HL Deb 20 November 1934 vol 95 cc4-32

The King's Speech reported by the LORD CHANCELLOR.


My Lords, I beg to move that an humble Address be presented to His Majesty in reply to the gracious Speech from the Throne. I should like to express my gratitude to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for having given me this important task, and I must crave that indulgence which is always so generously granted to one who has the honour of addressing your Lordships' House for the first time. In the gracious Speech there is a reference to one subject which must be of the deepest concern to all of us—namely, that of peace. I claim that His Majesty's Government have at all times and in all places striven for that great ideal. Our country has set an example to the world in disarmament, which, unfortunately, up to now has not been followed by other nations. No country can look upon us as aggressors. At the same time we have great responsibilities peculiar to our great Empire, and this country must never shirk the responsibilities. We must at all times have adequate resources to meet the great obligations that rest upon His Majesty's Government.

It is very gratifying that since the National Government came into being over 900,000 more men and women have found employment and that, apart from the temporary setback due to seasonal unemployment, a steady improvement in our unemployment figures has been maintained. The reference in the gracious Speech to the question of depressed areas I consider to be of the greatest importance. There are many difficult problems which the Government will have to solve. I hope that ultimately this great undertaking will bring to many people in these vast areas some hope that they will be absorbed into useful and productive occupations either by the revival of former industries or the establishment of new ones. The Unemployment Act which was passed during the last Session is one of the greatest advances in the social machinery of democratic administration that this country has ever seen. The Unemployment Assistance Board has begun its work under the chairmanship of Sir Henry Betterbon. As one who was closely associated with him in political life before his retirement from Parliament, I can speak with some knowledge of his ability and sympathy, and I feel certain that he will do his work well and always remember that he is dealing with men and women who, in many cases through no fault of their own, have fallen on evil times.

One of the greatest blots on the social life of this country is to be found in the slum and overcrowded areas of our large towns, which have a marked and serious effect upon the well-being and health of many of our people. I am glad to note in the gracious Speech that the campaign against slum clearance and overcrowding in all our large towns is to be vigorously extended. I have observed with the utmost satisfaction that in my own county large numbers of people who at one time lived in a slum district are now living in more happy and congenial surroundings.

Perhaps the most important item in the gracious Speech is that which deals with Indian constitutional reform. The members of the Joint Select Committee of both Houses who have been considering the proposals of the White Paper have come to the end of their arduous task. These proposals, which entail constitutional changes in the government of the Indian Empire, will occupy a great deal of your Lordships' time in the coming Session. The question of adequate safeguards bas received long and careful deliberation and I feel confident that when those proposals are before the House for consideration we shall, realising our great responsibility to the Indian Empire, be actuated by the desire to legislate wisely for that great country.

It is highly encouraging that His Majesty's Government have resolved to put that great industry agriculture, which is of incalculable value to this nation, on a sound and prosperous basis. Certainly no Government have done more for agriculture than the present one. All the measures which so far have been taken have had the one object of stopping the influx into the towns from the country and maintaining a happy community on the land. The great problem of agriculture has been the disposal of the produce grown on the farm at a remunerative price. Milk has received special attention from the Ministry of Agriculture, the Milk Marketing Board and the County Councils Association, of which body I am a member. All are agreed that the public should have pure and safe milk, but they differ as to the best means of attaining this object. I hope that in the near future a scheme agreeable to all parties will be forthcoming. The lack of properly organised marketing has been greatly remedied by the Government's Marketing Acts. To refer to one item, the administration of their Wheat Act, reveals the fact that during 1934 the wheat acreage is 562,000 acres more than in 1931. Farmers are now securing a fair price and a guaranteed market, and this has been accomplished without taxing the consumer.

In conclusion, my Lords, it is very gratifying to note that the steady improvement in trade and commerce, which began in 1931, has, owing to the courageous financial and commercial policy of His Majesty's Government, been maintained. Our recovery has been at a pace which is the wonder and envy of every foreign country. This recovery is directly due to the National Government, and I am convinced that it is only by a continuance of national effort and through the cooperation of all Parties that prosperity can be re-established. I beg to move.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty as followeth—

"Most Gracious Sovereign.—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—(Lord Belper.)


My Lords, in rising to second the Motion for an humble Address, I should wish at the very outset to express my deep sense of the honour conferred on me by the noble Viscount who leads this House in selecting for so privileged, if so formidable, a task, one who has had so very short an experience of your Lordships' House. I am very sensible of my own shortcomings, and from your Lordships I can only crave an extension of that con- spicuous indulgence which you have already been good enough to accord to me on the few occasions on which I have already ventured to address this House, and also ask that your Lordships would regard me as a representative—a very undistinguished representative—of those members of your Lordships' House who, while not belonging to the Conservative Party, have nevertheless to the best of their ability given consistent support to His Majesty's present Administration.

Before I make any especial reference to one particular paragraph of the gracious Speech, may I be allowed to suggest that at this particular juncture it is especially incumbent on us to remember the economic background against which the proposals in the gracious Speech are advanced. During the last three years, as the noble Lord who moved this Motion has just said, this country has achieved a more conspicuous degree of economic recovery—and that, my Lords, is, after all, only another way of saying a more drastic reduction of human suffering—than has been recorded in any previous three years of its history. Paradoxically enough that is by no means necessarily a source of political strength to His Majesty's Government. As your Lordships are very well aware, there is no gratitude in politics, unless perhaps it be of that less genial variety which has been said to consist in a lively anticipation of benefits to come. But the extent of the country over which, since 1931, we have advanced does at any rate mean that the proposals in the gracious Speech of to-day are, in fact, but a continuation of a steady advance from an already solidly-established base. And that is indeed a very great matter.

There are those, and they are to be found in every Party, whom the very solidity of those gains, the very steadiness of this advance, renders impatient, and who would have preferred at any time in those last three years some more theoretic concoction of spectacular experiment. It is easy to be sympathetic with impatience, especially when it is impatience for progress, but it requires, I would submit, no very elaborate survey of the world of to-day to suggest that experiments may be spectacular because they are doomed to be sterile, and that programmes for the future are often all the more comprehensive because their authors have achieved but little in the past. I would venture to suggest to those who would prefer some more spectacular, some less empirical advance, that it is for them to point to some other country in which the mass of the people are more prosperous than in our own.

The reference in the gracious Speech to the Government's determination to make the support and extension of the authority of the League of Nations a cardinal point in their policy, is one which I am sure your Lordships will receive with every satisfaction. The people of this country do still believe in the League of Nations, and I would venture to suggest that there are in foreign policy at the moment two pressing necessities. One is to put an end to the recklessly pessimistic talk which represents Europe as on the brink of another great war. That is an illusion, and a dangerous illusion, for fear is the most fertile breeding ground of war. The other necessity is, as the gracious Speech proposes, to extend the authority of the League of Nations, that round table at which the fears which now poison Europe may be exposed and, by exposure, be allayed. With the Locarno principle, which has already been embodied in the collective system, the principle, that is, of limited sanctions, of mutual arrangements for defence between small groups within the League and under the authority of the League—and with His Majesty's Government also setting an example of determination to support and extend the authority of the League—I do myself most firmly believe that the League of Nations will avail to carry the world through these testing times without the supreme and probably final catastrophe of another great war.

The reference in the gracious Speech to Indian constitutional reform reminds us that we are approaching a task at least as formidable, at least as momentous for the destinies of mankind, as any which in the long history of this ancient Parliament our forefathers have had to face. It would not be proper for me to comment upon an issue which I suppose even to-day is still sub judice, but I may perhaps be allowed to suggest that there is one analogy between the problem of India and what I have ventured to say about the problem of peace. If it be argued that a moment at which so many nations have despaired of democracy is perhaps a strange moment at which to consider any measure of constitutional reform, may it not be replied that democracy, like peace, has need of men with the courage of their opinions? I venture to suggest that the three great causes of to-day, peace, democracy and economic recovery, meet their most dangerous and insidious enemy in one and the same thing, and that is the spirit of defeatism. I do not think that even the most fervent critics of national government would hesitate to agree that it would be very difficult to devise a Government of any other complexion more suitable than the present Government to handle the problem of India.

The Indian problem will necessarily occupy so much Parliamentary attention that there must be less time to devote to domestic issues. May I say in passing that we shall all hope that time will be available for that measure for the control of building development along the main roads, to which the gracious Speech makes reference. The hyper-æsthetic have criticised the beacons set up by the Minister of Transport on the ground that although they save life they are ugly. Ribbon development, a fertile source of road accidents, is uglier than the orange groves, which is the worst to which the beacons have been compared, and it does destroy life, and I think most of your Lordships will agree that it should be ended.

There are many other important paragraphs in the gracious Speech referring to domestic issues, but only one other, and that is a paragraph which I am sure your Lordships will welcome, to which it falls to me to refer. Now that a general recovery is unmistakably on foot, the Government have been able to concentrate attention upon those economic areas which, through the decline or departure of whole industries, have seemed to be suffering from a pernicious economic anaemia. There is no snore desperate situation for any human being than the feeling that he is not wanted, that he is superfluous, and that nowhere in society is there a place for his head and hands. Somehow or other these citizens must be brought into contact with the returning tides of prosperity. Here, too, as in the problem of India, and in the problem of peace, we find ourselves faced with a great constructive task, a task which I have no doubt this country will approach with the same spirit of quiet and undemonstrative confidence which has already carried it so far upon its upward path. I beg to second the. Motion.

LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE My Lords, I am always glad that my first duty in a new Session is a pleasant one, because later on in the Session there are plenty of less pleasant ones, and I find myself specially glad in congratulating the mover of the Address in reply to the gracious Speech on the admirably lucid and concise way in which he has expressed his views. It did, however, occur to me that here we have another instance of a noble Lord who is very well adapted to take part in our debates, yet only finds his opportunity to break his silence when he is specially invited to move the Address. The burden of speech-making falls on members of this House terribly unevenly. I speak as one who has to inflict his voice on your Lordships' House far more often than he wants to, and there are others who are like me; and I can assure the noble Lord that if his effort to-day encourages him, as it ought, to take part in our debates more frequently, he would find more opportunity if he came on this side. The seconder of the Address has not addressed your Lordships' House for the first time. He is already known to us as a skilled and eloquent debater and speaker, and I am sure we are likely to hear him again in future. I congratulate the noble Viscount the Leader of the House on his wisdom in nursing and encouraging one who before long, I feel sure, will devote his talents to the support of the Conservative Party.

Both the noble Lords found it perhaps a little difficult to be very enthusiastic, but they certainly touched on the main points in the gracious Speech in a manner which showed your Lordships that there are measures before us that are of considerable importance. The National Government now comes before us for the fourth time. The "Doctor's Mandate" has been very much extended. After the Short period of life which we were promised, the necessity has been proved that it should be further extended, and we find the National Government now preparing to convert itself more or less into a Party, not entirely with the concurrence of its own present sup- porters. I always like studying the National Government from the point of view of its own speakers, and I read with very great interest the speeches they make at various functions. There was a luncheon that was given not very long ago; I think a noble Earl who is present here to-day was presiding at that function. I cannot remember exactly what the occasion of it was: I think it was to celebrate the fact that their candidate had saved his deposit in the Lambeth Election. At that function the necessity for the continuance of the National Government was emphasised. I cannot detach anything from the Prime Minister's speech on which I could usefully comment, but that, I am afraid, is very frequently the case. But I should like to comment on what is more or less the watchword of the National Government and the excuse they give for their continuance, and that was the phrase used by Mr. Baldwin, the Lord President of the Council, when he said, "We cannot return to the Party dog-fight."

Now I object to that phrase very much. I object to its being laid down by a statesman in such a high position that this country is governed in normal times, decade by decade, by the process of a dogfight, that the whole idea of Party politics is snarling at one another and biting at one another with a view to superseding one another. I entirely dispute that idea. I agree with the late Lord Balfour, who was a great believer in Party government, and I am perfectly certain that the grinding out of corn between the upper and nether millstones revolving in contrary directions produces the best flour of legislation. I believe strong Oppositions have made the best Governments, and I believe that this conflict of opinion, openly declared and honestly debated in the two Chambers of Parliament, is the right way really to preserve democratic government. And to degrade our system of government by calling it a dog-fight seems to me to be a most unfortunate phrase to have used. I regard my Party principles as the principles which I believe in, and which I desire my country to follow, and I believe that those opposed to me think the same of theirs. If there is a very great divergence of opinion there is no reason for confounding that in such an ugly phrase as was used by the Lord President of the Council.

The gracious Speech has several points in it upon which I should like to comment. Both the noble Lords who have addressed us dwelt on the importance of peace. With that view we all of us heartily agree, and I should like to express my special agreement with the noble Lord who seconded the Address when he deprecated what he called the pessimistic talk of war. I entirely agree with him. I think there is far too much talk about war, and that fear is very likely to beget a serious situation if it is allowed to express itself as it does. I do not believe that the trouble in the world to-day is nearly so much international as internal and domestic. I think each country is confronted with very great domestic difficulties, with internal strife, and their eyes are not cast with jealousy upon their neighbours. I do not believe that even in the worst instances that could be quoted you would find any desire on the part of any nation to steal a march and to attack another nation. When I express that opinion, people say to me: "Ah, but before now what has happened has been that a Government, finding itself so confronted with domestic trouble, will have recourse to war in order to get a united nation behind it." I do not say that that has not been true in the past; I think instances might be quoted; but I am convinced now that any Government that attempted that would not find a united nation, but it would find the outbreak of far more severe revolution in its own country than it has experienced in the past.

I am very glad to hear a re-affirmation from the Government that they desire to support the authority of the League of Nations. It certainly needs all the support it can get, passing as it is through an extremely anxious time. I cannot say that we on this side of the House have found that the Government's support of the League of Nations has been of such a nature as to show itself in a marked way, but we may hope that perhaps in future there may be a change. With regard to the Disarmament Conference, that is now resuming its labours, and I hope the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, when he replies, will explain a phrase which is at present to me rather obscure. At the end of the first paragraph of the Speech the phrase occurs: … strenuous efforts will be made to secure international agreement on such matters as are capable of separate treatment. I should like to know what "separate treatment" means. It can mean possibly one of two things: it may mean international general agreement on separate and detached questions with regard to categories of arms, the size of forces, or the number of effectives; or it may mean separate pacts and understandings between isolated nations—what may be called regional pacts. The first would be desirable and the second would be very undesirable, because if there were regional pacts we should get back to the camps that have always accompanied that pernicious policy of the balance of power. As it stands the sentence is not clear, and yet it is extremely important.

There is no mention in the gracious Speech of the Naval Conference of next year or of the progress, or lack of progress, made in the recent conversations in preparation for it, and yet that is a matter which is very closely linked up with the whole question of disarmament. The conflicts which seem to exist being largely of an economic nature, a great opportunity was lost when the Economic Conference of last year was disbanded and adjourned sine die. I would emphasise here on behalf of my noble friends our belief that until you get a settlement of economic questions, economic disputes between the nations, your task of disarmament will be made very much more difficult. This task of disarmament is one we are constantly debating, and we have to face the fact that the world is re-arming in spite of all the talk. In the debate which took place in this House a week ago, initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, there were three very notable speeches. There was the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Beatty, and the speech of the Secretary of State for War, the noble Viscount who leads the House. I listened to them with extreme care and with some despair. The desire seemed to be to arm and re-arm and to increase armaments in a world that seemed so insecure.

To my mind the whole of that idea is based on two very great fallacies. One is the old one that every war we wage is a war of defence and that we have never done anything else except defend these shores; and the other is that by armaments you can get security. If the Government and the noble Lords who agree with them believe that by armaments you get security then it is obviously the duty of the Government to spend a very great deal more on armaments and so satisfy the experts that they have got a sufficiency, and more than a sufficiency, in order to dispel the fears that seem to exist that we are insufficiently prepared to meet attack from without. I do not believe we are going to get the peace of the world that way. I do not believe we are going to get security by increased armaments. And I do not believe that in the wars of to-day the peoples of the various countries are going to believe their Governments when they tell them, as they have done in past wars, that every war that is waged is a war of defence on their part. Education has spread sufficiently now for people not to be taken in by that sort of thing again.

With regard to the main problem that was mentioned in the gracious Speech, the problem of India, I desire to say only a very few words. It is of overwhelming importance. It will take a considerable time. It will be debated very fully in both Houses of Parliament, and the anxiety which the Government may have is naturally well founded, considering the importance of this measure. We—and I think I can speak here for the Labour Party—shall offer no encouragement to any obstructive tactics which may be adopted by a certain section who apparently desire to kill any Bill that is brought forward by the Government. Nothing could be more fatal. But we shall for our part offer suggestions for amendment which in our opinion would be calculated to make this important step in self-government more acceptable to the people of India.

I turn now to the domestic side of the picture. It is very difficult to detach anything that is more than a palliative here and there of the distressing conditions which unfortunately still exist. We are told that Although factors adverse to the full resumption of international trade still exist, recovery is expected. I think a great many of the "factors that are adverse to the full resumption of international trade" have been created by the present Government. Their policy of economic Imperialism has done a great deal to prevent the recovery of trade which might otherwise have been expected. After the slump Which had reached such a low ebb a return of better times was of course to be expected, whatever Government was in power; but this Government has not taken full advantage of it through setting up the obstacles of tariffs and creating a good deal of controversy with foreign nations with regard to economic propositions.

Here I may touch on what we consider to be an omission from the gracious Speech, and that is that there is no mention whatever of Ireland. The relations between this country and Ireland are not of a character which ought to be allowed to continue, and the continual idea of shelving the question, pretending it does not exist, fobbing off the matter with some brief answer in the House of Commons, seems to me the worst possible statesmanship. I understand that the figures for the last six months show that here we have a barrier to the resumption of better trade. In the exports to this country from Ireland there was a loss in the last six months since the statistics have been issued of £6,500,000. In the exports from this country to Ireland there was a loss of £16,700,000—that is to say, rather more—but in addition to that there was a serious loss to British shipping and insurance; the losses in invisible exports were very considerable. That is the policy of cutting off your nose to spite your face. We want to punish the Irish Government to the extent of £6,500,000 and we do not seem to mind whether we punish ourselves to the tune of a much larger sum. Surely the differences between the two countries can he adjusted. Surely some wise diplomacy and the friendly hand can be extended. The more difficult the Government there may be to deal with, the more necessary is it that we should attempt to approach them and to put an end to this deadlock. I hope the noble Viscount will tell us what is expected, and whether this drifting is going to be allowed to continue indefinitely.

We are glad to notice from the gracious Speech that the question of housing and slum clearance is taking a considerable part, hut we are surprised at the phrase that is used—"so great a measure of progress is being attained"—with regard to the housing question. That requires some analysis. We dispute that the progress is so great. The Government's promise was to build 280,000 houses in five years, and in the first year it has succeeded in building 13,000. It is quite impossible at that rate that their promise will be fulfilled in the five years. Perhaps some methods are going to be devised by which the progress can be made more rapid, but we cannot agree that the measure of progress is so great as to be encouraging at the present time. Slum clearance is promised, but those of us who take a very deep interest in this question of the removal of this disgrace from the midst of our towns, feel that a very much larger effort is necessary, and we would emphasise what has been often emphasised in your Lordships' House, that it is useless to build these new dwellings unless the houses are to be let at a sufficiently low rent to allow the poor people to live in them. And may we express the hope that the Government are not going to yield to the Conservative Party's resolution passed at Bristol that higher compensation should be given to the slum landlords?

Drastic treatment is necessary. A great national crusade is necessary. The Government have got the power to do anything they want. They have a sufficient majority in another place to allow them to shed any few hundred discontented members who may not approve of their policy. They have got the power, but in all their endeavours and in all their projects there is always a very noticeable timidity which prevents them from really grasping the problem with sufficient courage. I think I have said before that this whole question of housing ought to have been made into something analogous to war, and that labour and enterprise and money, with legislation behind them, should have been enlisted in a sweeping campaign over the whole country—something the country has never seen before. I believe it could have been done, and the National Government with a great majority could certainly have done it. But no; they are timid, and they have only nibbled at the problem stage by stage.

One other instance of this tentative method is the new plan for the depressed areas. Reports have been drawn up by Commissioners who were sent, out, and who performed their work admirably. Those Reports have been placed before the Government, and the Government now intend to deal with the matter by legislation. Two million pounds are to be spent on it. Two hundred pounds would have been just as useful! The four particular areas about which the Reports were made are the areas that are going to be dealt with. We feel very much that this sort of policy suggests a doctor who finds four malignant sores on somebody's body and says he will give ointments, poultices and powders in order to try and mitigate the pain of those sores, but who when asked: "Is it not much better to get at the root cause which produces these sores?" has an engagement elsewhere. No, we do not believe in this sort of method. We do not believe that this problem of the depressed areas is going to be solved by detaching these four particular areas. They may be the worst, although I think that there are parts of Lancashire which are every bit as bad as Durham or the other districts which have been chosen. I do not believe that you are going to get good results by detaching these particular areas and by endeavouring artificially to produce a better state of affairs than exists there at present. Nor do I believe that you are going to do very much by the transfer of labour from one district to another, or by setting up new industries, until you solve the problem, not of production but of distribution. We do not believe, again, that here, with a great opportunity, with what money they want, and with great capacity at their disposal, the Government are tackling these fundamental problems in either a courageous or statesmanlike way.

One further objection I should like to voice which has not been expressed as yet. Two eminent and public spirited gentlemen have come forward and put their services at the disposal of the Government for a very arduous full-time job—Mr. Percy Malcolm Stewart and Sir Arthur Rose. I have not a single word to say except of praise for their action, but I do dispute on the part of the Government the wisdom of not attaching salaries to posts of this description. I think that in the Government service it has always been found a very unfortunate and very undesirable thing to allow public service to be given for nothing. It places you under an obligation to the individuals in question, and when successors have to be found it makes an invidious distinction between them and the next men who cannot afford to do the work for nothing. I think that, whether they accepted them or did not accept them, the Government should have attached salaries to the posts of these Commissioners.

There is, of course, my Lords, no mention of education in the gracious Speech. We should have been surprised had there been. The Conservative Party, which is the predominant partner in the National Government, is never very much interested in education. If we had seen that money was going to be devoted to the improvement of schools, to the enlargement of the staff of teachers, and, more especially, to the raising of the school-leaving age—which is a proposition which is gaining ground throughout the country—then we should have had nothing but praise for such a paragraph in the gracious Speech. But there is no mention of that at all. I think that the absence of one measure—not that many of your Lordships had expected it—must have come as a relief to many people. There is no mention in the gracious Speech of the reform of your Lordships' House. That is a controversy which can be left over again to some further and future date.

Although it may be our duty to criticise as an Opposition we do so from other motives than that of just finding fault. The difference between the two main Parties in the State to-day is very fundamental. I think that His Majesty's Government are doing their best within certain narrow limits. I think they desire naturally that the country should prosper and that the country should have peace. But they have a third desire, which they cannot conceal, and which really is the motive which inspires most of their legislative and administrative progress—that is, to secure and keep and bolster up to the best of their ability the present capitalist system. That is where the fundamental disagreement comes between us, because working within the capitalist system we quite realise how difficult must be the tasks that they set themselves.

In fact, we are inclined to believe that some of them are almost insoluble so long as you have, and insist on having, a society based on the money standard, a society where those who have inherited wealth or have acquired wealth have liberties and advantages over the great mass who are dependent on their labour for their existence. So long as that continual conflict exists in the society in which we live and in the society of nations around us, I think it is extremely difficult for us to secure peace, contentment and prosperity throughout this country and other countries. There always is a tendency to laugh at any Socialist proposition, but that is decreasing very much as time goes on, because it is only by going down the wrong road far enough that people will understand that it is the wrong road and that they must try another. Education is making the people in this country see that. We may have some years of waiting before they will realise its full necessity, but we have great hopes in the future because we believe that when that time comes—although it will certainly not be a millennium, as there is no such thing—it will add very much to the prosperity and peace of the country which we have at heart.


My Lords, in rising to support the Motion I desire to make very few observations. My first must be with reference to the mover and seconder of the Motion. Once again we find, as we have often found before, that in your Lordships' House there is an apparently hitherto undiscovered, because untried, oratorical tongue which we should very much like to hear exercised more often. What struck me very much about the mover's speech is that it was well thought out, if he will permit me to say so, concise and to the point. As I listened to it I confess that I reflected how often I myself had risen in this House—to say nothing of others who may have the same thought—with the intention of being concise, and finding nevertheless when I sat down that I had been speaking for a much longer time than I had expected. I should like to congratulate the mover very heartily upon the speech which he has made to us, and to express the hope that now that he has made his début we shall be given the opportunity of hearing him more often. The seconder has given us before the advantage and opportunity in this House of hearing him take part in debates. I feel sure that we shall more often have occasion to hear him and that it will be a pleasure to listen to him even though it may be that we do not agree with him.

It is interesting —particularly to one advanced in years like myself—to observe how year after year in this House this important task is allotted by the Leader of the House to two members of your Lordships' House. I do not know what thought he gives to the selection, but on this occasion, if I may be permitted to say so, he has shown singular sagacity in the selection he has made. No doubt year after year we shall find speakers to discharge this task, which has been referred to by one noble Lord as a formidable task—and I can well imagine that I myself should so regard it—who will acquit themselves with somewhat the same efficiency as the two noble Lords who have addressed us to-day.

I find little of interest to say on this occasion, because in the gracious Speech from the Throne there is not much that can he regarded as controversial. I was struck by the speech of my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition, who has a great capacity for making speeches of much interest, so that, although I often find myself differing fundamentally from him, yet I am always listening to him and trying to learn. To-day I did not hear anything from him that suggested to me anything new. I am not in the slightest degree criticising; I do not think there was occasion for it, because if you turn to the gracious Speech from the Throne you find that it deals with subjects one after the other which are of fundamental interest to the country. The task in this House of those who sit with me has been expressed before, and I venture to repeat it. We are not here with the intention of opposing the National Government; we are here with the purpose of considering everything that may be put forward by the National Government with a desire to find if we can that it is in the national interest, our judgment depending entirely upon whether or not in our view it is in the national interest. If so, we shall support the Government as we have done in the past; if it is not, then of course it is open to us not only to criticise but to oppose.

When I look through the gracious Speech from the Throne it appears to me that there really is very little which can be criticised. No one can doubt that this Government is a firm supporter of the League of Nations. No one can doubt that this Government, expressing as it does—as it must—the opinion of the country, is, as strongly as it is possible to express it, in favour of peace. We are all agreed upon these things, and I do not wish to say one word upon these questions, because I think it of little use to discuss in this debate some of the questions which naturally arise in relation to these matters. This is not the moment.

When we pass to India, we are approaching a very great question, perhaps as important a question as this country has ever had to determine. I am not for one moment intending to discuss the merits of the question now. All I would say with reference to it is that I would ask those who have to consider it, and who will approach the subject with a desire to reach a just and proper conclusion, to remember that there is no subject that I can think of at this moment which has received so much study and thought, so much care and attention from men of all Parties and of all shades of thought, and that there is no subject which has been considered so carefully in Committee. All I would add is that if some of those who have different opinions, and woo have criticised what is happening, had taken their place in Committee they would have had the opportunity of expressing their views just as every member has had it at any time and wherever he chose. At this moment all one can say with regard to the question—and I am sure that this will be received by all your Lordships with agreement—is that it must be considered with the utmost care and with the desire simply to arrive at a right and fair conclusion.

From that I pass to two other subjects which are to my mind of supreme importance in turn, not in relation either to our overseas Dominions or to foreign affairs; they are the questions of housing and of unemployment. We cannot tell what is before us, and how far the Government intend to proceed. They are going to introduce Bills, but naturally we have not the particulars of those Bills. I would venture to press upon the Government once again that in relation to housing they should not fear, but go boldly ahead. They may rely upon the support of the whole country if they take what may even appear heroic measures, especially in these days when the credit of the country stands so high and money can be so easily found for the purpose of building houses and all that is required in that connection. I hope that the Government, when they do bring proposals before us, will not hesitate in meeting that which is the great cry throughout the country wherever you may go, the cry for houses; not only slum clearing and ridding us of overcrowding, for I cannot but think that it is of extreme importance to provide houses for those lower-paid working people who find it so difficult to live in consequence of the high rents that they pay, or who have to live in accommodation which is quite unsuitable and in which it is entirely wrong for them to dwell.

One other word in regard to unemployment. I know what has been said in the other House about the distressed areas. I confess that I was a little surprised when I heard the Leader of the Opposition refer to the Government's proposal to provide £2,000,000. I think I am right in adding that he said that £200 might be as useful. I read that statement differently, especially after the explanations that were made. I am not attempting to criticise what the noble Lord said; I am only trying to get from the Leader of the House, if I can, confirmation of the views which I have formed, not only from the debate, but from all that I have read and from what was said by the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself. I understood that what was happening in relation to these four distressed areas was that he was saying: "We will place £2,000,000 at once at your disposal for use as may be required," but that it was understood that that was only the preliminary amount, and that whatever else was required which the Government were satisfied would be beneficial, would be found. That of course is a totally different proposition, and I hope that I am right in my understanding of it. In fact, I am sure that I am right in regard to what was said in the other House by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I am sure also that, once that has been said, it will be carried out.

I find myself in agreement with the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition when he expresses the view that that will not be the extent of the help which the Government will need to give to cure the unemployment which exists. We are all agreed—it requires no argument to support it—that it is not sufficient for us to say that some 900,000 more people are now employed than were employed when the Government came into power. We still have over 2,000,000 of unemployed. It is the burning question. It is difficult enough. I am not going to discuss it in any detail. I am aware, as we are all aware, of the complexities of the situation; but I do hope that the Government will not be content with merely attempting to assist in the distressed areas, finding whatever money may be required and taking the steps which they have announced, but that they will devote their energies and their efforts to relieving the unemployment which exists in many other areas, although their numbers may not come within exactly the same ratio of unemployment as is to be found in the particular distressed areas. I really feel that it is unnecessary to say more to-day. We shall have to deal with the problems as they come before us. Of course I support the Motion which has been moved, with our expressions of congratulation to those who have moved and seconded it so well.


My Lords, like the two noble Lords who have preceded me my first duty and privilege is to find myself in complete agreement with the opening remarks with which each of them prefaced their respective speeches. It has been my privilege to invite no fewer than eight members of your Lordships' House to act as mover or seconder of successive Addresses in reply to the gracious Speech, and if I may descend for a moment to the vernacular, I think I have backed a winner every time. It is certainly a tribute to the talent latent in your Lordships' House that whenever I have invited any member of the House to undertake this task, he has not only accepted with alacrity hut has discharged his duty with a distinction which makes one regret that more of your Lordships do not more regularly take part in our debates, which arise on less academic topics than the Address must necessarily be. This evening has been no exception to the rule, and I am grateful to both noble Lords, who have justified so amply the compliment that I was able to pay them in inviting them to move and second the Address.

I pass from this formal, but not less sincere, expression of my views, to deal with some of the other observations which fell from the Leader of the Opposition. The noble Lord seems to enjoy, with extreme satisfaction to himself, the study of speeches delivered at luncheon parties. Personally, I always think that in this country post-prandial oratory is a little overdone, but the Leader of the Opposition obviously takes the opposite view, because I notice that in his speech on a similar occasion last year he also devoted himself for some little time to discussing what had been said at a luncheon which had taken place only shortly before our debate, and which he associated in some mysterious way with by-elections. If he wants to know what takes place at by-elections I am sure the mover of the Address will be happy to give him the information.


The Government are so fond of luncheon parties.


Once a year. We like to take stock from time to time. But I cannot imagine what it has to do with a speech winch purports to deal with a Speech from the Throne. The noble Lord has also a great affection for the phrase "Doctor's Mandate." That again is a hardy annual in his oratory, and he deduces from the luncheon speeches, which he studies with so much zest, a completely mistaken idea, which I have no doubt he would like to see translated into practice, that the National Government are trying to form a National Party, and he proceeds to tell us that we shall not succeed. The National Government are trying to do no such thing, but are quite satisfied with the confidence which has been given to them as a Government by all sections of the community, and they hope to go on deserving and receiving that confidence for a long time to come.

The noble Lord passed from his discussion of luncheon party speeches to ask one or two questions which I shall do my best to deal with. The first question he asked referred to a phrase in the paragraph dealing with foreign affairs, which, after explaining the anxiety with which we look to the general work of the Disarmament Conference being actively resumed, we state that: In the meantime strenuous efforts will be made to secure international agreement on such matters as are capable of separate treatment. I do not feel, even after hearing the noble Lord's criticism, that there is really any ambiguity in that phrase. What is there being said is that we anxiously desire to see the general work of the Disarmament Conference resumed when there seems a chance of obtaining a general Disarmament Convention, but that in the meantime, and without waiting until there seems to be hope of that general convention, we think, and I hope your Lordships think, that it is not desirable to let all that has been done during the last two and a half years at Geneva remain dormant or be altogether wasted, unless a general Disarmament Convention covering the whole range of disarmament can be achieved.

There are several very useful things already discussed and brought to a large measure of agreement. There are others on which it seems not improbable that agreement may be attained. I do not want to give too many illustrations lest the inclusion of some might be held to import the exclusion of others. There has been a great deal of discussion during the last twelve months as to the export of arms. We have ourselves made great efforts to secure that countries which do manufacture arms for export should reach an agreement which would control that traffic, and it seems at any rate not outside the bounds of hope that, even without waiting for a general Disarmament Convention to be achieved, it might well be possible to find a large measure of agreement between the exporting countries on the subject of the traffic in arms. I give that only as an illustration of the sort of subject which might be profitably discussed at Geneva, and such information as I have in my possession leads me to believe that the view which we take on that subject is one which is shared by several of those who are responsible for the organisation and management of the Disarmament Conference. I hope that that will reassure the noble Lord, and make the meaning of the passage in question clear to him.

Then he went on to tell us that really there was not much to be proud of in the recovery which has taken place in trade and industry during the last three years. Oh! he said, it was bound to come anyhow, and it would have been much more rapid without the present Government in power. It is very easy to make that sort of statement, especially if you do not attempt to justify it by any facts, but it is a little difficult to reconcile that facile theory with one or two of the known facts. First of all, until the National Government came in, instead of things getting better they were rapidly and constantly getting worse. The second is that as soon as the National Government came in they stopped getting worse, and they very rapidly began to get better. The third is that the recovery in this country did not follow, but preceded—and exceeded—the recovery in other countries; and, fourthly, whatever the opinion of the noble Lord may be, the overwhelming opinion of commercial and industrial people in this country is exactly the opposite of that which he has put forward. I prefer to base myself and my hopes and beliefs on the judgment of those who know, rather than on the assertions of those who have no expert knowledge.

Then he went on to criticise something that was not in the gracious Speech. The noble Lord said that there was nothing about Ireland, and he proceeded to explain that we were doing a most foolish thing in continuing to try to punish Ireland—to the extent of £6,500,000 I think he said—which he stated was going to do even more harm to this country. The noble Lord will forgive me if I say that he completely misconceives the policy which we have pursued with regard to the Irish Free State. There never has been a question of punishing Ireland at all. What has happened has been that certain moneys were due from the Irish Free State to this country under the Treaty which the Irish Free State were withholding, and that arbitration as to the justice of withholding them was refused, and that accordingly we took such steps as were open to us to endeavour to collect by means of Customs Duties those sums which were payable to us under the Agreement which the Irish Free State had signed. It was not as a punitive measure that the arrangements which we made, and which both Houses of Parliament endorsed, were entered into; it was done simply in order to recover moneys which were owing to us, and which, if they were not paid, would of course have to be found by the taxpayers of this country.

He went on to discuss the reference to slum clearance, and the noble Lord, who assured us that he is criticising from no unfriendly Party spirit, but only because he is so convinced that his point of view is the right one, and that everything like "snarling" and "biting" at this Government in the hope of producing dissatisfaction, and so possibly succeeding it, is far from his mind—the noble Lord pointed out that our programme for slum clearance provided for the demolition of 280,000 houses in five years. And he said, "Look how hopelessly inadequate the progress actually made is. There were only 13,000 houses built during the last twelve months." The first figure is right. Our programme does provide for demolishing and replacing 280,000—to be accurate, 282,000—houses in five years. His second figure is wrong. What we have in fact done is that we have demolished—I include, of course, the local authorities, with whom we are working in this matter—during the year ending September, 1934, 15,749 houses, and 15,058 houses were actually built and finished in replacement of the houses demolished. Moreover, a further 19,301 houses were actually under construction at the end of September, 1934.

Anyone who knows anything about the problem of slum clearance and replacement of houses will realise—what, I am sure, is present to the minds of all your Lordships—that in a slum clearance programme of this kind you do not expect to get an even 50,000 or 60,000 houses in each of five years. What you expect to do is very largely to work in preparation of plans and schemes during the first twelve months, and then gradually to get an increasing production as the schemes are brought more and more into operation during the latter part of the period. And the fact that we have actually got 15,000 houses finished and 19,000 more in the course of construction during the year ending September, 1934, must, of course, be a great satisfaction to the noble Lord, as it will show how far from accurate his dismal forebodings actually were. He may fully hope to see that the full programme is finished within the period we set ourselves to complete it.

Then, although those are the figures relating to slum clearance, the noble and learned Marquess, Lord Reading, pointed out that that does not exhaust the question of house building. Those figures relate only to those actual slum clearance schemes on which we have embarked, but I am glad to be able to assure your Lordships, that the general housing policy of the Government has also had a very remarkable result during the same twelve months; because during the year ending September, 1934, the houses built with State assistance amounted to 51,497, and those built without State assistance amounted to 258,256; so that in that year 309,753 houses were built in this country, which is a national record for numbers in any year in our history. I do not for a moment dispute with the noble Marquess that we have got to maintain our effort. I do not in the least deny that there is still a very great deal to be done; but I do not think it is any use pretending that we are not tackling the problem seriously, or that our efforts so far have been negligible, or that they have been insignificant in result. In fact, the figures show that never has any housing programme gone so well, or achieved so great a success as we are able to point to during the last twelve months.


Could the noble Viscount answer a question? Could he tell me how many out of those 309,000 houses that have been built are houses which could be let at 105, or 10s. 6d. a week including rates? That is the important question from one aspect.


It is an important question, of course. I am sorry I have not got the figure. I was only able to send for those figures when the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition was speaking, and I have given to the House all the information that I was able to get in the time. Quite obviously, a very large proportion of those built without. State assistance would fall outside the category to which the noble Marquess refers, but I am afraid I have not got the exact figures.

Then we come to the question of the depressed areas, and again I should like at once to say that the interpretation which the noble Marquess put upon the speeches made in another place is certainly the correct one. Not only is it the correct one, but I should have thought that no impartial or unprejudiced person—no person who was not really "biting" or "snarling," but only anxious to assist—could possibly have found any other meaning in them. My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer expressly said in his speech that £2,000,000 was not the total grant which the Government were giving for the depressed areas, it was the s UM which was made immediately available in order that those Commissioners should be able to get to work at once with the knowledge that they have ample funds behind them; and he made it abundantly clear, as I thought, and as I think the noble Marquess thought—


Hear, hear.


—that when further sums were required and were necessary they would be forthcoming in order to meet any reasonable demand. Quite obviously, when you appoint Commissioners, you cannot set a limit to what they have to spend. You do not know what experiments they are going to try. They are invited to make a bold programme and to make experiments to see how it is that they can best deal with this admittedly difficult problem. They have been given such information as we have been able to collect for them by the labours of the four Commissioners who were set up in the earlier part of the year, and to the value of whose Reports I was glad to see that the noble Lord opposite, paid a tribute. But they are not confined to those Reports. They are to take over the problem with no limit placed upon them as to the means of dealing with it, and they may be assured that in any reasonable steps that they take they will have behind them the backing of the Government, and I believe of the country.

The noble Lord opposite, although he paid a generous tribute to the two Commissioners who have been appointed, deprecated very much the fact that they were working for nothing, and said it was a very unfortunate thing to allow public service to go unpaid. All I can say is I profoundly differ from the noble Lord opposite. I believe that a great deal of the administration of this country could not go on if it were not for the unpaid public services which we are receiving every day in every county and in every borough in this country, and that it would be a disastrous day for the country if we were to lay it down that no man is to do any work for the public unless he is paid a living wage for it. But that no doubt represents and exposes the Socialist mentality with regard to public service.

The noble Lord went on to say that we were bolstering up the capitalist system and that it was useless to expect any real improvement unless the capitalist system was got rid of. He went back to his simile about the doctor, and said what a pity it was, if a doctor found a patient suffering from four sores in different parts of his body, that he should set himself to cure those sores instead of being invited to cure the root cause of the disease. That is a very ingenious parallel, but it seemed to me as I listened to the noble Lord that his method rather looked like that of a doctor who came and found the four sores, if you like, on different parts of a patient's body and, giving up any idea of attempting to cure the sores, thought the simplest thing was to get rid of the patient altogether. Then the noble Lord talked in another metaphor of how when you have gone down the wrong road you can always come back and try another. But you cannot always come back and try another. Sometimes you cannot get back, and the noble Lord, instead of inviting us to try another, seemed to invite us to jump over a precipice and finish ourselves once and for all.

I hope it will be a very long time before the methods which the noble Lord advocates, which have no justification in logic or in experience to support them, are adopted instead of the methods which we in this Government are adopting, methods not of taking some purely theoretical plan and pursuing it regardless of where it may take you, not of deciding in advance that there are certain theories of society which are all right and certain others which are all wrong, and that everything must be done to encourage one and discourage the other, but rather of trying patiently, steadily and persistently to find wherever there are weak spots and then to strengthen them, to find wherever there is a pos- sibility of advance and then to push forward, to try how and where we can in any way advance the well-being of our people and then, whenever we find how that best can be done, steadily, patiently, and courageously to go forward in that direction, sure that in so doing we command the confidence of the great bulk of the people of this country, who do not want rash experiments or doctrinaire philosophy but who prefer the method which has so long justified itself in the history of our country, the method of patient, quiet, steady progress along proved and prudent lines.

I am grateful to the noble mover and seconder for the words in which they expressed their confidence in the policy of the Government. I can assure them, and I can assure your Lordships, that the Government intend to do their best to justify that confidence, and during the difficult Session which lies in front of us we shall anxiously expect and beg for the assistance of all men of goodwill in trying to find the best possible solution of the difficult problems which are to be submitted for our consideration and judgment.

On question, Motion agreed to nemine dissentiente, and the said Address to be presented to His Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.