§ [SECOND DAY]
Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [28th October]:
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 the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
§ Question again proposed.
§ Mr. Speaker
Before we proceed with the debate before us, perhaps it might be for the convenience of the House if I say a few words about what I understand the future course of the debate is to be. I understand that it is desired that today's debate should be of a general nature. Tomorrow, Thursday, it is desired to deal with foreign and colonial affairs, and on Friday with the subject of the increase of crime.
Of course, on all these days the Question proposed from the Chair will be the general Question on the Address. The debate is to be continued on Monday and Tuesday. At the moment there is only one Amendment on the Order Paper, but I have no doubt that there will be more; but I had better defer anything I have to say about these Amendments until I have seen them.
§ Mrs. E. M. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)
On a point of order. On Thursday, at the time of Prorogation, I raised with you, Mr. Speaker, the question of how, in a supposed ballot, tickets for the opening of Parliament had been allocated to Members of the House. You made reference, Sir, to the fact that you would, perhaps, be saying something about it and you also said something to the effect that what happened on that occasion would not happen again. I am now speaking not only for myself, but for many back benchers, peculiarly enough for me, on both sides of the House. I should like to know whether any statement is to be made about what 147 happened, and whether we can know what is to be done to prevent this sort of thing from happening on another occasion.
§ Mr. Speaker
In reply to the hon. Lady, all I can say is that I understand that when we separated for the Summer Recess the arrangements for the televising of the opening ceremony were not complete and, therefore, the allocation of the seating accommodation in the galleries in another place could not be accurately ascertained. The difficulty then was that we were unable to issue with the Whip, which normally goes out, the arrangements for the ballot.
As soon as the number of seats allocated to hon. Members of the House was ascertained, steps were taken to publish a notice in the Press about the arrangements for the ballot. I understand that that notice appeared fairly widely, although I did not look for it myself, being otherwise engaged. I understand that now that we have had this experiment yesterday, carried out successfully, we shall be in a better position, by the end of this Session and the Summer Recess, to know what accommodation will actually be available in the galleries of another place.
Therefore, hon. Members will be given timely warning in the Whip, in the usual way, of the arrangements such as we have had in the past. That is the extent of what I know about the matter.
§ Mrs. Braddock
In thanking you for that explanation, may I say that it is most unsatisfactory, Mr. Speaker, as some of us are not in a position to obtain The Times or the Daily Telegraph every day, and many hon. Members knew nothing whatever about the ballot. When they came here to see about it they were told that the ballot had already taken place. I should like to know whether it is possible to be told how the ballots are taken and under what circumstances these matters are arranged.
§ Mr. Speaker
I only learned about this trouble when I returned to the House two weeks ago. I have given the hon. Lady and the House the information at my disposal. I was not aware of it at the time and I think it is a trouble which has arisen this time but will not recur.
§ 2.42 p.m.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
As one who served part of his apprenticeship to political life as an election agent, I am very interested in the piece of legislation which we are to consider this Session, notice of which has been given today. Either by accident or design—it would be interesting to know which—it was left out of the Queen's Speech. I refer to the proposal for a Bill to remove restrictions on the use of motor cars on polling days. From what the Prime Minister said yesterday and from reports of the Tory Conference at Blackpool, the pattern of the election methods the party opposite are to use when the General Election conies is now clear.
Three things are becoming clear to us from reports which reach us. First, there is to be a ban on interrupters. Secondly, there are to be free rides to the poll. Thirdly, I understand, there is to be something quite new, the use of some new art or gadget called "hidden persuasion" as practised by an expensive firm of advertising agents which is to become an adjunct of the Conservative Central Office to ensure that as the electors enter the Tory cars and go to the poll they will leave their reasoning faculties at home and rely on their complexes.
If I may say a word to my fellow members of the Labour Party who still belong to this honoured profession. I would say do not worry about this. The Labour Party has grown and will grow and will win against all these artifices of the Tory Party. If any of them are worried I would tell them a story which a Labour colleague told me when I was a young agent. It was the story of Keir Hardie's first election in Merthyr Tydvil, when he was opposed by two millionaires. One was a millionaire coal owner and the other was a diamond merchant. As the day of the election came near his agent was very worried about what he heard in rumours about what the squirearchy, the coal owners and rich industrialists, were to bring to the aid of Hardie's opponents. There were very few, if any, motor cars in those days, but they were to be supplied with the conveyances of that period. In his worry, the agent asked, "What are we to do?", but Hardie replied, "Don't worry, brother, I have already drawn up 149 a poster". There is a copy of that poster among the honoured archives in Merthyr Tydvil, which says:Walk to the poll and vote for Keir Hardie. Conviction is the best conveyance.When the General Election conies conviction will ensure the return of a Labour Government and the defeat of the Tory Party.
We are grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for indicating the days on which special subjects are to be considered in this debate. Today there is to be a general debate. Bearing in mind the special subjects to which we are to devote particular days, hon. Members on both sides of the House will understand if I confine myself today to a general survey of the social services as related to the references to social services in the Gracious Speech.
I begin by adding my word of welcome to that given yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition to the proposed new legislation on the urgent and vital problem of mental health. We are glad that we are to have a Bill to deal with that subject. Obviously it will need a great deal of consideration by this House. I can assure the Leader of the House that he will get constructive help and co-operation from this side of the House, but I hope that in this and other matters to which J shall refer the House will be given all the relevant information when we consider those matters and the House has to make up its mind.
I understand that in this very important field local authorities will have a vital part to play. I hope, therefore, that if there is to be a White Paper on the subject, or when the Bill is considered, the Home Secretary, or whoever is responsible for the Bill, will give the House details, obtained from the Minister of Housing and Local Government, showing in what way the rendering of this new important and vital service by local authorities is to be affected by the block grant, which was decided upon last year. We are facing a very big human problem in this service which is to be administered, in part, by local authorities and we are entitled to know how that work is to be financed and what is to he the relationship to the block grant.
Local authorities are competent to do this work and we know of their experience and valuable work in this 150 human field, but they are not able to do that work unless the money is provided. Do not let us provide a Bill which places new responsibilities and new opportunities for service upon them without at the same time making it possible for them to carry out that operation. I hope we shall have full details about the financial implications and provisions under the general grant, as the block grant is called.
I turn to say something about the proposals for pensions. When the debate began yesterday, before the speech of the Prime Minister, we had thought that possibly that Bill would be one of the first we would have before us this Session. Now we understand the Bill is not to be introduced until early in the New Year. I therefore at once make a claim that it is very important that we should have an early day, perhaps two days, to discuss the White Paper. In view of the momentous issues implicit in all this discussion, the nation is entitled to have the fullest information placed before it.
When we last made a big new departure in the provision of social insurance services, after the Beveridge Committee inquiry, the publication of the Beveridge Committee Report and the Coalition White Paper, when we came to the legislation which it was my privilege to pilot through the House, we had the fullest information—including a detailed report by the Government Actuary—on all the financial implications of the scheme. In the present White Paper, apart from two or three tables at the end, there is not a word from the Actuary. I think it unfair, unjust, and indeed, an insult to this House, to ask us to consider a Measure of this kind without the fullest report from the Actuary on all the financial implications. I am very glad to call as a witness in aid what was said by The Times in a leader quite recently.
This is not just another Pensions Bill. This is an important departure. We in the Labour Party considered our social insurance services in the light of the experience of the past ten years, and we came to the conclusion that a system based upon flat rate contributions and flat rate benefits had become out-moded, and that the time had come to make a change from flat-rate contributions to 151 a graduated system of national super-annuation. We produced a plan, of which this is only a shoddy imitation. This makes a very important and fundamental departure in the whole realm of social insurance. I shall mention one or two factors, because we are entitled to ask some questions of the Minister, who I understand is to speak today, and who I hope will take part in the debate on the White Paper which we hope to have shortly.
First, the Beveridge Report and its recommendations were based upon a fundamental principle which was a radical departure from the old system of social insurance. From their inception in 1911 right up to the 1946 Act, the social insurance services of this country covered only part of the people. There were income limits and other tests. No employed person earning above a certain wage or salary was included in the scheme. All self-employed people were excluded from our social insurance schemes, beginning in 1911 and up to 1946, and therefore those services were social insurance services for only part of the population.
The big change which Beveridge recommended and which was accepted by our party—and, indeed, by the party opposite then, for the Minister is going back on a fundamental principle which was accepted by the nation, which, I believe, will reject the changes he is now making—was the basic principle of universal coverage, bringing all those in employment into the scheme without regard to any income test at all, and bringing in the self-employed. The only let-out was for those whose income was considered to be too low for them to make the contributions. There was a second, which was not really a let-out, being only an option for married women to opt out of the scheme. Otherwise, it was based on comprehensive cover.
Now, the Minister is making an important change. It is not a change from National Insurance to national superannuation as a provision for old age. It is a partial change for a certain limited number of people from insurance to superannuation, and I believe that this cannot be justified on economic or on social grounds, or on any grounds which we ought to consider as fundamental to 152 the social insurance services of the country.
Let me indicate what is now taking place from a study of this White Paper. To begin with, it is a combination, as our scheme is, although when ours was changed from comprehensive National Insurance to comprehensive national superannuation, the fundamental principle was retained, for in our scheme every one would enjoy a basic pension and superannuation provided in the national scheme, or superannuation of equivalent value provided by an occupational scheme, but everybody would be covered.
I now want to ask the Minister some questions about this. First, it is proposed that those with earnings of £9 and under are to be excluded from superannuation. This is very important. It comprises millions of workers in this country now. It will exclude from the scheme practically all the women workers, whose average earnings are about £6 per week. It may mean millions of people. How many? We are entitled to know. Either the Minister or the Actuary ought to tell us how many workers in this country, men and women, are earning £9 a week or less at the present moment, and, therefore, how many will be excluded.
We should realise what is happening and what is likely to be continued. The whole purpose of our efforts, indeed, the major purpose of the National Insurance scheme was to make provision for old age for people, which, we hoped and believed, would ensure that they would receive an adequate basic pension without recourse to National Assistance. We failed, and the fact of the matter is that at this moment one in four of our existing pensioners is on National Assistance. I should like to know how many there are who will still not seek National Assistance because they believe it to be an indignity.
We are now promised a scheme under which, when all has been carried through, all those earning under £9 a week, which includes practically all the married women in employment, will have a basic pension and National Assistance. This is, therefore, a continuation for an indefinite period into the future of the system of making the old age pensioners depend on National Assistance for part of their incomes. I want to know from the Minister how many there are today.
153 The second class comprises those earning between £9 and £15 per week. How many of these are there? Why this arbitrary figure of £15 per week? I would ask the Minister another important question on this. How many men and women will be excluded by this £15 limit? In every factory and workshop, the Minister will now divide the workers. Some are to be covered by national superannuation, and others are to be excluded. Why £15? What is the validity of this figure? I think we ought to know.
Secondly, why fix a limit at all? Why not include every one in a national superannuation scheme and make it a real one and not a spurious one, like this? I will venture to give the reason, and the Government can deny it if they like. Those earning over £15 per week are being left out of this scheme as a gift to the insurance companies. Let the truth be known. That is the fact, and we therefore say that on this ground alone this scheme is not worthy of consideration and ought to be rejected, because it marks a departure from the basic principle of universal cover which the Beveridge Report recommended and the whole nation accepted. This is a step back. This is going back to the Toryism of the 'twenties; it is not a superannuation scheme.
The next point I want to raise, and it is a very important one, is that we require very much more information about the financing of this scheme. The real object of the scheme is to pass the burden from the taxpayer to the contributor. Let us be quite frank. This is not a superannuation scheme, but a dodge.
As I understand it, the Exchequer grant towards this scheme is to be fixed for all time at £170 million—not for this year or next year, but for all time. I think that the present figure of the Exchequer subsidy to the insurance scheme starts at round about £140 million. It is, therefore, to be increased by £30 million and is to stay at that figure. The Exchequer grant is fixed, but, let us remember, because this is very important, the contributions are not fixed. The amount to be borne by the taxpayer and the Exchequer is fixed for all time, but the contributors are to have to pay five yearly increases in contributions.
154 There is a deficit in the financing of the fund at present. There was from the very beginning, not only from my scheme but from the Coalition scheme for which the right hon. Gentlemen were responsible. It is now to be carried by the contributors. This is regressive taxation of the most reactionary form, and we are entitled to know something about it.
The cost is an important problem. I should be the last to minimise it, but I am not frightened of it. If there is a deficit of £400 million in twenty years' time, if we get a programme of economic expansion with all the new instruments of production which are available to us now on the threshold of the new industrial revolution, and an economic system which will not block it and keep it back but will use it for the common end, another £406 million in twenty years' time to enable old-age pensioners to live in comfort is something that we ought to carry easily to repay them for the service which they have given to the country
I want to ask some questions about the financing of the scheme. It is important that the country should realise that the contributions made by the State towards the provision for old age are not the only provisions for National Insurance. There is the indirect provision by tax, and I want to have that figure clear by the time we consider the scheme. The last estimate was made by the Phillips Committee which stated when it produced its Report that the amount of tax concession to private superannuation schemes in the country stood at £100 million. How much is it now? We are entitled to know.
Let the country realise how generous the Exchequer is to top-hat schemes of all kinds for executives, industrialists and the like. In view of the present trend of tax concessions to the very much richer schemes which are providing a very much more comfortable old age, I believe the time is not far distant when the provision made by the State in indirect subsidy through tax concessions for such schemes will exceed the £170 million which is now fixed as the permanent contribution of the State towards the fund.
There is another point on which I hope the Minister will give us full information. There is no provision in the Government's scheme for existing pensioners. This will be the first time that we have made a 155 change in our provisions for National Insurance without bringing in the existing pensioners. When we framed the Act just over twelve years ago we brought in the existing pensioners, and in succeeding legislation it has always been a cardinal feature of our policy to bring them in. Now, for the first time, 5 million of them are left outside, one-quarter of them on National Assistance.
Whatever increases are made—increases have been made, including four by the present Government—they make very little impact on pensioners receiving National Assistance. The last increase reduced the number of pensioners on National Assistance by about 100,000 and left out well over 1 million pensioners depending upon National Assistance. The existing pensioners now being left out are given no comfort and have nothing to which to look forward except their present pension and their National Assistance. I hope the Minister will tell us why he proposes to leave them out for the first time. Having left them out, does he expect the existing pensioners henceforth to have no increase in their basic pension and to depend entirely upon their present basic pension and National Assistance?
Those are some of the matters on which we require information. There are many other details, some of which were referred to yesterday by my right hon. Friend. So far as I have been able to study the subject—I take an interest in the matter—there are superannuation schemes in existence or about to he brought into existence in several other countries. The Germans and the Americans have schemes. In this field we have been pioneers, and it is a matter of pride for us that our schemes have been emulated throughout the world. Yet we now make an important change in our social insurance provision for the veterans, and the scheme is the worst I have seen.
It is far worse than the American scheme, under which the worker on average weekly earnings of £9 would get a pension equal to 55 per cent, of his earnings. What would such a worker get here? The German scheme is much better. Are we, pioneers in social insurance in Europe and the world, now to have a superannuation scheme which 156 is the worst that I have ever seen? This country deserves a better scheme than that. It deserves both a better Government and a better scheme.
I wish now to say a few words about unemployment. I will not discuss the wider issues, for we shall have an opportunity to do so on Monday and Tuesday. In September, 1958, there were 476,000 unemployed, and the corresponding figure for September of the previous year was 267.000. Between August and September this year there was an increase of 30,000 in the unemployed. In September, 1958, there were 160,000 working short-time.
The most disquieting feature is the growth of long-term unemployment. On this subject we have not many figures, and I hope that the Minister who will speak today or the Minister of Labour next week will give us some. The only figure which I have been able to obtain in the short time available this week is that for September, 1958, of the number who have been unemployed for more than eight weeks, as well as a comparison with a year previously. In September, 1957, the number unemployed for more than eight weeks was 108,000, but in September this year the number was 193,000. So the figure grows. I shall return to this in a moment because in a short time we shall be reaching a very important problem affecting the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, the Minister of Labour, the House and the country. In a moment we shall be back to the dole.
This problem is one of intense importance to the whole country. There are developments taking place or impending which may bring about the problem of long-term unemployment. Thanks to what the Labour Government did in 1945 and its full employment policy, we have not faced the problem of long-term unemployment for a long time, but we may be about to face it again, and unless we can learn the lessons from some of the tragic mistakes made in the 'twenties and the 'thirties it will he a bad day for this country.
One area concerned is Lancashire, with its cotton industry. There are other areas that I could mention. The unemployment problem now has two sides to it. There is unemployment due to 157 financial and economic policies; that will be discussed on Monday and I leave it to my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson). There is another problem. In this connection, I notice that my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has tabled an Amendment drawing attention to the situation in Lancashire. Even the most optimistic person in Lancashire does not think that all the textile workers will get back to textiles.
We are, therefore, confronted with a considerable problem in addition to the unemployment problem because of the Government's policies. We shall get rid of the Government and their policies shortly, but we are faced with a permanent problem. It is there in Lancashire. It is in my area, and I have spoken about it before. It is in the tin plate industry which, in a very short time, having employed 24,000 men under the old process, now employs 4,000 because of new processes. In Lancashire, in West Wales and elsewhere the same problem arises. We are, therefore, getting men of all ages facing this problem, and the most tragic of all are the men of 50 and over who have given their lives to an industry. The members of this generation who started work at 12 and 13 years of age, who learned their craft and developed their skill, now find themselves, due to these technological and other changes, out of work, their skill of no use to them because there is no place for them in their own industry.
I believe that this is a special problem. I do not believe that we are entitled to treat this just as an unemployment problem and ask these men to live on unemployment benefit. That is the feeling that I have, and this view is to be found elsewhere too. Indeed, there is a deputation coming to the precincts of this Palace today from Gloucestershire.
There are changes in defence policy, and these are matters for the Government and for the House. If in years past we asked men to work to make our aircraft for our defence, and if, as I understand it, changes in policy threaten to put 100,000 aircraft workers on the road, that is not a matter which we must leave to the industry. That is a national responsibility which we must all face.
Let me as an old coal miner mention another aspect of the problem. Look at 158 the situation in the coal mining industry. This demand this year is at the rate of 9 million tons less than last year and at the rate of 14 million tons less than in 1956. The inland demand for coal has fallen by 4 per cent. in the last twelve months. The use of fuel oil for inland consumption in this country has increased by 56 per cent. in the first eight months of this year. Stocks are at a higher level than ever in the history of the industry.
I pay my tribute to the statesmanship and leadership of the Chairman and members of the National Coal Board and the members of the National Union of Mineworkers. So far this tremendous problem has been handled with real statesmanship, and the redundancy has been phased and planned. This is one of the great advantages of nationalisation—and do not I know it! When we faced this problem of the adjustment in industry in the 1930's it was a case of "beggar my neighbour," with tens of thousands of unemployed, the means test and the dole. Now we are planning to ensure that while some pits are closed to take account of these new changing demands, other pits are being opened. The only new pits opened in this country in the last thirty years have been opened since nationalisation. Many of them are only old junk.
Now, however, the problem is reaching bigger dimensions. The industry is facing great problems of national fuel policy. This problem applies to Lancashire and other places as well in Wales. It is not only that the pits will close or that the miners will become unemployed. There are communities where, if a pit or a mill or an aircraft factory closes, it is death to the community as a whole as well as to the men employed there. It becomes an ageing community.
I was near Lancashire the other day in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne, with its rich civic spirit, with its contributions to art and singing. We have got places like that, places which are of the very fibre of our national life. What do we gain if we lose these old communities and have instead soulless conurbations for our people to live in? They become places with ageing people, with empty houses and closed shops. There is the problem. These men of 50 will find it difficult to get a job. It is impossible 159 already. This task is a national responsibility. But in the meantime these men have got to live on unemployment benefit.
If the Minister remains in office for any length of time he will meet the problem. I remember meeting the late Oliver Stanley, who was once Minister of Labour. He would not stick the Government's policy—a policy of the means test and all the rest—and he resigned. These men will exhaust their unemployment benefit. There is now no Section 62 and the Government refused to reinstate that Section. They said that the economic circumstances did not justify it. Will the Minister say that these economic circumstances that we are facing, the kind of problems that I have put to him, do not now justify a return to Section 62?
If we get back to a situation of unemployed men on the means test, it will be a shameful thing for this country. But more than that, I can say as an old trade union leader that this is one of the things which can poison industrial relations in the next few years. I hope, therefore, that full consideration will be given to the matter. Anyhow, when the Labour Party comes back into power we shall restore Section 62. If the present Government do not restore it the people will soon get rid of the Government, for they will not go back to the 1920s and 1930s.
§ Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)
The right hon. Gentleman went back to Keir Hardie, over half a century ago.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Yes, indeed I did, with pride—with personal pride, for I knew him personally.
We are to have another White Paper on education. What we need in education is not a White Paper. What we want are red bricks, teachers, new schools and a real effort. Why publish another White Paper? I will make an offer to the Minister of Education whom I saw here earlier, though he has left the Chamber now. He need not waste the taxpayers' money on a new White Paper on education. I will present him with a copy of the best White Paper ever issued—the White Paper issued by the Labour Party. Save the taxpayers' money.
Here is the programme: reduce the size of classes; sweep away the slum schools; fuller and better provision for handicapped children; end the all-age 160 schools; a full four-year course in secondary education for all our children; end the 11-plus. If the Government have not made up their minds to end the 11-plus, the nation has. It has no justification, educational or otherwise. End the 11-plus and reorganise comprehensive education; make it a reality for all our children. The policy is secondary education for all.
We heard from the Prime Minister yesterday the story about the Labour Party wanting to destroy the grammar schools. This sudden love of the party opposite for the grammar schools is interesting. I hope the Minister will include in his new statement on education an up-to-date table. He provided one in answer to a Question by an hon. Friend of mine, and it was a very interesting table because it showed the percentage of grammar school places provided by local education authorities in this country.
I am sure that my hon. Friends will not mind when I say that it was a joy to a Welshman to read it. It was a great tribute to a great tradition, for we do not owe our educational progress to the Tory Party. I do not claim it for our party. It is a great tribute to a great tradition, for all of the five top places in the provision of places in grammar schools in this country are occupied by Welsh counties. I am sure that the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. P. Thomas), who made such a charming speech yesterday, would be the last to claim that this was due to Tory zeal for education in Wales.
I ask the House to look at the figures. If the Minister is so concerned about the grammar schools, how does he justify an educational system which shows the comparison which the figures reveal? For example, in Merioneth, which has a smaller population now than it did 100 years ago, 63 out of every 100 children have a place in a grammar school. In Rutland, there are places for only eight out of every 100 children. If the grammar school is to be the special care of this Government, if they think that they are the preservers of the grammar school, then let them provide grammar school education for our children. The figures reveal a very interesting political map. Where the Tory Party is strong, 161 the grammar schools are weak. Where we are strong, the grammar schools are strong.
We are entering what we all expect to be—we regard the prospect with expectation and pride—the last Session of this Parliament, and soon we shall have a General Election. The general problem confronting us is this. We are on the threshhold of a great new industrial revolution. The scientists and technicians have provided us with means to raise living standards, create a new Britain and help to build a new world. We have, for generations, been engaged in this work, and herein lies the background to all our social services. We have been trying to remedy the evils brought about by the first Industrial Revolution, evils brought about because the revolution was not planned. It happened. It happened on the laissez-faire principles dear not only to the Tory Party but to the Liberal Party, too, in the nineteenth century.
The task of democracy in this country is to show that, by democratic means, we can use these new instruments and gifts put in our hands by science and technology to build a system in which wealth can be produced in abundance but in which also it is distributed with equity to the whole population of our country. It is only the party on this side, with its policy, which can face that problem. This is why I and all my hon. and right hon. Friends are sure that, when the next election comes, out will go the party opposite and in will come the Labour Party.
§ 3.23 p.m.
§ The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)
At the very agreeable beginning of his speech, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) indulged in some reminiscences of election days a long time ago. I am bound to say that, as I listened to his speech, I formed the view that hidden persuasion was not the technique which he employed, that his methods were, shall we say, more vigorous and robust.
I felt also that the reminiscences with which he began were, perhaps, more significant than he appreciated, since he moved straight-away to a reference to the use of motor cars at elections in 162 terms which might have been appropriate many years ago, when the possession of a motor car was an indication of a certain substantial degree of property. That conception, as the right hon. Gentleman must appreciate, is completely out of date in these days when motor cars are very widely possessed. Indeed, anyone who has filled the office of Minister of Transport is only too well aware, from his own experience, of the enormous problems that the very great expansion in car ownership, admirable though it is, causes, from his point of view.
The right hon. Gentleman covered a great many topics. To some of them, which are my responsibility, I shall endeavour in due course to reply. Others, as he appreciated, were directed to my right hon. Friends, and, no doubt, a good many of them will be discussed before this debate concludes. I noted, for instance, the question which he addressed to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health—not, I think, for discussion in this debate—on the impact of the changes in financial relationship between central and local government on local authority responsibility for mental health. I will see that my right hon. Friend's attention is drawn to what the right hon. Gentleman said. On the whole subject of the social services, the right hon. Gentleman made, as he always does, some very agreeable references, which we have certainly noted.
I will at once take up with the right hon. Gentleman one or two points which he made, before passing to his specific questions about the pension scheme. He seemed to think that the publication of a White Paper at this stage was in some way inconvenient. The purpose of publishing a White Paper in advance of legislation is precisely to give an opportunity for information to be provided and for discussion to take place, which, I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman, is desirable before steps of this major importance affecting the whole community are embodied in legislation. For that very reason, I understand, discussions are going on through the usual channels, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, on the possibility of devoting time to this subject alone.
I will not, if I may, inflict upon the House a full statement of our arguments on the subject. I shall confine myself 163 this afternoon to seeking to deal with specific points which either he, today, made or his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made yesterday, and I shall leave the full deployment of our views to what will be a better occasion for that purpose, when discussion can be concentrated fully upon a subject which so clearly merits it. I am sure that the House will agree with me in that.
The right hon. Gentleman made certain comments upon the issuing of a report by the Government Actuary. When legislation is presented, it will be accompanied, as it always is, by a report from the Government Actuary. As regards the White Paper, as the House knows, the tables which are so important in this context have been presented on behalf of the Government Actuary. The full Government Actuary's report will be presented with the Bill and will relate, of course, to the final shape in which the Bill itself appears. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will, on reflection, agree that that is the convenient procedure.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
I indicated that all the discussion took place before 1946. If the Minister will look up the record again, he will find that the Beveridge Report was accompanied by an actuary's report. That was not the Bill; it was a White Paper. This procedure was adopted because the change was so important and fundamental. I say again, therefore, that the Minister should provide for a full actuarial report for discussion before we come to the Bill.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I myself feel that it is more convenient that the Actuary's report should be presented with the Bill, but neither I nor the Government wish to deny the House any information which can help it in its consideration of the White Paper. As I said, we have presented the White Paper for the very purpose of focusing discussion and obtaining views on all aspects of the matter both from right hon. and hon. Gentlemen and from outside. I am perfectly certain that that is the right and responsible way to proceed in a matter of this sort, and I do not consider that we shall run into any difficulties if we carry on in that way.
Before going into detail, I should like to invite the attention of the House to 164 certain words in the Gracious Speech which, I think, merit a great deal of attention. The words are these:It will be the special care of My Government to introduce measures to promote the social well-being of My People.Those words clearly indicate over the wide sphere of the social services which we are discussing, not only the past achievements, but the future intentions of the Government. Of course, we disagree with right hon. Gentlemen opposite and they with us on aspects of policy in this matter. This House would not be the place that it is if we did not disagree on important matters of that sort. But that indication of continuing purpose in the words of the Gracious Speech is, I think of very real importance and reflects the very solid advance in the development of the social services which has taken place over the last seven years.
I do not propose to weary the House with figures; it is familiar with them. I should, however, like to give one set of figures which I know interests the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand). It shows the great improvements that we have been able to make in the provision for a very much harassed section of our community—the families of widows. The figures of the improvements made over the last seven years are striking. The provision in October, 1951, for the second child of a widow was 7s. 6d.: it is now 20s.; for the third child and later children it was 7s. 6d.: now it is 22s. That represents an increase in real terms—it is more in cash terms—of 107 per cent. for the second child and 128 per cent, for the third child and subsequent children. I freely acknowledge that it is an exceptionally large proportionate increase. It was carried out in pursuance of the social policy that we have sought to follow of concentrating public resources as fully as we can in the areas where they can do most good and where they are most needed. I concede that that is a particularly good example, but nevertheless the figures which I have—and I do not propose to weary the House with them unless I am asked—show a steady development in the social services.
As I have said, our emphasis and approach are different from that of right hon. Gentlemen opposite. For example, we have had, and have shown that we 165 have had, much less enthusiasm for general subsidies, such as the food subsidies, which help all, whether they need help or not. We have sought quite deliberately over the years to dismantle many of them and to concentrate the money so released, as we have done, in helping the social service payments of those who particularly need them. This difference of approach and emphasis, which I think is one of the clearest differentiations between our social policy and that of right hon. Gentlemen opposite, appears in the pension scheme itself, as embodied in the White Paper, to one aspect of which I will now come.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition yesterday made a reference to certain figures in The Times as indicating that the amount of pension obtained under the White Paper proposals would be less than that which a similar contribution could obtain in a private scheme. I shall not enter into art argument which would discourage the Leader of the Opposition in his enthusiasm for private enterprise, but I should like to indicate to the House that his comment, I think, shows—and I make no complaint of this because the Leader of the Opposition has many responsibilities and worries—that the right hon. Gentleman and those who take that view have not really understood the nature of our proposals. In the first place, it is quite impossible and quite wrong to treat, as the Leader of the Opposition did, the graduated contributions and benefits as if they were wholly separate and divorced from the flat-rate pension and the flat-rate contribution. It is in truth and in fact one contribution, and there will be one pension. Therefore, one must look at the whole picture if one is to form a view as to whether the provision is what it should be in relation to the contribution.
I said a moment ago that it was our policy to concentrate Exchequer subsidies more and more in the direction of those who particularly need them. One of the advantages of the White Paper proposals is that it becomes possible to concentrate the contribution of the Exchequer in greater degree on those who, because their earnings are lower, would otherwise have more difficulty in making pension provision for themselves. The right hon. Member for Llanelly very rightly emphasised that this is a universal 166 scheme and, as such, covers all sections of our complex society, including those in comfortable circumstances, particularly perhaps since the late-age entrants came into pension last July.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but I am not able to follow him completely. If it is a universal scheme, I can understand that that argument would apply, but if a large number of people are able to contract out and enter into a private scheme, how could it be balanced as in a universal scheme?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
When the right hon. Gentleman reads the White Paper he will see the provision, to which I am coming in a moment, for a reduction in the present contribution from which a person will not benefit if he is in a contracted out scheme. This, I think, answers the point.
By concentrating the subsidy on the first £9 of earnings, we are able to concentrate a large measure of it on those in most need and less of it on those who do not require assistance from the taxpayer to provide their own pension, because their earnings are larger. Therefore, when we come to those in the higher bracket, up to £15 a week, the position is affected by the fact that the subsidy payable universally up to £9 is gradually withdrawn on the steps up to £15. If the Exchequer contribution, which is completely withdrawn at £15, is 3s. 3d. and if the total amount of graduated contribution is 10s. 2d., the House will see that broadly the two thirds-one-third problem which worried the Leader of the Opposition is to he largely accounted for by this quite deliberate concentration, in accordance with the line of our policy in other directions, of the Exchequer contribution upon those who need it most and not upon those who are able to provide for their own pensions. I think this gives some indication as to how the point arose. I counsel the Leader of the Opposition not to put too much stress upon the suggestion that at the £15 a week level we are giving inadequate value for money.
I have dealt with the matter so far on the basis of the combined contribution. It is clear that a man gets very good value 167 for money for his own contribution, but what is perhaps interesting—it is always interesting to follow the activities of fellow workers in this matter—is to see how the point, to which the Leader of the Opposition attached such great importance as to put it into his opening speech yesterday, is treated in the scheme for which some right hon. Gentlemen opposite are responsible. If one takes over his life the contributions of a man under the scheme of the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) who has £6 earnings within the field of graduation—that is the equivalent of the £15 a week man to whom I have been referring—it will be seen that he accumulates 1s. of pension for every £35 Of graduated contribution paid as compared with the £30 which produces a similar amount of pension under the White Paper proposals. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition might be wise to appreciate, therefore, among his other responsibilities, that this is possibly a somewhat more complex problem than he fully realised.
The right hon. Member for Llanelly asked me for certain figures of the numbers of people in different earning zones. That was a fair and proper question. The figures which I shall give are figures projected forward to 1961, the reason being that that is the presumed date of introduction of the scheme. The figures come out as follows: under £9 a week, a total of 7¾ million—3 million men and 4¾ million women; between £9 and £15, it will be 7¾ million, of whom 6¼ million will be men; and above that figure there will be 5¼ million, of whom 5 million will be men.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
The middle figure is the one with which I am concerned. It shows that the superannuation scheme will cover only 7¾ million people.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The right hon. Gentleman has not got it right. I have given the right hon. Gentleman the figures which, I agree, are the necessary basic foundation for argument, but I do not accept the gloss which the right hon. Gentleman has sought to put on them when he says that people of one or other of those categories are excluded from the scheme. He has said that those earning more than £15 a week will be excluded from the scheme. That is not so. They 168 are treated for the purposes of contribution and benefits as if they were earning £15 a week. They are treated as if at the maximum of the scheme, and it is very far from accurate to say that they are excluded.
The right hon. Gentleman asked why we should stop there. That question indicates the genuine difference in view between my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself and right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. It is not our view that the machinery of the State should be used to compel people to make provision for their old age over and above a fairly modest and reasonable provision. To compel people as their earnings rise—under the scheme of the hon. Member for Coventry, East up to £2,000 a year—so to make proportionate provision for their old age is a very serious interference with personal liberty.
Where there is a State scheme, it is right that people should be compelled to make some sort of basic provision. That is the general view of civilised countries. But it is another thing to say to a man who would rather spend his earnings over and above that on other things—on the education of his children, building up a business on which he hopes to live in old age, providing private savings or private insurance—that he must be compelled to do more through the machinery of the State. We therefore feel that to be acceptable to our philosophy of individual liberty a scheme of this sort, a compulsory State scheme, must be of fairly moderate and modest dimensions, and we reject the interference with personal liberty involved in carrying graduation up to very large figures.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
The right hon. Gentleman is making a very interesting revelation, and I suppose that philosophically there is something to be said for it. I remind him that the principle which he is now denying, that is, for the State to impose the necessity of paying contributions on wages, is already operated in practice in at least one-third of industry, because the established industrial scheme works in such a way that in most cases it is a condition of employment for any new employee. Under his contract of industrial service, the employee has to pay contributions on his full wages.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Does not the hon. Gentleman appreciate the profound difference between universal compulsion imposed by Statute with the authority of Parliament and arrangements made by individual employers, almost invariably after the normal processes of industrial consultation? I have a great admiration for the hon. Member's study of these matters, but his failure to distinguish between the two, compulsion by law and agreement in industry, brings out more clearly than I have been able to do the difference of approach of hon. Members opposite and my hon. Friends.
§ Mr. R. H. S. Crossman (Coventry, East)
On this issue of compulsion, is it not a fact that the right hon. Gentleman has laid down in his White Paper that whether a scheme can be contracted out or not will depend not on the members of it but on the decision of the employer? Has he not laid down that the employer will decide, thus giving the employer the right to compel members to stay out? I fail to understand how one can deny people in a State scheme the full right to superannuation on the ground that one believes in freedom while one grants an employer the right to compel members of his firm to stay out of the State scheme.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I had intended to deal with that point, which is certainly important, but I hope that I shall first be allowed to make my third attempt to deal with the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Llanelly, that the under £9 a week man will be excluded from any benefit under these proposals. That is not so. Owing to our concentrating the Exchequer subsidy on those with lower earnings, as I was describing a few moments ago, it has proved possible for us to propose a reduction in their contribution, in the joint contribution of no less than 2s. 10d. and in their own contribution of 1s. 7d. I do not think that the people concerned will regard that as being left out.
§ Sir Spencer Summers (Aylesbury)
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that, far from being left out, those earning £9 a week or less may very well, after a few years in industry, pass from that group into the next group? Does he not agree that to say that certain people have no interest in the scheme because they earn 170 too little is grossly to misrepresent the scheme?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
My hon. Friend, with his very considerable practical knowledge of industry, has mentioned a very important point, which is that among those who earn £9 a week or less at the moment there are many who, in due course, will earn substantially more than that.
I now come to the question of the hon. Member for Coventry, East, who asked why a group option to contract out is proposed as opposed to an individual option.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I hope to put it as fully as I can, but, with the hon. Member's permission, in my own words.
The position is this: we propose that the application should be made formally on behalf of the employer for two good reasons. This is stated in the White Paper. But, as I have said, there is no point in introducing a White Paper merely to stick to every word and to say that one is not prepared to argue and discuss it. I want to explain the reasons why we have included this provision. As hon. Members will be aware, it is the employer who is liable to my Department and who, under the new scheme, may well be responsible to the Inland Revenue, in part at any rate, for the collection of all contributions, including those of the employee, which he deducts from wages, whether flat rate or graduated. It will be the responsibility of the employer to do that in respect also of the contribution appropriate to National Insurance, where the private scheme is contracted out of the graduated part of the State scheme. The employer is, therefore, the key point in administration from that point of view.
We are also proposing that one of the conditions for contracting out shall be preservation of rights up to the maximum which could have been earned in the State scheme, with a liability on the employer, if there is no effective preservation in any other way, to make a payment, equivalent to what would have been due under the State scheme, to the State when the man leaves his employment. We propose to put three definite obligations on the employers, and in those circumstances there is much to be said in 171 principle for making the application come from them.
I will go further than that. Obviously, no employer in his senses is going to apply to contract out against the wishes of any substantial number of his men. After all, the House knows perfectly well that a great many of these schemes are instituted to help industrial relations, not to hinder them. It is proposed, as the White Paper makes perfectly clear, that notice will have to be given of any intention to apply to contract out so that ordinary industrial consultations can take place.
There is also the practical point that the individual option, if it were to be given, would plainly be pointless unless it could be given not once for all but regularly, at any rate on change of circumstances, on promotion to another salary grade, and so on; and the problem both of enforcement of the State scheme and of the administration of the private scheme if people were continually opting in and out would be very formidable indeed, and might raise grave difficulties in administering such a system of contracting out. I know the hon. Gentleman himself has considered this matter, and I think he knows that doubts on that score have been entertained certainly in circles very far remote from this Government.
I have tried to answer his point on this because I appreciate that it is an important one, and certainly one which, when we come to the Bill, will merit and, no doubt, receive a great deal of discussion.
§ Mr. Crossman
That is a very long answer, and I want to know if I have got it quite right. My question arises on this issue, that the Minister says that one has no right to compel. The length of his answer does not conceal the fact that he has not denied that the employer will be entitled to compel even a small minority of workers who object to stay in his scheme if he succeeds in contracting out. The number who object is not the key issue. The right hon. Gentleman raised an issue of principle: compulsion. All we were pointing out was that in his own scheme a right of compulsion is given to the employer. Of course, I appreciate the administrative reasons for doing this.
I am only pointing out that, if the right hon. Gentleman argues in principle 172 on the right of compulsion, we have the right to point out that we believe in compulsion in a universal scheme because it is universal. The right hon. Gentleman, however, is applying compulsion in a discriminative scheme, giving it, for the first time in our history, to a private employer of workers. That is a much worse compulsion than anything we have ever done.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
If I may say so, that, I think, is an extraordinarily naive interjection. The hon. Gentleman knows and the House knows that these questions of compulsion upon the individual are in a modern society matters of degree and of judgment. It is very simple in the course of an interjection to frame a question as if it raised an absolute point of principle, but it is quite another thing to use a compulsion, which may well be necessary to the effective working of a libertarian aspect of a scheme, as an argument in favour of an unnecessary extension of State compulsion over the whole field. I really do ask the House to consider that the fact that there may be a compulsion which some hon. Members may find disagreeable is really no argument for further and unnecessary compulsions.
I am prepared to leave that matter there [Interruption.]—but only, let me say, for the purpose of dealing with another point which I do not propose to pass by, and which, I think, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Llanelly raised today and the Leader of the Opposition yesterday, and that is the question of the existing pensioner.
I think that there again the Leader of the Opposition certainly misunderstood the nature of these proposals. These are proposals for a change of structure of the scheme to operate not before April, 1961. It would quite clearly have been an extraordinary procedure to have incorporated in them changes in benefit rates to operate apparently two and a half years hence. Not only, I think, would it have been highly tantalising for all those concerned, but equally it would have been quite wrong to have tried to forecast in detail two and a half years ahead what would be a change that would be desirable. Therefore, it is not a really constructive argument against the proposals for a change in structure that they do not incorporate a change 173 in rates of benefit. I think the right hon. Gentleman fully appreciates that.
The next aspect of the matter to which I would invite the attention of the House is set out perfectly clearly in paragraph 34 of the White Paper. It remains, both before the scheme comes into operation and after, the obligation of the Government to keep existing rates under review and to make changes if they deem them necessary. Nothing in the White Paper and nothing which has been said in connection with it diminishes that responsibility. I think I can claim that putting the finances of the scheme on a sound basis means that, if and when the time came for a change, it would be very much easier to make that change than if the scheme were running into increasing deficit from year to year. I think the Housé will appreciate that.
I must remind the House, however, that it was only in January that our new rates of benefit, which the House passed last Session, came into operation. We raised the rate of benefit to a higher level in real terms than had ever obtained—to a level in real terms for a single person over 11 s. more than that at which right hon. Gentlemen opposite left it in 1951. Since this new high level was established in January there has been hardly a change in the cost of living index. Indeed, when the new rates came into operation in January the latest known index figure of retail prices stood at 108.2. The latest known figure today is 108.4, a change which affects the value to a penny or so, if that.
If we claim, as we do in the White Paper, that we shall continue to keep the rates under review, our record—three successive increases, which for the single person total £1 a week, against a change in living costs of about the same order, which caused right hon. Gentlemen opposite to think an increase of 4s. for some pensioners to be enough—quite plainly indicates that we take very seriously the duty to which the words in the White Paper refer.
The right hon. Gentleman appeared to take quite an exception to putting the scheme on a sound financial basis and objected very much. [Interruption] Indeed he did. The right hon. Gentleman is so eloquent sometimes that perhaps his eloquence carries him away. He 174 described it as "regressive taxation of the most reactionary type," and when the right hon. Gentleman uses those words I think it is fair to say that he is against it. Well, we have established that.
Therefore, I join issue with him, and I say to the House, and to the right hon. Gentleman in particular, that it would be discreditable for this or any Government to allow this scheme, which matters so much to all of our fellow countrymen. to run increasingly into deficit and do nothing about it. The rise in the deficit if we do nothing, even on the present rates of benefit, will he most formidable. On top of the existing Exchequer contribution of £125 million, in three years there will be a deficit approaching £150 million, in 10 years of about £250 million, and in under 20 years £400 million. These are formidable figures, and if we were to allow the National Insurance scheme to become predominantly more and more tax supported I am perfectly certain we should undermine what I know he appreciates is its greatest strength and value, that as a contributory scheme, these benefits are paid as a matter of right and without a test of means. Therefore, I think it is essential that we should keep the finances sound.
The right hon. Gentleman feels very strongly about this, because he says that there is a transfer from the taxpayer to the contributor. Again, I ask him to search his conscience, or at any rate search the proposals of his own hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East. If he studies the second edition of his hon. Friend's proposals, which came out so coyly the other day, he will see that over the first fifteen years of his scheme it is proposed to run a surplus on it broadly equivalent to the large Exchequer contribution.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman has grasped the significance of that. It means that, for those fifteen years at least, the contributors, employer and employee, will be carrying the whole cost of pensions. This goes very much further than the proposals in the White Paper which, as the House knows, provide for a continued Exchequer contribution at the new higher figure of £170 million a year. I hope, therefore, that we can go into this fundamental question of getting the finances of the scheme upon a sound 175 basis without getting as excited as the right hon. Gentleman seemed to be in suggesting that something was being shuffled off the wealthy taxpayer on to the shoulders of the poor contributor.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
I asked the Minister for another figure by the time we come to debate this matter. What is now the total amount in the last year of the indirect subsidy by tax concession given to private superannuation schemes? We should like to have that figure so that we may know what the State is contributing in that way.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
That figure, if it relates to tax concessions, will be of course for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer who. I am sure, will give it to the right hon. Gentleman if he can; but I should not like to appear to pass lightly by the tax treatment of private occupational schemes as constituting an element of subsidy as the right hon. Gentleman suggests. As far as the employee's contribution is concerned, it is an ordinary expense of running the business, of precisely the same order as the payment of wages and that has never been objected to as a tax subsidy. As for the employee's contribution, although the employee receives a tax concession on the contributions, he becomes liable for tax when the pension is paid. Therefore, to describe the undoubted encouragement which, quite deliberately and very properly, successive Chancellors have given to occupational pension schemes as a subsidy seems to me frankly a misnomer. I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for not allowing me to miss that point.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition yesterday described the legislative proposals in the Gracious Speech as…a dull catalogue of mostly minor legislation…".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th October, 1958; Vol. 594, c. 16.]I do not think that a series of Measures designed to deal with fundamental problems of mental health, home ownership, old-age and safety in factories will be described in quite those words by the millions outside whom they are designed to serve.
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
The Minister has defended the 176 Government's pension proposals with his usual ingenuity and with considerable fluency and when we come to read his speech we shall no doubt find a great deal of further information in it.
I turn to the theme of his last words and the judgment that we would pass upon the Gracious Speech from the Throne. My main criticism of Government policy, not only as outlined in the Gracious Speech, but as practised during the last year, is that it seems to lack any general purpose or general direction. Again and again the Government have been forced to play a situation off the cuff, and the Prime Minister has had to say that he is much indebted to luck. I think that that was an interesting and, indeed, justified admission.
The Prime Minister said yesterday that in one category of home affairs the Government's purposes were to be found in the words of the Gracious Speech which read:My Ministers will continue their efforts to secure a just balance between the expanding demands of the modern State and the freedom and status of the individual.I welcome this acknowledgement that the main argument in politics today is about the status of the individual and the part which he has to play in modern society, but I cannot agree that these words alone give us any definite aim nor, indeed, that they are adequate as an aim for the majority of the policies which the Government either are pursuing or intend to pursue. Furthermore, I do not think that the Government have pursued even their limited purposes with any consistency.
In the Middle East, for example, we are no nearer having a policy today than we were before we went into Jordan. We have solved nothing by going into Jordan and now we are coming out with the aid of the United Nations. The Government should be exceedingly grateful to the United Nations for its help in the last two international Middle East crises. I hope that 'the Government will now help in improving that body and enabling it to serve its purposes better by establishing a permanent international force.
We appear to have neither a policy of our own nor any agreed policy with our allies. Not until we have such a policy and not until it is agreed can we begin to expect peace in that area. Nor can we 177 until then re-establish our own prestige or expect ca-operation from the Arabs. I have often suggested such a policy and its heads have been outlined again and again in the House. We should leave the Arab States to run their own affairs internally, we should press forward with the project of a development fund, we should reduce armaments and not increase them, and we should clarify our guarantees about the frontiers of Israel.
As for Cyprus, whatever the outcome of the meeting in N.A.T.O.—and we all hope that it may be successful—the Government's policy in Cyprus over the past five years has been a complete failure. I do not know whether the Government now still attach overriding importance to holding Cyprus as a base. It was the need to move the base from the Canal to Cyprus and to hold Cyprus as a base that was the starting point of the whole recent problem of that island. It led to the unfortunate declaration that the Cypriots should never be allowed to settle their own future.
Is that still the Government's belief? The Prime Minister has spoken of a seven-year period to try out the present plan, but we lack clarification on what is to happen after that. Cyprus should be free to determine its future within a definite time, and that future should be determined not by the Turks or the Greeks or by the British people, but by the Cypriots themselves. If we made that declaration and specified a definite time in the future the prospects of peace in the island would be much better. Until we have a clear policy we cannot avoid the lamentable series of incidents which have gone on and are still going on there.
As to home affairs, at the cost of stopping increased production we have admittedly greatly improved the financial position, but the fundamental and underlying difficulties of our economy seem to me unchanged. The Gracious Speech made no mention of that spread of ownership which we were told by the Home Secretary not long ago was to be one of the cardinal features of Conservative policy. The Gracious Speech gives no indication that the Government are in the least concerned about the state of industrial relations.
The Prime Minister spoke yesterday of proposals at the Delhi Conference to increase international liquidity, but unless 178 these proposals are put into effect very soon, and unless contributions are made to the I.M.F. and other measures are taken on a more effective scale than yet suggested, I fear that if we run into a recession this winter the Government's measures will be both too small and too late. It is notorious that to cure a recession by increasing demand or increasing investment takes time, and I think that there is widespread anxiety whether the Government have made up their mind on the need to act now or whether they are still waiting further indications from the ecenomy. In all these things, and in the movement for a united Europe, the main criticism both of the Gracious Speech and of Government policy is the failure to define their aims and to give a general purpose to their policies All they do is indeed dependent upon that little bit of luck.
I want to turn now, in particular, to two matters, one of which has been much debated this afternoon, and on both of which the Liberals find themselves in disagreement with both Tory and Labour policies. [Laughter.] They are absolutely united among themselves, but they disagree with the other two parties.
The first is pensions. Here, I follow the example set by the right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the Dispatch Box and do not intend to go into the details of this rather complicated matter. We should start, at least the Liberals start, by defining our priorities. Here, I am bound to say to the Minister that the leading priority is to increase the basic pension.
In answer to an intervention from this side of the House, the right hon. Gentleman said that the Government proposals were about a change in structure. Very well. But will they increase the basic pension? It is all very well to alter the structure, but what about the basic pension? Is it to be put up to £3 a week? As I understand—I stand open to correction—very few people, under these present proposals, will get as much as £3 a week for fifteen years, and, therefore, it is not a question of the Government saying that they are not dealing with the matter this year or next year. As I understand, the majority of people, under these proposals, will not get any adequate increase of pension for a very long time.
There is a strong case for bringing the basic pension up to £3 for a single person 179 and £4 11is. for a couple. I am well aware that this would cost money and I am told that it would cost between £100 million and £140 million, less whatever is saved on National Assistance. I think that we ought to save on National Assistance. I think that we should try to stop this practice of subsidising persons from Assistance. It is not a question of extra money being spent, because we have to spend the money one way or another.
In our view, if genuine savings go on rising as they have been, and if production is once started again, we should be able to do away with the enormous Budget surplus and we should be able to get a sum of money of this order without undue increases in taxation, whatever method is found. As I say, the Government's scheme will do nothing for the present pensioner. The Minister does not deny that. Nor have we heard from the Government any other proposals outside this scheme to do anything for them in any other way.
§ Mr. Grimond
I have asked him. He is thinking, but I appreciate that he may want to say something on a different occasion.
I am also doubtful whether it is wise for the State to impose this very expensive and long-term scheme of superannuation payments. Experience since the war has shown that conditions in this country are changing rapidly Already, we find that the suppositions in the Beveridge Plan are out of date. We ought to concentrate on subsistence pensions for all at a reasonable level. However, I have some sympathy with the Minister in his desire to leave people as free a choice as possible after a good subsistence level has been provided. Yet I thought his riposte—if that is the right word—or his evasion of the question about employers being allowed to contract out of the scheme but not individuals, was hardly liberal. Indeed, it was very closely verging on the illiberal.
I cannot see that it is beyond the wit of man to devise a scheme by which employees should be entitled to demand from their employers a contribution to a scheme which would cover them. I hope that the Minister will look again 180 at what I regard as some of the main drawbacks of his scheme, one of which is the following. Why is it left to the employer to decide? Is it not possible, for instance, to devise a scheme by which the employer will pay a fixed levy to a Government scheme which will be applicable to those people who are not covered by individual schemes? We want a basic pension and then a real opportunity for a voluntary decision by the individual about how much more he wants.
Another point to which I want to draw the attention of the Minister is the following. It is not at all clear in the White Paper. Will he insist that before large tax rebates are given for private insurance schemes the schemes are made transferable? The right hon. Gentleman has been arguing that these tax rebates pre not a subsidy, but they are an advantage to the employer. It is not clear whether he is prepared to go on giving these advantages for schemes which are not transferable.
Thirdly, there is the point of the self-employed man, who is badly treated under the Government's proposals. Lastly, I believe that the Government's scheme is primarily a financial scheme. Its aim is a proper one, but it is to cover the large deficit which we all see developing in the National Insurance Fund.
§ Mr. Grimond
I do not know whether this will be eventually agreed by the Government. It was not mentioned this afternoon, but it seems to me, as an amateur, to be the conclusion one draws from the White Paper. The Government should give further consideration to the method of financing pensions. Although I do not wish to commit my party to this as yet, I think that there is a great deal to be said for a social service graded tax for the maintenance of the social services and the finance of subsistence pensions.
Now I turn to another matter which has not been much mentioned in this debate, and that is the question of defence, particularly the decision to give nuclear weapons priority in our defence arrangements. Again, I think that both the Labour and the Conservative Party are committed to similar policies. They both insist on making British nuclear bombs. It seems to me that more and more military opinion is against this. I 181 myself believe that it is still necessary for the West to hold the deterrent, though I am somewhat influenced by recent arguments that even the deterrent is becoming a rather unreal conception. However, if we hold the deterrent, it must be a Western deterrent. It must be a deterrent held for the West as a whole, and presumably it must be held until we have a scheme of multilateral disarmament which will mean that it can be abandoned.
Liberal policy which depends upon holding a Western deterrent on behalf of the West as a whole means that interdependence and integration of Western foreign and defence policy must be a reality. We have Field Marshal Montgomery's word that it is not, and I think that this is the most devastating criticism of the Government that has come out within the last week or two. If this cannot be agreed, if we cannot agree with our Allies on a really integrated foreign and defence policy, then I believe that we are incapable of winning either the war of ideas or any other war against the Communist Powers. Indeed, if we contemplate the fragmentation of the West then, to me, defence in all its forms is based on a completely shifting foundation.
Starting from that, we say that the right policy for this country is to make its contribution to a joint policy for a nuclear deterrent in whatever form it is held. Here I quote Field Marshal Montgomery:We have a complete inability of the nations of Western Europe to co-operate wholeheartedly for the common good of all…Today allied cooperation and inter-dependence which are really the complete answer to all our troubles, are little more than political phrases.I suggest that the Government must make some comment on that. They must say whether they believe in interdependence and, if they do, whether they totally repudiate the Field Marshal's criticisms.
Field Marshal Montgomery went on to say:It should he a Western deterrent, mainly supplied by the United States. No other nation could afford to maintain an independent nuclear deterrent; nor was this necessary.This is one of the senior Government servants in the military sphere lecturing to the Royal United Service Institution. It is a vindication of Liberal policy.
182 Furthermore, the whole thinking behind the Government's present defence policy has been questioned in The Times and, indeed, it was effectively questioned in the House by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carshalton (Mr. Head), who has some experience of these matters. What is the conclusion to be drawn from this? One conclusion is that a sufficiency of deterrents is enough. The moment the Americans have this—by all means let us make a contribution to it and let us get some control over the circumstances in which it is to be used and some influence over American policy—but do not merely duplicate it to no purpose. I suggest, further, that it is a horrifying prospect that more and more countries are to make and hold their own nuclear weapons and test them.
Therefore, let us abolish the idea that it is essential for the defence of this country for us to hold our own nuclear deterrent. This does not absolve us from providing ourselves with very considerable conventional forces and conventional mobile forces at that, both for N.A.T.O. and for Imperial purposes.
Finally, in this realm of defence, it seems to me essential that defence should be treated once again as subordinate servant of our foreign policy. I have an unhappy feeling that a lot of our foreign policy is based on certain assumptions about defence and that these assumptions are wrong. I believe that the House will be mistaken if it leaves the Gracious Speech without considering these problems.
I know that foreign policy as a whole is to be debated tomorrow, but something must be said about defence in particular, because I think that it comes within a whole range of subjects upon which no one finds it easy to be dogmatic about what will happen in the future, but about which a great many people are certainly critical and dismayed about the present policies of the Government.
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ Captain F. V. Corfield (Gloucestershire, South)
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) will not, I think, expect me to follow him in his comments on the Gracious Speech. In view of my interest last Session in the question of compensation where land is compulsorily acquired, I think 183 that it would be churlish of me not to say a word of welcome for the Bill which has been published today. That, however, is not what I want to refer to today. I want to refer to the matter of redundancy in the aircraft industry, which is a dominant industry in my constituency.
In the Bristol area and a little further west, the Bristol Aircraft Company employs about 28,000 people. The vast majority of them are employed in the aircraft factories and the engine factories in Filton in my division. Inevitably, the engine factories have been vitally affected by the change of emphasis in our defence programme. Nevertheless, I am glad to say that so far their orders are such, and their prospects of future orders are such, that they are competing with the redundancy problem on a basis of normal wastage, and the main problem and the really urgent problem has fallen on the aircraft factories.
This, strangely enough, is not primarily due to changes in emphasis in the defence programme. It is due mainly to the fact that sales of the great Britannia airliner have proved to be disappointing and orders have fallen off. Taking the whole of the year 1958, this company expects to have a loss of about 2,000 people, which represents about 15 per cent. of its strength at the beginning of the year. Serious as that is, I should like to take this opportunity of expressing my tribute to the local officers of the Ministry of Labour. Between February and August, about 1,200 of these people have been redundant, and when I spoke, last Monday, to the manager of the local exchange he told me that only some 40 of them remained on his books and none of those had been there for more than a few weeks. A large part of them had not actually lost their jobs, as they were only under notice.
I think that is a very considerable achievement. The manager also told me that, although another 600 or so expected to go before Christmas, he had every hope that he would be able to maintain that sort of position. Nevertheless, it is obvious that the more redundancy there is and the longer this trend goes on, the difficulties of placing these men are bound to become very much greater.
The company has kept in close contact with the Ministry of Labour, and a good 184 deal of this redundancy has been absorbed by normal wastage. I think that every effort is being made to give people a good deal longer than the ordinary statutory minimum notice. Nevertheless, I feel that the unions have considerable ground for concern in that, knowing that this redundancy is building up, apprehension as to who is to be next is bound to cause a great deal of worry. I hope that it will be possible to tell people rather further ahead of policy developments which will affect the situation.
It is, as I said, primarily the result of the failure to sell enough Britannias. I think that the crux of the problem is that the Britannia was late. I do not think that this was anybody's fault. The lateness was largely due to difficulties, which were the penalties of being first in the field, of encountering atmospheric conditions which had not been encountered widely before, and which certainly had not been investigated. This had a serious effect on the operation of the particular type of engine designed for this aircraft.
I want particularly to say a word about B.O.A.C. In my constituency, especially among the unions, there has grown up the idea that a large part of the troubles are due to B.O.A.C. not adequately advertising the virtues of the Britannia aircraft on its routes. I think this comes as a sort of hang-over from the early days when the Britannia first went into operation and when its defects seemed to get more publicity than its many and far greater virtues.
§ Mr. Lindgren
Surely the hon. and gallant Member will agree that it is the manufacturer's job to publicise and sell, and it is the operator's job to operate and not to become an advertising machine for the manufacturer.
§ Captain Corfield
If the hon. Gentleman had been a little more patient, he would have realised the point that I was making. I would say, however, that this allegation is made by the unions, and what I want to say is designed to allay their fears. As a result of this inheritance from the early days, people have felt that the Britannia has not been boosted enough on the routes that can provide the real advertising. Only the operating company, to a certain extent, can advertise achievements in operation. I think that there is nothing whatever in these allegations.
185 I have had the utmost co-operation from the executives of B.O.A.C. They have provided me with a complete set of the advertisements in current use, and I have sent this to the unions concerned. I hope that it will allay their suspicion, because I am sure no one in this House would wish there to be friction between any branch of the aircraft industry and any of the operating companies, who, after all, must be their main customers. In the interests of both there should be no friction between them.
My concern is not so much with B.O.A.C. It seems to me that it has every right to decide that what is virtually a later generation of aircraft, the straight jets, is something in which they should invest in view of the coin-petition from other airlines which are placing faith in the Boeing 707, the DC. 8 and the Comet.
I am concerned with rumours that the Ministry of Supply may be about to purchase American freighter aircraft for Transport Command. It seems to me, as the lion. Member for Orkney and Shetland mentioned, that a high degree of mobility is absolutely basic to the whole of our defence planning, and certainly in this House apprehension has been expressed over and over again as to the adequacy of Transport Command. I mentioned it myself three years ago in my maiden speech, and I am certain that I was neither the first nor shall I he the last to do so.
Nevertheless, we now have a rumour that either Lockheed or Douglas aircraft may have to be bought for the freighter side of Transport Command, simply because there is not a British equivalent. It seems to me that it has been obvious for a long time that many of our most traditional staging posts, from a defence point of view, where we can have intermediate aerodromes for the landing of troops, freight and so on, are becoming increasingly less secure for the future.
Only in recent months we had a vision of what might have been a very difficult situation indeed over the Jordan airlift, when for a time it looked as though we might not be able to fly across Israeli territory. That emphasised what I submit had been obvious long before—the complete inadequacy of these very slow and very short-ranged Beverley 186 freighters. I hope that my right hon. Friends the Minister of Supply and the Minister of Defence will look very carefully into the question of the adequacy of Transport Command. I know that they have ordered about twenty-five Britannias and that this has been a considerable and substantial contribution to the Britannia order book and therefore to employment in my constituency, but I very much doubt whether that is enough, even from a military point of view, when we realise the factors which are making the hops between one staging post and another increasingly long and increasingly hazardous, and which are therefore requiring a long-ranged and reasonably fast aircraft, and, above all, for military purposes, an aircraft which does not require a landing strip of inordinate length such as that required by the big, straight jets. These are the characteristics of the Britannia.
A freighter version of it is being developed by an associated company, Shorts, in Belfast. I suggest that it would be the greatest tragedy in the present state of the British aircraft industry, whose problems are not confined to Bristol, if we had to go abroad for something which we could easily have made ourselves, with a little foresight. I believe that even in the civil market one of the greatest possibilities for expansion must be in freighter transport. There, again, a military order might well be the means of putting British aircraft on the map for a very great and developing future rôle in aircraft expansion.
Probably the greatest hope of a large increase in passengers is to bring the fares down to a level which the ordinary man can afford and not merely those who travel on expense accounts. I should have thought that the proved economy of operation of the Britannia made an excellent comparison with the forecasts—which remain on paper, which are quite unproved and which are open to considerable criticism from knowledgeable people—of the operating costs of the Boeings and the DC.8s. I should have thought that those factors were very strong in making the Britannia the preeminently suitable aircraft for cheap air travel in the future, tapping a far wider public than we have begun to tap so far.
It is interesting to remember that both the Lockheed and Douglas aircraft, which 187 are mentioned from time to time as a possible freighter order for our Transport Command, were themselves rescued by American military orders when in almost precisely the same position as that in which the Britannia finds herself today—a run-down of the production line which would virtually have meant the cessation of production. A very substantial order for military purposes was placed, which in its turn led to very considerable civilian orders for both the freighter model and the passenger model.
It seems to me that in our present circumstances it is an extremely doubtful economy to buy abroad when we have redundancy in our own aircraft industry and surplus space and, moreover, the obvious facilities to produce the aircraft with all the qualifications necessary for this specialised form of transport which the Government are responsible for supplying to our Armed Forces.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Simmons
There is one in which I am particularly interested, and it is the omission of any mention of war pensions or war pensioners. I am aware that had he not been transplanted to another part of the building, the former hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale, Lord Fraser of Lonsdale, might have anticipated me in raising this matter because, much as I disagreed with him on all other issues. I always regarded him as a champion of the ex-Service men.
This omission is all the more regrettable—and the Government surely cannot have forgotten this fact—because this year is the fortieth anniversary of the armistice of the First World War. We were told, "A grateful country will never forget you". But today the aged and the ageing survivors of that war are hidden from public gaze by a Gracious Speech which I will not be so disrespectful as to call a smoke screen, but which I would rather describe as a patchwork of shoddy superannuation, aid to landlords, largesse to building societies and gerrymandering of elections by tampering with the Representation of the People Act. Behind this 188 curtain, the aged and ageing veterans of the First World War are expected to suffer in silence.
After forty years memory becomes dim. Heroism has a medal, but sometimes misses a meal. V.C.s are sold because their recipients are in penury. There have been recent cases, reported in the daily Press, of men of commissioned rank, of the very highest rank—one was a major general—who have won the Victoria Cross and have been reduced to begging for a living. The pension for the Victoria Cross is only £10 a year, and time after time, whenever I have been able to edge it into the debate without being out of order, I have tried to urge the Government to do something about this scandalous position.
This is the highest award in the land. We take parties along the corridors beneath this Chamber and we come across a couple of cases of medals of all kinds and descriptions. In the corner of one case is that little bronze cross, of the least material value of any medal in the case but the most valued for what it represents in the qualities of those to whom it was awarded.
I know that these men have some means of supplementing their £10 a year. That has been done recently. But it is done on a means test. Many of these men, who have given of their best to their country, who have been awarded a medal for the highest form of valour, are today suffering in penury. They are suffering from disability caused by war service which has become aggravated, but the aggravation is ascribed by the Ministry to natural causes. An ageing man of the First World War begins to feel his burden becoming too much for him. He goes to the Ministry for an increase in his pension. He has been hobbling about on one leg, as I have, for over forty years, and his live leg has deteriorated as a result. But the Ministry say, "Even if you had not had an artificial leg, age would have caused that deterioration. We are sorry, but we can do nothing about it." When he is compensated—as he sometimes is—the compensation is on a niggardly scale.
I am especially concerned with the problems of the war disabled of the 1914–18 war, of whom I am one. The battalions of the 1914–18 war disabled 189 have been decimated by death—the grisly reaper takes toll every year—and we survivors are now only a phantom army of those who came back at the end of the First World War. From Britain alone, 750,000 were killed and 2 million wounded. Almost every family in our land was affected by the casualties of the First World War. The number of permanently disabled survivors of the First World War has dwindled from 340,000 in 1948 to 220,000 today. Only a small proportion of these men are in receipt of the 100 per cent. pension or supplementary allowances.
The average age of the 1914–18 war pensioner is 67. About 12,000 have died during the past year. Of the surviving 239,000 of the 1914–18 war pensioners, only 59,000 get supplementary allowances and only 46,000 get the age allowance. These are the latest figures I have been able to get. The age allowance was a welcome addition to the compensation for the victims of the First World War and we were grateful for the initial award of the allowance, although we made certain criticisms about it. It was awarded to survivors of the First World War aged 65 or over.
In view of the figures I have given and of the fast dwindling numbers of the survivors of the First World War. I ask the Government to take a generous attitude and give the age allowance to all survivors of the First World War—the cost would not be impracticable; it is nothing to bother about—and also to award the allowance on the basis of percentages, as the pension itself is awarded. The present basis of awards has created many anomalies.
I also urge that something should be done for the 80,000 surviving war widows. Their average age is 71. Practically all of these ladies have been widows for forty years. They have suffered a life of loneliness and anguish as a result of the loss of their husbands. Something has been done for them—I give the Government credit; they have increased the pensions—but the pension that they now receive is little above National Assistance. Again, considering the small number of these widows—there are only 80,000 of them—and their advancing age, surely some far greater assistance might be afforded to them.
190 I would also urge the extension of the motor car provision for disabled ex-Service men. As far as I can gather from various reports issued by the Ministry, there has been no increase in the number of cars available for this purpose since the Labour Government went out of office. We initiated the scheme and brought up the number to 2,000. According to the latest report, fewer than 2,000 cars are today being used by war pensioners. Many of them, I have no doubt, are out of date and I urge that those which are out of date should be replaced.
If it was possible for the Labour Government, during their five years of office, to provide 2,000 cars for badly disabled ex-Service men with double amputations, or with one amputation and serious injury, surely, in the succeeding seven years, the Conservative Government might have done something to increase the provision of these cars to meet the needs of the borderline cases. It is heartbreaking sometimes to have to tell a man who, because of his multiple injuries, is, perhaps, more physically handicapped than a man with a double amputation, that because he has not lost two legs he cannot have a motor car. If the Government were to do something on these lines, they would ease the burden in deciding in these difficult cases.
I also make a plea for the abolition of the one-seater motor-propelled tricycle and its substitution by a two-seater Minicar. It is rather hard if a man is so seriously injured that he must have a motor-propelled tricycle to get about, both to his work and for his pleasure, but cannot take his wife with him. She must go on the tram or the bus or train to her destination and meet him there. I know that the Labour Government introduced these tricycles, but it was the first experiment. We hoped that they would be improved upon. I am quite certain that a three-wheel or even a four-wheel Minicar today would not cost so much more than the motor-propelled tricycles which are being used.
I turn next to artificial limbs. Very great improvements have been made in artificial limbs since I got my first one, a Rowley, at Roehampton at the end of 1917. The one I am wearing now is about 7 lbs. lighter than the one I got at the end of the First World War. Great improvements have been made and a 191 great deal of credit must go to the old Ministry of Pensions for its valuable research work on artificial limbs. That Ministry was the Mecca of people from all over the world who were seeking knowledge about artificial limbs. Those who were responsible for that research department did an extremely good job.
Of course, private enterprise benefited. All the improvements that were the result of Government expenditure were made available to the private firms who were supplying artificial limbs. With the development of the National Health Service and the supplying of artificial limbs to people outside the category of war pensioners, the artificial limb industry came in for a big boost. Today, I am told, the two largest firms of artificial limb-makers have merged. From my experience of the old Ministry of Pensions and the knowledge I got there, I do not think that I should be far wrong in saying that 99 per cent, of the production of artificial legs today is in the hands of this combine.
Surely there is a great danger in that monopoly. In the interests of the disabled ex-Service men and the disabled civilians who need artificial limbs, I ask the Government, much as it may be against their ideological prejudices, to consider the taking over by the Ministry itself of the production of artificial limbs.
That is nothing new. The Minister knows that under the old Ministry of Pensions, at Blackpool, we made artificial eyes and we did so at about one-third of the price charged by private enterprise. That is still going on, according to the Report that I have here; we are still making artificial eyes at Norcross, in Blackpool. Making comparisons about the cost of making and fitting artificial eyes when the first patients came to us under the National Health Scheme, we found that persons had been paying three or four times as much for eyes through going to private practitioners than it cost to produce them at Norcross. I ask the Minister to look at the figures for artificial eye production under the Ministry and see whether it is not a good precedent for bringing the production of artificial limbs under the effective control of his Department.
I hope that the Government will realise that if I have spoken with heat on some 192 of these items, it is because of ray experience and because I feel that as the years pass nations get careless about old traditions and the people who created those traditions. We become forgetful of those to whom we owe so much, those to whom we owe our actual safety and integrity as a nation. Lack of thought sometimes does more harm than anything else, and I think it may have been through lack of thought that when the Government put words into the mouth of Her Majesty in the Gracious Speech yesterday they did not make some reference on the fortieth anniversary of the Armistice of the First World War, to the service and gallantry of the men who fought and died in that war, and to their determination to look after the interests of those who survive. including their dependants.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Gentleman has touched on something which, as he knows, is very close to my feelings. Will he not recall that it was not at the end, but at the beginning of this fortieth year, that the largest yet increase in the basic rates and some of the allowances was made, and will he not acknowledge the very substantial increases in recent years, which have since 1951 very nearly doubled the basic rate and some of the allowances?
§ Mr. Simmons
During my remarks I made reference to what the Government have done. I give them credit for it. However, I have been making a special plea for the 1914–18 men and for something more than mere justice to be done for them. Those who have suffered in war have a right not only to compensation for their sufferings, but to participate in the increasing standard of life of the rest of the community. What was an adequate pension in terms of 1914–18 war values is not adequate today because the amenities now enjoyed by people are higher than those enjoyed then. That is the only point. I willingly give credit to the Government for trying to keep pace with the rise in the cost of living, which they themselves created. In some cases they may have kept pace, but in others they have not.
I wish, finally, to speak about unemployment. My constituency is already beginning to feel the draught of unemployment. In my constituency is what is locally known as "The Earl of Dudley's", the round Oak Steel Works 193 owned by Stewart and Lloyds. Recently, the firm declared a very considerable number of men redundant. The trade union met the management, and they had to agree to a four-day week. It is the beginning of something very serious when a great unit of the steel industry is faced with the problem of unemployment, because steel is one of our basic industries.
We are told that if we talk about unemployment too much we shall be charged with being nostalgic and living in the past. I hope that we shall not be too afraid of living in the past to draw upon the experience of the past and to guard against that experience in the future. I remember very well the hunger marches before the First World War. I remember seeing old Tommy Skett in Chamberlain Square, Birmingham, leading the hunger marchers. I remember the unemployment between the wars. In my constituency, in the heart of the Black Country, people still talk about the Black Country strike for a minimum wage of 21s. a week, which occurred in 1911 or 1912. They still talk about Mary MacArthur's fight for women chain workers at Cradley Heath.
To the people in my constituency even the beginning of unemployment seems to by a menacing cloud over their lives. Many of us who are of the older generation feel that it is unwise to play down the danger of unemployment. We must continue to talk about it and to hammer it home so that neither the Government nor anybody else shall be unaware of the feeling in the country, at least among the older generation, on this issue.
How great that danger is we do not know, but we do know that between the wars the Conservative Government deliberately created unemployment. They had in mind a figure of 800,000. At the end of the First World War wages were going up and something had to be done to stop it as the men returned from the war, and the Government deliberately created unemployment for the purpose. They did not want massive unemployment; they just wanted a reservoir of unemployed to be used to balance the nation's economy. But the 800,000 grew to 3 million.
I urge both my party and the Government not to play down the increase in unemployment. It is only a small trickle 194 at the moment, but the 800,000 aimed at by the Conservative Government between the wars grew to 3 million and became a Frankenstein monster which the Government could not control. If the Government do not take action, and it we do not continue prodding them and urging them to do so, that Frankenstein monster will be re-created.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)
The hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) began better than he finished. In the first part of his speech he made a very human plea for the 220,000 disabled men from the First World War. He described them as veterans of that war. I spent three years in that war, and I hate to be called a veteran, for it makes me feel so old.
However, I support the hon. Member's plea that a nation with a Budget of £5,000 million ought to be generous to the point of exaggeration to this diminishing number of men and to their widows. The hon. Gentleman also made a special plea for cars for disabled men, for the borderline cases with which we all have to deal. I think that my right hon. Friend might look at that again and err on the side of generosity.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I do not want there to be any misunderstanding about this. The responsibility lies with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, to whom I will certainly pass the suggestion, but I should not like my hon. Friend to address his remarks to me in the belief that it was something within my province.
§ Mr. Osborne
I was only using my right hon. Friend as a postman, because that is my only way of getting my points over to the Minister responsible and asking him to support this very human plea that we should be generous to these men and women.
I remember how, when I was a boy, the country was told that the war was a war to end wars, to make the world safe for democracy and to make our country fit for heroes to live in. The number of people involved in this problem must be getting fewer year by year; surely something can be done to help them. I beg my right hon. Friend to pass on to whatever Ministry is responsible this plea that pensioners and the widows of pensioners 195 should be generously treated. In many cases the widows have suffered even more than the pensioners. Let us see whether we cannot now be generous to them.
As for the rest of the hon. Gentleman's speech, I disagree most violently with it. He said it with great and obvious sincerity, but I beg him not to believe that a Conservative Government or any Government would be so inhuman as deliberately to create unemployment. That just is not true; and I ask him, "Please do not repeat it," because it just is not true.
The right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, who started the debate today, went back to the Keir Hardie election campaign in the 1890's and said that there was a wonderful slogan which went like this, "Vote Labour and walk. Conviction is the best conveyance". It will be interesting to see, in the right hon. Gentleman's own constituency, how far he can carry that out and how many of his own supporters who come to vote for him in a motor car he will stigmatise as having less than 100 per cent. conviction. It will be most interesting, and I will watch the point in my own constituency.
No one could have read the newspapers during the last twelve months, since the previous Gracious Speech from the Throne, without being struck by the immense recovery that this country has made during that time. Twelve months ago we were facing, the darkest of dark outlooks. I did not think that there was much of a chance of our pulling through without very serious unemployment and possibly without devaluation of the £. The Government have, however, enabled the country to make an amazing recovery in the past year. They have restored confidence in the £ abroad and given renewed hope and confidence to us all. This should be said, and I am glad to say it.
Now I want to say something to my right hon. Friend which is not quite so congratulatory. The Gracious Speech says that Measures will be laid before us in due course. I ask my right hon. Friend that one Measure shall be brought before this House as a matter of urgency, though I fear it will raise considerable controversy on both sides of the House. I refer to the urgent need for a restriction upon immigration into this country, particularly of coloured immigrants. I am ask- 196 ing my right hon. Friend now to act once again as a postman, because I want to ask a lot of very direct questions.
This matter is more urgent than any other item mentioned in the Gracious Speech. I realise that it will raise immensely difficult problems in the Commonwealth, and that it is tricky and delicate and will have to be handled with great care. I realise that our motives might be misinterpreted overseas, but it is time someone spoke for this country and for the white man who lives here, and I propose so to do. At the same time, I would not say anything that might make the problems and tasks of the Colonial Secretary more difficult.
What is the position? So far as I can get to know, there are about 210,000 coloured people in this country and of them about 110,000 are West Indians, 55,000 are Indians and Pakistanis and about 45,000 are Africans, Maltese and Cypriots. The first aspect of this matter which we should consider is that the immigration figure has doubled since 1954 and that the problem has, therefore, grown very seriously during four years. If that rate of progress were to continue, we should have 6,000,000 coloured people in this country after the next two decades. I do not think that it is desirable either for us or for the coloured people that that should happen, and, therefore, I am asking for urgent legislation now.
What is the cause of the problem? Why do these people come here? The answer is quite simple. According to the statistics published by the United Nations—the last of them were produced in 1954—the per capita income, which is a rough estimate of the standard of living, was 60 dollars in India, in Pakistan 70 dollars, in the West Indies 180 and in the United Kingdom 780. It therefore can be readily understood that people in the Commonwealth, in India especially, can see that we are enjoying a standard of living in this country which is 12 times higher than they themselves enjoy, and they are naturally attracted to this island.
In view of the fact that there are about 630 million British citizens who are technically entitled to come here, it is obvious that we could not allow them all to come. There would hardly be standing room. Sooner or later some control would have to be put on. If it is not put on soon we shall, whether we like 197 it or not—this is what I fear and I am very frightened about it—have Little Rocks and Notting Hill incidents over and over again. We must do something to make life possible for the more decent and law-abiding coloured people who are already here.
Another aspect of this problem is that last year about 50,000 of these coloured men and women came to this country and that by July 17,000 of them were unemployed, which figure was 2,000 more than in the previous quarter. I do not know what the figure is at the moment, because I have not been able to get it, but I guess that it is about 25,000 unemployed coloured people. Surely it is sensible to say that before we allow absolutely free influx to more of these people, whatever their condition and station in life, we should first see that they have a job to come to. I believe that my own countrymen should have the first cut at whatever jobs are going in my own country. I have mentioned that 17,000 were unemployed by July. About 8,000 of them were West Indians and about 6,300 were Indians and Pakistanis.
Let me turn to the public assistance aspect of the matter. In July, 15,000 of these people were in receipt of public assistance. That figure, again, is 2,000 more than the figure for the previous quarter. I guess that in the last quarter the figure has gone up to nearly 20,000. There is not now a Minister on the Front Bench. I do not know who is to take down these points and questions of mine. May I appeal to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions, Mr. Speaker? I think it is fair that someone should take a note of the questions I am putting.
§ Mr. Osborne
I am much obliged to my right hon. Friend, because the position is desperately serious.
§ Mr. Grimond
Is the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) in favour of preventing unemployment by restricting Irish people from coming into this country? Secondly, is he including Maltese and Cypriots among the coloured people?
§ Mr. Osborne
From the Departmental point of view, as far as I can understand it the phrase "coloured people from the Commonwealth" includes the lot. It is an omnibus phrase.
§ Mr. Osborne
And the Irish, of course. If the hon. Member would listen to me making my speech as I listened to him making his—
§ Mr. Grimond
I apologise. I did not want to interrupt the hon. Member, but I wanted to clear up the point. I did not know whether he was referring to the Irish.
§ Mr. Osborne
If the hon. Member would listen he would hear me bring out these facts.
Looking at the matter from the point of view of employment, it is fair to say that if unemployment is temporarily going to increase during the winter—and I hope that it will not—Englishmen should have the first chance of the jobs going in England. Therefore, until those unemployed coloured men who are already in the country have jobs I would not like any more to come in.
§ Mr. Osborne
I am referring to a serious problem, and I had hoped that hon. Members would consider it seriously.
The number of coloured people in receipt of public assistance in July was 8,000, but 7,000 were receiving unemployment pay plus public assistance, and I have a feeling that about 10,000 of those in receipt of those two payments from our social services have never been in employment in this country and, therefore, have never contributed a farthing to those funds. Again, it seems reasonable and fair to the British people who are paying money into those funds that a limit should be placed upon the number of people coming here and drawing upon those funds to which they have made no contribution.
§ Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)
Does the hon. Member realise that a person cannot draw unemployment benefit unless he has contributed?
§ Mr. Osborne
I referred to the social services, and I specially mentioned public assistance. That can be received by a person who has not been employed.
The next aspect of the problem, and one of the most dangerous, is that of crime. I know that it is unpleasant, but the facts must be faced. Two groups of crime which are causing the police a good deal of anxiety are organised prostitution and the traffic in dangerous drugs. In the London area during the last twelve months half the convictions for those two groups of serious crime were of what are loosely termed coloured people, including Maltese and Cypriots. That means that the tendency for those crimes to occur among coloured people is a hundred times more, per person, than among white people in the London area. Surely it is not unreasonable to say that those who are guilty of crimes of that type should be deported.
I have here a list of all the Governments in the Commonwealth and every one except the United Kingdom has the power to deport. If every other Government has the right to deport people, and exercise it, surely we should also have that right, to protect our people.
I turn, next, to the health aspect of the problem. I think that the right hon. Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) would support me in my statement that until recent years tuberculosis was a disease that we had nearly conquered. Our tuberculosis hospitals were progressively being closed or being converted, and medical science was doing a fine thing for our people in wiping out what had been a great scourge. But it is being brought back into the country, partly by people from Southern Ireland and partly by Pakistanis. I shall be glad if my right hon. Friend will take a note of these questions: how many cases in these two groups are being treated for tuberculosis in our hospitals today, and how many hospitals have gone back to the treatment of tuberculosis? Until we have the facts we shall never know the size of the problem. It may be that I am too worried over it, but the nation is entitled to know the facts.
200 An even more alarming fact is that in the last few years a certain amount of leprosy has been brought into this country from the Commonwealth, and that is something totally new to us. I believe that it is coming largely from West Africa. I want to know how many cases of leprosy are known, and how many are being treated. Our people are entitled to have this information. If a leper were to arrive at one of our ports, would the port medical officer have power to refuse him entry? I understand that he would not. If that is so, I would ask my right hon. Friend what would happen if a shipload of lepers came here from West Africa. Would there be any power to refuse them admission?
§ Dr. Summerskill
The hon. Member often appeals to us on humane grounds. Is he seriously suggesting that if a sick person were diagnosed as a leper he or she should be sent away? Does not he know that in this country we have isolation hospitals for lepers? Surely he would not ask the House to accept that inhuman proposition.
§ Mr. Osborne
It is not an inhuman proposition; it is a practical one. I am asking that these people should be dealt with in their own countries, and not here. The right hon. Lady can titter, but she will find that the bulk of Londoners will support my argument.
My hospital friends further tell me that, owing to the unfortunate overcrowding of these coloured people in certain old houses, local authorities are having increasingly to give priority to coloured women in maternity wards. I understand that some representations have been made to the Ministry by the hospital boards on this point, and I should like to know the facts. Can nothing be done about it?
I believe that there are about 400,000 of our own people on our hospital waiting lists and I think that they, who have paid for those hospitals, have a right to be at the top of the queues. The right hon. Lady does not agree with me. She would like to put them at the bottom. We ought to do what we can to prevent 201 those waiting lists from growing unreasonably, so that we can give our own people a fair chance.
§ Dr. Summerskill
The hon. Member has charged me with making a statement which I have not made. He gets so emotional over these things, although in some matters he is logical. Surely he will agree that no matter whether a man is black, white, or coffee-coloured, what should determine whether he should go to the top of the hospital queue is the degree of seriousness of his disease—whether it is acute, sub-acute or chronic.
§ Mr. Osborne
I agree that that should be the case for those who are already in the country. What I am saying is that those who are already unlit should not he allowed here without let or hindrance, so increasing our waiting lists and jeopardising the chances of our own people. Surely that is reasonable and fair.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I notice that the hon. Member is pursuing this argument at every conference he goes to, and wherever he can raise his voice. Coloured nurses are making a most important contribution to our nursing services, as he would see if he went into some of the provincial and suburban hospitals. I am not referring to teaching hospitals, where there are queues of English nurses. The hon. Gentleman would find that many hospitals are very well staffed by coloured nurses. Does he say that if an 18-year-old coloured girl were sent here in good faith and, on having her chest examined, were found to have incipient tuberculosis, she should be turned away at the port?
§ Mr. Osborne
We have the same right to insist on a good health record and a good record in regard to crime as they insist on having in respect of our people going to live there. If there is anything wrong with that, I fail to see what is wrong.
§ Dr. Summerskill
Would the hon. Member answer my question? I am asking him to be logical. How would he pursue this proposal? This is a fair argument, because so many of these adolescent girls are coming here. On finding that one of them had incipient tuberculosis, would he turn her away at the port and send her home?
§ Mr. Osborne
No, of course I would not, but I would not let her get as far as the port. I would do what the West Indian Government and every other Government in the Commonwealth does. I would insist on a certain health standard. I cannot see how the right hon. Lady can object to that.
The next aspect of this problem is better known to some hon. Mombers from London than to me, but I know a little about it. It is the housing side of the problem. A lot of the good old properties, old Victorian houses, are being turned into slums. Quite recently the Leicester public health inspector reported that there were 18 Indians in one house and nine in one bedroom. It is not unknown to hon. Members on both sides of this House that it is coloured people who are often cruel to their own countrymen in the extortionate rents they charge for the accomodation they supply. The medical officer in Leicester wrote in his report:the decline in social standing as well as the maintenance and upkeep of comparatively large houses continues in once fashionable parts of Leicester…I think that is even worse in places like Liverpool, Wolverhampton, Birmingham, and, above all, in London.
Another aspect I wish to put to my right hon. Friend, if he is taking notes of the questions to which I should like to have answers, relates to what I read in The Times about a week or eight days ago. When Judge Maude had to deal with three Maltese who had been found guilty of some serious crime of violence, among the punishments he gave was banishment from the United Kingdom for ten years. I had no idea that that could be done but it was stated in The Times that it could.
§ Mr. Osborne
That is effective banishment. I am much obliged to the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who has great experience and knowledge of Home Office affairs. All I am asking—I think it reasonable—is that if a judge can do that to three people, why can it not be done in justice and fairly throughout the country by other courts? People who are guilty of crimes of violence should be deported.
§ Mr. Osborne
We should take steps to keep out of this country, to prohibit their immigration, the criminal, the idle and the unfit. Those are the three classes I would exclude. I feel confident that the bulk of the people of this country would support my plea. At the Conservative Conference at Blackpool the Home Secretary promised that he would take measures to deport criminals. I should like to know how soon that is to be done. So far as I am concerned, tomorrow morning would not be too soon. He could bring in emergency legislation next week to get it done. That is what I am pleading for and I think it a reasonable plea.
The other night I went to a West Indian students' club and tried to put my point of view there. Among the audience were a lot of decent, hardworking men and women. I think that the criminal makes their position in our country worse because the evil that evil men do in our country puts a smear on all the people with coloured skins. Therefore, I think it would be to the benefit of all those permanently resident here that we should keep out the criminal, the idle and the unfit.
§ Mr. Osborne
Of course, and on the question of getting them back I put this suggestion to my right hon. Friend. I believe that shipping companies taking immigrants to Canada are under an obligation that if in a period of two years the immigrant gets into trouble and becomes deportable from Canada, the shipping companies take those people back and the expense is charged to the shipping company concerned. The Canadians have that power and use it. Could we not do the same with criminals who come to this country either by air or by sea? That would make the transport companies a little more careful about the men they brought here.
I appreciate how strongly hon. Members opposite feel on this matter, but I can assure them that more and more of their constituents will support me in the point of view I am trying to put. The right hon. Lady said that I am always trying to push this point of view, but if one believes something deeply one does push it; that is the heart of democracy. If she will allow me to say so, I feel this deeply. If we do not grapple with this very difficult problem I think that our grandchildren will curse us for our cowardice, because the thing will grow until we have all kinds of racial troubles which our grandchildren will not have if we tackle the problem now. The plea I am putting seems reasonable. If I am like the "importunate widow", always making a plea, I hope that the right hon. Lady, in her capacity as the "unjust judge", will see that something is done to meet this tragic situation.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)
Having just returned from the deep South, I may be pardoned if, before making the speech I intended to make, I make an observation or two on the distasteful remarks we have heard from the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), remarks which almost made me feel I was in the South again.
In view of what has just been said, it ought to be pointed out that thousands and thousands of decent British citizens who came from the West Indies are serving Britain in a hundred and one honourable and decent ways at present. 205 The. hon. Member does a great disservice, even to the cause he is advocating, when he leaves in the minds of hon. Members and those who may read his speech an equation of our fellow citizens whose skin happens to be different from ours with leprosy, prostitution, drug peddling, unemployment, jumping the maternity queue, tuberculosis and crime, and ends with the statement that coloured people are cruel to coloured people. Some white people are cruel to white people and some black people are cruel to black people. Some white people and some black people live on prostitution and some white people and some black people live on drug peddling. What is wrong is the crime, not the colour. I believe it is almost a sin against the Holy Ghost to equate crime with the colour of the skin.
I have gone across the South preaching with pride the story of my country. There a judge inflicted an ultra-severe sentence on four young men for attacking coloured men. I think his remarks when giving that sentence ought to be written in letters of gold. I give a rough paraphrase of what he said: "This is a country where any man, whatever his colour, can proudly walk about knowing he is certain he will not be treated violently by fellow-citizens merely because of the accident of the colour of his skin."
There may be a case for controlled immigration. If so, we may, of course, have to face the implication that we shall have to receive back from Canada and other parts of the Commonwealth the emigrants who go each year from this country who mean so much to the Commonwealth and to whom the Commonwealth has meant so much. We might indeed have to consider taking back the Americans and leaving the Red Indians in control of that country. Quite seriously, if there is to be any control of immigration it must be something that is arrived at by the Commonwealth to which we belong, as a whole; and it must have nothing to do with a colour bar.
Speakers in the Commonwealth have already said what I regard as a simple truism, that if we impose a colour bar in this country—and we should bear in mind that the majority of members of the Commonwealth do not have the same coloured skin as ourselves—then it means 206 the end of the Commonwealth. Of all institutions in the world today I regard the Commonwealth of Nations to which we belong as the most precious. I can only hope that the hon. Member for Louth will give serious consideration to this question and will not adopt the very easy generalisations, and, indeed, smears, which he has made on a group of people as a class, because it was the sin of racialism in other unhappy countries to equate a group of people of some race, of some shaped nose and of some colour with evil.
I want to speak of other things tonight, but before I do so may I say that nobody could excel the eloquent claim made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) on behalf of disabled ex-Service men. He has spoken for all hon. Members of the all-party group who interest themselves in the welfare of ex-Service men. May I take this opportunity of expressing tribute to the Minister of Pensions for all he has done during his term of office to improve the allowances to disabled ex-Service men—but also to ask for more. I thought it was singularly appropriate that my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill and the hon. Member for Louth, who movingly supported with his appeal, should at the beginning of a new Session remind the House of the men who limp about this country and but for whose wounds and sacrifice we should not be speaking freely in this Parliament tonight.
I look forward to the implementation of that part of the Gracious Speech which relates to secondary education. I think there is hardly any matter of public policy more important than the steps that the Government propose to take to improve the quality of the education we provide for our children and to add to the amazing development of the first ten years of secondary education for all children.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), who opened the debate today, was right in pointing out that priority No. 1 in secondary education, as in primary education, is the cutting down of the size of classes, increasing the number of school buildings and classrooms and in taking a really dramatic step to increase the number of teachers. I only hope that when we come to the question of the Government's secondary education proposals we shall not blind 207 ourselves to the simple fact that the integration of secondary education is inevitable and that what really divides people on either side of the House is the speed at which it should take place.
I hope that no one is going to make the fundamental problem of how we can improve and organise secondary education merely a matter for scoring political points. With small enough classes a comprehensive school like Eton or a grammar school like Winchester manages to be a great school and to turn out some very fine pupils. The root of the matter is the amount of individual education which a child can get—the number of children per teacher. This is the great thing that I would ask the Government to consider when they proceed to implement that paragraph in the Gracious Speech.
I came today to the House, as I have come many times before, from a meeting of my own county education committee. There today, as always, we were conscious of the fact that we have not built as many schools as we want to build. We have not enough teachers. Every local education authority could do with far more teachers if the national supply were adequate.
As one of the back benchers who urged this matter in the House some years ago, I was glad that the Government decided to televise the opening of Parliament. There may be party political dangers in the new venture, though I think that they can easily be exaggerated. I believe that the British public is too intelligent to give this historical pageant a party significance, and, in any case, the political dangers will cut both ways as the years roll on.
I look forward with added zest to a Gracious Speech prepared by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and embodying a Socialist programme. I believe it is right that the British people as a whole should share in an occasion which links Elizabeth II with Elizabeth I and which embodies at once Britain's democratic evolution from a feudal system and, at the same time, demonstrates the profound affection that everyone has for Her Majesty the Queen.
I wish to deal with one local constituency matter and one much broader issue. I can assure the Government that many back benchers on both sides of the House intend to speak about unemployment. 208 Southampton docks are now experiencing a considerable amount of unemployment. Yet some of the repair work on troopships, which has for many years been done by Southampton workers, is now being done in ports abroad. I wish on behalf of at least three trade unions concerned, which have given me specific cases, some of which I have sent to the Minister already, to put the complaint that more than emergency work is being done by ports abroad. By all means let emergency work be done in faraway ports but it is important that this source of employment should be reserved as far as possible for the people working in Southampton docks. I urge the Government to do whatever they can, whether directly or indirectly concerned, to see that that is done.
My colleague the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. J. Howard) is unfortunately absent through illness. I am glad to say that his illness is not very serious and I am sure that we all look forward to his returning very soon. On behalf of both of us I would say that we were pleased at the sympathetic way in which we were received by Sir Robert Letch of the British Transport Commission when, with representatives of the employers and of the Southampton trades unions, we put the important question of the retention of the inner dock of Southampton which it is proposed to build over.
Southampton docks have an excellent record not only of work done since the war, but of management and worker relations. I speak in this debate for both sides, for master and man, for all Southampton when I urge the Government to get down to the problem of coping with the growing unemployment in the dockyards of England. I understand that the confederations both of master men, on the one hand, and of employees and trades unions on the other are making joint representations to the shipping companies and the Government on this question which is so important to both sides. I plead with the Government to take note of those representations when they come.
I urge the Government to do all they can to speed up the provision of the second oil refinery in Hampshire. Of all parts but one in the South, South Hampshire faces the most acute employment problem at the moment. The 209 bringing of a second refinery to Hampshire and the withdrawal by the Ministry concerned with planning of its opposition to a great new factory somewhere between Portsmouth and Southampton would be real contributions to the employment position in this part of the country. I feel to some extent guilty in that there are other parts of the country which face far worse unemployment than does Hampshire. My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly spoke of long-term unemployment, and I have spoken outside the Southampton dockyard to men who have been out of work for three, four or five months. These men are ageing men, and it is no good saying to them that statistically Southampton is not as badly off as is the rest of England. For an unemployed man his own unemployment is the major issue. I urge the Minister of Labour to take a keen interest in these pockets of unemployment as they emerge in the country and especially in the dockyard areas.
Tonight, however, I wish to say a little about British-American relations. I have recently returned from Georgia, where I was a guest of a number of universities who invited me to give a series of academic lectures. At the same time, I had the opportunity to discuss, both in public debate on he radio and in private, divergencies between British and American policy, both domestic and foreign, and to present the British case—because I believe that the duty of a Member of Parliament when he goes abroad is to forget his party politics and to speak for his country.
I am sure that I speak for all hon. Members who have been to America when I express thanks for the warm generosity and hospitality shown to us whenever we go there. I hope that some day more Congressmen will come over here, because I think we have a lot to exchange with them, and I can assure them that they would find the same hospitality here that British Members of Parliament experience in Washington.
Of all hospitality, that of the deep South is the warmest and most cordial. I was received everywhere as a Member of Parliament from the Motherland. I came back with many commissions. For instance, I have been asked to trace ancestors who left Hampshire 200 years ago. Even the village has disappeared, but I have found it on an ancient map. I 210 have been asked to send back to a Georgian mother a first-hand account of the memorial service which will take place in November in St. Paul's Cathedral to American boys who lost their lives in the war. Among those boys was her Air Force son.
Like my colleagues, I was given the freedom of cities. I was made a sheriff. I had the honour of addressing the Supreme Court of Georgia at a memorial exercise to a great Southern Senator, the late Senator George, who began his career as a local State-man and ended it as a world statesman. I was even offered a chair at a university. Much to the regret of my political opponents, I did not take it. This kindness is unforgettable. I found that Americans who came over here go back with the same happy memories, even if our hospitality seems to us a little more sophisticated and to them a little more stiff and starchy.
I believe that the friendship of Britain and America is vital to the peace of the world, but that friendship does not mean unanimity and that friends must not disagree—and disagree frankly. I therefore spoke of the dangerous situation in the Far East, of the fact that the Chinese civil war has been lost by Chiang Kai-shek and that all the king's horses and all the king's men will not get him back on the mainland, that he has no chance without American aid and that he has even less chance with American aid. I said that Quemoy and Matsu, which Sir Anthony Eden in 1952 said should obviously belong to China—two islands which are only a few miles from the mainland and are almost surrounded by China—are not worth the danger of risking the start of a third world war.
I spoke of the recognition of Communist China and of the ending of the utterly illogical situation in which China is represented not only at the United Nations but also on the Security Council by delegates not of China but of Chiang Kai-shek, a ruler without a home. I said that some day Formosans must be allowed to decide their own destiny, and that Chiang no longer represents anybody but a little group occupying an island belonging to the Formosans. I spoke of the need to reduce tension in the Far East, the need to neutralise Formosa, the need to make an honest 211 attempt to reach some kind of agreement between Red China and the free world.
All these things, I said, seem to me fundamental points not only of British policy but of sound world policy, and I put them at meeting after meeting and in discussion after discussion. I found more Americans sharing those views than I had imagined, and I found that those who differed from those views wanted peace as much as we want it and wanted a third world war no more than we do. The picture of people up and down America eagerly looking forward to a third world war is a fantastic and unjust travesty of the truth.
Those who disagreed based their objections to the views I have tried to put on arguments which I think must be faced, and which I endeavoured to face. There is a fear amongst Americans that compromise means appeasement. I believe that this fear was a powerful motive behind the British Government's lamentable Suez adventure and that both countries suffer from a kind of Munich hang-over. I think it is an understandable analogy, but I think it is a dangerous one and that it can lead to wrong decisions.
Moreover, the Americans identify recognition of a country with moral approval of a country and they suspect our recognition of Communist China as meaning that we are pro-Communist. I pointed out that Britain's policy of recognising the Government that governs has never meant that we approve of that kind of Government. I argued that American recognition of Red Russia by no means implies that Dulles is a crypto-Communist.
Americans have a genuine feeling, too, that to abandon Quemoy and Matsu is to break faith with Chiang and that that will weaken the faith of other struggling democracies, in other parts of the world, in American support against Communism. I sympathise with the genuine loyalty which I met among simple Americans to Chiang, although I do not share the American view of Chiang's China as a democratic China. But I pointed out that it would be a crime against mankind if Chiang Kai-shek, even if he were the most unfortunate democrat who ever lost a country, were to be allowed to decide the 212 fate of the world and were to be allowed to be the man who pressed the button which started the third world war.
I found, on the other hand, the Americans naturally unwilling to recede from the offshore islands under the threat of aggression and attack from the Chinese Communists. I think it is a pity that Quemoy and Matsu were not evacuated three or four years ago when there was no tension. Indeed, I said so at the time, as did many other hon. Members on bath sides of the House. I think that at the present moment China ought to make her contribution to peace by ceasing the attacks and the bombardment of Quemoy and Matsu. If she would do so, I believe that that itself would be an important contribution to the possible solution of the problem of the Far East.
The main point I want to make is that on all these issues I found Americans not as intransigent as some would make them out to be. At any rate, I found the American people ordinarily much closer to our point of view than many imagine, and I believe that the American Government themselves have moved much nearer to that opinion since the first unfortunate and uncompromising attitude which they took up some eight weeks ago.
The American attitude to China is also coloured by American losses in the Korean war. I tried in debate to point out that we had a much more realistic attitude to Germany—the cause of two world wars—despite our bitter losses. I must confess that when I used to argue that way I had not read the less forgiving British newspapers and their bitter comments on the reception given to President Heuss recently.
It is difficult, I admit, to forget the American boys killed by the Chinese in the unnecessary war in Korea. It is difficult to forget the crimes of the Nazi in our own Europe. But, somehow, if the world is to survive, bridges have to be built across barriers of hate and misunderstanding. We have been attempting to do that in our own relations with Germany, and sooner or later America must adopt something like the same attitude to the people of China. We must build bridges between ourselves and all free Europeans. I believe in the European community. We must somehow provide a bridge, if we can, between Greece and Turkey, our fellow members 213 of N.A.T.O. But the great need is to build bridges over the gap which separates us from the Communist States, and of all the bridges, the simplest and the most immediate one is the bridge which connects us to our American allies.
I understand that President Eisenhower has called. I think for next year in America, a year of conscious fostering of international relationships and understanding—a kind of wholehearted and enthusiastic campaign to sell the American people to the world. I would urge the British Government to do, in their own more ponderous and dignified way, anything they can to promote exchanges between ordinary British and American people—exchanges not only between teachers, university dons and Members of Parliament, whom Mr. Priestley seems to despise so much, but also between ordinary people in all walks of life.
It was suggested to me by my wife as I was preparing my speech for today that Britain and America might well send over from the one country to the other a shipload of ordinary people, chosen, if we like, by lottery. To my knowledge, the only cost would be that of transport; hospitality both at that end and at this would be assured. It would indeed be a notable year if an American doctor could talk to British doctors and could learn how they have accepted the socialisation of medicine and realise how the benefits of the National Health Service are now widely supported by people of all political faiths in this country. If American doctors came over here, it would certainly do the American people a lot of good—if doctor could speak to doctor, engineer to engineer, housewife to housewife, docker to docker and policeman to policeman in a two-nation exchange across the Atlantic.
I think it would knock the Geophysical Year into a cocked hat if ordinary people could meet each other, not only here and in America, but if we could get the Russian people to make an exchange between ordinary folk in this country and ordinary folk in Russia, and the Americans did the same with China. It would let the ordinary people of the world do what the statesmen seem to be preventing them from doing—getting together and living in peace and understanding.
I wish to repeat the tribute which I paid three years ago to the Foreign Service 214 and the British information staff. I met abundant evidence of the fine work which our consuls, consuls-general and their information officers are doing abroad for Britain. Some day I hope to raise in an Adjournment debate the ways in which we might improve their conditions and recognise their services. In an earlier debate this year I asked for increased East-West trade, and said that the commercial traveller is an ambassador between countries and that peace follows trade. As I wandered about America, I was aware of the ambassadorial work clone by every single member of the British consulate staff wherever I went.
On the unhappy divisions that divide America on colour, I hardly dare to speak, in view of the speech of the hon. Member for Louth, and I will only say this. Just as I pleaded with him not to start a sort of racial feeling in this country, so I found that the Americans wished for some great statesman of the North and South to reach over the barrier which has divided the two parts of America. A great Southern friend of mine, perhaps the wisest man I met in America, said to me:If only at Little Rock Eisenhower, instead of sending troops, had himself gone there and taken a negro child by the hand and led it into school, how different things might have been.But sending troops awakened old wounds, and made the South angry. If only many politicians of the South were not at this moment widening the gap between the South and the rest of America but were narrowing it, I believe that America would be spared much unnecessary bitterness.
I would end this speech by urging the Government to continue to make abundantly clear to America where we stand on the Far Eastern issue. I welcome the recent categorical statement of American leaders that they are not prepared to support Chiang Kai-shek in a military adventure on the mainland. I welcome the proposal to demilitarise Quemoy and Matsu. I hope we can get from the Chinese some evidence of their willingness to achieve a peaceful settlement in the Far East. I must confess that after Suez I found it difficult, indeed almost impossible, to tell the Americans that this Government's handling of foreign policy is marked by greater skill, maturity, wisdom and poise than that shown by the 215 Americans in the Far East. But however we differ as to Suez, I am quite certain that the bulk of hon. Members in this House are agreed that our main purpose at the moment is to get down tension wherever it exists, and that our contribution to the Far East is to be a moderating force, a peacemaking force.
I am certain that I speak for the whole House when I say that what the Government have written in the Gracious Speech about an attempt to reach agreement on nuclear disarmament commands the support of every hon. Member of this House and that we all wish Godspeed to British representatives at the conference which is shortly taking place between ourselves, the Soviet Union and the United States on this question of abandoning H-bomb tests. The scientists of the world have shown that it is technically possible to end H-bomb tests and this will be the first step along the road to disarmament. It is for the statesmen to take it. It is for the men in the White House, in Downing Street and in the Kremlin to make practical politics of what the scientists have said is technically possible, and I am certain that the Opposition will be wholeheartedly in support of whatever the Government do towards achieving this worthwhile goal.
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ Mr. J. A. Leavey (Heywood and Royton)
It is customary to make an apology to an hon. Member who has just addressed the House if one does not pick up any particular points which he made in his speech, and I readily apologise to the hon. Member for Itchen (Dr. King), because I am not proposing to follow him in what I found a most absorbing and interesting address.
The hon. Gentleman ranged over a wide field, and told us of his experiences in America, touched on special subjects and problems of his own constituency, and I hope that he will not think me in any way discourteous if I do not follow the points he made, except in a particular way in referring to a problem which is confronting my constituents.
Yesterday afternoon, in his speech, the Prime Minister made a special point of referring to the cotton industry, and I wish to say something about it. I welcomed the fact that the Prime Minister did so, though I must confess that I did not find in his words very much more 216 comfort than I was able to get from them when he spoke a week or so ago at the cotton conference. The House will be aware that the Lancashire cotton industry is in trouble. I am conscious of the fact that some hon. Members may find themselves saying, "We have heard that only too often."
I am aware, too, of the very powerful arguments which the Prime Minister and the President of the Board of Trade have used in sustaining the point of view which the Government hold on this question. I want to touch upon those arguments, because I believe that it is helpful in all matters on which there are substantial disagreements if one makes an effort to go round to the other side of the table and see the other point of view, however disagreeable it may be to have to accept it.
It has been said in support of the Government's attitude that they do not find it possible at this time to reverse their stated Commonwealth trading policies—traditional policies—because it is their belief that in this country at present we can hope to raise our standards only if we encourage and support a general development in all our overseas trade, and particularly our trade with the Commonwealth and, therefore, that to do what Lancashire has been asking would be to swim against the tide.
Another argument is that as a nation we cannot at this time contemplate saying to those people—I speak particularly of the Asians, the people of India, Pakistan and Hong Kong— "Because your standard of living is so much lower than that which prevails in this country, for that reason we shall further penalise you by denying you the opportunity of earning your living and raising your standards by sending us your goods."
A third argument is that it is not reasonable to expect any Government to interfere with or frustrate the process which takes place in every industry and in most human activities whereby people move from the industry, occupation or skill in which they have ceased to be competitive to one where they are readily welcome. In what we have been experiencing in the cotton industry that change has been on a very large scale. Men and women, for as long as ten years or more, have been leaving their traditional trade to go to another occupation; 217 they have been moving from employment in the cotton industry, where their services have not been assured, to employment in industries where their new services and new skills are greatly valued.
It is argued that to impose restrictions on goods coming into this country so as to stop that process would be economic madness; and so long as that alternative demand which can absorb the energies, skills and capital resources which hitherto have been employed in the cotton industry continues, I support that argument. The fact is, however, that in the last six months or more we have reached the point where the absorption has ended, and we are now finding—anyone can feel it in the air—that there is no longer that readiness on the part of other industries to take the people displaced from the cotton industry. Consequently, the premise upon which the economic argument is based is no longer unassailable, and on that point I feel that the views of the Government are open to challenge.
I believe that this situation faces the Government with a matter of principle, which I should like to state plainly. We now have a growing number of unemployed, and we have the only slightly less disagreeable situation of short time, and we also have the position in which a number of our towns, traditionally devoted to the manufacture of cotton goods, are beginning to have an emptiness, a drifting outwards, a lack of young people, which cannot be ignored. We have houses, roads, educational facilities, churches and other material resources which are no longer being fully employed because of lack of confidence. Hon. Members will share my view on how contagious lack of confidence can be. There is the feeling that for young people, for enthusiastic people, for people with new ideas—which is what the Lancashire cotton industry needs so badly—there is no future in the industry. This is a cumulative feeling, and it is very dangerous. If people will only face it, it is a situation which exists in a number of the traditional Lancashire cotton towns.
Whatever the Government's arguments, which I have tried fairly to represent, one has to pose some questions. Do the 218 Government—does any Government—accept it as a principle that where change in its suddenness results in serious social dislocation and sometimes hardship, it is the responsibility of the Government—of any Government—to take action to limit the effects of the change? I submit with great respect that if that responsibility is not accepted it is fair to ask in this context what government is for, what are the purposes and intentions of government, and what are the responsibilities which people legitimately place upon their Government in a situation of this sort.
We are faced with this dilemma, which is inescapable, in most issues. If I may borrow words used by the Prime Minister, the issues are not black and white. There is always a grey area in between and compelling arguments on either side. In this case, there is the question of the responsibilities of any Government and whether we are getting a disagreeable, if not disastrous, result from economic change to which the people have not been able to adjust themselves.
I can only say again to the Government that while I have leant over backwards to see the point of view which has been expressed on many occasions, and while I have the greatest sympathy with it, there remains this point of principle. I do not think it can be argued that the Government may stand back and say, "This is a negotiation between the industry at home and the industries of India, Pakistan and Hong Kong. We want it to succeed, but we cannot intervene. It is something which you must work out for yourselves, and good luck to you."
Therefore, I hope that the Government will not leave the impression that they can never in any circumstances intervene, that they can never accept the responsibility which, I believe, rests upon any Government in those circumstances to support the activities of those who are concerned in the industry, whether it be negotiation, whether it be in an effort to change the structure of the industry or in whatever way it may be.
I do not think that anyone in this House or elsewhere will want Lancashire to qualify in the technical sense, in the unemployment sense, under the legislative provisions of the Distribution of Industry Act. To qualify means that our problem is going to be worse than it is already. But if we have to accept the 219 fact that the industry will shrink—some people will accept it and others will reject it—then, clearly, we have to have other industries, other activities. I am quite confident that in spite of our traditional commitment to the cotton industry, we have a community which is just as able to learn new skills and to develop new industries as any other industrial community in the United Kingdom.
Therefore, I hope that if the Government cannot help us in one way they will be more ready to help us to attract new industries so that the very type of young person whom we have got to have in all our industries will be attracted to stay in their own home towns, and we have plenty of them there. It would be disastrous, and it would be a situation which could not be reversed if, at a later date, the Government were to say, "Now you have qualified; now your towns are half empty, we will do something about it."
I therefore make these pleas: first, that we shall not be left with the definite feeling that if we fail in our negotiations as an industry we can expect no further help; and, secondly, that we may reasonably look forward to special consideration when it comes to the matter of trying to attract to ourselves new industries so that this situation in which we have been for so long, of having all our eggs in one basket, will be reversed.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)
I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will congratulate the hon. Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Leavey) on his very courageous speech about the problems of Lancashire. I make the same apology to him that he made to the House, namely, that I do not want to follow him into the subject which he raised, because cotton is certainly not connected with my constituency.
I wish to raise the general question of housing and the very large demand for houses, which is not mentioned in the Gracious Speech, in the big industrial areas, particularly in the Greater London area and more especially in my own constituency, Dagenham. We all welcome the fact that the Government are to assist the building societies to help people to become house owners, but I should like to make the point that a very large part of the "property-owning democracy" in 220 this country do not want to own their own houses.
A very large number of people, if they have any kind of property, would rather have other property than a house. They prefer to have their home owned by a municipality and to rent it. Some regard should be had to this very large section of opinion in this country, and greater encouragement should be given to local authorities to provide council houses than is the case at present.
I criticise the Gracious Speech because it ignores this very real housing need for large parts of our industrial population. Very many of the young people in my division are being forced to go elsewhere to try to buy a house through a building society, not because they want to do so but either because they have a very small family, or no children at all, or because the possibility of getting a council house is, in any case, so small, there being no further room for building in my area, that they feel that they have got to go outside and try to find money to get a house through a building society. As I say, they would much prefer not to have to do that.
There are some very important disadvantages connected with this question of buying houses through building societies. First, people do not like to have to bind themselves down to mortgage repayments over many years, and, secondly, they do not want to have to bind themselves down necessarily to live in a certain house in a certain area which may mean having to keep to one job in one particular firm. They want to feel that they can move elsewhere to another job in another part of the country without the tie and obligation connected with buying a house. This is a fact which should be borne in mind by Governments when they are drawing up schemes—
§ Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)
I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument very closely. I do not agree with what he has said about the immobility of a person because he owns his own house. But if that is true, surely it is just as true in the case of an occupant of a council house who wants to get a house in a new town where he is not even on 'the waiting list.
§ Mr. Parker
Yes, but that situation can be met once there is an adequate housing 221 programme and an adequate reserve of houses in the possession of local authorities. It cannot be met if people bind themselves to buying houses over many years in a town of 40,000 or 60,000 people, and then find that they wish to go to some other part of the country to take a different job. I agree that in the Greater London area it may be possible for people to change jobs from one part of London to another quite easily, but it is not so in the country as a whole. I should have thought that any Government ought to pay more attention than the present Government are doing to assisting local authorities to erect more council houses at reasonable rents than is occurring at present.
There is also a very strong case for creating a further number of new towns. One of the most important social improvements that we have carried out since the war has been the creation of these new towns, particularly in the Greater London area. I think that we on this side of the House can claim responsibility for the idea which has also been carried on by the party opposite. But no new towns have been started since 1951. I quite agree Oat it was important, having started a large number of them, to get on with the job and make a success of them. But it is worth recalling the fact that a large number of these new towns are reaching the stage of completion.
It has been announced that Crawley is not now to build up its last neighbour-hood unit, I think rightly so, because the view is taken that an area must be left for further expansion when the children living in the town grow up and want houses. That is an important factor to bear in mind. That is generally the point of view of most of the new towns. If a town is planned to house 70,000 or 80,000 it should build for, say, 50,000 or 60,000, and provide for expansion to meet the needs of the new generation who will require houses in a few years' time. If that is the case, it is all the more important that the Government should now be considering the creation of a large number of other new towns.
There are large industrial areas, such as those of Manchester and Birmingham, where no new towns have been created and where there is a real demand for new towns well away from the existing 222 large towns and with a green belt between. But in Greater London the need is just as great. The London County Council area is being rebuilt to provide for a far smaller population than hitherto, and there is a continual need for people to move out. The same is true also for the entire belt of the Metropolitan built-up area around the London County Council's area, particularly in the Metropolitan area of Essex.
In Dagenham, in conjunction with Walthamstow, and, in association with the local council, we are building an estate at Canvey Island. It is a small estate. A certain number of our people are moving there, although it will mean that they will have to travel to and from Dagenham for their work. Certain other towns in Metropolitan Essex are considering starting or have started small estates farther out in the county.
But this is not really a very satisfactory arrangement. It would be much better if, in addition to new towns like Basildon and Harlow, which are rapidly nearing completion, other new towns were created farther out in the County of Essex, or if arrangements could be made, with Government encouragement, for the deliberate enlargement of towns such as Chelmsford and Colchester to take people and industry from the inner part of the county. I urge, therefore, that the Government should now reconsider the whole subject of new towns and take steps to create more of them.
To show what an important contribution the new towns have made to meeting housing needs in my own area, I will give one or two figures. In Dagenham, we have been able to build, because of our limited area, only a very small number of council houses. During the last five years, 1,249 houses have been provided by our own council, and, in the same period, 629 families from our housing lists have found places in the two new towns of Basildon and Harlow. That is an important contribution to the solution of our housing difficulties. That way out of the difficulty, however, is rapidly being closed, and we ourselves have not very much more land for building. Unless new towns are established, our young people will not be able to have homes of their own in the near future.
A New Towns Bill is forecast in the Queen's Speech. From what is suggested, 223 it appears that a special Government corporation is to be set up to own the houses in the new towns. I cannot understand why the Government should object to allowing the councils of the new towns to own the houses in their areas. In Dagenham, we have a very real problem—I have drawn attention to this before—in that two-thirds of our houses belong not to our Dagenham council but to the London County Council. We should like to take the houses over and own them. If we did that, not only should we modernise them, but, also, we should be able to fill the vacancies with our own people now growing up in the area.
After pressure was put upon it, the London County Council agreed to give us a certain number of vacancies each year, but far more vacancies occur in those London County Council houses than are filled by our people in a year; they are mainly filled by people from the London County Council's area in the centre of London. This is a very unsatisfactory arrangement, because it means that we can never have a real community growing up. Each generation has to move on. The people growing up in the area have to go elsewhere, very largely, to find houses, and new people are brought in from the area of the London County Council.
I hope that, in their housing legislation, the Government will face that problem. It is more acute in Dagenham, but it is serious wherever there are council estates established in someone else's area outside the boundaries of the authorities owning the houses. We should like to take over the houses in Dagenham and run them ourselves.
There should be no objection to new towns owning their own houses. It might be alleged that attempts might, perhaps, be made to exert a political influence on rents and that kind of thing, but if the great majority of the people living in any area are all tenants of the same council one set cannot subsidise another; they must see to it that they have a reasonable rental policy for the area as a whole. I should not have thought that any danger of that kind would be likely to arise as a result of the new towns owning the great majority of the houses inside their boundaries.
Some of our big cities own much of the land at the centre. Liverpool, for 224 example, has long owned a very large part of the land in the middle of the city. This has been of great advantage to the city both in the income derived from the property and also in the avoidance of difficulties when redevelopment of the area has been considered. Indeed, many of us on this side of the House are moving to the opinion that, for built-up areas, it is very much better that the local authority should be the owner of the land, removing thereby many of the problems which the Government are now having to face, for instance, in regard to compensation on acquisition.
If the built-up area of a town were already owned by the council there, the council would benefit from any redevelopment when the time came for it. In my view, if most of the land were owned by the council when a new town was handed over that would cut out many of the problems which might well arise in the future management and development of the area.
Most of us on this side will want to revive this question if the Government intend to set up any kind of special corporation for the new towns. I do not think that we could accept the view that we should be committed for all time as to what the government and management of the new towns should be in the years to come. I suggest that the matter should be looked at again. In fact, there is a very strong case for saying that the built-up areas of all towns, not only new towns, should, as far as possible, be owned by the authorities concerned so as to avoid the problems which the Government are now trying to solve in some other way.
I hope that, in considering compensation for compulsory purchase of land, the Government will consider also possible amendments to their Bill designed to speed up the acquisition of land where it is urgently required for an important purpose. For example, a Government grant was made for the widening of an important road in my constituency. The whole scheme was held up because, for more than six months, one particular shopkeeper refused to sell. In the end, after every kind of possible appeal, agreement was reached and the shop was pulled down and resited farther back.
From the very beginning, reasonable proposals were put up to this particular 225 person. He was just awkward all the way through. It will be remembered also that, only last year, when the London County Council embarked upon the widening of the Strand, a Bill having been passed for that purpose, a particular shopkeeper, a jeweller, I think, opposed the project in every conceivable way. The loss of money to the ratepayers of London owing to the delay of the scheme, because it meant that rents could not come in from the rebuilt area for some months, was very considerable.
I hope that the Government will look carefully at amendments which may be put down designed to accelerate the acquisition of property for street widening and that redevelopment when everybody agrees that the propositions are worth while and most of the obstruction comes from people trying to get just an extra pound or two, or just being awkward.
I hope that the Government will also look at the whole matter of caravan sites. Reference has recently been made to this problem as it exists at Egham. It is important that local authorities should have more adequate powers to prevent the arrival of the caravans as well as to try to get rid of them once they are there. It is usually the seller of the caravans, or a company trying to exploit the site, which takes in the unfortunate caravanners, persuading them to go there. Once the people are in, it is very difficult indeed to move them out and, naturally, a great deal of resentment is aroused among the unfortunate people who are forced to leave and have no homes to go to. But the problem largely arises because local authorities have not adequate powers to prevent the arrival of these caravan colonies and to deal with them. I hope that amendments on these matters will be considered when the Bill is under consideration.
Lastly, I am very pleased to see that the Government are going ahead with building up further secondary education. There is, however, a connected problem which some of the areas have to face, and that is not merely the difficulty of getting teachers but the difficulty of keeping then. Over the whole area along the Thames-side, in Essex, at the end of July, there was an enormous shortage of teachers for the opening of schools in September, because it is not a residential 226 area. There are plenty of teachers in the rural parts of the county; one can get a house there. For instance, there is no shortage of teachers in Ilford, which is a residential area. But in areas where traditionally, in the past, there has not been a large number of children growing up to become teachers there are not many living there, and those coming in tend to go to other areas. They may be persuaded to take a job in Thurrock, Dagenham, or Barking, but as soon as a vacancy occurs in a school near where they live they take that vacancy. Every year we recruit many young teachers, but a large number of them soon leave and other young teachers take their place. This is not a good thing from the point of view of continuity in running the schools and from the head teachers' point of view, and it is certainly not to the advantage of the pupils to have this continual turnover in staff. One can certainly wish well to many young men and women coming into teaching who move on to better jobs after a reasonable time.
I ask the Government, through the Minister of Education, however, to look at this particular problem in view of the fact that there is in many parts of the country this rapid turnover in teaching staff. I ask the Government to consider what they can do not only to get the total number of teachers increased, but to encourage greater continuity in the teaching staffs in these areas, which are often most important industrial areas, where it is vital that we should have continuity and good teachers if our working population is to be of the high technical standard that we want in the years to come.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)
There is much in the Gracious Speech of a very wide and varied character, but, first, I should like to draw attention to something we have never had the opportunity of referring to in a debate on a Gracious Speech before. That is what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister called yesterday this "innovation" of the great ceremony being televised from the House of Lords. This is a very good thing. Anything that brings the two Houses of Parliament and the people of this nation, and indeed of other nations, closer together is very good indeed for the strength of our nation and for the understanding of peoples throughout the world. It will never be possible 227 for the people of our land in any numbers to see this very great and impressive ceremony and it is a very wonderful thing to think that through the comparatively modern medium of television many millions of people both here and abroad had, as it were, a part in that great spectacle. I am sure that it will live long in their memories.
It also enabled the newspapers to publish some very wonderful scenes yesterday and today of the ceremony. These newspapers will be souvenirs of memory for the future of the first great occasion when the ceremony was televised. If I may express a hope, I hope that this will be a precedent which will continue on future occasions of the opening of Parliament. Indeed, I hope that this principle may be extended, where possible, to other great public occasions so that our people may, as it were, take part in them.
I should now like to refer to the mention in the Gracious Speech of one of the principal objectives of the Government, a "healthy and thriving agriculture", and to the special assistance that will be given by legislation to small farmers and also to the further support that will be given to the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation. These are vital points for carrying on the agriculture of this country, and indeed of any country. The matter of credit is something of vital importance to all farmers, great and small. The land cannot be hurried. It must, quite properly, take its time to produce its fruits so that they may be reaped and cropped. Before that can be done the farmer incurs expenditure and it is right, through the auspices of Government and corporations, that credit should be available to allow him to carry out the necessary work.
Further on in the Gracious Speech we find the matter to which reference has already been made, namely, the extension of facilities for higher education, for developing the nation's schools and, in particular, for improving the scope and quality of secondary education. One would not expect to find it in the Gracious Speech, but to the best of my knowledge no one in the last two days has referred to what has already been done to develop the scope and quality of secondary education. I say quite 228 openly that it is about time somebody paid tribute to what has been done in secondary education, certainly during the seven years of this present Government and, as far as was possible, during the previous Government, since the Education Act, 1944. We have made great strides in secondary education since the war and we can be reasonably proud of it.
Secondary education, and indeed all education, is of vital importance to those who will benefit from it, for two main reasons. One reason, perhaps, we do not talk about much in this House, but it affects every individual. Of all the things that happen in life, education and the ability to take education is the one thing of which one never has a second opportunity. In almost all the other social and sociological things in life we are in one way or another allowed to try again. But we can never recapture the important school years from five to fifteen and possibly onwards or the ability to assimilate education which is present during that time. If through the fault of the Government, local authorities, teachers or schools, somehow or other the child is not able to be given the best possible education, no matter how long that child lives it never has the same opportunity to recapture and make up what it has missed. It is of vital importance that this one chance which is available to those of school years, and afterwards in adult education, should not be missed.
The other reason is this. Equality of opportunity has been talked about over the last one hundred years. The surest way in which equality of opportunity can be provided for all those in the land today and for those yet to come is to give them an equal chance in their start in life, particularly in education. That is of great and vital importance, and nothing else we can do to endeavour to level and equalise the opportunities and relative wealth of our people can equal the benefit of giving them an equal chance to start and make the most of what is in them and the most of what they can accomplish.
Side by side with that is perhaps the more selfish viewpoint for us as a nation. Perhaps the greatest natural resource that we have in this country is not in material things in the ground, not in the things 229 that we can take from the air, but in our native skill and ability to keep abreast of the developments in the world through our own native wit and education. Therefore, of all the facilities that we provide for our people, if we are to survive and improve as a nation that of giving the highest possible quality education is of vital importance, not only for the future of the people themselves, but for the future of the nation in which we live.
Another aspect of the Gracious Speech, concerning which the Bill has been published today, is the improvement of the basis of compensation for the compulsory acquisition of land. Even the Leader of the Opposition yesterday admitted that there were hard cases. That, however, was an under-statement. There are and have been very many hard cases, particularly since the war. When the Bill is finally passed, I hope to see that common justice will be available for those whose land and property is acquired compulsorily for public use. I share the hope and trust of many people throughout the country that that will be the effect of this latest Town and Country Planning Bill.
The Gracious Speech refers to the further encouragement which is to be given to house ownership. In the use of the word "further", I imagine that in drafting the Queen's Speech it was intended to emphasise that this was a further measure of encouragement. Nobody can deny that since 1951 the Government have done all in their power to increase and to foster an ideal in which we on this side believe, that is, a democracy in which those who wish to own their own houses may do so. There is now to be a further encouragement to property owning.
In the frequent references during recent years to the words "property-owning democracy", the emphasis has always seemed to he upon property-owning. There is, however, the third word, "democracy". By a property-owning democracy, we mean a democracy in which all people are equal and have an equal part in the running of their country, in which they have a stake in the ownership of their own property. I find it difficult to understand the experience or viewpoint of the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker). We all know that some people—they are entitled to their point of view—feel happier in 230 living in a house owned by somebody else, because that somebody else has the responsibility for its maintenance and outgoings. That is a point of view which, in a democracy, we understand and accept and for which we should make allowance: but that the hon. Member should plead that the majority of people, as he implied in his remarks, prefer to live in a house owned by somebody else and are reluctant to live in one which they themselves purchase, I find impossible to understand. I suggest that the hon. Member's viewpoint and experience are not in any way borne out either by statistics or by the experience of building societies.
If it is necessary for people to move from one locality to another, not only are they not rendered immobile because they own a house, but, indeed, on selling their house they have a stake to take with them to another community to purchase another house. There are many families who have had to do this two or three times during their lives and are no poorer for it, but, in fact, their experience has been enriched by many aspects of the move.
The last matter which I wish to mention from the Gracious Speech deals not so much with domestic affairs but with the affairs of ourselves vis-à-vis other nations. The Gracious Speech refers to the negotiations taking place this week at Geneva to bring about the suspension of the testing of nuclear weapons. We all endorse the wish of the Gracious Speech that those negotiations may prove fruitful and, indeed, we hope that they may lead in time to disarmament, both in this type of weapon and in all weapons among the nations. The Gracious Speech echoes that very sentiment. I am sure that all sides of the House will hope for the day when we shall see disarmament, not only in nuclear weapons, but also in what are called quaintly enough, conventional weapons, as if there can be something conventional in killing people.
It may be a platitude, but it is worth while to keep it before us in our dealings with other nations and I hope that they also will keep it in mind in dealing with us. Everything that nations in their domestic policies seek to achieve, and all that we in our policies seek to achieve in this land, as demonstrated by the items included in the Gracious Speech— 231 measures to improve the happiness and welfare of peoples and nations—are all lost, vanished and are of no account if we cannot secure and maintain peace among nations.
Nations have great plans, as they did up to 1914 and up to 1939. In the middle of all this planning, this looking forward and this united effort on behalf of the various peoples to increase their happiness, suddenly there comes a war and the development and happiness of nations is put back, not merely by the term of years that the war lasts, but by twice or thrice that period. As a result, we in this nation are today, in 1958, picking up things which, had everything gone well and the Second World War not come upon us, we might well have been doing ten or twelve years ago. In this way, the course of history is arrested by the fact that wicked men amongst nations, for their own personal aggrandisement and ambition, interfere, with the result that they stop the advancement of the welfare and happiness of the peoples of the world.
I commend the Gracious Speech. It contains much that will help all in our land. There is much in it that will be of benefit for the happiness and welfare of our people. I hope that there are matters in it, especially in the earlier part of the Speech, which will be good for the peoples of all nations and will contribute to the peace of the world.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
I desire to raise one or two points from the Gracious Speech. In a debate of this nature, in which we are entitled to range widely, we have an opportunity of dealing with constituency matters. Apart from claiming the Adjournment, it is our only opportunity to do so. On occasions such as this, we are entitled to put before the Government some aspects of the troubles and difficulties with which we are confronted in our constituencies.
I wish to refer to the paragraph in the Gracious Speech which deals with employment. It states:My Ministers are resolved to ensure the strength of sterling at home and abroad and a high and stable level of employment.The resolution of the Minister and of the Government is not borne out by what we find in our constituencies, where we are 232 discovering, much to our amazement and very much against our feelings, that unemployment has been growing by leaps and bounds. I say that because I can prove it in the industrial areas of the north-west, north-east and south-west of Lancashire.
There has been a great deal said, and no doubt more will be said within the next few days, about the depression and the contraction of the cotton industry. That has been mentioned time and time again. Deputation after deputation has been down to the precincts of this House; deputations have waited on the Prime Minister and the Board of Trade. Yet not one glimmer of hope can we see as a result of those deputations calling upon responsible Ministers of the Crown.
Unemployment is growing, and it is the duty of the Government, although it does not say so in the Gracious Speech, to do all in their power to arrest the growth of that unemployment which we are now experiencing in the north-west, the northeast and the south-west of Lancashire. It is quite true to say that at the moment we have only one industry in the vast industrial areas of Lancashire which is not experiencing acute unemployment, and that is the mining industry. The engineering industry is experiencing unemployment. So is the cotton industry.
§ Mr. Brown
I have heard it said from those benches and from responsible Ministers that they take into consideration the serious effect unemployment will have upon the community if it reaches 4 per cent. I want to tell the Minister of Pensions, because the Minister of Labour is not here, that there is over 4 per cent. unemployment in the cotton industry in Lancashire today. I hope the Minister will convey this to the Minister of Labour. There is room for ahigh and stable level of employmentthere. Yet this unemployment is taking place now, and nobody seems to care; nobody seems to be putting himself out about it. Yet employment is mentioned in the Gracious Speech.
Furthermore, we are very much disturbed by what we describe as the invisible unemployment. There are people who are at work only three or 233 four days a week and whose purchasing power has been reduced. They are not permitted to sign on at the employment exchange because they do not qualify to do so because of certain Regulations.
I hope we shall never again have the unemployment we had in 1930, or even have to think of suffering it again. I hope we shall never have those experiences again. I speak as one who experienced unemployment for nine months. I know the degrading effect it had upon me. I know the indignity I felt when I could not get work. I tramped the county through and could not get work, as we say in Lancashire, for love nor money. I hope those conditions will not return. I take pardonable pride in the fact that although I was unemployed nine months I did not draw a penny in unemployment benefit. I never signed on. I did my level best to maintain myself and family without recourse to the employment exchange. Not everybody can do that. Not everybody is in the economic position to do that.
What I am concerned about, what my division is concerned about and what Lancashire is concerned about is the growth of unemployment and of underemployment generally, particularly in that part of the country.
What happened a little while ago? refer to my constituency. I discovered a factory—it did not require a microscope to discover it—which had become known as the "mystery factory". Nobody knew who was responsible for it. Nobody knew who was responsible for the financing of it. It was brought suddenly to my attention: "There is a factory yonder at Kirkless, Higher Ince, but nobody knows what is being done with it. All we know is that the building was completed in December, 1954."
From 1954 to June of this year not £1 worth of production came through the gates of that factory. Through my investigations, which I was entitled to make as the hon. Member for that division, I discovered that it was built by the Admiralty. I went to see the Admiralty people. Much to my amazement I discovered that they knew nothing about it either. Yes, it was admitted by them that they did not know anything about the factory.
§ Mr. Brown
This was referred to in a Report by the Select Committee on Estimates. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen can read up the matter in the Report and see that this factory was considered by the Select Committee. The Admiralty, with all its organisation and administrative staff, had to confess that it did not know that the factory existed.
§ Mr. Brown
I set to work to get the factory occupied to relieve unemployment, to relieve under-employment. Finally, half a dozen men, patriotic citizens in the strict sense of the term, formed the John England Engineering Company, and they took over the factory in June of this year.
They are finding difficulties. On the one hand, the Government are calling upon industry to go into depressed and Development Areas, but when industrialists do that the Government fail to recognise their responsibility and will not help them. That firm, which is now struggling to get upon a proper basis, is faced with refusal after refusal by Government Departments, which decline to give the firm an opportunity of tendering for work the firm can do.
I suggest very seriously that the attention of Government Departments should be called to factories in depressed and Development Areas, and to firms which go into those areas, and should be instructed, all things being equal, to help those firms which are trying to do their level best to maintain ahigh and stable level of employment.That is not an unreasonable request. In my constituency we have this factory which was completed in 1954, but where not a wheel was turned until June. 1958. Is that the way in which we are going to solve unemployment? Is that the way in which we are going to solve underemployment? I expect the words in the Gracious Speech to be taken seriously by the responsible Government Departments.
There are two other works in my constituency. One has been in existence for over a century. It has given 100 years' service to the nation. Workmen there have given their services, their time, their talents, their craft and their skill and now they are faced with unemployment. What will the Government do about that? How 235 far do they intend to apply the words in the Gracious Speech when they allow the Central Wagon Works, which has given so much of its service to transport and other aspects of industry, to decay? Do they intend to do something and formulate a policy which will prevent the onset of unemployment? The same situation applies in the Ince Wagon Works, a family concern which is faced with under-employment and unemployment.
What troubles people there is that men who have never been out of work before are now signing on at the employment exchange. Can people be expected to have confidence in a Government who treat them in that fashion? Can the Government expect that the promises they make to these people will fall on believing ears? Nothing of the kind can be expected. Those men who have gone through it in the days gone by know that promises that this, that and the other will be done to maintain a high level of employment do not mean what they say. I plead, therefore, with the responsible Government Department to take the words in the Gracious Speech seriously and to apply their real meaning.
The Gracious Speech also contains the words:It will be the special care of My Government to introduce measures to promote the social well-being of My People.That is a very laudable object and a very desirable thing. I listened to the Minister of Pensions expound the case for the new pensions scheme which has been put before us in the White Paper "Provision for Old Age". The right hon. Gentleman did his level best, as he always does, to explain the new scheme but I would put one point to him very seriously. While that scheme is being examined from the point of view of its application in the future, what is to become of approximately 5 million old-age pensioners who will not benefit under the scheme? They will not receive a penny piece from the proposals in the White Paper.
Furthermore, according to paragraph 74 of the White Paper:The changeover to the new system will mean a great deal of detailed technical replanning both for employers and for the Government Departments concerned. The Government envisage that at least two years will be required.Even if the proposal is accepted early in 1959 and everything in the garden is 236 lovely and it can be placed on the Statute Book in 1959, two years will elapse before the benefits accrue from the scheme. I ask the right hon. Gentleman and his Department very seriously what will happen in the meantime to the 4¾ million old-age pensioners who will be excluded from the scheme. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman assured us today that although they are not included in it, the scheme does not preclude their being brought in, but if they are brought in they will have to wait two years at a time of rising living costs for an increase in the basic pension.
An improvement in the economic posi-of the country has been heralded forth from time to time by the Government's principal spokesman. Our standard of life is improved, but the standard of life of the old people is not. I challenge the Minister to prove otherwise. The standard of life of the old-age pensioners is depreciating because of circumstances over which they have no control. The acid test is the number of old-age pensioners who are in receipt of National Assistance. They do not go to the National Assistance Board unless they are compelled to do so, but the number of those who do go is rising.
I want to be fair to the Department. It is true to say that in the last few months before June and July the number was decreasing. We all know the reason for that, but now it is increasing rapidly. People are compelled by sheer force of economic circumstances to go to the Board to eke out a livelihood and maintain their existing standards. Surely, we will not allow that. Surely, we can and must treat these people as they should be treated. I know that the Government's intentions are good and that they desire to do the best for the old people. but as I sit and meditate upon these things I cannot convince myself or bring myself to believe that the Government are really serious in their proposals. If they were, we should not have to keep pleading for some concession for our old people.
I have no desire to waste the time of the House, but I could give to the right hon. Gentleman and his Department particulars of case after case which has come under my own observation of old-age pensioners who have given of their best to industry and commerce in whatever circumstance to which they might have 237 been called, but who yet, in the eventide of life, cannot maintain themselves in a degree of comfort commensurate with a decent standard of life. I therefore plead with the right hon. Gentleman to see to it that he does something between now and the end of the year to improve the lot of existing old-age pensioners.
Never let it be said of us that we told them that they will have to wait until 1961 before they receive any increased benefits. The right hon. Gentleman can give them benefits. He has the wherewithal. He has the money at his disposal. He cannot say that we are short of money. He cannot say that we cannot afford it. We can afford it and we must afford it. These people are entitled to the best that we can give them. Let us not act in any parsimonious and niggardly way in dealing with people who have helped the country so much in the past.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
I should like to follow the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) in his remarks. We always listen to him with very great interest and with the greatest pleasure. I should like to put a point to him on the subject of unemployment. I am perfectly certain that both sides of the House would endorse his sentiments about any return to the unemployment figures which existed before the war, but would the hon. Member not consider that at this moment, and since the war, the division between inflation and deflation is not even a light-rope but is a knife-edge on which any Government in office have to walk?
As we know, there has been raging inflation since the war. The measures taken by this Government in recent months have succeeded in at least halting this tendency and the cost of living has remained stable, whatever may be said on platforms. Immediately, however, a new ghost arises, the problem of unemployment, and the process must be reversed. To what extent it must be reversed without re-creating inflation is a very difficult question. All I would say is that at least the first shot in the arm has been given by the reduction of Purchase Tax. I believe that if the Government continue on the same lines as their 238 defeat of inflation they will succeed in defeating unemployment.
Following only briefly on what the hon. Gentleman said about old age pensioners, because I propose to talk about another type of older people, I wish we could change the phrase "National Assistance" to something else. It has a bad connotation. The National Assistance scheme was intended to be a supplementary pension. It is part and parcel of the pension scheme, and the more people can be made to realise this the less diffident will they be to apply for National Assistance.
I am not trying to be controversial in any way when I say that the Government have raised the old-age pension no less than three times since they came into office, to try to keep just ahead of the rise in the cost of living. I do not know the actuarial figures, but I am sure my right hon. Friend knows them —
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
If, however, actuarially the present old-age pension has fallen behind the rise in the cost of living, I would join with the hon. Gentleman and urge my right hon. Friend to do something about that as soon as he can.
There has been no real continuity in these two days' debate on the Gracious Speech, because hon. Members take it as an opportunity to raise constituency points. Therefore, it is not easy to follow the debate throughout. I have followed the hon. Gentleman to some extent. but I now propose to raise an entirely different matter. I have done so on several occasions and this year the Daily Telegraph was good enough to publish an article I wrote in March on this subject. I gave the matter a certain amount of study, because it was one which interested me. I am referring to the tax position of married couples due to the aggregation of tax for Surtax purposes.
Many years ago the starting point of Surtax was the same for single as for married people, even if they were both earning. However, even with the £100 allowance given in a recent Budget it is still true to say that an able woman capable of earning a certain level of salary or income can pay Surtax on the very first penny she earns if her 239 husband's income is also at a certain level. There is no doubt that this is keeping quite a large number of intelligent women out of employment who would otherwise be of value to the country.
As a result of that article in the Daily Telegraph I received letters from all over the country giving me examples of women who had taken first-class science degrees, and so on, who found it was not worth while to keep on their job after marriage. It is uneconomic that the State should spend a great deal of money on training professional and scientific women only to lose their services the moment they get married. It is equally illogical that the State should give tax concessions to married couples on the lower income level in order to encourage those people to work, while the situation on the higher level is such that it discourages women from working.
I will give an example without including too many facts and figures. A man and woman fell in love. The man was very able and was earning £5,000 a year. The woman he wished to marry was earning £1,500 as an author. They realised that if they married they would lose about £536 a year. So, instead, they entered into a civil contract and the man agreed to pay the woman £1,500 a year, reducing his own income by that sum, increasing hers by the same amount, and saving in tax £200 a year net.
This is by no means the end of the story. They were then £736 a year better off, because if they had married they would have lost £536, since the tax situation on a covenant such as that is not affected in the case of a married couple. Twelve months later twins were born and they made a covenant, through trustees, paying to each of these children £250 a year less tax at the standard rate. The Revenue claimed that as these were illegitimate children the covenants were not valid.
This argument was not sustained in the courts. So this couple made another saving of £87 a year. As most of the tax on those covenants was recoverable, they got back £288, of course less the allowance of £85 which they would have got if they had been married. So, altogether, they are now saving £1,026 a year. When the children are 21 years of age the couple intend to marry and 240 for twenty years they will have saved £20,000, which they intend to settle on the children.
That is an actual case, and it is ludicrous. I had an assurance from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that this matter would be looked into and I hope that what I have said today will reach his ears and that he will do something about this before the next Budget.
A word now on the older people. I want to make a plea to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance for those older people who were debarred from entering the late entry scheme. Some of those people have been living for a considerable time on their life savings and it is a race between those savings and their eventual death. There are many pathetic cases of people aged 75 and 80 who are suffering in this way. The amount paid by the 400,000 people who came in under the late-entry scheme, of course, only pays for their pensions for two years and for the rest of their lives they will be existing entirely on the State insurance scheme. It is wrong that there should be a differentiation between these two types of people. I know some of the arguments, but my right hon. Friend ought to look at this matter again to see whether there is anything that can be done to assist the former.
It is all very fine talking about National Assistance. I have discovered these people to whom I refer are in a curious income bracket. They are in a sort of £120 a year to £400 a year class. The House will readily realise that £120 a year is too much for them to claim National Assistance. In the £400 a year class any tax reliefs which have been made in recent years—and there have been many—have not affected them in any way at all. I make a very strong plea for these people, of whom I have very many in my constituency.
I am making entirely a constituency point. Many of these people are literally giving up a meal a day to exist, let alone buy the small, reasonable comforts to which they should be entitled in their old age. We have had tragic instances of some of these old people being found dead in their beds because they were so weak from malnutrition that they could not get up to call a neighbour.
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
How can the hon. and gallant Member maintain that there is this widespread malnutrition among those whose income limit is £120 to £400 a year when the £120 figure is roughtly the income of 3 million old-age pensioners, who get little more than £120 a year? No one says, when we come to examine their difficulties, that they are suffering from malnutrition.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
I was speaking of people not in receipt of a pension at all.
To turn to another aspect of the problem, I was very sorry that the Government missed the opportunity of doing something at the time of the passing of the Local Government Act and the Housing Act to make it easier to assist in some way the local authorities to build small houses for old people. This could be done either on the basis of a small community—and in my view that is the best way of doing it—where they could get together and see each other and get a minimum of care and attention—because they do not want that unless it is necessary—and where they are in healthy surroundings rather than in some of the rooms, broken-down cottages, and so on, in which they have to live at present. Let them spend their lives in happy surroundings and where they can get the care which some of them need.
One further constituency point which I wish to make relates to Purchase Tax on tools of trade. There are many categories of this, but of all the categories the most hard hit is the hotel industry, which has to pay high rates of Purchase Tax on all the tools of its trade. I hope that in the next Budget there will be a concession to these people which will help them, because times in the holiday resorts are not so easy as they were in consequence of people going abroad much more than they did.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)
The hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) said that this is mainly an occasion for raising constituency points, and, as my constituency seems to be rather different from his, I am afraid I shall not be following him in his argument, because among my constituents there are not many Surtax payers trying to swindle the Government 242 by living in sin, or some of the other categories which he has mentioned.
I want to concentrate on drawing attention to a glaring omission from the Gracious Speech. It is a glaring omission which concerns the people in Lancashire in particular, namely, that it makes no mention at all of the cotton industry. Lancashire has been for quite a long time under the cloud of unemployment, and that cloud is still getting darker. I can be very brief, much briefer than I intended to be, because, much to my surprise, the hon. Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Leavey) said very much what I wanted to say.
I watched him wrestling with his conscience in the same difficulty as that in which I have found myself in days past, as a back bencher on the Government side not wanting to criticise his Front Bench but, nevertheless, feeling that he must point out a situation that has to be tackled. I ask the Minister to take note of the fact that the criticism from Lancashire about lack of action on the part of the Government is not confined to this side of the House. It comes from Members on both sides, and unless the Government do something for Lancashire they will hear all about it in the very near future.
When the Prime Minister spoke about this yesterday he seemed in cheerful mood. He did not actually use the historic words, "We have never had it so good". but he was very optimistic, and he confessed, in the words of the song from "My Fair Lady" that the Government had had "a little bit of luck." I wonder whether he remembers another song from the same piece which has as its theme, "Wouldn't it be lovely?" A girl in poor circumstances is thinking of some not too ambitious things and saying that if only she could get those things, "Wouldn't it be lovely?" That is exactly the position in Lancashire today.
Lancashire is not asking for the moon or for anything very extraordinary. All that Lancashire is asking for is an opportunity to earn an honest living. If the people of Lancashire felt that the Government were taking it seriously and trying to do something for Lancashire they would sing a heartfelt, "Wouldn't it be lovely?" The Prime Minister, in dealing with this, said that he was relying on voluntary agreements being made. We, 243 of course, wish the Cotton Board luck in negotiations with India, Pakistan and Hong Kong, but these negotiations have been going on a long time and, after the closing of so many mills, has it not gone beyond the stage where we can pin our hopes on a voluntary agreement being reached?
Will the Prime Minister, in his own words, resolve that he will not hesitate to use other methods if these voluntary agreements fail, as they have failed up to now? The situation is not static, waiting for voluntary agreements to be reached. Mills are being closed week after week. Fortunately for my constituents, Accrington and district is not the worst hit in the County Palatine. Places like Oldham and Nelson are very much worse than we are in regard to unemployment. Nevertheless, Accrington and the surrounding townships have had some very bad shocks recently. Even though we do not rely entirely on the cotton industry, mills have been closed all over the place not only in the weaving and spinning sections, but recently in the finishing trade, which we thought was stable for a long time to come.
Suddenly, in one works in my town 400 men are sacked. In the local newspaper this week, it is stated that another big firm is putting off staff. That is going on all the time with a snowball effect on the shopkeepers and on the other services which depend on these factories. The town has been aroused to the extent that public petitions are being signed and I hope to have the pleasure of presenting them to this House before very long.
It comes down to this. Whether we like it or not, the cotton textile industry has been declining for a long time and it looks as though it will not go back to where it was before. Therefore, as it is a continuing process, surely it is a reasonable request to the Government that they should try to put the brakes on, if it is only temporary pending some sort of voluntary agreement or some imposition of controls of some kind.
We must take some temporary measures to stop this process of something like an average of two mills a week closing week after week and month after month. At the same time, I repeat what I said about the cotton industry not 244 being expected to get back to where it was before and what the hon. Member for Heywood and Royton said about public services in these towns having to continue to function. Will not the Government take some special steps to bring some new industries to these districts? It is no good the Government saying that they have done something in that direction, because it has been far too little—too little and too late. New industries are desperately needed because of the switch-over that is taking place.
When we raise this point we are confronted with statistics. We are told, "Look at the unemployment figures. They do not seem too bad". But anyone who knows the situation and analyses these figures realises that they do not include short time, nor married women who are being put off work. In addition, there are the skilled men who are taking unskilled jobs rather than remain unemployed. That is going on all the time. The mere cold figures of unemployment tell far short of the full story.
I appeal to the Government to have some sympathy with the town councillors and others who are responsible for running these decaying towns in Lancashire. People are leaving these towns for other districts. The Government are talking about building new factories elsewhere when there are perfectly good factories, with all the necessary public services, available. The place only needs revitalising by some Government action.
The great fear in Lancashire today is that the Government are not seriously trying to help Lancashire. I believe that that feeling is not confined to the Government's supporters. If only the Government could bring a hope that something would be done, I am sure that the whole atmosphere would change. It is the Government's duty to do it, and in order to emphasise that point I will sit down now arid not attempt to refer to the many other points which I should have liked to make about the Queen's Speech.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)
I should like to deal with one point which seems to me to be a matter of considerable interest and importance and yet is not mentioned in the Queen's Speech. I refer not to the question of general unemployment but to the question of job opportunities for youths. There is a 245 reference in the Queen's Speech to the intention to have a policy of full employment, but much more than a stated intention of that sort is necessary.
If we are considering job opportunities for youths, it is a matter of very urgent concern to Scotland and, particularly, to that part of Scotland which I have the honour to represent. I refer to Mother-well, Wishaw and the surrounding district, which is normally covered by the term North Lanarkshire, which, apart from Glasgow, is the most heavily industrialised part of Scotland.
If we are thinking of the job opportunities which are available and are likely to be available to youths, it is of great significance to look at the existing unemployment position and particularly to compare the unemployment among youths in Scotland with that among youths in other parts of the country. I do not want that to be taken in any way as suggesting that we grudge the youths of other parts of the country the better opportunities for certain jobs which they undoubtedly have.
One of the points which I wish to put forward with a view to showing how serious this matter is to Scotland arises from the total figures for what is called chronic unemployment—long-term unemployment, which has extended for more than six months. If we take the total figure for the country as a whole—speaking only of boys under twenty years of age—and then find the percentage of those boys in Scotland, we find that in June of this year, the latest date for which we have these figures, the percentage was thirty. In other words, out of every one hundred young men under twenty who had been out of work for more than six months in Great Britain, thirty were to be found in Scotland.
People may argue that there is always a reservoir of men, women, boys and girls who are not nearly as easily employed as are other people. Some are described as unemployable. It is no doubt true that there are some people who, for physical and mental reasons, are particularly difficult to place in employment, but f put it to the House that the reservoir of persons who are difficult to employ is bound to be much about the same in every part of the country. The unemployable—a term which I do not like— 246 must be fairly evenly distributed throughout the country. It certainly cannot be the case that only in Scotland do we have 30 per cent in this category.
Let us look for a moment at the striking difference in the figures. If we consider the position in London and the South-East region, we find that although this region has more than twice the total insured population of Scotland, nevertheless the percentage of its young men or boys out of work for more than twenty-six weeks is only 8 per cent. of the Great Britain total. The indication clearly is that the job opportunities—the demand for labour—are much greater in other parts of the country than in Scotland. In the Midlands region, which in terms of insured population is practically the same size as Scotland, the number is eight or nine times smaller than that of Scotland. The continuing, difficulty of finding jobs is especially great in certain areas, particularly Scotland.
It is true that within the past year unemployment has grown very rapidly in the part of Scotland which I represent. Compared with the same period of last year, unemployment among boys and girls has increased by about three times, the latest figure being 1,144 boys and girls unemployed, compared with 413 at the same time last year. The percentage of boys out of work in my constituency is 6.6 and that I understand to be a very modest estimate—one cannot be completely accurate in matters of this kind, because one cannot accurately discover the number of boys and girls in any one area. However, it is an estimate given to me by the local youth employment officer, who also said that the average length of time that a boy is out of work in this very busy area of Scotland is about eight weeks, although in some cases it is very much longer.
Bad though unemployment is among adults, it is immensely more to be regretted among youths. The youth employment officer responsible for Lanarkshire as a whole has estimated that by 1962 we shall require 4,000 more jobs for boys and girls—again, a very modest estimate. Those jobs will not be especially created for boys and girls and there will have to be several times more jobs for adults, perhaps four jobs for adults to every one for a boy or girl. That means that to have an additional 4,000 jobs in Lanarkshire merely to 247 cover the increase in the school population which will become available for work, we shall have to have 20,000 more jobs and there is no sign at all that that considerable increase will come about.
The insured population in Scotland, the unemployed, employed and self-employed, increased by 3,000 from 1955 to 1957, out of a total population of more than 5 million. The increase for Great Britain as a whole was 312,000. For Scotland to have had a comparable increase, the insured population should have increased by more than 30,000. The fact that it did not increase is an indication of the drain of youngsters and others which has continued for some years, a drain to other parts of the United Kingdom and overseas. This is an argument which we have made time after time. It has been pointed out that this drain is mainly of skilled workers. Not nearly enough is being done about it. Even in the provision of potentially skilled jobs the opportunities are very much less than they should be.
Facilities for boys becoming apprentices are inadequate. The general manager of one of the biggest firms in my area, a firm with an excellent record for training apprentices, recently told me that he receives applications for jobs from boys who have already passed through a preliminary engineering course and that the applications he receives are ten times more than the number he can take up. He spoke of the most regrettable waste of excellent talent in Lanarkshire. The county is making great efforts to solve this problem, but it cannot do so by itself. If employers do not make additional jobs available, some means must be found to induce or compel them to do so. If as a result of their efforts not enough work is developed, the Government must see that such work is developed.
If the situation is left to the operation of the laws of supply and demand, then the advantages will go to those areas which already have large populations and the drain to which I have referred will continue. We have to have a policy of planned location of industry, and I regret that in the Queen's Speech there was no mention of steps being taken to ensure that never again will boys have to grow up without ever having had the opportunity to work.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. John Mackie (Galloway)
I welcome this unexpected opportunity of being able to say a few words in the course of this annual debate on the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech which Her Majesty delivered to both Houses of Parliament yesterday. I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson), who represents a very important industrial constituency in central Scotland. He spoke with feeling and although I have no opportunity of controverting or supporting his figures of the unemployment situation in central Scotland, I am sure that they were accurate.
§ Mr. Mackie
I have said so. I wish that the hon. Member would contain himself for a moment.
I realise that the hon. Member for Motherwell spoke with deep feeling. As the debate unfolds, it is becoming apparent—it was apparent in the speech of the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown), for whom I have the greatest respect—that unemployment is becoming a party political issue. If I may say so without offence, the party opposite is seeking to make it a party political issue between now and the next General Election. I suppose that that kind of thing is inevitable in our almost two-party democratic—
§ Mr. Lawson
Does not the hon. Member agree that on this side of the House there is much more experience of what unemployment means and much more knowledge of unemployment, so that we should feel much more strongly about it than do hon. Members opposite?
§ Mr. Mackie
I accept that. It was apparent from the speech of the hon. Member for Ince who spoke of his experiences in years gone by when he was unemployed and walking the roads of Lancashire unsuccessfully trying to find employment.
However, while agreeing that this is bound to be a party political issue at the next General Election—the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) seems to agree—I hope that it will be reduced to the minimum, because this 249 is not a matter around which party political passions should unduly revolve.
It is not only in industrial Scotland that it is regretted that unemployment is beginning to rear its ugly head. I represent an almost completely agricultural constituency and the biggest centre in my division, Stranraer, numbers only some 7,000 people. During the Second World War it came to occupy a very important position. Ports in the south of England had been bombed and Southampton was out of action, and Cairnryan became the great port of the Western Approaches for the landing of American troops. As I said, I have not come to the debate armed with a great many figures, but I believe that about 2 million American troops were landed at that port, which was built in 1941 or 1942 specially to accommodate that traffic.
In the last few months I have had occasion to take deputations to the War Office in connection with the danger of the port going out of action so far as the War Office is concerned, and I am in constant touch with the War Office on the matter. I am not trying to make points against those who are responsible for controlling affairs at the War Office today, but T want to show that there is a distinct danger of unemployment there, fortunately not on the scale that the hon. Member for Motherwell has quoted but still on a very serious scale for a small agricultural constituency.
Between 300 and 500 men may be thrown out of work. The hon. Member for Motherwell may not think that that is a very serious matter. Such a small number of people are as nothing compared with the numbers concerned in industrial Scotland and the industrial belts of Great Britain as a whole, but as the hon. Member is a humanitarian and is imbued with a deep desire to do what he can for his fellow countrymen he should realise that I and many of my hon. Friends feel just as deeply about these small pockets of unemployment as do hon. Members opposite.
Neither the hon. Member for Mother-well nor the hon. Member for Ince referred to the hopes contained in the Gracious Speech about the resolve of Her Majesty's present advisers to do all they can to maintain a high and stable level 250 of employment. Surely they realise that the Government have now embarked upon an expansionist policy. The restrictions which, for about seven years have been laid upon the borrowing of money and the obtaining of credit, are now to be almost completely lifted. I believe that that is wise. I only wish that it had been possible to take this action earlier. The restrictions made it very uncomfortable for many people, especially those in agriculture. Nevertheless, if it had not been for the very hard things which the Conservative Governments had to do in the way of the restriction of credit and in making it more difficult to borrow money, the £ sterling today might not be in such a healthy condition. Indeed, that point has been made by more than one hon. Member opposite.
I do not want to go all through the Gracious Speech, although it would be quite possible for me to do so, as there do not appear to be many hon. Members who want to speak. I do not wish to inflict myself upon hon. Members opposite, or to weary them unduly with my efforts, but I want to say a word about that part of the Gracious Speech which refers to Scotland. I suppose that what I am about to say will promote a good deal of mirth on the part of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) because the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Rankin) made great play about it in his speech last night. I refer to the part of the Gracious Speech which says:A Bill will be laid before you for the protection and control of deer in Scotland.Towards the end of the last Parliament I was lucky enough to draw a place in the Ballot, but not sufficiently lucky to draw a good place, being placed twentieth—at the very bottom. I was therefore in a position to bring forward a Bill, and at the suggestion of a very old Member of this House who has now passed to his rest, and for whom many of us have a very warm regard—the late Mr. Charles Williams, former Member for Torquay—I brought forward a Bill for the protection of deer in Scotland. It was at the bottom of the list, and it would not have got far in any case, but even so it was not pleasing to the Scottish Office. I am delighted to know that the Scottish Office now intends to bring in a Bill on similar lines.
When the Labour Government were in power I was also lucky enough to win a 251 place in the Ballot, although again I was at the bottom of the list. I then brought in a Bill with regard to river pollution in Scotland. The lines upon which it was drawn were not welcomed by the Scottish Office at the time, presided over as it was by the Socialists. They indicated that it was too big a matter to be dealt with by way of a Private Member's Bill. However, just as the Tory Government are to bring in a Bill dealing with deer, the Socialist Government brought in a Bill dealing with river pollution. It was a very good Bill, and it has done a great deal of good for the rivers of Scotland.
I do not accept the argument put forward by hon. Members opposite that the proposed Bill concerning deer in Scotland is being brought forward simply to satisfy the rapacious desires of Scottish landlords. It is being done in the best humanitarian interests.
I am delighted to see that once again Her Majesty's advisers state that:A healthy and thriving agriculture will remain among the principal objectives…of the Government.
I was talking recently about the credit squeeze and saying how glad I was that it had been lifted, because a much more ample opportunity would now be given for borrowing money. The credit squeeze did a great deal of good in strengthening sterling but it hit people with small businesses and small farms. I say what I know to be true. I do not think it is too late to reverse what was done and I am delighted that the Gracious Speech makes clear that finance is to be forthcoming for small farmers.
I would refer now to a point which produced a great deal of opposition, namely, the proposal to introduce a small Bill to give greater freedom in the use of motor cars at Parliamentary elections. One Opposition hon. Member yesterday seemed to forget that we were severely critical when we were in Opposition of the limitation imposed upon the use of motor cars in this way. No doubt right hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Front Bench will remember what happened when we were in Opposition during the six years when they were in office. I need hardly remind them of the all-night sittings which took place when the Representation of the People Bill was before us in either 1947 or 1948, when the Com- 252 mittee stage of the Bill was discussed on the Floor of the House. We strenuously resisted the Bill and did all in our power to resist that Measure by way of argument and spinning out the debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Gentlemen know perfectly well that Parliamentary obstruction is not outside the canons of good behaviour in the House of Commons. In bringing in amending legislation, I hope we shall find that the right hon. Member for South Shields will give us the credit of being consistent.
I am sorry that I have gone on rather longer than I meant to, but I am glad to have the opportunity of pointing out these things. I realise that some right hon. Gentlemen opposite, including the Leader of the Liberal Party, are not too happy about their electoral prospects at the next General Election. Indeed, it may be that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) and the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) may be the only two out of the six present Liberal Members to be returned next time. [Interruption.] To use the words of the famous grandfather-in-law of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, I suggest that we must wait and see.
As the penumbra of the coming General Election moves over our proceedings here, hon. Gentlemen opposite realise that their election prospects are not as bright as they appeared to be this time last year or when they staged, in November, 1956, the stormy scenes at the time of the Suez expedition. They ought to recognise that the present Prime Minister played fair and sportingly with them in that he did not call a snap election, as he could have done with considerable electoral success. Hon. Gentlemen opposite ought to be grateful now, but Micawber-like, they are waiting for something to turn up. I trust that unemployment, either as a shuttlecock across the Floor of this House or in the wider debate that will take place in the next twelve months, will not be used as a party matter but will be considered only in the interests of those whose lives and livelihoods are so vitally concerned in it.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham)
I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak in the debate on the Gracious Speech and to return for a few minutes to a subject 253 which was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) from the Opposition Front Bench. I refer to the provision for old age.
One person in seven is of retirement age now, but in another decade the proportion will be one in five. Therefore, the provision for old age is of great importance for many of our people. When I heard that the Government were to produce a scheme to deal with provision for old age I was pleased. With all due respect to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), I thought it was good that the two main parties in the State were going to concentrate upon abolishing poverty in old age and that we could make big steps forward.
After examining the White Paper issued by the Government I must say the document lacks courage, imagination and an appreciation of modern needs. The scheme, before it was published, gave hope to many old people. I often go to Darby-and-Joan Clubs and other old people's clubs in my constituency, and just before the scheme was announced some old people asked me, "Do you think there will be an increase for us, Mr. Hunter, in the Government's Bill?" Naturally I could give no information but now I think that the hopes of the old people have been destroyed by the Government's White Paper giving details of their scheme.
Millions of old people are on the basic old-age pension of 50s. per week plus National Assistance, but if they live ten, fifteen or even twenty years longer they can look forward to no more than this sum. I cannot understand how any Government can call this scheme a provision for old age. I look for a scheme to abolish poverty for old people with a basic pension sufficient, without National Assistance, for old people to get some of the luxuries, comfort and amenities of this modern age.
I join with my hon. Friends who have expressed their dissatisfaction with the scheme. I hope that even at this stage the Government will reconsider it. A scheme which lays down a basic pension of 50s. per week with no hope for more than 4 million old-age pensioners today and no hope of a decent pension for men and women over 45 is below the standard that we expect in this modern 254 world. My right hon. Friend said that the Government's scheme was not as good as that in West Germany, which allows for 60 per cent, of a person's earnings, and it is certainly below the standard of the United States of America scheme. In this modern age the Government ought to come forward with a much better scheme. Old-age pensions have existed in this country since 1912, and the first amount was 5s. per week. The people of 1912 did not say that that sum was to remain the same for evermore. There will be a very great deal of disappointment if we now adopt such an attitude and say that 50s. per week will be our aim as a minimum standard of living. It should be raised to £3 per week without delay.
Another great weakness of the Government's scheme is that it makes no provision for rises in the cost of living. The Labour Party's scheme provides that if there are rises in the price of food, rent, clothing and other material needs of the old people, the pension will be increased to cover the increase in cost of living.
I urge the Government to look at their scheme again. It lacks courage and imagination, and this is a great tragedy. I am sure that at present public opinion would be in favour of a bold scheme. The scheme has received a disappointing reception by the public. Consequently, I hope that even now the Government will improve their scheme.
Provision is already made for a number of people under private schemes. We always encourage private superannuation schemes. There are superannuation arrangements for the Civil Service and local government employees, and employees of the Co-operative Movement, and there are other schemes run by good industrial employers. One in three of the workers is covered by a private scheme; this means that only one person in three is protected in respect of his old age. However much one might want to promote industrial schemes between employers and employees or employees and corporations, there are occasions when private schemes are very difficult indeed to secure.
In the Gracious Speech and in their White Paper, the Government have lost a great opportunity. They have disappointed millions of old-age pensioners 255 existing on the basic pension plus National Assistance and millions of people around the ages of 45 to 65 who see under the scheme no hope of getting a basic pension to meet their needs in old age.
My hon. Friends and I are disappointed with the Government scheme, and I urge the Government to improve it so that the old people can be given a hope of an increase in their basic pension and that those approaching retirement age who have worked in industry and commerce can see a chance of spending the evening of their lives in comfort, and without the worry of poverty and hardship.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Thornton (Farnworth)
I wish to call attention to a serious and significant omission from the Gracious Speech. It makes no reference to the growing plight of the Lancashire textile towns. The omission is significant because the position developing in Lancashire is surely one of the gravest industrial and economic problems confronting a section of the community. The omission indicates that the Government have, as always, placed the Lancashire textile industry very low in its list of priorities. There was an attempt to repair the omission by the specific reference made by the Prime Minister in his speech, but it is an attempt by the Government to try to attach importance to a problem which they do not really think very important.
I speak as one who has been connected for many years with the Lancashire textile industry. I appreciate that we are living in a changing world and that, of necessity, change must take place. Just as some industries expand, others must contract. The Lancashire cotton textile industry is unquestionably one of the industries which must inevitably contract, and I recognise that. However, as I have stated on more than one occasion in the House, it is not contraction which is wrong; it is the rate of contraction which is all-important.
The rate of contraction which has been permitted in recent years is bound to bring with it serious social disturbance. That is happening in the Lancashire 256 towns today. I do not want to spend much time on the social problems which are arising, because hon. Members on both sides of the House have already called attention to them, but one of the most serious factors is the fall in the population of our textile towns, which is having a very serious effect upon local government and its administration and provision of services.
All along the present Government have had a complete lack of policy and initiative in dealing with the apparent problems of the Lancashire textile industry, and because of that they stand condemned in the eyes of the public and have a large measure of responsibility for the social problems which are now showing themselves sharply in Lancashire.
I admit that the United Kingdom has a particular interest in an expanding world and Commonwealth trade. Equally, the United States has an interest in an expanding world trade. Our first priority in the United Kingdom springs from the fact that our livelihood and our ability to increase our living standards are dependent upon expanding trade with the rest of the world.
The first priority of the United States is its attempt to prevent the spread of Communism. There can be no doubt that if world trade is restricted, particularly with the Asian people, there is a distinct danger of Communism spreading. That, again, I appreciate. America appreciates it, too. But what is the attitude of America when one of her industries is faced with genuine distress? The Manchester Guardian of 23rd September reported that President Eisenhower had ordered a 20 per cent. cut in lead and zinc imports in an attempt to relieve genuine distress among United States producers. He thought the imposition of a quota better than a tariff increase in this case.
I suggest that the people employed in Lancashire's textile industries are facing a situation of serious distress which calls for exceptional measures. I appreciate the very real difficulties of this problem, but the circumstances are exceptional and call for some exceptional treatment. In his speech at the Conference of the Cotton Board, at Harrogate, the Prime Minister made it quite clear that it was to be voluntary agreement or nothing 257 In his speech in the House yesterday, as reported in column 32 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, he said:…I am glad to say that this very morning the Cotton Board in a further effort to achieve an understanding, has made new proposals to the Hong Kong industry. It sincerely believes that these are generous proposals and should constitute a fair and reasonable settlement. I trust that an agreement can now be reached without further delay. I believe, moreover, that such an agreement is in the best interests, both in the short and the long term, of the Hong Kong industry." — [OFFICIAL REPORT. 28th October, 1958; Vol 594, c. 32.]I hope that those remarks of the Prime Minister indicate that his "impartiality" is now impartial and that he and the Government are no longer leaning over backwards towards Hong Kong in their "impartiality". I believe that one of the difficulties of reaching a reasonable voluntary agreement with Hong Kong has been the knowledge in Hong Kong that the Government leaned more towards Hong Kong than towards Lancashire. All we ask is that the Government should make it quite clear that if the Hong Kong negotiators are not reasonable then the Government are prepared to intervene in the matter very definitely.
I wish to be careful in what I say, because I do not want to make any more difficult the task of reaching a voluntary agreement, but I am a little at a loss, after a quite statesmanlike attitude of the Pakistan and Indian textile employers in reaching a voluntary agreement, to know why the Government have adopted such a kid-glove attitude towards the Hong Kong employers. I do not want to repeat what I have said before in the House, but some of these Hong Kong employers have not a good reputation, even judged by Asian standards, and I cannot understand why the Government have been so tender towards them.
I have spoken before about the exploited workers of Hong Kong, thousands of whom, women included, have been worked and are being worked twelve hours a day, seven days a week, with only four days' holiday in a year. If the Government had displayed such tender feelings towards them, if their tenderheartedness had been directed towards those operatives, the position would have been more justifiable. I do not want to pursue that line of argument, because we had an assurance some time ago in the House that a new labour code was being 258 prepared for Hong Kong following my revelations in the House.
I regret that the Government have decided that the method of voluntary agreement is the only way of dealing with the problem of imports from the Asian Commonwealth countries. I ought to remind the House that the cotton textile industry is in a particularly disadvantageous position. Most other manufactured goods which are imported into this country from Commonwealth countries have preferences, but still have to bear a tariff. For example, if a Commonwealth country sends motor cars to this country, there is a tariff of 22[...] per cent. Due to an accident of history, cotton textiles from Commonwealth sources are admitted into this country free of duty and free of all quota restrictions. It is, however, the Government's view that the voluntary agreement is the only approach. In so far as that is their specific decision and in so far as time is running too short to permit much further delay, I must hope that a reasonable voluntary agreement is reached.
§ Mr. Osborne
The hon. Member speaks with great authority on this industry. May I ask him a question which puzzles me? I am allied to the textile trade in a small way. If Lancashire were given what she wants, and imports from Hong Kong were restricted, does he think that that would solve Lancashire's problems? Would it not cause trouble with her own exports? What, specifically, does he think the Government can do if the Commonwealth countries can produce so much cheaper than us and undersell us in world markets?
§ Mr. Thornton
I think I pointed out earlier that I was one of those people who believed in a changing world, which is inevitable. It is not the change that matters; it is the rate of change that is all-important, and I did attempt to argue —I thought successfully, but I could not have been as successful as I thought—that the problem in Lancashire is so specific and serious that it calls for exceptional treatment to allow a slowing down in the rate of change. I agree that change must take place. There must, however, be opportunity for an ordered change and not a catastrophic change if serious social distress is to be avoided.
259 Things are happening in Asia at present upon which I do not want to dilate, because it may interfere with the prospect of an agreement being reached. However, changes are taking place in Asia now which could have a catastrophic effect upon our own industry in Lancashire unless an agreement is reached. We have a responsibility to our Colonial Territories to ensure that certain industries are not over-expanded, because very quick and rich profits can be reaped. Tremendous profits have been made in Hong Kong industry.
We have the authority of Arno S. Pearse, who is a household name in the international textile world, that in the early 1950s many new Hong Kong textile mills earned 100 per cent, of their capital in their first year of operation. With this impact of big and quick profits, there is a danger of over-expansion of the textile industries in these territories.
The trend over the last forty years is clear. Whilst the consumption of cotton goods expands 1 or 2 per cent. per year in line with the growth of world population, world trade in cotton textiles continues to decline decade by decade. That is a distinct trend, and for us to encourage overseas communities to become dependent upon the cotton textile industry as the chief means of earning foreign exchange is to make their long-term future very precarious indeed.
In the Government's view, voluntary agreement is the only way. We have to accept that in view of the persistent attitude of the Government towards Lancashire's problems, but I seriously want to pose this question to the Government Front Bench: have they seriously considered the difficulties and problems that can arise from a series of voluntary agreements when limitations on imports are needed to prevent dislocation and serious damage to a particular industry by too rapid a change?
Asia has passed through the first phase of its industrial revolution. It is now entering its second phase and we shall be faced, in the next decade or so, with imports of large quantities of a large range of manufactured goods. Are we seriously to attempt to cope with this problem by scores and hundreds of negotiations between the manufacturers in this country and the manufacturers in 260 each of the overseas Commonwealth countries?
Serious thought should be given to this line of policy, because as I see it—and I am not dogmatic by any means; my mind is not made up on this issue—numerous points of friction will be created. I have the greatest admiration and respect for our negotiators in Hong Kong. I know them all. I have had the privilege of accompanying Sir Cuthbert Clegg and W. J. Broatch on two or three overseas missions in connection with the cotton textile trade. Each assignment has been excellently handled, and I have the utmost confidence in their capacity to handle Lancashire's case.
I am sure that the conflicts that must have arisen cannot have helped to cement or improve Commonwealth relations. They must, of necessity, all be points of friction. In my view, matters of this kind should be reduced to the lowest number of points of friction and experience through diplomatic sources used to pour oil on the points of friction. I do not think that industrialists are necessarily the best people for doing that.
I am sorry to have detained the House for so long, but I think that this is an important issue. I regret the Government's decision. I think that the circumstances call for a more specific and more definite approach to the problem, but, the Government having made their decision, I hope that this voluntary agreement will be effected and effected quickly.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
My hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Thornton) had no need to apologise for taking the time he took in his speech. No one who looks at the last figures published in the Ministry of Labour Gazette of the fall in employment in the industry which concerns my hon. Friend and his constituents could feel that he took even his due proportion of time.
It is my regret that those hon. Members of the Conservative Party who should be showing the same kind of concern and interest were not here to listen to my hon. Friend's speech. One of the amazing things of this debate—[Interruption.] I must ask the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Mackie) to contain himself. He referred to the faot that he could take time and spin out his speech because 261 there was nobody else on his side who could speak. His was the party whose members were blowing off their heads at Blackpool, with their chairman condemning the Labour Party with bell, boots and scandal. Now, we see the empty benches opposite.
All I can suggest about hon. Members opposite is that they heard the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance this afternoon and it was too much even for them. Those who came here this afternoon hoping to hear something about the great Tory pension scheme must have gone away in confusion and disappointment and thinking that they had lost another few points in their possibilities of getting home at the next General Election on the basis of the extravagant buildup that they have been giving to their camera-shy Prime Minister.
I remember seeing in the Press headlines about Tory pensions of £6 a week. Many in my constituency were thrilled at this prospect until I pointed out to them that anybody who looked forward to a pension of £6 a week under the Tory plan had to be aged 15 or 16 at the present time. The scheme does not start for another three years, until 1961. The person who is to get the £6 a week when he retires must be aged 15 now, start paying at the age of 18 and he getting £15 a week. He will not get his £6 a week until the year 2008 and he will get it only if he is married and his wife is alive. If she is dead, 30s. must be deducted.
That is the great Tory scheme—a sham, shoddy and cheap. It arises from what the Conservatives have been doing over the past seven years. After the war, I thought it had been accepted by the whole country that certain things were a national responsibility—welfare, social security, health and housing, for example. Although there was a certain amount of debate about housing, it was fairly generally recognised that these were national responsibilities.
Over the past few years, in one Measure and another, the responsibility of the nation has been handed back to individuals.
§ Mr. Ross
I did not see any Tory Member of Parliament carrying a hod.
Shillings were handed back to be paid by the old-age pensioner and by everyone 262 in respect of medicine. Now, from every wage packet there is a deduction for National Health which amounts to millions of £s per year, relieving the national responsibility exercised by the Exchequer and passing it to individuals.
We got the same thing concerning housing. The hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) should not interrupt me. Even if he does, he will not be dealt with in the way that people were dealt with at Blackpool. He should not interrupt anyone from Scotland on the subject of housing. Even the report of the Church of Scotland points out the continuing grave social evil of the housing conditions in Scotland, where we need over 400,000 houses. People are still living in substandard houses, and at the moment local authorities in Scotland are unable to continue building houses at the rate they were able to, and that is because of the financial policies of the Government. We have the Secretary of State for Scotland admitting to us that, compared with about two years ago, there will be a 50 per cent. drop in the output of houses in Scotland.
In addition to that, every local authority is faced with this problem of the interest rates, which are also part of the Government's policy, and consequently they are faced with imposing higher rents and higher rates all over in order to save money for the Exchequer. There was a time when subsidies were increased to match increases in interest rates, but that has long been departed from, and now for every new four-apartment house built in Scotland this year, compared with the ones finished last year, the local authority will have to find approximately £18 more per year, and it can do it only by increasing the rents or increasing the rates. All over my constituency, in town and in country, the rents of local authority houses have been going up, the local authorities being forced to raise them because of the financial policies of the Government.
That is what the Government want them to do. So they are faced with a continuation of that, and so local authorities now all over Scotland are cutting down the number of houses they were going to build, because they cannot afford to build them, and they are forced to do this to save a few mirerable thousands for the Chancellor of the Exchequer in respect of each town.
263 Then we read in this epistle, the Gracious Speech:Legislation will also be proposed to establish a modern code for the general regulation of building in Scotland.They had better do it quickly, because there is not going to be very much building in Scotland.
I do not know where all the Scottish Office people are tonight. We have plenty of them. We have the Secretary of State, three Joint Under-Secretaries of State and two Law Officers. I hoped they might be able to give me some information, or take note of the kind of things we in Scotland want to know.
§ Mr. Ross
Many of us regret the change that has taken place at the Scottish Office, because we at least had had the benefit of carrying on in this House discussion and debate with Lord Strathclyde, who is no longer Minister of State, and he had great experience in local government and Parliamentary work. We are very much concerned, those of us who have the well-being of Scotland at heart, to know exactly what is the experience of the new incumbent of this very important post, because there is an amazing amount of work which the Scottish Office has to do.
We are concerned about this housing business in relation to Scotland. I know the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance will not be able to help me in this matter. He could not help us in the matter of getting details of his own scheme earlier today, so he will not be likely to help us over the problem of housing in Scotland.
I should like to know whether or not this proposal to assist home ownership is to apply equally in Scotland, because 264 we have been concerned about the spread of a certain kind of home ownership in Scotland. With the financial limitation on local authorities in building houses, with the long queues all over industrial Scotland for houses, desperate people have been buying up what are tantamount to slum properties in Scotland. I saw figures quoted today by the building societies to the effect that at present eight out of ten houses bought are houses built since 1919. Therefore, the houses which are not being bought and for which I presume these provisions are designed are houses built prior to 1919, which is virtually saying prior to 1914. These houses are at least forty years old. I do not wish to see the Government now financing private enterprise to assist landlords to get rid of what are property liabilities.
This is truly and indeed the landlords' Government. The Rent Act has affected every privately owned house in Scotland by an increase in rent of at least 25 per cent. It is all very well for the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to say that there have been no evictions. We on this side of the House did our share in seeing that there were not, by passing temporary legislation, but there has been a growth in the number of houses that have been decontrolled. They are working-class houses, some sub-standard, from which people have been rehoused or whose tenancy has fallen in. No matter what the rent is, the house immediately becomes decontrolled and some of these houses are a disgrace to Scotland. They are "single-end" kitchens. They are one-roomed houses where people eat and sleep and everything goes on in that one room. These have been decontrolled and the rents have been going up and up.
§ Mr. Ross
Is it in respect of this kind of house that the building societies have to be financed to assist the landlord to sell? This kind of house is being sold. I should prefer to see legislation from the benches opposite, while they still have the power, to stop this pernicious business of palming off sub-standard houses on people who are desperately in need of houses.
The hon. Member for Galloway hoped that unemployment would not be made a political issue. What a hope. How could it be anything other than that? The 265 hon. Gentleman will appreciate that of those who listened to the Gracious Speech on television a quarter of a million would not have been able to hear it last year because they would have been at work in the factories or the shops. I am sure that that quarter of a million were concerned not only with the spectacle but also with what the Gracious Speech contained. Does the hon. Member think that they were satisfied with the pious resolutionMy Ministers are resolved to ensure…a high and stable level of employment."?Does the hon. Member think that they were satisfied with that reference, and that reference only, to this problem? To those people, the phrase was nonsense. The hon. Member was satisfied with this resolve from Her Majesty's advisers. I presume that he meant Her Majesty's Government.
§ Mr. Ross
But let the hon. Member remember that Her Majesty's Government also have their advisers. They have the Cohen Council. The Cohen Council has said that this present rising level of unemployment is essential. Let hon. Gentlemen who now proclaim their concern realise that the success of their Government's financial policies can be measured by the length of the dole queues. It is the natural consequence of what they have been striving for. Why should they get worried about it? This is what they wanted, and running about frantically telling people to go to the banks and get loans and spend money so that the Government can have an Election in March will not be swallowed by the people in my part of the world.
I come from a part of Scotland which is reckoned to be one of the finest in relation to employment in the country and is a model of diversity of employment. It is now becoming a model of diversity of unemployment, because practically every industry in small measure here and there is getting its share. The hon. Gentleman opposite spoke of what was happening in a small seaport with an agricultural hinterland, Stranraer. We have had it in the engineering industry, in the textile industry, in the lace industry, in boots and shoes and in carpets. I would like to think that this situation will improve during the winter, but I 266 cannot see this happening, nor can anyone who looks at the continuing fall in our exports and in the continuing failure to get started.
We can see the same position in other parts of Ayrshire. There is one town, Kilwinning, which is not in my constituency. It is in a marginal seat where the Conservative Member presently has a majority of about 130. Unemployment has risen alarmingly and the hon. Gentleman and others opposite think we should not make this a political issue. How can it be other than that when this is the natural and desired result of Government policy? What do the Government give us? A resolution.
What about that steel strip mill? Quite apart from the effects of falling imports and general recession, there are the effects of automation, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) said today. Indeed there are many industrialists who no doubt will use this recession and talk of unemployment to unload labour which will never be taken on again. What are the Government doing about it? The steel strip mill would help.
What about direction in relation to the right placing of Government orders? Prestwick is a place which the Prime Minister should know because he endeared himself to the heart of every Scottish Sabbatarian by playing golf there one Sunday morning. The hon. Member for Galloway spoke about his bad luck at being at the bottom of the list. I was on the point of thinking that when he was at the bottom of the Private Members' Bill list the Bill he would have promoted would in the next Session become the darling of the Government.
§ Mr. Ross
I am sure that when the Prime Minister, in his great campaign of meeting the people, went to Scotland and was loitering on the links and mincing over the moors it was the people he met there who told him about red deer. I 267 say, however, that when he went to Prestwick he should have seen the workers in Scottish Aviation Ltd. The hon. Member for Galloway, and every other hon. Member who represents a Scottish division, knows that the workers in Scottish Aviation Ltd. are very much concerned about the future of that industry. That is the one bit of the aircraft industry in Scotland which turns out a first-class plane and to which the Government could give security through the Ministry of Supply placing the right orders for the twin Pioneer which are required. Already 180 men one Monday morning received letters through the post saying that their services were no longer required, and there are hundreds more concerned as to whether this will happen to them.
What about the agricultural implements industry? We have a great factory in Kilmarnock, Massey-Harris-Ferguson, where men are voluntarily working short-time rather than see some of their colleagues made redundant. Naturally, they were concerned and interested when they read of the request from Yugoslavia for a credit of about £15 million for the purpose of providing just the kind of machinery that is made there. Here again is scope for Government action, but not a word or a whisper—all we get is this:My Ministers are resolved …I wonder who seconded the resolution.
We have had a few well chosen words from the Minister of Pensions arid National Insurance. I want to know what is meant in the Gracious Speech, and to what extent it is to apply in Scotland, by these words about encouraging…the extension of facilities for higher education in the universities and technical colleges.Does that apply in Scotland? Some years ago we were told about technical colleges. I was promised a new one in Kilmarnock and it has not yet been started. The county council has just finished a tussle with Lord Howard de Walden on the subject of the acquisition of the land. I would not doubt at all that the influence of Lord Howard de Walden in the Conservative Party has led to this change in relation to compensation for the acquirement of land The 268 hon. Member for Galloway shakes his head. I should like to know from the Scottish Office what has happened to the Kilmarnock Technical College. What happened to the one promised at Ayr? What has happened to the Scottish Office? The Gracious Speech goes on:In addition they will announce new plans for developing the nation's schools intended, in particular, to improve the scope and quality of secondary education.Are Conservative Members all striving and fighting to ensure good education for the people of Scotland? Where are the Scottish Conservative Members? I am sure that they had this great fight for Scottish education in mind when they picked an old Etonian as the candidate to fight for Aberdeen. The hon. Member for Galloway will remember that he fought one of the other by-elections and he, too, I gather, is an old Etonian. Then there is Argyll. I do not doubt—in fact I am perfectly sure—that the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. M. Noble), who came in at a recent by-election, was another old Etonian. So they are gathering up. They will say that Scottish educational developments were fought for on the playing fields of Eton.
I should like to know exactly how, and in what way, we are to improve the scope and quality of secondary education in Scotland. The President of the E.I.S. made an important speech the other week. He said that Scotland required 3,000 more teachers by 1960. How is the Secretary of State, or any of the three Joint Under-Secretaries, or the two Scottish legal officers, or the new Minister of State going to rustle up these 3,000 more teachers? In what way are they going to improve the scope and quality of secondary education?
We have in Scotland a proud tradition of education and a proud tradition of comprehensive education. I do not know why people are so frightened of this. A child can go into a Scottish school at the age of 5, come out at the age of 17 and go on to a university. That is a privilege, of course, that the Conservatives are prepared to accept for themselves by purchase. It is part of the tradition of Scotland. We have not as many of these schools catering for the secondary education of our children as we would like, but we have got them. Is what the Government have in mind to 269 lay on the local authorities in order to improve the scope and quality of secondary education that in the future they will plan fully comprehensive education in Scotland? I sincerely hope so, but we have never had a whisper of this in any education debate.
I have spoken long enough. I know that many of my hon. Friends, like myself, wish to put forward comments on matters which concern them in their constituencies and in the areas from which they come. We in Scotland are very seriously concerned about education. We are concerned about housing and about employment. I feel that this is the key to the shoddiness of the pensions plan which the Minister put forward today. A great advance in social security through national superannuation will undoubtedly lay burdens upon the nation—burdens which can be carried only if the nation is fully employed and prosperous. It is because they know within themselves that under their Government they will require this unstated level of unemployment, that employment will never be full and that the nation will never be as prosperous as it might be, that they are prepared to foist this sham and shoddy pensions scheme upon the country.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Blenkinsop (Newcastle upon Tyne East)
I am at least glad that we now have a senior Minister on the Government Front Bench. It has taken a long time to find one. I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance for having been here earlier, but we have persisted in the debate for a long time without the advantage of having any senior Minister present, in spite of the fact that there has been a series of very important speeches from this side of the House, even though there has been none from the Government benches. There was no one on the Government benches to make such a speech.
We have had some very important speeches from Lancashire and, in particular, a speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Thornton), whose experience and knowledge of that county and her industries is well known throughout the House. It has been rather depressing that there has been no one of responsibility on the Govern- 270 ment benches to listen to them, and I think it has been shabby treatment of the House from right hon. Gentlemen opposite. It may be, as some of my hon. Friends said, that the right hon. Gentleman's opening speech was so discouraging even to his colleagues in the Government that they have not wanted to put in an appearance since. However that may be, there are certain respects to the House which we expect to be fulfilled even on the first full day of the debate on the Queen's Speech.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), who opened the debate, dealt very rightly, in particular, with the broad field of social services, made some comments about the health aspect of them and asked certain questions which, to give him full credit, the Minister said he would pass to his right hon. Friend. There has been no representative of the Ministry of Health present today. Nevertheless, as there has been a strain throughout the discussion concerned with the social services, I want to follow up the point which was made.
It will be recalled that my right hon. Friend rightly pointed out that we very sincerely welcome the references in the Queen's Speech to the Government's proposals to introduce legislation on mental health—something we are very anxious to see—on the basis of the Royal Commission's recommendations, but that he rightly insisted that this would be an empty promise if the Government made no better statement of their intentions about local Government finance.
The Royal Commission made it perfectly clear that in their view the important changes, which they recommended and which we all hope the Government will seek to implement, could not be carried out effectively unless additional funds were available to the local authorities to enable them to establish effective community care for the many hundreds at least, if not thousands, of cases in their mental hospitals which, in their view and ours, ought to be looked after within the community and not in mental hospitals and institutions. It was the view of the Commission, and it is ours, that it should be possible eventually to reduce the charge upon the Exchequer of some of the costs of running some mental hospitals by making it possible to provide effective care for many of these 271 cases under the auspices of local authorities.
Unless we can have an undertaking from the Government further than we have had, we must regard the statement of Government intentions as being sheer hypocrisy, because so far the Government have clearly said, that they do not intend to bring forward any special measures to enable local authorities to finance the new construction which will be needed if there is to be proper welfare care of mental cases within the community. This is a very serious matter and we shall look with interest at the details of the Bill when it comes forward.
This is an example of what might be called sheer window dressing, unless the financial element is present. Many of us suspect, from what we know of the discussions which have taken place, that the financial provisions will not be present. Indeed, the Government have gone out of their way to make matters difficult for local authorities to implement a new approach to mental health and other matters by their decisions about block grants and other proposals for local government finance. Many of us believe that that has destroyed the hope of something more effective and progressive in our approach to the problem of mental health and to that of the care of the aged.
Here is another issue where all agree that the hospitals cannot provide a solution. They should not be asked to provide for the care of old people when the need is extended welfare provisions rather than treatment. We have to make absolutely sure that the treatment is available for the elderly, but that cannot be done completely satisfactorily unless we have a wide extension of local government provision.
Many local authorities are very eager to undertake this work and interesting experiments are being conducted. However, one has to return to the problem of financing and at present the provision is at best a 50 per cent. grant towards certain approved expenditure, while the rest has to be found out of local authority rates. That situation is to be replaced by the Government's overall block grant proposal, which means that health will have to fight for its place with everything else, with no kind of guarantee that there will be expanded provision to enable a 272 local authority to take a progressive attitude towards this problem. Some of us therefore look with a good deal of suspicion at the Government's proposals for the coming Session.
Another important aspect of the subject of health is that there appears to be a complete lack of appreciation by the Government that the health of the nation is vital if we are to get an expanding economy and that full contribution from all our people which is desired. Health and education are the two overwhelmingly important services which we have to revive before we can honestly call upon our people for the fullest contribution. It looks to us as though the Government fail to appreciate the way in which the health services can be geared to assist the nation in its economic development.
What is being done to investigate the shocking situation of industrial health? We have had an initial interim report about Halifax which shows how much needs to be done there and how much avoidable illness there is which decent factory conditions could put right. The mention of factories leads me to point out that there is another field in which the Government should now be taking action, but are not. Inadequate attention is paid to health and safety on the railways and to the need for industrial health measures. Any Government which looked at the economic problems that the nation is facing should surely be trying to deal with some of these issues. The Government are not doing so. Although some efforts are being made as experiments by various bodies like the Nuffield Trust and others, there is little sign of the Government taking any action.
Then there is the question of housing, to which some of my hon. Friends have referred. Hon. Members on this side of the House are very conscious—as we are assured hon. Members opposite are—of the necessity for the full use of our manpower in dealing with our economic problems. We are told that the Government are anxious to avoid unemployment, although they are also insisting that they will sweep away all remaining economic controls which might be of use to them and to a succeeding Government in trying to plan a more effective use of the nation's resources.
Nevertheless, one of the factors which are of very considerable importance in the 273 economic development of the country is the provision of houses, and the question where they should be situated. I have had this fact brought very much to my notice by visitors to the House, who are rightly calling attention to the situation of people who have been encouraged to move from all parts of the country to Gloucester to undertake work. These people are now faced with the prospect of being out of work, and they find that there is no housing available for them elsewhere, even if they were otherwise able to move.
Some constituents of mine moved from Newcastle to Gloucester because of the attractive offer and guarantees of from five to seven years' employment. They had been in Gloucester for no more than a few months when short time began, and for no longer than a year when they were told that they would eventually be out of work. They have considered whether they can get back to Tyneside to see whether they can find employment there, but they have been warned that there is little likelihood of 'their being able to get houses, because the Government have stopped general house building and are making provision only for slum clearance work.
It is incredible that at a time when the Government are proudly stating that the restrictions on credit are to be withdrawn—and one hon. Member opposite has been persuaded to speak tonight in support of the Government's proposals—they are doing nothing about public authority expenditure.
What have they done about the urgent need in all our communities for a further extension of public services? What has been done to alter the Government's action in stopping housing subsidies? Here is a test of their sincerity. They say, in the Queen's Speech, that they intend to take whatever action may be necessary, or words to that effect, to prevent the growth of unemployment, but one of the issues is the availability of houses so that people can move about more freely. What is being done by the Government to restore housing subsidies to local authorities to enable them to restart their housing schemes which the Government have stopped?
The Government put men out of work because they stopped the subsidy provisions. The Government destroyed 274 some of the planned programmes of local authorities. If the Government insist that they are prepared to take action to prevent unemployment, those are fair questions to ask them. It is right that we should complain that there is no one on the Government Front Bench capable of giving an intelligent answer on any of the problems that they knew would be raised in the course of this debate. We are being shabbily treated.
Here is this former constituent of mine, whose case I cite as an example. He has a family with three children. It was persuaded to come to Gloucester to take on work, under certain guarantees, but now the Government's action has put an end to the employment. The family is being turned out of its house very shortly. It was provided with a house but now is to be turned out of it. When it tries to get accommodation anywhere else it is told the same story everywhere, "We are sorry, but local authorities have had to give up their new general housing construction because of Government policy and, therefore, you will have to stay where you are and seek unemployment benefit, National Assistance and all the rest of it."
Is that how the Government propose to tackle this problem? What are they going to do about these former constituents of mine who have a right to ask for assistance from the Government and not merely for National Assistance to enable them to live? They want to work. They were moved down here under promises by the Government; why are they not given proper protection by the Government? This is only one family among hundreds or thousands who are in this position.
When we analyse the proposals in the Queen's Speech we find how inadequate they are, unless the Government are prepared to make new proposals and overturn their present attitude towards local authority expenditure. I know that it may not be possible to get a reply this evening, but I hope that before the debate is over the challenge which I make to the Government on this typical case will be answered, and that the Government will announce that they have decided to change their policy on local government expenditure. Let them say that, just as they are prepared now to withdraw 275 some of their bans upon forms of consumer expenditure, that they are also prepared to withdraw their bans on local Government expenditure. They have thrown over the "Three Wise Men." We do not need to shed any tears over that because we never thought very much of their advice. However, we see no reason at all why there should be discrimination against local authorities and the social expenditure which they have planned.
If the Government are not to go down in their last brief spell of life as one of the most party-political ones that we have had, they have a responsibility to show that they have effective answers to the questions that I have put. Also, the lone Minister that we have on the Government Front Bench, if not capable of giving an answer to serious matters, should at least have made an effort to bring some of his right hon. and hon. Friends along to cover the Government Front Bench during these last few hours.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
I apologise to the House that after hearing the earlier speeches I was called out of the Chamber.
§ Mr. Gower
No; I have heard most of the debate from various places in the Chamber.
Listening to the debate, it seemed to me that hon. Members opposite had envisaged an economy which is constantly going full steam and in which production is increasing by some fixed proportion every year, as though that were possible in any country. This argument has often been put forward by certain hon. Members opposite. It is a sort of common doctrine that during the term of office of the Labour Government there was an increase in production of a certain amount and that it should continue year after year in the same proportion. It would be remarkable if that were possible.
Obviously, when production increases by, say, 5 per cent. in a certain year it becomes much more difficult the following year to increase it by the same amount. That has been seen in Western Germany. After the last war Western German production was at a very low level and the Germans were able to 276 achieve remarkable results. However, as with every other country, their production has not been increasing in the last year or so at the earlier remarkable rate.
It is inevitable that there should be times when the production of countries behaves in a different way. Individuals do not proceed in their own lives in one gradual, steady progress, nor, indeed, do small communities, and it would be truly remarkable if countries did so.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
I am amazed at what the hon. Member says. I have been in industry for many years. Right from the age of 17, when I first went into industry until I left it in 1950, every employer and board of directors for whom I worked expected increased production every year. If they did not get it they threatened half of us with the sack.
§ Mr. Gower
They may have expected increased production, but I do not think that anybody would expect it to be in the same proportion every year.
For reasons approved of by both sides of the House, and advocated very largely by the Opposition, there has been some lessening in defence production, and it is inevitable that that should have an effect on the general level of production. Some of those who advocated most strongly a smaller expenditure on defence are now keen critics of the reduction in production.
The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) was pessimistic about the possibilities of dealing with declining production and the danger of unemployment. There are a number of methods which the Chancellor and the Government can adopt when they judge the time to be opportune.
For example, some of these methods have already been adopted. There has been the relaxation of the credit squeeze. There have been increased facilities for overdrafts and new facilities for people to make use of banking and other institutions. If the occasion arises it will be possible to have an increase in the road programme, an increase in the building of hospitals and an even greater speeding up of the programme of modernisation of British Railways. All these methods are at the disposal of Ministers.
277 The hon. Member will agree that in some of these fields there has already been a substantial expansion.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
I am glad that the hon. Member feels that the Government are at liberty to take action in this way. I hope he will join forces with me in order to get his Government to alter the present local government housing situation. That, at least, would be a step forward.
§ Mr. Gower
This expansion is visible in many parts of the country. More road repair and improvement work is going on at the moment than I can recall seeing in my lifetime before. A very considerable amount of modernisation, more than at any time in recent years, is taking place in British Railways. We are told that under the present legislative programme there is to be a marked expansion in education which, I presume the hon. Member will agree, is likely to include a great increase in school building. All this will provide employment and expanded production.
Again, I respectfully submit to hon. Members opposite who have spoken in the debate that the Chancellor would be doing less than his duty if he expanded all these things before he is absolutely sure that he has avoided what he conceives to be the equally great danger of a renewal of inflation. It is, admit, a matter of judgment—of very delicate judgment—and it is quite fair for some people perhaps to contest the rightness of that judgment. It can he shown only in the long term. I am satisfied from what has already happened that the Chancellor is watching this position very closely. In recent weeks he has acted extremely promptly, and I have no doubt that if he deems it necessary he will act just as promptly and just as effectively in other fields, some of which I have indicated.
Another problem on which I should like to speak affects my right hon. Friend most nearly—pensions. I am sure that he will deem it reasonable if I say that 278 many on this side of the House, like the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), would favour a fairly extensive debate on this very important topic. I think he will agree that while there are those on the other side of the House who criticise his White Paper from one point of view, there are many in the country who might criticise it from another point of view. I am sure that there are more divergencies of opinion on this topic than on practically any other topic which is being considered by politicians and the public.
I say, I hope with modesty, that this topic is among the largest which the country has to face in the immediate and not-so-immediate future. The right hon. Member for Llanelly was perhaps less than accurate when he implied—although he did not say it—that if the country were prepared to spend £400 million in the next twenty years we should be able to provide comfort and a reasonable pension not only for the present number of pensioners but for the vastly increased number of pensioners there will be by that time.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
We were discussing the problem of financing the scheme. The position on the present basis, taking into account the increase in the number of older people, is that there will be a deficiency of over £400 million in five years' time. If production increases, as it ought to, year by year and the national income increases, that burden in twenty-five years, with an expanding economy, will be one that we can meet. I did not suggest that for £470 million we could get pensions for everybody, but that the deficit need not frighten us.
§ Mr. Gower
I appreciate that. I think that what the right hon. Gentleman has said bears me out. If we do provide the £470 million we will be able to cater for the larger number of pensioners, but only by giving them the standard of living that they are at present enjoying. A much larger sum would be required in the present scheme to provide a better pension than has been provided even since 1948.
When we consider the amount of money which the State and the contributors would have to provide to give all these pensioners what the right hon. Gentleman has described as a living 279 pension, and to retain, which is important, the present retirement age—and I think my right hon. Friend will have figures to substantiate this point—a much larger expenditure than has been mentioned on either side of the House would be required.
That is why I say that people are not easy in their minds about the new proposals. The majority of people of all parties want to be satisfied, first, that whatever scheme is put forward by whatever Government it shall be something which this country can bear financially, and, secondly, they want to know that it is actuarially sound. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that the scheme which the Opposition has suggested is actuarially sound because the Opposition has consulted actuaries, but I would respectfully point out that the scheme which he himself had the honour of introducing in 1948 was doomed to be in this position from the very day that it was initiated.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
I should like to know what the hon. Member means when he uses the word "doomed". The position was clear from the beginning. This matter was decided by the Coalition Government. Sir William Beveridge proposed that the increased pensions should be paid over twenty years at a small rate each year. We rejected that and it was rejected by the hon. Member's own party. We both decided—there was a difference in the amount—that we must pay the existing pensioners. We knew from the beginning—it appeared in the Beveridge Report and the Coalition Government's White Paper—that the deficit must be met, and that the nation must and could bear it.
§ Mr. Gower
With the greatest respect, I think that had the Beveridge proposals been put into law the scheme would be in a much more healthy state financially today. But that is another point.
The right hon. Gentleman was at great pains this afternoon to say that my right hon. Friend has not been into this scheme sufficiently thoroughly. He explained in great detail that before the original Bill was introduced in Parliament there was first an inquiry by Sir William Beveridge, as he then was, there was a Coalition Government White Paper and a thorough 280 Government investigation for the Labour Government by actuaries, and then the Measure was debated and put into law. In spite of all that consideration and preparation, we were left with, and my right hon. Friend has inherited, something which is completely unsound financially. Therefore, I think that whatever scheme is brought in now, the country will want to be satisfied that the new proposals will at least be much sounder financially than the ones they have had in the past.
This is of tremendous importance. People of good will in all parties want the older people to have better conditions out of the increased production of the community, but it would be folly for either side of this House to try to create a party advantage temporarily, and thereby create a new scheme which would leave for a future Government a much more terrible financial problem than we have at present. I shall not develop that further, because I know that an hon. Member opposite is waiting to speak in the debate, even at this late hour.
Above all, I welcome the proposals which have been made, although I do not know exactly what form they will take, for encouraging the ownership of house property by individuals. This is one of the things about which I have always felt strongly. I feel that other things being equal, a large number of people who do not now own their houses would soon acquire the ownership of them if they could. Other things being equal, it is my belief that the modest ownership of one's house tends to create in a country a stability and in the individual a quality of thrift which is wholly admirable and beneficial. For that reason, I welcome the principle and I shall await details of the form of its implementation.
I am disappointed that that principle is not applied more forcibly in another direction. Like the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), who leads the Liberal Party, I have always felt strongly about the sharing of ownership in private industry. I hope that, before long, a Conservative Minister will come to the House with much more positive proposals for encouraging that kind of ownership, co-partnership and profit-sharing in industry. It would bridge the gap which, in the past, has separated employers and employed and would 281 create the spirit, which we all want to achieve, which can be created by better labour relations in industry.
With those remarks, I think it not unfair to say that seldom has a programme outlined in the Gracious Speech been more generally acceptable in principle to people of all parties. While there may be criticisms of method and of detail, the objects which are promulgated are good. Those which we have heard debated over the last two days are wholly admirable from the viewpoint of people of very different political opinions. If their principle is accepted and implemented, I am sure that this will be a memorable legislative year.
§ 9.38 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
The hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) found himself in difficulty when dealing with the problem of production. He said that the difference between the two sides of the House was that we on this side expected production to rise each year, while Members on his own side knew full well that from time to time there were bound to be variations in the place. We on this side have always planned, so far as it was within our power, for increased production.
Last year, the Government, which the hon. Member supports, deliberately planned to bring down production. They said that too much was being done and they must cut down. The former Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the medicine would be bitter and the bed would be uncomfortable to lie upon, the consequences would be temporary unemployment for some people, but that that was the price which must be paid. I do not mind unemployment—I would not mind seeing the whole crowd sitting opposite unemployed tomorrow, because I know full well that they and their families are not as likely to suffer the worries and anxieties that normally come to the unemployed man, as they have come to the almost half a million who are unemployed today.
The truth is that the Government deliberately planned for unemployment. The hon. Member for Barry said that he is quite sure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is wise and intelligent enough to know when to bring in the measures which, the Prime Minister says, the Government have on the shelf to absorb 282 the unemployment. I should like to ask the hon. Member for Barry what figure the number of unemployed must reach before the schemes which are on the shelf are brought in. Surely nobody will suggest that letting everybody buy on the "never-never system", letting everybody go to the banks, is a positive cure for unemployment? One would like to know at what figure the Government will say, "Ah— That is high enough. Now we will put into operation the plans which will substantially reduce the number of unemployed."
§ Mr. Fernyhough
The truth is that there is the idea that the Government must not do any planning. Some of us have been pleading for a reduction in defence expenditure, but in every speech I have made demanding a reduction in defence expenditure I have said that the Government should, while reducing that expenditure, plan for those who will be removed from their jobs in defence work so that they may have civilian work. The fact that the Government cannot think in terms of planning means that today the figure of national production is just about as high as it was four years ago. If the Government go on at that rate it will not be 25 years before we double the standard of living; it will be about 2,500 years. At the moment we are going backwards.
I am glad that the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance is here, because although he is not directly responsible for employment he is directly responsible for some of the heavier burdens which are likely to fall upon some of those who become unemployed. The hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Mackie) expressed the hope that we would not make unemployment a political battleground. I can understand it.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
What the hon. Member for Galloway and ether hon. Members want us to do, although the Government deliberately plan for unemployment, is to [...] still and do nothing about it while 283 hundreds of my constituents and thousands in some other constituencies walk the streets looking for jobs which do not exist. If any hon. Member thinks that those of us who have had experience in our own lives of unemployment are going to sit meekly back and say nothing and live quiet, decent, dignified lives while men who want work are denied the right to work, then he has another thing coming to him, because to same of us the right of a man to a job, the right to employment, is one of the most important rights in a free society. We shall agitate and argue and struggle and demonstrate in order that those who want work may have work.
What is to happen? The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance knows that I have raised this problem before. We know that today there are 200,000 more unemployed than there were twelve months ago. Among those who are unemployed there are some who have been victims of industry and who are in receipt of industrial injuries payments and hardship allowances. Some may have obtained light work which, despite their disabilities they can do; but some of the victims of industry will be among the 200,000 additional unemployed. If they became unemployed early last year, then in a few months from now their unemployment benefit will be exhausted. These men who get a pension because of their disabilities caused in industry, and a hardship allowance because their wages have been so reduced by virtue of their having changed their jobs because of accidents in industry, will find that their unemployment benefit is exhausted.
When they are sent to the National Assistance Board, what does the Board do? It says, "We take into consideration everything except £1." This would not have happened if we on this side of the House had remained in power. As a result of the refusal of the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor to renew the appropriate Section these men, the victims of industry, will have much of their pensions taken from them because they have exhausted their unemployment benefit.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that the time has come when the determination of needs regulations and the amount specified therein should be reviewed? The amount stated therein 284 was fixed in 1942. Everybody knows how much the value of the £ has decreased since then, yet there has been no variation from 1942 until now. A sum of £1 was disregarded in 1942 and £1 is disregarded in 1958. I think that is nonsense. It is very unfair and it is time that the Minister did something about it.
I will give the right hon. Gentleman an illustration. I received a deputation of workmen from my own constituency last month. When one of their colleagues is off work for six weeks they have a little fund and 10s. 6d. a week is donated to him, because these workmen have nothing to fall back upon except their State benefits. I am not blaming local officials of the National Assistance Board that this payment has to be taken into account. No one could be more sympathetic than the officials, and no one could treat applicants more humanely than they do. I would defend them before any of my constituents, but they have to carry out the regulations. I tell my constituents not to blame the local officials. Parliament is to blame. I am to blame and everyone here is to blame when this sort of thing happens.
I hope that in looking generally at his pensions schemes and the social services, the right hon. Gentleman will bear in mind the two points which I have made, because they will become more and more important if more and more people become unemployed. We must take it for granted that there will be more unemployed. The Chancellor expects more unemployment and the Minister of Labour said at Blackpool that the figures of unemployment would get worse. Therefore, there will be more of this double injustice of men not only being unemployed but, because they are unemployed, having taken from them that which they have a moral right to keep, because it is payment for injury and for maiming which they have suffered while in industry.
I cannot conceive that the right hon. Gentleman could have had any consultation with the Ministry of Labour before he fixed the figures of earnings on which he bases his new pensions scheme. If no one earning less than £9 a week is to be included, about 300,000 out of the 350,000 members of my union will not benefit at all. The right hon. Gentleman should have a look at the rate of wages fixed by the Wages Council, which covers 285 hundreds of thousands of people. I do not know of a single Wages Council rate for a general worker in an industry, as distinct from a manager or a foreman, which provides for a £9 minimum. Therefore, that means that hundreds of thousands will be excluded from the new pensions scheme. They will not be earning enough. I am quite sure that if the present policy of short time and unemployment develops, more and more people will be outside the scheme.
The hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) was very concerned about those on incomes of between £120 and £400 a year. He spoke of some of these people as suffering from acute malnutrition and said that one of these mornings some of them would be found dead in bed.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
What he does not realise is that there are over three million pensioners who are getting only £130 a year. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman is anxious about those people, all I can say is that unless he is prepared to increase the basic pension, which will not happen under the new Government scheme, he has no right to expect any special privilege for any one section of the community. His constituents have recourse to the National Assistance Board in the same way as some hundreds of my own constituents have to seek assistance.
On the question of pensions, I have never understood how it is that we cannot follow for the whole community the policy we operate for the civil servants. I believe that each generation will get only the pension which it is practicable to pay on the basis of production at that time. If Britain's production goes down in 50 years' time as compared with today, no matter what the legislation, there will not be adequate pensions.
Adequate pensions will always depend upon the production of the particular generation and therefore it is no use setting actuaries to work out figures on paper which will have no relation to the physical conditions of the times they are trying to foresee. That is why I should much prefer a non-contributory pension scheme for everybody, with the State by general taxation saying that it will do for the whole community what it does for 286 those in the Armed Forces and the Civil Service.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) discussed some of the problems of the local authorities, particularly housing. I am sorry that there is no representative of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government here because I want to raise another matter. I believe the Government are being unfair to one urban district council in my constituency. We all know that some time ago the Government instructed local authorities that in relation to council house building they must put out for tender the houses they wanted to build. The local authority in question, Hebburn Urban District Council, asked for tenders and the only one submitted was that by the Council's direct labour scheme. What has the Ministry done? The Ministry has said that although the tender was for about 50 houses, the council could erect only 16 of those houses and that it must ask for further tenders.
Does the right hon. Gentleman want to slash completely every direct labour scheme in the country? Is not it obvious that if the private contractors do not submit tenders it is unfair to the local authority to make it run after them? Why should there be this blind prejudice against the local authority's direct labour scheme? If it can build the houses to a satisfactory standard, and cheaper than the private contractors, why should not it be allowed to do so?
In the Gracious Speech the Government make reference to what they propose to do about home, ownership and there are one or two questions which I should like someone from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to browse over. The Government intend to lend money to the building societies. It would be interesting to know at what rate. Are the Government to lend money to the building societies at the rate at which the building societies borrow or at the rate at which the building societies lend? If the Government lend money to the building societies at the rate at which the building societies borrow, then the societies will make a profit on the money which they get from the Government. On the other hand, if the Government do not intend to do that, if they insist on lending money to the building societies 287 at the rate at which the latter will lend it to private applicants, why in the name of fortune must they go through this rigmarole?
We know full well now that the local authorities, under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act, are empowered to lend money to citizens to purchase their houses. The machinery is there; no new machinery is needed. No one has lent money at less administrative cost than the local authorities. I believe that on money which they have borrowed from the Public Work Loans Board the local authorities charge ½ per cent. when they lend it to private applicants for the purpose of buying or building their own houses.
Everyone knows that the building societies when lending money have always added 1½ per cent. or 2 per cent. to the interest rate which they pay to those who invest money with them. That means that their administrative costs must be between 1½ per cent. and 2 per cent., whereas local authorities are able to do it at½ per cent.—and then the Government accuse us of being doctrinaire. They are wedded to private enterprise, no matter what the cost—no matter what the price.
The sensible thing to do in this issue would be to lend money to allow the local authorities to go ahead under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act. They would be able to lend more cheaply and, therefore, with greater benefit to those who desire to build or to buy their own houses.
This week we have had the same experience as we had in 1955. We all remember the wonderful Budget of May, 1955. We all remember the election a few weeks afterwards. Two or three months later, an emergency Budget took back everything that had been given away. I hope that will not happen on this occasion. I hope that having 288 released the reins, as it were, the Government will not find at Christmas that the horses are going so fast that they have almost to pull the animals' heads off by pulling the reins so tightly.
What I dislike about the Government is that they never know whether they are going forward or backward. The Government, like the mythical bird, do not know where they came from or where they are going. They live a long time and they learn very little. I hope that we shall not have the same experience, but I am rather doubtful. I think that it may be the same experience. If it is, we can rest assured that the General Election will be postponed until after the April Budget.
The Gracious Speech makes reference to education. I believe that the problem of education is the problem of money. The field of education wants fertilising with much more money and unless that is done, no matter what grandiose schemes we may talk about, they will never come to fruition. Money determines the number of teachers we shall have, the number of schools, the number of colleges and the number of university places. It is a question of what priority we are to give to them.
I have always believed that there is little danger of the final struggle between what I would call Communism and the forces of freedom being waged in the military field. I have always believed that the final struggle will be determined in the social and economic field. If that is so, it is time that we began to devote a little less money to the cold or the hot war and more to education. The more money we pour in there, the better the results will be, and I am sure that we shall not be able to stand up to the challenge unless we follow a policy such as I have tried to outline.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Colonel J. H. Harrison.]
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.