§ [FIRST DAY]
§ 2.59 p.m.
§ Mr. J. E. S. Simon (Middlesbrough, West)
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.I am, I know, voicing a general sentiment when I express our pleasure and gratitude that Her Majesty should in person have opened the Parliament in which we are now assembled. We all, I think, appreciated and respectfully approved the consideration which led, on this occasion, to the curtailment of the usual pageantry. But hon. and right hon. Members who attended here this morning will bear witness that whatever might have been lacking in the usual panoply was amply made good by Her Majesty's own grace and dignity.
In choosing the mover and seconder of the Address, the House honours those whom they represent. The honour is a very real one, and I know how much I need every indulgence which the House can properly extend on such an occasion. It is our duty to be uncontroversial. That is a lot to ask of any politician, and particularly when he comes hot-foot from the hustings. Nevertheless, in many ways it is an advantage to escape early from its atmosphere, to regard good fortune with humility, and, as the right hon. Gentlemen the Members for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) and for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) have taught us, to accept ill-fortune with resignation.
46 In my own choice on this occasion, the House, I believe, seeks above all to pay tribute to the workers in the great basic industries of iron and steel, chemicals and engineering, on which the prosperity of this country so much depends. Perhaps the most dramatic feature of the world-famous iron and steel works which extend down the banks of the Tees is the contrast they present between the stupendous bulk and power of the plant and the human figures which tend it in the glow of the furnaces. But it is on the skill and knowledge and physical endurance of those workers that so much still depends. If Middlesbrough steel is renowned throughout the world for its strength and its reliability, I believe that it is because the men who fashion it exemplify those qualities.
But Middlesbrough today is not purely an iron and steel town. Many of my constituents work at Billingham, the largest chemical works in the British Commonwealth, or at Wilton. They produce the heavy chemicals which constitute the raw materials of so many other industries. They produce the fertilisers which enable our countryside, ever-narrowing under demands for houses, roads and factories, to yield none the less a steadily increasing harvest. And they produce, too, those wonderful new textiles which ultimately—when the needs of our wives and daughters have been fully satisfied—may even be made available for our own attire.
Then there are again the great engineering works. My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison) will, I know, bear tribute that it was Middlesbrough designers and workers who fashioned one of the wonders of the modern world, the Sydney Harbour bridge. Perhaps it is because so many great industries are found on Tees-side that the Measures outlined in the Gracious Speech seem to have particular relevance.
The Gracious Speech refers to the…co-operation of employers and workers.….Tees-side has been singularly blessed in its industrial relations. The Gracious Speech also refers to the ensuring of full employment and expanding output. The magnificent new developments—at Lackenby in steel and at Wilton in chemicals—exemplify that spirit of enterprise and partnership which we need in order to advance the prosperity of the 47 nation. As for nuclear energy, not only will Tees-side industry make use of it as a source of power, but many of the wonderful and intricate machines to harness it are being devised and built in my constituency at Thornaby. We share the general interest of industry that goods should be efficiently hauled by road and rail, but we go further—if we are given the orders we will actually produce the rails, the wagons and the bridges for the new construction and development.
I now come to a matter on which I feel I need the special indulgence of the court—[Laughter.]—the High Court of Parliament. The Gracious Speech refers to…abuses in the field of monopolies and restrictive practices.It is too important a matter not to be touched upon, but rather too hot to be handled for any length of time on this occasion. It is because the enterprise and expansion of industry tend to be hindered where monopolies or restrictive practices remove the stimulus of competition that we welcome the reference to this matter in the Gracious Speech.
Many of the measures of social service referred to in the Gracious Speech have also a particular significance for the industrial towns. Though their industrial capital has been splendidly extended in recent years, some of their social capital has often remained as it was when their industries were originally founded. I have been into many houses where the housewife's life is one of hopeless drudgery against foul and insanitary conditions. Many of us feel that the rehousing of the people from these areas should once again be the first charge on the resources which we devote to social purposes.
The Gracious Speech, finally, refers to matters of legal and constitutional reform of the highest importance. I am painfully aware that the readiest way of raising a cheer in the House is to disclaim the title of lawyer. Indeed, I suspect that the real sentiment of hon. Members goes further, and that they echo in their hearts the words of Jack Cade's rebels in "Henry VI":The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.although Tuesday's events showed that you, Mr. Speaker, would be exempt from the general holocaust.
48 Nevertheless, we all recognise that the concept of the rule of law lies at the very heart of the British way of life, and is intimately bound up with the freedom of the individual. Perhaps the greatest benefit which this country has conferred on the world is the idea of liberty under the law. We all, therefore, welcome reforms designed to make our legal system more efficient and economical and available to all who need to have recourse to it.
But the promise of an inquiry into administrative law and practice raises issues of even more fundamental importance. The recent correspondence in "The Times" has shown that it is now recognised in all parties that the extension of Executive power has involved grievous, and wholly unnecessary, derogation from the age-long liberties of British subjects. There will be widespread approval of the proposal to inquire into the abuses which have arisen. We trust, too, that the inquiry will be matched by real vigour and purpose in prosecuting measures to correct the grievances which we all know to exist. This House of Commons, the nursery of so much of the civil liberty which survives in the world today, could, I believe, find no more suitable subject for its endeavours.
§ 3.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Brian Harrison (Maldon)
I beg to second the Motion.
I am conscious of the privilege of being allowed to second the Motion of thanks in reply to the Gracious Speech, but I realise that it is an honour which I accept not for myself but for my constituents. I must also admit to great personal diffidence in seconding the Motion, as this is my maiden speech. I therefore doubly crave the indulgence which the House customarily extends on both these occasions.
Already today my constituents have made one contribution to the ceremonies we have witnessed, for in the division is the market town of Braintree, where surprisingly enough in such a rural area there is a flourishing textile industry, and it was the Braintree craftsmen and women who were chosen to supply the velvet for Her Majesty's State robes which were worn at the opening of Parliament this morning.
It is not from Braintree that the ancient borough of Maldon takes its name. It is from a famous old borough which stood out against the Danes for some 70 years 49 and which at one time even sent two Members to this House. Around these two places lie some of the most fertile and best farm land in the Kingdom, and, therefore, I welcome the intention to maintain the maximum economic agricultural production. No farmer wishes to see his prices guaranteed by real or artificial shortages, causing, as they often do, suffering and rationing.
The Government have already shown how it is possible to carry out the guarantees of the 1947 Agriculture Act in conditions of comparative plenty. We welcome the reference to the efficient marketing of food and to producer marketing schemes which should prove of benefit to producer, consumer, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
It is, however, no use guaranteeing prices and insuring markets unless there is labour to produce the food. Here I must say that the standard that the unions require from their worker members is extremely high. Within the last 18 months I have taken a correspondence course with the agricultural section of my union, the Transport and General Workers' Union. Everything possible must be done to look after those who work on the land. Too often the workers' loyalty to the land and their diligence in long hours and foul weather go unrecognised. We must raise the status of the agricultural worker and recognise that he is no longer the poor relation among manual workers.
Britain has now the most highly mechanised agricultural industry in the world, but the accident rate has gone up considerably. It is right, therefore, that legislation should be introduced to guard the health, the safety and the welfare of those employed in this great and important industry.
We welcome the intimation that rural areas are to receive special attention in connection with education. Distances and sparsity of population add to the present difficulties, but they have been overcome elsewhere and they can be overcome here. It is on the teaching profession itself that the country largely depends. Since the war it has had a particularly difficult time with large classes and makeshift classrooms. I am glad that the teachers' superannuation scheme is to be looked into. This consideration will, I hope, 50 remove one of the feelings of injustice under which teachers are at present labouring.
As one who was born and spent most of his life in one of the other great realms of the British Commonwealth, I welcome especially the mention in the Gracious Speech of the continuance of consultation within the Commonwealth. The closeness of the home country and the overseas Dominions means all the more to me when I recall that not many years ago my father was a Member of the Australian House of Representatives. Now I have "come home," which is as we refer to these islands, and I stand here still an Australian citizen but a British subject and a Member of the greatest of Parliaments.
I hope the increased consultation which is referred to in the Gracious Speech may lead to a sharing of the burden and the responsibility for mutual defence and aid more equitably throughout the Commonwealth. It is a healthy sign that this already has begun, but it should go further. Whilst on the subject of the Commonwealth, and because of the reference in the Gracious Speech to clean air, I ask whether we should not take note of the achievements in Australia, where there is no smog, no fog, and—at present—no Ashes?
We further welcome the reference to the Colombo Plan, initiated as it was by an Australian Minister for External Affairs, Sir Percy Spender. We in the United Kingdom refer to that area as the Far East, but we must not forget that to Australia it is the near north. This Plan is one of the foundations on which stability can be built in South-East Asia. It is a fine concept and one which must be made to expand and prosper in order to bring a higher standard of living to the people there.
The world is too small a place today for the peoples of Asia and Europe to try to live their lives separately. We can all help the nations in these areas in their struggle against famine and disease, and there are many ways in which we can do it. This help need not be in the form of charity because, as their standard of living increases, so will their markets, to our future benefit. But we cannot help each other unless there is an easing of tension and a development of mutual trust in 51 these areas. I hope we may continue to play a leading part in bringing that about.
Throughout the world the thoughts of all peace-loving people will be on the talks which we hope are to take place between the leaders of the great Powers, and we join with the people all over the world in wishing our representatives well in these talks, for without peace, which we so earnestly desire, the programme laid before us in the Gracious Speech will in itself not be worth even the paper on which it is printed.
§ 3.17 p.m.
§ Mr. C. R. Attlee (Walthamstow, West)
I have the agreeable task, which I have performed on many occasions, of congratulating the mover and seconder of this Motion, on this occasion the hon. and learned Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. Simon) and the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison). Their speeches were well up to standard. The hon. and learned Member for Middlesbrough, West is, of course, a practised speaker not only in this House but, as we noted, in other places, too, and he spoke with that lucidity which we would expect. The hon. Member for Maldon, as he said, had a double task, and he is entitled to double congratulations. He made a very successful maiden speech and he very successfully seconded the Motion of thanks for the Gracious Speech. We all hope to hear from him very often, and we also particularly welcomed that delightful touch of humour which came when he was referring to the other Dominion in which his father was a Member of the Legislature.
I should like to say a word or two, and only a word or two, on the strike situation. I think it would be a mistake to say anything at all in this House at this juncture that might in any way affect the delicate negotiations that are now proceeding. I think it is right to say, however, that we must all have been struck by the patience and good humour with which the general public have borne the very considerable difficulties they have been experiencing.
There is, however, one point that I would make. In his broadcast, the Prime Minister seemed, perhaps by inadvertence, to put forward a new doctrine, that no negotiations could take place without a return of the strikers to work. That line 52 has been taken frequently, and I think rightly, in the case of unofficial strikes in which it is absolutely essential that the authority of the union should be maintained, but it has certainly not been a proposition put forward in general. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would be able to correct what certainly appeared to many of us to be the setting out of a new doctrine, which, if it were persisted in, would lead to an exacerbation and lengthening of industrial disputes, whether they were strikes or lock-outs, because the same would obviously have to be applied on both sides.
The only point I would make on this matter is that we would all hope that negotiations will succeed and that we shall soon have full transport restored.
To return to the Gracious Speech, there is, first of all, reference to foreign and overseas affairs. We shall all welcome the more hopeful signs that there are of peace in the world. We hope especially that the talks at the highest level will proceed as quickly as possible and will deal not merely with procedure but with substance. It is, I think, only under the aegis of talks of that kind that we can get the reduction in armaments for which we all hope.
I note certain omissions from this part of the Gracious Speech. There is no reference to the rather tense position in the Middle East—Palestine, Egypt and Cyprus. There is also no reference to the trouble which, unfortunately, is still going on in Kenya and also, to a far lesser extent one is glad to say, in other Colonies, notably Uganda. I hope that we shall soon have a statement on Government policy in the Middle East, because that seems to me to be one of the disturbed areas where this country could perhaps give a good lead. I will not go more into those matters, because we shall no doubt have an opportunity of discussing them more fully.
I turn now to the rest of the Gracious Speech. It is a fairly lengthy document. It is paved with good intentions, and we shall have to see how far those good intentions are carried out.
One matter to which I should like to refer before dealing with home affairs is the problem of home defence and measures required to meet new forms of warfare. I hope that the terms of the review are not meant to be exclusive. I 53 believe there is a case for a very full review of the whole of our defences in view of the utterly changed situation, and in that I should hope to see the Minister of Defence taking a very full part. It has been my impression that of late years the co-ordination of defence—if one may use that expression; it is not a very happy one—which was entrusted to the Ministry of Defence has not been carried through quite as was intended. I think it is essential that there should be a review of the functions of all three Services.
Further, I believe now is the time for a very full review of the conditions of National Service. This country is bearing the heaviest burden of any of the Western Powers. We are well aware of our responsibilities. However, we note that the United States has felt able to reduce its forces. We think that, in the interests of industry and defence, we have to strike a balance, remembering that the conditions under which the period of two years' service was imposed were not the same as exist today. We shall want a very full review made of that subject.
The Gracious Speech goes on to deal with the question of full employment, which, of course, we all hope and believe will continue. However, there seems to us to be a contradiction between the Government's desire for full employment and their tendency to relinquish all the means of ensuring it. We do not believe that it is possible with a reversion to laissez-faire to ensure full employment.
We welcome the fact that the Government desire to proceed against monopolies. We hope the President of the Board of Trade will show a great deal more enthusiasm than has hitherto been exhibited. I hope at the same time, looking to a later statement in the Gracious Speech, that we are not going to set up another sugar monopoly. I am afraid that there seems to be a little inconsistency there as well, but certainly we should see that energetic action is taken against monopoly, because some most striking instances have been brought before the public recently.
Legislation is to be introduced to safeguard the health and provide for the safety and welfare of those employed in agriculture and forestry. That seems to be an extraordinarily meagre instalment of the recommendations of the Gowers 54 Report. During the last Parliament the House gave a Second Reading to an admirable Bill brought in by my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies), and the Trades Union Congress has been in consultation with Ministers for a long time and has been led to believe that a far more comprehensive Bill would be introduced to deal with office workers, who are totally unprotected at the present time, and a whole range of non-industrial employees. It seems a pity that, with those recommendations and with such a crying need, we should get such a very meagre instalment.
As to road traffic, I suppose that the condition of our roads is very much in the minds of all of us at the present time, but even when the railways are restored we shall still have the enormous problem of the growing difficulties of the roads. Hitherto the only thing the Government have done has been to add confusion to the roads by breaking up the co-ordinated system which we introduced. What is equally serious, as hon. Members on all sides will find if they talk to their constituents, is the steady lowering of the standards of employment of the workers. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Oh, yes. Hon. Members will find abundant instances of the old abuses creeping back exactly as one would expect when one gets competition in the road industry.
Therefore, we shall expect something at least better than that curious, abortive Bill which was so mangled in another place in the last Parliament. That kind of Bill, which endeavours to base the whole of the matter merely on mechanical tests of vehicles, will not do. We shall require something much more comprehensive by the Government to deal with this growing trouble, which, with the annual increase in the number of motor vehicles coming on to our roads, will become absolutely critical if it is not dealt with very soon.
We note, too, a "hardy annual." Indeed, the matter arose almost week by week in the last Parliament. It is the superannuation of teachers. It was the old favourite of the Lord Privy Seal who, with difficulty, kept his feeble infant alive from week to week. Whether this is a resuscitation of the same one or something different remains to be seen.
We welcome the reference to family allowances and the extension of the period 55 of entitlement for children remaining at school. Is it only for children at school? What about universities, technical colleges and the rest? There needs to be considerable extension if we really are to deal with the need for increasing the education of our people.
Then we come to valuation and rating. We have not yet seen this Bill, but we believe that, in the interests of local government, there is a need for going back to the system of rating of industrial hereditaments. I recall very well, because I was on the Committee, when Mr. Neville Chamberlain introduced the de-rating Bill. It may have been justified at that time, but I do not think there is at present justification for relieving industry of the whole of the burden of the rates. It has had a deleterious effect on local government, and it is essential to preserve the health of local governments. If one deprives local authorities of their local revenue, that means more and more subvention from the central government and less and less responsibility for the local authorities themselves, and that is destructive of local government.
I welcome the expansion of legal aid to proceedings in county courts and the extension of jurisdiction of county courts. I understand that there is urgent need for more facilities to deal, with criminals in Liverpool and Manchester, which at present are in competition with London.
The inquiry into progress and procedure is, I suppose, an echo of Crichel Down.
Finally, further consideration is to be given to the question of the composition of the House of Lords. I think that this repeats what was said last time. After all, we have had 45 years of consideration and "another little think won't do us any harm."
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Sir Anthony Eden)
I am glad that it should fall to me to open my remarks by endorsing everything that the right hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Attlee) has said about the speeches of the mover, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. Simon), and my hon. Friend the Member for Malden (Mr. B. Harrison), the seconder, of the Address. I think that neither to the right 56 hon. Gentleman and certainly never to me has fallen that very responsible and not altogether enviable task and for many years now I have watched its execution with growing admiration for those who perform it. I can only say that in my judgment, which is as impartial as I can make it, my two hon. Friends were, if anything, above the average. To my hon. Friend who seconded the Address I would say that it is quite evident that what has been our gain has been Australia's loss.
The right hon. Gentleman has made a speech about the Address for which I can only thank him. It was so kind and so gentle and so generally approving that I feel that we can go forward with the execution of this formidable programme—
§ The Prime Minister
—under the benevolent aegis of hon. Members opposite.
The hon. Member for Fife (Mr. Hamilton) did not happen to make the speech. The trouble with hon. Members opposite is that they all want to be leaders at once. They really must take their turns. [Interruption.] The hon. Member who has just interrupted me is, I understand, one of the favourites for a move of some kind. He had better be more careful than most.
With our minds free from the exchanges of the hustings, it is not unusual that the House should briefly consider, as the debate on the Gracious Speech opens, some of the reflections which the verdict of the nation leaves in our minds. We have read them in the newspapers, goodness knows—all these days, every kind of reflection by every journalist of every political view. I do not see why, in this debate on the Gracious Speech after the Election, we should not make some comment for ourselves, if we want to, about the course of the campaign.
§ The Prime Minister
Most certainly, reflections can be drawn, and I do not pretend that I will draw them impartially—the hon. Member for Fife, West will hear them in due course; he need not be impatient—from the campaign through which we have just passed. They fall 57 rather easily into two categories. The country made pronouncements in the negative sense and other pronouncements in the positive sense.
In the negative sense the country said extremely clearly that it does not want any more nationalisation. It is quite true that in the speeches of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite perhaps less was said about nationalisation than during the last campaign and less than was said earlier. There was a notable whittling down of the number of potential victims between the original list which we were given a few months ago and their final Election manifesto. Be they few, or be they many—and I do not think that anybody on either side of the House really disagrees with this, although some may think the country's judgment wrong—there can be no question but that the country said, "We want no more nationalisation." That is one of the conclusions.
Another conclusion which is hardly challengeable is that the country has also declared quite plainly that it is not deeply moved by any attempts to create class hatred. If hon. Gentlemen opposite really have not learned that yet, they will learn it at the next Election. I believe that the country understands that wherever hon. Members sit in this House they are just as earnest to further the wellbeing of all sections of the community no matter to what section they may happen to belong. I believe that to be true. We know that it is our own conviction as we accept it to be the conviction of hon. Members opposite.
The positive side of what the country has said is, I submit, this: first, the country said, "We are interested in the future and not in the past." To lament because the young are not casting their minds back to the 1930s is to make a wrong judgment. It is right that not only the young, but we also should cast out minds forward to the new conditions in which this country and the whole world has to live.
The next thing the country said in the same context was that the Government of the last three and a half years, under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), so worked that the nation, by and large—of course, I do not mean unanimously—approved. The nation's message was, "Get on with that job and 58 get on with carrying it out as you have been doing in the last three and a half years." But the country said something more than that, and this is what we have tried to give expression to in the Gracious Speech.
I think the country asked how, as it did not want any more nationalisation, it was to visualise the future development of industry and the future development of our national life, the work of our people and the conditions under which they would work. In that respect I believe that there is a growing conviction, perhaps surpassing the ordinary party boundaries, that if this country is to be fully prosperous and if the people, all of them, working in industry, are to have an ever-increasing share of an ever-rising prosperity, the answer will now be found not through nationalisation but through the workers having, in some form, an increasing share, direct or indirect, in the industry in which they work. Call it profit sharing, co-partnership, whatever you like. In various forms and phases something of that kind has, I believe and I pray, come to stay in British industry; just as in many companies in the United States it has, of course, been operative for a very long time indeed.
I was interested to read the other day—and that is what encouraged me to mention it this afternoon—an article by a Professor Arthur Lewis, not, I hasten to add, the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis). I understand that Professor Lewis is regarded as a considerable authority by the party opposite. He writes a very interesting article in the "Socialist Commentary," which must be extremely reputable because it has a message from the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition at the beginning and it also contains an article by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Hugh Gaitskell), who was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Socialist Administration, and also an article by a former Minister of Labour.
§ The Prime Minister
It is very good. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will cheer as loudly when I give him three very short extracts which seem to me so definitely encouraging.
§ The Prime Minister
I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will practise and preach them throughout the country.
The first is what this gentleman has to say about nationalisation. He says:…our ideas about the nationalisation tool are in ferment …That may, no doubt, be true.It doesn't solve the problem of labour relations; it reduces private wealth in importance, but only gradually; it raises unsolved problems of control; and it raises the issue of how much power we want our governments to have.He goes on to indicate pretty plainly that he thinks the less hon. Gentlemen opposite have to do with nationalisation in future the better they will do for themselves, and he makes some remarks on profits. He says:If the party"—this is fundamental to the political thinking of the country—is to tolerate private enterprise"—the party being not us, but hon. Gentlemen opposite—while desiring a rapid growth of the standard of living, it must also rejoice when profits are high.Look at them rejoicing; Mr. Speaker, they clearly cannot contain themselves. He goes on to write, perhaps anticipating this:It is traditional in our Party to burst a blood vessel whenever the word 'profits' is mentioned.Finally, the solution, which is what I found the most encouraging of all. He says that the solution is…to spread property ownership widely, instead of merely destroying private property.I wish to say that that doctrine, so far as I and my right hon. and hon. Friends are concerned, is one which we entirely accept and which informs, and will inform and influence, not only the legislation but the policy which we shall pursue while the present Government are in office.
I believe that there is a growing conviction in this land that anything to do with more nationalisation is the sorriest old-fashioned fustian there ever was, and that we have to move forward into these new methods for the future of our country.
§ The Prime Minister
I will refer to the strike in due course. Hon. Gentlemen opposite need not be angry.
§ The Prime Minister
Fortunately, Mr. Speaker, I do not have to regulate my speeches to the fancies of the hon. Gentleman who is interrupting. I hope that he will not be impatient.
§ The Prime Minister
There are one or two matters of procedure which I must mention for the convenience of the House in the next few days. The debate on the Address will be resumed tomorrow. It will continue next week with debates to meet the general convenience of the House. We hope to bring it to a conclusion on Thursday. No doubt you, Mr. Speaker, will be good enough to indicate to the House on the earliest practicable date your choice—it is your choice, Sir—of subjects and Amendments for particular days.
The Emergency Regulations will be brought forward for approval on Monday next. Tomorrow, there will be a continuation of the general debate as we have had it today.
§ The Prime Minister
The Government propose that the customary 20 Fridays should be allotted for Private Members' Bills and Motions in the course of the Session. My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal will move a Government Motion on the subject on Friday. We think that it would be preferable, in view of the arrangements we have made, that the days for Private Members' Bills and Motions should begin in the autumn, for a number of reasons which my right hon. Friend will explain. Of course, as hon. Members know, we shall need a further Motion later to name the Fridays for Private Members' Bills and for Motions and to make arrangements for the holding of Ballots.
The main reason we want to do it this way is to ensure that nobody gets ahead of the Ballot. I think that that is a general wish of the House. My right hon. Friend will, therefore, ask the House on Friday to give precedence to Government business until the Summer Recess and to provide that no Private Members' Bills are introduced in anticipation of the Ballot.
61 While the debate on the Address will afford opportunities for hon. Members to debate Government policy and administration, I want to make it clear at the outset of this Session that we shall be ready to do our best to meet demands for further debates which the Opposition may propose.
Now I must comment upon the length of the Gracious Speech and the programme foreshadowed. We considered this carefully. The choice, after the General Election, was either to have a very brief Session until the end of the summer or to plan for a Session lasting into the next year and to indicate at once in the Gracious Speech the larger Measures which we intended to proceed with as soon as possible. We came to the conclusion that the latter course was the better one. We felt that the country had a right to know what would be our general theme in the coming months and that it would be impossible to do that in a Speech for a very short Session of a few weeks before the Summer Recess.
Hon. Members in all parts of the House with experience of these matters know that an even flow of Parliamentary business can best be secured by introducing important Bills in the autumn, especially if they are long ones, as some of them will be. That is what we propose to do. We felt that it would be some convenience to the House if we adopted this course of setting the whole programme before them before Parliament adjourns for the Summer Recess.
It may be convenient if I explain the main legislative tasks of both Houses. We hope to place on the Statute Book certain Measures introduced, but not passed, in the last Session. In addition, there may be one or two new Measures which will need to be passed before Parliament adjourns. We also hope to introduce some other Bills and submit them for a Second Reading. That is all I have to say about the business of the House.
In the absence of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, is in Paris presiding over O.E.E.C., I consider that I should make a report to the House on certain recent developments in production and the position of the sterling balances. I should like the House to discuss this—no doubt it will wish to 62 discuss it—in full when my right hon. Friend returns at the weekend. But I can tell the House that the latest reports from the economic field are certainly not entirely discouraging. Our production figures for March and April are already between 3 per cent. and 4 per cent. above the average level reached last year. Unemployment remains at about 1 per cent. There has been an increase in exports of 9 per cent. and an increase in personal consumption at home.
What I think the right hon. Gentleman would agree is also rather important is that productive investment is showing signs of an increase—[HON. MEMBERS: "About time it did."]—and that prices have been more stable in the first months of this year. Imports, of course, are still causing concern. There was a welcome change for April from the rising level of March, but the rate is still uncomfortably high. We think it too early yet to measure the full effects of the action we took last February. The gold and dollar reserves have remained without any significant change since February, and, in all the circumstances, I think that is a pretty satisfactory situation. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If hon. Gentlemen have a way of doing better, we shall be glad to hear of it in due course.
Now I wish to refer to one or two of the Measures mentioned in the Gracious Speech and to reply to one or two of the questions asked by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Walthamstow, West. We mention a Bill to promote the safety, health and welfare of workers in agriculture and forestry. Here, the right hon. Gentleman knows, and as was mentioned, there has been a considerable increase in accidents. The right hon. Gentleman also knows that, very largely, it is due to the introduction of machinery on a scale unparalleled anywhere else in the world. We have the most highly mechanised agriculture there is; and therefore it seemed to us necessary to start with this particular Measure.
I should like to reassure the right hon. Gentleman that that does not mean that we propose to stop there. In fact, we carefully considered whether proposals for the railways might be included in this Session, but, as we could not be sure that it would be possible to get the necessary separate Bill in time, we thought it wiser not to put it in the Gracious Speech. If 63 opportunity offers, it will certainly be included. With other Measures, it will be examined and put in in due course. We have made a start with the industry where we thought the problems most immediate, and I should have thought that the House as a whole would agree that that was the right way to proceed.
I wish to assure the House that, in the work we are to do, education will have a very high place indeed. That, again, I think, ought not to make anyone very indignant—I hope not. In the Gracious Speech reference is made to what we have done, and what we intend to continue doing in improving colleges and schools. It is eleven years since my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with assistance from some right hon. Gentlemen opposite, introduced his Education Act. That Measure had the support of all parties. All knew that it would take many years to work out. We are now making a very substantial advance, in which I hope we shall also carry the whole House with us, while not neglecting the first objective, which should be a reduction in the size of classes.
The school building programme is now growing steadily. We can look forward to smaller classes, first in the primary schools, and later in the secondary schools. It is, I think, good news for us all that teacher training colleges are now almost embarrassed by the number of applications for places next September. That is very healthy from every point of view.
The right hon. Gentleman asked what we were doing for students. Of course, what is referred to in the Gracious Speech is one specific proposal, with which I think we all agree, to help parents to keep their children at school a little longer. But, quite apart from that—perhaps the right hon. Genteman did not know about them because they are recent—there have been increases in the grants for students at colleges and training schools, as proof that we are in earnest in wishing to help them to stay there.
We have mentioned rural areas and I should tell the House that last December we asked the county councils all over the country to prepare plans for the new buildings required to reorganise their all-age schools. I should admit that the 64 response has far exceeded our expectations, so there will be a certain amount of sorting out to do as a result of that very welcome response. But my right hon. Friend is confident that most of them will beat the time-table to which he has asked them to work. It is encouraging that local authorities throughout the country are taking advantage of the freedom to spend more on improving existing schools. I hope that it will not be long before a start can be made on replacing schools which are too old to modernise and which, as some hon. Gentlemen know, form a considerable category.
Now I come to perhaps the most important aspect of this work. I refer to technical education. Here again, local authorities have submitted some ambitious plans for technical colleges. We cannot do everything at once, but in the next few years we are determined to make a very big advance in this sphere. Everyone knows that today, directly a technical college is opened or extended, all the places are filled by young people anxious to develop their skill and improve their qualifications as a result.
The pace at which the new discoveries of science can be turned to account largely depends on whether we can create a supply of young men with the necessary technical qualifications. Without that education we shall never be able to compete successfully in the markets of the world in these new industries, and I give notice that in that connection we shall go ahead.
In Scotland, where, as I know, the problem is a very special one, the school building programme has increased markedly, as the right hon. Gentleman will be aware. There it has been possible to make a start ahead of England with the replacement of unsatisfactory schools in some areas. The number of teachers is increasing but, as in England, we still want more. I wish to warn the House—hon. Members will desire more details which will be given by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education—that these various education proposals will take up some of our time in the course of this Parliament.
I wish to say something on the subject of housing, which is referred to in the Gracious Speech. In the ten years since the war this country has completed about 65 2 million permanent houses. That is a very satisfactory achievement, however one may look at it. We are proud of the fact that more than a million were completed in the last three and a half years. Now that that is the position, the time has really come for a determined attack on the slums. We have set ourselves a target—as we set ourselves the housing target—to clear 200,000 people every year from the slums here in Britain; and we have not forgotten Scotland. This, to the best of my recollection, as I think the right hon. Gentleman opposite may know, was about the figure reached just before the war in the slum clearance effort then going on. It took a good many years to get to that figure then. I hope that we can now get to the target much more rapidly.
We have already taken the first step. Housing authorities have been given certain responsibilities, and, as a result, they are already at work compiling estimates of their slum houses and drawing up proposals to deal with them. We expect to receive the returns later this summer, and, when we have received them, we shall be able to measure our task. It will be a heavy task, but we intend to press on with it—and this is the undertaking which I give to both sides of the House—until everyone now in slum property has been rehoused in decent conditions.
I have already mentioned some of our plans and projects for industry, and I am sorry to delay the House so long, but this is a year's programme and is the result of a good deal of thought. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned, quite rightly, that the most important difficulties which we have to face in all this are the parts that communications have to play if industry is to have its maximum development. Traffic is multiplying at a most alarming rate. I am told that there are likely to be another 1½ million vehicles on our roads in the course of the next three years. That is a staggering figure.
There has not been any major road reconstruction plan at all over the last sixteen years. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Partly because there has been a war. It is no use hon. Gentlemen blaming me. Hon. Members opposite were in office for six solid years and did nothing about it, but I am not blaming them at all. They 66 had to give priority to houses. Hon. Gentlemen opposite should not be so sensitive. I was not blaming them. I was simply stating that for reasons which are nobody's fault—if that makes hon. Gentlemen opposite feel better about it—there has been no major road plan in this country for sixteen years.
This is the beginning which we have made and the plans which we have laid down. We are going ahead with those wide plans and we hope to expand them as our economy expands. The plans, of which my right hon. Friend gave some account, will give us for the first time a really modern road system including the first motorways ever built in this country.
In all this we have very much in mind the need to reduce accidents, which is at least as important as the need for new roads for industry. We believe that our present programme should eliminate many hundreds of these accidents. We have also tried to get to grips with the special problem of the congestion of London and other great cities. Work on a number of these schemes, including the London ones, will actually begin quite soon.
One other observation before I come to the industrial situation. As I am speaking of the roads, I must say something about the railways, and there the House is familiar with the general scheme. I do not want to go into it very deeply except to say that the Transport Commission tells me that it has already placed new contracts for the railways to the value of £35 million. That is a start with what has got to be done. I am told that the Commission is ordering large numbers of diesel engines and shunting engines—
§ The Prime Minister
The companies in England who make them. Plans are also far advanced for the electrification which is to be undertaken. If the hon. Member would like me to give a list of the electrical manufacturing companies in England, I will do so, but that is not the purpose of this debate.
§ The Prime Minister
The Transport Commission will no doubt make sure that they are competitive, but, if the right hon. Gentleman would like further information, I will get it for him. The tenders are not put out by the Government, but by the Commission.
We believe that as a result of this the steam locomotive will in time be entirely replaced by diesel electric propulsion, and we believe that can result in not only more pleasant conditions for those who travel on the railways—who, after all, are entitled sometimes to consideration—but also in more agreeable conditions for those who work on them.
§ The Prime Minister
If the hon. Gentleman feels any comfort in that, I certainly do not want to deprive him of it.
§ The Prime Minister
The only comment I made was that I thought that the country did not want any further nationalisation.
I will now make a reference to one matter to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. It is the question of monopolies, which is also mentioned in the Gracious Speech. Where examination discloses that an abuse exists in this field, we have taken and will continue to take effective action to deal with it. If I may say so, hon. Members opposite have in the past shown themselves much more ardent in the establishment of monopoly than in dismantling it. Of course, we shall welcome any change of heart which they may show.
The initial concept of a Monopolies Commission was advocated by my noble Friend who is now the Lord Chancellor, and the Bill introduced by the Socialist Government was, in fact, founded on the proposal which he put forward. That was the basis of the agreed legislation which we passed in the Parliament dominated by the Socialist majority, and I am not suggesting at this stage that we should depart from that general legislation. But the practices which we shall have to consider will be numerous, complicated and controversial. These inquiries sometimes result in finding that the alleged abuses are either harmless or even helpful. That 68 actually happened when the Monopolies Commission examined the problems affecting the supply of insulin, not long ago. In other cases, inquiry has shown them to be harmful, and action has been taken.
§ The Prime Minister
There have been a number of cases in which action has been taken, but my right hon. Friend the Presiden of the Board of Trade wants to talk about this matter tomorrow. I can only say that in the last three years we have taken far more action about this than did hon. Gentlemen opposite. The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds) shakes his head. Let me give him an example; let me refer him to the Report of the Monopolies Commission on the Process of Calico Printing. But I have something more important than that to announce to the House in this connection.
Some hon. Members will remember that a little while ago we referred to the Commission practices on which much public comment and criticism have centred in recent months, practices which are known as exclusive dealing and collective boycott and the use of private trade courts. That is really where the maximum criticism is concentrated. The report of the Commission has just reached us, and will be published within the next three weeks. I can assure hon. Members that they will find this report of crucial interest and of great public importance. It will certainly give rise to a great deal of discussion and to much controversy—all of which we shall welcome.
§ The Prime Minister
I have to read it first.
I have one other matter to refer to in that connection, namely, the reference in the Gracious Speech to the imposition of anti-dumping duties on imported goods, consistent with our international obligations. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade informed the House about this, I think, last April. There is no dispute about our being allowed to do this under the G.A.T.T. arrangements, but under our existing law we have no power to take any such 69 action. Therefore, we propose to introduce the necessary legislation to allow us to act, should we have need to act. I will not weary the House by defining this practice, which is that of selling goods in an export market below the price at which they are manufactured in the country of origin.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Can the Prime Minister say what he regards as the degree of difficulty which would stimulate the Government to take any action? Would he say, for instance, that we have yet reached that degree of difficulty in regard to the present situation in the cotton industry?
§ The Prime Minister
Under the terms of G.A.T.T.—and they are rather complicated—we are allowed to take action in certain circumstances, but at present we could not do so. If a glaring instance of dumping arose—that is, selling goods here at a price lower than that of their manufacture in the country of origin—we could take no action. The object of the proposed Bill will be to give us the power to take action should the circumstances arise. No one knows better than the hon. Member that this is a complicated question. If he would like a detailed answer, the President of the Board of Trade will no doubt give him one.
Before I conclude, I must make one reference to what the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said earlier upon the subject of the strike. I have no desire—any more than he has—to go in detail into the events of either dispute—and there are two of major importance at the present time; not only the railways, but the docks. They are both of very great importance and in some respects, at the moment, the dock strike may be doing more injury to our country's trade even than the railway strike.
Just before I came to the House I received a message that the number of ships idle today in the ports of Britain is 161. That is a very high figure. About 92 other ships are half-manned. As everybody knows, that dispute is not about rates of pay or conditions of work; it is a domestic dispute between two unions, about membership and recognition, and I am sure that the whole House devoutly hopes that it will be settled without further delay.
70 As to the railway strike, with discussions already proceeding, I shall not say anything to make them more difficult. The right hon. Gentleman referred to my broadcast speech. I do not think that he gave an accurate account of it. At any rate, the last paragraph is clear. Perhaps in due course the right hon. Gentleman will re-read it. There is no question of my laying down a new doctrine. If the right hon. Gentleman will re-read it he will see what is happening. My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Labour was, a few moments ago—and will be later—engaged in discussions with the unions on this very topic. He has been to see them both. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read the broadcast speech."] I will read my speech with pleasure.Where does the Government stand in all this? We are ready at any time to help in trying to find a way in which the talks can be re-opened and to see either, or both, unions to make this possible."—that has nothing to do with the resumption of work—We want to get the talks going between the parties. The Minister of Labour and I will help in this in any way we can. Once negotiations are resumed the Board of Conciliation will have its part to play. That offer still stands, the Board will he ready to help in discussions the moment work begins again.There is nothing whatever new in that doctrine.
§ Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)
What the right hon. Gentleman has read to us is not really the point that he is making. My understanding of the speech—I did not hear the broadcast myself—was that the right hon. Gentleman laid down the doctrine that there could be no negotiations until the strikers had returned to work. Did he or did he not say that?
§ The Prime Minister
The only doctrine which I laid down is that which I read out. That is the only sentence in the speech which has to do with the Government's position. I must say, frankly and firmly, that I considered those words very carefully before I said them. I am convinced that they are not new doctrine. My right hon. and learned Friend authorised me to say what I did; he and I discussed the whole passage very carefully, and we agreed completely about it. This was not lightly said. I am sure that it is not new doctrine. If the right hon. Gentleman will examine the 71 passage, I think he will come to that conclusion. I believe that a great many people have said things about the speech without a very clear idea of what was said—but I stand by every single word in that sentence.
§ Mr. Robens
With great respect—what the Prime Minister is now saying is that the Press has misunderstood him—
§ Mr. Robens
—the T.U.C. has misunderstood him, and that all of us who read the report of his broadcast speech have misunderstood him.
It is clearly in the minds of the responsible leaders of the T.U.C. that he has laid down a new doctrine—and I am not sure that they have not made representations to him on this point—namely, that there could not be negotiations unless the strikers returned to work. If he will now say that that was a misunderstanding, and that negotiations can continue during an official strike—and this is an official strike—he will relieve a great deal of the misunderstanding that now exists.
§ The Prime Minister
With all respect to the right hon. Gentleman—if he will look at the reports in the Press for the next day he will find that there is no misunderstanding in "The Times," for instance—which is fairly impartial in these matters. There was a misunderstanding—if one can call it such—that day and the day after in the "Daily Herald" and some other papers. I carefully chose those words. I believe that they represent the right doctrine in this matter. They distinguish between conversations—
§ The Prime Minister
Yes. I am sorry to take up the time of the House. At any rate, I repeat that not one word of this is being withdrawn. What I said was this:Where does the Government stand in all this? We are ready at any time to help in trying to find a way in which the talks can be re-opened and to see either, or both, unions to make this possible. We want to get talks 72 going between the parties. The Minister of Labour and I will help in this in any way we can. Once negotiations are resumed, the Board of Conciliation will have its part to play. That offer still stands,"—that is, the offer to set up a board of conciliation—the Board will be ready to help in discussions the moment work begins again.
§ Mr. Robens
Surely the right hon. Gentleman must realise now that he has read the sentence which he did not read before—
§ The Prime Minister
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will not want to make a charge like that unless he can tell me what the sentence was.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East) rose—
§ The Prime Minister
I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman, but not to the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan).
§ Mr. Robens
If I wrongly charged the right hon. Gentleman with not reading the last sentence, I will, of course, withdraw the charge immediately. But I am bound to say that I was waiting for the sentence which, to my mind, was the important one. Now that the right hon. Gentleman has read this sentence again, is it not clear that there are many people in the country who took the view on those words which were used that, when there is an official strike there can be, so far as the Government is concerned, no negotiations—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am entitled to put this because this is a very important matter, and it will assist the right hon. Gentleman himself to have this quite clear.
It looks to many people as if the British Transport Commission is not itself an entirely free agent in this matter, and it is of importance, when a Government announcement is made, particularly by the Prime Minister, that there should be no misunderstanding. I gather that the Prime Minister is not now saying that when there is an official strike negotiations cannot be commenced or continued unless the strikers go back to work. Is that correct?
§ The Prime Minister
If there was, which I do not accept, any misunderstanding about what I said at the time I said it, surely that misunderstanding can no longer exist since my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Labour has himself been engaged in discussions, with my approval, during the last two days.
I say seriously to the right hon. Gentleman and to the House generally that these words which were used are worthy of very careful study. I do not think that they lay down any new doctrine, and I think that if hon. Gentlemen try to deny that they will find themselves laying down a new doctrine which perhaps they do not want to do.
§ Mr. Isaacs
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can help me. I understand that somewhere in the broadcast—I did not hear it myself—were the words, "but work must begin again." Perhaps we can get this in its right context.
§ The Prime Minister
But this is the right context. I have read the whole of that paragraph; there is no other paragraph. "But work must begin again" is the last sentence of the previous paragraph. That is clearly in connection with the board of conciliation. I am very anxious not to be drawn further into this matter because I do not want to make things more difficult. But if I may take a parallel from the diplomatic field, I would say that it is quite clear here that what we have in mind is discussions to bring to an end hostilities—the end of the strike—which are not only right but are encouraged, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Labour and I are perfectly willing to take part in them.
The more serious matter is whether we are to conclude all the details of this agreement, whatever it may be, while the railway strike is still on. That raises a very much bigger issue. That is why I said that my words had been chosen with very great care, and I do not think that the House should commit itself in a hurry to the view that it is right to keep a strike of this kind going, which affects the whole nation, until the very last bit of negotiation has been completed.
§ Mr. Attlee
The right hon Gentleman will realise that a certain amount of apprehension has been caused through these words. The point which I raised 74 was in order that the right hon. Gentleman might make the position quite clear. As he has just said, it would be wrong to prolong a strike like this until every single item was settled, but—to put the other side of it—people were under the impression that no negotiations of any kind could take place until—[Interruption.] I assure the right hon. Gentleman that there was grave misunderstanding; indeed, I heard the broadcast myself.
§ The Prime Minister
Naturally, I accept what the right hon. Gentleman said about misapprehension in his view. I hope that what I have now said will help to clear it away. Certainly, it has never been in my mind that there cannot be discussions and conversations of all sorts and kinds before work is resumed. Of course there must be. They are, in fact, at this moment going on.
I do beg the House—and this is not party politics because we have four years before us for that kind of thing—to consider the second part of my warning. It would, I think, be a very dangerous doctrine indeed for this House to lay down that, where there has been a strike, the strike has to be settled in the particulars before the men return to work. It is the difference perhaps, to put it bluntly, between a peace treaty and armistice negotiations. The peace treaty need not be completed before the men return to work. It would not be fair to ask the Government to hold up return to work until the peace treaty.
§ Mr. Robens
I think we must return to this subject on Monday in perhaps greater detail, but at least the right hon. Gentleman must have quite clearly in his mind our views about this. We could never accept a situation in which it was laid down that no negotiations could take place until the men who were on an official strike resumed work. We have made our position perfectly plain on that. I understand the right hon. Gentleman also accepts that, and in that case there need be no further difficulty.
§ The Prime Minister
I never said that. That was not in the text, and my right hon. and learned Friend has for the last two days been taking part in conversations with representatives of the unions, as well as with the Transport Commission. Whether we call them negotiations, 75 conversations or discussions I do not know, but the fact is clear enough that my right hon. and learned Friend is doing that, and, therefore, this discussion is a little unrealistic.
§ Mr. Robens
We cannot accept that from the right hon. Gentleman. I shall be bound to bring this up on Monday. This is nothing unreal at all. I pay great tribute indeed to the Minister of Labour for his indefatigable work in connection with these negotiations. No one is complaining about that, but we are very careful about this principle, and we must have it perfectly clear.
§ The Prime Minister
We are equally careful about the principle of settlement, and I think that when the right hon. Gentleman gets into discussion on Monday he will find that the warning which I have given is one which we have to have in mind, unless we are to create a situation of great danger for the industry of this country. I admit that I had that in my mind in what I said, but I still maintain there is no new doctrine in what I have laid down.
§ Mr. Collick
May I try to get the situation clarified on the Prime Minister's own illustration? He used the illustration that there is a difference between an armistice and a settlement. If I understood him rightly, it would be quite a new doctrine, on his own analysis, when he tried to say that in an official stoppage such as this it would be wrong to effect a settlement but right to effect a truce. The doctrine up to now has been, and there are plenty of instances to prove it, that it is perfectly competent and right in the case of an official stoppage to effect a settlement while the stoppage is on.
§ The Prime Minister
I think I have shown quite clearly that, whatever misapprehensions there may have been, they can hardly be held now, because my right hon. and learned Friend is at this moment, or will be as soon as I sit down, going back to these discussions once more. Therefore, I think that if hon. Gentlemen have any more details to put about this matter they had better be debated on Monday.
Now let me return to the international scene, and say a few words about that. I hope that everybody will not go out 76 while I do so. In all this work which we have been doing recently in the international field one event has encouraged us more than anything else. That is the full and warm-hearted co-operation we have had from the Commonwealth in every sphere. I do not want to single out anybody, but with Canada our relations have been specially close both in the difficult Western European negotiations and in regard to the Far East. India has rendered very valuable services recently and I have not the least doubt that the visit of Mr. Krishna Menon to Pekin has played an important part.
An example of this Commonwealth co-operation was the conference of Prime Ministers that we had here in London under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) last January. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that we can trace some of the successful developments in the international field to just this close Commonwealth cooperation.
As regards the international scene, quite a lot has happened in the last few days, and in the weeks while we have been away. We have had news from all parts of the world. In Austria, at long last the Treaty has been signed which my right hon. Friend, the Foreign Secretary, and I, as his predecessor, spent so many weeks and months trying to advance to some extent. Now, at last, that is signed and ratified by everybody. There was also a useful meeting in Vienna between the Foreign Secretaries which gave my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary a chance to discuss with Mr. Molotov the question of a meeting at the highest level, and meetings at other levels also. We are now very hopeful that a useful programme of work will be arranged between us all.
My right hon. Friend is going to San Francisco, where he will have a further opportunity of discussion with Mr. Molotov as well as with Mr. Dulles and M. Pinay. All this is preparatory to the high-level four-Power talks which we hope will take place in Geneva about 18th July. I hope that the Soviet Government will see no objection to this date and place. I have no reason to think that it will. This meeting, which I am shortly to attend, will, we hope, be only the first of a series. What the heads of Governments can do at 77 this stage is to appraise our main problems and, I trust, agree among themselves how the differences may be handled and what are the most profitable methods by which subsequent negotiations can be conducted.
After this, our talks will be taken up again by the Foreign Ministers and officials, working together on the complex details which will have to be thrashed out. This series of meetings now in prospect seems to offer us all an exceptional opportunity. The House will recall that since the rejection of E.D.C. last summer both my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford and I have repeatedly stated that we were unwilling to engage in such talks until the Paris Agreements had been finally approved by all concerned. Happily, that operation is completed, so we enter on these discussions determined to do everything in our power to promote their success. I repeat to the House what I have said many times before, that I exclude no methods and no machinery, now or later, to bring about the results we need.
It is, however, almost certain that the negotiations, even if they go well, will take time and call for patience. I can assure the House that I shall play my part in them with the fixed determination to contribute all I can to make them a landmark on our forward road to peace.
I would like to have spoken more about foreign affairs had there been time, but it is not unrealistic to say that there is a definite improvement in the international climate. If this is so in Europe it could be so in the Far East. If so, we have to make use of that, not only for our own sake but for the sake of all the other lands with which we shall meet, and of the others who will not be there.
Although I may have had to be controversial at times this afternoon, let me conclude by saying that I know that all hon. Members in this House, wherever they may sit, will wish these discussions to be the first steps in a real relaxation of international tension and a removal of fear from the minds of men.
§ Mr. Rankin
Will the Prime Minister tell us whether or not the Secretary of State for Scotland will intervene in the debate later to explain the Government's intentions with regard to Scotland, arising out of the Gracious Speech?
§ The Prime Minister
I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend will seek to do so, at a convenient point, under your guidance, Mr. Speaker.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)
The Prime Minister has reason to take pride in the Conservative victory in the recent General Election, but he would make a great error if, as the earlier part of his speech suggested, he imagined that the Conservative Party had won not only the last Election but all subsequent Elections. I would remind him that in 1945 some hon. Members now on these benches were subject to the same pride and overweening confidence that the Tory Party, which had been utterly defeated, had been defeated for all time.
That party indulged in a process of blood transfusion and transformation as a result of which it recovered from a defeat which some hon. Members at that time believed was its final defeat. If hon. Members doubt the transformation of the Conservative Party, I would direct them to a striking example this afternoon. The Gracious Speech contains unimpeachable references to education, which takes pride of place as one of the major topics in the Gracious Speech. The Prime Minister himself has been good enough to say a word about education which all who believe in our children will welcome.
What a difference that is from the first act of the last Conservative Government. Not only was there then a slashing of the school-building programme, but the Minister of Education was excluded from the Cabinet which made decisions affecting education. Most of the odium of those painful and unpopular decisions was allowed to be put on the head of the Minister of Education at that time. I have always held the view that the right hon. Lady the Member for Moss Side (Dame Florence Horsbrugh) had a very raw deal indeed from the Government.
I wish to pay a tribute to the colleague whose constituency I now represent. Mr. Ralph Morley was a back bencher. His work for his constituency, his speeches in this House, and his indomitable courage, particularly in the last months of the last Parliament, won him the admiration of all shades of opinion in his 79 native town, and the deep affection particularly of the workers of our town and port. Both sides of the House will, I am sure, wish to be associated with this expression of esteem and affection. Mr. Morley did honour to the name "Back bencher." It is worth remembering that this Mother of Parliaments owes throughout its history a great deal to illustrious back benchers as well as to Governments, and Mr. Morley has rendered admirable and eloquent service to Parliament and to his country.
If it is not regarded as being presumptuous, I should wish, as the opening back bencher, to join in the expressions of appreciation of the charm and dignity with which Her Majesty read the Gracious Speech. Like some 50 million people in this island, I am one of those strange folk who can reconcile the fierce struggle between contending political parties with affectionate loyalty to the Throne. My joy at this morning's ceremony is equalled only by that with which I witnessed yesterday you, Mr. Speaker, demanding, on behalf of this House of Commons, the ancient privileges which hon. Members in times past gave up their lives to achieve.
While one would pay homage to the gracious Sovereign who read the Speech, the Speech itself will get no united praise from the House. It is a delightfully vague document and, on the domestic side, I could not help feeling that, apart from the references to education and housing, about which I shall say a word later, one was listening to a parade of the worthy little Private Bills or even the Private Members' Motions of the 20 hon. Members who are fortunate enough to win places in the Sessional Ballot. Those apart, there was what might be a sinister, but what one hopes was only a platitudinous, reference to the reform of the House of Lords. Nothing is more certain than that this Government have no mandate at all to give any additional power to a Second Chamber—no matter how much they may think it needs improving.
The debate on the Queen's Speech gives back benchers an opportunity of bringing before the House the grievances of their constituencies. I want to bring before the House a constitutional one. During every Election campaign in which I have taken part I have met people who 80 have been deprived of their vote by not being on the electoral register. Sometimes the fault is their own; sometimes it is the fault of the landlord or landlady of tenants or lodgers. Sometimes it is the fault of the machinery set up by the local authority to compile the electoral register.
In my constituency there were in the recent General Election groups of houses in which dozens of people had been omitted from the register because they were being rehoused when the register was being completed. With slum clearance schemes ahead, and with the many population changes that are taking place within the cities, omissions from the electoral register will continue to occur.
It is wrong to penalise anyone for someone else's mistake, and I am not alone in thinking that to be deprived of one's birthright—the right to vote—is a very bitter penalty indeed. I wish that I could convey to the House something of the very real anger—vented often on myself—felt by anyone who goes to the polling booth, demands his vote and is refused. After all, despite the lower poll in this General Election, a greater number of citizens vote in the various elections in Britain than in any other free country in the world. In the municipal elections, my own ward polls a higher percentage than is recorded in the Presidential election in the United States of America.
People in this country are keen about their right to vote. Do not let us assume that those who did not use their vote in this last Election did not do so deliberately. It may be argued that it is a man's own fault if he loses his vote; that everyone has the chance to see that his name is on the register and to correct an omission. If that were a valid argument we might very well scrap the whole professional apparatus set up to compile the register and tell every citizen that it is his duty to go to the town hall and have his name put on the electoral register.
Only a handful of people take the trouble to make sure that their name appears. There is no Election fever when the electoral lists are prepared, and most people have no reason to suppose that their name will not be included. I doubt very much if every Member of this House makes such a check at the time when the register is open.
81 I would, therefore, ask the Government to bring in a simple Measure amending the Representation of the People Act so that any citizen omitted from the register and desirous of voting could make an affidavit—some legal declaration—before the chief magistrate of the town, the town clerk or a body of magistrates, stating his identity, that he is entitled to a vote and that his name has been omitted from the register: and that having made such a legal declaration he might then be permitted to vote.
Election victories may decide Governments but they by no means automatically solve the problems which are debated at a General Election. I want to speak about the people whom many of us discussed at the hustings—those who find it difficult to bear the rise in the cost of living. Former hon. Members know the groups concerned but I enumerate them again in the hope that something will be done for them.
There are, first, the old people who retired on superannuation schemes drawn up at a time when wages or salaries were a half or one-third or sometimes a quarter of what they are today. Some of these people are pensioners of private companies and apart from what I should like to see—a real attempt to control the cost of living—there is no direct action that the Government can take. In this connection I think of a very near relative of mine. He retired in 1939 on a comfortable pension and year by year since then has watched that comfortable pension of 1939 shrinking in value, whittling away his standard of living and depriving him of all that he had hoped to achieve and enjoy at the end of a life of hard work and honourable service.
We may not be able directly to help those who draw pensions from private companies, but civil servants, local government officers, teachers and Post Office workers can be helped by Government—and indeed have been helped by previous Governments, in 1944 and 1947, by Pensions (Increase) Acts. It is true that in 1954 a small group of these pensioners were further helped by the special Pensions (Increase) Act of that year, but it is now some years since the last attempt was made to adjust these pensions—which are diminishing in value owing to the rise in the cost of living—to the kind of worth they had, and which was in the minds of those who gave them, 82 years ago. It is time that some new adjustment was made. I ask the Government to give serious and immediate consideration to the preparation of another Pensions (Increase) Bill.
Then there are two small groups of people whose claims were pressed by several hon. Members in the last Parliament—the railway pensioners and a small group of police pensioners. Railway pensions were tiny enough in all conscience but even their tiny value seeps steadily away as the cost of living rises. Some of us have spoken in this House about what are called the pre-Oaksey police widows. This is a small group of police widows whose pensions were not enhanced by the Oaksey Award because the policemen husbands died before July, 1948, the operative date of the Oaksey police pension scheme.
Incidentally, this is a scheme for which the police force is eternally indebted to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) who, when Home Secretary, made the securing of decent scales of pay, pensions and conditions for the police force one of the important parts of his work. There exists, then, a small group of widows for whom all policemen, out of loyalty to their dead comrades, have pleaded for quite a long time, and I ask the Home Secretary to look again into that claim.
Then, there are widows in general—the widows whose case was ventilated in this House in the pensions debate of March last year. If the general position of widows under National Insurance deserves to be looked at again, even more grave is the problem of the widow of a man who was not qualified because he died too soon to leave to his widow the full benefits of National Insurance. These are the so-called "10s. widows," widows whose weekly grant from the State is a fixed sum of 10s. There are even some, as my correspondence made me aware when we debated this subject last year, who do not even receive the 10s. pension.
It is not possible for the nation to assume complete financial responsibility for fully maintaining all widows, young and old, and I am quite willing to admit that, in addition to whatever widow's pension a widow can get, there is already special provision for the care of widows' children. But the budgets which I gave in the debate last year—and I do not 83 wish to repeat the figures today—show the very heavy burden borne by the widow with children from the day when the breadwinner is struck down—the sudden lapse from reasonable comfort into a bitter struggle against hardship.
I do not believe that National Insurance yet does enough for the widow who has to bring up children. If we compare the fantastic cost of keeping a child in an institution with the amount paid to a widow to bring up her children in decency in their own home, the contrast is staggering.
Equally grim is the lot of the widow whose husband, like the husband of the police widow, died too soon, and who merely receives the 10s. Nobody manages to live on 10s. a week, and if she goes out to earn her own living she has to pay her National Insurance contributions if she is to qualify in her own right for the retirement pension and all the other benefits of National Insurance. Incidentally, widows do not find it too easy to re-enter the labour market.
For the "10s. widow," all that has happened recently has been that the Government have increased by 1s. this month the amount which she has to pay out of her 10s. for National Insurance contributions. The last Government have made her worse off. I therefore urge the Government to hold the Minister of Pensions to the pledge which he gave in November and December last, when we were discussing this matter, that early this year the whole question of anomalies in the position of widows would be reviewed, and especially to do something for the widow who is deprived of the full benefits of National Insurance.
During the General Election, some of us talked at great length about the position of 750,000 old-age pensioners, and indeed about a million people who come under National Assistance for supplementation of their National Insurance pensions. It would be wrong if we said during a General Election what we are not prepared to say in this House. These are the folk of whom I said in this House last November and December that they would find that this spring their basic pension would be increased by 7s. 6d., but that their National Assistance grant would increase by only 2s. 6d.
84 I said then that they would go to their Members of Parliament saying "The Government have given us 7s. 6d. with one hand, but are taking 5s. away with the other." I hope that, now that the Election is over, these people are not going to be fed on statistics. I do not wish today even to argue in detail what I believe to be true—that the cost-of-living index bears no real relation to the basic needs of the poorest people, which basic needs are food, warmth and housing.
I would only say again, as the Resolution carried by the House affirmed in March last year, that it is the duty of a Government to look after their poorest citizens, and that these million people are men and women who were not able to save in their middle life, not because they were unthrifty but usually because they were the people who had endured the bleakest days of the inter-war period, with long periods of unemployment or short time. We shall go on arguing year by year the respective claims of an increase in basic pensions compared with an increase in the standard of supplementary assistance, but I believe that the most needy group in the community today are the million people depending on National Assistance for supplementation of their basic pension. I plead with the Government to do something for this group before the autumn and winter approach.
There is one other matter, by mentioning which I will no doubt refresh the memory of every candidate in the last Election. At every meeting I was asked questions—and I certainly think this applies to every other hon. Member—about post-war credits. As long as they remain, they will be a source of real irritation to many citizens, and I urge the Government to speed up repayment. Again, I trust that the House will forgive me if I press again for what I continued to urge in the last Parliament, despite the fact that the Treasury always says that it is impracticable—the granting to those who hold post-war credits repayment of their credits ahead of their chronological justification in cases where the holders need the money because of illness, accident or unemployment.
I still think that Chancellors of the Exchequer and the Treasury over-estimate the danger of post-war credits all being spent the moment they are given out. It ought to be technically possible to give 85 these post-war credits in such a form that they could not be spent unless it were absolutely necessary.
The last point I want to make is about housing. I will try not to be partisan in this first debate, but on polling day I visited a small house in Southampton which has been badly neglected for years by the owners. In this house there were 10 people, of whom six were children, living in a shockingly unhealthy state of overcrowding in a house from which private enterprise, for at least half a century and probably for nearer a century, had drawn rent, but which had been allowed to get into the kind of state which fits such a house for inclusion in a slum clearance programme.
Two days later, I paid 2s. 6d. for entrance to a great mansion in the middle of England in order to help an aristocratic family to keep that mansion, in view of the threat of Estate Duty. As I walked round that mansion, set in an estate of 11 square miles, I contrasted it in my mind with the terrible conditions in which 10 Southampton people were living, and I can only say that nobody, having seen this terrific contrast in our own country, could be satisfied with the present state of things. Nobody seeing this terrific contrast between the mansion and the poverty-stricken home could avoid becoming a Socialist.
Dr. Leslie Housden has recently written a book called "Prevention of Cruelty to Children," which I would commend to every hon. Member of this House, and which I suggest should be the bedside book of the Minister of Health, the Minister of Housing and Local Government, the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance and the Minister of Education throughout this Parliament. That book will open wide the eyes of anybody on either side of the House who thinks that we have yet got a Welfare State in this country.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy it reveals is that the problem of securing justice for unfortunate children in this country is not merely a State problem. Nearly half the misery suffered by children in this country has no relation to the economic or housing circumstances of the parents but is due to neglect by feckless or indifferent parents who create, at worst, the problem families which now 86 occupy the attention of every local authority in the country.
Having said that, and having said that the State cannot ever take full parental responsibility for children, this book clearly shows, as any experienced hon. Member who has visited the poorer families in his own constituency will agree, that bad housing, bad environment and bad sanitation must militate against any child's chance of developing into the healthy able young person that he ought to become.
I have only time to mention a few significant facts and details. In 1947 13 per cent. of the householders in urban Britain had no baths. In the poorest of five economic groups in urban areas 29 per cent. had no baths and a further 41 per cent. only portable baths. In parenthesis I would say how overjoyed I was when I went to a mining area and saw the pit-head baths which are now provided for the miners since the nationalisation of the coal industry. Of the poorest group, 54 per cent. had no hot water on tap and 3 per cent. of all urban households had no piped water at all.
Here are a few details relating to a Midland city:Houses back to back. Single room downstairs, one bedroom above and one attic above that. Two closets in a communal yard. Each closet shared by two houses in each of which may be living 10 people.I quote the following relating to a northern city:Three housefuls have to use the water closet of the fourth house"—because the first three do not function.In another house they have a tuberculous aunt sleeping with them in the same bed. There is no water in the house, the street drains are not working and there is little daylight. Many houses have the gas always burning to make it brighter. In one house of four rooms and a tiny scullery, the granny had the parlour and front room, the mother, with an artificial pneumothorax, and the father and seven children shared the other bedroom. On Saturday the eldest girl was returning from the sanatorium to make one more.In another house the father had paralysis.There were eight children, all pale, one of whom had a bad squint and one had facial paralysis. The place was overrun by rats.Here is a picture of conditions in a city in Scotland:The parents and six children share one room. Nauseating smells come through the only window from a fish shop and a water 87 closet situated below it. …. Beneath the recess bed is the coal. …. Like so many of the other rooms, this one is infested by rats. … The tap is used for all their water by four other families.That some children grow up healthy and virtuous in such surroundings is a miracle. Not every child can escape the harmful effects of such an environment.
Against this picture of squalor and misery, in spite of the references in the Gracious Speech to what the Government propose to do about this problem, we have to set the fact that this Government have steadily cut down the building of houses for letting according to need. In my own town of Southampton our council housing allocation has been cut to 600 houses this year. I have heard some rumours that the Government may be changing their minds about this. In view of Southampton's housing need, and indeed in view of the situation all over the country, I would urge the Government not to cut down on the council house part of the programme.
As for "Operation Rescue," my experience is that the private property owners are certainly not making use of the late Government's housing Measure to put bad houses in order. Many of them have found the disadvantages of the Act so great that they are not prepared to tackle the problem of making the necessary repairs. This House should not rest so long as there exists in this country the kind of misery described in the book to which I have referred, "Prevention of Cruelty to Children."
I hope that the Government mean what they say in the Gracious Speech, and that there is going to be a determined onslaught by the Government and by local authorities on bad housing. I noticed that the Prime Minister mentioned a figure of rehousing 200,000 people per year. But the annual wastage and deterioration of houses all over the country is almost of that order today.
The Government have a comfortable majority. They have secured a vote of confidence from the people. They have to earn that vote of confidence by what they do in a number of fields. I am trying in this debate to stake a claim, on the one hand, for the poorest people in the country, and on the other hand, for those 88 who are living in the derelict privately-owned houses of Britain.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Johnson (Manchester, Blackley)
I am very glad to have the opportunity of following the hon. Member for Itchen (Dr. King), because he has said much to which I should like to refer, notably in his remarks about slum clearance.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the misfortune of those who were unable to vote because they were not on the register, and while I have a good deal of sympathy with them, for my own part I think that the greatest change needed in the Representation of the People Act is one which would not make a review or drastic change of boundaries necessary so frequently as every seven years. However, I do not want to go into that subject at length this afternoon.
I want in due course to make some reference to the problems of old people, and while the suggestions that I shall put forward may be perhaps on rather different grounds from those of the hon. Member for Itchen, I have a good deal of sympathy with much of what he has said. I also propose to refer to the question of post-war credits.
On the question of health and housing conditions, the hon. Gentleman expressed dissatisfaction with the present state of affairs. That is undoubtedly a dissatisfaction which is widely shared, but why because one is dissatisfied one should be tempted to become a Socialist passes my comprehension, because the housing record of the party on this side of the House is infinitely better than that of the party opposite. Not only have we built many more houses, but the record of the Labour Party has not been noteworthy for what it has done in slum clearance. I would have thought that we should have had a more generous welcome from the hon. Member for Itchen to the proposal made in the Gracious Speech about slum clearance.
§ Mr. Johnson
I am well aware of that, but the fact remains that we built more houses in half the time. Whatever the other problems may have been, the one that we are now discussing is housing. This question of slum clearance is a particularly serious one in the city of Manchester, part of which I have the honour to represent.
§ Mr. Johnson
I am referring to Manchester. Last year it was estimated that Manchester had 68,000 houses which were unfit for human habitation and had to be pulled down and replaced. That is the problem which Manchester Corporation is facing. It is a very formidable one. Clearly, the progress of demolition is governed by the rate at which new houses can be built to replace the older ones.
We in Manchester are hoping to increase the building rate to 3,000 or 3,500 a year, but the maintenance of that rate depends more than anything else on our being able to obtain sites outside the city or building large blocks of multi-storey flats, which are not only extremely expensive but, in general, rather unpopular. When it is considered that we have the needs not only of slum clearance but of about 13,000 people who are still living in lodgings, I think it may well be that we shall have not only to go outside the city for sites but also to build flats inside the city. I do not believe there will be any other solution.
It might be thought at first by people who know Manchester that my constituency of Blackley, in the northern part of Manchester, has no very serious problems of overcrowding or slum housing. Yet we have some problems. To give some idea of the situation which Manchester is facing, I would point out that we had on the electoral register on this occasion about 5,000 new voters living in new houses built in Blackley and that about 6,000 people had been cleared out to other parts of Manchester or to housing estates on the border. That shows the size of the problem the city is facing.
Blackley has a very special housing problem of its own, that of prefabricated houses. Blackley has no less than 12 per cent. of all the prefabricated houses built on public open spaces throughout the country, and these have to be removed by 1965. The problem is to determine where we are to build the 90 houses to accommodate those people in addition to houses to replace the 68,000 houses in the slums and those for rehousing people living in lodgings. We in Manchester are determined to do everything possible to solve the problem, but I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government has some plans to help Manchester with new sites. If such help is not forthcoming, there will be a real danger of our housing and slum clearance programme breaking down before many years have elapsed.
I now turn to that part of the Gracious Speech which makes reference to cooperation between employers and workers to ensure full employment and expanding output. Since the war, with the exception of that unfortunate interlude in the winter of 1947 when coal stocks became temporarily exhausted and large numbers of people were put out of work, we have been in the fortunate position of having more jobs available than there have been men and women to fill them. There is today, of course, a threat of widespread unemployment on account of the railway strike, but I do not intend to say anything about that this afternoon.
What I would rather consider is how we are to increase our labour force when we bear in mind that the increase in our population during the last 40 years has been confined to middle-aged and old people. It was reported by the Government Actuary in the first quinquennial review of the National Insurance Acts, which appeared last autumn, that although the population of Great Britain had increased by 20 per cent. between 1911 and 1951, the number of people in the country under the age of 45, at the best working age, remained unchanged, whereas the number of people of 65 and over had gone up considerably from 2,100,000 to 5,300,000. It is well known that as a result of this the cost of retirement pensions is becoming increasingly heavy year by year. It is equally true, though perhaps not so widely appreciated, that the supply of labour which is needed in view of the increased spending power of the nation as a whole is becoming more and more inadequate to the demand.
In the report of the Phillips Committee, which was published last December, and which I am sure we all hope to have an opportunity to discuss in detail later, a 91 majority recommendation was made about raising the age of retirement pensions to 68 for men and 63 for women. I am inclined to side with those who disagree with that view. There are undoubtedly many people who, by reason of the strenuous nature of the occupation they have followed in earlier life, certainly ought not to be expected to go on after reaching the present retirement age. On the other hand, there are many people who are today compelled to retire at a fixed age when they are not only able but anxious to continue working.
In the debate on the Address at the beginning of the last Session, I drew attention to the fact that the Minister of Labour had set up a Committee as long ago as February, 1952, to study the question of the employment of older people. I should like to revert to that matter very briefly. The Committee published its Report in October, 1953. Since then we have heard little or nothing about its activity. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that it is high time we heard more about what the Committee has been doing. For example, what discussions have been held between employers of labour, employees and trade unions in order to find suitable jobs for older people? What is the position of those employed by the Government direct or by nationalised industries? What are the views of the trade unions on these matters? Are the trade unions co-operative, and do they make it easier for older people to obtain work? I am not suggesting that nothing has been done, but I feel it is time we had another Report. I know that the Parliamentary Secretary, who is Chairman of the Committee, has taken a keen personal interest in its activity. I hope he will soon be able to tell us what has been happening.
Closely allied to this question is another which has also engaged the attention of many hon. Members, including myself. I refer to the amount which can be earned by retirement pensioners without deduction from their pensions. Here again I disagree with the majority opinion of the Phillips Committee, which held that:The present limit of 40s. is based on an assessment of the amount of employment that may reasonably be disregarded in deciding whether or not a person has really retired from regular work.Since the time when the amount which could be disregarded for deduction purposes was fixed at £2, there has been, 92 quite apart from anything else, a general rise in wages. It therefore seems perfectly reasonable that a larger sum could be disregarded. I see no objection to that. Surely, it is better for those who cannot work full-time but who could earn, say, up to even £3 a week by their own efforts to be allowed to do so without suffering deductions from pension and having to seek National Assistance.
Like the hon. Member for Itchen, I had hoped that there would be some reference in the Gracious Speech to the question of post-war credits, which have now been owing to people under the age of 65 for 10 years. I cannot help forming the impression that successive postwar Governments have done remarkably little to repay these credits. The total amount outstanding on 31st March this year was £540 million.
I am not suggesting that that should all be repaid at once, but, in answer to a Question which I put to my right hon. Friend at about that time, I was given to understand that only £78 million was due to people over the age of 60. I do not think it is too much to ask that people over 60 years of age might be repaid their post-war credits.
There is no doubt whatever that repayment of post-war credits would in many cases do a great deal to ease hardship of different kinds. There must be many people who have been ill and who are in serious need of a holiday or a change of air but who cannot afford it—and they cannot afford it while that money of theirs is still owed to them by the Government. Surely, this suggestion could be looked at with a little more sympathy than the subject has received in the past.
It may be claimed, as the hon. Member suggested, that it is difficult to define hardship. We may even be told that it is impossible to define what is meant by hardship. I venture to suggest, however, that Government Departments are often prone to use the word "impossible" when they refer to something which is difficult, troublesome or inconvenient.
The machinery exists for deciding the scale of pensions and for deciding who is entitled to National Assistance. Could not a board be appointed to decide who is suffering sufficient hardship to be entitled to repayment of post-war credits? It seems to me an intolerable state of 93 affairs when people who are sick or in need are denied the chance of a little happiness which the repayment of these credits which are owed to them might well provide. I appeal to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to look into this matter. I do not regard it as at all impossible.
Hon. Members and people all over the country will well recall how the words "For action this day," which appeared above the initials of my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) during the war, led to the solution of many more difficult problems than the defining of hardship for the repayment of post-war credits.
I wish to make brief reference to a point which also engaged the interest of many hon. Members in the last Parliament. I refer to the care and treatment and education of spastics. I do not want to go into detail, but I should like to pay a tribute to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education for the co-operation which those of us who were interested in this matter received from him. It is, however, a matter which concerns also the Ministry of Health as well as the Ministry of Education. All I want to say on the subject is to remind my right hon. Friends who are concerned with the question that we who are interested in it are looking to them for prompt and effective action to help these unfortunate people.
At a time like the present, when our minds are so much occupied by great matters like the problem of industral disputes at home and issues of war and peace abroad, the points to which I have drawn attention may perhaps seem to be of little account. Yet they are of very great importance to many of our people, and especially to the old and to the needy. Action on the lines I have suggested, or, perhaps, by other measures which might well be better and much wider—but, at any rate, action, and prompt action—would add greatly to the happiness of those who deserve well from the nation, and I hope that Her Majesty's Government will give these questions their very earnest consideration.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Edwards (Bilston)
I hope the House will forgive my taking this opportunity of ridding myself of the agony of a maiden speech, but this seems 94 a suitable opportunity for me to make it and, having made it, I hope then to be able to take part in the controversy of the House. I understand from my colleagues that it is not customary for a maiden speech to be highly controversial; so I will select two aspects of the Gracious Speech on which, apparently, both sides of the House are completely agreed.
My first point is the question of full employment. In my constituency, only three weeks ago 200 highly skilled gas oven makers were dismissed from their employment and 1,400 highly-skilled workers in the same establishment are today on short time. The establishment to which I refer is the Cannon Iron Foundries, who produce some of the finest gas stoves in the world.
The managing director of that factory, who is not a Socialist, attributes this unemployment to the policy of the present Government. He claims that the controls imposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on hire purchase make it necessary for a housewife to pay a deposit of £9 on stoves that his company manufactures, whereas previously a housewife could possess a stove after paying a deposit of only £1. Consequently, those retailers who hold stocks of the stoves are using up their supplies and are placing no further orders.
If that statement has any meaning at all, it means that we have the beginnings of deflation; and a deflationary policy, in its last analysis, must mean unemployment. I am greatly surprised, therefore, to read in the Gracious Speech that there is no difference of opinion on the question of full employment.
The factory to which I have referred—the Cannon Iron Foundries, in Bilston—planned to build a great new factory at a cost of £2 million to create a thousand new jobs in my constituency. This new factory, which was to have produced gas stoves for the export market, is no longer to be built. The whole project has been halted. I repeat, the reason for the unemployment in the Bilston gas stove industry, the reason for the short time of 1,400 workers, the reason a £2 million new project has been halted, is, according to the managing director, the deflationary policy of the Government.
95 I am not being controversial. I know a little about simple economics. My modest knowledge of economics tells me that if we withdraw purchasing power from the people, so that they cannot buy the very goods they produce, then we create the situation that existed in this country between the wars, a situation in which there was increased production, in which there were gluts in the markets, but in which there was reduced consuming power, of which the consequence was mass unemployment.
What has happened in the Cannon Iron Foundries in Bilston, Staffordshire, can happen throughout the whole of the Black Country if this deflationary policy now beginning is continued. It is my view that the only way to maintain full employment for the people is to expand wealth and production and the purchasing power of the people. Full employment cannot be maintained by the controls imposed by a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, controls on the purchasing power of the people. Is it not these deflationary means, which cut consuming power to such an extent that we start again the old evil of unemployment, which many of us remember between the wars?
I was ejected from the House in 1934 when I marched with the Lancashire hunger marchers from Lancashire and became so emotional about it that I dared to interrupt the late Ramsay MacDonald when he was Prime Minister. At that time there were 3 million unemployed in the country. Those 3 million workers were denied the right to work, were treated as criminals and outcasts, were denied all the opportunities of life. I hope we shall not allow such a situation to develop again, but in my constituency, in Bilston, there are the beginnings of the deflationary policy that had such evil consequences for our people between the two world wars.
I suppose that, in spite of my good intentions, I have been very controversial indeed, so let me pass to another point in the Gracious Speech, namely, the proposed Governmental policy to deal with monopolies. It is a fact that in no other Western country is there a greater degree of industrial concentration than that which we have here in Britain. There is greater monopoly control in Britain, greater cartelisation, than there is in any other 96 country in the Western world. Earlier in the debate today it was said by the Prime Minister that we on this side of the House urged the development of monopolies.
Surely there is a fundamental difference between a private monopoly, in which a group of businessmen control vast industrial concentrations, and a public monopoly which is run to benefit the people, which is under public control, and which is subject to debate in this House and in the Press and over the air? There is a fundamental difference between a concentration of monopoly under the control of the people, under public sanction, which exploits nobody, which is to give a public service, which is imposed because the industry concerned has become bankrupt or is not giving service to the community, and a concentration of industrial power in the hands of a few businessmen purely for their personal profit.
In our country there are 160,000 limited liability companies, and I per cent. of that 160,000 employed last year 52 per cent. of all our labour, and they took 62 per cent. of all profits over £1,000 million last year. That is surely a concentration dangerous to the people. That great power in the hands of a few businessmen who are not subject to public control militates against expanding the economy, prevents the development of production.
The Monopolies Commission has given many examples of restrictive practices. During the last few months we have seen in the Press example after example. Only last week there was one from Bristol, a case in which seven tenders for cement were submitted and every one was exactly the same. The London County Council received 10 tenders for steel girders to build schools, and every single tender was for the same amount. The local council at West Hartlepool received seven tenders for steel girders for the building of schools, and every one of the tenders to the very last penny was the same as all the others. When the council asked a local firm why it had not tendered, the local firm said it was not in a position to do so because it had some agreement with the ring.
How can we bring down the cost of living when there are such restrictions on competition within this mixed economy? If the price of steel girders for school 97 building is high the cost of education is higher than it should be. If the cost of steel girders is higher than it should be, the cost of every house we build and of every bridge and of every ship we build and of every machine we export is dearer than otherwise it would be. Therefore, our situation is more difficult than it should be, and people are paying more for the goods they need than they would otherwise have to pay or should have to pay.
These are elementary facts. The Monopolies Commission issued a Report about the match-making industry, and that Report showed that it costs only 5s. 2d. to make a gross of boxes of matches—144 boxes of matches for 5s. 2d. That means that we ought to be able to buy a dozen boxes of matches for no more than a shilling. That would still enable a high profit to be made by the Match Industry.
The hon. and learned Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. Simon), who represents a constituency which is a great centre of chemical production, referred to the wonders of that industry. It is quite true that our British chemical industry has advanced very greatly, but it has not advanced half as much as has the chemical industry of America and Germany. Despite our advances, we are not keeping pace with the new discoveries of the chemical world. There is a vast monopoly in the synthetic textiles to which the hon. and learned Member referred. One monopoly in this country controls all our production of nylon, indeed all our production of our most essential new synthetic textile developments.
It is not for me in this my maiden speech to mention the name of the firm, but it is well known. It is a great concentration of power in the hands of about 14 directors, employing 100,000 work people and with a profit last year of £49 million. This power is dangerous to our economy. If this one firm controls, as it does, 37 basic chemicals for which there is no competition, and if, as it does, it controls the new wonder textiles, Terylene and nylon, and there is no competition, then it means that this firm can and does restrict production and keep prices high, based on scarcity. It is no discovery but an old fundamental truth that a monopoly can strangle an industry, 98 and if the monopoly is in a basic industry it can strangle a nation's economy and prevent the carrying out of a policy of full employment and a better standard of living for the people as a whole.
I hope that, having made these observations on the Gracious Speech, hon. Members will forgive me for having taken this opportunity of ridding myself of the emotion engendered when speaking in this Chamber for the first time. I hope also that the House will accept my apologies if in my enthusiasm, I have introduced some controversy into a first speech of this nature.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)
The House will be agreeably pleased at the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. R. Edwards). He disclaimed any intention of being controversial. I doubt whether he wholly succeeded in that laudable desire, but I am certain that the House will look forward to hearing him on future occasions when he is admittedly controversial, because he seems to possess the equipment to be a first-class controversialist. The hon. Member brought back to my memory the now dead fervour of the Socialist Party. We have not heard a perfervid speech of that kind since the days of the right hon. Member then representing West Lothian who, like me, must have felt that the hon. Member's words were stirring—
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
When I was the Member for West Lothian about 30 years ago the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling) was quite an old man.
§ Sir W. Darling
I am not referring to antiquity but to the ability of the hon. Member for Bilston. His was an interesting and challenging speech and, if I may use his own words, a non-controversial speech. I had the feeling that it had the stuff of incipient controversy in it, and I hope that in future the hon. Member will not feel himself inhibited by the fact that his views may be little shared by his hon. Friends and will be substantially contradicted by those who listen from this side of the House. I hope that I shall be present when he makes his subsequent contributions to our discussions.
99 No Scotsman has spoken yet in this debate, and I feel that I should express my approval of the Gracious Speech and my appreciation of the wide scope of legislation which it contains. The sweeping references to our international affairs and commitments are very important and may well be the most significant part of the work of this Parliament. But matters on the home front are not less important to me.
I am struck by the reference, which is almost standard now, to public economy, of which we hear something in the Gracious Speech and very little during the Session. This may be one of the few occasions on which a voice is raised in encouragement of the short sentence in the Gracious Speech which refers to the necessity of public economy. I have not noticed Ministers being very eager on this subject. Desirable schemes of a far-reaching character for the better housing of the people, for earlier retirement pensions and a thousand and one other benefits are paraded with zeal before the House, but I long to hear one day someone make a paean on public economy, because that is the true business of government.
A Government should live within their income and discharge their duties as parsimoniously as possible and with the least possible demand on the people. Every time a tax is levied human liberty is circumscribed. I am back with the hon. Member for Bilston in the age of laissez-faire, a period to which the hon. Member has no doubt given close attention. He was right in implying that a free society which limits demands on the individual is a prosperous society. Quite inadvertently he referred to the chemical industry, which he described as a near-monopoly and as being far behind the chemical industries of Germany and the United States. But surely it does not escape the attention of the hon. Member that those two countries are even more countries of free enterprise than is the United Kingdom. If their industries are models to follow, I would ask the hon. Member whether their economic systems are not therefore also to be followed.
We should all learn to harden our hearts and to realise that however advantageous may be the proposals which 100 we want to see brought into being, they are an interference with the liberty of people to spend in their own way the money they have earned. It is a fundamental liberty with which all hon. Members should be deeply concerned. Our business is to see that each has a right to his own. If there were wider understanding of and greater emphasis on the importance of allowing people to earn and acquire and to retain and dispose in their own way we should be a happier and a freer country.
I welcome, therefore, the reference in the Gracious Speech to an inquiry into local government, for it is relevant to what I have just said. I believe in more local government. The House takes upon itself far too many of the functions which should be discharged by local government. The Socialist Administration took away many functions from local government, including the management of the gas industry. It was possible to buy gas stoves at 2s. 6d. a week when the local authorities had control over the gas industry. It is not the Cannon Iron Foundries which charge the hire-purchase price but the gas industry, which could sell its gas stoves on any terms it liked when the local authorities were in control.
§ Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)
The hon. Member knows that the gas industry does not make the stoves. The Cannon Iron Foundries make the stoves and therefore control the price.
§ Sir W. Darling
It is quite true that the gas industry does not make stoves and that the Cannon Company and some Scottish companies do make them, but it is also true that the local authorities, when they controlled the sale of gas stoves, were able to sell them on hire purchase through their show rooms and would still be able to do so if they were in control of their gas undertakings. The reason they cannot is because hon. Gentlemen opposite favoured the withdrawal of the management of gas undertakings from local authorities and gave it into the hands of a centralised board.
§ Sir W. Darling
I do not think the hon. Member is seriously suggesting that the 101 Chancellor's recent restrictions have any very limiting effect. What the restrictions did was to lay down that anyone who wanted, for example, to buy a gas stove on hire purchase must pay 15 per cent. of the purchase price. It could not be very much lower than that. It is true that one could not run away with a gas stove and pawn it, but there is nothing in those regulations to prevent the hire purchase of gas stoves.
I imagine there is not much wrong with the world if the only thing that the hon. Member for Bilston could find against it was that the public are not allowed to buy gas stoves unless they put down 15 per cent. of the purchase price as the first instalment on a hire purchase agreement. I do not think that that is one of the grievous wrongs against which the workers are going to protest.
I should like to see local government strengthened and the powers which have recently been taken from local authorities given back so that they can control electricity, gas, water and other local government services. If that is the suggestion contained in the Gracious Speech, I think much of the discontent of our country would be removed. What is wrong in the opinion of many voters is that elections do not happen often enough. Perhaps that pleases hon. Members in this House, but we have to remember that in local government there is an election every year. One-third of each local authority retires each year, which means that the local government electors have an opportunity annually to change some of the membership of their local authority if they so desire.
If more and more of the government of the country were placed in the hands of local authorities, this Chamber would be relieved of a great number of matters of detail which local authorities could undertake, affording more opportunity for attention by hon. Members here to matters of wider importance. The local authorities would have greater power, and the people would get government on their door step. It would bring government for the people by the people from Westminster to where the people live and give them a chance once a year to deal with their local councillors in a much more effective way. So I very much like the reference in the Gracious Speech to the early reform of local government, because 102 it is the strengthening of local government which will make the authority and the purpose of Parliament even stronger and more valuable in all its activities.
There is one other matter I should like to mention before I sit down. I do not know why no reference is made in the Gracious Speech to the Forth Road Bridge. For many years it has been like the word "Calais" on the heart of Queen Mary; the words "The Forth Road Bridge" are written on the heart of most Scottish Members. I hope the omission from the Gracious Speech indicates that the Forth Road Bridge is now past history and that we are going to have it within a very short space of time.
Having had that assurance, I proceed further to hope that the claims of the Forth Road Bridge will be extended and, having got it, we will ask for more—for a Tay road bridge and for a "bridge" round the North of Scotland and down the West side, a tourist bridge so that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and I may, in our declining years, motor at 20 miles an hour and see the beauty of the country we have represented so long and so well.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
May it not be that the reason there is no mention of the Forth Road Bridge in the Gracious Speech is that the Government have accepted the hon. Gentleman's philosophy and are going to leave it to private enterprise to carry out this desirable improvement?
§ Sir W. Darling
It may well be that the hon. Gentleman is right and that the Government have decided to leave the matter to private enterprise, though I think that is hardly likely because I made that offer on my own authority—and I had some backing for it—but it was declined by the Government. They would not have declined it if that had been their intention. I can well understand that the hon. Gentleman has somewhat weakened opinions as a result of the General Election and has much less faith in governments and in political philosophies than he had.
I cannot but think that the Gracious Speech is a proper response to the opinions of the electorate. It deals succinctly with many vital and important matters. It gives substantial promises and it is a Gracious Speech which will 103 commend itself to the public generally. I am glad it has been commended by inference in such markedly and restrained words by the hon. Member for Bilston. He made that singularly clear in his non-controversial speech.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Moss (Meriden)
I rise to make my first speech in this House and I ask for the usual indulgence. My speech will be remarkable for its brevity. I have been told by many hon. Members that brevity should be the chief characteristic of a maiden speech.
I should like to say a few words about the reference in the Gracious Speech to the international balance of payments, which in my opinion is one of the most serious problems which any British Government has to face. The position seems to be, briefly, that in the second half of 1954, according to the "Economist," there was a deterioration in the British position of no less than £186 million. There was a deterioration over the same period in the position of the sterling area of no less than £337 million.
As far as I can see, during the first quarter of 1955 the general gap in our balance of payments was 94 per cent. of what it was in the same period of 1954. Although the Prime Minister has expressed some confidence in the statistics for April, I think he is over-confident, because those statistics, when examined in detail, do not appear to bear much hope for any improvement this year.
This paying our way in the world seems to me to be of vital importance. First, if we do not pay our way it will have serious repercussions on the standard of living of our people. The second reason, which to my mind is of equal importance, is that continued economic dependence might lead to ultimate political dependence, and I think that the economic independence of this country is vital to Britain playing an independent rôle in the world. For that second reason also I should like to see this problem tackled seriously and without complacency.
The House will know how it is possible to do that, but I may be unusual in thinking that the changes which are necessary are radical. We know, for example, that it is necessary to improve food production in the homeland as 104 quickly as possible. We also know it is necessary to step up exports as rapidly as we can in order to increase our income, and that the Government have rather failed since 1951, taking over a high level of exports and improving it very little.
We know the various methods by which we can solve this problem. One way which I consider to be of the utmost importance is the finding of alternative sources of supply when the supplies upon which we depend at present come from dollar countries. I do not think we are tackling that question seriously enough. So it seems to me that in 1955 we are up against a crisis year once again, and that in my view, if hon. Members will forgive me, is one of the main reasons for the General Election taking place on 26th May. It is the opinion of many economists that there will probably be a crisis later this year in our international balance of payments.
It is also noticeable that our gold and dollar reserves, which have never been as high since 1951 as they were at one time under the Labour Government, have been falling, although of course not as quickly as they fell after the outbreak of the Korean war. But they have been falling, and they are not sufficient to see us through a major international balance-of-payments crisis. I urge the Government to take whatever steps are necessary to solve this problem before it is too late, because failure in this one problem will involve far-reaching consequences.
If the House will permit me, I should like to make one or two observations on the Gracious Speech with reference to a few points which arise through my experience in the constituencies, not necessarily my own constituency. I will deal first of all with the reference in the Gracious Speech to the question of monopolies and restrictive practices. One of the things which happened to me during the General Election was that my old car had to be run for three weeks from morning until night and at the end of that time the bearings of one of the wheels had failed. I took the car to an excellent motor mechanic who runs a little business of his own and charges very reasonable prices. If anyone wants his name and address I shall be quite willing to give it.
He asked me whether I was still teaching and I said, "No, I am a Member of 105 Parliament." He commented on that in words which I cannot reproduce in the House, and went on to talk about the impossibility of obtaining supplies of tyres and other necessities because he was not a member of a private dictatorship existing in the motor trade. I want to emphasise that he was most bitter about that.
Hon. Members on all sides of the House believe in liberty. We in the Labour Party believe in liberty, and the party opposite sometimes describes it in terms taken almost directly from the Report of the Royal Commission on the Employment of Children, published in 1816. That is just a little out of date. I should have liked to see more definite reference in the Gracious Speech to the problem of private dictatorships—a problem which caused so much disturbance in the mind of my friend the motor mechanic.
May I deal, next, with the reference to agriculture? I agree that a long-term plan is necessary for agriculture, with guaranteed prices and assured markets, but I notice that there is no mention in the Gracious Speech of one of the things about which the farmer is very much concerned at present—the supply of cheap credit for the improvement of farms. It is noticeable that much of the money going into agriculture is not being used for the improvement of farms, and farmers are very concerned about a supply of cheap credit being made available. There is no reference to that in the Gracious Speech.
In connection with legislation whichwill be introduced to safeguard the health and provide for the safety and welfare of those employed in agriculture and forestryI am surprised that there is no mention of the importance of the tied cottage in agriculture, because if anything affects the health and welfare of many agricultural workers it is the existence of the tied cottage.
I have already had to deal with several cases of whole families being evicted from their homes simply because the man has changed his employment. It is not merely that they are evicted; they are evicted without having anywhere else to go, and families are broken up—to my mind a barbarous practice reminiscent of the worst days of American negro slavery. I am indeed surprised that a 106 modern British Government have not mentioned this problem in the Gracious Speech and have not promised to do something about it.
One final point—and if I do not make it and then finish I shall not be keeping the promise which I made at the start: until three weeks ago I was working "at the coalface" in the teaching profession. I was a schoolmaster. The Gracious Speech is the only reference to education which I know which does not mention the size of classes. All steps for the improvement of education revolve around the absolute and vital necessity of reducing the size of classes. My information is that over 3 million of our children are being educated in overcrowded conditions.
I cannot afford to send my two young children—a boy aged four and a girl aged seven—to a private school at great expense, and I shall use the State schools. I am very concerned about the conditions which exist in the State schools, because I want to see my children have the benefit of being taught by individual tuition in small classes in these schools. Our whole policy for the improvement of our educational system must revolve around the necessity for reducing the size of the class.
I thank you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and the House for this indulgence, and hope that on a future occasion I shall be able to speak in more detail about some of the subjects which I have mentioned in passing.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. H. A. Price (Lewisham, West)
As far as I can remember, this is the first time in my five years as a Member of this House that it has fallen to my lot to congratulate the deliverer of a maiden speech. That in no way reduces the sincerity with which I now congratulate the hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Moss) on the speech to which we have just listened. Some of its merit lay in the fact that, as he has revealed to us, he has been a school teacher. He was fluent, sincere and versatile, and I think the best tribute I can pay to him is to say that nobody standing at the Bar and listening to him could possibly have imagined that it was a maiden speech. I very much hope that we shall hear him often in the future, particularly on education, my only comment being that I hope that in future he will 107 find it possible to take a slightly more optimistic view of the future than he seems to be able to take today.
There were three points in the hon. Member's speech on which I should first like to make a passing comment. He referred with some emotion to the tied cottage issue. One cannot help but feel a little sympathy with him, but I would remind him that the tied cottage issue is not confined to the agricultural community; there are about 10 times as many tied cottages in the nationalised industries as there are in the agricultural industry.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;
§ House counted, and, 40 Members being present—
§ 6.11 p.m.
To resume, without making any comment on the interruption, the next point which the hon. Member made was on education.
§ Mr. George Jeger (Goole)
Before the hon. Member leaves the point about the tied cottage, would he also comment on the fact that it is only in agriculture that a worker in a tied cottage suffers instant dismissal and eviction? That happens in no case in a tied cottage in any other industry.
§ Mr. Price
Being a Londoner I am not an expert on agricultural matters, but my impression is that that just does not happen.
My interest in the size of classes is something akin to that of the hon. Member for Meriden. The Prime Minister referred to it in a speech he made earlier and I hope the hon. Member will derive some comfort from that.
The third point in the hon. Member's speech to which I want to refer is his comment that the date of the Election was in some way connected with a forthcoming economic crisis. I met this point quite often in the recent campaign, and I must confess that it rather amused me, since this forecast that there was to be a crisis in six months' time came from the people who when in office were unable to see a crisis until six months after it had gone. They must forgive me if I attach little importance to that forecast.
§ Mr. Scholefield Allen (Crewe)
The forecast was related in the "Observer" to the fact that when we come back from our summer holidays we shall probably find a crisis deeper than that of 1949 or 1950. Is not the "Observer" an independent newspaper of standing?
§ Mr. Price
I wonder if the "Observer" referred to the economic crisis of 1951, too. The Opposition did not in the Election campaign.
Now I want to continue with the speech which I intended to make. If I were to refer to all the subjects in the Gracious Speech which interest me I should gravely trespass on the advice given to the House two days ago by Mr. Speaker, who suggested a limit of about 20 minutes. The one subject which seems to be foremost in the minds of hon. Members is the question of monopolies and restrictive practices, and strangely enough that is the topic on which I want to say a few words, although there are many other topics in the Gracious Speech which I warmly welcome, notably the development of nuclear energy, the modernisation and re-equipment of the railways, the reconstruction and improvement of roads, the slum clearance programme and the attention to be given, as was underlined by the Prime Minister, to education.
The question of monopolies and restrictive practices has recently achieved some limelight as a result of Press reports to which reference has already been made, namely on tenders to the London County Council for steel girders and, more recently, on tenders for cement. I have found it a little difficult to understand why these reports should gain so much publicity. In the paper industry, of which I am a member, this sort of thing is happening every day. I referred to it in the debate on the Gracious Speech last year —as far as I am able tell, without causing a ripple; not that that disturbs me, it is an experience to which I have become accustomed. I want to return to it today. In doing so, I must declare an interest in that I am a member of the paper trade.
The situation has deteriorated somewhat in the past 12 months. I want to deal with it under two separate headings, the first of which is price. In the paper trade there is an agreement that all the mills making a particular grade of paper 109 shall charge a particular price to the merchant. As a merchant, I can go to any mill making any particular grade of paper, and I must pay the same price to any mill. Not only that; my resale price is also fixed. If I buy one ton for direct delivery to a customer, I must charge 6¼ per cent. profit, no matter how keen I might be to do it for less. If I put the paper in a warehouse and deliver it to my customers in small quantities, I must add 33⅓ per cent. profit, no matter how willing I am to do it for less. If I transgress, if I sell direct at less than 6¼ per cent. profit, or sell ex-warehouse at less than the margin laid down, I am open to being blacklisted and denied all future supplies of that quality of paper from those mills.
That is the position which existed last year and which exists today. All competition by price is ruled out. There remained competition by efficiency and by service, but that is also being erased, and I can best illustrate that by quoting an example. I hope that the House will forgive me for talking in the first person, but that is the best way to put this point across.
Not long ago I received an inquiry from a firm of printers I know well for 4 tons of paper of a well-known quality made by a very well-known mill. I sent the inquiry to the mill, but was told that the mill could not quote. The reason was that I had not had this order in the past and so I had no quota. They could only quote merchants who had bought this kind of paper in the past. In other words, not only was competition by price ruled out, but competition by service was ruled out, too. The merchant who had the order in the past must get it again no matter how keen the printer might be to place the order with another merchant, more agreeable, more enthusiastic, and more efficient though he might be.
The printer can no longer buy where he likes. He must go to the same merchant as in the past. Not only have we eliminated competition by price, but we have eliminated competition by service and efficiency too. Trade is ossified, enthusiasm and efficiency are denied their reward, and lack of enthusiasm and lack of efficiency are insulated against their proper consequences.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
I am very much obliged to the hon.
110 Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. H. A. Price) for raising this matter, because I have knowledge of a similar experience, not personally, but from a business man. Is the hon. Member in a position to develop the same argument about imports? I am told that the same thing is going on with imports, and that a person could import to save dollars, but the big combines prevent him getting a licence from the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, even though he would be able to save dollars. Has the hon. Member experienced that?
§ Mr. Price
That is not quite accurate. The import quotas are given to merchants on the basis of their imports during the reference period. No new merchant can get an import quota. That is not the fault of the trade, but is a restriction imposed by the Government for currency reasons.
I was saying that inefficiency and slackness were insulated against what ought to be their consequences.
I mentioned earlier an interest in the paper trade, but I hope that by now the House will appreciate that I am not likely to be serving my own interests by making a speech of this kind. The opposite may be the case. I want to make it clear that as a paper merchant I of course derive certain benefits from this arrangement. The business I at present hold is insulated from competition by other merchants in precisely the same way as their business is insulated against competition from me. But that is not a situation I can applaud, because inevitably in the long run it is the consumers —the man in the street and his wife—who suffer.
Nobody who looks at the profit figures of the large paper-making combines in the last few years can be in any doubt as to the prosperity of the industry. I make it clear that I do not deplore large profits. I am strongly in favour of them so long as they are based on efficiency. Large profits make it possible for high wages to be earned, good working conditions to be provided, and high dividends and high taxation to be paid. They are an index of prosperity from which we all benefit—so long as they are based on efficiency, but not when they are based 111 upon the restrictive practices of the kind to which I have referred.
So far as I have been able to discover there is no justification whatever for restrictive practices of the kind I have described in the paper trade today. I could understand prices being artificially buoyed up to a certain level during times of depression in order to avoid cut-throat competition which might have the effect of bankrupting otherwise deserving firms. In the conditions which exist today, which have existed for some years, and which are likely to continue for as far ahead as we can see, I see little justification for them at all. I very much hope that the President of the Board of Trade will take more notice of what I have said on the subject this year than he was able to take last year. I hope that he will do something about it.
The paper trade is a peculiar one in that it is sectionalised, and that section of it which deals with newsprint is a section by itself. I do not claim to have any specialised knowledge, but I have no reason to believe that the newsprint section is in any better state than the "bread and butter" section to which I have referred. I have not the slightest doubt that prices and quotas are fixed there too, but I suggest that the overriding restrictive practice with newsprint, which ought to be done away with, is the restriction placed on it by the Government themselves. The war has been over for 10 years and a Conservative Government have been in office for 3½ years. It is high time that these artificial restrictions on the use of newsprint were abolished. I very much hope that the President of the Board of Trade will find it possible to announce their abolition in the near future. If he does not, I promise that I intend to conduct a campaign designed to secure their removal at the earliest possible moment.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
One has every sympathy with the position in which the hon. Member finds himself placed as a businessman, but is not the obvious way out of his difficulty, and the remedy to the evils which he has described, that he should ask the Government to refer the matter to the Monopolies Commission?
§ Mr. Price
I should like to make it clear that I was not—and I hope that I did not give the impression that I was— 112 trying to air a personal grievance. I get the benefits of the arrangement as well as suffering from its drawbacks. It is the consumer who is suffering, and it is the consumer for whom I am pleading. As to what action the President of the Board of Trade should take, I leave that to him, so long as he does take some action soon.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
Those who have sat through the whole of the debate and who are in the House because they are Socialists will have derived great satisfaction and encouragement from the maiden speeches which have been made. They were informative, well-reasoned and courageous contributions. In my younger days it used to be said that the House of Commons was the graveyard of courage. I am happy to believe that today, within limits, we have had the answer to that. I associate myself with all that has been said about my two new hon. Friends. They brought into the House a breath of fresh air which is greatly needed, especially on this side, and I hope that they are typical of the large number of new Members and that they will play their part in accordance with the ideas that resulted in them coming here.
The outstanding feature of today's proceedings has been the challenge by the Prime Minister about nationalisation and public ownership. The people whom we represent will gladly accept that challenge. It is the duty of all hon. and right hon. Members who have been selected and elected to support the party of which we on this side are members to accept the challenge and to brace themselves to deal with it. From now on let it be uppermost in their minds.
The fundamental issue is whether large-scale industry is to be run for the benefit of those whose contribution in the main is the sinking of capital in industry or whether it is to be run for the benefit of our country which we have defended twice within my lifetime. When I made an intervention earlier and heard the jeers, they did not affect me at all. When one is right one can stand any amount of that kind of thing, as we have done in the past. I look forward gladly to people reading the report of this debate, and hope that they will take note of the interjections which have been made, in the belief that they show what we think about these questions.
113 I am pleased that in the Gracious Speech there are proposals for dealing with air pollution. For far too long the country has tolerated this contamination of the air in industrial areas. My greatest regret is that this matter is not being given the urgent attention which its merits. This is one more example of broken pledges. One of the most serious difficulties in our country before the war was that at each General Election new promises were made and in each new Parliament we witnessed a betrayal of those promises. The result was that the confidence of the people in the capacity or the desire of democracy to deliver the goods was being undermined. Thus we had the situation which existed just before the war.
There is something of an outstanding character for which the Socialist Party was responsible which is never mentioned when our post-war policy is discussed. We made an outstanding contribution to the development of democracy in our country and to the reinforcement of the opinion of the people that democracy could deliver the goods. We did that by carrying out almost every promise made by us in the 1945 General Election campaign. As a result, the confidence of the people in the capacity of democracy to deliver the goods and in the desire of the politicians to translate talk into concrete reality and into legislation was beginning to be gained in Britain.
I hope that we shall not begin again to undermine that confidence. For all my life we have pleaded that air pollution should be dealt with. It is now an accepted desire of all well-informed people that it should be dealt with. When the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) introduced his Private Member's Bill a few weeks ago he had the complete and unanimous support of the House. The Minister made a promise that the Beaver Report would be fully implemented this year, yet in the Gracious Speech and in the speech of the Prime Minister there was no semblance at all of that promise. Great concern will be expressed about that. The party of which I am a member must insist upon a 100 per cent. implementation of the Beaver Report, without any compromise. We have waited far too long for an end to this poisoning of our people. It leads to unnecessary suffering from asthma and to bronchial and respiratory troubles of a 114 kind which would never have existed to such an extent had the air in the industrial areas been clearer than it has ever been during my lifetime.
During the Election campaign I did not say a word about post-war credits, but speaker after speaker referred to this matter. One might have thought, as promises were made, that there would have been some reference, either in the Gracious Speech or by the Prime Minister, to the effect that it was the desire of the Government to implement those promises. I do not wish to make much of this point, because it is generally accepted in the country.
I wish to refer to mining subsidence. A terrible indictment could be made against those responsible for mismanagement in the mining industry in the past. The Labour Government dealt with the matter, but only within narrow limits. Nevertheless, I have learned to be thankful for small mercies and the implementation of promises by small instalments. The time has now arrived when it should be known that municipalities, especially the larger ones, are becoming very indignant about this matter. A few months ago a large conference was held in Central Hall. Expert committees have been preparing evidence to place before the Government, and I consider that mention of that should have been made in the Gracious Speech.
We in this country must live by exporting. We cannot produce our exports except by mining coal, and the consequent damage caused by mining subsidence should be made good by the whole country. At present it is being met by those resident in mining areas. Stoke-on-Trent has suffered more in this regard than any other city. It is true that urban districts and some villages, such as those represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown), are also suffering. But Stoke-on-Trent has a population of 270,000 depending on coal mining for a living. There the coal seams are deeper than in any other part of the country, and modern scientific methods are being applied to enable even deeper seams to be reached.
As a result all the services in Stoke-on-Trent are affected, including the roads and sewers. The local authority must accept responsibility for paying for the damage resulting from the winning of coal used to 115 benefit the whole country, including Bournemouth, Eastbourne and the whole of the South of England. I can assure the House that the people in my constituency are smarting under this injustice and that the time has arrived when the matter should be dealt with.
This Government and other Governments have conducted investigations into many industries. Inquiries have been held and reports made. We all welcome the possibility that we may get over the immediate difficulties regarding the railways, but there are other serious issues looming up with which the Government must deal. I share the feeling of righteous indignation which is growing over the scandalous treatment meted out to our skilled craftsmen over the last forty years. For a hundred years our engineers have been the finest in the world, but the basis of their success has been created by the efforts of highly skilled craftsmen. Today such craftsmen would be completely justified in taking any action they might decide upon unless their legitimate grievances are dealt with as early as possible.
British exports are being subsidised by the low wages paid to craftsmen who work relatively long hours. The trade union to which I belong published their case a few months ago in order to put the facts on record. Copies were sent to every right hon. and hon. Member of this House. Afterwards I went round the wastepaper baskets picking out the envelopes in order to have a record of who had dealt with them in that way. I shall leave that point for the time being. But it is on record and, unless the matter receives attention, it may be evidence that will be used. It does not only affect hon. Members on the other side of the House.
Today I wish to reiterate some of the facts in order to place them on record for the consideration of the Prime Minister, and, in particular, the Minister of Labour and National Service, for the information of the Government in general and also our country.
§ Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)
On a point of order. May I ask your guidance, Mr. Speaker? I am surprised that the hon. Member, for whom I have a high personal regard, should have gone round the wastepaper baskets looking for evidence against his fellow hon. Members. Is that 116 in order? Does that conform with the spirit and the manner in which this House conducts its business?
§ Mr. Speaker
That is not a point of order with which I can deal. There are no wastepaper baskets in this Chamber.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, that all I ask is that other people play the game in the same way as I try to play the game. If they do that, there will not be much trouble. I knew the time at which these copies should have arrived from the post office and I thought that they might have received a different kind of attention. But I am not making too much of the point. I am striking a note of caution, and saying that some of it is on record.
This week the "Manchester Guardian" and the "Observer" drew attention to the question with which I am dealing, and therefore there is no need now to deal with the evidence. During the First World War wages in the engineering industry never caught up with the cost of living. In 1917 the cost of living went up by 70 per cent, and the rise in wages by only 18 per cent. I remember—and I bear the lashes on my back to this day—what happened between 1920, 1922 and 1923.
In 1928 our wages were equivalent to 33s. 6d. in 1914. The payment for our loyalty during the First World War was that we suffered in this way. Then the country depended on engineers who did not take the action they might have done but went on working night and day. Wages never caught up with the increase in the cost of living. Between 1920 and 1923 many industries suffered a wage reduction which amounted only to 12 per cent., 23 per cent., and 22 per cent. But in the engineering industry we suffered a reduction of 38½ per cent., and we never caught up.
Hon. Members will remember that on several occasions when the business has been announced, some of us have suggested that the Economic Survey was such an informative document that it ought to receive the attention of this House. Economists on both sides of the House have agreed that it should be considered along with the Budget. The result has been that it has been swamped in the consideration of monetary, fiscal and other questions, and that 117 during the past few years it has not received the attention that it deserves.
As I say, the Economic Survey is an informative publication, and one which is based upon much hard work. The civil servants responsible for its publication are deserving of more credit than is given to them. I am raising this issue today because the country is in a precarious economic position. There is only a narrow margin between carrying on as we are and catastrophe, yet this House has not given the attention to our economic problems which they deserve.
Though I have not the time today in which to do justice to the subject—indeed it would be wrong to try to do so—I wish to direct attention to a few aspects of our economic situation based upon a careful study of the Economic Survey. Paragraph 3 of that document states:The exports of all the main manufacturing countries benefited from the higher level of demand for manufactured goods, but the United Kingdom's exports rose proportionately less than those of Germany and Japan, and our share of the market was smaller than in 1953.It is upon that matter that I wish to make some observations and to ask some questions. From time to time questions have been asked in this House about the serious menace of Japanese and German standards. No constructive proposals have been made for dealing with the position. We continue to acquiesce in the development of this situation, and the way things are drifting we shall, sooner or later, be faced with a similar situation to that which faced some of us between the wars.
Relatively high standards have been built up in this country. It is our desire to maintain those standards, and, if possible, to improve them. Therefore, we all ought to be pooling our energies and our ideas for the purpose of considering how we can deal with this menace which comes from countries whose peoples have low standards and low wages and who work long hours.
It is those who care most who dare most, and it is because we care for the standards enjoyed by our people that we are so concerned about the matter. These standards have not been built up without a struggle. They have been built up as the result of terrible sacrifices on the 118 part of our fellow trade unionists in particular and of those with whom they are associated in industry. It is due to the industries of this country and to the high standards that have been built up as the result of negotiation between all grades in those industries, together with the work done by this House, that we have reached our present position.
I believe that in all walks of life in this country there is too much complacency with regard to this problem. It is the duty of this House to sound a note of warning and to say that unless constructive proposals are made for dealing with the menace we shall, sooner or later, be faced with a very serious situation. There is not a word in the Gracious Speech about that.
When speaking in the country on these problems—without indulging in personalities or going off the deep end about this, that or the other—and when giving a cool analysis of the problems, I find that the people want to know what constructive proposals one has for dealing with them. Having come straight from the fresh air generated by the General Election and having had an opportunity of renewing our contact with the people whom we represent, I thought it my duty to speak about this matter at the first available opportunity.
Will the Government have an investigation made into the cost of raw materials? Every industry in the country has its hands tied behind its back before it produces anything. In every large engineering works, in particular, the workers and the managements all go into the factories with their hands tied behind their backs. The trade associations of this country have such a grip upon the raw materials which every industry has to use that no industry has a chance to meet foreign competition. The prices are fixed by the trade associations.
That being so, I would like to have an answer to my question whether the Government will have an investigation made into the cost of raw materials prior to the formation of these trade associations and also since they were formed in relation to world prices. The productive and export industries are terribly handicapped by the raw material costs which are fixed by the trade associations of which I am complaining.
119 I now come to the question of Government expenditure. Many speeches have been made in this House—especially when we on this side were the Government—concerning the reduction of such expenditure. There is not a word in the Gracious Speech, as there was not in the Prime Minister's speech today, about any concrete proposals for reducing Government expenditure. It has often been said that a Conservative Government would drastically reduce civil expenditure. Can we be told today why that has not been done? In my view, the country cannot stand the present gigantic public expenditure, particularly in regard to the preparation for war.
Manufacturing industries are averaging a 48-hour week. The people in those industries are working a day a week longer than are the Americans, while other industries are only working between 35 and 40 hours a week. Britain is maintaining her position today by paying relatively low wages to the highly skilled craftsmen, because of the long hours they work in relation to others and because of the increased output to which I will now refer.
A great increase in production took place in manufacturing industry between the wars, but I will quote some post-war figures. Taking 1946 as 100, the output in 1951 was 150, and the ratio of output to employment was 127. The output of those engaged in direct production is even greater than is shown by those official figures. For example, before the war 13 out of every 100 workers were salaried employees. In 1951, the figure was 16 out of every 100. I venture to prophesy that it is much greater today.
It is time that much closer attention was paid to this internal balance of payments problem because of the efforts made by those in productive industry. If anyone wishes to check these facts, he has only to go to the Vote Office and get a copy of the Economic Survey. If anyone wishes to check any of the facts or figures which I have given regarding the payment of skilled men, he has only to go to the Ministry of Labour to do so. On two occasions the Minister of Labour has been good enough to provide me with official figures. The up-to-date figures indicate the seriousness of the present position.
120 Rather than drift, drift, drift as we have in other industries, let us learn the lessons of the present situation. I guarantee that there will be no trouble worth talking about if we progress according to mid-20th century ideas. There will be no trouble worth talking about if we deal with the legitimate grievances of the people as soon as possible, but the slow, cumbersome machinery and the complacency which exists are simply sickening to intelligent people. Therefore, let us all make the best contribution we can in order to direct and focus public attention upon these problems, and try to use our collective influence to get the Government to deal with these problems before they reach far more serious proportions.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Mr. C. R. Hobson (Keighley)
I find myself largely in agreement with what my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) has said. The Gracious Speech says that we are to have legislation to deal with the question of smoke and air pollution. In my humble opinion, smoke is not the greatest problem; the greatest menace is pollution caused by smoke which is coloured and diluted.
On the periphery of London there are four power stations, in the Borough of Willesden, all of which put out fumes which are white in colour. People say that that is a very pretty sight. The same thing occurs at Battersea, on the Thames. The fact is that the smoke is washed with water, and the sulphur content of the smoke, plus the oxygen in the water, gives off an excretion of sulphuric acid gas, and that causes great damage.
There have been complaints from residents in Chelsea and Willesden about the corrosive acids which are dispersed and which fall down from the gaseous effluent and have the action of acid in rotting gutters, etc. That is an aspect of the problem which the Government have not yet begun to consider. It is the fumes which are the menace, and not the smoke and soot.
Not only are there sulphuric acid gases, but, in many cases, a very large percentage of carbon monoxide gas. This is a very serious matter. The antidote to this gas is not known at the present moment. It is a menace to health, particularly of those who live in large industrial areas where 121 there are many power stations, consuming anything up to 1,000 or 1,500 tons of fuel per day. Something drastic should be done in this matter, in which, I submit, sufficient research has not yet been carried out to form even the basis of legislation.
The Prime Minister's speech seemed to show that his knowledge of home affairs is in inverse ratio to his knowledge of international affairs. I am not blaming him for that, but I thought he was singularly badly briefed, especially upon the problem of road and rail transport. I venture to detain the House for about 10 minutes on this question. One of the greatest causes of anxiety in the public mind at present is the high level of road casualties—more than 5,000 killed and 230,000 injured per annum. I say, quite frankly, that the causes of this number of road casualties are terrific density and speed.
If the Government are to deal with the problem of the density of traffic they will have to introduce legislation to transfer from the roads back to the railways much of the traffic which should in any case be carried by rail. It is absolutely ridiculous to transport heavy steel girders and machinery by road when the railways have available special wagons ready to do the job. There is not one large industrial enterprise in the country which has not its own private sidings. If that heavy traffic were removed the density of traffic on the roads would be lessened and the number of accidents reduced. In addition, the delays occurring in the large cities because of the carrying of this type of traffic on the roads would be considerably eased.
This is something which can be done only by legislation, but hon. Members opposite have approached this matter in an entirely doctrinaire manner. The Socialist Administration, through the Transport Commission and the Transport Acts, attempted to co-ordinate road and rail transport, but because of their commitments to the road haulage interests, the Conservative Party immediately proceeded to hand back to private enterprise the lorry services. The sale of these lorries has already cost our taxpayers £20 million. The Government took that action for purely doctrinaire reasons. The only way in which this problem can be eased 122 is by putting this traffic back on to the railways, where it belongs.
We must not think that we can solve the problem by what has been done in the United States of America or in Germany. In fact, on the autobahnen of Germany and the great road networks of the United States of America, the death rates from accidents are infinitely higher than on our small roads. It is absolutely ridiculous to have first-class railway tracks, in many cases with quadruple lines, and not to use them to their full capacity. It is absurd to have thousands of empty wagons lying idle when traffic could be made available for them if the Government would enact the necessary legislation.
What is the Government's road programme? In the first place, it will take a long time to build the roads. The Prime Minister mentioned that in the course of the next 3 years we shall have another 1½ million vehicles upon the roads. By the end of that period the new roads will not have been constructed.
There is a second and more important problem. Immediately we make plans to ease the situation in London and other large towns, by widening the roads, we come up against the cost of land. The Gracious Speech does not refer to that point. Every new road that is made means an increase in taxation. The compensation which will have to be paid to people whose land is used to build the new roads will make costs very high. The Government have made no statement about that they will not face the problem.
The value of this land is created by the community. Surely it is just, fair and equitable that the increased value which has been created by the community should be taken back in the form of taxation, either in local rates or in national taxation. Why should the money go into the hands of the few who, by good fortune in many cases, merely happen to own land which is required for this development? If the Government want an economic development they must tackle the problem of the price they will have to pay for the land.
I shall not say anything about the railway dispute, but mention has been made of the modernisation of the railways and the bringing into use of diesel locomotives. Considerable advancements have 123 already been made on local lines. The question which concerns me—and I speak, as a member of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, with a little knowledge—is what firms are going to make the express diesel locomotives? We are entitled to be told. At present the small diesel locomotives are being engined largely by Leylands, the chassis being made in the Derby works; but which firm has the knowledge and experience to make the large diesel express locomotives which will be necessary if the modernisation plan is to be carried through? In America they have this experience but I do not know of firms in this country that can make these locomotives.
A few months ago we had a deputation here of very responsible Scottish shop stewards from Glasgow, who were not Left-wing agitators at all. They were workers in the North British Locomotive Works, a world-renowned firm, and they were concerned by the fact that the firm was losing markets, particularly to Germany, for steam locomotives. I will not weary the House with the explanation which was given to them, but the question was put by the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Pannell) and myself: what is the position with regard to entering into the market for express diesel locomotives? We asked what steps had been taken. We were told that there had been a prototype literally on the stocks for 18 months.
Something has to be done for British industry to see that it has the skill, the knowledge and the experience to make these diesel locomotives, otherwise we shall not have a diesel locomotive available. If my premise is correct—and I am sure that my information is correct—this means that there will have to be a change-over not to diesel but to electrification which, in the final analysis, I submit will be cheaper. I think that question has been proved beyond peradventure on the Southern Region by Sir Ronald Walker, who was the General Manager of the Southern Railway. That is the problem with regard to the railways.
There are many other things which one could say about this matter, and I am convinced that as the scheme is at present British industry cannot bring about that change. I urge the Government to look 124 at that problem very seriously indeed. I feel that the Government should recast their views with regard to the whole of the transport problem. They should cast away their doctrinaire approach. Traffic has to be taken off the roads and put back on the railways, because that is quicker than making new roads. We have to do that.
The Government should also review entirely their ideas with regard to the modernisation of the railways if there is to be diesel traffic. It is a pity that there is not present a representative of the Ministry of Transport, because we have been informed that British Railway workshops are not to make diesel locomotives. I should like to know if that is true. If that is so, many thousands of skilled locomotive people, who have their homes in the traditional railway towns of this country, will be faced with finding alternative employment.
Whether it is the policy to hand back to what is now termed the private sector of industry the making of these potential diesel locomotives I do not know. We in the engineering unions, however, are very much alive to the fact that there are strong rumours, although there has been no definite statement made as yet, that the shops in Derby, Darlington and Doncaster, etc., are not to make them.
I have spoken longer than I had intended, but these were points which occurred to me while the Prime Minister was speaking. I felt, as I am deeply concerned about the future of transport, that it was incumbent upon me to raise these problems at the earliest possible moment, so that they may at least be brought before Her Majesty's Government with a view to action being taken on the lines which I have indicated.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)
I listened with considerable interest, Mr. Speaker, a day or two ago to the speech which you made from the benches opposite. I would say, in order to indicate that I was listening carefully to you, that I remember your suggesting that our speeches should be very brief. I propose, therefore, to confine myself to one or two very small points.
I was particularly interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. H. A. Price), who 125 expressed some little concern at the Press reports which have appeared about the monopoly activities of certain manufacturers in this country. I thought that he doubted whether it was necessary to have the publicity. I am sorry that the hon. Member is not in his place, because I am sure that after the speech which he made, adding one more to the long list of commodities in which there are monopoly practices, there can be no doubt that the Press will publicise it tomorrow. Had the hon. Member been a reader of the Local Government Review, he would have known that the question of monopolies has been exercising the minds of the Association of Municipal Corporations in this country for a considerable time.
Indeed, the Association had before it at a recent meeting a fairly long report from a principal official of one of the biggest municipal authorities in the country. He indicated that the municipalities, so far as it was possible to judge, were being subjected to restrictive and monopoly practices concerning a whole range of articles which municipal authorities use in substantial quantities. It follows that if municipalities are being called upon to pay higher prices for cement, steel and other commodities, the ratepayers of those districts will in fact be called upon to pay higher rates.
The hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. R. Edwards) was good enough to make reference to a local authority in my constituency. West Hartlepool Town Council and its education authority are con-concerned about the building of a new secondary school. They invited tenders from a series of firms fabricating steel, and received six tenders in all, five of which were identical to the last penny. We know, too, that the London County Council is subjected to the same kind of treatment. Bristol City Council, as we now know, has experienced precisely the same thing regarding cement.
It is not without interest to observe that in the Gracious Speech:My Ministers will take such further action as may be required in the public interest to deal with abuses in the field of monopolies and restrictive practices.I ask: what kind of action and how soon? For example, when does the 126 President of the Board of Trade propose to implement the powers which he has already? The President of the Board of Trade took power, with the consent of this House, nearly two years ago, to increase the membership of the Monopolies Commission by a substantial number and to appoint two or three vice-chairmen, so that a whole series of these cases could be considered simultaneously. May we have some assurance now that action is to be taken? My right hon Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson), immediately prior to the Election, sought to prod the President of the Board of Trade to take action concerning monopoly practices. Are we to get action in 1955, or will it be in 1956, 1957 or in 1958 before the next appeal to the country? I think that the House is entitled to know what action is to be taken.
The Gracious Speech is characterised more by what it leaves out by than what it includes. On its third page is a sentence which promises legislationto safeguard the health and provide for the safety and welfare of those employed in agriculture and forestry.We welcome that promise as far as it goes. I listened to the Prime Minister this afternoon telling us—as a justification, I assume, for the inclusion of that sentence in the Gracious Speech—that the number of accidents in agriculture—due, I presume, to mechanisation—was increasing. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) appointed the Gowers Committee in 1946, and it reported in 1949. The Report makes recommendations for the promotion of health, safety and welfare for more than 12 million people in a whole series of industries.
In the last Parliament my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) was fortunate enough to secure a place in the Ballot giving him the opportunity to introduce a Private Member's Bill. Taking advantage of his good fortune, my hon. Friend introduced a Bill to implement the recommendations of the Gowers Report, and the Measure had a Second Reading. On Tuesday, 26th April, the Bill was examined by a Standing Committee. In that. Committee 127 the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department said:I can, of course, give the Committee the assurance that a Bill will be drafted—that is the Government's intention—and will be introduced in due course, but by no stretch of imagination can that be before 6th May."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee B, 26th April, 1955; c. 4.]One could read into that promise that if the Under-Secretary and his friends of the Conservative Party were fortunate enough to come back as the Government of the country they would draft a Bill. They have come back. There was not sufficient time to draft the Bill before 6th May, but we can expect the Government, after 26th May, to give some indication of their intention regarding the implementation of the recommendations of the Gowers Report.
We heard from the Prime Minister the plans which the Government have in mind for modernising the railways. I do not dissent from the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Hobson). Indeed, when we debated the modernisation plan I had the temerity to raise the question of the employment of railway shopmen if the British Transport Commission continued to buy diesel engines from firms outside. The railway shopmen have a record of work in the production of machines inside the railway shops at Derby, Swindon and elsewhere, which is second to no other workshop in this country. We are still awaiting a reply from the Government to my questions. We did not get a reply from the Minister of Transport, or from the Prime Minister today. Perhaps we shall get an answer from a member of the Government before this debate concludes.
May I remind the House that among the people who are not covered by the Factories Act of 1937 are large sections of railway staffs? It is possible at the present moment for the railways to employ boys under 16 years of age in locomotive running-sheds, although the Factory Acts preclude their employment in a railway shop. There is no legal prohibition against that being done.
The modernisation of the railways and the application of diesel or electric locomotives over long stretches of the main lines will make work far more dangerous for the men on the permanent way and 128 in the signalling and telegraph departments. Death and accident on the railways are far too heavy now, and unless the maximum precautions for safety are taken the death roll will increase among permanent way staffs. There should be a legal obligation on the British Transport Commission to employ lookout men to protect gangs working on the railway.
§ Mr. Osborne
In fairness to the Prime Minister, I would point out that I think he said that it was hoped to include the railways in the precautions that were being proposed for agriculture and other industries.
§ Mr. Jones
Yes, I remember that, and I was just coming to that point. The right hon. Gentleman who figures in the Birthday Honours List and who in the last Parliament was the hon. Member for Epsom raised the question, in the Committee on the Private Member's Bill to which I have referred, of the introduction of more than one Bill. I want to ask why agriculture has been included in the Gracious Speech but no reference has been made to the millions of other workers who, I can say without disrespect to the agricultural workers, are equally important in the economy of the country.
In the Gracious Speech we are considering a programme of legislative work for 14 months. All that we have now is a verbal promise from the Prime Minister that something about railways will be included. I would remind the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department made a very clear statement on 26th April that a Bill to implement the Gowers Report would have been introduced if there had been more time before the Dissolution.
The Gowers Committtee reported in 1949, and for at least two years discussion went on between the Trades Union Congress and representatives of the Home Office to iron out difficulties that might arise about the introduction of legislation. I am advised that on 18th October, 1954, both sides agreed that all the discussions necessary for clearing up difficulties had already taken place. The only reason the Government could not introduce a Bill in the last Parliament was that there was not time; yet at the beginning 129 of a Parliament which, as far as one can see, will last for at least four years, there is not one word in the Gracious Speech about any section of people but the agricultural workers.
Large numbers of people, usually known as black-coated workers, are working in offices which are a disgrace to this country. My hon. Friend the Member for Itchen (Dr. King) described the condition of some of the houses in his constituency. There are some offices infinitely worse than some of those houses in which men and women are called upon to work eight and nine hours a day. There is nothing in the Gracious Speech to make the proposed legislation applicable to offices. One does not expect a Bill much before the Summer Adjournment, for obvious reasons, but we are entitled to know quite specifically within six or twelve months that it is the Government's intention to deal with this at the earliest possible moment.
Whether it is done by one Bill, two Bills or by three makes no difference, but the 12 million trades unionists upon whom the welfare of our 50-million population depends should be assured that this new Government are to implement the Gowers Report, which has been in their hands since 1949 and which has been discussed between the T.U.C. and the Home Office for very many months. We have been told by the Joint Under-Secretary of State that the Government have that intention, but before this debate concludes some time next week I want some specific statement from the Government as to their intentions about the other two sections of workers covered by the Gowers Report.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Crouch (Dorset, North)
This is the third Parliament which I have had the honour of seeing opened, and I think that in the Gracious Speech today we have had suggested more constructive legislation than in either of the previous two. There may be two reasons for that. First, this Government have a majority not only of seats but of the total votes. Secondly, owing to the amount of work which had to be done in the past 3 years the Government were unable to bring in progressive legislation until they had tied up a number of things that were getting very much out of hand when they came into power.
130 I want to allude particularly to the reference in the Gracious Speech to agriculture. I think that the farming community, having had three years of progressive Conservative Government, can now look forward with every confidence to further expansion. The Gracious Speech says that the Government… recognise the need for maximum economic production from our land.When we came into office it was necessary to reintroduce legislation to bring back a number of production grants which had proved so successful during the war period. The result has been that agricultural production has increased by 10 per cent. during those 3½ years. We moved during that period from control to a freer economy. There was a certain amount of fear in the agricultural industry that this would, perhaps, result in a lowering of the standard of profit, but the present system has gone on long enough now for farmers to realise that a freer economy brings them greater opportunities. I know that the individual farmers welcome it.
On the other hand, I know that on several occasions a great deal of dissatisfaction has been expressed by the organised farmers. To them I would, if I might, give just this warning. They have repeatedly asked for a long-term policy. I think that a great many of those suggestions have come from hon. Members of the party opposite who thought that it was a very good hare to run. I would remind the farming community that when the previous Government came into office they said that they would build a minimum of 300,000 houses a year. Nothing could produce a greater sense of assurance than that.
The farming community as a whole have no doubts that we shall continue this policy of guaranteeing the prices of food products so as to cover the cost of production, pay a good wage to our workers, and ensure a reasonable profit to the producer. No individual farmer would expect this Government, or any Government, to guarantee a particular price for any commodity for longer than two years ahead. World conditions may change and prices may have to go up; or world conditions or methods of production may change so that the price of a commodity must be reduced.
131 I am pleased to see that we shall encourage the efficient marketing of food. That covers more than just the farmer. It means that those people who handle food will also have to be as efficient as possible. Some of that efficiency can be brought about by the introduction of marketing boards. I think that that applies particularly to the more perishable products; for those that are not so perishable the time is perhaps not yet ripe for the introduction of boards, but there can be greater co-operation between producers and distributors.
I think that we shall find more efficient means of handling many of our products, and I want to see greater co-operation between all interests in the agricultural world to bring this about. I know that the Government have been waiting for some time to get from producers a scheme for the better marketing of eggs.
The hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones) spoke about the introduction of legislation to safeguard the health and safety of our workers and the bringing in of what will be more or less a Factories Act for agriculture and forestry. Such legislation has become necessary owing to the greater development of mechanisation. Our workers are entitled to proper safeguards such as workers in other industries have enjoyed for so many years.
I particularly welcome the reference to the more efficient running of the railways, because I have always held that there is a very close link between the railwaymen and the agricultural community. It is a great pity that for so many years the railways were regarded as finished and that the view was taken that nothing could be done about them. That opinion started early in the 'twenties and continued to the end of the last war. After the war, the party opposite thought that there was no future for the railways and that the only thing to do was to nationalise both them and road transport so that the one should carry the loss of the other.
I believe that, as a result of the modernisation of the railways during the next four or five years, we shall have the most efficient railway system in the world, and I think that we as a party can rightly claim that we were the first to recognise that there is a great future for the railways of this country. I believe that the time will come when rail transport will be 132 able to compete efficiently with all the other forms of transport in this country. I welcome also the reference in the Gracious Speech to the spending of more money on improving the roads.
In particular, I welcome the reference to the provision of more schools in rural areas. We have waited a long time for better schools in rural areas, and I think we can now look forward with confidence in the next three or four years to the building of more and better schools, so that our children in the countryside may have the opportunity of benefiting from forms of education equal to those enjoyed by children in the towns and great cities.
I am also pleased to see the reference to bringing forward legislation to deal with teachers' superannuation, because that is something which I believe has caused a certain amount of difficulty in the past. It would now appear from the consultations that have taken place that we shall find a means of settling that difficult problem.
Lastly, I should like to refer to the inquiry which the Government are to set up into tribunals concerned with the acquisition and holding of land and property in this country. This has been brought about through the Crichel Down inquiry, and as the Member who brought the facts of that case before the House, I feel that, had that inquiry not taken place, we should have had something which would eventually have eaten into the very hearts and souls of everyone in this country. I look forward to seeing legislation being brought forward which will prevent another Crichel Down case at any future time, and which will lay down the right of individuals to hold and retain their property against the great and powerful machine of the State.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
When the Prime Minister spoke earlier today, he tried, very properly, to strike a note of high statesmanship. The right hon. Gentleman asked hon. Members to cast their minds forward rather than backward and to envisage future developments rather than past mistakes. That note would have been consistent with the tradition of speeches by Prime Ministers on occasions such as this. Unhappily, the right hon. Gentleman failed to maintain that standard and fell into party controversy. I do not want to fall from 133 grace in that way, because my purpose is to apply high standards to the consideration of the needs of Scotland, which are not dealt with adequately in the Gracious Speech.
The people of Scotland will indeed be shocked by the omissions from the Gracious Speech of specific provisions for their specific needs, apart from generalities affecting Britain as a whole. The needs of Scotland are specific and urgent, and Scotland is entitled to specific and separate consideration in the Gracious Speech. Amongst the most urgent of Scotland's needs are included modernised roads and bridges in and to Scotland, industrial and social development of North and North-East Scotland, integration of road and rail services in and to Scotland, Forth and Tay road bridges, extensive renewal of fishing fleets in Scotland, and provision for the fishing industries in a general way.
The industries concerned with shipbuilding, ship repairing, agricultural machinery and granite all deserve special mention and special treatment, but there is not a mention of any one of these in the Gracious Speech. I mention these merely as a few, but, of course, not all, of the spheres in which constructive planning is required and in which urgent execution is essential. There is no specific cure for any of them in the Gracious Speech.
Before the General Election, the Tory Party, and indeed the Tory Government of those days, were prodigal in their promises, but it is obvious from this Gracious Speech that the Government will be generous in generalities but penurious in performance. The gravity of this is that this is part of a bad system to which Tory Governments conform in drafting the Gracious Speech on each occasion. It is drafted in neglect of Scotland. Let us look at the history of recent Tory Governments, and the promises made in the Gracious Speeches drafted by them—promises which were broken year after year and Parliament after Parliament. All I can say is experientia docet. Scotland is full of potentialities and problems, but none of these Gracious Speeches have dealt with them as they should be dealt with.
Let us look at the first Gracious Speech of the Tory Government—that of 6th November, 1951, the Gracious Speech of 134 King George VI—which occupies four columns of HANSARD. In it, there was only one sentence which referred to Scotland, and it was this:First steps will be taken to fulfill the plans of My Ministers for the management of Scottish affairs."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th November, 1951; Vol. 493, c. 51.]Airy generalities that did not result in anything. So far as Scotland was concerned, this petty paragraph was meagre in promise and mean in performance. Its only produce was not material, agricultural, horticultural or piscatorial. It did not suggest a solution for any Scottish problem in any of those spheres. It did not produce the red meat that was then promised. It did not reduce the cost of living, which was then promised. The only thing that was provided was an extra Minister of State, who produced nothing but cost the country more.
Let us pass to the Gracious Speech of the 4th November, 1952, which was the first speech of our present Gracious Majesty. It occupies three columns in HANSARD, but how long and how many were the mentions of Scotland? There were two sentences only, both empty and futile. The first was this:The question of the supply of electricity in Scotland is being attentively examined with a view to legislation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th November, 1952; Vol. 507, c. 6.]But it should be remembered that electricity was supplied by hydro-electric plants which had been planned and set up by the previous Labour Government, and the Tories sought in that speech to take the credit for that. The second sentence in the Gracious Speech was this:My Ministers will propose an extension of the existing temporary Acts on leasehold property in England and Wales and in Scotland and will seek an opportunity of making known their policy on this subject."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th November, 1952; Vol. 507, c. 6.]Why not make that policy known in the Gracious Speech, which is the appropriate way of doing it? Why did they not deal specifically with Scottish industries?
Let us pass to the next Gracious Speech, that on 3rd November, 1953. That occupied three columns of the OFFICIAL REPORT, but there was only one sentence on Scotland in it. It promised… an early meeting between the Soviet Union and the three Western powers.135 That was not on Scotland, though Scotland, like every other place, had an interest in that subject. Even that promise has not yet been fulfilled. The one sentence on Scotland was as follows:Legislation will be introduced to effect leasehold reform in England, Wales and in Scotland."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd November, 1953; Vol. 520, c. 4–5.]That is a repetition of what was in the previous Gracious Speech; the mixture as before. There is again no specific mention of Scottish needs or Scottish problems.
Then I pass to the Gracious Speech of 30th November, 1954. It occupied four columns of HANSARD, but there were only two little sentences on Scotland. The first little reference to Scotland was as follows:Legislation will be introduced to amend and consolidate the law relating to crofting and to provide for the appointment of a Crofters' Commission.It should be remembered in this connection that this legislation resulted from the expert commission which was appointed by the Labour Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) under the chairmanship of Sir Thomas Taylor, now Principal of Aberdeen University. The Bill presented received the acceptance and the support of the Labour Opposition and, indeed, was greatly improved in Committee by that Opposition. The resulting Bill is a monument not to that Gracious Speech, nor to the Tory Government of that period, but to the previous Labour Government who set up the expert Commission.
The second little reference in that Gracious Speech was this:The Report of the Royal Commission on Scottish Affairs has received the close attention of My Ministers and steps are being taken to carry out its recommendations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th November, 1954; Vol. 535, c. 7.]What nonsense.
§ Mr. Speaker
I would point out to the hon. and learned Gentleman that we are discussing the Gracious Speech which was delivered today. He has been dealing so far with past Gracious Speeches. Perhaps he will come to the one that is before us at the moment.
§ Mr. Hughes
With respect, Mr. Speaker, I am briefly reviewing the Gracious Speeches which were drafted by recent Tory Governments, for the purpose 136 of showing that they accord with the Gracious Speech of today in their neglect of Scotland. As you have allowed me to get so far with them, Mr. Speaker, may I say that I have now come to the end of my review of past Gracious Speeches and that I was about to come to the Gracious Speech of today. I am sorry if I was out of order in reviewing those Gracious Speeches, but I think you will appreciate that I was doing it for the purpose of showing that the Gracious Speech of today is based upon precedents of previous Gracious Speeches in their neglect of Scotland.
I now come to the Gracious Speech of today. It contains over 1,000 words. How much of it refers specifically to Scotland? The word "Scotland" occurs in only one sentence, and this is the sentence, which I admit is a long one:Legislation will be introduced to amend the law of valuation and rating in Scotland in the light of the recommendations of a Departmental Committee; and an inquiry into the working of the arrangements for ascertaining Equalisation Grant in Scotland will be made in consultation with the associations of local authorities.That is a very important subject indeed, and will be discussed by this House at the proper time. This is not the proper time and I do not propose to discuss it now. But neither this Gracious Speech nor any of the others that I have indicated and which were made since the Tories came into power have either addressed themselves to the full needs of Scotland or resulted in sufficient positive Government action to do justice to Scottish needs.
In Scotland the problems are in many ways separate and distinct from the problems of the rest of Britain, but all these Gracious Speeches have treated them as if they were identical. In Scotland the problems have been articulated from time to time by great men of Scotland. They include the right hon. Tom Johnston, Lord Bilsland, and two former Secretaries of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and my right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirling-shire (Mr. Woodburn). People on the spot know what these problems are. They know that they include the need for more industries in the North to attract and maintain employment there, for better and cheaper freight charges to serve those industries, for road bridges across the Forth and the Tay, for the 137 treatment of this small island as a unit in peace as it is treated in war. This would include a flat rate for the transport of commodities from the North to the South so that the North would not be penalised by high freight charges as it is at present.
The present conditions result in unfair distribution and location of industry in the southern and middle belts to the detriment of the North. They also result in consequential concentration of population in the South and middle, and depopulation of the North. They result in grossly unfair and inadequate transport as between North and South Scotland and as between England and Scotland. They result in exorbitant and unfair freight charges, when in the interests of the whole population of this Island there should be a flat rate.
This flat rate which I advocate, and which I have advocated frequently in this House, was advocated some years ago by the right hon. Gentleman who is now Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. So far back as the year 1938 he gave evidence before the Barlow Commission about such a flat rate. In my submission, this matter is of such great importance not only to Scotland but to the whole of this island that it should have been included in the Gracious Speech.
In order to show the gravity of the matter I feel that I should quote one sentence from the evidence which in 1938 was given by the present Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. He said this before the Barlow Commission:In order to expedite transport reorganisation the Government should be prepared to give generous financial aid more especially for the purpose of promoting experiment in an entirely new system of transport charges, which 138 would seek to minimise or eliminate distance as a determinant of those charges. It is in our view the aim which should be pursued even if it involves some form of State subsidy.The House will therefore see that my proposal, which I say should have been included in the Gracious Speech, is not without authority on the other side of the House. Yet the House is placed in the invidious position of not being able to discuss it either at the instance of the Government or, indeed, at the instance of any private Member.
Today the Prime Minister made the shocking announcement that private Members' time is to be taken by the Government from now until the Summer Recess. That debars any private Member from raising this matter, which is one of gravity, by Motion, by Private Bill or otherwise. Perhaps I ought not to say "or otherwise." I have been known from time to time to ask a Question or two in the House and I may well be able to ask a Question about this, but the fact remains that private Members' time is being taken by the Government, in my view invidiously, until the Summer Recess, and so these matters, which should be in the Gracious Speech, cannot be raised by any private Member. I hope that some means will be found of raising them so that justice can be done to Scotland.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Redmayne.]
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.