§ 2.42 p.m.
§ Mr. John Morrison (Salisbury)
I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:Most Gracious Sovereign,We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of 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.The responsibility which any hon. Member must feel in moving this Address I believe to be greater in this Coronation year, when we have all seen the many duties and tremendous responsibilities which Her Majesty the Queen herself has undertaken. I do not believe that there is an hon. or right hon. Member in this House who has not been encouraged by the example that Her Majesty has given to all of us. I believe that that also will be in our minds in our coming deliberations.
It would be the wish of all of us today if, before I referred to any other points in the Gracious Speech, I made reference to the opening lines in which we learn of the forthcoming visit of Her Majesty, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, to her people of the Commonwealth and Empire, in particular to Australia and New Zealand. The House will wish to send her Godspeed and all good wishes for a safe journey and a safe return. If I may express a personal opinion, which. I believe, will be shared universally, it is that Her personal advisers will allow as much reasonable time for rest as is possible in an undoubtedly exacting tour.
I am deeply conscious of the honour which is given to the Salisbury division of Wiltshire in that today I am privileged to move this Address. I consider myself very fortunate to have had the honour of representing Salisbury in this House for a number of years, as, indeed, did my late father during his lifetime. You could perhaps corroborate a story, Mr. Speaker, which I have never seen in print. I believe it is the case that, when you made your maiden speech in this 8 House, certain journals in the West Country, owing to the similarity in name, attributed it to my father. He always said that it was the best speech he ever made.
The beauty of Salisbury needs no description to hon. Members who have passed that way, but it may be there are some hon. Members who have not done so. It is a fair countryside surrounding a beautiful city, and by the side of that city lies the ancient borough of Wilton. The City of Salisbury surrounds a beautiful cathedral close and spire which is second to none. Salisbury is predominantly a market town for a great agricultural area around it. It is, secondly, a shopping centre and a leave centre for those people who are stationed at the varied establishments in and around Salisbury Plain. We can, therefore, claim a fine record, not only in agricultural production, but also a vital part in the training of our armed Forces, both of which play an important part in the country today as in past years, and to both of which there is a reference in the Gracious Speech.
The strength of our Forces by land, sea and air depends on their adequate training. Much of this is done in my constituency. This makes me welcome all the more the reference to the vital work of these Forces towards the maintenance of world peace and stability, which are desired by every citizen in the country. To this end, effective reserves and training are vital to ourselves and to our commitments in the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance. It is right that in this House we should pay our tribute to the men and women in the Forces who are performing so well their many and varied tasks in different countries of the world.
The emphasis of Her Majesty's Government, that their prime objects of policy are to relieve tension and to work for peace, reinforces the earnest desire of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to spare no effort to this end. The Gracious Speech refers to a proposed meeting between the Soviet and the three Western Powers, and to the work of this country in the United Nations, in Europe and in conjunction and friendly harmony with the United States of America.
All these points, I believe, will be widely welcomed. The House will particularly welcome the reference to the coming economic conference to be held shortly in Australia. The results of this 9 conference will, I believe, be mutually beneficial to all those countries of the Commonwealth and Empire who are partakers, particularly as it is to be held in the happy time when Her Majesty the Queen herself will be in Australia.
Let me return home. Her Majesty's Government are to be heartily congratulated on the achievements that they have made in the economic field. I am very glad to see that no effort will be spared not only to maintain that progress but to strengthen it still further, and lead our country to greater prosperity, in order to protect particularly the social services and enable us to maintain the highest level of employment, which is so necessary and welcome at the present time.
Reference is made in the Gracious Speech to the further building of houses and schools and to slum clearance. These matters are uppermost in the minds of us all, and they are vital to the wellbeing of the people of this country. There is particularly welcome reference and encouragement in the Gracious Speech to the improvement and repair of existing buildings, which is essential to housing in this country.
In this, along with the proposals for altering the law in regard to the Town and Country Planning Act and the law of leasehold reform, it may well be, Mr. Speaker, that differing views on both sides of the House may be heard when full debate takes place; but it will be agreed that this is not the moment for that. Nevertheless, I should like to welcome these Measures which are to be taken, as I believe it is the duty of a Government to do what they believe is right and best in the interests of a nation as a whole. How much better, indeed, is a little argument with differing views in this Chamber, than any other system of Government that we know.
As one who is personally deeply interested in agriculture and the land, and farming as a whole, I welcome very heartily the assurance to encourage the agricultural industry and to increase food production, and also the pledge to continue the system of guaranteed prices and assured markets. I believe that increased output here can substantially help towards the solving of the balance of payments problem referred to elsewhere in the Gracious Speech.
10 No one—and that means any farmer as well as anyone else—wishes to see rationing continue a moment longer than is necessary. At the same time, as I am sure Her Majesty's Government will agree, the earlier the plans can be made public for the various commodities produced in the farming world, the sooner it will be able to proceed with that increased production. In the meantime, I believe that a little mutual confidence is very necessary. With new conditions a more flexible arrangement is needed, and, at the same time, the kindred trades and the consuming public must be considered. It is right also that quality should be thought of. I believe that with good will and understanding these problems can and will be solved before long.
Finally, the Gracious Speech makes reference, as, indeed, it must, to the needs of peace, foreign affairs, the position of our defences and to domestic issues. These are problems enough, indeed, but they can, I firmly believe, be solved by the wise guidance of the Government as a whole, by the historic, inventive genius of the British people, and by the ability and good sense of the British nation as a whole.
§ 2.53 p.m.
§ Miss Edith Pitt (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
I beg to second the Motion.
I feel greatly honoured at having been allowed to second this Motion. Of course, I am nervous; and I specially need the indulgence which the House grants on this occasion because I am also making my maiden speech.
I am very conscious that this is really an honour to my own constituency of Edgbaston and to the city of Birmingham, now the largest of our provincial cities. We who are native to Birmingham are very proud of the considerable contribution it makes to the progress and prosperity of our country. It is a city, too, with a great tradition of good local administration and social progress. It is not just a city of machines, although there are plenty of them, but of hardworking, warm-hearted men and women. I know, because all my life—all my working life until the last few months—I have been one of the thousands of weekly wage earners in the city of Birmingham.
During her forthcoming visits to the countries of the Commonwealth and Empire, which are referred to in the Gracious 11 Speech, I am sure that Her Majesty the Queen will see many examples of the skill and crafts of Birmingham, in the machinery, the tools and equipment, the tractors, cycles and cars, which are a part of the contribution we make to those vital exports which are expressed in the Gracious Speech—even, possibly amongst them, the local souvenir which is rarely "Made in Birmingham." I know that we should all like to extend our gratitude to Her Majesty the Queen and to her husband the Duke of Edinburgh for undertaking this tour which will give our kinsmen overseas the happiness of receiving and welcoming so beloved a Sovereign.
We shall all, I think, agree with that part of the Gracious Speech which refers to strengthening our national economy and linking it with the high standard of social services and stability of employment. These are interdependent. Whilst the Gracious Speech rightly places the first emphasis on the preservation of peace, I am glad, as we must surely all be, that so much of the legislation forecast is so largely concerned with the homes and the happiness of the people of this country.
It is recognised, I think, that housing is the first of the social services. Good housing is the foundation which enables the fullest benefit to be obtained from all the other social services, and the success of the drive to build new houses now makes it possible to intensify slum clearance and to introduce measures which will encourage the repair and the modernisation of some of the older type of houses. I think that these proposals will be very welcome, especially in the industrial areas.
Mr. Speaker, to me health is the next most important social service, and I should like to direct the attention of the House for a moment to one vital branch of the Health Service which presents a special challenge and a special opportunity at this time. I refer to the treatment and prevention of tuberculosis. I suppose there is no disease which has been responsible for greater human tragedy. Indeed, I know this to be so from the experience I have gained in the administration and operation of the tuberculosis service over a number of years. We must, and we can, remove the 12 fear of tuberculosis. From being the death sentence which it was so often thought to be, it has instead become a curable disease. Great strides have been made and the whole country is delighted with the dramatic fall in the death rate from this disease.
I know the House will not wish me to encumber my speech with statistics, but the figures here prove my point. From 457 per million of the population in 1949, the death rate from tuberculosis fell last year to 240 per million—nearly halved. I am told that this year the figure will be even lower. Wonderfully satisfactory as this is, there is something even finer before us. The fact is that owing to our higher standard of living, improved housing, earlier diagnosis, the new anti-biotic drugs and the developments in chest surgery, we have reached a stage where we have an opportunity of eradicating this scourge entirely. But, of course, this will not be achieved unless we take the fullest advantage of our opportunity.
Although considerable progress has been made in reducing the list of ascertained cases awaiting hospital treatment, this remains the immediate problem: We need more beds, more nurses and improved surgical facilities. It would help to make the most effective use of our existing hospital beds if we could provide some kind of hostel or intermediate accommodation for those who only need now limited supervision and, perhaps, some nursing. To illustrate, a recent survey in the Midlands showed that between 15 and 20 per cent. of the beds occupied came within this group; and this point of hostel accommodation, I noticed, was emphasised in last year's Report of the Central Health Services Council.
The effort that is being made to fill these needs is, I am sure, what we all understand by the reference in the Gracious Speech to the maintenance ofthe high standards of the social services.If this is done, this dread disease will cease to be a problem within the lifetime of many of us in this House, an achievement in accord with the theme of the Gracious Speech, which is, surely, the progress and the happiness of the people of this country.
I look back for a moment to the time when, as a young girl, the daughter of 13 an industrial worker, I had to begin to make my own way. The improvement which has since taken place in the social conditions has been a continuing process throughout the whole of that period, and the contributions which have made these developments possible have stemmed from many sources. I believe that these tremendous advances helped our people to withstand two major wars and the aftermath of war, and now they share, willingly, the sustained, even increased, productive effort that we are all making to continue that progress.
I am a newcomer to this House, but I have already sensed the unity of the House on many measures—differing measures—which, perhaps, sometimes surprises the visitor here. I think the people will look to us for, and the House will show, that same fundamental unity in our determination to consolidate this social progress and to move steadily forward.
§ 3.6 p.m.
§ Mr. C. R. Attlee (Walthamstow, West)
I have the pleasant duty of being the first to congratulate the mover and seconder of the Motion on their interesting and admirable speeches. The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. J. Morrison) has been with us for a number of years, as his father was before him, and, as he pointed out, he bears a name that is honoured on both sides of the House—and, indeed, in the Chair.
I was wondering what the hon. Member's father would have said if the speech attributed to the hon. Member had been made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison). I was very interested in the hon. Member's observations. The mover of the Motion has always to avoid controversy, whether with the Opposition or with his own side, and I was interested in the delicate hints that the hon. Member gave that the Government must mind their step when looking to their own supporters.
The hon. Lady the Member for Edgbaston (Miss Pitt) needs a double congratulation. She has got through extremely well the ordeal of seconding the Motion and making her maiden speech. I have heard quite a number of hon. Members make their maiden speeches on the debate on the Address. 14 It is always a question of whether the advantages are greater than the disadvantages. First, of course, one has a ready-made audience and a full House: but everyone will consider for himself whether he would rather speak to a full House.
Secondly, there is the advantage that a maiden speech and a speech on the Address both have to be non-controversial. The hon. Lady has got rid, in one go, of those two rather difficult requirements of a speech that has to be non-controversial. For the rest, the House was impressed by the hon. Lady's sincerity and the knowledge with which she spoke on subjects which were, obviously, very dear to her heart. I am sure that the House will be very pleased to hear her often.
To turn to the Gracious Speech, I echo the words of the hon. Member for Salisbury, who said how grateful we are to Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh for undertaking the forthcoming journey to our friends in other parts of the Commonwealth. We all join in wishing Her Majesty health and strength to carry through that duty. Might I say how warmly I approve of the hon. Member's suggestion that those responsible must be very careful not to overtire Her Majesty?
I cannot help remembering how heavy was the strain imposed on his late Majesty when he undertook his last Commonwealth tour, and I am sure that our friends in Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere will realise how necessary it is to curb the exuberance of their loyalty in the interests of adequate rest for Her Majesty.
Turning to the section of the Gracious Speech dealing with foreign affairs, we are to have a day very shortly for a debate on foreign affairs. We have already stated how warmly we support the efforts made to get a gathering together of the four Powers. Now that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are restored to health, we hope that we shall see that pressed forward with great vigour.
I am not quite sure exactly what weight should be given to the phrase about E.D.C., that the Governmenthope to see the early establishment of the European Defence Community and will afford it all possible support.15 I think it would be useful if, in the course of this debate, we were told exactly what that support will amount to, because a very difficult question is our relationship to E.D.C. and to the forces in Europe. I am also glad to hear of the Commonwealth Finance Ministers' meeting.
We note the proposals with regard to the reserve forces and the continuation of National Service. We shall need to scrutinise those with great care in view of the responsibility of this country, and its economic position. As is the case with so many things in the Gracious Speech, we shall have to wait until we get the details.
I note that there is nothing in the Speech about Egypt and the Middle East. That is a vital matter at the present time. Whether, as some of the Sunday newspapers say, that is due to disagreement on the Government benches about our position in Egypt I cannot say now, but we hope to find that out during our debate on the Address. We all wish for a settlement with Egypt, but we are also very conscious that there are apprehensions in other quarters in the Middle East, particularly in Palestine. We also have to consider the position of Iraq and Jordan, and a settlement with Egypt does mean consideration of the whole of the balance of power in that area and the safeguarding of the interests of all those people.
I note the words about the Colonial Empire. One would not gather, from the reference, that there were grave disturbances in Kenya and Malaya and unrest elsewhere, but perhaps we shall have that more fully dealt with in the course of the debate.
Turning now to home affairs, I do not think that we should allow the Overlords to pass entirely unnoticed. In the Gracious Speech there is not the "tribute of a sigh," but it would certainly be ungracious for the Opposition not to acknowledge that this is the ending of a very ill-starred experiment.
On the national economy, we shall obviously need a very full discussion. We are all glad at the bettering of our position, but nobody knows better than the Chancellor of the Exchequer that whatever temporary alleviation we may have, we have still to consider the long-term problem of the exchanges. It seems 16 to me that while the sentiments expressed in the first paragraph on the top of page 3 of the Speech are admirable, they are singularly lacking in any positive proposals, as indeed applies to very much of this Gracious Speech. There are tantalising suggestions that some matter or other may be dealt with, but extremely little policy.
We must remember the overall problem of the economic position of this country. The better position of exchange has been very largely due to heavy falls in world prices. We also have to remember the repercussions of that, particularly in the colonial sphere, as, for instance, the question of rubber in Malaya. I am quite sure that it is right that we should have very full discussions with the Commonwealth and also with the United States of America. I certainly believe that if we want to restore peace in the world we have to see very vigorous action pursued by our Government and other Governments to raise standards of life all over the world.
The Raw Cotton Commission is, apparently, to be abolished. That is another instance of stupid interference with useful work done by the Labour Government in pursuit of mere ideological prejudice. It is curious that the party opposite used to think that they were free from theory, but, in fact, they are more hidebound than any other party in devotion to private enterprise at all costs and private profit before anything. We shall have an opportunity of discussing that.
The statements about the repair and improvement of existing houses both by local authorities and private owners wants a little more explanation. It may be that there lurks in that seemingly innocent phrase something to do with changes in rent control. It may be that it has something to do with subsidies to private owners. We shall certainly want a very full explanation of that. We also have no indication of the amendments to the financial provisions of the Town and Country Planning Acts. [HON. MEMBERS:"]They are in the White Paper."] The Government do not always follow their own White Papers.
There are also to be amendments to the existing arrangements for the payment of equalisation grant to local authorities in Scotland. I understand that that 17 is mainly the betterment of Scotland in drawing from the common pool, and does not refer to something purely local. We shall, no doubt, hear about that. Then we are also promised legislation to effect leasehold reform, which, again, is a matter for which we shall have to await the details.
The Gracious Speech also tells us:My Ministers will continue to encourage the agricultural industry …It is about time that there was a policy for agriculture by this Government. There is no doubt that there is grave disturbance in the minds of farmers and agricultural workers on the complete failure of the Government to produce any coherent scheme whatsoever. Yet as long ago as 1951 the Minister of Agriculture told us that he was on the point of producing a scheme. We are back again now to consultations and the hon. Member for Salisbury was, I thought, rather optimistic in thinking there was something in this.
As far as I can see, the Government are merely going to consult the farmers and the trade concerned about new methods. They are taking a long time to work them out. We hope that the Minister of Agriculture, now that he is in the Cabinet, will have more influence and that it will stimulate him to produce something. But we shall have to press the Government very hard on this because, hitherto, there has been a complete failure to produce anything.
There is a note that the Government are keeping their eye on the fishing industry, though I do not know that that will do very much good.
The next item is one on which I have the gravest doubts. It is one of the few positive proposals in the Gracious Speech and it is a bad one: the proposal to transfer atomic energy to a statutory corporation. When we were in office we had to look at this matter very often. Now, atomic energy is of supreme importance, both from the point of view of defence and economics. It does not seem to me advisable that policy in this matter should be handed over to people who are not responsible to Parliament.
I have heard the view put forward that somehow or other they get a greater freedom. Nobody supposes that atomic energy will pay for a very long time. It will be heavily subsidised by the Government 18 and, therefore, this House ought to be in control. I understand that one hope expressed is that there will be greater freedom in getting the services of scientists for atomic energy. The difficulty is that there is great competition for scientists of the highest rank for atomic energy, for guided missiles and all the rest and it has been extremely difficult to get allocation of this scarce skill. Therefore, it seems to me much better that the matter should be kept under the hand of the Government. No doubt we shall have an opportunity of discussing that when the legislation is introduced.
With regard to the consolidation and extension of the law on safety, health and welfare of miners and quarrymen, and the rest of that paragraph, those all seem to be useful measures and we shall look forward to debating them. There is nothing much about the Road Traffic Acts, but at least the Government are to improve road safety. There again, however, we are left with a vague aspiration.
The reference to the National Gallery and the Tate Gallery looks all right, and we shall be interested to see how the television proposals have come down now. I think that the form of them is gradually becoming attenuated.
Finally, we come to one of the most harmless of all the statements:My Ministers will give further consideration to the question of reform of the House of Lords.There is no harm in consideration. The government of which the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister was such a distinguished member, promised to give that consideration, I think, in 1910. Since he has been considering it for 43 years, a year or two more will not do any harm. It looks as if the Government are as far from action as ever.
Broadly speaking, this Gracious Speech indicates a number of interesting topics but gives us very little clear policy. We shall hope to get something more substantial from Ministers in the next few days. There is one other great omission from the Gracious Speech to which we shall call attention; that is, that there is no mention whatever of the interests of consumers, there is no mention of the cost of food. It looks as though the Housewives' League has gone out of business, but there are plenty of real housewives 19 who are very seriously disturbed by this matter and we shall take an opportunity of raising that question.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Sir Winston Churchill)
I thought the Leader of the Opposition chose very apposite words in which to pay the traditional compliments to the mover and the seconder of the Motion. It is always difficult to find new terms in which to express the broad general feeling of the House in this matter because, after all, it happens every year and most of the good points have been taken on bygone occasions.
I think I have been a witness of these proceedings longer than anyone else, and I certainly would not guarantee to think of something entirely new. This I can say, however; that the mover stated his case with simple force, and the seconder certainly earned fully the praise of the Leader of the Opposition, in that she will have a most valuable and important contribution to make to our discussions over the social and, particularly, the health spheres. At any rate, I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the way in which he has referred to these, my two hon. Friends, and I am glad that all has started in such a quiet and nice and friendly spirit. I trust that I shall not be guilty of trespassing beyond those limits further than is necessary to place the realisation of the facts before the House.
The debate on the Address will continue for the rest of this week, I have to tell the House, and it is hoped that it will be completed early next week. It is our intention, Mr. Speaker, under your guidance to arrange both the general debate, and the debate on any Amendments which may be tabled, so as to meet the wishes of the House. It is proposed that Private Members shall enjoy their rights in the matter of Bills and Motions in the same manner as in recent Sessions. Perhaps I may take this opportunity to give notice that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will tomorrow propose a Motion to provide that Private Members business should have precedence on 20 Fridays, the first of which will be Friday, 27th November.
20 The right hon. Gentleman referred to a few matters which are mentioned in the Gracious Speech, but not as fully as he would wish. He said that the question of Egypt was omitted. Well, the Egyptian negotiations were mentioned in the Prorogation Speech and there has been no development of importance since then, but there may be as time passes.
The Overlords came in for comment. I had no experience of being Prime Minister in time of peace and I attached more importance to the grouping of Departments so that the responsible head of the Government would be able to deal with a comparatively smaller number of heads than actually exists in peacetime. I think we had great advantage—although it may not be believed opposite—from the services of the three noble Lords, who did their very utmost to help forward the public service. On reflection, I have thought it better to revert to the proposal which the right hon. Gentleman himself recommended, namely, to hush it all up and manage it in the Cabinet.
That also applies in a certain sense to what the right hon. Gentleman said about atomic energy, for there too his record is one which, at any rate, may be taken as an example in some ways. He demands the control of atomic energy by the House, but we must not forget that when he was in office his Government spent more than £100 million without ever asking the House to be aware of what was going on. No doubt having been in office such a short time as we have, we have not yet learned all the tricks of the trade. The question of atomic energy being dealt with under Government authority by a corporation will be laid before the House next week when a White Paper and a draft Order in Council will be issued. They will give the House a very great deal of information upon a subject which, I must warn hon. Gentlemen, means quite hard reading, if one has to undertake a great deal of it.
I notice that both the mover and the seconder of the Motion and the Leader of the Opposition gave prominence in their remarks to the expression of their fervent good wishes to the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh for the tremendous journey round the Commonwealth and Empire and round the world upon which they shortly will embark. Nothing like it has even been seen before in our history 21 There is no doubt of the welcome which awaits Her Majesty in Australia, New Zealand and all the other lands which give their loyalty and allegiance to the Crown, and through which she and her husband will travel. We all join together in wishing Her Majesty and the Duke God-speed on their journey and a safe return to her loyal and devoted subjects in these islands next May.
This is the third time that I have been called upon to follow the Leader of the Opposition in the debate on the Address in this present Parliament and two years have passed since we had a General Election. When are we going to have another? [HON. MEMBERS: "Tomorrow."] It is always difficult to foresee, and rash to forecast, the course of future events. Still, for practical purposes, one has to try from time to time to weigh the probabilities and make the best guess one can. I do not hesitate to say that, viewing the political scene as it appears to me, it looks as if a General Election was further off this afternoon than it did two years ago.
It certainly is not the wish or intention of Her Majesty's Government to take advantage of any temporary fluctuation in public opinion in the hopes of securing an electoral victory. Two years ago many thought there might soon be another trial of strength, even within a twelve month, making three quarrelsome, costly, machine made tumults in less than three years. Now it is quite evident that different expectations prevail.
After all, we were elected for a five-year period under what is called the Quinquennial Act. I have always been in favour of the Quinquennial Act. In fact, 48 years ago, in 1905, I moved a Bill under the Ten Minutes Rule to establish the quinquennial period instead of the septennial, which was then the legal term. It seems to me that this "quinquennial" strikes a happy medium between Parliaments which last too little and Parliaments which last too long.
We are not only a democracy but a Parliamentary democracy, and both aspects of our political life must be borne in mind. To have a General Election every year, as the Chartists proposed, would deprive the House of Commons of much of its dignity and authority. It would no longer be an Assembly 22 endeavouring to find a solution for national problems and providing a stable foundation for the administration of the country, but rather a vote-catching machine looking for a springboard, in an atmosphere where party advantage and personal ambition would be by no means wholly excluded. There is no doubt, and I should like to put this general proposition to the House for their consideration, that elections exist for the sake of the House of Commons and not that the House of Commons exists for the sake of elections.
If this were true in former generations, it seems even more so in this cataclysmic 20th Century when everything is in flux and change and when, after the fearful exertions, sacrifices and exhaustions of two world wars, the element of calm, patient study and a sense of structure by both sides may render lasting service to our whole people and increase and consolidate their influence for good and for peace throughout the quivering, convulsive and bewildered world.
More especially is this true of a period in which the two-party system is dominant and about 14 million vote Tory and about another 14 million Socialist. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] I looked the figures up. I have not done anybody out of anything. The two-party system is dominant. It is not really possible to assume that one of these 14 million masses of voters possess all the virtues and the wisdom and the other lot are dupes or fools, or even knaves or crooks. Ordinary people in the country mix about with each other in friendly, neighbourly relations, and they know it is nonsense for party politicians to draw such harsh contrasts between them. Even in this House it is very difficult for the specialists in faction to prevent Members from getting very friendly with each other and worrying about their common difficulties and the grave strain and expense of modern Parliamentary life. We have at least that in common.
On the other hand, I am sure it would be a mistake if the possibilities of dissolution were removed altogether from the mind of Parliament. In some countries Parliaments cannot be dissolved, or can hardly be dissolved, until they have run their fixed term. It is an advantage of our system that, while we aim at five-year Parliaments—which, by etiquette, 23 means four-and-a-half years—extraordinary situations may arise at home or abroad which justify or even compel a precipitate appeal to the country.
Nothing I say about our desires and intentions to allow this Parliament to run its lawful course is intended to exclude necessary constitutional action if events should require it. I have fought more elections than anyone here, or indeed anyone alive in this country—Parliamentary elections—and on the whole they are great fun. But there ought to be interludes of tolerance, hard work and study of social problems between them. Having rows for the sake of having rows between politicians might be good from time to time, but it is not a good habit of political life. It does not follow that we should get further apart by staying long together.
I am not suggesting that our goal is a coalition; that, I think, would be carrying good will too far. But our duties, as we see them, are varied and sometimes conflicting. We have to help our respective parties, but we have also to make sure that we help our country and its people. There can be no doubt where our duty lies between these two.
I am pleading for time, calm, industry and vigilance, and also time to let things grow and prove themselves by experience. It may sometimes be necessary for Governments to undo each other's work, but this should be an exception and not the rule. We are, of course, opposed, for instance, to nationalisation of industry and, to a lesser extent, to the nationalisation of services. We abhor the fallacy, for such it is, of nationalisation for nationalisation's sake. But where we are preserving it, as in the coal mines, the railways, air traffic, gas and electricity, we have done and are doing our utmost to make a success of it, even though this may somewhat mar the symmetry of party recrimination. It is only where we believed that a measure of nationalisation was a real hindrance to our island life that we have reversed the policy, although we are generally opposed to the principle.
Here, let me say, in passing from these general remarks, that I earnestly hope the appointment of Sir Brian Robertson as head of British Railways will be distinguished not only by marked improvements 24 in their running, but also by a feeling among the railwaymen that an element of personal contact and leadership will be developed between the management and the men so that healthy pride may play its part in the success of these national services.
In his speech, the right hon. Gentleman referred briefly both to housing and to farming. I had thought beforehand that something like this might happen, so I collected a few remarks to make upon the subjects. I have heard some talk about our policy for the repair and improvement of houses being a Tory plot to put more money into the pockets of the landlords—What, not a sound! I hope that that will not be considered—I am encouraged by the way it is received—an exhaustive exposition of the problem. It would certainly be a premature judgment, for no attempt has yet been made to explain our plans. Before I sit down this afternoon White Papers, giving full schemes for England, Wales and Scotland, will be found in the Vote Office. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government will unfold his scheme in detail during our debate tomorrow, and I shall not anticipate his explanation of its structure. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] But I am going to say a few words upon the subject.
We have claimed credit, as we have a right to do, for building at the rate of 300,000 new houses per year. We were frequently told, and have long known, that building new houses cannot by itself solve the urgent problem of providing homes for the people. If it were true that while 300,000 new houses were being built nearly as many were mouldering into ruin and a far larger number were devoid of modern conveniences, the gain of new building would be largely cancelled out. The Opposition have said that to us, and we concede it. The Minister of Housing and Local Government has produced—with immense work and months and months of discussion—what we believe is a practical, I will not say solution, but mitigation, of the problem.
We have to face the fact that 2¼ million houses were built 100 years ago and another 2½ million are between 65 and 100 years old. Even the more modern ones require regular maintenance and repair. Surely this is a matter which 25 ought to interest—and which I am sure will interest—the whole of any House of Commons elected on the basis of universal suffrage. I hope it will not be brushed aside. I can quite see, as far as I have got, that it is not going to be treated merely as a party matter. If when the White Paper has been studied and when my right hon. Friend has commended it to the House, the Opposition have a counter proposal, let them put it forward; we shall give it our earnest attention.
These are not the sort of questions which party Governments are usually anxious to tackle, but it cannot be allowed to drift any longer by any Government determined to do its duty. I would quote to the House some words spoken by an eminent and independent man, a life-long champion of Left-wing politics, highly regarded on both sides of the House, Mr. Thomas Johnston. He said last year at Stirling—I really must read this to the House:I venture once again to draw attention to the galloping disasters coming to us in the increasing obsolescence and decay of our existing housing structures being permitted—indeed rendered inevitable—I believe through sheer political cowardice. Private house proprietors and housing trusts are unable to provide repairs, much less improvements, owing to the high cost of materials. … To allow great national assets like that to crumble and disappear prematurely does not make sense; and when it is remembered that not only no repairs but no improvements can be effected, and that hundreds of thousands of tenants are condemned for all the years of their lives to live without even the ordinary decencies of a separate family water-closet or a bath, we can see that unless existing house assets are maintained and improved side-by-side with the provision of new houses, then not only will the house problem not be solved in our day and generation, but the financial and administrative position of our local authorities will become hopeless and impossible.He concluded:This is not the occasion to outline remedies, but I suggest that the first and essential condition is that the repair and maintenance and improvement of housing be taken outside the orbit of partisan politics altogether.We shall see how we get on, but let us start with that hope.
It must be realised that houses cannot be repaired without money, and where is that money to come from? Is it to be found by the State? Or is it to be new private investment by landlords? Or will both these processes be necessary? Is it quite certain that no adequate 26 system of repairing millions of houses, let alone fitting them with baths and other basic modern requirements, will be brought into existence unless this Parliament takes effective action, and begins now.
Undoubtedly new burdens will fall upon the national finances, and this must be viewed with gravity at a time when our solvency and our independence of foreign aid, on which we count so much, stand foremost in our minds. On the other hand, we must not forget that our financial credit will be substantially enhanced by our coping with a problem which is known to have been outstanding for so long. Surely any fair and reasonable scheme for inducing private as well as public resources to be made available for these vital public purposes should not be curtly dismissed—I am sure it will not be curtly dismissed—by the House of Commons.
Would it be very wrong if I suggested, following the lines which Mr. Tom Johnston indicated, that we might look into this together, with the desire to have more decent homes for the people counting much higher in our minds than ordinary partisan political gains and advantages for either side? War and its restrictions: aerial bombardment and its destructions: time and decay: potential improvements: all seem to make this matter worthy of the good will and mental effort of the House as a whole.
But this process will need time, time not only to pass the legislation but also to allow its effects to show themselves and to make people feel that benefits have been received which are welcomed by many thousands of families. Certainly we should not have embarked upon this policy to repair the crumbling homes and resume our work of cleaning up the slums unless we had intended to remain responsible long enough to be judged by results. With these introductory words, I commend the White Papers now in the Vote Office to hon. Members.
The Leader of the Opposition referred also to the farmers. The House knows that it is our theme and policy to reduce controls and restrictions as much as possible and to reverse if not to abolish the tendency to State purchase and marketing which is a characteristic of the Socialist philosophy. We hope instead to develop 27 individual enterprise founded in the main on the laws of supply and demand and to restore to the interchange of goods and services that variety, flexibility, ingenuity and incentive on which we believe the fertility and liveliness of economic life depend. We have now reached a point when the end of war-time food rationing, with all its rigid, costly features and expensive staff, is in sight. For our farmers, the abandonment of controls will bring great opportunities.
In the agricultural field, however, another set, of arguments must be borne in mind. It is the policy of both parties in the State to sustain and increase homegrown food on which this island depends so largely for a favourable trade balance and, in the ultimate issue, for its life. It is not an easy task to reconcile the beneficial liberation of our food supply from Government controls with that effective stimulus of home production which is vital. [Interruption.] Hon. Members want the good without the evil; that is often very difficult to solve.
It is necessary for the Exchequer to subsidise in one form or another, so as to bridge the gap between the price level reached in a free market on the one hand, and the price level necessary to sustain the welfare of the farmers on the other. Moreover, the gap must not only be bridged in the industry as a whole by maintaining average returns but we must also, in the case of what are called fat stock—a technical term covering a very considerable field—provide safeguards for individual transactions where necessary.
We have laboured patiently and arduously at the difficult problems of marketing and production, and we have reached conclusions which we shall submit to the House in another White Paper—I had better not get them mixed together—this very week. We believe that these will deal equitably and encouragingly with the producers without throwing an undue burden on the taxpayer or denying the consumer—and we are all consumers—the advantages of world abundance and of widening choice in so intimate a business as meals.
The Minister of Agriculture will deal with this complicated and not entirely non-political subject when he speaks later 28 in the debate. But I can assure the House that we intend to help the farming industry to solve their difficulties by every means compatible with the general welfare of the community, which requires the maintenance of confidence throughout the agricultural industry and that increasing flow of food which is vital to the health and stamina of the nation.
I have mentioned the larger domestic issues, which were also mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition, on which our minds this Session will be set; may I say that while controversy lends life and sparkle to Parliamentary debates, the real honour belongs to any Member, wherever he sits, who can contribute constructive suggestions and thus directly serve the people as a whole?
We shall have another debate on foreign affairs in the near future, and I shall not attempt anything like a general survey today. Comparing the outlook now with two years ago, I think it would be true to say that it is less formidable but more baffling. The issues as they had shaped themselves in the days of our predecessors were clear-cut. The vast three-year re-armament plan was just getting into its stride. The war in Korea was still raging. General Eisenhower was organising Western Europe. A feeling of crescendo and crisis filled the air. Our Socialist Government, with the full support of the Conservative Opposition, were marching with our American allies in a vehement effort to meet the Soviet menace.
The main structure of this position is maintained, and no weakening in British purpose has resulted from the change of Government. Nevertheless, certain important events have happened which, rightly or wrongly, have somewhat veiled, and, it may be, actually modified the harshness of the scene. The fighting in Korea has shifted from the trenches to the tables. We do not know yet what will emerge from these stubborn and tangled discussions. But whatever else comes, or may come, as a result of the Korean war, one major world fact is outstanding. The United States have become again a heavily armed nation.
The second world event has been the death of Stalin and the assumption of power by a different régime in the Kremlin. It is on the second of these prodigious events that I wish to dwell for a moment. Nearly eight months have 29 passed since it occurred and everywhere the question was, and still is asked, did the end of the Stalin epoch lead to a change in Soviet policy? Is there a new look?
I should not venture to ask the House, or any outside our doors to whom my words have access, to adopt positive conclusions on these mysteries. It may well be that there have been far-reaching changes in the temper and outlook of the immense populations, now so largely literate, who inhabit "all the Russias," and that their mind has turned to internal betterment rather than external aggression. This may or may not be a right judgment, and we can afford, if vigilance is not relaxed and strength is not suffered again to dwindle, to await developments in a hopeful and, I trust, a helpful mood.
The only really sure guide to the actions of mighty nations and powerful Governments is a correct estimate of what are and what they consider to be their own interests. Applying this test, I feel a sense of reassurance. Studying our own strength and that of Europe under the massive American shield, I do not find it unreasonable or dangerous to conclude that internal prosperity rather than external conquest is not only the deep desire of the Russian peoples, but also the long-term interest of their rulers.
It was in this state of mind that six months ago I thought it would be a good thing if the heads of the principal States and Governments concerned met the new leaders of Russia and established that personal acquaintance and relationship which have certainly often proved a help rather than a hindrance. I still hope that such a meeting may have a useful place in international contacts.
On the other hand, one must not overlook the risk of such a four-Power conference ending in a still worse deadlock than exists at present. It certainly would be most foolish to imagine that there is any chance of making straight away a general settlement of all the cruel problems that exist in the East as well as in the West, and that exist in Germany and in all the satellite countries. We are not likely straight away to get them satisfactorily dealt with and laid to rest as great dangers and evils in the world by personal meetings, however friendly. Time will undoubtedly be needed—more time than some of us here are likely to see.
30 I am, of course, in very close touch with President Eisenhower, and my hope was that at Bermuda we might have had a talk about it all. I was sorry to be prevented by conditions beyond my control. We are at present looking forward to the four-Power conference of Foreign Secretaries, and we earnestly hope it will take place soon. If it leads to improvements those themselves might again lead to further efforts on both sides. We trust we shall soon have a favourable answer to our conciliatory invitation to the Soviet.
I have mentioned two dominant events that have happened in the last two years. But there is a third which, though it happened before, has developed so prodigiously in this period that I can treat it as if it were a novel apparition which has overshadowed both those I have mentioned. I mean the rapid and ceaseless developments of atomic warfare and the hydrogen bomb.
These fearful scientific discoveries cast their shadow on every thoughtful mind, but nevertheless I believe that we are justified in feeling that there has been a diminution of tension and that the probabilities of another world war have diminished, or at least have become more remote. I say this in spite of the continual growth of weapons of destruction such as have never fallen before into the hands of human beings. Indeed, I have sometimes the odd thought that the annihilating character of these agencies may bring an utterly unforeseeable security to mankind.
When I was a schoolboy I was not good at arithmetic, but I have since heard it said that certain mathematical quantities when they pass through infinity change their signs from plus to minus—or the other way round. I do not venture to plunge too much into detail of what are called the asymptotes of hyperbolae, but any hon. Gentleman who is interested can find an opportunity for an interesting study of these matters. It may be that this rule may have a novel application and that when the advance of destructive weapons enables everyone to kill everybody else nobody will want to kill anyone at all. At any rate, it seems pretty safe to say that a war which begins by both sides suffering what they dread most—and that is undoubtedly the case at present—is less likely to occur than one which dangles the lurid prizes of former ages before ambitious eyes.
31 I offer this comforting idea to the House, taking care to make it clear at the same time that our only hope can spring from untiring vigilance. There is no doubt that if the human race are to have their dearest wish and be free from the dread of mass destruction, they could have, as an alternative, what many of them might prefer, namely, the swiftest expansion of material well-being that has ever been within their reach, or even within their dreams.
By material well-being I mean not only abundance but a degree of leisure for the masses such as has never before been possible in our mortal struggle for life. These majestic possibilities ought to gleam, and be made to gleam, before the eyes of the toilers in every land, and they ought to inspire the actions of all who bear responsibility for their guidance. We, and all nations, stand, at this hour in human history, before the portals of supreme catastrophe and of measureless reward. My faith is that in God's mercy we shall choose aright.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
I am sure that I am expressing the view of the whole House when I say how pleased we are to see the Prime Minister back with us and in such good form. Though I differ fundamentally from him on the essential issues before us, I always enjoy hearing him speak. The right hon. Gentleman has one blind spot. He tends to think that if one agrees with him one is acting in the national interest, but if one disagrees one is ideological or partisan. We are all entitled to hold our own views on these subjects. The right hon. Gentleman ought to know how pleased his hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) was to note the progress that was being made by his pupil.
I hope that there will be a different atmosphere on the Government benches during this Session. If only they had made half the progress they think they made last year, or had been half as successful as they think they were, our affairs today would be in a much better state. I hope that there will be less complacency on the Government benches and that we shall have no more vaudeville turns when Ministers are winding up important debates. We have had too much 32 complacency for which there has been little or no justification.
I do not think that we can be complacent about foreign affairs. I believe that, possibly owing to the unfortunate illness of the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister, we have lost the greatest opportunity since 1945 of easing the tension in the cold war. I welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to the meeting between the Soviet Union and the three Western Powers, and also the additional references made by the Prime Minister. I hope that we have not delayed too long. I think that the best opportunity was immediately after the death of Stalin.
When I mention that we have no need to be complacent about foreign affairs, I recall that in addition to all the problems which face us, the Government have now thrown into the international arena the problem of Trieste. In Colonial affairs I do not think that any Member of the Government would say that we have any right to be complacent. On domestic affairs, are the Government complacent about the increase in the cost of living and especially the increase in the cost of food?
§ Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
On a point of order. During his speech the Prime Minister informed us that a White Paper on the housing programme would be available in the Vote Office after he had finished speaking. We are informed that it is not available. May we have any information about when we may see it?
§ Mr. Blackburn
I should like to thank the Prime Minister for that statement.
Have the Government the right to be complacent about the cost of living and especially about the increase in the cost of food, when we compare what has happened in this country during the past two years with what has been happening in other Western European countries and in the Commonwealth? Have the Government the right to be complacent about the plight of the old age pensioners? When I get a reply from the 33 Minister that nothing can be done about old-age pensioners because the Government have been able to keep the cost of living stable, I wonder whether Ministers make any reference to their own statistics and whether they are living in the same world as I am.
Again, can the Government be complacent about agriculture? They seem to have considerably upset the farming community. There is some reference in the Gracious Speech but, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said, we were promised in December, 1951, that a policy would be put before us. We are still waiting for that policy.
I do not think that we can be complacent about the balance of payments position and our gold and dollar reserve. I am confident that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would agree that the improvement has been mainly due to external factors over which we have no control. It has been chiefly due to improvement in the terms of trade. I am sure the Chancellor would agree that we are not in a strong position to meet any recession in world trade. The one contribution which the Government made was by the reduction of imports, but figures for the first eight months of this year show that they are creeping up to the figure for 1951, while exports are far below.
The index for imports in 1951 was 112.5, falling in 1952 to 103. For the first eight months of this year the figure is up to 110.3. The index of exports for 1951 was 101.2. It fell in 1952 to 95, and for the first eight months of this year it is 95.9. This is most disastrous. For the first time since 1945 we have had a fall in exports.
I welcome the statement that the Government will:… strive for a further improvement in the balance of overseas payments by encouraging the expansion of exports and of services earning income from abroad.For two years they have been encouraging the expansion of exports, though with very little success. I hope that they will be more successful during this Session. The tragedy about the drop in exports is that it is not confined to one section. It is spread over almost the whole of industry. There has been a decline in exports of iron and steel, implements, instruments, etc., machinery, 34 vehicles, cotton goods, woollen and worsted goods, rayon and silk goods, other textiles, apparels, chemicals, pottery, glass, etc., leather and leather goods, paper and paper goods, miscellaneous manufactures, food, drink and tobacco. In the cotton trade, which is of vital concern to my constituency, the position is that, taking the index as 100 in 1950, in 1951 it was 105, in 1952 it was 77, and in the first six months of 1953 it was still 77. Nor can there be any grounds for complacency about our industrial production. I admit that there has been some recovery during the present year, but we are only now getting back to the position we held in 1951.
In the Gracious Speech of 1951 the two main items were the de-nationalisation of iron and steel and the de-nationalisation of road transport, neither of which was carried out in that Session. Instead, we had the Home Guard Bill and the Bill dealing with public houses in new towns. In the Gracious Speech of 1952 the two main items were the same. That time they were carried into effect, but both of them were "undoing" Measures. In neither year was there anything to deal realistically with our fundamental economic problems. What is the position this year? A great deal of the Gracious Speech is in general terms, which may mean little or much. There is nothing to indicate that the Government appreciate the size of the task before us.
I welcome the fact that there is to be a meeting of the Finance Ministers of the Commonwealth in January. I sincerely hope that the results of the conference will be more concrete than those of the two previous conferences which took place under the present Government.
The Gracious Speech also refers to the amendment of existing arrangements for the payment of equalisation grants to local authorities in Scotland. I am surprised that it refers only to Scotland. I expected the Gracious Speech to contain some reference to the report of the Committee under the chairmanship of Mr. F. L. Edwards which was appointed to investigate the operation of Exchequer equalisation grants in England and Wales. Since there is no reference to that, are we to understand that the Government will not give any consideration to the report? I must admit that I am raising 35 a constituency point, because the authorities in my constituency have very high rates and would benefit considerably if the Committee's recommendations were carried into effect.
It is also stated that the Government intend to examine the Road Traffic Acts with a view to introducing further legislation to improve road safety and promote orderly use of the roads. I hope the Government intend to deal drastically and realistically with the problem. It is far too serious a problem to be tinkered about with any longer. If the casualties on our roads took place on a single day or in a single area, the conscience of the whole country would be aroused immediately, but because one or two take place day by day in various parts of the country they are not given the consideration which they ought to have. The casualties on our roads are the casualties of a war. Rather than that the problem should merely be tinkered with, I hope the Government will either leave it alone or bring forward measures which will deal with it drastically and realistically.
We do not know what the Government have in mind about television. I should like to know which of our industries is finding it difficult lo spend as much money as it wishes on advertising. I believe that far too much money is already being spent on advertising. The Government's proposal is not likely to be a contribution towards the solution of any of the problems which face us at present.
To return to the point which I made earlier, I see very little in the Gracious Speech to indicate that the Government appreciate the serious problems which still confront us, and I am afraid that during the current Session they are likely to maintain the spirit of complacency which has marked them during the past two Sessions.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Johnson (Manchester, Blackley)
I do not propose to follow the hon Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) very closely in what he has said, except to say that I am not in the least complacent, and I agree entirely with what he has very wisely said about road accidents. We may differ on the subject of television, but I do not intend to enter upon that subject today.
36 There will be general agreement about the paragraph in the Gracious Speech which refers to the need to press on with slum clearance and with the repair and improvement of existing houses, although there may conceivably be some measure of disagreement later on about the legislation which the Government will bring forward to deal with those matters.
I wish to draw attention in particular to one aspect of the housing problem, the future of prefabricated temporary bungalows. I do so because there are no fewer than 1,518 of them in my constituency, and their condition is giving rise to a very great deal of anxiety, which may well be the position in other parts of the country also. It was only last week that my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) raised in a Question the subject of the dampness of such bungalows, which is a very real problem. It was originally estimated that the lifetime of temporary bungalows would be 10 years, but it is clearly evident that they will have to last a very great deal longer than that, despite the great improvement in the speed of house building which has taken place during the past two years.
Quite apart from the condition of the buildings, Manchester has the additional problem of a great lack of space on which to build permanent houses to accommodate the people now living in the bungalows. Many of the bungalows in Manchester are built on open space land, which consists largely of public parks and such places. In my constituency about half the bungalows are built on open space land. The position is worsened by the fact that the great majority of the other 50 per cent. are built on land of a very peaty nature which I understand is unsuitable for permanent houses.
It may well be that many of these buildings will have a useful life of more than 10 years, but it is equally true that a very large number are deteriorating, mainly on account of dampness. I do not think there are many complaints on that score where these houses are built on permanent building sites, but otherwise, I think it is no exaggeration to say that today many of them are quite unfit for human habitation. A great number of remedies have been suggested to overcome this dampness, and I hope that the House will bear with me if I enlarge on 37 them, because this is a real problem in Manchester.
The Manchester Corporation tried the experiment of installing hot water radiators in the aluminium bungalows, but it was not very effective. The most successful experiment has been the installation of open slow-burning fires, which has worked very well, but when this experiment was first made, or just after its success had been proved, permission was sought from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to press on and install them in all the damp bungalows. After a very long delay, permission was given to install them in 500 of those bungalows. That was a wholly unsatisfactory state of affairs. For one thing, the permission does not apply to bungalows on open space land, and for another thing, I think that the figure of 500 for the whole of Manchester is absolutely inadequate. There are three times as many in my own constituency alone.
I have drawn the attention of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the urgency of this matter and have complained of the inadequacy of the concession which has been made, but I regret to say that the only result so far has been the absolutely fatuous suggestion by the Department that a considerable improvement could be achieved at a much lower cost by the fitting of ventilators in each gable end. This suggestion was made in respect of bungalows built on open space land, and it so happens that in my constituency, out of 728 built on open space land, 623 are of the new type which have ventilators already fixed in the gable end. There is no doubt that the proposal put forward for the bungalows built on open spaces is quite ineffective, and I feel that the Parliamentary Secretary has not appreciated the urgency of this matter, which is very real.
I do not know whether this applies to other parts of the country, but what I do know and feel very strongly about is that many people in my constituency are going to live in wet houses this winter, and that that state of affairs, which is not conducive either to health or happiness, is one that could perfectly well have been avoided.
The other small point that I want to raise concerns a matter which I see with 38 regret is not included in the Gracious Speech, although I had hoped that it might be. I refer to the action which the Government propose to take to implement the proposals of the Committee which met under the chairmanship of the Duke of Northumberland to consider the conditions in which horses are killed for meat. It may be that the allusion in the Gracious Speech to an amendment of the Food and Drugs Act has some bearing on this matter, because that is one of the Acts which would have to be amended.
The House will recall that this Committee was set up just over a year ago—in October, 1952—and that it issued its Report in August of this year. I do not know whether it is too soon to expect some action to be taken, but that Report contains 23 different recommendations the adoption of which might involve amendment of the Food and Drugs Act—and possibly that is going to be done—and also amendment of the Slaughter of Animals Acts, the Protection of Animals Acts, and certain special legislation applying to Scotland and the County of London.
I think these recommendations are very good as far as they go, but it is my belief that they do not go anything like far enough to prevent all the cruelty and suffering which arises out of the circumstances of the slaughter of horses for meat. However, even if they do not go far enough, I do not blame the Committee for that. I think their terms of reference were not wide enough, because they did not cover the investigation of the wider question of the transport of horses. I do not think that anyone would suggest that there is any cruelty involved in killing a horse by means of a bullet or by the captive bolt pistol, and valuable suggestions have been made to improve the state of affairs during those few days immediately preceding the killing of the animal.
Many of us who are interested in this matter and who have some knowledge of horses feel that the greatest evil and the greatest suffering arises during the transport of these animals to the places at which they are eventually to be killed, and I think there is no doubt that the risk is much greater if a sea journey is 39 involved. Horses are brought from Ireland for slaughter for meat in this country, but the Irish Government have refused to allow them to be killed for meat under supervision in Ireland and the dressed carcases sent over here. I feel that it would be quite useless to prohibit the importation of horses for slaughter because they would still come in, although ostensibly for some other purpose.
I venture to make two suggestions. The first is in regard to the importation of horses from Ireland for slaughter. Would it be possible to make regulations which would forbid the slaughter of any imported horses for a period of 12 months after their arrival in this country, except subject to a certificate given by a veterinary surgeon to the effect that slaughter was necessary because of accident or disease? Secondly, I appeal to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to set up yet another committee of this kind to investigate the whole question of the transport, not only of horses, but of all livestock.
The two points I have made are, I admit, small ones, yet I think that they are, in their way, of some importance, and I think that they may well have the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House. I do not suggest that any very great or important issues would be settled by taking action on the lines which I have suggested are desirable, but I hope that that action will be taken, because then I believe that something will have been accomplished for the benefit of the health and happiness of many of our fellow citizens and also in the cause of humanity.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Test)
The hon. Member for Blackley (Mr. E. Johnson) has raised two excellent points in this debate—excellent even if almost non-controversial—but I wish to raise two very controversial points.
The first concerns the old problem of the blitzed towns. At each new Session since I came to this House, I have pleaded for a greater measure of aid for the blitzed towns, and I think that the country and the House ought to be ashamed that such pleadings still continue to have to be made. It was different in wartime. Then, praise was given 40 and promises were made, even by the Prime Minister himself, that the blitzed towns would not be forgotten in the years after the war.
Recently, there has been a lot of talk about Exchequer equalisation grants, and most people agree that these grants, in their main conception, are excellent, and that the benefits which they bring to the poorer authorities are completely justifiable and utterly necessary. Most people, however, also agree that the grants cannot really be equitable until all authorities enjoy the same basis of assessment for rates; that an authority which under-assesses gets more help than it should; that an authority which, like my own, Southampton, has always been scrupulously fair in its assessment, may not benefit by the Exchequer equalisation grant.
The difficulty is that it is impossible to devise, inside the Government's declared policy of not increasing the grant, of not raising the global amount of the grant, any method of fairly taking away from some authorities which receive grant and fairly distributing that among authorities which do not receive any. And so, although some people in my town, and Southampton Borough Council themselves, suported the 27 boroughs in their representations to the Minister and their devising of a crude formula which would have given these boroughs some grant and robbed the poorest authorities to do so, I did not support that view and those representations of the 27 boroughs, although I want justice for blitzed Southampton.
On the other hand, the proposals contained in the Government's Working Party Report are equally crude and equally inequitable in the authorities which they propose to benefit and those to be left out. If the Working Party's proposals are carried out, we shall have the extraordinary position that Southampton will be the only blitzed town in the country not to receive any benefit under the Exchequer equalisation grant.
But Southampton, like, indeed, every other blitzed town, has a special claim for grant-aid. I have taken my own town merely as an example. In the war we lost 5,000 houses. We are spending a civic fortune in replacing them. Most of the new houses are built outside the 41 borough. We subsidise their building, but other authorities so far have received their rates. Most of our post-war building has been house building. Houses demand costly services, like schools and sewerage, and are least profitable to a town's finances. From the technical, financial point of view they are almost a liability to the town and not an asset.
Southampton lost, by enemy action, £296,000 worth of rateable value. Of this, we have replaced so far on the blitzed sites only £140,000 worth. Immediately after the blitz we got some rate-aid from the Government, but before we could draw any we had to use up or surrender all our rate surpluses; and rate-aid from the Government dried up two or three years after the war.
We are an industrial town, and industrial derating cost us £140,000. Handing over our municipal electricity and privately-owned gas undertakings to the nationalised authority cost the rates thousands of pounds on the new assessments. Our docks are still assessed on their pre-war low figure. Our rateable value is still only 95 per cent. of what it was pre-war while most towns in the country have increased their rateable value. Among those towns which benefit from the Government's new proposals, in the Working Party's Report, only Portsmouth, Liverpool and Plymouth, sister blitzed towns to Southampton, are, like us, under their pre-war value.
I would first of all urge the Government not to treat the question of blitzed towns as one which can be solved by a national formula—and a national formula which everybody agrees is imperfect and inequitable in some of its working. I urge them again to take each blitzed town separately, for example, to meet the representatives of my own town and hear from them what is now, as it has been ever since the war, a case of injustice and ingratitude, which neither Socialist nor Tory Government has yet had fairness enough and imagination enough to recognise adequately.
The second grievance concerns the cruel wrong done to a British boy and his mother by the governors and headmaster of Woodbridge School, Suffolk. The facts are now notorious. Woodbridge is a direct grant grammar school and it admits a number of boys to be educated at the expense of the East Suffolk Education 42 Committee. On 7th August the mother of this boy was informed by the County Education Officer that he had been awarded a place at the school. Naturally, she was delighted. On 21st August she received a letter from the headmaster confirming this, inviting her to an interview and telling her when the new term started and what books and uniform the boy would need. In the meantime, the County Education Officer had received a letter from the headmaster informing him that the headmaster would take all the boys the county had allocated to Woodbridge School. My authority for that is the statement of the "East Anglian Daily Times" of 26th September.
The boy and his mother attended for interview on 27th August. I have talked with the mother—a woman devoted to her child, a mother whose care for her child is infinitely greater than that of many mothers in this country. No educational examination of the boy took place at that interview, but during the interview the fact suddenly emerged that the mother was unmarried. The boy was sent out of the room. Even then, the rest of the conversation between the head and the parent was not of a nature to suggest that anything was wrong, if indeed, one could hold the view that anything was wrong.
That night the head wrote to tell the mother that as a result of the interview he could not offer the boy a place in the school, although the boy had twice been told that he had a place in the school. In his action the headmaster was later supported by the governors of the school. But for the civic spirit of Mr. Carr, a district councillor of Woodbridge, but for the outburst of public indignation and the intervention of the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Hare) and others, this wrong would have been perpetrated and it would have been left at that. As it is, the Minister of Education has listened to the representations of these good people and has informed the governors that the reasons they have given her for the boy's exclusion are "unreasonable" and, because they are unreasonable, contravene paragraph 45 of the grant regulations. There the Minister proposes to leave the matter. I do not think it should be left there.
Let us be quite clear about what has been done. Apart from paragraph 45, to which the Minister referred in her letter 43 to the governors, the law, as given in paragraph 44 of the grant regulations, says:The criterion for admission for all pupils in any direct grant grammar school shall be the capacity of the pupil to profit by education in the school.At no time since this wrong became known have the governors produced a shred of evidence to suggest that they have any educational reason whatever for excluding the boy. Indeed, he has an excellent record at his primary school and at his church.
The governors actually refuse to produce their reasons. All we know of them is that they failed to convince the Minister. We can only guess them. Indeed, in that guessing lies perhaps the main wrong that these men have committed. It seems that they dare not let the public know the non-educational grounds on which they have broken the law and wilfully hurt a mother and her child.
Some of these governors—one-third of them, I think—are elected as local authority representatives on the governing body. We would hope that those who elect the elected part of the governors either compel them to put the wrong right or to give their reasons or to resign. The others, at least two-thirds, are the foundation governors, and apparently they must be left to their consciences and a re-reading of the will of the founder of the Seckford Charity, under which this school is administered.
I hope that some of the eminent gentlemen who are foundation governors of this school are ashamed of what has taken place. I am not a vindictive man, and I do not seek the punishment of anybody in this, but here is a case where some measure of justice at least can still be done, where a measure of atonement can still be made.
The boy has been refused his awarded place at the school. He and his mother have been unnecessarily humiliated. I think that the Minister must insist that the mother and son be offered the place which the boy gained. Whether she accepts it or not should be her business. The decision should be hers—not the governors', not even the Minister's, however praiseworthy her motives may be. May I say at once that I accept that the 44 Minister's motives in taking the action which she has taken are praiseworthy as far as she is concerned.
This boy now travels 40 miles each day to and from school. I know that this is not uncommon in East Suffolk, a county with poor educational facilities, with one-third of its children still being educated in all-age schools. But when a school is at a boy's doorstep, and a long daily journey can be avoided, I think it ought to be avoided. That is why the county gave him the place at Woodbridge. I would hope—and I speak as one interested in children and in education and with some experience of it—that the boy would go to the nearer school. In the long run, I suggest, it would be worth all the upset and setback that a transfer now would mean. But that should be for the mother to decide, and nobody else.
I know that I do not carry the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge with me in pressing this matter any further than we have so far pressed it together. Nor will he agree with the rest of what I want to say. I believe that this shocking case throws up the whole question of direct grant grammar schools, and the necessity or the Tightness of independence of headmasters. If this wrong had not been committed in such a palpable way, in such a cruel way, nobody need have known that a wrong was being done.
Woodbridge is an old grammar school. It has a chequered financial history. Certain benefactors in the 16th century left money to educate 10 poor boys freely, and some others who paid fees. But since the 1850s, its main source of income has been from another source—the Seckford Charity. This charity was founded in Queen Elizabeth's time by Mr. Seckford, probably to atone for the fact that he was one of the men who arrested Peter Wentworth and put him in the Tower. But it was founded, not to provide education for fee paying children, but to help poor people—originally, poor old people. I believe that any part of the bequest which is used to subsidise the education of fee-paying pupils runs contrary to the will of its pious founder, just as I argued here once about other and more famous old schools and their founders.
Because of this history, Woodbridge stands a little outside the State schools 45 system. Its governors—only a few of them democratically elected—have the right to pick and choose among the county boys selected by the L.E.A., and the right to wrap themselves up, like the people of France who hurt Dreyfus, and decline to give in public a reason for their recent shabby conduct.
I believe that to be wrong, and that every local education authority should have full power to select the children whom it sends to a direct grant grammar school. Indeed, I would commend this case to my hon. Friends on this side of the House as an argument for changing the whole pattern of direct grant grammar schools, and for securing 100 per cent. places in direct grant grammar schools for children selected according to their ability as is done with places in State grammar schools awarded by the L.E.A.
We hear a lot about State interference with headmasters. When, some 25 years ago, a school in my town—after nearly two centuries as an endowed school—passed over to the L.E.A., there was a howl from the reactionaries. The school was bound to go down; the headmaster would not have a soul to call his own. But experience has confuted these fears in every detail. The last quarter of a century of this school has been the most fruitful of its history. None of its traditions has been impaired; indeed, they have even expanded.
The Incorporated Association of Assistant Masters, an association of masters in grammar schools, was formed at the end of the last century to protect grammar school masters against petty headmaster tyrants answerable only to close corporations of governors, and the expansion of these State grammar schools has meant professional security for many assistant masters.
Why should any head fear public control? The great grammar schools of Hampshire county are all under county control. That means that the L.E.A. controls them financially and decides that all pupils shall be admitted on merit, and merit only, and without an investigation of their parent record. But in the day-to-day running of the school, every county and every State headmaster is as free as the head of a public school. No initiative is discouraged, and there is no petty interference.
46 But freedom for a headmaster does not mean that a head should be allowed to do a great wrong to a mother and her child. Public control protects the community against crass errors, against sheer mistakes, and even against wilful or narrow-minded wrongs. Indeed, it is only because this particular direct grant grammar school is in some measure under public control that we are able to raise the matter in the House of Commons and see that the wrong is put right.
Some people have argued that it would have been better for the boy if the district council in Woodbridge had never raised the case in the first place. To that my answer is that it would have been much better for the boy if this wrong had never been committed. And, once it had been committed, it would have been much better for the boy if the governors had put the matter right graciously, generously, openly and immediately.
As it is, the latest letter of the clerk to the governors of this school shows quite clearly that the governors are prepared to shelter behind the Minister's statement, and because she proposes to do nothing further they are pretending that that is an instruction that they should do nothing further about it.
Some day we shall end the class segregation that still exists among British children. I had thought that we had at least ended the old narrow-minded segregation that existed between children born in wedlock and children born out of wedlock. All children are the nation's children and have the same rights. But, while we have this segregation of our British children—and I am certain I am speaking for all my hon. Friends on this side and for many on the other side—and while a system of class education exists, it must not be used to inflict unnecessary injustice and sorrow on any of our children.
I am glad that the Minister has acted—I think it is magnificent that the Minister should reach out to the incident when it was brought to her notice—but she must go further. Having declared that a wrong has been done by the governors of Wood-bridge School, she must make them do all they can to make amends to the mother and child, and the mother must take steps, and I believe that the House must take steps, to ensure that such a wrong shall never occur again.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Mr. J. J. Astor (Plymouth, Sutton)
I should like to associate myself with some of the remarks that have been made by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King) about the blitzed cities. My constituency has been one of those to suffer most, and I can only hope that, as the Government decide to spend more money for building new houses and repairing old, they will not forget the plight of the blitzed cities. It is very easy to forget that plight as the memory of the war grows dimmer.
I wish now to refer to that part of the Gracious Speech which deals with Anglo-American relations. There is no more important feature of the international picture, but I am inclined to think that at the moment those relations are getting worse and not better.
Any sound relationship that the Western democracies can have with Russia must be based on mutual understanding between the democracies themselves. It is only if we have mutual understanding that the democracies can speak from a position of unity and strength, and in this country we seem to be running into the danger of becoming physically and mentally isolated between two curtains. On the one hand there is the Iron Curtain set up by Russia, and on the other the dollar curtain set up by America. Whereas apparently at the moment it is beyond the wit of any democratic Government successfully to penetrate the Iron Curtain, I feel that with a little more imagination this Government could do a great deal more in allowing citizens to penetrate the dollar curtain. To this end, I would make four brief suggestions of a non-party nature, because I believe this is a national and not a party problem.
The common language that we share with America is, in itself, almost as much a barrier as a bridge, for we naturally expect that because the Americans speak the same language they will be the same, I do not think the Americans are the same. My impression is that whereas they have inherited the Anglo-Saxon conscience, by temperament they are more inclined towards the Latin. It is only possible to get an impression of America by going there.
My first point is directed towards the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for whom 48 I have the greatest personal respect. I would ask him to consider releasing more dollars to allow more people, from every walk of life, to go to America. I am very aware of the great ignorance there is in this country about America, and vice versa, and it is only if journalists, politicians, trade union leaders, businessmen, artists, students, Service men and such like can actually see America that they can possibly understand why the people in that country have their own prides and prejudices.
Unfortunately, many distinguished politicians have to talk about America without having the first idea of what the place is like. I am aware of the difficulty of the dollar gap, but I would ask the Chancellor to regard an increased dollar expenditure which will allow more people to go independently—or to be sent by associations if they cannot otherwise afford it—not so much as current dollar expenditure but as a means of building up political ties which will mature into a national capital asset over a period of years.
My second point is directed to the Foreign Secretary. I am sure hon. Members who have had the opportunity recently to go to America will have been aware of the great ignorance about many of our problems. I believe the Embassy and the British Information Service in Washington and elsewhere in America could do a great deal more to "feed back" the topical and current criticisms that exist so that they could be answered either from this House or by a statement from London.
Unfortunately, as regards Anglo-American relations, the free Press on both sides of the Atlantic seems to take the view that the successful editor or the successful pressman is the man with a good nose for a bad smell. When Ministers and other responsible people make speeches in an effort to clarify the situation they get a very poor Press both here and in America; if anyone says anything to try to "rock the ship" they get an extremely good Press. A lot more could be done by issuing statements and making speeches here with a view to reaching the American public, because I think hon. Members will agree that any criticism that we may have of American policy, if answered in Washington, is much more impressive than if 49 answered by a statement from the Embassy here. I think that works the other way round as well.
Then I would ask the Service chiefs to try to work out some reciprocal training arrangement on the lines of the air training establishments in Canada. This would not cost any dollars, and some British training establishments could be established in America and some American establishments could be set up here. At first sight that might seem impracticable and very difficult. It would naturally mean taking a school in toto—instructors, administrative staff, equipment and cadets or Servicemen, or whatever it might be—but it could be arranged, and I am convinced that in five or 10 years' time it will be arranged. It would mean that every year hundreds, possibly thousands, of British and American young men would not only be having the benefit of training abroad but also of finding out the ways of life and habits of our allies.
Fourthly, I should like to draw attention to what, in my opinion, is the completely inadequate space which the British Press and the B.B.C. give to American news. Although I appreciate that we have much less space than have the American papers, I believe those responsible for the Press in America serve their public a good deal better than the Press serves its public here in this respect. When one considers the importance of Anglo-American relations, and then looks at the small amount of space that it gets either on the B.B.C. or in the daily papers, one cannot help thinking that those responsible are not doing justice to the British public.
In conclusion, I should like to say that although we may be the most politically mature of the democracies, I have a feeling that we are also, possibly, the most complacent, the most smug, and the most idle in bothering to find out the difficulties and the achievements that democracy is experiencing elsewhere. Democracy itself is in its infancy, and unless there is a much better mutual understanding between democrats in all democracies, I wonder sometimes whether democracy will stand the test of time.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
I think many of us on this side of the House would endorse much of what has been said by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. J. J. Astor). We feel profoundly, as I think most Members of the House do, that everything should be done to encourage the peoples of different countries to know more about each other. I feel that that can best be done by more people from the lowly ranks of society being able to get to America, and also perhaps beyond the Iron Curtain to Russia.
One of the most encouraging features of the life of our youth in recent years has been the widespread travelling of our youngsters to countries on the continent and reciprocal arrangements for return visits of young people in those countries to this country. Anything that can be done to lessen the difficulties of the exchange of news, views and knowledge between Britain, the United States and Russia—three of the most important countries in the world today—will be to the benefit of everyone in the world today and of mankind to come.
The Gracious Speech each year affords an opportunity for the consideration or review of the policies of the Government and of the proposals which are to come before Parliament in the coming year. There was one item omitted from the Gracious Speech. It is a small item, I know, but perhaps it will receive the consideration of those who count in the Cabinet. It is the problem of the revision of the Wild Birds Protection Acts. I believe that a committee did report to the Home Secretary a year or two ago, but that its report is not to be published. I hope that if the Government are not going to introduce a Bill during this Session, they will at least afford facilities for any private Member who may be lucky enough in the Ballot, and who so chooses, to introduce such a Bill.
The Gracious Speech refers to leasehold reform. It says:Legislation will be introduced to effect leasehold reform in England and Wales and in Scotland.In Cornwall, and in my constituency at Falmouth particularly, there is a great deal of leasehold property, and the leaseholders have been looking forward anxiously to see what the Government's 51 proposals may be. There is an innate desire in Cornish people to own the freehold of the leasehold property which they occupy, so that any improvements which they or their families may have made can be retained.
The Gracious Speech also refers to television, and says:My Ministers will lay before you their proposals for carrying out their policy for television development.What we on this side of the House want to know is whether the Government are going to allow the B.B.C. to develop its full network of stations before commercial television is given its first station. There is a great desire on the part of many people not particularly interested in politics that there should be a free vote in this House on this question, because in the main it is not a political matter. We hope that the Government will feel courageous enough to permit it.
In my part of the country there has been much concern recently about the siting of the proposed transmitter which will serve Devon and Cornwall. A public inquiry has recently been held. The B.B.C. want to place the transmitter on North Hessary Tor, one of the finest tors with one of the most commanding views in the Dartmoor National Park. At the inquiry evidence of the greatest technical value was given on behalf of the National Parks Commission to show that a satisfactory station could be sited south of the National Park, and that the second transmitter which the B.B.C. has already envisaged for Cornwall could work in conjunction with a transmitter on Horner Down to give full and satisfactory service to South Devon and East, Mid and West Cornwall. We hope, therefore, that no considerations of finance will hinder the Government or the B.B.C. in providing the best television facilities for these two counties and at the same time preserving the beauties of the Dartmoor National Park.
There is also reference in the Gracious Speech to agriculture and to the Government's consultations with the National Farmers' Union. But it was the Labour Government of 1947 which introduced the Act which gave guaranteed prices and markets to farmers. We on this side of the House sometimes feel that the farming community are not sufficiently aware of 52 that fact, and are perhaps lacking a little in gratitude for the courageous stand which was taken by the Labour Government in guaranteeing to the countryside a fair standard of life, at the expense of the millions of people in our great cities and towns who support the Labour party.
The Government cannot get away from the fact that there is now much uncertainty in farming circles. The Government have followed a doctrinaire policy in the question of a free market, without due regard for the consequences. They have had years in which to prepare marketing schemes which were to follow their other proposals for derationing and making freer markets, but they have not thought out the consequences of their policies.
I am glad to notice that the Government are topay close attention to the welfare of the fishing industry.The inshore fishing industry of Cornwall is very important, and last year, as Questions asked by hon. Members on both sides of the House showed, the fishing industry of Cornwall, particularly the important pilchard side of the industry, was facing great difficulties largely because of the importation of South African pilchards which, in the main, were garnered and processed by cheap native labour.
The Gracious Speech also refers to legislation which will be proposedto revise, consolidate and extend the law on the safety, health and welfare of miners and quarrymen. …This statement will be welcomed, particularly in my constituency, which used to be known as the "mining constituency." Tin mining has now declined, but hundreds of men in my constituency suffer from the dread disease of silicosis. Many of them, for one technical reason or another, are unable to draw the full benefits which have been gained by later sufferers under recent Acts. We hope that these men, who have a dreadful time, will be able to benefit by the proposed legislation.
The Gracious Speech does not contain a lot about the Colonies, but, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, there is very serious unrest in East Africa, Central Africa, British Guiana, Malaya and other places. This is, perhaps, only natural. The native 53 peoples are growing up. The present conditions, compared with those of even a decade ago—certainly of half a century ago—are completely different, and we have to recognise, as have the white people in those Colonies, that full political, social and cultural equality has to be given to the Africans and peoples of other races who may be living there. It is one of the greatest problems of our time, but it is surely one of the fundamental beliefs of the Christian churches that all men are sons of God.
That may be said glibly, but the problem we have to face today is to make it a reality. It seems rather strange that in this reign of our new young Sovereign, Elizabeth II, we shall have to work out the answer to this great problem, when, in the reign of Elizabeth I, the first slave raids were made by men of the West Country upon the west coast of Africa. We hope and pray for an equitable solution of this problem before very long, so that these Colonies may become independent countries, while choosing to remain within our great Commonwealth.
We are very glad to know that our young Queen is going on a tour of the Commonwealth. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said this afternoon, we all hope that she will be able to get some quietude while on this strenuous and long journey. We all admire her unselfish devotion to the duties of her high office, and we all admire, too, the strenuous work which the Duke of Edinburgh undertakes on behalf of many worthy societies in this country. Those of us who are older sometimes feel that these young people are subjected to too great a strain, even now. I am quite sure they are, and I hope that something will be done to lessen it.
Nevertheless, it was with something of a shock that I read in a Sunday newspaper that the cost of fitting out the "Gothic" to take the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh on this tour was in the region of £400,000, in spite of the fact that a very large sum had been spent last year on this vessel. We feel that there should not be too great a gulf between the life led by our Royal Family and the lives which the great masses of our people have to lead. We have raised the standard of life and we want to maintain it, 54 but we also want to lessen the gulf between the mass of the Queen's subjects and the Royal Family.
In my constituency there is growing uneasiness at increasing unemployment in Hayle, Camborne, Redruth and Falmouth, and in Falmouth there is very great concern among the tenants of council houses, particularly the new ones at the very high rents that have to be paid. These matters are indications of an uneasiness in society, because they are not confined to my constituency. I want to quote something which was said by the Leader of the Opposition in the debate on the Civil List, on 9th July, 1952. He said:But we live in a time, not only of widely changing money values, but possible changes in the make-up of society and the conception of what is convenient and proper."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th July, 1952; Vol. 503, c. 1328–1329.]I have no desire to stress any class differences. I merely draw attention to these matters because they are of concern to us all, and because we are all committed to the principle of the democratic society in which we are privileged to live.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm McCorquodale (Epsom)
I hope that the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) will not think me discourteous if I do not follow him in his wide review of public affairs, in which we have been very interested. I regard the quietness of this debate, before the main battle is joined, as an opportunity for raising special subjects which would not be very suitable for the main tenor of the debate on the Gracious Speech.
I want to raise the subject of the proposed Royal Commission on the whole question of the lunacy laws and the treatment of mental patients. This is a question which affects my own constituency very closely, because we have a considerable number of admirable institutions where these unfortunate people are looked after. I very much welcome the setting up of this Royal Commission, and I hope that its terms of reference will be wide enough to consider not only the lunacy laws but the methods now used and the procedure laid down for the treatment both of mental patients and of the inmates of defective colonies.
55 I do not think that anyone would dispute the devoted work which has been done by the Board of Control, but it is also probable that no one would dispute the fact that there are manifest weaknesses in our present laws of certification and the like. The main problem, however, is that under the present system the work of the Board of Control does not come directly before the House of Commons. Hon. Members of this House and the public outside have been far too prone to put this terrific problem out of sight and largely out of mind. The problem is too far removed from the social conscience. The setting up of a Royal Commission to probe into this field will, I hope, result in proposals to bring back responsibility for these matters to this House, so that we may improve the conditions of these unfortunate people in the future.
My personal interest in this subject grew very largely out of my experiences during the war when, owing to my official duties at the Ministry of Labour, I was charged with the responsibility in certain circumstances of directing domestic and other help for the functioning of these institutions. We felt it our duty to inspect these places so that we did not compel people to go and work in places about which we knew little or nothing. I realised how lamentable was my personal ignorance both of the size of the mental problem and the difficulties facing the institutions and the devoted bands of people who were endeavouring to run them in difficult circumstances. When I came to represent my present constituency of Epsom, I found the problem once again closely before me.
While the National Health Service was being set up, and the control of mental institutions in general was being changed, was not the right time to have a searching inquiry into them. It was better to let the change be made and the dust to settle before inquiring how the new system was working. Therefore, the Government are wholly right, seeing that the National Health Service has got well into its stride, to inquire whether we are treating this problem on the right lines. I should like the Royal Commission to 56 consider closely whether we should not separate much more in the public mind the problem of mental health and the problem of the mental defective, which is a matter of care and education. I should like to see mental hospitals where the treatment is medical, and patients who are mentally ill remain under the National Health Service, while defective colonies should return to the bodies responsible for education, the local authorities.
In certain parts of the country we see the appalling position that a mentally retarded child is likely to find itself either in a defectives' colony or a special school merely according to whether there is a vacancy or not in that school. If we took this whole matter away from the overburdened health authorities and returned it to the bodies responsible for education and for the running of special schools, I believe we should get a much more satisfactory solution to this special problem.
There are other problems of a delicate nature from which I hope the Royal Commission will not flinch. We are now, I trust, sufficiently adult to consider rationally whether special medical treatment should not be given to certain patients who have no control over their sexual appetites and who are kept in institutions although in all other respects they could find a satisfactory place in society. There are many other problems of the same nature which the Royal Commission will doubtless probe into, but I do not wish to keep the House long discussing them tonight.
I rejoice that the Government have announced that they will set up this Royal Commission and I hope that the terms of reference will be drawn so widely that all problems affecting the mental health of this country can be considered. I hope that this House will show its warm approbation of the work that the proposed Commission will do and that we shall wish them God speed. We shall remember that this problem of hundreds of thousands of mentally sick or mentally retarded persons is one for which all of us, individually and collectively, have responsibility and have lying on our consciences all the time.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)
I am sure we are all grateful to the right hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) for raising this matter of the Royal Commission. Even those with only a superficial knowledge of the subject feel that the organisation and treatment of mentally unfit people has been very much overlooked in our social services. The research carried on by those who specialise in this field has not been entirely lost but, because of bad organisation, it has been very much less valuable than it could have been.
Those who have had experience of trying to advise parents of children who are defective realise the agony through which those parents can go merely because proper treatment and adequate facilities are not available in all parts of the country. We hope that the Royal Commission will have terms of reference wide enough and will be able to present to the House and to the country a report on which fruitful action can be based.
I should like to turn to wider subjects. Not the least interesting part of the speech made by the Prime Minister was his homily on the need for a period of peaceful, quiet, constructive work. That hardly tallies with the sentiments of the Government last year and the year before, when most of their time was spent in destructive work; nor with the sentiments of the Conservative Party when in Opposition in 1950, when the need for some peaceful, contemplative work was hardly in their minds. I was a little puzzled to know why we should have that request from the right hon. Gentleman at this moment. Perhaps the electoral prospects are not quite as bright as they appeared six months ago. That was my first guess.
As the right hon. Gentleman developed his speech we found the true reason—that the Government are about to embark on what is clearly going to be highly unpopular legislation dealing with the housing situation. I have not yet had an opportunity of studying the White Paper as I have been waiting to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, and it would therefore not be proper for me to go into details on this matter. I hope that the Government will have no misapprehensions that on this side of the House, whatever suggestions may be made for 58 dealing with the very serious state of old houses, we are adamant on two points. One is that we will not be prepared to co-operate, in spite of the eloquent pleas of the Prime Minister, with the Government in any proposals which will give increased income to landlords without commensurate work on the houses concerned. We are not prepared to give the landlords a cheque in return for promises unless they will improve the state of their property.
§ Mrs. White
It would be for the second time, as my hon. Friend says. It is, I think, too vividly in the minds of tenants of certain houses that increases in rents were permitted to landlords after the First World War on condition that certain repairs were carried out. Those promises were never fulfilled, and one trusts that the Government will be wise enough not to attempt such a Measure again.
The other principle on which we on this side of the House stand firmly is this: while we recognise that something will have to be done to meet the need for repairing houses which are in private ownership, we nevertheless think that there cannot be any really satisfactory solution of this urgent social problem on a large scale unless the municipalities are very much brought into the picture.
I was frankly surprised that the hon. Member for Edgbaston (Miss Pitt), who seconded the Motion for the Address, in a most capable speech, in referring to this made no reference at all to the experience in her own city of Birmingham where an extremely interesting social experiment in housing had recently been undertaken, under which the municipality took over not just individual houses, which would be uneconomic, but large areas for radical re-development. Something of the same kind has also been done in parts of London, and is, I believe, contemplated elsewhere.
We believe this is the proper way, certainly in the large urban areas, to tackle this problem of dealing with old property which requires renovation and modernisation. I think that we should get entirely away from the old-fashioned idea of house property being in any sense suitable for small investors; it is not. 59 The position has got completely beyond that. The old idea that a person who was trying to provide for his widow or unmarried daughter should buy two or three houses from which an income could then be drawn for life, or for the lives of their descendants, is completely out of keeping with the social needs of today.
People who wish to make provision for their widows or children should turn to National Savings, to the Co-operative Building Society or some similar body. They should not attempt to meet that particular individual need by investing in house property on a small scale, because all that happens is that in time of increased prices the income they receive is inadequate and the tenants suffer. I hope that when we have this proposal fully before us proper action will be taken to place the major responsibility upon the local authorities.
I notice that there is one housing matter mentioned in the Gracious Speech which affects my own country of Wales, and that is leasehold reform. Until we know precisely what the proposals are, I shall be very cautious in welcoming this, but it certainly is a matter of interest, particularly in South Wales, and I am very glad that there is at least a mention of it in the Gracious Speech. I must, however, express my deep disappointment that that is the only mention of Wales in the Gracious Speech.
We have under discussion in Wales at the present time an extremely important paper on the reconstruction of rural Wales. It is true that the Government have indicated that they propose to issue a White Paper giving their views on this Report, but the fact that a White Paper has not been issued has not prevented them from mentioning other matters in the Gracious Speech and, therefore, there will be keen disappointment throughout Wales, particularly in the rural counties, that there is no indication given in the Gracious Speech that the Government propose to take positive action for the reconstruction on the depopulated areas of rural Wales.
This would not be so serious if one had real confidence in the agricultural policy of the Government; but only last night in the county of Flint, Mr. Merchant, the Welsh Secretary for the 60 National Farmers' Union, made a speech in which he said that farming had not yet reached the red light of stop altogether, but was at present running in the face of an amber light. That, from a Farmers' Union official, is fairly strong language. In Wales, it is, I am sure, true to say that among the large number of small farmers there is peculiar anxiety about the lack of policy on the part of the present Government.
The small farmer—the family farmer—has very little in the way of financial reserves, and he is, I know, in a state of extreme anxiety at the present time as to what his future is to be. He is unable to look any distance ahead in planning the work of his farm, and it is really astonishing that a Conservative Government, which have always prided themselves on their concern for the countryside, should, as my right hon Friend the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, have been in office now for two years and still speak only of holding consultations and of considering the methods by which they propose to implement their agricultural policy.
There is one more point which I should like to raise on the Gracious Speech, and that is a most serious omission. When we turn to the proposals for social legislation to consolidate and extend the law on the safety, health and welfare of miners and quarrymen, we are glad to see those proposals are included, and also the proposals for providing certain benefits in connection with industrial diseases, and the question of restricting night working in the baking industry, which has been a matter of discussion for many years. All these are relatively minor matters, although extremely important for the people concerned, and we congratulate the Government at least on their good intentions, but I am sure that many hon. Members on this side of the House will share my astonishment that there is no mention in the Gracious Speech of implementing the Gower Committee's Report.
That affects a far wider number of working people in this country. It is something which has been under "active discussion," to use the official jargon, throughout the last 12 months, and one would have hoped that by now a sufficient measure of agreement had been reached to bring forward proposals. The Report 61 upon which legislation would be based came out in 1949. At that time, there were suggestions that there had been insufficient experience in peace-time of the working of the 1937 Factories Act and of the Young Persons (Employment) Act, 1938, for legislation to be practicable.
As time goes on, that argument becomes weaker and weaker. I suggest that the time has already come when the Government should pay attention to the repeated requests of the trade unions on this subject, and to the resolution passed last year and again this year, most emphatically, at the Trades Union Congress, asking that legislation should be introduced forthwith, which would protect those who are outside the provisions of the Factories Acts and who, in certain respects, are unprotected because the Shop Acts and various other Acts do not cover the field adequately.
The general public is under the impression that the Gowers Committee reported only on workers in offices, but while it is certainly right that the health and welfare of office workers should be safeguared, I would remind the House that we are also concerned with a very large number of other workers. For instance, there are the agricultural workers of this country who do not come within the provisions of the Factory Acts in any way and yet suffer quite considerable hazards in their jobs with the increasing mechanisation of agriculture.
I would refer briefly to the speech made this year at the Trades Union Congress by the spokesman of the National Union of Agricultural Workers, who pointed out that from an analysis of 2,000 accidents in which their members had been involved over a period of only seven months, it appeared that no fewer than 668 were accidents involving farm machinery. It is not legally required that farm machinery should be guarded in the way that factory machinery is guarded, and that seems to me an obvious defect in the law which ought to be remedied as soon as practicable. We recently had an Act protecting agricultural workers who were using poisonous substances, and that was because of some tragically dramatic deaths, but, after all, when hundreds of men are being maimed every year in working agricultural machinery, it is a matter of urgency that this defect should be remedied.
62 There are also a very large number of workers on the railways who are not covered by the Factory Acts. During the War, one of my jobs, as an officer of the Ministry of Labour was to undertake the kind of inspection referred to by the right hon. Member for Epsom in respect of directions for women who might be required to work on or about the railways, and in the course of that work I had an insight which was unusual for a lay person into the conditions under which railwaymen had to work. I was absolutely dumbfounded to find that they were not protected in their working conditions except through what they could themselves obtain as a result of negotiation with the employers. I was astonished to discover that they did not come under the provisions of the Factory Acts or of equivalent legislation. Although, no doubt, since the advent of British Railways conditions have improved here and there, nevertheless I cannot believe that they are yet at all satisfactory.
I found that sanitary arrangements were completely non-existent in many cases and that even where they existed they were far below the standard which would be expected in any other industrial employment of which I know. The conditions affecting feeding and canteen arrangements have, I believe, been somewhat improved, partly owing to the pressure imposed during the war by the officers of the Ministry of Labour. If I may say so, the standards on which we insisted for the women were incidentally for the benefit of the men.
Nevertheless, the safeguarding of general conditions for comfort and health, and I also believe safety, not only in the railway stations but in the locomotive running sheds, for example, and for people working in isolated spots, such as signalmen, platelayers and gangers, is the responsibility of this House. I have no doubt that the unions concerned have done a very great deal to improve conditions, but I have every reason to think they would welcome assistance from the House in supporting them in their work.
There are other smaller groups of people also concerned in the Gowers Report—for instance, those who work in the entertainments industry. Some of the conditions in the theatres of this country are very bad indeed. It is true that the licensing authorities might do more than 63 they are doing at the moment, but nevertheless we have a responsibility to very large numbers of workers who are not adequately protected at present.
In this connection I would also mention juvenile workers. The Gowers Committee reported that about 35 per cent. of the juvenile workers of this country are not protected by the Factory Acts, the Shop Acts, or the Young Persons Employment Act. Clearly we have a duty towards these young people. In view of the fact that the Report was published as long ago as March, 1949, and that discussions between the Government and the employers and the unions concerned have been going on for a long period, I cannot believe that the Government could not have indicated in the Gracious Speech that they proposed legislation on the subject.
The Government may say that they have not time, but what were they doing all last year? There was plenty of time, which we wasted on the Steel Bill and the Transport Bill last year, during which some of the legislation mentioned in the Gracious Speech could have been carried out. The decks would then have been clear for us to implement the recommendations of the Gowers Report which affect such a considerable number of workers in this country.
May I briefly refer to a subject which has been mentioned several times today—the tour of Her Majesty the Queen in the Commonwealth. Nobody has yet mentioned that not only is she going to the older countries in the Commonwealth, Australia and New Zealand, but she is also visiting Uganda. I am extremely pleased that it should have been recognised that Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh should not only show their concern for our own kith and kin in the Southern Dominions—as is very proper—but should also visit one of the most hopeful of the territories in Africa. I very much hope that the stimulus which her visit will no doubt give to progress in that country will be substantial.
I do not propose to comment at any length on the most complacent sentence,My Ministers will continue to work for the progress and well-being of the peoples of My Colonial territories and protectoratesexcept merely to remind the House that there is a good deal to be desired in the 64 work of Her Majesty's Government in this field. The state of Nyasaland is extremely disquieting at present, and in Central Africa as a whole many of the things which were feared by those of us on this side of the House who opposed Federation have already begun to happen far quicker even than we expected. I hope we shall have further opportunities during the Session to discuss these matters, although unfortunately we shall be unable to undo what has already been done.
I hope we shall be able to carry out the useful Measures in the Government's programme, but I have indicated in my speech, particularly in my references to Wales and the Gowers Committee Report, that there are still some very serious omissions from the Gracious Speech.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Sir Harold Roper (Cornwall, North)
I hope the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) will forgive me if I do not deal in detail with the points which she raised. She made a number of good points and put them in a very interesting way. There is one point which she made at the end of her speech, concerning the Colonial Empire, on which I must comment and where I cannot accept her point of view. I refer to the comments which I suspect referred to Central Africa. As there is an election pending in that part of the world at the present time, we ought to bear that in mind when we read the news reports from day to day.
There was a point raised by the right hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman). I regret that he has just left his place. He dealt with subjects relating to Cornwall, which is my part of the world, and with much of what he said I find myself in substantial agreement. There was one particular point on which I should like to comment, and this was the reference to the proposed site for a television station in the West Country. He explained that there is a proposal to erect a station on North Hessary Tor, and that that station, according to the B.B.C. reports, will cover most of Cornwall.
Objection to it has been raised on aesthetic grounds and the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne appears to favour an alternative site on Horner
65 Down. I was surprised to hear that from him, because his division, like my own, would suffer seriously by the selection of that site. From Horner Down neither his constituency nor mine would get anything like a good reception.
The hon. Member referred to a B.B.C. report that a second station for Cornwall was in any case contemplated. I think he is referring to the Beveridge Report on broadcasting. I have not had the opportunity of refreshing my memory on it, but to the best of my recollection that Report proposes quite clearly that there will be a station in the Plymouth area and only when that station is in operation will a further station be considered. Therefore, I maintain that the proposal for a station on Horner Down will deprive his constituency of a reasonable service for a great many years.
§ Mr. Hayman
Might I refer the hon. Member to a report issued a few months ago by the Television Advisory Council, and in it he will find a reference map on which there is a point somewhere in West Cornwall where the B.B.C. propose eventually to build a station?
§ Sir H. Roper
I may have misunderstood the position in that particular respect, but I would suggest that the hon. Member takes great care before he presses the alternative proposal which he has in mind.
There are one or two other points with which I wish to deal. They are matters with a comparatively limited appeal, but of importance in their own setting. I notice that the Gracious Speech contains a proposal to reorganise electricity supplies in Scotland. I am disappointed that there is no mention of electricity supplies for rural England. We have had one or two interesting debates on this subject during the past year in which great sympathy has been expressed with the principle of electricity in rural areas, and I would have welcomed some reference to that matter in the Gracious Speech. I hope its absence in no way indicates that the Government will not continue to pursue it with great activity.
Another matter not mentioned in the Gracious Speech is the remedying of pollution of the sea by oil, which is doing great damage to the bird and fish life of our country, and in my constituency to 66 the holiday industry. An excellent report was published recently by a committee which studied the matter, and it is disappointing that it has not been followed up by some indication that there will be early legislation on the subject. I recognise that the measures proposed to be taken to deal with the nuisance are by no means final, and in no way present a complete picture. For instance, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport announced the other day that he proposed to call an international conference to deal with certain aspects of this matter. We are extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for going so far, and certainly until that conference sits we can have no final and complete answer.
Another point upon which views have not as yet been stabilised is the provision of facilities in the various ports for collecting oil residues when they are accumudated in the oil-burning or oil-carrying steamers. That is a matter which can be dealt with at a later stage, but in any case the fact that other matters may have to be considered further is no reason for holding up the entire scheme completely.
§ Mr. Hayman
Perhaps the hon. Member might like to know, if he is not aware of it already—possibly he is—that facilities are provided at Falmouth for the reception of this oil.
§ Sir H. Roper
I was aware of that, but the report deals with the matter in considerable fullness. One of the difficulties with which we are faced is that at a great many ports there are no facilities, and it is a question whether those facilities should be provided by the ports, by the ship repairers or, in the case of the oil companies, by the oil companies themselves. I understand that discussions on this subject are continuing.
These are points which have not yet been settled, but in this report are recommendations of a very definite nature which in my view justify early legislation. If we could proceed with this legislation it would indicate to other countries which are affected that we mean business and that we are tackling the subject with some sense of urgency.
For instance, the report recommends that there should be wide zones, stretching far into the Atlantic, into which no ship under British registration should be 67 allowed to pour its oil residue. Then we had reports in the Press recently that the Society of Oceanography is proposing to drop thousands of plastic message forms into the ocean and in due course they will float ashore. Anyone who collects one of these and sends it to headquarters will receive half-a-crown. That is a very nice idea, which will collect a great deal of information, but these messages will take months to reach these shores. Think also of all the oil that might float in with them during those months.
In any case, this matter of oil zones is not accepted as a final solution. It is recognised merely as a palliative; it is referred to as an interim solution to be applied immediately while the nations are considering it. Therefore, it would be quite wrong to hold up legislation until all these outstanding points are decided.
Another point deals with definite proposals for small coastal tankers which do not ordinarily go far out into the ocean to discharge their oil. Then there is also an important recommendation that all new dry cargo ships should be required to install oil separators during construction and that existing ones should have them fitted after a certain date. There are also recommendations in regard to the amendment of the Oil in Navigable Waters Act, 1922, one of which is that the penalty for a breach of the regulations should be increased above the ridiculously low level of £100.
A second recommendation is that records should be kept in a ship's log of the discharge of oil, so that there will be a record of the exact moment at which it was discharged. That is no new point, because it was first recommended in a League of Nations document as far back as 1935, 18 years ago. As that has been accepted internationally, there cannot be much exception taken to legislation on that point.
Hitherto the excuse has been made by successive Governments that we must do nothing to hamper British shipping in the competitive conditions of world trade. That was a good reason as far as it went, but this report was published by a committee which had amongst its members a strong representation of the shipping interests of this country. Those interests have co-operated excellently in carrying out voluntarily the principles recommended in the report, so that action 68 can no longer be held up on the ground of safeguarding the shipping interests, since they are all in favour of action being taken. I am disappointed that there has been no indication of this in the Gracious Speech, and I hope that its omission does not indicate that early legislation will not be put in hand.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Mr. William Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
The longer a Member sits here, the more he has to answer some of the things with which he disagrees. At least I have one compensation, that the right hon. Gentleman who is responsible for housing is here. I have not had time to read through the White Paper issued today in order to see precisely what the Minister intends. However, in hurrying through it, I came upon a paragraph which suggested that the Report of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has been used as a basis for the percentage which will be allowed for repairs to property.
I am not competent to deal fully with this subject, but I can add a little to what has been said. I do not think there has been sufficient criticism of the intentions of the Government. This question of rent restriction goes back to 1915, and I can assure the Minister that in the majority of cases where properties received a 40 per cent. increase of rent for repairs in 1918 or 1919, little or no attempt was made to use that additional rent for the purpose for which it was collected.
This affects approximately 8 million houses, and I warn the Minister that, unless there are proper safeguards inserted into this legislation, neither he nor this Government will get the thanks of the electors. In any case, this problem has been created by the neglect of property over many years, and it has been such that nearly every tenant will resent paying a halfpenny more to the landlord, because he believes that he has already paid too much for the property which the landlord has neglected.
Judging from the speeches I have heard, the Gracious Speech does not contain anything like as much as it should do. Obviously, it could not include everything, but there are one or two matters in which I am especially interested that have been omitted. There is included the question of National 69 Service, about which we know the Government must do something in this Parliamentary Session. They must either renew the Act, as is apparently the intention, or they must extend it. The Gracious Speech suggests to me that it is the intention of the Government to continue two years' National Service. I agree with other hon. Members that this period is not justified, taking into consideration the lesser period in operation on the Continent. That alone, apart from anything else, makes serious consideration of a reduction desirable.
I am more concerned with this matter from the aspect of the unfair way in which National Service operates. Only approximately half of the young men who have reached the age of 18 are called upon to serve. For instance, exemptions are given in the case of mining, merchant shipping, agriculture for limited periods, apprentices, those in the professions, and college students. I have always felt that there is justification for resentment on the part of a boy who, because his parents cannot provide him with a profession or a craft, or cannot persuade him to go into the mines, is called upon for National Service.
I am not a pacifist and though I was not very happy to have to agree with National Service, I did so because the national circumstances and the international situation made National Service necessary. I know that we cannot do away with that service until the national situation is changed. I am not criticising National Service from a pacifist point of view but because of the inequity that exists in its application. I remember that when the Act was passed and present Members of the Government were sitting on this side of the House, the present Financial Secretary to the Treasury persisted in trying to make it the law that a person who was going on to an educational establishment should have the right to be exempted.
I insist that every young man of 18, whether he is intended for a profession or a craft, should be liable to National Service just as are other boys who are not protected, largely because of the poverty of their family or because their fathers, generally speaking, are ordinary working men. If those who go on to educational establishments are to be exempted, they should be compelled to 70 do some form of Territorial service or something of that kind. It is not right that they should escape National Service altogether. I hope that the time will come when we shall be informed how many of those who are exempted escape service altogether. I believe that the number is considerable.
I should like to tell a little story which illustrates my point vividly. Two of my sister's boys had done National Service. One could have got out of it because he is a very studious boy and could have gone to college, but, like many others, he wanted to join his pals and he went into the Army. An extraordinary thing is that one of the brothers who was a joiner was placed in the Royal Army Pay Corps and the other, the studious fellow, who would have been better occupied in the Pay Corps, was put in another regiment and went to Hong Kong, where he spent about 12 months.
When I asked one of the boys how he had liked it, he said he had got what he wanted, he had had the experience and had enjoyed it, though it was a little risky. He added, "I have been trained and so has my brother and thousands like us. If there is an emergency I shall be with the others in the front line. What about the chaps who have been exempted? They still will have to be trained, so they twice escape National Service responsibilities if an emergency occurs."
I hope that when the new Bill to deal with National Service comes before the House, that kind of thing will receive the attention that it merits. I hope that what I have said will be remembered by those who are responsible. I shall certainly ventilate the matter again on that occasion, if the opportunity arises.
The Government have also expressed their intentions with regard to the fishing industry. It was time that they did. Indeed there could not have been a more opportune time than the present to have some new regulations enacted. We have seen the consumer exploited, but when we recall what has been happening in the past few years it is apparent that the interests of the consumer do not seem to have worried the present Government.
I was impressed by the very fine maiden speech of the hon. Member for Edgbaston (Miss Pitt) who seconded the Motion for an Address. I felt, however, that there 71 was one point on which she did not complete her remarks. She spoke about how much progress had been made since she was a girl. That is not as much, of course, as has been made since I was a boy, because I am considerably older than the hon. Lady. She spoke about that progress with great pride, as we all do; but she did not mention, as some of us could have done, that that progress can be measured by the development and progress of the Labour and Socialist movement in this country. There was no Labour Party in this House when I was a boy. Our progress can be measured since the coming of that party. The tragedy of it is that in the last two years that progress has been arrested, and things are going back. Because they are going back food prices have gone up, as everybody knows.
Even the Ministry of Labour's index figures indicate that position very clearly. Those figures do not tell the full story, however, because the Government's explanation of the percentage increase is covered by the fact that the only real item of the weighted index that has been changed has been food prices. The prices of drink, tobacco, rents and other things have remained constant. So when there is talk about a percentage increase, the increase in food prices does not appear so bad as it actually is, because it is spread over the other items.
There is no mention of this increase in the Gracious Speech, but the fact remains that, because of this increase, many people are now not able to buy many of the things that were previously rationed and have now ceased to be rationed. The only rationing nowadays is rationing by the purse. The Gracious Speech does not mention old-age pensioners, who number about 5 million, receiving contributory or non-contributory pensions. As they are not mentioned in the Gracious Speech, it is obviously not the Government's intention to do anything about their conditions.
All that the old-age pensioners and those who are interested in them can hope for is that by the time of the Budget the Government may have second thoughts, if they have any thought at all for these people, and that some arrangement will be made to meet the increased cost of living. These old-age pensioners do not buy television sets, fur coats and so on. They are more concerned with food, 72 clothing and footwear. They have to wait until the Budget. If then the Government consent to some increase, it will be about October next before legislation can be introduced to give such an increase.
One matter which rather disturbes me is that Bills are to be introduced to amend the constitution of the National Gallery and the Tate Gallery. Is that matter as important as that of the old-age pensioners and other questions I have mentioned? It seems a clear indication of the callousness of this Government. When the Prime Minister indicated clearly that there was no intention of having a General Election, I think he showed that at long last he recognises that if he went to the country he would get the defeat which he deserves.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
With regard to the remarks of the hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan) I would only comment on his party attitude to so many of these questions. I thought the virtue of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston (Miss Pitt), in seconding the Motion for an Address, was that she attributed no particular merit to either party in the State, but pointed out that these improvements which have occurred through so many generations have been the work of people of differing political outlook.
§ Mr. Gower
Indeed, were one to take a party view one could debate forcibly that many of these things owed their origin to men of the type of Shaftesbury and Disraeli, among the spiritual founders of the party on this side of the House.
I think the virtue of the very great speech of the Prime Minister was that it outspanned our political differences. It was indeed the speech of someone who, when history is written, will be seen to be of such dimensions that beside him all of us, on both sides of the House, are mere pygmies. That speech signified that the outlook of the Prime Minister is limited neither in space nor in time. The only tragic note I could discover in it was that he was not a man 20 years younger.
I am glad that the Gracious Speech stresses the relaxation of international 73 tension and the preservation of peace as prime objectives of the policy of the Government. It is a good and proper thing that all of us, on both sides of the House, should continually stress those facts. It is a dangerous thing for one section or one party on one side of the House to assume that they are the only friends of peace. It is a dangerous thing, perhaps, for some of us on this side of the House to think that we can get on better with America. It is the duty of us all on both sides of the House to seek the highest measure of agreement with America and with the Soviet Union.
There is strong reason for believing that support for the Prime Minister's constant initiative for peace is not confined to one side of the House. I think it a good thing that those who rule the destinies of Russia should not imagine that this country is divided into those who are seeking peace and those who are seeking some other objects. It is better that they should know that the large majority of us, of all parties, have that ultimate object of peace.
In considering the Loyal Address today, we can recall the different conditions and the different atmosphere from those which prevailed when we discussed and debated the Loyal Address two years ago. At that time—I do not wish to make a political point particularly—it was a fact that we were in the shadow of the continuing conflict in Korea. At that time—although sometimes one is doubtful when one listens to debates today—we did have a very serious economic crisis. Today the fighting in Korea has ceased and today that crisis—again for various reasons, and I do not think all those reasons are political party reasons—has largely ceased. It is a good thing, therefore, that we can consider these proposals in the light of those changed circumstances.
I do not think any of us derived as much pleasure from the ending of hostilities in Korea as we did from the ending of hostilities in the last great war, for the simple reason that, in the minds of most people, there is still anxiety whether the ending of hostilities will lead to that permanent peace we all desire. But the truce is a positive gain on the credit side of the balance sheet, just as the passing of the worst of the economic crisis of two years ago is a positive gain on our economic balance sheet.
74 The hon. Member for Kirkdale referred to the mention in the Gracious Speech of the possible continuance of the present National Service scheme for a further period. I should like the Minister responsible in this case to consider whether or not the changed circumstances, some of which have been referred to—the slight easing of world tension, to which the Prime Minister referred—although they may not warrant a suspension or removal of the National Service Act, may at least warrant a more generous consideration of applications for compassionate leave.
For example, in my constituency of Barry in South Wales there is a case which strikes me as the sort of case which might be given different consideration in these changed circumstances. It is the case of two brothers one of whom is doing his National Service and the other of whom is in partnership with him in a small bakery business and is now to be called up for Reserve training which follows during the years after National Service. All that either of the brothers desires is that they should not be away from the business at the same time. It does seem that the War Office could sympathetically consider either an application that the brother who is to do his Reserve training should have it deferred until his brother returns from National Service, or alternatively, that the brother on National Service should have compassionate leave whilst his brother is doing his fortnight's Reserve training. That is the sort of case I had in mind when I said that the changed international circumstances might warrant some more generous consideration of compassionate cases.
The Gracious Speech refers to the stability of employment. I am sure that all of us, on both sides of the House must be pleased that largely this has been maintained. I do not think any party—except possibly the Communist Party—have any sort of vested interest in unemployment. We on this side of the House have a vested interest in full employment because unemployment, industrial unhappiness, uneasiness and discontent nearly always lead people politically to the Left. So that merely from the point of view of political expediency it behoves us to seek always the highest 75 possible standard of living and employment for the people of this country. I think that we in Wales particularly are pleased that our worst fears—I believe that is the feeling on both sides of the House; I notice the right hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) here—about the opening of more modern works in the steel industry has not led to that really serious unemployment of which many of us had been afraid.
Then the Gracious Speech deals with the problem of overseas payments. The problem is not so much one of further legislation; it does not, perhaps, require legislation but rather the improved efficiency of all our industry, whether it be State-owned or privately-owned. I well recall, as many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen may recall, how last week, in the last Session of Parliament, the hon. Member for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo) made great play of the fact that Ministers of this Government seemed to be praising State-owned industries.
I think that is an indication that Ministers of the present Government are seeking the industrial prosperity and efficiency of industry, whether State-owned or privately-owned. That should be the approach of everyone on both sides of the House. In making that allegation or comment, the hon. Member for Reading, South overlooked the fact that it possibly exposed some of his own hon. and right hon. Friends to criticism in that all too seldom one hears praise from the opposite side of the House for any single industry in private ownership.
§ Mr. J. Slater (Sedgefield)
Would not the hon. Member agree that in his speech he is seeking to back the horse both ways?
§ Mr. Gower
Yes, I make that very point, that we should try to back both horses—the industries which remain in private ownership and those which have been transferred to and, as the Prime Minister indicated, have been maintained in State ownership. On both sides of the House we should desire the highest possible efficiency in both. That is the approach of those Ministers who have in recent weeks praised those industries which have been entrusted to their custody. Not only that: by praising those industries they can instil in the 76 minds of those heads of the boards responsible more directly for those industries a confidence that State-owned industries have the good wishes and support of a Conservative Administration.
Then the Gracious Speech deals with the problem of the repair of the older properties which have been so sadly deteriorating. The hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) seemed to regard this as a dubious Measure because she suspected that the Prime Minister was prepared to face the possible unpopularity of the Measure. I do not feel that unpopular Measures are always bad ones. Governments which strive to avoid unpopular Measures are thereby sacrificing something of their true spirit and are really not doing their duty. On balance, I feel there is a strong probability that an unpopular Measure is the proper Measure and that a popular Measure is really an easy way out.
I am convinced that it is a brave and courageous thing for a Government, sustained still by a very modest majority, to tackle this very real problem, for no easy popularity can be achieved from it, as hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, because the benefits of this Measure may take some time to be perceived. In two organs of the Press we have had the penalties of this Measure broadcast throughout the country. Yesterday, the "Daily Herald" painted a very grim picture of the effect of the Measure, about which it knew nothing. Today the "Daily Worker" repeated the same prognostications about the proposed Bill.
There is another aspect of the problem which arises from one's own observation. I hope that the Minister of Housing and Local Government will find it possible to devise some means not only of producing the houses but of making possible the ownership of those houses by private individuals. Recently in my constituency I called at a council house which I had every reason to believe was still owned by the local council. I noted that it was well cared for; it had a pleasant appearance and the hedge was nicely trimmed. I am not saying that the others were not, but this one was particularly so. I happened to see one of the people there and learned with some surprise that he had recently completed the purchase of the house from the local 77 council. He told me that not only had he done so, but seven neighbours in the seven adjoining houses had also done so.
I regret that in many cases local councils in the country have refused to give this right to their tenants. In some cases they have said that not enough tenants have applied. I believe that if only one applied he should be given this right. If he wished to buy the house on terms which would protect the council in respect of the money invested in it, I should have thought it an obvious gain to the council and the community that he should be given that opportunity. I was impressed in this instance that the council, which covers a large area in my constituency, had given this right, which was apparently being exercised in a large number of cases.
I also discovered something else which may be of interest when we deal with the problem of these older houses. I found in the same area of my constituency that a number of houses had been pleasantly repaired and reconstructed, that bathrooms had been added and the accommodation improved by voluntary agreement between the tenants and the owners. In one case the owner had also managed to obtain an improvement grant, which, to do them credit, was made possible, I believe, by the party opposite.
This voluntary agreement has been accomplished by the tenants going to live for a time with relations. When they returned their houses were really things of beauty. They had been reconstructed—this was in a small village at the northern end of my constituency—in such a way as to be not only as good as the neighbouring houses but probably more attractive than they had ever been before. That is an example of what has been achieved—before the introduction of any Bill—by voluntary agreement between the parties concerned, with the approval of the local authorities. That may be some indication of how the benefits of a Measure of this kind can be very great, not only for the community but for the occupiers.
I wish in one way to stress the next item referred to—leasehold reform—which, as is often mentioned, is a peculiar problem in the Principality of Wales. Unlike the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman), I apprehend this to be a very difficult matter, 78 and capable of no easy solution. It would obviously be easy to give some right of enfranchisement to a person who bought the leasehold of a house at a very cheap price a few years ago, and thereby enable him to make a large capital profit.
§ Mr. David Grenfell (Gower)
Can the hon. Member tell us who bought such a house in the way he describes?
§ Mr. Gower
Any house the lease of which had six years to run would be cheap two or three years ago. Anyone buying such a house would buy it cheaply, the cheapness in price being due to the shortness of the lease, and the purchaser would probably benefit immediately from any absolute right of enfranchisement.
§ Mr. Gower
I could produce a dozen cases in Cardiff, in which I have been concerned in the legal work, but I should embarrass the owners of those houses if I mentioned their names, and it would be manifestly unjust for me to quote the names of clients. Anyone can buy a house cheaply if the lease is extremely short. There is nothing very remarkable about that. I am sure it is common knowledge to most hon. Members. The point I wish to make to the Minister is that this problem has a peculiar incidence in Wales, and I hope that some special consideration may be given to the problem of leasehold property in certain parts of Wales, particularly in the South. The social consequences of this problem are greater there than in other parts of the British Isles, because there are some areas where leasehold house property is quite an unusual thing.
I am glad that reference is made in the Gracious Speech to the benefits in certain cases of disablement through industrial disease, which is another indication of the determination of Ministers to supplement, where possible, the excellent provisions of the basic Acts passed by the previous Government. We are discovering certain anomalies in those Acts, as indeed anomalies are discovered in all Acts, and it is right and proper that successive Governments should iron out such anomalies where that is possible.
The last thing I wish to mention is largely a constituency problem, but it is 79 also the problem of the whole coast of South Wales. There is widespread concern about the future of those ports whose coal exports have declined seriously. I can sympathise with the problem of the National Coal Board, and I understand it. They have no exportable surplus of coal. Moreover, more coal is being consumed now through the new industries which have sprung up in the Principality, particularly in the South. The problem is difficult, and the National Coal Board, while aware of it, cannot do anything to provide an easy solution.
But I submit to Ministers in general, particularly the Minister in charge of Welsh Affairs, and ultimately the Cabinet, that those ports are a strategic asset. The time may well come when their facilities will be required again, for the purposes either of war or of peace. It may be that their coal exporting facilities will be required again, and it appears to me that there are special reasons for preserving those facilities as well as the facilities of other ports in the country of which advantage has been taken by this country in the past.
On balance, and without being foolishly optimistic, I think one may say that we have made progress economically since that rather sombre day about two years ago when many of us assembled here for the first time. I think we have made decided progress in the job of housing our people. Now we are, quite correctly, tackling some of those other matters which had to be neglected while the basic economic needs of this country were being attended to. I think that hon. Members must have been impressed by the statement of the Prime Minister that the matter of housing should not be controversial, and that if right hon. and hon. Members opposite had any plans to advance they would be considered sympathetically. If we can tackle this problem and other matters in that spirit, much may be achieved, and the ship of State, which has had a somewhat rough passage in the year since the war, may be steered in the direction of general security and prosperity.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Mr. William Blyton (Houghton-le-Spring)
I hope that the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) will forgive me if I do not follow the line he has taken 80 I can assure him that we disagree fundamentally with the new proposals for dealing with the housing of our people as embodied in the White Paper.
I wish to compliment the Government on their intention to bring forward a new mines Bill in this Session. For years we have pressed for this legislation. Mining today is being conducted under the provisions of the 1911 Act, and there must have been thousands of regulations since the passing of that Act, because the whole method of mining has changed. We are trying to work the new methods under the old and antiquated Act of 1911, plus thousands of regulations. I can assure the Minister that when that Bill is introduced it will be our endeavour, those of us who have worked in the pits, to turn it into as good an Act as we possibly can.
There exists today in the mining industry a problem regarding the wages of the lower-paid workers. An application for an increase has been turned down by the National Coal Board. In the light of the increased prices of food foreshadowed for next year, and increased rents, there is no gainsaying the fact that an increase in wages will have to be considered by employers throughout the country. Next week a meeting is to take place between the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers and the question will arise of the price which the steel industry is paying to the National Coal Board for the coke and coal it receives from pits being worked uneconomically due to that price.
In North-West Durham some of the pits produce the finest coke and coal in this country, upon which the steel industry in the main depends, and the loss is at the rate of £1 a ton. There has been a consistent loss in Durham amounting to 2s. a ton over the past few years. Notwithstanding everything done by the National Union of Mineworkers and the National Coal Board this loss exists. In County Durham it is greatest in the pits producing the hard coke and coal upon which the steel industry is so dependent. Over £60 million profit was made last year by the steel industry and much of this must have resulted because of the uneconomic price paid to the National Coal Board for this specialised coal.
The fact of this loss is being used to demonstrate to the miners that it is 81 impossible for the lower-paid workers to obtain an increase in their wages. It would seem that losses by the National Coal Board are permitted to allow profits to be made in the steel industry, and I must ask the Minister whether it is the policy of the Government to depress the resources of nationalised industries in order to increase the profitability of private industry. I put this direct question to the Minister: Will he be forthcoming and tell us what price the steel industry is paying for this valuable coke and coal so essential to it?
Last week the Minister said that 600,000 tons of coal are to be imported into this country. We would like to know what price is being paid for that coal and what price we are to get for it here? We know there is to be a loss, and we would like to know what it is.
It should be known in this House that all this is involved in the wages issue between the miners and the National Coal Board. This industry has shown a loss because of imported coal—a loss of £8,500,000 on the importing of American and other coal since nationalisation. It cannot be expected that wage claims can be ignored to allow other industries to get special coal at uneconomic prices.
If this coal were exported, there would be a huge increase in the revenue of the National Coal Board. I agree that it would be silly and stupid for us to export our best coal for the manufacture of steel and to starve our own industry. On the other hand, it cannot be expected that the miners will stand aside and watch coal being sold at a loss to the steel industry for that industry to make £60 million in profits, while the National Coal Board produce a depressed balance sheet which is used to deny an increase for the lower-paid men.
I ask the Minister to tell us what price the steel industry pays for the hard coke and coal which is resulting in such huge losses at these valuable pits in North-West Durham. The National Union of Mineworkers regard this as a big issue, and an answer must be given at their meeting next week. I ask the Minister tonight, in the interests of peace in the industry, to be forthcoming and to give the answers as the National Union of Mineworkers regard this as a big issue.
§ Mr. Kenneth Thompson (Liverpool, Walton)
I am happy to have the opportunity to support the Loyal Address, and I should like to endorse what has been said about the tour which Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are shortly to undertake in the Southern Dominions and elsewhere in the Colonies. We know of the terrific strain imposed upon the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh by the multitude of duties they undertake in this country, and we know that the novelty of having them with them in New Zealand and Australia will lead the inhabitants to make great demands upon them. It is the sincere hope of everyone that their Royal Highnesses will be provided with adequate opportunity for rest and recreation so that the tour may be enjoyable to them as well to those whom they meet abroad.
There is much in the Gracious Speech that will engage the attention of this House in very long sittings during this Session. We have reason to hope that much of it will be of a non-controversial nature which will secure the broad agreement of both sides. One feature about the Session is certain, and that is that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government will be very busy. I apologise to him in advance for referring to two items which directly concern him and which are not referred to in the Gracious Speech. It is to some extent a pity that it has not been found possible to include references to them in the Gracious Speech with the promise of the necessary legislation.
The first of the items is the hoary old subject of local government boundaries, functions and finance. The second is the problem, which my right hon. Friend has faced in recent months, of the Exchequer equalisation grant. A great deal of thought and consideration has already been given by all the interested parties to the question of the reform and revision of local government. Those who have considered the problems know that universal agreement among the affected parties is almost certainly not possible, because there are wide differences of interests and those interests in different places conflict. I am not one of those who believe that local government is in danger of dying. I believe local government to be a strong virile plant with very strong roots. We in this House draw all our strength from 83 the kind of democracy that has functioned from local self-rule in this country for 1,200 years. Local government is not dying, but certainly it is in need of occasional examination by this House and by Her Majesty's Ministers.
Great changes are continually taking place in local government. Great changes, radical changes, have taken place during the last seven or eight years. We have seen the transfer of many of the old functions of local government from the town hall to offices in Whitehall and in nationalised industries, and we have seen the addition of some new functions to local authorities. We have seen the process of the natural growth of local authority areas, and the great spread of the populations from the central city areas, from the boroughs and the urban groupings, out into the rural areas, thus creating what are in effect new boundaries to local government without carrying with them the necessary authority and responsibility.
At the same time as these processes have been going on, we have witnessed the taking away of many of the powers and responsibilities of local government and the handing of them over to centralised bodies—the centralisation of power and authority. It is my belief, as I think it is the belief of all who practise democracy, that authority and responsibility should lie as near as possible to the point at which the effects of that authority are felt. We can suffer, as we have suffered in recent years, from too much supervision from the central authority in Whitehall and, indeed, from this House, and too little direct and effective responsibility in the local authority areas.
I suspect that many good men may be discouraged from taking part in local government because they fear that the responsibility and authority they exercise is only the shadow while the real thing is somewhere in the background. I believe that to some extent my right hon. Friend could help to relieve the problem by tackling the system by which percentage grants are paid to local authorities according to the different services they discharge, thereby, of course, exercising rigid financial control over the operations of the local authorities.
84 I want to say a few words about the fact that there is only a mention in the Gracious Speech about the Exchequer equalisation grant paid to local authorities in Scotland. I am delighted that the problem of Scottish local authorities is being tackled. I am sure that there is no English Member who is not happy when the Scottish Members are happy, but I fail to see why, while we are revelling in the joys of Scotland, we should abstain from commenting on the fact that our own satisfaction is somewhat restrained.
Liverpool, the city one of whose constituencies I represent, is one which has suffered for a very long time from the unfairness, injustice and inequity of the present system of distributing the Exchequer equalisation grant. So far as Liverpool is concerned it is not an equalisation grant at all; so far as Liverpool is concerned it is not a grant at all. Of all the cities which merit an Exchequer equalisation grant in considerable proportions, Liverpool, I should think, is the foremost. But instead of Liverpool, with its vast, intricate and age-old problems, being assisted and relieved, that city does without, while Birmingham—prosperous, industrious, successful Birmingham—draws a very generous share of the money available to my right hon. Friend. I trust that, although the item is not mentioned in the Gracious Speech, our hopes need not be for ever shelved.
Most hon. Members who have spoken already have referred to the rents problem. Of all the difficult problems which remained for this party when my right hon. Friend formed his Administration, I suppose none was so difficult and so seemingly intractable as that of what to do about tenant-occupied rent restricted property. I have not had time to consider the detailed proposals in the White Paper, although I have read it through quickly.
I believe that those who first argued for the Government to tackle the problem—they were mainly the people whose experience was best and whose knowledge of the problem was greatest, those who owned the properties and were responsible for maintaining and repairing them—made a common mistake in overstating their case. For instance, I was never convinced that 200,000 houses a year were falling down because of lack 85 of funds to maintain them. If that had been the case, there would not have been an hon. Member who did not walk around the streets of his constituency in great fear and alarm lest the house by which he was standing dropped upon his head. Nor did I believe the harrowing stories about all the landlords in the country walking about in rags.
But I do believe that there are large numbers of houses in the country which are year by year falling into disuse because they do not produce a rent income sufficient to enable them to be maintained in wind- and weather-proof condition. I believe there are property owners, such as those referred to by the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White), the owners of small groups of houses, who simply cannot afford to spend on the property anything like enough to keep the houses fit for human habitation. I am not sure that I would go as far as the hon. Lady does in deciding that, because the situation is a difficult one, one should not attempt to provide for one's wife and children by investing in a few houses.
It is true that the houses which are landlord-owned, tenant-occupied and rent restricted are in many cases falling into a very bad condition and are in danger of falling into disuse because they do not produce enough rent. Many of those houses have come to the end of their useful life, and the sooner we do away with them the better. They are mainly the slum areas in big towns and cities. I understand from the Gracious Speech that we intend that they shall be wiped away as soon as possible and that we intend to resume, after the passing of necessary legislation, where we left off when the war began in doing away with the slum areas of our cities. I hope local authorities will be provided with generous financial aid to help them to get on with the job.
I wish to address a word or two to the local authorities, of one of which I am a member and greatly admire its work in most respects. When the opportunity comes to tackle the problem of the central areas of our cities and towns by removing the slums, whatever they do, they ought not to hand the problem over to the planners and give them carte blanche to redesign the central areas on long-range, imaginative and unrealistic terms. Let us have a plan for the use of the lands 86 on which the slums have stood which will enable houses and flats to be built there as quickly as possible so that the people who need it can quickly enjoy the benefits of decent accommodation. The planners ought not to be allowed to plan away the possibility of the good in the search for the perfect.
There are low-rented houses which are not slums; they have a life of 20, 30 or 40 years in front of them, but their rents are probably insufficient to enable the landlords to keep them in decent condition. Those houses as they are now are worth no more rent than the tenants are paying for them. The owners of such houses should be encouraged, and if necessary prodded, to modernise them, providing the people who are to live in them with such amenities as hot and cold running water, baths and flush lavatories. I am certain that the tenants will gladly pay a higher rent to live in houses with such new conditions. I very much hope that these proposals will be put into effect by early legislation.
The remainder of the problem of the tenanted houses is one of great complexity. Some houses are already producing enough rent and the tenants are paying enough rent. Some are not producing enough but the tenants are paying as much as the houses are worth. There is a great variety of circumstances. I agree with hon. Members who have already spoken that the case for an increase in rents in those varying circumstances must be related to the case for the expenditure of a greater amount of money on repairs and maintenance. If my right hon. Friend has been able to devise a formula which will secure that, I am certain that he will carry with him not only hon. Members but the greater part of our people.
There will be some who will be hurt and will have to pay a higher rent for the accommodation which they will occupy. Their accommodation will be better and there will be better maintenance, and most of them will be happy to do it. However, there are some to whom any further increase in costs will be a burden. These include certain sections of the old-age pensioners, and I very much hope that their case will occupy the thoughts of my right hon. Friends before the Session is through-Many of these old people are already 87 heavily borne down by the cost of food and clothing and other necessities of life. Some are enduring considerable hardship and some are facing real want.
I congratulate the leaders of the old age pensioners movement upon the work that they have done in gathering together in one organisation a very large number of the old age pensioners, and I congratulate them upon the sincerity with which they have gone about their task, but I suggest that they have made a great mistake in seeking to secure in the present difficult conditions of our country a very large all-round increase in the old age retirement pension. I support the case for relieving the need of old age pensioners who are facing real want, and I believe that it ought to be possible to devise a system whereby the National Assistance Board could more easily and more generously meet such cases.
A great deal of progress has been made by the Government in tackling the problems which faced it two years ago. I very much hope that the proceedings in the House during the Session will be carried on in a spirit of harmony, hon. Members recognising that, whatever we decide, the people most affected are the ordinary run of people in the country whose political affiliations are a secondary consideration to their need for a sense of security and well-being.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. J. D. Murray (Durham, North-West)
I am glad to notice that the Gracious Speech contains the following passage:My Ministers will continue to encourage the agricultural industry to increase food production and improve the quality and efficiency of home output.The area I represent is fairly well urbanised but also contains a very large rural district. I have travelled round it, and I have also had the opportunity of visiting a rural area in Scotland. I have not had the privilege of being in Wales, but, at least, I am fully alive to the fact that a rural area, wherever it is, is a rural area, and, in these visits, I have found that very much labour was being expended that need not have been expended if the farmers in the rural areas had the opportunity which they should have to make use of supplies of electricity.
88 I have been looking out some figures, and this is what I find. In this country, three farms out of every five are still waiting to be supplied with electricity. That is a terrible margin with which to be faced at the present time, and it is not good enough for a large industry like the agricultural industry, from which we now expect the biggest savings of dollar imports and the provision of most of our food. We are asking the farmers to provide these things every year, but, at the present time, I think the farmers, in spite of what is said about them—and I know perfectly well that some of the-things that are said are true and probably deserved—will want a good deal more than is contained in the Gracious Speech. They will want re-established the faith they had in a Conservative Government, because that has slipped away entirely from the farmers with whom I have talked.
I make this appeal to the Leader of the House, who I am glad to see in his place, in the hope that he will at least put before us in this Session something more than at present appears in the Gracious Speech, because he will certainly have to do that before he can satisfy the farmers on this matter. No bigger contribution could be made to the cutting down of food costs—and that is the burden of our cry today—than to provide electricity, with all that it would mean, for the rural areas. It will give cleaner and more efficient farming, while it will bring into the homes of the villagers some of the amenities enjoyed by those in the towns.
I have read this week that substantial savings could be made with the introduction of electricity on the farms. It is recorded that a one-eighth horse-power electric motor, using one unit of electric power, will do the equivalent amount of work to that performed by a farm worker turning a handle for 90 hours, and will allow that farm worker to go on with some other job. What farmer, if he had the opportunity, would continue with that 90 hours of manual work for the sake of less than 1d.? On an average farm of 75 acres, the full use of electric power costing £60 saves more than 1,000 man-hours, or £150 a year.
If these figures are correct, then the Government have the whole solution in their own hands, because I do not believe 89 that the area electricity boards can provide everything that is wanted in the rural areas. I do not think they have the resources, and that is why I am appealing to the Government. It is for the Government to give some assistance to the area boards to bring about the revolution which is so necessary in the agricultural areas of this country.
Actual figures quoted from farms where electrical apparatus is in use show that the machine milking of cows, which costs £29 a year by means of a petrol engine, has been reduced to £8, and the cost of water pumping has gone down from £27 a year to £11 after electricity has been installed. These are very startling figures which cannot be ignored. It is also a fact that by the use of infra-red lamps and electrically warmed foster mothers, it has been possible to save thousands upon thousands of young pigs. I know that it is perfectly true that, unless there was the heat readily available, many of these young pigs have died, and that is a great loss to the country. Further, when we realise the amount of work which can be done by electricity on a farm—grinding corn, root pulping, steam raising for sterilisation, refrigeration, chaff cutting and a host of other things—and we also realise that all this can be done more cheaply than by other methods, then we see the great advantages which electricity would bring in producing more food and also saving a great deal of money.
Two weeks ago, I was on a farm in Scotland where the farmer was out all day working in his fields while his wife was working all day as a teacher in the local school. When she came home at night, she had to carry a number of lamps around the house in order that the place could be lighted. That does not give very much encouragement to a woman to go out to work all day. Again, if she wanted to do a little washing, she has no electric washing machine, or even an electric iron, nor any of the modern amenities of the average housewife in the towns. Instead, she must do her washing by the most laborious method, just as I helped to do the washing when I was a boy, with a posser and a wash-tub.
I am pleading on behalf of these people, because I know what it means to have electricity in the home and on the farms. I know the saving that it means in labour costs alone, but there is also the other 90 side, and the most important side, which concerns food production, which is bound to be improved, because electric power enables the man and woman to have time to get on with other work. Too long have the wives of farmers been struggling along without these modern amenities, before the area electricity boards took over—from 1920 to 1948—and I do not think the Labour Government had much say in the running of this country during those 28 years—the average number of farms connected up to the electricity per year was 2,927. That seems a large number, but, since 1948, the figure has been more than trebled, until 9,517 have been electrified per year.
It needs no words of mine to explain why more of these people have electricity, but much more could be accomplished if the capital were available. I know of one farm where the farmer could not afford the money which he had to pay for electricity. He could have used that money to greater advantage for food, clothing or stocking the farm, but he had to pay £100 to get the electricity—because he could not do without it. There are many farmers who have not £100 or anything like it to pay for the installation of electricity. They have to do without it, and the country loses as a result. The resources of many rural areas are not sufficient to meet this cost. It should be made a national responsibility. If the Government desire to cheapen food there is at least one way: if we increase the quantity of food produced, then we shall naturally reduce the cost.
I was delighted to hear hon. Gentlemen opposite mention the position of the old age pensioners. I have had letters from all over my division from pensions organisations about the fixed income on which these poor people have to try to live. On Sunday I visited a home and talked to two grand old people, each nearly 80 years of age, who were very happy and very content—happy because they had good health and a decent home in which to live which had been provided for them and for which they had to pay no rent. They were delighted with it. What worried them was that the money they received in pensions was not enough to make ends meet. This is what they are spending: £1 5s. a week for groceries, 8s. 4d. for coal for two weeks, 3s. a week for electric light, 3s. 2d. for clubs and insurance, 7s. 6d. to the butcher, 3s. to 91 the greengrocer, 4s. for tobacco and other essentials—and their money has gone. There is nothing left to pay for them to go to the pictures, and surely old people are entitled to a night at the pictures. There is a cheap rate of admission for them at the pictures but they cannot take advantage of it. They have no money for the pictures, no money for drink, no pocket money of any description—nothing left.
I listened to this Government, when they were in opposition, pleading time and time again for the old men and women, for the people who are down and out; but yet in the Gracious Speech they say not a word about the old people. They are never mentioned. I hope something will be said from both sides of the House to ensure that these people are considered and more money given to them. Last week I put down a Question asking what 5s. a week on the basic pension would cost, and the figure was £14 million. Could this country spend £14 million or £28 million in a better cause than for the old people, the veterans of industry? I doubt it.
These people are not living; they are simply existing. If the Government have determined—and from what I can read it seems that they have so determined—to make a last effort to abolish the food subsidies, then the cost of living for these old people will be higher than ever. It will be interesting to know—and soon we shall know—whether the Government have decided to abolish the subsidies altogether. If they have, then I ask whether anybody on the benches opposite dares to stand up and tell us what will be the weekly increased cost for a family of four. How much will butter cost? I have always been led to understand that if an article is scarce, whatever it is, and the demand is great, then up goes the price. I heard the Prime Minister say today that the Government were prepared to let things rip. That is what he meant. They were going to leave the whole country to the law of supply and demand.
If there is one thing a woman likes it is butter for her breakfast. The man can have anything else—in many instances he can have the bacon, and the boys and girls can have the bacon, but the woman wants the butter. If butter is to be 5s. or 6s. a lb. in this country, then not only will 92 the old people do without it but so will the men who go down the mines and the children who go to school. In my day it was not a question of butter; it was margarine every time. That is where we are going if the Government intend to withdraw subsidies from all these foodstuffs, butter included. It will not be an increase of only 2d. a lb. It will be rationing by the purse. The people with the money will be able to get it and those who have not the money will have to do without it and to buy something cheaper.
It is no use the Government satisfying themselves that the shops are full of goods if the pantries of the majority of the people are empty. I have read of a woman with £7 or £8 a week coming in and yet hardly able to make ends meet. I know that is true, for sometimes I do some shopping and I know what I get when I put a sovereign down. I can carry in my hands the goods I can buy with a sovereign. The index may show 1 per cent. this way or 1 per cent. the other way, but I do not believe the index means anything to ordinary men and women. It is what they get for their £ when they spend it at the shop that matters.
I therefore ask the Government to think again on this question of the old age pensioners and to see whether something can be done for them, because it is simply impossible for them to live on their scanty allowance. Very many of them are so independent—that beautiful independence which we admire. These are the people we should always be seeking to help. I say to the Government, "Do not let it be recorded that some of these people had passed on before the Government did anything to give the old age pensioners the assistance they so richly deserve."
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. W. G. Bennett (Glasgow, Woodside)
We are told in the Gracious Speech that Her Majesty's Government will continue to encourage the building of houses and schools, and will also stimulate a vigorous resumption of slum clearance. That is particularly welcome news to Scotland. While the Government have done extraordinarily well in the building of houses and schools—and this year they are creating an all-time record—the only solution of our problem in Scotland, 93 and in Glasgow in particular, is the rebuilding of the slum areas. Unless the centre of our city is rebuilt, our problem will continue to get worse.
Up to the moment, we have built four new towns the size of Perth on the perimeter of Glasgow, and that has created chaos within the city. Every time we build another 5,000 houses, we require 100 or 200 buses to take the people from one side of the city to the other. It seems extraordinary that, when rehoused, people are nearly always shifted from the north to the south and vice versa. For that reason, they are continually travelling across the city.
If the city were rebuilt that would not happen, because then we should pull down a certain part and when that was rebuilt we would rehouse the people in the immediate vicinity. That would mean that they would be near their work, and we should have no transport problem. From every angle it would be beneficial. We are very happy to know that the Government propose to make the rebuilding of the city area a priority. It is going to cost money, but at the end of the day it will save quite a lot of money.
I come now to the proposal to increase the rents of houses that require renovation. While we are all agreed that that is absolutely necessary—the money must be found if these houses are to remain standing—I am not entirely happy about the means of finding this money. We are told that out of 1,473,000 houses in Scotland at the moment, 60 per cent. are over 50 years old and 40 per cent. over 70 years old. If that is so, I consider that, having borne the burden for so many years, these old houses ought now to be receiving a little assistance.
We hear quite a lot about the old age pensioners and about people who have finished work at the age of 65 or 70. It is said on their behalf that at that time of life they require some assistance. In the same way, I think that for a house that was built 70 or more years ago there should not be contributed the same amount per £ as for one built 10, 20 or 30 years ago. We have 610,000 such houses in Scotland.
I estimate that of the 230,000 privately-owned houses in Glasgow, the majority are over 50 years old. That means that these houses are actually subsidising the 94 low rents of the 90,000 houses owned by the Corporation, and which have been built within recent years. I suggest that in the case of a house which was built before 1880—and there are 610,000 of them—the tax contributed by the owner should be reduced from 100 per cent. to 50 per cent., and, in the case of the 320,000 houses which are 50 years old, that the owner's contribution should be reduced to 30 to 40 per cent. That might solve part of the problem.
Why do the Government demand 20 per cent. of the rental of these old properties? We know that if after five years more money has been spent on maintenance than that provided for in the Government allowance, it can be reclaimed from the property tax; but five years have to elapse, in which time the property may sometimes go out of use altogether. In some cases the money may have been paid, and it may be difficult to get it back from the Government for a year or two. I suggest that the Government should consider reducing the tax paid on property of this age.
§ Mr. Bennett
If that were done, it might not be necessary to increase rents by the sum suggested. While it may not sound very much to say that it represents £6 on £15 and £8 on £20, it might represent a week's wages. A £10 increase on a £25 rental might well represent a little more than a week's wages. For that reason, I feel that the Government ought to consider some contribution from the national Exchequer and from the local exchequer.
It seems most unfair that old, almost derelict, property should be asked to contribute 20s. in the £ towards local rates in the same way as first-class up-to-date property. The tenants of the new properties are getting all the amenities. Surely, the people who have to live in semi-slums ought to have some consideration. It will be very difficult to convince anyone living in even comparatively good property that they should contribute towards the upkeep of new houses in the city, and that they should be asked to pay an increased rental for the rehabilitation of the homes they occupy.
95 I know that it is impossible for the rents of any property to cover the overheads. It is no good talking about the past. What matters is what is happening at the moment. The return from a property must cover its cost of maintenance and the other expenses involved. Even if a person is presented with a house free of cost, he wants to know whether he will have to put his hand in his pocket year after year. It is unfair for the Government to expect a revenue from a property which is not showing a profit and for the local authorities to demand their rates on such a property. That is a matter which requires consideration, and I hope that the Government will give that aspect of it their full considertaion.
As I said at the beginning, I am delighted that the Government are going to deal with the question of slum clearance and the rebuilding of our city. It is a problem the solution of which is long overdue, and one which has been aggravated by the housing shortage. We in Glasgow will welcome any plans which will lead to an increased and better housing supply for the people. We have 90,000 people on the waiting list, but if we build 7,000 a year for the next 13 years I am afraid the waiting list will then be in the region of 50,000. That is our problem. We must act quickly and by all means in our power. We have to get ahead with the job in hand.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Mrs. Alice Cullen (Glasgow, Gorbals)
Mention is made in the Gracious Speech that:My Ministers will continue to encourage the building of houses and schools. They will also stimulate a vigorous resumption of slum clearance. Legislation will be introduced to facilitate the repair and improvement of existing houses both by local authorities and private owners.I regret very much that no mention is made of the single houses now being sold in tenement properties, which is having a great effect throughout Scotland but especially in Glasgow, and more especially in the ward which I represent.
When we talk of the sale of houses, some of my colleagues who do not understand the type of houses in Scotland say, "Why do you object to the sale of houses? We should all like to own our own houses." I agree heartily, but 96 the type of houses being sold in the City of Glasgow just now are single houses within a tenement. That means that there are perhaps nine tenants in the property, and as soon as one house is vacated it is no longer for letting but for sale.
Not so many weeks ago I drew the attention of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland to this state of things. Some of the houses that are now being sold in the Gorbals division are in property that, had we had houses for the people ten years ago, would have been demolished as unfit for human habitation. Six weeks ago one of those single houses was sold for £60 and the tenant told me she had been living in the place only five weeks when she got a bill for £6 10s. for repairs, not one of which related to the abode in which she lived.
It has been said that we have 90,000 applicants for houses on the waiting list in Glasgow, but we have also between 15,000 and 16,000 houses empty. Some of them have been empty for over two years. They have "For Sale" boards up; they are all for sale and some of them have been awaiting sale for as long as two years. That is a very serious position, and the Members for Glasgow, the Joint Under-Secretary of State included, know that protest meetings are being held every day of the week in regard to it. This ramp is causing much concern throughout the city, and if some action is not taken the day is not far distant when a house for letting will be something unheard of. This has a very serious effect on the lower-paid worker, because no man with £6, £6 10s. or £7 a week can afford to buy a house.
One hon. Member spoke of council houses being sold. I do not mind council houses being sold if the people who occupy them can afford to buy them, but I do object to slum houses which are not worth 5s. being sold. Some of them ought to have been condemned 20 years ago; Sir Alexander Macgregor, the Medical Officer of Health for the City of Glasgow, would have condemned them. I want the Joint Under-Secretary of State to try to realise what this means to poor people in Glasgow who are living six or seven to a room with their in-laws or parents.
97 Some hon. Members have talked today about the increase in tuberculosis; they cannot expect anything else in Glasgow but an increase in tuberculosis if conditions such as these exist within our city. Something must be done; something has got to be done. Not very many weeks ago I had the sorry experience of going into a house where there were a man, a woman, and their four children. The man was lying in a bed in the middle of the floor, suffering from tuberculosis, and four young children, none of them of school age, were in that house. I was four weeks trying to get that man into hospital until, in pure despair, I 'phoned the Medical Officer and said, "Take him to Forest Hall—to the Poor House—anywhere away from these children. We have to do something for them." The ambulance came half an hour later, but the man was dead.
These are the conditions in Glasgow, but, as has been mentioned tonight by my hon. friend the Member for Flint. East (Mrs. White), and as we all know, when the property owners got the 40 per cent. increase to repair these houses it was not done. They had all sorts of excuses—materials were scarce, and so on. It was a question of only minor repairs in those days, but they were not done, although the owners had the money to do them. Then they became major repairs and became too expensive to do. The owners had made up their minds not to do repairs. What did they do with the money from that 40 per cent. increase? I have no sympathy with the property owners of the City of Glasgow, for they have done nothing for the people of Glasgow. Now they want to get rid of the bug-ridden, rat-infested houses, and some people are going to moneylenders so as to be able to buy a slum house to get a roof over their heads, knowing perfectly well that they have 10 per cent. to pay for repairs, whether those are in the room they occupy or not.
To those who do not understand and who say that we are against people owning their own houses, I say that is not so; I do not object to anyone owning his own house, but I do object to property owners, after getting everything they can from their properties, trying to sell them. I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will give the matter very serious 98 consideration and do something in the future; otherwise I am afraid something serious will happen in Glasgow.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
As a Cornish Member, I do not think I can follow the hon. Lady the Member for Gorbals (Mrs. Cullen) in any debate on the housing conditions of Glasgow. I have not been to Glasgow for many years and would not venture to make a comment on the interesting speech we have just heard.
Many of the most important issues arising out of the Gracious Speech cannot, as yet, be fully debated, because I do not think that any hon. Member who has spoken so far has had time fully to study the White Paper on housing, nor has any hon. Member seen the promised White Paper on agriculture. I think those are two of the most important points that will arise out of the Gracious Speech.
I want to refer to a sentence which is to be found towards the end of the Gracious Speech, in which it is said:My Ministers, are attentively examining the Road Traffic Acts, with a view to introducing further legislation to improve road safety and promote the orderly use of the roads.It could not be expected that the Gracious Speech should give any detailed indication of what form of legislation is contemplated, but presumably that sentence refers to some tightening up of the safety regulations, and perhaps to an increase in the penalties for dangerous driving and careless driving and things of that sort.
Certainly, the appalling number of road accidents, and particularly fatal road accidents, occurring on our roads merits some drastic action to reduce them, but I do hope hon. Members, and the public outside, will not expect that legislation of a repressive nature—merely increasing penalties—will be enough to deal with the appalling problem of road accidents. It will not be enough even if it is also coupled with something that is very necessary, namely the expenditure of a greater amount of money on the improvement of our roads. The mere improvement of roads, or repressive legislation, is not sufficient to prevent road accidents, if the density of traffic on the roads is too high. 99 That is a point which is very often overlooked in this country. Yet if we study statistics which have been published in America, that fact stands out very clearly.
The Travellers' Insurance Company of Connecticut recently published a detailed analysis of accident figures in the United States of America in 1952. In the total accidents referred to 37,600 people were killed and over two million people injured. Each accident was analysed, and the following figures were published: 96.4 per cent. of the fatal accidents and 98 per cent. of the non-fatal accidents happened in cars which were in good condition; 81.1 per cent. of the fatal accidents and 76.3 per cent. of the nonfatal accidents happened when the weather was clear; 75.6 per cent. of the fatal accidents and 67.4 per cent. of the non-fatal accidents happened when the road conditions were dry; 81.7 per cent. of the fatal accidents and 69.1 per cent. of the non-fatal accidents happened when the cars were travelling straight.
Those are most extraordinary percentages. It is common knowledge that in America there is a far greater mileage of wide modern roads, with many of the modern improvements which we are urged to adopt in this country, and yet 81.7 per cent. of the fatal accidents occurred in conditions when the cars were in good condition, in clear weather, with roads in good condition and when the cars were travelling straight. This means that the mere improvement of roads is not by itself sufficient to reduce the accident rate.
If we look at another figure I think we find the answer. The density of traffic on American roads is the highest in the world, except for one country, and that is Britain. The average density of traffic in Britain is 18.1 vehicles per mile of road. In America it is 17.1 vehicles per mile. In addition, our roads are much narrower than in America. Apparently what happens—and this is a matter which should be investigated—is that on the wider and faster American roads if there is a mishap a lot of other cars pile into the accident from behind.
If this is so, what we ought to aim at is reducing the density of traffic on the roads. Mere repressive measures and penalties for bad driving would not do 100 that, nor would the widening and improvement of roads, unless we could improve them to such a vast extent that we could overtake the increase in the number of cars which are being put on the roads. If the problem is, as I suspect, how to reduce the density of traffic on the roads, other measures in addition to those contemplated in the Gracious Speech should be sought. A lot could be done administratively by means of legislation already passed.
We have proposed by means of the Transport Act to do something about decentralising the administration of the railways and to remove certain restrictions on their charges. We have denationalised a certain section of road haulage. If any of those measures will lead to a cheapening of public services or the provision of more convenient services, that will automatically reduce the density of traffic on the roads, because the density at the present time is caused largely by the private motorist and the C licence holder.
In other words, the problem is not one of rationing public transport, or of competition between road and rail; the public are not using either. The public are using their own private cars or lorries in which to carry themselves and their goods. The reason is that they find it more convenient or cheaper to do so. The only way to persuade them to use public transport instead of travelling to work in their private cars, one man per car, or on their holidays, thereby causing tremendous congestion on the roads, is to provide them with a cheaper or more convenient public transport service.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
Will the hon. Gentleman consider the possibility of prohibiting all private cars, some of them very large, taking one person to the Bank or other places in the City, since such persons could easily get on the Underground at, say, Marble Arch and go to work that way, thus preventing a lot of congestion in the heart of London?
§ Mr. Wilson
It would be rather difficult to plan the matter in that way. I would not advocate it. The reason people use private cars is that they find it more convenient or cheaper to do so. The only way to get over the difficulty is to provide an alternative service which is cheaper or more convenient than the private car.
101 I suggest that in conjunction with the legislation envisaged in the Gracious Speech, there should be other measures designed to reduce the density of traffic by encouraging cheaper or more convenient services both by road and rail. There might be a certain amount of additional capital provided for making improvements on the railways, or more competition among the road services to encourage a reduction in fares as has already happened in some parts of the country where there is much competition. Anything of that nature which would tend to reduce the density of the traffic would make a great contribution towards safety on the roads, and I suggest that it should be an ancillary measure to the legislation already contemplated in the Gracious Speech.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
I am sorry the Prime Minister has left the Chamber because the suggestion of a Commonwealth court, which I shall make, is one which I think would appeal to his experienced mind. Previous speakers in this debate have acted very properly on the tradition that the debate on the Gracious Speech is an opportunity to take spacious views of our problems—national Commonwealth, colonial and international. I want to make a submission which affects all four.
In Her Gracious Speech on the Prorogation of Parliament last Thursday, Her Majesty spoke of efforts to promote unity and prosperity in Europe. I suggest that the Commonwealth is nearer our hearts and deserves special mention in the Gracious Speech. This House will, I am sure, regret that neither that Speech nor the Gracious Speech today indicated adequate efforts in any particular way to promote peace in the Colonies by solving the social and economic problems which are the causes of their discontent, or indeed to promote greater unity and prosperity in the actual and potential members, including the Colonies, of the Commonwealth of Nations.
These are topics of urgency which should have been stressed and elaborated, but were not. The bloodshed in Kenya, the discontent with Central African Federation, the troubles in Nigeria and the suspension of the Constitution in British Guiana are put off with a few vague words in the Gracious Speech. As 102 the "Observer" wisely remarked last Sunday:It would be a great pity if, now that Kenya has an opportunity—surely its last chance—to build an enduring multi-racial society, it again failed. The price of such failure would be high. It would mean the end of White Settlement in Kenya, and perhaps even of British influence over a large part of Africa.Those are not my observations, although I approve of them; they are the observations of one of the leading and most thoughtful British pewspapers. I would add that such failure would prejudice and perhaps defeat British influence all over the Commonwealth and Colonial Empire, comprising diverse races, creeds and colours. They stretch over continents and oceans from Malaya in the Far East, through substantial portions of Africa, to the Indies and British Guiana in the far West. It should be remembered that they are either actual or potential Dominions, closely interrelated and co-ordinated by the rule of law.
The particular point to which I wish to draw attention tonight is the tragedy that they have no Commonwealth court. Such a Commonwealth court would be a magnificent and solidifying force in our brotherhood of nations. The Commonwealth itself in its picturesqueness, diversity and potential strength, should be and must be inspired by the rule of law expounded at the highest level to ensure its complete solidarity and security.
Recent events emphasise the fact that the Colonies, if well administered in peace and contentment, grow into Dominions, the Dominions grow into sovereign states, but all must respect, and all must be given reason to respect, the rule of law. The unity and prosperity of our Commonwealth, as it is and as it will grow to be is therefore a world topic of great grandeur and power for good, worthy of mention with considerable particularity in the Gracious Speech. It is true that the Gracious Speech proroguing Parliament mentioned, in a sketchy way, two Commonwealth conferences and said, in its vague way:At their second Conference the Prime Ministers reviewed the international situation and considered what contribution Commonwealth Governments could make towards composing the differences which divide the world.103 What do these vague and ambiguous words mean?—just nothing. I shall suggest what contribution the Commonwealth can make to its own and to world peace. I say without hesitation that our greatest contribution towards composing those differences would be to enhance and strengthen the unity, prosperity and solidarity of the Commonwealth under the rule of law, about which the Gracious Speech is silent. My purpose in speaking today is to emphasise one particular way in which that can be enhanced for the peace and progress of the world.
It can be done by the present British Government inviting the great, free and sovereign nations which comprise the Commonwealth to consider setting up a Commonwealth court, wide in jurisdiction, representative in personnel, and as various in venue as the Commonwealth itself. It should include learned judges from all the Commonwealth nations, and it should sit, as required, in the capitals of the various sovereign nations which compose the Commonwealth.
There are five things to be said at once about this suggestion—this great and noble conception. First, it is not new; secondly, it comes before the Government not without notice; thirdly, it has already appeared on the Order Paper; fourthly, it has already appeared in the Press, and, fifthly, it is, indeed, a development of the former beneficent jurisdiction of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. It arises from the expansion of our growing Commonwealth of Nations.
The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council was based on a noble and useful idea. It was praised by the member nations of the Commonwealth, but it was eventually rejected by them for reasons which, in my submission, are now outmoded, as I shall show. Why was the jurisdiction of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council rejected by the sovereign nations? It was because their very natural patriotism, which was recognised by the Statute of Westminster, 1931, enabled them to shape theory to what had become facts. It was because enthusiasm for the theory of sovereignty dominated other considerations.
In those days the current view was expressed in a leading Canadian case which, in 1947, was affirmed by the 104 Judicial Committee of the Privy Council itself. That view, stated by Lord Jowitt, then Lord Chancellor, was that the prerogative right of the Sovereign to hear appeals from the Dominions:… was a restriction or fetter on the legislative power of the Dominion which could be removed and has been removed by an Act of the Imperial Parliament; and since it has been removed, it must be within the power of the Dominion Parliament to enact that the jurisdiction of its Supreme Court shall be ultimate. No other solution is consonant with the status of a self-governing Dominion.I supported this view in my book on the subject, in 1931. I agree that, in the events which have happened, the view expressed in the last sentence of that quotation should now be qualified.
Today, no jurist would agree that submission by agreement to an international court is inconsistent with sovereignty, except in a theoretical way. Today, no one suggests that submission to the Court of International Justice at The Hague is, except theoretically, a derogation from the sovereignty of the nations which subscribe to it. This doctrine which applies to nations in relation to The Hague Court applies equally to member nations of the Commonwealth of Nations in relation to a Commonwealth court.
The view is widely held today that a voluntary limitation of sovereignty may be accepted for purposes which accord with modern ideas of what is good for mankind. For instance, in last Saturday's "Times," Lord Layton, writing of the European Commission of Human Rights, said:In accepting the right of inquiry by the Commission and agreeing to abide by the majority decision of the Committee of Ministers, the contracting parties have voluntarily imposed upon themselves a limitation of their sovereignty.On that quotation I make one comment, which I think the house will regard as sound. It is that if European nations, foreigners to each other, can agree to limit their sovereignty for a good purpose, surely Commonwealth nations, brothers in one community, can agree to limit their sovereignty inter se for a good purpose.
Why?—because, since 1931, their sovereignty has become more assured; legal thought has developed; constitutional history has marched on; and experience has shaped theory once again to facts. Since then, the passage of time 105 in the Commonwealth has added to bare statutory enactments complete confidence in each nation's sovereignty, and so complete assurance of each nation's independence is now undoubted. Now no Commonwealth court could impair or derogate from that complete sovereignty; on the contrary, such a court would enrich the Commonwealth by the wisdom of many nations and cultures, by the diversity of experience, by the consensus of thought, by learning from, for instance, Indian law and Roman Dutch law, as well as from the British Common and Statute law.
That is why I put on the Order Paper on 20th October a Motion which, of course, I cannot move today but the terms of which I will quote for the purpose of this argument. They were as follows:That this House, impressed by the fact that there is not now in existence a Commonwealth Court with powers to hear and determine disputes between Members of the Commonwealth; appeals from the Supreme Courts of the Members of the Commonwealth; questions submitted by the Governments of Members of the Commonwealth; or questions submitted by the Supreme Courts of Members of the Commonwealth, recommends Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom to initiate conversations with the Governments of all the other Members of the Commonwealth for the purpose of agreeing upon and of instituting a Commonwealth Court with all or any of the said powers and further recommends Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom to report to this House from time to time the progress and results of such conversations.In the world as it is today, more than ever the rule of law is of paramount importance. Certainty as to what is the law should be world-wide and therefore, in my submission, exposition of that law at the highest level is essential. The unique elasticity, versatility and extent throughout the world of our Commonwealth of Nations makes it possible to found a Commonwealth court of widespread jurisdiction without any, except theoretical, derogation from the sovereignty of the founding nations. Such a court could be, and would be, a watchful guardian of human rights and an expositer of scientific law at the highest level within, and with the goodwill of, all the sovereign nations of the Commonwealth. The sovereign nations of the Commonwealth are all completely free to make treaties and to enact legislation 106 for this purpose if it seems to them useful so to do.
I hope they will do so for two reasons. The first is that they are the inheritors of Britain's great tradition of expanding freedom and democracy, which reached a high point in 1909 when South Africa was granted independence, and a higher still when, in 1946, India, Pakistan and Ceylon were granted theirs. My second reason is that many of them, like India, Pakistan and Ceylon, bring into the community their age-old philosophies, religious and secular, of profound wisdom and guidance.
It may be that the two other great empires of this world, America and Russia, are as rich, and perhaps richer, in material possessions than Britain. However, I believe firmly that our community of nations of diverse races, colours and creeds, holds the moral leadership of the world by its traditions, precepts and practice, by its spiritual steadfastness and by its intellectual integrity.
Let it, therefore, found and inaugurate a Commonwealth court based on those traditions, precepts and practices, on that steadfastness and integrity. Such a court could be the wisest single exponent of scientific lay and democratic freedom in the world. In this way, indeed, good sense would shape theory to facts for the enduring benefit of mankind. I submit that this is a grand, a noble, and a useful idea which should appeal to courageous minds. That is why I am sorry that the Prime Minister left before I had the opportunity of catching your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I hope that the Prime Minister will bring this noble conception to the notice of our brother and sister nations, and ask them to implement it for the solidarity of the Commonwealth, which is the greatest single influence in the world today for human rights and world peace.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Higgs (Bromsgrove)
I could not have wished to catch your eye at a moment when I could follow two more interesting speeches than those to which we have just listened—that of my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) and that of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes). Early 107 in his speech, the hon. and learned Gentleman enunciated five arguments in favour of his proposal that there should be a Commonwealth court. He omitted the sixth and most cogent argument, that she suggestion has been put to the House by so eminent and logical a lawyer as himself.
I find it difficult to resist the arguments put forward by the hon. and learned Gentleman and probably that is the real difficulty in his proposal. All the institutions which form part of the British way of life, or of the Commonwealth way of life, and which have flourished and succeeded the best, have been completely illogical in their origin. I believe that his proposal is so logical, it is so much of a planner's dream, that somehow, in some way, in practice it would fail to achieve the high purpose with which he put it forward.
But it was not to talk of constitutional law that I sought to catch your eye, Sir. I wanted to refer to two matters in the Gracious Speech, both of which have been causing me anxiety for some time past; and in the case of both, though I was glad to see that the Gracious Speech referred to them, I was a little disappointed at the terms in which they were mentioned.
It has been common knowledge for some time that the agricultural community of this country is anxious and worried about its future. Because I knew that, and because I come from a part of the country where there are many farmers, I took steps to reinforce myself, shortly before Parliament reassembled after the Recess, by taking, with my colleagues, the view of the farmers in my county and finding out exactly what it was that was worrying them.
In dealing with a matter of this kind it behoves us to remember where the farmers have come from and where it is that they are going in point of time. It is the outspoken policy of my right hon. Friends the Ministers in all Departments that we are moving into a freer economy. I suppose that of all the occupations one can follow which in the past have been subject to a restricted economy, that of the farmer, in the source of his raw material, in the administration to which he is subject and in the disposal of his 108 products, has been most surrounded by restrictions—restrictions which have many disadvantages which we on this side of the House are frequently setting forth.
But restrictions have one property which some people regard as advantageous. It is that if one is entirely surrounded by restrictions one cannot say one has uncertainty. I do not believe that that is a good reason for continuing restrictions. I believe that in general restrictions which give certainty and nothing else kill enterprise and initiative. But we have to recognise that of all the trades and occupations of this country which have to face the greater uncertainties of a freer economy, the farmers will notice the change most of all.
It is with that consideration in mind that I have met the farmers in Worcestershire, and I find that in most cases where the intentions of the Government for the future have already been made known they have no anxiety of any consequence. When one comes to analyse the complaints which the agricultural community have been making up to this time, they amount solely to this—"We do not know what is going to happen to us. It may be good or it may be bad, but we do not know what it is." There is uncertainty.
That links up with what was said earlier in the debate about the need for expenditure on all sorts of things, from electricity supplies down to implements, to provide a successful agricultural industry. But one cannot get people to expend unless they have certainty. Consequently, I believe that the essence of the complaint that farmers have been making hitherto, whether they realise it or not, is that the Government have taken a long time to announce their intentions.
I entirely agree. When I met the farmers I told them that I thought they had a legitimate complaint. They had, for example, put forward proposals in detail for marketing fat stock. They had amended those proposals and had made new proposals some three weeks ago, and I thought that they were perfectly right in telling the Government, "It is time that you told us what is in your mind." Hon. Members will understand, therefore, that when I heard and subsequently read the Gracious Speech, whilst I was glad that it mentioned agriculture, I was a 109 little apprehensive. The Gracious Speech stated:My Ministers are consulting farmers and the trades concerned about new methods of providing price guarantees and of marketing which will be required as rationing and allocation cease to be necessary.I confess to the House that when I wondered whether I should have the good luck to catch Mr. Speaker's eye this evening, the thought that was going through my mind was that I should be compelled to express grave anxiety and great disapproval of that indefinite expression in the Gracious Speech. It was with great relief, therefore, that I heard the Prime Minister tell us at the commencement of the debate that we are to have a White Paper which will meet that deficiency quickly this week. It is my belief that if that White Paper contains a sufficient definition to abolish the fear of uncertainty which upsets the agricultural world, we shall find a very different feeling in the countryside before many weeks have passed.
The other matter to which reference was made in the Gracious Speech in a way which caused me some concern was the subject of road safety. I suppose that it is early in this debate to complain, but so far nothing has been said to allay my anxiety on this subject. The Gracious Speech said:My Ministers are attentively examining the Road Traffic Acts with a view to introducing further legislation to improve road safety and promote the orderly use of the roads.I say quite frankly to my right hon. Friends that if they think they will reduce road accidents by a study of the Road Traffic Acts, they will be disappointed. For a long time, under different Governments, we have been trying to reduce road accidents. We have hedged about the driver of the mechanically-propelled vehicle of every kind with more restrictions and regulations as to what he may and may not do than we hedge about any other occupation which a man may pursue. The man who drives a public service vehicle or a lorry has to be a veritable expert lawyer before he can begin to know even the elements of the law which he is required under penalty to obey as he goes about his daily work. There are no other occupations so hedged about as those.
Some 18 months ago I said in this House that I thought it was time backbench 110 Members on both sides let it be known that they would not go on year after year supporting a succession of Budgets and statements of financial policy which provided for no greater expenditure on the improvement of roads. I think it is time that we said here and now, before we know what may be in the Road Traffic Act Amendment Bill which is to come before the House later in the Session, that it will be very difficult to persuade the motoring community to accept further stringent regulations willingly and in the sort of spirit which does not lead to motor accidents unless those restrictions are imposed as part of a general scheme to reduce road accidents, another part of which is a substantial increase in the amount of money spent on the roads.
It is all very well to say that the social services of this country are a necessary part of government in modern times, but I ask the House whether it is sense to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds a year on providing hospitals and hospital beds if we do not improve the roads to prevent accidents and to prevent people from filling those hospitals and beds with tragic casualty cases? Is it right to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on building schools when on the average every 15 minutes of the day and night, year in and year out, a child is injured and is not able to go to school the next day? Is it right to build large new housing estates with roads amongst the houses but to leave the approaches to those housing estates through narrow winding lanes? Is it right to develop factory estates on narrow roads where two lorries can scarcely pass? All these things are entirely out of proportion unless we spend a complementary amount of our resources and efforts upon improving the roads and preventing accidents.
I sincerely believe that we have to take very positive steps. I sincerely believe—this is a favourite hobby-horse of mine—that this question is not a party controversial matter, but is a subject which is increasingly engaging the attention of thinking people all over the country. Hitherto, until this year, I have noticed that the circulars one gets and the speeches one reads on this subject have come from those who have a special interest in roads and road transport—from associations which exist for the purpose 111 of putting a case for those interests, and which very properly put it.
But now bodies which do not exist for that purpose are beginning to make the argument. One hears of the Federation of British Industries, who have no special interest in roads and road transport, beginning to press this upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It may be that not for very much longer will the subject remain outside party politics; but at the moment I believe that the matter is sufficiently clear for those who take an independent view in these matters to exercise the power which they undoubtedly have to make it known in the way I have stated.
Firstly, we are not going to give our support for much longer to a lop-sided financial policy which does not include provision for the roads as part of the Welfare State, if one cares to put it that way. Secondly, the answer to road accidents is not to be found by trying to legislate a motorist into looking in the direction where danger lies, because we cannot pass an Act of Parliament requiring a man to be looking for a particular danger at a particular moment. The best way to get rid of the danger is by removing it, and our roads at the moment abound in lurking dangers which need expenditure of money for their removal—and removed they must be.
§ Mr. Higgs
The hon. Gentleman asks a very sensible question and one which could be answered at great length. I cannot quote to him at this moment any statistic on that subject. What I can tell him is that, if he will investigate a cross-section of cases in which accidents have taken place, he will find, as I have done, that they tend to happen in certain specific places.
Part of my professional life consists of prosecuting and defending motorists who have been guilty of some transgression of the law. I know quite well that in certain police divisions there are certain cross-roads where accidents are continually happening; there are others where 112 no accidents happen. There are even certain stretches of perfectly straight road where accidents happen. I see the hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons), who will know that on the Birmingham—Wolverhampton new road there is a stretch in respect of which the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle) raises cases of people being knocked down while crossing the road. When there is a succession of accidents in a length of about one mile of that road and the rest is comparatively free from accidents, that is the best proof that it is something to do with road conditions there which causes accidents. The answer there is that housing development has taken place on one side of the road and schools have been built on the other, and there are no subways and no bridges. That is a simple example of where a subway or bridge would provide the answer. The expenditure of what would have been not a large amount of money would have saved many accidents taking place.
I believe that the Minister of Transport is right when he says that the beginning of the matter must be to tackle the places where accidents happen—the danger spots. But to talk in terms of £1 million or £2 million or even £20 million compared with the other sort of sums which we vote for purposes which are no more worthy than this is not to make a serious beginning in dealing with this matter. I hope that, if not in this debate, at least some time in this Session we shall hear that the matter is to be tackled even more vigorously than hitherto.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Smith (Nottingham, South)
It takes all sorts to make a world. A debate like this, necessarily wide in scope, proves that it takes all sorts to make a House of Commons. I have sat all through this debate listening to one special plea after another. We have just had a sincere and eloquent special plea from the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs) on the subject of road safety. He wants a lot more money spent on roads. From both sides of the House we have had one special plea after another that the status of old age pensioners should be improved. From both sides of the House we have had one special plea after another for improved housing for people now illhoused.
113 I cannot tell the hon. Member for Bromsgrove that we ought not to have better roads. I cannot believe that we ought not to have improved old age pensions or that there ought not to be better housing But I can try to bring this House of Commons back to reality. If we are to have better roads, if old age pensioners are to be better off, if there is to be better housing, all these desirable things can come from only one source and in only one way, namely, there must be substantially increased output from the industry of the country as a whole. I take it that that proposition is axiomatic.
One thing I hate about being in politics—and I have been in politics for a long time—is that Members of Parliament are exposed to the pressure of one group after another concerned only with their own particular interest. No one ever writes to me putting up suggestions as to how the output of industry as a whole could be increased or how the country as a whole may be made stronger and more independent. No, they write to say, "We ought to have more wages," or, "Our benefits under the Welfare State ought to be higher," or "I ought to be able to charge more rent." This, that and the other pressure group are always at work; and I want to bring this House of Commons back to what I deem to be the cardinal weakness of the Gracious Speech, namely, that there is nothing whatever in it about increasing the output of our industry, nothing at all.
I take it to be axiomatic that the pre-cariousness of our whole economy is still such that we have just got to increase output very substantially over the next two or three decades. It has to be done and, curiously, although I have referred to roads and pensions and houses, the increase in our output over the next couple of decades, or most of it, will not accrue to the people of this country. There cannot be an all-round increase in the standard of living, no matter how much we may increase output, for at least 10 and may be 20 years. I shall hold my seat at the next General Election, but not by making loose and fantastic promises or taking part in any Dutch auction of benefits. I shall tell my supporters that some levelling-up there must be in the next 10 or 20 years, but no all-round increase in the standard of living. Surely that is as plain as a pikestaff to any one who has 114 eyes to see what is happening in the world.
In the conditions of this 20th Century, after American films, ever since I was a boy in 1900, have been going all round the world showing coloured men in backward countries that white people of the west are living better than they, surely it is evident that we cannot have peace or a worthwhile world until the standard of living all over the world is levelled up. If we are to play our part in the Colombo Plan or anything else, we have to increase exports, not for exchange for overseas goods, but to give away to backward peoples. There is nothing about increased output in the Gracious Speech.
We have had a most shocking admission today from the Prime Minister, one which made me shudder, and I am pretty hard boiled. I have not his exact words, but he said the Conservative Party stand firm on private enterprise and the law of supply and demand. It is a curious superstition of this country that there is something respectable about business. Yet what are the maxims of business? Any businessman true to himself must give as little as possible for as much as he can get in return. If not, he is no business man. "Buy cheap and sell dear"—"Get a monopoly if you can"—"The price of a thing is what it will fetch"—all these are the unethical maxims of business. The Tory Party nails the business flag to its mast. It might as well nail the skull and crossbones to its mast. That is about as sensible, and as likely to evoke a response from the many people of this country who cast their votes on ethical rather than on economic grounds.
It is singularly true also that this glorification of business, this canonisation of the business man, will give a smaller and not a bigger output. The hon. Member for Bromsgrove had to flounder very much in the early part of his speech when trying to tell us how he met the Worcestershire farmers on the Government's policy. Worcestershire farmers and farmers everywhere are naturally very worried. Farmers can have freedom or prosperity, but they cannot have both. I know. I married into small farming down in Wiltshire, and I know what my father-in-law did from the year I was born in 1890 down to the First World War. He brought up a large family on a starvation income. We can buy in the cheapest 115 market and sell in the dearest, we can have the law of supply and demand and worship at the altar of capitalism, but we cannot have prosperous agriculture in this country at the same time.
There is nothing in the Gracious Speech about what I should have thought was the vital necessity of getting trade unions interested in increased output. I will admit this about the people who send me to this House. I have many railwaymen who vote for me, and I listen to their talk in pubs and clubs or in their branch meetings. I often hear them talking about their own wages and conditions; I have never yet heard two railwaymen arguing whether it would be better to have diesel locomotives on the railways or to electrify the railways. There is a perfectly natural reluctance among the working class everywhere to take a particular interest in the technique of their jobs. The trade union is a business concern. It is concerned with the shortest possible hours for the highest possible wages. As such, the trade union is not interested in increased output. That is very serious. Unless we are to get the working class people interested in increased output, this country will go down, and that is all there is to it.
The Prime Minister told us that when he was at school he was no good at mathematics, and he referred to what he called the asymptotes of the hyperbolic curve. All that was very relevant to increased output. The Prime Minister is a great master of language, and he talks very learnedly, using long words and phrases; but any boy of 15 at the school where I was 50 years ago would know all about the asymptotes of the hyperbolic curve. They are simply two lines, vertical and horizontal, from which one measures two variables on which the shape of the curve depends. The Prime Minister knew that the curve went off into infinity. If he wants the output of industry to go off towards infinity, he has two variables—one, the extent of mechanisation of industry and, two, the enthusiasm of the people working in it. If he will only arrange for these two things, he will have a curve of output which will tend to go right up. I can tell him in a couple of minutes how to do it.
I wish that the Gracious Speech had contained phrases like this: "Proposals 116 will be laid before you to alter company law in such a way as to ensure that the undistributed profits of companies shall be legally the property not only of absentee owners, but also of the firms' employees and of the Treasury as representing the firms' customers." It is no good the Prime Minister putting his faith in capitalism. Capitalism is finished, for the very simple reason that the days are gone when new enterprise could be financed with individual savings. There are not any risk-takers any more. There are people in and out of the Stock Exchange paying stockbrokers good money for advice. Plenty of us on this side of the House do that, but that is not risk taking. That is on a par with those of my supporters who put pins into lists of football teams. The Stock Exchange has nothing whatever to offer us in the way of increased output.
Do let us alter company law in this way. If a firm has made so much profit that it can put undistributed profits to reserve, that is prima facie evidence either that the firm has underpaid its workers or that it has overcharged its customers—one or the other. As company law is now, the law deems undistributed profits to be the property of the absentee shareholders. But they are not important any more. They matter very little. Industry depends for new finance not upon risk-taking investors putting up their money. Why trouble so much about the absentee shareholders? It is characteristic of absentee shareholders that they are here today and gone tomorrow. They have textiles today, engineering the next day, and chemicals the day after. They do it through the Stock Exchange.
In order to gratify their propensity for speculation it is necessary to keep in existence all the elaborate, unproductive paraphernalia of the Stock Exchange, hordes of useless officials, stockbrokers, stockjobbers, their clerks and messengers, financial journalists, and all the rest, all doing unproductive jobs so that the absentee owners may be in and out of one industry or another in the hope of getting their share of the undistributed profits which, as time goes by, are used to finance plant extension and bring increased surpluses to firms.
A surplus arising from that sort of thing ought not to be deemed to be the 117 property of shareholders who are absentee owners. It should be divided equally among the shareholders who are absentee owners, Her Majesty's Treasury as representing the firm's customers, and also the firm's employees. Gradually in that way the employees of a firm would build up a shareholding in the firm to the extent that the firm had used undistributed profits for modernising and expanding the productive plant. To that extent the workmen would become increasingly interested not merely in increasing their wages, but in getting better plant and machinery and increased output, from which they would draw dividends.
References have been made from this side of the House to increased wages for this or that section. I can never arouse any enthusiasm about that. Increased wages go straight on to the cost of production and reflect themselves in increased prices, and so old age pensioners and everybody else trying to live on fixed incomes have to suffer. On this subject, the party to which I belong must modernise its ideas.
There is one other subject which should have been mentioned in the Gracious Speech—I should have thought it was of cardinal importance—and that is fuel conservation. We have not many assets in these islands. We have a very fertile soil if we do a lot of work on it—soil is not fertile if we do not do that; we have people who are characterised by many skills, have a friendly disposition and do not fight at barricades; and we also have coal, which is about the only natural raw material that we have on any scale, and it is a diminishing asset, for the most easily won coal deposits have long ago been taken out for the benefit of absentee owners, leaving only the deeper and thinner, and therefore more difficult, seams.
I cannot understand why anybody should propose—it is done from both sides of the House—that we should increase the output of coal in order to export more. One should not export dwindling sources of raw materials; one should conserve them very jealously. Coal represents only the brawn and sinew of the miner. Surely it will pay us better to export our skill and brains. A number of hon. Members share with me the privilege of being on the Select Committee on Estimates, and during the last 118 few months we have seen what skill and brains are producing for this country in the way of radar and electronics. Such things as that have a very high conversion value, and that is the sort of thing to export, not coal.
There ought to be a policy of fuel conservation. I know why I shall never gel promotion to Ministerial office; every now and then I find it necessary to tell my party that it has missed chances. We had a debate on fuel conservation a week or two ago. The Labour Party was so anxious to prove what everybody knew, that nationalisation has been a success in the case of coal, gas and electricity, that it found itself congratulating the Government on not having denationalised those industries. As if the Government could denationalise coal, which will never pay again! As if the Government could denationalise electricity!
We cannot have free enterprise and competition in electricity. We cannot have rival companies going down a street and tearing it up, each one saying "I will sell my current cheaper than the other one." No Tory Party could ever denationalise those things. During that debate the Labour Party ought to have hammered at the Minister of Fuel and Power for not having brought pressure to bear for the purpose of preventing smoke nuisance. The Minister of Fuel and Power made a valuable admission, which emerged from the Report of the Anglo-American Council on Productivity.
This question of fuel conservation is a political issue. I have heard no greater nonsense than some of the speeches made from the other side in which hon. Members were pretending that there is something in the nature of a Coalition and that there is no difference between the two parties. Fuel conservation is one of the biggest issues in our country today, and we have had the admission from the Minister and in the Report of the Anglo-American Council on Productivity that we shall never get most business men interested in this matter because, in the case of the ordinary average business man, fuel costs are a very small proportion of his total overheads. That being so, there is need for legislative compulsion, with inspectors to see that the law is enforced.
119 Twenty-two years ago, we had the Weir Committee recommending the electrification of the main-line railways, which would have put an end to an awful lot of smoke. When I left school, I had to be an engineering student. I hated it. I did not want to be an engineer; I wanted to be a journalist, which I eventually became. But in the workshops at Swindon I learned two things—first, my Socialist politics; and second, that the best steam locomotives, with all the advantages of compounding and superheating, waste 94 per cent. of the fuel, and they still do. They only use 6 per cent. of the heat value of the coal, and the rest goes up the chimney, fouling the air with smoke and covering the country with soot. It is time that we ended it, but it will not be ended by a Tory Government. They believe in business freedom, and they hate legislation to compel people to use coal properly.
Fortunately, my party does not always place itself in the wrong. It has its lucid moments and, at Margate, it put fuel conservation high up in its challenge to the Government. I hope that the next Labour Government will do what this Government apparently have no intention of doing safeguarding that very precious but diminishing asset—our coal.
I have pointed out that there is nothing in the Gracious Speech about increased output and nothing about coal conservation. The Gracious Speech is perpetrating a fraud upon the public, and the Tory Government have nailed to their mast that awful flag, the skull and crossbones of private enterprise and capitalism. I am against private enterprise and I am against capitalism, and I believe that the reason why the Labour Party went down at the last election was not because their programme was too Socialist, but because it was not Socialist enough.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Nicolson (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)
The hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Norman Smith) has made a very violent speech, but those of us who have worked with him on the Select Committee on Estimates know that he is not a violent man by any means, and we wonder how much of what he has just said he really believes 120 The hon. Member attacked the Gracious Speech for certain omissions. He did not attack it for what it contained, and indeed the impression which the course of the debate has given to me is that the Gracious Speech has received very general acceptance from the party opposite. I entirely agree with what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said earlier this afternoon—that the difference between our parties is lessening, that our aims are the same and our only differences are differences of method. The hon. Member for Nottingham, South waxed very fierce upon what are comparatively trivial differences of method. What he wants is the same ultimate result as I and every other hon. Member in this House.
My short intervention in the debate is on a subject on which the hon. Gentleman touched in his opening remarks. He said he wanted to see a gradual levelling-up on the standards of living of the backward peoples of the world. I entirely agree, and my plea this evening is that the Government should increase their contribution towards the agencies of the United Nations which are endeavouring very successfully to bring that about.
The Gracious Speech contains the words:My Government will continue to take their full part in all efforts by the United Nations to promote international co-operation.By international co-operation we do not mean only co-operation in a political or military sense. We mean co-operation in the war against hunger, disease, want and ignorance of all kinds. The United Nations have for many years set up Specialised Agencies, international in their staffs, world-wide in their scope, to deal with those very problems. We, as one member of that organisation, are asked to make a contribution towards their expenses, and our contribution to this organisation, the Technical Aid Programme which deals with these subjects, is in the neighbourhood of £500,000 a year. That is quite insufficient. The Technical Aid Programme is seriously short of funds. We are one of the Governments which pledged itself to an increase in the budget of those Specialised Agencies earlier in the year and we have failed to follow up the pressure we then 121 exercised by an increase in our own contribution.
Most of the speeches today have inevitably been long-terra in their scope, but my small contribution is short-term, because if nothing is done before 12th November—in less than a fortnight's time—to increase our contribution, it will be too late. That is the date of the pledging conference in New York at which all Governments come around the table to state how much they are prepared to give for the coming year. We have already heard from the Dutch Government that they are prepared almost to double their contribution for 1954. We have heard no more than rumours, but I think they are true, that Australia and Canada are prepared to do the same. The United States have kept their figure secret and so have most of the other Governments of the world, but a great many of those other Governments, particularly in the Commonwealth and in Western Europe, are looking to Great Britain for a lead.
After all, we have set on foot one of the greatest political experiments the world has ever known in developing our own Commonwealth. We are regarded as experts in the treatment of backward or under-developed countries, and if we set the lead in raising our own contribution from about £500,000 to just short of £1 million, then the other countries will follow suit and the increases in their contributions will bring the total to the figure required by these Agencies to do the job which we have asked them to do.
It is not a question of using this money to send food and implements to the backward nations of all continents. It is a question of sending experts—men who have enjoyed the advantages of Western or European training in agriculture, in health organisation, in education and so on, to nations which have not had those advantages. By sending those men, by paying them a salary as employees of the United Nations, and meeting their small expenses, a tremendous amount can be done, and already has been done. We have heard of experts doubling the output of a country's agriculture simply by the advice they are able to tender to those nations who have no means of knowing by what technical methods they can increase their output. Today we have examples of that help, which has been given 122 freely and has been much welcomed in the last few years, being withdrawn because there is not the money to continue to pay the experts' salaries.
Unfortunately, we are losing the whole impetus with which this great experiment was started. Men who left good jobs in order to devote themselves to a career within the United Nations are now finding themselves without any job at all, owing to the lack of funds with which to pay their salaries. The Governments of small backward countries which had begun to understand what the United Nations Agencies might give them, have now been disillusioned by the withdrawal, again through lack of funds, of promises made.
Moreover, to put it on a basis of which the hon. Member for Nottingham, South would not approve, but which, nevertheless, I think is a very real one, the money which we invest in this small way will one day redound to our own profit. We shall be creating markets in these backward countries which will help to keep our industry alive and our men and women in employment. At the same time as we raise the standard of living of these foreign countries, we shall be helping to raise our own and establishing security for our own people. I do not think—though the hon. Member for Nottingham, South might—that is a cynical argument to put forward. I do not think it is wicked to look at the business advantage of these proposals. On the contrary, I think it is only sensible lo do so.
We know that throughout the world today the birth rate is exceeding the death rate by a figure which is both gratifying and alarming. Today there are 80,000 people alive in the world who were not alive yesterday. There is an increase of 30 million people a year in the world's population. If we are to feed all these people, it can be done only by making the most fruitful use of the existing resources of the world. Those resources can be used more fully, but men must be trained to use them. The method must be shown to the people on the spot. They may be totally unable to read, yet can be taught to handle the plough or the fishing net to the best advantage. It is only those who have enjoyed the benefits of Western civilisation who can teach them.
123 We, surely, have our part to play in this enterprise, and in the 10 days that remain, I beg my right hon. Friends, especially at the Foreign Office and at the Treasury, to think once again, and, if they possibly can, to raise our contribution to a cause which I know is the right one.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ Mr. James Simmons (Brierley Hill)
We have had several eloquent pleas tonight on behalf of the old-age pensioner. Much as I wholeheartedly support them, I do not intend to underline or emphasise them, because I know that one of my hon. Friends is hoping to catch your eye later on, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in order to say something on that subject.
I want to make a plea for a small group of people who number about 24,000. The Gracious Speech contains many things we would rather not see in it, and does not contain many things we would like to see in it. In his speech this afternoon the Prime Minister gave us a picture of hope as far as the "hot war" is concerned. He seemed to think that the danger of war had receded, a fact for which we are all grateful if it is true.
But when the danger of war recedes, those who suffer from war usually also recede in the memory of the people for whom they suffered. There is mention in the Gracious Speech of our Forces who are playing their part under the United Nations Command, and we are proud of the part those Forces have played. The British soldier has always been an ambassador of peace and good will when he has been sent to do jobs of this kind in the various parts of the world. He is a decent chap; he is fond of children, and his personality has a very great effect upon the outlook of the people with whom he comes into contact. We are glad that our Forces in that Command have been mentioned.
We are also told that we are to have a proposal to continue the present National Service scheme, so we are concerned about the soldiers we have got, and we are concerned about the soldiers we are going to have, but we are not so concerned about the soldiers we have had.
I am sure we shall have something to say about the National Service scheme 124 when the time comes—I shall anyhow. I have never believed in compulsory military service, because that is what it is. This fancy name of "National Service" is just camouflage. We have never believed in compulsory military service, we have regretted the necessity for it, and we want to get rid of it as soon as possible.
Legislation is promised in regard to men disabled through industrial diseases. We are all very grateful for it, and we hope it will be effective legislation. But there is no mention at all—no single mention in the whole of the Gracious Speech—of the men who gave their lives, their limbs, their eyes, their health, in the service of their country in two world wars. Last Session we had special mention of the proposal to abolish the Ministry of Pensions. We could have that act of sabotage of the humane Ministry which was doing a good job for the disabled men of this country, but there is in this Speech not a single reference to the men who suffered, and the dependants of those who died, in two world wars.
There is mention of the expenditure of money in certain directions; the judges are coming in for a little bit, I understand. It is said that they have to keep up the dignity and the responsibility of their office. I do not deny that, but the disable ex-Service man has to keep up the dignity and the responsibility of being the head of his home, and he wants more consideration than is given to him in the Gracious Speech. There are 45,500 men who had one or more limbs amputated during the 1914–18 war. Of these men 24,000 are still living; their age is 62—I am two years below the average myself. They are dying at the rate of 1,000 a year, so it is a diminishing problem.
Some of us who are concerned with the limbless men of the First World War have been asking that something should be done with regard to these ageing limbless men who have their special and peculiar problems. To lose a limb is not such a great handicap today as it was at the end of the 1914–18 war, because science has made such great strides during the intervening period. Artificial limbs are much lighter, their construction much more closely conforms to the action of the natural limb, and surgeons are more 125 skilled in dealing with cases of amputation.
The lads who came out of the Second World War came out to a different world, in more senses than one, from that to which the lads of the First World War had come. We who were in the First World War came out to unemployment and poverty. We suffered the black 'thirties. We stood in unemployment queues. Our medals were of no assistance to us. Many of them found their way to the pawnshops. There was a Member for one of the Birmingham constituencies who, during the depression after the First World War, had in his pawnshop thousands of medals which had been pawned by ex-Service men.
Those men came out in 1918 to receive small pensions. There were no allowances for wives married or children born after disablement. As a matter of fact, the Minister of Pensions of the day said that men who had lost limbs, who had been badly disabled in the service of their country, ought to practise more restraint and should not expect the nation to be responsible for families born after they came out of the Service. That was a gentleman called Ian MacPherson.
The limbless in those days were in an experimental stage. The man who came out of the Services in 1945 faced a different world altogether, a world in which provision was made for social security and full employment. The ordinary foot-slogging soldier, such as I was, does not now receive the same amount of injury through amputation as was received by soldiers in the First World War.
It must be remembered that the man who has lost a limb in the service of his country can never have his pension increased. His pension is fixed by a tape measure, according to the length of his limb. The longer his limb, the less his pension. It does not matter how his health deteriorates. The fixed table of assessments is there. If the amputation is below the knee, and the stump is a certain length, the amount is so much. If the stump is longer the amount is less If the amputation is above the knee, the amount is a bit more, and if it is a double amputation it is a bit more, but it cannot be above the 100 per cent allowance.
We have today 24,000 of these amputees—a nasty word, but it is expressive— 126 surviving from the First World War. Some of us feel that on top of the ordinary 100 per cent. pension to which some of them are entitled, there ought to be some special compensation for the wear and tear that one gets from an artificial limb. A few years ago the Government set up a committee called the Rock Carling Committee to inquire into the effect of amputation on the heart and the lungs. Since that inquiry, which was conducted entirely by means of paper work, a certain percentage of limbless men have been called up for personal examination. I happen to have been one of the guinea pigs, and I was glad to be one, in the interests of such a cause.
I plead with the Government to hasten their findings on the Report of the Rock Carling Committee, and to tell the House what they will do for the limbless veterans of the First World War. I shall not even leave it at that. The whole problem of the pensions of our ex-Service men needs reconsideration, not only in view of the increase in the cost of living, but what we have in the White Papers which have evolved from the Gracious Speech. It is perfectly obvious, even from a cursory reading of the White Paper on repairs and renewals, that there will be some very stiff rent increases, and these ex-Service men will also have to face them.
I should like to quote some figures. In Britain, the loss of a limb is worth 33s. a week. In Australia it is 48s. to 54s. a week; in Belgium there is a 105s. minimum; in Canada it is 76s. a week, British currency; in France there is an 81s. minimum; in New Zealand a 45s. minimum, and in South Africa it is 60s. a week. So we have the cheapest limbs in the world, as far as the limbless are concerned. The loss of a limb costs our Government less than the loss of a limb costs any of the our Colonial friends or allies in the two world wars.
I make this plea at this stage because I realise that from now we shall go on to discuss wider and bigger problems, such as those which my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Norman Smith) mentioned. I do not pretend to be as clever as some hon. Members, and I have not attempted to discuss wide-ranging problems, or to take the Gracious Speech paragraph by paragraph and tear 127 it to shreds. I am concerned with human problems which are, to me, the most important problems in the world. One of the biggest jobs of Parliament is to see that these human problems are dealt with by men and women who understand the psychology of the ordinary man and woman. In that respect I regretted the passing of the Ministry of Pensions.
As a disabled man, as one who is, perhaps, an example of the thing for which I am pleading, I may mention that I have worn an artificial limb since the end of 1917, and it is only in the past few months that I have had to use a stick as I have gone about my own home or this House. That is entirely due to the deterioration of my limbs as a result of wearing an artificial limb. I speak on this matter, therefore, with a vested interest, but also with a human feeling for my 24,000 comrades and fellow sufferers, and I hope that the Government will take note of what I have said.
I can promise them that if I can assist in any way in bringing to their notice evidence which will strengthen the case which I have tried to put in my simple and halting way tonight, I am at their disposal. I can bring before them living examples of men who, after years of wearing artificial limbs, are physical wrecks, living in some of the homes provided by the ex-Service men's organisations. Therefore, I confidently plead that, although there is no mention in the Gracious Speech of the ex-Service men of two world wars, this Government, with its profession of patriotism, will see that those men, although not mentioned, are not forgotten.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
In the first place, I want to reply to a comment made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Norman Smith), because I have no desire that it should go out from this House that the trades union movement has done nothing to increase the productivity of industry. Months ago, many of the miners' leaders, including myself, visited all the coalfields from Land's End to John o'Groats exhorting and imploring the mining fraternity to increase output because the nation was in dire need. Therefore, I disagree entirely with the hon. Member on that point.
128 There was one of my hon. Friend's arguments with which I agreed, and that was the importance of coal conservation. Every one of us here, whatever may be our political philosophy, is imbued with the idea that the coal resources of this country should be utilised in the best way possible. I recall that 30 years ago, long before I came to this House, as a humble miner I made a prophecy. Little did I think then that the prophecy would come true. I said that, unless we could conserve our coal resources, a time would come when coal, like Beecham's Pills, would be worth a guinea a box. Coal is our gold, and the more we can conserve that raw material and put it to the best possible use, the better it will be for this country and its economy.
The hon. Member for Nottingham, South was perfectly correct when he said that in the past the best seams, the shallower seams, had been won and that now we were face to face with inferior seams at a far greater depth and that this would increase the cost of production of a less valuable mineral. I agree with him, and I implore the Government to implement as quickly as possible the Ridley Committee Report on the conservation of fuel.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons), who pleaded for the limbless ex-Service men, I was delighted to discover in the Gracious Speech that the Government intend to bring forward legislation to deal with the health, safety and welfare of miners and quarrymen, and to provide benefit for certain further cases of disablement due to industrial diseases.
We have seen great changes in the mining industry. We have now procured, if not adequate, at least some compensation or benefits for those of our men unfortunately overtaken by pneumoconiosis and silicosis. We are now in the year 1953 and we started on that business in the year 1922. Great changes have been brought about because the conscience of the public, even in the non-mining areas, has been aroused by the great inroads which those two industrial diseases have made upon our manpower in the mining industry.
It is not my intention to mention many of the industrial diseases which are not yet covered by the compensation law or the Industrial Injuries Acts. There are, 129 however, two diseases to which I desire to call the attention of the Government and which are not yet included in the list of industrial diseases. One is Dupuytren's contraction. We are finding in the minefields that this disease is gaining ground. We have not yet been able to discover a preventive, and so long as it gains ground, and so long as men are called upon to suffer from it, it is only right that when men in the mining industry are found to be suffering from this disease of the hand, and are incapacitated as a result, they should receive industrial benefits.
The other is what we call Reynaud's disease. That is brought about by the friction of the air compressor machine upon certain parts of the men's bodies. That again has not been covered by benefit in respect of industrial disease. I hope that the Government will consider these two diseases so that unfortunate men who are victims of them will receive compensation for being overtaken by them.
Hon. Members have stressed the importance of something being done for the old age pensioners. I regret profoundly that I have not been able to find any reference in the Gracious Speech to any improvement promised to that section of the community who are badly in need of it—the old age pensioners and the lower income groups. We have heard, and no doubt we shall hear it again in the days that lie ahead, that the old age pensioners and the lower income groups will have further hardships inflicted upon them unless something is done for them. These two groups with limited incomes carry the effect of rising prices of food, clothing and fuel.
I am not unmindful that the Gracious Speech states:It will be the constant aim of My Ministers to strengthen the national economy and thereby to safeguard the high standards of the social services and the stability of employment.That is a desirable thing. I am not finding fault in the least with that, but I have a profound conviction that our social services as they exist today are not generous enough, especially in their application to the old folk. I should like to see an urgent, human approach to the problems of the old age pensioners. This has been stressed time and time again. Prime Ministers of the past and may be 130 Prime Ministers of the present have referred to the dire need of the old folk.
I know that hon. and right hon. Members opposite will entirely disagree with me, and my own party may disagree with me, when I say that the first thing that it is desirable to do is to make an increase in the basic rate of pension of 32s. 6d. I make this plea with all seriousness, born of my every day contact with old folk who are finding it extremely difficult to make ends meet. This is not entirely due to certain circumstances over which the Government have no control. It is mainly due to the rising prices of food, clothing and fuel which are bearing very heavily on the old folk. I know that I may be taken to task for what I am going to say, but I am saying it because I am convinced that I should do so. I often wish that this problem of adequate pensions for the old people could be lifted completely out of party politics, put on a higher plane and dealt with as a great human problem which becomes daily more intensified.
I wish to submit evidence bearing out what I have said. Figures have been given in this House time after time when this subject has been debated, but we need only to look at two sets of figures to see the intensification of this problem. In the year 1900 there were 1,750,000 people more than 65 years of age. This year—53 years later—we have more than 4,500,000 over the age of 65. We are told by the statisticians that in a few years' time—in 1958 or 1960—we shall have more than five million people over 65.
There is a problem with which we shall have to grapple, because the public conscience is such in relation to conditions of the old folk that those outside the realm of politics and not interested in what we do in this Chamber are interested in improving the conditions of old people. Churches and various organisations are now putting forward their plea to the Government, to the Opposition and to individual hon. Members and saying, "For God's sake try to improve the lot of these people who are bearing the full weight of rising prices and the rising cost of living."
I took the trouble to try to find some evidence to sustain the argument that conditions of old people are slowly but surely 131 deteriorating. I found from the statistical returns of the National Assistance Board that in the first quarter of 1951 there were in receipt of national assistance 1,383,734—old-age pensioners in the main—all receiving benefits over and above their basic pension, and contributory pensions. When I examined the figures for this year I was much amazed. We were told that when the basic pension was increased from 26s. to 30s. and from 30s. to 32s. 6d. a lesser number would go to the National Assistance Board for help and supplementation, but the reverse is the case. In going through the statistical returns I find that for the quarter ending 29th September, 1953, the latest available figure, there were 1,713,197 in receipt of National Assistance, an increase in just over 12 months of 329,463 persons all of whom have ben forced by sheer economic circumstances to go to the National Assistance Board.
It is not my intention to weary the House with particulars of household budgets I have received, but the latest survey which has been made proves that the average amount spent on food by a single pensioner was 15s. 10d. a week, which works out at 2s. 3d. a day for three meals. Further evidence is provided by a team of scientists led by Dr. Roy Bramsby of the Health Ministry who made an investigation a short time ago into the daily lives of 300 pensioners in the City of Sheffield. In the course of that investigation they weighed everything eaten, noted every penny spent, and the conclusions they came to—these are their findings, not my own—were, I quote from a newspaper:1.—The average old age pensioner with only his pension spends less than 2s. 6d. a day on food.That confirms the survey that was made by another well-known organisation.2.—Many old people are getting barely 1,000 calories daily, only half the amount the doctors decree is necessary to health.3.—After paying their rent, fuel and food bills some pensioners are left with as little as 5d. to cover clothing and other needs.The next is a startling result of the investigation:4.—Some old women are starving themselves so that their husbands may have a greater share of the rations.1325.—The diet of the majority is seriously lacking in iron, vitamins and minerals.The average rent paid by old people living in houses was 11s. 2d. a week out of an average income of £2 a head. And one out of every four could not count on any help at all in the house from outside sources if they fell sick.These results, which I have hurriedly submitted to the House, are not from an organisation which is prejudiced, they are not from any political body. They are the considered judgment of independent, impartial men as to the conditions of our old folk. Therefore I believe that something should be done hurriedly for the old age pensioners and those in the lower income groups.
I hope that the words of a former Prime Minister of this country will be heeded. He said:How we treat our old people is a crucial test of our national quality.A nation which lacks gratitude to those who worked for her in the past while they had the strength to do so does not deserve a future, for she has lost her sense of justice and her instinct of mercy.Those words were uttered by Lloyd George—now departed—when he was pleading during the period when he was Prime Minister for something to be done for the old folk.
In my humble way, I have always maintained that it was the duty of every citizen in the country to do his or her best for the State and industry, and having done their best it was the duty of industry and the State to protect them from poverty, want and starvation. As I see the position at present, I do not feel that we are doing that. Therefore I make my plea to the different Government Departments whose responsibility it is, to apply their minds to this great problem of the ever-increasing number of old people in poor circumstances.
I do not underestimate the size of the problem, but if we are worth our salt as Britishers and legislators in this House we must have foresight and courage to do something more than we have already done to assist the aged. A person should grow old with dignity and with grace, with an alert and contented mind. I should have liked to say something about the accommodation of old people but I shall reserve that for a subsequent occasion. I reinforce all the pleas I have put forward in the past that the time has come when this House and the nation 133 must face up to this responsibility, charged as they are to do that which is right and fair and honest for the old people who have done so much for this country during their working life.
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)
I wish to raise a problem which is not mentioned in the Gracious Speech, but I think it important and one which reveals a serious gap in the social services. Few people have realised the serious need of a special social service to meet the needs of this group of people. I refer to the housing and care of problem families.
The Act of 1948 which abolished the Poor Law did many excellent things, but it did one unfortunate thing. It left a group of people in the air with no clear responsibility on any one public body to look after their needs when in distress. Round about the London area—and I am sure it is true also of other parts of the country—one finds during the summer months that evicted families are sleeping out in the parks. Cases are brought into the courts and parents are summoned for ill-treating their children because they are sleeping out of doors.
Usually it is found that these families have been evicted for non-payment of rent or unsocial behaviour, sometimes from a municipal housing estate and sometimes from private houses. In most cases the families have an income which would enable them to pay the rent, but they have not done so and eviction has followed. Most of us take the view that an unmarried man or even a married couple with no children, who have money but do not pay their rent and therefore find themselves evicted, must take the responsibility for any suffering which they experience. But when it happens, as in so many cases, that there are children, I think that as a nation we cannot afford to see those children neglected.
Rightly we take the view nowadays that we should not try to separate children from their parents unless it is absolutely necessary. We take the view that if the whole family can be kept together, so much the better. That means that it is the responsibility of some public body, when a family is evicted and there are children, to do something to try to house them, and if necessary to educate them to behave reasonably in the future.
134 What has been happening in places like London, or in Essex with which I am better acquainted, is that there are now a good many places set aside where these families are accommodated. To begin with, the families try to get into a halfway house of a local authority or some similar place. But when such accommodation is filled they usually go to the welfare authority who sooner or later tend to take over some large old houses and put these families into sub-standard dwellings with inadequate accommodation, in the hope that eventually they will be able to move them out into better accommodation.
The problem is much easier when the same local authority acts as both housing and welfare authority. In the counties when one authority is the welfare authority and another the housing authority the problem is more difficult. I have taken up a number of these cases with the Home Office where the view is that, although it is not altogether clear under existing legislation where rests the ultimate authority, it would seem that the welfare authority is the right one to deal with them. Therefore, it is on the welfare committees of the larger county boroughs and in the counties that efforts are being made to try to face up to this problem.
The case I want to make is that there is known to be a serious problem in the South of England and an inquiry should be made by the Government to find out how serious it is throughout the country. I know that in Manchester efforts have been made to face the difficulty. In most of our big seaports there is also a very real difficulty. For example, when India became free we had people coming back into port and hoping that someone would try to find accommodation for them. In many towns there is the problem of people coming in from Jamaica and other places and developing into problem families without anyone to look after them. The matter should be thoroughly investigated to discover how serious it is throughout the country.
I should like to quote examples from Essex where we have one or two houses which now accommodate some of these families. Nearly all the families earn enough to be able to afford to pay a reasonable rent. Most have been turned out of municipal housing estates. If a family happens to be really badly off 135 and in receipt of National Assistance, arrangements can be made for the National Assistance Board to pay over the rent to the county council; but if the family are earning sufficient, that arrangement cannot be made and sometimes large arrears of rent are incurred.
Efforts have been made to install central heating and other amenities in some of the old houses. A warden has been put in charge of one of them. His appointment resulted in an enormous change, because he was able to get the families to work together and to clean out the passages, the kitchens, the lavatories and bathrooms. He was able to persuade the families that a fine of 1s. should be imposed on any family whose child broke a window, and this has had good results. But even then we find some families purloining part of the equipment provided.
It so happens that in this case a rough inquiry into the background of some of these families showed that in most of them there was some member who was perhaps subnormal. Sometimes there was a person who was mentally deficient. There were some families where a man or his wife had been to an approved school and still seemed to feel the need to have someone behind them to look after them in the difficulties they had to face. For example, when a wife was expecting a child it was the warden and not the husband who made all the arrangements. Many of them seem to feel the need to have someone behind them to look after them, especially if they 136 themselves happen to have very difficult children to deal with.
It would be interesting to know whether it is a fact that there are a large number of mentally deficient people in these families. One cannot generalise on the information we have at present, but I think that the problem is sufficiently serious for an inquiry to be made. I would suggest that sooner or later we must face the question of problem families. We cannot give them normal housing accommodation because they will misuse it and annoy their neighbours. Probably the accommodation has to some extent to be sub-standard, but obviously it cannot be too much below the standard of the community. Given the fact that we have these difficult families, I suggest some kind of community life will have to be developed for them in future.
If there is a problem family it should be encouraged to go into some kind of community. Often the family would welcome the opportunity to go into a community where there was a certain amount of discipline and where a certain number of things were provided for them in common. When once again they had become social they would be able to move into normal housing estates. The kind of community I have mentioned would be looked after by the county council and would have some kind of grant from the Government.
§ It being Ten o'Clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.