§ 4.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry Usborne (Birmingham, Acock's Green)
I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty as followeth:Most Gracious Sovereign,We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.It is with much apprehension and anxiety that I have gathered up my courage to move this Address, for I am well aware of my shortcomings and of my inexperience. In the 16 months during which it has been my privilege to represent the people of Acock's Green I have learned that sympathy here is always given in full measure to any Member who endeavours to do his duty, is true to his conscience, and is honest and outspoken. It is on this basis, and in all humility, that I wish to address, through you, Mr. Speaker, my remarks to the House this afternoon.
I am not really a politician but an engineer. I am much more at home examining a blueprint than I am when I have to examine a Government White Paper. I have spent all the years of my working life in Birmingham, that city of a thousand industries, peopled for the most part by technicians and engineers like myself. In Hall Green and Acock's Green, the constituency I have the honour to represent, live the people who knew "how to make it," who in their thousands filled the factories of Birmingham, where, at the time of Dunkirk and in the subsequent years of the war, the miracle of production took place. They, my people, suffered, and many died, under the fury of the nightly attacks on Birmingham in the dreadful winter of 1940. But they did not flinch, and production soared in mounting curves till finally the ghastly struggle was over, and the opportunity was won—the opportunity to secure a dynamic, lasting peace for all mankind, so that never again would this senseless slaughter have to be repeated.
In July, 1945, when our victory was certain though the last stages of the fighting still continued, the people of Acock's Green sent me here to represent them, because I believe they knew then the nature 10 of peace and the conditions which we must create if it is to be made secure and permanent for all time. It was for this reason, I believe, that they chose me. I used these words in my Election Address:Peace, and with it happiness, justice and freedom for all men—these are ideals impossible of attainment unless we are willing to work and to suffer for them. There can be no new order in Europe Or anywhere else without a change of outlook and of renunciation on our part. We must discard all our old ideas about nationalism and class and wealth, and learn to regard ourselves as units of humanity, sharers of the world's wealth and the world's problems in common. In the future which I hope to see we will have to create a United States of Europe as an integral part of the Federation of the World. This is possible even in our lifetime, if we start working for it now; No peace will be permanent until we achieve it.That was part of the platform on which I stood. For the fulfilment of that pledge my constituents sent me here to Westminster. I am well aware of the tribute which is being paid to my people by the choice of myself to move this Address this afternoon.
I have also been for eight years an elected member of the Council of Federal Union, that society of idealists—and we do not mind being called idealists—who work together to study the problems and conditions of peace. Today, that organisation has grown to world stature, and only recently at a conference in Luxembourg was incorporated under a new name, the Movement for World Federal Government. More than 40 Members of this Parliament are members of it; in almost every country of the world you will come across our people, speaking different languages, holding different ideologies and surmounting the barriers of nationalism, of class and creed by their determination to work together for one single goal, namely, the creation of an effective world parliament which may save us from atomic destruction, and by the only method known to man—secure world order with freedom based on law and justice. Only ultimately by government, we believe, can one hope to abolish the international anarchy out of which the world's difficulties now so largely arise. We believe that there is no short cut to peace, there is no alternative to government.
In the speech with which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Watford (Mr. J. Freeman) so ably moved the 11 Address this time last year, referring to the San Francisco Charter, he used these words:It must be the concern of His Majesty's Government to breathe life into these blueprints and to make a living organism of peace and plenty … but it will not be done … by the stereotyped methods of old-fashioned diplomacy. Something new is needed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th August, 1945; Vol. 413. c. 73.]Today, I think all of us in this House share those views. Indeed, we know that what is needed is effective world government, as the Foreign Secretary and the leaders of all parties have so frequently stated. In this connection might I make one plea to His Majesty's Ministers? It would be this, that they should continue ceaselessly to stress on every possible occasion that it is their desire to see effective world government, elected by the people, ultimately created. For we know that that task is so great and so urgent that we cannot hope to carry it through unless we have the driving power of world public opinion behind us; and it will make it so much easier for us, the common people in every land, to canalise this overwhelming desire for a just and lasting peace if the Ministers who speak for Britain leave no doubt that they too believe that world government can be and is being achieved, and if in their pronouncements and their policies they indicate the need for its success. In this way, with Britain's lead, I believe we can perform that miracle, and provide a world of permanent peace for future generations to enjoy, a world in which the abundant resources which now lie latent will be fully developed for the good of all mankind.
Unfortunately, today, as is so tragically apparent from the meetings now taking place in New York, there is an underlying fear that each big Power, in the genuine interests of its own security, is looking to military strategy for its defence. Yet we, the common people of Britain, know the absurdity of that thesis, and recognise that in this atomic age there is only one form of security for any of us; that is, the security, not of force but of effective international law, and the order which can be based upon it. Until we have that law, which only world government can make, every nation must, of course, provide its own armed forces for its own protection, in 12 conformity with Article 43 of the Charter of the United Nations. The United Nations organisation is the overriding factor, as indeed it must be, in British foreign policy. Nevertheless, immediately the United Nations organisation can be developed into, or be replaced by, a real and effective world government elected by the people, with a police force of its own to enforce its law, my constituents will ask me, or whoever then represents them, to propose on their behalf that Britain shall demobilise its Armed Forces and merge its defence and sovereignty in the greater sovereignty of all mankind.
I am well aware that this goal of which I speak is some way off. But surely nothing worth while was ever achieved without great effort and a supreme single-mindedness of purpose. My constituents and I knew the difficulties that lay ahead when our troops were beaten back from the shores of Dunkirk, and we knew the long odds against our ultimate success. Yet, in five short years we had succeeded. We are now prepared to repeat that all-out effort, and to keep it up indefinitely till permanent peace for all time is ultimately secured; for that is the end for which we fought the war, that was the purpose of our victory. We know what is involved; we are prepared to work for it, and to spend and to be spent in that endeavour. With God's help, and with high courage, I believe we shall succeed.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Hoy (Leith)
I beg to second the Motion so ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Acock's Green (Mr. Usborne).
In the duty which I have undertaken this afternoon, I am fortified by two recent personal experiences which, with permission, I will relate to the House. First, may I say that I remember, only too well, the night on which the Battle of E1 Alamein started? We were then keyed up; everyone was tense; but, with the firing of the first shot, we felt a great deal easier. Having said that, I must add that I feel a little easier in undertaking this duty this afternoon. There is one other incident which stands out in my recent experiences. That was on the day on which we started to cross the Rhine. It was then my privilege to accept a message which I read out to all the troops 13 under the command of the 12th Corps; which said, in the words of a famous Yorkshireman, "Let battle commence." And it did, with the success which was a credit to our people.
In discharging the high duty of seconding this Address to His Majesty for His Gracious Speech, I am deeply conscious of the tribute which is being paid to Scotland and to my own constituency. Scotland's war effort needs no retelling by me. The history of our Highland and Lowland Divisions, and the industrial contribution made by Scotland, will live for ever in the annals of our country. I want to say a few words particularly on the real work done and the positive contribution made by the people of Leith. When the Allied commanders and their advisers decided to build Mulberry, a great deal of that work was given to Scotland. As a matter of fact, 83 per cent. of the pierheads which made up the famous Mulberry harbour were built in Scotland, and of a total of 18, 13 were completed within my constituency. We had a great task; time was short; and the order was that, instead of taking four months per pierhead, the men ought to complete them in four weeks. Many thought it was impossible; but not so these workmen of Leith, who are so typical, if I may say so, of the workmen of any other part of these islands. They went to it with a will, and 13 pierheads, and all the pontoons necessary for that operation, were launched from the yards of Leith in good time to play their part in that remarkable D-Day. In addition to that contribution, 54 Admiralty and merchant ships were launched from our yards, and there were also the hundreds of repairs rendered necessary by enemy operations. The men and women of my constituency worked day and night in the common cause. In addition, they rallied to the Forces, and the men of the fishing fleet of Newhaven, which is within my constituency, rallied to the Merchant Navy, which also played such an important part. The dockers worked night and day to keep up the flow of goods, so essential at that time. I am deeply grateful at having this opportunity of paying public tribute to the war service of the people of my constituency.
I think it is all the more remarkable in view of their experiences between the two wars. I know that one should not introduce controversial matter on this 14 occasion, but I do not think Members of this House will object when I recall the treatment meted out to these workers in the years between the wars. Then, they were not clamouring for unemployment pay, nor for public assistance, but for the right to work, which was denied to many of them. Because of that, and because of bad housing, and all that goes with it, their lot was a very mean one, indeed. So that, when this war finished, they not only asked, but demanded that their future should be a much brighter one; and it is because of that, I believe, that this Government was returned, to carry out that task.
I think there is a great feeling of confidence in the country, despite the grey clouds which overhang us. We have been in difficult corners before, and there have been occasions when our morale has been under a severe strain. I recall that in 1942, for instance, things had not been going well for the Armed Forces. I was then stationed in North Africa. There were rumours of changes, because rumours were always plentiful; in fact, I would say that they were the most plentiful thing in the Armed Forces. There were rumours that we were to have a change of commander. Names were bandied about; and then someone said that a chap called Montgomery was to take over. That was followed by a rumour that he was to pay us a visit; followed by another story that we were to have a visit from the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill). May I say, that the Army did not describe the right hon. Gentleman in just those words? They described him in a more affectionate way. This hope was realised. We were turned out to greet the right hon. Gentleman but, unfortunately, in the Army, you cannot just lift your hat, and with enthusiasm shout "Hooray." You have to do it by numbers; to move your hat at the command, "One, two, and three," to the cheering position. You then wait until your section leader gives you the "Hip, hip" before you come in with the "hurrah." Unfortunately, the right hon. Gentleman had by then moved well off down the road out of sight. But behind him—and I want to say this publicly—he did leave behind that feeling of confidence which carried us through.
It is that mood of confidence which, I think, prevails in the country today. 15 People realise that the difficulties before us are great, but, they also feel that with cooperation and an increase of production, we can surmount our present difficulties. All Members must have heard with pleasure that part of the Gracious Speech which refers to the preparatory work of the International Conference on Trade and Industry. It must have given special pleasure to the hon. Members who represent ports, especially those Members from Scotland and Wales, where the ports have been going through a very difficult period since the war ended. We shall welcome any steps that that Conference may take to bring succour to those areas. Transport will play a tremendous part in our economic recovery, and I trust that the proposed legislation will be of benefit to the country as a whole. In the North we have always felt that transport charges formed one barrier to the attraction of light industries to our country, but we trust that the new Measure will rectify this and will help to give us a balanced economy. If the legislation outlined in the Gracious Speech provides an up-to-date and efficient service, it will be welcomed by hon. Members of this House.
The House must have been particularly gratified to hear the proposals to effect an efficient development, with a system of guaranteed prices and assured markets, of our agricultural industry. During and since the war we have all felt how important a part this industry played in our national economy. For too long has it been the Cinderella of industries. We trust that in addition to the greater benefits this legislation will confer upon those engaged in the industry, will also attract people from the urban to the rural areas, and help to give us that better economy which we all so much desire.
The proposals contained in the Gracious Speech to nationalise electricity are essential, if we are to give the best and most economical service to industry and to domestic users. I have only one appeal to make to the Minister who will be responsible, and it is this: that when the legislation is enacted, he will do everything in his power to see that not even the remotest house is deprived of the benefits of that service.
I specially welcome the proposals to give a new health service to Scotland. I do not think there is any need for me to 16 recount the great part played by the medical and surgical work carried out in Scotland. If these services give an adequate health service to every man, woman and child in our country, as I confidently believe they will, then I know it will be a job with which the House of Commons will be very well pleased.
Hon. Members in all parts of the House will welcome that part of the Gracious Speech which promises a greater production of consumer and capital goods for our own people. They have borne their trials with great fortitude and courage, and we feel the time has now arrived when they should experience some of the benefits which greater production can give them. This again, may I reiterate, can only be achieved if we have the greatest cooperation and the maximum production in industry. The people of Scotland, who played such a great part in the winning of the war, along with their brothers from England and Wales and other parts of the British Empire, if given an opportunity, will be only too pleased to join with them once more to secure the victory in the economic battle in which we are now engaged. The present Prime Minister, during the Debate on the Address in 1943, said:In our country also, just as the complete changeover of industry from peace to war was slow and difficult, so the restoration of industry, the return of the fighters and war workers to civilian life is not going to be a short or easy business. I am certain that in a well-ordered and peaceful world mankind can attain in time higher standards of life than have ever been enjoyed before, but the difficulty of the immediate postwar period must be understood, and all the more is it necessary that we should see that we utilise to the full the services of our own people and do not allow the workers to rust in enforced idleness."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th November, 1943; c. 44, vol. 395.]Because I believe that the programme outlined in the Gracious Speech is one more step to that better life for all, and because I believe that the proposals to deal with our basic industries would have commended themselves to that great Scotsman and Socialist Keir Hardie, I do sincerely feel it a great honour and privilege to have the opportunity of seconding the Motion moved by my hon. Friend.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Churchill (Woodford)
The extensive armoury of the English language has 17 frequently been ransacked on these occasions, in order to find new and unhackneyed terms of compliment and congratulation which can be applied by the Leader of the Opposition to the hon. Members who have been chosen by the Government to move and second the Address. I confess that I should have found myself baffled, in the selection of any new terms or any new feature, but for the remarkable fact that neither of the two hon. Gentlemen is wearing uniform or Court dress. Here, at any rate, is one of the really broad advances of democracy, and it may be some comfort to hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, if their thirst for blood is not slaked in other ways. But here I must utter a word of warning to Ministers opposite. They must remember that, in this direction, they are moving contrary to the general tendencies of the Soviet Government, which has distinguished itself throughout the world by the gold-laced glory of its official uniforms, and by the punctilio which it observes on all occasions. We may, therefore, possibly regard this innovation either as an advance of democracy, or as a demonstration on the part of the Government of their differences with the Communist regime.
But I do wholeheartedly congratulate both hon. Gentlemen on their speeches, on the unexceptionable character of the sentiments to which they have given vent, and on the form in which they have cast their arguments, I was particularly pleased to hear the mover of the Address, the hon. Member for the Acock's Green division of Birmingham (Mr. Usborne), speak with favour of the United States of Europe, and I trust that if ever we are able to come to practical action in that field, he will not fail to enrol himself as a servant of that cause, for a regional consciousness of Europe, while certainly vital in itself, is an essential and fundamental part of the policy of the world organisation of the United Nations. I also give my compliments to the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy), and thank him for his very kind references to me. He commanded the universal assent of the House in his tribute to Scotland, and to the work done at Leith in pursuance of the war. The efforts of Scotland and the contribution of Scotland are entitled to world-wide fame; and I must remind the House that they also voted extremely sensibly at the General Election.
18 This is the second King's Speech of the Socialist Government. They have been 16 months in office. We have had one of the most laborious and protracted Sessions—fruitful, hon. Members may say, but at any rate productive of something which is on record. At this moment, in reply to' the second King's Speech, we may profitably attempt to take stock of the position. The world situation has not improved. The Prime Minister, at the Mansion House, drew a sombre picture from which I cannot dissent. At the General Election, we were assured that a Socialist or Left-Wing Government "would get on especially well with the Soviet Government of Russia, but relations have steadily deteriorated." The British and American Forces in Europe have melted away, as was inevitable—I am not making it an accusation—in the case of governments resting upon the popular will, after a great victory. The Russian Armies, based on the despotic form of government, have been maintained in Europe in vast strength, and mostly on a war footing. More than one-third of Europe is held under the Russian Soviet control. The Soviet military frontier is on the Elbe, and it is impossible to forecast what the future and the fate of France will be. No fruition has yet attended the peace negotiations even about the smaller satellite enemy Powers—perhaps the Prime Minister will be able to make some statement on this point today.
The United Nations organisation, as he has so forcibly pointed out at the Mansion House, has not, so far, fulfilled our hopes; it remains however—and in this I agree with the mover of the Address—our citadel, and we are in full accord with His Majesty's Government in their loyal and faithful support of this institution, whose reign and ascendancy are an earnest of the desire of the overwhelming majority of mankind. To record these melancholy facts which we see around us, is not necessarily to blame His Majesty's Government, The difficulties have been enormous, and the forces which confront them are intractable. British influence abroad has greatly diminished since wartime days. It is not to attack the Government that I mention these facts, but in order to survey our own position. The Foreign Secretary has done his best, and we on this side have given him whatever support was in our power—we 19 have even sometimes supported him to an extent which caused him embarrassment in other quarters. We cannot charge the Government with being responsible for all the evils of the situation abroad. They have certainly not been guilty of any wrongful or provocative action. We readily believe that their motives are as innocent and virtuous as those which are set out in the mellifluous language of the Gracious Speech, with large parts of which we are in full agreement. It was the duty of the Socialist Government to take office when called upon to do so so decidedly by the electors. It is not their fault if they are not equal to the job, though it may be our misfortune.
It cannot be claimed, however, that even a National Coalition Government would have successfully surmounted all the adverse tides which have been flowing. The Conservative Party cannot of course accept any responsibility for Potsdam, as matters were taken out of our hands in the vital phase of those discussions. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] These are facts, but I am sure, whoever had conducted Potsdam, it would have left behind it many grievous legacies for the future of Europe. Nevertheless, the fact remains that 18 months after the surrender of Germany, and more than a year after that of Japan, and in spite of the firm, helpful attitude of the United States based on the joint action—what they call"bi-partisan"—of their two historic parties, the world scene is still dark, anxious and confused. No decisive improvement can be recorded, except, of course, that in the mercy of God the cannons have ceased to fire.
In the forefront of any survey of the world stands Germany, a vanquished nation. "Stands," I said—no, prostrate, shattered. Seventy or 80 millions of men and women of an ancient, capable and terribly efficient race are in a ruined and famished condition in the heart of Europe. This confronts us with problems which at present are quite unsolved by the victors. We and the Americans continue to rule and administer the German people in our zones at extravagant and almost unbearable cost—I think in this I carry the Chancellor of the Exchequer with me—to ourselves, and with increasing dissatisfaction to the Germans. We have not been told, and I will not attempt 20 to discuss what is happening in the Russian zone. We are all agreed that the proper course is, as I said before we separated, to make the Germans earn their own living, and make them manage their own affairs as soon as possible, and to give them all possible aid while preventing every form of rearmament. If we are agreed on that, let us enforce it. Let us stick to it and enforce it on every occasion as opportunity serves. Though we have not been informed of any attempt which has been made to forecast the form of the peace treaty with Germany, surely it is urgent to make a peace with the German people, or as many of them as lie within our spheres of responsibility. There must be an end to vengeance and retribution.
I am told that Germany must be punished. I ask: When did punishment begin? It certainly seems to have been going on for a long time. It began in 1943, and continued during 1944 and 1945, when the most frightful air bombardments were cast upon German cities, and when the general exhaustion of their life under the cruel Nazi regime had drained the last ounces of strength from the German race and nation. The Nuremberg trials are over, and the guilty leaders of the Nazi regime have been hanged by the conquerors. We are told that thousands yet remain to be tried, and that vast categories of Germans are classed as potentially guilty because of their association with the Nazi regime. After all, in a country which is handled as Germany was, the ordinary people have very little choice about what to do. I think some consideration should always be given to ordinary people. Everyone is not a Pastor Niemoller or a martyr, and When ordinary people are hurled this way and that, when the cruel hands of tyrants are laid upon them and vile systems of regimentation are imposed and enforced by espionage and other forms of cruelty, there are great numbers of people who will succumb. I thank God that in this island home of ours, we have never been put to the test which many of the peoples of Europe have had to undergo. It is my hope that we shall presently reach the end of the executions, penalties, and punishments, and that without forgetting the hard lessons of the past, we shall turn our faces resolutely towards the future. There is much to be said not only on the general problem of 21 Germany, but on the character of our administration in the zone confided to us since Germany surrendered. My right hon. Friend the former Foreign Secretary will deal more at length with the whole German question, and also with British administration of the zone, in the course of the general Debate on the Address. He will speak either tomorrow or the day afterwards, according to what the course of our affairs may render convenient and necessary.
Coming now to the affairs of the British Empire, or former British Empire, with its Commonwealth possessions and mandated territories, I was struck by a statement which was reported to have been made by Mr. Clayton, an official of the United States Government, about Imperial Preference. The statement was made at the end of last week. This subject has often been thrashed out and the facts are common knowledge to every Member who studies our affairs with due attention. Everything is on record. We were repeatedly assured by His Majesty's Government, notably at the time of the acceptance of the American Loan—for which we must not be ungrateful—that no commitments to the prejudice of Imperial Preference had been entered into by His Majesty's Government, and that we are entirely free in any discussions which may take place on the future of world trade or world economy. I ask the Prime Minister to say, when he replies in due course, if he is in a position to renew these assurances on the present occasion in order that we may consider, on this side of the House, what action we should take. I thought it right to give the right hon. Gentleman, whose official position alone prevents me from describing him as "my right hon. Friend," due notice of the question which I have asked on this point.
I may, however, hazard, for my own assurance and that of some of my hon. Friends on these benches, the personal opinion that it would be a great surprise to me, at least, if a Republican Congress were to embrace Free Trade so wholeheartedly, completely, and passionately, and to promote such a casting down of tariff walls of all kinds as to call in question, even as a matter of discussion, the comparatively small, modest Preference duties which have been built up in the British Commonwealth of Nations, which have become part of our supreme common 22 life and which are even more important to us as symbols of our indissoluble union than for their commercial advantages, which are, none the less, considerable. However, I await the declarations of the Prime Minister upon this point.
There is a paragraph in the Gracious Speech about India. This paragraph has the advantage that the Government accept and take upon themselves, as is their duty—it is no more than their duty—the responsibility for what is happening in India, and base their policy upon the statement made by them and the Ministers of the Crown who were recently employed on the mission to India. This is not the time to debate the character and consequences of the British abandonment of India. We have been promised two days' Debate on this subject. I do not consider that anything has been lost by its postponement up to the present. It may well be, however, that before Christmas we shall ask for a formal Debate. We may be forced to ask for it on account of the increasing degeneration in the life of the Indian peoples, and the bloodstains which are already appearing, in wide and numerous areas, on the Indian map.
I will content myself today with one remark, one passage, designed to illustrate the gravity of the events which are now in progress in India. Suppose Europe had been ruled—and this may appeal to the mover of the Address—for several generations, I may even say many generations, by a European Council, and had dwelt in internal peace and safety from external aggression, without any wars, with hardly anybody killed during all that time by steel or lead, except common criminals in the course of common crime. Suppose peace and order had been maintained by an impartial organisation seated, let us say, at Geneva, and that it had required to maintain its authority only fifty to sixty thousand armed council or international troops, and had carried on all its work with little more than 1,200 officials. Suppose this long reign of peace had endured, that nearly a century had passed, and immense increases of population had taken place meanwhile, and that equal laws and justice had been given to all and observed by all the many nations, races, and religions of Europe, so that the Russians and Poles, French and Germans, Austrians and Italians, Protestants and Catholics, Communists and Conservatives, had managed 23 to get along for 60 to 70 years without flying at each other's throats, without killing each other.
That certainly would have been regarded as a blessed era, a kind of Age of the Antonines in Roman history. And that impression would not have been destroyed even though there were admittedly many shortcomings, and also, admittedly, boundless need and hope and means for further improvement. Supposing now that, in the name of progress, it were decided to remove the elements of stability and impartiality which had rendered an all-European organisation possible and had conferred such inestimable blessings upon the masses of the European peoples, that would be a most serious step; it would be a milestone in the history of Europe, and, not only of Europe, but of the world, because we must remember how everything is connected with everything else, especially nowadays. Suppose, moreover, the preparations for the withdrawal of the central power and guiding hand had already released many of the disruptive and rival forces which lurk in every continent and that these were stirring again with age-old animosities, long buried, so long held in neutrality; and suppose, in particular, that the wars of religion in Europe between Catholic and Protestant, which formerly ravaged Europe and which were the cause of the Thirty Years War, again threatened to break out; suppose that already in the last few months in Europe 10,000 Protestants and Catholics had murdered one another. I think that the situation would be one which would justifiably cause widespread anxiety, and which would, when the proper time comes, afford justification for a full and deliberate Debate. We shall hold the Government to their promise to give us this opportunity, but we are quite ready to fix the time in accordance with their convenience, and also with the situation as it exists in India.
I have spoken on recent occasions at length on the proposed abrogation of the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty and the abandonment by British Forces of the Canal zone. I do not know whether the Prime Minister has any further information for us on the negotiations which have been lately conducted in Cairo and the conversations which have taken place over here, but if 24 he feels that the moment is not suitable, we should not demur to his view, or press him in any way.
About Palestine, however, it is impossible to avoid expressing deep regret at the many changes of tactics and method, at the needless disappointment created throughout world Jewry by the failure to fulfil the hopes which the party opposite excited by their promises and convictions at the General Election, and above all, at the lack of any policy worthy of the name. This absence of any policy or decision on these matters, which have become more complicated as they proceed, has allowed havoc and hatred to flare and run rife throughout Palestine for more than a year—and no one knows where we are today. I have nothing to add to what I have previously advised. Here, perhaps, I may speak for myself, because I have always supported the Zionist movement, and many of my friends here took a different view of it at the time, before the war. I cannot, in any way, recede from the advice which I have ventured to give, namely, that if we cannot fulfil our promises to the Zionists, we should without delay place our mandate for Palestine at the feet of the United Nations, and give due notice of our impending evacuation of that country. If this offer is accepted, a burden, which has become too heavy and too invidious for us to bear alone, will have been lifted from our shoulders and placed in international safekeeping.
If, however, the United States, which is so keenly interested in Jewish immigration, would deprecate such a course on our part, it would be for them to help us in the most effective way, not only with money but with men, and with all that flows from a concerted policy advanced by two great English-speaking Powers. I am not at all deterred in recommending this course by the fact that it has been demanded by the Soviet Government. I was rather glad to find that our minds are flowing in the same direction in one aspect of international affairs. I am convinced that this procedure would either relieve us from the most thankless of all human tasks, from the reproach which attends our ill success and infirmity of purpose, and from the physical and practical difficulties of the task, or, on the other hand, that it would secure us the support necessary from Jewish and American 25 sources by which alone our work can be accomplished and our mission fulfilled. To abandon India, with all the dire consequences that would follow there from, but to have a war with the Jews in order to give Palestine to the Arabs amid the execration of the world, appears to carry incongruity of thought and policy to levels which have rarely been attained in human history.
I leave these external issues in which, in spite of their melancholy features, there is much common ground between the two main parties—after all, we are all in the same boat in the result of many of these things—and I come to the administration and political topics which are open at home. Some of these are referred to in the Gracious Speech. The hon. Gentleman who moved the Address spoke of his great desire to demobilise all the Armed Forces after proper conditions had been established, and I am sure that is a widespread desire—but not yet; like the cynical saying, "We all want to get to Heaven but not immediately." The decision of His Majesty's Government to continue compulsory national service for the Armed Forces for an indefinite period after 1949 is one which they would certainly not have reached without good and grave reasons. In a matter like this, which affects in a vital manner the safety of our country, by avoiding one-sided disarmament, and the maintenance of peace, it will be the duty of the Opposition to support the Government, and we shall certainly do so not only in this House but out of doors.
No one can say there is anything undemocratic about national service for the defence of the country and for the preservation of our free island life, and I assume, of course, that it will be imposed equally and universally upon all British subjects in Great Britain, without any distinction being drawn between rich and poor. There is a question of some difficulty about Northern Ireland. That must be discussed in a temperate spirit, in view of all the past history of that question. I hope, however, that with the least possible delay we shall be placed in possession of the Government's scheme, especially in regard to the Army, so that we may know the part in our future system which the Territorial Army and voluntary enlistment of all kinds will play, and how these features 26 will be reconciled with permanent national compulsory military service. I hope we can also be assured that there is no question of extending compulsory national service in the Armed Forces, which defend the life of the State, to compulsory service in the industries of the country. In time of war, this sacrifice may be made, and was freely and voluntarily made, by the trade unions and by the people of the nation, but anything in the nature of industrial conscription in time of peace would be intolerable, and all tendency in that direction must be resisted by all who wish to avoid the serfdom of totalitarian regimes.
I do not wish to trespass unduly upon the time of the House, but the King's Speech covers many topics, and one may be accused of underrating the value of some particular topic if it is not given customary mention in despatches. I reminded the House recently that I suggested last November that a total of 1,550,000 men should be maintained for the three Services for some time to come. The Government informed us in February that they hoped to reduce the figure to a total of 1,100,000 by 31st December next. I now understand that this process has been stopped—I only read it from the newspapers—and that the 1,100,000 is to be increased by 200,000, 300,000 or 400,000 men. It is no part of my duty to search for points of agreement with the present Government, but it does seem that a figure of 1,100,000, plus 300,000 or 400,000 more, if that is adopted, will bring them very near the 1,550,000 which I put forward a year ago.
Here I must frankly deplore the mismanagement and maladministration of the Armed Forces during the last year. All of the three Ministers responsible have been removed, promoted or dismissed, and new men have been appointed. The former First Lord has now become Minister of Defence. I would like to take the occasion of offering him my hearty congratulations and of saying that we look forward with confidence to his discharge of these duties. The right hon. Gentleman has a very special ability and experience, and I, personally, have always felt the warmest regard for him on account of the very rough times we went through together during the war. But what with 27 his long journey to India and his protracted work on the Paris Conference, which was also quite good—I much preferred it to his work on his previous excursion—he cannot have given much thought to Admiralty business. We are told the Admiralty runs itself. I am not so sure. Today we are told the Navy is undermanned. I saw placarded in the newspapers about recent Fleet exercises that the Navy was undermanned; one battleship, or something like that, was all they could manage Yet the Figures presented to us in February gave them no fewer than 175,000 men on Vote A, or far more than were required for the very large Fleets which were fully manned before the Second World War began. There must be some mismanagement here, and although partial explanations may be forthcoming, I should particularly like to know what is the proportion of men in Vote A of the Navy who are seaborne tonight, and how many of them are employed on shore, and to have comparisons between that and the Navy in- previous phases of its administration. A very searching and severe review of naval establishments is undoubtedly required, and I trust this will be undertaken during: the Estimates Debates of this year. I recognise, of course, that the Fleet Air Arm is an addition to the prewar Navy, and also may be counted as part of our air power.
The former Secretary of State for Air, Lord Stansgate, also has been so much abroad, negotiating for our evacuation of Egypt and the Canal zone, that he has not been able to bring his commanding talents to bear upon the intricate problems and clamant problems of postwar military aviation. Lord Stansgate has gone, and we now have a new Secretary of State for Air, but he has gone, too, to the United States.
Finally, there is the War Office. The former Secretary of State for War—I do not know whether my right hon. Friend is here today—is deservedly popular and respected in all sections of the House. His many good and charming qualities, high patriotism and public spirit, are admired by all That, however, does not in any way efface the fact that he was not qualified to discharge, or capable of discharging, the extraordinary and complicated tasks with which the War Office is cumbered and pressed in the transition period at the end of a great war. There 28 is great importance in having a political Minister constantly making his influence felt in each of the Service Departments. It is one of the cases where that much abused class, the politicians, is indispensable. Left to themselves, the Service chiefs will not be able to produce solutions of many of the difficulties which occur, and they would be the first to say how much they stand in need of political guidance. This guidance they have not had, I think, in any effective form—in any form worth speaking of—for more than a year, and we have paid pretty dearly in all sorts of directions for the lack of this essential element in our organisation.
Take the Kluang court martial, and all that business there. With my immense Army experience, with all the Secretaries of State for War I have seen, criticised or applauded, I cannot understand how any Secretary of State for War, coming into his office one morning and, presumably, reading some of the newspapers, would not have said to the Army Council, or whatever it may be, "Here you are going to try 240 men—since when has there been a mass court martial like that? Look up the precedents. The Cabinet would have to settle a question of that kind." Nothing of this sort seemed to occur, and so we got into an extremely tiresome and vexatious muddle which did not reflect very well upon the smooth and imperturbable administration of our military law and justice, although I take this occasion to say that I thought the first entrance of the new Secretary of State to the House and his remarks upon this subject were by no means unbecoming.
I am sure that if he feels that he has to stand between the Army and criticism and see that justice is done, there will be many opportunities for him to make his tenure of the office praiseworthy and possibly even memorable. Far more serious is the total failure to produce a policy or scheme in respect of the Army which can be explained to Parliament and which, once understood by the country, can become a powerful aid to voluntary recruitment. Failure, and failure worthy of censure, is applied to the Government administration of the three Service Departments since they came into power, and this failure has been demonstrated beyond contradiction by the dismissal of two out of the three Ministers involved.
29 I have only a few more topics which I must touch upon, and these leave the military, foreign, Colonial, and Imperial spheres and come a little nearer to our home affairs. We are relieved to hear that Ministers willprosecute with the utmost vigour the task of providing suitable homes for My people.This is a day of rejoicing. Is this really true? Have they made up their minds to turn over a new leaf?
§ Mr. Churchill
I have passed more social legislation in this House than any man before. I guarantee that it would have been possible to give a far greater impetus and movement to the house building programme. I have more than once appealed publicly to the Minister of Health, and I am sure that if he chose from now henceforth to be animated by the instruction and statement in the Gracious Speech and let nothing stand in the way of the largest number of homes of all kinds in the shortest possible time by all methods for the largest number of people, he could even now regain a great deal of the position and the hopes which were founded upon his accession to office with his many undoubted abilities. Instead of that we did not get the homes. We got insults every time. Every kind of insult was flung out, not that we seasoned politicians mind what was said about us by people for whom we entertain no respect. It is maddening for the people who need the homes and houses merely to see the right hon. Gentleman working out his little party spites, as well as personal and class spites which in the great position he now occupies he ought to have outlived. I have heard him described as a new Lloyd George. Good gracious me, it was certainly not by this kind of contribution that this former great Welshman made his name a household word, which will long endure and be remembered in the homes of Britain.
We are also told that it will be the constant endeavour of His Majesty's Ministers to alleviate the hardships and inconveniences of the housewives. This again will certainly be a welcome change Let me repeat the old adage, "It is never too late to mend." There may still be a moment, 30Betwixt the stirrup and the ground,He mercy sought, and mercy found.So far during their tenure of power, in spite of the great power which they wield and of the very severe measures that they are able to force upon the working people, who have just voted for them in large numbers, and, therefore, give loyal obedience to much which they would otherwise not have sustained and endured, they have in many ways made things actually worse than they were in the war years. There have been arguments about food. In the first year of peace it is worse than it was in the last year of war. I am told that that will bear statistical and searching examination. By all means let it be examined, and let us see what the figures are. I will even put a Question on the Paper if desired to elicit a written answer. It is very gratifying to hear the Ministers in the King's Speech admitting their intention to break with their evil past and to go forward and endeavour to alleviate the lot of the housewife. But what is the substance behind these declarations? The change of heart is very good, but what are the acts and deeds by which they are to be accompanied? What is the first remedy for all these misfortunes and for all these difficulties? What is the first step of alleviation which we are promised in the Gracious Speech? It is the nationalisation of the railways and of inland transport.
§ Mr. Churchill
I am not going to pretend I see anything immoral in the nationalisation of the railways provided fair compensation is paid to the present owners. I profess myself, as the hon. Gentleman has reminded the House, in favour of this policy in 1919, but what happened? [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Churchill
Sir Eric Geddes was placed in complete charge of the railways with all the facilities and power which would have accrued to a State aided nationalised system. What happened? All that he produced in four years was a very bad service for the public, heavy loss to the shareholders, and the worst railway strike ever known except the one preceding the General Strike.
31 I must admit that this practical experience of nationalisation—and we do learn by trial and error provided we profit by our experience—damped—I cannot say my youthful—my early enthusiasm for this project. But the railways are only part of the problem. They were a very clearly marked out public service, and one finds it difficult to see why the arguments which have been applied to the Post Office could not equally be applied to the railways, but now the whole problem is changed. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] It is changed by the enormous developments in road transport and haulage. Here is a field of complications of the most extraordinary variety. Why the Government should choose this particular moment to throw all this new sphere into confusion and disturbance and make a large addition to the National Debt in order to thrust the clumsy butter-fingers of the State into all this intricate apparatus cannot be imagined, still less explained. And that it should be represented as a Measure for alleviating the inconveniences and hardships of the housewife—that at any rate is a preposterous fraud. The same is true of their projects for electricity and gas. We can assure the Government that we shall meet the proposals for the nationalisation both of inland transport and of electricity with strenuous and uncompromising opposition.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)
I join with the right hon. Gentleman opposite—apart from our positions I would say my right hon. Friend—in his congratulations to the mover and seconder of the Address. I thought that both hon. Members struck very distinctive notes. We had a very modest, thoughtful speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Acock's Green (Mr. Usborne) dealing with some of the fundamental questions that face not only this country, but the world, and from my hon. Friend the Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy) an equally sincere speech lit up with charming humour. I think that the two hon. Members fully kept up the tradition of the House.
Before dealing with the matters in the Gracious Speech and in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, I will, according to custom, make one or two statements about Business. It is proposed that the Debate on the Address should occupy the re- 32 mainder of this week and should be carried on into next week. I hope that it will not take the whole of next week but will stop at a reasonably early period. We want to provide reasonable facilities for the Debate. We shall have in mind what have been the precedents in the past and I shall recall how much time was allowed to us when we were in opposition. We shall hope, too, that any hon. Members who speak on behalf of the Government will endeavour to meet the wishes of the House with regard to the subjects which are brought forward, under the guidance of Mr. Speaker.
Tomorrow we are presenting a Motion to give precedence to Government Business and for stopping the Ballot for Private Bills. We regret to ask for these facilities; I have never known any Government who were not regretful at having to do it, but I have known a great many who have had to. The fact is that we have a very full programme. Quite apart from what might be called the front line troops who receive their mention in the Gracious Speech, there are supports, many of them short, many of them non-controversial, but all valuable and necessary, and I am conscious that behind these supports there are many other legislative Measures that are pressing on. We shall not be able to find places for all of them, but they exist and there is always the possibility of other matters arising demanding legislation. While we should like in due course to get back to the days of Private Members' time and Private Bills, I think the House will realise that in this period of transition after a great war we cannot yet get back to normal. On the other hand, it will be our endeavour to give full opportunities for Debates of general interest, and also we shall safeguard the half-hour Adjournment at the end of every Sitting—not only after exempted Business but also after a Division occurring at the interruption of Business. I think it has been valuable for this House over the past Session in that we have used very fully that half hour of what is, strictly, Private Members' time, and which does bring up any number of points relating to administration and to the claims of particular parts of the country.
We shall take a Motion to renew the Motion relating to the hours of sittings today, and I hope that the Debate on the Address will be adjourned at a reasonable hour for this purpose. We are proposing 33 to have the same hours of sitting as we have had of late, and which I think, broadly speaking, met the approval of all sections of the House. At a later stage we shall ask the House to renew the Sessional Orders relating to Standing Committees and other matters. We have received, but only last Friday, the third report from the Procedure Committee. We shall give that very careful consideration, but I should like here to express the gratitude which I know the whole House feels to the Members of that Committee and to the Chairman, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Newton (Sir R. Young), for their very careful work.
I should like now to turn to some of the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. His speech started in one way and ended in another. I thought the end was somewhat perfunctory. It seemed to me to refer to a number of matters which have been very carefully debated in this House—such matters as houses, food, and the rest—and I am sure that if he had been present at those Debates he would have known the answer to many of the questions that were troubling him, and the reasons for some of our existing conditions. The only thing I would say of the food situation is that everybody knows that we are in the grip of a world food situation and that conditions are much more difficult for this country than they were during the war; and everybody—certainly on these benches—knows that despite all these difficulties, broadly speaking, the mass of the people are better fed than in the days of peace under a Conservative, Government. There is far less malnutrition, in particular of the children, the babies, and the mothers.
The Gracious Speech from the Throne dealt with some aspects of foreign affairs, of which I shall have a word or two to say later. I do not intend to deal with it at great length, first of all, because we had a very extended Debate a very short time ago in which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary took part, and I do not think it is necessary for me to add to what he said. I think he made very clear what our position was in regard to Germany. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) intends to raise this matter, and, as he knows very well, it is not advisable to get up at a moment's notice 34 without thought and to make a speech on foreign affairs. With regard to what the right hon. Gentleman said about Potsdam, I would remind the House that Potsdam was not the beginning of the chapter; there was a great deal said in that chapter before at other Conferences, and when we arrived at Potsdam we had to deal with the situation as we found it. The right hon. Gentleman asked about the international trade conference, a matter that seems to trouble some hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite however often we reiterate our position, which was made abundantly plain at the time of the Coalition Government. I made it abundantly plain again on 6th December, 1945, but, that being nearly a year ago, I will repeat for the benefit of the House what I said then:… there is no commitment on any country in advance of negotiations to reduce or eliminate any particular margin of preference The position is that each country remains free to judge in the light of the offers made by all the others, the extent of the contribution it can make towards the realisation of the agreed objectives It is recognised that reduction or elimination of preferences can only be considered in relation to and in return for reductions of tariffs and other barriers to world trade in a general which would make for mutually advantageous arrangements for the expansion of trade. There is thus no question of any unilateral surrender of preferences. There must be adequate compensation for all parties affected."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th December, 1945: Vol. 416, c. 2668.]That is where the Coalition Government stood on that matter, and that is where the present Government stand on it; and what somebody said in another country makes no difference to the position we have taken up.
The right hon. Gentleman raised matters in regard to India and Burma. I think he realised that those matters are better debated quite apart from the King's Speech. Negotiations can go through the usual channels as to when they should be debated. I would only say one thing The right hon. Gentleman drew a parallel between India and Europe, and suggested how much better it would be if we had had some supernational authority, seated at Geneva. I quite agree, but let us remember, if his parallel is to be exact, that the people sitting at Geneva would not have been European. They might have been Indians, they might have been Chinese; but if the parallel is exact, they would not have 35 been Europeans. It might have been much better, but whether the right hon. Gentleman would have accepted it I do not know. It is advisable to be exact in our parallel.
I must say that I regretted the right hon. Gentleman's statement with regard to Palestine. No-one knows better than he does the very great difficulties. There has been no wobbling on this matter. We have been pursuing a policy which is in accordance with the Mandate. It may be said that the Mandate is impossible to fulfil, but we are bound by the Mandate to have regard to the position both of Arabs and of Jews. We have been striving earnestly for the cooperation of the United States in this matter. We still hope that we shall get a representative meeting again very shortly on this matter. It would be very ill advised for anyone in this Debate to say anything that would exacerbate the position in that country, particularly at a time when, as we all deplore, lives are being wantonly lost.
I would say one word with regard to the statement made in the Gracious Speech and that is that we are continuing our close collaboration with our friends of the Dominions. I am sure that the whole House will welcome the information of the Royal visit to South Africa. Their Majesties will carry to South Africa the good wishes of the whole of the people of this country.
When I turn to the legislative programme, the House will notice that we make early mention of our need to increase our production, both for home consumption, for capital goods and for export. A good deal of our legislation is concerned with this problem. There are two matters which are referred to which are specially concerned with our balance of payments. One is exchange control. That is a difficult thing to measure and it will be rather complicated, but it is vitally important that we should protect our balance-of-payments position. We are, in effect, only going to carry on the precautions that we had to take during the war, when the administration was, as a matter of fact, carried on with remarkably little, if any, complaint.
Another Measure is also directed to a balanced economy, although its purposes are more far-reaching. That is the efficient 36 organisation of agriculture. We must make full use of our land. We must have a prosperous agriculture. We believe that the farmers and the farm workers should be given a fair and square deal. We believe in fixed prices, assured markets and a proper wage-fixing machinery. I hope the House will welcome this Measure, which is, I think, essential to our economy. We all know that we have a very serious manpower problem. We have to utilise our manpower to the best advantage. We want our workers to work well. We want those who manage industry to manage industry efficiently. Hence, we have the planning for the location of industry, to prevent again there being the waste and misery of distressed areas. We cannot afford to have wasted labour. We cannot afford to have large pockets of wasted labour in which men stand idle for years.
There are two separate lines of advance indicated in the Speech. First of all, there is the organisation of two great services which are basic to industry and to the social life of the' community, under national ownership. First of them is electricity supply. Here we shall complete some of the work begun in 1926 by a Government in which the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) was Chancellor of the Exchequer. That work, unfortunately, was left incomplete at the time. The generation and main transmission of electricity were very largely brought under national ownership and control, but distribution was left out. The present system of a multitude of undertakings of varying size and efficiency is wasteful. Distribution is already half in public ownership. Although the right hon. Gentleman says that he will oppose, I do not think there will be any opposition on principle, in view of the past of the party opposite on this matter. We are really taking a further step forward to complete the integration for the provision of fuel, heat and light. We took our first step in the Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act. We are following on, on a good precedent.
On transport, again I do not expect any objection on principle. The right hon. Gentleman has recalled his own past in this matter. He had one of those flashes of insight which, unfortunately, are so often disregarded by his own party. [An HON. MEMBER: "He was 37 a Liberal then."] He was, I believe, a Liberal; at any rate, it was disregarded by the party to which he then belonged and by the party to which he now belongs. They were often in coalition. The right hon. Member advocated the nationalisation of railways in 1918. He has had to wait 28 years for the Labour Party to bring forward legislation to make a reality of his wise prescience. We have to bring the right hon. Gentleman up to date.
The right hon. Gentleman justly pointed out that you cannot deal with railways just by themselves I recall that we had a London Passenger Transport Act brought in by my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council. It was designed to deal with London, because if we had not dealt with London, so far from it being the shoving of butter fingers into a mess, the butter was so thick that nothing would have moved in it. Therefore, that Bill, even after 1931, had to be adopted by the then Coalition Government and put through, by a predominantly Conservative Government. That Act gave expression to the truth that the various forms of transportation must be complementary and not competitive.
We cannot afford to waste on competition services like that. In the interests of the people and the industries of this country, we must have the most efficient and economical organisation of transport. A second line is the effective organisation of the area of industry which remains in private hands. Very valuable work has been done by the working parties set up by my right hon Friend the President of the Board of Trade. They had the cooperation of employers and employed, and anyone who reads those reports will learn a great deal. A Bill has been designed to give effect to their recommendations—the recommendations of the trades themselves, of the people who know how their trade should be organised.
Let me revert to the manpower problem. We are straitened in our manpower. We must make up in quality what we lack in quantity. We are, therefore, raising the school-leaving age. That will inevitably remove from industry a number of young persons—it may be as much as 370,000 at first on the average—but I am sure it will result in increased efficiency. We cannot afford to waste our young life 38 If I am told that we cannot do this, I am bound to remember that that plea was put up years ago when they tried to remove little children from industry. I am quite sure that if this country is to lead in industry, we must have a well educated population.
There is another deduction from our working population which we cannot afford to ignore. We cannot avoid it. We have large forces engaged in clearing up the aftermath of war. Some of these commitments, we hope, will be brought to an end in the coming year, but some remain. We hoped to get some of these out earlier. If the course of foreign affairs had been a bit smoother, we might have had some of them out. We have not exactly realised our expectations, but we have to fulfil our obligations to our Allies. The broad fact remains that whatever forces are allocated to defence is a deduction from our manpower which is available for maintaining and raising our standard of life. We have to calculate this out. Whatever we do, that will be less than the wastage we had in the inter-war years through unemployment. We have to strike a very careful balance. It is folly for any country to try to keep more armed forces than their economy will support. On the other hand, it is folly not to maintain what is necessary.
Our present position has been dealt with up to 1948 by the present provision for national service. It is extremely difficult to prophesy just what forces will be needed in the future. We cannot look ahead. I was very much impressed by what my hon. Friend the Member for Acock's Green said. That is the policy of this Government and, I believe, of this nation, to work for world government and to work for world security, and under that, for disarmament. U.N.O. is the instrument we are trying to build up to effect that. We want a great instrument of peace there, under which all the nations will dwell in security, but that security has not yet been achieved, and even at the start, when it is, we must have some provision for police forces—as you might call them—garrison forces to maintain ourselves even under a United Nations organisation, and we have got to make our contribution to the United Nations organisation. We do not know quite what that will be. We cannot foresee it—there are these uncertain factors—and yet we have at the present time to 39 plan ahead We must provide for an embodied force—land, navy and air—and the reserves to be available in case of need.
I would interpose one word here in reply to the right hon. Gentleman's strictures on the Ministers in charge of the Service Departments. I shall await with interest his substantiation of those charges. The Ministers have been present constantly in the House, they have had numbers and numbers of questions hurled at them and they have answered them, and I think that the attack, particularly on my right hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), was really not worthy of the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Member for Chester-le-Street had a most difficult task. He had the task of demobilisation. I have not the slightest doubt that he contributed very largely to the success of that by the confidence the ordinary rank and file had in him, and when the right hon. Gentleman talks about failure and about our having to have a court-martial for mutiny, that is not the first of its kind. Let him carry his mind back to what happened in the year 1919. We have done a great deal better than that, and I do not think it lies in the mouth of anyone to throw stones. The right hon. Gentleman talks about monstrous maladministration. It is not an easy thing when forces begin to run down to keep them up to concert pitch all the time. It is a very difficult process. When the time comes and the Service Estimates are before us, I am quite sure my right hon. Friends will give a very good account of themselves to this House.
I want to advert for a moment to the proposals in the Gracious Speech in regard to our Defence Forces. The old system was called the voluntary system, composed of the Regulars. Part of these were men who liked the life and were adventurous, but part of them—it is no good blinking the fact—were recruited through their hard circumstances, their poverty and their unemployment. Behind them were the Territorial and Reserve Forces made up mainly of public-spirited citizens, though there was some pressure of one kind and another even there. Throughout the inter-war period we found a difficulty, particularly in the ground forces, in filling the ranks of the Regulars and of the Territorial Army. We have now two new 40 factors to consider. First of all, the development of modern warfare has made this country more vulnerable. We are now part of the Continent. We can be reached by attack from the Continent. While in the past we always had a long breathing space on which we could depend, that breathing space is most unlikely to be available should any war arise in the future. The logic of that is that while we keep our front line forces as low as we can consonant with efficiency and the jobs they have to do, we must have trained reserves who can take their part right away without waiting for six months' training. Secondly, we are faced today with a shortage of manpower. It is the resolve of this Government, supported, I believe, by all parties, that we shall pursue a policy of full employment, and therefore that economic pressure that used to be the chief recruiting officer will not be applied.
On the other hand, we are making the conditions in the Services far better and more attractive. In our Armed Forces we shall always need the element of voluntary service, and I believe we shall get it. We must have that voluntary recruitment. Conscripts are no substitute for long-service people. In fact, voluntary enlistment and national service are complementary. The Government's decision to continue compulsory service is not due to a failure of recruitment. We want to do all we can for recruitment, but having examined the matter and the position of our manpower, we have come to the conclusion that we are very unlikely to be able to depend on voluntary recruitment alone.
Secondly, we must have fully trained reserves. Now the details of the scheme will come forward in a Bill in due course. The right hon. Gentleman indicated that it was right to give the country and the House an indication of our general proposals as soon as possible. I propose, therefore, to set out briefly the features of the scheme which we shall propose to be brought forward.
First of all, the obligation, as the right hon. Gentleman said, should be general; there must be no getting out of it by anybody in a privileged position. The only exemptions are that there must be provision for conscientious objectors, but the conscientious objectors should not get a preferential position through it—they 41 must be treated fairly but not given preferential treatment. Therefore, the obligation should be general. We do not intend to apply compulsory national service to women.
There is the question of Northern Ireland. While the Government are fully conscious of a desire of the majority of people in Northern Ireland to take their full share of the burden of military service as partners of the United Kingdom, they have come to the conclusion, after weighing all the considerations, that the best plan will be to follow the scheme adopted in the National Service Acts and apply the new legislation to Great Britain only.
Now the second point to which I draw attention—the first was generality—is flexibility. The needs of industry vary very much, the needs of the individual vary very much, and our intention is that there must be a range of age of some six years for people engaged in apprenticeship or university training—whatever the training may be. We shall have to go carefully into exactly what the conditions should be because, here again, we must hold the scale quite fairly between those who are trained for professions and those who are trained in industry, and there should be an option to take it within a period of years. It will suit some people to take it young and then go straight on with their career. It will be better for others to get their full training, particularly for a great many of the technical craftsmen, of which the Services are in need now, and then go on with their career. However, the point there is flexibility.
With regard to the period of service, we are working at the present time to a period which comes down to one and a half years at the end of 1948. It is difficult to lay down exactly what the time should be. We should propose to take power that it shall not exceed a period of one and a half years. Whether we shall want that or not depends very largely on the amount of voluntary recruiting and the condition in which the world is settling down. I cannot insist too often in the fact that in all these matters we are dealing with a vast number of entirely unknown factors. However, as at present advised, I consider it will probably be wise to start at one and a half years and to come down. I would rather not start at a lower rate and have to go up. My 42 hope is that it will be able to come down. Then, after they have done this period of service, men would pass into the Reserve for a period of years, into the Territorial Reserve Forces, and would be liable for a certain period in the course of their period in the Reserve—not necessarily so many days a year but such and such a time spread over the period of their reserve, because the requirements are so different with regard to the different Services and the different trades in the Services.
§ The Prime Minister
I am just coming to that. These men passing into the Reserve would pass into the Territorial and Reserve Forces. There again you will need your Territorial and Reserve Forces, and you will have your volunteer corps into which these will fit. The essential point is that your Reserve Forces must consist of men who have had their full training. Here again there must be close consultation with industry in order that it can be fitted in and do as little harm as possible to our industrial life and to individuals and, of course, this training has to be something outside of holidays. You cannot ask people to give up their holidays to do a national duty. It will be something quite outside that. Let me say that time in the Forces must not be considered as wasted. Much of the training today is technical and it must be a training for citizenship as well as defence. Incidentally, also, during their course of training men will be doing the necessary amount of training for A.R.P. so that in due course they will pass into that Service as one of the available ones.
Now great steps have been taken already with regard to pay and conditions. We have endeavoured to bring the pay up to something comparable with what people get in civil life. It is, therefore, utterly different from anything we used to know in the old days when we talked of conscription on the Continent, when people got about a farthing a day. They will get pay which has been vastly improved, and increased amenities should go forward pari passuwith increased facilities for the increased population under our reconstruction programmes. Inevitably there is a time lag there in the provision of buildings, but, as has been indicated, the man who serves in the Air Force, or in the Navy or in the Army 43 must be given good conditions. And then our Forces in this war drew more than ever on the whole of the intelligence of the nation and on the whole of the powers of leadership of the nation. We must have our Forces increasingly more and more democratic. It is our resolve that this process shall continue, and thus there will be a career open to the talents of those who wish to stay.
I am well aware that the proposals such as I have outlined are not likely to be palatable. No Government would like to put these proposals forward unless they were convinced that it was their duty to do so. Now we are out to try to build up security in the world. We are prepared to make our contribution to that security, but, as has been said, you do not get it by a unilateral disarmament; you have to build up an ordered world, and a world in which there are police forces able to prevent the rise of aggression. At the present time we are not making as good progress, as quick progress, as we could have hoped at U.N.O., although perhaps we have expected more than was possible. We have to.make provision, we have to plan. The Services have to plan, business has to plan, education has to plan, individuals have to plan, and it is not fair to leave them in the dark. Therefore, before the present National Service Acts run out, we have taken this early opportunity of bringing these proposals before the country. We cannot afford to take risks with the safety of the country. I am aware that some of my friends have very strong conscientious opinions on this matter. I cannot argue. We have to face squarely the new conditions that are far different from those of the days before air power and long range projected missiles. We should be much happier if we lived in the days before there were these many inventions. There is nothing undemocratic in national service. We are steadily increasing the rights of the citizen in his own country. The picture of the proletarian with no rights whatever is out of date and departed. The more rights we can give our people, the better; but rights involve obligation.
I do not think I need refer specifically to any other of the legislative proposals, except one. That is the Bill to deal with compensation and betterment in relation to town and country planning. It is not 44 an easy subject. I can recall the long and difficult discussions we had in a former Government. But it is of immense importance in dealing with the reconstruction of our cities, and ridding them both of the evils of blitzand of blight, and building up healthy homes for our people. I am not going to be drawn at this moment into a controversy with the right hon. Gentleman in regard to housing. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) will be willing to cross swords with him at any time.
§ The Prime Minister
I am sure he will always be glad of the right hon. Gentleman's help, whether mental or manual. We have made better progress than was made after the last war.
The legislative programme we have indicated is extensive, but it does not comprehend all that we have to do. Other Measures, hardy annuals, and so on, will come on. This House in the last Session set up a very fine record of work. As hon. Members of the House of Commons together, we can be proud of the way in which this House works, because it is a great demonstration of democracy in action. We have our controversies, and that is a sign of democracy. We have our Debates and opposition, but at the end there is not left a little barren controversy, but a good fat volume of Acts of Parliament, and I am sure the next Session will live up to that performance.
§ Sir Ralph Glyn (Abingdon)
Is the House to understand that a Bill dealing with National Service will be introduced before a Debate, or is the House to be given an opportunity for discussing this question in the immediate future, during the Debate on the Address?
§ The Prime Minister
Of course, anything can be debated on the Address. But I should have thought it would be more convenient to wait for the Bill.
§ The Prime Minister
I could not say offhand, but, if the hon. Gentleman asks me next week, I will try to tell him.
§ Ordered: "That the Debate be now adjourned"—[Mr. Pearson.]
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.