§ 2.42 p.m.
§ Mr. J. N. Browne (Glasgow, Govan)
I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as followeth:—Most Gracious Sovereign,We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.Once again, hearing the Gracious Speech from the Throne, we are impressed by the dignity and charm of Her Majesty. The young Queen of this old Kingdom helps us all to face the future with firm confidence. The Gracious Speech refers to the need for a strong and united Commonwealth and Empire. Her Majesty and Prince Philip, by their arduous and successful journey from which they have returned this year, have helped us along that road and we look forward to further help along the road of strength and unity at the forthcoming meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers.
The Gracious Speech stresses the importance of friendship with the United States of America and I am sure that I express the thanks of the whole House to Her Majesty the Queen Mother, than whom there is no better ambassador, for her visit to the United States of America and Canada. We say to her how glad we are to see her safely back home. We are content now that our Royal Family will be united and with us for Christmas.
It is a great honour to be asked to move this Address. It is an honour not only to myself but to the people of Scotland and the people of Govan and Craigton. I welcome especially the increasing emphasis on Scottish needs, which is in keeping with the spirit of the Report of the Royal Commission on Scottish Affairs. Much had been done by this Government already to improve the status of Scotland. This Report shows us how further improvements can be made and I welcome the determination of the Government to make them. I welcome, too, the reference to the Crofters' Commission.
9 which will bring fresh encouragement to the Highlands.
Like so many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in this House, I represent just a section of a great industrial city, in my case the City of Glasgow. There was a time when Govan was more important than Glasgow. Then Glasgow swallowed up Govan, but still the spirit and traditions of old Govan remained. Then Govan was torn apart by the Boundary Commission. I make no complaint about that. If it had not been so I might not have been here today. Now the Boundary Commission has proposed that Govan should be almost put together again. It is good to know that once again the whole of Govan municipal ward and the old Govan Town Hall will be in the Govan Parliamentary constituency and that the important adjacent area of Craigton will come at last into its own.
Perhaps because there are so many old houses in my constituency there are many old people. We all admire the courage and the pride with which they face and overcome their difficulties and, therefore, I welcome especially the reference in the Gracious Speech which holds out the promise of a better life for the old people and for many others in receipt of pension and benefit. It is right that they should share our growing prosperity, a prosperity now shared by nearly everyone in this country except those with fixed incomes.
The goal to restore the purchasing power of the pension to that of 1946 is a good goal, but I ask myself whether it is the right goal. Most of us can buy more today than we could buy in 1946. Have the old people not the same right—the right not only to purchase as much, but perhaps to share just a little in our growing prosperity? I think that the answer is, "Yes," but the answer poses difficult problems, problems with which, as the House knows, the nation must increasingly concern itself.
I refer to the problems of how to divide up the cake and how to make it larger. The social services, each with their champions, will make increasing demands on the National Exchequer. The Gracious Speech refers to and faces this problem—the problem of the right priority and the right relation between one service and another, between one demand and another.
10 The second problem which the nation has to face is that of how to make the cake itself larger. The Gracious Speech, by its reference to the encouragement and expansion of industry and exports, recognises the need to increase the national wealth. We know that the only way to make Britain safe is to improve the standard of life of the people. In the long run, there is no lasting prosperity in taking from one to give to the other.
But it is no longer morally right that only a small fraction of mankind should enjoy the fruits of civilisation. It is because we believe this and because, as the Gracious Speech reaffirms, we practise what we believe that the clouds of war and the dangers of conquest from within are passing. We are building here and now something that it is worth while to defend and extend, something unlike other doctrines, which is imbued with the spirit of higher things.
The Gracious Speech affirms that we intend to work with our friends in the cause of peace and tolerance. We have shown that we intend to defend our chosen way of life. We can show now, as we must prove to future generations, that our way of life, and perhaps our way of life alone, can give social justice and freedom of the spirit. It is this strength, this tolerance, this social justice, this freedom of the spirit that, if we guard in the future as we are guarding them now, can bring us a lasting peace.
One of the chief architects of this new thought is the oldest among us but in years only, for he is young in heart. I voice the expression of the congratulations of the whole House, or nearly the whole House, to the Prime Minister on his eightieth birthday. We admire his words, we enjoy his wit, we respect his wisdom. In his long life, by his service to humanity he has earned our thanks and the thanks of the whole world. We wish him well.
§ 2.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Denys Bullard (Norfolk, South-West)
I beg to second the Motion.
I realise that to be allowed to second this Motion is one of this House's rare privileges. I know, too, that the people in my constituency of South-West Norfolk will also see it as a great honour to be associated with this humble Address of thanks to Her Majesty. They are an 11 independent sort of people in Norfolk. They value their liberty and their independence above all other things, but they have never looked on them as gifts. They have always regarded them as a responsibility and as carrying a price. That responsibility is wider today and the people there and hon. Members in this House will think it right that in the Gracious Speech the first place is given to the steps we are taking in our striving towards peace.
Custom allows me on this occasion to refer to my own constituency. It is not that part of Norfolk that hon. Members may know from holidays on the Broads or on that beautiful bow of the North Sea coast. That is the glamorous outside. We are the middle where the work is done. Part of its beauty lies in its variation, from the deep, peaty fens, where a new river is being constructed to save them from the floods that came over them in 1947 and again in 1950, up through the Brecklands, where pine forests are replacing the heaths, through to the broad corn, root, and cattle land over towards the City of Norwich—since the days of the great farm improvers, the premier farming county. But I have been reminded that I must steer clear of controversy.
I do not want to give the idea that we do nothing else in South-West Norfolk but farming. We have our small towns with their industries which are making their contribution to the export trade. Heavy trailers from East Dereham have carried pipe lines for oil installations all over the world. A factory making electric clocks has increased its exports by 150 per cent, compared with last year, and will shortly double its floor space. Oh, yes, Norfolk can show the time of day to the world. In the Gracious Speech we have heard about plans for full employment and the expanding of industry. We are already doing it up there.
I sometimes wonder, however, whether we realise how much these small towns—and there are hundreds of them up and down the country—depend on the prosperity of the countryside in which they are situated. Their very prosperity creates difficulties in the country around because in the time of their wealth they draw people away from the land and 12 from the farms. Britain is a little country, smaller in many ways than before, and the way that town and country are mixed together in Norfolk is typical of the whole of Britain. In a vast continent it may be possible to separate agricultural belts from industrial belts, but not here. The two are inextricably mixed up, and it is a matter of national policy to maintain a balance between them.
The need to keep a high level of production from the land is apparent to everyone in war and in times of rationing, but it is not always apparent in times of plenty. But it is there all the same. We have learned a lot about food production in these last few years, and all our experience points to the fact that in a business with a turnover as slow as that of farming it is stability which produces the results. It is stability that is spoken of in the Gracious Speech. A great deal of it has been provided already. It costs a lot of money, but it is a sound investment.
Of course, it is not so easy to fit in stability with the more particular, and as some of us think, the pernickety, market that was bound to develop as soon as people could get enough instead of having to live on the ration. But, given the stability and a little time, the farmers are quite prepared to produce what is wanted and what people are ready to pay for. That is their life's work.
I do not think there is any one way in which this stability can be provided in an industry as varied as farming. We know that our marketing system is not as good as that of some of our competitors. We have several marketing schemes in operation, and very successful they are. I hope we shall learn from them and from that remarkable and bold enterprise of the Fatstock Marketing Corporation, and that we shall help producers to put forward other schemes where they can be fitted in with the method of paying guarantees.
Every good farmer knows that methods can be improved when he has accumulated the capital, the wherewithal to do it. But I ask the House to try to realise what it means to a farmer and his workers, or to a small holder, who is trying to make his practices more economical, to come up against a tragic season such as this one. We are in a nice warm, dry place, and I have got my best suit on. But I should like to take you, Mr. Speaker—I do not think it would be any new 13 experience for you—and other hon. Members down to some of the sugar beet fields that ought by now to have been cleared and sown with wheat for next year. There is little autumn sowing on the best wheat land.
We are lucky by comparison with other areas where they have lost hay and corn as well, something which will affect not only the output this year but farm crops two or three seasons ahead, and perhaps longer. Farming is a partnership with Nature and things can become very rough when Nature takes things on her own.
I should like to have spoken about house building, which the Gracious Speech promises shall continue at a high rate. It is heartening to see the houses going up, for the evidence of the eye is better than the evidence of figures. The situation is altogether different from what it was, but we still need a high rate of building because in the country as well as in the town we have a lot of old property that needs to be replaced. Yes, housing is going well.
I want to speak about the roads for a moment. How welcome is the news that there is to bean expanded programme of road construction and improvementsto all who use the roads, and to those who are concerned about their lack of safety. The original basis of the road system in Norfolk was this: people were expected neither to arrive nor to leave. If they were born there, they were lucky. They got all they wanted and there was no need to think of moving. So the road system was perfect from that point of view. Thanks to the great efforts of the highway authorities, we have some good roads today. But no one can say that they are safe or capable of carrying the volume of traffic, agricultural and industrial, not to mention holiday traffic, which is placed upon them.
My hon. Friend dealt with pensions and I only want to add my thoughts to his as to their importance. I hope the House will pass the Measure through as quickly as possible and with all possible humanity. Pensions are for the old people and for the disabled. For the young people there are to be further improvements in the schools, especially, I am glad to hear, in the secondary schools in the rural areas, of which more are to be built. The country has fallen behind 14 the town—so much so that good countrymen have had to take their families elsewhere to places where they can be given a better chance in the world. Some 9 per cent. only of the children in the towns spend all their school days in one all-age school. In Norfolk, unfortunately, the figure is as high as 41 per cent.—though the education authority has worked valiantly to improve the position and has succeeded.
At this point I am going to stake a claim. I badly want a new school at the village of Methwold, overlooking the Fens. There is an old flint building there, with high ecclesiastical windows, surrounded by a lot of hutments, which should be replaced. I hope very much that this school will soon be built, because there are nine or ten other villages which want to send their older children to it. I hope, therefore, that my right hon. Friend the Minister will take note of this claim.
It is heartening to hear in the Gracious Speech that even though we are carrying a heavy load of obligations at present—for even peace these days is expensive—we can still go ahead with bold plans, as I hope they will be, for pensions, houses, schools and roads. We can do it because British people have earned it and because my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has guided them very well. As a nation, however, we still live from hand to mouth.
I hope that this House, in this Session and always, will devote a large part of its efforts to helping our industries to produce and to compete, to making sure that we not only spend but invest soundly here and in the Commonwealth, and in every way to foster and never to fleece—if I may mix my metaphors—the goose that lays the golden eggs.
§ 3.5 p.m.
§ Mr. C. R. Attlee (Walthamstow, West)
I have the privilege of congratulating the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. J. N. Browne) and the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Bullard) on their most interesting and thoughtful speeches. I am sure that we were all particularly pleased with the speech of the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West, who seemed to bring a whiff of good Norfolk air into the Chamber and to keep his feet firmly on the ground. I think that both hon. Gentlemen have acquitted themselves 15 well in accordance with the long tradition of this House. Theirs is always a difficult task, particularly when there is not much in the Gracious Speech to talk about. That is why it has provided them with a great opportunity to talk about constituencies and Norfolk, and geese, and so on. It was all very agreeable.
There is not much that is startling in the Gracious Speech. In foreign affairs we all welcome the meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers. Perhaps it might have been held a little earlier, particularly when dealing with the affairs of, say, South-East Asia, but, still, better late than never. I am glad to see that the Government propose to give more support to the Colombo Plan and more funds for the Colonial Development and Welfare Acts. I hope that those funds will also be available under the Colombo Plan, because, undoubtedly, some of my hon. Friends will be referring, in the course of the debate on, the Address, to the urgent need for raising standards in the backward areas of the world.
I regret very much that there is no mention of the problem of the hydrogen bomb. The urgency of this matter was recognised by the House in a Resolution passed on 5th April. Seven months have gone by and the matter is no less urgent, but nothing has been done about it. Yet it is the centre of all our problems. There is not much mention in the Gracious Speech about the burden of armaments, but that burden presses heavily on the country, as, indeed, on all countries of the world. I would have liked to see some suggestion, therefore, that initiative was to be taken by our Government in this matter. It is true that the Gracious Speech says that the Government willdevelop the unity and strength, of the free nations … on which an understanding with the Soviet Union may be sought.But that does not seem to impress me as being charged with any great urgency.
We shall study the pensions proposals of the Government with great care when they come out. The proposals are belated. A great many people thought we would get them in the last Budget. In fact, the only interesting part of that Budget was to see the way in which hon. Members sat waiting and waiting for a reference to pensions, and then to watch 16 the look of disappointment on their faces when nothing happened. We have been pressing for action ever since, but here again, perhaps, it is better late than never. Certainly, we put up all the pressure we could and it seems to me to have been effective.
I notice that there is a paragraph in the Gracious Speech about road construction. That is good as far as it goes but, of course, the Government have, by their policy, been adding to the congestion of the traffic on the roads. I would have liked to see a confession of the total failure of the plans of the Government with regard to road services. It is a long time now since the Government have been in the business of selling lorries; they have not sold many yet. The small men have certainly had their chance, but the big units have not been sold and seem unlikely to be sold. At present, great anxiety is hanging over all the workers in that industry. There was a chance when the Government might have confessed error and changed their ways, and thus saved this great enterprise and also done something to solve the problem of congestion on the roads.
The proposals here envisage only a certain amount of road construction. I notice that nothing is said about London. I am a Londoner, and if I might mention my own area, I would say that it is becoming increasingly difficult to move at all on the roads in London. We would have welcomed something in the Gracious Speech, especially after today, which would have shown some appreciation of that problem. The fact is that the Government, as so often, have a split mind. They complain of over-crowding on the roads and, at the same time, they proceed to disarrange road transport.
We see the same thing in connection with agriculture. I admired the dexterity of the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West in dealing with agriculture, because he stressed the question of stability while the Government are trying to square the circle by combining stability with flexibility, although they know that the two things are not possible. That is another example of the Government's split mind.
Then we come to one or two interesting items, particularly teachers' superannuation. Here, at least, it will be admitted 17 that our opposition has been successful. Day after day and month after month my name and the names of my colleagues have been down as opposing a Bill. So far the Lord Privy Seal has always kept the poor thing in being. I gather that it is now being buried. I hope he will drop a wreath. A new scheme for ensuring "a sound financial basis"—not like the last one—is to be produced.
There are some small items which seem to be useful, including the extension of the county court jurisdiction, and something to do with stopping pollution of the sea is quite good. I do not think that the mover of the Motion for the Address showed much enthusiasm for the Royal Commission on Scottish Affairs—I thought he had been put in specially to pay a tribute to it—and the Crofters' Commission. However, there is not very much there.
I want to ask about one or two things which seem to have been forgotten. It is, after all, an old tradition that Royal Commissions are set up to bury subjects. Capital punishment seems to be buried rather deep, and so does the subject of betting and gambling. There was a general expectation that something would be done to try to clear up the state of the law about small lotteries, which is very embarrassing not only to people who indulge in lotteries but also, I gather, to chief constables and the police; but that seems to be omitted from the Speech.
Broadly speaking, there is throughout the whole of the Gracious Speech an air of quite unwarranted complacency. One would have thought that everything was going beautifully. We are living in a very dangerous and uncertain world, and in the course of our debates we shall stress certain points in both home and foreign policy with the object of awakening the Government from their complacency.
§ 3.14 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Sir Anthony Eden)
It is customary, I am told, to open speeches on these occasions with non-controversial matter, however one may conclude, and I should like to begin by associating myself warmly with what the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition 18 has said about the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Govan (Mr. J. N. Browne) and my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Bullard). Before I say more about my hon. Friends, I should like to congratulate the Leader of the Opposition upon the versatility with which, on one day, he has produced two such different speeches.
I thought that my two hon. Friends admirably represented the constituencies for which they speak. As is so proper on these occasions, neither of them allowed us to forget for an instant where those constituencies were. I share the view of the Leader of the Opposition about the country air which my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West brought to us.
I liked the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West for another reason. I thought he made the best case for the Government's agricultural policy that anybody could possibly contrive. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Members opposite may try to work that out for themselves in the course of a day which, I understand, we are shortly to have, by arrangement and under the guidance of Mr. Speaker, for a discussion of those affairs.
The right hon. Gentleman made a passing reference to foreign affairs. I do not propose to deal with these topics at any length this afternoon, as he did not either, because we have had some fairly full discussions on foreign affairs during the last few weeks and I gather that we are to have some more.
I thought the right hon. Gentleman was a little less than fair in what he said about the reference in the Gracious Speech to the meeting which is, we hope, to take place in due course with the Soviet Union after ratification of our Agreements. The Gracious Speech says that… the essential basis will be established on which an understanding with the Soviet Union may be sought.The right hon. Gentleman said there was no sense of urgency about that. What we are all aiming to do is to get results. Whether we should be more likely to get the results by proclaiming a sense of urgency in the Queen's Speech I would not be so sure; but the urgency which all of us in this House want, except for the minority who take a different view, 19 is an urgency to get the Agreements ratified so that on the basis of them preparations can be made for the discussions that we wish to take place. If the right hon. Gentleman wants an assurance about that, I can tell him that our sense of urgency is clear and direct.
The right hon. Gentleman had one or two observations to make about the general tenor of the Speech. It seemed to me that he felt that all of it was not so bad if it had come a little earlier. That is an indictment, but I have heard more severe indictments of Gracious Speeches before now. However, I wanted to be sure that I was on the right line, so I looked up what the right hon. Gentleman had said about some earlier Gracious Speeches. I wanted to make sure that we were not doing any worse than he thought we were doing a few years ago.
I derived a good deal of comfort from this. In 1951, he said that the Speech was "too thin," and it was still "too thin" this afternoon. In 1952, it was "too reticent" and in 1953 it was "too obscure." We know that every Leader of the Opposition has to complain about every Gracious Speech from the Throne, and, of course, the better the Government is doing, the louder the complaint that the Leader of the Opposition has to make. We have all listened to that technique, and we all understand it.
If one can conceive of such a thing, supposing that an impartial observer had been listening this afternoon to the right hon. Gentleman complaining about the shortcomings of the Queen's Speech and the complacency of the Government, might he not have put some questions to the right hon. Gentleman? For instance, might he not have tried to find out one or two things about the state of the nation, whether it is so very bad, or whether we are so very complacent? Might not an impartial observer have asked what was now the position about employment? Was there not a very great authority on the Front Opposition Bench who, not so long ago, said that there would be a million unemployed by the end of 1952? What is the position now? With infinite relief we know that, fortunately, that is not correct. Fortunately, today we have more people at work than probably ever before in the history of this country in time of peace. That should 20 be something to rejoice everybody's heart.
Then there is production and the fact that it is at an all time high level and the same is true of our exports. Those are matters for rejoicing which did not creep very ostensibly into the right hon. Gentleman's speech. I do not think it is complacent to say that. If the Opposition say that it is due to the late Labour Government, I do not mind that. The Opposition can take all the credit they like.
If that had not been the case and there had been unemployment, if exports had fallen, if savings had dwindled—and is not everybody pleased to see that savings are up?—there would be different speeches coming from hon. Members opposite, and they would be right, because this House represents the sounding board of the nation.
On the point of savings, I noticed in a newspaper the other day—one not particularly friendly to the Conservative Government—a comment on savings which I think of value. It said that savings are going up now, because those who are investing their savings have reason to believe that their pound may still be worth 20s. a few years hence. That was not a statement in a Tory newspaper. It is not something that could have been said three or four years ago.
I should like to turn to one or two of the individual items to which the right hon. Gentleman referred and about which there are some comments I should make. The most important and foremost item in the Queen's Speech, as the right hon. Gentleman indicated, is the legislation on pensions and benefits. While these issues were, of course, debated at some length and with some heat during the last Session, I hope I may be allowed this afternoon to dwell rather more on one or two points of agreement between us, because, as the right hon. Gentleman well knows, the appointment of the Beveridge Committee, the final break-up of the old Poor Law, proposals for the establishment of a comprehensive system of social benefits and the establishment of the Ministry of National Insurance were all steps taken by the war-time Coalition Government.
It is fair to say that we took them with one basic thought—that for every person in this country there should be, 21 so far as lay within our power to give it, real freedom from want and insecurity, We entered upon that commitment with high hopes and they have been generally fulfilled. However, we should also recognise that throughout the greater part of the period during which the National Insurance scheme has been working its beneficiaries have received less in terms of purchasing power than Parliament intended in 1946. That will be generally accepted. That is the injustice and the hardship which we now intend to rectify.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance will make a statement tomorrow about the Government's proposals for increasing war pensions, national insurance benefits and pensions and also for increases in national assistance. A Bill to give effect to the increases in insurance benefits and pensions will be introduced immediately. It is hoped that it will have a Second Reading next week and that with the good will of all concerned it will become law by the time we adjourn for the Christmas Recess.
§ Mr. David Logan (Liverpool, Scotland Division)
Will the statement deal with additional rates of contribution?
§ Sir A. Eden
Oh, yes certainly. My right hon. Friend will make a statement covering all that tomorrow and the Bill will be introduced at once.
In this connection it so happens that I have an announcement to make to the House, which is of some interest particularly to certain hon. Members connected with pensions. Agreement was reached today with the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo about compensation to be paid to former prisoners of war of Japan in accordance with the Peace Treaty. The agreement is subject to the final approval of the Japanese Government—I have only just received the terms—and of course to the approval of other beneficiary nations of which we are only one. It provides for the payment by Japan no later than by the end of next May of £4½ million to the International Committee of the Red Cross. This will be distributed to the former prisoners of war by their several Governments. I understand the United Kingdom's share is about one-sixth of that total. I thought that the House would like immediate 22 information on that. We hope that there will be no further difficulty in the matter.
I turn to the other major issue dealt with in the Queen's Speech to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, and that is road transport. We all agree that an adequate transport system is essential, if we are effectively to compete in the markets of the world. Unfortunately, we have also to admit that the layout of our roads falls far behind modern needs. The truth is that the pattern of the system in this country dates back to life and trade as they prevailed in the Middle Ages.
Everyone is familiar with the origins of the twisting English highways—[An HON. MEMBER: "British."]—British highways; they are worse in England in that respect than in Scotland—although few would go as far as Chesterton's description:A rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.—with apologies to the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson).
It will be neither easy nor cheap for us to modernise our roads, in one of the most densely populated countries in the world. But we all accept the need for a large programme of road works—as large as we can contrive and afford. I am told that there are 4½ million vehicles on the roads today compared with just over 3 million before the war. With every increase of national production, more goods will be sent by road—to some extent that is inevitable—and more people will travel by private motor car.
We must bring to an end what has been a period of almost complete standstill which has ruled since the war. Last year, as the House may remember, we took some steps to improve the standard of maintenance of existing roads and we made a modest beginning with new road works. Now we have to go further and we propose to authorise major improvements and construction schemes at an increased rate. When the programme gets fully under way, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be paying out for these improvements each year as much as two or three times the amount allowed by the present programme which was laid down last year.
The House may remember that the maximum figure visualised in the present 23 programme is £14 million to £15 million. It is easy to see the range of figures for which the programme will call. What I have been saying of course relates only to major road improvements and new road construction. It is quite separate from the additional expenditure on the maintenance of roads and their minor improvements towards which the Exchequer is at present contributing, I think, about £30 million a year. These are formidable targets, but we need something more than new roads to improve the flow of traffic and to reduce accidents. With this in mind we propose to introduce a Road Traffic Bill. This will provide, among other things, the necessary statutory power for experiments to be made with new techniques, in which some hon. Members have shown considerable interest, and to deal with problems both of safety and of congestion.
The Leader of the Opposition referred to Scottish affairs and was slightly derisory about the Royal Commission, but that Commission did endorse the principle that Scottish business should be dealt with, so far as possible, in Scotland. I thought that that was one to which most of my Scottish friends did not take exception.
§ Sir A. Eden
I do not think that the money works out too badly, but I should not like to be drawn into that question too far now. The Commission has made a large number of detailed administrative recommendations. We agree with its objectives and we propose to carry out the substance of those recommendations.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
Before the Government go into the question, will the Secretary of State for Scotland be likely to give the House a more detailed explanation of what is proposed in that administrative change?
§ Sir A. Eden
That is a matter for the Leader of the House rather than for me. I do not know, but it might be possible to arrange for a convenient opportunity when that could be done. I take note of what the right hon. Gentleman has said.
There are two other topics to which I must refer. One is the topic which 24 filled the right hon. Gentleman with glee, as I am sure it would, which had to do with teachers' superannuation. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Education will explain to the House the reasons why we have decided to make a fresh attempt to solve this problem by negotiation between his Department, the teachers and the local authorities. We want to arrange this, if we can, by agreement, and my right hon. Friend will be saying something on the topic during today's debate.
There is one other question which I must mention and I do so because it is one in which I myself, and some hon. Members opposite, have taken some interest, although it is not on the scale of some of the matters which we have been talking about. It is that since the war oil pollution has become an increasing nuisance on our coasts and beaches. It also results in the death or injury in horrible conditions of sea birds along our shores. Therefore, we propose to introduce a Bill to deal with this nuisance.
Among other things, it will enable us to accept the international convention for the prevention of pollution of the sea by oil. That convention was drawn up at an international conference which we summoned to meet in London in the spring of this year. Though I admit that this is a small measure, I think that the House as a whole will welcome it.
On the broader plane, I am sure that all hon. and right hon. Members of the House will welcome the Conference of Commonwealth Prime Ministers which is to meet in London at the end of January. I have no doubt that their discussions will prove, as they have always done, wise in judgment and fruitful in suggestion. The right hon. Gentleman said that perhaps we should have had a meeting earlier. Perhaps; but he knows very well how difficult these meetings are to arrange and to time so as to meet everyone's convenience, and I am not sure as things have fallen out that this is not as opportune a time as could have been chosen.
It will be useful to have the discussion at a time when we are, we believe, at a formative stage in international affairs. I have nothing more to say about foreign affairs except that I hope the House will have noticed today the reply which has been sent to the Soviet Government by the three allied Powers. I am informed 25 that the N.A.T.O. reply will be on similar lines.
It does not very often happen that a Foreign Secretary has the opportunity to talk to the House on domestic affairs. Before I conclude I should like to say something on this topic with a sense of greater freedom and less responsibility than falls to my lot when I am talking about my own business. As it seems to me, if I can look at the matter with some detachment, I think it is fair to say that in the first year of this Government's life we were engaged upon what was mainly a salvage operation.
§ Sir A. Eden
There were several periods of salvage operations. If the hon. Gentleman were to read accounts in the foreign Press he would think that generally that is not an unfair description of the position at that time. It is certainly not an unfair description of the position in respect of balance of payments which was one that was causing, as everybody knows, the most acute anxiety when we took over. I do not say this as a criticism; I am merely stating it as a fact. Of course, if hon. Members wish to debate this matter there are several days available in which they can do so. This is an occasion when we can discuss the affairs of the nation as well as at any time.
It is our contention that we have to some extent moved out of that period. We have to some extent reached a firmer economic platform, there is a curb on inflation and there is control of public expenditure, and there is greater confidence in the world in the strength of sterling. We think that in those things we possess the essentials of national prosperity. We think that they justify us in trying to go forward now with the new kind of proposals which are now before the House.
If we consider, for instance, just the question of employment—and I am not trying to put this in a partisan way—we will not, and cannot expect to, get confidence until there has been a certain period of full employment, until a generation has grown up which feels that it can count on a period of full employment. Until we have reached that situation there is bound to be a certain fear and difficulty about restrictive practices.
26 If, by the measure of greater confidence which we think we are now creating, and which we hope to stabilise for the nation, we can assist to do that, it should be something which is welcomed by every party in the House. The same applies to the problem of the old people which is to be dealt with in the proposed Bill, and to the houses on which we have concentrated from the start of our work, and which, I think the House would agree, is the most important of all aspects of social service. Whatever else we do in respect either of schools or health, if the housing is not good it can be so much wasted effort. In all this there has been a plan and there is a scheme.
I conclude by saying to the House that if, as a result of this work, stage by stage, we have created greater confidence in the country's future, that is something which is a national asset and on which we shall be able to build better conditions for our people—every section of them—and everybody in the country should warmly welcome that event.
§ Mr. Logan
On the question of housing, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the City of Liverpool, and I suppose in others, there is street after street of vacant sites with no houses upon them? Will it be the policy of the Government to build up those areas before going outside and building satellite towns?
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
I am extremely pleased to have the opportunity—though in an emptying House—of speaking at an early stage in the debate on the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech. As I listened to the references by the Foreign Secretary to what he called the salvaging operations which this Government have conducted, I thought that one does not really speak about salvaging operations unless it be true that the country is in such a position as to need to be saved from shipwreck.
At the time when the right hon. Gentleman and his party took over, this country was a good, going, productive 27 concern, with a high exporting business, with everything in that direction on the increase, and indeed with everything expected to increase. The regular employment, which the right hon. Gentleman now takes pride in having secured, was the result of a carefully planned economy which the Government that his party replaced had carried through for a period of years.
It is all very well, for the pleasure and satisfaction of his own party, that the right hon. Gentleman should trot out this old claim about salvaging a ruined nation. However, I assure him that Tories will never work that one off again on the Labour movement of this country. They worked it off on Philip Snowden in 1931. With references to some figures about the gold standard and about the price of sterling, they made him believe that the bottom had been knocked out of this country.
But the one man who knew that he had been deceived on that occasion was Philip Snowden himself. He was a far wiser man only 12 months later, when he went into the House of Lords to confess the complete folly of that for which he had been responsible. We shall not, then, as a Labour movement be taken in any more by this claim of salvaging operations by a Tory Government.
I admit that the speech of the Foreign Secretary greatly interested me. I thought that his deviation from what he called his job, his business, into the field of domestic policy was very interesting. We shall hope to hear him again. Perhaps there will be opportunities before long for him to say more in that connection as political conditions evolve.
I recall that in many Gracious Speeches there has appeared an opening sentence:My relations with foreign Powers continue to be friendly.One of the last times when that phrase was used was on 10th February, 1914, and before six months had passed this country became involved in what was at that time the most terrible war in which we had engaged. Indeed, that situation went on to create the Second World War.
It has continued through the cold war, and the development of horrifying means of destruction, to a situation the like of 28 which has never been known before. Yet it is true that only a few months before the beginning of that deteriorating process we thought fit to say to one another that our relations with foreign Powers continued to be friendly.
I remind myself that this Gracious Speech concludes with a sentence which has appeared in many Gracious Speeches. I believe that on one occasion it was forgotten, and Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman had to call the attention of the Tory leaders of the day to the fact that it had been missed. But there it is today—not quite in the old words of 1914 and pre1914—that it is hoped that our labours may be humbly commended to the blessing of Almighty God.
I certainly do not disagree with that, although I am willing to ask whether anyone really thinks that our labours with regard to the hydrogen bomb, or the labours of anyone in this world in connection with the hydrogen bomb, should be commended to the blessing of Almighty God. It is the fact that we have been drifting along, in relation to this world situation, from the First World War to a position which has now become literally intolerable; and it ought to be dealt with as the first priority above all other issues by any Government genuinely concerned about salvaging, not this country, but the world.
We are good at coining phrases, though we do not seem to be able to get down to realities. This Speech from the Throne goes to much greater lengths with fine phrases about peace and friendly relations—My Ministers will strive unremittingly to promote … the peace of the world.
§ Mr. Hudson
Well, we thank God for that. I hope that they will face up to their professions. I am quoting what are their intentions, and they are here for the purpose of upholding their intentions. If the hon. Gentleman were as clear about upholding them—
§ Mr. Osborne rose—29
§ Mr. Osborne
I merely wished to ask the hon. Gentleman if he had serious doubts about the genuine intentions of my right hon. Friends?
§ Mr. Hudson
In the old days when Ministers talked about their relations with foreign Powers continuing to be friendly, I do not think that anybody expressed doubts about it. I am saying that we are still coining that sort of phrase, but, putting it at its lowest level, events seem to make it very difficult for Ministers to carry out these professions. If any hon. Members disagree with that, I think it would be better if they expressed their disagreement in their speeches.
It is stated that,My Government re-affirm their belief …in the United Nations, because it isessential to the furtherance of international concord…There I find myself faced with a view which is more open to doubt. I am not so sure as I was that the United Nations is the essential basis of international concord. I do not think that Mr. Nehru, with his policy of neutralism, is quite sure about it, either. I think he feels that the United Nations does not represent unity among nations, but is. instead, an organisation based on the old balance of power, with one group of nations constantly confronting another and those groups organising themselves, not for general concord and the general welfare, but in order to achieve a superiority of military force. I agree that it was intended to be far different, just as was the old League of Nations. I am merely speaking of the situation into which the United Nations seems to have drifted, and it is to this point that I wish to direct the main part of my speech.
I note that further on in the Gracious Speech it is stated that we hope to end the occupation of Western Germany. It might be thought that that would decrease our military burdens, but that view is quickly exploded, when it is said that ourstrength on the mainland of Europe will be maintained …As a matter of fact, all our efforts to secure international alliances and international good will, as we sometimes call it, seem to have led, stage by stage, not to a lightening of our military burdens, 30 but merely to their reorganisation, and they may finally be reckoned to have increased rather than diminished.
We still hope that a better situation may materialise, but I am speaking of the present situation, as it strikes me. The Government seem to think that the arrangements which they have been making in Central Europe will so develop Western unity and strength that they may become an essential basis upon which an understanding with the Soviet Union can be sought.
It is at that point that I wish to express my most serious doubts about the effectiveness of the phrases used by the Government in the Speech. My doubt is based upon the view that, instead of our being better able to negotiate when the strength of nations, taken individually or corporately, becomes greater, the stronger they become the more likely are negotiations to be altogether neglected. The desire to negotiate becomes limited by one's very strength.
The strength to negotiate proceeds out of the minds of men who genuinely want negotiation because they see that only in that way can a through route be found to a different state of mind on the part of their opponents. We know that in human experience the presentation of strength by one boy who starts a fight with another boy in the school yard—the holding up of his fists in the other boy's face—tends to bring forth from the other boy precisely the same gestures and attitude.
In the same way, the presentation of great armaments and the ability to oppose our opponent with something stronger than he has, induces at every stage a desire in his mind to be at least as strong as us. The long history of armaments shows that as one country makes itself stronger it produces great strength on the part of those whom it most fears. It is because of my abiding doubts about this method that I ask the Government and the House—I am not making a party point at present—to consider again the validity of continuing with that old and, as I think, worn-out nostrum that one should negotiate only from strength.
I know that, for statesmen, negotiation is always a most difficult path, and the right hon. Gentleman will also know it. The soldier's path is a hard one, but the 31 negotiator has to meet disappointment, failure and unpopularity. He has to start again when he does not find any break through to the mind of his opponent, and his opponent sometimes takes advantage of him. I am not denying that, but I am saying that, in the light of modern warfare, negotiation is always better than the hydrogen bomb.
There is no short cut. However long it may take to negotiate, and however disappointing the attitude of our opponent, in these days we are called upon from the earliest moment to put our trust in the essential reasonableness of our demands. If we have that faith we can enter upon negotiation with courage, even remembering the number of times that our opponent has let us down. Our own faith in the validity of our claims should become the main ground upon which we should in future try to build our hope of fulfilling the aims that are yet to be achieved in the international field.
I realise that it may be inappropriate to speak about this matter on the birthday of the Prime Minister, but I am constantly asking myself how far the attitude which he adopts with regard to international difficulties provides us with any sort of example of the truth of what I am trying to convey to the House. At times he has shown a great example. When he went to Edinburgh to argue for the essential rightness of personal approaches to those whom we have suspected, he saw what I consider to be the light down the road. But his vision failed him as he went on.
At Edinburgh he showed a desire to make good his promises. Those promises served his party well. I have been talking like that for years in my constituency, and I must say that I was shaken when it was possible for the Tories in my constituency to show that the Prime Minister had gone on ahead of me in the proposals he was making. Many votes were won for the Tory party on the basis of those professions. But the Prime Minister grew weary of well-doing, or the Tory party compelled him to grow weary of well-doing, and to drop it all, and now he throws himself back entirely on this idea of building up our strength.
§ Mr. Hudson
I am not making a party point about the Prime Minister.
I am saying that the Prime Minister at that time—and I quoted how it happened—seemed to go on ahead of what I would propose. Now the hon. Gentleman is trying to confuse the situation. Let me get on with my main argument. It matters as much to the hon. Gentleman's constituents as to mine that we should try to understand this issue.
I am saying now that the Prime Minister has been recently showing us an entirely different attribute of his character. He goes down to Woodford and makes a statement on what he really believes is the process to be adopted in dealing with these difficult Russians. He speaks of his telegram to Lord Montgomery, telling him to stack the arms and be ready to put them into the hands of the Germans when at that moment we were intending to try many of them because they were war criminals, and we were intending that they should suffer for their crimes as war criminals. And yet there he was, in a time of trouble, I admit, offering this notion of keeping ourselves strong even by arming our enemies in order to fight our friends.
I cannot imagine how that could have reacted to help the processes of bringing about a better world and the processes of negotiation. The "Daily Herald" puts it very vigorously. I do not know that I altogether share the dramatics of the "Daily Herald" about it, but they say that the Prime Minister cannot very well, after making an exposure of that sort of his own attitude, conduct high-level talks with those who, as friends, were to be treated in the way he was then suggesting.
What happened on that occasion happened similarly, as the Prime Minister has indicated by his own exposures, at the end of the Japanese war. The Prime Minister told the House of Commons, in the first speech that he made after the 1945 Election, that he had come to an agreement with Stalin that Stalin was to march into Japan on 8th August, exactly three months after the German fighting was concluded, and conclude that war. Indeed, everyone knew that after the troops had been moved to the East, across the Trans-Siberian transport system—and this is what the Prime Minister said he had allowed the three months for—if 33 he had waited the fighting would have finished its course; it had nearly finished then.
But instead of doing so he dropped the atom bomb and pretended that he was saving the lives of millions of people. He dropped the atom bomb—and Truman with him, because both took it upon their own consciences to drop the atom bomb—to end the war before the Russians could get going. The Russians have been talking about this ever since. The Russians have said ever since then that while we are making professions about the United Nations and disarmament conferences and doing this, that and the other by agreement, we are still proceeding along the old roads; that we believe more in our armaments than we do in the power of reasoning out with our opponents the difficulties which confront us in common.
I say that the situation is too serious for mere party advantage. We all agreed in this House about the hydrogen bomb last April. We all agreed together, and there was no difference of opinion, that the hydrogen bomb had brought us to a point which could no longer be supported by any political party of any colour, and that we had to go out and find new ways and take all the risks in finding those ways.
I say to the Foreign Secretary, with great respect, and desiring to add nothing to his difficulties, that he has made a mistake this week, and that he has left the Russians to get on with the job of further organising armed force on their side. He has made a mistake in leaving them to get on with that job.
It may be true that the Russians would have gone on with their propaganda. I think that they would. It will take a long time for the Russians to learn better ways, and it is going to take us a long time to learn better ways, but in our call to Almighty God that our labours may be blessed we ought to try, however long the road, and now that we are faced with this challenge, to provide better methods and we ought to be willing, at the first opportunity that we can now find, to meet the other people and talk things out with them and keep on talking things out with them.
If propaganda is to be feared, then let us have faith in our own propaganda. It 34 can be made better than any Communist propaganda. There is something essentially right in the call of human brotherhood if only it is put forward on every occasion, and it is because I believe in it and believe that, with the blessing of Almighty God, it will yet succeed, that I plead with the Foreign Secretary to take his courage in his hands and to retrace some of the steps which he has recently taken.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Johnson (Manchester, Blackley)
I hope that the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) will forgive me if I do not follow him very closely into the field of foreign affairs. All of us respect him, of course, for the sincerity of his views and for the great ability with which he puts them forward. All that I would say about his speech is that I see no reason to find fault with the wording of the Gracious Speech, and more especially do I agree with that part of it which says that wewill so develop in unity and strength of the free nations that the essential basis will be established on which an understanding with the Soviet Union may be sought.I respect the hon. Gentleman's views, but, for my part, I am firmly convinced that weakness would always be a far greater temptation to an aggressor than strength.
I want to turn to domestic affairs. I am very grateful for this opportunity to welcome the Government's proposals in the Gracious Speech about the increase in National Insurance benefits. The whole House will agree that we are most anxious to take rapid action to help the old people, and all will welcome the statement of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary that we are to be told something about the subject tomorrow and that a Bill is to be introduced next week. I am sure that we shall all work together to put it on the Statute Book in the shortest possible time.
We have had two long debates on this question of pensions, and I do not propose to weary the House by going over that ground again, or by talking about the figures that were given as to how much the pensions should be raised or what they would cost. I have no intention, therefore, of attempting to guess what will happen, but what I do know and what we all know is that the Bill that will have to be met—and it will be gladly 35 met—will be very formidable. I am convinced that we must now take whatever action is necessary to restore pensions to the purchasing power that was intended in 1946, or perhaps, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Govan (Mr. J. N. Browne) said, we ought not to do even a bit better.
Having done that, and having taken that action, I think the time will then have come when we must stop and take another look at the whole system of National Insurance. What we have to do is to find a way of doing justice to pensioners and others who benefit from National Insurance without, at the same time, putting an intolerable burden on the rest of the community, and more particularly on the next generation, because that bill will be enormous.
It seems to me that a step in the right direction was taken by Lord Beveridge in his famous Report when he introduced those proposals, which were incorporated in the 1946 Act, to increase the pensions rate for those who postpone retirement. In this connection, the House will be aware of a most interesting and very valuable Report produced at the end of last week by the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance giving the result of an inquiry which had been made into the reasons why men and women retired at the ages of 65 and 60, respectively.
I should like to draw attention to two sets of figures in that Report. First, of the 12,009 people who had reached the age of 65 during the month under review, six out of 10 were staying at work. The other figure is that 28.4 per cent. of people who have retired did so because they were required to by their employers, and three out of four of them said they wanted to stay longer at work. I believe that these figures, which are very significant, illustrate the great importance of the Committee on the Employment of Older Men and Women which was set up by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Labour in February, 1952. The first Report of the Committee appeared in October, 1953, but, since that time, we have heard practically nothing of the Committee's activities, and I had hoped that there might have been some reference in the Gracious Speech to the plans of the Government to see whether something could be done to provide work for older people.
36 I believe that the case for providing opportunities for the employment of older workers is a very strong one indeed, though there are enormous difficulties. They can be overcome, however, not so much by Government action, except where the State is the actual employer, but by the good-will and co-operation of the old people themselves, by their younger fellow-workers, by their employers and by the trade unions. We know now that the expectation of life has increased very rapidly during the present century, but I think we still need to find out a little more about old people's capacity for work.
In view of the fact that children are much healthier than they were and are much better cared for, that working conditions are much improved and that there have been great advances in the medical services, I think it is reasonable to say that people will not only live longer but will be able to work longer. I believe that they will not only be able to do so, but that many of them—and this seems to be proved by the figures—will, in fact, want to do so, provided that they can find suitable and congenial work, and this is an important point. I am quite certain that there can be few things which are more discouraging to a man over 60 or which he dislikes more than to feel that he is being put on a shelf when he thinks that he can go on doing a job and doing it even better than some younger people.
Quiet apart from any economic considerations, I do not think it could be disputed that old people would feel infinitely happier if they could get a job in which they could feel that they could do well. I am not for one moment suggesting that pressure should be put on any old people to go on working if they do not want to do so, but I think it is fair to say that, from the nation's point of view, we cannot in these days afford to waste the skill and experience of older workers who are now prevented from going on working by age restrictions. There are innumerable difficulties which have to be faced, and I had, therefore, hoped that we should have heard something by now on the work of the Committee on these lines.
I do not think I am being unfair in saying that it seems to me that, in the first Report of the Committee, they were more concerned to state the problem than to offer any particular solution, except 37 in the most general terms, and that can be quoted from the Report:All men and women employed in industry, commerce, the professions or elsewhere who can give effective service, either in their normal work or on any alternative work which their employers can make available, should be given the opportunity, with regard to age, to continue at work if they so wish.I do not think anyone would object to that, but I should like to know what is being done now to encourage employers to carry it out, and what is being done by the Government, where they are direct employers, or by the nationalised industries. I have no idea whether my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Labour will be able to take part in this debate, but, if he does, I hope that he will take the opportunity to enlighten the House on the progress that has been made in this important matter.
I should like now to turn briefly to another point to which reference is made in the Gracious Speech, namely, the increasing scope for pursuing social policies directed to the happiness and well-being of all people. I am not going to say anything on the question of increasing the scope, but I want to draw attention to one matter that I believe is very serious, and concerns no fewer than 30,000 people, of whom 10,000 are children. I refer to the people known as spastics, and who suffer from cerebral palsy. I might say that the figure of 30,000 is probably too low.
In this country, all too little is known about this problem, but, as hon. Members are aware, infantile cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the brain, either before birth, at birth or, in rarer cases, afterwards. The ill-effects extend from the light handicap endured by those whose leg or arm may be slightly affected, and cover a very wide range of disabilities right up to total disablement. It is well known that the need of those people struck by infantile paralysis is for rehabilitation, so as to help them to do again those things which they were able to do quite normally before they became afflicted by the disease, but the spastic does not need rehabilitation but habilitation, because he has never been able to learn normal functions and movements.
Until new methods of treatment were introduced into this country about 10 years ago, any badly handicapped spastic 38 was treated as a completely hopeless case. Many of these unfortunate people were quite wrongly classified as mentally defective. It is obviously very difficult to communicate with a child who may have lost his speech, and perhaps also his hearing, and who suffers from other afflictions, such as facial grimacing. Before such a child is definitely assessed as mentally deficient, I believe that he ought to be kept under observation for at least two or three months. I understand that quite often such children are assessed on observation lasting only a few hours.
Experience has shown that, given early treatment and training, which must be continuous, these children can be sufficiently helped to enable them to take a fairly active part in life with other people if not, perhaps, to lead a completely independent life. If that is to be done, it is essential that the true nature of the affliction should be discovered in the early stages.
I am told that the right time is between the ages of six months and two years. It is also essential that treatment should begin as early as possible and that it should be given at a special centre. The advantage of these special centres is, of course, that a number of children can be treated together. A child derives great mental benefit through developing a happier frame of mind from being with other children who are like himself. He is not pointed at as someone who is a bit strange.
Unfortunately, very few spastic children get this treatment and training. One of the reasons is that the majoriy of spastic children, like the majority of other children, are not born at hospitals but at home. In many cases the records of birth details are not always properly kept, so that unless the condition is obviously a very severe one, their parents will not know just what is the matter. It may be that a child will reach the age of three or four before the trouble is correctly diagnosed as cerebral palsy, and, even then, it may be impossible for the doctor to prescribe or advise the right treatment because the hospitals have not sufficient facilities to carry out the immediate and continuous treatment required.
Treatment at these special centres is available only to a very small proportion of the children needing it. Incidentally, 39 these centres have been set up and maintained almost entirely by voluntary effort. The result is that a child needing this special treatment cannot get it. More often than not he is looked at, and his mother is told to take him home and to bring him back later. That almost certainly means when it is too late.
When a child has reached the age of five, he may be sent to a school for the physically handicapped, if there is such a school near his home, and if he is only very lightly handicapped. But if he cannot walk, is unable to use his hands and has speech difficulties, he will not set into such a school. He may be provided with a home teacher, but he is unlikely to get adequate treatment at the local hospital.
That, I think, all hon. Members will agree is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs. The spastic ought to be sent straight away to a suitable school according to his disability. If he is only lightly handicapped, he ought to go to a special school for physically handicapped children. If he is more severely handicapped, then he ought to go to a special school for spastics, and, if he is educationally subnormal, then he ought to go to a school for educationally subnormal children. Unfortunately, such schools do not exist at present.
Experience has shown that the spastic will only benefit when treatment can be combined with normal education, because it is imperative that the spastic should be given continuous therapy. But, here again, there are far too few of these special schools. There are only seven in Great Britain, five of which were set up by voluntary effort. At present, they can only accommodate about 200 children, and at present 10 times that number are denied the opportunity of attending schools where they can obtain the right treatment and training.
I do not know what other hon. Members think about this state of affairs, but, for my part, I think that it is absolutely deplorable and that we ought to be ashamed that such conditions still exist. We read in the Gracious Speech that because conditions are now better it is possible to press on with these various social needs. I hope that the spastic will be given a very high priority in this matter.
40 I wish to trace the history of the spastic to what one might call the third stage, when he becomes the responsibility of the Minister of Labour. There is no doubt that after school age many of these people are in need of continued education and vocational training. The few who are trained in the Ministry of Labour schools for disabled persons are, almost without exception, lightly handicapped. Because the Ministry of Labour scheme is based on rehabilitation, not habilitation, it is, unfortunately, not of very much use to the spastic. It certainly cannot help the severely handicapped man to get better or to make him capable of earning his own living, although a large number of spastics are potentially able to do this.
In addition, the course is far too short. The spastic needs a long period of training to enable him to do some sort of work. During that time his capabilities can be tested, and in a great many cases he can be graded for suitable work under sheltered conditions, if that is necessary, as, unfortunately, it very often is. In point of fact, what happens is that at the age of 16, if he has been to a physically handicapped school, the spastic is discharged. In many cases, he is quite unable to get a job which he can hold down, probably because he has not had sufficient treatment, and he then becomes a burden on the community as one of the unemployable.
The more severely handicapped spastic may be sent home to live in enforced idleness on National Assistance and on ageing parents, without any prospect of ever getting a job. When his parents die, or if he has no parents, he ends up in an institution or in the chronic ward of his local hospital, where he remains for the rest of his life.
It has been estimated that to give a spastic child the ideal facilities I have suggested, it would cost about £7,000. That would provide him with the prospect of being able to get a job and of being able to earn enough either to keep himself or to make a considerable contribution towards his keep. Against this, it would probably cost the State anything between £17,000 and £20,000 to keep him in idleness throughout his life in an institution. Therefore, on purely economic grounds, quite apart from the humanitarian side, it is good business to provide 41 the necessary schools for training these people.
While provisions to help meet some of the problems which I have mentioned exist to a certain extent under the National Assistance Acts, they are not mandatory and do not seriously tackle the problem. We in this country have welfare services of which we are rightly proud. They are probably the best in the world, but, none the less, this is a very serious gap in their provisions. I believe that it is largely due to a lack of coordination between the various services.
The question of the spastics involves three of my right hon. Friends, the Minister of Health, the Minister of Education and the Minister of Labour. I hope that at any rate one of my right hon. Friends will be able to give the House an assurance that the Government are seized of this very real and human problem. It is a tragedy that thousands of lives are being wasted in this way when appropriate treatment and proper care would make these unfortunate people happy and useful citizens. In the past—
§ Mr. W. Griffiths (Manchester, Exchange)
I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman. I am following his most interesting speech with close attention, and I sympathise very much with what he is saying. Can he tell the House what he thinks ought to be done after a spastic or epileptic child has had a course of training and is placed in employment? Does he envisage any extension of the powers already existing to compel private industry to take a higher proportion of disabled persons into employment?
§ Mr. Johnson
The scheme now carried out by the Ministry of Labour for disabled people would have to be extended, but whether we should have to compel employers is a matter on which I will not pronounce. The Ministry of Labour would have to come into the picture a very great deal.
This problem has been imperfectly understood in the past but, now that we know more about the treatment that is required, no consideration should be allowed to stand in the way of putting this knowledge into practice. Like the need to promote the welfare of old people, the need to help the spastics is something on which we can agree on both 42 sides of the House. I hope that hon. Gentlemen will join in pressing the Government—if the Government need pressing—to take the vigorous and prompt action which is so urgently needed.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ Mr. A. C. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
I hope that the hon. Member for Blackley (Mr. E. Johnson) will forgive me if I do not follow his most thoughtful speech I think the House would agree with the case he put up for renewed interest in spastic children and the placing of such children after school age into industry or employment after adequate treatment. The hon. Member has the sympathy of the whole House in any attempt he may, make to improve that position.
As for the Gracious Speech, I am sure that all of us who heard my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition indicating his surprise that there was no mention in it of the hydrogen bomb will agree with that observation. The Speech cannot be considered as adequately meeting the present position in the world when it omits mention of this bomb. It rather appears that the Government say, "We are not moving a single step forward either in relation to the menace of the hydrogen bomb and or anything else until we get complete ratification of the nine-Power Treaty."
We have no assurance about when we shall reach that stage. Some people estimate that the time-limit will be in May or June next year, but we have no guarantee even of that. Surely the Government would not be committing themselves to a policy which would not be supported in most parts of the House and by the large majority of the people of the country if they said that they were prepared to meet the leaders of the main world States and to discuss what ought to be done, now that the hydrogen bomb is a reality. The Foreign Secretary appears to be in the position of Nero; he fiddles while Rome burns.
There is a loose argument going around. We hear it at many meetings, and Government supporters are using it. It is, "The great nations are afraid to use the hydrogen bomb, which is a safeguard for peace." Anybody who uses such a loose argument is treading on dangerous ground, but I am sure 43 that the Foreign Secretary would not defend the position that because we have the hydrogen bomb we should be lax in meeting those who are politically or in any other world sense our opponents. It is a most dangerous state of mind that it should be said in so many places that the danger of war is less because of the hydrogen bomb. We know how a situation develops in the world. There is no guarantee that the hydrogen bomb would not be used; in fact, it appears that the participants in any quarrel which resulted in war would almost inevitably try to use the bomb at the beginning because of the fear of the other fellow doing it and annihilating his opponent.
If that criticism is accepted, I cannot understand why the Foreign Secretary is not prepared to meet the leaders of other world States on this limited question of the hydrogen bomb before ratification of the nine-Power Treaty. He has nothing to lose and everything to gain, while the whole world and the majority of people in this country would accept it as an attempt along the right lines. We do not improve a glowering position—to use a good old Scots expression—if we say, "Until ratification we shall not discuss the position with Russia or with anybody else."
There ought to be second thoughts about this attitude. I do not want to say any more on this question, but I had to make these remarks. They are not in my notes. I make them because of the observations of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about the omission of any mention in the Gracious Speech of the hydrogen bomb.
We are interested to have the assurance again that old-age pensions, and other pensions and benefits under the National Insurance Acts, are to be increased. We on this side of the House can congratulate ourselves that we have prodded and shoved the Government into acceptance of the necessity to increase old-age pensions. Personally, I am not at all happy about the glib assumption that the extra money needed to restore pensions to their 1946 values is to come from increased contributions. It is all very well to say that another 2s. 6d. or 3s. shall be taken off the wages of wage-earners, but 44 that means less money going into the home. Millions of wage-earners are in the income range of £6 per week. Nobody in this House who represents and speaks for working people could accept the position that Lord So-and-so with £10,000, £20,000 or £30,000 a year coming in should pay just the same as John Smith with £6 a week.
That is entirely wrong, and will bear very heavily on the lower income groups. We should have second thoughts about it. I regret that people associated with the trade union movement—and perhaps the trade union movement itself—have allied themselves to this line of thought. I do not think it is realistic. We shall, inevitably, need to depart from it as the position becomes known and as pensions and benefits have to be increased as costs increase.
We are also interested to see from the Gracious Speech that, after all, the teachers are to have a pension scheme, that it is to be on… a sound financial basis.Presumably the previous scheme—the superannuation scheme—was not on a sound financial basis. What do the Government mean when they say that this scheme is to be on a sound financial basis? Is it to be a sound financial basis for the teachers, for the education authorities, or for the Government? These are questions we want answered. On this side of the House we can congratulate ourselves that we have had on the Order Paper for many months an Amendment for the rejection of the Teachers (Superannuation) Bill as the Government had envisaged it. I think that that has had something to do with the Government's change of mind.
There is here a purely Scottish connection. The Bill as it would have affected Scottish teachers was most strongly resented and would have been fought to the bitter end. With some of my colleagues in Ayrshire I met most of the Ayrshire teachers at a mass meeting. We were left in no doubt as to their views. Certain Ayrshire Members have thus been saved a great deal of embarrassment, if I may say so, by the Government's intention to bring in a new pensions scheme. I warn the Government that we shall be very watchful and careful in our assessment of the scheme. We shall certainly do our best to protect 45 the interests of the teachers, to make sure that they are not to be worse off than they are today.
A primary interest of my own is housing, particularly the housing of our people in Scotland. The Gracious Speech says:My Ministers will ensure the continuance of a high rate of house building, for letting and for purchase, and are now able to resume an active campaign to clear the slums.To me, that paragraph does not make sense. If one has a high rate of house building for both letting and purchase one just cannot clear away the slums as one would wish to do.
I am delighted to see the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland now gracing the Front Bench opposite. I know that he has devoted a great deal of thought to the question of slums in Scotland. As one who has a little knowledge of the problem—after 16 years' experience of local government, and having been closely associated with municipal house building during the whole of that period—I assure the right hon. Gentleman that if he means to allow to be purchased 50 per cent. of the houses built—as the Gracious Speech indicates will be allowed in England—he will not move one step forward with slum clearance in Scotland. No pronouncement on that in regard to Scotland has yet been made, but I hope we shall hear something about it. If the proportions of houses built for purchase are at all considerable I am convinced that there will be terrific opposition from Scottish local authorities.
The housing of our people is still the greatest social problem confronting men in Scottish public life. I am not at all opposed to people owning their own homes. I do not think we have yet arrived at such a position. I am, of course, against too many people owning other people's homes. We have still too much of that. The Scottish housing problem is still so immense that it would be a tragedy if families still living in the most appallingly overcrowded conditions—and in many hundreds of thousands of cases in houses listed as being unfit for human habitation—are to be denied the chance of a decent home, because those with the money to purchase a house jump the queue.
Although the Gracious Speech says that we 46… are now able to resume an active campaign to clear the slumsI think that the Secretary of State would agree that every house built for purchase means a lessening of the effort to clear the slums. He will agree that we are still tied to a labour force much too small in relation to the size of the problem, and that there is still a limitation of building materials. If he is in agreement with that, he will surely agree that, in those circumstances, the Government should not allow private enterprise to drain away, for private house building, our restricted resources of labour and materials.
Those who would occupy houses built for purchase are not those living in our slum properties. I hope that the Government will be realistic, and will recognise that if they hope to travel along this road they should consult the Scottish local authorities. I would like an assurance that, if the Government are considering this particular aspect, they will give a promise to the Scottish local authorities to allow them to build to the limit of their building capacity before private enterprise is allowed to build houses for purchase by people with private means.
When the Scottish local authorities can say to the Secretary of State, "We cannot take more houses this year. Five hundred—or 1,000—houses is all that this small burgh can build, we cannot take any more"; when he can tell the House, or the Scottish Grand Committee, that he will have x-thousand houses over and above the local authorities' capacity I am prepared to agree that he should allow those on the housing lists of local authorities, who have the money, to purchase them privately. In the meantime, the housing problem in Scotland is still so immense that I do not think we need to depart from the authorities' lists to get would-be tenants.
I see that the Minister of Health is laughing. I do not know whether he thinks that the position in England is any better than in Scotland, but I could take him to some places in England where the conditions are very nearly as bad. [Interruption.] I apologise; I understand that the right hon. Gentleman was not laughing at anything I said.
I want to assure the Government Front Bench that we in Scotland are suffering 47 under the most appalling conditions. No one who is confronted with this problem can be in any doubt of its importance. If people see houses being built for sale in their localities while they are still living in mean, miserable hovels, in grossly overcrowded conditions, where disease is so easily contracted, they will not accept this situation in the way that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland may expect them to. If he is considering dealing with this matter on lines similar to the English Minister's approach, I hope he will consult very fully our Scottish local authorities. I am sure that they will give him a fair picture of how far he can go in this direction.
The Secretary of State will be aware that we have in Scotland many houses which are becoming empty and which Scottish landlords are keeping empty so that they may try to sell them at inflated prices. This is happening not only in Glasgow, Edinburgh and other large cities, but also in every little town and village in Scotland. If there is a village in which this is not happening, I am not aware of it.
Everywhere I go I get complaints about privately owned houses being vacated either through death or some other reason—they are mostly tenement properties, although there are other sorts of properties as well—and deliberately kept vacant by the landlords for month after month. Sometimes they are vacant for as long as a year. People are not allowed to occupy them, but they are advertised for sale in the newspapers every week by the landlords.
I want the Secretary of State to appreciate the frustration and resentment that is felt by people living in overcrowded conditions and in the poor slum houses in these localities when they walk along the main street and see fairly decent tenement houses—houses which are not condemned and which could be made into good homes—standing empty month after month. Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to acquiesce in that state of affairs any longer?
The Labour Government were concerned about this problem. Some of us tried to do something about it, and there was a Bill in preparation just as we left office. I would like the Secretary of State to look at that Bill. Perhaps he 48 could strengthen it and improve it, and stop this anomaly in Scotland. It is wrong that with our present housing scarcity so many thousands of houses should be empty while people are not allowed to occupy them.
The position has got very nearly out of hand in some quarters. The Secretary of State must surely be aware of attempts which have been made to occupy these houses. It is time that the Government began to consider what ought to be done when resentment reaches this pitch and people feel that they cannot continue to live five and six in a single apartment with children huddled and crowded on the floor in one room, while there are unoccupied houses in the same town or village. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will do something about this problem.
I feel that I may have spoken too long, but I did want to draw to the attention of the Secretary of State, whose arrival during the course of my remarks delighted me, to the necessity of considering these problems. Perhaps, before the end of this debate, we may have a word from the right hon. Gentleman.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Captain Richard Pilkington (Poole)
The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) always speaks with great sincerity, and I think this would be a duller place if it were not for some of his interruptions from time to time. I have no wish to be unduly controversial on this the first day of the debate on the Gracious Speech, but when the hon. Gentleman said that hon. Members opposite had prodded the Government into taking action for the old people he was bordering on the fantastic. After all, it was his Government who laid down that a report should be made to the Government of the day in March of next year, and it is this Government which has so speeded things up that we hope to be in a position to pass legislation before Christmas.
§ Mr. Manuel
I am grateful to the hon. and gallant Gentleman for giving way. I think it would be fairer if he gave the full story. I agree that we laid down that a report should be made on the National Insurance Act, but in the interim period there has boiled up a problem which everybody agrees should be 49 dealt with, and it was that limited aspect of old-age and allied pensions to which I was referring.
§ Captain Pilkington
But when hon. Members opposite were responsible for what was happening in this country they realised that it was not just a question of increasing old-age pensions when it seemed desirable to them to do so, but that they also had to find the wherewithal with which to do it. That is why the hon. Gentleman's Government wisely laid down that there should be a proper and full financial report before the Government of the day acted.
I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley (Mr. E. Johnson) stressed the importance of doing something for these old-age pensioners as quickly as possible. I noted with pleasure, too, the reference in the Gracious Speech to this problem, including that of the war disabled. The point I want to make relates not to something which the Gracious Speech says but to something which was omitted, and on this matter I want to lay all the emphasis that I can.
I refer to another section of the community, not so far embraced in the Government's proposals, namely, the retired officers. I very much hope that this omission in words will, before the next Gracious Speech, be rectified by fulfilment in deed. Here, surely, is a section of the community which has earned the gratitude of the nation as a whole. It is not a large section, but is a definite and distinct section of the community. They are survivors who have been ready to risk their lives for the nation. Surely the country owes them well being—I will not say in their old age, but in their later age.
Surely this section of the community should be pre-eminent in that category described in his speech at Blackpool by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as those living on fixed incomes. I had hoped that he had this section of the community in mind, and I was sorry when I heard the Gracious Speech that no mention was made of them. I know that the Government feel sympathy for them. In answering a Question I put to him last week, the Chancellor expressed that sympathy. I hope it will be transformed into action before another 12 months have passed.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Mr. James Simmons (Brierley Hill)
I want to begin by referring to a question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel), the question of the number of houses standing empty while people are having to live in overcrowded conditions. The Minister of Housing and Local Government has issued an order for the handing back of derequisitioned houses. My wife is chairman of the housing management committee in Birmingham. She has 50,000 people on her waiting list. She has been asked by the Minister to hand back "prefabs" and to hand back requisitioned houses, which means that if Birmingham does everything which the Minister requests it to do, no ordinary registered applicant will get a house for the next three or four years, because all the new houses will be occupied by priority cases, such as T.B. cases.
The Government ought to give power to local authorities, not only not to hand back houses already requisitioned but also to requisition all other houses which stand empty for more than a month. If they stand empty for more than a month they should be requisitioned and tenanted by people from the local authority housing list.
The main feature of the Gracious Speech is not what it contains but what is omitted. The House will remember that about two years ago my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) and my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler), among others, with myself sniping occasionally and giving support, compelled the Government to promise that the Army Act would be reviewed and brought up to date. In the dying days of the Session just ended, the House approved the Report of the Select Committee dealing with the Army Act. We all look forward to legislation this Session to make the Army Act effective, but there is not a words in the Gracious Speech about the Army Act. This is very serious because for two years, as it was being discussed by the Select Committee, it was impossible to discuss the Army Act on the Floor of the House. The well-being, the welfare and the care of the men and women in the Forces has not been discussed as it could have been discussed had the Army Act been brought before the House.
51 May I pass next to the question of old-age pensions? There is a very crafty reference to old-age pensions in the Gracious Speech—the Governmentwill introduce early legislation to authorise increases in retirement pensions. …There is not a word in the Gracious Speech about increased contributions. Are there to be increased contributions?
A very hearty plea was made from the other side of the House earlier today that we should co-operate to see that the increase in pensions becomes operative at the earliest possible moment. The view expressed from the other side of the House was that it was hoped that the Bill authorising an increase in old-age and other pensions would be on the Statute Book before Christmas, and I am sure that we all heartily concur in that hope and wish, but if the Government are asking for co-operation they must also give co-operation, and it all depends upon the nature of the Bill brought before the House whether it can receive Royal Assent before Christmas. If we are to be asked to discuss a Bill which goes outwith the principle of increasing the pensions, which makes a change in the retirement age, we shall be discussing very controversial questions—questions which ought to be kept entirely separate from that of doing economic justice, as nearly as possible, to our old people.
As a back bencher, I plead with the Government to make this a simple and one-purpose Bill, giving an increase in old-age pensions' and other social insurance benefits. I am sure that such a Bill would easily pass through the House before Christmas. A Bill which brought within its scope matters of controversy upon which, in some cases, there is no agreement on either side of the House, is likely to be long delayed in its progress, and the old people will suffer not from the obstinacy of the Opposition but from the fact that the Government are not carrying out the exact pledge which they gave to old-age pensioners.
I want to express some apprehension about what is happening to war pensions. These are in an entirely different category from that of any other pensions. They were given to men and the dependants of men who, in times of great danger for this country, risked their limbs and even their lives. These are not contributory 52 pensions. They are an expression of a nation's gratitude to the dependants of those who died in the service of their country and to those who suffered grievous injury in the service of their country, and they should not be tied to or swallowed by any social insurance scheme. They should remain separate and independent as a token of our nation's gratitude to men who made sacrifices which the nation can never repay in terms of cash.
When the Ministry of Pensions was merged in the wider Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, I expressed certain doubts. The first report of the new Ministry dispelled those doubts. The first report is now several months old, and some of the happenings since the publication of the report lead me to make a further plea that the Government should realise that in dealing with those who suffered in our wars and those who were bereaved by our wars they are dealing with something more than a mere monetary payment. This involves a spirit of service and sympathy by those who administer it.
When the old Ministry of Pensions was absorbed, gradually the men and women who had grown up in that Ministry and who, in the years since the end of the war, had absorbed its wonderful spirit of service to those who had suffered for our country, were dispensed with. The permanent secretary went, the chief medical officer went, the deputy secretary went. She was one of the ablest women who ever handled a Civil Service Department; I refer to Dame Marjorie Cox. There is hardly an officer in the new Ministry who has the same spirit and outlook on the administration of pensions that existed in the years from 1945 to 1951. I am amazed to find that no new deputy secretary is to be appointed to be responsible for war pensions in the merged Ministry.
I fear that the war pensioner is being swallowed up in the new Ministry. People who have special, sympathetic and heartfelt feelings for the war pensioner and his dependants have been eliminated; war pensions have become an annex to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance. That is something which should be considered by the Government along with the question of increasing war pensions. The increase of war pensions is only half the problem; treatment of war pensioners is the other half.
53 I was greatly moved by the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson). When I came into this House in 1929 I was a disabled ex-Service man. My hatred of war was so profound that on several occasions I went into the Lobby to vote against war supplies and against the Service Estimates. In the period between my discharge from the Services, early in 1918, until I entered Parliament I had been in trouble on several occasions because of my views. On one occasion I served as a guest of His Majesty in one of his "temperance hotels" situated at Armley, Leeds. I am not complaining about that; that was for my principles, which I was prepared to put into practice on the Floor of the House of Commons.
I felt that I was right then. It was a matter of the heart, the feeling and emotions perhaps, but not of the head. When Hitler marched into Europe and the forces of Nazism spread their bestial trail over humanity and the world in general, I began to feel that I had been wrong. I began to feel that although force settled nothing if you give the other chap double your forces he will settle you quickly.
As I listened to my hon. Friend, a man whose integrity and sincerity I admire as much as those of anyone in this House, he brought back old memories to me. I have searched my mind and soul on this question. Although I realise that we have to put up some defence against the potential aggressor in the East, my great fear is that we might swing right over to the other side and go back to the days of which my hon. Friend spoke. I can remember politics in my youth—I came into politics very early, as my school master taught me politics. The old cry was, "We want eight and we won't wait." I can remember the cry about the two-Power standard of the naval race and the beginning of the arms race round about 1908, which eventually led to the First World War.
Some of us on this side of the House felt it our duty to support the Paris Agreements and to say to the forces of totalitarianism in the East—which are just as totalitarian as were the forces of Hitler—"Thus far and no further." Where I disagreed with my hon. Friend was when he said that we wanted to get overwhelming forces to flatten the other 54 chap. I do not think that is our object. Our object is to get forces to defend ourselves and our shores against the fear of aggression.
My plea to the Government is that whilst making ourselves as secure as we can and whilst carrying out on the Continent of Europe the principle of collective security to which my party is committed, we should not close any door to discussions with the other side. Do not bang any door in the face of representatives of the Soviets, or their satellites. Let these things go on simultaneously. It might be a risk, but—as one who fought in one war, had sons in another war and between the wars fought against war, as one who has realised the importance of doing all we can not to encourage agression by being weak—I realise that, important as it is to take risks for war, it is more important to take risks for peace.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Crouch (Dorset, North)
First, I wish to congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Govan (Mr. J. N. Browne) and Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Bullard), who so ably moved and seconded the Motion for a humble Address to Her Majesty, and particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West. I think he made a great speech. While I know that, generally speaking, we people of the soil are considered rather slow and that quite a number of others consider themselves more efficient than we are, it is a treat when the real smell of the soil is brought into this Chamber; and, without doubt, that is what my hon. Friend did.
The Gracious Speech covers a great deal of ground and will provide us with a great deal of work in the months ahead. We are all particularly pleased to see that pensions for old people and the disabled stand in a very high priority. I hope we shall have the Bill before us before many days have passed. I am particularly pleased to see the reference to further schemes for the clearance of slums. We on this side can indeed feel proud of our record in slum clearance, because we have done more with regard to major slum clearing schemes than was done by hon. Members of the party opposite when they were in office.
55 I am particularly pleased, also, that we are now to set about a realistic road policy. Our roads, unfortunately, have been neglected for a long time. With modern forms of transport and the very large loads that are carried on the roads, the time is long overdue when we should seriously tackle the problem of making our roads safer and of providing a much better means of transport.
I believe that if a good road were constructed from South Wales to Birmingham, it would have a great effect upon the cost of goods manufactured in that great city. I understand that there is a troublesome bottleneck in getting the raw materials from South Wales to the manufacturing area of Birmingham.
The Gracious Speech says that we shall continue to go forward with our policy of building still more schools. I am particularly interested in the reference in the Speech to village halls and playing fields in rural areas, and I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education present on the Front Bench. I hope that before long he will make a diligent search and discover those villages which today suffer very much because of the lack of proper village halls.
I do not think it is generally realised that during the last 12 months the various fire authorities in the counties have been concerned about some of the existing village halls. Quite a number of halls have been closed because of the fear that, if fire were to break out, there would be loss of life as a result of the existing system of exits from these buildings.
I hope that my hon. Friend will give particular priority to those villages which have already attempted to raise money themselves. I have in mind two villages in particular which, if they could be given a grant of about £1,000, could build their hall and raise a loan for the balance of the money, which they could repay over the years.
I wish to refer especially to a village in my county, but not in my constituency. Someone who wrote to me during the weekend said that during the war his village raised £1,000 to build a village hall. Towards the end of the war an appeal was made, not for loans, but for gifts to the State, and the village gave its 56 £1,000 for the war effort. Since then, it has gone to work again and has now raised £1,500.
My correspondent asks whether there is any hope in the near future of the village being able to get a grant so that it may build its hall, the remainder of the cost being raised over the years by various functions to be held in the hall. Village halls are used also by local education committees for the supply of school meals. New halls should, therefore, be built near to the schools, not only to facilitate the school meals service but, where necessary, to serve as extra classrooms for the older children.
In speaking of the reference in the Gracious Speech to agriculture, I should like to follow upon some words used by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary about unemployment. He said that there must grow up a generation of people who are given full employment and who understand what this means. I have a similar feeling with regard to farmers. We need to have a generation of farmers who realise that there can be real prosperity in the industry. We do not want them to continue to look backwards, like Lot's wife, and be in danger of being turned into pillars of salt. That idea, I fear, has been given to them by quite a number of hon. Members who sit on the benches opposite.
The Gracious Speech recognises the difficulties of moving from control to freedom, and says:My Ministers … will not relax their efforts to promote the efficient production and marketing of food.I take it, therefore, that the schemes are to be laid before us for the introduction of marketing schemes for several commodities. I believe that a public inquiry will shortly consider the potato industry, with the idea of establishing a potato marketing board. I hope that this will be followed by similar proposals for eggs and for pigs. Of the boards already in operation, the Milk Marketing Board, which has just celebrated its 21st birthday, has proved itself to be advantageous both to producers and to consumers.
Since the introduction of the Milk Marketing Board, we have had much better milk and a more regular supply, and the margin between the price paid to the producer and that paid to the consumer has been considerably narrowed. 57 Today, the margin afforded to wholesalers for the sale of milk is smaller than ever before. I hope that other similar schemes will be brought forward, and I feel sure that, as a result, we shall have greater quantities of and mach better food from our farms than we have had in the past.
I pay tribute to the work that has been done by our farmworkers during the last six or seven very difficult months. No one who is not associated with the soil appreciates the amount of work and hardships with which the farming community has to contend. It matters not whether it rains or shines; there is still stock to be tended, crops to sow and crops to harvest. This year, certainly, has been a very difficult one for the farmworkers. It is regrettable that even now, on this last day of November, there are still fields of corn and potatoes to be harvested and that there will be many a wet back before the job is done.
We are proud of these men. It matters not to them what the day of the week may be. If weather conditions are suitable for the harvesting of a crop, we can always depend upon them to do their job, and to do it thoroughly and with pleasure, because they recognise that they have a very important trust and duty to perform.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Ralph Morley (Southampton, Itchen)
I hope that the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) will not be offended if I do not comment upon what he has said. Although his speech was so ably delivered, it was far too truly rural for an urban dweller like myself. I was, however, pleased that in the course of his speech the hon. Member praised the policy, which was first adumbrated by members of the Labour Party, of establishing boards for the marketing of various agricultural products.
The Gracious Speech contains a number of proposals to which legislative effect must be given during the present Session. It would appear that most of these proposals are largely of a non-controversial nature. They will be non-controversial at least so far as their general principles are concerned, although, of course, there may be controversy over the way in which those general principles should be applied. I think we are all very pleased indeed that the Government 58 have expressed their intention of introducing legislation very early to increase the existing too low level of old-age pensions, and so far as the increase in the pensions is concerned we on this side of the House will give the Government every assistance to pass their legislation as soon as possible so that the pensioners may enjoy the increase.
There may, of course, be controversy over details in the scheme. I hope, for example, that the cost of the increased pensions will not be financed entirely by increased contributions. There are many millions of people who are still receiving only £5 or £6 a week in wages. There are many single women, for example, whose wages are only £5 a week or less. Out of that £5 a week they have to pay for board and lodging, and pay their bus fares, and all that may amount to £3 a week.
A single woman being paid £5 a week even has to pay several pounds a year in Income Tax. An increase of 2s. or 3s. a week in her contributions towards National Insurance would be a very heavy burden and would rob her of the few pleasures she is now able to afford. I hope, therefore, that a considerable proportion of the cost of the increase will be borne out of taxation, not out of increased contributions. After all, taxation is suited more or less to the people who have to bear it, because of its graded nature.
I was interested to note in the Gracious Speech that the Government propose at long last to deal with the question of providing more secondary education in the rural areas.Special attention"—the Gracious Speech said—will be paid to the provision of secondary schools, village halls and playing fields in the rural areas."'That means, I take it, that very soon the Minister of Education will announce a policy for the reorganisation of all the existing all-age schools. There are about 600,000 of our children who are being educated in all-age schools, mostly in the rural areas, and those children are being denied the benefit of secondary education which was promised to all the children by the 1944 Act. I therefore note with pleasure that the Government propose to take steps to rectify that unfortunate position, and I hope that the Minister 59 will have some sense of urgency in the matter, and that he will grant to the local authorities sufficient funds to enable them to get on with the reorganisation of the all-age schools rapidly, so that the reorganisation will be completed before not too long a lapse of time.
I noted with some perturbation these words in the Gracious Speech:My Ministers will prepare a new scheme for ensuring a sound financial basis for teachers' pensions.I noted also that it was said that the scheme will be preparedIn consultation with the teachers and local authorities.I hope that the new scheme will have nothing in common with the Bill which was presented last Session supposedly to deal with this matter. I hope that the new scheme will not impose on teachers any additional contribution towards their pensions.
I trust that the consultations with the teachers' organisations will be very thorough, and, if necessary, prolonged, and that there will be a substantial measure of agreement between the Minister and the teachers' organisations before the new Bill affecting teachers' pensions is drafted. I can assure the Minister that if in the proposed new Bill there is any Clause to increase the contributions from 5 per cent. to 6 per cent., or any other figure, it will meet with very strong opposition from the teaching profession throughout the country, from all grades of the teaching profession and from teachers in all types of schools. I hope, therefore, that the fullest possible consideration will be given to the Bill before it is drafted, and that it will be drafted in such a form as will make it fair to the teaching profession and generally acceptable to the teaching profession and the local education authorities.
I sought to intervene in the debate chiefly to deal with that part of the Gracious Speech that says:My Government re-affirm their belief that the United Nations Organisation is essential to the furtherance of international concord, and will give it their wholehearted support.This age in which we live ought to be one of the happiest mankind has known. It ought to be for the majority of people. Owing to the magnificent work that was done by the two Labour Governments 60 between 1945 and 1951 the working class of this country are now better off than they have ever been in the whole of England's history. They have full employment; they have paid holidays; they have reasonable hours of work; they have a decent system of education for their children; they have good social services; they have provision for sickness and for the rare occurrences of unemployment; and provision is made for their old age, and that provision is soon to be increased—I hope, substantially increased. Never before in the history of our country have the masses of the people of the country had these conditions, which should bring them happiness and content.
This should be an age of happiness; but it is not an age of happiness. It is an age of anxiety. It is an age of frustration. It is almost an age of despair, because all the great social advances that have been made in the last 50 years have been overshadowed in the minds of most people by the fears of the horrors of a third world war. Our fathers and grandfathers who lived in the Victorian age—my father was born 102 years ago—if they belonged to the working class, lived lives of poverty and frustration. They worked extremely long hours; they had no paid holidays; the education afforded to their children was extremely meagre. After all that, they had to look forward in their old age either to the workhouse or to being dependent upon the charity of their sons and daughters or near relatives. But they had the consolation that they had no fear of war.
I remember my father saying to me when I was quite a little boy, "There never will be a great war again in the world." All the wars that there were then were far distant wars fought by professional soldiers. They did not interfere in any way with the normal conduct of civilians at home. In those days people had the comfortable idea that one could raise as much heroism as the country required for a shilling a day. I remember some of the terrible conditions which the working classes endured Victorian times. I was born and grew up to manhood in the Victorian age. In spite of those terrible conditions, the poverty and the class distinctions of those days, with great wealth flaunting itself in the face of abject poverty, there was, however, a certain amount of high spiritedness which does not exist now. I think 61 that that was because in those days there was no fear of war, whereas that fear now exists.
The main fear of war today comes from the rivalry of the two great republics, the republic of Russia and that of the United States of America. The Russians, or perhaps I should say the rulers of Russia, are rather arrogant people. They think that they know it all and that without them wisdom would perish. They are not only an arrogant people but also a deeply, even bigotedly, religious people, because Communism of the Russian brand is not a political or economic doctrine. It is a new religion. It has its sacred book, "Das Kapital," it has its prophets, its martyrs and its day of doom and judgment when the victorious proletariat will hurl the defeated capitalists into outer darkness. It is fully chiliastic and, like all new religions, it is inclined to be intolerant.
On the other hand, we have the United States of America. The religion of its people is the American way of life, which they think every country ought to adopt. The Americans are also a rather impatient people. They are impatient because they have grown so quickly. The United States 150 years ago was a federation of sparsely populated, impoverished agricultural states. Today, it is the wealthiest empire the world has ever known. There has never been in human history such an example of rapid and portentious growth. Naturally, the Americans are impatient and they always want to take the short cut. The people of the United States are also rather inclined to violence. The American Civil War was the most violent war in civil history prior to the First World War.
But I do not think that the enmity between Russia and the United States is entirely or even mainly due to the differences in their ideology. I believe that, as long as independent sovereign national States remain, the foreign policy of those States will never be determined by ideological considerations. I believe that the foreign policy of an independent national State is determined by motives relative to the security, the power and the interests of that State and not by ideological motives, and that in any case ideologies in time tend to soften. They tend to be held with much less fervour and conviction. The history of the human 62 race is full of the ironic silences which have followed great controversies.
I believe that, given 20 years of peace, there will grow up in Russia—it is growing up already—a considerable middle-class of supervisors, technicians, engineers, teachers, doctors and the like and that, as that middle class increases, it will be bound to demand a greater share in the government of the country. I believe that, given 20 years of peace, Russia will become increasingly democratic, that the United States, which is now a nearly 100 per cent. capitalist country, cannot escape the contradictions of capitalism, and that there is bound to be a fairly serious depression in the United States sooner or later. When that depression comes, the people of the United States, with their usual energy and ability, will take steps to cope with it. I believe that those steps are bound to be Socialist steps. They will not call them Socialist measures. They will call them by some other name, but that, in fact, is what they will be.
Therefore, if we keep the peace for 20 years, Russia will become much more democratic and the United States much more Socialist and the two ideologies will approximate more nearly to one another. But, even if that happens, as long as the two countries remain as independent, sovereign, national States there will be rivalry and a lack of friendship between them, because Russia and the United States are today the most powerful two countries in the world.
The rulers of Russia look round and say, "If it were not for the United States, before the end of this century we should be the masters of the whole globe." The leading spirits in the United States also look round and say, "Were it not for Russia, before the end of this century the American way of life would have been adopted by the whole world and the United States would be supreme throughout the globe." That is what makes the rivalry between the two great republics, not their ideological differences.
The hope has been expressed several times, of course, that the nature of modern weapons will prevent either Russia or the United States from engaging in war in order that one of them may conquer the whole world and establish a world Government. The nature of modern weapons ensures that if such a war did 63 occur and one of the two was the victor, the victor himself would be stricken with an awful sickness and instead of being master of the world would only embrace the dead corpse of the world. I hope that that fact will make these two giants pause and agree to try to establish a world Government, which is the only hope of 'enduring peace.
Next year there will be a chance of making a start upon a world Government because the Charter of the United Nations is due to be revised. In a number of respects the constitution of the United Nations is unsatisfactory. A number of countries are excluded and there is one country which is a member which ought not to be. No one can really say that Formosa ought to represent China.
I should like to see the Charter so revised that every nation willing to sign it would be accepted as a member. I would bring in the good boys and the bad boys alike. I would bring in Spain and Ireland as well as Communist China, Italy and Germany. The Charter could be so framed that if any member nation infringed it, the others would have the right to expel that Power.
The present constitution is far from being democratic in any satisfactory sense. In the Security Council any one of the five permanent members can veto the decisions of the rest of the members. Thus, in a crucial issue, the exercise of the veto can make appropriate action impossible. Then, in the General Assembly each nation, however large or small, has one vote. A small South American State has one vote and a great Power like the United States also has only one vote. This is not conducive to proper, democratic working.
I would suggest that in revising the Charter it should be laid down that there are to be two Assemblies. One would be legislative, taking the place of the General Assembly, to which each of the nations would send, not nominated representatives, but elected representatives in numbers based upon the population and the economic strength of the respective members. Then there should be an executive council, taking the place of the Security Council, to which nations should send only one member. The decisions of these two Chambers should be accepted when approved by a two-thirds 64 majority, so that the veto would be abolished, and a two-thirds majority would signify the overwhelming opinion of the nations and peoples of the world in favour of a motion carried by that margin.
Written into the revised United Nations Charter should be a scheme for progressive and rapid disarmament. It would be the duty of the United Nations to carry out that policy, and I would supply it with a police force which, by inspection and other methods, would see that it was honourably kept and performed. I would also insert a clause in the Charter under which existing atomic weapons would be placed under the control of the organisation and the manufacture of any further such weapons forbidden.
If we had a revision of the Charter along those lines, it would go far to dispel the fear of a third world war that weighs so heavily upon the minds of men. I am sorry that the Foreign Secretary is not in his place, otherwise I would commend to him as one of his first tasks in the coming year, the revision on the United Nations Charter, which would make that body a real organisation with sufficient powers to keep the peace and to ensure peace.
The Foreign Secretary has recently earned the golden opinions of all kinds of men by the skilful way in which he has conducted certain recent negotiations. I feel certain that if he were to secure a revision of the Charter next year, then, by common consent, he would greatly add to the laurels which adorn his brow at present and future generations would arise and call him blessed.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Mr. George Porter (Leeds, Central)
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Itchen (Mr. Morley) will not expect me to follow his remarks. I should like to begin my remarks by referring to something which was said by the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch). Like a good many hon. Members on the other side of the House, he is labouring under the delusion that, because popular opinion has compelled the Tory Party to assimilate a part of the Labour Party programme, it is entitled to compliment itself about certain developments in recent times.
The hon. Member referred to what the Tory Party has done and is doing about 65 abolition of the slums. I want to remind him why there are slums. The Labour Party is a very new party, and it came into being at the beginning of this century. What was the purpose of founding it? Intelligent, inspired working-class men and women, suffering under social evils of which they had a monopoly and which were part and parcel exclusively of their individual existence, found it necessary to create an independent organisation for the purpose of abolishing these same social iniquities. I want to point out to the hon. Gentleman, and to others who think like him, that whilst the Labour Party has been in existence for only 54 years, the slums which we and he says they are now out to abolish were created during the lifetime of Parliaments that reflected the same opinions as those of the party opposite.
We know why there were and are slums. There are slums because the people responsible for running this country during the Industrial Revolution thought it was necessary to create habitations for those who were to be the workers in their factories and mills, and who would provide the wherewithal for themselves as employers. The idea was to create habitations, not homes for people to live in. Today we are facing the same situation, and we have seen the desire of two Labour Governments to create homes for the people materially changed by the building of habitations instead of homes.
For much of my working life I have been inside the building industry, and so I can claim to know something about it. When, because of the working of the electoral machine, power passed into the hands of the party opposite, the personnel of the industry remained static. Her Majesty's Government are now talking about the wonderful development in house building during the last two years, and taking credit for it, but let them realise that what they have gained on the swings, they have lost on the roundabouts, because the building labour force has not been materially increased. The Government have only been able to build more houses because of the transference of building labour from other essential jobs in order to concentrate that labour upon house building.
In building, one of the most important things is the way in which the founda- 66 tions are laid, and one of the main reasons why this Government have been able to do as well as they have done in the last two years is because of the foundations we laid when we were in power. Between the end of the 1914–18 war and the beginning of the 1939 war the benches opposite were occupied by Governments with ideas similar to those of the present Government. What were they able to do? They built 20,000 houses between 1918 and 1920, and it was not until 1933 that 200,000 houses were achieved, whereas in 1948, three years after the cessation of hostilities, we were building 240,000 houses under a Labour Government.
Therefore, in reviewing this situation we must take into consideration the foundations laid for the party opposite. I go further than that and say that this Government ought not to boast about building 300,000 houses a year. I say this from the point of view of a supporter of a Government which was not building at that rate when we went out of office. I say this because the type of house being built by the Government today is infinitely worse than the type we were building. One of the first things they did was to take six inches off at roof height, which meant that two double courses of bricks were being saved on each house.
In my innocence, I thought it would be possible to get some information regarding the saving involved in the new family type house. I asked the Minister definite questions in terminology which could not be misunderstood. I asked questions about the traditional type of house, and the Minister knows as well as I do that there is no dubiety about the use of that term. The reply I received was that the quantity of bricks needed varies widely according to the extent to which substitutes are used. Yet everybody knows that when substitutes are used the building ceases to be a traditional type of house.
Another point which I thought might be of value to me in determining the relationship between the new and the old type of house was the saving of money and time involved in the abolition of joinery work eliminated from the present type of house. The Minister said he regretted that this information was not available. The Minister must have 67 known the purpose for which I wanted that information and was determined that I should not get it.
However, I obtained from the Minister who preceded him some figures which are useful in the development of my argument. I asked questions about the types of houses now being built and the relationship with the numbers and types of houses of the same category which were being built up till 1949. I found that three bedroom type houses constituted 80.4 per cent. of all the houses being built by the Labour Government up to 1949. Of all the houses now being built by the present Government that type of house represented 67.9 per cent. in 1953. The two-bedroom type of house built by the Labour Government represented only 11.1 per cent. of the total, while under the present Government the figure is 23 per cent.
If the Government are using subterfuges of this type—the type of house which is being built is not as good as it was under the Labour Government, and the Government have also the advantages of the groundwork laid by the Labour Government so that a reasonable house-building policy might continue—there seems to be no reason why the Government should take credit to themselves for the present situation. It is obvious that if building labour is used for one specific purpose it cannot be used for other purposes. However, I do not agree that the Labour Party, with its balanced programme of houses plus schools plus hospitals plus factories, was not making a better contribution to the country's social life than the present Government are doing or having been doing by concentrating purely upon house building.
I said earlier that I thought the Government ought to be doing more. I believe they could do more along the lines which they are now developing if they had more money at their disposal. There we come up against the problem of the amount of capital investment allowed for house building. If one divides the cost of a house into the total funds allowed for the house-building programme, it is obvious that there can be only so many houses, but if it can be proved that houses can be built much cheaper than they are now being built, 68 it is obvious that with the same amount of money at one's disposal more houses can be built.
When the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government he said at Norwich:First, rising costs must be stopped; secondly, costs must be brought down. Now, can it be done? The answer is, 'Yes.' If the building industry and the building material industry want to do it.I have a letter written to the Press by someone who is in a position to know what he is writing about, and it develops my argument. It is written by Mr. Stanley May, regional secretary of the National Federation of Building Trades Operatives, and he says:Perhaps the most important and discouraging feature in house building in the post-war period has been the tremendous increases in building materials. As is shown in the Girdwood Report, the cost of materials in a council house today is very nearly £1,000, and this represents a far greater proportion of the total cost of a house than pre-war. The proportions pre-war were approximately: one-third labour; one-third materials; one-third overheads (profit, land, etc.). As the present labour cost in a council house is approximately £400 it will be seen that the major increase in costs has taken place in the field of materials.Consequently, when the Government take credit for the number of houses which they have been able to build, they must take into consideration what the Labour Government did which has enabled those houses to be built. They must also bear in mind that they have starved the building industry in other respects in the interests of housing. The Gracious Speech says that it is the Government's intention to continue with the programme as they have been carrying it out, to abolish the slums which were created by people holding the same views as hon. Members opposite do about the working class, and to carry on the programme of building for letting and for sale.
However, there is something that I want to point out as vigorously and effectively as I can to those people who are interested in getting houses for themselves. The entitlement of most people to a house is determined only by their need and not by their pockets. Although when it went out of office the Labour Government were building fewer houses 69 than are now being built, a smaller proportion of the greater number now being built will go to the people who most need houses.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)
We saw in another place this morning a very impressive ceremony. Before I go any further, I should like to suggest that that ceremony might very well have been televised for a very much wider audience, and I hope that that will be done in future.
I want very quickly to mention two matters of foreign policy upon which I hope the Government will concentrate in these debates. The first matter concerns Austria. I believe that I shall have a sympathetic response from the Government Front Bench, because the question of Austria has been hanging lire for a long time and there is almost unanimous opinion about it, certainly in the free countries. For the purposes of the record, I want to bring before the House a short resolution on the subject adopted at the recent conference of the Inter-Parliamentary Union at Vienna, which reads:The XLIIIrd Conference of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, assembled in Vienna and representing the delegates of 37 Parliaments,Recalls the fact that the restoration of independence to Austria was one of the peace aims proclaimed by the Allies, andAsks the Governments of the great Powers to take all appropriate measures for the fulfilment of that solemn promise.The fact that such a resolution was unanimously agreed by representatives from 37 States is of tremendous importance and ought to be a spur to our Government to do something definite in the near future about this long outstanding grievance of the Austrian people.
The second point on foreign policy relates to something which I recently raised in the House, namely, the standing of Members from this Parliament who go to the Council of Europe. I have never been satisfied at the way in which these people are selected—I was going to say elected. If they are to represent this Parliament, there should be a much more satisfactory way of choosing who is to speak in our name from this Parliament. I would go further and say that they ought to report back to this House.
When I asked the Foreign Secretary a question on this subject, he put it 70 aside with the remark that it was always possible to raise Strasbourg questions in a general debate on foreign policy. But I do not think that that is sufficient. The people who come back from the Council of Europe, whose powers are being increased, should report back to this House. Unless they do so we cannot regard their position as satisfactory. It is certainly far from democratic.
§ Mr. Hynd
I should like to know that myself, but I am afraid that I cannot answer that question.
There has been another matter connected with foreign policy mentioned in the House in recent times and that is about the amount of National Service that is imposed by this country in comparison with what is imposed by our allies in N.A.T.O. It is most unsatisfactory that we should be asking our young men to do two years' National Service plus 3½ years' part-time service when the other members of N.A.T.O. are not doing as much. We ought to have some uniformity between the partners of this Western defence system.
It is not only unfair to our young men, but it is unfair to the country, because we are losing their services in industry for this period and our allies in N.A.T.O. are reaping the benefit. It is not sufficient to say, as did the Foreign Secretary recently, that we do that because we have other obligations. Other countries also have their obligations and in relation to our size, wealth and responsibilities we are doing too much in comparison with the others. It is time that that was levelled up.
Coming to home affairs and being very brief, because I know that some of my colleagues want to speak, may I say that we are all tremendously interested in the pensions Bill that is to be brought before the House. To judge from what has been said in the Queen's Speech and in the House today it is to be a comprehensive Bill. I am afraid that it will be too comprehensive for adequate debate, if we are to get it through by Christmas.
Nevertheless, I hope it will be sufficiently comprehensive to deal with at least two points. The first one is what 71 has become known as the 10s. widow. No hon. Member can be satisfied with the fact that we are still paying this meagre nominal amount of 10s. to a certain class of widow. I know all the technical arguments why these women are getting only that amount, but they are a diminishing quantity. Nobody can hold up his head as a Member of this House and continue to pay the small amount of 10s., to women who, out of that 10s., have to buy a stamp, which takes about half that amount, to maintain their insurance.
It is no good the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling) frowning. It is a fact that they have to do it.
§ Mr. Hynd
The second point concerns spinsters' pensions. There may be a difference of opinion about the strength of the spinsters' case, but it is time the Government looked at it and I hope they will be able to do something in this comprehensive Bill.
There is another small point connected with insurance which I do not think can be dealt with in the Bill. I hope that the Government will find time in the coming Session to do something about railway superannuitants. We found it possible to relate the pensions of civil servants, retired municipal officers and others to the rising cost of living and the loss of purchasing power, because the pensions were too small for present-day needs. Railway superannuitants certainly come into that category, but, so far, nothing has been done for them. Surely there are ways and means of dealing with that problem, if the Government only have the will so to do.
There are two points not mentioned in the Gracious Speech which deserve attention. One is the question of derating. Whatever were the merits of the need for derating in the bad old days of depression of trade, profits shown by companies today are surely adequate proof of their capacity—in most cases at any rate—to pay their fair share of local rates. It is quite anomalous and entirely out of date that these industrial firms, many of them making huge profits, should be relieved of a substantial proportion of rates while other traders and residents have to pay 72 their full share. Derating may not have been mentioned in the Queen's Speech, but it can and should still be dealt with during the new Session.
The other point has been mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. It is the question of the betting and gambling laws. We have had all the evidence and all the data laid before us in the Report of the Royal Commission. Not only this Government, but the previous one, have not yet found it opportune to implement the report of that Royal Commission, or to bring forward any proposals of their own. Yet everyone admits that the present position should not be allowed to remain.
May I draw attention to a book recently published by Sir Harold Scott, former Chief Commissioner for the Metropolis. That book is entitled "Scotland Yard." It is to be found in the Library and it contains the views of Sir Harold Scott on the present position of the betting laws. They are particularly apposite and ought to be drawn to the attention of the Government. He says:One of the most troublesome and unrewarding tasks of the police, for example, is the enforcement of the law relating to betting and gaming. In no other field, perhaps, is the state of the law so illogical, chaotic and even absurd. It is a patchwork compounded of bits and pieces, some new, some hundreds of years old. It contains in an ill-assorted mixture items reflecting on the one hand the Non-conformists' horror of evil and on the other the sportsman's love of an innocent flutter.I could go on quoting from this book by a man with practical experience, holding an important police position. His words deserve attention by the Government.
It is only because I want to give an opportunity to make a contribution to this debate to as many of my colleagues as possible that I now sit down. There are so many items we would like to discuss in connection with this Queen's Speech, so many other pressing problems to which we should like to draw the attention of the House and of the Government in the coming Session. I hope we are in for a very busy Session because I am quite sure that everyone on this side of the House will be willing to sit as long as necessary in order to give adequate time to these matters.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Test)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd), I welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to the proposed pensions Bill. But, like my hon. Friend, I hope it will not make certain merely formal increases in the basic rates of pension for old folk and ex-Service men, but that it will deal with some of the anomalies and particularly the anomalies to which reference has often been made in this House.
One is the position of the "10s. widow," the widow who, because her husband died on the wrong side of a certain date, is entitled to only 10s. pension. Another anomaly is the position of the "no-shilling widow" who gets no pension or insurance benefit whatever under the National Insurance scheme. I would hope also that tomorrow we shall not only know when it is proposed that the Bill should become law, but when the first increases in pensions are to be payable.
I do not want to repeat what was said by the Leader of the Opposition this afternoon, and by many of us during the last eight months. We believe that a case for the increase in pensions for disabled ex-Service men and our old folk was abundantly proved in this House early in the year, and that the Bill should have been forthcoming at about the time of the last Budget. The proposed increases are long overdue.
Before I deal with one matter which I think ought to be in the Gracious Speech and is not, I should be failing in my duty to the town I represent if I did not convey to the Government the sense of deep disturbance that most people there, and millions of people throughout the world feel at the Prime Minister's speech last week in which he indicated that he was prepared to arm the Germans in 1945. We want friendship with the Germans, but we do not want friendship with all Germans. It has been difficult enough to persuade the British people to consent to the rearming of any Germans at all. If they do consent to it and welcome Germany into the comity of Western nations, it is the new democratic Germany they welcome. Certainly, we have no desire, and have never had any desire, to have truck with the old Nazis.
74 The Prime Minister owes it to the country to make it perfectly clear that, whatever arrangement he may have made, if he did make it, during the war, we stand four-square by the democratic Germans in Germany and never desired to include in our alliance the Nazis who were in power at the time when the Prime Minister is supposed to have made the arrangement.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) made certain references to peace through strength. It is certainly not true that the only factor in this arming of democracy is military strength. We armed to defend our free ways of living, and the last thing that free people want as allies are people who are totalitarian and who represent a negation of everything we are trying to defend.
I want to deal with a subject which to many hon. Members may seem trivial, but which to me is important. I regret that the Gracious Speech contains no proposal to introduce legislation to make the so-called American comic illegal. Public opinion on this question has developed somewhat since we debated the matter in the House just over two years ago, in August, 1952. At that time, there was a tendency to regard critics of the American comic as puritans and spoil sports who had forgotten that they were ever children themselves, or, as is sometimes the case, Communists merely indulging in anti-Americanism.
Public opinion has changed. The work of voluntary societies, the teachers' unions, a conference of educational association, the annual conference of the British Federation of Psychologists, the R.S.P.C.A, and the National Federation of Women's Institutes have all gone on record against this kind of literature. Parents, magistrates, and educational authorities all share in and voice the need for protecting our children.
Let me remind the House, if it is necessary, what we mean by the horror comic. The term "American comic" is singularly unfortunate. The comics are neither essentially American in what they depict nor can they be said to be in any way comic. For instance, the "Frankenstein" for January, 1954, tells the story of a mad scientist who, with Frankenstein, digs up from a grave the body of a woman just 75 executed that day for murder. By electrifying the corpse they bring her back to life as a female monster, who is criminally lunatic and who shows her lunacy by going about tearing up animals and people for fun. After much violence she destroys the monster and himself with a doll which contains a time-bomb in its stomach.
The story is told in 85 pictures and all except five are repulsive. It may be argued that we need not trouble about the text of the American comic, and that children do not read them very much. Indeed, they are so badly printed that it is often very difficult to read them. I hope that children rarely read the words. Otherwise, they may read words like these:He lay sprawled on his stomach, blood trickling from his toothless mouth. The bones in his nose were splintered. His scalp had been opened. His hair was matted with sticky ooze.Or:Friendship is for suckers. Loyalty, that's for jerks.Another, modelled on H. G. Well's scientific fantasies—but how far beneath them!Now ye maid of Auro, reveal where the thorium is made or my electric prong will burn your eyes from your pretty head.Another, which deals with drugs, says:One needleful of joy-juice and you'll get so satisfied with the world you'll forget your obligations.An American doctor, Dr. Wertham, recently published his own seven-year study of this evil and from his work I would summarise the main indictment of the horror comics. They create an atmosphere of cruelty and deceit. They stimulate unwholesome fantasies. They suggest criminal or sexually abnormal ideas. They supply informative details of crime and, last, in a pungent American phrase, they are… re-tooling democracy for illiteracy.Let us briefly examine the last point. Learning to read is difficult. British and American educationists face the problem of the backward reader, a problem made even more difficult by the irrationality of our spelling. It is among those who find it hard to learn to read that crime comics circulate most, and their very circulation makes it harder to teach such children to read.
76 Indeed, there is a grave problem in so-called comics at all, even if the worst were not as evil as they are. It may be that television, the film and the comic strip will win in the long run, and that mankind, which is just on the march towards literacy, may be allowed to slip back into a state in which there are more illiterates than literates. This conjures up for those who believe in social democracy a more fearsome picture even than the horror comic itself, with comic strip election addresses and Frankenstein or Fascist legislation and legislators.
Reading will always be hard. The worthwhile books are harder to read than the worthless. Short cuts to a superficial acquaintance with culture, knowledge, humour or art will always be tempting. The technical resources of an unchecked commercial culture may very easily debase human standards.
Perhaps we cannot legislate about that, but we can and should legislate when these forces are producing really evil matter. I believe that it is dangerous not to legislate. Someone said that we must educate our future masters. At present, democracy is taking very grave risks with some of its weaker citizens. I know that it is argued that children who behave like the vile characters in the crime comics which they read and reread are bad children who would have behaved in a delinquent way in any case even if they had not seen the horror comics. Even if this were true, and I do not believe that it is, surely we need not place in the hands of potential delinquents detailed and graphic illustration and encouragement of the evil which the child is born to pursue. We need not describe to morbid and perverse young children how to carry out their morbid desires, without even giving them the bother of learning to read; and without the opportunity that reading itself may bring of compensations and open avenues to other kinds of thought and feeling which may check their perversities.
I do not believe that children are born delinquents. I admit that only fanatics would attribute all juvenile crime to horror comics or sensational films, or even to the neglect of parents. But all plants need soil in which to grow and the sturdiest plant in the world will wither if it is fed on poison. If the environment of a child consists of a harmful home, and the only escape from the 77 home—apart from school time—is into a pictured world of rape, violence, torturings and cheatings, it will have to be a very strong child indeed who can triumph over such a dangerous environment. I say, God help the maladjusted child whose emotions are fed on the horror comic.
Obviously, the greatest harm can be done to the children who are most backward and least endowed socially, intellectually or educationally. But the horror comic transcends all class distinctions, all intelligence levels, all social and home conditions. Not every child who is hurt will appear in a police court. How much more difficult it is for a school or a good home to present to a child all the finer and more delicate qualities of emotion, of sentiment, of ethics and religion, when his leisure time takes him into a world where love is sadistic lust and not even comparatively decent pagan pornography.
We all hate censorship and we all cherish freedom. I believe that we carry that love of freedom too far when we allow children to be hurt in its name. Even the comic strips in our newspapers are censored by the Press itself. Let us remember that we are talking about something infinitely below the newspaper comic strip. I would willingly forgo a corner of my own freedom to save my grandchild from coming across the Frankenstein comic as he stumbles over his letters and peers into the wonders of life; and I think that most parents in the country feel the same.
We banned for a generation one of the world's greatest modern novels "Ulysses"; we pawkily interfere every now and then with a serious literary work, with an occasional backthrust at Boccaccio; we occasionally stamp down on sheer pornography. But I do not know yet anywhere where the horror comic has been brought before an English court. We protect grown-ups more than our children. The works of De Sade or Sacher Masoche are unobtainable in English, but their inspiration is behind the filthiest pictures that litter the pages of the horror comics.
Some people argue that there is blood and thunder in Homer, and violence in "Macbeth" or "Treasure Island." No one would deny that. That argument always reminds me of the bitter protests of Alexander Pope, when flatterers told 78 him that he was lame like Alexander the Great; or that his eyesight was defective, like Homer; or that he was a hunchback like Richard III—as if these were compliments. Of course there is violence in Homer; of course there are bloody scenes in Shakespeare, but how much else as well.
The case against the horror comics is that the picture presented is one of unrelieved violence and sadistic gloom and nastiness. If they tell the story of Abraham Lincoln, the only incident to which reference is made is his assassination. If they speak about the Olympic Games, they make the choice discovery thatany ladies found watching them were thrown over a cliff.If they refer to the struggles of the British Parliament, they look for the horrible punishments which Parliament inflicted on one Floyd for saying rude things about Royalty in the time of James I. They ignore all the struggles between James and his Parliament, but concentrate on that piece of sadism.
Some have said, let the publishers control their own artists. This is being attempted both here and in America. I am glad to hear it, but I do not believe that such efforts can solve the problem. There has been an American comic code for some years, but comics bearing the imprint of respectability of the code are very little better, if any, than those without it.
In the broad international field, one of the most sinister aspects of the crime comic is its Fascist content. Racialism pervades all its pictures. Non-whites are villains, or inferior humans. The cult of the superman and the cult of violence is condoned. There is contempt for the rule of law. All these speak through the pages of the crime comic. Not only do they spread through the more mature democracies such as our own, but they are now being exported to our brother blacks and yellows. What a false picture they give of the great American culture. What a handle for the enemies of democracy in any corner of the world. I know that extreme examples are not arguments, but there is something fearsome about the following.
A six-year-old child was asked what kind of comic she liked. She said "Corpsies." A boy was asked what he 79 would like to be when he grew up. He said, "A sexual maniac." A 15-year-old girl, when asked what comics she remembered, said, "I like the one where a man puts a needle in a woman's eye. The eye is all bloodshot and frightened." A nine-year-old boy, asked what comics he liked best, said, "Human torture."
We spend two years training our teachers, and we forbid anyone untrained to teach our children. But any moron, any evil-minded anti-social person, could deliberately set out to pervert our next generation of children—if he had the financial resources—and could get away with it, provided that he did it in pictures. One of them callously said, "We are business men. You cannot expect us to protect maladjusted children"—a poor justification for adding to their maladjustment.
I am not a lawyer, so I cannot follow the argument that we must solve this problem by amending the legal definition of obscenity. To a mere layman such as myself it would appear that the testwhether the matter complained of tends to corrupt those whose minds are open to immoral influencesought to be enough to deal with horror comics. I gather that it is not, and that we must make a new law, or alternatively, that we must amend the definition of obscenity. To a simple-minded person like myself, it would seem that we could create ad hoc legislation to deal with this specific evil. Surely it is possible to describe the horror comic in legal terms and to prohibit it. For utter prohibition seems to me to be the only answer.
Two years ago we were told to rely on teachers and parents. Teachers may confiscate harmful literature in schools, although it has recently been argued that they have no legal right to destroy it. Parents can both forbid and destroy it. Reputable newsagents refrain from selling it. But children like what is forbidden. Not every parent cares. Disreputable dealers and shopkeepers will always traffic in this ware so long as it exists. There is only one solution to the problem of the horror comic, and that is its complete destruction.
When the Fulton Bill was going through the Canadian Parliament, the Canadian Minister of Justice said: 80When publishers and disseminators of various kinds of crime comics … are heartened and emboldened by this concern of ours for the preservation of literary and artistic freedom, and become steadily more impudent in their degradation of that freedom, the time comes when we must take action to curtail their offences.The imaginations, emotions and morals of our children are being exploited just as wickedly as their bodies used to be before the Factories Acts.
I hold no brief for the Soviet Union, but at any rate her children and those of her satellites are protected from this kind of filthy propaganda. Canada has legislated against the horror comic; Sweden and Holland have forbidden the importation of the horror comic; France—the home of artistic freedom—has legislated against it, and New York State itself passed a law against it which was beaten only by the veto of Governor Dewey. At present, America is trying to grapple with this evil by enlisting the support of publishers of good will.
I sincerely regret that the Gracious Speech does not include a small Bill on this subject—a Bill which, I believe, would have commanded the sympathy of hon. Members on both sides of the House —and I hope that at some time during this Session it will be possible for the Government, or a private Member, to introduce a Measure to protect our weakest children from something which I consider to be a great danger.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Alan McKibbin (Belfast, East)
I notice that the Gracious Speech mentions the Commonwealth, the United States of America, South-East Asia, Indo-China, Geneva, Austria, Western Germany, Brussels, the German Federal Republic and the Soviet Union, but not Northern Ireland. I suppose that this is because we are always in the heart of Her Gracious Majesty, and with this we should be content.
Speaking on behalf of the pensioners of Northern Ireland, I am glad that the Speech says that early legislation will be introduced to increase old-age pensions and the pensions of the war disabled. I have very much pleasure in supporting what was said by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King) about the 10s. widows. On two previous occasions I have supported him in this matter and I hope that his eloquence, if not mine, will have some effect.
81 I have no idea what any of the increases will amount to, but whatever is the increase in the case of the war disabled, unless it brings the pension up to 90s. it will be accepted only as a further instalment towards that goal, and the Government can only expect that the British Legion campaign will be carried on until that goal is reached.
Certainly, in Northern Ireland the British Legion will not agree that anything less than 90s. is a full and just settlement, and it is not likely to accept any assurance that the purchasing value of the pension has been restored to the 1946 level. In any case, the Legion regards this as a fictitious level, and it would require the comparison to be made with the purchasing value of the pension immediately prior to the outbreak of war in 1939.
The same remarks apply to the war widows. Unless the rate is raised from 42s. to 50s. the Government must understand that the campaign of the British Legion will be carried on. If anything extra is given to the heavily disabled it will be all to the good, but it must be clearly understood that they constitute only a minority of war pensioners.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
The House owes a great debt to my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King) for illustrating so exhaustively the danger to our children of horror comics. This is a very difficult problem, because, although we want to preserve the essential liberties of our people, we must, at the same time, do something to protect our youngsters from the diabolical influence of these comics.
I should like to mention a few constituency points, because one or two of the matters mentioned in the Gracious Speech are intimately connected with problems in my constituency. The Speech says:My Ministers will promote the development of the Colonial Empire …We are glad of that, although I wish that at this time some other term than "Empire" could have been found. It is out of date.
The First World War smashed many of the old empires, and I thought that in the general usage of this House of Commons we had left the word behind. In 82 the development of our Commonwealth and our Colonies, I would stress the value of an educational institution—the Camborne School of Metalliferous Mining—which is in my constituency. This has been in existence for two generations, and has turned out many famous mining engineers who have served this country, our Commonwealth and the world. Today, 25 per cent. of the students come from our Colonies and the Commonwealth.
Very fine work is done there, but more money is needed. I hope, therefore, that the Minister of Education will bear this fact in mind and provide both the stimulus, if necessary, and the additional money that may be required, because I am confident that this school can be of enormous help to Commonwealth development. It could become the mineralogical technical college of the Commonwealth. It has done fine work and is still doing fine work, but it could do even greater work. I should like to stress the geochemical work which has been carried on in the school during the past year or two. Here we have an instrument for the mining development of Commonwealth resources which has not yet been properly tested, and I hope that the Minister will do what he can to further this very interesting development.
The Gracious Speech goes on to say:My Ministers will continue to encourage the expansion of industry and the full employment of My People.At present, 1,000 men from Falmouth ship repairing yards are out of work. Forty per cent. of the workers are now unemployed. It may be said that this is a temporary recession, but it has come at the worst period of the year—just before Christmas. Worse still—this is the second time within 12 months that this disastrous phenomenon has occurred. Many nice things have been said this afternoon about the Government's policy of full employment, but the people of Falmouth and West Cornwall are beginning to wonder whether it is not full employment but casual employment.
I hope, therefore, that whatever the Minister of Labour, the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation and the Service Ministers can do to help Falmouth out of this difficulty they will do, because the other important feature to be borne in mind in this connection 83 is that West Cornwall is isolated upon a long limb of the country's economy. The nearest shipyard is almost 200 miles away. Men out of work in Falmouth and other places in, my constituency cannot just go a mile or two away in the hope of getting another job fairly easily.
I am glad to see that the Government are, at last, to do something for the old-age pensioners, for the widows, the disabled and the rest. They have waited a long time—too long, as the Government well know—because the Government have looked after their own section of the community very well indeed, even during the passage of the last Finance Bill.
I am glad, too, that at last a greater expansion of road construction is to be embarked upon, but I hope that, along with that construction programme, there will be an expanded programme of road maintenance. I have travelled more over the roads of Britain in the last two or three months than I have done for many years, and I have been shocked at the state of the roads in many counties. Unfortunately, some of the main roads in Cornwall are very little better than those elsewhere. I would also say that the present Government have added to the road problem by breaking up the road transport system which the Labour Government brought into being.
The time has already arrived when the Government should tackle this question of the heavy traffic on our roads, which ought to be carried by the railways. Some of it has to be carried over the roads at some time, and, in dealing with that problem, I hope the Government will also do something about the unloading of heavy goods vehicles in the narrow main streets of our towns, not merely in large towns during the day time. It would be interesting if the Home Secretary could get his officials to work out the cost of the police who are engaged every day in so many parts of the country in trying to get stagnant traffic on the move again.
In the Gracious Speech, we find a reference to the expansion of technological education. I see that the Minister of Education is in his place, and I hope that, if he has not done so already, he will look up the files regarding the expansion that has been proposed of the catering facilities in the Torquay Technical College, which covers 84 the whole of the South-West. The hotel industry is a very important one in Cornwall, and it is doing a very great deal on its own to remedy the deficiency caused by the fact that the Government have so far refused to provide money for the extension of the Torquay Technical College. The Cornwall Education Committee, the only one for which I can speak, has been doing its best, and has promised that it will give the necessary assistance if the Torquay proposal is adopted.
There is another point which has rather worried me, and it is that the Cornwall Education Committee has advertised that it will permit an increase in the hours of employment for children of school age. It may be that this is a matter which concerns the Home Secretary, and, if so, I hope that what I have to say will be conveyed to him. Surely, at this time, we are not going backward by allowing children to go out to work to supplement the family income. Hon. Members opposite do not allow their children of 15 or under to go out to work for wages; of course, not.
Reference has been made—indeed, the Minister was congratulated from the other side of the House—on the arrangement for an expansion of rural secondary education, and I myself would congratulate him, too, but I would also remind him that the children of hon. Members opposite generally do not go to the rural schools. They are sent away out of the county, as far as Cornwall is concerned, to the great public schools, and, therefore, what was said from the other side of the House today was slightly out of the ordinary run.
I now wish to refer to the question of oil pollution. Legislation is to be introduced on this subject, but I think we shall be deluding ourselves if we imagine that legislation which is likely to be introduced in the new Session will deal with the real difficulty of oil pollution of the sea. Something far more drastic has to be done, and, whatever the Government are proposing, I assume that it would take a long time before it can become effective.
There is, however, something that the Government can do now, and that is to assist the local authorities to carry the burden of clearing the oil from the beaches. It is a heavy burden, and I 85 am quite sure that local authorities which have a coastline within their areas of jurisdiction will support what I have to say. It is often the case that this problem arises in areas controlled by rural authorities, and, of course, they do not possess a heavy rate income on which to draw in trying to deal with it.
There is another matter on which I should like to say a few words. The ceremony in Westminster Hall this morning brought home to us very vividly the value of our Parliamentary and democratic system, and we readily paid homage to one of the greatest Parliamentarians which this House has known. But democracy is still a young and tender plant. It is only 25 years since the full franchise was granted to women, and we are faced in the world today by very efficient totalitarian countries. Unless we in this democracy, unless this great Mother of Parliaments and this great nation can do what is really necessary to ensure that everybody in the nation is getting a proper share of our expanding industrial system and our commercial system, then our democracy will fail.
As yet, we have not begun to feel the effects of the efficient economies of the totalitarian States in the East, but I am told that three huge factories, fully mechanised, have been built near Mukden by Russia, for China, and that each of them was erected in about 15 months. One of them is a factory about half a mile long, and fully mechanised.
I understand that the motor industry of Russia, which is producing cars, lorries and tractors, is extraordinarily efficient, though it is likely to be a very long time before the exports of that industry go outside Russia and China. There is a great leeway to be made up in those countries, but, if they ever come into effective competition with other countries, we shall have to revise very carefully our economic methods, because I am sure that we in this country cannot carry the huge profits that are now being made by many of our industries.
Even now, my constituents in Falmouth and Camborne are out of work due to the failure of the ship repairing industry to keep them employed. They will ask some very serious questions about our democracy. We must modify our democracy to a tremendous degree, and very much more along the lines initiated by the great Labour Governments of 1945 to 1951.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)
I am sure that Her Majesty's Government must be gratified with the reception which the Gracious Speech has received at the hands of the House. I have listened to the greater part of the debate, and I have heard very few objections raised to it. The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) devoted the greater part of his excellent speech to the problem of housing, but he said nothing which was not better and more briefly said in the Gracious Speech. Some speeches have been made about the proposal for road improvement. But they, too, have added nothing to the proposals contained in the Gracious Speech.
The only complaints that have been made have been that the Gracious Speech contains nothing about lotteries and about horror comics and that it holds out no hope for the Camborne School of Metalliferous Mining, in which the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) showed such a passionate personal interest, and nor, apparently, for the Torquay Technical College. Apart from these defects, the Gracious Speech has been most agreeably received.
There was one other complaint which I must not omit. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition complained that the Gracious Speech contained "nothing about London." These are very minor flaws in an otherwise admirable presentation of desirable future legislation. I have no complaint to make, because, although there is "nothing about London" in the speech, there is, of course, a very proper reference to Scotland. I am grateful that the Report of the Royal Commission on Scottish Affairs is going to receive the close attention of the Government and that steps are being taken, and will be taken, further to carry out its recommendations.
I am also glad to know that something is being done in the Highlands by the formation of a Crofters' Commission. I am particularly interested in the proposals for road development. These are set forth in detail, and very hopefully, in the Gracious Speech, but I think that there is a mistaken theory in the approach to this complicated and constipated problem. All the efforts of the Government and of their advisers have been directed towards relieving congestion, which, in London, means improving the roads and providing 87 more parking places and, generally, a loosening up of traffic facilities. It is not realised that the better the roads the more the traffic is attracted.
It seems to me that the approach should be from Cornwall and from the North of Scotland. Let us begin at the extemities; let us improve the roads there, and then there will be an infiltration from the centre to the more remote parts. To attempt to improve London is to increase its dangers, difficulties and problems.
I have said many times that one of the gravest problems with which this country is faced is the continuous conglomeration of about 15 million to 20 million people in the south-east of this island. No discussion on defence, industry, roads or the distribution of population has any relevance unless it takes into account that extraordinary fascination which this area has for people from all parts of the land.
I say that London should not be rebuilt. To my mind, the rebuilding of London is an error. The monstrous buildings being erected in the City of London are a temptation to the future enemies of our country. During the last war, one recognised quite clearly that if London fell, the fate of the outlying parts of the country was sealed, even though they might for a time engage in guerrilla warfare. I assert that the continued policy of this Government and of their predecessors for generations past to place the strength, the authority and the power of our country in this most dangerous corner of our island is a folly which should be discontinued.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
The hon. Gentleman says that he objects to the rebuilding of London because it attracts people from the far corners of the country. He then says that he thinks it a terrible tragedy because it provides our enemies with a temptation. I hope he is not inferring that the people from the far corners are the enemies of the country.
§ Sir W. Darling
I should not have thought that such an interpretation of what I said would have occurred even to the hon. Gentleman.
I am suggesting that we should not offer a ready-made target to our enemies as we did in the last war and in the previous war. It would be better if the business and the affairs of our island 88 could be conducted in a more widespread fashion. I deplore the queues which I see in London and the general misery, depression and unhappiness of London. Young people in London spend an hour or an hour and a half every day travelling to and from their work. Such conditions are neither desirable nor necessary, and some reorientation of the authority of Government should be carried out as a deliberate and urgent policy.
During the war, the Admiralty conducted its operations from Bath and the Ministry of Food was housed in Stockport. These places were practicable and convenient to civil servants, who did much to brighten and stimulate the communities in which they lived. I think that the most urgent matter of the day is this question of the reorientation of the population.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not overlooking that large section of the public service which has already been decentralised, notably the National Insurance section at Newcastle, and that great number of Revenue officials at Cardiff.
§ Sir W. Darling
I was one who took exception to the building of the National Insurance offices at Newcastle. I know that it is called the drier side of Britain, but I am also of the opinion that it may be the more dangerous side. Newcastle had some unfortunate experiences during the war. The Departments of Inland Revenue, for which the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) cares so much, moved to Llandudno. They showed more wisdom than did the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summer-skill) when she advocated the moving of the National Insurance offices to Newcastle, though I understand that there were political reasons why they should be brought to that area.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
Is the hon. Gentleman going to arrange for the transfer of Edinburgh to the Hebrides?
§ Sir W. Darling
I would never advocate the removal of the capital city of Scotland from its ancient site, but at the moment it has nothing like the conglomeration of the London area. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the population of 89 Edinburgh is under half a million. What I advocate is a dozen places with under a half a million population rather than five or six places with a population of 1,500,000 or 2 million. One-tenth of the population of this island live in a third of its area.
There are 5 million people in Scotland which represents a third of the area of this island, and there are 45 million people in England and Wales. This is a bad division of the national resources and if the bombs fall, or if unemployment descends upon us, these dangers and difficulties will be greatly enhanced. It is by the distribution and by widening the spread of the population that we shall get not only a healthy community in peace, but a safer community in time of war. It is to that end that I approve of the proposals contained in the Gracious Speech, and I hope that they will be pressed forward with great urgency.
Very close to this matter is the boldness with which the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne spoke of the conditions in his constituency. It resembles the boldness with which I often speak of a matter which is very intimate to my own constituency. There are two main estuaries in Scotland, called the estuaries of the River Forth and the River Tay. Those rivers are both crossed, and have been for half a century or more, by railway bridges. The great development of industry in Dundee and Fifeshire has made those bridges inadequate for the flow of traffic which is necessary, so for 25 years a project has been before the public of building road bridges across those two estuaries.
Certain local authorities came forward about 20 years ago and offered to put up the money themselves to build those bridges. The last Administration gave authority, in 1947, to the local authorities to set up a committee to build these bridges. At the moment that power is given in an Act which says that 75 per cent. of the cost of building the Forth Road Bridge—not the Tay bridge, which is complementary to it—has already been granted by the Government. The local authorities are prepared to find 25 per cent. That is the stage at which this matter rests.
There is no indication in the Gracious Speech of bridges being built anywhere. If there were, I should be amazed to think 90 that they were the Forth and Tay road bridges. The reason for saying that is that I had a book sent to me today by the Association of Road Makers, a beautiful and excellently produced book, putting forth the argument why the bridge which ought to get the immediate attention of the Government is one over the Severn. How important this may be it is for those who know the Severn to say, but I cannot think that its importance is anything like that of the proposed bridges over the Forth and Tay, which are the centre of a large area of industrial development. I hope that this project will command the attention of the Secretary of State for Scotland when he is in control of transport affairs in Scotland.
It was not only the speech made by the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne which brought me to my feet, but the speech of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson). He made a very important and, as he always does, a moving speech. The fact that he is not in the Chamber at the moment makes no difference to what I have to say, because I say it to the audience which he left behind.
I was struck by the hon. Member's almost pathetic belief in the possibilities of a pacific world. I long for peace. The desire for peace is always in the heart of man, but the conceptions which were contained in his speech must not be allowed to pass unchallenged. He speaks as if we were a bloodthirsty people, eager for war, aggrandisement and conquest. I am approaching my 70th year; I was never conscious of any sense of aggrandisement among the people with whom I have lived. It seemed to me that Britain was always engaged in keeping order at most times and in aggrandisement not at all. I want to repudiate very strongly the hon. Gentleman's case, which seemed so simple and so convincing.
As far as I understand the Divine purpose, as it has been imperfectly revealed to me, peace is not the main objective of human life. That is indicated in the early chapters of the Book of Genesis, where is described a planned society which was begun in peace and broke up in bloodshed. That suggests that it may well be that the prospect of peace which so fascinates the eager souls of men, including that of the hon. Member for 91 Ealing, North, is quite illusory, and that even its attainment is a disaster.
I think it was Edmund Burke who said that magnanimity in politics was not seldom the greatest wisdom. In my youth I thought that was a great truth, but I have seen it disproved. Magnanimity in politics was not the greatest wisdom in the way we behaved over what is now the United States of America. Was it the greatest wisdom that we allowed the revolutionary colonists to break away from us, when we are now trying painfully to join together what was then torn asunder? It would be presumptuous of a back bencher in 1954 to challenge Edmund Burke, if that were the only instance I could bring forward. I would feel my temerity in that case greater than I do; but there are a number of cases where this country has shown magnanimity which was not proved wisdom.
Let us look at South Africa. Was not the treaty of peace that we made with Transvaal and the Orange Free State magnanimous, and has that been of the greatest wisdom? It was made a long time ago, in 1902, but has it been the great wisdom that we thought it was? Are we sure that we were right? Are we sure that a continuance of a harsh war would not have been greater wisdom for the people of South Africa? Would British rule not be better for Africa? Who shall say today?
If that example does not carry sufficient weight, I turn to Ireland. The Irish Free State received at the hands of this country great magnanimity, but among our Civil Estimates today we find that £750,000 is paid annually by the British people to pensioners of the Royal Irish Constabulary because of the repudiation by the Irish Free State Government of their obligations under the treaty that we made with them, and under which they agreed also to give the British people the right to use the Irish ports On the Western seaboard. They repudiated that Obligation, too. Was our magnanimity justified?
There conies a time when a man must defend his rights. We were very magnanimous over Germany in the 1918–19 period when we restored her industries and her wealth, and quarrelled with France in order to make peace with her. Was that magnanimity justified?
92 It is a hard world that we live in. I wish it were a different world, but when I look at it it seems that the policy of magnanimity is one of proven danger and should be re-examined. Has magnanimity with Egypt been justified? Oh, no. Has magnanimity with the Sudan been justified? [An HON. MEMBER: "What about India?"] Are we quite sure about the relations existing with India? Magnanimity has not justified our confidence. Was magnanimity practised by the Soviet Union in its dealings with Poland? Is magnanimity being practised by the Soviet Union, which is held out to our people as an example of those who seek peace, in its relations with Poland and Czechoslovakia?
I venture to say that magnanimity is not great wisdom. Edmund Burke judged, as I have judged. From definite examples and in the light of experience, is our willingness to repudiate the Empire justified? To decry the greatness, strength and moral grandour of the people of Britain is a view against which we ought to fight. There is a cancer which, at the very height of the greatness of a people, strikes it to death. It is our duty to stand for our rights and to say that there is no better people than the people of Britain. These islands are—let us fairly claim it—unique and unequalled.
I want to conclude by quoting Thomas Hobbes who, long ago, said:Covenants without the sword are but words, and of no strength to secure a man at all.Let us have covenants. Let us seek peace and ensue it. But we shall seek it all the more successfully if we seek it backed by power.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
I do not think that I dare follow the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling) in regard to the second part of his speech. I wish that when he was describing magnanimity to either ex-enemies or ex-allies he would have brought his illustrations right up to date and mentioned the Federal Republic of Western Germany. Does he think that we were wrong in being magnanimous there? He stopped far short of that point, but I wish that he had carried on.
93 Although I agree with the first part of the hon. Member's speech, I wish, first, to deal with what I consider to be a very serious omission in the Gracious Speech. There are references there to the Commonwealth, to the Empire, to the United States of America, and so on. There are references to our close contact with the United States. By dose association with the United States, it says, we can secure the future. That, presumably, means that we can secure the future in respect of war.
In this small island we have a population of 50 million. We have to live in a world with other nations; in a world in which China and Soviet Russia have also to live. The peace of Britain cannot be secured just by practising a close liaison or association with one great nation, but only by a close association with all nations. At this time, when we are trying to build up the defensive system of the West—not for aggression but to be stronger to co-exist with the Soviet Union—we get that awful speech at Woodford. Now, in the Gracious Speech, there is not one word about the Government's duty to do all they can to secure friendship between this country and all others.
Only by trade can we earn our daily bread. No longer can this country, as in the 18th and 19th centuries, just decide that a country is not to be associated with. The peace of the world depends upon the capacity of Great Britain to take the lead for a closer association with all the nations. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Itchen (Mr. Morley) when he spoke of bringing all countries into the United Nations. That body should not be, as it were, just a privileged club for certain nations. The only solution is to bring in everyone—Spain, Russia, China. It is an old Liberal doctrine, but I think it still is true, that Britain's survival depends upon friendly relations with all countries. Our future depends as much on an understanding with the Soviet Union and with China as on close relations with the United States of America.
I object to the Government of the Soviet Union. I have been there. I am afraid that after visiting Russia I am less appreciative of that country's form of Government than I was before. At the same time, I remember when British 94 manufacturers were exporting to cannibals—and I do not like cannibalism. In the 19th century many foundries exported cast-iron pots to cannibal countries, and in those pots our missionaries were cooked. Those are trading ethics of which I do not approve, but, now that we have the world divided, Britain, I think mistakenly, is leaning too much the other way by not trading with Russia and China. If we really believe in co-existence, let us try to build up a more peaceful relationship in the world.
I agree with the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South in his reference to that part of the Gracious Speech which says:My Ministers will continue to encourage the expansion of industry and the full employment of My People.Unemployment in Scotland is more than twice as great as in England. Scotland depends on her great basic industries. The future of the shipbuilding industry is not so cheerful as it was two years' ago. It is of no avail for the Government to talk about maintaining full employment. That sounds all right in England, where unemployment is only 1.14 per cent., but it is not good enough for Scotland, where the figure is 3 per cent. The people of Scotland do not look for a maintenance of unemployment at 3 per cent., but to a policy which will reduce it to the English level.
What is happening? This Government are discarding controls. They have given back more power to the City of London, through the merchant bankers and financing organisations, who, in turn—just as between the wars—are encouraging the industries of the South. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South wants a dispersal of population from the South to other parts of this island. On that we are all agreed, but how can it be done when the City of London, the great centre of finance, is more concerned with financing propositions down here, from which greater profits can be made, than in financing development in the extreme North of Scotland or in the Lowlands. The more developments in the South are financed the greater attraction there is for further development here. Only by denying it here and encouraging it where one wants population can dispersal be effected.
Although I am a native of Wales, I have lived for three years in Glasgow. I 95 do not think that I shall ever move from Scotland. I like the country. Working people there are very fortunate in being able to work in an industrial city such as Glasgow and, for a fare of 1s. 4d., be at Loch Lomond within half an hour. No other industrial worker in Great Britain can enjoy such a privilege, and it would be a grand thing to get some of the Southern people to live in Scotland.
In the Gracious Speech the Government suggest that they are considering the Report of the Royal Commission on Scottish Affairs. The main recommendations of that Report seem to be that there should be some devolution in administration. If the Government are really concerned about devolution, it is not sufficient to give to the Secretary of State for Scotland and his three assistants powers to administer roads, railways, electricity and the rest, in Scotland, if the terms under which they have to administer them are laid down by the Treasury in London.
That is no use at all. What is the use of talking about the Secretary of State being responsible for roads? I am quite certain that the Secretary of State, Government supporters—and certainly all the opposition Members—want the Forth Bridge. The Secretary of State may have power to go ahead with such a project, but if the Treasury has not the money, or will not give it, the right hon. Gentleman cannot do it. Let us never forget Scotland's contribution to the national revenue. Its average income is lower than that of England, but she contributes 9.23 per cent. to the national revenue compared with Government expenditure in Scotland of only 4.8 per cent. In other words, Scotland contributes twice as much as she gets.
Under the Derating Act, the Government have a formula for making local authority grants, but I should like to know the formula by which Scotland is granted capital sums from the national revenue for the development of Scottish enterprises. Apart from the revenue contributed by, the people of Scotland, there is the thrift of her people to be considered. They save more annually—nearly twice as much—as do the people in England. It goes to the building societies and the banks; and where do they send it?—to the City of London.
§ Mr. Bence
It is invested down South—in fact, anywhere except in Scotland. There is more profit to be made down South than in Scotland. Any Government which is sincere in expressing a desire to develop Scotland and reduce unemployment there, must decide to direct industry to Scotland instead of begging the industrialists and the financiers to go there. We shall not do what the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South suggested by making speeches here. We must direct industry to Scotland.
We working men and women have always had to live where industry is. If the hon. Gentleman wants the people to go to certain places, if he wants devolution of the population, he must have devolution of industry. Many of our working people are having to go miles from their homes to work. We must do the same with industry. The time has gone when this matter can be left to the laissez faire methods that we had in the 19th century.
We were conscious in Wales, before the war, and I am now conscious of the fact in Scotland, that it is no use imagining that legislation on devolution will hoodwink the Scottish people into thinking that they are really having control of their destiny by this administrative process, unless parallel with it we grant to the people of Scotland some control over taxation and unless there is some Goschen formula for putting back into Scotland some part of the revenues of this country which have been earned by Scottish endeavour.
There is a case in my constituency on which I have been engaged for two years. The Scottish Office at Edinburgh gave the "all clear" to the Burgh of Kirkintilloch for a sewerage scheme. The existing sewerage scheme is over 100 years old. The Treasury said that there would be a grant. Then the Burgh of Kirkintilloch, which is particularly thrifty, was told that the scheme was too small, that it was only tinkering with the job, and that a first-class scheme should be prepared to cover future development. The burgh reconsidered the matter; surveyors and engineers were called in, and then the Treasury stopped it. Now Kirkintilloch cannot get the scheme.
97 I have raised this matter in the House before. Here is a thriving, well-governed burgh which is expanding, but its powers of further expansion are now completely frustrated. Why should the Treasury, after having given approval and after the Scottish Office gave approval, forbid what is absolutely essential for Kirkintilloch? In the heavy rains the water can be seen coming up through the manholes in the road. Similarly, with the Forth Bridge, when it comes to capital development in Scotland there is no money available, although we in Scotland contribute so much more to the revenue on a lower income basis, and although our savings are greater than those of anybody else.
I ask the Government to remember, when they talk of adopting the Royal Commission's Report, that there can be no question of administrative devolution in Scotland without some devolution on the part of the British Treasury as well. I should like to see a Treasury Department in Scotland getting its whack out of the British Treasury so that the authorities in Scotland may decide how much may be devoted to these requirements. So long as the British Treasury holds the purse strings, and as long as the City of London, the big promoters and underwriters, are responsible for financing, I do not think there will be much done in Scotland.
I was talking only a few weeks ago to the general manager of a ship-building firm in Scotland, and he told me that one of their greatest problems for many years has been to get capital back into the industry. Most of the shareholders live down here, and they want the lot. Some of them are subsidiary companies down in the South, and whatever surplus is ploughed back is ploughed back down here.
§ Mr. Bence
The hon. Gentleman dare not do any buccaneering in Scotland. 98 He is too artful for that. He did buccaneering down here, and then went back to Scotland and led a peaceful life.
This bucanneering is no longer of any use. The Scottish people are not satisfied; particularly are they dissatisfied with Scots who come down here and help the buccaneers. In Scotland there is a growing disgust at what is happening in the field of capital development. They know from statistics that their thrift and their savings are higher than in the rest of the country. Yet, time after time, they get instances where they always seem to be last in the list of priorities.
There is the case of the Burgh of Kirkintilloch with their sewerage scheme, and the case of the Forth Bridge and the Tay Bridge schemes. When the Government introduce measures for devolution in Scotland I ask them to consider increasing considerably the amount of money available to the Scottish Department, so that they may make things a little better for the people of Scotland and, we hope, encourage some of the Scotsmen down South to come back home.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Nicolson (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)
The width of debate permitted on this one occasion of the year will, I hope, make it possible for me to raise a subject which is of permanent importance but which is particularly urgent after the events of last week-end. I refer to the heavy damage done to our coasts by the recent gales, the likelihood of damage being repeated and the urgent necessity for some steps to be taken for this damage to be rectified and precautions to be taken in the future.
I know that there is no mention of this in the Gracious Speech. I wish there were. I wish that time could have been found to introduce the necessary amendment to the Coast Protection Act, 1949, in order to allow for the more equitable spreading of the charges which fall on individuals and local authorities in raising the essential defences against the further erosion and flooding of our land.
I spent last week-end almost continuously in my constituency, Christchurch and Bournemouth, which was one of the most hard-hit parts of the entire South Coast, watching our coast literally 99 crumbling away before my eyes. Yesterday afternoon I was standing upon a small bar of sand not more than 100 yards in width but some thousand yards in length—a bar which is the only protection to the vast estuary of the combined Rivers Stour and Avon, upon which stands the town of Christchurch. That bar of sand was being nightly whittled away by the onslaught of the sea. The main indentation on the first night was one of about 20 yards. On the second night there was a further 10 yards, and the very defences which were put up on those successive nights to protect the coast from damage were themselves being used as battering rams to deepen the indentations already made.
The storm continues at this moment. Happily, as far as I know, that bar has not broken, but I am informed by those who know a great deal about the technical aspect of the subject that if it breaks there is a danger that the town which I represent in the House will be very severely flooded, with loss of property and even danger to human lives.
A short way along the coast, but still within the boundaries of my own constituency, we have not low-lying land but cliffs, and there we have had an example of another way in which the sea is battering down our coastal defences. Cliffs standing 80 to 100 feet high are being undermined at their roots at the same time as the surface water is pouring down from above. The combined action of these methods draws the loose soil, the gravel and the sand, away from the sloping surface, and night by night we can see the cliff edge retreating foot by foot towards the houses which now lie almost on the very brink.
I am not maintaining that my constituency is in a worse position than any other, but it so happens that we have not the rock-bound cliffs of Cornwall and Devon, and that our soil is porous and liable to crumbling. This is a national problem, and I am simply bringing to the attention of the House examples of which I have had personal experience during the last three days, in order to highlight this problem as one which needs to be dealt with urgently.
It was thought that the 1949 Act would be sufficient. It was not known, when the Act was passed, that we shall probably have to submit to annual onslaughts 100 of the sea such as have not previously been experienced since the 18th century.
In January, 1953, we had a particularly grave example which caught the imagination of the public. Millions of pounds were subscribed and the Government passed a special Bill in order to pay for the renovation of defences to the extent of 100 per cent. What is to be done about this latest flood? I do not say that it is a great national disaster, as was the flood of 18 months ago, but I submit that it is putting upon local authorities and individuals a burden which is too great for them, although it may seem insignificant to the Treasury.
Under the present Act, the cost of protecting, repairing and maintaining our coast defences is shared between three groups—the Treasury, the local authority and the individual who owns property which borders upon the sea. The Treasury either makes a grant or does not make a grant, as it thinks fit, when the coast protection works have been carried out. Nobody knows on what basis the Treasury decides whether or not to make a grant. It has been rumoured that the basis of its assessment is the product of a 2d. rate. If the coast protection works exceed that sum, the Treasury will make a contribution, but if they do not, the Treasury will make no contribution.
It is probably right that the capacity of local authorities to pay should bear some relation to the extent of the Government grant, but I maintain that the grant which has been made in the case of my own two boroughs is far too low. In the case of Bournemouth, no grant has been made at all. In the case of Christchurch, towards £68,000 which has been spent on coast protection works, some of which now lie in ruins, only £8,000 has been contributed from Exchequer funds.
Meanwhile, we have the case of those who own coastal property. Under the Act, the property-owner has to contribute to coast protection charges the difference between the value of the house before the works were carried out and the value afterwards. If we take the case, for example, of a house literally trembling on a cliff-edge, a house which nobody dares to inhabit, obviously its value is nil. After the works have been carried out its value is once more that of a similar house which might stand back a 101 mile or more from the edge of the cliff. If the Act is interpreted according to its letter and not according to its spirit, the owner of the house would have to pay all over again the value of his house because it has been saved from tumbling into the sea. That does not seem to me right or equitable.
It seems to me wrong that this charge, amounting to many thousands of pounds in the case of comparatively small boroughs, should be made primarily a local charge and not primarily a national charge. This is the case I want to put forward: coast protection works should be primarily a national charge. It is as much a duty of the State to protect our coastal towns and fields against the invasion of the sea as it is the duty of the State to protect our country against the invasion of an enemy. After all, we all benefit from the sea; we benefit through defence, trade and leisure. Why should we not also contribute towards the penalties which the sea exacts?
Not a single spot in Great Britain is more than 70 miles from the sea. Even the people of Coventry, which I take as the central city of Great Britain, would not be surprised or ashamed to hear themselves described as belonging to a nation of seamen. We all know and, indeed, love the sea. Let us therefore take this problem, which has been magnified in the last few days, and make it into a national problem to be tackled nationally.
I do not think there is much doubt in the House that what I have been saying is true, but it has not been fixed in our minds. Suddenly a disaster occurs, such as that of last February, and our attention is momentarily excited. Coastal erosion is perhaps not as exciting. It occurs gradually, a few feet every year, which nobody misses except those in danger of losing their homes and lives. Just because a disaster is sudden and dramatic should it be more worthy of our generosity than a process which is slow and gradual but none the less certain in its effects?
Some people say that the purchasers of houses on a cliff edge should have been well aware of the dangers they were risking when they bought their houses. "Caveat emptor" is the cry often raised in this connection, but the purchaser cannot possibly know what danger he is 102 running, since the rate of erosion is not constant. The greatest experts on the subject cannot tell us the reasons for the scouring, erosion and surface drainage which contribute gradually to the eating away of our land. The study of tides is not yet precise enough.
I ask the Government to set up very energetically a central national institution which will study the effects of wind, rain, tides and scouring on the eating away of our cliffs and of low-lying land. We have not got that information. We do not know what sort of groynes to put up, or what sort of beach defences. In the last few days I have seen defences considered to be impregnable against any storm broken into pieces and the very girders of which they were composed being used as battering rams to knock down the further defences behind them. This is an intolerable position.
I ask the Government not to pay too much attention to the Report of the Waverley Committee, which recommended that there should be no change whatever in the distribution of charges for coast protection. I have given one or two examples of why I think that conclusion was very wrong indeed. We have not had an opportunity in this House to debate the Report. If we do have such an opportunity I hope to emphasise the failure of the Committee to look into the essential problem of finance with the same care with which it examined some of the other subjects included in its terms of reference.
To sum up, I ask the Government two things: in the course of this present Parliament, within the time covered by the Gracious Speech, to see whether they can include fresh legislation under the general head ofLegislation … to deal with certain problems connected with requisitioned dwellings and other matters relating to housing.This is a matter for the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and in this paragraph the Ministry is allowing itself a margin. This problem, this urgent need, could be fitted into the small margin which has been left.
My second request is that the Government should look upon this danger of the eating away of our coasts as a national problem. They should set up a central institution of research such as I have described and should consider with great 103 seriousness the advice of such eminent men as Professor Steers, a member of the Waverley Committee, who gave it as his opinion that the whole of our land is very gradually tilting. The storms of which we have had experience during the last two winters are not freaks of nature which will not return for 100 years. They may be with us every year for a very long time.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Mr. William Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
I do not feel competent to follow the hon. Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson) as I do not know much about the matter he was describing, although I have a little knowledge of it as I have known coast erosion to occur near where I live.
There is one observation, however, that I would make. He and other hon. Members are asking for national assistance to deal with this problem, which is necessary, but I would remind them that when we asked for that under P.A.C. we were told that there was "nothing doing." Yet in my district we paid 6s. in the £ while Southport and other places paid only 1s. 6d. in the £. They did not believe in a national effort then, but that should not prevent us looking into this serious problem. We must consider what can be done to prevent the havoc which can be created, because I believe that the national purse can stand it.
It has been said that there is much more which is not in the Gracious Speech than is contained in it. When I read the Speech I came to the conclusion that it was the kind of programme which is put out by a Government to carry them over until another General Election. There is not a great deal of legislation forecast. I do not doubt that quite a lot of the things in the Gracious Speech will be forgotten, or at least not implemented. Several important matters were left out of the last Gracious Speech.
The problem of road improvements is not viewed in quite the way that is desirable. Much lip service is paid to the question of road accidents and to the fact that more than 5,000 people a year are killed on the roads. We are more concerned—as implied by the Speech—with making roads wider and better surfaced so that traffic can move more quickly. 104 But it is largely the traffic that goes too fast that is responsible for tragedies on the roads.
§ Mr. Keenan
I did not say "always," but "largely."
It is not the motor car that has stopped or which is going slowly that kills people. We have to do something more than improving roads so that motor cars, which already are responsible for killing 5,000 a year, can travel along roads in a more irresponsible way than at present.
In the Gracious Speech a new road traffic Bill is forecast, which is very important. I hope that we shall get that soon so that we may get some of the things about which I complain as not being mentioned in the Speech. We may be able to provide some penalties for irresponsible road users. It is very important that that should be done, and I hope it will be done before we spend too much on making it easier for road users to kill more people than they already kill. The majority of motor users do not seem to have the road sense which is necessary. Too many do not seem to have the public spirit and desire that they should have to prevent loss of life and limb. I have always thought that and my observations have convinced me that that statement is reasonably accurate.
I suggest to the Government, as I suggested in a recent Adjournment debate, that the best way to stop motor users speeding at a place where they have no right to speed is to put down cobble stones to prevent them travelling at outrageous speeds. I make no apology for that suggestion, because the number of deaths on the road is far too serious and the nation does not seem to take as much notice of this problem as it ought.
There has been little mention so far of National Service. This is another of the things which should be examined, especially in view of the hope that better understanding is being reached as a result of the events of recent months. I agree with the action taken by the other member States of N.A.T.O. The only way to talk peace with the East is to talk through strength. To talk of unilateral disarmament or of not using this bomb or that, is not the way to talk to the East.
105 I join in expressing dissatisfaction at the Prime Minister's recent deplorable utterances regarding his attitude in 1945. I do not know how far the knowledge of his intention was shared at that time by his colleagues in the Coalition Government, but it is very unfortunate that there should be any expression of it now. For the sake of the nation and future world peace, and in order not to hinder the negotiations which are now, apparently, becoming possible, I suggest that if there is anything else of that kind, the Prime Minister had better keep his mouth shut. If the Prime Minister's expression of opinion was not known to the Russians before, it certainly is not very helpful for them to hear it now.
§ Mr. Manuel
It has been conveyed quite clearly over the weekend that the Prime Minister did not consult any of his colleagues in the Coalition Government and Cabinet.
§ Mr. Keenan
I am not at all surprised, because I know how impetuous the right hon. Gentleman always has been. Whatever his faults, if he has thought of something he has had the courage to go ahead with it, irrespective of the consequences. But he had no right to say these things. It is unfortunate that they should be expressed now, when we are seeking to meet the Russians and others with a view to getting a better understanding.
I do not think that unilateral disarmament is possible. I wish our pacifist friends would understand that had it not been for what the rest of the nation, which does not share their outlook, had done in the past and the way it has stood up to aggressions, and is prepared to stand up to them today, the freedom which the pacifists and all of us enjoy would not exist. I respect everybody's opinion, but we cannot negotiate from weakness. The only way is to do it is from strength.
I do not like armaments any more than my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) or anybody else likes them. It would be far better if even half of the £1,500 or £1,600 million which we spend each year on armaments could be devoted to the purposes which we all have at heart. We are not satisfied with the conditions under which most of our people live, and it would be far better to spend money on improving their con- 106 ditions than on armaments, but I realise that that is not possible.
For that reason, I always deplore it when somebody shouts, as do hon. Members on both sides of the House, that the hydrogen and atom bombs are despicable; we know that they are, and we want to prevent their use. But the pacifists are not the only ones who are appalled and afraid of the consequences of these things. They have no greater monopoly of good will or apprehension than those who are prepared to do something to prevent aggression anywhere in the world.
I ask the Government to consider old-age pensions from a view which several of us have stressed before. We know that if the Government introduce their Bill next week, it is possible for it to be passed before Christmas. But if it is to be put through in the orthodox way, simply as a National Insurance amending Bill, as seems intended, it will not be until May or June that the pensioners get any increase. Everybody who has been concerned with the administration of National Insurance has told us of the delays involved when a Bill amends the scales of National Insurance, including pensions.
I suggest that a start should be made now on the administrative side. By making the necessary preparations in anticipation, we could save at least six or eight weeks and so hasten the day when pensioners get the benefit of the increase. When we raised this matter during the last Budget debates, there was a general admission from the Government side of the House of the need to increase pensions. Since then prices have risen still further, and something more positive ought to be done to implement the Government's promise. It took us a long time to get their promise. Even now, we have to wait until tomorrow to know whether the outcome is good or bad, but it will not be good if its implementation is delayed six months until May or June.
In seeking to justify many of the things done by his Government, the Foreign Secretary today said that when taking office three years ago his party had had to salvage the nation. If we have a contribution by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the debate there is one question I want him to answer for me, because I did not get a sufficient answer from him a fortnight ago when I put it to him at Question Time.
107 When the Government took over from the Labour Government the Chancellor had a surplus of £600 million. Usually, such a surplus is used to reduce the National Debt and to pay off interest charges on it. The net effect is that, at the end of the financial year in which there is a surplus, there is available for capital investment next year the amount of the surplus. In this case, the Chancellor got £600 million surplus. He did not budget for a surplus, but I believe that the surplus at the end of his first year as Chancellor was about £280 million. It was considerably less than that last year. He started with an advantage of a surplus of £600 million. Has he spent it?
Since the right hon. Gentleman has been Chancellor of the Exchequer the National Debt has increased from £26,000 million to £26,600 million. It has gone up by £600 million. It means that, in addition to the £500 million we had to pay annually in interest to the banks and others, we now have to pay an additional £20 million or more a year on interest. It has come about in the last two years. How is it, then, that the Government can say we are better off? How can they say they have salvaged everything? We are more than £600 million worse off than we were before the Chancellor of the Exchequer took office. I hope that before the debate ends we shall be given an explanation of what has happened to that £600 million surplus with which the Chancellor started.
I conclude by repeating that the Government's policy, as expressed in the Queen's Speech, seems intended only to tide the Government over until the next General Election, which, seemingly, cannot be far off.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
I want to follow those hon. Members who have spoken of the problems facing the agricultural industry. The Gracious Speech very properly mentioned the problems which face our great basic industry. Those problems are very real. There is no doubt that our agricultural community is passing through a period of great insecurity and uncertainty. Unfortunately, those who are suffering the most are the small farmers and the smallholders. It is they who at the 108 present time are passing through troublous times. When we consider, for example, that in Wales of all holdings over five acres 62.1 per cent. are of less than 50 acres, we realise that a large proportion of those engaged in agriculture are going through a very worrying period at present.
The Gracious Speech talked about the efficient production and marketing of food. I really cannot help feeling somewhat cynical when I remember that. What has been done during the past three years to encourage the small farmers and the smallholders towards that desirable goal of efficient production and marketing? The only way whereby the small farmers can be enabled to do their work properly is by the setting up of co-operatives for the distribution and sale of their produce and for the purchase and maintenance of up-to-date farming machinery, which shall be available especially to food producers in remote rural districts.
There are other factors which should be taken into consideration by the Minister of Agriculture. There is, for instance, the present dear money policy. The small farmers especially could do with cheap money. They are finding it difficult to stock their farms, to plan for the future, to buy machinery, because they are finding it difficult to borrow money from the banks as interest is so high. The farming industry is the industry which would benefit most from a cheap money policy. Unfortunately, there is the possibility that interest rates will rise again.
It is generally agreed that one of the most serious difficulties facing the farming community is that of land drainage. The widespread flooding of recent weeks has exacerbated the position. I was disappointed that there was no mention in the Gracious Speech of legislation to deal with this important problem. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that the statutes dealing with the problem of agricultural drainage are totally inadequate.
What is the present set-up? First of all, the river boards are responsible for certain sections of main rivers. Those main rivers are marked on their official maps and scheduled, and the boards cannot operate beyond the rivers so scheduled. Secondly, the farmers themselves are responsible for the maintenance 109 of field drains and ditches on their farms. They are given some assistance by the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act in doing this work. The serious point is that between the main rivers, which are dealt with by the river boards, and the smaller ditches, which are dealt with by the farmers, there are thousands of miles of streams for which no one is responsible. For example, in North-West Wales, in the three counties, Caernarvon, Merioneth and Anglesey, there are 1,300 miles of such secondary streams and ditches, for which, it seems, no one is prepared to accept responsibility.
There are very large areas of valuable agricultural land which are being completely neglected today because of flooding. Farmers do not know where they can turn for assistance to repair this damage. County councils have certain powers under Section 50 of the Land Drainage Act, 1930, but, by and large, they have neither the staff nor the equipment to deal with this serious problem. Furthermore, the power they have is permissive. Many county councils, say, "We are not prepared to undertake this tremendous task which involves the spending of a considerable amount of public money until we know what the Government intend to do about the Heneage Report." It is high time that the Government took some positive action in the matter.
The Minister of Agriculture has not told us what he proposes to do about the Report which has been in his hands since 1951—nearly four years. He has had ample time to consider it. I have put down a number of Questions to him during the last few years asking what recommendations he intends to make. He has told me time and again that he is still negotiating and having consultations with interested organisations. The House will agree that the Minister has had ample time to complete his consultations and that he should now tell the country what action he intends taking.
The situation generally is deteriorating from day to day and the recent flooding has made matters infinitely worse. We are losing many thousands of acres of first-class agricultural land because there is no power to deal with the problem. I should like to read from a letter which I have received from a local farmer on the Isle of Anglesey. He writes about a small river known as the Afon Llanfwrog. He says: 110I am writing on behalf of my three neighbours and myself whose land is continually affected by floods. The board's engineers when they visited me saw the floods at their worst. They admit that the portion for which the board is responsible for drainage does not in itself contribute but very little indeed as the flooded area occurs upstream of the determination of the board's responsibility. I must point out that this small river drains approximately 1,200 acres, and all the water from this area accumulates in the basin around us. We therefore request that the board should take over a further mile of the river to cover the affected area. This would assist us very much as we could then get on with the drainage of other streams in the area.What happens when that letter goes to the appropriate rivers board? The board must say to the farmer, "We have not the power. This river is not scheduled on our map." The county council will say, "We have not the money, the equipment or the staff to deal with it." The district council will say, "We have not the power or the cash." In fact, there is nobody who is responsible. Therefore, I say again, that there are many thousands of acres of good agricultural land going to waste because the Government are not taking any constructive action.
The House will recall that during the war the problem could be dealt with by Section 14 of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1940. The question I wish to put to the Government is, when will the Minister of Agriculture come to a decision about the Henage Report? Are we to wait for five, 10 or 20 years? I appreciate that there are complex issues involved, but the Minister has had long enough to make up his mind.
If he would only say, "I cannot make any recommendations for five or 10 years", then the county councils could do something about it. Alternatively, if he would say that he would implement the recommendations of the Report and allow the river boards to deal with the secondary streams then I think everybody would be satisfied, especially the farming community.
The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McKibbin) regretted that Northern Ireland was omitted from the Gracious Speech. I sympathise with him. Had he been present I should have pointed out to him that Northern Ireland has a Parliament of its own at Stormont and a Gracious Speech of its own. The most serious omission from the Gracious 111 Speech is that there is no reference to Wales. Scotland is mentioned. There are important proposals for Scotland. A Crofters' Commission is to be appointed and the Report of the Royal Commission on Scottish Affairs has received the close attention of the Government and steps are to be taken to carry out its recommendations.
But there is no mention at all of Wales. I wish to tell the House that there is very deep feeling in the Principality about this. The Government are neglecting the Principality of Wales. We feel that there should be mention of the Government's intentions. Over 12 months ago Wales was promised a Bill to assist in the repair and maintenance of roads in the rural areas of the Principality. But that was a year ago, and there is no mention of such a Bill in the Gracious Speech. We were told three years ago that there would be a gradual building up of a special Department for Wales; that there would be an Under-Secretary responsible for Welsh Affairs who would be occupied full-time with Wales. My hon. Friends who represent Scottish constituencies will remember this, because an additional Under-Secretary for Scotland was appointed at the same time.
Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, as he then was, said that this would be a full-time job. Now we have an Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department in another place who will deal with Wales as a secondary matter. We hoped that the re would be progressive degrees of administrative devolution for Wales, as for Scotland. But the Government are doing nothing and I wish to stress that the people of Wales will be extremely disappointed. They were glad to know that there was to be a Minister for Welsh Affairs, but if they are treated in this fashion from year to year they will come to the conclusion that this Ministry is nothing but a facade.
We were glad that a Welshman conversant with the language was appointed as Minister, but that is really not significant, because he has no executive power, and I asked the Minister for Education to bring this matter to the notice of the Government. The time will come when the Welsh people will tire of the way in which they are being treated. As is well known 112 to the House, the Welsh are a proud and ancient nation. Three-quarters-of-a-million of their people have on their lips the oldest spoken language in Europe. They have been patient for a number of years—far more patient than the people of Scotland and Ireland. There is never any trouble with the people of Wales. But if things go on in this fashion, I warn the Government that one day there will be trouble, because the Welsh people will not tolerate this kind of treatment for very much longer.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacPherson (Stirling and Falkirk Burghs)
I understand that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) wishes to speak at ten minutes to nine, which means that I must try to condense a speech which is mainly directed—
§ Mr. MacPherson
I did not mean by that to be rude to my right hon. Friend. I meant that the time is short, and that I shall be brief.
My speech is directed, in the main, to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and to the Minister of Education who, by good fortune, is now present on the Government Front Bench. I wish to put a few points on the general subject of the education of the people whom we expect to run our industry in various grades; not merely the people who require higher technological training, as we call it, but those who require training at technician and craftsmen level.
There is no doubt that this is one of the essential matters of our economic setup. The Ministry of Education must no longer regard itself simply as one of the social Ministries, one of the Ministries concerned with welfare and social questions. It would seem to me that, in addition, the Ministry of Education is part of the economic machine of the country. Among our assets we must include our human assets. In the frequently used phrase, we must "export brains." But it is not simply that we must export brains but that we must export technically trained brains. We must export brains, plus technical training.
I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that it is necessary for the Ministry of Education to regard itself as having a 113 considerable part to play in solving the economic problems of the country as well as in dealing with the broader questions of education. It follows that within the Ministry there should be set up a division dealing specifically with technical and technological questions. At present, these questions are dealt with by the Further Education Division, which includes in its purview recreation classes, hobby classes and various other kinds of classes, good in themselves, but linked only in a distant way with technical matters. If the Ministry is to reflect to a proper degree the attitude which the country and, particularly, industry adopts towards technical training, it should take a greater independent interest in technical training.
One thing which should follow from the establishment of a separate technical education division would be the strengthening of the personnel of the Ministry on the technical side. Just now it is not strong enough to deal with the problems which the Ministry has to face. The annual report of the Ministry does not reflect the interest which exists in a number of questions connected with technical education. It does not let us know how much technical education and, especially, higher technological education, is going on at the various stages.
To give a specific illustration—it is not possible to tell how much of that education is going to come back to this nation's specific benefit. I am told upon reliable authority that in the London polytechnics more than half the students are from outside Great Britain. I am all in favour of that; that seems to me a thoroughly good thing; but we should like to know just how many students catered for by these polytechnics will come back into our own industry and how many are going to help our sister nations in the Commonwealth and other countries. It is not possible to find such information in the report.
Again—and the information I am now going to give to the right hon. Gentleman is reliably vouched for—one hears case after case of technical colleges possessing 'machinery which is used only a few times during a year while, some miles on, other technical colleges possess equally expensive machinery, perhaps of the same sort, which is used as infrequently. I believe that someone in another place suggested 114 that many of these expensive pieces of equipment could be made mobile. I do not know whether that is possible or just fanciful, but the right hon. Gentleman should consider the principle involved. There should be more sharing of the expensive types of equipment between colleges in the respective regions.
The same is true of staff. The other day I was told of a college in the London area in which a member of the staff who was trained in an important type of technology spent part of his week lecturing upon that subject and filled in the rest of his time teaching elementary mathematics to City and Guilds students, whereas another college in the London area was unable to recruit a lecturer in this branch of technology. That sort of thing should not happen. We are not in a position to squander our resources in that way.
That situation is reflected in the Ministry's dealings with other bodies. The Ministry has a long tradition of dealing with local education committees, but it should now be dealing just as closely with the professional institutions—such as the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Institution of Electrical Engineers—with trade unions, and with industry itself.
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, for instance, whether his grant regulations provide for students taking "sandwich" courses if they happen to live in areas where there is a technical college, but when the industry in which they are to work is some distance away, which involves their going into lodgings. I do not think that is possible under the present regulations, yet there is case after case in which it is necessary.
I should like also to put to the Minister the fact that for three or four years now the Institution of Electrical Engineers has been trying to establish courses suitable for the training at technician grade of the large number of people they consider necessary. I understand that, recently, they have managed to conclude an arrangement without the Ministry playing any part in it worth speaking of, and only recently the complaint was that whatever solution might be reached in this matter would be reached against the apposition of the Ministry. I do not know whether that latter criticism is true or not, but there seems to be no doubt that the arrangement has been concluded 115 without the Ministry having done anything to further it.
Next, the Ministry must co-operate with the trade unions over apprenticeships. A number of trade unions are very much alive to the importance of training apprentices, but I am not at all sure that the Ministry is tackling this sort of problem with anything like the vigour that it ought to show. I do not believe that the Ministry has the same kind of readiness to co-operate with the trade unions, with industry itself and with professional institutions as it has with the local education committees, and I suggest that nowadays it is really essential for the Ministry to look upon its task as requiring a very close connection with industry.
As a matter of fact, the amount of thinking, arguing and discussing, and to a very large extent reporting, about these problems of technical training going on inside industrial circles rather puts the educationist outside the big technical colleges to shame—puts to shame, I mean, the administrators of education. There is a great deal of experimentation, discussion and serious thought now going on in the larger firms, like Metropolitan-Vickers and a number of others, and it is reflected in a good deal of co-operation on the part of the larger technical colleges. I do not think that the Ministry gives anything like the lead in these matters which it might give, and I am certain that it does not play the big part in these matters, and in reaching conclusions about them, that we would hope it would do.
There is a reference in the Gracious Speech to technological education. The Chancellor himself is deeply interested in the subject and his references to it are always welcome. The reference in the Gracious Speech is to the expansion of facilities for higher technological education; but there is no overall shortage of such facilities at the moment. There is a drop in engineering students, and I understand that there are 300 vacant places in the engineering faculties of the country.
There has been a drop in the number of students taking the National Certificate. Not only is there no straining of our resources, which is the situation that ought to exist if we were really trying to solve the problem, but there is a failure 116 to use the resources that are there. Besides the fact that not sufficient students are now coming forward to fill the places, there are complaints from a number of professors in the scientific and technical faculties that already the quality of the students is beginning to drop, because of the shortage of science masters.
What is most needed at the moment is. I suggest, an increase in the stream of students. To that I would add that we should be trying to find where we can get the wherewithal with which to increase this stream. We really do not know where the wastage in first-rate ability occurs—how much wastage of ability there is in the 15 and 18 age groups, and so on. We should be trying to find out what potential we have in technological ability, and then trying to attract it into use of the facilities which we have to offer.
I am sorry that I have had to put my points in such a rush and in such a somewhat jumbled fashion. I should have liked another five or 10 minutes in which to have put them more clearly, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Education will give consideration to the points I have raised.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
I am quite sure that all who have listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Malcolm MacPherson) will agree that he has put the points which he wished to place before the House both briefly and with a knowledge that entitles him to the respectful attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Education when he has considered these matters.
My own view is that my hon. Friend has raised one or two things which have long needed discussion, and I wish particularly to bring to the attention of the Minister of Education the problem of the use of the most highly skilled staffs in all our institutions of higher education, for it is certainly on the solution of that problem that our capacity to deal with some of the matters raised in the Gracious Speech will depend.
It is quite wrong that a man of the high qualifications mentioned by my hon. Friend should be employed in teaching elementary mathematics to junior classes when there are students needing education in the higher branches with which he is 117 capable of dealing. I do not deride junior mathematics. Indeed, I sometimes have great suspicions of people who can juggle with the integral calculus like a juggler throwing up plates at a fair.
In these days, especially, there is a need in our secondary and technical schools, and in our technological institutes, for the full employment of all persons with the highest qualifications. Even if it needs some rearrangement of timetables and the sending of pupils occasionally from one institution to another during the period that such a teacher is available, that, I think, is one of the things that those in our educational institutions must contemplate as being among the necessities of the very near future.
Do not let it be forgotten that we are now beginning to deal at the secondary and higher education levels with the heavy birthrate by teachers drawn from generations of a much lower birthrate. Therefore, if we had established any sort of equilibrium—and I do not want it to be thought that this had been done with any scientific skill—in previous years in dealing with the allocation of highly-skilled teachers to the population, it is quite clear that the system will now be placed under a very severe strain, and that if we are to do what we should do for the rising generation we must take that into account.
This Gracious Speech is more remarkable for what it leaves out than for what it contains. The Government have failed to mention three or four matters, about some of which they expressed grave concern themselves not so very long ago, and others of which have cropped up during the last few months. For example, in last year's Gracious Speech Her Majesty informed us:My Ministers will give further consideration to the question of reform of the House of Lords.As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said on 3rd November, last year: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd November, 1953; Vol. 520, c. 18.]118 I wonder how much consideration has been given to the matter during the past year. Is it true that some of the coronetted denizens of the primaeval forests of the country have intimated that the House of Lords is very well as it is? While it remains, I agree with them; but the astounding thing is that there is no mention of this matter in Her Majesty's Gracious Speech.
There has been some concern about the activities of chief constables in prosecuting small and comparatively innocent lottery promoters. We know why these things are run. While Surrey, winning the county championship three years running, does not need such help, some of the county cricket clubs have been kept going in recent years only by the promotion of these innocent forms of "try your luck." A Private Member's Bill was introduced under the Ten Minutes' Rule and was unanimously given the approval of the House. I hoped that there-would be an indication in the Queen's Speech that this quite innocent form of gambling would receive some protection from the law. I hoped, also, that we might be hearing the result of the Government's consideration of the Report of the Royal Commission on Gambling and Betting. It is about time that we heard something from them.
On 18th March this year, the House was discussing the Luton Corporation Bill. I see the hon. Member for Luton (Dr. Hill), although he is not technically in the House and, therefore, he cannot interrupt me. I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government is here. The present Minister offered to stay and listen, but he would have had to break a very important engagement and I said that I really would not ask him to do that because he was not the Minister on 18th March. The right hon. Gentleman who then held that office said on that occasion:I feel confident at least of this, that it will be possible for a statement of the Government's intentions"—that is, in regard to the future of Private Bill legislation for the creation of county boroughs—to be made early next Session, and that is why I am asking the House not to give a Second Reading to the Luton Bill.119 He then makes reference to the Ilford Bill, which had been sent to Committee, and continues:This is the last time that I hope either I or my successor will ask the House to refuse approval to a Bill giving county borough status to a local authority solely on the ground that a new prospect is just around the corner.One of my hon. Friends, who does not agree with me on this matter of the promotion of county boroughs, asked me afterwards what I made of that statement. I said, "What I make of it is the certainty that the right hon. Gentleman will not be Minister of Housing and Local Government in the next Session of Parliament." I am not quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman has landed where his ambitions soared at the time when he made that statement, but, at any rate, he has landed his successor with this problem.
The right hon. Gentleman goes on:I confess that, in previous years, I hesitantly asked the House to reject this Measure. I ask the House confidently tonight to do so, because, before such Bills as this are due to be brought forward next Session, the Government will either have informed the House that they cannot introduce a Measure that will take the place of such Bills as this, or they will have announced in broad outline what their proposals are."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th March, 1954; Vol. 525, c. 712.]It is within my knowledge that the present Minister of Housing and Local Government is now conducting conversations—I think that that is as reasonably non-committal a word as I can use—with all the local government authority associations, and that he has managed to get them into one room together. The fact that they remain in the room and leave under their own power, is, I trust, a hopeful sign that something may materialise. I hope that the present Minister will realise the hopes that were raised by the speech made on 18th March last by his predecessor.
I trust that, before we get to that period of the year—it is not so very far away—when I understand that that Bill and certain others presented by non-county boroughs anxious for elevation in status will come before us, we shall have a statement that will enable the House to deal with those Bills on their merits, or that we shall have an assurance that the Government propose to take such steps as will put the matter on an orderly basis. In 120 view of the statement made by the Minister in March last, it is to be regretted that no statement dealing with the subject has been made in Her Majesty's Gracious Speech.
We are pleased to see the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Education in his place, because any change in that office was bound to be for the better. I apologise to the Minister of Defence, whom I now see. I had been dealing with the statement he made on 18th March. Had I known that he was coming in I should have arranged my speech in a different order, but tomorrow he may have the opportunity of seeing what I said.
The Minister of Education comes to his office at a time when relations between the teaching staffs, the local authorities and the Ministry over which he presides are suffering from a state of tension that is without precedent in my very long recollection of that Department. I therefore welcome the statement in Her Majesty's Gracious Speech thatIn consultation with the teachers and local authorities, My Ministers will prepare a new scheme for ensuring a sound financial basis for teachers' pensions.One of the things that caused the utmost resentment towards the Bill which we may now, I suppose, call the old Bill, since there is to be a new scheme, was the fact that neither of these bodies was called into consultation at a time when the subject was still fluid. I hope that this statement in Her Majesty's Gracious Speech means that the Minister, with the local authorities and the teachers, will now examine the problem and will net bring to it any preconceived ideas that make it impossible for him to listen to the suggestions that the other parties to the discussion may make.
There are of course many sound financial bases for superannuation schemes. The sound financial basis of the Civil Service is that the Civil Service makes no contribution and the Government find all the money. That seems to me quite sound. At one time that was what prevailed in the teachers' superannuation relationships. When it was departed from, it was said by the Government of the day that the departure was purely temporary to deal with what was then regarded as a passing financial crisis. There is, of course, the local government superannuation scheme where the contri- 121 bution of the employee is fixed and the local authorities have to make up whatever deficit may occur on the actuarial valuations.
One of the things that aroused most resentment during the early discussions on the Bill that we hope is now dead was the fact that the Minister at one time wanted to be able to raise the contributors' contributions by an order of this House, by delegated legislation. I want to assure the right hon. Gentleman—and I speak on this point with some authority—that both the teachers and the local authorities will be glad to enter into consultation on the basis that they are dealing with quite unbroken ground, that all ideas will be welcomed and that the matter can receive fair and full consideration.
During the past year this matter has not been without its difficulties. I want to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the statement that was made on 18th November this year by the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. G. Longden), who asked the Lord Privy Seal to remember that many on his side of the House considered the Bill—that is, the proposed Teachers (Superannuation) Bill—to be unfair. I am not at all sure that it was not the doubts as to the Lobby into which the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West and a number of his hon. Friends might have wandered, if the Bill had been taken for Second Reading, which secured its delay.
There is one other matter on which I want to touch before I leave the subject. On 20th May, 1954, after making his announcement about the business for the following week, the Lord Privy Seal said:Perhaps I may be allowed at this stage to answer the question which I am bound to be asked today, because I am asked it every week. It is in regard to the Teachers (Superannuation) Bill. At this period in the Session"—Then HANSARD reports that that was met with some glee on this side of the House.Hon. Members had better wait to hear the whole of my statement. At this period in the Session, most of our time must be devoted to the consideration of essential financial business and to the concluding stages of legislation. We shall thus be unable to proceed in the immediate future with the Teachers (Superannuation) Bill which, as it stands, would take effect from 1st July this year. From the point of view of assuring the ultimate solvency of the account a few months' delay is not vital but the House 122 will realise that the longer the interval the greater will be the deficiency that will have to be met. It is, therefore, the intention of the Government to carry through the Bill as soon as the pressure of the Parliamentary timetable permits, and, in any case, before the end of the present financial year"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th May, 1954; Vol. 527, c. 2293.]If this is a new scheme, as described in the Gracious Speech, I do not think it will be possible for the consultations to take place in the kind of atmosphere which I have suggested if it is expected that the Bill must be placed on the Statute Book before 31st March, 1955. I am quite sure that if the statement in the Gracious Speech is to be taken in the way I have tried to take it tonight, as a suggestion that this is a matter on which consultation should take place between the three parties to all educational arrangements in this country, we cannot expect that it will be possible to carry those negotiations through in the time suggested by the Lord Privy Seal in May.
In view of the new words which are used, I do not suggest that anybody will feel bound by what was said on 20th May, and I therefore trust that this will not be a case of producing the old Bill and asking, "What is there in this that you do not like?" I am quite sure that if that is the way in which it is to be done, there will not be much hope of reaching agreement, and I therefore renew my plea that this shall be regarded as something completely new and that the Government, and the Minister in particular, will enter into negotiations on that basis.
In the two or three minutes which remain to me I want to say that I welcome the paragraph in the Gracious Speech which deals with the general education system, but it all depends on the way in which it is implemented as to whether the hopes one forms on it will be justified. I welcome, in particular, what I read to be a reference to the completion of the reorganisation of the rural schools. As President of the County Councils' Association, I was astounded when we collected from the various counties the statistics for the lack of reorganisation in those schools.
What we were told fully confirmed the statement made this afternoon by the seconder of the Motion for the Address, the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-East (Mr. Bullard), that, whereas the general run of unreorganised schools is 9 per 123 cent., in his rural county 41 per cent, are unreorganised. I believe that there are a few other counties where the percentage is even higher. We cannot talk about implementation of the 1944 Act, or even approaching it, whilst so large a proportion of our rural population labours under that disadvantage.
I am quite certain that that is one of the things which leads to rural depopulation, for my farmer friends in various parts of the country tell me that the first thing an agricultural worker now asks when interviewed for a job is, "Where is the nearest school?" That is because his wife says, and quite rightly, "My boy and girl are to have the same educational chances as their cousin who lives in the town." While I hope to see a rural education in the rural secondary schools based on the immediate environment of the child, let us be quite certain that there are many things which, in the past, urban children have enjoyed which rural children have not enjoyed, but which they can enjoy within an education primarily based on their immediate environment and gradually spreading out, as their development proceeds, into more general matters.
I also welcome the reference to higher technological education. We still have a sufficient amount of inventive genius in this country to enable us to keep our position at the head of the manufacturing nations of the world for ingenuity and for quality. But, increasingly in the years that lie ahead of us, we shall need skilled people teaching and learning in these higher technological institutes, in which, in the past, we have been behind some of our great manufacturing competitors. The right hon. Gentleman can rest assured that anything he can do in that way to increase the skill of our craftsmen and to give the creative genius of our designers greater opportunities will have fullest support from this side of the House.
I do not like warning Ministers. Having been a Minister myself, I know that warnings are regarded sometimes as a quite unnecessary mentioning of their embarrassments. But the right hon. Gentleman has been quoted in the educational Press as having at one time said that his policy was to "treat'em mean and keep 'em keen." I know the right hon. Gentleman too well to believe that he will 124 attempt to apply that in his present office. Let me tell him that what this country needs today is a generous and liberal outlook towards the human problems that are involved in our schools, for the growth of the population presents new problems. The crowding of our schools which is now occurring creates other human problems. Teachers and the local authorities hope that they will get from the right hon. Gentleman an understanding of their difficulties and a generous and noble lead towards the advancement of sound learning in this country.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ The Minister of Education (Sir David Eccles)
The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and I are creating something of a precedent in having two Front Bench speeches at the end of the first day of the debate on the Gracious Speech. I am grateful for the opportunity, but it certainly is something new. Normally, I believe, hon. Members prefer to go home and study the Gracious Speech; but if, today, they do not, it is interesting that on this occasion, if the first day is to be typical of our week's debates, there is really nothing much wrong with the Government's policy.
We have had no serious criticisms all day. It may be that tomorrow we shall have criticisms, but the Government can be very satisfied with the way their policy has been handled today. The fact is that the country is doing fairly well and it is not very easy to find large subjects of complaint. Several hon. Members have raised questions which I will pass on to my right hon. Friends, some of whom will be speaking in the debates and will, I am certain, deal with them.
The right hon. Member for South Shields spoke about the disappearance of the Teachers (Superannuation) Bill. I have looked into this awkward situation with very great care. I know that it is in the interests of 'the teachers that the great and growing deficiency on their account should be cleared up. If I thought that the old Bill, as the right hon. Gentleman calls it, would have assured the solvency of the Pensions' Account, I should have asked my right hon. Friends to allow me to bring it back, and I should have done my best to persuade the House to pass that Bill.
But this is the difficulty. Where pensions are linked to salary scales—and, 125 as the House knows, in the case of teachers the pensions are determined by their earnings in the last five years of their service—and where those scales are frequently raised, as they must when a country is getting richer and even more when it suffers inflation, no contributory pensions scheme could work unless it is clearly understood from the start whose responsibility it is to find the money to meet the higher pension liability which follows automatically when the salaries are raised.
The older teachers know very well that if the 5 per cent. on their pre-war salaries was correctly calculated to provide for the pensions to which they were then entitled, the money that has been set aside cannot be anything like enough to provide for the pensions calculated upon their present much higher salaries.
§ Mr. Morley
The right hon. Gentleman said that the money was set aside. It never was set aside; it was never funded.
§ Sir D. Eccles
I tried to use a phrase that would be easily understood. It would be more accurate to speak of the figure to the credit of the account. I agree that there is no fund, but there is a credit in an account.
At any rate, the gap in that account, or the deficiency, as it is sometimes called, opens wider every time the salary scales are raised. Therefore the question, which is still unsolved, is: where shall the money come from to make good these increases in liability? The strong feelings and the confused arguments that we have had since February have led us to the conclusion that we should abandon the attempt to stop up the holes in the old scheme. At best, the Bill which the House saw and disliked could have been only a temporary solution because the deficiency on the account is bound to reappear over and over again. Therefore, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I prefer a more radical approach, and we are ready to wind up the old account and to enter into consultations with the representatives of the local authorities and the teachers absolutely from the beginning, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields asked me to do, in order to work out a fresh scheme.
I am sure this proposal to start again is in the best interests of the teachers themselves. They have very much to 126 gain from this offer to put a sponge over the deficiency, which has accumulated to a horrifying figure, and they also can secure important advantages from the minor Clauses of the old Bill, which I am quite prepared to put into a new and satisfactory scheme. On our side, the Government want a scheme which is on sound, modern lines and which contains provisions for maintaining the solvency of the account, should the deficiency at any time reappear. I think that that is a workmanlike basis for a thorough examination.
The hon. Member for Itchen (Mr. Morley) asked if we were going to make a thorough examination of this very complicated actuarial problem, and we certainly will. When we have agreed between us on the mathematics, then I believe we can start again and make a pensions scheme which will not bring up a crisis every time the salary scales are increased. That is my intention, and I believe that, with care, we shall be able to achieve some success.
§ Mr. Ede
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the statement he has made, but to get the facts clear I should like to ask him this question. Is it not the fact that the deficiency is an actuarial deficiency and that the actual cash position is that the account has taken over £200 million more from the teachers than it has ever paid out up to the present?
§ Sir D. Eccles
That, of course, is true, but it always happens at the start of a superannuation scheme that one accumulates funds, or, in this case, a note in an account, for the purpose of paying out the money when the teachers reach the pensionable age. If one did not accumulate funds there would be nothing to pay out. What we have to deal with is the known or calculated liability for paying pensions to the teachers who are in service today. That greatly exceeds the present credit balance on the account plus what is expected to be paid into it over the next few years.
§ Mr. Morley
Is it not a fact that the £200 million surplus which supposedly accumulated has been spent on other things and so is not available, as the right hon. Gentleman has suggested, to meet future contingencies?
§ Sir D. Eccles
The way in which the account is kept is very complicated, but 127 the teachers have the guarantee of the Government that that money is there. That is a point of detail, whether or not the new scheme should be kept on the same accounting basis. I think that if the hon. Member will allow it to be left to the discussions, we may make a better job of it.
§ Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)
The Bill will be not merely an English Bill but a United Kingdom Bill, will it not? Has the right hon. Gentleman had consultations with the Secretary of State for Scotland, and have the statements he has made tonight been agreed with the Secretary of State?
§ Sir D. Eccles
Yes, I have. I am sorry I did not mention that. I ought to have mentioned Scotland. I have had consultations with the Secretary of State.
I turn now to the other part of the passage of the Gracious Speech which refers to education. What it means is that we are now in a position to make further advances in carrying out the Education Act, 1944. There is a very large building programme going on today, and that will continue. In addition to that, we are now able to build some more new schools and technical colleges, to improve some old buildings, and to reduce the size of classes.
There is no change of policy here. We continue to stand by the Butler Act, which is the logical consequence of universal suffrage. When Parliament gave the vote to every man and women at 21 it took a risk with our Parliamentary institutions. That risk would be a reckless gamble if we did not make sure that each generation of new voters received an education adequate to their responsibility for choosing their own Government. Therefore, we believe in the Act and we look on it as an essential instrument for preserving our institutions based as they are now on universal suffrage.
There is another extremely urgent reason why we should press forward, and that is that we are beginning to understand the problem of full employment. We can see that any further increases in our wealth are related to improvements in our skills, in organisation, in power, equipment, and so on. On all sides one is told that economic expansion requires massive investment in plant and 128 machinery, and yet there is a general fear that the machines may become the masters of the men. If that is so we must invest in education in order that the men may learn both how to use their own inventions to the full and how to control their use for good purposes. I venture to begin with those general reflections in order to show how fundamental to our future I believe education to be.
It may be convenient to look at the situation as we find it. It is 10 years since the Act was passed and much has been done to carry out its provisions; but there is a sense of disappointment that we have not been able to make more progress. If that is so, it is due to certain unexpected events which blocked the progress which Miss Ellen Wilkinson, Mr. George Tomlinson and my right hon. Friend the Member for Moss Side (Dame Florence Horsbrugh) all hoped to make.
The most formidable of these events was the birth during and just after the war of a million more babies than had been forecast when the Act was drafted and discussed. Another came in 1947 when Miss Wilkinson deliberately, bravely and rightly raised the school-leaving age to 15. So, given many more children, with an extra year on their school life, the 5 million who were in school in 1947 will become 6.7 million in 1957.
This was a very big problem, but there came another unexpected event—at least unexpected by hon. Members opposite. That was that instead of jogging along building 200,000 houses a year we are now building 350,000. New houses are not necessarily put up anywhere near old schools. Indeed, if the child population had been stationary the new housing estates would have pulled thousands of families to places where there were neither primary nor secondary schools.
As it was, my predecessor had to contend both with the largest increase in the school population in our history and with the most successful Minister of Housing and Local Government. The summary of her achievement is that in the last three years her score of school places completed was 650,000, which beat the increase in the school population by 125,000. We should all pay tribute to what was a most remarkable building achievement.
129 I now wish to turn to the school building in the future. Everyone, hon. Members, local authorities, teachers, farmers and members of the general public, tell me to withdraw Circular 245. The single purpose of this stern document was to direct all the available building resources to places where it was physically impossible to fit the extra million children into existing schools—for example, on a housing estate where it was a case of a new school or no education at all. Now, at last, we can say that the battle against sheer numbers is being won. We can turn our attention to schools that were unsatisfactory when the Act was passed.
I can make these encouraging statements only because my predecessor was brave enough, and single-minded enough, not to be diverted from the most urgent task of all, which was to provide new places to match the rising number of school children. Putting their claim first had the effect that very few schools were allowed to be built in the rural areas where the population was either stationary, or, if there was some slight increase the children could be squeezed into the existing schools.
As was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Bullard) in what I thought was a remarkably good speech, and as has been said again by the right hon. Member for South Shields, we have reached a position where, in certain parts of the countryside, families are moving out of the villages into the towns, because they want their children to go to a new school. That movement must be stopped and the balance against the rural areas reversed.
That was one of the results of Circular 245 which had to be considered when deciding where to employ the additional building resources now available. None the less, the moment we are able to pay more attention to the quality of our schools and not simply to their numbers, as we have had to do up to now, there cry out for action all the old schools, all the slum schools in town and country, all the over-sized classes and the all-age schools. All these, whether in England or in Wales, are quite unworthy, and we must commit ourselves to getting rid of the whole lot.
When I examined this problem as a practical matter of administration, I saw that these items added up to such a formidable total that it would not be 130 possible efficiently to tackle the whole lot at once. So a choice had to be made about where to begin the attack. On this question I took the opportunity to hear the views of representatives of local authorities and teachers. At that meeting there was a most encouraging measure of agreement, which was later endorsed by the National Farmers' Union, about where we should start. I wish to try to carry the House with me in the decision which we have reached.
I quite agree with the right hon. Member for South Shields that in a matter like this we must go hack to the central purpose of the Act of 1944, which I take to be to provide every child with a secondary education, irrespective of where he or she lives and of his or her parents' financial or social status. If there are still all-age schools, we have not carried out that promise, so reorganisation becomes my first duty. I find that the proportion of all senior children in the rural areas who are still in all-age schools greatly exceeds the proportion who are in a similar unfortunate position in the towns. Therefore, the first instalment which I propose is the complete reorganisation of the schools in the rural areas.
How are we going to do that? I propose to lay the work entirely on the county authorities, because I am going to ask them to carry out this reorganisation as fast they can, consistent with efficient and economic building. When they are ready to build a new school for this purpose they can now let the contract. I do not believe very strongly in time-tables, but I am going to ask each county authority to see that the last school needed to complete reorganisation in the countryside is started before 1st January, 1960. If they can do it in less than in the five-year period, no one will be more pleased than I; but I want to have some sort of timetable in order to get the appropriate drive and urgency into this improvement. The details of this new freedom to get on with the job will be given in the circular that is to replace Circular 245.
The architects and professional staff of the county councils are going to be very severely tested. But experience with the housing programme teaches one that it is a good thing to aim high and a very bad thing to contemplate delays and difficulties before one has to deal with them. 131 In future, it will be my Ministry who asks the counties to do more, and the counties who, on occasion, may have to tell us why they cannot do more. I am sure that we shall both enjoy that reversal of our traditional roles. The new circular will also contain proposals designed to assist reorganisation everywhere. I think that the most important change relates to minor works, and it applies to all authorities. The present limits are £7,500 a job, and an annual total or ceiling of what can be spent on all such jobs. I am told that these ceilings have borne very hardly on a number of authorities, who have been unable to do improvements urgently needed.
From now onwards every authority will be free to do as much as it is able to do on minor works; the ceilings will be abolished, and the limit per job raised to £10,000. I am certain that this freedom will greatly help the reconditioning and improvement of bad old schools in the countryside and in towns. Here again, the relationship between the Ministry and the authorities is turned round. We are now going to take our foot off the brake and put it on the accelerator, and if the experience of housing is any guide we shall get a real spurt in reconditioning as a result of this change.
Playing fields were mentioned in the Gracious Speech. At present, only new schools may lay out a playing field. This has been very hard on cities like Stoke-on-Trent and Nottingham, which had the land ready to be developed as playing fields for schools in the centre of the town. That restriction goes, and I am ready to approve playing fields for existing as well as new schools.
In describing these changes in the programme, I have so far been dealing with the local education authorities, but these greater opportunities will also apply to the voluntary schools. There is a good deal of building being done by the voluntary schools, some of it quite admirable, and the House will realise that to complete reorganisation in the rural areas and to make full use of the freedom to do all minor works up to £10,000 will put a very great strain on the denominations, more especially upon the Church of England, which has so many aided schools in the countryside. I will help all I can, and I propose to offer every kind of assistance 132 that can be offered within the settlement which Parliament has agreed. I have no doubt that the churches will welcome this challenge—it is a very great challenge to them—and that we shall be astonished by the vigour of their response.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch), with his customary assiduity, brought up the question of village halls, and I should like to say that the restrictions in Circular 245 relating to village halls will also go. Subject to some problems of definition, which will be dealt with in our new Circular, we have decided to reopen our lists for applications from voluntary bodies who want grants towards the cost of providing a hall or community centre. We are offering these grants because we think that life in a community is not complete without somewhere for people to meet and make friends and to carry on the social activities of the neighbourhood, especially on housing estates. I feel sure that life on these estates will not be complete if we put up houses without other buildings to suit them.
§ Sir D. Eccles
Yes; village halls and community centres. We go back to the position in which they can apply for a grant from the Ministry of Education.
I come now to the very exciting subject of technical education which was raised by the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Malcolm MacPherson). I agreed with all he said about the real urgency to treat this as a major problem. I have not been long enough at the Ministry to be able to answer all his obviously well-informed points, but I assure him that I will look into them.
We were urged from all quarters to make an advance in the field of technical education, and the Select Committee on Estimates of this House have been very powerful in advocacy of this cause. In the Report for 1952–53, the Committee had this to say:The need at the present time is for proper facilities, in particular adequate buildings, where technical instruction can be carried out efficiently; until these exist in sufficient number there will be a continuing national loss in the sense that a full return will not be realised from the public money being spent on technical education133 I quite agree with that, and this judgment was strikingly confirmed a day or two after I went to the Ministry. The Parliamentary Secretary and I received a number of German Members of Parliament who had been visiting our schools and colleges. We asked them how our education compared with theirs in Germany. They said that we were definitely ahead in every department except technical education, and that there, in both the variety and the number of courses, we were very far behind.
I think that that is very serious, and I believe that I shall have the support of the House in what I now propose. What we are doing is good, but it is not nearly enough and not on a wide enough basis. Circular 245, as hon. Members will know, restricted the industries for which new technical education facilities could be provided to four, mining, engineering, textiles and building. Those four industries were chosen because of their importance to exports and investment.
I have to confess that that is a policy with which I have never agreed because I do not believe that we can really help exports by screwing down the home trade. In my judgment, for what it is worth, the consumer at home and the consumer overseas are not rivals but allies. They help to spread the overheads and to maintain a general sense of well-being throughout the economy, and they make it possible for both the home trade and the export trade to move forward together, as we see in the motor-car trade today.
I propose to relax that restriction on the industries for which new facilities may be provided, and that is going to help such trades as printing, tailoring and—here comes the Torquay problem—catering. I note that my right hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams), who has been approaching me about this for some time, was joined this afternoon by his Cornish colleague, the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman).
It will also help very much women's trades which have not had a good show in technical education. Thirdly, it is going to enable us to build technical colleges, as planned, and not have to stop them half built, which is very wasteful in resources, and which, I am certain, puts up the cost.
134 The amount of new work which can now be started for technical education is going to be increased by about £2½ million a year. That is a good start. It will enable us to make progress in these different directions. With the help of industry, we shall certainly get the teachers, and, when we have the teachers and the buildings, I am confident that we shall get the students.
I was interested in what the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs had to say about that. I am not sure that all my figures agree with his, but I think it is true to say that when industry is so prosperous everywhere it is quite a temptation to keep every lad in the works, whereas, of course, the better the boy, the more he benefits from the course at a technical college. Therefore, I think it necessary that we should do all we can—and we can do much in our constituencies—to appeal to industrialists and to boys to take full advantage of these day courses. I am going to do my best to see if I can make a success of this most important subject.
On the matter of higher technological education, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is, I think, going to say a word later in the debate. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has asked me to say that though his problems north of the Border are not quite the same, he desires to see a corresponding advance in educational building in Scotland. His main task must still be to press on with the building of schools in new housing areas, but he is also going to encourage the improvement of schools wherever possible. Like myself, he hopes to be able to increase the help given in the provision of village halls and similar amenities. He is also anxious to see more rapid development by education authorities of facilities for technical education. He will shortly be letting the authorities concerned have details of his proposals.
§ Miss Herbison
Is that all we are to hear about Scotland during this debate on the Gracious Speech? We have listened for quite a long time to what is going to happen to education in England and Wales, and then, in a minute or two, we get a statement made by the Minister of Education about what the Secretary of State for Scotland hopes to do. Surely Scotland is not to be treated in that miserable way.
§ Sir D. Eccles
We only want two Front Bench speeches in one day. I have, at least, taken the trouble to get the Secretary of State for Scotland to give, as early as possible, his views on what he hopes to do.
Let me return to England and Wales for the few minutes that remain. I have tried rather hurriedly to set out the instalments towards carrying out the great purposes of the Education Act, 1944, and I hope that the House will think them fairly well balanced: continuation of the present building programme which is now largely concerned with secondary schools in urban areas; complete re-organisation in the rural areas; freedom for minor works up to £10,000 per job; grants for village halls, community centres and school playing fields; and a substantial extension in technical education. That is as far as we can go at the moment.
When shall we be able to take the next step, as I am sure we all want to do, towards completely carrying out the Act? I must warn the House that that will depend upon strict financial control over the expenditure which we are now authorised to carry out. It is a sobering fact that on a rough guess we should need another £100 million a year, apart from capital expenditure, fully to carry out the Education Act, 1944. The more earnest we are to do that, the less excuse there 136 is for any waste of money while there is such a long way to go.
I trust that the local authorities will help me to prove to the taxpayers and the ratepayers that we know how to get full value for money. If we do not do that, we shall not deserve to get any more money. The net expenditure of local authorities in the last four years has gone up from £250 million a year to £380 million. That is the largest increase of expenditure on education ever made in our history. The figure is bound to go higher. I plead with those who have the spending of these vast sums to realise that the pace at which we can advance will in no small degree be governed by the use we make of the money we have already got.
I wanted to deal with some matters connected with teachers, but no doubt another opportunity will occur for doing so. I must call attention to this remarkable testimony to the prosperity of the country, in that within 48 hours we have been able to announce large increases in benefits for the old people and great improvements in the education of our children. That is, of course, in line with the social policy that both sides of the House desire to carry out. It is, first to make the country prosperous, and then to give practical help to both the young and the old.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Mr. R. Allan.]
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.