§ [SECOND DAY]
Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [6th March]:
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 out humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament"—[Mr. Dye.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ 2.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Churchill (Woodford)
I must frankly confess, as I look around, that I like the appearance of these Benches better than what we had to look at during the last 4½ years. It is certainly refreshing to feel, at any rate, that this is a Parliament where half the nation will not be able to ride roughshod over the other half, or to sweep away in a Session what has been carefully and skilfully constructed by generations of thought, toil and thrift. I do not see the Attorney-General in his place, but no one will be able to boast "We are the masters now." On the contrary, if it be not presumptuous for me to say so, we are equals. So far as the Conservative and Socialist parties are concerned, we seem to have reached in the electoral field that position—if I may listen to the echoes of the election—of equal shares for both. I will not say equal shares for all, for we certainly have not achieved even fair shares for all.
Here, I must guard myself carefully against any suggestion of uttering what are called blandishments to the nine representatives of the Liberal Party, most of whom we see in their places under the guidance so generously provided by the Principality of Wales. I do not often quote from "The Times," but I must say that I found myself in some agreement with their leading article of 27th February, that the Liberal leaders who are here, and others out of doors, have performeda national disservice"—142 these are not my words: I am only quoting, having read them with some relish in "The Times "—by the irresponsible spattering of the electoral map with hundreds of candidatures for which there was never the remotest chance of substantial support, but which 'might just deprive the Members elected of certainty that they represented the majority of their constituents The legislature, by requiring the £150 deposit, has expressed its disapproval of frivolous candidatures; but it was never foreseen "—it is not me; it is "The Times." a paper I do not often quote—that a great and historic party would use its considerable financial resources to evade the spirit of the ruleThe object of the Liberal leaders was nakedly stated by Lord Samuel in his broadcast of 7th February, when he said:It may be that no party will have a working majority in the new House of Commons In such an event the Liberals might be called upon to form a Government.It is quite true that one of the objectives mentioned by Lord Samuel has been gained. No party has a working majority. A stalemate or deadlock has undoubtedly been produced in the effective government of the country and the certainty of a prolonged electioneering atmosphere at a time when the situations both at home and abroad are grave and crucial.
Lord Samuel's second objective—the formation of a Liberal Government—still remains in a sphere so speculative as to be outside even the bounds of Lloyd's insurance. It has, perhaps, been too readily assumed that the nine gentlemen below the Gangway on this side will have in this Parliament a position of exceptional and undue influence. I hope that the House of Commons is not going to allow itself to be dominated or let its fate and future to be decided by any small body of hon. Members. We do not wish to emulate some foreign Parliaments where small parliamentary parties are able, by putting themselves and their favours in the balance, to sway the course of considerable events. Indeed, it seems to me that this would be an undignified attitude for the Mother of Parliaments. especially in a time so serious as this
I have lived nearly all my life in the House of Commons and I believe it to be the enduring guarantee of British liberties and democratic progress. I do not think we ought to assume that this new House of Commons, elected by the greatest vote ever recorded in our history, and with 143 earnestness and heart-searching by tens of millions of our people, should fall into petty bargaining almost before it had breathed. The House of Commons is founded on the party system, and, in the main, very much in preponderance upon the two-party system. But, personally, I have the feeling—as I ventured to say the other day when offering you, Sir, my congratulations on your election as Speaker—that this assembly, fresh from contact with the people, is a more potent body than the mere numerical aggregate of its parties suggests, and I hope that this feeling will play its full part in our Debates, whether its life is destined to be long or short.
Whatever view we may take of particularist manoeuvres to frustrate the will of democracy as expressed through majorities, and thus creating the present grave embarrassment to the country, we must not be blind to the anomaly which has brought to this House of Commons 186 representatives who are returned only by a minority of those who voted in their constituencies. Nor can we, to whatever party we belong, overlook the constitutional injustice done to 2,600,000 voters who, voting upon a strong tradition, have been able to return only nine Members to Parliament. My experience of life, becoming a long one, has led me to the belief that ill-conduct often results from ill-treatment. I do not think this is a matter which we can brush aside or allow to lie unheeded.
I therefore make the following proposal to His Majesty's Government—namely, that we should set up a Select Committee to inquire into the whole question of electoral reform. A Select Committee of the House of Commons would not be likely to lose its way amid the endless arguments and details with which this question bristles. I am well aware that it has several times been examined before, but we have never examined it in the light of a practical situation of major importance such as has now been brought about.
I believe a House of Commons Committee would take a practical view and give us advice which would be a guide to future Governments in this Parliament or in another Parliament. As to the composition of the Committee, I would suggest that it should be based not on the 144 numbers of the Members here, but upon the numbers of votes recorded by the electorate for the three parties which are represented in the House, as, otherwise, I do not see how the Liberals would obtain any representation at all on a matter which is certainly of keen and special interest to them.
I ask the Government—I ask the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President who, I understand, is going to follow me—in the course of this Debate to say whether they will allow such a Committee to be set up or not. We have certainly reached a parliamentary deadlock or stalemate differing in its character from any in living experience. It is not true that the Liberal Party here or, what is of far more importance, the Liberal Party in the country, can, by simply throwing its weight on to one side or the other determine the issue. Any step that was taken as a mere bargain or deal might not only be difficult to implement, but might well produce unfavourable reactions for those concerned. The nation might deeply resent the feeling that its fortunes had been bartered about without regard to principle by a handful of politicians, no matter what party they come from, and that its vital interests were but a piece in a jigsaw puzzle. In such a situation candour, sincerity, simplicity, firm adherence to well-known and publicly asserted principles, combined with a dominating regard for national rather than party interests, will be found to be the surest guides.
We have of course, on this side of the House. to discharge our duties as a Parliamentary Opposition, and the period before us will be very difficult. Moreover, it is by no means certain that another election, held in a few months under conditions which no one can foresee and arising from occasions which perhaps no one can select, would remove the conditions of deadlock which now prevail. I am one of the very few who lived in high office through the year 1910. I was Home Secretary then—[Interruption]—well it is a very important office and very well discharged by its present occupant.
There was an election in January, 1910, and another election in December. There was virtually no difference between the two results. The people remembered how they had voted last time and they meant to vote the same way again. Unless some 145 entirely new facts can be found to place before the people there is no certainty that the electors will alter their opinion, however much we might plead with them in the interval covered by the compass of a year. There will, therefore, be an indefinite period of uncertainty, extremely detrimental to our country at this critical time. Every action of the Government will be taken, no doubt, in regard to the impending election. We all have to be careful of every word we say or fact we cite.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir Stafford Cripps) indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Churchill
I do not think I am the only one who needs to be careful.
Every word we say may be pounced upon and made the peg for some monstrous misrepresentations—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am quite willing to carry the whole House with me on that. The reasoned Amendment which was moved to the Health and Insurance Bill—which we originated in the Government over which I presided, and which I did my utmost to help forward—was recently misrepresented to the electors as Tory hostility to the principle of the Measure. Certainly it will be very difficult to find good solutions in the national interest for the grievous, dark and difficult problems which press upon us. Yet there never was a time when good solutions and drastic remedies in our financial and economic life were more needed and more overdue. We must do the best we can.
I am coming now to the text of the Gracious Speech to which we listened yesterday. A friend of mine has suggested that it might have been stated more shortly. This was his suggestion: "My Lords and Members of the House of Commons: My Government will not introduce legislation in fulfilment of their Election programme because the only Mandate they have received from the country is not to do it." There is however one paragraph in the Gracious Speech about the need for a renewed effort to expand the production of food from our own soil, which will. I am sure, be wel- 146 comed by all sides. It conforms very closely to the statements contained in our Agricultural Charter and in the Conservative election manifesto. And I said myself, at Luton Hoo in June, 1948:Anyone can see that the vigorous pro. duction of food on the largest possible scale in this island holds the first place. Let us be under no error in this matter. The prosperity of agriculture and food production depends on larger supplies of labour, and to have the labour we must have the rural houses in which they can dwell and rear their families. These the Socialists have refused. It also depends upon a full supply of the agricultural machinery which the Government has so recklessly exported to foreign countries. This was indeed devouring the seed-corn. In our Agricultural Charter, published this morning, we have declared that the proper level of agricultural production in this country must be half as much again as pre-war. This is our aim.I see I also said at Luton Hoo:The State is entitled to give guidance and, if necessary, to see this is enforced, to ensure that farmers and landowners do not flout the rules of good husbandry and good estate management.[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I thought you would like that. This speech was at the time dismissed by the Prime Minister somewhat curtly as "Luton Hooey." That of course is a joke.
Well, we have a more helpful response in the Gracious Speech. I assume of course that it is not intended to use compulsory powers to nationalise marginal land, or to nationalise water supplies in rural areas, unless it is proved to the satisfaction of the House as a whole, that no other method is available in certain exceptional cases. If this be so, I see no reason why this important paragraph. which I admit was not contained in my abridged edition of the Gracious Speech. should not provide some common ground between us during these next few months
I cannot leave this agricultural topic without referring to the Bill announced in the Gracious Speech for the placing and maintaining of cattle grids on the highways. I see the Patronage Secretary is in his place. We are always glad to see him in his place. Surely he should study with special attention in times like these any measure to keep the herd from straying.
Much was said upon the hustings about mass unemployment. There is no real difference between the parties. on this subject. All the leading men on both sides agreed to the White Paper laid before 147 Parliament in 1944 by the Government over which I presided. We adhere to that Paper, though happily the conditions with which it was intended to deal have not yet arisen. Moreover, the principal Ministers concerned have frankly told us that there would have been between 1,500,000 and two million unemployed but for the American aid which we have been receiving. That was an altogether unwonted slip on their part, I am sure, for which I must say they have had to endure a good deal of punishment in the discussions which have taken place. But we have not challenged them upon that point. There is, therefore, a broad measure of general agreement between us, although of course Socialist Ministers naturally claim all the credit, past, present and prospective, for everything good that has been done in this field.
There is, however, another aspect which the House should bear in mind, especially as it presents itself as an addition to the statements about the help of the American subsidies to which I have already referred. I state these points simply as facts, but serious facts. If we compare the present situation with that under the Chamberlain Government in 1939, the year before the war, there are four important differences on the point I am making. There are many other differences, but these four are relevant to this problem of employment or unemployment.
First, there are 750,000 more national and local government officials than existed then. Secondly, there are 250,000 more men in the Armed Forces—I do not say whether rightly or wrongly; I merely mention it. Thirdly, about 400,000 young people are withheld from the labour market by the extension of the school age. I am not arguing this afternoon whether that is good or bad, though personally I am not greatly attracted by overcrowded schools and underpaid teachers. However, that makes a total of 1,400,000. Fourthly, it has been estimated that there are 500,000 people employed in making unrequited exports, in the main to India and Egypt—that is to say, exports in return for which nothing comes back into this island from this heavy expenditure of our life energy expressed in sweat and skill. Again I do not attempt to argue this afternoon the merits of the so-called sterling 148 balances or repayment of unfair British war-time debts as they are in fact, though I should be quite prepared to do so on a suitable occasion.
Nor do I say that the Government are wrong not to make a violent change in this method of preventing further unemployment in the circumstances that prevail. Nevertheless we should not shut our eyes to the realities. We should not go on without being conscious of the fact that we are getting nothing back in return. Trade is exchange, or, at the simplest, barter. It would be much better, for instance, if some of this work could find its reward in the spread of goods to the public convenience at home, or in their sale to other countries in the sterling area, which would repay us to some extent in nourishing imports for this immense outward stream of valuable commodities.
There are the four differences. There is one more. Finally, there are the 350,000 persons who are actually unemployed at the moment, many of whom no doubt are changing from one job to another. This makes a total of 2,250,000 persons altogether not now employed in productive industry, comparable with the 1,100,000 unemployed at the time of the Chamberlain Government in the year before the war. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Shurmer) is not a new Member: he should not show himself so conspicuously needing Parliamentary education as he does this afternoon.
This is, of course, without taking into consideration at all the fruits of the American subsidies. I am quite sure that there is now more real unemployment in the sense of people not being employed in requited or productive work than in the years immediately before the war—not that I in any way under-rate the valuable services rendered by those very numerous categories which I have mentioned. I think the party opposite might address their minds to this topic because it plays an important part in the understanding of our affairs.
There is another whole series of difficult questions connected with the Ministry of Food. The discussions on food subsidies and rationing are, of course, hampered by the fact that an election cannot be far off, and we may, no doubt, be again exposed to the slander 149 that the Conservative Party wish to make food dear so that the rich can live in luxury while the wage earners are impelled by "empty bellies," to quote the official document of the party opposite, to work harder.
I see that experienced politician the Lord President of the Council opposite me: he is, I believe, the supreme author of the manifesto in which this incident was mentioned, and it does astonish me. He and his friends must have very strange opinions about their fellow countrymen if they think that 12,500,000 of them would support such a cruel and wicked policy as that. I do not believe a word they say on the subject. Where they go wrong is that they assume that the mass of the people are taken in by arguments of manifest unfairness and untruth. But for that there would not be this thoughtful, pensive air upon the Government Front Bench. No doubt, every word spoken in our Debates on food subsidies and other aspects of the food problems will be liable to be wrested from its context, carefully scanned and pulled out if there is anything worth having in it, in order to provide material for electioneering of this disreputable kind.
Our policy is, in fact, aimed at full and better meals for the nation and we are quite sure that the more food manual workers can get to eat, the better will be our output. I do not think we should be deterred from discussing these grave problems by the peculiar and, I admit, unpleasant conditions which prevail in this precariously balanced Parliament. I do not hesitate to say that it is foolish to prevent production through oppressive taxation by paying food subsidies to enormous numbers of people who do not need them, and that it is our duty to search for more sensible solutions of the problem, while maintaining a basic standard for all. I was glad to read the statement of the new Minister of Food—I do not think he is in his place—that he would think in terms of food and not of calories. This seemed to me the most helpful contribution we have had on this subject from the Minister of Food so far. We wish the right hon. Gentleman success in the arduous office which he has undertaken.
The food question is, however, not one which can be judged apart from the state of our national finances. The need to 150 reduce the heavy burden of taxation and arrest the continued fall in the purchasing power of wages, pensions and allowances of all kinds is urgent and, as we believe, vital. The House was, I am sure, impressed with the figures given yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) about the ever-increasing drain of the sterling balances upon us. On the top of all this comes devaluation which, apart from its effects at home, so far as they have yet been manifested, also means that British labour—and I would be most grateful to the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he could attend just to this one point: I know he has to prompt his colleague, for it would be lamentable if a different theme were developed: devaluation means that British labour has to work one-third longer hours to earn the same quantity of dollar imports as before. It is a terrible fact—one-third longer hours and what you get back is no more than it was before. You call yourselves the Labour Party, and yet it does not even rouse you and strike a note in your breasts. It is a shocking and odious thing that we should so handle our affairs as to have to work 12 hours instead of eight to obtain the same return.
There is also the danger that further devaluation may become necessary, From this crowded island our life blood is draining away in an ever more copious flow without compensating nourishment. That is my very deep fear. We are a hard-pressed blood-donor whose general health has already been weakened by his war service. This deadly process is to some extent, no doubt, veiled by the American subsidies under Marshall Aid, but they are coming to an end. Indeed, they may soon be offset by the obligation to repay the first £1,000 million loan so blithely dispersed as soon as it was received. They are now coming to an end, it is said.
The restoration of the £ sterling at home and abroad and the re-establishment of confidence and credit will not take place as long as there is a Government in office which, even though held in check in this Parliament by lack of voting strength, is known to be animated by bitter hostility to accumulated wealth and is the declared enemy of the capitalist system to which all the rest of the free 151 democracies of the world outside Scandinavia, and with some exceptions there, constantly affirm their adherence on a basis of universal suffrage.
It would be vain to touch in the Debate upon the vast sphere of finance and economics. I ask that an opportunity for a full Debate upon it may be accorded to us in the next fortnight or so.
§ Mr. H. Morrison indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Churchill
It will take more than the oscillation of the Lord President's head in this Parliament necessarily to convince us that our desires must be put aside. I ask for a full Debate. So much has been concealed from us and distorted by the speeches of the Ministers concerned during and before the Election that we really do not know where we are. [Laughter.] The hon. Member opposite should not think it is funny or be delighted that half the House of Commons has not been properly informed. I am sure he is no better informed than we are.
I ask that the true facts should be laid before the House as soon as possible. If they are good we shall rejoice. If they are bad we must all face them, if not together at any rate at the same time. I find encouragement from the fact that the Government evidently wish to continue in office. There is something real about that. It gives one a certain assurance that the prospects in the next few months are not too bad. I trust my intuition has not misled me on this point. The Government would, I am sure, be well advised in the interests of the country as well as in their own interest, which they are not prone to overlook, to make a full and candid statement before we separate for Easter.
We have certain Supply days at our disposal if no facilities are given. We shall expect a statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If he refuses to give one, we shall certainly not hesitate to draw any inference we choose, but we are quite sure that if he had a favourable statement to make he would be the first to put it out either in the House or over the broadcast. I see the Prime Minister arriving: he has been away on duty and I should like to put him in touch. I was asking for a Debate on the financial situation so that we may have a 152 general statement made on the position before we separate for the Easter Recess. We shall try to press that by every means open to us, which are more numerous than they were.
We have thought it our duty, in accordance with our political convictions, and those of the constituents who returned us here, to place two Amendments to the Address upon the Order Paper.
§ [But humbly regret that the Gracious Speech contains no reference to the future of the Iron and Steel Industry and that in a time of rising world competition this vital industry will be kept in a state of anxiety and suspense.]
§ [But humbly regret that the Gracious Speech makes no reference to the grievous and growing distress in town and country arising out of the continuing decline in the number of new houses built each year and contains no indication that the Government intend to take more effective measures to deal with the situation.]
§ The first deals with the nationalisation of iron and steel. Owing to the action of the House of Lords under the now mutilated Parliament Act, the people were given the right to say whether they wanted this Measure or not. The electors, by a large' majority in votes, have pronounced against it, but it will come into action automatically, perhaps in the lifetime of this Parliament, unless parliamentary action is taken either to repeal the Measure, or, at least, to alter the date, so that the electors will certainly have a further chance of affirming their repudiation of it. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not much."] Let the hon. Member carry on, and he will get on to the level presently of the House.
§ It is obvious that the Government have not the power to nationalise cement, sugar, chemicals, or to mutualise industrial assurance. But steel is different. It happens unless it is stopped. Had we obtained a majority we should have repealed the Act: and that is, of course, our policy. Nevertheless, we should be willing not to press our Amendment to a Division if the Government will give the assurance that the position of the steel industry will not be worsened because of the present deadlock, or by its indefinite prolongation. We ask for a declaration that the vesting date shall be not less than nine months after the 153 next General Election, and that all necessary measures shall be taken to that end.
§ I think it is a very modest demand. There was an enormous vote of the people against this Measure, and with a Parliament which admittedly has no right to bring it into law—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] No right. I thought it was understood that that was net asserted. So I ask for something which would put us into exactly the same relation, after another Dissolution, to the time factor as we were in on the last occasion. We could not make a more reasonable request than that.
§ This will have the double advantage of making sure that the people are duly consulted before their decision is reversed, and that the industry will be given a breathing space, of probably at least a year, to get on with their vital work. If we can receive those assurances today it would, I think, be convenient to the House as a whole. If not, we feel ourselves bound by our convictions, and by the mandate we have received from the electors, to vote for the Amendment in our full strength.
§ We also feel compelled to invite the House to express itself upon the lamentable state of our housing No material issue affecting the daily lives of the people has stirred them more than the housing shortage, which strikes at the very root of family life. No one underrates the many difficulties which constitute the housing problem at the present moment, and we no doubt shall hear more about them in due course from the Minister who hears a direct and peculiar responsibility for the failure.
I will only venture to mention a suggestion—a constructive suggestion—which I made to my colleagues in our war-time Government, and which seems to me still to have relevance. It occurred to me as a member of the bricklayers' trade union, of which I still hold a membership card signed by Mr. George Hicks, whom we miss as the former Member for Woolwich, although he has had adequate replacement. The bricklayer or builder's operative is always asking himself, "What happens when this job is done?" He is really like a man on a raft in mid-ocean who has to burn a bit of his raft every day to cook his dinner. With all this vast mass of building that is needed, it ought
to be possible to give the building operatives, bricklayers and others, effective security. It seemed to me that this was so in 1944, and I, therefore, made the following proposal to my colleagues in what was called a "directive ":
The whole of the emergency housing scheme must be viewed in relation to a ten years' plan for the steady full-time employment of a considerably enlarged building trade for permanent houses. Instead of a fever for three or four years and then a falling off, the building trade should have a broad, steady flow giving all its members a good assurance of employment, and thus encouraging piecework.
I venture to keep that particular suggestion alive at the present time, although it is only one small contribution to a mass of improvements which could be made in the whole process of our winning houses for our people to live in.
§ Mr. Poole (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
The right hon. Gentleman does not know what he is talking about.
§ Mr. Churchill
The two sides of the House face each other deeply divided by ideological differences. I have lived through many of the fierce quarrels of the past, about Irish Home Rule, about Church or chapel, about Free Trade and Protection, which all seemed to be very important at the time. They were, however, none of them, fundamental to our whole system of life and society. Those who believe in the creation of a Socialist State controlling all the means of production and distribution and exchange, and are working towards such a goal, are separated from those who seek to exalt the individual and allow freedom of enterprise under well-known laws and safeguards—they are separated by a wider and deeper gulf than I have ever seen before in our island.
This was, in my view, the moral and intellectual issue which was at stake in the election, and which a substantial Socialist majority, if obtained, would in four or five years have carried, in all probability, to irrevocable depths. It is a significant and serious fact which should not escape the attention of thoughtful men that the differences which separate us have become more pronounced by the voting, because each of the main parties has very often increased its strength in those very parts of the country where it was already the stronger. We shall certainly not survive by splitting into two 155 nations. Yet that is the road we are travelling now, and there is no sign of our reaching or even approaching our journey's end.
The basic fact before us is that the electors by a majority of 1,750,000 have voted against the advance to a Socialist State, and, in particular, against the nationalisation of steel and other industries which were threatened. The Government, therefore, have no mandate, as is recognised in the Gracious Speech, to proceed in this Parliament with their main policy. The Prime Minister is the only Socialist prime minister in the Englishspeakng world—the only one: and he has behind him a majority of only seven—or it soon may be only six. Nevertheless, he continues not only to persevere upon his path, but to state the differences which separate him and his followers from the rest of us all over the world, in the most extreme terms.
The right hon. gentleman complained during the election that I quoted his interview with an American journalist, which he had not disavowed for some time after it was published and which was much commented on. In fact I saw only the comments and then searched for the actual text. I will meet the right hon. Gentleman. I promise him that I will quote that interview no more. I do not need to quote it any more because in his letter to his candidate at Moss Side he has proclaimed his faith and policy beyond the slightest doubt and in the most sweeping terms. He wrote on 2nd March:Labour stands for the policy of equal shares, and for the ordered and progressive realisation of a society based on social justice.The last part covers both sides of the House. But this "equal shares" declaration goes even further than the speeches of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his election campaign at Bristol, when he spoke of "fair shares for all" being only a preliminary step to "equal shares for all." It is at least an advantage that the differences between us should be stated so plainly, because there can be no excuse for anyone making a mistake about them afterwards.
The "Tribune," which is believed t, express the views of the Minister of Health, fully supports the Prime Minister's pronouncement. I quote from its latest issue of 3rd March. 156It is the faith of Socialism carried across this land with a new crusading zeal which can win the second election in 1950. And once that fact is securely grasped, how futile becomes the talk of compromise and manoeuvre in the House of Commons, which must continue until the new appeal to the country takes place.The Prime Minister has accepted the burden of government in virtue of his majority of seven; and no one doubts that it was his right and his duty to do so. But we on this side feel that he, and those whom he leads or with whom he goes, have inflicted deep injury upon our country in years when our task of recovery was heavy enough, and we are sure that the course he now proclaims has only to be followed far enough to lead to our economic ruin, and to our inability to maintain 50 millions of people in this island, still less to maintain them on their present standards of living, such as they are.
We are therefore bound to confront him and those who follow him with our united and resolute resistance, and we believe that this is the first duty which we owe to our country, to the British Commonwealth of Nations, to Western Europe and to the English-speaking world.
§ 3.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
The right hon. Gentleman, in opening this Debate, took an unusual course for a Leader of the Opposition opening a Debate upon the Address. Usually, one expects the first attack to be made upon the Government of the day, but on this occasion the right hon. Gentleman saw fit to make the attack upon my colleagues and myself, who form the representation on this bench of the Liberal Party. The right hon. Gentleman seems to labour under a desire to attack two parties, and I am not sure that his main attack is not usually levelled against the Liberals rather than against the Labour Party. Apart from that, it is rather in conformity with what we have learned to expect.
It is always the case that anyone who leads a particular party or particular creed directs his bitterest attack against those whom he has left and hopes thereby to gain popularity. The right hon. Gentleman used to use his main weapons against the party which he left in 1902 or 1903; he used far more bitter language against those whom he has now rejoined than he ever used against us. The right hon. 157 Gentleman began by suggesting that perhaps I and my colleagues might misunderstand his opening phrases—and think they were blandishments. It is not the first time these blandishments have been turned towards us, either during the election or before the election.
He then went on to suggest that this was not the moment to indulge in party manoeuvres. I should have thought that he would have been well-advised to steer clear of such a phrase as that, because never in the history of any election has there been such party manoeuvring about the use of the word "Liberal" as there has been in this election. We have had Liberal - Unionists, National - Unionists. Liberal-Conservatives and ConservativeLiberals—in fact, the Conservatives have done their very utmost to make the fullest use of the name Liberal," and the principles for which it stands, in an endeavour to get the representation in this House of a party which was always anti-Liberal. All I can say is this: I believe that there are, or there were, things made and sold in confectioners' shops which would best describe the hon. Gentlemen sitting behind me who have all these various names —"liquorice all-sorts."
The Government, undoubtedly, in the programme set out in the Gracious Speech recognise that a new situation has been created by the General Election. They are in a chastened mood, and have entered into a sort of self-denying ordinance. It is in the power of either of the two major parties to act with a deep sense of responsibility or to act in an irresponsible manner. Should either choose the second course, it will not only bring about chaos in the country, but will cause serious injury to industry and ruin to democracy 'and democratic institutions.
The government of the country must he carried on: people have voted and made their choice, and it is our duty, as their elected representatives, to take upon ourselves the responsibility put upon us. The holding of another General Election immediately or within the next two or three months is unthinkable, and for several reasons. As the right hon. Gentleman himself asked, "Is there any ground for expecting that the position between the two main parties will be materially changed?" I do not think so far one moment. In the meantime, the supplies for the various Government Departments 158 must be voted, otherwise the machinery of government breaks down, and, moreover, there is very little time during which those Votes must be taken.
The outstanding problems facing us are the problems of finance and the economic position of this country. Whatever Government is in power, that Government must expend all its energy, all its thoughts and all its abilities in solving those problems so that the country can be put upon a sound economic basis. We are still not paying our way; we are still dependent upon American aid; we are still spending more than we can afford, and we still have the duty of putting our own house in order.
So, however strongly we may feel, however antagonistic may be our ideologies, this is a time for toleration, understanding and,a real will to try to work together, if only for a short time, so that the main difficulties and problems confronting the country may be overcome. This calls for restraint on the part of every one of us, and no party, as the right hon. Gentleman himself said earlier, can now say, "We are the masters." We have been sent here, each one of us, to serve not to dominate.
As I have said, the Government must be carried on. As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, there is no reference in the Gracious Speech to the programme which was put before the country by the Government, and so, yesterday, I welcomed the speech made by the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden). I have listened to the right hon. Gentleman on many occasions, but I thought that yesterday he delivered, not only one of his best speeches but one of the most statesmanlike utterances made in any Parliament. I agree with him that this would not be the moment for indulging in fractious or factious opposition, and I was glad to hear him say that there was no intention on the part of the main Opposition to indulge in it.
What I therefore ask—and I listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman for the answer—is the purpose of the two Amendments which were tabled last night? Is it intended, as apparently it is, to drive each of those Amendments to a Division? If it is, then the country may be faced once again with a General Election.
159 Let me take the first one, which deals with iron and steel. We of the Liberal Party, in the last Parliament and in our manifesto, were opposed to the nationalisation of the iron and steel industry, and we said that we would repeal that Act, just as the Leader of the Opposition said he would repeal it. We desire that that Act should be removed from the Statute Book. But nothing can be done under that Act until August next—even the first move—and no effective action can be undertaken until 1st January, 1951.
What, therefore, is the point of bringing this issue before this House at this moment? Before 1st January, 1951, much can happen, and it may well be that it will be decided that another election will have to be held in the autumn. Strongly as I am opposed to that Act—and indeed to any other further nationalisation Acts—I say that no good purpose is served in bringing this issue forward at this particular juncture, especially as the Government themselves have recognised the effect of the election and the votes that have been cast.
Again, suppose the Government did make a statement such as the right hon. Gentleman has suggested, that nothing will be done until after the General Election, whenever that may be held. Would that really relieve the minds of the steel owners or the industry? It would only extend the period of the truce: they would still be awaiting the result of the next General Election, and until that is decided they would not know their fate.
Incidentally, the right hon. Gentleman rightly claimed that the majority of the votes cast in the country was against nationalisation. That would mean that he was adding the votes cast in favour of his party and the votes cast in favour of the Liberal Party. An equal retort can be made, that adding the votes cast for the Government to the votes cast for the Liberal Party there was an outstanding vote in the country against Tory administration.
We are all agreed that every family in this country should have a good and comfortable home. That is not only essential for the well-being of the people and their better health, but it is also necessary for better production. There may be—and I am sure there is—room for criticism and 160 for helpful constructive proposals: but, again, is it necessary now, before Easter, and before Supply has been voted, to drive this to a definite issue? I should have thought that that can come later, and the issue will then depend upon what the Government does or fails to do.
As I have said, the main problem, without a doubt, is the financial and economic one. The question of housing, and indeed the welfare of the State and all else, will depend upon the proper and quick solution of that problem. Everything turns upon it—our standard of living, and the question whether we have or have not full employment. Moreover, it cannot be too strongly emphasised that time is short.
The real question is: how can we get trade moving better? It has not been moving as we desire it to move during this last four and a half years, otherwise we should be able to pay for the imports that we require. That is why we have had to make the cuts that the Government have made during these four and a half years. That is why we have again to rely upon Marshall Aid. Yesterday, the right hon. Gentleman referred to high prices. Again, the only way high prices can come down is by increasing production. The old law of supply and demand still applies: increase the supply and at once it will affect the price, which would either come down or, at any rate, remain steady. That is the urgent matter, and surely with regard to it, each one of us can come forward with our helpful suggestions.
Quite clearly, our people are asking for sound administration, and for guidance with regard to the economy of the country. I should like to go more fully into this now, but this is not the moment. The right moment will be when the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduces his Budget.
I should now like to turn to another matter, which, to me, is of equal importance with that of the economic position of the State, and that is the question of individual freedom. I would ask the Government to abandon the power they took under the Supplies and Services Act, which they first introduced into this House in 1945; and, still more, to withdraw the suggestion that was once made by the Lord President of the Council, that he would like to make that Act a permanent one. I should also like to see 161 removed from the Orders in Council those which are obnoxious to us as British people, with our love of liberty, such as the Orders in Council referring to the direction of labour. The Government have never dared to make full use of those Orders, but they are there, and they are a threat to our liberty. So, also, is the Order in Council, for example, making strikes illegal. The Government have never dared to use that, but it is there, and it is the kind of Order that undermines the very basis of trade unionism.
I should like to see, on the other hand, in place of those, a Bill introduced giving full effect to the Charter of Human Rights. We asked for that in the last Parliament, and I am asking again that it should receive the early attention of the Government. I should like them once again to consider the Bill that was introduced in another place in the last Parliament, by Lord Reading, dealing with the rights of the subject. While I am on this, I would still more like them to consider the Report of a Committee that is almost now forgotten, the Report of the Donoughmore Committee of 1932—I believe it was a unanimous report, of a Committee on which sat Professor Laski, the late Miss Ellen Wilkinson, and the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards)—recommending a restriction on the powers of Ministers and of Ministries—a power which has grown considerably since that Report was made.
I would refer to defence. We are anxious, of course, not only that the liberties of this country should be maintained, but that we should render the best service we possibly can in the interests of freedom throughout the world. We desire, therefore, that our defence should be made as effective as possible. But we are also convinced that conscription in time of peace is wrong, and that instead of strengthening our defences it is weakening them. So confident are we of the wrongness of this that we would be prepared to submit this question to a tripartite conference, which could make a full investigation of all the facts and then report to the House on what was most likely to give us the finest and best defence.
I turn to the King's Speech for a few moments. I am glad that attention has 162 been again directed to food production and conditions in rural areas. More food will have to be provided in this country, and it can be provided if proper help is provided—for example, in bringing marginal land into cultivation and in making better provision for rural housing and building and supplying water and electricity to all. I have, time and again, called attention to the conditions in my own county of Montgomery, which has a dwindling population. It has been steadily dwindling for two generations at the rate of some 500 a year, yet it is one of the finest agricultural counties in the country.
I not only welcome what is said in the Gracious Speech, but would urge upon the Government the need for intensified action in trying to secure better conditions in the countryside, so that everyone there may be supplied with a comfortable home and with the amenities which modern conditions require should be given to every family. Surely, with modern scientific methods and implements we can raise far more food for our growing population than is the case today. Upon this, I should have thought, all parties could have agreed, as the need is so obvious and the position so perilous.
There is one matter, however, in the Gracious Speech that I regard with apprehension, and that is the encouragement of further transfers of industrial undertakings to the development areas. I should like to see these industrial undertakings encouraged to find a home in more congenial surroundings. I should like to see more encouragement given to our old market towns. That would bring benefits to all, better production and a healthier life for the producers, and proximity to the agricultural fields where their food is being produced.
May I turn to one other matter—namely, what I conceive has happened during the election? The General Election seems to have been more of a referendum than an election in the ordinary sense. There has been, more than ever, a gulf between the industrial areas, on the one hand, and the rural and residential areas, on the other. Broadly speaking, the Government have consolidated and even strengthened their hold in the industrial areas, whereas the opponents of the Government have strengthened their position in the rural 163 and residential areas. There is this geographical and sectional division of the country into two nations almost equally balanced in political strength. There is an unreal and artificial division, and one which ought to be deprecated. No one should want a clash of interests and a consequent division of the country. In this time of financial and economic peril, every effort should be made to try to work together for the common good of all.
I had intended to refer, later, to the effect of our electoral system. To save time, may I refer shortly to it now, in view of what has been suggested by the Leader of the Opposition? I gratefully accept the suggestion he has made to the Government. Would it not be possible for us to follow up that suggestion- now, and for the meeting he has suggested to take place? I only wish that his party had been more ready to accept this when a Bill for electoral reform was introduced by the 1929 Government. That Bill for reforms in our electoral system was introduced by the present Prime Minister. It will be remembered by the House that that Measure passed through all its stages, but that the General Election came along before it could become law.
There are two other matters to which I wish to refer quite shortly, and the first is the position of Parliament today. Those of us who have sat in the House for a number of years realise that the House is overworked and cannot deal effectively with the numerous matters that are brought before it. The House has four major functions. The first is, and should be, to be the leader of public opinion, the forum before which all matters should be discussed. It looks today as if its place in that respect has now been taken by the public Press, where all matters are discussed in full before they are debated in the House. Secondly, the House should keep a very careful watch over public administration. That has now become so complex that the House does not carry out that duty.
Thirdly, it should be the trustee of the public purse and the strong critic of public expenditure. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, when introducing the last Budget, pointed out that the House no longer carries out that duty, and that, in 164 fact, he, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, has to watch more carefully over these matters than the House. Fourthly, it should be the legislative body. We all realise that during these years the tendency has been to delegate more and more of its powers to Ministers and Ministries. The result is that the House cannot possibly carry out its proper functions. I suggest, therefore, that the time has come, in the interests of this old democratic institution, to have a further devolution of many of the powers which have to be exercised here to local parliaments. Why is it that Scotland and Wales should not be given the same rights and position as are given to Northern Ireland? I will not enter into that further at this stage, but I hope that my colleagues will put down an Amendment calling attention to these two countries and their just rights.
Finally, I refer to the foreign situation. It is a tragedy that, having come through two world wars which brought untimely death to millions and devastation and destruction that will take generations to put right, we should still be spending more and more money on preparations for another war, and that the minds of our finest scientists should be turned not to helping their fellow-men but to devising more fiendish methods to destroy them. We had the League of Nations on which we pinned our hope and faith. We then had the United Nations, but, again, we have been disappointed. Is there nothing that can be done to relieve the world of this distressing situation and the fear of a third great war breaking out?
The Leader of the Opposition made his suggestion during the election. I certainly welcomed it. I did not think it was a stunt—I am sure it was not. I am sure it was sincerely made in the hope that some good might come out of it. I should like to see the Prime Minister having consultations with the Prime Ministers of the great Commonwealth, and, possibly, with the leaders of free Europe, and then making an effort to meet the President of the United States and Mr. Stalin. Something might come out of it—one does not know. It is worth trying if it will remove fear from us and there is some hope of getting an agreement. It could, at any rate, be given a trial.
165 Just before the House rose in December, Lord Samuel, in another place, and I and my colleagues in this House put down a Motion suggesting to the Government that they might consider putting the atom and hydrogen bombs in the same category as gas. It will be remembered that an agreement was reached in the Treaty of Paris of 1926 about the non-use of gas. Evil as Hitler and his myrmidons and allies were, they did not attempt to use gas in the last war. It may be that even now—
§ Mr. Churchill
Honestly, I do not think there was any moment when it would have been an advantage to them, because of the fear of more terrible retaliation which would have come upon them,
§ Mr. Davies
It may be that that was the reason why gas was not used, but at any rate there was an agreement. What we suggest is that the Government might consider obtaining the agreement of the free nations of the world not to use atom or hydrogen bombs against one another. It might be that the example, so set would ultimately be followed by the other nations who did not come in at the first. This Parliament has great work to do. A Government is always at its best when there is a strong Opposition, as is the case today, and when there is a very narrow majority for the Government. I hope each one of us will remember our tremendous responsibilities towards our country, and do our best to act wisely, tolerantly and in the best interests of all.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
The Debate on The Address has often been referred to as "the grand inquest of the nation." I always think it would be a good thing if the planning of the Debate were such that all the main issues of public interest at the time could be covered in the course of the Debate. I suppose that in some ways it will so work out. There used to be a plan whereby the subjects were agreed upon day by day and a scheme was worked out. There is a good deal to be said for that. The Leader of the Opposition has intimated that a request will be made for two days to discuss financial and economic matters, a sort of pre-Budget Debate, as far as I could fully understand it.
§ Mr. Morrison
Well, something of that nature. I should have thought that if that was desired it could have been done during the Debate on the Address. It is very near the Budget itself and my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be put to very great inconvenience if he were called upon to speak so near the presentation of his Budget. What the Opposition do with their Supply days is, of course, within their discretion but, as I explained in moving the Motion on Government Business, we have no margin of time up to Easter. That just could not be helped. lf, however, the Opposition wish to use Supply days for any purpose they can do so, but I must reserve the rights of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who may take the view that, so near the Budget, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for him to be useful to the House. However, we shall see what turns up.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) very rightly made some protest against the somewhat unworthy and sneering references to the Liberal Party in the early part of the speech of the Leader of the Opposition. It is always the case that the convert feels rather more bitter against the party he left than the man who never belonged to it. We have had some experience of that in the recent election in the case of one or two of the departed. Not only did they depart from the Labour Party, but, having joined the Tories, they have now departed from Parliament as well. It is rather curious that one of them stood for a steel constituency [HON. MEMBERS: "Both did."] Yes, both of them did. While I would be the last to say that the steel constituencies should be the people to determine whether steel should be socialised, it is curious that these two gentlemen both stood in constituencies very much associated with steel. They had the support of the Conservative Party and they lost.
I must say that the way the Conservatives deal with converts does not give anybody anywhere any encouragement to be converted to Conservative principles—[HON. MEMBERS: "What about Mr. Horabin? "] It is perfectly true 167 that Mr. Horabin has joined the Labour Party and that he was unlucky. That is a fair comeback, a fair retort by the Opposition. He freely chose the constituency, in consultation with the local people. We did not do to him anything like what the party opposite does to its converts. It was a free choice. He thought he was a good candidate for the place. It did not come off and for that I am sorry.
No doubt, the Leader of the Liberal Party had in mind all these considerations when he was listening, first of all, to the rudeness and then to the blandishments of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. We had all these in the election. In fact, I do not think the Leader of the Opposition yet knows that the election is over, judging by the speech to which we have just listened. He was harsh on the Liberal Party. He was denying their right to run candidates, almost talking as if this were an iron curtain country and he was the father of the fatherland front. It was with utter sincerity that I and my friends said that the Liberals had the right to fight where they liked and to put up as many candidates as they liked. In saying that I and my friends knew that it was a matter of the greatest speculation as to who would be hurt and who would be helped by their intervention.
The Conservatives, including the right hon. Gentleman, assumed—it just shows how much they know about politics—that such intervention was bound to be helpful to the Labour Party. They are slowly beginning to think again. From correspondence I have had from many people, including ex-Liberal candidates, and from my own observations, I should be inclined to think it was not worse for them or better for us, but fifty-fifty. Indeed. I am not at all sure that the extent of Liberal intervention did not harm the Labour Party more than the Conservatives. Even so, I am here going to affirm the right of any lawful political party in this country to contest an election. I repudiate, reject and condemn the efforts of the Tory leaders to deny the Liberal Party the right to see what they can do.
Having failed, the right hon. Gentleman comes here and engages in petty, 168 cheap sneers at the expense of what is, after all, a small party in this House. It is true that there are only nine of them. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who is sneering now? "] I am stating a fact and expressing my views: I am not sneering at all. The fact that the Liberal Party is a small party is no reason to be contemptuous of it and sneer at it in this Debate. Then, having done that, the right hon. Gentleman typically switches clean round and tries to come to the rescue of the Liberal Party by suggesting a Select Committee for the purpose of examining our electoral system. If that Select Committee were to make recommendations which would help the Liberal Party but damage the Conservative Party, the right hon. Gentleman would reject those recommendations with as much certainty as he is sitting in his place now.
All he wants is to make a gesture of sympathy and understanding without the slightest intention of being helpful to the Liberals or anyone else excepting the Tories. It would be a time-using expedient in which talk could go on and, at the end, whether they were in power or in opposition, they could repudiate even their own people if they so wished.
§ Mr. Morrison
At the moment I am commenting upon the right hon. Gentleman; I will come quite soon to the merits of the proposition as far as we are concerned. The right hon. Gentleman combines it with an extraordinary proposal that the Select Committee should not be based upon the proportionate strength of parliamentary parties. He has a new one, namely, that it should be based on the proportions of the electorate who voted for political parties outside. I have never heard of such an unparliamentary and, I submit, almost unconstitutional proposal in all my life. It is a mere device to pack a committee so as to suit the political convenience of the Leader of the Opposition and his friends. It is a most preposterous proposal to come from a gentleman who once stood for Parliament under the title of "Constitutionalist"—that was in his transitional stage between Liberalism and Toryism.
169 Now I will deal with the merits of the case. In our judgment, if the electoral system is to be reformed there ought to be a mandate for it from the electors of the country. There is no such mandate on the part of any party in this House, with the exception of those who voted for the Liberal Party, but they did not command enough votes. As far as the Conservatives and ourselves are concerned, neither of us asked for a mandate to reform the electoral system in these directions, and it is far too serious a matter to appoint a Select Committee and then pass legislation presumably in readiness for the next election.
§ Mr. Churchill indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Morrison
I should have thought so. After all, the right hon. Gentleman is now giving the Liberals nothing for the next election. It just shows what an unworthy attempt at sheer deception this proposal was. The right hon. Gentleman held it out as a proposition of hope to the nine Liberal Members. Now he says, "Not for the next General Election," so he can go on dodging the issue during the next Parliament if he wants to do so.
§ Mr. Churchill
I did not say for the next election. I said that a Select Committee of Members of the House of Commons would, in the light of present circumstances, give us practical advice upon the subject, with which future Governments might be able to deal as and when they had the power.
§ Mr. Morrison
if the right hon. Gentleman consults his political advisers inside and outside, he can get all the advice he wants. So can I, and so can the Leader of the Liberal Party. I do not think that such a proposition would add to our knowledge. The basic issue is really this: I quite agree that the Liberal candidates have had a rough deal, just as we used to have a rough deal in earlier years. In our days of climbing at the beginning we had exactly the same difficulty of the split vote that the Liberals now have.
I admit that some of our people were then in favour of proportional representation, though not all of them. As the party grew older, and got to know more, it rejected proportional representation—well before it was a majority party. One 170 must admit that the Liberals have had a raw deal statistically, but if one studies the Liberal case—I am not studying the case of the Leader of the Opposition because he has not made a case and has not said what he wants—for something like mathematical proportional representation it would not solve the present parliamentary situation. It would tend to perpetuate a situation not in which there was a majority overall of seven, which we have—and let nobody forget it: they shall not if we can help: let us make the most of it—but perpetually may be, no majority for any political party.
In my judgment that system has proved an evil to great countries on the continent of Europe, and as far as His Majesty's Government are concerned we do not agree with it on the merits and we do not think that the method of a Select Committee, especially the peculiar, packed Select Committee suggested under the novel proposition of the Leader of the Opposition, would be a wise proposal to commend to the House.
§ Mr. C. Davies
Would the right hon. Gentleman say whether he would be prepared, if he is not in favour of proportional representation, to introduce what the Prime Minister introduced in 1931, the alternative vote?
§ Mr. Morrison
I do not think the Prime Minister introduced it. I was a member of that Cabinet but my right hon. Friend was not, although he was a member of the Government. I remember the circumstances very well. It was a case of force majeure, like many other things we suffered at that time. I am bound to tell the House, if it asks me whether that Government really believed in it, that they did not.
§ Mr. Morrison
The Government were, quite frankly, acting under Liberal coercion in the circumstances of that time. Indeed, that situation, in which the Government were forced to introduce a Bill in which they did not believe, is in itself a condemnation of this remedy for our state of affairs.
I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that there is great need in the country and in Parliament for concentra- 171 tion on our economic problems, and it is profoundly important that the country shall co-operate to the end of getting our economy as healthy and as sound and as good as possible. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about steel?"] I will say, what about something else in a minute. I thought that was a sound and public-spirited thing to say but I did think, when the Leader of the Opposition talked in such terms about devaluation—though hon. Members opposite did not oppose it and they have not made—[Interruption.] I am sorry, but hon. Gentlemen—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] We listened to the right hon. Gentleman, and the party opposite have not proposed to put the valuation up.
What I thought was really bad and quite unfortunate was when the right hon. Gentleman, in the hearing of the world as one might say, went on to predict that there would be a further devaluation. It was absolutely contrary to the public interest, irresponsible, and even vicious to take such a line.
§ Mr. Churchill
I made no such prediction. I merely stated the fact that there was said to be a danger—a danger—and I based myself on the statement recently made by Mr. Kenney.
§ Mr. Morrison
My clear recollection was that the right hon. Gentleman said there was a danger. He himself, on his own responsibility, said there was a danger. I say that talk like that from the Leader of the Opposition is irresponsible—
§ Mr. Morrison
—and contrary to the public interest. In my judgment it was calculated to be injurious to the interests of the country. This came after the much more statesmanlike and public-spirited speech of the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden). This is what he said yesterday:At the same time, I admit that the fact that our numbers are now so nearly equal does place upon us all a special responsibility. The essential machinery of Government must not be brought to a standstill. In such conditions as these there would be no excuse for indulging in factious or fractious opposition and we have no intention of doing anything of the kind."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th March. 1950; Vol. 472, c. 501
§ Mr. Eden (Warwick and Leamington)
Since the right hon. Gentleman has quoted me, may I ask him if he will tell us the difference between what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said today and what Mr. Kenney said, which I quoted yesterday?
§ Mr. Morrison
There is the difference in the way in which it was stated, for one thing. There is also the great difference that it is one thing for the right hon. Gentleman—I appreciate his trying to come to the rescue of his Leader; it is typical of his good conduct in these matters—to quote a person outside this House whose opinion counts for what it is worth, and it is another thing for the Leader of the Opposition, who sought to be Prime Minister of the country after the last election, to engage in this kind of mischievous and irresponsible talk. Anyway, I must say that we prefer the spirit of the speech of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition yesterday to the speech which we have just heard from the Leader of the Opposition.
The Leader of the Liberal Party referred to the uncertainty about steel. Otherwise, he took the view that there was no great hurry to submit this matter to the arbitrament of a vote of the House. However, if the vote comes, the Government will be ready to meet it. This comes under the proposition of the Leader of the Opposition that we are to take the line that nothing must be done about steel in any circumstances until another General Election has taken place, in order that the steel industry shall be put into a position of security and certainty. That seems to me to be a quaint idea. Who knows how long this Parliament will last? At one point I thought that the Leader of the Opposition believed it might be lasting for some time. I thought he was a little optimistic. He did not say it, but he began to get into that realm. I suppose that that would be plus the nine months which he suggested as an addition, and which would leave the industry in a state of uncertainty for quite a long time. There are arguments against that sort of thing.
Then the Leader of the Liberal Party referred to the Supplies and Services Act and to the speech which I made at Blackpool. The present position is that we are acting in these matters under what 173 is, in fact, a survival of war-time legislation. It is true that they were confirmed by an Act introduced by the Home Secretary, the Supplies and Services Act, but the content of what can be done is a survival from war-time defence regulations. I would beg the Leader of the Liberal Party to make up his mind on this matter. The Conservatives have made up their mind that it is both wrong and bad. We take the view that if we are to maintain full employment and to get the best we can out of the country there must be the power of economic planning and control. If my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Liberal Party will go back to the "yellow book" I shall be surprised if he does not find some good guidance on my lines in that very famous volume. I have asked for the book again and I will look it up. It is good for me to refresh my memory.
§ Mr. C. Davies
Not only is it not in that book but we have never been in favour of the direction of labour at any time. Nor was the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ Mr. Morrison
I am on a much wider issue than that. As a matter of fact, the Liberal Party believes in compulsory co-partnership and compulsory co-owner-ship. It is all very well to condemn the whole principle of compelling anybody to do anything, but some of the items in that programme were compelling people to do quite a number of things. What it really amounts to is that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is ready to compel people to do what he wants them to do, but he thinks we have no right to compel them to do what we want them to do. That is a very understandable state of affairs. [Interruption.] Let not the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) join in the fray. Directly he does that with me we start quarrelling.
In our view, it is necessary to have the power of economic planning and control. I think that the Conservative Party are opposed to both of those things. I did not think that the Liberal Party were opposed to both of those things. The only question is: are we to renew the Supplies and Services Act by resolution of the two Houses each year? As the substance of it is war-time regulations, that is the basis upon which it works. Or ought not Parliament to face up to the whole situation.
174 review it anew and say what powers ought to be available to the Government, subject to adequate Parliamentary checks, on a proper peace-time basis?
That is our proposal and that is what I said at Blackpool. I have been asking the Conservative Party ever since whether they would repeal the Supplies and Services Act and put nothing in its place, and I have had no answer so far. The implications of their policy and speeches are that that is exactly what they would do. I want to regularise the situation on good, peace-time, Parliamentary lines. I should have thought that, so put, that proposal would not lack the sympathy of the Leader of the Liberal Party.
§ Mr. Morrison
No, Sir. I come back to the Leader of the Opposition. There was a reference to the National Health Service Act, and an allegation that we had misrepresented the view of the Conservative Party. On the Second Reading the Conservative Party moved a reasoned Amendment—I agree that it was a reasoned Amendment: that is the technical name for it—which included the proposition that the House should not give the Bill a Second Reading. Is it to be argued that that was only a conditional rejection? Then I want to know why the Conservative Party voted against the Third Reading? I think that we were perfectly entitled to make the point that the Conservatives voted against that Measure.
§ Mr. Churchill
That was on a reasoned Amendment to the Third Reading. The Amendment was:That this House while welcoming a comprehensive Health Service, declines to give a Third Reading to a Bill which discourages voluntary effort and association: mutilates the structure of local government; dangerously increases Ministerial power and patronage; appropriates trust funds and benefactions in contempt of the wishes of donors and subscribers, and undermines the freedom and independence of the medical profession to the detriment of the nation."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 26th July, 1946: Vol. 426, c. 398.]Those are the blemishes which the Government introduced into policies that were set on foot by a Conservative Parliament. with a majority of more than 100.
§ Mr. Morrison
This nicely balanced and peaceful Parliament is already going 175 strong. It is all very well. If the argument applied only to the Second Reading I could not accept it fully even then, but by the Third Reading the Bill had got to a stage when this House could not amend it and when the House had to say either "Yes" or "No" to the Third Reading. I do not care if the reasoned Amendment covered four pages of the Order Paper. It was still a proposition which, if it had been carried, would have meant that the Bill would have been dead: and the right hon. Gentleman cannot get out of it. The right hon. Gentleman should not go in for these subtle arguments, especially when he gets to the Third Reading stage. And, of course, he argues that the Coalition Government proposed it themselves. I was a Member of that Government and we did all that we could to make it as good a Government as we could; so did the right hon. Gentleman—we all did our best.
§ Mr. Morrison
It was; we could have been very mischievous. We did not go around making speeches damaging to the country. It is true that proposals were made by that Government. They were proposals that had a good deal of merit. It is no good suggesting, however, that they were the same proposals that were produced by this Government, because in a number of material respects they were very different.
The right hon. Gentleman argues that in agriculture there is a great deal of agreement between the parties. History is on the records, and history shows that the Conservative Party, after the First World War—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Oh, yes. I am quite ready for that. Having heard all this from the Tory Central Office trained hecklers throughout the election I was quite ready to hear it here—"Do not remind us of the past. We want to forget it." The Conservative Party let agriculture down. They repealed the Corn Production Act. They let the farmers down and they let the agricultural workers down.
§ Mr. Morrison
Since this Government has been in office the Minister of Agri- 176 culture has produced a wise and progressive agricultural policy, which has been a great blessing to the well-being and prosperity of agriculture. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition comes along behind, dragging his steps and trying to catch up with us, and says, "Me, too," as the late Mr. Lloyd George once said. "We also believe in your agricultural policy," says the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Churchill indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Morrison
That is what it comes to: they are copying. They would not publish their manifesto until ours was out. They would not publish their earlier document until "Labour Believes in Britain" was out. They watch us closely and then try to copy us to the best of their ability and, having tried to do that, they then denounce us as the worst Government the country has ever known. This is not good enough. The right hon. Gentleman says, "There is a shortage of agricultural labour and, within those limits, there is a limit to what could be done." The agricultural labour position, however, is not so bad. I am told that the agricultural labour situation on recruitment is quite good and that we have not had a shortage of agricultural labour which has seriously baffled the Government in agricultural production. It is going very well, side by side with mechanisation. This Government on agriculture, as in so many other things, has a first-class case for the support and encouragement of the nation.
Then the right hon. Gentleman says that rural housing is needed. I am quite prepared, as, I am sure, are my right hon. Friends, to compare the rural housing efforts of this Government with those of the Conservative Governments between the wars. I am quite sure that we have done better, and that we shall go on doing well. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about rents? "] The right hon. Gentleman says we have been guilty of exporting agricultural machinery. We had to export many things we would like to have kept here. Does he think we were wrong? Did he want the balance of trade position to be still more difficult? We were right to export. Even when all that is said and done, British agriculture is, today, the most highly mechanised, I should think, in the whole of the world, or very nearly so, and, therefore, there is no case on that.
177 Then the right hon. Gentleman makes a joke about the cattle grids—nearly as sneering as his joke about the Liberal Party. If he were a farmer he would know that this little Bill will be a very valuable Bill. It is a thing which is asked for by farmers. It is of great value to them and the right hon. Gentleman should not make jokes about these things.
§ Mr. Churchill
I was very glad to see it included: I thought it might be helpful to the Chief Whip on the other side of the House.
§ Mr. Morrison
The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that he referred to this modest Measure in contemptuous and sneering terms. I invite my hon. Friends, in talking in the countryside, to quote what he said and to tell people how he said it.
It is also said that there is no difference on full employment between the political parties. In our judgment there is. In our judgment there has been an acceptance by Conservative spokesmen, and capitalist Conservative spokesmen, either of the inevitability of unemployment or of the desirability of unemployment—up to a point. I am not saying that they say it for reasons of cruelty or of wanting to hurt people. They, no doubt, believe it. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] We have said that. We have chapter and verse that can be produced during the Debate on it, including one from the late Mr. Neville Chamberlain when he was Prime Minister. There is a totally different approach on this matter between us and the Conservatives and their vested interests supporters outside.
§ Mr. Morrison
We want full employment. We want it badly, and we are going to make the biggest effort to keep it: and we want it because we know the tragedy that unemployment has meant for millions of working class homes.
There was a quibble about the number of persons who would have been unemployed if there were not so many employed in local government and in the Civil Service. It is a quaint argument to assert that if these folk were not in the public service they would be, inevitably, unemployed. The argument ought to be that if they were not in the public 178 service they could be more productively employed somewhere else. I thought that that was the classic argument, but the right hon. Gentleman now says, "Oh, no. You have solved the unemployment problem in part by increasing the number of people employed in the public service."
§ Mr. Churchill indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Morrison
Let us have another test put upon it. I am advised by the Ministry of Labour that the number of people in civil employment in the middle of 1939 was approximately 18 million. At the end of 1948 it was 19,153,000: and at the end of 1949 it was 22,222,000—I beg pardon. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh! "] All right, I am being quite fair to the House. This is not an election meeting. That figure is under the new series and, therefore, ought not to be quoted, because it is not comparable with the other two; but there is the comparison between the figures of 18 million and 19,153,000. Therefore, besides unemployment having been kept down to under 2 per cent., except during the fuel crisis, it is the fact that the positive addition to civil employment is materially greater, and that in civil employment the number of people working, which is an even stiffer test, is much greater.
§ Mr. Morrison
I quite agree that the population is greater. Nevertheless, we have still kept unemployment under 2 per cent. in those circumstances. That is a great achievement. It is no good the Opposition saying merely that they are in favour of full employment. I want to know how they are to achieve it. How are they to do it? [HON. MEMBERS: "How are the Government going to achieve it? "] We have done it. [Interruption.] I have so often answered this argument from the parrot-like gentlemen who were sent out as hecklers by the Tory Central Office that I am finding it a little monotonous, and I do not propose to enlarge upon it. The argument is simple. It is that we ourselves are handing out to other countries pretty well as much as we are getting in Marshall Aid and that some other countries who are getting Marshall Aid, some of them more dollars per head than we are getting, have more substantial unemployment problems than we have, but they have the political and 179 economic policy advocated by the Leader of the Opposition. The Opposition wanted that brief enlightenment: they have got it now, as many public meetings in the country got it before.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to deal with financial and economic matters to which I have already made reference, as I have to the Iron and Steel Act. He referred to housing. I am the last to deny that the housing problem is serious. I represent a division that suffered very much in the war and I get very pathetic letters and do my best in the circumstances. We have a long way to go before the housing problem is actually solved. After all, it has been a long time accumulating, too. One Government over which the right hon. Gentleman presided talked of three-quarters of a million houses as being about the figure to meet the problem. We have provided more than a million dwellings, so it hardly lies upon the Opposition to scorn our efforts. What is more, this Government promises that it will go bang on with the job until every family is reasonably housed and every slum is removed. If the Tories had been in power there would not have been so much done for the housing of the people. History bears that out, too, if I may be permitted to refer to history at all.
In his peroration the right hon. Gentleman made a point rather based on the tragedy and pity that we were being divided into two nations on a class basis. I have sought, in my election speeches, as have others, to appeal to the nation, not as a class point, but as a general point, for general national support. The Tory Press is always ready to make jokes about the efforts of some of us. If we dared to talk to anyone and asked them to vote Labour, they said we were wooing someone, wooing the middle class, wooing the farmers, wooing the housewives and wooing the Liberals. What is anyone doing during an election but trying to get support? What is an election for? If it is true that the Labour Party have sought the support of those various sections of the community, what is the good of accusing us of making a class appeal?
It just is not true; we want the Labour Party to be broadly based as a party of the nation. The party that has wrapped 180 round itself class interest and class pre-election expenditure on a vast scale, the party that has become the instrument—[An HON. MEMBER: "The Co-ops"]yes, I know the Tories hate the Co-ops and the co-operators know it. We have appealed to the Co-ops, by the way. The party that has wrapped itself up and associated itself with the whole series of class capitalist interests is the party opposite. It is that party that is less and less a party of the nation and it is our party and our Government that stands for the true interests of the general body of British people.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Mr. David Eccles (Chippenham)
The Lord President of the Council made a grave charge against my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill). He said it was vicious to point out that there is a danger to the pound sterling. If one sees a man about to fall over a precipice, is it vicious to point out to him the danger in which he is and to pull him back?—[An HON. MEMBER: "It depends on who the man is."] The danger to the pound sterling comes from the lack of confidence of people abroad in the policies of the Socialist Government, and if this House wishes to restore that confidence, as I believe we all do, the first thing is to give up Socialist finance.
It might be well to spend the time at my disposal in discussing two great problems which ought to transcend politics, the defence of our money and Britain's position in the atomic age. These problems are closely related. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Minister for Town and Country Planning used to tell us that domestic finance and Britain's external position were quite separate and had no bearing upon each other. No one believes that now. We have had one devaluation and it is clear that confidence in sterling is not yet fully restored. It only requires the rest of the world to think badly about the pound for six months together and, so slender are our resources—onefifth only of their pre-war purchasing power—that another devaluation would be forced upon us.
The danger is very great and near, but so is the opportunity to export more goods. The Commonwealth, South America and other markets are showing 181 a real desire to shift their imports from the dollar area to the devalued area, with the United Kingdom in the centre of the picture. The lion's share of that shift in trade should be ours, but it will he lost to Germany and our other competitors if British wages and prices rise together and if our export industries cannot secure the resources with which to cope with these new demands. Every country after a great war staggers with its economy out of joint and its prices tugging upwards. War destroys that delicate balance between purchasing power and earnings. In a free market the equilibrium is regained after more or less violent fluctuations. Such readjustments hurt, but they do the job. The Socialists have tried to avoid this pain by the use of a whole apparatus of control and plentiful doses of Government chloroform. They are not achieving their purpose.
We are falling between two stools. We have lost the painful but none the less successful mechanism of the free market and in its place we have not got the disciplined control over money, labour and production which is the only substitute. This is very serious. We have seen on the Continent of Europe the cost of living and wages chasing each other like squirrels in a cage and the currency falling in value after every bound upwards in prices. People say that sort of thing could not happen in Britain. I wonder. It is quite true that as a nation we are a patient, well disciplined people. We do not panic when prices go up and give the inflationary top an extra spin by trying to turn all our cash into goods
No other country would have gone on buying savings certificates when a simple calculation shows that the original sum invested, plus all the accrued interest on every certificate bought since the Labour Party got into power, would, if it were cashed today, buy less than the 16s. at the time when they were laid out. It is a wonderful thing and a national asset that we are so long suffering. But underneath the quiet surface of our economy the same causes are producing the same effects as they did on the Continent. Already the shoe is beginning to pinch throughout the population. Except at weekends, the "pubs" are half empty. Five years after the end of the war the Minister of Health has to 182 plan to build fewer houses. The costs of many of the basic services have risen and are rising. It is not to be wondered at that every week a larger proportion of the rationed foodstuffs is left on the hands of the shopkeepers.
The hon. Member for North Norwich (Mr. Paton) yesterday gave us some disquieting figures which showed that the budgets of old people are strained to the last penny. The truth is that under Socialism the old age pension has been cut, is being cut and will continue to be cut. There is not one single word in the Gracious Speech to reassure us that the Government intend to tackle the problem of the cost of living. Yet there are signs all around us that prices will rise. Retail prices are on the move. The articles which contain imported raw materials are about to reflect the post-devaluation rise in the prices of those materials. Soon the consumer will have to pay the higher charges for sea and rail transport: and in a week or two we shall know who is to carry the new prices for fertilisers and feedingstuffs.
All these price rises are blows at the wage-freeze. If no counter action is taken, the value of our money will decline at a more rapid rate and wages will break loose, and who then can tell whether it will be possible for prices to draw breath and come to terms with wages before the same circumstances which forced a devaluation last Summer have again risen? This risk is very great, and surely it is on the Debate on the Address that we should offer such advice as we can to the Government about the action which, even if it is now too late to avoid some further rise in prices—which I am sure it is—will give the best hope of containing that rise and of stabilising, at no distant date, both our cost of living and the sterling exchange rate.
I wish to preface my modest conclusions by quoting from a recent speech made by the Governor of the Bank of Belgium. M. Freyre told his shareholders a fortnight ago that:money stability does not come about by by chance. It has to be won and constantly defended by exertion and work. Its maintenance involves the avoidance of expedients which postpone unpleasant decisions without solving problems. Experience has shown that such problems always recur later in 183 more difficult circumstances, whereas a courageous solution adopted in good time would have settled them once for all.These are very wise words. The courageous solutions which Britain should now adopt are not mysterious formulas beyond the comprehension of all but Socialist Ministers or central bankers: they are just the well-tried measures for living within the national income and taking all practical steps to expand that income, the sort of action that very overspent family understands—cutting down to make both ends meet and then setting out to earn more.
Here in Britain the Government are the chief spenders and therefore the chief cuts must fall on Government spending. The object of such economies is to give the nation elbow room to move quickly to the jobs where the battle of the £ can be won. It is not a question of cutting down for its own sake; the purpose is to make way for more important work that cannot now be done. Socialist policy has aimed at the very opposite of this kind of flexibility and mobility in our industry. The Labour Government have not only tried to freeze wages; they have actually frozen the pattern of employment. So great has been the fear of making anyone redundant that, as far as lay in their power, Ministers have created work, or pretended that there is work for everyone in the job where he is. No serious effort has been made to reduce the staffs of Government Departments or of the nationalised industries, yet every Member of this House, if he is not gathering votes, could point to examples of gross feather bedding both in Government service, in the socialised sector of the economy and in private industry. Most of this concealed unemployment is due to restrictive practices which are sabotaging the export drive.
During my election campaign I did not dodge this issue. I do not know whether on balance I lost or gained votes, but I am wholly unrepentant. The problem of feather bedding has to be faced, and perhaps we shall have an opportunity to debate it when we reach the Supplementary Estimates amounting to £148 million. So one sees why the Socialist Party refuse to cut spending to the point where wages and prices can be brought back into balance. Whatever the Chancellor of the Exchequer may have said on this point 184 to some journalists at one of his Press conferences, the rest of his colleagues are wedded to a policy not of full employment but of frozen employment, that is, keeping every man in the job where he is. A realistic employment policy—and here I think the two sides of the House differ—would look further ahead to the time when Marshall Aid ends. Such a policy would have to be founded upon a stable value to sterling. Its authors would recognise that an economy like ours, which has been deprived of flexibility, cannot for long export a quarter of its output, when the stocking-up boom has finished, to customers who place their orders after making comparisons of our prices and delivery dates with those of our competitors.
Incredible though it is, this Socialist ostrich still believes that Britain can isolate her prices and costs from the rest of the world. As a matter of fact, we of all countries can only live and thrive in and with the world. Of course, for a little while it is possible, by exhausting our accumulated treasure and by erecting all kinds of artificial shock-absorbers, to live a law unto ourselves. But it cannot last. Even the vast sterling balances which are now released with one eye on the unemployment figures will one day be gone. And as the Governor of the Bank of Belgium indicated, readjustments to reality are more difficult the longer they are postponed.
§ Mr. Crossman (Coventry, East)
Would the hon. Member allow me? Since he has mentioned the Governor of the Bank of Belgium twice, and praised the flexibility of the Belgium economy in comparison with our own, does he regard 15 per cent. of unemployment, the figure for Belgium published last week, as a reasonable degree of flexibility? Because then we shall know what he is advocating for this country.
§ Mr. Eccles
I do not regard 15 per cent. as reasonable or anything near reasonable. The Belgians are the people who voted the Socialists out when they had some unemployment. It is interesting to note that in Belgium there are no queues at the labour exchanges except in the textile industry. On the contrary, the unemployed in Belgium are having a peculiarly good time and it is exceedingly difficult to get them to take the jobs that are going.
§ Mr. Eccles
I have seen it for myself. Here we never need have 15 per cent. if the right measures are taken now: but if we go on with right hon. Gentlemen opposite we will not have 15 per cent., but 20 per cent. or more.
§ Mr. Eccles
It is not a question of needing any definite figure. What is required is sufficient flexibility to man up the export industries. If that is not done there can be no means of taking advantage of devaluation in a competitive world, if action is not taken quickly, that is to say, if the pressure is not taken off British prices, one of two things will happen. Either the trade union leaders will stick to their political friends and to the wage freeze, in which case the rank and file of their members will desert them: or the trade union leaders will return to their traditional rôle and go all out for wage increases. There is only one way to get out of that dilemma and that is to cut Government spending and manage our finances prudently so that prices are held. I fully admit, and indeed hon. Gentlemen opposite are thinking about it now, that some people will get hurt in this process of cleaning up; but if our finances are carefully managed the disturbance can be kept to a minimum; and we can scotch in time a second devaluation leading to an all-round collapse in the standard of life of the British people and to a new kind of unemployment which none of us will know how to cure.
I suppose hon. Gentlemen opposite think that I am asking the wage earners to carry the whole burden of making these adjustments to reality. Not at all. One of the really bad features of the past few years has been the ease with which profits could be made. On the other hand, it is nonsense to say that British industry and agriculture have retained in the business larger sums than were necessary to finance at the higher price levels, the stocks, the work in progress, renewals and extensions. No one would ever have thought of such a stupid tax as the Profits Tax if it had not been for the inflationary policy of the Government which blew up profits to a grossly 186 artificial level. What is now required is a return to competitive efficiency. Competition is a much better instrument for dealing with excessive profits than the debilitating purgative of taxation imposed upon profits too easily made.
If we are to rebuild the value of the pound, everyone must make his contribution. Once the Budget is cleaned up and inflation stopped, profits and dividends will be much harder to come by. That will be a healthy change which will penalise slackness and had management, but it will encourage brains and hard work to the great advantage of the general community. To borrow a phrase from my Wiltshire friend, A. G. Street, money under Socialism has been too easy to make and too hard to keep. I should like to see it somewhat harder to make and a great deal easier to keep. Lord Keynes used to say that everyone was born either a little inflationist or a little deflationist. I was certainly born a little inflationist. But the present hang-over, after five years of Socialist finance, demands a spell on the water-wagon in order that we may return to a reasonable indulgence of our natural desires. Once this extravagance and featherbedding have been dealt with, we can start again to expand our income and rebuild our reserves.
If the Government will show the way, British prices and incomes can quite quickly be brought back into line. But that would only be the springboard from which to leap out into the world and earn a high and increasing standard of life. Here devaluation gave us a great opportunity. It threw together a group of nations doing more than half the international trade of the world. First and foremost. the British Commonwealth and Empire. It really is astonishing that the Government did not seize this unpremeditated solidarity to work out new proposals for the expansion of Empire trade behind this tariff of 30 per cent. which was an accidental consequence of the sympathetic devaluations.
There is still time to do it; but to make good use of that time the Government must be prepared to give and take with the Dominions and with the Colonies. On these benches we sense that pride in Socialist planning prevents our present Ministers from doing this. The lonely snobbery of British Socialism is out of tune with the initiative and enterprise of 187 the private citizen in our sister nations. And it is out of tune also with Western Europe and with the capitalist abundance of America. I believe that opinion in America is evolving rapidly towards the conception of a great partnership between all the free nations of the world, a partnership in defence, in trade and also in politics. But upon what principles can that partnership be based? On what terms will the United States of America stay in Europe for good? Not on Socialist principles.
If the free nations are shy of any structural changes in their economies, frightened of making one man redundant, or of subjecting profits to the test of competition, then they will make a world slump a certainty; and they will open wide the door to the menace of Communism, because they have not the courage to rise to new levels of prosperity in union with each other. If it comes to competition in improving the lot of the people the free nations have what it takes for victory. But it means much closer working together than we are now doing. A strong Britain, with her money respected throughout the world, could give the lead in merging the piecemeal markets of the West. We can, if we will, first put our house in order in this country, march with the free world and outlive and outdistance the sinister attractions of Communist imperialism Britain on her feet and in step with the Commonwealth, Western Europe and America can keep her place in the front rank of the great Powers.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)
I am not sure that I have the right today to claim the indulgence of the House. This is more in the nature of an old boy's speech than a maiden speech. Nevertheless, I ask for that indulgence because I acknowledge that I feel much less certain about my capacity to express my thoughts today than I did 20 years ago when I was on these benches —I will not say in my youth, but in my young middle-age.
I was glad that in the speech in which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition congratulated Mr. Speaker upon his election, he urged that this House should not concentrate its attention only upon domestic issues 188 which were raised during the election but should pay some attention to the relationship of what is being done in Britain to the conditions of the world. I want to try to depict as I see it the position of Great Britain in that world pattern. We have, today, a world divided and in danger of war; we have a world in economic crisis with abundance in some countries and starvation in others; we have a world where millions of people are still struggling for their political liberties and where, over one-fifth of its surface, the elementary rights of thought, speech, writing, worship and expression are denied.
I believe that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) was correct when he said that if we are to meet the last menace to which I referred—the menace of totalitarian Communism in the world—we must find an alternative way of life. But the real issue is what that alternative way of life is to be. I submit that the way of life for which the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite stand is no answer to the totalitarian Communist menace. I think that is shown by the fact that it is exactly in those countries which have the kind of economy which is advocated from the opposite benches—an uncontrolled, free, capitalist economy—that the strength of the Communist movement is greatest today. That is true of France, Italy, Western Germany and other countries of Western Europe which have uncontrolled capitalism. [HON. MEMBERS: "And America."] I will come to America before I conclude.
I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles), particularly when he referred to Belgium. He speaks of a flexible economy. A flexible economy is proved, by evidence from all over the world, to mean high unemployment. In Belgium, which he gave as an example, unemployment has now reached a figure of 15 per cent. According to the United Nations' Bulletin unemployment in France has increased during the last two years by 500 per cent. [HON. MEMBERS: "To what figure?"] Unfortunately, there are no published figures of that nature. I should like to give something of a more definite character, but surely the Bulletin can be accepted, even by hon. Gentlemen opposite, as giving an impartial estimate of the 189 situation. In Italy 1,750,000 people are unemployed. I suggest to hon. Members opposite that an economic system which involves heavy unemployment and deepening poverty—an economic system such as is found in the free economies of Western Europe today—is a system which encourages Communism and totalitarianism and fails to provide the alternative way of life for which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington pleaded.
I had hoped that there might be Members who belong to the Liberal Party within reach of my voice, but at this moment the entire Liberal Party has adjourned. I hope, however, that they will be able to read what I propose to say now, because I say it with intense sincerity. In view of the totalitarian menace to which I have referred, I regret the decreased influence of Liberalism in this country. I was born in a Tory family and my first expression of independence was to join the League of Young Liberals. The first political meeting which I attended was addressed by that grand old figure the late John Morley, and I am amused to recall that the vote of thanks to him was seconded by the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Leader of the Tory Party. That was in his Radical days.
The Liberal Party has a very great tradition in its stand for liberty and freedom; and in a world that is threatened with totalitarianism the necessity to emphasise the need for liberty and freedom is greater now than it has ever been. I wish to make this appeal to the Liberal Members. I ask them to understand the significance of what is happening in Britain both historically and in relation to world affairs. The struggle of the last century was the struggle for democratic liberty, and in that struggle the Liberal Party played a great part. The struggle of this century is the struggle for industrial democracy, and I say to the Members of the Liberal Party that their tradition for democracy has now moved to the stage where the Labour Party on these benches is carrying into this period the struggle which they carried on during the last century.
More than that, I want to depict what is happening in this country in relation to the world scene. The alternative to Communism is not Conservatism: it is 190 democratic Socialism, and the real significance of the Labour Government during the last four years, and of the fact that it is still in office, is that in this country we are seeking to establish not only social justice, but, with that social justice, liberty and freedom for our people as well. We retain the rights of thought, and of speech; we retain the rights of writing and the rights of worship. We retain all the searches for expression in science, philosophy and the arts, and I put it to my hon. Friends of the Liberal Party that if they are to carry through in this period the tradition of their party their best services could be rendered by aiding the forces of democratic Socialism which are represented on these benches.
I wish to pass from that consideration of the menace of Communism in the world to another issue which, I believe, is equally important but which is perhaps less in our minds. It is the fact that we are living in a period when the subject nations of the world are struggling for their political freedom. If I were asked to name what was the greatest deed which was carried through by the Labour Government during their first 4½ years of office I would say it was the recognition of the right of the peoples of India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon to their political freedom. I shrink from thinking of what would have been the situation in South-East Asia today if that political freedom had been denied to those nations. I shrink from thinking of what armed military forces would have been necessary in those countries. If there was no other reason for being grateful for the fact that we had a Labour Government during the last 4½ years the fact of that great act of emancipation in Asia would have justified it to the fullest extent.
I want to urge that that policy should now be carried a stage further. We have a new Colonial Secretary. He is a man of great human generosity, a man rooted in the principles of democratic Socialism, a man who, I believe, has the strength of character to restrain reactionary influences whether in Colonial administration or in the Colonial Office. I earnestly hope that during his period of office he may do as great things for the emancipation of the world as were done during the first years of a Labour Government in this country. I do not say during this Parliament, but I do say that, during his service as 191 Colonial Secretary, I shall hope to see the West Indies, the Gold Coast and Nigeria added to the self-governing areas now within the British Empire.
I want to pass, briefly, because I recognise that I am trespassing on the time of the House, to two further matters. In opening, I referred to the economic difficulties of the world—economic difficulties which are illustrated by the fact that there are in America warehouses and silos bulging with food that cannot be sold, while in other areas of the world there is widespread starvation. I want to suggest that the difficulties about which we most frequently speak in the economic sphere are often artificial and incidental difficulties. There is no absence of wealth in the world. There is no absence of labour in the world. If, to the world today, there were applied the same principles of economic planning that have been applied in this country during the last 4½ years, the problems of poverty in the world could be solved in the coming years just as they have been solved in Britain.
My old colleague, whose loss I regret more than that of any other man in public life in recent years—James Maxton—used to say in this House that if one solved the problem of poverty one would also solve the problem of peace. The same sentiment has been expressed during the last two or three days by Lord Boyd Orr, and I want to make a strong appeal to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. In his approach to problems in Europe, the Near East and also at the Colombo Conference for the South-East, he emphasised, as the first necessity, the raising of the standards of life of the people above the poverty level. I remember as one of the great speeches in the history of the Labour movement that which my right hon. Friend delivered at the Labour Party Conference, immediately before the outbreak of the last war. It was a speech which showed a big, imaginative, constructive mind, and in which he urged that the resources of the world should be pooled to meet the needs,of the world.
I want to make an appeal, not only to the Government but to the Foreign Secretary in particular, to use the coming years to try to find a solution of this economic problem in the world. If he were to do 192 that, and take the initiative in every country which he could approach in order to bring about that end, I believe that Labour would not only have shown an example in the economic planning of this country but in the economic planning of the world.
The last point I want to make is a reference to the discovery which took place during the General Election, or which was announced during the election, and which, in some ways, made all our claims about full employment, social services and a better and more beautiful Britain irrelevant. I refer, of course, to the discovery of the hydrogen bomb. I ask the Government, in the light of this discovery, not to adopt a complacent attitude.
The Prime Minister has said that little can be done until there is the will for peace. I say that there is already that will for peace among all the peoples of the world. I have no doubt that that will is as strong among the people of Russia as it is among the people of this country. It is not a problem of the will of the peoples; it is a problem of the action of Governments, and when it is a matter of Governments it becomes a matter of statesmanship. The Prime Minister has also said that this problem is inseparable from the problem of armaments as a whole. I agree, but that is not a reason for doing nothing about it. It is a reason for beginning to deal with the problem of world disarmament from the angle of the greater menace which has been introduced by the discovery of the atomic bomb and the hydrogen bomb.
I appeal to the Government to regard this issue as of the first importance in all the problems with which they are faced, that they should appoint the ablest and most influential man within their ranks, either as a Minister or as an ambassador-at-large, who will give his whole attention to the solution of a problem which menaces the whole future of mankind. I believe that if that were done with persistence and consecration the problem, difficult as it is, would not prove insoluble in the coming years.
My last word is this: I believe that the highest destiny of our Labour movement is to bring harmony into the world through which we can have enduring peace. If the world remains divided into 193 two antagonistic blocs, war, even with our more destructive weapons, will at some moment be inevitable. The only way to prevent that war is to bring harmony to the world. Our Labour movement has its link with America, in America's belief in political democracy. If we in this country can give an example of democratic Socialism it will be an encouragement to the Labour movement of America which is already beginning to act in the political sphere and which defeated, at the last Presidential election, the reactionary candidate who was then nominated. It will be an encouragement to that Labour movement in America to make, within the next 20 years, an advance towards a position of independence in politics—the ultimate goal of Socialism—which I believe can be greater than the advance made by our party within a much more limited period.
Russia has the system of economic planning. Russia does not accept our conceptions of democratic liberty. But if we here give the example of social justice with liberty it will be impossible for that influence not to penetrate the iron curtain and to reach Eastern Europe, China and even Russia itself. By that contribution to the world today, divided as it is into these two extremes, democratic Socialism can be the synthesis which will ultimately bring about a harmonised world. Therefore, I ask my right hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench not to be merely courageous in the expression of their democratic Socialism here at home, but to be courageous in its expression in international affairs, because I believe that upon that policy will depend not only the future of our own country, but the future of the whole world.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir (Aberdeen, South)
May I first congratulate the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) on his return to this House after, I believe, an absence of 15 years—
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
—after an absence of 20 years. I am sure that the assurance with which he spoke is a proof that he must have enlightened the Parliament of which he was last a Member upon many an occasion with his learned counsels. It is, therefore, with regret that I find myself on this occasion in profound disagreement with what he says. 194 The hon. Gentleman sought to prove that only Socialism is a barrier to Communism. I would say that on the face of it, at any rate, it has been proved over and over again that Socialism is the least barrier to Communism. That point of view has often been questioned by hon. Members opposite, and I would therefore draw to their attention an independent source of information—a very good one, the 1945 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica—in which it is clearly laid down by the Socialist professor, G. D. H. Cole, that Communism and Socialism have, in fact, practically no difference at all, except in method.
Why we on these benches are so convinced that only the Conservative cause is a true barrier to Communism is because the Labour Party have over and over again proclaimed in their publications that their ultimate objective is the establishment of a Socialist commonwealth of Great Britain. Furthermore, they have said that, whether it comes slowly or quickly, they believe in the ultimate nationalisation of all the means of production, distribution and exchange. If that is so, whether or not we now see it coming about slowly, it merely means that we might see the establishment of a Socialist state, and then Communism in this country.
It is for that reason that we on these benches were so relieved when we saw that the content of the Gracious Speech did not include any further measures of State control, although they were kept carefully in the background as though they might be used on certain undefined occasions should the need arise. In his speech this afternoon the Government spokesman asked why it was necessary for the Conservative Party to move two Amendments to the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech. While we have already stated quite clearly that we shall do everything to help and not hinder His Majesty's Government, nevertheless on questions of principle, such as State control, we believe that we must move Amendments for that purpose.
When one reads the Gracious Speech, one realises that when measures of State control are taken out of it there is really very little left. It must be remembered that the proposals for State control in regard to this country's future were the outcome of the unaided genius of the 195 Labour Party. I had the uneasy feeling that the temperate tone of the Gracious Speech rather reflected an attitude of mind in the face of very great problems which can only be described as "Make Do and Mend."
We may be facing another election within a few months' time—I should very much like to know when—but, even so, I suggest that that is no excuse for a policy of tinkering and of drift, if it can be called a policy at all. These are very challenging times, and if ever there was a moment for real statesmanship it is now. We want audacity; we want that courage which cares not for immediate popularity in the country, but is prepared to bring forward stern measures to match the grave problems which confront us all. It may be that the Government fear that we on these benches might push them over at any moment, and we realise that their slender majority does present them with peculiar problems. But we have said that we shall help and not hinder except on questions of principle.
I would, therefore, suggest that on questions which do not involve such points of principle as State control, we in this Parliament—which is so closely divided—could surely become a Council of State. It is surely that which the country really needs and desires at this moment. After all, to whatever political party we may belong, there is one great question which, somehow, we must all seek to answer, and that is how this country by 1952, when Marshall Aid ends, can become self-reliant. We can never become self-sufficient in this small island, but surely, in concert with the Empire and Commonwealth we can at least become self-reliant.
Through the fog of propaganda in this last election certain rather important things became clear. Apart from the principle of State control, all political parties were agreed on certain main objectives, such as a good standard of living, a high level of employment, wide social services, increased food production at home and, above all, peace in our time. But we were deeply divided on the machinery of Government, on the methods to be used to carry out these things and also the methods to be used in helping the British people to create that wealth on which these desirable things 196 depend. Now that we have this very novel and refreshing Parliamentary situation, could we not pool our ideas a little further? I know it asks a great deal of human nature to forget elections, but even so, we must surely remember that the whole future of this country depends upon the ability of the British people to pay their own way in the world by selling goods at competitive cost. On that depends our economic strength in international councils, and on that, in the final resort, depends the future of all free peoples.
May I, therefore, put before the House certain main matters on which we differ greatly—and it is healthy that we should —but on which we might hammer out ideas by discussion and so produce something of good to the country? I will not discuss steel, except to say that it does seem perfectly reasonable that, when we are so narrowly divided, an amending Bill should be brought forward in order to postpone the vesting date of steel until after the next General Election. Could we not discuss together without political prejudice the removal of controls which definitely discourage effort? Could we not discuss methods of curbing the power of the Executive in State-controlled industries? Could we not discuss together again, without political prejudice, how to eliminate Government waste in administration and then, in turn, discuss how it is possible at last to make a start on the reduction of the burden of taxation? We now have a burden of taxation on total earned income of 40 per cent. I was always told that where a nation is taxed to an extent of 25 to 30 per cent. of its total earned income, any advantages gained to the Exchequer are offset by the disadvantages which come in discouragement to work and save.
It is one of the first principles of any human society that skill deserves a just reward and hard work deserves the right to save and the right to hand on one's earnings to one's family. Surely the object of any measures we discuss should be to make the best use of the nation's capital, not only the obvious capital of money and resources but the far more important capital of the nation's skill —the skill of head and of hand which is invested in order to earn a just profit. We are all of us capitalists and everyone of us labours in one way or another. It 197 is because the nation needs a people's gifts that it is surely so important that any action that Parliament takes, shall not depress but shall encourage character, daring and imagination wherever those qualities are found.
It is right that the State in these complicated modern societies should take certain responsibilities to itself, such as protecting each person from the major evils of life—unemployment, sickness and old age. But if the State starts political direction of daily living to an unbalanced degree, then it is so easy for everyone to sit back and say, "These matters are for the State; they are not for me." As it is obvious that the success or failure of the country depends entirely upon the efforts of every man and woman, can we not, therefore, as a Council of State, seek to see in what way we can restore personal responsibility in every walk of life throughout the land?
Just before we rose at Christmas for the Recess we were told over and over again that we faced a great crisis in our fortunes. I remember the Chancellor of the Exchequer making a speech, about how important it was that we should balance our overseas' trade. At the end he gripped the Despatch Box and, turning to Mr. Speaker, he said, "Mr. Speaker, we dare not fail." Those were moving words, and it seems so odd that just before the election, the crisis was safely tucked away, as indeed were all major embarrassments to the Labour Party. Even now we are not permitted to examine the crisis. In the Gracious Speech there are really but two lines which deal with it. We are told on one page that there are economic difficulties in this country, and on another page we are told that renewed efforts will be required to secure a balance in the country's overseas trade. But that is all. We cannot be said to have been really told whether we are in the midst of a crisis or not.
Yet, before the General Election, we were all being told how important it was to increase output through having the Dunkirk spirit. How was it our people worked so long and so hard in those famous days? It was because they knew exactly where they were, and the famous Prime Minister of those times never failed or faltered in telling us the truth, however stern. No one minds—at 198 least not very much—giving much of effort and taxation if he knows exactly where he is going, and if he also has the confidence that his energy and money are not being wasted.
At this election I noticed this attitude of mind particularly amongst the women of this country. The hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, North-East (Miss Bacon), who so warmheartedly seconded the Motion yesterday, paid a great tribute to the women. I wish she were here now, because I should like to know whether she agrees that women have had a great deal of praise but what they really want is results. Any woman who has the task of keeping house today knows perfectly well that, while to her menfolk appearances may outwardly appear not too bad, the ever-rising cost of living is a reality which counters everything. There is no doubt that women and the homes they run always bear the burden of their Government. I believe the Government have realised this, because I notice that the Cabinet changes have their accent on domestic policy rather at the expense of foreign affairs, imperial affairs and defence. We in Scotland welcome a very able person as our new Secretary of State, and incidentally it is very good to see a fellow Scotswoman in the hon. Lady the Member for Lanark, North (Miss Herbison) being honoured with such a great office of trust. We hope that our Secretary of State will press Scotland's affairs in the Cabinet with the same assurance as that with which he urged Britain's case in the Council of the United Nations.
There is one domestic affair to which I should like to draw attention. As has already been said, there is the extraordinary fact that housing is not once mentioned in the Gracious Speech. Just as, indeed, the whole subject of Marshall Aid was not mentioned in the Socialist Party's manifesto. One can only conclude that housing is not mentioned because it is realised that it has been a failure on the part of this Government. I wish very much that our new Secretary of State for Scotland were present, because I should like to ask him to urge that the housing programme in Scotland shall have first priority, and demand in the Cabinet that the cuts in the building programme shall be restored and that everything be done to speed the erection of houses. I should like to give one 199 example in my own constituency. In Aberdeen the waiting list in 1945 was 10,000 and it is now 15,000; that list has recently been re-checked to see that there is no overlapping. I need not tell the House what those figures conceal in terms of human unhappiness.
There is not merely the subject of housing. I said that I would talk only on one domestic subject, but I really must say a word in passing on another subject, because it particularly affects my constituency in Aberdeen. To my delight it is included in the Gracious Speech. I allude to the part in which it is asked that we shouldpass a Bill to regulate and improve the living conditions of the crews of fishing trawlers.I would only say that excellent in intent though this Measure sounds, I do not believe that it will carry its full weight unless the fishing industry as a whole has a greater assurance and confidence in the future. It is for that reason that I urge that our Secretary of State for Scotland should press on the Government that renewed efforts should be made to secure ratification of the international agreement to prevent overfishing. I trust also that in the next two or three weeks the Secretary of State will make a forthright statement on the question of a flat rate for the transport of fish. The price control ends on 15th April, and with it automatically goes the flat transport rate. This has often been discussed in this House and I will not enter into it in detail here, but if something constructive is not done, it will gravely endanger employment and the expansion of the fishing industry in the North-East.
In this Parliament, just as in all others, many human problems confront us all, which should transcend party strife. Can we not, therefore, as a Council of State—which Parliament really is—try to ensure that by our actions we encourage the country to work together closely in a common cause? As we look overseas there is no doubt that there are shadows gathering. We have mighty tasks to tackle both at home and overseas, but surely our potential wealth in skill and resources in this country and within the Empire and Commonwealth is enormous, if only we can use it wisely. Now is a superb opportunity for the Government to earn the confidence and the respect of the 200 people of Britain by real leadership, which is what the people expect and deserve.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
The General Election has shown a deep cleavage in public opinion in this country, and for all real Labour people the lesson to be drawn from all countries which have been in a similar situation is: there must be no retreat, there must be advance on the part of the Government now representing our party and the people. We must not make the Labour Party a modern Liberal Party. There are still millions of people who must be and can be won for Labour, and our task is to win those millions of good people in support of the real people's party. The Government draw their strength from the industrial areas in the main. We have still to win over millions in the urban and agricultural areas, and we are making great progress. Therefore, in this Parliament we need to have regard to the immediate need of the people, and I have sufficient confidence in them to believe that they will respond to treatment of that kind.
Under no circumstances should this party be a party to the proposal for a Council of State. Some of us have had experience of what that means. We have been taken in by that kind of thing often in the past, and the people of this country have now made up their minds on the point. The logic of the speech of the Noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) is that we should have a coalition, and after two world wars we all know how we were treated by coalitions.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
In no way did I suggest that we should have a coalition. We cannot do that unless we have a national Government.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
That is the next logical step. The noble Lady spoke about skill. The skilled people whom we represent know too well how they have been treated during the past 20 years, ever to agree to proposals of that kind again.
In my view, the immediate issues with which the Government are confronted are production and trade, peace, food, the cost of living, houses and more to live for.
201 Those are the supreme issues with which we are confronted, and it is to those issues that we should address our minds at present. On production no one can point a finger at the way that industry is responding to the needs of our country. What we need to ask ourselves is: production for whom and for what? There is a growing uneasiness that the people engaged in industry are not prepared to go on slaving just to maintain a status quo.
On many occasions the Leader of the Opposition and other hon. Members opposite have said that this or that should be done. I listened to the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon, and not one constructive proposal did he make for dealing with the immediate issue with which we are confronted. Many times hon. Members opposite have said that cuts should be made in this or that, but there has not been one concrete proposal for cuts in national expenditure. I believe that great cuts are urgently required in national expenditure, because I believe that millions of pounds can be saved in this way. Therefore, I shall make some concrete proposals.
First, the Government should consider what Ministries can be merged. The Government have the responsibility of deciding. In my view, the Ministry of Civil Aviation can be and should be abolished, or it could be merged into the Ministry of Transport, with large cuts in both Ministries. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] The Ministry of Supply should be reduced to an irreducible minimum or merged with some other Government Department. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Large cuts in expenditure could be made at the Board of Trade, at the Ministry of Town and Country Planning and at the Ministry of Labour. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear] An immediate cut of £100 million should be made in expenditure on the Armed Forces. Now cheer that. Some of us are in a strong position in speaking on these cuts for we have not only talked in war, we have taken other action. While preparations are being made for other cuts in the Defence Services this reasonable cut should be made immediately.
These and other cuts should be made because, unless they are made, there will later be crimes against the people by proposals being carried into effect cutting 202 the social services, the food subsidies and our standard of living. Linked with this policy there should be an immediate investigation into the cost of distribution, into production costs, wholesale prices and retail prices. An examination should be made of the cost in 1914, that in 1920, that in 1938 and that in 1950. In no country in the world are the overhead charges upon industry as serious as they are in this country. For example a serge or worsted suit made in 1939 cost £2 10s.; in 1950 it cost £15 plus tax. A suit in the range 209F is made for £8 5s.; it is sold for between £13 and £15. And what is said about suits can equally be said about food, about vegetables and about all the needs of the people. Our party, who have been responsible for only four or five years, are not responsible for this; it is a legacy inherited from generations of Tory mismanagement.
I served on the Trades Union Congress Committee for years and assisted in the preparation and giving of evidence before the Beveridge Committee. I remember who was who and what went on behind the scenes during the coalition days, and how we had to urge publication of the Beveridge Report, and I believe that had we had a Conservative Government they would have done with the Beveridge Report what they did with the Sankey Committee Report. The benefits of the Act afterwards passed were the establishment of a minimum below which none should fall, and I believe that there is now an unanswerable case for a cost-of-living bonus to be made retrospective to the passing of the Act. I should like to ask any right hon. or hon. Gentleman whether he is prepared to get up and oppose a proposal of that kind.
In my view some mention should have been made in the Gracious Speech of the terrible position of housing. Our people have slaved and worked for generations, have fought in two world wars, and they have never been adequately housed. The Conservatives should hang their heads in shame at the way they treated our people in housing for generations. The fact that they now have the audacity to come along at this stage and put down an Amendment to the Gracious Speech will be answered by the electors when they have a further opportunity.
Our industrial production results are the admiration of the whole world. They 203 are 30 per cent. higher than pre-war—and even more—says the United Nations Report. Output per man-hour is increasing, productive capacity is increasing, more horse-power per man is now at the disposal of industry and is increasing in industry each year. Coal, engineering, cotton and pottery are making a magnificent contribution to Britain's great production record. Yet our costs are high and the fact of the matter is that owing to Conservative mismanagement, too many people are watching too few do the work. Overhead charges are far too high through the high cost of pre-production materials, through rings round our materials and rings round everything that goes into a house; and the people responsible for this are those who have sat on those Conservative benches for years and who have organised the trade associations for that purpose.
I, therefore, want to ask the Government to carry out the promises that were made during the election that an immediate investigation should be held into the high cost of British materials and into the cost of living and distribution so that these costs can be reduced as soon as possible. At the same time, a Government investigation should be made into the financial holding companies, the holding companies, the sub-holding companies and the sub-sub-holding companies, the effect of interlocking directors upon the boards upon which many right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite sit, into capital appreciation, the amount paid in debentures, the ingenuity of the new type of accountants who set out to hide rather than to reveal the true state of affairs.
I should like to ask whether it is a fact that profits increased last year by 10½ per cent., because, if that is so, then it becomes a most urgent problem which needs to be dealt with. Hon. Members opposite may be interested in what I am going to say now. In the "Economist" of 17th December, 1938—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) should stop sneering and jeering. He ought to be the last person to sneer and jeer with the insults he has offered to the people of this country in the various speeches he has made asking for an increase in unemployment. He should hang his head in shame instead of sneering and jeering.
§ Mr. Osborne
I am grateful to the hon. Member for permitting me to intervene. First of all, it is quite untrue to suggest that I have ever said that there should be a lot of unemployment or that I desire it. Five days before the election I made the "Daily Herald" publish a letter from me proving that I never made such a statement at all. Of course they tucked it away in a corner of the page which no one would read. I hope the hon. Member will withdraw his statement.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
I will certainly withdraw it if I am given proof that it was not said, but the statement has been published throughout the country in the newspapers and we have to accept that.
A survey of three decades of profits was made and it proved the upward trend of absolute profits for 30 years. The people of this country have been exploited more than those of any other country in the world and it is for that reason that they are increasingly supporting the party which was formed and has been organised to fulfil their own needs. Profits increased more in proportion to industrial production but, in spite of these enormous profits, relatively little was put back into industry. The buildings remained the same for generations, the machines remained the same, as did the organisation and the lighting, and year after year there was increased exploitation of the energy of the workers rather than money put back into industry to enable industry to increase production by modernisation. In 1937 the same economists said that unless the income from our investments abroad was maintained, some downward trend of our standard of living would be inescapable. That is the issue to which we have now come.
As I said at the beginning, this election has proved a deep cleavage of opinion to exist in Britain. As a result of development, political parties have changed. Our party has been in existence only 50 years. During that period the political consciousness of our people has been completely changed. This year we are celebrating our jubilee, and I believe that we are on the verge of great steps forward in new conceptions of life as the result of our party's work and of what our party stands for, and of its winning the confidence of the people more and more, and having more power to apply our policies.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
Although I profoundly disagree with a great deal of what the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) has just said, I must begin by acknowledging that he got far closer to the realities of our national position than has any other speaker today on the other side of the House. And I was glad to see that, although the hon. Gentleman and I disagree profoundly on matters of high principle, we both of us can see the plain facts of our national affairs through somewhat the same eyes. We can both see the waste and extravagance which exists in Government Departments today, and we both see the grave hardship which is being caused to many of our people by the failure of the Government to deal with the problem of housing.
I was a little surprised, however, that the hon. Gentleman saw fit to suggest that, on this subject of housing, the Conservative Party—these were his picturesque words—"should hang their heads in shame." Well, in the years immediately preceding the war, under largely Conservative Governments, precisely twice the number of permanent houses were built as this Government propose to build during this coming year, and if, therefore, my hon. Friends and I must hang our heads in shame, then it is anatomically a little difficult to speculate as to the precise position in which the Minister of Health should place his.
Now that the Lord President is back in his place, I should like to say a word about some of his observations on this subject. The Lord President repeated faithfully the claim that under this Government one million homes had been provided. Now, the figures upon which that claim is supported are, I think, tolerably familiar to the House. They contain numbers of such things as requisitionings, conversions, use of military camps and other items, not to mention the very substantial item in respect of temporary dwellings, which are already rapidly deteriorating and which will require replacement before many years are past. I think the Lord President would have been franker if, in comparing the Government's achievements with the 750,000 which, he stated, the Coalition Government had regarded as necessary, 206 he would have been a little more fair if he had given the real figure of permanent houses—some 623,000.
I beg of the Government to change their mind on this question of housing. The Lord President said today, as he said equally in his broadcast, that he received from his constituency pathetic letters from people who could not get that basis of a decent life, a home to live in. The Lord President knows well that all hon. Members of this House, particularly those for crowded urban areas, receive such letters, and the Lord President knows perfectly well that more human misery is caused in this country today by lack of housing accommodation than by any other single factor. I know that my division is far from being unique in this matter, but I have had my attention drawn there to case after case of whole families living in one room; of men who served their country well in war living with their wives, and perhaps two children, in but one room—denied all methods of sanitation, all the amenities of a decent civilised life in a civilised country in 1950. I know of these cases, and so do hon. Members in all quarters of the House.
Against that background it is astonishing that, in the Speech which has been framed by Ministers of the Crown, no reference whatsoever is made to that grave cause of human misery, and that no indication has been given to this House so far that the decision announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the concluding weeks of the last Parliament, that this Government, as an act of deliberate policy, proposed to reduce the output of houses by 25,000 a year, is to be varied or altered. I will only say this to the Lord President. It is a mockery to say to the people of this country that the Government are, preserving the social services when they are, in fact, cutting down the provision of the most basic social necessity of all. It is useless, when doing that, to try to take credit for the Health Service, which has to cure the ill-health which lack of accommodation breeds.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
If the Government were desirous of taking a step which, without raising contentious issues —which for obvious reasons they are 207 diffident of taking—would serve the nation, they would review, and review drastically, the whole of this housing issue. It was with a sense of great disappointment that most hon. Members in most quarters of the House saw that this matter was dealt with in the Gracious Speech by the now familiar technique of the present Government—that is, by failing to mention it at all.
Now I should like to say one word to the Lord President in reply to one or two of the more outstanding of the claims which he ventured to make during his very entertaining speech earlier today. "Full employment"—said the Lord President—"we have achieved it." I wonder whether the Lord President really meant that. I wonder whether the Lord President ever discussed that matter with his friend the intellectual of the Socialist Party, Professor G. D. H. Cole. Professor Cole wrote a history of the Labour Party, and he published in page 467 of the 1948 edition these words:In the maintenance of full employment the Government has so far been under no necessity of taking any action, for the problem, except here and there, has been one of shortage of workers and not of jobs.He went on, in an article published in the "Political Quarterly" for the quarter July to September, 1949, to say this:What Labour dare not say is that it could prevent an increase in unemployment if there were simultaneously a sharp fall in exports, diminished ability to pay for foodstuffs and raw materials, and a swing over in America from willingness to help European recovery to a scramble to export unemployment by raising tariffs on imports and by dumping American surpluses on the world market. So far, Labour has been under no need to do anything to increase the volume of employment.Now, I do say that in face of that very fair dispassionate statement by a man, whom, no matter though one disagrees with him, one recognises to be a man of ability, integrity and clarity of mind when he writes and speaks, it is a little much for the Lord President to come to the House today, and say, "We have achieved full employment."
I was very interested in the Lord President's reference to his proposals regarding the continuation of emergency legislation. He was a good deal less definite in the more critical atmosphere of the House of Commons than he was 208 in the more exuberant atmosphere of Blackpool. I was a little surprised when the Lord President sought to take credit for the proposal to proceed by legislation on this matter, although not in this Session, instead of by Resolution. The Lord President must know that, in any event, his power to continue the existing provisions by Resolution ends in December of this year, and if these powers are to continue legislation will be required. There is no hint of such legislation in the Gracious Speech. Are we to assume, therefore, that this grave matter is to be dealt with in another Session, beginning this autumn, shortly before all these powers expire, and is the familiar argument again to be produced: "We have to get this Bill through quickly, otherwise we shall be put in a difficulty"?
Surely it would have been better for the right hon. Gentleman to have announced this legislation at this time and to have announced frankly, aye or no, whether such legislation would or would not contain powers to continue the compulsory direction of labour in time of peace. It would surely have been possible for the Lord President to have given some indication of this in the Gracious Speech, and to have told the country frankly, on a matter which raises a great issue and strong feelings in many quarters of the House whether it is intended or not in these circumstances to continue the direction of labour.
Another matter interested me in the Lord President's speech. In reply to the Leader of the Opposition, he said that if the electoral system is to be amended there must be a mandate. That is a strange change from 1948, when the Lord President and the Government he represents carried, for example, the abolition of the university seats without any scrap of a mandate. What the doctrine comes to is this: where a change in the electoral system suits the electoral prospects of the Socialist Party, a mandate is not required, but where it is possible that any such change may inconvenience the Socialist Party, it is impossible to do anything without a clear mandate.
Then the right hon. Gentleman referred to devaluation which, he said, the Opposition did not oppose. The Lord President no doubt recollects the frequent warnings given from these benches that 209 the continuance of the Government's financial policy would result in their being forced to devalue. The austere reply of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was always to deny that any such thing could happen, and then, on a Sunday morning, it happened. The action which the Government nine times pledged themselves not to take was in fact taken on a Sunday morning in the Recess. What could any Opposition do about that? Now, if the Lord President thinks that the issue of devaluation is one which it is helpful to raise in this manner, he is entitled to his opinion.
Then there was the claim which the Lord President made that the Socialist Party were the party of the nation, and he sought in that respect to contrast them with my right hon. and hon. Friends who, he suggested, represent sectional and class interests. That was in the course of his very agreeable peroration. I do not know whether, as a high officer in charge of the Socialist Party's propaganda, the right hon. Gentleman ever came across this document, "The Thinking Voter", issued by Transport House, and adorned not with his photograph but with that of the Prime Minister. If the Lord President ever had a moment to cast a casual glance over the output of propaganda, he would have come across these agreeable words about traitors.This time they are all Tories. They are the traitors now, as they always have been, and now and ever must be …Then again:The Tories have been crawling about the crust of the earth whispering, whimpering, squeaking and squealing … They are usually bursting with good food"—which I thought was a very grave reflection on the Minister of Food—and so full of whisky and wine that they would squirt if you squeezed them.It is no doubt the Lord President's view that that is a reasoned appeal to the electorate on the grave intellectual issues involved. But unless and until it is explained to me in that light, I must confess that on first reading I formed the impression that it was a deliberate attempt to appeal to all the instincts of envy and jealousy which lie, of course, in the hearts of so many of us and to which it is wildly irresponsible for statesmen to seek to appeal.
I must confess that the speech of the Lord President contained in it much more 210 than was contained in the Gracious Speech. I have directed most of my remarks to the former rather than to the latter. The latter is, after all, a rather slender document, and it cannot have been its weight which caused it to slip from the hands of a noble and learned Lord. Against the background of our national affairs, it is surely a trivial document. It does not touch upon the great issues upon the solution of which our nation must live or die. It deals with trivialities. It does not touch the great issue of the threat of Communism, although certain appointments recently made would suggest that the Prime Minister's idea was to treat Communism by homoeopathic methods. It is really astonishing that against the background of grave world events the Government, in their desire to prolong their life as a Government, have no major proposal to put forward for solving a single major problem.
I fully appreciate the difficulty of the Government, but surely this aspect of the matter must have struck them when preparing the Speech. Contentious issues are contentious because people and parties feel strongly about them and because they believe, as my right hon. Friends and I believe, that the proposal we put forward at the election are essential in the national interest. I believe that most right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite sincerely believe the same of theirs. That is surely the only legitimate basis for political controversy in a country such as ours. Does it not follow that the Government, in dropping the Measures which they themselves believed when they fought the election were essential to national recovery, are dropping at the same time any proposals at all to bring about national recovery. And is there not grave danger in their drifting forward, having abandoned the proposals in which they believe and not accepted the proposals in which others believe?
Again and again at the election meetings, I heard, as hon. Members in every quarter of the House heard, the defence made to the criticism of the 1929–31 Socialist Government, which presided over the most spectacular rise in unemployment in all our history, that they were in office but not in power. I have always resisted the view that for two years and two months those right hon. 211 Gentlemen remained impotent in office, watching the affairs of the nation deteriorating and unwilling to try to take the measures which had to be taken to save the nation because the taking of them might result in the fall of the Government. I have always declined to believe that of right hon. Gentlemen opposite of any earlier generation. I should like to be able to disbelieve it of the present right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I think that if they persist in remaining in office, subject to conditions which prevent them from doing what they sincerely believe to be in the national interest, and if, while they remain impotent in office, the affairs of the nation continue their steady deterioration, then the country will never forget or forgive them to the third or fourth generation.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Captain Hamilton (Fife, West)
I must ask the indulgence of the House while I make this, my maiden speech. I represent a Scottish division, although I happen to be an Englishman, and I was rather horrified to hear certain Tory Members talking about the housing conditions in Scotland, because my division of West Fife has, I suppose, some of the worst housing conditions in Britain. These are, it seems to me, a legacy not of the last four and a half years but of the last 100 years.
In going around that division since 1945 and in the course of the election campaign, I have been amazed at the wonderful transformation that has taken place in four short years. We are told that the waiting lists are longer than ever. Of course they are, and the reasons for it are perfectly obvious. The simple fact is that because of full employment young people are marrying earlier in life: in most cases, both the man and his young wife are working, and have therefore a steady guaranteed income of something like at least £10 per week, so that the demand for housing is much greater now than it ever was in the pre-war years.
It will be within the memory of some of the older Members that a Tory Minister of Health asserted that It was a comparatively recent development for a young married couple to want a house of their own. Well, I am one of those young married people who now have houses of their own. I am 32, and I have lived in a house 212 with a bathroom for only two years out of the 32. There is not a single house going up anywhere in Britain today without a bathroom. That, surely, is a revolution in itself. That is the measure of the progress that we have made in housing since 1945, and for anyone to play down that achievement—particularly anyone on the Opposition benches —is the essence of cant and hypocrisy.
Let me now refer to the glib Tory statements which are frequently made about various reforms that have been introduced since 1945, and the generalisations which are so commonly made from time to time on their election platforms. "Set the people free," we are told, and when we ask, "Which people shall we set free?" back come the Tories on their hoardings saying, "Set the builders free." According to the Girdwood Committee on housing costs, a post-war three-bedroomed house costs about £1,250 to erect, which means that if that house were put up for sale there would be an initial deposit of £200, plus the building society payments for 20 or 25 years, plus the costs of repair and maintenance.
That is the kind of thing that we young working people cannot afford to countenance. Suppose that house were for renting, the annual rent of a house costing £1,250 to erect, would be about £125, or £2 8s. a week, plus rates of 6s. or 7s. per week on top of that, so that a couple would be expected to pay about £2 15s. per week if the builders were set free. I hope that we on this side of the House will resist that kind of propaganda and policy with all the strength at our disposal.
Another Measure contained in the "trivial" document to which the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) referred is the maintenance of full employment. Is that a trivial matter? We believe that that is the basic domestic issue, and we are resolved to maintain full employment by suitable controls and by economic planning, both of which are deplored by the Opposition, whatever they might say to the contrary. From my own division I can cite an example of what might happen under a Tory Government.
At the moment the Lanarkshire coalfield is declining while the Fifeshire coalfield is developing, but by conscious planning there is a deliberate and orderly 213 movement of Lanarkshire miners into the Fifeshire coalfield, while at the same time there is a housing priority for the trans ferred Lanarkshire miners. Those who, for one reason or another, cannot move are being provided with industries under the Control of Location of Industries Act: industries are going into Lanarkshire, and so full employment is being maintained there although the coalfield is declining, while at the same time the Fifeshire coalfield is being developed as much as possible.
Surely that kind of planning is in the interests of the ordinary people. Had that movement gone on under a Tory Government, in the first place it would not have been planned, and the Lanarkshire miners who moved to Fifeshire would be fighting for houses in a place where there was not priority for them; and in the second place, those who could not leave Lanarkshire would have been derelict, and there would have been a distressed area—something with which I, myself, am well acquainted.
I have very little Parliamentary experience, but I have got a great deal of other experience which hon. Members opposite have not got. I have lived in a slum for 30 years. A former slum dweller is now Minister of Health, and it takes a former slum dweller to understand their problems. I do ask hon. Members not to try to make political capital out of the housing needs of our people. We all know it is a problem which will take years to solve, but trying to take the most impartial view I can, I am quite sure that we are on the right road, that the people who most need the houses are getting houses, and that economic and social security is being given to those who need it most, and who have had so little in the years gone by.
We are unapologetic for the contents of the Gracious Speech. I believe that in the phrase which says that all measures will be taken to guarantee full employment and the national well-being lies a valuable loop-hole. I believe that, although this slender document might smell of kid gloves, the kid gloves conceal a wonderful fistful of solid Socialism.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)
It has not been my privilege before to follow a maiden speech, but I am sure I 214 am speaking for the whole House when I say that the hon. and gallant Member for West Fife (Captain Hamilton) spoke with great sincerity. He obviously has housing at heart, but no doubt when he has been here a little longer he will not feel so kindly as he does at the present moment towards the Minister of Health. The hon. and gallant Member said that a great transformation in housing had taken place in his constituency, but it has certainly not taken place in my own division at Macclesfield and Congleton, where very few houses have been put up. He has been very fortunate indeed. [An HON. MEMBER: "Under a Labour Council."] In my own case, we have had a Labour council in Congleton for two years. For the last five years we have listened to many speeches from the previous Member for West Fife, and although I do not think the new Member will be quite so entertaining, he will certainly make a better contribution to the Debates in the House of Commons because of his greater sincerity. We all look forward to hearing him again taking part in our Debates.
My purpose in speaking today is to raise the question of the Government's recognition of the People's Government in China. The Foreign Secretary was supported continually in the previous Parliament from this side of the House on his foreign policy, except in the case of his handling of affairs in Palestine. Why is it that the British Government have recognised Communist China? We all look forward to a full explanation on why this has been brought about. The new Australian Government, led by Mr. Menzies, have refused to recognise Communist China, and they surely have more to fear from the Far East than Britain. They know what it is to live near the Communists. It is the same in the case of the United States. They have not recognised Communist China.
It seems extraordinary that, in the difficult world in which we are living, we should act contrary to Australia and America on this very important matter. We have more at stake than any country in the Far East. That may he the reason why the Government have recognised Communist China. If that is the case they are going the wrong way about protecting British interests in the Yangtze valley and elsewhere in China. I fail to see where this policy will get us. In my 215 view, it can only lead the British Government into great difficulties. I have lived in China for some five years. I was not just in the coastal ports, but spent most of my time up country with the Chinese, and I know something about them. There is nothing wrong with the Chinese people, providing they can get food, and they do not ask for very much of that. Given reasonable conditions of living, they will follow any kind of Government. The main thing they want is a bit of rice and fish on which to live. I should have thought the Government would have waited for a sign of good faith from the Soviet Government before taking this very hasty action.
Some British business men in the coastal ports were anxious to see Communist China recognised. They thought it would mean more orders for goods coming from Britain. But they are already disappointed, in many cases, with the difficulties under which they are trading. Large orders were expected from the interior, but they have just not been forthcoming. What will happen, I think, is that the Russians will barter tin, tungsten and tung oil for very indifferent manufactured goods they want to get rid of, and will order British goods only if they are unable to get them from elsewhere. So far, the British representative in China has left his card at the Peking foreign office and nothing more has happened. It has been a virtual snub for Britain, and it is anyone's guess now what his future treatment will be. British prestige has never been lower in China than it is at the present time.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
Nonsense. It is due to the present Government. At the present time cargo ships are going out of Hong Kong to run the Nationalists blockade. A considerable proportion are foreign cargoes. Do not let it be thought that they are all British. The Nationalist Government are attacking and molesting the ships while they are making their way to the coastal ports, and those that get through are not received with open arms by the Communist Government. The result is that neither side is friendly to Britain and we are getting the worst of both worlds.
216 I have a cutting here from the "China Mail" of 21st February, which states:Hopes nurtured by the British recognition of Peking have fizzled out completely. Air attacks by Nationalist planes on British property along The Bund and the waterfront have produced the fear that Taiwan plans the ruthless destruction of British holdings in retaliation for the withdrawal of recognition. As far as the Communists are concerned, they have done nothing to encourage British property owners or firms. The Englishman, along with the American or Frenchman. remains constantly exposed to minor irritations, snubs, and disregardThat is what is happening in Shanghai today. What this recognition has really done is to encourage the Communists to infiltrate further into South-East Asia, much further than would have been the case had there been no recognition. This has come at a time when we are spending more in defence in that part of the world than we are getting out of the country in trading with Communist China. We have large forces, Army and Navy and Air Force, at Hong Kong, quite apart from Malaya.
I hold no brief for Marshal Chiang Kai-shek. I believe he was a patriot for many years but stayed in office too long. I believe that the job was too much for him, and that the aid the Americans gave, which was considerable. was misdirected and graft crept into the Chinese Government. At any rate, the situation got completely out of hand. He was anti-Communist, but he was also against the generals in South-West China, one of whom was General Pai Sheung Hai. He is a most honourable man and a great leader of the Chinese people.
Had Marshal Chiang Kai-shek given some support to General Pai instead of withdrawing, the Communists might well have been held in the Yangtze valley. That might well have happened had there been support from the Americans and British. Instead, the Americans did not give that support, although all that he asked for was British moral support and not materials. I think that inquiries were made but the support was not forthcoming. General MacArthur went into the problem. Had we supported General Pai, it is likely that Washington, instead of providing a small amount of arms to Formosa, would have given them to the generals who were prepared to fight on. However, that did not happen 217 and we are left with the whole of China occupied by the Communists, who are also in Indo-China, Burma and Malaya.
I am concerned about what the Government are going to do about this problem. One always expected that the Russians would turn on the heat in the Far East to divert our forces, occasionally coming back and creating situations like the Berlin air lift or the situation in West Africa. I believe that they are out to conquer as much of the Far East as they can and then turn to Western Europe. The whole situation is fraught with danger. My right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) made some reference to the position yesterday, and was obviously thinking correctly when he said we should improve the standards of the people in that part of the world. We have to take a great stand against the Communists in the Far East. Unless we do so the whole of South-East Asia will be overrun.
If it is a question of supporting countries like Siam, we ought to do so together with our American friends. Malaya, which is earning more dollars than any other part of the British Empire, has now had Communist trouble for some time and planters and their wives and children are killed and British soldiers shot daily. Is it not about time that this problem was dealt with as a proper warlike operation, because unless it is dealt with there will be very little opportunity of getting these countries back to the way of life which we want to see them following?
I hope the British Government and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs will explain to us what has happened and what they intend doing in the future. We hope to see Britain play its full part with the Americans, not following them, in all these matters, and where we work together Britain will see that it is in a way which shall earn us the respect of the whole world for the lead which is so much required.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Mr. M. Philips Price (Gloucester, West)
With the sentiment expressed by the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) that we must resist Communism in the Far East, I am entirely in sympathy. However, I join issue with him when he criticises the Government for having recognised the 218 Chinese Communist Government. Surely the question of recognition depends on whether there is an effective government in China, and I put it to the hon. and gallant Gentleman that there is no other effective government in China today except the Communist regime. If we are realists in the matter—and there is no other alternative—surely the Government are right in taking the action which they have.
I am glad to note that the hon. and gallant Gentleman does not hold any particular brief for the Government of Chiang Kai-shek. Surely that Government failed because it could not deal with the present social and economic needs of China. The perennial poverty of the Chinese peasant unfortunately is now going to be solved in a Communist way because it was not solved in any other. That is the trouble, and if only the Americans had been able to instil some kind of realism as well as dollars into the Government of Chiang Kai-shek the results might have been different.
It is obviously wise to try to see whether the Chinese Communist Government cannot be brought to less dependence on Russia. The signing of the Russo-Chinese Treaty the other day suggests that Russia is looking upon China as a hewer of wood and drawer of water. The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield has been in China. I have, too, many years ago, and like him I was impressed by the very strong nationalist feelings in the Chinese people. If Russia has any idea of treating the Chinese as she is treating her satellites in the Balkans, she is likely to meet with considerable resistance. That is just where it is wise policy for the Government to recognise the Communist Government in order to try to bring about a situation in which China is prepared to deal with the West and not solely with Moscow.
There is another matter I wish to raise in connection with the Gracious Speech. There is a passage in the speech to the effect that His Majesty's Government willuse their utmost endeavours, through the United Nations, to assist in finding a durable solution of the tremendous problem of atomic energy so that international agreement for adequate control and supervision of the production of atomic energy may be secured.There has been in recent weeks a certain, amount of discussion about whether it is 219 possible to start talks on the highest levels in Moscow with a view to bringing about the settlement of the issue of atomic warfare. The idea seems to me to be a shortcut for the solution of the problem, but it has won a considerable amount of public support, so serious has this whole question of atomic energy become.
This idea of talks at high levels represents a serious misconception of the whole idea behind Russian foreign policy. It assumes personal talks will do what the usual diplomatic channels and the United Nations discussions at Lake Success have failed to do. That is a dangerous illusion. These cruel, fanatical men who rule Russia from the Kremlin will not be diverted from their purpose of world Communist domination by high level talks, no matter how great are the personalities who go to Moscow. At the beginning of the Russian Revolution there was a certain degree of idealism in Communism. Thirty years of the Communist régime has submerged what idealism there was in early Communism into the sinister machine of Russian imperialism. Now the world is faced with a formidable combination, which is relentlessly seeking out the weak spots of the non-Communist world.
I do not believe the Russians will make any agreement worth while on atomic energy if there is any part of the world where their cause is advancing. In Europe, for the time being, they have been stopped, but the situation in Asia is much more serious. There is the weak spot, and there is the place where they may go forward. Mr. Stalin would, no doubt, receive the very highest personages, like the Prime Minister, or Mr. Acheson of the United States, but I do not think that any result would come from such talks on atomic warfare and certainly no agreement. One has only to read the collected works of Mr. Stalin, published in Moscow not so very long ago, to see that he is no different from any other of those who believe that, relentlessly and automatically, the world is moving towards the Communist system. Any agreement that would be come to would be but a breathing space, in which they would rest before further advance.
The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield rather suggested that with the Russian Communist system it was a 220 question of a military advance. I do not think that that is so. The Russians will not attempt or risk anything which may lead to another world war. Their tactics are those of infiltration, guerilla warfare and the fifth column, such as they have tried in Greece, where they have failed, and which they are trying in Malaya and in Indo-China with possible success.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
Surely the hon. Gentleman will agree that the war in China was directed and backed by Russia, and that it was not infiltration. Also will he agree that it had the blessing and help of the Russian Government?
§ Mr. Price
It started with infiltration and could have been stopped if the right measures had been taken originally. I maintain that in Indo-China and South-East Asia there will not be a direct military attack but this policy of infiltration. I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman will agree with that.
§ Mr. Price
The only way to get Russia into a mood to discuss atomic warfare is to set up barriers against her. Those barriers are stable government, social contentment and economic justice, on the failure of which Communism feeds.
On the other hand we cannot altogether rule out approaches to Russia upon atomic matters, but they must be through the usual channels, that is to say, through the United Nations, and not through the so-called high level talks. There are still ways in which that might be done. Last September, the Tass Agency, in an official statement representing the views of the Russian Government, said that the Soviet Government intended to adopt its former position in favour of the absolute prohibition of atomic weapons. Control would be essential for the prohibition of atomic weapons. I suggest that we can take Russia at her word on this matter.
There is no reason to assume that the Baruch plan which has been put forward by the Atomic Energy Commission is so perfect that it cannot be modified. That plan envisaged international control of atomic energy. On that point the Russians objected. Are we sure that the Russians have turned down international inspection? I should like to have some assurance from His Majesty's Government that they will continue to explore 221 through the usual channels, namely, the United Nations and diplomatic machinery, what further can be done to bring about some understanding on this matter, if only to unmask the real attitude of Russia. I stick to the view that Russia will not really come to any long-term agreement until she sees her ambitions blocked. That should not prevent us from going on and trying wherever possible to bring about an agreement through the usual channels.
I should like to refer to another passage in the Gracious Speech concerning foreign affairs. It looks forward to co-operating with Commonwealth Governments in matters concerning Southern and South-Eastern Asia. The difficulty in South-Eastern Asia arises from the fact that nearly all the countries have recently acquired liberty and independence and are so intensely nationalistic that they are prepared to quarrel with each other and even to threaten war, as we see today in the great sub-Continent of India. Both the Indian Union and Pakistan are glaring at each other across the Punjab frontiers and the mountains of Kashmir, over the unfortunate and tragic quarrel about the future of that State. I hope that His Majesty's Government will do all that they can through the United Nations to impress upon both Pakistan and India the vital importance of settling the Kashmir question. India ought not to hold up the plebiscite on Kashmir for purely trumpery reasons, which seem to have no weight whatever. I certainly hope that His Majesty's Government will use all their influence in U.N.O. to bring about this settlement. The position is very dangerous because of the infiltration of Communism into Southern and South-Eastern Asia.
In other parts of Asia there is not so much danger of quarrelling between the new national States as of internal disruption, as in the case of Burma. There is in Burma, Indo-China and Indonesia a need for development schemes to raise the food resources of those countries. The population is rising rapidly year after year. The medical work which has been done there for years past is having a boomerang effect in increasing the population and thus making the food situation more difficult. I was in New York at the Lake Success Conference which discussed world resources, and at that conference the whole of this question was 222 discussed. The population of the world is likely to reach 2,000 million at the end of this century. It is rising at the rate of about 1 per cent. a year throughout the whole world. The food resources of the world are not sufficient. We must stop the soil erosion that is going on and introduce development schemes to improve the situation.
Yesterday, certain hon. Members raised the question of our sterling balances. I agree that they are a very serious strain upon us, but if we are to do anything to assist a solution of the problem of raising the food production resources of South-East Asia we ought to put ourselves out a bit to bring that result about. But there is a limit to what we can do. The new national States in South-East Asia are all intensely proud, and they have types of Government which are not like the Governments that we see in this country. It is usual for persons in high positions in those countries to use their position for their own personal advancement—to be quite frank. That means that assistance given from the outer world involves a certain degree of control in order to see that money is properly spent.
That, unfortunately, is not the case where we are using our sterling balances for those purposes. If money is advanced by the International Bank or any United Nations organisation, there is likely to be some kind of control. Of course, that control is resented by the intensely nationalist Governments. We face then the dilemma that if we are to fight Communism in South-East Asia we must raise the standard of living of the people, but that it is no use handing over money if it is to be given to a Prime Minister's sons or nephews to waste. There must be some form of control, but that impinges upon the intensely strong national feeling of those countries. I hope that the Government are aware of that dilemma and will try to solve it through the United Nations.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Gammans (Hornsey)
I am glad that the hon. Member for Gloucester, West (Mr. Philips Price) has continued the subject of foreign affairs. We have heard some very realistic statements from him. It is true that the larger part of this Debate will be devoted to home affairs, but it will be quite an unrealistic 223 appreciation of our difficulties if we are not to mention the Far East and foreign affairs generally. When the General Election became imminent, the Government carefully put into cold storage all the real problems which today beset us. In fact, all the cracks in our economic and political structure have been carefully puttied up in the last three months and hon. Gentlemen opposite have spent most of that time sloshing buckets of whitewash over them. It is the duty of this new Parliament to face facts as they are.
The first skeleton I want to drag out of the cupboard is the one which was mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) and referred to by the hon. Member for Gloucester, West, namely, the deteriorating situation in Asia. It was General Smuts who said a few months ago in London that, compared with what is happening in Asia, events in Europe are nothing but small potatoes. In the past five years we have seen great changes unbelievable changes, in the structure of Asia. The great empires of the European Powers have passed away. Great Britain has left India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon; the Dutch have left Indonesia; and the French are leaving Indo-China. I do not complain about all this. These processes were inevitable. They were part of our declared policy and arose largely out of our own actions. However, I wonder whether all of us in this House tonight realise what are the implications of them and to what extent they have resulted in a dramatic deterioration in world security and also to a large extent in the economic situation.
So far as security is concerned, for the past two centuries the world has always assumed that that great arc of territory lying between Suez and Singapore under the control of the British would remain one of the secure and peaceful parts of the world We have assumed during two great World Wars that the Indian army, one of the greatest fighting forces the world has ever known, would be on our side. In fact, in the last World War we could not have held the Middle East without the Indian army. Let us look at the situation today.
India is divided into two, Burma is on the point of dissolution, and it still 224 remains to be seen whether Indonesia without Dutch help can save itself from chaos and civil war. This I would say, however, that unless there is some drastic change for the better in the next couple of years, nothing can prevent widespread famine over a large part of Asia. For example, it was difficult enough to maintain the growing population of India even on a low subsistence level when India was one and had peace and order within its own borders—India, whose population increases by a net five million every year and an extra 50 million in India have to be fed every 10 years. It was difficult enough in all conscience to maintain a low standard of living then, but how much more difficult it is now, with the channels of trade blocked between the two, with a vast part of the budgets of these two countries spent on warlike aims. I can remember when I was in India how the British Government were criticised because they spent nearly 50 per cent. of the annual budget on defence. Today nearer 80 per cent. is being spent on the army, the navy and the air force.
That is the problem so far as South-East Asia is concerned—the economic deterioration which has arisen, perhaps inevitably as a result of the withdrawal of the European Powers from that part of the world. It would have been difficult enough for these new countries to have stabilised themselves if there had been no outside force to hinder them, but they have not had time. Before they have emerged, as it were, from the chrysalis stage, they have had to face all the onslaught of a militant Communism. Stalin has remembered what I believe Lenin once said, that the quickest way to Paris may be via Calcutta and Peking.
In the face of all those happenings—in the face of the growth of Communism throughout Asia, in the face of this deteriorating economic situation in India and South-East Asia—what is the policy of His Majesty's Government? If the spoken words mean anything, then it is difficult to detect any policy at all. The Foreign Secretary appears to have viewed the loss of 400 million people in China to the other side of the Iron Curtain with more equanimity than he would have viewed the loss of the London bus drivers from the Transport and General 225 Workers' Union. Yet it is certainly a serious state of affairs, a frightening state of affairs, when we consider that that percentage of the human race must now rank itself on the other side of the Iron Curtain.
We have had the Colombo conference and, although it is some time ago, I hope this House will insist on hearing from the Foreign Secretary what actually happened there. What precisely came out of the conference? Judging by published reports I should say nothing. Judging by what one hears from behind the scenes, worse than nothing. My information is that the conference did far more harm to Commonwealth relations than it ever did good. I would put this question to the Foreign Secretary if he were here: what was the point in his recognising Communist China three days before he reached Colombo? If that conference was not called to discuss the recognition of Communist China, what was it called for? The whole object of that conference was to see whether it was possible for the Commonwealth countries to reach common agreement on the recognition of Communist China, and yet three days before the right hon. Gentleman arrived in Colombo he recognised the Communists?
What overwhelming thing happened between his leaving here and arriving in Colombo that the right hon. Gentleman had to recognise them in that way? Did he not realise that General Mao Tse Tung, the Communist leader, was in Moscow at that moment? Did he imagine that any answer would be given to his overtures until the General came back? Were we under any obligation to India to follow her in the recognition of Communist China? Although it is two months since the conference was held, there can be no greater condemnation of the action of the right hon. Gentleman than the fact that Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States have not recognised Communist China today.
What happened that made it worth while antagonising our partners in the Commonwealth? What was it that made it worth while antagonising the United States? Have the results justified it? Have we had the slightest consideration from Peking since it happened? All we have had is a surly nod, and that is all. What has happened to British commercial interests in China? The expropriation still 226 goes on. Have we got back the Kailan coal mines in North China? Is it any easier for British merchants in Shanghai to do business than before? Is there any more trade flowing through Hong Kong from Communist China than there was before recognition?
I suggest to the House that the right hon. Gentleman ought to give some explanation of his extraordinary conduct in convening under his aegis an Imperial conference and then, before it is held, cutting the ground from under the feet of all our Commonwealth partners in the way it was done. In other words, this is a policy which has not been justified either by morality or results. And what did the right hon. Gentleman get as a result of his visit? It is true that he had the opportunity of seeing Buddha's tooth in Kandy—I hope he enjoyed it—and that he also had the pleasure of being entertained by an extremely hospitable and friendly Dominion. However, we do not want any more Colombo conferences if that is the way they are handled and if that is the result of them.
What happens next so far as China is concerned? Is there to be any attempt to carry the United States with us? Shall we try to have some common policy with the other Dominions? Or do we just hang about waiting for some crumbs to drop from the Peking table? I agree with the hon. Member for Gloucester, West, when he implied that in the long run no outside ideology can dominate China. I believe that to be true—in the long run; but it is not the long run of which I am afraid. It is the short run, the next five years, that I am afraid of. The treaty which has been signed between China and Russia looks all right outwardly, but what are the secret clauses? Will the next thing be that we shall see Chinese armies marching through Indo-China and Siam, attacking Malaya? What have we got out of the wreck of all this business except discredit in the world and antagonism between our Allies and the Commonwealth?
One of the illusions from which, I think, a number of hon. Gentlemen opposite appear to suffer is that we can stop Communism in Asia entirely by giving economic help. I admit that hunger and suffering are one of the causes of Communism, but that is not the only reason why Communism comes to a 227 country. It was not because of suffering and want that Communism came to Czechoslovakia. It was the Russian army which brought it. It is not suffering and want that makes a man into a Communist, otherwise the Dean of Canterbury would not be one. So far as I know, he has never lacked three square meals a day and I have never seen him begging for his bread.
§ Mr. Philips Price
Would the hon. Member agree that military force is not the only way to deal with Communism and that there are other ways also, which I have indicated?
§ Mr. Gammans
I agree. I am trying to dispel the illusion which started when the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Minister of Fuel and Power, who at the time was Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, landed in Colombo. He said, or is reputed to have said, that he did not favour any sort of Pacific Pact but that by means of economic help Communism could be warded off from Asia. That statement is nonsense; it is not true. What is far more dangerous is to give the people of Asia the belief that we are in any position whatsoever to provide that help. Surely, this country had better stand upon its own feet before it can talk about giving help to anybody else. Therefore, if we imagine that we are to produce some wonderful scheme, much as we would like to, to help South-East Asia and to save it from Communism, we are shutting our eyes to reality and we shall wake up some morning and find the Russians battering at the gates of Singapore.
I must refer to one other topic which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Gloucester West, who asked whether we had given up hope of preventing war breaking out between India and Pakistan. Those two countries cannot get very much further before war does break out. The next thing that will happen is that live ammunition will be put into the breechblocks; and if that tragedy should happen its only result will be that the hammer and sickle will be flying from the flag posts on Cape Comorin, from which the Union Jack was pulled down only two years ago. It is only two years since we left India. Have we to admit 228 that our influence today is so negligible with those two Dominions that we have to sit still and do nothing? Can we not give any sort of help and guidance that would prevent this appalling catastrophe?
Now, a word about Burma. Great play was made by the Prime Minister during the election about his, or his Government's, successes in Asia. He did not say anything about Burma. I do not want to go back over the past except to remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that all that we on this side of the House predicted would happen in Burma has, in fact, happened. It has come about rather more quickly than we feared; but it has happened. We have poured over £70 million into Burma trying to bolster up a Government that was hopeless from the start. The money has been lost. All that has happened since then is that we have seen British interests in Burma expropriated either without any compensation at all or with compensation which is absolutely derisory. We have in Burma a military mission which, I am told, is treated with absolute contempt. British arms have been poured into the country and used chiefly for fighting the Karens. Now, according to the Estimates in front of the House, we are to be asked to subscribe a little more money. If £70 million could not save Burma, is it likely that another £500,000 will do so?
The truth is that only a miracle can save Burma. I should be very surprised and pleased if anything whatsoever remains of Burma as a separate political entity in five years' time. What is much more likely to happen is that Northern Burma will be taken over by the Chinese and that, as far as Southern Burma is concerned, India will have to decide whether she can afford to see the Irrawaddy Delta, with all its rice supplies, fall into Communist hands.
I conclude by referring to the Colonial Empire. I hope that the Lord President of the Council will arrange that there shall be a full-scale Debate on the Colonial Empire, at least before Easter. I have known the Colonial Empire all my life and I have never known a time when it was in such a state of upheaval and, in some cases, semi-bedlam, as it is today. In Malaya we have 70,000 British troops and police who have been trying to round up 3,000 ill-armed bandits. Throughout all last year we were given to understand 229 that the trouble was nearly over, but now we hear that it still goes on. From the newspapers this morning we read that five more people have been murdered on the roads. Still we hear of unarmoured vehicles being ambushed. What has happened to the armoured cars that were supposed to arrive there 18 months ago? Surely this House is entitled to have some sort of post mortem on what has been happening in Malaya in the last two years.
The West Indies are seething with fury over the sugar contract and in the West Indian papers we can read banner headlines about their wanting secession from the British Empire. Policemen have been murdered on the Gold Coast. There are riots in Nigeria. In Cyprus the Enosis movement has now reached the stage when over 90 per cent. of the Greek population want to leave the Empire altogether. Rude things are being said about Malta. In fact, I do not know of any part of the Colonial Empire where there is not dissatisfaction with the Home Government, unless it is Tristan da Cunha or Christmas Island. Wherever else one goes there is this state of dissatisfaction and upheaval. Only yesterday morning I had a letter from Barbados in which the following remarks appeared:During my entire lifetime there has never been an occasion when there was such a feeling of resentment in the Colonies against the manner in which their affairs were conducted by the Colonial Office.I know that after the war there were bound to be an adjustment period and difficult times, for which I would be the last person to blame the Government. I think, however, that some of the trouble is due to their ill-advised attempts to rush through Constitutions without the slightest thought for anybody except a very vocal urban population and certainly without any regard whatsoever for the vast majority of the people in the countryside. Some of the trouble is due to the fact that the Government do not seem to have realised that the first responsibility of any Government is to govern.
In the West Indies, in particular, the trouble today is one of the by-products of state trading. I do not want now to dilate on their respective merits, but there is all the difference in the world between long-term contracts and State trading; and one of the things against which we have warned the Government throughout 230 the past five years is the evil political effects of Governments buying from Governments. As far as sugar is concerned, it does not matter in the least politically if sugar growers in the West Indies call Tate and Lyle sharks and robbers—there are no political repercussions to that; but it does matter if they call the right hon. Gentleman a Shylock, or His Majesty's Government a robber.
§ Mr. Harrison (Nottingham, East)
Would the hon. Member say that some of his own contributions, widely read in the Far East, have not been a factor in contributing to the trouble he is describing?
§ Mr. Harrison
I was referring to some of the articles which the hon. Member has written, particularly in the Hong Kong and Far Eastern newspapers, which we have read with interest, but with which we have not agreed in any shape or form.
§ Mr. Gammans
I am sorry the hon. Member has not agreed with them, but what I wrote happened to be true. The hon. Member may not have liked it, but nevertheless, it was true. Perhaps he will not deny that there never has been a time when there has been more widespread dissatisfaction in the Colonial Empire than at this moment and it is His Majesty's Government who are responsible for it and must supply the explanation.
Take Malaya: I wonder whether the Foreign Secretary has realised that one of the repercussions of recognising Communist China is that he has now to permit Communist consular agents in Singapore, Penang and Kuala Lumpur. Is that going to make the problem easier? All this has happened under the previous Colonial Secretary and, although I have criticised him on many occasions, nevertheless I have a great regard for him personally. He brought to his task a passionate love of the Colonial Empire and a very great knowledge of its problems.
But what about the right hon. Gentleman who has now taken on the job? I do not want to be personal to him. I think that in the post he previously held, he occupied it with great distinction. He 231 carried out a very difficult task of bringing in the National Insurance Scheme. It was not easy, but I do not know of any member of the Government who could be more miscast, in his own interests, for the post of Colonial Secretary. As far as I know, he has an abysmal ignorance of all its problems, and I am sure that the Prime Minister in this appointment is not going to give any confidence to the Colonial Empire at a time when confidence was never more required.
Let me warn the Government of two things. The first is that Russia will certainly make a dead set at every part of the Colonial Empire. They have done so in Malaya, and the Kremlin has never had better value than it has received from subsidising 3,000 guerillas in the jungle. They have immobilised a complete division of British troops who at this moment ought to be in Germany. I suggest to the Colonial Secretary that his first priority for the next few years is not to boast about the number of constitutions he has doled out or even the number of trade unions which have become Communist hot-beds as in Malaya, but that he should pride himself on the maintenance of law and order and the protection of these overseas territories against this deliberate onslaught of Communism.
The second danger on which I warn the Government is that the Empire may become even more weakened and break up for political and economic reasons. I do not think we can stand many more Colombo conferences like the last. We cannot keep the Commonwealth in the sterling area unless this country earns a greater and growing percentage of the dollars. It is all very well for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to boast about the way in which our dollar reserve has been increased—I am glad it has—but, in fairness, he should tell us to what extent that is due to increased exports from this country and to what extent from the increase of prices Australians have had for wool and the higher prices Malaya has been getting for its rubber.
In home affairs we may not have a very exciting programme before us. To a large extent I think this country is suffering from a legislative hang-over, a sort of boozer's gloom, which comes from too much indulgence. Possibly, a few 232 months in bed will not do the House of Commons any harm in that respect. I warn the Government that although that may be all right at home, foreign affairs and Imperial affairs are not standing still. Unless we are prepared to abandon Asia to Communism, and if we are to prevent this growing dissatisfaction by the Colonial Empire with the home Government, the Government here must certainly take more drastic action than in the past. If they do so they will receive the support, not only of this party, but of the country as a whole.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
The hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) like his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) have run true to Tory form in their views on conditions in the East generally and China in particular. As the hon. Member for Hornsey said, these great communities in the East have had no time to emerge from the chrysalis stage to face what he calls militant Communism. Who is more responsible than his own party for having neglected for all these years, particularly in India, the striving of people who wanted to come out of the chrysalis stage and who have struggled for self-government? Who for years and years have had their claims for self-government accorded by leading statesmen and commissions in this country and who was it who through all the years stood in the way of the natural progress out of the chrysalis stage up to the point at which there is very little left for them but to choose between what we can offer for their help and what the hon. Member calls a militant Communism can offer for their help?
I urge that in that text, provided by the hon. Member for Hornsey, is the central situation that the House of Commons has today to face not only in regard to the situation in the East, but in regard to the whole position of our foreign relationships in every part of the world. The hon. Member for Hornsey is thoroughly sceptical and derisive about any good done at Colombo. While I support the stand that has been taken in Colombo against the notion of trying to ring in Communism by a sort of political and military alliance in the East and, in place of that, the acceptance of the claim 233 of Nehru, do not forget that we owe things to India that are good as well as the things of which the hon. Member for Hornsey has spoken.
When Nehru insisted that he would have no part in trying to hold down China in some position where the rest of the world would organise their forces against her, he set us a lead and the Government have been doing well to resist taking any part in that tendency and to give their support to what the hon. Member for Hornsey further derided—an attempt to build up the economic arrangements out of which the peoples of the East, as well as ourselves, may secure some permanent benefit. He seems to think that the work of rebuilding the world so that all the peoples of the world may take part in this policy of fair shares for all—fair shares with reference to the food of the world—would have no influence at all in the pacification from our point of view of those very difficult areas.
§ Mr. Gammans
Does the hon. Member realise that, as a result of the chaos in Burma, the output of rice has been halved? Does he realise that because of the growing chaos in Indonesia, we cannot get either sugar, or tea? Does he realise what is happening in India?
§ Mr. Hudson
Long before what the hon. Member has just described had taken place, there had been a breakdown in Burma, both as a result of the war and of conditions before the war. That will explain what he has just described. It does not alter the fact that if we wish to give the Burmese a new belief in what we can offer, we have to do better by them than Russian Communism can do, and any practical effort such as I believe has been made by our own Government to give Burma, India, China and Malaya a chance is the right road for us to follow if we are to achieve the pacification which we need.
I can well understand the hone Member trying to make our blood run cold about the terrible situation which now exists between Pakistan and India. I listened carefully to him when he declaimed, "Can we not give any help and guidance to India and Pakistan?" I listened to his suggestions as to what that help and guidance should be. He has sneered at the new Colonial Secretary and has sug- 234 gested that he has not the necessary knowledge of the situation there and that he cannot be expected to give the required help and guidance.
The hon. Member has had so much to say about the conditions in the East out of what he calls the practical knowledge he has won there, that one might have thought he would have stayed a little while to give the Colonial Secretary or the Government the help of his guidance when he asked his question. But no, he leaves it completely unanswered. I am now providing an answer from my point of view, namely, that the only right policy in the world, whether it be in China, in Europe generally or in Africa, is a policy frankly based on what the hon. Member for Hornsey has so much derided —an effort to build up everywhere economic arrangements that will give to people the guarantee of an existence that is more worth while than any attempt to try to settle their difficulties by war.
Having made that general statement of the principle according to which I wish to offer my suggestions tonight, I turn away from the hon. Member's examination of the difficulties in the East to ask again the question about how it has come about that in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) today there has been no reference to that prime issue which he raised during the General Election concerning the hydrogen bomb. He said that his speech in Edinburgh had resounded through the world, and to make quite sure that it went on resounding and reverberating he went to Manchester and let loose again the idea of an approach on a high level to Mr. Stalin himself. Can Conservatives really come to this House and talk about the utter untrustworthiness of Communism, about the inability of the Communists to make arrangements and stand by them, about their treachery and about all the other things which they vituperated against Russia, and continue to make those statements when their Leader has proposed in a General Election that we should go and put our arm round the neck of the arch criminal himself?
What does it all mean? Is it after all only a question of winning votes in an election and then dropping the subject, as it has been dropped here today, without any further reference? In my view 235 the time has come for us to start de novo with this question of East and West. I know the difficulties. In the last Parliament, when I had less experience than I now have mine was the first voice which was then raised, before the Prime Minister went out to America to talk to the American President, to suggest personal contacts at the highest level with the rulers of Russia. I now understand that one has to go a long way before one talks about personal conversations in the way which the right hon. Member for Woodford talked in Edinburgh.
I know the "usual channels" which have been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester, West (Mr. Philips Price), and in which he seems to have much more faith than I have. Had we stuck to the usual channels where India was concerned, India would still be in the old situation from which she has been raised. The usual channels cannot always be used. In the situation represented by the hydrogen bomb the most unusual channels will have to be tried if we are to consider the fate that lies in store for these islands perhaps more than for any other part of the world. We have already become the armed point from which the hydrogen bomb attack will be directed if we can hold off and not merely become the object of attack from elsewhere.
I assert now that one of the reasons why the Tories have won from a deluded public much of the support of which they have been able to boast here this afternoon, was because of that false appeal by their leader upon this issue, an appeal which he never intended to follow through and about which he has not another word to say now that he comes to the House of Commons and is confronted by the problem which faces him equally with us.
§ Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)
The hon. Member referred to a "false appeal." Was not the appeal of my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford related to the event of his being returned to power? He is not the Prime Minister of this country, he is the Leader of the Opposition: he has no authority.
§ Mr. Hudson
Judging by the right hon. Gentleman's bragging this afternoon 236 he is sufficiently near to power—only six votes away from it—to be able to tell the Government, who, he says, have lost, what they ought to do in the situation. I am only saying that the right hon. Gentleman had not a word to say on this proposal which he put forward as the principal issue in the General Election.
§ Mr. Hudson
The hon. Member will not be able to complain that I run away from my responsibilities. When an attempt has been made, as it must again be made, to re-examine the issue of a new approach to Russia, probably with a new willingness to face the whole issue of the use of the hydrogen bomb, and especially to face the issue which the right hon. Member for Woodford has imposed upon us, we have for the last four or five years treated Russia as an outcast. We have been saying that we will hold the atom bomb in readiness for dealing with Russia. We have not said it quite so precisely as that, but everyone knows that that is what has been meant. As the old mechanical law states, action and reaction are equal and opposite, and our treatment of Russia, the willingness to hold Russia in her place by the threat of the atom bomb, has helped to make Russia the intransigent nation she has proved to be in every international conference that has been held since the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford left us with this problem to solve.
I say "has helped to make Russia" for I will not allow Russia to get away from her responsibility. We have to reverse that attitude—how, I cannot clearly lay down. I am speaking sympathetically to the Government about their difficulties. I am saying to the Prime Minister, who told the House yesterday that it is good will we want in the settlement of this difficulty, "What is good will?" How else can we procure good will except finally by a personal approach? Good will cannot be created by the "usual channels." They can only make, and must make, their contribution. But ultimately—and especially when it is a question of a great totalitarian nation like Russia with power centred in one personality—it is necessary to encounter that personality and challenge him with the wickedness of the policy of leading the world towards such 237 destruction as would be involved if ever the hydrogen bomb is let loose on us.
It is because I feel that so intensely that I am asking, as I asked at the beginning of the last Parliament, that no step which can be taken shall be left untaken by this Government. I have every confidence that they will take every step, to find new approaches to the peoples of the East and to Russia in particular in an effort to find what we have hitherto entirely failed to find, a new agreement by which the hydrogen bomb shall be finally ruled out of the world.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Wing-Commander Bullus (Wembley, North)
I rise with all the usual diffidence and I crave the generosity of the House for a few minutes of patience for a new Member. At the outset, I wish to pay tribute to the generosity that I and other new Members have already experienced from the "old hands" in the corridors and the smoke room. They have made our introduction here so much easier. If Providence and a kindly electorate decree that I should be returned in another Parliament, I can only hope that I may show the same generosity to other new Members as has been extended to me and to other colleagues during the past few days.
I crave the generosity of the House to speak for a few minutes on the Gracious Speech. I am one of those who take hope from the penultimate paragraph:Other measures will be laid before you if time permits ….I am one of those who are concerned because the very important problem of housing has been left out of the Gracious Speech. I hope that does not mean that it is not now considered to be a number one priority. I hope that while there are homeless people in this country this question of housing will always be considered as a number one priority. During the two years since I was selected as Conservative candidate for Wembley North, it has been my privilege and pleasure to go to many houses in my constituency. In recent months I went to one part of the constituency where a number of people are living in huts. I sought the co-operation of one householder and asked if I might enter that hut to see the conditions in which 238 these people lived. The conditions were heart-rending, particularly so when one lady said to me, "You see, I have two small children and I am expecting another in June." Pathetically she added, "And I don't want to see it born here." I could only join in that sentiment.
On my election platform I said—and it is my sincere belief—that it is the desire of everyone in this House to see this problem solved. I say that it is not a political problem and that is why in my maiden speech I ask that all opportunities be taken and that the Minister of Health seek the help of the building industry. Cannot we once again ask the builders to set the pace so that more houses can be built? Is the shortage of timber the limiting factor? Is it beyond the genius of this House to find a substitute material for timber? Only the other day I read that the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) had in 1944 considered the possibility of a substitute for timber in the building of houses. Cannot we explore further along this avenue? Cannot we have regard to building costs today? That is a very important factor. Could not we consider whether the Minister of Health should implement that Section of the 1936 Housing Act which enables him to give power to local authorities to sell municipal houses to sitting tenants? I suggest that that would greatly ease the financial burden which we face today in connection with the problem of housing.
As one who has enjoyed some responsibility in local government affairs for 20 years, I am a little concerned that no mention is made of the possibility of the reform of local government. I believe that this is an unsettling influence, and I think it is one of the problems to which this House within the space of this Parliament might reasonably apply its deliberations.
I am considerably concerned at the growth of crime, particularly in these last few months and particularly within the Metropolitan area. We have heard tributes paid to our women, and yet we know that today many women are afraid to remain alone in their houses at night or even to traverse the King's public highway. I read with interest in one of the Sunday papers an article by the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) in which he suggested—and I agree with him—that we should consider 239 the re-introduction of flogging and the cat for those hooligans who lie in wait for and attack women in this country.
I realise the peculiar circumstances in which this House finds itself, but surely in those very circumstances we have our opportunity. If we can forget some of the political prejudices and go forward in this 39th Parliament, I think that before we go to the electorate on the next occasion, we may justifiably claim to have solved some of the problems which face us today.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Booth (Bolton, East)
I, too, crave the indulgence of the House. With regard to the Gracious Speech the main thing to me—and I said a lot about it in the Election campaign, as did many others —is the steps to be taken to maintain full employment. I would go so far as to say that we did not say enough about it, in spite of the fact that the Opposition said that we made an over-play about it. For example, the Leader of the Opposition this afternoon said we made an unworthy reference to the phrases and statements used about "empty bellies." I am one of those mild kind of people who think that the average hon. Member opposite would not like to see circumstances such as that. But one of the accusations of the Opposition about the nationalised industries is, that we have taken the human content out of them. We have put it in, in many instances. It is to the credit of this Government that they have been able to persuade men to go into the pits willingly to help to solve one of our major problems.
I speak with some experience. I happen to be a magistrate in my home town of Bolton. Sometimes during the war I had the unfortunate task of sending men to prison because they refused to be directed to the mines. Whenever these men came before us we always used our best endeavours and put to them the appeal made by the country, suggesting that the country was the best judge of where they could most usefully serve.
On one occasion I had an awkward obstinate young man. I could not get him to agree to anything, not even on the high call of patriotism. I asked his father into the witness box and said, "Cannot you get your boy to go into the mines?" The father replied that as a collier he had 240 vowed that no boy of his would ever go into the pit to work under the same conditions under which he had worked. The very fact that we have removed that threat from the minds of the people is a positive tribute, and the result is shown not only in the increased output of coal but in the increased stature of the men.
I have found from experience in a typical Lancashire town which suffered the blight of the inter-war years that the spirit among the men has changed. Men have said to me that it was not only taking home the pay packet that mattered, but that now they feel they count in the community. They walk about with heads held high. They are no longer drudges or drones—somebody to be pointed out. Their stature as men has been increased.
I remember an argument used yesterday by the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden). He made play with the fact that in certain countries prices were tending to fall. There is always a cause and effect. This question also can be linked with that of full employment. It is marvellous to have achieved 98 per cent. employment in spite of all that is said about conditions being propitious for the Government and all winds blowing our way. It is strange that this is the only country in the world where things have blown entirely in the way of the Government and that Marshall Aid and all the rest of it has not done the same anywhere else. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that falling prices can be attributed to increasing unemployment. It is a well-known economic fact that if a man is unemployed he will make smaller demands on consumer goods. The B.B.C. told us three weeks ago that the unemployment figure in America had risen from 3,500,000 to 4,500,000. That kind of thing contributes towards falling prices because of decreased demands.
Having said what I have said about full employment, and subscribing as I do to the view that there is an acute need for houses, I say that I am more concerned with the determination of this Government to do everything possible to further the prestige, the power and the achievements of United Nations. I, like many others, have seen Plymouth razed to the ground. Not long ago I saw Coventry for the first time and I wondered what Coventry could have been like five years ago. I think of full employment and of 241 the real and complete solution of our housing difficulties. I think of health services better than they are today and approaching the perfection limit. Then I think of the possibility of all being shattered because of the state of the world. That is the trouble.
As a visitor to the House of Commons just before the Second World War, I heard the right hon. Gentleman who was then the Member for Epping deliver a slashing attack on the new Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence. I got a feeling of impending disaster threatening a seemingly impotent House which could not see its way to do anything about it. History has a trick of repeating itself. I came back from the First World War, as many other Members of this House must have done, a disabled man having been a prisoner of war. I supported the League of Nations—an anaemic thing largely due to Governments in various parts of the world who never put their real belief or backing into it. I was fortified by the feeling that men will remember, a feeling that expressed itself in the belief that there would not be any more war. I believed that we had had our lesson about the futility, the craziness and destruction of war. Ten million men lost their lives in that war, 10 million of the cream of the manhood of the world.
What alarmed me about the Second World War, when I had passed the combatant stage and when I was up to my neck in Civil Defence, was not the feeling that war would not come again, but the inevitability of it coming again, the feeling of waiting for the third conflict to break upon the world. I know the misery caused by the lack of houses and I remember seeing the tube stations filled with women with children at their breasts; but if we fall down on housing, if the social services are suspended, but the world is saved by a Government which makes the United Nations a living and powerful organisation, then this country again will have saved not only herself by her exertions but, please God, the world by her example.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Spence (Aberdeen, West)
It has never before fallen to my lot in this House to have the honour of speaking after the maiden speech of a new Member, but 242 tonight I have this privilege of congratulating two speakers—one from the Right and the other from the Left. I know that I am expressing the feeling of the House when I say that we have appreciated the deep sincerity and knowledge shown in the speeches we have heard from the hon. and gallant Member for Wembley, North (Wing Commander Bullus) and the hon. Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Booth). We shall look forward to their participation in our Debates in future.
One of the charms of a Debate on the Address at the beginning of a Session is that the Rules of Order are fairly wide and, therefore, the topics to which one can refer are varied. I hope I shall be forgiven by the hon. Member for Ealing, West (Mr. J. Hudson) if I do not continue with the Colonial theme which he and my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) pursued. I wish to draw the attention of the House to that part of the Gracious Speech which dealt with the need for the production of more food. I consider that that is one of the vital matters which will come before us in the coming months and years. It provides one of the real and major ways of meeting a great part of the dollar deficit. Reference to food production was made in the speech by the hon. Member for South-Western Norfolk (Mr. Dye), who moved the humble Address. The subject was also mentioned in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and again in the speech of the Lord President of the Council.
There has been something lacking in what has been said on this vital topic. The main emphasis is placed on the encouragement of marginal farming, but I say that the main emphasis should rather be placed on the supply of raw material for the agricultural industry to enable it to develop its full potential. The mover of the Loyal Address referred to the question of animal production, and spoke with some satisfaction of the increase in the number of sheep. The hon. Gentleman pointed out that the number had now reached 19,500,000; but we should keep in mind the fact that the pre-war figure was over 26 million, and in fact very nearly 27 million. The hon. Gentleman also referred to the increase in the number of pigs in this country. The figure which he gave of the present total was 243 2¾ million, and that is satisfactory up to a point, but again we must remember that the pre-war figure was 4¼ million, and we still need a million and a half to reach the 1938 figure. We must also remember that the eventual task of all firming is to get an increase of 50 per cent. on the 1938 figures.
The main difficulties which the farmer experiences today in the stepping up of his livestock production concerns the question of feedingstuffs. If we turn to pig production and compare our progress in this country with what has been done in other countries, we shall see what a very low figure we have per head of the population. I will quote a few figures from Sir John Bodinnar, which show that in Denmark there are two pigs for every single person in the population. In Canada, the ratio is one in three, in bizone Germany it is 4.5, and in this country there is only one pig for every 16 people. I think that shows how far in this one particular production we could go providing the feedingstuffs were available.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. George Brown)
I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not want to be unfair to the home industry. Any set of figures for pigs concerning home agricultural production should be related to the other figures of animal production at the same time, and to pick out the figures for pigs alone is misleading. I was in Denmark, and I can tell the hon. Gentleman that our agriculture has increased in both efficiency and output far more than that of Denmark.
§ Mr. Spence
I should like to reply to that point. We are running a risk at present in stressing cereal production to too great a degree, when by carrying more livestock we could get better results. I therefore suggest that we are still following the war-time policy of cereal production which was dictated by a shortage of shipping, and that we are not following a wise livestock policy, which is the right one. We can with advantage pursue this particular line further, and I would make reference to the promises which have been made time and again from the Front Bench opposite that feedingstuffs were to be brought in, even at the expense of precious 244 dollars. We have also had from the Minister of Agriculture himself an announcement that an all-out drive could not be made, and that will be within the recollection of the House.
On the question of agricultural production, the Lord President did something which was a little less than justice to my party. This afternoon he certainly gave the impression—or attempted to do so—that it was entirely due to a Socialist Administration that the agricultural industry is in a flourishing state. If we examine the administrative record from 1929 to 1939, it can be seen clearly who it was who helped to put agriculture on the right road, because every single Measure introduced by the Government since 1932 greatly benefited the industry. There were subsidies for cereals, for ploughing and for livestock, and all of them were opposed by hon. Members opposite in 1932, 1934, 1935 and 1937. The reason for that opposition was stated by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer when he said that no major expenditure could be made on agriculture until the land had been nationalised. That was the basis, and I think that if hon. Gentlemen care to look up the quotation from HANSARD, they will find that that is what took place.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Give the quotation."]—This is what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said:We believe that, in any large expenditure upon agricultural policy, nationalisation must take first place."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd March, 1932; Vol. 262, c. 1228.]My next point on the subject of agriculture concerns the attitude of the Government towards rural housing. I remember that, within a fortnight of this House meeting in 1945, we heard that the Housing (Rural Workers) Act was repealed and we were told that it would be replaced with something better: "more fruitful" were the actual words used by the then Lord Privy Seal. We had to wait until 1949 for a new Housing Act, which included reconditioning. The tied cottage, which is the backbone of farming, at any rate in Scotland, is excluded from participation in grants for reconditioning. That is a situation which I hope the Government will reconsider, because we have got to do something to improve these cottages. If the Government will look at the situation of these farms, they 245 will realise that it will be years before building can overtake the heavy arrears. We must do something to provide better cottages in a shorter time, but it is not possible for Scottish farmers, for whom, in the main, I am speaking tonight, to untie these cottages, owing to widely dispersed areas and the remote conditions under which much of the farming work is done. I therefore hope that the Government will have another look at the question and perhaps in this Parliament will make some provision whereby grants for reconditioning may be made available to farm cottages.
§ Mr. G. Brown
I should like the House to be quite clear on this. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree that the position under the Act is that a cottage could be turned into a tenancy with the very limited freedom for the tenant of being taken within the limits of the Rent Restriction Acts, and if that is done, the farmer can get the grant for reconditioning. I do not see what the hon. Gentleman is grumbling about.
§ Mr. Spence
This matter was fully discussed by the Scottish Grand Committee and all these points were raised then, when it was suggested that this course was economically indefensible. It is impossible for a composite farmer in the scattered areas of Scotland, where all the men working on the farms live in cottages attached to them, to untie these cottages, because the farm would no longer be a saleable asset if the cottages on it did not belong to it.
I now want to mention a non-party matter. It is one concerning the Representation of the People Act, under which we have just fought the General Election. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made a suggestion of a very sweeping nature today, but it was repelled by the Lord President in his reply. I would make a more limited appeal now and say that we should set up an all-party committee to examine the working of the electoral machinery under that Act. I do not suggest that we should bring in party political issues of any kind, but while there are many good points in the Representation of the People Act, there are also many bad points, and it is the duty of Parliament to see that people may vote as freely and as fairly as possible. I suggest that we should have 246 an inquiry into the working of that Act while the experience of the election is still fresh in our minds. I can mention four or five things which are wrong and which could be put right. Now is the time to set up a committee to examine the views of voters, of political party organisers, of candidates, of returning officers, and, in fact, of everyone connected with administration in the election to see if it cannot be made better. I hope that the Government will yield to this appeal, and will set up a committee to try and improve the present state of affairs.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Albu (Edmonton)
I am sure that the hon. Member for West Aberdeen (Mr. Spence) will excuse me if I do not follow him in his arguments about agriculture because it is many years since my constituency was an agricultural area. On his last point, provided that it does not involve changes in the method of representation, I agree that there may be something in what he says because there is no doubt that in many constituencies difficulty was experienced in the working of the new Act.
However, I wish to return to the main subject of today's Debate—the economic problems which face our country, particularly the questions of our balance of trade, the maintenance of full employment and the fair distribution of the products of industry within this country. There is no doubt that these are the most important social aims of our society without which there can be no social or political stability. In reply to the taunts which hon. Members opposite throw at us from time to time of not being non-resisters to Communism and, in fact, of preparing the way for Communism, I would remind them that in the election which we have just fought we have completely wiped out all Communists and all those who supported Communist arguments.
I should have thought this was a startling example of what can be achieved under a Social Democratic Government in the maintenance of free democratic institutions and of the free democratic social and political procedures which we all support. I would also have thought that the only enduring basis for peace, as has been well put by hon. Members on this side, was the raising of the standard of living of the many areas in the world 247 where it is at present still too low, and the strengthening of the stability of those Governments, particularly of Western Europe, which although they may be Governments of the right at the moment are undoubtedly in an unstable position, and are very seriously threatened by strong Communist parties.
I make no excuse for talking mainly about the maintenance of full employment. It was said many years ago by someone not a Socialist that we are all Socialists now, and I believe that many of those who do not believe in full employment now say that they do because they find it of value to say so when electioneering. But those who will the end must will the means, and so far we have heard nothing on this matter from the benches opposite. The Opposition have never clearly stated where they stand on this matter. They had the opportunity of doing so during the election, but they chose instead to go to the country with a series of bribes and promises of reduced taxation and more of everything for everybody. But a reduction in taxation and increased supplies of dollar products must lead to a gross inflation mainly at the expense of the lower income groups and the beneficiaries of the social services.
It is difficult to know what are the real views held by the Opposition because they stretch all the way from the apparent social democracy of the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) to what I have always understood to be the good old 19th century Liberal laissez faire attitude of the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles).
§ Mr. Albu
The National Party, but again without policy or principle. One of the most amusing speeches or incidents in a speech today has been the description of himself by the hon. Member for Chippenham as "a little inflationist." I have always understood that he was a leader of the deflationary section of the Conservative Party. In the past he has advocated the freeing of trade and of restraints on incomes and profits which must inevitably have led to a great inflation which could only have been cured by a gigantic deflationary policy. Such a deflationary policy, were it to take place as hon. Members Opposite so frequently propose, 248 would create a very great degree of unemployment and we should finally have to balance our economy at a much lower level than prevails at the present time.
The hon. Member for East Bolton (Mr. Booth) in a sincere and interesting maiden speech pointed out that there was a very simple way of rapidly reducing prices by pursuing as in the past a deflationary policy. I would remind the House that the cost of living reached its lowest point in this country in 1933 when the figure of unemployment reached the record total of 2,900,000. Thereafter it rose continuously under Conservative government until in 1940 it was half as much again as in 1933, based on the old cost-of-living index. There is no doubt at all that in the 1930's the salaried classes in this country—of which I was one—did extremely well. Those who kept their employment had a higher standard of life than ever before. There was a higher sale of luxury goods such as motor cars than ever before, and provided that one had an income above £300 to £400 a year one could live very well indeed.
There is no doubt that it is to those people that the Conservative Party have been appealing and reminding them again of the conditions under which they lived in the early 1930's. I wonder if those people remember that they were only enjoying their then standard of life at the expense of a large part of the industrial working class. If this is the position to which the salaried middle classes of this country want to return, then that is the correct policy for them to adopt.
I know that hon. Members like the hon. Member for Chippenham—I regret he is not here as I am making so many references to him, but one looks upon him as one of the leaders in economic policy of the party opposite—referred to the rigidities in our existing economic system and demand greater flexibility. I am sure that if he were asked he would say that he does not want a great degree of unemployment, but that there is a sort of careful balance by which there should be just enough relaxation of the present situation and just enough freeing of the present rigidities, as they are called, to allow the necessary changes to take place. But that is not good enough. We must ask, as we always do, what degree of unemployment and what number of bankruptcies this policy requires 249 and what would be the effect of such a policy on our social stability.
We on this side are prepared to face the fact that full employment must inevitably involve some inflationary pressure in certain parts of the economy. Because if you wish to reduce the demand for goods and services used by the majority of people—those with low incomes—and which involve the import of raw materials, foodstuffs and so on, if you are to have any policy which will reduce this demand sufficiently by purely financial deflationary methods you would have to have a gigantic creation of unemployment and reduce the standard of life to a much lower level than it is at present. The alternative to doing that must inevitably be, under conditions of full employment, to maintain controls and planning and the rationing of those goods in short supply where necessary.
This is the real issue that divides the two sides of the House. For this reason I welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to the steps that will be taken under any circumstances to maintain full employment and the well-being of the people including, I presume, the balancing of our trade. I suggest that speakers opposite have done less than credit to what has been achieved. Maybe they have not read the latest report by the Government to the Economic Co-operation Administration which points out that in the last quarter of last year our total net gold and dollar deficit fell to 31 million dollars, and it is estimated that only half of the reduction is due to nonrecurring items.
As for our trade with the world as a whole, it is well known that this is now in general balance. After all, this is an achievement which is better than that of any of those countries at present living under deflationary policies. I am sure we have to retain all those steps necessary to maintain full employment and to balance our trade: including the control of investments and the location of industry, control of imports and exports, control over the proportion of goods manufactured at home which must be sold for export. Much as I deplore the shortage of whisky at home I am sure it is right that we should insist that a large proportion of our manufactures are exchanged for dollars.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth and East Perthshire)
If the Government is so keen about this export of whisky, why are they maintaining a rate of taxation which is practically finishing the production of whisky?
§ Mr. Albu
I have not noticed the profits made by whisky distillers, but I very much doubt whether they are in such straits as the hon. Gentleman would lead us to suppose. I am quite certain we have to ensure that these semi-luxury goods are exported before they are sold at home to a small proportion of our population so as not to deprive the majority of the population of the food to eat, the timber to build the houses which hon. Gentlemen opposite have suddenly discovered are so important, and the cotton by which we keep our spinning mills working. If there is an alternative to this I should like to hear of it from Members opposite, particularly from those who find it so amusing. I can assure them that ordinary people of this country are not amused by that idea of an alternative to full employment.
There is one control the Government might improve, and that is the control over capital movements abroad. It is in connection with the planning and control of our economy that I believe measures of nationalisation must be considered, and it is in that connection that I am sure we shall consider when the time comes—though there is nothing further needed on our part—the nationalisation of the iron and steel industry. Does anyone believe that the steel industry of this country would be in its present satisfactory condition if it were not for Government planning of investment and for the full employment policy of this country? Why is it that in Germany, the production of steel is declining under a policy of free trade and laissez faire? If we had such a policy back in this country we should have a declining steel industry again. Apart from that, the steel industry as one of the major investing industries plays such an important part in the economy of this country that we could not afford to have it returned to the irresponsible government it had in the past.
The degree of the new legislation required depends of course on the degree of voluntary co-operation which we receive 251 in planning from both sides of industry, from employers and trade unionists. No doubt the attitude of the trade unions must be affected by what happens to the very considerable profits that are being made at the present time and which will continue to be made while the industry remains in private hands and while we have full employment. Many people on both sides of the House are now beginning to realise there is no justification for the absentee shareholders of public joint stock companies receiving all the benefits of increased profits. I believe I would carry with me to some extent the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) as I know I will carry with me the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis).
I believe we have to look at this question of profits of joint stock companies, and we certainly should not allow absentee shareholders who play no part in management and control in these companies to benefit from the full employment policy of the Government as the steel shareholders would do without nationalisation. Profits must be limited and we must recognise that large companies of this sort are no longer organs of private enterprise but bureaucratic public bodies in which the State must inevitably take great interest. If this is agreed, it may only become necessary to nationalise industries of this sort if there is no other way of insuring their compliance with the general economic policy of the Government. Meantime, I hope that in this Parliament the Government will not hesitate to come to the House for any further legislation they require in order to obtain their economic objective. On this issue of maintaining full employment and controlling our economy there must be no compromise and if this Government is unable to obtain the necessary legislation from this Parliament or feel the need for stronger support I hope they will not hesitate to bring the issue clearly before the country.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Astor (Surrey, East)
The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) made a passing reference to the Labour Party being resisters to Communism. His remarks were, intellectually, completely dishonest. This question is divided into two parts. It is perfectly obvious today 252 that the good people of Britain will vote against Communism from fear of Russia, which is apparent to nearly all of us. That is why the six or seven Communists Members in the old House are no longer with us today.
§ Mr. Astor
If the hon. Member is honest in this matter, he must turn his mind to one point and that is the Labour Party's declared creed, which during election time they are very coy in reaffirming. What are their intentions towards nationalising the means of production, distribution and exchange? think the hon. Member left no doubt in the minds of the House as to the degree of Marxism he would like to see realised. I would say that in realising a Socialist totalitarian economy we would see something which, in the final count, is indistinguishable from Communism. There are two different approaches to the problem which I feel the hon. Member might intellectually appreciate, although he may not admit—
§ Mr. Albu
I never suggested that we should nationalise all the means of production and distribution. I think the hon. Member must have missed the whole point of my argument, which was that a Social Democratic government has been proved in this country, as well as in Europe, to be the best defence against Communism.
§ Mr. Astor
In that case I think that something I may say later in my speech may be of interest to the hon. Member. In referring to my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles), the hon. Member misquoted him, I trust unintentionally. My hon. Friend, while admitting that he was born a little inflationist, was then at pains to tell the House why he is today a deflationist. The hon. Member referred to unemployment. I should like to say something about unemployment between the wars. I concede that it is not an entirely fair argument to point out that in the years between 1929 and 1931 unemployment went up as a result of the Labour Govern- 253 ment, but I would say that the Labour Party at no time advanced any cure for unemployment which was opposed by us. The idea that there is some secret formula which they have discovered since 1945 for curing unemployment is merely an illusion.
I should like to make one or two direct references to the Gracious Speech. I was pleased to see in the second paragraph a reference to Marshall Aid. This was shelved, as far as Government spokesmen were concerned, for a matter of five or six weeks, until finally the pressure of public opinion was brought to bear and something was said in one public speech about it. There is nothing, however, in the Labour Party's manifesto on the subject. This may have won the party opposite a few votes. I imagine that the object of their tactics in this respect was to carry their own supporters, because they thought their own diehard supporters would give them a working majority. This may be something of a generalisation, but on studying the results of the election geographically one sees that, on the whole, the less educated people in the country voted for Socialism and that those people who have more education and slightly more time to study these problems voted against it. It may be said that the rural areas proved an exception to that theory, but I suggest that people living in the country develop a philosophy and a certain "ca-canny"—[Laughted]—I really mean this—which escapes their friends who live a more harassed life in industry. Therefore, possibly it paid the Labour Party a slight dividend in votes, but it was not a very statesmanlike thing to do.
There is one consistent theme in the Gracious Speech, and that is the lack of any kind of principle at all. That has been confirmed since we have come together again by the Government's evident intentions with regard to the nationalisation of iron and steel. Every Member who was a Member in the last Parliament remembers the Attorney-General and many other Members on the Treasury Bench putting forward the mandate argument. They said they had a mandate for certain things and, indeed, they claimed to have a mandate for the nationalisation of iron and steel. By tacit agreement the mandate principle was to be applied again at the recent 254 election in order to make assurance doubly sure, but in fact the mandate has spoken against the nationalisation of iron and steel. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because the majority of votes were cast against further measures of nationalisation. The mandate argument cannot possibly be used in this respect.
The Prime Minister has abandoned all matters of principle. He tried to advance the mandate principle in the last Parliament, but the reason he has now dropped it is that he has once more submitted to the Left wing pressure in his own party. I personally do not want to see the Labour Party annihilated. I believe that a strong, democratic Labour Party is a healthy thing for this country, provided it is democratically inclined. Of course, I feel strongly that I would rather see it sitting on the Opposition side of the House than on the Government side. In giving way to the Left wing pressure-group and in failing to establish any principle of conduct for the Labour Party, in failing to look more than twelve months ahead, the Prime Minister has probably sold the pass to the other, the more complete Marxian wing of the Labour Party.
In 1945 hon. Members opposite came back here in considerable strength and, indeed, in very good voice, and what gave them so much of their robust approach to their victory was a firm belief in the theory of Marxism which, as a small minority group for some 25 years, they had been actively propagating throughout the country. I dare say that a good many members of the Parliamentary Labour Party still believe in the completion of the theory of Marxism, with which they were indoctrinated in 1945, certainly before they had thought out the problem of whether the thing would work or whether it would not. I am perfectly certain that some right hon. Gentlemen on the Government Front Bench still are determined to bring it about if they can. The trouble is, of course, that you cannot win a General Election by going to the people and saying in bald terms, "This is what we want; it is Marxist in character, it is totalitarian in effect; will you vote for it?" Of course, they will not. No, these right hon. Gentlemen must adopt the policy of little by little.
I feel the danger is this: in times of duress in this country the people may 255 possibly, under any Government, be suffering real anguish in terms of loss of employment and indeed loss of the necessary food to eat, and in real duress of this kind there will be a cry from the party opposite backed by promises, which is an old Marxian trick. They wile say. "If only you will pursue the Socialist 'policy to its full, logical and complete course your needs will be met."
§ Mr. Astor
I cannot give way: I must complete what I have to say. The hon. Member has just made his speech. In not establishing any principle in respect, particularly, of the iron and steel industry and of the mandate in that connection, the Prime Minister has sold the pass to that element in the Labour Party. Of course, the Prime Minister may be a Marxist, but his manner certainly belies it, as to a large extent does his reputation in the country.
May I turn to a different aspect of Government policy, and that is foreign affairs? The Prime Minister said yesterday that the fact that Parliament is almost equally divided does not mean in the least that the hand of this country in foreign affairs should be weakened in the slightest degree. It is nice to know that, but quite frankly it is not a very reassuring statement. My own belief is that we have not had strong direction or adherence to principle in our foreign policy during the last four and a half years. Exactly the same lack of principle which, as I have tried to indicate, exists on the home front has applied in our conduct of external affairs.
I think the danger has partly been that Socialism as such is intrinsically a policy of materialism. The balance sheet is added up, and some plan to make it work is attempted, and it takes very little account of the intangibles in human behaviour, which, amongst our people at this time, are perhaps the most important things we have in this country. But I am absolutely certain that to lose—as I think the Foreign Secretary has done a lot to lose—one of our greatest assets, which is inflexible honesty and adherence to principle, does this country harm. I suggest to the Foreign Secretary that he should look to history. We have had variations of this conduct in history in 256 foreign affairs. When we have been absolutely inflexible in principle, we have succeeded and have been strong: where we have been weak history has said we have failed.
I, personally, do not see anything vaguely related to principle in our recognition of the Communist Government of China. I think equally wrong was our lack of support for the claims of Yugoslavia to a position on the Security Council, and our supporting the claims by Czechoslovakia. I say that not because I think Tito is much less of a rascal than Stalin, but Tito has a degree of independence from the octopus of the slave State of the Kremlin which is operating throughout most of the Balkans and Eastern Europe. My own feeling is that behind all our attitude we were intimidated by the effects of opposing Mr. Vyshinsky in that case, and by anticipating what he might do. That was an abandonment of principle, and I think we have done nothing but lose by giving way to that pressure.
Here is another matter. Everyone is well aware that in embassies abroad behind the Iron Curtain British subjects are treated with considerable diffidence, to say the least—a marked lack of respect. The Government does from time to time say they find the situation distressing and deplorable. Yet we still harbour here in the Russian embassy a complete network of spies. If anybody can pretend that the Russian embassy here is not primarily engaged in espionage, he can believe anything.
How in the name of conscience, can we continue diplomatic relationships with those countries behind the Iron Curtain, which are completely savage and totalitarian in relation to democracy, and yet say we are too pure to have anything to do with, or to recognise, the more moderate and at least anti-Communist Government in Spain? I am not dealing with the other aspect of the matter, which is that the whole of our approach to Franco has, in fact, strengthened the hand of Franco. [Interruption.] It has. It has strengthened that régime rather than done anything to lever it open. It has failed as a practical measure and as a course of principle.
I think it is a little unfortunate that at this particular moment we should see 257 the two appointments which have recently been made to the War Office and the Ministry of Defence. I referred just now to the Prime Minister's throwing out a sop—or, at least, giving way—to pressure from the Left wing of his own party. I sincerely hope that this is not another sop to the Left wing groups abroad. When I say "Left wing" I mean left of the mean average of the Labour Party. It is bad enough to pander to this sort of thing at home, but it is even worse to pander to it abroad. The Prime Minister, I dare say, may think that in foreign affairs he has not appeased. Nor has he in relation to the general "Keep Left" element in the Labour Party which has always been pressing for a far more pro-Communist direction of our foreign affairs. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is not true."] Many hon. Members in this House today who took free Government tickets abroad at the beginning of the last Parliament and came back with a lot of extremely airy-fairy ideas as to what life was like behind the Iron Curtain, expressed their views about it in this House in no uncertain terms.
§ Mr. Astor
His Majesty's Government. [Interruption.] This insinuation is deplorable even at election time, but I think that it is particularly undignified in the House of Commons. I know that the hon. Member is making a direct reference to my family. I remember sitting down to dinner with Mr. Maisky, the Russian emissary, and I always remember it because he made such a terrific noise eating his food. Quite frankly, my family were liberal and inquisitive in the broad sense of the word. Perhaps that is wrong in the opinion of hon. Members opposite; perhaps we should apply an entirely diehard and secular view to these matters; but that is not the view I myself hold.
I believe that it is no longer reasonable to assume that Russian rearmament as we see it today is purely a defensive mechanism. I say "defensive mechanism" both in the physical term of defence and also in the psychological term as a reaction to the actions or possible actions of the United States and ourselves. I think that to try to advance that view is to be entirely unrealistic. I think that 258 it would be unworthy of the two generations of British people who fought and died in two wars for their country and for freedom if, in order to enable us to sleep better at night, we hoodwinked ourselves into thinking that Russia was still building up a merely defensive war machine. If we accept this premise, we must also accept that now is the moment to be our most firm and least compromising in every matter of detail with the Soviet Union.
I hark back to what I said about embassies, to recognition in principle of some of the Iron Curtain countries, to Spain and the like. If we continue to lose ground, it is ground that we cannot regain at the last moment, because then it is interpreted as appeasement, and it is possible that our action in trying to regain the ground will precipitate us into a war which possibly could be avoided. Now is the moment, late though it is, to apply our maximum amount of strength. I trust that when the Lord President of the Council today criticised us for referring to the danger of devaluation, which is no hidden secret, he will not criticise us for referring to the very real dangers of the bellicose attitude adopted by the Soviet Union.
I make a plea, in the desire to see a democratic two-party system continue to operate in this House, for an adherence to principle by the Labour Party, which frankly we had not seen, and a slight clarification of their ultimate aims and objects in respect of a totalitarian Socialist economy. What we also want is a firmer stand on matters of principle in our relations with countries abroad. I am perfectly certain that in the life of this Parliament it will be found that the Opposition on this side of the House will be reasonable and will support the Government when they adhere to principles and where their own treatment is reasonable. I am equally certain that we shall be quite uncompromising where the party opposite abandons all principle merely to support the chance of reviving the Left-wing claims in its own party.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)
I welcome the opportunity of following the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Astor). I can understand people, in the heat of the moment in this House, saying things of 259 which they would be ashamed afterwards, but I never thought that I would hear an hon. Member throw mud so freely as the hon. Gentleman has done, and apparently do it after previous preparation. He was very naive when he said that those with the least education voted for the Labour Party. I know many good people in my constituency who have not received the public school education of the hon. Gentleman, but they would never stoop to doing what he has just done in this House of Commons. It so happens that the whole of the former distressed areas of this country have given a resounding vote of confidence to the Labour movement.
§ Mr. Thomas
It is no use hon. Gentlemen opposite talking as though the Conservative Party won the election. Why are they sitting on the Opposition benches while we are sitting on the Government benches? Is not that sufficient reason for saying that an overall majority was given—
§ Mr. Thomas
The position is quite clear. The Opposition are annoyed and irritated because they thought they were winning, with the string of false pearls which they dangled before the womenfolk of the nation, with promises of relief in every direction, hints that unrationed petrol would be restored, and that every conceivable difficulty which confronted anybody would be solved if only they were put back into power. Never, I think, has there been a more irresponsible appeal to our people than was made by the party opposite. I am very glad that this afternoon the Radicals who sit below the Gangway gave their answer to the Leader of the Opposition.
§ Mr. Thomas
I was not dealing with iron and steel then. I do not mind doing so, because the steel workers have given 260 their answer by returning Labour Members.
§ Mr. Thomas
That is what I was told the last time, but I have come back.
There is one special issue in the Gracious Speech to which I want to draw the attention of the House, and that is the question of leasehold reform. In the Principality this is a subject of the first importance, for we suffer—as I believe Lancashire suffers—perhaps more than the rest of the country, from an antiquated system which permits honest people to be robbed, under the protection of the law, by soulless finance corporations, and by the great landed gentry of this country.
§ Mr. Thomas
Since the election literature of the party to which the hon. Gentleman belongs included a reference to leasehold reform, I presume he will be sympathetic to what I have to say, even if his noble Friends the landowners are not as sympathetic.
I wish to point out the effect that leasehold reform will have on householders and small business people. It is indeed time that the business and working people were set free from the landowners and finance corporations. I can give an illustration from my own constituency in Cardiff. In 1938, the Marquess of Bute sold half of the city to a great finance corporation.
§ Mr. Thomas
There is an hon. Member opposite on the board, although he is not present at the moment. The transaction included ground rents for 20,000 houses in Cardiff, 1,000 shops, 250 public houses, theatres and cinemas, and a large part of Cardiff docks. It is the labour of the workers in that city which has increased 261 the value of the property that is now going to the finance corporation. Within the next 10 years, half of the city of Cardiff will be taken from the business people and householders by these finance corporations, unless leasehold reform is introduced. In the Grangetown Ward, no fewer than 4,000 houses will be taken away from those who purchased them by these finance corporations, unless some action is taken during the lifetime of this Parliament, which I trust will be the case.
The electors in Cardiff are at the mercy, either of the Western Groundrents Corporation, Ltd., or the Mountjoy Estates, Ltd. They will have to pay the price demanded before they can get possession of their own property. I have an instance here where a business man in the main street of Cardiff was asked to pay £10,000 to be allowed to keep the business he and his father had built up. Set the people free from the wicked, capacious greed of these finance corporations and we shall indeed be rendering a service to the electorate of this country.
I can give another illustration. Members opposite may have had occasion to stay at the Queen's Hotel, Cardiff, which is in one of our main streets. It was leased at £30 a year. The lease fell in, and it was immediately increased to £600 a year by people who have done no work to increase the value of the property.
§ Mr. Osborne
I am not trying to defend the leasehold system, but surely the hon. Member will agree that, even if the property-owning corporations take over the capital wealth, they are only temporary tenants because it is passed on to the Chancellor of the Exchequer by way of Income Tax and Death Duties?
§ Mr. Thomas
The plausible argument of the hon. Member will be cold comfort for the little cottage owner who loses his cottage through the present cruel and iniquitous system.
I am mindful that the cry for leasehold reform was raised by a great compatriot of mine, David Lloyd George. I know he caught the heart and mind of the people of Wales when he fought this important question. We shall have the support of every good Radical in this House as we move towards leasehold reform. I would ask my right hon. and 262 learned Friend the Attorney-General to see if he cannot hurry the decision from the Committee, which has now been sitting long enough considering this subject. I know it consists entirely of legal experts, and that might account for the length of the delay, but I earnestly hope he will expedite if possible their decision on this question.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd (Mid-Bedfordshire)
As the hon. Gentleman is very fluent in regard to landlords, could be give us the benefit of his knowledge as to the recent large scale purchases by the Co-operative Society of property to insure against a fall in gilt edged?
§ Mr. Thomas
If the question had anything to do with leasehold reform, upon which I have been speaking, I would answer the question, but I do not see that it has. I am glad that, as in the past five years when we fulfilled every promise that we made at the previous General Election—[Interruption].
§ Mr. Thomas
I welcome the fact that leasehold reform is at last on its way.
Before resuming my seat, I should like to say a word about the Principality of Wales. The representation of Wales has altered. We have increased the Labour representation and we are very proud of it. We have now 27 out of the 36, and all except three of the rest are known Radicals. The people of industrial South Wales at least, place great hope in the promise that the Government themselves will see that they go into business if necessary to keep the factories going in our valleys and other areas.
§ Mr. Thomas
I have met many pessimists in my time but the darkest pessimist was an optimist beside the hon. Gentleman. He keeps looking on the dark side. We in Wales are seeing a new hope for our people. The drift away from Wales has stopped. The terrible loss through our people seeking work beyond the borders of Wales has now ended, and they are beginning to come back. We do not 263 think it is funny to talk about people wanting to come back to their homes or their hearths in Wales. There was laughter on the other side of the House just now, but full employment has proved in South Wales to be the answer to Communism where it has raised its head, for mass unemployment is the sure cause of Communism in this country. Mass unemployment must be regarded as a major enemy.
Our people in Wales are in work, and I earnestly hope that the good work which His Majesty's Government have already done for the Principality in general and for the City of Cardiff in particular will be continued. I hope we shall soon see the people in business circles and others also in our little land freed from the merciless grip of the landowner who has controlled them for far too long.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Jennings (Sheffield, Hallam)
I always get a very good welcome when I rise in this House. I wish to say one or two specific things first and then one or two general things about the Gracious Speech. As I represent the steel city of Sheffield, I would put it quite clearly that I must be here with some of the votes of the steel workers, otherwise I would not have been returned. It was very significant that during the General Election the Socialist Party candidates seemed to forget all about the nationalisation of iron and steel and never mentioned it at all in any of their speeches.
§ Mr. Jennings
I can clearly see many of the well attended meetings in many of the industrial parts of Sheffield, and I can assure hon. Members opposite that if they are under the delusion that the majority of the steel workers want nationalisation they are entirely wrong.
To me the Gracious Speech reveals the pathetic minds of the Government. I listened to the Prime Minister and also to the Lord President of the Council today and one would hardly believe that we are in the dire circumstances in which we find ourselves economically. I say without any hesitation that so far as the nationalisation of iron and steel is concerned, the challenge which we have to 264 meet is this. We shall not sell our steel abroad unless we fulfil three major points which are typical of sound business. We must make the best type of steel, we must give it at the right price and we must deliver it at the right time. That is what we are doing at the present time in the steel industry under private enterprise.
It is alarming to me to listen to the speeches of the Prime Minister, as well as the Lord President of the Council, trying to defend the Gracious Speech, which is significant for what it does not contain. I am perfectly certain that both the Prime Minister and the Lord President of the Council cannot have any idea of the conditions under which we are living and existing today in this country. They have brought out, as other hon. Members have mentioned, this question of full employment. There never was a bigger deception put across to the electorate than that.
§ Mr. Jennings
Hon. Members opposite have bluffed a lot of the people up to the present, but at the next General Election they will not be able to bluff so many. At any rate, the real answer is that the markets of the world had been kept without our goods and our manufacturers during the period of the war. They were gasping for our manufactures and we could make any quantity almost at any price, and deliver them almost as and when we like, and there was a ready export market for our goods. That is entirely why we have had full employment, and it is a big deception to say anything else.
§ Mr. Jennings
When hon. Members opposite hear the truth they do not like it and they immediately introduce another comparison on an entirely different point, just as they have done with the housing problem. It is a fact that to say to the electors that any planning by the present Government has maintained full employment is a complete deception. I speak earnestly on this point because I believe that the products of the steel industry, particularly those from Sheffield, are of 265 the highest quality and that the industry is the best dollar earner that we have.
The Prime Minister may be appeasing some of his back benchers by saying that the Government will bring into operation in the ordinary way the Iron and Steel Act. If he is a statesman, as I should like to see him in our present difficulties, he ought to stand at the Despatch Box and say, "In the interests of the country there will be no nationalisation of the iron and steel industry." Then he would rise to greater heights. But in his arguments in defence of the Gracious Speech he waffled about and so did the Lord President of the Council. All he did was to try to taunt the Leader of the Opposition. [HON. MEMBERS: "He did it very well."] It was excellent as an acrobatic act but, after all, he was not sent here to be an acrobat. It was most undignified conduct for the Lord President of the Council. I have been a Member of this House since 1931 and I saw our fortunes in the last Parliament. We are now reinforced by a strong army and though hon. Gentlemen opposite may say that they won the General Election, there was never a better photo-finish—they just got there. I feel certain that as time goes on the Lord President of the Council will taper off. We of the Opposition are prepared to co-operate if he takes the right attitude and does not continue to think that he enjoys the same majority that his party had in the last Parliament. We are almost evenly divided.
I wish to make a plea to the Government, particularly to the Prime Minister. We are ready and willing, as the Leader of the Opposition has said, provided that the Government bring in no contentious legislation, which is only right—[Interruption.] The trouble with hon. Members opposite is that they come here thinking that they know everything. When another point of view is put one gets nothing but all this jeering, because they really do not understand the situation at all. I warn them that the economic situation before us needs extremely careful handling. Economically we are fighting for our very lives and for the employment of our people. I could not be more earnest and serious when I ask hon. Members to try, if they can, to drop the purely party line, at any rate for the time being. To nationalise iron and steel would strike a great 266 blow at our economic structure today. The acid test is this. How can a Government Department produce steel, in the conditions which I have described, on better terms than private enterprise? It is absolute nonsense to think of it.
I notice also that there is nothing in the Gracious Speech about cleaning up and making more efficient the nationalised industries. We heard a lot about it during the election, but the Government seem to have forgotten it. Now we have the coal industry and transport fighting one against the other and increasing the price of coal and thus causing a rise in the price of steel. The economic circumstances of this country should be more fully understood by the Government, because the situation of the country is serious.
I want to raise a word of alarm. We are definitely on the brink of an economic crisis, which will need careful handling, and I would say to the Lord President that, if he is more moderate in his speeches, he will get co-operation from the Opposition, but that he cannot expect us now to take what we had to take in the last Parliament, because we are boxing better and have had some reinforcements. I make this plea to the Prime Minister and the Lord President that, if they want co-operation from this side they should just soft pedal a bit and—
§ Mr. J. Jones
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me? I should like him to answer this question. Would the Opposition, in power with a majority of seven. use it to repeal the Iron and Steel Act or not?
§ Mr. Jennings
I am perfectly certain that any party which had the nation's interests at heart would immediately hold back the nationalisation of the iron and steel industry. How can hon. Gentlemen opposite put party interests before the interests of the nation, which is what they are doing in persisting with the nationalisation of iron and steel?
Any statesman worthy of the name would have stood at that Box yesterday, as the Prime Minister should have done, and said, "I realise the gravity of the economic situation in this country, and therefore I am not going to play about with a theoretical 267 policy in the iron and steel industry." But the Prime Minister did not do it, and I was disappointed. The Lord President was worse. He made a speech which was not worthy of a first-class statesman. All the right hon. Gentleman did was to criticise the Leader of the Opposition. He told the House nothing at all about the Gracious Speech, and I am perfectly certain that neither the Prime Minister nor the Lord President understands the gravity of the situation.
I want to go a little further and appeal to both of them. I am surprised that there is nothing in the Gracious Speech which places the great social evil of housing above party politics and on a national basis. If the Gracious Speech had contained something on the lines of an appeal to all parties in the House, we on this side would have given the Government every possible assistance in order to build the greatest number of houses in the shortest time. In the city of Sheffield we have a waiting list of over 23,000 people. I know something about it. Like hon. Members opposite, I get letters on the subject and I see the conditions under which people are living. I make no apology for saying that this is a great social evil which ought to be tackled above the squabbles of party politics and on a national basis. The Foreign Secretary said so in 1948, and declared that it ought to be tackled like a military operation, and I quite agree with him. I am quite certain that the Government would get co-operation from hon. Members on this side if this question were tackled on an all-party basis.
Finally, I want to say this. There are two things that will give us greater production in this country; firstly, feeding the people better, and, secondly, providing houses for them. We hear pleas and pious hopes from the Government Front Bench, and right hon. Members opposite talk about more production in a nebulous sort of way, but they do not explain exactly what they mean. The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. J. Jones) who interrupted me just now, went up and down the country before the General Election and said, "I will tell you what I mean by more production—work more hours." Why does not the Government follow his advice? The hon. Member for Rotherham put dynamite 268 under them, but he did not know it. Unfortunately, he was dynamited himself. I feel that we cannot view our situation with levity.
One hon. Member opposite talked about Socialist planning. I should like to know how he proposes to meet this problem of unemployment. On the Tyne, the Wear and the Tees there are many shipyard repairers, but much work is being taken to the Continent at 40 per cent. below the prices which they can quote. In America, shipyards are building tankers cheaper than we can build them, and are delivering them quicker. Now where is the Socialist planning? What are hon. Members opposite going to do about that problem? The Government will probably say that they will develop the trading estates, but the people cannot be absorbed in the necessary numbers by that policy.
That is a problem about which I think we might have heard something in the Gracious Speech. Today, shipowners are getting choosey. They are saying, "We want fixed prices for our ships and we also want delivery on time." There are less orders and more competition from abroad. That is the sort of thing that will shake the Government's policy from top to bottom if they do not tackle the problem now.
§ Mr. Jennings
That is a silly remark and typical of many other silly remarks which put so many members of the party opposite out of the House during the General Election.
Finally, I make this plea to the Government in all seriousness. There are many major problems which have not been mentioned in the King's Speech, and I would urge the Prime Minister, however long the life of this Parliament may be, to hold out a helping hand to all who are ready and willing to co-operate in putting the nation first and getting us out of our present difficulties at the earliest opportunity.
§ 9.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Awbery (Bristol, Central)
It is a very good thing that all the points that have been raised in this Debate can be raised on the Floor of this House in the 269 cut and thrust of Debate from both sides. Many, if not all, of the points made today were raised during the General Election, when no doubt statements were made in the heat of the moment, in an endeavour to win a seat for the Opposition or for ourselves, which could not be contradicted; but here, if a statement is made it is liable to refutation by the other side.
I wish to say a word with reference to the hon. Member for Hallam (Mr. Jennings) I do not think that the question of steel now enters into the problem at all. The problem of steel was settled at the General Election in 1945. We received a mandate from the people. Our political opponents may not think so, but we believe that we received a mandate from the people in 1945 to nationalise the steel industry, and the Measure has been placed upon the Statute Book. All the opposition possible was raised by our opponents, but despite that it was placed on the Statute Book by a huge majority, and it has now become law.
I cannot see that this Government can now deal with the question of steel. The hon. Member for Hallam said that if the Prime Minister had stood at the Dispatch Box and declared that he was going to withdraw the Measure, he would have been a great statesman. In our opinion, by standing by what has been done in response to a democratic vote of this country, the Prime Minister is a great statesman; he has not been acting like an acrobat, but has stood faithfully and honestly by his principles. The hon. Member said, "We will stand by you, and there will be solidarity in this House if you will not bring in anything with which we disagree." The Government cannot carry on like that. They have to govern the country, whether in agreement or disagreement with the Opposition, and I think the Prime Minister will act accordingly.
The hon. Member mentioned housing in Sheffield. That is a heritage of 100 years of Toryism, and it applies not only in Sheffield. As I looked around the slums of Bristol during my election campaign, I said to the people, "Here you have the relic of Toryism. In four years the Labour Government have built over 10,000 houses in Bristol alone, and they did not build slums." The hon. Member also referred to ship repairing. I would 270 remind him that ship repairing is in the hands of private enterprise at the moment; it is not a nationalised industry. Would the hon. Member ask us to take over the ship repairing industry so that it can he run and planned by this Government? If so, we might then avert some of the difficulties that he anticipates.
I rose to draw attention particularly to one phrase in the Gracious Speech. The phrase is:I am proud to recognise that My people, by a sustained endeavour, have increased industrial and agricultural production ….That has been done not by speeches either on the Conservative or Labour platforms, but by the toil and skill of the workers of this country. We have been told—and I think it is correct—that production has increased by 30 per cent. The right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) said in Wolverhampton some months ago that the industries of this country were paralysed. I am confident that the right hon. Gentleman did not believe that. He could not. If the industries of this country have increased production by 30 per cent., if we have more people working in industry today than we have ever had before, the right hon. Gentleman must have known the facts, and he could not have believed that the industries of this country were paralysed.
I wish to refer to this great body of men without whom this country of ours would have been sunk long ago. I mean the great body of workers. We have full employment; that has already been referred to in this Debate. I understand from the latest statistics that there are 22,200,000 people now in employment in this country. This is more than we have ever had before. We cannot argue against it.
§ Mr. William Colegate (Stafford, Burton)
Would not the hon. Member agree that in the 22,200,000 there were included a large number of married women who had been forced out of their homes to work, and who strongly objected?
§ Mr. Awbery
I would not agree with that at all. I would agree that there are married women in industry. I fought a Lancashire division in 1935 when 75 per cent. of the people there were unemployed and a large number of married women had to go to work because their husbands' wages were so small. There 271 are married women in industry, and they will continue to serve, as they were requested to continue to serve after the war by the Government. Because there is no argument against this full employment, which we claim has been established by a Labour Government, our opponents turn from what exists today to the dire prophecy of what is to come when Marshall Aid ends. I want to remind Members opposite, as they have been already reminded this afternoon, that for 20 years there was an average of 1,750,000 unemployed in this country. In 1922, four years after the war, there were wage reductions. There have been no wage reductions during the past four years.
§ Mr. Awbery
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will allow me to develop my argument in my own way, I will come to that. In 1922 the cost of living was higher than it is today. I was called upon to resist the reduction of wages when men working on road-making were informed one morning that there would be a reduction that day of 4d. per hour. During the four years that the Labour Government have been in power, there has been no reduction in wages. I only wish that wages had been frozen in 1922 to stop them coming down 4d. an hour. If the Conservative Party had been returned to this side of the House at this election, workers would be asking that wages should be frozen, because there would be substantial reductions taking place, as was the case in 1922. Our wages were not frozen then, they were paralysed. The only idea the Conservative Party have for dealing with an economic problem is to reduce wages. I have met employers for 25 years, and the only idea they had in their minds about solving any problem that arose was to reduce wages.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Is the hon. Member aware that between 1924 and 1939 wage rates rose by 6 per cent. while the cost of living fell by 15 points?
§ Mr. Awbery
I was quoting 1922. I was an official of a union dealing with wage reductions, and the cost of living was higher then than it is now. I want the Government to deal with a problem 272 which was raised by an hon. Member earlier today. It concerns profits. I think it was the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) who said that profits were too easily made.
§ Mr. Awbery
I would not expect such a remark from the hon. Member for Hallam. It was made by one of the other hon. Members opposite, who said that profits were too easily made. If wages are to be frozen, then the workers of industry have the right to ask, "What about profits?" Profits have to be tackled and there are enormous profits being made today.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
Did not the hon. Member for Chippenham say that profits had been easily made but there had been no unwillingness to plough them back into maintaining equipment and machines? Do not take the remark out of context.
§ Mr. Awbery
The context does not change my argument. He said profits were easily made. I will give an instance. When the war broke out, I was asked if I would buy some shares in a concern at £3 10s. a share. I said I would have nothing to do with it. Probably I did not have the £3 10s. When the war ended the shares were sold for £64 10s. a share. Profits were made easily and, if that was so, then the workers have the right to say, "Why is it that we are called upon to have wages frozen?"
In conclusion, I would point out that production has gone up because the relationship between the men in industry and the employers is far more amicable today than it has ever been. The relationship between the workers in industry and the Government is far better than it has ever been before. There was a time when the Government were antagonistic to the workers, but now there is co-ordination and there is consultation between Government and workers when problems arise in industry. If we are to increase our production in accordance with the second paragraph of the Gracious Speech, that relationship must be maintained and it can only be maintained by a Labour Government and not by the Opposition as a Government.
§ 9.58 p.m.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth and East Perthshire)
I will not presume to follow the hon. Member for Central Bristol (Mr. Awbery) in any great detail, if he will forgive me, beyond saying this in connection with his remark that the relationships between the workers in industry and the management today are happier than they used to be: that, of course, applies very largely, but not to the nationalised industries where precisely the opposite is found. As we know, two-thirds of the strikes since nationalisation, have taken place in the nationalised industries and not in the free industries, a pretty good point which I am sure the hon. Member had forgotten.
I want if I may, to bring back this Debate to a calmer atmosphere. I am very disturbed, as are those with whom I am associated, by the fact that the Gracious Speech contains absolutely no reference at all to Scotland. If I may say so I am very pleased to see the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) back in his place and, perhaps I may also very sincerely welcome the hon. Lady who has been appointed as the other Joint Under-Secretary of State.
I hope that the position regarding Scotland and her situation in relation to the United Kingdom partnership has not been ignored by the Government. It is a fact that something like a million signatures have been placed to a document known as the Covenant, and that is a very remarkable achievement. I will not deny that there have been examples in obtaining signatures which are perhaps a little irregular, such as one person having signed a good many times and parties of English tourists in cafes being asked whether they would like to sign and replying that they were delighted to do so. Of course, that shows good relationship between the two countries. Apart from such things as that, which are admitted, it is a very remarkable expression of Scottish feeling that one million people should have signed this document in a very short space of time, and—
§ It being Ten o'Clock the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.