§ 3.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Hely-Hutchinson (in Court dress)
I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty' as followeth:Most Gracious Sovereign,We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.It is with a full sense of the honour accorded to my constituency and to myself that I rise to move this Address. A year ago the first greeting which I received as I advanced up the Floor of the House to make my first bow to you, Sir, came in an undertone from an unidentified hon. Member on the opposite side of the House, in the words "1066 and all that." The ancient Borough of Hastings, which I have the honour to represent, peaceful and pleasant as it lies in the sunshine among its hills and valleys, has not always been regarded, as it is to-day, as one of the country's leading health resorts. As the premier Cinque Port, and also as giving its name to one of the great historical reversals of British arms, it is associated in our minds with battle on land and sea, and with the threat of invasion and conquest. So perhaps it might seem more appropriate if I had acknowledged this martial record of my constituency, and also the rank of second lieutenant which I still hold in His Majesty's Special Reserve, by presenting myself in this House to-day for the purpose of moving this Address clad in the full panoply of war. But if there is one thing which we acknowledge to-day, if there is one fact in respect of which we 13 are united in heartfelt thanks, united not only among ourselves but with all the peoples of the world, it is the fact, to which reference is made in the Gracious Speech, that we are at peace with all nations. Moreover, for personal reasons, as we explore the past and compare it with to-day, one is compelled to admit that so elusive a memory as the figure of a young subaltern in the Irish Guards is something which is difficult to reconcile with the more substantial present.
The Gracious Speech covers a wide range, the whole range of Government activity—foreign policy, defence, the social services and finance. Perhaps it is not unnatural that my own approach to these matters is that of a man of business. Those of us who earn our living in shop or in factory, in the market-place or in the counting-house, have little time for doctrine or theory. Our doctrine is that experience is the only teacher, and cur theories are refined in practice by the wholesome method of trial and error. And if there is one thing which business teaches us it is that if a man is to make a success of his business he must mind that business and no other. I suggest that this homely phrase "Mind your own business" is just as valuable in its affirmative direction to us to get on with our job as it is in its negative admonition not to interfere with anybody else's.
This is not the occasion for a detailed survey of foreign policy, and I do believe that the country is most heartily sick of that whole subject. But as the Mover of this Address perhaps I may be permitted to express my whole-hearted support of the new spirit of minding our own business which has informed our foreign policy since my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister assumed the full direction of it. And it might be proper at the same time to say that if the statesmen of foreign nations, when discussing foreign policy, find it impossible to mind their own business, why that, after all, is not our business and we should not mind it. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has here, I do believe, a great conception, one which must be followed up if the peace which we all so earnestly desire is to be durable; and it must be followed up by the man in whose mind that conception took form, by my right hon. Friend himself. Most heartily do we wish him life, health and strength so to do.
14 The consideration of foreign policy naturally leads us to the question of armaments, and here is a lesson which we seem continually to forget, something which we have to learn over and over again, and that is that armaments must correspond with policy. I am one of those who look upon the recent crisis as a blessing in disguise, in that it has thrown a searchlight on the degree of our un-preparedness, and I feel sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War will not think it amiss if I suggest that in considering the heavy charge we shall have to lay upon the taxpayer in making good these deficiencies we will take care that the battery of that searchlight is also fully charged. The volume of criticism of the Government has, indeed, been great. Perhaps that is something for which we may be thankful. Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, when listening to the Debates last week and during the previous Session, may have drawn some vicarious comfort from the reflection that there exists in this House so large a reservoir of self-confident volunteers for national service upon which he can draw.
But looking at these matters through the eye of a builder rather than that of a critic, is not one forced to ask himself two questions? First, "Could I, things being as they are, have done the job any better myself?"And, secondly, "What improvements in the art of government can we devise within the framework of democracy to meet the growing complexities and responsibilities which we ourselves are thrusting upon government?"Perhaps here is another opportunity for getting our minds on to our own business, and perhaps we must cater less to sentiment and more to stern reality. The Gracious Speech refers hopefully to the possibilities of the revival of confidence and the expansion of trade and industry. Speaking once more as a business man may I say that even in the short month since the Munich Agreement I have noticed among business friends and acquaintances a new spirit which has been absent for over a year. I have found them tackling their jobs and making their business plans no longer in the spirit of regarding war as a probability, though acknowledging it as a possibility. May we not, without building too much on it, take hope from this in the spirit of the Gracious Speech?
15 Among the many constructive developments in home affairs which the Gracious Speech foreshadows is, once more, a development in the sphere of agriculture. The House, I feel sure, will sympathise with the position of one who is a member of a producers' body—as the Milk Marketing Board is—and at the same time represents a constituency in which there are no farmers at all. He has to say something on the subject, and yet whatever he says he has to steer between Scylla and Charybdis. Whatever he says he must later be able to refer to it in the words of a former great leader of the Liberal party, who is quoted as saying:I cannot conceive how anything I may or may not have said could or could not have given anyone any impression whatsoever.With that preamble—with that caveat—may I offer it as my opinion that the maintenance of our home-grown supplies of food is our first line of defence, that the volume of those supplies cannot be maintained without a prosperous and efficient agriculture; and that the country must be prepared to pay a price for home-grown supplies of food which will secure that condition.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Nottinghamshire (Mr. Markham), who will follow me, will doubtless be dealing with many other aspects of home affairs, but perhaps I may be permitted to mention the subject of finance, which continually bobs up in my philosophy, as King Charles's head used to bob up in Mr. Dick's. Living as we do in a money economy, all policy finds its measure and its expression and the indications of its continuity in finance. Perhaps here I may be allowed to make reference to a most attractive maiden speech by the hon. Lady the Member for West Fulham (Dr. Summerskill), to which I had the pleasure of listening some months ago. The hon. Lady described the housewives of the country as being the real Chancellors of the Exchequer, and she drew a picture of the wise husband who each week on pay day emptied his pockets in the presence of his wife and said, "There you are, my dear, I think you had better look after this."I would like to offer a slight amendment to that picture, at least in so far as it interprets the attitude of the husband. The wise husband to whom she referred does not 16 regard his wife as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but likens her, rather, to the great spending Departments of the Government; and in his practice he differs from the practice of this House in that invariably he goes into Committee of Ways and Means before and not after he goes into Committee of Supply.
If one thing is sure, if there is one thing of which we can be certain, it is that we cannot continue indefinitely to spend each year more than we are able to collect in taxes. And if I may be allowed to refer once more to the writings of Charles Dickens I would say that there is no financial wisdom which transcends that of that great master mind in finance, Mr. Wilkins Micawber, when he conjured David Copperfield to observe that happiness consists in living within one's income, if only by so small a margin as one shilling a year. As we consider the huge cost of rearmament we are compelled at the same time to consider whether it will be possible to maintain our social services, and so we are drawn into making an invidious distinction between guns and butter. I hope it may not be necessary for us to draw such a distinction. For my own part, I would far rather concentrate on those aspects of this issue in which we on this side of the House can find ourselves in agreement with hon. Members opposite, and I do feel that anyone who has contemplated, as so many hon. Members on both sides of this House have contemplated, the devastated areas of France, will agree that Defence itself is the greatest of all the social services. So if in finance, as in foreign policy and defence, and home affairs, we have a mind to our own business, I do feel that it may be a happy augury for peace abroad and for economy at home.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Markham (in Court dress)
I beg to second the Motion.
In doing so I should like to refer to the interesting and humorous speech of the hon. Member for Hastings (Mr. HelyHutchinson), and to congratulate him upon it. I realise that my good fortune in being invited to second the Address is due not to any personal virtues of mine, but rather to the fact that I represent part of that great city of Nottingham which, while it cannot vie with Hastings in claiming the dignity of being responsible for a great British defeat, it can 17 nevertheless claim to have had a part in all the great British victories from time immemorial. Not the least of these were the victories which Robin Hood secured over the then wicked sheriffs of Nottingham. He may indeed be said to be the originator of those parties now so frequent in certain countries, whose motto is "Soak the rich,"so Nottingham has given many great things to democracy at large. More than this, Nottingham can lay its greatest claim to fame in its industries. Its industrial strength and virtues are well known, and to these during the last two years there has been added the second largest gun factory in the country. We in Nottingham will note with interest that the defence measures of this country are to be accelerated and strengthened.
I must confess that my first impression of the King's Speech was that this House, having recently had a rise in pay, was now in for a considerable amount of overtime and overwork. Whether the one automatically followed upon the other I am not certain. I was, however, interested to note that Their Majesties are going not only to Canada but to the United States of America. I am sure that all sides of the House will agree when I say that Their Majesties will take with them a great message of affection and admiration from us to those two great countries of North America who have the same ideals as we have. It has been said that the English-speaking countries can agree upon everything except how to speak English. It is certain that the tongue which Shakespeare and Milton spoke has had some strange twists put upon it by our trans-Atlantic cousins in the last few years. Now, through the radio and the films, we are acquiring in this country what might almost be described as a mid-Atlantic accent. Certain it is that many American idioms are being adopted over here. I see that in a recent American grammar that great phrase "Sez you"is now lifted to the dignity of "a doubtful affirmative,"while another phrase, "Include me out,"is defined as an "unqualified negative."It may be that the First Commissioner of Works, in his zest for bringing the House up-to-date, will now label the "Aye"Lobby the "Sez you"Lobby, and the other the "Include me out"Lobby.
18 I was glad to notice in the Gracious Speech a reference to the Government's determination to take earlier precautions for eradicating cancer. I am sure that this great extension of our social services will meet with a great deal of approval from all sides of the House. It is one of those things which cannot be done by the existing voluntary hospital system, and I hope that the measures which are proposed will include co-operation with the local authorities in the setting up of centres with adequate staffs for the treatment of this great scourge. More than that, the great thing is to eliminate the ignorance, the inertia and the fear which are the greatest allies of cancer in this country.
I should like to have made reference to Palestine, educational development, the cotton industry and the special areas, all of which are mentioned in the Gracious Speech, but one of the conditions of seconding the Address is that one should not only be uncontroversial, but brief. I will, therefore, only remark that I hope the Dominions Secretary, who was so successful in taking the "ire"out of Ireland, will be able to take the "rue"out of Jerusalem during the coming Session.
Finally, may I say a word about our social services. I think that the historian of the future, when he looks back on what this generation has done in Parliament, will come to the conclusion that the most striking phenomena are the great social services which have been built up. These services have been built up by the best brains and the best hearts of all parties. It has not been done by one party alone. Their still greater extension and development are, I think, essential. The opinion has been expressed that the extension of these services has caused a deterioration of the national fibre and a lowering of the tone of the nation. I do not believe that. I believe that we are still a great nation with great qualities not only of endurance, but of leadership. The fact that only yesterday we were able to add yet another world record to our total shows that we are by no means a decadent race. I think it can be said quite truly that we hold now every worthwhile record by land, by sea and in the air. In commerce, too, we have regained our old place of first among all competitors. Even in football a British team is now able to beat the rest of Europe by 19 a resounding margin. It may therefore be said that whatever this nation is, it is no decadent. Certain foreign countries seem to think that we are decadent, and, indeed, our lack of pride in our own achievements might permit that impression to continue. I hope that this House in all its Debates will not let the world think that we are ashamed of what we are doing or are unconscious of our own greatness. We have had a great past, and, to my mind, we have a yet greater future.
§ 3.37 P.m.
§ Mr. Attlee
It is my pleasant duty to congratulate the two hon. Members who have moved and seconded the Address. It always seems to me that these Members are given an extremely difficult task, and yet every year we find Members who are able to carry it out with distinction. This year, I think, the hon. Members have had a more than usually difficult task, because they were trying to make bricks without straw, and, if they did not make any they certainly did not drop any. I could not help but admire the wit and the tact of the hon. Mover. We all enjoyed his wit. I am sure that we all noticed his tact, because he alluded extremely little to what was in the Gracious Speech. The hon. Seconder skimmed rather rapidly over it and had one flight of imagination; and I congratulate him, too, on his tact. In truth, there is not very much in this programme which the Government are putting before the House. I would like to ask one question before making some remarks about it. Perhaps the Prime Minister will tell us when we shall receive the report on Palestine and when we shall have a Debate on that subject.
Looking at the Gracious Speech as a whole, it seems to me to be marked by a complete absence of any realisation of the gravity of the situation and to contain no indications of any real constructive programme. In foreign affairs one might think that Munich had effected a permanent settlement of all outstanding questions. One might imagine that the Italian Agreement had really brought peace to South-East Europe. Yet we have the remarkable statement made in another place by the Foreign Secretary that he recognised that the interference in Spain was due to the resolve of Signor Mussolini that General Franco should win. It is a remarkable comment on the Government's 20 faith in non-intervention. There is no other indication whatever of any policy in foreign affairs, yet we had a right to expect it, from the Prime Minister. I gather from the speech of the hon. Mover that the motto about minding one's own business does not seem to extend to all Members of the Government, because nothing whatever is left to the Foreign Secretary to do; it has all been handed over to the Prime Minister. I notice one thing with regard to foreign affairs, and that is the enthusiasm for the League of Nations that was so emphasised in the Prorogation Speech, and which, in the course of two days, has evaporated. The League, among other things, gets no mention in this Speech.
The serious thing is that we are living in a world of unrest and there is no indication of any constructive proposals, either political or economic, for bringing peace to a distracted world. Yet I do not suppose anyone thinks that Herr Hitler has made his last demand. I do not know whether we are to wait until the next demand of some kind or another is made. In regard to economic appeasement, I am surprised to find that there is no mention in the Speech of the proposed commercial agreement with the United States. Have the negotiations been dropped altogether? Have they faded out of the picture? The House and the country are entitled to know more of the constructive policy of the Government in foreign affairs. Estimates are to be laid before us. We have to face an enormous expenditure, an expenditure to which th? hon. Mover referred as being very dangerous, because we were not sticking to true Micawber principles. May I suggest that here was probably the only slip in tact in the hon. Member's speech, because it seemed to reflect on the Chancellor of the Exchequer who, by Micawber standards, would not pass muster?
The Speech mentions certain deficiencies in military and civil defence preparations. It is one of the most amazing understatements I have read. It is an easy way of referring to the gross incompetence displayed by the Government. Anyone would imagine that there were only a few trifling things left undone. What are the facts? In the summer my colleague, the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), brought an indictment against 21 the Air Ministry and there was no effective reply whatever. Recent events showed that things were still most unsatisfactory. I believe that this House will require a most searching examination into the whole of our defence services and that it will not be content with an examination merely by those responsible for the defects. We had the remarkable confessions of the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for War last week, which showed negligence, not so much just for that moment, but long continued negligence, and I regret that in this Speech there is no indication that the Government propose to make any change in the system which has brought about the present situation. The lesson that we learn from the position of our air defences is that there has been no authority to decide upon priority. Defence has been left to individual Ministers, with such co-ordinations as the right hon. Member for Fare-ham (Sir T. Inskip) could give them. There has been no strategic planning. I think the lesson of the last few weeks is that we ought to have had proposals for a Ministry of Defence. Equally great is the need for a Ministry of Supply. The confession made last week with regard to anti-aircraft guns shows how unsafe it is to leave these provisions in the hands of individual Ministers. If, as is indicated in the Speech, still greater efforts are to be made in rearmament, it is time that we had a properly co-ordinated Ministry of Supply.
I turn from those points to say that there is no indication whatever in the Speech of any economic policy. I dealt at some length last week with the position that faces this country from the growth of autarchy in the world, and the Prime Minister seemed at that time quite oblivious of the fact that we are now carrying on our national business in a very different world from that which used to exist in pre-War times. The Government still believe in the power of finance-capital, as was shown by that shameful reference to the possibilities for British capital in the reconstruction of devastated China. I thought that was most revealing. These true views come out in the unprepared portions of speeches.
The third part of the Gracious Speech is in regard to social services. I thought I noticed some slight rift within the lute between the hon. Mover and the hon. 22 Seconder with regard to the social services. There is nothing positive whatever on this subject in the Gracious Speech. It looks to me rather like a belated attempt to counteract the effect created by the speech of the Minister of Health. What is meant bythe development of the educational services?So far as I can see, the only step taken is a circular to prevent the building of more secondary schools. It is all entirely vague.
Equally vague are the Government with regard to the Special Areas. The Special Areas Act expires in March, and I would ask whether it is to be renewed or to be allowed to lapse; or does the reference in the Speech mean that the Government have not made up their mind either way? It is characteristic of the complacency of this Government that there is no mention of unemployment in the whole of the Speech, although unemployment is nearing the 2,000,000 mark. One may take it, perhaps, that the Prime Minister thinks that unemployment to the extent that we have it to-day is about as good as the capitalist system can give us. There is no hint in the Speech how to get rid of this huge sum of misery and its enormous waste of the resources of the nation. There is really nothing with regard to the condition of the people in this Speech. The old-age pensioners are not mentioned. We consider that the foundation of the national strength is in the condition of the people, and that, a sound policy of nutrition is a basis of strength, and that you cannot get that from a means test Government. That will have a most profound effect upon the morale of this nation. I see no realisation in the King's Speech of that vital question of the strength of the nation.
We shall examine very carefully the proposals for dealing with agriculture. There, again, a sound agriculture can be based only upon security for the producers, both workers and farmers. I see nothing in the Speech for the agricultural workers, and the exodus from the land goes on. Let us take another great depressed industry, the cotton industry. I do not know why that mention is made in the King's Speech. I do not know whether we are to have legislation, whether it means no legislation, or merely that here again the Government have not 23 made up their mind. Year after year goes by, and the cotton trade remains distressed.
There are, of course, some proposals in the Speech that we welcome very much. We shall welcome the reform of the penal system, the proposals to deal with cancer and those relating to pithead baths. We shall welcome the effective prevention of fraud in relation to investments, but it is very belated. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Stirling (Mr. T. Johnston) has been raising this matter, and month after month and week after week he has been exposing this financial ramp. Millions of pounds have been stolen from the ordinary investing public. At last the Government propose to close the door; I hope they will close it effectively. In our view, the effective closing of that door is best done not only by preventing fraud but by providing for the investing classes of this country an investment corporation in which their savings can be used for the good of the whole people. We shall await the Bills dealing with unemployment insurance and insurance business. We cannot tell what they are going to be like, but I would ask what has become of those extensive electricity distribution proposals that we were to have. They seem to have faded out of the picture altogether.
When I look at this Speech as a whole, I must say that the programme is that of a weary, tired, feeble Government, a Government that keeps changing and shuffling Ministers without getting an increase of strength. There is nothing whatever in it to spur the imagination of the people and nothing to inspire the working masses. There is no sense of urgency and no real lead to the country. It is a kind of mark-time Speech. In these dangerous days it is a terrible thing for this country to have a Government that has no clear policy either for home or for foreign affairs.
§ 3.53 P.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Chamberlain)
I well recollect that when I first became a Member of this House as a young fellow of 50 I was overawed at first by my surroundings. I remember one particular nightmare which used to obsess me in my early years, and that was lest I should be invited to move or second 24 the Address to the Throne, a task which I was quite convinced was entirely beyond my powers. Fortunately, those in authority thought so, too. I was not asked, and I do not suppose I ever shall be asked now, to do so, but the consequence is that I have been able to enjoy over a long period listening, without any fear of comparison, to a succession of brilliant performances by those who have undertaken this peculiarly difficult and delicate task. We have been accustomed in the past to a very high standard on these occasions; I agree with the right hon. Gentleman opposite that we can congratulate my two hon. Friends who have moved and seconded the Address in that they have in no way lowered the high level of the speeches. Both the speeches to which we have listened this afternoon presented just that happy combination of sound common sense, shrewd phrasing, sharp wit and delicate humour which is what we look for in speeches in such times as these.
The right hon. Gentleman said that my hon. Friend who moved the Address had not dropped any bricks. He has made up for that by giving us an exhibition, at any rate, of the half bricks that he is proposing presently to throw at us in the course of the Debate which will follow. This is by tradition a day on which we hardly enter into serious controversy, but only skirmish round, as it were, the outside of the field, and the House will not expect me to make a considered or elaborate reply to the various points which were raised but, all the same, I should like to make a few observations on what the right hon. Gentleman said.
In the first place we were told that the Gracious Speech is vague. I do not think that that is altogether an accurate description of it. We do not expect a King's Speech to be a procession of Bills, with all the details of the proposals set out in full. What we get is a general outline of the Measures which the Government are proposing to take.
The Speech begins, in the usual way, with an allusion to international affairs, but seeing that we so recently discussed the Munich Agreement and the coming into force of the Anglo-Italian Agreement, I do not propose to take any time in going over the same ground again. I am sure that the House will have heard 25 with pleasure of the invitations extended to the King of Rumania and the President of the French Republic to pay State visits to this country in the near future. As to the visit of the King and Queen to Canada next summer, that will be a truly historic occasion on which Canada may be heartily congratulated, because never before has any Dominion been privileged to welcome on their own soil the reigning Sovereign in person. This visit will afford a notable illustration of the special part which Their Majesties take in the life of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
The decision of Their Majesties to take the opportunity provided by their presence in Canada to pay a short visit to the United States next year is also one of outstanding importance. This will be the first time that a King and Queen of England have set foot in the land of the great democracy which, for the past 150 years, has played so increasingly important a role in the history of the world, and has contributed so much in politics and in economics, in commercial enterprise and in culture, to the progress of the human race. Their Majesties, who a few months ago succeeded in winning for themselves a permanent place in the affections of the French people, will, I know, when they cross the United States frontier, carry with them a warm message of good will from the people of these Islands to the great Republic of the new world.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me a question about the Palestine Partition Commission's Report. That report will be published to-morrow, and it will be accompanied by a statement on behalf of the Government. I think it will be convenient for hon. Members to have a little time to digest what is in the report and the comments that will be made by the Government upon it, but it is, of course, our intention to provide a suitable opportunity for debate when sufficient time has elapsed to make that convenient to everyone.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke in very scathing terms about the position of Defence, both military and civil. My right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for War certainly cannot be accused of having tried to conceal from the public the fact that certain deficiencies had been made clear 26 by the sort of dress rehearsal through which we passed a little while ago; but I deprecate any impression that, because these defects have been admitted, that means that our system, our machine, our plans for defence are an entire failure and have broken down. I wonder, if in 1914, after a scare that war was coming, war had not come, whether some defects would not have been revealed. I am quite certain that they would have been on a scale far transcending anything that we have to find fault with to-day, because, after the lessons of that great War, our Staff has been planning for 20 years to see that they should not again fall into the errors of omission which were discovered on that occasion. Depend upon it, defects exist in the military system of every country, although we do not hear as much about all of them as we are accustomed to tell our public in our democracy.
I will say no more on the subject of military defence, because there will be opportunities in the course of the discussion, probably this week, for the Government to make statements in greater detail, but I would like to say just this on the question of civil defence, that time must, of course, be given to the new Minister of Civilian Defence, as I have called him—the Lord Privy Seal—to consider the position and formulate his plans. I might, however, mention today that among the subjects to which he will be giving his prompt and undivided attention must be that of the evacuation of civil population from certain places in times of emergency. Evacuation is a matter which, obviously, requires very long preparation and very careful planning beforehand, and it is necessary that we should be able to feel confidence that the whole system has been carefully worked out, and that, if the emergency should arise, it can be put into operation smoothly and effectively.
The second point which will occupy my right hon. Friend's attention will be the provision of adequate shelter accommodation in vulnerable areas. I have no doubt that he will turn his mind to the preparation of a programme on comprehensive lines which will-ensure that in those areas there shall be blast-proof shelter for all those citizens who are unable to provide it for themselves. Again, we must contemplate, in considering the question of civil defence, that in a time of emergency some parts of the country might be cut 27 off from communication with headquarters, and to meet that it will be necessary to form regional organisations which will be in a position to function at any rate for a time while communications with headquarters are being restored. On the subject of national voluntary service I may say that a good deal of preliminary planning has been done for the mobilisation of the nation's man-power for these services, and that my right hon. Friend will accordingly find a considerable amount of material ready to his hand when he comes to formulate his plans under that head.
The right hon. Gentleman, in the course of his remarks, stated in very dogmatic terms that the course of events in recent weeks had shown that there was no authority to decide on priority as between the Service Departments, and that there had been no strategic planning. I think that for my purpose this afternoon it will be sufficient for me to give a flat denial to both of those propositions.
We were told, and I fully expected to hear this from the right hon. Gentleman, that there was no mention of unemployment in the Gracious Speech. Of course, there are different ways of looking at the same thing. I would-point out to hon. Members that there is mention of employment, and that it is rather to the encouragement of employment that I think we should look with the greatest hope of dealing with the situation as we find it to-day. Of course, we know that there has been a recession in trade during the course of the present year, but I see no reason to take a gloomy view of the future. The figures that have been published to-day indicate that there is a revival of employment to some extent, and there are other favourable factors which may, I think, be taken into consideration, such as the evidence of a revival of business in the United States of America, which must always vitally and powerfully affect the rest of the world.
I have on more than one occasion expressed the view that the principal and proper function of Government in relation to trade and employment is to try to create the conditions under which industry itself can carry on its enterprise with confidence and success, and it is to that end that the policy of the Government has been consistently directed. It was with that purpose in view that we 28 made the Ottawa Agreement, and that, since then, we have made a number of trade agreements with various foreign countries. It is rather remarkable that the success of the policy that we then pursued has been indicated by the fact that our exports, including re-exports, in 1937, exceeded those of 1932 by £181,000,000, and, out of that, £125,000,000, or more than two-thirds, was due to our trade with the Ottawa countries and the countries with which we have made trade agreements. I think it is equally significant that, when trade began to recede it was our trade with those countries which seemed to be least affected by the general depression, so that, taking the first six months of the present year, our exports to those countries were only £5,000,000 less than they were in 1937, although the total fall in our exports during the same period was £26,000,000. That policy is still being developed. Recently we have made a trade agreement with Eire, and negotiations for trade agreements are still proceeding with India, Burma, Switzerland and the United States. There is no necessity, because negotiations of this kind—some of which are of very great extent, covering an enormous number of items—are not concluded by any particular date, to suppose that we have dropped them, or that they have in any way reached a deadlock.
If we look forward, we note, at any rate, this interesting fact, that the fall in commodity prices—primary commodity prices—is among the main causes of the recession we have experienced, because it immediately reduced the purchasing power of the producing countries, which are some of our best customers. That fall in prices has been arrested. With the general easing of political conditions, I do not see why we should not hope that during the coming year the recession we have had to face this year will pass away and be succeeded by another upward turn. I am sure that our industrialists, who have in recent years so enormously improved their organisation, will take every opportunity which may present itself to them to increase their enterprise, and to restore, if possible, that international trade to which we must look forward in the future largely for the resources to meet the demands which will be made upon us by our Defence programme.
29 With regard to social services, it is not to be expected that we can at one and the same time embark upon the enormous armament programme, the full cost of which we are not yet in a position to estimate, and vast projects of social improvements which would lay on the taxpayers fresh and impossible burdens. [Interruption.] I have always said that. That is a very different thing, however, from inventing stories of alleged statements by members of the Government for electioneering purposes, to the effect that the Government are now contemplating cuts in the existing social services. There is no foundation for any suggestion of that kind. Nothing that has been said by any Minister gives any just foundation for such an accusation. Not only have we not suggested for one moment that existing services must be curtailed, but, as the Gracious Speech shows, we are still making further extension of social services and provisions for public health. The work of housing and the clearing of slums and providing for overcrowding still goes on vigorously. The new proposal which is mentioned here, for making a frontal attack upon that perhaps most frightening of all diseases, cancer, is one which I know will have the approval of all parts of the House.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the subject of nutrition. He spoke as though, because the word does not appear in the Gracious Speech, it must necessarily be absent from the minds of the Government. It is one that has been in my mind for many years, since a conversation which I had when I was Minister of Health with the late Sir Walter Fletcher. He said to me that by a comparatively small expenditure on teaching people how to feed themselves and their families, we can do more to improve the health and physique of the nation even than by the great efforts which we were then making at the Ministry of Health to improve their housing. That statement was so striking that it made a very deep impression on my mind; and, as a matter of fact, the Ministry of Health to-day is engaged upon the most far-reaching and comprehensive inquiry into the food habits of the people that has ever been made in this or any other country. I think everybody will agree that the more information we have about this subject the better, in order 30 that when we do proceed to take active measures to improve the nutrition of the people we may be building upon solid ground and be certain we are proceeding on the right lines.
I think hon. Members—and there are many—who represent agricultural constituencies, or who have agricultural constituents, will welcome the recognition of the importance of agriculture to the country in the attention which is given to it in the Gracious Speech. The most important agricultural Measure and one of the earliest which we shall introduce to the House is the new Milk Bill, the main principle of which is to encourage the consumption of liquid milk, alike in the interests of the farmer and of national health. But in addition to that we hope to bring forward before Christmas a Wheat Bill, which will provide for a review of the standard price from time to time, together with sundry other amendments. In the course of the Session we shall also be dealing with the proposals which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture will have to bring forward for the assistance of the poultry industry. I do not think I need say anything more on the pre-Christmas business.
I have read in some organs of the Press that this is likely to be a critical Session. I have often heard that remark made about other Sessions, which have not, after all, turned out to be critical. But I am wondering whether when the right hon. Gentleman described this as a weary and tired Ministry and bemoaned the want of a lead to the country, he had something more in mind besides the business of the Session, and whether he was trailing his coat before me to see how far I was prepared to tread upon it. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not trail his coat too conspicuously. It may or may not be a critical Session, but I hope, at any rate, it will he one that will be interesting to hon. Members and fruitful to the country.
Perhaps I may say one more thing. Of course, I do not propose to make any alteration in the usual practice about private Members' rights. They will have their usual facilities, under the Standing Orders, for their Bills and Motions. I propose to-morrow to move the usual Motions for the Ballots. I would also call the attention of the House to the fact that Friday is Remembrance Day, and 31 therefore, I propose to move that this House sit at 12 o'clock on Friday instead of 11 o'clock.
§ Mr. Attlee
That will make a very short day. In addition to that there are Bills, which will reduce the time still more, and many hon. Members will want to attend Armistice services in their own constituencies. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman will consider it worth while taking any other business.
§ The Prime Minister
That is a matter which will require consideration; but I shall be very happy to take it into consideration, and communicate with the right hon. Gentleman through the usual channels.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ Sir Archibald Sinclair
We have before us the prospect of a series of very important Debates, in which many hon. Members drawn from all parties will participate; but I venture to prophesy that no speeches will be more happily phrased, more humorously embellished, more subtly reasoned, or more generally, and, if I may add, more deservedly, acclaimed than those in which the hon. Member for Hastings (Mr. Hely-Hutchinson) and the hon. Member for South Nottingham (Mr. Markham) moved and seconded the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech from the Throne. When I came to the Prime Minister's speech, I listened to it anxious to detect in it some theme in harmony with which I could offer some observations to the House in accordance with the tradition that speeches on the first day on which we reassemble for the new Session should be not too controversial; but I found that his speech was pitched in rather a controversial tone. For my part, I am not intending to-day to take part in the coat-trailing competition between him and the Leader of the Opposition.
If there is one theme on which I think we are all fundamentally in harmony, one theme of policy which is to be found in the Gracious Speech and to which the Prime Minister alluded in his speech, it is, of course, the pursuit of peace. I have never failed to testify to my appreciation of the Prime Minister's sincere devotion to peace, and I believe that responsible men in every party in 32 the country, including those Conservative Members of Parliament who do not agree with the Prime Minister's foreign policy, are equally devoted to peace. But I am concerned with building a peace which will last not merely for the life of this Government or for the lives of the older men among us, but for the lives of our children and our children's children. Of course it is true, as the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) once said, that "a war postponed may be a war averted"; and John Bright once said much the same thing in a very plain way:The right hon. Gentleman says that we are bound to have war sooner or later Well, for my part I would rather have it later.I belong to the generation which had to bear the brunt of those postponed wars. We lost then a million lives, and thousands of men who were maimed in that War still drag out their weary, suffering lives in our hospitals. We know that the only foundation on which lasting peace can be established is justice and the rule of law, and we indict before history those to whom we, by our exertions, gave the instrument of the League of Nations, which they lacked the faith to use with courage and foresight and will.
But it is useless to dwell in the past. The paramount question for us now, in the parlous and perilous situation in which the country finds itself, is, can we achieve national unity in support of a foreign policy which will enjoy the firm and effective backing of the whole country? Such a foreign policy must be plain to our own people and plain to foreign nations. It must be based on certain principles which enjoy the backing and the allegiance of the British people. What are the principles of the Government's foreign policy? Peace is not a principle of policy; it is the aim of foreign policy. I have searched in the speeches to which I have listened in recent weeks from Members of the Government, and I have searched in the Gracious Speech from the Throne, but I can find no mention of the principles. I do not ask for the details of the policy; I do not ask the Government to say, "We are to negotiate first with this country and then with that, and we are to deal with this subject first and that subject next."I want to know the principle on which those negotiations are to 33 be conducted and upon which the policy is to be based. For my part I believe that the rule of law and the liberties of small nations are the indispensable foundations of lasting ace, and it is only on those principles that the British people can be united behind the foreign policy of this or any other Government.
Looking down the Gracious Speech, I am struck by its negative character, which seems to me to give it its distinctive place among the long series of such Speeches that I have read. There is no mention of the League of Nations and no indication of the new policy on which the Government's foreign policy is to be based. There are admissions, indeed, that deficiencies existed in our military and civil defence preparations, but no indication has been given of what has been done to put them right; and the Prime Minister in his speech did not supply those omissions. There is no indication as to how the resources of the nation for national voluntary service are to be utilised. It may be said, "Well, the new Minister has only just been appointed"; but, after all, this is no new problem; it has been pressed on the attention of the Government during recent months by a great many Members of all parties in the House of Commons. Here again I do not ask the Government to say exactly what their plan is to be and how it is to be carried out, but surely the time has come when we might be informed what will be the main principles of this policy of national service.
Looking broadly at the problem of Defence, I must say that I find a good deal that is disquieting in the speech of the Prime Minister. That speech had a very different tone from the tone of the opinions which were being expressed by Ministers during the recent crisis. Then we were being told how distinguished foreign airmen had been visiting Russia and Germany and France and had been greatly impressed by the might of the air preparations of Germany, and how serious were the deficiencies revealed in our own preparations. I understand that meetings of Members of the party opposite were held at which Ministers spoke of the deficiencies. Now we are told that, after all, the deficiencies of other Governments are very nearly, if not quite, as serious as our own, and that our present position in relation to the problems of Defence is at least as good as, if not 34 better than, it was in 1914; but that expression of opinion by the Prime Minister this afternoon was clearly at variance with the facts as we know them, if you judge the preparations in relation to the Defence problems which the respective Governments had to face. It is quite true that there is a great new menace which this Government has to face and which the Government of 1914 did not have to face, and that is the air menace. That is a great new problem and menace. But the Government of 1914 was amply prepared for the Defence of the nation in the conditions which then existed. The Fleet was ready, was in its war station, was able to preserve our country from invasion and to provide it with all the resources of food and raw materials which it required. What was not foreseen, it is true, was the necessity for engaging in warfare on the continental scale, with vast armies of a million men and more. But that, again, the Government are not prepared to do now. I would hesitate to say how many divisions the Government would be prepared to put on the Continent at the present time. I am sure that they could not put on the Continent as many divisions as the Liberal Government put in 1914.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
I agree with the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) that they could not put on the Continent half of that number. Nor is there any promise in this Speech of the establishment of a Ministry of Supply. Though Lord Baldwin, with his great and recent experience of these problems, declared only a few weeks ago that he would mobilise industry to-morrow, the Prime Minister has cast Lord Baldwin's advice aside, has flouted it, and I understand that no proposals for such a Ministry are to be brought before the House by the Government.
The Government's weakness in personnel has been remarked upon by so faithful a supporter as the "Times."Recent appointments have come as a cold douche to public opinion. We strongly object to the appointment of a First Lord of the Admiralty from another place. At the beginning of this Parliament I objected to the fact that the Secretary of State for Air and the First Lord of the Admiralty both then sat in the House of Lords. The Government admitted that 35 there were strong objections to that course, and it was said that as soon as it was possible to make other arrangements it would be done. The fact that Lord Monsell was First Lord of the Admiralty and was retained as such in the House of Lords was explained on the grounds that there were at the time negotiations for a naval treaty taking place, and that it was necessary for him to remain as First Lord until those negotiations were completed. In fact as soon as they were completed Lord Monsell vacated his post and a First Lord of the Admiralty was appointed from the House of Commons. This summer, after repeated protests from all parties in this House, a Secretary of State for Air was appointed from among the Members of the House of Commons. It is most objectionable that the Government should go back on that policy and appoint as First Lord of the Admiralty in one of the greatest, if not still the greatest of all the spending Departments, a man whom we cannot hold responsible here for the vast expenditure upon the Navy.
Then I come to the paragraph in the Gracious Speech relating to agriculture. I agree with the Prime Minister that the importance of these problems deserves a prominent position in the Speech. I do not, however, think that the right hon. Gentleman dealt very effectively with the reference made by the Leader of the Opposition to the important problem of nutrition. It is quite true that that great pioneer of medical research, Sir Walter Fletcher, did take a keen interest many years ago in this subject, and interested a number of other people in it, and that largely as a result of his inspiration an enormous amount of work has been done upon it since the time of which the Prime Minister spoke. Among the most prominent workers in that field since has been Sir John Orr, and the knowledge of the problem and of the potentialities of an effective policy of nutrition have been abundantly proved by the researches of Sir John Orr and other workers. I think the time has now come when we might expect from the Government a policy which would harmonise the interests of the producers in agriculture with those of the consumers who would benefit so greatly from a policy of nutrition.
Glancing at the details of this paragraph, I observe that legislation is 36 promised for the wheat farmer, for the poultry farmer and for the milk farmer, but there is no mention of the sheep farmer. Other Members besides myself pointed out frequently, in the course of last summer, the very great difficulties under which sheep farmers up and down the country have been labouring. The prices for lambs in the autumn markets this year have been disastrous. The losses of farmers up and down Scotland have been very large indeed. The financial position of the sheep farmers is worse now than at any time since the depth of the crisis, and it is urgently necessary that we should know what the government propose to do for that section of the industry.
Lastly, among the paragraphs in this Gracious Speech, I come to the very short sentence which deals with unemployment. The Prime Minister says, "Ah, but there is another very brief reference to employment?"The paragraph says:It will be the constant aim of the Government to supply a fresh impulse for expansion in trade, industry and employment.There is no indication how this impulse is to be supplied. It would have been interesting if we could have been told that. But those two references to the subject are all that is vouchsafed to Parliament in the Gracious Speech, when there are over 1,700,000 unemployed. I would urge, in regard to the distressed areas, that there is need for a new Bill, and I would ask the Government, when they come to reply on this Debate, to tell us whether, and, if so, when, a new Bill dealing with the Special Areas will be introduced. Such a Measure is required partly because of the unsatisfactory results so far of the present Measure, and partly, too, because of the fact that there are other areas beside those which are scheduled in the present Unemployment Act which ought to receive the benefits of any policy the Government may have for dealing with the scheduled areas, such as Lancashire, Middlesbrough, and the fishing towns of Scotland—I dare say there are others, too—all of which ought to be brought within the scope of the Special Areas Acts.
The Prime Minister said that the Government have been very successful in stimulating employment by means of trade treaties, and he pointed out that trade with the countries with which we had concluded trade treaties, including 37 the Dominions of the Crown, had increased more than or, at any rate, had fallen off less than, our trade with other countries. Of course, none of us has ever disputed for one moment that the effect of tariffs and preferences must be to canalise trade. It has always been our criticism of tariffs and quotas that they tend to waste trade and to waste the production and distribution of wealth by artificially canalising trade. It was very remarkable that the Prime Minister did not seem to realise that fact. While he was able to say that our trade had fallen off less with the countries with whom we had these treaties, he had to admit that it had fallen off by £26,000,000 as a whole.
I have referred to the duty which this country has long recognised, of pursuing a foreign policy which is designed to protect and preserve the liberties of Europe. The Government also need to assure the country that they will protect and preserve our liberties at home. There are many grounds for disquiet. There is the operation of the Official Secrets Acts, which we shall, no doubt, have opportunities of discussing before long. There is the censorship of films, about which we shall have to address some questions to the Government. I understand, for example, that the "March of Time"film has been censored four times this year, and, while it is right and proper that the activities of the Government and leading Ministers of the Government should receive full advertisement in these films—I do not object to that at all—the point of view of those who differ from the Government should also be allowed to be expressed in these films, and censorship on political grounds should be stopped.
There is another interference with our liberties to which I wish to draw the attention of the House and the Government, and would particularly ask the attention of the Prime Minister to this point. It is the interference by the head of a foreign State in our domestic politics. I hope that the Prime Minister will take an early opportunity of repudiating that interference. I ask hon. Members, can they imagine the Prime Minister here saying, for example, that he could negotiate a trade treaty with President Roosevelt or Mr. Cordell Hull, but that he could not negotiate one with Governor Cox, if by any chance he was returned by the Republican party in the United States or with those who were responsible 38 for the Hawley-Smoot tariff? Can hon. Members imagine the Prime Minister criticising the policy of M. Flandin or M. Leon Blum, on the other hand, or of Colonel De la Rocque? I feel that I am putting a strain upon hon. Members in asking them to imagine that a British Prime Minister could offer such fantastic insults to a friendly nation; but Herr Hitler is doing it to us, and his attacks upon Conservatives like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping, or upon Socialists like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) are resented by British men and women of all parties. I hope that the Government will take the opportunity afforded by these Debates of repudiating those attacks, for, if we are to face, as a united country, the dangers by which we are surrounded, we must be united in defence of those principles which the British people cherish—the principles of justice and freedom.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Maxton
I find this day of debating or not debating the King's Speech one of the most uncomfortable days of the Parliamentary year. When I first came here on this occasion there was nothing but the courtesies and no controversies. Nowadays the courtesies have tended to diminish and the controversies have come in, but riot right in, so that we are in a sort of half-and-half condition, suspended between the hell of the courtesies and the heaven of the controversies. These are not circumstances in which I find I can do justice to the occasion, particularly when, by the time that my turn arrives, the courtesies are pretty well exhausted for all practical purposes. All I would say about the hon. Member for Hastings (Mr. Hely-Hutchinson), in his complete adulation and enthusiasm for all works of the Government, past and in prospect, is, that I thought he was going a little too far. In recalling the history of his very historic constituency, I have a recollection of a personality in literature who talked about his grandsire having drawn a good long bow at Hastings, and I felt that he was rather emulating that particular individual. But there is one little courtesy reserved for me which nobody else thinks of doing. There are none so poor to do them honour. It has been my lot on more than one occasion to congratulate the two hon. Members for the City of London. One of them 39 appears for the first time, and we congratulate him, and the other is already a hardened veteran. The Government have always some message to give, either at Budget or King's Speech times, to the City of London, and to-day they have, as usual, their little message, which the hon. Members will be called upon to take back to the City.Among the Measures which you will be invited to pass will be Bills to prevent fraud in relation to investments.I remember the story of the practical joker, who, sitting beside a bishop, whispered into the bishop's ear, "Flee. All is discovered,"and the reverend gentleman took to his heels and vanished for ever. I hope that when hon. Members take back this message to the City, the effect will not be that the efforts of the new Lord Privy Seal with reference to the evacuation of the civil population will be rendered entirely unnecessary in the City.
I only want to say, in so far as I wish to deal seriously with the King's Speech, that the omissions are, as usual, more important than the things that are in it. One hon. Gentleman seemed to think that the King's Speech was something upon which the House would be called upon to work overtime. I agree that that is possibly true, because I know from experience in this House that we can work just as hard upon things that do not matter twopence and be kept long hours tied up, and which when it is finished we ask ourselves what it is all about. I see the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War over there, and I think of the weeks when I and others sweated on that Select Committee in the heat of the sunshine when all the rest of the Members had gone on holiday, and I can see the Scottish Members of this House having a glorious time over the Bill for the amendment of the marriage law. The marriage law of Scotland was practically handed over to us complete from the old Roman law, and it has worked with a reasonable amount of satisfaction since that date. What is the urgent call for amendment now, in the year 1938? I can assure the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland that we in Scotland are just as happily married as the people in England.
40 I miss very much any reference to an improvement in certain branches of the social services. I and my hon. Friends sitting here had hoped that the Government would have thought fit to do something for old age pensioners. I know that there is only the one argument, the money argument. In face of these tremendous sums of money, these hundreds and thousands of millions, involved in projected armament operations, the total amount that would be necessary to put the old people, widows, orphans and spinsters on to a defensible level instead of a miserable 10s. would be an insignificant amount as compared with this huge expenditure for the purpose of death-dealing. I regret the absence of some reference to proposals in that direction in the King's Speech.
There is one other thing to which I wish to make special reference, and to point out, as I have done before on this occasion, that there is not a single reference to the Colonies. There are references to foreign countries, to the Dominions and to Mandated Territories, but not one reference to the Colonies—the people whose only democratic outlet of expression is indirectly through this House. There was no reference in the last King's Speech, and yet in the West Indies and several other places it was proved that there were act to problems requiring urgent action. Again, we are in the same position: there is no reference to the Colonies. In addition, I want to put this point to the Prime Minister for his very earnest and serious consideration. I do not know whether it was a lack of personnel or some other reason that has made him at the present moment again combine the two offices of Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs and Secretary of State for the Colonies. I do not know whether he could not find a man to do the second job, or Whether it was a deliberate act. The separation of the two offices was deliberate because the nature of the relationship between the Central Government and the Dominions was an entirely different relationship from that between the Central Government and the Colonies. The Dominions have no right of internal interference. The Colonies have a direct responsibility for internal interference and for internal organisation. I think it is a profound mistake, particularly at this time, that one 41 man should be asked to jump from the one job to the other, and, if I estimate things correctly, there will be enough work in the two Departments during the months that lay in front of us for a full-time man in each.
I conceive that the West Indies problem is not yet solved, that matters in Newfoundland still require very serious consideration, that Ireland is still a question to be dealt with, and I can see also that in the African Colonies, the Protectorates and the Dominions there are many things which will require very active thought and effort by this House, and very expert day to day knowledge of the problems by responsible Ministers of the Crown. I suggest to the Prime Minister that he should consider it is desirable that these two offices should be separated and that another man should be found. I suggest further to the Minister, who is trying to hold the two offices, that in his own family he ought to have had already experience to prove that the holding of two offices does not lead to increased prestige on the part of the person holding them, but probably means failure in the work of both.
I do not want to enter into controversy with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) about the question of peace. He tells me and he tells the House and the country that permanent peace is only to be found in the reign of law. I agree, but I go further and say to him that the reign of law is only going to arrive when you have social justice. You are not going to get that social justice in a world of competitive capital, and the League of Nations effort for a peace of that description will be completely futile until the working people of the world have got out of their position of social inferiority into a completely emancipated position, in which they can all be sure of the wherewithal of a decent existence.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Boothby
I have always wondered why it was that back benchers in this House have not taken sufficient advantage of what has always seemed to me to be a golden opportunity on the first day of the Debate on the Gracious Speech, when they are able to speak for almost any length of time upon any subject they like. I have asked hon. Members senior 42 to myself why they never did it, and the only reply I have received has been that it was not done. That does not seem to me to be a very adequate reason for not doing it. It is not a bad thing to break down that tradition, because we have several valuable hours available, and we have not so much time to spare nowadays that we can afford to waste opportunities for debate which may possibly, although some hon. Members may think it improbable, prove to be valuable.
With regard to the Gracious Speech, I am sadly disappointed with some aspects of it. I feel that His Majesty's Government as a whole do not yet realise the feeling in this country, the determination of the country to maintain at all costs its principles, its prestige, and its position as the centre of the greatest Empire in the world. The feeling of the country is resolute at the present time, and hon. Members who have been in contact with their constituencies during the last 10 days will confirm this fact. The people are resolute about one thing, and that is to make a really big effort to put the defences of the country in order. In my opinion it requires an effort on a scale comparable only to the effort we made in 1918 to give us the security which is a matter of vital necessity; but there is no indication in the Gracious Speech that such an effort is to be made by the Government.
Nor is there any clear indication of a desire on the part of the Government to achieve what my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) has been pleading for most eloquently in recent weeks—national unity. By national unity I do not necessarily mean a reconstructed Government at this stage. I do not mean that hon. Members above the Gangway should immediately join the Administration; but that the nation should be united behind a foreign and a Defence policy about which the majority of our people can agree. If we are to have a united nation we must have something to be united about; and I regret that the Prime Minister has so far shown no sign of using the enormous personal prestige which he won in the country by his efforts to save us from war, in order to bring about a greater spirit of unity in the country, which I believe is there, and which the country as a whole desires.
43 I do not think it would be impossible, as the right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) suggests, to get unity behind our foreign policy.
§ Mr. Boothby
My impression was that he thought it impossible to bridge the gap which exists between the Opposition and the Government in our fo?eign policy.
§ Mr. Boothby
What I would say, with all due respect, to my right hon. Friend is that we may both have to make concessions. He will have to give up the idea that we can achieve regeneration through the League of Nations in its present form. That institution is moribund, and it is no good flogging a dead horse. Equally, we on our side of the House will have to agree that we must not do a deal, or arrange a pact, with the dictators at the expense of other people, or at the expense of driving Russia out of European affairs altogether. I would agree with my right hon. Friend that the fundamental foreign policy of this country should remain what it has been ever since the War, namely, that it should be based upon the principle of collective security and the establishment of law in international affairs, as against the reign of brute force; and that we should aim at giving the principle of collective security, at long last, concrete and practical form. This, I submit, cannot be done through the present League of Nations. In order to carry it out, the League of Nations will have to be most drastically revised and reorganised. I believe the element of compulsion, for the immediate future, will have to be taken out of the Covenant.
None of these things necessarily means that it is impossible to come to terms with the dictators, as the Prime Minister is so sincerely convinced he can, and which he is so anxious to do; but they do mean that we cannot come to terms with them—and many of us in this House will insist upon this—if it involves any further sacrifice of principles, or of other people. 44 But we can never expect to get reasonable terms from the dictators until we are really strong. I believe that they are watching this country very carefully at the present time to see whether it is our intention to be really strong, and this is the real point on which I wish to say a few words.
I believe, and many hon. Members who support the Government believe, that the time has now come when certain compulsory powers must be taken by the Government if we are to rearm effectively, and in time. It really boils down to the question of whether we are to have organisation by departments, or that hackneyed term "co-ordination,"of which the Government are so fond. If we are honest with ourselves we must admit that co-ordination, as exemplified by the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, has failed. We all of us in our hearts know that it has failed. How can one man, without an effective department, without effective executive powers, presiding over one committee or another from morning to night, carry out really efficient administrative work? I do not think it is fair to him or to the country. What worries me about the appointment of the Minister for Civilian Defence, the Lord Privy Seal, is that the system of co-ordination rather than the system of fresh organisation is being applied also to civilian defence.
This is not a party question. It is a question of administration, in which some of us take a very great interest. The present system will never work. With its endless inter-departmental committees, presided over by a Minister without executive power, it can never succeed in getting drastic things done or in getting essential things done effectively and quickly. The time has come when the Government must have, in the field of industry and in the field of national service, compulsory powers; it is not a time for the appointment of more committees, but for taking swift executive action. I believe most sincerely, and I have pleaded for it in this House for the last five years, that the time is overdue when we ought to set up a Ministry of Supply. I do not believe that it is necessary, that that Ministry should now have all the powers which the Ministry of Munitions had in the last War; but it should be armed with powers to control aircraft production, to settle priorities, to allocate raw materials, 45 to limit profits, and, last but not least, to deal directly with the trade unions in regard to labour questions. It is not as if a few hon. Members were alone in advocating a Ministry of Supply. We have, first of all, the experience of three living ex-Ministers of Munitions, the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) and Lord Addison, all of whom are in favour of a Ministry of Supply. We have also Lord Baldwin.
§ Mr. Boothby
Yes, to a very large extent. The Ministry that I have in mind, and that we all have in mind, is a Department set up to deal with the questions I have mentioned; and which, in the event of war breaking out, would take over the powers which the Ministry of Munitions exercised in the last War.
§ Mr. Williams
The Ministry of Munitions was not a Ministry of Supply for the Royal Air Force or the Admiralty but only for the War Office, if I remember rightly.
§ Mr. Boothby
That is certainly not the case. My hon. Friend is quite mistaken on that point. We have had Lord Swinton advocating a Ministry of Supply; and, perhaps most remarkable of all, Lord Trenchard and Lord Milne, in the House of Lords last week, advocated in most powerful speeches a Ministry of Supply. I do not think that the advice of men of such experience can be persistently ignored by the Government. Moreover, we have had two speeches from the Secretary of State for War, one at Cardiff and the other in this House last week, both of which, if we read them carefully, were nothing less than crushing indictments of the present system, and really amounted to demands for a Ministry of Supply. The right hon. Gentleman said that we cannot get the stuff in "the given time"unless we have something in the nature of a Ministry of Supply.
I think we should go further than this. The Government ought to have a compulsory national register, so that in the event of emergency everyone will know what he or she can do and is going to do, and we shall not have anything like 46 the pandemonium which existed during the crisis, when nobody knew what they were expected to do, and everybody was writing to everybody else, and the whole thing was in complete confusion. Nobody advocates military conscription. I was, however, the first Member of this House to advocate, nearly a year ago, compulsory national service; and I still do so, and in the end I think it is bound to come. I should like to see every young man in this country given a year's training by the State, at the expense of the State; not necessarily purely military training, but training in the job which he wants to do, and for which he is best suited. If every class in this country were given for a year the opportunity of working together and playing together, it would do more good than a great many social services; it would do a great deal for the spirit of the country; and I believe in the long run that it would be welcomed by everyone in this country. It would also go a long way towards solving the unemployment problem, because it would be part of the business of the training centres to place these young men in jobs when their year's training was finished.
There was a most remarkable letter from Sir Auckland Geddes in the "Times"this morning, a man whose experience in the last War will not be challenged by anyone. He asks a question:Would the machinery of defence be improved by carefully weaving into it two functional departments, one to specialise in supply; the other in the utilisation of man power? I su?mit that it would.I think that the case for a Ministry of Supply and a Ministry of National Service, and the abandonment of Ministers with purely co-ordinating and not executive powers, is absolutely overwhelming. It is a case that has never been answered; and all the results we have so far had go to prove that the system we have been working is not efficient. This is, in my view, the acid test. For my part, if His Majesty's Government do not see their way in the near future to set up some form of administrative machinery to deal with supply, and the civilian side of national service, I shall find it very difficult to take the responsibility of going on giving formal support to the Government. That in itself may perhaps make no difference, but I believe that a great number of other hon. Members on this side 47 of the House feel precisely the same; they feel that no real effort is to be made by the Government, even now, in this question of rearmament.
There is profound anxiety in the country. Hon. Members may not think so, but I know it is there. I know that the question of rearmament is dominating the minds of the men and women of this country. They feel that the Government are taking too big a gamble in thinking that they will be able to do a deal with the dictators; and that they are so certain about this point that they are not prepared to demand the necessary sacrifices, or to interfere with private industry to the extent which is required. They feel that strongly. And supposing this gamble does not come off, and that you cannot bring off a deal with the dictators which the country will swallow? Where are you then? I submit that not only will the chances of bringing off a reasonable deal with the dictators not be impaired, but will actually be improved, by a great strengthening of the Defence forces of this country. The dictators, I believe, are watching carefully to see whether this effort is going to be made.
We are apt to disparage and abuse the German people. Hon. Members above the Gangway sometimes speak rather recklessly about the leaders of Germany, and I would say to the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) that I do not think we are at the moment in a position to use the language which he used about Herr Hitler the other day. He had better wait until we have some of these armaments. I want to say this, that while it is easy to abuse many of their efforts, their concentration camps, their political system, their cruelty in many respects, yet at the same time they have given us during the last five years an example of achievement through faith and work which some of us would do well to ponder over. By sheer effort and determination they have reversed the decision of the Great War in the last five years. It is a stupendous achievement and will be so regarded by historians. As for us, there is no room for complacency. We started air-raid precautions eight years ago and yet the Deputy Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department said the other day that we had hardly begun to prepare.
The Prime Minister referred to shelters and evacuation. I will go further. I say 48 that not only blast-proof shelters but bomb-proof shelters should be provided for a large section of our population, and that public works on a gigantic scale should be undertaken immediately, particularly round London and our large industrial towns, to provide accommodation for the many workers who will be compelled to remain in these areas in the event of air raids. You have the example of Barcelona where these bomb-proof shelters have practically made the industrial population immune. If we really decided to spend the money—and it would be money well spent—I believe we could make the civilian population of this country practically immune from aerial attack within two years. Are the Government going to do this? How can they, unless they arm themselves with the compulsory powers which are absolutely essential if they are to have the slightest prospect of success? I say to the Prime Minister and to the Government that if the interference with private enterprise is constructive; and if the sacrifices on the part of all classes of the community are fair, I am absolutely convinced that the country will not only respond to but welcome any demands which may be made upon it by the Government.
The people do not want to be soothed, humbugged and drugged any more. They want to have the truth; they want to face the realities of the modern world, however grim they may be. They also want imaginative and courageous leadership, and if they get it they will once more become the greatest people on earth. I feel that this desire imbues members of all political parties in the country at the present time. I wish it imbued Members of this House to the same extent. I believe that if the people do not get the leadership they desire from this Government they will find a Government, as they have often done before, which will give them the leadership they require to save themselves before it is too late. It is unthinkable that we in our generation should risk casting away the heritage we have received at the hands not only of our forefathers but of those who were killed between 1914 and 1918. Yet that, and nothing less than that, is the risk we are deliberately and coldly running unless the Government make the necessary effort, and it must be an heroic effort, to put our defences in order before it is too late. The sands are running out.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Tinker
Like the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) I have always taken the view that back benchers should take the advantage which the first day's debate on the King's Speech provides for taking part in the discussion, and I hope that we shall continue this Debate for a long time. Democracy is now being challenged in all parts of the world, and, in my view, there is plenty to occupy our attention until 11 o'clock this evening. I want to put my views regarding Defence before the House. I shall do all I can to provide adequate defence for this country. That, I believe, is necessary in view of what is happening. The Prime Minister and hon. Members on this side do not agree on the need for defence. In his speech the other week the Prime Minister said that he had the utmost confidence in Herr Hitler and Mussolini to make a square deal, and yet he said that we require strong and adequate defence to meet any emergency. I agree that we want a strong and adequate defence, but it is because I entirely mistrust the dictators, Herr Hitler and Mussolini. In his speeches Herr Hitler has deliberately challenged the constitution of this country, and, therefore, I am prepared to do all I can to make our defence as strong as possible to prevent the kind of government Herr Hitler has in mind coming to this country. I hope that the Prime Minister when he meets Herr Hitler or Signor Mussolini will tell them quite definitely that this country stands for a democratic form of government, and that the people of this country will have the form of government which they desire without any outside interference, just as we shall let them have the form of government which they desire. I think hon. Members of my party are prepared to do all they can to provide the armaments to resist any attempt to change the form of our government.
Then there is the question of the Special Areas mentioned in the Gracious Speech. I think the time has come for a thorough examination of this important question. Special Areas mean unemployment; you cannot separate the two. At the present moment there are 1,700,000 people unemployed, notwithstanding all that the Government have done. In the Special Areas there are pockets of unemployment which are developing. I think the time has come when the Government should 50 set up a department with a minister at the head to watch closely the position of trade in various parts of the country, and that if in Lancashire or in my own Division there are signs that mills or mines are to be closed down, the Minister will be there to deal with the question immediately. If it is known that such things are going to happen, the Minister should be empowered to carry on the industry for a while until preparations can be made to absorb the unemployed in other industries. When we speak of Special Areas we have in mind the years of suffering and tribulation of the people in these areas, but it is not until years have passed that Parliament determines to do something. I think it is wrong to wait so long. The trouble should be dealt with on the spot at the time it happens if we want the people to stand behind us in times of trouble. There should be co-ordination not only of Defence but of all the means which go to make up our livelihood, and I hope the Prime Minister will consider closely the setting up of a special ministry for this purpose. Time after time we have urged that from these benches. It is very difficult to raise the matter unless there is special occasion for it, but we now have that opportunity.
On the question of providing work for the unemployed, there is one point which I want to impress on the Government. Some time ago I put a question to the Minister of Transport about the carrying of electric cables and telephone wires across the country, and I suggested that some attempt might be made to carry the wires underground. I was told that it could not be done, as it would be too expensive. Recently I read in a newspaper that Germany had already done this. At a time when we are talking about protection against attack, in the event of the outbreak of war, surely it must be realised that these electricity cables would be most vulnerable. The electricity supply is centralised in various places and carried over the country by electric cables and pylons. If an air raid were to occur, these things would be very liable to attack by bombers, and the whole electricity system might be very quickly disorganised. Here is some useful work that could be done by some of the 1,700,000 people who are unemployed. I am satisfied that by this method we could provide a vast amount of work for our 51 people, which would also be of immense value if the fear which we have in our minds were to materialise, and war broke out. I hope that the Government, when considering methods of providing work, will consider whether what I have suggested could be done, in view of the fact that it would be an effective means of providing suitable and useful work for our unemployed and also protection for the essential services.
I note that there is to be a Bill dealing with the cotton industry. There is in my area a vast number of unemployed mill-workers. Recently the Leigh Town Council made a thorough examination of the whole question and forwarded a resolution, of which I have a copy, to the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the President of the Board of Trade, urging them to examine the question of the cotton industry and its reorganisation. I am very pleased indeed that this is mentioned in the Gracious Speech. We shall help this forward in all ways in our power if it means providing work for unemployed mill-workers. The Measure is long overdue, and I am very pleased that now the Government recognise their responsibility and intend to tackle the problem.
I come now to the final point that I wish to raise, namely, pensions for aged people. I am sorry that there was no mention of this in the Gracious Speech. I had expected that something would be said about it, because from time to time hon. Members on these benches have raised the question and urged that something should be done. There is a great need for an increase in these pensions. It is not that everybody does not support this, for whenever the suggestion is made we are told that everybody on all sides is in agreement that our aged people have not enough to live on; but then various excuses are put forward One was made last week by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, when he said that pensions for aged people were never meant to provide adequate maintenance. I wonder whether anybody can stand by that statement. The men and women in working-class areas who bring up large families have no resources left when they reach the age of 65. How can they have any? They have tried to provide for their children, to send them well equipped into the world, and they have done their best 52 to educate them. In any case, they are never left with any margin when the sad day comes and there is no work for them. The State then gives 10s. a week to a man and 10s. to his wife, if she has reached the age of 65. It is not always given together, because at the present time 214,000 wives have not reached the age of 65 at the same time as their husbands, and therefore, do not get anything, so that there is only 10s. for the man and his wife. Surely, that is an anomaly that needs to be remedied.
I should like to give the House a few figures. At the present time 2,296,908 people are in receipt of old age pensions, and of that number 230,652 have to apply to the poor law authorities for assistance. One-tenth of the total number have to hide their pride and seek poor law relief, and to show the authorities a statement of all the income that has come into the house. If one-tenth of them do that, we may take it that at least 30 per cent. or 40 per cent. do not go to the poor law authorities, because they do not like the thought of disclosing everything they have. That is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs that exists throughout the country. In 1937, the figure was 9 per cent. and now it is 10 per cent., showing that we have been able to do something, by means of the social services, to increase the length of life; yet, for these people, life is made miserable when they reach the age of 65.
All over the country municipal authorities are urging the Government to do something in this matter. The problem is not spread evenly over the country. In one area a larger number of old age pensioners may apply to the authorities for relief than is the case in another area. Consequently, one area may have to bear a bigger burden than another, and I consider that this is unfair. It is not fair when one section of the community is burdened with a greater expenditure to assist old age pensioners than is another. The charge ought to be a national one. I have figures from the place from which I come showing that during the last 12 months they paid over £12,000 to old age pensioners, and this equalled a 7d. rate. The same applies in Blackburn and Barrow, and practically in all parts of Lancashire. That is not fair. It ought to be a State charge, and to be met by the State. We also want the old age pension to be raised to a decent sum. Some 53 say it ought to be raised to £1 a week and 35s. for a man and wife; but whatever the figure be, let us determine that something shall be done in this direction. Everybody agrees that it should be done; therefore, why not do it?
I come now to the crucial point. Hon. Members opposite say that it would mean adding a burden which the Exchequer could not stand. When I advocated an increase of 5s. a week, I was told that it would mean £33,000,000 a year, a sum which the Exchequer could not stand. That was two years ago. Since that time, the Government have found from £200,000,000 to £300,000,000 for Defence. Whenever money is wanted, there is money; yet, when we urge the increase of old age pensions, we are told that the state could not meet the expense. Whether the sum that would be involved would be £33,000,000 or £66,000,000, I honestly believe that if the Government really desired to improve the lot of the aged people, they could readily do so. The country is perturbed about the international situation and people are wondering what is likely to happen. They want the Government adequately to provide for the Defence Forces of the country, but I think that when the Government face the electorate, the great thing which will be brought home to them will be old age pensions.
I believe that unless there is some stand by the Government on this matter, then they will be defeated on it alone in the country. Therefore, I ask the Government to consider the position. For the moment, I am not concerned with political advantages, but with providing some assistance to the aged people. In going about the country, we cannot but be moved when we see the poor way in which aged people have to live. When we see them trying to eke out their lives on 10s. a week, paying the rent and trying to keep a house to themselves, we wonder how it can be said that the country cannot afford to provide adequately for them. I sincerely hope that when the speeches made in the House come to be considered by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, some regard will be had to the question of raising the amount of these pensions. If the Government do something in that direction, it will be very well received by all hon. Members on these benches; but I say now 54 that if they do not do something, I and my colleagues will never allow the matter to rest as long as we have an opportunity of raising it. It is one of the most vital things with which we are concerned, and it is for that reason that I have taken the earliest opportunity, at the opening of the Session, of doing all in my power to bring the matter to the notice of the Government in an attempt to do something for our aged people.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Macquisten
When I first saw the Naval Agreement with Germany, I immediately said to myself: "I know what they are going to rely upon: they are going to rely on the air." I agree, therefore, with the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) that we ought to be making this country bomb-proof. We ought to have been doing that for the last 20 years. Twenty years ago, I saw an article in which it was stated that the next war would be in the air, and that there would be destruction of the civilian population, and that we ought to become cave dwellers in war time. We might have had all our unemployed engaged on that work, and nobody would have been able to say that the object was offensive or that it was armaments. It would simply have been making ourselves safe. If the people who organised the Peace Ballot had devoted their energy to insisting upon making our people safe from attack, this country would have been as inviolable as ever.
The first thing the Government have to do is to make London a city of catacombs and to do the same in all the principal towns. In that there would be work for all the unemployed miners. The next thing to do is to make decent roads for everybody, not only for military purposes, but for the purpose, in time of war of evacuation and of carrying food supplies from the harbours; and to cease the fatuous policy in which all Governments have indulged of trying to buttress up the railways at the expense of road transport, which would open up the whole countryside. That needs to be done. In the dictatorship countries they are making autobahnen and beautiful roads; but nothing of that sort is being done here because we have the vested interests of the railway companies. I would rather pay them all out and be done with them. If there were a good road system, the country would be safe, the population 55 could be dispersed, and works and industries could be dispersed. It would do away with these great wens of towns where poor people live in miserable tenements, where the poor mother does not know what is happening to her children in the street, and where there is no chance for a working man to have a little plot of land that he can call his own. All these things could be done and it would mean not only efficient air-raid protection but would add immensely to the health and wealth of the community.
W? cannot rely on the League of Nations to protect us. The League died when America drew out of the French guarantee. It ceased to be effective. It was a joint obligation and not a joint and several agreement and ceased to be binding so soon as any one party resiled from it. But I still hear that strange mysterious phrase "collective security." Nobody knows what collective security really means. The only animal I have ever seen practising collective security is the sheep. On the approach of danger sheep will all bunch together and baa and bleat and each sheep hopes that the wolf will not take it but some of the others. Collective security really means relying upon the other fellow to fight your battles. That is what it comes to in the long run. Some of those who support it have made the most extraordinary suggestions. I saw that Professor Gilbert Murray at the time of the Abyssinian War suggested that if every one of the 52 nations sent a gunboat, a stop could have been put to the war. What a fleet that would have been—52 gunboats each under a different commander of a different nationality. But that is the kind of crackbrained suggestion which we get from these people. I say there is no safety whatever in the League of Nations. There is safety if you have friends who are prepared and willing to act with you. After all we had collective security in the last War. We had nearly every nation in the world supporting us, and it took us all our time to get through.
What we have to do, however, is to ensure the security of our civil population. Mind you, I do not believe that these dictators are the evil men which some people try to make them out to be. We must remember that they found their countries in dire distress and that they organised those countries. The spirit which has animated Germany in the last 56 20 years is the spirit that your country is something for which you ought to make sacrifices. In this country the view seems to be very largely taken that the State is something which you ought to get something out of—a totally different moral and psychological position. The dictator countries are, to some extent, reaping the reward of the spirit which they have shown, while we are now in a very difficult, though I hope not dangerous, position. I believe that we are still all-powerful, though we may suffer terribly before we have vindicated ourselves but I think it a great mistake for anybody in this House or in this country to make nasty remarks about those two very great men—because they are great men in fact and in the eyes of their own countries. They have created a great position for themselves in the world.
If a citizen of any foreign country were to speak disrespectfully of our Royal Family we would be very angry with him. I must say I noted at the time of the Abdication, when we were all very uncomfortable in this country, that the German Press showed a restraint which contrasted very favourably with the attitude of the American Press and even some of the Colonial Press. Not an unkind word was said in the German Press; they behaved like gentlemen over that matter. It is a great mistake to say anything which will cause ill-feeling and no people like to have the head of their own State spoken of disrespectfully by the citizens of another State. It is their business and not ours what form of Government they have and it is just as bad for us to make remarks about them as it would be for them to make remarks about us. I admit that they have spoken disrespectfully about democracies but that has been more or less in retaliation, and we have to remember, as I explained last week, that this country is not a democracy at all. We have, representative government but that is a totally different thing from democracy. The will of the people is only very vaguely expressed under our system. The only thing about it is that in this country we can get quit of a Government without having a revolution. But once a man has marked his ballot paper he has no further say in the matter.
What we have in this country is really an oligarchy but we are not a democracy 57 and never will be. Great countries cannot be democracies though they may have representative government, and this is about the only country which has really had representative government for any considerable time. We never had representative government in Scotland in the old days. We were governed by despotic kings and great lords and we did not argue matters out—we fought them out with each other. The Irish indulged in secret societies and we all know what the Welshmen did. [HON. MEMBERS: "What?"] They fought with one another very much like the Scottish, but the English are the only people who have been able to run a Parliament where they could come together and discuss their problems and come to a compromise. But if we do not do better than we have been doing in the last 30 years, even this country will insist upon some form of government which secures real efficiency.
I have some sympathy with what the last speaker said about old age pensions. I have often thought that one small measure might be introduced to provide that an old age pensioner on reaching the age of four score years should get a rise, because then he needs somebody to look after him and the rise might be made progressive as the years went on. When the old age pension was first introduced in the Highlands, the Highlanders were exceedingly indignant. They could see no difference between it and parochial relief and a lot of them refused to take it, but just as some Members of Parliament who refused to take their salaries when the payment of Members was first introduced afterwards fell from grace and accepted it, they did not persist in their refusal.
There is one thing which the recent crisis has brought about. Hon. Members opposite are now all enthusiastic supporters of the defence of the country. [HON. MEMBERS: "They always were!"] With all respect I contend that many of them in the past were not. Again and again, when any suggestion was made here to the effect that something which they thought to be for the general good could not be afforded, I have heard the remark, "Why it would not cost the price of a couple of battleships." One would almost think that a battleship was some sort of private yacht in which Members of the Government took their friends on cruises. 58 Furthermore, hon. Members opposite, or some of them, said that they would not assist in recruiting. Now I do not believe in conscription for our land forces because I do not think that Britain needs a large army. But she does need an overwhelming Air Force and an overwhelming Navy. The Navy and the Air Force are all we can afford. We managed to defeat Napoleon with our Navy in the old days, and Britain has remained secure and practically uninvaded for a thousand years, simply because King Arthur invented the British Navy. If we continue on those lines we can make the country as secure as it was in the days before the aeroplane was invented. I wish it never had been invented. I have never been up in one. I am like the Prime Minister, who never was in one until he flew over to Germany.
§ Mr. Macquisten
I understood he had not. I have never been in one and I have no intention of going up in one. I would not like to expose my constituents to the chance of a by-election. What we must do, however, is to make the country safe. We must protect our workers. It is all right for well-to-do people, who can take their cars and go away to remote country areas if danger arises, but what about the poor fellows who have to go to their daily work and what about their women folk? It should be our great purpose to see that these are adequately protected and in carrying out that work expense should be no object. There is work for the next two years for every unemployed man in this country—to make the country bomb-proof. Then we could go on to develop our other resources and nobody, not even the dictators, could say "You are arming against us." Our answer to them would be "We are not arming against you; we have no intention of attacking you, but we are making provision to ensure that if you attack us the attack will not be a great success." As things are, I do not like to think of what might happen if even a comparatively small percentage of one of these vast air forces succeeded in getting over one of our big industrial towns.
I was in many Zeppelin raids during the last War and I can assure hon. Members that the experience was very uncomfortable. Soldiers who were here from 59 the front told me that while they were in the trenches they never bothered much about shells, because it was all in the day's work, but that to have bombs dropping from the sky on unarmed people was a very different and a very intimidating experience. Think of the poor people in London and Glasgow and all these other places who might have to go through such dreadful experiences. I do not think that even such experiences would demoralise the British people. England never succumbs and I do not think Scotland does either, but let us not forget the suffering and horror which would be caused. The hon. Member opposite spoke about old age pensioners. Well there would not be any necessity to make much provision for them, because most of them would die of shock in air raids. That is why I say that there is one measure to which we require to devote continuous attention, even at the expense of other things, and that is getting ready to make our ordinary people comparatively safe in the event of war. I believe it can be done. I believe that the population could be made safe, not merely in a partial manner but that a thorough job could be made of it. There are plenty of unemployed people who could do the work. There are plenty of miners unemployed who would only be too glad to do it. They should be brought together for the purpose and we should see to it that they were decently fed and decently housed and in that way much could be done to make our country immune from the horrors of air attack. Then we will be able to look the whole world squarely in the face.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Batey
Like many other Members I was anxious to get a copy of the King's Speech. I wanted to read it and if necessary re-read it. But having gone through it carefully, I am sadly disappointed. There is nothing in it to give heart and courage to the unemployed, to raise any hope of betterment in the distressed areas, to cheer the old age pensioner, the widow or the orphan. There is certainly no indication that any steps are being taken to abolish poverty. The Government seem to think that their main business is to organise the nation for Defence. Defence may be important, yet the enemy which the working class have to fear is not an enemy oversea, but the terrible 60 enemy which is in this country—unemployment and poverty.
In the distressed areas of Durham things are becoming worse. I could not help feeling while the Prime Minister was speaking to-day that, had he come from the distressed area of Durham, we would have an altogether different King's Speech. In Durham our pits are closing and the number of our unemployed is increasing. On Thursday last my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) and I asked the Minister of Labour whether more pits in Durham had recently been closed and what steps the Government proposed to take. The Minister replied that while there had been a slight increase in unemployment among miners in Durham during the last month, it was less than the decrease in the previous month. The figures of unemployment are published to-day for the whole country and to some people those figures may not appear too bad.
There are two exchanges in my own division, right in the heart of the distressed areas of the county of Durham, and in those exchanges there has been an increase between October this year and October last year at the Crook Exchange of no fewer than 1,186 in the number of unemployed, and at the other, the Spennymoor Exchange, there has been an increase of no fewer than 790 unemployed. At the Bishop Auckland Exchange, where many of the people living in my division have to register, there has been an increase this October over last October of 605, and in the Durham City Exchange, where again a large number of the people living in my division have to register, there has been an increase of no fewer than 1,399. I am, therefore, justified in saying that in the distressed areas of the county of Durham we are getting worse and worse and worse. The index of employment in the Library of this House does not include last month, but I find that in September of this year in the Crook area we had no fewer than 34.3 per cent. unemployed, and we have there a total of only 9,170 insured workers. The same story could be told of the other exchanges. The Government state in the King's Speech:The policy of My Government will continue to be directed to improving conditions in the Special Areas.It seems to me to say that the Government are satisfied with their policy in 61 the distressed areas and that they have been improving conditions there. I have no hesitation in saying that after four years of the work of the Commissioner for the Special Areas in the County of Durham we are worse off to-day than we were when he was first appointed. That points to a need for the Government to make some change in their policy. We are having this increase in the numbers of unemployed because coal pits are being stopped. I am glad that the Secretary for Mines is here, because I want to deal with one colliery, called the Browney Colliery, which has just been stopped. At that colliery 700 men were employed, and it was producing 885 tons of coal a day. It belongs to Dorman Long, the iron and steel firm, who have seven collieries in the county of Durham to supply their steel works with coal and coke. As soon as ever the iron and steel trade began to get slack, Dorman Long, caring nothing for the miners employed in that colliery, immediately stopped the colliery. That was not the worst part of the story, because they also began immediately to dismantle the colliery, so that there is now no prospect of its being reopened.
At that colliery there is an abundance of coal to be worked, and there was no need for it to be stopped or for these men to be thrown out of employment. There are three seams of coal there. One of them will serve for a few years yet; another seam will serve for 12 months yet, and one local man said of this seam, which is a 4 feet 9 inches seam, "It is not a coal seam; it is a gold seam"; and the third seam is one that the colliery was just beginning and that is working at a neighbouring colliery. In spite of the fact that there is so much coal there underground, Dorman Long, in a mean, shabby, and contemptible way, closed that colliery and dismantled it and turned the men out of employment. The worst part of it is that next door to it is another colliery that is closed, and a mile away there is yet another colliery where very few men are employed. In that district we are gradually going down, and there seems no hope for us.
I submit that the time has come when the Government ought seriously to alter their policy in dealing with this state of things. I consider that the Ministry of Mines ought to get the power, when a coal company proposes to close a colliery, immediately to make inquiries of the company 62 in order to ascertain the reason why-they think of closing the colliery, and if the coal company cannot keep that colliery going, there ought to be set up some public utility organisation that will take charge of it and work it. Lord Nuffield is finding a much better way than is the Commissioner for Special Areas. Lord Nuffield set aside £2,000,000 to help industry with capital, and through that £2,000,000 they have been able to assist place after place and keep it working. The Commissioner for the Special Areas is committed to spending no less than £16,000,000, but if instead of that money being spent principally on social services it had been set aside to be used to keep industry going, we should not have had the sad condition of things that we have at present in the County of Durham.
It is necessary for the Government to take at least two steps. If they are going to renew the Act for the Commissioner for the Special Areas at the end of March, they should give him power to assist industry. We want work for men, but what the Commissioner has been doing in the Special Areas has been to spend £1,500,000 in laying out the Team Valley Trading Estate for the purpose of building factories; and the Minister told us only last Thursday that after spending that money upon that trading estate, there were only 585 people employed there. In other words, it has cost the Government over £2,000 per man employed to put them into employment there, and I submit that the policy of the Commissioner ought to be seriously reconsidered, and that he ought to be given power to assist industry, to keep coal pits working and not allow them to be stopped simply because those to whom they belong say, "We can supply our trade from the other pits." At least, if they are going to clear out of the pits, someone else should be able to step in and keep them going, and thus prevent these man from being thrown out of employment.
While I am dealing with the trading estate, there is one question that I would like to ask, and perhaps someone will be able to answer it by and by. There is a rumour going up North that one of these factories on the trading estate, named the Sigsmund Pump Company, was given an order for mobile fire fighting pumps at a better price than old 63 established Tyneside firms, and one would like to know who is connected with that company so that it was given such a preference over other Tyneside firms. I leave there the question of the Commissioner for the Special Areas, but I want to repeat that in my opinion the Nuffield Trust points the way for the Government and that the Government also should be prepared to set aside a sum of money in order that it might be used to keep industries going.
There is another question that I want to raise. We ought to-day seriously to consider the need to reorganise the Ministry of Labour. That Ministry is simply a recording Ministry, to record the numbers of men out of employment and to see that they get their benefit. There ought to be some improvement. It is very important that the Ministry of Labour, with its huge administrative machine throughout the country and with employment exchanges in place after place, should be organised so that it will seek to find work for men. What we want is that men shall get work, and if private enterprise to-day fails to supply that work, the Ministry of Labour should be given the power to do it and should have the necessary capital to see that industry is carried on and that men are kept in employment. I believe that if the Prime Minister had come from the Special Areas, we should have had an altogether different King's Speech.
In the OFFICIAL REPORT for last Tuesday there was a list of the members of the Government, and perhaps because I had nothing else to do and was not keenly interested in current questions, I sat down and read the list. What impressed me was that this is a rich man's Government, and that accounts for a lot of the trouble from which we are suffering. One read that list and found lord after lord. One found that the Government consists of either lords, or the sons of lords, or the sons-in-law of lords.
§ Mr. Batey
Those in the list who are not lords are rich, wealthy men, and I believe that therein lies the trouble with the distressed areas in this country. The Government have not the experience of meeting the ordinary working man, and they do not know how difficult it is for 64 the ordinary working man to have to live. If the Cabinet went and settled down in the depressed areas for three or six months they would get an altogether different impression of the state of things there. The Prime Minister, who is one of the wealthy men to whom I was referring, seemed in his speech to-day to have no knowledge of the ordinary working man and woman and of their difficulties. A good many of the representatives of the people have taken these matters far too calmly. We come here and discuss important questions day after day in a sort of Sunday-school fashion.
I would like to see the leaders of the people, the men who represent constituencies, make up their minds that the one thing needed in this country more than anything else is to start a new leaf. I would put only two words on it, and they are "Abolish poverty." If the leaders of men could make up their minds that the thing this country needs more than anything else is to abolish poverty, we would not have the condition of things that exists to-day. My hon. Friends have been pleading for something to be done for the old age pensioner, the widow and the orphan. New Zealand has set an example by giving 30s. for men and women at 60 for old age pensions. If New Zealand can do it, this country, in spite of the expenditure on Defence, is wealthy enough to do it. In my new leaf for the abolition of poverty I would fix a pension for every poor man and woman at not less than £1 a week, and I would stop anybody else taking more than £4. I would make it illegal for anybody to draw pensions of more than £4 a week, and I would cut them down to that amount until every poor man and his wife had at least £2 a week to live on.
Somehow or other we seem to be content to think that it is the proper thing for the poor to starve and the rich to live in luxury. The time will come when this House will not stand that kind of thing. If it were possible to take the Members of this House into the distressed areas to see our collieries closing and our men thrown out of work, I am certain the House would make up its mind that something must be done. The Prime Minister told us to-day that there was no reference in the King's Speech to unemployment, but that there was to employment. That reference will leave those in the distressed areas absolutely cold. There 65 is nothing in the Speech to help them. The Durham Miners' Association appealed to the Secretary for Mines in regard to the colliery I have already named. When men are thrown out of work the Durham Miners' Association pays them 5s. in addition to the unemployment benefit, and for the last three months the Association has paid out more than it paid out during the previous 12 months. One of the officials assured me that the Association was paying out to-day more money than it was receiving. That kind of thing cannot go on. These people cannot be allowed to starve.
We had a right to expect that the Government would have come with a different King's Speech and one that promised to do more than has already been done for the unemployed, and something to ease the means test, which simply creates poverty in the distressed area. Instead of that, the only consolation we can get is that we are to go on as before. To the Government everything is satisfactory, and we can therefore look forward to no betterment. The hon. and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten) said that what we wanted was a bomb-proof country. What we want more than anything is the prevention of hunger. The time has come when something ought to be done which is not being done at the present time. The condition of our people demands it.
§ ?.21 p.m.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
No one can contemplate with complacency the fact that there are 1,750,000 persons at this moment without employment. That is a source of anxiety to everyone. But after listening to the hon. Members opposite I am reminded of the phrase which somebody else coined that many a man when he invents a phrase thinks he has solved a problem. The hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) thinks he has solved a problem by saying, "Abolish poverty," but it does not work out quite as easily as that. He said there ought to be some trust to keep mines going in his constituency. We all sympathise with him, but he did not tell us to whom they were going to sell the coal.
§ Mr. Williams
All he was proposing was that miners should be thrown out of work in somebody else's constituency. He was not conscious of it, but that was the net 66 effect of his proposal. He then went on to make suggestions which would involve a vast increase in taxation. The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) said the Government would be blown out of existence unless the old age pensions were increased. I would like to see everybody have a bigger pension, but I shall not have the slightest hesitation in telling my constituents that I will vote against the hon. Member's Bill, if he brings it in, for the reason that we cannot pay for it. The hon. Member says that if we can find all these millions for armaments, why cannot we find them for something else? Let us imagine that the hon. Member next Christmas has a pipe burst through the frost, and has to spend £20 or £30 in putting his furniture in order. Is that the occasion, if his wife wants a new hat, when he will agree to it? He will see that with this big expenditure on armaments we cannot afford the other expenditure. The hon. Member spoke as though the problem were easy of solution. If the party opposite were on these benches they would not to-day introduce the Bill that he is proposing, and he knows it.
§ Mr. Williams
In spite of the hon. Member's insistence they would not bring it forward. They did not in 1925. The right hon. Arthur Henderson made a speech promising old age pensions at 60 or 65. He was one of the leaders of the party, and within a month of making that speech he was sitting on the Government Front Bench. Within a fortnight a Bill was brought in to amend the Widows and Old Age Pensions Act, 1925, and that proposal was not in the Bill. Hon. Members have no right to go on exciting the hope of simple people outside by making promises which are at this moment incapable of redemption. Hon. Members know that they are incapable of redemption if they will only take the trouble to sit down and examine the last financial statement and see what it would cost.
I am sorry the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) is not present. He wants to be very drastic and have a Ministry of Supply and a national register. I do not want either, although I am just as gravely perturbed about the condition of our defences as he is. Defence is the first duty of Government. It 67 takes priority of the social services. Defence is the only real cause of the existence of Governments. If it were not for the necessity of Defence we would never have had Governments. They might never have been invented. Defence is the first charge and our Government are not doing the job as well as they ought to. They know that themselves.
§ Mr. Williams
Precisely,?and unless the Government are more energetic on that issue the electors will get very angry. That is no reason why every proposal put forward to solve the problem is the right solution. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen wants a Ministry of Supply, and a great many eminent persons want it too. None of them up to now has told us what it is. Let us examine it. During the Great War it was found that the War Office was not producing sufficient of the requirements for the armies in the field. A Ministry of Munitions was brought into being primarily to supply the materials required by the War Office—not materials for the Air Force or for the Admiralty. Since the Ministry of Munitions dealt with the allocation of raw materials and a regular supply of labour, it rendered certain incidental services to the other fighting Departments, but it was not a supply Department for the Admiralty or the Air Ministry. Even then it is doubtful whether the Ministry of Munitions in it-self was desirable. It was largely a device to get away from what were regarded as the hampering influences of the War Office.
We have a Ministry of Labour now, but there was not such a Ministry in 1915. We have, therefore, a Department to handle the labour aspect. There is at this moment no shortage of raw materials. There was an appalling shortage during the late War, for obvious reasons. There was a great shortage of labour then. There is no shortage now for the production of munitions. There is a shortage here and there for a few specialists. At this moment there are 7,000,000 more persons available for civilian employment than in 1918. That indicates that our productive resources are enormously greater. I was brought up in the engineering industry. I do 68 not say I am now very skilled at the bench or the lathe, but one never forgets the principles one learns. The precision section of the engineering industry is probably double the size of pre-war days. All this talk about the necessity of mobilising labour and asking trade unions to relax established conditions is nonsense. There is no need for them. I do not say there is no need for Government consultation with the trade unions with regard to facilitating certain matters of production, but I should hesitate to go to the trade unions and ask them to abandon a single one of those practices which they have built up, most of them good, a few of them perhaps not so good and intelligent, for the purpose of safeguarding the lives and happiness of their members and the conditions of employment. That situation has not arisen. There is no shortage of labour and materials.
As far as I can make out, however—and this is the great indictment—between 80 and 90 per cent. of the engineering firms in this country have not a single order for armaments. What is the use of building great new factories, shadow factories, I think they are called, which take a long time to construct and to equip, while ignoring the great mass of productive engineering machinery now in existence? I am not preaching anything revolutionary. What was the main function of the Ministry of Munitions? It was to show that we could get munitions made by all sorts of firms. It is true that in the ordinary way it is best to go to what one might call the professional armament firms, but you cannot get additional supplies by overloading them beyond their capacity, and when those firms are working to their normal capacity the right thing to do is to go to the rest of the industry. I am glad to see the Air Ministry have decided to do this, to organise the production of parts and to have assembly factories.
Ministers have contended that we cannot have mass production in the manufacture of aeroplanes. To me that seems nonsensical. The Secretary of State for War says that we cannot get armaments without the priority system. I am certain that that is not the case. You can get the things if you give people the orders, but you cannot get production unless orders are given. The Secretary of State for War told us that we had been 69 handicapped in obtaining certain optical instruments because the one firm that made them went bankrupt. When I heard that statement I nearly indulged in language for which I should have been called to order. Just imagine a Minister of the Crown telling the House that we could not get certain armaments because one firm had "gone broke." I think I could have solved that problem without requiring to have all the wisdom and intelligence of the moderns or the ancients. Things like that ought not to be allowed to happen. It is just childish to allow an important firm whose products are vitally necessary to go out of existence because of a temporary financial embarrassment.
Therefore, although I differ very much from the hon. Member for East Aberdeen, I do not want the Government to think that I am satisfied with what they are doing. I say frankly that the majority of Members of this House are profoundly uneasy about it, irrespective of party. We do not believe the job to be a big one and we feel that it has not been done. To say that we are only in the second or third year of rearmament is not true. It was b begun in the Autumn of 1934 and speeded-up after the General Election of 1935. We have been at the job for three years. We are not seeking to produce, even on the most optimistic basis, more than one-sixth of what we were producing in 1918, with 7,000,000 more civilian workers available, no shortage of materials and no shortage of labour. It is a task of moderate dimensions, not a big or a difficult one, but, unfortunately, it is being handled by methods which lack imagination and energy. The lives of the men, women and children in this country are at stake and we ought to adopt better methods of organisation. This does not call for any compulsory powers at all, but only for the application of moderate, every-day intelligence.
The great majority of the people in industry who could advise, both employers and trade union leaders, have never been effectively consulted. I meet friends of mine associated with large enterprises, some of them holding official positions in trade associations, men whose advice would be helpful, and I say to them, "Have you been consulted?" The answer I get is "No." That is what I do not understand. The Government really must make the necessary efforts. 70 I am told that to defend ourselves effectually we ought to have a lot of modern anti-aircraft guns, 3.7 guns. What do they cost to make? About £3,000 each, as far as I can ascertain. A thousand of them would cost £3,000,000; adding the various trimmings and other things that are necessary, I do not think my estimate would be far out if I said the cost would be no more than £5,000,000. Are we really to be told that it is beyond the capacity of the engineering industry of the country to turn out £5,000,000 worth of these guns in a short time? It may be difficult if you pile order upon order upon Messrs. Vickers and other armament firms, but you could bring in the general mass of mechanical engineering firms. It is true that certain specialised parts are necessary, and the machine-tool industry may have to be asked to concentrate on the production of a few special machines, but to say that you cannot do this without a Ministry of Supply or without statutory authority to secure priority is to ask me to believe things that I am not going to believe.
I was one of the first 20 engaged in the Ministry of Munitions. The hon. Member for Ealing (Sir F. Sanderson) held a responsible position in that Department, and there are others in this House who saw the mistakes which were made before and are not unfamiliar with what are the correct methods. I do not think the 10 or 15 Members of this House whom I have in mind have ever been asked what we think about it. We have had the experience. We saw the mistakes that were made before, and we know how in the long run the errors were corrected. It is an amazing instance of not learning frot the past. In the one part of his speech which I did not like the Mover of the Address talked about theory and practice as if there were conflict between the two. All good practice and all good theory are generalising from what has already been learned by practice and by theory. In theory you learn from the past experience of others. The practical man learns only from his own experience. A little bit of theory may be a great advantage, because it represents the experience of others. A scientist, when he has learned a lot, writes a textbook, and the next fellow starts off by reading that textbook before making his own discoveries. Other people invented the alphabet for us; we did not start off by creating one for ourselves.
71 Apparently a Minister of the Crown, when given a job, assumes that nobody else has ever tried to do that job before and starts ab initio. That is a fundamental error. The Government will make a fundamental mistake if they do not realise the profound anxiety in the country and in the House over the lack of evidence of an intention to push forward with rearmament at the maximum pace. I entirely endorse the view of the Prime Minister that we ought to pursue a police of appeasement, but the policy is more likely to be successful if we are rearmed, as everybody knows, and I hope the Government will not merely apply their minds to hypothesis but keep before them the simple and elementary job of how to place orders so as to get deliveries.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
I find myself in complete agreement with that part of the speech of the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) which dealt with the engineering industry, because I have been engaged in a capacity which put me in a position to be as well informed about the workers' side of that industry as most people in this House. But I differ from him fundamentally in regard to the first part of his speech, in which he chided, very gently, my hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) for the statements which he had made. The hon. Member for South Croydon said that a problem is not to be solved with a phrase, and we agree. He went on to say that the country could not afford to carry out the proposals made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) and my hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor. I propose to produce evidence to show that the wealthiest country in the world can easily afford to carry out their proposals.
The Prime Minister said to-day, and I heard it with feelings of concern, that we cannot at one and the same time embark upon a huge expenditure upon rearmament and develop the social services. I differ from that statement fundamentally. While we agree with the need for rearmament and the need to maintain our armed forces at the maximum strength to deal with the very serious international situation, at the same time, if this country is to be united, the development of the social services should 72 go on at the same time. There is a song in this country which runs:Land of hope and glory, mother of the free.We on this side believe that we have arrived at the period in the life of this country when the people can be given more hope, and one of the greatest steps towards bringing that about would be the fairer distribution of wealth, in order that the people may glory in the lives they are living. We want to make our land great, greater than it has even been in the past, in order that our land can be called the "mother of the free." We want our country to be like a lighthouse, flashing a powerful light of hope to the peoples of the whole world in this serious international situation. We hear a great deal about the need for a united Britain. We also want to bring about a united British people. We want to bring about a United British People's Government, and we have no hesitation in saying that if we were governed under a policy like that being followed in New Zealand the whole of the country, with the exception of a very small percentage of the population, would he united behind the Government.
Our movement, of which our party is a section, is born of the people's struggles, the struggle for hope, the struggle for glory—in the sense that they understand it—the struggle for freedom. We have won the right to free speech, we have won the right to organise and to vote, and a lesson dearly bought is a lesson well taught. Our party represents the sacrifices that have been made in bringing about this position, and therefore represents the British people's party, and although for months past we have been faced with a serious international situation some of us hope during this week to focus attention upon the internal situation of this country. One of the great steps which could be taken towards improving things internally would be to create greater economic activity in this land. There is a great market in our own country which needs to be expanded. The lives of the people need improving. For evidence of that we have only to listen to the speeches made by the hon. Members for Leigh and Spennymoor. The people need more clothing, more amenities, better housing, better surroundings. That would bring greater joy in life, and this country could be made a land which we 73 could look upon as a land of hope, a land of glory and a land of free people.
I should have been delighted if the, House had been packed with hon. Members fundamentally opposed to us, because I would have asked them whether any hon. Member believed that it was impossible, even within the framework of our present social system, that this country could afford to carry out the policy outlined by my hon. Friends. If they had said that it could not, I would have gone on to produce the evidence which I now propose to produce in order that that evidence might be on the records of this House to be examined by any hon. Member. Mr. Campbell, a well-known banker, speaking at the annual meeting of the National Provincial Bank, on 30th January, 1936, said:If the under-nourished classes of this country were able to enjoy a full diet"—and as I see the hon. Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg) present—I read his articles in the "Observer" and his speeches, and the pleas for unity that he and others are constantly making, in which they very seldom mention the issue which I am bringing to the attention of the House—I would ask him to take notice of the speech which I am quoting—there would be an increased trade in foodstuffs amounting to at least £200,000,000.That is not ourselves saying that, but an acknowledged financial authority, making that statement two years ago.
§ Sir Edward Grigg
The hon. Member has asked me to take notice of the importance of the quotation which he has made and of the importance of better nutrition in this country. I can assure hire that I have the matter constantly in mind, that I write about it and that I belong to at least three societies which concentrate their activities on the importance of nutrition in this country. Indeed, he is preaching to the converted when he asks me to take notice of the importance of those things.
§ Mr. Smith
I am pleased to hear what the hon. Gentleman has said, but it does not apply to the House as a whole, nor does it show results of the concrete character for which we are asking. It is, therefore, good to hear that we are preaching to the converted. I would now go on to produce evidence from the "Economist," which said on 10th April, 1937: 74The concept of the national income is one which has attracted statisticians almost since the birth of their science. Nor is the national income merely a statistician's plaything; it is of great importance for the formulation of economic policy to know the approximate dimensions of the national income and to measure its fluctuations. It is also a criterion of the policy"—This is the point that I want to make in particular to the Government—The aim of all economic management should be to increase the aggregate incomes of the community's members.Then we go on to see that the national income in 1911 was approximately £2,000,000,000 and that in 1937 it was approximately £5,000,000,000. This, therefore, provides us with a general indication of the economic position of the country and with a clue to the understanding of that economic position. When hon. Members make statements, as did the hon. Member for South Croydon, about this country not being able to afford certain things, it proves only that they are not having regard to the economic position of this country.
Having dealt with the national income and its distribution, I want to deal with the home market, and I base my evidence upon an examination that has been made by the statistical staff of the London Press Exchange. In 1934 the London Press Exchange made an analysis of Great Britain's population according to social grades. I will confine myself to the figures that they produced and, therefore, I shall understate my case, because since 1934, owing to the increased production in this country, the profitableness of industry has enormously increased. This analysis was made for business purposes, but I use it to show how the people to whom we belong are exploited. In an introductory review of the examination of the home market Mr. Frank Pick who, I believe, is the Managing Director of the London Passenger Transport Board, said:We are now at the period when we must measure markets. Business men can no longer rely on rule-of-thumb methods.I always knew that the people from whom we come were exploited, but I never realised that they were exploited to the extent proved by this examination. These facts ought to go down on the records of this House and be broadcast throughout this country in order to give a denial to the statements made by the hon. Member for South Croydon and others.
75 I find that in the counties where people are well placed and where very little work and production take place, the people are well-off, but in the counties where the mines and great industries are that is not so. This examination showed that in Sussex 9 per cent. of the people received over £10 per week, 26 per cent. received from £4 to £10 a week, while 65 per cent. received under £4 a week. In Surrey, 10 per cent. of the people received over £10, 23 per cent. from £4 to £10 and 67 per cent. under £4 a week. In Lancashire, however, where much wealth has been produced during the past 200 years, the position was that 4.5 per cent. of the people received £10 a week or over, 18 per cent. from to £4 to £10 and 77.5 per cent. under £4. In Durham, where men have toiled in the mines for the past 150 years, only 2 per cent. of the people received over £10 a week, 18 per cent. from £4 to £10 and 80 per cent. under £4 a week. Then we examine Staffordshire, where 3.5 per cent. of the people received over £10 a week, 14.5 per cent. from £4 to £10 and 82 per cent. under £4 a week. When I examined the figures it made me more indignant than ever that Members of this House should make statements such as those made by the hon. Member for South Croydon this evening, when he said that we could not afford a small increase in old age pensions in this country.
That analysis was upon a county basis, but I want now to produce evidence based upon a few towns. Let me remind the hon. Members who are good enough to be present in the House, that 10 per cent. of the people of Surrey received over £10 a week, 23 per cent. from £4 to £10 and 67 per cent. under £4 per week. Taking the area which I have the privilege and honour of representing the position is, in Stoke-on-Trent, that 1.5 per cent. of the people received £10 a week or over, 11.5 per cent. from £4 to fro and 87 per cent. under £4. In Newcastle the same figures apply relatively. We find that in Glasgow only 2 per cent. of the people were receiving over £10 a week, 27 per cent. from £4 to £10 and 71 per cent. under £4 a week.
Those facts were produced for the purpose of guiding advertisers as to where it would pay them best to advertise and not for the purpose for which I am using them. They can be used also to indicate the degree of exploitation of the people 76 resident in the North compared with those in the South and to show that while much wealth is produced in the North the people resident in the South, and who toil not nor spin, take the fruits of industry. If the farmers and agricultural interests and the small tradesmen and business people knew where their interests lay, they would be supporting our own party, the people's party, in demanding a fairer distribution of the wealth that is produced in order that our people might consume more of that production. My main intention this evening is to direct attention to the evidence I have produced, which was not obtained by Labour people or Socialists, but by the London Press Exchange in order to guide advertisers.
Therefore, my plea this evening is that if we are to have national unity we want it behind a people's Government. We will guarantee to produce national unity when the Government of this country is carried on in the same way as the Government of New Zealand is carried on. Our main plea is that the time has arrived for a fairer distribution of wealth. If wealth were better distributed and the people could consume more of what they produce, we would give a guarantee that the increased purchasing power would not be used in Bournemouth or Knightsbridge or on the Riviera or on cruises to all parts of the world, but over the counters of our shops. Our people would be given more food, more milk and more clothes and shoes, and life would therefore become much happier. This will become a "land of hope and glory" and people will be revelling in the improved conditions brought about through a fairer distribution of wealth. I am presenting not a sentimental, but an economic case, and an unanswerable case. The population of Cheshire is nearly equal to the whole population of Australia. What possibilities there are in this country of improving the home market. What an opportunity is there is to make this country the admiration of the world, if we could but get a Government that would adopt a policy on the lines that I am indicating.
We demand the right to live. During the past 30 years production has been enormously increased in this country. The productive capacity of this country is relatively greater than that of any other country in the world, and it is reasonable to put forward the plea that the time 77 has arrived for a fairer distribution of wealth to be brought about. We make these proposals. We believe that the very least benefit that should be paid to those who are unemployed or sick through no fault of their own should be £1 per week. We demand an immediate increase in old age and widows' pensions. Even if the Government are not prepared to carry out the policy outlined in our pamphlet, we say it is reasonable that they should bring forward proposals for increasing old age and widows' pensions. We want an enormous increase in the purchasing power of the people. This Britain of ours can be united provided that the Government of the country is conducted on a basis, not only of defending the present social order, but of bringing about a fairer distribution of wealth, in order that the people may be given more hope. While that is being done, there should be increased benefits for the unemployed and the sick and increased old age pensions, so that we may take one step—quite a reasonable step—towards bringing about some hope for the people of this country.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Magnay
I want to address myself to that part of the Gracious Speech which refers to the equipment and expansion of the Defence Forces. The Gracious Speech says:Although the equipment and expansion of My Defence Forces are now making rapid progress, the emergency through which we have passed has shown that certain deficiencies in our military and civil defence preparations remain to be remedied.It is only because I feel that this matter is most urgent in its relation to the constituency and district from which I come that I speak upon it. I am glad to say that, in regard to air-raid precautions, Gateshead was an example to the whole United Kingdom. Everyone agrees that that is so. We had, and have now, over 2,000 personnel, some of whom have been drilling every week for two years, and we have headquarters at Gateshead where people come from all over the county of Durham to be trained by our experts, as they have now become after their two years' training. The hearty and enthusiastic way in which the people of Gateshead have rallied to these emergency efforts for self-defence is a matter for thankfulness. Voluntary clerical workers at headquarters come there day after day and do excellent work. My heart was 78 really warmed during the week of the crisis when I saw hundreds of people of all sorts and conditions coming to the police and fire station headquarters, and solicitors, architects, schoolmasters and so on working from II o'clock in the morning until 4 the next afternoon, without a break except perhaps for a cup of tea and a pie, thinking only of doing their bit in assembling the gas masks. That was on the Monday and Tuesday. One little boy was asked by a school master friend of mine what he was doing there, and he replied, "Please, Sir, I'm off bad." He was away from school unwell, but, in his enthusiasm, he had come to take his small part and do what he could in this very essential and urgent work.
But—life would be quite simple and pleasant if it were not for the "buts"—largely, I think, because headquarters in London were cluttered up and could not handle affairs properly, things were done very badly so far as headquarters were concerned. The auxiliary fire service in Gateshead, in spite of all the organisation and drilling which had been going on for so long a time, was no good at all. I was so concerned about what I heard that I went to see the chief constable, and he informed me that, at the time of the crisis, only nine auxiliary mobile firefighting pumps had been received, one of which, a large, heavy pumping unit, could not have been used owing to shortage of suction hose, and the size of hose required was such that none could have been improvised; it was not of the same gauge as the connections. I was further informed that the types of hose supplied—the name of the firm was given, but I do not propose to mention it—were bad. As an example, one 100-foot length of hose had 49 holes in it when tried—new holes—and the hose generally was in a similarly bad state. What amazed me was that, while the fire report from the chief constable and watch committee of Gateshead was submitted to the Home Office in February, only one-fifth of the equipment then asked for had been received, although, as I have said, they had the complete personnel to use it. In other words, after two years' drilling, 75 per cent. of the men had nothing to do because they had no implements to use.
§ Mr. Magnay
That is a matter of the hon. Gentleman's wisdom, but I am talking about urgent matters which I think ought to be remedied. I will read to the House part of a rather long letter from the chief air warden. It says:The whole equipment was quite inadequate for its purpose, and the lack of firefighting facilities would have been a major tragedy in this area had air raids actually occurred. This reflects little credit on the officials concerned, who have had nearly two years in which to make preparations, during which time most British firms have been eager and willing to carry out this work, but have never been given the opportunity.The hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) mentioned that one of these firms, manufacturing mobile fire fighting pumps, has been established within the last year on the trading estate at Gateshead. It is a Czechoslovakian firm, but the control is entirely British, the workmen are, of course, British, and the stock is of British manufacture. Will it he believed, however, that this firm, before they built their works, got an order for 1000 of these pumps, in competition on most favourable terms with full ratepaying firms in Gateshead who have made pumps for many years and have an established European—indeed international—reputation as pump makers? I have this knowledge at first hand, because I went to the Home Office about it, and on the Estimates Committee I asked the responsible official why this was done, and why these old established firms did not get a share of the orders. No satisfactory answer has been given. I suggest that it was never the intention that firms on these trading estates should not only get the most favourable terms in regard to their establishments and their rates and in other ways, but should compete with firms in the very same district who were paying full rates. I submit that at any rate these old-established firms ought to receive equal treatment with the newly established firms which have come into existence during the last year or even less.
The conditions in Durham County were worse even than the chaos which reigned at Gateshead, and for this I blame the Durham County Council. During the 80 week of the crisis, I was rung up by a councillor friend of mine at Whickham, which is close by. He told me that he had not an office, nor a clerk, nor even an office boy, and that in the neighbourhood of the power station at Dunston—the biggest in England except Battersea—there were no air raid precautions whatever. He asked me what I thought he could do, and I said he ought to see the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. W. Whiteley), and see what he could do in the matter—that it was his job, and not mine. I am glad that the hon. Member is in the House now, and, if he cares, I will tell him who it was who told me about the condition of things in Whickham. The position is that Felling, Hebburn, Birtley, Blaydon and Ryton are all under the jurisdiction of Gateshead, but the grant in aid is only 1d. in the £. That seems to be a quite inequitable arrangement. A rate of 1d. in the £ in Gateshead only produces £2,000, but in Newcastle, just across the Tyne, 1d. in the £ is equivalent to £10,000. The grant in aid should be, not on the value of property, but on the value of lives. In Gateshead we have a population of 120,000, not including Felling and Whickham, which are close by, but Newcastle, where the population is 250,000, or about twice that of Gateshead, receives £10,000, whereas we only receive £2,000. One has only to state the proposition to see how ridiculous it is.
I should not have spoken if I could not make suggestions for improvement. Things are bad, but we have realised it, and they can be improved. I suggest that there should be a decentrali?ation of organisation. London always thinks it is the hub of the universe, and that no good could come out of the North country, but we in the North country think otherwise, and with very good reason, if I may say so. I suggest that the organisation in this regard should be decentralised into zones or districts under co-ordinated control, keyed up through London. In these days of radio and facilities for communication, there is no reason at all why, in a time of emergency, the Home Office should be the fixed position of a board for air-raid services. With radio and other scientific appliances available, they can go wherever they wish, and be in contact with all the spheres with which they want to keep in touch. I suggest that Members of Parliament 81 should work for their money, and that in these zones all Members of Parliament and the editors, or some representatives of the Press, should be on the committees responsible for the organisation. If a state of emergency occurs I am certain my place would be on my local committee, not only because I have lived in the district for 40 years, but because it is my constituency, and I would do anything to serve it, We have our railway warrants, and we could go down at any time without cost to anybody, and be of service.
I pass on the recommendation given to me by the chief constable, that persons enrolling in decontamination or rescue work, the fire brigade and the special constabulary should be understood to be exempt from war service, and that the Government should fix an age for such exemption. He tells me that only young men could go into these decontamination chambers, as old men have not the breathing capacity; but what was the good, he said, of training the men that he required if after doing so he found that they were required for active service? Bomb-proof or splinter-proof shelters should be established. In regard to uniforms, there has been a most niggardly and slothful method of doing things. We have factories on the trading estates. I was instrumental in getting orders for one of these factories. After months of delay the orders were sent from the Home Office. I expect chits were sent around the Home Office from A, B and C to X, Y and Z. Why should there be all this? We have the factories in the different places, and the committees should have power to order uniforms as and when required—of course, at a proper charge. As regards evacuation, I will pass on what was said to me by a man who I do not think will object to my doing so. His idea is that we should have proper camps where employÉs who are now getting pay with their holidays could, in normal times, enjoy their holidays. I do not mean that they should be put up just anyhow. I mean properly arranged camps, put up by architects and contractors who know their jobs.
I am going to repeat, in a word or two, what I said two or three years ago from this very place in regard to the trunk roads of this country. Some hon. Members will remember that I suggested that 82 ex-Air Force men, ex-Army men and ex-Navy men who are pensioners, disciplined men who know their jobs and can be amenable to discipline and control, should have charge of the trunk roads of this country. It should be taken out of the hands of the police altogether, and put in the hands of these men, who know all about telephoning and radio, and who could be trusted absolutely—who would be, indeed, a skeleton force in time of emergency. If any air raid occurs the first attack will be on the railway lines and bridges. The main trunk roads will become the real means of transport. I suggest that trunk roads should be divided into districts or zones, and every motorist, private or public, would report to an officer who he would know beforehand was the man to whom he had to give obedience. I think these suggestions are worth while, and I put them forward with all deference to the powers-that-be in the hope that they will be considered. I am certain that under the new control and organisation things would be vastly better than, unfortunately, they were a month ago in my constituency.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Mander
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay) in his devastating attack on the National Government, but to follow a more moderate course, and call attention briefly to one or two matters of industrial legislation either included in or not included in the Gracious Speech. I am glad to notice that it is proposed to introduce a Measureto raise the amount of the miners' welfare levy, in order to provide additional funds for the building of pithead baths.It was one of the recommendations of the Departmental Committee of which I was a member eight or nine years ago that that should be done when it became possible, and I am delighted that it is now thought possible to raise the levy to its old figure. I am sure that will be greatly to the advantage of the whole of the mining industry, and particularly of the miners. I regret that there is no reference in the Speech to the question of increasing the amount of pensions or introducing a new scale of pensions. It has been argued that we cannot pay for it. I maintain that we can pay for it if we adopt a different foreign policy. We certainly cannot at the present time, running a policy which involves the expenditure 83 of millions of pounds on armaments which, apparently, are not of any military value at all; but I believe that national unity can be obtained for a foreign policy which will enable a great deal of that money to be saved and the money saved to be devoted to an increase in old age and other pensions. If any Measure is introduced with that object, by a private Member or otherwise, I shall do all I can to support it.
I want to refer, lastly, to a point which was brought to my attention a good deal during the Recess, when I was in contact with a number of my constituents. I endeavoured to find out what wages they were being paid, and to what extent they were receiving the standard rate of remuneration. Where you have strong trade union organisation there is no difficulty, and where you have trade boards there is no difficulty; but there are a number of cases in my constituency where neither of those conditions operates, I have had constituents come to me and ask what the standard rate was. I found out for them and learned that they were receiving very much below the standard rate. They were probably being paid nothing for overtime, and were being worked long hours. They asked me not to make any public statement on the matter mentioning their names, and not to write to their employers because they were in the power of their employers, and would certainly—in their own opinion, at any rate—be victimised and discharged.
While I dare say that employers of that kind are very limited in number, they certainly do exist, and I think legislation ought to be introduced to protect the worker who is not otherwise protected against exploitation and unfair treatment. I would like to see some general measure to give statutory force to agreements arrived at voluntarily, so that a worker who knew he was not receiving the proper standard rate could, if necessary, go to the courts. But you want to go a good deal further, and introduce a national system of standard rates, so that there could not possibly be any undercutting. I know how unfairly it is operating on many of my constituents at the present time, and those of other hon. Members in different parts of the country; and I hope that attention will be given to the matter by the Ministry of Labour, which, I am glad to see, is represented 84 at the present moment, so that people can obtain, either by special legislation or by the House of Commons Fair Wages Clause, some means of ensuring that they will receive the wages to which they are entitled by agreement.
§ 7.28 p.m.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir William Allen
I am glad to have an opportunity of saying a few words with regard to the Gracious Speech. I have noticed that a great many hon. Members when starting their speeches to-night have referred to the fact that something they desired was not mentioned in the King's Speech. There is one paragraph which, I think, if actively pursued would cover a great many of the difficulties from which we are suffering, including unemployment:The active furtherance of peace in Europe, which is the constant aim of My Government, will, I trust, lead to a wider spirit of confidence and supply a fresh impulse for expansion in trade, industry and employment. My Ministers will persist in their efforts to establish favourable conditions for the development of oversea markets.What we want, first of all, is peace in the world, and after that I believe there will be a wider spirit of confidence, which will supply a fresh impulse for expansion in trade and industry. What we want is international confidence, and we cannot have international confidence until we have peace in the world. I was sorry to read in the Press to-day that one of the reasons given for the Labour party's victory in Dartford was that "Mr. Chamberlain had let down the Czechoslovaks." The only logical conclusion that one can come to is that the majority of the voters in Dartford would rather have war. What is absolutely necessary for the decrease of unemployment is that industry all over the world should be got going again, and that cannot come until we have peace in China and in Spain, and indeed until the American elections are over.
Being an Irishman and always having a grievance, I cannot understand why there is no mention of my country in the King's Speech. We read that policy will continue to be directed to improving conditions in the Special Areas. In our speeches we usually call them distressed areas, but the words used in the King's Speech are "Special Areas," In my opinion Northern Ireland is essentially a distressed area, but, because it is not a 85 Special Area, the Government have evidently made up their mind to do nothing with regard to it. The conditions are appalling. The Speech refers to the cotton industry and says that proposals which will require legislation are before Ministers. Why can we not have some legislation with regard to the great staple industry of Ulster, the linen trade? It is in as parlous a condition as the cotton trade. Millions of pounds' worth of linen used to go to China and we used to do a decent trade with Spain. Italy still owes Ulster hundreds of thousands of pounds which cannot be paid. Cannot the Government help us? Are we not in that condition of a Special or distressed area? In my own little town of 13,000 inhabitants there are between 4,000 and 5,000 idle because of the depression in the linen industry. We are as much entitled to the consideration of His Majesty's Ministers as the people of Lancashire.
We have the largest shipyard in the world and only a third of it is occupied. Some of your shipyards in the North are working to full capacity, but ours are idle because we cannot get the Departments responsible to give us an opportunity of increasing the building possibilities of our yards. I am not pleading anything that is unfair. After all, Ulster has made up its mind to remain under the British flag, and we are delighted that we are still under the British flag. That means that we are paying the same taxes as you are. Why cannot we have a little of the distribution of the funds that we pay into your Exchequer? You are using our funds for the development of trade. You are using our funds for the building of ships, and you are giving orders for them in Scotland and elsewhere. I do not think it is unreasonable that we should ask that some of the business should be given to us. When His Majesty's Ministers refer to these other portions of the United Kingdom, they ought to remember Northern Ireland. Hon. Members have asked for increased old age pensions. I have asked various Chancellors of the Exchequer and Home Secretaries to think of the position of the pensioners of the old Royal Irish Constabulary. While hon. Members tumble over each other to raise loans for foreigners, we cannot get a couple of hundred thousand pounds in order that these old men may end their days in 86 peace and comfort. I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will think of the people at home before he thinks of strangers abroad.
There are many things in the Royal Speech on which we are all agreed. What we find fault with is that there is so much that ought to be in it that is not, but it stands to reason that if everything were put in that ought to be in you, Sir, would perhaps be reading it still, and that is impossible. The general idea that I have adumbrated with regard to the general trade and peace of the world is the only thing that will bring satisfaction in the end. But I wish the trade unions would be a little more helpful to industry in giving opportunities to men to work at whatever they may find near to hand. In some cases a man is allowed to work only at his own trade, and not at another. We want every man to be given an opportunity to work at the thing that is next to him. Our trade unions are not helping in that way. I hope that in the coming year there will be a little elasticity with regard to that matter.
§ 7.41 p.m.
Mr. Edmund Harvey
The House is indebted to the hon. and gallant Member for Armagh (Sir W. Allen), for bringing our thoughts back to the theme that recurs again and again during the Gracious Speech, the theme of appeasement, because the important question of social justice and the raising of the level of life of the people and the winning of their rights for the under-privileged is intimately associated with the question of peace in the world. We cannot hope, not merely to pay for social reform but for it to remain on a firm basis unless behind our national industrial structure we can have a sure foundation in rightful international relationships and a peace which will endure. I, therefore, welcome the fact that this thought of appeasement, which begins the Gracious Speech and concludes it, comes in again and again at different times. I believe that ordinary folk throughout the country, without regard to party, although they may not agree with the Government in many things, and may not agree with its foreign policy in many respects, welcome this desire for peace and the intention that has been repeatedly expressed by the Prime Minister that European and world appeasement will be the object of the Government in all its foreign policy. I 87 have not been able to agree with some of the steps that the Government have felt it right to take with that aim in view, but I recognise the immense value of it being the aim of the Government, and I believe it is recognised not in this country alone but in other countries, too.
I wish it had been possible for the Gracious Speech to indicate more clearly some of the positive measures that the Government propose for the attainment of peace and are going to take in the near future. I believe that throughout the country there is an earnest desire that we should be friends with the people of Germany and that there should not be war again between us, but if we are to make that desire a reality we must not be content to purchase peace at the expense of other people. There will have to be efforts and sacrifice on our own part. I am surprised that no public statement has yet been made by the Government—I hope it will soon be made—to remove a deep grievance of the German people, which can be removed by what will perhaps be called a sacrifice of dignity, but without material sacrifice. There remain in the peace treaties words which are an offence to patriotic Germans without regard to party—the declaration that Germany had the sole guilt for the Great War. Why cannot we take the initiative in removing that stigma from the clauses of the peace treaties?
Why cannot we also take the initiative in removing from the peace treaties the declaration that Germany is unfitted to he a colonial Power? Those things do not mean any material change, but if the initiative could come from this country it would be felt by people in Germany that we realised the way in which these unjust accusations with which they have been branded as a people have been felt by them, and that we want to remove these injustices. The time will come when we shall have to face the Colonial problem, and I hope that we may do it in a spirit which will contribute not merely to good relations between ourselves and Germany, but to more just treatment of backward peoples under our control. I believe that the only satisfactory way will be by an extension of the principle which we already have in the Mandate, extending it to all the tropical colonies and asking other nations to share in the responsibility 88 of guiding and helping the backward peoples, not exploiting them but helping them forward to a fuller measure of nationhood.
There is an allusion in the Gracious Speech, which I am glad to see, that the Government want to take further steps towards peace in Spain. The words are:they will lend their assistance in any way possible towards the restoration of peace in that country.I hope that that means that definite effort is to be made to bring about mediation. Every week that the civil war goes on means terrible suffering and loss to all kinds of innocent people, and it means also, as an hon. Member opposite has explained, suffering to people who are connected with Spain by trade. That is the least important side of it, but it means the destruction of human life and the increase of and hatred, which will make it harder in future for Spanish civil life to be built up again in the way that everyone would wish it. So I welcome this declaration, and I hope that the Government will act upon it promptly. They have also declared their willingness if both parties invite them, to engage in mediation in the Far East. I would wish that they would join with other nations and not wait to be asked; join with the United States and other nations in pressing mediation in the Far East upon both parties.
There is the further reference, which I welcome, to the forthcoming legislation to ratify the arrangements that have been made for the advance to Czechoslovakia and further financial help. I hope that that help will be generous, because although individual citizens have tried in this country, rightly, to show, through the Lord Mayor's Fund and in other ways their appreciation of Czechoslovakia's sacrifice, we need as a nation to show that appreciation and to do it on a far more generous scale than would be shown if we contented ourselves with the advance of £10,000,000. A nation that has sacrificed one-third of its territory and one-third of its population, and perhaps more than that of its economic wealth, in order that there should not be a European war, has done a noble thing, and we ought to recognise our debt to the people of Czechoslovakia, not only to those who remain in that country, but to those from Sudetenland who are exiled 89 from their old homes, many of whom cannot stay in what is left of Czechoslovakia, and are looking for homes elsewhere.
I hope that arrangements will be made for a considerable portion of this money to he used to help schemes of emigration for these exiles. I believe that the Government are already trying to use their good offices with the Dominions to secure an opening of doors for such exiles from Sudetenland, and I hope that they will also do what they can to get places of settlement in the Crown Colonies, and that in the meantime we may show a more generous welcome to such political exiles in our own country even if it be by temporary visas. At present only 350 visas have been granted, and there are thousands of people who are in physical danger, and far more who are in spiritual distress, among these exiles from Sudetenland who cannot stay in Bohemia, Moravia or Slovakia. We owe these people a great debt, and I hope that the Government will feel that they have the public opinion of the country behind them in every effort that they may make on their behalf.
There is the question of Palestine and the need for peace there. The trouble there brings us again to this terrible problem of refugees in Europe. The door of hope in Palestine must not be closed to these poor refugees. Wave upon wave of human misery is spreading from Central Europe in different directions, and it ought to be our duty to do what we can to help these sufferers. I should have liked to have seen in the King's Speech some reference to a grant to help the inter-Governmental Commission in which the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster takes a prominent part. It is trying to help many of these refugees, and it has hardly any funds available with which to do it. We cannot as a single country solve the question by ourselves, but we can set an example to other countries and use our influence with other countries and make our grant to this common fund to help some of these people who are in desperate need to-day. When the great War began in 1914 Sir Edward Grey said that he believed the lamps were going out all over Europe and we should not see them lighted again in our day. The darkness to-day is perhaps greater in many lands in Europe than even Sir Edward Grey had foreseen. Surely, it 90 should be the mission of this country to re-light the lamps of hope for the refugees and for the oppressed in other countries, and, above all, to keep burning the hope of peace and of international justice on which alone peace can properly be built.
§ 7.55 P.m.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
If I do not follow the hon. Member for the English Universities (Mr. Harvey), I hope that he will not think that I have not been impressed by what he has been saying. This is the fifth King's Speech to which I have listened, and I have never heard so much discontent or grumbling by the supporters of the Government as on this occasion. I have not yet heard one speaker from the Government Benches who has praised the King's Speech. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), who has now left the Chamber, when he had his opportunity to speak, said that we wanted to keep this thing going. He has batted himself, taken off his pads and has gone. I like the idea of people telling us to keep the thing going, and then themselves going away as soon as they have had their innings. Some of us have sat here until we are nearly sore. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen has almost finished with the Government. He used to sit on the benches opposite, from which place he told us that we ought to eat more herring. He said that he ate four herring a day. He then moved to another seat, and he now sits below the Gangway on this side of the House, and if his speech to-day has anything to do with it, he will not be long before he is sitting among us. He has said that unless the Government alter they cannot depend upon his support. If the Government do not get the support of the hon. Member for East Aberdeen, they are done: they are damned.
Following the hon. Member was the hon. Gentleman the Member for Gateshead. (Mr. Magnay). Three parts of his speech to-night was a denunciation of the Government's policy in regard to air-raid precautions. I could not help thinking while he was talking of what appeared in the "Sheffield Telegraph and Independent" combine last week. They were referring to speakers who had spoken in support of the National-Liberal candidate at the Doncaster by-election, and the 91 glowing, enthusiastic and inspiring speech of the hon. Member for Gateshead left an eternal impression upon me.
§ Mr. Magnay
Since the hon. Member has mentioned my name, the remarks he quotes are not unusual in my case. I am not surprised at that. He said that I made great complaints about the lack of adequate air-raid precautions in my constituency, and that is true, but if Mr. Eady, a civil servant, can break official etiquette to do so, why should not I?
§ Mr. Griffiths
I thought that the hon. Member for Gateshead was rising to put a question to me, but it was really a second speech. I am not objecting to what he said; I wish he had said more. I agree with what Mr. Eady, the civil servant, said, and I shall use it when I go to Doncaster next Monday, and also the stuff of the hon. Member for Gateshead. I shall tell them what he has said in this House and that he has condemned the Government up hill and down dale. I then come to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Ireland—[Laughter.] Well, Belfast is Ireland—
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am sorry I made a take. I was showing that the Government were being criticised by their supporters. In fact, the hon. Member for the English Universities has been the only friend of the Government in this Debate. I do not want to speak about what is in the King's Speech, but of what is left out. We talk about the Czechs, and I am second to no one in my respect for the Czechs for what they have done not only recently but all along the line. I am thinking of what is left out of the Address with respect to the home front. In the Great War I came to Westminster Hall to hear a speech by the late Lord Asquith. Miners were invited to that meeting because the Government wanted more coal. The late Bob Smillie was present. Mr. Asquith told us that we were the salt of the earth, and he said a few other things. When we left the meeting I said to the vice-chairman of the Yorkshire Miners' Association: "Ted, what do you think of that?" "George," he replied, "I am not so much bothered about what he said as I am about what he left unsaid." That is how I feel about the King's Speech.
92 We have been pegging away at the Government about compensation, pensions and other things and we are bitterly disappointed that there is nothing in the Speech about any of them. The Minister of Health made a statement at Crayford, and I am glad he gave it because it helped us to win the Dartford election. It may be said that we only took a little bit out of his speech. Those who are most guilty of that sort of thing are hon. Members on the other side. When the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) uses a short sentence in a speech of 45 minutes, they take out that sentence and use it for their own purposes. They say that the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol said so and so. The Minister of Health was speaking for the Government. They have no intention whatever of doing anything in regard to old age pensions. This is probably the last King's Speech of this Parliament. Therefore, if the Government do not do anything in regard to old age pensions now they will do nothing, and after the next election we shall be on the Government Benches.
This pensions business in the country is the most burning question at the present time. Go into any industrial centre and you will find that the pensions question is not only a burning question for the people who are getting these small old age pensions but for the people who are expecting to get them later. They ask what they are going to get and how they are going to live. Let me give an illustration. A week yesterday I was in Barnsley and met three men from my own division. They had been working in the pit for 52 years until they were stopped because they had reached the age of 65. Since 1926 the pt has not been working more than five days a fortnight. Two of these men worked at the top of the pit. Their wages were 8s. 9d. a day, which is the highest wage they have had since 1926. When they were stopped at the age of 65 they got 10s. a week pension, and as their wives were not 65, 10s. a week is what they get for the wife and themselves. The result was that the very first week they were stopped at the pit they had to go to the relieving officer. What went to my soul was a question by these men. "Where does the relieving officer live, George?" they asked me. That showed that they had never been to the relieving 93 officer during their lives. Yet when they were stopped at the pit they had to go to the relieving officer.
I should like to draw attention to a statement made on this subject by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury on 2nd November. To whatever part of the country I go I shall make reference to this reply. When I go to Doncaster next Monday night if I speak at three or four meetings I shall use this reply of the Financial Secretary. He said:There are, I think, about 10 per cent. of the total number who are drawing old age pensions who are supplementing their pensions in this way, but I do not think that it has ever been claimed by any party that old age pensions do by themselves provide for full maintenance of persons devoid of other resources.Mr. Gallacher: Is not the Financial Secretary aware that it is utterly impossible for these old people to live on 10s. a week, and is not the service they have given to the community sufficient to ensure that they should be maintained when they reach old age?Captain Wallace: If the pension and other resources are inadequate, these people very properly have recourse to the public assistance authorities, where need is the criterion."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd November, 1938; cols. 197–198 Vol. 340.]That is the answer given by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. That statement proves that he does not understand the matter. He does not know anything about the way these people live. It is the people who live among these old folk who understand this question. The right hon. Gentleman tells my men, whom I met in Barnsley, that if the 10s. is not sufficient for them and their wives they can go to the Poor Law. They must have recourse to the Poor Law if they have not saved any money. Two of these men have reared families. Some of the members of their families were out in France fighting in the last War. They are married and have children, and those children are old enough to have fought if war had come recently. Yet these men have to apply to the Poor Law, and there is nothing in the King's Speech about increasing their pension of 10s. a week. We ask that the pension should be increased to £1.
At the pit where I worked before coming to the House of Commons we have a fund which supports 150 old age pensioners, who are receiving 4s. per week each out of the wages of the miners who are working. Not one penny comes from the company. 94 Some of the men who are contributing to this fund have worked only four shifts a fortnight for a good many years, but a levy is stopped out of their wages to help to keep 150 pensioners. That is £30 a week or £1,560 a year. That should not be a local affair or a works affair but a national affair, and we are asking that it shall be a national affair.
The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) said that at St. Helens the cost for helping old age pensions was £12,000 a year, or a 7d. rate. They are very lucky there. They live in comparative sunshine. In the West Riding there are 10,000 old age pensioners who have public assistance and they are costing the rates £333,000 a year, equivalent to a rate of 1s. 2d. in the £. I wish the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) was present to hear these facts, because he is the economising rate king. It costs us all this money helping to maintain the old age pensioners. We say that that burden should not be borne by the rates. The miners at my old pit not only pay £30 a week out of their wages to help the old age pensioners, but they have to pay in addition a rate of 1s. 2d. for the county on the top of their rent. We ask that there shall be an increase in the pensions so that the cost of maintaining the old people will not have to be borne by the ratepayers and the direct wage earners. I am sorry that the Minister of Health and the Parliamentary Secretary are not here, but I hope the Attorney-General will make a mental note of these facts. In my own division when an old age pensioner goes into the public institution, if the emoluments for the old age pensioner in the institution cost over £49 17s. 6d., the Pensions Department take the old age pension away from him. That means that if 1s. 6d. a week is left to him for his pocket, 8s. 6d. is taken from him and the Treasury gets it. I ask that that practice shall cease. If the old age pensioner is not allowed to handle the pension, at least the local authority should have the 8s. 6d., so that that amount can go to relieve the rates.
I should like to draw attention also to anomalies in widows' pensions. Let me give one case of a widow whose husband was killed last June in a pit. The widow is 27 and the mother of six children. The husband was 27 when he was killed in the pit. Last Sunday night the widow came to my house. She is not drawing any 95 pension. Her husband for a period had over 104 stamps. Then he got out of work and could not get work for a period and ran out of benefit under the contributory health service. It was not his fault. He scoured the country for work. In 21 months he is out of benefit entirely. He then gets work, and has 39 stamps on his card. His widow makes an application for a pension, but she is told by the Minister of Health that she cannot have a pension because he has not got a second 104 stamps. And this woman has six children. She gets 30s. a week from the court, or £6 monthly, but if the month runs into five weeks she gets 24s. a week and has to pay 9s. a week rent. That means that she has 15s. a week for herself and her six children, to clothe and feed and do everything else. That is an anomaly which I say should be cleared away, and I am sorry to see that there is nothing about it in the King's Speech. There is nothing in that Speech which gives me any hope for our people. I was speaking on foreign affairs the other day—I dabble in foreign affairs sometimes—and at the end three or four old men came up to me and said, "George, what are they doing about pensions for us? Ten bob a week is no good; we cannot make ends meet." That is the burning question as far as the industrial centres are concerned.
There is not a word about compensation in the King's Speech. I know it says something about the welfare levy, but that is just a little eyewash. Who took the halfpenny off the welfare levy? Who took the £500,000? It was not the Labour party. It was the National Government, who, during the last five years, have taken £3,000,000 from the levy. If that amount had been left in there would be no miner going home from the pit in his dirty clothes, because there would have been pithead baths at every pit. The Government must not think that they can draw a fly over the eye of the miners. They understand these things and know, who took the levy from the Welfare Fund. I am glad that the Government are putting it back, because I know some pits where men have to go 10 miles to their homes in their wet pit clothes. The time has gone when a miner should have to do that not only in the interests of health, but also because the wife should not have the dirt in the 96 house; it should be left at the pits. Three years ago the then Home Secretary who is now the Chancellor of the Exchequer appointed a committee to go into the question of industrial diseases, and miners nystagmus particularly. That committee reported this year that certain things should take place, and the miners' representatives wanted to know what the Government were going to do. By this time the Home Secretary had gone out of his job and another man had been put in. His answer was—it was given just recently: "You know the Prime Minister has decided to appoint a Royal Commission to go into the whole question of compensation, and it will not be wise to deal with it." That may not be the exact words, but it is the substance of the answer. It is shelved, put away, and there is nothing in the King's Speech about compensation.
I have here the latest figures regarding injuries, and they are astounding. In seven of the industries there have been during the last five years 2,079,502 persons injured. These people are always in the trenches, always fighting in the trenches; they are always on national service, but because they get hurt they are branded as though they were criminals. You may ask: How is that? I will tell you. Immediately a man gets hurt he gets only half his wages. In substance, they say, "Why did you get hurt? Because you have got hurt we will bring your wages down to half, and you can live as you like while you are hurt"—although a man requires more when he is hurt than when he is well. The majority of these people have to fly to the Poor Law for assistance the first week they get hurt. Hon. Members may ask how I know. I know because I have come up against these cases. I know instances where a wife has only 22s. with three or four children to keep and 10s., 12s. and 13s. to pay in rent. We have had to supplement these incomes because the Compensation Acts place a stigma upon them in saying that they can have only half their wages.
The figures for the mining industry are terrible. During the last five years 868,682 men and boys have been injured in the mines. It means that last year 22.62 of the people employed in the pits were hurt, or one man out of every four. If you take it over four years it means that every man in the pit gets hurt, or if 97 one man misses, then another man gets hit twice. And there is not a word about compensation in the King's Speech. As I said when I began, it is not what is in it that affects me; it is what is left out; and we on this side of the House are pleading for the home trenches, for the people who are on national service up to the age of 65. Some of them started when they were 11 and 12 years of age, and there is neither bread nor butter nor anything else in this King's Speech for them. I am asking the Government to give consideration to this question, and if they do not give consideration to it we shall bowl them out middle stump.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Sir Ernest Shepperson
The hon. Member who has just sat down said at the beginning of his speech that this was the seventh King's Speech to which he had listened. It is the seventeenth King's Speech to which I have listened. He stated that hardly any Members of the House had blessed the King's Speech. I am afraid I am going to disappoint him, because I am going to be an exception. I want to refer in particular to one paragraph in the Speech, and that is a paragraph referring to the agricultural industry. That paragraph reads:My Ministers recognise the important place which home agriculture must occupy in the national economy and defence. They will continue to promote by an active and constructive policy the economic development of the industry and the improvement of the conditions of those engaged in it.We who represent agricultural constituencies read with great pleasure in that part of the Speech that the Government recognise now the important place that agriculture holds in the national economy and defence, and I can assure the Government that it will give great hope to agriculture to know that the Government intend to promote by constructive measures the economic development of the industry. Many of us, unfortunately, know from our own experience, and all of us from the experience of our constituents, how urgently needed the agricultural measures are to-day, for notwithstanding the many remedial measures which have been passed by the Government to assist agriculture, applying the acid test we know that the farmer's bank balance is constantly diminishing, or I might even say that the farmer's overdraft at the bank is constantly increasing. 98 It is undoubtedly true that the past activities of the Government have increased the farmer's receipts. While it is true that they have gone up, unfortunately his increased receipts have been coupled with an increased cost of production, and that increased cost of production has more than kept pace with his increased receipts.
Agriculturists generally, and I in particular, desire to say that we are definitely grateful to the Government for what they have done in the past to assist agriculture. We recognise that during the past six or seven years many measures had been taken to help them and we express our gratitude to the Government. The remedies which have been taken have undoubtedly kept the agricultural patient from dying but have by no means cured him. The agriculturist in the past feared sudden death. The remedies applied have kept him away from that sudden death, but what he fears to-day is that he is in for a long and lingering illness that may eventually lead to death. But the King's Speech will very definitely give him hope that he may have life in the future and not death, because it is stated that we are to have measures to give this economic assistance to agriculture for the benefit of all engaged in it.
What are those remedies to be? A wise doctor treating a patient who is suffering from a difficult disease applies experimentally certain remedies. He notices the effect of those remedies upon the patient, and the wise doctor continues to apply the remedies to which the patient responds well. Might I respectfully suggest to the Government that they should follow the example of that wise doctor and apply to agriculture the remedies that have proved the best remedies, the ones to which agriculture responds? Recently many remedies have been applied to this industry. To some of them agriculture has responded and good has resulted, but the effect of others has been indifferent. I would suggest that the Government should apply to agriculture those remedies which their experience shows have produced good and have been a help to the industry. One remedy which has been an unqualified good to agriculture and has been a great success is the Wheat Act, the levy-subsidy principle which gives a guaranteed price. That remedy when applied has been a success.
99 My one purpose in rising to-night is to appeal to the Government to apply that remedy of a guaranteed price obtained under a levy-subsidy to as many agricultural commodities as possible. If they find it successful, I appeal to them to be courageous in the quantity of the remedy which they give. If they do that, I, on behalf of agriculture, assure them that agriculture will respond in increased production of the food of the people, and with that increased production it will help to decrease the adverse balance of trade by making it unnecessary for us to import so much food. It will show that it can effectively take its part as a fourth line of Defence of this country by producing the food of our people.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie
With the exception of the last speaker, those who have spoken so far from the Government Benches have been somewhat critical of the Government. We had a scathing indictment of their lack of preparation in the recent crisis by the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay), which, coming from an hitherto warm supporter of the Government, will, I have no doubt, receive due attention. Then we had the hon. and gallant Member for Armagh (Sir W. Allen) showing us the sad state of Ulster—another condemnation of the Government's policy or rather lack of policy. I was glad that the hon. and gallant Member joined with us in our appeal on behalf of the old age pensioners. I agree with previous speakers that the King's Speech is disappointing by its omissions. We know that foreign affairs have engaged the attention of the Cabinet, or, at least, of the privileged few known as the "Inner Cabinet," to the exclusion of home affairs. Peace, we understand, is assured, at least until Christmas. So the arch Dictator says and his word, of course, is now law. While the Government may yearn for peace, judging by recent events peace can only be secured at the Dictator's will. The deplorable chaos in our Defence preparations, admitted by the Government, has undoubtedly created consternation in the minds of the public, but the Lord Privy Seal having been appointed to unravel the tangle and bring order out of chaos, some of us hoped that the Government 100 might have turned their attention to home affairs.
The King's Speech, however, holds no promise of help for the distressed areas, no hope for the unemployed, no hope for the old age pensioners and nothing for the non-manual worker. Surely the recent crisis ought to have convinced the Government of the folly of allowing a congestion of industries to take place in the London area. In that area we have congestion of traffic and pressure on travelling facilities, despite appeals to firms to regulate the hours of their workers so as to obviate transport difficulties. Under existing conditions to talk of evacuating the London population during air raids seems absurd. The location of industries in and around London is not only a grave danger to the capital but a cruel wrong to the distressed areas. I have stressed this point time and again. The distressed areas are monuments to the Government's neglect. At least one of the Commissioners for the Special Areas has condemned this concentration of industry in the London area to the neglect of the Special Areas. In four years 2,700 new factories have been opened and two-fifths of these are in the London area. The new trading estates are not meeting the needs of those areas. We want factories and workshops in the existing derelict villages, where transport facilities are available, where housing accommodation already exists, and where workers are vainly waiting to be employed. But instead of real relief being brought to the distressed areas, young people are being sent from those areas to training centres in London and the Midlands away from home and home influence.
May I take this opportunity of reminding the Government and the Government supporters of what the late Lord Salisbury said when he tried to arouse the Tories of his day on the social problems of that time? His words are worth quoting:It was time they turned all the wisdom and energy that Parliament could combine together, to remedy the sufferings under which so many in their country laboured.If that was true in the late Lord Salisbury's day, it is certainly also true to-day, but unfortunately such words seem to fall on deaf ears. The Government, having decided to intensify rearmament, will obviously have to increase direct taxation and possibly increase indirect taxation, thus raising the cost of 101 living. The poorest of the poor as usual will be the main sufferers. The old age pensioners, with their meagre 10s. a week, will, more and more, have to come on to public assistance. In Durham to-day relief of old age pensioners is costing the ratepayers 1s. 8d. in the £ and public assistance 10s. 5d. in the £. Here again the distressed areas have to bear the brunt. I notice in the Press that Tory speakers frequently stress the need for economising on the social services. Are we, then, to have a repetition of 1931 with cuts in education, in unemployment benefit, and in public assistance allowances, resulting, as before, in undernourishment and physical deficiencies while at the same time we are calling for recruits for the armed forces?
There are two questions which surely ought have been mentioned in the Kings Speech. One is the subject dealt with in the report of the Beveridge Committee on the inclusion of non-manual workers in unemployment insurance up to an income limit of £400. Why this constant ignoring of the black-coated workers? Why this differentiation between one section of workers and another? Unemployment insurance should cover all grades of workers. I consider it a gross injustice that many non-manual workers, at one time, are within the unemployment insurance limit and have to pay, while at another time they are outside it and have not to pay, but when, finally, they are thrown on to the labour market as unemployed, they are not entitled to benefit. The same remark applies to the seasonal workers. May I remind the Government that the Beveridge Committee in their recommendations said that to include the black-coated workers, up to the limit of £400 a year, would be a distinct advantage to the Fund? Why, then, have the Government, so far, ignored this matter?
The other question is the need for a revision of the Workmen's Compensation Acts. Frequently this question has been raised in the House and anomalies have been exposed and promises to consider the subject have been made by the Government. As far back as 1920—18 years ago—the Holman-Gregory Committee made certain recommendations about raising the amount payable to a widow and the maximum payable to an injured worker. The findings of that committee have not yet been given effect to. In 102 these days of high rates and high costs of living the compensation to an injured workman is absolutely inadequate, and that has been said time and time again in this House.
Unemployment unfortunately is still with us and is increasing in the North of England. In my own division three pits have been closed quite recently, and 700 miners have been dismissed, and that means that breadwinners are now idle. Some pits in my own division are still flooded, and the Government have done nothing to deal with that problem. The Prime Minister, in his speech to-day, referred to the trade revival in the United States, but what a contrast between the action taken by the United States Government and the inaction on the part of the British Government. How did President Roosevelt tackle the unemployment in the United States? By two methods that have hitherto been opposed by the British Government. His first action was to raise the age of entry into industry to 16 years, and the other was to reduce the hours of labour in certain industries to 35 per week and in others to 40, while at the same time wages were actually increased. By these two means they were able to absorb over 5,000,000 of their unemployed. It is good to know that as a result of the action of the United States Government there is a trade revival there, and I hope that that lesson will be taken to heart by the British Government and that they will follow their example, not only in reducing the hours of labour and so absorbing some of the unemployed, but also at the same time by raising the age of entry into industry.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Sexton
I have read the King's Speech very carefully, believing it to be the outline of the Government's policy for the Session, but as I read it through and re-read it, it appeared to me to be too much of an outline, and if there is any substance in it, it is lost in a maze of nebulosity. The opening part refers as usual to foreign relations and says:My relations with foreign Powers continue to be friendly.It places in the forefront of these foreign relationships the question of Munich and secondly the question of the Italian Agreement. The Prime Minister came back from Munich with the "flower, safety," which he had plucked, he said from "this 103 nettle, danger." He would have been well advised to have plucked the "nettle, danger," because it is still in existence. However, he has in his hand that "flower, safety," but it is wilting and withering in his hand, and the dictators' speeches since Munich seem to have blasted the fragrance of the flower that the right hon. Gentleman brought home. In the case of the Anglo-Italian Agreement, the dictator and his friends there are boasting that now the Mediterranean Sea is an Italian lake. What did we gain from Munich, or what are we likely to gain? What have we gained or what are we likely to gain from the Italian Agreement? All the gains seem to be on the side of the dictators. The Prime Minister of the National Government talks about appeasement. The dictators have taken the "peas" out of appeasement and have got all there is to be got out of it. One hon. Member to-night referred to this appeasement leading on to trade. If I read the papers correctly, when I read of the travelling of the trade Minister of Germany through Middle Europe, I am afraid the trade that we are expecting to follow from the appeasement is going to fall to the dictators.
The King's Speech refers to the Defence deficiencies. This House has rung in the last week or two with deficiencies on the part of the Government, and in the air-raid precautions Debate hon. Member after hon. Member in all parts of the House rose up and castigated the National Government. In my own division we have villages which have not yet received a single gas mask. I know that it may be said that they are only country villages and that London must be looked after first. We always have to wait in the rural districts till the big industrial areas get their hands into the till. The people in my division and, I expect, in other divisions too, are asking what is the cause of all these deficiencies. The National Government have spent £1,000,000,000 in the past seven years to prepare this country to face any emergency. What has happened with all that money? All up and down the country people are asking why the country is so unprepared.
In answer to a question that I put to the President of the Board of Trade, I was told that during the last four years—1934, 104 1935, 1936 and 1937—there were 1,405 aeroplanes exported from this country, not including parts that were exported and assembled in other countries—1,405 complete aeroplanes. On the same day, in answer to a further question, the right hon. Gentleman told me that arms and torpedoes had been exported from this country to the value of £5,925,931. If we could go on exporting these things, surely the Government ought to have seen to it that we were still well prepared at home, but they have had to stand up in the white sheet of repentance and admit all round deficiencies in the defences of this country.
I want to complain that I find nothing in the King's Speech as to the deficiencies in the defences against poverty. There is nothing said of the ex-service men who were our defence from 1914 to 1918. We on this side and hon. Members in all parts of the House know how the Prime Minister of the National Government cold-shouldered the ex-service men when they came forward, through their officials of the British Legion, and here again is an insult to the ex-service men who are suffering to-day. Friday is Armistice Day. Shall we remember them then? The King's Speech ought to have mentioned something for them. Some of those ex-service men have had to suffer the indignity of going to public assistance, and some of their widows and orphans too have had to go to public assistance. We gather from the Prime Minister's speech that "Feed my guns" is more important than "Feed my lambs," and we on this side think that if something more had been mentioned as to these poor departments of our society, it would have been not only a King's Speech, but a kingly speech. Yet we are counselled by the Prime Minister that there is no reason to take a gloomy view. There was an eclipse of the moon last night. The old age pensioners and the widows who have been asking and looking for an increase in their pensions have found their hopes eclipsed because no mention is made of them in the King's Speech.
There seems to be a word of comfort in the King's Speech about the Special Areas. I speak as one having authority here because I represent one of the Special Areas. I can only say that if the National Government continue the treatment of those areas, as is proposed in the King's Speech, they will find in a 105 year or two that they will be even more "special," because their difficulties, and the difficulties of areas which are not called "special" but which ought to be included, are increasing every year. All the Government do is to send the men to the Employment Exchanges. One man told me that he had been going to the exchange for four years. The only employment about it is in the name over the door. We have our Czechoslovakias in Britain. We have small nations within the nation, consisting of those people who are denied work and live in the depressed areas. We have just passed through a crisis. These people are always in a crisis. They live in a crisis practically all their lives.
I have nothing but praise for the mention in the King's Speech of the more effective treatment of cancer. I wish the same could be said of the cancer of poverty and unemployment in the body politic. The poverty results from small pensions, under-payment, under-employment, and, as has been mentioned several times, from low compensation. There is no word in the King's Speech about compensation. If you compare the value of a man and a horse as regards compensation and note the treatment that is meted out to them, you find the horse is better treated than the man. The man goes on half wages, which means half rations. The horse does not go on half rations. It gets its full rations just the same. The treatment of the horse, therefore, is better than the treatment of the man, and the reason is that horses are dear and men are cheap. This poverty which results from low wages and low pensions is the main cause of malnutrition. The cause of malnutrition is not, as speakers on the other side of the House suggest, that the worker and his wife do not know how to spend their money advantageously. I am tired of hearing people in this House trying to teach the working man and his wife how to buy food economically and cook it well. We are prepared to put half a dozen working men's wives against half a dozen women in the butterfly class in a baking, nursing and washing competition, and I have no fear who would win.
I would like to say a word on agriculture because I represent what is largely an agricultural area. This industry will never be prosperous until people are able to buy the commodities produced by the 106 farmers. In the north the miners do not like to buy imported chilled beef. The miners in the county of Durham, some of whom I represent, do not like to buy margarine. They like British beef, mutton and butter, but wages are so small that they are compelled to buy the cheaper commodities. Increase wages, and the farming industry will be prosperous. I notice that the Government are to increase the consumption of liquid milk. Far too much milk goes into manufacture. It could be more beneficially used by selling it at low prices to needy mothers and children. I understand that some of the milk is dried and made into umbrella handles. Our policy ought to be chubby hands before chubby handles. The milk should not be used for manufacture until every child and every expectant mother have had their fair share. The right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) mentioned sheep farming. I live among sheep farmers and help them and I am friendly with them. There are in my division farmers in a small way, paying up to £60 a year rent, who have lost money heavily this year. They have received only half a price for their wool. I know one who sold lamb? at a north country market at 8s., and he told me that some lambs were sold at the same market for as low as 5s.
If it is asked what we can do, I would reply that the Government could do something. They could set an example by supplying the British Forces with home-produced meat. I asked for some figures a short time ago, and I found that this country spent £210 a year on British meat for the Forces. This works out at six beasts and 50 sheep. The value of the imported beef and mutton was £660,000. This works out at 25,000 beasts and 260,000 sheep. Worked out in acreage, this means that it would require 120,000 acres of good land to produce these. This means that, at 200 acres each, 600 farmers would be required to supply the beef and mutton required for the Forces. The Government could set a good example there. They could set a good example also in regard to wool if they insisted in their wool contracts not only on the fair wages clause for the workers in the industry, but on a fair wool clause, so that a certain percentage of British wool was incorporated in their contracts. They could thus help the British farmers. 107 This Government, the Government of all the talents, is always professing to be the great friend of the British farmer. I hope that some of the members of the Government read what the British farmers have to say about them sometimes.
I have nothing more to say except to express my disappointment that the poor section of this rich community of ours is almost entirely ignored in the King's Speech.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor
What words I have to say to-night are largely dependent on what is omitted from the King's Speech. To-day we have witnessed probably more clearly than we can usually do the fact that we are two nations. Those of us who took the opportunity of going to the other place to hear the Gracious Speech read, saw the splendour there, the diamonds, the jewels and the beautiful dresses, and we saw everything that appertained to luxury. I feel sure that these things do not fall like manna. They have to be made and worked for, and I feel confident that the toil and sweat of the workers enable the profits to be accrued and certain people to live in that lap of luxury. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Leominster (Sir E. Shepperson) has gone out. He drew attention to the King's Speech in relation to agriculture and I want to link up what he said with the question of pensions. It says in the King's Speech:My Ministers recognise the important part which home agriculture must occupy. … They will continue to promote by an active and constructive policy the economic development of the industry and the improvement of the conditions of those engaged in it.I have the greatest possible sympathy with those engaged in agriculture. Two classes, who really ought to be one class, engaged in agriculture will always have my greatest support, and they are the farmers and the agricultural workers. They are the essential factors in agriculture. When I remember the subsidies which this Government has handed to agriculture I wonder why agriculture is not prosperous. If those subsidies have not put the industry on its feet, then in what way can that be done? Where is the bung-hole through which these subsidies are running? The hon. Member for Leominster said it was true that the 108 receipts of farmers had gone up, but that so had the costs of production, but have costs risen owing to the wages paid to the agricultural workers? I know there has been a slight increase, probably 1s. 6d. a week, in their wages during the last three or four years, but there is no comparison between that and the expenditure of £39,000,000 on subsidies.
I have in my hand the November copy of the "Landworker," and it gives the varying rates of wages and hours in the counties. I find that in one or two places the wages are as low as 32s. a week for a 50-hour week in summer and a 48-hour week in winter, with overtime at 9frac34;d. or 9½d. an hour. In other places the wages are 33s. 6d. or 34s. On another page some farmers' wills are quoted. It may be said that those farmers did not make the money by farming, that they had made the money elsewhere and went in for farming to lose it, so I will not go beyond that point. It has been said that old age pensions are given only on the understanding that the workers have something with which to supplement those pensions. Will an agricultural worker have been likely to put very much away out of 32s. a week? I remember how they were treated by this Government in regard to health insurance. It was a case of 21s. a week for a man and his wife and 3s. for each child, but only up to three children, because there was a maximum payment of 3os. You talk of your generosity, but you ought to think shame of yourselves. There can only be one reason for this state of affairs. Either supporters of the Government are ignorant or they are indifferent. If they are ignorant there is an excuse for them but only to this extent, that when they go before their constituents they ought to make themselves familiar with the lives of the people whom they seek to represent. If it is not ignorance, but indifference, it seems to me that the charge is worse.
My main purpose in rising to-night—although I could not forgo making those few remarks in view of the advice of the Speaker about the cut-and-thrust of debate—is to tell the House of the dire distress which is being endured by our old age pensioners. In Northumberland the Public Assistance Committee have been giving some 5s. a week to old age pensioners, but in certain cases it has 109 been stopped because they were living with a son or a daughter. This action has been taken in the name of saving the rates, but economies along those lines overlook one point. I was talking to a poor old man who had been living with his brother, also an old age pensioner. They had been managing to struggle along. The old man lost his 5s. because he was living with his brother, who happened to be in rather better circumstances, although also an old age pensioner. He said to me, "I shall have to ge inside now." If he does go inside it will cost the county 28s. a week to keep him. He can be kept outside for 5s. a week and his pension. We talk about economy, and yet send that poor old fellow inside, in the closing years of his life, at a cost to the county of 28s. a week. I fail to see any logic in such a proceeding.
During the campaign I undertook in the Recess I was speaking about the subject and an old lady who came up to me said, "I have never had anything from the public assistance committee. I take in lodgers." It was not a case of "have taken in" lodgers, but "am taking in" lodgers. She is 82 years of age but has to take a lodger so that she can avoid what she believes to be the disgrace of going to the public assistance committee. I think I have said sufficient to prove that two nations still exist in this country and that unless the Government are prepared to do something for the old age pensioners a gross and cruel hardship is being imposed upon the people.
There is nothing in the Gracious Speech about workmen's compensation, although those who are closely connected with the mines know not only of the number of injuries which occur to the workers in that industry, but know also of cases where the loss of the breadwinner from a home, or the temporary laying aside of the breadwinner imposes a terrible burden on those homes. My hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) has been speaking of his experience of compensation. I have particulars here of a case which was raised in Blythe County Court on 14th October, 1938, concerning a poor man whose spine was injured in one of our collieries in 1922. Some time this year his compensation is to be reduced automatically from 35s. to 7s. 6d. 110 a week. I know that it is wrong and that the method has now been altered, but this is a recent case. The judge said that it was cruel and wicked that that should be done. I know that there is a procedure now under the Compensation Act to prevent this from happening. This man had a strong trade union behind him, the Northumberland Miners' Association; I wonder how many men have had their compensation reduced because there was no union behind them.
I wish to make a special plea for men who, as a result of having miners' nystagmus, continue to live under the ban and are prevented from earning their living in the industry where they have spent their lives. The answer may be given that a Commission has been set up to deal with accidents, but we want the remedy now. I have attempted to extract from various Ministers information to show how many men receiving compensation are in receipt also of relief from their public assistance committee, but I have never been able to obtain figures. It has not been possible to get the figures, posibly because those responsible for the position did not want to give them. We know from our own experience that many such cases exist.
I hope that I am not misunderstanding what the Prime Minister meant when he said that he was fully conversant with the importance of nutrition and with the serious consequences of malnutrition. Mr. Walter Fletcher told us many years ago when he was at the Ministry of Health that by the proper preparation of food this nutrition matter could be cleared up—those are not the exact words but it was the purport that impressed the Prime Minister. It has been estimated that at least 4,500,000 people in this country are living upon less than four shillings a week, and that works out at about 1¾d. per meal. There is the problem of nutrition. From where do the hon. Members on the other side obtain their cooks? From the daughters of the working classes. It is well known and accepted among our people. Give them the stuff to put in and they will turn out the article, but to make meals for 1¾d. or1½d. is absolutely preposterous and scandalous.
We have just had a report from the medical officer of health. I was reading it before I came away. We have been giving 237 free meals, a hot dinner and 111 milk every day, the whole running into thousands of meals. Would there not have been any malnutrition if it had depended upon the wages of the breadwinner, the means test or unemployment benefit? The medical officer of health says that it is the mothers who suffer. When the bread goes short and the milk goes short, the children come first; then comes the husband, and the mother goes short. If, as it is in some cases, there is pregnancy, it means that the offspring are retarded even before their birth. That is the experience of medical officers generally.
In regard to Defence, when we were here last week I felt, and I still feel, that the Home Secretary is not big enough for the job and that he has never really appreciated the situation. The only terms in which he seems to be thinking are terms of money. I would like to say, in the hope that it may get through to the Lord Privy Seal, a word for the non-county boroughs and the urban districts. It was laid down in the Act that powers should be delegated to them. In certain circumstances they could have autonomous control of their districts. I want to make it plain that that can be done, because I am satisfied that apart from London, industrial areas in which there are harbours, ships and collieries should know their own needs best, instead of being regarded as part of a county without being allowed delegated powers or autonomous control as they have in many of the densely congested districts. At present, if we want anything, we make application to the area officer and to the county officer, who goes to the regional air-raid precautions officer. The regional officer goes to the Home Office. When you want anything done, you have to come back the same way. In many cases it loses itself on the way. I could give instances of what happened in my own home town of Blyth, where things that were ordered were never received.
From what the Home Secretary said when he spoke last week, I thought he had altered his mind in regard to shelters. He said that the experience of the last 12 months regarding shelters had been much modified. The only thing he talked about before was protection from blast, and I was rather astonished to hear the Prime Minister, in his speech to-day, refer again to protection from blast. We want something 112 more than that. People who have studied conditions abroad have all come to the conclusion that at least we want underground shelters, and it seems to me that the thousands of unemployed miners, whose natural vocation has been mining, could very well make these underground shelters. That would reduce unemployment and give the men work to do for wages. But, when that is done, I hope we shall not repeat what happened in regard to trenches during the crisis. We then called on men to make trenches, and they did so. They had not very many clothes or boots, and they had to wear these and largely use them up, and, when the money they received for making trenches was taken into consideration under the means test, some of them were 6s. better off. If the damage to their clothes were reckoned, they were very considerably in debt.
On 14th May, 1936, I drew attention to the danger arising from burning pit-heaps in this country, and to the fact that they would afford a guide for hostile aeroplanes. My attention was drawn to this very forcibly on the night of 21st-22nd September, when there was a blackout at Doncaster, Chesterfield and district. Later on I noticed a statement in a Newcastle paper to the effect that an observer in an aeroplane had seen, during the darkness, these burning pit-heaps on the countryside. The colliery companies are not in a position to remove these heaps, and the local authorities cannot do it. We have asked again and again what is to be done about it. The only thing I have heard suggested is that aeroplanes are to be sent over in the dark to ascertain whether these heaps can be seen, but the observer in the aeroplane to which I have referred saw them quite plainly. I suggest that here is another means by which unemployment could be reduced. These heaps might well be dealt with by unemployed men. In my view, the King's Speech on this occasion makes very dismal reading. It is so much taken up with international affairs that very little seems to be left for home affairs. I am pleased that the Government are going to do something about cancer and I a m pleased that the Miners' Welfare Fund is to be increased, so that we may have more pithead baths. But that will not make the miners vote for the Government at the next election, because we shall be able 113 to tell them that it ought never to have been taken off, and they are the people who took it off.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher
At the opening of this new Session I think it is desirable to make a remark about the Session that has just passed. On Friday we closed a Session which, I am certain, will go down to history as the blackest that this country has ever known—a Session of shame and humiliation for the British people, a Session of treachery and betrayal towards the people of Europe. Last Session the ancient Mother of Parliaments was engaged in the deplorable practice of destroying its own children. There is talk in the King's Speech about the necessity for getting ahead with the defences of the country, but the National Government, responsible for the King's Speech, has deliberately destroyed the defences of the country. There is talk about the piling up of armaments, but no amount of armaments that can be built will compensate for the hole that was knocked in our defences when the Czechoslovakian Maginot line was handed over to Germany. It does not matter how many armaments you pile up; nothing will compensate for the smash that was made in our defences when Germany was made the all-powerful dominating force in Europe.
The Prime Minister said this afternoon that Friday was Armistice Day, and he was going to propose that, instead of meeting at 11 we should meet at 12. Why shall we meet at 12? Because the Prime Minister and those associated with him will be out in Whitehall at the Cenotaph. They will be there to honour the memory of the million British soldiers who fell in Flanders and elsewhere—who fell, fighting for what? To put an end to German militarism in Europe; to ensure the maintenance of freedom and democracy. That is what they are supposed to be commemorating. I see that, on the advertisements in London with regard to poppies, there is a quotation, of which I cannot remember the exact words, but which reads something like this: "If we who died are betrayed, we shall not sleep, though poppies grow on Flanders fields." They have been betrayed. If I could quote Scripture, I could give some lines about a generation of vipers, about a whited sepulchre, smooth and clean on the outside, but inside rotten with dead 114 men's bones. I know those are not the correct words, but they are near enough for the hypocrisy that will be exhibited on Friday. Every one of those whose memory is being honoured has been wantonly betrayed; and in the process our defences have been smashed to pieces. It is not just a question of armaments; there is something much more important than that.
So much for the last Session; this new Session will be the last of this Parliament, and, I am absolutely certain, the last for this National Government, who have become such an eyesore and heart-sore to the people of this country. It will be necessary to get in their place a Government who will concern themselves with a real policy of defence. One of the most important factors for the British Empire is that we should have many good reliable friends. We can only have reliable friends, we can only have those we can trust, if there are those about us who can trust us. There is not one hon. Member on the other side who can hide from the people of this country the fact, the very alarming fact, that the National Government have destroyed every friend that Britain had in the world. Nobody would trust us. It is necessary to get a new Government, a Government that will restore the trust that has been destroyed, a Government that will be capable not only of spending money on armaments but of bringing friends to this country, a Government that will begin to rebuild the League of Nations and rebuild collective security, a Government representing the peaceful and progressive desires of this country, strengthening the democratic forces of France, uniting with France, the Soviet Union and the small nations. With the backing of the United States of America, such a Government can still save the peace of Europe. It is the only way that peace can be saved.
The Fascists have developed a language technique, and they use language with a meaning entirely opposite from any meaning it ever had before. Take, for instance, the Nazi revolution. Everyone understood the term "revolution" to mean the coming to power of the working class; but here in Germany you get the organisations of the working class destroyed, the trade unions destroyed, the co-operatives destroyed, the political parties destroyed—the very opposite of 115 revolution. Take the question of freedom. They are going to free the German people in Germany, the German people in Austria, the German people in Czechoslovakia. The freedom they are giving to them is slavery. Not one of them dares say a word of protest of any kind. We have our Fascists in this country, and not the least of them is our Prime Minister. So we get continual references to appeasement. It is in the King's Speech. But "appeasement" means the last word in treachery and betrayal. You have to get a Government who use words with their proper meaning. Although we cannot undo the terrible evils that have been done to Czechoslovakia, there is still time to save the democratic forces in Spain, and to give the Spanish Government its rights under international law. This is what the men who will be commemorated on Friday died for: the maintenance of peace, freedom and democracy against the menace of the German military jackboot, which is operating in Spain just as it is in other parts of Europe.
I see in the Press that Herr Hitler has been saying certain things about the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) and the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood). I see that they are also being taken in with this cunning new language technique of the Fascists. Dr. Goebbels—a very cunning and unscrupulous little fellow—starts a campaign which is nicely in line with the campaign started by the National Government. He says that the democratic nations are the war nations; the democracies are for war. This is taken up by Herr Hitler, but it is advanced a little. He says that in the democracies the friends of Fascist Germany are for peace and the opponents of Fascist Germany are for war. So Herr Hitler, representing the most bloodthirsty regime ever experienced in Europe, with all the most terrible horrors and brutalities, directed against the Jewish and other minorities with the headsman's axe continually operating, accuses the right hon. Members for Epping and Wakefield of being war makers. Instead of coming out and saying "What brazen impudence for those who have been representing the spearhead of aggression to dare for one moment to accuse us of being warmongers," they accept this new language 116 meaning of the Nazis and go on the defensive.
This is very unfortunate, and very undesirable. It is a game that Goebbels is deliberately playing, in order to get political suppression in this country. Once they go on the defence they have to give proof that will satisfy Hitler, and that will mean saying nothing about the brutalities of Germany. Already we have it suggested in this House that we should say nothing about what is going on in Germany. I hope that those who represent the democratic forces in this country will not be taken in by that sort of campaign, conducted by Goebbels and company; and that when Hitler makes these speeches, directed against particular individuals in this country, they will let him know in very strong and effective language what they think about him. [Interruption.] Yes, I have already been described by Goebbels—the German heman—as a little Glasgow Jew. Well, I would prefer a thousand times to be a little Glasgow Jew rather than to be a dirty little Nazi, representing the monopoly capitalists of Germany and doing all their dirty work in the enslavement of the German working class.
The King's Speech tells us that we are to get a report some day about Palestine. I consider that this affair in Palestine is one of the most disgraceful exhibitions of the very worst features of British Imperialism. If an opportunity were given to the Arabs and Jews to set up a Legislative Assembly, to develop their own lives and work out their own problems and provide a solution themselves, Palestine could become a very happy and prosperous country, and in the course of time many more Jews could be absorbed than are being absorbed at present. The solution is not military oppression, but the setting up of democratic institutions. That is what I and others will continue to demand. As for the Colonies, in no circumstances should any of us consider such a criminal act as handing over Colonial peoples to the savage treatment that they would get from Nazi Germany. We are not going to encourage any handing over of these peoples even under the cloak of a mandate. We want to see the Colonial people getting freedom and, if we gave them democratic institutions, we should draw them closer to us in a voluntary union which would be much 117 more effective and beneficial than any compulsory union.
There is also a reference in the Speech to pushing ahead with housing, but it is not just a question of housing. In any district that you go into the people either want new houses or, if they have them, they cannot pay the rent. Houses must be provided in such a way that people can occupy them without having to starve themselves as a consequence. I was addressing a meeting one night and, when I had finished, the chairman asked for questions. A member of the audience asked me, "Should a man fill his cupboard or pay the rent?" I said that in my opinion he should fill his cupboard, but I was afraid the local authorities and the factors would not agree to that opinion. This is a problem that faces thousands of families week after week. It is nonsense for the Prime Minister to talk as he did about preparing food. If you have a small income and a high rent, no matter how much you know about preparing food you cannot get it. Once before, when we were discussing poverty and malnutrition, I drew attention to the fact that the Prime Minister had attended a dinner the night before which cost 38s. a head. Give any housewife the sort of food that would be served up there and see what a job she would make of it. If the Government is going to tackle the housing problem the houses must be let at rents that people can afford to pay. That is one of the ways of dealing with malnutrition.
With regard to old age pensions, we in Scotland have been conducting a campaign for the past 12 or 18 months. There is a very strong organisation, the Old Age Pensioners Association, which has branches in most industrial centres and the old folk over 65—some of them are over 80—are paying in a penny a month in order to carry on this campaign for increased pensions. It is one of the most glaring and outstanding scandals that men and women who have given 50 years of service to industry and to the maintenance of their homes get 10s. a week at the end of it. We are often told about the importance of home life. All that is greatest and best in this country is built up on the home life of the common people. Home life is only possible because of the devoted service of the mother and, after 50 years of service of inestimable value, there is 10s. a week. 118 We want security in Europe, but we also want security at home.
I had a visit here one night from a man and woman who had come from New Zealand. They were a very thrifty Scotch couple who came originally from Clydeside and had been in New Zealand for 35 years. They had had good wages and had brought up a family—all married. In the course of the 35 years they had saved up a very nice nest egg for a rainy day. On retirement, on account of age, they looked at their bankbook and decided to blow it all in and have a trip to this country. When they return to New Zealand their savings would be all gone. They were able to spend them all, because the New Zealand Government, a Labour Government, which is not afraid of the bankers nor of the fellows who were to-day sitting on the Front Benches in tall hats, have decided to give pensions of £1 10s. for a single person or £3 for a married couple. So Mr. and Mrs. Sinclair could afford to spend all their savings. No rainy day for them. If a rainy day comes they are provided with a very good umbrella. It means security. That is what we want for the old folk of this country, and if you could provide it, it would lift a terrible burden from the minds of the younger folk. This King's Speech should have had in the forefront of its domestic policy consideration for the old folk.
We are going to insist with all the power that we possess that in this Session this question shall become one of the most important issues and we will insist that something definite is done to improve the position of these old people. Let us get what is desired by this side of the House—unity of the peace forces of Europe, and we can as a result begin to lay the foundations for a real and permanent peace. But in order to get unity of the peace forces in Europe it is necessary to get unity of the peace forces in this country. I want to see unity of the peace forces in this country and an end of the National Government that has degraded and humiliated this country and betrayed the democracies of Europe. Let us get rid of the National Government and obtain a Government that represents the true peace and progressive desires of the people, and in the shortest possible time the face of Europe and the face of Britain can be changed.
§ 9.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) into his survey of foreign and home affairs except to say that he appeared to make some criticism of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) for offering a reasoned answer to some of the criticisms which had been made of him by Herr Hitler. The hon. Member for West Fife thought that the answer of the right hon. Gentleman for Wakefield should have been more severe. I do not consider that anything is to be gained by a campaign of reciprocal invective with dictators. To begin with, you are certain to lose a campaign of that kind. There are three courses open to you. You can submit or you can conciliate or you can fight. You will certainly lose if you merely wage a wordy battle. I trust that, if my right hon. Friend reads what the hon. Friend reads what the hon. Member for West Fife has said, he will not act upon the suggestion he has made.
I have risen principally to take advantage of the presence of the Civil Lord of the Admiralty to mention the question of Defence in a general and particular aspect. I do not propose to detain the House for very long, but I want to ask whether the hon. and gallant Gentleman is perfectly certain that our needs in the preparation of our Mercantile Marine are being dealt with on a sufficiently comprehensive scale. We have been told that the submarine menace has been largely overcome, but in my view we have not yet realised that the air menace, which has taken its place, is a menace on a far greater scale than anything which confronted us even in the year 1917. We have been told by the Home Secretary in various speeches which he has made that one of the most unpleasant targets which an aircraft can attack would be a battleship or naval ships convoying ships of the Mercantile Marine. I am afraid that it may seem a little simple almost to ask this question, but my experience has always been that no question is too simple for an un-co-ordinated defence system to overlook. Has it been fully appreciated that aircraft can operate out of sight and out of range of battleships' guns? An aircraft travelling 250 to 270 miles an hour, dropping its bombs from 20,000 to 25,000 feet would drop them at a range of six miles 120 or thereabouts from the convoy, and, although accuracy in heavy high explosive bombing would not perhaps be achieved at that rate, there is the possibility of incendiary bombing by which one aircraft could carry 2,000 incendiary bombs, which would have the effect almost of a shot gun and well-dispersed shooting comprising, in my view, a very grave menace to the convoyed ships and to the battleships themselves. Not only is there a danger of attack on ships at sea, but of attack on an even more extensive scale on ships alongside wharves and harbours. The whole vast dock system of London would be a constant target.
We must do everything possible to bring the matter to the notice of the Government. I do not know that it is any particular Minister's duty to deal with the question specifically. I have no faith whatever that the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence has considered if at all. He seems to spend most of his time making speeches at dinners and gatherings throughout the country and to be not a Minister for Defence, but a Minister for the defence of the Government. Therefore I make no apology for raising this matter before such Minister as is present this evening.
That is the general aspect of the point I wish to raise, but the particular aspect affects my own constituency. The House is always willing to listen patiently to injustice brought forward from a constituency provided it is expressed moderately and carefully substantiated. The shipbuilding industry in my constituency, which has a direct bearing on the defence of this country, is falling into complete decay and nothing appears to be done in order to preserve it. Not only is it the duty of the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence and of the Defence Departments to supply our approximate needs in the matter of Defence. but it is their duty to see that potential sources of supply, which would be invaluable to us if war came, are not allowed to become derelict.
We have in Aberdeen a small but important shipbuilding industry dependent upon 15 berths which was of immeasurable value to us during the last War. It was used to a large extent as a repair depot, being very conveniently situated from the geographical standpoint to the bases of our Fleet. It was used for building every kind of small ship for 121 which it had particular facilities, and it built trawlers, mine-sweeping vessels, oil and water carrying vessels and a large variety of small craft, which it turned out to the great advantage of this country during the last War. It has the further advantage that it can not only build the hulls, but can equip them with boilers and engines. We have 15 berths from 130 to 370 feet long. I am going to invite the hon. and gallant Gentleman to be good enough to take a careful note of what I am saying, because I assure him I intend to return to the subject unless something is done to remedy it.
We have in Aberdeen at the present time 500 skilled shipbuilding workers unemployed. I do not pretend that is a large number taken over the whole range, but where you have a small shipbuilding community like Aberdeen 500, which has been the average number of unemployed for a number of years, is a serious matter. That number is increasing. The number remaining in employment amounts to about 800. The menace of unemployment is gradually increasing and at the present rate the whole 1,250 will be unemployed unless something is done to meet the situation. All these slips to the number of 15 will very shortly be vacant and no new contracts are available to keep them going. Taken in conjunction with that fact, the hon. and gallant Gentleman should bear in mind that the fishing industry of my constituency has suffered for some years very extreme depression from circumstances entirely beyond its control. The fishing fleet of 320 trawlers has now become in such a state that were they required to carry out naval duties during any future war, they would be found to be utterly incapable for the most part of carrying out those tasks.
Therefore, I would ask the hon. and gallant Member the Civil Lord of the Admiralty whether he can do something to ensure that contracts for certain vessels will be placed in Aberdeen. I have written to the Minister of Labour on the subject and he has given me the names of about half a dozen different Departments which I should visit in order to get this work. I am perfectly prepared to go round from one Department to another and even to tout for the work, if necessary, but my submission is that it is not part of my duty to co-ordinate. I am not the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence. There is, unfortunately, 122 nobody in the Government whose job it is to see that these vital services are not being neglected. If I go to the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence he will refer me to any one of half a dozen other Ministers. I should not have been surprised if I had been fobbed off, if that is not too strong a term, by the Civil Lord of the Admiralty on to one of the Ministers to whom I have already written. I would advise my hon. and gallant Friend to make himself the champion of this particular grievance, conscious that in so doing he will be doing a good service to his own Department and also to the defence of the country.
I want, in conclusion, to refer to the effect of a Statute which has exacerbated the condition of those in my own constituency. There is a provision of a Statute which says that, other things being equal, orders for Defence supplies shall be placed in areas, which are specified in the Act, which suffer from a certain degree of unemployment. I protested at the time, and so did many of my hon. Friends, that it was a great mistake to stereotype or specify in the Act what was a special or depressed area, because the position of industry in any given district fluctuates, and an industry may be depressed at one time and prosperous at another. That applies to the shipbuilding industry. Moreover, there exists in large depressed areas smaller areas where there is great prosperity, and there exists in areas which do not qualify for preference under this provision with regard to the giving of orders for Defence supplies, smaller communities where there is depression. Aberdeen is a community which does not as a whole qualify as a depressed area, but the shipbuilding and fishing industries come in an area where there is severe depression, and unless something is done these industries will fall into a complete state of decay. I thank the Minister for listening so patiently, and I hope that he will keep this matter in mind and will assure me that he will deal with it at an early date.
§ 10.10 p.m.,
§ Mr. T. Johnston
I am sure that whatever may have been the reasons in the past on the opening day of the King's Speech for not having a prolonged Debate, the experience that we have had to-night has justified the enterprise of my hon. Friends behind me in keeping the 123 discussion going upon vital human needs in their constituencies. For reasons beyond our control we have had to devote during 1938 a very large number of Parliamentary days to the discussion of foreign affairs, and we have, therefore, been compelled to diminish the amount of time that we could devote to the remedying of economic and political grievances in our own country. Therefore, I am very glad that the opportunity has been taken to-day to exploit and emphasise the serious grievances under which our old age pensioners and others are living. In the course of the next day or so we propose as an Opposition to table an Amendment to the King's Speech dealing entirely with grievances on the home front, and I trust that we shall be able to focus the attention of this House and of public opinion upon certain of the more urgent grievances from which our people are suffering.
Having said that, I would only add that all our discussions are taking place under the shadow of a coming war. All the proposals are conditioned by financial measures dealing with preparation for war, and we must try, if we can, reasonably and while there is yet time, not under the threat of force, to put forward reasoned propositions and to see whether it is possible to escape for this generation the actual coming of Armageddon. The hon. Member for the English Universities (Mr. E. Harvey) raised a question to which I have devoted a considerable amount of attention, namely, a grievance which the leader of the German State has threatened that he will raise with His Majesty's Government at a very early date. The leader of the German State told the Prime Minister that he proposes to demand from this country, from France and Belgium the return of the mandated territories that were taken from Germany at the conclusion of the last War That demand may come to us by Christmas. It will in all probability come to us during this coming winter. What is to be done about it?
As far as I can see there are three replies that can be given to that demand. We can refuse it. We can say no, and there are arguments for saying no, because if we say yes, it may be that the black people in the mandated territories, the people of Africa for example, may be drilled as gun fodder, in huge armies of 124 mercenary troops, slave troops, to add to the difficulties and dangers, grave as they are already, in the world. On the other hand we can say, "Yes; you can take back your colonies." If we do that, we have no guarantee whatever that it will bring peace or security to our generation. As far as I can see, neither acceptance of the demand nor resistance of it will bring peace. Is there an alternative? I think there is, and I suggest that we should offer the alternative in good time and not under the threat of force. The alternative is that the colonial territories, the non-self-governing territories, which represent 13 per cent. of the population of the world which has no share presently in its own government—Portuguese, Dutch, British, French and American—should be placed under an international trust, and that these colonies should be run for the benefit of the people in them, that we should jointly use our efforts to raise the status, the standards of living, the conditions of these people and increase their purchasing power. If we can do that we shall have a great free trade area and a great new demand for goods. There would be no special privileges for any State. Germany, as well as Great Britain and the United States, would have an equal seat on the board.
If we could come to some kind of arrangement like that, Germany's difficulties about prestige would be overcome. They would be placed on a basis of equality, and the saner dements in Germany would recognise that through some such proposal added economic benefits would be secured for all the peoples of Europe. I am not pretending that it is a very popular proposal. All I am doing is to ask that it shall he considered in time as a reasonable alternative to acquiescing in the Nazi demands or in resisting those demands which keep alive the threat and the fear of war, and the continuous expenditure of our resources upon preparations for war. Whatever the Minister of Health may deny, it does tend to diminish the social services. In my view, he only spoke the truth when he said that it was guns or butter. There is no occasion for him to apologise. It is a self-evident truth. If we are going to spend our resources in preparing to blow civilisation to bits, even in self-defence, then there cannot be the same resources available for raising the standards of the old age pensioners, 125 bettering the conditions of the unemployed and improving the public health services of this country.
While yet there is time I beg the Government to see that this proposition is reasonably examined now. Three months ahead may be too late; and it will be too late if it is raised after the demands have come from Germany. I think some suggestion along the lines of an international board or trust—not a proposal to hand them over to the League of Nations as Germany would refuse, and quite rightly, because she is no longer a constituent power in the League of Nations—backed by President Roosevelt and the Prime Minister of France, whatever reception it may have temporarily from the heads of Governments and particular financial interests would, I am sure, awaken a new hope in the minds and the hearts of 126 millions of humble folk all over Europe that there is a chance, that this way a door is opened to peace and prosperity. I beg the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury to see that some such proposal has at least a sympathetic examination by His Majesty's Government.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Mr. Paling.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.
§ Resolved, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Margesson.]
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twenty Minutes after Ten o'Clock.