HC Deb 26 October 1948 vol 457 cc8-33

4.19 p.m.

Mr. Bowden (Leicester, South)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty as follows: 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. I realise that in selecting me to move this loyal Address a great honour has been accorded to me and to my constituency. The City of Leicester, in whose representation I share, is an historical city with a Parliamentary background. Today, of course, it is industrial, and, like many industrial cities, has rapidly spread, but, despite that, it still has a certain grandeur and is renowned for its cleanliness of appearance. members of the House of Commons will be interested in the unique experience which we have had in Leicester in Parliamentary elections. Two gentlemen who had been rejected at the polls, defeated candidates, later became Prime Ministers of this country. Both had very distinguished careers, and defeated candidates in Leicester always console themselves with that fact. In 1950 we are to have four Parliamentary representatives instead of three; we greatly appreciate that because it brings us into line with cities of the same size and of like importance in the country.

My constituents are, in the main, hosiery workers, boot and shoe workers, engineers and printers; and, of course, many of them are engaged in subsidiary trades to those industries. In Leicester we have made a great contribution to the export trade; our products and trade names are known throughout the markets of the world. Economists who have, particularly during the years between the wars, made a study of the relative affluence of different cities in this country and of the Continent, have told us from time to time that Leicester stood throughout Europe as the second most prosperous city. I think that was probably largely true because of the many industries that we have, and the fact that we were never greatly affected by the depression between the wars. But despite that, in 1938 we did have almost 14,000 unemployed workers signing the registers of Leicester; and on the other side of the picture, our business houses suffered bankruptcies at an average rate of 40 per year, although many of those may have been voluntary liquidations. The present position compares very favourably with that, for the unemployment figure is negligible, and in 1947 there were only four orders in bankruptcy. In fact, the Board of Trade is at the moment considering whether to take the Official Receiver away from us altogether.

Womenfolk have always played a great part in Leicester's industries. In fact, they are the backbone of our industries. It is difficult for people in perhaps South Wales, which is my own home, to appreciate what it means to have all of the womenfolk going to work as well as the men. We could do a great deal more in this direction in Leicester if there were more nursery schools and more nurseries for the children, which would liberate the women and enable them to enter industry.

In 1945 the Leicester City Council, our local authority, got away to a very good start with our housing problem—a problem that was there before the war, although not to anything like the same extent—and we have now reached the 2,000 mark of new homes built for rental, as well as many hundreds built under licence for sale. We have shone, too. in the educational field. The Leicester Educational Authority is renowned throughout the country for its work, and before very long we hope to be able to call ourselves, as our sister city of Nottingham does, a university city.

In the Gracious Speech reference was made to the troubled state of the world and the desires of the peoples of the world to live in peace. This most profoundly affected all of us who listened to that Gracious Speech. Three years after the end of the war— the second great war in a generation— we find that once again the peoples of the world are disturbed and upset in their minds, and in fear at the thought of further warfare. At the end of the second world war we had every reason to hope that, within at least a reasonable space of time, the nations of the world, despite the difficulties that were bound to confront them, would get down to the job of signing peace treaties, bringing some sort of order to the defeated countries, and placing the whole of the world on a sound political and economic basis. But how wrong we were in our assumption, and how intensely disappointed have we all been. If it were possible to look into the hearts and minds of the peoples of the world, whoever they may be and wherever they may be, I am sure we should find a hatred and an abhorrence of warfare. I am convinced that no nation wants war; and I am almost as certain that no nation can afford the losses in human life and the wastage in material that a war entails.

The U.S.S.R., our gallant and courageous ally in times of war, has proved herself to be absolutely un-co-operative in the peace. We on this side of the House— or at least most of us— expected much from the deliberations of Russia and the part that she could play in our councils after the war. We may have expected too much, but in fact we have received nothing. She has played the old imperialist game— a game that we know so well; but this time the players are in different coloured shirts. Russia's political and social structure is very different from our own democratic way of life, but we have no desire, and no intention I hope, to interfere with her way of life. On the contrary, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, perhaps more than any other man in this country, in the 'thirties worked hard and did much to prevent interference

in what was then young Russia's new social order. We do, however, ask and implore of Russia that she shall leave other nations alone— large nations and small nations— and that she shall cease to interfere with their internal structure, just as she would want us not to interfere with hers. We ask that these small nations shall be allowed to work out their own salvation in their own way inside the United Nations.

Who would have thought at the time of the Potsdam Agreement that within a few short years one of the signatories would be engaged in an aggressive blockade of the other signatories' territories? This senseless, purposeless blockade of three million people in Berlin is a wicked thing. Russia even now, despite her action yesterday, could make a great gesture, and could do a great deal towards cementing world peace by lifting this blockade, for then with the pressures off, with temperatures going down, we could get down to settling this other problem which is concerning her and which concerns all of us. In fact, we could get down very much easier to ironing out our difficulties and solving all our problems once this pressure is off. Let us have just one word of good will from the Soviet statesmen; let us have just one "Yes" in an absolute forest of "Noes."

I cannot pass this reference to Berlin without paying my tribute to the work of the R.A.F. who, assisted by Commonwealth crews, have done so much in the airlift to Berlin. I am of the opinion that the nations of the world have received a great shock in seeing what was possible in that direction. It is regrettable that it was necessary to do that, but I am very proud to pay my tribute to the R.A.F. who have done so much to feed these beleaguered people. We are in Berlin by right. We must stay in Berlin until by international agreement, by the agreement of nations in common conclave, a peace treaty can be signed and it is time for some other structure to take the place of the present.

I am firmly of the opinion— and I speak only for myself— that a second Munich in this generation would be a mistake and a tragedy. But on the other hand, provocative speeches about reprisals and that sort of thing cannot fail to do more than a great deal of harm. They are dangerous, and they are mischievous. The problem of Berlin is now before the United Nations. In fact, the United Nations, with many of the problems that are confronting them, are more or less on trial. They must find a solution to these problems, and when they do, confidence will be restored to the world and there will be an easing of the troubled feelings which the people are at present experiencing. Palestine and Berlin must not be to the United Nations what Abyssinia and Manchuria were to the League of Nations.

We are meeting at a time when France is going through a very troubled period. Once again, within the space of a few months, her industries are crippled by industrial unrest. I am of the opinion that much of her trouble is economic rather than political. Governments have come and gone in rapid succession; there has been little continuity, and they have completely failed to inspire a common effort in France which alone could save her at the present moment. Here again there has been interference from outside, interference perhaps designed to break the European Recovery Programme, which has had the effect of reducing France to her present position. Her workers' standard of living is low, her food rationing and price controls just do not seem to work and there is much for the few and little for the many.

That sort of situation breeds Communism and Fascism anywhere, and, of course, the followers of these two creeds— and my view is that both of them exist in France— will exploit it to the full. The workers of France, like the workers of any other country, should realise once and for all that if either of these non-democratic parties is hoisted into the saddle of Government, then never again can they protest against wages, hours and conditions. A stable Government in France, with social justice, would enable her to settle down, and then she could do much, as we have done, in tackling her economic problems and getting on with the job of overcoming her difficulties.

Finally, I should like to make reference to the meetings of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers. Here we see how relatively easy it is, with a few meetings within a few days, to reach agreement when there are common ties binding the nations sitting at the conference table. I should like to recall the contribution that the Commonwealth Nations have always made in our economic troubles. We have never found them wanting. They have always been by our side, and when that same spirit pervades all the nations of the world, we can then say of the world organisation that it is truly a United Nations.

4.35 p.m.

Mr. West (Pontypool)

I beg to second the Motion which my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicester (Mr. Bowden) has moved in such eloquent and sincere terms.

It is an honour to have this privilege. It is an honour not only to me, but to the constituency I represent. It is an honour also to Wales, not only because of the association of Monmouthshire with Wales, but because my hon. Friend is one of her distinguished sons. Monmouthshire is often claimed as an English county, but I do not propose to discuss the merits of that claim, except to say that Monmouthshire and Wales have suffered so much in the past and produced so much wealth in the past that we regard ourselves as at one with Wales.

Pontypool Division is a constituency with a long industrial record. It has been dependent upon coal, iron and steel; in point of fact its trade in iron dates back to 1588. Blaenavon, an important part of the constituency, was renowned as an iron-smelting town soon after the industrial revolution. Like many other industrial valleys in South Wales, Pontypool has been dependent on coal, iron and steel, and there has been little development of secondary industries. The valleys of Wales and Monmouthshire have contributed much to the economic prosperity of the United Kingdom, and there has been extracted from these valleys untold wealth. I do not ask hon. Members to accept my words alone. I would refer them to the report of the Government Committee of 1931 which stated that there had been extracted from the valleys of Monmouthshire and South Wales in the preceding century and a half probably more wealth than from any other comparable area in the world. My constituency, like the rest of Wales, during the period of depression, when there was widespread unemployment and distress, when homes were broken up and young men had to migrate across the border into England, was left neglected in her distress. We suffered extremely in those days, but I am glad to say that Pontypool was famous not only for its coal, iron and steel, but also for the fight it put up to try to protect the rights of the workers, and the unemployed, in those days. It was from the Division of Pontypool that the hunger marchers came to London to demand bread and social justice.

Today, we have a changed scene. We now find that the workers in these areas have achieved both these ends. They have a share in the bread, and a measure of social justice as well. There is a great improvement in the outlook of the whole of the people of South Wales and Monmouthshire. They are filled with a new hope and a new confidence. The result is that in my own constituency of Pontypool the workers are putting forward great efforts. The miners are reaching their targets, and the production of the steel workers and the tinplate workers is limited only by shortage of materials. Industrialists tell me that the factory workers have proved adaptable and skilled. This new life, which has been brought into these vales by this Government, has given new heart and hope to their people. But there is still much to be done.

My hon. Friend has surveyed the field of foreign affairs, and it would not be appropriate for me to say anything further upon that subject. But perhaps I may be permitted to reiterate how tragic it is that at the present time when so much good will exists in the world, when so many nations are prepared to work together and to make sacrifices for the good of all, there are still some who, by misunderstanding, suspicion or mistrust, would stultify these generous impulses and by their actions perhaps place our civilisation in jeopardy. If only we could establish throughout the world an understanding between the nations which would lead to a lasting peace mankind would derive great and lasting benefits. Through misunderstanding, suspicion and mistrust there can be only misery and disaster.

There is no need for anybody to mistrust the people of this country. All we long for is peace and, with peace, freedom and security, the right to live our own lives in our own democratic way, and the chance to repair our war battered economy. It is a great misfortune for this peace-loving country that the substantial progress we are making today towards our economic recovery has to be retarded, and men and materials have to be turned from the tasks of peace to the necessities of defence. The provisions in the Gracious Speech for the stimulation of recruitment of the Armed Forces and organisation of Civil Defence will, I believe, be accepted by the House as a regrettable but necessary precautionary measure made necessary by the present disrupted state of the world.

On the domestic side, the proposals outlined in the Gracious Speech will, I am sure, be welcomed by the House. Some of them are necessary steps in the great social advance seen in this country since the present Government came into power. They fit into the pattern of the society which we wish to see established. Not the least in importance are those to ensure improvements in the administration of justice, and the granting of legal aid to those of small or moderate means. This is a reform which is long overdue. I think it right that I should say in this connection that both branches of the legal profession have, over many years, rendered great public service in giving legal assistance, entirely free, in hundreds of thousands of cases to those in need. But while it is true that the legal profession have co-operated in trying to give assistance to those in need, it is also true to say-and this is not a criticism of our courts— that there have been cases where justice has not been done, where legal rights have not been established because the litigant, through lack of means, has not had legal advice or the benefit of legal representation. The proposal in the Gracious Speech will remove this great defect, and I am sure that the legal profession will continue to co-operate to ensure the success of a scheme which seeks to give those who have to have recourse to our courts the opportunity of having their case properly prepared and presented.

There are some other provisions in the Gracious Speech which, I am sure, the House will welcome. There is the question of the review of rents of shared rooms. This is causing great distress today to a large number of people. Those who, by reason of the housing shortage, are compelled to share rooms have no protection either from eviction or against the rent which can be imposed upon them.

On such an occasion as this it is necessary to avoid controversy, which, I hope, I have done and will continue to do. There is, however, one provision in the Gracious Speech which all of us on this side of the House will particularly welcome— the proposal to nationalise the iron and steel industry. This proposal has been so widely expected and accepted throughout the country that it almost ceases to be controversial. It is quite clear that at the General Election this issue was plainly put before the people. We were to organise the resources of the nation; we were to nationalise all essential industries, including iron and steel. The people understood that, and it was the people's will. That will has not changed, as the by-election results have shown.

It is no part of my duty to attempt to belittle the recent achievements of the iron and steel industry. All engaged in it are entitled to the highest praise— workers, technicians and managements. They have done an excellent job. They have brought the production rate above the target figure. It is a great accomplishment, all the greater when we remember the condition into which the industry had been allowed to fall. The iron and steel industry is vital to our needs, our security and our prosperity. Without ample steel, as without ample coal, we cannot hope to get through the difficulties which are now besetting us. It is essential to our export trade and our internal industrial development, and especially is it essential if the necessities of military defence are to arise. It is a very necessary national service, but it is not a national service which is owned by the nation. The nation should own our national services. The iron and steel industry is in private hands and run for private profit.

Some may ask what objection there can be to this industry being run for profit, in private hands. Let me give an example from my own constituency. In Blaenavon, on the site of an old ironworks, a steel works was erected where there were seven 60-ton Siemen-Martin furnaces, three blast furnaces and a rolling mill, producing 1,200 tons per week of bars and billets. There was also a tyre mill making tyres for rolling stock and, altogether, some 2,000 men were employed. During the depression of the 1930s the whole undertaking was dismantled, with the exception of the tyre mill which continued to operate with ingots purchased from outside. The desolation that was caused in that town by the dismantlement of that industry cannot be described. I have no words graphic enough to describe the unemployment and suffering that were imposed on the people there, but I can say that workers and tradespeople alike suffered the most acute distress.

The point I want to emphasise is this: the closing of those works was not made on the decision of anybody who was responsible for the welfare of the society which it had broken. It was not a decision which was taken by the nation in the interests of the people, and by which alternative means of employment could be provided. It was not a decision which was taken by the great nation to which we belong for the purpose of bringing about increased efficiency in the industry or protecting the people whom they had displaced. It was a decision which had been made by a few people for the purposes of protecting profit, and they had seen fit to bring desolation and disaster upon this community. The town has never recovered, and is today suffering the evil consequences of the past. It looks to this Government for aid. I believe that all Members on this side of the House will most heartily welcome this provision.

In conclusion, I would say that the great productive efforts made by the people of this country, their readiness to face difficulties, to undergo hardships and to make sacrifices for the common good are a great demonstration of our strength and character. We have a long and difficult road to travel before we reach the economic independence we all desire. We may be called upon to make further efforts and further sacrifices, but we shall all the more readily meet these calls because we know we shall be establishing within this land a state of society based upon the principles of social justice and social security. I believe that the provisions of the Gracious Speech are a further step towards the fulfilment of that aim, an aim to which the Labour Government are dedicated. It is an honour and a privilege for me to second the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech.

4.52 p.m.

Mr. Eden (Warwick and Leamington)

It is my privilege to offer the traditional congratulations which on these occasions are meted out to the Mover and the Seconder of the Address. This has been attempted in so many styles with such a wide variety of success or otherwise and so recently performed in the calendar, that on this occasion I shall not attempt novelty just as I cannot hope to equal the brilliant wit of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) on the last occasion. I shall, therefore, content myself with saying to the Mover that it seemed to us, as no doubt it did to the whole House, that he made a sincere and well-balanced speech to which we all listened with very genuine pleasure. We all enjoyed his reminiscences of the political past at Leicester. I thought to myself that there might for him be some consolation in that thought, and perhaps he will be able to await the outcome of the General Election in his own constituency with more stoicism than is possible for most of us. I should like to endorse the remarks which he made about the air-lift to Berlin. It is a remarkable fact that our more limited resources and smaller aircraft have been able to maintain 40 per cent. of the total lift.

The hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. West), who seconded the Address, made quite clear to us that this Session is inevitably going to be more controversial than any we have yet had. He found it impossible, despite a wealth of eloquence, to achieve the fulfilment of his proposition that the nationalisation of the iron and steel industry was not a controversial issue. I will have an observation or two to make about that in a moment or two. At the outset I would say to the Prime Minister that it seems to us deplorable that while emphasis was being laid by the Mover and Seconder on the gravity of the international situation, at the same time we are going to have to spend a great part of this Session on which we have embarked, on these most controversial issues. I propose to say more about that later.

Before entering on such subjects I should like to extend to the Prime Minister from us all, our most cordial congratulations on his restoration to health and to tell him we are glad to see him here. We hope that he will enjoy taking part in the share of the controversies to come. I feel that the Mover was expressing the experience of us all when he said that whatever our domestic controversies might be-and it is obvious they will be very bitter this Session— most of us in this House certainly— [Interruption.] We have already had an example in the speech of the Seconder of the Address. I did not wish to say that unless I was provoked, but I understood that it was the general feeling of anyone who listened to that speech that we were moving on to much more controversial ground. However that may be— and events will prove whether I am right or wrong— the country outside is dominated by anxiety about the international situation. Some of us, no doubt, used the few weeks' respite given us by the Lord President of the Council between his innumerable Sessions to pay short visits to our constituencies, and there we found— I certainly have found— that of all the questions put to me by the electors this concern in the international situation dominates everything else. It is the all— pervading preoccupation.

Nor is there anything to comfort us in this connection in the words of the Gracious Speech, which referred to the Soviet veto of the resolution put forward at the Security Council. Here was a resolution put forward by the six neutral Powers as the outcome of prolonged and earnest efforts to try to resolve the deadlock in the relations between the Great Powers. The Western Powers voted for the resolution, although it could have hardly entirely met their wishes, but it was vetoed by the action of Soviet Russia. I agree with the Mover of the Address that without doubt that action will most unhappily serve still further to darken the international scene.

The Government no doubt will now consider in conjunction with other Governments what the next step should be at U.N.O. The resolution, as I have said, which was submitted by the six Powers was worded in prudent and even conciliatory language. The Soviet Government should not ignore on that account the deep condemnation by world opinion in all countries that are not behind the iron curtain, of the illegal action which has created this issue. It may be that some Powers will think it right that the problem of Berlin should now be discussed and pronounced upon by the Assembly of the United Nations. That would certainly be my view, for we are now confronted with a situation which the Assembly cannot ignore if its work is to have any reality at all and upon which it should pronounce its judgment.

In the meanwhile, parallel with the veto of the resolution of the neutral Powers we are confronted with the strikes in France, to which the Mover of the Address referred. I agree with him that admittedly grave economic problems are created in France by the cost of living, but I also agree with him, if I understood him aright, that however dispassionately one tries to examine this issue, no one can really doubt that the main purpose of these strikes is to dislocate French economy and to impoverish France to just about the extent that the Marshall Plan, if allowed to operate smoothly, would, in fact, have benefited her. That seems to be what has happened.

There may be an ulterior objective also. If, owing to internal disputes and upheavals in any country which is receiving Marshall Aid, that aid pours through that country as it were through a sieve, maybe it is the Communist hope that the United States will, as a consequence, become weary of giving the economic aid which is indispensable to European recovery. In all these circumstances it seems to us that much patience and firmness will have to be shown by the Western Powers. The next few months may well prove the testing time. If Western Union succeeds, and if the Western economic life steadily recovers, in conjunction with the welcome improvement in Western Germany— to which the Gracious Speech so rightly refers-we may be in sight of the true reply to Communist aggression, which is a successful result of the efforts of our own free economy.

If one tries to examine the language of Soviet propaganda, as I have been doing of late, and the aims of Soviet policy as now made plain under the cover of a kind of spurious pacifism, it seems clear enough that the objective now being followed by the Kremlin is what used to be called the Trotskyite principle of world Communism. That is the challenge which on every occasion is now thrown down. In such conditions it is, therefore, not very surprising that attacks are continuous on all Governments that do not fall within the iron curtain, whether those Governments are of the Left or of the Right. Perhaps the Left get a little more than the Right. There is no tolerance or understanding for any Socialist Governments anywhere nor, for that matter, for a Communist Government either, unless it accepts the orders of Moscow. It is the growing realisation of this challenge which was expressed in the speeches we have heard today, and which must give concern to those who had hoped that conflicting ideologies could live together provided they were prepared to observe certain rules in international decency and of general forbearance.

I observe in the Gracious Speech a reference to national defence, and it is in a statement which reads:

My Ministers are taking steps to ensure that My Armed Forces shall be efficient and well equipped, and that the best use shall be made of men called up under the National Service Act. It was very cheering to hear that, but it would be a great deal more cheering if any evidence could be brought before us to show that it is, in fact, a true statement of the position. So far there is none of which we are aware. All that we have seen is the order, the counter-order and the disorder, of the Government's policy in respect to the length of military service. That is the information vouchsafed to us. I do not know anybody in the Services who really believes that one year's service can be made to work usefully at all. So far we have no indication whether the Government propose to reduce that period and if so by how much, or what their plans are.

Meanwhile, recruiting for the Regular Forces— and I repeat what I said in the brief Session a while back— can only be successful if and when satisfactory steps are taken to make service in those Armed Forces yield careers comparable with those in civilian life. Otherwise, however many appeals are made, the result will be no different from the difficulties we see now.

The Gracious Speech made reference to Civil Defence. Everyone must regret that it is now necessary to concentrate once again upon this subject, but since that is accepted as being so by the Government as well as by everybody else, I must express the hope that the Government will be more definite in respect of their measures on Civil Defence than they have been so far— so far as we know— in the organisation of the Fighting Services. I would ask the Prime Minister when the Government's proposals in respect of Civil Defence may be expected to be brought before the House.

There is one other matter to which I must refer. We much hope that the Prime Minister will be able to give us some further information today as to the outcome of the meeting of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers in London. We probably all understand that the language of communiqués issued after such meetings is apt to be guarded and general, but I hope that the Prime Minister will be able to give us today both his own impressions, and, I trust, some further enlightenment. To my mind the most important part of the published statement relates to the Commonwealth approval of Western Union. This will be heartening to everybody who has long felt that this step was indispensable to world peace. There are some subjects which are not mentioned in the communiqué at all. There is very little about trade in the Commonwealth. There is a scant statement on that matter. There has been no mention of migration within the Commonwealth, although that certainly is one of the most important issues which concern us all, and it must surely have been discussed. I would ask the Prime Minister whether any modifications have been made in respect of the machinery for consultation, and if so, whether we can be told what these are.

The chief feature of the Gracious Speech, so far as domestic affairs are concerned, is, as has been said, the proposal to nationalise those companies extensively engaged in the production of iron ore, pig iron and steel. We on this side of the House are, of course, unalterably opposed to this proposal. We regard the Government's action as ill-judged and ill-timed. We shall do all that we legitimately can in this House to resist the passage of the Bill. Should this Measure become law in the life of the present Parliament it will, of course, be an issue at the next General Election. I take this occasion to make it absolutely clear that should we be victorious at the polls, we should consider ourselves entirely free to repeal any such legislation.

It seems to us that none of the arguments that were used at length during the Debates on the nationalisation of the coal— mining industry are applicable here. This is an industry which is now admittedly— the hon. Gentleman opposite has just said it— producing at all-time record levels, an achievement which redounds to the credit of everyone in the industry, as the hon., Gentleman said. I have no doubt that the Prime Minister would endorse that statement. Here is an industry which is today producing steel at prices lower than anywhere in Europe or in the United States of America and which has had a long record of good industrial relations [Laughter.] An hon. Gentleman opposite laughs, but in this connection I do not ask him to accept my words. I will read what Mr. Lincoln Evans, the General Secretary of the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation has said about relations in the industry. He said:

Relations in the industry between both sides have been such that they have over the decades created an atmosphere and mental climate Quite different from that which existed in the mining industry with its poisoned legacy of bitter industrial disputes. That is what he has said, and I should have thought it was about right, although I have none of his qualifications to speak.

In the face of all this, what is the justification for so drastic a change at so inopportune a time? If the Prime Minister's claim is I notice the claim is made in the pamphlet recently issued by his party— that some supervision of the policy of the industry is necessary, I would reply that the Government have possessed this power over the last two years through the medium of the Iron and Steel Board. It is the Government's own action and nobody else's in insisting upon proceeding with the nationalisation of the industry that has made it impossible, not only for the employers but for the independent Members of the board, to carry on for a third year. It is the Government who destroyed the work of the Board, and when reviewing these events it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the introduction of this Measure at this time has been dictated, in the words of "The Times" leading article this morning by considerations of party strategy and party cohesion. As a result, it will be condemned by the mind of the nation, and it will most certainly damage the reputation of its reckless authors.

5.10 p.m.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)

I should like to join the right hon. member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) in his congratulations to my hon. Friends the Mover and Seconder of the Address. Both of them were able to draw on their personal experiences. The hon. Member for South Leicester (Mr. Bowden), who made a very thoughtful speech, paid a tribute to the great work of the Royal Air Force. He was himself in the R.A.F. and so, as a matter of fact, was the Seconder. The Seconder also drew on his personal experiences of his constituency and on his personal experiences as a lawyer. I thought both speeches were well up to our standards.

I should like to thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kindly reference to my recent illness. I was sorry I had to be away from the House for that short Session. I shall hope to make up, by more diligent attendance, for that omission.

Before I deal with the substance of the Gracious Speech and the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington, the House will as usual desire to have some intimation as to the course of Business which we propose. We propose that the Debate on the Address should be continued this week, and be brought to a conclusion in the early part of next week. The allocation of subjects, whether in general discussion or on Amendments, is of course a matter for Mr. Speaker.

The House is aware that owing to certain allegations which have been made against Ministers and officials, the Government propose to set up a tribunal under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence Act, 1921. I am putting down a Motion today, and the House will be asked to discuss it tomorrow at the beginning of Business. The House will agree, I think, that there should be no delay in this matter, but I think hon. Members will agree also that the matter might be left there today because there will be an opportunity for full discussion on the Motion.

During the past three years, owing to great pressure of business, the Government have felt compelled to ask for the whole time of the House for Government Business. We have a heavy legislative programme this year, but I think it would be wrong, and contrary to the traditions of this House, that year after year all Private Members' time should be taken. 1 think it will be agreed, on the other hand, that we have during these three years done our best to provide opportunities for Debates on matters of general interest, while the Adjournment after the Business of the House has been used to a far greater extent than I can ever remember of earlier Parliaments, and we have tried to secure that time to hon. Members. On those occasions, special points can be raised.

Therefore, in considering to what extent it is possible to restore Private Members' time, we have come to the conclusion that opportunities for the introduction of Private Members' Bills should have precedence over Private Members' Motions. We propose, therefore, that up to 10 Fridays should be set apart for Private Members' Bills. The House will recall that the Select Committee on procedure recommended that the first 20 Fridays after the Address should be given to Private Members' Bills and Private Members' Motions alternately. I do not think that the pressure of Business will allow us to restore the whole of Private Members' time. We are not able to set apart time for Private Members' Motions but we have accepted the recommendation of the Select Committee for 10 Fridays for Bills, and I think it is important that the time allotted for Private Members' Bills should be used to the best advantage.

Now under the normal practice of the House in times past the Ballot for priority in the introduction of Bills would have to take place on Thursday this week, and the introduction of Bills would start forthwith. However, I think that would be very short notice after the announcement of the restoration of these facilities for Members to decide on what Bills they desire and, for those who are lucky in the early Ballot, to prepare them; because not all hon. Members are like the junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) who has his quiverful of admirable Bills which he longs to put before the House.

Therefore we would propose to ask the House to agree tomorrow to a Motion to give precedence to Government Business, and to provide for the presentation of Government Bills only, until Christmas, Later we shall bring forward a Motion to give effect to the proposals which I have outlined, and the Ballot will then take place in the New Year. We should propose that seven Fridays be set apart for Second Readings and, if necessary, three Fridays for the remaining stages of any Bills which have passed through Standing Committee. Those who have been a good time in the House will know that is probably a fairly good allocation, taking the chances of Private Members' Bills reaching the later stages. I hope that these proposals will find favour with the House.

Before dealing with the legislative programme, I should like to say a word on the series of meetings of representatives of the Commonwealth and Empire which have been taking place in London since we last met. First in order of time was the Conference of representatives of the African legislatures, over which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies presided. This was a unique occasion because no such regional meeting had been held previously, nor had the unofficial representatives of so many Colonial territories been gathered together in London before. Out of 66 delegates only 12 were officials. The Conference had a most useful series of discussions on the general economic position, the means of development in the Colonies, medical and educational policy, community initiative and local government. That provided not only a valuable exchange of views, but it enabled delegates to see their local problems in the broader aspect, both for Africa as a whole and the wider Commonwealth and world picture. The Conference was addressed by authoritative spokesmen on the economic position as it affected the Colonies, and on Defence and on general problems of policy. These talks, I think, helped for the better understanding of the Government's approach to Colonial problems, and the Colonial Office have also learned much of value from those meetings. Above all with friendly relations between the various delegates and people meeting each other, it has been a most useful conference.

Secondly, there have been the very important meetings in Westminster Hall, where the representatives of no fewer than 36 Parliaments of the Commonwealth and Empire have been in session. There, again, I think, is a fine demonstration of the methods whereby in a democratic organisation unity of spirit is created by personal contact and by free discussion.

Finally, we concluded on Friday last a fortnight's Commonwealth Conference. This was the first conference at which the Prime Ministers of the new Member States—India, Pakistan and Ceylon— were present. I am sure the House will join with me in wishing speedy recovery to Mr. Mackenzie King. He is the senior Prime Minister of the Commonwealth. His length of service as Prime Minister has beaten Walpole's record and it was very unfortunate that, at the close of this great career, his condition prevented him from being present at our councils.

Everyone will realise, as I have explained to the House many times, the difficulties of getting all the Prime Ministers in the Commonwealth together at one time. Well, this time we had a pretty considerable proportion, although Mr. Chifley and Dr. Malan were unable to be present. They were most ably represented by Dr. Evatt and Mr. Louwe, and Mr. St. Laurent came over from Canada to take the place of Mr. King. We were also glad to have Sir Godfrey Huggins of Southern Rhodesia with us. Hon. Members have read the communique. I do not know whether there is really a great deal I should care to add to it on the present occasion.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me certain points. Let me assure him that the question of trade within the Commonwealth was very fully discussed. I do not think there was any serious controversy, that I remember, on it. There was a great feeling that we must do all we can to increase trade within the Commonwealth. The matter of migration also was considered and discussed individually with the various Dominion Governments especially interested in it, because that is a subject that does not equally interest all the Member States. Defence also was discussed as also was the matter of Commonwealth consultation. Certain proposals were considered and have been sent back to the Governments in order that we might obtain their approval. I shall hope in due course to make known to the House what they were, but at the present moment they are confidential to the Governments. But they were extremely useful discussions on that point, with the keenest desire everywhere that there should be the utmost possible consultation.

I think the communiqué does express the harmony and the spirit of co-operation which animated the whole of the Conference and I cannot leave the subject of the Commonwealth without referring to the impending visit of their Majesties the King and Queen to Australia and New Zealand. I am sure we shall all wish that that visit may be as great a success as the visit to South Africa.

Mr. Churchill (Woodford)

Was any decision taken at the Conference which would involve legislation affecting the King's title?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. No decision was taken on that matter.

In previous Debates on the King's Speech it has been customary to speak at some length on foreign affairs. We had a lengthy Debate in the short Session and the Foreign Secretary made a very notable speech recently at U.N.O. I, therefore, do not propose to speak at any length. The right hon. Gentleman raised a number of points on which I found myself in entire agreement with him. We must all regret that the excellent efforts which were made to try to deal at the Security Council with the Berlin trouble were baulked by the use of the veto. I am sorry that I cannot answer the right hon. Gentleman's question whether this will now come to the Assembly, because it was only yesterday that we found that reference to the Security Council was to prove infructuous, and I have not yet heard of what steps are being taken in that matter.

I should like to say how much I agreed with his statement that we need to build up our forces— moral, economic and military— in Western Union, because we do want to have a positive answer to Communist propaganda. It is not enough to condemn and repel. I believe that our Western civilisation offers something infinitely greater than can be offered by the Soviet Union. One of the reasons for the unrest that we see created all around is that there is this interest in promoting chaos and I think that there is no real wish to see a rising prosperity outside the bounds of the Soviet Union. That runs contrary to the fanatical views which are held by the rulers in that country. Therefore, the restoration of a standard of life for all is of the utmost importance as a positive contribution in setting up some ideal for everybody, to prevent them being drawn aside into these aberrations. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is devoting an immense amount of attention to that in his talks with the other Western Powers, as is the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his dealing with O.E.E.C.

I was not proposing to say anything at length on the economic problem. There, again, we had a very recent review and I should not like to try to offer a clearer exposition than was then put by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. These matters will no doubt arise in the course of our Debates.

We had a full Debate on defence and the House is aware of the progress made with the establishment of permanent defence organisations for the Western Union countries and the appointment of the Commander-in-Chief's Committee. The measures which have been taken to strengthen our Regular and Reserve Forces and re— equip them have already been announced and I shall not recapitulate. There are, however, very great difficulties in planning defence. One had to make certain assumptions at the time of the introduction of the National Service Bill as to the course of foreign affairs, as to the way that course would affect our various commitments. We have had to look at these things again and if any change is needed it will be brought in good time before the House. We are carefully reviewing the whole of the question of National Service as to how best to make use of the manpower of the nation to build up our services.

I would only say that this is a matter which has to be considered very carefully, and that, although we have to get adequate defence forces, we must not allow our defence forces to cripple our industrial recovery. There has to be a balance and I think that is very well realised by all our advisers and that everybody acquainted with these things knows the difficulties in an uncertain world of getting long-term plans worked out. Our long-term plan is put into force, to be worked out, and then we have to watch and to alter plans if the conditions change. I say, quite frankly, we have to look again and again at these plans.

I wish to say a word, as the right hon. Gentleman asked me about it, on Civil Defence. It has always been the view of His Majesty's Government that it is essential that our defence system should include adequate preparations for Civil Defence, and nothing in our recent studies has caused us to alter this view. That does not mean that we intend, in the event of war, to adopt a passive attitude, or to expend, in peacetime, a vast effort in building shelters and other protective works. Quite the contrary; the main purpose of our plan will be to ensure the creation of a reserve in peace of trained personnel to deal with the consequences of any hostile attack, and the establishment of the framework of an organisation which can be brought into operation at short notice.

In anticipation of the Civil Defence Bill, which is to be introduced this Session— I cannot give the date at present— discussions have been proceeding between the Departments concerned and the representatives of the local authorities associations as to the general nature of a future Civil Defence organisation. It is hoped that these discussions will be completed soon and the Bill produced at an early date, when we shall be able to give further information to the House. Measures necessary for the creation of a new Civil Defence organisation will require the co-operation of the local authorities and the general public, and the Government will indicate in due course when, and in what way, this cooperation is wanted.

The right hon. Gentleman, as I expected, on the legislative programme—

Mr. Churchill

Before the right hon. Gentleman comes to the domestic aspect of his speech, might I ask whether he can make any statement on the subject of Ireland and Southern Ireland's decision to sever the connection with the Crown, and what course the Government intend to pursue? So far we have been forced to rely entirely on newspaper reports of these extremely important transactions.

The Prime Minister

When an announcement was made in Southern Ireland that it was proposed to repeal the External Relations Act, we at once had a look at it to see what the consequences were. I, therefore, took advantage of the presence of the other Commonwealth Prime Ministers to suggest that, as this matter affected us all, it would be well to have some talk with the Eire Ministers, in order to explore the consequences that would flow from this act. We had preliminary discussions. We explored the matter and there it rests at present. We have had no further indication on that matter. It is obviously a matter which has to be considered very carefully, but our initial action was to explore the position and see just what this thing meant, and that is where it remains at the present time.

The right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington, as I rather anticipated, concentrated his attack on the Iron and Steel Bill. I do not think he mentioned the Parliament Bill. After all, so much had been said in the short Session on that that, possibly, he had run short of matter. It must also have struck him that this Bill has not caused any great furore or excitement against it in the country—

Mr. Oliver Lyttelton (Aldershot)

Nor enthusiastic support.

The Prime Minister

I know, but if the right hon. Gentleman remembers the kind of excitement there was in 1911 and the kind of abuse which was showered on the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) at that time, he would realise that the amazing thing is that there is no great excitement on this matter and no great feeling that this is a major upset of the Constitution. In fact, most people have come to the conclusion that this is a very ordinary and sensible proposal for getting a bit of fair play between the different parties in this country. It is quite clear there is not very much excitement on this. It did not even change the result of the Stirling and Falkirk by-election, which must have been very disappointing to those who were enjoying the breezes at Llandudno. We therefore propose to proceed with the Parliament Bill.

The Iron and Steel Bill is brought forward in pursuance of a Resolution of this House passed on 28th May, 1946. It is intended that the Bill shall be read the First time tomorrow. It will be published on Friday. There will be full opportunity for discussing its merits on the Second Reading. Here I need only say that the production of iron and steel in the right quantities and qualities is basic to the planning of the economy of this country. The right hon. Member for Warwick and Leaming, ton rather seemed to suggest that the objection to this Bill was that it was produced at the wrong time. I wonder whether he would have taken a different line at what he considered to be the right time. Would it have been right to introduce it in 1945, or 1946, 1938, or 1939? I had the impression that someone said, "This is the wrong time to do it."

Mr. Churchill

The wrong thing to do, and the wrong time to do it.

The Prime Minister

If it is the wrong thing to do in the view of right hon. Gentlemen opposite, then the timing does not seem to matter because, equally, they would have fought against it. That rather disposes of the suggestion that the real vice of this Bill is because it is breaking up some wonderful harmony which otherwise we should get in the attitude of the Opposition parties. As a matter of fact, the idea of timing is one of the best known ingredients in that well known speech "Noodle's Oration" in which it is pointed out that the timing is all wrong and everything all wrong. The simple fact is that the right hon. Gentleman opposes this Bill. We can understand that, but why bother about timing and all this stuff about breaking harmony and so forth?

Mr. Churchill

We have never said anything about breaking harmony.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman has been away, he cannot have heard—

Mr. Churchill

So has the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister

I have, but I had the papers all the time and I have seen the statement made that the great vice of the Bill was that it prevented the wholehearted support of the Government in these difficult times, which the Opposition were longing to give. I can quite understand it, and no doubt we shall have some very good discussions.

I do not think I need advert at great length on the rest of the programme. A very large number of these Bills are introduced to give effect to recommendations of expert Committees. The Legal Aid Bills— Scottish and English— derive very largely from the recommendations of the Rushcliffe Committee. The Magistrates Courts Bill is largely based on the Report of the Roche Committee and the National Parks Bill on the Hobhouse Committee. I hope we shall get general support for this Bill. For many years there has been an agitation that all our people should have better access to the beauties and amenities of the country. Everyone will agree that we should do our utmost to secure the beauties of this country and to give people opportunities of enjoying them and to protect the flora and fauna of this country.

Finally, we have set before the House a fairly extended programme, but as we are all saying everywhere that this country has to pull itself through its difficulties by hard work, the House will not, I am sure, want to be left out and will be prepared to do its fair share.

Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Whiteley.] Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do no adjourn."—[Mr. Whiteley.]