§ [THIRD DAY.]
Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [26th October]
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"— [Captain Balfour.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
In the Debate this afternoon it is my privilege to follow the Minister of Transport. He would not expect, if he were here, that I should pursue in detail the arguments he used. He would, I am sure, forgive me if I said that I was amazed at the picture which he painted of Britain and of the world in which we live. Like the authors of the Gracious Speech, which we are debating, he seemed never to have heard of unemployment. Like them, he had never heard of the grinding poverty in which millions of our fellow-Britons live. Like the authors of the Conservative posters at by-elections, he seemed to think that in all regards the country was happy, prosperous and safe. Happy, with the shadow of another war falling ever closer on the ground beside us. Safe, when we need the aid raid precautions which the Government are about to introduce: And prosperous—I know something of the prosperity of which the Government boast. There is no area in the country more prosperous than the borough which I have the honour to represent. Its unemployment is almost the lowest in the land. They are making arms. It has a progressive Borough Council which has done very much to alleviate the lot of its people.
Last year. I paid a visit to a school in Derby. I went into a classroom where there were little girls of 10 years of age. I asked the teacher if I could look at the sums which they were doing. On one 282 side of the room, the little girls were getting all the sums right; on the other side, they were not only getting them wrong, but they did not even know what they were trying to do. They were adding up, when they should have been subtracting. And I said to the teacher, "What is the explanation of this?" She said, "Oh these are the little dunces. At least I call them little dunces, but the truth is, they do not get enough to eat." I went, in that same week, to call upon a man who had just finished 40 years' service with the railways. He had been retired with a gratuity of £30. His wife was 58; and when his £30 was finished, they would have to live for seven years on 10s. a week. There are many men in Derby, full-grown men in full employment, earning less wages than a week. There are men going to hospital—I talked to three of them last week in the borough hospital—because of the industrial conditions in which they work. When I think of these things, of the distressed areas, of the fact that the prosperity of which the Government boast is largely due to armament expansion, which, they know as well as we do, must end either in war or in a slump within two or three years—when I think that they have no plan of any kind to mitigate that slump, I confess that I am appalled by the frivolous inadequacy of the domestic programme which they here propose. But it is not with domestic matters, but with other omissions from the Gracious Speech, that I have been asked to deal this afternoon.
First, I have been charged with raising a subject that was debated in the House of Commons on Tuesday night—I mean the fate of the Asturian miners at Gijon. At the conclusion of that Debate, when, as we think, the First Lord had entirely failed to answer the powerful case which my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn) had laid before him, the First Lord of the Admiralty ended by saying that, although we could not take away the refugees we had in fact done so, that we had done so to the tune of 89,000; that 10,000 of them had been taken in warships, and that the rest of this work of evacuation had been done under the protection of His Majesty's ships. I find that statement extremely difficult to accept. I seem to remember that all through this summer our warships have been advising British merchant 283 vessels that they should not go into territorial waters at all. Is that encouraging the evacuation of refugees? Is that the work for which the Government now takes credit? After the First Lord had made that statement, I ventured to ask him this question—if they had been able to bring out 10,000 people from the North Coast of Spain in warships, why could they not continue to do so now, especially in view of the fact that ships evacuated refugees from Bilbao and its neighbourhood after General Franco had declared a blockade? I am thinking of His Majesty's ship "Forester" which brought away 250 refugees from Bilbao on 22nd April. And the First Lord's reply was this: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.That was precisely the position at Gijon last week. The miners, the Asturians, were still in control; they still had a port, and a coastline; and they were asking us to take away their refugees. The Spanish Government were supporting their demands. The British Government refused. I want to ask the Noble Lord who is to follow me in this Debate whether he will at least promise that this matter will not be still left as it was left last week. It is not yet too late to do some good. Almost as I rose this afternoon, I had placed in my hands a letter from a firm of shippers who have merchantmen in these waters adjacent to Aviles. They say:There are to—day, we understand, 20,000 to 30,000 miners and their families waiting to escape from the Asturias. At the moment the Government still control 15 miles of coast. When the rebels close in on this, these unfortunate people will throw themselves into the water, as they did at Gijon. It is terribly urgent that British shipowners should get permission to rescue them.I ask the Noble Lord whether he will promise this afternoon that British ships will be allowed to go in to rescue these 20,000 to 30,0000 refugees, as they did at Bilbao, and that they will receive the protection of His Majesty's ships when they do so.
The main omission from the Gracious Speech with which I have been asked to deal is that to which attention has already been called—that the Speech fails to say that the foreign policy of His Majesy's Government will be founded as heretofore on the League of Nations. To my mind 284 that omission is not an accident. Indeed, as some right hon. Gentleman has said, it is an outburst of unexpected honesty on the part of the Government. It does not stand alone. What it means was shown to us in advance by the Prime Minister's speech in the Debate on Thursday last. Let me quote his words:What is the use of repeating parrot-like that we believe in the League?Unless there should be any doubt as to his meaning the Prime Minister went on:The hon. Member says that the League is a guarantee against aggression. Unfortunately, experience has shown this to be absolutely untrue. The League as it is at present is not a guarantee against aggression, and pending a regeneration of the League or its development into an effective instrument, it is no use going on repeating the League.' We have to find practical means of restoring peace to the world."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st October, 1937; col. 166, Vol. 327.]I hope that hon. Members opposite will help us to ensure that every citizen in the country shall read and understand those words. For my part I am intensely grateful to the Prime Minister for having made this issue so extremely clear. He said that the Government do not believe in the League of Nations—[HON. MEMBERS: "No"]—as a practical means of restoring the peace of the world. The Government do not think it is now "an effective instrument." They do not think it can now be made "a guarantee against aggression." [HON. MEMBERS: "He did not say that at all."] His words were:The League as it is at present is not a guarantee against aggression.Quite so. That is exactly what I said— the League as it is to-day is not an effective instrument or guarantee against aggression. Therefore, the Government have abandoned the League as their instrument of foreign policy. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Of course they have, and the Prime Minister says that, having abandoned it, the Government have to find practical means of restoring peace to the world. That is the whole difference between the Government and the Labour party. We believe that the League is a practical means of restoring peace. We consider that it can be made "an effective guarantee against aggression" now. We believe that the one clear lesson of Abyssinia is that the League could have stopped the aggressor but for the sabotage of His Majesty's 285 Government. I ask the House to consider the language of the Prime Minister in the light of the pledges which the Government made at the last General Election, pledges, indeed, on which they came to power. Reacting no doubt to the Peace Ballot, they said in their General Election manifesto of October, 1935The League of Nations will remain as heretofore the keystone of British foreign policy. The prevention of war and the establishment of settled peace in the world must always be the most vital interest of the British people—I ask the House to note this language—and the League is the instrument which has been framed and to which we look for the attainment of these objects. We shall, there— fore, continue to do all in our power to up— hold the Covenant and to maintain and increase the efficiency of the League.That was in October, 1935. Perhaps hon. Members opposite will say that the League is weaker now than it was then. In fact its membership is exactly the same except that Egypt has joined. Mussolini then was already an aggressor, but now he is an aggressor exhausted by two long and bloody wars. Russia's membership then was a far less solid factor than it is to-day. The hope of American co-operation is enormously greater, as Mr. Roosevelt's speech makes clear. Potentially, if our Government cared to lead it, the League is far stronger to-day than it has ever been before. We are now entitled to count in 130,000,000 Americans, who are in favour of upholding the sanctity of international law, and who would give us all the practical co-operation that we should require; and if we do that we have 1,600,000,000 people in the League against the less than 200,000,000 people of Germany, Italy and Japan, who seem inclined to challenge the League and its authority to-day.
We believe it is now still perfectly possible to regenerate the League. We believe that what was done for a few brief weeks by the Home Secretary in 1935 could be done again. I go further, and I say that I believe there is no other practical means of restoring peace except to regenerate the League. We believe that the Government's efforts since 193I have proved that that is true. They have tried other "practical means," as the Prime Minister calls them, of many kinds—diplomatic conversations, journeys of Secretaries of State to foreign capitals, Three-Power negotiations in Paris, Non-Intervention Committees, the Hoare-Laval 286 negotiations—and with every new departure from the methods and the law and the institutions of the League of Nations we have plunged deeper into the confusion of armament competition and aggressive war.
We still believe what the Government said at the last General Election. We still believe what was stated in their manifesto:Our attitude to the League is dictated by the conviction that collective security by collective action can alone save us from a return to the old system which resulted in the Great War.When the Prime Minister asks us: What is the use of talking about the League? we reply that it is no use talking about anything else, if we desire peace, law and order in the world. The treaties whose sanctity it is now so vitally important to restore are precisely the covenant of the League and the Kellogg Pact. Those instruments do not consist of "general principles," as the Prime Minister called them; they consist of practical rules of action, prescribing definite courses if disputes or wars break out. They furnish the only real foreign policy to-day; and we believe that if our Government would lead the nations in demanding their observance, and in fulfilling their obligations, they would yet succeed in saving peace. But if they go on, as they are doing now, abandoning these vital instruments, allowing them to be destroyed, they will get no new and better covenants in their place. They will destroy, instead, the very foundations of what the Foreign Secretary always calls "the rule of law."
Let me turn from general policy to the two major problems by which this House is faced to-day. I begin with Spain. Spain has been the victim of a foreign aggression—an aggression which was solemnly denounced in the Assembly at Geneva in a resolution against which only two minor States cast their votes. The Government have been aware of this aggression since 28th July, 1928. We believe that if the Government had then upheld the Covenant, if they had acted as they did at Nyon, if they had stood for the defence of international law under the authority of the League, both the aggression in Spain, and the whole war, would have been over long ago. We believe that the Government have had numerous opportunities since then to use the League. We believe that even to-day 287 by far their best chance of getting rid of foreign troops in Spain, and of ending the dangers which the presence of these troops involves, would be to have a League plan, drawn up in public, impartial and fair to all, administered by impartial League agents responsible to no Government but to the League alone, and to present it to the two parties. If either refused it, let it take the consequence of that refusal. Cut off arms supplies to that side by more effective measures of control; give arms to the side which accepted the plan; and supplement that action by whatever other economic measures might be required. We believe that that would be far better than the plan on which the Government are now engaged.
There would be some hope in such a plan, far more hope than in the pitiful and dilatory negotiation on which the Non-Intervention Committee have once again begun. The Prime Minister reproves us for having doubts about those negotiations. He says he accepts the assurances of Signor Mussolini as being given in good faith. I wonder how often during last winter Signor Mussolini told the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues that he was not sending troops to Spain. The Government came down here day by day, week by week, and told us on Signor Mussolini's assurance that troops were not being sent, when we knew, on the authority of the finest and most reliable journalists in the world, that they were. He says now "Italian troops have gone to Spain; but only 40,000." How does he know that there are only 40,000, unless he sent them, unless they were Government troops dispatched by his authority? Of course they were. For that reason we suspect this new negotiation now on foot. We suspect it for another reason, best explained by citing the correspondent of the "Daily Telegraph and Morning Post" in Rome. In a message sent on the morning after Mussolini had told us he was going to accept the British plan, the correspondent says there was "surprise" in Rome at Signor Mussolini's acceptance of the plan. He goes on to say;It is suggested, however, that the Italian Government wishes to avert a break in the non-intervention talks because it believes that the French Government is now prepared to open its Spanish frontiers unless agreement is reached.288 The Italians are afraid of the French Frontier being opened unless agreement is reached. They want to stop the Frontier being opened. The correspondent goes on:It is also considered here that General Franco will have a decisive victory before the Commission has finished its task in Spain.This negotiation is a device to cover another offensive by which it is hoped that General Franco will win the war.
Throughout the last 12 months, all the Governments have paid lip-service to non-intervention and all have been applying it in their different ways. Non-intervention ought to mean leaving Spaniards to settle Spanish affairs in their own manner, and creating equal conditions for both sides without help to either. But, under the cover of our much-advertised negotiations in the Foreign Office, Signor Mussolini has been applying non-intervention in his own way, and we have been doing so in ours. On 22nd December last we began to talk about the prohibition of volunteers in the Non-Intervention Committee. On that day 6,500 Italians left for Spain. On 2nd January the Gentlemen's Agreement was concluded; 4,000 more Italians landed in Spain. On 7th January an Italian note agreed in principle to the prohibition of volunteers; ten days later 10,000 more Italians landed in Spain. On 25th January there was a further Italian note agreeing to a joint prohibition of "volunteers": two days later a further great number of Italians arrived in Spain. And within a few more days Malaga had fallen. The first big offensive had succeeded.
After Malaga, there followed the attack against Bilbao. There, General Franco had 20,000 casualties, mostly Italians. Aircraft was the decisive weapon. The Basques captured 12 of Franco's airmen, dead or alive. Eleven of them were German, one was Italian—100 per cent. proof of non-intervention. On our side we applied non-intervention, we equalised conditions to such effect that the Basques had no aircraft, one anti-aircraft gun, two anti-tank guns. We tried to stop the food ships, too, until British public opinion refused to allow it to go on. All that time the Government were full of hope that non-intervention had succeeded. They were negotiating the setting up of control by land and sea, and bringing that control into full effect—that wonderful control under which not a single shipment of 289 arms has ever yet been found, although everybody knows the war has been conducted with foreign arms.
After Bilbao, there followed Santander. Signor Mussolini was still applying his methods of non-intervention. I have here a photostatic copy of an Italian paper "Il Popolo." There is a great black heading:Santander—Splendida Vittoria Italiana.No translation needed. It goes on:The contribution of the Italian people in 10 days' battle has been 16 officers and 325 soldiers killed.Three hundred and forty Italians killed in 10 days; and the battle lasted 10 weeks and more. It goes on:General Teruzzi (the General in charge) telegraphs to Rome: 'La consigna del Duce e stata esequita.' The orders of the Duce have been carried out.Non-intervention. And we too applied non-intervention. We stopped arms. The unhappy Asturians had hardly enough rounds of ammunition to sustain an action. We stopped their food. The First Lord refused to bring the women and children out, to save them from the methods of Guernica, because if he brought them away there would be fewer mouths to feed and General Franco might not win so quickly. And all that time the Government were negotiating about withdrawal of volunteers. They had a sub—committee set up; they produced a British plan; and so they spent May, June and July while Santander was falling. After Santander, there came the offensive against Gijon. Mussolini still applied non-intervention. There were three Italian divisions, each division with three times the artillery that a British division would take into action if we went to war to-day. There were 160 German and Italian aircraft. We too applied non-intervention. We stopped the arms, the food and the evacuation of the refugees. We would not even let our ships pick them up when they were drowning in the sea. This time there was no need for a negotiation, because Parliament was not sitting; so the Non-Intervention Committee also had a rest. But now Signor Mussolini is preparing to win the war, preparing for a new attack on Madrid or in Aragon. He has concentrated five Italian divisions near Saragossa. One hundred and 290 sixty German and Italian aircraft have crossed over from Gijon. New supplies and reinforcements are still arriving. And we ask the Government whether they think that their negotiation is really to bring the foreigners out or to cover up this new offensive, to give them what they call "a ray of hope"—the Government's "rays of hope" always fill me with black despair—to keep us quiet. I ask them: Are they going to allow their new International Commissions to control the movements of those invading troops? The League of Nations has often done it in previous disputes. Better still, are the Government going to ask for a suspension of hostilities while the foreigners come away? The League has done that, too. If these negotiations are to be serious at all, there must be a very strict time limit for making an agreement. There must be a strict time-limit for its execution. There must be absolutely impartial commissions; there must be effective measures to prevent the invaders from carrying out their present intention of winning the war. If the Government tell us they cannot get these things accepted, then at least let them tell us also that they are going to change their methods of non-intervening; their own methods of keeping the balance equal between the parties. Let them tell us that they are going to give the legitimate Government of Spain the arms to defend themselves against invaders; let them propose the opening of the French frontier, not as a French but as an international decision; let them tell the French that they will support them; let them lift their own embargo on the sale of arms to the legitimate Government of Spain; and let them encourage other nations to do the same. If they do, they will use what is, perhaps, their last opportunity to do something to redress some of the manifold injustices we have done to Spain.
They have an even greater opportunity over China. They have an opportunity they could not have hoped for to rebuild and regenerate the League. In this country there are divisions about Spain. There are none about China. But the Government's attitude, none the less, gives us cause for genuine alarm. The Prime Minister's language in the Debate last Thursday was by no means in accord 291 with the temper of the people. It appeared to disregard our international obligations and take no account of the opportunity which now presents itself. He said:I suggest that it is altogether a mistake to go into this conference talking about economic sanctions, economic pressure and force. We are here to make peace, not here to extend the conflict."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st October, 1937; col. 174, Vol. 327.]Of course. But how is he to make peace? By upholding the sanctity of treaties, by upholding the Covenant and the Kellogg Pact, by upholding collective security, which is the only hope of averting the old system which led us into war? Or by tearing up those treaties and asking the Chinese to accept a new Hoare-Laval agreement? We are very seriously perturbed by the fact that the Government moved these negotiations from Geneva. The Americans told us very plainly that they were quite prepared to stay at Geneva if we desired it. Here is a message from the Washington correspondent of the "Times":This Government (of the United States of America) has made it clear that it will give careful study to any definite proposal looking to the solution of the Sino-Japanese problem which may be advanced with the authority of the League as a whole. A point of particular importance is the insistence of Mr. Cordell Hull, the Secretary of State, that the conditions existing to—day in the Orient are Se concern of all countries desiring peace rather than of those alone whose proximity to the scene of hostilities or whose material interests in the zone affected might seem to bring them into special relations. This is generally understood here to mean that the American Government would not welcome association with any limited group of Powers—those, for instance, who were signatories to the Nine-Power Treaty—but would be better disposed to co—operate if the initiative taken had as nearly a general background of support as present conditions make possible.The "Times" correspondent adds that "what form such support would take is at present unknown," but in the earlier part of the message, Mr. Hull had said:The American Government would give careful study to any definite proposal which may he advanced with the authority of the League as a whole.I am very sorry that the Government have wasted all these weeks when the Americans were already in the Committee of 23. I am very sorry that they used M. Van Zeeland as their catspaw, as they 292 did over the Hoare-Laval Agreement in 1935. I am very sorry that now, as in 1935, they are resisting proposals for an oil embargo.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden)
What Government has made proposals for an oil embargo?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Very wide bodies of opinion in this country and throughout the world. If this means that when the Government get to Brussels they are going to propose a compromise by which the Chinese give up any territory to the militarists of Japan, I hope the Chinese delegates will come out in public and appeal to the public conscience of the world. We are faced here, not with a war for which responsibility is divided, but with a flagrant aggression condemned by the Assembly of the League. In every such case until that of Spain the League began its work by demanding that the invaders should evacuate the territory they had occupied. In 1925 Sir Austen Chamberlain refused to discuss with the Greek Dictator, he would not even debate about the merits of the question, until General Pangalos had brought his troops off Bulgarian soil. I hope that that procedure will be followed at Brussels in regard to Japan. And if the Japanese refuse, I hope our Government will immediately propose an oil embargo. I believe we could count on American co-operation.
President Roosevelt went far beyond the Prime Minister in what he said. He said that the nations' task was now "to put an end to acts of international aggression." He said that it was necessary for them "to make concerted efforts in opposition to these violations of treaties." It is plain that he is ready for concrete collective action, otherwise his speech is nonsense. There are two men who could defeat President Roosevelt if they desired to do so—the President of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, and the leading statesman of the Republican Party. But Senator Pittman, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, not only threw over the Neutrality Bill which he himself prepared, but he said that we ought to "refuse to continue commercial or credit relations with Japan," and that "in so doing there need not be a single shot fired." Everybody knows what Mr. Stimson has said. He 293 has talked about oil, iron and cotton. He has analysed the trade with Japan and pointed out that we could certainly bring her down. He has given it as his opinion— and as Secretary of State he must have considered this matter for years in the light of possible action—that we could do this without any danger of war to ourselves.
The Government will say that the Japanese would occupy Hong Kong. The Japanese would not occupy Hong Kong. With Russia on their flank, that would be "midsummer madness" of a kind which Japan has never shown. They have not even dared to make their own blockade effective, because they do not want complications with other Powers. But even if they did occupy Hong Kong, that would not mean that we need necessarily reply by armed resistance. We should need only to wait six or nine months until their oil was finished, and they would not be able to move an aeroplane, a gun, a submarine, a transport or a warship. Their arms would be useless encumbrances to the troops who sought to use them. They would come out of Hong Kong as they went in, without a shot being fired, and Hong Kong would then be ours again.
The Government have this one last chance to re-establish the power and authority of the League. I beg them not to lose it. I beg them to remember that while we are supplying oil to Japan, the blood of Chinese children is on our hands. If the only answer of the Government is that which the Prime Minister gave the other day: "What is the use of talking about the League of Nations," then I say with great respect, that I hope they will talk less about it at the next General Election when it comes.
I have made a controversial speech, but I want to end on a non-controversial note. I want to appeal to the Government and to hon. Members in every quarter of the House. Many of them, I know, honestly believe that economic pressure, "quarantine," "ostracism" as the Americans call it, would be dangerous and ineffective. But at least let them ask the Government not to make another Hoare-Laval Agreement at China's expense. Let them urge that the Brussel's Conference should meet and act on the basis of the Nine-Power Treaty. Article i of that Treaty reads as follows:The contracting powers agree to respect the sovereignty, the independence and the 294 territorial and administrative integrity of China.I ask the Government and I ask the Noble Lord to give us an assurance that that fundamental undertaking will be observed. Let them not think that Japan can safely conquer China if we keep Hong Kong and Shanghai. Such a Treaty would not serve our material interest. Those places would be useless to us, as the Japanese in Manchuria have taught the Federation of British Industries. But such a Treaty would be an act of shame, like the Hoare-Laval Agreement—an act of shame which the British people would not twice forgive.
§ 4.35 P.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Viscount Cranborne)
The first broadside in the attack upon the foreign policy of the Government was fired not to-day but two days ago by the right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) when he drew attention to the fact that there was no mention in the King's Speech of the League of Nations. He drew the rather surprising deduction from that omission that the Government's policy had ceased to be based upon, or even connected with, the League of Nations. I thought then, and I think the House must have thought, that that was about the thinnest argument that has ever been used in the House of Commons, and that it would have scandalised even the merest tyro at a university in elementary logic. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is not here. Why should he maintain that, because a fundamental principle of policy is not mentioned specifically in the King's Speech, the House of Commons must automatically assume that that principle is not accepted by the Government of the day?
§ Sir Francis Acland
My right hon. Friend had to be in Scotland to-day, and I will not try to answer for him.
§ Viscount Cranborne
I appreciate that. Would he maintain that argument in regard to other matters of established principle? In the present King's Speech there is no mention of the maintenance of the Constitution. Would the right hon. Gentleman or any member of the Liberal party hold that that means that the House is to assume that the Government are going to embark upon a policy of red revolution?
§ Viscount Cranborne
Is the House to assume, because there is no mention of the Constitution, that the Government are going to set up next year a Communist or a Fascist dictatorship? In regard to the point made by the right hon. Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) I would suggest that it is not really an argument to say that what was in two years ago must be always in. That might be a proper argument for a Conservative but not for a member of the Liberal party. Everybody knows that the reason why the question of the maintenance of the Constitution is not in the King's Speech is because it is a universally accepted principle. It is not necessary to repeat it every year. I should have thought that exactly the same argument applies with regard to the League of Nations. It has been accepted by every party in this country ever since the War and it is astonishing that at this late hour it should be questioned. If, however, hon. Members are still suspicious, I am only too delighted to give them a categorical assurance at the very outset that the League of Nations is, and remains, the basis of British foreign policy. I hope that that assurance will make the right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland completely comfortable.
The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) followed very much the same line of argument with regard to the general policy of His Majesty's Government. He, too, drew attention to the omission of any mention of the League of Nations, and he drew from that omission some very sinister conclusions. I listened, as I suppose other hon. Members did, with very great interest to the speech of the hon. Member. He spoke, as he always does, with great brilliance, but with what I might describe as academic fire. I do not know what the impression was on the minds of other hon. Members, but the effect of the speech on my mind was to leave me completely unconvinced. That feeling does not involve any accusation of insincerity against the hon. Member. Everybody knows that he believes passionately in the League, nobody more so. The impression that I got from his speech, and also from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for 296 Caithness and Sutherland, and the speech of the Leader of the Opposition last Thursday, was that their arguments are based, at any rate as far as the recent questions with which they were concerned, not on first-hand accurate information, but on incomplete and even misleading information, which they have got from various sources at second hand.
If I may use a very simple metaphor, it seems to me that they are like people poring over a map of a country they do not know, a map with no contour lines. I can imagine them saying to each other: "It ought to be quite easy to get from point A to point B," ignoring or not realising the fact that between those points there were several very large ranges of mountains which might make the passage exceedingly difficult. They might have convinced themselves by going to the place, but they did not. I do not say this in any spirit of criticism, because that would be a great impertinence, but everybody knows that hon. and right hon. Members have been immensely busy during the Recess. Some of them have enjoyed a short but well-earned repose, others have been in their constituencies and others have been at party meetings and other important occasions, but the fact remains that they were not at Geneva, and that they got their facts from England, and drew their conclusions from England.
It happens that I, and I think I alone of Members of this House, except those Members of the Government who were Members of the delegation at the Assembly, spent four and a half weeks at Geneva at a time when the steps which are now being discussed and criticised were being discussed and decided by the representatives of the various nations gathered there for that purpose. I should like to talk about these matters not from the viewpoint from which they have been talked about up to now, but from the viewpoint of Geneva itself. The House will recognise that in doing that I am taking rather an audacious step. There are certain hon. Members, who are not confined to the Opposition, to whom the Geneva atmosphere is not particularly acceptable. The League is considered by them to be a collection of visionaries and cranks, but after four and a half weeks at Geneva and coming back to England and listening to the Debates in this House, I 297 have come to the conclusion that it is not at Geneva that there is a lack of realism but in this House.
There are many hon. Members, some of them foremost supporters of the League, who have not had many opportunities of going to Geneva themselves who have a decidedly wrong conception of the League as it is to—day. There are those hon. Members to whom the League is simply a piece of international machinery, into which you put a problem, press a button and then expect the machinery to be put into operation and a solution produced. Briefly speaking, that is the conception in the minds of many people in this country, and they think that if the button is not pressed, or the machinery does not work exactly in the way they expected it to work, it must be the fault of their own or some other Government. That conception, whatever may have been the case in the past, has at the present time no relation to reality whatever. The League is not a piece of machinery. It has become, as all human institutions do in time, a living organism with all the merits and demerits of a living organism. Its one main object which we all support is the promotion of peace, both by preventing war and by bringing it to an end, if it can, once war has broken out, and also preventing war in any case from spreading to wider areas. Within the limitations which are imposed upon it by its incomplete membership it does pursue that task unremittingly, and it does this not blindly but reasonably.
This is the atmosphere at Geneva. It says; "The Covenant seeks to attain a certain result, the promotion of peace, and it is for us, the Members, to find out how it is best obtained. To take action on a basis which we know at the time to be ineffective would be absolutely futile. It is for us to examine the best method we can take to achieve the object for which we as a League were created." That is the atmosphere in which the deliberations at Geneva in September took place, and that was the frame of mind of the representatives of the nations. It is clear that in these circumstances it is not possible to obtain automatic action through the League as a machine. But you do get from it something which, to my mind, is more important; you get a common sense view, a realistic view of what the League can actually achieve. I have said that the object of the League 298 is to achieve results by the means which appear to be best suited to the purpose, and I want to apply that for the benefit of hon. Members to the actual events which took place during the month of September.
The key-note to the events at Geneva is the Nyon Conference which was called to deal with the problem of piracy in the Mediterranean, an urgent problem but a very limited problem. Speed was the most important factor, and the nations whose co-operation was necessary to make action effective were few. It, therefore, seemed desirable to everybody not to bring into these discussions many members of the League who had no practical interest in the problem, but to bring in only those whose co-operation was absolutely essential. It may be argued by the hon. Member for Derby that Geneva was the right place to hold the Conference. The reason why the Conference was not held at Geneva is very simple. It seemed important to associate with the discussions and decisions the great Mediterranean nation of Italy, but it seemed to be doubtful whether she would come to Geneva and, therefore, instead of standing on the point that the Conference should be held at Geneva, it was decided to hold it at Nyon. Actually Italy did not come. But all the same the Conference which took place at Nyon was rapid and successful. A patrol was set up and piracy has been practically, and, we hope, finally, abolished in the Mediterranean. As the House knows, since then the framework has been completed by the adherence of Italy to the Treaty. There is no hon. Member who does not regard Nyon as a thoroughly satisfactorily piece of work, but my point is that it could not have been rapid, complete or successful by any other method than that which was actually adopted.
Let me take the House now for a moment to another part of the world, the Far East. Here, also, the League was faced with a problem of a very special character. It is generally recognised that the gaps in the membership of the League make the Far East an exceedingly difficult matter as a League problem. In particular, the attitude of the United States is a factor of essential importance. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) recognises that, because he 299 said that His Majesty's Government should go as far as the United States and as fast as the United States, but no faster. That is the view of His Majesty's Government, and they have tried throughout this very lamentable business to keep in the closest touch with the authorities at Washington.
§ Mr. Dalton
I do not remember my exact words, but I made the suggestion that the Government should let the United States Government know by diplomatic channels, not necessarily public channels, that they would go as far as the United States.
§ Viscount Cranborne
If I remember aright, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in the Debate on 19th July accepted the hon. Member's statement and expressed strong agreement with him. It is a factor which we regard as very important and was regarded as exceedingly important at Geneva. It was regarded as being of paramount importance to keep in touch with essential nonmember States of the League, and it was this which influenced them to proceed by the Committee of 23. They hoped that the United States would send an observer there and keep in close touch with the situation, as they did in the case of the Manchukuo dispute. That hope, as hon. Members know, was in fact justified. The hon. Member for Derby has attacked His Majesty's Government for what he calls moving away from Geneva. He said that the United States were quite ready to stay there. I would point out that they were there only in the position of observer, and that they took no part in the discussions or in the voting. But they are actually a signatory to the Nine-Power Treaty, and that puts them in a very different position.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
They said quite plainly that they did not want a conference of the Powers signatory to the Nine-Power Treaty.
§ Viscount Cranborne
They accepted the invitation. When the Committee met, it recognised that there were before it two important tasks, first to act as the mouthpiece of world public opinion, to establish the facts with regard to this dispute and to express horror at the inhuman and barbarous methods of warfare. It was felt at Geneva that the task of acting 300 as the mouthpiece of world public opinion was very important. It has generally been accepted since the beginning of the League that one of the most important functions of the League is to act as the mouthpiece of world public opinion. It was in pursuance of this task that on the first day the Committee met they passed a Resolution condemning roundly the bombing of open towns in China. I was a little surprised that the hon. Member for Derby did not give a little credit to the Government for the initiative they took in that matter, because the Resolution is one with which the hon. Member and other hon. Members are in complete sympathy. It was due to the initiative of His Majesty's Government that that Resolution was passed.
It was also in fulfilment of the same function that the Committee instituted an examination into the events which followed the original incident of 7th July when hostilities between China and Japan broke out. As a result of a completely objective and impartial examination—I can assure the House that every effort was made to keep it as objective and as impartial as possible—the Committee came to the unanimous decision that Japan had not been justified in taking the action she had, and that she had violated the Nine-Power Treaty and the Pact of Paris. That report shows to the world that the League has not failed to act as the mouthpiece of public opinion or at any rate as the mouthpiece of those nations of the world who are members of the League. But it had a second task even more urgent and important, and that was to bring, if such a thing is possible, the conflict to an end. Here the League had two tasks. It had not merely to decide what action would be in accordance with the Covenant, but what action was most likely to be effective. This brought it to the further consideration of what was likely to be the most hopeful basis of action—the League acting alone or SOME other basis. I think it is clear that the League acting alone would not bring in those non-member States whose co-operation is essential in any action whether it is conciliatory action or not. The question was whether there was any other basis which would be more satisfactory.
There was the Nine-Power Treaty This seemed to have more advantages as it included nearly all the nation! 301 whose co-operation was essential, and it also contained provisions for consultation and consideration in just such circumstances as these. In view of these facts the Committee decided that the Nine-Power Treaty should be recommended as a basis upon which to act in this dispute. I do not think that that decision has been criticised, or is likely to be criticised, because the arguments in favour of it are overwhelming. One criticism has been made, not by the hon. Member for Derby although he skated very near to it. There are those who say that the League, in addition to making a recommendation of this kind, should have taken action on its own, among its own members, without any assistance from non-members. The hon. Member indicated some form of economic action which should be taken. That suggestion ignores an essential factor. It is only when the extent of the co-operation to be expected is known that you can tell whether any given action is likely to be effective. I can imagine circumstances where the co-operation might be very small. There the most violent action up to declaring war would be quite ineffective. I can imagine circumstances in which action of a very mild character, even moral pressure, might he sufficient to bring a war to an end. The basis of the League did not satisfy that condition and to embark on action without knowing whether it was likely to be effective would not be merely futile but definitely dangerous. I submit to the House that the action which the League took of recommending consultation between the signatories to the Nine-Power Treaty, with the assurance by the League of assistance towards the outcome of their deliberations, was the only hopeful line of approach.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Is it not a fact that the only nation which will be represented at Brussels which would not have been represented at Geneva is Italy, and does the noble Lord expect Mussolini to help in dealing with the situation?
§ Viscount Cranborne
The United States were merely observers at Geneva; they might just as well have been a member of the public. It is of no use the hon. 302 Member for Derby laughing and ignoring the facts. I challenge him to deny that the United States were anything but observers in that committee.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Of course they were observers, but as observers they could have accepted, as Mr. Cordell Hull said, any plan put forward by the League as a whole.
§ Viscount Cranborne
The hon. Member for Derby may be certain of that, but the League, in going into the question of action, would not have known for certain whether the United States were going to take part in it or not. I would remind the House that in the meantime, the Advisory Committee still remains in being and therefore the League has not divested itself of responsibility in this dispute.
Among the other important problems that were dealt with by the Assembly, one was, I admit, of very great importance—the problem of Spain. For the League, the problem of Spain is one of a somewhat different character from that of the Far East. With regard to the Far East, as the hon. Member for Derby has already said, the members of the League were united in wanting the same thing. The only difficulty was that incomplete membership made it very doubtful whether the League could take action adequate to bring about what it wished. In regard to Spain, the situation is completely different. The League is completely divided on the question of Spain. The members are not united, and I think the reason is a very simple one. It is that the war in Spain is not an ordinary civil war, where there is merely fighting between two completely national factions, but has a certain ideological factor, and it is on that ideological factor that the League is divided.
A considerable part was played in this question at Geneva by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. I do not wish to intrude upon his province, for I have no doubt that he wishes to speak on this matter later in the day; but I would point out to the House that His Majesty's Government did their very utmost to find a declaration of policy which would harmonise all views and enable the League to present a united front to the world. In spite of days and days of long and arduous negotiation, they were unable to find a form of words that would do that, and 303 actually various nations voted against the resolution. It is true that only two nations voted against it, but there were 14 nations—among them two members of the British Commonwealth of Nations— which abstained, and as some hon. Members no doubt know, at Geneva an abstention means that the State giving it does not agree with the resolution, the only reason why it does not actually vote against being that it does not wish to destroy the unanimity rule. Therefore, it is clear that, whatever hon. Members may have hoped in the past, the League cannot and will not at the present time take action in the Spanish dispute, and that the action that may be taken must be taken outside the League. During the past week that action has made a certain amount of progress. I do not wish to put it too high, but it has made considerable progress.
§ Viscount Cranborne
The hon. Member for Derby poured cold water upon this advance. In his heart of hearts, the hon. Member evidently does not want nonintervention to go on. All I can say to him is that if that be his view and the view of his party, it is not one that is shared either by His Majesty's Government and the great majority of people in this country, or by other members of the Non-Intervention Committee. There is not a single member of that Committee, which, last Tuesday, did not accept the resolution, with the exception of Russia, and it may be hoped that even Russia may see her way to accept it on Friday. The impression which the hon. Member gave that everybody loathes non-intervention except His Majesty's Government has nothing whatever to do with reality.
I have tried in the short time at my disposal to recreate, in view of the fact that there are hon. Members who have not had the opportunity of being at Geneva, the atmosphere there in order that they may appreciate the reasons why the League, and His Majesty's Government as a member of the League, took the action which they did take at that time. There may be hon. Members— probably there are—who, from preconceived ideas of the action which the League ought to have taken, will not approve of the action that was taken. I quite accept that, but I believe that a 304 large majority of this House and the country will both approve and welcome the action that was taken. The Nyon Agreement—I think it has no critics— is generally accepted as being one of the most rapid and successful pieces of international negotiation that has been attempted or carried through for a very long time. In regard to the Far East, a basis has been found which enables the United States to participate in deliberations on a basis of equality. That is an immense step forward, and I believe it could have been achieved in no other way than that adopted at Geneva.
Finally, there is the problem of Spain. If in Spain nothing was achieved—and no one wishes to conceal that nothing was —the reason is that, owing to the ideological factor, it is not one of those problems which is suitable for treatment by the League. That is a fact which must be faced. I assure hon. Members, from the experience of Geneva that I have had, that any attempt by any nation to bring the League in either on one side or on the other would split it from top to bottom, and deal it a blow from which it would take it a long time to recover.
§ Miss Wilkinson
What does the Noble Lord mean by "ideological factor"? Does he mean that if the League does not like the political colour of the legitimately elected Government, it can refuse to carry out its obligations to that Government?
§ Viscount Cranborne
I cannot argue with the hon. Lady on questions of the legitimate Government. I remember that the last time I was discussing this subject, the hon. Lady interrupted me. At that time I said that if it had been in Italy that the civil war was taking place, and if there had been a social-democratic revolution, the hon. Lady would not have been so keen to help Signor Mussolini, although his was the legitimate Government; and she replied, "Oh, that is not a democratic Government." What the hon. Lady means by legitimate Government is a Government with which she agrees.
§ Miss Wilkinson
May I ask the Noble Lord to answer my question? It was not a question as to my private idiosyncrasies, but as to what was the policy of the League. The Noble Lord said that 305 the policy of the League cannot be put into operation if the League does not like a government.
§ Viscount Cranborne
The point I was making was that the hon. Lady regards the Spanish Government as the legitimate Government. So does His Majesty's Government; but there are large numbers of members of the League whose sympathies are all with General Franco. The only practical result of pressing the matter at Geneva would be to cause large numbers to recognise General Franco, and then he would become, for them, the legitimate Government of Spain. But although the League cannot, I think, intervene in Spain, I would urge hon. Members to believe that, in spite of all the present dangers and tribulations—and heaven only knows, no one would wish to under-estimate their gravity—the forces of international collaboration, during the months which the House has been away, have shown increased vitality. Although peace may be far off, the forces of peace have been strengthened and expanded.
The other day the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland said that the prestige of the League had never been so low as it is to-day. If during the month of September he had left his mountain fastnesses and gone to Geneva, I believe that he would not have got that particular impression. It is true that he might not have found the League of which many people in this country are accustomed to think—a League living in a world of illusion, wrapping itself in a coat of fine sounding words—but he would have found a League, practical, realistic, recognising its limitations, but within those limitations still concentrating on its ultimate purpose of maintaining peace when and where it can. That is the League to which the Prime Minister referred the other day; that is the League which the Government supports. I submit to the House that that is the only League which it 'is worth having. Until hon. Members opposite realise that fact, their advocacy of the League, however sincere it may be, will be, in fact, a hollow mockery which will do no good either to themselves, to their country, or to the world,
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Will the Noble Lord be good enough to answer my question about: the Nine-Power Treaty and the 306 Brussels Conference? Will the Conference start on the basis of Article 1, and will the integrity of China be upheld?
§ 5.13 p.m.
Mr. Lloyd George
I wanted to have the opportunity of putting a few questions to the Noble Lord, but I did not realise that he would speak so early in the Debate; and as I cannot remain until the end of the Debate, I am afraid I shall have to put off my questions to a later occasion. The Noble Lord was rather severe upon my right hon. Friend the leader of the Liberal party because of something which my right hon. Friend said about the omission from the King's Speech of any reference to the League of Nations. In spite of what the Noble Lord has said, I still think it is a rather significant omission, when one takes into account the fact that on the two last occasions the Government emphatically declared that they based their policy upon the League of Nations. On the last occasion there was a war in Spain and there had been a war in Ethiopia; this time there is a third war, and although there has been added this other great war, every allusion to the League of Nations is left out.
What makes it all the more significant —one might as well speak plainly about it—is that there is a feeling that with the change in the Premiership, there is a change in policy. That is a really genuine feeling which is not confined to one side. One has only to read certain newspapers which are supporting the present Prime Minister, but which have most definitely withheld support from his predecessor, to see that they are doing it on the ground that there is a clear change in the whole attitude of the Government towards questions of isolation and the League of Nations. That makes it all the more significant that, for the first time we have had a King's Speech with the present Prime Minister, every allusion to the League of Nations is omitted. I think that is very much to be regretted.
The League of Nations has undoubtedly lost authority because of at least two episodes which have occurred during the lifetime of the present Government. The first was the complete failure to take action with regard to Man- 307 churia when there was complete agreement among the members of the League. It was not any lack of agreement, it was not any dissension on the part of the League in that case. All the nations of the League with the exception of Japan were quite united in their policy, and the American Secretary of State had also indicated his intention of giving every support to any action which might be taken. The fault there was entirely ours. We come to the other and the second failure—our failure with regard to Ethiopia. There you had complete unanimity on the part of the League. It was one of the most striking instances that happened in all the history of the League. The nations, great and small, were united in their determination to take action. The leadership was in our hands. I heard the right hon. Gentleman himself claim that the leadership was in the hands of Britain. It was entirely due to our action and to our leadership that the League withdrew from the position which had been taken before that. We led the League in retreat from the position which had unanimously been taken.
Those two episodes, taken together, have undoubtedly diminished, even if they have not destroyed, the authority and prestige of the League, and this Government and this Government alone are responsible for both. But I propose to take part in this Debate simply to call attention to the question of non-intervention and I shall confine myself to that topic because I am very seriously concerned as to what is happening. I almost apologise for doing so after the very powerful speech delivered by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker). I should have thought from one's knowledge of him, his genuine interest in the question, his history in regard to it and his earnestness and sincerity, that there was no man here who would be less open to the charge of being merely academic in reference to a subject of this kind. What is the position with regard to non-intervention? Let us have a look at it. The right hon. Gentleman has himself admitted repeated failures. It has gone on for 14 months. Its history is discreditable in many respects and indeed in most respects dishonourable. It is definitely dishonourable in so far as the nations who have broken faith are concerned. It is discreditable to the in- 308 telligence of those who permitted them to do so and still remain members of that body.
Whether it has been a success or a failure depends entirely upon what point of view you take about the aim of that body. If its aim was to prevent the intervention of foreign Powers, it has been a complete and an utter failure, an obvious failure, an admitted failure—nay more, a boasted failure. Men who took part in it and who made it a failure have been blustering about it. If its object was to ensure equal terms between the combatants, it has failed and disgracefully failed. If its object was to secure peace and tranquillity in Europe and the world and the feeling that somehow or other you were getting an assurance that there would be no trouble—if that was the object, what have we? Crises, alarms, panics—all the rabbit warrens of the world in Paris, in London, in Wall Street, fluttering, excited, bewildered and running about here and there. There has been no assurance of peace or tranquillity or quietude such as is necessary in order to carry on the legitimate business of trade and commerce and finance. But if its object was—and it was with some of the parties—to give a definite and what may be a decisive advantage to the insurgents over the legitimate Government of Spain, then, let me say at once, it has been a triumphant success.
I used certain figures, quoted from sources which, even from the point of view of hon. Members opposite, would not be regarded as tainted. The "Sunday Times" more particularly a steadfast supporter of the Government. It is, I was going to say one of the few, but I will say one of the several intelligent supporters they have. It is a very able paper—one of the most ably—conducted papers in this country. Its news is generally reliable—with the usual allowance which must always be made in these matters for a little political partisanship. The "Sunday Times" had a very remarkable article which has already been referred to in this House. It was by an impartial observer and appeared on last Sunday week. This observer had seen both sides, had been in communication with both sides, had received his information from both sides, and the figures which he gave as to the number of Italians, Germans, Russians and French there were approximately 309 those which I had given when Signor Mussolini made that outrageous attack upon me in his papers—and let me say that I felt flattered by his anger.
The "Sunday Times" said that there were 80,000 Italians and 10,000 Germans, and that on the side of the Government there were 20,000 volunteers. In addition to the 90,000 Germans and Italians there was also a foreign legion, the number of which I do not know, and of course there were the Moors who certainly are not Spaniards. On the side of the Government he said there were these 20,000, but he also said that most of these were employed on work behind the lines and were not in the fighting line. But the most remarkable thing he said, and I believe it to be true from all I heard, was that there were only 2,000 Russians. We have had all this putting of Russia into the forefront which Count Grandi so very skilfully does. With great art and with Italian subtlety he always puts Russia in the forefront. There are 2,000 Russians there. I could quote corroboration of these figures from the "Daily Telegraph" or the "Times." It is no use to quote the "News-Chronicle," the "Manchester Guardian," or the "Daily Herald." I am quoting authorities which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite will not for a moment challenge as being at any rate too partial to the Government of Spain.
I think too much has been made of the aid which has been given, more particularly to the insurgents, in respect of volunteers, and too little of the help which has been given in respect of war materials. The victories won by General Franco have been victories which are almost entirely attributable to an overwhelming supply of war material. If you had agreement to-morrow to withdraw every volunteer on both sides, non— intervention would have accorded a superiority to the insurgents which might make the difference between victory and defeat. Bilbao, Santander, Gijon, the Asturias, were all defended by as brave men as ever went into battle—traditionally so, historically so and, if I may say so, racially so. But they had no munitions; they had no guns. On the other side you had every modern machine manufactured since the war— machines in the air, heavy guns and abundance of ammunition, and they just crashed their way through and there was 310 practically no defence except the bare bodies of gallant men. That is what won there. The numbers were probably equal. That is exactly what has enabled the Japanese to win their victories now, at this moment. It is the fact that there is an overwhelming superiority in material. That was one of our dangers in the Great War. It was one of the reasons why the Russians were defeated in the Great War, because of that superiority. Not a word is said about that, about equalising the conditions.
We are now probably on the eve of the decisive battle in this terrible war that will decide the fate of Spain. It may decide the fate of Europe. It may decide the issue of whether Europe is going to be controlled by democracy or by dictatorships. That battle will be fought, probably, within the next few weeks, even if it has not already begun, according to the news which appears. What will happen there? You will have the numbers on both sides, probably equal—brave men on both sides, with no fear of death when they are fighting for what they believe in—equal in courage, but that is where the equality comes to an end. On one side there will be more trained men, the best trained men that Italy could send out. You may say there are not 80,000, but there are 40,000, and 10,000 Germans —picked men, the picked officers of the Spanish Army. That makes some difference, but a still greater difference will be that on one side you will have a mass of heavy artillery which will shatter the defences, and that on the other side such artillery as you have got will be of the lighter kind that has no chance at all. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that that is so. That is the difference.
What is responsible for that? Non-intervention. Who is responsible for keeping non-intervention alive? His Majesty's Government. If democracy is beaten in this battle, whatever the consequences—[An HON. MEMBER: "It is not democracy."] At any rate, if Fascism is triumphant in this battle, His Majesty's Government can claim that victory for themselves. While this is going on the French frontier is closed. The only means by which any supplies could be sent in to the Government of Spain from outside is closed. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about Marseilles?"] Marseilles? With Italian submarines 311 sinking ships! But the battle is going on. and here we are, using the whole of our influence, our energies, our prestige, our powers of persuasion—and they are great —of the Foreign Secretary. What for? To prolong the conditions which, under the name of non-intervention, have simply made it impossible for the Spanish Government to get adequate supplies, which it could have purchased, while at the same time, on the other side, Italy is pouring in men and ammunition. Three battalions within the last few days have gone from Italy to take part in this battle. If the aim of non-intervention was to give an unfair, undue advantage to the insurgents and the Fascists in this battle, then nonintervention has been a complete success. You could not have manoeuvred and intrigued more successfully to keep going conditions friendly to the insurgents and detrimental to the Government. The fact of the matter is—and I say this deliberately—that this Committee of Non-Intervention is the greatest and the basest fraud and deception ever perpetrated by great nations upon a weak people, and you are patting yourselves on the back and saying, "Ah, it was on the point of dying, it was on the point of disappearing, but we saved it." So you have, but you will not have to live long before you realise what a blunder it is.
I will put another proposition. If the object of the Committee of Non-Intervention was to place Britain and France at a great disadvantage in any future war that may take place, this Committee has been a triumph. I wonder how many have read Signor Mussolini's interview today, given to the "Daily Express," one of the Prime Minister's converts. He said, "There will be no immediate war." Anybody could see that, reading the signs, but when the question was put whether there would be a war later on, he would not guarantee that there would be no war. He said he wanted peace. Yes, he wants the peace of non-intervention in Abyssinia, until it is entirely conquered; he wants the peace of non-intervention in Spain, until Franco wins; he wants peace in Europe, until he and his fellow dictator are ready. I agree with the Noble Lord that in these matters you have got to face facts. Do not imagine that Signor Mussolini's Caesarian ambitions are confined to achieving a victory 312 for General Franco. You have only to consider what he is doing, pouring his troops into Libya, conquering Abyssinia, interfering in Palestine, fortifying positions on the Red Sea, putting air and submarine bases in the Balearic Islands, and another in the Canaries, with German guns on the Straits of Gibraltar. Is he doing that merely to achieve a victory for General Franco? That is not the kind of man he is. He is a man of great ambitions, vast schemes; his speeches are full of the revival of the Roman Empire. He will not make war now. Neither he nor his ally is quite ready.
Those who think that we are going to have immediate war with Germany have not taken the trouble to examine the conditions there. I have said it in this House over and over again. Let them read the articles in the "Daily Telegraph" written by General Temperley upon the German Army. Then they will know something of the possibilities of foreign affairs and of what may happen with the help of non-intervention. What does he say? He says we cannot have war without vast reserves. I have said it here over and over again, but it was mocked at. That is exactly what Germany has not, as he points out.
Mr. Lloyd George
Nor Italy, yet; I agree with the Foreign Secretary. But General Temperley points out that as the result of conscription this is the first year when trained men are passing into the German Reserves. You have to get that process going on for years before you will get an army in Germany to be comparable with that of either Russia or France. As to all this talk which I have heard so often—light-hearted; may I say ill-informed? I hate to use the word "ignorant," but it is ignorant— about the imminence of war, there is nobody on the other side to make war, with the slightest chance of success, at the present moment. I do not say what may happen, to use Signor Mussolini's phrase, ultimately, when the reserves have been built up, but this is what I want to point out, that the dictators are securing the most menacing, threatening, formidable strategic positions when and if that time ever comes. Spain is one of the most dangerous bastions for 313 an Empire like ours or for France. Why did we attach so much importance to Gibraltar through the years? Because there was a conviction that it was vital to the protection of the route to the British Empire from the centre, through to India and to Australia.
What has happened? I want to put this to patriotic Members on both sides. I am not suggesting that there are Members in this House who, should the occasion arise, would not be patriotic, but there are Members in peace time whose patriotism may be obscured, the vision of whose patriotism may be obscured, and I want them to cast their eyes back five years and to look at what is happening now. I am going to ask them, Do they think that the strategic position of the British Empire in the event of war is as good now as it was five years ago? I say without any hesitation that it has definitely worsened, east and west. In China we have been driven from point to point in our trade, in our business, in our influence and in our prestige. But I am dealing with the Mediterranean. What is happening there? It is incredible. If anybody had said it a few years ago no one would have believed it would have been possible for us to regard it with equanimity as we are doing now. German guns are planted on both sides of the Straits of Gibraltar. Questions were put in the House the other day to the Secretary of State for War as to the origin of those guns. He declined to give the answer. Why? Because it would interfere with the life of the Committee of Non-Intervention. Sir Alexander Godley made it quite clear in a letter to the "Daily Telegraph" that ships would be under the fire of those guns if there were a war.
What would have happened in the Great War if Cape Gris Nez and Dover were in the hands of Germans with great guns? It would have stopped the traffic of the Channel. I am not sure whether, if the Germans had marched on to Calais at the beginning and planted great guns at Gris Nez, the Channel would not have been closed. It is much broader than the Straits of Gibraltar. The islands of Spain, which are in the most dangerous position from the point of view 314 of a menace to the routes of France and Britain, are being taken practically in the hands of Italy and Germany for submarine bases, for aerodromes, for heavy guns—and we are going to prolong the life of the Committee that has made this possible. I can assure right hon. Gentlemen that it is not a matter for smiling. It is the gravest fact with which we are confronted.
§ Lord Apsley
The right hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but he alleged that hon. Members were smiling. Does he know the calibre of the guns referred to? It was dealt with very fully in an answer given last Session. If he does not know the calibre he has no right to make these extremely alarming statements.
Mr. Lloyd George
If anybody gets up on behalf of the Government and says that great guns planted on each side of the Straits of Gibraltar will not prevent the passage of ships there, I should be glad.
§ Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes
I will say quite definitely that the possession of great guns on both sides of the Straits of Gibraltar will not prevent the passage of ships through the Straits if we retain command of the sea.
Mr. Lloyd George
No one in this House is more ready to acknowledge the authority of the hon. and gallant Gentleman than I am and to admire the achievements by which he won that authority, but the "if" which he puts in is a very vital one. We had the command of the sea when we tried to get through the Dardanelles, but on both sides there were the guns of Turkey, and I still venture to say that where great ships failed to get through merchant ships could not go, and with great guns on both sides no amount of protection would be the least use. I venture to put my authority against that of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, having been in charge of the protection of our merchant ships during the War.
§ Sir R. Keyes
As the right hon. Gentleman has challenged my statement, I would like to say again quite definitely that guns on either shore of the Straits of Gibraltar could be masked by smoke and other means while ships were being passed through the Straits by night, and probably in the daytime also. If, however, the nation that possesses those guns had command of the sea and were able to patrol the Straits with surface craft, lay mine-fields and keep them maintained, then I grant the right hon. Gentleman that it could close the Straits of Gibraltar.
Mr. Lloyd George
That satisfies me. I ask any hon. Gentleman after that last statement whether that is his idea of our position in the Great War—precarious, dependent upon smoke screens, and our route to India dependent upon that very precarious and rather terrifying prospect. I thank the Admiral for coming to judgment. I gave way to the hon. and gallant Gentleman out of courtesy, but my courtesy has been completely rewarded by the last answer which he has given. If it is the object of the Government to make the Straits of Gibraltar—our passage to India—so precarious that only under these conditions would we be able to use it, then the Committee of Non-Intervention has been a great success.
The fact of the matter is that we have been retreating from one point to the other before dictators until we can retreat no further. I remember M. Briand telling me a story about M. Clemenceau, who was a great duellist. He was fighting a duel with M. Deschanel, and the old Tiger was pressing his opponent hard and fiercely, as he would. His opponent was retreating and retreating before him until at last M. Clemenceau put his sword under his arm and said, "Monsieur is leaving us." That seems to me to be the attitude of the British Government. Mussolini with his intrepidity, his dexterity and his audacity, is pressing and pressing with his rapier, and they are retreating, and now they are going to leave the field. It is a serious position. He makes a great pretence that he is fighting the Reds. When the War began the anarchists for a short time were uppermost. They have been driven out. The extremists have gone and the Spanish Government has become a moderate one. Even the present King's Speech is something beyond their dreams of reform. But 316 the milder they became and the further away they go from the Reds, the more volunteers seem to pour in and the more guns and the more bombs. He is not fighting the Reds. He is not thinking of them at all. He is fighting the yellows wherever he meets them. What he wants is domination in the Mediterranean and in North Africa, the reconstruction of an Empire. In order to do that he has to outmanoeuvre France and Britain, the two great democratic countries, and he has been fortunate enough to have a Government in this country that helps him.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Sir R. Keyes
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has, of course, beaten me in a war of words, but I should like to know what connection there is between the Dardanelles and the Straits of Gibraltar, for the one is much wider than the other. But in any case I have always felt certain that we could have forced the Dardanelles. The right hon. Gentleman painted a picture of a Power that had defeated the British Navy and controlled the Straits of Gibraltar. Does he suggest that Germany or Italy is in a position to do that while the British Navy is in existence? While the British Navy is where it is to-day great guns on either shore will not stop British ships being passed through the Straits of Gibraltar at night and probably by day as long as the people who occupy the shores of the Straits have not got control of the sea.
Mr. Lloyd George
I gave way to the hon. and gallant Admiral, and perhaps he will allow me to ask him a question. Does he mean to say, regarding the matter from the point of view of an Admiral, that it makes no difference whether there are great German guns on both sides of the Straits of Gibraltar or whether there are not?
§ Sir R. Keyes
Of course it makes a difference; but I spent the best part of a year in the Dover Straits, where I was very often within range of powerful 12-inch and 15-inch guns—well within their range at night and in the day time —and that knowledge and my experience there impel me to insist that the possession of great guns on the two shores of the Straits of Gibraltar will not command those Straits. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs painted a vivid picture of what non-intervention has done to assist the insurgents in Spain. I would 317 ask him why the Russians and the French, who are supplying munitions and men to assist the National Government in Spain, are in favour of this non-intervention policy if it is benefiting the insurgents so much? I would like to tell the House of another side of non-intervention and how it is operating greatly in favour of the Valencia Government. I refer to the British registration of foreign-manned and foreign-owned merchantmen which have been taking part in the Spanish Civil War, running cargoes of contraband and refugees under charter to the Valencia Government at enormous profit to the owners of those ships; at the same time claiming protection from the British Navy in a way which, if accorded to the extent demanded by the Socialist Opposition, would amount to absolute intervention in favour of the Valencia Government.
As a former member of the Board of Admiralty I know that it used to be the policy of our Government to register as many British ships as possible under the British flag, so that in the event of war or emergency, those vessels could be commandeered for national service, as was done in the last War. If this is still the policy of the Government I submit that there is nothing whatever to be gained by transferring to our flag broken-down old tramps which could be of no possible value to us, and the cost of which would be repaid to their foreign owners by one successful voyage carrying contraband, a voyage which, moreover, would in all probability be cut short by capture but for the fact that the British Navy gives these ships protection on the high seas and until they get within three miles, that is within gun range, of the Spanish coast.
In the present depleted state of the British mercantile marine tonnage, and the urgent need, for instance, of as many large oil tankers as possible under the British flag, in case of emergency or war, it would seem to be in the public interest that such vessels should be transferred to our flag and work under our flag even if they are foreign-manned and foreign-owned, because, as I have said, they could be commandeered on the outbreak of war; but it is quite another matter if these vessels are taken up under charter by one of the belligerents and, under the protection of the British Navy, are brought across the high seas to the very 318 threshold of their destination. That, surely, is intervention on behalf of the Valencia Government. I have a great many friends in the Merchant Navy, and I recently heard from one who commands a tramp and who won the D.S.O. for sinking a submarine in the War. He wrote most indignantly about the transfer of foreign ships to our flag, and said that no British seamen would be in the least bit perturbed if these ships were sunk or captured since they were owned and manned by foreigners out for huge profits. Only a few days ago the cruiser "Southampton" recaptured from a Spanish cruiser just outside the three-mile limit, a British ship which had not one single British soul on board.
The other night the right hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn) and the hon. Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone) told us a harrowing tale of the dreadful scenes which occurred off Gijon last week. No one who listened to it could be unmoved. War is a very horrible thing, and the aerial bombardment of civil towns which contain military objects—or even if they do not contain military objects—regardless of the presence of the civilian population, which seems to be the policy of all Air Ministries —and a very horrible policy, too—is adding terribly to the horrors of modern war, but it is very unfair for those speakers to attack the Navy for carrying out the non— intervention policy of the Government, which definitely denies protection to ships if they enter the three-mile limit of Spanish waters, unless they are invited to do so by the belligerent which is in control of those waters. Naturally one has every sympathy with the women and children trying to escape from aerial bombardment, but photographs in the "Times" to-day show that among the refugees are many young men who may get away, perhaps to fight on another front, and therefore it is not surprising that the Nationalists claim that our nonintervention favours their opponents, in spite of the many statements to the contrary made from the benches opposite.
Hon. Members opposite want to do away with non-intervention, and I am not sure that I do not. It would certainly relieve the British Navy of a very invidious and unpleasant task and, incidentally, very few of those so-called British ships under foreign charter would ever reach their destination, because 319 General Franco's navy, despite the presence of great modern Russian and French aircraft within easy striking distance, has maintained the command of the seas in Spanish waters for the last 18 months. I believe and I hope that the Government have taken steps to tighten the transfer of foreign ships to the British flag. I believe that under existing regulations such transfers can be carried out by a consular authority abroad, and the sooner this system is thoroughly checked the better. I hope that whoever replies for His Majesty's Government to-night will give us a definite and authoritative statement to the effect that steps have been taken to tighten up the transfer of such ships. It would certainly allay a great deal of anxiety and a great deal of resentment which is felt by British-born officers and men of our mercantile marine, and also by all who wish to maintain the prestige of the British mercantile marine.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Dr. Haden Guest
The Gracious Speech to which we have listened appeared to me to be so extraordinarily weak that I only wish the constituents who so lately elected me could all have heard it in a body, in order that they might have the opinion of the Government which they registered at that election fortified by hearing what the Government's own spokesmen had to say. This afternoon we have heard from the Noble Lord opposite a speech which, it seems to me, showed in every way how it was not possible for the League to act either because of ideological difficulties in the case of Spain or because of the practical difficulties, distance and others, in the case of the Far East, but he gave no indication of why the League should act. As one who has come, as it were, newly into this assembly from the outside world, I should like to try to convey to the House something of the impression which people outside have when they look upon this assembly and hear its Debates. This assembly, looked at from the outside, is so extraordinarily great, its traditions are so important, its history is so colourful, that one thinks as one comes into it that the words of wisdom which will be spoken by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the Government side and by all in this House will match the greatness of this tradition and this history; 320 but we hear feeble and vacillating excuses for inaction.
Only just now we have listened to a speech by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) which brought the great issues of world policy before this House, and they are the issues with which the country outside is concerned. If, as one who has come here fresh from the outside, I put forward the matters which were of interest and immediate concern to the electors in the division of North Islington which I recently fought, they would fall under three headings. The first thing which interested them was the question of our security in the world and the preservation of peace; the second was the urgent daily problem of the rise in food prices and prices generally; and the third was the brooding question in the backs of the minds of many of them of what was going to happen to this country when the present boom ended and the slump began. The electors, of course, realised that there are only two parties, and they gave very careful consideration to both. There was no rowdyism or hooliganism, and although the Conservatives said there was apathy there was no apathy. The Conservatives, having carefully arranged that the election should be taken on the old register, which excluded some 14,000 people from voting, or at any rate made it difficult for them to vote because they were removals, have no right to complain afterwards of apathy, or that the poll was reduced, as inevitably would be the case. Their electoral calculations proved to be unfounded, their candidate was rejected and I was elected.
What contributed to that situation was, very largely, the conference at Bournemouth of the Labour party, with its virility and vigour, as contrasted with a Conservative conference which, I believe, was being held about the same time, and was soporific and very gentle, as I gather from reading the comments in a paper which I understand supports the present Prime Minister, the "Sunday Express." The two parties, Labour and Conservative, who were fighting the election were perfectly distinctly recognised by the people as representative of the nation. The old idea which the party opposite have tried to put about that there is something especially national about themselves was finally destroyed, 321 I think, in this election. They have no more right to claim to be national than we have on this side. We claim to be as representative of one section of the nation as they are representative of another section of the nation. If they must have a title different from that of pure Conservative, may I suggest the title: "Amalgamated Conservative Interests, Ltd."—or perhaps "Unlimited"—as more truly expressing their character than the title "National."
The people, so far as I can see in the country generally, because North Islington is a typical constituency, believe that if the Government were to place the power, prestige and authority of the British nation and of the British Empire behind the League of Nations, League policy would succeed. During the by-election my opponent, well-known in this House, expressed such very pro-League views that he was accused, even by some of his own supporters, of being a pacifist. A perfectly clear difference was presented to the electors between the two sides, and the people in North Islington supported the Labour party because they thought that our policy on League affairs was better than the policy of the Government. Both of us expressed our belief in League policy, but the people thought that we ourselves expressed a genuine belief and that the Government representative did not.
I believe that people think in the country as a whole that if Great Britain, with its immense power, and bringing the Dominions with it, including the great Dominion of India, and the Colonies, would place its power behind the League, with the Soviet Union, France, the Scandinavian countries and other countries who are associated in the League, there would be such a preponderance of moral authority and of material power that there would be no question of the difficulties arising of which the Noble Lord spoke during the course of the Debate. When the British Government did, at the time of the Nyon incident, put its authority behind the demand for swift action in the Mediterranean, the difficulties which are sometimes referred to as coming from a strong foreign policy did not arise. What happened was that submarines disappeared from the Mediterranean. I think the people of this country are confident that what is the matter with the 322 situation in the world at the present moment is a lack of iron resolution in the present Government in regard to foreign affairs.
The second of the matters which concern very intimately everybody in this country is that of food prices. The Government are constantly speaking of prosperity, and some amelioration has, of course, been brought about. I do not for a moment doubt the kindly sentiments of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, up to a point. A long time ago, a very well-known poet, who was a great reformer in his day and a socialist pioneer, William Morris, put the matter in a nutshell when he said:The rich will do anything for the poor except get off their backs.What is happening at present is, as set forth in the Gracious Speech, that the Government are putting little socialistic plasters on the very large capitalistic carbuncles. The Minister of Transport yesterday repudiated with very great vigour any possibility of the taint socialistic, but, as a matter of fact, every effort of a desirable 'kind which the Government make is a socialistic effort and is bound to he so in present conditions.
What are the capitalistic carbuncles with which the Government are not dealing at the present time? One is the distressed areas, and the abyss of the permanently unemployed, many of whom are now unemployable. Others are the terrible housing conditions which still persist and the poverty due to poor wages. Many people are getting 2 per week, and a very large majority of the people are receiving a wage of £2 10s. per week. That is an inadequate amount for proper nutrition, according to the experts whom the Government themselves consulted when they wished for information on the problems of nutrition. Those facts make food prices such a vital issue. It is all very well for people whose incomes are calculated in hundreds or thousands of pounds a year to discuss the rise in wholesale prices, but there are incomes measured in shillings per week, received by people whose incomes are very uncertain and who have all the time to consider retail prices.
It was suggested during my election campaign and afterwards that I misrepresented the question of food prices. That 323 was suggested in the "Daily Telegraph and Morning Post" and other newspapers, but I hardly needed to make any representations about food prices. All I needed to do was to mention food prices at a meeting and I then got it very vocally from the audience. I received assertions of how hard times were and what things cost. Tea has recently gone up 2d. per lb. and bacon is so dear that I find that many people are able to have it only once a week. Milk is now 7d. a quart, and it is going up in November to 7½d. Facts like those form a real tragedy and are of real importance.
My opponent put up a very large poster in the constituency saying that food prices in 1930 were higher than they arc now. That is a perfectly true statement, but I saw people looking at it and wondering how they were to eat the food of 1930 in 1937. From the standpoint of people who have to live from week to week that was an entirely irrelevant question. It is a very natural question, but it belongs to another economic epoch. It is a fact that prices have risen steadily since 1933 under the control of those who are guiding the present Government. That is the thing that really matters. Not very long ago this subject was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) and he clearly showed that the rise in prices, having been so much greater than the rise in wages, had impoverished the people of this country to a very great extent indeed.
Let me pass to the third point which occupies the mind of so many people, as to what is to happen when the present boom is ended. The Minister of Transport said yesterday that he did not believe that the present period of expansion had come to an end, and he went on to ridicule the idea of public works and any kind of socialistic activity. Does the Minister of Transport rightly interpret the mind of the Government when he suggests, as he did by making that statement, that they are going to wait until the present prosperity—very doubtful, but prosperity such as it is comes to an end before they take any action to plan the future? Perhaps the Minister of Transport does take that view, because he ridiculed the idea of planning; but unless you plan now, beginning now, when we have the leisure and the time before us to make plans for the future, 324 you will never be able to cope with the slump when it comes.
One of the most usually recognised facts is that the trade and industry of this country and other countries experience slump after boom. It is not a question whether it comes now; it is bound to come sooner or later unless steps, and very definitely planned steps, are taken to prevent it. The Government seem to have done many things, but in this matter they seem to be immersed in self-complacency of a very remarkable kind. They surely do not think that they have abolished the laws of economic development. Whether the slump comes sooner or later, it is bound to come. The boom which we are now enjoying is caused by the large circulation of money in the country and is, of course, the result of the large expenditure upon armaments. How long is that to go on? What are the Government going to do?
When the Minister of Transport talked about it being impossible to do large public works he was not quite up-to-date in his views. Germany has shown what can be done in roads. When the Minister said how excellent it was that we had so many miles of roads in this country for every square mile of territory he overlooked the more important consideration of what kind of roads there are. An hon. Member on this side of the House had complained, and a phrase was used as to whether an expenditure of £80,000,000 was tinkering with the roads. I wonder whether the Minister of Transport is a motor driver. Does he drive a car himself? If he does, I would like to tell him that in the last year or two I have driven over most of the roads of the United Kingdom. He must have been impressed by the fact that the road development on which such an enormous amount of money has been spent is very largely a tinkering business. Roads which ought to be carriage roads carrying four vehicles abreast and divided by a central division so as to make two tracks, have merely been widened a. little. Little shavings have been taken off corners, houses have been taken down here and a tree uprooted there. An immense amount of money has been spent in putting little patches on the roads of this country without making the roads really satisfactory. A great system of roads ought to be discussed now when there is plenty of opportunity.
325 We have by no means come to the end of our housing, and housing should be planned. New agriculture should be planned. I do not know whether hon. Gentlemen are familiar with the work of Professor Stapleton. I am sure that some hon. Members from Scotland will be familiar with his name. He has brought a new technique forward in the cultivation of hitherto uncultivable parts of Great Britain. He has made it possible for us greatly to extend the area of cultivation. Some hon. Members may say that there is no opportunity of using the products which may be grown upon those areas, but I hope to show in a moment or two that they are wrong.
The third way in which we should begin to plan now for great public works and a great expansion of national activity to deal with what may happen when the slump comes is to attend to the nutrition of the people. There is a new principle in government and in economics at the present time, and that is the production of unbiased medical and scientific information for the use of statesmen. Our nutrition is very inadequate because it is based only upon the purchasing power of the individual. The purchasing power of the individual is not sufficient, and we should base nutrition not on individual purchasing power but upon needs. The cost of an adequate diet is much greater than ordinary wages, and cannot be supplied in the ordinary way.
But let me quote here. It has been a habit in this Debate to quote. The Chancellor of the Exchequer quoted from a Fabian pamphlet. I am extremely glad Members opposite have taken to reading Fabian pamphlets. I shall hope for their conversion and better education in the near future. When one considers what the present vegetable diet is, and what it ought to be, you will see that this is the door—it may appear to some hon. Members an unpromising door—which will lead to a great revival of farming. You know the phrase, "The marriage of health and agriculture." It is of that that I want to speak. I want to make it quite clear that I am dealing with definite figures and facts and not merely making general statements. The kind of diet recommended for the child of from 5 to 7 —the figures are approximate—by Sir John Orr, an expert who is consulted by the Government is as follows: 326One daily ration of pints of milk, one egg, one ounce of fish, meat, liver or cheese, four ounces of green leafy vegetables, six ounces of potatoes and other root vegetables, some raw fruit and vegetables. This will supply about two-thirds of the total amount of food needed per day. As it supplies all the vitamins, minerals and protein, the other third can be made up with cheaper foods— e.g. fat (butter, if possible) and cereals (bread).That diet is drawn up on the basis of scientific investigations which have been going on not merely in this country, but all the countries of the world.
A Government Committee in this country recommended that, for health reasons, pregnant and nursing mothers should receive one quart of milk a day and all children from one to two pints according to age. For the family of a man with a pregnant wife and four children the expenditure on food by this standard, which is internationally recognised, with milk at 3d. a pint, would be 40s. a week, and on milk alone 15s.; so that it would be necessary for every family of that size in this country to have an income of between £3 and £4 a week to be able to obtain this ordinary minimum standard of food. If consumption is to be up to that level, it would be necessary for milk production in this country to be increased by 50 per cent. The wages of people in this country are quite inadequate to obtain that diet. People, of course, continue to live; they get on, but are not very well developed.
There is a very large proportion of people in this country who never have enough milk, fruit, vegetables, eggs or other food which they require. In consequence they do not grow properly. They are actually smaller, less well-developed physically and in their brains and their nervous systems than they ought to be. You have got here an enormous potential possibility of the development of agriculture. If the people's wages are inadequate for this level, how are they to get the food required? The best way, perhaps, would be to raise everybody's wages all round to a level which 'would enable them to buy at ordinary market prices, but there are great difficulties, and I do not propose that immediately, because it would take longer than we can afford to wait., We cannot afford to have people unfed while this method of raising wages is taking place, but we can reduce prices. The Government can take action at present by removing artificial trade 327 restrictions of all kinds. They can reduce prices of tea, bacon and other things by this means, and they can also reduce prices by better organisation.
Take the vital question of milk. In Scandinavia and Germany it can be obtained at 3d. a quart. Why cannot it be obtained here at that price? Hon. and right hon. Members may think conditions in Scandinavia and Germany are very different from what they are here and, therefore, it may be impossible to reduce prices here. It may not be possible to reduce the price to such a low level, but it is possible to reduce it much lower than it is at present. Do hon. Members know that in one part of the United Kingdom milk is sold at half the price at which it is sold in London? This is the case in Northern Ireland where there is a milk scheme, which is not controlled by a monopoly of producers, but by representatives of producers, distributors and consumers, and where the milk is probably of higher quality than it is here from the point of view of bacteriological content and the way it is looked after from the medical and veterinary point of view. I suggest that the Government should investigate this plan if they do not already know about it.
If you did, in fact, increase the supplies of milk to the amount required, according to the physiological standards of the experts on nutrition, you would require to add one-third to the milk supply of this country which means that you would require to add to the dairy cows in England and Wales something like 1000,000 head. You would also require, if you were going to bring up food to a better standard in the way of provision of more fruit, eggs and meat, more ground cultivated and planted and more efficient production of a very large variety of agricultural produce. One million more cows on the land of this country and a very much greater area of land under cultivation would put agriculture in this country very largely on its feet. It is not a wild and hypothetical dream, but it could be carried on the lines adopted in Ulster, which could be more efficiently operated here.
It would require a subsidy to bridge the gap between the present chaos and the proper working of the new system. I have an estimate from an authoritative 328 source as to the amount which would be necessary to increase the milk production of this country by one-third, using 1,000,000 more cows. It is something in the neighbourhood of £20,000,000 a year. Hon. Members may think that a large amount, but they have to remember that milk is a most important article of diet, and if children had the amount of milk which medical opinion says they ought to have daily, there would be an enormous diminution in sickness.
An hon. Member has made a calculation that the cost of medical treatment in this country is £300,000,000, and if you could increase the milk supply of this country so as to give every child the amount of milk it needed you could strike off £75,000,000 of that sum. In Northern Ireland they have two scales of price. If you have milk delivered you pay a certain price, and if you fetch it you pay a very much lower price. The price in Northern Ireland varies from 3½d. to 4½d. a quart, which is rather less than half the price paid here at the present time. I can assure hon. and right hon. Gentlemen here that this question of the supply of milk which may appear to them rather tedious, is one of the most important public issues which can possibly be brought before this House, because on the supply of milk depends the fitness of the children of the nation. Without a proper milk supply the children cannot grow.
It is essential that we should take this new physiological plan, of measuring the needs of the nation by people's physiological needs and not their purchasing power, and establish this principle of having two prices, as in Ulster at present. I said that at present, when it is not immediately possible to raise wages to the level necessary to enable everyone to buy at the ordinary market price everything they require, there might be two milk prices, an ordinary price and a second price, at which they can buy if they will go and fetch milk for themselves and so do away with cost of distribution, as they have for milk in Northern Ireland. You can have a second price, and so grade your prices as to make it possible for every family in the land, whatever its income, to have an adequate supply of food. At present, the Government persist in a curious form of optimism which refuses to see in the depressed areas the hopeless misery of the 329 unemployed. We might be able to sell a very large amount of goods at ordinary market prices, but there should be no question of not being able to sell goods at a much lower price.
That principle might be extended to other forms of food. It has this advantage, that in order to provide the food necessary for this scheme you have enormously to extend the area for cultivation and enormously to increase the amount of stock carried in this country, and you will even be more secure in time of war because you will have more food inside the country. It has this further advantage that if you have this two-price scheme at the present time you may say that you have two sales at the first price and one sale at the bottom price in time of prosperity, but if we go into a time of slump you can reverse this and have two sales at the bottom price and one at the top price. They might adopt this plan, already partially adopted in Ulster, which, as far as I remember, is not a particularly Bolshevist country, with regard to milk. If they adopt this scheme, they will permanently stabilise the industry of agriculture as well as permanently improve the nutrition of this country. If I misrepresented anything at my election, it was because I talked in precisely this way to audiences of working-class men and women, in perhaps rather simpler and more direct language, but these are the things in which the people of this country are really profoundly interested. It is true that some of my chairmen, when they were men, became a little impatient, as I see that certain hon. Members opposite are, when I talked for so long about milk. But I would rather win an election, as I think I have done, on milk than win an election on beer, on which elections have been won in the past. It is a very mild drink, but it has the advantage that it is the essential food of children.
How absurd it is to go on with our present milk marketing scheme, which gives 175 dairy farmers a monopoly of the supply of food of such vital importance to the people. It is just as logical to give housing contractors control of everything with regard to housing. How illogical it is at the present time when the poor consumer of milk, man, woman or child, especially of the poorer classes, is actually in the position of subsiding the milk which is used for industrial purposes. 330 Surplus milk is used for making, for instance, umbrella handles, or for putting inside luxury chocolates at 4s. a lb. If you want to buy ordinary milk you cannot get it at less than 2s. a gallon—the present price in London is 2s. 4d. a gallon—but if you want milk to put inside luxury chocolates or for making umbrella handles, you can get it at 9d. a gallon.
It is really ridiculous and a reflection on the mentality of hon. and right hon. Members opposite that they should continue with such an organisation of the milk producers in this country when they have a much better alternative already offered to them by Ulster, which, from the medical, scientific and nutrition points of view, is very much better, and, from the point of view of the housewife and general consumer, has the enormous advantage of enabling milk to be bought, practically speaking, at the subsidised price in this country. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply later to-night upon this matter will say something about the Ulster scheme and give the House more information than they have at the present time. I spare the House the complete statement of the scheme which I have in my hand, but those who are interested—and I hope many will be—will be glad to learn that they can get full details of the scheme by applying to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture in Northern Ireland.
The Government, wobbling in their foreign policy, weak and vacillating when any great matter of Imperial and national concern crops up, are equally ineffective in their social policy. They have said through the Minister of Transport, who may, of course, subsequently be repudiated, that they do not find it necessary to make plans for dealing with the slump until the slump has actually arrived. They do not think that the slump is at hand, and so they are not thinking about it. They are going on with armaments and their little fiddle-faddle schemes, putting a little plaster on here and there, and they are not planning for the future. We must plan for the future, and one of the things is to put agriculture upon a permanently stable foundation of gradually increased production, and couple with it the putting of the nutrition of the country on a permanently improved foundation, which 331 would be the real foundation of physical fitness in which the Government pretend to be interested.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Petherick
I will not follow the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest) in his very learned disquisition on the milk scheme in Northern Ireland. No doubt it was a great joy to his constituents in the recent by-election to hear him so brilliantly express and propound it to them. The hon. Member made from time to time rather a bitter attack upon the Government and upon the Conservative party. It was an attack which was rather more bitter than I should have expected from one whose association with the various political parties should have broadened his views and made him, perhaps, a little more understanding of those of the party to which he no longer belongs. There are in his speech one or two points I should like to answer, and later on I will come back to the question of foreign affairs. One point he made was on the question of food prices, and he said that his opponent in the by-election had put out posters saying that food prices were lower than they were at the time of the Socialist Government in 1930. The hon. Member went on to say that that really had nothing to do with it; it was another year altogether. There was practically a boom on then, and it might have been in the 18th or 19th century.
The conditions of 1930 were really very similar to the conditions which obtain in the country at the present time. He destroyed his whole argument a moment or two afterwards by referring to the fact that there was a boom now, and asking what were the Government going to do about it, in case, at some future date, it petered out? I do not think that the hon. Member made a very strong case there. It is well known that food prices are, in fact, higher than they were at the time when all the bankrupt food stocks were being thrown upon the market, but they are still lower than they were in 1930. At that time we heard very little about the high cost of living from the Socialist Government or from their supporters.
Another point the hon. Member made was that the present boom was largely due to the boom in armaments. I can 332 controvert that assertion. The test of whether there is a boom or slump in the trade of the country is most clearly to be shown in the unemployment figures. The unemployment figures have dropped to a remarkably small extent since the rearmament boom started some two years ago, so that that again is controverted. The hon. Member earlier in his speech referred to his great faith in the League, and said that if only we had the same faith everything would be quite all right. He seems to be entirely oblivious of everything that has happened in the last two or three years. I do not think that anybody objects to the ostrich burying its head in the sand, but we are rather reluctant to take the views of that particular bird on the current events which are proceeding round about us.
I now come back to the question of foreign affairs. I did not want to do so but I feel very strongly that we are obliged, with great reluctance, to spend too much time in discussing events abroad. A good many of us must be sighing for the day when the questions of foreign relations in general are relegated to an obscure position in the public Press among the football news, and in very much smaller print. The policy of the Government, as I understand it, can be expressed in a sentence. It is to keep this country out of war, and. in the case of those wars which are now progressing, to do everything they can to isolate them as in the case of a fell disease. I think that we really can be thankful that we have in the Government men of wisdom and discretion, and, above all, of patience, who firmly refuse to be hustled into another of the usual wars to end war at the bidding of a few excited internationalists. We are urged to be very brave and to emulate Lord Palmerston, Firebrand Palmerston as he was called, by risking the lives of our own people— oblivious of the fact that Lord Palmerston kept this country out of war on some five occasions when he considered that British interests were not directly concerned. We are urged to be very brave and stand up to the dictators. It is very easy to urge such a course and much more difficult to pursue a patient and prudent course. I commend to hon. Members who feel that we should take these active and strong measures the words of Francis Bacon on boldness: 333And yet boldness is a child of ignorance and baseness, far inferior to other parts; but, nevertheless, it doth fascinate, and bind hand and foot those that are either shallow in judgment or weak in courage, which are the greatest part; Yea, and prevaileth with wise men at weak times.When I was listening to the eloquent speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) this afternoon, with all his power of oratory and rhetoric, I could not help feeling profoundly thankful that his power of words is no longer supported by the power of action. In the course of this Debate reference has been made to British Imperialism and to British interests. Some hon. Members on the Opposition benches seem to be afraid of Imperialism, but they are anxious to maintain British interests in different parts of the world. I believe that British interests and British Imperialism are the same thing. The Government and people of this country should do everything possible to promote the safety, comfort and prosperity of their inhabitants. British Imperialism is not in the least militant. All we want and all that this country wants is to be at peace with everyone. The only difference of opinion among us—and it is a very vital one—is on the question of how we can maintain the peace. I believe that many of the so-called methods of maintaining the peace which we are urged to take at the present time would not only run the risk of war but would inevitably and certainly involve us in war.
The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) is a well-known internationalist, and I seem to have noticed that since he became a member of the House of Commons and since he joined his hon. Friends on the Front Bench there has been a progressive deterioration in the attitude of the Socialist party towards foreign affairs. The hon. Member for Derby—I hate to refer to him in his absence—may well come to be looked upon in the future as the albatross of the Socialist party, which has led them to utter disaster as far as their foreign policy is concerned. Some hon. Members like him seem to feel that their spiritual home is an igloo. What can they know of England who only Geneva know? They seem to ignore entirely the repercussions on our own people here at home of any action they may advocate. I have listened with care to the speeches which have been made and I have read 334 them in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I think that I understand to a certain extent the attitude of hon. Members who sit on the Labour benches, but frankly I do not quite understand the attitude of the Samuelite Liberals. I beg their pardon, I should have referred to them under their new leader.
§ Mr. Petherick
As "Archies," because they fire in the air and generally hit nothing. I think it is fortunate that during the last two years in this very difficult situation we have had in power a Government which has done everything it possibly could—and with success—to keep us out of war. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) in his speech yesterday made a very interesting self-revelation. This is what he said:Of all the literature that appals me my own speeches appal me more than anything." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th October, 1937; col. 111, vol. 328.]I do not wish to take up the obvious point there; it would perhaps be somewhat discourteous not to agree with him.
§ Sir F. Acland
Just let us he sensible. I simply said that in view of the fact that I never bother to revise my speeches for the reporters. The meaning is quite obvious.
§ Mr. Petherick
I did not wish to score a debating point, but there is a real substance in it. I was going to say I hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would not be appalled this morning on reading his speech in the OFFICIAL REPORT, because he made a very definite statement on behalf of the party which sits on that bench. It is very interesting to know his attitude in these matters: now we have it quite clear. He said, in advocating a boycott of Japan—
§ Mr. Petherick
He said:We say that Great Britain ought to do three things—take the lead in demanding of other nations that they should take effective economic action in co—operation with us in defence of international justice; be prepared to take full economic action ourselves as long as a sufficient number of others would do the same; and thirdly, let it be known that if an aggressor tries to shoot himself out of the economic difficulty we promise to fight 335 for international justice."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th October, 1937; cols. 115 and 116, Vol. 328.]Then he went on to say, "I speak for my party." If that is not advocating a boycott of Japan I must say I do not know what is.
§ Mr. Petherick
We are invited to take the lead in advocating the boycott of Japan absolutely regardless of what happened in the case of Abyssinia. More and sillier sanctions! Do the right hon. Gentleman and those on the Opposition Benches who advocate this boycott of Japan with so much zest really think that the Japanese will submit quietly? Did Signor Mussolini go quietly in the case of the Abyssinia affair? The right hon. Gentleman's friends would have advocated at that time even military sanctions, though military sanctions are only a modern snob name for war. They are living in a fool's Paradise if they think that these methods constitute an effective policy. Some of them still seem to believe in the complete force and power of the League of Nations. The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker), speaking this afternoon, said the League was potentially stronger than it had ever been before. When there was a certain amount of dissent from this side of the House he went on to explain that that was because America was coming in; in fact, he put America quite firmly in the bag. I think we should be gravely misinterpreting President Roosevelt's oft-quoted speech and the subsequent speeches he made if we thought that the United States in the immediate future was in any way going to depart from her traditional policy of isolation. I would only like to say, before leaving the question of the views of the Liberal party, that I happened to be reading a very ancient fable the other day from which I would like to quote two sentences:A trumpeter in a certain army happened to be taken prisoner. He was ordered immediately to execution, but pleaded in excuse for himself that it was unjust that a person should suffer death who, far from an intention of mischief, did not even wear an offensive weapon. 'So much the rather,' replied one of the enemy, 'shalt thou die; since, 336 without any design of fighting thyself, thou excitest others to the Bloody Business.'With regard to the attitude of the Socialist party, I find it extremely difficult to understand, even after listening to this Debate, in which some of them have spoken so eloquently, what is their point of view. It seems to be a case of quot homines tot sententiae—with the accent heavily laid on the tot. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, speaking at Bournemouth, said:I believe economic pressure (that is on Japan) can be effective. We call on the Government to take action to stop Japan from getting financial assistance, arms or munitions of war.Then the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), who is not in his place, speaking at Wigan on 7th September said, "We demand the boycott of Japanese goods." At the Labour Party Conference only the other clay a resolution was passed demanding that non-intervention be given up as a bad job; but they did not say whether, as the result of the abandonment of non-intervention, arms were to be sold from this country to both sides or only to one side, and it would be very interesting to have some elucidation on that particular point. On the other hand, there is another section of the Labour party for which some of us have a great admiration. This was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mabane), who seconding so excellently the Address—which was moved in an admirable speech by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour)— spoke of his admiration for that section of the Labour party which refused to be led up the garden by these internationalist sabre rattlers. A member of this section of the Labour party, Sir Walter Citrine, said:The moment you start to talk about the use of force you move definitely into an area where the risks of war become very considerable.Sir James Sexton, a man very generally respected in the country, in a recent article wrote:The National Government have steered a steady course. For that they are to be commended; they have kept the country out of war.I say most sincerely, and I hope that some hon. Members opposite will agree with me—though I suspect that they are 337 in a very difficult position so far as their own party is concerned, and I believe that their views are very close to our own—that the first consideration in our foreign policy must always be the effect of any measure which we may suggest on our own people.
As I warmly approve of the Government's policy I do not venture to criticise it, but I would like to ask one hypothetical question. If non-intervention should break down, and consequently arms and munitions be poured into Spain from different sides in this terrible war, what would be their attitude then? Would it be possible then to go further than my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. H. G. Strauss) suggested in a brilliant speech the other day on the question of belligerent rights; would it be possible to go further than granting belligerent rights to both sides, and in fact declare complete neutrality and by Act of Parliament stop all trade between British nationals and Spain? I do not advocate it but I hope that His Majesty's Government will consider that suggestion in the event of non—intervention unhappily breaking down.
I would like to say that some of us in these matters of foreign policy have a really very simple philosophy. It is this: Every one of us in our passage through the world can have only a limited influence for good or for ill; and, similarly, 45 millions of people banded together under the name of Great Britain, or 400,000,000 of people if you include the Empire, can also have only a limited influence for good or for ill. We do not rule the world from Westminster for other countries have their own Governments responsible for their own people. But I do maintain that on behalf of the people whom we represent in Parliament, the people whose destinies we can influence, we have a very great mission to fulfil. We should look after their interests and we should always consider how those interests may be affected in any measure which is proposed. I most earnestly hope that we shall not in the future over-call our hand, but always remember that upon us very largely depends the comfort, happiness and safety of our own people.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Smith
If I do not follow the hon. Gentleman in discussing foreign affairs, it is because last week we had 338 an opportunity of presenting a number of points of view on behalf of the Labour party, and there are several other matters of equal importance to discuss. I am very pleased to see the Minister of Pensions sitting on the front Government Bench. I read a very optimistic speech he made a few weeks ago concerning the administration of his Department, and as a result of that Members of this House have been receiving letters from ex-Service men condemning him for the sentiments he expressed, and asking why they are receiving such low pensions for injuries received during the War. Yesterday we had a very excellent speech from the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith), in which he gave abundance of evidence showing the scandalous way in which many war heroes have been dealt with, and that evidence could be amplified by many Members in all parts of the House. And I want to say to the Minister of Pensions that it is not good enough for evidence to be brought before this House and no adequate reply to be given as to the Government's intention in reference to it. If the right hon. Gentleman is going to wind up the Debate I want him to tell us what the Government's attitude is going to be towards this very genuine protest. We are not asking for the expenditure at the moment of extra money; what we are saying is that the time has come when there ought to be a thorough inquiry into the pensions administration, in order to see whether mistakes have been made and whether or not those mistakes can be righted. I say again I hope we shall have a definite reply from the right hon. Gentleman.
The next point I want to mention, and one that is of equal importance to the working people of this country, concerns a matter that is not mentioned in the King's Speech, and I protest against the omission. I am referring to the position of people injured in industry and the inadequacy of the Workmen's Compensation Act. Hon. Members who carry their minds back to 1923 will know that in that year, when we had a purely Conservative Government, the maximum amount allowed for total incapacity was reduced by 5s. per week. One of the reasons why the 1923 Act was rushed through this House was because the then Home Secretary, Mr. Bridgeman, had refused to put 339 into the Expiring Laws Bill the two wartime Measures which gave a 15s. bonus on the £, and the then Prime Minister, Mr. Baldwin, decided to have an appeal to the country on Protection. The Home Secretary was thus in this position, that if he did not rush a Bill through Parliament before they went to the country 20s. would have been the maximum payment, instead of 35s. We had to rush that Bill through, and we spent, I believe, 11 or 13 days in Committee. Well, we improved the Bill in many respects, though we never regarded it as being satisfactory. Now what is the position? The most that any man can get for total incapacity due to an accident at work is 30s. per week, and, owing to irregular work and low wages, thousands of injured workmen are receiving less than 30s. a week, and many less than 25s. a week. The result is that the public assistance committees are being compelled to subsidise an inadequate Workmen's Compensation Act. There is no mention of this in the Gracious Speech.
We hear many speeches in this House on Empire affairs, but I want to say, as one who has examined the law regarding workmen's compensation in many parts of the British Empire, that the present Workmen's Compensation Act in this country is the most inadequate in the Empire. If you examine the Act in operation in Ontario, it makes you almost ashamed of your own country. If you go to Australia, you find that in Queensland it is administered as a State concern; it is State insurance with a maximum going up towards £4 a week. If you go to New South Wales, which is not ruled by Labour, but which was ruled by Labour a year or two ago, you find that, under the Workmen's Compensation Act there, the only maximum for total incapacity is either the full average wages or £5 a week. Yet we have in this country a maximum of 30s. a week. This is a matter that does not cost the national Exchequer anything, and there are many employers of labour who themselves believe that there ought to be an amendment of our law regarding workmen's compensation at an early date. I want to voice my protest that there is no mention of it in the King's Speech.
With regard to trade and industry, some very curious speeches are made in 340 the country. We have been told on all sides that prosperity has come. But prosperity is a very elastic term. If you judge prosperity by the people who hold shares in certain firms, which, when they purchased them, stood at a certain figure, and now stand very much higher, there is a good deal of prosperity. In fact, stockbrokers and investors generally have been doing exceptionally well. But if you define prosperity from the point of view of the ordinary working man in the country, and what he has to take into the home on Friday or Saturday, I say emphatically that we have not got prosperity. Anyone yho says that we are living in prosperity, from the working-class point of view, is talking through his hat. I regret that there is no mention in the King's Speech of what the Government intended to do with regard to unemployment, or to the inevitable slump that will come sooner or later.
I wish the Minister of Labour had done the House the courtesy of remaining. He is a very important man, presiding over a very important Department. He has been interrogated by deputations from the Trades Union Congress and other bodies with regard to the increased number of people unemployed, both insured and those who have to go before the board. It is true that the other day, in reply to a question, he said that the board had instructed its area officers to exercise a certain amount of discretion, but that is just not good enough. One scarcely knows how the wives of unemployed men manage to eke out an existence on the miserable amounts that are given to them. When we discuss questions of physical fitnesses and nutrition, we have to bear in mind the fact that, if people have the purchasing power, they will purchase the right kind of food in sufficient quantities.
There is no doubt that the cost of living is increasing. Hon. Members opposite repeatedly say that, although the cost of living is increasing, wages also are increasing, and in some respects that is true, but we must not forget that all trade union agreements are not based on the cost of living; and, while it is true that in many mining districts wages are on the increase, it is also true that the men have had to threaten strikes in order to get that increase. There is no doubt that, from the point of view of unemployment, this Government is not tackling 341 the problem, it is not getting down to the problem. It is all very well to say that there are more people engaged in industry now than ever there were, but the fact remains that there are over 1,250,000 people still out of work, and included in that huge total there must be 300,000 who feel that industry will never absorb them again.
What are the Government doing to tackle that problem? There is not a word in the King's Speech about improving the Pensions Act, about dealing with these people whom industry no longer wants, about dealing with the question of shorter hours in industry. When Ministers and Members go round the country talking about prosperity, I can only say that, if they do attend in their constituencies, they must do it with their eyes shut, because anyone who goes into any industrial part of the country will still see too much poverty. It is no USE Conservative speakers going into industrial constituencies and talking about prosperity; they will pretty soon be given the right answer if they go there.
Take the position in the mining industry. It is true that we are producing coal to-day at the same rate as we were in, say, 1930, but there is also the remarkable fact that, while we are producing more coal than we did last year and the year before, we are not taking on more men at the pits. We are producing at the rate of 240,000,000 tons a year, but we have on the colliery books something like 770,000 people employed, both top and bottom, or about 450,000 less than we had 10 or 12 years ago. The only thing that has happened is that the men who are employed arc working more regularly than they were before. The time has come when there ought to be a reorganisation in the mining industry on different lines from those mentioned in the King's Speech. We are now told that mining royalties are to be nationalised, and we agree with that sentence in the King's Speech; but do not let it be understood that the National Government are going to nationalise mining royalties because they believe in State ownership. They do not. They are going to nationalise mining royalties because experience has shown that the private ownership of royalties has prevented the proper economic planning of the mining industry; and, just as the private ownership of royalties has prevented the 342 proper economic planning of the mining industry, so has the private ownership of the collieries themselves. I would like to ascertain, if I can, from the Minister who speaks for the Government what is meant by this further sentence:and for the furtherance of reorganisation in the coal-mining industry.Does this mean that we are to have compulsory amalgamation or does it mean that we are just going to have a little tinkering with the voluntary proposals for amalgamation which are in the Coal Mines Act? We on this side of the House believe that the mining industry of this country, not merely from the miners' point of view, ought to be compulsorily amalgamated under public ownership. When we talk about mining to-day, we do not talk merely about the production of coal; we talk about the whole of the ancillary industries. Raw coal to-day is less valuable than it used to be, but, when scientifically treated, coal is more valuable to-day than ever it was. In the mining industry we have public companies claiming that they are making no profit, and we have public companies with a number of private subsidiary companies attached to them which are making money out of coal once it leaves the pithead; but not a penny piece of this money in the subsidiary companies goes back into the pool from which the miners' wages are paid. We say that in these days there ought to be compulsory amalgamation of the mining industry under public ownership, covering the production of coal, minerals, and all the ancillary industries. We could then give to the men and lads who work in the industry a better life than they have to-day. We could improve wages; we could reduce hours; we could have an adequate pension scheme; and we need not charge the public much more for their coal. I hope the Government will tell us, through their spokesman, what exactly they mean with regard to this furtherance of amalgamation in the coal mining industry.
Had the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay) been in his place, I had intended to reply to a statement that he made last night with regard to emigration. I am not hostile to emigration, but at the same time I believe that, if you send people from this country to other parts of the Empire and disappoint them, you retard Empire development. The hon. Member for Gateshead said: 343I do not say there is a ready—made cure for unemployment, but there ought to be communities emigrating together—not a lad or a lass from a certain district, but, say, another Gateshead, another Newcastle, another Stoke. [OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th October, 1937; col. 153, Vol. 328.]I do not know whether the hon. Member for Gateshead is aware of it, but in certain parts of the Empire that he had in mind in speaking of the furtherance of emigration they have their Gatesheads and their Newcastles. I visited Newcastle in New South Wales; I went down their pits; and what did I find? I found that they had the last word in coal-producing machinery, and I found that they had the same problem of displaced labour in their industry as we have here. I say that it is idle to talk about sending people from our distressed areas to other parts of the Empire while those parts of the Empire have their own unemployment problem.
I would like to give a word of advice to those who speak of emigration. Do not, for heaven's sake, discuss emigration from the point of view of easing or solving our own unemployment problem. It gives a wrong impression in other parts of the Empire. It leaves them with the impression that we want to dump on their hands our people who are unwanted in industry. They have told me frankly that they had not much respect for certain die-hard Conservative Members who speak in this House on emigration. At the same time, with proper planning and financial assistance, I still think there is room for a certain amount of emigration to other parts of the Empire. It is, however, idle and useless to talk about sending our people to other parts of the Empire so long as those parts of the Empire have their own economic troubles. I remember, when I passed through Canada, that, out of a population of 10,000,000, between 900,000 and 1,000,000 were receiving assistance from public funds in one way or another. If emigration had been a remedy for a country's ills, Ireland would be a very prosperous country now. During the last hundred years she lost half her population, but that did not leave Ireland prosperous. I say to the hon. Member for Gateshead that it is no use talking about these matters in an idle and flippant way; it is no use imagining that you can pack up a community from the North East, plant then in Western Australia, and 344 say they will be all right. It cannot be done.
In conclusion, I want to say a word which I think the House will appreciate. I heard a great deal about the Fairbridge Farm School in this House before I went to Australia. I had the privilege of spending a whole day at that school in Western Australia, and, while nobody regrets more than I do the necessity for sending young persons out of this country to seek opportunities abroad, I am bound to say I never saw a healthier, happier, bonnier set of boys and girls in my life than I saw at the Fairbridge Farm School. I talked with children from the north-east area, from Yorkshire and different counties, and I am satisfied that they are well looked after and that every effort is made to give them a chance in life. After perusing a number of case papers, I am more than satisfied that the After-Care Committe tries to do its best for them. In fairness to those connected with the Fairbridge Farm School I must say that I am whole-hearted in my praise of what I saw. There was perfect confidence between the children and the teachers, and they have the right kind of teachers.
Before other parts of the Empire can expect young men to go from these shores to theirs, there must be some guarantee of the conditions under which they are to work when they get there. Take the position in Australia. The industrial workers there have their wages and conditions regulated by arbitration awards, but nobody seems to regulate the conditions of the men who work on the land. When I asked the unemployed in Newcastle: "How is it that some of you young men will not go to work on the land," the answer was: "Because it is not attractive enough." You cannot expect industrial workers who have received from £4 to £6 a week to leave the towns and go into the country for 15s., 20S., or 30s. a week and their keep. If we are to have migration and men are to be sent on the land out there, there must be some guarantee of the kind of work and the conditions under which they will have to work.
I am dissatisfied with the King's Speech in many respects. The Government could tackle the question of social reform if they wanted to do so. There is an irresistible case for an improvement of the 345 Pensions Act, and plenty of room for improvement in regard to the pensions of ex-service men. The injured in industry are entitled to more compensation. If the Government are not prepared to bring in legislation on this subject, I hope that if a Private Member's Bill comes before the House dealing with workmen's compensation hon. Members in all parts of the House will examine the Bill and give it their support, so that those injured in industry may feel that they are going to be treated better in the future than they are at the present time.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Errington
I am sure that many hon. Members on this side of the House will agree with the last speaker in the views he expressed in connection with emigration. Very few, if any, of us believe that uncontrolled emigration is the solution of any problem. When the hon. Member talks about there being no prosperity in the industrial areas, I must part company with him. I represent a constituency that is an industrial area. I go there frequently and mix with the people, and I am perfectly satisfied that there is a feeling of prosperity throughout that part of the country. If the hon. Member would go there he would realise that that is the case. I welcome most strongly the provisions and suggestions contained in the Gracious Speech. It deals with many subjects which although they do not in themselves raise major issues of policy, are extremely valuable.
I wish to deal with a matter which I deem to be of importance to Lancashire, the recommendations of the Despatch of Business at Common Law Committee, particularly with regard to the circuit sys— tem. I do not speak with any official authority, but I happen to be the only practising junior barrister in this House from the Northern Circuit. There has been a tremendous increase of work during the last few years, with the result that there is an urgent necessity to get through it. This raises a subject of considerable importance. Usually at the Assizes it is possible to get through the work, but sometimes it is not possible, and that involves a number of causes going over for some months, which is a great inconvenience to litigants. The fact that there has been a continuous increase in the amount of work must be very carefully dealt with when legislation comes before the House.
346 In the Gracious Speech it is suggested that extra judges should be appointed for the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division. The Matrimonial Causes Act is bound to increase the work on circuit. In what way is this extra work to be dealt with? Is the increase in the strength of the Divorce Bench to be used on circuit, or will further work be thrown on the King's Bench Division judges who normally go on assize? At the moment there are one or two methods which are adopted in order to get through the work. A Commissioner may be appointed from London to go through the whole of a circuit. He may be appointed from the K.Cs. practising on the circuit. There is also a most vicious system under which late sittings are sometimes indulged in in order to get through the work. It would be serious if any economy in regard to this matter should interfere with the proper and easy administration of justice. Litigants ought not to feel that the whole business is done in a rush. I hope that the Government in carrying out the terms of the Gracious Speech will appoint sufficient judges to make certain that the judges may stay on circuit for the necessary length of time to finish the work in conditions comparable to those of the King's Bench in London, or that there should be a sufficient supply of judges to enable extra judges to be sent in order to assist in disposing of cases within the normal time of assize.
There is one further matter which I should like to raise and to which the last speaker referred, namely, the question of war pensions. Before doing so I should like to pay a tribute to the Minister of Pensions for the way in which cases of which I have had personal knowledge, have been investigated. I should also like to pay a tribute to the excellent work done in this connection by the British Legion. We all feel that a body like that can render a great deal of help. There is one case that particularly sticks in my mind. It is the tragic case of a man who for 18 years after the War—
§ Mr. Errington
There are lots of cases to which I could refer, probably as many as the hon. Member has in his constituency. It is the case of a man who for 17 or 18 years after the War was perfectly 347 all right, and then his sight, by reason of poison in the system contracted during the War, went completely. That case was taken up by the Minister of Pensions and the man has now a 100 per cent. pension. There are many cases which raise great difficulties. The point is whether the system of inquiry as it stands at present is sufficient for its purpose. We are coming to a period when men who fought in the War are reaching middle age and consequently are liable to feel the delayed effects of war wounds. This is the most likely time for the recrudescence of those wounds, and that recrudescence may be caused in a number of ways. It is extremely difficult to prove that such a condition has been aggravated by or caused by war service. There should be some special investigation in regard to this particular class of case.
I recollect one further example of a person who has suffered through the War. He was wounded in the leg. All went well for 17 or 18 years, when he had occasion to be operated on for appendicitis. The appendicitis caused poison in the body and the poison immediately flew to the seat of the wound, with the result that the leg had to be amputated. To prove that that condition was aggravated or caused by the War is very difficult, but I believe that the Minister of Pensions in these matters takes as humane a view as is possible under the law. I realise that it would be very difficult to open the door to everybody who has served in the War who subsequently, many years afterwards, becomes ill, but I do think that there are so many cases on the border line that the Government might consider whether they will further investigate them. In regard to these cases one should not be too legalistic. We should not be bound in a highly technical way. I realise the difficulty, but it must be remembered that specialists, whether they be legal or medical specialists or any other kind of specialists, are proved sometimes to make mistakes. Where a mistake is made in these cases it may cause much hardship. I hope the Government will investigate this matter and take such action as is possible in regard to it. In conclusion, I should like to say how much I appreciate the Gracious Speech.
§ 7.45 P.m.
§ The Minister of Pensions (Mr. H. Ramsbotham)
The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Errington) kindly and courteously gave me notice that he intended in the course of his speech to raise matters concerning my Department, and I am grateful to him for having done so, because it gives me an opportunity of dealing with remarks made by other speakers in the Debate, namely, the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) and the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent (Mr. E. Smith). The hon. Member said truly that there are many cases which raise great difficulties. Nobody knows that better than myself, and nobody feels these difficulties more acutely. As regards the particular case he mentioned, the House will appreciate that I cannot carry all the cases in my head. I do not think I have had the privilege of discussing this case with the hon. Member personally but I should like to, and I should also like to say that when hon. Members are not entirely satisfied with a decision I am quite prepared to discuss it with them personally, so that I can show them the whole of the facts, explain the decision and endeavour to remove what dissatisfaction exists. That is what I try to do, and hon. Members have always found me readily accessible.
I want to refer to a statement made by the hon. Member for Leigh in the course of his speech. He said that in the year 1928–29 there were 8,000 ex-service men who had committed suicide and that one-third of them were sufferers from the effects of poison gas. If that figure was in any way accurate, there would be an overwhelming case for investigation.
§ Mr. Ramsbotham
I am aware of that, but the hon. Member has gone a little further than the speaker at the Tory party conference who said that in the years 1928 and 1929, there were 8,000 suicides. In any case the statements are hopelessly inaccurate. I have made an inquiry of the Registrar-General and am informed that no figures are available on the point because the statistics do not distinguish between ex—Service men and others. But the second point is that the total number of suicides in Great Britain 349 in the years 1928 and 1929, in the whole male population between the ages of 30 and 60 years, which include the great bulk of the ex-Service men, was 4,419. Hon. Members will agree that it is to be regretted that currency should be given to statements of the kind made by the hon. Member. They are completely inaccurate, so inaccurate as to be impossible, and I regard them as a considerable reflection on the great body of ex-Service men themselves. If demands for investigation and inquiry are to be supported by evidence of that kind, the House can judge of the need for such inquiry. The hon. Member mentioned the deputation which I had the honour of receiving last February composed of himself and other hon. Members. I informed him then, when he asked me to institute an inquiry, that I had no evidence to justify taking such a step and he will admit that no evidence was produced by the deputation. As far as I can recollect, and I have refreshed my memory on the point, nothing was given me except a general statement. I told the deputation that an investigation was being undertaken into the general position by the British Legion, that I should await the results, give them careful consideration and take action in the light of the report. The investigation has taken longer than I expected, but I understand the report is likely to be furnished early in the new year.
The hon. Member for Stoke also referred to this deputation and spoke of the attitude which he alleged was taken by some of my senior officials. He said they were cynical, and laughing and smiling behind my back. The permanent officials are not here to defend themselves, and I do deprecate remarks of that kind. I assure the hon. Member that his apprehensions are quite unfounded and, indeed, if he had any complaint to make, why did he not make it to me immediately after the deputation in February instead of waiting some nine or 10 months to deliver it in the House? The hon. Member for Stoke referred to a publication in 1917, I assume on behalf of the Government, in which it was stated that the men who joined would receive pensions in addition to any money they drew from employment, and that whatever they got from their employment 350 would make no difference to their pensions; also that the Board would decide whether a man's disease was caused or made worse by his military service. The undertakings given in that publication, he said, are not being carried out by the Ministry of Pensions at the present time. I can assure the House that every one is being carried out. The hon. Member quoted from a report of the Officers Benevolent Department of the funds of the British Legion, issued in 1935, that:In the majority of cases the Bureau approached the Ministry of Pensions in the matter, but with little success, owing to the great difficulty in establishing the continuous medical benefit required.That is a very correct presentation of the case. It is difficult in the long period since the War to establish a continuous medical history. That is indeed common sense. But may I draw the hon. Member's attention to the Annual Report of the British Legion issued in 1937:First claims to pensions still continue to be submitted and are dealt with by the Ministry of Pensions under the administrative arrangements which have been referred to in previous reports. During the past 12 months 59 such claims have been successfully handled by the Legion whilst no case of this nature has in the council's opinion been unjustly rejected.If the hon. Member wants further confirmation of the view of the British Legion as to the administration of the Ministry of Pensions—after all the British Legion is by far the largest and most important body dealing with ex-service men, and has far greater experience than any other body of its kind—I have here a speech made a few days ago by the Secretary of the Pensions and Disablement Department in which he says:We hear so much inane criticism of the Ministry of Pensions to-day that it is only fair these things should be known. I know the Ministry of Pensions better than most people, also their faults and virtues, but I am not afraid to tell the good things they have done, because we hear so much about the bad. Our war pensions system in this country is the finest of any country that fought in the War, not excluding the United States.The hon. Member for Stoke points out that his efforts were not directed altogether, or so much, to men wounded in the War as to those who are suffering from rheumatism and weak hearts, the diseases consequent upon an undermined constitution. I quite see his point and sympathise with his distress at coming 351 into constant contact with these cases. But I must point out that, unfortunately, diseases like rheumatism and a weak heart, which follows on rheumatism, are common in civil life, and when an ex-service man reaches the age of 49 and 50 in the nature of things it is inevitable that these other ailments will attack him as they do all of us as we grow older. Therefore, I cannot bring myself to attribute them altogether to war service. It is a problem which is becoming increasingly acute as men become older. There is no way of avoiding it, and we shall get an increase, because men, who have hitherto felt in reasonably good health and who by the passing of the years are becoming heirs to the ailments which afflict us, when searching for a cause, will naturally attribute it to some war experience. If I were not bound by rules and statutes, if the system prevailing in this country was that every ex-service man, whether he was disabled in war or not, should receive a pension it would be a different matter, but I do not think we have reached the stage when a man is to be pensioned solely because he is an ex-service man. That, I hope, will never take place in this country. He is pensionable because of a disability which can reasonably be attributed to war service.
Hon. Members opposite and others take the view that the general health of an ex-service man of middle age—and the average age of ex-service men is between 49 and 50—is impaired to some degree by his war experience. Researches and medical opinion, not only in this country but in other countries, do not confirm this. On the other hand, the view expressed in some of our Dominions is that on the whole the health of an ex-service man is rather better than that of the non ex-service man, a civilian of the same age. The general experience of other countries is that man for man the ex-service man is rather a better life, is in better health, than the non ex-service man of the same age. I think it is not true to say that, apart from specific war disability, war experiences have caused a deterioration in ex-service men which is in any degree more marked than it is in the case of civilians. That is the opinion as a result of an investigation, not here, but in other countries.
§ Mr. Ramsbotham
I would like now to say a word or two about individual cases. The hon. Member for Stoke mentioned two cases in the course of his speech. The House will realise that individual cases are extremely difficult to deal with across the Floor of the House, but in regard to the first case which the hon. Member mentioned, I would remind him that the disability was due to a very rare constitutional disease which, with the best will in the world, no one could attribute to war services. As to the other case that he mentioned, I will again look into it and make an arrangement with him for us to discuss it together.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
While thanking the Minister for making that offer, I wish to assure him and the House that I did not raise this matter on account of my own particular cases, but because of the volume of correspondence that I have received from all parts of the country. Moreover, if, as he says, everything is all right, I would like to ask him how he accounts for the resolution that was passed with loud cheers at the Conservative Conference?
§ Mr. Ramsbotham
I think it is quite possible to get a resolution passed on evidence such as I quoted at the beginning of my speech. As regards individual cases, I mentioned them only because the hon. Member referred to them in his speech. The hon. Member paid a very charming and welcome tribute to my versatility, which I very much appreciated, but at the same time I would like him to sympathise with me. He went on to say that I had very little knowledge of what took place in my Department. That remark struck me as being slightly harsh, because it is my business to know what is taking place in my Department, otherwise the sooner I leave it the better. I assure the hon. Member that, as far as it is in my power to do so, I do know what is taking place.
Hon. Members know from their experience that hardly a day passes without my having an interview with some hon. Member concerning some case, and they will realise that before such an interview, I have to study the case and to spend a long time in going through the files in 353 order to be able to answer questions. Hon. Members are no doubt acquainted with my handwriting, for my work involves a good deal of correspondence. I think they will do me the justice to realise that I spend a very great deal of time over the many difficult cases which they present to me, apart from the fact that my duties also involve visits to pensions hospitals and to war pensions committees, and so forth; and the fact that I have other irons in the fire rather entitles me to sympathy than to censure.
I am bound by Statute, by rules and by regulations, and I do not think the House or the country would wish me to adopt the principle that a man should be awarded a pension for disability not connected with the War. Therefore, as far as I can I have to determine whether or not the disability has a war origin, and in a matter of that kind, being a layman, I am forced to rely to a large extent upon medical advice. To do otherwise would be presumptuous, wrong and failing in my duty. But the House knows that in cases of doubt, I have the cases referred to an independent medical specialist outside the Ministry altogether, a man appointed from a panel chosen by the President of the Royal College of Surgeons or the Royal College of Physicians, as the case may be; and what he says goes, as far as I am concerned. I am bound to take medical opinion to a large extent as the criterion in my determination.
I try to see that justice is done and I investigate cases most carefully, but I cannot disregard the expert medical opinion which is at my disposal. If I were to do otherwise, it would be squandering public money and I should be deficient in my duty. There are bound to be hard cases, and there is no doubt that, on the face of it, they will increase as the years go by. The Ministry makes mistakes, just as others make mistakes, but we endeavour to keep the mistakes down to a minimum, with some success, for otherwise there would never have been that report from the Council of the British Legion. Both the hon. Members opposite are known for their sincerity and sympathy in dealing with this difficult matter, but neither of them will claim a monopoly in sympathy; and they can take it from me that I sometimes feel that I get as much 354 pleasure from either sanctioning a new award or increasing an old one as the recipient himself. I assure them that when I have to decline to award or to refuse to increase one, it is a grief to me and not a pleasure. I am sure they will bear that in mind and at the same time realise that I cannot give boundless rein to my sympthy. I have to carry out the orders of Parliament and temper my sympathy with judgment and a sense of duty.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Jenkins
I am afraid that the speech to which we have just listened will not give satisfaction and encouragement. We were hoping that the Minister would agree to an inquiry into all these cases that are arising. I have myself been in communication with him concerning a man who had no fewer than 22 operations and then died, his widow being left without a pension. Such cases are numerous, and I am sure that the pressure of public opinion will compel an inquiry to be held into this matter in the fairly early future. I do not intend to deal at any length with this question now, nor do I intend to follow the Debate on the cost of living and unemployment, both of them matters that have been dealt with fairly substantially. The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) made an excellent speech on the need for improving pensions. There is no doubt that a case has definitely been made out for an improvement in the pensions of aged people and people dependent upon small pensions of that sort. Even though we have had an unsatisfactory reply from the Government with regard to those matters, I am sure that on them also public opinion will soon compel any government to do justice to the large body of people in those circumstances.
I was struck by the complacency of the speech that was delivered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the commencement of the Debate, and I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman is in his place at the moment. I wish to call his attention and that of the Government to some of the problems that are arising in connection with local government. Only on Wednesday of this week, a gentleman representing the Hertfordshire County Council, speaking at a meeting of the County Councils Association, complained about the increase in the costs of school 355 buildings, in connection with the raising of the school-leaving age in 1939. He made the startling statement that in 1934 the costs per place of building a senior school amounted to £38. Later on, the council had to let contracts amounting to £73 is. 6d. per place, and the most recent contracts had to be let on the basis of £92 8s. 5d. per place. Therefore, there has been an increase from £38 to £92. I confess that when I heard those figures I was rather doubtful about them. A gentleman representing the Gloucestershire County Council, said that in the county of Gloucester they were paying 05 per place. As I was in some doubt on the matter, I thought it better to get a confirmation, and this morning I got into touch with the secretary of the County Councils Association, Sir Sidney Johnson, and asked him to make certain inquiries. He has written me a letter in which he says:With reference to our telephone conversation this morning, regarding the cost of school places, I have been in touch with the education department of the … County Council"—I will not mention the name of the county council here, but I will give it to the Minister if he wishes—and find that their cost in 1934 was about the same as that mentioned yesterday. They also gave me some figures which indicate that the present costs quoted by Sir David are not exceptional.As I understood the Chancellor's speech, everything is quite satisfactory at the present time. I do not intend to prophesy as to what difficulties will arise in the future. I do not know whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer was aware of these figures when he was speaking. I have since discussed them with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education, and I was hoping that he would be present to-night; indeed, I made efforts to postpone this statement until tomorrow, but found that it would not be possible to make it under the Amendment. I want the Government to face the difficulties of the county councils as far as education is concerned. Efforts are being made to prepare the schools for 1939. The costs have gone up. The Board of Education say that they will increase the grant from 20 per cent. to 50 per cent., but what is the use of that increase in the grant to the education authorities? A large number of them will be involved in 356 an even greater cost on account of the increase in prices.
But that is not all. At the present time, building costs are increasing very rapidly, and at a recent meeting of the County Councils Association, complaints were made by the Somerset County Council that the Government are now adopting the attitude of adding a certain sum to contracts. For instance, assuming that a contract is let at £100,000, the contractor may want a variation clause in the contract in order to protect himself against a rise in wages, or a rise in the cost of materials, but the Government say, "No, there can be no such variation clause, but what you may do is to add, say, £10,000, £15,000 or £20,000 to the contract in order to meet the increase in costs." Apparently the attitude of the Government is that there will be an increase in costs, and they are prepared to add amounts to existing contracts in order to get the contractor to take the risk as to what is going to happen in the future. We have objected to that procedure as strongly as we could. If there are to be increases in building costs, then there ought to be a clause of a variable character in the contracts which would enable payments to be made on a proper basis instead of having the kind of speculation to which I have referred. I heard of a case recently in which permission was sought from the Ministry to insert a variable clause in a contract and the reply of the Ministry was that the authority concerned could add £20,000 to the contract.
The Government know that there is going to be an increase in wages and an increase in the price of building materials. But they come here and tell us in the Gracious Speech that everything is all right and that we need have no fear. They know perfectly well that that is not the case. I wish to ask also what is to happen to the Government's own estimates of education costs in these circumstances? What is to happen to the Estimates of the Education Committee? One might also ask what is going to happen in the case of Government expenditure generally. The County Councils Association has written to the Ministry complaining of the delay that is taking place in securing sanction for loans. Apparently there is a certain amount of money available and they are attempting to delay the granting of loans in order 357 to fit the work to their Estimates. In my judgment that is going to be detrimental to education. The Government, as I say, must be conscious of the increase in building costs which has already taken place—an increase of more than 100 per cent. Those costs will continue to increase. The fact is that the Government have completely lost control of the prices of building materials. This affects house-building as well as other kinds of building and it is time we had a definite reply from the Government on the matter.
One further point. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said he was not prepared to talk about an impending slump. Most of the experts agree that we are likely to have a decline in industrial activity, to some extent. That decline may actually be happening now; it may take place within six months or it may take place in a year or two. But I ask the Government to make preparations for such a slump. Up to the present they do not appear to have made any preparations. The Gracious Speech contains no item which indicates that they are making preparations. Take as an example the case of South Wales. It is admitted that South Wales has suffered as far as small industries are concerned because of the lack of road and rail facilities. Unfortunately, the Severn Bridge scheme which would have accomplished much, was turned down by a Committee of this House, and I think everybody who knows the details now regrets the fact that it was turned down. The Gloucestershire and Monmouthshire County Councils together spent a substantial sum in promoting that Bill. It will take at least two years to get another Bill through.
There is no use in waiting until the slump occurs and saying then that you are prepared to go on with schemes of that kind. Why not take the necessary steps now? If the Government are convinced that the bridge is necessary let them take steps to promote a Bill, or take such other action as may be required. I am convinced that large numbers of people in South Wales are suffering as a result of the lack of adequate means of transport. The construction of the Severn Bridge would shorten distances and help traffic considerably. It is true that 25 new industries have been brought into the areas. In my own division we have perhaps benefited to a greater extent than 358 most other districts in South Wales but even now there is a substantial percentage of unemployment in that district. There are three Employment Exchanges there and according to the latest figures I have been able to obtain the percentages of unemployment in those Exchanges are, 21.6 per cent., 25 per cent., and 30.8 per cent. respectively. Yet the Government have nothing of any consequence to say about the development of new industries in those areas.
I would not pass from this point without paying a compliment to Lord Portal, who has done magnificent work in South Wales in trying to bring new industries there. He has done everything that any one man could do in that respect and he has had a certain measure of success, but many more industries will have to be established before the problem of South Wales is solved. The Government have been too complacent about this matter. They have failed to face problems which are obvious. I do not wish to deal here with the problem of poverty but there are other problems calling for their attention which they have ignored. They have adopted an ostrich-like policy in this King's Speech. There is nothing in the legislation we are promised likely to be of great advantage to the Special Areas. I hope, however, the Government will give immediate consideration to the question of local auathorities in regard to school buildings and other buildings, and will also pay closer attention to the difficulties of the special areas.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Butcher
This is the first opportunity I have had of addressing the House, and I venture to express the confident hope that the kindness which I have so far received from Members in all quarters, will not be suddenly withdrawn during the next few minutes. As the representative of an agricultural constituency, I was delighted to find the question of rural housing referred to in the Gracious Speech from the Throne, and I was even more pleased at the amplification of that reference which was made by the Minister of Health yesterday. I hope on some future occasion to have the opportunity of addressing the House in more detail on agricultural questions concerning my division, but tonight I wish to confine my remarks to 359 such items in the Gracious Speech as concern the young people of this country. Perhaps it is proper that I should do so as one who is young in years—and very young in the service of this House.
I am glad to see that meals for boys and girls attending junior instruction centres are to be provided. I am glad that the gap between school leaving and adult medical benefit is to be bridged. But there is one class of young people for whom I make a special appeal. They are the 125,000 boys and girls who were the subject of an inquiry by the Departmental Committee on the Hours of Employment of Young Persons, and who are not protected by the Factory Act. Under this Government, of which I am proud to be a supporter, there are substantial benefits in health coming to the young people of this country, and I am eager that no class of young persons should be excluded from those benefits. I wish to draw attention to one or two of the findings of this Departmental Committee. Quoting from the report:An investigation made by the Manchester University Settlement into the hours of 27 van boys in Manchester showed hours of work ranging from 41 to 70 a week, excluding meal intervals. In addition various witnesses reported to us cases of van boys who worked up to 70 and even 90 hours a week.Take, again, the question of boys employed as pages in hotels. There is far too much employment for lengthy periods of juvenile labour in this industry, and it will be seen by the committee's report thatof the 8,417 page boys and attendants whose employment was investigated, no less than 7.030 were reported to work over 72 hours a week, including meal and rest intervals.Then again I turn to page boys and girl attendants in cinemas; in the absence of the Senior Burgess for Oxford University (Mr. Alan Herbert), I feel that I may be permitted to refer to them as "usherettes," but these young people, both boys and girls, are employed for far too lengthy hours. The report of the National Advisory Council for Juvenile Employment records thatthe normal weekly hours of labour of 26 per cent. of the boys and 9 per cent. of the girls employed in cinemas of whom they obtained particulars extended over more than 66 hours weekly.I venture to put forward for the consideration of this House that in industries 360 such as those of hotels and cinemas, where the percentage of wages is such a small one when compared with receipts, there is no possible reason for the working of young people for those hours.
The other point to which I would venture to refer is one raised by the right hon. and venerable Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), when he spoke last evening and referred to a camp in my own division, the North Sea Camp, where lads from Borstal are being trained and re-equipped for life; and I am pleased to see in the Gracious Speech from the Throne that the case of juvenile offenders is going to be dealt with. I hope that the legislation on this subject will be inspired by the ideals which obtain in this camp in my division. I am now quoting from a pamphlet written by the Governor, Mr. W. W. Llewellin:A high sense of honour is by no means restricted to the Public Schools, but is implanted in every boy, a spark to be fanned to flame by the artificer's skilfully modulated blast of trust and confidence.I believe that on those lines we can do much for those who have erred against society—perhaps because society has first erred against them—to bring them back again into the community of the people. The right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley suggested that it might be desirable that, instead of waiting until offences had been committed, we should organise camps for young people. I do not know what relations he has with the official Opposition party at the present time, but I shall be glad to learn whether it is a plank in their forthcoming programme that there shall be compulsory camps for young people to employ them in such useful work for the benefit of the country as was suggested by the right hon. Gentleman, and whether we may expect to hear that expounded from their platforms. I confess that if they were to do so, I should view their arguments with considerable interest and perhaps some sympathy.
There is but one other question that I would venture to bring before the House, and that is the question of training for leadership. There is complaint from all quarters of the difficulty of getting our young people to take an interest in social service and public life, and I suggest that this might be able to be done if we were to copy in some respects, and only in some respects, the "Napoli" organisation in Germany, which is referred to in 361 sympathetic terms in the Government's report on physical education in Germany. The idea of young men of all classes from public schools, secondary schools, and elementary schools meeting together in a camp to perform voluntary service on behalf of their country, and to be trained in leadership, is one which, I suggest, might find some place at some later date in the Gracious Speech from the Throne.
§ 8.31 p.m.
I am sure that the hon. Member who has just addressed the House for the first time, so far from losing the regard of his colleagues, as h e feared at the beginning, has increased the esteem in which he was held by the very interesting and sympathetic way in which he dealt with a number of topics, and I am sure we shall look forward with very great interest to hearing his interventions again in the future. Before I turn to the subject of foreign affairs, I want to make a few references to the omission from the Gracious Speech of anything about the increase in the cost of living. It is a matter which concerns very deeply my constituents, as indeed everybody else's, and I cannot help feeling that it is very largely due to the policy of His Majesty's Government. I put that under three heads—first of all, their policy of restrictions of one kind and another, quotas and tariffs, which they have imposed and also which they have failed to remove; secondly, their marketing schemes, which do not provide sufficient protection for the consumer; and, thirdly, the whole question of foreign policy, which has got the world into its present condition, with the armaments race and the inevitable increase in the cost of living. What is actually going on throughout the country is a universal reduction in the rate of wages, automatically, without any negotiations with the trade unions, and I deeply regret that the Government have given no indication that they are prepared to take any steps to ameliorate the lot of those who are suffering in this way.
May I bring the House back for a short period to the question of foreign affairs? I would like to make reference, first of all, to the forthcoming meeting of the Brussels Conference under the Nine-Power Pact. The question of the co-operation of the United States is, of course, of first-class importance, and I trust we shall do everything we possibly can to work with them, 362 to go as far as they will go, and to encourage them to go to the utmost possible length. At any rate, whatever happens, let the responsibility for not going forward rest on the right shoulders, and do not let those shoulders be ours. I hope the Government may find it possible, in association with others, to impose something in the nature of an economic boycott on imports or exports, or whatever may be deemed most appropriate; but, short of that, there is one measure which they could very suitably and properly take, and that is to facilitate in every possible way the supply of armaments to the unfortunate Chinese.
I believe it is the case—I know it is the case—that the Chinese are desperately in need of armaments. They do not want anybody else to come and fight their battles for them. They have given up all hope of that, and they are perfectly prepared to show the utmost heroism themselves, but they do want arms. I should have thought it was an extraordinarily cheap and mean way out for us if all we are asked to do is to supply armaments and to make money by so doing. I hope that the Government will see, at any rate, that the Chinese are assisted in that matter. Furthermore, it is important that there should be no repetition of the Hoare-Laval episode and that no proposals should be put forward which would in any way recognise the Japanese invasion. Such a proposal would be wholly unjust in itself, and I am certain that it would be repudiated by the Chinese Government. I hope we shall stand firm to the principles of the Nine-Power Pact to which we have set our hands.
Some reference has been made to the omission from the King's Speech of all mention of the League of Nations. I commend the Government for omitting reference to it, because I think they are being honest and straightforward. They do not believe in the League. They have abandoned it, and they are quite right not to try and represent themselves to the country as having any interest in it. I think that it may be truly put in this way, that the Members of the Government sincerely believe in the League of Nations as an ultimate ideal to be attained in some dim and distant future. I fully believe that the difference between us is that while they hold that view, we on this side believe in the League of Nations 363 as a working institution for the saving of the world here and now in 1937. The Government in abandoning the League are being actively assisted by the "Times." The "Times" has gone one better, however, because it seems to be engaged in a campaign for distributing the British Empire so far as the former German colonies are concerned.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer was good enough on Tuesday to give publicity to a modest article I wrote a short time ago which might not otherwise have come before quite so many eyes as must now necessarily be the case. I hardly thought it worth his while to make use of it, because I thought it was one of the most sensible articles I have written for some time. It commanded a good deal of support, and not on this side of the House only. What seemed to shock the right hon. Gentleman so much was the idea that there was any alternative Government, or any alternative policy to that of those who now occupy the Treasury Bench. What he quoted were broad and general expressions, but in any article on a statement of policy they must have their place. He invited me to enlarge upon them by filling in the picture. I have done it so often before in detail that I will not trespass on the patience of the House for more than a short time to re-emphasise the points, with which the right hon. Gentleman is only too familiar as he has had to listen to me on a good many occasions during the last five or six years.
Shortly put, the Liberal policy is this: This Government, or a new Government, or any Government—I do not care what Government does it so long as it is done —should go to Geneva now at a special meeting of the Council or Assembly, and say that they had given the deepest consideration to the state of the world in the experience of the last few years and had come to the conclusion that there was no alternative to the collective system of the League; that they were prepared to place the whole of our rearmament programme to be used in co-operation and conjunction with others right to the bitter end, whatever that might be, in taking action against aggression in any part of the world; and that they were prepared to enter into pre-arranged sanctions and binding arrangements to cover every eventuality. If that were 364 done now, even by this Government with all their record, we could still rally the overwhelming support of the peace-loving States of the world. In case somebody says, "Whom do you mean?" I must repeat what has been said before—we could rally the support of France, Russia, Poland, Holland, Belgium, the Little Entente, the Balkan States, the Baltic States, Turkey, Sweden, Denmark and Norway, and also the whole-hearted cooperation in their own way of the United States of America.
That is the view held by those of us who sit on these benches. That is our alternative policy, and we believe that the situation of the whole world would be altered if action on those lines were taken. The Government do not rely on the support of any of those countries. With their present policy they cannot rely upon the support of all the members of the British Empire itself, because it is certain they are not prepared to go in for the sort of foreign policy that the Government are now adopting. The Government apparently are prepared to fight all right, but only for certain specified things. They will fight for Hong Kong, but not for Holland. They will fight for the Falkland Islands, but will not lift a hand to help Austria. They will fight for Tanganyika, but will not assist Czechoslovakia. If it is made clear that overwhelming might is to be brought against aggressors wherever they are, no war is ever likely to take place.
The Government's policy during all these years seems to have been one of funk and feebleness. I could not help remembering, while the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) was speaking, that he on a previous occasion represented this country in the Olympic games, and very worthily too. These games will take place again in a few years, but I hope not in Tokyo as arranged. Wherever they take place, I hope this country will be represented by Members of this House. The particular Members I have in mind are members of the Cabinet, because I am certain that they have had such practice in the last few years in running away that they would have no difficulty in outdistancing all possible rivals. What is the position to-day? We have had lamentable episodes like Manchuria, the Disarmament Conference, Abyssinia and Spain, and 365 now we have two international wars going on. The writ of the League of Nations does not run anywhere. Danzig has been abandoned as a result of this policy. Poland, which is willing to come in and play its part in a collective system, is holding an uneasy balance between Germany and Russia, and, like other countries round Germany, has to make the best terms she can.
There is the special case of Czechoslovakia, one of the best and freest and most democratic countries in the world. She ought to have all our sympathy and good will. It is being menaced, and its difficulties are made much greater by the use which is made by the Nazi propagandists in Germany of the alleged grievances of the Sudeten-Deutsch party. There are grievances in all countries. I am sure the Czechoslovakian Government are doing and will try to do all they can to meet the legitimate grievances of that minority. But that is not going to satisfy the Henlein party, who take their orders from Berlin. They do not want to be satisfied. They want to see the alleged grievances, or whatever they can persuade the public of other countries to be grievances, the means of stirring up trouble there, and giving the Germans some excuse for coming inside that country.
Then there is the case of Austria. I should have thought that if ever there was a British interest it is to maintain the independence of Austria and Czechoslovakia. Let us understand what may happen. If those two countries go, as they may go under the Government's policy, it means that Germany would be on the Brenner Pass—Germany in alliance with Italy—Germany, therefore, would be all over the Mediterranean, with freedom to use the Italian ports, aerodromes and submarine stations. We should have Germany stretched across the Mediterranean. That is the real menace, that is the British interest involved in preserving intact the integrity of Austria and Czechoslovakia. No one knows—I do not suppose the Government know—what they are likely to do if trouble arises there. I hope the Government will do all in their power to encourage the movement which is going on at present in the Danubian Basin between Austria, Hungary and the three Little Entente Powers for political and economic appeasement. 366 There is no doubt that there is a new atmosphere, a desire to obtain reconciliation—to a certain extent at any rate. It may involve on our part a certain deviation from the Most-Favoured-Nation Clause—that would be our contribution. I hope that if that situation does arise the Government will not hesitate to give it all the support and encouragement they can and thereby strengthen the building up of that little bloc of five Powers between Germany and Italy.
In the last few months there has been only one really bright spot, and that was the Nyon Conference. Why was that? It was because it was an anti-pirate conference and the pirates were not there; and if credit is to be given where credit is due—I have not noticed it yet—the reason for that was a brilliant diplomatic stroke by Russia, who so manipulated the situation by the sending of Notes that they succeeded in preventing the two countries we did not want there from going there. As a result we got agreement among those who wanted to agree, and those who did not want to agree were kept away. Therefore, I am rather alarmed to notice that Italy is to attend the Brussels Conference, no doubt with one sole purpose, that of preventing it doing anything to interfere with what Japan is doing, or to support China. I hope the Government will give very short shrift to anything of that kind.
There is a special point about Spain which I would ask the Secretary of State for Scotland to deal with in his reply. He will remember an incident which occurred on 30th September at the meeting of the Drafting Sub-Committee of the Sixth Committee of the Assembly of the League, when they were dealing with the resolution on Spain. A statement was made by him to the effect that he entirely associated himself with the statement of the French Foreign Minister, M. Delbos, that the phrase in the resolution referring to the near future meant not more than 10 days. That was on the 30th September, and now we are near the end of October—rather more than 10 days, not quite the promise with regard to rapid action which was given to the Spanish Government. I should like to hear the right hon. Gentleman explain the promise which he gave and the way in which it has since been fulfilled.
§ Mr. Mander
I will give it to the right hon. Gentleman in a minute. Personally, I agree entirely with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) said about the Non-Intervention Committee. I think the whole thing is an attempt to delay, to gain time, and is not sincere, and I hope the Non-Intervention Committee will be broken up at the earliest possible moment, because it would be the best thing for the whole world if that farce and humbug were brought to an end. The Government have used terrible words. They have said that if agreement is not reached they are going to resume their freedom of action. I wonder what that means. If it is anything like their freedom of action as evidenced during the last few months, it will not amount to very much. Are they going to say to France, "You can do what you like, but we do not back you up or support you"; or does it mean that they will take joint action with France to give back to the Spanish Government their rights? I should very much like to know. I am afraid from the Government's past record that this form of words will not frighten people who have not the least intention of being frightened by anything the Government can say, and that it means nothing at all.
Finally, I should like to say that there is no unity whatsoever in this country as to our foreign policy. Not for a moment should the Government go on repeating that statement. There is unity, I agree, on the necessity for rearmament. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Well, there is a very large measure of agreement—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—that we must have armaments in order to play our part in the world at the present time; but there is the profoundest difference between one side of the House and the other as to the way in which those armaments should be used. [Interruption.] Oh yes, there is. We believe that the Government's way will bring us straight into war as a divided and broken nation, probably impotent; and we on this side believe our way will keep us out of war and will make us a united nation. There is only one way to get unity for our foreign policy, and that is for the Government to get back to the 368 policy on which they obtained the votes of the people at the last General Election.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Trevor Cox
The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) warned us this afternoon about the many dangers which face the British Empire. He told us in picturesque language of the very difficult foreign position, and pointed out that there were many and serious dangers. Surely, if that is the case, there is all the more reason why he should give support to the Government's rearmament programme. Surely it is clear that, in view of the very difficult position abroad, it is of paramount importance that the Government should see to it that our Defence Forces are in order.
In addressing the House for the first time, I wish to deal with another problem. I should like to draw attention to one or two very interesting statements of policy made by the Leader of the Opposition and also by the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps). Not long ago an interesting statement of policy was made. Hon. Gentlemen opposite believe that one day they will form the Government of the country, and the statement to which I have referred shows quite clearly what action they will take if that event comes about. The hon. and learned Member for East Bristol makes a very important statement of policy:Continuity of policy—even in fundamentals—can find no place in a Socialist programme.That political maxim seems to have been at work in the Socialist policy that we have seen in recent times. It is a formula which I rather think was at work also at the recent Socialist Conference. The hon. and learned Member also says:It is unlikely that a Socialist party will be able to maintain its position of control without adopting some exceptional means such as the prolongation of the life of Parliament for a further term without an election.I believe that the Leader of the Opposition holds that view also, because in this book, which is called "Problems of a Socialist Government," he makes it clear that he supports the views of the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol in this connection. The hon. and learned Member also says that if his party ever obtain power they will bring in an Emergency Powers Bill which will be 369 wide enough in its terms to allow all that will be immediately necessary to be done by Ministerial orders.These orders must be incapable of challenge in the courts or in any way, except in the House of Commons.Surely, that is a most unconstitutional procedure, and a suggestion which would endanger the position of our free institutions in this country. The hon. and learned Gentleman seems to think that if his party took this action it would have remarkable results, for he forecasts a most acute form of constitutional crisis as a result of his suggestion. He seems to think, also, that there will be obstruction if these plans are put into operation. He expects hostility and obstruction from certain quarters. He says that if there were obstruction from the Lords it would probably be necessary for another election to take place. He does not think that he would have the support of the workers in Great Britain, apparently, or that they would come forward in their hundreds and thousands and give their pennies and shillings to support the views of the Socialist party. He holds no such view, because he says that it would probably be necessary to beg, borrow or steal the funds to fight the second election.
There are various other very interesting statements to which I would refer. I note that the Leader of the Opposition himself has made it clear that he approves of this policy. The hon. and learned Member says:It would probably be better for the Socialist Government to make itself temporarily into a dictatorship until the matter could again be put to the test at the polls.Surely, that shows that hon. Gentlemen opposite do not favour Democracy and have no friendly intentions in regard to the Constitution of this country. Surely it is a matter of importance when the Leader of the Opposition makes it clear that he supports the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol in this connection. Then this statement goes on to say:But the responsibility will lie heaviest on those—if any—who attempt to bring to naught the considered opinion and wishes of the majority of the electorate.Surely that has been the position of His Majesty's Opposition for a long time and is the main reason for their continued existence. It is clear that in 1931 and 370 1935 the people of this country made certain what their views were. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have continued as an Opposition. There are very various other interesting statements. For instance, the hon. and learned Member says:Parliament will … have to be relieved of a great deal of work.Well, Parliament has been relieved of a great deal of work in Italy, Germany and Russia. People who make statements of that kind cannot say with any degree of accuracy that they support democratic institutions or that they support Democracy. The hon. and learned Gentleman goes on to say that if his party ever gets power it will introduce a Planning and Finance Bill, and that when this Bill is passedlittle other legislation by Act of Parliament will be required and such as is necessary will be of secondary importance only and will be so treated.Parliament is apparently to be robbed of its power and influence. It is to be emasculated and reduced to a fourth-rate institution.
Then the hon. and learned Gentleman says:With a Socialist Government it should be made clear that no defeat will be accepted as fatal unless it is upon a point which the Government declare to be one of primary importance.The Government of the day might show a natural reluctance to make any such statement. They might continue to state that the question under consideration was one of secondary importance, and might, by such methods, maintain themselves in office indefinitely. The hon. and learned Gentleman also says that it will beimpossible to guarantee the peacefulness of the change "—and he says that it will bean uphill fight against forces of immense strength.That is quite true. It will be an uphill fight, waged by a handful of intellectual Socialists against the immense strength of the British people. The hon. and learned Gentleman is quite right in expecting that there will be violence and civil strife. He has made that clear in his book.
Of course, these statements and various speeches by that Socialist leader have had a very warm reception in various quarters. For instance, we find that a member of the last Socialist Government, writing in his journal "Forward," says: 371This kind of talk is a joy to his capitalist enemies and a sorrow and despair to his friends.I would recommend that statement, if I may, to the Leader of the Opposition. I have no doubt that when the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol has made another of these interesting statements of policy he will be received by his Leader with words which appear in the Bible:What hast thou done unto me. I took thee to curse mine enemies and, behold, thou hast blessed them altogether.This is a matter of some importance because the Leader of the Opposition has said that he associates himself with his distinguished colleague's conclusion. I do not know what sort of association that is, or whether it is still continued. For all we know it may be very much the same sort of association as existed between Cain and Abel, and it may easily have the same end. The Leader of the Opposition has made it very clear in his writing, especially in this book, that he is secretly hostile to Democracy and to the free institutions of this country. He says that it is important not to do things with the most scrupulous regard to theories of democracy or exact constitutional propriety, but to get on with the job. That is a remarkable statement. The Leader of the Opposition says that Democracy and those questions are not of vital interest to himself and his colleagues, but that the main thing is that once the Socialists gain power they must maintain themselves in office by these unconstitutional measures. I will say this. The Leader of the Opposition wishes to do away with the democratic system of local government. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where?"] Certainly, that is in this book. [An HON. MEMBER: "By the Leader of the Opposition?"] He says the existing system should be done away with, and regional commissioners, who are to be first and foremost Socialists, set up.
That is a system altogether alien. It exists in foreign countries to-day where democracy and free institutions have ceased to exist. It shows the secret hostility of hon. Gentlemen opposite to democracy. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health has recently said that the dictator has no use for local government. Nor has the Leader of the Opposition, because he has shown quite 372 clearly that he wishes to see the existing system done away with and to set up in its place the system of regional commissioners. I would say, as Earl Baldwin has said in the past, that the Socialists wish to conceal their extreme views until they get into power, and then to make a clean sweep. It is not by those methods that the welfare and happiness of people who live in these islands will be assured for all time.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen
I am sure hon. Members will desire me to compliment the hon. Member who has just resumed his seat on a most original maiden speech. I am sure Members also will welcome his subsequent incursions into Debate, although perhaps we can scarcely promise him that we shall receive him so mildly. At the same time I would also like to say that I am grateful for the quotations he has given to the House. I am sure those quotations would make a much better Gracious Speech than the Gracious Speech that has been presented to us on this occasion by the Government. I do not want to refer to the hon. Member further, but I want to come back again to a stage in the Debate when the Minister of Pensions intervened. I am sure hon. Members in all parts of the House heard with a sense of disappointment that the Minister of Pensions was not willing to set up a Committee of Inquiry into the working of the Ministry. I have had experience, in several Parliaments, of several Ministers of Pensions. I went to them with cases of people who had been badly treated. I got courtesy from every Minister of Pensions to whom I went. Sometimes, when I had not got any satisfaction other than courtesy, I was very discourteous to Ministers, but I discovered afterwards that it was not so much the Minister of Pensions who was to blame. I believe that much of the trouble in the country with regard to the treatment of ex-service men is due to two forces: the medical authorities in the Ministry and the Treasury influence there. My experience has been that the Minister took a sympathetic view of the case, but as the Minister said to-night, when he comes face to face with the medical authorities of the Department, who say nothing can be done, how is he, as a layman, to say, "I am not prepared to accept that?"
373 I believe the matter should be met in this way, that if the applicant is able to produce medical authority in support of his claim, that medical authority should be determined. After all, if there is a balance of medical opinion on the case, ii: he is able to produce medical authority in support of his case, there is a doubt from the medical point of view; and the principle was laid down in this House previously that the pensioner should always get the benefit of the doubt. That principle has not been observed by the medical authority of the Ministry of Pensions. The medical men who have been directing the Ministry of Pensions seem to go on a principle that what they have got to do is to try to find some way of keeping the man from getting a pension rather than seeking to take a really sympathetic view. I have cases here in my hand—I do not want to go into them individually, but I have medical certificates from very well-known Glasgow doctors in support, for example, of a case of neurasthenia. The medical authorities at the Ministry of Pensions set aside all those local medical men, wiped aside their testimony altogether, and they say, "We cannot accept this as being attributable to service in the War." I believe that where there is this conflict of medical opinion there is a doubt in the case, and the House of Commons intended that the victims of the War should always get the benefit of the doubt.
I also found that when one got overwhelming medical evidence that compelled the medical authorities in the Ministry to accept it, then there came in a gentleman from the Treasury, who had also to be got round, and he interfered in the matter; and I noticed that the Ministry of Pensions are always in very great trouble about a case that has been rejected, that they believe has been rejected wrongly, in trying to get a different decision. They are afraid of the Treasury. I believe an inquiry into the working of the Ministry would make the thing plain, and I hope the Government will give us such an inquiry.
I want again to deal with a matter affecting the Ministry of Labour. The question has been raised in the House with regard to allowances paid by the Unemployment Assistance Board. I am very disappointed at the attitude of the Ministry of Labour in connection with 374 this question. I want to draw the attention of the House to what is happening at present. So far from the applicants receiving the former rates of benefit, they are, in very many cases, receiving smaller amounts.
When the new regulations were put into operation, only some of those who received payments a good deal in excess of what was contemplated under those regulations were subjected to a cut, but now the Ministry is making cuts of 2s. a week. Many single men—and this is going on in every district—are having their allowances cut from 17s. to 15s. a week. In spite of rising prices, the allowance to these men has been cut down to 15s. a week. Wherever I have gone in Glasgow in recent weeks people have come to me and complained about their allowances being cut in this way. When the regulations were made the Minister said that the figure was to be flexible and was only put in as being a basis, and that probably most people would be getting so much more. Now it is being made practically the figure for everyone, with only a few exceptions. I want the Minister of Labour to consider whether he is prepared to alter the regulations in order to allow greater flexibility and to get rid of the figure of 15s., and rather to keep these people on the old 17s. rate. I have also had a good many complaints with regard to married people having to submit to a cut of about 2s. a week. It seems as if there are many thousands of people in the country, single and married, who are coming under the lash of the new regulations in this respect. I suggest to the Minister that he must do something or else there will be a very big outcry in the country among this poor section of the community.
I have another interesting case to which I should like to draw the attention of the House. One of my constituents has been threatened with a reduction in his unemployment assistance of is. 6d. a week if he does not obtain a bigger house. The father, mother and six of a family live in a single apartment, and the Unemployment Assistance Board say, "If you do not get a bigger house, we shall have to cut your allowance by is. 6d. a week." The man goes to the local authority and points to the need for housing accommodation and presses them to give him a suitable house, and they say, "We can do nothing for you." Because the local 375 authority are not able to provide the man with a house, he is to be fined 1s. 6d. a week. If there is any fining to be done, it should be fining of the local authority. The man is anxious to get suitable housing accommodation for himself and his family.
§ Mr. Stephen
I am dealing with my own City of Glasgow, and I do not know whether the hon. Member who interrupted knows that there is a Labour majority in the City of Glasgow—
§ Mr. Stephen
Who are fighting also members of the I.L.P. at the elections next week. It is a Labour majority which is not very good, but it is a great deal better than the moderates who preceded them in the government of Glasgow.
I also want to draw the attention of the House to the question of housing in the City of Glasgow. In my division there are people living in the most fearful hovels and something will have to be done to deal with the housing situation in the east end of Glasgow in order to get better treatment for the people. I have received a letter from the Secretary of State for Scotland. I made a complaint to him about a property in London Road, and he says in his letter:The Corporation of Glasgow, who have had the houses in London Road inspected, say that the property comprises shops on the ground floor, and three three-apartment houses and three two—apartment houses above. According to the Corporation's report there is evidence of bugs only in the two—apartment houses, where the infestation is mostly superficial, the bugs being on the walls and under the wallpaper. The sanitary inspector has advised the tenants of the two—apartment houses to strip the paper off their walls. When this has been done, he will have the houses re-inspected, and should any broken plaster be found, he will request the factor to have it repaired. In the course of his inspection the sanitary inspector discovered a number of items of disrepair not complained of by tenants which have been brought to the factor's notice for attention.I visited this property, and I am certainly surprised at the statement of the sanitary inspector. More miserable conditions it would be difficult to imagine. I know that the Secretary of State for Scotland 376 has been interesting himself in this question, but I hope that something is to be done in these terrible districts in Glasgow. More money will have to be provided by the Government in connection with the slums in Glasgow. I am confident that, if these people are to have decent housing, there will have to be more financial assistance from the Government as well as a great move forward by the local authority in connection with it.
The Gracious Speech is about as poor and insipid a programme as has ever been brought before Parliament, and if all that programme is put on to the Statute Book the conditions of the great mass of the poor people in this country will remain without any great improvement. There is practically nothing in it for millions of the poorest citizens in the country. There is nothing for widows who have been denied pensions, and nothing in the way of increased pensions to those people who have been struggling along on 10s. a week. There is a great programme of armaments, and the young men in those slums of which I speak are to be expected to enter the Army in order to use the armaments that are being provided. I hope they will do no such thing until this Government is willing to do something to deal radically with the terrible conditions of poverty of all these millions of people in the East End districts of the great cities of the country. I hope that the working class are going to fight strenuously against this expenditure on the instruments of death, and return a Government that will provide for the wellbeing and happiness of the people instead.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Allan Chapman
It is very seldom that I can support the hon. Gentleman the Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen), but to-night I can certainly go with him the whol way in his congratulations to the hon. Member for Stalybridge (Mr. Cox) on his maiden speech. It shows careful preparation and close analysis. I noticed that hon. Gentlemen maintained a discreet silence. [Interruption.] I did not give the reason for the discreet silence, which is duly appreciated, but that does not alter the fact that hon. Gentlemen opposite obviously appeared as much interested in the speech as we were on this side. They say that they will answer my hon. Friend on some future occasion. That, I think, is a 377 pious hope, for I think they will have some difficulty in answering him. The hon. Member for Stalybridge has evidently examined their literature, and has even investigated the pages of that backward parish magazine known as "Forward"; he knew all about it. He had analysed some of the literature they have put out, and I think he triumphantly demonstrated that Socialism is the opium of the people. We might leave it at that, with one final word of congratulation to my hon. Friend on an excellent maiden speech.
I would like to express my gratitude to the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) for breaking in on what has become a Debate on foreign affairs and bringing it back to more general ground, because in this Debate on the Gracious Speech we have not heard very much about Scotland except from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine Hill) and the hon. Member for Camlachie, and there are just one or two points I would like to put while opportunity offers. We are grateful that there is special reference in the Gracious Speech to Scottish affairs. I was about to sympathise with the Welsh Members and the Members for Northern Ireland because the Speech made no specific mention of their parts of the country, but I am experiencing some difficulty in finding any Welsh Members here at the present moment, and so I refrain. But among the Scottish affairs which may come up for discussion in the future there is the question of the reorganisation of administration. We have seen a great deal in the Press, and heard a great deal generally about the proposals for reorganisation. The move to send the Scottish Office, or Departments of it, to the new building in Edinburgh appears to me to be literally a move in the right direction, and I think it is very important that we should assemble there as much as possible of the work of the Scottish Departments. The recent report on reorganisation is admirable. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State proposes to implement it. I believe it will have a great effect on Scottish affairs generally, and I welcome it wholeheartedly.
But it seems to me that there is a danger of some quarters endeavouring to carry things beyond the mere letter of reorganisation. We already hear talk of 378 devolution and in some cases of extreme devolution, carried to the point of a separate Parliament. Well, that is a matter of opinion, but I for one should regret to see any separation of the common discussion, on Scottish and English affairs alike, that goes on in this House. The point has sometimes been made that Scottish affairs are neglected in this House. I challenge that assumption. I think that the speech made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate recently and reported in the Press, which was full of facts, very firmly established the position that Scottish affairs are not neglected. I am far from saying that I should not like to see more days on Supply devoted to Scotland, on the basis that you cannot have too much of a good thing as far as Scotland is concerned; but to say that Scottish affairs are neglected is definitely, to my mind, a self-condemnation by those Scottish Members who make the statement. If we appear to get through our work quickly I think it is probably due to the fact that we follow the self-denying ordinance instituted, I think, by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Stirling (Mr. T. Johnston) whereby we limit ourselves to 15 minutes for each speech on Supply days.
Do by all means let us have more Supply Days so that we can discuss more subjects, but do not let us pretend that Scottish affairs have been neglected in this House, because those who advocate extreme devolution are walking, I think, on somewhat dangerous ground. If they remove the bulk of Scottish affairs from this House to some Committee or Parliament in the north, Welsh and Northern Irish Members, and English Members as well, would have very good grounds for saying that they would take the bulk of their affairs away from this House, too, and it would be very difficult to argue against them. We do not want a multiplicity of parliaments and I think in these days, when it is necessary to get together, it is much better for us to stay in this House and get on with our business rather than scatter to the four quarters of these islands and meet together in a number of committees. If we duplicate our discussions we should then have to listen to some speeches of our colleagues in the Provinces and hear them all over again here. I want to point out to my fellow Members from Scotland that since 379 we annexed England we have a moral responsibility to remain here and see that Parliament manages it properly; so I trust they will not let England down. Besides where will devolution stop? Some say they would take Scottish affairs north of the Border, but Kipling said:East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet.He was not speaking of Scotland at the time.
§ Mr. Chapman
I am just about to do so. If the hon. Member is keen on running commentaries perhaps he would be good enough to give them at the B.B.C. and I could get on. Those words of Kipling were not said of Scotland, but I cannot see Glasgow and Edinburgh sitting down comfortably and getting on sympathetically in a Scottish Parliament in the shadow of Arthur's Seat. The word "seat" will finish the quotation the hon. Gentleman is so much wanting. I remember picking up a Glasgow paper not very long ago in which was reported a speech by the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) who spoke about the capital of Scotland and to make certain that there should be no doubt about where the capital was the Glasgow paper put the word "Edinburgh" in brackets after the word "capital." I do not see the shadow of Arthur's Seat being a place of complete harmony.
There is another point I want to raise, and I can bring it in under the question of Defence. While we have the greatest admiration in Scotland for the Household Cavalry, we do desire that, when His Majesty comes North of the Border, his escort should be one of Scottish Cavalry.
§ Mr. Chapman
That is exactly the point to which I am coming; the hon. Member's powers of penetration are remarkable. The proposal to mechanise the Royal Scots Greys is one which is causing a great deal of sadness in the hearts of Scotsmen generally, and of ex-service men in particular. I cannot imagine a Royal procession going up the Royal Mile quite so gracefully escorted 380 by mechanical transport, as it would be if it were accompanied by that very fine and gallant regiment, the Royal Scots Greys.
§ Mr. Gallacher
May I make a suggestion? In view of the fact that the Welsh Members are demanding a Welsh Secretary, would you be in favour of giving them the present Scottish Secretary and keeping the Scots Greys?
§ Mr. Chapman
The hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not follow him into the red herring industry, in which he is such an expert. If he wants to find out about Wales, I would suggest that he should go to Wales, I would suggest that he start now.
As I was saying when that pointless interjection was made, I cannot imagine a Royal procession going up the Royal Mile accompanied by mechanical transport, and surely, in view of the fact that our gracious Queen is of Scottish descent, if any cavalry regiments are to be left unmechanised one of them at least should be a Scottish cavalry regiment. I would ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to use his whole influence, as I have no doubt he will, to ensure that, if any cavalry regiments are left horsed at all, one of them shall be a Scottish cavalry regiment. After all, in these days of military might, it is worth while keeping in being that regiment which "put the wind up" Napoleon. I think it should be kept; it is a magnificent regiment.
There is one other point that I want to make, and in doing so I regret that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) is not here to-night. He referred last night to the fact that in Glasgow we now have a pacifist Lord Rector. I am anxious to disabuse the mind of the House of any idea that the decision come to there represented anything like the opinion of the youth of Scotland. I do not believe for one moment that it did. I should say that it was the triumph of organisation over apathy, that it was not a real cross-section of the opinion of the youth of Scotland. I have this faith, whether hon. Members opposite agree with me or not, that there is one ideology for which the youth of Scotland will always fight, and that is the love and defence of their own beautiful country. I have no doubt 381 whatsoever about that. I confess I have never been able to understand the pacifist attitude. It seems to me to be the most ostrich-like of all. if these people desire self-martyrdom, they are welcome to it, but are they entitled, when the crisis comes, to martyr thousands of women and children? If we were to lie down and allow those nations who believe in force to trample on us, would it stop war? I do not think so. Would it stop those countries who do not renounce war as an instrument of national policy? I realise the sincerity of some of these people. There is a small minority whom one can almost admire in their misguided constancy, but in time of war they would prove unwittingly to be the fifth column of the enemy within the city walls, and would unconsciously provide, by their very attitude, a stab in the back at a critical time. I do not believe that the pacifist point of view has anything in common with the young men of this land. I go further, and say that, for the able-bodied, mentally normal young man, who would stand by and see his hearth and home devastated, his kith and kin dominated by a foreign invader, who would see the 450,000,000 people of this Empire pass into a condition of mental slavery— who would stand by and see this without striking a blow, I say that for him there is only one name, and I do not care to use it in this House.
§ 9.43 p.m.
Mr. David Adams
I am indebted to you, Mr. Speaker, for allocating to me this short time to-night, because I have been anxious all day to raise a matter of fundamental importance, a deep-seated grievance which a number of my constituents have, namely, the men of the Beamish Mary Pit in County Durham. In order to put the House shortly in possession of the situation as it prevails to-day, I roust give a little of the history of the case. In 1935 the management of this pit decided to work what are termed the low seams, that is to say, seams which are no higher than 18 to 21 inches. not, as they had done for a considerable time past, with coal-cutting machines, but with hand labour; by the workmen being called upon to enter these low seams and to carry with them and use the machine known as a pneumatic pick, weighing from 14 to 24 lbs., which is held in the arms and vibrated by means of 382 compressed air, and which is altogether a very difficult, arduous, toilsome and slavish method of coal-getting.
The men in the colliery expressed no disagreement, nor did the Durham Miners' Association, in regard to the use of pneumatic picks in these low seams, and an agreement was made with the management as to wages to be paid. But the first clause of the agreement—and this is the fundamental matter in the case —was that volunteers should be called for, and only men who volunteered for this work, the young, strong men prepared to take great risks, should be called upon to do this work. That agreement was duly drawn up and signed by both sides, and it was understood that it would be carried out. The management, however, did not obtain a sufficiency of volunteers to work these low seams, and no wonder. I have consulted mining engineers here and in America, from which country I have just returned, and they are unanimous in asserting that work in seams of this low height of 18 to 21 inches, in which the man must drag himself along on his back or on his side, work on a damp floor holding in his arms a violently vibrating and weighty instrument, is admittedly calculated very deeply to affect him, both in nervous strain and in other serious physical disabilities and that it was a method of working which should not he persisted in by the management.
As a sufficient number of workers were not obtainable for this work, the management adopted a peculiar method of finding more labour. They did not alter this method of coal-getting, but dismissed a certain number of men who were working in ordinary seams, and offered them the work in this low seam, regardless of whether or not they were able to carry out the work. This was done on one or two occasions, but on each occasion the Court of Referees awarded the men unemployment benefit, indicating that the management were in the wrong. The management then adopted other measures. They laid off the pit entirely with the exception of some 30 men who were then working in this low seam. During the 14 days' notice that was given each of the individuals concerned, boys of from 14 to 16 years of age, every section of labour in the colliery, including the deputies and the stone men, those who had never handled a pick, men on the bank, also 383 lamp and engine men, all were advised that if they cared to undertake this task in the low seams they could have work, otherwise they could not have any more work in that colliery.
The result was that 405 men and boys were affected in the lock—out and it lasted for three months. The men were deprived of unemployment benefit and they received no public assistance. Assistance was given only to the women and the children. At the end of three months the men, beaten to their knees, went in a body, with the authority of the Durham Miners' Association, to the management and offered to accept work in these low seams. They were immediately employed, but it was found by the management that most of them were entirely unsuited, physically, for the work. The management wrote to the miners' lodge stating:Of the people who have offered them— selves we have had to dismiss 37. A number of the elder men have left the colliery voluntarily, unable to sustain the work, and others have sold up their household goods and left the district.Clearly, this showed that a flagrant imjustice had been inflicted upon a body of men willing and anxious to pursue their normal avocations in an ordinary and fair way. Shortly after the lock-out the matter was submitted to the Court of Referees. On the Court of Referees there was no mining expert, no person with a knowledge of mining. As a result, the verdict was given against the men. They were declared to be not locked-out but on strike. The matter was carried to the Umpire at Westminster and the Deputy-Umpire heard the case. I was present during the hearing and it seemed to me that an overwhelming case was presented on behalf of the men and that they should be allowed unemployment benefit, but this was not allowed. The Deputy-Umpire gave a verdict in favour of the employers. He virtually ignored the question of suitability and also in effect the clause which stated that volunteers should offer themselves for this work. He laid it down that the men when they were called upon, no matter what the type of labour offered, should have obeyed the crack of the employers' whip and apparently that the management could, at will, violate the stamped and sealed agreement that volunteer and not forced labour should work the low seams 384 of their colliery. This decision even applied to the boys. They were disallowed benefit along with every class of workman, including disabled lampmen, who in many cases had lost arms and legs in the War, and who had nothing to do with the dispute. Some 405 workers were affected and £7,400 was disallowed in benefit.
I come now to the position that I wish to emphasise. Under Section 44 (6) of the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1935, it is laid down that the decision of the Umpire on any appeal from the Court of Referees shall be final. I contend that that is an injustice. The employers in the sale of their coal can go from port to port and take any disabilities under which they are suffering to the Court of Appeal and if necessary to the House of Lords. The workman in the sale of his labour is restricted by this Act and left at the mercy—it may be the prejudice—and to the judgment of one individual. The Act should, therefore, be amended in that particular. There is power given under Section 46 to revise a decision on the part of the Umpire or Deputy-Umpire who hears a case.
After many months delay I was able to persuade the Deputy-Umpire to peruse additional evidence on which was based a claim for a rehearing of the case. The men did not ask for it to he granted in their favour. They said: "Let us have a rehearing of the case, because abundant evidence has been submitted by the management in correspondence with the miners' lodge that the men, dismissed in the lock-out, were unsuitable for work in the low seams." It seemed to the Durham Miners' Association that this fresh evidence ought to weigh with the Deputy Umpire. A case was accordingly prepared by the lodge and the legal representative of the Durham Miners' Association. It was afterwards submitted to an eminent King's Counsel, than whom I think there is no greater authority in this country, and also to another legal authority, who all were convinced that there were abundant reasons given in the document then submitted to the Deputy Umpire for a rehearing of the case. However, the result was that the Deputy Umpire declined to reopen the case, and the decision remained as it was.
385 Surely, there should be some means of rectifying a grievance of this character. Surely, men who have never worked a pneumatic pick or any other pick, lamp men, men on the bank, stone men and those who had no association whatever with the actual coal getting, should not be branded as having been on strike when they were callously thrown out of their employment by the management. Section 41 (2) of the constitution of the Court of Referees states that the members of the court should be drawn from groups of trades. Why groups of trades? A Court of Referees dealing with mining subjects ought to be constituted of mining experts and representatives. In the case under review it was a transport worker who represented them. He did not even know the terms employed in the mining industry. The Act ought to be amended in this particular, and the Court of Referees should be constituted of members from the particular industry involved in the dispute.
I appeal to the House and to the Minister to look into this matter and sec that justice is done these men. The sum of money involved, £7,400, is large. submit that the verdict of the Deputy Umpire was legally incorrect. A little while ago the Unemployment Assistance Board themselves made a grant to the boys of unemployment payment, thus in part repudiating the verdict of the Deputy Umpire. I hope that there will be some reply to my observations and that we shall get an assurance that what is admittedly a great hardship on a loyal body of workers in a hard and tyrannous industry shall be remedied and that ex gratia payments at least to a reasonable extent should be accorded to these deeply wronged miners.
§ 9.56 p.m.
§ Mr. George Hall
We are getting to the end of the second day's Debate on the King's Speech. This is the seventh King's Speech since the formation of the National Government, the third of the present Parliament, and from its contents we might very rightly say that the occupants of the Front Bench must be suffering from senile decay. This is the best that the so-called National Government ran do. Here we have a combination of Conservatives, National Liberals and National Labour. The large majority of them are Conservatives. The poverty of 386 this legislative programme is frightening. Here is a National Government which for seven years has had complete control of the machinery of government. Not only have they control of the House of Commons but the House of Lords carries out their will. Ninety-five per cent. of the Press of the country are behind them and the whole of the financial interests. It can be truly said that if the Government had the will they have the power to bring drastic changes to this country.
We might ask which part of the Gracious Speech is to be attributed to that branch of the Government called National Liberal and which to National Labour. We can see no evidence of Liberalism in the Gracious Speech, and certainly no evidence of any activity on the part of the National Labour Members of the Government. The Government use the National Liberals and the National Labour representatives in the Cabinet to carry through the particularly obnoxious and difficult work which the Government themselves do not like to carry through. That has been the experience since 1931. When the Government of that day desired to reverse the foreign policy of the Government and undermine the influence of the League of Nations they looked around and discovered that the best person to do it was a National Liberal representative, and very well he did his work. From that day there was a change in the foreign policy of the Government which has led to such disastrous results that in the main the Debate of to-day and yesterday has dealt with the foreign situation. When they wanted to change the fiscal policy of the country they looked around and saw a National Liberal who had been the apostle of Free Trade for almost a generation, and well did he do the job for the Conservative party. Again, when a Conservative Minister of Labour found that the unemployment regulations were creating hardship to a large section of the people and he withdrew them, the Government looked around and discovered a National Liberal representative to do work which a good Tory would not do. This is not a National Government; it is a Tory Government of the most reactionary kind, and the outsiders in the Government are out-doing the Tories in reaction.
The Debate during the last two days has ranged over a very wide field. We have passed from the important subject of foreign affairs to the question raised 387 by the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. A. Chapman), whether the Scots Greys should be retained in Scotland to await Royal visits there from time to time. The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) suggested that there should be a swop, and that Scotland should retain the Scots Greys allowing the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland to go to Wales. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that if the Government will concede to us a Welsh Secretary of State, which we are demanding, we can look around and select a Welsh Secretary, a representative of a Welsh constituency, to look after Welsh affairs. The position of the Labour party on foreign affairs was so clearly put by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) that there is no need for me to spend much time in dealing with it. Our view is that the Gracious Speech is lacking in fundamentals both as regard the Government's foreign and domestic policy. There is nothing in it which will create any interest among the masses of the people of this country. In fact it displays inactivity in every department of State affairs.
There is one point in connection with foreign affairs raised by the hon. Member for Derby, by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and also by the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), that we should know whether any action is to be taken by the Government to deal with the evacuation of the Asturians from Northern Spain. I want the Government to know that this matter is of very great interest to a large number of people in this country, particularly to the mining population. Reference has been made to the bravery of these men. I have in my hand a telegram from the South Wales Miners' Federation urging that the Government should take the strongest possible measures to secure protection for the evacuation of the Asturian miners. It is not too much to ask in the name of humanity that the Government should take the action asked for by my hon. Friend and by the representatives of the miners in South Wales. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will deal with this matter and that some satisfaction will be given to the country that the Government are going to take some action.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derby referred to the fact that he represented 388 one of the most prosperous divisions in this country. I can claim that I represent a division where there is a good deal of poverty caused by unemployment. The Government must understand that even to-day there are in this country not tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands, but millions of people who are suffering great poverty owing to unemployment. It is of no use the Government taking the attitude that was adopted by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he referred to expanding trade. The expansion in trade has passed over a very large number of districts in this country, particularly those areas where the heavy industries are situated.
Of course, we cannot deny that there has been some improvement in industry —the production of 1929 has been reached and passed—but from the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer one would imagine that this is the only country in which there has been this expansion. I was very surprised to hear the Minister of Transport say last night that under a Socialist state there would have been very little production. Why, if there is one nation in the world where the expansion of production has exceeded that of any other country, it is the Socialist state of Russia. There the expansion of industry since 1929 has not only exceeded that of any other country, but has gone ahead by leaps and bounds.
I think this country is only about fifth in regard to the expansion of trade since 1929. There is an explanation of that. The Chancellor of the Exchequer did not refer to the fact that if there is to be such a large expenditure of public money as there is at the present time upon increasing armaments, there must be expansion of trade. The expenditure upon armaments this year, as compared with 1932, has risen from £102,00,000 to £278,000,000, that is to say, an increase of no less than £176,00,000. If we assume that the spending of £1,000,000 in any one year will provide employment, directly and indirectly, for something like 5.000 persons—I think one is safe in putting the figure as high as that—the expenditure of that amount of money alone, not taking into consideration the demand which must take place between now and the end of the financial year in Supplementary Estimates to meet the growing expenditure upon armaments, means that 389 in the production of armaments in this country there are no fewer than between 800,000 and 900,000 persons employed. Let me refer to steel production. Last month steel production in this country reached its peak, at 1,613,000 tons. In no month in the history of this country has there been a production of steel anywhere approaching that amount. Notwithstanding that, we find that in the iron and steel industry, owing to improved methods of production, there are more than 10 per cent. of the workers unemployed.
The right hon. Gentleman rightly referred to the importance of the export trade. The expansion of trade has been almost entirely for home purposes and the export trade, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) pointed out yesterday when dealing with the difficulty of the balance of trade, was last year far below the export trade of 1929. Even the export of iron and steel goods last year was less than it was in 1929, and it is the lowest of any of the important steel-producing countries in the world. The export of iron and steel goods from Belgium or the United States of America far exceeds the export from this country.
I would like also to deal with coal, because the use of coal and coal production are very largely bound up with that of the production of iron and steel. There has been an expansion in the production of coal, and this year we shall probably reach an output of something between 245,000,000 tons and 248,000,000 tons; but there again, it is almost entirely for the home market. There has been a slight increase in the export of coal, but when one compares the first nine months of this year with the first nine months of 1935, the increase is very small. On the other hand, we find that the export of coal from Germany has increased by something like 10,000,000 tons. In the case of expansion in the coal industry, as regards production and certainly as regards export, we have a long way to go before we get to the 1929 level. If the export of coal continues during the next two months on the basis of the last nine months, it will be down by something like 20,000,000 tons as compared with 1929.
At this point I would like to refer to the change that is taking place with regard to the number of workpeople em- 390 ployed in productive industries and in what may be regarded as non-productive industries. The Ministry of Labour, in its report each year, brings out the changes that are taking place, and it indicates that from June, 1923, to June, 1936, there was a reduction of no less than 750,000 persons in the number of employed in the main productive industries of this country, that is to say, coal mining, agriculture, iron and steel, and shipbuilding—the main productive industries upon which the nation is so dependent. On the other hand, we find that in the distributive trades and in the luxury trades, such as entertainments and sports, hotel services, laundries and so on, in the same period there was an increase of nearly 1000,000 persons in the number employed.
The point I wish to make is that it is of no use Members of His Majesty's Government trying to put from our minds the question of the coming slump. If this Government remain in office, a slump is as inevitable as that night follows day. No one recognised that fact more clearly than the former President of the Board of Trade. In the last speech which Lord Runciman made from that Box, he was quite frank with the House arid with the country. He said that the slump might come quicker than most hon. Members or the people of the country realised. We find that in some countries which did not suffer nearly as much as this and other great industrial countries during the last depression, preparations are already being made to deal with the slump which, in their opinion, is inevitable.
In the Gracious Speech we are promised the long-expected coal legislation. The first Bill mentioned is the only outstanding Measure proposed. That is the Bill to nationalise coal royalties. Such legislation has been mooted by all parties concerned. The principle of the Measure we agree to, but as to the details we await the presentation of the Bill. Even on the principle, we think the chief opposition to the Measure will come from some of the Government's right wing supporters. I would ask the Minister whether he can give us any indication of when this Bill will be introduced and also of whether there is to be a Bill dealing with royalties only and another dealing with amalgamations or whether one Measure will cover both these very important 391 matters. We remember what happened when the Measure dealing with amalgamations was introduced last Session. We saw the then President of the Board of Trade at that Box destroying the underlying principle of his own Bill before it had received a Second Reading. We shall be interested to see whether the concessions which were then forced from the Government by vested interests in this country will be included in the forthcoming Measure or whether the Government propose to introduce the Bill this Session in the form in which they originally proposed it. I remember the propaganda which was conducted on the last occasion and the amount of newspaper space which was paid for by vested interests in order to defeat the purpose of the Bill as it was then introduced.
These Measures dealing with the nationalisation of royalties and amalgamations are, however, merely tinkering with the problem of this great industry. The Government are closing their eyes to the fact that the industry can be properly dealt with only if it is co-ordinated under national ownership and control. There can be no answer to the demand for the nationalisation of the coal mines, since the Government themselves are now committed to the principle of the nationalisation of coal royalties. The Government propose to buy out the coal and to control, through central and district committees, the price and distribution of coal. The only thing they are going to leave to private interests are production and the profits to be made out of it. We think that the industry ought to be owned and controlled right from the commencement, and we ask the Government to take courage and to exercise complete control of the industry from one end to the other.
There is no time for me to deal with that other very important matter of the question of the distribution of electricity. I think it will be admitted on this side of the House, that something ought to be done with regard to the distribution of electricity. But we are rather concerned with the way in which the Government propose to do this work. In the McGowan report we see a strong bias in favour, not only of a continuation of private ownership, but of an extension of it. We are very concerned about the action which is to be taken, and we shall certainly see not only that municipal authorities which 392 now control the distribution of electricity in their areas shall have their rights protected, but that there shall be an extension of public ownership and control in connection with this matter.
Now I must raise the question of the rising cost of living. It has risen very sharply and is still rising. Wages are not following in the increase, and the workers of this country will not wait. The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) rightly said that every increase in the cost of living must mean a reduction in the wages of the workpeople of this country. It is very evident that the Government are not benefiting by the experience of the past, for some of my colleagues on this side of the House and I well remember the offer which the miners of this country made in 1915, when the cost of living commenced to increase during the early day of the War. There was the cost of living soaring, and the miners' wages remained where they were. We then said, "If the Government will prevent the cost of living going up, we shall not demand an increase of wages," but the Government took no notice. Up went the cost of living, month after month, and the result was that we saw demands for increases to wages. I want to warn the Government that, unless action is taken, we shall have industrial unrest in this country on a scale the like of which we have not previously seen. We are not going to stand aside and see these large increases in profits which are made by industrialists and these reductions in wages which are a result of the increased cost of living. We say that, not only with regard to the wage earners, but we have in mind those 8,000,000 persons who are dependent either upon unemployment assistance, public assistance, or the pension schemes in this country. Some 8,000,000 people who have fixed incomes arc suffering as much as, and in many cases even more than, the wage earners in this country.
I want now to say one word with regard to the Special Areas. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health yesterday seemed to glide over the Special Areas as though they did not exist. Let me assure the Government that the Special Areas are still in existence, and, notwithstanding the fact that there has been a reduction in the number of persons unemployed, we still have in the County of Glamorgan nearly 393 one out of every four of our workpeople unemployed; and in the main let it be said that the majority of those men are over 45 years of age. In my own division 60 per cent. of the men who are unemployed are over 45 years of age, men who have almost for a lifetime given their best in the production of the material wealth of this nation, and how are they treated? Eighty per cent. of those men come under the control of the Unemployment Assistance Board. There is no part of the country which benefited more as a result of the standstill order than did the unemployed of the counties of Glamorgan and Monmouth, but now we find that this process of liquidating the standstill order is in being and that reductions are taking place week after week.
I have had some of the most pathetic cases to which I have ever been called upon to listen brought to my notice during the last two or three weeks. I wish I had time to indicate to the House how these Regulations are affecting the homes of tens of thousands of people. Hon. Members should remember that more than 50 per cent. of the cuts which have been put into operation as a result of the means test apply to men of 45 years of age and their families. How would it operate with me if I were unemployed and had two sons earning £2 a week each—earning it, not putting it into the family pool? In that case I and my wife would be entirely dependent upon those two sons not only for our livelihood, not only for the payment of rent, but for every purpose upon which I would desire to spend money. Even the dignity money referred to by the Minister of Labour is not allowed for.
I want to warn the Government that in South Wales there is a growing storm against the application of these Regulations. In no part of the country is the effect felt more than it is in South Wales. Do not let the right hon. Gentleman say that this is being done because of economy. Last year the Unemployment Assistance Board saved £5,000,000 in its administration. It is true that some of that money was saved as a result of a reduction of the number of persons coming under the Board, but in the main it was saved as a result of robbing these people of their legitimate rights. Not only is it cruel but it is cowardly. Well might the Minister of Labour go round the country and prate and take the credit 394 for there being in the Unemployment Fund a surplus of £52,000,000. There may be £60,000,000 by the end of the year, but that surplus is being retained at the expense of the unemployed, their wives and their families. That is discreditable to the Government, and unless they will deal with this matter steps will be taken in the country to force them to do so.
§ 10.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Elliot
I am sure we have all listened with the greatest interest to the speech which has just been delivered by the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall), the more so as it came after a Debate in which so many speeches have been made on subjects which do not touch the lives of the people so closely, and which were argued with far less intimate knowledge than the hon. Member for Aberdare is able to bring to bear when he discusses the affairs of his own folk. Many of the contentions which have been made by the hon. Member when dealing with the Special Areas, the cost of living and the work in South Wales of the Unemployment Assistance Board will more properly fall into our later Debates, and will have the fullest attention there. I am sure that the hon. Member will not deny that, whatever else may be said of the Minister of Labour, there has been no more energetic Minister in going round the actual areas and making himself personally acquainted with the facts of the case than my right hon. Friend. He is entitled to claim, at any rate, a certain amount of the credit, which even the hon. Member for Aberdare was willing to grant him, that a certain amount of the lowering of expenditure of the Unemployment Assistance Board and of the Unemployment Fund was due to the greatly improved state of trade and the fall in the numbers of the unemployed.
I do not wish to pursue that matter indefinitely, because like the hon. Member for Aberdare, I have only a short time in which to discuss a great variety of subjects, but I do appreciate, and all in this House appreciate, how very necessary it is for us to remember that trade has not yet completely recovered, and that there are great areas in England. Scotland and Wales where the unemployment figures are still far too high. The condition of our own people must be the 395 first preoccupation of any Government in power in this country.
§ Mr. Elliot
It has been a matter of complaint that a great many other subjects have not been mentioned in the Gracious Speech from the Throne. There was a bitter complaint from the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) that the League of Nations had not been mentioned, and a similar complaint from the right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair), together with a complaint that an important subject with which we are wrestling in Scotland, the great question of crofters' rating, had not been mentioned. It was, also, oddly enough, mentioned by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). I have here the Gracious Speech which was prepared by the Labour Government when it came in, prepared by the late Mr. Arthur Henderson, the then Foreign Secretary, with the assistance of the hon. Member for Derby, who was his Parliamentary private secretary. I have it here before me, a very interesting King's Speech indeed, and from end to end of the three columns which that King's Speech covered there was not one single mention of the League of Nations.
§ Mr. Elliot
The hon. Member finds it necessary to excuse himself after the robustious declamations which he was launching only a little while ago. He was claiming, and so was the right hon. Gentleman for Carnarvon Boroughs, that the omission depicted a change in policy because of the new Government, because there had been a new Prime Minister. Does anybody suggest that there was not a new Government in 1929, or a new Prime Minister then? Why, the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs was supporting that Government, and, indeed, in all the speeches at that time, speeches not merely by the then Prime Minister, who no doubt is now suspect, but speeches by stalwarts such as Lord Snell—now moved to another place and Chairman of the London County Council, but still, I believe, in communion with 396 the orthodox saints—there was nothing but undiluted satisfaction with this King's Speech, which from end to end contained no mention of the League of Nations, about which so much quite forced and, if I may say so, somewhat insincere emotion has been worked up to-day.
That is why I wish to refer for a moment or two to the more robust and practical points made by a Member such as the hon. Member for Aberdare, and other hon. Members who raised points which really were of importance to the people of this country. The hon. Member for the Camlachie division (Mr. Stephen) raised the question of pensions, as did several other Members, and the housing of the people, which is a vital matter to us in Glasgow. He asked for an assurance that this question would not be lost sight of, and that something really would be done. I can give him the assurance that I never lose sight of this matter, that I am in the closest touch with the only people who can deliver the houses, namely, the building trade, both on the capital and labour side, and that we are at present obtaining from the building trade the maximum yield which it can give; and that I have formed several bodies which will accelerate that yield if it is at all possible. There is, for example, a housing company which has been set up to go outside the realms of the building industry and use alternative methods if that is at all possible. It is a company composed not merely of officials and captains of industry, but also of stalwarts from the party opposite such as the hon. Member for the Bothwell division (Mr. Welsh) and Councillor Brady of Ayrshire, neither of whom have been suspect as to their party allegiance. I admit that in this matter, with which people are particularly and immediately concerned, it is a reproach to us in Scotland, from which other parts of the country do not suffer, that we have not been able to make more rapid progress in breaking the back of the problem.
§ Mr. Elliot
The first thing I want to do is to deal with houses such as that referred to by the hon. Member for Camlachie, where we were told that the sanitary engineer had to go and advise the tenants to strip off the paper in order 397 to deal with the bugs by which the house was infested. Nobody could go into such houses, either young or old married couples. We all know of such houses. In one of my wards there is a density of 100 persons per acre, and I ask hon. Members to imagine those conditions and the people who spend almost all of their waking and sleeping lives there. If the local authority makes a clearance area it is almost immediately filled up again with people anxious to get away from the wretched over-crowding from which they suffer. This is one of the problems of government, and until we can make more rapid progress with such problems I hope that the demand made from many quarters of the House that we ought to go on crusade all over the world will be resisted by the people of this country and by the representatives in this House.
§ Mr. Elliot
Landlords have nothing to do with this slum property. There is no landlord putting people into these particular infested hovels that the hon. Member for Camlachie and I know so well. The difficulty is to get houses built on land which is already purchased and is in communal ownership, and is standing there ready and waiting for houses to be built. He and I and other Members of the Government and of the opposition cannot divest ourselves from responsibility for the present position.
§ Mr. Elliot
The hon. Gentleman, no doubt, has his own forum where he is no doubt allowed an unlimited discretion of free speech. In the Third International it is well known that speech is free. Opposition to the Government may be expressed at any length. But the hon. Member must bear with the old-fashioned capitalist system, in which we desire to pass more rapidly to some other topic.
The hon. Member for Aberdare made one or two points on the coal question to which I should like very briefly to reply. He spoke of legislation which was coming before us, and it was interesting to know that, in spite of his condemnation of National Labour and National Liberal, he seemed to detect a certain progressive aspect about coal legislation, since he ad- 398 mitted that the main opposition to it might come from certain Right Wing Members supporting the Government. He seemed to trust the Government more than he expected their own supporters to do. A Bill will be introduced at an early date, well before Christmas, to give everybody full time to examine this vitally important piece of legislation. It will be one Bill, so far as we know, and not two Bills. The necessity for dealing with the ownership of the raw material of this industry has been recognised, as he said, for generations; well, we are about to act, and he can give us credit at any rate because, at the end of this Session, this problem, which has been the reason for so many acres of speeches, will have passed through this House into a comparatively small and compressed place on the Statute Book of this country.
Another question to which I want to reply has been raised by several hon. Members, but I wish to reply to the hon. Member for Aberdare specially because he put it as one in close kinship and with close spiritual affinity, with the people affected. He spoke of the difficulties of the Asturians, and more particularly of the miners. There, I think, I can readily give him the assurance he desires. He was asking about evacuation. That was also raised, I think, by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker). The position there remains as it has always been stated by the Government, that to any portion of the coast in the control of the Government a British ship may make its way. It will have the protection of the British Navy up to the three-mile limit, and, when it leave the three-mile limit, again on the high seas. If there is actually fighting going on in the three-mile limit, that is outside the arrangement, and if the portion of the coast is not in the, control of the Government I do not think it will be suggested that we should take people away from there. But on the point the hon. Member made, namely, that if there is a portion of the coast in the control of the Government access to the coast by a British ship up to the three-mile limit, and after leaving the three-mile limit, on the high seas will have the support of His Majesty's Navy as before.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Does that mean that if British ships go inside the three-mile limit and pick up people in the water 399 they will receive the protection of British ships inside the three-mile limit?
§ Mr. Elliot
Surely people could not be in the water unless there was some sort of dispute going on on the coast. I have given the position with the utmost clearness. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Elliot
I am not laughing. Nobody could regard this matter more seriously than I do. The hon. Member asked me for an assurance. He said—it was his statement and not mine—that 15 miles of coast was in the possession of the Valencia Government. He has asked me a question and I have replied to it, and he has no right to put an entirely different question and complain that it is not answered.
§ Mr. James Griffiths
The Asturian miners have a brave record of fighting. The fighting is now over. They are afraid that the capture of their territories may lead to massacre. I ask, can the Government make representation to see that people captured are treated decently?
§ Mr. Elliot
We have made such representations, and I am sure the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will always be directed to seeing that humanitarian treatment is accorded.
But time is running short. There was a speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair), which raised several questions of importance to our own country, which I should have wished to speak on at greater length if time were available. He asked what our position was in regard to rural housing. On that, I hope to introduce a Bill at a very early date relating to Scotland. For details I hope the House will wait until the Bill is introduced. It will very shortly be introduced, and I hope to get it to the Scottish Committee before Christmas. It will not be possible to include water supply, but I have not lost sight of the pledges given in that matter. With regard to crofters, the whole question is sub judice and I cannot make any statement until the legal position has been cleared up on cases before the courts. As to the Gilmour Committee's report, the Government have already accepted the principle on which that report is based, 400 namely, that Scottish administration should to as large an extent as possible be carried out in Scotland. The opening of new Government headquarters gives a special opportunity for reorganisation. With that object in view, the proposals of the Committee will be considered with the utmost sympathy.
That is as much time as I am entitled to devote specially to the affairs of Scotland, because there are other great and important subjects affecting the United Kingdom as a whole upon which I am most anxious to say a few words. There are subjects affecting both home and foreign affairs. These two questions are so interlocked and interwoven just now that it is impossible entirely to separate the one from the other. A strong and prosperous nation will be formidable to its enemies whatever its armaments may be, and a weak and divided nation will inevitably be ridden over roughshod whatever it may have in tortoise-like armour or machine guns. Unless we have a prosperous nation at home, we shall be unable to take any line at all in affairs abroad.
Some of the accusations which have been made are, I think, unfounded. The suggestion that the cost of living is going up and that no rise in wages is going on comparable to the rise in the cost of living is not borne out by the facts. The figures for May, 1937, show an increase of no less than 11 per cent. over the average level of the years 1925 to 1929. If wages have not risen as high as we should wish, nobody can deny that there has been a sensible improvement in the condition of masses of the people in this country. Not only has the rise of wages to be taken into account, but the number of persons who are in employment and whose burden upon their more fortunate fellows has always to be taken into account when we are considering the level of costs and wages in the years 1931 and 1932. Although I could quote pages of statements by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen apposite saying that no improvement in world trade could be hoped for unless there was a rise in wholesale prices it is not necessary for me to do so. I see the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) sitting in front of me. I have a very interesting quotation from him with which I will not trouble him to-night, and one 401 from the late President of the Board of Trade the Right Hon. William Graham.
But it is unnecessary to go into these matters. When right hon. Gentlemen opposite had a position of less freedom and greater responsibility they were among the first to recognise that, without some greater return for the primary producer—in the coal mines, for instance— no greater prosperity could be hoped for in this country. In the time at my disposal I do not wish to do more than refer to two interesting maiden speeches which we have had from my hon. Friend the Member for Holland-with-Boston (Mr. Butcher) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge (Mr. Cox), and to the interesting quasi-maiden speech, if I may so describe it, of the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest), who has returned to our councils, and who, to paraphrase the famous phrase of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), by an injudicious dive has emerged among the losers.
The main Debate of the day has been foreign affairs and we have had the advantage of a speech delivered with all his old vigour and eloquence by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. He remains a perpetual marvel; his eye is not dim nor his natural forces abated. I understand he had to go home because his doctor ordered him to do so; he was suffering from a cold. I can only say, if such is his vigour when he is suffering from illness, Heaven spare me from encountering him when he is well. But the very vigour of that speech showed to what extent the right hon. Gentleman lives in the past. He cannot get away from the conception of the League, and indeed of world government, as a super-State. And, indeed, it would he strange if he could. The League in his time was born from a super-State. He remembers how in his great days he ruled the world. He said, "Go there" and they went, and "Come here," and they came, and it is difficult for him to realise that we are moving in a world of independent sovereign States far removed from the crack of Government Whips, to whom the dictates of the Supreme Economic Council mean nothing and less than nothing. The right hon. Gentleman is himself—I do not say a dictator—but the nearest thing we have had to it in this country since the days of Oliver Cromwell, who also had Welsh blood in him. The 402 right hon. Gentleman's speech was delivered along the lines "A Government has arisen with which I am not in sympathy: strangle it at birth. Alliances are being contracted of which I do not approve: let us put an end to them." It is not possible to run world affairs in that fashion.
The right hon. Gentleman made a speech of great vigour and great eloquence, but which could only have a meaning on the ground that if Britain and British interests were adversely affected by some development which was taking place, then we ought to blow the trumpet, sound the drum and march horse, foot and guns to the extermination of the said enemy. It is not now possible. I will not speak of his vigorous and, I think, somewhat inaccurate denunciations, such as his reference to the fact that the whole of the Manchukuo affair was entirely our fault. I have here a statement made at great length in the last Debate on the Address by no less a person than the present Prime Minister totally disproving that contention, but I will not weary the House with it, because I am sure it would make no difference to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. He said the whole of the policy of non-intervention was the greatest fraud ever perpetrated by great nations on a weak people. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear!"] Yes, I hear applause. From whom? From the Socialist party for a policy initiated by the Popular Front. After all, if they consider that the greatest frauds and cravens sit on these benches, are they then going to apply it to the Socialist Leon Blum and the Members of the Popular Front? [An HON. MEMBER: "It is a Foreign Office fake."] The hon. Member says it is a Foreign Office fake. I have had the advantage of sitting side by side with M. Blum in a Committee. I am not taking anybody's opinion on this; I talk of what I know; I report what I have seen. I ask the House to believe what I say, because I am speaking of that which I know. I have wrestled for days on this subject, and I have every right to say, as one who has sat beside M. Blum, that I am speaking of something which is patent to all the world, and I, as a responsible Minister, assure the House that that is so.
I do not like to leave out altogether the remarkable speech of the hon. Member 403 for Derby. His speech had none of the features which I have been mentioning to the House. It had no contact with reality, there was no vigour about it, and, what is more, it was inaccurate in the highest degree. I do not mind his misquoting the Prime Minister; the Prime Minister can lcok after himself; but I resent his misquoting the Resolution of the League of Nations, for this is his own subject, which he ought to know better than I. I resent the suggestion which he made that in some way or other vigorous action by this Government would have had a speedy and immediate response from the League. After all, I have here the Resolution which we drew up, and I have here the voting on the Resolution when it came before the Assembly of the League. The hon. Gentleman must know these things; it is his business to know these things; he speaks for his party on foreign affairs; he has no right to speak if he does not know these things. He tells the House that this was a Resolution of the League branding certain foreign nations as aggressors, and he says that it was carried by the League. It is not so. [Interruption.] If he cares to look in the OFFICIAL REPORT, he will see how near he came to saying that.
§ MR. Noel-Baker
With great respect, I said that only two nations voted against it, and those were minor nations.
§ Mr. Elliot
What he said before was that the League had passed a Resolution on aggression. [Interruption.] I am now coming to his particular point. He says that two minor nations had voted against it. He is a protector of small nations when they are on his side, but they are minor nations when they vote against him. It was his duty to tell the House, not merely the voting, but the abstentions. It was not merely the Empire, it was not merely small countries like the Irish Free State, it was not merely the Union of South Africa, but State after State who at any rate ought to know as much about it as the hon. Member for Derby.
Let me give the list. Those who voted against were Albania and Portugal— minor nations, slaves of the dictators, says the hon. Member. Let me come to the other nations. The following countries abstained, and abstained, as is stated in the report, for the reason that they feared 404 that even to mention that we were about to consider a modification of the policy of non-intervention was going too far: the Union of South Africa, the Argentine Republic, Austria, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Chile, Cuba, Hungary, the Irish Free State, Panama, Peru, Switzerland, Uruguay, Venezuela. Is that the sort of list which one can neglect when one comes to discuss questions such as this? I say to the hon. Member, as my Noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs said, that on this question the League is split from top to bottom, and no unanimous resolution can be got through the League. We used our utmost endeavours, we used every power of persuasion that we had, every power of drafting that we had, to frame a resolution and to pass it, and at the end two nations voted against it and 14 abstained. I am sure that even the hon. Member for Derby himself would not have acted on that if he had had, as we had, the terrible and responsible task of speaking at the Assembly of the League of Nations, giving a lead to the British people here, and as far as we were able, the British Empire.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Mr. James Stuart.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.