning with the general indictment, to which the right hon. Gentleman did not refer, which is contained in the Amendment concerning the physical condition of the nation. The Amendment alludes to deterioration of the physical condition, not of certain sections of the community, nor of some parts of the country, but of the country as a whole. That is quite untrue. We are not a C3 nation. The reverse is true, and I think that it can be said by everyone who wants to give a fair judgment upon the conditions of the nation to-day that, viewed over any period of time which enables just comparisons to be made, our national health is improving, not merely steadily, but remarkably.

I will give two illustrations only, because I think it is hardly worth endeavouring to controvert the matter further. Two significant signposts appeared last year, the first in the latest figures furnished by the Registrar-General, which show a death rate of 11.7 per 1,000 of the population, and that the expectation of life at birth has increased by seven years during the last 20 years. The second, which I think is equally important and is certainly valued by every careful observer and student, is to be seen in the facts relating to infant mortality. The figure per 1,000 live births was 57 last year, the lowest on record, and one which it is satisfactory to compare with even so recent a date as 1929, when it was 74. Therefore, in reply to the Amendment of the Socialist Opposition that the new plans of the Government for the physical education of the nation are presented because of the deterioration in the physical condition of the people, I can say that that is by no means the reason. We want to achieve still greater results, and that is why we envisage what is stated in the Gracious Speech to be comprehensive efforts to improve the physical condition of the nation. We have done it, and are doing it to-day, in the cure and prevention of disease, but we are not forgetting the overwhelming importance of a positive policy of promoting good health. While it is true that in the first paragraph in the King's Speech which deals with health matters we refer to the necessity for further efforts in connection with the physical education of the country, we say that improvement can be achieved, and is being achieved, in a number of ways.

I should like to say a word or two, first, about that part of the Gracious Speech which deals with the necessity for further steps to secure physical fitness. I do not think anyone will deny that the recent speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer at Margate pointed to one of the most important ways of securing improvements when he urged the vital necessity, in the interests of the better health 'and happiness of the nation, of taking further national concerted action for increasing individual fitness and general physical development and education. That speech has met with an enthusiastic reception throughout the country, and has obtained a wide response, especially from the younger generation and from our voluntary organisations and men and women engaged in social and medical work. I venture to suggest that one of the best signs of the times is the growing appreciation of the value to individual citizens of right ways of living, eating and clothing themselves, 'and particularly of the increased health and fitness in body and mind to be obtained from physical exercises and education—from field games, swimming, hiking and more life in the open air.

What is really behind these proposals is this: As I have said just now, we are living much longer than our forefathers did, and we have to see that these increased years are worth living, and if they Are to be worth living we must certainly be healthy both in spirit and in body. With the new outlook which is abroad in these matters we have to-day a great opportunity, and there is a fine basis on which to build in our many splendid voluntary movements and the valuable work of many of our municipalities in this field of activity. I would like to suggest what our aim must be, and I hope that it will command general assent and not be made a matter of party division. Our aim must be to give to as many as possible who can profit by it, and particularly to the young men and women, better opportunities of obtaining those facilities for physical self-equipment which are so desirable in the interests of a healthy nation. I should also emphasise that in conjunction with that physical self-equipment we must not forget another great object, that of increasing not only self-reliance And self-help but good comradeship and care for others. That is why it is the intention of the Government not only to assist in the further promotion of physical betterment but to encourage in conjunction with it the establishment, where practicable, of more clubs for young people, and more community centres, where not only physical but amoral leadership has its place. The need is apparent and the possibilities of further advance are manifest.

I do not for a moment overlook the good work which is already done by our local authorities in the increased provision of swimming baths, and the fine work of the boys' and girls' clubs and of many great voluntary organisations, but the fact does remain that the numbers who can take advantage of these provisions cannot be regarded ar satisfactory if we are to be, as we desire to be, an Al nation. I should like hon. Members to study the very excellent report of a committee of the British Medical Association who have given a good deal of patient thought to this particular aspect of the physical condition of the nation. The conclusion which this committee reached was certainly striking. They say: After all allowances have been made, it is probably safe to say that not less than 40 per cent, of the population between the ages of 14 and 40 need, but do not participate adequately, if at all, in physical recreational training.


What is the title of the report?


I think it is a report on physical education. I will send my hon. Friend a copy. The Government, before making a full presentation of their plans in this connection, are taking a step which, I think, will be generally approved, and that is to take counsel with men and women in our voluntary organisations and in our municipalities and with medical men and social workers, who have done much good work and have considerable experience in this important field. The House will have a full opportunity of further consideration and discussion of this important matter, as it will no doubt be necessary to obtain Parliamentary approval of certain of the Government's proposals.

There are two main matters which I would like to mention to-day and which will, I hope, obtain general acceptance. The first is that, in the opinion of the Government, physical education and development should, aided by further Government assistance, be given a definite and special place in our national health provision and schemes; secondly, that this can best be provided and secured not only by more closely coordinating the work of the various Government Departments which are associated with this matter, but by basing our new plans largely, and in the main, upon utilising voluntary effort and the work of local authorities. My hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Lord Burghley) who is particularly associated with this matter, referred in a speech —I think it was the day before yesterday—to the important question of instructors and leaders. I agree with him that a great deal depends not only upon the capacity for physical instruction but upon the qualities of leadership.

One final matter which I desire to mention in this connection, and which I think must be present in the mind of everybody who has given thought to the subject, is that we need to have not only organised help but to stimulate self-help and self-equipment. The special committee of the British Medical Association to which I have just referred made a very valuable comment upon this aspect of the matter. After detailing a number of measures which they thought the nation ought to take, they said: If such measures are to be fully effective, it is necessary that the desirability and the feasibility of maintaining the body in a high state of physical efficiency should be brought home to the individual citizen, and to this end propaganda should be carefully organised. That should be a vital and powerful aid to our new plans. The public Press has already rendered, and is to-day rendering, splendid assistance. It is doing much to bring home to people the importance of what can and should be done by each one of us in regard to physical fitness.

Having said that, I would add a word in regard to what the right hon. Gentleman has said this morning. I am afraid that he has changed his views. I am a little disappointed with him. I remember reading a comment of his in which he said that improving physical fitness was a very good idea, and that what he complained about was that the Government had not brought it in long ago. I would like him and other hon. Members to feel that this is only one method of continuing our health policy, and that there has been, and will be, no slackening in the development and improvement of our public health services. If we are to have a fit nation, we must go on looking after the mothers and the children. I agree very much with the seconder of the Motion for the Address, the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Nicolson), who said that fitness is based upon maternity and child welfare. In view of the statements that might be made, when people begin to talk about armaments in this connection, I would like to say that that work is being steadily pursued. I have the figures, for the purpose of this Debate, and I am glad to say that there are already 1,500 ante-natal clinics in England and more than 100 in Wales. An hon. Gentleman who spoke in the Debate yesterday asked whether there was any stoppage or slackening in this matter; 1 am glad to say that the figures have increased by over 117 during the year. I attach particular importance to the Act which was placed on the Statute Book, with general consent, providing for a good, sound service of midwives. It will make a great difference to the mothers and to the physical condition of the children, and in July next we hope to have in this country a service which will enable any mother, whatever her circumstances, to be provided with a salaried midwife at a very particular and critical time.

I agree also with what has been said in the course of this Debate that physical fitness and good health must be based upon good housing. I am glad to report to the House that vigorous action for the provision of housing accommodation has been taken. I was surprised this morning that the right hon. Gentleman did not except it from his indictment, and that there was not some provision in the Amendment on the Paper related to housing. If you want to see a good example of what is being achieved under the capitalist system in this country and the efforts that are being made—[An HON. MEMBER: "By municipalities."] I would recall to the House a statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Stirling (Mr. T. Johnston), who I thought put it very well, when he said: I should say that our generation has made its big contribution to housing reform, and we have certainly done more in the last 15 years to provide decent homes for the people than any previous generation. It is a very satisfactory thing.

Nearly 500,000 slum dwellers have gone into better and more decent dwellings, and they are going to-day at the rate of some 6,000 every week. It is very useful for this Debate that the October figures for slum clearance have just come to hand. So far from there being any retardment, as was suggested by the Leader of the Opposition in his opening speech, the opposite is the case. I will read some of the figures to the House, and I am sure that everyone who believes in good housing will be gratified with them. In October, the number of declarations made in respect of slum clearance was 4,308; houses in submitted orders, were 4,805 and the houses in confirmed orders, 5,604, which is a record. In rehousing, the other important side of this activity, the number of houses approved in the same month was 5,828, the houses under construction were 58,409 and the houses complete were 6,804. Both the two last figures were again a record.


Would the right hon. Gentleman state the number provided by local authorities and the number provided by private enterprise?


I was for the moment dealing with slums. I will deal with the erection of new houses now. Here also there is a satisfactory figure and some testimony to the system under which we live. Hon. Gentlemen opposite do not, I hope, grudge my saying a word on its behalf. I think it is some satisfactory testimony to our present system that since the Armistice we have built 3,000,000 new houses in this country, most of them for the workers of the country, and it is equally satisfactory that we are building at the rate of about 300,000 new houses a year. These are small houses. I used to think that one of the weaknesses of our achievements—there have been some weaknesses—was in the provision that was being made for houses to let. It was quite an unusual thing not very long ago to see a board stating that a house was to let, and it was a matter of considerable difficulty and even of anxiety, especially to the poorer paid worker, that houses to let were not being erected. I am very glad to say—here is another record—that we are now building houses to let, mostly houses of the smaller type, at the rate of 100,000 a year.


What are the rents of those houses?


My answer to that question is that when I came to the Ministry of Health I found no record of rents. But there is nothing to hide in the matter, and I am obtaining a record, so far as I can, of the rents of these smaller houses up and down the country. I have been in many parts of the country and I know from experience that in many cases the rents of the houses are now coming much more within the means of the poorer paid worker; and of necessity, because under the new Housing Act provision of a financial character is now made by which rents can be pooled.


Am I to take it that the 100,000 houses per year are being built by private enterprise, or are they being built by local authorities?


I am indebted to the hon. Member for that question, which I had asked myself. I said, "Is it a fact that private enterprise is now beginning to build houses to let, as well as the local authorities? "As many hon. Members know, in the past private enterprise has largely devoted itself to erecting houses for sale, and I think hon. Members opposite will be gratified to know that private enterprise, much as they dislike it, is coming back into the business of building houses to let.




That voice, which I occasionally read of as interrupting Trade Union Congresses. Perhaps the hon. Lady will give me a hearing. I was saying what a satisfactory thing it is that private enterprise is coming back into the region of building houses to let, not houses in Mayfair but houses of a smaller size suitable for the lower paid worker. Those are the type of houses included in this figure of 100,000. I cannot give the rents, for the reason that I have mentioned, but the houses are the smaller type of houses, and hon. Members opposite will be gratified to know that half of those houses are being built by private enterprise.

I want now to deal briefly with another matter to which the right hon. Gentleman referred and which is very important. It relates to the physical condition of the nation and the question of food and health. I at once say, as anyone in my position must say, that the matter of nutrition is playing and must play an increasingly important part in our health plans and policy. The question of sound nourishment, what constitutes a well balanced diet, how we are to apply our modern knowledge on these matters, are now engaging attention both in this country and other countries of many experts. No one will dispute that many considerable problems, medical, economic, and social, are raised. We have our own expert advisory committee dealing with the matter. I suppose that it is one of the best advisory committees on nutrition that can be found in any country. On it are Sir John Orr, Professor Mellanby, Sir Frederick Lowland Hopkins, Professor Cathcart, and other eminent people of different views, but at any rate the selection of the committee was made with the idea of getting the best possible people for this work. The committee is going on steadily with its task, particularly with inquiries into diet, and the state of nutrition of the population; and a further step has just been taken. The collection of family budgets, which is part of the Ministry of Labour's investigation of the cost of living, will provide much useful information about diet.


It is not information that is wanted, but food.


That voice again. The advisory committee say that they desire a number of quantitative dietary surveys to be carried out. The cost will, of course, be borne by the Ministry. The right hon. Gentleman said that nothing had been done, but I would remind him that it was this Government and not a Socialist Government that made provision for the largest experiment of the kind ever made in any country in the world—the milk in schools scheme. It is, I am glad to say, in operation in schools containing over 90 per cent. of the elementary school population, and it is also right to say, in answer to the right lion. Gentleman, that, in addition, large quantities of liquid or dried milk are being distributed free or at cheap rates to our maternity and child welfare centres. I would like, however, to put this point, because it is one that we should consider. It is extraordinary that rather less than half the children are taking advantage of the milk scheme at the present time, and it is not a matter of poverty. As hon. Gentlemen will know who are interested in education, it is very necessary to make a determination, and an examination is now being made as to the best means of increasing the consumption of milk under the schemes that are now in operation. I agree that there is no medical divergence of view on the value of milk, and I am now awaiting the report of the Milk Reorganisation Commission. It is a considerable question, which is always present in my mind, how to extend the scope of the milk scheme.

The Leader of the Opposition states that there is widespread malnutrition in this country. "Malnutrition" is a word which is much used and much abused. I would refer hon. Gentlemen opposite to a document, which I know they will read with care and attention, issued by the International Labour Office on its work in connection with workers' nutrition and social policy. It is there pointed out that a good deal of the controversy which is going on now in reference to nutrition arises from a misconception of the meaning of the word. If it is a question of poverty, as it must be in part—[HON. MEMBERS: "Entirely "]—again hon. Gentlemen fall into the fault which the League of Nations Committee say they should not fall into. That is not a fair statement of the case. When the present system, especially as regards nutrition and matters of that kind, is attacked, I would like to reply in the terms of a statement made only a few weeks ago by a gentleman whose opinion may perhaps be more appreciated by hon. Gentlemen opposite than my own. I refer to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney, who wrote an article a little while ago, entitled "Brave New London," in which, after referring, as one would expect him to do, to the complexity of the problem and the difficulties that no doubt exist, he said this: Nevertheless, it is probably true to say that very few, if any, of the other countries in the world have evolved a social organisation for dealing with poverty which has reached the stage of completeness and effectiveness that is to be found in our country. I could understand this indictment as to under-nourishment being made in regard to certain localities, but the indictment made is a general one. I say that one of the best tests is to look at the condition of the children, and again I will refer to a document which nobody opposite would question, namely, the report of the London County Council School Medical Officer for the past year, whose administration hon. Gentlemen opposite will no doubt agree is wise, careful and sympathetic. The report contains this statement: On a careful clinical assessment of the state of the children's nutrition in the routine medical inspection in the elementary schools during 1935, 76.9 per cent. of the children fell into Class 2 (nutrition normal), a further 17.4 per cent. were classed 1 (nutrition exceedingly good), making 94.3 per cent. whose nutrition was satisfactory. The remaining 5.7 per cent., whose nutrition was adjudged unsatisfactory were mainly in Class 3, nutrition sub-normal (5.6 pet cent.), and only 152 (0.08 per cent.) children out of 189,203 examined fell into Class 4 (definite pathological malnutrition ')". The Medical Officers of the London County Council—and we have to remember that the Council's area is a vast one —say: Representative school doctors who have been interrogated with regard to the returns are of opinion that there has been no deterioration in the children's general condition of nutrition. That is not my testimony; it is the testimony of the Chief Medical Officer of the London County Council in regard to the past year. If one regards, as one should regard, poverty and unemployment as an important part of this question, it is a matter of surprise that the right hon. Gentleman has not given testimony this morning, and therefore I shall have to do so myself, to the remarkable improvement that has been made in employment and wages in this country. When hon. Gentlemen are indicting the present system, I think it is wise for me to state, in order that the matter may be considered fairly, that the number of people in employment has increased during the past year by over 600,000, and since August,]931, it has increased by over 1,500,000. It is very interesting to note that in September, 1929, the insured industrial population of Great Britain was 11,500,000, and that to-day there are 10,960,000 insured persons actually in employment. If, therefore, we had only had to deal with the population of 1929, we should to-day have little unemployment in this country. Owing, however, to the increase in the population, the number of insured persons has risen to 12,780,000, and, as a result of the steps which the Government have taken, so far as figures are concerned the number back at work represents practically the whole of the persons who were thrown out during the period of the Labour administration. [Laughter.] I am glad that I am interesting hon. Gentlemen. I should like now to say a word on the question of wages, because in the question of nutrition wages play an important part, and it is obvious that long-continued unemployment and low wages must affect to some extent the general standard of living of those who are concerned.


It is the only thing that does.


Some figures published in the "Ministry of Labour Gazette" for April, 1936, show that between 1929 and 1931, in the industries for which figures are available, a net total of over 4,000,000 people suffered a net decrease in wages amounting to over £250,000 a week. That was in 1929 and 1931—significant years. This tendency of wages to fall continued right through 1932. Since 1933 conditions have improved, and in 1935 over 2,300,000 workpeople benefited from a net increase of wages of nearly £190,000 a week. The aggregate net weekly increase in rates of wages was greater in 1935 than in any year since 1924. [Interruption.]


The hon. Member for the Brigg Division (Mr. Quibell) suggested to me that he would like to speak on Monday. When Monday comes, he may find that he has exhausted his right.


I hope that you, Sir, will be merciful to the hon. Member, because I am rather helped by these interruptions. Anyone who looks at these figures of employment and wages, even from the point of view of nutrition alone, must see the steady improvement that has been made in recent years. I hope that improvement will go on. It has a great bearing on this matter. I think few people, when they witness the progress that has been made in recent years under our present system, would be willing to exchange it for another of which it was said by the Leader of the Opposition that, whatever Socialism might do or might not do, it would certainly bring a crisis in this country. I do not think that hon. Members opposite, who are fairly happy and contented in the position in which they find themselves, need have any fear that there will be a Socialist State in this country. I rather share the views of Mr. G. D. H. Cole, who, I think, has attended various conferences of the party opposite. He said: In my opinion the Labour party, apart from wholly unpredictable contingencies, stands little or no chance of getting a clear majority at the next General Election or at the next but one.

12.39 p.m.


It is always difficult to define the attitude of the Liberal party to an Amendment of this kind. There are only two Lobbies, arid we can go through only one of them one way once. You might as well ask a vegetarian to express in one word his opinion of a seven-course dinner as to ask one of my party to express in one vote our opinion on the views, aspirations and assertions and what not that are to be found, I would have said within the four corners of this Amendment if it were not absurd to mention such a small number as four in dealing with the corners of the Amendment. May I deal with the middle of the Amendment first, with which I cordially agree except for the use of the word "deterioration." Why must the party above the Gangway always spoil their case by putting in that word "deterioration"? After all, there is an armaments boom throughout the world and, whether for that reason or for some other, the prosperity of the world is improving and this country with it.

The right hon. Gentleman is an extraordinarily energetic man and a very able administrator, and he has a very efficient office, which must contain some extraordinarily able statisticians, and he can always prove in present circumstances, by taking figures relating to the nation as a whole and not to the Special Areas, that deterioration is not going on. I do not know whether- he is wise in doing so. He might do better if he would admit that, in spite of the improvements that are going on, the condition is still very bad, and then ask hon. Members on this side what they propose to do about it. I am glad that the Government have become aware that conditions are bad, and it is interesting that this has coincided with their recruiting campaign. I hope, now that they have found it out, that they are going to do something about it.

The right hon. Gentleman's speech contained some hopeful suggestions. Perhaps he would consider the proposal made from these benches on the last occasion when we discussed nutrition, for the diversion of the milk subsidy from aiding manufacture to increasing the consumption of liquid milk. If he will do something on those lines we shall be glad to co-operate with him, but if we are to get physical jerks on empty stomachs, we must offer unswerving opposition. The party above the Gangway are quite right to draw attention to the means test. The Home Secretary, in his very able speech on the Means Test Debate, did not deal with one argument which seems to me to be overwhelming, that unemployment is a national calamity and ought to be a national burden, and ought not to be shouldered on to the backs of sons who happen to have unemployed fathers living with them. I have never heard an answer to that argument. The distressed areas are quite rightly included in the Amendment. I have never heard the reason for refusing to deal with the rating grievance of the distressed areas.

But there is a bigger issue—the export trade, which is the prime cause of the distress of the depressed areas, and that has collapsed because of the collapse in world trade. The condition is very different to-day from 1931. I believe that foreign countries are willing and anxious to buy our produce, but cannot do so because they cannot obtain the purchasing power. We lecture them on the removal of foreign restrictions] but I believe, if we would give them, an opportunity, they would be ready to remove those restrictions and purchase the produce of our distressed areas. I wonder how much longer the derelict areas are to suffer in the interests of the manufacturers of booming areas, such as Birmingham. I wonder how much longer our interests are to be sacrificed in order that, under Import Duties Order No. 24, the manufacturers of hot-water bottles may get an extra 4s. 6d. a dozen for them. I hope the Foreign Secretary will be able to overcome the opposition of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the things that are needed in order to get world trade moving again.

We are told that we may discuss now. the question of the Special Areas Act, and we are also told that we are to have an all-night sitting on it. It is not a question of legislation at all. It is a question of administration and of the spirit of the Government. I should like to draw attention to the Liberal Development and Road Improvements Act, 1909, under which the Treasury may make advances to a public authority or association not trading for private profit upon such terms as they may think fit for aiding agriculture, forestry, the construction of harbours, The development of fisheries and any other purpose calculated to promote economic development. If that is still effective, do we need further legislation and cannot the Government deal with the distressed areas under the powers they already have?

That brings me to the first part of the Amendment, in which we are told that under the present system the improvement in trade can only be temporary. With the words "can only be temporary" we cordially disagree. We admit that we have trades which are stimulated by the world race in armaments, and that if that race is concluded we shall have to start national development for life instead of national development for death. But we believe further that, if we were to get world trade moving again, bring into being the site values created by national development, bring about real marketing schemes, and not merely price fixing schemes in agriculture, and control the powers of monopolies and implement the reports which have all told us that all the major industries are in the hands of too many concerns, each one too small to tackle this job property—if we did that with- out too much regard to the squeals of vested interests, we see no reason why the improvement which is now going on should not become vastly accelerated and become permanent.

The party above the Gangway seem to have prophetic faith in the probability, or, should I say, inevitability of conditions under this system becoming so much worse that at last, in desperation, the people in this country will vote for their party. Apart from war, why should that happen? Taking the thing, not year by year, but 10 years by 10 years or 20 years by 20 years, this system has pro- vided the workers of this country with improved conditions of life, improved wages and shorter hours. Why should that operate to force us to be rivals merely for the convenience of hon. Members above the Gangway? They are making a great mistake in relying upon their majority at some future election on the possibility of affairs getting steadily worse.

I come to the last part of the Amendment. I think that I understand why the draftsman of the party above the Gangway had to insert the last part of the Amendment. I do not flatter myself by assuming that that is put in in order to make it difficult for my party to know which way to vote, but it is put in to encourage the rank and file of the party, and to turn this House into an academic debating society so as to disguise the fact that hon. Members above the Gangway are not agreed upon any immediately practical step which ought to be taken now for the improvement of the condition of this country. Who are His Majesty's advisers? They are really the Conservative party. How did they get into this House? Were they elected because they promised steady and collective resistance to all acts of aggression? They were not elected for that purpose, because there was not a political candidate up and down the country who did not promise steady and persistent opposition to acts of aggression. Our candidates meant business, and the candidates of that party did not know whether they did or did not mean business. You cannot be expected to understand subtle distinctions of that kind. You talk of "honest Baldwin," and it is said that the Conservative party won millions of votes because of honest Baldwin. But they were not won by the Prime Minister of that party. Those votes were handed to that party upon a silver tray by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bristol, East (Sir S. Cripps). Ask any ten Conservative voters why they voted Conservative, and nine of them will say that they voted Conservative to keep out the Socialists. Is it not really rather fantastic to put down an Amendment regretting that Socialism has not been brought in by the party elected for the one purpose of keeping it out?

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) suggested that there was something rather wan about the Labour party. I ask that party to consider the position for a moment. May I go back to 1906? In those years old age, ill health or unemployment meant the starvation of the workers. By 1910 or 1911 our party had not abolished these things, but it had taken the real agony out of all three of them. I wonder whether he really remembers to-day what that means in terms of ordinary working-class existence. In addition to that, we safeguarded trade union funds, curbed the powers of the House of Lords, passed the Road Development Act—to give an example of smaller things—and came within an ace of solving the Irish problem. And the party above the Gangway come here and say that we are not making progress fast enough; we must go faster than this. When they come along and advocate that all the means of production, distribution and exchange should be taken out of the hands of the present owners and put into the hands of representatives of the workers, and when they went to the people offering them a living wage of goodness knows what, unemployment benefits of I do not know how much, pensions at 50, education up to 20, and maternity and health, and widows' and spinsters' benefits and all the rest of it, at a cost far higher than that which they know the State can afford, is it really so very surprising that they won 200 or 250 solid working-class seats, and that they have frightened off thousands of voters, whom we might have held for the cause of reasonably rapid progress, into the party opposite, and put that party into office for 15 out of the last 18 years? Is it really surprising that to-day, since the Edinburgh Conference, there is black despair among the local chairmen, treasurers, and secretaries of the Labour party throughout the land, which will not be removed until the Labour party come down from these academic discussions on nationalisation and will co-operate with us upon a much harder task—not the task of bringing in the Millennium—of finding out what are the practical steps which can be immediately taken for the improvement of the condition of our people.

As I have spoken of practical suggestions, and as speeches are not made from these benches which do not contain practical suggestions, I am going to put a suggestion before the Government in connection with the roads nationalisation Bill, which is to come before us, and which it is not inappropriate to raise on this part of the Amendment. We are going to make a large number of new roads, and for the first time they are to be made by the Ministry of Transport. When you make a new road, and in particular a by-pass road, round a town two things can be done. You can allow private individuals to develop the land, or you can apply the Ribbon Development Act, which prevents any development at all. It is a pity that the area along the by-pass road should not be developed in any way. There is the question you may have to face some day of private individuals asking for compensation. Why should not the land along the by-pass roads be developed with a reasonably small number of access roads? The back land can be developed without interference with the transport problem, which the road was designed to solve. This particularly applies to by-passes, and you will need many of them. I again want to draw the attention of the House to this admirable Act which was passed by the Liberal Government in 1909, in which it says, Where the Treasury have approved a proposal by the Road Board"— which is now the Ministry of Transport— to construct a new road … the Board may acquire land … on either side of the proposed road within two hundred and twenty yards from the middle of the proposed road. And later it says: The Road Board shall have full power, with the approval of the Treasury, to sell, lease, and manage any land acquired by them under this Part of this Act. The reason why this has not been put into operation before is that since the passing of the Act, the Road Board, or the Ministry of Transport, have never built a road. The roads have all been built by local authorities with a grant. Now we are to have roads built for the first time by the Ministry of Transport, and why should not this part of this Act, which has been on the Statute Book for the last 27 years, be applied? If you take the 250 yards on either side of the road, very often at an agricultural value of perhaps £100 an acre, and you build your by-pass, you can sell or lease a site valued at 400 an acre, and you will earn for the State £1,000 for every 45 yards of by-pass. I beg the Government to give attention to this matter and see whether they cannot do as I suggest. If they cannot, those of us on these benches, and I believe hon. Members above the Gangway, will want to know a really good reason why not.

12.56 p.m.


The hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Acland) has been very concerned about the difficulties of the party which sits on these benches. He was rather cross with the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) for having claimed that the progress of our party was a remarkable achievement. In the political history of the last 25 years there has been only one thing more remarkable, and that is the disintegration of the Liberal party. The hon. Member said that our party has frightened people over on to the other side.


Hear, hear!


From all that I have heard from the hon. Member apart froth his last suggestion, he might as well cross to the other side. If the party below the Gangway does not stand for an alternative fundamental policy different from that of the Government, there is no need for their being in Opposition. The purpose of being in Opposition is being in fundamental opposition to the Government of the day, and not to be in opposition on merely trivial matters. Our party has had a temporary setback, but that is not the case of the party below the Gangway. Their setback is permanent.

We are always glad to hear the Minister of Health. He has a very soothing voice. He would make an excellent announcer. He always reminds me of the announcers on the wireless. He has told us the history of the last few years and has claimed some achievement for the Government. He knows perfectly well that all that he has done is to bring the nice little bits from the cupboard, while the skeleton remains in the cupboard. Hon. Members opposite and the Government try to hide that skeleton, but we represent the skeleton, and while we are in this House we shall not allow anyone to forget that there is a skeleton. The Government are very complacent about the problem of unemployment. They are touching a very dangerous point in regard to the absorption of labour by their rearmament policy, and I would warn them that some day soon rearmament must stop. Let us hope that it stops before it bursts, not only for the sake of this nation but for the sake of the world. When it does stop, or when the pace slackens, or when the orders begin to drop off and then to cease, what will happen to the men who are now finding jobs because of rearmament?

What will happen to the men who have been attracted to the places where armaments are being manufactured? I live in a village called Pembrey, where the Government, at the end of 1914, established a very large high explosives factory. That factory grew and developed until, when it was at full pressure, it employed nearly 9,000 persons. The factory attracted people to the place. I do not know whether it is true, but I understand that the Minister of Health at that time encouraged a garden city society in South Wales to build 210 houses at Pembrey, in one of which I live. We were told that when the War was over the factory would be kept going, not at full pressure, but some of it would be maintained. As a consequence, families were attracted there. The company were encouraged to build 210 houses and the community grew, but at the end of the War, almost overnight, the whole factory was stopped, and that place is now the most depressed spot in South Wales, with 80 per cent. of its population unemployed. Of the 210 houses, 65 are vacant. The Government may be creating many Pembreys by their armaments policy, and I warn them of the consequences.

We have listened to the Minister of Health, and I want the right hon. Gentleman to listen to one who is an officer in Glamorgan under the public assistance committee. He has made a report, and I hope it will be possible for the Government to permit the Glamorgan County Council out of the rates to publish that report and to supply a copy to every Member of Parliament. It is the triennial report of the public assistance officer for the county of Glamorgan and gives a terrible picture of a whole county in decline. It is a picture of the last three years of a county from which people have been flocking. It shows the brave attempt by the Labour people who are in administration to face the situation. I believe the Minister of Health is thankful that there is a Labour administration in Glamorgan. He would be rather frightened to see a Conservative administration there at the present time. The report gives a picture of the brave attempt made by the county council and by this officer and the public assistance committee to deal with the problem, the skeleton in the cupboard which the Government are so anxious to hide. I should like to see every Member of the House possessing a copy of the report. It says: Nothing in this report must be allowed to obscure the central fact that public assistance is necessitated by the existence of poverty—poverty concretely expressed in the living conditions of our people. The report will be of no value unless the reader perceives behind the figures of costs and cases, persons, human beings, men, women and children, whose material and physical wellbeing is measured in the amount of food, clothing and shelter obtainable by the relief afforded. That is one phase of the situation that the House always misses. We talk about the success of the system. We talk of 1,500,000 unemployed. In the War we used to see newspaper placards stating that there had been heavy casualties, that perhaps 10,000 had been killed, but it did not come home to us so much as when we heard that the boy next door had been killed. We speak of 1,500,000 unemployed in much the same way, but it comes home to us when we see one of the homes of the unemployed. I will quote one case so that the House may realise the human tragedy behind the figures of 1,500,000 unemployed. It is a case taken from a South Wales newspaper: When Clifford and Martha Baker, of Penygraig, were summoned at Ystrad for neglecting their two boys, aged five and three it was pleaded on their behalf that this was a tragedy of unemployment. Baker had been unemployed for 13 years. An inspector of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children said that there were holes in the bedroom and that rats disturbed them. Although they were living in extreme poverty, the children were well nourished and appeared to be fairly well clothed. He praised the mother for her courage. That is one case which lights up the whole problem of the 1,500,000 unemployed about which the Government are so complacent. Let me give one other quotation from a report of the South Wales and Monmouthshire Council of Social Services, a council with which very many ladies and gentlemen associated with hon. Members opposite are connected. They say in their report: In 1935 there were 212,000, or 34 per cent., of the insurable population of South Wales unemployed. There were 27,000 workless over 45 years of age whose prospects of employment seem remote. That is to say, they are too old at 45, and are condemned to a life of perpetual unemployment: Every third person in South Wales is either unemployed or is dependent on the earnings of the home whose breadwinner is out of work. Savings are exhausted, clothes and furniture, replacement of which is impossible, become threadbare. Each succeeding year of economic depression is another stage in our decay. That is the picture. What are the Government going to do? We shall not cease from drawing attention to this problem; we shall use every opportunity in this House of bringing to the notice of the Government this problem which they are not attempting to solve.

I want to say something about the most important industry in South Wales, the industry upon which South Wales has been built, and then to say a word about the references in the Gracious Speech to that industry. South Wales has been built up on the coal mining industry. From 1875 to 1930 it grew at the rate of 1,000,000 tons a year, and attracted each year 4,000 more employés until it became one of the biggest assets of this industrial nation. Since then the industry has been declining year after year, and we have looked through the Gracious Speech to see whether there is any indication that the Government propose to do anything tangible for the industry. I am not going to talk about a millenium, but about a problem which must be solved and to ask what solution the Government have for the resurrection the salvage of this industry. There are references in the Gracious Speech to two measures which are to be brought forward to deal with this industry which is largely responsible for the problem of unemployment, and those two Measures are the unification of royalties and a measure to facilitate compulsory amalgamation. Why is the word "unification" used? Why all this reluctance to use the word "nationalisation"? The National Government are going further than the Liberal party.


The Liberal party were the first, in 1922, in the book "Coal and Power," to advocate the nationalisation of coal royalties. It has been in our programme for 30 years.


That, perhaps, explains the tragedy of the eclipse of the Liberal party. But what does "unification of royalties" mean? Are the royalties to be purchased, and if they are, what is the price to be paid? What is the intention in making the royalties the property of the nation? Is it to relieve the burden on the industry or to equalise the burden? The terms upon which coal royalties are purchased is a very important matter, because we may find that what is called the nationalisation or the unification of royalties may not be a relief to the industry but an intolerable burden. It may mean converting it from a royalty burden into the payment of interest to the financial interests. We are entitled to ask what it means. When the Measure is eventually submitted to this House we shall be told that the price has been settled outside without Parliament having a word to say about it. From what I gather I understand that negotiations are now proceeding, that the Government have offered £100,000,000 to the royalty owners who are holding out for £150,000,000; and that there is the possibility of a compromise at £125,000,000.

We want to know who is conducting these negotiations, with whom are they being conducted, and on what basis is the price to be fixed. But why are the Government introducing a measure for the unification of royalties? It is not because they have been converted to nationalisation or Socialism; they are as far away from that as the Liberal party. If we are to understand why they are introducing this Measure, we have to look at the next proposal, and I suggest that the real reason for bringing it forward is because the unification of royalties is essential to amalgamation. In the process of amalgamation the Government are finding that it is impossible to do what they want. Their sole purpose is to close pits and restrict production. Almost every piece of legislation dealing with industry during the last four years has had for its purpose the restriction of production, the keeping down of production, and for the Bill which is to be brought forward for the amalgamation of pits the unification of royalties is essential. There are certain pits which cannot be closed because the terms of the lease are that the coal must be got from that particular pit or nowhere at all. Consequently the nationalisation of royalties must take place. If these royalties are united in their ownership, presumably the old leases will be surrendered, and there will be nothing to prevent rationalisation of the industry for the sake of the debenture holders and the financiers of the City of London.

What do the Government consider will happen when they close a pit? Do they realise what they are doing when they close a pit? It is not merely preventing 500 tons or 1,000 tons of coal being produced. When you close a pit eight times out of ten you not only close a pit but you close a village, a whole community which has grown up around the pit, and which came into existence only because the pit was sunk. Men and women have come there, and invested their lives in the place. Very often they have built their own houses. The councils have built up social services, and a whole community, with all that a community means, has grown up. Then, at the bidding of some set of financiers in the City of London, the pit has been closed and the community has been submerged in order to maintain the system of preserving the profits of debenture holders.

That is the only hope which the Government hold out for the mining industry. They will not put more miners to work, but will put hundreds of thousands of them on the dole. The Government's only contribution towards the tremendous problems of the mining industry is to amalgamate collieries, to close pits, to make more people workless and to drive them to the munitions factories. The problems of the mining industry may be summed up briefly under three heads. In the first place, the export trade has been ruined. It was ruined first of all by the War and then by the Versailles Treaty. My hon. Friend below the Gangway cannot disclaim part of the responsibility for the Versailles Treaty. The War and the Treaty of Versailles are more responsible than anything else for the present plight of South Wales.


May I point out that the only representative of my family in the House at the time opposed the Treaty of Versailles?


I know that the Liberal party even at that time was a. matter of families. The head of the party, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), was Prime Minister at the time of the Treaty of Versailles. Since that time the handling of almost every international event has been detrimental to the coal industry of this country. The rapid decline in the export trade of this country since 1931 is a repercussion of the tariff policy which has been followed. After all, one cannot shut out foreign goods and hope that the foreigners will take it calmly. They will retaliate by placing all sorts of restrictions, quotas and subsidies against our export trade. The export coal trade of South Wales has to compete against German coal, which is subsidised out of national funds of various kinds by as much as 4s. 6d. a ton. South Wales coal is subsidised only by the poverty, the low wages, and the degradation of the miners. What have the Government done to help South Wales in this respect? They have done nothing.

The second reason for the decline has been the displacement of coal by other fuels. What are the Government doing to solve that problem? That question was asked by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield in moving the Amendment. What are the Government doing to try to develop the tremendously wealthy resources with which this country has been provided? We have the richest coal supplies in the world. In South Wales we have almost every kind of coal that has been discovered in the bowels of the earth. We have the finest anthracite, the finest bituminous coal and the finest steam coal. It is a crime that the Government should have allowed new discoveries in the use of coal to become the monopoly of one firm and to be used for the profit of one firm outside the mining industry. The Government ought to have made these new discoveries the property of the nation, to be utilised for the benefit of the nation. There is a great deal of secrecy about what is being done. We are told that we cannot have a report yet. We have been told that there is to be established in South Wales an oil-from-coal plant, but the Government and the Mines Department are doing nothing in that respect. Recently I was in Germany and in Czechoslovakia, near the German border, and I was told, with some degree of authority, that in Germany they are now making petrol from lignite. But this country still has one experimental plant about which we are told nothing.

Another reason for the decline—a reason to which reference was made by the hon. Member for West Swansea (Mr. Lewis Jones) a day or two ago—is the tremendous economy in the use of fuel in this country. He instanced the case of a steel works in Cardiff where they saved 500,000 tons of coal a year. That represents a year's employment for 2,000 men. All the Government have to offer for the solution of these problems is the unification of royalties, the amalgamation of collieries, the closing of more pits and the making derelict of more villages. They will cripple the life of more valleys and drive more men from the distressed areas, thus adding to every single problem. For those reasons we are entitled to support the Amendment. If any industry is a testimony to the abject failure of capitalism, it is the mining industry. It is because we represent that industry, the people who work in it and the people who are denied a chance to work in it, that we shall vote for the Amendment.

1.22 p.m.


I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) in his discussion of the coal industry, but however much one may agree or disagree with him, everyone in the House must sympathise with and appreciate the sincerity and feeling with which he spoke on the conditions in the distressed areas. I do not believe any hon. Member on any side of the House will ever quarrel with Members coming from the distressed areas and representing them, who feel it to be their duty to put their dreadful plight regularly, frequently, and forcibly before the House. I propose to say a few words on the subject of the distressed areas, although I do not represent one or live in one. But this is a national problem which affects all of us; it is not the monopoly of the inhabitants or representatives of the industrial areas, nor, as they sometimes seem to think, of the party opposite.

I agree with one thing which was said by the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Acland). Whenever there is a discussion of these subjects, I am struck, as I think everybody is, with the paucity of the practical suggestions that are put forward. The hon. Lady the Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson) shakes her head, but it is true. Take, for instance, the Amendment moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood). It contains no practical suggestion which could be put into effect at the present time. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that we believe—and have stated as a matter of deep principle—that the things he advocates, the vague Socialism he put before us, would do more harm than good. Again and again we hear condemnation of the Government's inaction and abuse of the Government, but seldom do we hear definite, constructive suggestion. I grant to the hon. Lady the Member for Jarrow that she has worked for a specific scheme in her own area. I offer no opinion on the merits of the proposal to establish steel works at Jarrow. I do not know enough about the subject to do so, and I am willing to believe that she is right and that those who oppose the scheme are wrong. But if it is true, and it seems to be regarded as true, that such a works would hinder rather than help the steel trade—if that has been decided, then to continue hammering away at the project is of very little real use.


Will the hon. Gentleman forgive me for interrupting him before he talks any more nonsense? Time and time again different schemes have been put before the Board of Trade, but what are you to do with a President of the Board of Trade who is just a block of ice and who will not do anything? Then you come along here and say that we do not make any practical suggestions when every suggestion that we make is turned down, and you do not even bother to understand the situation.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)

I would remind the hon. Lady that "you" means the Chair.


I apologise.


To that charge which the hon. Lady has made against the Chair my reply is this. I am not here to defend the Board of Trade. I am rising to put forward certain concrete suggestions, and I still contend that in the debates on this subject in the House, and the letters and articles in the papers, you will find much condemnation of the Government and attacks on the Government for doing nothing, but hardly any concrete suggestion. Having said that, I propose to direct the remainder of my remarks to certain suggestions of my own which may be good or may be bad, but are, I think, worth consideration, and if it is any consolation to the hon. Lady to know it, a number of them come from a speech which she delivered in my constituency, and for which I thank her.

I think it is worth giving consideration to the reasons why the problem of the distressed areas qua distressed areas has become so much more acute in the last year or two. When the present Government took office the distressed areas were merely an aggravated symptom of what was going on all over the country. There was widespread unemployment and lack of trade. It was worse in the distressed areas than anywhere else, but they were not, as they are now, isolated blocks. Thanks largely, as I believe, to the beneficent actions of this Government those conditions over the rest of the country are gradually disappearing. Trade has been returning, prosperity has to a large extent been restored and unemployment in the other areas has very largely disappeared. It was reasonable to hope that the Government's measures and the world measures which were taken, and which had that effect on the trade of the country as a whole, would, in time, have the same effect on the distressed areas. Whether that was a reasonable hope or not, it has not been realised. Returning trade has passed by the distressed areas. The Commissioners have put forward certain schemes for bringing trade back to those areas, and I wish to say that the suggestions which I propose to make are complementary to, and not in substitution of, those schemes.

There is one feature in connection with the return of trade which has been referred to several times already and will doubtless be referred to several times again in the course of the present Session. That is the growing up of new industries in areas, where, I submit, they are undesirable and often do more harm than good. I think it will be generally agreed that one of the main problems is to get these new industries into the distressed areas rather than into rural areas. I do not wish to weary the House by recounting all the harm they do in the areas to which they are now going. I would only remind hon. Members, if they need reminding, of the fact that, apart from the local disorganisation which ensues and the fact that the industries lose a lot of their employment value because they take men who have already got jobs instead of men who are out of work; apart from the disturbance caused by the policy of transference, which has an ill effect both on the unfortunate people who are taken from their homes and brought to these new areas and on the areas to which they are brought—apart from all this the worst feature is that the country is laying up for itself, if it allows this to go on, serious trouble, for which future generations, if we ever have another depression, will curse us.

However unwieldy and tiresome the industrial areas may be at present they are to a certain extent collected in one part of the country, and if you are to allow new industries and trades to spread all over the rural and suburban areas, the loss of amenities will be deplorable and irremediable, and the future organisation of industry will be a task to appal anyone. I have taken some trouble to find out why these new industries select rural and suburban areas instead of going into the distressed areas, and it seems to me that there are three, or perhaps four, main reasons. These new industries are not of the old heavy type. They are new light industries. The industries which are coming to the county in which I live, for instance, are toy factories, box factories, hat factories and the like. These give employment and although they are not, as I say, like the old heavy industries, they would be none the less of value if you could have them established in the distressed areas.

It seems to me that they avoid the distressed areas for these reasons—first, because of the high rates in the distressed areas. That is very largely a public assistance question, and I shall have something more to say about it in a moment. Then there is another reason which I think is largely illusory, but is nevertheless very prevalent. It is what I might call—and I assure hon. Members opposite that I mean no offence by the expression—the bad reputation of the industrial areas. These industries feel that a great deal of trouble has been caused in the old days by conflicts between employers and employed and the unsympathetic attitude of local authorities. I believe that those things largely belong to the past, but whether that feeling to which I refer is justified or not it exists.


The hon. Gentleman does not say anything about the unsympathetic attitude of the employers in the steel trade, which is quite deplorable.


The hon. Lady is always in such a hurry to shove a red herring into the Debate. I am not in this case endeavouring to attribute blame, I am not saying whether the thing is right or wrong, I am merely trying to tell the House what I believe the people who are starting these new industries are thinking. It does not matter in the least whether their thoughts are right or wrong, but you have to understand their mentalities if you are to get them to change their mind. The third thing which keeps them away from the distressed areas is the question of transport. It is obvious that these light industries' principal markets are in London, the Midlands, and parts of the country to which the transport facilities from the distressed areas are not on the whole good, but that is, I think, a serious difficulty, which should be dealt with.

The fourth reason why they do not go to the distressed areas is one as to which I am not at all sure that it really exists to any great extent, but it is advanced very strongly and freely by hon. Members opposite—the hon. Lady herself is always using it—and that is that they want the opportunity of exploiting cheap labour. Quite frankly, I do not know that I think she is right in believing that to be so, but if she is right, I entirely agree with her that that is an object which should have no mercy and no sympathy from anyone, and I feel as strongly as she does that that is the sort of thing which should not be allowed to interfere with the return of the distressed areas to industry.

I now come to the main point, and the suggestions which I should like to put forward for the Government's consideration are, first of all, the nationalisation of public assistance under national administration. I do not believe that you can have or should have money that is purely taxpayers' money administered by locally elected authorities. You should have all the local advice and assistance you require, but a national service should be nationally administered, and I ask the Government very seriously to consider this suggestion. It would be an enormous born to the distressed areas. I am informed, I have no doubt accurately, that the rates to-day in Merthyr Tydvil are 27s. 6d. in the pound, of which 15s. is the public assistance rate. Public assistance nowadays is no longer a thing merely for a local district to deal with, and I speak with feeling as a Member of my own guardians' committee. You are always having people from other areas coming in and going out. The old idea that localities should look after their own poor has gone.

It is now a national problem, and it is admitted to be so in the Unemployment Insurance Act. You have taken the able-bodied unemployed out of local administration and put them on a national basis, and I urge the Government seriously to consider whether they will not complete the carrying out of the full principle and take this public assistance off the unfortunate ratepayers' backs and put it, where it belongs, on the nation's back. That is my first suggestion.

My second suggestion is that a national, regional, or town planning organisation should be set up with wide powers to refuse factories permission to come into undesirable areas and with powers to arrange for suitable sites for them in the distressed areas. Some time ago this House passed a Town and Country Planning Act. It was a rotten Act. It was oppressive, futile, and extravagant, and it was ineffective, as most people who knew anything at all about it knew it must be, because it put the power and duty of planning into the hands of the wrong people. How can you expect a rural district council to refuse permission to a factory to be set up in its area when the coming of that factory would raise the area's rateable value by 33⅓ percent.? It is not reasonable. I said, when that Act was passing through this House, that you would never get your planning worked in this country unless you had a national organisation. Town and country planning may or may not be a good thing, but if it is—and I think industrial town planning has now become a necessity—I maintain that it must be done on a national basis. I suggest to the Government that such an idea, revolutionary as it may sound to some people, is nevertheless a good one and would be of value.

Thirdly, dealing with the transport problem, I believe that arrangements could quite easily be made by the Government with transport companies, and with a Government subsidy if necessary, to secure transport arrangements for goods made in distressed areas sufficient to compensate them for the extra trouble involved in going down into those distressed areas. I do not think this will be very popular in those parts of Buckinghamshire where new factories are coming, but I do not mind that, because I think it is sound. I think that if you are going to take from the rural areas the chance of going into industry and earning industrial' wages, the Government should so push on with their agricultural schemes as to make it possible for agricultural wages to be good enough to be equivalent in real wages to what you are taking away from them by keeping those industries out of their areas. I shall have more to say about that later in the Session.

I may be told that all this would cost a lot of money, and it may be asked what I, as an economist, and opponent of expenditure, a reactionary, and all those things, am doing, advocating schemes of this nature. My reply is that I am and always have been an opponent of Government extravagance. I believe, rightly or wrongly, that a great deal of money that is being spent now might just as well be thrown into the sea; in fact, it would probably be better so, because it would give employment to divers. But here we have a problem which can only be solved by Government action and by applying the monetary lever. We are already pouring millions of money into these areas in the way of palliatives and relief, which do not touch the problem at all, and I should be willing to see twice or thrice that amount of money spent with the possibility of effecting permanent help.

One word more. This problem is urgent, not only from the point of view of the distressed areas, because every day, literally every day, in these areas around London and Birmingham new factories are springing up, and if you are to do anything along the lines that I have suggested—and I believe them to be sound—you must do it quickly. I believe that if the Government would take their courage in both hands and act swiftly along the lines which I have endeavoured to put forward, the country would reap from their action a benefit even greater than the benefits which they have already conferred upon it, and that is saying a very great deal.

1.45 p.m.


The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), who moved the Opposition Amendment to the Address, is to be congratulated upon having secured at least one convert from the Government benches, and we shall look with considerable interest to the undoubted progress towards a full-grown Socialism of the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont), and possibly also of some of his colleagues.

I was privileged to hear the Gracious Speech in another place and I considered it an unforgettable pageant. It seemed as though Father Time had arrested his steps and taken us back to the Middle Ages, to the days of romance and chivalry, for there was an incomparable display of beauty, charm, colour and wealth perhaps never to be staged elsewhere upon the planet. The most careless observer could not fail to note that we had there displayed for our delectation and advantage some of the best products of nature, and that where opportunities of power and wealth, common to the upper strata of society, had full play, nature produced of her best. The deduction which we Socialists made from that historic ceremony was that the labours of this House ought to be directed primarily with the express object of giving equal facilities to all other sections of the community for the elevation of the whole and not part of the people.

We have been described as His Majesty's faithful Commons. It is a correct appellation, for the fidelity of all sections of the House is, to-day at all events, unquestioned. I am entitled from my experience in the other place to wonder whether there could not be some improvement in ceremonies of that sort in the status of the Commons. I remember that in 1923 the hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones), returning from a visit to the other place, made a protest to Mr. Speaker that a discourtesy had been shown to the Commons inasmuch as, beyond the Royal Commission, there was no one there to receive us. On an occasion such as that of last Tuesday a complaint might reasonably be made from certain Members who were like myself so placed that we scarcely had standing room; certainly we had not seeing, room. After all, in the ceremonial in the other House, which has been sanctified by centuries of use, we are in a small measure participants. Therefore, I would suggest that such provision ought to be made in future for Members of this House that they will not be placed is so inconvenient a. position as to be incapable of witnessing what transpires there. As Mr. Speaker is the custodian of our rights and privileges, perhaps he may extend that custodianship to our comforts also, so that on future great ceremonial occasions adequate provision can he made for the faithful Commons.

May I turn to the crowning defect in the Gracious Speech, which is the almost total want of reference to the distressed areas? We are advised that the Act of 1934 is to be renewed by the House, but in spite of the continuous appeals of almost every section of the community, the Press, the Bar, the pulpit and this House, the Government continue to remain adamant against giving specific attention to this great problem. The result is that we still have in this era of unexampled prosperity 1,500,000 unemployed. I notice from the Press this morning Bishop Carey protests against the neglect of the black areas, and says that if such a thing as revolution occurred, he would declare, "God bless the revolution, for it would be the most righteous thing that ever happened." Mr. Malcolm Stewart, the Commissioner for the distressed areas—himself, I presume, a sad-hearted man whose notable labours on behalf of the distressed areas were so unfruitful—met the Jarrow marchers on their return home and congratulated them upon the efforts which they were making to rouse public opinion. He declared: I admire you and, quite frankly, you have demonstrated something to the country at large, namely, that courage with which you have borne the sufferings of unemployment for many long years. From his intimate knowledge of what is happening, he gave a final message: I am not making any promises, but do not lose heart—I have hope for Jarrow. That may be his hope, but may we have the assurance of any responsible member of the Government that they are affected by declarations of spokesmen like Mr. Stewart The "Times" is well worth quoting to the Government Benches. I observe that a leader of 27th October dealt with this question of the distressed areas in caustic language, and points out that because there is activity in many parts of the country there was grave risk of the distressed areas falling out of notice. On that account, the march of the Jarrow unemployed may be a wholesome if poignant reminder of the responsibility of the flourishing communities to those that have fallen into such an evil case. The Jarrow march is indeed a symbol of the feeling of neglect and unmerited poverty and dependence which pervades the distressed areas. It goes on to urge the establishment of new industries in these areas and of the transference to them of works which have been replaced in other districts by armament factories. A strong plea is put up by this journal, which concludes: It is not to be admitted that the machinery and resources of the modern State are incapable of removing the reproach of the distressed areas. Concerted action by the Government could not fail. That declaration from the strongest Government supporter of the public Press might go some way towards their conversion, but I have no hope of this conversion coming from such sources as I have quoted. In our daily Prayers here we call upon high Heaven to send down wisdom to assist us in our deliberations, and in my judgment it is left to that source to convert this Government to a sense of the realities of this problem.

I have one or two words to say on what the Government have attempted. There is the case of the Team Valley Government Trading Estate on Tyneside. It is significant and highly disappointing to note that the contract for the developrnent of the site, which is to cost some £700,000, was placed not in the Tyneside area, where we have competent contrac- tors of all sorts, but with a London firm. I think we are entitled to know the grounds of that choice. Tyneside is the home of engineering of every kind. The greatest inventors originated there. We have spanned our rivers, diverted them, deepened them, we have built our quays, and engineering is the premier profession of Tyneside. I presume it was as an encouragement to the distressed area of Tyneside and of County Durham that this great order was placed with a London firm. There is the Special Areas Reconstruction Association. We were advised by the Chancellor in the Budget Speech that Government aid was to be given for the encouragement of industries and for the establishment of new industries in the Special Areas, and that the Government were prepared to lose 25 per cent. of their subvention. We can be safe in saying that under the methods by which the money is being disbursed the Government will lose nothing. Apparently, there is to be no encouragement to enterprise or originality. This is not Government money, it is bankers' money, and it is being advanced on the customary terms, with appropriate cover —banking procedure. We were told, in answer to a question yesterday, that in the case of some 131 firms there was no information that any money had yet been advanced, though months have elapsed since the money was made available. I contend that the method of advancing this money through ordinary banking channels is a violation of the spirit of the Budget proposals and of the Chancellor's pledges to this House.

As preceding speakers have pointed out, the Special Areas are suffering through the loss of export trade arising from the barriers and quotas which stand in the way of international trade, but we have no signs of repentance in that respect. I was one of the Northern Members of Parliament, who, prior to the Recess, were privileged to meet certain Ministers connected with trade and industry. We urged that new industries should be set up, and that there should be a diversion of industries from the South in cases where new licences had to be granted. Though we received quite a number of satisfactory and sympathetic assurances nothing practical has resulted, and I should like to know what has been the result, so far as Billingham is concerned, in connection with the oil-from-coal scheme.

We were informed by the Minister of Mines, and I think had a similar assurance from the Minister of Labour, that a big advance in that direction was possible for the mining industry, but are we to have an expansion of the work of coal distillation in the mining areas themselves? We know that concerns engaged in coal distillation are using Durham coal, in the main, and it would seem sensible, therefore, that works of that character should be established in the Durham coalfield itself, but though, presumably, the Government will take no step which has anything in the nature of nationalisation in it, they might at all events put pressure on private concerns who have, as we know through the public Press, commenced coal distillation in the London area, and use Durham coal, and who are about to extend their operations to other parts of the country, to come into the distressed area of County Durham. To my question on this point, however, they have given a quite ineffective reply, convincing me, at all events, that it would be purely the accident of circumstances which would bring any such industry into the heart of the coalfield itself.

If we are to revive the mining industry we shall need to modernise it and to humanise the labour employed in it in precisely the same way as we have modernised capital in the coal mining industry. Modernisation has dispensed with, and is continually dispensing with, ever-increasing numbers of men and boys, but in this country we have boys of 14 descending our mines at any hour of the day and night, and we still employ considerable numbers of men of 60, and even up to the age of 70, in coal getting. Some unpleasant things are said in this House of the Soviet Republic, but it is interesting to note that no person can descend a Russian mine—and the output of coal in Russia is enormous, challenging the rest of the world—until the age of 17 years. We send our boys into coalmines at the tender age of 14. We believe that if the Government cared to do so there is an opportunity for the establishment of aeroplane works near some of the disused coalfields, particularly upon the hillsides.

We consider it more necessary than ever that we should not continue the policy of transferring our young men for training to the South of England, but that they should be trained in and about their own localities, where their training would probably be of value in the maintenance of their households. My experience of many of those who have gone South is that when they are trained they get employment at low wages, possibly at 1s. or 1s. 1½d. an hour, in responsible work, and are incapable of sending assistance to their parents. We are denuding the County of Durham of valuable labour which could be trained for useful work. As the "Times" has stated, it ought not to be beyond the wit of the Government to provide such work. This subject has been very exhaustively and convincingly dealt with from this side and other sides of the House. Have the Government determined that this problem shall remain a chronic problem? The solution, or the partial solution, of the housing problem took about 40 years. Have we to wait a similar period for the solution of the problem of the distressed areas? Have the Government chosen definitely to believe that a substantial modicum of unemployment is good for the community and for the State, and is inherent and necessary in the modern capitalistic system? If that be so, one can understand. It is logical, from their point of view.

No argument has been advanced on the Floor of the House, or by Ministers when we have interviewed them, privately and in groups, to justify the refusal of the Government to take steps to solve the problem without delay. There is nothing in the Gracious Speech dealing with mining problems or with mining legislation. One would have thought that, with the report of the Chief Inspector of Mines in their hands, which testifies to the enormous annual slaughter and maiming of men—123,000 men are maimed and injured, either slightly or almost fatally, in the coal mines of our country, and nearly 1,000 are killed —the Government would have made some proposals. Most of those annual accidents are quite preventable. The report shows that there ought to be better pillaring up of roofs, whence the major portion of the accidents occur. It is terrible to realise that the death- rate of boys in the pits from falls of roof is excessive. We are told that there should be better provision in quite a number of directions. If that is the judgment of the inspectors, why have the Government not at once produced legislation to deal with the monstrous scandal of this annual slaughter?

It is significant that the law relating to coal mines is on an altogether lower level than ordinary factory legislation. An acident in an ordinary engineering factory involves a liability upon the owners or upon the management. It is the law of the land, and very properly so, that the liability for accident is placed upon those who have engaged the employé. I had a case before me recently of a Tyneside factory, where the shafting was quite safe in a normal way. It was placed 8½ feet above the floor and was protected. The factory inspectors were satisfied that as much had been done by the management as possible; yet that shafting became unsafe when a man mounted a ladder and was injured by the machine. Liability was placed upon the owners. The owners in this case were duly summoned and fined by the magistrates. There have been cases in which there was no fine after an accident in a Tyneside factory. The factory authorities took the cases to the Appeal Court, which remitted these cases back in every instance to the magistrates, with instructions to fulfil the law and to fine the owners. There were cases in which the particular shafting was quite safe, until any employé was injured thereby.

I want the law to be altered in a similar direction for the mines. I was speaking to a local inspector of mines; I said that legislation ought to be provided placing liability for accident upon the management or owners of all collieries. Be replied that if that were done there would be scarcely a colliery in County Durham that would not be fined £100 per week. Only after serious accident is there any serious public investigation. We, therefore, have a state of affairs in which life is being lost, limbs destroyed and injuries inflicted upon 133,000 people in our collieries, for the want of adequate protection by this House. As I happen to represent a mining area and have seen some of the abuses there, I call upon the Government to deal with the case of the mines, which could be made almost as safe as any other form of industry if the liability were placed upon the proper shoulders.

The Minister of Health intervened very early in the Debate to-day and I was disappointed that he did so. It seemed to me that he made for himself and the Government a number of claims which might well be refuted. I notice that, presumably out of his mouth, the Gracious Speech states that: Vigorous action for the provision of housing accommodation to replace slum dwellings and abate overcrowding will be maintained. In what respect is it being maintained by the Government? The clearance of slum dwellings was provided for in the 1930 Act of the Labour Government. The present Government have taken no steps with regard to that; it is the work solely of the local authorities. We have a contrast in the method of dealing with overcrowding under the 1935 Act, for which the present Government takes such credit. I noticed that in response to a question yesterday as to the rebuilding which has gone on under this Act for dealing with overcrowding, only in very few cases has any action been taken. The Minister has exercised the rights which he enjoys under the Act and which he should never have enjoyed, to make a grant the maximum of which is the sum of for a period of 20 years. In more than 50 per cent. of the cases that have come before him he has decided to reduce this grant to as low as £2 per house for a period of 20 years; £2, £3 and are the respective amounts which have been granted.

So far as overcrowding is concerned the Act should not bear its appellation, for it has not dealt with overcrowding. There is gross overcrowding prevalent to-day and a new Act is required at the earliest possible moment. What else can we expect when the Government lay down in an Act that small kitchens can be utilised as bedrooms? The standards are altogether too low. There are many cases on Tyneside and in my own Division in which you have seven-and-a-half units occupying three bedrooms and a kitchen. You may have two married couples in those three bedrooms, and three grown children and one under the age of 10 in those three bedrooms and a kitchen. In a cottage with two rooms you could have two parents, two children under 10 and a baby. It has been said that the total number of houses declared to be over crowded in the country is a trivial 300,000 but if the living rooms had been excluded the numbers would have been trebled. Therefore, the complacency of the Minister of Health in claiming that he is dealing with overcrowding in a serious way, and that in time it will be extinguished, must be challenged. We ask that legislation during the Government's tenure of office shall be passed to abolish this scandal of gross overcrowding and immorality.

I turn now to the subject of improved physical standards. The Government say that they are going to take steps to deal with this matter. Surely the first step that they should take is to abolish the means test. Statisticians tell us that it has taken £15,000,000 per annum from the pockets of the workers of the country. It is economy at the expense of the foodstuffs and the health of the people. Every economist tells us that there is undernourishment in the country. The British Association for the first time in its history has been invaded and given much important information for the advice of the community and the directing of legislation into channels that will abolish this grievous evil. The urgent and imperious necessity which must follow any attempt to raise the physical standards of the people is to raise the health standards and the nutriment standards of the people, and this cannot be done by a mere declaration of the ex-Minister of Agriculture that there is an increased consumption of all sort of food-stuffs. Of course there is increased consumption. Dealing with the average throughout the country there may be an improvement, but in the selected areas where unemployment is rampant the problem is still most acute. We require to raise the income standards of the whole country before we can raise the physical standards.

The House was, I am sure, highly entertained by an interesting speech yesterday by the hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle). The hon. Gentleman described himself as a medical officer of health. It would be more correct to say an ex-, probably a double-ex-medical officer of health. He told us that the views which we on this side of the House hold in regard to questions of hunger were, I gathered, to be deplored, and he gave us an illustration which is well worth putting on record as an example to the workers who are unemployed in my Division. He said that he knew of a family of 14 who had been reared, and successfully reared, on the sum of 14s. per week. That is special pleading with a vengeance; it is indicative of the outlook of a benighted person so far as his responsibilities are concerned. A medical officer of health must, I should think, more than any other Member of the House, be in touch with the Government's own statistics of the Board of Education and the Ministry of Health, and they clearly indicate that while there is improvement, which nobody denies, among those who come under the review particularly of the Board of Education yet the mass of the people who are not under the purview of the Board of Education are in a state in which depreciated standards are the rule and are common.

The Medical Officer of Health for Newcastle informed his Committee, and I am certain that it would be confirmed by medical officers throughout the country, that 50 per cent. of the City's expenditure upon health problems is due to under-nourishment—malnutrition —among the industrial population. Poverty is the cause, and when we seek to eradicate poverty, as we could in an extraordinarily wealthy nation, the solution will be found. We have reached a day when no Chancellor of the Exchequer—and it is to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that we must look for a solution of these financial problems—can declare that he is not able to lay his hands upon whatever sums he may at any time require. We have the classic example of the expenditure of Germany, which is supposed to be an impoverished State. It is said to amount to something in the region of £2,000,000,000. We have the case of Italy, we have seen the expenditure in the United States of America and in other countries, and the day has gone when any Chancellor of the Exchequer can declare that he is not able to pro- vide, either in his Budget or otherwise, sums of money when they are required for national purposes. What is lacking is merely the will to make the necessary provision.

With regard to the question of shipping, I notice, and I am gratified to notice, that the Government intend to preserve the Mercantile Marine for national purposes and in the national interest. We on this side shall expect the Government at the same time to provide additional safeguards for life and limb in the Mercantile Marine. The Government, through the President of the Board of Trade have turned a deaf ear to appeals, not only from this side of the House but from other quarters, for additional safety in the matter of hatch coverings, and I hope that that question will receive consideration.

Finally, the declaration in the Amendment, which has the unanimous support of Members on this side of the House, that the Socialist solution is the only final solution for the evils under which we are suffering, is, I think, becoming daily less controversial. I was in the House in 1923, when there was a debate on a similar subject, which excited great interest in the country. It was probably the first time that the Socialist solution had been advanced on the Floor of this House, and it was the only debate on the subject in the 1922–23 Parliament; but since that time, in almost every session in the life of every Parliament, many matters have been dealt with in, the light of Socialism. We are converting hon. Members opposite, partially and slowly, to our point of view, and the advance which is being made in social ownership on the part of the municipalities of the kingdom, an advance which the Government themselves are making tentatively, shows that that is the solution. We all admit that the capitalist system can produce goods in infinite variety, but the major portion of the 'product goes to profit, interest and rents, and the minor portion to labour as such. We have been told that modern capitalism cannot work without scarcity, and, if you have scarcity, you will inevitably have hardship and unemployment. It is in the belief that these are merely passing phases of the human problem that we direct the attention of the Government to the final solution, namely, the conduct of industrial operations, not for the benefit, as at present, of private profits, but for public uses, in order that the entire community, and not merely a section of it, may have the advantages of the common efforts of the nation.

2.34 p.m.


While congratulating the hon. Member on the length of his speech, I would ask him to forgive me if I do not follow him into its details. I think it is a subject for gratification that the official Opposition Amendment deals with domestic social conditions, and I would like, at the beginning of the new Session, to appeal to both Opposition parties to give us, particularly when the Supply Votes come on, as many opportunities as they can to discuss these vital domestic problems. I think most people will agree that in the last Session we devoted far too much time to the discussion of foreign affairs. The airing of the same views by the same people week after week certainly did not help the international situation, and it certainly deprived the House of many valuable hours in which they might have discussed important domestic and Imperial problems. That is as far as I can go in commending the Socialist Amendment. Their references to capitalism and to the desirability of establishing a Socialist Commonwealth clearly reveal what is at the back of their minds. They are utilising this opportunity, as is their right, for a party manoeuvre. When we come to ask them what they mean by a Socialist Commonwealth, they are obviously as much in the dark as we are ourselves.

I thought that the Leader of the Opposition threw some light on the confusion of thought that exists upon the Socialist Front Bench as to what they mean by this Socialist Commonwealth. He referred to the present system as based upon social injustice. There is hardly anyone on these benches who will not admit that there is a good deal of social injustice in present conditions, but the right hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong when he suggests that the present system is "based upon" social injustice. Parliament after Parliament, regardless of what Government has been in power, has throughout history done its best gradually to remove social in- justices, and no Government more than the present one has shown its firm desire to remove them. If the right hon. Gentleman said the process was too gradual, many of us might agree with him that there is scope for speeding it up.

He went on to refer to the need for a proper distribution of wealth. Again, I do not think many of us will quarrel with him on that issue. There are grave injustices in the present distribution of wealth. If he had stopped there all would have been well, but unfortunately he went on to refer to what he described as the outworn system of private property. Is he telling us and the country that he believes the system of private property is a wrong and an evil one? I cannot believe that the Labour party can go to the electors and ask for a mandate to abolish private property. Who is there who has not got private property?


The hon. Member is assuming that one wants to abolish all kinds of property. I was dealing with certain classes of property in the ownership of the means of life.


I do not find that in the right hon. Gentleman's speech. He said: You are frustrated at every step in every endeavour you make to build up this country, as long as you cling to the outworn system of private property."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd November, 1936; col. 28, Vol. 317.] In other words, he suggested that we should do away with this outworn system of private property. I think he will regret that when it comes to the next General Election. There are probably a good many other things that he will regret at the same time. But let us make our position clear in this party. It is often forgotten that we stand as much as the party opposite for social progress. The great founder of our party in the modern sense, Disraeli, laid down as one of its three great principles, "the betterment of the condition of the people." We believe in private property. But we do not believe that it ought to stand in the way of social progress or of our fundamental principle of the betterment of the condition of the people. That does not mean that we agree with hon. Members opposite that nationalisation for nationalisation's sake has anything to commend it.

There is mention in the Gracious Speech of the fitness of the nation. I think we can congratulate the Government on their past record and their attitude towards this question of health. They have probably done more than any other Government before them to improve the conditions of life and of housing, and the criticisms of the hon. Member who spoke last about the standards of housing are entirely beside the point. The Government have, as I understand it, tried to set up a certain minimum standard which it, was hoped to be reached within a reasonably short period, and, if it is reached, I have no doubt they will then do their best to raise it. Reference is made in the Amendment to deterioration in the nation's health. Again, unfor-fortunately, hon. Members opposite let themselves go a little too much. If they said there was a strong desire on the part of the people to raise the standard of health or nutrition, we should all be with them, but to suggest that the standard of health is going down is entirely controverted by the facts. I am sorry to see that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stirling (Mr. T. Johnston) associated himself with that perversion of the obvious facts.

I wish, however, to express my regret that there is no mention in the Gracious Speech of the question of nutrition. We know, and the Minister of Health reminded us again, that the Government intend to carry out some inquiry into family budgets. Surely we have not only to look forward to this inquiry. Are we not to have any hope that definite action will be taken to improve the nutrition position in the present Session? I appeal to the Government not to wait for this inquiry, which I understand may take a very long time, I do not know why this information was not available many years ago, but, apart from that, I ask them not to wait until they have the last detail as to what the position is. Let them faccept the broad fact which we must all recognise, that there is undernourishment, perhaps not quite so much as hon. Members opposite say but, nevertheless, very considerable under-nourishment, particularly in the distressed areas. Another winter is coming upon us, and I appeal to them to deal with the question without delay. It is no consolation to people who have not enough to eat to be told that the Ministry of Labour is inquiring into the amount that is being spent on food. Let us recognise the extent of this tremendous problem and deal with it, and not shirk the immensity of it.

We have heard from the Minister of Health in previous speeches that the Government are going to do what they can to educate people on the subject of nutrition. I fully recognise that education is as valuable in the field of nutrition as in every other sphere, but are we going to suggest that the trouble lies in ignorance? It may to a small extent, but surely the major trouble lies in lack of purchasing power. That is where the trouble is. We know that the children in the West End are probably, taken on the average, very much better fed than the children in the distressed areas, but is anybody going to suggest that the reason for the disparity is, that the mothers of Mayfair are wiser in spending their pennies upon food than are the mothers of Merthyr Tydfil or of Jarrow? We cannot suggest that. If there is something in this education idea, let us by all means give everybody the benefit of sound knowledge on nutrition questions, but let us not blind ourselves to the fact that that will touch only the very fringe of the question. What we need is greater purchasing power in one form or another; either it must be cheaper food or more wages, and that is a matter for the Government to decide.

We need a thorough-going nutrition policy—we have not had it yet—for its own sake. There have been too many attempts to deal with nutrition as some sort of side issue. Agriculture needs helping, and we try to combine assistance to agriculture with improving the standard' of health. By all means let us combine this in different directions. But there has been an impression given in the country that the cart has been put before the horse. After all, the consumer does not exist for the sake of the producer. One of the main justifications for agriculture is that it provides food for the people of the country, and therefore it must be subordinated to the interests of those who are to eat that food.

A great deal has been done in the case of milk, and I am glad that the President of the Board of Education is here this afternoon, because he has had a great part in seeing to it that the assistance given to agriculture has benefited the children in the schools. We must welcome the suggestion made by the Minister of Health this morning that the Government are considering extending the milk assistance to children in the schools. I cannot altogether agree with him that the proportion of children who do not consume milk in the schools is not in any way attributable to lack of funds. I think that there are many children who go to the schools who have not got the penny or two to pay for the milk. They have not been given the money by their parents. They do not say so, but just say that they do not want milk. The extension of free milk in the schools is one of the things at which the Government should aim in the immediate future.

The question of feeding is not confined to milk in the schools. One of the most interesting experiments made in recent times was the Bishop Auckland potato scheme. That scheme showed that if you decreased the price of potatoes by, I think, 40 per cent., you increased the consumption by 99 per cent. Surely, that in itself proved that purchasing power is at the bottom of the problem, and that if you reduce the price you can increase the consumption. Let us also remember that potatoes are probably the particular commodity of foodstuff of which there is the least difficulty for the poor man to obtain. They are one of the cheapest and the most general commodities in the diet of the nation, and if you can increase the consumption of potatoes by 100 per cent. you can imagine how much you could increase it in the case of vegetables, meat, butter, eggs and so forth. Nobody, and least of all myself, would suggest that agriculture in itself is not important. It is of immense importance from the point of view of defence, and from the point of view, more than anything else, of health. It is of immense importance to us to have a large, thriving agricultural population, who form the backbone of the health of the nation, living in sound healthy conditions outside the big towns.

But in considering assistance to agriculture in relation to nutrition and health, let it never be suggested that the stomachs of the poor are to be used merely as dumping grounds for the surplus of agricultural production. It is a question of high moral principle. It is a question of the duty of the nation towards the individual, and likewise the duty of the individual towards the nation. While many of us advocate that the Government should take drastic action to raise the standard of life of the people in this country, that also must be accompanied by a sense of responsibility of the individual towards the nation. If there were no Government assistance and no public or health services of any kind, I think that perhaps it could be argued that the individual might allow himself to fall into bad health if he liked, and that it was his own responsibility. But when there are these great public and health services, which are, after all, supported by every man and woman in the country, the individual has a responsibility to do what he can to keep himself fit and not become a burden upon the health services of the nation. It is in that connection that the fitness campaign of the Government will have a very salutory effect.

We learn that there is to be a Factory Bill introduced in the present Session, and I hope that the scope of the Bill will be extremely wide. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland made some reference to the modern machine. He said that our country must' be great enough to seize the opportunity of prosperity which the machines have held out for us."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th November, 1936; col. 142, Vol. 317.] That is an important statement coming from a Minister at this moment. We have to face the problem of passing on the prosperity which the machinery has brought to us, with science and all modern inventions, to the people who really need that new prosperity. At the present moment it is not being passed on, and that is what we have to see to. I hope that in the Factory Bill there will be some definite, wide conception of the conditions of life in factories, and that the question of hours will be dealt with very fully not only for certain classes of individuals, but that the ideal of reducing hours all round will be definitely established as something at which to aim. I, personally, feel that the question of hours is not such an impossible one to deal with. I recognise that you cannot reduce hours and reduce wages as well, for the simple reason that the individual will not be able to foot the bill at the end of the week. Equally, you cannot reduce hours and maintain wages at the same rate, because the company will not be able to support the additional cost of production. But what you can do is to encourage labour-saving devices. You can try to increase the output per man per hour, and pass on the benefit to the man who is working in the factory. I should like to see the Government definitely subsidise all factories which would introduce labour-saving devices, on condition that they passed on the increased output to those who worked in those factories. I believe that they could achieve some measure of alleviation of hours without upsetting the present economic conditions.

We have to aim at the laying down of a minimum standard of living all round, which has to be defined and established. We have been quarrelling too much about definition. The Minister of Health this morning raised the old question of defining the standard of nutrition. I believe that with good will on all sides we could establish some sort of standard of living which would be generally accepted, and we could work for the establishment and recognition of that ideal. The speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer has opened the floodgates of expectation throughout the country, and I only hope that the Government will not allow the country to be disappointed.

To turn to a more general issue, I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland on one remark which he made in his speech. He said: If we do these things"— He was referring to the attitude of the country towards its problems— according to the spirit of the new times. we shall succeed; if we do not, we shall fail."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th November, 1936; col. 143, Vol. 317.] I think that is a very significant remark. It is the recognition at last by the Government that there is a new spirit abroad in the country. There are extremists in this House on both sides who seem to fail to recognise that there is a new spirit in politics to-day. There are reactionaries on this side of the House who seem to imagine that we are still living in an age of unfettered private competition, and that the return to prosperity can be expected along the old lines. There are, equally, extremists among hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite who still believe in the existence of enthusiasm for an international class struggle, and who also believe that the country is divided into two nations, one of which is a nation of company directors who live upon the sweat and labour of the poor. This kind of idea seems to exist still in the two extremist camps, and I invite them to do a little fresh thinking.

The outlook has utterly changed. An hon. Member opposite welcomed my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont) as a Socialist because he showed interest in the depressed areas. Surely, that hon. Member is entirely out of touch with what people think. It is possible to be proud of your country and also to be interested in social progress. That hon. Member seems to think, and so do other hon. and right hon. Members opposite, that if you are proud of your country you necessarily want to grind down the faces of the poor. They also seem to think that if you are progressive and if you want social reform you must join with them in running down your own country whenever you get the chance. That is not the attitude of the majority of people in the country to-day. National unity is the new ideal—a combination of patriotism with progress. That is the idea that is running through the country to-day, and the sooner hon. Members opposite recognise it the better it will be for them.

Many of us hoped in 1931 when the National Government came in, with combination of Conservatives, Socialists and Liberals, that they would be the medium for the expression of this new idea. I am sorry to say that they have been a little hesitant in grasping the force of this new element in political life. They were faced with the problem of keeping their vast majority together. They had two ways of doing it. One was to water down their policy to a sort of central line, to which neither wing could take very serious exception. That has been, I am afraid, the line which they have adopted to some extent, although there have been remarkable exceptions. The other alternative was to go out vigorously for a strong policy in both directions and have a strong, undiluted Imperial policy, accompanied by a vigorous, uncompromising policy of social reform. I do not believe that they would have lost the support of a single man among their supporters had they done that. Those who perhaps were a little anxious about social reform would not have deserted them if they were receiving a wholehearted Empire policy, and the same with the others. While they might have received support from the two flanks among their followers with some mental reservation, they would have received the unanimous and unqualified support of the vast majority of their supporters in the middle.

We are dealing with domestic questions, and I appeal to the Government to hold up a social ideal to the people, some standard of life towards which they are aiming. Let them ask for sacrifices and appeal to the social conscience of the nation, and they will not appeal in vain. There exists this new spirit of patriotism, combined with progress. It is taking root among the people. The Socialists cannot capture it for the simple reason that you cannot combine the modern idea of national unity with that of a venomous international class struggle. The Government have an immense opportunity to harness this latent force in the service of the nation, and I sincerely hope they will seize it. But whether they do or not I am sure that, one way or another, this new spirit in politics will find expression, and will leave its mark on the next generation of British history.

3.4 p.m.


I am at a loss to understand why hon. Members opposite condemn the policy of the Opposition and then proceed to ask the Government to accept it. The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) has pleaded with the Government for a re-orientation of policy—increased purchasing power, reduction in the hours of labour, remodelling of our agricultural system, the reorganisation of distribution capable of ministering to the public needs, all of which proposals have been submitted over and over again by the official Opposition and as often rejected by the Government. We do not complain of the conversion of the hon. Member, but we hope that he will not confine himself to oratory, but will be found sometimes in the Division Lobby supporting the proposals he has just advanced. What I venture to say to the hon. Member for South Norwood I would also say to the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont), who complained of the paucity of constructive proposals put forward by the Opposition. If that was intended as a criticism of the Opposition, it was entirely devoid of foundation. I would remind him that in his speech he advanced several proposals which have been taken bodily from the programme of the Labour party. He demands the nationalisation of public assistance which, obviously, is based, as he will recognise, on a policy of the equalisation of rates, and that policy has for a long time found a place in the Labour party's programme.


I have yet to learn, although I am glad it is so, that the equalisation of rates coupled with national and not local administration of such expenditure is the policy of the Labour party. That is the proposal I put forward.


That has been stated as the policy of the Labour party, and if the hon. Member has failed to detect that note, it is not our fault but his misfortune. He went on to demand the establishment of a town planning authority, with power to direct industry. In short, he postulates a rational scientifically directed allocation of industry. That is the policy of the Labour party, and was advanced in several speeches in the Debate on a private Member's Motion during last Session. The hon. Member accompanies these proposals with a demand for more transport facilities in distressed areas, with Government assistance. There, again, he is advocating some form of public control, or, at all events, public direction superseding private direction and private control. No one is more delighted with the conversion of the hon. Member for Aylesbury and the hon. Member for South Norwood than hon. Members on these benches. Long may it continue.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House have referred, during the Debate, to matters of great interest which must be left for subsequent consideration. At the moment I am concerned in particular with the speech delivered early in the Debate by the Minister of Health. The right hon. Gentleman was not instructive, but he was at least vastly entertaining—he is, if not a thing of beauty, a joy for ever. But if hon. Members opposite pretend that the Minister of Health, in the declarations which we heard earlier in the day, lived up to the expectations of the country and the followers of the Government on the important question of physical fitness, they are very much mistaken. There was no call to arms, there were no positive suggestions and indeed there was no clear explanation of the Government's intentions. From the speech of the Minister of Health we cannot envisage thousands upon thousands of the flower of our young manhood presenting the spectacle of sound constitutions, strength, virility and an abundance of health, which we had suspected was embodied in the Government's policy and which was indeed referred to in the Gracious Speech.

All we had this morning was a number of platitudes about modern leadership, self-equipment, physical training and national service. As to what they meant, we were left in grave doubt. Naturally, there is fitness to be found among the young manhood of the country. Physical deterioration is by no means widespread. Go to Cheltenham, to Eastbourne—or, if you like, to Norwood and Aylesbury—and you will find in those exclusive residential neighbourhoods strapping, virile young men who display their capacity for exercise and sport in no small measure in golf, tennis, hockey and football, and pride themselves upon their achievements. Strangely enough there appears to be little indication of a vast flow of recruits for His Majesty's Forces from those areas and from among those people. The patriotism of South Wales, of Scotland, of the working class centres, is invoked, and even if it is not, relentless and ruthless economic pressure compels the young men in those areas to join His Majesty's Forces. I do not make any complaint. I would not be surprised if many of them are as well off serving in the Forces as they would be on the means test, or even engaged in the mining industry, and certainly they are better off so far as nutrition is concerned.

The Minister of Health declares in reply to the official Opposition Amendment that our language is exaggerated and that deterioration if it does exist, is confined to a few areas. If it is not universal or even widespread, but is located in a few small areas, what is the Government's policy in relation to its speedy removal from those areas? We need not quarrel about exaggerations of language or even about the terms of an Amendment. That is fooling with the situation. That, if I may say so to the hon. Member for South Norwood, is political manoeuvring, and we are having none of that. There is a situation of depression, of underfeeding, of lack of nourishment, of ill-health and if hon. Members opposite refuse to accept that statement from me, perhaps I may be able to confound the Minister of Health out of the mouths of some of his own colleagues. The Secretary of State for Scotland, speaking in Glasgow the other day, said: There were 1,000,000 people in Lanarkshire, many of them living far below the standard which a civilised nation ought to ask its sons and daughters to live upon. That is a statement by a Member of the Government. Is it true? If it is true, what do the Government intend to do to bring that situation to an end? Another Member of the Government—true a junior Member—Earl De La Warr—speaking in, I think, the same city said: They knew that there was no benefit for a mother like an adequate supply of milk and they knew also that a supply of dumb-bells to an under-nourished adolescent was a very poor substitute for a square meal. We are making converts by the dozen —or, if we are not making them, conditions are making them, and, in my view, conditions make them much faster than propaganda. These are undoubted facts. It is not a case of hair-splitting, or muddling with figures or dealing with the pictures presented by statisticians engaged in controversy or even medical officers of health. These are the plain facts, known to many of us from our daily and intimate experience of conditions in certain parts of the country, and we call upon the Government for a plain declaration of policy and an immediate solution. If the Government fail, by as much as a hair's breadth, in the solution of that problem they deserve to be condemned, and in due course will be condemned. The Minister of Health referred to a declaration by Mr. G. D. H. Cole who, apparently, said that neither at the next Election nor at the Election after that would the country return a Labour Government. My reply is that Mr. G. D. H. Cole has been known to change his opinions frequently, and I would not advise the Government to rely too much upon what that gentleman has said in relation to the future prospects of the Labour party. It may well be that in spite of the imperfections and defects of the Labour party and occasional confusion—not that there is not confusion elsewhere, because we have had an example of it this afternoon and it will continue and enlarge—in spite of all these things, economic pressure, the advance of industry, and modern requirements will sooner or later force that Government out and put us in.

That is why, in this official Amendment, we are challenging not merely the Government but the whole conception underlying the Government's policy and indeed the whole capitalist system itself. What amazes me is to hear a speech from a Liberal claiming the achievements of the Liberal party. Look at the Liberal party. Nationalisation of royalties is advanced, schemes of public or semipublic control, demands made on the Government from time to time, and yet refusing to take the only fence that really matters. If you believe in private enterprise and private ownership, take what is coming to you and do not scream about it. We challenge the capitalist system because we believe it has served its turn and is unable to function in modern conditions. It must, in our judgment, inevitably disappear, to be succeeded by a social order more constructive, more coherent, and more humane. When we are challenged by the Prime Minister and other right hon. and hon. Members opposite to produce evidence of the superiority of our system, there is an immediate response. Our system does not exist, but the conception is already here, operating, strangely enough, within the existing order. I presume hon. Members opposite have heard of the vast network of municipal and State undertakings.


That is not Socialism.


It certainly is not private ownership or private enterprise. Private ownership, individualism, is inspired by profit making. No, it is collective endeavour for collective ends, that is growing, evolving, and evolving peacefully, and infusing the whole of our corporate life; and that process has come, and come to stay. Moreover, it is to be found in the Gracious Speech itself. The Prime Minister said he was too old a dog to learn new tricks. I sometimes think he is not too ancient to play old ones, but he has discovered a new trick. It is the trick of unification, as they call it—I prefer to call it nationalisation—of mining royalties. That is the Conservative policy. When did they come to the conclusion that national ownership or unification of royalties is desirable, and why is it desirable? It was mentioned in the report of the Samuel Commission in 1925, and there was a Baldwin Government in power at the time, but no notice was taken of the proposal then. Indeed, it was rejected. To what end the unification of royalties?

In the last Session the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade stood at that Box presenting a Bill for the amalgamation of the mining industry. He did not stand there long, and the Bill had a most unhappy dispensation and lasted but a few hours. Now the Government are to unify the royalties and then deal with amalgamation. Perhaps we may ask the reason why? Is it because we can no longer trust the owners of our coal resources? Is it because modern needs demand a change? Moreover, is it because you cannot set the mining industry on its feet and cannot promote efficiency in that industry until you have introduced the oxygen of nationalisation? That will not be a complete solution of the problem—far from it—and it will not put very much in the miners' pockets. It will apparently put a great deal, judging from the proposals of which we have read in the Press, into the pockets of dukes, earls and other owners of coal royalties.

When the Bill comes before hon. Members on this side we shall have to say a great deal about it on its technical, financial and administrative sides. For the moment, I confine myself to the principle. I do not object to the prin- ciple. It clears the ground for a further approach to a solution of the problem, but where are the Government going to stop? This question has been asked before, but I venture a repetition—if the Government have come to the conclusion that it is wise to make the coal beneath the surface public property, why is it unwise to allow the mines themselves to become public property? You may have as much coal as you like beneath the surface, but if you have not the plant and machinery on the surface and in the pits to bring the coal up, the coal is of little value. Therefore, if it is logical to make the coal public property, it is just as logical to make the mines themselves public property.

Whether the Government like it or not, that is going to be the next step. After national ownership of the royalties, amalgamation of mining undertakings, and reorganisation schemes, the next step will swallow the Socialist party's policy of nationalisation of the mining industry. It has been predicted that it will be introduced by a Conservative Government. I should not be a bit surprised. They will not like it, but they will be compelled to undertake the task, and I believe that many prominent mineowners recognise that it cannot be long delayed. It is not a question, as an hon. Member opposite suggested, of doctrinaire Socialism and the international class struggle. The hon. Member is obsessed by some bogy of international class struggle. We do not want Moscow to teach us the tricks of our trade. Our tricks are born of our experience in this country.


This is the first time you have said that.


I have said it over and over again for the last 30 years. I have never despised this country nor the liberties we possess. I regard them as inadequate, particularly on the economic and social side, and I want to improve conditions and make them better. We believe that we can make them better. I take it that that is the purpose of the hon. Member himself. To associate it with the international class struggle is to beg the question entirely. We are capable of promoting a policy of our own, a policy born of this country and indigenous to it. It is obvious that it is having some effect on the mind of the hon. Member because he has advanced some of the proposals which we have ourselves presented. Therefore, I submit that we are justified in presenting this Amendment, because the Government are accepting more and more a measure of Socialism, but the difference is that they are stumbling towards it in a blind way. They are unconscious Socialists, and we want the community to accept Socialism in an intelligent fashion.

There is not much time, because I must provide the right hon. Gentleman opposite with the opportunity for an effective and adequate reply—not that there is not a great deal more to say—but I do want to refer to the principal indictment against the Gracious Speech. It may be said that it can be indicted in respect of housing, malnutrition, physical fitness and the like, but what is the principal indictment? That there is in it no provision for the future, at all events in an economic sense. There is no indication that the Government have been looking ahead. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) referred this week to the booms and the slumps which are characteristic of a capitalist society, and it will not be disputed that they occur. We are passing through a boom at the moment, but it will pass and the inevitable slump will appear. Do the Government propose to present proposals which will materially assist in ironing out the fluctuations, to correct the effects of boom periods and slumps? I think we are entitled to ask that question. I believe it to be the most important and fundamental issue of all. We might content ourselves with existing prosperity, as it is called—poverty here and poverty there, black patches in various parts of the country, but many people working, many people well fed, well clothed and well housed—and might regard ourselves as living in a veritable paradise. We are not contending against that proposition, but what of the future? After all, a Government has to look ahead and to plan. There is not the slightest indication of a plan in the Gracious Speech. In the absence of that foresight we are entitled to present this Amendment.

I should like to have said something about the export trade, the modification of our tariff policy and the lowering of tariffs, but I want to say one word, finally, on the depressed areas. The subject has been referred to over and over again. It was referred to when we met some days or weeks after the last General Election; it has been referred to since then in one form or another; we are referring to it on this occasion, and we shall constantly refer to it until the problem has been tackled. Are we not entitled to inquire of the Government what proposals they have for a solution of the problem of the depressed areas? If they feel that there are difficulties in the way and that the situation is beset with obstacles, why not have an immediate inquiry—Departmental if you like, Parliamentary if you like, but an examination of the problem with a view to its speedy treatment? I believe the facts are well known. I believe that so far as the mining areas are concerned the depression is attributable almost exclusively to the condition of the mining industry itself; but the depression is not confined to mining, it affects also the textile industry, shipbuilding and shipping itself.

There are problems which have to be tackled. We may quarrel as we like. We may have controversies on trifling issues. I deplore them. Something was said about wasting time in discussing academic questions. These are not academic questions, they are the issues upon which this country has got to decide not merely its form of government but the future of the nation and, indeed, the future of the Empire and of the world. If the Government are unable to propound a policy I will present one in a sentence or two. You ask what our policy is. We will satisfy your curiosity. The first thing we demand is the removal of this sham National Government. Is not that the very foundation of a new policy? That Government comprises a number of estimable gentlemen. I should not quarrel with them personally. Take, for example, the Minister of Health away from the Treasury Bench and he is a benevolent old gentleman, but glued to the Treasury Bench he is a reactionary of the deepest dye. It is the same with others. Therefore, I shall not quarrel with the right hon. Gentlemen on the opposite benches. We quarrel with them on grounds of public policy. There is a fundamental divergence; particularly is there a divergence in relation to the depressed areas, to the future of this country and to the prosperity of our people. We are not going to content ourselves merely with a declaration relating to the official Amendment on this occasion, but will persist in postulating our policy and our programme, until the country decides that the policy which we advance is superior in every aspect and respect, to the policy advanced by the Government.

3.37 p.m.

The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of EDUCATION (Mr. Oliver Stanley)

The hon. Gentleman has addressed the House in tones of unusual and, for him, no doubt most disagreeable moderation. He has been wise to do it; it is always well to suit the word to the deed, and when you are supporting a moderate Amendment it is just as well to use moderate tones. Nor can it be said that this Amendment, raising as it does questions of such fundamental importance, and challenging, we are told, the whole existence not only- of the Government but of the system, appears to raise much enthusiasm among its supporters. The speech made by the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. David Adams) was one which every hon. Member on that side ought to have heard. It was a speech which every hon. Member had every opportunity to hear. It lasted for a very considerable period of time, yet there was a moment, during that speech by an hon. Gentleman coming from a depressed area, when there were upon those benches only two unofficial Members of the united front, and one of them was a Communist.

The hon. Gentleman has asked me a great many questions, but he has left me a singularly short time in which to answer them. I propose therefore to deal quite briefly with the component parts of this Amendment. First of all, may I refer to the manner in which the Amendment opens? Reference is made to the present improvement in trade and industry, largely stimulated"— as it says— by the world race in armaments"— though how the fact that Germany is building armaments could stimulate trade over here I cannot imagine—and, in the opinion of hon. Members opposite, it can only be temporary. This shows a marked advance in hon. Members' appreciation of the existing situation during the last two years. I remember that on many occasions in this House two or three years ago, when un- employment figures were falling, and when every indication appearing in an official form was of improvement, they stubbornly declared that there had been no improvement at all. In those days they said it was explained by some hanky-panky in Government offices dealing with the official figures of employment.

Then they passed from that stage, when finally it became no longer tenable, and at the time of the last Election they began to admit an improvement. They said, "Of course there is an improvement, but it is only temporary. It is due to the building boom." We went through 12 months, hearing of this improvement which was only temporary and was due to the building boom. Now we have gone one further step; they say it is due to competition in armaments. Hon. Members know perfectly well that that is quite wrong. This improvement began years before the re-equipment programme of the Government. It was increasing, before that, at an even greater rate, in some periods, than it is now. Naturally, the money to be spent from the public purse upon the re-equipment of the Services must, in the future, have even greater results upon industry, but so far, with the exception of certain specified industries, the machine tools trade and the aircraft industry, it has had very little result in the figure of employment. No one can deny any longer that there is indeed a substantial recovery in the industrial affairs of the country.

But, of course, no one who has any responsibility in these matters wishes to be complacent. Whatever our beliefs as to the length of life of this improvement, we cannot ignore historical facts, nor can we forget that there are trade cycles. I am not so certain whether the theory of trade cycles is entirely applicable under modern-day conditions. I am not sure how far the alternations of boom and slump were due to the nineteenth century working of the Gold Standard, to monetary checks, which were brought automatically into action when the boom had progressed too far and by their automatic working caused a greater reaction than was necessary. I am not sure how far the twentieth century managed currency will in itself even out things. But, still, every Government must be thinking not only of the present but of the future, not only to increase the present progress but to safeguard themselves against the future.

The intention of His Majesty's Government can be found in the concluding words of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer last night. He referred, in phrases only too brief because he like me was up against the clock, to his ideas of the possibility of broadening the basis of world trade. I know that hon. Members believe in dealing with these matters in rather showy conferences, and demand great international gatherings by which these complicated matters are to be settled in the full glare of the public eye. I do not myself believe in that method; I do not believe that it has ever succeeded or that such treatment of complicated matters ever will succeed. To me it seems that a far better precedent is an arrangement such as was made by France, the United States and ourselves only the other day in connection with France leaving the Gold Standard. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has already expressed his intention of seeing, to the best of his ability, that the situation created by that departure from the Gold Standard by some of the gold countries shall be exploited in an effort to re-establish a freer basis of trade. But I am sure that on this side all of us are determined that this country shall not suffer in any future arrangement simply because of the moderation which, in contradistinction to some other countries, we have shown in the past.

The Amendment which is before the House deals with the creation of a Socialist commonwealth and reproaches the Government for having failed to recognise its necessity. Of course an Amendment of this kind is no novelty; this is not the first time it has been moved. It is a plagiarism. I have here, another Address to which an Amendment was moved: But humbly regret that the Speech from the Throne contains no proposals making for Socialist re-organisation of industry, agriculture, banking and the import and export trade, and the fairer distribution of the national income. That is very much the same kind of Amendment as has been moved to-day.


There is today very much the same type of defence.


That remark from the hon. Member is very interesting. The Amendment I quoted was one moved in 1930, when hon. Members opposite were forming a Government. This Amendment which I have quoted was moved by a member of the Independent Labour party, and the defence which the hon. Gentleman says is exactly the same as that which he is now hearing was put up by a spokesman of his Government. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says that that will not do, but it is difficult for him to explain the facts. The facts are that, when the hon. Gentleman was sitting on this side of the House, his Government were criticised for not having included the Socialist Commonwealth in the Gracious Speech, and their representative defended them. There must be some physiological attribute in these benches which tends to cool the heads of those who sit on them. Certainly hon. Members can hardly blame us, who only 12 months ago were elected to oppose Socialism, for not introducing Socialism in the Gracious Speech, when their own people, having been elected about six months before to bring in Socialism, took the same course and asked the House to resist exactly the same Amendment.


There was, of course, a, common denominator; the then Prime Minister is now Lord President of the Council.


I did not notice that the hon. Gentleman tendered his resignation as head of a Department. I should like to ask hon. Members what is this Socialist Commonwealth about which they talk. I know they make feverish attempts to explain it, and the bookshops are full of pamphlets, and even more expensive publications, usually styled in favourable reviews as blue-prints of the revolution; but these publications are like some of the lesser Ephemeridae; they are born in great numbers, but their life is very short, and you cannot often get them to agree with one another. The Minister of Health quoted the case of Mr. Cole thinking very little of the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), but I expect that, if the facts were found, one could easily quote instances of the hon. Mem- ber for Bishop Auckland thinking very little of Mr. Cole.

This spate of publication is, I think, an indication of the difficulty in which hon. Members find themselves. Before the War the whole question of Socialism was a simple one. The Socialist theory and the Socialist case was easy to understand, even if it was unsound in fact. It was based upon the economic history of the 19th century, upon the idea that there was a, wrong distribution of the proceeds of industry, that the entrepreneur in industry was taking too much of the profit and too little was left for the worker; and the simple case then was that under the Socialist State there would be no entrepreneur to whom the profit would have to go, that that profit would be available for the worker, and that that in itself would cure, not the problem of unemployment, which was not the major problem in those days, but the problem of under-payment. Of course, with the War the whole industrial circumstances altered, and, although the Socialist policy remains the same, the argument for it has to be altered too. We know that in the post-War period that pre-War phenomonen of great profits in heavy industries has not been repeated—that there were periods when those heavy industries were making little if any profit, and when, in fact, many were making great losses; so that a Socialism which simply meant a transfer of profit from the entrepreneur to the worker was a Socialism which would do the workman no good whatever. Therefore, we now have to explain Socialism on a different basis.

After all, Socialism is a thing which serious-minded people believe in and which therefore we have to try to understand, but it seems to me that under the modern Socialist theory you are inevitably in this dilemma: Does the State control of industry mean industry run for social or economical considerations? It seems to me that that is a question which Socialists have to answer and on which they have to make up their minds. You have in Durham a pretty sharp division between the interests of the two sides of the county. You have the old pits, which are largely worked out, gradually decaying on the east side, and on the west new pits where you can concentrate much more production. The interest of East Durham is a Socialism which works for greater efficiency and concentrates in these new and efficient pits all the production that is required. The interest of West Durham is different. It is a Socialism which works according to social considerations to keep alive the old-fashioned, inefficient pits in the mining villages. I want to know which is the type of Socialism that the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) favours, or is it that he favours both according to whether he is speaking in East or West Durham?

I know that, according to my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys), I am an old fogy who is not imbued with the new spirit, but I do not defend a rigid capitalism, a system which refuses to adapt itself to the circumstances of the time. What I refuse to do is to treat this matter of Capitalism and Socialism as one of ideology, as two conflicting moral systems one of which must be morally right and the other morally wrong. That is why I find no inconsistency whatsoever in people on this side proposing, in a particular case and in particular circumstances, a measure of State or municipal control. I am not arguing for a moment that there are not certain industries, such as local transport, which can be better run under municipal control. Equally, I would argue that there are certain new progressive industries which are best run under private enterprise. The greatest danger is the attempt to reduce all these to terms of ideology.

When the right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate says, "Anyhow, let us change it because it could not be worse," what arrant nonsense. There are 11,000,000 people employed and wages have been going, not down but up, in the last year or two. There are nearly 2,000,000 people who can tell the right hon. Gentleman that things could be worse than they are to-day and that they were worse in 1931. Even the hon. Member for Consett would not get any relief out of this Amendment, because his major complaint was that he did not get room in another place to see the opening of Parliament. Presumably under this Socialist Amendment there would not be another place for him to go to.

I should like to say a word in answer to the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Acland). I sympathise with him in his complaint that there are only two Lobbies. The only thing I can offer at all in comfort is that there is another alternative which is not unknown to his party, and that is, not to go into any Lobby at all. The hon. Member distributed his disapproval quite equally among hon. Members opposite and among hon. Members on this side, and he reserved his approval exclusively for Members of his own party. It is a pity that none of his own party were there to hear him. The chief object of his disapproval seemed to be the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), whom he described in language but not in words as an answer to the Tories' prayer, and his chief object of approval seemed to be the Liberal statement of pre-War days. There was certainly not much sign there of the popular front.

He made two suggestions which I promised to answer. One is in connection with the Ministry of Transport Bill to take over the trunk roads. I cannot give an answer to-day. This matter will require legislation, which, I understand, is to be shortly introduced, and that will clearly be the opportunity for doing it. The other question was with regard to the Development arid Road Improvement Funds Act. That Act is still in existence and is used. I am told that its terms are extremely limited, and that, in fact, it is not of much practical use to meet the claims of the distressed areas.

I had hoped to be able to deal with the questions both of physical education and nutrition in the schools, but I am afraid that no time is left for me to do so. No doubt we shall have opportunities of discussing this physical education again in the future. Let me say at once that to describe the physical condition in this country as having deteriorated is grotesque. I am speaking from the point of view of the school, and I can say that any suggestion of that kind is untrue, and that hon. Members opposite know it to be untrue. The right hon. Gentle man spoke about stunted and distorted bodies who are to be asked to join in this physical education. Ask any medical officer of health or any man who knows anything about the health of school children, and he will tell you that in a generation the condition of children has improved and has shown itself in an increase in height and an increase in weight. We know that in Jarrow—I am taking the place which hon. Members opposite hold forth as the most distressed —in 20 years the average height of the school children has risen by nearly 11 inches and their weight by 8i pounds. In view of that, what is the good of talking about the general deterioration of the national physique?


Are not school children a protected section of the community?


There is nothing here about protected section. We were told that these children cannot do physical exercises in their present standard of fitness, and that is quite untrue. I echo the desire of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Seaham that I had had more time to answer the arguments which, if he had had more time, he would have put forward. As it is, we are both disappointed. All I can hope is, that when this Amendment is put to the Vote on Monday evening, it will be defeated, as it should be defeated, unanimously. Hon. Members on this side of the House will vote against it from conviction, hon. Members opposite will vote against it from consistency, and hon. Members below the Gangway opposite will no doubt vote against it for convenience.

Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Captain Margesson.]

Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 2.

Adjourned at One Minute before Four o'Clock until Monday next, 9th November.