§ 3.13 p.m.
§ Captain Harold Balfour (in Court dress)
I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:Most Gracious Sovereign,We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.The responsibilities of the task laid upon me to-day are indeed great, but I feel that I should interpret the wishes of the House if the first of these which I discharge is to express our loyal gratification that His Majesty has opened Parliament in person for the first time in his Reign. Coupled with this sentiment is our wish that the reign of Their Majesties shall be one of health and happiness for them, and peace and increasing prosperity for their people.
The second responsibility which I feel I would like to discharge, and which is one which will have the full sympathy of the whole House, is to express our regret that the Prime Minister is to-day, through indisposition, not able to be in his place, and to couple with that the hope that in the very near future he will be completely restored to health.
I am, indeed, conscious of the honour which is done to the Isle of Thanet constituency by my being given this task to-day. Seven hundred years ago, the Isle of Thanet had a population of 600 families and was separated from the mainland by three furlongs breadth of water. To-day, those three furlongs have shrunk to three yards, and the 600 families have increased to over 60,000 electors. But I maintain that the Island still plays, as it always has done, an important part in our national life by providing health, happiness and rest to tens of thousands of inhabitants from all over the country, including even the City of Huddersfield. Also, it can claim to play a national part in receiving in turn the party conferences of all the political parties. I think I may claim for Margate that, at any rate, it has granted full belligerent rights to every shade of political colour.
The Gracious Speech from the Throne sets before Parliament a comprehensive 11 and wide programme of social and industrial legislation. When I had the honour of being given this task, I tried to turn my mind, not on to the controversial but rather to reflect where on this first day of the new Session, all of us in this House can meet on common ground. It seems to me right and in accord with the needs and expectations of the times, that much of the programme before Parliament should be one of social improvements. Though we shall debate sharply, and probably at length; though political controversy may run and will run high in the future as it has done in the past, I think it is well to remember that the basis of that controversy is not one of objective, because the objective is common to all of us in a wish for the betterment of the people, but rather one of differing methods and differing systems of attaining that common objective.
Further steps in the direction of modern industrial practices are now to be applied to electricity and to coal. The promise in the Gracious Speech of a Bill for the better distribution of electricity, means to this House, except for a few experts, a highly technical Measure. It is our hope that when it finally goes on to the Statute Book that Measure will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary in its character and will have the effect of bringing a cheap supply of current to homes which have hitherto not been able to afford it and particularly in our rural areas. The coal industry has always been, as it were, in the cockpit of political controversy in this country. Now, further major legislation for that industry is contemplated. While I feel certain that everyone in this country is willing to pay a price for coal which will ensure an improvement in the lot of the miners, on the other hand the community is entitled fairly, in return, to expect that the industry shall he efficiently organised and economically administered. If the Government proposals which we await with interest have this effect, I believe that the Measure will achieve a great economic objective. But if, when the last debate on the vexed question of the unification of royalties is finished, we can say that, apart from any economic achievement, this Measure has made the mining community in the country feel less separate from, less alien 12 to their fellow-citizens, and more at one in spirit with the rest of the community, then, I believe, we shall have achieved by such a Measure a great intangible objective as well as a tangible one.
The Gracious Speech foreshadows, also, a Bill to continue and improve the help which has been given to the cinema industry. Here, again, we have a technical Measure, and one might normally expect that the President of the Board of Trade would have to go to outside sources in order to obtain that expert advice which is necessary. But he is indeed a fortunate President of the Board of Trade, because that is not necessary. All he has to do is to go to his Cabinet colleagues, many of whom, including the Prime Minister, have lately been making successful personal appearances on the screen. I feel quite sure that if the Prime Minister is not available, the President of the Board of Trade has but to go to the Secretary of State for War—hon. Members may have noticed his picture in the papers recently—and he will be willing and able to give advice as regards the necessity of skill and proper co-ordination in public appearances. It really seems to me that if this new phase of publicity in our modern Government goes on, either the Commons will have to impose a quota system upon the Cabinet, and, of course, also on those Members of the Opposition who would like to be in the Cabinet, or, alternatively, we shall have the professional stars appealing to the Government and to the Opposition to pursue a policy of non-intervention.
I feel sure that the House will welcome Measures to promote the consumption and production of milk, and the improvement and reorganisation of the fishing industry, and the mention of these shows that the Gracious Speech means that Parliament shall not neglect agriculture. I think today it is worth while remembering that we can pass these Measures for the assistance of agriculture only with the consent and support of the townspeople of this country, who outnumber at the polls by no less than 40 to one the agriculturists. Their consent and support has been willingly and fully given for the past six years, often at the cost to the urban housewife of subordinating immediate individual interests to the wider national good, and I trust that this mutual realisation of the dependence of the town 13 upon the country and the country upon the town will long continue as a feature of our political life in this country.
The House, I feel sure, will extend a warm welcome to the proposed Measures for penal reform and for dealing with juvenile offenders. Crime, its causes and its prevention, embraces problems of psychology, morality, heredity and environment and our history shows that, approximately, once every generation there has been a step forward in dealing with these problems. We are glad that the time has now come in these years in which we are living for another step of advance in the study and cure of juvenile crime, particularly as we shall now be able to incorporate in the Measure the results of the research and experience of the post-War years which has been on a scale never before reached. We hope the Measure will now deal with this problem, not as an isolated problem, but taking into consideration all the circumstances of the child in relation to the social life and social conditions of our people. I feel certain, also, that the House will be glad that the present Home Secretary, with his family traditions of great social work in this direction, is to be the Minister responsible for piloting the Bill.
The Home Secretary is to be in charge of another Measure which is promised in the Gracious Speech,to make better provision for preventing abuses of the law relating to clubs.We shall await with interest the Government's proposals to deal with this matter. I will express the hope that when the details of this Measure are seen, they will be found to do nothing to restrict the reasonable liberties of genuine clubs or deprive the members of those clubs of what they consider to be their rights and privileges. There is many a bachelor who has found his only home in these clubs. There are others who are not bachelors, and who find a "home from home" in their clubs. These feel that they are entitled to a degree of privacy in their clubs comparable with that which they would enjoy in houses of their own. Provided that those feelings are respected and recognised, I believe that the Government will find no more loyal and enthusiastic body of supporters for their proposals to defeat bogus clubs, than the genuine club members themselves.
14 When this programme of domestic and social legislation envisaged in the King's Speech is completed it will have improved and assisted the health, happiness and security of all our citizens, both young and old. But I believe it is going to do something more than that. I believe that this Session will be an important one. looking at this country in relation to the rest of the world. It will be a further illustration to a world where democratic Parliamentary government is rather at a discount, that a people with liberty—liberty of expression, liberty of support and liberty of opposition—can still place their trust and faith in an assembly freely elected by themselves.
§ 3.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Mabane (in Court dress)
I beg to second the Motion.
My task is made lighter by the happy and lucid speech which we have just heard from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour). May I congratulate him on that speech. I am sure we all heard with great interest of the progress made by his constituency. Slow it may be—three furlongs all but three yards in 700 years—but it is none the less sure. "Festina lente," "Make haste slowly," might be an appropriate motto for my hon. and gallant Friend's constituency. Anyhow, we all look forward to the day when Thanet may he taken into union with the mainland.
I am very conscious of the honour paid not only to me but to my constituency to-day. Huddersfield, for ten years my political home, is the very heart of the West Riding of Yorkshire. Those Yorkshire qualities—sturdy individualism and rough independence, concealing the warmest of hearts—are the stamp of my constituency. Huddersfield, I find is popularly known as the home of footballers and choirs. It does not live by those alone. For a century or more it has produced the finest worsted cloth in the world and the only apology I have to make to my constituency to-day is that, for once, I am sartorially unrepresentative. In general, however, wherever there are well-dressed men there is Huddersfield cloth. My constituents, therefore, have a particular interest in the maintenance of conditions, in which both home trade and export may prosper.
15 The task on which I embark is not only an honour, it is an ordeal. At the outset of my journey may I say that I hope to steer a course the House will approve.
The Gracious Speech predicts a full year's work for Parliament. No less does it predict a full year's work for His Majesty. Already he has shown himself determined to be the servant no less than the Sovereign of his people. He will receive two visits which we are confident will still further strengthen the ties which bind us to countries which we remember as our allies during the War. He himself projects a journey, necessarily arduous, to India. In no more certain way could that great Empire be encouraged in the harmonious development of its new political forms.
The Gracious Speech opens with a familiar phrase:My relations with foreign Powers continue to be friendly.Every Member of this House welcomes that phrase. May it, in our time, always remain the first message of His Majesty to his Parliament. The will to peace in this House and the country is universal. It is passionate. In our Debates on foreign affairs now so frequent, harsh words are often spoken, yet the vigour of those Debates is, I think, not so much an evidence of fundamental discord as the measure of our anxiety for peace.
Recently that anxiety has been great. Apart from other problems, minor only by comparison, two major conflicts, "undeclared wars," to use the phrase of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, have shocked and disturbed the world. War has a dangerously infectious quality. Throughout the year it has been the task of His Majesty's Government to seek to prevent that dangerous infection from spreading. It has not spread, and for this may we not claim credit? There are those, I know, who suggest that the policy of His Majesty's Government lacks courage. Sometimes the highest courage of all is the courage to resist the temptation to be bold, the courage, if you will, to wait. "Fortune," says Francis Bacon, "is like the market; where many times, if you can stay a little, the price will fall." My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary paraphrased those words when he himself said, "A war averted might be 16 a war prevented." Impetuosity might have led to disaster; caution and conciliation certainly have had their reward.
For another reason, I submit, the sense of the country is right in approving our policy. Our position is peculiar. It is not enough that we should be ourselves satisfied with our actions; we must carry the Dominions with us. Technically, there is no Imperial foreign policy, yet the vision of our statesmen must include the whole Empire. If the Empire and its ideals of liberty and free institutions are to survive, there must be real unity in our foreign policy—real Imperial concurrence far above any technicalities.
In our immediate problems I must confess that some of the marchings and counter-marchings of the Non-Intervention Committee are difficult to follow. I think the House will appreciate my own difficulties during the last few days, yet I am satisfied that the country observes with relief every fresh advance towards agreement in that Committee and looks forward, despite the many recurrent difficulties, to a satisfactory outcome of the negotiations now proceeding.
We hope, too, for encouraging news of the efforts to be made at Brussels this week-end to bring peace once more to the East. The Gracious Speech refers to cooperative efforts to be made with other Governments at that Nine-Power Conference. Nothing, I am sure, could give greater satisfaction in this country than that one of the Governments so cooperating, in action and in counsel, should be the Government of the United States.
Amidst all these difficulties it is a bitter disappointment to all who hope for a new international order that the prestige of the League of Nations should diminish rather than increase. Yet I share the views so often expressed by the Foreign Secretary. Like him, I am no pessimist. Perhaps the League of Nations suffered by being launched into the world with dogma but without authority, whereas it needs authority without dogma. Let us hope that this difficult period through which the League is passing is but the prelude to a new and more vital integration.
The people of this land will not, I think, readily abandon the ideals for which the League stands. Yet they recognise realities. They recognise that if our influence is to be powerful for peace, 17 then that influence in the world to-day is directly related to our strength. We observe, in the Gracious Speech the adjective in that sentence referring to the expansion of the Defence Forces. It spoke of "full co-operation." None of us, knowing intimately the minds of our constituents, can doubt that full co-operation. Reluctantly, but with a stern determination, the country is resolved to make sacrifices for security, against the day, for which we all pray, when folly may give place to reason and the nations can agree to disarm.
In this connection, may I be permitted, without presumption, to say a word about His Majesty's Opposition? A new decision has recently been taken. I think I interpret the feelings of the House when I say that that decision is viewed with admiration and respect. The welfare and safety of the nation come far above any party scores, and we know hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite well enough to be aware that their reluctance to support His Majesty's Government does not derive from any desire to put our liberties or democratic freedom in jeopardy. After all, liberty is the greatest British interest of all, and in this House we are all British citizens first and party men second. I verily believe that nothing could so readily rouse the resentment of the Communist party in this House as any suggestion to him that the engineers of Clydeside were not the finest in the world.
§ Mr. Mabane
Let none of us imagine that in the defence of our liberties there would be any disunity in this House or in the country.
We shall watch the progress of rearmament with constant care. Particularly ought our interest to concentrate on the Army. The Navy and the Air Force are primarily professional services. In so far as the Army is professional, we desire it to be a career open to talent, with sufficient opportunities to attract to it ambitious young men from all classes of society. But I stress the importance of the Army, because it is through the Territorial branch of the Army that the ordinary citizen can find his easiest contact with the responsibilities of National Defence. The House will applaud the recent decision of my right hon. Friend the 18 Secretary of State for War to include the Director-General of the Territorial Army in the Army Council and to appoint as Deputy-Director-General a Territorial officer, who is, I believe, to be the first substantive Territorial major-general.
To-day too the Territorial Army has a new role. It is charged with anti-aircraft defence. There must be no gaps in that defence. In any future war the home front will have a new and possibly a decisive importance. Therefore, we welcome the knowledge that a Bill is at once to be brought to us to provide against the danger from the air. However beastly to contemplate, this Bill is necessary. More, it is demanded in the country with insistent voice. I am glad to know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is this very afternoon, later, to meet representatives of local authorities, when I hope all outstanding difficulties will be overcome.
To-day, as has been said by my hon. and gallant Friend beside me, we all greatly regret the reasons which have prevented the Prime Minister from taking his place on this, the first occasion of the opening of a new Session under his leadership. In the heavy tasks ahead he will take heart from the knowledge that to-day that combination of political forces which give him support is as united in its co-operation as it was six years ago. Six years ago industrial and financial recovery was our first concern. Since then foreign affairs have gradually over-shadowed the political scene. With sickening persistence clouds have gathered on the international horizon. In spite of this it is surely remarkable evidence of the stability of this people that at no time has confidence been shaken for more than a passing moment. Yet lately I have observed a general and a growing preoccupation with the troubles that beset us. To this the Gracious Speech, I think, provides a valuable corrective, for, in it, is set out a further ambitious programme of domestic legislation. It is evident that this country, confident alike in its peaceful purpose and its growing strength, may look to the future with calmness and with courage.
§ 3.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Attlee
Before congratulating the Mover and Seconder of the Address on 19 their admirable speeches, I should like to express our regret that the Prime Minister is unable to be present to-day and our regret at the cause of his absence. He is suffering from a painful illness, and we all hope that lie may be restored to full health as soon as possible. I should like to congratulate the two hon. Members who have moved and seconded the Address. We have seen a whole series of Members performing these difficult duties, but I have seldom heard those duties performed better. We have had two Members who are very frequent interveners in our Debates. They have both won their spurs long ago in this House, though perhaps I should say his wings, in the case of one of them, and therefore we expected that they would perform that task in an admirable way. I think the hon. Mover made a most successful flight with an extremely happy and smooth landing. I admired the light touch that he had on various topics. I particularly admired his reference to Ministers of the Crown, with an oblique glance at what, to use the words of the Gracious Speech from the Throne, I shall call "a comprehensive publicity campaign" which seems to surround a certain Minister. I thought the Seconder showed very great skill in the way in which he looked very cautiously in the mouth of some of the rather doubtful gift horses that the Government were providing. There was, I thought, in these speeches a little apprehension sometimes, and not quite that wholehearted approval of all the Government Measures which would come from less experienced Members; and, of course, we feel those doubts in a far greater degree.
I should like to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, I think, will be speaking in this Debate, one or two of the ordinary questions that we must ask. First of all, I would ask him as to the time to be devoted to the discussion of the Address, and I should like to know whether he could give us some indication of the priority among the various small Measures which make up the Government's programme. One further question. There is an indication in the Gracious Speech that His Majesty will visit India. I do not know whether it is possible at 20 this time for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to indicate at all the time when that visit will take place. It is not my intention this afternoon to make a long speech or to go into any details. We shall, I hope, have ample opportunity, but the general impression of the Speech seems to me not in the least to reflect the world situation.My relations with foreign Powers continue to be friendly.That is a time-honoured formula, but that formula may cover very different circumstances. Sometimes it covers a period when all the countries of the world seem to be coming together for peace and disarmament; it also covers a period in which there is open and veiled aggression going on in different parts of the world. We are glad that we are to have a visit to this country from the King of the Belgians and the King of Rumania, but we shall welcome some indication that the Government are going to do anything to bring the people of the world together. We should like to see some indication of a foreign policy which is going to make for the establishment of peace. There is really no indication of foreign policy in this Speech. There are references to the two areas in the world in which war is now raging, but there is no indication that there is any long-distance foreign policy or any attempt whatever to bring some greater settlement into the international situation; and, indeed, it seems to me that some things put in the Speech with regard to foreign affairs are wholly irrelevant. We have the statement that the Governmentbelieve that a strict application of the international policy of non-intervention in Spain will materially contribute to this end.That is a declaration of faith, but it has nothing to do with the circumstances of the times. It seems entirely irrelevant because there is no such thing at the present time as a strict application of a policy of international non-intervention.
I should like some indication of the attitude of the Government to the position in the Far East. It is all very well to say that the Government are going to co-operate with other nations to mitigate suffering and to bring the conflict to a conclusion, but the important point is what kind of conclusion is contemplated? I should like some indication, some echo in this King's Speech of the Prime Minister's remarks on the sanctity of 21 treaties and of the need for establishing law and order. With regard to equipping our Defence Forces and to the provision of anti-aircraft precautions, these two items are a terrible commentary on the failure of the Government's foreign policy. There is a very serious division in this country on the subject of foreign affairs and the use to which armaments are to be put. We on this side have not changed our view that armaments are necessary for the preservation of world peace, but we are opposed, as we always have been opposed, to a competition in armaments divorced from foreign policy.
When I turn to home affairs I notice the same lack of dealing with fundamentals. We have here no great and outstanding proposals. We have a lot of rather facile optimism with regard to the state of trade and industry. We are coming to the end of a trade cycle, and he would be a rash man who prophesied that we shall not see the beginnings of a slump before 12 months are over. We all hope that that will not be the case, but we see no indication of the policy of the Government to deal with the fundamental causes of trouble at home. It is the omissions more than the inclusions that one notices in this King's Speech. There are minor proposals for social reform. There is a measure for the unification of coal royalties, and we gather that there will be some measure for the re-organisation of the coal mining industry. I hope we shall not have another false start. This has been suggested before, but owing to the necessary sanction from the financial authorities that rule this country not having been obtained, it could not be pursued. I hope that the Government are not going to reorganise the coal industry on the basis that private profits should come first, but on the basis that the interests of the whole country must be served in utilising this great natural resource, that the first charge on the getting of the coal should be a higher standard of life for the miners, and that the whole of the people should have an abundant supply of coal.
I look with some suspicion, too, on the Measure for improving the distribution of electricity. I hope that that does not mean handing over electricity to private enterprise, but that it will mean the development of electricity in the interests of the whole community. There are further proposals for the welfare of agriculture. We take the line there that the 22 only true basis for a prosperous agriculture is an adequate purchasing power among the masses of the people. We shall look closely at the minor proposals of social reform. On glancing at them, they appear to be useful, but they do not touch any really important issue. They are little tiny patches put upon the garment. There are a number of very minor Bills with which I do not intend to deal.
I would say that the startling thing is the complete omission of any reference to unemployment, the position of the unemployed, the position of the distressed areas, and the position of the old age pensioners. All these are subjects which create intense interest in the country, and they are all being affected to-day by the rise in the cost of living. There seems to be an accelerating rise in the cost of living which is filling people with apprehension as they see the increase going on and their standard of life declining. There seems to be nothing in the Government's programme to deal fundamentally with the condition of the people. Therefore, we shall submit to the House an Amendment to the Address in which we shall point out the serious omissions. We shall urge that the Government, although they may be putting forward certain small Bills of utility, are not facing the major problems that are filling the minds of the people with apprehension. The first is the problem of peace, and the second is the problem of establishing sound economic conditions that will give security and social justice for all. These are the omissions from the King's Speech.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir John Simon)
On the opening day of the Session each step is prescribed by tradition and each individual has his allotted part until the general Debate opens. I am sure that the whole House regrets very much—and certainly I have more reason than anybody to regret it—that at the last moment it became impossible for the Prime Minister to come here to-day. He is laid aside by a sudden attack of gout, but there is no reason to think that his absence will be prolonged. It is already plain from what has been said from both sides of the House how sincerely everybody here hopes that he will make a speedy recovery.
Taking his place for the moment, I have the very pleasant duty of joining in the 23 congratulations to the Mover and Seconder of the Address. Some of us have listened to these annual performances for a great many years. It is a constant surprise to me that there is always found for this most difficult and delicate task a new supply of fit and proper persons well qualified to discharge the function to the general satisfaction of us all. My hon. Friends are both experienced Parliamentarians and we all rejoiced to hear how pleasantly they undertook their task and to note how on the opening day they were able to indulge in those lighter touches, which no doubt later on will give place to the cut and thrust of debate. The two hon. Members represent the country and the town, and I have a special interest in their local references in both cases. My hon. and gallant Friend who moved the Address spoke with affection and admiration of the Isle of Thanet. I will only add to his description that it contains some of the best golf courses in the world. My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mabane) made a curious geographical slip when he described Huddersfield as being the heart of the West Riding, forgetting of course that the adjoining constituency which I have the honour to represent is, in fact, the centre of that area.
It is the tradition that from this side something should be said shortly on the more general aspects of the King's Speech and something said in reply to what has just been observed by the Leader of the Opposition. He asked the usual question as to the time for the Debate on the Address and the probable course of business in future. The Debate on the Address will occupy the remainder of this week and we hope that it will be concluded during the early part of next week. During Government time a number of Bills will be presented as opportunity arises, and private Members w ill have all the facilities provided for them by the Standing Orders for the discussion of their Bills and Motions. To-morrow there will be moved the usual Motion for the holding of the Ballots.
As regards the legislation which is likely first to be put before the House, I had better mention the Coal Bill as an important and complicated Bill which will be presented at an early date, giving time for the House to study its provisions 24 before the Second Reading is taken. We ought to make, and the Government hope to make, substantial progress with the Measure before the Christmas Adjournment. Of the other Bills, the one which is most likely to appear first is the Cinematograph Films Bill. I will mention one or two others which we hope to present to the House before Christmas. They are the Sea Fisheries Bill, the Blind Persons Pensions Bill, the National Health Insurance Bill, the Air Raid Precautions Bill, the Bill for appointing additional judges, which is one of the consequences of the remarkable Parliamentary achievement of my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University (Mr. A. Herbert) in the last Session, the Rural Housing Bill for Scotland, and the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. These may be regarded as the first batch, though there will, of course, be other important matters to be prepared and put before the House later.
I could not help observing in the speech of the Leader of the Opposition that he has not any particular quarrel to make with this programme. They were useful Measures, he thought, but he endeavoured to convey the impression that they were little tiny patches hardly deserving the attention of Parliament in the course of a whole Session, as something falling far short of what might have been expected from a Government which is inspired by all the right ideas. I shall be greatly surprised if, by the time we come to the end of the present Session, hon. Gentlemen opposite take the same view. I hope that their view will then still be that it ought to be possible to complete the legislative programme of the Government within the limits of this Session. In the meantime I take note of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks, and if later I find him complaining that the Government have given the House an impossibly long programme of Measures to be carried through I will venture to draw his attention to them.
The Leader of the Opposition made a reference to the state of trade, and I should like to say a word about it. He observed, and his observation is no doubt justified, that as the period of comparative prosperity continues we must be getting near the time when a change might be expected. That is, no doubt, a truthful, though somewhat obvious deduction, but the actual position as I believe it to 25 be at present can be expressed thus: The improvement which has taken place in the economic position of this country set in five or six years ago gradually; it has developed since and has certainly continued in this present year. I do not think there is any solid ground for saying that on the whole there is any palpable indication that this progress will be arrested. In each quarter of the present year our overseas trade has shown an all-round expansion as compared with the corresponding quarter of the year before. At the same time our imports have increased and our United Kingdom exports have increased—not only in value, because if you transform the values into volume the figures still show a substantial increase.
I should be the very last to say that we had achieved all that we wish to achieve in the realm of expanding our export trade, but it is a very remarkable fact that there has been this continued expansion not only in the home market but in the export trade also. And there are other tests. The test of industrial production as a whole is a very good test. Industrial production, as measured by the careful calculations of the Board of Trade as a whole has continued this year till it reached a higher level than in the year 1936. The latest index number, worked out for the second quarter of this year, up to Midsummer, is the highest index number for industrial production yet reported for any quarter. At the same time there has not been any halt in the retail trade. The Leader of the Opposition, speaking just now of past King's Speeches, made the observation that there was no reference to unemployment in the present King's Speech. I can well believe that that must strike him as a very strange contrast with some situations which we have had to face in the past. But let us recognise the very surprising fact that the number of insured workpeople in this country now in employment is reaching a higher and higher level. It is 473,000 more than it was a year ago, and, indeed, only slightly less than the record figure.
I am not saying that there are not things to be set on the other side for the purpose of forming deductions. For example, it is true, apparently, that the prospects in some branches of trade are not quite so good as they seemed to he earlier in the year. Private house-building seems not to be reaching quite 26 the same figures, and there has recently been, so I am informed, a tendency for some kinds of factory building to diminish; but there does not appear to be any ground for thinking that the check in commercial building will be permanent, and there is a very great deal of housing work still to be done, particularly in connection with the carrying out of the Government plans, now actually being achieved, for dealing with slums, overcrowding and the like. I think, therefore, the fair view is undoubtedly, as I had occasion to say in the City some time ago, and as the Prime Minister said in a speech in the country, that there is no ground whatever in the immediate situation for asserting that there are palpable indications that our trade is approaching a decline.
What the future may contain is a matter which nobody can prophesy or entirely control, but we do not do justice to the situation, we do not help ourselves or anybody else, if we do not note these facts, and take satisfaction, as we are entitled to do, in their encouraging character. For my part, I believe that you are never going to restore the full effect of international trade as we should wish to see it as long as all the obstacles which exist to-day continue unremoved. My special work in recent months has led me much more closely than before to look into some of these matters, and nothing is more striking, when one considers the problem closely, than the appalling effect which exchange restrictions can have in denying to the world that recovery in the interchange of goods which I am sure we all of us wish to promote.
I am not going to delay the House now by any observations on the international situation. As the right hon. Gentleman said, we had a full Debate on the matter at the very end of the last Session, and I have no doubt at all that it will be an important topic of discussion in the Debate on the Address which is now opening, and which will be continued later. Therefore, I will leave that matter now, merely observing that I do not myself quite appreciate what is meant, when it is put down in black and white, by the claim that there is some way of dealing with fundamentals which, by some process or other, is going to produce a complete change in the international sphere when, 27 as it appears to me, our difficulties arise very largely from hard facts and relations which are not to be disposed of by general phrases. I happened to observe the other day in a very interesting publication, the New Fabian Research Bureau Quarterly, a contribution to this subject from an hon. Gentleman sitting below the Gangway, the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander), which at least shows how some people imagine that these things can be dealt with by broad and generous expressions. It is an interesting article called "A real National Government." I will only observe on that subject that my hon. Friend thinks that there is no chance for the official Opposition by themselves, but that they might have a chance if they combined with some other people.
§ Sir J. Simon
In a paragraph headed "A Lead for Peace" my hon. Friend goes on to say:A National Government of the Left, rightly interpreting the mind of the nation, could immediately bring into operation a foreign policy which would change the whole situation of the world, call the bluff of the dictators,I beg the attention of the House to this striking suggestion—and compel the settlement of disputes through the pacific machinery of the League. The knowledge that there was no other way open but peaceful change would have a profound influence upon the attitude of Germany, Italy, and Japan. Surely in such circumstances it is fair to say that co-operation between groups of the Left is a lesser evil than the continuance in office of the present Government.Perhaps my hon. Friend will develop that view at greater length on another occasion, and in the meantime I take the liberty to preserve my textbook in order that I may understand how it is worked out.
There are one or two other matters which I should mention to the House. I must not fail to say one word on the subject of air raid precautions. The distinction which our forefathers so long laboured to establish between the dangers to which the fighting forces, uniformed men, were exposed by their calling and their duty, and the safety which civilisation ought to be able to secure to the civilian and the non-combatant, has been 28 lamentably confounded of recent years, and I think that the House will agree that we should have been very remiss if we had not long ago taken up this very novel, very distressing and unhappy subject of the necessity of providing air raid precautions. It is not at all the case that it is now being taken up as a new topic in the present Session. On the contrary, in the Home Office in 1935 a new special Department was set up to deal with it, and a very great deal of valuable work has been done by that Department and the Government; but the time has come when we must put some of these matters in statutory form. These new functions which have to be undertaken, and which are largely discharged by the Home Office, are very serious functions indeed. The Public Accounts Committee has already called attention to the necessity of putting this branch of our work upon a proper authorised basis, and consequently my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will, without loss of time, be presenting a Bill to the House. Considerable progress has already been made. The financial arrangements between the Government and the local authorities in this matter must now be put upon a statutory basis, and the introduction of this Bill will meet the request which was made, and very properly made, I think, by the Public Accounts Committee, in their second report for 1937.
I should like, if I may, for, as the House will understand I have an interest in the subject, to refer to the Home Secretary's other big proposal, which is to introduce legislation for reform in our penal system and in the treatment of young offenders. There has been an immense amount of work most devotedly done by Committees and Commissions for some years, and I believe that the time has come when a very great advance can be made. I hope and believe that in the case of this Bill, as with some other Bills, we shall be able to get contributions from all sides of the House, and I hope that we shall formulate a Measure which will be generally approved.
I must say one word upon agriculture. One of the Measures to be introduced at a very early stage of the new Session, as the Gracious Speech indicates, will be a Bill to make provision for the development and better organisation of the white 29 fish industry. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture made a statement on this subject last Session. The Bill will be based upon the general principle underlying the recommendations made in the Second Report of the Sea Fish Commission, and will be a comprehensive Measure. Opportunity will be taken in it to give effect to the International Convention, which, I think, was signed in London last March, for regulating the meshes of fishing nets, the size limits for fish, and also the recent agreement about the whaling industry. The other subject connected with agriculture specifically mentioned in the King's Speech is legislation with regard to milk. Legislation will be introduced in due course for the assistance and development of the milk industry. The House will remember that last July we issued a White Paper, and there indicated the general principles we proposed to follow. The guiding principle will be that an increase in the consumption of liquid milk is to be pressed as being to the advantage both of the national health and of producers, and this can best be secured by creating greater confidence in the safety and cleanliness of the milk supply. Moreover, Measures designed to raise the standard of our dairy herds must also tend towards cheaper production.
I shall not weary the House by attempting to go through the whole list of the Measures enumerated in the Gracious Speech. I claim that we are putting before the House, Measures which will not be found to be small, as the right hon. Gentleman has suggested, but will be found, by his own admission, to be of general benefit. I invite the House as a whole to help to carry through this legislation. If we can accomplish this very considerable programme in the course of the Session we shall consider that we have done well.
I do not think there is any other statement to be made. In regard to India, I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the words of the Gracious Speech must be left to express all that may he said on that subject. His Majesty's desire to make this visit is well understood and no doubt the time chosen for it will be appropriate.
I invite the House to enter upon this new programme in good heart and spirit. It is true that we shall have a great many difficulties to overcome. The 30 Chancellor of the Exchequer has his own troubles and will need in his turn the support that must be given if we are to make good all the plans that we have undertaken. We shall pursue ardently and diligently our Defence programme in order that we may make our country, as we are making it steadily, stronger; that is, I think, accepted by responsible opinion in every quarter of the House and the country. It is a great thing, while we are doing that so firmly and so energetically, that we are sacrificing nothing of the social programme and that we are putting no impediments to the exercise of the liberties of the people.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ Sir Archibald Sinclair
My first duty is to associate my hon. and right hon. Friends and myself with the compliments so well deserved and so eloquently paid by the Leader of the Opposition and by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour) and the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mabane) who moved and seconded the Address. In performing that duty they were acting not only on behalf of their constituents and their parties and on behalf of the Government which they support, but in some measure on behalf of the whole House. The Motion which they proposed is a formal one of thanks to His Majesty; far from wishing to refuse to send to His Majesty a message of humble thanks for his Address, my hon. Friends and I will try to make it a franker and fuller expression of opinion by this House, and we shall seek to do that at a later stage by a suitable Amendment.
In moving and seconding the Address they eschewed controversy, and if they have not carried the whole House with them in every expression of their views they have earned general admiration for their dexterous and successful performance of a formidable and intimidating task. In no part of their speeches did they carry the House with them more than when they spoke of our regret at the absence of the Prime Minister and expressed our hope, which was fortified by the remarks of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the Prime Minister would be shortly restored to the service of the House.
31 Let me say that their achievement was all the more remarkable against the background of the Speech, for the Government's programme of legislation is like the catalogue of a remnant sale. There is one big Measure, a few useful and welcome little Bills and quantities of small ones—and, of course, any amount of opportunities as the Chancellor of the Exchequer reminded us, for controversy on points of detail, but they have little bearing on the main problem which confronts Members of this House, and which is the condition of the people.
This Speech is less remarkable for what it contains than for what it omits. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, and indeed, the Mover and Seconder of the Address, were at great pains to emphasise the size of the task with which Parliament is faced, the quantity of legislation which is to be brought before us; yet the Chancellor of the Exchequer found it so uninviting a text for the observations which he addressed to us that he was constrained to find a more interesting topic in the pages of a Fabian pamphlet and in the article of my hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander). I invite the Chancellor of the Exchequer to join with me in applying to this document the words of Petruchio:Away, thou rag, thou quantity, thou remnant.I do not wish to-day to take up the time of the House with a discussion on foreign affairs. We had a Debate last week, and we shall no doubt have a Debate devoted to that vitally important subject during the course of the present week or next week and I shall follow the example of the two speakers who preceded me in confining my observations within as small a compass as possible. There was, however, one observation of the hon. Member for Huddersfield upon which I wish to comment—I hope in not too controversial a spirit, for the spirit of his utterance was quite uncontroversial—in which he referred to the Brussels Conference. Indeed, it is highly germane to the Gracious Speech, which also refers to the Brussels Conference in the hope that it will be brought to a successful conclusion. The hon. Member said that he hoped it would result in peace. We all hope that it will result in peace, but what is agitating our minds is, "What peace?" The Power 32 that will come to that Conference demanding peace most vociferously, if it comes at all—and if it is not there it will get its friends to do so—will be Japan, on the basis of the possession of the Chinese Provinces which she now occupies. Do the Government propose that peace shall be made in conformity with justice and treaty obligations? Are the Government going to pay heed to the resolution of the League of Nations that help shall be given to China in her extremity at the present time, or are we to have again the peace of Abyssinia, the recognition of the fait accompli and another encouragement given to aggression all over the world.
When passing from foreign affairs our attention is naturally arrested, in the first place, by the reference in the Gracious Speech to air raid precautions. The Chancellor of the Exchequer reminded us that it was more than two years ago that His Majesty's Government declared in a circular to local authorities that the Government would be neglecting their duty if they failed to take those precautions. The present First Lord of the Admiralty was saying that the prospect in Europe was enough to terrify the stoutest heart. Since then we have had the bombardment of Guernica and other Spanish towns, and of Nanking, Canton and Shanghai and other Chinese towns. Now at last Ministers are becoming anxious in the Gracious Speech about British towns. This paragraph would be improved—at any rate, it would have more meaning—if it began:My Ministers have woken up and are anxiousabout air raid precautions. The House of Commons showed its anxiety in the Debate that we had on this subject last July. We shall examine the measures which the Government propose to bring before us with no less anxiety, and I hope with more promptness and vigour than the Government have shown in preparing them.
We are told that the Government will submit further measures for the welfare of agriculture. It was four years ago that Ministers began to declare that there had never been a British Government which had done so much for agriculture. Every Session since then there have been fresh measures for the welfare of agriculture, and every week since then there have 33 been more speeches claiming that there never was a Government which had done so much for agriculture in Great Britain as the present Government. But take what criterion you like; take the value of the output, the acreage under cultivation, or the number of men employed on the land, and you will find that the cumulative effect of all the measures of the Government has been that the position of agriculture has steadily deteriorated. According to the Ministry of Agriculture's preliminary statistics for 1937, the arable acreage is down by 102,000 acres as compared with last year, and the total acreage under all crops and grass is down by 91,000 acres. The steady decline in the number of agricultural workers employed upon the land has continued, and there are 9,500 fewer workers on the land than there were last year. Accordingly, the agricultural proposals of the Government are assured of a critical reception from this House. Farmers may well ex claim: "If these are our friends, save us from them."
The plight of the fishing industry is far worse even than that of agriculture. It is stated that the Government are going to introduce measures for dealing with the white fish industry, but there is another branch which employs far more men and women directly and indirectly even than the white fish industry, and that is the herring industry. The plight of this branch of the industry is at the present moment desperate, and I hope that we shall have some assurance in the course of these debates that the Government propose to deal with a situation, which is as important from the point of view of Defence as in its social aspect. We are building battleships, cruisers, destroyers and minesweepers, but what is the use of all those vessels unless they have small craft, trawlers and drifters, to protect them from submarines and mines?
Then follow four paragraphs containing a list of small but most important and useful measures which will, no doubt, meet with a great deal of agreement in principle, but a very large amount of controversy in detail. Finally, comes a reference to Scotland. We are promised a Bill to deal with rural housing, which is good, but there is no promise or indication that the Government are prepared to fulfil the undertaking which they gave in their national manifesto to the Scottish 34 people at the last General Election, when they said that the provision of water supply and drainage, especially in the sparsely populated areas, would be the subject of special care and attention. Yet it is vital, if we are to consider rural housing, because in no cardinal necessity of public health is there a more startling deficiency in the rural districts of Scotland, than there is in water supplies. I hope we shall have some assurance on that point.
Nor do I find in this King's Speech any reference to another controversy which has been raging in Scotland during the Recess, which has been front-page news, jostling with the news from China and Spain for the most prominent headlines in the Scottish papers, and that is the new departure under which crofters' houses are being included in the valuation roll and are being rated. That is another matter which urgently requires the attention of the Government. These crofters have expended a great deal of capital and energy on improving their houses in the faith that they would not be rated on those improvements, and this House must see that the confidence which they have placed in what was universally understood to be the law is not undermined. Nor is there any reference to what is known as the Gilmour Report on the reform of Scottish administration. Scotland is anxiously awaiting a declaration of the Government's policy on that report, and I hope the Government will soon give us such a statement.
Now let me turn to the omissions, the other important omissions apart from the Scottish omissions, from this King's Speech. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the speech of the Leader of the Opposition revealed no particular ground of disapproval of the King's Speech. I must say that I did not interpret the speech of the Leader of the Opposition in that way. I think he indicated a good many grounds of disapproval. I hope at any rate that I have not been lacking in frankness and candour in intimating some grounds on which my friends and I disapprove of the Speech. But our main quarrel is not so much with what is in it as with what is omitted from it. In the Debate on the King's Speech last year the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Nicolson), who was then either moving or seconding the Address, said that a 35 comprehensive plan of nutrition was being examined by the Minister of Health. The only mention of nutrition here is the promise of some improvement in the milk scheme. It is vital, both from the point of view of public health, in regard to which the Government has instituted this publicity campaign, and from the point of view of agriculture, that this comprehensive plan for better nutrition should be brought up and presented to the House and that we should legislate upon it. If this comprehensive plan was being examined by the Ministry of Health a year ago—that was in November of last year—why is it not forthcoming now? I hope that the Minister of Health, whom I see in his place, will find an opportunity during the Debate of explaining to the House the position with regard to that comprehensive plan.
Then, as the Leader of the Opposition has pointed out, there is no reference in the King's Speech to that question of rising prices which is so gravely affecting housekeeping. A friend of mine was discussing with an economist the position of various industries in this country, and the economist said, "Oh, there is a greater industry than any of those which we have been discussing." My friend said, "You mean agriculture?" "No," said the economist, "a bigger industry still; I mean housekeeping." It is the housekeepers of this country who are keeping their children happy and healthy on small means, the people who keep their wage-earners fit and efficient for their jobs, who are feeling the pressure of high prices, and I cannot help regretting that this vital question, this question which is vital to so many people, to old age pensioners, to the unemployed, to all who are living on small fixed incomes, finds no mention in the King's Speech. Then there is no mention of the black-coated workers. It is now two or three years since the Unemployment Insurance Statutory Committee reported in favour of bringing the black-coated workers into the unemployment insurance scheme. Innumerable questions have been put since to the Minister of Labour and other Ministers on that subject. We have been fobbed off with the assurance that the matter is to be dealt with. Yet there is no mention of that after two years in this King's Speech.
36 Then, as the Leader of the Opposition said, there is no reference at all to the depressed areas and to unmployment; there is no reference to those great areas which are not scheduled as depressed but where there is even greater unemployment than in many of the depressed areas. Nor is there any mention of measures which the Government ought to be contemplating, if they are not contemplating them, for dealing with trade recession when it comes. I am not here to-day to bandy arguments with the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to whether trade at the present time is on the ascendant or on the decline. The Chancellor of the Exchequer fairly mentioned a number of considerations on both sides—some considerations which give ground for anxiety, and others which I join with him in attaching importance to, which show that at the present time trade and industry are still active and that there is no immediate probability, no probability that within the next few months, there will be the beginning of a slump. But the Unemployment Insurance Statutory Committee, independent economists and observers of every kind, have said that within the next two or three years we are almost certain to experience another cyclical recession in trade. Furthermore, this rearmament expenditure on which we are now engaged is not going to last for ever; this country and the nations of the world will not stand this heavy burden of armament expenditure. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) in a recent speech said a wise thing when he declared that armament expenditure at this level cannot go on, and that there will be either an explosion or a joining of hands and mingling of hearts, when we should get rid of this dangerous and explosive burden.
When the time comes for stopping the rearmament programme there is bound to be an immense dislocation of labour, large masses of people are bound to lose their employment; and the Government ought to give us an assurance that they are looking forward to that time and making their plans ahead. They ought to have a list of useful public works being gradually accumulated and powers ought to be acquired, and all that ought to be thought out now. It is no use waiting until the crisis is upon us. We learned that in the sad years from 1929 to 1931. The time to make the plans is now, and 37 I hope that the Government will at some stage in the Debates give an assurance that they are setting up the necessary machinery for making these plans. The other thing which is of course equally necessary is to broaden the basis of our trade, to take the opportunities open to us now of reviving overseas trade, and, best of all, to come to an agreement with Mr. Cordell Hull and take advantage of the overtures which he has made from the United States of America. Always we have been told, "Oh, we would lower tariffs if only the wicked foreigner would do so." Not only has Mr. Cordell Hull declared his willingness to do so, but France, Italy, Latvia and other countries have enlarged and in some cases abolished their quotas and lowered their tariffs. But this country has done nothing in that direction. It is time the Government made a move and gave to this country, to the United States and to the world, tokens of their sincerity in wishing to abolish quotas and lower tariffs and revive international trade.
There is one more extraordinary omission from this Speech. In the King's Speech of 1935, at the beginning of the first operative paragraph, there was this sentence:My Government's foreign policy will, as heretofore, be based on a firm support of the League of Nations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd December, 1935; col. 45. Vol. 307.]In the speech of 1936, the first sentence, in the first operative paragraph, was:The policy of the Government continues to be based on membership of the League of Nations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd November, 5936; col. 9. Vol. 317.]This is the first Speech in which that precedent is departed from and in which there is no mention of the League of Nations, except a reference to Governments, who may or may not be members of the League, and who will be represented at the Brussels conference. There is no mention in the Speech, for the first time, of the League of Nations as the basis of the Government's foreign policy, no pledge of continued loyalty to the League and its ideals. It is no use for the Government to say that it was not necessary, that it is not usual. For the last two years we have had it in the forefront of the Speech. Those in this country who are devoted to the cause of peace based on justice and collective security, will not fail to draw their conclusions from 38 this omission, unless it can be repaired by a very substantial explanation from the Treasury bench.
The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer tried to make out that my hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) was at fault in supposing that a change of foreign policy could effect a complete change in the world situation. We saw rapid enough changes in the world situation as a result of the Government's foreign policy in 1935. We saw the League of Nations in the dust in the summer of 1935. It was bewildered and was not operating in any of the great events of the time. It was a thing without life, people were losing confidence in it; and then suddenly the Foreign Secretary went to Geneva in September, 1935, and he made that great speech about steady and collective resistance to unprovoked aggression, and the League sprang into life, 50 nations working with the British Empire to substitute for the anarchy of power politics the rule of law. Then came the Hoare-Laval negotiations, and immediately the strength of the League began to evaporate and its virtue began to go out of it. Then the present Secretary for Foreign Affairs, with his well-known and sincere devotion to the ideals of the League, became Foreign Secretary. For a moment there was again a revival in hope and in virility in the work of the League.
There next came the running away from this ideal, the abandonment of sanctions, and the League sank to the position in which it is now and from which it can be rescued only by a Government which has faith in its ideals and which will once again give a lead to the world in the cause of justice. A Government which is thinking only of defending British interests and is concerned only with a policy of economic Imperialism, can never restore that faith. But we call upon the Government to revive the world's faith in the League and to take the lead once again, as in September, 1935, in a resolute and concerted effort to base the relations between the peoples of the world on the eternal principles of the moral law.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Maxton
I am sorry that the two hon. Gentlemen who represent the City of London have just withdrawn from their places on the Front Bench, because any 39 remarks that I had to offer on the Gracious Speech were going to be made mainly with reference to the two hon. Gentlemen. I do not know whether the House feels it, but I feel that a big blank has been left in our proceedings. I have always wondered, ever since I came to the House, what exactly was the idea of having the two representatives of the City of London sitting on the Front Bench on King's Speech days. I knew that I could find some traditional reason for it if I hunted up the records, but I suppose the majority of hon. Members in this House have never taken the trouble to hunt up the records. To-day, however, it suddenly dawned upon me.
When I saw the King's Speech and realised its contents, I knew that the Mover and Seconder of the Address would do the decorative part of the work, that they would offer the congratulations, which they both did in the most admirable fashion. I hope that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mabane) will not think it unfair discrimination on my part if I offer special congratulations to the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour). He has been my near neighbour in this House for a considerable time; I have had the opportunity of hearing many of his stage asides and personal references; and, having heard these, I congratulate him all the more heartily on the speech that he has delivered to-day.
While, however, the Mover and Seconder performed the vocal part of the proceedings, I realise that the two hon. Gentlemen representing the City of London were the really important persons in the proceedings. They were sitting there to-day as I have seen the adjudicators at a music hall festival. The City of London had called the tune, and they were here to-day to see that the tune was being properly played. They have walked away satisfied, and they are now telephoning to the great nerve centre of the Empire to say, "It's all right, boys. Our interest and profits, our rights to manipulate, are safe for at least another year." Because there is nothing in this King's Speech of a social kind which is going to cost any money. That has evidently been the instruction: "Give the people all the social reforms you please as long as they cost nothing, or next door to nothing. This mining 40 royalties business will cost a bit of money, but you can let that go, because it is still going to remain in the family, as it were; it is just changing as between one wealthy section of the community and another. But when it comes to the other things, any kind of reforms, but on the cheap." That, I think, is the key-note that runs right through this King's Speech, and a message has gone out from this House to-day to a section of our population that must amount to something like 5,000,000—unemployed, old age pensioners, dependants of unemployed, widows, down-and-outs—that for another year at least they are to continue living on a standard of life that is represented by 10s. or 17s. a week, in days of rising prices for all the essential commodities on which these people have to spend the bulk of their 10s. or 17s. As long as that continues, and as long as it continues with assent and satisfaction on the part of the majority of this House, there is something fundamentally wrong with the whole social system which does not justify us in congratulation of the Government of the day, whichever Government it may be; and I hope the House will agree with me that I would make these criticisms whatever Government was sitting on that Bench.
Widespread poverty is the condition of a big proportion of the people of this country. While you are calling for defence, while you are asking them to realise that they are living in the best country in the world, while you are asking them to play a full part as citizens shouldering responsibility and sharing dangers, you are asking them to live in conditions of life which in this stage of economic and social development are completely indefensible. In the last Session of Parliament, the Government saw fit to increase the remuneration of Cabinet Ministers; they saw fit to increase the remuneration of Members of Parliament. I ask them, is it right and fair and decent that we should ask the poorest section of the community to continue to live on the 17s. or l0s. a week level? I hope that, although there is no mention of any improvement of the condition of these people in the King's Speech, the Government during the course of the Session will realise the desirability, if they do not realise the common decency, of taking some steps to relieve the necessities of that most overburdened section of the community.
41 There are only one or two further remarks that I want to make. I give my general support and approval to the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition and of the Leader of the Liberal party, but I do think it is extraordinary that, in the whole of this King's Speech, there is not one reference to any proposal for improving the lot of the millions of people who are living in Crown colonies. I get in the course of the year, as I suppose other Members of the House do, dozens of communications from out-of-the-way parts of the Empire, from coloured people, British citizens, working in some hinterland of ours, or on the sugar plantations, all human beings whose lives and conditions are ultimately in the control and direction of this House; but there is not one reference in the whole of the King's Speech to the fact that there is such a population of British citizens for whom we have a responsibility. Neither is there any mention of Palestine. Surely that is an important key-point in the general responsibilities of this Government and of this House. It is not mentioned, though every day acts of violence occur, and steps are being taken to preserve order which seem to me to go far beyond the decent necessities of the case.
I was asking an hon. Member who is more experienced in the service of the House than I am, who it is that actually writes this Speech. I do not know; I do not know whether anybody knows. Evidently he is a stylist; he has a good command of English grammar; but how he collects the points that are ultimately put in, and whether he had a free hand in the matter or not, I do not know. I do not know whether the more obtrusive Ministers obtrude their ideas on his notice, and the more modest ones keep in the background. But certainly this King's Speech seems to me to fail in the comprehensive stating to the nation of the task and the responsibilities that this Government has to face in the near future, and it fails to recognise the urgent needs of a very large proportion of the people of this country and of its dependencies across the seas.
In these days Members of the House and people throughout the country are worried, some about the rise of Fascist Powers like Germany and Italy, others about the increasing strength and power of the Soviet Republic in Russia. They 42 are worried about these new phenomena, as they appear to be, and think they are very terrible. But one thing can be said about these countries, Fascist or workers' republics. They know what they want, they state it clearly and definitely, and they go confidently forward. If a democracy of free peoples is to survive, it must be as clear and definite, and must have its objectives as clearly defined. Here in this document there is no clear definition of what Great Britain as a nation wants to do in the world, or what the Government of Great Britain desires the future of its citizens to be; and, because there is neither a clear objective nor any stated ideals in the King's Speech, it fails to be the document that is required at this stage in the history of a nation with the history, the importance and the influence of this nation in the world's affairs.
§ 4.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Tinker
I join in the regret which has been expressed that the Prime Minister is not able to be here while we are examining the King's Speech. His place is being taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whom I always admire for the way in which, when he makes a speech, he obscures the main issue. Anybody reading the Gracious Speech will, I think, agree that it is very difficult to find out from it what the Government mean. The Mover of the Address said that he hoped that one of the Measures mentioned in it—that relating to clubs—would be of interest to us, but I think he could have said that in reference to a good many of the points that are mentioned.
I want to say a few words in regard to the unification of coal royalties because in the preparation of the Bill the Government want some views as to where we think the money ought to go. As I understand it, the money is to be allocated to the royalty owners. I want to know how much of the money paid to them will be given to the people who are suffering damage from the present position. During the Recess in going round my constituency at the end of one of the meetings I held I was invited by a number of householders to go and see their houses. Tyldesley Urban District Council have set up a housing scheme, and it has been discovered that, owing to the getting of coal beneath, these houses are giving way, and that running right through the length of 43 one of the cottages is a clean break. The walls are several inches apart. They asked me what was their position in regard to getting redress. I know it has always been difficult to get any redress for them, but now that we are dealing with the royalties, and that just over £66,000,000 is to be paid out for people who have never done anything at all for these royalties, one expects that before the money is handed over some of the damage caused by removal of the coal will be met. I do not think it will be right to hand over that vast sum without some regard to the people suffering because of mining subsidence.
The next point upon which I want to touch—and it would be a poor King's Speech if we could not give credit to some of it—is in reference to the policy for enabling meals to be supplied to boys and girls attending juvenile instruction centres. I am very glad indeed that regard has been paid to this in the King's Speech, and I only want to say to the other side that we shall all be glad to get that through quickly. I want to turn to another point which, to my mind, is about the most important in the Speech. It is said:Other Measures of importance will be laid before you and proceeded with as time and opportunity offer.I wonder if that remark applies to what is in my mind. I am concerned with what is being left out of the Speech. Let me deal with one thing first of all that I think ought to be pressed upon the other side of the House. I want to deal with ex-service men's pensions. It is a scandal the way they are being dealt with at present. I hoped that after the Conservative Conference we might have had something done with it in the King's Speech. At the Conservative Conference an attack was made on the platform because no reference had been made to ex-service men's pensions. It is very seldom at these gatherings that the platform is over-ruled, but on that occasion it was defeated on a resolution moved by a gentleman from the Rother Valley. He said that as a medical man he had learned something of the long-delayed effects of poison gas. In the year 1928–9 there were 8,000 ex-service men who committed suicide, and one-third of them were sufferers from the effects of poison gas. Communism and Fascism flourished on discontent, and what did the Communists 44 and Fascists do? They appealed to ex-service men and tried to exploit their discontent. Because of that I did expect the Government to do something. This is a standing grievance all over the country. Last February I was a member of a deputation of Members of Parliament, led by the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith), that met the Minister of Pensions. We got from the Minister the assurance that when we got the report from the Ex-Service Men's Association something would be done. But we have waited nearly 12 months for that. I trust the Government will put this among those other Measures that are to be dealt with, and dealt with quickly.
Another point is with regard to anomalies under the Workmen's Compensation Acts. I have mentioned before the question of payments made when a man is suffering from a severe injury, and at death that payment is taken from the widow. A case has come to my notice during the Recess. A collier got severely injured, he lingered for a number of weeks and compensation was paid. Then he died, and when compensation was paid to the widow those weekly payments which had been made while the man was on his deathbed were deducted. I do not think there is an employer in the land who would object if the Government brought in a short Measure to deal with that state of affairs.
Now I want to turn to a matter which will be touched on by a number of other speakers. I refer to the anomalies in the Pensions Acts and the inadequacy of the amount paid. I want to deal with this case by case if I can. First the question of pensioners who have reached the age of 65 while their wives have not reached that age. There are at present about 214,000 in that category. The wives have not reached the pension age, and are not getting the ins. a week. It might be said that they can apply to the Poor Law. One does not want to go there, but, even apart from that, there is a difficulty. I had a case brought to my notice only last week, and I said to the person "Go to the Poor Law authorities and I am sure you will get something." He went, and here is a difficulty I did not anticipate. He was asked how many sons he had. He had two, both married with children. They said, "If we grant you anything 45 we shall make these two sons pay something towards it." That, I understand, is the law. This man felt it was unfair to tax his sons and he refused to accept those conditions. He is now trying, he and his wife, to live on 10s. a week. That is one of the anomalies that ought to be removed at once. It does not involve a big sum.
The next point is the lowness of the pension—10s. a week. We have pressed for something to be done about that times without number. Anyone who cares to read the short programme of the Labour party will find a comprehensive scheme dealing with old age pensions. I am not asking the House of Commons to deal with that to-day, because I should be rather over-reaching expectancy from the other side. My appeal is to do something to relieve the sufferings of these people. It is said that one-tenth of our old people are going to the Poor Law to get a little extra on the old age pension. That is a shame in a civilised state. I am asking that at least some extra assistance shall be given. If it cannot be doubled, at least 5s. a week ought to be put on.
I was reading an article in the "Manchester Guardian" only last week from a gentleman named Mr. Ramsay Muir about the national income. He said our national income for spending purposes was £3,600,000,000. Then he said that out of that, 100,000 people take £599,000,000, or 17 per cent., of that spending power. He goes on stage by stage telling how this money is shared until at the latter end there are 11,000,000 people taking £1,100,000,000, or 31 per cent. Among these 11,000,000 people are those whose plight I have been trying to bring before the House. Many are not getting more than £26 per annum through the Government. Surely the time has come when we can increase their amount to £39 per annum. It would mean on the national income only a sum of £33,000,000. That is the figure given by the present First Lord of the Admiralty when he was Financial Secretary. That would be less than I per cent. of the national income. Is it asking too much at a time of national prosperity to give that out of the national income to a deserving class of people and relieve much of the burden that at present they are bearing? If I were to take that amount 46 out of the 100,000 people who are taking from the national income £599,000,000, I should be taking from them 5½ per cent, So if it is not felt wise to take it out of the national income, have we no powers to take it out of the very rich people, and so level the wealth of the people? Until this House determines something in regard to our national wealth to bring more equality, there can never be satisfaction among the working classes.
There is no mention at all of that question in the King's Speech, and I did think that, after the repeated attempts made from these benches during last Session, we had made some slight impression on the Government. It now appears to me that nothing short of an earthquake will ever do anything to remove that smug complacency which at the present time has settled on the Government benches. After all, they are only digging the grave for their own destruction. You can offer the people a shadow too long, and I am afraid that on this occasion they are playing with the feelings of the people in a manner which will not redound to the credit of the Government. I am making this appeal on the King's Speech in the hope that, when other Measures are contemplated such as are mentioned in one paragraph, the Government will have some regard to the feelings of those who sit on these benches, and to the greater feelings which obtain outside among the great mass of our people who are already on the poverty line.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Thurtle
I understand that there is a desire for this discussion not to last very long, and I am always reluctant to inconvenience anybody, but the position of the Government of the Spanish people at the present time is a very desperate and tragic one, and I therefore feel impelled, in spite of the fact that I may cause inconvenience, to make some comments on the policy of the Government toward the Spanish trouble. That question is dismissed in three or four somewhat self-satisfied sentences in the King's Speech. I suggest that this policy of non-intervention on the part of the Government, leading as it does to the denial of the right of the Spanish people's Government to purchase arms, is a cruel injustice to the Spanish people, and I hope to show by an analysis of this policy that it is not only 47 a betrayal of Spanish democracy, but that it is, in fact, also a betrayal of the very best interests of the British people.
I am going to confine myself to this one aspect of the question—the denial of the right to the Spanish people, which is theirs under international law, to purchase arms, because I think it is the crucial issue of the Spanish struggle as we see it now. What is the first fact in regard to this question? It is that according to international law the Spanish Government have an undeniable right to purchase arms. There is no Minister on the bench opposite who is prepared to get up and deny that fact. All the very best international jurists admit that the Spanish Government, recognised as the Spanish Government by our Government, have the right in law to purchase arms, and, in the special circumstances, they might be said to have not only a legal right, but a very great moral right to purchase arms, because the insurrection with which they are dealing is not an insurrection of their own people, but is an insurrection which has become menacing and important because of the intervention and assistance of outside Powers—[An HON. MEMBER: "No more than on the other side"]—Oh yes. I will deal with that in a minute. If it had been merely a case of their own people rebelling, we might have said, "This seems to be a spontaneous uprising of people who are being governed, and it is doubtful whether we ought to afford them this right." But in view of the fact that it is really a form of intervention under the guise of a civil uprising, there is an overwhelming case that they ought to be granted that which is their just right under international law. The excuse—I am not going to dignify it with the word "reason"—which the Government give for this policy, is that it will prevent the conflict in Spain from developing into a major European war. We have had that excuse put before this House times without number, and it has never been looked properly in the face.
I propose to look it in the face for a few minutes, and discuss how much validity there is behind this suggestion. First of all, what is the outstanding practical consequence of this policy of nonintervention? It has produced a marked inequality in armaments between the Government, the people in Spain, and the Insurgents, who are fighting against 48 them. The result is that the legitimate Government are being severely handicapped. There can be no dispute about this fact. It is true there was the revolt of the military machine and that at the very outset they obtained the major part of the military equipment, and since then the position has been continually aggravated by the fact that Powers have been sending immense stores of military material to the Insurgent side, and what is common knowledge, and even more outrageous, is the fact that a great deal of that material has been sent by Powers who have pledged themselves according to agreements not to send it. That is the actual position of affairs. In the result, the Spanish Government are severely handicapped in their struggle against this uprising. I am not denying—it would be idle to deny—that the Spanish Government have not obtained a certain amount of assistance. They have obtained some assistance from Russia, and they have, under very great difficulty, I think, got a certain amount of assistance from Mexico. But notwithstanding that, they are admittedly in a position of marked inferiority now in regard to armaments. They are in a position of inferiority precisely because of the non-intervention policy which has been backed up by His Majesty's Government.
We have to face the facts. The control of the seas is largely in the hands of the Insurgents, and the consequence is that the French frontier is a vital channel for the flow of war material to the Spanish Government. In spite of rumours to the contrary, the French frontier, as far as materials of war are concerned, is closed like an oyster against the Spanish Government. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is a question of opinion."] You have this position, that—by our policy, mark you—when we should be allowing the Spanish Government arms to conduct this struggle against the Insurgents, we are putting that Government deliberately into a position of marked inferiority. What follows from this? It is as well to argue this thing out. I ignore for the moment the question of the small army of Italian troops who are fighting on the side of the Insurgents, and I will ignore the 10,000 German airmen and other people who are also fighting on the side of the Insurgents, and confine myself simply and solely to the question of armaments, because in 49 modern war, as the First Lord of the Admiralty certainly knows, and everybody knows, material equipment is vital. If you make a position of great inequality in the matter of equipment, you make it very difficult for the side suffering from that inequality to maintain anything like a proper fight against their opponents. By this action—follow the logic of it—our Government, who profess not to take sides, are making the possibility of a victory for Franco much more real by creating this wicked state of inequality in defiance of international law. They are deliberately weighting the scales against the legitimate Spanish Government.
What is our declared object in connection with this matter? It is to prevent the extension of the struggle to a major European conflict. The effect of our intervention or non-intervention is that we make it more possible for Franco to win. What is the logic of that? It must mean, I think, that, in the view of this Government, they think that the avoidance of a major European war can best be achieved in the Spanish struggle by enabling Franco to win. If it does not mean that, I cannot see what logic there is in their policy. These two things hang together. The Government believe they are pursuing a policy best calculated to avoid a major European war, and what they are actually doing, in fact, is to strengthen the possibility of Franco winning against the legitimate Government.
Let us carry the matter a step further and examine whether it is, in fact, true that the danger of a major European war would be less as the result of the victory of Franco than as the result of the victory of the legitimate Spanish Government. That success will be achieved, if it is achieved—I hope that it never will be—beyond argument as a result of the aid and co-operation of the two aggressive—and mark the word "aggressive"—Fascist Powers of Europe. Franco will be in a position of dependency upon these two aggressive Powers and he will be hound to feel gratitude towards these Powers. There need be no written agreement and no concessions of territory either to Italy or to Germany. There need not be any mineral concessions. There need not be any agreements of any kind, but, in spite of that, these Fascist aggressive Powers, as a result of having Franco- 50 Spain as a kind of satellite Power, will be in a position to involve this country in great wars and great dangers.
I suggest that a Spain in that position, a Spain which can be used by Mussolini for his Byzantine schemes of glory—a Spain which can be used by Mussolini in that way does constitute, as far as this country is concerned, a major threat to European peace. To bring it back to the Empire, what perhaps is of even more importance is that it constitutes a vital threat to the safety of the British Empire. Does anyone suggest that Mussolini, when this situation arises, will be so full of restraint and consideration that he will not press home this technical advantage? What does our experience of him show? It shows that on every occasion that arises he does his very best to thwart the aims and the policy of the British Government, and we may depend upon it that in this situation he will do his very worst, and his worst can be very bad, to do harm to the British Empire. We shall then be an an extremely difficult position as an Empire, as a country which wants to preserve European peace, but the irony of it will be that we shall have brought about this position by our own policy of weighting the scales of Franco as against the legitimate Spanish Government.
What is the alternative, an alternative which apparently makes the blood of hon. Members opposite run cold? The alternative is a victory for the Valencia Government, the legitimate Government of Spain, a fact which was acknowledged by the last Conservative Prime Minister of Spain. It may be a Centre Government, a Left-Centre Government, a Left Government, or it may even be an extreme Left Government, but whatever complexion that Government may have it will not be a Government which in any circumstances will be disposed to manoeuvre and scheme against the British Government, or will want to involve the peoples of the world in war. A Government of that kind, even suppose it happens to be an extreme Left Government, will be so taken up with the immense domestic problems which will arise in war-ridden, battered Spain, that it will not have any time, even if it had the inclination, to embark upon any foreign policy of that kind. There are some unbalanced people who take the 51 view that Soviet Russia might use a Left Spanish Government for the purpose of stirring up international struggle and strife, but there is no warrant in the present attitude of the Soviet Government in its relationship with France to show that it will do anything to use a Left Spain in that way. There is not merely assumption or speculation, but definite certainty that Italy would use a Franco Spain for that particular purpose.
I am trying to establish my argument on the assumption—in the light of recent events it would be an unreasonable one—that at some point, somewhere, the British Government are going to make a stand, that some time they are going to say to these Dictators: "You are going too far." We have had some admirable cartoons recently from Mr. Low, indicating that the British Government, as far as their foreign policy is concerned, have no backbone. There is a very wide feeling that that is so. I am, however, assuming that at some point there will be a stand. If the Government are not prepared to stand up to the Dictators, if they are not prepared to defend the security of the British Empire when it is threatened, and if, on the other hand, they are prepared to see democracies one after another either beaten down by force or by Fascist intrigue, then a new situation will arise. If they are not prepared to see these events happen, it is time for them to reconsider their policy.
What does Mussolini declare? He says that democracy is a worn-out creed which must perish from the earth. He says also that he is not prepared to allow the Spanish people to establish what he calls a Red Spain. There you have the voice of the Dictator. It is not a question of what the Spanish people want, but of what Mussolini decrees. One would have thought that the Spanish people might have had a word about the kind of Government they are to have. Even if they were so wicked, so revolutionary as to want a Left Government, surely they might be allowed to have it. But Mussolini says: "No. There shall be no Red Government established in Spain." What is our answer? Up to the present our answer has been rather like this: "Great Duce you have spoken. Thy will be 52 done." Time after time we have conceded to these oppressive Fascist Dictators whatever they wanted. What a position for the British people. If that position is to continue, we had better get on our knees straightaway and ask Mussolini to be merciful to us. What a position for a Government who have declared that they believe in democracy and, although they have not said so in so many words, have suggested that they are prepared to defend democracy. What a position for an Imperialist Government who say that they are prepared to defend the security of the British Empire when it is threatened. What a position for a British Government which time after time comes out with scathing denunciations of the brutal attacks made by these Facist dictatorships on defenceless people.
I should like to say a few words on our relationship with France. There has been a great deal of battledore and shuttlecock between this country and France with regard to responsibility for the policy of non-intervention. It is said—it may not be true, I do not know—that this policy was initiated by the French Government. I concede that to be so for the purpose of my argument. Even if that is true, we cannot now escape full responsibility for the continuance of that policy, because we have never expressed our desire to France for the discontinuance of this policy. I defy anyone on the Government side to say that we have done so. This policy is unequal in its working and cruelly unfair to the Spanish people, and we have never yet expressed any desire to the Government of France for this policy to be discontinued. If we had done so and France had said "No," I could understand our position. It is vital that in these days France and ourselves should stick together. We have never made any kind of demand on the French Government to discontinue the policy, and until we have done that we have to accept full responsibility for the policy of non-intervention, this faked policy. We cannot fob off responsibility and put it on to France.
I am not a lawyer, but I understand that in the courts when any question of guilt or innocence arises the question is asked, "What is the motive?" I am going to ask what is the motive for the Government's policy of non-intervention which, in fact, is intervention on the side 53 of Franco? As I have said already, our publicly declared desire is to preserve peace, but I suggest that if we want to find the real motive for the policy of the Government we have to look elsewhere than to the publicly declared motive. The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) referred to the City. The City represents financial and big business interests, which have enormous social and political influence in the country. As I understand it, the City is overwhelmingly pro-Franco. It passionately wants Franco to win. The explanation is simple. I do not often quote the Bible in this House, but there is a somewhat cynical passage in the Bible which says: "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
§ Mr. Thurtle
It reflects a little on human nature. I think the City looks at it this way. They say: "We have great investments in Spain. We think these investments can best be saved by a victory for Franco." The City is not interested in the preservation of democracy. It is not interested in seeing that the Spanish people get justice. I should say that immediately it is not even interested in the safety of the British Empire, because it takes short views, notoriously short views, and often makes mistakes in its own field. The City for these reasons is hoping that Franco will win and believes that if Franco wins British investments will be safe. That suggestion may be an erroneous one. It is not necessarily true that British investments will be safe in Spain if Franco wins and that they will be in great jeopardy if the Spanish Government wins. The Spanish legitimate Government, if it wins, will have every incentive to respect the interests and investments of British nationals in order to get the support that it will need from the British Government to rehabilitate bruised, battered and broken Spain.
It is not for the Government to follow the lead of the City. I know that the City people have great influence with this Government and its policy. They had great influence last year with the Budget, and I believe that in the overwhelming desire of the City that Franco shall win we may find the key to the present British policy in regard to Spain, which is operating very heavily in favour of Franco. If 54 this Government are going to discharge properly their responsibilities to the British people they must take a wider and a longer view than the view of finance and big business. British investments are important, but they are not so important to the mass of the people of this country as the preservation of the peace of Europe, as the ensuring of the security of the British Empire and the preservation of democracy. A victory for Franco may or may not—the matter is in doubt—preserve British investments in Spain, but I suggest to the Government and the House that it will certainly put in dire peril things that are vastly more important to the mass of our people.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon
I do not know whether it is much good in these delicate times for hon. Members of the House to take very decided views on one side or the other of the Spanish conflict, but no doubt the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs will later on continue the Foreign Office Debate in which the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle) has indulged, and I must say I like to hear him choosing his side in the Spanish conflict on the basis of what is best for the British Empire. I notice that according to the hon. Member the City of London cares nothing about that. But let me come back from Spain to our own homeland. I want to draw the attention of the House to something which I think is of pressing importance, I refer to the problem that is growing worse and worse from day to day but which we are rapidly forgetting, and that is the problem of the toll on our roads. The figures now are staggering—6,000 deaths per year and 250,000 injured. If we could imagine one single accident in which these casualties occurred the event would be unparalleled in history and would be remembered for ever, yet we are now quite complacently looking on a regular carnage on our roads.
It is quite easy for some people to say, and I regret that we have heard it from some Ministers of Transport, that this slaughter is entirely due to the motorist. We do not find such figures anywhere else, and by saying this it means that the Englishman seems to have a more homicidal nature than any other nationality. That, of course, is not the real reason. It is that the growth of motor traffic has so enormously increased in this country 55 and that the conditions which exist are more out of date here than anywhere in the world, yet when I look at the King's Speech, with this awful slaughter before us, all I see is that it is proposed to regulate the wages and conditions of employment in the transport of goods by road! That is a very worthy proposal, but what a small thing to put into the Gracious Speech when a problem like this exists?
I like sometimes to think of our funny old grandfathers with their side whiskers and top hats. What immense imagination those people had. They built railways in every direction at vast cost, and built the most astonishing bridges. They really did have vision. But what has happened to us? Why are we now cast in such a pigmy mould that we cannot think ahead, that we have no imagination? Cannot we face all the changing conditions of the world? Since Queen Victoria's time we have added to the roads of England less than half of 1 per cent. The Minister chortles with glee and tells us that on the basis of the present increase in traffic it will be doubled in five years. Does not that assume also that the casualties will also go up? He envisages the possibility of introducing limiting licences for drivers of cars. That seems to be a very curious way of looking at this problem.
But the villain of the piece is the Treasury. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) introduced a scheme whereby as motor traffic increased the revenue from motor traffic increased also, and if the Road Fund had been left it would have looked after this problem and we should have been ahead of the position to-day. Slowly, however, the Treasury has got possession of the funds and at the present moment they get £75,000,000 and pay out £19,000,000. They have always been against public works, never mind what they were. They took the view that from the point of view of unemployment and for other reasons public works did not pay.
§ Mr. Maxton
Is it possible when a subject of this kind is being introduced by the hon. and gallant Member that there should at least be one Minister on the Treasury Bench?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon
I think I must answer that question. I have 56 not given notice to the Minister of Transport, and therefore there is no discourtesy on his part, but I hope he will read my remarks.
§ Mr. Maxton
I am not saying that the Minister of Transport must be here, but surely when we are debating the King's Speech there might be one Minister on the Treasury Bench.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon
I am trying to point out how this discouragement of public works by the Treasury in the making of new roads is one reason for the loss of life. It is difficult to draw up a balance-sheet and to say how much these lives are worth, but it would be interesting to get some statistician to make up on one side of the balance-sheet of the national wealth what we are losing by 6,000 deaths and a quarter of a million injured per year. As I have said, conditions are entirely out of date and we have to face the question of an entirely new conception of roads. It is being done abroad. The new roads are entirely reserved to mechanical traffic, they are not allowed to be crossed by anybody and the reduction in accidents on such roads has been 78 per cent. In our policy we have built new roads and in the end have found out that we have only built new streets, defeating thereby the very reason for their creation. We have to adopt a new idea altogether of roads. A new conception of roads is of those which will start from no big town and which will go through no big town. They will be carriers of through traffic, which will have to percolate to the big towns. You cannot have great new thoroughfares running through big cities; otherwise you will get rapidly new streets. It has been done abroad, and we shall have to do it here. It is no good living in a fool's paradise and tinkering with this problem. It may be that the Minister of Transport can do something on these lines without coming to the House for legislation, but I should like to have seen in the King's Speech some reference to this problem. If the Minister can tell us that he can get along with the powers he now possesses, I for one shall be a good deal relieved.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Cecil Wilson
There is one subject on which it seems to me the Gracious Speech is deficient as compared with others since the National Government 57 came in. The reference to the League of Nations could not well have been less than it is. In the first Gracious Speech of the National Government the reference was:My Government intend to pursue the policy of promoting peace and good will and to continue their active interest in the work of the League of Nations." [OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1931; Col. 45; Vol. 259.]There was a similar declaration, rather stronger in most cases, in each succeeding Gracious Speech. Last year it was:The policy of my Government continues to be based on membership of the League of Nations. They desire to see the League strengthened for its work in the pacific settlement of international disputes, and they have already made known at Geneva their proposals for the improved working and wider authority of the League."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd November, 1936; Col. 9; Vol. 317.]In the Gracious Speech to-day the reference is to the Far East and to the co-operation with other Governments there, whether members of the League or not, for the mitigation of suffering. We all desire that, but we are most concerned about the situation in Europe; and I think we are entitled to ask why there is no reference this year in strong and specific language to the Government's policy with regard to the League of Nations. Does their policy continue to be based on the League, and, if so, why is this not stated in a specific manner? Is there still a desire that the League should be strengthened or has that been abandoned? What is the position at Geneva to-day? Are the Government of this country as strongly in favour of the work of the League of Nations as they have beep previously? I think we are entitled to ask for a definite explanation why this matter is dealt with to-day in such a very feeble manner in the Gracious Speech.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn
Although the first day's Debate on the Gracious Speech is usually devoted to compliments rather than to controversial matters, there is one question which is of urgency to a great many people today, that is, the evacuation of refugees from northern Spain. From time to time in the course of this controversy which divides us so sharply the Government have referred to the humanitarian work which has been carried out by our Navy and Mercantile Marine in evacuating non-combatant victims of the civil strife 58 in Spain, and as recently as last Thursday the Prime Minister referred to the fact that some 30,000 refugees had been evacuated from the ports of northern Spain. To-day there is an urgent need for the same type of action, but it is not being taken.
Before I deal with the situation in northern Spain, at Gijon and other small ports, I must draw attention to what I believe is a change in the policy of the Government in regard to this matter. Originally, we were told that warships could go into the Spanish ports and evacuate refugees from both sides. At Bilbao in April the same kind of work was carried out, partly by evacuations and partly by sending supplies to the city. I would remind the House that in the Debate on that occasion there was never any question of the impropriety of sending ships, and that the reason the Government gave for advising merchant ships not to enter territorial waters at that time was the danger of mines. The question of legality was never mentioned, and I think it was the Home Secretary who, in the Debate in which we were discussing the reality of those mines, said that the Navy would be willing to go in to rescue refugees as it had done before, but that there was a danger, and that therefore the Navy could not do the work and must leave it to merchant ships. That was in April. Until April, the Government appeared to be willing to continue the work of evacuating noncombatant refugees. Up to 1st May, it was supposed that General Franco was favourable to that policy. On 1st May, the diplomatic correspondent of the "Times" wrote:As General Franco has not hitherto raised objection … there seems to be no no reason to assume that he will be opposed to this purely humanitarian work.There were two conditions stated, the first being that the refugees should be noncombatants and the second that there should be no discrimination between one side and the other. But at about the same time, there came a note from General Franco in which he raised the most strenuous objection to the evacuation of refugees, and although I do not intend to-day to attempt to connect cause with effect, it is a fact that since General Franco objected to the evacuation of refugees and the entry of ships for that 59 purpose—an objection which, to my knowledge, has never been raised by the Spanish Government—the policy of the Government has been altered. In July there was the case of the "Molton." Up to that time the Government's attitude had been that of saying: "We will protect you on the high seas; our ships will range the high seas for the purpose of protecting British shipping; but if you go into territorial waters, you will be exposed to attack and we cannot protect you, for various reasons." I do not think there were legal reasons, because in the course of one answer, the First Lord of the Admiralty said that he could not be expected to give a legal ruling on the matter. I do not think anyone would pretend that General Franco enjoys territorial rights in these waters.
In the case of the "Molton," the Government's policy was moved a stage further. They said: "If you are attacked within territorial waters by a ship on the high seas, we shall not prevent their attacking you as long as you are in territorial waters." That means that the Government relinquished the right of the British Navy to prevent, on the high seas, an attack on a British ship, because that ship had committed an offence in entering territorial waters. The First Lord of the Admiralty carried the concessions a stage further. He said that if a British ship had committed that hitherto unknown offence of entering territorial waters, if she was attacked at long range from outside territorial waters by an enemy, if she signified her submission and was, so to speak, beckoned out of territorial waters, then the British Navy would stand by and see a British ship "called off" on the high seas without making any move to liberate her. That is what happened in the case of the "Molton." She was beckoned out of territorial waters, with the "Royal Oak" standing by, was taken into captivity, and was not released until some months had passed.
What happened? As the British skippers could not get the protection that they expected from the British Navy, they took the risks themselves. The "Sarastone" ran the blockade, with shells flying all around her, and although the Navy was at the three-mile limit, no protection was afforded. The skipper was successful in getting his ship away again, and reached a French port. Then 60 there was the case of the "Macgregor," of which there was a very interesting account in the "Times" in July. The ship left the shores of Santander with 2,000 refugees on board. She was fired at repeatedly by pirate ships, but no action was taken by the ships under the control of the First Lord of the Admiralty until she had passed the three-mile limit and got on to the open seas.
I ask the First Lord to deal with this question. What is the position in law of these shipowners? If General Franco had belligerent rights, before a ship could be captured, she would be taken to a prize court and somebody would decide whether she had disobeyed certain rules. If she had not disobeyed them, she would be granted compensation. In present circumstances, however, a shipowner has no opportunity of making that claim. Ships are taken by a party which can only be described as a pirate and kept captive. I ask the First Lord of the Admiralty whether these ships have committed an offence. Is it an international offence to enter territorial waters? If not, and if the ships are kept captive, what is the owner to do in order to get compensation for the damage to his business? Although I am mainly concerned with a matter of life and death, that is a point which is of considerable interest to the shipowners of this country.
After General Franco had warned the Government that he would not permit refugees to be evacuated, the Government began to develop a philosophy to defend their policy. In a debate elsewhere, Lord Newton referred to the question of the Basque children, and said that to bring Basque children to this country was a breach of non-intervention. That argument was further developed by the First Lord in the debate on the "Molton." He said that to bring out people—mouths to feed in the beleagured city—was in fact rendering military assistance to that city. It was on that statement that he based his case. In passing, let me ask from what those people were fleeing. Take the case of Guernica. There was no dare age to the scanty military objectives. The attack—murderous, logical and efficient—had the aim of terrorising the Basque Government. That was stated in the "Times." Take the case of Santander: 61Masses of helpless women and children on the road between Bilbao and Santander were subjected to a ceaseless hail of machine-gun fire.That is a statement by the Basque Government. Take Almeria—and this is a statement from the "Times":As they trudged along, aeroplanes swooped down on them, training their machine-guns on them and killing hundreds. This fact is amply attested.Again, one bomb fell on a refuge where women had placed their children, and 67 children were killed. That was the sort of thing from which people were running away. The First Lord told us that, after all, we must be aware of cant and humbug, and that we have done that sort of thing ourselves. I have yet to learn, whatever may have been the rigours of the Great War, that we were guilty of such conduct as has stained the annals of General Franco's campaign.
I come now to immediate cases. As everybody knows, the Italian Army, assisted by German aeroplanes, is pushing steadily on in the North of Spain. Bilbao, Santander and Gijon fell, and the refugees are seeking some place of safety. The Basque Government approached a shipping firm regarding the evacuation of refugees under contract and for payment—a point made with great flambouyancy by the First Lord in his speech. That well-established shipping company undertook the contract of evacuating refugees. There you have the worst of the story. It is a contract for which they are to be paid. The shipping company approached the Foreign Office, and I will give to the House an account of what happened. I have done all I can to verify the facts in the record that I am about to set out.
On 24th September, when matters were becoming urgent, they asked the Foreign Office whether, in the event of vessels being captured within territorial waters, they would receive support against detention on the high seas. No reply was received. On 4th October, they made renewed inquiries. In the meantime, people were crowding down to the rivers and the area of safety was constantly being contracted. They were informed by the Foreign Office that the matter was for the Board of Trade and the Admiralty, but there was no further reply. On 20th October, they made further urgent inquiries. On 21st October, they sent a representative to the Foreign Office. 62 They were informed that the matter was for the Admiralty and the Board of Trade, but a further message was given to them. I will quote the message as they have given it to me:Telephone message: stating that under no circumstances would their vessels receive protection in international waters if they were captured within territorial limits, and this applied whether they were carrying refugees or cargo.On the same day the Spanish Government communicated with the firm of shipowners and stated that thousands of refugees were putting to sea in small boats and rafts in an attempt to reach ships lying outside the three-mile limit. I am told that owing to the configuration of the coast in those parts, actually it is more than three miles from the beach where the people embark to the ships lying in territorial waters. The shipowners again went to the Foreign Office. On 22nd October, nothing was added to the previous answer, but the shipowners were referred to the precedent of the "Molton," with which I dealt at some length a few moments ago. I would like, in conclusion, to read some descriptions by masters of these ships to show what is going on, and the kind of thing from which we ask the Government to save these poor people. I take first the description by Captain Roberts the master of the "Bramden":It was the most terrible sight I have ever seen. The city (Gijon) was a mass of flames… Flames were roaring hundreds of feet into the air and silhouetted against the blaze I could see thousands of people running to the harbour. Women and children jumped into the water. They seemed to have no idea of what they were doing except trying to escape the flames. We were helpless and we could not approach the harbour. There was a line of British ships outside the bay but Franco's cruisers and armed trawlers prevented us from entering.Then take this statement from the skipper of the "Bramhill."The 'Bramhill' has picked up about 600 people including 28 wounded and 17 women who escaped from Gijon by small steamers and boats. Some, afraid of being left behind, threw themselves into the sea and swam to the 'Bramhill.' Everything that would float was thrown from the 'Bramhill' to support the swimmers until they could be picked up by our boats.Photographs have been taken showing these people in the water and one photograph shows a little boat with women rowing it, attempting to make their way through the storm—because since Thursday there has been a very severe storm 63 on the North Spanish Coast in consequence of which many of these people could not attempt to put out to sea. The Spanish Government say that further demands from these people may be expected, that is to say, further people may be expected to assemble on the beach in the next few days, the moment the weather moderates. The First Lord of the Admiralty will not allow the ships to pick up these people, or, at any rate, if the ships do pick up these people, he refuses to give them protection even on the high seas if they have been subjected to capture. That is the decision which we ask the right hon. Gentleman to reverse. There is one argument of a legal character with which I am unqualified to deal, but which I put to the First Lord in order that he and his advisers may answer it. In Article 9 of the Hague Convention of 1907 these words occur:Belligerents may appeal to the charity of commanders of neutral ships to take on board or tend sick and wounded. Vessels responding to this appeal and also vessels which have of their own accord rescued sick wounded or shipwrecked men shall enjoy special protection and certain immunities. In no respect can they be captured for having such persons on board.In view of this Convention which, I am told, is declaratory of the existing law, the shipowners again approached the Foreign Office, I think on Saturday, and put it to them, and this is the reply which they tell me was given to them orally:No protection whatsoever will be given within the three-mile limit, whether with or without refugees or cargo. Once a steamer has been requested to submit within the three-mile limit, whether legally or no, and has so submitted, further protection whether in international waters or not will not he given. Whether a steamer has rights under the tenth Hague Convention of 1907, Article 9, to pick up wounded or refugees or not, protection will not be given within the three-mile limit.Then occurred the phrase:as a specific case will be madeas to the meaning of which I am not clear. There is the case. We ask the Government, and I am sure we do so with the assent of Members in many parts of the House, to do something for these folk. Think of what these Northern Spaniards have had to put up with. First, we prevented them from defending themselves. That was the policy of the Government. We would not allow them to buy arms. Secondly, we tolerated and condoned the 64 invasion of their country by Italians and Germans and it is for that reason that they are now a defeated and fleeing people. We do ask that it shall not he said that, finally, we have refused to rescue even helpless folk struggling in the water.
§ 6.21 p.m.
I wonder whether any Member of this House can have listened to the plain and clear statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn) without a sense of shame and pain. I need not attempt to add to his statement of the facts. I think he has put practically all of them before the House, but I would ask hon. Members to picture to themselves the scene on this part of the coast of Spain last Thursday night. There, just outside the three-mile limit, were two British warships, one, I believe, the "Southampton" and another the name of which I forget. There were about ten British merchant vessels which had been chartered for the purpose of taking off refugees. It was a stormy night and from the ships could be witnessed the scenes which these merchant captains have described—Gijon in flames, people rushing to the sea and people struggling in the water where small boats had capsized owing to the storm and other people clinging to rafts. But these merchant seamen did not dare to enter the three-mile limit because they had received strict orders from the owners of the vessels that they must not do so without the promise of protection. As there were many insurgent ships moving about they knew that they were bound to be captured if they went in.
The owners had already been in communication for more than a month first with the Foreign Office, then with the Admiralty, then with the Board of Trade, and had been sent from one Department to another without getting any clear answer. The masters of the ships wired home on that evening when they had seen these people drowning before their eyes. Then the shipowners became insistent and bombarded the Foreign Office, and at last got that answer which the House has heard to-night, and which amounts to this, "If you see people drowning, let them drown. You are to do nothing to stop it." Not long ago the world was shocked at the ruthlessness of the Japanese, not only at the bombing of noncombatants but at the fact that when the 65 Japanese themselves had torpedoed vessels loaded with their enemies, the Chinese, they did nothing to pick up the drowning men, as is the usual custom of war. But we have done worse. The Spaniards at least are not our enemies, but the ruling given by the Admiralty amounts to this—that we compel our warships to stand by and see these people drown. We practically tell them to do so, and we have told the captains of the merchant ships that under penalty of capture they must not venture in to rescue these people.
It was not so when there was another Spanish War in 1873. I am told that then a very similar situation arose, but then it was people of the Left who mutinied in the Fleet and took possession of the Navy, and a general instruction was issued from the British Admiralty that: if any British ship was attacked by any of these pirates they were to resist. Nothing was said then about territorial waters. How can we in future say anything to the Japanese about their violation of international law, when the Foreign Office has said in so many words that: whatever may be provided in the Hague Convention, which we ourselves signed, whatever may be the rule of international law, we will not give any protection? The point of the Hague Convention was that international law did not permit a neutral ship to be attacked because that neutral ship had taken on board wounded, sick or shipwrecked men. This is exactly a case in point, but the Foreign Office and the First Lord have apparently resolved to brush aside all those considerations. Like the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, I am not a lawyer, and perhaps the Government will find some way of proving that the Convention does not apply in this case, but reading it as any common sense person would read it nothing could apply more closely.
The Government have protested against cruelties in China. But they have a far more direct responsibility for the sufferings of the people of Spain. The Sino-Japanese War would never have happened if, six years ago, there had been a firm resistance to the aggressor. But the Government's responsibility for the sufferings of the Spanish people is closer than that. The bombing of Guernica; the fall of Bilbao and 66 Santander and Gijon and the ports along the north of Spain; the ruthless mass executions of prisoners which have taken place along that coast—do the Government deny that almost certainly none of these things would have happened had it not been for their policy of preventing the legal Government of Spain from purchasing arms for its own defence, while conniving openly at large-scale sending in of arms and combatants on the other side? In that sense the Government are responsible for the drowning of these men, women and children. It would never have happened but for their policy.
If anyone doubts that the defeat of the Republicans in Northern Spain has been due to their lack of munitions and to the non-intervention policy I commend to them a very interesting article entitled "The Realities of the War in Spain" which appeared on 17th October in the "Sunday Times." It is by a writer of experience who visited both sides, having been specially commissioned by the "Sunday Times" to do so. He is obviously a neutral. Let any hon. Member read his account of the wealth of the Republican Government in men and their poverty in arms and munitions. Read his account of what happened at Guernica and, most dreadful of all, his account of those horrible mass executions. When he asked one of the judges what was the principle on which these death sentences were pronounced, he was told that it applied to all officers, combatants or non-combatants, who had held any kind of office under the Republican Government. Now that Gijon which was a noted centre of trade union activities had fallen no doubt the trade union leaders there will be added to those who automatically receive sentence of death. What a precedent for future wars! I wonder what those Members of this House and those leaders of religious opinion who sympathise with General Franco think now of that champion of religion and of higher civilisation in Spain.
None of this would have happened had it not been for the sham of non-intervention. The Government defend that policy on the ground that if it has not prevented intervention at least it has prevented the war from spreading. They do not and cannot deny that it has brought disaster upon Republican Spain. They may plead that the interests of small nations must 67 be sacrificed to the interests of great nations, and that we must, above all, consider the interests of the British nation. But, at least should we not expect them to show some remorse and some sympathy for the sufferings of the victims of their policy, and some desire to alleviate and mitigate those sufferings as far as possible? They have shown none of that. The French Government, hard pressed as they are, struggling to balance their Budget, have kept out of the public purse 50,000 Spanish refugees in France. Now the money has run out, and they are obliged to send them back in batches to Spain. Our Government have not spent 6d. on any such purpose; they have done nothing but hamper, by fussy supervision, the efforts of private organisations striving to deal with and to relieve the sufferings of the refugees. They have indeed spent many thousands on evacuating refugees, well-to-do Franco refugees, from Republican ports either in warships or in ships that they chartered for the purpose. But for Republican refugees they have done nothing except to afford protection, as the right hon. Gentleman has described, to a certain number of ships on the high seas, and even that protection, as he described, which began well, has been so whittled down step by step, has been so accompanied by strong warnings to merchant ships not to enter territorial waters—warnings which began at the time when the Admiralty's own explanation was merely that they believed General Franco intended to blockade—that they have actually done more to help Franco to make his blockade a reality than to help refugees to escape.
Now we come to this last shame. The British Navy and merchant ships are asked to watch men, women, and children struggling and drowning in the water and to do nothing whatever to save them. The spirit that lies behind it all is symbolished by the speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty on one of the closing nights before the Recess, in which he told us that the cause of rescuing refugees from bombing or starvation, or alternatively the cause of Republican Spain—because, I admit, the context was not perfectly clear—was a cause for which, he said, not a man on those benches would think it worth risking a single British life. In that, I think, he libelled his fellow countrymen, the 68 men of the Navy, and the men of the Mercantile Marine. They are not cowards yet, though they have a cowardly Government. Canon Sheppard's victory as Rector of Glasgow University is the fruit of that policy. I am much in touch with the young of other universities besides that of Glasgow, and I can tell you that that spirit, that dangerous movement, is spreading because the young are being taught to believe that the arms which are costing so much will never be used for anything but a selfish purpose. I congratulate Canon Sheppard, and I congratulate the British Government on having each other as allies. They are strange bed-fellows.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Markham
However much one would like to deal with the subject broached by the right hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn) and the hon. Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone), one must realise that the first duty of Members of this House is to look after our own constituents, to see what we can do to safeguard their lives, and to maintain their health and their fitness, and it is for that reason that I deplore, in company with the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Colonel Moore-Brabazon) the entire absence from the King's Speech of any reference to the 6,500 deaths on the roads of this country every year. I want to appeal to the Government to see that this Session does bring forward some means of ameliorating this great toll of life and limb on British roads. I would never dream of apologising for raising this subject. Only this last year, according to the figures, there were 251,000 serious accidents on our roads.
Labour Members opposite can get absolutely indignant over Spaniards, but when it comes to our own citizens they are as mute as swans, because they prefer to be eternally meddling in foreign affairs. The Spanish civil war was one that Spain brought on herself, and there is no one in this country who can he accused of having fomented it in any way. The miseries attendant on that war are not our fault. I agree that we should do all we can to alleviate them, but the miseries in this country, owing to our road system or rather to our lack of road system, concern us more, and I contend that it is right and proper that this House should direct its criticism against the Government for 69 their mismanagement of one of the greatest problems that this country has to face. The hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey has already given the facts and has pointed out, with clarity and accuracy, that 20 years ago the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) instituted the Road Fund, with the idea that the money gathered into it should be spent on improving the roads. Although £75,000,000 is now raised from road taxes and licences, only £19,000,000 is spent on our roads, and I say here, quite frankly, that I would far rather see a limitation of the rearmament programme and more money spent on our roads than have this continuing toll of accidents and of loss of life from day to day.
We have this question brought home to us very vividly when we realise the numbers of protests that are coming into the Ministry of Transport every hour of the day from various parts of the country. It is true that we are getting protests about Spain and Japan advanced by the League of Nations Union or by religious bodies, but they are nothing at all in volume compared with the protests up and down the country on the question of road accidents. There is a little village away in the heart of Buckinghamshire, Loughton, that has never held a protest meeting in all its history, whether about Spain, Japan, the rigours of the last war, or the prospect of the next war. Only last night, it held the first protest meeting in its history, and it was against the action of the Bucks County Council and the Ministry of Transport in not making the Loughton and Stony Stratford road a little safer to traffic. It may be asked, Is that a village road? No, it is the second busiest rural road in the world, and it happens to be a four-miles stretch of Watling Street. If you take any country area in the world, you cannot find two busier roads than the Great North Road and the Watling Street. Thai four-miles stretch has the same width now as before motor cars ever started running, and it has the same sort of kerbing and drainage as it had at the end of the last century. Not a single improvement has been made on that road, with the exception of resurfacing, in the last 30 years, and at last the village of Loughton—and all honour to it—has risen up in protest to the Ministry of Transport.
The accidents on this road are more than those that have been caused by any mismanagement of the British Navy in 70 connection with the Spanish Civil war. Do let us get a sense of proportion in these matters, and if we criticise the Government, let us criticise them for the things they have not done, and not for hypothetical things they might have done. If there is anything we should stand up for in this House, it is that British life and limb should not be squandered, and I should have no hesitation in joining forces, I hope with hon. Members opposite, in attacking the Government on the lack of reference to this acute problem in the King's Speech. The hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey made a reference to the entire lack of imagination on the part of this Government and indeed of the past Government in connection with the road question. As everyone knows, there was recently a deputation of Members of this House to Germany, and I am wondering whether the only way of getting the road system in this country modified would not be to send the whole Cabinet to Germany and Italy to study what those countries have done with their road problems.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ The First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Duff Cooper)
We have listened this evening to two eloquent speeches from the right hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn) and the hon. Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone) on the sufferings and horrors of the civil war which is now taking place in Spain. I am not here in any way to diminish or to detract from those horrors or to question the truth of the statements which they have made. I am not here to defend the conduct of that war by either party, nor am I prepared to accept the suggestion which has been made that it has been carried out with greater barbarity on one side than on the other. Nor am I here to deal at length with or indeed to enter into a defence of the policy of non-intervention to which this Government has been committed from the beginning. It has been very substantially defended from this Box by those better qualified to do it, and it will be defended again.
All that I am concerned with to-night is the practical difficulty of carrying out that policy, which I know has the approval of the House, and I believe has the 71 approval of the vast majority of our fellow-countrymen. It is not an easy policy to carry out. It is all very well to sneer at that policy and to say that it is a humbug and a sham. Those who have defended it have never pretended that it is proof against all abuse or interference or that it is entirely satisfactory, but they have maintained that its general aim represented the wishes of this country and the determination of our people that we should not be embroiled in that conflict. It is all very well and very easy for the hon. Member for the English Universities to sneer at me and to taunt me with cowardice because I said I did not believe the people of Britain thought the cause of either side in Spain was worth fighting for and to misrepresent, as she very deliberately and ingeniously misrepresented entirely, that statement in saying that I had said I did not think it was worth sacrificing a life in the cause of humanity and for the protection of refugees. I never said such a thing, and she deliberately misrepresented me.
The right hon. Gentleman opposite, in opening the Debate, suggested that there had been a change in the Government policy, but I think he failed entirely to make out any such case. Indeed, he proved that he had failed by concluding his remarks by asking us to make a change, and he showed how consistent our policy has been throughout. I defy him to show that there has been any change, and I will endeavour to give reasons why I think there should not be any change. He attempted to inveigle me again and again into dealing with the extremely delicate legal situation, but I should be unwilling to do so. It is not a question for anybody but an expert international lawyer to deal with, and I would suggest to him that the reason why the problem is so difficult and impossible to deal with by a layman is that the situation is entirely anomalous and without precedent.
It is all very well to ask what is the position of these people when they are fired upon. Yes, but who is responsible? Surely, the Spanish Government. If order is not maintained in that country, the people who are governing that country are, in the ordinary course of events, responsible for disorders that break out. If a foreign citizen were molested or suffered in this country as the result of 72 riots or revolution, the Government of that country would apply to His Majesty's Government for redress. The right hon. Gentleman would hardly suggest that we should apply to the Spanish Government for redress or protection on account of molestation of British liberty which may be incurred as a result of the action of the insurgents. That shows how difficult it is to deal from a strictly legal point of view with a situation in which you refuse to recognise the rights of the belligerents on either side. With regard to the particular point which the right hon. Gentleman made about the Hague Convention, I have had the opportunity since he spoke of consulting a legal authority, who assures me that the provision of the Hague Convention to which he referred does not apply to this case. It applies only to ship-wrecked, or wounded or sick on the High Seas. It would not justify protecting ships inside territorial waters even if it did apply. That is the opinion of the highest authority on international law I was able to consult in the time at my disposal.
There has been no change in our policy from first to last, and the principle of that policy has been that what goes on in Spain is not our concern, but that we will keep the High Seas free for British commerce. The question immediately arises, "Where do you draw the line?" We have drawn it at the three-mile limit where territorial waters begin. What offence, asks the right hon. Gentleman, has been committed by people going into territorial waters? They have not committed any offence. Nor have the volunteers who have gone to support either General Franco or the Spanish Government. Hundreds of enthusiastic young men who have gone from this country to support the Spanish Government have committed no offence, but they have deliberately gone to a territory where they know that civil war is in process. They have taken their lives in their hands and they have taken that risk. They cannot legitimately ask for the protection of the Government if with their eyes open they take such a risk. We have been told of people drowning near the shore in territorial waters, and we are asked whether we can complacently think of His Majesty's ships within reach of these people not going into territorial waters and rescuing them. It is not pleasing for neutrals to watch the 73 sufferings of those taking part in war and refusing to intervene, but it is part of a sound policy that they should not interfere. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to ask himself where he would draw the line. We have been told that people have plunged into the water near the shore. They would not be able to swim very far and ships could not go into those shallow waters. They could, of course, send their barges or dinghies into the shallow water—
§ Mr. Cooper
Then the naval ships would have had to protect the merchant ships while they were doing it. The merchant ships, however, would not be able to go close to the shore and would have to launch dinghies. What would be the position then? A strong man, perhaps, has swum as far as the launch or dinghy, and he says, "There are my wife and children on the shore; are you going to take me and leave them?" What would the generous heart of the right hon. Gentleman think if he were in command of that boat? He would rather go ashore and take the mother and children aboard. Where are you going to draw the line, however? On the beach? The man might say, "My sick mother is only three miles inland; can you take her?" Before you knew where you were, the whole policy of non-intervention would be broken down, and you would have British seamen, and probably members of the Royal Navy fighting on the shores of Spain.
It is so easy to make an eloquent appeal, but so difficult to carry out the policy in practice. We have deliberately made the line where our policy should begin and end. We have consistently stuck to that policy from the beginning, and it is quite false for the hon. Member for the English Universities to say that we have not done a thing for the Republicans of Spain. She probably knows—for she has studied this question and is closely in touch with the facts—that 89,000 people have been evacuated from the northern coast of Spain under the protection of His Majesty's ships. Ten thousand people have been evacuated from the coast of Spain in His Majesty's ships. Of that 89,000, less than 10,000 were supporters of the Franco insurgents, 74 and the hon. Lady has the effrontery to tell the House that we have not done a thing.
May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that I expressly said that protection had been given on the highseas for a certain number of ships, but I have had it from some of the shipowners engaged in that traffic that they actually received more harm than good from the protection, because again and again they were warned off from entering territorial waters when there was no blockade at all. The blockade was created by the warnings of His Majesty's Government in the first instance. May I ask one question? The rescuing merchant ships did not ask that the Navy should go into territorial waters. What they said was, "If we go in and are captured while rescuing refugees, will you take us under your protection when we come outside territorial waters?" Does the right hon. Gentleman maintain that that would be a breach of neutrality?
§ Mr. Cooper
I have again and again explained the situation in regard to the capture of ships inside territorial waters. I do not think the hon. Member has done her case any good by saying that the ships engaged in this traffic have received more harm than help from His Majesty's ships. As long as the case is left in her hands it will be unnecessary for me to say much more in their defence. I very much resent her suggestion that His Majesty's ships have not done everything in their power from beginning to end in this unfortunate and tragic contest to give unprejudiced assistance to refugees from either side. In the early days when it was possible to give assistance with the assent of both sides—as it has been occasionally possible since—assistance has been given by the warships themselves, and ever since they have given every protection in their power to the vessels that have been carrying out this difficult and dangerous work. The criticism to which they have been subjected in this House, is not deserved, nor will it be supported by any members of the community outside.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
As we only desire to elucidate the policy of the Government, will the right hon. Gentleman explain why, if His Majesty's ships have brought out 10,000 people from the north coast of Spain, they cannot continue to do so 75 now, especially in view of the fact that ships evacuated Bilbao and the neighbourhood after General Franco had declared a blockade?
§ Mr. Cooper
His Majesty's ships only take refugees on board with the consent of the authorities who are in control of the localities at the time.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I would like to make an appeal in support of the request that has been made from the Front Opposition Bench in connection with the refugees. Although there is such a cynical attitude adopted towards these refugees we have to bear in mind that there are thousands of miners and miners' women and children whose lives are at stake. If they were members of the aristocracy, if they were landlords and big capitalists on the beach, their lives in danger, would there be this attitude from the First Lord of the Admiralty? The Fascist elements on the other side want to talk about road accidents, as an hon. and gallant Member has done to-night, when men, women and children are sinking in the sea. Road accidents are important and should be dealt with by the Government, but men and women are drowning now and dying of terror. They are only common working people, however, and the First Lord is not interested in them. Members on the other side are not interested in them. That is the reason for their hesitation in meeting the demand that comes from the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench. In every part of the world when aristocrats have been faced with danger, British battleships have been sent to them and have evacuated them and even brought them back to London. I would appeal to the Government to let humanity speak and to save these people who are on the beach clinging to the rocks, whose souls are filled with unspeakable terror. They are common working people; and British seamen, British admirals, the heroes we sing about, stand and watch them drown. The First Lord of the Admiralty is the chief of this great organised power, and he is standing looking at little children's hands reaching up out of the water. This is the result of what he calls our great foreign policy, "Let the children drown."
I am concerned about the King's Speech, as many others are, because of its 76 omissions. Reference has been made to food prices. Are the Government aware that food prices represent one of the biggest problems facing the great mass of the people? If it is a problem for the great mass of the people, it is an actual tragedy for those who are living on unemployment relief or the old age pension. No mention is made of this tragedy in the King's Speech. The House of Commons is faced with the fact that we have appointed a board which is all-powerful in the control of the unemployed, but not powerful enough to make a general increase. The House cannot make a general increase. The board stands between us and the unemployed unless we can get new regulations. I demand as a minimum new regulations that will allow an immediate increase of 25 per cent. for all the unemployed. The Minister of Labour said on Thursday that the position was considered by the board, which has sent out a circular directing that hard cases should be dealt with. Every unemployed case is a hard case, especially when prices are rising. It is, therefore, necessary to have an immediate increase of a general character.
Then there is the position of the old age pensioners. In Scotland there is an Old Age Pensioners' Association. With all your bragging about prosperity and about what a great country this is, the old folks of 65 and upwards have to get together in order to form an organisation to urge an increase of their pensions. It is a demand which is supported by the whole of the people. The other day I had a meeting of old age pensioners in Cowdenbeath. The chairman was the Provost of Cowdenbeath, the speaker was the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), the mover of the resolution was a Labour bailie, the seconder was a Catholic priest in Cowdenbeath, and the resolution was supported by an officer of the Salvation Army, a Methodist minister and a representative of the Church of Scotland. There were various other people on the platform, but those I have mentioned show that all sections of the people are behind the old age pensioners.
Here is something which I should like to give to some members of the Cabinet as a reminder that these old folk are striving to keep alive. At one of these meetings an old man handed me this budget of an old age pensioner. It says: "Rent 3s. 6d., coal 1s. 5d., light 1s., 77 bread 1s. 10½d., margarine 7d., tea and sugar 1s.1½d.,undertaker 8d., total 10s. 2d. No beef, eggs, milk, tobacco, soap, salt, bacon or beer in this budget." In all parts of the country there is support for the claims of these old age pensioners; the only place where there is no indication of it is the King's Speech. The Government have forgotten all about the old age pensioners. Is nothing to be done? It will be a scandal if, during this Session, something is not done for these old people.
Then there is the question of the Food Council. I suggest that the Food Council should be re-organised, and trade union arid co-operative representatives put on it. If it is to be of any use at all, all who represent, in the best sense, households which are affected by food prices ought to have a place on this council. There is also the question of the depressed areas. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was reminded that there was no mention of unemployment in the King's Speech, and he thereupon discovered that it was a matter for very great satisfaction, saying there arc more people employed to-day than there were last year. But what has that to do with the question? The Government forgot to mention unemployment not because unemployment is not with us but because they are not interested in the unemployed. There are 1,500,000 unemployed, indeed nearer 2,000,000, and there are the depressed areas and the areas round about, which are often worse than the depressed areas.
Therefore, I propose that the Government should bring in great schemes of public works for the depressed areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) has already recommended the Government to study the Labour party's proposals in connection with old age pensions, and I would follow that up by advising the Government to take the opportunity of advancing the proposals made by the Labour party in connection with the depressed areas. I am certain that if those proposals had been considered when the King's Speech was being prepared the unemployment question would not have been forgotten. I do not want to go into mining royalties and mining, but the mention of mining reminds me that there are such persons as the Harworth prisoners, and I should like to see the Government taking immediate steps to end the victimisation which is 78 going on in Harworth and to bring those prisoners out of gaol.
In connection with Spain, I have referred already to the suggestions regarding evacuation put forward by the Opposition Front Bench, and I would further suggest that everything should be done to see that food ships get to Spain. The situation there is an intolerable one. Germany and Italy are supporting Franco, not only in the field but on the sea, and are acting the part of pirates not only against ships carrying war materials but against food ships or anything else which goes to help the Government of Spain. We want to get a policy started by the Government which will insure a regular number of ships sailing into the ports of Spain, protected by the British Navy; and above all, as pleaded powerfully by the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle) we ought to put an end to the rotten policy of nonintervention, which is actually intervention on the side of Franco, and give the Spanish Government the right to buy arms.
The First Lord of the Admiralty says that if there is disorder in Spain it is the Spanish Government who are responsible for looking after things there, hut how are the Spanish Government to keep their house in order if Germany and Italy are flooding the country with soldiers and munitions of war, and a barrier, the barrier of the Pyrenees, is there to prevent the Spanish Government getting the arms which are necessary in order to defend their country against the attacks upon it? I suggest that the supplying of food to Spain, along with the evacuation of the people in the north, and the ending of non-intervention, would soon bring about a settlement of the situation. Every new advance aggression makes brings about a new aggression. It is a lie when any member of the Government says that the policy of non-intervention has kept the peace. When Mussolini invaded Abyssinia we were told that the policy then pursued had isolated the conflict and kept it to Abyssinia. Abyssinia may have been sacrificed but have we kept the peace in Europe? No. It has prepared the way for new aggressions.
I have raised the question of Palestine on many occasions, and I will say now that the policy of terror employed by the Government in Palestine will never 79 solve any problems in Palestine. There is one solution to the problems of Palestine and one only, and that is the operation of the Mandate as it was intended to operate and the setting up of an independent assembly in Palestine representative of Arabians and Jews—recognising that the majority will be Arabians; not the division of the country, not the splitting up of the country, not war of the Arabs against the Jews and of the Jews against the Arabs and the British against both. Not violence or terror, but the setting up of a legislative assembly is the way of peace and development in Palestine.
I hope the House will excuse me for saying one word in connection with the Chinese in London. I have been informed that on the part of the Japanese there is a campaign going on to get Chinese people interfered with in London. We know how active the Nazis are in every part of London and every part of the country. I gave much printed literature in connection with this matter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he was Home Secretary. They are very active. The Italians are also very active. Now I have heard of a case of a Chinese who was speaking at a meeting. There was a plain clothes man sitting there taking notes, and sitting along with the plain clothes man was a Japanese. When the Chinese speaker was questioned by the C.I.D. man at the conclusion of the meeting, she questioned his right and he showed his badge. She was not satisfied and went to the police station to make quite sure that he was from the C.I.D., and the Japanese representative went 80 along also. I have been told, also, of a Chinese visitor arriving at Harwich and when he was being questioned a Japanese was standing by. I have been told that; I do not know the exact character of what is taking place; but the Japanese are floating about at our ports and about London, and are playing some game in association with certain of the police officials here. We in this House demand that Chinese people should have as free a right to state the case of the Chinese people as is given to any of the other factions that are continually operating here, often in a very subtle manner. All the main features of the situation in the Far East, in Spain and at home have been neglected in the King's Speech, and I hope that during our discussions Member after Member will drive home the importance of the various things which have been left out, and that by the time those discussions are finished the Government will be forced to consider preparing a new King's Speech, a new programme for the benefit of the people of this country and for the appeasing of the international situation.
Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Captain Dugdale.]
Debate to be resumed To-morrow.