§ 2.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Tiley (Bradford, West)
I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:Most Gracious Sovereign,We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of 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.About a year ago, millions of people in this country and in other lands rejoiced because they were able, due to the magic of television, to see their Queen in their own homes graciously opening their Parliament. This was indeed a moving experience for millions of families who lived their lives far outside the orbit of our London scene, with its rich parade of pomp and circumstance. That rejoicing and that pleasure are surely exceeded today, here and all over the world, when we consider the reason why Her Majesty was not able to be present in person to open our proceedings this morning.
With deep respect, we share Her Majesty's joy at the proposed visit of His Royal Highness Prince Philip to Ghana, and we note with admiration that Her Majesty is already planning for 1961, but we trust that, in making her plans, Her Majesty will not afford anxiety to her peoples by undertaking too much and overtaxing her strength. In humble duty, we pray for the well-being of our Gracious Queen during the coming months.
During the course of last weekend, I spent a good deal of time reading the speeches of my predecessors in this traditional and honourable rô1e. Nearly all of them bemoaned the fact that they were not allowed to be provocative. I do not think I agree with that. When I look across the Chamber at the Opposition, they do not appear to me to have shrunk much. They look as if they are rearing to go and spoiling for a fight with the ancient enemy. I therefore think it would be more discreet and wiser for myself and my hon. Friend the hon. Member for 53 Billericay (Mr. Gardner), who is to second the Motion, not to be provocative.
It is a great honour to move this Motion, and I want to draw the attention of the House to two aspects of that honour. First of all, a tribute is being paid to Yorkshire and to the industrial North. Here in London, it is frequently necessary to do that. We all know the extent, interest and world importance of the City of London, but, as a Northerner and the representative of an industrial constituency, and the product of an industrial family, I never fail to point out that there would be no city here in London if it were not for the workers and toilers in the industrial belts of our great country, particularly in the North.
The greatest honour in my being selected to carry out this duty is to my own City of Bradford, of which my constituency is a part. Many of the letters I have received during the last few days have wished me well. One of them contained some very good advice. I got it yesterday morning. It was from a well-wisher, evidently written with great emotion and under great strain. This is what it said:Say what you like, lad, about Bradford, but for goodness' sake do not mention our football teams.In this House I proudly represent Bradford, a city of workers, a city of industry. There are those who scoff at the grime of our industrial cities with their factories and their mill chimneys, but there is beauty in honest toil, beauty in honest sweat and beauty in the honest striving to maintain a family, just as surely as there is in any painting. The name of Bradford stands for wool and textiles.
§ Mr. Tiley
I shall have five long years in which to deal with all that kind of interruption. It will give me great pleasure.
Bradford stands also for commercial integrity all over the world. My city is indeed international. At this moment, many hundreds of my constituents are in all corners of the earth exporting and selling their textile products.
54 Because of the industrial revolution, in our city we have had to deal with the vast problem of slum clearance. It might interest the House to know that in the 100 years from 1801 to 1901 the population of my city grew from 13,000 to nearly 300,000. Happily, the slums are being cleared away, and at this moment the city centre is being demolished and a new centre built in its place. Soon we shall have a shopping centre that is the envy of the North of England. It is a happy thing, too, to notice that in addition to textiles this city of mine now has rather more different trades prospering there. We have engineering, box-making, electronics, radio, furniture-making and the manufacture of agricultural tractors.
I want to draw the attention of the House for a moment to the industrial relations which exist in our great textile industry and the lessons to be learned on both sides from the experiences in our textile trade. No major strike has taken place in it for thirty years. We have been blessed with an enlightened trade union leadership continuing over the years—I wish to pay tribute to it—and we are also blessed with a nearness in this industry between office and factory. Both sides of industry could well take an example from the experiences of our city.
It is, of course, easy for me to speak of Bradford, because I was born there. I was born within my constituency, I live in it and I voted in it a few days ago. I shall not break the secrecy of the ballot. I am well pleased with my Member, but I know that he is feeling a bit anxious at this moment.
I was glad to see in the Gracious Speech that the Government will strive to maintain steady prices. This must be the foundation of our economic policy. We want to see reductions as well. Inflation is halted, which is a most important factor for us as a trading nation. A stable £ at home and abroad is twice blessed: it blesseth him that saves and him that spends; it blesseth him that buys and him that sells. It is an essential feature of any real improvement which is to be obtained in the standard of living, because, as we have seen, without that stability of the £ those who earn the improvement lose their reward at the end of their lives.
55 That brings me to the consideration of pensions. We obviously expected a reference to this in the Gracious Speech. The last Government had a good record in this field, and we expect that that record will be continued by this new Parliament. The Government's first task is, surely, to make certain for all time that there shall be no diminution of the value of the existing pension or any of the benefits in this sector. People must be made to feel secure in this thought. During the past few months, I have received many letters from widows, all criticising the earnings rule, and I am very glad to see in the Gracious Speech that my right hon. Friend is to deal with this problem.
Nothing gave me more pleasure in the Speech than to note the Government's promise to take action with regard to pockets of serious unemployment. Full employment is the greatest of our blessings. My own youthful days were spent during the slump years in the textile zones of the West Riding, and I know that the greatest agony to the spirit of any man is having to come home to his family on a Friday and tell them that there is no job next week. I hope that this Measure will be rushed through the House so that those areas which are suffering will rapidly benefit.
During the election, I was sent a letter from a friend of mine who has returned recently from the mission field in Africa. He said:It is selfish of you in your campaign to promise to increase your standards in your country when so much poverty, illness and suffering are abroad in the world.I felt a little ashamed, although I know that we must be prosperous in our islands if we are to help others. I was glad, however, to read in the Gracious Speech thatThe improvement of conditions of life in the less developed countries of the world will remain an urgent concern of My Government.This unselfishness will be our test as individuals and as a nation in the promulgation of that. More than that, on our answer will depend the future of the world we call free.
I noticed when reading the previous speeches at the weekend that when Mr. Attlee, as he then was, stood at the Dispatch Box, he revealed a rich variety 56 of praise in giving thanks to those who moved and seconded the Motion for an Address, but that at the end of his speech he used to say that Members never referred to the Gracious Speech. "And no wonder," he would say, "because there is nothing in it." Now, that is not true of this Speech. I must confess that I had hoped for a period of less legislation, a period when Members of Parliament would have more time to think, to debate and to discuss with more freedom, because now that we have secured an economic breathing space we should plan events rather than be overtaken by them. However, there is a busy time ahead.
There is something in the Speech which touches all of us, whether we live at home or elsewhere, in the Commonwealth or elsewhere in the world. Progress is envisaged in education, for roads and railways, farming and agriculture, and in the fishing industry. There is no problem which cannot be defeated when we have a balanced economy and a growing export trade. With common sense and unity, all our goals can be reached in the challenging years that lie ahead.
§ 3.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Gardner (Billericay)
I beg to second the Motion.
I am most sensitive of the fact that in choosing a Member to second the Motion the House honours those whom he represents, and I know that my constituents in the Billericay division of Essex are proud that they have had this high distinction accorded to them today. I am also most acutely aware that this is the first time I have had the privilege of addressing the House, and I know that I stand in utmost need of every indulgence and forbearance which the House can properly extend to a new Member on such an occasion.
Billericay is the most remarkable constituency in the country. There is nothing quite like it. Certainly, if the speed with which its election result was announced is to be a test, Billericay is the most advanced constituency in the country. It is a fascinating division, a microcosm of Britain, where the new is pressing hard upon the old—too hard, some people think, for in places like Pitsea, Vange and Laindon many watch nervously as the new town of Basildon 57 stretches out towards them. The benefits of Basildon for those people are not always apparent or appreciated.
None the less, Basildon is an exciting new town where the wide windows of modern factories overlook green fields, a town of contemporary designs and primary colours, and, more important, prosperous industries. It all began ten years ago. Now it is a very fine place to live in, and I believe that the sooner we drop the prefix "new" the better. As striking as the freshness of its architecture is the friendliness and vitality of its people. Many of them came as pioneers from London to Basildon, and today they are enjoying, with their children, the success of this new venture. Of course, Basildon is still uncompleted, and so far as I can judge something like 30,000 people will be coming to Basildon by 1965 to swell its present population of 50,000.
At the other end of the constituency of Billericay there are the old, attractive residential towns like Billericay itself and Brentwood. Unlike Basildon, their problem is to preserve rather than increase their amenities.
I do not wish to challenge anything that my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Tiley) has said. I allow that Bradford, and Yorkshire generally, have many virtues, but as a Lancastrian—Preston is my home town—I always find that I have to cross the Pennines into Lancashire before I can appreciate the true qualities of the North.
The Gracious Speech notes the Government's intention to make further advances in penal reform and the Government's anxiety to provide more effective means of dealing with young offenders. The increase in crime in this country is oppressive and startling. It has become a grave problem for the police who detect and for the courts which punish. Too much crime today is successful and highly profitable. Breaking and entering which can yield thousands of pounds in exchange for a few hours of danger and excitement is something which for many makes nonsense of the old maxim that crime does not pay.
Those who deal with young offenders are frequently as much shocked by their altitude as by their behaviour. The 58 minds of many of these young offenders appear to have been numbed by greed and indifference to violence. Many of them are growing up with the feeling—it is a comfort to the young offender who is entering his first criminal enterprise—that they can expect to get away unpunished with their first crime, and later some of them hope that they will have acquired sufficient skill to avoid detection in the future.
The police are not at fault. Too often, one finds the ultimate responsibility lies with the parents, indifferent to their children and utterly without social conscience. I believe that in the long run only education will cure this state of affairs.
I am glad to see in the Gracious Speech that the Government look forward to taking part in the work of the new Commission of ten nations which is to consider plans for comprehensive disarmament. Above everything, mankind needs the certainty of peace. The peace we have today rests uneasily on a weapon which was foreseen in 1876 by Nobel, the founder of the Peace Prize.I wishhe writes,I could produce some material or machine so terrifyingly destructive on a large scale that war would be completely impossible.It was an ominous wish, a wish which has been fulfilled in the hydrogen bomb, which, as Nobel would have had it, is a weapon "terrifyingly destructive on a large scale." The fear of that weapon has so powerfully affected all nations that war has become inconceivable. Unhappily, it has not become impossible. We believe that that stage can be reached only through comprehensive and controlled disarmament by all the nations.
Even so, it would be folly to expect that the contest for the mind and the spirit of man would cease with an agreement to disarm. That struggle between the East and the West will continue. It is a struggle to decide the future of our own and millions of other children of all races. It is a struggle which I believe will be carried on in the new parts of our Commonwealth. They will be its background and its battlefield.
In meeting this challenge, we must take care that tomorrow's leaders of the new Commonwealth have the best and the widest education that we can give. 59 But that alone, I suggest, is not enough. That would be a one-way traffic only. We need something more imaginative than that. We need a two-way exchange of ideas and learning. We know what we can teach the young who come over here from the Commonwealth to learn in our universities and our Inns of Courts and our technical colleges, but do we know what we have to learn by sending our young people to the new universities of Africa and Malaya?
The answer, if it be an answer, that our education is better, is merely another compelling reason why we should raise the standard in places like Africa, Asia and the West Indies to the highest level we can achieve for them. Without a supreme effort we and they, and the West, are in peril. This is a struggle which we cannot afford to lose, and time is not necessarily on our side. But we have no cause for faint hearts. Let us remember the words of Sir Francis Drake:In any great undertaking, it is not the beginning but the continuing thereof until it be utterly finished that yieldeth the true glory.
§ 3.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Gaitskell (Leeds, South)
I rise in accordance with the traditions of the House to offer on behalf of all of us our very sincere congratulations to the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Tiley), who moved the Motion for the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech, and the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Gardner), who seconded.
It is always an ordeal to fulfil this function. It is a formal occasion. The benches are crowded and the two hon. Gentlemen are making the first speeches in a new Parliament. One could understand anyone who felt nervous in those conditions, but I am sure that I carry the whole House with me when I say that the two speeches to which we have listened were fully up to the high standards set by their predecessors who fulfilled this office.
I am particularly glad that it fell to a Yorkshire Member, the hon. Member for Bradford, West, to move the Motion. As a fellow Yorkshire Member I specially congratulate him not only on fulfilling this function but also on his very astute remarks to the Opposition, 60 which put us in a good humour, and particularly his very sensible comments on the importance of our northern industrial cities, which, of course, return a high proportion of Labour Members of Parliament. I thought that he delighted the House with his self-deprecatory humour; and to go as far as to say that he must not mention the Bradford football teams showed great courage. I must say, in passing, that I feel somewhat the same about Leeds United.
I am sure that all of us agreed with what the hon. Member said about the absence of Her Majesty the Queen, which we regret, and her inability to open Parliament, but our pleasure at the reason for this absence.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Billericay deserves from us and should receive double congratulations, because not only had he to face this ordeal but he had to face it as a new Member making his maiden speech. All of us, I know, were impressed with the fluency and the eloquence which he brought to this task. He came here with what some might regard as a minor disadvantage. I understand that before the war he was for many years a journalist and he is now a lawyer, but I am sure that he is going to do very much better as a Member of Parliament. Furthermore, whatever we may think of his previous professions and his present profession, we can all agree on his gallant war service in the Navy when he took part in the Malta convoys.
I was particularly glad that both he and the hon. Member for Bradford, West laid such stress on the duty we have to help to raise the standard of living of those who are so much poorer than ourselves in other parts of the Commonwealth and of the world. Both hon. Members were perfectly right in stressing this as one of the really urgent and important problems facing the world today.
It is not the custom of Leaders of the Opposition, having done the honours, to follow with a lengthy speech. Some kind person in the past must have realised that it needed a little more time than is given to a Leader of the Opposition to do this, and I wish only to make a few observations on the Gracious Speech. My right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) 61 will tomorrow open a general debate on behalf of the Opposition. Later on, we shall table Amendments, one of which, at any rate, I hope myself to have the opportunity of moving.
At first sight, I think that the weakness of the Gracious Speech lies not so much in what it contains as in what it does not contain. Its sins are those of omission rather than of commission. Certainly one most strange and notable omission is that there is no reference whatever to the Summit Conference. When I consider the lengthy exchanges that have taken pace in this House during the past few years, and the international conferences in almost all the major capitals of the world, it is indeed strange that there should be no reference whatever to this important event; for we can surely all agree that it is of the greatest importance that the Summit Conference should take place, and take place soon.
We have great hopes that out of this may come at least some progress towards the solving of the problems which divide the world today, and when all is said and done, the Prime Minister himself on 30th September said:Within a few days the actual date of the Summit talks will be fixed.It is true that he followed that up a few days later, on 3rd October, by this rather equivocal comment:Everything seems to be clear, except just to make the arrangements. … Everyone is agreed on it. It is a matter of fixing the date and the place and the people.Some of us might regard those exceptions as rather important. Nevertheless, I think that we are entitled to ask the Prime Minister if he can throw some light on this subject. When he announced so bravely and boldly that the date was to be fixed within a few days, had he made sure that General de Gaulle was in agreement with this? Did he know what Dr. Adenauer's attitude would be? Surely, if he did not know, it seems a very strange thing to have said. If he did know, then I suppose we must take it that General de Gaulle has changed his mind since then. It is all very puzzling, it is all very bewildering, and I think the House is entitled to a clear account of the negotiations on this matter and where we now stand.
62 I agree strongly with the remarks of the mover of the Motion about the forthcoming visit of the Duke of Edinburgh to Ghana. I am one of those who was fortunate enough to go there myself recently and, although Her Majesty is unable as yet to go, I am delighted that the Duke of Edinburgh will be going. He will meet a gay and friendly people. I am sure he will himself make a deep impression and I believe he will also have a very enjoyable time.
I am glad, too, that the Gracious Speech refers to the expected formal request for the grant of independence to the Federation of Nigeria. In reflecting on what has happened in Ghana and what is to happen, we hope, as regards Nigeria, it is impossible not to make a contrast with Central Africa, to which, of course, reference is made in the very next sentence of the Gracious Speech. Here, whether one thinks in terms of the degree and extent of democratic rights, whether one thinks in terms of race relations, whether one thinks in terms of the attitude of the people to the mother country, there is a startling and dismaying contrast. I think we cannot deny that in Central and East Africa the Government, and indeed, the British people as a whole, face in the next few years one of the supreme tests of their wisdom and statesmanship.
Reference is made to the 1960 Conference. It is important that any conference on Central Africa should succeed. If we were to have a second failure here, it might be final, and finally disastrous. I believe that if it is to succeed there are three conditions that must be fulfilled. The first, and most important, is that before the Conference takes place there must be a substantial extension of the franchise in Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia. There must at least be such an extension as will give Nyasaland a majority of African representatives in the Legislature and in Northern Rhodesia—and these are modest requests—at least parity between Africans and Europeans. If we do not do this, then we shall be faced with a problem, that the Conference at which Governments are to be represented will not be regarded by the ordinary African people in either of these territories as really representing them and their interests.
63 The second condition, in my opinion, is that we should put on the agenda, amongst other things, the right of secession if the peoples of any of the territories so desire it. I believe that if we do this we run far less risk of secession actually taking place, but if we refuse to do it we shall be abandoning one of our essential doctrines, the doctrine that government should be only by consent.
The third condition of success is that there should be the right approach to the Conference. Here one might just say this about the proposed Advisory Commission. I explained to the House last July that we felt that the Commission as outlined by the Government would not provide the right kind of background or atmosphere in which the Conference was to take place. I will not cover the ground again today. It is simply that we cannot believe that a Commission of this kind, with very nearly half its members appointed by the four Governments in Africa, as they are at present constituted, can possibly win the confidence of the African peoples in those territories.
Nevertheless, it is essential that any such Advisory Commission should do just that, and I therefore plead once more with the Government that they should think again about this matter. We do not deny that if it can be worked out and agreed, some kind of preliminary inquiry is necessary. Surely, however, we should try to ensure that it is an inquiry which gives the Conference the best chance of success. I hope that the new Colonial Secretary, coming fresh to his great office, facing some of the most difficult problems in the world today, will think afresh and will try to ensure that the composition of the Advisory Commission is such as will give the Conference a real chance of achieving its objects.
I turn briefly to the home front and mention in passing two relatively small points, perhaps not so small. There is a sentence about the Government's intention to build new highways and to improve existing roads. They are certainly needed. I was glad to see that the new Minister of Transport, whom we wish well in his important office, has pointed out that it is just as well that there should be some room for traffic 64 at the end of the roads in the towns. Anybody who drives either in London or in other great industrial cities, as I dare say many of us do, realises that unless something pretty drastic is done the time will be coming when the whole of the traffic will come to a standstill. I urge the Minister, therefore—and I am sure we shall give him full support in this—to take drastic action to deal with this problem.
The second point I want to mention is the reference to the licensing of air services. I should like to ask the Prime Minister if he can throw some light upon what it is intended to do. I concede that there may well be a case after at least one tragic disaster for tightening the standards of safety and for ensuring that the risks at present run by the private airlines are enormously diminished. That is one possible idea behind the phrase in the Gracious Speech, but it is very far from a totally different idea which is, in fact, to give the private airlines a great deal more scope for development and to deny it to the national corporations. If that is the purpose of the proposed Bill, then I am afraid the Government must expect the most strong opposition from this side of the House.
The general aims of the Government at home are set out in the sentence in the middle of the Gracious Speech which refers to striving—… to maintain full employment, together with steady prices, a favourable balance of payments and a continuing improvement in standards of living based on increasing production and a rising rate of investment.I think that nobody is likely to challenge all those things as an aim. The question is whether they are really a pious hope or a serious prophecy. I am bound to say, on the basis of our experience of the last few years, that it looks to me as though they will remain a pious hope. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If we look back over these last four years, I must remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that we have had no fewer than three balance of payments crises, in 1955, 1956, and 1957; that the record for production in the four years 1955 to 1959 is just about the worst of any industrial country in the world; that after stagnation for three years we then went into the worst period of unemployment since the war—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—hon. Gentlemen opposite must not mind a little warming. 65 up; we must warm things up a little—and finally that in so far, and I readily concede it, as there has been some greater price stability in the last few months, this is wholly due to the fortunate change in the terms of trade, to the fall in the price of imports in relation to exports; and hon. Members will be making a great mistake if they assume confidently that this will necessarily continue. We do not believe that that prosperity, if it exists, is very firmly based at the moment.
There are some specific problems to which no reference is made. It was an interesting fact that immediately after the General Election we were told of a serious steel shortage in the motor car industry. No doubt the news was conveniently held back. I should like to ask the Prime Minister what the position is. If there already is a shortage of sheet steel, is it going to hold up further expansion in the motor car industry? The right hon. Gentleman may say that there are difficulties at the moment because the United States has a strike on. Certainly, but, even if there were no strike in the United States, I have to remind him that if we are to rely on higher imports for fulfilling the additional needs of the steel-using industries, our balance of payments position is not likely to remain for long as favourable as it is. We shall have exactly the same position as we had in 1955 when the enormous increase in sheet steel imports was a major cause of the balance of payments crisis of that year.
There is another basic industry to which no reference is made in the Gracious Speech, and that is the coal mining industry. After all, we now have a situation in which our coal stocks, in all, are over 50 million tons. It is really astonishing when one compares it with the situation a few years ago, when, because our industry was expanding so rapidly, we were always faced with a shortage of coal. The stagnation of the last few years has been a major factor in causing this difficulty.
What do the Government propose to do about this? How are they to get rid of the stocks? When are the stocks to be sold? What is to happen to the coal mining industry? We are told that another 200 pits are to be closed. What 66 plans have been made for ensuring that if that scheme is carried out there will be no unemployment in those areas? How are we to ensure that we do not go back to the appalling situation of the inter-war years when we had whole villages and towns derelict? That is a major issue, and it is astonishing that no reference is made to it in the Gracious Speech. This is something to which we shall certainly return.
There is, of course, reference to the need for providing greater employment in certain areas, and we are promised a new Bill. We certainly welcome anything that will bring additional work to the areas of high unemployment, but I am bound to ask why the Bill is introduced only now. We had many discussions in the last Parliament, within the last year, when the situation was indeed a good deal worse than it is today, but no suggestion was made then by the Government that this was necessary. I must say, too, that in our opinion, although the need for the Bill may exist, the really important thing here is the will and the spirit by which the existing legislation is administered.
I must ask the Government whether they intend in the present situation to use their powers to control the location of industry, because this is the secret of success in this problem, to steer new firms and enterprises away from the areas of relatively low unemployment into the areas where there is high unemployment. If this is done, and done vigorously, as it was under the Labour Government, then there is some hope for Scotland, but if we have the same policy as we have had in the last few years and the virtual abandonment of the use of the Distribution of Industry Acts, it is a very poor look-out indeed for Scotland, Wales, Lancashire and the other areas concerned.
Prosperity must be well based on expansion. It must not simply rest on the fortuitous advantage of an improvement in the terms of trade, but it must also be fairly shared; and that leads me to say something about the special needs of some sections of our population. I am glad that at last the earnings rule is to be looked into, but if hon. Members imagine that that is enough and that that is all that need be done for the welfare 67 of the old people they are making a very great mistake. It does not, in fact, affect any of those old persons who are already over 70, to whom no earnings rule applies anyhow.
We reiterate what we have said before in this House and throughout the country, that the time is long overdue when, as a matter of common justice to a large group of our fellow citizens who are suffering considerable hardship and living certainly under much worse conditions than the vast majority of us—I mean the old-age pensioners—the basic pension should be raised by at least 10s. a week. We say that that should be done, and done quickly, and should be accompanied by a similar increase in the other insurance benefits.
Reference is made in the Gracious Speech to housing. There is a promise that we are to have more houses. What is the intention of the Government with regard to council houses? It is more council houses that are wanted if we are to clear the slums quickly and if we are to deal with overcrowding. [Interruption.] The hon. Member who moved the Motion represents an industrial seat. Bradford is not so very different from Leeds in this respect, and he will probably agree with me that most of the people who come to us as Members of Parliament and seek our assistance in obtaining houses are not people who can be expected as yet to find the money to buy their own houses, certainly not with rates of interest as they are today. What they want is more council houses. It is, in my opinion, little less than a scandal that, with the state in which those people are living in overcrowded conditions and slums, for five years now the number of council houses built has been steadily falling and that in 1958 there were actually 20,000 fewer council houses built than in 1951.
The third group to which I think we need to give special attention is the young. I welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to what should be done about the Youth Service and so on, but the crucial issue here in the field of education, and the issue which divides the House, is the simple one as to whether we are to go on with the 11-plus examination. I ask the Government for their views on it. In my opinion it 68 must be done away with. I do not think that either parents or children like it. I think it is a bar to genuine equal opportunity in education—[HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."]—and we should sweep it away and provide genuine opportunities for education, whatever suits the child best throughout the whole of his or her school life. These are the things which we believe should be done, and we shall certainly press for them.
We lost 23 seats in the General Election. It was, as I said—I do not deny it; why should I?—a setback, but it was not a landslide. We shall, of course, have to consider very carefully exactly what lessons may be learnt from our defeat, but I want to tell the House just this, that meanwhile we intend to fulfil our functions as Her Majesty's Opposition in a manner which I believe will commend itself to the House.
We shall not be fractious, nor shall we be unduly turbulent unless we are provoked into it. We shall, however, be vigorous and lively and ever-watchful of the Government's administration. We shall not oppose for opposition's sake, but we shall oppose whenever we believe that the Government's administration or their policies are wrong, and I do not doubt that there will be many such occasions. We shall, above all, use every opportunity open to us to argue and press and fight for the things in which we believe and which we hold to be necessary for the benefit of our country and the world.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)
I am sure that the whole House will endorse the very gracious tribute which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) has just paid to the speeches of the mover and seconder of the Motion for the Address. The mover, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Tiley), is, of course, already well-known to the House for the wit as well as the independence of his speeches, and his reputation is equally high in Yorkshire, both for his political and his social and philanthropic work. He has certainly acquited himself today with conspicuous success. Nor did he forget his loyalty to Bradford, and that is right.
The seconder, my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Gardner), as 69 the right hon. Gentleman has reminded us, has had experience in the law and as a journalist, but I was glad that the right hon. Gentleman referred to his conspicuous war service. In serving with the Royal Navy, he was on two occasions sunk by enemy action. However, learning from, this experience, he has succeeded in keeping triumphantly afloat, first, in the marginal seat, which he won with a very remarkable majority, and, secondly, in the trying ordeal of seconding the Motion on this great occasion. I think that the whole House will feel that the closing passages of his speech showed real oratory. I have listened to these speeches rather longer than the right hon. Gentleman—some thirty years—and, although I am not a confident mathematician, if I remember aright all of them have always been above the average; and certainly they have been today.
The opening of a new Parliament is a time for looking forward with hope and confidence. Inevitably, the older ones among us rather like to look back for a moment or two with regrets. We welcome all the new faces—10 I new Members—but we think, also, of absent friends who have contributed so long to our common work and partnership and comradeship.
Happily, General Elections today do not seem to inflict many losses on the respective Front Benches. Right hon. Gentlemen on both sides no longer fight in the front line. Their duty compels them, like generals, to remain out of danger in order to see how the battle develops. Nevertheless, time can also inflict its wounds as well as the electors, and it seems to many of us an unfamiliar House without Mr. Herbert Morrison, Sir Charles MacAndrew or Mr. James Stuart. Fortunately, one great figure remains—a rock that resists the flood either of time or ennoblement—my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), who has now added another distinction to the many which he has gained over the years by becoming Father of the House.
If I may refer to it, there is one unusual feature of our opening day. The right hon. and learned Member for the City of London (Sir H. Hylton-Foster) 70 is not sitting, in accordance with ancient custom, upon the Treasury Bench today. I do not think that your constituents, Mr. Speaker, will feel any sense of grievance because you have exchanged the top hat for a nobler and more dignified covering. This privilege to the Member for the City of London was given in recognition of the aid and comfort which the City gave to the five Members 300 years ago, but your constituents, Sir, can feel today that a far greater honour has been conferred upon them, and I am sure that you will continue to protect the rights of private Members.
I have to inform the House that the usual arrangements will be made for the debate on the Motion for the Address and for private Members' time. No doubt the House will hear from you, Sir, about the former, and about the latter my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will propose a Motion tomorrow.
In my experience, it has been usual for a good deal of the early debates of each new Parliament to be taken up in fighting again the battles of the General Election. Members are, naturally, anxious to inform each other of the monstrous things which their opponents said and the devastating character of their own replies. However, if I judge the mood of the House rightly, we are more anxious now to look forward, and it is certainly in this spirit that my colleagues and I intend to apply ourselves to the problems of this Parliament.
There are one or two observations about the General Election which I might be allowed to make, since the right hon. Gentleman quite properly also made some. I can claim no originality in what I am about to say. I am only going to quote what my predecessor, Sir Anthony Eden, said in not dissimilar circumstances in the summer of 1955. I quote from HANSARD of 9th June, and this is what he said:In the negative sense the country said extremely clearly that it does not want any more nationalisation.After developing that point, he continued, and again I quote:Another conclusion which is hardly challengeable is that the country has also declared quite plainly that it is not deeply moved by any attempts to create class hatred.71 He went on to use these words:If hon. Gentlemen opposite really have not learned that yet, they will learn it at the next Election."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th June. 1955: Vol. 542, c. 57.]I understand that some of these truths are now beginning to sink in, and in some rather unexpected quarters. Indeed, I detect almost a scramble to abandon or explain away the old dogmas. Of course, we have come a long way since the 'nineties of the last century, when there was a saying, commonly attributed to Sir William Harcourt, "We are all Socialists now." I think that Sir William himself observed that he did not remember whether he used these words or not, but this he certainly would say: "There are no economists now." All this shows how unwise it is for any politician to tie himself to any proposition too clearly or simply. I do not know how many Socialists there still are on the benches opposite. There must be some left, I would suppose, but I can see rows and rows of economists. They, at any rate, are all agreed on one thing—that all the others are wrong.
Before I part with Sir William Harcourt, I would venture another quotation which again illustrates the dangers which we all may suffer. At the end of 1885, following a Liberal success at a General Election, he said:One thing at least this Election has proved, that the Tory Party can never, under any conceivable circumstances, have a majority in the House of Commons.In fact, they had a majority in the next year which went on with one break for the next twenty years.
I offer this small piece of history both as a consolation to those who have been beaten, and perhaps a warning to the victors. Of course, if Harcourt were alive today, he would be saying, "We are all Conservatives now", especially in North and South Battersea. I am told that in that borough a really most edifying harmony now prevails, and that the lion lies down with the lamb, or should I say the Partridge jugs down with the Jay?
Conservatism, as I understand it and have seen it develop over the years, has never meant a negative policy of keeping things as they are. Indeed, if that had been our approach to the problems 72 of this century, we should still be in opposition, or perhaps a small, dwindling party, like the Jacobite Party in the eighteenth century.
§ The Prime Minister
Even in Scotland we polled more votes than hon. Gentlemen opposite. They should get one of their statisticians to help them.
I say that we should certainly not have had an accession of strength—what I believe to be unparalleled in our history—in four successive General Elections. Our policy is certainly to conserve, but to conserve the foundations of our economic and social life, to secure, as it were, our foothold. But that is only the essential preliminary to advance and progress and it is that policy which my colleagues and I tried to put before the country at the election, and it is that policy which we propose in the House to develop during the next five years.
Perhaps the most significant feature of our economic affairs at home, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, has been the achievement at one and the same time of stable prices and full employment—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"] I have stated that; the figure is now 1.9 per cent. and I think that the right hon. Gentleman's definition was 3 per cent. That is a combination so rare that, whatever our differences as to method, we surely must wish to see it conserved. We all share—we differ perhaps as to the methods that we will adopt—the common aim of seeking higher production combined with stable prices, full employment, a strong £ and a healthy balance of payments. I do not intend to go into detail on the matters which were raised today. As the right hon. Gentleman said, there will be long debates and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he is so fortunate as to catch your eye, Sir, will speak on this matter at length.
I will say only that the prospect before us is encouraging. Industrial production has been rising rapidly during the year. In August, it was estimated to have been 8 per cent. higher than the year before. Exports have been doing well, especially in the dollar markets. Anyone who went to the Motor Show will have seen the particularly buoyant 73 feeling right through that great industry. Savings, which are the essential complement, indeed the foundation, of investment expenditure, the only safe foundation of investment expenditure, are continuing to show the buoyancy of recent years.
During the last nine months, employment has risen by 350,000. There has been a fall in unemployment from 2.8 to 1.9 per cent.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"]—in the country as a whole; I am coming to the special point. This reduction is of special significance when one remembers two factors. First, there has been a record number of school leavers seeking employment, and, of course, there has been the continuous rundown in the size of the Armed Services and the numbers engaged on production for their needs.
However—and this is the point to which the Gracious Speech calls attention—while the national average of unemployment is low—we have full employment—there are areas where it is too high. General measures of expansion—and I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree with this—monetary or otherwise, to try to cure this situation in special areas would certainly risk the return of inflation. I think, therefore, that everyone agrees that special and particular measures are needed to deal with this problem. The first major Bill which the Government are to introduce is designed for this purpose. It will be presented tomorrow. The Bill is restricted to Great Britain, but I give this assurance to my friends from Northern Ireland: we will press forward in every possible way to help them and their Government in dealing with the problem there.
Of course, Government action alone cannot maintain full employment or rising standards of living. These depend—and we all know it—on the success of our industries in adapting themselves to the changing world in which we live. What is required is a common effort by both sides of industry on whom lies the responsibility to shape and adjust the pattern of industrial relations to the needs of the time. With close consultation and co-operation among all concerned, including the Government, I feel sure that we can grasp the opportunities before us.
74 Meanwhile, the Government have a special duty towards industries such as aircraft, shipping and shipbuilding which face, or will face, increasing competition from all over the world. It was for this reason that I decided to appoint one Cabinet Minister with special responsibilities for aviation matters. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation will have the special task of strengthening the aircraft industry and co-ordinating its activities with those of the airlines. The details of the Bill will come before the House when it is presented. His major task will be dealing with the problems of the industry, for both military and still more for peaceful production. He will help to maintain and expand British air services, whether those are carried out by the air corporations, or by the independent operators.
This change will involve the winding up of the Ministry of Supply and the transfer of some of its functions, those regarding stores and certain military equipment, other than aircraft and rockets, of course, to other Departments, mainly the War Office. The necessary Orders in Council will soon be laid before the House.
In the same way, shipping, shipbuilding and ship-repairing will now all be within the Ministry of Transport, but that Ministry, being no longer associated with aviation, will be able to concentrate its efforts on all forms of surface transport.
There is one other change in our Ministerial appointments to which I must refer. My noble friend the Lord Privy Seal will be giving his undivided attention to the various problems involved in the relationship between Government and science. His rôle will be to advise, to help and to stimulate rather than to control, and that is why he has been called, as we said in our election manifesto, a Minister for Science rather than a Minister of Science. These arrangements will, I think, accord with the growing importance of science and technology.
The Leader of the Opposition complained of the thinness of the legislative content of the Gracious Speech. That always happens, yet we always seem, as the year goes on, to be passing a lot of legislation. Even if it were true, it would not necessarily be a damning criticism. Shortage of legislation has not been one of the major problems with 75 which post-war Parliaments have had to contend. Nor would anyone very much mind if that alone were rationed. There are, of course—and I must admit it—glaring omissions from the Gracious Speech. There is no Bill to renationalise the steel industry. There is no Bill to restore the State monopoly in road transport.
But the absence of those Measures has some positive as well as negative advantages. There will be time for a number of Measures, some of them long overdue, of various social reforms. Among these is the modernisation of the law on betting and gambling, the former of which has been left undisturbed for fifty and the latter, I am told, for more than a hundred years.
I am sure that hon. Members will feel that their time is profitably used when they consider our schemes for the improvement of horticultural marketing; our Measures for penal reform; our Measures to deal with the problem of juvenile crime; or when they are asked to consider the law relating to building societies and the protection of those who lend their savings to them. For Scotland, the Mental Health Bill, which is the counterpart of the Bill introduced for England and Wales last Session, will be brought in.
In addition to legislation, there will be the progress we look forward to in agriculture, which is all the time increasing its production and efficiency. There is the whole field of slum clearance which, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, South said, can only be undertaken by a partnership between the central Government and local authorities. There is the road programme, including, I hope, better facilities for parking. There is the care of the old, and the expansion of educational facilities for the young. In all these matters, the Government intend to press forward vigorously and strongly.
I turn for a moment from affairs at home to those overseas. The two spheres, home and overseas, cannot be wholly separated, especially in the economic field. The Gracious Speech refers to the importance that we attach—and I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman referred to it, as did also my 76 hon. Friends the Members for Bradford, West and Billericay—to improving conditions of life in the less developed countries in the world.
This is one of the great challenges of our time. We cannot do it entirely on our own. The United States, Germany, and the other European countries now growing in their recovery since the war, must play their part. Nevertheless, our new financial strength has given us an opportunity that we have not neglected.
The economic assistance given from United Kingdom public funds went up by over 30 per cent. in the last financial year and will continue to go up. This is in addition to the hundreds of millions of pounds of private investment which go overseas every year. Much of this assistance will continue to go to Commonwealth countries, but from our greater strength we have already undertaken to play an increasing part in various international efforts. In the Commonwealth, political advance continues side by side with economic progress. We hope that the Nigeria request will come forward and that that great country will, within a year or two, become a self-governing nation within the Commonwealth.
We are working on the final stages of the measures to give effect to the London Agreement regarding Cyprus.
There are problems in Central Africa, and I am grateful for the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman approached this problem, which we all wish to try and solve. We intend to set up the Advisory Commission, as I announced in the last Parliament. The arrangements are well under way. We are fortunate in having secured the services, as Chairman, of Lord Monckton, who, despite very many other interests and responsibilities, has undertaken this task. I expect soon to make a report on the other membership. I hope—and, of course, taking into account what the right hon. Gentleman said—that when these arrangements are complete it will be a co-operative effort from this country and that the Commission will be able to begin its work early in the new year.
We hope by these means to try to create both here and in Africa a common mind on the next stages of political evolution of the Federation. 77 The difficulties are great, the prize is great, but the dangers of failure are great, too. It is in that spirit that we shall go forward.
In Europe, one of our immediate tasks is to consider not merely the economic but the political problems of Europe today. We have always feared that if economic unity is impaired this will ultimately produce political divisions which could be a source of weakness to the free world. We welcome the Treaty of Rome, and are anxious that it should succeed. We want to work as closely as possible with the Treaty of Rome Powers to achieve greater European unity and prosperity.
Meanwhile, as hon. Members know, we have been seeking, with our partners in the Stockholm Group, to provide a new basis for achieving a bridge between the Six and the rest of Western Europe. I hope that a convention establishing a European Free Trade Association between the seven members of the Stockholm Group will be achieved within a month or two. This Association will be viable in itself. It should open up excellent prospects for exporters in the seven countries. It should increase the competitive spirit of our industries and contribute towards an increase in the standard of living for all the seven countries of the Association. I hope that it will also result in an increase in the trade of all member countries.
We trust that the Stockholm Convention will prepare the way for a wider agreement embracing the whole of Western Europe. We want to facilitate negotiations between the Six and the Seven. We in the Stockholm Group are determined to use the Convention, if it be ratified, as a starting point to an agreement between all the O.E.E.C. countries. This will provide for economic and political unity in Western Europe, and will contribute to a freer trading system throughout the world.
I now pass to the phrase in the Gracious Speech, to which the right hon. Gentleman quite properly called attention, which pledges the Government to use all their efforts to improve relations between East and West. In this somewhat formal phrase is comprised the story of the long climb towards the summit. All parties in the House are agreed on the urgent need for trying to 78 bring about a general amelioration and reduction of tension. Moreover, far the greater part of our fellow-countrymen are also agreed that this cannot be done by abandoning the alliances upon which the freedom of the world depends. The rôle of Great Britain is, therefore, not to lead a retreat but to use her influence for an honourable accommodation.
Since the Russian declaration on Berlin, last November, my colleagues and I have been deeply concerned with what threatened to be a worsening situation. That was why the Foreign Secretary and I made our visit to Moscow to do something to arrest it. I have never concealed from the House, or our allies, that I felt that the result of that journey confirmed me in my conviction of the need for what is called a Summit Meeting. During the whole of this year we have urged this view on our friends and allies. I think that gradually there has been an acceptance of it in principle, though the precise date, place and agenda were not agreed. There was, however, at first a frank and open difference of opinion between President Eisenhower and myself. It was made clear when I was at Camp David, and it was underlined by him and by me in the broadcast which the President and I made in London some weeks ago.
The President felt that some further progress ought to be made in discussion with the Soviet leaders before a Summit Meeting could be useful or fruitful. I and my colleagues believed that a Summit Meeting ought to be held without any further attempt to make a preliminary agreement, on the general understanding that we would meet not under any immediate ultimatum or threat but in an atmosphere of negotiation. The long discussions between the four Foreign Secretaries certainly led to an improvement of atmosphere in the summer, although no precise agreement was reached. Certain questions, particularly that of what should be the situation not so much during but at the end of any interim settlement of the Berlin problem, seemed to present difficulties. Whether these were real, or largely matters of drafting and expression, I find it difficult to decide.
The President, however, maintained his view, and for that reason a Summit Meeting was not possible in September, 79 much to my regret. However, I was not too depressed because I felt confident that the visit of Mr. Khrushchev to the United States, and the informal discussions which would there take place, would carry us forward. When, therefore, I heard that the President was prepared to rule that, in his view, his talks with Mr. Khrushchev had revealed sufficient progress, I then believed that the last major obstacle to fixing the date for a Summit Meeting was removed.
Indeed, within a very few days after making that statement the President made it clear to his allies that he favoured a meeting of the Western Summit, as it is generally called, as early as practicable; to be soon followed by a full Summit Meeting. Of course, I welcomed this, because it confirmed my hopes. I must ask the right hon. Gentleman and the House to bear with me, but I do not think that it would be helpful to enter now into the details, of how matters stand in the negotiations and discussions now going on between the allies, but I feel it right to put forward our own view publicly as well as privately.
We would like a Summit Meeting at the earliest practicable date, in order to keep up the momentum. The general situation has improved; we do not want it to slip back again. Tension has been lessened; we do not want it to increase again—and that may happen by some unlucky chance as easily as by design. We therefore feel that, at all costs, we must avoid a return to the rigours of the cold war. So we shall continue to work for a date for the Summit Meeting as early as practicable. I hope that we shall succeed. It will not be for want of trying.
There is just one further point that I should like to put before the House in this connection, and this is as to the character of a Summit Meeting. I have always felt it wrong to envisage a Summit Meeting something like the Congress of Vienna of 150 years ago, which tried to settle all the outstanding problems between East and West at one great conference. In the first place, it would be impossible in modern conditions to envisage a meeting where the statesmen would be able to stay long enough to do its work and, secondly, in my view, the problems and divisions are too complicated, and have 80 too much history behind them, to be capable of resolution in a single meeting. Furthermore, there is some danger in fostering the idea that such a meeting would be decisive—decisive in the sense that failure to settle everything would mean a hardening of the position of the two blocs.
I have always thought of the summit in a different way. The first meeting would, perhaps, be a preliminary meeting to the others, and certainly not the last—perhaps not trying to make spectacular decisions, but leading on gradually to further progress by orderly negotiation and a series of discussions. Continued negotiation, through a long and extended period, involving a series of meetings, seems to me the right approach. I do not think that this is defeatism; it is realism. The great mass of disagreement cannot be removed by a single effort; it can be eaten into and gnawed away only by patience and perseverance. All these matters are now being discussed between the allies, and I feel sure that we shall reach agreement—as we must. The issues are so great.
I ought to add how glad I was to learn of Mr. Khrushchev's impending visit to Paris. I feel that since President Eisenhower and I have had long discussions with him it would be most helpful for our friend and ally, President de Gaulle, to have personal discussions with him as well. Such talks will help us all to deal with the immense problems that face us.
So the new Parliament opens, and with it, for us all—from the youngest to the eldest Member—a new phase in our history. Uncertainties there must be, and troubles will no doubt have to be faced both at home and overseas. But what I firmly believe is that the spirit of our people is not merely one of confidence and hope, but of unity, mutual understanding and forbearance. In this spirit let us begin our labours.
§ 4.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Harry Hynd (Accrington)
I begin by saying that the Prime Minister seemed to be a little too complacent about the result of the General Election. He omitted to mention the fact that the total number of votes against the Government amounted to more than were given for them, and I hope that hon. Members opposite will bear that in mind and not 81 be too cocksure because they have come back here with a majority of 100 seats.
The first thing I want to mention in connection with the Gracious Speech is a constituency matter. Hon. Members will forgive me if I give priority to it. There is a sentence in the Gracious Speech to the effect that the Government intend to introduce a Bill to replace the Distribution of Industry Acts. That will be welcomed by every hon. Member on this side of the House, and I shall be looking forward to the introduction of the Bill in order to see what its effect will be on my constituency, because up to now the Government have refused to include it in a Development Area. If they felt they had not sufficient cause for doing that in the past, I hope they will review the situation now because of the effects of the rundown of the cotton textile industry. The present situation in my constituency justifies its inclusion in the North East Lancashire Development Area. This proposed new Bill may wipe out the Development Areas or extend them—we do not know yet which it will be—but at any rate I hope that the new position of my constituency will be well borne in mind in the plans which the Government now propose.
Another constituency matter, but one which covers a wider area, arises in connection with water supplies. It may seem strange that there should be a water shortage in Lancashire, but there has been a very serious shortage, at any rate in parts of Lancashire recently, and I venture to suggest that this long, dry summer has shown up the chaotic state of water undertakings throughout the country. Whatever views the Government may have about the advantages or disadvantages of nationalising certain industries or public services, I cannot help thinking that even a Conservative Government will be forced to nationalise water in this country before very long. I do not think that such a step would meet with very much objection from their supporters.
Getting away from the purely constituency points, I am particularly interested in the sentence concerning the earnings rules for pensioners and widowed mothers being further relaxed. I suggest that the Government ought to take their courage in both hands and not just 82 relax these rules but wipe them out altogether. When we realise that pensioners from the Civil Service, the Forces and many parts of industry and the professions are able to take remunerative posts without it affecting their superannuation and pensions, it seems a little hard that the retirement pensioner must suffer a reduction if he or she earns a certain amount. Of course, this does nothing for the pensioners who are not in a position, either through illness or otherwise, to have other employment. An immediate increase for them is urgently necessary.
The Prime Minister a moment ago made a little addition to what is in the Queen's Speech. He referred to the sentence about special attention being given to the future of the aircraft industry. I noticed that he added the shipping industry. That leads me to say that if special assistance is required by these industries to maintain British prestige and perhaps to provide employment, I have no objection provided it is not done by way of unconditional gifts of money. If financial aid is to be given to these or any other industries, it should be given in exchange for shares in the industries. That is a fair proposition to which I hope the Government will give some attention.
Of course, the Government's ideas are all in the other direction. I noticed in the Sunday Express a week ago a very interesting article visualising the Government selling off the shares of the remaining companies which they control. This article may be a bit of kite-flying. I do not know—but it says:The last really big issue was that of the Steel Company of Wales, whose shares were offered to the public in 1957 at the knockdown figure of 20s. apiece. Now they stand at 45s. and the taxpayers have lost a potential profit of £40 million.I do not know how many taxpayers realised that when they swallowed Conservative propaganda about the evils of nationalisation during the election.
The debate on the Address is an opportunity for hon. Members to introduce many different subjects. I shall not abuse the privilege of having been called first by you, Mr. Speaker, by occupying too much time. But perhaps you will allow me to mention one or two relatively small subjects which may not be dealt with by other hon. Members. The first 83 concerns a suggestion made during the last Parliament arising out of certain incidents, namely, that there should be some way by which Ministers are answerable in this House for the actions or, indeed, inaction of the provincial police forces. It seems quite wrong that while we have the opportunity in this House of questioning anything that may happen in connection with the Metropolitan Police, we are not able to question anything that is done by a police chief outside the Metropolitan police district. I suggest that the Government should be able to give us the opportunity of raising questions on behalf of our constituents on that subject in this House.
Another omission from the Queen's Speech is the Gowers Committee's Report in reference to office workers. In the last Parliament there were many half-promises by the Government that something would be done to implement the remaining parts of the Report. I am rather shocked to find that there is nothing in the Gracious Speech on that subject. I call it to the Government's special attention in the hope that they will do something about it.
There is one matter on which I should like to offer a word of commendation to the last Government, and, indeed, to the new Government, and that is on their attitude towards the creation of life peerages. I have rather strong views about the composition of another place. I think it was a good step forward when the Government, recognising the completely illogical position of the hereditary system, started the scheme of life peerages. The present Government have gone a step further by using this system of life peerages to continue in office one of the members of the Government who lost his seat at the election. I think that is all to the good. I hope that all future peerages are life peerages, so that we shall gradually do away with the stupid system of people being able to sit in another place just because one of their ancestors sat there.
Finally, I want to mention a small point in connection with our domestic life in this building. I mentioned how we could not raise Questions about the provincial police. Another matter on which we cannot get a Question past the Table concerns the running of this building. The 84 fact that it is a Royal Palace precludes hon. Members from raising Questions which they might feel it necessary to raise about the domestic arrangements in this building. That seems to me to be quite wrong. If there is a legitimate point to be raised, I think we should have the opportunity of raising it.
I should like to say a word about the last sentence of the Gracious Speech, before the Blessing, which says:Other Measures will be laid before you in due course.That may be a little ominous. I remember that sentence appearing in previous Gracious Speeches. It gives the Government an opportunity to introduce legislation, which may be quite contentious, about something which they had not mentioned at the election and is not mentioned in the Gracious Speech. In the last Parliament, for example, the Government brought in the Rent Act, which not only was not mentioned in the previous Queen's Speech, but about which we had been given a promise that such legislation would not be introduced. I hope that this sentence about other Measures being laid before us in due course does not envisage that kind of contentious legislation suddenly being brought before us when the Government have no mandate to do so.
With these few preliminary remarks, I approach the future debates arising from the Queen's Speech with great interest. I hope that they will all be directed towards improving the employment position in this country and gradually ensuring a rising standard of living for our people.
§ 4.29 p.m.
§ Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr)
I now find myself, I understand, in the position of being the deputy Father of the House and, therefore, I should like to take this opportunity of adding my congratulations to those which have already been offered so felicitously from the other benches to the mover and seconder of the reply to the Address.
I was particularly pleased to find in the Gracious Speech that there was no mention of nationalisation and I am glad that the Prime Minister happily expressed that in his concluding remarks. I thought that after the General Election nationalisation, as an issue, was dead, and that it would certainly no longer be 85 a controversial matter between us. Now, to my intense surprise, it has reared its ugly head again, so I propose to say a few words about it and also how it has affected Scotland and my own constituency, Ayr.
When nationalisation was first introduced by the Labour Party I felt no very strong opposition to it, and for one very good reason. For about half a century it had been offered by the Labour Party, held out as a sort of panacea, as the cure for all industrial ills and, indeed, many social ones, too. Therefore, I felt that the people would not be satisfied until it had been given a fair trial. However, I believed that the policy should, so to speak, be restricted to the services in our social system. I did not think that it should be adapted to the competitive industries of the country. At the same time, I realised that coal was a sick industry at the time—indeed, it has been for years—and, therefore, that it might be worth while to take the risk with coal as well.
The odd part of this business is that, like many other theoretical policies, it just has not worked. We are told that B.O.A.C. has again this year incurred a substantial loss of £5 million as against the figure last year of £3 million. The railways are "in the red" to the extent of £89 million, and whereas before the war, or before nationalisation, every ton of coal mined in this country was sold and upwards of 16 million to 20 million tons exported as well, today, according to the figures given quite recently in the Press, we have 34 million tons of deep-mined coal which, apparently, it is impossible either to sell or to export. That is despite the fact that we have poured about £500 million into the industry in an attempt to modernise and re-equip it.
I admit that social habits and customs have changed, that there is now developing a favour for liquid fuels. But, at the same time, I cannot believe that if this industry were under private control, and private enterprise, and if the livelihood of the people responsible for selling the coal depended on their selling it, they would not have found, by experiment and research, a method of putting to use this fantastic surplus which we have. We all know that it is an admirable mineral, yet there it is, 86 stocking up all over the country, and apparently no one has the determination to get rid of it.
If a method could be found to dispose of this vast surplus it would give our miners not only secure employment, but a sense of belonging to an industry that was moving, that was alive. At present, they have not got that feeling. During the recent General Election a miner friend of mine, who was operating at the count in support of my opponent, said, "I am afraid that it is a dying industry." I said, "I cannot believe that." Yet there he was, a miner of experience speaking.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
Does the hon. Member attribute the difficulties of the cotton industry to nationalisation?
§ Sir T. Moore
I am dealing with the coal industry at the moment. The cotton industry has no direct impact either on Scotland or on my constituency, but coal has, and that is why I am dealing particularly with coal.
There is another feature about this unhappy business. It is that the Government of the day are now identified in the minds of the public with the nationalised industries, in this case the National Coal Board.
§ Sir T. Moore
Whatever the Coal Board does, or does not do, the Government—and I supporting the Government—are held to blame. Indeed, another old miner friend of mine—I have many who consistently vote against me—said, "We all know that nationalisation has proved a failure, but what are you doing about it? You have been in power eight years now. What are you going to do to rescue the industry?" It was no use my pointing out the fact that we are investing £500 million in the industry. That did not cut any ice. He could not see the £500 million, but he could see, or hear, about pits all round him being closed. That is what has thrown a blight upon the industry.
Despite the amount of over £500 million which is being spent to modernise the railway system, there does not seem to be any improvement. We are getting 87 nothing out of it. There is no improvement in the train times and the employees are not more content. Compartments are not any cleaner. It is the same with coal; it is no better—it is certainly not cheaper. I think £9 a ton was the last price I read about.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
Is the hon. Member aware that the output per man-shift among British miners is higher than ever it was, and is now higher than in any other country in Europe?
§ Sir T. Moore
I believe that that is true, but I do not see how it affects my argument. I am putting to the Government the question posed by my friend the miner, and I am asking what is the answer. What are they going to do about it, since they are held responsible for the action, or lack of action, for the sins of omission or commission of the Coal Board? I am putting that question now to the Government Front Bench and I hope that it will find its way to the proper source.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
Will not the hon. Gentleman at least concede that for the last five years, at any rate, the Government, backed by their supporters in this House, have done nothing but sneer and jeer at the nationalised industries? How does he expect that those industries can command the support of the Government?
§ Sir T. Moore
We have always made it perfectly clear, both from the Government Front Bench and from the back benches, that we are totally opposed to the policy of nationalisation. But since nationalisation has now been put into effect we are trying to do the best for the nationalised industries by a proper system of investment.
As was mentioned by the Prime Minister, another General Election will come in due course, and one thing which we have to bear in mind is that we shall not be able again to go to the country and blame the Socialist-sponsored National Coal Board for a policy such as is now operating. We have to face the reality that by then we shall have been in office for about thirteen years and it may be that we shall have done nothing about it. Therefore, I say that we must do something and that it is up to the present 88 Government to find an answer to the question which I have put to them. The miners themselves will demand an answer and in this instance I think that the public will be behind the miners.
Now I come to the effect on my own constituency of the policy of nationalisation by the party opposite. The harbour at Ayr has been adapted to handle 2 million tons of coal a year, which means the transportation of the whole of the output of the Ayr coalfield to its traditional market in Northern Ireland. Two or three weeks before the election I heard a rumour that this trade was to be diverted from Ayr by the Coal Board. I wrote to Lord Mills, who was then Minister of Power, and he promptly passed on the responsibility to Sir James Bowman, the Chairman of the Board.
I then heard very courteously from Sir James, who wrote giving me confirmation of the rumour I had heard, but also giving me the most odd justification for his proposed action. He said, in effect, that he had to look at the British mining industry as a whole and not take any particular care or thought for, or give special consideration to, Scotland. He went on to point out that then there were 25 million tons of surplus unsold coal being stocked all over the country and he said that of that 25 million tons 8 million tons were stocked in the East Midlands area, whereas only 85,000 tons were stocked in the Ayrshire coalfields. For that reason he was going to bring about all the tragedies which are now taking place.
Now Ayrshire will have its coal exports stopped, Ayrshire coal will be stocked up, Ayrshire pits will be closed down. Ayrshire miners will be thrown out of a job, and the harbour will become idle and derelict. I do not know why this has to be. I suppose that it is to save the face of the Coal Board and to satisfy the somewhat inhuman analysis of Sir James Bowman of the coal position.
I am not going to speak any longer, because I know that a number of other hon. Members want to speak, but I do not think that either Ayrshire or Scottish people will have it that way. We demand, and, I think, quite reasonably—the votes cast and the majorities lowered in Ayrshire at the last General Election show that we are right and 89 justified in making this demand—that the Government, and the Secretary of State for Scotland particularly, shall not only show that justice is being done to Scotland, but let justice be seen to be done to all the people there. It is no use a Minister getting up and talking about the new steel strip mill, the bridges and tunnels, the atomic stations at Dounreay and Hunterston, for they have not yet made their impact on our Scottish economy. What we want is something to be done, and done quickly, for our oldest industry, coal, and, perhaps I should add, my own constituency and its oldest Member. I hope that the Government will remember these points.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)
It is always interesting to hear the views of the deputy Father of the House, as we must now call him. When he is not wanting to flog other things, he seems to want to flog a dead horse. I submit, that on this occasion in flogging denationalisation of coal he is really flogging a dead horse.
§ Sir T. Moore
I have not advocated that. I have not advocated anything, but I have asked the Government to take some action to get rid of this 25 million tons of surplus coal we have in the country.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
I am sure it was my fault if I assumed that the hon. Member at one stage seemed to be coming near the suggestion that coal should be denationalised. If the industry is denationalised by the present Government, I hope it will not be the bogus denationalisation which has happened in the steel industry. In that industry there is little private enterprise left. The bulk of the capital is left in public hands and people are strutting about in the industry pretending that it is a private enterprise industry. We have heard of evils which follow from nationalisation, but the steel industry at present is unable to satisfy the need of the home trade for sheet steel and had to bring in the excuse to Vauxhall Motors that it was particularly affected because of its American connections. Why did it have to go to America for steel? It was because there was not enough steel here. That is a very sad commentary on the present régime in the steel industry, which I am quite sure has 90 not been lost on those working in the industry.
Of course, the hon. Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) is entitled to go on adding his little quota to the propaganda which seeks to suggest that nationalisation must be inefficient and ineffective.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
The facts show just the opposite. Nationalisation has been singularly successful wherever it has been tried in this country, and there are outstanding examples abroad in the motor industry, where two firms which are completely nationalised are sweeping the world, Renault and Volkswagen. I simply fail to understand the logic of the hon. Member's argument when we consider the French railways, which are not privately owned but are nationally controlled and probably the best in the world. It cannot be argued that nationalisation or national control must necessarily be wrong, ineffective and inefficient. There may be methods of taking national control which are not as good as other methods, as the hon. Member was right to stress. That must be faced and we must find the best possible means of dealing with these industries. I hope that the Government will do that, and that the hon. Member will continue to press them on it.
I do not wish to talk at great length, least of all on this subject, but I wish to refer to a statement which occurs very early in the Gracious Speech of which I, and I believe nearly everyone in the House, approve most heartily:My Government will work in the closest collaboration with the Governments of the Commonwealth in all matters which contribute to peace.On this side of the House and, I am sure, on the benches opposite—although possibly by different means—we are quite determined to do all we can to strengthen the Commonwealth. We believe in it. We find it extremely hard to see a way in which the Commonwealth could work for evil, but we find many ways in which it could work for good, perhaps most of all in the direction of making a bridge between East and West in the old sense of those words, not East and West in the modern jargon thinking of Moscow and Washington. This is an extremely important function and nothing should be left undone in my 91 view, nor, I believe, in the view of hon. Members opposite, in seeing that that bridge is constantly strengthened and utilised.
I have one or two small suggestions I wish to put to the House on this matter of strengthening the Commonwealth. From time to time we have a Commonwealth Conference. Must it always be held in London? Would it not be a good thing for that Conference to go on circuit round the Commonwealth? It is not held very often but it would be a tremendous advantage and would strengthen the whole idea of the Commonwealth in any country where that conference might be held. I can imagine it being held with tremendous advantage—not only to the Commonwealth but to the world as a whole—in New Delhi. I very much hope the Government will bear this in mind when deciding where the next Commonwealth Conference should take place. There does not seem any adequate reason for insisting that it must be held in this country.
In a smaller but nevertheless fairly important way, I think something should be done with reference to the Privy Council. It really is not practical politics to expect people to go on bringing appeals to this country from right across the world, with all the difficulties which that entails, particularly for the legal profession—who, after all, cannot be quite dispensed with in our litigation—and many other people, lay clients not the least.
In these days of easier travel, if the Privy Council could go on circuit round the Commonwealth I believe all the members of the Commonwealth would be extremely anxious to take advantage of its services whereas at present the tendency is in the opposite direction. That would be a bond strengthening the Commonwealth because the common law is something of which people in the newer countries of the Commonwealth are extremely proud. They want to keep it they want to develop it in a uniform and authoritative manner.
I believe that could be done if the suggestion were adopted that the Privy Council should go on circuit round the Commonwealth. It is surely no more difficult now for judges, even though they are advanced in years, to go occasionally around the Commonwealth countries 92 than it is for them to go on circuit in this country. It would be wonderful if this could be done and I hope that the Government will bear it in mind; I hope that at the next Commonwealth Conference they will make this suggestion to our fellow-members of the Commonwealth.
Some people think that our efforts towards independence in the Commonwealth have gone much too far in some places and that they always go much too fast. I submit that in this matter of bringing independence to countries in the Commonwealth which have not yet achieved it, we have to go too fast. We have to go faster than it appears to some of us to be safe to go, because if we do not, we have on our hands insurrections, revolutions and rebellions, with which we are not prepared to deal by force.
Many people go further and say, "Look what happens to democracy when independence is given to certain dependent territories." I think it possible that great risks are taken when independence is granted to dependent territories—great risks from the point of view of democracy. I do not profess to be at all happy with the way things have gone in Ghana, for instance, although I am convinced that in the end they will work out all right even there. If there have been faults, to a large extent they have been our faults because we did not do what was necessary to secure democracy once independence had been given.
There are a number of things which we could have done, as is within the recollection of many hon. Members of the last Parliament. Since Nigeria is mentioned in the Gracious Speech, I should like to make a suggestion: it is essential, if democracy is to exist in a new country, such as Nigeria, that the Opposition should be effective. For one reason or another, into which we need not enter, the Opposition in Ghana has not been effective.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
Much of it is in prison, but apart from what the Government have done, the Opposition itself was singularly ineffective Parliamentarily even before it was put in prison.
I believe that we could have done at least one thing to help. This is worth considering in respect of Nigeria and any 93 other countries which are moving towards independence. How can an Opposition, particularly in a new country, be expected to match the performance of Ministers who are backed by civil servants and who even have their speeches prepared for them by civil servants? Could we not, before we leave, arrange that in an emergent territory there is a secretariat, possibly quite small, devoted to helping the Opposition—a permanent body, whichever party is in opposition. Opposition Members would then be well informed by trained civil servants. It might well be that their speeches would be prepared for them. It would be all to the good in the working of Parliament in that country. This is a small suggestion which might be considered before it is too late, even in Nigeria. I am certain that everyone wants to ensure not only that the Commonwealth is strong but also that it is democratic.
The Commonwealth can make an immense contribution not only to democracy but to the peace of the world. I hope that the Government will pay attention to the suggestion which I have made and see whether things like these could be done. They might help towards the maintenance of democracy in our emergent territories and secure the main objects to which the Commonwealth is devoted.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
I do not want to follow too far the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu), but I should like to comment on his remarks about the French railways. Although they have been very greatly improved, the French railways have been improved largely through the aid received from America. Today they are not paying; in fact, they are making extremely heavy losses, about which the French themselves are worried. Their neighbours in Holland, on the other hand, have rehabilitated their railways. The Dutch railways are the only railways in Europe which are paying at the moment, and they can hardly be said to be nationalised; it is merely a case of the Government owning all the shares of a private company. There is no Parliamentary control. I do not want to pursue that 94 argument, but I wanted to put that on record.
All my hon. Friends will welcome the Gracious Speech, and I feel sure that many of our constituents will be very interested in it. My constituents in Cornwall will be particularly interested in the references to Measures to deal with local unemployment, and they will be particularly impressed by the speed with which my right hon. Friends have implemented their promise that they would deal with this matter at an early date.
The question of local unemployment as it affects Cornwall has been very much exaggerated by the Labour Party. Nevertheless, there have been patches of quite local unemployment in certain places, mostly in towns which could be described as one-industry towns. Examples are St. Austell, which depends on china clay, Camborne, which depends on mining machinery, and Falmouth, which depends on ship repairing.
The china clay industry is very prosperous at present, and we have every reason to hope that it will continue to be prosperous, because its opportunities for overseas exports have been considerably improved by the building of the St. Lawrence Seaway, which will enable its products to be shipped to the centre of America without transhipment. The other industries which I have mentioned, however, are subject to fluctuation from time to time.
In a one-industry town where there are fluctuations in the sales of its products, it is inevitable that there must be small patches of local unemployment from time to time. The obvious answer is a greater diversification of industry by the introduction of small, light industries. In Cornwall we have cheap land, suitable sites and a surplus of labour, but existing legislation has not proved sufficient to make any appreciable difference in solving this problem by attracting light industry. We hope that the new legislation will prove more effective. It will not do so unless it is considerably different from the present legislation. I hope that not only will it provide for the clearing of sites in order to attract industry to particular localities, but that it will also provide grants as well as loans to those who might start new industries, because loans 95 are not enough to encourage anyone who is starting a new industry or a branch of an existing industry away from existing conurbations. If we expect a manufacturer to place his factory a long distance from the centres of population, we are expecting quite a lot of him. We must give him some substantial attraction to make him consider such a move.
There are many reasons, economic, ethical, cultural and even strategic, why we should encourage industry to be spread away from the main centres of population, but there has to be some extra inducement before any result is likely to be achieved by legislation. In any case, I do not think that this legislation by itself will be enough to make a large number of industries go to a place as distant as Cornwall. For that reason, I was glad to see that the next paragraph of the Gracious Speech refers to the building of new highways and improving existing roads and to the further modernisation of the railways.
Immediately before the General Election, the then Minister of Transport indicated that it was intended to press forward with the completion of the network of five major road construction schemes which, taken together, would form the basis of further road development. I saw the Birmingham motorway several times during its construction, and I travelled along considerable parts of it, when it was nearly completed, before the Summer Recess. I have no hesitation in saying that it compares very favourably with any motorways in Europe. In fact, it is the best I have seen in Europe, and I have seen most of them. If the standards of the other motorways and major roads are as good, we shall have made a very good beginning.
Shortly before the Summer Recess, I heard that some preliminary work had been done on planning a motorway additional to the five that have been mentioned—that a motorway from Bristol to Exeter was at least in contemplation. I hope that that work will proceed, as it would have economic effects reaching far beyond the territory over which it ran—particularly for us in Cornwall. Already, Cornwall sends very large quantities of horticultural products 96 and flowers to the Midlands. The only real limit on that trade is the difficulty of getting the produce over very long distances of very overcrowded roads to the Midlands. A Bristol-Exeter motorway would lead to a very considerable expansion of that trade. It would also be of very considerable interest to the china clay industry, which sends large quantities of its products from St. Austell to Stoke-on-Trent, and substantial quantities to Runcorn for export.
Most of all, such a motorway would shorten the time of the journey to the Midlands and would prove a substantial help in attracting new light industries to Cornwall. At present, the chief difficulty is not so much that people are not prepared to spend money on factories a long way from their existing works, but that it takes so long for managing directors or chief executives to travel from one point to another. They are just not prepared to spend the three days now necessary for them to make the journey—a day going, a day staying and a day to return.
I have not forgotten the latter part of the paragraph which refers to an improvement in the railways and the continuation of their modernisation. As hon. Members know, I was once in the railway service myself. I have many friends still in it, and many also in the haulage industry. I find that they take rather contrary views of the subject. Some rail-waymen are inclined to say that the Government are doing too much to encourage wasteful competition on the roads. On the other hand, some road hauliers are inclined to complain that the Government are subsidising unfair competition by the railways.
I think that both criticisms are wrong. In an expanding economy, there is room for both road and rail transport, and it is a good thing that the customer should have an ample choice between the two. Moreover, both railwaymen and road hauliers are wrong in assuming that each is the other's chief competitor. Both suffer severe competition from C-licence vehicles.
The recent survey of C-licence vehicles published by the Traders' Road Transport Association makes it quite clear that manufacturers and traders do not spend their capital on such an ancillary service merely out of pique. They do so 97 because they can thereby provide themselves with a better service than they can at present get from public transport, either by road or by rail, particularly with regard to the certainty of timing of delivery and the avoidance of breakages and of pilferage in transit. Any improvement of the railway service in that respect would discourage manufacturers from providing their own vehicles and would encourage their return to rail transport. I have known of cases where former C-licence holders have returned to rail transport when the service improved.
Far from being annoyed that the Government should be making efforts to improve the railways, the road hauliers should be rather pleased about it, because to the extent that the C-licence user is encouraged to go back to the railways he is leaving more room on the existing highways. That leads to the relief of congestion there. Nor is such a partial return to rail transport really to the detriment of the road haulier, because he has still plenty of other opportunities to provide services that the railways cannot provide. For instance, if the freight has to be delivered without handling the railways find door-to-door deliveries impossible except by means of containers, but the road haulier has no difficulty.
Improvements in both road and rail transport are very vital to my constituents in connection with the encouragament of the diversification of industry in Cornwall and, for that and for other reasons, I welcome the Gracious Speech.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)
The Prime Minister had a right to enjoy his triumph today, and nobody on this side can complain either of his enjoying his victory at the polls or of the way in which he made his speech. As I listened to him, I felt that his speech, like the Gracious Speech, reflected the confidence—natural enough—of the Conservative Party. It reflected that pride in the inner self for which the Greeks had a word of sinister connotation—hubris—pride could go no further. An American Secretary once said: "What's good for General Motors is good for America." The Prime Minister has persuaded the majority of the electorate that what is good for the Stock Exchange is good for Britain.
98 In this moment of Tory triumph, however, it is worth remembering that in 1945 the Tories suffered a defeat compared with which their present victory is but a minor one. They then lost 145 seats, and had never really been out of power before. Yet Conservatism was bound to survive, and revive, and the Gracious Speech is a measure of that revival. The Opposition have much to learn both from that revival and from the Gracious Speech.
First, it seems to be a matter of historical fact that the Tories went in for an internal audit. They discarded some of their old Conservatism, and even persuaded hon. Members like the deputy Father of the House to abandon many of the ideas they had advocated in the years before the war. They made concessions to the demands of this age for social security and an advance towards democratic education—although we are yet a very long way from really democratic education and from the equality of educational opportunity.
Despite all the anti-nationalisation propaganda from the hustings during the recent General Election—a further taste of which we have just had from the hon. Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) this afternoon—the Gracious Speech makes no proposals to denationalise electricity, gas, coal or the railways; or that part of the nationalised road haulage system which even the late Government could not sell back to private enterprise. Incidentally, this Gracious Speech falls down, because it makes no mention of a fuel policy to link together those great nationalised industries supplying energy to the British people and that new competitor from overseas—oil.
There is no proposal in the Gracious Speech to denationalise the Health Service or to hand over National Insurance to the Prudential. The Gracious Speech concedes whole sections of the programme of Keir Hardie, even though private enterprise has a 100 majority in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister was right in quoting Sir William Harcourt, and Sir William Harcourt was right when he said, "We are all Socialists now."
Both sides accept—this side with eagerness, the other side with less relish—whole chunks of Socialism. Yet in 99 opposition the Conservative Party fought bitterly almost every Measure that the Socialist Government from 1945 to 1950 tried to carry out. It resisted the establishment of some of the most excellent features of the Welfare State, which it now concedes and which at least some of its members administer with great enthusiasm.
Underneath the complacent words of the Queen's Speech remains the basic purpose of the Government—to resist what I believe to be the inevitable advance of mankind towards Socialism; to hang on to as many of the social inequalities as can be preserved in a modern society; to preserve as much as it can the Establishment; and to serve, as the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) said long years ago that the Tory Party always did serve, the vested interests of the country.
No doubt there has been a struggle inside the Conservative Party in the last few years, which may intensify even now. Under the impetus of the very powerful Parliamentary majority which the Government have it may lead them to forget that they still represent just under one-half of the British electorate. That struggle inside the Conservative Party has been marked by a feature to which I pay across the Floor of the House a very sincere tribute. That struggle has been marked by an intense class loyalty, a loyalty to which Galsworthy paid a judicious tribute in one play with that title. Suez rebels may be dismissed in Bournemouth or become Ministers of the Government in Birmingham.
Cyprus may be told yesterday that she can never be independent and yet be welcomed today in the Gracious Speech as a new Republic. The United Nations may be flouted over Suez and yet be paid homage in the Gracious Speech today. Whatever happens inside the Conservative Party the Government can rely on the solid loyalty of all their members, and the unity of the Conservative Party remains.
I hope that the Opposition will learn from all this. Just as Conservatism does not change fundamentally, neither does the Labour Party change in its battle to end unjust inequality, to end the poverty of the poorest and to end the rich 100 rewards often given by society to those who serve society least, and sometimes not at all. Neither does the Labour Party change in its determination to plan Britain's economic resources to serve Britain best, even if that plan conflicts with private profit making, in a country where the nationalised industries have already proved that they do not let the country down.
I noticed that in giving his figures the hon. Member for Ayr quoted those nationalised industries which were at present showing a loss. The hon. Member neglected to say that the whole of the nationalised industries taken over by the Labour Government now show a combined profit. There is not a word in the Gracious Speech about the need for planning the best use of our resources in. a world where nationalisation in our country has not proved a failure. Nationalisation in the Soviet Union can hardly be regarded as a failure when State planning has sent the first rocket to the moon, produced today dramatic photographs for the first time in the world's history of the other side of the moon, talks tomorrow of damming the Bering Strait and altering the whole of the climate of the Arctic.
The basic principles of the Opposition cannot change. It is very interesting to note the number of undertakers from the opposite benches and from other political parties who are always prepared to officiate at the funeral of the Labour Party. The Leader of the Opposition was right when he said, as many people have said, that in the Opposition we must do what the Tory Party has done, namely, some hard thinking, not about our basic principles, but about their practical application at any moment of time and about getting them over to the public without the financial resources of the Conservative Party. The only reference I want to make to the General Election is that the public relations of getting over to the public the conception of what the Tory Party wanted the people to think was the real thing which won the General Election for the Conservative Party. The Labour Party must improve its public relations. Above all, it must do what the Tory Party did in Opposition. It must fight every inch in Parliament. I am very glad that we have opened in that spirit today from both 101 sides of the House. The Labour Party must also seek to copy the virtue which I have come to admire in the benches opposite—team loyalty and the acceptance of the principles of leadership.
The Gracious Speech almost ignores every one of the problems that I met during my election campaign which, if possible, strengthened my faith in Socialism. I think of a good honest British woman, bringing up her children in a poor street in Southampton, in a house without either bath or electricity, who said, "Neither party does anything for us". Incidentally, that was not true about either party in the House of Commons. The circumstances in which she lived made me feel that she had a right to complain that politics had done very little for her.
I think of another house in Southampton where the landlord had not raised the rent because, if he had done so, he would have been served with a certificate of disrepair and would have had almost to pull the house down and start all over again. Therefore, he chose to let the tenant live in a squalid house.
I think of the unprotected families in decontrolled houses who came to me during the election, as they have come to me ever since the passing of the Rent Act, who have exhausted their benefits under the Rent Acts, have had their extension of time from the county court, and now one by one face eviction, especially if they have been unable to persuade their in-laws to take them in.
I think of the unemployed at the Albert Road Employment Exchange who resented very much the Prime Minister's description of the present situation as being one of full employment. I think of men who wait for a chance of a day's casual work at the docks in Southampton in all kinds of weather without any shelter. Mostly I found older men. As unemployment increases it is the older men who find it harder to take up a job. I ask the Minister of Labour to consider whether it is possible to provide adequate shelter for those who have to sign on at employment exchanges or wait outside the docks in inclement weather.
As I canvassed I went into the neat and tidy homes of the poor, but wonderfully proud, old-age pensioners, who 102 need and ought to have real help from this Parliament before winter comes. I believe that what the Gracious Speech ought to have contained was, first, a programme which would give us more houses to rent, houses to rent at reasonable rents, which I regard as one of the country's greatest needs. The Government must get down the price of money. The burden of usury has added to the rent of every council house in the country and has made some local authorities stop building any more council houses because each new house costs so much in financial servicing today as to add to the rent of all the other council houses owned by a local authority.
I am glad that my own borough council, despite the opposition of the Conservative Party element on the council, is continuing to build new houses, although these must mean increased rents for all its council house tenants.
I am sorry that the Gracious Speech contains no reference to the Rent Act. It is continuing its work of causing distress to those who have been turned out of decontrolled houses. I now see that the next group to be affected will be those who will be faced with similar distress at the end of the three years' agreement that they drew up under duress with their landlords. The Rent Act has failed to do what the Government said it would do—release houses for rent. Every hon. Member of the House has to deal week by week with people seeking houses to let and yet every town in the country has hundreds of empty houses up for sale.
I am glad, incidentally, that the Gracious Speech by its silence on this matter honours the pledge given by the Prime Minister that he would not decontrol the 4 million to 5 million other privately rented houses. The power to do so remains in the parent Act, and I only hope that the Prime Minister can be much more loyal to his promise in this matter than earlier Conservatives were in the promises they made about food subsidies and about increasing the value of the £ on which they won the 1950 election.
Unemployment is still one of Southampton's major problems.
§ Dr. King
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman opposite finds the condition of unemployment something to sneer about. I would only hope that at some time he would come to the employment exchange at Southampton and sneer there to the men who have been waiting for work for quite a time now.
We take little comfort from the fact that unemployment in the Southampton area still stands at 2,837. There are certain disquieting features. One is the steady shortage of work in the ship-repairing industry. I was very glad to hear the Prime Minister refer to that matter today. I urge the Government to get down to the basic problem of the shrinkage both of the shipbuilding and ship-repairing industries. Again, I would appeal to British shipbuilders not to take their ships abroad for repair, often to ports where concealed subsidies may be making the job cheaper, but to remember that their first duty is to the sister industry of the shipbuilding industry, the ship-repairing industry.
We are a maritime nation. In shipbuilding and ship repairing we are second to none, but as things are several branches of the ship-repairing industry are facing what is for the trade unions or the crafts concerned unemployment on a scale which is really equivalent to the kind of unemployment that existed between the wars.
I welcome the reference to the aircraft industry. It comes almost too late. Britain is at present allowing the skill of some 100,000 aircraft workers to be dispersed. I want to pay tribute to the captains of the aircraft industry who are doing everything they can to find new jobs on which to employ their skilled labour, on the one hand, and their factory space on the other. I hope that the Government will do much more to help the aircraft industry in working its way from the swollen condition which existed in the past to the new size that it has to be.
The gravest omission from the Gracious Speech is the lack of a promise to raise at once the old-age pension. I hope that the Opposition will fight to achieve what they would have carried 104 out had they been sitting on the benches opposite and had it been their Gracious Speech. We will do whatever we can to persuade the Government to raise the old-age pension and to give similar increases in unemployment relief and National Assistance.
I wish finally to refer briefly to widows. I do not want to repeat the pleas that I have made at great length in the House on behalf of the widows of this country. I welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to the new modification of the earnings allowance for all pensioners. I know that that will benefit widows. I do not here want to deal with the 10s. widow, with the no shillings widow or with the problem of the widowed mother.
I wish to put forward one new aspect which was brought very much to my notice during the recent General Election. Widows who go out to work—war widows who receive a pension because they gave their husbands to the country—have their pensions regarded for Income Tax purposes as unearned income. They may be working side by side in the office with married women who have husbands. This matter has been brought to my notice again and again not merely by widows but by employers of married women. From a fiscal point of view such war widows are at a disadvantage compared with the married women with whom they may be working.
I would hope that one thing that we could persuade Parliament to do would be to recognise that a woman who has given her husband to the preserving of this country's freedom has earned the pension she receives from the State and that we should regard the war widow's pension, and, indeed, any widow's pension, as earned income in calculating Income Tax.
There are many other things that I would like to say about the Gracious Speech, but I am certain that during the debate it will be made quite clear from this side of the House that, whatever wishful thinking there is in various parts of the country, the Labour Party is fully alive, is not dismayed by its defeat in the General Election and looks forward at the earliest possible moment to moving over to the other side of the House.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Brigadier Sir Otho Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
I have listened to the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) many times during our debates. He is one of those people to whom I would rather listen than I would to many of his colleagues. However, on this occasion I do not think that he rose to the heights to which he normally rises. No doubt when the dust of the General Election and his own election speeches has settled we shall once again hear from him the sort of contributions to which we have become accustomed.
I would say only one thing to the hon. Gentleman about the old-age pension. It has always been a mystery to me that the party opposite during all the time that it was in opposition was not considering what it would put into its election manifesto and why it did not think of a 10s. increase in the old-age pension until after the recent election started.
§ Mrs. Harriet Slater (Stoke-on-Trent North)
Does not the hon. and gallant Gentleman know that during the Committee stage of the Pensions Bill this matter was raised repeatedly by hon. Members of the Labour Party?
§ Sir O. Prior-Palmer
The hon. Member for Itchen also mentioned council houses. There is one thing that could be done in this respect, and I think that I shall get the hon. Gentleman's agreement about it. Why do not some of the local councils take much stronger steps to remove from council houses people on a higher income level who have no right to occupy them at all? It is really a disgrace to see, as I did recently, a Jaguar car standing outside a council house. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Because the house is intended for a person in the lower income group who cannot afford a Jaguar. A man who can afford a Jaguar can also afford either to buy his own house or to pay a higher rent.
I now want to raise a matter about which I have spoken many times in the 106 House. I warn the Government that I am going to be a nuisance about it, and that I will continue to be a nuisance about it until something is done. I refer to the new poor of this country, the people who have worked hard all their lives and for whom in the past it was the fashion to save for their old age, who have no pension schemes of any sort and who are today trying to live on their savings in face of the fall in the value of the £ and the results of inflation which we know only too well.
There is a group of people in this country which cannot be helped by lowering Income Tax because they do not pay it and their income is just high enough to prevent their applying for National Assistance. It is extremely hard to know how we can help these people, but there are thousands who go without a meal a day in order to try to live I know many of them personally. I hope that the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance and the Chancellor of the Exchequer will get together to see what they can do for these very deserving people who have served their country well.
I should like to make one or two suggestions. First, let us see whether we can reduce to 60 the age for the payment of post-war credits, although I know that the age has recently been reduced to 63. Would it not be possible to lower the limit to the retirement age of a man, which is 60?
The other thing with which I am very much impressed concerns the burden of local rates. As we all know, by far the greatest proportion of the rates goes towards education. The people about whom I am talking, because it was the fashion in their day, paid for the education of their own children and are now paying for the education of other people's children through the rates. Furthermore, it may be said that one's house is rated on its size and therefore the richer person pays more, but it is not in that proportion. The burden falls extremely heavily upon these people and every rise in the rates is a death blow. Would it not be possible for people who are educating their own children and are paying for the education of others to obtain some kind of Income Tax relief?
There is, I believe, something which is even more important. Why should 107 not we at least consider imposing a local Income Tax in place of the ordinary rate system? Such a system would be much more equitable and fair, and I think that it would not be too difficult to administer.
I hope that hon. Members will not shout at me about my next proposal. I believe that people who are paying for their own medical services through a private doctor and are at the same time paying for the social services should be allowed to have at least their drugs from a chemist free of charge, just like anybody else under the National Health Service.
§ Dr. Edith Summerskill (Warrington)
Does not the hon. and gallant Gentleman realise that if we were to allow the private patient to have free drugs, as he suggests—and, as he knows, it has been suggested before by representatives of the Government—that must destroy the National Health Service because it will immediately create two classes of patient? I have listened to the speeches of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, and I am sure that he would be the last person to advocate that.
§ Sir O. Prior-Palmer
I would only say this to the right hon. Lady, without continuing the argument too far. We already have two classes of patient: first, the patient who pays his doctor; and, secondly, the patient who is under the National Health Service. I am afraid that I do not see the point made by the right hon. Lady.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. and gallant Gentleman again, but I want to scotch this. If there are two patients who are entitled to treatment under the National Health Service, the doctor, on seeing one, will know that he will be paid and he will prescribe drugs for that patient free. The next patient will not give the doctor a fee, but he will still get his drugs free of charge. I know the medical profession well enough to say that all doctors are not so noble as not to feel, perhaps, that they should give the patient who pays a little more attention than the patient who does not pay. That is what I mean when I talk about creating two classes of patient.
§ Sir O. Prior-Palmer
I take the right hon. Lady's point. She knows far more 108 about this matter than I do, but I would not say that the standard of honesty, or whatever one likes to call it, is as low as that. I do not believe that it has ever been suggested that that might happen. I only say, could not the suggestion be looked at? Let us impose a means test, if we like, but these people need help, and I am merely trying to suggest various ways in which they may be helped.
Another thing which affects these people as much as anything else concerns Government stock and the value at which it stands today. Every £100 of War Loan is worth about £68, and £100 worth of Daltons' 2½ per cent. stock stands at about £24 10s. It was the fashion to invest in gilt-edged security. Hon. Members opposite make this mistake so often, but it is largely the small investor who invested in gilt-edged securities. The big companies do not invest in them; they invest in equity stock. Industrial equities have risen three times in value since 1935 and by so doing have offset the fall in the value of the £. Exactly the reverse process has taken place in connection with Government securities.
It was suggested in one of our newspapers only the day before yesterday that the time has come for the Government to put a date on these stocks—for example, 30 years from now. The immediate rise in price of the stock would give back to these people the capital which they have lost. One of the arguments against this is that anyone who invested in them recently would make an immediate capital gain and that would be unfair, but the number of people who have done that lately is so small that it does not matter, and it would immensely help the people about whom I am talking.
I was very interested in a programme on television only the night before last, and I should like to endorse wholeheartedly what Sir Tom Williams and Mr. Cousins said on that programme, with Lord Boothby in the chair. I implore the captains of industry to do just a little more to help the leaders in the trade union movement who are endeavouring to stamp out the subversive elements in their ranks and to deal with unofficial strikes. I suggest that there should be a continuity or 109 security of tenure of employment for older employees. If a man has served a firm well for 10, 12 or 15 years, I do not think it is good enough for him to be dismissed on a fortnight's notice, and I urge that something should be done about it.
The other thing which I suggest should be done is this. Some firms are doing it already, but I do not see why other firms should not follow suit. Trade unions should be allowed to have their branch meetings during working hours. It is no good holding branch meetings on Saturday afternoons or evenings, when there are football matches on or there is something good on television. No one, except the fanatics, will attend the meetings. If meetings are held during working hours, they will be supported. I hope that any trade unionist present will forgive me if he thinks that I am lecturing, but this is the practical view of one who is not a member of a trade union, although I have been a member of the greatest trade union in the world—the Armed Forces.
I should like to put forward one or two other suggestions. Why cannot we have a uniformed traffic police in order to release the regular police to do their proper job? Is there any reason why we should not have men in uniform checking on parking offences or even regulating the traffic at crossroads? I know that the objections to this come from the police themselves, but I believe that they should be overruled, particularly in view of the recent increase in the crime wave.
There is one other question which I should like to ask the Government. When are we to have the Pilkington Report concerning the salaries of doctors and dentists? The Committee started its deliberations in March, 1957. Now, two and a half years later, we have not heard anything about its conclusions. I suggest that, however intricate and difficult may be the Committee's inquiries, two and a half years is almost two years too long to have to wait for a report like this. Meanwhile, there are doctors and dentists who have been, and are being, hit by the rising cost of living and who have children to educate and appearances to keep up. I hope that the Government will do something to accelerate the completion and publication of this report.
110 My last point is a minor one and concerns Pullman cars. Why hon. Members opposite did not do away with this racket when they had the chance is beyond my comprehension. The suggestion has been made that there should be an increase in the Pullman car service of our nationalised railways. To me, it is quite incomprehensible. I always thought I was paying quite a lot in being charged 3s. for a Pullman car ticket from Brighton to London. I understand, however, that the charge from London to Leeds is 12s. for the privilege of sitting in a very uncomfortable seat, far less comfortable than an ordinary compartment, on top of which one pays an exorbitant price for a moderate meal.
Coming up from Brighton the other day at lunchtime—and when else can one have lunch except at lunchtime?—I asked for lunch and was told, "No. There are only snacks. You can have a ham sandwich if you like." Finally, I asked whether I could not have a mixed grill and was told that I could have a light mixed grill, whatever that might have been. So I had the light mixed grill. It consisted of one poached egg and one sausage, with no potatoes or anything else, for which I was charged the 5s. 6d., and 1s. for my glass of milk.
I hope that something will be done about this. I cannot see why here in Britain, as on the Continent, we should not have excellent restaurant car services without having Pullman cars and Pullman trains in which, whether one likes it or not, one is forced to pay a supplement which, in my view, is excessive.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
I welcome the breaking of tradition by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister. Today, they opened the debate on the Gracious Speech and I consider that this breaking of tradition is to be greatly welcomed. I congratulate hon. Members on both sides on the attendance which we have seen in the Chamber since half-past two. I considered that the average attendance in the last Parliament was disgraceful to us all. It was not healthy and it was bound sooner or later to have its effect, both in the Press and upon those who come to listen. I hope that in this 111 Parliament, which has begun well, this will be the beginning of far better attendances on both sides of the House. In the last Parliament, to a very great extent we were all guilty.
I compare that experience with what happened in previous Parliaments. I recall how Mr. Speaker Clifton Brown, as he then was, a great man, was tested by giants of men after the war and proved himself a big man. I was delighted when he made an appeal to the House to let the debates be real debates, to let us have some cut and thrust, to let us have some life in the House and to let us represent the people to whom we belonged. Those of us who belong to the working class in particular should bear that in mind. Therefore, for those reasons and for many others which I should like to have dealt with had there been more time, I have made the appeal that we should have more life in this Parliament.
I also want to make some observations on the Gracious Speech. I was very pleased to note that it was intended to continue to work for the improvement of relations between East and West. I was delighted with that, because the way in which the world was drifting up till about twelve months ago was bound to end in a terrible catastrophe of the kind through which some of us have already passed on two occasions, but the next of which would be such as to annihilate millions and to devastate most parts of the world.
I also welcome the Government's proposal to support the new Commission of ten nations which is to consider plans for comprehensive disarmament. The Prime Minister should have taken the initiative long before now, because Britain has embarked upon an annual expenditure of £1,500 million on armaments to which we should never have committed ourselves. It is well known who was responsible for it in the main. We ought never to have been a party to it. We could not afford it. It has had a strangling effect upon our economy. Now that we are working for disarmament, it is to be hoped that that expenditure will be reduced as soon as possible.
The logic of what is contained in the Gracious Speech is that we should continue to work for a Summit Conference.
112 During the General Election, for my part, I gave all credit to the Prime Minister for the part he played in improving East-West relations and in suggesting support for a Summit Conference. Where I differed from the Prime Minister was that I thought he was inclined to take too much credit to himself. He should have remembered that my party, when it was unpopular, made a great contribution in developing public opinion in support of the policy now being carried out. Mr. Nixon played his part by visiting the Soviet Union, Mr. Mikoyan played his part by visiting America, and others also have made their contribution. Therefore, when dealing with serious issues of this kind, we should give credit to everyone, no matter how humble a part they have played, for their contribution in reducing tension in the world when it was drifting in the way that it was.
The Government are now in power and are committed to the promises that they made in the General Election. I hope, therefore, that we shall all join together in seeing that the Government carry out 100 per cent. the promises they made. The first promise was that they would continue to support disarmament. It will be the duty of every one of us to watch every conference, to watch all that goes on behind the scenes and to get informed on the instructions that are given to our permanent representatives at Geneva and elsewhere, so that we ensure that the Government are committed to supporting disarmament to the maximum extent.
Next, the Government are committed to doubling the standard of living in the present generation. Here again, we on this side should be able to support the Government while they are carrying out a policy of doubling the standard of living of our people in this generation. To that extent, we shall support them.
I become uneasy, however, on the question of housing. Anyone who is in touch with realities in the industrial areas, especially during the last General Election, is bound to be seriously concerned with the terrible shortage of housing accommodation which still exists. In my view, this House should demand that a system of priorities be set up. Speaking for myself, I would put the list of priorities in this order: 113 first, houses; second, hospitals; third, schools; fourth, the roads. I hope mat we shall consider that suggestion.
I welcome the policy to deal with local unemployment.
I understood that the Government and the Conservative Party during the election agreed that the pensioners should have a share in any rise in national prosperity, and we must be on the alert to see that that undertaking is carried out. They also undertook in their election speeches, and promises were made, that taxation would be reduced. For almost ten years now many hon. and right hon. Members opposite have been advocating a reduction in taxation. It is time we saw those promises implemented. I hope we shall continue to remind them of that.
After the last General Election politics in Britain can never be the same, and those hon. Friends of mine to whom I shall refer later must bear this in mind. Let me make it clear that I am not complaining, I am not whining. I understand the social and economic forces which are at play. This is a challenge. Instead of retreating we ought to accept the challenge and rally the people of this country in support of their own movement of which we are a part. No matter what others may say, I am confident that the working class will gladly accept the challenge which has been thrown down to them and will not start a retreat—like those who have been always the same in similar situations.
Thousands of pounds, if not millions, were spent during the past twelve or eighteen months—but I do not believe in overstating the case—in the biggest publicity barrage of all time to prevent democracy from expressing itself in this country in a relatively natural form. Does anyone disagree with that?
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
I will explain it. I am glad of the interjection. I will try to explain in more detail. I thought it would have been understood. I mean the expenditure of the steel barons and the financial capitalists and the big industrialists upon those huge posters 114 which appeared all over the country, and upon the large amount of space paid for in the Press.
All this was done, but it will not be put into General Election expenses, and it was all done deliberately for the purpose of bringing about the result which has been brought about. Let me make it clear that I am not complaining of that; but it has been noticed outside, and it will be noted to an increasing extent.
I repeat, we accept the challenge and will not retreat from it. The Government have now the backing of 13 million electors. After all that was done we have still got the backing of 12 million electors. Therefore, rather than retreat, rather than be pessimistic, we ought to be optimistic, we ought to be more confident than ever, we ought to be more determined to be worthy of those who sacrificed themselves and built this movement of which we are a part. I am confident that, as surely as I am standing here, it is a matter of only a relatively short time before we find ourselves empowered by an increasing number of people to carry out the proposals which have been defeated for the time being.
I should like the Government during the next few days to answer a few questions. Will some Member of the Government explain why German exports of manufactures have been allowed to become bigger than ours? Why do the Germans and the Americans work fewer hours than our workers? Why are their prospects of even shorter hours better than ours? We are supposed to have won the war, and the Germans are supposed to have lost twice, and yet they are now working shorter hours and they have better facilities for holidays. I should like to have it explained why that is.
In view of the Stock Exchange gambling and speculation and the terrible consequences of that in 1929, are the Government taking steps to avoid a similar catastrophe from happening in the future? Now there are no controls, how will a catastrophic financial situation be avoided? Those of us who remember how in the past booms on the Stock Exchange resulted in what took place in the United States, with its reflections here, cannot help but be made 115 uneasy by the events of the past few months.
Why are our exports and manufactures now only 18.I compared with 22.7 in 1938, while German, United States and Japanese exports are so increasing? Why is our index of production static? Why is the retail price index so stable? In January, 1956, the figure was 100; in August, 1959, it was 109. I purposely put that in a provocative way because the Government in all their speeches claimed the credit for stabilising the cost of living. Does anyone not accept that?
§ Mr. John Harvey (Walthamstow, East)
One can take any figure one likes. The hon. Gentleman has taken the figure at January, 1951, as 100. Has he not?
§ Mr. Harvey
Yes, 1956. What we have claimed is that for the last eighteen months, nearly two years now, there has been stability. If the hon. Gentleman will look at the figure for November, 1957, he will find that it was 108, and that it is now 109.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. That was just the kind of emphasis I wanted on the point I am making. In my view, considering world prices, the people of this country are being robbed. Instead of only stabilisation of prices there ought to have been a huge reduction in prices.
If anyone has any doubts about this I invite him to analyse the confidential circular sent out by the Central Office of Information and supplied to the members of the National Joint Advisory Council. It gives all the figures I am giving and have given. They will be found in that.
§ Mr. Harvey
Surely the hon. Gentleman is aware that, for instance, in the United States in this year alone the cost of living has risen quite appreciably while in that time we have been able to maintain relative stability here?
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
For the time being we are not talking about the United States. We are talking about Britain and Europe. The hon. Gentleman is a student of affairs and I want to carry him with me. These figures I am mentioning are not my figures; they are official 116 figures. In January, 1956, the figure was 100. In August, 1959, it was 109. I admit that there has been relative stability here, but the point I am making is that the huge drop in world prices has not reflected itself in the internal cost of living and in the cost of manufacture in this country.
§ Mr. Eric Johnson (Manchester, Blackley)
Will the hon. Gentleman explain one thing to me about that? I understand what he is saying about world prices, but is it not a fact that the cost of wages has a far bigger effect on the ultimate cost to the consumer than the price we pay for our imports?
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
I can easily answer that but I do not want to—[Laughter.]He laughs best that laughs last.Perhaps when one or two hon. Members opposite have been in the House a little longer they will be on their guard against that kind of thing. I was saying that the figures are official figures, not mine, and I have invited hon. Members to go to the Library or to obtain a copy of this confidential document and to see the figures for themselves. The point which the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. E. Johnson) makes is proved by the figures which I shall now quote.
The index figure for import prices of food in June, 1957, was 109. In August, 1958, it was 98. Therefore, quite apart from the reduction in world prices, one would have thought that the cost of living would have fallen in relation to those official figures. It is for these reasons that I ask why the cost of living has not been enormously reduced in the past twelve months. Fortunately, I am also armed with the answers, given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who in the course of answering Questions said that the import prices in 1951 stood at 100 and in May, 1959, stood at 86. Why have the costs of our raw materials not dropped in this country in relation to that reduction in import prices?
In my view, the explanation is that the vested interests in this country who import raw materials and food have the country in their grip to a greater extent than similar vested interests have other countries in their grip. Instead of our benefiting by a reduction in the cost of living as a result of a reduction in world 117 prices, the cost of living has gone up or has remained stable during the past two years. This stranglehold on the part of organised vested interests, and organised trade associations in particular, on the British economy should receive urgent consideration. It should be investigated and reported on.
Since 1930 we have seen the growth in this country of the most powerful trade associations in the world and since 1945 we have seen in Britain a concentration in production, in distribution and in finance capital, and a concentration of the Press in the hands of the Press lords, into ever larger organisations and smaller private ownerships. The benefits of mass production have not been passed on to the people. Mergers, finance holding companies, centralisation and concentration are leading to a gigantic monopolisation and accumulation of capital in fewer hands. They have ever-increasing power over millions of people and they are seeing to it that the State is run for their benefit.
This trend will accelerate the centralisation of capital and these people will spend millions, not thousands as in the last General Election, on defeating democracy and preventing its bringing about the kind of country we all want. But I am confident that those who have come through our school, those who know the struggles of our forefathers, those who know how we reached here and those who know of the lack of educational facilities in the past, the lack of opportunities in life, and how we were beaten back when we wanted to organise, how we were beaten back at Peterloo and other places, will eventually succeed. In spite of all this we have come to this House in increasing numbers. I am confident that our fellow-countrymen will give us their increasing confidence and, provided that we are worthy of this confidence, we shall beat those who spent thousands of pounds, as I have described, prior to the last General Election.
During the past few years I have enjoyed the friendship of most of the working-class giants in this country and of hundreds of others as well. We on this side of the House must try to be worthy of those who have built so well, with their courage, vision, understanding and working-class integrity. We 118 must be worthy of Bob Smillie, Arthur Henderson, George Lansbury, Tom Mann, John Wheatley and others. I do not want to compare that list of names with the mere pygmies who are now in retreat from the icy winds of the electoral results.
When I first came to the House our salary was £400. We found when we checked up that we were spending more than our income, but we did not mind that because we knew that we were working towards improving the lives of the people. We did not come here for the purpose of making a career, to emancipate ourselves as individuals, to wear black coats and striped trousers, to attend dinners in mansions and clubs, or to get into the queue with white pelicans for dinners given by Ministers and gain good will so that we could attend more dinners in various places. We came here so that we could secure a better life for the working classes in particular and for the people in general. We had a vision, a new conception of life, and that vision is a greater reality now than it was forty years ago.
We have seen the failure of German social democracy. That is why we are on our guard and determined to display energy and courage to stop every retreat and to prove worthy of those 12 million who have supported us, in spite of the greatest publicity barrage ever put up against democracy in this country.
I have just been reading a book called Fifty Years' March; the Rise of the Labour Party. Some people forget that our party has been in existence for only fifty-nine years. Its construction is a modern miracle. We ought to be optimistic and not pessimistic. We should not begin to crawl like worms and we should get rid of the sycophancy from which we have been suffering in the past five or six years in certain quarters. Our party needs to be reinforced with modern science, ideas, vision and courage. Our party is in tune with what is best in life. It is in harmony with modern science. The whole world is moving in the direction we want to move and yet, as the world begins to move forward, some people in the party want to retreat. I regret that I was not at the recent party meeting at which I understand it was a real thrill for most people to be present and to find that again the party is united 119 as it has not been united for many years. As a result, we ought to feel encouraged. We ought to be optimistic and we should not be playing about in the way that some are inclined to do.
Those people who talk about linking up with the Liberals and changing the name of the party ought to remember that the first minority Labour Government were dependent upon the Liberals to keep them in office. How dare anyone suggest in the name of the party that we should work with other people after what the party had to put up with in those days?
The workers' struggle for life demands more courage, more understanding, more vision. We all ought to remain in tune with the rest of the world rather than talk about retreating, changing names and linking up with other people. We are in tune with modern science and engineering. Inspired by the accumulated ideas of centuries a new form of life is now a practical proposition.
When I was young, we in the Labour Party were charged with being idealists. It was said that certain hymns which were sung on Sunday and on other occasions were all right but only in theory. Now the world is moving, as a result of the development of science, into a situation where our theories are practical propositions. We ought to feel more confidence in our philosophy and have a greater sense of urgency about it than we have ever had in the past.
Therefore, in my view, instead of retreating we should bear in mind that we must remain anchored to our ideas and must remember our firm roots. This party was started by the trade union movement and its roots are still in that movement. I remember some of the men with whom we have been associated. I remember, for instance, the words of John Wheatley a giant of a man. He said that it would take forty years to nationalise other key industries. We did it in four years. Working so quickly, mistakes were bound to be made, improvements were bound to be needed.
Therefore, let us admit that too much of the nationalisation policy contained capitalist ideas, but that fundamentally it was capitalist nationalisation in order to save the economy. If anyone doubts that, I could give names of people who have spoken outside this House and who 120 have said that our party in those days stabilised the British economy. Although that stabilsation saved our country, we suffered by paying out millions of pounds in compensation. To this day, also, we are suffering from remote management which has nothing in common with the employees. Yet, in spite of that, it was a step forward. Now we urgently need to take more steps forward in order to achieve better results for the nation and for the people employed in industry.
Forty years ago, in several speeches, Frank Hodges pointed out the danger of our present form of nationalisation If anyone wants to check this, let him read the speeches made by Frank Hodges in July, 1918, and in October, 1919, he said:Nationalisation in the old sense is no longer attractive. You can have nationalisation and be in no better position than you are under private ownership.To a great extent he has been proved right and action is now required. Let us be encouraged by our achievements but do not let us become complacent. We need now to build on our achievements, to be humble enough to admit our mistakes, in order to make further progress. It is for those reasons that I welcome the opportunity to make a few observations in this debate. We do not need any advice from middle-class writers such as Mr. Robert McKenzie. If his advice is accepted it will mean many steps towards the acceptance of German social democracy. I am not afraid of Robert McKenzie but I am afraid of his friends in the party, at the B.B.C. and in Odham's Press.
If we are to make a new start, let us remain firmly anchored to those who built this movement and to those principles upon which we have built during the last sixty years. Let the new start be made with clear thinking and with courage which will lead to correct action. Twelve million people kept their faith in the Labour Party at the last General Election. Let us keep our faith in those 12 million people. If we do so, it will be a matter only of time before we obtain their confidence to an increased extent, and if we then prove worthy of it we shall maintain it for many years afterwards.
Therefore, we ought to be encouraged by the results achieved. The best of 121 the poets are on our side. The best of philosophy throughout the world is on our side. Our outlook is in harmony with all that is best in life. We are in harmony with modern science. We shall succeed provided we remain true unto ourselves. In making these brief observation on a number of political issues I would have been lacking in my duty had I not also uttered a word of warning about retreat. We must not only build unity behind closed doors; we must also let the country see that we intend to be united in this House so that the Government carry out the promises made at the General Election.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. John Harvey (Walthamstow, East)
I have listened with great interest, as I am sure we have all listened, to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith). Whilst we appreciate his deep sincerity and sympathise with many of the expressions that came straight from his heart, I do not think that he will expect me to say that we sympathise with some of the political philosophy which he propounded this afternoon. Indeed, he seemed still to want a nation arbitrarily divided into class, arbitrarily divided into two eternally warring factions. That is a notion which we on this side of the House reject utterly and which we believe the nation is surely and steadily coming itself to reject.
I should like for a moment or two to follow the hon. Gentleman in one or two of the points he sought to make. He quoted a number of figures. I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that it is always possible to pick out figures at random that purport to support one argument or another we may wish to advance, but it seems to me that one of the most important figures which has to be borne in mind when one tries to analyse the things that have happened to our economy over the last eight years or so, and which the hon. Gentleman left out of his argument, and which many hon. Gentlemen opposite conveniently left out of their arguments during the recent election campaign, is the fact that over those eight years the earnings of the working population of this country have risen by 58 per cent. That is an enormous rise which far outweighs rises 122 in living costs. We make no complaint about that. We are delighted to see it because these are the sinews of prosperity which the nation has come to appreciate, and which we hope it will continue to appreciate still more. Nevertheless, these are things we must bear in mind.
The hon. Gentleman said that we on this side of the House have been talking about reducing taxation for ten years and he asked when we were going to do something about it. Surely he cannot have sat in this House during the last eight Budgets without realising that in seven of them we reduced taxation in one way or another. The hon. Gentleman cannot fail to appreciate the great difference in Income Tax between now and the time when we took office eight years ago. He cannot fail to appreciate the great differences in Purchase Tax and in many other forms of taxation. He really must give us a little credit for what we have achieved already, though certainly we share the hon. Gentleman's hope that we shall be able to continue to reduce taxation.
The hon. Gentleman spoke of the campaign launched by what he called the steel barons to negate what he described as the process of democracy. I failed to see what point he was trying to make. It is from the other side of the House that the steel industry, and, indeed, the other industries of this country, have stood in danger of attack. Is it to negate the process of democracy if they seek to defend themselves against this attack? Is it only democracy when hon. Gentlemen opposite who wish to nationalise an industry are free to speak, are free to make propaganda? Is it to negate democracy if the industry that is threatened seeks to state its own case in self-defence? I think not.
I certainly do not believe that the campaign which the threatened industries have waged—justifiably, I believe—made any serious difference at all to the result of the General Election. The election was won on a wide range of points in which the country decided that the Government were entitled to credit for positive achievement, and we shall hope to continue enjoying the confidence of the electorate through a continued series of positive achievements from 123 which the nation as a whole may hope to benefit.
I sought to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, particularly since I understand that in the next few days we are to have a series of somewhat specialised debates, and the points which I want to make arising out of the Address are of a fairly general nature.
My first point concerns the words:The improvement of conditions of life in the less developed countries of the world will remain an urgent concern ofHer Majesty's Government. I welcome those words. On all sides of the House and throughout the country there is a growing awareness of the need to do something more than we have yet done to help in the underdeveloped territories of the world. The Government should consider whether they can take some initiative in stimulating and harnessing an interest outside the House so that we may perhaps voluntarily find ways and means of contributing fairly large sums, quite apart from Government funds, towards development among less fortunate peoples and in less fortunate countries.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South might agree with me that there would be many trade unionists who would welcome money from trade union funds being devoted to helping the less fortunate in other countries. I would certainly agree that private enterprise could do a great deal and set a great example by considering how out of profits they might be able to help in this way. We should seek to do something quite apart from what the Government do, because what the Government do is so often cold and impersonal, to stimulate such an awareness in the nation about this problem that all sorts of people in all sorts of ways would want actively and personally to be associated in helping in this matter.
I next turn to the reference in the Gracious Speech to the development of a sound system of communications throughout the country and the pressing forward of the policy for building new highways and improving existing roads. I should like to address to the Government one or two questions which I regard as important. I should like to ask whether, if we are now about to embark on a great, and certainly very necessary, 124 programme of road development, we have quite definitely, once and for all, made up our minds to keep our traffic driving on the left hand side of the road, because if we are to consider a change this would clearly be the time to do it, before we launch a great new programme of road building.
In saying this, I have in mind that we are now really the only odd man out in Europe. One can, I know, still point to Sweden, but we must bear in mind that with the increased traffic to and from these islands—people from the Continent coming over here in increasing numbers with their cars, and our motorists going over there in increasing numbers every year—this is a point worth considering at a moment when we are about to launch a great new road programme.
There is another reason. At present, the very vital British motor car industry has to build two models every time, one with a left hand drive and one with a right hand drive, one for the home market and one for the export market. Surely this must create some marginal inefficiency within the industry. It must add at least marginally to the expense of producing cars.
Therefore, I should like an assurance that this problem has been thought about, that we have decided, if we are now going forward with a great programme of road expansion, that we are right in continuing on the left. Or, if the matter has not been thought about, should we not perhaps consider whether this is the moment when a change ought to be made? Should we not consider whether a change made now could not greatly benefit one of our greatest industries by simplifying its production problems and give us the same pattern as most of the rest of the world in this matter?
There is another point that I should like to make in connection with road development. We have heard a great deal, and we shall hear a great deal more, about congestion in the towns. It has been estimated that if prosperity continues to increase at the present rate—and let us all hope that it will—the number of private vehicles on the roads will double in the next ten years. But what is the use of all that if the bottlenecks in the towns continue to get worse and worse all the time?
I urge that very serious consideration should be given by our energetic new 125 Minister of Transport to the benefits that might very well be derived in London and many of our great cities by extending the system of one-way streets. By that, I mean not just the side-streets. Consideration should be given to whether some of the main arteries ought not now to be turned into one-way routes, allowing increased parking facilities and a smoother, faster flow of traffic. This is, of course, a short-term solution. The long-term solution must involve great works and great demolitions, but a short-term solution is needed as well as long-term planning.
I next turn to the modernisation of the railways. I would ask the Government whether we have really considered carefully enough whether we are doing the right thing in electrifying so much of the railways and dieselising the rest. Would it not perhaps be wiser in the long-term interests of our economy to go for electrification as the main answer to the problem of the railways? I say that as part and parcel of an argument which I advanced in the House some time ago concerning the need for a fuel policy. If we have everything possible electrified, it must surely simplify the problem of our fuel policy considerably. A train which leaves London on electricity generated from oil can pass through the Midlands on electricity generated from coal and across the North on electricity generated at Calder Hall. Thus, three different types of power can give us the electricity.
We have had attention drawn today—we shall certainly have a great deal of attention drawn to it in the future—to the problem of coal, but the oil industry, in which I must declare some interest, also has a very legitimate stake in the country's economic expansion. It has been expected to do great things and great things will be expected of it, and it seems to me essential that we should think out clearly where we are going in terms of a national fuel policy, in terms of a policy which will reconcile the interests of coal, the interests of the miners and the interests of the towns and villages built round pits where no alternative industry can rapidly be provided, the interests of oil and the great investment which has been put into its production, including the tankers which bring the oil here and the refineries 126 here and overseas, and also the interests of nuclear energy upon which so much of our future power depends.
It is time that these three things were sensibly reconciled and that all three partners in the provision of fuel knew more or less what was expected of them over the next few years. I do not ask for a policy for oil, a policy for coal or a policy for nuclear energy, but I say that it is important that all three components should know fairly clearly what will be required of them.
That brings me back to consideration of whether the electrification of the railways is not of prime importance so that we might have a railway system which might be powered by any one of the three alternative sources of fuel that the country has reasonably readily available.
I have one or two more points to make, and I hope the House will bear with me. There is a reference in the Gracious Speech to the reorganisation and improvement of Covent Garden Market. That may well be a necessary and desirable step, but I understand that in the preliminary approaches that have been made by the Ministry to the trade the trade has been left very unhappy and somewhat dissatisfied about the aims and objects of the Government. The trade is left wondering just what the future of Covent Garden Market is to be, and it is greatly concerned because it believes that this is a vastly important national market, and not just a London market. I hope very much that the legitimate interests of the trade will be given the fullest consideration in whatever new plans the Government have in mind in this connection.
I turn now to the question of the future position of aged and disabled people. I think that all of us on both sides of the House will wish to express the hope that the Government will be able to move a great deal further along the road towards helping those most urgently in need of help in this category. This subject has, unfortunately, been very much bandied about in the recent election campaign. The Government have a very good record in what they have done over the last eight years in the matter of pensions. We are proud of that record, and we resented some of the slurs and attacks made upon that 127 record during the election campaign by a party whose record, we felt, could not match up to ours in this field.
I do not want to revive these wounds this afternoon, but I hope that, now that electioneering is over, we shall be able to get down to the real business of considering how much and how quickly we can give some practical assistance to those in need of it. I know that we shall all share in this desire. What we have done already is a token of our good faith and of our future intentions in this direction, and I think that all hon. Members will look with interest to see precisely what we have in mind in the immediate future, bearing in mind that winter is once again approaching.
In the field of new house building, the record of the Government over the last eight years brooks very little criticism from the opposite side, but we must not rest on our laurels. There is still much to do, as the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South, pointed out. I should like to mention one case which came to my notice during the recent election campaign, and I wonder whether the Government could not bring it to the attention of the local authorities. It seems that there are certain types of people who are urgently in need of housing from time to time, but who are not provided for in a great many of the points schemes which are operated by local authorities. I have in mind those who have spent a lifetime in residential employment.
A case came to my notice of the matron of a great hospital in North London, who, having lived in hospitals all her working life, had arrived at retirement age. She approached her local authority, asking what could be done, and was told that she had no sort of claim upon them, because she had no points and was not on the waiting list. The authority said that there was no provision available for her, and that it was sorry but it could not help her. Here was a woman who had given service in great measure to a vast area of North London for many long years, but who, because of the rigidity of the points schemes, which we know are quite fairly administered, nevertheless found that no help was available in rehousing her. If some guidance could be given to local authorities about problems of that kind 128 it might be helpful to a great many people who suffer similarly in one way or another.
I hope that our great record in housing will be vigorously continued in the next five years, and I shall welcome anything that we can do still further to stimulate the interest in and the possibility of home ownership by the greatest possible number of people.
Turning to the plans for education in the next few years, I hope that in the further programme of expansion it will prove possible, now that so many new schools have been built, to allocate reasonably generous sums of money for the necessary modernisation of old schools in some of our older towns and boroughs. Certainly, in Walthamstow, part of which I have the honour to represent, the problem of modernising old schools and bringing them up to the standard of some of the wonderful new schools, is a great, important and immediate one, and I hope that much more can be done in that field in the next few years.
Then we come to the question of penal reform. I should like to say, first, that I trust it may be possible to consider ways and means of strengthening the police force, strengthening the possibilities of stopping crime, because that would be one of the most valuable contributions which we could make. There seems to be reason to wonder whether we really are paying enough to attract the right sort of men into the police forces today. I remember saying, in my maiden speech in this House, not so many years ago, that there were two classes of people whom I should like to see singled out for special consideration in the matter of salaries—the police, to whom we entrust the upholding of law and order, and the teaching profession, to whom we entrust the education of future generations. I certainly think that it is time we gave serious consideration to the problems facing the police forces.
One other thing I should like to mention arising out of that concerns the after-care of prisoners. I think that it is most important that we should do what we can to help prisoners to find suitable employment. I know of a case in which I was myself concerned in trying to help a man who genuinely wanted to go straight. He had the utmost difficulty in 129 finding employment, but managed to get one job when, after a crime had been committed locally, police officers went to the factory where he was employed to interview him because they thought that it was the sort of crime with which he might have been associated. He was able to show convincingly enough that he had not been associated with it, but, because the police had been to his place of employment, he lost his job.
We need seriously to consider this most vital part of the rehabilitation process, because if men come out of prison and cannot get work they are inevitably bound to mix with former prisoners and fall, naturally, to the temptation to make a little easy money, and then it is only a matter of time before they are back in prison. This work of rehabilitation is even more important than the words in the Gracious Speech may tend to indicate.
The last point I want to make is to revive a suggestion which I advocated some years ago, and I hope that I shall not be too far out of order, Mr. Speaker, in congratulating you on your election as Speaker. It so happens that I had the pleasure and the honour, nearly ten years ago, of being the chairman of the City of London Young Conservatives, a vigorous branch which used to meet in the lunch hour. When the party opposite, in its wisdom or otherwise, decided to abolish the City of London as a separate constituency, naturally we greatly resented it, and the Conservative Party at that time promised that, if returned, it would re-create the City of London constituency. In point of fact, that promise has not been kept—one of the few promises which this party has not fulfilled.
§ Mr. Harvey
No, one of the few.
It would be difficult—and we must accept it—to justify the provision of a separate seat for the City of London, but, nevertheless, it is the case that the City of London holds a special place in the hearts of all Members of Parliament who consider our ancient traditions. The City of London once played a most important role in the matter of the five Members, for which it surely is a quite unique place, as far as this House is concerned.
130 I hope that I shall not find myself completely out of order, but I know that often in the past it has been considered a problem that the constituents of an hon. Member who is elected as our Speaker appear—and only appear, I think—to be somewhat disfranchised. It has occurred to me to wonder whether we might not be able to overcome the problem by creating a situation in which our Speaker automatically becomes the Member for the City of London.
I venture to make the suggestion again this afternoon, because I made it once many years ago, and I think that it would be one way of re-creating the City seat. It so happens that today we have a Speaker who actually does at this moment represent the Cities of London and Westminster. I wonder whether the Government might like to think about this as a suggestion for the future, so that the Speaker of this House might well continue ad infinitum to be the Member for the City of London. It might resolve certain constituency difficulties and I mention the point simply because of the happy circumstances which have now arisen whereby our Speaker is, in fact, the Member for that constituency.
I ask the pardon of the House for having detained it so long, but I hope that at least some of the points which I have sought to make will be considered constructive and helpful as we embark on this new Session, which may well be a very important period in the history of the British people as a whole.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Alan Fitch (Wigan)
The hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. J. Harvey) has given us a very comprehensive survey, commenting on coal and penal reform, two subjects on which I should like to make some observations.
I very much regret that the new Minister of Power is not to be a Member of the Cabinet. Does that mean that the Government are not concerned with the coal mining industry? The new Minister will be personally well received. I think that I echo the sentiments of all hon. Members when I say that he is a man of great physical and moral courage, qualities which are also to be found in men who work underground. I think that there will be mutual respect between the right hon. Member and the 131 miners. However, like the hon. Member for Walthamstow, East, I wish that the Government would give some indication to the National Coal Board of what they want the Board to do. How much coal do the Government expect the Board to produce? Will they give it a date by which to produce it?
It is all very well to talk about pursuing a policy of "free for all," or "let the best man win," but if two boxers are sent into the ring, the arms of one being tied behind his back, it is then hardly fair to say, "Let the best man win." The Coal Board has been loaded with obligations for which it was not responsible. There was the importing of coal from America, imports which were needed to keep our economy going. That was certainly not because of nationalisation.
Under private enterprise, in 1913, the coal industry produced 289 million tons of coal a year. That figure fell to 174 million tons by 1945. Private enterprise, not nationalisation, was responsible for that fall, yet the National Coal Board had to shoulder responsibility for £70 million
The Board was made responsible for subsidence, but, as all mining men know, subsidence is something which happens over many years. It is not something which has happened since the mines were nationalised. It is the result of bad planning under private enterprise. Responsibilty for compensation should not have been placed on the Board. Compensation should have been taken out of that paid to the former coal owners.
If an organisation is saddled with something which is not morally its obligation, it cannot then be fairly accused of not paying its way. The Board was not allowed to sell at market prices. It had to sell coal at 30s. a ton less than market prices. There was no "free for all" then. The Government seem to have adopted that policy since the Coal Board got into certain difficulties. Competition with oil is hardly fair. I do not want to exaggerate, but labour costs in the Middle East are very much lower than they are in this country.
The N.C.B. has just issued a plan called "The Revised Plan for Coal". Production of coal cannot be turned on and off as one turns water on and off.
132 The closing of a pit is final and it is very difficult to reopen it. The Board has estimated that by 1965 production will be 206 million tons of coal a year, or roughly the amount which was sold last year—in fact, 207 million tons were sold last year.
I hope that that forecast is not too optimistic. In the first nine months of this year, demand for coal dropped by 12 million tons. We now have stocks of 50 million tons, of which 33 million tons are undistributed and 17 million tons are distributed. Coal stocking will be one of the biggest liabilities which the Board will have to face.
It is the duty of the Government at this time to bear the burden of the cost of stocking coal, at least until the Board can review its price structure. I believe that along the lines of a revised price structure we might find the solution to selling some of our stocks of coal.
Output per man-shift is up. In 1947, it was 21.5 cwt. In 1958, it had risen to 25.3 cwt. and it is estimated that by 1965 it will be between 30 and 31 cwt. I am sorry that in its review the Board has not said something more about selling coal, because that, not production, is the problem facing us today. Production must have some relation to sales. The miners are looking for a ray of hope. They have looked for a reduction of stocks, but they have looked in vain.
We shall have other opportunities to debate this question much more fully and I do not want to dwell too much on it now. However, before leaving the subject, I want to point out the difference in attitude towards the problem of redundancy shown by the National Coal Board and the old coal owners. Under private enterprise, when pits were closed the miners went on the dole and nobody seemed to care very much about them. Under the N.C.B., there is great concern that the contraction should be orderly and that miners should not suffer in the process.
Sir James Bowman summed it up when he said:We do not see it as a question of sticks and stones but people. It is people that matter in this issue.Colonel Bolton, the chairman of the North-West Division of the Coal Board, made a statement, reported in the Press, in which he said that normal wastage 133 would mop up any redundancy. That is a very good thing, indeed, because it appears that in Lancashire redundant miners will be found other jobs. The miners will not be content to stand idly by and see pits close unless alternative industries are brought into the coal mining areas. I urge the Government to give serious thought to this problem.
I noted with pleasure that the Gracious Speech contained references to bringing industry into areas where unemployment was high. Unemployment in my constituency has consistently been above the national average. It is interesting to note that since June, 1958, there have never been more than forty unemployed miners, and most of them have been disabled, but at times as many as 1,000 cotton operatives have been unemployed. If Colonel Bolton's statement is correct, and I believe that it is, the miners will continue to have employment, but the cotton operatives have no such guarantee. I hope that the Government will give favourable consideration to Wigan when they are thinking about directing new industries to certain areas.
I was also pleased to note that the Gracious Speech referred to the better use of leisure. We are entering an era of atomic power, automation and great scientific advances, and the coming generation will have far more leisure than their parents had. Machines now do jobs which we thought could only be done by human beings. The way in which we spend our leisure time will be reflected in the general well-being of our country.
Leisure can be divided into two categories. There is the passive use of leisure, such as watching television, going to the cinema or the theatre and watching football matches. These forms of entertainment are those at which one can relax and very little mental effort is required. The other way of spending our leisure hours is by actively participating in games or doing something creative such as writing music, taking part in amateur dramatics, or having an interest in photography.
Both these forms of leisure are necessary. It is necessary both to be able to relax and to do something active. I hope that when the Government consider this they will try to encourage 134 both these forms of leisure. The Government should set up a sports council, as we suggested. We taught the world many games, but the facilities for our own sportsmen and sportswomen are woefully inadequate.
The powers of the National Parks Commission ought to be extended, because walking through some of our loveliest countryside can be most stimulating. When I was a youth I spent a lot of time walking because I did not have very much money to do anything else. It was always a stimulating experience. Schools of adventure, and rock and mountain climbing, should be encouraged by the Government.
The River Douglas in my constituency is of no use to the 5,000 anglers who live in and around Wigan because it is polluted. It is polluted almost from its source, and yet we read that in the time of Henry VIII the River Douglas was one of the best salmon fishing rivers in the North of England. I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to extending the powers of the water board. Miners like fishing. It is natural that men who spend their lives underground should want to spend some of their time by the quiet of the river or the canal.
The problem of how to use one's leisure time is linked with that of juvenile crime. I hope that the Government will tackle penal reform. The Home Secretary is known to have enlightened views on this, although I doubted that when he sponsored the Street Offences Bill. I hope that the wild men of the Conservative Party are not going to dictate to the Home Secretary about the kind of penal measures to be introduced. We must not go back to the use of force and violence.
I used to think that crime resulted from poverty, but, unfortunately, crime is increasing in those countries where economic conditions have improved. This is so not only in England, but in Scandinavia, where economic conditions are good, and in America where the standard of living is supposed to be the highest in the world. There is an enormous amount of crime in America. Some of the most violent crimes in America have been committed by children of middle-class people. We must therefore disregard poverty as a cause of crime.
135 When considering penal reform, I hope that the Government will pay attention to the work that prisoners are doing. Is it the right type of work? There must be researches into the psychological background of crime, and an investigation into overcrowding in prisons. All these things must be considered in detail.
I am not a person who criticises the youth of today. It seems to be the general idea that when one reaches middle age one automatically criticises younger people. By and large, the young people of today are no worse than we were when we were young. Of course, young men and women of 18 to 25 revolt against the Establishment. They would be colourless individuals if they did not, but, by and large, they mature and become responsible citizens, although I know that a small percentage of them do not. In considering how to deal with these young people we must not panic. The problem must be approached in a balanced and humane way.
I hope that the points that I have raised will be debated at greater length so that we may then be able to move forward and create the better Britain which we all desire.
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Fitch) because, although he is not a constituent of mine, his parents are, and he has been talking about something which is a sore point in the hearts of my constituents. It is the problem of coal.
The problem in my constituency is different from that mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. The difficulty that my constituents face is the price of coal. One of the reasons why stocks of coal are piling up is the price. It is so high that not only are we not able to export coal, but some people are unable to buy it in the quantities that they would like.
I should like to congratulate the hon. Member on his speech because, unlike some hon. Members, he dealt with the problems that confront us and not with a post-mortem on his party.
A new Parliament gives us the opportunity of looking into the crystal ball and seeing how good we are at foretelling 136 the future. In 1955, perhaps fortunately, I was not on record as saying what our position would be today. However, it is interesting to look back at the speeches made at that time. One of the most important came from the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell), who moved the Labour Party Amendment. He did so in these words:but humbly regret that the measures set forth in the Gracious Speech are not calculated to achieve full employment, stable prices … and an adequate surplus in our overseas payments, or to bring about a more equitable distribution of wealth among Your Majesty's subjects.Time has certainly shown that the Government were right and that the right hon. Member the Leader of the Opposition was wrong, especially when, in conclusion, he said that these policies presented uswith the alternative of inflation, on the one hand, with all its evils, or depressed production and unemployment, on the other …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th June, 1955; Vol. 542, c. 762–84.]It is these very policies which the right hon. Gentleman was then criticising which have given us stability combined with full employment. Indeed, we have now had this happy state of affairs with us for over two years.
§ Mr. Ridsdale
It is very important to see that the Government do all in their power to keep this hard-won stability in the price level. I am under no delusions; it will not be easy. The terms of trade cannot move our way all the time. The United States and Germany, by raising their Bank Rates, are watching costs very closely. Japanese competition, especially in shipbuilding, is likely to become severe, and the Common Market will produce increased competition on the Continent. How vital it is, therefore, to keep our costs competitive. That is why I trust that the Government will act quickly and wisely should the terms of trade show signs of altering against us so that the level of wages and dividends rise above what we are able to produce and save. Stability in the price level is of paramount importance, and only if we act quickly and at the right time can we preserve it if any adverse changes such as I have mentioned come about.
137 But given stability in the price level, what should be the next move of the Government? I welcome their intention to relax the earnings rule for pensioners. I hope that Ministers will pay particular attention to areas of seasonal employment. It is my intention to press for the abolition of Schedule A Tax, particularly on houses and small bungalows. I hope that when the Chancellor raises the exemption limit in respect of Surtax he will also pay attention to the exemption limits of the elderly, and raise the level of exemption from £400 a year, at the same time extending the counting of unearned income as earned income above the £800-a-year mark. I hope that he will even lower the age groups from the present level of exemption.
There are many other matters of detail in which I should like to see changes for the better and upon which I shall no doubt have the opportunity of pressing the Government from time to time, but I wish to talk about only one further point at the moment, and that is the question of Government expenditure. If we are to maintain stability in prices it is important to watch the level of Government expenditure, not only to see that we are getting value for money in new investment but also to see that we are spending money on the right priorities. I have time now to deal with only one aspect of investment policy. I want to say a few words about the large sums which are going into the road and rail programmes. I take the view that it is wrong. when we are in the middle of a huge investment programme, to shackle the authorities concerned with the discipline of having to try to balance their books one year with another.
What would have happened to many great enterprises had that been their discipline? I am sure that I.T.V. would never have succeeded. In the first few years of a big investment programme we must be prepared to accept losses—sometimes very large losses. It is because of this strait-jacket—the necessity to make the accounts balance one year with another—that the railways have not been able to go after business as they should, especially on the freight side. Consequently, instead of reducing prices to encourage more use of the railways for merchandise and freights, they have 138 been forced to increase prices and, as a consequence, to lose trade and revenue
I want to see a pricing policy which will enable our railways to be used at maximum capacity and not the near minimum at which they are operating at the moment. When that is done, and some of the heavy traffic which is at present moved on the roads goes back to the railways, it will be much more easy to appreciate the serious problem of investment which faces us on the roads. Indeed, we can then see the real economic problem that faces us on the railways, too.
But all this will be of no avail unless we can continue to have a steady expansion in our trade overseas. I welcome the Government's intention to introduce a Bill to deal with local unemployment, but we must face the fact that this is only a small part of the problem. The real problem before us is bound up in the question whether we can keep world trade expanding and cure what is evident to those who have travelled in Asia and Africa, namely, the problem of the two worlds of the "haves" and the "have nots".
In these islands in the 'thirties we experienced very much the same problem. We and other creditor countries in those years should not have been so tight with money and credit. Together with other world creditor countries we should have played our part in allowing trade to expand and improve. There are now signs that America, the leading creditor country in the world, is developing a tighter credit policy. I view this with considerable trepidation and I trust that, as far as we can, we shall continue to give export credits.
But we cannot face this problem alone. Together we can, but let us be under no delusions; it is a very real economic challenge that faces us today, and unless we face it at an international level and not only at a national level we shall never solve it. For all our sakes I trust that we shall succeed in keeping Western industry expanding in addition to meeting the dire needs and demands of the under-developed parts of the world. If we can do this—but only if we can do this—I am certain that we shall be able to continue with stability, full employment, reduced taxation and yet a considerable Government investment.
139 That is all I wish to say. I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity you have given me to refer to the Gracious Speech in a general way.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)
I want to assure the hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) that I do not propose to indulge in what he called a post-mortem on my party. In fact, nobody on this side of the House has indulged in a post-mortem on the Labour Party. A post-mortem is held on somebody who is dead. First, the Labour Party is not dead, and, secondly, it has no intention of dying. We shall give cogent proof of our determination not to die in the next five years, if the Government last that long.
I congratulate hon. Members opposite who come from Essex—first the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Gardner), who made a most distinguished speech, then the hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. J. Harvey), and, finally the hon. Member for Harwich, who followed up with one of the bravest remarks that I have heard. He says that he is in favour of abolishing Schedule A tax on privately-owned bungalows and houses and the rest, and he proposes other reductions in taxation. I ask him to consider where the money is coming from. It is all very well, without power and authority, to make statements like that, but I must bring the hon. Member up against realities of life. Where is the money coming from?
§ Sir L. Plummer
That will not do, but it is an answer.
Like the hon. Gentleman I believe that we must take a different view of nationalisation. I agree with him about the inhibitions placed upon the nationalised industries by the Treasury clause relating to the making of a profit, one year with another. I hope to live to see the day—I do not think that it is going to be long—when nationalised industries will not be valued by what profits they make, but by what services they provide. One of the mistakes that my party made in its introduction of nationalisation was to consider the success of nationalisation in capitalist terms, that is to say, does it make money or not?
140 I do not believe that our railways in their present state will ever make money. I do not hold this against the railways. My judgment of the success of the railways is whether they are being properly managed, properly run and properly organised to meet the needs of commerce, industry and the travelling public. We have a lot to do before we get to that stage.
The distortion and plain downright lying about nationalisation which has been indulged in by the advertising of the Institute of Directors and other vested interests has prejudiced the minds of the people of this country against nationalisation. Yet I believe that as we go through the stresses, turmoils and crises which will face us over the next few years most of our people will ultimately come to the conclusion that nationalisation has to be regarded not only as something that is with us, but as something that has to be expanded, something that has to be regarded solely on the consideration of the contribution which it makes to the nation and not on the old-fashioned view of whether it is making this amount of money or that amount of money.
I want to turn away from a general discussion of the Gracious Speech which I do not propose to go through point by point. I propose to confine myself to almost one point in the speech which needs the attention of the Government and which I am about to raise. The Gracious Speech in referring to agriculture says:The system of guaranteed prices and the long-term assurances in the Agriculture Act of 1957 will be continued.The Prime Minister in his speech this afternoon said that he hoped that under this Government agriculture would be extending its whole field of production.
I must declare an interest in that I am a farmer, that I farm in Essex, and it may be that as a result of farming in Essex I have been asked by the Essex Farmers' Union, by telegram and letter, to raise in this House the precarious position of the bacon producers of Great Britain. I would have thought that some hon. Members who represent Essex divisions and who were supported by the majority of the bacon producers in Essex who voted Conservative, for they did vote Conservative, would have raised this point.
§ Mr. Ridsdale
It is not necessary to raise these matters in the House. There are other ways of raising points than on the Floor of the House in the first place.
§ Sir L. Plummer
It is an urgent matter and the members of the Essex Farmers' Union, together with other bacon producers, have asked that it should be raised at the first opportunity. As I am a member of the Essex Farmers' Union and have an interest in this, and as no other hon. Member on the benches opposite has thought it worth while to raise it, I am taking this opportunity to ventilate the grievances of these people in the light of What the Prime Minister has said.
The market today for pigs—I must spell this out in rather small words for those who are not interested in this subject, which I must say is not fascinating to the nth degree—is one-third for pork for which there is no foreign competition of any kind except a little manufactured food coming into the country, one-third for manufacture, where there is some foreign competition, and one-third for bacon which is subject to fierce competition, particularly from Denmark and to a lesser degree from Poland.
The Prime Minister referred in his speech this afternoon to the meeting of the Stockholm Powers and to the necessity of getting as close as we possibly can with them in the interest of the freedom of trading. On 21st July last we had a debate in this House in which the then Minister of Agriculture, the right hon. Gentleman who occupies the same position in this Administration, was asked about the effect of the reduction in the tariff on Danish bacon. He made a series of statements to which I propose to refer. I refer to them not for the purpose of scoring a point, but simply to illustrate that if the Ministry of Agriculture under this Administration is thinking in the terms in which it was thinking in July, then the prospect, which is already a bleak one for the bacon producers of this country, will get worse and worse.
The astonishing situation here is that not because of a surplus of pigs, but because we have a shortage of home-produced bacon pigs their price to the bacon producer is going down and down.
142 On 21st July, when the Minister of Agriculture was referring to the bacon situation, the price of Grade A bacon pigs was 46s. 9d. per score. Today it is 43s. per score. The fact is that the specialist bacon producer is now producing pigs, I think, at a loss, and certainly the curers are buying pigs at a price which does not enable them to meet the foreign competition from which we are now suffering.
We need in this country about 10,500 tons of bacon a week. We are getting 11,000 tons a week. The Danish bacon imports are up from, approximately, 5,000 to 5,600 tons per week. Poland stays at around 900 tons a week. British bacon production is going down. There had been, up to a little while ago, a subsidy paid on bacon pigs which is now not being paid. The reason for this is that the Government give a subsidy on pigs in toto and do not divide the subsidy between bacon pigs and pork pigs. They give it on the overall price of pigs.
It happens that as a result of a shortage of beef in this country there is a very considerable demand for pork and because the price of pork pigs it up—one-third of the market—no subsidy is payable on bacon pigs because the overall price of pigs has reached a stage—when I say no subsidy I am wrong; it is maybe a matter of a copper or two per score—where the specialist Wiltshire bacon producer, who is the man who produces the very best type of pig under proper housing conditions, as a result of successful and scientific breeding and management, proper feeding, warm places for pigs and all the rest of it, and who has a very considerable investment in the market, is being squeezed out of business.
The man who is producing pork rapidly, the man who is not housing his pigs properly, the man who is crossing one breed with another and is concerned only with turning out pigs quickly, is not suffering at all. The specialist pig producer, the man who produces the Wiltshire bacon which is the popular food in this country, is catching it. He is catching it at a time when he is suffering from the competition of the Danes.
In the debate on 21st July the Minister of Agriculture said:… the Danes can surely have no interest in smashing the bacon market in Britain … if the market were to collapse it would be the 143 Danish producers who would bear the brunt.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st July, 1959; Vol. 609, c. 1101.]That is not true. The fact is that the Danes are taking advantage of the situation for this reason. The bacon curers of this country are buying bacon pigs from the British farmers at approximately £15 a pig and selling them for £14 10s. a pig after curing. How are they getting round this situation? As a result of the tariff cut on imported Danish bacon the curers themselves are buying Danish bacon and hawking it round and selling it to the grocers of this country. Instead of using the home-produced article the British curer is buying imported Danish bacon and selling it in competition with British bacon. So that the Minister of Agriculture's assurance, or belief, that the Danes could have no interest in smashing the market has come to nothingg at all.
We said in July that the removal of the tariff would affect the returns of pig producers here. In the debate the Minister said:I can say with absolute clarity that the removal of the tariff will not reduce the returns of pig producers in this country by a single penny. This is absolutely incontrovertible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st July, 1959; Vol. 609, c. 1099.]Of course it is, if we work on the present basis whereby the pork pig subsidises the bacon pig. But what the right hon. Gentleman ignored, and what he has not faced since, is that the result of the reduction in the Danish tariff has been to reduce the price of the bacon pig in this country to a figure which makes the pig not a viable proposition.
§ Mr. Ridsdale
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that the solution to this problem is to pay the subsidy payment direct to the pig producer?
§ Sir L. Plummer
I think we have to go a lot further than that, as I am proposing to make clear.
I believe that the way in which we can overcome this problem is twofold. Either we can institute a guaranteed market and a price subsidy for pork pigs and bacon pigs separately, so that the specialist producer is included in the consideration, or we can ask the Government to say that they will give a subsidy for the quality bacon producer—one of those two. Because if matters go on as 144 at present, the result will be that we shall kill the English bacon producing industry utterly and completely. We shall hand it over, as it were, by surrender to the Danes.
Do we really believe that once the Danes, who are the shrewdest bargainers in the world—they have to be because so many of them live in so small a country, comparatively speaking—get the British bacon producer out, they will not raise prices on us? Of course they will. The Danes would drive the hardest bargain possible.
We warned the Government about this in July. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) made a long speech, and the Minister had this to say about it. I will paraphrase what the right hon. Gentleman said in order to save time. He said, "I think that the only thing that bacon producers in this country need worry about is reckless speeches such as we have heard from the hon. Gentleman." He was referring to my hon. Friend.
Nothing that my hon. Friend said caused this collapse in the market. It is because of the refusal of the Minister of Agriculture to face facts as they have been presented to him. I am not seeking to make a party issue of this. I am saying that he is incompetent. Farmers have come to him and begged him and asked him to do something about the position. The N.F.U. has asked for either a separate subsidy for bacon pigs or for a quality subsidy. I gathered from a report in The Times that they got no consideration and no promise of any help from the right hon. Gentleman on either of these scores.
The right hon. Gentleman knows that we have argued in favour of a pig marketing board. He and his predecessor were in favour of a Pig Industry Development Authority. A few more years of the Pig Industry Development Authority and a few more years of being prepared, as this Government seem to be, to sacrifice one section of agriculture in the interests of the policy they have, and there will be no specialist bacon producers in this country worth talking about.
This may appear a small point. I can well believe that it represents the views and interests of no more than 40,000 or 50,000 farmers in this country.
145 But I think it is important. I think it important that in our integrated agriculture we should have a thriving, scientific and progressive bacon industry. I think it is in the interests of the British housewife, too, that we should have it. That is why I have raised this question today. I am grateful for having been given the opportunity to raise it because I see nothing but complacency in the references to agriculture contained in the Gracious Speech—complacency which is not shared by the bacon farmers in Essex or by the bacon farmers in any other part of the country.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)
Not being a farmer, and not representing an agricultural constituency, I do not intend to follow the argument of the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) except to say, in general terms, that I am all in favour of protecting the British producer against foreign competition and giving second place in the home market to the Commonwealth producer. Though it may affect only a small number of farmers, I hope that the matter referred to by the hon. Member for Deptford will be regarded as important and that the Government will see to it that our farmers get a square deal.
I wish to refer to the question of crime and the position of the police, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Gardner) in his excellent speech, and touched upon by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Sir O. Prior-Palmer). My hon. Friend the Member for Billericay drew attention to the appalling wave of crime which exists at present, and about which we were warned by the Lord Chief Justice only a few days ago when he said that it is likely to increase in the years that lie ahead rather than to decrease. I think that there is growing anxiety in the country about this. By crime I mean not only murders and assaults and grave crimes of that kind, but housebreaking and burglary and minor crimes which, although not so serious in their result, are very irritating and distressing to the people who suffer from their effects.
Only recently the Wembley Borough Council and the Wembley Chamber of Commerce expressed some anxiety at the 146 increase in the number of shops and business premises in Wembley which have been broken into. I have had some correspondence with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and suggested two ways in which to relieve the burden on the police. One was mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing today, and I have suggested it before in this House. It is that we should form a corps of traffic police, which surely could consist of persons of a lower standard of physique than is required of the regular police. They could deal with all the problems of traffic control and parking This would avoid regular policemen having to spend hours waiting in police courts to give evidence, and the regular police would then be left free to carry on the campaign against crime.
I know that this has been considered by the Home Office. I think that it is one of those things for which we have to wait with patience until people who are, perhaps, now opposed to it eventually see its wisdom. I hope that that will result in these traffic police being formed. They are used in other countries and must have proved a success. I hope that in time we shall get such a body formed here to relieve the duties of the normal police.
I wish to raise another point in this connection. I wonder whether enough use is made of special constables. I am not trying to lay down the law one way or another, but am merely asking that question and whether it is worth while doing for special constables what is done for Territorials on duty, that is, to give them some payment to encourage them to give even further service. That might be a way of still further relieving the burden on the regular police. I put this forward as a suggestion and hope that it will be considered, because the wave of crime is causing serious anxiety and we ought to do everything possible to strengthen the hands of the police in the noble work they are doing in many ways under difficult conditions.
Mr. Marcus Upton (Brixton)
Would the hon. Member agree that we must get to the root of the problem, which is that the police are under strength, and that if we want to bring them up to strength we must do something about their pay and conditions?
§ Mr. Russell
I quite agree with the hon. Member that the police are under strength. I do not want to go into too much detail and take up too much time today, but I think that there is a corollary to that. If we can relieve the existing force of some of its burdens we shall be doing something to help. I agree that the force should be brought up to strength, particularly in the Greater London area, where the difficulty is greatest.
I turn to another subject which has been touched on, the question of roads. The Leader of the Opposition deplored the fact that it is so difficult to park a car in the centre of a large city. This is something which I have mentioned before in this House. I hope that we shall be able to tackle the appalling parking problem with even greater energy than is shown at the moment. We have made great progress with meter schemes which are in existence in some parts of the West End. However, they probably cause hardship to people who used to park in those streets and have been driven off them, presumably to find some other place or to use public transport. This has also resulted in streets being cleared of long-term parkers while the ordinary person who wants to park for an hour, say, to visit the dentist, can do so. No doubt that is so in other cities as well as in the London area.
I hope that we shall progress with further schemes. The responsibility for initiating them rests with the local authorities, but I hope that the Government will give them every possible encouragement and that where they are to be put into operation that will come about as soon as possible. As a corollary, I have in mind the providing of off-street parking by way of garages and parks on private property. If, by having parking meter schemes, we drive off the streets all the cars which now park there all day, in justice we should provide for those who have to park in the centre of London and find them somewhere to park. That, also, is a responsibility of the local authority or of private enterprise and encouragement should be given to such schemes. It is being done in other countries and in other cities. I am sure that with a little more drive and enthusiasm we could make further progress in that direction.
148 I agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. J. Harvey) about trying out more one-way streets. There seems an appalling reluctance to try anything out in the centre of London in case it may fail. Often one can only find whether something will succeed by trying it. If a one-way street system in an important thoroughfare does not work, we can always revert to the old practice, but we cannot say whether it would work unless we try it. Since I have been in this House I have found a very great reluctance on the part of the authorities concerned—sometimes I think it is the police—to try out these experiments. Jermyn Street is a case in point. For a very long time we had to endure the congestion of cars parked on both sides of the street. That problem has now been solved, but only after great persistence by a number of us in this House. I am sure that there are other places where one-way streets could be introduced to relieve traffic congestion if only there were the will to do so.
I pass to something quite different, and again to a subject which has been raised in this House before, the question of pensions. I am sure that we are all glad to see in the Gracious Speech what we were promised during the election campaign, that close attention will be given tothe needs of the war-disabled and their dependants and of old people.There is nothing in the Gracious Speech, however—quite frankly I did not expect to find it there—about two particular classes of pensioners. One is certain Colonial Service pensioners and the other railway superannuitants. Both these subjects have been brought before the House before, but I am glad to refer to them again. Colonial Service pensioners are mostly those who, formerly, were employed in West Africa and have not received from the Governments which formerly employed them anything like the increase in pensions which have been brought about by Acts introduced in this country applying to our own Civil Service pensions.
I do not want to weary the House by going into great detail on this question, which has been brought before the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) on other occasions and, no 149 doubt, when he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, he will refer to it on other occasions. I content myself by mentioning one point about this matter. There are 13 Colonial Governments whose pension increases compare either favourably or more favourably with our own in this respect, but there are no fewer than 22 Colonial Governments whose schemes are generally less favourable. Among those 22 are the three West African Territories which still come under the Colonial Office, and Ghana, which is independent. Possibly Ghana is the crux of the problem, because there we can only make representations to the Government, whereas we can bring more pressure to bear on the other territories.
Something ought to be done to press these Governments to look after their former servants who, after all, have helped them towards their independence, in the case of Ghana, and towards constitutional advance which the other countries have been making in the last few years. If we cannot achieve anything in that respect we have to think whether Her Majesty's Government in this country can do anything to help. These pensioners may be a small body of men, as are the railway superannuitants. Nevertheless, small though they may be—offhand I do not know what the numbers are—it is quite wrong that justice should not be done to them. In fact, the smaller the numbers the easier the problem and the less it will cost to solve.
I therefore urge the Government seriously to consider this problem of two special classes of pensioners who have gained nothing from the increase in pensions given in this country either for old-age pensioners or Service pensioners, but who are suffering through no fault of their own and ought to be looked after for the services that they have rendered in the Colonies or to the railways, just as much as any other class of pensioner in this country. I know that it has not been the fault of the British Transport Commission. It is surely our duty to make the Treasury do what the Transport Commission cannot do, and I hope that this problem will be dealt with. I make no apology for raising it once more and I hope that in due course our efforts will be rewarded.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Will Owen (Morpeth)
The hon. Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) raised two points of importance. The first was about the need for the recruitment of a supplementary police force to assist in traffic organisation. Those who are interested in this matter will have observed the experiment being conducted in Holland, where they are using an increasing number of the auxiliary police force for traffic organisation and control. They are even going as far as to train and use senior students in the colleges and schools in making children accustomed to traffic controls in some of the main centres of The Hague.
I had hoped that the hon. Member would pursue his reference to crimes of violence by recognising the need to stimulate his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to take some urgent legislative action to help the victims of crimes of violence. The House has given thought to this subject on previous occasions, and the right hon. Gentleman has promised that this will be the subject of an inquiry which will subsequently lead to legislation. I endorse the hon. Member's plea on this point and urge that the Government at a very early date should be prepared to face this challenging feature of crimes of violence and assist the victims of those crimes.
I am mindful that much which is included in the Gracious Speech will be the subject of debate by the House during the months which lie ahead. Nevertheless, many sections of our community will be grievously disappointed by the omissions from the Gracious Speech. In particular, during the recent General Election many hon. Members from both sides of the House faced up to the plea being made by 5 million old-age pensioners.
We have been told that every member of the community is entitled to share in the evolving prosperity of the twentieth century. On what grounds, therefore, do we argue that the old-age pensioners, who have made a basic contribution to the building of the economic prosperity of our land over previous years, should be denied a share in the prosperity of 1959? These people are not only entitled to share in the prosperity of our age but, by virtue of their present circumstances, 151 can make a reasonable plea for immediate consideration. I ask the Government, between now and the festive season, to re-examine the old-age pensioners' plea and undertake some share of their governmental responsibility in meeting this plea.
Comment is made in the Gracious Speech on the Government's desire and intention to deal with serious pockets of unemployment which are found in various parts of the country. Every hon. Member will welcome any Measures which are introduced to mitigate the problem of unemployment, wherever it is found and in any part of the country. Even if only one person is unemployed, it is the Government's collective responsibility to seek to remedy the fear of unemployment and its impact upon the homes of our people.
I welcome any Measure which can be introduced to deal with the problem, but I ask the Government to recognise that something more is involved than merely dealing with the existing problem of unemployment in sections of the community. Are they not aware that within the mining industry a growing fear and anxiety as to their future affects thousands of our citizens? We have been told earlier this evening of the growing accumulation of coal stocks in Britain, which have reached the unprecedented figure of 50 million tons. We have been made aware, by the recent publication of the new "Plan for Coal", of the challenge which lies ahead to this basic native industry. Yet there is no mention in the Gracious Speech of this major challenge to our- economy.
Within the County of Northumberland, which embraces part of my constituency, the new "Plan for Coal" presents a challenging and somewhat grim picture for our future. We are told of the cut-back in production which is to be made. We are told of the possibility of the closure of some of our pits and, as a result, whole communities in that area are faced with a very grim future. Apart from the City of Newcastle and the fringe of the North-East, with its shipbuilding and engineering, back in the area of East Northumberland communities are wholly dependent upon the coal mining industry. 152 As such, they are naturally concerned about what is to happen to them.
I think that they are entitled to some recognition, through Government policy mentioned in the Gracious Speech to deal with this problem. It affects not only the miner and his family but the whole of the commercial and economic life of the community in the area. Those people are becoming seriously concerned about the years which lie ahead. I hope that during this Session we shall not be faced with a constant repetition of "consumer choice", which apparently was the only approach which the Government were able to make to the problem in the latter days of the last Parliament. Consumer choice does not meet the basic needs of the coal mining industry, which is faced with a competitive challenge from oil, liquid gas and electricity. The mining community meets the problem not with its head in the sand but recognising this challenge as an inevitable feature of progress.
Nevertheless, in the light of that and in face of the competitive challenge of the new fuels, is it not desirable that we should make a complete survey of our fuel and power needs in Britain and coordinate those industries which make contributions to those needs? There is surely nothing wrong but everything that is reasonable in a request for Government policy along those lines, and I hope that my present plea will stimulate Government concern and action so that in the very near future the House will be able to consider some basic Measure to deal with the problem. It is, of course, desirable to deal with the pockets of unemployment, but what about the unemployment that will result from the new Plan for Coal? Do not let is be said that what is done is too little and too late.
The Gracious Speech mentions the Government's desire to assist the undeveloped countries, particularly by making available increased financial assistance and technical aid. This desirable approach means that, by virtue of our economic and social progress, we may contribute to the advance and development of these territories. It could be the embodiment of a major ethical plea that we accept the responsibility, as our brother's keeper, in the development of the community of nations.
153 I suggest that in their proposals for financial and technical assistance the Government should set aside prejudice against the Co-operative movement and recognise that, inherent in that movement, there is a reservoir of experience, of knowledge, of skill and of enterprise that could be of tremendous value. The Government should also consider the possibility of increasing the number of Co-operative registrars in the various Colonies of the Crown, and be willing to use the services of the International Cooperative Alliance in order that its experience can be harnessed to the development of the various projects. I hope that political prejudice and economic bias will not prevent the Government recognising the great potential of experience available to them here; a potential that could do so much to encourage the development of the underdeveloped countries along practical lines of economic expansion and on a basis of co-operative principles.
The Gracious Speech refers to support for the fishing industry and to the fact that in the early part of 1960 we shall be holding the Second World Conference on the Law of the Sea. That brings to the forefront the tragic relations prevailing between Britain and Iceland. Surely the time has come when this problem can be amicably resolved, and the futility of the present measures removed as a blemish on the conduct and development of our British House of Parliament.
I hope that our approach to the Conference on the Law of the Sea will be flexible, and marked by a willing recognition of the importance of the fishing industry to the people of Iceland and to our own fishing trading interests on the North-East Coast of England and in Scotland. There is so much that can be achieved by a willingness to approach the problem with a friendly, flexible but far-sighted policy of linking up, not only Iceland but the other nations, and of reaching an understanding that will not be one of expediency but one reflecting a permanent desire to resolve a difficult and challenging problem.
The Queen's Speech refers to the general desire to enhance the place of youth in the community—a very real and urgent problem. We must recognise that there is nothing worse for our youth than to begin life at the labour exchange. 154 If, as we move into the 'sixties, we find an increasing number of school leavers faced with the probability of having no job, it will be something that, while certainly bad for youth, is also bad for the future of Britain. This reservoir of industrial power should not be so misused and abused. This responsibility must be faced, and where the door of employment is not open, provision must be made for these young people to be drafted into training schools and encouraged to fit themselves for an effective rôle in the evolving and expanding society that is possible, provided that the Government recognise the place of Britain in the future.
Many other features of the Gracious Speech will be the subject matter of our discussions during the next few months. I promise that I shall resolutely endeavour to call attention to the needs of the old-age pensioners and of the school leavers, to the problem of the mining industry, and to the recognition of the possibility of the Co-operative service being used in the development of the under-developed countries in the immediate future, and I hope that my present plea will meet with some response from the Government.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Johnson (Manchester, Blackley)
The hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Owen) will not expect me to follow him in all his remarks, but it is a pleasure to be able to say how much I agree with what he has said about absorbing school leavers into industry or, if that is not possible, of helping them in other ways. One of the satisfactory features of the autumn employment situation is that a record number of school leavers have been absorbed quickly into industry. That is an important point.
The Gracious Speech, as a whole, seems to envisage a legislative programme rather lighter than the programmes to which we have recently become accustomed. That is all to the good. Hon. Members will be glad of an opportunity to try to improve and tidy up some of the Measures already on the Statute Book instead of making a lot of new laws. My hope—and I expect that other back benchers will share it—is that there will be more opportunities for general discussion on some of the great issues of the day, such as pensions, education, the National Health Service, the working of the 155 nationalised industries, and other subjects about which we all feel strongly and for which we all want to do the best possible.
If we get that opportunity, I hope that back-bench Members will be free to take part without the advice of the Whips and without the debates ending with a Division on party lines. We are here to discuss these things rather than to try to score off each other as much as we are prone to do. We all want to do our best, and surely some better way than that can be found to use the collective experience and wisdom of this House.
There are various Measures foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech to which I give a particular and unqualified welcome. One to which many hon. Members have already referred is the Bill designed to deal with patches of local unemployment. Another is the further relaxation of the earnings rule. I have been one of those Members who have pressed the Government for some years to relax the earnings rule, with a certain amount of success. I am glad that there will be further relaxation. I am glad also that at long last the Government are facing up to the fact that the laws on betting must be reformed.
The Bill to deal with local unemployment is of especial interest and importance to hon. Members representing constituencies in Lancashire.
§ Mr. Johnson
And elsewhere, I agree, but in Lancashire there are patches of serious unemployment in the middle of prosperity. Those patches of unemployment occur largely in towns wholly dependent on the cotton industry. There is no doubt that many people have lost their jobs as a result of the depressed state of the cotton industry and its reorganisation. The majority of them have found alternative employment. I have been told by several people that they have benefited very much by the change. Someone told me recently that he is now earning more money and working less hours than when he was employed in the cotton industry. But that does not apply to everybody. I hope that the Government's new Measures will make these changes even easier and will absorb people more quickly.
156 I am very concerned about the position of the older workers in the cotton industry who have been employed in it for thirty, forty or even fifty years. I do not know how they are to be absorbed quickly in some other form of employment. It is true that they receive compensation for becoming redundant, but I understand that the maximum they can receive at 65 or over is £450. That is not very much after a lifetime spent in the cotton industry. I hope that not only Her Majesty's Government, but even more so the employers, realise that they have a very real and plain duty to look after those people.
There is little direct reference in the Gracious Speech to the National Health Service. I want to pursue a point already made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Sir O. Prior-Palmer) on the desirability of providing drugs for private patients on the same terms as those provided for National Health Service patients. It ought to be the policy of any Government to encourage private patients. As they pay the same contribution as those receiving the full benefits of the Service, it is only fair that they should be given the price of the drugs they use or require.
The fact that these people, for reasons which seem good to them, are prepared to pay for treatment undoubtedly reduces the strain on the National Health Service and on the doctors. If doctors can get more private patients they do not have to take on an excessive number of National Health Service patients. Consequently, they are able to look after the patients they have as National Health Service patients better than they can if they have too many patients. That view is very widely shared in the medical profession. The trouble is that, although more people would like to be private patients, they are prevented by the cost. They cannot afford to pay for the doctor and the medicine, because the price of medicine is very high at present. If my suggestion were adopted, it would prove to be a good bargain for the State and for the National Health Service.
A number of hon. Members have referred to the following passage on page 4 of the Gracious Speech:Further advances will be made in penal reform. A Bill will be introduced to provide more effective means of dealing with young offenders.157 I do not know what Her Majesty's Government have in mind and who they class as young offenders. Crimes of violence are at present causing a great deal of concern. The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Fitch) is no longer in his place. I am afraid that he would class me as a wild man for what I am about to say, although I have never considered myself to be particularly wild. Crimes of violence now, for the most part, are being committed by gangs of young people aged between 17 and 21. One hon. Member said that poverty was not the cause of these waves of violence and crime. That is absolutely right. In Manchester it is found that these gangs are usually composed of young men living at home, earning very good wages, and probably taking too much to drink and going out to make mischief.
§ Mr. Johnson
Whatever they may be, during the last Parliament many Questions were asked about the reintroduction of corporal punishment. The Answer given by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in almost every case was that since the introduction of the Criminal Justice Act, 1948, the number of crimes previously punishable by flogging had decreased. Every year between 1949 and 1957 there was a decrease in those types of crime. The figures for 1958, now available, reveal the very alarming fact that in that year there were 1,402 of those crimes compared with 890 in 1957 and 978 in 1948.
Those figures seem to make nonsense of the statistical part of my right hon. Friend's argument against reintroducing corporal punishment. I do not know what the national figures are for 1959, but I know that in Manchester for the first nine months of 1958 there were 81 cases of wounding of the more serious type which are called felonies—stabbing, and so on. That number has already nearly doubled in the first nine months of this year. I do not suppose that the position in Manchester is any worse than in any other city of comparable size.
158 In order to make hon. Members realise the growing seriousness of this problem, I will give details of some recent incidents. Last Friday alone there were three cases. A woman was attacked in her shop and robbed of her takings just as she was leaving. A man making his way home with his wife and two friends was attacked and stabbed by two youths quite near the place where a man was stabbed to death a week ago. Two men were attacked and stabbed by men they had never seen before in their lives, and for no apparent reason. I feel strongly about this, because one of them happens to be a constituent of mine living within a couple of hundred yards of my constituency office. On the previous day there were two cases. A man was hit on the head, not in a back street but right in the middle of Manchester, in St. Peter's Square. He was hit on the head with an iron bar, robbed and left unconscious. On the same day, a young woman was attacked and robbed at a filling station. The same sort of thing is going on the whole time. I wonder if my right hon. Friend and his colleagues and all other hon. Members who do not feel it right to reintroduce corporal punishment have any conception of the strength of feeling on this subject in constituencies like mine and on the need to bring back corporal punishment.
These brutal attacks on innocent people are not merely things people in Manchester read about, but are things which can happen to them, and which can happen without warning, without reason, and at any time. People who may find themselves attacked or who may have had their friends or relatives left unconscious after an unprovoked assault look on these things in a very different light from those to whom these are matters of criminal statistics.
I had a letter not long ago from somebody who wrote:I have been a fully trained nurse and midwife for over forty years. In my youth F have attended cases in the lowest parts of different cities without fear, but I would not like to do it now. No young woman, or even an old one, is safe after dark in what used to be a law-abiding country.I think that the only thing wrong with that letter is that it does not go far enough. It is not only women but men and boys who are not safe. I do not know what the writer means by "the 159 lowest parts of different cities." These things can happen in any part of the cities.
§ Mr. Johnson
It is not. These things are happening in Manchester.
It is all very well talking about the need for reforming the criminal and to say he may be mentally sick and that kind of thing, but too little attention is given to the victim and, I think, to the position of the police. In 1958 there were 160 assaults on policemen in Manchester. In the first nine months of this year there were 132. That means that last year one in every eight policemen was assaulted and one in ten has been assaulted in the first nine months of this year.
I do not think the police are getting as much co-operation from the people as a whole as they ought. The reason for that, of course, is fear of retaliation. Only this morning I had a letter on this subject from a man who said he did not want his name mentioned because if his name were knownthe front windows would probably not remain intact for long.I am convinced that the best way of preventing these crimes of violence is, as many hon. Members have said today, by having a much stronger police force. There is room, I think, for improvement in their equipment, particularly in their means of communication. If we are to have a better police force it has got to be better paid, and police work has got to be made a much more attractive career. I think the police are weakened in their struggle against crime by laws which do not provide the punishment to fit the crime.
I am not suggesting that we ought not to try to reform young criminals. I think we should, but I do say that the first step to reform is penitence, and we shall not make these sorts of people sorry by appealing to their better natures—people like, for example, those who, again in my constituency, attacked a man who wore glasses and knocked him down and ground his glasses into his eyes with their heels. That is not an exaggeration. That is a matter of simple fact. We are not going to get them reformed by appealing to their better nature. The 160 prosecutor in that and various other cases referred to thecold-blooded and sadistic attitude the accused adopted.He said:So far none of the accused has expressed an iota of regret.The only way to make people of that kind sorry is to hurt them physically. That would mean bringing back corporal punishment.
I can assure hon. Members that I am not exaggerating the strength of the public indignation and the strength of feeling in Manchester on the question of these crimes. The question I was asked over and over again during the election, and have been asked since, almost to the exclusion of anything else was, "Are the Government going to bring back the birch and the cat?" [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I refer hon. Members to what I have read in the paper today, and they can see what comes of it, that in the Gorton Division of Manchester, not one which is a Tory area, a petition is being got up, a large petition by working-class women. I am told in the paper that the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. L. M. Lever) is to be asked to present it to this House. I am not exaggerating. I honestly feel that unless something is done there is a danger of people taking the law into their own hands.
There were one or two other matters I should like to have referred to, but I am afraid I have been rather carried away with this subject of crimes of violence because I feel strongly about it. I would just say in conclusion that it seems to me that the programme for the coming Session and contained in the Gracious Speech does not contain measures or proposals which are really violently controversial. I think there would be general agreement that what we intend to do is right, and I believe that, by and large, our proposals will commend themselves to hon. Members opposite as well as to hon. Members on this side of the House. I am quite sure that our proposals will commend themselves to the country as a whole.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. E. Johnson) will forgive me if I do not 161 follow him on the line which he has pursued. We all recognise his interest in it, but I am certain that he would not disagree with me if I were to say that, in view of the fact that all the support for his argument was derived from experiences and happenings in Manchester, it would not be a false conclusion to suggest that he would want the birch and all those other implements of torture brought back to Manchester and not to the rest of the country; because none of his statistics applied to any other part of the country—at least none of the statistics he gave us tonight. In view of that conclusion, which he would find it hard to dispute, I will leave him to resolve this matter for himself and depart for other fields.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition referred to the fact that the Gracious Speech was remarkable for its omissions. I should like to direct attention to one. It is to be noted that the Act providing for quotas, which is an essential instrument of the cinema industry, and which will expire during this Session of Parliament and must be renewed in 1960, has no mention in the Gracious Speech. I should like, therefore, to ask the Treasury Bench whether or not it is their intention to renew the Act on quotas, the Act which lays down the percentage of British films which must be shown by the exhibitors and is regarded as an essential feature in stimulating the production and exhibiting of British films. It does seem very strange that this Gracious Speech should contain no reference whatsoever to the fact that there must be a new Act for quotas in the next year.
Then there is another remarkable omission. No reference is made to the state of the shipbuilding industry. I represent one of the great shipbuilding areas in the United Kingdom with three shipbuilding yards known all over the world, Stephens, of Linthouse, Fairfield's, and Harland and Wolff's. I am particularly interested in the fact that there is no reference to this great industry in the Gracious Speech because it is one of our great exporting industries and because we all know that it is in that very serious condition. This is reinforced by the current statement of the Shipbuilding Conference, which says that 162The number of shipyards with empty berths is growing and prospects for the industry show little sign of early improvement.That decline has been proceeding for far too long, and repeatedly in the House, particularly during the first six months of this year, from the time when the Estimates were introduced right until we rose in July, hon. Members on both sides have directed the Government's attention to the growing discontent that was felt about the obvious apathy which was being shown towards the future of this industry.
During 1958 the labour force in the industry shrank from 210,000 to 190,000. That is a most serious state of affairs. It is not something with which we can deal simply by the placing of orders, because we are now living in a world in which countries like Japan, Portugal, Spain, Russia, China, East Germany and West Germany, which were previously our customers, are now themselves building ships to compete with ours. As a result of this immense increase in productive capacity, world shipbuilding industries are now able to produce three times the number of ships that the world demands.
It is evident, therefore, that the time has arrived, and is, indeed, overdue, when the Government should be in urgent consultation with the trade unions concerned, with the shipbuilders and shipowners to see whether it is possible to safeguard the future of an industry that is essential not merely to the civilian life of the country but also in other respects.
I hope that before the debate concludes we shall hear something definite about the Government's intentions with regard to the future of this industry. I have previously dealt with this matter in detail and, therefore, I do not want to pursue it any further now. As a result of all that has been said on both sides of the House, I feel that it is now up to the Prime Minister and the Government to give to the House and the country a definite statement about what they propose to do about shipbuilding and ship-repairing in this country.
I want to refer in a little more detail to the paragraph in the Gracious Speech dealing with the future of another very important project, namely, the aircraft industry. I should also like to refer in 163 a few words to the sentence which states thatA Bill will be laid before you for improving the arrangements for licensing air services and airline operators and to ensure the maintenance of high standards of safety.The House should be told that that sentence refers specifically to the promise given by the Minister who has now been transferred from the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation to another job. It was a promise made, arising from a debate and a multitude of Questions on the Southall tragedy, that a Bill would be brought in to ensure that there would be no recurrence of such a situation. That is all I hope that is referred to in that sentence, and it does not have the wider implications that have occurred to many of us. I trust that this will be made clear in the course of the debate.
To look at the wider aspect of the future of the aircraft industry, I am driven back to a Question which was put by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) on 7th July. He was seeking from the Prime Minister an assurance about its future. The right hon. Gentleman replied:There are a number of important problems concerning the aircraft industry to which my colleagues and I have given and are giving a great deal of thought.I am glad to see that thought on the Government Front Bench is not quite absent. The right hon. Gentleman added:I do not think that any statement at this stage would be appropriate.That was on 7th July, and I should have thought that the Gracious Speech, after all these months in which to think over the matter, might have been regarded as an appropriate occasion for giving a fuller answer to a Question which the right hon. Gentleman had had three months to turn over in his mind. But all we get in the Gracious Speech is a somewhat briefer statement even than that.
The right hon. Gentleman added on that occasion that there was a need to widen the industry's markets. No one objects to that. He also said:… most of the difficulties of the industry can be traced to insufficient orders.It seems remarkable that one has to occupy such a high office to deliver such a comparatively ordinary alphabetical reply.
164 Then the right hon. Gentleman said that he was… trying, with my colleagues, to give very special attention to ascertaining what progress can be made."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th July, 1959; Vol. 648, c. 1114–16.]Again, one would have thought that the Government would have been thinking about what progress could have been made for a long while before that Question was put. Out of all this came that statement. In July the Government were giving very special attention to what could be done; in the Queen's Speech they are to devote special attention to the future of the aircraft industry. That is all that has materialised according to our information, which of course may be incomplete, between 7th July and this evening.
I hope that we shall hear a great deal more than we have heard so far because of the position of the personnel employed in the industry. In 1949, it numbered 158,000. Because it was an expanding industry the number continued to increase until, in 1957, there was a labour force of 269,000, an expansion of 111,000 in eight years. Since then, from 1957 until today, it has tumbled to 237,000, a fall of 32,000 in two years in an industry which had expanded by 111,000 in the previous eight years. This is bad enough for the United Kingdom, but it has been particularly severe in Scotland, where only to a very limited extent did we benefit by the prosperity that was spread over England. Now we are asked to share almost wholly the adversity which has fallen upon the industry.
Of course, Renfrew and Prestwick are the classical cases. I think that I know a great deal about the former because, as hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree, I did my best to ensure the retention of the maintenance base at Renfrew, which employed nearly 1,500 men. That fight went on for a long while, but ultimately the Government got their way. I am not now dealing with the arguments which caused that transfer from Renfrew to the great centralised airport in London, but out of the 1,500 men at Renfrew 900 were left and were assured in this House that there would be a reasonable security for them in their jobs in the maintenance of the Sabre jet aircraft of the Canadian Government, which contract had been given to Scottish Aviation, who occupied a large part of 165 the space formerly used by B.E.A. Now, because of the slowness of the Government in deciding between the Prestwick Pegasus and the Canadian Beaver, the productive side at Prestwick is in danger of complete closure. As a result 500 men at Renfrew are faced with redundancy, because, naturally, Scottish Aviation are seeking to concentrate their work at Prestwick.
In my view, if this happens it can only do so as a result of Government inaction and can only be described as a flagrant breach of promise. On 6th April, 1955, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay), who is now the Secretary of State for Scotland, intervening in the issue which I had then raised, and which was concluded at that time, made this statement on the outcome of the agitation:… this matter will do much more for the future of the aircraft industry in Scotland than the presence at Renfrew of any reluctant Corporation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th April, 1955; Vol. 539, c. 1150.]That was his statement in this House, that the decision which today will maybe leave Scotland completely bereft of an aircraft industry—I am not dealing with the manufacture of aero-engines but with the air frame, the maintenance, the building, the repair—would do more for the future of the aircraft industry than the presence of a corporation which did not want to remain there. If the prevision which guided him in that statement is the prevision from which Scotland suffers today, it is little wonder that unemployment in Scotland and the general economic condition of Scotland are worse under his guidance than in any other part of the United Kingdom.
However, the then Minister of Civil Aviation, now the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, hoped and believed that this very well known firm would be able to obtain further work because the Sabre jet contract was admittedly for only two years. Indeed, he said that he was assured that it would obtain other work. There was the assurance; now it is falling apart. Because of the unemployment situation in Scotland, it is a matter of grievous concern to every Scottish hon. Member. I hope that one little contribution which can be made to ease the situation will be made and that the Pegasus light aircraft 166 will go to Prestwick and so lessen at least the urgency of the problem.
In view of all that, we should think generally about the present situation of the aircraft industry. It is more serious even than the Prestwick-Renfrew business has indicated, for practically all the major aircraft now on the production line are fated to have a short life due to low-pressure demand. The production of the Comet IV and the Britannia is beginning already to fall off. Even the Vanguard, the successor to the Viscount, has a very slim order book. The Vickers Viscount 10 is in a similar plight, and so is the DH 121. The whole industry is in a state which can only be described as one of disturbing disarray, and that at a time when the need for fast commercial aircraft is greater than it has ever been.
This is, again, directly the result of calculated Government policy. Today, everybody connected with the industry is out to get a share of the public money which is being spent on the new lush field of aeronautics. They are after the guided missile and the ballistic missile. Some firms are even looking further ahead, right up into the firmament of astronautics, and to help in the lobby, now under full steam—some of the occupants of the Front Bench know about this—the commercial organisations regard as pearls almost beyond price high-ranking officers who have retired from the Army, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.
These difficulties arise from comparatively recent policies. In the 1957 Defence White Paper four decisions were taken. The first was to slash the sums of money that were being spent on research and development. The second was to abandon the evolution of any further supersonic bombers. The third was to scrap all fighter interceptors except the PI and replace them with guided missiles. The fourth was to develop the ballistic rocket. It is true enough that, after these decisions were taken, there was an astonishingly expensive aircraft to be built. I admit that, but the effect of this unplanned reduction in the size of an important, highly skilled industry with an uncertain financial basis has been substantial, especially for the workers concerned.
167 During the election, when I was speaking in the division of my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel), I had the information in a question that the design staff at Prestwick had practically disappeared, so that men with skills and qualifications necessarily peculiar to the aircraft industry are now becoming virtually unemployable. Designers, technicians and skilled workers have been seeking employment overseas in the establishments of some of Britain's keenest competitors, and in some cases and to some extent even the existence of certain towns in this country has been seriously threatened.
It is in that state of affairs that the Prime Minister has said that we want more markets. How are we to get them? During the last three and a half years, nearly £1,000 million worth of new equipment has been ordered by airlines in the Western world, and during those three and a half years there has been no sign that our exports have visibly increased. Even allowing for the fact that there was no alternative to buying United States airframes, as we did following the Comet I disaster, and that there is a case for the Boeing 707 purchases, it is still a disastrous long-term policy, and it must be changed if the future of the industry is to be secured.
It is the fact that today our exports to overseas operators are only 10 per cent of the production that we have in this industry, and that 45 per cent. of our output is consumed by British operators. They have done a good job, because they have been the demonstrators, the managers and the developers of an important national product. This policy of buying British has been a great help to our manufacturers. I do not think that anyone will deny that.
In a speech recently, Lord Douglas of Kirtleside said that each new type of British transport aeroplane requires sponsoring by a home operator if it is to be successfully sold abroad. This costs B.E.A. about £500,000 a year. That sort of use of our aircraft is vital to our export industry, but why should B.E.A. have to pay £500,000 a year for this kind of technical debugging, which ought to be the job of the Treasury, because it helps to produce that sort of balance in the Corporations' returns which is the constant criticism of the 168 party opposite? They force on the nationalised corporations a charge which they ought not to bear, and then condemn them because they do not achieve the results which they think they ought to get. If we are to deal with the future of this industry so as to enrol in its service the designers, technicians, skills and qualifications which are now being squandered, we have at least to consider what we are to do about the use of aircraft.
Millions of people in this country are air-minded. Aircraft are now regularly used for purposes for which nobody thought of using them ten years ago. There are working men and women who save up for two years to fly from Glasgow to Wembley to see an international soccer match between England and Scotland. That sort of thing is going on all over the country at rugby and football games. People are flying who would never have thought about it ten years ago.
We have to make use of the mass market which is developing all over the world. The increase in the number of people travelling by air on the North Atlantic routes compared with those travelling by sea has been dramatic over the last ten years. The number flying has almost doubled. The market is there. We should try to operate large turbo-props, which are cheap to use, so that we can command that mass market for fairly long-distance or medium-distance travel. We have also to get the supersonic airlines which will challenge the best that America can produce.
In the meantime, we should cut back missile production, because to a large extent that depends on a political settlement. Since the tension, which has, so to speak, devastated the world, seems to be easing, it would do no harm if the missile production programme were cut back. In any event, it is a sector of our production which contributes only to the general instability of the industry as a whole.
Those are suggestions which may or may not be worth further thought. I have made proposals about the shipbuilding industry and about the aircraft industry, two of our great exporting industries. We are told that we have to export to live and to improve our standards 169 of living. I do not say that that should be our motto, but if it be true that we have to export or, fatalistically, to die, we have to consider these or better suggestions for maintaining the efficiency of two of our greatest industries at top peak.
One is a heavy industry, which in Scotland is tending to decline, and the other is a lighter industry of which Scotland has had far too small a share. I do not think that I have over-emphasised the Scottish point of view tonight, although I have advanced it on many other occasions. It is essential to our country that the Government see to it that we get a bigger share of this industry than we have had in the past. Unemployment in Scotland is a serious factor, not merely in Scotland. It will have repercussions throughout the whole of the United Kingdom.
I ask the Government to consider the points that I have raised. If they do that, they will find something helpful in the various suggestions that I have made concerning these two great industries.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Sir John Barlow (Middleton and Prestwich)
I feel sure that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) will not expect me to comment on his speech in great detail. I agree with a great deal of what he said, and especially with his moderate remarks delivered with so much knowledge of the aircraft and shipping industries which today face great difficulties.
Recently it was my experience to consider some of these problems. One of the most difficult questions to decide is whether the operating companies in this country, B.E.A. and B.O.A.C, should have to bear the cost of proving British machines. In most other countries, either directly or indirectly, the Government carries a great deal of the expense. We must think along similar lines because we cannot afford to fall behind in the development of aircraft.
We have great craftsmen and technicians in this country. They have been assembled at great cost and it would be a tragedy if they were frittered away, and allowed to go into other industries or abroad. That is one of the great problems that will have to be faced in the near future.
170 I notice that some hon. Members, especially on the Opposition benches, have criticised the Gracious Speech for the things which it omitted. That is always an easy means of attack but, to begin with, perhaps I may be allowed to follow along the same lines, though perhaps not quite so far.
It is a rather serious omission that the Gracious Speech did not mention the future of television in this country. In the next few years a great deal of new and hard thinking will have to be done about Independent Television and the B.B.C. It would be the greatest mistake to leave that too long and then jump to sudden conclusions. I.T.V. has been a great and good experiment in the last few years. The scheme has justified itself, but I do not say that it cannot be improved upon.
It was a tremendous new concept. Many people call Independent Television "the people's television". In some measure that is so, but I urge the Government to begin thinking about it, to make inquiries and to get suitable people, possibly a Select Committee, to advise them one way or another, because the next step forward in television will be most important for this country for generations to come.
A great deal has been said about the future of roads. We are all too well aware that a great deal must be done. The Government are bound by great new programmes which I feel sure will be expanded still further at great cost, and rightly so, in the future. It may well be that in the comparatively near future the difficulties in connection with the roads from town to town will largely be solved. but one great difficulty will remain: Where are cars to be parked in towns?
It may be that not many people agree with me, but I feel that the responsibility for finding space for parking cars in towns should not be left with the local authority. People pay for car licences to run their cars on the roads and not to leave them stationary there for long or short periods. If people want to use their cars on the roads—as they all do otherwise they would not have them licensed—they should make provision for leaving them somewhere other than on the roads when they are not being used in the daytime. It would be wrong to increase the licence fee to provide for 171 parking spaces in towns, because some people would not wish to use their cars for that purpose. In return for the privilege of motoring, there will have to be a new and additional cost for parking a car in town when it is not being used. I feel very strongly that the roads were made to be used by vehicles moving along them and not remaining stationary upon them.
§ Mr. Lipton
Before the hon. Member leaves that point, may I ask him whether he is aware that the parking facilities which are provided on Route 11, in the City, are not being used, simply because motorists will not pay the necessary fees?
§ Sir J. Barlow
If motorists were prevented from parking on roads they would very soon use those facilities. I leave my car on the road—not in London, but in my provincial town—but I feel that the practice should be stopped for the good of motorists as a whole, or the situation will become impossible.
Another matter which was not mentioned directly in the Gracious Speech nevertheless undoubtedly arises from it. As some hon. Members may know, I come from Lancashire, and I have been very interested in the cotton industry for a number of years. I was delighted when, not long ago, the Government passed the Cotton Industry Act to provide for a diminution of the cotton industry, with modernisation and better equipment, instead of leaving the weakest firms to go to the wall, thus leaving the industry entirely undeveloped and higgledy-piggledy. When the Act was introduced schemes were provided remarkably quickly for the spinning and weaving sections of the industry, and I believe that those schemes are going forward and are likely to work very well. But the other sections have not been dealt with as yet. No schemes have been put forward for the dyeing, bleaching and printing sections of the industry.
It is most important that all sections should be provided for, as envisaged in the Act. The spinning and weaving sections got away to a very good start. It may be that they were simpler to deal with. But it is now many months since the schemes were put forward, and it is high time that the other schemes for the finishing end of the industry were also 172 put forward. It has been suggested in certain quarters that the Government may not intend to go further than they have done at present, but I do not believe that that is true. We cannot have a modernised and reduced industry only half of which is provided for. I urge the Government to get on with the remainder of the industry as quickly as possible.
Curiously enough, this scheme has been somewhat hampered by the unexpected increase in orders. During the last two summers previous to this year, as we all know, we experienced deplorable weather. The demand for cotton frocks was very low indeed. As a result of the credit squeeze, and for various other reasons, the pipeline of cloth from the spinner and weaver, the make-up and the wholesaler into the shops had grown very empty indeed. So, with this remarkable summer, which we have all enjoyed, and which has provided an unexpected demand for cotton frocks, early and late—indeed, the demand still exists—it is not surprising that there was some shortage.
Whereas a few months ago one could get delivery of cloth remarkably quickly, now, in most cases, delivery takes from six to eight months. That does not mean that there has been a permanent rise in the demand for clothing in this country. It has been temporarily larger than usual during the summer but that does not mean that in this country we shall use very much more than 1,500 million yards of cotton cloth. It merely means that the pipeline was so empty that people became frightened of a shortage, ordered far more than they wanted, and, as a result, orders piled up. That situation arose at the same time as the Cotton Industry Act was coming into operation. That undoubtedly made the working of the Act more difficult, but I feel that this difficulty will solve itself in the near future.
It is satisfactory to see in the Gracious Speech mention made of the advisability and necessity of development in overseas and primitive countries. I should like to read two extracts from the Gracious Speech:They will seek to develop the material resources on which the standard of living of the peoples of the Commonwealth must depend. …173 andThe improvement of conditions of life in the less developed countries of the world will remain an urgent concern of My Government. They will promote economic co-operation between the nations and support plans for financial and technicial assistance.I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree with me in urging the fundamental importance of helping the Commonwealth and Colonial under-developed countries. Many of these countries are largely dependent on either mining or agricultural produce. By the nature of their development and their history, they have not been called upon to develop industries at all.
We find, for example, that Malaya is largely dependent on tin and rubber; Australia, on wool; Borneo, entirely on agricultural products, with the exception of a certain amount of oil. This is equally true of the African territories, which are nearly all largely dependent on one or two agricultural products. We have seen that those products vary in price enormously.
When the Opposition were in power they went in for long-term contracts. I do not like that and the idea is certainly not welcomed on this side of the House. But I see the value of stabilising commodity prices if that be a practicable proposition. It has been tried at various times in the past with various commodities. Sometimes it has failed and sometimes it has succeeded. But if these countries—take, for example, Malaya, because that is a simple case—do not have some stabilisation of their commodities they are bound to become industrialised. They are trying to encourage new industries at present. If we encourage that to continue, it will mean that we shall have innumerable small industrialised units in the Commonwealth, most of which will be uneconomic.
During the last year or two we in this country have said that it is essential to have a European free trade market, that our market, large and rich as it is with 50 million people, is not sufficient for modern production; and one of the benefits of a European market would be consumption by something like 250 million people. If that be necessary for us with modern production, how is a small country with 5 million or 10 million people to manufacture or industrialise 174 economically? I suggest that it is utterly impossible. If we encourage them to go on doing so we may be faced with many countries partially dependent on us which cannot manufacture economically and I suggest it is preferable, if a means can be found—and I think it may be—to stabilise commodity prices.
A scheme put forward by Mr. Grondona is frequently mentioned in this House, but I do not think it would work, for various reasons, and the sooner we forget about it the better. There are other means, and it may well be that the United States may see the necessity for this. I suggest that there are indications that the International Monetary Fund may now be used partly for such a purpose as this.
It is almost impossible for us, single-handed, to stabilise the world production of, say, tin or rubber or certain other commodities of that kind. But it would be for the benefit of the world as a whole if the International Monetary Fund could be used for such a purpose. Not only would the producing countries benefit, but it would also be of great benefit to manufacturers. A manufacturer would much prefer to have continuity of price rather than violent fluctuations, because it is when we get fluctuations in manufacture and changes in prices that difficulties arise. If the stabilisation of commodities were possible it would help not only the producing but the consuming countries; and this is of such importance that, although it is difficult, I urge the Government to persevere to see whether world funds may be used for this very valuable purpose.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Mrs. Harriet Slater (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
Tonight, I wish to speak on one or two matters which are mentioned in the Gracious Speech, but about which nothing very definite is said, plus another matter which is not mentioned at all. I wish to deal with a reference to house building. The Gracious Speech says thatNew house building will be maintained at a high level and the slum clearance campaign will continue.I suggest to the Government that they will have to be very much more courageous and more definite than is foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech because, if house building goes on at the rate it has progressed in the last five 175 years, many people desperately in need of houses now will not get them in their life-time.
By way of illustration, I relate that to my area, Stoke-on-Trent. Under a Labour Government and the first two years of a Tory Government, Stoke-on-Trent was the county borough with the highest local authority building record in the whole country, but our housing committee decided last month that because interest rates are so high and there are no subsidies for local authority building, other than slum clearance and old people's dwellings, next year the city, which has a population of 279,000, will build only 169 houses.
It is all right for the Minister of Housing and Local Government to tell us that if we put up the rents we could afford to build more. That is merely an excuse. It is all right for hon. Members opposite to say that we should turn out folk who can afford such luxuries as a Jaguar car and we could then build more houses. One even suggested that a council house tenant had an aeroplane. The fact remains that on every local authority housing list there are thousands of people earning very low incomes and waiting for council houses. Thousands of people are living in slum properties and do not stand very much chance at present of being rehoused.
In Stoke-on-Trent, there are about 7,000 people on the ordinary letting list. I estimate that if we go on at the present Tory Government rate it will take forty to forty-five years before we can rehouse people at present on the list, quite apart from new married couples and others who will come on to the list during the next few years. The 169 houses comprise in the main slum clearance houses. In my constituency there are well over 3,000 slum clearance houses. At the rate of building 169 houses those living in slum houses will have to wait thirty-five to forty years before those houses are cleared away.
There are people living in houses with no pantry and no sink inside the house, people sharing a tap or a toilet. Thousands of people are living in houses without even proper facilities for cooking. I remember that when I was first elected to this House I was on the Standing Committee which dealt with 176 the Housing Repairs and Rents Bill, in 1954. The Prime Minister called it "Operation Rescue" and said that it would clear away all those houses. There has been the Rent Act since then. That Act has failed as miserably as the 1954 Act failed, because landlords are collecting rents and, under the terms of the Act, the tenant has to make the first move and repairs are not carried out. Because of the terms of the Rent Act not only shall we not clear the existing slums, but we shall add more slums which will need to be cleared.
We want much more assurance from the Government that they intend to go ahead and build more council houses than are being built at present. We do not want great luxury houses, but houses for people who are in desperate need either because they live in slum houses or in appallingly overcrowded conditions.
I want to refer, next, to the Youth Service. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. E. Johnson) is not here, for I must say that I was positively sickened by his speech. It must be realised that because of publicity in the Press and on television, the youth of this country is very much misrepresented. We are given a picture of the youths who commit crimes, but it may not be the youths in Manchester who commit crimes. Publicity is never given to the many thousands of young men and women who at this moment are attending evening classes either to improve their prospects in their careers or to make better use of their leisure time.
Thousands of young people attend church youth clubs, local authority youth clubs and many other youth organisations merely because they want to find some way of bettering themselves and using their leisure time effectively. The publicity in the Press and on television, however, is given to those who commit crimes or to the long-haired people who frequent our coffee bars. On the other hand, not much publicity is given to those who go to expensive parties and throw bottles out of the windows at people walking by in the street.
We hope that in their reference to youth work on the Gracious Speech the Government mean business. When they talk of improving the Youth Service we hope 177 that it means that they will make facilities available for training more people to work in the Service and that they will be prepared to pay these people a little better than they are paid today. We hope that facilities will be provided for training them so that they have an all-round picture of what youth needs. We hope that halls will be built in which these young folk can conduct their activities. This can be done either by adding a wing to existing buildings, as we have done to some new schools in Stoke-on-Trent, for youth and community purposes, or by building a community hall where these people can meet.
At present, the Youth Service is very haphazard. In some areas it is very good. I take pride in the Youth Service in Stoke-on-Trent, and I am sure that the rate of our juvenile delinquency and delinquency among young people in Stoke-on-Trent is low because of the amount of work which is done in the Youth Service in our city. I hope that the Government mean to look at this service with initiative, imagination and courage, determined to spend some money on it.
May I turn from the Youth Service to our education service? The Government say that they will do more school building. I hope that they will also improve some of the old schools. Last year every local authority had some of its school-building programme cut out by the Government, who now tell us in the Gracious Speech, with a great use of platitudes, that they will spend more money on schools. There is a school in my constituency which has no playground—just a piece of open ground. The school lavatories are shocking. The lighting is appalling. This is a Church school, over 100 years old, which ought to have been condemned long ago. Nevertheless, in spite of very strong representations, the replacement of this school was cut out of our school-building programme this year. We must find room for such replacements in our educational service.
An omission from the Gracious Speech is the question of consumer protection. I hope that, as a woman Member, I may be forgiven for speaking on this subject. I do not claim privileges for women, but I think that we have some idea of the great need for consumer protection. 178 Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin), I have not looked up in HANSARD the column numbers of the Answers given to Questions on this subject, but I know that repeatedly in the last two or three years the Government said that they would do something to deal with the problem of weights and measures. It was mentioned in the last Gracious Speech, but nothing has been done. It is not mentioned this time at all, from which I gather that, as we suspected last year, nothing is to be done.
We are living in an age when more and more goods are packaged—the age of the self-service shop. It is about time that the housewife was no longer subjected to the amount of advertising that is pushed through the door, offering 3d. off this packet, and 2d. off a block of soap, or something knocked off cereals. Instead, there should be something printed on the label of the goods to let her know how much she is buying. The Co-operative movement has done that with soap powders, and some other manufacturers also do it now—but only after tremendous pressure. The Hodgson Report was introduced in 1951, and it is about time that the Government did something practical in the weights and measures field to give the housewife the consumer protection that she ought to have.
A section of one of the Ministries should be set apart solely to deal with consumer protection problems. We have a Minister for Science; we ought to have a Parliamentary Secretary or someone at the Board of Trade made responsible for this matter. Today, the housewife is offered all kinds of modern materials, but does not know whether they will be durable, will not shrink, will keep their colour, and so on. In particular, children's shoes and children's clothes generally present a very great problem.
There is also a tremendous amount of the sort of advertising that tells one to apply for a machine that will cost £9 9s. or £7 10s., but when the form has been sent in the firms make no mention of the machines at that price but try to persuade the housewife to buy something costing more, in the region of £40. If such advertisements mean anything at 179 all then at least the article advertised should be available, and the housewife ought not to have this tremendous pressure put upon her to buy something costing many times more than that which she really thought she could afford.
We are living in an age of hire purchase. I was reared by parents who would have thought it almost wicked to have bought something they could not afford to pay for in cash. Much as we might have wanted something, we had to save before we bought. But we are in a new age, and young folk are used to hire purchase. Nevertheless, there are many ways in which people can be deliberately defrauded. For instance, they sign a form which they think is a hire-purchase agreement. This practice is particularly prevalent in T.V. dealings—I have a case at present. About twelve months later they find that it was not a hire-purchase but a rental agreement. The first week they are ill or out of work the article is taken back, and the parties have no redress. Living in this period of hire purchase and mass advertising, I hope that when the Government say many more things will be submitted to the House, consumer protection will be one of the things to be considered.
Finally, I regret very much that in the Gracious Speech there is only a reference to the earnings rule for old-age pensioners. That is not by any means enough. What the old people need is not a little sop given in that way. They need a basic increase in the old-age pension which will at least keep poverty from the door. One hon. Member opposite said that the Labour Party had only talked about it when we put it in our election manifesto. We spent a great deal of time talking about this in Committee on the Pensions (Increase) Bill. The Government at least owe it to old-age pensioners give them, because of their great need, a rise immediately and not something in the far distant future.
I hope that the Government will consider many of the problems which they have left out of the Gracious Speech and, in particular, consumer protection.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ Mr. H. A. Price (Lewisham, West)
We are at the beginning of a new Parliament which, as far as anybody can see, should last its full term. The campaign which brought it into being—I am speaking for myself; I do not know how many hon. Members will agree with me—was an interesting campaign, but not an exciting one. Meetings were well attended, but not better than that. Heckling was almost entirely absent.
§ Mr. Price
I am speaking for myself. Heckling was almost entirely absent and questions were much fewer than usual. The impression that I received was that people were rather more thoughtful than usual and thinking about the arguments to a far greater extent than before.
I have no wish to fight the election all over again, but I wish to make one or two comments upon it. The first arises from the concluding words of the non. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mrs. Slater). I have never been able to understand how right hon. and hon. Members opposite find it possible to say the things they do say about old-age pensions. If I were a member of the Socialist Party I should keep very quiet indeed on this issue. I have no wish to go into all the statistics again. They have been gone over time and time again. However, if I am challenged I shall be very happy to detail them. I will summarise it in this way. The old-age pensioner is today several shillings per week better off than ever he or she was when the Socialists were in power.
§ Mr. Price
It became payable in July, 1947. I ask hon. Members to stick to the facts. The hon. Member for Hamilton can go back to the Report of March, 1944, if he wishes, but the fact remains that the pension of 26s. a week became payable, in July, 1947. In the four years up to October, 1951, the cost of living rose by 29 per cent. During the whole of those four years until just before the October, 1951, General Election the old-age pension remained static. It was not increased by as much as 1d. It was not until a few weeks before the General Election that it was raised by 4s., which was insufficient to compensate for the increase in the cost of living. As a result of what happened during those four years the old-age pensioner was half a crown a week worse off.
Almost the first thing we did when we took over in 1951 was to increase the old-age pension to 32s. 6d. a week for all old-age pensioners. We brought it up to what it ought to have been after allowing for the increase in the cost of living.
§ Mr. Price
The hon. Gentleman is trying to shoulder me off a course which he finds unpleasant.
I shall not quibble about a shilling or two. I do not mind whether we take the figure as being 6s. or 10s. or something in between. I am content to say several shillings a week better off than ever they were when right hon. Gentlemen opposite were in power.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
Would the hon. Gentleman have a look at the document which he will find in the Library of the House and in which he will find statistics which show that the 50s. pension today has the same purchasing power as the 26s. pension in 1946?
§ Mr. Price
Even if I accept that the pension today has the same purchasing power as 26s. in 1947, which was the highest purchasing power it ever had when hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite were in power, then in that case—and I am for the moment giving the hon. Gentleman his figures, which, in fact, I do not agree—our record is equal to their own at its highest. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That being so, how is it that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, in this House, in the country and on television find it possible in their consciences to paint the picture as they do paint it, as though they are the only people who care for the old-age pensioners and that we could not care less?
What I have said applies not only to the old-age pensioners. They are not the only people who are dependent upon the Welfare State. There are others. There are the unemployed, those who receive sickness benefit, the 1948 widow, the war disabled, and the industrially disabled. Let us see how they have fared.
Their benefits were fixed in July, 1948. The first three, the unemployed, the widow and the sick, had 26s. a week. The industrially disabled and the war disabled had 45s. a week. From then until October, 1951, while the cost of living rose by 25 per cent. those pensions remained static. None of them was increased by as much as a single penny.
§ Mr. Price
—buried it? Is it not time they realised that we just as much as they are interested in the welfare of those who are dependent on the State for their needs? Do not the figures show that we have done justice to them? Even if hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite will not accept that our figures are better than theirs, that our record is better than theirs, they ought at least to agree that it is as good.
§ Mr. G. Thomas
Does the hon. Gentleman not bear in mind that the question now is whether the country can afford and ought to give an increase in the basic rate of old-age pension? That is the question, not all this old history, for it is history by now.
§ Mr. Price
That was not the question as presented to the country by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
If hon. Gentlemen opposite think we can afford more, I accept their testimony to the efficiency of this Government. If we can afford more, I have not the slightest doubt that that more will be forthcoming.
There is one more thought about the General Election which I should like to put before the House, on which perhaps we shall find more unanimity. I really think that if we cannot do better with our radio and television political 184 programmes than we did this time we ought to drop them altogether next time. Speaking for myself—and here I am not singling out one party as against another—I did not see all the programmes, but those I saw were puerile, infantile and some of them positively nauseating. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Being quite objective? "] I heard it suggested, I believe by Mr. Morgan Phillips, that it would be a good plan if the party leaders at the next election had to face questions from their political opponents and had to defend their policies against criticism.
That sounds to me to be a very good idea. [AN HON. MEMBER: "They did."] They certainly did not in the broadcasts during the last election. They answered very carefully phrased questions from their friends, which convinced nobody. I am afraid that the kind of programme we had during the last election not only does no good to the party responsible for it but does no good to politics either. I think that it produced political cynicism and I should like to think that we would all try to do better next time.
The election is over and we have to face the next five years. There is a good deal of conjecture about what is going to happen to the Labour Party during the next five years.
§ Mr. Price
I am not a bit worried about it. I would suggest to my hon. Friends that we ought not to worry about it. What will happen will happen, and when it has happened we can think about it. In the meantime, we have a job to do which the electorate has given us.
I would summarise that job in this way, and divide it into two parts. First of all, we have to harness all the energies and talents of our people for the creation of new wealth. Secondly, we have to ensure that an ever-increasing proportion of that wealth is devoted to the care of those who cannot care for themselves, not only in this country but in the world outside. At home it is probably true to say that want in the true sense of the word has been virtually abolished. Unhappily, that is not so outside. Here again I do not want 185 to burden the House with a lot of statistics. They are available and well known and they show that countless millions of people throughout the world are living at a level and under conditions to which the words "shocking" and "appalling" can be applied in their literal meaning.
But just as do the benefits of the Welfare State, so the possibilities of helping these people depend upon prosperity at home. It is this thought which brings me to the two points I want to make. The Socialist Party during the election said that it could pay for its programme out of increased production. Increased production is not enough. Increased production is useless and worse than useless unless it can be sold. I think that there is too much emphasis on increased production and not enough on increased productivity.
As I said during the debate on the Budget, the greatest enemy we have is inflation. We have been fighting against it ever since the end of the war. At the moment we have reached a period of stability, though I have suggested, and I repeat, that the biggest danger is the return of inflation and that we should use the period of stability for an attack upon the causes of inflation.
I should like to see a more positive effort from Her Majesty's Government in two fields: first, in productivity at the source by the encouragement of greater efficiency and the elimination of restrictive practices at all levels. Secondly, by a real attack upon prices, I think we have an opportunity to bring down prices. In July a well-known industrialist launched a scheme by offering £10,000 in prizes to industries throughout the country which could produce the best record in price reduction. I would like to see a scheme of this kind taken up and supported by Her Majesty's Government through the Board of Trade or through some other agency, perhaps through the British Productivity Council. Let us see a positive attack upon prices at both the production level and at the selling point.
The second point I want to make concerns our attitude towards the world outside. There are enormous potentialities for the production of increased wealth in what are called the underdeveloped territories. I would like to see a more positive effort from Her 186 Majesty's Government to create that wealth and to harness it for the benefit of those who live in these territories. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have talked about a target of I per cent. in national expenditure. I think they are too modest. We are already doing that and I think we could do much more.
Some six or seven years ago I had the honour to second the Motion for the Loyal Address on an occasion such as this and I tried to draw attention to the potentialities of wealth in Africa. But Africa is only one part of the world where these possibilities exist.
I am reminded of Abraham Lincoln who said that one does not help a man by doing for him what he should be doing for himself. These territories need not so much doles of food, clothing and shelter, although they need those urgently, but, more particularly in the long run, new industries, new capital, new machinery and new knowledge. This country could and should be making a greater contribution to meeting the needs of those territories.
It has been said in criticism of this General Election that it was too material. Perhaps there is some truth in that, but there is no reason why this Government or this country during the next five years should be too material. The British people have always had a great sense of mission and have fulfilled great missions in the past. The great mission of the nineteenth century is completed. I see in the development of the underdeveloped territories a mission worthy of the British people for the second half of the twentieth century. In the next five years we cannot hope to do more than begin it, but I hope we shall at least do that.
§ 9.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
I want to speak on two passages in the Gracious Speech. One is:My Ministers will strive to maintain full employment …For eight years different teams of Ministers on the other side of the House have striven to do exactly that. But they have failed ignominously because their principles were wrong, and it will be something of a miracle if this new team of Ministers, with the same object in view, have any better success.
187 The second quotation is:My Ministers will give urgent attention to the problems of those areas in which there is need to provide further opportunities for employment …Scotland is one of those, and it has suffered for eight years from the failure of Ministers on the other side of the House to do that. During those eight years the Ministers on the other side of the House have given endless promises, and no doubt their intentions were good, but their failure in Scotland has been spectacular. They have given no real help to Scotland.
On those two quotations I found the argument which I address to the House. It is a matter of very great importance to the constitutional future of this island. It is that the Tory Government and the earlier Tory Governments who drafted this and earlier Gracious Speeches have shown a definite trend towards the partition of Britain by discrimination against Britain's constituent nations—Wales and Scotland.
My constituency is not in Wales, and I shall confine my argument to Scotland. For brevity, I shall confine myself to one recent example, although there are many others. However, I wish first to show that this Gracious Speech is part of a bad trend and a bad system, characteristic of recent Tory Governments, to discriminate against Scotland, and that is one of the reasons why the Tories lost three seats in Scotland during the General Election. They have no plan for Scotland, no plan for Scotland is suggested in the Gracious Speech, and the silence of the Gracious Speech on this subject is a sign of the guilt of the Government in respect of Scotland.
Scotland's conditions are separate and demand separate treatment. In the Gracious Speech Scotland is once again treated as an alien and unworthy of fair or separate treatment. In time of war the British Government are glad to have the courage and skill of Scots fishermen and other Scots who fight and win their battles, but in time of peace Scotland is neglected. Scotland, with one-third of the land area of Britain and one-tenth of the population, has one-fifth of the unemployment and other unsolved problems.
188 Today's Gracious Speech, like other Gracious Speeches drafted by Tory Governments, contains no plan for Scotland, no proposal for repopulating the Highlands and nothing to bring industry, wealth and prosperity to the North and East of Scotland where it is so badly needed.
§ Mr. Hughes
This is not accidental, because Gracious Speeches are not drafted by accident. They are drafted with great deliberation after careful Cabinet consideration. The tradition of neglect is characteristic of the Gracious Speeches drafted by Tory Governments for the last eight years. I shall prove what I say. Recent history shows that this invidious conduct is deliberate and part of a discrimination against Scotland.
The Gracious Speech of November, 1951, occupied four columns of HANSARD but contained only eight words on Scotland. The Gracious Speech of November, 1952, occupied three columns of HANSARD but contained only two sentences on Scotland. The Gracious Speech of November, 1953, occupied three columns of HANSARD but mentioned Scotland only once. The Gracious Speech of 1954 occupied four columns of HANSARD but mentioned Scotland only twice and then briefly. The Gracious Speech of November, 1955, of about 1,000 words mentioned Scotland in one sentence only.
There were two Gracious Speeches in November, 1956. One contained 204 lines, of which eight lines referred to Scotland. The other Gracious Speech contained about 170 lines, but only four referred expressly to Scotland. Of the two Gracious Speeches in November, 1957, one contained about 220 lines, of which only five referred expressly to Scotland, and the other contained about 100 lines, of which only three referred expressly to Scotland. In October, 1958, the Gracious Speech contained about 200 lines and included the word Scotland only once, and that was in reference to the protection of deer, but nothing about human beings.
Today, we have another Gracious Speech containing about 850 words and Scotland is mentioned only once, and 189 mentioned in such a way as to suggest that the only things needing attention in Scotland are mental health and the law of succession. There is not a word about unemployment, not a word about housing, not a word about the lack of the industrial developments which are badly needed in Scotland. Not one of these Gracious Speeches did more than refer to Scotland in vague, impracticable and unhelpful terms, like the Gracious Speech of today. They all dismissed Scotland as a poor relation, an alien appendage, a mere nuisance more than anything else. Nowhere did any of them adumbrate even in the faintest way a plan for Scotland which could be regarded as fulfilling the obligations of the union between England and Scotland
Nor does the Gracious Speech today. Its authors have their eyes rivetted on the south of this small island. For England their hearts palpitate, for in England they have their money bags located. They have forgotten the union and the justice which it requires for all parts of this small island.
Therefore, I say that the trend of this Gracious Speech and of the other Gracious Speeches to which I have referred is to create partition in this island and to separate Scotland from the rest of the island.
§ Mr. Hughes
I promised to give but one recent example, although there are many more. It is in the sphere of scientific industry. It has been reported that the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority is seeking to acquire and develop a site for a thermonuclear station. This site should be in Scotland, where there are wide open spaces, clear air, adequate water supplies, labour available, the skilled scientists and all the other facilities which would be necessary for such a station. Instead, the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority seeks to site this new station in Oxfordshire, in the congested south of England, where there are none of the facilities to which I have referred.
On the 21st of this month, the Scottish Labour Group was so concerned about this outrage upon Scotland, and indeed upon the congested 190 districts of southern England, that it held a meeting on the subject, and wrote a letter to the Prime Minister putting forward the claims of Scotland in this regard. I venture to quote that letter. It is not very long and it says:The Press today reports the proposed construction of a thermonuclear research establishment at Culham in Oxfordshire. Scottish Labour Members meeting today felt great concern that for many years Scotland has received a pitiable share of Government-sponsored research and saw in this latest development the provision of a further magnet to attract industry to the already congested London and Midlands areas.There is no denying that to centralise and concentrate thermonuclear research in the South, if persisted in, will militate against the Government's declared intention to stimulate the development of science-based industries in Scotland. We would all wish to change the conditions that lead to more than half the graduates in science who emerge from Scottish universities never finding it possible to get jobs in their native country.It is understood that the planning permission for the Culham project has not yet been sought. It is hoped that this makes it possible for the matter to be reconsidered. It seems to us that in asking private industry to develop in the unemployment areas the Government ought to set an example by giving Scotland … a fair share of Government-sponsored activities.The siting of the proposed thermonuclear establishment in Scotland would be an excellent start.Further, it would be an excellent start for the new Minister for Science to give serious consideration to the plea which is embodied in that letter and to see that the new thermonuclear station is sited in Scotland instead of in the congested South of England. This is indeed a great task for the new Minister for Science and I hope that he will tackle it with that energy which is characteristic of him when he swims in the sea at Brighton. I hope that he will tackle it in a constructive way which will result in this station being brought to Scotland. This is clearly a case not only for that Minister, but also for the Prime Minister himself, having regard to what he has said about the distribution of industry fairly throughout the country.
I have confined myself to the plan for Scotland and this is one aspect of the plan for Scotland, namely, that this thermonuclear station should be placed in Scotland. It would supplement Dounreay which is already there in the North. 191 It could bring trade, industry and commerce to Scotland. It could repopulate the North of Scotland and it could tend to cure that creeping paralysis of which the Economist wrote only the other day when it said:This paralysis now entering its second year is beginning to spread to the shipbuilding industry. … Tonnage under construction in the second quarter of 1959 shows a decline of 215 thousand tons from the previous quarter.… The tonnage commenced in the second quarter was the lowest for any quarter since the war.The slump has been felt unevenly throughout Britain so far but several of the smaller yards have laid their last keels for a while and have no business of any kind in sight.This is a terrible prospect for Britain, but a still more terrible prospect for Scotland where there is great unemployment and lack of industry.
I call on the Government to reverse this policy of separation between England and Scotland, which leaves the Scottish third of Britain depopulated, unproductive, unemployed and industrially poor. This policy of separatism uses public and private transport wrongly by making Scots pay higher freight rates, as if they were foreigners. There should be a fertile and constructive plan for Scotland which would bring the wonders of nuclear science to Scotland and spread them fairly throughout this island, so that the whole of Britain would abandon separatism and become one co-ordinated whole, a political and industrial unit trust which would pay big dividends in human happiness in the future.
§ 9.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
Despite all that has been said today, the main problem facing the majority of people in this country—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.