§ [FOURTH DAY]
Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [6th November]:
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.—[Mr. Vane.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ 11.25 a.m.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)
It is difficult to talk about the domestic problems raised by the Gracious Speech in view of the overshadowing tragic happenings of the last ten days. This morning I have seen photographs in the Daily Express of the blitzed Arab quarters at Port Said, and, as one of the representatives of the blitzed town of Southampton, I want to express my shame at the Government's action in Port Said. I am glad, however, that Her Majesty's Government have surrendered to world opinion, to outraged British opinion—[HON. MEMBERS:"No."]—and, I am afraid, have to some extent surrendered to the threats of armed intervention which the Soviet Union has made in these recent days.
I call the attention of the House to what is said in last Sunday's New York Times:London and Paris, it is agreed, must have foreseen the immediate consequences of their action—the estrangement of Washington, the weakening of the United Nations, the impairment of their own moral standing, the passionate response through Asia and Africa, and the propaganda opportunities afforded Moscow. All these results have come to pass.I would only add to the week's debate this morning one reference to world opinion. It comes in a letter to me from a British international civil servant somewhere in the Far East. He is a man whom I taught years ago, a man of character, a graduate—not a Socialist—doing fine work there on an international United Nations team. I do not give his 430 name, because he asked me not to. He says:We legitimately feel outraged by this monstrous action of Her Majesty's Government in Egypt—and let down to a degree which I would never have believed possible in the world today…We are a mixed community here—there are representatives of many nations. All are clear on the fact that the present act is an act of sheer lunacy…When I arrived here in January, I was conscious of a heritage of good will created by our magnificent action in India in 1947. I made friends with Indians, some of whom have said to me: You committed crimes in India, but politically your action was courageous and splendid. This goodwill is being squandered at a pace which leaves me breathless. And in places—like India, Ceylon, Burma and Indonesia—where it will most certainly be needed in the difficult times ahead.What a devil's cauldron has been stirred up by this Prime Minister, whom many of us admired for his great work year by year on behalf of Britain and on behalf of the United Nations—until last week he threw away his reputation in a few hours.
I am glad the Government boycotted the Russian celebrations of the Revolution. That night the Southampton Labour Party, an organisation representing some 18,000 organised workers in Southampton, unanimously adopted a resolution expressing its heartfelt sympathy with the people of Hungary in the suffering they are enduring in their desperate struggle to achieve national freedom and calling for the withdrawal of Soviet forces and for the setting up of a United Nations police force to superintend democratic elections there.
I hope that at long last the British Communists, many of whom are sincere, simple working-class rebels, are now going to throw off the shackles of Stalinism in their own movement in this country and join up with all decent British folk in condemning the beastly aggression of the Soviet Union—or that, if they do not, the workers of Britain are going to throw them out of every position they hold inside the workers' organisations.
I turn to the rest of the Gracious Speech. Once again I appeal on behalf of those who live on small fixed incomes, those just above the National Assistance line. Lord Beveridge helped to win social security for millions of Britons, but he failed to achieve it for himself. He has told us recently how his pension has shrunk to one-third of its value. There 431 must be a million people in Britain like him, for whom inflation has meant sheer misery, and for whom there is literally nothing to offset the rise in the cost of living.
When are this Government going to do something to implement their Election pledges to reduce the cost of living? As the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) pointed out earlier in this debate—and I pay tribute to him for his steady campaign, and also to the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) for hers—the policy of this Government, under whom the £ has dropped to about 16s., has included deliberate items such as the drop in food and housing subsidies, increased rents, the raising of interest rates and of the Purchase Tax on necessities; and now, added to these, there is the cost of the shameful Suez policy. They all add to the cost of living, and they are deliberate acts of the Government.
But if those on fixed incomes just above the National Assistance level are in a sorry plight, those on National Assistance level are in an equally grave position, and there are several millions of them. What is the pattern of their lives? They have a long struggle to get a rise in pension to offset the rise in the cost of living, but as soon as an increase is granted it is out of date and begins to lag behind again.
I believe, as has been pointed out by a Scottish friend earlier in this debate, that what we have to achieve for the pensioners and others on State relief is not merely a standard of living equal to that of the grim year just after the war, but that they should share to some extent in the increased production and wealth of Britain. So I would suggest quite simply that the Government scrap their rent proposals and introduce instead a Bill, which I am certain the Opposition would help to get through the House speedily, to tie State benefits to the cost of living. Then indeed the Government, then indeed all in the country whose actions contribute to the rise in the cost of living, will realise that if the cost of living rises the taxes they pay to support the old-age pensioners will also automatically have to rise, because the pensions will have been geared to the rise in the cost of living.
432 Instead of doing that, this Government steadily impose burdens on the poorest people in the country so that at this moment old-age pensioners' associations, those grand organisations of the old folk of the country, are now writing begging letters, which also make me ashamed of the Government, on a narrower issue, begging the Government that they will not increase the price of milk. I say quite seriously that this indeed is a Government of hard-faced men, even if they did not do well out of the war as the Tories did in 1918.
The Gracious Speech refers to a proposed Bill to make wage increases retrospective for certain State servants. I welcome this. Some of us will seek, when it goes to Committee, to extend its scope beyond the named State servants, to extend it to people like teachers and local government officers. Nobody likes retrospective legislation, but the recent police case goes to show that at present Governments have a vested interest in protracting wage negotiations, for by protracting them they can save some of the money which their public servants are demanding.
I support the demand made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ardwick (Mr. L. M. Lever) for the limbless ex-Service men. B.L.E.S.M.A. has been demanding for some time now an extra little amount for the limbless ex-Service men in their old age. As a man gets older the burden of doing without a limb becomes more grievous. The President of the Royal College of Surgeons has told the Minister so. A non-party Committee of the House has demanded this increase for nearly four years. We were fobbed off by the last Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, and we have been pressing now since last November the present Minister.
We accept the medical reports of the Minister's expert committees on the question of the old limbless. We are glad that these prove that the limbless men need not fear in their old age, any more than others, certain diseases, but we know that it is harder to be old and crippled than old and not crippled, and harder to be old and legless than to be young and legless, and let us remember that all of the ageing limbless ex-Service men were, just after the First World War, themselves then young legless ex-Service men.
433 Some of us are past pleading for this concession. We have attended year after year the annual conference of B.L.E.S.M.A. and seen these men in conference, conferences of crippled heroes, stating their case with moderation and justice, and yet, year by year, growing more and more bitter. Last November 200 hon. Members of this House gathered upstairs and unanimously supported the demand of the limbless ex-Service men. Some 300 signed a Motion put down on the Notice Paper last Session, also making this demand. If those hundreds of my hon. Friends and of hon. Members opposite are genuine in their support of the limbless ex-Service men we can compel this Government to concede—not an act of charity—an act of justice; hardly even justice, because nobody can give the disabled ex-Service man what he really deserves.
This campaign by B.L.E.S.M.A. has been throughout a non-party campaign, and I hope we shall always keep the disabled ex-Service men out of party politics, but the patience of those men, and the patience of those who signed that Motion, has come to an end, and I would urge the Government to meet the request, which has been argued sincerely, with moderation and with temperance, but with increasing bitterness, of the men who hobble about England because one day they stood between us and our first enemies from Germany.
I spoke earlier about the hardships of the poor, of those on small fixed incomes. I had hoped that the Gracious Speech would have contained a reference to the Government having had second thoughts about the extra prescription charges. I urge the Government not to increase the hardships of our poorest people by continuing their proposal made at the end of the last Session to increase the health charges. If they do I am certain we shall fight them tooth and nail.
Here I would say only two things. First, the increase in the prescription charges, and the charge for each thing on one prescription that a patient needs, throws a heavy burden upon the poorest. A millionaire can afford an extra 1s. or 2s. per prescription. It is the bottom 5 million of our people who will find this a burden. The other cruel feature 434 of the new proposal is that we now penalise a man according to his illness.
Some hon. Members will have seen recently a letter by a doctor in the Daily Telegraph who has catalogued illnesses by the cost of them, who said that the cost of a septic finger is 5s., of gout 1s., of diabetes 5s., of heart disease 1s. He ironically says he will have to diagnose his patients not according to their diseases but according to their wealth and social status, and that he will have to tell a man with expensive diabetes that he cannot have it, and that he had better have gout.
My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who is now in the United States of America or on his way there, passed to me before he left a letter from a friend of his, an old gentleman whose wife has had a severe stroke. He is one of these fixed-income pensioners about whom we have been speaking, and he writes:Queen's Nurses come to her twice a day and used on every occasion at least 5 medicaments:
In addition, because many internal organs are adversely affected, she needs daily four other medicines besides incidentals:
- Cotton Wool,
- Surgical Spirit,
- Zinc and Castor Oil Cream,
- Eye Drops.
- Paraffin Emulsion,
- Alternating medicines to check bladder infections,
- Myanesin tablets to prevent muscle cramp,
- Another tension-relaxing tablet to check continual strain.In the past twelve months I have spent more than £300 beyond income to provide essential domestic and nursing help. So that I view with absolute dismay the threat that I must perforce spend 9s. where 1s. has hitherto sufficed.Last week-end my own doctor, with whom I discussed this question, gave me some examples of prescriptions. For phlebitis, he was prescribing seven things; for tuberculosis, he was prescribing four things, and for pernicious anaemia, four things. He suggested that if the Government persist in imposing their new charges, at least chronic illnesses, disabilities comparable to those registered as disabilities under certain Acts dealing with disablement on the one hand and illnesses requiring a number of prescriptions on the other, might be exempted from the new payments.
435 The true answer, of course, is that what we want is for people to pay, not according to their illness, not according to whether theirs is a five-prescription disease or a one-prescription disease, but to pay according to their income. That is what happens under a free National Health Service. No charge is made to the patient and the cost is collected from the community according to the taxation system, which draws the bigger contribution from those who can most easily meet it. The real solution of the complicated problem of the health charges, therefore, is to get back to the free service and to scrap the charges altogether.
That, however, would mean the scrapping of the Government. Judging from their failure to help the poor, their double interference with school building programmes, their almost comic reference to education in the Gracious Speech, their abandonment of planned economy, their encouragement of greed and help-yourself throughout the country, the seeping away in recent days of their Ministers and back benchers and their shocking foreign policy, it seems clear that the best solution is to abandon the Gracious Speech altogether, to get a more responsible Government under my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and to ask him to write a new and better Speech.
§ 11.43 a.m.
§ Mr. Knox Cunningham (Antrim, South)
I want to raise a matter which might affect any Member of the House or any citizen in the Kingdom. It is a question of the right of shipowners to limit their liability under Statute. In practice, for any case of negligence by the servants of a shipowner, the liability can be limited. There is an exemption in cases where the damages are due to the shipowner's "actual fault or privity," but that is a difficult defence to raise and to my knowledge the last successful case of that kind was over five years ago.
In an Act of 1862, liability was fixed at £15 a ton, and out of that sum a figure of £7 a ton covers personal injuries and loss of life. That provision was repeated in the Act of 1894 and those figures of nearly one hundred years ago still apply today, when the value of money has greatly changed.
In the past six years, there has been assessed claims amounting to just under 436 £2 million, of which sums amounting to less than £400,000 have been allowed. The wrongdoer, therefore, has been relieved of four-fifths and the innocent party has received only one-fifth. That is not the whole picture, however, because a great number of actions are settled on the basis of the limit of liability and in a great number of cases limitation actions are not brought in court.
I am not concerned so much with property as with loss of life and personal injury. In cases involving property, it is usually a matter of one set of underwriters against another; there can be a matter of adjustment of premiums. In the case of dependants, there is no insurance. It is not unusual for a claim of, say, £5,000 to £7,000 by a widow and children for loss of life to be reduced to mere hundreds of pounds. It is not unusual for the wrongdoer to be relieved of nine-tenths and the innocent party to receive only one-tenth. This often happens in the case of a tug which capsizes when helping another vessel or when a small pleasure boats is run down and there is a heavy loss of life.
I understand that the trade unions, the shipowners and the insurers, who are the people who have to pay, are all agreed that these figures should be raised. There has been judicial comment and criticism of the present low figure. All those who practise in the courts believe that the amount should be raised. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, in answer to Questions in this House, agrees that the amounts need to be reconsidered.
The International Maritime Committee, whose work I greatly admire, at its meeting in Madrid, in September, 1955, agreed on a draft convention. I particularly welcome the recommendation contained therein that the figure should be based on a low limit of 300 tons. But that is only a draft convention. It has to be passed at an international conference; the convention must be ratified and legislation must be passed in this country. The last Maritime Convention of Brussels, in 1952, is not yet in force, although I understand that it is to come into operation at the beginning of next year. That represents an interval of over four years. I ask the Government, when is a convention to be held? Will it be next year? Even if it is next 437 year, shall we find that the matter is not put right until 1961 or 1962?
I ask the Government, not with any idea of prejudicing the international agreement—far from it—to introduce a one-Clause Bill to put the position right. It is not a party matter and all that is required is one Clause to raise the figures of £15 and £8 in Section 503 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, to higher figures and so to remove a great deal of the hardship which is suffered because of the existing low limit.
I believe that if the general public was aware of the shocking injustice which sometimes has to be decreed by the courts because of the Statute passed by Parliament many years ago, there would be a general outcry for its amendment. I hope that such an amending Measure may be one of those "other Measures" which, in the words of the Gracious Speech, will be before this House "in due course."
§ 11.48 a.m.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for giving me this the first opportunity of expressing my view in this debate. I desire to say a few words under that paragraph in the Gracious Speech which refers tothe grave situation in the Middle East.My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), whom I am sorry not to see here today, said these words in the debate last night:I regret that after 2,000 years of wandering, of the ghetto, the concentration camp and the gas chamber, the Jewish people have learned nothing."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th November, 1956; Vol. 560, c. 358.]I regret exceedingly that a remark of such a kind should have fallen from someone on this side of the House. I am amazed at it, and I am perfectly certain that such a remark and such a view is not shared by any considerable number of hon. Members.
I want to say immediately that what the Jews have learned is that they are not going to be trampled down but, with a home of their own, they will stand up with dignity and courage and will defeat, as they have shown they can do, their would-be oppressors. I cannot subscribe to any suggestion that Israel, in any sense of the term, can be described as an aggressor.
438 The Foreign Secretary, with much of whose speeches I have disagreed and do disagree, put this question:If a man has said that he is going to cut one's throat, is it an act of aggression if one knocks the knife out of his hand? "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th October, 1956; Vol. 558, c. 1379.]I agree with that, but what a pity it was not said before on the other side of the House.
How hypocritical is the Government's attitude when one thinks of their previous conduct towards Israel. I should like to deal with this in particular in view of the laughter that greeted some questions put by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition this morning about guarantees for Israel. How hypocritical when one remembers the Government's, failure to take action on the Resolution of the United Nations in connection with the denial of passage through the Canal to the ships of Israel.
A strong case can be made out for showing that Israel acted in self-defence. She has been living on the edge of a volcano for years. She was faced by the threat of her neighbours. In the words of Nasser,Egypt refuses to admit the existence of Israel.Egypt maintained a blockade against the trade of Israel through the Canal. Israel had to face the growing strength of Egypt, the establishment of the joint military command between Egypt, Jordan and Syria, and the continued guerilla raids, all of them with the avowed object to exterminate her. She made repeated appeals to the United Nations without avail. What was she to do? Wait to be destroyed or act as she did in self-defence?
In the words of Ben Gurion,After eight years of terror, threats, boycott and blockade, we see it our duty to ensure the safety of our citizens.Who can find fault with those words, and who can blame Israel for that declaration and for what she did? I am glad to see also that as proof of the sincerity of Israel comes the latest declaration by Ben Gurion that Israel is ready to obey the United Nations. I say, therefore, that a strong case can be made out that Israel acted in self-defence.
Whilst putting that view forward, bluntly and utterly condemning Nasser's 439 conduct and policy, I say that there is no justification for the Government's action in resorting to armed force. What I do not like, and what I think to a large extent shows hypocrisy, is the Government's attempt to rely on Israel's case as justification for their own action. It does nothing of the sort. The Government's previous conduct completely belies such a claim. The Prime Minister was responsible for alarm and despondency in Israel when he made his Guildhall speech in November last year. That speech directly led to greater re-arming on the part of Israel.
Her Majesty's Government took no action about the failure to allow Israeli ships to pass through the Canal and the implementation in any shape or form of the United Nations Resolution condemning Egypt. This country made no response to the repeated request on this side of the House to help Israel by supplying arms. Again and again from this side of the House the view was put forward that there ought to be a treaty with Israel and a much stronger guarantee of her position.
When a deputation from the National Executive of the Labour Party in April of this year went to see the Foreign Secretary with a specific request that something should be done to assist Israel in her position, it was met with a blank refusal. When, for a similar reason, the National Executive made representations to the Foreign Secretary in July, it was again met with a blank refusal. Therefore, it is the depth of hypocrisy on the part of the Government to pretend that their action was taken for the sake of Israel.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
Among the representations we made was one for the establishment of an international police force there.
§ Mr. Weitzman
Yes. I am obliged to my right hon. Friend. It must be made abundantly clear that again and again on this side of the House repeated requests have been made for assistance for Israel and for guarantees and for the action which my right hon. Friend has just mentioned, which would have prevented the present situation. It is really monstrous that the Government who took that unfriendly attitude towards Israel should now turn round and pretend that 440 the action they have taken is in any shape or form for the sake of Israel.
The Government purport to be justified in resorting to armed force because British shipping and lives were in danger. Obviously, in the words of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, that was the flimsiest possible excuse. Britain and France quite patently took the opportunity of doing what they desired to do before but which they were forced by world public opinion to recognise they were not justified in doing—namely, seize the Canal. This was a bare-faced excuse to seize the Canal. Their reference to the Suez Canal problem in the telegram sent by this country to the Secretary-General of the United Nations shows that. Again, in the first broadcast made by the Allied Command to the Egyptians, these words were used:Oh Egyptians, why has this befallen you? First, because Abdul Nasser went mad and seized the Suez Canal.Let the Government be honest about this. Let them admit that the real reason for that action was that they wanted to secure settlement of the Suez problem by force of arms. That they were not entitled to do. That, clearly, was a breach of the Charter for which they have been rightly condemned by world opinion.
The tragedy was that as a result of what they did the Soviet Union, guilty of the most horrible happenings in Hungary, was put in the position of lecturing this country and sending the message of which we all know. The Government say that they acted as a fire brigade in the Middle East. I hope that they will not be held guilty of arson, because clearly they have increased the danger of a world conflagration. I am happy to hear the news this morning. I hope that at last the Government have seen reason. If they have, it will be due, in my view, to the energy of the campaign on the part of hon. Members on this side of the House, together with others, to make the Goevrnment realise the true position.
We were the moral leaders of the world. We have proudly in former times held up our heads in support of the rule of law. The Government's action has done a good deal to forfeit that position. I only hope that at long last we can make some effort to retrieve the position by ceasing to defy the United Nations 441 decisions, by helping willingly and without conditions to carry out those decisions, and toy bringing all the resources of ourselves and of the Commonwealth to the assistance of the United Nations.
§ 12.1 p.m.
§ Mr. John Howard (Southampton, Test)
I should like to refer first of all to some of the comments which the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) made about the Israel question. Let me say at the outset that I found initially that I could go some way with him. I too hold the view that Israel took action to defend herself. She was ringed round by bitter opponents, and Nasser had expressed his determination to exterminate the State of Israel. Therefore, the action which Israel took was merely action to prevent the noose from closing round her neck.
I hope also that when representations are made to the United Nations concerning the future frontiers of Israel, she will be given frontiers which she is capable of defending, and that we shall remove that source of irritation from the relationship between Israel and the Arab States, such as the open border; however, I had better not go into details because, obviously, this is the subject of negotiation, but it is a fact that the difficulties of maintaining the Israeli frontiers have been a major factor in destroying any hope of happy relations between Israel and her Arab neighbours.
I must join issue with the hon. and learned Member on his contention that the Government relied on Israel's case to justify the action which we have taken in the Middle East. It has been made quite clear by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister from the commencement that we went into Suez to prevent hostilities, to stop the war between Egypt and Israel. In that we have succeeded. The war has been ended. Egyptian forces have withdrawn to the west of the Suez Canal, and we were glad to learn today that the Israeli forces are to be withdrawn from the Sinai peninsula.
It is also quite wrong to suggest that the whole excuse for our action was that we wanted to seize the Canal. It has been emphasised time and again that the Government's purpose in intervening was 442 to prevent the Israeli-Egyptian conflict from becoming a general conflict throughout the Middle East. It seems from the disclosures of Russia's recent intervention and the disclosure concerning the arms which have been found in the Sinai Desert and in Egypt, that we probably forestalled the plans which Russia had for infiltrating into the Middle East.
I suggest to the hon. and learned Gentleman that he will do this country no good by making allegations to the effect that we wanted to seize the Canal, and if he takes the long-term view, he will do no good to his party when the public have an opportunity of viewing these events in proper perspective in the future.
It is not very often that the two hon. Members for Southampton, the hon. Member for Itchen (Dr. King) and myself, have an opportunity of speaking in this House on the same morning. I had hoped that when he was referring to home affairs I would be able to go a long way with him, but his peroration, I am afraid, completely destroyed any hope that I had that we might find some degree of unanimity.
I can, however, support the hon. Gentleman in his expression of sympathy with the Hungarian people. It is a useful comparison between the attitude and the methods employed by Russia and ourselves if we contrast the situation in Hungary with the two paragraphs in the Gracious Speech dealing with the setting up of the self-governing State of Ghana in West Africa and the constitution of a. British Caribbean Federation. It shows the marked difference between the way in which we do things in the British Commonwealth and the way in which Russia conducts her relationships with the satellite States.
I do not think that I should involve myself deeply in the debate on the Middle East this morning, when a calmer atmosphere appears to be prevailing. I should, however, like to say that the present trend of events clearly justifies the action which the Government have taken. We have caused a cease-fire in Egypt. We have persuaded the United Nations to take action and to introduce a police force in the Middle East with the prospect of some permanent settlement being achieved in that area by the introduction of the United Nations Force.
443 It is idle to suggest, as many hon. Members have suggested, that that force would have been set up had we not taken determined action. Our experience of the United Nations in the past has shown that that organisation must be galvanised into action, and that was the effect of the Government's determined and courageous policy in Suez.
In my constituency we have seen a good deal of the build-up of forces in the Middle East, and in paying a tribute to those forces and to the magnificent job which they have done I think everyone in this House would also like to pay a tribute to the skilful and diligent work which was done in the docks of Southampton in arranging for the transport of those forces and equipment to the Middle East—work, incidentally, which was performed without any interruption of the considerable traffic which is always flowing through the docks.
Perhaps I may move on to other topics, from the Middle East to another paragraph in the Gracious Speech which deals with the lending powers of the National Film Finance Corporation and the film levy. It probably seems a far cry from Suez to Diana Dors, but it is a remarkable thing that films are so much a part of our national life that even under the stress and strain of the last fortnight it has been possible for the newspapers to find quite a prominent position on their front pages for news of the difficulties which that lady is at present experiencing. That fact is an indication of the important part which films play not only in our lives but in explaining to other countries the British way of life and the British attitude and point of view.
I consider that it is of the utmost importance that we should be widely understood, and at the same time I should emphasise that films can play a most important part in creating that understanding. It is, therefore, most satisfactory to note that:Steps will be taken to continue the lending powers of the National Film Finance Corporation and to substitute a statutory levy on exhibitors for the present voluntary levy.I am glad that the levy, together with further finance from the National Film Finance Corporation, will be available to film producers so that they may plan their productions well in advance. A film takes some time to conceive and plan before it 444 can even be put on the stage at the film studios. It is only by giving proper notice that the legislation is to be continued and the levy is to be put on a more permanent basis that film producers can go ahead in making plans.
Hon. Members might reasonably ask why the film industry needs a levy of this sort, and also why it needs Government finance through the National Film Finance Corporation. The answer is that, very few British films, even those of the highest quality and those with star appeal, can possibly earn their cost on the home market, and when they are sent abroad they have to compete with the same films, usually manufactured by the Americans, against which they are competing at home.
The standards of costs are those adopted by the American industry. We hear of film stars earning enormous salaries, but those salaries are the evaluation of their work by the American industry, and if we are not to lose the services of our better stars, we must obviously be prepared to compete with the Americans in terms of salary.
A famous actor once told me that when he was given a script he was not terribly concerned about the film or the content of the script, but merely asked the three questions "Where?," "When?" and "How much?." That actor has been able to enjoy a long life on the stage and the screen, but who can blame some of the shooting stars of the film profession who seek to exploit their earning capacity while they are still popular with the public?
It is because of the earning capacity of stars and of film directors that we find that the cost of films in this country is such that they cannot normally earn sufficient from exhibition here and in limited markets abroad to meet their costs.
I have here some figures from the case submitted by the industry to the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time of the last Budget. It was very clear that the 134 films which were returned between March, 1953, and June, 1955, the cost of which was nearly £13 million, after allowing for the subsidy from the British Film Producers Fund, which is the levy about which we are talking, incurred a net loss of more than £1 million. The income actually received from the 445 134 films was over £3 million less than the cost of production of the films It was only after providing for the levy that the loss was reduced to more reasonable proportions.
The trade feels that the levy should be kept up and that, now that it is on a statutory basis, part of any variations in the entertainments tax—by "variations" I mean "reductions"—should be applied in stepping up the film levy and, in consequence, the payments to film producers through the British Film Producers Fund.
There is, however, one disturbing factor arising from the allocation of the levy. More and more American production companies have been formed in this country, and they benefit from the film levy in the same way as British companies do. Being companies registered in this country, they enjoy the privileges not only of quota but of finance through the National Film Finance Corporation and the levy.
When the levy was initially agreed to, the British film industry was certainly under the impression that the voluntary levy would be applied to the production of British films by wholly British companies. No one disputes that the Americans, by going into production here, are providing employment for British artists and film technicians, but it is to the furtherance of the British film made by British companies using British capital and expressing the British way of life that we must look if we are to explain our position abroad. It is rather anomalous to find that American companies are sharing in the levy on an equal basis with British companies. I hope the matter will be carefully examined to ascertain whether some method can be devised to secure that a greater proportion of the fund is applied to British companies.
I turn now to the British Transport Commission. I am pleased that the Gracious Speech anticipates that legal effect will be given to the proposal arising from the review which the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation has recently conducted into the finance of the railways and that the Minister is proposing to take action to bring the railways up to date and make them efficient.
I hope that, in infusing these new funds into the railways, my right hon. Friend 446 will not overlook the roads. If we are to compete with foreign countries, and particularly if we are to go further with the suggestion for a common market in Western Europe, it is extremely important that our transport costs should be kept to a minimum so that they shall not become too high a percentage of the cost of the goods which we are trying to export. If it is found that the railways do not respond to the provision of new capital, we should consider whether that money could not be better employed in improving our roadways.
I now refer to two pledges contained in the Gracious Speech which were given by Ministers in the last Session. The first concerns police pay. I am very glad that we are losing no time whatever in introducing legislation to make the pay increases retrospective.
The second pledge refers to the incidence of the rates burden. The Minister of Housing and Local Government gave an undertaking to chambers of commerce that he would examine the incidence of rates and report his findings. He has undertaken in the Gracious Speech to do this. It is particularly important that commerce and industry should know his conclusions. Rates are an important fixed expense in most businesses, and, if industrialists are to plan ahead they must know at the earliest possible date what the Government's intentions are about the relationship of rates as between one type of property and another.
To conclude on a personal note, I welcome the Homicide Bill. I was one of those who signed the original requisition asking for Government time for the Bill sponsored by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). I did so because I felt that the law relating to murder needed reform. Unfortunately, I was unable to go as far as the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne and his hon. Friends in supporting complete abolition, and, in consequence, I found myself voting throughout for the retention of the death penalty, whereas my views were, in fact, inclined towards a variation. The present Bill conforms to my views, and I know it conforms to the views of a number of my hon. Friends. I am glad the Government are bringing the Bill forward so quickly.
§ 12.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
I wish to say a few words on the subject of education and to begin by referring to a circular issued in the last two days by the Ministry of Education to local authorities. It is called "Oil and Petrol Supplies," and therefore has some connection with the serious events we have been discussing during most of this debate.
It is known that among the objectives of the Government in their adventure were the overthrow of the Government of Colonel Nasser, the occupation of the Canal Zone, the ensuring of the free passage of troops through the Canal and the safeguarding of oil supplies to this country. The Prime Minister, the Minister of Defence and the Minister of Fuel and Power have recently acquainted us with the resounding degree of success that has attended the Government in their attempt to attain those objectives, and in this circular we have part of the bill for the Government's adventure. It is, of course, only a very small part.
If a number of school children are conveyed by public transport to school it may be necessary to adjust the hours of schools opening and closing in order that more of them may use public transport. I hope that all hon. Members who have voted for the Government's policy will confine themselves to public transport during the next few months.
§ Mr. Stewart
Where oil-burning systems are installed for heating schools it is recommended that they be turned off at the weekends, and also possibly an hour before the school closes in the afternoon. The pious hope is expressed that once this has been done the school will still be at a reasonable temperature on Monday morning. I do not know whether a similar device will be used either in this House or, again, in the private houses of hon. Members who voted for the policy of the Government.
Where domestic hot water is heated, directly or indirectly, by oil-fired boilers the supply may have to be reduced. It may be necessary to cut off shower baths for one, two or even more days a week. Of course it has been a well-held doctrine of the party opposite for many years that the working classes are unacquainted 448 with the proper use of a bath, though I am bound to say that I have never yet met anybody who managed to keep coals in a shower bath. However, the shower baths apparently are to be cut off. Again, let us hope that a similar restraint on hot water will be exercised by Ministers and hon. Members who have supported the Government in their policy of ensuring the free flow of oil to this country.
I shall say no more now about the Middle Eastern matter, but it really is remarkable that, whenever for any reason anything has to be cut, one cannot but unwillingly admire the speed with which the Government find out how to apply those economies to education.
§ Dr. Donald Johnson (Carlisle)
May I ask the hon. Gentleman if the Leader of the Opposition has not endorsed the policy of the restriction of baths?
§ Mr. Stewart
Of course we must have restriction now. All I am saying is that now the Government have seriously endangered the supply of oil to this country we must all help to pay for their follies. That is part of the trouble.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) has spoken for the disabled. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) will plead the case of the old. For the moment I speak for the young. We can be quite sure that it will be the old, the young, the sick, the disabled—generally the defenceless—to whom the Government will try to present the major part of the bill.
There are certain other references to education in the Gracious Speech. For instance, the Government hope to carry on with their plans for technical education, and we had a moderately helpful reply from the Minister stating certain steps that had been taken. Here may I say that I appreciate the presence of the Minister of Education in the House this morning? This has been an unusual debate and it must be difficult for Ministers to known when any particular topic is to be raised and to be present. I am only sorry that I have not kinder things to say to the right hon. Gentleman about the position to which he is reduced by the action of his colleagues.
We are likely in the near future to be faced with further rises in costs, and they are likely ultimately to be reflected in 449 rises in building costs and so in a general difficulty about carrying out the building programme. Therefore, I want to put again to the Minister a point which I made when we debated the White Paper on Technical Education. Ought not the figure of £70 million, which is the capital building programme for technical education for the next five years, to be regarded as meaning at least what £70 million worth of building would have meant when that White Paper was issued? I am afraid that if it is merely to mean the figure of money, by the time it has all been spent it will mean substantially less.
Then we have to consider that the number of children of secondary school age is now beginning to increase, and therefore within a measureable distance of time the number of young people leaving school will be growing rapidly, so there will be a bulge of adolescents rather than a bulge of school children.
There is a field where we must endeavour to get some expansion of technical education. If only the same proportion of young people who leave school at the age of 15 or so carry on with part-time education as do at present then in a few years' time the absolute number of young people taking part-time day education after leaving school will begin to grow considerably; and if, as should happen under our general programme for technical education referred to in the Gracious Speech, the proportion of young people taking part-time day education after they have left school grows, then there will be an even bigger growth in the absolute number.
This means that the Government will have to take in hand now the question of where are both the buildings and the instructors coming from for that steadily growing number of young people taking part-time day education after they have left school. I do not think that either the school building programme or the technical education building programme, as at present announced, will be sufficient to cover that field among the many others that have to be covered.
The other matter referred to in the Gracious Speech in connection with education is that of buildings. The phrase is:They will also continue to give a high place in the building programme to new schools.450 If the word "continue" means that the Government will show the same enthusiasm for schools in the building programme in the future as in the past, it will not cause any great rejoicing amongst those interested in education. In fact, not long ago we had announcements from the Minister which practically froze the building programme to a figure of between £45 million and £50 million a year during the next three years.
On that basis no real progress can be made in reducing the size of classes in secondary schools in the next five years, and more than half our secondary school children will have to be educated in classes that are above what is considered to be the proper maximum. So, unless there is a very different attitude to the building programme from that expressed in the Gracious Speech and in previous statements made by the Government, there is no real prospect of that being remedied for at least five years. What, too, about old and out-of-date schools? There seems to be no prospect of any considerable programme of building to replace buildings which, by common consent, are unfit for educational purposes.
Finally a word about the supply of teachers. I have suggested repeatedly to the Minister that it would be a good thing if there were more provision in training colleges, and the right hon. Gentleman has repeatedly replied to me that it is too late to make that provision now. Previously, it is true, he had a situation where there were more applicants trying to get in than there was room for, but now, if I follow his argument, he says in effect—
§ Mr. Stewart
I have repeatedly been assured by the Minister or by his Parliamentary Secretary that it is too late now to increase the number of places in training colleges. It is suggested that training colleges should try to pack themselves as tightly as they can. We would not dispute the necessity for that; but the Minister has rejected the proposal that one ought to consider an increase in the actual number of colleges, or the amount of extensions to colleges.
I would ask him to consider this point: if, in five years from now, he is to get 451 rid of the oversized classes in the primary and secondary schools, I estimate that he will need, at the very least, 40,000 more teachers—and that is only on the assumption that all the teachers obligingly turn up in those areas where they are most needed, and teach those subjects which are most needed.
§ Sir D. Eccles
The hon. Member knows that at the moment the increase in the teacher force is 7,000 a year, so that five years would give him 35,000 of his 40,000.
§ Mr. Stewart
I was coming to that. I mentioned 40,000 as the barest minimum on the assumption that the teachers turn up where they are wanted and teach the subjects which are wanted—and that the total supply of entrants is divided between primary and secondary school teachers in the right proportion. It would in fact be well above my 40,000. In any case, five sevens do not bring us up to a total of forty, although they go a considerable way towards it.
If the proposals for three-year training are introduced, that will reduce for a time the annual inflow into the teaching profession. Ultimately this bulge in the schools will mean a bulge in the number of pupils at about the age when they are considering whether or not to enter the teaching profession. There will be a larger reservoir on which to draw. By that time at least there should be more training colleges into which they could go. Further, my most conservative estimate of 40,000 is based merely upon the reduction of over-sized classes; it holds out no prospect whatever of our being able to raise the school-leaving age or make further people available for various forms of part-time education.
About two years ago the Minister made a speech which was widely interpreted in the more optimistic section of the Press as being an invitation to local authorities to consider their priorities. It was wondered whether they would consider reducing the size of classes, or perhaps raise the school-leaving age. These were among all the bright prospects open to them when they came to make their choice. At the moment they will be lucky 452 if they can make a serious dent in the problem of the oversized class.
What is worrying me, both about school building and the supply of teachers, is that as the Government are at present intentioned there seems little prospect of doing more than remedy the admitted very grave defects in our educational system. It does not appear that we shall be able to make any real progress in regard to the length of time spent at school or the quality of education—and that is happening at a time when private industry is realising the desperate importance of better educational opportunities in the private and independent schools, to which about 5 per cent. of our children go.
One of the drawbacks of having a Conservative Government is that they must regard it as part of their duty to see that public education is always kept at any rate some degree inferior to independent, private education.
§ Sir D. Eccles indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Stewart
That is what is happening, although the Minister may disown it. If the State were prepared to assist scientific education in the schools on a proportionate scale to that which is being offered to independent schools by industry it would be a different story. Our party is sometimes accused of wanting to level down and not level up. Let us adopt a process of levelling up in education. Let us say that the first use of our national resources shall be to improve the worst parts of our whole educational system until they are all almost as good as can be obtained anywhere. We should make it clear that the schools which have the smallest classes must not expect anything extra until the less fortunate are levelled up. Let us agree to a levelling up to the required standard. Do not let us have this continuing position in which the nation's own schools are seriously inferior, in material and measurable things, to the more privileged schools, with the general trend of Government policy to keep them in that position.
§ Sir D. Eccles
As I understand hon. member, he is saying that it is wrong for industry to contribute this very substantial sum of money for science blocks in the independent schools.
§ Sir D. Eccles
That is what the hon. Gentleman said. He also said that we on the Government side are not trying to push, as fast we can, the science facilities in secondary schools. I can assure him that we have done a very great deal, and we intend to do a very great deal more, but we are grateful to industry for blazing the trial.
§ 12.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris (Nantwich)
I am sure that the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) will forgive me if I do not follow him closely in the subject which he has been discussing. I want to say something about another branch of our education problem of which, unfortunately, there was no mention in the Gracious Speech. I should like to join with the hon. Member in thanking my right hon. Friend very warmly for being here to listen to what we have to say this morning, in spite of his many and pressing preoccupations at present.
I want to talk for a few minutes about the voluntary schools and the very pressing problem which they have. I shall be speaking in particular about the Roman Catholic schools, but anything I say applies equally to any Church of England school, or any voluntary school of any other denomination. The whole question of continuing the voluntary school system is becoming more and more difficult, owing almost entirely to the rising costs since the passing of the Butler Act of 1944.
Although there is a tendency for Catholics and non-Catholics alike to think that this problem is really a question of £ s. d., because of the great difficulty of obtaining money to get on with the building programme, it seems to me desirable to state very briefly what are the real objects of voluntary education, and what a great benefit they can be to the nation. I should like to quote a definition of Catholic education given by Mr. Evennett, in his little book "The Catholic Schools of England and Wales." He says:If education is what remains after we have forgotten all we learnt at school, the quintessential left by a Catholic education is the lasting consciousness of the fact and the meaning of death. Catholic children are brought up to consider death not as some unhappy, inexplicable fatality which blots the fair cosmic 454 landscape, and the mention of which embarrasses their elders, but as the appointed gateway to the next life through which all must pass at some moment not of their own choosing.I think that most people would agree that that description is a fair definition. I do not think that anyone would really quarrel with a further definiton of the last Pope, when he defined the product of Catholic education as thetrue and finished man of character; the supernatural man who thinks, judges and acts constantly and consistently in accordance with right reason illumined by the supernatural light of the example and teaching of Jesus Christ.
§ Dr. King
I will not interfere with the case which the hon. Member is presenting, except to ask him to accept the assurance that with regard to State schools—that is, non-voluntary schools—under the 1944 Education Act the act of worship and Christian teaching has become written into the law of the land, and all he said about the moral and spiritual aims of the Catholic community is embodied in the State system of education.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris
Yes, that may be so, but the fact remains that today we are faced with a general decline in morality, which I think is due to the fact that there has not been, even under the 1944 Act, enough moral teaching about religion in our schools in general.
We know, everybody knows—we Catholics do not make any claim to be the only people who feel these things—that there are a great many thoughtful men concerned with the problems of education. Particularly would I recommend to those who have not actually read it the introduction to the Norwood Committee's Report which deals with Christian education in a most understanding manner. Speaking of the necessity of equiping a child to lead a good life, it says:…but our belief is that education from its own nature must be ultimately concerned with values which are independent of time or particular environment, though realisable under changing forms in both, and therefore that no programmes of education which concern themselves only with relative ends and the immediate adaptation of the individual to existing surroundings can be acceptable.Here, then, is a body of expert educationalists saying that education is concerned with the ultimate end of man, 455 and with fixed standards both intellectually and morally.
Lord Bryce—I am sure he will be remembered by many interested in education, both in this House and outside—was once asked, "What do you think would be the effect of the disappearance of religious education from the schools?" He replied, "I cannot answer that till three generations have passed." What he would have said now, when three generations of undenominational religious instruction have nearly run their course, would be interesting to know. I think I have said enough to outline our attitude towards the Catholic schools and the voluntary system. I think Catholic parents, or Church of England parents for that matter, who take a full part in national life should have the right to educate their children in their own beliefs. That is a view which I think is widely held.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris
In these times, as the Ministry of Education has admitted in its own publications, it is essential to maintain a sense of true values and to give children a stable and sure moral background in this rapidly changing world. This is precisely what the voluntary schools are doing, and it is, surely, odd that they should be financially prevented from performing a function which the majority of educationists recognise as necessary.
In this connection it is interesting to see what Professor Brugman of the Dutch Reformed Church—I am sure hon. Gentlemen opposite will agree that that is far removed from the Catholic community—had to say when addressing the Second Conference of the "Union Internationale pour la Liberté d' Enseignment"— I am sorry but I cannot translate that. I have several times had a shot at it, but it does not translate very well. Professor Brugman said:I believe we have reached the heart of the problem of education: for the choice of school is—or ought to be—a choice founded on principle, a choice in which the person choosing is committed, with all the spiritual, social and civic responsibility that that implies. Face to face with conscience, the State must yield and hold itself in check, on pain of being totalitarian either openly or furtively. Its only duty is to make an honest and effective choice materially possible. It is an anti-democratic 456 phenomenon, appropriate only to Fascism or Communism, for a loyal citizen, who pays his rates and taxes like any one else, to be unable in the normal course of events to secure the education he wants for his children.I believe that the majority of people, in this House and outside, would wholeheartedly agree with the professor, but certain difficulties arise in the application of these principles and I will venture upon the stony ground of finance. The statistics in all these matters are very complex—no one knows that better than hon. Gentlemen opposite—and I cannot take the time of the House by going into them in detail. They are very interesting, none the less, and they show how we Catholics have loyally played our part in carrying out the financial terms of the Butler Act, under which it was estimated that our commitments would amount to £9 million for the reorganisation of existing schools—a burden that we could not easily shoulder.
In fact, they have now gone up far beyond this figure, and the effect has been to bring our total commitments, both for reorganisation and for new schools, to something well over £60 million, without—and this is a very important point-including interest charges. This is a burden which the Catholic community of some 4 million souls cannot support. Hon. Members will appreciate that whatever is spent on voluntary schools by private persons means that the Government do not have to find that money, because a child has to be educated somewhere; everyone agrees about that.
At the moment, owing to Treasury restrictions, we are unable to borrow from the banks, and so we cannot continue to meet our liabilities under the 1944 Act. Perhaps the Treasury in its wisdom realises that before long something drastic will have to be done. I hope so. But we are being driven irresistibly to the conclusion that there will have to be a completely new approach to the whole matter, and before very long, if our voluntary school system is to survive. I most firmly believe that this survival is generally desirable. In fact, I know this to be so from talks I have had with right hon. and hon. Members of all denominations on both sides of the House, and with others outside this House as well. Therefore, I earnestly beg the Minister to consider the fact that a new approach to this subject will have to be made.
§ 12.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
During the past ten days we have been sailing through tempestuous seas and stormy weather, but at last our ship has arrived in what I would describe as the placid atmosphere of a Friday debate. I sometimes think that the debates on Friday are more useful for the general good of the people than the debates which take place on preceding days. I know that the events in the Middle East have overshadowed all things and we have not had the time to debate this Gracious Speech in the normal way, which is rather a pity, because there are so many problems on the home front which require attention. But they have been blotted out by the happenings in the Middle East.
Along with other right hon. and hon. Members I had the privilege of listening to the Gracious Speech. I have also had an opportunity to give some thought to it and read it. I discovered that it was the intention of the Government to bring forward, during the present Session, legislation to deal with the damage caused by mining subsidence. I suggest such legislation, which I hope will be high on the list, is long overdue. It will be of great benefit to those right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who happen to have the misfortune, or perhaps the good fortune, to live in or to represent mining areas.
If the House will pardon me I will make a personal reference. Damage from mining subsidence has been with me since I was cradled. It was in my village when I was born. I have lived there 70 years, and it is still there. The roadway where I have lived for the last 25 years has sunk fifteen feet. Any hon. Member can visualise what that means in a mining district in the upset of water mains, gas mains, sewers and other public services. In our mining villages in the north-west of England and in the valleys of South Wales, men who produce the wealth of the country live in terrible conditions because of mining subsidence.
I am delighted to see the Minister of Fuel and Power in his place on the Government Front Bench. Lest I should forget to do so, let me now express my appreciation. I always give credit where credit is due. I may not agree with all the points of view which the right hon. Gentleman puts forward, but I express my gratitude and appreciation to him and 458 to the Minister of Housing and Local Government that at last they are fulfilling the promise they made in the early part of this year, I believe it was in January that representations were made to them about mining subsidence. They said that at the earliest opportunity they would bring forward a Measure to help districts damaged by mining subsidence.
I thank them very much. I hope that they will keep plodding on and will bring forward this Measure quickly and that it will be a very generous Measure indeed. We have a lot of arrears to make up of damage done down the years. I hope that we shall see a generous contribution from the Government towards this important matter.
I would refer briefly to two local authorities in my division, in which I have seven urban district councils. Every one of them is suffering from damage caused by mining subsidence, some in a small way and others in a large way. The urban district of Ashton-in-Makerfield has a population of 19,260, mostly of industrial workers, and an acreage of 6,267. The Ashton council decided some time ago to install a public swimming bath, an essential amenity in an industrial area. Within a few years that swimming bath was rent from top to bottom and from side to side. Now it is out of commission. The damage was brought about by mining subsidence. In the same district are three sewage works, all out of commission as a result of mining subsidence.
The Ince urban district has a population of more than 20,000. Every building site in that district of 2,328 acres is now built up and there is a waiting list of more than 500 for houses. The council can build no more houses because it has no more building sites, a regrettable state of affairs causing not only headaches, but heartaches. The few sites that are vacant in the district are either subsiding or are liable to subsidence. What can we do?
I would ask the Minister of Housing and Local Government: what step would he take in a position like that to assist the housing problem of that authority? There is no land. We are almost hopeless and are beginning to feel as Dante felt to Beatrice, that we must "abandon all hope" for the housing of our people. It is a terrible position. I 459 speak in this strain because for 25½ years I was a member of a local authority, and I know the difficulties, problems and financial burdens that press upon local authorities. I pay my tribute to the men and women on our local authorities who give their time, talent and service for the good of the community. The least we can do in this House is to help them in the work that they voluntarily do for the good of the people.
I welcome the proposal in the Gracious Speech for legislation at an early date to help local authorities with these problems. I am not unmindful of what was done in 1950 and 1951. That was a great step forward. At that time, when the Turner Commission was sitting, we tried to embrace all local authorities within the provisions for compensation for mining subsidence. That scheme is coming along now very nicely, and I hope nothing will prevent the Government from introducing legislation as speedily and as generously as possible to give hope and succour to these poor, unfortunate local authorities.
However much we may think of the expense that may be involved, let us remember, whatever our political philosophy, that it is in the subsidence areas that much of the country's wealth is made. What would be the position of the country without the production of coal? I know that oil is essential, but coal is the bloodstream of our economy. It is our job, however distasteful it may appear sometimes, to see that the men who produce the wealth are compensated as they ought to be.
I have expressed my appreciation; now I express my profound regret that I fail to discover in the Gracious Speech any reference to improving the social and economic conditions of old-age pensioners and people in the lower income groups. I am delighted to see on duty on the Front Bench the hon. Lady who is Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance. I am sorry that other members of that Department are not there. I am delighted also that there is some reference to social and working conditions of those employed in offices and shops.
I come back to the important question of old-age pensioners and those in lower income groups. I suggest very strongly that something should be done to bring 460 some succour, some hope and help, to those people on the borderline of poverty. This section of the community is crying out for help in dire need. Last night a number of hon. Members had the pleasure of meeting a deputation representing almost I million old-age pensioners. What is their cry? It was that so strong had been representations of old-age pensioners that the deputation was compelled to seek the assistance of hon. Members for the old folk. On Tuesday next there is to be a great rally in Westminster Hall in order to try to impress the Government on the importance of doing something to help the old folks.
I hope we shall bear in mind that the number of old-age pensioners is on the increase; it is not a diminishing number. We have to face that. I do not underestimate the problem, but if we are worth our salt we shall face it. Look at the figures for the last three years. In 1953 there were 4,653,000 in receipt of pensions. In 1954 that number had gone up to 4,750,000, and in 1955 it was 4,834,000. It will be seen that there has been an increase in the number of pensioners over three years of 181,000.
I am fully aware of the economic position of the country and that some things have to wait. We all admit that, but the question is the degree of priority. Some things have to wait, but when it is a question of the suffering of human beings, that cannot wait. That ought to be priority No. 1. A great Prime Minister said:How we treat our old people is a crucial test of our national quality. A nation which lacks gratitude to those who have worked for her in the past while they had the strength to do so does not deserve a future for she has lost her sense of justice and her instinct of mercy.Later in his life he said:A nation only finds its soul when it cares for its aged and its infirm.Those words were spoken by the late Lloyd George when he was Prime Minister. He was pleading at that time for something to be done for the old people. In my humble way I have always maintained that it is the duty of every citizen to do his or her best for the country and for the industry in which he lives and works. That has been my philosophy. I was trained in that school of thought. They having done their best for industry and the State in which they live, it is the duty of the industry and the State to protect them from poverty, want and starvation.
461 Can anyone on either side of the House challenge that philosophy? Our job is to do the best we can for our old people. As I see the picture, I do not feel we are doing our best today. We have done a lot, but we are not doing as much as we ought. Therefore. I make my plea to the different Government Departments whose responsibility it is to apply their minds to the great problem of the ever-increasing number of old people in poor circumstances. I do not underestimate the size of the problem, but if we are worth our salt as Britishers and legislators in this honourable House, we must have the foresight, we must have the courage, we must have the determination to do something more than we have done to assist old-age pensioners and those in the lower income groups.
In my opinion, a person should grow old with dignity and with a contented mind. Foremost in our minds should be the problem of the old-age pensioners. The appalling truth today which no one can deny is that our old-age pensioners are worse off now with £2 a week than they were ten years ago with 26s. That situation has to be remedied. This is a matter of urgent and immediate importance. The winter months are upon us and old-age pensioners will require more heat, more food and more light. They just cannot afford those things because they have not the wherewithal to buy them. It is an affront to decency to pretend that the ordinary old man or woman can buy the barest necessities on a 40s. a week pension. Food prices have doubled in the past ten years, but the pension has only increased by 54 per cent.
A grave injustice was done to old-age pensioners—it was done with eyes wide open despite the protest we made—when it was decided to reduce the amount transferred from the national Exchequer to the National Insurance Fund. At one time the amount was £140 million. That was very helpful, but now it has been reduced to £71 million. That was a great and grave mistake. The repercussions of that have been such that every time we have asked the Government for an improvement in old-age pensioners' basic rate we have been told that it cannot be afforded. The claim is put forward that if pensions were increased the Fund would be "in the red." I challenge that. 462 I ask hon. and right hon. Members opposite to challenge that.
The brutal truth is that while the pensioner has been left to pinch and scrape and in many cases is below the borderline of poverty, the National Insurance Fund has accumulated £558 million. Why not tap that? Why does the Treasury not rise above the niggardly, parsimonious policy it has been pursuing for a long time? Why does it not say, "Here we have the wherewithal"? It could do so, and quickly.
It is not my intention to give details of household budgets which I have with me. I have gone through them, vetted them and examined them. I have found that by using the fairest way of analysing the budgets of old people on 25 items—I have kept to the lowest possible limit—£2 8s. a week has to be spent, but with coal, gas, and electricity the amount comes to £4 12s. 6d. Yet the pension for a couple is 65s. a week. I ask in all seriousness if any of us, from whatever quarter of the House, could safely say he could live on the pension which is now paid to old-age pensioners?
Let us consider the reduction in the spending power of the £ since 1953; it then stood at 20s. and now stands at 17s. 10d. The rise in the cost of living and the fall in the spending value of the £ demand—I say "demand," which is a word I very rarely use—that we should pay attention to the position of our old folk. Even on the Government's own figures the old-age pensioner of this country is entitled to an immediate grant of 4s. 6d. on top of his basic pension.
Furthermore, I submit that the recent policy of the Government to charge 1s. extra for every item on a doctor's prescription was a great injustice to the already hard-pressed old-age pensioner who was in need of medical and surgical treatment. This decision to charge 1s. per item has become known as "the 1s. shocker". That was the name given by a well-known northern newspaper—not a paper sympathetic to the Labour Party—the day after it was announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Government intended to charge 1s. for every item on a prescription May I suggest, with all respect, that it was a 1s. shocker from a shocking Government. That is my description.
463 It is the last straw which breaks the camel's back. Last Sunday night I had the opportunity of examining many prescriptions which had been handed in by one of the leading chemists in my division. I found that the highest number of items on any prescription was seven and the lowest number was three. One can therefore take the average as being three or four.
When the Chancellor made his announcement he told us that for the remainder of the present financial year it would save £750,000—that is, between now and the end of the financial year on 31st March, 1957. In a full year the economy effected, he said, would be £5 million.
May I respectfully say in all seriousness that any nation which, to help to solve its economic problems, has to adopt a policy of inflicting further hardships on a section of the community which is already suffering intense hardship, is in my opinion bankrupt of ideas. There are many other methods which the Chancellor could have found—much better and much fairer than increasing the charges for items on prescriptions.
May I draw to the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, who will have to administer this business, what the Lord Privy Seal said in 1952 when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer? We had had a debate upon the economic affairs of the country and many of us had thought that there would be a time when he would try to undermine the structure of the National Insurance Scheme. This is what he said:We shall maintain the structure of the Service but we shall make charges where they can best be borne.Those were the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. Has that promise been carried out? In my judgment he has departed very far from it.
It is not my intention today to deal with National Assistance; I will leave that to many of my hon. Friends. There are other matters with which I want to deal, however. During the last four or five years—1952, 1954 and 1956—we have had three compensation Bills. All 464 of them are now throwing up anomalies which we want rectified. I beg the hon. Lady in her Department to give full consideration to arranging a debate on those three items alone so that we can enumerate the anomalies and give to the Department the result of our experience of the administration of the legislation.
Finally, I am speaking from a deep conviction that we in this country are not doing the right thing for the old folk. I hope the Government will take note of what is said both from these benches and from the benches opposite and will do something for the old folk and those in the lower income groups.
To me, life is a wonderful thing. It is a wonderful thing to live, to stand on this fair earth beneath the radiant heavens possessed of the gift of human life—human life with its great possibilities, human life with its lofty ideals, human life with its noble ambitions. And what are they? That every boy and girl, man and woman, old and young, shall have an opportunity of obtaining the highest life that they can. That is their heritage. Let us see to it that we do not deny them the heritage to which they are entitled.
§ 1.18 p.m.
§ Dr. Donald Johnson (Carlisle)
I thank you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for allowing me this opportunity to take part in the debate on the reply to the Gracious Speech. Perhaps I should almost apologise to the House for introducing domestic matters at the present juncture, but my excuse is that this is the first occasion for over a year during which I have been a Member of the House that I have had the opportunity to talk on the subject on which I propose to talk today.
May I first make it plain that I am in entire agreement with the action of Her Majesty's Government in the Middle East. I should like my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to know that I and my friends in Carlisle are entirely behind him in the present juncture.
While I agree with so much which is in the Gracious Speech, I deplore, however, one omission—the omission of any mention of the Health Service. This expression of regret applies particularly to the subject of mental health, which is for many reasons my own particular interest. Here I believe that the old-fashioned 465 organisation inherited by the National Health Service in 1947 has as yet failed to adjust itself either to modern developments in the problems of mental health or even to the changes in public opinion which are taking place at the present time. I am therefore anxious to take this opportunity to say something of the Measures which I should like to see and which I hope to see proposed in future Speeches from the Throne during my present term as a Member.
The first essential is that we should have an early change in the law relating to mental health and mental illness. I hope that during the coming year we shall have the Report of the Royal Commission, which has already been in session for three years, and that we shall be able to discuss action consequent upon that Report. Although, from statements which I have made both in this House and elsewhere, it might appear that I have laboured the matter of the law, nevertheless I believe that a change in the law is quite fundamental to the new outlook towards mental illness which we hope to see come about.
I am the first to appreciate the many endeavours which are being made at present to remove the so-called stigma from the mentally ill. There have been the mental health exhibitions, speeches by my right hon. Friends, the opening up of mental hospitals to visitors, and the suggestion that mental illness should be looked upon in the same light as physical illness. These are all steps in the right direction, and have my whole-hearted support.
At the same time, I suggest that this kind of propaganda is totally ineffective while we leave the legal arrangements in their present state. In comparing mental with physical illness I will try to do so in the simplest terms. If a man has appendicitis and refuses advice to go into hospital, he does not have the experience of being hauled off there by one or two policemen. That is what happens if he is considered to be mentally ill. Again, if he goes to hospital with a physical illness, he does not find himself in a locked ward, deprived of all civic rights, and wondering when, and under what circumstances, he will ever get out again. That, too, is what happens to large numbers of mentally ill people. If he refuses an operation in hospital he is not forced to 466 undergo it, as is the certified mental patient.
I appreciate the development of the voluntary patient system, which has led to voluntary mental patients making up about 75 per cent. of admissions to mental hospitals, but the fact remains that there are still some 20,000 certified patients being brought into hospital every year under various forms of compulsion. There has been no decrease in that figure over the past 25 years; it is practically identical with that quoted in 1929.
People are being certified, and removed to hospital under arrangements directly inherited from the less satisfactory aspects of the Lunacy Act, 1890, which still forms the background of the whole situation in our mental hospitals, even for voluntary patients. It is reported to me that in many hospitals even voluntary patients are put into locked wards. Why, I do not know. They go in voluntarily, but find themselves in locked wards and, in some cases, with the possibility of certification hanging over them.
If anybody doubts this kind of statement, I would refer to the autumn edition, 1955, of the magazine called Mental Health. There is there quoted an extract from a letter written by a former patient, in which she says, quite baldly:Even in the apparent liberty and friendliness of an "Open" ward I still found a background of threats that made me feel something between a prisoner and a pauper.It will only be when it is fully recognised that these widespread detention arrangements belong to an out-of-date code of behaviour that the stigma will be removed. I do not believe that it can be done merely by a change in terminology, such as calling certification "temporary detention" or something of that kind. To pretend that, as appears to be the case from certain statements that have been put forward, is merely self-delusion. It will mean using phrases which, although appearing all right at the time, will become equally discredited, in the course of time, as the word "certification."
While, as a doctor, I have to deplore the unsatisfactory arrangements as to methods of treatment to which I have referred, as a citizen and as a Member of this House I wish for a moment to look at the law from another angle. In other contexts and places I have emphasised 467 what I have felt to be the dangers to the individual arising from the present lax-ness of the law. I believe it no exaggeration to say that the present state of the law is a standing invitation to the more unscrupulous members of the community to dispose of unwanted people, whether by false witness or by other sinister means. Certainly, no action can render a victim more defenceless than this.
The alarm which one feels at this sort of thing is equalled only by the alarm one feels on coming across cases where the law of lunacy comes into contact with the criminal law. We find cases, and I have one which I hope shortly to bring to the notice of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Home Secretary, of people entering police courts and receiving short terms of imprisonment, but regaining their liberty only after many years, without having had the opportunity of an independent doctor's opinion in the meantime. I can only hope that the enactments which govern these matters, and which are older even than the 1890 Act, are being reviewed by the Royal Commission, together with the more ordinary and every-day mental health enactments.
I now come to another aspect of the problem. There is a general impression abroad that the ease with which a man can be put into a mental hospital is equalled only by the difficulty he experiences in getting out of it again. I believe that impression to be right. It is, in fact, borne out by statistics. According to the Ministry of Health returns which have just been published, the average mental patient going into hospital can expect to stay there for no less than twenty months before being released, either by discharge, or, as in so many unfortunate cases, by death. This is a period four times as long, for instance, as he would suffer while being cured of the longest curable physical disease known—tuberculosis. The average stay of a patient in a mental hospital is not less than four times as long as that of a T.B. patient. We are dealing the whole time with one and the same problem and, of course, this leads to the condition of overcrowding.
The overcrowding of mental hospitals is one of the acknowledged scandals of the present day. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health is 468 making a special study of the causes of the overcrowding and how they can be tackled. In the remaining part of my speech, I merely want to make some suggestions on my own on these lines.
At the risk of repeating the obvious, I say that the first thing we need is a sifting process of admissions by means of observation wards. I could talk a long time on that, but, as I have made a speech on this question in an Adjournment debate, I will not go over it all again now.
The least we can do, however, is to prevent people who are physically ill, either from delirium or from some other cause, from drifting into mental hospitals as potentially long-stay patients, because that is the sort of thing that is happening all the time. I have had a very large correspondence in recent weeks, and people have even written to say that because they were in pain of some kind, for which the doctors in the particular hospital to which they went could not discover the cause, they found themselves transferred to a mental hospital. That sort of thing is very wrong indeed and is a blot both on the doctors and on our National Health Service.
The greatest part of this problem concerns, of course, elderly people. One of the largest single factors—not quite the largest, because I shall be speaking of that presently—in mental hospital overcrowding is the absence of an adequate geriatric service—a service for the medical care of the old people. I believe that I am quoting the correct figure when I say that one-fourth of all admissions to mental hospitals are people over 65 years of age. Certainly, I can quote a Lancet article, to which I shall refer further presently, in which a deputy-superintendent of a hospital in Yorkshire, whose name I shall give in another context, states quite clearly that one-fifth of the women patients in his hospitalshould not be in a mental hospital at all, and could leave immediately if proper arrangements were made for their care.That is a very large figure indeed.
When we talk about the medical care of old people—a geriatric service, as we like to call it in modern terminology—our ideas are slightly nebulous and undeveloped. I should like to recommend, however, to the attention of both my 469 right hon. Friend and of all Members of the House the excellent concrete example which has been started in Oxford in the Oxford Geriatric Unit under Dr. Cosin.
By and large, this consists of a day hospital for elderly people, accompanied by a few admission beds. When the elderly people are found in a confused state, as they often are, from purely physical causes, instead of being certified and put into a mental hospital, they can be taken into the unit, admitted for short periods and nursed until they recover. Then they can be treated on a day basis and not simply turned out to cause problems to relatives concerning their appropriate care, thus relieving the strain on the family. They can be left at the unit during the day, be given appropriate work, amusement and so on, and returned home to sleep at night.
The remark in the report of Dr. Cosin is a recommendation in itself. He says:We have been surprised to find out how willing families are to continue the care for the confused parent or grandparent if the geriatric unit offers to help.It seems to me that it is along these lines that the future lies for our care of the elderly people, to stop them ending their days in those most pathetic places of all—that is, in the locked wards of a mental hospital.
After considering admissions, I turn to the question of discharge. In case what I say appears too contentious, I cannot do better than quote from an authority higher than my own. This is the article to which I have already referred; and to every hon. Member who is interested in the matter I recommend this small booklet. It was published recently by the Lancet under the title "In the Mental Hospital" and the price is only half-a-crown.
The first article is "The Forgotten Patient," by Dr. J. A. R. Bickford, consultant psychiatrist of the De la Pole Hospital at Willerby, in Yorkshire. He says thatby far the more important reason"—for overcrowding in mental hospitals—is that psychiatrists have failed to cure and discharge their patients…The business of a hospital is to cure patients, not to hoard them; and the sheltering of patients in hospital without continual efforts to make them fit to return to the world is a complete denial of the functions of medicine. If attention is 470 mistakenly concentrated on building additional wards and villas, the almost invariable result will be that these too will become overcrowded, because the last incentive to discharge patients will have gone. It would be wiser in fact for the hospital to knock down a ward every five years or so.I entirely concur with those remarks. I believe that by the proper rehabilitation of patients in systematic fashion and the establishment of the appropriate social service to this end, the population of our mental hospitals could be cut down by one-third, if not by a half, in a very short time.
We want rehabilitation, first by a system of sheltered workshops where patients can work in appropriately sheltered surroundings, while living at home or perhaps in hostels in cases where the home surroundings are not suitable. The establishment of such workshops and hostels could surely be explored as a less costly alternative to establishing more hospital beds.
Finally, to back all this up, we need—to use again a long-sounding title in regard to which, when I have used it before, hon. Members have always asked what I was talking about—the development of a domiciliary psychiatric social service. All that that means is that mental patients should have the essential service which can look after them in their own home surroundings under the aegis of the local authority.
I am not talking of anything nebulous. Such a service was established in the City of Amsterdam some twenty years ago at a juncture similar to our own, when the Dutch had overcrowded mental hospitals and only a limited amount of money with which to solve their problems. In August last year I took the opportunity of going to Amsterdam to observe it for a few days.
This system is run by the local authority—the Amsterdam city authorities—with the aid of psychiatrists who are part of the local authority set-up. The duties of the psychiatrists include visiting people in their homes, and include—and this is the important thing—an emergency service. Thus, if anybody is taken mentally ill in Amsterdam he is not seen, as he would be in this country, by an untrained duly authorised officer, who is not specially trained in mental illness but is, as everybody knows, a local 471 authority official. In Amsterdam, anybody who is taken ill with mental illness is seen by a psychiatrist who is on emergency duty.
The psychiatrist's brief is an entirely different one from the brief which is given to our own officers in this country. It is not to get the patient into hospital, but to keep him out of hospital, to try to solve his problems in the first place in home surroundings, and to save hospital beds. It has the consequent effect of controlling admissions to mental hospitals—a control which is very necessary in this country. Without going into detail for which there is no time, I would observe that the pyschiatric service has a similar function on the discharge of patients, and that is to look after them and to see they are properly and well settled in home surroundings, and to prevent a relapse, which again is one of the big problems in our mental illnesses in this country.
It is interesting that this experiment in Amsterdam was introduced at a time of financial stringency, to solve the problem of overcrowded hospitals. For general reasons and that particular reason, I recommend it to my right hon. Friend when he considers this matter. There can be little doubt that in establishing a service of this kind, accompanied by a geriatric service which will give proper care to our old people, we have a real opportunity during the next few years to develop our social services, and to solve one of the most urgent problems which the community has today.
§ 1.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Finch (Bedwellty)
I am conscious, of course, that in times of international crisis, and faced as we are by momentous events in Egypt, and, indeed, in the world generally, it is somewhat difficult to deal with home affairs, but nevertheless we are in this country today faced with very serious domestic problems, not the least of which are those of the lower income groups, the pensioners, to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) referred, the retirement pensioners, the industrially disabled, the disabled ex-Servicemen, the widows, the sick, and all those other sections of the community who are, in one way or another, receiving benefits from the State.
There can be no doubt that a high proportion of those sections of the community 472 are living in want and poverty. They are in distress, and I must express my disappointment at the absence from the Gracious Speech of any reference to those sections of the community. There will, indeed, be a feeling of dismay and even despair among pensioners and others because there is no indication on the part of the Government that during this Session they will revise the Acts of Parliament which govern the benefits and payments for those people. Therefore, in the few minutes at my disposal I am going to say a few words about these lower income groups.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer some time ago, in a speech in the country, said that the cost of living had increased by only 0.22 per cent. since January of last year. What the House has to consider, what, I should have thought, the Government would have considered, is the plight of the pensioners and others since the last increase in benefits was made by legislation. The last increase for pensioners, the industrially disabled, and the sick, was in January, 1955.
According to the official index—and I want to give the position officially first—since January, 1955, the cost of living, of all items, has gone up by 12 per cent. Food has gone up by 15 per cent., fuel and light by 17 per cent. Economists are already saying that because of the crisis in Egypt they expect that unfortunately there will certainly be a rise in prices at the end of this year by 5 per cent. or more. That is the situation facing the pensioners at the present moment. What hope have they?
I do not want to go into the arguments, which my hon. Friend the Member for Ince has already brought forward, about prescription charge increasing—the policy of charging 1s. for each item in a prescription list. That must seriously affect some of the people of whom I am speaking. We have already to meet an increase in the price of bread, and now the Government are proposing legislation which must increase rents. The Government state that they will deal with these problems, but the sections of the community for whom I am speaking, and who have such low incomes, are not referred to by the Government at all.
Since 1947, according to the official index, the cost of living has gone up by 473 57 per cent. The price of food has gone up by 88 per cent. The rates of increase in benefits since 1947 has gone up by 53 per cent. for a married couple, and 54 per cent. for a single person. We must consider the increase in food prices.
Recently, the Government intimated that they were adopting a recommendation of a Committee appointed to inquire into and make recommendations concerning an index of retail food prices. That Committee had to consider such items as television and radio sets, and we on this side of the House do not complain about that, because for the average man and woman those are items which they calculate in their personal budgets, and which, therefore, affect their cost of living. However, it certainly makes the figures of the cost of living all the more unreliable for assessing the position of the lower income groups.
It is to be noted that in the new index, 350 points out of 1,000 are for food; that is, one-third. The old index allotted 399 out of 1,000 for food. We ought to have a separate index for the lower income groups. It is quite evident that the expenditure incurred by those on low incomes is more highly concentrated upon food and other necessities. The person in receipt of £3 5s., £4 5s. or £5 10s. is spending at least half his income on dire necessities.
I wish that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance were here, but in all probability what I say will be noted. I suggest that there should be a separate index for low-income groups. That must have been apparent to the Committee which investigated the question of index prices, because it said that in making its investigations it would exclude those who received £20 a week or over and also those who received two-thirds of their income from benefits provided by the State. That suggests that those in the low-income groups should be treated in a different way.
If the position of the pensioner, the disabled, the sick and the unemployed is to be measured, they must be placed in a different category when an index of retail prices is being prepared. At least half the factors making up the index should represent food, which is not the case with the ordinary index. I should have thought, in view of this situation, 474 that the Government would have indicated in the Gracious Speech that they intended to deal with the problem of the pensioners.
The Government have obtained quite a wealth of information concerning the problem since they have been in power. Speeches have been delivered on both sides of the House seeking a review of the general insurance position in the country. The hon. Member who is now Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government made a valuable contribution some time ago about this problem. My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and others have put forward suggestions for the Government's consideration in reviewing the general position.
It is quite true that these insurance payments are based on contributions and not upon the cost of living. I submit that pensions should be based on the cost-of-living index. At the moment, payment of benefits is based on an insurance fund to which employers and workmen contribute and towards which the Exchequer makes a grant—although the grant was reduced as a result of the Government's policy some time ago. I quite appreciate that the Government can well say that if we increase the rates of benefit it must mean an increase in contributions and a higher grant from the Exchequer but, having regard to speeches made from both sides of the House, the Government by now should have brought forward some revised policy to deal with the problem. The situation is breaking down.
Suggestions have been put forward from this side of the House that in future there should be a graduated scale of payment. I will not go into the merits of that suggestion now, but it needs consideration. Another suggestion is that the money for retirement pensions should be raised by the Exchequer through taxation. Figures published in. March, 1955, show that out of £500 million spent on social insurance, £350 million were for retirement pensions. Another suggestion, which is attracting increasing attention, is that the Government should consider a form of industrial pension. Many people in the salaried classes participate in superannuation 475 schemes. There is a growing tendency in industry towards these schemes. They are in operation in a modified way in mining, and railwaymen and others are becoming attracted to the idea.
Figures show that one-third of all men who were gainfully employed in 1955, or 6,500,000, had the benefit of superannuation schemes. The same applied to one-fifth of all women gainfully employed, or a total of 1,300,000. This idea is growing. Surely the Government are not so bankrupt that they cannot get down to this problem and bring forward some new proposal. I should have thought that, pending those proposals, they would have said in the Gracious Speech that they would give increases to those people who are in such dire need and distress.
It is no use asking, "Can the nation afford it?". I have already dealt with the insurance point, and productivity is increasing at the rate of 1½ per cent. this year. It is true that it increased by 3 per cent. per annum when the Labour Government were in office. I notice that the Institute of Actuaries and the Faculty of Actuaries have stated that over a period of 30 years productivity in this country should increase by 56 per cent. If it is borne in mind that to increase pensions over a period of years up to two-thirds of the earnings of those in employment would represent 11 per cent. of the country's income, or 14 per cent. if women are included, it must be admitted that the position is not as difficult as one might have imagined. And what applies to retirement pensioners also applies to the disabled, the sick, the chronic sick and the industrial disabled.
We have never had a review of the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act. It was placed on the Statute Book in 1946 and came into operation in 1948. It provided for a quinquennial valuation, but we have never had it. I enter my protest now and shall take every opportunity in the future of pointing out that the Act requires reviewing at the earliest possible moment. The rates of assessment, the methods of assessment and the rates of hardship allowance are all producing dissatisfaction in industry, particularly among miners.
When the Act was passed, the un-employability allowance was obtained 476 only if a man could show that he was incapable of earning £1 a week, but with the fall in the value of the £ today a man who cannot earn £1 a week can be said to be totally disabled. There are men suffering from pneumoconiosis who can scarcely walk. The medical board does not state that they are totally disabled. The board says that they are fit only for the very lightest of work. They can do only a sitting-down job which has to be specially provided for them.
These people have applied for the un-employability allowance and the matter has gone before the tribunals. The commissioner has said, "If I am asked whether this man could earn £1 a week I am bound to say that he could." Therefore, the unemployability allowance is denied to the man. He has not sufficient stamps for unemployment benefit, necessitated by the abolition of Section 62, and therefore he has to apply for National Assistance.
I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to regard this problem as one of great seriousness. There are more and more seriously disabled persons applying for the unemployability allowance. The position is all the more aggravated because some time ago we passed an Act which awarded men who were totally disabled 17s. 6d. a week. It provided that men who came under the old Workmen's Compensation Act—not under the Industrial Injuries Act—should be entitled to 17s. 6d. a week compensation if they were totally incapacitated. While it is true that the vast majority of them are receiving that 17s. 6d. a week, quite a number—I think 200 or 250—are being denied this sum because of this question of the principle of the unemployability allowance. The employers are paying these men full compensation, recognising that even if these men could earn only £1 a week they are really totally disabled.
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
The hon. Gentleman appreciates, of course, that full compensation does not depend in every case upon total disability. Many men with a very small degree of disability are receiving total compensation.
§ Mr. Finch
I quite agree. What I am trying to demonstrate is that under workmen's compensation there are 477 men who are totally disabled or nearly totally disabled and they are receiving full compensation; but under this recent legislation which was designed to award an additional 17s. 6d. a week to the totally disabled, this amount is being refused on the ground that technically these people are not totally disabled.
§ Mr. Doughty
The hon. Gentleman missed the point of my intervention. It was that these men are not necessarily totally disabled or even seriously disabled. They are men with very slight disablement, but under the old Workmen's Compensation Act they very often qualify for full compensation. Therefore, that type of man would not qualify for the additional 17s. 6d. a week.
§ Mr. Finch
I certainly think he would. If a man cannot earn £1 a week, surely he should be entitled to the 17s. 6d. That is my case. That is the trouble with the unemployability allowance, which governs the payment of compensation. I hope that at an early date we shall have a review of the principles governing the present administration of the Industrial Injuries Act.
I want to refer to the disabled ex-Service men. Many of them are not getting an adequate allowance. There are various anomalies connected with ex-Service men's disablement pensions. Here again, I should have thought that the Gracious Speech would have contained at least some reference to this section of the community. I should have thought the Government would have considered setting about the task, however difficult it may be, and would have said that they intended to review the relevant legislation, that to be followed by new proposals. In the meantime we should give temporary assistance to that section of the community.
I must say that I am disappointed, as I am sure the whole country will be, particularly in the mining industry where the rate of accidents is so high, by the Government's lack of attention to this problem.
In addition, there is this business of the 1s. prescription. Let us consider the chronic sick. There are those suffering from cancer and other serious disabilities. They must have various types of prescription every week and these may cost 3s., 4s. or 5s. a week. These low 478 income groups have to deal in pennies, not shillings. When hon. Members say that the cost of living has not gone up to any great extent, they should realise that, however slight the increase, it means a lot to many of these people on low incomes. To a man getting £20 a week a few extra shillings is neither here nor there, but to a man whose income is £2 5s. a week, to a cripple and to the womenfolk who are in dire need the 1s. prescription is a serious matter. The slightest increase in the cost of living is serious for such people. There will be a feeling of despair, distress and indeed bitterness in the country unless the Government act promptly.
We must consider the plight of the ex-Service men, the sick, the retired pensioner and the industrially disabled, and I hope that as a result of what my hon. Friends and I have said in this debate, if we do not get a satisfactory reply, we shall have an early opportunity of raising the matter again. I trust, however, that we shall get an assurance that the Government are prepared to give serious consideration to a review of this legislation to which I have referred, and upon which the poorer section of the community depends so much.
§ 2.7 p.m.
§ Brigadier Sir Harry Mackeson (Folkestone and Hythe)
I listened with particular interest to one part of the speech of the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown), namely, his reference to subsidence in the mining industries. I do not know very much about the subject because our problems in Kent are much smaller, but this is a vital problem in many parts of the country and I hope that the action which has been requested will be taken.
I want to draw particular attention to the economic effect of the present crisis in this country. I have been to Canada quite recently, and it seems obvious to me that we shall have to ask our Canadian and American friends for assistance, probably in connection with coal and certainly in connection with oil. In view of the scarcity of dollars which this crisis is going to cause in this country, I wonder whether we shall be able to continue to afford to obtain the perhaps not so essential imports from North America. This question applies particularly to my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary 479 Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries from the point of view of food and especially animal feeding-stuffs. I hope the Government will take an early decision so that we do not find ourselves in an even worse balance of payments situation than we have had to face in the past.
I do not intend on this occasion to make a controversial speech on the crisis. I want to refer to two subjects which have not been raised in our heated debates. At the same time, I must make it clear that I believe that not only my colleagues and myself but the overwhelming majority of people in the County of Kent are wholeheartedly behind the Prime Minister, and that every day more and more people realise that he has taken the right course, difficult though it was. As one person in every fifty lives in that county, I naturally cannot speak for them all—I can only give my impression—but I think that is not an unimportant point.
I was a brigade major in the Desert Rats at the start of the war. I returned to the Middle East in 1948. and I was there last June. There has been a most extraordinary change in the feelings throughout the Middle East in 20 years. After all. I do not believe that the Desert Rats and the other troops, including the Commonwealth contribution, could have held Egypt if it had not been for the extremely good co-operation that we had on the whole. I used to live next door to Nahas Pasha, an old man now, and, alas, under house arrest. In the hour of need at the time of El Alamein he proved himself to be a very good friend to England.
Why is it that this feeling of hatred and bitterness and nationalism has grown not only in Egypt but throughout the Middle East? So many of us who lived in Egypt and others of us who have travelled through the Canal are apt to think of Egypt as the Middle East. That, of course, is not so. Important though Egypt is, the other oil-producing countries of the Middle East are equally important, if not more important.
The whole thing comes down to the accursed problem of the evacuees in Jordan, the Lebanon and Syria. That is the problem which is really bedevilling all human relationships throughout that 480 part of the world. I do not believe that we can cure the problem by taking military precautions and putting a strait-jacket round the combatants. An hon. Friend of mine who has spoken about mental diseases would, I am sure, agree that one cannot deal with a sick man by putting him into a strait-jacket. I do not believe the world will ever settle down peacefully until the problem of the hatred between the Jews and the Arabs has been solved. I am not a Zionist, nor am I pro-Arab. I deeply believe that the spirit of Christianity must spread in those areas if there is to be a solution.
I would say categorically that I do not believe that anyone has made a sufficient effort to solve the problem. I certainly do not blame this Government or its Socialist predecessor or the American Government. Indeed, we have behaved very generously. We have contributed 17 per cent. of the money provided for the refugees. The problem is that there is no hope for them. They are living in squalor in mud huts under rusted tin roofs with holes in them which let in the heat in the hot weather and the cold when the bitter wind blows across the desert. These people are being used for propaganda purposes.
I have come definitely to the conclusion—it is a complete change of mind for me—that we must have some sort of Ministry of Information to sell ourselves and our common sense to the world, and to tell the world what we have done in underdeveloped countries. When we were in opposition, many of my hon. Friends were opposed to a Ministry of Information, and I know that in the Press and other quarters the idea of such a Ministry is not popular. However, in my recent visit I saw some of the bitter hatred—my Arabic is not good enough really to understand it—and the real loathing of anything Western. The French are even more unpopular than the British, and the Americans are none too popular in spite of what they have done for the Jews and the people of Saudi Arabia and Southeast Asia.
I am no expert, but I do not believe that we can solve the problem by buying a lot of expensive wireless transmitters. One has also to undertake the task by other methods. One vital thing is that we should employ persons who understand the mentality of these people and 481 can speak their dialect and interpret things to them. If I, with my English accent, went to Wales and began to explain Welsh affairs there, I should not be particularly popular—
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
I can assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that the people of Wales would listen to him, but they would not vote for him.
§ Sir H. Mackeson
The right hon. Gentleman is no doubt correct; but we must have something like we had during the war. We all know some good friends of ours who could be got together for the purpose. This wants doing quickly and urgently. I know that this is not a popular subject in Government Departments, for each Government Department not unnaturally likes to have its own little P.R.O. section and hates the idea of there being overall co-ordination, but I am speaking about propaganda abroad and not propaganda at home. Propaganda on a national scale at home would be dangerous, politically, to our democracy. However, for the purposes of propaganda abroad, we must have something on the lines I have suggested.
Frankly, I do not believe the Arab countries have tried sufficiently hard to solve the problem. There are in the refugee settlements young men who have never seen Israel. Propaganda has been ruthlessly forced upon them, with success, to make them say that they will go nowhere except back to Israel. Israel must help. If Israel wants to live in peace with her neighbours she must take part in this work, but the Arab countries must also help. From oil Kuwait has £100 million a year income, Iraq, £79 million and Syria, with her great corn fields,£7½ million, and the Lebanon is far richer than it could ever have dreamed of being. A comparison in standards of living as between the rich in their hotels in those countries and the wretched evacuees transcends even the difference between the rich pashas and the unfortunate fellaheen in the Nile Delta.
The Government should get down to the problem now. I do not believe that the present appalling state of affairs would ever have come about if the world had tackled the refugee problem. I do not believe that any military or economic step can be taken to solve the problem until we have gradually—the problem 482 certainly will not be solved in a matter of months; it will probably take many years—taken the young men and women out of the refugee camps and found them happiness and employment somewhere else in the world through the medium of the United Nations, which in this respect can indeed do something constructive.
I should now like to draw attention to two local points. I am glad to see a reference in the Gracious Speech to the fishing industry. I am certain that at the moment there is a great deal of over-fishing taking place in the Channel and the North Sea, and I hope this will receive constant attention from the Government. I know it is difficult. Everybody accuses everybody else of cheating, particularly our fishermen, whose views about their foreign rivals are almost unprintable.
Secondly, we must watch the question of the use of flags of convenience. There have recently been most frightful crashes in the English Channel. A recent ghastly collision was between a Liberian and a Scandinavian vessel. The time has come for Lloyds seriously to consider its rates for ships flying flags of convenience. I am not at all certain that the time has not come for us to take action to ensure that such vessels travelling in the English Channel observe international agreements, such as having their radar equipment working properly and properly manned. I believe it is only by the grace of God that we have not had a British cross-Channel ship rammed by one of these vessels, and what the loss of life would be if that happened to one of the very small but very crowded cross-channel steamers I dread to think.
I would leave this final message with the Government Front Bench, that in considering the present difficult military and political situation we should not forget on any account the psychological and moral problems in the Middle East which it is the duty of not only this country but every civilised country to solve.
§ 2.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Probert (Aberdare)
One is, naturally, tempted to deal with many subjects mentioned in the Gracious Speech, and I concur with hon. Friend, of mine, including the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch), who have referred' to the lamentable exclusion of certain important topics. I have a special interest in disabled workers and people in low 483 fixed income groups, but I will not waste the time of the House by repeating the evident truths which have been stated by my hon. Friend.
I feel I ought to make some comment about one subject referred to in the Gracious Speech, which says that:A measure will be introduced to provide a remedy for damage caused by subsidence resulting from coal mining.That matter is of special interest not only to my constituency but to the whole of South Wales. I am intrigued with the words "to provide a remedy". I do not know what that remedy is, and I understand that I would be out of order if I discussed anticipated legislation. Instead I shall make some pertinent comments on existing legislation and its inadequacy.
The Town and Country Planning Act of 1947 gave fairly comprehensive powers to the Minister to deal not merely with development of the surface but also with development underground. This also affects my constituency. In recent years, owing to the urgent and vital demand for coal, which is understood, such legislation has been applied rather tolerantly by the Minister. There is, however, another aspect of the urgent demand for coal, and that is the increase in mechanisation. Indeed, mechanisation has spread to many parts of the coalfields already, and I hope it is our intention to spread it much further.
Only a week or so ago I had the honour, as well as the pleasure, of accompanying the Minister of Fuel and Power on a visit to certain projects in my constituency. He will recall that one of those projects was being carried out at a very old pit which is over 100 years old. There we examined the system of power loading, which we both agreed had been successfully introduced, and we stayed a fairly long time at the coal face.
I mention this to indicate that increased mechanisation is not confined to comparatively new pits. It can be considered to be fairly general in its application. What are its effects upon the subsidence problem? Mining friends have stated to me that where the strata in the coal fields are fairly regular and the coal seams are fairly deep, increased mechanism, through the rapidity of the action of extracting the coal, will have a beneficial rather than a detrimental effect upon existing subsidence. 484 But, and this is important, where the strata are irregular—in ether words, where geological faults are much in evidence—serious subsidence will, and does, occur.
That is the position in my constituency. My hon. Friends here who have been miners and who represent mining constituencies, as I do, know that South Wales is well known for its geological faults which make mining difficult and have brought about bad subsidence in my constituency as well as in other parts of the area. Three principal classes of property are involved: first, dwelling houses; secondly, social, religious and cultural institutions, and thirdly, property and social and health services vested in the local authorities.
I could take hon. Members to many parts of my constituency where streets of well-built houses—I emphasise streets-have been forced into pitiable shapes and twisted out of all recognition. I could introduce hon. Members to aged folks living in those houses, many of them revered friends of mine, who cannot look forward to many years on this earth—though, indeed, I do not know that it is worth living much longer. Those people are faced with problems and hardships in the few years left to them. They are living in houses completely out of plumb. First, often they cannot open or close the windows; secondly, they cannot decorate their houses; thirdly, they are living in those conditions day in and day out without any hope of change in the future. And often they have devoted their life savings to those homes.
It is tragic that these people should suffer as a result of the process of raising coal from the earth, which coal benefits the entire nation. I contend that the whole economy has some responsibility. Here I must pay a tribute to the National Coal Board in my area, whose officials endeavour to deal with this ever-increasing problem. The Coal Board is short of staff and yet it has tried to face up to its responsibilities with great patience, often in the face of the quite natural anger and exasperation of worried householders.
With the possible exception of the legislation dealing with the small dwelling house, the existing legislation is confusing, and some form of consolidating machinery is called for to tidy it up. I 485 have looked up all the Acts, of which I have a considerable list here, but I shall deal with only one serious anomaly existing in the Coal Mining (Subsidence) Act of 1950. Section 14 of that Act is entitled:Rights conferred by Act to be alternative to other rights.In my area many people are living in houses leased from the old coalowners and taken over now by the National Coal Board. In many of their leases is a clause stating that the coalowners—now the Coal Board—would guarantee to afford some repairs protection to the leaseholders. When these people make their appropriate claims in accordance with Section 14 of the 1950 Act, by asserting their rights under their old leases, repairs are made and eventually compensation of some sort is given, but no allowance is made for decoration. This may seem a trivial point but there is angry confusion when they find that, say, Mrs. Jones next door has sought repairs for the subsidence of her house under the terms of the 1950 Act alone, having forsaken the rights under her old lease, and has received £5 or £6 for decoration.
There is something wrong here. I do not know the answer, but the National Coal Board should at least impress upon these people the implications of their choice. It is true that they are told they have a choice, but they are not told its full implications. Also I seriously suggest that the 1950 Act should confer equal rights upon all people, and that if they choose other rights under their old leases, the latter rights should be at least equivalent to those conferred by the Act. I ask the Minister to look into that point.
This is a subject on which many of us could speak at length. I do not say that I could speak effectively but I could speak from experience. However, I shall merely summarise some of my views.
Just over two years ago I was a member of the staff of the department of the engineer and surveyor of my local authority. Over a period of years I was impressed by the effect of subsidence past and present, and also by its potential effect, upon housing and social services. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find land for housing where subsidence is suspected, but even where the planning authority gives permission we find that the Minister of Housing and Local 486 Government quite rightly insists upon essential precautions being taken. There is the question of reinforcing the foundations, providing raft foundations, and so on. That is quite right, but I contend that this is a charge resulting from coal mining subsidence and should be considered as such. I shall deal with the question of the responsibility for compensation shortly.
In my constituency there are large areas which are subject to periodic flooding. Consequently, they are derelict. Many such areas could be used for agricultural purposes, or even social or recreational purposes. As the Minister knows, we are very short of recreational land in our area. What prevents the development of such land for those purposes is the cost caused by flooding. In this connection, I am reminded of an incident which happened some years ago, when I was investigating the advisability of a form of controlled tipping in certain areas.
The public works superintendent told me that in a short period of years the whole area had subsided several feet, and that scores of acres of land could therefore be secured for agricultural purposes if provision were made for drainage. I suggest that the Minister should look into the possibility of extending the legislation as laid down in such private Acts as the Doncaster Land Drainage Act, 1929. It is not my purpose to go into that matter here, but I have particular regard to that flooding which is taking place in the mountain village of Ynsybwl, and also in Mountain Ash. It is suspected that much of that flooding is due to mining subsidence.
This is the inevitable consequence of living in a mining area. No one complains of that, but what we do complain of is the serious financial burden which is placed upon local authorities, who have to renew at frequent intervals sewers, water mains, footpaths, highways and so on. 1s it right that my constituents alone should bear the cost? They have to live in the dust and unsightliness. These they accept as the natural or concomitant evils of a coalmining area, but they say that if it were not for that coal, the wheels of industry would come to a halt, as the Minister knows better than any other person.
487 There is another aspect of this matter which I wish to touch upon. Rather curiously, this deals with the question of house purchase. In the short time that they have been in power the Government have boasted of their intention to build up a property-owning democracy. I see little promise of that being fulfilled in the near future. I would make this appeal to the Government and, indirectly, to building societies. Will the Government encourage building societies not to prohibit loans to applicants from areas which are subject to subsidence? Many young people have come to see me about this matter and stated that they are unable to raise a loan which will enable them to buy a house because the building society says that it is in a subsidence area. I suggest that the Government should consider guaranteeing some form of insurance risk so that the premiums would be paid yearly by the Government and building societies would be covered.
There are many points that I should have liked to develop, and I hope that in future I shall be fortunate enough to catch the eye of the Chair. There are questions of waste disposal and stowage, which are relevant to the matter of coalmining subsidence.
I now want to refer to the question of financial responsibility. We all feel that that responsibility is one for the national Exchequer.
§ Mr. Probert
I make one reservation, however, I realise the risks which would be implied if the national Exchequer bore the whole cost. This would absolve the National Coal Board of the need for having some prudence in making sure that subsidence did not occur. I suggest that at some time in the future the Minister should see that the greater proportion of this financial responsibility is borne by the national Exchequer, but that at least some proportion is borne by the National Coal Board.
§ 2.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Probert) will, I trust, forgive me if I do not follow his argument, except to refer to one aspect of this very important question of subsidence. He referred to the liability, taken over by the National Coal 488 Board, for the old colliery houses which, by contract, had to be maintained according to the terms of leases. Over the years hardship was also suffered by people who owned other houses or shops and other premises which were affected by subsidence.
These people found that because the National Coal Board was a public authority it came within the terms of a statutory limitation of one year, and no redress was obtainable. It is true that the period of statutory limitations of public authorities has since been extended to three years, but in the case of subsidence that period is still too short. Subsidence does not take place suddenly; it is a slow process. Generally speaking, it has a slow effect upon premises, and it is some little time before matters come to such a head that a legal claim can be brought. In these circumstances, many people found themselves out of time because they were dealing with a public authority, and even though both public and private authorities now have the same time limit, the period of three years is still sometimes too short. I hope that the Minister will bear in mind the question of the time limit for claims when he is dealing with this question of subsidence.
I also want to refer to some remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Dr. D. Johnson). I am not a doctor, and I hestitate to challenge anything which he says about mental health, but since there are three of the largest mental hospitals in the country in my constituency, and a fourth one just outside it—many of whose staff live in my constituency—I cannot let his remarks go by unchallenged. I am not saying that everything is perfect in mental health. Nothing is perfect in this life at all.
A Commission is sitting which is dealing with the question of the need for improvements in mental hospitals, and its Report cannot now be very long delayed. The picture drawn by my hon. Friend, of sick people being detained in locked wards, or people who have perhaps been convicted of some small offence in a magistrates' court and sent to a mental hospital for a short time, finding themselves locked up, I can only describe as a gross exaggeration.
To my knowledge, the mental hospitals with which I have been associated from 489 a political point of view are staffed by extremely capable and conscientious people. The psychiatrists and mental specialists attached to those hospitals take their duties extremely seriously. They certainly do not detain for one day longer than they can help those who can reasonably and safely be discharged—and by "reasonably and safely" I mean both in the interests of the patients and also of the general public.
My hon. Friend said that they were overcrowded, and that their beds were needed for other people. These hospitals do not wish to detain such people at all. The difficulty is that a large proportion of the inmates of some hospitals are elderly. That is the question with which we shall have to deal in the future.
Another reason for their being overcrowded is that, owing to the discoveries of modern medical science, patients are living longer. By their nature and constitution, patients in hospitals are not physically the strongest people, and not so long ago the various ailments which attack us all from time, and from which most of us recover, took a very high toll among their numbers. Owing to modern discoveries, such as penicillin and so forth, those figures are very much reduced; which is one reason why we are getting a bigger population in the mental hospitals.
There is, of course, great difficulty in staffing such hospitals. It is not, as some people erroneously think, the most attractive form of nursing for anyone who has a bent for nursing, and I ask the Minister of Health to consider the difficulties which these hospitals are experiencing with regard to staff, and to look fully into the conditions of service, pay and work of these people.
In the last ten days we have been going through difficult times in this House. In saying that I am probably guilty of a great understatement. Many hon. Members have explained the reasons why they disagree with the action which the Government have taken in the Middle East. Some of those hon. Members sit on this side of the House. I respect their views and disagree with them. Some hon. Members who have expressed the reasons why they support the Government sit on the other side of the House. I respect their views also, and agree with them.
490 This problem with which we have been so concerned in the last ten days is not one which has come upon us suddenly. Hon. Members will remember the many Questions asked in this House and the debates which took place here when the Egyptian Government under Colonel Nasser—who is no friend of this country—bought arms from behind the Iron Curtain. Many hon. Members, in my view quite rightly, questioned the wisdom of continuing to send arms to Egypt from this country because, owing to his behaviour, Colonel Nasser did not seem to be a good recipient for them.
Then, on 26th July of this year, Nasser suddenly, and by force, seized the Suez Canal, contrary to the international obligations which covered the running of that Canal. I have never been able to understand why it should be considered right by some hon. Members that Egypt should use force in order to break international obligations, and wrong for this country to use force to assert our rights and duties under international obligations.
No one can say that this country did not display the utmost restraint and a desire to negotiate in the difficult and awkward weeks and months which followed that seizure. Before I refer to the negotiations which then took place, I wish to say that on the last occasion when I was in this House, before going on a visit to a number of countries round the world—it was on 27th July, the day when the seizure became known—hon. Members on both sides of the House were criticising that action in the strongest possible terms, and demanding that this country should take action. Therefore, when I came back and heard the debates after the Recess, I was surprised, and somewhat shocked, to find that hon. Members opposite had, apparently, changed their tune and were not demanding the action which they had been demanding from the Government a short time previously.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
Is not the hon. and learned Member aware that right hon. and hon. Members on this side of the House have never demanded action other than through the United Nations?
§ Mr. Doughty
I will not mention the name of the hon. Member, because he is not in the Chamber, but one hon. 491 Member, well known on the other side of the House, on the last occasion when I was in this Chamber before the Recess, asked either the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary whether this was not another example of using force too late? Nothing could have been clearer than that. I do not agree for a moment that at that time hon. Members opposite were demanding action only through the United Nations.
§ Mr. M. Stewart
If the hon. and learned Member wishes to be fair, he will recall that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, speaking for the party on this side of the House, said explicitly and firmly in the first debate that we could not support the use of force by this country outside the terms of the Charter. That was made clear to the Government at that time.
§ Mr. Doughty
I was not in the House when that speech was made. I was referring to what happened on 27th July.
§ Mr. Doughty
I am coming to that. I was not here when the reference was made to the United Nations, but I wish to make special reference to the United Nations, and my reasons for supporting the Government in the necessary action which they have taken.
In the weeks and months that followed, negotiations took place, and Mr. Menzies, a very eminent statesman, went to Egypt to try to effect a settlement. The matter was taken to the United Nations in September. I am now referring to the seizure of the Suez Canal, and not the Egypt-Israeli war, which had not then broken out. But no solution was arrived at in all those negotiations. No hon. Member can deny that the visit in September to the United Nations, and those negotiations, came to nothing, because of the completely impossible, firm and intransigent attitude adopted by the Egyptians.
§ Mr. Doughty
I was simply saying that the negotiations during those weeks and months were unsuccessful because of the impossible attitude adopted by the Egyptians. Unless they intended to change their attitude completely on 29th October, or any other date, I do not see that negotiations on that date, or any other date, place or time, would have had the slightest chance of success.
After all, the Egyptians had plenty of time and opportunity to make offers which had a reasonable chance of acceptance. At that time the Egyptians were in a strong position to negotiate and to bargain. No one wanted to use force if it was possible to avoid doing so. Undoubtedly, they could have arrived at terms of settlement which would have been favourable to themselves and honourable to us, but they refused to do so. In my view they were not entirely masters in their own house. We know that they had put themselves largely into debt for the consignment of arms from Russia or at any rate from countries behind the Iron Curtain. It may well be that was intended to be the spearhead of Russian infiltration into the Middle East, a thing which we could never permit for a moment.
My own view is that had we not taken action when we did, we should have found in the not too distant future—perhaps after a few months, or may be a year or two, it makes no difference—that there were Russian technicians, so-called, Russian volunteers, in the Middle East, with Russian arms and aeroplanes. Then, on some excuse which it is easy enough to find these days, they would have been physically in control of large parts of the Middle East.
Hon. Members have said, and repeated today, that we should have left the whole matter to the United Nations. I wonder whether they have ever sat down to consider exactly the composition, powers and Charter of the United Nations. It is not a judicial body, it is a political body. There is, of course, an International Court of Justice. We know that, and we know also that in some ways it is not a very successful one. There is still over £600,000 owing to us from Albania after a decision in our favour by the International Court. But in any case, questions of this kind are not such as should 493 be referred to an international court, which obviously must work slowly.
The Charter of the United Nations gives the General Assembly power, under Article 10, to make recommendations. Recommendations are made, of a laudable character, but they do not go very far. The power comes from the Security Council which always is, and always will be, hamstrung by the power of veto, which it is very often quite wrong to use.
§ Mr. Doughty
It was quite right to use it on that occasion.
All the nations who take part in that Security Council have not given it the force which the Charter of the United Nations expected it would have, when it was formed. Article 43 deals with this matter. Let us look at what it says:All members of the United Nations, in order to contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security, undertake to make available to the Security Council, on its call and in accordance with a special agreement or agreements, armed forces, assistance and facilities. …Where are they? Now it has them, because we have done the right thing and have shaken up the United Nations, if I may use that expression.
Article 45 also says:In order to enable the United Nations to take urgent military measures, Members shall hold immediately available national air force contingents for combined international enforcement action.What country has made this national air force contingent available for combined international action. I am not criticising any country, but it has not been done. Therefore, the Security Council has, and always will have, until the full Charter is implemented, limitations upon the power of action which the original framers had in mind when they drew up the Charter.
When we were faced with this danger in the Middle East of a conflagration which was likely to spread over the whole area, with the Russians not very far away, there was nothing for this country to do but to take the action which we did rather than refer it simply to the United Nations. The matter was referred to the United Nations, but if we had done nothing else we should have taken no action at all. The United Nations has 494 no power to enforce decisions and would have done nothing but pass recommendations. We know that it has not made an effective contribution to the solution of the almost insoluble problem of the Israeli-Egypt conflict. It has sent observers as part of a truce organisation but they have not advanced towards a solution of the matter by one inch.
I am a supporter of the United Nations because I am a supporter of peace, but I cannot say that there is nothing wrong with it; of course there is. I can only hope that the force which it will now, after the event, call together will be capable of carrying out the tasks imposed upon it and that in future there will be available a more permanent force to give teeth to the Security Council, which speaks as the effective body of the United Nations.
I turn to another part of the Gracious Speech, that which says:My Ministers, while fostering the traditional and established Commonwealth preferential system, attach great importance to increasing and strengthening economic co-operation in Europe.There are many matters in regard to which we get preference from Commonwealth countries and I hope that that will be continued. I hope that the system of Imperial Preference will be continued, if not extended.
Hon. Members of the Opposition have made reference today to coal. Whatever the reasons may be, this country will be unable to produce, or will not produce, sufficient coal for our own needs. I am glad that the Minister of Fuel and Power is remaining on the Government Front Bench to hear what I have to say on this matter. Because of that deficiency, we have to buy coal from America with our, very scarce dollars.
When I was in Australia recently I discovered a fact of which I was not aware before, that Australia now produces a large quantity of coal. Some of the Australian pits have only recently been opened and some are difficult to work because of their position. There are also technical difficulties. The Australians are going in for hydro-electric schemes. Whether those schemes are rather large for their capacity is for them to decide, but the schemes reduce the Australian demand for coal.
495 I had the privilege of talking to many people, including members of the Federal Parliament at Canberra who represent mining constituencies. They assured me that there would be no difficulty in supplying us with coal, but the exact grade and quality would be a matter that can be gone into. I am not referring now to brown soft coal, but to hard coal.
I said that I would draw the attention of the Minister of Fuel and Power to this possibility, and I am doing so now. If we can get coal from Australia and other Dominions we shall save dollars and shall be assisting ourselves as well as Australia a great deal. It will be good for everybody. Australia is looked upon chiefly as a country producing wool, meat and agricultural produce, but I hope that we shall be able to add coal to our imports from that country.
There is a reference to the British Transport Commission in the Gracious Speech, because its financial affairs will soon be before us once again. I would pay tribute to the work done by the staff of British Railways. In my constituency the railway system is all-electric. Trains run close behind one another. People crowd the trains, particularly in rush hours, in large numbers, and if there were a collision the consequences would be disastrous. That is prevented only by the skill and devotion to duty of those who run the railways.
When talking about railways, I wish to say that I entirely agree with what was said by an hon. Friend a few minutes ago—that we must not forget our roads. That problem is very grave in this country. Successive Governments of all political parties have for various reasons ignored it. I am glad to see that this Government are making a commencement, but I should like to see still more done about that. Our distances are short, our traffic is heavy and likely to increase. Our congestion is costly and our roads are too narrow. Recently in America I saw great roads being built. Although their problem is entirely different from ours in the country districts, when one gets near the towns one sees large fly-overs and viaducts, and one is able to see how they have solved a problem which some day will have to be solved here.
496 I see that the question of homicide and also rent control are to be discussed. I am glad that some form of compromise has been arrived at between the Government and those who strongly, although I believe mistakenly, believe in the abolition of the death penalty. I congratulate the Government on having drafted a Bill which is extremely difficult to draft. I am sure that in Committee we shall be able to improve on it still further.
§ Mr. Speaker
I hope that the hon. Member will not anticipate the debate on the Second Reading of the Bill which is now before the House.
§ Mr. Doughty
I assure you, Mr. Speaker, that I was not doing so; I was congratulating the Government on successfully dealing with the problem.
The question of rent control is most important because the failure of successive Governments to deal with the question has meant that so many houses fall into gross disrepair. Then the population goes on living in rent-restricted houses. As people dare not leave them, they are tied down to a particular locality when it might be in their interest to move to another locality.
I have read the whole of the Gracious Speech and I am satisfied, not only that this House will have plenty to do in this Session, but that its labours will be fruitful in the interests and prosperity of the people of this country.
§ 3.2 p.m.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Rugby)
In view of the time, I propose to make a very short speech on one subject only. If the hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) will forgive me, I shall not follow his legal observations on United Nations Articles and the Egypt-Israel crisis. I wish to turn to one paragraph of the Gracious Speech, which says:Fortified by the unique advances in Parliamentary democracy and economic prosperity which the joint effort of the Commonwealth has already achieved, My Ministers will be concerned to further the progress and constitutional development of the territories for whose well-being they are responsible.I am happy about the prospect of Ghana coming into being. Some months ago I was in Accra talking with Kwame Nkrumah when some anxiety was expressed about this matter and there was also anxiety about the position of Kumasi and Ashanti in the north. I only hope 497 that when those Nigerian representatives come here in a few months' time as happy and as felicitous a settlement may be made as has been made over the Gold Coast. I do congratulate the Secretary of State on his courage in this.
Why is there no mention of Malta in the Gracious Speech? That will be disappointing to Maltese and to Dom Mintoff. Here we have a people who want to come into the United Kingdom Parliament as opposed to some who, we are told, may wish to leave the Commonwealth during the present crisis. I welcome these future developments which are foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech.
I wish to make comment on the words in the second paragraph of the Gracious Speech:To this end they will welcome the broadest measure of co-operation with the Commonwealth, with our Allies in the Atlantic Alliance and in Europe, and with those international agencies of which the United Kingdom is a member.It is a rather shocking thing and has caused much comment outside this Chamber that, for the first time since 1945, no mention is made of the United Nations as such. I think that is a rather significant, if not a sinister, development in the thinking on the Government benches.
About Suez I will say little. Much has been said from these benches this week, and more will be said outside this House. I shall say more myself tonight at a place called Twickenham. I shall content myself now by saying that I was in Zurich during the weekend and met many Germans, Swiss, Africans and other people. Concerning the happenings of the last seven or ten days, I found there a mood of philosophic sadness, that for the first time we had used the veto, gone in for bombing and been the aggressors. They ask now, "Who can now tell us what is good and what is bad? Who will tell us what is decent and what is indecent? Who will give us a stand on things which are ethical and things which are not ethical?"
Egypt is an African State and a Moslem State. Egypt is a former Colonial Territory and Egypt is, of course, coloured. There is therefore an emotional sympathy with Nasser and the 498 Egyptians amongst all these coloured peoples in Africa and Asia. Whatever we may say in the House, there is no doubt whatever that they look upon Nasser as a martyr.
I want, therefore, in this context to move to a question concerning Northern Rhodesia. Except for a few Europeans, all our subjects in the African territories are coloured. We have large numbers of Moslems, particularly in North Nigeria. I want to call the Government's attention to the fact that what we are doing in the Suez has an enormous impact upon these people in our Colonies, and that is why it is so important that we should keep our hands clean in those territories and be above suspicion in all what we do. We must above all things hold the good will of these people in our Colonies. In Central Africa we shall move in the years to come into a period of constitutional negotiation such as that which we are having on the West African Coast. We shall have to examine again the Federation of Central Africa and its constitution at the latest by 1962, and perhaps by 1960. In 1958 there will be elections in Northern Rhodesia, and at the moment we have a state of emergency there.
Last week I asked some questions about these leaders of the African unions and leaders of the African National Congress who have been put into gaol in Lusaka. About 40 or 50 leaders have been put in gaol. When I asked the Secretary of State why, how many, and what was happening to those prisoners in a Question on 31st October, he said:No member of the union has been charged with an offence."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st October, 1956; Vol. 558; c. 1431.]In other words, 40 or 50 leaders in "Colonial Territory are in gaol, charged with no offence whatever.
I have had sent to me by the solicitors MacDonnell Stewart & Co, in Salisburj, Southern Rhodesia, a copy of their application for the release of these prisoners now in gaol. There are 54 detainees at Mwamba, Northern Rhodesia. Here is the habeas corpus application, which I have in my hand They write:We send you herewith copy of a habeas corpus application which we are filing in Lusaka today.499 I do not wish to bore the House with details, but perhaps I might read a little further:Our Counsel … is not very optimistic as to his chances of success in the application, and he has told the Detainees that such is his opinion, but it is felt that a habeas corpus application is the only way of drawing public attention to the fact that these people have been under detention for nearly two months and that there seems to be little, or no, immediate prospect of their release.It is quite well known that there have been disputes over African advancement in the copper mines. There have been sporadic strikes at these mines in Northern Rhodesia. Nevertheless, the faces of the leaders both of the unions and of the African National Congress have been set against any violence and, almost without exception, the movement there has been a non-violent movement. There have been no injuries or loss of life and no threats whatever to the normal supplies of food and water—nothing like what happened in Kenya and Malaya, as I said to the Minister the other day—yet we have a state of emergency. These men are being kept in gaol month after month.
It is an old tale, this of putting away coloured leaders of unions and native movements in our Colonies; but in my view it is mistaken to keep these men in gaol for this length of time—and, apparently, for an indeterminate length of time in this case. We simply make martyrs of these leaders and enable them to gain prestige amongst their own people which is sometimes deserved and sometimes undeserved. It is an old trick this. We shall have to get them out.
A classic example is that of Mr. Kwame Nkrumah of the Gold Coast, whom we had in prison. When the elections of 1950 were held, he was taken out of gaol to become the leader of his State. Next year he will be attending the conference of the Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth, with all the other leaders of the Dominions and Colonial Territories. I submit, therefore, that what we want in the coming year is an atmosphere of good will to carry out these delicate and difficult negotiations in the course of these people towards independence.
This is not the sort of thing that will achieve this good atmosphere, this good will, whereby we must negotiate in the next few years in Central Africa. I am 500 not one who has given up hope of the Federation being a success in Central Africa. In parenthesis, I want to say how much I welcome European leaders like Sir Roy Welensky and others doing what they have done about the colour bar. They have abolished the colour bar on the railways, and are passing laws to have not merely African unions in South Rhodesia but mixed unions, of white people and black, in the Federation. These are hopeful steps, and when I hear of what is happening in South Rhodesia, which is a self-governing territory and alleged to be liberal, I am a little dismayed that, in our own Colony, where we can do all these things with the consent of the Secretary of State, we are lagging behind in holding these men in gaol in this way.
I hope that the Minister now present will convey to the Secretary of State for the Colonies how some of us feel about this, and how much we hope that we can send some message to these people in Africa telling them that we want to see a multi-racial society there, and some spirit of good will and co-partnership. To that end, this sort of thing does not help at all. I hope that the responsible Minister will think about this again and, with his Governor in Lusaka, will declare the state of emergency ended, and will allow these men to go back to their families.
I hope that the Government will see sense about this, and will be magnanimous and statesmanlike about it. Therefore, I appeal to the Minister to convey this message to the Secretary of State; that it is just about time that we snowed a little more magnanimity here, and that he should help the Europeans living there to attempt to bridge the gap between themselves and the coloured peoples by not permitting this stupid and unfortunate thing to continue.
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) may I point out that on the last occasion four hon. Members rose. We have 45 minutes left for this debate, I should like as many hon. Members as possible to be able to express their views, and if hon. Members will confine themselves to about ten minutes each we can get everybody in.
§ 3.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
I shall certainly confine myself to that time, Mr. Speaker.
I share with the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. J. Johnson) a very deep concern for the welfare, progress and development of the African States in West Africa and Central Africa. I approach the subject from, perhaps, a rather different angle. I think that the hon. Member approaches it mainly from the point of view of political development, perhaps before economic development.
I would rather stress that political development cannot come without economic development, and that economic development cannot come without the prosperity of this country to bring it about. We are at present in some difficulty in using our capital resources from this country in investment in the Commonwealth. I want in these few words of mine to urge that that should be one of our prime objectives at the present time.
Are we in this country to remain as a nation of shopkeepers and to produce the manufactured goods and the consumer goods for other nations, or are we to launch out and to build the shops in other lands, to build the markets overseas and to build the purchasing power to purchase our goods? I would say that the latter is the right objective and that we ought at present to concentrate on capital development overseas rather than on a search for the consumer markets for the sale of our manufactured goods from this country.
That is why I feel a little doubtful about the wooing of the common market in Europe. Are we not there seeking a market which is already fully stocked? Should we ever be successful in a market of that kind without stealing customers from others? If we look to the overseas markets in our Colonial Territories and in the Commonwealth, we have there a tremendous chance for development. It seems to me that by looking to Europe we are, as it were, wooing a fair damsel who is already betrothed, whereas there are the beautiful virgins awaiting us in the Colonial and Commonwealth Territories.
I have found, not amongst hon. and right hon. Members in the House, but amongst many of the public, an idea that 502 our Colonies are still the wide open spaces of a century or two ago. There is a lack of realisation of the crowded population in West Africa, for example—in the Gold Coast and in Nigeria, as the hon. Member for Rugby mentioned—and of the number of things which they want from this country, things that we can produce, from bicycles to ships, the kind of things that we in this country produce very well.
The Central African Federation requires our products—for example, radio and electrical equipment, motor cars and many other things. There are there tremendous markets to be developed without looking towards the far more difficult markets in Europe. To develop those markets in the Commonwealth and Colonial Territories, we have to create the purchasing power. Although markets are in existence and ready, they can become even greater by developing the purchasing power and developing it by capital investment, in particular in the development of power and of energy.
There is, for example, the great Volta River scheme in the Gold Coast. I join with the hon. Member for Rugby, who complimented the Government on the phrase in the Gracious Speech which indicates the intention to bring in the necessary legislation for the independence of the Gold Coast. We have seen the; very great development there toward stable government, and I think that Kwame Nkrumah can make that government stable and thereby attract capital into that great, imaginative scheme for the Volta River. That will increase the purchasing power of the Gold Coast.
There are other great schemes of that type in Nigeria. Turning to Central Africa, one sees there the great scheme for a railway across Central Africa and the development of the coal production of the Rhodesias. There again, we could be creating by capital investment in that sort of project a market for our production in this country, and a market far more certain and sure, I believe, than the already full market in Europe. Looking farther south, there is the development which awaits us in even a small country like Swaziland, the development of a railway across Swaziland to carry the coal from South Africa on its way to this country.
There are those tremendous possibilities which are crying out for fulfilment 503 by this country at the present time, developments from which, to look at them from the practical point of view, we can get a return. This is so, not only in our Colonial Territories but also in the foreign States of the Middle East. Even despite all this trouble at the present time the Arabs still welcome our scientific knowledge, our skill and our money in the development of projects in their countries.
Of course, that raises a problem which has been in our minds over the past ten days or so. If one spends money and manpower on developments in another person's country, to what extent is one entitled to protect those developments? To what extent is one nation entitled to protect its property within another nation's boundaries? I think that that will raise very great problems for the future, because if we are going to develop the under-developed countries it means putting our resources into those countries. Are we then to hand over the whole of that development? Or have we any title to protect it? The United Nations has a problem there, which ought to be considered, and fairly rapidly, otherwise the development of the underdeveloped countries will not take place. Neither we, nor America, nor any of the other larger Powers with the finance to develop the under-developed countries will put money into them if the product from it cannot be protected. The United Nations must in the very near future think out that problem. Is it going to protect property as well as lives? Because very frequently property means lives.
I think I have kept within your set time, Mr. Speaker. I do not want to go back over the last ten days' debates, nor do I want to go too far forward into the debates of Monday and Tuesday. I believe there are many phrases in the Gracious Speech which indicate the determination of the Government to assist our colonial possessions in their development and their advance, and I hope that that advance will be by way of economic progress first and political progress to follow.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
Many hon. Members during the course of the debate have said that the grave and momentous events of the last ten days 504 have occupied our minds almost to the total exclusion of everything else. Thus it is that the contents of the Gracious Speech, and its omissions, have received far less notice and attention than otherwise would be the case. This is understandable and is as it should be. But I think that hon. Members on all sides of the House will agree that certain things have emerged very clearly at this time. They are the great power and importance and influence of the House of Commons and the weight that must be attached to the opinions expressed by Her Majesty's Opposition.
Although the party on this side of the House is a minority party, nevertheless its views, sincerely held and strongly expressed, have stemmed the tide of events during the last ten days and have contributed in no small way towards the Government's partial reversal of their disastrous policy in the Middle East.
We read from time to time that the power of our Parliament is declining. The events of recent days have shown clearly that that is not so. Parliament is still an effective forum of the people, and we can say with pride that this Parliament of ours is still the best way so far devised by men to manage their affairs. That has been brought into tragic relief during the past few days by the actions of the Soviet Government in Hungary.
The agony of the Hungarian people is a sword in the heart of each one of us. They seek the freedom, which is the heritage of every nation, to develop their institutions freely without interference from any external Power, and the vicious and bestial spirit which now seeks to put out the light in Hungary is in the traditions of the most brutal aggressors who have ever besmirched the pages of history. If ever military intervention is justified in any country it is in Hungary today, and the only thing that restrains free nations from intervention there is the knowledge that total war might ensue which might smash civilisation and engulf the whole world in darkness. That makes the Government's military intervention in Egypt even more culpable.
The powers of Parliamentary democracy have been amply illustrated in the last few days, but the Government have, in one direction, sought to ignore its voice by its treatment of the Bill introduced in the last Session by my hon. 505 Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). The Government have heeded the voice of another place and not of this Chamber and have flouted the free vote of the House of Commons. It is extremely strange in these circumstances to observe in the Gracious Speech that the Government intend to put forward proposals for reforming the House of Lords.
Whatever our views may be about that reform, I am convinced that it is desirable that before any such proposals are given the force of law there should be unanimity in the House of Commons about such a change. In view of the Government's deliberate insult to the House of Commons, I cannot see that that unanimity can possibly be achieved at this time. The Prime Minister and his colleagues must apply their minds to the reality of this position before trying to effect a major change in our Constitution.
I turn briefly to one notable omission from the Gracious Speech. It is an omission to which we have become rather accustomed in the past few years. There is no mention whatsoever of Wales in the Speech. There are many developments in the Principality which the Government should take very seriously into account. I should like to mention briefly two or three of them.
First, the Gracious Speech refers to the desirability of maintaining full employment in the country. The Government are perfectly well aware that in a certain area in Wales unemployment is running at a very high rate. In north-west Wales we have had chronic unemployment for several years. In my constituency, Anglesey, for instance, unemployment runs at between 7 per cent. and 8 per cent. of the insured population. If that percentage were general throughout the whole of the country, the figures of unemployed would be about 4 million to 5 million. Hon. Members will appreciate, therefore, how serious and difficult is the situation.
The Government, confronted with a similar situation in the North of Ireland, decided to take constructive action. I have before me an advertisement from the Financial Times referring to Northern Ireland and the remedial measures which are being taken by the Government there. The advertisement reads as follows: 506No C.I.C. squeeze on factory development in Northern Ireland. Unused resources to be developed—says the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In a letter to the Chairman of the Capital Issues Committee the Chancellor of the Exchequer said of Northern Ireland 'There, in contrast to the rest of the U.K., are unused resources which might be developed for the benefit of our economy as a whole. I am therefore writing to let you know that the Treasury will be ready in principle to consent to proposals to raise money exclusively for investment in Northern Ireland …' Now … Northern Ireland offers you generous financial assistance … factories … on rental from as little as 9d. per sq. ft. per annum plentiful labour.In other words, in Ulster the Government are taking positive action in an effort to solve the unemployment problem, but in spite of the fact that we have raised the question in debate and in Parliamentary Questions, and documents which have been produced by various bodies analysing the situation, the Government have done nothing at all to try to solve the grave problem which still exists in North Wales. That is one matter to which I would like the Government urgently to apply their attention.
Another thing which is troubling us in Wales is the continued drift from the rural areas—the great problem of depopulation. We have also had many debates in the House about that, but no constructive action has been taken. I will give one example of the Government's failure to act effectively. The Government—including the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Minister for Welsh Affairs—have said from time to, time that they believe that one of the factors which may help to solve this unemployment problem in rural Wales and the problem of the drift from the land is the expansion of the Forestry Commission's work. We have all agreed. We believe that forestry properly planned, with arrangements for ancillary industries to be established in the area, will present one effective solution.
But in recent weeks we have been astounded to learn that the Forestry Commission has created redundancies in North Wales. The number of redundancies is not large, but in view of the Government's hopes that this would present a solution, it is a great disappointment to us to learn that in fact the Forestry Commission is not expanding in mid-Wales but is in fact contracting. I should like the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the 507 Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, whom I am glad to see in his place, to look into this question and ascertain whether we can have some long-term planning by the Forestry Commission, because we believe that it has a contribution to make to our dilemma.
There is, again, the disappointment which we feel in Wales at the lack of the development of civil aviation in the Principality. I do not know whether the House is aware of it, but Wales is the only region in the United Kingdom where B.E.A. does not operate at all. We make our contribution through the Exchequer to any losses which B.E.A. may sustain, but we get no corresponding benefit from that Corporation. Its services go to Scotland and the Isle of Man, but not to Wales.
We were hoping that the new air agreement operating between this country and Eire would bring benefits, but I must say that the new agreement does not help Wales constructively in any sense. New routes are mentioned for Wales—I believe four—in the schedule to this new agreement, but for three of these routes the Welsh aerodrome mentioned, Haverfordwest, is out of use. Therefore, this new agreement does not help us in any sense. We are extremely disappointed about this, and we hope that the Government will look again to see whether some proper development can be achieved in the Principality.
My last point refers to the question of administration in Wales. We, as Welsh Members, have argued over a long period that the Government administration in Wales is haphazard and untidy. Recently the Minister for Welsh Affairs received a Report on Administration from the Council of Wales and Monmouth. We have not seen that Report. The Minister says that, because of its length, it will take some time before he can publish it. Hon. Members from the Principality believe that it should be published at once. A great deal of work has been put into it and it has important recommendations to make.
We look forward to having a debate in the House on the entire field of Government administration in Wales. A great deal remains to be done. We are therefore disappointed that there is no reference to Wales in the Gracious Speech, and we 508 hope that in the months to come the Government will pay far more attention to the needs of the Principality than they have done in the past.
§ 3.36 p.m.
Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett (Croydon, North-East)
In view of the need to be brief, I hope that the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) will forgive me if I do not follow him, except to express fairly general disagreement with his interpretation of our constitution.
The part of the Gracious Speech to which I wish to refer is that which opens with the words:My Ministers will continue to keep the collaboration of employers and workers in combining full employment, rising production and stable prices.I think I am on firm ground in saying that all hon. Members are in complete agreement with the sentiments behind those words.
Presumably, one of the matters in the minds of Her Majesty's advisers when those words were drafted was the possibility of taking legislative action to embody minimum periods of notice in contracts of service. I am sure there will also be a wide measure of agreement that this is a matter which requires the most careful thought and investigation. I wish to say a few words about that aspect of a man's contract of service which is concerned with the wage structure under which he works.
One of the disturbing phenomena in our economy since the war has been the tendency for wage demands to be presented annually, and sometimes, as it seems to outside observers, almost automatically. I particularly wish to avoid approaching the matter in a controversial manner, but I think it will be conceded that one of the big inflationary factors since the war has been the granting of wage increases in conditions when they have not been accompanied by or related to corresponding increases in output.
The question which is asked by many of us who are outside industry is: what is the basic reason for these recurring demands? The reason which is most frequently put forward is the rise in the cost of living. I am not entirely convinced—I do not, however, wish to digress to argue the point—that one can justify 509 salary or wage structures which are actually linked with the cost of living. I know it can be argued both ways, but what must be admitted is that demands for increased wages have been made and conceded in years when the cost of living has not necessarily increased very much. The current year, for example, is a bad year, as it has turned out, for a wage demand based on a rising cost of living, but that has not prevented demands coming forward.
There are, of course, plenty of other reasons which can be advanced for increased wages without bringing in the cost of living. One can cite the fact that people of another industry, who appear to be doing work on a corresponding scale, are on a higher wage rate, or one can cite increased output or increased profits by firms. One can, of course, understand the desire of those employed in industry to have a share of the results of rising output, but I, for one, believe that the first beneficiary should be the public, through the medium of lower prices.
The true reason for recurring requests for higher wages is a simple, human and natural one, namely, that people like to get more pay. In that connection I ask hon. Members to consider the position of a large number of wage earners in this country who reach their maximum rate at the age of 21 or a little younger. In many of those cases there is nothing whatever to look forward to in the way of increased wages or earnings for the remainder of their lives, except something which may be achieved by an all-round wage increase.
In effect, this means that, other things being equal, these people face a steadily declining standard of living over the years as their family responsibilities expand. Of course men and women in such a position will always support or vote for any suggestion that their rates of pay should go up. They would be lacking in sense if they did not. Yet I suggest to the House that there is a possible alternative which ought to be looked at more closely than it has so far been examined.
I would like to see a re-examination of a more extensive adoption of incremental wage structures.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Manchester, Openshaw)
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that the bulk of associations and unions who have been subject 510 to incremental scales have been trying to abolish them for many years?
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I am aware of that and that is why I am raising this matter now and suggesting that it should be re-examined. I realise that this goes against the principle of the rate for the job. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman, however, that people who argue so strongly for the rate for the job in the morning are often the same people who will argue with equal strength in the afternoon for an increase of, say, National Assistance rates.
The two things are, in principle, the antithesis of one another, and I am inclined to think that the promise of a rate of wage which expands slightly as men get older and their family responsibilities grow greater would do something to settle the unrest and constant desire for wage increases. I may be prejudiced because I have been in a Service where these increases were in force. No one would suggest that a young seaman aged 23, 24 or 25 has not reached his prime. Equally, no one would suggest that the practice by which he will continue to receive regular increments is not good because it gives him something to look forward to. The chief attraction of these increments is their psychological value.
I realise that there are enormous practical difficulties in the way of incremental wage structures, particularly as regards mobility of labour and their first introduction. If the matter were not a difficult one, I would not be wasting the time of the House in bringing it forward this afternoon.
In conclusion, I hope that the Minister and both sides of industry will not close their minds to this possible approach. I hope that it will be looked at again, perhaps with a more open mind than has been the case in the past, because I believe that much can be achieved in this direction.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)
The subject which the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) has introduced is an exceedingly interesting one, which obviously cannot be anything like fully debated in the fifteen minutes which remain. As one who has been engaged in industry for many years, I can see 511 tremendous difficulties in the way of introducing his proposal. One of the dangers—and I shall content myself with it this afternoon—is that automatic incremental increases would lead to inefficiency in most industries, not to mention the difficulties that would arise about "the rate for the job", and the difficulty of getting men to accept positions in the higher grades of the railway service, for instance, because the gaps between the semi-skilled rates, the skilled rates and the higher skilled rates are so narrow that men will not take higher positions when the greater responsibility involved is not adequately compensated for.
If there are to be automatic increases as a man's responsibilities increase, what happens when he reaches the age where his children begin to leave home, leaving him and his wife alone? Is he then to go back down the scale, or still proceed upwards? All these are problems which make the question extremely difficult to deal with, and it is certainly not capable of being dealt with adequately this afternoon.
I rise mainly to call attention to the fact that it is now more than eighteen months since the last Gracious Speech. On that occasion, on 9th June, 1955, there was a reference to the implementation of one small part of the Gowers Report. The Gowers Committee was set up by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) in 1946; it reported in 1949 and, in the Gracious Speech of 9th June, 1955, there occurred a reference to the fact that one part of the Committee's Report was to be implemented. The Leader of the Opposition—Mr. Attlee as he then was—commented upon this fact and said: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 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) …Later on, the Prime Minister, commenting upon the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition, said: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, 512 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 opportunity offers, it will certainly be included."—[OFFICIAL REPORT,9th June, 1955; Vol. 542, v. 53, 62–3.]That would lead one to believe that at least one of the things which would be found in this Gracious Speech eighteen months later would be what the Prime Minister had promised on 9th June, 1955—but we find no mention at all of the safety and welfare of the railway workers. The Gracious Speech makes some reference to the improvement of working conditions in these words:My Ministers are resolved to maintain progress in improving social and working conditions, and you will be invited to approve a Bill to amend the law about the closing hours of shops and related matters.In another part of the Gracious Speech there is a reference to the necessity of maintaining a high level of employment and prosperity.
In another part of the Gracious Speech there is a reference to legislation to be introduced to deal with the finances of railways. I wish that the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation were present this afternoon to try to unravel some of the bedlam of economics contained in his White Paper. I assure the Government that if they expect to get increased efficiency on the railways, something must be done quickly to implement the Gowers Report relating to railway operations, both on the permanent way and in railway offices.
In the next couple of weeks, when legislation is introduced, we shall be told how the modernisation plan of the British Transport Commission is to be speeded up. That will involve the building of bigger engines, the widening of bridges, the increasing of speeds, the increasing of the size of trains. All that will result in added risks and responsibilities to railway staff. I am not thinking of responsibility in the sense of pay increases and improved conditions, but increased responsibility in their work.
If we increase the speed of trains, and one of the aims of the modernisation programme is to do that, obviously, we increase the dangers to the men engaged on the permanent way. If we increase the size of engines, we increase the dangers and risks in the railway shops. At present there are thousands of men 513 employed in those grades on the railway who have not the normal protection afforded by the Factory Acts. In this connection it is not without interest to refer again to the Second Reading which was given to the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies). Having got a Second Reading that Bill was committed to a Standing Committee, and there, on behalf of the Government, the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) the then Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, made this statement on behalf of the Government:I can, of course, give the Committee the assurance that a Bill will be drafted"—the hon. Gentleman was opposing the Bill under discussion—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.]Of course, we all thought he meant 6th May, 1955, because that was the date on which the preceding Parliament was to be prorogued. But I am in doubt now whether the hon. Gentleman was thinking of 6th May, 1957. It will not be long before we get to that date, and if this Gracious Speech is anything to go by, and if the hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) was right when he said that this was a full programme of legislation, we are not likely to get a railway Bill in this Session.
What becomes of the promise of the Prime Minister? After all, the Prime Minister occupies a responsible position and he was replying to the speech made at that time by the Leader of the Opposition. He said that if there was time there would be a Bill introduced. Having sat through the last Session of Parliament I cannot believe that all the Parliamentary days in that Session were most usefully used by the Government. They would have been much more profitably employed dealing with this kind of matter rather than some of the Measures that took up the time of the House.
It is not only in the international field but in the domestic field that the honour of the Prime Minister is at stake. We are entitled to ask him whether the Government will implement the promise which he gave to the Leader of the Opposition on 9th June, 1955. If the programme of railway modernisation is 514 to be carried through by the British Transport Commission, and if the Government expect the co-operation of the people employed on the railways in carrying that programme through so as to get a finer degree of efficiency, railway-men are entitled to at least the minimum of protection now afforded to workers in almost every other industry.
I hope that, in winding up the debate on the Address, some word will be contributed by the Government spokesman giving an assurance on these lines to the railwaymen. Otherwise, I predict that the hope of improving the efficiency of the railways in this country is doomed to disappointment.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ Mr. G. B. Drayson (Skipton)
In the few minutes at my disposal I should like to say a word on the implementation of the Gowers Report. Let me refer, first, to the lines in the Gracious Speech which say:…you will be invited to approve a Bill to amend the law about the closing hours of shops and related matters.I could have wished that the reference was to opening hours rather than to closing hours. Opening time is always much more attractive than closing time.
§ Mr. Drayson
The conclusions of the Committee are stated thus in its Report:Existing shops legislation exemplifies the maxim that hard cases make bad laws There are too many exemptions; the law tries overmuch to combine the incompatibles of compelling shops to shut and allowing people to buy. This has had disastrous consequences, especially in mixed shops; in certain respects the law is neither observed nor enforceable, and has been brought into contempt. The only practical remedy is to cut down exemptions.Later, the Report states:Legislation that affects the daily lives of so many people should be simple and intelligible. It is in fact obscure and complicated. This is largely because it is contained in to many different Acts of Parliament.I hope that the Government will pay particular attention to the problems of the small shopkeeper. My own experience of the opening hours of shops is that shops are never open when I am able to go shopping. It is a mistake that shop hours should be the same as working hours. People who want to visit shops are invariably workers, apart from 515 their wives, who are looking after the home during the day.
There is a great deal to be said for extending shop opening hours to very much later in the day. The Report deals with this point. It would mean that factory workers could spend some part of their evenings doing their shopping instead of having to devote Saturday, their one free day, almost entirely to doing the weekly shopping. There are many ways in which this change could be assisted. If we altered the hours of shop opening to, say, 10 o'clock, especially in the large cities, we should not have office workers competing for transport with people coming in to serve in shops. That would be a relief of traffic congestion in big cities.
The Report goes on to say that from now on as much as possible has to be done to protect those who work in shops and—
§ It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.