HL Deb 26 October 1937 vol 107 cc5-30

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 take this opportunity of thanking the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for the honour he has done me by entrusting me with this Motion. I do not hesitate to say that the duty is one for which I am not fitted, but in the short time since he informed me that I should have the honour of standing before your Lordships as I do now I have endeavoured, with the help of the Press, to gain some knowledge, from a different aspect, entirely new to me, of what is really meant by politics and foreign affairs. Therefore, my Lords, I must ask for that indulgence which is so readily given by this House to one who for the first time has the honour to address your Lordships.

Having been so closely connected with the very recent Coronation, may I be permitted at the outset—and I feel sure that the House will heartily join with me in this—to offer my humble congratulations to His Majesty and His Gracious Consort, not only for the way in which they carried out their heavy responsibilities at the Coronation itself, but for the care and thought that they have shown for their people and their country during recent months. His Majesty has shown that interest by himself coming to our House this morning to open Parliament in person. The Dominions were represented at the Coronation on the same footing of equality as this Government and this country. The Statute of Westminster declared them equal, they occupied the same places in the Abbey, and it showed that the Empire is even more closely united than ever before. His Majesty in his gracious Speech said that he hoped, if time permitted, to visit India, and there is no doubt that, if he found the time to visit India, it would be a very welcome journey.

There are many matters which I could deal with this afternoon, but they are not for me to dwell on at this moment. My colleague will deal with home affairs, but I may be permitted at this stage to say how glad I am to feel that the decrease in unemployment and the return of prosperity to industry are both being maintained. These matters, however, will be of very little importance if the peace of the world is not maintained. We must at this moment feel that we are perhaps either on the edge of a volcano or, let us hope, on the eve of a new turn in the tide. At this very moment there is sitting in London the Non-Intervention Committee. Last week in a very full debate in both Houses we heard of the latest happenings. The position alters from hour to hour, and it may be that to-night further concrete moves will be made to help the suffering in Spain and to find some way that may restore peace to the unhappy people of that country. The war in the Far East, if it spreads, must bring in its train complete ruin. Next week in Brussels the Nine-Power Conference will be held. We can only hope and trust that the National Government, having always said and continuing to say that the one thing that they want and which they will do anything to maintain is peace, united next week, as they will be, with Members of the League of Nations and with countries which are not Members of the League of Nations, will find some fresh steps towards peace.

I was glad to learn from the gracious Speech that a Bill will be introduced relating to the defence of civilians against air raids. One has only to look at the Far East to-day to see how very necessary such a Bill must be. In a very few hours aeroplanes can come very many miles, bringing with them death and destruction. They do not hesitate to drop bombs on anything that pleases them at first sight. They may be given targets to fire at, but they do not always shoot straight. If they are chased their one idea is to get rid of the bombs they have, and they drop them on anything that happens to be below. The Defence programme was introduced last year and it is going ahead. It is very pleasing to feel that we are now in a position to retaliate, should we have to do so, instead of sitting down and not being able to do anything—an easy prey should anyone attack us.

I was also glad to learn from the gracious Speech that the Government have in mind new Bills for the benefit of agriculture. You cannot live if you do not eat, and I often wonder whether the people of the towns always realise where they get their dinners. Agriculture in the last year or two has definitely improved, but Milk Boards and subsidies never will be a lasting remedy for the troubles the industry is faced with, and I hope and trust that this new Bill which is to be introduced will find some more lasting remedy, especially as the circles of farming people seem more friendly than they have been in the past few years. The fishing industry has not had the same recovery as other industries in this country. It does not at this moment look as if it is going to recover, but there is a new Bill to be introduced which we can only hope will produce a lasting improvement. In conclusion, I would only say that I may be an optimist, but I have always been an optimist and I always intend to be one. I look forward to the future with more hope than most of my friends seem to hold out, and to our united Government I wish every success in the policy they are pursuing. 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."—(The Duke of Norfolk.)


My Lords, before seconding the Motion for an Address, I should like first to thank the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for asking me to attempt this very responsible and difficult duty. And I would at the same time ask your Lordships for that indulgence which is always given to those who speak for the first time in this House and sometimes to those, like myself, who have ventured to address your Lordships on one or two previous occasions. I should like, if I may, to congratulate the noble Duke who has just spoken on his success on the first occasion of his addressing your Lordships, and also to endorse what he has said with reference to the Coronation of His Majesty.

The noble Duke has referred to foreign affairs principally, and to the agricultural situation, so that it is my duty to try and deal with other aspects of the gracious Speech. Your Lordships will have been pleased to see a reference to the improvement in trade and industrial conditions, and the intention of the Government to devote themselves to the improvement of industrial activity. I think it would be true to say that the rapid expansion of the Defence Forces has contributed to a fair extent, either directly or indirectly, to the recent improvement in employment conditions, but it may perhaps be wise to consider what measures can be taken to prepare for the time, whenever it may be, when this acceleration of rearmament will be ended. I do not wish to give the impression of a prophet of gloom, but I think we should take steps to see that the situation which occurred when armament and shipbuilding activity finished some years ago is not repeated—a situation which caused such appalling distress in various parts of this country. That distress became one of the most important political questions of the time, and had to be dealt with by the special measures which were taken by the Government. Amongst those measures were various experiments of the greatest value. It is early yet to say to what extent they will be successful, or will achieve the purpose for which they were intended, but I think it is at least possible that there might be evolved some theory and practice which could later be applied to the country as a whole.

I hope your Lordships will allow me to refer here to the Royal Commission which was appointed not long ago to inquire into the problems of the geographical distribution of population and the location of industry. I hope that if their Report is received during this Session legislation on that matter may be amongst the other matters to which the gracious Speech refers as measures to be introduced "as time and opportunity offer." I know that this is a very controversial question and one on which there are many schools of thought. I do not wish to fall into the danger of attempting to discuss it in detail on this occasion, but I think that there is at least a case for considering whether the natural forces of home and foreign trade should be left to control the distribution of employment within the country. The danger might well he that we should have large existing industrial centres depleted of their population and rural areas becoming urbanised and industrialised; with the necessity of the expenditure of a large amount of public capital on providing the services and facilities for an industrial population, the transfer of large numbers of people, either voluntary or assisted, from one district to another, and the continued and increasing growth of the already over large and over-congested Capital, with its attendant disadvantages and dangers.

One of the dangers is the possibility of damage and disorganisation being caused by an attack from the air. These forces to which I have referred, combined with the slump and a cessation of shipbuilding and armament work, were responsible for the situation which resulted in what we know as the Special Areas. Steps have been taken to remedy these matters, and I think we should consider well what steps we should take and how we should take them to prevent a repetition of that position at some future date. The noble Duke has referred to the precautions which are to be instituted for the defence of the civilian population against air attack, but I would like, if l may, to refer to another aspect of this problem, and that is the division of the responsibility for these preparations between the Central Government and the local authorities and the attendant financial adjustments which must be made. These are the matters which are the subject of discussion at the moment between Government Departments and the associations of the local authorities involved. But this, to my mind, is a question that will arise whenever the legislation is to be passed imposing further duties and further responsibilities on those authorities.

There are several measures of social improvement mentioned in the gracious Speech which will come into this category, as well as perhaps certain aspects of the Bill to improve the distribution of electricity. It is remarkable to consider how the present system of local government has grown from its simple beginnings to the complicated and elaborate organisation which it is now, how much legislation it has been able to assimilate and to administer, with additions to its original organisation and modifications to meet the extra work; but I think, possibly, it is time to consider whether a newer form of local government, a larger unit of authority perhaps, is not more suited to modern conditions of responsibility and more fitted to carry out the administration of the modern and complicated social services.

I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I refer here to a Report of the Royal Commission on the Local Government of Tyneside. I know that at first sight this may welt appear to be largely a parochial matter, but I do not wish to approach it from that point of view. I desire simply to say that that Report contained in it suggestions for modification in the system of local government by increasing the size of the unit and the responsibility, and by placing the whole system on a wider basis, so that services such as health and education, and now air-raid precautions, could be carried out in a bigger area. It is very difficult in practice to administer some of these services when you are confronted with the sometimes artificial and sometimes obsolete boundaries between one local authority and another. Coordinating action between various authorities either by way of joint committees or joint boards suffers from being thought either too cumbersome and too slow or too rigid and too far removed from the simple principles of democratic local government. That, of course, is a question of small importance beside the large issues of foreign policy and international affairs. Nevertheless it is, I think, one of very great importance to very many people in this country whose lives are affected by the services which are administered by local authorities.

Your Lordships will be glad to see that provisions for housing have been mentioned in the Speech. I think that it is true to say that the slum clearance programme for great parts of the country has, though not completed, at least been well started for most areas, except, of course, for a few backward ones. At the same time the overcrowding provisions cannot be said to have been put into action very thoroughly as yet. I suppose the reason would be that the local authorities have first to deal with one, and have not yet come to the other. Another reason would, of course, be the fact that the subsidy for the re-housing of overcrowded people is not so high as that for the clearance of slum areas. I think there were some improvements in the relief given by the Housing Acts of 1936, which allowed an authority to pool its finances on each of its housing schemes and to charge uniform rents for all the houses under its control. I am very glad to see that there is to be a provision for the adjustment of the financial arrangements under those two Housing Acts. There is also, I understand, amongst the other housing legislation to be introduced legislation in regard to the Rent Restrictions Acts. These Acts, imposed during the time of the War as temporary measures on account of the shortage of houses and the cessation of building, have been continued from time to time since on a temporary basis, and I hope it will be possible to find some practical method of dealing with them.

Housing in agricultural areas, too, is a question of the greatest importance which needs the attention which I am glad to see His Majesty's Government propose to give to it. I think it is true that in almost every district in this country the standard of housing in the rural areas is well below that in the towns, both in quality and quantity, the reason for that being, I suppose, partly, that it has not been easy for local authorities or private individuals to build houses in country districts at rents which agricultural labourers can afford. There has been, of course, a certain amount of reconditioning done under the Rural Housing Acts, but not so much as it was hoped would take place. I believe that a comprehensive measure bringing the Rural Housing Acts up to date and introducing special provisions for building new houses in the rural districts will be of inestimable value in increasing the supply of labour which is so badly needed in the agricultural industry. I am glad also to see a reference in the gracious Speech to Scottish rural housing. It seems agreed that Scottish housing is some way behind the improvement made in housing throughout England as a whole, and if anything can be done to improve housing conditions in rural Scotland I believe it will be of the greatest benefit.

The proposals relating to the coal trade do not appear for the first time, but I think it is well worth consideration whether the expected economies and improvements in efficiency which will be gained by any system of compulsory amalgamation which may or may not be introduced will, on the whole, offset the difficulties and dangers of compulsory amalgamation. I think that steps at any rate could well be taken to improve the national aspect of the district selling schemes which are now in operation, so as to get more effective control over the competition between one district and another for the home trade. That seems to me a logical extension. Royalties unification is also mentioned in the gracious Speech. I feel that, whatever may be said for or against the principle of unifying or nationalising royalties, the reception that the Bill will get will depend very largely on the details of the Bill. I think also—and I believe other royalty owners will agree with me—that the sacrifices involved would be much more readily accepted if the benefits from such a measure were to go directly to those engaged in the industry and not to the general taxpayer.

There are important measures of social reform included in the gracious Speech, as well as a very useful proposal for the reform of the treatment of young offenders. Such measures of social improvement are evidence of the gradual improvement of the standard of living in this country, an improvement which is maintained in spite of upheavals and disorganisation in other parts of the world, and maintained at the same time as a colossal effort is being made in money and material to improve the Defence Forces. This, I think, is evidence of the stability and wisdom of the country under the guidance of the National Government. I beg to second the Motion.


My Lords, one of the most valued and most pleasant duties of anyone in my position is to express the congratulations of your Lordships to those who have accomplished the very difficult task of moving and seconding the thanks of your Lordships' House for the gracious Speech from the Throne. It is a very difficult task to perform, and I speak as one who has had to pass through that ordeal. Political life is said to be full of insincerities, but it is with real sincerity that I now offer my congratulations to the noble Duke who moved the Address and who tried his very best to put a new polish on the somewhat tarnished reputation of His Majesty's Government. They should indeed be very grateful to him for his service. All your Lordships will wish to share in these congratulations to the noble Duke, not merely because he has accomplished to-day's task with dignity and grace and competence, but also because he has recently completed an even more responsible task with a distinction which delighted all his friends and won the warm approval of his fellow countrymen. Some of us have experienced the noble Duke's capacity in other ways on occasions when he has led us as terrified victims into your Lordships' House when we were called upon to renounce our past and to assume new duties which we were admonished "in no wise to omit." The noble Duke gave me perhaps the worst ten minutes in my life—a matter, however, which I tried to forget and forgive.

I should like also to congratulate very sincerely I he noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, who is commended to us by an honoured name and also by what we know of his own activities outside this House. His Northumbrian neighbours, who are no bad judges of a man's quality, watch his career with growing satisfaction and will rejoice in his speech to-day. His speech, if I may be permitted to say so, contained a vision which is not too evident in the Speech to which he refers. I remember his distinguished ancestor at the time when he was Home Secretary and I never understood my great good luck that I was able to escape his official attention. All of us rejoice in the success of the noble Viscount in his speech to-day. Now, what about His Majesty's Government? It seemed to me, when I listened to the mover and the seconder, that the Government had taken advantage of young and innocent minds. The estimate that they gave of the virtues of the Government revealed once more that youth possesses the gift of imagination. But I will not hold their inexperience against them, because it is a fault out of which they will gradually grow. No one believes that the Government are entitled to all the nice things that they said about them and what was expected from them, and I wonder that members of the Government could sit and listen without embarrassment to such unmerited praise.

If we turn to the gracious Speech, I should wish first of all to say that the first Speech given by His Majesty is one with which we should like to have as little disagreement as possible. As a programme dealing with issues of immense and urgent importance it is, however, in many ways disappointing. The most appreciative among us cannot feel that it contains a bold and inspiring policy. It seems to be a collection of almost pedestrian proposals; odds and ends that are very familiar to us, some of which are uncontentious, all are more or less useful, but none of which makes any serious contribution to the needs of a very anxious time. And the omissions from the gracious Speech are more serious than the inclusions. There is not a word in it in respect of what the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, mentioned: the rent question, which is becoming a very serious matter for wage-earning rent-payers. There is not a word about the rising cost of living, not a word about the depressed areas. There is no word of hope for the 1,300,000 people who are still unemployed. There is no assurance that His Majesty's Government are watching the possibilities of any economic or commercial slump that may come upon us in the future. There is not a word about food storage for the protection of the nation in case war should unhappily come. The Government do not tell us a word about the situation in Palestine or the difficulties of the Protectorates. I therefore do not feel that the gracious Speech is an occasion for songs of praise. It is rather a somewhat weary recital of unambitious intentions. I cannot help feeling that the Government might with some advantage join their own "Keep Fit" campaign, though the last thing that I wish them is a prolonged life! As individuals, of course, I hope that members of His Majesty's Government will have long lives and undisturbed opportunities for meditation and for repentance, but I cannot feel that they are ready, as it were, to assume great responsibilities at the present time.

I will say only a word or two about foreign affairs: merely that the Government appear to be parsimonious with the information that they impart. Our anxieties are in no way relieved, and I should have thought that if the Government had desired that the nation should be behind their policy, they would have taken the trouble to tell the nation what their policy really was and what was happening in the matter of Spain. We are left mostly in the dark. "Strict application of the international policy of non-intervention"—but, my Lords, there never has been non-intervention in Spain. Non-intervention would be a good thing if it were complete, but is not when it takes the form of an Italian invasion. We do not wish to embarrass the Foreign Secretary, but I venture to think that from the Opposition side of both Houses he has experienced less difficulty than from friends on his own side. But what is to be the next move in this direction? We cannot feel very happy about the precarious conciliation that His Majesty's Government seem to desire and yet never to be able to complete. Their faith that things are going to be better is almost childlike. Time after time disappointment comes, and time after time they pursue the same path. I want them to beware, when thinking of those who are specially responsible for this situation, that they do not have to say, in the words of the Psalmist: "The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart." It is perfectly clear that what is proposed does not mean the settlement of the Spanish problem—at least, not by any initiative of ours. What is clear, moreover, is that Italy is using the misery of Spain as an opportunity for the promotion of her own policy.

I desire to say only one or two words about the Far East, because we discussed that question in your Lordships' House last week and that criticism still stands. But I should like to ask what His Majesty's Government are likely to say at Brussels when we go there. We have no indication of their policy, but when we are face to face with the other delegates we may be asked awkward questions. I think the policy should be the integrity of China and the integrity of International Law and I would remind your Lordships that no problem is settled until it is settled on right lines.

I should like, before I close, to express a personal regret that in speeches which are made by members of His Majesty's Government and of the majority Party in Parliament terrifying language is frequently used, of a kind which cannot help to steady the temper of our nation. People are frightened as though air raids were imminent. That, I venture to say, is the wrong way of meeting this problem. Make provision first; do not terrify people—at any rate before provision is made. Then I should like to ask whether the Government are keeping in mind the possibilities of appeasement in Europe with Germany and other nations with whom we have got to live side by side in some way or other. The reference to the Defence Forces and the rapid progress which is taking place in rearmament leads me to say that we have no information about what is actually happening. Immense sums of money are being spent in this enterprise, and we should like to know with what result. Is there, for instance, complete and satisfactory co-ordination between the Departments, between the manufacturers and the Government, and are the right types of instrument being produced? We are paying immense sums, and we ought to be told whether the result is that we are getting instruments as good as the best. These things we do not know. Some time, at no distant date, we shall have to ask that question in a more specific form. The Government are complacent about it. They think they are doing their duty, as no doubt they are according to their lights, but they are spending all these immense sums of money which posterity will have to pay, and His Majesty's Government seem to take the view that it is a pity that posterity cannot be here to see how wisely we are spending their money.

The last point that I will touch upon is that of trade. There is almost a shout of satisfaction about the state of trade and the outlook for commerce generally. That was started, I think, chiefly by the Prime Minister at Scarborough. I venture to interject an expression of our hope that he will speedily be returned to health. The air of Scarborough had a tonic influence upon the Prime Minister. I know what it is, because the seaside sometimes makes me feel like that, but I am not quite sure that what the Prime Minister said, and what is repeated in the gracious Speech, is entirely satisfactory. Is all well? I do not know, but the Stock Exchange does not appear too happy about the outlook either in this country or in America, and the Stock Exchange people are unemotional men, and not given to wild ideas like myself. Yet you see what is their temper in the matter. I would only like to say this, that it seems to me that the raising of prices has been a part of the policy of His Majesty's Government, and the situation now is that prices have increased more than wages. The purchasing power of the people is less than it was, and already therefore the slump has begun in the homes of the working classes. The unemployed on their unemployment pay find it increasingly difficult to make ends meet, and the Government have refused any help in that respect.

On the matter of prison reform I should like to say that my noble friends and myself will offer all the help that we can to assist the Government in undertaking the reform of that great question. We shall, as time goes on, remind the Government of their promises, and examine their performances. We pursue our task with our faces to the light, whereas His Majesty's Government have the light behind them, and look rather towards a dark future. But, my Lords, those things are for the, future. To-day I support the Motion which has been moved with such grace and dignity by the noble Duke and seconded by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, on the other side.


My Lords, it is my agreeable duty to join the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition in saying a word about the mover and seconder of the Address. In a long experience I cannot recall a case where the moving of an Address in reply to the gracious Speech has been entrusted to somebody who has been so much in the public eye as has the noble Duke during the current year. When he undertook his arduous duties in connection with the Coronation, he did so with the good will of everybody, and there were many who recalled his father with affection and respect. It was no surprise therefore to us that the noble Duke himself carried out his difficult and strenuous duties with efficiency and with dignity. It seemed, I am sure, to most people, that after that he deserved a period of considerable repose, but he must feel complimented by the fact that the Government were unable to dispense with him, and therefore put upon him the heavy duty, for it is a heavy duty, of moving the Address today. I think we all feel that the manner in which the noble Duke acquitted himself of the task explained, if it does not altogether justify to him, the rather hard treatment he received from the Government.

The noble Viscount who seconded the Address also comes of a line of long political distinction. For some two hundred years his forebears have been conspicuous in public life in Northumberland. Many of us knew his father—the seniors among us recall also his distinguished grandfather—and the noble Viscount, as we know, has taken a prominent and active part in the local business of his county. It is an oft-repeated saying by those who speak from these Front Benches, that we trust the noble Lord will continue to take an efficient part in our debates. The noble Viscount has addressed the House before, and he might say, as probably other noble Lords not holding official positions have said, that if it were not that the speeches made by those on the Front Benches are so numerous and so lengthy, those holding no official positions might be able to speak more often. I have always hoped that it might be possible to have a more correct balance between the speeches made from the Front Benches and those made by members of the House who are neither official nor ex-official.

Now, to turn for a moment to the gracious Speech itself His Majesty states that his "relations with foreign Powers continue to be friendly"—as we have often heard before—but it is a rather cynical reflection that, keeping to strict diplomatic language, the ruling Powers in Europe could all make the same observation—not, I am afraid, always with the same conviction. But I am glad to know that His Majesty can use the phrase with at any rate a nearer approach to accuracy than some of the ruling figures in European countries possibly could. We are then reminded in the Speech of the approaching visits of two European Sovereigns. Both, I am sure, will be received here with acclamation, and in regard to the King of the Belgians with special acclamation for more than one reason: in the first place, from the quite unforgettable relations between his people and the British people, and, secondly, from the fact that he was himself brought up at an English public school, and therefore may be assumed to have the large knowledge of the British people which every Eton boy possesses. I do not want to dwell in any sense on foreign affairs, because we had an opportunity, as the noble Lord on the Front Opposition Bench has pointed out, last week of expressing our general, though not fully informed, opinion on the two principal matters of interest abroad. I would only say this, that it does seem that the political clouds over the Spanish area are somewhat heavier and thicker than they were when we were discussing this subject last week; and I only hope that the noble Viscount, the Lord President, when he speaks, may be able to reassure us somewhat in regard to the Mediterranean situation.

The noble Lord who spoke last said something about National Defence, and I think we may assume that all over the country the action of the Government in undertaking the enlargement of provision for National Defence is approved; but at the same time there may be anxiety on two points. One was alluded to, as I thought with much discretion and moderation, by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, and that is as to the necessity for providing for the time when the heavy expenditure on armaments is concluded; and the second is the necessity, in the intervening time, of being sure that these vast sums are being spent for the best purpose and in the most economical way.

I will say one word about the paragraph concerned with coal royalties and the reorganisation of the coal-mining industry. It has been generally expected for a considerable time that some legislation of this sort would be introduced, and I think it is reasonable to say that the great mass of the royalty owners, although not particularly desiring to be expropriated—because nobody wishes to be expropriated—were prepared to accept the position provided that reasonable compensation was paid for their interests. I would therefore only say this, that I think that undue expectations may have been raised of some almost dramatic result from the change of ownership by unification in what are, after all, the only matters in which the public is interested so far as I can see—namely, that, if possible, there should be a reduction in the price of coal; secondly, that the mine workers, both above and below ground, should if possible have an increase, and at any rate an assured rate, of wages; and thirdly, and not the least important, that the export trade in coal should thereby be increased and facilitated. Well, I confess I question whether the alteration in the ownership of royalties in itself would have any very marked effect in this direction. Whether what is spoken of here as "reorganisation"—which I take it means amalgamation of concerns—could be brought about and could have a useful effect in that direction, I am not prepared to say.

Then the gracious Speech moves quickly from black to white, from coal to milk; and I am glad to think that this question of the sale of milk is being seriously undertaken by His Majesty's Government. To put it briefly in this way, I am quite sure that the ordinary housewife of small means is completely unable to understand why the milk which she wants to buy for the breakfast table or for the children's rice pudding has to be paid for at a rate so incomparably greater than that which she sees in the newspapers the producer gets for milk used for the manufacture of all sorts of articles which have very small relation to new milk. There is, I am sure, a widespread discontent on the subject, and whether it can be put down to faulty distribution or some errors that have been made in the regulations which have been passed may be a matter for argument, but I do hope that this question will be seriously undertaken by the Department of Agriculture.

I am not going to dwell upon the various items of the large social programme set out in one paragraph of the gracious Speech. It would take a long time to attempt to discuss them, for they cover a very wide field. I think at any rate I can say for my friends on these Benches that we do not look at them quite with the eye which noble Lords on the Front Opposition Bench must, because, whether it is a question of social improvement or of industrial advance, they cannot believe that anything can be really successful which is carried out under a system of private enterprise or private ownership. We do not pretend on these Benches to take that view, but we can say we shall be prepared to scrutinise the social and industrial proposals made by His Majesty's Government from a different angle to that which a great many noble Lords on the Benches opposite will adopt when they come to consider the measures on their merits.

I do not intend to dwell on anything else in the gracious Speech. It concludes by saying that "other measures of importance" are likely to be laid before Parliament. So far as I can judge from a necessarily somewhat rapid study of the Speech, at least twenty Bills must be required to cover the ground occupied by the proposals explicitly set forth. Therefore, perhaps, we can conclude that the other important measures will not be very numerous; but I can say at any rate this, that we shall regard the programme set out by His Majesty's Government in a spirit of subdued hopefulness, not of an absolutely sanguine kind, in some cases perhaps definitely critical; but in a great many we should hope to be able to support the proposals which will be made. There I leave the matter in the hope that the noble Viscount opposite, the Lord President of the Council, will be able to fill in some of the gaps left in the gracious Speech.


My Lords, my intervention in this debate will be brief, but I should be failing in my duty if I did not take this, the first, opportunity of drawing emphatic attention to the grave anxiety which exists in this House and outside in respect of certain projected legislation foreshadowed in the gracious Speech. A year ago the House was informed in the Speech from the Throne that the Government intended to legislate for the "unification" of coal mining royalties. That ambiguous term might mean little or much, and of itself gave no especial cause for alarm. Moreover it was evident that considerable time must elapse before the subject could come into the field of practical politics. But to-day we find this projected legislation in the forefront of the Government's programme, and we realise that in a matter of weeks or months at most this House will be compelled to deal with it on its merits. We realise also that the word "unification" has all along been used as a stalking horse for a word with a very much more definite meaning, and that word is "nationalisation." If there is one plank in the platform of the Conservative Party which has stood more firm for a longer period than any other it is a fundamental opposition to the nationalisation of private property. If that principle is once thrown over, confidence gives way to panic and no private property in Great Britain can be held to be safe. What is right for royalty owners must be equally right for railway shareholders and for all other owners of property, even the land itself. Once the door is thrown open it can never be closed again, and the Socialist Party will have lost one of the principal reasons for its existence, for the National Government will have presented it with that particular reason.

The National Government, and more particularly the minority representatives in that Government, have no cause to complain of the loyalty of the Conservative Party to the ideal of unity for the national good. That Party has permitted itself to be led down paths that it could never had trodden as an independent force, and it is prepared without doubt to make further sacrifices to the common weal. I personally yield to no man in my admiration of the great work which the National Government have done. But the Party has enthusiastically supported the Government in the confident and hitherto justified belief that no great principle would be placed at stake. Now it is about to be done, and the Rubicon crossed. If this intention should be persisted in, the Government will be no longer able, and they will be no longer entitled, to count on the support of those who desire nothing better than to remain faithful, This policy, mad to my mind, will shake the National Government to the foundations. It will create oppositions where none now exist, and the confidence of the Party which is now its chief supporter will be permanently broken. Can the Government afford, at this anxious time—the most anxious time within our memory—to discard so lightly their most ardent supporters and create within their own ranks the bitter resentment which this policy of nationalisation must bring with it? I do most deeply regret it, and with voice and vote I shall do my best to defeat a proposal so fraught with danger.

The Government will doubtless seek to mitigate the shock of their proposals by assuring their critics that those who are to be expropriated will be compensated. Believe me, my Lords, if the compensation were to be ten times as great as that which it is intended to offer, my objections would be just as strong. These matters of high principle are not to be settled over the bargaining counter. But in regard to this compensation it is well known that the sum which is to be offered is somewhat less than half the value of the property to its present owners, and it is equally well known that a surplus of two million pounds a year is to be taken by the State without paying for it. The Government cannot be permitted to devolve their primary responsibility for giving justice to His Majesty's subjects on to the shoulders of any tribunal of whatever composition. If that compensation is not to be interpreted as confiscation some very different proposals will have to emanate from the Front Bench than those that we now understand are intended. I would ask your Lordships what the Government supporters among the mineral owners have done that they should be thrown to the wolves like this. What has this small community done that they should be selected by His Majesty's Government for pauperisation?—because real pauperisation is what many will be confronted with. I have done. It is a habit of those who are oppressed and are confronted with tyranny to turn upon their oppressors. That time is come. The gloves will soon be off.


My Lords, I find as my first duty that of associating myself, as I am extremely glad to be able to do, with the noble Lords who spoke for the Parties opposite in the congratulations that they have extended on behalf of the whole House to my noble friends who moved and gracious Speech. I remember the noble and learned Viscount who usually sits upon the Woolsack saying to me once that he deemed it the greatest privilege of him who had the honour of leading this House to be allowed to select the mover and seconder of the Address, and I think he was right. Conscious as I am that the exercise of that privilege may not infrequently strain old friendships, yet I value it highly, and I feel reasonably confident that in my selection on this occasion I have left your Lordships under no mean debt of gratitude to me.


Hear, hear.


I am astonished every year at the skill, the charm and the adroitness with which noble Lords, in an apparently unbroken succession, discharge a task that makes really so great a demand upon all those qualities, and I entirely associate myself with what fell from the noble Lord opposite and the noble Marquess who speaks from the Liberal Benches, as to the manner in which the two noble Lords to-day have followed in that line. It is quite true that neither of those noble Lords is a stranger to any of us in this House. We have been accustomed to watch, and have learned to expect, the administrative efficiency and the dignity of the noble Duke who moved the Address, and it has been a great pleasure to me to be able to be the humble instrument of introducing him in another capacity—namely, that of orator. I was particularly pleased to hear the noble Marquess say that, having once begun, he would go on, and that any time that he was able to spare from his manifold and pressing other duties he might be able to devote to this House, and set an example to the younger of its members to come and support the debates in this House and play their part in our discussions.

I have heard it from time to time said, following out what the noble Marquess stated, that there has been an impression among some of the younger members of your Lordships' House that those of us who sit on the Front Benches are disposed to deprecate the making of speeches that prolong debates and that introduce the thought of the younger members into our midst. So far as I am concerned, and I am certain that in this respect I speak for your Lordships in all parts of the House who are accustomed to be here, nothing could be further from the truth. I only hope that those of your Lordships who are in the position of the noble Duke and who may be hesitating whether to come to this House regularly or not, will decide, if they are permitted to do so by their outside obligations, to come here, and I can assure them that they will have a most warm welcome whenever they are able to speak to us. The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, spoke with great conviction and with great knowledge upon the matters on which he touched, and we are all aware how valuable is the work and how good is the example which he sets in the locality that is fortunate enough to claim him as citizen. I can only hope that if, in spite of the foreboding of the noble Lord opposite, matters continue to improve under the National Government, the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, will be able to spare more of his time and give us here more often the benefit of his counsel.

I think that His Majesty's Government who are responsible for advising his Majesty on the terms of the gracious Speech can feel themselves to have been on the whole lightly dealt with by the criticism that has been made this afternoon. The noble Lord, Lord Snell, who made one of those speeches with which he almost mesmerises your Lordships by their happy wording and inspiration, appeared to me to labour somewhat under the impression that the purpose of the gracious Speech is to be a kind of vade mecum or encyclopædia upon every political question that may be exercising any minds at any moment. That is not, I think, the correct view. The King's Speech, in the main, is surely designed to give an outline of what are the main projects of legislation and the main movements of administration that are to be expected during the Session, and I must confess that I was surprised particularly at the noble Lord saying that he was amazed to see no reference to the actual figure of unemployment—1,250,000 or thereabouts—as it exists to-day finding a place in the Speech. I do not recollect that when the Party of which the noble Lord is such a distinguished ornament was in office that they habitually mentioned the fact that at that moment the figure of unemployment was nearer 3,000,000, or some figure even possibly in excess of that; and I can assure the noble Lord that it is not because we are insensible of the size of the figure but because we did naturally feel a measure of relief that, so far as we have been able to pursue our policy, we have already been fortunate enough to reduce the figure by more than half from that at which it stood when the noble Lord and his friends were in charge of the government of this country.

The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, spoke at some length, and with great wisdom if I may say so, upon the possibility of some revision of the units of local government and, with reference to that, on the question of the location of industry and the dangers of one-sided malformation of our civic life consequent upon the haphazard distribution of industry throughout the country. He, of course, knows—indeed he referred to it—that these very matters are at present engaging the attention of a powerfully manned Royal Commission. It is impossible for me to anticipate what the Royal Commission may have to say but the fact of its appointment and the terms of its reference are good evidence of the importance that the Government attach to the matter.

I do not know whether I might be pardoned if, on the principle of returning good for evil, I repaid the gentle criticism that the noble Lord opposite extended to me by a word of most hearty congratulation upon the new attitude which I understand his Party is now prepared to take upon the issues of rearmament and National Defence. He will not think it ungenerous of me if I say that the country has for a long time, I think, been greatly puzzled by the contradictions of the attitude of those whose policy in foreign affairs seemed constantly to favour great risks of war but at the same time had no room up to a short time ago for making the necessary provision to secure that war if it came should not find us unprepared. He was good enough to pay a compliment to a watering place that had somewhat over-invigorated the Prime Minister, but he was forgetting, I think, the greater achievement of Bournemouth. Poor Scarborough in Yorkshire must evidently take a second place, for no watering place has ever been able to produce so sensational an effect on the policy of any Party as that achieved at Bournemouth. Joking entirely apart, we do think, and I believe your Lordships will think, that the new attitude of the Party opposite upon Defence will have a highly beneficial effect upon the conduct of foreign policy and upon the authority with which my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary is able to speak in the councils of the nations abroad. I shall, I confess, however, watch with some interest how far this new wine of National Defence can stand in the old bottles largely built on the pacifist model that have to do the duty of containing it. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, has just returned to his place and I should be very greatly surprised if the effect of the new wine in his bottle—if I may so make it personal—does not produce the effect of a sharp explosion.

The noble Lord, Lord Snell, made some reference to foreign affairs, as also, I think, did the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe. I do not know that I can usefully add anything to what I said a day or two ago. It is, of course, true that the Spanish situation is one that is bound to cause us continuing anxiety. No one, of course, will challenge the obvious truth, as is stated in the gracious Speech, that a strict application of the policy of non-intervention would materially contribute to the restoration of peace in Spain and a fortiori to the relief of the general tension in Europe. And, of course, it is true that one most important point of non-intervention is that there should no longer be any volunteers on either side in Spain. It is to achieve that that at this very moment the Foreign Secretary is bending his best efforts.

I do not think that your Lordships would expect me to prophesy, or indeed to say anything now, of what may be the outcome of those deliberations at this moment proceeding. Nor do I think I can amplify greatly what I said the other day about the meeting of the Nine-Power Conference at Brussels. The noble Lord opposite said that at least the House and Parliament and the country were entitled to know what was the policy on which His Majesty's Government would proceed to Brussels and which they would endeavour to secure from the labours of the Conference. I cannot at this moment say more than that the policy we intend to pursue is such a policy as will lead, if it can, to the termination of the conflict between China and Japan on a basis which the moral opinion of the world would accept as just, and on a basis that may give hope of its being durable and being a basis for the development of China in which all the parties concerned can play their part. The noble Lord also asked me whether we had still in our minds the question of appeasement with other European Powers. I can assure him that that is never absent for one moment from the minds of those on whom any responsibility rests, but he will also, I am sure, realise how greatly efforts in that direction have been hampered and blocked at all turns by this unhappy Spanish conflict.

He asked me—and I think the noble Marquess also had a word to say about that—with regard to the future trade prospects of the country. Perhaps I should say just a word or two about that before I come to another matter with which I ought to deal. It is, I think, quite correct to say, as the gracious Speech does say, that the improvement in the economic 'position of this country which began some five or six years ago has continued and is at the present time still continuing. Although it is of course true that the rearmament programme has played its part, it is also true that the activity of recent months has been mainly based upon the expanding ordinary commercial demand for the normal products of our industrial activities. Allowance must of course be made for some effects due to enhanced prices, but after the elimination of those price changes it remains true that the figures do show a very substantial increase in the volume of trade. So far as I am advised there is no substantial indication of anything like a general trade slump in the near future.

Reference has been made to what has been passing in the United States, and it is quite true that the recent loss of business confidence in the United States has, as it was bound to do, given rise to great anxiety in all parts of the world. But I am again advised by those who have a right to speak that there is no fundamental unsoundness in the trade position in the United States, and that there is consequently no need for a great deal of the anxiety that has been making itself heard in regard to that position. We are all familiar with the effect of exchange restrictions, import quotas, high tariffs and so on upon the possibilities of the expansion of our export trade. It is not, however, unreasonable to look forward to an improvement in the internal position of many of the countries which employ those devices enabling them to move gradually in the direction of reducing them. Therefore it seems that, provided there is no deterioration in the international political situation, there is no reason to anticipate any serious reduction in the existing volume of our imports. If international tension could be relaxed, new opportunities would be provided for a further expansion of our overseas trade.

The noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, asked me—as also, I think, did the noble Lord, Lord Snell—whether we were satisfied with the progress of our rearmament on the industrial side, from the point of view, if I may put it colloquially, of whether we were getting value for our money in the production of instruments, and, indeed, over the whole field of production. I can unhesitatingly give both noble Lords an affirmative answer to that question. We shall have an opportunity, no doubt, of debating these specific matters in greater detail, and I do not know that it would be profitable were I to attempt to give your Lordships partial answers on this occasion. I can, however, quite truthfully answer that I believe that on those matters I can give a good report.

I think that those are all the matters which arise out of the gracious Speech, except the matter to which my noble friend Lord Hastings referred last, and which is a matter of great importance: coal royalties. I do not—he will believe me—in the least underestimate the importance of the question, nor indeed do I exaggerate the degree of unanimity that any proposals on that subject—or indeed on any kindred subject—might be expected to attract to their support. It is obviously bound to be a matter of controversy on which opinions, and honest opinions, will be quite properly and quite naturally found to differ. But he will allow me in passing, though I am not going to argue the case now, to say that I think he stated the doctrine of private property, in one or two things that he said, a great deal higher than most of your Lordships, even sitting on this side, would be prepared to support it. I cannot feel that, provided a case can be made out for the expropriation by the State of individual property, there is anything inimical either to private property or to Conservative principle provided that fair compensation is paid for it. The noble Lord said that it would make no difference to his principle if the compensation offered were ten times as great. I find it very difficult to follow him in so extreme a gospel of private property as that, and I think that if any such gospel of private property were ever to gain firm hold in the minds of those who hold private property, then the days of private property in a democracy would not be long.

For the rest, I do not propose, nor, I think, will the noble Lord expect me to do so, to argue the case for the inclusion of this passage in the gracious Speech to-day. We shall have opportunities of debating this matter, and I can assure my noble friend Lord Hastings that, whether the Government agree or disagree with him, they will always listen with attention to what he will put before them with that vigour and that conviction which are so particularly his own. I was interested to note, in the observations of my noble friend Lord Ridley, that in his view the judgment of royalty owners would be less unfavourable to the Bill if the financial advantage of the Bill went to those actually concerned in the industry rather than to the taxpayer. That is an observation of which His Majesty's Government will no doubt take note The noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, posed what I might call a few oratorical questions because I do not think he expected answers to them, as to whether the Government were in fact satisfied that the benefits to the working of the industry or to the consumer of coal were as great as the advocates of this policy might be held to suppose. I think that he would not expect replies to those questions on this occasion, and we shall no doubt have opportunities when His Majesty's Government introduce the Bill for examining it both from that point of view and also from the wider point of view to which my noble friend Lord Hastings drew our attention this afternoon.

I think that is all that I need say on this occasion, and I apologise, indeed, for keeping your Lordships so long. The noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, said that this was a comprehensive and rather amply-filled King's Speech. I am, of course, well aware, and all your Lordships are well aware, that at this stage of the Session all Governments are perhaps tempted to be optimists, not so much about the merits of their measures—because those are never in doubt in their minds—but optimists about the success that they may be able to achieve in convincing noble Lords opposite of what is so crystal-clear to themselves. But at least I think I can say this of His Majesty's Government: that during recent Sessions we have been more successful than the average run of Governments in making our legislative achievement correspond to our legislative programme. I am quite sure that, with the co-operation of noble Lords opposite, who are never unhelpful, even if they are bound to be critical, and the co-operation of noble Lords on the Liberal Benches and of my own friends here, it will not be impossible for the Government to give a good account of the work to which they will invite the attention of Parliament this Session.

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