§ [FOURTH DAY]
Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [31st October]:
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. Kenyon.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call on the first speaker today, I ought to give a warning. I understand that there are several hon. Members who want to talk about colonial subjects. Well, man proposes—if I may so paraphrase—but the Rules of Order dispose; and there is the rule of anticipation. Next Thursday there will be a Colonial Development and Welfare Bill before the House, and, therefore, any reference to any kind of colonial development is clearly out of order in this Debate, on either side of the House. There is, therefore, really very little to be said on colonial matters in view of the rule of anticipation.
§ 11.6 a.m.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd (Mid-Bedfordshire)
I shall do my utmost, Mr. Speaker, to abide by the Ruling you have just given. Although discussion of the Colonial Development and Welfare Bill, which we shall discuss next Thursday, will be out of order, a large number of matters which affect the future of the British Commonwealth and Empire will, I am glad to feel, remain in order today. Perhaps I might just say, however, about the Colonial Development and Welfare Bill, that it provides for an increased amount of money for colonial development and welfare, but that it has largely been made necessary by the fall in the value of money for which the present Government must accept a large measure of responsibility.
459 The Gracious Speech from the Throne which we are considering today contains a number of references to Imperial and colonial matters, and it is to these matters, or to some of them, that I should like exclusively to address by remarks. There are references in the Gracious Speech to colonial affairs, but there is one quite astonishing omission. Transcending in urgency all other imperial issues, and with its shadow hanging over all the British Empire talks of the last few days, stands the war in Malaya.
Thousands of our fellow citizens—British, Malay and Chinese—have been murdered in the last two years. Tens of thousands of them are living under conditions of intolerable anxiety. At home in the United Kingdom large numbers of people are daily and deeply concerned about the safety of their friends and relations in Malaya. A large Army and a vast police force are deployed and immense treasure has been expended. Yet there is no mention whatever in the Gracious Speech of the war in Malaya. Surely it is an extraordinary thing that, with a major war raging in a part of the British Empire, with our national honour and the lives of our fellow citizens deeply involved, there should be no reference whatever to this tragic fact in the Speech from the Throne.
A number of hon. Members of both Houses and from all sides of the House have recently been on a Parliamentary mission to Malaya. I was myself lucky enough to be one of them, and I take it that a number of my colleagues will wish to address the House today. It may be, and I hope it will be, that quite shortly we shall have a further opportunity of debating Malaya in detail, with a day given up to this major problem, and that on that occasion it may be more possible to get definite answers from the Government to a series of specific questions. None the less, some of us want to talk about Malaya today, and I shall myself return to it in some detail a little later.
There are in the Gracious Speech a number of references to Imperial and colonial problems, and surely there has never been a time in our history when the problems of the Commonwealth are of larger importance or when our opportunities were greater or offered more splendid possibilities, if we are capable 460 of rising to them. During the last few weeks we have welcomed here in Westminster a great number of people from all parts of the British Commonwealth, and we meet today in this House surrounded by their generous gifts. We have liked to think of ourselves, in the last few days, as members of one great family.
I feel that if only on the morrow of victory, six years ago, we had called an Imperial conference in London, important results might well have ensued. Then, we would have had the opportunity of enlisting all the loyalties which the war had evoked. Then, we would have stressed the many unities that hold us together, and we should have equipped ourselves to meet the dangers which prudent and wise people throughout these countries realised were mounting on us.
Now, six years have gone, and separatist and divided counsels have been allowed to raise their heads. Those in one sphere, for example, the economic sphere, who deeply dislike the policy of imperial priorities have had an opportunity to get to work. If we had had such a conference, a number of things that have happened to the disadvantage of the world might never have ensued. I do not think it is unreasonable to say that such a conference might even have prevented the separation of Burma from the British Commonwealth.
I am perfectly sure that, if we had had such a conference in the constitutional field we should never have had the Nationality Act, 1948, in which, for the common status of all persons born within His Majesty's Dominions, is substituted a series of statutory citizenships. Now, the Opposition accept, of course, the position created by the Nationality Act, 1948, but, should the Dominions agree, and after consultation with our Colonial Empire, we hold ourselves absolutely free as a party, if returned to power, to turn again to the old conception of a common British citizenship.
In the same field, the last few years have seen the steady dwindling of appeals to his Majesty's Privy Council, with all its unifying possibilities. A conference could have provided the machinery for setting up a Commonwealth tribunal which would be altogether new, sitting in each capital in turn and drawn from all parts of the British Commonwealth. We 461 hold ourselves free to institute inquiries along these lines, and to try to secure Dominion and colonial approval for such a scheme.
We would also have evolved, in face of the terrible dangers which anyone could see were coming, a British Empire and Commonwealth Defence Council. Again, in the sphere of economic affairs, we could have provided something like the O.E.E.C. for the British Empire, and the problems of investment and priorities of men, money and materials could have been hammered out at the very beginning of the post-war world, and the extent of the help which we needed for the Empire as a whole from outside sources could have been planned at the start.
While referring to economic affairs, I should like to draw attention to what is happening at Torquay. As this does not involve the rule against anticipation—because they look like being there for quite a long time—I hope I shall be strictly in order in doing so. A lot is happening at Torquay at the trade conference, and a lot is happening in the name of the British people about which not only the British people but this House itself is very largely ignorant. It seems to me to be quite an astonishing thing that we should have this international conference on trade and industry before we have had a British Empire conference on Empire trade.
I notice in the Gracious Speech a reference to Commonwealth co-operation in all matters concerned with the safeguarding of freedom and peace, both of which are highly desirable objectives, but none about Commonwealth co-operation in matters affecting Empire trade, without which we cannot be powerful enough to play an effective part in protecting world freedom and peace. There is no mention in the Gracious Speech of a conference at Torquay, yet it is far more important than many other things to which attention has been drawn in the Speech. If the suggestion is allowed to creep round that the conference does not really matter very much, the British people and the Empire will find that they have been dangerously deluded.
The Government seem strangely sensitive to American views on British Empire trade. It is quite true that they do not mention in the Gracious Speech that American bounty without which we 462 could not possibly have had our industrial recovery. If they have left out what would seem to be a generous thought, in all their actual actions they seem to be deeply sensitive of American opinion and very largely guided by it. I have seen no reference in the reports of the Torquay Conference to the fact that, in the last five years, the volume of Empire trade, proportionately, has begun steadily to diminish. Our exports to Empire countries and our imports have gone down substantially, compared with 1945, in proportion to the volume of world trade.
While this is happening, what are we doing? We are sheltering behind the comfortable illusion that dollar shortages and other transitory things will give the British Empire all the preferential protection that it needs. While we cannot buy American tobacco as much as people would like, it is natural that we should buy South Rhodesian tobacco. But the Government come along—and I hope they are right—and say that the dollar shortage is not here for ever, and that the time will come when, not only in the limited field of Rhodesian tobacco, but over the whole range of Empire products, the preferential system will be once more a vital necessity.
Yet what are we doing, in the light of the change which has temporarily taken place, permanently to tie our hands? How many people really understand, how many hon. Members in this House even understand that quite recently we have done the following things? We have bound ourselves in the general agreement of tariffs and trade to have no new preferences in the British Empire whatsoever. We have bound ourselves to have no increased preferences. We have bound ourselves, if we once abolish preferences, to be virtually unable to re-impose them. We have bound ourselves, for the first time in the history of the British Empire, to apply the most favoured nation procedure to Empire countries, with the following typical consequences. If Australia wants to impose a duty on goods from a new and rising Japan, she must put exactly the same duty on British goods going into Australia. It we want to give Australia a concession in the British market, we must give it to Italy. If New Zealand wants to give us a concession, she must give it to Germany, and later, no doubt, to Japan.
463 The Conservative Party regard all this as wholly objectionable. We think it grossly wrong that we should be bound by international obligations to act in this way, and we give notice to His Majesty's Government that, in due course, we shall take certain action. We intend to consult with the peoples of the British Empire and to devise a common Empire trade policy. We reserve the right to restore that conception of ourselves that always prevailed before—the right to regard the British Empire as an entity, however loosely knit together. We pledge ourselves to re-examine from the start the working of the most favoured nation agreements and seeing where they are harmful to Empire trade. We shall take steps at the proper time, while observing the treaty obligations, as any successor Government are bound to do, to renounce any part of the agreements that have been reached successively at Geneva, Havana, Annecy, or now at Torquay that may be prejudicial to Empire trade.
It is our view that a great deal of this difficulty and this division of opinion on a vital imperial matter could have been avoided if an imperial conference had been called immediately after the war, when it was perfectly plain that of all the victor States the United States of America would emerge immeasurably the richer. Had a conference been called then, much misunderstanding and a great deal of repudiation could have been avoided. But I would not say that this or these are all the problems which a conference could settle, nor would I say that it was too late even now. Even now, an attempt could be made to get our people together, and to hammer out solutions to the great problems that confront us.
If I stress the problem of trade, it is not because I believe that trade is the only thing that matters in a society like ours, but that without a prosperous trade all the other good things of life which we want our people to enjoy will not be available to them. A conference would, of course, look upon all the British peoples as one family, and here I come to that particular relationship which, in the future, I hope will prevail between the United Kingdom and those we are proud to regard as members of the British Colonial Empire. We look upon ourselves as a family, but a family that 464 deserves the name can only, in the long run, be held together by consent. There is no dispute about that at all. In the world as it is today, only strong units can survive. We cannot stand by ourselves, nor can any one single Dominion, and nor, indeed, can the whole Colonial Empire. The security of all of us within the British Empire depends on the maintenance of our large, free, liberal and enduring institutions.
All of us must apply our minds to a solution of this problem. We have got to take steps to try and ensure that it will be as unthinkable for a British Colony to want to sever its association with the British Commonwealth as it would be for a county in the United Kingdom to want to set up business on its own. In the constitutional sphere we have to be very careful not to be, as we have too often been in the past, slaves of a single pattern, and we have to see that the colonial peoples realise that it is only a recognition of differences, and in no sense an assertion of superiority, if different means are found in different parts of the British Empire to associate the local people with the government of their own territory.
We have to find ways of appealing over the heads of agitators to the mass of the people as a whole who, as generations of British administrators recognise, want us to stay, out who are frequently inarticulate and unable to express their view. When I say that we have to appeal over the heads of agitators, I include in that phrase politicians who may have no interest except their own to serve, or a Press, as in West Africa, which has no assets with which to pay proper penalties that may be imposed upon it. In this task it will not always be the machinery we have in the United Kingdom which may turn out to be the best means of getting that result.
If only action to lay the foundations of such a policy had been taken earlier on in certain parts of the world, how many difficulties could have been avoided? Meanwhile, we must not hesitate to see that order and respect for law are observed. How much mischief could have been prevented, for example, if early action had been taken in Malaya immediately after the war, when certain people and the whereabouts of arms were known? How much evil 465 could have been avoided it we had not slavishly assumed, or some people here had assumed, that the trade union leaders, for example, in Malaya at the time were just like most of our own, and then expressed shocked surprise when then nearly the whole lot of them, on the outbreak of war, disappeared into the jungle along with their trade union funds?
How much trouble and loss of life could have been avoided in Nigeria had a certain person not been allowed to spread sedition in Enugu—if a single trade union leader had not been allowed to remain at large? We recognise that in this task His Majesty's present advisers labour under a heavy handicap. They are the legatees of foolish optimism and the easy generalisations that they have so thoughtlessly encouraged all over the world. They have taught—and no doubt some have believed—that the mere granting of a Constitution will solve all problems.
I was reading lately some of the old Fabian literature. The Fabian Colonial Bureau, in their paper "Venture" of only five years ago, said:The Labour Government has been in power for three months. Already there are considerable achievements to show in the colonial field. In this short term a plan with revolutionary implications has been announced for Malaya.Well, they were caught up by events, for while they were talking in that fashion real revolutionists were preparing for a war in Malaya, and it is that war we have to deal with today.
The Government have also led people to believe in large parts of the Empire that there is no need or obligation to try out a Constitution thoroughly before introducing another one. They have taught, unfortunately, in some parts of the Empire that the only way to get a new Constitution at all is to have a riot, and they have encouraged the view that while it is no insult to the Greeks to have an election commission to see that they conduct their election properly, such a machinery on the Gold Coast would be an insult to the people there. In all this they have been slaves of views they held before they came to power. But of all these evils, to my mind the most serious is the way in which it has been allowed to be thought that the inevitable progress for any British Colony is towards that absolute independence which, today, is 466 totally unobtainable for any small nation anywhere in the world.
These problems, of course, are enormous, but they are by no means insoluble. If we are to achieve this permanent partnership on which all our welfare depends, it can only be done if we ourselves in the United Kingdom have a sense of our own mission and confidence in our own destiny. In this great task schemes of welfare play a large part but they are, as you have reminded us, Mr. Speaker, ruled out today. On Thursday we shall have an opportunity of discussing the Colonial Development and Welfare Bill, which with all its predecessors in the field of colonial welfare, will be for all time associated with the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Stanley), whose continued illness has caused, on all sides of the House, the utmost sorrow and distress.
There is, however, one point which I gave notice I would raise, which is expressly outside the Colonial Development and Welfare Bill. It is covered by the Colonial Development Corporation. Since the recent debate, two very ambitious plans have been announced by the Colonial Development Corporation. One of them is a considerable project in Bechuanaland. We are told that it was decided on after two surveys. When I tried to get those surveys, I was told that one was carried out privately by the C.D.C. and the other by "an independent investigation made by three well-known men." May I ask the Minister who these three well-known men are, and whether he will publish the report on which this very ambitious scheme is based? Even the groundnuts scheme, with which I hope this scheme has nothing in common, was preceded by the publication of the Wakefield Report. We approved the setting up of C.D.C. and we believe in partnership between State and private enterprise, but we cannot, of course, take responsibility for any particular scheme. While this is true of any one scheme of the C.D.C., it is still more true of a scheme the essential documents of which have not been put before the House.
I should like to turn, for the remainder of my speech, to the urgent and immediate problem of bringing the terrible tragedy in Malaya to an early and honourable end. A Parliamentary Mis- 467 sion to Malaya, led by the noble Lord, Lord Listowel, with great courtesy and dignity, has come back with a number of conclusions common to all parties. We had the kindest reception in the country, the utmost hospitality from officials and non-officials alike, and we had every chance possible to see the territories in the very short time available.
It was a grief to all of us that we could not stay longer and have a more informed opinion. I hope the opportunity will arise to debate the whole problem in Malaya. I hope we shall be able to produce some conclusions for our fellow Members. I gather we are to have an opportunity of a private conversation with the Minister shortly. Probably, there will be suggestions in that conversation which it would be undesirable to make in a public session of this House. Nevertheless, certain facts have clearly emerged though, of course, I am not speaking in this matter for the whole Parliamentary delegation.
Of course, we in Malaya—and by "we" I mean British troops of all Services, the police, the loyal and brave Gurkhas, the Malaya Regiment and the people of Malaya, British Malays, Chinese, Indians and Singhalese, living in Malaya—are fighting this war alone. This is not a United Nations war, and it is not a European war. There are not many Europeans, other than our own people, still left in Government positions in the Far East. The Dutch Empire was dissolved during the last Parliament. It is my view—and I do not expect it to be shared by everybody—that history may well regard this fact as a major world disaster, and certainly the long-term plans of the British Empire will have to take the fullest possible account of it.
I know there is danger in assuming that troubles everywhere in the world are due to Communists. They often are, but not always; but, whenever trouble arises and chaos is created, the Communists are ready to seize the opportunity. So it is in Indonesia, where fanatical nationalism and Communism are mixed together. In Malaya, of course, there is no doubt whatever that the war there is a Communist war. I would refer hon. Members to the annual report published in 1948 by the Stationery 468 Office on behalf of the Malayan Government. It says of the war in Malaya:It was schemed at the time of the World Federation of Democratic Youth and the Indian Students' Union Conference at Calcutta in February, 1948,and I hope the House will remember that—and it was confirmed next month by the Central Executive Committee of the Malayan Communist Party in Singapore in March, 1948.That is a quotation from the annual report of the Government itself.
Complete paralysis in Malaya was to be achieved by 3rd August, 1948. That it has not been achieved is due, of course, in large measure to the troops and civilians alike, who have fought so gallantly. But if any one branch of life out there deserves particular praise, all sections will agree that it is due in large part to the resolute courage of the tin mining and rubber communities, who have stood it out in conditions of intolerable danger.
In this fight, save for the French, in Indo-China, we have no European allies. The Dutch Empire has gone. It has always seemed to me to be quite incomprehensible to try and unite Western European Powers against Communism and to disregard altogether the importance of trying to unite the same European nations in the Far East against the same danger from the same source. The sight of the great Dutch ship "Willa Ruys" calling at Singapore, crammed full of returning settlers going home to Holland, many from families who had lived and worked for generations in Java and Sumatra, the sight of this ship calling at Singapore, brought home to me something of the nature of this European tragedy. Certainly, its implications could not be lost on those of many races who saw this mighty ship pass through.
In the light of this, it may be thought as a piece of rather ironical juxtaposition, not uncharacteristic of the present Government, that, in the Gracious Speech, the very next sentence to the one on colonial development announces the most welcome forthcoming visit of Her Majesty the Queen and the Prince of the Netherlands to our shores.
The task is a two-fold one. The first is the killing and capturing of the bandits, and that must be pursued with the utmost 469 vigour. It is really largely a police operation. In it all Services and police are working harmoniously together. The House is entitled to have the utmost confidence in the officers commanding the operation, and also in the civil administration, many of whom were in Japanese hands in the last war for at least three and a half years.
In all their problems the utmost priority must be given to every one of their needs. In the R.A.F., the Army, the Navy and the police we are not altogether satisfied that this priority is being given. If I might be pardoned for a personal reference, as a member of the R.N.V.R. I am particularly glad to see that the R.N.V.R. in Malaya are taking an active part in the anti-bandit operations. They are the only R.N.V.R. unit in the Empire operating under war-like conditions and they are doing it in addition to their ordinary daily work.
The planting community are living in conditions of intolerable strain, and most of them were for three and a half years either imprisoned in Singapore or Hong Kong or working on the Siamese railway. Anything they need to make their conditions more tolerable until final victory is won must certainly be given to them. I am glad to feel that in the very vigorous hands of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) one particular alleviation by the use of civil air transport may, with good fortune, be brought about. However, important as all these things are, they will not solve the problem as a whole. They are in the nature of palliatives.
It is my personal view that this war will not be won until the whole population, Malays, Chinese and Indians, believe two things: first, that we are going to win the war; and, second, that we are going to stay in Malaya. By the first—that we are going to win the war—I mean beating Communism inside Malaya and outside it, in Korea, Indo-China, and wherever Communism becomes aggressive and wherever it can be got at. By the second prerequisite, that we are going to stay in Malaya, I mean that the British, with full agreement of all races, shall have a share in the government of the country in which they, are playing a vital part, and that all these races shall under our leadership be welded together into a Malayan people who will 470 play an honourable part in the British Commonwealth of the future.
As to the first problem—how to convince them that we are going to win. Let me say that the recognition of Communist China undoubtedly had a most serious effect on Chinese opinion in Malaya. I was personally very much impressed by the broadminded attitude taken, for example, by large numbers of planters and tin miners who know the problems of their fellow traders in China and Hong Kong, but the effect on the Chinese population was disastrous and made the task of our many Chinese friends a great deal more difficult. For example, in one detention camp in Johore—we were not there at the time, but we heard—protest and indignation meetings were held after the recognition. People asked. "Why are we still here in detention, now that Britain has recognised Mao-Tse-Tung?"
In this task many races are helping—the Malay Regiment and many civilian Chinese and Malays. While they think the issue of this war against Communism is still in doubt, the great majority of the Malayan Chinese will continue to sit on the fence. This, in my view, applies to all classes, rich and poor alike. Considerable numbers of them are paying money and giving supplies to the bandits. Nearly all of them are doing it unwillingly, but they are more frightened of the bandits than they are of the Government. They feel that the insurgents can cut their throats. They are not sure of the protection that they can get. The terrain itself is terribly difficult, and we must never forget that the war is being fought in a country where they saw the whole British administration collapse and left behind to the Japanese in a campaign that lasted only 10 weeks. No wonder it is very hard to restore confidence there.
In addition, they see 8,000 men, mostly Chinese, in detention camps. Against all of these in detention camps something is known; against the large majority of them the gravest charges are suspected. Nearly all of them are in detention camps because some other Chinese has informed against them. Half of those in detention camps are under banishment orders. Formerly, they would have been sent home to China. Now we cannot do that. Though their views, no doubt, would commend them to the present Chinese Com- 471 munist Government, they are more useful to the Chinese Communist Government if they are left behind in Malaya than they would be at home in China. As long as these people are about, living only a few miles from the rest of the population, it is extraordinarily difficult and sometimes quite impossible to get vital information about bandit movements out of the law-abiding Chinese who want the war to end.
Nor is it any good denying that executions in gaols of those found in possession of arms do not really convince large numbers of people that the bandit leaders are dead. In one estate, when a notorious local agitator has been found in possession of arms and, in fact, had been convicted of murder and executed, it was generally believed that he was still alive. The R.A.F. dropped 30,000 pictures of this man over this estate. They were not pictures of him dead but pictures of him very much alive, with a caption underneath saying that he was dead. Not surprisingly perhaps, large numbers of people still believe him to be alive.
A further danger is that many Chinese people, and others, too, believe that the Communist High Command may decide to call off this war at a certain moment, that the insurgents will return to their jobs as tappers, tin miners, workers in the gold mines, as house boys or shop attendants; guns and ammunition will be hidden again in the jungle and an amnesty of the detainees may follow; our security plans would be abandoned and then, in due time, it could all start again. I hope we shall be quite certain that if there is a sudden declaration that the war is all over, no such madness as this will prevail.
I now come to the other point, that the people in Malaya must be convinced that the British mean to stay as permanent partners. No one was very much impressed by the Prime Minister's statement in April, 1949. Some parts of it were robust enough, but he used certain phrases. He said:His Majesty's Government have no intention of relinquishing their responsibilities in Malaya until their task is completed.Later, he spoke ofpremature withdrawal."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th April, 1949; Vol. 463, c. 2815]These qualifications robbed his statement of nearly all its value.
472 Incidentally, one effect of a declaration of intention to stay with the consent of the mass of the people, which we know we have got, would lead to a recruitment of young British personnel in vital services now desperately understaffed—in the administrative services, in medicine and in a host of other activities where some sort of security of tenure is naturally much in their minds. I hope that on another occasion we shall have a chance of discussing other aspects of life in Malaya; indeed some of my hon. Friends may do so today. In education and in the splendid work on resettlement there is a great deal that can with profit be discussed in the House and much praise given to those who are carrying it out.
Finally, I would express this hope. I believe our mission may have done some good work there, and I hope that it showed the underlying unity—though naturally we disagree on a number of points—on both sides of the House about the main problems. There is so much that Malaya has to offer. It has a charming population—Malays who are instinctively so friendly to us and who trust us, industrious and thrifty and loyal Chinese, a splendid Malayan Civil Service, fine planters and immense material resources. It has a university which could be a focus for higher education throughout the whole of the Far East. We believe that we are the only race capable of welding all other races together. It must be our task to convince the people there that this is a permanent partnership which we are all going to share alike. If this is known then I am quite certain that not only will it do more than anything else to bring the war to an end quickly but that it will provide the basis on which a happy and prosperous life can be lived by the millions who live in Malaya.
§ 11.51 a.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
There will be more joy on the back benches over one Front Bench sinner who has repented than over the ninety and nine who have followed the right way for years, so let me at once express agreement with a few of the words said by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd). I thought it was a very good and constructive speech but, if I may say so with respect, so far as the length of it is concerned, as a humble 473 back bencher I will not seek to emulate it.
Since 1945 I have pressed in this House for some imperial consultation and I have constantly suggested that there should be set up permanent consultative machinery for discussing all imperial problems. One of the difficulties in dealing with imperial problems has been the lack of information and such an assembly as I suggest, with the provision of information, meeting in the various imperial capitals, would be of the utmost assistance. It could do no possible harm. I have constantly pressed for such an organisation.
I do not associate myself with the next part of the hon. Gentleman's speech. I am sorry that the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby) has left the Chamber, because he would have said, with justifiable pride from his point of view, that, although the voice was the voice of the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire, the sentiments were the old sentiments of Aberdeen, even though they were not very popular at that time. One of my hon. Friends reminds me that the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire is present and is taking notes.
I am not quite sure, Mr. Speaker, to what extent your Ruling will limit my right hon. Friend in replying to one or two matters which I want to mention. I hope he will find it possible to report on the progress of the Owen Falls scheme, a very great scheme about which the House has had far too little information. I hope, too, that he will be able to make some reference to the Gold Coast. There have been some recent observations about the Gold Coast with which I do not associate myself at all, and I hope my right hon. Friend will take the opportunity to deal with them. I certainly hope that that will come within the ambit of this Debate.
I hope, too, that my right hon. Friend will amplify something which he said last Wednesday in answering questions about Northern and Southern Rhodesia, because we on this side of the House would say to him with sincerity, and, I am afraid, with the utmost firmness, that, as long as the colour bar is written right across the flag of Southern Rhodesia, we would not support any proposals for the creation of a new Dominion there which would not reflect the rights of the native popula- 474 tion of Northern Rhodesia, and any such proposals would have the worst possible effect throughout Africa, and indeed, throughout the Far East.
We are in difficulties in trying to canalise any discussion today, for today discussion cannot be canalised. In the last few years we have seen many advances in world problems and world organisations, and more and more we find it impossible to isolate any world problem and to keep it in isolation. When he discussed the future of the Empire, the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire made no reference to what is happening in South Africa, which is important. He made no reference to the fact that, with all her wealth of affection for us, Canada is being driven more and more economically into association with the United States of America, and that enormous and inevitable process——
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
The whole point of my observations about an Imperial Conference was that, in regard to trade between America, Canada and ourselves, we could have taken steps to prevent the very development which the hon. Member says is happening, although I would not accept his conclusion that it is happening in anything like the way he suggests.
§ Mr. Hale
At least 75 per cent. of the population of Canada live within 100 miles of the border with the United States of America. Unfortunately, the whole of the magazines circulating in that part of Canada and the whole of the information come from America. In spite of their natural wealth of affection for us, this process is taking place, and indeed one very great and distinguished United States writer and speaker has suggested the possibility of a much closer association between the United States and Canada in the very near future. That is a matter of great importance.
I think we cannot canalise this discussion. We have to think of the world as we see it today, and if we do that I must say that I will reproach myself at once for one thing. One great mistake this Parliament has made in the last six years is possibly not to give sufficient support to Lord Boyd Orr's proposals for a World Food Organisation and a World Food Board. It may well be that if he had had the support at the time, and if we had 475 fully understood the implications at the time, and if this House had had more chance of discussing the matter, we might have made a very notable advance in world co-operation.
It is important, because in 1947 Lord Boyd Orr's Report called attention to world food shortages and said that within 25 years we had to seek to double the food production of the world if we were to improve the standard of living of all the people of the world; and, since then, three melancholy years have followed in which a substantial part of the food-producing area of the Far East has been laid waste by internecine strife or war, so that if there were an examination today it would probably show that the problem has been accentuated in these years instead of there having been any improvement.
We have to think of this problem. As the centre of a great Empire, dominating great colonial territories throughout the world, we have to think of the problem from that point of view, and I believe the time is coming when we shall have to say, quite frankly, that from our own resources we cannot do all the things that are necessary to create world food production, to increase the standards of living of the distressed people and to conduct a very intensive battle against Communism throughout the world by providing an alternative—by providing not merely propaganda but also achievement. We have to say that we cannot do that and that it is a matter for world co-operation; and that it may well be a matter for the United Nations Organisation.
There is one point I should like to refer to, although I think I should be out of order if I developed it; or, at least, even if it were not out of order I would not seek to raise it by going outside the terms of the Debate today. Perhaps I may say in just one sentence what is in all our minds. There is a need for some constructive effort against a world war which is now being regarded in some minds as an ultimate inevitability. We are being told that the clash of ideologies is going to bring us some time to the day when people will have to decide whether an atomic bomb or a hydrogen bomb is to be used, whether we are to face biological or bacterial warfare, whether the world is 476 to return to anarchy. There is no one in the House who does not deplore this possibility, no one who does not realise the futility of the whole thing, if it can be prevented. Our first post-war task, even if we conducted such a war and conducted it with success, would be to start the reconstruction of the vast areas of the Soviet Union and, perhaps, to conduct a campaign for the return of the Romanoffs—if there were any Romanoffs alive to return.
In the names of the hon. Member for Yardley (Mr. Usborne), of myself and of others, there is on the Order Paper an Amendment which is not being called and which calls attention to the need for some constructive proposals in the field of world organisation.
[But, whilst welcoming the references in the Gracious Speech to the success of His Majesty's Government's efforts towards Collective Security through the United Nations Organisation, urge Your Majesty's Ministers to consider the recent detailed and constructive proposals of Mr. Walter Reuther of the United States Congress of Industrial Organisation with a view to an early statement.]
In deference to the large number of hon. Members who wish to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, I will deal with it briefly, but not because I do not regard this as of fundamental importance. Mr. Walter Reuther is a very distinguished trade union leader in America. Some of us have the pleasure of knowing him. His reputation stands high. It may well be that such a proposal comes best from a representative of the organised workers of what is today the most prosperous nation in the world. In July he published a pamphlet of proposals and he accompanied the pamphlet with a letter to President Truman dealing with President Truman's Fourth Point and with what he suggested were the methods of implementing it.
Let me say at once that Mr. Reuther is perfectly well aware, just as is the House as a whole, that if we get economists to examine the proposals in detail at the moment, if we make the survey of world resources, of concrete and steel, then, while the burden of armaments is growing more and more, the proposals can be criticised in detail. But I believe the moment has come when the peoples 477 of the world have to decide whether they are content to go on in the face of two inevitable things.
These two things will be inevitable at least if we do not take steps to deal with them. One is the conflict of ideologies and the growing burden of armaments, which is frustrating our social reform, which is frustrating our hopes of prosperity, and which will go on for years unless something is done. It is a burden which will restrict the development of the countries of the world and their advance along the paths of peace and reconstruction. The second is, how long we are to be content with a world in which 50 per cent. of our brothers are living on the starvation mark without any resources or any help and—what is, perhaps, worst—without any hope.
Mr. Reuther has said that the cost of the last war in the 44 months during which the United States were actively participating in it was of the order of 1,300 billion dollars, and he has suggested that it would not be a bad thing if they could spend that sum, at any rate in the next 100 years, on schemes of reconstruction under the United Nations organisation. He suggests—and I think he approaches the scheme in the right way, too—that it be accompanied by a demonstration of sincerity. He says, "Let us start right by passing the President's Bill of Rights through Congress and declare our own intention to allow all the peoples who come in to have complete freedom, and to remove any colour bar, and so on, in our own territories." I ask my right hon. Friend to start right, too, by abolishing some of these ancient deportation powers without trial which still exist in the Colonies, and which are a blot on our civilisation. I realise the difficulties which my right hon. Friend has to face at this moment, but I do suggest that this might be done so that we might start right.
Then, says Mr. Reuther, let this money be made available through the United Nations organisation; and especially attach no condition to it at all, so far as the participation of any other country is concerned. Says he, let all the great nations of goodwill come in to the best of their ability and make such provision as they think fit. Let us commence this great and mighty and Christian task of 478 trying to rebuild the world, and to create a world devoted to the paths of peace. He says, let this fund be made available to the Soviet Union, too. Then, says he, let us summon a great world disarmament conference, and let us seek to create a world in which, if the nations of the world will accept this ideal, we can go on with real reconstruction and with the laying of the real foundations of permanent peace.
I know, and Mr. Reuther knows it, too, that such proposals can be criticised in detail. I know it is much easier for a back bencher to suggest calling a world disarmament conference than for the Foreign Secretary to lay down the terms of such a conference, but at this moment, when there is an even more insidious weapon, in some ways, than the scientists have created—I mean the weapon of propaganda—we must realise that that weapon can be counteracted only and can be fought only by the determination of the peoples of the free world to set an example, and to lay down plans, and to show that they really mean sincerely that they do not want any war of aggression, and that they do not even want a war of defence, if that can be avoided, but that they are determined to help in coordinating world plans for peace.
The Amendment in my name and the names of my hon. Friends, to which I have already referred, would ask the Government to consider these proposals with a view to an early statement. I am still sufficient of an idealist to believe that if there were in this House two or three dozen Members who were prepared wholeheartedly to support these proposals and wholeheartedly to propogate them there would still be hope—as there has always been hope in the past, that by taking such steps we can remove from the world the menace of war and remove from the hearts of the mothers of England and of the United States and of the Soviet Union the ever-present worries that are there in their hearts, the ever-present fears, which limit all their activities, which limit their existence, and which will be a burden and a menace in the years to come.
I have taken now such time as I thought fit to take, and so I will conclude, and in doing so I would venture to quote the words of William Watson, who always had a good deal of sense to say 479 on these subjects, and who wrote a short poem called, "The True Imperialism":Here where the tide of conquest rollsAgainst the distant golden shore.The starved and stunted human soulsAre with us more and moreVain is your science, vain your art;Your triumphs and your glories vainTo feed the hunger of their hearts,And famine of their brain,Your savage deserts howling near,Your wastes of ignorance, vice and shameIs there no room for victories here,No fields for deeds of fame?Arise and conquer while you canThe foe that in your midst resides,And build within the mind of manThe empire that abides.
§ 12.5 p.m.
§ Air Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)
We have listened to the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Leslie Hale) with great interest, as always, but I only wish that the Russians would make some genuine gesture which would enable his views to be carried into effect. In recent years we have all waited in vain for such a gesture, but all that has been forthcoming has been the guile of Mr. Vyshinsky, and we have made no progress at all. Everyone in the House, and especially those who have had any connection with war, agrees that we do not want another one, but at the present time I would not recommend the right hon. Gentleman's launching a new approach to disarmament unless we haw a clear and genuine indication from the Soviet Union that they really mean business when they talk of disarmament and peace.
However, I desire today, having been selected to be one of the Parliamentary delegation to go to Malaya, to talk about that country, and I shall confine my remarks to that subject. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) emphasised that it would have been an excellent thing for any Government to have made some reference to Malaya in the Gracious Speech. I believe that even one small paragraph in the Gracious Speech would have made a profound impression in Malaya itself. It would have been a good thing to do at this important time in our Parliamentary business.
The Parliamentary delegation, as my hon. Friend said, worked extremely well together. That is not always the case with Parliamentary delegations, but this 480 was an extremely happy party that went out to Malaya, and we worked well together. We were shown many things by all the races, by officials and others, in Singapore and in the Federation. We examined a wide field of life out there, and we fulfilled a very heavy programme indeed. It was, I think, almost identical with the programme of the Colonial Secretary when he was there a few months ago. We saw something of the economy, the emergency arrangements, the defence arrangements, and of welfare activities.
Malaya and Singapore are at the present time very prosperous. On the face of it they appear to be doing extremely well. However, I ask the House to bear in mind that Malaya had a very thin time before the war, and has much leeway to pick up as a result of the Japanese occupation. This is particularly true of the rubber and tin industries, There is much replanting to be done. There are new methods of growing and cultivating rubber trees. We were shown rubber trees known as bud grafted trees, which produce something like 1,500 lbs. per acre as against 400 or 500 lbs. per acre. I hope and believe it will be the case that some of the profits being made now will be put back into development which will give a 300 per cent. or 400 per cent. increase.
Much has been said in this House and elsewhere about the wages of the rubber tappers. They have increased something like 300 per cent. to 400 per cent, since the end of the Japanese occupation. I agree that we want to do more for the tappers and for all Asiatic workers, if possible; but it should be noted that wages went up just before we arrived by 12 per cent. and within 24 hours the retail costs in the Chinese shops went up by 14 per cent. I believe that if another increase were given now, the Chinese shopkeepers would also increase their prices and the rubber tappers would be no better off.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue my speech, I may perhaps make a suggestion in that direction. If he could suggest how to control Chinese shopkeepers, I am sure that his right hon. Friend would 481 be most grateful for the benefit of his advice. There is a great problem to be tackled there.
Rubber planters and local management would prefer to get a lower price for rubber than they are receiving today if they knew that there could be some continuity at, say, 2s. 6d. or 3s. a lb. They would prefer to have a lower price if it were continuous so that they could carry out their programme of replanting. It must be borne in mind that over 50 per cent. of the rubber industry in Malaya is in the hands of the Asiatics, most of it small holdings of two, four and six acres, with fruit trees in between the rubber trees, and a few ducks and chickens, and it is very difficult to control that side of the rubber industry, or to bring them into line.
I should like to pay my tribute to the people of all races in Malaya who are helping to combat the emergency, particularly the rubber planters and their wives. People ask "Why are the wives staying on the estates?" The fact is that the workers would think it was not good enough for them to stay if the wives did not stay. They, too, are playing a great part in supporting their husbands in carrying out their dangerous work. Of course, some areas are worse than others. The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell), my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire and I travelled to Pahang which I believe is the worst part of Malaya at the present time. I think the right hon. Gentleman was also there. I would not say that morale among the planters was bad, but I believe that attention must be given to that part of Malaya to try to get these men and their families and the assistants out of the estates every so often to give them a break. If they have to motor 40 or 50 miles never knowing whether they are going to be shot by bandits hiding in the jungle, there is not much encouragement to travel that distance.
I hope that arrangements will be made for aircraft to be sent out in the immediate future so that the air strips which are there can be used for the benefit of all. The Army and the police are working well together, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to see whether the planters themselves could not be taken into the full confidence of the Army and 482 the police. Previously they had discussions, but they are not now having high-level discussions, and the planters have information to offer. When a new unit arrives it is usually the planter who has to be consulted to give them the information they require and the local knowledge.
The existing emergency is a tremendous strain on the Federation Government, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to continue giving them every assistance that this country can offer. I believe that discussions have taken place in the last few weeks, and we were told the day before yesterday that a statement would be made fairly soon. Perhaps we could be told something about it.
§ Mr. Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)
I am listening to the hon. and gallant Gentleman with interest and appreciation. Could he give us any information about the actual Chinese mercantile community?
§ Air Commodore Harvey
I have quite a lot to get through in my speech, but I will probably refer to that as I proceed.
There is a desperate need for trained personnel to go to Malaya. In Singapore alone there is a deficiency of 100 doctors, and it is the same in Kuala Lumpur and elsewhere. As my hon. Friend said, young men will not go to that country unless they can see some security, and a statement from the Government that we intend to remain would help.
The other day a Question was asked about the retirement of administrative officers, and the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) asked the right hon. Gentleman the following supplementary question:Would it not be better to reduce the age of retirement so that many of the senior and less enlightened officers can he cleared away … so that many of the less enlightened officers can be cleared away … and more recruitment can take place from local inhabitants of Malaya, which is very much desired?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th October, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 2782.]I hope the right hon. Gentleman will dissociate himself from that remark. There are in Malaya senior civil servants who have done 25 years' service who are about to retire, but who are staying on at the request of the Government.
§ The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. James Griffiths)
I think I replied 483 to that supplementary question at the time, if the hon. Gentleman will look at the OFFICIAL REPORT.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
I have the OFFICIAL REPORT but I see nothing there from the right hon. Gentleman dissociating himself from that remark. I hope that he will do so, because my hon. Friend did ask the right hon. Gentleman to dissociate himself but nothing happened.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I paid a very high tribute to those men. I did not ask any of them to retire or to leave Malaya. I asked them to stay on after the retiring age.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
I am very glad to have the right hon. Gentleman's assurance on that point, because whatever differences we may have, surely we can support these people who are doing a fine job of work under dangerous and difficult circumstances.
The long-term problem in Malaya is that of education. Education will not bring the emergency to an immediate end, but if we could get some control over the Chinese schools, it would help to know what is being taught to the Chinese. We should try to educate the Chinese, the Malays and the Eurasians together instead of having separate schools. I believe that the resettlement areas which are being built very rapidly, and the schools which are being erected, may to some extent overcome that difficulty.
Although it is always dangerous to give a view after being in a country only a fortnight, I have been to Malaya several times before and lived in the Far East for a number of years, and I know something about the Chinese mentality. It was my impression at the end of my visit that the situation had deteriorated during recent months. I know that the leaders and those responsible in Malaya do not share that view, but if the situation has deteriorated I think it would be far better for all concerned, particularly this House, to face up to it and to realise what 484 is taking place. The other day there was an article in the "Daily Telegraph" on the front page. I know that hon. Gentlemen opposite do not always believe what they read in the "Daily Telegraph," but that was a well-informed article and I recommend hon. Members to read it and study it, because it gives the picture as I saw it myself.
I do not blame the authorities unduly for the deterioration which has taken place. They are fighting ruthless terrorists; terrorists who do not care how they fight, who shoot in the back. It is worse than open war, where one goes in and faces the enemy on some fair basis. In Malaya it is nothing more than the worst form of murder that can be found. Do not under-rate the seriousness of the problem we are up against. There is a hard core of something like 3,000 or 4,000 bandits in the jungle who are holding down a very large army, a police force, an air force and the navy. I contend that there are real brains behind this Communist war, and we must match those brains in bringing it to a conclusion.
The impression I got was that our propaganda out there was practically nil. There is no propaganda worth talking about, or at least it was not shown to us. We know that the Communists have got propaganda of a very high grade. They have their own printing presses in the jungle. It is not only a question of putting out a leaflet; they go in for whisper campaigns; professional story tellers squat down in the streets and collect a crowd of 20 or 30 Asiatics and put over the Communist viewpoint to them. We really must wake up and get our view put over to the whole country. We have wasted two years in that direction.
Radio Malaya, which covers Singapore and the Federation, is a very well-organised service and has competent people in charge, but I was surprised to find that the hours of broadcasting are from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., when they shut down till five o'clock and then broadcast till 11 p.m. I know that all the Asiatics have not got radio sets; but radio sets are selling; they are obtaining them, and the news is passed on. I should have thought that the radio station at Singapore ought to be broadcasting at all hours of the day. We were told it was a question of shortage of personnel. I 485 hope the right hon. Gentleman will do everything he can to see that assistance is given in that direction. We were told that the United States transcription service which is available to Radio Malaya is infinitely superior to that of the B.B.C. The records for the B.B.C. service go by ship, as they are rather heavy, and they take about three weeks to get there. That certainly wants looking into. I hope that we shall have the opportunity of discussing this with the right hon. Gentleman in more detail than perhaps would be wise to mention in this House.
I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the Briggs' plan really works. General Briggs is an officer who retired and came back to serve this country in a most difficult campaign. I was not personally convinced that the campaign was going as well as it might do. That is not the fault of General Briggs. Is he getting the full co-operation of the military authorities in his demands? I would like to have an assurance on that point. The Briggs plan is to bring the squatters into areas where they have protection, have their own shops and are given real security. When this happens, the idea is that the bandits will no longer be able to obtain food. There is, however, the other point of view that when the squatters are brought into these resettlement areas, the country will be free for the bandits to move about, because they are less likely to be detected.
My hon. Friend referred to the compulsory levies made by the Communists on all parties in Malaya. It ranges from one dollar a week from the tapper to over 1,000 dollars a month from the rich Chinese who own rubber estates and live in the large towns. The Communist Party and bandits appear to get all the funds that they require to fight this campaign. With that money they are able to acquire the food and other items which they think are necessary.
A statement was made the other day by General Briggs in Kuala Lumpur that:The military cannot be here for ever, and the jungle companies of police will he the mainstay when they leave. There are always demands elsewhere for troops, and if the emergency goes well, as it is doing, it is obvious that we cannot keep the extra troops.That may be true if the campaign goes well, but if it does not go well it seems untimely to make such a statement that 486 the troops may be relieved. I would like to have some definite assurance that the troops will remain there until the trouble is cleared up.
One of the difficulties is the indents to Crown Agents for supplies. Indents were made a year ago last month for machine tools, lathes, surface grinders and so on. Many of those things are not forthcoming. Cannot the right hon. Gentleman bring about a system whereby indents can be dealt with locally through the firms or direct with the firms at home who supply them? This is holding up maintenance of motor vehicles. In the machine tool shops of the Malay Regiment I saw one machine tool in a very large shop. It gave me the shudders, after hearing the defence Debate to think where some of the machine tools have gone. There is a shortage of small arms; and spares for Bren guns, indented for six months ago, are still not available. All these points require looking into in order that we may give Malaya the greatest possible priority.
There is considerable grumbling in the Services regarding the local overseas allowance. An officer or N.C.O., if his family comes home, loses a considerable amount of income free of Income Tax. It is the same with the Gurkhas. The Gurkhas have an important job in the jungle, but a private still gets only £5 a month. I know that there is some agreement with the Indian Government not to increase the pay of the Gurkha Regiment without prior discussion. I hope that discussions will take place to see whether we can bring the Gurkhas into line with our own soldiers with regard to pay.
So far as the trade unions are concerned, my hon. Friend said that they were disbanded when the emergency came about, and that the leaders went into the jungle with the trade union funds. The right hon. Gentleman's advisers on Trade Unions who are in Malaya now are doing a very fine job. I ask them, however, not to proceed too quickly. The Communists may well be infiltrating back, and who can say whether they are coming back into the trade unions or not? They are not going to show their hand; they never do until the time is ripe. I hope that we shall proceed slowly in building up the trade unions and do so on sound lines to ensure that the right people are there.
487 The British Council are spending money in Singapore but not one dollar is being spent in the Federation, where it is required. I know that is not a big item, but all these things put together make some contribution to what we have to face.
The Malayan police force is a magnificent body of men and well led, but many of them do not understand the recognition of Communist China. It is noticeable that, since China has been recognised by the British Government, less information has been coming in, and the number of incidents has been increasing, largely because we have the thousands of detainees in detention camps on the mainland who cannot be shipped back to China. This problem will have to be tackled if this emergency is to be brought to a close. I think that the military should be given much wider powers. I do not mean that there should be martial law. There are cases when a bandit is caught in which it takes six to 12 weeks to bring him to civil trial. The whole process requires speeding up.
I have grave doubt about the proposed Home Guard in Malaya. It may work, and I think that it is worth trying, but can we be sure that the Home Guard will not sell its arms to the bandits? The Government were warned after the war, time and time again, that this emergency existed. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. W. Fletcher) asked the Lord President of the Council practically every Thursday on Business if we could have a debate on Malaya. The question was continually put off even a year before the emergency. I do not want to bring contentious points into this Debate, but the Government must accept some large measure of responsibility for the situation in which we find ourselves.
I am afraid that if we carry on like this we shall incur the dislike of the Chinese and Malays. I think, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire said, that what is required is a definite statement by the Prime Minister of Great Britain that we intend to stay in Malaya permanently as equal partners. I was begged by the Chinese and Malays to try to put that point in this House. They have a great respect for us. We have 488 nothing to be ashamed of in Malaya where, compared with other parts of Asia, we have done excellent work. In a few years we have constructed roads, schools and hospitals with six hundred beds. We have done a tremendous job of work.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will consider going to Malaya again in two or three months' time. When he was last there, he made a great impression wherever he went. The people there are still talking about his visit, and not in quite the same terms as they talk about the Secretary of State for War. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will pay another visit, so that he may see what has happened in an interval of six or eight months. Such a visit could do nothing but good.
Malaya is an important part of the British Empire and Commonwealth. If it is lost, our communications with Australia will be via Capetown, Mauritius and the Cocos Islands. The danger point is Indo-China. Are we co-operating there as much as we might do on matters of mutual interest? If Indo-China went Communist, our difficulties would be far greater than they are at the present time. I beg of the Government to do everything in their power to give high priority and pay particular attention to this country of six million people who are dependent upon us for their safety.
§ 12.30 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)
I wish to join with the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) in regretting the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Stanley) from this Debate. We all deplore the cause of that absence, because even though there may be disagreement with his views I am sure that on all sides of this House there is appreciation of his personality and a desire that he will recover very soon.
In the absence of the right hon. Gentleman we have had a speech from the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire. He refrained from anticipating the debate next Thursday but, as I listened to his speech, I thought he was anticipating much too optimistically the result of the next general election. Moreover, in his repeated statements as to what the Conservative Party would and would not do, I thought he was speaking almost as a 489 Minister already. After having heard his speech I hope, for the sake of the Colonial people, that he will not become responsible for the Colonies of Great Britain.
Taking the hon. Gentleman's point that the Government have been speaking with optimism and in generalities, I have rarely heard a speech from the Front Bench opposite which was so faulty in its dependence on optimism and generalities. For example, throughout his speech the hon. Gentleman said that we must remain permanently in Malaya and in other Colonies as a family and with the agreement of the colonial people. I say to the hon. Gentleman that if we are to remain in the Colonies it must be on a basis of equality and of justice.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) said so himself.
§ Mr. Brockway
When the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire cheers that remark of mine, he must go on to admit that much of what is happening in the Colonies today must be stopped. In Malaya, for instance, this Government had to enter into a heritage of 100 years—in some cases 200 years—maladministration by previous Governments.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Brockway
It is less in Malaya, but in other countries economic and political justice has been such as to cause it to be difficult to have those friendly relations which the hon. Gentleman suggested.
During the Recess I visited two countries. The first was Kenya. As a young man I grew up to learn that Kenya was the classic example of the crime of colonialism. When the British went to Kenya they seized the best land and the African farmers were reserved to certain areas. That is a crime we have to live down before there can be anything in the nature of family relations. And what disturbed me was to find that so much of that spirit and practice still exists. I lived with one of the best African farmers, the first to introduce coffee plantations into Kenya. Great areas of his land were confiscated from him without any compensation and given to a 490 European planter. Every time he leaves his farm on the other side of the road he sees that land and sees the European planter allowed to grow coffee on it, while on his own farm he is prohibited from doing so.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
If the story which the hon. Gentleman is relating is a fact, it is an outrage. But it seems incredible that after six years of Socialist Government that should be tolerated in a British Colony. I hope the hon. Gentleman will give us chapter and verse on another occasion to justify such a sweeping and wild statement.
§ Mr. Brockway
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I speak with responsibility and with knowledge of the facts. I am providing the Minister with all the facts. If they are of interest to the hon. Gentleman, I will provide him also with the facts.
§ Mr. Brockway
The farmer is named Koinanga, he lives eight miles outside Nairobi, he is the ex-senior chief and an ex-magistrate. Although he was the first African farmer to grow coffee in Kenya he is not allowed to do so today because his farm neighbours are European farmers, and the view is that because of the shortage of labour, if he were allowed to grow coffee, there would be no coffee pickers for the European farmers who now enjoy land which has been confiscated from him.
§ Mr. Brockway
The Government of Kenya. There is no doubt about that. I discussed these matters with the acting Governor of Kenya when I was there. I am refraining from developing that subject further, Mr. Speaker, although I would very much like to do so.
I take as another example what has been happening in Uganda. Before I went there I was told that it was a model Colony of a protectorate character. I was alarmed by the vacuum there now is between the protectorate Government of Uganda and the people, and even between the native Government of Buganda and the people. I urge my right hon. Friend to do his utmost to try to fill that vacuum and to give back to the people of Uganda 491 the political rights which have been withdrawn from them as a result of disturbances which occurred in April of last year.
My third point refers to the Gold Coast. I saw with regret an article published in the "Daily Telegraph" recently not only over the name of the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) but also over the name of an hon. Member who sits upon these benches. I hope that we shall not determine the democratic rights of the colonial countries by our agreement or disagreement with the parties which have strength in those countries. I have in my hands a telegram, received this morning, declaring that the Convention People's Party in the Gold Coast, as a result of the Kumasi municipal elections yesterday, holds 6,210 votes against 50 votes in opposition. When a party has that kind of support, which is occurring again and again in elections in the Gold Coast, it is time its leaders were released from prison; and those releases should take place before the coming general election so that they have an opportunity to appeal to the people.
Finally, I want to support the warning which was given by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Leslie Hale), that nothing will be done to create a Dominion of Northern and Southern Rhodesia so long as there is not complete equality between the races. I will be content with these few remarks, which, I think, illustrate the fact that the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire was talking with easy optimism when he spoke of a family of nations under British leadership. It will not continue to be so until these injustices, economic and political, are put right.
§ 12.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)
No Member of this House will underrate the difficulties with which we have to contend in the present situation in the Commonwealth and Empire. For my part, I did not detect any easy optimism in the brilliant speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd). What it is important for the House to do is to make certain that we here do not do or say anything that will make it more difficult for us to maintain our leadership and that mission with which we believe we are entrusted in the 492 Commonwealth and Empire. I have no doubt that the Secretary of State for the Colonies will answer his hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway). I am not qualified to do so myself, but I think that all Members of the House will be aware that in East Africa there has been a great shortage of food, and the necessity to grow food for native consumption may have not a little to do with the particular complaint which the hon. Gentleman has raised.
I, too, was a member of the Parliamentary delegation which has just visited Malaya, and I make no apology to the House for raising this matter yet a third time. As my hon. and gallant Friend for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) has said, that country presents perhaps one of the gravest problems that we have to face in the Colonies just now. My only regret is that it has not been possible for our Labour colleagues who accompanied us to participate also in this Debate. Although the emphasis might have been different, I do not believe that they would have differed substantially in the point of view already expressed by my hon. Friend.
It is extremely important that the House should realise the conditions under which the people are living in Malaya. It is not just a question of a war. This is a war which goes on behind the lines the whole time. It is organised by the Communists who have Communist cells and killer squads operating far behind where the troops are engaged. In the short time we were in Malaya we were able to appreciate in some degree what that means. On an estate that we visited just a few days before, one of the British employees was shot while driving through the estate. A few miles from where we were, at another time, a young Scottish planter out for a walk with his dog was shot and killed. Apparently it was for no purpose except perhaps that he was a particularly promising young man.
In Singapore itself there are continual incidents. Taxis are burned, buses are destroyed, the occupants of the buses are forced to surrender their identity cards and, no doubt, very often their money—they do not always confess to that. But these incidents are going on all the time, and that is the background for consideration of the problem of Malaya.
493 Undoubtedly, Malaya is at present a prosperous country in all other respects, but insufficient progress is being made economically. For example, no further prospecting for tin is possible in existing conditions. There is virtually no new development of rubber, except on the existing estates which are already planted. Actually, the acreage of rubber at present is still what it was before the war, although the production of rubber is about 25 per cent. higher than it was.
The astonishing thing that I found, and one of the strangest impressions with which I came away, was how well the various races in Malaya and Singapore are getting on. It would have been very surprising if there had not been some friction after the war. For the Malays, Chinese, Indians and Singhalese, differing in race, religion, way of life, and standard of living, our people provide the unifying influence in Malaya, and if we went away just now the whole country would disintegrate. That problem could not be solved as, for example, it has been solved—if we can call it a solution—in Palestine or in India. Frontier demarcations cannot be made in Malaya. The peoples are there, and they have to stay there and live together.
We must face the great change that has been made in the situation. For example, before the war, rightly or wrongly, we permitted and even encouraged a very considerable degree of Chinese immigration. These people are there and are staying there, and all the evidence that we have points to the fact that in spite of bandit difficulties they were glad to stay there, because Malaya is, in fact, the best country in South-East Asia from the point of view of administration and economic organisation. They do not want to go away. The pay and conditions of the workers is, as has been admitted by their own labour leaders, better than in the surrounding countries. That is because we have gone back, and our people there are working with the intention of building up an enduring administration.
We must face the problems of the situation. One of the greatest difficulties is that at the end of the war the Malayan Union was formed. The formation of that Union left the Malays dissatisfied. We went back on that and the Federation Agreement was made in 1948. That, in 494 turn, alienated Chinese sympathy. Whatever we may think of Communist activity in Malaya, the fact must be faced that it is linked with this alienation of Chinese opinion. If we are to weld together a Malayan nation, as we must, we must get the full co-operation of the Chinese. The main difficulty with which we are faced in dealing with the bandits is of getting that co-operation.
Naturally, the eyes of the Chinese are turned towards events outside Malaya. They see what has happened in Indo-China. They see that we have given recognition to a régime in China which has the same ideology as the Communists in Malaya. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield has said, they do not know what is to happen in the long run. He referred to the difficulty of repatriating the Chinese who are now in detention. Up to last year the repatriation of Chinese continued, but now it has ceased. The result is that those Chinese who are working together with us in Malaya, and I believe the numbers are growing, fear what will happen if those who are in detention are released. They fear vengeance. That is another difficulty with which we are faced, it is largely enhanced by the differential treatment meted out to the Chinese in comparison with other races, not only the Malays but also the Indians.
Reference has been made to the Chinese schools. It is a matter of the greatest importance. The Government in Malaya pays for the education of Malays. It makes a very substantial contribution to the education of the Indians there but, in the case of Chinese, the overall contribution of the Government to education works out at something like 15s. per head per annum. Naturally, the Chinese resent that. We cannot expect to get their full co-operation in payment of taxes or in any other way unless we also give them equality of treatment. I know the difficulties, but I hope that we shall work together to persuade the Malays of the overwhelming importance of winning the confidence of the Chinese and of working with them to weld together the various races in Malaya. It is only a short time since Mr. Nehru visited Malaya and told the Indians that Malaya was their country. If only the Chinese could be given a similar lead they might also treat Malaya as their country.
495 A good deal of fresh thinking has to be done. There is, for example, the question of estate labour, which is largely Indian and Chinese. The system was built up at the time when labour was brought from abroad and when the British interests on the estates were in the habit of working through contractors or conductors. That system is no longer applicable now that imigration for that purpose has stopped. I hope that those who are responsible for the management of the British estates will look very carefully at the problem, realising that the degree to which the planters win the confidence of and are in personal touch with their workers on the estate is the degree to which they will prosper on those estates in the future.
The House will have observed the letters from Mr. Brayne both in the "Daily Telegraph" and in "The Times" recently, showing that tremendous progress has been made in the education of women. It is hopeless to expect much progress to be made in Malaya until we have women with high standards of living and ideals in the home, and capable of bringing up their children in a way of which we would approve and be proud. Great strides have been made, but much remains to be done.
I would refer also to the recruitment of Europeans. It is natural that at the moment in a country like Malaya those who have the necessary qualifications there feel that they should be treated equally in every way with anybody going out there from this country. There is the dilemma that standards of living are different. If we are to attract people from this country—and without such attraction we shall not be able to help Malaya to progress—we must offer them attractive terms. Those terms are not forthcoming at present, nor is it possible to attract men and women of sufficient calibre unless pensions and widows' and orphans' funds are guaranteed. In the Government service that certainly must be done. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will tell us that in the services not only is there transferability of pension rights, but also that pension rights are assured for those who live out their service in Malaya.
It is essential that, as a Power which has great responsibilities all over the world, we should maintain the value of our cur- 496 rency. Unless the nations that look to us for leadership can depend upon that they will tend to drift away. We see just now that, owing to the rise in the value of commodities that we have to import, many of them from the Empire, two things have resulted: first, the cost of living has gone up in this country; second, we have been enabled to balance our dollar account. It is clear that we cannot have it both way. If, every time that the price of raw materials imported from the Empire rises, we are to have demands for further increases in wages in this country, there will be no end to inflation. The value of the pound in this country will go down and down, and the respect in which the currency of the country is held by our fellow members of the Comonwealth will decline. That is one of the tragedies of the French Empire. It is no accident that the French Empire has found it difficult to hold together, considering that the value of the franc is something like one-twelfth of what it used to be before the war, and one-fortieth of what it was before the First World War.
Lastly, we should remember that the treatment of colonial affairs is essentially a long-term task. We ought not to encourage those who are working together with us in the Colonies and working towards self-government to expect quick results. After all, this country, a century ago, was in many respects in advance of many of the territories that depend upon us abroad today. Yet it was 50 years from the time that universal education was introduced to the time when universal suffrage was introduced. That is a sober reflection for the Government, who are pushing on with adult suffrage irrespective of the development of the territories.
I feel, therefore, that the whole House should work together in providing that stability of the Commonwealth and Empire which it is the most important thing now to guard. If we are for ever changing constitutions and messing about with our own internal economy, we shall sacrifice entirely the right to be the centre of a great Commonwealth and Empire.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
On a point of order. May I draw attention, Sir, to the fact that on the whole of the Government benches there are only two Members present?
§ 1.2 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
I am very much put off my stride today by the fact that since this Debate began we have had a more or less continuous rain of speeches on the Commonwealth and the Colonies, and it would be unfair of me at this point to jump to some prepared remarks that I should like to have made about housing and other things. I fully agree with the importance of the stress that has been placed on this question of the Colonies, and it would be unfair not to say something from the back benches on this side about how we feel over the whole problem and to try to take up some of the points that have been raised.
I am sorry that I cannot claim to have had the recent experience of Malaya of the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) and the hon. Members for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson) and Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd). It was from Malaya, however, that I left to be demobilised from the Army in 1946, and when I listened to the hon. and gallant Member for Macclessaying that we should have taken action right away at the end of the war—presumably he meant that we should have taken action at the end of 1945 or the beginning of 1946—against the people who are today bandits and should have put them into concentration camps, I thought he was talking utter and dangerous nonsense.
§ Mr. N. Macpherson
I feel quite certain that what the hon. Member meant was that they should have been disarmed.
§ Mr. Ross
That is another point. They should have been disarmed. The hon. Member knows quite well, however, that we did not know where the arms were hidden. At the end of the war many of the military authorities in Singapore would have liked to know that. Remember that many of the people who are bandits today are the people who had been helping us to drive out the Japanese and that the arms they are using are the arms we dropped in the jungle, which they picked up and subsequently hid. It is not quite so easy to dismiss the matter in such a way and, with this backward wisdom of the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire, say that what should have been done——
§ Squadron Leader Burden (Gillingham)
Surely at that time those people were co-operative towards us. We were the deliverers, the people who had given them the arms. Just as this Government hoped that there would be co-operation with Russia, so at that time there was definitely good feeling among those people in Malaya, and it would have been much better and easier then to have brought about the situation which my hon. Friend suggested.
§ Mr. Ross
The people would not have co-operated very long had we taken action which showed that we looked on them as future criminals. The fact is that the dumps of arms were created for future use and we just did not know where they were. We called on the people to disarm and to hand over the armaments, but by that time they had their minds made up.
The other point which I am very glad has been brought out by all the hon. Members who were with the recent delegation was that this is not, as has been stated by Communists in this country and elsewhere, a nationalist war that is going on in Malaya. It is purely and simply this sectionalist Communist band who are trying to force their will on the people of Malaya. What the British are doing in Malaya has the support of the great majority of people there, recognising that in the continued co-operation between the British administration and the local peoples lies the salvation of that country.
In speaking of the deterioration of conditions and of the harm that was done by the recognition of China and so on, many hon. Members are missing out the highlight of the successful counter-attack on Communism that has been going on in Malaya and which now is going on also in Korea. From such reports as I have from Malaya, there is no feeling that we are losing the battle against the bandits. There is a recognition, a recognition that I wish had been in the minds of some Members of this House some years ago, of how slow that battle and success must be, because of the very nature of the conditions which were stressed here today by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire. We cannot expect quick, sweeping triumph in this kind of guerilla warfare under conditions which are so conducive to that kind of war.
§ Mr. Gammans (Hornsey)
The hon. Member conveys the impression that he is quite confident that we are winning the war against the bandits—I hope he is right; but does he realise that the number of outrages in September, 1950, was five times as great as in September, 1949?
§ Mr. Ross
That may well be. It may be a sign of desperation on the part of the bandits. Perhaps we are forcing them into the open more than ever, and that is giving us the opportunity of getting at them.
There has been a playing down from the other side of the House today, and I regret it very much, of what has been done in colonial and Commonwealth affairs. I listened with amazement to the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire when he was wishing that we had had a conference of all the imperial and colonial Powers at the end of the war. He seemed to give the impression that Britain was acting alone and that we had never consulted anyone, either in the Dominions or in the Commonwealth, whereas the actual facts are the very opposite.
Never in the history of the British Commonwealth has there been more consultation; certainly not, perhaps, in the old-fashioned manner of having one big Commonwealth Conference, but there have been constant contacts and continued conferences of a specialised nature. Since the war there have been three meetings of the Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth and two meetings of the Finance Ministers. There has been constant contact of a personal nature. It was far better to have the kind of instance of the Colonial Secretary going out to Malaya to see what was going on, and to have the big Colombo Conference that was held not so very long ago. The impression that was given by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire was that nothing had been done at all and that the Commonwealth are acting at sixes and sevens. My experience of what has happened is that nothing that could be done, and that was within our power to do, has been left undone. The contacts within the Commonwealth and the recognition of the real aims of the British in the Commonwealth, and in the Colonies particularly, are greater than they have ever been.
500 The hon. Gentleman made a rather strange reference to Burma, and his whole theme was that we should remain in any of these countries so long as we have the consent of the people. His reference to this matter was linked up with a backward vision of an Imperial Conference, and he thought that, if only that conference had been held at the end of the war, Burma might still have been within the Commonwealth. What does that mean? It is perfectly obvious that, if the policy of the Opposition with reference to the independence or otherwise of Burma had been carried out, Burma would not have been friendly to us, as it is today, and it is doubtful whether the Burmese people themselves would today be fighting Communism, which is what is happening in Burma; and I wish there was a wider recognition of that fact.
The Burmese people have not given in to Communism, but if we had still held Burma by force or by the powers given to us in this House of deciding the country's independence or otherwise, Burma today would have been Communist, and the fault to which that situation was due would have been the failure to change constitutions and to recognise the need for change, which was denied in the last part of the speech of the hon. Member for Dumfries.
§ Mr. N. Macpherson
I hope the hon. Gentleman is not misrepresenting what I said. I support the idea of change and adjustment, but what I said was that we should have made these adjustments as and when required, and should not have gone flying ahead with changes that were not really necessary.
§ Mr. Ross
We had a Division in the House in regard to Burma, and hon. Members on this side of the House decided that the change was necessary while those on that side of the House decided that it was not necessary and voted against it. If that change had not been carried out, the people who today are getting worried on the subject of Communism would have had far more to be worried about. What we have done in Burma, India, Pakistan and Ceylon has been to give to the native peoples the feeling that Britain really does mean business in building up these countries and providing them with the means and education to rule and govern themselves.
501 We are getting their co-operation and partnership now more than ever before, because of the clear-cut recognition that we mean what we say in this family spirit about education towards self-government.
The only other point that I wish to make will be difficult to make without infringing on the subject of next Thursday's discussion. It is that the money which has been spent in bringing the Colonies more into a position in which they can feed themselves, and to place some in the position of helping to feed the rest of the world, and of building up their economic strength, is as much a part of the battle against Communism as is the provision of men, materials and arms. In fact, it is more so, because as we build up the economic strength and the standard of living of the peoples in the colonial countries, we root out the possibilities of Communism on the very ground on which its seeds will grow. Just as dirt causes disease, so poverty and hunger in the Colonies would cause Communism.
We are tackling that question at the same time as we are tackling the question of the immediate defensive measures to be taken against aggressive Communism. The incipient causes of Communism are also being tackled; and I think it is wrong, as we have heard so often in this country to talk for purely propaganda purposes, of money being wasted and thrown away on gigantic colonial enterprises. That money is not being thrown away. The very fact that we are prepared to spend it has made a profound impression on the peoples of the Colonies and brought about a recognition that the people of Britain are taking up that burden of assisting them to economic strength, and, at the same time, by changing and developing their constitutions and by improving their standards of education, helping to bring forward the time when the colonial peoples will be able to take over the government of their own countries.
§ 1.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Gammans (Hornsey)
I was not going to make any reference at all to my visit to the Gold Coast, because I hope that before long the Government will provide us with an opportunity of discussing recent developments in that part of the world, but since the hon. Member for Eton 502 and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway), who I am sorry is not now in his place, has attacked an article which his hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough West (Mr. G. Cooper) and I wrote, I wish to refer to it. The right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary, judging by what has appeared in the public Press, does not accept what we had said. I would reply with the question: Why does he not take the step which I have suggested to him and send a deputation from this House to the Gold Coast to see whether we are exaggerating or not? After all, we in this House are responsible for the Gold Coast, and I do not think these changes should have been made without hon. Members of this House at least having the opportunity of discussing them.
However, the hon. Member for Eton and Slough said that yesterday there was an election in Kumasi in Ashanti, and that the results proved that we had exaggerated when we said that the danger in the Gold Coast today was that the election would be held in conditions quite different from those which this House was led to expect. I will give some figures, which the hon. Member also quoted. The C.P.P. party, whose leader is now in gaol for sedition, whose followers use the Lord's Prayer, substituting his name for that of the Almighty, and who also sing hymns from "Ancient and Modern", always substituting the name Nkrumah for that of Christ, gained 6,210 votes, against 50 votes by all the other parties put together.
Has anyone ever heard of an election of that sort—a free, honest election of that sort—anywhere except East of the Iron Curtain? Less than one per cent. of the votes cast were cast for all the Opposition parties put together. They have done better than Stalin. So far as I know, Salin has never exceeded 99 per cent. but these people have done better than that. Surely, the right hon. Gentleman will agree that here, at least, is a case worth investigating? I suggest to the House that the elections in the Gold Coast were held in conditions quite different from what he and his predecessor had been led to believe. I also suggest that these figures fully support the contentions of his hon. Friend and myself. which he so strongly attacks.
§ Dr. King (Southampton, Test)
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that, where 503 it is a case of learning democracy, we get this sort of thing, and that, throughout the long history of this Parliament of ours, covering 300 or 400 years, if we take the results and the number of people taking part in elections, they are not dissimilar from those on the Gold Coast?
§ Mr. Gammans
I should want an awful lot of convincing that any election in which 99.3 per cent. voted in favour of one candidate and only.7 per cent. voted for all the others was a free election according to the best traditions which have created democracy in this country.
But what I want to deal with is quite a different matter, and I do not apologise for bringing it up once again. I and my hon. Friends have raised it on more than one occasion in the past. It is the question of the creation of a Colonial Army. We have raised this question before, indeed for the last five years, but very little, if anything, has been done. I cannot see why there is this extraordinary reluctance to create a Colonial Army at this time. The strategic situation in Europe today seems to me to be roughly this. There are 175 to 200 Russian divisions standing on the soil of Europe, and all that we have to put against them at the moment is something of the order of 12 divisions.
I think that the danger of the outbreak of another war is not that the Russians will use the atom bomb—they may do that later—but that they will be unable to resist the temptation, owing to this terrible disparity of 175 to 12, to allow the Russian Army to go streaking across Europe. Perhaps there are stresses in Russia about which we know nothing; perhaps Stalin is an old man reluctant to embark on a military adventure; but we might see an entirely different policy adopted by his successor. We must realise that, so long as there are 175 divisions on one side and only 12 on the other, we can have no sense of abiding peace or security in Europe.
As I understand the policy of His Majesty's Government and that of their Allies among the Western Powers, it is, at the earliest possible moment, to get 60 well-armed Service divisions on the Continent of Europe. Where are we to get those 60 divisions? Our share, I sup- 504 pose, will be something of the order of 12 or 15 divisions, but can we hope to get 12 or 15 divisions from this country alone? I do not think we can, and we had better face up to it. Therefore, for strategic reasons, quite apart from any other, we have got to consider the raising of a Colonial Army.
Let us see what is happening in the world today. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) regarded Korea as a very great victory, as, in fact, it is, or as we hope it is going to be. Let us realise what has occurred. The American Army is bogged down in Korea, the British Army is bogged down in Malaya and Hong Kong, and the French Army is bogged down in Indo-China. None of those men has ever seen a Russian. What is happening is that the Russians are making their satellites fight against our metropolitan troops, which has the effect of keeping them at the far end of the earth as a permanent garrison.
From where are we going to get these divisions if not from a Colonial Army? Let us remember that there is no Indian Army today under our control, and let us never forget that had it not been for the Indian Army in the Middle East in the last war, the whole Middle East would have been lost in 1940 and 1941. We have heard today about the situation in Malaya. Why is it that there are no African troops in Malaya? They fought with great vigour, efficiency and gallantry in Burma. Those men, I am sure, would be equally willing to fight in Malaya today. Why are not more of our metropolitan troops brought back to what is, after all, the real danger here in Europe? I had an answer three days ago from the Secretary of State for War which flabbergasted me. I asked about the Royal West African Frontier Force, and I was told:The Royal West African Frontier Force is not a Corps of the British Army, but a force raised in the West African Colonies by and for the protection of those Colonies themselves; its function is to maintain the internal security and local defence of those Colonies and it is not normally available for service elsewhere."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th October, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 407.]What a fantastic state of affairs. Why should it not be available for service elsewhere, especially at a time like this?
I hope that at some stage in the next few months, when we are considering 505 defence, we shall be told why it is we cannot have this Colonial Army; why it is we cannot recruit three divisions of volunteers in Africa alone; why it is that these troops in West Africa have never had and never will have brigade training? Why not create a great African Aldershot for training an expeditionary force which could be sent to any part where trouble broke out?
I suggest that a Colonial Army would perform three functions. First, it would relieve battalions from this country which are at present performing garrison duties. Why, for example, could not a battalion of the Colonial Army be sent to relieve the regiments at present in Jamaica or Malta, thus enabling the battalions of the British Army at present in those parts to be brought back to Europe? Secondly, I think a Colonial Army is wanted also for internal security, and, thirdly, as an expeditionary force composed of highly trained, long-service men to take on "fire brigade" jobs like Malaya. Do not let us assume that Malaya is the last fire-brigade job we shall have to face. Before long, we shall be involved with our Allies in a full-scale war in Indo-China. Where are the troops to come from? Are they to come from Germany or this country? If that is what we are going to do, we are playing exactly the game that Stalin wants us to play. I contend that the men are there and that the loyalty and the ability are there. All that seems to be lacking is the leadership from this country.
My last point is this. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) did not merely refer to Malaya. He tried to set out for us the conception of what the British Empire must be in the future if it is to remain an Empire at all. I suggest to the Government that from now on their first priority must not be merely to give out constitutions and to take risks in doling out those constitutions. An equal priority must be the maintenance, by some means or other, of the unity of the British Empire. Supposing the British Empire breaks up, as some hon. Members opposite hope it will, who will benefit? Certainly not the world at large; and if we have Communism and disorder in Africa those who benefit will certainly not be the peoples of the country we 506 leave. In the dangerous world in which we live today, not even this country is in a position to defend itself. We ought to try to create a higher priority to prevent the Empire from slipping away.
I agree that we cannot do that by force, and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire did not say we could. He said that if we are going to maintain the Empire, it must be by consent. But the tragedy today is that where-ever we go there is this miasma of lack of confidence. We find it in Malaya. As my hon. Friend said, the trouble is that we cannot convince the 2,500,000 Chinese that they are not going to be handed over to their traditional enemies.
We find the same lack of confidence concerning Colonial Service appointments in West Africa. There are nearly 1,000 appointments, to be recruited from this country, which cannot be filled simply because men will not enlist today in that Service. It is one thing to feel that one is, in fact, in a great creative enterprise, and another that one is the official assignee winding up the business. Every day we find that the moderate elements in the British Emepire are more and more reluctant to co-operate with us. They are wondering when we shall go, and they feel that we always listen to the noisy elements.
The hon. Member for Kilmarnock talked about the peoples of the Colonial Empire. I think he was thinking of that minute minority of the peoples in the towns who, perhaps, have received their education in this country and who are more vocal than the rest; but, go where one will, the moderate elements will say, not in public but behind closed doors when they know one and trust one, "We would like to co-operate with you but are you going to do what you did in Burma, go off and leave us? That is what they want to know". Wherever one goes there is this miasma of lack of confidence in us. If we are to keep this unique association of nations—I would be the first to agree it cannot come from repression—somehow or other it has to come from leadership. I do not blame hon. Gentlemen opposite alone for this, because I think the House and successive British Governments have about equal responsibility, but somehow or other we have failed to make the peoples of the 507 Colonial Empire believe that this association of ours together is not a status of inferiority.
§ Mr. Gammans
I will agree with my distinguished constituent for the moment, though I do not often agree with him. It is essential to capture the hearts of the coloured peoples. If we do not do that, we cannot keep the Empire going. We are not going to capture their hearts by handing out constitutions and by bogus elections. We must do a bit more than that. We are not going to capture their hearts when the Prime Minister always refers to new constitutions as giving people their "freedom" After all, giving them their freedom implies that they are living in a state of bondage. We have to do something far more inspiring than that.
I do not want to dilate on what I have to say, as perhaps we will have an opportunity later on. There is something fantastic when all parties of this House are agreed on setting up the idea of a Council of Europe. The object of it is to try and bring together the countries of Western Europe who have a common heritage. Why should we not have a Council of Empire? Why should we not try to do for the Colonial Empire what we have very largely succeeded in doing for Europe? I should like to see in London a great Council of Empire, with its own chamber surrounded by all the pageantry and panoply of which this country is capable. It is far too late to suggest the centralisation of authority in this House of Commons. We diverged from that years ago, and we are not thinking of that in the Council of Europe. That Council is entirely advisory.
Could we not do the same thing here in London? Could we not create a great council with advisory powers on such matters as finance, foreign affairs, communications, trade and industry, where the peoples of the Colonial Empire would not merely meet us Members of the two Houses but meet each other, which so rarely happens today? I believe this has an equal priority—this whole conception of keeping the Empire together—with the granting of new constitutions. I think it has equal priority with what we are going to discuss next Thursday, because if we 508 leave, then in most parts of the Empire, when the Union Jack comes down, chaos and oppression and tyranny will come in its place. There is no point whatever in our pouring money into the Colonial Empire if in a few years there will be all these horrors to take our place.
I believe that what I have suggested should have great priority, and, if the Minister and his colleagues are prepared to realise that, they will certainly get the support, not only of this side of the House, but of the country as a whole. I believe we are very much at the parting of the ways in the Colonial Empire and that what we do or do not do now will determine whether there will be any sort of Empire, Commonwealth, or association—whatever we may call it—in 10 years' time. If we fail, then the greatest and most successful association of nations will have perished from the earth, and it will be the most tragic example in history of a country which suddenly seemed to lose the will and ability to go on being great.
§ 1.36 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. James Griffiths)
If I may, I should like to join with hon. Members opposite and with my hon. Friends, who have also referred to it, in expressing our very deep regret at the continued absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Stanley), and in sending to him a message that, though we differ from him, we should be all profoundly glad to see him back in his place in the House.
The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd), in opening the Debate, also referred to the fact that this is the first colonial debate in this new Chamber. I should like to take the opportunity of paying my tribute to the very generous gifts given by the peoples of the Colonial Territories to the new House. Hon. Members might be interested to know that in the room allocated to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, downstairs, the table is the gift of Sierra Leone and the lamp-stand is a gift from Gibraltar. So the Secretary of State, when he goes to his room, will be reminded daily of the gifts given so generously by these people.
I should like, also, to express my gratitude and thanks to hon. Members 509 from all sides who joined together in the recent Parliamentary delegation to Malaya. Very shortly I hope to have an opportunity of meeting them and discussing the problems and their suggestions with them. If, today, I do not enter into details in reply to those suggestions, it is because I shall have an opportunity of discussing these matters with them, I think next week. I should like to say that I have had glowing accounts from Singapore and Malaya of the very fine impression made by their visits. I am sure these visits from this country to Malay have been a great help and encouragement to the people there.
I have been asked a number of detailed questions, and I should like to deal with those before going on to refer in greater detail to the problems of Malaya and to say something about the Gold Coast as typifying the changes taking place in Colonial Territories and the attitude we should take towards them.
Before I do that, however, there is one other point. In opening the Debate, the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire referred to the fact that there was no reference to Malaya in the King's Speech. I am not an authority on constitutional procedure, but if he will look up the Speech made on the Prorogation of Parliament he will find that there was a reference to Malaya. I assume, therefore, that no reference was made in the King's Speech because it was thought more appropriate to make it in the Prorogation Speech.
The hon. Gentleman expressed himself very strongly in favour of an imperial conference. I thought that in this, as in other parts of his speech, I detected something like nostalgia for the old days of Empire, which we had better recognise at once. But great changes have taken place. One cannot have two world wars without great changes following. One result of these changes is that there is now not a conference on a grand scale, but I venture to say that consultation between us and the countries of the Commonwealth and Territories is more continuous and closer than ever.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) referred to the fact that since the end of the war, in 1945, there have been three meetings of Commonwealth Prime Ministers. There has been a meeting, some time ago, of 510 Foreign Ministers of the Commonwealth in Colombo, and there have been two meetings of the Finance Ministers. There is, indeed, continuous contact upon all kinds of problems of the Commonwealth. I believe that, having regard to the change in the character of our relations, that kind of contact is very much better and more worthwhile than one grand conference every five or 15 years.
I say, therefore, that there is this close contact. Take, for instance, the question of the conference at Torquay, to which he referred. There was a debate in this House on 28th July on the economic conference at Torquay in which the position was fully discussed. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade indicated what had happened at previous international conferences at Geneva and elsewhere, and he explained that we were holding the third series of tariff discussions at Torquay. A conference of Commonwealth Ministers was held in September, and discussions took place at that conference between officials of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries at Lancaster House.
At the meeting of Ministers to which I referred this question of the Torquay conference and its relationship to ourselves and the Commonwealth countries was fully discussed. During the continuation of the Torquay Conference and the discussions that have taken place there, there has been continuous contact between us and the Commonwealth countries. That is how contact is maintained in these days. That is how business is done, and I believe that is the best way to do it rather than by holding a glorified conference now and again.
Two other detailed points were raised. One was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Leslie Hale) who informed me that he was doubtful whether he would be in the Chamber to hear my reply. He asked me a question about the Owen Falls scheme, which is one of the boldest and most imaginative schemes ever put forward in that part of the world. He asked me how it was proceeding. I can tell him that the contract has been let to a group of contractors, and it is expected to complete the work by September, 1953. Good progress has been made with the preliminary work, and a cement factory is about to come into operation. I will not go into 511 details now, except to say that it is a bold and imaginative scheme of enormous importance to a vast territory which contains millions of people. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be glad to know that the scheme is progressing favourably.
I was asked about the C.D.C. scheme which was recently announced. The scheme relates to a cattle ranch and abattoir in Bechuanaland. The combined schemes will involve an expenditure of £2,139,000. The ranch will be on the Chobe Crown lands in North Bechuanaland, and the abattoir and freezing plant will be at Lobatsi in South Bechuanaland. The total area of the ranch is 16,000 square miles, with 500,000 acres under cultivation for the production of feeding-stuffs. The estimated time for the completion of this long-term scheme is 18 to 21 years. The scheme was thoroughly examined by the C.D.C. staff themselves in March, 1949. A further independent mission was sent out in January, 1950, to re-examine the site. In accordance with the practice of the C.D.C., the report produced by the independent mission is a specific one relating to a particular commercial undertaking and will not, therefore, be published.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I am sorry to inter the right hon. Gentleman. I share with him the desire to do everything possible to increase the economic strength of the Protectorates and their ability to have their own life in their own way, but the information on which this particular scheme has been decided should surely be available. The House will be asked later to vote money for this scheme. We have had an unfortunate fiasco in East Africa. We had information about that. Surely there is no reason why, if the groundnut report was published, the Bechuanaland report should not be published.
§ Mr. Griffiths
The Corporation has operated on these lines since it was set up. First, it examines the scheme. Where it is thought essential that there should be a further check by means of an independent investigation, independent investigators are appointed to report to the Corporation. I think that is right, and that the report should be a report to the C.D.C. and should not be published. If I may, I will give the names of those who were asked to go out there and then 512 report. First, there is Emeritus Professor Frank Debenham, Professor of Geology at the University of Cambridge and principal authority on water resources of Southern Africa. Second, there is Mr. Brian Curry, one of the best-known ranchers in Kenya, with 28 years' experience of ranching under conditions of an 18-inch rainfall. Third is Mr. Jack Games, chief cattle manager and buyer for the Southern Rhodesian Cold Storage Commission. In those three gentlemen is to be found the practical knowledge which is essential to guide the C.D.C. in this scheme.
Following the visit of the commission to this site and their report on it, all of which came before me, I cordially approved it, and I believe that this scheme is worth while and will be of advantage to this area.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
The Wakefield Committee also consisted of eminent people. The gentlemen to whom the right hon. Gentleman has referred are people of eminence, and their conclusions will carry a great deal of weight, but the House ought to know on what information they based their recommendations. Surely it is possible to lay the report on the Table of the House, as has frequently been done with documents which are not published as White Papers.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I regret that I cannot pursue the matter further now. In my opinion, the C.D.C. have done right in seeking the advice of the independent experts. I do not think these reports, which are detailed, ought to be laid before the House.
I will come to the subject of Malaya. I am indeed glad that the hon. Members who recently visited Malaya have given us the benefit of their views and advice. Since the end of the war we have been trying to accomplish three very different tasks simultaneously in Malaya. First, we have been seeking to rehabilitate and rebuild the economy of a country which has been devastated by the Japanese occupation. That was of great importance to Malaya and, indeed, to the Commonwealth and to the world. Their two basic industries, rubber and tin, are of immense importance to the recovery of the economy of every country in the world. In that field of rehabilitation a first-class job has been done, and I would pay my 513 tribute to everyone concerned and certainly to the gallantry of the planters, tin miners and others, including transport workers. Almost every week a train is derailed and the transport workers are standing the brunt of the enemy's activities, as did the transport workers in this country during the last war. A splendid job has been done, as is clearly indicated by comparing the figures of production of rubber and tin today with the figures before the Japanese occupation.
The second task in which we are engaged, and which is of immense importance, is to develop still further the economic resources of the country, and seek to diversify its economy, for if there is one thing we have learnt in Europe and, in fact, in the world, it is the lesson that we learned in the thirties. These territories are dependent upon two basic products. If a depression comes upon them the whole of their economy collapses, with fatal consequences for everybody. It is essential to develop their resources and diversify their economy to raise their standard of living.
I am sure that hon. Members will be proud of some of the things we have done in Malaya, but will also have some twinges of conscience. For example—the Labour Government is not to be blamed; we have only been in power five years—only half the children in Malaya can go to school at the moment. That is not something of which we can be proud. There are other things which are wrong elsewhere.
All I say is that the record of this Government in economic development and economic and social rehabilitation in the Colonial Territories, including Malaya, in the last five years, will stand comparison with that of any Government we have ever had in this country.
In addition to economic development and rehabilitation, we have to deal with the emergency. We have tried to do all these things at the same time. Let me say at once that the emergency must come first, and it has come first. We have striven, and will still strive, while fighting the emergency—and winning—not to allow these other developments to lag behind, for we must remember that it will serve no purpose to beat Communism in the jungle if we lose to it in the minds of the people and in the villages. If democracy 514 is to win it must win not only on the battlefield but win everywhere—in the schools, in the villages, on the land, in industry. We must show that democracy can offer the people the things they need and that it is only by democracy that they can get these things in the best way.
We have been trying to do all these things in Malaya for some time. Before I refer in some detail to the present position, and give the House some information about it, I would refer to what was said by at least one hon. Member, and to which I believe other hon. Members have referred; indeed, the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) referred to it continuously—that things would be very much better in Malaya if His Majesty's Government said that we were going to stay there, whatever that may mean. Let me read to the House what has been said about our policy in regard to Malaya. Let me read once more the Prime Minister's statement. I have been Secretary of State for about nine months and, both before I went to Malaya and afterwards, almost every week I have listened to hon. Members saying, "Why do you not say something about Malaya other than what has been said?" In repeating what the Prime Minister has said perhaps hon. Members will tell me whether they want to amend it. That is fair, is it not?
In the House, on 28th March this year, the Prime Minister repeated this statement:His Majesty's Government have no intention of relinquishing their responsibilities in Malaya until their task is completed. The purpose of our policy is simple. We are working in co-operation with the citizens of the Federation of Malaya and Singapore to guide them to responsible self-government within the Commonwealth. We have no intention of jeopardising the security, well-being and liberty of these people, for whom Britain has responsibilities, by a premature withdrawal.I want hon. Members opposite to tell us what more they want.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
As the right hon. Gentleman has read out the two passages in the speech to which we take exception, I would point out that the very phrase "premature withdrawal" suggested that at some date there would be a withdrawal. It is that fact which has caused some alarm. I am sure that, particularly after his visit, the right hon. 515 Gentleman is proud of the possibilities of good which Britain and the Malayan people can do together and that he wants to keep us together, but the use of a phrase like that had an effect contrary to that which the Prime Minister no doubt intended.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I will quote again. The right hon. Member for Bristol, West, asked the Prime Minister a supplementary question, which I will read. The Prime Minister answered it, and I will read his answer. The right hon. Member for Bristol, West asked:It is now, is it not, perfectly clear that under no circumstances have the Government any intention of withdrawing from Malaya, and that that can go out to the Malayan people as an absolutely confirmed statement?THE PRIME MINISTER: It IS clear, and always has been so."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th March, 1950; Vol. 473, c. 180–1.]As I said at the outset, if there is any dubiety in the minds of the Malayan people—and I speak as one who has had the experience of visiting Malaya—it is because of the doubts expressed by hon. Members opposite. They are harming the British Commonwealth and Malaya by throwing doubts upon the Prime Minister's statement. The Prime Minister has repeated, on his personal authority, a pledge given by him in this House, a pledge by which I stand, and if that pledge is read by the people of Malaya there could be none of these doubts.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
That is unworthy of the right hon. Gentleman. What was circulated in Malaya was the Prime Minister's statement. If there were supplementary questions in the House of Commons they were not circulated to the whole Press, vernacular or otherwise, in Malaya. The Prime Minister's statement was what was widely disseminated and, indeed, broadcast, and it is on the qualifications of these phrases that I justify myself and my hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Since the Prime Minister's statement was repeated in the House of Commons, I have myself been to Malaya and I have read the whole of it. I gather that it is true that when the Prime Minister made his statement the whole of the supplementary questions and answers, all of which are part of the statement, were not widely quoted in Malaya, but I repeated them more than 516 once in the course of my visit to Malaya and it was reported in the Malayan Press.
§ Mr. Gammans rose——
§ Mr. Griffiths
I do not think I can give way again. Having read the statement of the Prime Minister and his answer to the supplementary question, I ask hon. Members opposite what more they want us to say. Do they want us to say that we propose to stay in Malaya whether the Malayans want us or not? Of course not. The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire said, quite fairly, that we want this to be a partnership, and that must be a partnership by consent. I beg hon. Members to remember that when they cast doubt upon the Prime Minister's statement, supplemented, as it was, by replies to supplementary questions, they are not rendering any service. I do not say this of the delegation which has been to Malaya; I will pay tribute to them; but sometimes hon. Members opposite, even in these matters, allow their partisan feelings to over-ride some considerations they ought to bear in mind when they make statements of this kind.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
As there is doubt in Malaya on this point—and I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says—would it not be far better to say that the Government are prepared for Britain to remain as a partner, by consent, if they are required and if the people desire it? What is against saying that?
§ Mr. Griffiths
Is not that what we say when we say to Malaya and other places that our purpose is to guide them towards responsible self-government within the British Commonwealth?
§ Mr. Griffiths
I turn now to the emergency. As I told the House on 21st June, no quick and spectacular results can be expected from the Briggs Plan. The job being done out there is a very tough job; it is being carried out in very difficult circumstances, and in this battle, at any rate, the jungle is not neutral; it is very much on the side of the bandits. I will not seek to conceal for a moment from the House that progress has not been as fast as we had hoped it would be. But I myself am still confident, and we are still convinced, that the Briggs Plan is, in essentials, sound 517 and realistic, based, as it is, on the process of general consolidation, linking up together the military operations and the great tasks which fall upon the civil administration.
I have recently had discussions on the situation in Malaya with the High Commissioner, and the opportunity is now being taken of his presence here for some little time longer for General Briggs, the Director of Operations in Malaya, to come to this country later this month for a short visit so that discussions may take place between the High Commissioner, the Director of Operations, myself and my colleagues who are vitally interested in the problem of Malaya.
During the past few months, quite frankly, there has been a noticeable rise in major incidents, though, as has been said previously—and I think it is something we ought to bear in mind—the number of incidents is not in itself and by itself a reliable guide to the true state of affairs. The bandit gangs seem now to have split up into smaller parties and they are operating nearer to the estates and to the places where those who labour on the estates live. There is no doubt about it at all—they are able in that way to terrorise and intimidate so as to secure the food and other assistance which they require to carry on their campaign. The dispositions and the tactics have had to be adjusted to deal with this more effectively.
The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield referred to the fact that in certain areas of Pahang, which he and I have visited, the situation has recently been very serious. I admit at once it has been as the result of that that the areas of Bentong and Mentakab have been added to the priority areas of Johore and Negri Semoilan.
The House is well aware that in Malaya this task is not exclusively, or, indeed, mainly, a military one. It is a task of combining military operations and civil operations, and our whole aim has been to carry out military operations to drive the bandits away and then afterwards to have such a sound, vigorous civil administration that it would be able to hold any area or territory gained from the bandits. One of the tasks of the civil administration, which is having very high priority, is that of resettling the large mass of 518 Chinese squatters, and bringing them under civil administration, and in that way protecting them from intimidation and violence by the Communist gangs. In Johore we believe that this task of resettlement will be completed by the end of January.
I have been asked—and I have responded at once—to provide more officers for this and other civilian tasks. In addition to 30 officers who have already been appointed to the civil administration I hope to add still more. The programme of resettlement is proceeding in accordance with plans. Let me say a word about it. This is, as I am sure the hon. Members who have been in Malaya will know, a difficult process. What we are seeking to do is not merely to take those squatters away from where they have been living and have been intimidated by the bandits—not just to take them away anywhere. We have here a piece of social reclamation; and we take them away to resettle them elsewhere and bring them under civil administration within the life of Malaya; and we have been seeking to do it in such a way as to win their cordial approval, and not their enmity.
I am sure hon. Members will realise that this is the kind of job that, were it done in the wrong way, would act like a boomerang upon us. In resettling the squatters we must not earn their enmity. That would not do any good to Malaya. It would do a great deal of harm. I think the best tribute to the success of our work is that we are finding the Chinese squatters are volunteers, who ask us to come to resettle them. In other words, the plan is succeeding, and I am very glad to find that the Chinese Malayans—the Chinese Malayan Association, for example, and other Chinese leaders—are co-operating more and more with us in this job, and I am grateful for the help they are giving.
Mention was made of propaganda. When I came back from Malaya I myself was convinced that a great deal more could be done on the propaganda side. I was anxious that Radio Malaya and other means of propaganda in Malaya should have the advantage of the guidance, if we could find one, of an expert in this country who had had a good deal of experience in the last war and would be able to help. After consultations with 519 some of my colleagues I invited Mr. Carleton-Greene, who has had enormous experience in this work with the B.B.C., to go to Malaya. He very kindly accepted. He is out in Malaya now. He has been there for a few weeks, and I am sure he will help considerably in improving the propaganda methods there.
The situation in Malaya, as I indicated earlier, has been that of seeking to win this battle against the bandits—to win the emergency—and, at the same time, to carry on economic and social development. I do not want to offend against the advice given earlier that, as we were to have a discussion about colonial development and welfare generally on Thursday of next week, this Debate should not roam over that field; but I should like to say that in the last 12 months bold, imaginative plans have been not only prepared but even implemented and put into operation in Malaya for economic and social development. I would particularly mention the plan to set up a rural development board, at the head of which is one of the great leaders of the Malays, Dato Onn, from which we expect a great deal.
In addition to that, progress is being made in the political sphere. Draft legislation is now being prepared to liberalise the citizenship provisions of the Federation Agreement. The unofficial members of the Legislative Council are shortly to be invited to accept departmental office as members with ministerial responsibilities. The High Commissioner is to be replaced as President of the Legislative Council by a Speaker. Legislation is also being passed providing for municipal elections, and also elections to the State Government, and it is our confident hope -we shall be able to have elections for the Federation Government within the next two or three years. I am certain myself that this constitutional advance, as well as the economic and social advance, is of enormous importance in Malaya, and that we should continue this, and continue it as quickly as possible.
I should like to join in paying tribute to those who are bearing the brunt of this process. It is often times an intolerable strain. It is a very big problem. Here is a country with a population of 5,000,000–2,500,000 Malays, nearly 2,000,000 Chinese, 500,000 Indians, and 520 among them British and other Europeans who settled there and have lived there and whose home it is, too. What we have got to do is to try to weave these people into one. The problem is that of a plural society. The first thing we have to lay down—as, indeed, it is in all these plural societies wherever they are—is that we approach this problem with no doctrine of racial superiority of any kind. Unless we lay that down, I am sure all hon. Members will realise that there can be no hope.
The second thing we must do is to get them all to agree that the way in which to build a united nation, where there is more than one community, is by racial co-operation and community cooperation. I do not know if hon. Members who visited Malaya had an opportunity—I hope they did—of meeting some of the representatives of the Malayan peoples—representatives of the Malays, the Chinese, the Indians, who are cooperating so admirably, and creating a common public opinion. That is the task we have got—to build a united nation. First, comes the emergency. As I have said, I shall be discussing it still further with General Briggs and the High Commissioner and my colleagues. First, we must win the emergency. But, at the same time, it is essential for us to be developing our own democratic way of life there.
It is certain now that democracy and constitutional advance have come to mean, to peoples all over the world, the Welfare State. That is what it means. When I went to Malaya I had been Colonial Secretary for only a few months, but I had been Minister of National Insurance for four and a half years. It was as Minister of National Insurance that they knew me. They knew of my scheme, and the National Health Service scheme of my right hon. Friend. The peoples of the world want that sort of thing believe me. If democracy is to win through, then democracy must provide economic security and social services—all those things that the people want, and are now describing as the "Welfare State."
We have been trying to do that. We are trying to do it in Malaya, and, at the same time, to gain victory in the emergency. I will be perfectly frank. Progress has not been as rapid as I should 521 have liked. At the same time I believe that the Briggs Plan is, in essentials, the right plan, and when we have the discussions later, whatever more is required in order that the plan shall succeed, believe me the Government will fully play their part in doing.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
Will the right hon. Gentleman clear up a statement in the "Straits Times"? Before the troops in Malaya are recalled will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that they will remain there so long as there is any possibility of a world conflagration?
§ Mr. Griffiths
On that, I should like to consider what I have to say very carefully. I do not know to what statement the hon. and gallant Gentleman refers; I should like to see it.
I hope I am not repeating myself when I say that one of the things that impressed me most in the few months that I have been Secretary of State for the Colonies has been the fact that in every one of these Colonial Territories there has been, in varying degrees, in recent years a growing consciousness of nationhood, of what is generally referred to as the growth of nationalism. Nationalism, harnessed to constructive tasks, can be a dynamic force for progress. Unharnessed, it will become a destructive force. In the Colonial Territories, if it is unharnessed it may well destroy all our hopes for the development and transformation of the British Empire into a great Commonwealth of Nations.
I consider that this is the biggest challenge. I speak now of the years that lie ahead, whoever may be the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Here is a problem. Can we, in partnership, harness this great growing force of nationhood to build democratic States in all these countries within the British Commonwealth? If we cannot we shall fail, and all the armies in the world, and all the rest, will never prevail. That is the challenge, and I therefore ask that we should look at the Gold Coast in that way. If the policy of parallel economic and social development and constitutional advance, carrying the peoples with us in partnership, is not accepted by any party in this House we may fail. That is the policy of His Majesty's Government now; and that is the policy of the party to which I am 522 proud to belong. It is the right policy, and it is the one we are pursuing.
What happened in the Gold Coast? The new constitution which is about to be introduced in the Gold Coast was arrived at from recommendations of an all-African Committee known as the Coussey Committee. It was a Committee representative of all shades of opinion in the Gold Coast. They met, they discussed the matter, they made proposals for a new constitution. Those proposals have been before this Parliament for 12 months. It is said that there has been no debate. If the hon. Member for Hornsey and his party thought that this step in the Gold Coast was a wild gamble, why did they not raise it before? Why did they not ask for a debate? They could have had a debate by giving up a Supply Day. No debate was asked for. My predecessor announced that His Majesty's Government, having considered the recommendations of the Coussey Committee, accepted them. Did any hon. Member opposite get up and say, "We reject them"? Did the hon. Member for Hornsey? This, mark you, was laid before Parliament 12 months ago.
If I understood the hon. Member for Hornsey aright, he said he had been to the Gold Coast and found conditions there about which this House had not been told; that His Majesty's Government had concealed something about the Gold Coast and about conditions there We concealed nothing. This matter 'has been before the House for 12 months, and if it has not been debated it has been because there was general assent to the policy and the recommendations in the Coussey Report. There was no vote of censure, and no demand for a debate at all.
§ Mr. Gammans
The right hon. Gentleman must not misquote me. We on this side of the House have asked on repeated occasions that more Government time should be given for a discussion of colonial matters. With regard to the type of election itself, any hon. Member who went to the Gold Coast would realise that the conditions of that election are not such as the vast majority of hon. Members on both sides of the House were led to believe. Before the right hon. Gentleman finishes with the Gold Coast, I ask him: Does he defend the election 523 yesterday in Kumasi, where 99.3 per cent. voted for one candidate and 0.7 per cent. voted for all the rest put together? Is that democracy?
§ Mr. Griffiths
I do not know what the hon. Gentleman means by "defend the election"? The election took place yesterday. I have had a report of the results, but I have not yet had a report upon how the election was carried out. I would like the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his remarks in this connection, because his words from the article on the Gold Coast have been widely quoted. If I misunderstood him, I withdraw at once, but I believe that in his remarks about the election held yesterday he referred to it as a "bogus election."
§ Mr. Griffiths
If I misunderstood or misheard him I withdraw, but I want to give him the opportunity of saying something about that, because that is what I understood.
§ Mr. Gammans
If used the word "bogus", it was in this sense: that any election alleged to be a democratic election which produces over 99 per cent. of the votes for one candidate and less than 1 per cent. for all the rest put together is not an election that we in this country would regard as a genuine democratic election.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Might I just say this? The right hon. Gentleman did look generally towards the Opposition when he made that comment. Our attitude at the time was based largely on the great respect and regard felt by our party for Mr. Justice Coussey. We had the utmost respect for the Chairman of that Committee, and we believe that the experiment which has been decided on as a result of their report must be proceeded with. The eyes of the whole Empire will be on the way in which this election is conducted, and from it no doubt lessons will be learned which I hope will be of advantage to the whole Empire in the future.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for saying that, because it has been at least believed in the Gold Coast that the hon. Member for Hornsey 524 and my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. G. Cooper), who went out and returned to write that article in the "Daily Telegraph," were speaking for their respective parties. I can say that my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, West, was not speaking for the Government and was not speaking for the Labour Party. As I now understand it, the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) is now saying that his hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey was not speaking for the Conservative Party when he made that statement.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
That would be carrying it a great deal too far. The hon. Gentleman's article included a great many things with which I do not think many people on either side of the House would quarrel. I attempted to put, in general, our approach to the constitutional experiment. I do not defend the original Watson Committee, nor the fact that the Watson Committee went far beyond their terms of reference, as in fact, they did. The Committee, however, emerged, and we trust Mr. Justice Coussey. If we have people like him in the Colonial Empire we have a rosy future ahead. I hold myself solely to what I have just said.
§ Mr. Gammans
We must get this clear. The part of the article to which the right hon. Gentleman has taken exception is where we said that the election would be held in an atmosphere quite different from what this House of Commons had been led to believe. The rest of the statements in the article are factual, and I am sure that if any hon. Member on either side of the House had been out there with us he would hold those same views. My challenge to the right hon. Gentleman is this: if he disbelieves that, he should send an all-party delegation to the Gold Coast to see for itself.
§ Mr. Griffiths
The hon. Gentleman is now proposing that we should send a delegation to the Gold Coast to investigate conditions there because we do not trust them to run their own elections. Is that what he wants to say to the people of the Gold Coast?
On 25th October the hon. Gentleman asked me a Question, to which I replied, about the steps that had been taken to ensure that these were fair elections. I urge hon. Members to read the very full 525 statement that I made in reply to that Question on all the detailed steps taken to ensure that this election is a fair one. They will find it in columns 2774, 2775 and 2776 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of 25th October. I will not repeat it now. The hon. Gentleman has been able to read the reply which I sent to him, and which has now been published in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I do not think that any Government, here or elsewhere, could take stronger precautions against abuses than those that are being taken by the Government in the Gold Coast.
All I can say now is that this election will take place in the not too distant future. We know perfectly well that they have not had experience of democratic government which we have had. But we had to begin, too. They, no doubt, will make mistakes. We made mistakes, too. I do not know what the atmosphere of the election will be, but I hope that it will be better than the election of 1931 in this country. I am deeply concerned about this, because it is of vital importance and perhaps the biggest constitutional step that we have taken. The fairness of the election, the kind of administration which they will have—all that is of the greatest importance. I have discussed it with the Governor, and I have indicated to the House the detailed steps that are being taken. It is essential that the arrangements made should be as perfect as we can make them, and I am satisfied that every effort is being made to that end.
Having regard to that, is it not best for us in this House to say, "Good luck to you. We look forward to your becoming a partner and becoming ever more an equal partner."? That is the spirit in which I would like to send a message from this House to the people of the Gold Coast.
§ Mr. Fenner Brockway
I do not want to delay the right hon. Gentleman, but can he give me a specific answer on this point? The leader of the Convention People's Party is in prison. A number of other leaders are in prison. They were sentenced more than a year ago, under provisions which are an exact reproduction of the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act of this country, which we have repealed. Will the right hon. Gentleman recommend the Governor of the Gold Coast to liberate these men 526 before the general election in the Gold Coast takes place?
§ Mr. Griffiths
These men were sent to prison because they broke the law and because of sedition. My hon. Friend must not expect me to carry all the details in my mind. I am not going to give any promise at all. In all these matters my policy has been that we must trust the Governor on the spot. I have complete confidence in the Governor of the Gold Coast. The hon. Member must not press me to go further.
With regard to the points raised about Kenya, the hon. Member indicated that he would be coming to see me very shortly and that he would send me some suggestions. I shall be glad to meet him and to have the suggestions. As to Northern Rhodesia and the rest, I am making a statement in the very near future, and I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Leslie Hale) to await that statement.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale
While we await that statement there is a case to put to my right hon. Friend, because many of us have real doubts and fears about the possibility of any step being taken in connection with Northern Rhodesia which would hand over more of the coloured population to an apartheid Government. Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that that will not be done?
§ Mr. Griffiths
As I have said, shall be making a statement shortly.
I enjoyed very much the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West, and I was glad to hear his reference to the proposals put forward by Mr. Walter Reuther. I think that everyone in the free democratic world realises that if we are to win the battle against Communism this must be the crucial battlefield, that in the backward areas we must raise the standard of living, provide education and social services, develop resources and proceed with constitutional advances. My own party has prepared a plan to put before the country and before the world as our contribution—a world plan for mutual aid: all the democratic nations together pooling what resources they can give in order that together we may make an attack on poverty, ignorance and squalor so that their way of life may be 527 built up. In that way we shall be making a really constructive contribution towards world peace and world development.
§ 2.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
Today we have spent our time in discussing the very grave economic and political situation in the Commonwealth and Empire. I make no apology for bringing the Debate back to the serious economic conditions which, in my view, face our constituents. My hon. Friends and myself have an Amendment to the Gracious Speech on the Order Paper, drawing attention to the very rapid increase in the cost of living—a burden which is falling with special severity upon the old, widows and war disabled.
What has worried me is that in the Gracious Speech and in the speeches which have come from the Government Front Bench there is complacency about this very serious condition. The Gracious Speech talked about ensuring, so far as possible, the stability of costs and prices. The first half of the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer completely overlooked the fact that there is at the present time a very rapid rise in prices. Indeed, he said that prices had risen this year only by 4d. in the pound. Quite clearly, if the advisers of the right hon. Gentleman are giving him that information, he is being wrongly informed as to what is really 'happening at the present time.
Let me give him one illustration to show how the cost of living is striking our constituents. In 1939, the average weekly wage was 70s. A working man could buy a working suit at that time for 42s. He could buy a bib and brace overall for 3s. 11d. He had, after those purchases, 24s. left out of his weekly wage. At the time of the 1945 Election, the average weekly wage was £6. If he bought a similar suit and similar overalls, he then had 19s. 3d. left out of his weekly wage. Today, the average weekly wage is £7. If he buys a working suit and overall, the whole of his weekly wage has gone and in addition he has to find an extra 2s. 6d. These are the facts which face our constituents.
It is no good saying that the cost of living has risen by only one point. Quite clearly the measuring rod on which the statistics of the cost of living are being 528 worked out is inadequate. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said yesterday, when asked to change the measuring rod, that that measuring rod was only changed in 1947, and that we were working then on a completely out-of-date one. That did not seem to me to be a very strong argument. Many hon. Members on all sides of the House, including myself, before the last war said that the cost of living index, based on 1909, and in some cases 1905, figures, was completely useless for measuring the cost of living in this country.
There is me tremendous additional factor today which makes the present cost-of-living index quite useless if it is based on 1937–1938 prices. Since the time when Sir Kingsley Wood introduced the subsidies on food, the food part of the index represents a much smaller proportion of the total expenditure of the average working family. I gathered from the Chancellor of the Exchequer—and I have checked it—that at the present time the cost of living index allows 35 points for food. If the Chancellor will look at his own figures for the final consumption figures of personal expenditure, he will find that today food comprises only 28 points and that household and other expenditure is double what it was in the 1937–1938 expenditure. Therefore, I beg the Government on that one point to revise their measuring rod without delay or, if they do not revise it, to realise that the official find consumption personal expenditure figures are more accurate than the cost of living figures, and to address their policy to those points.
The other drawback to this Debate so far is that I doubt very much whether the two main speakers for the Government Front Bench—the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the President of the Board of Trade—have really got down to what is the cause of the rise in the cost of living. Surely the main cause is that in September, 1949, we devalued the pound in order to balance our trade. I do not want to make a provocative speech, but I thought at the time it was a mistake. I realise that perhaps it was an unescapable mistake owing to our general position for which, in my view, the Government were largely responsible. But whether it was a mistake or not, the effect of that was not, as Sir Stafford Cripps said, solely to put up the price of bread by a 1d. but to put up the price 529 of all the raw materials that go into our domestic household by 25 per cent. That has been aggravated owing to the general condition of re-armament in the world.
§ Mr. Turton If the hon. Gentleman looks into it, I think he will see that in the case of many raw materials going into households the increase has been not much more than 25 per cent. The point I am making is that the present cost of living rise is due to devaluation. The cost of living rise we are likely to get in the next 12 months, unless some steps are taken, will be due mainly to re-armament and that will be a much greater rise than the very complacent Chancellor of the Exchequer pointed out yesterday.
If I can I want to remove this problem of the rise in the cost of living from party conflict for a moment or two.
§ Mr. Ralph Morley (Southampton, Itchen) rose——
§ Mr. Turton
Let me conclude my speech and then, if the hon. Gentleman has an observation to make, he can get in or put a question. I believe that we in this House must try to tackle the problem of the cost of living because otherwise, whatever different political views we hold, the standard of life of the people will suffer.
As I see it, the first problem we must try to solve is that of food subsidies. At present we have injected into our economy about £410 million of food subsidies. I believe that to be completely necessary in order not to aggravate the rise in the cost of living. But I ask hon. Members to realise one of the effects of this system. We had an interesting Debate on 23rd October. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, defending the rise in the price of bacon, said—I was also asked to deal with the increase in the price of bacon. From what I have just said, it is quite clear that the subsidy on bacon must have increased this year, compared with last, because, if we consume more bacon, as we have, and bacon is a subsidised commodity, then the subsidy increased in amount. But that is not the sole reason, nor the principal reason, for the increase in the price of bacon. … We have had increases on rail transport which became effective on 15th May. We have had higher transport costs since the increased 530 Petrol Duty."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd Oct. 1950, Vol. 478, 2662.]In effect, the Parliamentary Secretary was saying that the price of bacon was increased, first, because we ate more bacon—and by a curious coincidence he was making that statement when he had just cut the bacon ration severely—and, secondly, because of the higher tax on petrol and the higher freight charges.
It is clear that we must devise a system of subsidies directed towards helping those who need them most; in other words, a system of subsidies where the price of a commodity rises when everybody is eating more of it is a vicious system. So I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to address himself to this problem now that he has come into his new office. And in passing, may I congratulate him, because it is a good thing for a young man to rise to what is the second position in the Government.
If we cannot put more than £410 million into subsidies—and I see we cannot—let us use it to help those who require it most. That means that either the subsidy has to be directed to those who are in the worst condition—the old, the widows and the war disabled—or we have to work out a system of two-tier subsidies so that the basic ration will carry the subsidy. Taking the example of bacon, so long as we have only two ounces of bacon a week, we should get it at a cheap price but, if we want more, we should wily have to pay a higher price for the extra. I leave that problem with the Chancellor.
The second problem flows from devaluation. If the effect of devaluation has been to put up the cost of living in the poorest homes in this country, has not the time come for the Government to consider whether they should not follow Canada and allow the pound to go free? When the step of devaluation was taken, we were not living in the events that followed from the invasion of North Korea. In other words, today there is a heavy demand for the raw materials that come from the sterling area, and it is likely to persist. Surely, therefore, it is wrong to continue to devalue the wages of the worker, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) pointed out yesterday. We have achieved a balance of trade not through our own 531 efforts so much as through the efforts of our Colonial Territories which have been sending raw materials into America for stock-piling. I believe we should take the step of allowing the pound to go free now and, by that means, help immediately to reduce the cost of living.
The problem I want to put to the Government is one on which we have heard a great deal from our side of the House and very little from theirs—reduction in expenditure. The people of this country have got to face the fact that in Government expenditure, we have been continuing an out-of-date system. We have added by legislation to the method of central and local controls, but we have not got an economic administrative system in this country.
The Associated Chambers of Commerce produced some figures only a few weeks ago, and they show that the cost of the administration of the Central Government at the present time is £560 million while local government costs £300 million, making a total of £860 million. We must work out a way of running our administration at a far lower figure than £860 million. What steps are the Government taking in this matter? In January, 1949, they appointed a Local Government Manpower Committee. It took a year for that committee to make any report. I have that report in my hand, but it deals only with the minor matters of detailed supervision by Government. Departments.
I am quite certain that all parties in this House have got to work out a real system for the delegation of powers and authority from Westminster down to the local elected bodies. Until that is done, we will never make any large reduction in expenditure. At the same time, we have to cut out the growing extravagances that exist both in Government Departments and in other public authorities. I am very exercised with the fact that reports from the Estimates Committee are very seldom debated in this House and that very seldom is action taken upon them by the Government. We have reports that show great extravagances, such as the Government hostel in Park Street or houses that are being built by the Forestry Commission costing £3,750. Yet no steps are taken to remedy those extravagances.
532 The final suggestion I want to make is that Government taxes put up the cost of living. During the war, for certain devaluationary purposes, we introduced Purchase Tax. We have never revised that tax. At the present time many household articles that go to make up the cost of living carry this Purchase Tax. I noticed yesterday that the Chancellor of the Exchequer talked about how wrong it was just to take one individual item, such as curtains, and argue that it cost two and a half times as much as pre-war, and that anyway a housewife only bought it about once in 10 years. The trouble is that all these articles like curtains, clothing for the children, and so on, are bearing Purchase Tax, and it is quite wrong that the Treasury should be taking large quantities of money because of these very necessary purchases for the home.
I have in my hand a piece of material used for curtains. It is not an expensive material, and it is for a small window. Before the war it cost 10½d. a yard; now it costs 5s. 11d. a yard. This is perfectly ordinary material, and any hon. Gentleman can look at it, for an inspection would show them that it is not extravagant. That curtain material, therefore, has gone up seven times in cost, but of that seven times the Government take 1s. 11½d. in Purchase Tax. In other words they take more than twice the 1939 cost. Last year we, as a party, asked for the removal of Purchase Tax from the necessities of the home. We were defeated as a party on that. I beg the new Chancellor of the Exchequer to think over the arguments which were used on 20th June, and to see whether it is possible to take the Purchase Tax off the necessities of life.
I hope all parties in the House will unite on this subject, which I believe to be the most important problem at home at the present time. It is so stupid for the President of the Board of Trade to try to make a school debating speech on the subject. I have tried not to make party capital in the speech I have made, but I beg the Government to look ahead and see whether their party doctrine is really fit for our present-day problems. I personally believe that this country does not want any greater or any more monopolies, whether public or private, but rather wishes the Government to get back to a system of de-centralisation where 533 we have more people with responsibilities in the country. There is a widespread feeling that that is a point of view that the Government should take into consideration.
§ 2.47 p.m.
§ Mrs. Castle (Blackburn, East)
I am glad that the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) has brought the Debate back to this very vital question of the cost of living. I welcome the fact that he asked the House to look at the facts, and I should like to congratulate him on having been constructive and detailed in his suggestions.
I myself will try to be equally constructive and detailed in reply. It really is extremely difficult in this House to get hon. Members opposite to discuss the facts. We can all make sweeping statements and use nice oratorical phrases, but the moment hon. Gentlemen opposite start to discuss the facts we come up against the position that their policy is at variance with the realities of the situation, for three-quarters of the case they make to the housewives of this country is based on inaccuracies, whether intentional or otherwise it is not easy to say, and of distortions of the realities of the position.
Let me give one example from the hon. Member's speech, for he proves the case I am trying to put. After all, we all take rather more care with our speeches in this House than we do with speeches for propaganda platforms, and if this is what hon. Members opposite say here heaven knows what happens to their speeches outside. I have got piles of speeches by hon. Members opposite on propaganda platforms, and they do not bother to get even remotely near the true facts of the situation The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton told us that it was the Purchase Tax on children's clothing which had caused prices to go up so high. Do hon. Gentlemen opposite not know yet what are the facts about Purchase Tax? There is no Purchase Tax on any children's clothing. This is very important, because here we are dealing with hard economic realities, and a wonderful case can be made out if we do not bother very much with the true facts. Hon. Members opposite are hoodwinking the women of this country, or they are trying to do it.
I want to try to look at some of the facts, because I agree that this is a very 534 serious problem about which the women, and the men, too, are worried, and which the Government do not take lightly. No Government in a democracy could afford to take lightly something which hits so heavily the pockets of the people of the country. But we shall not solve this problem by making a terrible noise about the fact that prices are three or four times what they were pre-war. We are living in an entirely different world from the pre-war world. We shall not begin to solve this problem unless we can contrive honestly to understand what causes it.
Yesterday, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer was speaking, he was greeted with cheers of derision by hon. Gentlemen opposite when he stated the very simple and obvious truth that we really were not getting to the root of the problem if we looked merely at the price level and that we ought to be concerned with what money we had and what we were getting for it. We had to be concerned with the actual standard of living. Hon. Gentlemen opposite thought that such an elementary lesson in economics ought not to have been necessary in this House. I agree that it ought not to have been necessary but, as I hope to show in the course of my speech, it is necessary because the policies which have been advanced by hon. Gentlemen opposite for the solution of our problems, so far as I have been able to determine them from statements made by responsible members of their party, would result in a reduction in the standard of living for the large mass of the people of this country. That is the main plank on which I want to rest my case this afternoon.
A very effective play was made yesterday by the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) with this problem, and he ventured boldly to ask "What are the remedies?" He told us that they were well known. He said:The first concerns Government expenditure and the making of economies, which is always an extremely unpopular course."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd November, 1950; Vol. 480, c. 327.]I read very carefully what he said, and I went down the list to see what he had to suggest. He made reference to the cost of administration and said it was quite wrong to think that only small economies can be made. He said that 535 great waste was going on in the administration of the Health Service—and that was the end of his proposals. The burden of his case was that the real cause of all the problems of the ordinary housewife and worker in this country is Government expenditure.
This is really very interesting. If that is true—and it has been the burden of many speeches from the opposite side—that it is the fact that we have a Socialist Government committed to spending a large proportion of the national income on social services and other items of Government policy that causes the high cost of living and renders our money as worthless, as we have often heard from the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill)—how is it that the value of money has been maintained in Britain at a higher level than in countries where a Socialist Government policy has not been followed? Hon. Members opposite must answer that question.
We are told by the Leader of the Opposition about the "Socialist money cheat." If we look at the figures we shall find that the Capitalist money cheat has been very much worse. Let me give the House one or two illustrations. The Leader of the Opposition has said that the value of the pound in Britain, thanks to the Socialist administration, has been shrinking as compared with its pre-war value. We know that it is one of our problems that the housewife, when she goes to the shops, still has in the back of her mind memories of pre-war prices. prices from a different era. We are told that the value of the pound in terms of 1938 prices in the middle of this year was in the neighbourhood of 10s. 5d., but let me draw the attention of the House to what has been happening in one or two countries that have not had a Socialist administration. What has happened to the franc? Today, the franc of 1938 is worth 5 centimes in terms of 1950. Take the Belgian franc.
§ Mrs. Castle
The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. Hon. Members on this side have been getting rather tired of being told in Debates in this House about the beauties of Belgium in 536 comparison with Socialist Britain. Belgium had been quoted against us time and again. Now I am told that Belgium is a poor, desolate country that ought not to be quoted, because she has been so hard up. We know that Belgium came out of the war in a very much stronger position than some other countries. The Belgian franc of 1938 is today worth 28 centimes. I will go further than that. The United States dollar of 1938 is today worth 58 cents. In order that the people of this country may get the "money cheat" in as clear a perspective as possible, I would like to translate those various reductions in currency values into terms of the pound sterling.
What do we find? The comparison is as follows. The pound sterling in Britain is now worth, compared with pre-war, 10s. 5d.; the franc translated into sterling is worth 1s. 1d., the Belgian franc is worth 5s. 8d. and the dollar in the United States of America is worth 11 s. 8d.
§ Mrs. Castle
I would like to do so, because that would strongly reinforce my case. I went to a great deal of trouble to try to get those figures. The ones I have quoted come from the United Nations Bulletin statistics but comparable wages were not available. I am certain that they would underline my case very effectively.
Are hon. Gentlemen suggesting that wages have risen in France more than they have risen here? In case any hon. Member should say: "Of course the comparison would be quite different if you made it with the situation immediately after the war," I will take the comparison with 1945 so that we can get the whole picture of the post-war period alone.
We have been told by the right hon. Member for Woodford that the value of the pound today in comparison with 1945 is about 16s. 0d. He has said: "The Socialist Government have cheated you out of your money." Working out the comparison over the post-war period, we find that in France the equivalent reduction in the value of money has brought the French franc, in terms of sterling, 537 down to 4s. 1d. Our pound is down only to 16s. 0d. I cannot give the Belgian figure because there is not an equivalent figure to work on. An interesting fact is that the reduction in the value of the dollar in the United States during the post-war period is down to 74 cents, which gives a sterling comparison of 14s. 11d.
§ Mr. Maudling (Barnet)
If, as the hon. Lady says, the value of the United States dollar has fallen a good deal more than the value of the British pound, why can we now get fewer dollars for one pound?
§ Mrs. Castle
Really! I am not going to embark on that elementary lesson of economics. [HON. MEMBERS: "Give the facts."] I have plenty more facts to put before the House in the time at my disposal. It is important that we begin by understanding that this idea of the money cheat is a complete fallacy. If we look, as we must, at this country as part of the worldwide situation, we see that we have come out with our economy under Socialism stronger than that of free enter-price countries, and not weaker.
I would say this to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We have done that as a result of the sacrifices, the extraordinary self-discipline, and the concerted national effort, which has not been exceeded by any other country, and I only hope that we are not now to be penalised as a result of this by having our American aid disproportionately reduced. There was some talk a few months ago that what was happening under the distribution of Marshall Aid was that the countries which had done most to pull themselves out of the rut were finding that they were getting least, and that American money was being poured into countries like Italy and Germany which were not making an equivalent effort of national organisation and self-sacrifice. I wonder whether anything has been done to make those adjustments that were promised us, that will enable the Marshall scheme to act rather as an incentive, and not as a deterrent, to self-held.
The problems of rising world costs, rising prices, and post-war shortages and difficulties, are bearing hard on certain sections of the community. What are our respective answers to these matters? Our answer on this side is quite clear; it is embodied in the King's Speech and in the 538 statements which have been made. We say that we must have more controls and more fair shares. I would point out to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, however, that "more fair shares" means that in the next few months, with the present rising level of costs, we shall have most seriously to review pension rates, and we must allow the lower paid worker to catch up with the price increases which have taken place. We shall have to be prepared to fact more Government expenditure on that, and not less. It would be intolerable for the old age pensioner to have to carry the burden of these rising price levels. Whoever is asked to tighten their belt in this situation, it must not be the people at the bottom, who do not have another notch to which to tighten it without serious danger.
But what is the answer of hon. Gentlemen opposite? As we have heard it developed, both here and outside, their answer is to have less controls, less Government trading and bulk buying, and less fair shares. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Oh, yes. Let me give just two illustrations. The housewife's experience of de-control in recent months has not been encouraging, and I am glad that we took that step if only to point the lesson of decontrol. I refer, of course, to fish. Whenever there is any slight increase in the price of any rationed commodity as the result of rising world prices—when bacon prices creep up by 1 d. per 1b., for example—hon. Members opposite tell us what an intolerable burden this is on the housewife. But do hon. Members opposite know what has been happening in the case of the humble herring and kipper? I made special inquiries only the day before yesterday. Are not hon. Members opposite concerned that whereas before decontrol the housewife could buy herring for the breakfast table at 6½d. per 1b., she now has to pay 9d. or more? That serious, spectacular increase of some 30 per cent. is very much more serious than the 1d. per 1b. on bacon.
§ Mrs. Castle
I am giving the House the picture from the viewpoint of the woman who goes out to buy the breakfast. It is all right hon. Gentlemen opposite making this fuss, but, if they 539 are going into their constituencies to tell the housewives that the price of fish has not risen, they will not get very far, because the housewife knows very well that it has risen. Take the case of kippers, which were 9½d. a 1b. before de-control. When I tried to buy some the other day, the price was 1s. 1d. That is very serious, and these are the cheapest as well as some of the most nutritious foods that can go into the ordinary home. Take haddock. A nice bit of haddock comes in very useful to supplement the meat ration. The price was 9½d. before de-control, and it is now 1s. 3d.
§ Mr. Baldwin (Leominster)
Will the hon. Lady allow me? She has on many occasions railed against the high prices of vegetables when there has been a scarcity. Will she now compare the present prices of vegetables with prices a year ago?
§ Mrs. Castle
I am awfully sorry, but I have not got the figures for vegetables. Let the hon. Gentleman make the comparison himself. I am constantly making these comparisons with regard to food, but I happen this time to have concentrated on fish.
Take cod, for I am talking now of fish of the non-luxury kind. It cost 8d. a 1b. before de-control, and the price was 1s. 7d. the other day.
§ Mr. Shepherd (Cheadle)
Would not the hon. Lady agree that there must necessarily be, in the case of fish, in special circumstances, variations in price, but will she allow me to tell her that, had she taken the cost of fish a month before de-control and a month afterwards, she would have found that the price after de-control was lower than before?
§ Mrs. Castle
I expressed concern, shortly after decontrol, at its effect in sky-rocketing prices, and hon. Members opposite said "Wait a bit, they will come down." They certainly came down from the sky but they have not yet reached the earth. If we are to have the "Daily Express" quoted with its monthly calendar of prices, let these fish prices also be included. This suggestion of the Opposition that decontrol will solve the problem is something which the housewife will take a little convincing about.
I want to turn now to the suggestion made yesterday by the hon. Member for 540 Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) that if the Opposition got back into power, there would be sweeping reductions in administrative costs. We had the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) on the radio the other day telling the housewife about the £36 million wasted on the groundnuts scheme. Hon Members opposite talk about Government over-spending, but they themselves have over-spent this groundnuts deficit six or seven times. This is the one big example of administrative waste which they can trot out. I do not know what they will do in future when it has been changed, and how they will manage without it.
I must admit, however, that one or two hon. Members on the other side have really tried to look honestly at the situation. Nine hon. Members on the other side have collaborated to produce a document called "One Nation"—which "The Economist" said was "one of the clearest and best informed pamphlets on home policy"—and realising that this is a document in which responsible people have tried to go into the situation very thoroughly, I looked to see what they say about administrative economies. They say, in a rather general way, that some could be made. But the document goes on to declare thatthe financial saving from these economies would not he large enough to allow any considerable change in taxation.When we get down to the facts of the situation, we find that the economies they suggest are not administrative economies at all, but policy economies—a very different thing. I still have to hear from hon. Members opposite an impressive figure of administrative economies, because it is quite wrong to say that there is waste due to mismanagement in the Health Service and then to give as an example of such waste the fact that people are getting their prescriptions free. It depends upon what is meant by "waste." It is certainly an expenditure of money, but that expenditure is going back to the people who get their prescriptions free just as effectively as if it were given back to them in the form of cash. Indeed, the economies which these gentlemen list in all honesty are really economies derived by charging, economies which, in fact, would put up the cost of living in a different way.
541 As an example, their suggestions for cutting the cost of the Health Service are to charge patients for board in hospital, to charge people for false teeth and spectacles, and to charge sick persons for prescriptions. They estimate that would save £37 million. But that is not an administrative economy and would not bring down the cost of living of the people who would then have to pay for the things which they now get free of charge. Indeed, the comment of the "Economist' on the pamphlet is as follows:The chief criticism of the pamphlet is that the authors do not quite make their case. The economies that they suggest in the social services are well conceived, but it would be optimistic to expect that they would more than offset the increased expenditure they would allow on higher salaries for teachers and doctors, the re-opening of hospital beds and so on. This means that on the elimination of the food subsidies must depend the chances of reducing taxation.From the picture presented by this little brains trust composed of backroom boys of the Conservative party, it is quite clear that the only real economy which would make a marked difference to the Government's expenditure programme would be on the food subsidies. That is a very curious answer indeed, because it means that the remedy of hon. Members opposite, who say that the rise in the cost of living is due to Government expenditure, is to cut the cost of living by increasing prices. A reduction of the food subsidies would put up prices in three-quarters of the homes in this country.
When the pamphlet goes on to analyse how a cut in the food subsidies would reduce taxation, it has to admit that only a fraction of the saving thus made could be returned to the consumer in the form of compensatory payments if any reduction in taxation is to be made. They suggest £1 out of every £3 saved should be returned as a compensatory payment, which means, in effect, that two-thirds of the people of this country would be paying a substantially increased price for their food.
§ Mr. Edward Heath (Bexley)
I think that in fairness the hon. Lady would agree that "One Nation" deals only with expenditure on the social services and does not cover any of the other fields of Government expenditure, and that when the book speaks of administrative economies it means such economies in the 542 social services, whereas the point put forward so often from this side deals with all the other fields of Government expenditure.
§ Mrs. Castle
I am prepared to concede the hon. Gentleman's point with this qualification, that yesterday the hon. Member for Chippenham, when he claimed that "enormous reductions" in administration costs could be made, started by quoting the hospital service as his first example. Indeed, time and again we have been given the Health Service as an example of waste in the social services arising from bad administration. I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that that case is not made in this pamphlet. In conclusion, I wish to reiterate what I said earlier, that the only policy which the Conservative Party have so far put forward in this House for reducing the cost of living is one which would, in effect, send up the price of the most important commodity of all, the food of the people.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Edgar Granville (Eye)
I am glad the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn, East (Mrs. Castle) raised the question of the price of fish at the present time. Whatever may be the reason, whether decontrol or any other, prices have gone up when we compare them with this time last year, which is the true seasonal comparison. I hope the Minister of Food is going to address himself to this problem, because it bears very heavily upon the housewife's budget.
I do not think the hon. Lady completely answered the arguments which have been put forward by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). She said that, if carried into effect, the Opposition policy would increase the cost of living and reduce the standard of life. She referred to the position of old-age pensioners, and I am sure that she appreciates that their position, and that of the lower income group in this country, is such that their standard of life is in fact substantially reduced at present. My hon. Friends and I have an Amendment on the Paper on this, which I hope the hon. Lady will give her support to if it is pressed to a Division.
§ [But humbly regret that the Gracious Speech contains no reference to raising 543 old age, widows and other pensions, so as to enable the recipients to meet the increased cost of living that has occurred since 1946.]
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer did not refer to the lower income groups yesterday in his very interesting statistics, or, if I may so call it, the lecture on cost of living statistics which he gave to the House. He did not face the problem of old-age pensions. I hope that whoever replies for the Government to our Amendment will do so. I could not, however, agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, North (Mr. Peake) when he referred last night to most of the other Measures in the King's Speech as "footling" Measures. I am only too delighted to see that the pollution problem is to be dealt with at long last. In East Suffolk, we have a river called the Gipping, which has been a problem for a number of years to a large number of people in the villages, where the stench is sometimes unbearable. I am very glad to see that this subject is now to be tackled, and I hope that the Government are going to give priority to this Bill as early as possible.
§ Then there is a reference in the King's Speech to sugar beet. I do not imagine there is a great deal of controversy about that. It was a monopoly set up in 1936, with tremendous powers, under a chairman who, I think, is Government appointed. There is fairly close control by the Government already, to all intents and purposes. Whether the Government are going to take over the shares or not, what is important is that we should have more sugar beet factories, certainly in North-East Suffolk. There should be some attempt also to provide better trans facilities, so that large quantities of beet of this year's crop are not left on the side of the road in Suffolk waiting to be collected.
§ I was very disappointed that there was no comprehensive Measure envisaged in the King's Speech to deal with the supply of domestic water, and for agricultural purposes, to the rural areas. This is a chronic problem, certainly in East Anglia. and in other parts, and I ask the Govern to remember this if they should happen to have any legislative time to spare in this Session. I have been pleading in this. House for 20 years for 544 an area or national scheme of water supply. I hope that, if there is to be another King's Speech from them the Government will take their courage both hands at long last and give us a Bill for the general supply of water to rural areas.
§ I listened to the President of the Board of Trade last night, and I was a little disappointed that he did not deal with the request of my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Liberal Party that he should deal with the Torquay Conference. I have no doubt that his remarks were compressed into a short time, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday gave us an assurance that this subject would be dealt with by the President of the Board of Trade when he came to reply. Unfortunately, it slipped his memory. I hope it is not too late to get some sort of report from the Government on what is taking place at Torquay at the moment because this is very important.
§ I am among those who wish to offer sincere congratulations to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on his appointment. It may be an unpopular view, but I thought that the Chancellor made an extremely interesting and important speech from the Despatch Box yesterday. He indicated that he was going to continue the policy of his predecessor on disinflation. He painted a very realistic picture and he gave a very grim warning for the next two years. Whichever party or combination of parties is in power in the next two or three years to deal with the problems of this country and the Commonwealth, they will have to maintain the welfare State, they will have to maintain our position in the dollar export market and the overseas general export market, and they will have to find 1,200 million in three years for re-arming. At the same time, they will have to prevent rapid inflation with serious consequences of unemployment, and also to prevent what must be in the minds of the present Government—the boomerang of devaluation on wholesale prices proving fatal to our economy. That is the situation that the Government will have to face.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer dealt with the rising prices of commodities such as tin, rubber, wool and cotton. He dealt also with the effect of devaluation on prices which will appear in the retail 545 index in the early part of next year, and he gave a pretty grim warning about that, too. What he said on the potential shortage of primary commodities and vital raw materials was even more important, and he painted an even grimmer picture of what this country might have to face if circumstances over which nobody in this country would have complete and effective control develop in the next two years. The story of controls, of full employment and increased productivity would be academic if, whether by private or bulk purchase, we were not able to secure our share of these vital raw materials, despite our vast productivity, and they became in short supply. It may be looking too far ahead, but what would happen in those circumstances? Would there be a priority system of allocation of vital raw materials? Would there be a re-imposition of rationing of these materials? Would we find ourselves back in a completely ruthless war economy as regards the control of materials?
§ Talking about the defence programme, the Chancellor said that 10 to 15 per cent. of the engineering industry's production would be required to deal with rearmament in aircraft and other equipment. I understand that a statement has been made in another place that there is to be no direction of labour included in the new Bill. I want to ask the Government where the labour is to be found for the additional 10 to 15 per cent. for the engineering industry which is required for rearmament, if we are to maintain our export trade, to continue the Welfare State and to maintain the present utility level of home consumption. If, as indicated in another place by a Government spokesman, there is to be no direction of labour where is the labour to come from?
§ As the Chancellor said yesterday, there is apparently to be no requisitioning of premises for the manufacture of this equipment. I believe we cannot get through this situation unless there is a considerable dispersal of this production to the Dominions, more or less on the lines envisaged by another hon. Member this afternoon—production in Canada, Australia and other parts of the world. We have to say, quite frankly, that we cannot bear this burden and to ask the United States to play an even greater part in the production of these armaments.546
§ The ground has been prepared. A great deal of work has been done inside the Ministry of Supply and at Washington with regard to the standardisation of measurements. We have a United Nations force operating in Korea, and surely this is the opportunity for the Government to show a little more initiative and to take a further step forward, to see whether we cannot begin to work on practical lines with a United Nations army, navy and air force using machines with measurements which will be standardised among the producing countries of the United Nations upon the basis of standardised measurements and types.
§ We cannot bear this burden alone and it will break the back of industry in this country if we try to do it alone. It has been pointed out that the Government will have to revise their food production plan for this country before the February price review, for in February they will meet representatives of agriculture and of the Agricultural Workers' Union to discuss the new programme. Of course, as the Chancellor emphasised throughout the whole of his speech yesterday, if we are to get through this programme the only answer is increased production at lower costs and higher productivity.
§ As I said earlier in my speech, whichever party sits as the Government on that Bench, that is the situation we shall have to face in the next few years—the grim, realistic picture which the Chancellor painted yesterday. I believe that, politically, in this country we have reached stalemate and deadlock. The Oxford by-election result has not changed my view about that. I believe this country is divided as never before into fairly equal political sides. Speaking last night for the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Leeds, North, asked whether it was possible to have a policy of national unity. Almost the last words of the Chancellor's speech yesterday were an appeal to all in this House and to all throughout the country. He made the same sort of appeal as that which his distinguished predecessor made—only by sacrifices from all shall we get through.
§ Are the Government sincerely and genuinely making a national appeal when they make these statements in the House? Are they prepared for that, or is this country irrevocably committed to mock warfare and shadow boxing between the 547 political parties in a position of political deadlock which will get this country nowhere? Whether the parties in this House can come together, can voluntarily face this situation and hammer out such a policy or not, I believe that the march of events in the next two or three years will be so grim that it will be forced upon them.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Boardman (Leigh)
I am very glad that many hon. Members who have had the opportunity to speak in this Debate have spoken at some length on the subject of the rising cost of living. I think it is very proper that they should have done so, because, within recent months particularly, in all those places where men and women congregate the principal topic of discussion has not been either the dangerous Korean situation or the delicate relationships between East and West but the high and rising cost of living. There has been a good deal of talk, besides this talk by the humble folk, in high places on this subject, and much of it has been very mischievous.
I hope hon. Gentlemen on the other side will not think I am trying to score a party point here, because my own view is that the situation which is facing Great Britain—indeed, the situation which is facing the world—is so grim and so grave that I do not think that political slogans, however cleverly phrased, can help us towards a solution. However, during the last election the Conservative Party caused to be put on the hoardings a poster that said something like this: "Help the Conservatives to fight high prices." I was never quite sure whom they were going to fight, but I do think that the effect of that poster, and the effect of many speeches which were made at that time, was to tend to give the impression that somewhere the Conservative Party or somebody else had, locked away, some kind of magic formula for dramatically and drastically reducing prices.
I say that statements like that are mischievous; and mischievous for this reason, that if we are to get the willing and enthusiastic co-operation of the people in the mines, the mills and the factories to help us to work our way out of this difficulty—and that is the only solution—then we have not merely to 548 seek their co-operation, but we have, first of all, to have their understanding. The first thing we have got to get men and women to understand is, that a country like Britain, a great importing country, which is dependent to such a large extent on the outside world for its raw materials—for all its cotton, nearly all its wool, most of its timber, most of its non-ferrous metals, and, perhaps, one half of its food—is not entirely master of its own fate in this question of prices. If we are to buy in world markets, whatever system we may use for buying, whether the bulk buying system or otherwise, we are bound to buy at something like world prices.
Do not think it is one little bit of use for anyone of us in any party simply to bemoan the fact that prices are rising. What I think we have to do is to find some means of meeting them, and it is in this respect that I should like to make one or two suggestions on the question of prices. I shall do so quite briefly, for I do not want to take up too much of the time of the House. I hope some notice will be taken of them by the President of the Board of Trade.
I would suggest that there ought to be a further extension of the utility schemes, particularly with regard to clothing. I would suggest that because, quite frankly, one part of the tailoring trade is likely to go out of business very shortly, because the high rate of Purchase Tax on clothing will limit the market very seriously. I was talking to an employer in the woollen textile trade a little while ago, and he summed up the situation very well indeed. We were talking about the need for exports and for finding some means of bringing prices down on the home market. This was a manager who, before the war, had a big export trade with America of very high-class cloths. He is still in that trade. He said, "I think your Government is at fault to this extent, that what the Government is asking me to do is to produce a Rolls Royce and a little Morris in one and the same factory, and it cannot be done."
I think there is a good deal in that, and, therefore, I believe that if there were an extension of the utility schemes it would put more goods on the home market in the non-taxed range, which is very important at the moment. At the same time, 549 I think that in the case of employers of the type I have mentioned it would help them, because it would help to put better quality cloths into the non-taxed range, give them longer runs on quality cloths and thereby tend to cheapen the prices in both markets.
On the question of prices controlled by regulation, I feel that the Government had made a very serious blunder, because they have been overgenerous in fixing prices. They have fixed prices at such a level that even the most inefficient units would make a reasonable margin of profit. Whatever may be said in favour of generosity, I do not think that in present circumstances we can afford to give shelter and a guarantee of survival to inefficient units, wherever they may be and whoever may own them. I therefore ask the President of the Board of Trade to have a review made of these controlled prices, and to fix them at any rate on the average of efficiency through-out a particular industry.
I want to mention, very briefly, the subject of wages, because it is no good discussing prices except in relation to wages. For a long time now a great deal has been said about the tragedy of the lower paid worker. Speaking now as a trade union official, I want to make it perfectly clear that with our present wages structure any wage movement at the bottom goes right through to the top, and, unfortunately, the higher one goes the higher is the differential. A man's wage is raised from £4 15s. to £5 and the man earning £5 wants at least another 5s. to make his wage £5 5s. to maintain the differential. Incidentally, I have noticed that if a movement happens to start at the top, as in the case of town clerks, by some strange coincidence the movement is very often confined to that higher strata. That may be just coincidence.
If the lower paid worker is to be helped, do not think that the solution lies with the Government. Neither do I think that the solution lies with the trade union hierarchy. The real solution lies with the rank and file of the trade union movement, because if in wages negotiations wage differentials are treated as sacred, that because one man gets another 10s. another man at a higher grade must have at least another 10s., the effect of any wages movement will be to lift the general rate, and my trade union colleagues know as well as I do that when wages and prices are rising wages never 550 catch up with prices. We should then have a general movement, and everybody would be worse off; and the people with small fixed incomes, including the pensioners, would be infinitely worse off.
I represent a mining constituency, and what has always struck me as illustrating that point very graphically—and, unfortunately, we have had one or two such illustrations very recently—is that when something happens in a pit, every man will, without being asked, make every effort and will risk life and limb to alleviate the distress of his comrades. Yet when it comes to a matter of wage negotiations, I wonder how much sacrifice our comrades—throughout industry—are likely to make to relieve the hardship of the lower paid worker. I wonder whether the trade union movement is still looking at this in that old-fashioned way, "If I do this I shall be relatively worse off because, previously, the difference between his wages and mine was 10s. and now it will be only 5s." It is therefore primarily a matter for discussion in the trade union branches; because if anything is to be done about these people that is where the discussion must start.
When we are talking about the increasing cost of living and about the lower paid worker, let us not forget that every movement upward in price—and every increase which has been given to the trade union has ultimately reflected itself in prices—has left the old age pensioner considerably worse off than he was before. I am of the opinion that the Government did a grand job in October, 1946, when the old age pension was raised to 26s. and 42s. Let us be honest about it. That 26s. and 42s. are worth nothing like what they were in 1946. I know that it is sometimes said by my own colleagues that 26s. is considerably better than what people had before. I say, in all sincerity and in all seriousness, that if any hon. Member in this House has any illusions as to what 26s. really means today, let him look at his bill the next time he entertains a couple of guests in the restaurant of this House. I am sorry that the appropriate Minister is not here to hear these points. I would like the Chancellor of the Exchequer, despite the terrific task he has undertaken, to give further consideration to doing whatever he can to alleviate the hardship of those who have been so badly hit through no fault of their own.
§ 3.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Spence (Aberdeenshire, West)
I am very glad to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Boardman) with special reference to the earlier part of what he said. He referred to the price of clothing, the difficulty of getting prices down and providing variety. He also referred to the fact that something might well be done to broaden the utility scheme and to enable one production line to be maintained in a factory instead of two. I can follow him there, and if he will look at my speeches of last year and the year before, addressed particularly to the President of the Board of Trade, he will see that that is the policy I advocated. I hope that he will be able to convince his right hon. Friend that he can now safely make that change.
The hon. Member dealt with the question of prices. There has been a great difficulty on this particular point, especially in textiles, where there have been wide fluctuations in world prices of raw materials. I think that the real answer would be, where prices are fixed by regulation, to peg the price level to a certain level in raw material prices. There have been cases where articles have been overpaid and there have been equally occasions where articles have been underpaid. I say that the goods supplied to the public under utility regulations have been, by and large, very good value for money and very welcome in the shops, because they have not been subject to Purchase Tax.
There is another point which we must consider on the argument about allowing manufacturers who do export trade to supply under a utility brand those same articles in the home market. I ask hon. Members to think for a moment why it is that our goods enjoy a reputation for design, character and workmanship all over the world. Surely it is because their characteristics are British. If we deny those characteristic goods in our shops, how shall be maintain that they are characteristically British? I think that we are in great danger of catering for the overseas market and forgetting the traditional qualities which make our goods world famous.
I would like to refer to two speeches made yesterday on the question of production. They were made by the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Miss Irene 552 Ward) and the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton). They raised very eloquently the issue of equal pay for the job. It is a vital question to consider at this time when production is absolutely imperative to our economy. I have tried this and I find it works, but we must be sure that we are not giving equal pay simply for equal occupation, but are giving equal pay for equal output. The output of men and women is not always the same on certain operations but varies one way or the other. However, I think this House should support the principle of equal pay for the job.
If we support that principle we must have equal taxation of women, whether married or unmarried. To suggest equal pay for the job without suggesting the equal taxation of married and unmarried women would be grossly unfair. The hon. Member for Coventry, South, adduced a number of arguments which, she said, she hoped would clear up a certain amount of loose thinking on the Front Bench. I suggest that if the Government will take the action of putting equal taxation upon married and unmarried women they will clear up a good deal of loose living.
I pass now to the question raised by the hon. Member for Blackburn, East (Mrs. Castle) who was speaking on expenditure. The impression I gained from her speech was that no economies could be made or were even desirable, and that she was satisfied that the Labour Government are running every Department with complete efficiency. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, that was the impression she gave. She derided any suggestion from our side that economies could be made. My hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) said that what was needed was good management, and I agree with him. There has been far too much expenditure without consideration. I speak as a business man and from seeing what goes on around me and in the contacts I have with Government Departments. There is no doubt in my mind, and there is certainly no doubt in the minds of many of those I meet and represent, that a lot of money is being wasted. Almost £20,000 million have been spent in five years.
I believe that one of the reasons for the high cost of living is that the taxpayer 553 has not been getting value for his money. While we keep expenditure at the rate of 8s. in the £ of national income, we cannot hope to get down the cost of living, because high taxation means a high wage demand which means in turn a high cost of production. The root and branch is a reduction in taxation which would cause the spiral to go downwards instead of upwards.
It is a matter of profound regret to my Scottish colleagues and to myself that no reference has been made in the Gracious Speech to Command Paper 7976 on the Development of Scotland and the Highlands. Particularly so, because the White Paper contains an important paragraph stating that directions have been given to the Transport Tribunal, now fixing the rates of carriage for goods, to bear in mind the special considerations applying to the north of Scotland. As matters stand, the farther one is from the centre of production and distribution the higher the costs. To talk, on the one hand, of developing rural industries in the remoter parts of Scotland and, on the other hand, to have a system whereby the carriage charge goes up with the distance, is nonsense.
I regret the attitude shown by the Minister of Transport when he was asked whether a measure could be brought in now to relieve industry in the north of Scotland of the burden of carriage charges which has been imposed by the abolition of the flat rate and by the additional charge of 16⅔ per cent. We are faced at present with the problem of finding the extra money for defence and of financing our export budget. Real savings can and should be made in administration, not only in Government Departments but in the whole range of nationalised industries. Such savings must be made before any fresh taxation is put upon the British people.
We have already reached the limit of taxable capacity, and I regretted to see the approval with which the remarks of the hon. Lady for Blackburn, East, were greeted by her colleagues on the benches opposite, when she conveyed the impression that in running the Socialist 554 Administration economies were impossible without imposing a direct hardship on the people. I do not believe that is so, and it is the belief of my constituents, at any rate, that a Government should be sitting on the benches opposite which can bring about these economies and avoid the impact of rearmament upon the people of this country.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Anderson (Whitehaven)
I shall have to condense my remarks inside five minutes, but one specific point has not been mentioned so far and I should like to refer to it now. It has reference to the very small firms who are to be invited to take part in the defence programme, and particularly the firms that have been newly-established in the development areas. Tender forms are going out at present and a number of these firms find themselves in very great difficulties because they are not in a position to know where they are to find the extra fluid capital that they will require to carry out their programme. I hope the Government will consider this matter very carefully indeed, and will remember the firms that have been established in the development areas. They can play a very great part in the defence programme.
It may be said that they can go for the money to the industrial and finance corporations or to their banks. The fact is that many of these firms are working on credit in their ordinary civil contracts. Some of them have gone a long way to help the export trade, and now are having to reconsider their position about Government contracts in the defence programme. They do not know how and when it will be possible for them to find the additional capital necessary for carrying out whatever part of the programme is allocated to them. I had a great deal more to say, but having regard to the time, I will content myself with asking the Government to consider that position, particularly in reference to the small firms.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Sparks.]
§ Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.