§ [Second Day]
Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [16th August].
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."—[Major Freeman.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ 11.29 a.m.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler (Saffron Walden)
We now resume the discussion on the King's Most Gracious Speech, and I confess that after the high hopes that were raised there is a feeling, at any rate on this side of the House, of the "morning after." By that I do not mean to say that my remarks will be of an acidulated or destructive character, but they will be illuminated by the clear and frank light of early morning.
The first fact which strikes my mind, on having the honour to resume this Debate on this historic occasion, is the extent to which the Most Gracious Speech carries on the policy in which many of us on this side of the House are most intimately interested and with which many of us were very closely connected during the period of the coalition. In fact, we recognise in the Most Gracious Speech the Measures which we helped to frame. We on this side of the House will certainly do our best to carry them through in the interests of the country as a whole. It so happens that these subjects which have been laid down as suitable for discussion to-day are those with which I myself am most closely concerned, and it is on those subjects that the maximum amount of constructive criticism will be offered from this side of the House. What we recognise in the Most Gracious Speech is the great extent to which this Speech owes its contents to work undertaken by the past Government. We do not recognise, either 193 in the detail, or in the warmth of the language of the Speech which we think is lacking, or in its contents, that promise of the "promised land" which we were led to believe in the recent conflict of the election through which we have just passed was to be offered by the other side. When we examine the contents of the Speech, taking for example the question of social insurance tucked away in one small sentence towards the end, and the various other Measures of social reform, we are astonished that more attention and more prominence should not have been given to the social progress and the social side of the Government's reform programme. We remember that a great deal of the work on national insurance is due to contributions made by my hon. and right hon. Friends on this side of the House. I trust that when we come to consider the Measures put forward in detail—because that will be the time for detailed criticism—my right hon. and hon. Friends on this side of the House who took so noble a share in this scheme—I refer in particular to my right hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson)—will take part and reveal the extent of co-operation which we can offer in the plan which owes so much to what those of us who sit on this side of the House have contributed in the past.
When we come to the scheme for industrial injury tacked on at the end of a sentence towards the end of the Speech, I would remind the House that we have on this side those who have devoted a life study to the subject, and I feel certain that the constructive criticism they can offer will be of the utmost value in framing the final plans.
We notice in the Gracious Speech certain references to food production, and our intelligence has been illuminated by a Press conference held by the new Minister of Agriculture. It is of the greatest satisfaction to us on this side of the House to feel, if we are to take the Gracious Speech in the terms set before us, that His Majesty's Government will be carrying on that magnificent policy of food production for which my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) will always be remembered in the history of this country.
When we come to consider the drive for housing—and I shall have several questions to ask on that subject 194 to-day—we shall remember what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Croydon (Mr. Willink) did, and his efforts to promote housing in this country.
There are many other subjects which are included in the Gracious Speech which clearly indicate that the policy initiated by His Majesty's Ministers of the late Administration is to be carried on. I refer in particular to the references to Colonial welfare for which my right hon. Friend the late Secretary of State for the Colonies is responsible and which he did so much to promote. When we come to the references to India I cannot but feel that there is not much new in the rather jejeune phrases on this subject which are included at the very end of the Gracious Speech. At any rate we, in the interval between the Coalition Government and the start of this Administration, did our best to promote those very objects which are referred to in the Gracious Speech and the House may take it that we on this side will be only too glad to co-operate in any plan which does justice to the many and varied interests of India, which preserves India's position in the world and achieves the legitimate aspirations of her people.
A great deal of the content of the Gracious Speech therefore, in our view, resumes much of the work in which we were interested and which we should have wished to carry on had we been returned as the Government of this country; but into this programme have been inserted some of the nostrums of the Labour Party. If I were to express my first sense of disappointment it would be that the Gracious Speech has not been framed to meet the facts, the grim facts, of the economic situation with which we are faced, but rather that this grim torso of the present economic situation has been hastily dressed in clothes prepared a long time ago by the theoretical architects of the Labour Party's policy. This is a very great disappointment to us—[Laughter]—I am sure it will always be a feature of British politics that the party in power takes something from the other side. Disraeli was accused of taking the Whigs' clothing while they were bathing.
§ Mr. Butler
The hon. Member's sense of history is most valuable. Yes, Disraeli really accused Peel of taking the Whigs' 195 clothing while they were bathing. I do not want to take a metaphor from bathing, but I have been very touched to hear that a famous establishment in the Marylebone Road which specialises in the exhibiton of waxworks has been obliged, in the course of the war when it represented some famous statesman, to appeal to him to provide his own clothes in order to clothe the waxwork properly. I understand that some of my right hon. Friends on this side of the House whose sartorial reputation is much greater than mine—I refer particularly to the late Foreign Secretary—may have had some communication in this connection and may have been able to spare something from their wardrobes, I can imagine the sort of confabulation on the other side of the House before the Gracious Speech was composed. I can imagine the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) and the right hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), saying, "Well, we have quite sufficient to provide the clothes for the Chamber of Horrors but we regret to say that we have not sufficient to provide for the respectable parts of the programme." They have therefore to come to us on this side of the House for clothes for all the respectable parts of the Gracious Speech. It is only the dim recesses of the exhibition, which we shall be discussing in more detail in the Autumn, which have been really clothed with the clothes of hon. Gentlemen opposite. How much better we could have dressed up this Speech.
§ Mr. Butler
I am reminded of a story told me by a new Member of this House—we look forward to hearing him—of two girls who were speaking, during this opening of Parliament period, on a bus. Their conversation, as is often the case on these occasions, was somewhat catty. They were talking of how a certain lady dressed, and one of them said: "She makes her ermine look like rabbit." That is precisely what has happened on the other side of the House. The party opposite had the most magnificent material with which to clothe the King's Speech. They had material largely provided from this side of the House by my hon. and right hon. Friends. They 196 have spoiled it by the inclusion of some of their outworn modes and fashions. Instead of dressing it up as we would have dressed it and giving a real impression of the new world and the new Jerusalem, they have produced a disappointing and unfashionable product for us to see.
My task to-day is to consider first of all some remarks which fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister, as we would expect, was most honourable and frank about the difficulties of the present situation. We would expect it, and I do not doubt that it was received in the spirit in which it was given in this House and I hope in the country, because the Prime Minister stated the facts of the present situation as indeed they really are. He reminded me—and I am getting back to what I said in my opening about the "morning after"—of the family physician who is called in after the great excesses of the night before to provide some corrective and cooling draught which shall restore the health of the body politic. I regret to say that his speech differs very greatly from many of those that were made on the opposite side both by hon. and right hon. Friends in the course of the Election. Had it not been that I was requested dinting the period of VJ Days to make this speech, I might have been able to delve into records which were not available to me owing to the closure of offices, and to produce comparisons between some of the speeches made by hon. Gentlemen opposite during the Election with what was said by the Prime Minister so frankly yesterday.
As I have not been able to produce those references, and as it would indeed bore the House were I to read any out, I would propose to retain the pedagogic reputation which came to me during my period at the Ministry of Education, and to recommend to hon. Members opposite that they should take away as their "home work" at this weekend the Prime Minister's speech and their own election address. I would also suggest that hon. Members on this side of the House, and many of our hon. Friends who were defeated in this great conflict, do the same and that this "home-work" should not be conducted on the kitchen table for which a space has just been made, as is so often the case, but that 197 it should be conducted in public, and that we should, over the months that lie before us, make quite plain the difference between the Prime Minister's utterances and the immense claims that were made by the party opposite during the course of the Election. I can only say that many of us made a speech of that sort during the course of the Election and we were howled down. We were thought not to be telling the facts of the situation. Now we get the milk of the gospel from the other side, it will be up to us to reveal the difference between the promise and the performance. This will be our duty during the years to come.
I said when I opened my remarks that, apart from a. certain cold light of dawn which I would throw upon the situation, I did not wish to be unduly controversial. Indeed, why should I be? So much of this Gracious Speech, especially the subjects we are considering to-day, are those in which we were most intimately interested. Take, for instance, my own case. I notice that the Gracious Speech refers to the plans for education which have been already approved and which, I am delighted to see, it is the intention of the Government to carry out as speedily and as quickly as possible. It will be our desire on this side of the House, by the aid of constructive suggestions, to help the right hon. lady the new Minister of Education and the new Parliamentary Secretary—and I would like to congratulate both upon their assumption of office—in every possible way to carry out the great plan. I would say this, that they must expect from this side of the House the utmost attention to this matter. This question of the training, education and upbringing of our young people, not only because of its advantage for character but also because of its advantage for skill of hand and eye in industry, is at the very basis of the future greatness of this country. The right hon. Gentleman the new Home Secretary, whom I would also like to congratulate on his assumption of office, was particularly interested in this. We shall on every occasion that is offered to us press for the full implementation of the education plan.
I should like to say frankly, taking the infection from the Prime Minister, that we realise the difficulties before anybody who proposes to carry out the education plan at the present time. I know them perfectly well myself—the difficulties of 198 buildings, of the provision of teachers, of carrying out the plan in a myriad of ways—and I hope we shall show by the suggestions we make that we wish to take no unfair advantage of these difficulties to make the path of the Government more difficult in carrying out the education plan. I also hope we shall devote our attention to the content of what is taught in the schools and that we shall endeavour to make the teacher a real leader of society, a leader in every sense; and we shall on this side of the House specialise on the need for quality both in the teaching profession and in the children whom they teach. I trust that these words of mine will be carried out in practice over the months and, indeed, the years that lie ahead, because I always said when I was responsible for education that this is a long-term plan. It is certain to take a very long time to carry out, a decade or more before we see the real results of this long-term programme. The Government can count on constructive suggestions.
The last word I would say on education is this. I trust that the Government will choose the very best team possible to assist the Ministers in their great task. Just as the best generals were chosen in the war, so the best persons to help in carrying out this scheme should be chosen by the Government and by local authorities. If we see on this side any attempt to divert to the economic sphere, or any other sphere, those whom we think should be used in carrying out this plan, we shall press for the right men to be chosen. Mr. Fisher's Act was not earned out by the country after the last war. The continuation sections of the Fisher plan fell. I inserted them in my Measure, and I shall certainly labour, both inside and outside the House, not to permit so great a deception again. It is essential that this Act shall be carried out in its entirety for the future greatness of this country and the future inspiration of its young people.
Before I come to consider the questions of demobilisation, housing and social insurance, which I shall touch on at not too great a length in order not to take up too much time from the Front Bench, I would refer in passing to other matters by simply saying that when the time comes to deal with such questions as the Trade Disputes Act and as finance and industry, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) hopes to 199 deal with next week as a preliminary, we shall examine the plans in detail. My task to-day is to deal with subjects which you, Mr. Speaker, have said are suitable for our discussion.
I come, first, to the question of demobilisation and man-power. I must confess that we on this side of the House are disappointed with the Prime Minister's statement on demobilisation. We were not disappointed by the fact that he said you cannot expect to release everybody at once. That is common sense, and it would be deceiving those men and women in the Forces if we were to say that a miracle can be performed in demobilisation at once. There is no desire on our side of the House to take any unfair advantage of that sort. The other side, the Government, have always prided themselves that their minds move quickly, that they are dynamic. All I can say is that the statement the Prime Minister made yesterday on demobilisation, except in one particular, did not seem to realise that there is a vastly changed situation since I, for example, was at the Ministry of Labour. There is an absolutely fundamental change, and that is that the war is over, that the day of the Service Departments' priority has gone, and that the day for priority of the civilian Departments is now here. If the other side are not going to fight for it, we on this side shall fight to see that the civilian needs of the country are put first. How often in the last Parliament and the last Government—both the short Government and the Coalition—were we, who were interested in civilian matters on the home front, fobbed off by being told that strategic needs must come first, and how dilatory we often thought the Service Departments were in meeting our needs.
All I can say now is that it is high time the civilian needs of the country were given absolute prominence. I recommend strongly the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) to transfer his affection from tanks to clothes, and if he does and produces some new "models," he will be doing a great service to the country. The Prime Minister's statement was remarkable in one respect, in that he said that 1,000,000 persons were to be released from the munitions industry in the course of eight weeks. That is a bold statement, and it certainly does show action. We shall be glad to hear from the right hon. 200 Gentleman who will reply later further details of this release. If he can give us any information on the geographical areas in which the releases are taking place and as to the provisions made for the absorption of the surplus labour in civilian industries, we shall be greatly obliged. That is a big development and we shall be glad to hear further details of it.
There was a further statement made by the Prime Minister about a Scheme B for women. We shall be glad to hear further details of that. Does this scheme mean that a really substantial number of women are to be brought out of the Forces quickly? I am convinced, from my researches during the short time I was at the Ministry of Labour, that there is ample opportunity to bring a large number of women out of the Forces as quickly as possible. I am absolutely certain that, if it is suggested, there will be obstruction from the Service Departments and that they will say, "This is untidy; the women are so much taking the places of men that we cannot do it. They must be treated the same as the men." The Scheme B release for women would not seem to me to be sufficient. We should like to hear, not only that women specialists are to be brought out to fill specialists' jobs, to which presumably they can be directed under the normal scheme, but also that there will be substantial releases from all the three women's Services. It is not an exaggeration to say that there are large numbers of women in the Services in this country who are not fully occupied at the present time.
On this question of tidiness, are the Government going to submit to the dictates of the Service Departments that the scheme must be thoroughly orderly and tidy and nothing else? If so, we shall have a dilatory scheme of demobilisation. The essence of the scheme is that it is just to the individual. If you want a tidy scheme, you will demobilise by units, but the whole essence of this scheme, which we on this side of the House intend to press, is that it is fair to the individual—age and length of service, with a proportion under Scheme B. This scheme is bound to be untidy and disorderly when you are dealing with units and with the desires of the Service Departments, and therefore I beg the Prime Minister, and the right hon. Gentleman who will reply, not to be so keen on orderliness and tidiness, but to serve the interests of the 201 serving men and women, who feel that they are needed on the home front and who want to get out as soon as they can to serve their country at the present time.
I would also ask that a comprehensive statement on demobilisation should be made by the Government at the earliest possible opportunity. I think it is most unsatisfactory that Service Departments should issue Press releases at irregular intervals about their own particular problems and services. What we want is a comprehensive statement of the whole picture from the Minister of Labour himself. I felt, during the short period in which I had the honour to fill that post, that a Minister of Labour is becoming more and more the Chancellor of the Exchequer of man-power. Every Department goes to him with its needs. Human beings are, and should always be, more precious than money, and the allocation of human beings as between the various civilian needs is a major task of the Government. So far in the Gracious Speech there is no indication, nor is there in other speeches made opposite, on manpower budgets. We have heard of one or more financial Budgets, but we on this side of the House want to hear a great deal more as to what the Government's plans are for a man-power budget, and the method of fitting it in to a proper full employment policy. I know that when we tried to examine the man-power budget we found a most grim and difficult situation. The wastage from industry alone is bound to be very great. Married women leaving industry run into hundreds of thousands, and with the withdrawal of men and women over 65 there is bound to be an immense wastage from industry even before the Government start to put people in. I think it is possible to say that there is bound to be a very distinct lag between the civilian demands sponsored by the various Departments, whether for food, transport, housing or anything else, and the supply available. So far, neither in the Gracious Speech nor in any other speech made from the opposite benches, have we had any indication that the Government fully realise the gravity of this situation, or what are their schemes to deal with it.
Before I leave demobilisation, I want to make one observation upon intake into the Forces. We all know that to get something out something must be put in, and there- 202 fore the intake of young men will be necessary—and also, I presume, of young women. How soon will the Government be able to give us an indication of their National Service plans in the light of the changed situation, with the Japanese war ended? There are many young people in this country who want to know what form of National Service they will have to undertake, how long it will be, at what age they have to undertake it, and what will be its terms and conditions. They want to know not only because of its effect on the position of those who are undertaking apprenticeships in industry, but also because of its effect on students at a university. It is most important from every point of view that the Government should make a clear statement on this matter as soon as possible.
Now I want to turn my attention for a few minutes to housing. There is nothing for which labour is more wanted than it is for housing. Here also we would like to know more facts from the Government. Can we be told the result of the registration of building workers now in munitions industries? That registration was initiated, and I should like to hear the result. I should like to know to what extent the Government intend to use prisoners to help with the building programme. I should like to hear whether any active steps have been taken to provide labour for the materials industries, which, to use the jargon of Whitehall, form the "bottleneck" of the problem. Lack of materials and components is likely to hold up the production of houses unless the Government specialise on the provision of labour for the industries concerned. The urgency of demobilising men to provide labour for building purposes is of course obvious. The first men to be demobilised are likely to be the married men, who will come out in large numbers and who will be the first to expect and to want homes. This leads me to question the statement of the Prime Minister and to ask for further elucidation on the subject of the responsibility for housing. In the document which must be tolerably familiar to hon. Gentlemen opposite, "Let us face the future"—the Labour Party programme—we find these high-sounding words:There should be a Minister of Housing and Planning Combining the Housing powers of the Ministry of Health with the planning 203 powers of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, and there must be a firm and united Government policy to enable the Ministry of Works to function as an efficient instrument in the service of all Departments for building needs, and of the nation as a whole.Instead of that policy which was put before the electors at the Election, the Prime Minister came down to the House yesterday and announced baldly the immense revolution that the Minister of Health was to be responsible for housing. This is the start of the new world. The most we can say of the Minister of Health is that he has a dynamic reputation. I should like to hear in much more detail from the right hon. Gentleman who will reply what is to be the function of the Ministry of Works. Is the Ministry of Works to continue in the same relationship to the Ministry of Health as existed before? If not, what plans have been made, what "compensation and betterment" are to be given to the Minister of Town and Country Planning for the disappointment he must have sustained in not having the Labour Party programme carried out? Because he is not now to be the great hero of housing, he is evidently to be known simply as the Minister of Town and Country Planning. I should imagine he would have plenty on his plate dealing with that. What relation will he have to the Minister of Health in planning housing policy? Why was this departure made from Labour Party policy, and how in fact will the whole central direction of housing work?
We on this side of the House believe that you can only solve the housing problem by a variety of efforts and initiative. You cannot plan it simply by logical schemes of centralisation on paper. We believe that use must be made of the initiative and enterprise of the many local authorities and—what I want to speak about next—that every opportunity must be given to private enterprise. I want to ask two questions on housing, one on the attitude of the Government towards private enterprise in the building of houses and the other on rural housing. Policy on both these matters was foreshadowed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Croydon when he was Minister of Health on 14th June, 1945, and on 17th May. On both those occasions my right hon. Friend made statements and I should like to hear 204 now what is the Government s policy in regard to private enterprise.
It may be fashionable on the Government side of the House to sniff at private enterprise. I warn the Government that if that is their attitude at the beginning of the housing drive they will disappoint not only the country but also their own friends. Unless the Government use every agency to produce houses, the houses will not be built. I therefore confidently hope that the right hon. Gentleman who will reply will give us a reassurance on the policy announced by my right hon. Friend in regard to help and subsidy for private enterprise in housing. I trust that this will form a prominent part of the Government's programme. During the last five years before the war four out of five houses were built by private enterprise. [HON. MEMBERS: "To sell."] The fact is we want houses, whether to sell or to rent or anything else, and the important thing is that every agency should be used to provide them, and that there should be no attempt to introduce a doctrinaire policy which cuts out any particular agency which can be of first-class value. We trust that we shall not be disappointed by the right hon. Gentleman's reply in reference to this question.
I come to rural housing. The rural housing position is barely mentioned in the Gracious Speech, but the word "country" is introduced, and into that word, I suppose, we must read as much as we can. Those of us who represent rural constituencies know that this is the most burning problem in rural England to-day, yet there is (practically no mention whatever of it in the Gracious Speech or of amenities in the countryside—the water supply, which will be developed under the great Water Bill for which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Croydon was responsible, the electricity supplies and other amenities in the countryside. We on this side of die House propose, as we have always done throughout our history, to fight for the countryside. The situation is serious and urgent. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who is responsible?"] The Housing (Rural Workers) Act, which has done so much to improve conditions in the countryside, will shortly lapse. I should have thought it would have been sensible for the Government to make some allusion to this 205 matter in the Gracious Speech. Not at all. A matter which is of burning interest to the villages is omitted from the Speech.
I should like to ask whether it as proposed to introduce the Housing (Rural Workers) (Amendment) Bill both for Scotland and for England and Wales to amend the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts from 1926 to 1942. The right hon. Gentleman tile late Secretary of State for Scotland in the Coalition Administration backed this Bill, together with the late Minister of Agriculture and the late Minister of Health. I cannot say how serious this problem is. The shortage of labour in the countryside we have seen in the present harvest, and we know what it will be lake in the future. Frankly, we are depending to get our food not on the normal labour in the countryside alone but upon prisoners and the Women's Land Army, and unless we can provide houses quickly the countryside will not have the population necessary to ensure the requisite supplies of food. We cannot wait for new houses, and the great advantage of the' Housing (Rural Workers) (Amendment) Bill is that it will provide an opportunity for reconditioning country cottages, for making them suitable for use almost immediately. It is work that can be done by two or three men, by small country builders who deserve every consideration at the present time. I therefore trust that the Government will give this matter their urgent consideration, and I must express grave disappointment (that they have not included a reference to this in the Gracious Speech or made any statement in any way about it hitherto.
While I am mentioning the countryside I should like to welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to the food services. I am glad to see that the food services for children, in which I took a great interest when I was Minister of Education, are to be expanded and developed, and I should value information as to how they are going, but remember that the food services described in the Gracious Speech, for workers, mothers and children, depend largely on milk. There is no greater labour shortage—or potential labour shortage—in any industry than in the milk industry, and that is attributable as much to housing as to any other consideration. Therefore, the whole of these plans hang together—housing, food production, food 206 services—and unless the Government show a little more interest in this matter than we have heard of yet I fear they will not be able to carry out their fine policy in reference to the food services.
I come, in the last portion of my remarks, to a reference to the social insurance and health plans. What we should like to hear is whether the health plan is to precede social insurance or follow it. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Croydon tells me that it would be advisable for the health plan to precede the social insurance plan. Can we have an answer on that matter? In our opinion that is essential. We shall then want to examine in the. greatest possible detail the Bill to implement the social insurance plan. We are frightened that, thanks to the manner in which this plan has been tucked away at the end of the Gracious Speech, it will be regarded by right hon. Members and hon. Members opposite as a matter that is virtually agreed, that it can be hurried through Parliament and is a matter upon which we need not spend too much time. I assure hon. Members that we on this side will want to examine every detail of this plan. We are entirely behind this plan of social insurance, but I am convinced from my experiences when I spoke on it before in the Debate during the time of the Coalition Government that no plan needs more detailed examination than this to make it better for the people of this country, and we shall spend our time in making constructive suggestions on how it can be improved.
In the statement I made when I spoke on this plan on behalf of the Coalition Government in the two days' Debate I said there had been no mention of the effect of the plan upon the smallholders in the countryside, indeed very little reference to its effect in the agricultural districts. We shall want to be quite sure that every class and person scheduled to benefit by the social insurance plan knows, first, what direct contributions are expected from them—because this is based upon the contributions of the people—and, secondly, what is expected from them as taxpayers, because eventually some two-thirds of the cost is going to fall upon the national finances. We shall endeavour, therefore, to examine the plan in the greatest detail and try to make it better. We shall try, in particular, to 207 examine such matters as the death grants in more detail, and the interrelationship of different schemes. This blessed word "universality" in the social insurance plan has concealed the fact that there are many overlapping schemes of insurance, such as police pensions, teachers' pensions and others, of which full account has not yet been taken by this House in drafting the final scheme. Therefore, in dealing with this plan, we shall attempt to make it in every respect a better one, a less academic one, and one that is broadly and widely accepted by the people.
I think that covers quite sufficiently the subjects which you outlined, Mr. Speaker, as being suitable for to-day's discussion, and I hope it will be seen that we, on this side, want, this time, to make a good job of the transition from war to peace. We believe that this country stands before the world as a living social experiment. The eyes of the world will be upon us. Hon. Members opposite have a great responsibility, and we, too, on this side of the House, have a great responsibility to help them, to criticise them and by those criticisms to make things better for our country. The great question before our country and before the world is, Can we retain the freedom and the initiative of the individual and the sanctity of the human personality in a period when it is fashionable to give more and more power to the State? We, on this side of the House, shall fight for individual freedom, for personal liberty and for the sanctity of the human spirit. There is a phrase in the book of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) entitled "The Aftermath." He said, at the end of the last war:The battle of the giants was over, the battle of the pygmies had begun.Let us prove that we, in this House, are giants for peace, and that, in fact, the Battle of the Giants has now begun.
§ 12.15 p.m.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, Central)
I ask the indulgence of the House on the occasion of my first speech as a Member. I believe that the eager anticipation with which this country awaited the Gracious Speech from the Throne on this occasion may fairly be described as one of gleeful anticipation on the one hand, and of the most fearful foreboding on the other. I feel that both expectations have been 208 amply fulfilled. There will be deep-seated satisfaction throughout the land of my fathers that special reference has been made in the Gracious Speech to the Principality of Wales. Wales has made a very special contribution to the titanic struggle from which this nation is now emerging triumphant, and she has every claim upon this House for special consideration in the days that will follow after the war. I notice that, in the Gracious Speech, we are linked with Scotland, and of that we will not complain, but we hope to have a promise from the Government that equality of status shall now be given to the Principality of Wales. Particularly, we have in mind the question of a Secretary of State for Wales. There is, on this side of the House, I know, and I hope throughout the House among Members from the Principality, unanimity in appealing to the Government to consider this question of a Secretary of State for Wales.
There are other questions with which every Welsh Member will be very vitally concerned. As I look to the Address, I see that the Government are going to try to settle the economic problems of the Principality. After the last war, Wales suffered, perhaps more than any other part of this country, owing to a crude economic system, and, while our basic economic needs are the same as for the island as a whole, while we want work, food and homes, none the less, there are certain special problems to which we will direct the attention of the House. In Wales, we have a large proportion of our people who are rejected from the coal mines owing to silicosis and pneumoconiosis—two dreadful diseases which ravage the people of South Wales—and we ask that when a man is rejected by industry owing to industrial disease, some other employment shall be provided for him and that he shall be found a means of employment which will give him a chance to be a citizen in the full sense of the term. It is my privilege to represent the Central Division of the first City of Wales Cardiff, as the House will know, has suffered badly as an exporting centre because of the decline of the coalmining industry. During the war, Cardiff has been an importing centre. A large cold storage plant was established which enabled the port to serve the whole of the Western part of this country. We ask that the Government shall give serious consideration to 209 the question of re-establishing Cardiff as an importing as well as an exporting centre for the West Country.
I would now like to say a word about housing. Reference was made by the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler) to the fact that housing is urgent in the rural areas. It is grimly urgent in the blitzed areas, and I represent a city which has suffered owing to the ravages that came from the skies. In Cardiff, in 1939,there were over 8,000 families waiting for homes, which uncontrolled private enterprise had been unable to provide for them. Those 8,000 families could be trebled at the present time, and I ask the Government to make sure that this drive for housing shall indeed be fulfilled. There is a confidence that the dynamic personality of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) in this office will mean that we shall indeed see results. I am confident that this Address, promising a larger degree of public ownership than we have had before, promising central purchasing of the commodities necessary for housing, will indeed meet the needs of the people.
One last word upon a subject which is not especially confined to Wales, and that is the question of the old age pensioners. In Wales, as indeed throughout this island country, we have a section of our community who should be honoured but who have endured a means test in the autumn of their lives. I hope that the National Insurance Bill which is about to be introduced will ensure that every consideration is given to provide real security for the old members of the community.
§ 12.22 p.m.
§ Mr. David Eccles (Chippenham)
I am sure the House will congratulate warmly the hon. Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. G. Thomas) on the most competent speech which he has just delivered. We always expect eloquence from the representatives of the Principality, but, when that eloquence is allied to good sense, it is very powerful indeed. We shall all hope that the hon. Gentleman will again catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, in order that we may have another opportunity of listening to his views.
I think the speech we have just heard leaves no one in doubt that we are going to take a new turn in our social history. 210 I am very glad that that is so. I rejoice that we are no longer going to mark time at that economic crossroads where we have hesitated since the last war. An advance is certainly necessary, but I am equally certain that the sharp left-hand turn to which the Government are pledged will prove a disappointment. Hon. Members will insist on sending out some patrols down this Socialist path, but these patrols, armed to the teeth though they may be with theory and good will, are going to meet many practical difficulties, some of which the Prime Minister spoke of last night. I want to offer a few observations on the nature of these difficulties and make some modest suggestions for alternative lines of advance which seem to promise better results.
There has been no more remarkable development in our politics in recent years than the way in which all parties have come to agree that, after this war, the Government should take a much firmer and more extensive grip of our economic affairs than they did after the last war. The White Paper on Employment is striking witness to the desire for this change, which gained ground when the old doctrine of laissez faire began to be asphyxiated by the unemployment statistics of the 'twenties and 'thirties. Sir William Beveridge—and I for one sincerely regret that his experience and knowledge are no longer at the service of this House—has shown us that unemployment was two and a half times greater after the last war than before. That was a staggering increase—6 percent. before and 15 per cent. afterwards, and it prompts me to ask three questions. Why did the last war multiply unemployment in this way? Have the same forces been acting in this war? If so, is the Socialist programme, or at any rate that instalment of it that we have been promised in the Gracious Speech, a likely and sensible policy to deal with this second post-war situation?
We can only have full employment if our producers are turning out exactly what their customers—domestic and foreign—want and are able to buy. That is an ideal situation which can never be stabilised in a free and progressive society, because tastes change, markets change, techniques change, and, to the degree that industry cannot automatically be adjusted to these changes, unemployment is inevitable. If their markets disappear, workers in the coalfields and the cotton industry 211 are left high and dry. The remarkable fact is that before the last war these adjustments between the industries and their markets were made in a fairly orderly way. At least the price in unemployment was two and a half times less than after the last war. But the first world war shattered this mechanism of adjustment. It dislocated and disrupted the balance between one industry and another. Some industries were artificially expanded and others contracted. Markets for armaments had no limit. Markets for exports were lost for ever. All this happened between 1914 and 1918, and afterwards the two sides of agriculture and industry were left almost unaided to restore the balance between war-dislocated capacity of production. The private business men, the farmer, and the trade unions failed. Of course they failed. Their separate powers were not sufficient to deal with this legacy of dislocation. That is the reason why we are all agreed, on all sides of the House, to place firmly and squarely on the Government the responsibility for maintaining high and stable employment after this war.
What is the situation now compared with that at the end of the last war? It is much worse. Looking beyond the temporary boom in consumption goods, and in the building industry, it is clear that our economy has never been so out of balance within itself as it is now. For the second time in 25 years a. world war has wrenched out of joint the pattern of employment with a violence far exceeding anything that happened the last time. Take the aircraft industry: it has been employing perhaps a million workers more than will be needed in peace. Take the radio industry: production capacity to-day is five or six times that which will be needed when war demands cease. Take coal and cotton: their costs, labour structure and equipment are more out of line to-day, judged by international standards, than ever before. We have sacrificed our overseas investments and our overseas markets on a scale far greater than the last time. And what is worst of all, this war has lasted six years, half as much again as last time, and that means some hundreds of thousands, it may be millions, more men and women in this country have changed their skills and changed their ambitions, and it will humanly be much more difficult to fit them again into civil life. That 212 is a grim picture. It is the situation which the Prime Minister very honestly and honourably—
§ Mr. Cove (Aberavon)
What is the cause of that lack of balance? Does the hon. Member want us to believe that we have increased our productive power? I gather from his speech that the cause of dislocation was the immense productive power that occurred out of the war. Is that the tragedy to which he is directing our attention? What is his cure?
§ Mr. Eccles
I am sorry if I did not make myself clear. It is not the increase of productive power; what is disturbing is the lack of balance between the various industries.
§ Mr. Eccles
The actual cause of the lack of balance is that in war we change the demand for goods from that of the public as a whole and put the demand for production into the hands of a general staff fighting a war. It is that which causes the lack of balance. To return to my argument, we must ask ourselves whether the Socialist programme is a good remedy for this particular situation at this particular time.
§ Mr. Eccles
If the hon. Member will wait patiently, I will come to it. I look at the Labour Party's programme, and especially at the Gracious Speech, and I see that control and nationalisation are the ultimate aim. Nationalisation is the chosen method by which these vast and necessary adjustments between the size and technique of industries are to be achieved. Is it likely at this time that it will be a good method? I think that no sensible man to-day would oppose the principle of nationalisation or public enterprise in all its forms. Clearly nationalisation should be tried out in certain carefully selected cases, but what matters is, that the cases should be carefully selected, both on the individual merits of the industry and against the background of the general condition of the 213 country at the time. It is here that the Socialist programme breaks down.
There are one or two obvious facts about the general situation at the end of the war which are unmistakable and of which I would remind the House. First, war is a great disturber of confidence. War multiplies the business uncertainties which are the obstacles in the way of any long-term plans. All sorts of sign posts are swept away and men are less willing to take on long-term contracts. Therefore, the first duty of any Government at the end of any war is to restore confidence in long-term contracts. Secondly, it is well known that the time and energy of Parliament and Ministers and civil servants are strictly limited. It always has to be parcelled out with care, but there is no time when the allocation of these opportunities is of such moment as at the end of a war, when the longest queue in the country is the queue of the problems waiting to be dealt with by the Government.
That is why we scan the list of priorities in the Labour Party programme with the keenest anxiety on this side of the House. Which tasks are to be put first? Is there to be a determination, founded on the common sense and the clarity of the proposals, to make a real appeal for the confidence of the whole country? Are the industries which are most out of joint to be those which are to receive attention first? Are the industries for whose products a powerful demand is certain to persist and of whose ability to absorb labour there is no question, to be allowed to get on with their business freely and flexibly? In fact everything is topsy turvy in this programme. As fax as I can see, practical considerations have been sacrificed to a doctrine of nationalisation which has been in pickle these 30 years and how, obviously, the priorities of this doctrine have crystallised into articles of faith without regard to the economic facts of the last war or of this one. I would give the House one or two examples of what I would term the unpractical selection of priorities.
§ Mr. Eccles
For nationalisation. To begin with, why should we waste Parliamentary time nationalising the Bank of England? I will not give the House my own reasons for thinking this 214 operation unnecessary; I will quote some remarks that fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) now Secretary of State for India and on his way to another place. He said in this House last March:no one really supposes to-day that the Bank of England and the Treasury are able, to go separate ways.Further on in the same speech these words fell from him:there is, as far as I am aware, no province in which the Bank of England, in fact, acts on its own without consultation with the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and in which the will and the purpose of the Chancellor of the Exchequer do not prevail."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd March, 1945; Vol. 408, c. 1689 and 1690.]That is the judgment of the financial expert who spoke for the Labour Party during the Coalition Government, and it comes to this: we are to take up our precious Parliamentary time going over line by line the marriage ceremony of a couple whom we all know have been man and wife for years. We should be much better employed in dealing with the over sized industries. That is where the difficulties are going to come—the contraction of industries like the aircraft and the radio industries. Of course I admit, and anybody must, that coal will have to be a high priority for any Government, but when we come to stable industries like transport and electricity, should they be in the same brackets of importance as building up our export trade? Is that on the same level?
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Will the hon. Member allow me? I am trying to follow what I think is a very interesting argument. I understand that he is saying that, in the present juncture of economic affairs, nationalisation of some things is right if the priorities are chosen correctly, and he is saying that the Government have chosen the priorities incorrectly. Will he tell us what, in his opinion, the Government ought to have nationalised?
§ Mr. Eccles
I have indicated that in my view there is agreement in the House that the Government's guidance is necessary in economic affairs to a far greater extent than before the war, but that nationalisation is not the best way to exercise the limited amount of——
§ Mr. Silverman
That is not what the hon. Member said. In the early part of his speech he said that nationalisation as a principle ought not to be opposed provided it was applied in the right order, and he complained that the Government were applying it in the wrong order. I am asking him what would be the right order.
§ Mr. Eccles
I repeat what I said before, that I am not an opponent of public enterprise as a matter of principle.
§ Mr. Eccles
The answer I would give to the hon. Gentleman is that at this moment of economic crisis nationalisation is not the method to use.
§ Mr. Eccles
No, because policy must be seen against the time it has to be put into practice. Let me give the House one more priority which is not in the Gracious Speech. There is not a word about the Mercantile Marine or shipping. When the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. F. Willey) was seconding the Motion in his admirable speech yesterday, I came to the conclusion that the inhibitions under which he said he struggled included the inhibition of reminding his leaders that the industry in which Sunderland is so much concerned had not one word said about it in the Gracious Speech. Now, after the U-boat war, after the building programme in the United States, the future of our Mercantile Marine is precarious indeed, and we would have expected something about that in the Gracious Speech. The fact is that there is far too little practical sense, far too much ancient theory, about these Socialist proposals and priorities.
I had hoped that the Government would have come to the House and said that they had looked very carefully at the time and the instruments at their disposal, that they had parcelled out these precious opportunities with the greatest care and, in regard to the relative urgency of the present problems which are before our noses for all to see. I had hoped that they 216 would have said, "Here is a list of the major misfits of the war, the major cases of dislocation, that are left over by the war. We must deal with them first," and then they could have turned to the rest of industry—the far larger private sector—and made an appeal to them to get on with their business in a bold and expansive manner. Instead of which, in the Gracious Speech we have words which are vague threats that may mean anything. Apparently all industry and all services are to be subject to nationalisation, to control, or public ownership. That puts under notice every business man in the country and every professional man that sooner or later the Government may get round to him and control him or nationalise him. That is a queer way to get a state of confidence, without which we cannot hope to find jobs for all our men and women when they come back from the war. I do not wonder that the Prime Minister last night, with a programme like this hung round his neck, had, in his first speech in this House, to warn us that unemployment is coming. Nothing else could happen.
We on this side, as in fact every hon. Member in this House, are united in wanting to find the practical remedies—and how difficult they are to find—that will enable us to make a better job of curing the structural unemployment after this war then we did last time. We will give, and I myself will give, every help possible to any practical suggestions to that end, but I cannot help remembering that men organise employment and plan ahead either because they are confident of success or because they are guaranteed against loss by State control. I would sum up my comments on the Socialist programme in one sentence: it disregards the facts of economic dislocation, it pays too little attention to confidence, and it selects the wrong industries for State control.
§ 12.44 p.m.
§ Wing-Commander Millington (Chelmsford)
I rise to address myself to the Questions raised by the Gracious Speech because apparently I am what has been described by one of my local newspapers, as "the Pooh-Bah of a one-man band." I speak with considerably more feeling, having listened to the speeches of the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) and of the right hon. Gentleman the Member 217 for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler) because I am uncompromisingly a Socialist and am confirmed in that opinion by what I have heard this morning.
In the remarks made at the opening of to-day's Debate by the right hon. Gentleman the hon. Member for Saffron Walden, he gave us a rather pretty little story about clothing certain waxworks. It brought to my memory a strange dream I had when I was quite young. I dreamt that I suddenly appeared on a vast plain, a great bare plain, and that in the distance a mighty concourse of people started to come towards me. As they gradually came nearer I saw that it was a concourse of clergymen, and just as they were reaching me I realised to my horror that, as was my custom, I had gone to bed without my pyjama trousers, and I was appearing before the clergy, clad only in my jacket. The leader of the concourse asked me, in grave terms, where were my pyjama trousers, and I had to tell him that it was my habit, whenever I wore pyjamas, not to have my trousers on. Had I been the wearer of a nightshirt, I feel that they would probably have sent me to the back of the queue.
That is rather what I feel about the Gracious Speech. It is true that there is the possibility of distinguishing between the document which was waved by the opener of to-day's Debate and the Gracious Speech. Every Member on the Government benches affirmed, I hope, his belief in Socialism during the campaign from which the Government have just emerged victorious. I, as a Socialist, must say this in the first instance: that as I look round at this very changed House, I welcome the fact that, for the first time in the history of this Parliament we have a Parliament which has been elected on a Socialist programme, and that there has been formed a Socialist Government with such a magnificent majority. I welcome, too, the fact that we have heard speeches from young Members of that party, young in idea, spirit and vigour, who showed considerable competence as speakers and debaters. Hope for England lies in those young men who sit on the Government benches.
I know that the Gracious Speech was prepared at a time when events were moving at a pace greater than any single brain could possibly cope with. Further, 218 I feel that the very Election which has returned us to this House, came as a very considerable surprise in its results, to many of those who are now sitting in the Chamber. The sudden announcement of the destructive power of the splitting of an atom of uranium, caused not only the end of the war against Japan, but gave us an insight into the productive possibilities of that tremendous scientific achievement. Were I a coal owner I feel that I would be going to the Labour Party saying, "Please will you buy my shares as quickly as possible, because if this Government and the Governments of the world are prepared to spend as much on research into the productive possibilities of splitting the atom as, of necessity, was spent on research into its destructive possibilities I feel that it is quite possible that in 10, 15 or 20 years' time coal, as a source of power, hear and energy, will be redundant and superfluous in this country." Even so, I am glad to see that coal is one of the high priorities in the programme of this Government, because whatever the opinion of the hon. Member for Chippenham may be about the economic situation, there is no doubt in my mind and, I am certain, in the minds of Members of the Government, about the individual economic circumstances of the men who toil and sweat in the mines.
It is because a Socialist Administration puts before all things the consideration of the individual human being that I welcome the fact that they have put coal as their highest priority, but I grieve, because of these great changes, to find that there is no specific note in the Gracious Speech as to the Government having any intention of exercising more than a vaguely worded control over the great chemical industry, I.C.I. Ltd., a senior representative of which was a member of our Council which went to America to investigate the possibilities of an atomic bomb.
I would urge the Government to use the opportunity which is now before them, the opportunity that the people of the country have given them, to work forward as quickly as they possibly can, towards the Socialist State to which they are pledged. One of the earnests which the Government can give to the people of their understanding of the historic situation in which they have come to power, 219 one way in which they can show that they understand the horror that has been aroused in the minds of men of good will by the fact that it is possible to exterminate a whole town by one small bomb, is for them to get industrial control over that great potential weapon of production, and see that it is put into the hands of the people of this State. I listened with interest to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) yesterday, in which he made a case for the desirability of leaving the final details of this invention in the exclusive hands of the Government of America. I personally cannot accept that argument. I feel that this Government positively must take that tremendous weapon of power out of the hands of any one Government in the world, that it must be in the possession of all the people of the world and that the first thing that must be done is to see that research, ownership and all the secrets of that weapon shall be vested in some such organisation as a committee of the United Nations.
There is another point which is urgent and vital. A month ago the phraseology in the Gracious Speech with regard to foreign affairs would have met the situation. But during the last month tremendous things have happened throughout the world. Now, the immediate and urgent task of His Majesty's Government is to say to the people of the world, "It is our intention to do all we possibly can to lead the peoples of Europe into a federation and to create a world State in which economic and military differences can be settled by conferences instead of, finally, by resort to arms." This is the opportunity of this Government, an opportunity which is being looked at with tremendous interest and agitation by new forces that are forming Governments wherever they are being allowed throughout the Continent of Europe. The Government Front Bench have a tremendous moral responsibility to do just the things in regard to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford criticised the Chairman of the Labour Party Executive Committee for saying, admittedly as a private individual, that the time had come when we and France have to be one nation, that we and the people of Europe have to be one people and that we and the people of the world have to be one people.
220 The opportunity is now, because I do not believe that the people of this country gave a nebulous anti-Tory vote. I believe they understood the programme which was set out in the Socialist document, "Let Us Face The Future." They realised the implications of the fact that the only way in which we can create a Britain that deserves to lead the nations of the world is to work towards Socialism. There was published this week in one of the great national dailies the result of a Gallup poll. Some people say that this method of assessing public opinion is not a particularly skilful one, but I would bring to the attention of the House the extreme success—which any bookmaker would envy—of their forecast of the result of the General Election. That Gallup poll—and I do urge hon. Members to take it to heart—stated that 52 per cent. of the people of this country demanded from this Government drastic social changes. The word "revolution" is in the minds of some of the people—the majority of the people of this country—and it is the responsibility of the Government to give them that revolution, because that way alone lies progress for the people of this country and the people of the world.
May I ask two questions? I listened with extreme interest to the right hon. Member for Woodford, who gave us an alarming picture of the "police States" throughout the Balkans, and in some other parts of the Continent of Europe. His dramatic knocking on the Despatch Box brought home to the minds of us what does happen. While he was talking, I thought to myself, "Surely the right hon. Gentleman is thinking about Greece, our ancient Ally, the prototype now of all police States, whose Government has put this year into prison, without trial, 17,300 people for doing no more than fighting our struggles against Nazi domination during the course of the war." This is the Government which in the past derived support from the Government of Great Britain when we were in Coalition, and this is a Government which receives no support from any accredited democratic institution throughout the whole of the country of Greece. His Majesty's Government to-day must realise that fact. They must realise the responsibility that the British people owe to the Greek people. His Majesty's Government must do all that it possibly can in deeds, and 221 not merely in fulsome and specious words, to give every possible opportunity for the freely expressed will through some democratic machinery of the Greek people, to prevail in the polls.
The last point I want to make is one that is in the minds of Socialists and all people who wish everything they can wish of good will and strength to this Government. It is a point made for us by speakers from the Party above the gangway this morning. We are told it is a pity that this Administration has not included in the Gracious Speech more specific reference to rural amenities. They remind us, although a little belatedly, that in the Coalition Government—in the bitter end of the Government—they made some contribution when the right hon. and learned Member for North Croydon (Mr. Willink) piloted through the great Water Bill, the first big contribution towards solving the problem of rural amenities. Rut did the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler) point out to the House why it is that the need it so desperate and urgent now for good housing for agricultural workers? Why is there this great outcry for electric light, gas and drainage and all the other things that people who live in the rural areas require? Did the right hon. Gentleman ask the House to excuse his Party for the tremendous moral responsibility which they had to those who have lived in rural slums all their lives? This change of front by the right hon. Gentleman's Party when it finds itself in Opposition is, in my opinion, rather bad. They had the power, and the opportunity, and for them to come into this House and tell the Labour Party that it has omitted important legislation on specific subjects, when the real fault lies at the door of the Conservative Party itself, can I think, only be described by an adjective which I would not be allowed to use in this Chamber—so I leave it to the imagination of hon. Members.
This is the best Administration that this ancient House has ever seen. It is the first Administration where the preponderance of Members of this House, men and women, are pledged to social reconstruction. It is the first House that has given hope to the depressed, not only in this country but throughout the world. I do not say, as a Member of Commonwealth, 222 that I would like Labour to succeed. All my organisation says is that Labour must succeed. It is not a question in their next electoral document of saying "Let us face the future" but rather that if they fail they may be called upon, at a later stage, to "face the music." The fact remains that they have the great responsibility now of putting the people of Great Britain on the path that alone can lead to progress and success. They have got to succeed. I implore Members of the Government and on the back benches of the Labour Party to keep their minds mobile and swift to react to conditions of change. They have seen since they fought the election campaign what great catastrophic changes can occur in the world in which we live. Further changes may occur throughout this Session and certainly will occur during the life of this Parliament and their responsibility is great because they have got to rise in greatness to overcome those changes.
§ 1.3 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)
Having anxiously balanced the comparative disadvantages of immediate total baptism, and the more protracted process of gradual immersion which prudence might dictate, I rise, not without natural misgiving, to address this House for the first time. In doing so, I naturally feel that degree of diffidence which it is proper to feel in the face of the accumulated traditions and experience of this House. I cannot but feel that the reference to housing, both in the Gracious Speech and in the Prime Minister's speech of yesterday, will, as suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler), come as a disappointment to the country. There have been a good many metaphorical references made, in the course of this Debate, to the General Election. I would like to say that there was undoubtedly a good deal of fishing in the troubled waters of what, in the conditions of wartime, was an inevitable housing shortage. One of the principal catches displayed by hon. Gentlemen opposite as a result of their fishing was a Ministry of Housing, as advertised in their document "Let Us Face The Future." But now it appears that this portion of their catch is what many of us proclaimed it to be at the time, in the nature of a red herring, and it is apparently admitted by the Prime Minister that the great task of housing the 223 people cannot be sustained on such colourful but unsubstantial diet.
The prompt jettisoning of the project of a Ministry of Housing will come as no great surprise to those of us who felt obliged, at the time of soliciting the confidence of the electorate, to point out the administrative difficulties and complexities of this superficially attractive project. It comes as no great surprise to us, and indeed may bring us a qualified measure of gratification, to acknowledge this perhaps somewhat tardy but welcome recognition of the fact that, if you think you have too many agencies dealing with one single activity, it is not necessarily a complete and satisfactory solution to add yet a further agency. Though this may be the feeling of us on this side of the House, it may be that the people of this country, or at any rate that substantial proportion of them who may have cast their vote in the hope and expectation of the amelioration of the housing situation which was to follow from an all powerful, all competent Ministry of Housing, may feel a measure of disappointment.
The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks), who has just left the House, referred, in an interpolation, to Sir Robert Peel. I find it necessary to go back 100 years to Sir Robert Peel, to find a comment which I think will most properly suit the attitude of the people of this country to this sudden reversal of policy. I refer to the quotation from the "Morning Standard," as it then was, of nth December, 1845, referring to the apostasy of Sir Robert Peel on the subject of the Corn Laws. The leader writer of the "Morning Standard," shocked and disillusioned by this, wrote these words:The arguments which he has so frequently and eloquently used in defence of this principle have convinced us. How does it come that they have not convinced himself?—a pertinent if somewhat pathetic inquiry. It may be that history will record that the people of this country in due course put the same query to the right hon. Gentleman.
I am reluctant to refer to individual Ministries, on whose efforts the success or failure of the great housing project will depend, but I feel obliged to do so by the action of the Government and the speech 224 of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister yesterday. At the time of the General Election there was a tendency on the part of hon. Gentlemen opposite to deprecate any undue reliance on individual qualities, and I believe there is even a feeling that we on this side of the House were justly punished for stressing too much the virtues and qualities of one man. Now there appears to be a certain change of front. It appears that hon. Gentlemen opposite now embrace the ancient and respectable doctrine of Burke and join with him in denouncing what he callsthe cant of, 'not men, but measures.'They now seem to have come to the conclusion that, after all, it is the horse and not the harness which draws the chariot along. But before the Election it was all a matter of harness. The Debates in the last Parliament showed a disposition on the Socialist side to criticise the harness, that is to say, the general administrative set-up for dealing with housing. But that general administrative set-up is left substantially the same, and it follows, therefore, that their reliance for improvement must be placed on their faith in the change of team, the change of personnel.
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) yesterday paid a notable tribute to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health, who I am sorry not to see in his place on this day, which is given to a discussion, amongst other matters, of housing. That tribute was perhaps all the more expected when it is remembered how much the votes of the electorate of the party to which the hon. and learned Member belongs contributed to placing the right hon. Gentleman in office. I content myself with expressing a doubt as to whether the people of this country, in their anxious preoccupation with this problem of housing, did in fact give thanks to high heaven or even breathe a perceptible sigh of relief at the substitution of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) for my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Croydon (Mr. Willink). At least, the Prime Minister has now made it clear that responsibility for the direction of housing is placed upon the Minister of Health, and in so far as this means that the Minister of Health is, in this House, 225 responsible for the local authorities, and that upon the local authorities there rests a statutory responsibility for the housing of the people, that statement is, as one would expect, one of unexceptionable constitutional propriety.
But as a matter of policy, as has been pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden, it adds very little, because there are still a great many Ministries connected with matters of housing. The right hon. Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal gave an impressive list of these Ministries on 22nd March last in the Debate on the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund (No. 3) Bill, and he ended that list by saying that "nobody was left out except our old friend Uncle Tom Cobleigh." These Ministries are still there, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden has asked, in view of the jettisoning of the proclaimed Ministry of Housing, what is now the principle of co ordination which is to work. I understood, as I think other hon. Members understood, that the Lord Privy Seal was to exercise certain functions of co-ordination. There have been certain metaphors with regard to clothing this morning. I understood that the Lord Privy Seal was to be clothed in the imposing panoply of co-ordination. It now appears that perhaps that panoply will resemble the Emperor's clothes in the fairy tale which, the House will recollect, though gorgeous in the admiring eyes of the obsequious courtiers, had in fact no existence at all in reality. As the matter of co-ordination seems to rest at the moment I am tempted to put the old query, "Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?" which for this occasion only I will venture to render asWho is to co-ordinate the co-ordinators?To me the position with regard to housing appears to be blurred where it ought to be precise, to be blunt where it ought to be keen, to be hesitant and apologetic where it ought to be bold and purposeful. I feel that the Government have already jettisoned the principle of a Ministry of Housing and the principle of co-ordination which was so much stressed by Socialist Members in the last Parliament. It seems that the retreat from these principles may perhaps be regarded as the opening two chapters in the Book of Exodus. I am bound to say that the Government seem to be placing an undue reliance on strict Scriptural precedence at 226 the expense of political consistency in publishing these two chapters so immediately following upon the genesis of their Government. I, like every other conscientious citizen, wish right hon. Gentlemen well in their undertakings in regard to housing. The housing of the people is a matter of infinitely more importance than mere Party advantage. But I would venture to remind right hon. Gentlemen that administrative machinery and controls are only part of the solution, and that perhaps not the most important part, of the great housing problems. To emphasise them too much would be to invite the comment of the modern poet:I see the snaffle and the curb all right; But where's the blinking horse?In this case administrative machinery and controls are the snaffle and the curb. The horse is the physical production of houses; and it is to a good number of good houses in good time that we must look.
I would like to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden in urging the Government not to overlook the potentialities of the contribution of a vigorous private enterprise to this problem. He pointed out the great contribution made by private enterprise to the housing between the wars. In fact, a total of some 3,029,000 odd houses out of an over-all total of 4,192,000 odd were built by private enterprise in the inter-war period, that is to say between 1919 and 1940. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden made this point he was met by interjections of "But not for letting." If we may take the period of the last 2½ years of house building in this country, the period starting 1st October, 1937, we find that in that period 163,000 houses were built by private enterprise for letting, which is a proportion of one-third of the total houses built by private enterprise in that time.
I would also say a word on the subject of labour for housing. The country should be grateful to the late Government for their enlightened policy in training men for the skilled trades in the building industry; but that of course is not enough. It is necessary to get building labour back from war-time industries, to which they have flocked in considerable numbers, and out of the Forces, and the country will look for more speedy 227 demobilisation of bulding labour than was forecast in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister yesterday. They will look, I believe, too, for an amendment of the scheme of Class B release which, while undoubtedly good in principle for the building industry, is in a fair way to founder in practice because it is built on the element of compulsion. Men who are entitled to come out of the Forces under the Class B scheme are reluctant to do so and prefer to postpone the long desired return to civil life until their normal demobilisation will give them a chance of what they hope will be a less regimented existence.
I wish briefly to mention the other subject to which my light hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden referred, the subject of rural housing. It has, of course, unfortunately been impossible during the war to accompany the welcome advance in agricultural wages with a parallel advance in rural housing and amenities; but there is undoubtedly an awareness in the countryside to-day as never before of the deficiencies of rural housing and amenities. The countryside looks to the Government to do something to ameliorate that position, and I would urge upon them to give a fair share of Government energy and attention to the problems of the countryside. The Cinderella of the countryside has waited a long time to go to the ball, and awaits anxiously the arrival of her Prince Charming in whatever unexpected and unfamiliar guise he may arrive. I would like to urge upon the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health the recommendations of the Third Report of the Rural Housing sub-Committee of the Central Housing Advisory Committee, and in particular the recommendation of the maximum extension as quickly as possible to the countryside of public services. I know much has been done by the Water Act of any right hon. and learned Friend He Member for North Croydon and also by the Rural Water Supplies and Sewerage Act of the last Parliament, but there is still much to be done in regard to water and drainage in the countryside.
Then there is the recommendation for the survey for the long-term programme of rural housing and the inspection of all houses falling into the three categories 228 other than the category "Fit for habitation with minor defects only." There is the recommendation for the erection by local authorities of houses for agricultural labourers at rents not exceeding 7s. 6d. to 8s. a week plus rates. Those figures, of course, were based on the slightly lower rate of 65s. then existing. There is, too, the urgent necessity to which my right hon. Friend has already referred of renewing and amending the Housing (Rural Workers) Act and reviewing the present statutory maximum of grants and of the limit of value of houses eligible for grants to bring them into line with the increase in building costs. Last, but by no means least, there is the recommendation that the small builder in the countryside should be encouraged as soon as possible to resume his beneficent activities, and that is a practical contribution of which I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health will take notice.
It is not my intention to trespass upon the patience of the House by referring to these matters further in detail. But I have taken this early opportunity to refer to them because there is no doubt that hon. Gentlemen opposite have excited in the countryside feelings of the liveliest anticipation; and now they have the opportunity, which I well know is very welcome to them, of satisfying those expectations. I genuinely and sincerely wish them well in their undertakings. I wish them well because I ardently desire to see these improvements in the countryside; and I wish them well also because, if the efforts of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite should result in too wide a gap and too gaping a divergence between the exuberance of promises and the inconvenience of performance, it would be attended with consequences detrimental to the causes of democratic procedure and political morality in general. Theirs is now the time of opportunity and of testing, and I am sure nobody will grudge them either.
It is not for me to say what our attitude should be on this side of the House. It has already been denned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden. Speaking for myself, I can apply to myself with much greater truth the words of another maiden speaker in this House; I am an insignificant Member of a numerical minority in this House. But because I have been the first maiden 229 speaker on this side of the House fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, I would like to suggest that our attitude has already been denned by us by the words which Shakespeare ascribed to Macduff when he rejected Malcolm's counsel of despair when they met on the morrow of defeat. It will be within the recollection of the House that Malcolm suggested:Let us seek out some desolate shade, and thereWeep our sad bosoms empty.To which Macduff gave the more robust answer:Let us rather,Hold fast the mortal sword; and, like good men,Bestride our down-fall'n birthdom.It seems to me that, in encompassing that task in this House, a large part will lie in reminding hon. Members opposite of the promises they have given and the expectations to which they have given rise, and helpfully and constructively, but resolutely and unflinchingly, attempting to enforce the performance of the one and the satisfaction of the other.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (Oxford)
On a point of Order. We are here, by the decision of the Chair, discussing some of the most important matters of domestic policy, housing, labour and cognate matters, but during the greater part of this discussion not one member of the Cabinet has been interested enough to be present. The Minister of Health who, we are told, is in charge of housing, has not been——
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
I beg to move, "That the Debate be now adjourned."
I move the Adjournment of the Debate, in order to call attention to the fact that no Cabinet Minister is present when the affairs of his Department are being discussed.
Mr. Deputy-Speaker, being of opinion that the Motion was an abuse of the Rules of the House, declined to propose the Question thereupon to the House.
§ 1.28 p.m.
§ Mrs. Manning (Epping)
It is with great pleasure that I congratulate the hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down, on his maiden speech. I am sure 230 that his sincerity will have appealed to all of us, and the very graceful literary allusions in his speech and to historical background, all show him to be a very worthy representative of Hertford and also of that union which has sent to this House so many distinguished Members on all sides. I am sure, having heard him this morning, and the facility and the sincerity that he has displayed, we shall always welcome his contributions to Debate in this House. Speaking as a Member who has been exiled from this place for some time, I would say that I have returned with none of those desperate feelings with which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler) expected us to return, to judge from his many allusions this morning. I do not at all feel like the morning after the night before. Indeed, I am experiencing a very great deal of exhilaration in seeing that the Gracious Speech outlines a programme which I and many other Members on this side of the House have spent our whole lives in trying to bring before the electorate of this country. Most of us realise that this is the only way to bring happiness and security to the country. I would like to say to the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles), who is not now in his place, that the condition of the economy of this country which he so much, deplores, can only be set right by that sharp left-hand turn which he also deplores. It is because in 1918 no sharp left turn was taken that this country went from one disaster to another and finally ended up with war, that we were determined to make a real change in the economy of this country in the future.
I should like to follow the hon. Member for Chippenham into the arguments of his rather illogical but nevertheless interesting speech, but there are one or two other points on which I am determined to speak this morning. I am all the more determined because I have found from speeches made this morning that some hon. Members opposite seem to think that they have a monopoly of the care of the rural countryside. That may have been so in the past. Then they felt that they represented the countryside and that we very often did not represent rural seats, but that has been changed. I have succeeded the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) in the Epping Division which is entirely rural, and I shall have much to put before 231 this House on the question of the amenities of the countryside and the health of agriculture as a whole. I am very gratified to see in the Gracious Speech a reference to agriculture and the health and resuscitation of agriculture on which we must now embark.
There are one or two points I should like to make in connection with that matter. When I was in the House before, I had a very close association with the then Minister of Agriculture, Lord Addison, now in another place, and I felt that many of the things which he put forward when he was Minister of Agriculture in this country did much to relieve the deplorable conditions into which agriculture had been allowed to sink by the policies of hon. Gentlemen opposite. There are certain things which must be done. I hope that the measures which were first instituted by Lord Addison will be carried forward by the present Minister. I would like to call the attention of the Government to two matters in respect to agriculture. One is that I think we should begin very soon to put into operation some of the suggestions made at the Hot Springs Conference. This particularly interests me because my constituency is just the kind of agricultural constituency which can be made resourceful, healthy and wealthy by growing the very kind of food which gives the kind of nutrition in which, I hope, the Minister of Food and the Minister of Health himself will be interested.
Three Ministries can really help to decide one of the ways in which agriculture can come forward and be made healthy for the future. I hope that it will not be very long before we bring out of the dust, the very interesting report which was made a year or two ago by the Committee over which Lord Justice Luxmore presided, on Education for Agriculture, in which I was very interested. I believe that agriculture in the past has suffered very much because there has not been the right kind of technical education for young people who were to be engaged in agriculture. It has been a despised industry, and in agriculture there is not sufficient interest in technical education for young men and young women who might otherwise have found a reasonable and decent vocation in the countryside. They have gone to the town because they thought that that was where people with 232 brains ought to go. I hope that it will not be very long before the Minister of Agriculture will consider setting up the committees which were suggested in the Luxmore Report and we take a real interest in agricultural education.
Some reference has been made by hon. Members opposite to the Water Act. I cannot see that there is any question that interests me more than the nationalisation of our water supply. If we are to have a healthy agriculture, we must ensure that every farm, every house and every school in this country have a plentiful supply of water. Not only does ordinary decent civilisation depend upon a plentiful supply of pure water, but the health of our farming industry, and agriculture generally, also depend upon it. I should like the new Minister of Health to be here, because a great dynamo of energy is going to affect his Department, and it will concern not only housing and a supply of vitamins, but a policy of supplying water.
I believe we are on the right track with regard to housing. I am quite sure that the Lord Privy Seal who is on the Front Bench will co-ordinate the activities of the various Departments connected with housing in such a way that it will not matter that there are numerous Departments dealing with it, because by that co-ordination we shall get a single drive in housing, about which so many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have displayed such concern this morning. [Interruption.] Shall I say "apparent concern"? That would perhaps be a true representation of the facts. In the last House we had an up-and-down housing policy. If I may use the kind of literary allusion made by the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford, it was as if they were children in a fairy tale playing with a dandelion, and saying, "Shall it be prefabricated or permanent or temporary?" Let us have all of them and let us have them as quickly as possible. I do not believe in saying that we ought to come down on the side of permanent houses or on the side of temporary houses. In the early days of the war when we were putting the country in a state of readiness against invasion, we put up a great number of temporary block houses, which we knocked down very quickly when we were able to put up something more permanent.
233 Members who have been newly returned are receiving letters, which lay not only upon their consciences but upon their hearts, from men and women who want to come back and found a family. I remember that in one of his more lucid broadcasts the right hon. Member for Woodford exhorted the women of this country to multiply and be fruitful. Many women would be only too willing to do it if they could get back their husbands or sweethearts from the Forces and they were given homes. They will not stop to ask whether the houses are temporary or prefabricated or permanent. They want places where they can get away from mothers-in-law and other in-laws, and where they can found a family, which is not so easily founded by the working and professional classes from which so many of us on this side of the House spring. We often have to build a modest competence before we can raise our families. There are many wives and many single women who have been engaged for years who see the best years of their lives passing, the years from 28 to 35, and many women Members of the House receive the most heart-rending letters asking whether the opportunity of becoming a mother will pass them by. I hope we shall feel that it is not only the married men who should be released speedily from the Forces and given new houses, but that some of the younger men who have women waiting for them should also be allowed to come back and be given houses.
I want to say a word about a point raised by the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden. He and I have had very happy connections in the past. I as representing the teachers and he in this House helped to put forward an important Education Act. I am sorry he is not here, because I would like to say to him, and to other hon. Members opposite, that the Education Act and many other beneficial things done by the Coalition Government were not done alone by Members on the other side. The Education Act is not a Tory measure. It is an Act in which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary worked very hard with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden. I would like to ease the right hon. Gentleman's mind by assuring him that there is on this side of the House a great pool of expert knowledge on questions connected with education and that we shall give all the help necessary to the right hon. 234 Lady the Minister of Education to carry out the task of implementing the Education Act—a much more difficult task than putting the Act upon the Statute Book. We shall see that the teachers are there and that the miserable hovels in the countryside that pass for schools for the younger children are cleared away and replaced by schools built by the council. We shall see that the local authorities are given the chance of giving secondary education to all children and that we shall not get underneath it by some administrative jiggery-pokery with the direct-grant schools which will prevent it being carried into effect. It has been a great pleasure to me to come back to the House and to find on the first occasion that here is a King's Speech to which I can give my wholehearted assent ad hope that it will be speedily passed into law.
§ 1.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Collins (Taunton)
I feel that I have occasion to be grateful for the pleasant tradition of the House which grants some measure of indulgence to those Members who attempt to speak for the first time. I was very pleased, and I am sure we all were, to hear the remarks of the hon. Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning), because we felt that hers was the authentic voice of the unsung heroines of the war, the housewives. I, too, listened with considerable interest to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler), and I agree with a great deal that he said, particularly about the rural areas, in the later part of his speech. In the earlier stages of his speech, however, I was reminded of the time when I was a little boy and we used to conduct an experiment with a piece of blue litmus paper which, when dipped into acid, went suddenly red.
I am amazed at the change which apparently happens when hon. Members cross the Floor of the House, and from something which might not be unfairly called reactionary and delaying tactics spread over a long period of years of power, they suddenly reveal themselves possessed of energy which could be likened almost to the energy of a split atom. I felt, too, that those policies to which he referred were policies which had not merely been advocated, but had been pressed for continuously by the Labour Party over a long period of years, and 235 to which many of our Members have contributed no mean part. We on this side of the House are not nearly so concerned by the dress, by the clothes of the man. We are content with a good sound policy which will work, even if it is clad in dungarees, rather than clothes with no policy in them whatever. We shall welcome the constructive criticism which, I am sure, will come from the other side of the House, but we shall tinge that welcome with the feeling that had hon. Members opposite engaged in a little more solid construction in regard to houses, industries and conditions for the people over the last 20 years, criticism might not now have been their main role.
I was glad to have heard on three occasions this morning references to rural areas and agriculture, because, coming as I do from a truly rural constituency, I am hoping to hear the authentic voice of agriculture having its say here. I myself have some small farming experience and therefore I was particularly interested, as I am sure all hon. Members were, in those parts of the Gracious Speech which assured us that those agricultural policies on which increased agricultural efficiency had been based would be continued, with suitable additions. To my mind, it is those suitable additions, their character and the vigour with which they are prosecuted, which will settle the future prosperity of agriculture. I feel too that the paramount importance of agriculture, as compared with any and every other industry, is not sufficiently realised either in this House or in the country generally. I would venture to suggest that the coal industry, vital as its importance is to the country, is at best a diminishing asset. But our land, properly used and applied, must be a constantly improving asset.
We do not know what effect the development of atomic energy may have on our basic industries, but we do know that people must eat, and that however agriculture develops it will always depend to a large extent on the supply of skilled manual labour. It is generally agreed that the physical survival of millions of people in Europe depends on our ability to provide and to distribute over the next few months—possibly years—a supply of food for their sustenance. If we fail in that the consequences to the peace of Europe and of the world may be incalcu- 236 lable. Therefore we should not merely be satisfied with those measures which were in operation during the war. They are not sufficient. We must ensure a greatly increased production.
We have in this country some 35,000,000 ploughable acres, and if we bring that vast area under an arable rotation and apply a greatly increased use of machinery, if we adopt on a nationwide scale the ley farming system which I am glad to say is in ever-increasing operation in the county of Somerset, if we employ to a very large extent artificial dryers and render our farmers free from the consequences of the vagaries of our weather, then we can, in my view, produce all or nearly all of our consumption of indigenous foods. It means doubling the head of livestock, it means increasing the labour force very considerably, but it will not need any, or at any rate very little, extra legislation in addition to that which is already in force or is envisaged. On this subject the Gracious Speech did imply continued control of the main cropping programme, control of the use of land and the continuance of stable markets. I would emphasise that the Labour Party has for the last 14 years advocated a policy of import boards and bulk purchasing. I do hope that that policy will be extended in every branch of agriculture and that we shall find very soon that subsidies are replaced.
Two things for agriculture will need the closest attention: the building up and maintenance of an adequate labour force and the provision of the tools for the job of bringing our agriculture to the highest possible pitch of efficiency. On the question of labour, we are all agreed that the present personnel have done a magnificent job, but they are getting older and what is needed now is a very considerable influx of young persons into the industry. We shall only get them into the industry by creating conditions of work and living which will attract them. It is not merely a question of wages, although it must surely be axiomatic that the wages of its skilled workers must be comparable to those of skilled workers in other industries. It means also the creation of really good living conditions. Many people, when they think of slums, think automatically of the towns, but in my experience, in comparison with the number of houses, 237 there are far more slums in the country than in the towns. I would add that it is not merely a case of dilapidated houses or unsatisfactory cottages, but it is a fact that more than 50 per cent. of our rural population are entirely deprived of access to electricity, gas, piped water supply and main drainage, and their children have to go to village schools which are often very small buildings where children from the age of five to 14 years are herded together in one class-room, and where the sanitary conditions are so primitive that the teaching of hygiene is a hollow mockery. Those are the conditions under which our people in the countryside are at present working. If we are going to build our agriculture up not merely to a position of prominence among our industries but into a firm foundation for our whole industrial structure, then we must see to it as a matter of urgency that conditions are created for the people in the countryside which will ensure that those who are born on the land will stay to live and work on the land.
The people of the countryside are not the fools which some people who should know better seem to imagine. I heard yesterday the hon. Member who has not yet decided whether he is a Junior or Senior Burgess for Oxford raised a laugh when he visualised the news flashing from hedgerow to hedgerow that the Bank of England was to be nationalised. I can assure him that in the villages in my own division, after the declaration of the poll, I was taken aside by some of the farm workers and solemnly adjured to take care of the money when I got back. That is the first thing the Labour Party must do. Remember what certain people did when the Labour Party formed a Government before.
The farm worker is an intelligent craftsman, and he awaits with what patience he can muster the creation and provision of conditions suitable for the really high standard of his calling. Farmers too are beginning to realise that it is in their own interests to see to it that they create conditions which are satisfactory to their workers. Many of my own farmer friends in remote villages where there is no transport regularly convey their workers to the nearest town. That is another thing we must seek as a matter of urgency—the provision of adequate transport services 238 for villages in outlying areas. I do urge farmers to realise that they and the farm workers are members of the same family of producers, and that their joint interest lies in working together and not competing with each other in the building up of the industry from which they get their livelihood and on which we depend so much.
The second urgent essential is the provision of the tools for the job. I refer to fixed equipment, new roads, land drainage, water supplies, electricity, farm-buildings, which have been neglected for so long under the present ownership of the land. Landlords have entirely neglected to provide or to maintain the fixed equipment and the tools which agriculture needs, and before the war this was to a large extent responsible for the condition into which agriculture had fallen. There must be adequate machinery on all our farms, so that we can eventually attain the objective of five men and a tractor on every hundred acres, and I also hope to see an extension of the work done by agricultural committees in the field of technical advice.
I will conclude with a reference to two minor points which are very much in my mind. One concerns the provision of small holdings. I am sure that many of our Servicemen who have led an outdoor life would like to go on to the land under suitable conditions, and I trust that the Government will create those conditions and hope one essential condition will be that the holdings shall be of such a size, having regard to the nature of the land or the type of farm it is proposed to carry on, as shall be sufficient to give a man and his family a reasonable chance of getting a good livelihood. We know that after the last war too many of our men who had been in uniform were condemned to absolutely hopeless conditions, and we must not allow that to happen again. I hope, too, that wherever possible these small holdings will be arranged in communities, so that small holders can have access in a communal way to the best types of machinery.
The other point I wish to bring forward concerns distribution, and particularly the distribution of fruit and vegetables. Many fruits and vegetables are subject to maximum price orders at every stage of distribution, and generally that system works very well, and no 239 doubt it will continue so long as conditions of short supply prevail. But one point which arises is that often there are temporary local surpluses. Unfortunately, when there is a small surplus, or a large surplus, of a particular fruit or vegetable, retailers do not sell below the maximum price, and even though they can buy more cheaply they do not increase their purchases, because they do not want the extra work. As a result considerable quantities of valuable food often become unsaleable and have to be destroyed. There is a simple remedy for that. If at the retail stage of distribution there was added to the maximum selling price a maximum rate of profit then, when those temporary local gluts occurred, the retailer would be compelled to buy more in order to maintain the same total of gross profit, markets would be cleared, a better average price would come to the farmer and the consumer would be in a position to buy more food at a reasonable price. That would be a simple measure to put into operation, because it would not need any staff additional to those who are already supervising price control orders.
I earnestly commend these points to the House, and would reiterate my firm conviction that the agricultural industry is and must be paramount, and must eventually become at least of twice the importance of any other single industry. Imagine the effect on our international trade if we do not have to import quite such vast quantities of indigenous foods. I heard my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister say yesterday that it was necessary for us to import very large quantities of food, and I do not doubt that that is true, but I hope that very shortly, or in a matter of a few years, there will be a considerable modification of that position and that we shall need to import far less quantities of the foods which we can grow more economically, and in my view much better, in this country than elsewhere. It has been said that Britain's soil is the nation's treasure house. Let us then search in that treasure house for its riches, and give to our people a fuller, a richer and a better way of life.
§ 2.1 p.m.
§ Wing-Commander Roland Robinson (Blackpool, South)
The House has listened with great interest to the maiden 240 speech of the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins), and I am sure that I shall be fulfilling the wishes of everyone here in offering to him our very sincere congratulations. We hope that he will be able to make many more constructive speeches in the course of his career in this House. Many hon. Members on this side will welcome the interest which we believe he will take in agriculture. The hon. Member said that he loved to come here to hear the authentic voice of agriculture, and I can assure the hon. Member that he will hear that voice very frequently in debate coming from this side of the House. I do not wish to follow the hon. Member in all that he said, but to deal with one point in the most Gracious Speech which is of especial interest to many thousands of ex-Servicemen and their families in this country. It is not concerned with building homes, but with something that goes right into the life in hundreds of thousands of homes in this country. I refer to the small paragraph which says:In the Far East my Ministers will make it their most immediate concern to ensure that all prisoners in Japanese hands are cared for and returned to their homes with all speed.That is a problem of great magnitude and it is one that is strictly non-political, and if the Government does its work well it will have the support, the co-operation and the good will of all. The late Government did a grand job in bringing prisoners of war back from Germany by making use of the Royal Air Force, but in the case of those who have been suffering for so long in Japan, Thailand and the Far East the position is much more serious. The whole world was shocked by the revelation some time ago of the brutal and inhuman behaviour of the Japanese to the British, American, Indian and other prisoners of war in their hands. The relatives of those men have had very little news of them during the whole time they have been prisoners of war. Many men were taken at Singapore, and for some three and a half years their relatives could learn practically nothing about them. I urge that the Government should make it their immediate task to find out where those men are, and then to telegraph immediately to every home in this country from which a prisoner of war has come to say: "Your son" or "Your husband" or who ever it may be "is alive and well," and to let the relatives 241 know where he is. They should also be put in communication with the prisoners of war as quickly as possible, because both the prisoners and their relatives must have much to talk over.
We also want the Government to bring the men back as soon as they are fit to travel, and I want to emphasise the words "as soon as they are fit to travel." From the revelations made some time ago it must be clear that the men in Thailand, Japan, and elsewhere in the Far East have suffered far more than any other prisoners of war, and we cannot treat them in the same way as the men who came back from Germany. We believe that many of them will be suffering from the effects of tropical heat and disease, from under-nourishment and from overwork, and in many cases from some three and a-half years of harsh and cruel treatment. There is a real possibility that the majority of these men may not be fit to be brought back immediately from a tropical climate to face the rigours of a cold and possibly damp English winter. I feel that, in this matter, the Government have a great deal of work to do by way of rehabilitation of these men, and I think they could well begin it at once.
It is my suggestion that we should prepare immediately in India a number of first-class rest and rehabilitation centres. There must be many places in the hill districts of India where the climate is good and where we could set up these centres where the men could be re-introduced gradually to home comforts and the decencies of life, and where they could be taught again how to eat and how to live. Under the guidance of the best medical care, bodies and minds could be built up again so that these men will come back again to their relatives not with the sad homecoming of a sick man but rather that of a happy, healthy man returning to the heart of his family. I suggest that the Government should give the most earnest consideration to seeing what it can do to help these men immediately in the period when they are passing through India. Do not let them travel home unless they are fit for the journey. When they come, give them the best conditions, and, if they are fit to travel by air, give them the most comfortable aeroplanes and not those things with hard seats so often used in the past. If the medical advisers say that a sea journey would be beneficial, let us give them a 242 comfortable sea-trip—not the overcrowded conditions of the troopship.
I hope the Government will look after these men to the best of their ability, and will move them only when they are fit to travel and are well enough to face the rigours of a cold and damp English winter. I am sure the whole House wants to pay its tribute to the courage and endurance of these brave men who have endured the hardships of Japanese prison life for so long. I feel that hon. Members on both sides of the House feel that words are not enough and that all of us want to give to these men the maximum practical help which lies within human power.
§ 2.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Piratin (Stepney, Mile End)
The mover and seconder of the Address yesterday asked for the sympathy and tolerance of the House in making their first efforts, and I think it is right to say that they had both sympathy and tolerance. I would like to say that in one respect I am in the same position, as I am myself a new Member, but my position has been enhanced because of certain events which have happened. Various remarks of the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), I think we must all agree, were most controversial. Yesterday, the first day in this House, we had the first Division, and I think all hon. Members will sympathise with me even more than with the first speakers yesterday, for being called upon to be non-controversial, as Mr. Speaker asked us when he was appointed a week ago. I shall therefore not attempt to be non-controversial; I am just going to say what I want to say.
First, I want to welcome, for myself and the remainder of my party, and for many more outside the House, the proposals which have been put before us by the Labour Government in the King's Speech and in the speech of the Prime Minister yesterday. I believe that this welcome which I express is shared by the majority of the nation. I believe, further, that hundreds of thousands of men and women in this country, who have, for two generations, striven to see some of the legislation now to be introduced, are now living the most joyous days of their lives. There are men on these benches older than myself who have striven for 243 the introduction of legislation which will, indeed, bring a new era and a happy life to the people. I believe we are now about to witness it, and I believe that the two VJ-Days just passed could truly be said to be not just days of victory over Japan but, equally, victorious and joyous days for the people in that they coincided with the return of a new Government and a new type of Government in this country. I believe this change is equally welcome to the people of the Dominions, not least Australia and New Zealand, also to the people of India, and, for that matter, in spite of what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford said yesterday, to the many peoples of the Continent.
For my own borough of Stepney, which has the honour of returning three Members of Parliament, one of whom is the Prime Minister, another the Civil Lord of the Admiralty and the third, with due modesty, myself, I can say that the people there are as proud as any section of the whole country of the fact that a Labour Government has been returned and has been able to introduce so speedily its proposals for forthcoming Legislation. I represent a division which has suffered the ravages of Fascism and capitalism. During the war, Stepney, I believe it is true to say, has been as heavily bombed as any borough in the country. Some of its best sons and daughters have made the supreme sacrifice, and its workers, dockers and transport workers, have done their utmost to bring about victory. I know that I do not have to ask this side of the House, but I will ask the whole House, to remember that, before the war, Stepney and other places suffered severely from the ravages of capitalism, and when I address myself to post-war problems such as housing, I have in mind not merely the houses destroyed by enemy bombers but also those which were allowed to dilapidate by British capitalists. It is because of these things that our people are expecting the fruits of victory—the fruits that were promised so easily by certain hon. Members now sitting on the other side in the early days of the war, but since forgotten. Our people in Stepney, and the whole nation, deserve the best that the country can provide.
I propose to speak directly on housing, but I want to make one or two remarks on some other subjects which have been 244 dealt with. I am deeply concerned, as we all are, with the forthcoming transition from war to peace production. As an hon. Gentleman opposite said earlier, we would like to know what the Government propose with regard to the allotting of the labour of the 1,000,000 workers in war industries, who, as announced by the Prime Minister yesterday, will be unemployed in the next few months. It is possible that the Government have such measures in view. I am confident that this Government will resolve this question far more than would any other; and let all of us remember that. Whatever decisions are taken on this question, it will certainly take time to implement them, and I am very concerned indeed that those workers who, through no fault of their own, find themselves unemployed shall endure no loss of pay for that reason. There must be ways and means of making up their pay by raising the unemployment allowance agreed to in this House a few months ago, or by some other method, in order that they shall not lose because of something which is not of their making.
I, like others on these benches—I doubt whether there are any on the opposite benches—have spent some time of my life during the war in signing on at the employment exchange. We have seen that our country, with a planned economy for war for six years could provide for the needs of the nation and give people full employment. A planned economy for peace could do likewise. I therefore ask the Government to give this matter their attention.
On the question of housing, I believe the Government are unfortunate in inheriting a legacy from the previous Government of chaotic and ineffective administration. Evidence of this is to be found in the fact that on the benches opposite are sitting hon. Members who, a little while ago, were asking that there should be a greater degree of co-ordination on the question of the reconstruction of houses. This morning the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler) took the opportunity to scoff at the fact that the Government have so far not introduced any measures for co-ordination by way of producing housing. Nevertheless, he knows well that such an opportunity existed months ago and was not implemented. I am confident that the Government will do 245 this. The Government should apply themselves to a long-term policy. The Prime Minister indicated yesterday that this is what is now planned, but I would ask you, Mr. Speaker, to remember that I speak on behalf of one of the worst areas in London, if not in the country, and that we should not neglect giving the attention required to the immediate rehousing of the homeless and overcrowded people.
I am not satisfied with the degree of requisitioning that has gone on. I will give two examples. In the Borough of Ealing, which is represented by an hon. Gentleman opposite, and in which I lived for two or three years until recently, there are numbers of unoccupied houses of 12, 14 and 16 rooms, and the local authority are making no effort to convert them. I, and the Civil Lord of the Admiralty, who represents another Stepney division, know that in Stepney there are thousands of people who would be delighted to take advantage of such property if that were done. I can give another example from the borough in which we are at present sitting where there are hundreds of houses and flats which could be occupied. Within a quarter of a mile from here one can see houses to be let, but many people who might take them find them beyond their pockets or bank balances.
I would like attention to be given to the carrying out of speedier final repairs. This morning I laughed aloud at a reference made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden to the efforts of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for North Croydon (Mr. Willink), for this reason: I am a borough councillor and we know, time and time again, how our efforts are impeded in view of contradictory directions; for each one contradicts the other, and they often cancel themselves out. The right hon. and learned Member, at the end of March, boasted of how many houses had been repaired. Many of the public, and possibly hon. Members in this House, may not have known that he was speaking not of final repairs, but of patched-up houses. If some hon. Members opposite doubt that, let them come with the Civil Lord of the Admiralty and myself to Stepney and see what we mean by patched-up houses. We require to make final repairs to these houses, and 246 more speedily, and I ask the Government to give the matter their attention.
I want to deal with some aspects of the long-term question of housing. My authority—the Stepney borough council—has in hand plans to put up some 1,200 houses and flats in the first two years. I have expressed myself as dissatisfied with this as I think the number could have been more. What are required are materials, labour and the word "Go." The Government now have the opportunity of dealing with these three things. They should take over the control of materials and speed up the release of Grade B of the Armed Forces and further expand the schemes for supplying labour in the industry. Many members of the Forces have written to me asking whether they could train for the building industry, as they would like to do something to help in building up their country, which they have been defending for the last six years. I do not disagree with the right hon. Gentleman who asks for opportunities to be given to the private builders to build houses. All that I ask is that the Government should ensure that private builders are likewise guided—hon. Members opposite hate the word "controlled"—as to what they are to build. Statistics about the number of houses built between the wars give very little guidance as to the number of working-class houses built by private enterprise for renting. I state this point of view of myself and my party by indicating that we are not opposed to private enterprise building. We are opposed to private enterprise building without Government guidance as to what they should build.
The first question is the question of land. It may interest some hon. Members to know that I was present in the Gallery of this House a few months ago listening to some aspects of the Debate when the most inadequate Town and Country Planning Bill was before the House, and I am not happy about that Measure. The Government should take over unused land and should make reasonable compensation to the people to whom the land belongs, and they should make use of the land according to the needs of the people through the local authorities and others.
I am very concerned about the question of finance. In Stepney, on this scheme to which I have already referred, we are to spend£1,200,000 on 1,200 247 houses and flats—an average of£1,000 a house. We are to pay£350,000 out of that for land, in some cases at£30,000 an acre. Anyone who has had the opportunity of seeing Stepney recently may wonder what we are paying for. We know whom we are paying, but we are not quite sure for what we are paying. Further, we have to pay substantial sums for materials. It is a well known fact that the price of bricks has gone up some four and a half times since the beginning of the war. It is also well known that the steel ring, with which some hon. and right hon. Members of this House are acquainted, has been responsible for not producing one ton more of steel throughout the whole of this war, while our merchant seamen have had to bring supplies from America. 12,000,000 tons were produced in 1939 and 12,000,000 likewise were produced in 1943. I would say this, that if this Government gives attention to some of these questions, takes control of the land for the needs of the people, ensures on the one hand that these rings are controlled and that there are reduced rates of interest, then these are some of the means for implementing the legislation which is about to be put before us.
I would conclude by saying that I am firmly convinced that the electorate of this country have done a remarkably good job. The announcement only last week of the introduction of the atom bomb to modern warfare, followed by some of the atomically energetic expressions of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) yesterday afternoon, give, in my opinion, great cause to be grateful for the opportunities that open before us as envisaged by His Majesty's Government.
§ 2.27 p.m.
§ Colonel Lancaster (Fylde)
It is the privilege of the subsequent speaker to congratulate an hon. Member on his maiden speech, and although I know that the speaker who has just sat down will not expect me to agree with a great deal with what he said, I can at least say that he said it with cogency and in a fluent manner and, I have no doubt, to the very great satisfaction of the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher).
I have very little reluctance at this stage of the Debate in limiting myself to 248 one particular matter in the Gracious Speech. I want to refer to the intention of the Government to nationalise the mining industry and some of the immediate consequences which spring from that decision. I do not propose on this occasion to embark on a dissertation in regard to nationalisation in general. I have never concealed from the House the fact that I do not view nationalisation—that is to say a change in ownership—as a means to the additional production of coal and I am of the belief that the psychological advantages claimed for the principle are of a completely hypothetical nature. However, that is not a matter to which I want to address myself this afternoon. We are justified in assuming that this measure has the mandate of the people and that the Labour Party will put it into law at an early opportunity. In anticipation of that event, and in what ever form it becomes law, I should like to make my own views abundantly clear. I feel it will be the duty of everybody concerned in this industry to give the most wholehearted co-operation to the Government in their efforts to find a solution to the coal problem by the means they have committed themselves to pursue.
There are two overriding reasons for this. We require, both for our internal purposes and for the rehabilitation of our export trade, every ton of coal we can produce. Secondly, and this is hardly less important, the Government are embarking on an experiment which is fraught with the most vital consequences. Tens of thousands of people up and down the country, whatever way they may have voted in this last election, are undecided about this principle of nationalisation. They are anxious, indeed they are insistent, on having a clear-cut example by which they can decide, and I consider it will be the duty of everybody engaged in or in any way connected with this trade to see that it is given by every means in our power the fairest chance of clarifying this issue. Because, not only is a principle at stake; nothing less than the basis of the whole of our internal economy will be at stake at the same time. If the Labour Party are successful in this experiment, they will be justified in going forward with this principle as widely as they wish but, if they fail here, I believe they will have to drop nationalisation everywhere. I believe that it is going to be the cardinal test, and to the right hon. Gentleman the 249 Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell)—whom I would like to congratulate on the office he has now assumed—will fall this very grave and onerous task, and I am sure Members in all parts of the House would wish him well in the job that lies ahead of him.
Having said that, I would just for a moment like to get down to the particular. I cannot expect the right hon. Gentleman who is to wind up this afternoon to reply to these matters to-day, but I would like him to consult with his right hon. colleague and see if some statement in this connection can be forthcoming at the earliest opportunity. I am sure my right hon. Friend will recognise that at this moment those who are concerned with the conduct of this industry are faced with a difficult situation. They have two main tasks before them. They have their duty to the nation and they have a duty to their shareholders, and they are in the difficult position of having to decide from one day to the next on what type, and to what extent, of capital expenditure they are justified in embarking upon. I do not mean expenditure of a normal nature in regard to production or maintenance, or even of an abnormal nature in regard to some large development or some constructive work already in hand; I mean in regard to the hundred and one small matters which are by no means clear-cut, and with which hon. Members on the other side will no doubt be familiar, which do not necessarily come under the heading of maintenance or of a clear-cut capital expenditure but, nevertheless, although of small consequence individually, in the aggregate represent the difference between progress and stagnation in the industry. I feel that however quickly the Labour Party may produce this Bill, before that time occurs it is necessary that a very clear-cut decision is given in regard to this matter.
The Prima Minister yesterday, when touching briefly on this question of nationalisation, asked us to recognise that no immediate improvement could be expected, anyhow this winter. I think he showed a certain boldness in limiting himself to this winter. I do not believe that, with the best will in the world, we shall see any relative improvement for a considerable period. Indeed, the vigour with which my right hon. Friend 250 embarks on the reconstruction which has been recommended in the Reid Report may well be the measure by which, so far as units under reconstruction are concerned, some diminution of output in the first period will be brought about. We must be tolerant of that. We must recognise that there is likely to be very little improvement for some time, and there may be diminution of production in certain areas when this reconstruction programme is put into force, but although we are prepared to give every reasonable allowance for that I do assure my right hon. Friend that we shall be very vigilant of any signs of failure beyond and above that. We shall hold him to account. In due course he will have to stand in front of this House and justify this vast experiment, and if he fails I think the whole principle of nationalisation will fail with it. I wish him well in the task before him, but I warn him we are going to watch him.
§ 2.37 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Arthur Greenwood)
If I am somewhat hesitant to-day it is because I have been absent from this side of the House for over 3½ years, but I will do my best, in particular, to reply to my hon. and gallant Friend who has just spoken. May I say to him that the Minister of Fuel and Power will be fully prepared to take his stand when the time comes. On the question of the transition period, which I am very glad my hon. and gallant Friend raised, I understand from my right hon. Friend that he is proposing very shortly to see the mine owners, and discuss the range of problems to which he referred. I know he is fully occupied with the immediate problem of the increase in output of coal. As for nationalisation, there we have embarked on a policy. From that policy we cannot recede. This policy has been built up by my party throughout the whole of its history. It has been widely advertised by hon. Gentlemen opposite. We would not wish to escape from it. If it should be that we fail, then, no doubt, it will be to the glorification of that old, outmoded, individualistic system in which so many hon. Members opposite do so vehemently believe. We have thought out this policy, which is not unreasonable. Other times bring other manners, new problems, new methods, and we shall steadfastly pursue, progressively, this 251 policy of public ownership in the vital services of this country. We shall wait and see whether my hon. and gallant Friend's prediction is right or not.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler) showed an excess of speed which I have never before seen in this House from any Conservative Member. He was more rapid than the hare. I would have thought the Conservatives were as slow as the tortoise. In the almost passionate view of the right hon. Gentleman, the King's Speech should have been in more colourful language. This seems to me a revolution. We have had some revolutions quite recently but for the right hon. Gentleman to be the spur to this Government, strikes me as being the most fundamental revolution that has ever taken place in this House of Commons. The right hon. Gentleman stands behind us, or in front of us, in the great field of social reform, but he does not like our nostrums—either of them. They are a great disappointment to him. He got involved in a long, tangled discussion about clothing. Other Members I believe referred to clothing, but do not forget that we have such things as coupons still for clothing. The right hon. Gentleman said, in effect, "How much better we could have dressed up this Speech." How true. I have, for well over 20 years, seen Conservative Governments wrap up their nakedness in the most marvellous raiment. I have seen the King's Speeches, so have hon. Members on both sides of the House, in which the butter has been spread very thin on the bread. If there was very little of substance, in what glorious and glowing language "nothing" was couched. I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman will have to be a little patient with us. I am not so sure we can quite overtake the rate at which he is moving, but we shall do our best.
I would refer to the problems in the order in which the right hon. Gentleman raised them. He referred, quite rightly, as the first problem in his mind to the question of education. On that matter—and I think we can say we were good colleagues in the last Parliament—we fully share his hopes about the full implementation of the Education Act. What can be humanly done to get the Act into effective operation will be done, and if we are 252 in need of any spur, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will apply it. As I think I said in the late Parliament, I attach less importance myself to the question of building. I attach most importance to the question of teaching personnel. I am not denying the importance of the building issue, but you can put up buildings more quickly than you can train teachers. That problem I know is exercising the mind of the Minister of Education. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden will fulfil the role of putting to us constructive suggestions. There will be no desire on the part of this Government, in any way, to stand against suggestions which may improve the administration of the Act now on the Statute Book.
Then the right hon. Gentleman referred to demobilisation and man-power. He said that he was disappointed with the Prime Minister's statement. He was in a state of great disappointment during the whole of his speech—disappointment perhaps that he had changed sides in the House. I would beg the indulgence of the House and of the right hon. Gentleman to leave over this question of demobilisation and man-power. One of my colleagues will make a statement about it next week and we will make that statement as full and as comprehensive as we can.
On housing, which has occupied a good deal of attention in the country and in this House, certain questions were put to me. The reconstruction of the building trade is proceeding very rapidly. The use of prisoners, who are already being employed, will, I hope, be extended. We are trying to mobilise the prisoners of war for labour on housing sites and, as far as we can, for actual building operations. A question was asked about the supply of labour and materials. This is really part of the great change-over from war to peace-time industry. What we are working on now is to get this change-over as rapidly as possible, because the chief components in houses are factory jobs. I hope we shall proceed to make a good deal more of these components into factory jobs, which can be carried through by the people now working in munition industry.
Then we come to a question which still seems to be troubling hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House—this ques- 253 tion about the Ministry of Housing and Planning. What concern they are showing for us in this matter, which was called by one hon. Member "a sudden reversal of policy." By what right does he call this a sudden reversal of policy? When we have a policy we do not reverse it. We take too much time thinking about it to reverse it. But what did the Prime Minister say in the House? He explained this yesterday. We have not departed from that policy, but surveying the situation now, it is quite clear that if that policy were to be carried into effect it would entail legislation, and that would mean more Inter-Departmental confusion and delay. The plea from the other side of the House is that housing is urgent, and I think we have got a lay-out now which will work. In the meantime, the most that can be said is that the Ministry of Housing and Planning is in cold storage. Hon. Members seem to think that we should have broken all the rules and put a five years' programme into a sectional King's Speech. That cannot be done. It will develop. We think this organisation will work.
The right hon. Gentleman asked, quite rightly, about the functions of the Ministry of Works. I believe the late Government went sadly astray over this business of the Ministry of Works. I cannot imagine that the late Minister of Health enjoyed dividing his functions with the Minister of Works. We have lost very precious time and lost it irretrievably. That delay in the latter months of the late Government was due to the fact that housing policy rested in more than one Department. [An Hon. Member: "And it will continue."] Wait a minute until I have finished. What we are proposing to do now, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, is to make the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland the authoritative people for dealing with the building of houses.
I never believed myself that you could tear the thing up so suddenly as some people would desire, but authority must rest somewhere, and that carries with it the corollary that the Ministry of Works does not concern itself with housing policy. My right hon. Friend, who is here to-day, has got to take on a new job. He will be the Minister of Supply to the building industry of this country. It will be his job to see that the production of 254 all materials needed for housing is pursued on an organised plan, so that we are not held up because there are deficiencies in supply of particular housing components. That, I think, is a tremendously big and very responsible job, and I am confident my right hon. Friend will carry it out effectively. Surely the situation is quite clear: that housing policy, subject to the Cabinet, of course, rests with the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland, and planning remains where it was—I will say a word about that in a moment—and the Minister of Works will keep his supply department for the building industry as a whole.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
Does that mean that the function of the Ministry of Works will be directly concerned with housing, for example, in certain districts, prefabricated houses and so forth, and that the direct employment of Ministry of Works labour, etc., and so forth will be transferred to the Ministry of Health?
§ Mr. Greenwood
I should have made it quite clear that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works will be responsible for the programme of prefabricated houses, and for houses of temporary construction. He will continue also to be the builder for Government Departments, which is what the old Office of Works used to be——
§ Mr. Butler
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what change there is from the previous arrangements?
§ Mr. Greenwood
I think I have made that quite clear—[Hon. Members: "No"]. There was divided authority about housing policy before the General Election. This new Department, the Ministry of Works, was assuming authority which properly resided in the Ministry of Health. Anybody who is associated with local authorities knows that that is so, and that that is an intolerable position. What we have done is to take away from the Ministry of Works policy questions of housing, still leaving him heavy functions to perform. It is true that they had part of a staff there which was concerned with housing policy, and not with the job on which, the Ministry of Works had originally embarked.
The right hon. Gentleman said that we want variety, effort and initiative, and 255 referred to local authorities and private enterprise. We shall need to use, for the solution of this most grievous of our domestic problems, every agency that can properly be used. People talk about the houses built by private enterprise. Good gracious, that has always been so. It is largely the cause of the muddle we are in to-day. But whatever local authorities may do—some of them have works departments—building will have to be conducted by the building industry—[Laughter]. Nobody else can do it. There seems to be a curious standard of humour on the other side of the House.
I was asked whether our attitude to private enterprise was the same as that of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for North Croydon (Mr. Willink). It is not. I find it difficult at this stage to believe that this House would agree for one moment to let loose, by the aid of a subsidy, large-scale private building of houses for sale whilst the most urgent needs of the people remained—[Interruption]—by licence or any other way. It is perfectly clear that the housing problem of this country will be solved by dealing with it on a system of priorities, serving first those whose needs are greatest. That is why temporary housing has to be faced, because this winter and in the coming months shelter must be provided, and it is the urgency of need which must determine the order of progress of our housing policy.
Lieut.-Colonel Dower (Penrith)
One of the great evils is the cost-plus system. Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to do away with that?
§ Mr. Greenwood
I am glad that that point was raised. The right hon. and learned Gentleman had, I think, begun to have views about that before the last Government went. We are all agreed that the cost-plus system is extravagant and wasteful. We are working on that problem now. We have had some discussions on it within the last few days to get out of that difficulty and avoid exorbitant prices. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden poured out his heart about the state of the countryside. He cannot blame that on us. He talked about rural housing. He cannot blame that on 256 us. I introduced into the House the one effective rural housing Act that was ever introduced here. I was asked whether the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, which is expiring, was to be continued. The answer is "No, Sir." This Act has been of service in Scotland; that, I admit. In spite of this urgent need for dealing with existing houses and making them fit for human habitation that Act has been as good as a dead letter in England and Wales. Where has this urge suddenly arisen? Has it arisen since the General Election? [An Hon. Member: "No.] I would like to know when it did arise, because this Act about which the right hon. Gentleman appealed so violently this morning has been an Act which has been of little service to England and Wales. Our thrifty Scottish friends have used it far more than the landlords in the countryside of England and Wales have been prepared to do so.
§ Mr. Greenwood
No, I am afraid not. Scotland cannot always continue to have special advantages. [Interruption.] Why not? I think we have been excessively generous to Scotland. We shall deal with the question of rural housing as part of the general housing campaign. I think it is better to fit it in that way. There are special problems of the countryside but the solution of the housing problem must be one whereby all the requirements needed—bricks, stone, and so on—can be marshalled as a comprehensive programme. I am quite certain that the Government will do nothing whatever to imperil the rehousing so sadly needed by the people of the countryside.
§ Mr. Butler
The right hon. Gentleman has made an important statement which will cause great distress in the countryside. If he is not going to continue this Act, has he any proposals for reconditioning? It is the urgency of the problem of the countryside with which we are concerned. I do not think that if we wait for new houses we shall be in time.
§ Mr. Greenwood
This excessive speed with which the right hon. Gentleman is working leaves me breathless. It is a great problem.
257 I am simply pointing out that the Act on the Statute Book has never worked. It has not worked in England and Wales. People have never taken advantage of it, I agree about reconditioning. I am not turning it down at all. It is vital, it is an immediate contribution. I agree about that. I say that we must take it in our stride as part of the general housing programme and housing campaign.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
Since the right hon. Gentleman admits that that particular Act was of special advantage to Scotland, would it not then be of a special disadvantage to Scotland to take that Act from Scotland?
§ Mr. Greenwood
The Secretary of State for Scotland hopes to supersede it by something which will be more fruitful than that Act has been in Scotland. We can be held to that promise.
§ Mr. Willink (Croydon, North)
The right hon. Gentleman suggested a moment ago that this anxiety for the countryside had arisen since the General Election, and that this Act had not worked in England. Perhaps he will correct me if I am wrong in saying that 26,000 houses in England and Wales had been reconditioned under this Act. Is he saying that the Bill which was introduced and supported by the late Secretary of State for Scotland in the Coalition Government, in the middle of May, is not to be introduced?
§ Mr. Greenwood
That is precisely what I meant to say. In May there was the National Government; in August, there is not, and we are entitled now to think again. The intention is not to proceed with that Bill. I think it is agreed by most of the counties and rural housing authorities that the Act to which the right hon. Gentleman referred was never really effective in this country, but it was in Scotland, and as this Act was dying it seemed unnecessary to continue its existence when we were considering the particular problem of rural housing in relation to the general housing programme.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to social insurance and the health plan, and he told me that his right hon. and learned Friend the late Minister of Health took the view that the National Health Service should be worked out and put into operation first, and social insurance after that. 258 I am asked whether that is our view. My hon. Friend the Minister of National Insurance, and other of his colleagues, have considered that, and in my view and in that of my right hon. Friend, our first duty is to proceed with the National Insurance Scheme, following that up by the health plan. As a matter of fact, that is imposed upon us, quite apart from logic, by the terrible muddle in which the health plan was left by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I remember we had a long Debate on the White Paper on Naional Health Insurance. I remember how its publication was delayed because of protracted discussions with the medical profession, but I remember with what warmth that scheme was received on both sides of the House. In speaking, I said that so far as my party were concerned, we would accept the White Paper, though it did not fully meet our policy. I thought that was the general lead of the House then. After an inordinate delay it transpires that behind the backs of everybody else the right hon. and learned Gentleman re-opened discussions with the British Medical Association.
§ Mr. Willink
I really must intervene. Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that the whole of these discussions were carried on by me in association with the Secretary of State for Scotland, a Member of the right hon. Gentleman's own party?
§ Mr. Greenwood
That may be, but the point I am coming to is that the Government were not committed, when the secret discussions concluded, to any policy at all. But what is the attitude taken by the British Medical Association? They have had conceded to them, as they believe, most of their original demands, and we as a Government are in this position: we cannot start now where the negotiations finished. We must go back to the beginning. We must go back to the White Paper, which is what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health proposes to do. It will be a difficult task, made all the more difficult, if I may say so, by the unnecessary concessions which were made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite.
Now as to the Social Insurance scheme. A good deal of work has already been done on that. My right hon. Friend is pressing on with the further details of the Measure which I hope will be subjected to that close scrutiny which was promised by my right hon. Friend. It will be a 259 very complicated Measure. I think it may prove to be perhaps one of the longest Measures that the House of Commons has ever seen. It will be completed very early, and it is hoped that, complicated though it is, we might have it ready in the hands of hon. Members perhaps when we resume early next year. [An Hon. Members: "Next year?"] Certainly. I do not know how hon. Members opposite have become suddenly so active; it must be due to super doses of M. and B. or something. I assure hon. Members that when they see this Bill, they will appreciate that it is a Bill of a character and importance and of a complex nature that demands a good deal of care in its drafting. When I sat on the opposite side in the last Parliament I pressed for this Bill on many occasions, realising how difficult it all was, but then I was the spur in those days to a Government which seemed to be a little lethargic. [An Hon. Member: "The spurs are still on this side."] So some hon. Members seem to think. The new Government, as has been pointed out, have been charged with very heavy responsibilities. We have no desire to shirk them, and although I am sorry that we could not live up to the right hon. Gentleman's desire for a more colourful King's Speech, what we say in. that Speech we mean, which may be in contrast to some King's Speeches which I have heard in this House in past years.
There is now a different attitude of mind in the majority of people in this House. I hope we shall continue our relations on as friendly a basis as possible. I have never been an enemy of friendly relations in this House, as all Members know, but it is as well that the House should understand that we do represent something different in Parliament as a majority. We have struggled for a long time as a minority. Our history is a long one. The various roots of our movement sprang from the needs and the miseries of the common people of this country. We go back a long time to the days of the Rochdale pioneers, the days when the new industrial tyrants who grew out of the industrial revolution so robbed their people, not merely by low wages but by charging them excessive prices for the foodstuffs they had to buy, that the working people themselves had to come together to form a co-operative society to provide for their own needs. That grew out of the extrava- 260 gance and greediness of the new employing class at that time. The Chartist Movement round about the same time was a popular movement. It was the voice of the new democracy beginning to express itself, crudely enough, but expressing itself as the coming democracy.
We had, 100 years ago, a great factory reform movement in this country, born out of the miseries of the people in the industrial factories of Yorkshire and Lancashire. One of its great leaders happened to be a Tory. He was a Tory High Churchman but a Radical underneath his skin, Richard Oastler the factory king, and he was the real inspirer of that movement. Meetings of 50,600, 60,000 and 70,000 people were held in my native county, representative of the masses of the people wishing to escape from their miseries. The trade union movement grew up because the working people of this country had to find by a means of their own, the protection denied them by Parliament. The Industrial Combinations Act made it illegal. We remember the great martyrdom of the Dorchester labourers over 100 years ago. Those men were sent out to Australia, transported for life, for the simple crime of having belonged to a trade union.
As time went on, voices were heard talking about Socialism. I do not mind being called a member of the Socialist Party, which seems to be the technique of our Conservative friends. They think it casts a slur on us. At least let me say, that this word "Socialism" is a far finer word than "Individualism." We have built and raised it up through the work of men like Robert Blatchford and Bruce Glasier. We have built up a new political and social philosophy, based upon democratic principles and founded in a belief in the fundamental goodness of human nature. We have been described as a class party. Good gracious; if that term ever did apply to a party it is to the party opposite.
On a point of Order. Shall we be entitled when we are called to go into the history of the Conservative Party?
§ Mr. Greenwood
We all know the history of the Conservative Party. I am trying to do this in the interest of hon. 261 Members opposite. I am trying to explain to the House that we here stand for something different. We are not unreasonable people. We are constitutionally-minded. In fact in some respects we are quite Conservative, for example about the conduct of affairs in this House. We represent a different attitude. I claim that we are really a national party. I look around among my colleagues and I see landlords, capitalists, and lawyers. We are a cross-section of the national life, and this is something that has never happened before.
If hon. Members opposite would appreciate that we have a different approach to these very vital problems that are fundamental to human life and human happiness, I think that, if we cannot agree, at least we can understand one another a little better. We have fought our way to this victory. We shall use it wisely. I believe we shall use it well, and we shall do our best to retain the respect and the affection which we have gained in many quarters of our country.
§ 3.16 p.m.
§ Mr. W. J. Brown (Rugby)
The Debate on the Address of thanks for the King's Speech is the occasion when the Government, so to speak, put their goods in the shop window, and when the House passes judgment on the quality of the goods so exhibited. There are many things I would like to say about the King's Speech, but at this late hour I want to do only two things. The first is to state frankly my own attitude to the new Government and their programme. And the second is to draw attention to two points in the King's Speech on which I would be glad to have further information.
I welcome the arrival of the present Government in power. Their programme, which can be denned in a couple of phrases as social security plus a limited amount of nationalisation, is a programme which I shall find it possible to support. [An Hon. Member: "Thank you."] I know that numerical support or opposition from me is not a matter of great importance, but morally it may make the whole difference between a long and short life for the Government. I shall find it possible to give support to that programme, but I want to make it plain that that is not a promise of unconditional support. There is no Government and, for that 262 matter, no party, which is so good, and so invariably right, as to be able to claim unconditional support from any man who regards himself as a free man. I shall give general support to the programme outlined in the King's Speech, but I reserve, as in previous Parliaments, the right to disagree with the Government when I think them wrong.
The first point in the King's Speech to which I want to refer is one which I think is more important than all the subjects we have debated during the last two days. That is the reference to the discovery of the atomic bomb. I cannot help feeling that in this discovery we are in the presence of something which may make the whole of our internal and international politics out of date. At the moment we have discovered how to release the energy of the atom by the use of one particular substance, uranium, and to release it explosively. It seems to me to be inevitable that within a few years we shall discover many substances that will release the energy of the atom, and that it will be possible to release it in a controlled and measured form. If that happens, there will then confront us an industrial revolution, all over the world, of a size and consequence which will put the industrial revolution of the last two centuries completely into the shade. The Government, in the King's Speech, has properly referred to means, of controlling the destructive side of this discovery, and I welcome what was said in that regard. But I hope very much that before long the Government will say something about the constructive side of atomic energy, and what we are going to do, in a planned community and a planned world, with this vast new power which science has put at our disposal.
I doubt whether we have begun to conceive the implications of this thing. It makes us independent of coal and oil, and alters the strategic basis of the world. It makes us independent of siting our industries in particular places where coal is found, and enables us to resettle industry anywhere we like—from the Alps to the middle of the Sahara if we want to. It solves the problem in principle of the London fog, by making us independent of a million coal fires. There are no limits to its possibilities, and it seems to me that on the right handling of this new force more rests, on a long-term view, than on 263 almost all the other subjects that we have discussed during this Debate.
On this subject I want to ask the Government two things, and I hope they will regard them as of sufficient importance to warrant a reply. The first question is, is the Government considering, and if so how far has it got, the problem of exploiting, in company with other Governments, the development of this vast new force which science has made available to us? The second is, will they put behind the constructive development of this force at least as much money, energy, and attention as have been devoted to the development of the atomic bomb itself? Collectively we have spent, we are told,£500,000,000 in developing the destructive side of this new force. I believe that a similar sum, contributed by the Great Powers of the earth, and devoted to the development of its constructive side, may, within our lifetime, change the face of this planet. That is the size of the thing that confronts us, and I would, therefore, ask the Government whether they cannot make some statement similar to that which has been made by the President of the United States that this force will be publicly controlled, and not left to the tender mercies of a science inspired by private property and profit. Can they state first that it will be publicly controlled, and second that it will be dynamically developed?
I wonder whether we realise the extent of its impact even on the programme set out in the Gracious Speech. What about the nationalisation of the mines? In the light of this discovery, the proposal to nationalise the mines is a proposal to create a permanent rentier class out of the existing owners of an industry which, within 25 years, will probably be dead. The logical deduction to draw from this discovery is not that we should buy out the mines, but that we should lease them for a limited, period, at very much less cost to the State than would be involved by the nationalisation programme. While it is true that programmes have to be carefully considered when new things develop, we ought at least to envisage the impact of those new things on the programmes as we develop them. That is all I want to say about the atomic bomb, but I do beg the Government to give us as much information as they can on that point.
264 My second point is that I do not regard the wording of the Gracious Speech on the subject of agriculture as going anything like as far as it ought to go. What the Gracious Speech says, substantially, and what the new Minister said in his first public speech—to my disappointment, if he will allow me to say so—was that the Government intend to carry on with the policies of the past, to maintain the system of fixed prices and a guaranteed market, adjusting prices from year to year, on the basis of the figures and facts of the time in question. I want to make it plain that that does not carry us nearly far enough, if we intend to do what I think ought to be done with agriculture. Here I agree with what was said by the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins) in what I think was a first-rate maiden speech. We shall either make agriculture the basis of the structure in Britain or, believe me, within a short period of time we shall be back to the anarchy of the inter-war years.
The position of the farmer is that under the present declaration of policy he cannot see a day beyond the harvest of 1947. That is the limit of the commitments which have been given by the past or the present Government in regard to agriculture. And I assert that agriculture is not an industry in which you can improvise from year to year. It is an industry which calls for long-term planning, and if we are to give the farmer in Britain any hope of fulfilling our expectations in the production of food, we must tell him now what is in the Government's programme. The Labour Party programme is perfectly all right. It provides for permanent guaranteed markets; a permanent system of fixed prices; and a permanent system of import boards to regulate the import of food from abroad. That programme, in my opinion, meets the needs of agriculture, but I beg the members of the Labour Party to notice that that programme is not in the King's Speech. I represent an agricultural constituency, and I hope we shall have a much more adequate and complete statement on that subject before we leave the Debate on the Address.
There are many other things I wanted to say, but because the hour is late I shall come to a conclusion. But let me first say that I would beg the Government to use not only the legislative weapon. That is a slow and complicated method, 265 as new Members will discover. Under our present set-up it is impossible to get more than a couple of major Bills or perhaps it may be three, through the House in a year, and I hope very much that during the lifetime of this Parliament we shall tackle our procedure and methods and bring this 18th century mechanism into line with the needs of the 20th century. I regard that as an important question. But while we must expedite our legislative methods much can be done by the new Government by administration as distinct from legislation. I will mention some of the things which can be done by administrative methods. They can break down the tradition in Britain that the men of the Armed Forces must not be allowed to belong to any organisation to protect their own interests. I regard it as nonsense that when a man becomes a soldier, a sailor or an airman, he thereby forfeits all civil rights. That is wrong, and no Labour Government should allow that. We are told that he belongs to a disciplined Service. We have heard much the same thing in regard to the men in the police force. The short answer to that is that all service, from domestic service to divine service, is disciplined service. But that should not mean that it is necessary to deny these men the use of proper machinery to enable them to get their grievances dealt with on their merits and dealt with promptly, instead of allowing them to fester under the surface. Let the Government do the right thing by the Armed Forces, and the police force. In 1919 an Act of Parliament was passed which took away from policemen the right to organise in a trade union. I should like to see the Labour Government deal with that position, because I can see no more reason why policemen should not have a trade union than civil servants, doctors, lawyers and all the rest of us who enjoy the advantages of trade union machinery in Britain.
I promised that I would be brief and I intend to sit down, but I repeat that so far as this programme goes I regard it as a good one; and I will give it general, but not uncritical, support. But I beg the new Government to realise that we are at such a crisis in the affairs of this country and the world, because of the discovery of this new atomic power, as we have never experienced before. It is as if the Almighty were saying to man kind, "For thousands of years you have 266 been guilty of greed, cruelty and war-making, and the only result of allowing that to go on is that with each war you have become more and more cruel, more destructive, and more unrestrained. From now onwards you shall have wars, if you have them at all, only at the price of your utter and mutual destruction. You shall be sensible, or you shall cease to be." That is the order of this new discovery. As against that prospect, there is the prospect of putting into the hands of mankind powers infinitely greater than mankind has ever known before, powers great enough to enable us to socialise plenty instead of socialising poverty; powers great enough to enable us to build a new heaven on earth. I hope that a bold and swift imagination is going to be the mark of the Labour Party, which, if it claims to be the party of a new age, must address itself to the problems of this age in a new and different spirit from that which has prevailed here for many long years past.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Robens (Wansbeck)
It is with due deference that I address this House for the first time, and I hope that any faults which I may commit will be laid at the feet of my inexperience. The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) described the King's Speech in glowing terms, and it represents a very heavy programme of reconstruction and much diligent Parliamentary work to enable it to be carried through. If I were to make any comment at all, it would be in particular reference to social insurance. Though a young man, my plea this afternoon would be for another generation entirely. I refer to the old age pensioners.
It may be said that the present old age pensioner will be catered for in the new Bill in connection with social insurance, out Bills like that and the Housing Bill will take time, and, whilst that time is being taken up, many of the old age pensioners who to-day are living on a mere existence level will probably have ceased to enjoy life on this earth. I would ask the Government to do something immediately for the old age pensioners of the moment. I do not know, but some time, possibly, I shall learn whether or not the present position of the old age pensioner could be dealt with by regulation, but, if that were so, it seems to me that the first step ought at least to be to double the old age pension and 267 abolish the means test. All hon. Members, in their constituencies when fighting the election, must have left, met and spoken to many of the old people who are trying to manage on their small pension. They, more than anyone else, have been hit most hardly by the rise in the cost of living and by the rise in the prices of those little essentials that make for happiness.
We do not include the cost of the working man's beer or the old age pensioner's pipe of tobacco in the cost of living, and yet it represents the difference between misery and happiness for those old people. It seems to me that something ought to be done immediately to alleviate that. The means test has been pernicious, and one has cases, as most hon. Members must have, where grandchildren reach the age of 15 and begin to work only to have a portion of their income added to the family income, with the result that they are contributing something like 2s. 6d. a week to their grandfather's existence. In such a case, you merely make the old man very conscious indeed of the downfall of his pride, and of the fact that, having reared a family, and that family having reared another, he is now thrown on the help of his grandchildren, friends and other relatives. It is a state of affairs that ought to be altered immediately.
In this House, in the Session immediately ahead, we shall be doing a work which will perhaps not see its full realisation for some years ahead. We are laying the foundations for building upon a plan, and we are really building for the generation which perhaps I represent, and for the younger generation and those who will come after. Those are the people who will get most out of the work we propose to do. I want us not only to proceed with the work of building up the future, and building up a better world for the young people, but also to make this world a better place for the old people and enable them to spend the eventide of their days in something like decency and happiness.
I said that perhaps it was strange that I, at my age, should refer to old age pensioners. I do so because I feel so deeply for them. I have met those men and women whose very pride alone prevents them from asking for the additional allowances that they might obtain. I 268 want our old people to retain their pride and dignity. While we know that there is a tremendous labour problem in this country, here is an admirable opportunity for releasing the large army of Paul Prys and Sally Snoopers, who are the investigators of the Department and who spend their time going into the homes of the old people to find out precisely how much is coming in. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) yesterday drew a very graphic picture of the homes of the people on the Continent, and showed how, as they sat round their cottage fires, families were very disturbed when a knock came at the door which might mean that some secret police or Gestapo agent was there in order to take one of them away. There are plenty of cottage homes in this country where the knock on the door which heralds the investigator is met with the same dread.
If we cannot at this stage do something to deal with the larger point to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, we have it in our power, immediately and quickly, at least to release this great army of people who do this work and who cause this annoyance and who sink the pride of our old people. That is a job that we can do. I hope that the Government will take the opportunity and not wait for the full implementation of the Social Insurance Bill, but will, by Regulation, bring some life and happiness into the hearts and minds of our old people, and give them an opportunity of having a pension without this pernicious means test.
§ 3.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
I would like, had there been time, to follow the argument of the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Robens), upon whose maiden speech I would like, on behalf of the House, to offer congratulations, but the time is limited and I want to deal with the extremely important matters described to the House by the Lord Privy Seal in the course of his speech just now. I am bound to say that, talking upon this supreme and important matter of housing, the Lord Privy Seal unfolded a Government programme which I can only describe as completely confused and very reactionary. It was the right hon. Gentleman himself, in the latter part of his speech, who complained that his own Party was sometimes very conserva- 269 tive. Well, I have rarely heard a more reactionary proposal than that which he made to the House. The concluding part of his speech was employed mainly in explaining to the House how it was that the Labour Party changed their character, having moved from minority to majority status in the House. That is very true. When they were a minority in the House they never had time for delay, they were intolerant of any excuse. So were their candidates in the Election. Now there is a plea all the time from them for delay, for patience, for giving them a chance. The Prime Minister yesterday told us that the Coal Nationalisation Bill might bring about prosperity in the long run, and the right hon. Gentleman to-day talked about something happening in due course. I do not know, but we well may have to employ the services of the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Brown) and the atomic bomb to get the new Government to do things with any reasonable speed. It will remain to be seen whether I am right or wrong.
Let me take the various statements which the right hon. Gentleman made. He began by telling us about the new directorate of housing. Housing policy, he said, is now to be in the hands of the Minister of Health. I am sorry the Lord Privy Seal has gone, but the Minister of Health has an acute and clear mind, and it may be that he will be able to clear up a few matters which I think are still somewhat confused. The Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland are to be responsible for housing policy. That seemed clear until the Lord Privy Seal, under pressure, explained that the Minister of Works was to be responsible for prefabricated and temporary houses. Does that mean prefabricated and temporary housing policy or the construction of prefabricated and temporary houses?
§ Mr. Stewart
Perhaps the Minister will reply. It must be one or the other. It can scarcely be the second because the Lord Privy Seal explained that the building of houses was the business of the building industry. Therefore, I can only assume that the responsibility of the Ministry of Works is for the policy controlling prefabricated and temporary 270 houses. If that be so, and if, in fact, the prefabricated and temporary houses are to take as large a proportion of housing plans as we expect, then indeed one questions whether my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health or the Secretary of State for Scotland will in fact be the dominating authority as regards housing policy in the years to come. It is a very confused situation, and one would much like to have it cleared up.
Then we heard that the subsidies suggested by the last Government in regard to private enterprise building are not to be forthcoming. Everybody agreed at that time, everybody must agree now, first that private enterprise is needed to get enough houses and, secondly, that in order to produce houses at reasonable rents or prices, some financial assistance must be provided. These words were used by the Coalition Government acting and speaking for all its members. Why is that policy to be changed? Is it really the intention of this Government to deny private enterprise any kind of financial aid for the building of any kind of houses? If that is so, then indeed the outlook is black, not only for the countryside but for the towns.
However, it was in the countryside that my right hon. Friend exposed the most damning part of the new Government's policy. The Housing (Rural Workers) Act which, to my personal knowledge, and particularly to the knowledge of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, has been of great advantage to Scotland if not of substantial advantage to England and Wales, is now to be scrapped. That is very interesting because it was the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland who but a few months ago—indeed, not many weeks ago—stood up in this House and defended the continuance of that Measure, not upon any political grounds but upon the grounds that it was needed for the rapid repair and production of houses in Scotland. In Scotland, of which I think I can claim to speak with some little knowledge, and, I believe, also in England, there is an immense demand for new houses and in that country, as in England, there are tens of thousands of farm cottages which need but little repair, say£100 worth or more, to be made habitable places. The Government, it seems, are going to prevent that essential 271 work, to prevent that essential repair. If the statement they have made to-day is carried into effect I predict with the greatest confidence that tens of thousands of country people will be debarred from receiving proper houses for three, four or five years to come. For that, the blame will lie with the Government.
We are here not only to condemn but to help and I invite the Minister of Health, if he is responsible, and the Secretary of State for Scotland, who may be responsible in Scotland, to consider that policy again. Is it not possible to leave the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts in operation until the new alternative is ready? We do not know what the other alternative is. When is it to be produced? The Health Policy Bill is coming next year, perhaps at the beginning, perhaps at the end. When is the new Rural Housing Bill to be produced—next year, next Session, when? If the Government would but keep in operation this helpful, useful Measure reconstructed houses might continue to be erected in the countryside, thus relieving, to some extent, the great housing shortage. Scotland is to lose a Measure which the Lord Privy Seal admits is of great value. That is the only mention of Scotland we have heard in the course of this Debate on the King's Speech, and apparently that is to be the special measure of assistance to Scotland mentioned in the Speech itself. How grateful we are to know that it is a negative rather than a positive measure of assistance that is to be provided for our country! I hope Wales will fare better than we in the North are going to fare. I invite Members from Wales to look at the Government and their plans, for they may have just as raw a deal as my country is getting.
I intended to speak upon other subjects, but this matter of housing is of such acute importance that I feel that time has not been wasted in concentrating upon these questions alone. I hope the Secretary of State for Scotland will be able to speak in the course of the Debate and describe his plans for Scottish affairs, because he knows that of all the problems affecting the lives of the Scottish people housing is the most important. He knows, too, that perhaps the most acute problem in the country districts in Scotland is rural housing. Unless the right hon. Gentleman 272 —who has a considerable reputation in Scotland, and upon whose appointment I have already offered my congratulations and good wishes—can answer our doubts quickly on this most pressing problem this Government will stand condemned in the eyes of the Scottish people——
§ Mr. Gallacher rose——
§ Mr. Stewart
The hon. Member may get his chance to speak hereafter. What I have just said I have said with great seriousness. May I conclude on this note? I recognise as much as anyone else in the House, that it is no longer today a question of talking about the new age which is to come. It is here now, with all its vigour, all its untamed demand. This House has therefore a great responsibility but the Government's responsibility is greater still. I found during the Election, as I suppose others found, a clamour in all quarters, from Members of all parties and in all walks of life, for a better, fuller life quickly in the days to come. Unless this House can answer that demand fairly and wisely we shall fail as a nation. Speaking for my hon. Friends here, we are willing to give the Government every help in meeting that demand in a reasonable way. Our attitude is to be one of benevolent watchfulness; benevolent in the sense that democracy has given unquestioned authority to the party opposite—and we respect democracy's wishes; but watchfulness in the sense that we shall try to ensure that the needs of the people are in fact being met, as in housing, and that the dogmas of a single political party will not cause suffering or fail the needs of British citizens. Our attitude will be one of helpful but critical support. The view I have expressed on this announcement we have had to-day about housing is an example. We want to help, but I am staggered and grieved by what has been said this afternoon by the Minister.
§ Ordered: "That the Debate be now adjourned."—[Mr. Mathers.]
§ Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.