§ [FOURTH 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.
§ 11.12 a.m.
§ Mr. Herbert Morrison
I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add the words:But regret that Your Majesty's advisers by their weak and vacillating policy in Foreign Affairs, which has gravely imperilled the prospects of lasting peace and national security, betrayed the principles of the League of Nations and seriously diminished British influence, and by their lack of any constructive and fundamental proposals for raising the standard of life of the people or for establishing economic prosperity upon a just and enduring basis, have forfeited the confidence of this House.This Amendment has perhaps for its keynote the word "security"—Britain's security through international peace, together with the security of other countries and the people's security at home through the nation's mastery of its economic resources—and I claim that there can be no greater thing for which we can use our energies than the promotion of the security of nations, including our own, and the economic and social security of the people of our own land. I want, first, to consider Britain's international security in the world, which in the last resort will be bound up with the security of other nations. There are two policies which can be pursued in foreign affairs. One is that our country should pursue a policy of isolation, or a policy, which I think we are now pursuing, of semi-isolation, from other countries in the world, coupled with a policy of national competitive rearmament, and I think that 426 that policy must, at any rate in time, lead to war between nations. It is not the policy that leads to the security of our own country, and I think that I can claim for my friends that we are perhaps more concerned even than the party opposite about the security of our own country. Certainly we have no less consideration for the security of our own country than any other party in the State, and in our belief the policy of isolation from other countries, or semi-isolation, which is now being pursued by His Majesty's Government is a policy which is dangerous, perhaps, particularly for the security of the British Commonwealth of Nations itself.
Even in the promotion of the policy of competitive national rearmament the principles of capitalist profiteering through private enterprise dominate the Government's activity. I do not believe that even within their own policy their work of rearmament is being efficiently conducted. They are putting private interests too much in the foreground, with the result that the work is not being efficiently done. They are relying far too much on the technicians of private undertakings. They may be first-class men, but they are controlled by private undertakings and not enough in a collective organisation by the State. There ought to be, if not the nationalisation of armament undertakings, the nationalisation of certain parts of armament manufacture, including machine tools which are now being imported in large quantities. Therefore, even in rearmament, where they are fettered by their consideration of private interests, the Government are not carrying it through with efficiency with a whole regard to the public interest.
With regard to air raid precautions, let the House face the fact, which I know, and which Ministers know, that the Government have had under consideration ever since they came into office in 1931. I know that because the beginnings took place in the last months of the previous administration. We are now between six and seven years from the time when the consideration of air raid precautions began, and even now the Government are not ready, and are in a state of some indecision. I am not blaming the present Secretary of State for the Home Department. There is this to be said for him, that directly he came into office he 427 actively pursued the question. I do, however, blame his predecessor, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, who simply did not do his job on this matter, and did not face the financial issues of it with the local authorities, but played about with it and let it drift, with the result that years have been lost.
I do not wish to go into the negotiations with the local authorities. I am a party to them, and the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary is a party on behalf of the Government. The local authorities are claiming that as air raid precautions are related to national defence, although not part of it, the State should meet the whole cost. I think that that is a fair, logical and legitimate claim. I hope that quickly, it may be this afternoon, if the Government are able to make concessions, we shall be able to reach a settlement so far as England and Wales are concerned. It will not be my fault if that settlement is not reached, and I know that the Home Secretary is anxious to reach a settlement. It is really a serious thing, in view of the importance which the Government attach to air raid precautions, although it is known that they had this matter under consideration directly they took office in 1931, that owing to the dilly-dallying of previous Home Secretaries we are only reaching now the final stages of negotiation as regards the finance of this operation.
Let us look at the problem of security in relation to the geographical position and the interests of the British Commonwealth of nations. If our country pursues a foreign policy of isolation or semi-isolation, coupled with competitive national rearmament, it is running the risk of drifting into a first-class war against a first-class Power without enough assistance from other great Powers and smaller Powers. That is the consequence of the Government turning their backs on the policy of collective security and on the strengthening of the League of Nations. I do not wish to say that the Government are wholly responsible—heaven knows, other Governments have made their contributions, including the Governments of the Fascist powers and the former Government in France—but I do say that, with all the influence that Britain used to have in the world when Mr. Arthur Henderson was Foreign Secretary, which might have been con- 428 tinued by the present Government if they had liked, and when we know it is a fact that if Britain cares to exert herself as the moral leader of the world, the world would welcome British leadership and is anxious for it, it is a tragedy that we are drifting into a position of isolation or of semi-isolation.
I beg hon. Members opposite to recognise the meaning of that policy if this country were faced single-handed with a first-class war with a first-class Power or two first-class Powers. I ask hon. Members to remember the map of the world and the geographical situation of the Commonwealth of Nations under the British flag, and to appreciate that in those circumstances British security and the integrity of the Commonwealth would be gravely endangered, not as the result of the policy of this Opposition, but of the policy of the Government themselves. Looking at this matter both from the point of view of the international organisation of peace, which is a job of work and not merely a thing to be hoped for, an organisation of peace in which our own interests are vitally bound up; and even looking at it, as hon. Members usually do, from the narrower point of view of the security of the British Commonwealth, I suggest that the sound policy for our country, in the interests of our country itself as well as in the interests of the peace of the world, is the policy of the collective organisation of peace, the mobilisation of as many States as possible on the side of peace, and the strengthening and stimulating of the moral authority of the League of Nations in the world.
That is contrary to what this Administration is doing. That federation of peaceful States within the League of Nations would have to visualise a series of forms of co-operation. I do not set aside the fact that military, naval and aerial co-operation would be one of the factors. There would be the appropriate pooling of resources, the exchange of legitimate information, the making of plans, and, if it were found on examination of the potential military situation that Great Britain had then to face greater expenditure of armaments, not for war or preparing for war, but for the organisation of peace, this Opposition would not shrink from its responsibility and from sharing responsibility for the provision 429 of necessary armaments for collective security. What we are apprehensive about is the provision of armaments on a merely competitive basis for preparations for war. We want armaments to be the instrument of peace, and not of war. That is the fundamental dispute which exists between us and His Majesty's Government. International military cooperation should include an international air force, for it is wrong that national air forces should exist, as they are, perhaps, the greatest single threat to the security of the peoples and the peace of the world.
Co-operation ought not to stop there. There should be, there must be, political, social and economic co-operation as well, for we must show that there are economic and social advantages to be secured from joining the body of peaceful States within the League of Nations itself. I myself would say to the Fascist States, "We do not wish to exclude you from any combination of peaceful Powers"—provided they are peaceful, provided they mean peace. I regard it as a humiliation that we should be repeatedly and openly led up the garden, as this Government has been by Fascist States—throughout the whole of the Spanish business, for example. We should say to the German people and their Government, and to the Italian people and their Government, "This combination is no exclusive alliance against anybody in the world." The doors are wide open for everybody to come in, and they can enjoy not only military security by combination against the aggression of anybody, but Germany, Italy, Japan and the rest of them can equally enjoy the economic and the social advantages of this combination for peace. Let us throw open widely the question of raw materials, the question, if you will, of colonial territories, provided those colonial territories are not used for national exploitation but perform a service to their backward peoples and the economic wellbeing of the world.
It is not enough that this policy should be conveyed merely by diplomatic notes through official channels, though that must be done, and done carefully, but I would like to see Ministers making speeches in the Roosevelt spirit, calling the world to a great crusade for peace, calling it to economic and social cooperation, hoping that those speeches on 430 a high note would filter through to the peoples of the Fascist States themselves, despite all hindrances. And why is it that Britain is almost the only country in the world which does not disseminate broadcast news in foreign languages? I am sure the responsibility is upon the Government and not upon the British Broadcasting Corporation. I do not want propaganda from Broadcasting House. This business of State propaganda through broadcasting is atrocious and is wrong. We are the victims of it in Palestine. We have our quarrels with it now and again, but, on the whole, B.B.C. news is straight and impartial. Why should not that straight and impartial news be given in German, Italian and French as well as in English? That is not propaganda. That is merely giving the other nations of the world a chance to know what is happening in our country, and the refusal to do it, for which the Postmaster-General is responsible, in my belief, and not the British Broadcasting Corporation, is contrary to the interests of the British Commonwealth. Quite properly we disseminate news to the Empire. Why should we not disseminate that news in foreign languages in order that other countries should know?
The Amendment which I am moving says of foreign affairs that this House regretsthat Your Majesty's advisers, by their weak and vacillating policy in foreign affairs, which has gravely imperilled the prospects of lasting peace and national security, betrayed the principles of the League of Nations and seriously diminished British influence.That is our criticism of the foreign policy of His Majesty's Government; that is, if it is a policy. I ask myself, and my hon. Friends ask themselves, "What is the Government's foreign policy?" and the answer is—I am not trying to score a debating point—the absolutely honest answer is that we do not know. What is worse, the world does not know, and it is bad that the world should not know. What is still worse is that I believe the Government do not know. The effect of this on British public opinion is to make it worried, nervous, even "nervy" sometimes, and anxious. The effect on world public opinion is to make other countries feel that they cannot place any reliance upon British policy, simply because they do not know where we are going, and I say that in foreign policy the Govern- 431 ment does not know where it is coming from or where it is going, or where it is.
In matters of foreign policy as of domestic policy at home, the Government are living from hand to mouth, hoping that something will turn up, and the result is that, to the danger of the peace of the world, we have handed over the whole initiative in foreign policy to the most irresponsible elements in the world, the leaders of the Fascist States themselves. All we get from Ministers are phrases. The other night the Prime Minister—my hon. Friends and I regret his enforced absence—said that my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) was using phrases. Really that is a criticism which can be more legitimately hurled at the Government themselves. They never talk on foreign policy except in phrases. They say, "We wish to promote the peace of the world." They say at times that their policy is based on the League of Nations, but they have begun to leave off saying even that. Any reference to it has notably fallen out of the King's Speech which we are now discussing, so that the League of Nations has nearly gone even from their propaganda and official speeches. But I join with the Prime Minister in saying, "What is the good of talking about promoting the peace of the world?" What is the good of abstract phrases? The question is how to do it. What are our armaments for? That is what we want to know. I ask, where is the action for the implementing of peace? What is the action?
Let us face the fact that the implementation of peace will not come merely by saying, "We seek to promote the peace of the world." My complaint about many people who hold pacifist views is that they think that peace will come by mere persuasion, a view which I do not under-estimate, because those pacifists are rendering valuable aid, but peace is not coming by mere phrases, by mere desires and by mere hopes. When arc we going to realise that peace is a thing of action, a thing of organisation, a thing of work, a thing that requires the doing of things, just as much as preparation for war? Peace needs its general staff just as much as war needs its general staff, and I wish that I could see a peace general staff on the Treasury Bench. I do not even see the beginnings of a peace general staff. Think of the China situation in 1932. 432 The Chancellor of the Exchequer, when Foreign Secretary, played the game of the aggressor—there is no doubt about it—and knew what he was doing, and the aggressor thanked him for his services. He said that he wanted to get out of the immediate difficulty and to keep this country out of complications, but the inevitable result was that we have got into complications and now British trading interests are gravely imperilled in the present Chinese conflict. In the case of Abyssinia we started inefficiently, slowly, incompletely on the line of sanctions, and then the present Home Secretary ran away.
What has been the result? Greater peace for the world? Greater security for the world? Not a bit. Signor Mussolini has become worse than ever and Herr Hitler has followed in his wake. The result is greater insecurity. In Spain we have had a non-intervention that has been nothing short of a cloak for intervention. Our Government, with other Governments, have imposed—efficiently imposed—sanctions against armaments and volunteers to aid the lawful constitutional Government of Spain. The Home Secretary once referred to the civil war as a mere fight between two rival groups. That is a betrayal of liberty, but it is something more; it is a betrayal of British interests themselves. If we do not know it, the Germans and the Italians know it. Let me bother the House with one or two quotations. Before the civil war broke out, two Germans, Hans Hummel and Wulf Siewert wrote in a military study, "Der Mittelmeeraum":The Spanish Balearic Islands lie athwart the sea route Marseilles-Algiers, almost in the middle. and this fact gives them an immense strategic importance. From the Balearic Islands it would he possible to interrupt French sea communications at any moment. In view of this fact, the attitude of Spain is of decisive importance in any Mediterranean conflict.Our semi-isolation associates us with France, and therefore, what matters to France matters to us. Indeed, communications in the Mediterranean matter to us anyway. The "Deutsche Wehr," which is the organ of the German Reichswehr, declared on 10th September, 1936:There is no doubt that a victory for the military (Franco's forces) would greatly damage French interests;and therefore they would damage British interests. In a message which presumably reflects Italian official opinion and which passed the Italian censor, the 433 Rome correspondent of the "Leipziger Neueste Nachrichten" of 18th September, 1936, reported:Italian intervention in Spain as a whole may perhaps be explained in terms of pure pro-Fascist or anti-Communist partisanship, but in the Balearic Islands intervention has gone much further than mere support for General Franco. The Italians have not only expelled the loyalists from the Islands, they are in occupation. Indeed, more than this, they are controlling and reorganising the whole political and commercial life of Majorca in a manner which suggests permanence.Well, His Majesty's Government do not mind; but in face of these happenings we say: surely British security and British trade in the Far East are being imperilled, as British security in the near East, with all the repercussions on Egypt, Palestine and the Western Mediterranean, were imperilled by the Abyssinian adventure of Signor Mussolini; the Spanish situation is imperilling British and French security in the Western Mediterranean.
How can we explain why a Conservative Government is not only pursuing a foreign policy which, in point after point, is endangering the future peace of the world and making it less secure, but is pursuing a policy which is apparently deliberately setting aside the strategic and economic interests of the British Commonwealth of Nations itself? I ask myself why, and, after thinking about it, I can get only one explanation. It is that this is a Conservative Government unlike, in this respect, the Governments of Disraeli. His Majesty's Government put their class outlook and class consciousness not only before the peace of the world, but before the security of the British Commonwealth of Nations. They see Japan with its military clique and they see Signor Mussolini and Herr Hitler. I do not say that they are in love with those people, or that they are deilberately plotting that Europe may go Fascist, but I say that they say to themselves broadly: "We have to choose between Fascist anti-Socialist governments and the risk of governments of the Left." If Mussolini came down over Abyssinia, who would take his place? That is what is worrying the Government. A government of the Left might take his place. If Herr Hitler came down, the same thing might happen, and if Franco lost, there might be a government of the Left in Spain.
Governments of the Left do not suit the class interests and the class outlook of 434 the Conservative party. Honestly, I believe that you cannot understand the foreign policy of this Government unless you give it that class interpretation, which is the only intelligible explanation of the amazing policy which the Government have pursued. It is notably the case with the present Prime Minister. He is a very different Prime Minister from the late Prime Minister, but I am not complaining. He will suit us much better than the last one. We shall defeat you with your Prime Minister before we have done with you. If ever there was a man who possessed a crude, mercantile class conscious outlook, this present Prime Minister is that man.—[Laughter.] It is nearly always the case that the Labour party perceives the facts 10 years before the Conservative party does so.
Let me give more evidence of this class outlook upon foreign affairs. The Government are the virtuous exponents of nonintervention which is not non-intervention and is not meant to be non-intervention, but they were the interventionists against the Bolshevist revolution of Russia with far less justification because that was a case not of the Bolshevists overthrowing a constitutionally elected government, but a provisional government, the result of a revolution. I am not saying which is the best one. May be I am not in love with either of them, but that does not matter. You did not get the case for being sympathetic with the Government, that you have in Spain at the present time. The Government intervened; why? Because the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) is another class conscious specimen of the Conservative party. But economic and financial sanctions against Japan?—No. Against Italy in Abyssinia?—No, even though the whole future peace of the world and the security of the British Commonwealth be involved; but let two British engineers be on trial in Moscow, and watch His Majesty's Government. Watch their speed. I am not saying whether they were right or wrong and am not arguing that point, but watch His Majesty's Government act with speed. Watch them impose an economic blockade against Russia forthwith. I am not arguing whether they were right or wrong, but I am saying that they did so because they are a capitalist Government. Democracy in Spain, the rights of a backward people in Ethiopia and the peace 435 of the world?—Not on your life, because no class considerations are involved. So we say that the Government are a menace to the peace of the world and to the security of the British Commonwealth itself.
Foreign policy is not unrelated to domestic policy. I quote the Prime Minister who, as I said, will be useful. He made it abundantly clear in a speech at Scarborough on 8th October, reported in the "Times" of next day, that we have to suffer socially and economically in our own country because of the troubled state of the world and, with that delightful, crude clarity which is going to be so valuable to us as the months pass, and which is such an improvement on Mr. Baldwin—Mr. Baldwin was really a difficult proposition to handle, but I have great hopes of this new Prime Minister—he said:It would be a mere hiding of our heads in the sand to imagine, when we have committed ourselves to the vast programme of expenditure on armaments that has been forced upon us, we are going at the same time to have just as much to spend on other things, and that we live in a peaceful world free from all anxiety and care about the intentions and ambitions of other countries. We may, and we do, deplore the stupidity, the futility, of spending our money on weapons of destruction instead of things that would make us all happier and life more worth living; but 'needs must when the devil drives,' and the sight of what is going on in China to-day brings home to us that our safety from such horrors is more precious to us than anything else.He went on to say—and this is where the domestic angle comes in—
Safety cannot be attained without sacrifice, and I say to you that I cannot see any prospect of our being able in the near future to introduce reforms which would add substantially to the present enormous annual expenditure of the country.I agree that, if competitive national rearmament is the right policy, if sacrifice of the League of Nations and collective security is the right policy, if you must concentrate on piling up expenditure on preparations for war, the social services have got to go hang; but the victims of your downward policy on social affairs are entitled to turn round on you and say, "We are the victims, not only of your economic outlook, we are the direct victims of your foreign policy and your refusal to promote the security of the world." The result is that in this King's Speech we have a programme of sheer 436 odds and ends. It really is a pitiful list of fourth and fifth-class Bills, throwing little crumbs to the people in the hope that you will keep them quiet. Behind it all there is no economic plan. It is just like your foreign policy; there is no fundamental purpose, there is no comprehensive outlook, there is no vision of a new order based on the fact that here is a country rich in its natural resources, rich in the industrial skill and scientific knowledge of its people.
What is the real problem? The real problem and responsibility of this Parliament ought to be: How can we organise the material resources of our country in order to promote the domestic, economic and social security of the British people? It can be done, and it ought to be done, but there is no plan here. It is merely living from hand to mouth. These little twopenny-halfpenny instalments of social reform are not there because the Tory party believes in them; they are not there because the Government want to do them; they are there for electoral reasons, and because they believe that only so can they retain the dwindling support that they have in the country. They have seen their forces dwindling at North Islington and they will see more of it next Monday. They deserve to go down, and we are going to push them down as soon as ever we can manage the job. They have no purpose, no social plans.
Let us look at some of the elementary facts about which these hon. Gentlemen are so contented. There are 1,300,000 unemployed, and their dependants are suffering with them. There are the depressed areas, in themselves a monument of condemnation of the Conservative party and of the whole social system for which it stands. There are masses of working men, women and children in a state of utter economic hopelessness. I have been through these depressed areas, the valleys, the roads and the villages, and have seen the depression—closed factories, economic dislocation, and local government difficulties. It is really a disgrace to us that, in the present age of plenty, this should be so. In the upper classes there are rich idle people who are living in security without working, and there is poverty and insecurity for the workers and middle classes in the mass. Very few of the working and middle 437 classes can feel that they are economically and socially secure. There is the absurdity of poverty, not only in the midst of plenty, but, greatest economic absurdity and insult to the intelligence of man, poverty actually because of plenty.
Think of the agricultural labourer, who, at any rate in a time of depression, if not now, and I think even now, is underfed, and his family are undernourished. I ask why? If the answer is that you cannot grow enough food, it is a fair deal; we must share the shortage among us all. But it is not because of that. Those gentlemen of England—and they are gentlemen of England—and their families, are underfed and undernourished, not because there is not enough food. It is the truth also in America, in Germany and in other countries. They are not underfed because there is not enough food; they are underfed precisely because there is too much food in the world. In times of depression, the bootmaker is short of footwear because there are too many boots and shoes, and the tailor is in rags because there are too many clothes. I read a story in the "Star" about two years ago, headed: "The Black Sea has gone Orange." A million oranges had been dropped into the Black Sea because, if they had been landed and put into the market, the price of oranges would have fallen and profits would have disappeared. The Minister of Labour smiles. He thinks it is a good thing that a million oranges should be dropped into the sea instead of people eating them. It is typical of his new Conservative outlook. It is no wonder that he must be careful what he does for the unemployed. Let oranges be turned into the sea; let food be wasted; that is the policy of a so-called Liberal Minister of Labour. It did not suit capitalism to market those oranges, but I know that a lot of children in the East End of London and other places would have been glad to eat them. It is one of the finest sights in the world to see an East London kiddie with a dirty face buried in half an orange. Why should oranges be denied to these children simply because Capitalism chooses to waste them? Poverty in this age of plenty is not natural; it is unnatural; it is contrary to common-sense.
What ought the Government to do? They ought to be planning out the 438 economic and natural resources of the country on a public basis. They are not doing that. They will mess about with the electricity industry this Session, patching it up, making amalgamations, probably handing over municipal undertakings to private companies. They cannot do the job properly because the Conservative party is under the control of the vested interests who live upon the country. We ought to be planning our material resources. Therefore, the explanation of the Government's economic failure at home is precisely the same as the explanation of their muddled foreign policy—that their national duty is obstructed by the class interests of the Conservative party and its class outlook. So we have insecurity abroad and at home because the Conservative party in the Government is putting the interests of the rich classes of the community before the interests of the nation and before the interests of the world.
Britain ought to be the master instead of the victim of its economic resources. We are really the victims of science and invention at the present time. We are insecure precisely because there are all the elements of security at our hand. For our own self-respect, for our own dignity, this King's Speech ought to have a whole series of Bills socialising industry, putting it under public ownership, seeing that it was managed efficiently for public ends; and that process ought to go on until our country is the master of its own material resources. We know it can be done. The Post Office is a successful piece of State enterprise, praised by the Postmaster-General, quite rightly. The British Broadcasting Corporation has no shareholders and no capital, and it is an eminently successful publicly-managed industry. Two-thirds of the electricity undertakings are also under public control. And that is happening under the capitalist system which makes some imperfections inevitable. Let us go forward on a policy of public ownership, so that the nation may become the master of its material resources, and we can produce boots, shoes, food and clothing and other necessities of life, deliberately knowing what we are doing and utilising all the inventions that may come along. That greater. Britain in which we are planning all the material assets of the nation will be a Britain of which we may be proud. 439 Who would not like to stand up in the face of the world and say that in our country insecurity has gone, poverty and slumdom have gone, richness and idleness have gone? We can do it.
That is what Parliament ought to be doing. But we are not going to do it as long as this Government is in office. I want every citizen to be an economic citizen, as well as a political citizen, in his own country. I want them to cease to be economic lodgers in their own country. I believe the task of making this new, better and finer Britain is the greatest task to which we can lend our hands. It is the greatest and most inspiring effort in the history of mankind, and it is an effort to which we on this side shall lend our hands. Peace abroad, and security abroad and at home—that is the true work of government. It is the true work of Parliament. But it is not what this Government or this Parliament is doing. It will not be, I fear, what this Government and Parliament are doing. Therefore, we shall make our speeches in this House and express our views in this House. Our task is to carry this flag of enlightenment and vision among our fellow-citizens until they have returned a Parliament which, at long last, will be a Parliament which exists to serve the well-being of our country and the peace of the world.
§ 12 noon.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Samuel Hoare)
The House has listened to a very impressive speech. I do not think any hon. Member can object to the tone in which the right hon. Gentleman has expressed his arguments, or disagree with the lofty arguments with which he ended his observations. We, like him, feel just as deeply about the greater issues raised towards the end of his speech. We are just as anxious to establish peace abroad and security at home. Where we differ, and I hope I shall make the contrast as clear as I can, is on the course which we would adopt to achieve those ends. The right hon. Gentleman divided his speech into two parts. In the first part, he dealt at length with foreign affairs; in the second, he elaborated many questions concerned with domestic policy. I will say at the outset of my remarks that, as an ex-Foreign Secretary, I am not going into any detail as to the first part of his 440 speech. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is going to deal with foreign affairs on Monday, and he will deal with them very effectively, and the House can rest assured that he will have a complete answer to every charge that has been made to-day by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. It is much better that he should deal with them at length, but, lest the fact that I am saving little or nothing about them to-day should make it appear that I accept any of the criticisms made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, I here and now repudiate as strongly as I can the charge made against us that we are not ensuing peace as actively as any hon. or right hon. Gentleman opposite, and that we have not the issues of peace as much at heart as hon. Members on that side.
So far from introducing what the right hon. Gentleman termed a class ideology into politics, we are anxious to reconcile the divergent elements in the world, and to avoid what we believe would be the inevitable result of the policy of hon. and right hon. Members opposite, namely, the division of the world into two ideologically hostile parts. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the crude mercantile class outlook of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in all these matters. I do not think the House will consider it necessary for me to make any answer to that charge. Look at the Prime Minister's record. Has anyone got a finer record of humane administration in local affairs and public affairs? His long record in the Ministry of Health and in the Corporation of Birmingham shows how groundless such criticisms are.
The right hon. Gentleman made another observation—I did not quite understand the import of it, but it seemed to imply that we showed an undue interest in the affairs of two British citizens in Russia, who were wrongly accused and whose trials were a travesty of justice. I am surprised that he should say anything to give the impression that we are not prepared to do anything to defend the interests of British citizens in the world whatever their class or avocation.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
The right hon. Gentleman will remember that I expressed no view about the merits, and he can take it from me that there is no division between us on the point that a Labour Government lust as much as a 441 Conservative Government would take any proper steps to protect the legitimate interests of British citizens abroad.
§ Sir S. Hoare
I would refer the right hon. Gentleman to what he has said. It was worth while my referring to his former observations if only to have from him an admission, which, I am sure, we all welcome.
With these few observations, I pass from the field of foreign affairs for the reason, as I stated, that the Foreign Secretary is to deal with that subject on Monday, and I will now deal with domestic policy. I say to the right hon. Gentleman and to hon. Members opposite, that our answer to his charges is not an answer of words, arguments and theories. It is an answer of hard and, what we believe to be undeniable facts.
At the outset of this Debate, which is to run over two days and is to cover a very wide field, I am here to state a certain series of facts to which I invite the attention of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I ask them to refute them, if they can, and if they cannot refute them, they are a complete answer to almost every one of the charges which the right hon. Gentleman made this afternoon. I will not repeat certain of the facts that have already been given by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health in the field of health and housing. They are, however, very relevant to the Amendment that has just been moved by the right hon. Gentleman. We heard two days ago of this fine record in improvements in health and housing that materially have led to a higher standard of life in the country in recent years. They stand on record, and I ask hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to deal with them in the course of the Debate. I pass, however, from these facts connected with health and housing to certain facts connected with trade, industry and employment. Some of them have already been stated at the beginning of this Debate, but I will re-state them in a few sentences. They are the basis of our answer to the criticisms that we have just heard.
In the first six months of this year, industrial production, as a whole, was nearly 50 per cent, greater than in the corresponding period of 1931. In the first nine months the production of pig iron was nearly 120 per cent. more, crude steel 150 per cent. more, while the output 442 of artificial silk and motor vehicles more than doubled. The amount of merchant tonnage under construction in our shipyards at the end of last month was 184 per cent. more than at the same time in 1931, while the amount of British shipping laid up was 97 per cent. less. Retained imports of raw materials in 1936 were 37 per cent. greater in volume, after allowing for price changes, than in 1931. The total volume of exports of United Kingdom goods was 22 per cent. more, the volume of exports of cotton yarns and manufactures was 12 per cent. more, and of woollen and worsted yarns and manufactures 37 per cent more. In the first nine months of this year the bank clearings were 34 per cent. more than in the corresponding period of 1931, and retail sales were also much greater in value. The number of insured persons, excluding agricultural workers, in employment rose from about 9,250,000 in September, 1931, to about 11,500,000 last month. These are the facts, and I challenge hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to refute them. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the number of unemployed?"] And unemployment, I forget by how many hundred thousands, is less to-day than it was 12 months ago. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is 1,300,000."] I ask the right hon. Gentleman these questions: Can a similar improvement in the social and economic life in any country be found anywhere else in the world? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!"] Can it be found in Germany or Russia?—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!"]—or in France? If so, let us hear the facts in the course of the Debate. Secondly, I ask the House what would have been the result supposing the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Gentlemen opposite had had a majority and had been able to put into operation what, I understand, is called their immediate plan and to lay their hands upon the control of all the staple industries of the country?
These facts and figures fully justify the economic policy of the Government. They show the wisdom of allowing industry to develop along its normal channels. They show, again, the great value of the tariff policy of the Government. I would ask hon. Members: Is there any example of planning in the world which has had so successful an effect as the tariff policy of the Government under which, on the one hand, we have been able to protect our home market, and, on the other hand, we 443 have been able to make agreements with foreign countries and the Dominions? I claim that these facts are a direct answer to the abstract theories—and I use the expression without offence—to which the right hon. Gentleman opposite gave expression this afternoon, and I ask him and his colleagues to devote themselves to a refutation of these facts during the course of these Debates. I am aware—and I have noticed it more than once in the course of the Debates which have already taken place—that hon. Gentlemen opposite, while accepting these facts, yet make counter arguments, first of all, that a great deal of this increased prosperity is due to the rearmament programme of the Government, and, secondly, that it is counter-balanced, or more than counterbalanced, by the rise in the cost of living.
I will say a word or two upon both these subjects, and I will begin with rearmament. Here, again, I invite the attention of Members on the opposite side of the House to the facts as we see them. First of all, how far is it true to say that these signs of improved living conditions are mainly the result of our rearmament programmes? I do not believe that an analysis of the figures would show that that is the case. After all, the improvement in conditions began before we embarked upon the rearmament programme, but, perhaps more important than that, if you look at the actual figures of our trade and industry, you will find that great as is the extent of the rearmament programme, it is yet a comparatively small percentage of the whole volume of our national trade and industry. I remember very well, when I was first Lord of the Admiralty, analysing the figures of shipbuilding. I found that, great as is the Naval programme—we are building about 120 ships of war at the present time we are building 280 commercial ships, some of them of very great size; and so far as tonnage is concerned it is fair to say that, so far as we can make a comparison between the two, the actual tonnage of merchant shipping under construction is three times as great as the tonnage of ships of war. A similar result will be found if we make an analysis of the consumption of steel. It might have been thought at first sight that with a commodity like steel, one of the essentials of a rearmament programme, by far the greater proportion of 444 steel would be used in the rearmament programme. My investigations at the Admiralty went to show that that was not the case. Lastly, if you take the whole volume of our factory output, running into something between £2,000,000,000 and £3,000,000,000 a year, you will find it immensely greater than the much smaller sum of the £100,000,000 or £200,000,000 that we may be spending on rearmament.
§ Mr. David Grenfell
Is it not a fact that the 450,000 tons of Naval tonnage costs much more to build and involves much more labour than three times the amount of commercial tonnage?
§ Sir S. Hoare
I could not give the figures off-hand, but I am sure that my contention is right. A great body of labour and a great part of the shipyards are now engaged in merchant ship construction.
I must say a few words about the other argument, the argument of the cost of living. Here, again, at the beginning of this Debate it would be useful for the House to have our views on this very important question and to be in a position to test them and refute them, if it is possible to refute them. I have here two appreciations of the cost of living. The first is what we believe to be the case, and I will give it to the House so that it will be on record. Since 1933, when the lowest point was reached, there has been a marked recovery both of rates of wages and in the cost of living. At the beginning of October, 1937, the average level of full-time rates of wages was about 3 per cent. higher than in October, 1929. As the cost-of-living index, notwithstanding its recent sharp upward movement, was still about 4 per cent. lower on 1st October, 1937, than in October, 1929, the average level of real wages for workpeople in full employment is about 7 per cent. higher on the average than in October, 1929. The percentage of unemployed among insured persons, ages 16 to 64, in Great Britain, in September, 1937, was only fractionally higher than in September, 1929, while the present rates of unemployment benefit are 26s. a week for man and wife and 32s. for a man, wife and two children, as compared with 24s. and 28s. respectively in October, 1929. It is evident therefore, that the present position of the workers generally shows a substantial improvement as compared with the period 445 preceding the depression of 1930 to 1933. There is the Government view and the comparison. Let me give another figure.
§ Sir S. Hoare
From my own notes, founded upon information given me by the appropriate offices. I can give the right hon. Gentleman another appreciation. Perhaps it may carry with him more conviction. It is a figure of the National Council of Labour, representing, I understand, the Trades Union Congress General Council and the Labour Party. The latest figures published in the monthly journal "Labour," relating to September, 1937, show a reduction of 3 per cent. in "real" wages, for workpeople in full employment, as compared with September, 1933, but an increase of 9½ per cent. over the average level of the years 1925 to 1929. An alternative calculation shows the corresponding changes "including the effect of unemployment." Figures in this series, for September, 1937, show an increase of over 8 per cent. as compared with September, 1933, and of II per cent. as compared with the average of 1925 to 1929.
There are two appreciations of the position. I have given the House figures that we believe to be correct and the figures quoted by the National Council of Labour. Here, again, I invite the attention of hon. and right hon. Members opposite to them. I claim that until. I am given cause for taking a contrary view, these figures show that there has been no substantial rise in the cost of living even in recent months, and that compared with the period before the depression they show that the conditions of the wage-earners are substantially better than they were then.
§ Mr. James Griffiths
If what the right hon. Gentleman says is true, that there is no substantial increase in the cost of living, why did the Minister of Labour instruct the Unemployment Assistance Board to take note of any increase in the cost of living.
§ Sir S. Hoare
This or any other Government must follow these figures with great care. It is only elementary prudence if my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour or any other Member of the Government should keep in touch with 446 new developments. I am stating, and I challenge anyone to contradict my statement, that the figures up to the present do not justify the charges that have been made against the Government, or the criticism that we have heard in the course of the Debate.
But perhaps the most significant feature of the last 12 months has been not so much the increasing signs of prosperity, but the fact that the Government have been able to carry on simultaneously and without loss to either programme a great double programme of rearmament and social reform. Let me say a word about both sides of the programme and let me begin with rearmament. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that with rearmament, as with almost everything else, we have been making a great muddle of the whole affair. I do not share his view.
I believe and I feel pretty sure that subsequent events will justify my statement, that we have now reached a very interesting stage of our rearmament programme, and that henceforth we are going to see much greater and more satisfactory results than we have been able to see in the last year or 18 months. We are reaching the stage of big production, and if anyone wants evidence of that fact let him go to look at the new shadow factories that are already beginning to produce munitions upon a very large scale.
I have not the time or the desire today to make a complete survey of the activities of the three Services. I think the House would rather wish me to confine myself to that part of the programme with which as Home Secretary I am directly concerned, the very difficult side of air raid precautions. The right hon. Gentleman did not seem to me to realise the very great difficulties of this new side of national defence. I have had some experience of Defence Departments, and I can tell the House that in my own experience I have never found a more baffling problem of defence than the problem of air raid precautions. There is the question on what sort of scale should you make your plans. What should be the exact relations between the central government and the local authorities? What are the risks against which we are trying to protect the country? All these questions are new and very complicated. There is the answer to the right hon. Gen- 447 tleman when he blames us for delay in producing our schemes, and when he criticises my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer for not having settled sooner the outstanding issues between the Government and the local authorities.
It would be a great mistake to dash into these questions without very careful consideration. It would not have been possible to have started negotiations on the financial side of the problem until we had made considerable advance with our military preparations. Be that as it may, I am glad to say that this period of waiting has now come to an end, and that in the next week or two I shall be in a position to introduce a Bill for allocating the duties connected with air raid precautions and for making clear to the House the financial relations between the centre and the local authorities and generally co-ordinating the various activities that have to be mobilised in this new field of defence. We shall find that if we concentrate upon this problem and really work in co-operation, the Government on the one hand and the local authorities on the other, we shall be able to build up a system that will very materially assist our general system of defence against air attack.
I believe that the experiences of recent times are tending to show that, while you can never guarantee to stop a raid, while it may be that a certain number of aeroplanes may get through your lines of defence, you can so organise your air defence as to make it very dangerous for the attacking force. You can also, with the combination of a strong air force, effective anti-aircraft guns, anti-aircraft defence and a well-organised system of passive defence upon the ground, ensure two great objectives. You can prevent panics taking place in our great centres of population, and you can also ensure that the essential services upon which a highly developed civilisation depends shall continue to be operated and not brought to an end. It is with these all-important objectives in mind that I shall be introducing a Bill in the course of the next few weeks. And let me say, in concluding this part of my speech, that I very much hope that we shall be able to come to an agreement between the local authorities and the central Government that, on the one hand, will ensure the necessary share that the Government must take in the 448 activities that to a great extent are activities of defence and on the other hand, will maintain the interest of the local authorities upon whom must depend the administration, to a great extent, of these local schemes.
I said just now that we were engaged on this double programme of military security and of social progress. I will take, if I may do so without undue conceit, the activities of my own office as an illustration of this double line of progress that we are attempting to maintain. On the one hand, I am introducing a Measure intimately connected with our system of national defence, and on the other hand I hope in the course of the Session to be able to introduce Measures, not the twopenny halfpenny Measures to which the right hon. Gentleman so contemptuously referred, but Measures that, I believe, will be of real value in the daily life of the community. To one of them in particular I should like to make reference this morning, namely, the proposals that I shall hope in due course to bring before the House connected with penal reform. The hon. and learned Member opposite laughs contemptuously when I even mention a Measure of that kind.
§ Sir S. Hoare
I was not referring to the hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Benjamin Smith). The right hon. Member opposite was contemptuous in his condemnation of what he described as these twopenny halfpenny affairs of a particular kind which do not count. I do not take that view. I feel that the time is overdue for dealing with questions of this kind. In a great progressive community like ours we have to keep in mind the needs of the misfits in our civilisation. We have from time to time to consider the results of experience, and to readjust our system to modern conditions and to the great body of new information that has been accumulated on this subject in the last 10 or 20 years. I hope that in due course and at no very distant date I shall be able to introduce proposals that will cover the whole field of this very interesting province of social work, and will cover in particular the field dealing with young delinquents—the young man and young woman whom we want to keep out of 449 prison, and whom, if they do get into prison, we want so to train that they will not come back to prison but will lead a useful life in the community when they return to it.
I quote this example as a good illustration of the double programme of the Government, and I suggest also that it is a good illustration of the new conception which has grown up in recent years of the activities of the Home Office. In the old days the Home Office used to be essentially the Department of law and order. I remember Mr. Asquith, himself a great Home Secretary, described the duty of the Home Secretary as that of preventing a second-class incident growing into a first-class crisis. The duties were essentially connected with the maintenance of law and order—still very important duties—but in recent years there has been a great development in the social work of the Department. In the last Session I had the opportunity of passing through its later stages the great Factories Act, prepared by my predecessor, and in the course of this Session I hope to show that not only are we pressing on with the Defence duties of the Home Office, but also with its social work. I have now dealt as far as I can with facts and figures—
§ Sir S. Hoare
In the course of one speech I cannot cover every side of our national life, but I am confident that the hon. Member and other hon. Members will raise questions of that kind and that they will be dealt with. I have tried to answer the right hon. Member's charges, to deal with his abstract ideas with a series of facts and figures. They are achievements which cannot be denied, and facts which I claim cannot be refuted, and I end with the confident claim that no other system in the world would have produced better results, that these facts and figures not only redound to the credit of the National Government, but show, what is even more important, that our Parliamentary institutions are still capable of standing the strain of modern conditions and producing great programmes of military security on the one hand and social progress on the other. With these observations I ask the House to reject the right hon. Member's Amendment by an overwhelming majority.
§ 12.38 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Acland
The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary has confessed that the whole of his speech has been devoted to a recital of the statistical manifestations in this country of a world-wide rise in prosperity caused by a universal upward movement of that part of the trade cycle in which we are now, aided by the armaments race. He asked hon. Members to produce figures to refute his argument. Hon. Members will have a week-end in which to study the figures, but at the moment I have to depend on my memory. At the same time I will offer some figures in refutation of the right hon. Gentleman's claim, and, as I am quoting from memory, I cannot vouch for their precise accuracy. I was looking the other day at figures for trade totals of imports and exports of various countries. They were figures referring to the first half of 1937 as compared with the first half of 1933, and their general sense was this. Between these dates trade with America had increased by 40 per cent., with Germany by 15 per cent. with other foreign countries by percentages ranging from 20 per cent. to 30 per cent., with Australia by 50 per cent. and with South Africa by 100 per cent. I ask, do these figures prove that the Government's policy has been so remarkably successful as they claim? If hon. Members answer "Yes," I would point out that they relate not to Great Britain but to Czechoslovakia, thereby showing that this is simply part of a world-wide process for which the Government are claiming the credit.
I agree with every word of the Amendment moved by the right hon. Member and with almost every word he said. I thought it was the best speech we had heard from this side in the Debates so far. I was considering the other day in rather an academic way a possible reform of the British Constitution. thought we should have a revisory chamber corresponding to the House of Lords, then a Council of State corresponding to what the House of Commons ought to be, and then I thought it would be advisable to have one other body—to be called the Council for Minor Matters, to relieve the Council of State from the pressure of daily business. Legislation, I thought, would go through the Council of State and the Council for Minor Matters to the revisory chamber and then receive the King's assent. I ask, What is this document, this 451 King's Speech? It is an admirable programme for a Council for Minor Matters and nothing else. If we had a Council for Minor Matters and a Council of State is there one thing in it which any hon. Member would say should be brought before the Council of State and not before the Council for Minor Matters? I can only see two questions which I should want to be discussed there rather than in the Council for Minor Matters—electricity distribution, because that is going to be so reactionary that I should like it dealt with by the chief body in the State, and then the unification of coal royalties under national control, which is equally important.
When we talk about economy, might e not exercise a little economy in language? The word "nationalisation" has a perfectly clear and definite meaning. It is often abused, but when we are going in a Bill to nationalise coal royalties, might it not be as well to call it the Nationalisation of Coal Royalties Bill, or are we governed by a rather terrified set of nursery-maids who do not want their supporters to hear a naughty word? Apart from these two Measures there are three other Measures which might be of importance if they were handled by a Government which would tackle them in a thorough-going way, but which will be of no importance under this Government. There is the Air Raids Precautions Bill. That might be important under some Governments, but I say deliberately, having discussed the matter with a municipal civil servant who is dealing with this question in one of our chief cities, that as far as passive ground defence is concerned, the Government are not even aiming at saving the living during a raid; their objective is to clear up the dead as quickly as possible after a raid. That is about the top mark they are aiming at. I am not speaking of the Air Force or the antiaircraft defence—
§ Mr. Acland
Where are they? At what stage are they in hand? We know, as a result of the war in Spain, that the main effects are caused by explosive bombs, incendiary bombs and machine guns, and less by gas bombs.
Another Measure which might have been important in the hands of some 452 other Government is that dealing with milk distribution. If we were really to tackle the question of the retail distribution of milk, something might come out of such a Measure; but, of course, the inefficiency has now become a vested interest and nothing will be done in this matter either. Lastly, there is the development of overseas trade. The Foreign Secretary has told us time and time again that nothing would contribute more to the peace of the world than the relief of economic tension. Unfortunately, we have to-day a Prime Minister who thinks that Birmingham is more important than the peace of the world. In this case again, absolutely nothing will come from the reference to the development of overseas trade.
Apart from those Measures—one of them reactionary, one important and three which might have been important but will not be—the remainder of the Measures are purely departmental Bills. They are admirable departmental Bills introduced by admirable departmental Ministers, and I hope they will all be passed into law. I am sure that all of them will do a great deal of little good to a great many little people; but if these are the Bills that are to be brought before this House, why do we not hand over the whole process of legislation to the Civil Service and go home? We might just as well do that. In the case of prisoners and potential prisoners, I am well aware that the work of the right hon. Gentleman's Department will make all the difference to a large number of people, and I am glad of that. I am delighted that blind persons are to get their pensions earlier; it is admirable that boys and girls at junior instructional centres are to he given meals.
But what will the mass of the people or the historians of the future say of 1938? Will they say, "1938, the great year when we reorganised the White fish industry; 1938, the great year when we had that struggle about the additional judicial strength for the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division; 1938, the historic year when we made better provisions for preventing abuses of the law relating to clubs"? Is that what the historians will say of 1938? It is not. They will say, "1938, the year when this country and the world were brought right up against some of the most fundamental problems of our time, and the British House of 453 Commons did absolutely nothing about any one of them." If we were a council of State, what are the things that we should be discussing? We should be discussing, perhaps, the discrepancy of incomes between different citizens in this country, a discrepancy which is greater than in any other country in the world. Is there an hon. Member opposite who is even worried about that problem at all?
§ Mr. Acland
I should be very glad to hear a contribution on that subject from the hon. Member. Take the standard of living. Is it, or is it not, admitted in this House and in the country that, from the point of view of mechanical equipment, we now have the means of providing a tolerable standard of living for all people? Is that admitted? If it is not, then let us have a discussion upon it; but if it is, ought not a council of State to be discussing rather seriously how an increase in the standard of living is to be realised? I suggest to hon. Members above the Gangway and hon. Members opposite that if we were a council of State, we should probably get on best if some of us did not run away like rabbits whenever the word "nationalisation" is mentioned and if others did not always assume that nationalisation of absolutely everything must be the right solution to every problem that comes before us. Is not unemployment and the coming slump one of the problems that a council of State would consider? The slump will come sooner or later—it may be sooner rather than later—and there is not an hon. Member who would say that it will never occur. Would not a council of State discuss that? At the instance of hon. Members on these benches, the House will discuss that problem for one day on Tuesday next, and then it will forget it, in order to improve the efficiency of the organisation of the fire brigade services. And we are supposed to be a council of State!
Of course, we on these benches are bound to support an Amendment which condemns the lack of any constructive or fundamental proposals in the King's Speech. I carried out a little bit of personal investigation during the five minutes' walk from my own house to the House of Commons. On my way, I put a question to eight people. In some cases their profession was obvious, and in other 454 cases I guessed it. There were two milk roundsmen, one housewife, one typist, one lorry driver and his mate, one solicitor's clerk, one parson, and my wife. I asked all those people whether they could tell me one thing that was contained in the King's Speech, and not one of them could.
§ Mr. Acland
In the days of Liberal government a King's Speech was read containing Measures for old age pensions, health insurance and unemployment insurance, and within two days of that speech being published, it was the subject of discussion. Here we have a King's Speech, and eight typical citizens do not know a single thing that is contained in it, because it does not concern them in the least. I should have ended my remarks at this point had it not been for some comments, in connection with foreign affairs, made by the hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Mr. Petherick) upon some remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland). In the course of his speech, the hon. Member, referring to hon. Members on these benches, said:They are living in a fool's Paradise if they think that these methods constitute an effective policy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th October, 5937; col. 335, Vol. 328.]Does the hon. Member think that it is a fool's Paradise sitting here day after day and seeing the Government lead the country and the world to destruction, as they are? If that is the hon. Member's idea of Paradise, let me assure him that it is not Paradise to watch that process, when all we can do is to make occasional speeches in the House or in the country. Who is living in a fool's Paradise? I wish there were some chance of opening the hon. Member's eyes otherwise than by some disaster which will cost the lives of 10,000,000 or 20,000,000 human beings. I wish there were some other way of doing it.
If the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. H. Strauss) will forgive me for saying so, I am rather tired of speeches which assume that the whole situation is absolutely static. The hon. Member considers the matter purely from the point of view of to-day and then proceeds to prove, with a dazzling display of logic, on which I congratulate him, that if one 455 considers to-day's situation, it is more dangerous to do something for international justice than to do nothing for it. Then he sits down with an air of, "There, now, I surely convinced the Opposition of something of which they never thought." Will the hon. Member believe me when I tell him that the Opposition is well aware of the fact that on any particular day it is always more dangerous to do something for international justice than to do nothing. But I do beg—and I mean that word "beg" rather literally—I do beg hon. Members opposite, because I sincerely believe that my own life depends upon it, to try to see the history of international affairs, not as a series of isolated incidents with no connection but as a steadily developing, consequential story.
For six years we have witnessed the steady advance of the dictators—Hitler, Mussolini and the Japanese military leader. They have advanced by threat of force, by use of force, by encouragement of rebels in Spain and in the British Empire. I challenge the Government on this. Will they dare tell us the truth of what is going on all over Arabia now? It is not merely a question of broadcasts at this moment. I say it is a question of machine guns as well. I wonder whether the Government will dare to deny what is happening at this moment. The encouragement of rebels all over the world, the breach of treaties, the use of the whole armoury of international immorality—this process has been going on for six years. Do hon. Members opposite assume that, at some stage, these dictators, of their own sweet reasonableness, will stop this steady advance? If not, is it not certain that, sooner or later, in the course of this steady advance these dictators will tread on a corn which will make even a Tory wince? Is it not certain that they will come into conflict with the British Empire for which hon. Members opposite profess themselves pledged to fight? On this side we are pledged to fight for one thing which is big enough to include the British Empire. Hon. Members opposite pledge themselves to fight only for the British Empire. We say that unless you can be sure that, at some time, the dictators will stop of themselves, then the dictators must be stopped by someone, sometime, somewhere and somehow.
§ Sir John Withers
Would the hon. Member kindly tell us, in detail, what he would propose to do in order to stop them?
§ Mr. Acland
I was about to do so. We suggest that His Majesty's Government should definitely decide that the advance of the dictators shall be stopped at once, in China by the Brussels Conference, if necessary by a trade boycott, if necessary supported by force. I wish to be perfectly clear. Those are our proposals—if necessary in each case.
§ Mr. Acland
The hon. and gallant Member says "war." Already we are coming to that now. I have said that we should do it by an international boycott. The right hon. Gentleman who spoke first made some comments on the boycott imposed on Russia. I propose to read a quotation from the Press. It is a habit to quote the Press here in these days, and I think it is a good habit. If the Press will not quote us, we say it is better that we should quote what they say and speeches from that Box recently have consisted very largely of leading articles from the "Daily Herald." I propose to quote from "Night and Day." It is one of the best papers which is being published at the present time. I know the cover is rather bright, but this is a perfectly serious quotation.Fill in the blanks in this quotation from the 'Times' of 20th April, 1933:'Within 9½ hours of the receipt by the British Government of the news of — the King had signed a Proclamation prohibiting the importation of about 80 per cent. of the — commodities which this country has latterly imported'That high and mighty embargo was imposed on Russia and the news which provoked it was that the Soviet Government had sentenced two British engineers to three and two years imprisonment respectively. We do not want anybody to lose their sense of proportion. We are just stating a minor curiosity of history. The Russian Government did not have to shoot an Ambassador, machine gun Embassy cars, do several million pounds worth of damage to British property and outrage the feelings of the world. It just had to sentence a couple of Englishmen under the law of their country of residence.Is not that precisely the aspect in which that incident should he regarded? If, under the late Tsarist regime in Russia, a couple of British Communists had been sentenced, under some law with the moral 457 force of which we did not agree, and if it had been proposed to boycott Russian goods in consequence, would not we have had the hon. Member for Norwich asking whether we were prepared to send the British Air Force to the North West Frontier of India, because if a boycott were declared it would be in that direction that we should expect trouble?
§ Mr. H. Strauss
The hon. Member was good enough to tell me that he intended to deal with my speech. I assumed that he was going to do so and therefore in courtesy to him I remained in the House to listen to him. So far, he has only expressed the view that he thinks my speeches very objectionable, which he is quite entitled to do, but he has given no indication whatever of the things in my speech to which he objects or what particular speech of mine he had in mind. Would he kindly do so?
§ Mr. Acland
I am very sorry if, in conforming to the courtesy of the House, I have wasted the hon. Member's time. My point was that there was nothing in the hon. Member's speech to which I objected, assuming that it was reasonable to take a photographic view of the foreign affairs situation and then to ask yourself the question, "In this situation what is the least dangerous thing to do?"
§ Mr. Strauss
I have never done anything of the sort, and again I ask the hon. Member not to say merely that he would not have any objection to my speech if such and such were the case, but to say plainly what is his objection, if any, to what I actually said in that speech, so that I may deal with his objection.
§ Mr. Acland
I can only repeat what I have said. Assuming that you simply take the situation as static—
§ Mr. Acland
On the opposite assumption I cannot believe that the hon. Member would make such a speech. He could only make it if he regarded the situation as static. I am convinced that his speech was not made on what I will call the dynamic assumption. If he regards the situation as dynamic and moving, and if he looks back over the last six years, let him ask himself what is the probable course of events should the present process go on for another six years. Must he 458 not come to the conclusion that that process will have to be stopped somewhere, by someone and that it is hon. Members opposite who are living in a fool's paradise if they believe that we can preserve the peace without taking action of that kind somehow? If we are going to take action, for Heaven's sake let us do it now.
Hon. Members opposite will prove that it is dangerous to do anything in the case of Japan. Of course it is, and particularly so as we have trouble in the Mediterranean. Is it an accident that we have trouble in the Mediterranean at the same moment as there is this trouble in the East? Is it not certain that, if things go on as they have gone for the last six years, the three dictators will, at some time, present a demand, not singly but altogether—a demand to which we could not accede without yielding up, in time, the whole of the British Empire? I beg hon. Members to remember the last War. If we take action now, there is some chance of getting allies on our side in the fight for liberty and justice. If we wait, what will the consequence be?
In the last War we had Japan on our side; we had America on our side in the end, and economically she was on our side all through. We had complete command of the sea. We had Italy on our side and Spain was neutral but friendly. There were no German submarines west of Ostend. Yet with all these advantages we nearly lost. If we are to do nothing to uphold international justice now, we shall reach the position of being menaced simultaneously by these three Powers with no other ally in the world, with the Mediterranean a closed lake to us, and with German and Italian submarines preying on our commerce up and down the Eastern Atlantic. That is the position into which these people are leading us, and that is why I say that it is they, and not we, who are living in a fool's paradise; and the trouble is that they will not be the only people who will suffer when the whole thing breaks down. as it inevitably will. Therefore, we support the other part of this Amendment, which condemns the Government's weak and vacillating policy in foreign affairs.
§ 1.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Donner
The right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate delivered a very eloquent speech. That portion of 459 it which was less convincing than any other was the part in which he levelled charges of class consciousness against those of us who have the honour to belong to the Conservative party. It lacked conviction because he represents one of the leaders of the Socialist party which is wedded to the Marxian doctrine of class hatred, and I was therefore delighted to listen to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who made a very adequate reply.
I venture to intervene in this Debate in order to offer a few observations upon certain problems not easily susceptible of accommodation. I desire to draw the attention of the House to the conclusions to be reached from the events of the last few years, which include the attempt to establish positive collective action in connection with Abyssinia and subsequently the attempt to establish negative collective action through the medium of the London Non-Intervention Committee, where the nations of the world were invited not to interfere in the civil war now raging in Spain—in short, to abstain from any action at all. The failure of the first attempt is now common knowledge, and, in the words of our own Foreign Secretary, the Non-Intervention Committee became waterlogged for several months, in spite of his untiring and persistent efforts. That is not all. Charges of bad faith were levelled by delegates against one another, and several meetings took place in conditions of unparalleled ill-will.
What then are the conclusions which we can draw from this state of affairs? I suggest that the time has come when this country should sign no more pacts which in any way hamper or limit our freedom of action, inasmuch as, were we to do so, we might find that we had signed a treaty with every determination of honouring our signature, only to discover at a later stage that we had signed such a treaty with a Power which perhaps even at the moment of signing had had no intention whatsoever of honouring hers. We should therefore be limiting ourselves by tying our hands while giving complete freedom of action to the other signatory; in other words, we should be giving a bonus to a prospective burglar, a premium to lawbreakers, and we should be doing this at a time when our Foreign Secretary 460 himself was constrained to state recently that a feature of the present situation is the glorification of breaches of agreements. For that reason, I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) congratulate the Government last July, during the discussion on the London Naval Treaty Bill, upon their elasticity. He said:I welcome the multiplicity of bolt-holes, of emergency exists, escalators and parachutes which are provided at every quarter and in every direction, because, when all is said and done … it is very dangerous to be bound too tightly.I would ask the House to pay particular attention to his next sentence:It is far better to trust to general agreement on principles and to good faith and a friendly desire to give honourable effect to these agreements."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th July, 5937; col. 2017. Vol. 326]I think the argument can be carried a step further. If the nations failed under the aegis of the League to reach agreement at Geneva, some of them reached unanimous agreement at Nyon. It would appear therefore that there is a greater hope of reaching agreement upon a specific point, and the chances of success increase with the exiguity of the object to be attained. The failure of the World Economic Conference, with its much broader and consequently vaguer objectives, provides a striking example of the truth of this contention.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison), who opened this Debate, made a plea for speeches throughout the world of lofty principles on behalf of the cause of peace. I wholly dissent from that point of view. Surely the proper inference to be drawn from the events which have taken place is that the world would be far more stable if politicians could be persuaded to cease enunciating international principles of high sounding morality unless the nations which they represent are in fact prepared to support these international principles by action, and, of course, the only effective action in this respect is of a military nature. Far better to stay at home, far better to say nothing at all, far better not to raise false hopes, than to enunciate principles without any intention of carrying them into effect. This is an illustration of a type of error of which neither the Prime Minister nor the Foreign Secretary has ever been guilty. We are all of us in this House in 461 agreement when we deplore the growth of international lawlessness at the present time. The tendency to invade the territory of others without even formal declaration of war is an outstanding feature of the post-Briand-Kellogg Peace Pact days. We have seen it in Abyssinia. We witness it in China. It may be noted that municipal law is enforced by a police force, but international law never has been, nor is it today, more than the limit of the conscience of the most powerful. It is unfortunate that that conscience apparently does not twinge so persistently as in prewar days.
There is one aspect of President Roosevelt's speech at Chicago that has not yet been the subject of public comment. I would like to draw the attention of the House to this matter because it is one of considerable importance, and it affects the Amendment now under consideration. According to the "Times" of 6th October, the President said:The high aspirations expressed in the Briand-Kellogg Peace Pact and the hopes for peace thus raised have of late given way to the haunting fear of calamity. The present reign of terror and international lawlessness began a few years ago.It may be far fetched to attach too much significance to the juxtaposition of the two ideas, to their correlation in a single paragraph, but the President's reference to the Kellogg Peace Pact and to the international lawlessness now prevailing, whether deliberate or incidental, serves to draw attention to a possible connection between the two. The signatories of the Briand-Kellogg Peace Pact renounced war as an instrument of national policy, and war was outlawed in the sense that it became an indecent and dishonourable thing. In consequence, particular odium must fall upon any nation which dishonours its signature in this connection. The result, as we all know, is that, first in Abyssinia and now in China, military invasion has taken place without a formal declaration of war, and, fantastic as it may seem, the Chinese Ambassador still remains in Tokyo.
We all of us in this House believe that the sanctity of treaties must remain the basis of international relationship. In the light of the international anarchy and the contempt in which the pledged word is held in the world to-day, hon. Members may not think it inopportune to re- 462 flect upon the possibility, nay, the probability, that in the not far distant future men and women the world over will regretfully demand the renunciation of the Briand-Kellogg Pact. It is significant that Article XV of the Covenant of the League itself admits of the possibility of war as an ultimate action, as the last resort whereby a nation can endeavour to redress a wrong. But in these times of post Briand-Kellogg Peace Pact days the average person cannot gauge how far a Mediterranean situation, or the international situation generally can deteriorate before an undeclared war is upon him. This feeling may go a long way to explain the prevailing nervousness and the catastrophic falls on the stock exchanges of the world. Formerly, before the peace pact was signed everyone was aware of the procedure which governed each successive stage of diplomatic tension from the first signs of strain to the notes of protest and the rupture of diplomatic relations. Thus, until the final moment when the formal declaration of war demolished the last hope of peace each successive stage provided an opportunity of mediation, of appeasement and of settlement. People knew where they were.
If the present insupportable state of international lawlessness continues the question whether a return to the state of affairs prevailing before the signing of the Kellogg Peace Pact might not prove preferable to mankind must arise. Some may believe that retrogression is here suggested and should therefore be withstood at all costs, but if these conditions of international lawlessness continue, what is the alternative to a continuation of a state of affairs which men and women the world over who attach significance to the pledged word find insupportable, insufferable, and intolerable? Certainly the President of the United States in his Chicago speech said:It seems to be unfortunately true that the epidemic of world lawlessness is spreading.In any event if the House will agree that the present state of affairs represents a deterioration of manners amongst the nations, then a constructive plea for a return to formalities cannot be regarded as anything but an appeal to a return to a civilising influence. The House will recall that Frederick II, on 18th September, 1756, invaded Saxony and captured 463 Dresden without a formal declaration of war and without even notifying his ally France. In other words, the Briand-Kellogg peace pact appears to have fastened upon the whole world the classic Prussian example of invasion without the formal declaration of war. In short, the peace pact has in practice proved to be the exact opposite of that which was intended, signed though it was by men prompted by the highest ideals.
We are told that the United States will participate in a conference of the signatories of the Nine-Power Treaty at Brussels. I was surprised to hear from hon. Members opposite last Thursday that they attached profound importance to this decision, because, unless the United States are prepared to foreswear themselves, which is unthinkable, they have no alternative but to participate. I would like to draw the attention of the House to a matter of real importance, to which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) referred quite inaccurately yesterday. The President in his Chicago speech made an unequivocal declaration when he said:The United States arc determined to keep out of war.The limit of American collaboration is, therefore, clearly set out, and it should be borne in mind that a Power which in categorical language limits its co-operation to mediation is not a Power with which to go on safari in leopard-infested country, for it has proclaimed in advance that, should an emergency arise calling for action, it cannot be depended upon for that military support which it is at pains to abjure. Hon. Members opposite will be guilty of error, therefore, if they attempt to read more into the President's speech than was intended. I am among those who would welcome close co-operation between ourselves and the United States, so far as this is practicable and provided that any agreement reached between the two countries is upon the right lines and not upon the wrong lines, because an agreement upon the wrong lines might well prove as great a curse as we hope it will prove a blessing. I believe that the right lines are those which were indicated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery). We should not forget that centuries ago those who sought refuge in monasteries because they despaired of the world pre- 464 cipitated by their action the advent of the dark ages.
I believe that a real contribution to the cause of international amity without which peace cannot be maintained in the long run would be made if greater restraint were shown by all who address themselves to international questions. Bigotry and prejudice are of no assistance. I wholly dissent from those Members opposite who think it profitable to use offensive epithets whenever certain of the European dictators are mentioned. Would it not show a greater sense of statesmanship to realise that every government and every country has something to contribute to the European concert, that the cacophany of sound, the clash of interests, of human hopes, aspirations and endeavours are more likely to provide a harmonious symphony if at the outset our angle of approach is an appreciation of that which each can contribute. Perhaps I may be permitted to add that the offensive language which is frequently employed by Socialist and Liberal Members opposite whenever Herr Hitler or Signor Mussolini are mentioned would, if it did not injure the cause of international amity, afford amusement to some of us on this side of the House; because, after all, Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini, almost alone among the Governments on the Continent, have put State Socialism into practice with all that regimentation of and interference with the civil population which is not only anathema to Conservatives but the very marrow of Socialist doctrine.
I much prefer the attitude adopted by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary this morning and of the Prime Minister. I whole-heartedly agree with the decision of the Imperial Conference that we should not incur enmities abroad on ideological grounds. Yet it was this very prejudice which led one of the hon. Gentlemen speaking for the Socialist party last Thursday to criticise Portugal as one of the three Governments which had lent aid to General Franco. I would suggest to him that if your neighbour's house catches fire you are likely to assist him to extinguish the blaze. Your motive in so doing may not be wholly altruistic, but it is nevertheless entirely prudent.
In conclusion, I would wish the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary well in their work on behalf of greater sympathy, 465 understanding and, therefore, toleration in the world, and I would urge that we should strive on undismayed in the cause of international amity. I believe we can collaborate most successfully with those who cherish the same convictions and ideals that we ourselves hold dear, and those are in the main to be found within the British Empire, in France, and in those countries where men can still speak what they believe without suffering for so doing.
§ 1.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Hopkin
I am sorry that the Minister when he gave a long list of statistics referring to different industries in this country left out one of the industries which is fundamental. I believe he left it out because, had he looked up the figures referring to agriculture, he would have found that they did not support the rosy view which he held regarding the general prosperity of the country. I rise to support the Amendment, and, in particular, the second part of it, which deals with home affairs. In my opinion the Government have lamentably failed in forecasting in any shape or form any real help for agriculture in the future. Looking at the King's Speech, one finds that the reference to agriculture is confined to. I believe three lines, and the only inference that one can draw from that reference is that when the Government have put the milk industry right, as they pretend to be able to do, then all will be well with agriculture. Nothing could be further from the truth, because the most superficial survey of the figures of agriculture for the last 20 years will show a steady decline in every direction. Not only is the area of land shrinking and the number of people engaged in the industry diminishing, but the industry is not receiving that help or support from the Government which Members of the Government themselves have promised it.
I propose to apply a few tests to show whether agriculture is in truth and in fact prosperous or not. Let me take the first test of how capital in this industry has fared. From 1925 to 1931 the capital value of farm lands fell from £815,000,000 to £645,000,000, a drop of 21 per cent. When we come to the area of the land being worked, to which the country has a right to look for its food, we find that in 1914 arable and permanent pastures covered 27,000,000 acres, and that in 466 1937 the area had fallen to 24,500,000 acres, a drop of 2,500,000 acres, due very largely to the way in which land is being appropriated for building purposes, roads and so on. During last year, a period which we might take as the test to see whether the policy of the Government has assisted farmers or not, there was a decline of 91,000 acres in arable land; and in the last two years the decline has amounted to 158,000 acres. One way in which agricultural land is being literally eaten up is through the activities of the War Office and the Air Ministry. I should like to quote from the "Times" of yesterday this reference to the proposed Tank Corps camp in Wiltshire.The land forms the heart of farms that cover about 3,000 acres. Of the three farmers concerned Mr. Frank Maggs has been working the site of the camp successfully for 30 years, and has on three occasions since the war won the first prize for the best-worked farm over 400 acres in the district round Devizes. He employs permanently 16 skilled men, all heads of families. If the camp is built he will be able, he says, to carry on his farm with a sheep dog and some barbed wire.I appeal to the Minister now in charge of the Debate to see whether it is not possible for land other than agricultural land to be used for this purpose. I will give him another example from my own home. In the Vale of Glamorgan three square miles of the finest agricultural land in the whole country has been taken by the Air Ministry. Can it really be argued that there is no other suitable land of less permanent value in the whole country than the very heart of what is an agricultural area? I see my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Monmouth (Major Herbert) sitting opposite. He can give the Minister another example, and a worse example still, of land taken round Usk for the same purpose, and he will not deny that it is the best agricultural land. Other examples can be given up and down the country of cases where the War Office is the judge and jury in its own cause, and those of us who sit on this side of the House are not so certain that the judgment of the officers in the War Office is one that is always right.
Take, as another test of the prosperity of this industry, the number of people employed. In 1921 there were, roughly, 869,000 people employed in agriculture. In 1937, 16 years later, the number had 467 dropped to 631,000. That is, in 16 years there has been a decline of 238,000. It is common knowledge that the wages paid in agriculture are among the lowest in the whole country, and that may very well be one of the reasons for the decline in the numbers employed in farming. I venture to suggest that along with this question of wages there are to be considered the conditions of the men who live in the countryside. I am fortified in that view by an article written by the chairman of the labour committee of the National Farmers' Union, in which he says:At present far too many of the labourers' cottages are without sufficient accommodation and lack even such an essential supply as drinking water.I say without fear of contradiction that the greatest problem in agriculture to-day is that of labour. Farmers are unable to obtain farm workers. That is very largely due to the competition of works, immediately they are planted in agricultural areas. Do hon. Members not think it is ridiculous that a farm labourer working on one side of a hedge should be getting 33s. a week and the road man on the other side of the hedge 45s.? If I had my way I would pass a law making the minimum wage, say, 45s. or 50s. a week, and then I would say to the Government: "This is the wage that you say is the right one to pay to farm workers. It is your responsibility and duty to see that the farmer is provided with the means to pay that wage to his workers."
In addition to all this, the farmer is subjected to the most fierce competition when he sends his produce to market. I shall not weary the House with figures, except to say that in the last four years the Empire has crept in and taken the place of the foreign competitor. The farmer does not care whether the competition comes from the foreigner or the Empire. As an example I would give the amount of butter that was imported in 1936. There were imported 9,750,000 cwts., the highest recorded. The House must remember that every country in the world gives subsidies when exporting butter to this market. I urge upon the Government that the reference to agriculture in the Gracious Speech is totally inadequate. The Government have promised to deal with the question of milk; well, if they bring in the Bill on the lines set forth in the White Paper all I 468 can say is that the farmers and the farm workers will not think it is at all adequate, because it does not touch the fundamental problems which the farmer has to face.
The great and pressing problem that bests him now is want of capital. For one reason or another the old landlord is not able to do the work which he formerly did of providing the farmer with capital, and there is nothing in the policy of the Government to indicate what they propose to do to fill that gap. Yet it must be filled. The only occasion when they dealt with credit was when a proposal was put forward to reduce the interest in the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation to 3½ per cent., and that they turned down. It seems to me that they might very well look to New Zealand and see the success of the Labour Government there in providing a guaranteed price. It does not matter to what political party we belong, we are the trustees of the land of this country and we shall fail lamentably if this mere reference, these three lines, represent all that the Government propose to do for agriculture during the coming year. I think it will do nothing at all to relieve farmers and farm workers from the pressing problems which are facing them now.
§ 1.40 p.m.
§ Major Sir George Davies
I am not at all entitled to claim that indulgence which this House always offers to one who addresses it for the first time, but at the same time, my contributions to debate have for some time been confined to those cryptic words: "I have been asked to reply," and I may perhaps receive a measure of toleration for any errors due to rust and disuse rather than to any deliberate intention. The Amendment which is before the House has been drawn in such extraordinarily wide terms that it is practically a continuation of the general Debate that we have had during the previous two days. Its limitations would seem to be almost as wide as that. This point has been emphasised by the last two speeches, one from an hon. Friend sitting on my right and which was largely concentrated upon foreign affairs, and one to which we have just listened from my fellow-countryman of the Principality, who always speaks with moderation and knowledge of his subject. I might have attempted to follow him, because I very largely agree with him as to the importance of those problems—although he did 469 not reach the climax to which he was leading, that the only solution was nationalisation of the land. Looking generally at the Amendment, I suggest it comes into the category of those which can be criticised with the well-known words:Methinks the lady doth protest too much.The right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate had to present an Amendment which consisted of two parts, one, that His Majesty's Government have betrayed foreign nations, and the other, that they have betrayed everybody in this country. That is a pretty wide attack and will allow a fairly wide form of defence. One form, often used in this House in Debate, although perhaps it never gets very far, is to say: "What would you do?" I do not propose to follow that line of country for a moment, but when we have listened to many speeches delivered by hon. Gentlemen opposite in the course of the Debate, we are entitled to interpret their speeches in the light of many statements, made in the course of many years, with regard to their general attitude towards these problems, whether they appertain to foreign countries, or to internal affairs. It would be tempting to dwell on the many evidences of closely united agreement upon foreign policy which they have afforded over the past few years, but that is the sort of boundary hit which is confined to batsmen and not to bowlers, and I do not propose to follow that line or to talk on foreign affairs in particular. It is a subject on which we are nowadays compelled to hear constant speeches, many of them dangerous and many unnecessary.
The criticism has frequently been made in the last few years that our Debates in this House lack the form and effectiveness that they used to have in the olden days. That cut-and-thrust to which Mr. Speaker referred not very long ago is now delivered by battle axe and bludgeon instead of by sword and rapier. If there is any truth in the criticism, and I believe there is, it seems to be due to three reasons. The type of Debate that we have been having here in the last three days illustrates that we are no longer faced with great and clear-cut issues which can be argued on party lines, as was the case when party feeling ran so high that reputations and 470 tempers alike suffered. Such issues were Irish Home Rule, Welsh Disestablishment, religious education and perhaps Protection and Free Trade. The second reason is in the advent of the National Government. Whether it be the result of the fading of those great issues or whether the National Government have caused those issues to fade, is immaterial; the fact remains that, in spite of the oft-repeated criticism of hon. Members opposite that the National Government is only Tory Government writ small, during the time that we have had National Government here the considerations presented to the House and the country upon which thought has been focused, have been primarily of a national rather than a party nature. For that reason, if for no other, that keenness of party competition has very largely faded into the background as compared with earlier times. One has only to read the programme outlined in the Gracious Speech which has been the basis of so much criticism during these Debates to realise that that is so.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland yesterday referred rather effectively to the King's Speech that was brought forward by the party opposite when they were in office a good many years ago. I have occupied myself quite recently with reading the King's Speech of last year. In common with the present Speech, that Speech, if not overloaded, was loaded to its Plimsoll mark with legislative proposals of one sort and another. We know that all too frequently Kings' Speeches have been merely vehicles for pious aspirations, but the amazing thing about the Speech of last year was that, with one comparatively unimportant exception, every single one of the Measures then forecast has passed on to the Statute Book. They were not, perhaps, passed in the form that hon. Members opposite would have liked to see, but, anyhow, the proposals of the Government were meticulously carried out. I see no reason to think that, although this present Speech contains, perhaps, an equal number of forecasts of legislative Acts, we shall not see as successful a result a year hence as we do to-day, looking back on the Speech of a year ago.
The third reason, and the one that seems to me to come out very strongly in the opening speech of the Debate to-day, 471 why our Debates have suffered from relative ineffectiveness, is the attitude of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. For years they have taken up the position that no good can come out of the capitalist system, that it is useless to try to tinker with the capitalist system, that it battens on the misery of the poor, and that, therefore, before any kind of progress can be made it must be wiped out. I do not say that everyone shares that argument, but it has come out again and again in the speeches to which we have had to listen. Indeed, it has been carried so far that not very long ago we were informed, by a fairly responsible Member of this House, that it might not be a bad thing if the workers of this country refused to play any part in the building up of the defences of the country, but were to allow a potential aggressor to come in and invade and overwhelm us, for the result might then be the setting up of a Socialist State, under which rearmament and the building up of adequate defences could take place under a different regime. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who said that?"] It was said by the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps).
When unkind critics have pointed out that under two successive Labour Administrations there was no attempt to establish the Socialistic regime in this country, the answer always was, "But then, you must remember, we were in office but not in power; we had riveted round our necks the millstone of the Liberal party." The upper and nether stones have disappeared, but they still have the little old man of the sea gleefully cracking his whip and setting the pace. We were asked to wait until they were in office, with their own majority behind them, and then they would not only produce rabbits from hats, but make mountains out of molehills. This position has been seized upon by the very able and logical brain of the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol, who, we are all glad to see, has at last come back to his correct place on the Front Bench opposite. Some of us would not be surprised if eventually he were sitting there as the hon. and learned Member, not for East Bristol, but for the Mosley Division of Fascism.
He has put his unerring finger on the weak spot. He has said to his colleagues, "You see that no good thing can come 472 out of a National, or a Tory, or a Capitalist system; you must wait till you get a Socialist State. That Socialist State puts in the foreground of its legislation the nationalisation of finance, of land, of public utilities, and so forth. How are you going to set about that? It is true that, if you come back here with a majority, you can pass a General Powers Act that will enable you to stop the irritating delaying debates of the chatterboxes you put in office, and send them back to their homes; but what then? There is another place. How about the Parliament Act? That will inevitably cause delay, and during that delay a deluded electorate will wonder why you are not getting on with the job. You will have to smash the Constitution; you will have to eliminate the other place—a process which, the hon. and learned Member himself has said, will not leave the Throne unaffected—you will have to have a revolution, which I assure you will not be bloodless."
§ Mr. Thurtle
Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman seriously expect us to disclose to him our complete and detailed plans for transferring capitalism into an ordered Socialist State?
§ Sir G. Davies
I am not expecting hon. Members to disclose anything to me; I am disclosing something to them. But from these brave words of the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol his colleagues have all recoiled in dismay, and we have seen coming over their resolutions and speeches throughout the country a certain measure of sweet reasonableness. No longer do we hear the word "confiscation." It is compensation that is now spoken of, although there are a great many "ifs" and "ands" attached to it. We know that the fate of the Bank of England is that it is to be nationalised. At one time the same fate admittedly awaited all the joint stock banks, but that has now been relegated to the background, and we do not hear so much about it. I fervently hope that the time is a long way off when hon. Members opposite will be occupying these seats, but I suppose I may admit without fear of contradiction that they are six years nearer that time than they were six years ago.
In any event, as a result of the very thought of the possible advent of a time 473 when wild promises will have to give way to sensible administration, a very different state of affairs is being advertised to us. We are told that nowadays you must give a little consideration to the available cloth before you cut your coat. We are told now that what we would wish must be regulated by what we can afford. The promises with regard, for example, to old age pensions have very much altered now. Instead of non-contributory maximum pensions being broadcast to people of minimum age, we now hear that the size of these pensions is to be reduced, that the age limit is to be raised, and, although it is wrapped up very carefully, that there is going to be a heavy contribution by the recipient. All this is producing a quite new atmosphere in which some of these matters are being discussed.
Mr. Bevin himself has pointed out to his colleagues that not only large numbers of wage-earners, but large numbers of contributing members of trade unions, are not members of the Socialist party, and that fact quite obviously accounts for the large numbers of us who fill these Benches on this side of the House. Perhaps I should also point out that to the wage earners of this country, who would be affected by the 40-hour week and holidays with pay, which many of us, if not all of us, on these Benches hope to achieve, though they will bring in their train very serious considerations, the 40-hour week and holidays with pay would be quite as welcome whether they came from a capitalist system or a Socialist state. It has been advocated and visualised that after the advent of a Socialist Government there should be a policy for some kind of social reform and not the Socialist State. That is quite different from the bloodthirsty plans of the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps). If these are straws which show the way the wind is blowing, are we not entitled to ask Members opposite, before continuing this Debate, to read again the proposals contained in the King's Speech?
In his preliminary canter the other day the Leader of the Opposition carefully damned with faint praise all the proposals of that speech. He said they were trivial. I have always understood that the Leader of the Opposition was given in good time a copy of the Speech so that he should not suffer through having 474 to make impromptu observations. As I read his speech I rubbed my eyes. Does he suggest that the coal, electricity and agricultural Bills are really trivial? Does he want the country to believe that the proposals are trivial which are outlined to improve rural houses, to enable meals and medical care to be supplied to young persons, to reduce the age limit for the award of pensions to blind persons, to amend the financial provision of slum clearance and the abatement of overcrowding and to regulate the wages and conditions of road transport workers? Are these things all trivial? I warn hon. Members opposite that they will not get any kudos for themselves, going about the country saying that those things are trivial. The right hon. Gentleman and his associates on those benches find themselves in the position of the immortal Alice who wanted to deny something and did not know what to deny, so they have had to concentrate their energy on describing those things in the Gracious Speech as trivial. If hon. Members are thinking that it is worth while to follow on a policy of social reform without waiting until they have upset the whole of the foundations of the State, if, with unprejudiced eyes, they will read the proposals in the Speech, I feel sure second thoughts will prove best, and they will play their part in working out the proposals here outlined, so that when they do reach the Statute Book we shall find they are of the greatest possible benefit to those whom they are intending to benefit.
§ 2.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie
I am rather sorry the hon. Member should seek to displace the hon. and gallant Member for Peebles and Southern (Captain Ramsay) from his high place in Fascist circles by putting the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) in that place. Mention was made of the 40-hour week and holidays with pay. The hon. Member said that he hopes it will come eventually; but hitherto the Government have done their best to oppose both, here and at Geneva. I want to follow the Home Secretary in dealing with the field of domestic politics. During the Recess, Ministers have preached from many platforms about the alleged prosperity of the country. This, of course, was echoed in the King's Speech. To talk about prosperity leaves the people in the derelict 475 villages of the distressed areas, not cold, but hot with bitter indignation. There is no denying that the iron has entered their souls, believing as they do that the Government are deliberately neglecting them. We hear about trading estates; but what is the good of talking about trading estates which do not meet the need of these derelict villages, which are placed 20 or 30 miles away from them? It is only by dealing with these derelict villages that the problem can be solved. They stand as monuments to the Government's neglect. The boast that so many more people are employed to-day than were employed last year does not get behind the fact that there are still at least 1,500,000 unemployed.
We were told by the Home Secretary that the position in this country is much better than that in any other country in the world. I want to deny that. It is much less satisfactory than in the Scandinavian countries and New Zealand; and I might remind the Government that in all these countries Labour Governments are in power. There is no mention in the King's Speech about provision for draining the flooded pits which we still have in Durham. In Durham the pits are still flooded, and over 15,000 miners in that one county are unemployed. This is something the Government might tackle. We still await with interest their proposals for reorganisation of the mining industry, but might I remind the Government that commission after commission has condemned the present system? The price of coal to the consumer to-day, we know, is excessive, but the miner risks his life at a poor wage. Therefore, the only solution to the whole problem is by the nationalisation of the mining industry. I see in the King's Speech that the Government propose to do something about the milk supply. Surplus milk is still, I believe, supplied to factories at 5d. a gallon. It is better to pour that milk down human throats than into factories. There can be no surplus milk as long as a nursing mother and child are without milk. Therefore, before physical culture is attempted, undernourishment should be stopped.
I want to touch upon the position of the fishing industry because it is mentioned in the King's Speech. The white fish industry is mentioned, but why not 476 the herring industry? As far as the white fish industry is concerned, the trawlers are still carrying out their depredations of spoiling the inshore fishing, and I contend that there is not enough supervision to deal with these trawlers. Why have not the Government mentioned the herring industry? Are the Government unaware that hundreds of herring fishers in Scotland during the past season have finished deeply in debt? These fishermen—and nobody can deny it—rendered noble service to the country during the Great War. I know of men of 70 years of age and over who were serving on mine-sweepers, a very dangerous occupation, while, at the same time, they had six or seven sons serving in the Navy and the Army. What has been their recompense since the War? Left to their own resources. Subsidies in plenty have been given to shipowners, many of whom made profits during the War, and huge profits, too, as the late Mr. Bonar Law pointed out at the time. There has been no similar treatment meted out to these brave fishermen.
The King's Speech has devoted two-and-a-half lines to poor old Scotland. Caledonia certainly has good reason to be "stern and wild" over this meagre mention in the King's Speech. Prior to the Great War the population of Scotland was 137 to the square mile; in England it was 557; and in Belgium 643, and yet Belgium had over 1,000,000 holdings and was able to raise her own food. Depopulation in Scotland still goes on, and yet land hunger exists both in the Highlands and islands. Land was meant for use and not for abuse. Is it not a standing disgrace that across the border no fewer than 5,500 square miles are devoted to blood sports—3,500,000 acres to deer forests, 2,000,000 of which were at one time cultivated? Straths and glens are now desolate that once were peopled until nowThe gloom of desolation wraps the mountain and the vale,And the wild hare bring; forth her young on the hearthstone of the Gael.We contend that the bounties of nature should be utilised for the good of humanity. In the division of large farms that has been going on by the Board of Agriculture, unfortunately the holdings in too many cases have been far too small to enable the holders to make a decent living, and I hope that the Secretary of 477 State for Scotland will take note of that fact.
There is one very obvious omission from the King's Speech. I refer to the fact that the provision of unemployment insurance for non-manual workers, commonly called the black-coated workers, is not mentioned. The demand for that is certainly widespread, and the need is certainly very great, as anyone who knows the conditions of these workers can substantiate. Men of this class who have to live up to the position they occupy are seldom able to save much, and if they are thrown out of work, the result is that they are driven to resort to public assistance. There is a committee that has been considering the extension of unemployment insurance to this class of workers. Have the Government pigeonholed their report and have no intention of putting it into existence? Will the Minister who is to reply for the Governmen be good enough to say what are the intentions of the Government in respect to that report? I hope that it is not intended to be neglected altogether, and we shall certainly await with interest the announcement of what the Government intend to do.
§ 2.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Hannah
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison), in moving the Amendment, took upon himself the very great responsibility of declaring that the proposals of the Government to help on a little the social condition of the people were purely for electoral purposes and that we did not believe in them in the least. Whether that is in accordance with the best traditions of this House I do not stop to inquire, but I want to accept that challenge and say that, among Labour Members, there are many personal friends with whom I count it a very great pleasure to co-operate in any way I possibly can. Outside this House on the green there is a statue of Oliver Cromwell. One of the best things that Oliver Cromwell ever said writing from Musselburgh to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, was:I beseech you, in the bowels of Jesus Christ, to consider the possibility that you may be mistaken.I want to commend that remark, if perhaps for once he is prepared to take something from a dictator, to the Mover of the Amendment. He has dared to say 478 that we are contented. He lumps us all together as Conservatives. He cannot even distinguish between the Coalition Government just after the War and the present Government. Yesterday we had a speech from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) who was, I believe, at that time the head of the Government, and I can only ask whether he supports the National Government at the present time. The idea of making out that all Conservatives are contented with the condition of the country is absolutely false. If I were contented, I should go back to my well-loved archaelogy and historical research. I am here because the working classes of Bilston have sent me, wanting their conditions improved, and I say I will do the very best I can to bring that about.
§ Mr. Hannah
The Mover of the Amendment said something about oranges being thrown into the Black Sea and spoke of it as being the fault of the Government. What British territory is there on the Black Sea? How can the Government possibly be responsible for anything that goes on there? [Interruption.] I know only what the right hon. Member for South Hackney told us. I was challenged about being dissatisfied with the differences of income among the population, and a Liberal Member, I think, mentioned the fact that he has a house within five minutes' walk of this Palace of Westminster. I cannot help feeling that if there still are people able to afford houses of that character, in spite of modern taxation, I have every reason to be discontented. There is a much more solemn thing than that. I feel as much as any Member of this House possibly can the disgrace of the slums in the division that I represent. I am doing the very best I can do to help our local authorities to re-house the population of Bilston and other areas of the Black Country for which I have the privilege of being responsible. If the Amendment is correct in talking about the Government as "weak and vacillating," what are we to say of Bournemouth, that place which only a few weeks ago was a town of 500 tongues? What about the innumerable differences of opinion that came up there?
479 The reference in the Amendment to "the lack of constructive and fundamental proposals" as characteristic of the Government, makes me ask, do the Opposition really want us to go back to what we had in 1931. Was that constructive? Was it really in the interests of the people of the land? Not to me alone the cause of universal peace is the most sacred on the earth, and I mourn as much as any Member of the House that the League of Nations has been so shamefully betrayed. But I do think it is desirable to go into that betrayal from the historical point of view. Who betrayed it? When was it first apparent to the world that the League was not going to be allowed to function? It was not very long after the Armistice, or the Treaty of Versailles, that with violence a certain party of Poles seized the old capital of Lithuania. Lithuania appealed to the League of Nations, and nothing was done. To this very day the ancient capital of Lithuania, the beautiful city of Vilna, is occupied by Poland. I testify that that did not pass without comment in the United States, for at that time I was trying to get that country into the League, being a professor at one of its colleges. I very shrewdly suspect that at Tokyo the incident did not go altogether unnoticed.
That was the first betrayal of the League, and it was by far the most important, when one realises that there was a test case. The country that defied the League had only recently been established as an independent State after centuries of bandage, and there can be no doubt that it was possible that justice could have been done in that Vilna case if only the nations had been in earnest. Lithuania, however, had no powerful friends, and Poland had. I maintain, and I defy anyone to contradict me, that that was the case that betrayed the League. The League was shipwrecked, not in Manchukuo or Abyssinia, but in the old capital of Lithuania. The second case of betrayal of the League was at Corfu, when another Government was in power in this House. I shall not stop to inquire which it was, but I remember that Mussolini at that time called the League's bluff in the matter of the murder of certain Italian surveyors on the border between Albania and Greece. Nothing was done then; Mussolini was allowed to get away with it, and for the second time the League was betrayed.
480 So when the third time came at Manchukuo, anyone who knows the Far East as I do, for I had the privilege of living out there for several years, will realise that Japan had no alternative if she wanted to save her face. Already the principle had been established that it was safe to defy the League, and Japan naturally enough did so. It is obvious, of course, that Japan, in Kruger's words, "had the guns" in that particular place, and no force that the world could have brought against her could have compelled her to evacuate Manchukuo at that time. There is no first-rate naval station anywhere near Japan from which a navy favourable to the League could have operated.
Then we come to the rather melancholy case of Abyssinia. I have heard it said by hon. Members opposite that we on the Government benches sympathise with Mussolini. Nothing could be further from the truth. But everyone will admit, I think, that there is one thing a dictator cannot do., and that is to look a fool. Suppose that we had attempted to coerce Mussolini in the matter of Ethiopia, I think there is comparatively little doubt that he would have called our bluff and gone down fighting in a general war. Who can doubt that in such a case as that, if the National Government had landed this country in war, swifter than weathercocks the Opposition would have turned round and accused us of breaking the peace? We all realise that there are great difficulties. A few clays ago, when I had the privilege of hearing a speech from the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher), I heard him explain to us that he had spent his summer in the noble city of Venice. There are two assumptions I can make. The first is that he was the guest of the Italian Government—and he may have been—and the second, that he was spending money in Italy, money that I should have called the birthright of some deserving Warwickshire landlady. We all acknowledge that if Mussolini fails, as I believe he will, it will be on the economic side. What can we say about the sincerity of people who are always abusing Mussolini with their lips and giving him money from their pockets?
Personally I can only say that I have been quite unable to come to any conclusion as to who is more in the right or in the wrong in the matter of Spain. I have a delightful library, something like 481 six inches long, propaganda from each side. I have read it with the utmost care, and I confess I am very much in the same position as the Dutch Governor of New York in Knickerbocker's History who, finding great difficulty about a law suit, called for a weighing machine. He put the evidence of the plaintiff in one scale and that of the defendant in the other, and he came to the conclusion that both were about equal. It may be my own fault, but I am in exactly the same position about the Government in Spain. It is all the more sad for me because one of my dearest friends wrote me a furious letter to the effect that there was a time when I could distinguish right from wrong. I say in all sincerity that I envy very much indeed those to whom the war in Spain is a matter clearly defined. It seems to me that whoever wins it will be very much the same as civil wars in Spain at other times, the Carlist War for example, where what was supposed to be the more Liberal factor won, but there was no appreciable difference of any kind between that and the kind of thing the other party would have established if they had won.
When we come to the very melancholy events in the Far East, which I take it are referred to in the first part of the Amendment, one feels tremendous sorrow that Japan, after having done so much in many ways for peace in the long years when she was our Ally, should have descended to these terrible depths. One thing ought to be more emphasised than it has been. We realise that the Christians of Japan, a very small but not un-influential body, are seriously divided, and that a large number of Buddhists in Japan also are strongly opposed to this war. Would it not be more likely to bring results if we attempted to support these moderate elements in Japan than if we merely go on abusing the country quite regardless of whether its people are in favour or not of this ghastly struggle? It cannot be to the permanent welfare of Japan. I look through the long ages to the different races that have conquered China—Khitan, Kin, Mongol and Manchu, and without a single exception the result has ever been the same. China has conquered her conquerors, and there is no doubt whatever that that will be the eventual fate of Japan. I hope that we may either at Brussels or elsewhere give whatever help 482 we can to the moderate elements in Japan who at the present time are definitely opposed to this war and who feel that their Empire has made a great mistake.
A large number of people, for whom I have the profoundest respect, tell us that the way to deal with the dictator States is to try to form a huge bloc of free and peace-loving nations to oppose them. That sounds perfectly magnificent, but I would remind the House that 30 years ago when Britain, departing from the old Victorian tradition of isolation, was making friends with France and Russia, it was a very uneasy partnership and the Socialists of the time, very properly, were extraordinarily suspicious of an alliance between this country and Czarist Russia. Germany, however, contrived by her incredible diplomacy to consolidate that triple entente, and when there came the terrible War of 1914 the British Empire, France and Russia were absolutely united.
Is there not a danger that we may do the same service for the dictator States at the present time? They have very little in common. Japan has very few interests in common with Germany and Italy, and the whole course of history is a story of Italians and Germans coming together and then drifting apart and even fighting each other. In the year 800 the Germans and the Italians came together to found the Holy Roman Empire and more than 1,000 years later Germans and Italians were together to form the Triple Alliance. In every case they have drifted apart before many years have passed. It was because the German and Italian contingents could not work together that the Crusades were a definite failure and the Crusading armies, with all their original idealism, were driven back to Europe in hopeless rout; for that was what it came to. Do we want to consolidate the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo axis? Is it not probable that a great deal of what we hear rather vaguely suggested from the other side of the House will have precisely that result, and no other?
I do not see why this Government should be eternally accused of drifting into war. We are at peace at the present time. Who can guarantee that if the party opposite were in power we should not be at war? We very earnestly hope that if by its admirable policy—and I say it with the strongest conviction—the present Government can manage to keep the peace in Europe for a few more years, 483 it will be possible to have a great world conference and to give as far as practicable to each nation what it feels it most desires. The father of the present Prime Minister, many years ago, bade us to "think Imperially." At the present time we must think in terms of the Statute of Westminster. We must realise that now, in certain ways at least, we are no longer an absolutely Sovereign State. This country has Dominion Status and we cannot take any really important steps in foreign policy without consulting the statesmen of those other nations with which so very happily we are associated. Let us hope that the day may come in the not very distant future when, the peace having been kept as it is being kept now, the British Empire and the other nations of the world may come together and establish a lasting peace.
A few words, in conclusion, especially about the Amendment. We hear again and again from the other side that they represent the working classes. I call the Black Country to witness that it is not true. I am sent here by an electorate 90 per cent. of them members of the working classes, and I will do the very best I possibly can by voting against this Amendment and anything else of the same kind to do what I was sent here to do by my Bilston beloved.
§ 2.33 P.m.
§ Mr. G. Strauss
The hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Hannah) has travelled very far, both in space and time. He went round the world several times and he went back through many centuries of history. But it appeared to me that most of his speech had very little relation to the Amendment. Where it had such relation it contained much more vehemence than argument. It is my purpose to reply as well as I can to the speech of the Home Secretary. He made a challenge to the Opposition. He said: "Here are certain facts and figures which destroy your case. I challenge a reply and I invite Members of the Opposition to say what they can to support the case which they have built up." I do not think that is as difficult as the Home Secretary suggested. His figures are accurate, but my complaint is that he has selected figures which do not give a true representation of the facts as they are to-day. He started by saying that the Government have done a great deal in the way of housing, but 484 that he did not desire to cover this ground again.
I want to point out a fact which hon. Members opposite appear to forget too often. A very great deal of the housing of the working classes which is being done at the moment is being done under Acts passed by two Labour Governments, the Wheatley Act and the Greenwood Act, and these houses are being built largely by energetic Labour authorities. The Home Secretary coming to his array of figures pointed out with pride that the production of this country has increased since 1931 by 50 per cent. That is undeniable, and the right hon. Gentleman is on safe ground in stating it. He was not on such safe ground in saying that the figure was far higher than in any other country of the world. In point of fact under the planned industry of Russia the productive output between 1932 and 1936 has increased by over 100 per cent. But let us take the figure of 50 per cent. increase of output in this country during the last six years. I want to examine that figure and other figures which the right hon. Member gave in regard to the standard of life of the people during the last six years for which the Government have been responsible. Their claim is that they are responsible for this increased productivity and also for the improved standard of living of the people. If that claim was not made specifically by the Home Secretary to-day it is a claim which is constantly made by supporters of the Government. I do not think the claim is true, except in so far as trade improvement has been brought about by preparations for war. There has been a general improvement in trade throughout the world, and in so far as this country got a lead in that general improvement it was the result of an early abandonment of the Gold Standard, a proposal strongly opposed by Members of the present Government.
The other argument which is constantly put forward without any foundation is that there has been an improvement in trade because the business community have confidence in His Majesty's Government. I know of no country where the business community has less confidence in its Government than the United States, and the degree of improvement in that country has been a t least as high as in this country. Therefore, there is 485 nothing in that argument. Then, says the Home Secretary, the figures show that between 1929 and 1937 there has been little change in the standard of life of the people, and indeed that it can be shown that there may have been some improvement, based on wages and the cost of living figures. That is not very much about which to boast. Considering that the production output per man employed in industry has increased by at least 10 per cent. and probably nearer 20 per cent., there has been no such comparable increase in the standard of living of the people as there ought to have been. When scientific inventions and improved methods in industry enable a man to turn out more goods, then his standard of life should increase in proportion, as it is in fact increasing in Russia to-day.
The figures which are important are these: the Home Secretary tried to compare two entirely different periods of time. He compared the standard of living between 1929 and to-day and he compared the increase in output between 1931 and to-day. What has been the position, as far as the standard of living is concerned, during the last six years? Agreeing that there has been an improvement in business and trade, what we want to know is who has benefited from this improvement? Here we find a very remarkable set of figures. The Home Secretary admitted that during the period since the Government have been in office the rates of wages have increased by 3 per cent. My calculation shows it to be about 4 per cent. But during that same period, from 1932 to to-day, the cost of living figures have increased by 10 per cent. It is, therefore, perfectly clear that during the period that the Government have been in office and responsible for the conduct of affairs, the standard of life of the people as a whole, at any rate of those who are in work, has deteriorated by a considerable margin. If wages have increased by 3 or 4 per cent. and the cost of living has increased at the same time by 10 per cent., it is quite clear that whatever apparent increase there might have been in wages, in real wages, in the standard of living, there has actually been a decrease during this period.
The one reply which hon. Members opposite may make is that there has been 486 in the period some improvement in social services and increases in the amount paid for these social services. I agree, but it does not go far. A close analysis shows that five-sixths or seven-eighths of the amount paid in social services are paid by those who benefit from the social services—the working classes. What I want to point out is that those in work during the last few years, by virtue of the fact that the standard of living has risen so much, are worse off to-day than in 1932. If one turns to the figures of the industrial profits made, one sees a very different picture. The "Economist," whose figures are generally accepted, publishes regularly a set of tables showing, from a large representative group of industrial companies, the profits made during every quarter of the year, and a study of these figures shows that industrial profits in this country have risen since 1932 up to the present moment, including the first nine months of this year, by no less than 78 per cent. At the same time, there has been a decrease in the real wages earned by the working people.
Therefore, when we have speeches about the glorious effects which industrial recovery has brought to this country as a result of the heroic activities of the Government, we find on examination that the industrial recovery has benefited the industrialists, the shareholders and the rentiers in this country very materially, but has brought a very much smaller benefit to the working class; in fact to many sections of the population no benefit at all, but rather a worsening of the conditions. That there have been more people employed who have benefited every one will agree, but that is largely due to causes over which the Government have no control whatever.
I should like to congratulate the Government on the able way in which they are functioning as a Conservative Government. They have brought about this remarkable state of affairs, immense increases of benefits to the capitalist classes with a simultaneous deterioration for a very large section of the working classes, without creating such an uproar and revolt as might have upset the Government. They do it in the most able way, in a smooth-voiced and velvet-gloved way, so that no one notices what is happening. But if the Home Secretary tries to put forward figures to show the 487 benefits that the Government have brought to the people of this country as a whole, as a result of the industrial revival, for which the Government are not responsible, the challenge can easily be accepted. It can be shown, by the figures, which I have quoted and which are all taken from official sources, that the benefits are nothing like what the Government claim them to be.
The big increased profits that have been made during the last few years—profits that are 78 per cent. higher than in 1932—have undoubtedly been made, at least in part, as a result of the armaments "boom." The Government are supposed to have some check on those profits, but I am very doubtful whether that check is of any use. The point I now want to make, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Arthur Jenkins), is that very substantial profits are being made by a large section of industry in what might be called the direct exploitation of the public, by charging fantastic sums to local authorities attempting to carry out social services for the benefit of the people.
For example, the London County Council is attempting to carry out its functions in an enterprising spirit by building new schools and bridges, and by drainage works and other activities. But the County Council finds now that on almost every occasion when it gets tenders for materials of various sorts, whether it be for iron, steel or some other necessity, there is a completely closed ring, and every tender is exactly the same. There is no check that the County Council can put on the reasonableness of those tenders. The industrialists are exploiting the needs of the people in the supply of new schools, hospitals, bridges and so on. This is a really outrageous state of affairs which the Government, being responsible as the upholder of the present system of industrial organisation and private enterprise, should immediately take in hand. If they do not do so, there will soon be such a public outcry as will force them to do so. Meanwhile, the public, the people who are to benefit from the schools, hospitals, and other institutions, as well as the ratepayers are being exploited, without check, by industrialists who form rings and control the prices of almost every commodity which a local authority wants to buy.
488 I am very anxious to know whether the Government propose to take any steps to control the prices that will be charged by manufacturers in supplying to local authorities the materials which they require for air raid precautions. I believe the only reason the Government have recently "got a move on" in preparing air raid precautions schemes is that large numbers of manufacturers and industrialists, particularly in the building industry, frightened that they are going to lose part of their trade and profits by the slowing up in the housing "boom," have put pressure on the Government to take action hastening air raid precautions work, in order that the profits of the manufacturers may continue in this new direction. Is the safety of the population of this country to be exposed to the unchecked exploitation of these manufacturers? I do not know whether the Government have anything in mind, but I suggest that the safety of the population is one thing, above all others, from which no one should make abnormal profits. The public should not be exploited when it is a question of air raid precautions. Already many sections in the City are beginning to look up the shares of the companies that are likely to supply the necessary goods. The Stock Exchange is whooping at the prospect of a new section of industry which is going to "boom." I could give quotations from financial newspapers showing that that is so. At this juncture I think we are entitled to ask whether the Government intend to take adequate steps in this matter.
In conclusion, I maintain that the claim of the Government that they are advancing the standard of living of the people in this period of "boom" can be shown to be unfounded. It is obvious that, although they are proposing to carry out a large number of Measures, odds and ends all hotch-potched together, they are not tackling the fundamental problems which confront us at the present time. Unemployment, the falling standard of living of a large section of the population, the under-nourishment which, according to the highest authorities, is also afflicting a large section of the population, the organisation of the resources of this country so that every individual shall be able to get not only the necessities but many of the luxuries which only a few enjoy to-day, the proper organisation of our 489 vast wealth to secure that there shall not be one unemployed person, one family without the necessities of life or one under-nourished person while there is an abundance of food, and raw materials—none of those problems is being tackled by this Government.
They are problems that could be solved by a Government which believed in a different social system from that in which the present Government believes. I claim that they could be cured by a Socialist Government. I know that the present Government believe that that is not so. One does not expect them to get down to the fundamental evils and attempt to cure them by fundamental, drastic remedies. But they are not even attempting to tackle these problems of their own social system in the Gracious Speech which outlines the programme of Parliament. Therefore, I say that the Government does not deserve the confidence of this House or of the country.
§ 2.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Samuel
In opposing the Amendment, I wish to congratulate the Government upon the Gracious Speech. There is outlined in that speech more than enough good legislation for the work of a full Session. We are all aware that there still remain many things to be done. I am one of those who believe in the inevitability of gradualness, and in ordered progress. I do not believe that a time-limit can be placed upon the arrival of a particular form of Government in this or in any other nation, and I am convinced that deliberate attempts by politicians to force the pace by economic experiments based upon theories can only do harm. We have already heard much concerning the scandal of poverty in the midst of plenty. I am rather hard of hearing in my left ear, and occasionally, when there are important debates, I go into the gallery and sit facing the Government in order to hear them. I then have the pleasure of looking down upon His Majesty's Opposition. I see a number of cases of cranial malnutrition—bald heads—and if those gentlemen were to believe in the theories and take the advice of cranks in the potential world of plenty of hair, not one of them would lose his hair, except in debate. We on this side of the House regard them in the same light politically as we do those patent medicine quacks who pretend to cure all physical ailments.
490 This world of plenty exists only subject to a number of "ifs" which I shall not detain the House by elaborating. Women, even Socialist women, have a practical way of looking at some things, and I notice that the annual conference of Labour women in 1935 pointed out that the existence of surplus stocks and of over-production in general at certain moments in certain countries does not in any way prove that the world produces too much food or even enough to meet the needs of its population. I commend that statement to the party opposite. That is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It is time that hon. Members opposite stopped deluding their supporters and leading them up the garden and giving them the idea that of all the world's workers, the British working man is entitled to the lion's share of the world's goods.
§ Mr. Samuel
When Socialism comes he will find that he will be subjected to a levelling down. We are a nation of less than 50,000,000 out of a world population of 2,000,000,000. In any event we must ask, have the Opposition the personnel or the policy to make a better job of things than His Majesty's Government are doing? As to their personnel, it seems to me that the members of what I may call the "shudder Cabinet" waste a great deal of time and energy in correcting and contradicting one another. Thus that pea-green incorruptible, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), speaking at Burnley quite recently, said:If ever a Government had completely destroyed confidence, not only at home but abroad, it was the National Government, which had succeeded in reducing the prestige of the country to the level of a minor State and had forfeited the respect of the workers.But how does that statement tally with what was said a few weeks ago by the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell)? He was lately the Minister of Mines. As a rule we look upon him now as a sort of unpaid Minister of moans, because he is always growling about something. For some reason quite unexplained he told what I conceive to be the truth when speaking of the position of this country. He said: 491The British Government is still the most influential Government in Europe and perhaps in the world.Compare those two statements. I could go right along the Front Opposition Bench and show how right hon. and hon. Members upon it contradict themselves and each other with the greatest frequency and the greatest profundity—and profanity sometimes. But their competence, if any, is not even displayed in success in converting people to their own way of thinking. Either their policy is so nebulous or the manner of explaining it is so incomprehensible that few can understand what it is all about. We heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) speaking today. A short time ago he admitted that:Perhaps nine-tenths of London's great army of Labour voters could not tell you what Socialism means.I thank him for those words. I always say that when Socialists tell the truth, they say there is no need for Socialism, but when they talk Socialism, they seem to think there is no need to tell the truth. In reply to a complaint made by some of his disciples that they would still be talking Socialism in 2,000 years time, Lord Snowden said, "Of course you will," and personally I do not object to that form of Socialism at all. But it is my submission that any programme which disregards the lessons and the gains of the past and attempts to put a time-limit to progress in the future, is misconceived.
It is all very well for the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) to write that unless we can dislocate our existing system there is no hope for the worker. The progress of the last 100 years, of the last 50 years, of the last 30 years, even of the last five or six years goes to show that that is not true. With regard to the right hon. Gentleman who has been relegated to the "third floor back" opposite, no doubt now that he has been translated to another sphere we shall see him leading, as he did before, whenever he wanted to, from the Front Bench. I am satisfied of one thing, and it is that he is the George Washington of the party. He tells the truth to the best of his great ability. As to the contemplated method of trying to implement the promises which are so glibly held out by the Socialist party, of shorter working 492 hours, higher wages, cheaper rents, better social services and better everything through the overthrow of capitalism—all that is sheer deception. They attempt to allay suspicion by saying that we already have a certain amount of Socialism in practice. They pretend that they know how to run the production, distribution, and exchange of this country. What do they know of production, distribution and exchange? They pretend to show how Socialism would work by pointing to the municipal services — tramways, gas, water, electricity, public lavatories, baths and washhouses, graveyards and so forth. They call these Socialistic enterprises, but these are only very remotely connected with the production, distribution and exchange of this country and of the world.
There are other matters to which I would like to refer, hut, unfortunately, time does not allow me, and I was unfortunate in not having been called earlier. I should like, however, to give a few figures about banking, a subject about which I can claim to know something. Imagine the catastrophe of having our magnificent banking system in the hands of a lot of tinkering, experimenting politicians. Hon. Members opposite do not appear to have the very slightest glimmering of knowledge of what our banking system is doing for the country and for the rest of the world. They do not seem to realise the proportion of the national income that social services already represent. I will quote a few figures which may give some food for thought to these who care to think things out instead of taking all their dope from the professional dope manufacturers whom they employ. The retail trade of this country amounts to £2,000,000,000 a year, which is about the same number of pounds as the inhabitants of the world. The social services, costing £500,000,000 a year, are equivalent to 25 per cent. of the total expenditure of the retail trade of the country. When we come to banking figures, the turn-over of the big banks is something over £50,000,000,000 a year, and the total amount, including country banks and currency, has been stated to be nearly £100,000,000,000 a year. That is equal to £50 per head of the total population of the world, while the retail trade of this country is, as I have said, £2,000,000,000, and none of the money is of the dormant kind which has so often been criticised, but is actively facilitating world trade.
493 I could show, if I had time, how in the two Gracious Speeches of a previous Reign, when the party opposite were in power, the depressed areas were not even mentioned and how, while the hon. Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson), very much to her credit, at every conference has held forth on the subject of the distressed areas, it was only this year that the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), who, like the tortoise and the hare in a Disney cartoon, has been rushing all over the country, so that you could not see his back for dust, suddenly started to produce some reports on the distressed areas. How many years has it taken him to produce these reports? I am sorry I have not more time to speak of the utter failure of all these gentlemen to produce anything in the way of a working proposition, whether for banking or anything else; I much regret that ray time is so limited.
§ 3.9 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I do not intend to follow the arguments of the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. M. Samuel). All that I will say to him is that, whether or not we know anything about producing dope or about banking figures, we at least know something about preparing our own speeches, and if the hon. Gentleman had not got such an efficient secretary, I am sure he would not require to take up so much of the time of the House. A direct challenge was levelled at the Opposition by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary earlier in the day, and it was a challenge, I thought, fairly and squarely met by my hon. Friend behind me, who not only accepted the challenge, but readily replied to all the facts and figures submitted by the Home Secretary. The right hon. Gentleman said that they had equally as much feeling as we had and that they were equally as anxious as we were to produce peace abroad and security at home. All we can see is that after six years they have been singularly unsuccessful since they have had the opportunity and have done so little towards producing that happy sate of affairs. We only need to look at armaments for that.
I am not at all in disagreement with my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) when he says that there is class prejudice in all the actions of the Government in the 494 foreign department. Some reference was made to the engineers in Russia and the instantaneous application of economic sanctions to Russia, and the Home Secretary rather resented that reference. Recently we have had an attack upon a British Ambassador and a British soldier killed, both by Japanese, but there has been no application of sanctions in that direction. We cannot help but think that there must be some reason, so far not explained either to the House or to the country, why there is this discrimination, unless class ideologies are behind the policy of the Government. With regard to Spain the Government have been pursuing their non-intervention policy for a considerable time, and all the time they have been sitting with representatives of a State which admits to having sent approximately 40,000 people into Spanish territory. How they can expect us to believe that they have either been sincere, honest or determined enough in those circumstances I do not know.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mabane), when seconding the Motion for the Address the other day, let loose one of those curious National Liberal contradictions which seem to typify the mentality of most hon. Members sitting on those benches. Referring to the caution and hesitation of the Government during the past six years, he quoted Bacon, who said:Fortune is like the market; where many times, if you can stay a little, the price will fall,and he went on:Caution and conciliation certainly have had their reward.A few moments later in the same speech, he said:Reluctantly, hut with a stern determination, the country is resolved to make sacrifices for security.''—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th October, 1937; cols. 15–17. Vol. 328.]So that we have been cautious, we have been conciliatory, and we have waited, but the price has not fallen. Our fears are not removed, and security is not assured. Indeed, the rearmament policy at the moment, which is calculated to cost £1,500,000,000 in a short space of time, indicates that the position in 1937 is much more perilous than it was in 1931—thanks not to wise caution, but to either dishonesty on the part of the Government or lop-sided thinking. I do not know which. In the King's Speech 495 there is no proposal for removing international injustices by peaceful means, and if any part of our Amendment is justified, clearly it is the first part.
In the domestic field the proposals of the Government are equally barren. There are no fundamental proposals calculated to provide economic security for millions of working-class families. The Home Secretary—I am sorry he is not in his place—rather felt that the hard facts he submitted to the House were so conclusive as to require no further argument. He asked us to refute them if we could. I have been in the House a few years and I have observed Ministers, Members who support the Government, and Members of the Opposition use figures to suit their own arguments, but I have never heard a Minister use figures as the Home Secretary did this morning to fit the argument he wanted to submit to the House. He started by quoting comparative figures for 1937 and 1933. Then, to suit another part of the argument, he went from 1937 to 1931. To compare the cost of living he went from 1937 to 1929. To compare real wages he went from 1937 to the average between 1925 and 1929. Obviously no hon. Member will deny that the figures were correct, but he had selected the appropriate sets of figures to support the arguments he wanted to advance, and in that way he leaves us more or less stone cold.
There is one argument which I would submit to the Postmaster-General and ask him to deny it if he can. The Home Secretary said that unemployment benefit for a man and wife amounted in 1931 to 24s. a week and to-day the sum was 26s. The Minister of Labour declared in the country a few days ago that the increase in the cost of living was approximately one penny in the shilling. In the case of a man and wife receiving 26s. a week, if there is an increase of 2s., or slightly more, in the cost of living, the unemployment benefit has come down to below 24s. The individual recipient of 17s. unemployment benefit, if he loses a penny in the shilling, finds that his 17s. have become worth 15s. 7d. The old age pensioner with 10s. is getting the equivalent of 9s. The Home Secretary did not deal with things in that fashion. He took his figures for the appropriate periods and satisfied himself that he was right, but he satisfied nobody else in this House. I 496 suggest that neither the Home Secretary, the Postmaster-General nor any Minister can deny that those people with constant incomes have suffered a decrease in the real value of those incomes during the past few years.
Then the right hon. Gentleman went on to boast of what the present economic system has done, saying there was an increase in the output of steel, ships and cotton, an increase in our exports, and so on. We do not wish to deny that there has been a change since 1933. If we start at the bottom of the trough of depression and compare the position then with what it is at the moment, when we are supposed to be at the height of prosperity, clearly the figures will be very dissimilar, but they have little or no meaning to those 1,300,000 people who are unemployed. The Home Secretary said, in effect, "Our present position is the result of our wonderful system and not of your abstract theories." We shall not deny those statements, neither shall we deny the statements that were made by the Minister of Health in this House a day or two ago; but, after all, if the Minister of Health is happy and contented and joyful, and the Home Secretary is suffering from an overdose of smug complacency and self-satisfaction, that does not alter certain facts which I am going to sumbit to the Postmaster-General and ask him whether there is any reply.
At this moment we have approximately between 1,200,000 and 1,300,000 unemployed under this much-vaunted economic system and when we are right at the height of industrial prosperity. In 1933, when we were in the trough of depression, we had 3,000,000 people unemployed, and if we are to depend upon the proposals in the King's Speech, where no preparations are made for the day when the cycle will turn and depression may follow, we shall probably again have 3,000,000 people for whom no work and wages will be available. Despite all the happiness, joy and contentment of those sitting on the opposite benches we have approximately 1,250,000 persons in receipt of Poor Law assistance. A quarter of a million aged people are receiving public assistance in this land which, so argue the Minister of Health and the Home Secretary, provides the best of all standards. Why, in one area in my own division of South Yorkshire, not a distressed area like South Wales or 497 Durham but a so-called prosperous area, 22 per cent. of the insured population are wholly unemployed. They have not an opportunity of finding employment in any other industry but they seem to be there sterilised, hopeless, helpless and destitute. One man in five is willing to work, but is without an opportunity of earning his livelihood.
As we see the position, it is that in good times we have 1,500,000 people out of work and in bad times there may be 3,000,000 people out of work. All our millions of industrial workers live in a state of perpetual economic insecurity. When they are in work their wages are miserably low, and they never know from one week to another when they may be turned out of employment. If they fall sick they are penalised and have to live on 15s. per week. If they meet with an accident they are penalised and their income is reduced by 50 per cent. When they reach old age they are pauperised, under this much vaunted system. The Minister of Health boasted that capitalism is growing and developing; how is your system growing and developing? We are subsidising housing because wages are not big enough to enable tenants to pay economic rents; we have been subsidising, and are going to subsidise again, agriculture because agriculture cannot maintain itself; we are subsidising shipping, steel indirectly and coal, and we are passing electricity Acts because those who are responsible for the generation and distribution of electricity cannot of their own volition organise themselves. They are coming to Parliament to be helped to do it. We are subsidising every health service in the country. Why? Because, as Members of all parties recognise, the wages paid to millions of men and women are insufficient to allow the heads of families to provide the food and general health equipment necessary according to decent standards. It is generally recognised that malnutrition is present on a very wide scale in this country. Yet the Home Secretary and the Minister of Health boast that Capitalism is growing and developing. We have neither military security nor economic security for the great mass of the workers in this country.
There are one or two references in the King's Speech to which I intend very briefly to refer, dealing with agriculture. The Home Secretary made a great point 498 the other day that this Government was at long last going to do something for rural housing. I would remind hon. Members that an Act was passed in 1924 the terms of which would have enabled tens of thousands of houses to be erected in rural areas but that the Tory Government of 1924–29 sterilised that Act; and an Act was passed in 1931 by the Labour Government which was designed to erect 40,000 houses for agricultural workers in this country at rents which they could afford to pay, and that the National Government sterilised that Act. Now, in 1937, after a very recent conversion, the Minister of Health comes along and declares, "We alone are the people who are going to do the job." Why are they going to build houses in rural areas? Because private enterprise finds it unprofitable to do so, because their economic system has so many leaks and breaks in it that the Government have to step in a thousand times in the year to fill the gap. That is one example that the Home Secretary and the Minister of Health would do well to ponder when they are boasting of this much vaunted economic system.
There are two other references in the Gracious Speech connected with agriculture. The Government are going to help to increase the production and consumption of milk, and they are going to introduce legislation to deal with the white fish industry. After all, any King's Speech brought to this House that made no reference to helping agriculture would be an extraordinary King's Speech indeed. Agriculture has been a serial story with monthly instalments for years, but apparently there is no final chapter. With all the treatment that this Governmen and their predecessors have dealt out to agriculture, we still have to-day 20,000 agricultural labourers unemployed, and yet some farmers would have us believe that there is a real shortage of agricultural labour.
The Minister of Health said the other day that, if agriculture is to be successful, we have to persuade good, solid, skilled agricultural labourers to remain in the rural villages, and we must give them decent homes to live in. They must not only give them decent homes to live in; they must provide them with many more social amenities than they have at the moment, and they must provide them with a wage that will enable them to buy 499 some of that British beef which they help to produce on the countryside; for despite this economic system of which the Minister of Health and the Home Secretary boast, at this moment British workers by the million, including agricultural labourers, cannot afford to buy English beef, although they themselves are really the persons who help to produce it by cultivating the fields of this country.
Again, the Government are going to help the farmer to increase the production and consumption of liquid milk. It may very well be that this is a necessity, but why is it necessary for the Government to step in to help to increase the consumption of milk? It is simply because millions of families cannot afford to buy milk at the price at which it is now being sold. I do not blame the manager or the chairman or any member of the board, but, after four years of the Milk Marketing Board—which is not a Milk Marketing Board at all, but a board for fixing the price of the milk they sell to someone else who sells it to the consumer—instead of the price of milk to the consumer being decreased, it has been increased by more than 2d. a gallon; and unless this Government, instead of subsidising the production of cheese, butter, dried milk and other milk products, are going to find ways and means of sending that liquid milk down the throats of men, women and children who cannot afford to buy it, then, instead of more liquid milk being consumed at these higher prices, I am afraid there will be less consumed in the future, and the producer will be in a parlous plight.
With regard to the white fish proposals, we shall welcome them if the Measure is calculated to restore either tranquillity or prosperity, or both, to the white fish industry. We know that the producer has a case, but the consumer also has a case. We shall welcome the Measure, we shall examine it very closely, and do our level best to hold the balance even between the two parties.
I want to finish as I began. I declare that at this moment the international situation is infinitely worse than it was in 193I. We attribute that to the vacillating policy of the present Government. We think that they have gravely imperilled the prospects of lasting peace and national 500 security by helping, in association with other nations, to betray the principles of the League of Nations. On the home field, every time I return to my home I must be confronted with thousands of men and women who may be thrown out of employment any day of any week in any month of the year. I know the wages they receive when they are not working are not large enough to enable them to tide over a period of distress. When they fall sick their income is reduced to 15s. or 16s. a week. If they meet with an accident in employment, their income is reduced by 50 per cent I have a brother who met with an accident in a coalfield 25 years ago. I regret introducing a personal note into a debate of this kind, but this case is typical of many. He has lived in a carriage ever since, with a fractured spine. He has never received more than 24s. 3d. a week as compensation. He has a life of agony and misery. and no suitable compensation law is in operation in this country. There is perpetual insecurity for the man who is sometimes in work, sometimes out; sometimes ill and sometimes well. If he lives to be 65 he has to go to public assistance if he marries a woman younger than himself. On the home front, despite the life we see in the West End of London and in the South of England, we know that economic insecurity is the lot of the worker, and no provision is made in this King's Speech, either to-day or to-morrow, to deal with that. If ever an Amendment was justified, it is this Amendment on the Order Paper.
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ The Postmaster-General (Major Tryon)
Perhaps I might be allowed to say what a welcome contrast the speech of the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) makes to the speech with which the Amendment was proposed. That was a speech full of phrases but with very few facts. But if the hon. Member for Don Valley had made that speech in the days of the Labour Government, it would have been made with much greater effect. Practically all the complaints applied, and in many cases with greater force, in the days of the Labour Government, when for a long time the cost of living was higher than now and unemployment benefit was less than it is at present. I want to make an announcement of some interest now. The Government have 501 been considering for some time the question of broadcasts in foreign languages. It is a delicate matter involving both questions of policy and problems of equipment. We have been working at it for sonic time, and before the right hon. Gentleman who spoke first raised the subject, the Government had already decided to make broadcasts in foreign languages. I want to say, also, that when we send out news it will be straight news, as hon. Members would wish, and not propaganda.
I should like to say how much I enjoyed the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Yeovil (Sir G. Davies). It seems to be a great pity that he was a Whip for so long, because if he had not been a Whip we might have had the opportunity of enjoying his speeches on many occasions. The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Leslie) made a point which is almost too good to be true. He said what a pity it was that there was such a short reference to Scotland in the King's Speech. I have been fortunate in obtaining copies of the first two King's Speeches under the Labour Government, and I found not only no reference whatever to Scotland in either of those Speeches, but in the first a reference to something to which they appeared to attach more importance than to Scotland, and that was to make an attempt to get in touch with the Soviet Government of Russia. I hope that that great country was not too disappointed that the Labour Government dropped Russia in their second King's Speech. Compared with what the opposition suffers under the Soviet Government, I think that the Opposition in this country is happier not only with regard to the cost of living, but with regard to the possibility of living at all.
I come to what is rather a remarkable contrast between the two portions of the Amendment. The first part is full of prospects of action all over the world, and regret that we have not taken a more vigorous course. I cannot help thinking that, if the Labour Government had been in power during the last two or three years and had acted in office in accordance with the speeches with reference to foreign affairs which they have been making when in opposition, we should have been in one, two or three wars. I am bound to admit that there is often a difference between the 502 speeches of the Opposition when they are in opposition, and what they do when they come into power. I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Labour party for being present, and I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment did not trouble to wait to the end of the Debate.
§ Mr. T. Williams
My right hon. Friend has had to leave the House to attend the air raid precautions discussions which are taking place.
§ Major Tryon
I entirely accept that explanation, I only hope that the right hon. Gentleman will do me the honour of reading the reply which I am making. The point I wish to make is this. It is the question of foreign affairs, and I approach it from the point made by the Leader of the Labour party. He said—I quote it because I think it is a statement which interests and encourages the position taken up in the Amendment:I do not believe … that Japan would challenge the world. The world has given its verdict at Geneva. A verdict like that, followed by no action is perfectly useless."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st October, 1937, col. 77, Vol. 327.]That is, obviously, a demand for action, and, presumably, for military action.
§ Major Tryon
That may be, but it is a very dangerous thing. We have to consider what is likely to be the result of our action before we take it. I am not complaining of that point. The point is—and I say it in all courtesy to the right hon. Gentleman—he does injury to the League by overstating both its membership and its power. It is not the case that the League represents the world and that it has all the Powers of the world behind it. Many of us in the early days thought that there might be something so great and so powerful that the whole power of the world, in the words used by the right hon. Gentleman, would be against the aggressor. That is not the position to-day. The position to-day is that of the three great Navies of the world only one is within the League. I also take grave exception to the fact that the expression of the right hon. Gentleman leaves out the United States. It is a pity to talk of the world when you do 503 not mean the world, and it is pity to talk of action while we are waiting for an arrangement with the United States. We ougth to wait and go with them. I think that he is mistaken in leaving out the United States at that point. I do feel that perhaps the country may prefer the domestic policy of the present Government to the more violent and far more dangerous policy in foreign affairs put forward by the. Opposition. The country wants peace and wants a Government which will attend to the welfare of the people of this country.
The right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment made a very bad slip. He talked of "twopenny-halfpenny proposals." There was a most curious misprint in the OFFICIAL REPORT of the speech of the right hon. Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair), who spoke of "democratic" Governments. That suggests to me the word "domestic." If our policy is domestic and if we are providing more milk for children and expectant mothers and better housing for the people—the Minister of Health has spoken at some length about providing better houses for agricultural workers—if we are planning for the health of the children and the welfare of expectant mothers, that may be domestic policy, but those are not suitable things to describe as "twopenny-halfpenny proposals." The people would much rather that the Government got on with schemes that make for the welfare of our people than that it embarked on a policy of military adventure such as is embodied in the first part of the Amendment.
There have been references to agriculture. We all agree that the Labonr party have a very intimate knowledge of the problems of mining. When as a Government they dealt with mining, they brought in a Bill for dealing with the price of coal at the pit-head. The object was to prevent the price falling, to do what was possible to get a good price for coal as it reached the pit-head, and I am sure that the object of the Labour Government was to get better wages and better conditions of work for the miners. But why should that principle not apply to agriculture too? We have had proposals for agriculture brought forward by the National Government, quotas for wheat, subsidies or tariffs in other cases, but whether it 504 was quotas or tariffs or subsidies the Labour party have opposed them all. We have had some very touching speeches from the Labour party about the low rate of agricultural wages, but I remember that at the end of their period of office agriculture was in such a condition that wages were actually going down and bankruptcies were common. The fall in the rate of agricultural wages was about Is. from the already low standard. Wages did not begin to improve until the National Government applied to agricultural production efforts to secure better prices for the farmer so that he could have a chance of paying better wages. My figures come from the Agricultural Workers' Union and other reliable sources. The amount of wages paid in a year to agricultural labourers went up by £2,300,000, directly as a result of the efforts of the Government. I do not say that that is a large sum among many, but every one of those efforts to make it possible for agriculture to pay better wages, was opposed by the Labour party. That is perhaps why the Labour party are not very successful in the agricultural districts.
In a most interesting debating speech the hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. G. Strauss) made the point that the general improvement which has undoubtedly taken place in employment and in wages was not due to the Government but was due to our going off the Gold Standard. It is a pity that when people study these subjects they do not take into account the question of dates. I am aware that if you get together two authorities on the subject of the Gold Standard they will come to exactly opposite conclusions. I believe I am correct in saying that we went off the Gold Standard just before the General Election of 1931, in September of that year. For a long time after that, things continued to grow worse. Unemployment became worse, trade became worse and there was no sign of improvement following our going off the Gold Standard. It was not until we had been in office some time and had changed the economic policy of the country that things began to improve. It was when tariffs were put on that the change came.
When the Opposition tell me that this Government has done nothing to improve conditions, I say that statement is opposed to facts. I will not go into trade 505 after trade, but I would point out that when millions of our people were out of work the Labour Government were admitting into this country enormous quantities of iron and steel. At that time our workmen in those trades were doing nothing. We put on tariffs and kept out a great deal of those importations, with the result that the steel and iron were made in this country. The general recovery was not due to the question of the Gold Standard but to the definite action taken by this Government for the welfare of the workers of the country—action which was opposed by the Labour party.
The Liberals always asserted that we should ruin our exports if we put on tariffs, but our exports have gone up from £365,000,000 in 1932 to £440,000,000. That does not look as if tariffs have ruined our exports. What it means is that the improvement in trade brought about by Government action and encouragement has enabled us to compete more successfully overseas and has nothing whatever to do with our going off the Gold Standard. There is another matter on which the Government have taken definite action, and that is in regard to Imperial Preference. I will not go into that matter fully, but I will quote some figures in regard to Australia. Since the Ottawa Conference our exports to Australia have gone up from £20,000,000 to £32,000,000. That does not suggest that the action of the Government has been detrimental to trade. It means that their action has been to the benefit of the working classes.
§ Major Tryon
No. That is a year which had the advantage of a Conservative Government. That was before our trade reached the depth.
§ Major Tryon
If there was a world slump that was all the more reason why the Labour Government should have protected the workers of this country from competition from overseas. In shipbuild- 506 ing there is great improvement. In regard to tramp ships, the amount of shipping laid up was 206,000 tons at the beginning of the year and there are now only 6,737 tons not at sea. As regards unemployment, I know that there are still a large number of people out of work—1,339,000, but that is a decrease of 1,500,000 since 1932. The hon. Member opposite, in making a very reasoned speech in reply to the Home Secretary, missed one point. He made a point that wages had not gone up very much, but the point he missed was that 1,500,000 people who were not getting wages at all before are now getting them.
§ Major Tryon
In that case the hon. Member's argument is completely upset. It is no good arguing about the amount of extra wages received unless you contrast the difference between the man out of work and getting 17s. a week unemployment pay and the man now in work and getting full wages. The point is, that all these people have found work, and the finding of work is the object of the Government.
§ Mr. Thurtle
Can the right hon. and gallant Gentleman tell the House what view the Chancellor of the Exchequer takes of these free trade and tariff arguments?
§ Major Tryon
The present Chancellor of the Exchequer was one of those to whom we owe, and we cannot forget it, support for this policy which has been so successful. I am responsible at the Post Office for two services which may be some evidence as to the prosperity of the country. There is the Post Office Savings Bank and we are also associated with the Savings Certificates. There are roughly 10,000,000 people in one of these services, and the total amount of savings in these two classes is nearly £1,000,000,000. It seems to me that that is evidence not only that a large number of the people of the country must have something which they are able to put away but that there must be large numbers of people who are so prudent as to put a little bit by in case trouble comes or with a view to some useful expenditure to start their children in work or for some emergency.
In the presence of the Minister of Agriculture I do not know whether I ought 507 to refer to the nest-egg. That is rather a hard object which is put into the nest to induce hens to lay eggs. One hon. Member used the rather unhappy simile that the Savings Banks provided the workers of this country with a growing nest-egg to fall back on. Perhaps that particular metaphor was rather uncomfortable. We are living in a very dangerous world, but at all events we are governing ourselves. We are able to change our government if the electors so decide. The Opposition have an opportunity of putting forward their views and we have a free Press. Many other countries are not in that position. I say that the one bright spot in the present world is the position of the British Empire. You have at the present moment, roughly speaking, one quarter of the human race living together at peace with each other. We have our Parliaments and parliamentary government. I only wish that other nations would take an example from us. At all events I welcome the fact that hon. Members opposite are beginning to realise the necessity of defending our liberties throughout the world. There are many hon. Members opposite who agree with us, and that is a contribution to peace. Surely this right to self-government and to free speech in such a dangerous world is a thing which we must defend.
§ Major Tryon
It is not for those who supported the Labour Government some 508 years ago to speak about running away. The people who are entitled to rebuke other people for running away are those on this side who, when the country was in the gravest difficulty, stood by the National Government regardless of party.
Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put and agreed to.—[Mr. Munro.]
Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.
Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 2.
Adjourned at Five Minutes before Four o'Clock until Monday next, 1st November.