§ [SECOND DAY.]
Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [28th November]:
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty as followeth:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament." —[Captain Marsden.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ Mr. George Hall
In continuing the Debate on the Gracious Speech, it is the intention of myself and my hon. Friends to confine ourselves largely to domestic problems or problems of the home front. We might well describe this as a Debate on the condition of the poorest of our fellow-subjects and the inadequacy of the amounts which are available to sustain many of the men, women and children who are the victims of our economic and social system. We were very disappointed with the speech of the Prime Minister yesterday, in that not a sentence of it was devoted to the problems with which the people of this country are confronted at the present time, with the exception, of course, of war problems. We realise that much of the Government's time must be taken up with the conduct of the war and that the war front is important, but who will deny the importance of maintaining the morale of the people at home? Both fronts are vital. There should be no conflict upon that point. That is why we warn the Government to-day that unless they tackle, with vigour and imagination, our domestic problems, this nation may be faced with an outburst of industrial unrest as a result, in the main, of rising prices, low wages for the industrial worker, and inadequate incomes for the old age pensioners, and unemployed, the injured workmen and the millions who are unable to maintain themselves.
I do not intend to spend much time to-day in dealing with the conditions of 118 the industrial worker who is in employment. The trade unionist is protected by his trade union, and hardly a day passes without news of a rise in wages secured by one or other of the trade unions for its members. But for the trade union organisation the ordinary workers would have little or no hope of securing higher wages to compensate them for the increased cost of living. If I dismiss the employed industrial worker in a sentence or two on this occasion let it not be understood that we are satisfied with his conditions or that all is well with him. This afternoon, however, we propose to concern ourselves mainly with the sufferings of the people who are not in employment, and who have been driven below the poverty line as a result of the inadequacy of old-age pensions, widows' pensions, unemployment benefit or assistance, and workmen's compensation, as well as the operation of the means test. We desire to draw attention to the position of the injured industrial worker who is forced to live on the miserable amounts called workmen's compensation —amounts so inadequate that many are driven in despair to seek public assistance relief. We have also in mind the fact that many relatives of soldiers and others called on for service, are being refused allowances in respect of those on whom they were solely or partially dependent.
We can rightly say that a recital of these grievances reveals a lack of initiative and imagination on the part of a Government which will not face up to those complaints until forced to do so by pressure. It indicates a state of mind in which, while money is being shovelled away in hundreds of millions of pounds for war purposes, when it comes to domestic problems the Government will pinch and save at the expense of the poorest of the people. Even before the war it was generally admitted that the penalties of poverty were terrible. In many homes the whole economic status of the family was imperilled. With the increased cost of living, as hon. Members can imagine, matters are very much worse. There are several millions of people who are not merely requesting the Government, but demanding that the Government should take action and give substantial increases.
Take the question of old age pensions. It is not my intention to argue the case for an increased old age pension. No 119 subject has retained the attention of this House so much during the last two or three years as this subject of increasing the old age pension, and we know that there is a unanimous national demand that an increase in the pension is long overdue. Everyone admits it; there is no Member of this House who can justify the amount of pension which is at present paid. Even the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Debate just a month ago frankly admitted that 10s. a week is totally inadequate to maintain an old age pensioner. That being so, we ask why this delay? It is four months since the Prime Minister promised an inquiry into the question, not whether 10s. was sufficient to maintain a pensioner, but how to bring about an increase. It is a month since the Government obtained a majority in a Division in this House on the promise to expedite the inquiry. Let me ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he is aware that every day's delay in making the concession asked for is causing very great suffering to these millions of old people, many of them worn out in the service of the State. The Government should not delay one minute longer in taking action to mitigate the serious conditions under which these old and poor people unfortunately find themselves. At this minute in this country there are 2,000,000 people who are waiting to hear what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has to say in reply to the demand.
In exactly the same way we come to the question of workmen's compensation. This matter is being put off from week to week and we cannot get any definite declaration from the Government as to what its intentions are. A question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) to the Home Secretary only last week elicited the reply, "We are still considering what our action is to be." Let me again say that an increase in workmen's compensation is long overdue. The patience of the industrial worker is almost exhausted. We cannot go on week after week satisfying ourselves that everything is all right when we receive answers from the Home Secretary to the effect that the matter is still under consideration. There is nothing which is causing greater and more widespread dissatisfaction in industry, especially in the mining industry, than this question of workmen's compensation. 120 Is it realised that the maximum weekly amount of compensation paid to a man for an injury received is 30s. a week? The average works out at between 24s. and 25s. a week. There are tens of thousands of industrial workers, many disabled for life, whose compensation is fixed at between 20s. and 215. Workmen's compensation is so low that thousands of men have to seek public assistance to eke out a miserable existence.
Let me give a few examples which were submitted to the Royal Commission which dealt with this question of workmen's compensation. The examples are drawn from all the coalfields of this country. In South Wales, in the cases submitted the lowest compensation paid was 22S. 6d. a week for a man who had suffered a very serious accident. His compensation was supplemented to the extent of 8s. a week, although he had another dependent upon him. The highest sum paid was 30s., and even this person had to seek public assistance. Take Somerset. There was not a single case submitted to the Royal Commission where the compensation exceeded or amounted to 25s. a week. Five of the cases dealt with that industrial disease called silicosis. One only wants to understand what silicosis is to realise the suffering of these people who, as a result of their employment, are unfortunately forced into that condition. Yet the employer and the Government by their inaction say that an average of 22s. for the five cases which were submitted to the Royal Commission is sufficient compensation per week for men who had given their lives to one of the most essential industries of the nation. In every case these persons had to seek public assistance relief.
I could turn to Durham and tell the same story. There the highest compensation paid was 25s. 10d., and the interesting and most tragic thing is that in many cases the amount of public assistance paid to sustain these men suffering from injuries as a result of accidents exceeded the amount of the workmen's compensation. It is no wonder than hon. Members opposite, in the Debate on the last Workmen's Compensation Bill submitted to the House, stated that there is not a single Member of the House satisfied with workmen's compensation, not only because of the amount of the payments made, but also 121 because of the other conditions attached to payment. An hon. Member who represents one of the Birmingham Divisions—I think it was the Moseley Division—pressed the Government to get the work of the Royal Commission expedited so that legislation could be presented in this Session of Parliament. Is it realised that in the industry which I know best there are between 900 and 1,000 persons killed every year, and between 150,000 and 160,000 injured or disabled by industrial disease or accident every year? This matter is not the concern of the miners only; it is the concern of their relatives as well, the people who are dependent upon them, and it is the concern of the community. They all want to know, and we expect the Chancellor of the Exchequer to tell us, what the Government are doing about it.
I wonder whether the Government are going to learn any lesson at all from the experience of the last war. In the early days of the last war the then Prime Minister was so concerned about industrial unrest that he appointed commissions to visit certain parts of the industrial areas of the country. They went, and one of their urgent recommendations was that there should be an immediate and substantial increase in workmen's compensation, as its inadequacy was one of the principal causes of unrest. Within a short time there was passed legislation which gave a substantial increase in workmen's compensation. Would it not he better for the present Government to show a little initiative in this matter and not to wait until trouble arises? I understand that some of the trouble is that negotiations with the employers are not proceeding as smoothly as they might do, that many of the employers will not go outside the Compensation Act. Let me warn the Chancellor of the Exchequer that something must be done, and done immediately, not merely as a war-time increase and not as an increase because of the higher cost of living. We maintain that the increase demanded in the memorandum which was submitted by the Royal Commission was an increase which was fully justified. Whatever may be said of some of the European countries, workmen's compensation is much more generous there than it is in this country. I ask the Government to consider this matter so that there may be no trouble in connection with it.
122 Then I come to deal with the question of the dissatisfaction which has arisen in connection with the so-called scheme of allowances which the Service Departments have submitted for dependants, other than wives, of men who are serving in the Forces. Let me at once say that it is a bad scheme. It is a scheme not so much for the purpose of granting allowances, as for withholding them. The factors attached to the scheme make it almost impossible for any but a very small percentage of those who are partially dependent or wholly dependent on soldiers—widowed mothers or females apart from wives—to get assistance from the scheme at all. First of all let me deal briefly with the conditions. A soldier must make a minimum allotment of 7s. a week out of his pay before an application can be made for an allowance, but the War Office or the Service Departments are very keen to indicate that any allowance which is paid must include the allotment or that the allowance paid by the Service will be in addition to the allotment which is made. These allowances or additional sums are very small sums indeed. The serving man or his relatives must prove that before he enlisted he made a contribution of not less than 9s. a week towards the support or maintenance of the home.
I ask those who represent the Service Departments whether, in framing this scheme, they have taken into consideration the young man who is just out of his apprenticeship, or the young student who has just completed his course at college. A case was quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly of one young man living in his town whose parents had made considerable sacrifices to send him to a training college. That young man qualified as a teacher and had an appointment waiting for him. But he was called to the Service, and under the regulations, as he was not contributing 9s. a week towards the maintenance of his parents, he was ruled out. In exactly the same way an apprentice who has been trained and who in the course of a month or six weeks would be earning wages of £3, £4 or possibly £5 a week, has no allowance under these regulations. Indeed, unless the claimant is a widowed mother, no allowance is paid if the dependant is capable of maintaining himself, or herself, in the case of the mother, if the husband is capable of employment.
123 May I quote one case which has come to my notice and which has been refused an allowance under this regulation? It is the case of a man in my own Division, a miner, whose average wage is £2 £13s. per week. There are eight children of or under school age. The boy had enlisted as a Territorial. He was employed underground and getting a reasonable wage of between 35s. and £2 a week. All the other conditions were satisfied. He was making his contribution towards assisting to maintain the home, but the one thing which prevented his mother getting any allowance, in addition to the allotment of 7s. was that the father was not incapable of employment. That is a rigid, rigorous means test. Let me deal with the means test. If you first of all satisfy the fact that the son was making a contribution, if the father is incapable, if there is another brother at home working, and if the income into the home averages 15s. per head of the household, after rent and rates have been deducted, even then no allowance will be paid if the total income exceeds 18s. 6d. per week per head.
Let me give the case of two sons living at home with a widowed mother? One son is injured and in receipt of workmen's compensation, a maximum of 30s. a week. The other son has been called up. He was earning £2 10s. or £3 a week, and it was upon him that the main maintenance of the mother depended. He could satisfy the condition that he was making the contribution, but the income into the home, including the allotment, was 37s. If the rent was 6s. per week he would be ruled out under the 15s. per week average income for the other two members of the family. On the other hand, he could have been ruled out if the 18s. 6d. average total income was taken into consideration. Even the Unemployment Assistance Board, much as we have complained about them, are more generous than are the Services in this scheme, and that is saying something. Let me compare the two schemes. If there is an unemployed father, and if there is a son living at home earning £3 a week, whether he contributes it or not, the Minister of Labour assumes that that young man has contributed 22s. per week towards the maintenance of the home. On the other hand, the Services say, "If this young man is paying into the domes- 124 tic pool £3 a week, that is a crime, and his father or his mother will not be given any allowance at all." I have not known of another scheme which is as shadowy and as miserable as that.
At a time like this, when we are asking that the morale of the young men at the Front shall be maintained, that not only means giving them certain conditions and advantages while they are serving, but 99 or 100 per cent. of these men are concerned about conditions at home, and the one thing which will destroy the morale of these people is the niggardly way in which the Service Departments are dealing with these allowances. I will give the case of a widow's only son, who has been called up. The Government have recognised, in the Conscription Act, that domestic hardship is not to be a reason for exemption. That son of a widowed mother is called up, and the maximum amount of allowance which is paid under this scheme is 20S. 6d., which has to include the 7s. allotment of the soldier. If the soldier is a non-commissioned officer and the allotment is above 7s., then it relieves the Government of their responsibility. But let me take a case such as that of the son of a widowed mother earning £2 10s or £3 a week, living at home and the main support of his mother. The mother was in receipt of a widow's pension of 10s. a week. The Services come along and say, "The maximum that you can receive is 20s. 6d., but as you are receiving 10s. a week old age pension and your son is making an allotment of 7s., that is 17s. a week, and we will give you 3s. 6d. a week to make it up to 20s. 6d."
Is that a scheme worthy of this House or of this Government? I do not know whether it is a subject for jest or laughter on the part of the Financial Secretary to the War Office, but I must say that I do not feel in a jocular mood myself. I have to deal with dozens of these cases every week, and I beg of the Government to treat this matter seriously. Let them look up and see what is now being done by the Minister of Pensions in respect of the last war, when the amount of dependency was very largely the deciding factor, and let the House remember that, as far as one can see, the experience of the last war was that not only was the amount of dependency the basis on 125 which allowances were paid, but in the event of a soldier, sailor, or airman sacrificing his life, the amount of dependency was the basis upon which a pension was paid. Without saying any more about this matter, I beg of the Government to take this scheme hack for reconsideration. I cannot conceive of a single hon. Member, wherever he sits in this House, who, after he has studied the scheme and understood its implications, can agree with it. If that be so, let the House understand and let the Government understand what the feelings of the country are in connection with this matter.
There is only one more matter that I want to mention, and I do not want to deal with it fully. That is the question of an increase for the unemployed. Unfortunately, there are at the present time 1,400,000 persons unemployed. These people are dependent upon allowances which no one has justified in the sense of proving that they are sufficient for persons who have been unemployed for a long period. They were only intended to cover a short period of what might be regarded as in-and-out of an industry, and no one at this time, with the increased cost of living, can say that the benefits, even for men who are on short-time employment, are sufficient. I can see no justification at all for any refusal by the Ministry of Labour substantially to increase the amount of unemployment benefit. The latest return which one saw showed that the Minister is in the very happy position of having a surplus of something like £50,000,000 to £55,000,000 in the fund. He has already taken a very substantial proportion of the surplus and paid off a portion of the loan, and it is infinitely better to spend a portion of that money in increasing benefits than in allowing it to remain idly by. We would ask that allowances for the long-term unemployed, some of whom have had to exist on unemployment allowances for years, should be increased. In war time, with the increasing cost of living, the plight of these people is pitiable, with 27s. a week for husband, wife, and a child under five years of age with which to pay rent, fuel, light and clothes, and to find food for three persons.
Empty stomachs cannot be fed by card indexes, and these people cannot be maintained upon the miserable amounts 126 which they are already receiving. I cannot conceive that the Minister of Labour, with his Statutory Committee, which can recommend increases, is not seized of the importance of this situation, and I cannot conceive of the Unemployment Assistance Board not being seized of the need for a substantial increase in the allowances which are now paid. The Ministry of Labour is far behind many of the progressive local authorities in the country. Take my own Glamorganshire County Council, and if ever there were local authorities faced with financial difficulties, it is these local authorities which have control in the Special Areas of this country. Here we are faced with a poor rate, in the Glamorgan County Council, of 10s. 7d. in the £, and I think the same thing, but perhaps the rate is not quite as high, obtains in Monmouthshire. They did not wait for pressure to be brought to bear upon them to give increases for the recipients of public assistance. They have already announced that there is to be an increase, not only for adults, but for children as well, and I hope that this will not escape the notice of the Minister of Labour and the Government.
May I make one other plea? I have made several pleas with regard to the operation of the means test. I know of nothing which has caused greater bitterness among the industrial population of this country than the operation of the means test in relation to men who have been unemployed for a period of longer than six or 12 months. I wonder how many hon. and right hon. Members in this House fully understand the operation of this means test. I have complained about the inadequacy of old age pensions, of workmen's compensation, and of unemployment benefit, but is it realised that in old age pensions and unemployment benefit no less a sum than £3,000,000 was taken last year of those miserable sums into the household resources, and that the allowances of the unemployed men were reduced because there were members of the family in receipt of old age pensions or unemployment benefit? That cannot be justified. I do not think there is an industrial district where the right hon. Gentleman could justify the continued operation of the means test to an audience, not only of my own party, but of his own party as well.
I have attempted to state a case for an immediate increase in the incomes of 127 the people who are living under the conditions I have described. Some hon. Members may regard this Debate as untimely and the matters raised as trifling in war-time. There are few persons, if any, who are unmindful of the fact that the nation is passing through serious times, but in the millions of homes of the people to whom I have referred it is not merely one war that is being waged. There are two wars —one a war against the enemy abroad, and the other a war against poverty at home. The Government have, during the last three months, received the unquestioned and unstinted support of Members on this side of the House, of the leaders of the trade union movement, of the workers and even of the people living in the homes whose conditions I have described. They have not impeded the work of the Government in the prosecution of the war. So far, however, it has been all take and no give. That must stop. We ask the Government, as once the Prime Minister asked Herr Hitler, to show sympathy not in words, but in deeds. Take action at once. Let hon. Members have fewer replies to questions stating, "The matter is being considered." Show to people at home that poverty and insecurity will be fought as vigorously as the enemy abroad. Otherwise, to many of the people of this country the victory when it comes—and we all hope and pray it will come soon—will be but an empty shell. Let me utter this word of warning —if Parliament cannot be persuaded to act, and to act quickly, in the matters to which I have referred, do not be surprised if others outside take a hand in it.
§ 4.34 P.m.
§ Commander King-Hall
The dominant thought in the mind of any new Member who addresses the House for the first time must surely be immediately to put in a plea for indulgence. I do not know whether, as a result of the rigours of war, that precious commodity has been pooled, rationed or controlled in any way, but, if it has, may I immediately put in an application for the maximum ration to which a Member is entitled or may hope to have on making his maiden speech? During the few minutes I shall venture to detain the House I should like to follow the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) in mentioning a problem of the home front, although the problem to 128 which I wish to draw the attention of the House is slightly different in character from the one of which he spoke so eloquently. The problem I have in mind is that of the need of taking care that our people are kept continuously convinced of the fact that our war effort is measuring up to our war needs. If we can achieve that we shall automatically guard against another danger, the danger that our people may be deluded into supposing that this war can be won on a kind of hire instalment basis with the payments indefinitely deferred.
It is important to keep in front of our people the fact that we have undertaken a very tough job which requires the maximum amount of war effort in the minimum amount of time. We are told that time in this war works for us. That is only true provided we work in time, too. Up to the present our war effort, with the exception of the events at sea, has been largely one of preparation. The public in one sense has been somewhat like an audience sitting waiting for the curtain to go up. As anyone knows who has had any practical experience of the theatre, this period on the first night is a very difficult time on a difficult day. I used to think of it until a few moments ago as one of the most difficult kind of days one can have, but I know better now. During this period of three months we have been engaged in the task of mobilising our human and economic resources for the terrible business of totalitarian war. In order to do that we have had to build, and we are having to build, an enormous war machine. In the building of this machine every individual has had to play a part. Some have been engaged in the construction of the machine, some have been operating that part of the machine which has already been constructed, and some, who have perhaps had the hardest task of all, have had to wait, and are still waiting, until the machine is ready to make use of their services. This machine has already grown to such an enormous size —we have recently been told that it is consuming £4,000 worth of wealth a minute —that it is impossible for the individual to appreciate the thing as a whole. It seems to me that the individual is rather like the coral mite which, presumably, is quite unconscious of the fact that it is due to its energy, multiplied many millions of times, 129 that the great Barrier Reef eventually comes into being.
I have sketched out the nature of this problem, and I come to the two questions: What can we tell our people? and How can we tell it to our people? I realise that we are living under the shadow of the Official Secrets Act. At the same time, I wish to submit that there is still a great deal which can be told to the people, and that in every corner of our national life there is material lying for a wonderful story about our war effort. That material is to be found in every department of national life. We start with our own homes, and we find, as our people have made them splinter-proof, gas-proof and light-proof, that they have made a reality of words spoken over 300 years ago by Sir Edward Coke, who said,The house of everyone is to him as his castle and fortress.We may find material for our story in the factories and workshops; among transport workers, whose hazardous job has become especially so in the conditions of the black-out; we can find material in the work that is being carried on by our great A.R.P. civilian army, as it stands faithfully on guard against the menace from above; in the work of the Mercantile Marine and the Royal Navy guarding the sea communications of these islands and strangling the economic life of the enemy; and, last but not least, the work of the Air Force. The list is much too long for me to attempt to catalogue now, but what I feel is that this material at present is lying like stills in the family album, and we should send out cameramen and artists, writers and microphones to carry out a great reconnaissance on our home front. In that way we should be able to gather material for a tremendous living, flashing panorama of the war effort which this country is making in preparing to fight a totalitarian war.
I come lastly to the question how such a process could be set in motion. Obviously, in the larger aspects it is a subject which belongs to the Ministry of Information. I feel, without wishing to go back on past history, that the Ministry of Information is rather an argument in favour of those who, like myself, do not approve of corporal punishment. It has been handled so roughly and flogged so hard that the spirit has almost been driven Vol. 355 130 out of its body; and it is now creeping about and whispering, hoping that the House of Commons will not discover that it is still alive because if they see or hear it stirring they will give it another wallop. I submit that, in the interests of our war effort, the time has come when this fallen Ministry should be lifted up, told to sin no more, and, donned in its battle-dress, thus to be raised up to the very important position which it should occupy among our war Ministries. It should be told to raise its voice and lift its head, and it should be given every encouragement by hon. Members on both sides of the House to do this.
With that achieved, there are four Departments in which, I think, action could be taken. First, as regards the B.B.C., which I know technically does not belong to the Ministry of Information, but must be closely related to it. We should give serious consideration to the possibility of having alternative programmes. Again, I realise the nature of the defence problem, but all defence problems are a compromise, for one can be so strong in one direction that one becomes defenceless in another. Therefore, I urge that this question should be looked into again. One programme could be devoted more or less ťo entertainment, and the other programme could concentrate on the many aspects of our war effort which could be adequately dealt with through the microphone. The next point concerns films. I want lots of these documentary films for which this country has a high repuťation. A great many of them should be made and sent out into the country and shown by 500 cinema vans on village greens, at factories during the dinner hour and in canteens. They should tell the tremendous story of our war effort. The third question is that of meetings. I realise ťhe difficulty of having large meetings at the present time, but I would urge that consideration be given to having in provincial towns meetings of 20 or 3o key people who should be enabled to hear authoritative, and possibly semi-confidential, accounts of ťhe progress of our war effort.
The last point is one to which I attach more importance than to all the others. I respectfully draw the attention of hon. Members to ťhe fact that since the war began they have, on both sides of the House, in their Questions and Debates, 131 been collaborating in the writing of the most complete and the only uncensored account of the British war effort which has yet appeared in ťhe English language.I refer to the OFFICIAL REPORT of our Debates. Every day on which this House meets, about 60,000 words are added to that extraordinarily interesting serial story which is so rich in facts about our war effort. If hon. Members will care to examine the matter, they will find that, even in those papers which are able to devote the greatest amount of space to Parliamentary reports, it is at the most about 5 per cenť. of this rich, varied and interesting material—rich and interesting especially when back bench Members speak from their personal experience on various problems—which reaches the public eye. In other papers, it is only 1 per cent. Therefore, we have 95 per cent. of the war story which actually exists on paper not getťing across to our people. It is tragic. I submit that we should consider whether, under proper all-party supervision, there should be a weekly edition of the OFFICIAL REPORT—perhaps I might alter the appearance of the cover a litťle—and that it should be distributed free to a number of key people in the country, or even put on sale ať a price of about 3d.
I have confined my remarks to the home front, but I should like to say that if we tackle this question of keeping our people fully informed and inspired about their war effort on the home front we shall automatically have solved at least three-quarters of the problem of British information in neutral countries. I would add, in connection with my particular anxiety to have consideration given to my suggestion about the OFFICIAL REPORT, that if the OFFICIAL REPORT, or a weekly edition of it, were put into foreign languages it would have the immense advantage that the foreigner would know that he was reading something which had not been specially turned out for foreign consumption but that he was reading the records of this House—the free and uncensored records of this House, which is, after all, the expression and the symbol of everything which our enemies most hate and fear.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I think my first duty is to congratulate the hon. and gallant 132 Member for Ormskirk (Commander King-Hall) on his maiden speech. He had an advantage over most of us in the fact that he made his maiden speech to a pretty full House. He had the advantage of being known before he came here; most of us have the advantage of becoming known after we get here. I liked the form of his speech and its matter, and I am certain that the House will look forward to his interventions in Debates not once or twice but on many occasions. He will be able to give us the value of his thoughts and his advice on many matters, and I am sure that his advice will be greatly valued. I would say one word in criticism of what he said. His Hansard idea does not appeal to me. I should not like to have the job of sub-editing the OFFICIAL REPORT. I should not like to be the person who left out, say, my speech. I might find that what I regarded as the best speech that I had made was left out, and that on another occasion when I had delivered the worst speech it was published. I should like to see the speech of my Welsh colleague who spoke from the Front Labour Bench published extensively. I am not too sure that it would render our country a service abroad when people there saw the figures he has given us set forth in all their nakedness. I have no particular objection to the Hansard idea other than that I am certain it would not make for unity in this House, whatever happened elsewhere.
Then it was suggested that we should get artists, camera men and others and send them out all over the country, and hold public meetings. I have no objection to employing camera men or anybody else, except that I have the feeling that the Minister of Information has already spent too much, much of it riot too well, and I am not sure that I should care to entrust him with further wholesale expenditure. As to public meetings, I have no objection to them, and would suggest that the first one should be held in the Gorbals division, with the Minister of Labour addressing it on the value of the means test, the Under-Secretary of State for War telling the people how generous he is, and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury coming down, in his tall hat, and telling the old age pensioners how easy it is to live on 10s. a week. A meeting of that description in the Gorbals division would make for great unity; and if the Home Secretary could see his way 133 to be present I am sure that his Scottish tongue would add to the night's entertainment. We will offer no objection to these public meetings if they care to have them. An old Catholic priest whom I knew in my younger days used to say, "Read good books if you can, but I should prefer that you read even books that are not good than not read at all." Speaking for myself, I prefer good meetings, but if speakers from the Government Front Bench are the best we can get, then I would rather have them than nothing.
Let me now come to the serious aspect of the situation raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall), to whom we are indebted for his powerful speech to-day. I think his documentary evidence, his marshalling of facts, not only does his party credit but does credit above all to the miners who sent him here. I associate myself in full with what he said, and I am not going over in detail the case for increased allowances. I would enter with him a claim for an increase for our old age pensioners. Some time before the war started this House of Commons—not merely the Labour party but the House of Commons—asked that the Government should give urgent consideration to increasing old age pensions. When the war came the Government made it the excuse for saying that consideration of this matter should be set aside, but the force of the agitation in favour of an increase has been so great that the Government have been forced to make another decision. They have guaranteed that the matter shall be examined again. I confess that I do not like this proposal to re-examine all the facts. It reminds me too much of past Governments. Whenever they wanted to shuffle off a decision they said, "We will go into the facts." What are the facts which need this detailed consideration? These are the facts—that a man at 65 gets 10s. a week and that his wife, if she is not 65, gets nothing at all. If other facts are needed they are known to every Government official holding high office, and I venture to say that within one week the Government could marshal every fact that is of value in this matter.
The treatment of the old age pensioners is a terrible disgrace to our population. I cannot follow all this argument about the cost, and that is the only defence which is put up. There is no suggestion that the allowance is sufficient. Nobody 134 says that 10s. a week is enough. The answer is twofold—that we agree that 10s. is not enough, but there are other means of adding to the income of these people, and that the cost of increasing the pensions is almost prohibitive. The present Secretary of State for War, when he was at the Treasury, treated us to a speech on the first Motion calling for an increase showing what the cost would be, and when the present Secretary of State for Scotland held office at the Treasury he also made a speech devoted to showing what the cost would be. Never did they say how the people could live on the allowance. All they did was to produce figures showing that in a particular year the cost would be so much and in a further year would rise still higher, and say that the charge was one which the nation could not meet.
My first reply to that argument about the cost is that the nation is already bearing part of the cost. Every day the Poor Law authorities pay out large sums to these people, and the Poor Law payment is part of the national expenditure. The cost of a week of the war, even a few days of the war, would give more than all we have ever asked for the old age pensioners, and yet our request is still being refused. I try to balance the position in this way: while I do not deny that it will mean an added cost to the State, I would point out that when the old age pensioners get this extra sum they are the people above all who will spend it. The old age pensioner will not lock the money away in some place. He will start to spend it upon things he did not get before, and the nation will benefit from his increased purchasing power. I have never been able to follow this cost business, but I say to hon. Members opposite that they ought also to consider the cost in the misery suffered by the old age pensioners themselves. I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to look at these facts. The old age pensioner is bearing the high taxation which the Chancellor has put on. The tea and the sugar which he has taxed go to the garret and the slum of the old age pensioner. That taxation is no respector of persons. The Chancellor has attacked these people with his increased taxation and when he is looking at the cost I ask him also to look at the homes of these people, in so far as one can call them homes, and 135 then I am certain he will devote his ingenuity and his great abilities to finding means of making life more tolerable for them.
On the question of the unemployed, I fully agree with the hon. Member for Aberdare. I am not going over the speeches which I have' made on the subject time and time again, but I would put one economic argument to the Minister of Labour, sweeping aside any consideration of what some people call "sloppy sentiment," although I would say to my hon. Friends here that I hope they will never be ashamed of the sentiments they express. But let me meet the means test on a business footing. The unemployment figure stands at, roughly, 1,500,000. I understand that the numbers on unemployment assistance are now less than 500,000—one in three—and are decreasing, which is what one would normally expect in war-time.
At the start of the means test the figure of the unemployed was about 2,000,000, with about 750,000 chargeable under the means test. You then erected an expensive machine, costing a large sum of money. You still have that machine to-day, and it costs almost as much. I put it to the Chancellor of the Exchequer as a business proposition, that if he swept away the Unemployment Assistance Board and its machinery, he would be sweeping away a cost, because, between abolishing the means test and the saving in the cost of the machine that is now running, there is not a difference that justifies the running of the means test. If you swept away the desirable things, to which the hon. Member for Aberdare properly referred, and if you put the matter on its meanest level, you would have to admit that you have a machine to-day which was erected for a 2,000,000 unemployment basis. To-day, this figure is going rapidly down, while you still have the terribly expensive machine to maintain. The Unemployment Assistance Board, must, in the nature of things, be expensive. It has to investigate every claim, not only when a man or woman makes it, but every month it has to go into the family circumstances and review the case. The additional cost, which you have also to take into account, is the terrible and needless irritation, not only to workpeople but to employers in their businesses. To the human aspect of the 136 matter so eloquently expressed by the hon. Member I would put the business reasons.
Now I would say a word or two to the Financial Secretary to the War Office. I want to be frank with him. I do not know what has happened to the War Office. Leave out of account the fact that the allowances are shoddy and mean, and consider the business administration of the War Office in respect of those allowances. I want to take the hon. Gentleman into the details of this War Office business. What happens when a woman gets married and her husband is called up or joins up? She has to walk to the post office in order to get a form to fill up, if the post office happen to have it, which is frequently not the case. She also has to get from the post office a list of all the paymasters of all the regiments so that she can find out where to send the form. There were cases on Sunday where people could not get the form, and I had to phone on Monday and tell the people where the headquarters were of the H.L.I. and the Royal Scots Fusiliers. Why could not the War Office take particulars from the men themselves when they join up so that women did not have to fill in a form? Why should not the War Office have, as have the Ministry of Labour, a central office dealing with every regiment instead of 30 paymasters all over the place, such as in Perth and Aberdeen in the north, and Portsmouth and other place in the south?
§ The Financial Secretary to the War Office (Sir Victor Warrender)
Perhaps the hon. Member will pardon me for interrupting him at this point, but I think he is confusing the family allowance with the dependants' allowance. The soldier makes application for his family allowance whereas he makes no application at all for his dependants. The dependants have to apply for a form, which is available everywhere. That is the machinery, and I think the hon. Member is confusing the matter.
§ Mr. Buchanan
The wife applies for her allowance, and the form has to be sent in to the regimental paymaster. Why should she have to do that?
§ Mr. Buchanan
Yes, she does. I filled up forms on Sunday. The hon. Gentleman does not need to shake his head; I say that it happens. He makes the indictment stronger, because evidently he does not know what happens. I could take him and show him where it is done. I wrote to him on Sunday about a case exactly similar to that which I am now raising. What is the answer to the hon. Member for Aberdare? The only answer of the War Office and the Treasury is that they have appointed a committee, presided over by Mr. Doughty, K.C., to examine all the cases. Wherever the hon. Member for Aberdare produces these things the committee are to have the power to increase the amount.
I want to try and get hon. Members to appreciate the tragic and ridiculous position that is created. We have an Army to-day approaching in number 2,000,000. Assume that one in four of the soldiers applies for an extra allowance because the sum is not sufficient. That would mean 500,000 applicants. Let us reduce it to one in eight and call the figure 250,000. One committee in London has to consider the applications. I understand that some kind of branch of the committee has now been set up in Wales. They have to examine all those 250,000 cases. All those cases have to go to one man. Talk about rubber stamps. Can you imagine one man considering 250,000 cases? That is what it is proposed to do. The committees meet. They never see the people concerned. I thought it was a principle of British justice that before you decided upon the amount of an allowance you should see the people concerned. The country is supposed to be fighting for liberty and yet when the soldier's wife or his mother applies for an allowance the committees who consider the applications do not see the applicants. I should think they ought to see and hear them in order to get at the facts. Even the Unemployment Assistance Appeals Board meet the men concerned and talk to them, but, in regard to the soldiers, one committee in London and the branch in Wales have full control of the decision, although they may know nothing about conditions in Scotland, Lancashire or elsewhere. I think this House would agree that these committees, no matter how capable they are, should be accessible to the individuals who are appealing.
138 The War Office certainly increased children's allowances recently, but the whole administration of their means test that is applied is shocking and disgraceful. It is even worse than the means test of the Unemployment Assistance Board. Under the ordinary means test, the persons concerned have the right, if their circumstances vary, to approach the local office quickly and get a redistribution. To the committee that deals with soldiers there is no easy and ready access. The allotment is made on the investigation and, so far as I know, there is no means by which the persons concerned can come back, if their circumstances have changed, and get their matter redistributed. I tell the War Office that I see nothing but mismanagement in the administration, quite apart from the amounts concerned, and in the handling of these affairs.
When a person applies for an allowance, what does he get back? A mother, say, applies for an allowance from the son. Back from the regimental office in Aberdeen comes a miserable, typewritten thing, not even decently typed, but horribly. At the bottom, written badly in ink and without a signature, right down at the foot, are the words: "Owing to family income, no allowance paid." There is no appeal and no reason given. You write up, and very likely you get back a letter saying that the matter explains itself. That is what I got back from the hon. Gentleman. Do not try to say "No"; I got it from you, and it said that the thing explained itself. That was a document badly typed, and all that was written at the bottom of it was that she could not get it owing to family income. I got a letter saying that the thing explained itself because the family income did not allow it. What is this family income? What committee heard the matter and decided it? Was it the paymaster of the regiment sitting in Aberdeen? If not, who decided it? Does one man in Aberdeen decide according to his scale while another man in the Warwick Regiment decides in accordance with another scale applying to Warwick? There is no appeal. The applicants are just turned adrift.
The essential characteristics about this war are said to be that it is a fight for liberty, freedom and equality. Yet the person who applies for an allowance cannot even get a hearing before the allowance is refused. Surely the War Office 139 are not without the capacity to set up a central board or a committee with branches in order to carry this thing on and allow the people to be heard. I do not like this war, and people who become disgruntled at their treatment may naturally turn to the views which I hold about it. I would not like to make progress in this agitation merely by means of the disgruntled parts of the population. In dealing with workmen's compensation and old age pensions the same thing applies. The treatment of the people in those matters is disgraceful. The Government are making no effort to meet their just claims. I say to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's deputy that his answer should not be the setting up of a commission to go into the matter and to inquire about the scales. It is years since the Holman Gregory Report was issued in favour of increasing this money. There is surely enough information to be going on with. In so far as the Government are responsible, I say that this is a criminal matter. I trust that my colleagues who sit here will continue this agitation until people affected under workmen's compensation, soldiers, pensioners and, above all, the old people of our country, who deserve so well of us, are having, if not just treatment, at least treatment much better than they are receiving at present.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Wing-Commander James
I confess that I feel very much out of touch with this House. It has been my good fortune to have been mobilised since the first day of the war, and I have been living in a very different atmosphere to that which I find on the very rare occasions when I return to Westminster. I wish to express one or two views of one who admits that he is out of touch with this House.
I do not believe that the people of this country want party politics from either side. This country wants peace, and it knows it will only get peace through the vigorous prosecution of the war, such as can only be hindered by party politics. The people realise that the war can be vigorously prosecuted only if they are prepared to accept bold and vigorous leadership and sacrifices. This is being hampered, I believe, by party considerations. I must confess on the rare occasions that I come to this House I sometimes feel slightly sick. Parliament, in 140 my opinion, has abundantly justified itself in so far it has acted as the guardian of the liberties of the public. It has stultified itself whenever it has played at party politics. I believe that both the Government and the Opposition have been elected to this House on a peacetime mandate. The outbreak of war has torn up that mandate and the House has got a different mandate —a mandate given to it by acclamation, namely, to conduct the war to a successful conclusion at the earliest posible moment. In those circumstances, personal antipathies, which we cherish in this House, should be set aside by the overwhelming antipathy which we all have for Nazi policy. When I hear people say, "So-and-so could not work with so-and-so," I think that is childishly out of perspective. The attitude taken up sometimes by the Opposition is not altogether justified by the funk and fumbling which is so very noticeable among three or four of the senior older and staler politicians who still decorate the Front Bench —[HON. MEMBERS: "Name them"] —men who in the present circumstances can only be a millstone round the neck of the Prime Minister, in whom we all have extreme confidence. I only deprive myself of the shallow and transitory pleasure of suggesting whom I mean, because it will make it more difficult for the Prime Minister when the time comes —and I hope it will come soon —to move them into other or higher spheres. Everyone knows to whom I am alluding: the Chief Whip knows and the public know.
§ Wing-Commander James
I will not be led aside by the hon. Gentleman. The last war showed that different qualities are needed in peace to those needed in war. It is no discredit for a man who has served his country eminently in peace to be unfitted to share in leading it in war. They are two different things. It is true not only of politics, but also of the fighting Services. We have not yet under pressure of war, either in politics or in the Services, started to move square pegs from round holes. It is undeniable that the political executive has not clone well since the outbreak of war, because it has lacked the first great requisite for conducting a war-time policy, that of courage. Whatever the reasons may be, 141 the fact remains that the country has not been given the vigorous leaders it wants. For my part, I am out of touch with the House, but I should like to see a nonparty Government formed as soon as possible, and I would like to see party politics put right away into cold storage until the war is over. It is absurd to imagine or to delude ourselves that there will be enough left out of the wreckage of victory to carry on the sort of party politics in which we have been indulging.
We shall have new problems; new problems at home and abroad. I would like to see a non-party Government formed, because it would be the most effectual method of prosecuting the war to a satisfactory conclusion. I would like particularly to see the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition in the War Cabinet, not because I like or respect or admire his peace-time politics, but because I believe with his very considerable military experience he would bring to the counsels of the Cabinet a breath of reality and knowledge which is, I cannot help thinking, somewhat lacking. Am I wrong in thinking that in the present inner Cabinet only one in three has ever heard a shot fired in anger? Is it not rather extra ordinary that 20 years after the last war we should be led in this war by a Cabinet of old gentlemen of whom, I think, only one in three has ever heard a shot fired in anger —I do not mean distinguished as visitors, but in the proper vernacular sense of the phrase? I should like to see the Prime Minister summon to his assistance such Members of the Opposition as are best qualified and able to help towards winning the war, because I believe that all vested interests, political and economic, have to be harnessed alike. It is undeniable that capital is harnessed; our taxation has seen to that. Profiteering, if not impossible, is extremely difficult. We have been promised the further check that at the end of the war there will be a survey of capital increases, and if it be found that any capitalist has, through the war, increased his wealth the matter will be dealt with. The country and Parliament will not forgive any failure to deal with this.
I think the Opposition might, perhaps, be a little more generous and more fair in admitting that the well-to-do have accepted without a murmur the most crushing and annihilating taxation. I say this because we have had so much 142 emphasis this afternoon on the sufferings of the poor. I myself have not heard of one case of persons in the better-to-do classes failing to place their services as well as their wealth at the disposal of the country, be they men or women. I have heard of no conscientious objectors or shirkers here. But let it not be forgotten that labour is as powerful a vested interest as capital; indeed, by its voting strength more powerful. Labour can profiteer just as well as capitalism. Labour would be well advised to see from both the highest motives and from long-sighted self-interest they do not make undue demands on our not by any means unlimited national resources.
In my daily life among those who have been mobilised I am more and more impressed by the unfairness of the present phase of our voluntary system. The men who have come forward from the most patriotic and self-sacrificing sections of all classes of the country are at a disadvantage compared with the men who have not come forward. We must have equality of effort and equality of sacrifice. The House will remember how frightened some Members of the Government were at the introduction of conscription. That fear was quite unjustified. The country knew it was necessary and that it was fair, and there was no difficulty at all. Are we less patriotic, less democratic or less radical than the French? They have managed things very much better, much more fairly and less wastefully. You have only to look at the relative rises in the cost of living in England and France to see one beneficial result that has accrued to the workers of France by the self-sacrifices which they have been prepared to make. The truth is that the French are not more patriotic, but a great deal more realistic. With great respect to the hon. Member opposite, I submit that the real question about the home front is not how many quarts you can get out of a pint pot, but how much you are going to save out of the wreckage of the home front. The greater the sacrifices which are made now the less we shall have to make after the war.
We are pursuing a short-sighted policy. If we go on as we are now we shall inevitably be faced with inflation. Inflation will be a greater danger and a greater burden on the wage-earning classes than any sacrifice that the people might be prepared to face at the present 143 time. As Mr. Keynes pointed out in the "Times" yesterday, inflation from a political point of view has one great advantage in that no one person can be held to be responsible for it. It just comes. This is a consolation to cowardly Ministers.
I believe that a non-party Government is essential to secure a fair and acceptable balance of interests in this country. I refuse to believe that the Opposition leaders lack courage to bear their responsibilities. Room for them in the Government might well be made by the removal of some of the people who are in the Government at the present moment. I do not feel myself bound by party ties. I would vote against the Government tomorrow on a three —line whip—and I have such great respect for our Parliamentary system that I have obtained a mandate from the executive of my association to do so —if I believed that in doing so I should be in any way helping the prosecution of the war. If the Government want to get in fresh blood to the House or to the administration, there must be many Members like myself, with full-time war jobs outside the House, who are ready to give up their seats to make way for others. I am sure there are many people on both side of the House ready to do that. I do not believe that the Opposition, any more than the people they represent, are unsporting and unfair. I do not believe that they would like to go into the Lobby and defeat the Government on a domestic issue when the Government are without many of their supporters, who are away as a result of mobilisation —and the time will come when many more will be away mobilised. I make this appeal to the Opposition. Do let those of us who come here very rarely come back to a Council of State, in which we are jealous of our liberties, prepared to oppose the Government on matters of detail, but united in the main consideration, which is to get on with the war.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Mr. W. Roberts
I shall not attempt to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Wellingborough (Wing - Commander James) into his interesting speech, except to say that I hope he will realise that many of us are not anxious in these days to introduce a party spirit into Debates, but that, nevertheless, there are differ- 144 ences of opinion which very frequently do run, strangely enough, along party lines. In the past we on the Opposition side, both above and below the Gangway, have attached very great importance, for instance, to the question of old age pensions. Let me, in the same non-party spirit, now appeal to the Government, if they wish to act in a way fully representative of the whole country, to recognise that we think it is of vital importance that the old age pensioners should have a fuller recognition at this time. If the Government were able to meet the needs of the less well-to-do sections of the community, it would greatly tend towards national unity in the prosecution of the war, which I think all of us realise is the main purpose with which we must be concerned.
I do not wish to follow the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) in detail, but I would express the general agreement of those of us who sit on this bench with what he said, especially in connection with the old age pensioners. I also want to look ahead in a non-party spirit, if I can, and remind the House that some of the greatest hardships that people had to suffer in the last war were due to the rise in the cost of living. It is all very well at this stage to ask for increased allowances, but we may very well find that, as the cost of living increases, the hardships of persons who are receiving old age pensions and other allowances will very greatly increase. There is a possibility that certain things which are happening now may lead to a very serious rise in the cost of living. I do not feel that the Government are fully alive to the situation. As has been pointed out, there has already been a rise greater in this country than in France. We want some explanation of that. The most important item in the cost of living is food. The Government had a very praiseworthy intention at the beginning of the war, to try to stabilise prices at the levels existing in August. But merely to issue edicts that prices shall not rise will never be found sufficient to prevent the cost of living rising. Something very much more definite must be done. I fully realise that the Government have plans, but they seem to be held up.
Some of the things happening now lead me to think that unless prompt action is taken mistakes may occur, from which 145 it would be very difficult to recover later. This is a question which affects not one Ministry but a number of Ministries. I understand that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to reply. I am glad of that. This question of the cost of living affects several Ministers —the Minister of Agriculture, the Minister of Food, the Minister of Shipping and the Minister of Supply. It is a question which I wish could have been under the control of one Minister. I should like to ask the Chancellor whether this question of food supplies has really been worked out in all its implications, and whether he is satisfied that proper steps have been taken to prevent a rise in the cost of living. It will be useless for Members of the Opposition to point out the hardships which people are suffering, because of the delay in obtaining their separation allowances or because of the inadequacy of those allowances, unless the lessons of the last war in regard to the control of the cost of living are learned.
I do not want to go too far into the technical details of the agricultural position, but perhaps I might deal with some of the wider aspects. About half the food that we consume is imported. As one would expect, the Minister of Agriculture is trying to increase the proportion grown in this country, but I am doubtful whether the Minister's efforts are not going to be entirely checkmated by somebody else —I do not know whom; it may be the Minister of Food or the Minister of Shipping. My postbag nowadays is filled with letters protesting against the slaughter of dairy cows and pigs, because somebody —I do not know whom —has not provided the necessary feeding stuffs. That will mean that the bacon supplies, which I understand are only half what they were this time last year, are going to be very much less, so far as English production is concerned, in a few months' time, because pigs which would have been kept on for bacon will be slaughtered for pork.
This shortage of imported feeding stuffs bears very directly on the standard of living of those whose case has been so ably put from the Opposition Front Bench to-day. There is a very great shortage of maize and barley. That, eventually, means a shortage of bacon, eggs, and milk. One had anticipated that the Government would have laid in supplies, just as the Germans have done; 146 but the war came upon us and we found, so far as I know, that there was no reserve whatever of imported animal feeding stuffs in this country. It is no use crying over that now, but the fact remains that if milk goes up 1d. a quart, as I understand it will, the lives of the children of this country will be materially affected, and that will be due to the shortage of imported feeding stuffs. The hon. and gallant Member for Wellingborough, who has gone now, said that he believed that the people of this country are prepared to make sacrifices. I believe they are, if they really understand that it is necessary. I wonder whether the present situation, which is giving the agricultural community a great deal of concern, is necessary, or whether it is due to the confusion between different Ministers. It may be that it is necessary to economise shipping space. If the Government want to maintain supplies of these foodstuffs, and if there is no shipping space available for raw materials and animal feeding stuffs, they will have to import the finished products. If they will not import maize, they must import bacon. Bacon will cost more. Have they the money to spend on it? Would it not be better to allocate shipping space so that we may produce in this country the food which we require?
It is a fact, and I think people ought to know it, that feeding stuffs are at present being used for all sorts of other purposes which are not the most essential ones. Barley, which can make bacon, is at present making beer. Are we quite sure that we can afford to go on producing the same amount of beer as hitherto? It is either beer or bacon; you can make up your mind which you will have; you cannot get both. It is useles for the Government to produce pictures of Ministers eating their "macon" together. "Macon" will not replace bacon, but the barley which makes beer and whisky, can produce bacon. The position in some districts today is that the farmers are wondering how they are going to feed their stock over the next week. The Minister of Agriculture will provide feeding stuffs in f me by his ploughing campaign, but that campaign will not produce bacon or milk until very nearly this time next year. That will not feed livestock next week.
147 Take the question of milk, which enters very largely into the question of the cost of living. Purchased feeding-stuffs account for 30 per cent. of the cost of milk, and purchased feeding-stuffs have already gone up in price. At the same time, the distributors of milk have cut down their services tremendously. They have cut down their deliveries to one a day. The milk arrives at my home in North London at 11 o'clock, instead of at seven. There distributors have in fact made an economy which has always been supposed to amount to as much as 4d. per gallon or 1d. per quart. I believe that it is possible for the distributor at the present time to give a better price to the farmer without raising the price of milk to the consumer. The farmer is doing badly enough. He is getting less than he has been receiving during the last two years. I do not want to see the price of milk to the consumer go up because that is only one more step, which we want to avoid more than anything else, towards the inflation of the last war, and the vicious circle of increased wages, increased costs and increased prices. That must be avoided. The only way in which it was effectively avoided in the last war was by the control of sale, and, as far as the farmer was concerned, by a guaranteed price, not a maximum or a minimum price but a guaranteed price. I know that is what it is intended to introduce, and I ask, as far as livestock is concerned, that the scheme which is under preparation should be hurried forward as quickly as possible; otherwise I am afraid it may lead to a shortage in future, which will only be made up either by reducing consumption at higher prices or by rationing with lower rations than need have been.
The situation in regard to animal feeding stuffs is sufficiently difficult at the moment for the introduction of a rationing system for farmers' animals to be necessary. You could, with proper control, keep the dairy farmers supplied with feeding-stuffs at pre-war prices, and that cannot be done unless you have a proper rationing scheme with all that it involves, registration with particular firms and so on if the agricultural community is to give of its best in this emergency —and I am convinced that it is anxious to provide all the food that can be provided— 148 the Chancellor of the Exchequer must help it, in my opinion, in one way, by providing more liquid capital for the farmer to use at the present time. I am not asking for more subsidies or for higher prices so much as for a better system of credit. The farmer has wanted it for a very long time, but it is urgent that he should have it now. I will quote from a letter from a very large farmer in the North of England which I received only two days ago. It refers to the specific problem of the shortage of credit, due to the fact that the Minister of Supply has held up his sales of wool. The Minister seemed to be unaware of it when I asked a question about the matter, but, nevertheless, his Department has held up sales of wool, and no farmer can sell wool at the present time in England. The writer of the letter, which I quote only because it illustrates the difficulty which this class of producer is having at the present time, is a big and very successful farmer. He says:My 1939 clip of wool has been, since early July, at a Paisley warehouse. I cannot draw money anywhere on account of it. On my return home from business, I found letters awaiting me from two different firms of implement agents asking that I pay their account at the earliest possible date because, owing to war conditions, they themselves are compelled to pay cash before delivery for implements and machinery, and they must raise money somewhere.It may seem a long cry from a farmer's difficulty in selling his wool to the price of milk, mutton and bacon which the housewife has to pay to-day, but it is not. We must, during this war, become more dependent upon home-produced food. If the farmer is to produce more food economically and at prices which old age pensioners and the families of soldiers on the present standard of allowances can afford to pay, then the farmer must have the necessary credit in order to snake his production efficient. Farmers cannot afford to pay for the implements they need to enable them to grow more food because of the present credit system and the lack of credit in the industry. I would say to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that we are living in times of what almost might be called State Socialism, for the Government are very soon to buy practically everything the farmer produces. The Government have absolute security now in lending the farmer money because they are going to handle his produce. The Minister of Agriculture has 149 said that the farmer must go to the banks in order to get his credit. I can tell him that the farmer will not go to the banks. He had enough of that during the last war, when he had to borrow money from the banks at inflated prices, and he has not got over that yet. The State must advance the money if it wants the increased production of food.
Finally, the news these days on the sea is not so good that we can afford to neglect this vital side of war effort, which is food production. I ask that this matter should have the fullest attention of the Government and that the work of the various Ministries affecting food production should be effectively co-ordinated, so that the work of the Ministry of Agriculture in trying to maintain the livestock industry should not be destroyed by the Ministry of Shipping failing to provide the feeding stuffs. The Chancellor of the Exchequer should not be too hard at this stage with finance but should make available the credit necessary to produce the food which I am quite certain will be very much needed in the end.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies
I had thought that I would have had to begin by apologising to the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) for not following him in the matter which he raised in this Debate. Since then the Debate has ranged over so wide an area that I understand such an apology is no longer necessary. Yesterday, the House was concerned with war aims and peace aims, and I would like to take this opportunity of congratulating the Prime Minister upon his speech on Sunday night and upon the distinction which he drew so clearly between war aims and peace aims. There is no division of opinion at any rate with regard to war aims, and there can be little, if any, division of opinion with regard to peace aims, but if we are agreed upon the expression of that opinion we are not necessarily agreed upon the manner in which the war policy is at the present moment being conducted. It does not necessarily follow that the welfare of this country and His Majesty's Government are synonymous terms. If we criticise the Government, do not let anyone think that we are weakening in our purpose or in our determination. We criticise them because we want to see evidence of more determina- 150 tion, energy and foresight. Yesterday in the gracious words uttered from the Throne, His Majesty made use of these rather striking words, addressing them to the Members of both Houses:Grave responsibilities rest upon you. … You will, I am convinced, express the resolution of the Nation.It is upon that point that I should like further information. Are the Government expressing to-day the resolution of the nation? There is apparently a sluggishness and a want of drive and of urge, and people are not only getting impatient, but, up and down the country, are getting bored. There seems to be a lack of co-ordination and also contradictory advice. One says one thing and another says something else. There is a lack of co-ordination and coherence, and a lack of grip on a policy which ought to be well known and well understood and placed before the country as a whole. Each Department seems to have done its work separately, exactly as though it were a horse being driven in blinkers, seeing only right ahead of it —and not seeing very far ahead —its own particular task. It has been done, therefore, it looks to me, without consultation and without regard to the effect upon other Departments or upon other matters which arise out of it, merely because of the act which has been undertaken and done by that particular Department.
It is so easy to disorganise trade, but it is difficult to reorganise it on a new basis. Centralisation can be justified only if it leads to greater efficiency. Trade in this country is highly organised. It is technical, intricate, the study of a lifetime and of generations. Therefore, do not interfere unless you are compelled to do so. Do not displace those who have spent their lives in the trade, and, if you have to interfere, take those men into the system, get them to work with you and direct their energies. Do not scrap the men who have produced, and are producing, the country's wealth. Do not assume that you know more than they do or adopt a superior attitude in regard to them, and finally do not content yourselves with a superficial and rather supercilious consultation. Do not limit their position to that of mere advisers. Give them work and a position to which they have been accustomed. Give them executive tasks. Let them be the executive officers, as they have been, and let 151 them put their experience at the active service of the State. They have taken risks in the past —and risks have to be taken to-day —and they have made a success of their lives. Without them, and without the work and energy they have put into their businesses, you would not have the resources that you have to-day. I ask the Government to direct them and not to destroy them; to encourage their work and their enthusiasm. Production in these circumstances would increase and not diminish.
I would like to know how many people who had experience in the last war —and after all that war was won —have been asked to serve to-day and are giving their services? How many of them are being given executive tasks? How many of them have been consulted or have not been consulted but put on one side? The Prime Minister, in his speech the other day, said that time was on our side. That is the one phrase in that speech which I doubted. Be it long or be it short, of course we shall win, but the longer the time the greater the cost both in men, material and in money, and the greater the difficulty will be in the long run to get this country moving once again towards its proper destiny. We want to see everybody employed, everyone on his toes. We would like to see work and control co-ordinated so that we can make the best use of the country's strength and manhood. One could give instances of the lack of co-ordination. I mentioned one some months ago, that of the blackout. I wonder what the effect of the black-out has been in the last 12 weeks. Undoubtedly, the black-out was effectively done and was carried out through the Air Ministry or through a co-ordination of Services, but what has been the effect upon the spirits and the health of the people? There has been a loss of production. There has also been a loss of efficiency in transport. The last time I spoke on this subject I gave a figure which was given to me, to the effect that in the first fortnight there was a loss of transport efficiency amounting to 66 per cent. I am told, and I wonder whether this is right, that the loss of transport efficiency to-day because of the black-out is 20 per cent. In some depots it is as much as 33 per cent.
152 Take another matter, the question of licences. It was ordered that no goods were to be imported or exported unless licences were obtained. I suppose that in the mind of the Department that was to have produced a certain effect, but I wonder whether they considered the effect which the order would have upon the trade of the country? Another point. I suppose because of the experience of the last war the authorities dreaded that information might get to the enemy, and therefore they issued a general prohibition against the export from this country of printed matter. It even went so far that it led to the opening of parcels which contained tools, machinery, etc., and the taking out of printed matter which described the way in which the machinery was to be set up. Those were machines going to South America. Those documents gave to the men who received the machinery instructions how to set it up. The Department that was asked to deal with this matter did so by issuing this general order, and they did it so efficiently that it had the effect of putting a stop to exports. Not only had the manufacturer to go to the trouble of getting a licence, but, having got his licence and packed his goods, he had to unpack them in order to take out these documents. There has been relaxation since, but that relaxation was only obtained after weeks of protest.
Take another instance. They said you must not use codes. The only use of a code is to save money, and at a time when money is short the authorities said: "You must not use a code." You must not even use a telegraphic address. What is the use of a telegraphic address unless there is a register, something like a telephone book, in which you can look up what the telegraphic address means? Here, again, I admit there has been relaxation. There has been relaxation in regard to the use of the telephone. You can now telephone to France, Belgium and Holland, but for a long time you could not do so. It took weeks of protest and begging before these matters were attended to. These are instances of Departments acting well and Efficiently in the performance of the duty they had undertaken, but they did it without taking account of the repercussions.
Need I mention the difficulties that arose in regard to the control of fish and tea and the difficulties that are arising 153 to-day in regard to markets and slaughterhouses? These orders have been restricting, repressing and damping down the enthusiasm of the people. After 12 weeks of war, can anyone say that trade and business in this country are flourishing? Can anyone say that everyone is on his toes anxious to produce as much as he can? Twelve weeks ago men and women were anxious to help. They were darting hither and thither trying to find out where they could be of assistance. They had only one question: "Do you know of anything that I can do?" Man is really happiest when he is working full time. He becomes discouraged and unhappy when he is not working at full pressure. There seems to be a sort of melancholia and boredom creeping right over us. The fire is there but there does not seem to be anybody who can fan the flames. The "Times" said some time ago:War is waged with economic and moral weapons as well as with military armaments.That is perfectly true. Great as are our economic resources they are not so great that we can afford to disregard any of the means, great or small, which contribute to them. We need every ounce of our strength, and we need to use it now. If I may use a phrase that was mentioned to me the other day, a shell to-day is Worth 150 at the end of the war. It seems to me that we are too much on the defensive. You cannot carry on a war underground or in perpetual gloom.
What is our production to-day? That is a question I should like to put to His Majesty's Government. It is no use talking in large figures and saying: "We have given orders for millions of pounds worth of goods." It is no use saying that we are spending at the rate of £6,000,000 a day. What I want to know is, are the goods forthcoming? Are those orders being carried out? How are they being carried out? You may call spirits from the vasty deep, but will they come? We want ruthless energy, not only in Ministries, but in the factories, the fields and the workshops. The hon. Member who spoke last mentioned food production. With the farmers' help, what is our food production to-day? I say to the Government, do not damp down this enthusiasm; use it, and encourage it. The power to win is undoubtedly here and the will to win is here, so long as it 154 is used and directed effectively and property.
I should like to call the attention of the House to what has happened in the last 12 weeks. On 3rd September Germany lost 46 per cent. of her exports. Twenty-three per cent. of her export trade was done with this country, France and our Dominions, and 23 per cent. with neutrals to whom she can no longer export—America, South America and so on. Her total export trade on the average for the last three years was £268,000,000. The average export trade of this country for the last three years was £478,000,000. Of her £268,000,000 of export trade, Germany lost £118,000,000 on the 3rd September—£6,000,000 worth of coal exports out of £18,000,000 worth; £6,000,000 worth of electric goods out of £16,000,000 worth; £4,500,000 worth of machine tools out of £10,000,000 worth; £13,000,000 worth of machinery out of £28,000,000 worth, and £12,000,000 worth of dyes and chemicals out of £24,000,000 worth.
What I should like to ask, and I am sure the country would like to know is, what have we done in the meantime to capture that export trade lost by Germany? Have we done anything to increase our resources? Have we done anything to increase the exports which we need for our foreign exchange, which will have to buy the goods we must import, both in food and raw materials? When the figures of our exports came out the other day I am sure that there was not one man in this House or in the country who, on looking at them, did not get a shock. Germany had lost 46 per cent. of her exports. In the two months, September to October, we lost 42 per cent. of our export trade. It may be asked which country is besieged?
Look at our exports. In September, 1938, our export figures were £39,809,000 and in 1939 £23,087,000. a drop of £16,722,000, if we compare the two Septembers of those years. Comparing October, in 1938 our exports were £42,560,000 and in 1939 £24,600.000. We had a loss in September as compared with September of the previous year of 42 per cent., and a loss in October compared with October of the previous year of 42 per cent. It is interesting to see where the loss happened. I can well understand that there has been a drop in 155 the export of food, drink and tobacco, in regard to which there was a drop of 37 per cent. There was a drop in the export of unrefined oils and fats of 76 per cent., in wool 74 per cent., and in raw materials 32 per cent. These can be explained, because these goods were needed. An embargo had been placed upon their export. But why has there been such a drop in the export of manufactured articles? In iron and steel, for instance, there has been a drop in exports of 45 per cent., in machinery 53 per cent., in cutlery and hardware 37 per cent., in cotton yarns 28 per cent. In electric goods, woollen goods, silk and so on there have been drops; I need not give the figures. The total loss for the two months is £34,659,000, equal to 42 per cent.
Let me turn to imports. During September and October there have been drops in imports which I fail to understand, unless there is some explanation forthcoming. In September, 1938, we imported of grain, flour, feeding-stuffs, meat, dairy produce, etc., goods to the value of £77,057,000, and in September, 1939, we imported £52,795,000 worth. All these are essentials, in some of which there is a shortage. While we are talking of rations, there has been a fall in our imports of grain, foodstuffs and so forth of over £24,000,000, a drop of 32 per cent. as compared with September of the previous year. Take raw materials. In September, 1938, we imported £36,954,000 worth, in September, 1939, £29,425,000, a drop of £7,500,000, or 20 per cent. In articles mainly or wholly manufactured there has been a drop of 26 per cent. amounting to £10,217,000. The total loss in our imports amounts to £42,000,000 comparing the months of September and October, 1938, with the same months of 1939—a total loss in our exports of 27 per cent.
I am justified in asking the Government, is our production greater or less to-day at the end of November than it was at the beginning of September? Is our output of war material satisfactory? Is it increasing? These are matters upon which I should like an answer. Have we got the necessary materials to-day? Have we got the necessary machine tools? Can the answer to these questions be really satisfactory when we consider the figures which I have given and also the figures 156 given in the Debate last week, and also remember that we have 1,430,000 unemployed—can the answer then be considered satisfactory? I listened to the Debate the other day and I must say that I thought the reply of the Minister of Labour was most unsatisfactory. He seemed to deal with figures much in the same way as a pert school boy, good at mental arithmetic, who gives the answer to any set of figures straight away. He does not seem to deal with them in the same way as I imagine a senior wrangler would deal with a mathematical problem.
After 12 weeks of war we have 1,500,000 unemployed. Between the end of August and the end of Ocťober the figures are better; there were fewer unemployed in five callings. In coal mines there were fewer unemployed on the 31st October as compared with the 31st August by 30,700; but if you look at the previous year, 1938, you will find that there were fewer unemployed beťween August and September of 32,800; and it is just as well to bear in mind that there are seasonal differences. The figure for engineers is a little better, 7,000; for ship building 11,000, for cotton 11,O00, but the improvement in 1938 was as much as 24,000 for cotton, while in texťiles the improvement was 14,000. But the improvement in 1938 was as great as 38,900. In all other callings the figures are worse. At a time when we should be doing our utmost to produce it is extraordinary to find falling figures in mining—64,400—and mines which could be worked not being worked. In 133 mines work has been sťopped during the last two years. Everyone hears that there is a shortage of engineers, but the figures show that there are 32,500 engineers unemployed. When ships are being sunk, when some shipyards are still empty in Scotland and on the North-East Coast, there are 18,300 ship builders and ship repairers unemployed; in cotton 34,00o, in ťextiles 56,000—I need not go through the figures for the great army of 1,500,000 unemployed after 12 weeks of war. And I do not know what is the figure for those who have been absorbed into the Army or into the Navy.
Are skilled craftsmen and artisans kept in ťhe Army or other Services to-day when they are wanted elsewhere? I can only answer for the agricultural community. The key men in the farms today in Montgomeryshire—and it is the 157 same throughout the country—are the young men of 19, 20 and 21. The eldest boy goes out to earn a better living, and the boy of 19 and 20 is the ploughman and the dairyman upon whom farming depends. His calling up has been postponed, but ultimately he is going to be called up when you want food production and when ships are going down. In the last war the Prime Minister himself was called upon to take charge of national service, to see how many men could be spared to go into the Army, to decide the priorities, to say who were to be left and who were so essential that they must be brought back to their work. What is the position to-day? In what way are we using our material?
I was struck the other day by the distinction which was drawn between the methods of production to-day and the methods of production used with success towards the end of the last war. The experienced men who were describing it had occupied important positions. They say that to-clay policy is not effective, that personnel is not effective and that material is not coming forward. With regard to personnel, they said that in the last war the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) sent for them and described the position. He told them what was wanted, but that he did not know if the material would be forthcoming. He told them that he had sent for them because they ought to be in a position to supply the material. All he had been able to do was to divide the country into 41 districts and that he had sent for people from each district. He asked them to go back and to call up every man—he himself became the chairman of the Manchester district, not the biggest but a very important district. Every kind of manufacturer was called in, the whole thing was described and at once they were divided into two schools; one school saying that they could not produce until they got the machines which would do it automatically, and the other school who said that their machines were not fit for the work, that they had never done it before, but were perfectly sure that with the assistance of their men they could do it; and they started. The second school was producing shells six months before the first school got their machines.
Much has been said about the cost and expenses of the last war. These men who 158 have never had experience of this work and whose workmen had been accustomed to deal only with textiles found, when they started, that the price of a shell was 23s. 6d. Within six months they turned them out at 8s. 6d. They said that in matters of production we are not number two in the world to America, that so far as craftsmanship, artisanship, and power of adaptation is concerned there was nothing in the world comparable to the British workman. And so not a single American plane crossed the line; they were all British, built by British workmen who had never produced one before. They pointed out that they spoke the language of their men, that they knew the men in charge of the shops, the foreman and the men. No wonder that the goods were forthcoming. They said "Your personnel is wrong, you are putting in engineer commanders, very excellent judges of a machine but who know nothing of production and do not speak the language of the factory." They were convinced that the material that is so necessary is not forthcoming. The country will want to know and this House wants to know the answer. Another complaint which one hears in so many branches is the lack of decision. You go from one Department to another and are told that they cannot decide the matter as it has to go to some other authority. You are passed on from one Department to another.
I should like to impress upon the Government that export is our very life; if we cannot export we die. I wonder what can be done with regard to all this. We have combined buying in regard to raw materials, wheat, wool, oi1 seeds, and meat, which come to this country and are taken over by the Government and then distributed. Would it not be possible to get a combined effort to sell, to get new markets, and to do even a barter trade? Why cannot a Department be set up in neutral countries to find out what they want and what they can supply to us, to cancel imports by exports? Let there be a clearing-house in this country for contracts, made not merely between neutrals and ourselves but between neutrals. What happens now with regard to exports? Do conditions help the manufacturer and the exporter? He has to hunt for a permit and then for a licence, and then for tonnage. If half a dozen coal exporters met and asked each 159 other what they had been able to do, one would reply, "Not much." and another might say that he had been able to get three cargoes. The question would be, "How did you get hold of the tonnage, and where have you sent it?" Is it not possible to co-ordinate all this so that permits would be forthcoming and licences would be forthcoming, and exporters would know exactly where the tonnage was? I am anxious that these repressive measures should be stopped.
§ Sir Patrick Hannon
May I say to the hon. and learned Member that at the present moment and for many weeks past the Department of Overseas Trade, under its present direction, is going everything possible to carry out everything that he is suggesting?
§ Mr. Davies
Has the hon. Member experienced the difficulties of getting a permit and a licence, and the tonnage? Is it any use having a Ministry of Economic Warfare composed of a conglomeration of men drawn from all parts of the country, some of them very able, who are not in a position to decide? What I want is a small committee who can consider these matters and send representatives to all the neutral countries so as to form a liaison between the manufacturer and the exporter and the men who want the goods, and who can arrange for shipping and return cargoes, so that there shall be no loss of tonnage? Germany has long since passed the peak of her production, and to my mind, she has also passed the lowest point to which she can cut down consumption. Those two points are gradually approaching, and as they approach, Germany weakens. But look at the reserve which we have in this country. We have a reserve of 1,500,000 unemployed. We can increase our production. We have the most fertile land in the world, much of it not used at the present time. If necessary, we can multiply and re-multiply our production. As the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) reminded us the other day, for 20 years one-seventh of our population has not been able to contribute towards production. Let hon. Members think of that reserve of power.
I would also remind the House that in the last war, in spite of the losses which we suffered, and leaving out of account for the moment the enormous sums which 160 we lent to our Allies, the enormous sums that were lost in Russia, if one looks at our figures, and our figures alone, we paid for the foreign exchange which we required out of our own revenue, our exports, our invisible exports, our ships earning upon the seas, and the capital we had already placed out, which was earning revenue; and we were able to do this in spite of our having lost 9,000,000 tons of shipping, and France having lost 1,000,000 tons of shipping. The losses of shipping alone could be measured at a figure of £375,000,000, and we lost something like £350,000,000 in cargo. Having lost in ships and cargoes something in the neighbourhood of £700,000,000, nevertheless we were able to pay for all the foreign exchange that we wanted for the purchase of goods out of our own revenue. That is a tribute to the resiliency of this country. If we have done that once, we can do it again; but we must stop these repressive measures and help to put men to work, and encourage and enthuse them as much as we can. Do not let us repress them, and our triumph will be all the more complete. If I have criticised the Government this evening, it is a criticism asking for more energy, more drive, and a better grip of the situation.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir John Simon)
This day, on which we continue the general Debate on the Address, is, I suppose, one of the easiest days of the Parliamentary year for you, Mr. Speaker, because it is difficult to imagine anything that would be out of order. Although I do not intend to deal with the speech of the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts), which dealt mainly with food questions, or the extremely comprehensive survey made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), I think it is only right that I should address a few observations to some aspects of the matters raised in a very concrete form in the powerful speech of the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. George Hall), who opened the Debate. The hon. Member dealt with a list of social questions, and in conclusion, he said that he hoped no one would regard them as trifling or small compared with the great efforts we are making and the great sums we are spending. I am sure that must be the view of all of us. I am most deeply con- 161 cerned about the matters which he raised. I am concerned about them as a Member of the House and as a man who tries to comprehend and deal with these social questions as well as I can. I have also a very substantial concern with them now because nearly all of them touch very directly the special charge that is for the time being on my shoulders in the administration of our public funds. The hon. Member raised a large number of questions connected with assistance, relief, compensation and the like, and as far as I recall, the only question in the list with which he dealt which does not directly touch public funds is workmen's compensation, and that, of course, is necessarily a charge that has to be borne by the industry concerned.
I want for a moment or two to put this matter in a rather larger framework, not because I want to overlay the subject or dismiss it, but because I really do not think that, in the third month of this tremendous war, which before we have finished with it may mean the most fearful sacrifices, some of which we have perhaps hardly begun to dream of as possible, I should be doing my duty if I did riot remind the House, in this Debate, of the larger financial setting, although I will in due course come to the specific questions which the hon. Member raised. I have noted down six simple propositions about our financial position which I would ask leave to state to the House. They are quite uncontroversial in substance, as far as I know, although perhaps there may be differences on the details.
The first proposition is this. Before the war began, our public expenditure was already higher than it had ever been in peace time. We start with that. To be quite accurate, let me say that I cannot treat the year immediately after the war, the year 1919, as being a peace year. In that year, the figure was still enormous, and I exclude that year. Apart from 1919, it is true to say that before war broke out in September, we were this year already spending, not merely on one subject but on all subjects together, more than had ever been spent in a year in peace time. As hon. Members will recall, this was mainly due to the determination at which we had arrived, supported by opinion in all parties, that we must devote very great sums to rearmament. That was swelling the figure. It is some small 162 satisfaction in passing to remember that, in spite of all that, in that year we nevertheless provided £50,000,000 more out of revenue for the social services for the year than had been the case in 1931.
The second proposition is that when the war came upon us in September, our rate of spending quickened enormously, as it was bound to do. To put it in its simplest form, for the remainder of the year, from September to the end of this financial year, as far as we can see, our rate of spending, on war services and other services together, has been so greatly increased that if one expressed it as spending for 12 months, it would be £2,400,000,000 per annum, an increase of about two-thirds on the rate at which we were previously spending. We started by spending at a greater rate than had ever before been carried by this country in peace-time; we ran into this war, and immediately and inevitably the pace quickened at the rate I have described.
As against that—and here I come to my third proposition—we have struggled to get an enormous contribution towards this great expenditure from taxation. We have not said, "Let posterity pay." The House of Commons has never before imposed such tremendous burdens as were imposed by the emergency Budget. Again, let me make a comparison. It is true that at the very end of the last year of the Great War, and perhaps in the year 1919, too, the amounts that were coming in from the Excess Profits Duty were so enormous as to swell the revenue until it was quite an unnatural sum. There is no Excess Profits Tax that can be reaped this year, although there will be some return of that sort next year. If we exclude the receipts from the Excess Profits Duty during and after the last war, the revenue that is to be received this year from taxation represents the greatest tax burden that has ever been placed upon the people of this country.
§ Sir J. Simon
I cannot think of a greater proof of the determination of the British people than that all classes in this country should have accepted those stupendous proposals, which it was my duty to make, so quietly and with such a general concurrence that it must be done.
I come now to my fourth proposition. Although we accepted this taxation of 163 nearly £1,000,000,000 in a single year, it still leaves us to raise another £1,000,000,000 by borrowing in order to meet the expenditure of this first year, seven months of which are months of war. My fifth proposition is this: In a full year of war, and if this struggle develops with the frightful expenditure of munitions and human lives which we suffered in the last war, our total requirements in future years will be very considerably greater than this year. Looking at the matter altogether, I state as a sixth reflection that the present annual rate of expenditure to be met out of revenue and borrowing together approximates to one-half of the total income of the community spread in very different proportions, of course.
I think those figures are not irrelevant to a consideration of what we can do. I do not quote them in order to divert attention from the immediate subjects raised in this Debate, but I do say that all kinds of people in this country, and perhaps most of all those who have most influence and leadership with our wage-earners, are bound to weigh that fact, which is quite uncontroversial and unchallengeable, when considering what is to be the nature of our economic life in this land in the next year or two.
I know that there are some people who say that there is very great inequality in fortunes in this land, and that, while our main purpose is to win the war, cannot the expense be put in greater measure upon the very rich? I think I may claim that I, in the holding of my office, have not shown any unwillingness to put very great burdens on the very rich, and I would like hon. Members for a moment or two to consider how far this method of getting out of our troubles can really be applied. I have had one or two figures worked out for this purpose. It is all very well to talk about paying for the war by taxing the rich—and nobody is more conscious than the wealthy taxpayer of the fact that he is being called upon to pay—but take these simple figures. How many individuals are there in this country, all told, who have an income which exceeds £10,000 per annum? That is a very big income but it is a convenient figure to take, because it happens that the number of persons in this country who have that income or 164 more than that income is just about 10,000.
What is happening to the people who have that income at present? Their aggregate income amounts to about £180,000,000. How much of that, under this very heavy taxation, does the State take? Out of that £180,000,00o, I take, by Income Tax and Super-tax, £120,000,000 straight off. If, instead of taking £120,000,000, you can imagine that the State by the Budget took the whole £180,000,000, well, that is £60,000,000 more than it takes at present. That is about 5 per cent, of the amount which I need to borrow this year. It would keep the country going, as we are going now, for about a week or 10 days. But that is not the whole of it, for in addition to Income Tax and Super-tax there are Death Duties and, naturally, those fortunate and wealthy people are the people on whom those duties fall very heavily. Every year a proportion of those people die, and their estates pay about £40,000,000 a year to the revenue. So that the fact of the matter is that in that sense we now take £160,000,000 a year from those persons who have a total income of £180,000,000 and the remaining £20,000,000, say what you like about it, is not going to pay for this or any other war.
The short and simple answer to those who conceive that the problem of war finance can be solved by what is called "soaking the rich" is, first, that they are very severely soaked already and second that there are not enough of them to find the money or any considerable fraction of it. It is perfectly apparent that differential taxation on big incomes has been carried to a point which gravely interferes with the fulfilment of obligations and the continuance of a great deal of employment. Therefore, it follows that the only way in which a democracy can meet the terrible burdens of a great war is by a willingness to sacrifice on the part of the whole population, and by recognising that such sacrifice, difficult as it is to bear, is the price that must willingly be paid to secure and preserve freedom. The truth is that we cannot attain our war aim—and I know I am justified in assuming that the House is at one in being determined to attain it—without producing for the time being an adjustment in the standard of living, which touches people of all sorts and kinds 165 I have thought it right to make these observations on facts which cannot be challenged because it appears to me that we have to recognise that this is the world in which we are now living, and that we have to prepare ourselves, and prepare one another, to face all that is involved in this state of things. We have to see—and it may be said that it falls especially upon my shoulders to do so and it is a frightful responsibility—not merely that we provide the means for our naval, military and air forces, whose gallantry and sacrifice are certain enough, but that our economic resources are equally well-used.
§ Sir J. Simon
I fully realise what is the nature of the responsibility which falls upon me and upon all who have any share in the burden of government. Does the public which feels very keenly about it, quite realise what is being done in Germany at this time?
§ Sir J. Simon
I do not want to give figures and this is a matter which may be gone into in greater detail on another day but I think we have to realise that we are dealing now not only with a ruthless enemy—and we know that it is with a ruthless enemy we are dealing—but also with an enemy which shows ruthlessness to his own people and to his own working-class. I am not proposing to claim any more credit than should be claimed for our own conditions though taking it broadly. our own social provision is better, I think, than that of any other country in the world.
§ Sir J. Simon
But let us remind ourselves of the nature of the ruthlessness which our enemy exhibits in taxing, and in coercing the working classes of his own country by the concentration camp, by the labour camp, to work hours at wages and subject to contributions which make a very different picture from that which we have managed to preserve so far in this country. I do not suggest for a moment that we should follow that example. I do not think that any democracy is in the least likely to do so, and I am certainly not the person to 166 suggest it. But we must not, any of us, delude ourselves into thinking that we can wage a war of this fearful magnitude and cost, wage it, it may be, in times to come before we have finished, through the most fearful strain of trial and difficulty, and just assume that all our respective standards of living will be quite as easily maintained, as they might be in times of peace.
Before turning to deal more particularly with some of the things which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Aberdare, may I make just one further observation? The figures which I gave when I began were figures of money and of taxation. It is convenient, perhaps, to measure these things in that way, but it is rather deceptive. Money, after all, is the means of buying and selling things, but the real problem is not a problem of money, it is a problem of things. The irresistible conclusion, I think, is that it is impossible for the country to go on living, with all the same standards as easily preserved in war time as in peace time. When we take it as a question of the supply of things and of commodities this fact becomes particularly plain. In time of peace, I suppose, the main object in this field of government is that the output should be as great as possible and that as large a part of the output as possible should be used to improve the standard of living, to improve certainly, as far as we can, the standard of living of the poorest members of the community.
If you go back in our history, you will find that it is absolutely true to say that that has been the policy of Parliament for over a generation. I can remember when I, as a young man, first came into this House and heard Mr. Asquith at this Box unfold the plan of the first old age pensions scheme. It was only 5s., but it was a beginning. It was a big thing. I was a young Minister, a colleague of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), when the National Insurance scheme was introduced in 1911, and I took some subordinate share in expounding and upholding those Bills. That was a tremendous thing and it was not as universally approved then as it is now, but, as so often happens with any sort of good legislation, in time people began to see that this was a sound method and the system has been built up with help 167 from all parts. I am not claiming any credit for any particular set of people in connection with it, but undoubtedly it has been, on the whole, the greatest help in bringing the resources of the State to the aid of those who need help most which has ever been seen in the history of the world. What I would beg the House to do—solely out of a desire to look at the problem which is in front of us as a nation—is to recognise that it is far more difficult to deal with the defects and anomalies or shortcomings of that system in a time of war than it ever could be in times of peace.
§ Mr. Woodburn
Would the Chancellor of the Exchequer agree that it would be desirable since the consumption of the people generally is reduced that luxuries should be dispensed with first. Secondly, would he agree that every effort should be made to increase the production of goods and the incomes of those people who are suffering, in order not to impair the efficiency of the nation as a whole and of the workers in particular.
§ Sir J. Simon
That seems in principle a very admirable proposition, and I have no doubt the hon. Member will have an opportunity of developing it. I am merely saying that it is a very great mistake for any section of this House to discuss the particular subject which has been opened this afternoon, on the assumption that we are in a situation in which it is possible to contemplate improvements such as might readily be contemplated in quite different times. To say that we should put taxes on luxuries and that we should realise the necessity of drawing the sort of distinction which the hon. Gentleman has mentioned, is, I think, common ground. But when the country is at war the purposes which it has to serve are something rather different. The policy of the country is bound largely to be first to get the output of the essential goods to the highest conceivable maximum and at the same time to divert as large a proportion of the output as possible to war needs. It is the fact that there is this object, which we have to secure in order to protect ourselves, to save our lives, and to save the country which makes it necessary to take a different view in war-time.
We must realise the nature of the struggle in which we are engaged. The expenditure of the Ministry of Supply, 168 for example, is an expenditure which calls upon the efforts and activities of the people. The Ministry of Supply will get an immense volume of things by means which in happier times one would hope to see used for more satisfactory purposes. At present they have to be used for purposes which are destructive, defensive, and terrible, and that makes it necessary to reduce the amount which is available for the purposes which are foremost in our minds this afternoon. I think that one of the chief contributions that we can all make here in our democracy towards winning the war is, within the limits that are possible, to do without rises of wages and not to assume that, if there should be, as world conditions may bring about, some rise in costs, therefore automatically our remunerations must all go up on a sliding scale. That is what I mean when I say that in this situation it is really essential for a democracy, if it is going to live, to be prepared to face the sacrifice to be made by each member of it. We in this House of Commons have a very great responsibility in that matter. I set that as the general framework in which we have to examine the questions raised by the hon. Gentleman opposite.
Now I want to say one or two words about some of the things that he mentioned. Let us look at the specific parts of the case with which he dealt—dependants' allowances, workmen's compensation, old age pensions, unemployment benefit, and unemployment assistance. I cannot deal with all of them specifically—some of them require more detailed treatment, which is and must be a matter for the particular Ministers—but I would point out a distinction which is very present to my mind. There is a sense in which unemployment allowances provided under the regulations of the Unemployment Assistance Board stand in a rather special category. They are what we may call the last defence of the man concerned. It is that or nothing. The allowances, as we know, are paid from a central State fund by the Unemployment Assistance Board, and they are paid on a scale drawn up by the Board itself, a scale which is accepted by the Minister of Labour and endorsed by Parliament by affirmative Resolution. As a result, all of us here have a special responsibility.
The allowances are designed to meet, as is absolutely necessary in the existing 169 circumstances, the immediate needs of the applicants. If, owing to change of circumstance, such as a rise in the cost of living, the old scale of the Unemployment Assistance Board is no longer appropriate, it is the business of the Board to propose a suitable alteration. That is what the Statute says it has got to do. If the Minister accepts the proposal, it conies before the House, and our own affirmative Resolution is needed. All that is an essential feature of the scheme itself, whether in war or in peace, for the recipient has to rely on this assistance for his maintenance, and he has nowhere else to go. It follows, therefore, that if the Unemployment Assistance Board consider that a revision of the scale is required, they must take these prescribed steps, and the financial problems of the war, the warnings of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and our appreciation of the financial difficulties make no difference to their action.
I have to inform the House that, on the question of increasing unemployment allowances, having regard to the cost of living, it is anticipated that draft Regulations will be submitted by the Unemployment Assistance Board to the Minister of Labour and National Service within the next few days. I cannot give more information about the matter, but I thought it was right that the House should know this immediately. No doubt it will be a matter of great importance and very likely will mean that my right hon. Friend will have a statement to make or a question to answer very shortly.
§ Mr. George Hall
May I ask whether, in the event of the draft Regulations being received by the right hon. Gentleman, he will bring them before the House so as to enable any increase to take place before Christmas?
§ Sir J. Simon
My right hon. Friend authorises me to say that that would be his intention. Of course, something depends on the date when the communication is received. I understand that the actual situation is—and that is all I know about it—that there has been a communication from the Board that they are contemplating putting forward a new draft Regulation, and I thought that instead of keening that knowledge to ourselves, it would he a satisfaction to ťhe House to 170 know that that is the state of our information on the subject. I thoroughly understand that thať is only one matter, but I think it is important.
I come now to unemployment benefit, and there we are dealing with a somewhat different situation. First of all, we are dealing with an insurance scheme—that has always been the basis from the beginning—which depends, of course, on contributions. No doubt it can be made a more abundant scheme by an increase in those contributions. All that I would like to say about it now is that the House is aware that there is every year a report made by the Statutory Committee, and, I think, on special occasions sometimes more often, in which Sir William Beveridge and his colleagues inform us what is actuarially the state of that fund. Such a report is to be expected early in the year. If the report shows that the fund has a surplus, then comes the question of how that surplus shall be used, and, of course, it might be used to improve benefits. If, on the other hand, the report shows that there is not a sufficient surplus for such a purpose, and none the less the situation is one that needs remedying, manifestly that remedy must take the form of revising the scales of contribution. That is a serious and a complicated matter.
Now I will take, if I may, the matter which I think the hon. Gentleman mentioned first of all, that of allowances to the dependants of our fighting Forces. The hon. Gentleman made so powerful a case and spoke with so much plainness that I was a little surprised that he did not, as far as I could see, refer to the provisions that already exist for making special allowances to increase the flat rates to which he referred. Provision has already been made—I have an announcement to make about it—for cases of special hardship on the part of all serving men's dependants, including widowed mothers, by the setting up of what has been called, I think, the Military Service (Special Allowances) Advisory Committee. There is a change which I want to state to the House. Very careful consideration has been given to the possibility of simplifying and speeding-up the procedure in connection with this tribunal. I am inclined to think it is a reform which is needed, and I hope that what I am going to say will indicate that it will be a real improvement. We want to relieve ťhe 171 very severe strain which war conditions inevitably place, not only on those who are waiting to receive their extra grants, but on the pay organisations of the Service Departments.
As the detailed work necessitated is already carried out by a staff attached to the Ministry of Pensions, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in consultation with the other Ministers concerned, has invited the Minister of Pensions to undertake the entire responsibility for the award and issue of these allowances in future, and this proposal my hon. Friend has, I am glad to say, accepted. That change, we are quite confident, will greatly simplify the machinery of payment, will greatly hasten the decisions for which people are waiting, and the work following on the Committee's recommendation can be completed in one office. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. C. Davies) spoke about the difficulty that arises in regard to matters passing from one office to another, and I want to give him any satisfaction that I can. He will be glad to know that the effect of this change is really to get the whole of this machinery into one office, so that there shall be the minimum of delay. The Committee, which thus becomes advisory to the Ministry of Pensions, will now be named the War Service Grants Advisory Committee.
§ Mr. George Hall
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the Committee and the Minister of Pensions, who are now undertaking the responsibility for the administering of this scheme, can overhaul the existing scheme? I have not yet heard the Chancellor suggesting that the normal case to which I referred will be treated differently from the way in which it is treated at the present time, and unless power is given to the Minister of Pensions to overhaul the whole scheme, it is only the exceptional cases which will get any concession.
§ Sir Henry Morris-Jones
Can my right hon. Friend tell the House whether this applies to the three Services—to all the Services?
§ Sir J. Simon
It certainly refers to all the Services. The question of the hon. 172 Member for Aberdare (Mr. George Hall) is the important question of revision, but it is one that I had not thought could be included in my statement. It was a statement as to improvement of the machinery and I do no think the matter which the hon. Member has raised is one I can deal with in what I am saying now.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Is it the intention that the Ministry of Pensions machinery should displace the special committee presided over by Mr. Doughty, K.C.?
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
Do we understand that this new committee will function in the same way as a similar committee functioned during the last war?
§ Sir J. Simon
I cannot answer that question, because I have not the information regarding the last war clearly in my mind. In reply to the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), the committee which is presided over by Mr. Charles Doughty has been taken over by the Ministry of Pensions, and I should like to take this opportunity of saying that we are grateful to Mr. Doughty for the very hard work he has done.
I want to refer to the question of old age pensions. I told the House in the Debate we had on 1st November that, while it was true that at the first onset of the war, when there was a terrible lot to be arranged and considered, there had been a certain delay in the examination which the Prime Minister had promised into this question, we were at once taking it up again. I made it plain that there was no possibility of substantial improvement in contributory pensions unless the contributory scheme was further financed by the contributors themselves. I did not say that the Exchequer entirely refused any contribution, but I have always made it plain that so far as that scheme was concerned we were bound in the circumstances in which we found ourselves to ask that, if it was to be improved, it should be improved by the contributors. I have lost no time about it. I said that the Exchequer would see representatives of the parties and endeavour to make the most rapid progress possible. It is not quite as simple as has been suggested. The real truth of the matter is that the contributory pension of 10s. a week is a pension paid as of right to people who are in very different financial positions. They may have other 173 means and may even draw the salary of a Member of Parliament. They may be in ordinary employment, but they are entitled to get the pension. Side by side with them there are tragic cases which naturally come to mind. As regards the non-contributory pension, I have never denied that anything that can be done to improve the contributory pension must be done for the non-contributory pension; and the whole cost of such a corresponding increase in the rate of noncontributory pensions must be found out of public funds.
That is the general position I have taken up throughout. I wish I could report more precise results than I am able to do, but following the last Debate I get into touch at once with the parties concerned. I had a meeting, which, perhaps, may be called a preliminary meeting, but it was a very thorough one, with the representatives of the Trades Union Congress and of the National Confederation of Employers' Organisations. The discussions were confidential and I cannot say more about them, but I can assure the House that we are doing our best to make progress and reach agreement. At the present moment, at the request of the parties, alternative facts and figures on an actuarial basis are being worked out. I am hoping that at what I call an early date, by which I mean, at any rate, before the end of the year, there will be a further meeting with the representatives of such a kind as may result in some suggestions being agreed to. I know that what I am saying cannot be regarded as completely satisfactory by those who are most concerned about this. I do not complain of that, but I ask them to believe that I am doing and have done the best I can to deal with this problem. If we do not produce proposals that are satisfactory it will not be for want of effort on my part.
§ Mr. Lipson
Does my right hon. Friend take the view that there can only be an increase of the non-contributory pension if and when an increase is agreed to in the contributory pension?
§ Sir J. Simon
I do not say that. I do not think it would necessarily follow. I think that what we ought to aim at is an improvement in both kinds of pension to the same amount, and it is the business of the country to find what is necessary for the non-contributory pension.
174 I have not yet mentioned workmen's compensation. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is behind me, so I must go carefully. The hon. Gentleman who raised this subject referred to the experience of the last war. I do not think he was right in saying that the change that was made then was made at the beginning of the war. There were two changes, one in 1917 and the other in 1920. In 1917, when the cost of living had risen 75 per cent. above pre-war, it was thought right and found possible to increase the rate of workmen's compensation by 25 per cent. Although the action was contemplated or promised when the increase over the pre-war cost of living was 75 per cent., the increase had actually reached 8o per cent. before it was made. The second change was made in 1920, when the cost of living was 125 per cent. above the pre-war figure. The workmen's compensation rate was then raised 75 per cent. above the pre-war figure.
I do not wish to lay down any precise rule or law about this, but I think it illustrates what I have tried to urge upon the House, that when we are facing these perfectly tremendous burdens which we have to share it may well be that even where a change for the better in such things as workmen's compensation is within contemplation it has to lag behind the rate at which the cost of living is rising. I do not believe it is possible for this country to survey the whole industrial field of the workers—those injured or overtaken by old age and the active workers—and to urge that everything can be automatically raised, as though you were looking through a magnifying glass, merely because the cost of living has increased. We have got to face the fact that in such terribly difficult times it is not possible to do all that we might do in happier times. I was asked whether, at any rate, the Royal Commission appointed in, I think, 1938, could not be urged to get on with its work. I have consulted the Home Secretary about that. I know how keen he is about it and he is going to urge it in every way he can. What I am saying is not intended to rule out the possibility of considering the terribly distressing cases of sufferers from certain industrial diseases, silicosis and others, which were mentioned by the hon. Member, and it may be that there are points on which we can make progress, but I am bound to 175 give this answer as to the general review, disappointing as I realise that it may be to some, because these are the conditions under which we have to face the burdens of the war.
I was sorry for one thing only in the hon. Gentleman's speech. He always speaks so frankly himself that I am sure that he will not mind my being frank in return. Just at the end of his speech he spoke as though, in certain circumstances, victory in this war might for some people be only an empty shell. What is defeat in this war going to mean? It is going to mean the triumph of a system which flourishes on the concentration camp, the system of the Gestapo, the system of the private informer. It is going to mean the triumph of the system where there is no free Press, where no man may say what he thinks or call his soul his own. Is anybody going to tell me that when these are the issues at stake there is a single man or woman in this country, poor, injured, destitute it may be, who does not know very well that the stake for which we are fighting is one which can be gained for the benefit of every citizen living in this country?
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Williams
While complimenting the right hon. Gentleman upon his moving peroration I am bound toò confess that the substance of his speech, apart from the financial review, is most disappointing indeed, and the suggested concession which he has announced means absolutely nothing at all for the dependants of those who have joined the armed forces. I took down carefully the points relating to expenditure, and I have no disagreement about them. All I would say to him about the financial review that he gave us is this: The cost of the last war was greater than the cost of this one so far, and the allowances provided for dependants were larger than those that t have been provided so far, and at the end of the last war a large number of individuals had gained colossal fortunes. Those statements are undeniable, and despite the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has imposed heavy burdens upon taxpayers, super-tax payers and the rest, it still remains true that what we could afford to do in the last war we certainly ought to be able to afford to do in this war. Our productive capacity in 1939 is 176 infinitely greater than it was either in 1904 or in 1919.
I shall not detain the House to deal with the succession of questions so eloquently and effectively dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall). All I would say is that, in the majority of cases, unemployment benefit was never intended to be as large as wages, and that therefore if the person unemployed becomes, through no fault of his own, the victim of some misfortune over which he had no control, and if circumstances arise to make his position worse than in a normal period, hon. Members of this House are entitled to raise the matter. Unemployment assistance allowances are understood by the Unemployment Assistance Board to be below wages. Therefore, if their value is reduced still further by some misfortune that has overtaken some person concerned, it is proper for hon. Members to raise even that question in this House. At best, compensation is only half wages. The unfortunate injured person suffers physical pain and agony and, at the same time, suffers a reduction of 50 per cent. in his income during his period of incapacity. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare made it very clear that, so far as compensation was concerned, he was not appealing for a special war addition. He stated clearly that before the war started an improvement in compensation was long overdue. I need not delay the House on the matter of old age pensions. The right hon. Gentleman stated on a previous occasion that the 10s. per week per person was not intended to be full maintenance for every man and woman. If circumstances reduce the relative value of that 10s. below what it was, again we are entitled to raise that question.
I want to deal with one matter which the right hon. Gentleman very expertly ignored. None can ignore it so expertly as the right hon. Gentleman. It is the special question of dependants' allowances. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare made an unanswerable case for an instantaneous revision of the Royal Warrant that determines what allowances shall be made available to dependants of soldiers. I want to run over the Royal Warrant itself very briefly, to show the impossibility, almost, of any dependant securing any allowance at all under the 177 Royal Warrant. Perhaps I ought to say that in the last war the allowance was based upon the contribution of the individual to his home 12 months before August, 1914, and that the allowances ranged from 4s. 2d. per week to 18s. There was a flat rate of 5s. for every unmarried son under 26 years of age, whether that son contributed to his home or not. The allotment from the soldier was 3s. 6d. I am the first to appreciate the financial and other difficulties of the Chancellor of the Exchequer but, in this enlightened age, what is the sort of thing that this enlightened Government produce as allowances? The first thing is that the allotment of the soldier before arty claim can be made at all must be 7s. per week, or double the allotment of 1914–18, and still 50 per cent. of the income of the soldier.
§ Sir J. Simon
I do not profess to know all the details, but I thought it was correct to say that the soldier is receiving double the pay.
§ Mr. Williams
Exactly. Except that I used the words "per cent." I could have said that in the last war the allotment was 3s. 6d. and that since this war commenced, the soldier's pay has been increased; and that the allotment has also been increased to absorb that increase in pay. In other words, the soldier is in exactly the same position as he was between 1914 and 1918. The allowance under the terms of the Royal Warrant depends not upon the contribution of the son to his home before joining up, but upon the income of the household and a series of conditions laid down. Certain scales have been fixed whereby, if the contribution of the son to his home before joining up was 16s., or something beyond 22s., a theoretical allowance can be paid of 12s. or, including the son's allotment, 17s. This theoretical allowance is not being paid, and is not likely to be paid while the Royal Warrant remains the order of the day.
Let us look at the Warrant and see exactly what it implies. The applicant 178 has so many beacons to pass that, long before he can qualify for a pension, he will be either dead or maimed. The first thing is that he must apply. Then the dependant must apply. Then the means test is applied. After passing through that Gethsemane, perhaps no allowance will be forthcoming; the end of applied science. Here are the conditions: No father, and no home where the father lives and where the father is under 65 years of age and is not incapable of self-support, can claim any allowance at all. No case where the father is younger than 65 years of age, unless he is incapable of self-support, can claim any allowance. If the young soldier is 19, 20, 21 or 22 years of age, it is fair to say that the majority of the fathers would be under 65 years and as applicants for allowances they are completely eliminated by that age limit. There are thousands of men especially between 55 and 65 who are out of work, in which case they are unable to claim an allowance. In other cases, where there are fairly large families, they are unable to claim an allowance.
The next batch of male dependants are those over 65 years of age who are either working or not working. Should a person be working who has exceeded 65 years of age, the Government lay down a further condition. Even if the father over 65 is working and the income of the home amounts to 15s. per person, plus rent, that father cannot claim an allowance or, if he claims it, cannot get it. If the old man is working at all, it is clear that he or his wife would be obtaining 10s. a week pension, that is to say possibly £1 per week. It would be a very small wage that did not reach £1; so that the pension plus the wages—say £2, a week makes 30s. —and a rent of 10s. which completely rules him out for an allowance. So that now we have the position that, as a result of the conditions laid down as to wage and income, this Royal Warrant simply means that nobody, or very few, can claim any allowance at all.
I can quote a case of a person under 65 years of age who is wholly incapable of self-support. It is a case of an ex-soldier who is bedridden, arising perhaps out of some physical disability which occurred in the last war, and he receives no pension. His only son, who has been contributing 30s. a week towards the maintenance of his bedridden father and mother, joined the Forces. He is not 179 called upon necessarily to make an allotment at all, but as he happens to be a tradesman his wages are 3s. a day and he forthwith makes an allotment to his parents. His parents made a claim for an allowance. It takes weeks before the allowance is forthcoming and when ultimately the case has been settled an allowance of 17s. per week is granted. In other words, they take 14s. a week from the son and the Government contribute 3s. a week. It is the most ridiculous, absurd and mean Royal Warrant that this or any other Government has produced. Here is an ex-soldier who has done his best and is bedridden in all probability as a result of his service, and he can get only 3s. allowance under this scheme. I do not know whether the Government have deliberately and with malice aforethought prepared this Warrant to minimise the number of successful applicants, but if this son made no allotment to the parents and the parents made an application to their particular public assistance committee they would receive more assistance from the public assistance committee than they are getting altogether, including the 14s. conceded by the son. The Financial Secretary, in a letter to me, said:I hope, however, that in view of the explanation which I have given, you will agree with me that their interpretation is not unreasonable "—that is, that the Government contribute 3s. with the young man's 14s. What will happen is this. If that young man gets married, as he very likely will shortly, the Government will have to provide 17s. as an allowance for his wife. Then the parents will go to the public assistance committee and instead of getting 17s. a week they will probably receive 28s. I wonder whether the Government really understood what they were doing when they produced this Royal Warrant. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is possible for anybody to justify a Royal Warrant that is so mean as this. It has been said so many million times:Oh God, our help in ages past,Our hope for years to come.That will still be the case for those who ought to be entitled to a decent allowance when the provider of the maintenance of the home—son or sons—has been taken into the Army.
180 With regard to the women, unless a woman exceeds 6o years of age no allowance is forthcoming unless she passes through a certain test. She has to show that she is physically incapable of self-support if she is below 60, or she has to be questioned as to how much she is earning and why she is not earning more, or else assistance is not available. Here is the type of case I have in mind with regard to a widow. Here is a widow with two sons who went into the Army and were sent to France, I believe some time in September. For three weeks preceding the 19th October, she had had no letter from her sons. She wanted to know where her sons were and how it was that no allowance had been received, because both the sons had signed to make their widowed mother an allotment. All she possesses is a 10s. widow's pension. Today, on the 25th November, I received a letter from the War Office, in reply to a letter sent to them on 20th September. Although these two sons, who provided the only source of income for the widow, and who have both joined the Forces and have been sent to France, both agreed to an allotment to their widowed mother, not one single penny piece has been paid to her yet; she is still existing on her widow's pension and on such sums as the public assistance committee are providing for her. Surely that is not the sort of thing which even the Financial Secretary would regard as reasonable. It certainly is not the sort of thing which this House would regard as reasonable, where a widow's only two sons join up and she can get neither the allotment of the sons nor an allowance for herself. It is fair to observe that if those two sons allowed their mother 7s. a week each, making 14s. between them, and this were added to her widow's pension, the Government would not allow a single penny piece to that widow, since the maximum that can be paid to a woman living in a house of her own is 23s. 6d. That widow cannot by any stretch of imagination obtain any allowance at all.
Here is another case—I can quote a large number—which might be applicable. After all, the more that is known about this Royal Warrant and its implications the better. This case concerns a mother whose two sons, twins 21 years of age, have been called up; they were sent off to France and before they had been away seven days the father fell out of work. 181 His income for himself and his wife, therefore, is 23s. a week unemployment benefit. An application was made to the War Office by his mother for an allowance and, of course, it was rejected. They told this woman that if her two sons make an allotment they will see that that is sent on to the home but that no allowance from Government funds can be available. This woman's only two sons have been sent into the Army, and she has not the ghost of a chance of securing any sort of allowance at all.
According to this Royal Warrant, in the case of a son receiving the lowest income of a soldier, namely 2S. a day, in the odd case where an allowance has been acquired—and they will be very few—the moment the son earns, deserves and is granted promotion and his income increases, his allowance is to decrease accordingly. That is the encouragement that the Government give to young men to try and gain promotion in His Majesty's Forces. They tell the dependants where they get a dependant's allowance that on the death of the person who was responsible for the allowance they will be kind and generous enough to continue the allowance for 13 weeks after death. I made some observations here on the allowances that were provided for wives and children. I thought those allowances were low enough, but I think this is the meanest and most disingenuous and despicable scheme of all schemes provided by the Government.
Might we not hope that, at long last, the Government will see more reason than the Chancellor saw when he thought he was going to satisfy hon. Members on these benches by telling us that the Special Grants Committee are going to have their work speeded up? It is not the special cases we are concerned about; it is the average cases. The Army order is so hemmed in with conditions as to make it almost impossible for even a minimum number of parents to secure an allowance at all. I suggest that this insult should be taken back at once. The Government ought to make what is a natural move in their case, a step backwards, and if they cannot give anything better at least give what was given from 1914 to 1918. Nothing less than the conditions of the last war will satisfy hon. Members on these benches. I hope the Government will not imagine that we are being fobbed 182 off by the meaningless concession suggested by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes
I want to say a few words in support of the eloquent appeal made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) for more liberal family allowances for serving soldiers, sailors and airmen. The hon. Member mentioned several cases, and the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) mentioned a number of anomalies in the operation of this Royal Warrant, which certainly should be remedied. There are scores of people in my constituency suffering from the sort of hardships about which complaints have been made to-day. I will take just one example. I know of a young man and his wife. The wife is delicate. The man was getting £3 10s a week in steady, certain employment before the war. They are buying their house on the security of an insurance policy, and they make other provisions for their future. The man, being patriotic, joined the Territorials some time before the war. He is called up. He gets 14s. a week, of which 7s. goes to his wife; and she gets 17s. a week separation allowance, totalling 24s. a week. After she has paid her various contractual obligations she has just a penny a week on which to live. The various Measures passed at the beginning of the war certainly lightened her immediate anxieties, but there will be a day of reckoning when the war is over.
I raised this question two months ago, and made a plea for real national service and equality of sacrifice. This young man comes back on leave, and he finds people living in the same street who are far better off. For example, he finds a young man and his wife, both engaged in A.R.P. work, drawing about £5 a week between them, while my friend gets 7s. a week and his wife 24s. What can their feelings be? I have always pleaded for real national service. On the previous occasion when I spoke on this matter I made a suggestion. I said:Equality of sacrifice in relation to wages is a very difficult, but not an insoluble, question, and I suggest that, under a real system of national service, basic payments should be made at the same rate for each grade of employment during the war, and that there should be family and rent allowances and 183 arrangements to meet any contractual obligations undertaken prior to the war, so that those who have been thrifty and provident in peace time, should not be penalised by their war service.''—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th September, 1939; col. 1584, Vol. 351.]Take the case of a Fleet Reservist who left the Service some years ago, was earning a good living, and was then called up, to serve in the rank at which he left the Service. He has 2s. a day, and the same allowance for his wife as that which I have mentioned. Assume that, as one of the survivors of the "Royal Oak" or the "Gypsy," he comes ashore. He finds a number of people infinitely better off living around him—people in the dockyards who, by working overtime, can get two or three times as much in wages as he gets. But everybody serving afloat is working overtime without extra payment.
I have discussed this question with my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare and many others of my friends on the opposite benches. I do not think we are very far apart in our views. Suppose there were a Socialist Government in office. I take it that if they had a sufficient majority they would nationalise the mines, transport, and the munition factories. Would they be prepared to allow the men working in those industries to get three or four times as much as the men who were fighting? It should not be impossible for the Government to bring in—with the support, I hope, of my hon. Friends on the opposite benches-some form of real national service and equality of sacrifice while the war lasts. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for War has gone, because there is one other plea that I wish to make to him.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
If the hon. and gallant Member is in favour of national service on the lines that he suggests, is he in favour of conscripting all the wealth and taking over the land of the country from the landowners, so that it shall belong to the people?
§ Sir R. Keyes
That is a very big question, but I will go as far as this. I am all for those men who have been exempted from the Militia and are working in the factories being paid at the same rates as the Militiamen, with due allowance for rent and other things. Here is a matter that came to my notice only today. There are a great many men who were in good employment, who have 184 been called up and are serving in the Territorials near London. Their families, with the present scale of allowances, are very hard up indeed. These men sometimes come home for, perhaps, 48 hours. Their wives or mothers are anxious to do their best for them during that period of leave, and the result is that the families have to go short during the next few days after the men have gone back. If the men go on leave for a week, I believe they are allowed to take their rations with them. I suggest that they should be allowed also to take their rations with them when they go on short leave, in order to help their families, who are suffering so much on account of the smallness of the family allowances. There is another matter about which I should like to speak. A great many youths are due to go up to Sandhurst or Woolwich at about this time. Their whole outlook was bound up in the prospect of joining the Services through Sandhurst and Woolwich. These youths are 18; although many are spoiling to join the Militia, they are not allowed to join until they are 19, and in consequence they are left on the hands of their parents. I am not suggesting that these youths should not go through the Militia, but the closing down of Woolwich and Sandhurst bears very hardly upon young men who are going to make the Service their career. I can give two or three cases in respect of my own family. My late brother had three sons. One joined the Service a short time before the war and is now in Palestine as a private in the Queen's Regiment. The eldest brother who had no intention of going into the Service, joined the Manchester Regiment as a private the day that war broke out. The third son who has always meant to make the Army his career—his father, grandfather and great-grandfather had all been soldiers—is kicking his heels and will not be able to join the Militia or to do anything. His mother is not well off, and he has a whole year to wait before he can serve. Surely, something might be done for the boys who would have gone to Woolwich or Sandhurst at this time and who now have to wait a year before they can enter the Militia.
§ 8.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Batey
We have to continue this Debate in an empty House when most of 185 the interest seems to have gone out of the Debate. I sat here yesterday from four o'clock until half-past six, and today from a quarter to three until the Chancellor of the Exchequer rose, and so far there has been only one speaker on these back benches. We back benchers have a claim for a fair share in the Debate, and I am sorry that the Chancellor of the Exchequer got up so early. It would have been better if he had waited, because, having spoken, and the Labour Front Bench having replied, it seems that the Debate is practically at an end. I could understand the Chancellor of the Exchequer rising when he did for this reason. The two previous speakers on the Government side had both condemned and criticised the Government. I was interested when the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), who spoke before the Chancellor of the Exchequer, turned upon the Minister of Labour, who was then in the House, and lectured him on the unemployment question. I was glad that he lectured the Minister of Labour, because we have been lecturing him for years without making very much impression.
Since the war broke out the Government have had a mania for starting new Departments, and hundreds of men have been engaged for those Departments, and I have been at a loss to understand why the Ministry of Labour have not seen to it that some of the unemployed were not given employment in those Departments. No doubt the unemployed would not be able to fill some of the offices, but I cannot but believe that a lot of the posts in these new Departments might have been filled by the appointment of unemployed men. Instead, the Government have allowed men who already had well-paid posts to take up another post. They have allowed men in receipt of big pensions to take up posts in these Departments. I want to make my protest against the Government allowing these posts to be filled by men who did not need them instead of giving them to the unemployed.
The question of dependants' allowances has occupied a good deal of the time in to-day's Debate. The Government are doing in this matter what one would expect them to do. An hon. Member opposite asked whether the 186 Opposition would go into the Division Lobby for the purpose of defeating the Government. Some of us would gladly go into the Division Lobby to-night if we thought we could defeat this Government, because we consider that there could not be a worse Government, and that the sooner we can get rid of it the better. The Government are dealing with the dependants' allowances and treating the soldiers in the same way as they treat the unemployed, namely, by paying as little as they possibly can to the dependants. We strongly condemn the Government. There is a duty resting upon the trade unions of this country at the present time to see that the soldiers are properly paid so that their dependants will not have to go before these tribunals and beg for relief. The trade union movement would not allow men to enter an industry unless they were paid the wages applicable to the particular industry.
Somehow or other soldiers' allowances have got on to the wrong line, and the trade union movement ought to insist on the soldier being paid a decent wage irrespective of whether he is single or married. When a man is engaged in industry, it does not matter whether he is single or married, or, if married, whether he has one child or six children, the recognised wage has to be paid to him. That should be the case in regard to the soldiers. We should say to the Government, "You have treated these dependants very badly, and we will not allow it to continue. You will have to pay a decent wage for the job of soldiering." In this country men on A.R.P. work are paid £3 a week, and men overseas are prepared to risk their lives in fighting and we pay them a few shillings and leave their dependants to beg from these tribunals. One of the funniest things in this life is that the men who are engaged in the most dangerous jobs in this country are the men who are the worst paid. If there is a dangerous and a dirty job it is considered that the man employed in it should have a lower wage than the man who has a safe and clean job. We ought to insist that, instead of these tribunals to which the dependants of soldiers have to go and beg for relief, the soldier, whose job is so dangerous, should be paid a proper and decent wage which should not only be sufficient to maintain him, but his family as well.
187 I want to deal specially—and this is why I have been so anxious to take part in the Debate—with the means test. I had not been very long in the House yesterday afternoon before I heard the Prime Minister eulogising what the Government had done in regard to social matters since 1931. It nearly staggered me, because it reminded me that since 1931 the Government have been responsible for the means test. It is difficult to find anyone except the rabid Tories supporting the means test. The Prime Minister, when I mentioned the means test, said:We were not the first to introduce the means testThat is not correct. The Prime Minister made a huge blunder when he made that statement. I know that it was not this Government that introduced the means test, but it was the National Government that came into existence in 1931, and the National Government since then, in spite of all our pleading, have continued it. The Prime Minister also said:as the hon. Member knows well from his study of the history of trade unionism."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th November, 1939; col. 3o, Vol. 355.]I do not think there is any history in connection with trade unionism that I have not read, and I know of no history of trade unionism that reveals that trade unionists have been responsible for the means test. Long years before the Government brought in their unemployment schemes, trade unions were responsible for maintaining some of their members who were out of work, but no trade union in this country has ever been responsible for the means test. Therefore, I submit that the Government are responsible for it. Let me show how the means test applies. I received a letter last week from a woman in Spennymoor who said:I have been made an allotment from my son of 14s. a week, and I thought the Unemployment Assistance Board would not take anything off us, but when my husband went for his money on Friday morning he was paid 7s. 6d. short. Instead of 30s. 6d. he got 23s.It is ridiculous and disgraceful that the Government should do that. No Government could be responsible for a meaner or more disgraceful thing than to permit such a thing, that where a lad 188 who is out in France sends 14s to his parents in order to help them, his father, being out of work, the Unemployment Assistance Board takes 7s. 6d. off the father's allowance. Not only does the means test affect soldiers' allotments and is being used in order to reduce the allowances to people who have been allotted money by their soldier sons, but we find it operating particularly now when the cost of living is increasing, and workmen have insisted upon advances of wages. What is the use of a workman, who lives in a household where there is somebody unemployed, getting an advance of wages if it is simply to relieve the Unemployment Assistance Board? However strong our case may have been in the past for the abolition of the means test, there is added argument in favour of its abolition to-day, when wages have been increased in order to meet the cost of living.
When I came to the House yesterday and I read the King's Speech, I thought, on first reading it, that there was something in it, because it said:The measures which will be submitted to you are such as seem necessary to My advisers for the welfare of My people.I liked that phrase "the welfare of My people," and I thought that at last the Government were going to take some interest in the welfare of the people, but I was disillusioned in the Debate, and also in the Prime Minister's speech. The right hon. Gentleman said to-day that the country expects this House to give its whole time to the prosecution of the war. We do not object to the House and the Government prosecuting the war, but we say: "While you are doing that, do not forget the people at home." Therefore, we hope that the Government will, in accordance with the King's Speech, bring forward measures for the welfare of the people. What had the Government in mind when they coined the phrase "measures for the welfare of My people"? One of the things that would be for the welfare of the people would be if the Government took steps to abolish the means test. Another measure for the welfare of the people would be if the Government prevented greedy, selfish men from taking two jobs while others are unemployed, and if they made it illegal for people to have big pensions until the unemployed get jobs.
189 One of the most useful measures that the Government could pass for the welfare of the people would be to deal with old age pensions. I did not hear what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said on that subject to-night, because having sat here from a quarter to three till 6.30 I went out to get a cup of tea. Some of my colleagues told me that the right hon. Gentleman had promised that there might be something, but it was indefinite. The Government seem to think that an increase in old age pensions must depend upon increased contributions from the employers and the employed to the contributory fund. We made a huge blunder in 1925 when we quietly agreed to the contributory scheme. There are 2,000,000 people receiving old age pensions under the contributory scheme and only 500,000 receiving old age pensions under the scheme with the means test, which is financed by the Government. The number of those in receipt of Government old age pensions over 70 is growing less and less, while the number of those in receipt of pensions contributed to by employers and employed is increasing.
Workmen to-day are paying sufficient to the old age pensions and widows' and orphans' funds, at a rate of 1s. 7d. a week, without the Chancellor of the Exchequer going to ťhem and depending upon them to be willing to increase their contributions in order that there should be an increase in old age pensions. The Government ought to find the money to increase the pensions. They could easily do so. They can always find money if they want to find iť and they ought to find the money in this case and not depend on ťhe contributors to the fund. I hope the Government will go further than merely giving an advance to the old age pensioners. Some of us have for a long time been urging thať some of the anomalies in connection with widows' and orphans' pensions should be removed. It is a disgrace to-day that a wife should not have a pension at the same time as her husband, and that she should have to wait until she is 65 years old before she can get a pension. No one can justify ťhat.
I remember the Debates in this House in 1925 when we were discussing the Widows' and Orphans' Old Age Contributory Pensions Act, and how we 190 thought that a woman should have a pension at the same time as her husband. The present Prime Minister was then Minisťer of Health and he seemed to be prejudiced against giving a woman a pension until she had reached the age of 65. Whatever may have influenced him then it is a fact that since 1925 thousands and thousands of wives of men who have reached the age of 65 have had to live upon 10s. per week. Nobody can justify that figure. I want ťo hear that the Government are going to give a substantial increase in old age pensions. There has been some talk that Bills which are brought in at this time should not be controversial. The Government cannot bring in a Bill dealing wiťh old age pensions which would not be controversial. We stand for a full 10s. a week extra. We believe that old age pensioners are entitled to £1 a week and we see no reason for saying that the country cannot afford it. I am hoping that the Government will not only give this increase in old age pensions but will also remove the anomaly which prevents a wife getting a pension before she is 65 and the anomaly which still exists in regard to a widow's pension and the allowances for children. When a child reaches the age of 16 years the pension is stopped. In the last eight years 150,000 widows have lost some of their pension because of a child reaching ťhe age of 16.
We expect the Government to study these questions and to deal with them as they should be dealt with. It is no use the Government thinking that they can go along quietly by saying that they must prosecute the war. This party has helped the Government ever since the war broke out, but I hope we shall make it clear that unless the Government pay some attention to the claims of the people at home the time will come when we are bound to split with the Government and fight them on these issues. An hon. Member opposite said that he wanted to see an all-party government. I hope we shall never get an all-party government, and that this party will maintain its independence. To me it is as clear as noonday that this Government will not act in the interests of the poor people; it will be content to leave them just where they are, and it is essential that the Labour party should maintain its independence in order to fight the battle for the poor people of the country. During the last 191 war I was a member of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain. We fought to restore the standards of our people in the mines, and we thought those standards would never go back. The war was no sooner over than we were back in the same position as we were before it started. The same thing will happen now. If the Labour party are prepared to let the Government go along quietly when the war is over, the people of the country will be just where they were when it started. In order that the interests of the poor people should be voiced in this House and should be fought for in this House, I hope that this party will maintain its independence.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Lipson
I hope that this very interesting Debate is not going to degenerate into a party dog-fight. If ever there was a time when all should be for the State and none for party, surely it is now. The hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) was very severe in his strictures on the Government, but I would remind him that his party at the beginning of the war was given the opportunity of strengthening and improving the Government when Members of the Opposition were invited to join it. It may be that if that offer had been accepted many of the criticisms which are now directed against the Government for the measures they have brought in would not have been necessary. I think that the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. George Hall) introduced not only an interesting Debate, but also a very useful and very necessary one. If there are things which are wrong on the home front it is right that we should know about them. The matters which have been discussed to-day affect the lives of a great many people. They are talked about in the country by the relatives of men who are serving in the Forces and, therefore, it is all to the good that they should be brought before the notice of this House, and if there are things that are wrong, the Government given an opportunity either of defending the actions which have been taken or, if unable to do that, of finding the proper remedy.
We recognise, so far as the enemy is concerned, the importance of their home front, and we believe that if the home front in Germany will only crack, the war will very soon be over. It is just 192 as necessary for us to realise the importance of strengthening our own home front. I think that many hon. Members feel that some of the matters which have been brought before our notice to-day ought to have the serious concern of the Government. The spirit of the people is fine. I had an illustration of it only on Monday when a young married woman whose husband is serving in the Army came to see me about the financial difficulties which have been created for her by her husband's enlistment. Their position before the war was this. There were husband and wife and a young child, and the husband was earning £7 a week. Patriotically, he enlisted, and now his wife's income is 29s. a week, and she has to pay £1 a week in rent and rates. I told her that her difficulty could be met by the special allowances provision, and I was glad to hear from the Chancellor that action in this matter is to be speeded up so that these cases can be dealt with more promptly. This woman told me that she realised what was the financial position of the country. She said that she was not complaining, and that she was managing with one meal a day, but that she did not want the baby to go short. I pointed out to her that the country did not want anything of that sort to happen and that provision was being made. I am sure this case is typical of many. There is a fine spirit in the country, but I appeal to the Government not to trade on it or to take advantage of it.
I think that a case has been made out for a reconsideration of the Royal Warrant as far as allowances to dependants other than wives are concerned. I cannot help feeling that in the matter of these allowances the Government are spoiling the ship for a ha'p'orth of tar. In many respects the Government have been very generous in regard to allowances and have shown that they are prepared to listen to criticism, as was evidenced by the increase that was made in the children's allowances as a result of representations in the House. Therefore, I hope that they will take into serious account the representations that have been made and supported by illustrations of hardships arising under the present system as far as dependants other than wives are concerned. I believe that, because there is dissatisfaction under this head, the Government are not at present 193 getting the full credit for all the good that they are doing in matters of this kind.
I listened to-day, as I always do, with very great interest to the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I always admire the technique of my right hon. Friend's speeches. When he is asked to make some concession to a popular demand for increased help from the Treasury to relieve some kind of suffering, he begins by drawing a very alarming picture—as he did to-night—of our existing commitments, and our flesh begins to creep; and then we begin to feel that the position really is hopeless and that a country which already has such heavy financial responsibilities surely cannot face any more. But in the second half of the speech, my right hon. Friend makes one feel more grateful than one would have been otherwise for the concessions that he is able to make because they are made in such very difficult circumstances.
Therefore, I was glad that he was able to announce that there is to be shortly an improvement in unemployment benefits and that the question of unemployment relief is under consideration. We know that throughout the country public assistance committees are increasing the amount of relief which they are giving. To-night we have been told that this is being done in Glamorgan, and I can add that in Gloucestershire also it has been decided that there shall be an increase on account of the rise in the cost of living. I think we may assume that that is a practice which will be followed all over the country, as indeed we hope it will be. When that increase is given in the case of unemployment benefits and public assistance, it seems to me that the case for an increase in old age pensions is overwhelmingly stronger even than it was before. I hope that the Chancellor will be able to announce such an increase, at any rate for those whose sole source of income is the old age pension, and if it were possible for the increase to become operative before Christmas, I am sure it would give still greater satisfaction.
There are one or two other matters concerning the home front to which I should like to refer briefly, and one of them is the rather conflicting advice that has been given by Ministers on the matter of spending. Soon after the outbreak of 194 war, the President of the Board of Trade advised people to spend more or less normally, and that piece of advice certainly was welcomed by the trading community, because, although a great deal of money is being spent on armaments, there are large sections of the population which are not deriving any financial benefit from that increased expenditure, and in fact, many incomes have been considerably reduced. Therefore, when the President of the Board of Trade encourages the public to spend, the trading community, which has suffered from the black-out and the general disorganisation resulting from the war, welcomed it.
In a broadcast speech last Wednesday night, however, the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave contrary advice, and urged people not to spend but to reserve all their resources for lending to the Government for war purposes. I hope that the Financial Secretary, if he is to reply to the Debate, will resolve that very real difficulty, and I hope that in this question there will be taken into account the plight of the ordinary trader and how he is likely to suffer, and also how the employment position will be worse if the public is discouraged from reasonable spending. Of course, nobody wants a wild orgy of spending, with people buying things which they do not require simply because they have the money; but I hope that, as far as people are in a position to spend, they will be encouraged to maintain a reasonable standard of spending. The trading communĩty would welcome some reassuring statement from the Government on this matter.
I want, finally, to refer to the question of unemployment. Here again, we find that the position is very different from that which we were promised by the Lord Privy Seal in a broadcast speech soon after the outbreak of war. He said that although there was unfortunately a good deal of unemployment at that time and that unemployment had increased as a result of the war, that matter would soon be put right, and that in a very short time it would not be a case of men looking for jobs, but of looking for men to do the jobs. Since that statement, however, the number of unemployed has increased, and those who are unemployed are naturally asking themselves when we are likely to reach the position envisaged by 195 the Lord Privy Seal. At all times unemployment is very keenly felt by the unemployed, but it is felt most of all at a time of national emergency, when every decent citizen more than ever wants to pull his weight in the national effort. It is a very humiliating position to feel that at a time when the services of everybody ought to be called for, some 1,500,000 men and women are apparently not wanted, and have no contribution to make to the country in her hour of need.
I would urge that more advantage should be taken of the opportunity to bring in small firms to help in armament work. I have had letters from small firms in my constituency who are very anxious to secure Government work. These are firms which have in the past employed a number of men and paid Income Tax and made their contribution to the State, and they assure me that unless work is forthcoming they will be compelled to dismiss their men. An hon. Member said recently that this country had a genius for improvisation. I think that genius could be shown now in adapting our small firms to the purposes of Government work. I hope that the Minister of Supply will not be content with saying that those firms should sub-contract to the larger firms. In practice they do not get the work in that way. I hope it will be borne in mind that if proper use were made, through local committees, of the available resources, these small firms could make a real contribution to the national effort. At a time when it is necessary to preserve, as far as we can, our foreign currency, it is a pity that we should be placing big orders in America when there are in our own workshops the material and the men which could produce a great many of the things we require.
I make these points in no unfriendly spirit. All Members, I am sure, are anxious to do what they can to strengthen the hands of the Government. Many of us feel that in drawing attention to the weaknesses of the home front we are rendering a useful and patriotic service. I hope the Government will accept in that spirit whatever criticisms and suggestions have been offered in this Debate, so that we may be able to utilise to the fullest extent our resources and our man-power, to bring to a successful end the struggle in which we are engaged.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. McGovern
It has appeared from this Debate that unity among the parties in the nation is not now as complete as it was on 3rd September when war was declared. I have watched with interest the widening breach between the Government and the Opposition as the problems of the war have been thrown up from time to time. I see to-day not only Members of the Opposition critical of the Government and their actions, but Members on the Government side also taking part in very strong criticism of some of the niggardly actions of the Government.
I listened with interest to the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) and with a certain amount of sympathy to his suggestion that the members of the fighting Services and their dependants were being treated rather badly. I would go a stage further than the hon. and gallant Member. He suggested that those in the fighting Services were being badly treated and that those engaged in A.R.P. and munition work were, by contrast, being well treated and he seemed also to suggest that there should be a levelling-up, or rather a levelling-down, as between these various sections of people. Even though I do not support the war, if it was the will of the nation that the war should be carried on by the Government, I would accept a common basis for all men in this country. While the hon. and gallant Member makes comparisons with the A.R.P. worker and the munition worker, I would go further and ask why should the Member of Parliament have £600 a year; why should a Member on the Front Bench have £5,000 a year; why should the Prime Minister have £10,000 a year; why should the Monarchy have £10,000 a week, at a time which is supposed to call for great national effort and sacrifice? We see on the hoardings,Your liberty is in danger.Defend it with all your mightIf liberty is in danger there should be, not only a common effort but a common level. When the Militia and Conscription Acts were being placed on the Statute Book, I said that any man taken from workshop, office or warehouse into the fighting Services and compelled to engage in the most dangerous occupation in the nation should be paid at least the ordinary trade union standard wages 197 which he received in civil life, and that even if it meant a special Income Tax, the nation was entitled to give that to the fighting Services. I do not understand the suggestion that this common level should apply only to the munition worker and the A.R.P. worker when we have people living in luxury in this country and men making fortunes out of the nation's necessity, while fighting men and their dependants are being treated in the scurvy manner in which they are being treated to-day.
I take a serious view of this war. I have always taken a serious view of the war. I believed during the last 12 months that nothing could prevent war as long as the economic rivalries existed which are the cause of war. I believed that the great British and French Empires were an invitation to war, because we had cornered the best of the world's raw materials. We had cornered for ourselves and our French Allies hundreds of millions of human beings whom we exploited for the benefit of the bondholding investing class in France and Great Britain and, indeed, the working-classes of Britain and France had higher standards of life, out of the exploitation of black and yellow men. I did not believe that the war would be of short duration. I hoped that it would never take place, but my own judgment, from the knowledge I possessed, the training which I had in the Socialist movement, the observations which I had made throughout life and my travels on the Continent, was that we were heading straight for war.
Not only did I believe that that war would be of long duration, but I had no faith in the stories that were circulated, born of the hopes of mankind, that the workers in Germany would revolt against their ruling class. I did not believe that the workers of Germany looked on Hitler with the loathing which most people in this country had for him. I believed that we had a wrong assessment of values, in relation to the rulers of Germany, an assessment which we were not entitled to make, from experience and knowledge and the evidence that could be obtained. Although I am not a pessimist by nature, I am pessimistic as to the outcome of this war. I intend to deal, time permitting, with certain other aspects before I sit down, with graver dangers that I 198 see at present. If this struggle were finished to-day without the overwhelming defeat of Hitler, I say frankly, as an antiwar supporter, that Hitler would win the war, because nothing short of the complete thrashing of Hitler and those who are behind him will give to this country and its French Allies the position that they desire to attain, namely, that of defeating Hitlerism and breaking what they term the power of aggression on the German front.
The war has gone on for three months, and it has not taken the turn that most people in this country expected. On the Sunday that war was declared, I stated, from my observations in Italy and the knowledge that I gained there, that Hitler would man the Siegfried Line, that he would seize Poland, that he would fire no shot on the Western Front until attacked, that he would send no bombing planes to England or France, but that he would ask for an international conference to settle the outstanding grievances of Germany against Britain, France, and the rest of the world. Bombing has not taken place, and I do not anticipate that the bombing of civilians will take place now until there are large-scale clashes on the Western Front. It may be that Hitler will even march through Holland or Belgium, or simultaneously through both countries, because of the tremendous sacrifice that will be called for in any attempt to storm and smash the Maginot Line. Do not rule out the possibility of a simultaneous move being made through Holland and Belgium, because Hitler and those associated with him are fighting in what they regard as a desperate struggle for world supremacy, and that supremacy can only be attained by the smashing of the French and British Empires. They stand in the path of the rise to world power of Germany and the younger nations that have been creeping up.
In this situation, I repeat that I cannot see this country winning in this struggle. That is said honestly, sincerely, and even, at the back of my mind, if it is the intention and will of the nation, to a certain extent with regret, but I cannot see this campaign winning out in the manner that people hope and expect it to win out. Field-Marshal Lord Milne said yesterday in London:This was not going to be a war of a few months. We hope it may, but I do not 199 believe it. We are up against something that we have never been up against before in the history of the British EmpireI believe that that is a real statement of fact. Twelve months last September I stated in this House—and it gave rise to interruptions from certain Members on the Labour benches—that from my observation and evidence obtained in Prague, Austria, and Berlin, Russia desired world war and was playing for world war, and if hon. Members look at the events that have taken place since then, they will see that that assessment was not very wide of the mark. Why did I believe that? I met people in Prague, Communists, who were anxious to give me their views on the position of CzechoSlovakia at that time, and they insisted, at a meeting in a cafe in Prague, that the Comintern had ordered them to play for a war that would bring in France, Britain, and Germany as a weakening process, coupled with a war in the East between Japan and China, laying the world completely open to a protracted and lengthy war in which the world would be in a state that would be susceptible to the doctrines that were being enunciated in Moscow. That was a statement that I believed to be true.
Further, let me say that during the Spanish struggle, when the Communists were taking out Socialists from their homes and murdering them, when the Communists were taking out anarchists, placing them in secret prisons, and murdering them, a stage was arrived at in Spain which is indisputable, at a very early stage in the civil war, when Moscow ordered the Spanish Communists to murder every German and Italian that could be found in order to try and bring in Germany and Italy, with France and Britain, as they said that world war in the Mediterranean would suit their purpose better than a war in Central Europe. We see to-day the technique of Hitler in regard to Finland. We see the proclamation, "Let us destroy the impudent bandits," being made from Moscow. "Cut off the hand that is threatening Leningrad, and unless the people of Finland change their Government, their scattered bones will be difficult to find." Those are the people who talk about a new Jerusalem, a new world, in which terror, murder, and brutality of the worst kind are to be engaged in. These are 200 the people who would try to make us believe to-day that they are the peace forces in this country, the people who can swing from war to peace just as "Moscow Joe" orders them to change their policy. Then they come out and say, as the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) said in this House the other week, "Have I not stood for peace all along?" He begged the question. Everybody knows that he stood for the bogus peace front that was proclaimed, when the Members marched up and down London proclaiming war on everybody who stood for peace, and they wanted to stand by every country that was being destroyed, until finally the bluff was called, and then they swung away rapidly from the war front to the peace front; and they are now engaged in fighting a by-election at Stretford with a peace candidate. If anybody is entitled to defend the liberty to be found in this country, it is the Communist pary, a party that is allowed to preach a doctrine dictated from a foreign country and to proclaim it in this House, not as a necessity for the people of Great Britain, but on the orders of Moscow. Surely that is an extreme liberty to be extended to any person in any country in the world. I know that we will be told that this is exaggeration.
§ Mr. McGovern
I will give the exact words of the hon. Member for West Fife on 24th August, a week before the war:The threat to Poland or to Polish independence is imminent. But Poland can be saved and peace maintained if an Anglo-Soviet Pact is signed and Poland changes her attitude towards Russia. … I declare that you can take any of the articles of that pact"—that was, the Soviet-German Pact—and they do not affect in any way the situation in relation to the Franco-Soviet Pact. An attack on France by Germany would immediately bring the Franco-Soviet Pact into operation. … Russia has proved that she is ready to take a stand in defence of those nations whose independence is threatened.I suppose that means Estonia, Latvia, Finland, Norway and Sweden and then the Balkans.If all the peace forces of Europe were brought together peace could still be saved, and the independence of Poland could be saved. … If we have to face Fascist aggression and the hazard of the war, we"—201 that is, the Communist party—are prepared to take a stand and play our part in defeating it." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th August, 1939; cols. 28–32, Vol. 351.]
§ Mr. McGovern
I admit that the hon. Gentleman wanted a popular front with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) and the right hon. Member for St. George's, Westminster (Mr. Cooper) but they would be the most reactionary Tories in that front. I have here a pamphlet which was withdrawn two days after I denounced it in the House. It is called, "How to Win the War," by Harry Pollitt. It was withdrawn ten days after it had been on the market because Moscow ordered it to be withdrawn. What does Harry say in this pamphlet?On 3rd September, 1939, Britain and France declared war on Germany. Since March, Britain has guaranteed Poland against aggression. The agreement to come to the aid of Poland if an act of aggression was committed against her came into force from Friday, 1st September, when German troops invaded Poland and German aeroplanes bombed Warsaw and other Polish cities.In a manifesto printed in the 'Daily Worker' of 2nd September, the Communist party clearly stated its policy in connection with the war: 'We are in support of all measure to secure the victory of democracy over Fascism.' The Communist party supports the war, believing it to be a just war which should he supported by the whole working class and all friends of democracy in Britain.Then they give reasons why the Communist party supported the war. This pamphlet of 34 pages was published at a penny. A penny did not print it, however. Out of the unpaid earnings of the Russian peasants and workers comes a subsidy for the publication of that pamphlet and of all the Communist party literature in this country. That is why the party must support Moscow Joe. They would be eliminated from the party in this country if they did not and perhaps have to face a Russian firing squad if they were in Russia. After the publication of that pamphlet a sort of sacking maťch was staged. Harry Pollitt was put out of his job, and we got in the "Daily Worker" of 23rd November two apologies for the pamphlet and for the declaration in the "Daily Worker" from 202 J. R. Campbell, the editor, and Harry Pollitt. I think that these are worth reading. Campbell said:Having given careful consideration to the position since the last meeting of the central committee, I now completely accept the fact that the manifesto of 2nd September gave an entirely incorrect estimation of the position and misled the party as to the character of its tasks in this war.I declare my support for the resolution of the central committee and the manifestos on peace and on the character of the war, published after the last meeting of the central committee.I am in full agreement with the article of Comrade Dimitroff as published in the "Daily Worker" of 4th November.
§ With regard to the mistakes which I committed, the central mistakes were, in my opinion, as follows:
- (1) The policy of the fight on two fronts, which would have been a correct policy (in peace or in war) with regard to an imperialist Government in alliance with the Soviet Union, was persisted in with regard to a war between two imperialist Governments.
- (2) It was persisted in because I narrowed the perspective in such a way as to concentrate on German Fascism as the main enemy of the British working class and failed to see that the way forward for the British, no less than for the German workers, lay in a struggle with the main enemy, i.e., their own imperialists. I thus slipped into a position of national defence in an imperialist war, involving objectively support for our own imperialism.
§ The attitude to the peace proposals followed from this mistaken perspective.
§ Undoubtedly the stubborn defence of this wrong position did harm to the party, when it had to make a sharp turn in a most difficult situation, and I must accept responsibility for resisting what has been proved to be the correct line.
§ Yours fraternally,
§ J. R. Campbell."
§ Mr. McGovern
After J. R. Campbell, Harry Pollitt and you have sent many of the militiamen to the battlefields you had discovered your mistake—
§ Mr. McGovern
I am sorry, but I got rather enthusiastic. It is all very well for these people to swing round, not in demand to British public opinion, but in demand to those who are their paymasters 203 in Moscow when they call the tune. If these militiamen die on the battefield, they should have inscribed on their tombs "Victims of Comintern treachery, coupled with the slavish and stupid obedience of Gallacher and Pollitt." Harry Pollitt says in his apology:As the responsible leader of our party in the period immediately before the outbreak of the present imperialist war, it was my special duty to have given more than ordinary consideration to the problems that were presented to us by the failure of the Anglo-Soviet negotiations, and the subsequent conclusion of the Soviet-German Pact of Non-aggression.This became more than necessary as the events in the latter days of August began to unfold themselves, when British imperialism began to take on a more aggressive attitude towards Germany that was in such marked contrast to anything that had characterised their policy since Hitler came into power in 1933.The principal reasons why I did not take up promptly and decisively the new questions of policy that the new situation placed before us was basically of a threefold character:
- (1) My doubts about our traditional policy in an imperialist war in which one of the belligerent Powers was German Fascism.
- (2) My hatred of Fascism had developed by five years' intensive anti-Fascist propaganda, which led to a position where I did not see in time the true role of British imperialism, and saw only German Fascism as the main enemy of the British working class movement.
- (3) The influence of the Fascist war of invasion on Republican Spain also affected my outlook, because of the strong personal feelings which had been aroused by what I had witnessed in Spain, and the responsibility I felt I had in regard to the sacrifices made by the British battalion of the International Brigade.After the most serious consideration of the whole situation I unreservedly accept the policy of the Communist party and the Communist International and pledge myself to support it, in explaining, popularising and helping to carry it forward to victory. I recognise my action in resisting the carrying out of the line of the Communist party and the Communist International represented an impermissible infraction of our Party discipline and played into the hands of the reactionary labour leaders, who saw in my action the justification of their own policy of supporting the Chamberlain Government. I request the Central Committee to accept this declaration and to give me facilities to prove in deeds that I know how to take my place in the front ranks of our party in fighting to win the masses for support of the Communist party of Great Britain and the Communist International—Yours fraternally, Harry Pollitt.204 That leads us to the bogus peace party. We are now getting a drive throughout the trades councils and the Labour parties of this country by the same people, the Communists in this movement, who demanded that Chamberlain must either go or go to war. They are now demanding that we must have peace. They almost shed tears at the sufferings of these poor boys that are fighting for blatant Imperialism when they believed they were going to fight against the Fascist aggressor. So far as I am concerned as an individual I regard the Communist Party, the Communist International, the Russian bureaucracy, as being as great a menace as that of Hitler, Goebbels, Marshal Goering and others in Germany.
§ Mr. McGovern
They are the sort of gang that not many months ago down in one of the committee rooms of the Central Hall—the Communist party, with the Member for West Fife—gave us a picture advocating the popular front. It was a popular front with the right hon. Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair), who has 23,000 acres of land in the North of Scotland, the present First Lord of the Admiralty, the right hon Member for St. George's, Westminster, and others that the Communist party would have selected. Of course they were prepared to take the Labour party in also. They wanted that popular front. M. Blum was a hero. After only a few months this wretched man Blum was spoken of as the man who had sold the pass in France. From the alliance with Stalin and Hitler, the breaking up of Poland, the blackmailing, brutal, terrorist tactics on Latvia and Estonia, and now upon Finland, I see how that process will go on. It does not suit Stalin to have peace now, because a policy has to be worked out under which the whole of the Balkans will also have to be brought under heel. A struggle may eventually take place between Italy and Russia over the domination of the Balkans. Every single nation in the Balkans and in the Baltic is to be placed under the heel of Stalinism.
That was not the Socialism that I believed in. I was not coached to believe that it was by those methods we were 205 going to move forward to the enlightening of the people, the development of their mental powers, the rousing of them to a sense of indignation over their wrongs, and so bringing us forward by stages into a Socialist system of society. Now we have the open brutal rule of the gun. Those who are "quick on the draw" put it across their peaceful neighbours. Then they say, "But we liquidated the Polish landlords." It is no satisfaction to me to take landlords, or capitalists or bankers out to a firing squad. I cannot defend that, and hope that I can protest successfully in this country against brutality towards the working class. I must protest against brutality whether it is shown to the class enemy of the workers or to the workers themselves, because an injustice is an injustice no matter who the human being concerned may be.
I refuse to subscribe to this theory enunciated from Moscow—Moscow that has debased, demoralised and corrupted every working-class movement throughout the world with gold wrung from the unpaid wages of the Russian peasants and workers. The hon. Member for West Fife and others, the supporters of the Communist party, would equally readily don the uniform of the Brown Shirt, the Black Shirt or the Red Shirt. It depends upon the price that has been paid to these parties. Many of those in Germany are serving to-day in the Brown Shirts who were formerly members of the Communist party and loudest in their denunciation of capitalism. The man who is prepared to be a time-server or a paid lackey is not concerned with ideals or principles. He is only concerned with that which can be given. I see this war lasting, Hitler holding out, Hitler determined to resist to the bitter end, supported by Stalin to the degree that will continue the war. Hitler is not going to be let down for lack of raw materials while Stalin has to get a protracted war in order to carry out his long-term policy of subjugation in the Baltic and in the Balkans.
With the war going on as it is to-day, probably in the Spring will come a tremendous death roll. If the Government are wise they will try to develop every move to bring it successfully to a conclusion by some form of agreement. The outstanding feature of disagreement 206 to-day is that the raw materials of the earth are cornered by the few. Why not declare in this country for the internationalisation of the whole of the raw materials of the world? We should say that we are prepared to have an international conference to ration out those raw materials to all races, to all nations, and the only basis has got to be the liberation of the peoples, the setting of them up on a basis of civilisation, whether in Germany, in Africa, in India, in Britain, in France, in Australia or in America. We should say that we will seek by an international board of experts, if you like, to ration out those raw materials, to take them out of the hands of private enterprise, because there are the economic seeds of war. Then we can build up the standard of life of the people, giving them a decent standard of life, giving them a superior education, developing the culture of the black, the yellow and the white men throughout the world independently of race, colour or creed.
If a proclamation went out from the Prime Minister on the wireless of this country that he was prepared to have an all-in international conference in order to declare for the internationalisation of the means of life, the raw materials throughout the world, and to co-operate in building up these civilised standards, it would appeal more to the heart of the German people than all the proclamations of fighting to the last man and the last shilling in order to down that nation.
I warn the Government of this country that they are going along a dangerous course. It is a course that has been set not only by the bloodthirsty gunmen of the Kremlin but by many of those who are in association with them in Germany. The difference between Hitler and Stalin is not very great. Stalin and his bureaucracy have wiped out 10,000 men because these were suspected of having designs on his life or of co-operating with the Nazi leaders. Now he himself co-operates with Hitler openly. To-day they are engaged in a great world racket. I warn the Government that they are going on in this war along the path that Stalin and others want, towards a long-protracted war, a war of exhaustion in men, in means, and in life. In the end, Stalin, that evil genius of the East, will stand there prepared to use the position 207 in which there is a weakened world working class and a weakened world ruling class. He will be prepared for his final plans of Soviet tyranny. If not that, he will hope to become dominant by the weakening of those Powers throughout the world.
Heavy civil war was proclaimed by the Communist party when it took shape in this country. It has never changed its belief, and has striven to work its way into every movement with the object of capturing it or destroying it, whether it was the Labour movement, the trade union movement, the co-operative movement, or the youth movement, or even the very churches. It has striven to get its hold in order to master and to strangle those movements. Those who did not submit had the Nazi-Stalinist tyranny imposed upon them. The technique was that they were blackmailed into submission. If they resisted because they had the power to do so, they were either clubbed into submission or clubbed to death. That is what we have against us to-day.
I stand for peace. I oppose the war, but I see, if the war goes on in the spring, that we shall have men by the hundred thousand killed and maimed. They will be living in the trenches grubbing for food, with lice crawling over their bodies; tanks will be hurtling through the air and grinding into powder the bodies of those who are wounded. I can see bombing taking place and then an extension of the struggle by bombing behind the fronts. Then, upon the excuse that civilians have been destroyed, I see an extension of that horror, just as men are going down in ships to-day many mutilated and many dead, as has been taking place during the past week. I say to hon. Members here that, after that tremendous struggle has taken place, you will discover in the end that the world will be weakened in its moral and spiritual sense and in its ability to build a civilised system.
Let us profit by the mistakes of the past. Let us try at the earliest possible moment to bring an end to this struggle. There are millions of human beings in Germany to-night who would be ready to respond if you could get away from your desire to crush Germany and could appeal to them on the basis of setting up a new 208 civilised order that would give to them an opportunity to build a life decently free from war and from the instruments of aggression and torture. In that order, neither Nazi Germany nor Nazi Russia would be able to place men under the heel. Men who want to be free can never be slaves; but the greatest slave is he who believes he is a free man.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Isaacs
We have just listened to a very powerful and well-informed speech. The hon. Member has certainly opened our eyes to something that has been happening. He has expressed his idea of what may be the outcome of the war and his opinion in regard to our peace aims. We hope that he may be proved wrong in his feeling that the war will last for quite a long time. It is not my purpose to deal with foreign affairs. I would not endeavour to improve upon what has already been said, because I could not do so. There are matters relating to the home front which I should like to mention. We have covered a good deal of ground this afternoon, and my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) mentioned dependants' and widows' allowances. Perhaps all Members of this House can bring forward numerous examples of the tragedy and misery that have been experienced by people who have been unable to get allowances, or, having got them, have found them totally inadequate for their purpose.
I have been examining the figures of unemployment published by the Ministry of Labour, and I have noticed the tremendous amount of unemployment in the building and allied trades. We think that if the building trades were encouraged and not discouraged as they have been, it would do good in many ways. In my constituency are blocks of houses which were condemned months ago as unfit for human habitation. Orders were given that they were to be demolished when the people living in the houses were given alternative accommodation. Then came the order that building work was to be stopped. There is no alternative accommodation for those people and they are compelled to remain in those premises, which are improperly designated houses. I have been in to see them. I saw things falling down. The plaster was falling from the walls and the houses were reeking with 209 dampness and water. In spite of those things, the courageous women who live in those houses are carrying on. The boards are scrubbed as white as driven snow. How they can keep up any pretence of cleanliness and decency passes the understanding, and yet they have to go on living in those houses. The landlord may be ordered to make good deficiencies and to make the houses habitable, and if he resists the orders prosecution will follow in the police court; but you may prosecute the landlord, fine him or punish him, yet that does not make the houses fit and decent for the people to live in. We suggest that the Government should encourage the building or workpeople's houses and the development and not the discouragement of housing plans. By so doing not only would the Government give these people better home conditions, but they would provide employment for the building industry and an opportunity for better conditions of life.
Another point to which I desire to make passing reference is that of workmen's compensation. I will not venture far into that matter, because I am a Member of that Royal Commission, but I would like to say that day after day in my daily work dealing with claims for workmen's compensation and in my experience of dealing with these cases extending over 30 years, one comes across the tragedy of a man trying to live upon this inadequate weekly payment. I will say no more than express the hope that the Government will do something in the matter and endeavour to give some increase, because with prices going up a man who has been accustomed to earning £3 a week has a struggle when he has to pay anything from 15s. to 20s. a week' on rent, leaving about 10s. for his maintenance out of the maximum payment of 30s. It is not every man who, having been able to keep his head above water, is desirous or willing to go to the public assistance committee when the time comes.
Another phase on the home front is the question of the services of our A.R.P. people. In the Borough, part of which it is my privilege to represent in this House, we have had a splendid response from the working people to the call for volunteers, but they are terribly disappointed. When they responded to the call they got on with the job, but found 210 that they had to share helmets. I do not mean that two of them have to wear the same helmet at the same time, but if five or six men turn up at the post and there are only two helmets, there is sometimes what the Cockneys call "a bull and a cow" as to who is to wear the helmet. The same applies to respirators, and although it is sometimes risky to wear a helmet that somebody else has worn, it is always risky to wear a respirator that has been worn by somebody else. The Home Secretary recently said that there was an adequate supply of respirators and helmets. There is, at any rate, one borough in London where there is not an adequate supply, and we hope this matter will receive attention. I was with the wardens in my division last Sunday, and I found there is tremendous discouragement in the fact that they feel they are being overlooked and are not being given the necessary equipment with which to carry on. Are the Government satisfied that they are really doing all they can to encourage what was the slogan in the last war—we do not hear it so much now —"Business as Usual"? I believe the President of the Board of Trade said that we should carry on as usual.
I am a representative of an industry which is a protected industry—the printing and allied trades—which does not usually suffer very severely from unemployment, but at the present moment that industry, according to the Board of Trade figures, has no less than I2½ per cent. of its workers unemployed. But that is not the whole story, because in addition to that 12½ per cent. unemployed there are many thousands of the workers employed only two and three days a week but not registering at the exchange. On top of that roughly 7 per cent. of the insured workers in that industry are now either in A.R.P. services or in the Forces, so it is fair to say that the printing industry is turning over only one-half of the work that it was doing before. The printing industry is generally regarded as a barometer industry, and if the printing industry is doing well it is an indication that other industries are doing well. But the industry is suffering, first of all, because of the terrible confusion at the beginning of the war about the control of paper and pulp.
Without going into details, we have heard some astonishing stories, one of 211 which was about pulp taken from a man who had it in store and which was sold back to him at an increased price. The result is that newspapers are smaller in size, and, while some people may say that is a good thing, so far as the people employed on them are concerned, it is not a good thing. There is a tremendous amount of unemployment there. The main reason is that the people in business and commerce are not advertising. There seems to be a fear that there is stagnation coming. If we can get an assurance from the Government that business people can expect ordinary facilities, confidence may return and advertising recover. People in industry do not know whether they can export or get materials to carry on their work. I put these points forward not as hostile criticism, because we realise that a country which is in a state of war cannot carry on as it would otherwise, but in the hope that they will be looked into and some remedy provided to enable us to overcome our problems.
§ 9.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Woods
The hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) was listened to by a much increased attendance on the Government benches, and I hope that one result will be a fuller realisation among the Government as to the area and possibilities of discontent. To me, one of the most disturbing aspects of this war is the apparent self-satisfaction which reigns on the Government Front Bench. The serenity which exists in the minds of Members of the Government by no means permeates the country, in which there is widespread, genuine, and justified dissatisfaction. This dissatisfaction is not all within the ranks of the working-class people. There are in my constituency a considerable number of business houses from which I receive letters indicating that the business community are beginning to ask whether the Government have the capacity to organise the country for the efficient conduct of the war. Also, I get letters, of the type read by my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) and others, from widows who lost their husbands in the last war, whose only sons have been taken from them in this war, and who, as lone widows, are then expected to perform miracles and live on next to nothing, with the cost of living increasing every day.
212 Not only have they to exist on these pitiful amounts, but when they apply for additional relief, instead of being treated courteously and helpfully, they have to go through what one of my correspondents described as a "bitter means test," and another—a soldier of 50 years of age, describing the experience of his wife—called an "inquisition." In the latter case, the woman was asked all sorts of impertinent questions, such as, "Why did your husband enlist if he is 50?" The answer she gave was "Patriotism," and I hope they were satisfied. The fact that, after this inquisition, these people get nothing, only makes the bitterness worse. The question of old age pensions has been already covered. In addition to the people who have been mentioned in the Debate to-day, there is a considerable proportion of the population living on fixed incomes. In peace-time the standard of living of those people is commensurate with their incomes, and practically all of them are now finding themselves in increasing difficulties. Many of them, for the first time in their lives, are getting into debt; and they are utterly ashamed. It is an interesting commentary on this that the ratio of suicides in steadily increasing.
A Government which is concerned to win this war must face the home situation. Various suggestions have been made to the Government with regard to some meagre increase, so as to make easier the lot of those who have lost their all or else have been left alone and are in constant danger. I suggest that at the present time the Government should face much more honestly than they have done, and tackle much more sincerely the problem of preventing further increases in the cost of living. Up to the present time, as far as I can gather—and my sources of information are not altogether restricted—where there has been definite Government interference ii has been just blundering and the very interference which has been contributory to an increase of the cost of living. Take the case of goods. Butter has been commandeered and sold back at a higher price to the very people from whom it has been commandeered. As the hon. Member for North Southwark (Mr. Isaacs) said, pulp has been bought at a certain figure and sold back to the same people at an enhanced price. If the Government are setting themselves to increase the cost of living in this way what do they expect 213 other people to do? These people say, "We must make hay while the sun shines. The Government are showing the way and giving a lead." They are justified by the Government example.
We have under various schemes fixed prices, especially in agriculture. There is a fixed price for pigs of 15s. a score. There is hardly a pig sold in the markets of this country at that figure. Recently in York market, out of about 300 pigs that were sold, only two were sold at that figure. All the rest were described as store pigs and other subterfuges were adopted whereby enhanced prices up to 22s. a score were paid. Under this sort of administration the man or the woman who is a law-abiding citizen is the one who is penalised, while those who take the regulations as a joke and say, "We are going to get round this by any devious means available," break the law and "get away with it," and are looked upon as successful traders walking in the footsteps and emulating the example of the Government. The time has come when the Government can no longer take this as a complaint which the Opposition raise as a matter of duty and political tactics. The whole country is feeling the strain, and I suggest to the occupants of the Front Bench that they might try this economy. For a short time they should travel third-class. They would find the atmosphere of the third-class carriage for Cabinet Ministers at the present time a very helpful and healthy corrective. I recently travelled down from York in a third-class carriage, which was crowded. On the opposite side were a soldier's wife and three small children, and on my side of the carriage, wedged in, was another soldier's wife with one child, and I had the privilege of listening to their conversation. I notice that one of the right hon. Gentlemen opposite takes this as a joke. It was no joke to me.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Captain Crookshank)
Oh, no; I was only saying that I have already taken the hon. Gentleman's advice with the very purpose that he has in view.
§ Mr. Woods
It has not profited the right hon. and gallant Gentleman very much, otherwise we would get some action. Let me tell him what I heard and what the feeling was as I sat in that train for five solid hours. Here was a 214 woman who had evidently to get some accommodation owing to the war-time emergency. She got furnished apartments at 25s. a week, which was really an impossible rent in view of the Government allowance, but there was nothing else available. It was not her choice. A woman and three children suddenly thrown on to the streets had to find accommodation and pay 25s. a week. She was unable to continue to pay that amount. According to her story—and I am prepared to believe her, as these women were comparing their experiences—she tramped a number of streets in an attempt to find better accommodation, and every time she said that there were three small children there was nothing doing.
That is the experience of soldiers' wives, in addition to being concerned about their husbands. How did that woman solve her problem? In desperation, she sent a telegram to her old widowed mother, living on 10s. a week, telling her:" I am coming home and bringing the children." I felt ashamed of our country that I had to listen to such a story. That is the sort of thing that is taking place, and we are expecting in the community a fine spirit of patriotism and loyalty that will win the war. I suggest to the Government that the time has come when instead of complacency they should deal with these things. With regard to certain types of expense, money can be shovelled out, for camps and other things. They should give some thought to the mothers and children of the men serving in the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. The time has come when they should take this situation seriously and do something about it, instead of being so self-satisfied, as apparently they are.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to. —[Sir Charles Edwards.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.