§ [FIFTH 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 our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—[Mr. Dye.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call upon the hon. Member who is to speak first, I should like to inform the House that I have given some thought to how we can manage today's Debate, because there are somewhere about 35 more Members that I know of, who want to take part in the Debate, and there will not possibly be time for them all. There are several matters for the discussion of which I have promised to give a short time in the general discussion. I propose, first, to give roughly an hour to devolution, which is the subject of an Amendment put down by hon. Members below Gangway. Then I thought the Debate might go on to the subject of the Amendment in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys), and then there is another Amendment dealing with the survey of agricultural land in Service occupation. That, I am afraid, will take us till after lunch time. There are a great many Members who want to talk about leasehold reform, and I think that and other miscellaneous topics will exhaust our Debate for the day.
§ Mr. Anthony Nutting (Melton)
Further to what you have said, Mr. Speaker, may I ask whether today, which seems the only possible day, as the Amendment on housing is to be discussed on Monday, we are likely to get any reply from the Government or from any representative of the Foreign Office in the Government on the questions which have been asked on foreign affairs? I:realise that it is intended to have a foreign 614 affairs Debate at an early date, but I still feel that it would be proper and wise for the Government to give some information on and elucidation of the points that have been raised on this very important subject.
§ Mr. Marlowe (Hove)
May I draw your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the fact that on Wednesday it had been intended that the Debate should generally be confined to agriculture until about 7 o'clock, and I understood that the proposal was that thereafter the Debate should be open to foreign and imperial matters. So far there has been only one speech from one of my hon. Friends on foreign affairs and one speech from the hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Leather) on imperial affairs. The programme which you have now outlined, Sir, appears to eliminate any possibility of discussing the very important matter of the Empire, and I wonder whether it would be possible for you to reorganise the programme so as to permit some discussion of this very important topic.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
I must point out that the Government are most anxious to have Ministers available in the House in relation to the subjects that are coming up for discussion. I do not wish to be controversial if I can help it, but I must say that the Government Whips and myself have been placed in some difficulty in finding out from the Opposition how the programme was to go. It has been very difficult to know how the subjects were going to transpire. We are perfectly willing to be helpful to the House, as indeed it is our duty, but it is difficult when one cannot see the shape of things to come in the Debate. My right hon. Friend the Chief Whip tells me that he had no information from the Opposition or from the Chair that a Debate on foreign affairs would follow the Debate on agriculture on Wednesday. If that is so, it is impossible for the Government to be as helpful to the House as we would wish to be.
§ Mr. Boothby (Aberdeenshire, Fast)
Before you reply, Mr. Speaker, may I indicate that there is a very considerable crisis going on at the present moment in the fishing industry, and one or two of us on this side of the House are very 615 anxious to refer briefly to that subject; it seemed an appropriate day to do so. I do not know if that comes under any of the headings that you have listed, Sir, but perhaps you could indicate whether there is any such possibility.
§ Mr. Walter Fletcher (Bury and Radcliffe)
In view of the presence of the Colonial Secretary and the desire of a great many Members to discuss the effect of the Government's financial policy, including sterling balances, on Colonial development, is there likely to be an opportunity today for that to be discussed?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr)
Before you reply, Mr. Speaker, are we to understand that the Debate today will be limited to the subjects that you have outlined in your opening remarks?
§ Mr. Nutting
I do not wish to quarrel with my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby), but with regard to the Debate on Wednesday, which you had indicated to certain hon. Members would be concerned with foreign affairs for at least half the day, the Debate on Wednesday went on until 8.30 upon the subject of agriculture and fisheries. I waited here with a speech on foreign affairs, and I heard nothing but fish until half-past eight.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have done my best to divide things up as fairly as I could so as to cover the ground as widely as possible. My only advice now is that more hon. Members will be able to participate in the Debate towards the end if all hon. Members remember that the shorter their speeches the better they will be.
§ 11.20 a.m.
§ Mr. Macdonald (Roxburgh and Selkirk)
Some days ago, Mr. Speaker, when you were re-elected to your high office, tributes were paid to you from all sections of the House as to the assistance you had been to all hon. Members. You were also reputed to be the protector of minorities. I stand before you today, Sir, as an hon. Member who belongs to a minority party in this House and as someone very much in need of a friend, as a poor, fledgling newcomer to this ancient House. The speech I shall make to you today is 616 on behalf of a very large number of people in two countries, Scotland and Wales—two countries which are small in area but which have contributed tremendously to the day-to-day advancement of our lives, not only here but also abroad.
An increasingly large number of people in those two countries have for some time wanted an opportunity to have their own Governments to deal with their own domestic affairs. In order to sound the opinion of the Scottish people, and without the benefit of any high-pressure organisation or Press campaign, an organisation known as Scottish Convention, which is a non-political body, recently sent out a questionnaire, which they called the Covenant form, to various parts of Scotland. This people were asked, of their own free will, to sign if they believed in the establishment of a Government in Scotland to deal with Scotland's domestic affairs. Over one million people signed that Covenant within a few weeks.
To give some indication that this matter finds very much favour with the average Scottish person, may I point out that the constituency I have the honour to represent is one which gives a very good cross-section of Scottish life? We are the centre of the tweed and hosiery trades, two of the greatest dollar earners for this country, and we also have some of the most progressive farmers in the whole of Scotland. In one of our towns, Selkirk, with 6,000 inhabitants, nearly 3,000 people signed this Covenant within a very few weeks. I give that as an example to show that this demand is not confined to fanatical small groups, but represents every section of Scottish life.
What are the domestic affairs for Scotland about which we talk? They are health, housing, transport, education, agriculture, industry, finance and taxation. We wish to leave to the Government in Westminster, to which Scotland would send representatives, such subjects as defence and foreign policy, because we realise that we are one island, and Customs and Excise, because we do not want to make smuggling a profitable profession on the Border. Those hon. Members from Scotland would attend this House only when such subjects were being discussed.
What would be the advantages of self-government to Scotland? Let me deal, 617 first, with trade. To a great extent Scottish trade is very different from that of England, because England does not grow sufficient food for her own requirements, whereas Scotland grows more than enough food for herself and exports the surplus to England. Much of the money which England receives from her export trade must be used for the purchase of food to keep her people alive, whereas Scotland, because she is able to grow sufficient food for her own requirements, is able to use the proceeds of her trade in whisky, tweeds, hosiery, shipbuilding and her many other industries for the purchase of building materials, machinery and equipment to develop her country. Therefore, if Scotland had her own Government her housing problems might quite easily be solved within a very few years, particularly as Scotland would be able first to give priority to the needs of the rural population and the industrial population, and then to turn to her residential areas.
The second of the many advantages which Scotland would receive through having her own Government, as I understand them, is that she would then be able to cushion her very serious unemployment figures when mass unemployment or a slump hit this country. At the moment Scotland is to a great extent dependent upon her heavy industries, whereas if she had her own Government she would be able to take steps to attract to Scotland a vast number of light industries to weave into the general pattern of her industry and cushion her unemployment, should it occur.
The third point is the question of immigration. It has become an almost established fact for people in England to regard Scotland as just one of those countries which breeds immigrants. But as a rule Scottish men and women do not want to leave their country if they can find opportunities in their own country. It may be of interest to this House to know that from 1921 to 1939 600,000 people left Scotland. A few of those people may have wanted to leave, but the great majority had to leave because there was no opportunity for them in Scotland. I have met many of those people on my travels abroad and to those who have succeeded I have often said, "You must be very glad that you left Scotland and you must be very proud 618 of your success." In practically every case they have said to me, "We are proud of our success, but we wish we had never had to leave Scotland; that is our home, that is where our background, our relatives and our interests lie; we should never have left the country had we been able to find reasonable opportunities there."
If self-government is granted to Scotland then opportunities can be provided, because Scotland is latently a very rich country. She has great hydroelectric schemes, rich coal deposits, rich farm land, large fisheries, about which we shall hear later, and she also has iron and aluminium deposits and the craftmanship of her many industries. Scottish men and women have gone all over the world; they have shown that they are realists, and balanced citizens. Is it too much to believe that if they are given the government of their own country they can make a great success of it? It is not simply a theory in which we are asking the House to believe. We can point across the Irish Channel to the wonderful success of the Government in Northern Ireland in helping to bring prosperity to the million people there, or to the Isle of Man, which has its own Government, or to the Channel Islands, which have their own Government. Each part of the United Kingdom which I have mentioned is prosperous and I fervently believe that if this opportunity is given to Scotland and Wales they can be very much more prosperous than they are today, for the benefit of us all.
The Scottish National Assembly, which is a non-political body, will be sending representatives to London before the end of April and I want this House to appoint a small Select Committee, drawn equally from the Scottish Members of the three parties which compose this House, to meet the representatives of that Assembly. Such a Committee may be sure that from the representatives it will receive expert knowledge on every side of Scottish life. I should like the Select Committee to draw up a brief report for submission to this House next Session, so that a decision could be taken at an early date on this vital matter.
In conclusion, on behalf of a very large section of people of Scotland and Wales I ask this House to grant self-government to Scotland and Wales so that, during 619 the life of this present Parliament of Westminster. these two countries may hold their respective elections and set up their own Governments without delay. Before I sit down may I make this plea to hon. Members of this House? There are hundreds of thousands of people in those two countries who have no bitterness in their hearts, but who very earnestly demand this great reform. I plead with this House. and particularly with the Conservative and Socialist Parties, to give that reform to them before this question becomes a bitter one through frustration and before it follows in the unhappy course of the Irish question. I cannot feel that there is any disadvantage either to Socialists or Conservatives in this House in granting this freedom to those sections of the British community who have proved that they are adult and know their responsibilities and will carry them out to the full. I ask the House to give to those countries a fair deal in this matter.
§ Mr. Cove (Aberavon)
I am sure that on behalf of the whole House I can congratulate the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Macdonald) on his speech. He has put to us a clear and distinct case for what he desires, and I am sure we were all deeply impressed by his fervent nationalism. I am also sure that the interests of Scotland will be safe in his hands, so far as they lie in his hands.
Let us turn for a moment or two to the proposals that have been made. I think we can conveniently refer most specifically to the proposal put forward by the Liberal Party at the last election for the self-government of Wales. I have studied that proposal, and—I hope my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) will accept this—I have studied this matter with some care and even sympathy. There is no party in this House within my recollection that has deliberately done an injustice to Wales.
The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken referred to the fact that 600,000 Scotsmen had left Scotland between the two world wars. That is paralleled in Wales by the fact that over 500,000 Welshmen left Wales. There was a phrase—I believe it was coined by my 620 right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary —that the best blood of Wales was "being decanted out of Wales." That was not because of any imposition by the English on the Welsh people, but because there was chronic, prolonged unemployment in Wales. That was the corroding influence during that period.
But I say categorically—and I challenge contradiction—that during the last four and a half years more has been contributed to the preservation of Welsh culture and of the Welsh nation than in any other previous four years in our political history. The Government, in the last four and a half years, have stopped the rot that was eating into the national life of Wales; indeed—and in saying this I do not want to be offensive, but I must be straight about it—the proposal for a Welsh Parliament will mean no contribution at all to the solution of the overwhelming economic problems that have confronted, and will continue to confront, Wales.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
Will the hon. Gentleman explain why his party were in favour of this in 1935?
§ Mr. Cove
No. [An HON. MEMBER: "Because the Tories were in power then."] I am concerned with the present and the future. Let us come to the proposal for a Welsh Parliament. Apparently, by this proposal it would be a parliament for Wales without power over taxation; a parliament for Wales with no power in defence; a parliament for Wales with no power over trade and industry. I cannot make out, although I have tried to discover it, what real power is suggested for this parliament. What power will it have? Deprived of power over taxation, of power in defence, of power over industry—and I could mention a large number of other things over which it would have no power—what would this parliament be? The proposal of the Liberal Party is that there should be an empty, glorified national county council. It would be no more than that. Are my Liberal friends sure that, even if they got this administrative parliament, Wales would carry the financial burden of her social services?
§ Mr. Cove
That has yet to be examined. I have quoted figures before about Welsh finances. A penny rate for the whole of Wales—for the whole of Wales, mind you—brings in just over£49,000. A penny rate in England brings in about£1,200,000. The fact is that up to now Wales has not had the economic and financial resources to embark upon a scheme of this kind as has been suggested by the Liberal Party for the governance of Wales. When one leaves the South of Wales and Monmouthshire, and goes into mid Wales and North Wales one finds mile after mile of sparsely populated areas that bring in little or no revenue.
If my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery and my friends in the Liberal Party were to look at the latest figures issued by the Ministry of Education—I will not quote from it, because it would take too long—they would find that the cost—and it is a remarkable fact—in the field of education is, per pupil in Wales,£3 to£4 a year higher than it is in England. In the field of education there is a heavy incidence of cost. I ask my Liberal friends, "Are you quite sure that the resources of Wales can even finance the present level of the standard of education in Wales? "Are they quite sure that we have the financial resources? My own opinion is that before we embark upon any proposal of this kind we must be very certain that we do not lower the standard of life of the Welsh people.
I do not want to prolong my speech because I know that Mr. Speaker is anxious to call other hon. Members, and that other hon. Members want to speak. To sum up the proposal of the Liberal Party for a parliament of Wales, I would say that it is but an empty shell, as it were, in relation to the realities of Welsh economic and Welsh social life. There is no meaning in the proposal, no purpose, except an electoral purpose, except to delude the electorate of Wales—the purpose of saying, "We are the party that cares for Wales. We are the party that has Welsh national interests at heart." Over the years—and I have been associated with a Welsh constituency for 20 years—we have had deputations to Prime Minister after Prime Minister about Welsh national interests. The most favourable and sympathetic Prime Minister we ever approached was the late Mr. Neville 622 Chamberlain. Every Prime Minister and every Government has seen that it would be fatal to the best economic and social interests of Wales for Wales to be cut off in any degree whatever from England. I say, therefore, that before we move a step further in this matter the Liberal Party has to prove its case, and has to prove that if the parliament which they now suggest were to come into existence, it would not damage the life of the Welsh people.
My final point is this: the Welsh people are not only interested in Wales; they are interested in what I would call the higher policies of Parliament and Government. I am not quite sure that if we gave Wales a separate Parliament, Wales would continue to have the same number of representatives in this Parliament at Westminster. Would Wales have the same power as it now has to have its effect, through its representatives, on foreign policy, for instance—on defence, on general taxation? If the scheme as outlined by the Liberal Party were brought into being, any advantages that it might have would be more than countered by the fact that it would take away the power of the representation that now comes from the Principality in matters of great, broad policy.
The Labour Party will do no injustice to Welsh sentiment and Welsh culture. There is no reason why, at this moment, we cannot have all-Welsh schools in Wales. There is no inhibition at all so far as the Welsh language is concerned. The Minister of Education has gone out of his way to promote Welsh culture and the study of the Welsh language. There is no reason at all why we should not go on as we have done in the past. I am quite certain that it would be fatal to have a Welsh Parliament which would only be, in effect, as I have already said, a kind of glorified county council.
§ 11.41 a.m.
§ Mr. Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)
I am only intervening very briefly in order to make a rather different speech from the one that I had contemplated, as I could not listen to the admirable maiden speech of the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Macdonald), which was so beautifully delivered, without feeling it incumbent upon me to say a few words in reply.
623 I always understood that the Liberal Party were by way of advocating the integration of Western Europe. It seems a rather odd way to start off by disintegrating the British Isles. What is the proposition put forward by the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Selkirk? It is that, having run the British Empire for over 300 years from London, the Scots should now run away from London. Never in history, as the late Sir James Barrie rightly said, has any nation of its size exercised a comparable impact upon the civilised world. The Scots are quite unique in that respect. Five million—that is all we are—and how many people have heard of us? It has been said that we leave Scotland. Of course, we leave Scotland, but why do we do it? We leave it in order to run the Government and industries of England, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and, to a large extent, of the United States. I think that is a very good idea.
Another point that was raised by my hon. Friend, if I may so call him after this, was the question of home production. Having deplored the absence of the Scots from Scotland, he said we were producing so much ourselves in Scotland that we could be completely self-supporting with regard to food, and in respect of a large number of exports. We could get on with our fine tweeds and whisky exports to the United States, with our shipbuilding on the Clyde, with our prime beef, and oats, and herrings, and be self-supporting, and indeed quite rich. But what is to become of poor England, if we abandon the English in this dark hour of their history; and, having sustained them for so many years, we now go off and leave them with their decks awash and hardly any exports at all? I do not think that is a very nice, altruistic or Christian project to put forward. I think that we ought to stick to England at least until better times come; and I am sure we will "win through together."
May I now say one word of the speech which I had intended to make to the House on the subject of fish? It all fits into this argument. What do our fishermen want in Scotland today? They want markets above everything else. Where do they want them? They do not want them in Scotland but in England; and they want them in Europe as well. The 624 most urgent necessity of our fishing industry today is to find markets to dispose of our fish in the South and in the East—in the great Continental markets of Europe which used to take upwards of£1 million of herring from Scotland alone every year. How is home rule going to help us do that? I am sure that the proposal to cut Scotland off economically from England would just about put the finishing touch to the fishing industry of Scotland, which is primarily a great export industry.
Another thing required is a flat-rate transport charge for fish over this country as a whole. We can whistle for that if we separate ourselves from England. We might have a flat transport rate for Scotland alone, and send our herring revolving round Scotland at a very high rate, and in vast quantities; but that is not going to save the fishing industry. We also want a North Sea agreement to limit the catches, and to prevent the catching of small immature fish. We also want an agreement with the Norwegians and the Dutch on prices and markets for herring. How is home rule going to help us in this respect? It is going to put us back.
It is understandable that the Liberal Party during the election were ready to promise anything in the way of home rule to anyone who asked them for it. I was waiting for a proposition from someone to come forward for Aberdeenshire; and I am sure they would have promised home rule to Aberdeenshire, if it meant catching a few extra votes. But now that it has proved such a complete failure as a vote-winner, I wonder they do not chuck it; because they must know it is absolutely ludicrous appealing to a small, vague emotional nationalistic sentiment, which really does not mean anything in Scotland or Wales.
The hon. Gentleman who talked about Ireland was dealing with a very different matter; but I do not think the Irish obtained much for themselves by separating from this country. The hon. Gentleman who opened this Debate referred to the bitter feeling in Scotland. There is no bitter feeling in Scotland on this subject. There are a few fanatics, and that is the lot. Even my friend Compton MacKenzie has now left the island of Barra. He was an old leader 625 of the Scottish Nationalist Movement, and a former Rector of Glasgow University as a Scottish Nationalist. Where does he live now? Wantage.
They can try and turn our Scottish M.Ps. into a glorified county council in Edinburgh; but I certainly should not be a candidate for membership, and I do not think that many others in Scotland would. Anyway it is not going to happen. Sometimes I wonder if anyone on those benches who seriously entertains these proposals realises the position of this island, flanked as we are by two of the greatest aggregations of political and economic power the world has ever seen—the United States on the one side, and the Soviet Union on the other. If we do not soon get together in the Empire and in Western Europe, we shall sink. One of the great difficulties we are up against is the whole spirit of virulent nationalism and national sovereignty. That is one of the things that we have to tackle and counter; and this proposal, far from being progressive as we thought the Liberal Party once was, seems to me to be going straight into reverse, and a particularly pernicious kind of reverse at that.
§ 11.49 a.m.
§ Major Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
May I claim the indulgence of the House, first, to make my maiden speech, second, because I intend to refer to rather local matters which may not interest many Members, and, third, because I have to follow the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby), which is a hard task.
I think that I may claim to some extent to be neutral in this controversy. On the bench on which I sit, I am sometimes accused of being a representative of the Celtic fringes. Far be it from me to say anything against the Celts. But I represent a constituency even beyond the Celtic fringes, in which Celtic or even Welsh has never been spoken. The proposal made by my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Macdonald) I personally support, though not in the least on nationalist grounds. I agree that if it is to be treated so as to cause enmity between the Scots and the English it will be fatal. I feel that, at present at.any rate, it is a question of efficiency of government, and to 626 some extent of getting attention paid to some of our own problems in Scotland. These are special problems, many of which do not affect the English. I do not for a moment suggest that they will be solved merely by giving us a measure of self-government, but I do suggest that they are special problems, and that it is our business to consider how they may best be tackled. I also suggest that this is one method which we might at least consider.
Orkney and Shetland, which I represent are two little worlds of their own, far away between this country and Norway, very different from each other even in their own land and their own economic affairs, but certainly very different from things down here. Since the war they have, on the whole, enjoyed a fair measure of prosperity, for which we are naturally grateful, and we pay full tribute to this and past Governments which have made it possible. But, lately, there have been very serious clouds over the future of Shetland. We are a country of crofters and fishermen, poor people in a small way of business. We have to depend a great deal on the qualities of our wool and the skill of our girls and women who knit, but the prices for both wool and knitting have been falling, and we have had a very bad herring season.
As the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire has said, we are now faced with this serious matter of freight charges on fish. If white fish is decontrolled, we may have to pay a freight charge which will be an almost intolerable burden on all small fishermen, especially in the North of Scotland, and nowhere more seriously than in Shetland. At the same time, we have to suffer this addition to the Purchase Tax on tweed.
Year after year, many Shetlanders go into the Merchant Navy, or to the Antarctic to the whaling, but they hope to return, and many desire nothing better than to make their own lives in their own islands, however hard it may be. We have heard a great deal about the determination of all parties to maintain full employment, but unfortunately we already have unemployment in Shetland. Now, I know that the present problem facing this country is to close the dollar gap; but beyond that there are many 627 other problems. There is the whole problem of re-organising our economy in the circumstances of a greatly changed world, and I, believe that in the future we shall find that, while in one part of the country, or in one industry, we have too few workers and a need for greater production, there will be pockets of unemployment growing up in other places. One of those places just now is Shetland.
We are very apt to talk of these matters in general terms, of production, employment, dollars, and so on, but it is, as we all know, a human problem. It is not enough to say that the Shetlanders should leave their homes and go south to find work elsewhere There is a great deal which could be done in their own land. In two of the islands, from which the fishermen work and provide for their own and our food supplies, they have neither adequate roads nor harbours. We are desperately in need of piers and, in spite of what has been done, of housing, and it seems to me a false economy to stand in idleness if it means that these men have to leave their country and come south, as they have already done from some islands. It may be better, even at this time, to spend money on putting into effect a programme for roads and harbours. I do not want to be controversial, but I do think we are spending money on many things which are of less value and give less return than would attention to some of the things of our own countryside.
In Orkney, too, we are in desperate need of houses. We are making a great contribution to the food supply of this country, but our needs are not the same as those in the south. The type of house suitable for the south is not necessarily suitable for us in the north. It is very expensive to build, and we have got into the way of building some more temporary types of houses which are suitable in some ways for a county inhabited largely by people who own their own small farms. I hope that more encouragement can be given to people to use what they can supply themselves, to use local materials and skill, because in the crofting areas of Scotland we have men of different varieties of skills, and we are capable of doing a great deal more for ourselves if given the opportunity, and if materials and grants are available.
628 Above all, there is the problem of transport. Again, this is a problem of infinitely greater significance in the north and far north than in the south. I believe that in this Parliament there is a possibility that contentious business will not be very much to the fore, and I wonder whether this will not give us an opportunity to attend to the special problems of that great area from Perth right up to the north of Shetland and out to the Outer Isles. A lot of the things which require to be done there are not in dispute between the parties. I agree that it affects only very few people, and that looked at from the point of view of Great Britain as a whole it may be a small matter; but looked at from the point of view of Scotland it is an important matter; and looked at from the point of view of the people who live there it is a vital matter.
Now I turn to the question of Scottish self-government. We do not in the least want to break away from England. All we say is that if, as may well be the case, we have not the time here to consider all these matters, then give us the opportunity to do it ourselves. The hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire has said that this self-government is contrary to the growing movement for unity in Europe. I hardly think he can really believe that. No one suggests that giving self-government to Ceylon broke up surely and for ever the friendship which existed between this country and Ceylon; no one suggests that by introducing federal government in any country—which is one of the commonest forms of government in the world,—one is thereby stirring up national hates and enmities. Of course, if this question is approached in a spirit of enmity it will be a failure. There are also many difficult problems, such as were mentioned by the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) concerned with finance and practical politics, and if as a first step it was decided to have an inquiry, such as was asked for by the hon. and gallant Member for East Perthshire (Colonel Gomme-Duncan), I would certainly agree to it as a first step. I only say, let us examine this matter impartially and without any feeling of enmity or bitterness.
My hon. Friend has made a practical proposal, and I am interested in it 629 because I think it might get some attention paid to problems in the North of Scotland, which have been put off from generation to generation. True, lately the drift from the North has been arrested to some extent, and I give full credit for it. But I think hon. Members will agree that there is a doubt about the future, and that even though that drift has been arrested, it has been arrested, partly at any rate, because it has been diverted into the towns of the north, and it is not so certain that the drift in the landward and crofting areas has been finally stopped and reversed. The towns have certainly gained, but I do not think it is so certain that the landward areas or the Outer Islands have gained. I want to see what has been done made good and a further advance made.
I do not want to look backward. I, too, want to look forward. I welcome what has been done, and I only hope that we can make it good and go on farther. I do feel that we should have more control over our affairs so that we shall not again have our problems pushed aside. Our own country would gain confidence if we had more control over affairs in our own country. This is a very common problem throughout the world, and I see no reason why this proposed solution should not lead to greater friendship in Europe. It may be that some form of federal government is the ultimate solution for all Europe. It has been the policy of the Liberal Party for some 30 years, and I believe that it has also been the policy of the Labour Party up to nine years—it was certainly the policy of the Labour Party in Scotland. I also know that many members of the Conservative Party have advocated it, although not in the same form perhaps, and want to see an inquiry made into the possibilities.
One of the most important things today is that government should be in close touch with the people. This does not seem to me to be a matter that can be put aside. The functions and scope of government are increasing every year, and must do, but many people in the country feel that the Government is a remote and even a faintly hostile affair which is not their concern. By tackling this problem we shall do something to bring government back nearer to the ordinary people.
§ 12.2 p.m.
§ Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton (Inverness)
A number of Members have emphasised the fact that self-government should not be an issue between Scotland and England. I wish to stress that point. After all, we in Scotland still quite like the English, although that does not mean to say that everything is satisfactory. What we are up against is that people want to have a greater say in their own affairs in every locality.
In Scotland generally, we complain with a certain amount of justice, of control from London, but I have also heard people in Inverness complaining of control from Edinburgh and people in the Isle of Skye complaining of control by Inverness. What we are up against is remote control, and not simply the question of self-government. It may be that self-government or a Parliament for Scotland will be the answer, but I should like to associate myself with what the Duke of Montrose, who is one of the leaders of the Covenanters, said. He insisted, whatever party came into power, on having a full fact-finding inquiry, without which nothing worth while can be done. I put that forward for consideration.
§ 12.4 p.m.
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Hector McNeil)
It is a real pleasure for me to have this opportunity of congratulating Members opposite who have been making their maiden speeches. Their constituencies are music to my ear—Roxburgh and Selkirk, Orkney and Shetland and Inverness-shire. I congratulate them on the moderation with which they have offered their views, and also on the sincerity behind their speeches. It is a particular pleasure for me to congratulate the hon. Member for Inverness (Lord M. Douglas-Hamilton), because I feel that I have had a little to do with his political education. We were in very close proximity to one another in 1945, when the hon. Member save me a very good run for my money in Greenock. I think this moderation is due to the fact that Members tend to vary their speeches slightly in this august forum, as compared with the speeches they make on the hustings.
We are also indebted to the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby) 631 for his forthright speech, although it was a little unkind of him to reproach his colleagues on the left for election promises. I think that the party of which the hon. Member is a member had its full share of election promises, not to say election bribes. It was noteworthy that the two Members who spoke for the Conservative Party made no reference to the policy their party offered to the Scottish electors on this subject. We may hear a little more about that later on, although I scarcely think that we shall. Although the policy was a very good one for the hustings, it will scarcely bear examination in the House of Commons.
I must say quite plainly, in reply to the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Macdonald), that there is no possibility of having legislation in this Session to effect the end he seeks. I think he knows that the conditions make it impossible, even if the will were there. The reasons Members have offered to bolster up their arguments for a measure of self-government deserve the closest examination. I am not attempting to enter into the case which might be made out for Wales. That country must remain as remote from my consideration in this office as the other countries with which I have had recent experience.
The hon. and gallant Member for Orkney and Shetland (Major Grimond) spoke with particular moderation. He said that, looked at from the point of view of Great Britain, his constituency might seem a small subject, but looked at from the point of view of Scotland it was important. That is true, but it is equally true that the resources of Scotland in relation to the development of isolated areas like the Orkneys and Shetlands are limited as compared with the resources of Great Britain.
I have already told the House that I will not be drawn into the question of Wales but will confine myself to Scotland. Before self-government is conceded, there must be evidence of an indisposition on the part of the central Government to apply itself to the particular problems of those areas. At least two Members opposite admitted that the record of the Government in relation to 632 that subject is good. Scottish newspapers not particularly friendly to the outlook of my party have admitted that the general economic condition of Scotland is better than it has been at any time in peace, as the hon. and gallant Member for Orkney and Shetland has himself volunteered.
I suggest that our consideration of this case will come back again and again to what economic resources are available and what economic planning is being offered to the country. The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Selkirk gave three categories. With great respect I think that some of his assumptions were unwarranted. He affirmed, for example, that we have a surplus in our production of food. I find it very difficult to discover the facts upholding that view.
I know the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire is constantly concerned with herrings, and like him I enjoy the dish, but I suspect that an examination of his dietetic habits would disclose that he varies a little from oatmeal and herrings. It would be true of all of us, too. It is easy to make an assertion about Scotland being a surplus area for food production, but it is very doubtful. It is certainly true that we recently imported beef, and it is true that over-all we import cereals. It is equally true that we export fish, and that we do much of our fishing in English waters, just as the English industry fishes in Scottish waters. I quote these as a fair example to show how difficult it is to find the facts upon which to base the dogmatic assertions that are behind the self-government claims.
Emigration was mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Orkney and Shetland. Here again, the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire dealt with this gently but very fully. Is it true that self-government will end the process of migration? There was migration from Scotland before 1707, and there is migration from our neighbouring Republic of Ireland, which has self-government. There 633 is migration from all the alleged self-governing countries of Europe, and there has been throughout the whole century. There are many people just now in the countries of Europe which have a model constitution, whose greatest desire is to get out of those countries as quickly and as completely as possible. It is a false idea that the mere movement of the centre of government from one capital to another will affect this question and will mean an end to migration. I repeat, there is little evidence to support that point of view.
My view is that of hon Gentlemen opposite. I hope our country will continue to supply many desirable exports, but none more desirable than the export of shrewd, honest and completely efficient Scots men and women. I would be very sorry if the time should ever come when the party of which I have the honour to be a member had not a greater proportion of Scotsmen in its ranks than our seats in Scotland would justify.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South, complains about the thinness today. We were present last night in force, and if our numbers today are smaller, it may very well be that Scottish Members on this side of the House are discharging their electoral duties in the constituencies which they represent so effectively.
I referred to the result last night. It is a fair yardstick by which to measure how effectively they have looked after their constituencies during the period from 1945 to 1950.
I have great sympathy with the argument which was touched upon by two or three hon. Members, when they referred to the diversification of Scottish industries. This is a great worry. It is true that we cannot have economic stability unless we have that diversification, and I could offer figures to the House to illustrate the continuous anxiety which this Government has brought to this question of diversification. However, I do not want to bore the House; but I will quote one figure. Last year over 4½million square feet of new factory space, half of 634 it in industrial estates, came into production in Scotland. That is not at all spectacular or glamorous, and there are no kilts or bagpipes associated with it, but it is a very solid contribution towards the happiness of the Scottish people.
A great proportion of this must be measured in terms of whether or not the proposals will contribute to the welfare of Scotland and its people. I could offer figures in farming and in afforestation in support of that. I have great sympathy with the point made by the hon. and gallant Member for Orkney and Shetland when he expressed his anxiety about the drift from the north which has been temporarily halted. One of the fashions in which it can be halted is by the systematic building up in those areas of an industry in afforestation. It is criminal that this great country of Britain, and more criminal that our country so admirably adapted to the growth of soft timbers, should have been left open in time of war and left commercially vulnerable in time of peace by the neglect of our afforestation problems through a ruthless commercial cutting between the wars. I will call to my aid the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton). This subject transcends party divisions and this essential component in our economic planning—and unhappily necessary in our defence—which we hopelessly neglected—
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
The hon. Gentleman has made a complimentary reference to me, on this subject, and I only intervene because he quoted England as well as Scotland. The part of England with which I am familiar is the south of England, and there have been built up by private enterprise and by the Forestry Commission between the wars immense planting areas. He can find this information through the official channels from the Forestry Commission but' at this very moment lots of pit props and other things of different kinds in the shape of thinnings, are being got from private plantings and from the plantings of the Forestry Commission. It is not true to say that between the wars it was wholly neglected.
I did not say it was wholly neglected, but I said there was a ruthless commercial policy applied in relation to timber. I most gladly admit 635 that there were people with a high sense of national duty, and perhaps a kind of religious expression which moved them at the sight of wood, who have applied themselves to this problem. The truth is that the nation has had to come to the rescue in regard to our timber problems, and I rejoice at the contribution which Scotland could make to the growth of soft timber.
And as my hon. Friend says, Wales. It is by these methods of diversification inside industry, the development of agriculture, fisheries and afforestation, that we can create a happy and responsible population in Scotland. To all these matters we will continue to apply ourselves.
I want to admit this. No one can look at the organised expressions in Scotland of desire for self-government without realising that, apart from its political expression, there is here reflected an anxiety to protect and cherish essential Scottish characteristics and traditions. I agree that it is very necessary to Scotland and to Britain that those essential characteristics should be cherished and developed. Therefore, anyone of sensitivity who hopes to be regarded as responsible will not push, or attempt to push, this movement aside offhand. I certainly will not. I hope that we will agree that this is not a new movement. We must not, as Scotsmen, delude ourselves into thinking that we are taking part in a novel and revolutionary demand. Everyone can read a most engaging correspondence in which Sir Walter Scott took part on this subject. I believe that the first Bill came to this House 52 years ago.
There always will be a concern and a zeal among Scots people to protect these Scottish characteristics, and they should be assisted. It must not be lightly concluded that we will assist Scotland or Britain by pressing hurriedly towards any measure of self-government. There has been a gradual transfer, and it is unlikely that that transfer will be stopped at any one stage. I find myself in complete sympathy with those who have pressed for more and more facts about this situation before we come to a conclusion. The Census of Production and the later 636 Census of Distribution will contribute a great deal to our knowledge of the economic relationship between the two countries. It may be that we need even more information.
I started out by expressing my admiration for the three gentlemen who contributed maiden speeches today. Perhaps I might say that this is my maiden speech upon this subject, although I could not do otherwise than admit that, like every Scotsman, almost throughout my adult life I have been concerned with the matter. I would therefore plead for fairness and patience. I should like to assure the House that we will fairly and generously consider this subject, and that we certainly will consider whether there are additional methods by which more facts essential to reasonable conclusions upon the subject can be brought forth
§ 12.23 p.m.
§ General Sir George Jeffreys (Petersfield)
I, and some of my hon. Friends, put down an Amendment to the Address expressing regret that no proposals had been made for the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the rates of Service and disability pensions, with the object of redressing injustices and of eliminating anomalies. It will be noted that I refer both to Service pensions, which are the concern of the Service Ministries and, of course, of the Treasury, and to disability pensions, which are the concern of the Minister of Pensions. In both classes of pension I submit that inquiry is needed into the adequacy of the rates payable. In the case of disability pensions especially, inquiry is necessary into the whole complicated medley of regulations, and the additions, subtractions and amendments that have been made to them. That medley urgently requires investigation with a view to simplification. Such investigation might well be carried out by a Select Committee of this House. There is one kind of inquiry which I and my hon. Friends would not welcome, and that would be by a Departmental Committee.
As regards Service pensions, I particularly wish to deal with retired pay granted under the provisions of the Royal Warrant of 1919 and the corresponding instruments of that year for the other two Services. My own retired pay was granted under a special Army Order of 637 1938, applicable only to general officers and it is not subject to the conditions of this Royal Warrant. Therefore, I can speak freely about it. It is on behalf of my less fortunate brother officers that I wish to speak.
In 1919, a new Royal Warrant was issued. It prescribed new rates of retired pay and it provided as follows:The rates will be subject, after five years, to revision, either upwards or downwards, according as the cost of living rises or falls. After 1st July, 1924, further revision may take place every three years.That was a definite promise made in a Royal Warrant. In fact, retired pay was reduced between 1924 and 1933 by amounts up to 11½per cent. on account of the alleged fall in the cost of living between those years. In 1935, when there were signs of the cost of living rising, it was absolutely stabilised at 9½per cent. below the basic rates of 1919. That stabilisation was unilateral because the recipients of the pension were not consulted as to whether they agreed with it or accepted it, and it is regarded by those affected as a very definite breach of faith. I am not accusing the present Government of breach of faith, but I am accusing all Governments who have been concerned, and particularly I am accusing the Treasury, of a very definite breach of faith of the conditions and the promises which were made under the Royal Warrant.
Under the Pensions (Increase) Acts, 1944 and 1947, certain increases were made in the lower rates of pensions. Increases were made up to 10 per cent. of pensions below£600 a year. That was practically putting the pensions back on to the basic rates of 1919, and it was not giving them any sort of increase on account of the very great increase in the cost of living. The higher rates of pensions remained stabilised and they remain stabilised today, at 9½per cent, below the basic rates of 1919, in spite of the definite promise that they should rise and fall with the cost of living. Needless to say, the cost of living has risen very greatly indeed since 1919, while the purchasing power of the£ has fallen.
As regards disability pensions, I submit that the basic rate remains too low and that it has never kept pace with the fall in the value of money and the consequent 638 increases in the costs of living. The appeals procedure has been simplified, yet still more simplification of the pensions regulations is required. Moreover, the payment of pension and special hardship allowance should not be limited to the 100 per cent. rate. There should be a right of appeal against a refusal to grant hardship allowance, and war pensioners should receive similar benefit to that received by other contributors under the National Insurance Act, to which, after all, they are all contributors. The rates of widows' pensions need reconsideration. Even the increased rates of widows' pensions are very small indeed; they are a very poor recompense for the loss of a husband in the service of his country.
Only today have I received a letter from a disabled constituent complaining very bitterly of the very long delays in the supplying, or, alternatively, the adjustment and alteration, of artificial limbs from Roehampton. I am not prepared to comment on this, but I have received a rather long letter, and I ask that the Minister might inquire into this matter. I am told that the delays are in some cases quite unconscionable.
In all these matters inquiry is very necessary. This is not a contentious issue and I do not raise it as such. Justice ought to be done to all these classes of persons who have served their country. The Government will not be committed if they accept our suggestion that there should be a committee of inquiry, preferably a Select Committee of this House, to inquire into the whole matter. We believe that if such a Committee were appointed its report would almost certainly recommend certain improvements in the rates of pension and would say that some of them were inadequate. It would then be for the Government, no doubt, to take a decision. The Government, surely, have no real reason for refusing an inquiry which would commit them to nothing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) has a Question to the Prime Minister on this matter on Monday, and both he and I, and very many other Members in addition, hope that a direct and favourable reply will be given. I hope we may receive some assurance from the Government that the committee which we suggest may be set up and that all these 639 matters, which affect a very great many of those who have served, and in many cases have suffered, for their country, are to be urgently considered.
§ 12.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Bing (Hornchurch)
The House will, perhaps, think it unfortunate that the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) dealt with this question on a non-party basis, because, of course, it was part of his party's programme on which they fought the last election. It would have been valuable for us to have had something from him—perhaps we shall have it from some other speaker on the other side of the House—as to what they intend that the proposed Select Committee should do.
§ Earl Winterton
In view of the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) and I raised this matter in the last Parliament, not on a party basis, when we had the full support of the British Legion and when we explained very clearly what we wanted, although our proposals were turned down by the Government, surely it is an act of supererogation for the hon. Member now to ask what we want or to suggest that we are not supported by ex-Service opinion throughout the country.
§ Mr. Bing
At any rate, it would be interesting to know whether hon. Gentlemen opposite would advocate in the Select Committee, the policy which they pursued regarding ex-Service men when they were in office, or whether they propose to condemn that policy altogether; whether they propose to say, "Everything we did when we had power was wrong, and now we want a Select Committee to put right the mistakes we ourselves made and which this Government have not yet had time to rectify." So far, of course, all the matters of which the hon. and gallant Member has complained are things which the Conservative Government failed to do, and he says, "Let us call in some Conservatives to help the Government to put right our mistakes; perhaps they will be able to spot them."
The hon. and gallant Member asks for a Select Committee rather than a Departmental Committee. But. what happens? We have had Departmental Committees in the last five years; they have resulted in tremendous improvements in the pensions 640 situation, improvements that are admitted by the Legion and everywhere else. But what happened in 1919 and 1920? We had a Select Committee which riveted on to the war pensioners great evils and injustices.
Let me put one or two questions which I should like answered from the Opposition benches. Would the Conservatives, were they to sit on this Committee, advocate a reduction, or an increase, of pensions? When the last Conservative Government were in power they attempted to get the heroes of the late war on the cheap. The hon. and gallant Member was a Member of that House but I cannot see in the OFFICIAL REPORT any mention that he rose in his place when the Conservative Government proposed that the basic rate for a 100 per cent. disabled man in the 1939 war should be reduced from 40s. to 32s. 6d. Perhaps some hon. Gentleman opposite will say why it was that when they did that, when there was this attempt to get the heroes on the cheap, there was not one word about a Select Committee, not one word of protest from hon. Members opposite. Neither was it only the basic pensioner or the 100 per cent. disabled man who came under their axe: even the first child of the marriage had its allowance halved. That was the programme the Conservatives put forward when they were in power. Are they going to repudiate it now, or is that the programme with which they would go forward to the Select Committee?
What did the Conservatives offer to the ex-Service man, and what did they stick to for the whole period they were in office? They stuck to the theory that if a man dared to volunteer, dared to hurry to the front before he had married, he should be punished for ever for this lack of prudence. That was what they offered the heroes of the 1914–18 war. "Oh." said their Minister of Pensions, Mr. Macpherson, "it is your fault that you were so foolish as to volunteer before you got married. We will not pay anything for your wife, and if you are so foolish as to have children that is entirely your responsibility." That was the doctrine under which, for 25 years, this harsh, inequitable, miserable treatment was meted out by them to the ex-Service man.
Now, the Conservatives want a Select Committee. Why? To advance the same theories, or to put forward exactly the 641 contrary proposition? If it is to advance the contrary proposition, we do not need these new converts. It would be much better to have a committee composed of members who had held honest views, views that the ex-Service man is entitled, just like anybody else, to marry and have children and not be penalised because of his haste in going to the front. Such committees should be composed of people who have always held these views and have not been newly converted to them with an eye on their electoral advantage.
Here is a point which should interest particularly the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield. What will be their policy for the Sudan widows? They have had to wait, not for 20 years, but for nearly 50 years before they got anything. Was that justifiable? We have heard quite a lot about a famous poem which has sustained many election campaigns, even including the first khaki election—Mr. Newbolt's poem about playing up and playing the game—but there was not very much of playing the game when they came to deal with the widows of the men who fought in the campaign about which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) wrote so feelingly in his early days as a war correspondent. He wrote feelingly of the gallantry of those who fell, but the practical recompense given to their widows had to wait 50 years. No doubt, all the time, the right hon. Member for Woodford was urging on his own party the desirability of doing something for these people whose gallantry he knew so well.
§ Earl Winterton
May I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he should go much further still and refer to the monstrous behaviour of the Whigs and Tories in dealing with the widows of soldiers who fell in the battle of Blenheim, which is as appropriate to the present question?
§ Mr. Bing
That may well be, and I am grateful to the noble Lord for his intervention. I say that these unfortunate women who are now surviving at a very old age are the widows not of officers but of people who fought as ordinary soldiers through all those years, when the noble Lord himself sat in this House but never once used his influence on behalf of those widows.
§ Earl Winterton
I would tell the hon. Gentleman that not only did I work on 642 their behalf but I did more than that, and more than many of the hon. Gentlemen on his side of the House, including members of the Government, ever did—I fought for my country.
§ Mr. Bing
I am sorry that the noble Lord did not have more sympathy with those who fought for their country and fell on the field of battle, and whose dependants live in a more unfortunate position than perhaps his own would have been in if he had suffered the same misfortune himself. Throughout all these years, the noble Lord never tried to secure even a meagre pension of five shillings a week to the widows of the victims of the Sudan. So much for the plea on behalf of the widows put forward by the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield. I should have thought that he would have addressed his remarks to some other party.
Let me now say a word or two about the rates. Hon. Members opposite have given no indication of what they suggest the Select Committee should propose by way of alterations of rates. Of course, I am very glad to see that the hon. and gallant Gentleman coupled the important question of industrial disabilities with that of war pensions. If we look at the actual statistics of pensions in this war we see that many people in the forces suffered what would be called industrial accidents, various illnesses due to the conditions in which they had to work, like those industrial workers during the war who suffered illnesses through the conditions in which they worked. There is no justification for departing from the principle that industrial injuries and the pensions provided for industrial injuries should run side by side with war pensions, and I am glad that that point, at any rate, was appreciated by the hon. and gallant Gentleman.
When we look at the rates we find that a great many changes have been made in the system which was supported without protest by hon. Gentlemen opposite. A pensioner with two children, who was entirely disabled and who married after his disablement, and who, under the scheme proposed, without protest from the hon. and gallant Member for Peters-field, in 1939, would have received 643 32s. 6d., now receives 106s. That is a great improvement. Is it suggested that we should improve this scale even further? Is that what the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggests? Or would he suggest a return to the scale which was in force when his party were in power? We ought to have a clear answer.
§ Sir G. Jeffreys
Since the hon. Member is directing all his remarks and questions to me, may I say that my Motion was for an inquiry, and that I made certain statements which, in my opinion, amplified the reasons for that inquiry. Since the hon. Gentleman asks what I have ever done in regard to pensions, I would say that, in the Parliament before last, of which he was not a Member, I myself, in co-operation with another ally in Mr. W. J. Brown, the former Member for Rugby, was responsible for bringing forward the Motion which was instrumental in securing the admittedly inadequate Pensions (Increase) Act.
§ Mr. Bing
Now that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has dissociated himself from his party's policy on the matter, that seems to me to make the problem of the Select Committee even more difficult, because, in accordance with the Rules of the House, hon. Gentlemen opposite would claim places on the Select Committee for those Members who hold views in accordance with their own, and we have not yet heard the party view.
§ Mr. Osborne (Louth)
The hon. Member has been quoting pre-war pensions rates and present rates, without giving any corresponding equivalent about the cost of living. Has he got those figures?
§ Mr. Bing
I am very grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention, which has brought out the most unsatisfactory feature about this demand for a Select Committee. Members of the Select Committee proposed the reduction of rates which took place in 1939, and that was because the cost of living in those days was not so very high. The hon. and gallant Gentleman was a Member of the last Parliament, and he will remember the many Questions that were asked on this point. He will be aware that if he adjusts the present cost of living to the basic rate now paid, he will find that it is worth more than the 40s. in the period when it was originally applied.
§ Mr. Bing
I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the exact figures at this moment, but so far as I can recall them, and speaking subject to correction, the present rate of pension—I am trying to give him the figure which he wants taking into account the cost of living—would be worth 42s. in 1919. That is about the figure for which the hon. Gentleman asked, but perhaps the Minister of Pensions may have the exact figures and may be able to give it in his reply and thus satisfy the hon. Gentleman opposite.
Whatever else we have done by reversing the policy of previous Governments, we have, first, increased the basic rate; second, given pensions to widows who married and who have children born after the disability; third, doubled the constant attendance allowance; and, fourth, and most important of all, provided an unemployability supplement. That is particularly important, though, in these days of full employment, it is not quite so important as it would have been had it been introduced in the days when hon. Members were in power who have expressed the view that unemployment is a good and necessary thing.
§ Lord Dunglass (Lanark)
For the hon. Gentleman to suggest that hon. Members on this side and members of the Conservative Party wanted to see unemployment in the country and regarded it as a good thing, is quite unworthy of his party and unworthy of himself.
§ Mr. Bing
I will withdraw the statement about the party to which the noble Lord belongs if they will withdraw the Whip from Lord Balfour of Burleigh, the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles), and the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne). They are some of the people whom they have put up to speak in the Debates. They may not speak their policy, but they are influential members of their party, and their views, I think, are worthy of respect.
§ Earl Winterton
The hon. Gentleman has made a very serious charge, in his absence, against my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles). He has made the direct charge against him that he has, speaking from these benches or on the platform, advocated unemployment. I challenge him to quote the words which my hon. Friend used.
§ Mr. Bing
Let me just remind the noble Lord of the words which I have very clearly in my own mind. If I have done an injustice to any other hon. Member here, I will gladly withdraw it, but I am not withdrawing the charge I have made against one of his noble order—the charge against Lord Balfour of Burleigh.
§ Earl Winterton
As the hon. Gentleman has referred to me, it is only fair to Lord Balfour of Burleigh, if I may say so with respect, to tell the House that I deprecate any attempt to get over the Rules. [HoN. MEMBERS: "The chairman of Lloyds Bank."] I shall refer to the noble Lord by name because I am perfectly entitled to do so. The hon. Member made an attack on the noble Lord in his capacity as chairman of Lloyds Bank. I understand that my noble Friend has specifically denied the 646 allegation which the hon. Member has made, and I say to him that he should read out that denial to the House.
§ Mr. Bing
I do not want to be discourteous to the House, but one cannot, of course, come to this place prepared for every interruption that may be made by the noble Lord. At the moment, therefore, I am not fortified with anything other than my very clear recollection of what the chairman of Lloyds Bank did say, but one of my hon. Friends has been good enough to pass me a quotation of what he said, and it is this:One cannot expect an all out effort in an environment in which the discipline of dismissal has been largely removed. Human nature being what it is, we cannot dispense with the whip or curb. It will be difficult not to fear that a wage spiral will continue so long as over-full employment continues.[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] I do not want to be drawn by the noble Lord away from the question of pensions. I can quite see why he wants to lead the Debate from that difficult quarter. There is already a certain small percentage of unemployment, and if a small percentage is regarded as overfull employment, what then, according to the Conservative view, is full employment? If one says that 2 per cent. of unemployment is overfull employment, it is quite possible for hon. Members opposite to go to the country on a policy of full employment which, to their minds, means 5 per cent. of unemployment, or one million people out of work.
Now, if I may, I would like to return. to the subject on which I originally embarked, the question of war pensions. I have only one further point to make, which is that this is a matter which/ cannot be handled by a Select Committee. One of the most important things about war pensions is the more humane administration. No Select Committee of this House can do that it can only be done by this House making a choice of Ministers who understand the problem, and who have some experience of the matter such as my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who was himself a war pensioner of the 1914–1918 war. As hon. Members know, no one can speak better or more feelingly of their difficulties than he. Secondly, the other problem is to see that there is a more humane and 647 better code administered by the Ministry and ultimately by the judicial tribunals who check their decisions. Under the 1919 arrangements, no less than 69 per cent. of the claims submitted to the Ministry were rejected. Now, under the new arrangements, 70 per cent. are accepted.
I do not want to delay the House any longer. I intended originally to intervene for only a moment or two, but I would like to recapitulate my arguments for the benefit of any hon. Members opposite who may care to follow in this Debate in order to state what is their policy—not what is their personal policy, not what are the points on which they have differed from their party, because, while that would be historically interesting, it is not what the House wants to know. What is the policy of the Conservative Party? Do they abandon everything they did when they were in power? Are they prepared to come into the Select Committee to urge those same policies which they urged when in office or to urge the exact opposite? If, in a House so equally balanced as this, they are sticking to their old policy, the worst thing we could do for the disabled ex-Service man would be to put them in a position where they could influence the vote on a Select Committee. If, on the other hand, they have changed their views, their first step should be to make the frank avowal that when they were in power they were entirely mistaken, that they now see that everything they then did was wrong and that they now ask to be allowed to join a Select Committee so that they can endorse the opposite view.
§ 12.58 p.m.
§ Sir Ian Fraser (Morecambe and Lonsdale)
The last point made by the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) before his peroration was that claims for war pensions after the First World War were more limited than they are today. He pointed out that great numbers of people could not get pensions at that time, that now they can, and that a much wider group of claims are now admissible. The benefit of the doubt is now allowed to the claimant rather than to the Ministry. Where there is a doubtful case, which would have been thrown out after the First World War, it is now 648 admitted. That is true, and I rejoice that it is true. It was one of the greatest amendments to the law relating to this matter which has ever been made. It was, in fact, made during the war-time Government.
I make no special claim in regard to that, because I do not want to deal with this matter on party lines. Members of all three parties were responsible for pressing the Government of that time to alter the position regarding the benefit of the doubt and the assumption that the State would always be right in these matters. We opened out the pensions admissibility to such an extent that very considerable numbers of people now get war pensions who did not get them before. To my mind that is no particular party matter. As I say, it was done by all of us during the war. It was done because, as time moves on, one's social conscience develops, and one feels that things should be done and does them.
I must answer some of the points that have been made, not because I want to defend my party, but because I want to see that this matter is fairly looked at. That is all. It was said that 32s. was the figure proposed to be fastened by a Conservative Government on the young fellows wounded in this Second World War. This figure of 32s. was fixed in 1920. It was not varied by two Labour Governments, which had the opportunity of raising the matter during the years between the wars. It was altered and assimilated to the other rate of 40s. during the Coalition Government, at the instance of Members of all parties. Of the great reforms which have taken place in the last nine years, the one I have just mentioned, the benefit of the doubt given to claimants, was introduced in the war-time Government. The war pensions to all wives and children were made by the Labour Government. I gladly give them credit for that. It was a method long advocated by many of us and, if I may say so, particularly by myself. I do not feel that it is either dignified or helpful to try and secure party points about this.
The hon. Member for Hornchurch suggested that the unemployability allowance was introduced during the Socialist Government. That is untrue, like so many other of his statements. It was introduced by the war-time Government. again at the instance of all parties. It 649 was improved by the recent Government and raised considerably. I am most grateful for that when I speak for these disabled men. Nor was his point true that it is less important now than it was, because there are fewer unemployed. Nearly all of the hon. Member's statements were untrue or misleading. Unemployment among disabled ex-Service men has not varied greatly over the past 20 years. The hon. Member ought to get his facts better if he is going to make an unhappy and unpleasant speech of that kind.
The question was raised as to what would be the purpose of a Select Committee were one set up. There is a small number of seriously disabled men. The Labour Government very greatly increased the allowances paid to them and we applauded and approved of that when it was done. But they represent only a small number and the total increase in cost to the Ministry of Pensions to meet these particular matters has only been about£1 million a year. The marriage concession cost about£4 million in the year in which it was introduced. The increase made last year was about£1 million. The country may think that is all it can afford; I do not know. I had hoped that before the country embarked on tremendous expenditure, some of which seemed to me wasteful, on vast, ill co-ordinated health services, it might have had a Select Committee to see whether it was doing its duty towards disabled ex-Service men and women.
We still feel we do not know all the facts about these people. There are 600,000 of them partially disabled. Their compensation has only been increased by a relatively small percentage, from 12½per cent. to 30 per cent., in the past 30 years. We are not satisfied that the country knows, that anyone knows, or even that the Minister himself knows, what exactly is the situation of our disabled men and women throughout the land. We think that only by the kind of inquiry which could be made by a Select Committee, a sample inquiry which would get at the facts about the lives of these men and women, that Parliament and the country can know the facts.
What we are asking for, and what is our policy is that these facts should be ascertained through a Select Committee outside the Ministry of Pensions. In 650 case there should be any misunderstanding, I am sure that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) will not mind my making the point, that by a Departmental Committee, in the sense he uses the term, he means the Minister's own Advisory Committee or some committee of the Government. We would object to that. But there is another form of committee, often called a Departmental committee, because it is set up by a Departmental Minister. This is an independent committee which may have on it people of all parties and from outside this House. We would not object to such a committee, nor would we object to a committee appointed to deal with the special point of the retirement pension, which the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield mentioned.
The committee would find out what is the situation of disabled men and women of both the First and Second World Wars. They would review the whole position after the second major war, just as a Select Committee reviewed the position after the first major war. The nation would then be able to judge whether, having regard to the financial situation, it was doing well by these people or not, and the consciences of many people would be satisfied if such an inquiry were to take place. In the last Parliament, had the Whips been off, I am absolutely convinced from pledges given to me and given publicly that a majority of this House would have voted then for a Select Committee.
§ Mr. Shackleton (Preston, South)
On what facts does the hon. Member base his positive statement that the majority of the House would have voted for it? What are his figures?
§ Sir I. Fraser
The fact that we obtained very nearly a majority of Members of all parties who were prepared to put their names down on a Notice of Motion on the Order Paper gives me not the slightest doubt that we would have been successful had the Whips been off. Circumstances have changed somewhat now. The parties are more equally divided. I assure the House that the first desire in my mind, and in the minds of my hon. and right hon. Friends here, is to keep this matter out of party politics. In the quiet of a committee room this matter could be 651 dealt with without the undignified and, venture to use the word, disgraceful speech made by the hon. Member for Hornchurch. We are not concerned whether governments did or did not include this or that before the war. I do not mind whose government it was. I speak for ex-Service men and women when I say that we want the facts now, so that Parliament and people may see if they are doing their duty.
§ Mr. Bing
Since the hon. Member has referred to my speech in those terms, will he say whether he now speaks for his party? Will he say whether his party has now repudiated the policy they advocated towards ex-Service men in the years when they were in power, because when the House considers the question of a Select Committee, it should have that very clearly before it.
§ Sir I. Fraser
As we grow older our consciences are moved by the facts that come under our notice. As a second war intervenes and suffering is brought more to our notice, we as human beings are moved. The Socialist Party cannot claim, and it is monstrous that they should seek to claim, a monopoly of understanding and sympathy. The Conservative Party are moved by these matters. If I had the lime, and I promised not to take long—I did not expect a major Debate today on this—I could show that this nation, by comparison with other nations, and particularly with European nations, has not done ill by ex-Service men and women over the past 30 years. But it has not done well enough, and many of us have been saying so all the time. I cannot speak for our party because I am not one of its leaders, but I affirm that the Conservative Party now want to look into this matter to get all the facts, and, having got all the facts, they want to do the right thing by the ex-Service men and women.
§ 1.11 p.m.
The Minister of Pensions (Mr. Marquanti)
As the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) has said, we did not expect a major Debate on this subject today, and I think the House will sympathise with me in that, under the arrangements to which we all agreed, I now have very few minutes in which to reply to this Debate. The House will hardly expect me to review 652 the whole field of war pensions and allowances and that kind of thing. I must address my remarks mainly to what was said by the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys). I cannot, of course—and I do not imagine that he would expect me to do so—refer to what he said about retired pay of officers, since that matter does not fall within my jurisdiction in any way. I was glad to know that he definitely said he was not accusing this Government of any breach of faith in the matter. What he said will be duly noted by my right hon. Friends who are responsible for Service pay, retired pay and Service pensions.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman also referred to delays in the fitting of artificial limbs and asked if I would inquire into this. Certainly, I will. This again, however, is a subject going far outside the limits of the question of whether or not there ought to be a Select Committee on war pensions, which is the matter before us this morning. The subject was debated at considerable length in the last Parliament—no longer ago than April—on a Liberal Motion. It is true that that referred to a Royal Commission, but the principle was the same, and the arguments advanced at great length were, no doubt, precisely those which would have been advanced had the issue been directly concerned with a Select Committee. On that occasion the Government said that they thought that the appointment of a Select Committee on the specific field of the responsibilities of the Minister of Pensions would be unnecessary and inappropriate, and I have not heard anything this morning that inclines me to change my mind about that. We said that the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the administration of the Royal Warrants in respect of disability pensions and dependants' allowances was unnecessary because the information is there already.
There is no Department of the Government about whose activities, administration or system of payment of allowances more is known than the Department for which I am responsible. Not only have hon. Members the ordinary opportunities of Parliamentary Questions and of discussing the whole administration of the Department on the Estimates or the Supplementary Estimates that are put forward, but they had two Reports, the 653 23rd which reviews a period of eight years of administration, and the 24th which is available to hon. Members and which deals with the last 12 months of my own and my immediate predecessor's administration.
There may be here this afternoon some hon. Members who are new to this House and who are not aware of the existence of these documents. There may even be some here who have been Members of this House for a very long time and who have not bothered to read them. If that is so, I hope they will take my advice and obtain from the Vote Office copies of the 23rd and 24th Reports and read through every word of them, and then search their minds and consciences and ask whether it is really true to say that the information about war pensions is not available. There is ample information, and there are all the other Parliamentary opportunities.
After all, in the last financial year I presented to this House a Supplementary Estimate for over£2 million. It covered more than£1,400,000 for payments of war pensions and allowances over and above what had been estimated by my predecessor, whose administration was so universally applauded in this House on both sides. Over and above what had been estimated by him to be necessary, I presented to the House a Supplementary Estimate for£1,400,000. No opportunity was taken to discuss that and no reference was made to it at the time. I suppose it is out of Order to refer in more detail this morning to the Estimate, but I invite hon. Members to look again at the Supplementary Estimate which I have just presented, covering£1 million more than I myself had estimated would be necessary to cover the great improvements which I have made, through my welfare officers and the like, for finding out the actual position of war pensions.
It is not right to say that the increased expenditure resulting from the improvements which have been made by me and my immediate predecessor amount to only a few million pounds. The Supplementary Estimates themselves in the last two years have amounted to£3,500,000, and those are just Supplementary Estimates; they are over and above what we expected would be the increased cost of the improvements we are making. They are not the total of those improve 654 ments by any means. I cannot go on and say what the totals are, and so on, because that would be getting into a Debate on Estimates, but the information is available. It has been published in detail and in great volume.
I have, as hon. Members know, a Central Advisory Committee which meets frequently, seven or eight times a year, on which are present not merely the leading members of the leading ex-Service organisations in the country but on which I have been careful to secure the assistance of hon. and gallant Members on both sides of the House. In inviting hon. Members to assist me on that Committee, I have tried to keep the balance of parties the same as it is in this House, and I am now proposing, as a result of the General Election, to alter that balance slightly by inviting new Members to join me. I hope they will. That Committee meets regularly and has placed before it a vast volume of information which even exceeds what has been published in the Reports; we do not want to make the Reports too bulky and too indigestible for the general public.
That Committee discusses with me all new departures of policy which are regularly laid before them, and although I must retain the constitutional right that it advises me and does not direct me, whenever any member has indicated to me privately that he would like to have a subject discussed, I have willingly placed it on the agenda and sought the advice of my Advisory Committee. There are Members drawn from all the parties in the House, every one of them ex-Servicemen, and every one of them with a special interest in the problem, meeting me regularly to discuss these matters and to have placed before them a vast amount of information. There are these annual Reports.
The achievement in the way of pensions speaks for itself. Let me refer, for example, to the supplementary allowances. The last time this subject was debated in the House, I said that in the year ending March, 1948, there were 15,000 of the main supplementary allowances in payment—the unemployability allowance, the allowance for lowered standard of occupation and the allowance for constant attendance. In the year ending 655 March, 1948, 15,000 of them were in payment. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said in the last Debate that at the time he was then speaking the number in payment was 29,000. The number in payment today is 42,000. The improvement is going on all the time.
We are finding out about the circumstances of our people. That is why I appointed 60 welfare officers. That is why I changed the name and the whole character of the administration of the Department so that the pensioner now regards the Office as his friend. The pensioner knows that when he goes, he is helped, invited and encouraged to make application for these things which are his due and he knows that he will be helped to fill in the form. How different from the days when, I have been told, officers of the Ministry of Pensions sometimes went out at night and dropped anonymous letters through the letter-boxes of war widows telling them that they were entitled to claim a funeral benefit for the burial of their dead. The rule in those days was that nobody should be told what he was entitled to, that no claim should be considered until it was made and that no initiation of a claim was to come from any officer of the Department.
I know very well that the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale is glad that these improvements have been made and I am sure that there are other hon. Members on that side of the House, as well as hundreds of my hon. Friends, who are glad that improvements of that kind have been made, but when there have been improvements too numerous for me to deal with in the very short space of time at my disposal, when the whole character of the administration has been changed, when the officers have become the friends of the pensioners and no longer the friends of the Treasury, when that type of change has been made in these immense improvements, it is difficult to see the case for the inquiry hon. Members opposite seek.
For example, if hon. Members look it Table D(2) in the 24th Report, setting out the position of severely disabled pensioners of the 1914–18 war who are receiving unemployability supplement and constant attendance allowance, then let them compare the actual payments made to those pensioners in 1939 with the actual payments made to them today. They will 656 see individual cases, selected entirely at random—actual cases of actual men, although their names are not given, picked out at random and set out for all to read. The least amount that any of them get is, for a single man,£5 15s. a week, and the amounts range from£6 18s. to£7 and, in some cases, even£9 a week. Not one has failed to receive 60 per cent. more than he was getting in 1939 and the great majority are getting more than twice the amount they received in 1939. Let hon. Members look at these figures and let them ask themselves whether it is true to say that the information is not available.
I believe that a special inquiry to find out information in this limited field is completely unnecessary. It is also inappropriate, for the simple reason that 4 any improvement or any reduction is to be made in these rates of allowance it must be made by a Government. A Government must take responsibility and those who aspire to become a Government must also declare what their policy is going to be. My hon. Friends, and particularly some of my hon. and gallant Friends who served in the last war and who have close contact with ex-Service men, become indignant on this matter because they regard the concentration of hon. Members opposite upon this particular Department, and the continued reiteration of the request which we have explained so many times cannot be granted, as an attempt to shield the Tory Party from having to declare its policy.
If it is not true that the Tory Party want to be shielded from declaring their policy, then let the Party say so; let them take full advantage of the opportunities which now present themselves—the presentation of the Supplementary Estimates and the presentation, very shortly, of the general Estimate for next year. If it i3 untrue that the demand for a Select Committee has been a device to protect the Tory Party from declaring whether they want an increase in the basic rate of pension or not, then let us have a Debate when these Estimates are introduced. That will be the correct Parliamentary opportunity.
§ Sir I. Fraser rose—
§ Mr. Marquand
I will give way in one moment, but I just want to complete the whole of this paragraph, as it were, in my speech.
657 Dealing with the suggestion that there may be points at which the system of war pensions and allowances might be more accurately dovetailed into or made to march in step with the general system of insurance provisions and of unemployment assistance provisions and all that kind of thing, I would say this: there may, indeed, be some case for a suggestion that the whole range of the social services should he reviewed. But that is another matter altogether. The National Insurance Act provides for the review of the whole system at five-yearly intervals and it may be that, when that time comes, it would be appropriate to review, in the whole context, not the administration but the provisions of the war pensions.
It may be that at that time, when we come to review the National Insurance provisions, it would be an appropriate thing to do, but let me assure hon. Members that at present the provisions for the war pensioner and for the war pensioners' dependants, are far and away better than the general provisions under the National Insurance Act and the Industrial Injuries Act. When the time comes to review these things it may then be appropriate that war pensions should be taken into consideration, but so far we are not convinced by the arguments that a special inquiry into war pensions is either necessary or appropriate at the present time.
§ 1.27 p.m.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
Like the right hon. Gentleman I did not know that this matter was coming up this afternoon. In fact, until I heard the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) I thought the Debate was to be devoted to another subject. It affords me no difficulty to speak, so to say, extempore, because the facts are very clear in my mind. The situation is this: the British Legion, which I imagine the Minister of Pensions and even his hon. Friends behind him would admit is an authoritative body representing the interests of ex-Service men, asked for an inquiry. I suppose the Minister does not deny that?
§ Mr. Marquand
Perhaps I may interrupt the right hon. Member. I thought I was winding up the Debate and I shall have no opportunity to make a 658 second speech. I thought three-quarters of an hour was to be given. The history is this: the British Legion asked for an increase in the basic rate of pensions, which the Government, after due consideration, felt—and explained why—it was unable to grant. It was at that time, for some reason we have never understood, that the demand for a Select Committee was brought up. We cannot help suspecting—I will not put it that way, for perhaps it would be unfair—that instead of demanding an increase in the basic rate and asking the other main political party, as one might have thought would have happened, whether they were in favour of an increase in the basic rate, there was a demand for a Select Committee, so as to have the effect of taking the whole thing out of the range of discussion.
§ Earl Winterton rose—
§ Sir I. Fraser
Perhaps both the Minister and my right hon. Friend will permit me to intervene for a moment. This fact may not be known to either right hon. Gentleman. "The Times" was the first to suggest that the facts were not known in this dispute between the British Legion and the Ministry. That occurred in August and the date can quite easily be looked up. The British Legion Council then decided to ask for a Select Committee.
§ Earl Winterton
If I may say so, the Minister is endeavouring to be reasonable, unlike his hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) who, as I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser), made one of the most disgraceful speeches I have ever heard in this House. It was a speech which, I am glad to say, will do him and his party a great deal of mischief in this country. I hope ex-Service men will note his attitude towards them.
I want to put what I would describe as a friendly argument to the right hon. Gentleman. Let me, first of all, come back to the point which has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale. The British Legion asked for this inquiry. I asked the right hon. Gentleman, and he answered somewhat tortuously, whether he did not agree that the British Legion was 659 the body which, at any rate semiofficially, represents ex-Service men in this country. They asked for an inquiry. Next, if I may deal with a personal matter which perhaps is not of great interest to the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale and myself discussed this question and decided to ask for support in the House, from Members of all parties, for the Select Committee or, as my hon. Friend said in his speech, we should be content with another form of inquiry which is not technically a Select Committee—in other words, an impartial inquiry. We had great support in the House for our Motion. In fact, as my hon. Friend said, I have not the least doubt whatever that, whatever Government was in power, whether a Tory Government or a Socialist Government, had the Whips been taken off for that particular Debate the Motion would have been carried by an overwhelming majority.
The right hon. Gentleman at the time—and he has repeated his argument today—said that such an inquiry was unnecessary because all the facts were known. Well, if that were so every Select Committee that any body outside this House or any body of Members of this House asked to be brought into existence would be wrong—would be unnecessary; for it would be said, "The Government have already made up their minds. They have produced the facts, and they are not prepared to have an impartial investigation whether they are wrong or right." Any Government adopting that attitude is adopting a totalitarian attitude.
§ Earl Winterton
We constantly did. I will tell the hon. Gentleman opposite, in the only further reference I propose to make to his speech, and the. Minister, that my hon. and gallant Friend who initiated this subject today, my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale, and I have pressed Governments of which we were supporters on this subject. To make the statement that we did not is absolutely untrue. We constantly raised the question.
§ Mr. Bing
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He was kind 660 enough to interrupt me on several occasions, and I think these interjections help the Debate. Will he tell us what would have been the attitude—I think he has reached the point of his speech now at which he will be able to tell us—on this Select Committee of the Conservative Party? Would the Conservative Party have been in favour of pensions being given to the wives and children married or born after the disablement? Are they in favour of repudiating previous policy?
§ Earl Winterton
If the hon. Gentleman had listened to my speech he would have received the answer to his question. I want to make it perfectly clear that my hon. Friend and I put down the Motion as individuals—not necessarily as members of the Conservative Party—and that in that Motion we were supported by a number of members of the Conservative Party and by members of the Socialist Party and by members of the Liberal Party. All we asked for was an impartial inquiry.
The hon. Gentleman—and, to some extent, the Minister—said "Before you can ask for an impartial inquiry you have got to say what evidence you yourself will give before the inquiry." In other words, Members of this House are not entitled to ask for a Select Committee to be appointed unless they say in advance what they are going to say before the Committee. Incidentally, what is done by a Select Committee is not open to hearing by this House. The proceedings are not published. Unless, says the hon. Gentleman, Members are prepared to say in advance what they are prepared to say before the Select Committee, the Select Committee is useless.
A more ridiculous statement I have never heard made in this House. There again we see the totalitarian heel in the make-up of the hon. Gentleman. Nobody is entitled to be a member of the Select Committee, and he may have to face the Party Whip, unless, in advance, he says —this, apparently is the teaching the hon. Gentleman has imbibed—what is the complete party policy on the subject. In other words, his mind must not be influenced by what happens in the Committee. He has to do what the Chief Patronage Secretary tells him. That is the attitude of the hon. Gentleman. It is not the attitude taken on- this side of the 661 House. We believe that a Select Committee is a body which impartially approaches the subject before it. It is perfectly true that there may be at the end a party vote. We pay tribute to all Members in all parts of the House that in a Select Committee they use their own judgment on the issues before the Select Committee.
Having been led aside by what the hon. Gentleman said I merely repeat this—what I said on the occasion of the previous Debate. The right hon. Gentleman attempts, with an air of great reasonableness, to evade the request. I will pay him and his predecessors, Tory, Socialist and Liberal, a tribute that I think will be echoed by my hon. Friends behind me, that, speaking generally, ever since the creation of the Ministry of Pensions—I think, in 1918—there has been a general improvement in the administration. It is not a party matter at all. It has taken place under several Governments. The right hon. Gentleman is quite entitled to say, of course, that there has been an improvement in the last few years. But because there has been that improvement, that is no argument against refusing a request by a body outside this House—which is not, as the hon. Gentleman opposite sought obviously to infer, a Conservative organisation; it is a non-party organisation. That is not an argument against having an impartial inquiry at the request of Members of this House and of an important body outside.
I end by saying that whatever Government is in power, whether a Tory or a Socialist Government, or a Coalition Government or anything else, a number of us think that this is a matter of great importance, that there is no question of party allegiance, and that—unlike the hon. Gentleman opposite—we do not allow our attitude towards ex-Service men to be affected by party views. We shall continue to press for this inquiry, and we believe we shall get increasing support from ex-Service sources in the country.
§ 1.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Hollis (Devizes)
Some of my hon. Friends and I have put down an Amendment in the following terms:But humbly regret that the Gracious Speech does not call for a nation-wide survey of good agricultural land now in service occupation in order to make available the largest possible area for immediate agricultural production.662 As hon. Members probably know who have interested themselves in the subject, that is a verbatim quotation from a unanimous resolution passed by the National Farmers' Union, and we are anxious to take this opportunity of raising the matter in the House. I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for giving us a few minutes to bring the matter before the House, and, if he will allow me to say so, I am very grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture for being in his place at a time when, I understand, he is not in the best of health. I appreciate his courtesy. I hope he will be restored to health—if not by Monday night, at any rate, very soon afterwards. It is not for me to say what other Members will try to catch your eye, Sir, or will succeed in doing so; but, so far as I am concerned, although this is a very important point, it is not a point that requires a great length of time to bring up, and I hope that there will be time for hon. Members to raise the matters of fish, the Empire, and the hydrogen bomb, which they are anxious to raise.
The importance of the matter is, I think, obvious. We had a general Debate on agriculture a couple of days ago, and we heard of the necessity for having two million more acres of tillage by 1952; and therefore it is clearly very important to inquire into any possible source of increase in agricultural land. Now there is a vast amount of land in this country in the occupation of the Service Departments in various parts of the country—Yorkshire, Dorset, Devon, Hampshire, Suffolk, Wales, Scotland and, above all, and more than anywhere else, in Wiltshire, where no less than a seventh of the land of the county—not of the agricultural land only, but of the whole of the land of the county—more than 100,000 acres, is held by the Services.
I raise this matter in no attitude of antagonism to the Services. Nor do my hon. Friends. We fully recognise that if the Services are to be efficient they must have land on which to operate, and we are not advocating that they should be turned out of all their own land. Nor am I now raising a subject I have raised before in the House, the subject of the derequisitioning of land, which I have raised before and may raise again. For the moment I am discussing whether 663 better use could not be made of land that is in War Department occupation.
It is an estimate of the National Farmers' Union, for instance, that in Wiltshire there are no fewer than 10,000 acres of the 100,000 acres of War Department land which could be made available to farmers for agricultural use on a year-to-year basis. At present a certain amount of that land is what is called schedule (3) land and is let out for grazing land in lots to farmers at nominal rents, the farmers to be turned out at short notice if the Services want it for their actual day-to-day needs. A great deal of that land is very far from being marginal land. On the contrary, it is agricultural land of very high quality and could well be used as arable land or. if not as arable land, through its stored fertility, for indigenous grass seeds. If the problem of its use by the Services could be solved, we could have a very considerable increase in the arable acreage in those parts of the country. Wiltshire is at present 11,000 acres short of its target for 1952, and, therefore, if any of this land could be brought into immediate agricultural use, it is clearly a matter of very great national importance.
All I am asking is a definite, concrete question, and I shall be very grateful if the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will give a reply. I am not asking that we should turn the Services off this land, but that a permanent standing joint committee, representing the agricultural interests and the War Department, should be set up in order to keep under constant review the question of whether this land is being used to the best advantage. I should be most grateful if the Joint Parliamentary Secretary could answer that question with a simple "Yes," which would be the most satisfactory answer, or if he is not able to do that, if he could explain to the House and to the country very clearly what are his objections.
At present, much of the land held—and doubtless rightly held by the War Department—is not in fact being used to any large extent for military purposes. The situation before the war was different. Then we did not have live training, and it was possible for the War Department to use the land and for agricultural operations to be carried on at the same time. Then came the war, with the Americans 664 and vastly more training, and the land was used solely for military purposes and could not be used for agricultural purposes. In the post-war years we have the military requiring live training, which makes the problem more complex than it was, but, nevertheless, there are large stretches of land held by the War Department where no one sees more than one vehicle or so in six months, and where it would seem possible that some system of cropping could be permitted at the farmers' risk, with the military having the right to require them to put the land down to grass if they intended to use it for military purposes. So long as it was not being actively used, it should be used for agricultural purposes to a greater extent than at present.
There are places where such arrangements are made, and where good private relations have grown up between the War Department and neighbouring farmers, and the farmers are able to plough up the land. In other places, where no great use seems to be made of the land from the military point of view, it should be possible to get leave to use it for agricultural purposes. I should like the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to give a definite answer to the question whether a close survey cannot be made of the whole problem, so as to make certain that, so far as possible, the difficult balance can be achieved whereby the military get what they need for the defence of the country, and, at the same time, as much use as possible is made of the land for agricultural purposes; and whether a permanent standing committee cannot be set up which could deal day by day with the changing agricultural needs and the changing military needs of the country, to make certain that the land is being used to the best possible purpose.
§ 1.45 p.m.
§ Mr. John Morrison (Salisbury)
I rise for only a few moments to support my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) on the subject of the Amendment which stands on the Paper in his name and mine. I should say that I have a slight personal interest in the matter as some land which I farm is under requisition at the present time.
I feel, as one who has lived in Wiltshire for quite a number of years, that that county has played a very considerable part in training the troops of the nation 665 as a whole in two wars and between the wars. I believe that the people of Wiltshire are prepared to continue making that contribution to our national war effort. I fully appreciate the needs of military training because, once in my life, I had to help arrange it for the whole of the south of England.
In this Amendment, we feel that there is scope for further inquiry and survey in the use of much of the land, either owned by the War Department or still under requisition by the Department. Our object in putting down the Amendment was to emphasise that further production could be possible from the land at present under requisition or in the ownership of Service Departments. The agricultrual industry as a whole is worried lest, not only in the case of the Services but also in the case of open-cast coal and the provision of new towns and building—all necessary—too much of our good agricultural land is taken away at a time when we shall want, particularly if Marshall Aid ends, every bit of agricultural production we can get to feed our people.
I would add one personal word, in further support of my hon. Friend, about Salisbury Plain. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will take particular note of it. All my life, I have seen the trees on Salisbury Plain being gradually cut down or knocked down by tanks. For that reason, Salisbury Plain is not such a good training area as it used to be, because in modern war it does not afford the necessary cover. I believe that the Secretary of State for Scotland said earlier this 'morning, on another issue, that we should proceed with the planting of trees, and I think that the War Office could set a good example by planting trees where necessary on War Department land, which would also help military training.
§ 1.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Winterbottom (Sheffield, Brightside)
May I request the indulgence of the House to make my maiden speech? In line with the customs of this House, I wish to refrain from controversial matters. I find that very difficult, because I was fortunate enough to hear the speech of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), which in itself provoked controversy. That speech was very much in line in a new Parliament with the old naked Tory policy; 666 it was only relieved by artistic cleverness. Indeed, it was in line with what most of the Conservative candidates had said during the General Election. If there was one thing that was obvious in the General Election, it was that Toryism cum spurious Liberalism cum vote-catching devices cut no ice with the electorate but showed up the nakedness of the Tory economic and social policy. I know that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite must be grateful because their Parliamentary representation has increased, but I suggest to them that they have more cause for fervent self-congratulation in not being called upon to form a Government and thus to practise what they" preached.
One of the speeches in this Debate' which interested me a great deal was that of the hon. Member for the Hallam Division of Sheffield (Mr. Jennings), in part of which he dealt with the iron and steel industry. As there was a full discussion of that very important industry yesterday, I hope the House will excuse me from now going into the controversial matters which were decided last night. I only want to say, in passing, that in my opinion the decision taken last night must have been almost as great a relief to the Opposition as it was to the Government, because there were prospects of another General Election in the immediate future, with the difficulties of Conservative candidates having to explain to the electorate their attitude towards iron and steel.
Let me return to the speech of the hon. Member for Hallam, who unfortunately is not in his place. The other day he said that he had been returned to this House by the votes of some iron and steel workers. That may be true, but I venture to tell him through the OFFICIAL REPORT, if he will read my speech, that had he been entirely dependent upon the votes of iron and steel workers he would probably have lost his deposit. I say to him, as I say to the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), who also referred to the iron and steel industry, that iron and steel workers cannot be represented from either Warwick and Leamington or even Hallam in Sheffield; representation for iron and steel workers is not to be found in that type of residential area in this country.
667 They, therefore, cannot speak for iron and steel workers as I speak for them, for I represent the Brightside Division of Sheffield, which is composed almost wholly of steel workers. I am very proud to say this. I believe the iron and steel workers of Brightside and Sheffield would want to congratulate the Government on their uncompromising attitude towards the nationalisation of the iron and steel industry, and that they will welcome with joy the result of the Division last night.
I really rose today to speak on something much more important at the moment, and that is the problem of the price level, which was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington. As a new Member, I remember being confronted in the election, on every side, with tremendous posters issued by the Conservative Party saying:Fight The Rising Cost of Living: Vote Conservative.In the last Parliament the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington advocated a reduction in the food subsidies, and I assert that his advocacy of such a reduction is a contradiction of the poster issued by the Conservative Party. A reduction of food subsidies would only automatically increase the price level. The right hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways; either he must cleave to the one and desert the other, or alternatively indulge in conflicting ideas and confusing thoughts.
I believe that an examination of the price level is vitally necessary in the interests of the whole country, and that it should be a priority consideration of His Majesty's Government. The whole of our national economy is dependent upon a solution of this problem; real wages, exports, recovery, security and prosperity are all dependent upon finding a solution to the price level problem. The right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington could not cure the evils of the price-level by monkeying about with food subsidies. The clue to a reduction in prices lies in the word "distribution," and an examination into that aspect of our national economy is badly needed.
Let me make it clear that I am not indicting the men and women who work 'behind the shop counters; I believe they have done a first-class job of work in very difficult circumstances. I have been 668 connected with distribution all my life, and I know it, and I say that in the realm of distribution there are people—intermediaries we call them—whotoil not, neither do they spin;And yet…even Solomon in all his glory was not "—camouflaged as they are. I am saving the good wine for the last; this is the sting in the tail. From time to time Members of Parliament are inundated with requests from all kinds of organisations asking them to support this, that and the other. I have been inundated with requests to oppose the proposed Census of Distribution. Well, I hope that His Majesty's Government will go for- ward with the Census of Distribution, only to give us a much clearer picture of the world of distribution that we ever had before. The Government should continue with this proposal and conduct the census. It has been twice postponed, and its application is long overdue. It will serve to give us a greater knowledge of the distributive trades; it will indicate the waste and chaos in distribution; and it will materially assist to remove the anomalies which are reflected in the price level. The one thing we have to keep in mind is the wide and growing gap between the costs of production and the retail price level.
§ 1.58 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. George Brown)
As I have already taken part in this Debate on the Gracious Speech, I ask leave of the House to speak again in order to reply to the speeches which have just been made.
First, it is nay very great pleasure to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for the Brightside Division of Sheffield (Mr. R. Winterbottom) on his maiden speech. After five years in the House, begin to feel like an old boy, and for the first time now I am able to congratulate a new boy on a most excellent maiden speech, if I may say so with respect. Remembering the occasion upon which I made my own, I must congratulate my hon. Friend upon the ease and comfort with which he made his—an ease and comfort whioh I never managed at the time, and have never managed since. We all look forward to hearing his contributions to our Debates very often.
669 The question raised by the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) and the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. J. Morrison) is one which will have the sympathy of everybody who cares for the use of our land and who is concerned with agricultural production. In both my Department and in that of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for War, we regard this as a matter which has to be looked at very carefully, and with the proper consideration that is its due. As the arguments were developed—as, indeed, they were in an article in a farming journal a little while ago—it became clear that this is not a matter of principle, but a question of individual cases, of what is to be done here and what is to be done there. It is for that reason that, on the whole, I beg to differ on whether a permanent standing joint committee—which sounds very nice and important—would help us in this regard. 'Machinery of that character is probably the last thing that we want.
Let me very briefly go through the sort of arrangements we now have. What we want to be sure about in our own minds is that the flexibility of our arrangements is good enough to make sure in individual cases, either that the right thing gets done or that if it is not we get to know about it quickly so that we can bring it under review. The War Office have never made any difficulty. In my experience, they have always been willing to have the utmost consultation about the agricultural use of such land which they have to use, subject of course to the fact that they have to have training, which is the primary purpose. We have all the information in the Ministry about the agricultural land they have, its category, its degree of usefulness and so on, and it is unlikely that any new body, any national permanent joint standing committee, would add to our knowledge on the subject.
The question is how we can assist in seeing that the land is brought into agricultural use in the best possible way. The kind of machinery we have is this. Locally, the county agricultural executive committee, the county advisory officer and the committee, are in touch with the commanding officer or station commander as the case may be, and discussions go on at that sort of level on what can be done. Regionally, we have the provincial land 670 commissioner who discusses, negotiates and consults with the command land agent. We have the closest consultation both locally and regionally, and the regional method really amounts to a standing permanent joint committee.
It may sometimes happen that there is disagreement as to how much use can be made of a piece of land, whether it can be let in the way suggested on a year-to-year basis, or dealt with in some other way. There is provision for headquarter discussion between the War Office and our Department as a result of any failure, if that is the right word to use, in reaching complete agreement as to what can be none. My hon. Friend and I have on several occasions been the channel through which these discussions have gone on. Therefore, we think that there is no argument for adding any new machinery, which could only make the matter a little more cumbersome. It would mean setting up some other body to which these questions would be referred, thereby preventing the flexibility we require.
It often happens that the best way of bringing this sort of thing to light is to get the views of the local people. On the whole, our county agricultural executive committees invariably seem to know the position about the land that is held. We shall always be pleased to receive comments from the local N.F.Us. or individual farmers who feel that land is not being properly used. It does not necessarily follow that, in all cases where local people feel that land is not being properly made use of, they know all the circumstances. In many cases that have been referred to me there have been arguments to show that the situation was not as the local people thought.
Perhaps I might give some figures in this respect which are quite interesting. The total amount of land held in full possession of the three Service Departments is a little over 817,000 acres. Of that, 286,000 acres are already on direct lettings to farmers, and nearly 100,000 under letting to our C.A.E.Cs. It means that already 380,000 acres are on agricultural lettings. That leaves us with 420,000 acres, not all of which would be agricultural land as we properly understand it—I suspect that a large proportion would not be. Even if that were the case, if we set that against the 30 million acres of 671 good agricultural and grazing land, it is a very small drop in the ocean. I am not suggesting that as an excuse, but it does show that there is evidence that the War Office are not unwilling to let as much land as they possibly can.
There can be no question that we are all concerned about the position in Wiltshire. In view of the type of land that county is fortunate enough to have, the amount the Service Departments have to use for good national reasons is bound to cause a good deal of feeling. We are arranging for the two Departments, the War Office and ourselves, to bring the whole position in Wiltshire under review at headquarter level, to see whether we cannot do more to bring into agricultural production a rather greater area of the 100,000 acres which the Service Departments have in that part of the country. The preliminary steps were taken some time ago. The review will be shortly under way, and we hope to give the hon. Member the substance of what they hope to do so far as Wiltshire is concerned. I think that we have all the machinery we want, but subject to that we are always pleased to have any information at any time.
§ Mr. J. Morrison
Will the Parliamentary Secretary consult with the new Secretary of State for War in regard to plantings as I feel it would help the military position, because it is essential to have adequate cover for modern mechanisation manoeuvres?
§ 2.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)
I understand that we are now back on the general Debate. I have had my name put down on both of the Amendments that have just been discussed, but as I wished to refer to other matters as well, I have chosen to wait until now before speaking. Before the Parliamentary Secretary departs, I should like to say that there are certain points I wish to develop that concern his Department, but as it is some time, I suspect, since he has fed, if he will undertake to read in HANSARD what I have to say, I will readily understand if he has to leave the Chamber.
§ Mr. Marshall
The two main issues to which I wish to address myself concern our economic position. May I say, in passing, that it is interesting for Members to reflect that the gap which has closed in this House has brought about a very good thing indeed, in that yesterday we had the good fortune to hear that the Control of Engagement Order is to be withdrawn? Nothing has been more repugnant to me than the principle of the Control of Engagement Order. It seems odd, however, that when the Lord President of the Council was answering the Leader of the Independent Liberal Party on Monday, the words he used were in defence of such orders, and yet it was only yesterday when the Minister of Labour came to the House and told us that he was repealing the Control of Engagement Order.
Time and again during this Debate—and I have listened to most of the speeches —it has appeared to me that there has been a complete sense of unreality as to the real position of the country at the present moment. What did the Chancellor of the Exchequer have to say in this regard in 1949? He said:Our industries, our standards of living, indeed our civilisation itself must fade and wither away."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th October, 1949; Vol. 468, c. 1353.]So they must if we cannot conquer this matter of the battle of the gap Speaking in the Debate on the Address, the Prime Minister used very important words, but words which find only a small space in the whole speech. He said:We have only two years left of the breathing space accorded to us by Marshall Aid before we have to stand completely on our own feet. That is always before us."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th March, 1950; Vol. 472, c. 67.]No one could agree more with the passage than I, but what has happened with regard to the Gracious Speech? Is there anything in the Speech which really purports to get us on our feet? In spite of all the things which separate hon. Members on this side from hon. Members on the other side, we all stand for full employment and for the maintenance of the social services. If we do not succeed in our effort to get this country on its feet, 673 there will result something too tragic for us to contemplate. Anybody who suggests that that is not sincere is not being sincere himself.
The great division between us in the House is: How can we maintain those things? Quite properly and quite rightly hon. Members opposite argue the case for further nationalisation, and equally properly and rightly we argue the case based upon our policy. What is the result? At the present moment we have a Gracious Speech which has no policy at all, and at this time of crisis, the danger of which is acknowledged by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister, how did the Prime Minister refer to it yesterday? He referred to it as a Gracious Speech which is admittedly not exciting—"not exciting" at a time in our history when we required greater purpose than ever before in order to overcome our difficulties.
Hon. Members opposite will believe my sincerity when I say that we stand for the social services and for full employment. But how are we going to bring that about when competition arises as it does at this moment? Already there are difficulties in the shipbuilding yards and in the ship repair industry. We know, too, of the competition from Germany and Japan. In face of these things, we must maintain our standard of life. Nothing is mentioned in the Gracious Speech about that in any way.
There is also no mention of the question of rising costs. The full effect of devaluation has not been felt as yet, and there have been price rises according to the Board of Trade index of import prices. Based on 100 in 1947, food, drink, and tobacco have increased by 9, raw materials by 12, manufactured goods by 20 and all other items by 13. These effects have not been felt in full, but they are being felt by the old age pensioner and by people of small fixed incomes. The full force will be felt by many more in a short period of time.
The hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Dye), who moved the humble Address in reply to the Gracious Speech, mentioned the question of horticulture. He quite rightly and properly asked the Government to attend to this matter, because it was becoming extremely serious for many horticulturists.
674 On a day or two before he made that speech, I received this wire:Market for Cornish broccoli ruined by foreign imports. County executive N.F.U. requests immediate action to stop imports in view of large supplies of home-grown produce available for rest of market.Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, who has just left the Chamber, will give due attention to that matter and see what possibly can be done.
In this Debate we have already heard about the fishing industry, the rising costs of nets and other forms of gear, the question of over-fishing and the ratification of the Convention. What is being done? There is another point I wish to make on the subject of the fishing industry. The former Minister of Food and his Parliamentary Secretary assured me in the last Parliament that if at any time the import of Japanese canned pilchards affected the British market to the detriment of our industry and of the canning industry, it would be stopped. I should like to have that assurance repeated. At the present moment we do not produce sufficient to supply the entire home market, but how can people be expected to develop refrigeration, canning and undertake to take the total amount of fish landed unless they can be assured that cheap Japanese competition is not going to act to their detriment?
I do not want to keep the House over long, because I know a number of hon. Members want to speak. I opened my speech by stressing the necessity to realise our difficulties, and there are certain measures which to my mind should be taken. I am not at all sure that, however much we increase our production in this country here, that in itself is going to be sufficient. We have got to develop to the full our Empire resources, and we have got to concentrate upon the earnings of our invisible exports.
The spirit and the genius of Dick Whittington are still in our land. Compliment must be paid to that genius and method instead of approaching it with the attitude that profits should not be the reward of such endeavour. We need this great genius, and it is very important that it should be promoted here. During the time of the Budget I believe it will be necessary to reconsider the whole question of reward, particularly 675 with regard to earned income relief. We must give an incentive at this time where it is necessary. We can conquer our difficulties, but we will never do so unless we realise the magnitude of the task and the genius of our race.
§ 2.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Finch (Bedwellty)
I crave the indulgence of the House on rising for the first time to take part in its deliberations. I do so on this occasion because it affords me the greatest pleasure to see that the Gracious Speech makes reference to proposed legislation to give further encouragement to the transfer of industrial undertakings to the development areas. I represent a mining constituency in South Wales, where there was mass unemployment in the inter-war years. This condition no longer exists, there is now full employment for able-bodied men. Factories have been established which have given employment to large numbers of men and women. We are no longer a distressed area. At the same time, we have in South Wales a problem due to the high percentage of men who are certified as suffering from pneumoconiosis. That disease is due to the inhalation of mineral dust, which solidifies in the lungs and gives rise to various degrees of disability, and, in too many cases, to death.
The human suffering and loss of manpower due to pneumoconiosis finds no parallel in any coalfield in this country, or in any other industry. The disease is largely due to the nature of the strata of coal mined in South Wales, and to the neglect to take preventive methods to allay the dust in the pits; and, in turn, this was largely due to the lack of initiative by private enterprise before nationalisation. It may interest the House to know that from 1937 until 1948 there were certified in the South Wales coalfields as suffering from pneumoconiosis 17,297 workmen, in a matter of 12 years. In addition, 1,334 men died from the disease in the same period.
The House will therefore. appreciate that when we support the Gracious Speech in asking for the setting up of industries in South Wales, we are attempting to solve the problem of finding employment for a large body of men. Although 30,000 men have gone out of the industry during the years 676 which I have mentioned, great credit is due to the Ministry of Labour and to the Board of Trade, which have been able to lower the rate of unemployment among disabled men to 5,000. Just under 5,000 men are now unemployed in South Wales, and they are actually disabled. If we take an average of three per family, there are 15,000 people existing upon unemployment benefit in South Wales.
There is no room for complacency on this matter. It will be generally agreed that coal mining is vital to our national economy. The hon. Member who preceded me referred to the economic position of this country. Coal mining lies at the basis of our national economy. We had a long Debate yesterday on steel. I would remind the House that there can be no steel without coal, and that no coal can be produced without men. Young men will be reluctant to enter the industry without being guaranteed suitable employment in the event of disability. The establishment of further industries should enable the Government to give such guarantees. I have been the compensation secretary of the Miners' Federation in South Wales for many years and I know, as a result of meetings and conferences that have taken place from time to time during the past two years, that firms are reluctant to come to South Wales and set up factories for the employment of disabled men. Some employers have come to South Wales, but their numbers are relatively small. If private enterprise cannot come to South Wales to try to absorb the thousands of men disabled, in particular because of pneumoconiosis, the Government should establish factories and run them in the interests of the community.
At New Tredegar, Monmouthshire, in my constituency, as in so many other parts of the coalfield in South Wales, the community depends entirely upon the working of the neighbouring pit. Scores of men in that neighbourhood are suffering from pneumoconiosis and are idle. If this disease can be dealt with, and if the men are given security by being given suitable work at a factory in that district, a very great degree of confidence will be created. This is one of the problems arising from the legacy of the past. It is our duty to adopt every scientific means to combat this disease. The Minister of Fuel and Power and the National Coal Board 677 have encouraged methods such as water infusion and wet cutting, and I am pleased to see that during the last 12 months there has been a slight decline in the number of men certified as suffering from pneumoconiosis.
I contend that wet cutting, water infusion, and all the processes which go towards making mines safer, should be compulsorily applied to every pit, particularly in the South Wales coalfield. All men should be periodically examined. In the factories, and in many branches of the Civil Service, persons are examined from time to time to ascertain whether they have tuberculosis, yet in the mining industry, which is so vital to our national economy, there are no periodic examinations until a man has been certified. It is left to the men to apply to go to a medical board but in many cases they do not apply until too late. When they are examined they are discovered to be in the later stages of the disease, and thus they are lost to the industry. At a time when manpower is so short everything should be done to maintain the supply of labour in the pits. I hope the time is not far distant when it will be possible to apply periodic examinations to all the men in the mining industry.
Perhaps I might sum up by saying that if the Government give a guarantee of suitable employment for men in the mining industry, if they can watch the health of those employed in it by means of periodic examinations, and can introduce compulsory methods to prevent pneumoconiosis, they will go a very long way towards putting the mining industry on a firm and sure foundation. Not only would manpower be saved but I am convinced that recruitment for the mines would be helped in a far more effective way than by the bills and posters we see on the hoardings up and down the country. The miners have made a great response to the nation's call. They can help us to win the battle of the gap, but, in return, it is the responsibility of the nation to see that the men employed in the industry are given safeguards to health and welfare in every respect. I hope that as a result of this small contribution to the Debate, this maiden speech of mine this afternoon, there will be some outcome in the way of greater means of safety to those employed in the mining industry.
§ 2.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Maudling (Barnet)
As this is the first occasion when I have had the privilege of addressing this House, I should like to start by craving its indulgence and by hoping that the shortcomings of my speech will be treated by the House with the tolerance which it normally accords to maiden speakers.
I should like to say one or two things about a subject which has not been mentioned very often during this Debate and which, rather surprisingly, does not appear to be mentioned in the Gracious Speech: that is, the continuing danger of inflation. Of all the economic difficulties now facing us, none is more important than the continuing upward pressure of prices. Certainly, housewives know perfectly well how important and what a great social problem rising prices have been in recent years, and prices will continue to rise for the next few months, if anything, rather faster than they have done recently.
Nor is that the only reason why the danger of inflation still remains so important. On 26th October last the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in a speech to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) has already referred, issued a very grave warning when he said that unless we can all increase our production quickly and bring down our costs we shall be facing the danger of a tragic fall in our standard of living and widespread unemployment. The stern nature of this warning has been a little muffled in recent weeks but, nevertheless, that warning remains as true today as when it was issued in October.
In dealing with the problem of inflation, much emphasis is nowadays laid on the need for a Budget surplus. That is a rather novel idea but it is one which is now accepted, I believe, on both sides of the House. The point I wish to make is that a Budget surplus is not necessarily the best way, in every case, to counter the danger of inflation. It depends partly on how the surplus is achieved. A surplus based on increased taxation rather than on decreased Government expenditure may be positively harmful; and if we are mesmerised by the idea of a Budget surplus we may tend to forget the other methods of countering inflation, such as increased personal savings or increased production.
679 After all, the main purpose is to equate goods with purchasing power. The purpose of a Budget surplus is to reduce purchasing power at a time of excessive demand; but purchasing power can be reduced by increased individual savings. On the other hand, the amount of goods available will be increased by increased production. I suggest, therefore, that the Government should not always turn down suggestions which may increase personal savings or help even further to increase production merely because they may make some reduction of the prospective Budget surplus.
I should like to make one or two suggestions: first, on the subject of savings, and second, on production. The main two reasons why national savings figures have been so disappointing recently have been the high level of taxation and the feeling among savers that the money they put aside may, over a period of years, lose its value, either by the attrition of steadily rising prices or by confiscatory measures which may be imposed by a Government. These, however, are rather large subjects and somewhat controversial for this occasion.
I want to make just two suggestions. First, would the Government look again at the rate of interest currently paid on the present issue of National Savings Certificates? That rate of interest has not varied in the last two years, whereas the yield on gilt-edged securities has considerably increased. Consequently, the differential between the two, if I may use that phrase. has been altered to the disadvantage of the small saver. It is possible that a small additional expenditure on interest on National Savings Certificates might yield a very large disinflationary potential in the form of increased personal savings. Second, there is the position of the professional classes and the self-employed people, who, in the past, have contributed very largely towards the total volume of individual savings. Nowadays, we all realise that people who are self-employed or in the professions find it very difficult to save anything at all. In one respect they are worse off than people who are employees in industry.
A man employed in industry, in whatever capacity, can, I understand, nor- 680 mally take out a contract for a deferred annuity through an approved superannuation scheme and treat the premiums as an expense for Income Tax purposes. That applies to an employee, whether he be a manager, an executive, or engaged in any other capacity. Since the Finance Act, 1916, however a similar concession has not been available to a partner, to a professional man, or to the self-employed. I ask the Government to consider whether the extension of these provisions in respect of similar premiums for the self-employed would not once again, at the cost to the Treasury of only a very small amount, yield a considerable volume of fresh savings, which are as much an effective safeguard against inflationary pressure as an increased Budget surplus.
All hon. Members on this side of the House, I think, believe that the main hindrance in the way of increased production today is the weight of taxation. Hon. Members opposite rather tend, if anything, to minimise the effect of taxation upon the wage earner. It is sometimes suggested that the weight of taxation falls only on the profits of, or the very high level executives in, industry, but I should like to quote certain figures. A married man with one child starts paying Income Tax on an annual income of£300. He starts paying Income Tax at the second rate—the 6s. rate—on an annual income of£362. In other words, at about£7 per week, which is the average industrial earnings of an adult male, the rate of Income Tax jumps from 3s. in the£ to 6s. in the£.
Before the war, in 1939, Income Tax allowances were broadly similar; therefore, the point at which Income Tax became payable was roughly the same then as it is now. Before the war, however, the average industrial earnings figure was 69s., and not 139s. as it is now. Of course, prices have shown a certain rise at the same time. Not only was that true; it was also true that when a man started paying Income Tax, for the first£135 he paid at the rate of 1 s. 8d. I advance these statistical considerations, therefore, as some backing for the argument, which I believe has much validity, that the impact of P.A.Y.E. on weekly earnings is a very great disincentive to production 681 Many ingenious schemes have been put forward for trying to overcome this difficulty and trying to get out of the position we are in now, when increased earnings always attract a higher rate of tax. I myself doubt whether any of these schemes would produce a final solution, because our tax system is based on the principle that the higher the income the higher the rate of tax, and if that principle is applied to annual salaries it would be difficult to avoid applying it to weekly earnings. The suggestion which I would like to make to the Government is that, between now and the Budget and Finance Bill, the Chancellor should look at the reduced rate reliefs and see if it is possible to extend the present lowest level of Income Tax relief at 3s. in the pound on the first£50 of taxable income to£100 or even£150. This is in line with what the Chancellor did a year or two ago in extending the 6s. level from£75 to£200.
It would be well worth while to consider the possibility of extending that first reduced rate from the first£50, as at present, to£100 or perhaps£150. In so many cases, increased earnings, from extra hard work or increased output, suddenly attracts the increased rate of taxation. I know that any such alteration would involve the Treasury in a substantial loss of revenue, but the point is that that loss of revenue might be more than counterbalanced by the gain in production which would arise from such relief.
The main point I want to make is that a Budget surplus is, in many cases, a good way of tackling the problem of inflation, but not always, and not irrespective of the means by which it is achieved. The method of applying leeches, when first used by the medical profession was a great advance, but it became customary to apply leeches whatever the patient or the complaint. I think there is some analogy here. If financial leeches, if I may use such an expression to describe tax gatherers, are applied they may he very useful indeed with a patient suffering from galloping inflation, but if applied too long and too assiduously the effect may be not to increase production or reduce inflationary pressure, but to drain strength from the patient and make ultimate recovery more painful and more prolonged. We cannot, in this country, tax ourselves into prosperity.
§ 2.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Donnelly (Pembroke)
I rise with great diffidence for the first time to address this House. In so doing I hope I can count on the generosity of both sides of the House, for which it is famous throughout the world. I hope the House will not mind my making reference to two short points before I come to the main subject of my speech, which is the question of leasehold reform.
First, I would like to support my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) in his welcome to the statement in the Gracious Speech that the development areas will be given considerable assistance. A great many people who visit my constituency of Pembrokeshire are under the impression that it is only a holiday resort about to be scheduled as a national park, but we also have an industrial problem there and a development area as well. I am profoundly sorry that some of the reconstruction work in Pembroke Dock has not been pressed forward with the same vigour as has been the case in other areas in South Wales. I hope the new Measures which the Government are bringing forward will be of considerable assistance to the town of Pembroke Dock. I hope, too, that in due course, the President of the Board of Trade will (Jive some consideration to extending that development area so as to include at least Milford Haven, which has 10 times the rate of unemployment in relation to the national average. This is a very serious problem indeed for the people of Milford Haven.
Second, I would like to welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to better conditions for fishing crews. I hope the Government will also give consideration to some more comprehensive Measures soon, because the plight of the fishing industry is very serious, and such Measures would be those from which all fishing towns would benefit.
Third, I come to the main subject which I wish to talk about—the question of leaseholds. This is a problem applicable to the whole of Great Britain in general, but particularly applicable to the town of Pembroke Dock. There almost 90 per cent. of the properties are leasehold, and the danger of leases falling in hangs like a sword of Damocles over the lives of the inhabitants of that unfortunate town.
683 I hope the Attorney-General will be able to give us some hope of the immediate introduction of a Measure of leasehold reform. If the report of the Committee considering the question is not ready I hope my right hon. and learned Friend will give consideration to the introduction of a short, non-controversial Bill which will freeze all leases due to fall in at present, because every month's delay is raising new human problems in all leasehold areas.
If my right hon. and learned Friend introduced some such Bill, freezing leases without prejudice to either side until a permanent Measure could be introduced, I am quite sure that it would receive support on both sides of the House. This problem is not only a technical legal problem, but also a very real human problem, and I hope it will be approached in that humanitarian spirit for which the Labour movement has campaigned and which it has supported for so long. Like many others, I entered. the Labour Party because it was interested in people as people and set itself to improve the life and lot of the ordinary common people. I hope my right hon. and learned Friend and the Government will not mind being reminded by the newest, and I believe, according to the Press, the youngest of their supporters, that a Measure such as I have mentioned would mean a great deal to the ordinary people of these islands.
§ 2.48 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Hartley Shawcross)
Although I rise only to deal with one point which has been raised in the last three speeches, I am sure that the House would wish me on its behalf to congratulate the hon. Members for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch), Barnet (Mr. Maudling) and Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly), on the admirable maiden speeches to which the House has just listened. I should like, on behalf of the House, to congratulate them not only on the general ability of their speeches, but upon the success which they achieved in making controversial matters entirely non-contentious, and also on the obvious sincerity of their feelings and their knowledge of the subjects upon which they spoke. I am sure the House will wish to hear frequently from them the 684 contributions which they can make to our discussions.
Although I am by no means an old hand, I am afraid that this is not—I wish it were—my maiden speech, but I shall endeavour to make it as brief and noncontroversial as would befit that of a new Member of the House. I want to say a word or two on this undoubtedly important question of the leasehold law.
I do not think that I shall be saying anything of a controversial nature if I say that there can be no doubt that this is a branch of the law which requires, and urgently requires, reform. I do not think, either, that there can be any doubt that in the past there have been some cases—and because I do not want to be controversial, I shall go no further than that—in which landlords have exploited the position of the sitting tenants, both in commercial premises and in the more numerous and more socially important cases of residential tenants; and, where leases have been about to fall in, there is no doubt, at any rate in some cases, that the existing law has worked injustice and serious hardship.
That was a matter which was well realised by His Majesty's advisers during the course of the last Parliament. But as it was one which raised most difficult and complicated questions of law, we thought it would be proper, before finally framing any policy in regard to it, to take the advice of an expert committee. Indeed, that is the course which we have generally adopted in regard to all questions of law reform. We have thought it appropriate to set up an entirely impartial committee presided over by, as a rule, some distinguished lawyer who might take evidence about the whole problem and then make recommendations in the light of which the Government of the day could consider what legislation, if any, was required.
That was the course that we adopted in regard to this question of leasehold reform, and we appointed a Committee presided over then by the late Lord Uthwatt. That Committee presented an interim report dealing with certain aspects of the matter in relation to commercial premises, but, most unfortunately, before it had been able to complete its studies, Lord Uthwatt died. If I may say so, he was an outstanding personality 685 in the legal and public life of this country. His death was an irreparable loss, and one of the very many public misfortunes which resulted from it was that, inevitably, the Leasehold Reform Committee was set back. Lord Justice Jenkins was good enough to take over the chairmanship of the Committee, but a good deal of reconsideration of matters which had already been discussed no doubt became necessary, and the studies of that Committee were consequently somewhat prolonged.
I am assured, however, that the Committee are now in the process of considering their final report, which is already in existence in a draft state, and that we may look forward to the presentation of that report-1 do not want to give any fixed date for it—in a comparatively short time. That being the position, it would be, I think, improper for me to say anything of a controversial nature, or to indicate any views which I or my colleagues might have on this subject which would in any way prejudice either the deliberations of the Committee, which is still sitting, or the report that they may eventually present. But I should like to assure the hon. Member for Pembroke, and the many other hon. Members who are interested in this important topic, that we do realise the urgency of it, that we do realise that it is increasingly urgent now, because it so happens that in the next year or two an increasing number of leasehold properties, both commercial and residential, are likely to fall in, and that as soon as the report has been presented—as we expect it to be in a short time—we shall give the matter earnest and urgent consideration.
I cannot anticipate—and I think it would be undesirable that I should at this moment—what methods may be suggested for the solution of these complicated problems. One has to consider not only the position of the tenant, which is often one of very great hardship, but also the position of such cases as an owner who has just recently bought the property, perhaps at an inflated price, knowing that the lease was going to fall in and hoping that he was going to be able to gain possession of it for his own residence. One has to consider cases of hardship of that kind on both sides. I will not indicate at all what methods might be adopted in order to find some equitable 686 and proper solution of these problems, but I do assure the House that as soon as the report is available we shall consider it in an endeavour to frame and to announce to the House an appropriate, and I hope a generally acceptable, policy in regard to it.
§ 2.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Russell (Wembley, South)
Like three previous hon. Members who have addressed the House this afternoon for the first time, I would like to crave the indulgence of the House on speaking in it on the first occasion. In fact, I would not have ventured to do so, particularly in view of the advice I have received from many senior Members in the last week or so not to make a maiden speech in a hurry unless one has a great urge to do so, had I not desired to refer to a certain section of the Gracious Speech. That is why I venture to say a few words this afternoon.
That section is the one addressed to Members of this House only, which warns us that we shall be asked to approve orders making certain changes in the Customs tariff arising from the agreement concluded at the Annecy Conference last summer. The reason I refer to that section of the Gracious Speech is that I do not like the results of the Annecy Conference, because those orders resulting from it can only mean one thing—further reductions in the margin of tariff preferences which Britain grants to Empire countries on most of their produce and manufactures.
It is quite true that those reductions, or most of them, may not in themselves be of very great importance. In fact, I think the most important subjects on which these preferences are to be reduced are cod liver oil, blue veined cheese and unwrought aluminium. I think I am right in saying that in the case of unwrought aluminium it is to be abolished altogther. To my mind, that is a very unwise measure from this point of view, that it is being done at the request of Norway and at the expense of Canada. It is an unwise policy for us to take a step which may result in our depending more on a foreign country like Norway for our supplies of aluminium and less on one of our own Dominions, particularly a Dominion like Canada, which had to come to our rescue in 1940 when supplies from all parts of Western Europe were cut off.
687 Apart from that, this is also a very vital question of principle, and I do not want any legislation which will whittle down still further our existing preferential system. Furthermore, the conference at Annecy has resulted in our giving undertakings to bind certain Customs duties on other commodities at existing rates. For instance, we have agreed to bind the duty of 2s. per cwt. on dried currants. We have agreed to bind a 10 per cent. Customs Duty on tomatoes, a 15 per cent. Customs Duty on cheese, and a 15s. per cwt. Customs Duty on butter. That might mean, in the case of butter, that if Denmark, for example, succeeded in producing butter at more than a penny a pound cheaper than New Zealand, she might succeed in squeezing New Zealand butter out of the British market.
This retrograde policy, as I cannot help calling it, began as the result of the American Loan Agreement in 1945, when we agreed to consider proposals for the reduction and the eventual elimination of Imperial Preference. The policy was put into operation, first of all, at Geneva in the summer of 1947. The theory behind it, which is one of complete nondiscrimination in international trade, was also agreed to at Geneva in the draft trade charter produced in 1947. That charter was put into its final form at Havana in the winter of 1947–48, and another step in this policy was taken at the conference of Annecy last summer.
We are now threatened with a further international conference, this time at Torquay. I make no complaint about holding any international conference at Torquay, or anywhere else on British soil. Not only will that bring us some valuable foreign exchange, but it will give our people a better opportunity of being told what is going on at this conference than they would have if it were held on foreign soil. It is rather curious that they should always choose very desirable watering places for conferences of this kind, first of all Geneva, then Havana, then Annecy and now Torquay. At the risk of offending one or two hon. Members opposite, I sometimes wonder whether, if places like Wigan or Gateshead were chosen, it might not speed up the negotiations, particularly if the delegates had to live in Nissen huts or other 688 unpleasant accommodation, as some of our people have to do.
I attended the Geneva conference several times as a spectator in the summer of 1947. I was present at the plenary session which adopted the draft trade charter. I have never seen less enthusiasm for any proposal than was shown at that session. The whole charter, with the system which it proposes to introduce, is really a piece of humbug which can never be put in practice in full. The conference practically ignored the result of further reductions in our tariff preferences. A letter has already been sent out to organisations like the Federation of British Industries asking for their views on items which might concern them. We have also been warned that there will be reductions in the margins of preference at present accorded by other Commonwealth countries to the United Kingdom on United Kingdom goods. I shudder to think of the effect of any more reductions on that account.
I believe one hon. Member mentioned Japan in the course of this Debate. What is going to happen if we abolish this system of Empire preference and if in due course we suffer from increased competition from Japan? What is going to happen to British goods in Dominion markets if we cannot get the tariff preferences we get at present? Economically this is a policy of complete madness. If carried to the end aimed at by American proposals, which are really behind it, it will lead to nothing less than the economic break-up of the British Empire.
I should like to see any future conference held on this question, not as an international conference to bring about further reductions in Empire preference, but as an Empire economic conference to plan our Empire trade and our system of Imperial Preference in the light of post-war conditions. If we are to survive as an Empire, we must be free to regulate our Empire trade as we think fit. We must therefore rid ourselves of these obligations, entered into since the war, to reduce and whittle down and eventually abolish our Empire preference system and all these conditions under which we have agreed to bind existing Customs duties at their present rate. Not until we do that, and we get back to 689 the atmosphere of Ottawa of 1932, shall we set ourselves an the road to recovery, and on the way to making the Empire a prosperous organisation, as it was before the war.
§ 3.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Janner (Leicester, North-West)
I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) on the interesting speech he made and on the manner in which he delivered it. I am quite certain that we shall look forward with considerable pleasure to any further contribution he makes. Certainly, any contribution similar to that which he made this afternoon will be helpful lo the House as a whole.
I rose principally to deal with a matter on which my right hon. and learned Friend has already spoken. I feel that it is sufficiently important to bring this subject to the further notice of the House. We are particularly concerned with the question of peace in the world and, while it is highly essential that we should dispense as rapidly as possible with the monstrous inventions that have been made and which can destroy the peace of the world and while the Gracious Speech indicates that the Government have this matter well in hand—for which we are very grateful to the Government—at the same time we have to consider at least one other important policy for settling the difficulties of the world. I believe that our Government, from 1945 onwards, provided an approach to problems which can be used as an example to the rest of the world in order that a similar type of approach in the international field may result in ultimate peace.
We must remove the insecurities and fears which exist among nations as well as people, and deal with the problems of the peoples of the world on a family basis, as we have done from 1945 onwards, with our own people, irrespective of their positions. We have provided for the essential needs of everybody in a manner which has earned the admiration and respect of the world for the Labour Party which was in power at that time, for its welfare work, and the establishment of a Welfare State. If we can continue on those lines, removing other insecurities and fears, we shall be able, when participating in the deliberations of the nations 690 of the world, to ask all nations to follow our example in settling international affairs.
I should like to come to the point that I particularly want to mention with respect to a grave insecurity which still exists in our country today. During the election campaign, after having softened so far as they could by considerable previous advertisement, the outlook of the electors, in order that they might be frightened into the wrong belief that they were being taxed to death, the Opposition included in this policy of theirs a terrifying method with regard to the small shopkeeper. One would imagine from the Opposition propaganda that the Socialist Government had made up its mind that it was going to eliminate the whole of the small shopkeepers, taking over sweet businesses and goodness knows what. During the campaign the support of the small shopkeeper was sought by the Opposition on lines similar to these.
The truth is quite different. In my constituency we had to dispense with the Official Receiver's office because there is no longer any need for an office of that nature. Bankruptcy has almost disappeared altogether from the town, thanks to the actions of the Labour Government. The small shopkeeper had a fair deal and was able, while not making a fortune, to keep his business going properly in consequence of the actions that were taken here. But I am bound to say that there is a very grave fear in the hearts of the small shopkeepers, and that is why I am raising this point. Far be it for me to suggest that all landlords come within this category, but the fear of these shopkeepers is that when their tenancies terminate they will be left without the premises in which they obtained a means of livelihood, and with no possibility of being able to provide themselves with alternative accommodation in which to carry on their business.
That is not an inconsiderable fear; it is a very serious fear. To rely on the decency of the landlord—and in many cases one can rely on it, of course—means that the person concerned has to hope for the best, but the trouble is that he fears the worst and is constantly in dread lest his position should become an impossible one when his tenancy ends. I want to ask the Attorney-General to examine again the Interim Report which has already been produced by the 691 Committee to which he has referred. It is not a question of the passing of a few days or a few months; it is a question of a Report which appeared, I believe, about a year ago. In that year large numbers of small shopkeepers were put out of business because nothing was done to remedy the position in which they found themselves when their tenancies expired.
I appeal to my right hon. and learned Friend to try and do something, if he possibly can, before the whole question of adjusting rents and so on reaches a position which may involve months and months of argument and controversy. I do not want the Opposition to have the opportunity to hold up this kind of legislation merely because, at this stage, we are saying that we shall wait until the whole Report comes forward and then bring in a consolidating Bill. It may take months and months to pass the consolidating Bill, and we may find ourselves in the difficulty of not being able to deal with the many instances of hardship which occur meanwhile.
Some hon. Members will recall that I have constantly pressed for consolidating legislation. That was all right and still is all right, but it takes time. It is bound to take a considerable amount of time. Even when the Report is received there are so many anomalies in the Rent Acts that it will take months before they can be removed. I see the hon. and learned Member for South Kensington (Sir P. Spens) smiling approvingly, he knows as well as I do that it will take months and months to clear up the position. I think it is important that we should try to deal with what we can at present, even if we later proceed with a consolidating Measure, so that we can cure the difficulties which exist immediately in so far as they can be cured, while we await the consolidating Measure coming into effect. The two things can be done at the same time.
We might crystallise the present position for the time being, as suggested by the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly), who knows the position well, because in his constituency he faces tremendous difficulty in that respect. I hope some Measure of that kind will be introduced. I hope that a short Measure will be introduced to deal with the ques- 692 tion of the 99-year leases which are falling in. This is a real difficulty and every day that goes by means that somebody or other, and in many cases whole streets of people, are placed in an extremely serious position. I am told by one of my hon. Friends today that in his constituency whole streets of people are now being thrown on to the mercy of the landlords because all the leases were granted about the same time and are all falling in together. The result is that sometimes a landlord is insisting upon twice, three times, or four times the amount of ground rent, or else the properties are being sold to syndicates who are utilising the situation to extract as much as they can from the tenants.
All this concerns the question of security. The Government produced a large number of houses in the last two years under very considerable difficulties. It is no good the Opposition scorning what has been done. The difficulties were enormous, but a very large number of houses were built-750,000, which is no small matter—in the years during which we held office. But here are people being placed in an insecure position. There are thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, of cases throughout the country in which people fear that they will be turned out of a livelihood or out of their homes, that their premises will be thrown into the open market where people who have great wealth can compete against those who are the sitting tenants, and so make their position impossible.
I do not want to press the Attorney-General to any considerable extent, because I realise he is anxious to see that this situation is remedied, but I do appeal to him to realise the extreme urgency of the situation. To summarise, I would say that the realities are these—that a consolidating Measure will take, even after the report comes forward, a considerable time. As my right hon. and learned Friend knows as well as I, during the discussion of such a report we are bound to have differences of opinion on both sides. Meanwhile, my right hon. and learned Friend might consider—what is possible—putting into a small Measure, at least, protection for people at present suffering from this insecurity, so that their difficulties will not increase in the interim. I appeal to my right hon. and learned Friend and to the Government to do what they can in that direction.
§ 3.17 p.m.
§ Captain Stanley (North Fylde)
I rise with temerity as a newcomer to this House to speak for the first time, and I ask for the indulgence of the House. I should like first to say a personal word, on how pleased I am to represent my constituency in this House, because my father had the privilege and honour of representing it from 1922 to 1938, when he died. I was not going to speak so early in this Parliament, because I have had a lot of advice about waiting a while, but I represent a constituency in which fishing is the major industry, and the fishing industry, as we have already heard in the Debate, is in a very serious way. I feel, therefore, that I cannot too soon put in a word on its behalf.
Fleetwood, the port I represent, is definitely falling on bad times. Already 30 out of the 130 trawlers we have there have been laid up. I know that this is a bad time of the year for crews and trawlers, but nevertheless this serious event is already beginning to have its effect, because the unemployment of the fishermen is definitely causing economic trouble to the shopkeepers and traders in the town. People seem to think that if one industry is going badly in a town some other one will help it out, but in Fleetwood the only other industry, apart from the fishing, is that of a seaside resort with its illuminations—and as to those, we are slightly "out-lighted" by Blackpool, which is close to us.
The fishing industry is having a raw deal. Since the beginning of the war the Government of the day have always bought a lot of reserves of frozen fish which they could let out during the times when other foods were scarce. Last year the Government really did over-buy to a fantastic degree. I imagine they did so because they wanted to safeguard themselves when Argentina was being very difficult over the meat deal. However, it means now that they have to get rid of those supplies, which they are doing, and that is causing all the fresh fish which is being caught to be sold for a very low price, thus creating a great deal of hardship in the industry.
Expenses in connection with trawlers are going up quite fantastically, and during last winter between 75 per cent. and 90 per cent. of the trawlers which 694 arrived in Fleetwood were definitely losing money. Nothing could be put back with which to buy new ships or for repairs, and money was definitely being lost on running costs. The trawler owners have also been hard hit by the fact that some of them, at the instigation of the Government, turned over to the use of oil instead of coal. Since they were asked to do that, the price of oil, as a result of devaluation, has gone up by 40 per cent. They have now been told that, in spite of these rising costs, from 15th April onwards nothing is going to be done to help them.
Foreigners seem to be better treated than our own people. In 1938, they were allowed to import about 1½million cwt. of fish. Now they are allowed to import over 3½million cwt., and, after 15th April, no one can tell how much they will be allowed to import. The Government have not yet informed the industry whether there are to be any restrictions upon the importation of fish. Our own trawlers cannot export to foreign countries because most of them refuse to receive our exports. We accept theirs, but they will not accept ours. Before the war, we did a lot of exporting of various types of fish which were not wanted in this country, but which were wanted in France, Belgium, Holland and Norway. Now, when our trawlers go to those countries, they are turned away.
We cannot help that, but we hope that when the Government are discussing trade with these countries, the case for the fishing industry of England will be put forward. One way in which foreigners are helped in England and our fishermen are not, is in respect of fishing nets. It is a slightly technical point. Foreigners are allowed to come here and buy manilla nets, which last very much longer. Our own fishermen are not allowed to buy them. They have to buy sisal nets, which do not last so long and, therefore, make their running costs heavier than those of the foreigner.
The Government floated a loan with Iceland so that they could build more trawlers. That might have been done to help foreign policy, and it might also have been done to help our shipyards; but Iceland has 32 new trawlers in operation, and some on the stocks in this country; yet it is one of those countries which have not signed the over-fishing 695 agreement of 1946. It looks as if they are being given every encouragement to go on. If we want some practical means of helping them, I suggest that we should import from Iceland some of their salted fish, which we cannot provide, and we should re-export it for them, as we did before the war.
If we do not take some measure of control over these imports from Iceland, I am certain that our industry will suffer very much indeed. It may be thought from my remarks that our industry has not been working very hard. I can assure the House that it has. As everyone knows, fish and all food are in very great demand in this country today. The fishing industry of Britain is providing 500,000 cwt. more fish than it did before the war. Even though that figure looks good, it cannot be maintained when we have unlimited imports from abroad. We shall not be able to do so.
That is the position of the industry. I should like to make one or two suggestions as to how I think we can help it. First of all, we must protect our fishermen. Our other home producers of food, the agriculturists, are well protected, and quite rightly so. Possibly in some respects they could be looked after a little more. Horticulture also is now to be looked after—in my opinion quite rightly—in that certain soft fruits are not to be imported at times when we can produce them. Why, then, should the fisherman be left out in the cold with no one to look after him? He must be helped. Let us limit the imports of foreign fish, and at the same time set up a marketing board for white fish, such as there is for the herring industry. With some such plan, I am certain conditions will be better.
I was very pleased to see in the Gracious Speech that the Government intend that there shall be better conditions for the crews of trawlers. Probably the only way in which good conditions can be obtained for these crews is by building new trawlers, but there is no possibility of having new trawlers built unless those in the industry can pay their way. Unless those in the industry are given help, which they will not get after 15th April, they will not be able to pay their way, the industry will 696 go down, and we shall have no more trawlers with these better conditions.
I am certain that the Socialist Party as a whole believe in this, because in the pamphlet "Labour Believes in Britain" they say:Our fishing fleets bring us food. They are a vital part of Britain's defence. They must never again be allowed to decline.I maintain that unless the Government take some quick and drastic action, they will decline, and that there is no other way of stopping it.
I do not intend to go in detail into the life of a fisherman, because all hon. Members know the terrific difficulties and hardships he has to put up with. He has to live in the worst climatic conditions, and we must do everything we can to help him. Let us also remember that in time of war—and we all earnestly pray we shall not have another—the fishermen not only procure food, which is always short in this country in time of war, but also go out in their trawlers to sweep away mines. I therefore earnestly ask the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries to see that prompt action is taken so that the fishing industry, one of our greatest and oldest industries, can prosper once again.
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
It falls to my lot to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for North Fylde (Captain Stanley) on the very excellent maiden speech he has made. I am sure that with the associations with the House, of which he has spoken, he must have been well aware of the terrible ordeal of making a maiden speech. He has well survived it, and I am sure we all look forward to hearing him on many future occasions.
I listened with great interest to the non-controversial speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. He is not now here, and he asked me, should I be fortunate enough to be called, to say that he apologises for having unavoidably to leave. In dealing with leasehold reform, he mentioned specifically what a non-controversial attitude he was taking up, and it is from that point of view that I wish to address the House this afternoon. In the peculiar circumstances in which this House is now constituted, a very great opportunity arises 697 for a discussion of non-controversial Measures, and for putting on the Statute Book reforms, not of a party nature, but reforms which may command a considerable measure of support. I suggest that there are a number of reforms of that character which might well receive the consideration of the House in the next few months, and which would make a great difference to the mass of the population—for example, problems in the relationship of landlord and tenant, and similar matters.
We all know that in regard to leasehold reform attempts have been made in the past, even under a Tory Government, to effect a number of improvements. Unfortunately, they were of a very meagre character. One example is the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1927. Under that Act, an attempt was made to deal with the question of dilapidations. There were many cases of landlords who had bought up short leases and then served schedules of dilapidations upon the tenants, the whole aim being to settle the matter by receiving a considerable sum in settlement—a sort of blackmail. The 1927 Act attempted in some measure to deal with that difficulty. It tried to deal with the question of dilapidations and to say that the measure of damage should be the damage to the reversion.
Since 1927 there has been a number of judicial decisions, and these decisions show that the danger to the tenant still remains, that in many cases tenants with short leases, tenants faced with the obligation of having to carry out repairs at periods or at the end of their leases, will be called upon to pay very heavy sums. I suggest that this is a Measure which calls for reform. An attempt was also made in that Act to deal with the glaring case of a tenant in occupation of business premises who had established goodwill and who might be turned out into the streets by the landlord without compensation of any kind. That Act laid down a limited measure of compensation for goodwill and certain circumstances under which a lease might be granted.
Unfortunately, as anyone with experience of these cases knows, the cases in which a tenant can obtain compensation are very limited in character, and the cases where a lease can be obtained are still more limited. The result is that we now have many people with tenancies of busi- 698 ness premises who have established thriving businesses and are faced with ruin because at the end of the period of their lease their landlord may turn them out.
These are two instances of evils that cry out for legislation. The Committee dealing with leasehold reform issued an interim report in June, 1949. We know, of course, that the previous Government had so much business on its hands that the recommendations of that interim report could not be implemented. I suggest that now is the time when these matters can be gone into thoroughly, and that report could be debated, and by agreement a number of these measures of reform could be brought into operation by an Act of Parliament.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner), appeared to think that this was not the time for a consolidating Act. I suggest that this is the time to have a consolidating Act in the realm of the law dealing with the relationship of landlord and tenant. Since 1915, we have had a series of Rent Restriction Acts, and the result has been a perfect maze of legislation. Many judges have commented on the perplexities of these Acts, which we know have created many anomalies and have been very difficult to apply.
Two further Acts were passed in the last Parliament, dealing with furnished premises, premiums and matters of that kind. In their turn, they have added to this mass of legislation. Surely this is a good opportunity to cut across party lines and endeavour to put upon the Statute Book a consolidating Measure to deal with the provisions of the Rent Restriction Acts, to endeavour to simplify them and to bring them up to date.
A further point I desire to raise is this. In my constituency there have been a number of complaints in regard to the way in which housing premises are dealt with. In certain cases where houses have been tenanted they are used by persons as workshops or factories. Not only are the premises unsuitable as workshops or factories, but, of course, they take away from the pool of housing that is available for the people. I suggest that this also is the time when some attention might be given to that problem.
699 In connection with rent restriction, I would also mention another point which has been referred to before. Houses built by councils, whether they be borough councils or county councils, are not within the provisions of the Rent Restriction Acts, and that means that local authorities can raise the rents of the tenants, as has been done in a number of instances. In many cases those increases are fully justified and proper attention is given to the problem, but undoubtedly there are cases where the tenants have been victimised. It is essential that something should be done to protect tenants in those cases so that before the rent is raised the matter shall be thoroughly investigated. One way of dealing with it is to bring houses of that kind within the Rent Restriction Acts. In the consolidating legislation I suggest that question might be borne in mind.
There have been many Acts of Parliament consolidating the law. There was a great Act, the Sale of Goods Act, 1893, which codified the then existing law. My suggestion to the House is that, with the House constituted as at present, attention should be given to this matter of the law of landlord and tenant, and the problems I have mentioned should be investigated and an attempt made to codify the existing law and bring it up to date. If that is done, I am sure this House will be carrying out a very valuable piece of work.
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Osborne (Louth)
I hope that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) will forgive me if I do not follow him into a discussion of the rights and wrongs of leaseholds, because I should like to bring the House back to the Gracious Speech, and talk about two things that interest people in the country most—full employment and the social services. So far, from neither side of the House have these two problems been tackled. All.we have attempted to do is to put out our political tongues at one another and refuse to face the realities of the situation. For myself may I make this personal statement? I do not think that anyone who has ever been out of work ever wants to see a man unemployed again; anyone who has really suffered poverty does not want to 700 see poverty back again. I have been both out of work and poor, and what I have to say must not be construed into saying that I want unemployment back again, as has been said so many times so falsely from Socialist platforms.
The Prime Minister last night said that the Gracious Speech was not very exciting. I think it is very disappointing. It lacks a sense of urgency, and does not deal at all with the problems which face us. What the speech ought to have dealt with is what was in White Paper 7572, the report to O.E.E.C., in which we asked American taxpayers and workers to give us a gift of 940 million dollars to help us through. We said, in paragraph 30:The difficulties of the present economic position do not present themselves in an obvious form to the British public.I believe that is the most urgent question in front of the nation today.
That is the confession which the Socialist Government made. I would ask: whose fault is it that the British worker does not realise the gravity of our economic problem? We are spending some millions a year through the Central Office of Information. It is an extraordinary confession on the part of the Government, when making their report to America, that our own people do not realise the gravity of our situation. In the same paragraph the Government said:A real and grave crisis in economic affairs seems remote and unreal.My complaint about the Gracious Speech is that, while that statement is very true, the Gracious Speech does nothing to correct it. There is nothing in the Speech to make our people sit up and take notice and to say, "The country is in a terrible position. We must do something urgently about it." The Government, instead of giving us a tonic and a challenge, have given us another dose of soothing syrup.
In paragraph 54 of Command Paper 7572 the Government say:With less aid than 950.000,000 dollars the United Kingdom would be confronted with a serious dilemma.This is what we should have seen in the Gracious Speech. The Government go on to say, referring to the United Kingdom:It would have to make a choice between cutting back food consumption and checking the flow of raw material imports.701 The country is really faced with the problem of either shorter rations—real starvation—or mass unemployment. That is what the Socialist Government said, and not what Tory propaganda said. The Government said it in their White Paper, Cmd. 7572. That sense of urgency is what they should have put into the Gracious Speech, and not—[An HON. MEMBER: "Claptrap."] That is there already. It was on the basis of that statement in the White Paper that the Minister of Health confessed, in one of his rarer moments of honesty from our point of view, that without Marshall Aid we should have a million and a half unemployed. The Chancellor of the Exchequer confessed that the figure might be two million. We have to face this question. My experience during the election shows that the average man and woman in all classes has no realisation of the fact that when Marshall Aid ends, we shall be right up against it. My complaint about the Gracious Speech is that it does nothing to bring home that tragic fact to them.
The Gracious Speech also says—and this is another of my complaints about it:Nevertheless, should other measures prove, in their view"—that is to say, the Government's view —to be immediately necessary for the maintenance of full employment and the national well being my Ministers would not hesitate to submit them to Parliament even though they may seem likely to prove contentious.That is just humbug and nonsense. I believe firmly that no Government of any complexion in a free society can guarantee to its people full employment and a Welfare State merely by Acts of Parliament. To promise that they will do this by legislation is extremely misleading. I am sorry that the Government have not had the courage to face the problems that confront us. Whether we are to have full employment or not, and to be able to maintain our Social Welfare State or not, does not depend primarily or solely upon laws passed here but upon our willingness to work and on the quality and price of the goods we produce and the quantity in which we produce them. It has nothing whatever to do with the laws. It is those simple facts that, I feel, should have been put into the Gracious Speech.
If I am challenged again by hon. Members opposite and told that I am 702 merely preaching the Tory gospel that comes from our party headquarters, I would say this: the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself, in a speech in this House last October, said that the promises which are now made in the Gracious Speech cannot possibly be carried out. On 26th October the Chancellor of the Exchequer said:No Governmental action of any kind can in fact save our present social and living standards…What humbug it is, therefore, in this Gracious Speech to promise that this can be done. The Chancellor went on to say:That is not a rhetorical statement or a flight of the imagination. It is a stark fact.How much more honest to the people of this country it would have been if those statements from the Chancellor had been put into the Gracious Speech instead of the nonsense it contains. In his speech the Chancellor went on:I do ask every person in the country to face that simple fact and pay full heed to it.Instead of people facing the facts, as the Chancellor asked us to do last October, we get the same old Socialist promises that by legislation all the ills that we have suffered can be cured.
I should like to ram home these further remarks of the Chancellor:We can express our present situation, robbed of all its technical surroundings and explanations, in quite simple terms. Unless we can all quickly produce more and get our costs down, we shall suffer a tragic fall in our standard of living accompanied by all the demoralising insecurity of widespread unemployment.How could the right hon. and learned Gentleman then subscribe to this promise in the Gracious Speech, that by the very actions which he himself condemned he is going to provide the things that he said could not be provided by legislation, I do not understand. He must have a political split mind. He must be a Jekyll and Hyde. I cannot understand it. I do not doubt his personal honesty and integrity. but in political matters I cannot understand how he could subscribe to both statements. In the same speech, the Chancellor said:What is to happen when Marshall Aid comes to an end? How then are we to get the cotton, the non-ferrous metals, and other raw materials and foodstuffs without which much of our production must stop? "— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th October, 1949; Vol. 468, cc. 1352–3.]703 Those things cannot come to this country by the Socialist Government merely passing further Acts of Parliament, as promised in the Gracious Speech.
§ Mr. Osborne
That is quite irrelevant to my point. The Chancellor had all those facts in front of him when he made this statement in the House only a few months ago. The fact that we are doing relatively better than somebody else, does not do away with our own particular poverty. What we have not said to our people is this: what are we to do when Marshall Aid ends? People in the country do not believe the Chancellor when he talks in the realistic manner of his October statement, but they will believe this nonsense in the Gracious Speech. That is our tragedy.
§ Mr. Osborne
I have given the references from HANSARD. The hon. and learned Member can look them up for himself.
§ Mr. Osborne
But it has not gone up to the extent which will be required when Marshall Aid ends, and it is that statement which has to be rammed home. It is the omission to do that of which I am complaining.
704 There are many other matters on which I would like to have spoken, and I have perhaps given up too much of my time in trying to answer questions, but may I say, finally, that I believe that no matter what Government is in power in this country in two years' time we shall be facing such an economic blizzard as will frighten most of us. I think we shall be better able to overcome it if we told our people that it is coming and prepared our hearts and bodies to meet it. If we continue to say these foolish things, and make promises which we cannot possibly fulfill, we are only misleading the people and doing them a great disservice.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ Mr. George Craddock (Bradford, South)
I crave the indulgence of the House as a new Member, and with your permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to speak on the problem of housing. The comparison, between the two world wars, of houses built by our opponents and those built since the end of the Second World War under a Labour Government is well known. In this Debate it has been stressed that over a similar period following the Second World War, by comparison with the same period after the First World War, the Labour Government, through financial aid to local authorities, built three houses to every one built by our opponents. This is a tremendous accomplishment when we realise that we have been hampered by a world shortage of building materials. Although in difficult circumstances we have done an excellent job of work, the problem remains immense, and I am sure that the Minister will do everything possible to speed up our house-building programme.
I do not know whether it is possible, but I have been wondering whether the Minister might consider facilities for cheaper money. Would it be possible to reduce the interest rate from three per cent. to two per cent., to act as a spur and enable more houses to be built? I ask a further question. Would it be possible to review the whole character of housing in relation to needs? There are three periods in the lifetime of a married couple. There is the first period, when they have just been married, and, of course, have no children, in which case a house with one or two bedrooms, with 705 other suitable rooms in addition, might suffice. When they have been married 10 or 15 years, through the aegis of the local authority they may be supplied with accommodation in relation to their needs. There is also a third grouping involving accommodation in flats, in which we might have provision for flats or flatlets for old and elderly people. I think all this is well-known, and, as a member of a local authority, I have had many cases brought to my notice in which people have had their children married and have been left to maintain the same house as they maintained for so many years with a family of five, six or even seven children. I know of cases where women of more than 60 years of age have had to go out to work in order to pay the rent, merely because facilities did not exist for a transfer from one property to another which would meet their needs.
I believe that we should make inquiries into prices and costings, because I have a growing feeling that in many cases the discovery would be made that the prices charged for materials used in the production of houses are unreasonably high. In Bradford, where we have a need of 15,000 houses, this problem requires an approach which will give the necessary number of habitations in the shortest possible time. To build 650 houses means a capital outlay of over£1 million. Therefore, to meet the local need, a sum of not less than£20 million is required. This stupendous figure forces me to make the proposal which I did a few moments ago. All hon. Members will agree that the need is urgent, and that therefore we must explore every avenue which will provide the accommodation so urgently required. Small yet suitable accommodation shall be within the limits of the purse of the ordinary man.
The Conservative cry that we should let the builders build is rather hollow, because many of them secured contracts from local authorities and were months and months before laying a brick. Indeed, some local authorities had to take the matter up with the builders and advise them that certain action would follow if the work was not completed in a reasonable time. I am sure the Minister realises the supreme task of providing those in need with reasonable accommodation at rents which ordinary people can afford to pay.
706 I should now like to make one or two comments about the textile industry. I have received complaints from the Bradford constituency which I have the honour to represent that new textile machinery is being exported, for the obvious purpose of getting the raw materials and foodstuffs so absolutely necessary to this country. I find, however, that quite a traffic is now going on in selling over and over again old machinery, which is fetching very high prices. Whilst I am not unmindful of the conditions attaching to trade with the Western Hemisphere, I feel that consideration might be given, as soon as circumstances permit, to allowing an increasing quantity of textile machinery for use in the home market, thus giving aid to increased production, which is the desire of His Majesty's Government. We must endeavour to give our textile operatives in Bradford those aids in production which will enable textiles to be produced in ever-increasing quantities, and thus enable them to play their part in general economic development.
§ It being after Four o'Clock the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.