I think it must have struck other gentlemen as well as myself as curious to see how differently the same situations and the same facts present themselves to different minds. There is the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister—if he had been present I should have liked to have offered him my congratulations on his accession to his present high office, for he would not have misunderstood it, since we are frankly opposed to one another, and my personal good wishes for his success in the task which he has undertaken—who feels that a new light has dawned upon the world since a, Socialist Government came into office. Already the waters are receding and shortly the dove will alight with the olive branch. Idealism with a very big "I"—I beg pardon, idealism with only one "I," and a very big one—has already to his sanguine gaze transformed the situation, and where all was chaos and disorder, peace and prosperity are beginning to feign. Then comes my right bon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith), an older, a more experienced, and a soberer politician, and he tells us that, as far as he can see, no change except of persons is yet apparent, and that, indeed.
"Plus ca change plus c'est la méme chose."[HON. MEMBERS: "Translate!"] I thought at any rate that that rather hackneyed quotation would pass muster, but may I try and help hon. Gentlemen, for I would be above all things clear. Shall I put his meaning into a line from Byron, if it be permitted to quote that very great poet in this assembly?"Arcades ambo, id est—blackguards both."
On which side does truth lie? Has nothing happened but a change of persons as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley professes to believe, or is there a real difference of policy and purpose such as the Prime Minister foreshadows without explaining. At any rate, we are indebted for one novelty to my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, and I am sorry that he is not here that I might compliment him personally. He has adopted the new procedure of sitting upon one side, speaking upon the other, and voting alternatively with this side and with that. That is indeed a novelty, and I think not at all a happy innovation. It is no doubt, as he said, convenient and pleasant to face your friends; it is no doubt, as he said, convenient to face your opponents, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley has taken some pains to cultivate opposition on both sides of the House, and there is a certain inconvenience in his advancing from that bench into the midst of this group in order that he may deliver sentiments which he can hardly think will on all occasions be congenial to the company into which he tries to intrude. It is pleasant to face your friends, but my right hon. Friend's political friends—I speak not of his personal friends, who are legion —are few, and I would venture to utter a word of friendly warning. I think he runs some danger of incurring the fate of that energetic and amiable missionary whom the tribes to whom he ministered found it necessary to put away because he gave them so much good advice. Meanwhile, as I say, he sits on one side of the House, he speaks from the other, and he votes alternatively with each. This is the fine art of wangling.
There indeed, one little exception which he makes. Poplar causes him some anxiety. I am sorry that there should be so soon this honeymoon tiff. My right hon. Friend the late Minister of Health (Sir W. Joynson-Hicks) had already announced his intention of taking a suitable opportunity when it would not interrupt a general debate to raise this question and seek explanations from the Government upon it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley has anticipated him, and I can assure hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite that we do not grudge them the precedence which the right hon. Member for Paisley has obtained. All that we would ask is that his Motion should be wide enough to cover all analogous eases and to raise the whole principle which it. involves, and should not be confined in its terms to the Poplar ease alone. I do not want to discuss that matter now; I would only observe -upon it, that it is curb-ills that this, which; is the one new departure of ominous and significant character which my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley has hitherto been able to detect in the Government policy, is regarded by the Prime Minister, who thinks he has changed the world, as a matter of no consequence and as one which he is astonished should arouse any attention or criticism. It was indeed in his view a mere mechanical operation. I have often admired the Prime Minister, but I never knew that he was such a master of subtle phrase. Who but he could have found so happy a phrase—" a mere mechanical operation "—for describing a situation in which the machine had run away?
I want to know, if I may, from who ever is going to speak from the Government Bench in the absence of the Prime Minister, a little more clearly what the Prime Minister meant by the opening sentences in which he described the attitude of the Government to Resolutions of the House. How does he mean to treat issues on which the majority in the House may conceivably differ from him, such, for instance, as this Poplar issue? The right hon. Gentleman, in a glowing passage of his peroration, appealed to everybody. "I appeal," he said, "to everybody. I appeal to the House to go out with hope, to go out with determination." Yes, to everybody; everybody else, but for himself he had explained in his exordium that he did not mean to go out. Old-fashioned Governments such as that conducted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bewdley (Mr. Baldwin) or by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley. might attach some importance to a Vote of the House, might submit, perhaps, once in a. way, to a defeat and yet consent to carry on, but he, for his part, was there and there he meant to remain. It has often been observed how closely revolution and reaction approach to one another. What is the difference between the exordium of the Prime Minister and the brief
j'y suis, j'y reste
I want to know from the Government exactly what the Prime Minister means. What kind of Motion is he going to treat as one which requires his resignation, and what kind of decision is he going to accept and carry out, even though it be in con-
tradiction to the advice which he may have given? Take, for instance, this Motion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, on Poplar.[Interruption.] I wonder whether the Prime Minister's followers, if I may be permitted to call them such, although it is hardly a descriptive title, expect the Prime Minister or, in his absence, the Lord Privy Seal, to answer for him, and will allow me to proceed with my observations. I want to know what is the attitude of the Government. Am I right in assuming—I hope I am—that if the Motion of the right hon. Member for Paisley is carried whilst the Minister of Health, as the Minister directly incriminated, the man, indeed, who cranked up the machine before the Prime Minister had got into it, and set the engine going, will naturally think that he must retire under such a vote of censure from the House, the Prime Minister will accept the correction which the House administers and kiss the rod?
Am I right in so interpreting the Prime Minister's declaration? I shall be glad to know, and the Lord Privy Seal need not interrupt me at this moment, because, since we renew our Debates every day, he and the Prime Minister can speak on any day that they wish, and as often as they like, and the more often they speak the better we shall he pleased. I hope I am right in my interpretation of the Prime Minister's observation, for before the present Government meets with any serious accident, I should like to know a good deal more of their policy than they have at present been able or willing to tell us. We are all asking questions—whether it be from the benches below the Gangway opposite, or from these benches, or indeed from the benches behind Ministers—that Ministers are not able to answer. I make full allowance, as did the right hon. Member for Paisley, for the difficulty under which they labour by reason of the shortness of time that they have been in office, but that is not the real, fundamental, and crucial difficulty that they have to confront. Their real difficulty is that the programme which they preached in Opposition is unsuitable to be put in practice when they come into power.
I will take an example, a small one first. The Prime Minister pledged himself to the claims of the ex-ranker officers. When I first, heard of their case I was moved by the same sympathy, but I made some inquiries before I undertook to get votes in exchange for a promise, and, having made my inquiries, I declined to give the promise that was asked of me. The Prime Minister has given his promise first, made his inquiries afterwards, and now says, through the mouth of the Secretary of State for War, that he does not intend to fulfil the promise. I do not want to say anything unfair. I pay tribute to the courage of the Prime Minister in adopting that attitude. But I am not cure that it is wise, I am not sure that it is in the public interest, I am not sure that it is quite compatible with the standards of honour and obligation which have hitherto governed Governments, to whichever party they may have belonged. In any case, since some promises have been given which are not to be fulfilled, would it be too much to ask that the Prime Minister should ask his private secretary to collate his various election pledges, and should then look through them and be prepared to tell the House at an early date which he does mean to keep and which he does not?
Then, for instance, there is the question of the Capital Levy. What is its position to-day? [An HON. MEMBER: "The same as Protection!"] Oh, is it abandoned? Is it part of your programme, or not part of your programme? Is it dropped, or is it merely adjourned Are you going to refer it to the Committee of all the experts, along with every other tax, existent or imaginable, and await their Report before you have any opinion You cannot do it. The House. of Commons and the country are entitled to know from the Government, who, in elections, have put this Capital Levy forward as the cardinal and differential feature of their policy. whether, when they accept office they mean to carry it out, or whether, with the knowledge and the experience that even three weeks of office bring, they have come to the conclusion that it is impractical, inopportune, inexpedient, and that they are going to abandon it. It is not one of the questions that you have any right to leave in doubt or in suspense. It hangs over industry and enterprise as a threat.
Listen. I said as a threat, and the hon. Member who sits immediately behind the Chancellor of the Exchequer, nearest to him in physical position—Whether nearest to him in mental attitude or not only the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself can say —says it is not a threat, it is a debt. But a debt you must pay, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer at once shakes his head, and repudiates the debt with which his hon. Friend tries to burden him.
I did misunderstand it, and I should not have made the particular criticism I did if I had correctly apprehended what the hon. Gentleman said. But it is of first importance to the country that we should know exactly what is the attitude of the Government and of the party which they represent to the Capital Levy. The Prime Minister, in a passage of his speech intended to be reassuring, explained that the Government would never think of interfering with industrial capital. I wish the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or whoever is going to follow me, would be good enough to explain to the House what is industrial capital and what is not-above all, what is not. The only distinction on those lines that I have been able to imagine is that industrial capital is everything except the investments in Government securities. Did the Prime Minister mean that while he would not touch industrial capital, that is, the capital of manufacturers, or indirectly serving the purposes of manufacturers, the investor in the public funds was a legitimate object of his attack and animosity? No graver suggestion could possibly be made. If he did mean it, the credit of the country is gone from the moment the Prime Minister contemplates it. I think he cannot have meant it. Even money invested in national securities is itself industrial capital, in that it is the basis for an immense amount of the credit which is engaged in trade. If it is neither capital invested in the national securities nor such as he described as industrial capital to which he can apply his tax, when he has got to that point, does he not think it would be better, once and for all, since confidence is his object, to say that the Capital Levy, which a year ago was to be levied on all capital from £1,000 upwards—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—which in the last Election was to be levied on all capital from £5,000 upwards, is one of those proposals which are effective in Opposition, but are not meant for use when you become the Government? I invite the right hon. Gentleman—and I think I have a right to invite him—to make the position of the Government clearer in this matter.
Then, if for a moment I may associate myself with my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley—and I am always glad to be in agreement with him when I can—may I also ask for a little information about the attitude of the Government in regard to the Safeguarding of Industries Act? My right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley drew attention to a speech which was delivered by the Chancellor of the Duchy, and again, if I may associate myself with my right hon. Friend, I would like to tender my humble sympathy to the Chancellor of the Duchy. It is almost pathetic to find the labourer of the first hour grudged the penny which is so lavishly bestowed upon the Noble Lords who hardly arrived in the field in time to take part in the distribution. After all, as my right hon. Friend knows, it is the custom of Prime Ministers—and I think, on the whole, experience has shown that it was a wise and prudent custom—not to put gentlemen who have talked with great freedom about particular subjects in the particular office which is charged with those subjects, and although we shall all regret that the Chancellor of the Duchy has to confine, within the narrow limits of his Duchy, what was meant for India, we shall take some consolation in the thought that the worst he can do is to pack a bench of magistrates instead of losing an Empire. But I want to know—I am not quite certain in these circumstances how far I can treat the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy as the spokesman of the mind of the Government—did that speech, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley alluded, represent the real mind of the Government—I do not mean their pre-Election mind; I mean their practical mind to-day, when they have got some responsibility Does it represent that?
At this point, I should like to turn my attention away from the Gentlemen opposiite, and consider a little the position of Gentlemen on the Front Benches below the Gangway. My right. hon. Friend the Member for Paisley said that "We, the Liberal party," in November or December, 1922, moved a resolution on this subject. "We, the Liberal party!" Was that not a little unkind of the right hon. Member for Paisley to my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who is siting beside him? Where, in that Division, on the. Motion moved by "We, the Liberal party," was the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, my right hon. Friend the. Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara), and my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson)? Where was the bosom friend and confidant, the guide, philospher and friend. alike of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs and the right hon. Member for Paisley—where was Sir Alfred Mond? When my right hon. Friend refers again to the OFFICIAL REPORT, and se relies the strength put into the Division Lobby on that occasion by "Us of the Liberal party," he will be astonished at the gaps that he finds there. I am not a whip, but I have always been told that a tandem is a most difficult team to drive, and, for my part, I must say I do not envy the task which is set to my hon. Friend the Member for West Edinburgh (Mr. Phillipps). I cannot help thinking, that before he gets the Liberal gig far down the road, he will find the Liberal leader is often turning round to see what the wheeler is doing.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs takes a special interest in this Act. My right hon. Friend is a Free. Trader, but his attitude towards Free Trade is analogous to the attitude of Sir Boyle Roche to posterity. He does all he can to look after Free Trade, but he expects Free Trade to look after him, and when Free Trade fails, he is not without other expedients. My right hon. Friend—and I always like to give him his due; I am proud to have been associated with him; I am proud to have served under him, and nothing will ever make me either apologise for, or regret, the part which I played
in his administration—but, perhaps, in consequence of my close association, I know something of my right hon. Friend's mind. I am able to do him justice, where the right hon. Member for Paisley would deny him his due. My right hon. Friend is the only begetter and true father of a great part of the Safeguarding of Industries Act. What is he going to do? He took a very particular interest in it. I cannot say that at the time it was under discussion in the Cabinet I did the same. He was right; I was wrong. He did a much better piece of work than I knew. But then he must not disavow his own child. He cannot turn his back upon himself. In his presence, I do not want to embarrass him. Already a modest blush—but I will say no more, and it is the less necessary, because without quoting his speeches I can find all I want in Sir Alfred Mond's. Sir Alfred Mond is a man in many ways remarkable, but in none more than in this, that he not only professes Free Trade, but, as he once confided to me, he is one of the few Free Traders who understands it. May I venture to trouble the House with what, I am afraid, is rather a long quotation from a speech of Sir Alfred Mond on this Act, the repeal of which my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley demands. He said:
The British manufacturer is entitled to a square deal. I think that the Anti-Dumping Regulations will give him a square deal,"—
I should be glad if the hon. Gentleman would discuss that question with Sir Alfred Mond.
and that will be still more the case in regard to the collapsed exchanges. What is the position? It is that we are in an economic world such as no one has ever conceived—a kind of business Bedlam—I say that deliberately—a position in which no manufacturer knows what his production is, or is likely to be, or knows where or when he can sell his goods, or what price he will receive for them. Such a position has never existed. The rate of exchange is extraordinary. It is no use talking of scientific education, or lower wages, or cast of production, when you have exchange differences which enable someone else to sell his products in your country 50 per cent. below your cost of production.
I skip a few lines. He continued:
The question lion. Members had better put to themselves is, how many years they want to see our great steel industry stand
idle—not months, but years—how long the workers are to walk the streets while slowly, by the operation of economic laws, the exchanges begin to get right. 1 am not talking "—
Sir Alfred Mond was always courageous—
about chairmen of banks. They have no weekly wages to consider. They can sit in their bank parlours and wait and see whether a rectification by economic laws may or may not take place. Their institutions do not suffer much. I am speaking of the great manufacturing industries, and I have come to the conclusion that I cannot he responsible for seeing them go out of operation, seeing their skilled staffs disperse, and their plant and machinery falling into disuse and disrepair."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th May, 1921; cols. 1601–2, Vol. 141.]
That is the situation which caused the Government of my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, of which I was a member, of which, in this matter, Sir Alfred Mond was the prime spokesman, to bring in the Safeguarding of Industries Bill. Has the situation so materially improved that the dangers of which he talks there can now be neglected? Have we passed through them, and got into a safe haven? Nobody with any knowledge of what is going on, nobody who opens a paper, and looks into the exchanges to-day, will claim that in any material respect the situation is better to-day than it was. [Hoy. MEMBERS: "It is worse!"] I am deliberately underestimating, rather than be challenged for over-estimating. Will anybody claim that in any material respect, the situation is better to-day than it was when, for those reasons, Sir Alfred Mond declared that we must have these powers, and when my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs and I went into the Lobby to support it? Whatever may be the views of the Government, and whatever may be the views of my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley on this, one thing is clear, that on this matter my right hon. Friend the. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs and I are in the same camp, and must vote in the same Lobby. We must vote in the same Lobby if this Measure is seriously challenged.
Would the hon. Member, who finds ample opportunity of speaking for himself, allow those to whom I am referring to answer my criticisms for themselves? It would be more satisfactory, and, indeed, I hope my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs will—I will not say answer my questions, but will at once give me that assurance upon which I confidently count, and will tell me that he and Sir Alfred Mond will take the earliest opportunity of inviting my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley to a little roundtable conference, and over the walnuts and the wine they will explain that not only is the Safeguarding of Industries Act compatible with Free Trade, but that it is a necessary part of Free Trade in the present circumstances of the world.
A few words more on a somewhat cognate subject. The Safeguarding of Industries Act leads me to the question of Preferences. The Government have very properly undertaken to submit those Preferences to the House. These fall broadly into two classes. There are those Preferences which are made by the reduction of the present duties. There are those Preferences which are made by the introduction of new duties, or by the extension of old ones. They stand in different, categories. Again I turn to my old chief the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), and I say as regards the Preferences in the first category that he is bound to support them.
All those preferences which can be obtained by the reduction in the present duties. That is the sense and meaning of the resolution of the Imperial Conference of 1917 in which the right hon. Gentleman and many of his present colleagues, and such colleagues who sit on this side of the House now most heartily concurred. If that be so, those duties are assured of success, for there is a majority for them in the House. If my right hon. Friend and those who were parties with him to the assertion of the principles laid down by the conference of 1917 will be true to those principles there is a large majority of the House for all those preferences which were included. They have their defenders, too—as I am reminded by my right hon. Friends near to me—not only on these benches and on the benches below the Gangway opposite, but on the Front Bench opposite, for the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary (Mr. A. Henderson) was himself a member of the same Government and concurred in the same Resolution.
There is the other class of preferences, and I admit that they stand in a different position. I refer to those which require new duties. Whatever the hopes and aspirations, either of the Liberal party, the Labour party, or the "Lib-Labs" as to the future financial system of this country no one supposes that the Government can dispense with food duties of some kind this year. I would earnestly renew the appeal made by my right hon. relative the Member for Ladywood (Mr. N. Chamberlain) on the Friday before our adjournment that if you are not prepared to take those preferences, and purely and simply add them to the taxes on the Statute Book, you should put them in, and at the same time take off a sufficient amount of the duties on such articles of universal consumption as tea, sugar, and tobacco as will not merely compensate, but absolutely guarantee any subject of the Realm, against the fear that in meeting our Colonial or Dominion fellow-subjects in this matter we are incurring even the smallest increase of cost for ourselves. This matter does raise issues far transcending our party quarrels. We have managed now for a generation—and I hope we shall continue to manage—to keep foreign politics out of the realm of party recrimination. There have been differences of temperament. There have been differences of degree. But great premises ware common to all parties, and so I hope it will be. It is not less important that in dealing with our Dominions we should have some kind of security for the continuity of the policy in this country—that agreements entered into by one Government should be kept by another Government, that hopes raised by one Government should not be disappointed by their successors.
What, after all, is the situation? I have said not one word so far about unemployment. I am not going to enter into it. The question has been dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bewdley (Mr. Baldwin) at sufficient length to dispense me from that; but in all our minds is the question of unemployment. We have got one million more people to employ than we had before the War. It is not sufficient to get back to the trade that we had before the War. Heaven knows how difficult it would be to do that in the old markets and, if we could, how long would it take? If we could do it, it is not sufficient to find such employment as would allow a reasonable, healthy, and comfortable existence for people for whom we have now to find work. Where, then, can you look for any extension of your markets? Not to the Continent. It will be long before the continents, either of Europe or Asia, are in a position to take from you, or from any quarter, and consume what they consumed before the War! Look where you will, there is only one set of markets in which you can hope, not merely to keep your old trade, but materially to extend it within a time sufficiently short to give real relief to us in our present necessities and trouble; that is in the markets of our Dominions, Colonies, and Dependencies. Is it not worth while—I will not say to make a little sacrifice, for that is out of the question for His Majesty's present advisors—but is it not worth our while to discard prejudice, and so to adjust the food duties which we have got, that, without increasing, or even whilst diminishing, the burden which they place upon our people, to make them subserve the great interests of the Empire, and help that development in the King's Dominions overseas which is twice blessed in that it not merely increases the strength and develops the prosperity of the Dominion or Colonies in which its effects are first felt, but in which the results come back to us across seas and oceans and fill our workshops with orders and our people's hands with work.
Mr. RAM SAY MUIR:
In this my first speech as a new Member I feel that I specially need the indulgence usually accorded, more particularly from Members who sit above the Gangway upon this side of the House, because the purpose for which I have risen, and on which I venture to occupy the attention of the House for a few moments, is to express the real disappointment which is felt by many Members in this part of the House when they consider the timid, vague, and unsatisfying programme of social reform which has been placed before the House on behalf of the Labour Government. I am one of a very considerable number of Liberals who have been consistently engaged for a number of years in working upon a social programme. While we unite in repudiating Socialistic devices, as being at once impracticable and destructive, we feel as strongly as members of the Labour party itself the necessity for very great reforms, social and industrial.
We hoped that the time had come when the Liberal party would be able to resume, continue, and expand that very remarkable work of social re-organisation which it was engaged in carrying out when the War interrupted its labours—the creation on a scale unknown in any other, country of a method of social insurance against the risks which are incurred by the workers in the industrial community against old age, unemployment, sickness, industrial accident. That remarkable series of experiments was only a part of the great programme of social reform which was the foundation on which we hoped much might be built Disappointed at the opportunity of not carrying on that work ourselves, we did not abandon hope. Many of us honestly ad sincerely looked forward to being able to give a cordial support to the Labour Government—precluded as it is by the conditions of this Parliament from pressing forward Socialistic proposals—in a coherent and imaginative programme of such social reform. It was with that in our minds that we listened to the speech of the Prime Minister, and —I say it with regret—listened with a growing disappointment, feeling, in the first place, that what we heard was not controlled or inspired by clear or controlling ideas; and, in the second place, that it was marked, in so far as it escaped from a terrible vagueness, by a curious failure to grasp the significance of facts, as, for example, in what he had to say upon the details and figures of the housing question.
I do not want to follow—it would be impertinent on my part to attempt to follow—the speech of the Prime Minister but I do want in all sincerity sr. to make three points, upon which I personally have felt real disappointment. The first is that no mention has been made of the problem of the organisation of the mining industry—the coal problem—which has been serious for years, and threatens at a very early date to become serious again. I think there can be no one who does not feel that the coal-mining industry is in an unhealthy condition. There were those who hoped that the Wages Agreement of 1921 was going to bring about a solution. I was not among them, though I always regarded that as an extremely interesting experiment as far as it went. That, however, has broken down. The Wages Agreement has been denounced, and within two months we may find ourselves again faced by a conflict which, like previous conflicts, will lead to immeasurable suffering and distress and a set-back to our trade.
I hold that in these circumstances it was the plain duty of any Government responsible for the conduct of affairs to lay before the House its ideas as to the mode in which, in its judgment, the sources of this unrest and dissatisfaction could be removed. The right hon. Gentleman would probably say that there was no hope that the solution favoured by his party would be accepted—the solution of wholesale nationalisation; and I agree. But, in the special circumstances of this Parliament, it might have been possible for those proposals to be set before us, not in the clouds, but in clear print, for them to be discussed, and for the House to be challenged to offer an alternative, if an alternative were possible; and I might say that that is a challenge which many of us would have been ready and eager to accept. It was with profound regret that I heard not one single word from the Prime Minister about the coal problem, which is now looming over our heads. I was equally disappointed with what he had to say about unemployment. We have been told that the excuse for the absence of definite proposals was the fact that there had been only three weeks for preparation, but we have heard so many times and on so many platforms that the Labour party fully understood the unemployment problem, and knew how to deal with it, that one feels that such an excuse would be less valid in their mouths than in the mouths of any other party.
When we heard projects for dealing with unemployment that were nothing more than a hash-up of the proposals which have been put before this House by previous Governments, I confess my own' disappointment was profound. It is true that there is the proposal to remove the provision about the gap, and to improve other provisions in the unemployment insurance scheme, with which proposals I cordially concur. But there it stood. The Prime Minister of a Labour Government, with its high ideals, had not a word to say to this House about the possibility of taking into review, co-ordinating, and improving the whole of the vast system of social insurance, and of filling up its gaps. That is a question upon which a Labour Ministry would have found great support from this part of the House, and a good deal of support from the other side of the House as well. It is one of the greatest problems of our time, and it is a problem in regard to which, not, indeed, a final solution, but at any rate a very great advance, would be possible without any substantial increase in public expenditure.
That is a second great question on which we have received no lead whatsoever, and there is a third which disappointed me almost equally. During these last years of distress, we have all felt that our Poor Law system and our system of local government have been very severely strained, and we have had more clearly brought home to us than ever before the difficulties that needed to be remedied in that regard. In my own judgment, although I differ profoundly from the doctrines of the Poplar guardians, the action of the Poplar guardians has in some degree contributed to bring home that realisation. If it be true that our Poor Law system and our system of local government are imperfect, the true method of dealing with that is not to condone continuous and deliberate breaches of the law as it is; the true method is to propose the amendment of the law, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) reminded us yesterday. It is from the Leader of the. Liberal party, and not from the Leader of the Labour party, that there comes the lead that what is needed to deal with these difficulties is a drastic reform of our whole system of Poor Law administration, and a consideration of the whole problem of local administration. An hon. Member says that the Leader of the Liberal party had his chance—in that period when there was being carried on so strenuous and so varied a programme of legislative activity that, if ever the Labour party come to the date when it is able to point to an equal amount of achievement in an equal period of time, it may well rest content with what it has done. Particularly it surprised and disappointed me that the problems of Poor Law administration and local administration should be left completely untouched by a Ministry which includes the present President of the Board of Trade, whose work in both of those spheres has been monumental and of the utmost value.
I have given my reasons for feeling profound disappointment with the opening of the Labour Ministry's work. It is evident that high and vague aspirations and ideals are not very easily translated into facts, and that those who make that the chief pabulum which they offer to an electorate find themselves at sea when they come to the practical expedients by means of which those ideals are to be realised. We Liberals, who, as earnestly as hon. and right hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway, desire steady and persistent amelioration, want something more real, something that shows a firmer handling of the facts, something less sentimental, and, if I may use a favourite word of the Prime Minister himself, something more scientific than the Labour Ministry has offered to us. If I may dare, as a new Member, to offer a timid prophecy, it is that, if in this regard the performances of the Labour Administration be not better than its promises, its life will be a short one, but not a merry one.
I also, like the last speaker, should like to claim the forbearance of the House on this, the first occasion of my addressing it. In the first place, as a newcomer, I am deeply moved by the sentiments which I hear exchanged across the Floor of this House by its leading Members. Coming fresh from the problems of municipal work, it is very strange to me to see the methods of getting along with the work in which I have been trying to help. Yesterday there seemed to me to be, on the other side of the House, a desire to know who were the people who were to be housed. The Prime Minister has said that 10 per cent. of the people who needed housing were in the houses that had been built to-day, and some surprise appeared to be expressed by hon. Members opposite that that was so. I come from a town where I have been Chairman of the Housing Committee for three years, and I am greatly afraid that, if the policy of the late Government is followed, the needs of the people for housing are not going to be met.
I have had to go through some 4,000, applications for houses, and, if I may venture to give information to hon. Gentlemen opposite who are more trained in this business than myself, we found young men and women who were unable to marry because they had not a room in which to live, and we also found that in the case of ninny people who were already married—and many of the men had been to the War—the man was living at his mother's and the wife with her mother. There have been sometimes two and three children, and they have never been able to come together to try to understand and value each other's virtues and settle down to a family life. We found cases in which the children were growing up in one or two rooms, and where families of boys and girls of 12 and 14 and 18 were sleeping in the same room and often in the same bed. In regard to those cases in which the men had gone away to fight, I want hon. Members to realise that those men who were taken away were mostly unskilled men, whose wages had never been above 27s. or 28s. a week before the War. Those are the sort of men who were taken away to fight; the trained man, the skilled artisan, was mainly left at home to supply the country's needs. These men went away leaving three and four little children behind them, and they came back to the same room and found those children whom they had left at the age of six or seven, or thereabouts, grown to be 13, 14, 15 and These are the people who need houses most.
As regards the 10 per cent. that is spoken of as inhabiting the houses, I am glad to say that, in my town, at any rate, we tried to meet the then expressed wish of the Government of the day, that the men who had fought and who had families, and were living in apartments, should be the first to be catered for in regard to housing. We set as a standard the Ministry of Health's figure of four children, and, as regards the first 100 houses, that standard was rigidly adhered to, and we believed that we were solving the problem. But the Government stopped the housing scheme, and the work of the Housing Committee became very much more arduous than it had been previously. We were then presented with a policy carrying with it a suggestion that in the future the houses should be built for sale, and I put it to hon. Members that that is a wrong proposition to put to any municipal authority that is honestly trying to solve the housing difficulty. The work that is being done by men and women, Liberals and Conservatives as well as Labour, in our municipalities, is, from the short experience I have had of this House, much more arduous and strenuous and trying than the work being done here. I know men and women on our councils who are opposed to me politically, but their hearts are very sore indeed, and they are just as anxious as we are to try and solve this very heavy and pressing difficulty. But what has happened? We are now being driven in the municipalities, which are over-burdened already, to try and adopt the policy of building houses that are going to cost £600 and £900, and sell them. I want to ask the Minister of Health of the Labour party to try and take some steps to alter that policy, which has been left to us as a bad legacy from the last Government.
What will be the result of it? The people whom we really need to house have no possible chance of ever getting any of the houses that are, being built. The late Minister of Health will, I am sure, agree with me that in the case to which I have alluded of 4,000 applicants who are on the list waiting for houses not 5 per cent. can possibly undertake the responsibility of paying £500 or £600 for a house. They would never be able to get rid of the burden if they undertook it, and I therefore ask our own Minister for Housing to carefully consider this point and to invite the municipal authorities to refrain from the policy of building houses for sale until his Department have brought forward a complete scheme. It is said that the people who go into these new houses leave houses behind them which others can rent, but I venture to suggest that one result of the present legislation is to make it still harder for people to become tenants of these houses, because as such houses become vacant, they pass out of control, and the owner can charge any rent he pleases, or sell. Municipalities wishing to sell houses and anxious to escape heavy rating have to face the fact that in almost every town there are a large number of houses vacant which are being held for sale. In my own town there are, according to the Chief Constable's report, 130 such houses. In addition to that, private enterprises have started laying out areas of land on which houses are to be built for sale numbering over 1,000. I put it to hon. Members and the Prime Minister that that being so, a municipality which is now going to build 700 houses, 450 of which are to be earmarked for sale, have also to face the fact that there are already 130 houses ready for sale, and it is wrong, therefore, to suggest that there is a demand for houses for sale. I hope that that legacy left by the late Minister of Health will be taken in hand by our own Minister before it proceeds any further.
Another danger to which I should like to call the attention of the House is in connection with the subsidy proposed by the late Minister of Health under his housing scheme. It was proposed to allow a sum to the municipality of £6 per year for 20 years, which was capitalised at £75. This, of course, was a concession to the municipalities, but there is a tendency to induce persons to buy their own houses by making them a present of this £75, thereby giving them a preference which is not extended to others who are buying houses. Under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act our municipalities are endeavouring to get tenants to purchase their own houses and are affording them every facility, even to the extent of lending up to 90 per cent. of the value of the house. But this subsidy of £75 is not given to the man who is compelled to buy his own house by reason of the fact that the landlord is giving him a first preference before selling the house over his head? He may be a responsible citizen who has been living in the house for 20 or 30 years, but he has continually held over his head the threat that his house will be sold and that he will be evicted. These tenants are therefore compelled to go to the municipalities for help to buy their houses, but they do not get any £75 subsidy. And at any rate, why should the taxpayer give any subsidy to people who are presumably in a position to buy houses? I hope our Minister will take this matter. into account when he comes to lay his scheme before the House. Another evil effect of the subsidy is this. I am informed that tenders put in 12 months ago, before the housing schemes were suspended, are now increased by £75, thereby showing that the builder means to get the benefit of this £75 subsidy. I hope a more reasonable solution will be found of this difficulty in the scheme which it is proposed to present to this House to deal with the housing problem. I would ask the Prime Minister to reconsider the whole question of subsidy.
One point I should like to mention in connection with this is the question of land. When housing was first instituted municipalities everywhere were encouraged to buy large areas of land for their schemes. Many municipalities bought land but did not put up houses, and now there is a disposition to leave the work of building houses to private enterprise. Under the last administration suggestions were made to the municipalities that if they could get desirable purchasers of the land no difficulties would be put in their way by the Department, as this would give the speculative builder a. chance. This was done possibly for two reasons, to cut their losses and get money to balance the Budget. Many municipalities have arranged such sales, and some of them, I am sorry to say, have already sold portions of the land which they bought in the first instance. I hope that the Prime Minister, when framing his solution of the housing problem, will see the desirability of immediately impressing upon the municipalities everywhere the necessity of holding on to the land which they have bought for housing purposes, because in cases where such land has already been sold houses are being put up of quite a different type to the class that were intended by the Government to be provided.
I thank the House for the indulgence it has extended to me. I do not want to tresspass upon its time too long. Before concluding, I should like to say a word to hon. Members opposite. I come from a town that has always voted Conservative, with one very big exception. I have been engaged on municipal life in that town for 13 years. Hon. Members may like to know why a town with a record like that should have sent me, a Labour man, to this House. Many Conservative men and women who never voted otherwise than Conservative before on this occasion united to vote for me, not for myself personally, but because they were profoundly disappointed with the policy of the late Government in dealing with the evils which we have set out to try to cure. It has not been that there has been any recent revulsion of feeling. We have had thousands of men and women unemployed every week for the past three years. We have thousands of men who have not earned a penny by the labour of their hands during the last two years. We have men whose little all has gone in their effort to keep their homes together. They are owing rent to the extent of from £30 to £50. They have gone to the guardians for assistance. They have got a further burden around their necks, and when they start work again many of them will start with an accumulated debt of £60 or even £100. I put it to hon. Members that these men are desperate. You can excuse their desperation when you think how they have fallen into their present position through the policy of the late Government.
The tones and gestures of hon. Members, the desire to score off one another in Debate in this House on this subject, are not in accord with the feelings of the people in the country, the people who are most deeply concerned. They want to see this House get down to real facts. They want all men of good will in this House to come together to try and solve this terrible problem. Day by day at my house there are queues of men and women asking me for advice, asking for help in getting a room or a house. There are women who have come to me in their hour of trial to get them a room. They are many of them without accommodation. Some occupy but one room with their families. The maternity hospitals are booked up months in advance. Men, women and children are actually living and sleeping in one room. In God's name can you wonder that such men and women should become angry and desperate in such circumstances? This state of affairs has continued for many years until it seems as if there is no hope of getting out of this misery and degradation. Many hon. Members who have come over to this side of the House in recent years have had the same kind of experience. Let us all come together and make an effort to get these people out of their trouble, and if we do that I am confident that this country will be much happier and much richer.
May I congratulate the hon. Member who has just spoken on his speech, which gives me more pleasure on account of the fact that he comes from the city which I have the honour to represent. The hon. Member has spoken upon a subject upon which he has a good and sound knowledge, and I wish to compliment him upon his speech. I do not propose to follow the precise lines which the hon. Member took, but I wish particularly to deal very briefly with something which the Prime Minister omitted from his speech. I realise that the Prime Minister had an immense number of subjects to deal with, and he spoke for one-and-three-quarter hours.
The subject which he omitted was one which to a great many people in this country is a vital question. I refer to the case of the ex-service men. I want to know exactly what is the attitude of the Government towards the ex-service men. I to know whether these men are considered to be worthy of preference in any matter dealing with the alleviation of distresz, and whether their services to this country are to be recognised or whether they are to be considered just part of the general problem, and take hat comes side by side with all those who did not fight in the war and who sheltered themselves behind works of rational importance, and even in prison.
The ex-service man did a very great deal during the War, which has now been over for nearly five years. I know that the memory of any country is very short. A man may borrow something, and on the first day he intends to pay it back. A few days later he may not be quite so sure, and when he meets the man from whom he borrowed the money, he crosses on to the other side of the road to avoid the debt, and if he is in a stronger position than the other man he does not pay at all. Is that the position which the Government are taking up on this question? I want to know whether the Prime Minister is going to give a preference to ex-service men over other men, as the Liverpool Council does? Will the Minister of Labour in his schemes give a preference to ex-service men? I congratulate the Government upon what they have already done to put an end to the injustice done in the past to the mentally afflicted, because that is a difficulty which ought never to have arisen, and I am very glad that this injustice has now been remedied. We want to know in this matter who are our friends.
The Prime Minister spoke of the importance of making a gesture, and he said that the psychological moment for doing the right thing was of more importance than the sending of despatches. I think the right, hon. Gentleman is right. Does he think it is really the good gesture to appoint the hon. Member for the Maryhill Division of Glasgow (Mr. J. W. Muir) as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions? I understand that while the ex-service men of this country were fighting in the war under appalling conditions, wearing His Majesty's uniform, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions was in prison for preaching sedition. I hope I am wrong, and if I am wrong I shall be glad to be told. Does the Prime Minister think that this is a proper and fair appointment? Does he think when ex-service men have to sit on Committees presided over by the Parliamentary Seccretary to the Ministry of Pensions it is fair to put these men under a man with such a record as the present Parliamentary Secretary. If the Parliamentary Secretary is a pacifist, he is quite entitled to be one, but it is not fair to mix us up with him. If the Prime Minister had appointed the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) to this post I think it would have been a much better appointment.
This is my first attempt to address this House, and I ask for the indulgence which T observe is always given in similar circumstances. I am rather sorry that this is my maiden speech, because I feel under this difficulty, that there could be a good deal of caustic criticism upon what has fallen from hon. Gentlemen opposite, but one naturally feels some timidity in making any attack upon hon. Members who are much more powerful advocates and better Parliamentarians. I will, however, refer to one or two matters. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. A. Chamberlain) has just made an interesting and excellent speech in which he referred to the Prime Minister and the promises he made in regard to the position of ranker officers, and he deprecated the fact that the Prime Minister had first of all made his promises and then investigated the facts, and after having done the latter he proceeded to repudiate the former.
I think that there is something rather comical, if not hypocritical, in the attitude of any representative of the Opposition when he tries to level at the head of the Prime Minister a charge that he has broken a promise. I am aware that on that point the Prime Minister is quite able to look after himself, but what I would like to remind the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham of is. that he himself belongs to, a party whose record in history is one of nothing else but a long stream of broken promises. The right hon. Gentleman belongs to a party which is responsible, because of broken promises, for the misery of unemployment in this country, and also for the chaos and difficulties which we have to face in Europe.
Another point which I approach with the same timidity is the way in which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham introduced by a sort of gibe, what he considered was the position of the Labour party with regard to the Capital Levy. The right hon. Gentleman asked, "What is your position with regard to the Capital Levy, and how comes it that, it has no place in the programme which has been adumbrated to this House? Do you still adhere to the Capital Levy or have you dropped it?" I make bold to say that that observation may have been all right as a piece of party tactics, but nobody knows better than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham that the question of a Capital Levy cannot possibly have any place on these benches, because the circumstances in which Labour has been called upon to rule absolutely rules out any application of that principle.
If we had been called upon by a majority of electors to apply the principle of the Capital Levy one could have understood the gibe and the attack of the right hon. Gentleman. The Labour party has formed a Government as the result of a constitutional situation which occurred, not. as the result of any action of ours, but as the result of the action of the party to which the right hon. Gentleman opposite belongs. The result is that the programme of the Labour party is one which is at once consistent with the constitutional situation in which it finds itself, and it is also consistent with the power it now has in its hands to press forward and realise certain ideals to the full extent a its constitutional capacity.
There was another point which the right hon. Gentleman for West Birmingham raised, and that was the question of in. dustrial capital. He said the Prime Minister had attempted to differentiate between industrial and other capital, and then he proceeded to ask what is industrial capital? This is only my own view, but I think the great characteristic which the Labour party applies to industrial capital. In contradistinction to any other capital, is that only that capital which is employed in an industry and provides a means of labour for adequate wages to those working in that particular industry is industrial capital. Any other capital earned by reason of the fact that it deprives men of adequate wages is not industrial capital. In other words, all capital unfairly taken from the pockets of the workmen is not industrial capital, and that is the sort of capital which we are very much interested in at the present moment.
I am quite sure that the House must have been vastly entertained by the observations made by an hon. Member of the Liberal party who expressed himself as entirely disappointed with the programme which the Prime Minister has put forward, which he referred to as a sort of rehash of the programme of the Conservative and Liberal parties, and declared himself of the opinion that that was not enough. Times have come to a strange pass when Members in other parts of the House other than the Labour benches are complaining of the milk-and water programme that the Labour party has put forward, and are pressing for more violent legislation than the Prime Minister has announced that he proposes to put before Parliament at this stage.
That brings me rather to this significant point. When the House divided on the occasion of the Division that put the Labour party into power, the majority of the Liberal party were found in the same Lobby with the Labour party, with the constitutional result that Labour is now the Government of this country and I think, considering the times, considering the great difficulty the Prime Minister is faced with, considering the great political field of difficult problems that he has to solve, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley might have assisted the Prime Minister, in that great, paramount task that he had, more than he did yesterday when he raised what was, after all, the side issue of Poplar. I do not think there can be any doubt, except in the mind of a party tactician, that the Order in regard to Poplar, against which he complained, is as obsolete as the Liberal party itself, and for the right hon. Gentleman to expand himself complacently, as he did at that Despatch Box, and to warn us that he was going to apply the Paisley pedal to the efforts the Prime Minister was going to make, was something in my opinion absolutely unbecoming in the present state of affairs. After all, although I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman's enunciation of the position, what is it compared with those great social subjects which are attracting the attention of the Labour party? Outside in the country you have millions of people who are absolutely incapable of getting a reasonable livelihood. Here in this House, in the way of verbal fencing, in the way of throwing all sorts of herrings across the track, we are delaying legislative measures which will bring relief to those who are in need of it. I should like, as a member of the rank and file of the Labour party, to say we are not afraid either of the Paisley pedal or the Paisley pedagogics. The right hon. Gentleman, if he wishes, can preach to us and can take us into the Lobby on the question, but the great thing we stand on is this. We may be jeered at because we have not got majority power, but whatever we are lacking in in this House, one thing at all events we have in the country, and this House knows it. We have the fact that not only our programme but our history and our traditions offer to the country the certainty that the little power we have will be used for good and that we will endeavour to take such means as will bring into accomplished realisation what have hitherto only been the promises of other parties. I should like to go on, but I do not think it becoming in a maiden speech to transgress upon the indulgence of the House any further. I feel perfectly confident that if the Prime Minister continues to secure the good will of this House, if everyone will give him help and sympathy, and time in order to carry out his Measures at home and reconciliation in Europe, then not only will this House and the country be blessed by that good will and sympathy, but I feel certain that the Prime Minister will deliver the goods.
I think perhaps it would be convenient if at this point I intervened, and dealt with one or two of the subjects which have been raised in the course of the De-bate. I regret very much that I was unable, owing to pressing duties elsewhere, to listen to the speech delivered earlier in the Debate by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Austen Chamberlain). I hear that it was a very genial speech. I also heard it was a very helpful speech. I have tried to get the gist of it, and in the course of my remarks I hope I shall refer accurately to one or two of the more important points as far as I am concerned. I understand, however, that the responsibility of replying to the speech will lie with those below the Gangway. I will endeavour to reply to the question of the hon. and gallant Member for Fairfield (Major Cohen) who was addressing the House as I came in. It was whether the Government considers that the nation is under a special obligation to the ex-service men. I think that was the effect of the question. I reply unhesitatingly that we do. I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to the appointment of my hon. Friend the Member for Maryhill (Mr. J. W. Muir). In making all the appointments to the Ministry, my chief consideration was the ability and the suit ability of the man appointed. I wanted at the Ministry of Pensions two men of known sympathy and of ability, and those two considerations alone determined me in this appointment. I have heard from the ex-service men themselves that they appreciate very much the work done by both those Ministers, and I have not the least doubt as time goes on that appreciation will be in-creased rather than diminished.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Mr. Baldwin) asked what it was proposed to do about national defence. I do not like to say, "Give us time," because that is, I think, a very obvious thing for me to say. Within the first three weeks, not merely of a new Government, but of a specially new Government, I cannot produce a considered statement upon every question that occupies the mind of indi- vidual Members of the House. But I can say, with regard to defence, that we are taking up the matter where we found it, and in the ordinary way the Committee of Imperial Defence is exploring the whole problem in a wider way than I think it has been explored hitherto. And circumstances allow us to do it. It is no virtue or merit of ours. It is the circumstances. We have just finished a great War, and if at any moment in the history of Europe defence can be considered in a very much wider way than merely from the military point of view, it is just immediately after a great War, because no nation wishes to enter upon war again. There is a very strong moral and human feeling against any sort of military embarkments which will ultimately result in war conditions. In the minds of the masses of the people of all countries there is a desire for agreement, if not to make armaments exactly unnecessary, at any rate to enable us to severely limit them to economic and political proportions.
The Government are, therefore, considering the question of defence not merely from the point of view of the strength of the Navy or the Army or the Air Force. Those questions are under consideration, but they are also considering the matter of national defence from the point of view of civil and of foreign and international policy. We are co-ordinating all those points together, and when sometimes some of my friends say, or have said since I have started work at the Foreign Office, it would help me very much if I had this force or that force behind me, I say: "Not at all. You are profoundly mistaken. For some time to come, at any rate, the bargaining power of the British Foreign Secretary is not to depend at all upon military force, but upon the reasonableness of the policy which he presents." I am going to try that. But I want to make it perfectly clear, whilst trying that, that we are not going to neglect the other. We are not going to assume that the problem of national defence is purely and solely the other course. Then the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) referred to economy. He also quite truly made the observation that he himself had had experience of the position in which we find ourselves to-day. He came into office in December, 1905, while we entered office in January.
That is perfectly true, but still the fact is that he was there. The Departments knew that a change of Government had taken place; the question of the making up and the consideration of the Estimates was made by the Departmental heads with the full knowledge that he was the watch dog, which I am certain had a considerable effect. I am not pressing the point at all, but the fact remains that it is very awkward for a Government which comes in in the last week of January to exercise the same authority over economy that it would have done had it come in, say, in September or October in the previous year. But I can assure all sides of the House that the Estimates are Leing scrutinised with the most rigid care. The Chancellor of the Exchequer may not inherit many of the traditions of Liberalism, but he does inherit this part —he is a very rigid economist, who would have charmed the heart of Mr. Gladstone or of Sir William Harcourt. Then my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham asked me—I cannot quote his exact words—what form of defeat, would we regard as a vote of censure. I cannot tell him, and I am sure he knows that I cannot tell him. We cannot define these things in a rigid, scientific definition, which would enable my right hon. Friend to turn up my speech of to-day, and say, "Ah! there it is. The defeat you have suffered within the last few minutes is precisely such a thing as comes within the definition that you gave of a vote of censure. Therefore, you must go out." I am not going to attempt any such definition. We will just take the circumstances as they arise. If we are defeated upon a principle, that would be equivalent to a vote of censure.
It depends what form the Resolution takes. I can imagine a defeat on Poplar which would be a vote of censure, and I can also imagine a defeat on Poplar which would not be a vote of censure at all. [Laughter.] Certainly. That very con- venient political phrase, "Wait and see," was revived yesterday. I propose to keep it alive this afternoon in regard to this matter. I can assure the House—and about this there need be no fear—that the Government will not remain in office five minutes after a Division which has deprived it of its sense of dignity.
Another question which my right hon. Friend put to me, I believe with a good deal of humour, was in regard to the ex-ranker officer. I am informed that he told the House that he had the same question put to himself, and that he made inquiry and refused to answer it in the affirmative. I got mine in the middle of the Election, if my memory does not play me false. I really admire my right hon. Friend's caution. Honestly, when I looked at the questionnaire I read it, to mean that this is a section of men who have served the country and who are receiving differential treatment, and that there are men who have done the same service, under the same conditions, receiving better treatment than these men are receiving. That is how I approached it. If I have deceived anybody or misled them, I shall do my best to put it right. There is the situation. I will look into it again. I am not going to upset any decision of the War Office. The War Office has to decide it. It. is in those circumstances, and those circumstances alone, that I gave an affirmative reply to the question about these ex-ranker officers. I hope that we shall break no pledges. We certainly shall not do it knowingly. My right. hon. Friend further asked about the Capital Levy. I might almost say that the Capital Levy is in the same position as Protection.
I must be wary with the right hon. Gentleman. The Capital Levy is in exactly the same position as Protection. It cannot be enacted in this Parliament. If my right hon. Friend transfers his seat from there to here he will not, I assume, try to introduce Protection while this Parliament lasts. We shall not deal with the Capital Levy. No change of that character can be made until a majority of the country is in favour of it. I have not the least doubt that my right hon. Friend will go on propagating his doctrine, but until he. or right hon. Members below the Gangway on this side of the House, produce some scheme which will save this country from the exceedingly bad effects, as I think, of a too heavy National Debt, increasing the cost of production, diminishing the purchasing value of money, oppressing the wage-earning classes in the mass, as I think—until the National Debt is diminished and paid by honest means—I regard two means as dishonest, one repudiation and the other inflation—until the National Debt is paid off—"paid off" is too long—until the National Debt is diminished, until its burden becomes of a nature that can be borne by the people, by the whole body of producers, the functions of master and man and so on, I cannot be happy, because I do not believe that the country is going to be free to compete in the markets of the world as soon as we enjoy normal conditions again.
One of my right hon. Friend's colleagues, Lord Birkenhead, went down to my constituency to do his best to defeat me while the battle was still raging. He made a most violent attack upon the Capital Levy, which caused me much amusement, and helped waterially to increase my majority. Having forgotten all about that, and having talked about two columns in the local newspapers, he proceeded to explain why Protection was necessary. One of the reasons he gave why Protection was necessary was that, if we succeeded in putting Germany upon her feet again—Germany have no National Debt, which had disappeared on account of inflation, and we having a National Debt for which we had to pay—we should be cut out of every neutral market by Germany, unless we had Protection. His logic was not quite sound. In any event, his admissions were most valuable to me. I am not discussing the question I am only stating, quite categorically, what is our position until the nation agrees, as I hope it will agree, upon this question. It is not a party cry. Some people imagine that this is a stage to Socialism. It is nothing of the kind. It is a proposal—it may be right or it may be wrong—to ease the burdens of the National Debt which the industry of the country has to bear. It comes out of the pockets of the producer; it cannot come out of anybody else's pocket. Its effect is to redistribute national wealth in a way which I do not believe is economical, and I do not believe that it advances the general social harmony of all classes. However, there the question remains as far as this Parliament is concerned and as far as this Government is concerned. It would be folly for any hon. Members to say that the Government propose to introduce a Capital Levy in this Parliament, and it would be equally folly for the Government to entertain any idea of doing anything of the kind. I hope that declaration is perfectly satisfactory to all those who are doubtful about our proposals on that point.
The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the matter of Preference. I do not propose to say anything about that, but only to reiterate the statement that that question will come up in its proper place when we lay before the House the. various Resolutions passed by the Economic Conference. That will be done as quickly as possible. Things are being prepared, and the House will find the Resolutions on the Order Paper. I understand that from certain parts of the House there is already a scramble for the laurels as to who said Poor Law reform first, or who is in favour of mining legislation. Let me candidly confess that I am not going to enter into that scramble. If there he any desire on the part of right hon. or hon. Members in any quarter of the House to steal the leaves of the laurel crown, they can do it. I am perfectly certain for myself, and I know that I am sp aking for all my colleagues when I say that somebody must do the work. As far as mining is concerned, what Government can neglect that problem? This Government has a greater representation of miners upon it, and has a very much larger representation of miners among its supporters than any Government that has ever existed in this country.
It is complained that our unemployment proposals are a hash up of previous proposals. We are pursuing a policy of continuity. [Laughter.] Why that laughter? Does any hon. Member suppose that we were to come in here to scrap everything that has been done, and to make a complete break, that whilst we are devising our new schemes the unemployed are to be neglected, and nothing is to be done? If that be the conception of any hon. Members below the Gangway of dealing with the unemployment problem, I confess that it is not mine. With regard to the question of the Poor Law reform, the House has been informed that the honour of the laurels in regard to this matter are for the right hon. Member for Paisley and not for me. Well, I make him a present of it.
Two matters were raised yesterday to which I should like to-refer. One of them could not exactly be left where it was—it was raised by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition—lest it should give rise to misunderstanding in awkward quarters. It was in reference to what he said about Russia. He said—I am quoting from the OFFICIAL REPORT:—
I am told—but I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this—that immediately after the change of Government, the Soviet Government repudiated the engagement they had made in regard to compensation to our fishermen and the three-miles limit.
—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th February, 1924; col. 860, Vol. 169.]
I expressed dissent, and he was good enough to say that perhaps later on he would have a definite assurance. If the matter were left there, it would give rise to some. misunderstanding, and I propose to tell the House exactly how the matter stands. On 2nd May last year His Majesty's Government sent to Moscow their claims for compensation for various things that had happened in connection with the fishery dispute. On 23rd May Mr. Krassin, who was then the Russian representative in London, said, in a note., that the Russian Government was ready to pay compensation. The first claim was a general one, and after 23rd May claims in detail were put in. From then until 4th January there was no reply, and no further action was taken. On 4th January a reply came stating that some of the claims were wrong, and that others were not supported with sufficient evidence, and a request was made to produce that evidence. Other claims were rejected on the ground that for the damage in respect of which the claims were issued the Russian Government was not responsible. That is what happened. I would remind the House of the dates. That was done on 4th January, when my right hon. Friend was still Prime Minister. The Labour Government came in on 23rd January, so that that part of his statement—that he was informed that immediately after the change of Government the Soviet Government repudiated the claims—is incorrect. What is called the "repudiation" took place before the change of Government, at a time when there was very little chance of recognition, and it was not immediately after we came in, when it might be said that, although there was no recognition, there was bound to be recognition.
But even if that letter had been sent not on 4th January, but say on 24th January, after we came in, that letter is not a repudiation of the claims which have been put in. It was a very proper inquiry, a very proper rejection of some and an inquiry about further particulars and so on with regard to others.
It does reject one or two—they are rather important I admit. They are rejected, not because the Russian Government. repudiated Mr. Krassin's pledge, but because they, quite rightly—let us be fair to them—said, "You have sent in details of your claims We are going to examine each claim on its own merit, but for certain damages we are not responsible." They said, for instance, "We are not responsible for the fact that a storm arose in the White Sea." That may be a sound argument. When it is examined we shall have something to say about it, but nevertheless in the first move of bargaining between man and man who can object to it? I certainly do not, but in order to make perfectly certain, I have had an approach made to the present Charge d'Affaires, and the position as it stands to-day is this: We are assured that the liussian Government, far from trying to repudiate their obligations, are now anxious to meet the wishes of His Majesty's Government in all outstanding questions, in view of the recognition. I have dealt with this matter in some detail because I think it will smooth the way for an inquiry which I think Members of all parties are anxious to get as soon as possible.
There is another point which might have arisen, and which I understand has arisen, as a result of my right hon. Friend's speech, and I wish to make it quite clear. He referred to fishing rights in territorial waters. I think that he mixed up two matters, but the situation is that on 2nd May last my predecessor communicated with Mr. Krassin, and said that British vessels must not be interfered with outside the three-mile limit. On the 23rd May, Mr. Krassin proposed a temporary agreement pending a full judicial settlement. Nothing was done until 30th October, when Mr. Rakovsky, who had come here after Mr. Krassin had left, made a proposal which the Foreign Office did not consider to be acceptable. From 30th October until to-day nothing was done in connection with the proposal. To- night I am going to sign a reply which is to be sent. I think that it is very necessary that one should be fair in the statement of these matters. I understand that there were good reasons for no action being taken between 30th October and now. In any event, do not let us blame the Russian Government for what has not taken place, because I think that we ourselves must share part of the blame. And to go back on those unfortunate things, for the purpose of casting doubt on the bona fides of the Government with which we must stand in close relationship, is not right. I have gone into details because I do not want any misunderstanding to exist on these matters. I would like now to say a last word about the Poplar incident. I am not going to discuss it. But—
Is the right hon. Gentleman able to give any information this afternoon with regard to Russian Treaty with Italy, and say whether it is possible to lay its terms before the House?
I believe that the papers at the present moment are on my table. I understand that the terms were published pretty generally in the London Press, but I am sure that it is not indiscreet of me to say that in a communication which I have made I have said that of course it was understood that His Majesty's Government will get either terms the same as, or of value equivalent to, those granted to any other Power recognising the Soviet Government. I think that we are doing our best to make a bargain perfectly fair to both sides, and I feel certain from the experience which I have had up to now—it is a very short experience, I admit, and I am very much obliged to my right hon. Friend for warning me that it is not sufficient to build too much optimism upon it: I quite agree with that—as far as that experience has gone, we shall come to quite a business and settled arrangement. I shall be very much disappointed if we do not.
With regard to Poplar, I am not going to discuss its merits, because a day is going to be given to it. I would venture to hope that we shall dispose of it in somewhat less than a day—not that I want to shirk any discussion, but I should like to get on with business, and the House will agree that there is a tremendous amount of work to be done between now and the end of the financial year. I am purely and entirely in the hands of the House, but I hope that the House will be able to let us get on with the real business of the Departments, which must be done before a certain date. I would warn the House to he very careful about this matter, lest. it should get itself into a very bad mare's nest. After the reference made by my right hon. Friend yesterday, of course the Government considered the whole matter, and will continue to do so, so that the fullest information will be given to the House (hiring the Debate. That will be done. I should like to say, however, now that I have seen that the newspapers are spreading their wings, that it would be better for them to wait for explanations. But they are away already. I would like to say that my right hon. Friend (Mr. Asquith) quite inadvertently somewhat misled the House regarding surcharges. He said:
The statement issued from the Ministry of Health announcing that this Order has been rescinded is to the effect that the surcharges made under it will be remitted.
—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Wednesday, 13th February; col. 866, Vol. 169.]
There is a, very slight change made there, but it is rather important. What that Order said was
any surcharges that might be made.
I have taken special care, because no surcharges have been made under it, and I am going to ask my right hon. Friends opposite, who have been at the Ministry of Health to explain why they have not been made. I can assure my right hon. Friend than no surcharges have been made on the Poplar Board of Guardians.
I asked the question myself, in the course of my speech, whether they had or had not. Certainly the explanation which I understood purported to come from the Minister of Health (Mr. Wheatley) was that the surcharges made under it were remitted. I wanted to know whether they had or had not been made.
I have not the least doubt that my right hon. Friend thought that they had been made, but I have seen the report as published, and the words which I have taken down with my own hand are:
The whole point is that no surcharge has been made, and the explanation is a very simple one —that the audit of the Poplar Guardians' accounts for 1922 has not yet been completed. Now the point is this. I must beg the House not to regard this as a Party question, but to try to help whoever is responsible for the Government of this country out of the position which our pre decessors found a very difficult one. The whole point at issue is this: It is not a question of extravagance versus economy. It is not a question of breaking the law versus keeping the law. It is not a question of boards of guardians putting themselves in the hands of the. Ministry of Health, or kicking the Ministry of Health. I beg the House to believe that that is not the question. The question is this: Was the Order known as the "Mond Order" effective or ineffective? Was the Mond Order an Order that first of all was not acted upon, never could be acted upon, and never would be acted upon? Could that Order be effective or could it not; could it be useful or could it not? In that respect I appeal to my right hon. Friends opposite to unbosom their souls in the Debate, and to come to our assistance, not in getting the Government out of any difficulty, but in getting the Ministry of Health out of the difficulties imposed upon it by the issue of the Mond Order. I am not going further. I go that far because I would like now to take the opportunity of warning the House about what is the real point involved in what my right hon. Friend did as Minister of Health.
As far as the reform of the Poor Law is concerned, we have been committed to that for a long time, and the Government will do its best to remove that from its programme, and put it on the Statute Book. We cannot do that in a week. There are pressing matters with which we have to deal now, but as soon as those matters are out of the way or are got under way, undoubtedly the position of the Poor Law must be very carefully considered—considered with such incidents and such examples and experiences as we have had from Poplar. Another point is this: The question of London government, and especially of London finance in relation to Poor Law, must be considered. The very moving reference which my right hon. Friend made to that yesterday was most admirable, not only in its humanity, but in its wisdom. That has to be done.
I wanted to make these explanations so that before the Debate is finished the House might be in possession of certain points which might be useful to it in the further course of discussion. My hon. Friend who preceded me referred to the goodwill of the House. Before I sit down, would like to say that up to now, at any rate, the only evidence we have had has been of real goodwill and as far as we are concerned we shall go on working out the programme which I very generally and sketchily outlined on Tuesday. We hope to continue only so long in office, but certainly so long in office, as will enable us to do some good work that will remove many obstacles which would have hampered future Governments if they faced the problems that we have now to face.
I would like to have a debate as quickly as possible, and I should be very much obliged if those who intend to do so will put down Resolutions. I do not know in what form the debate is to be started, but if through the usual channels we might have some idea how the House would like the Debate to be carried on, and we will put ourselves in the hands of the House in that respect. As soon as I know that, an arrangement for a day will be made as quickly as possible.
On this side of the House we cannot now put any Resolution down. We are in the hands of the right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith). Would the right hon. Gentleman communicate with the right hon. Member for Paisley, and get his Resolution as soon as possible?
The habit has now grown up so lustily that the Dominions must be consulted in all these questions. We are in the closest contact with them on all questions which concern them
Perhaps the Prime Minister will kindly help me and the House in reference to the statement which I understood was made yesterday by the Lord Privy Seal, and say whether the Government propose to circulate papers in regard to this Poplar matter. If papers be circulated they must be circulated before the Debate. We want to see them. If they are to be circulated, when will they be in the possession of the House?
I raised a matter cognate to what has been said, namely, about the Trades Facilities Act and Russia, but more particularly the Overseas Trade (Credits and Insurance) Act. Could the Prime Minister give me an answer now as to whether it is intended to extend that Act at once to Russia, as to other countries in Europe?
I think Monday's discussion will relate to the Trade Facilities Act. I was referring more particularly to the Overseas Trade (Credits and Insurance) Act. The one relates to trading credits and the other to capital expenditure credits.
Obviously, it would be most improper for me at the present moment to commit myself to these matters. They are all lumped together. We are discussing and considering them, and until a good deal more time has been spent upon them we cannot announce a policy. But the matter is not being overlooked, and no unnecessary delay will take place in putting the machine into operation.
The Prime Minister has asked us to preserve an attitude of good will towards the Ministry of Health, and it is from that point of view that I wish to speak. It is obvious that in preserving an attitude of good will we have to reserve our criticism. It is right that at this stage we should voice our good will in this matter, and it is above all fortunate that I should have an opportunity, as an old medical officer of health, to say how strongly I welcome the hope there is of the new Government taking up an attitude in which we can help them. The difficulties of the Ministry of Health are immense. The Ministry of Health came into being with great promise as a Ministry that could take up the problem of health over the whole sphere of government and exercise such an influence in civil life as, for instance, the Army Medical Corps exercises in the Army, from the point of view of the efficiency of the whole organisation as well as of humanity. But what is the result? At the present time it is no Ministry of Health, and it has hitherto not been a Ministry of Health. It is a Ministry of local government and of housing, with a little health spatchcocked in. If it were a Ministry of Health it would be occupied primarily with health questions, and not with bricks and mortar, which are only secondarily health questions, although of extreme importance. There is a great deal to be said for the work of housing being past of the duty of the Office of Works. It certainly would not be right that the Ministry of Health should occupy the main part of its time with questions of local legislation and rating and such things. But we have to be practical persons, and in these extraordinarily difficult times, when all sorts of most radical reforms are outlined, not merely by parties opposite, but also from the Conservative benches, we have to consider how it is possible to get to a stage at which questions of health can be properly attended to.
It is for that reason that I want, above all, to preserve an attitude of sympathy with a view of helping the Ministry of Health in its work. Again and again we are met with the difficulty that you cannot get reform of the Poor Law until you know what your different local government areas are to be and what are their different powers. From my earliest undergraduate days at Oxford I have been keen on reform of the Poor Law. It is now referred to as the break-up of the Poor Law. It has gradually been taking place during the past 15 or 20 years, but there is still a great deal to be done. There are large parts of administration which arc in an anomalous position. The guardians, who have done magnificent work all over the country in times past, are in the anomalous position that they do not know where they are. They are being overlapped by new organisations which are springing up. Therefore, when the Prime Minister said that he was proposing to consider the matter on rather a large scale, I hoped that the position of the guardians would be brought into some kind of reference. It is impossible to deal with it on a comprehensive scale unless we can get along with the question which now blocks the way, namely, the question at present under consideration by the Commission on Local Government. Undoubtedly one of the most important bits of work at present affecting health relates to housing. I want to respond to the appeal of the Prime Minister and to meet him in his desire to "get a move on" in dealing with this situation. There is a great deal in what the right hon. Gentleman said which may be helpful to us, and when I say "us," I mean to indicate that we all here represent the homeless and the overcrowded, those who are living under conditions of congestion and ill-health in every constituency. We represent those people and we must try to help them. The very fact that the Prime Minister, without going into details, voiced so strongly the firm intention of his Government to deal with the situation, and endeavour to bring about an improvement in the housing position, must induce us to respond to his appeal, to wish him well and to help him in every way we can. His speech was not merely a statement of intention. He began it in an eminently practical way with two fixed, definite statements. The first was as to the average of £500 per house; the second as regards the average rental of 9s. per house.
These figures cannot be examined too closely at this stage. My hon. Friend the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood), who had great experience in the work of the Ministry of Health under a previous Government, examined these suggestions critically the other evening, and I agree with a great deal of the criticism. I would add that I do not see how you can state an average if you propose to use it as a practical figure applicable to conditions in both town and country. Here in London—I know from my experience as Chairman of the Housing Committee of the London County Council—the figures went up to £1,700 for a five-roomed house, referred to by hon. Members opposite as a rabbit-hutch. In Hertfordshire, where I was Medical Officer of Health, houses which were put up before the war cost £200 and were then at a discount, and people are tumbling over each other in order to get these houses now under the district council schemes. There is an enormous range covering the pre-War price, the intermediate price, the modern price, and what I hope will be the future price. To strike an average between all these prices is of no use to us for immediate practical purposes but it has great use in the sense in which the Prime Minister used the figure, because it gives us a definite point to which we can work and upon which we can concentrate our minds. If we concentrate on that figure, we have to consider a cutting down of costs right and left. It involves a very big reduction in the figure of building costs as they stand to-day. It represents a figure of only £325 per house, average, for the building costs as between town and country, and that means to say that in the country, under the most favourable conditions, you have to get the figure per house down to about £200 in order to keep your average at this low figure. How is the Prime Minister going to do it? That remains to be seen.
Many of the right hon. Gentleman's friends will say, "Prevent trusts and rings." By all means do so. Those on this side who know that there have been serious instances of difficulty in building through rings and trusts, will say: "By all means do anything you possibly can to prevent undue profit being made out of these vitally important products." I am afraid, however, in actual practice, that quarry will yield very little material economy. We worked it as hard as we could on the London County Council, and this House worked it as hard as possible, when a Committee was set up of which an hon. Member representing one of the two parties opposite was the Chairman, and, I am afraid, it was only in relation to a few comparatively unimportant materials that it was found there was any serious profiteering which could not be accounted for in the ordinary ways of business. However, we shall give every help in trying to run that hare down. If the Prime Minister says he is going to keep down prices, by checking profiteering or unfair business—and I say this without any intention of making an attack —then it implies consideration of the fact that it is not only the employers who profiteer. The idea of profiteering, this selfish desire to cover your losses by large margins and make as much as you can for yourself, is a human instinct which affects employed as well as employers. It was the high price of labour that accounted in great part for the high cost of building, under the London County Council since the War, and that high price of labour was not due to high wages, but to low output.
I do not wish to go into details, as regards the number of bricks laid per day, but if the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health wish to get to the bottom of this matter and reduce the cost of houses, they will have to look into this question of the output of labour and the amount of labour returned for wages as well as the question of the profit, that goes to employers and manufacturers. If the Prime Minister can do that, without making any undue accusations or anything of that sort, I offer him the greatest possible sympathy, and I believe that, in this respect, he may be able to bring new help to the solving of the housing problem. He and his party undoubtedly have means of contact with the trade unions and the labour world, which is denied to us. We, with the best intentions in the world, are often looked upon by Labour as, at any rate, potential enemies, but the right hon. Gentleman and his friends can be taken as, at any rate presumative friends. If they can, with their Inside knowledge of, and contact with, the trusts—as we often call, and rightly call, the trade unions—somehow or another secure a means of increasing output until it is reasonably consistent with wages, I believe they will come nearer to a solution of the problem than they can possibly come by any other means.
As regards the figure of 9s. per week rental, you have to consider 3s. per week of that as rates, and a rental of 6s. per week is very low, if it is to be taken as an average for the whole country. The loss on such houses is going to be tremendous. While I agree with the Prime Minister, as I have said, in giving us a fixed point, on which be is going to hang his future programme as regards housing, at the same time he will be involved in great difficulties in achieving any such figure. If he can do it, well and good, but what is the position going to be in rural districts as regards tied cottages? I am unfortunately the owner of 32 of these, and they are let as a rule at about 3s. 6d. or 3s. per week, and even less. Before the War the rents were about 6d. per week, and in many counties 1s. Those who talk glibly of the tied cottage as an iniquity which ought to be wiped out by this Government are putting the Minister of Health into a great difficulty. If he has to deal with that as well as all the others which him, then I say, God help him!
Do hon. Members who raise this question realise that the tied cottage is part of the essential equipment of the agricultural industry about which they are so anxious? [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I see an hon. Member opposite shaking his head. Where does he expect the farm labourer to live if he has not a cottage close to or on the farm at which he is employed? Is not that cottage part of the equipment of the farm? The farmer is bound to have the labour, and the labourer is bound to have the cottage. How is the farmer to have the labour unless he has cottages on his farm? Is he going to give a right of perpetual residence to a labourer whether that labourer is disabled or not, or whether he is working on that particular farm or not? It would be impossible to work a farm on those lines. The labourer must be on the farm, and the tied cottage must either be vacated by an outgoing labourer, when a new labourer is taking his place, or else another cottage must be built for the new labourer. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Why tie it?"] That interruption suggests that the farmer should be saddled with the responsibility of supplying a fresh cottage for each new hand every time he changes the hands on his farm. Is that a practical proposal? I do not propose at this stage, however, to carry on an argument with regard to tied cottages. But one of these days I sincerely hope that I may again see such a surplus of cottages in the countryside as will permit of farm hands always being able to find cottages, even when they leave employment on a particular farm. I think that is the real object of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, as well as of the Members on this side, as regards the country cottage. It is absolutely impossible to get any improvement in the agricultural industry if you saddle it with tied cottages, occupied by people who are no longer engaged in working on the farms of the necessary economic equipment of which those tied cottages are part.
That leads me to say one thing more as regards agriculture. A point on which I could not agree, even with the general propositions of the Prime Minister, was as regards agriculture. I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman showed an absolute indifference to, if not ignorance of, the position of the arable farmer. It was perfectly impossible for any man who understands the position of the arable farmer to give such an account of the position as the Prime Minister did. I admit the right hon. Gentleman did not distinguish between the arable farmer and the grass farmer, but referred to farmers generally. If he referred only to dairy farmers, there is much in his contention that dairy farming has not suffered more than most other trades have suffered in recent years. As regards the arable farmer, the position is quite different. "Sweet are the uses of adversity," and the adversity of the last few years has had its use to the arable farmer. It has made him adopt definitely, what hon. Members opposite will endorse, as a measure of progress, by forming a strong farmers' union. That union has been coordinated and strengthened with a central council and central advisers, who can be matched against those of any other union or body of business men in the world for knowledge of their work and for the power of presenting their true requirements to public attention when necessary. The leaders of the Farmers' Union have recently stated the position quite definitely. That position is the same now as it was last year. It cannot be neglected as the Prime Minister seemed to neglect it in his speech.
The arable farmer is losing hand over fist at the present time, and he has the remedy at hand of turning his land to grass. It only takes a year or two to change a field from one to the other But it means that three out of four hands are turned away when you change from arable farming to grass farming. These men cannot be turned on to any other occupation. Unfortunately the old village industries have died nut. They may grow again, as I hope they will. I am associated with some movements which are trying to restore them, but there are now no village industries to which people in rural occupations can turn. If he goes into the towns the rural worker can become only an unskilled labourer. Speaking again as a medical man I can say that if the man goes as one used to country life and open air life at the age of 25 to 30, still more at the age of 45 to 50, to the town he is not likely to flourish there as are the people who are accustomed to town life. He cannot accommodate himself to town life or industry. If you stick to the present state of aflairs you will get the farmers turning their arable land down to grass. They have been doing it to the tune of something like a million acres in the last year or two. You are turning those labourers adrift, you are taking away their employment from them and turning a large proportion of our rural population into urban population. That has a most serious national effect which from the point of view again of a medical officer of health, appreciate perhaps more than most Members of the House.7.0 P.M.
It is not simply from the point of view of the country livers that one says that country life is essential. Country life is also essential for the town livers. It is the town livers who stand to gain by co-operation with the country people and by the interplay between town and country. Take it simply from the point of view of the children, who obviously are the chief concern of domestic legislation for the welfare of the people. In the schools children are growing up who are, some of them, obviously suited to town life, but there is a certain proportion who are best suited to country life and country pursuits and industry. One of the ends of education is to fit the child to the job, and, whether they grow up in the town or the country, to try to give them their opportunity. It is not always their ambiition or their best interest that they should go into the towns and try to earn their living in skilled industries. Many of them will never get the higher scale of wages, and many of them in the struggle in the towns will have a harder life than they would have had in the country and will be deprived of the delights of country life. The same thing applies to the town children. Many of them are best suited to country life. The right thing for the population is that the children should be distributed according o their natural inclinations or habitudes. Secondly, where you have industries growing up under the improved arrangements in the country, or towards the country, you can have some interchange of unskilled labour between town and country, and you will get a greater growth of industries, large. or small, in that way.
Above all, in the agricultural question we miss that touch between town and country which was such a notable feature of the Prime Minister's speech at the opening of this Session. When he was challenged what would be his policy in regard to agriculture, he said, "We will bring a new note into agriculture, and the first thing we must do is to bring town and country together." I hope he will hold to that promise. He forgot it when he was speaking here the day before yesterday. To bring town and country together is the most essential thing in solving the agricultural problem, for this reason, that the towns have not realised hitherto how strongly they depend upon the country for the most essential parts of their life. The towns must depend on the country and the country on the towns. I believe it may be necessary even to give such things as subsidies or bounties as a temporary measure for the country. The towns must realise how necessary it is for agriculture to be supported, and that support must be given in the best way in which it can be provided. The bringing of town and country together is most essential in order to get a solution of the agricultural problem. I hope, again, that we may be able to give the utmost support to the great ideals announced by the Prime Minister in his speech, and I cordially reciprocate them from the point of view of many on these benches and in the country who are interested in the welfare of the country.
I must ask the indulgence of the House in making this my maiden speech. I listened with the greatest interest to the speech of my hon. Friend for South Norfolk (Mr. G. Edwards), wondering what he would find to say with regard to this new agricultural policy, on which I believe we both of us felt we should say something for our constituents, especially as the Minister for Agriculture is the right hon. Member for North Norfolk. Perhaps it would not be considered quite proper for a Minister when bringing out some policy to consider too closely the interests of his own constituency and county. I cannot see in this new policy anything that is going to help in the districts of Norfolk. It is said we are to get Agricultural Wages Boards. That is a thing we have all advocated and which practically all the Norfolk Members have been returned to ensure, but to give an Agricultural Wages Board and nothing else is like giving a man a purse with nothing to put into it. Supposing those Boards were sitting to-morrow, they might say that higher wages would be given, but that would not mean a penny more in the pockets of the agricultural labourers in Norfolk to-day.
The question of how you are to help agriculture at the present day cannot be solved by trying to lump it all together into one policy for the whole of the country. There are districts in this country which are very much distressed, and for which help is needed immediately if they are to carry on at all. If you bring forward one policy and say you are to fit it into the whole country, you will not bring any help to those very distressed districts. What you ought to do as regards helping the farmers is a very difficult thing, because the largest element in farming is out of our control altogether; it is the Almighty Himself; but there are various ways in which the farmers could be helped. A great deal could be done in helping them to buy material cheap, in helping them to sell it in the best markets, and all that; but that is not going to help the agricultural labourer at the present moment. You might have two bad seasons, and you would still have the agricultural labourer paid 23s. a week. That is not a proper wage. I think hon. Members on the opposite benches during the election said that that was not a proper wage and that there should be a 30s. minimum. There is all over this House a genuine feeling that agriculture should no longer remain the one sweated industry of the country. It is so because it is so much out of the control of this House. You have farmers going bankrupt through no fault of their own. Some people may say that that was the fault of Governments in the past. They may have contributed, but it is largely due to the bad seasons. You have the industry now practically crippled, and the only way the farmer can make ends meet is to force down the labourers' wages, which is an improper thing that ought to be stopped. We would never have got to that point if we had had Agricultural Wages Boards, because these Boards would have brought the matter to the attention of this House.
The Prime Minister said in his speech that you could not help agriculture with bounties and subsidies and that he would not consider that kind of help, but to help the agricultural labourer is not the same kind of question as that of helping the farmer with a large bounty. It would not be a very large item if you were to say that you were going to help the farmer in every way you could, but that you consider that the agricultural labourers in this country must have a minimum wage of 30s. a week. To give that wage would mean a subsidy, but there would not be any difficulty in arranging how it should be paid in the right way. It would not cost more than £2,000,000 or £2,500,000 a year, which is not a very large sum when you consider how cruisers arc being built to help certain shipbuilding districts. The agricultural labourers, through no fault of their own or of their employers, have been forced into a cruel and defenceless position from which they will not be able to get out through anything that was suggested on the Government bench yesterday. I do want to ask the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Noel Buxton) if he really will consider whether there could be some scheme brought forward in which you could break the question of agriculture into more suitable sizes.
The hon. and gallant Member for St. Albans (Lieut.-Colonel Fremantle) also made a speech about agriculture, in which he brought in the question that will always cripple and hurt us in districts like Norfolk, which is the muddling up of grass and arable farms. You have to get those things absolutely separate, because they are totally different industries and have nothing to do with each other. Totally different problems come before them, wages arc different, profits are different, and the actual housing is different. Indeed, everything is different. They are two different industries, and should each have their own policy, which need not be the same. Therefore, I most earnestly appeal to the right hon. Member for North Norfolk to consider what was said by the hon. Member for South Norfolk. This is nothing but a hollow farce, and he cannot think it is going to be a help to us in Norfolk. There was no other matter in which I think I disagreed strongly with the Prime Minister, but as an hon. Member here has pointed out, there is disappointment on these benches, and I think even on some of the Benches opposite, at the extraordinarily weak pronouncement of the whole of his address. It was not what we expected. We were told, and I think a lot of us expected, in our constituencies that we would be the brake on the Labour party, but it looks as if we shall have to be the whip and spur if this is all the Government are going to propose. There was nothing in the Premier's statement that was very revolutionary, but there were a great many questions which were hung up and which hon. Members on the Labour Benches said they would get removed if once they could get rid of the hon. Members who were behind the Government before the last Election. There were all these questions of pensions, fishermen's bounties, and matters like that. We all expected that all these things would be approached in a large and open way, and that it would be for the House to put the brake on by saying, "Where are you going to get the money from?" But where are those suggestions? There are none. I thank the. Members very much for the indulgence they have extended to me.
I am glad to-night to have the opportunity of making my maiden speech, and, like the hon. Member for East Norfolk (Mr. Seely), who has just sat down, I claim the indulgence of the House. In dealing with the Prime Minister's statement, on the whole I agree with it, but I wish to speak on one or two points dealing with unemployment benefit. The question of the gap system has been a very evil sore to a number of our people, and this is to be removed. In regard to uncovenanted benefit, that also has been a matter that has caused a lot of trouble. but the Prime Minister was not strictly accurate when he said A. had been left to the local committees to deal with. I served on one of the local unemployment committees, and we had riot the power to deal with uncovenanted benefit. If we dealt with it like the Poplar Guardians dealt with their people, we were soon told from head- quarters that we hail fixed the amounts too high and must reduce them. That is the position of the local unemployment committees, and that is why I would point out to the Prime Minister that he made a slight mistake in saying the committees had full power in the matter.
There was one point the Prime Minister overlooked, and I hope he will pay attention to it. I am dealing now with the Workmen's Compensation Act. The amended Workmen's Compensation Act was passed in the course of last Session, and the. Labour party fought strongly against it, and during the Election period every Labour candidate pledged himself that if he got back to Parliament he would do all he could to amend it. The Prime Minister, however, made no reference to it in his speech on Tuesday, and I wish to draw his attention to it, as there are one or two points that must, in my opinion, be dealt with. One is the question of the taking of the weekly payments from the widow in case of death. It might be said that that is not so, but there is a point in that Act which says that weekly payments can be deducted so that the amount shall not fall below £200. Take the position of a man who gets injured and receives compensation for 18 months, if his average earnings were a week prior to his accident, he would, during that period of 18 months, have received £87 in compensation, and that can be deducted, if he happens to die, from the compensation that is paid to the widow. That is wrong. A person in receipt of 22s. 6d. a week compensation cannot be said to be living in affluence. Under the Act, the widow, who has been attending to him and looking after him while he has been on the sick bed, is called upon to forfeit the money he has received by way of compensation. Far better would it have been for her if he had been killed outright, in which case she would have got the full amount of £300 as compensation. The late Government said the principle was wrong, but if the principle was wrong, why did they not say that none of the weekly payments should he deducted from the total amount paid to the widow? Surely, that is the proper way to do it; yet that point was carried in the last Parliament by Members opposite who told the working classes to trust them, and that they would deal with them as they ought to be dealt with.
Another point in that Act, and one that will react on the employers, is the deduction of the first three days' pay unless a man pays one month. What does that mean? The figures show that 55 per cent. of the persons who get injured pay less than one month, and yet you are penalising working-class people by saying that half of one week shall be taken from them. Can you expect men like we axe, representing the working classes, to agree to anything like that? Take the miners. There are 5 per cent. injured in the whole of the industries of the country, and the figure for the miners alone is 20 per cent. I appeal to hon. Members opposite, and to my own party, to take up the question of the Workmen's Compensation Act, and to see that it is put in proper form. Give our people a chance, and if you are honest on that side, and we bring in a Measure which we cannot carry ourselves, give us your support in putting matters right as we think they ought to be put right.
One remark that upset me was made by the hon. Member for Barrow (Mr. D. G. Somerville) during the Debate on the Address. I am sorry he made it. It was a very good speech from the Tory standpoint, and I believed in his sincerity. What he said was this, that we on this side—we were on the other side then—were not speaking for the working classes, and that if we had worked alongside them like he had we would have a better knowledge of what they required. Could anyone listening to the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. G. Edwards) yesterday say that he did not represent the working classes? The fervour and the intensity of his speech told what he had gone through in trying to lift up his fellows. Take the miners' Members. Everyone of them has worked alongside his fellows in the mines, and every one of us bears some mark of an accident he has received there. Take my own case. At 10 years of age I went to the pithead. and at 12 years I went below ground. and I have done 27 years down in the mines-29 years altogether. Surely we can claim a right to speak for our fellows when such is the case, and we are sent here, not with the intention of revolutionising things, but of trying to make things somewhat better than they are now, claiming and thinking that our people are entitled to somewhat better conditions than they have at the present moment.
I have sat through the whole course of this Debate, and have risen time after time in the hope of catching your ever active eye, Mr. Speaker, but I ever active eye, Mr. Speaker, but I have not been quite fortunate enough hitherto. Nevertheless. I am very pleased because I have had the opportunity of listening to a large number of maiden speeches, and out of those I would like to single the two last to which the House has had the opportunity of listening. The hon. Member for East Norfolk (Mr. Seely), who is a relative of a very distinguished Member of this House, certainly has made his mark, and delivered a very able speech indeed. Although it may be that I do not agree with the policy of his party, I am quite certain of one thing, and that is that I shall entirely agree with him in connection with the main industry of our country, namely, agriculture, and I welcome him in this House, because he will most certainly be a great asset towards helping on that very important industry. Then we have just listened to another maiden speech. I do not known the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), but he told us that he has spent a very large number of years in the mines, and I think the House is very fortunate indeed in having his counsel here, because, after all, he is in a position to guide us, and to give us first-hand information on points affecting that particular industry. His speech certainly was very clear and good. I should like to take this opportunity of congratulating him, and I think I am right when I say that he also will make a very clear place for himself in the counsels of this House.
The few observations which I want to make this evening will be mainly directed to the policy of the Government in connection with rural constituencies such as I represent. Before embarking on that course, I would like to say a few words in connection with our foreign policy, more especially as it affects such important questions as armaments, reparations and international debts. I think that everybody will agree with me when I say that the Prime Minister, in the course of his speech the day before yesterday, greatly impressed all parties in this House, because he gave us quite clearly to understand that he was tackling the very difficult problem of our foreign relationships with sincerity, with vigour and with plenty of courage, and although he may be tackling these problems from a different standpoint or angle than that from which our party have hitherto, nevertheless I think that everybody in this House will welcome his efforts, and will most certainly wish him the very best of lack.
There is one point I would like to mention, and that is, that I personally consider that if any good is to come of the present negotiations with our foreign neighbours, it can only be brought about by dealing with the problem on a comprehensive basis. What I mean is that the three main problems with which we are confronted, that is, armaments, reparations and international debts, are so closely interwoven, are so much interlocked, that they can only be dealt with as one problem. No good can come by approaching these problems separately, and, therefore, I do hope the Prime Minister, when tackling the foreign policy of this country, will endeavour to deal with those three problems at once. Recently I had an extensive tour in the United States of America, and I found that all people with whom I came in contact were very keenly interested in the European situation, but one and all said that we could not very well expect them to come in to help us, or, shall I say, to the rescue of Europe, as long as the great countries in Europe went on piling up enormous armaments. Therefore, I do maintain that if we are to get other countries, such as the United States of America, interested, it is certainly essential that a conference should be called to discuss all the three main problems at the same time, and I hope that the Prime Minister will approach the problems from that angle.
The Prime Minister, when dealing with agriculture, stated that there was plenty of evidence to show that agriculture was not on its last legs. To a certain extent, I suppose, he is right, but, nevertheless, he must not run away with the idea that agriculture is prosperous. because I think I should be quite right in saying that, as far as the wheat-growing section of agriculture in this country is concerned, it is to-day practically on its last legs. After all, the wheat-growing section is a very important one, and I cannot help feeling that the Prime Minister had overlooked that, because if he had turned to the official records of the Ministry of Agriculture, he would have found that tens of thousands of acres of ploughed-up land have recently been turned back to grass. Therefore, I do claim that, as far as this section is concerned, and, after all, it is the main section of agriculture, it is, almost, if Lot absolutely, on its last legs.
What was the policy he outlined to us in a very rough state? First of all, he dealt with rating, but I do not think that he was very emphatic as far as rating was concerned, because he did not tell the House whether or not he intended to re-organise the rating as far as agricultural land and buildings were concerned. If the Minister of Agriculture is to reply, 1 would like him at this stage to give us a little more information with regard to the rating of agricultural land. Then the right hon. Gentleman mentioned that he intended to introduce a scheme for assisting by loans, or guarantees, co-operative enterprises by farmers. I think everybody who is interested in agriculture will welcome that as a move in the right direction. It has been badly wanted for a long time, but I would like to ask whoever is going to reply to-night if that system of guarantees or loans to co-operative enterprises is also going to be applied to smallholders and allotment holders. The Prime Minister only said, as far as I recollect, to farmers, but if we are to get most out of our land, it is necessary also to assist smallholders and allotment holders.
Then the Prime Minister stated that they intended to re-establish the Agricultural Wages Boards. He did not give us a great deal of information; in fact, he simply made the bald statement, but I think we are entitled to know a little more about that, and there are one or two questions I would like to submit to the Minister of Agriculture, who I am very pleased to see in his place. First of all, does the Government intend to introduce special legislation, or to proceed under the Trade Boards Act? Then I would like to know what is to be the position of the Agricultural Wages Board? Is. there to be an independent chairman, and, if so, who is to appoint that chairman? Is the Minister of Agriculture to be in supreme command, and is he the only authority who will have the power of appointing that independent chairman? Then, again, I would like to know whether the findings of the Boards are to be compulsory. Another question is this: If the Wages Boards are reestablished at once, and if the Govern- ment does introduce special legislation for that purpose, will they in that legislation also introduce a clause W hic h will place the farmers, or the employers, in a position so that they will be in a position to pay the wages set up by the Wages Boards?
Personally, as one who represents a very large and an important agricultural constituency, I have always been in favour of Wages Boards, but I have always said that, in my humble opinion, the first duty of any Government is to produce a policy which will place the industry on an economic basis, so that those engaged in it can make both ends meet. I believe if Wages Boards were established to-day in the country, that is, taking into allowance the serious plight and the depression in which the industry is placed, that, instead of doing good, they would do harm, because it is perfectly true to state that the majority of farmers, that is, the employers, not only in Oxfordshire, but throughout the country, are to-day struggling to make both ends meet. I would be very pleased if hon. Members would accompany me down to Oxfordshire, and see for themselves. I say that the right way to tackle this problem is, first of all, to place the industry on a paying basis, and, having done that, establish the Wages Boards, and see that decent wages are paid. Take the case of Oxfordshire. At the last election I addressed 82 meetings. Some hundreds, indeed, thousands, of agricultural labourers attended.
They would be very hard up if they had to listen to the hon. Member all day. Those labourers to-day are in a very deplorable state, and I say without any hesitation that throughout the Election I did not see a single smile on a single agricultural labourer's face. How can they smile when they are paid 25s. a week? Some hon. Members opposite may think it is a laughing matter, but let them take a job at 25s. a week, and they will not laugh so much. I say it is up to us, whatever party be in power, to do whatever we can to raise the lot of the agricultural labourer, and I will give this assurance that even if it be a Socialist Government which introduces legislation to place the industry of agriculture on an economic basis, and then introduces any Measure you like to improve the lot of the agricultural labourer, I shall support that Government. [Hon. Members: "Well done!"] Of course, I know it is very easy for some hon. Members who are not connected with agricultural districts to laugh at the lot of the agricultural labourer. That is the unfortunate part. If only we could get all the hon. Members who represent industrial constituencies to see the side of the agriculturist; then, I think, the problem with which we are confronted would be much more easily solved.
I would like to say a word on the Prime Minister's housing policy as far as it affects an agricultural constituency. First of all, we noticed that the Prime Minister, when he started on the part of his speech which dealt with housing, appeared to be struggling under great difficulty, because he had to explain to the House the position of his party as far as dilution in the building trade is concerned. He stated that the laying of bricks was a highly-skilled trade. I do not notice that any hon. Members opposite cheer that statement. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is!"] I say it is not!
I do, and I will give hon. Members a concrete illustration. On the East Coast of Essex at the outset of the War a factory happened to require to be erected, and I personally supervised its erection. The size of the factory was 185 feet and the width was 28 feet. It was two stories high. There were no bricklayers available, but the factory had to be put up, and without delay. That factory was built in exactly three weeks, working night and day, and with only two orieklayers. It was practically built by labour drawn from oyster dredgermen unemployed owing to the War, and yacht hands. Under the supervision of these two bricklayers that factory, of the dimensions T have stated, was erected in three weeks. [An HON. MEMBER: "Marvellous!"] It was marvellous. Is that a highly-skilled industry? [An HON. MEMBER:" Who made the bricks?"] I am not talking about the making of bricks. I am talking about the laying of bricks, and I cannot see that it is a highly skilled trade when what I have described can be done. Anyhow, I do not think the Prime Minister will carry much weight in the country with statements like that. Whilst he was referring to that matter an hon. Member on this side of the House called out that it was "protection for labour." I agree with him. I think it is worse than that. It is class selfishness of the very worst kind.
I come now to the question of housing in agricultural constituencies. We had the Government's policy placed before us the other day. It was to erect houses of the average price of £500 per house. These houses to be let at an average rental, inclusive of rates, of 9s. per week. That should be a very good policy for the industrial centres and for the towns; but I say that it will not do anything at all to assist those who live in the agricultural divisions in rural England. If an agricultural labourer is only getting 25s. per week—or let us assume that he is getting 30s. or 35s. per week—he will not be able to pay a rent of 9s. We have got to have a different policy if we are to solve the housing problem in the agricultural districts.
Some hon. Members in the course of this Debate have referred to the tied-cottage system. I think we should all like to see that system scrapped, but you cannot scrap it until you have erected a plentiful supply of houses. If you are going to erect houses in agricultural districts then the first essential is to erect them at such a price that the agricultural labourer can afford the rent charged. I do, therefore, hope that the Prime Minister or the Minister of Health will reconsider the whole of the housing scheme in view of the fact that at the present time they have started to solve the problem which exists in the agricultural districts.
The text of the speech of the Prime Minister was confidence. He appealed for the confidence of the nation—for confidence in the first Socialistic administration. Well, I think that everybody in this country realises that t he new Prime Minister has taken upon his shoulders a very severe burden. Everybody in the country wishes him the very best of luck in his efforts. Let me, in conclusion, say, however, that he will not get the confidence of those employed in the greatest industry in this country, that is, agriculture, unless he is prepared to produce a wider and more perfect agricultural policy than that which he has told us about. We must do something to get more food out of our soil. We must place the agricultural industry on a paying basis. We must endeavour to raise the lot of the agricultural labourer throughout our country.
I should like to say one word, and one word only, on the question of agriculture in refer- ence to what the Prime Minister said on the subject. He implied that the farmers were always grumbling, clamouring for help for themselves, and he further suggested that many of them were incapable of managing their own business. But is there any industry in the world where there are not a certain number of incompetents? The point is this: that the farmers are not asking for help for them-selves. They can all make money by turning their farms into ranches. They are asking for help to keep their farms in cultivation; to enable them to farm arable land. One word with reference to Trade Boards. do hope that when these Trade or Wages Boards are introduced that it will be borne in mind that they may keep out of work those partially-disabled people who are unable to do a full day's work. I hope that will not be forgotten. I am afraid the truth of the matter is that no trade in this world can pay an uneconomic wage. If you pro- pose to pay wages that agriculture cannot afford, that merely means that a few more thousands of acres will go out of cultivation and join the millions of acres that have already gone out of cultivation.
I should like to have said something as regards foreign affairs, but as I under-stand there are a good many speakers who wish to say something I will not go at length into the matter. I will confine myself to congratulating the Prime Minister on what he said on this subject; on the, wonderful success of his methods and the wonderful improvement in our relations with France since he has come into office. I trust that having been so successful in creating the right sort of atmosphere, that the next thing he will do is to give France the security she needs, without which no European settlement is possible. Let him remember, as he apparently has done, that he has a formula which I believe to he the right formula, that is "peace by disarmament." Let him remember that for every battalion he manages to get withdrawn from the armies, a division's worth of security must be given.
I should like to ask a question with reference to the Ambassadors' Conference. I believe it is quite impossible to back up the League of Nations and to maintain the Ambassadors' Conference in its present form. It has no constitution. It has no official standing. It is merely the last survival of the Supreme Council. Most of the work that it has done would undoubtedly have been done quite as well, if not better, by the League of Nations itself. That its existence in its present form is a threat to the League of Nations was proved during the recent Græco-Italian crisis. The formula for settling the conflict was not its own, but that of the League of Nations, but in point of fact, as is all too well known, it changed a fair and just settlement into an arrangement that this country must well regret having been a, party to—through our representative on the Ambassadors' Council, an arrangement which resulted in the handing over by Greece of the fifty million lire direct to Italy, thus taking the matter out of the hands of the Permanent Court of International Justice into whose hands it had first been entrusted. Greece had surrendered her rights beforehand, and she had no redress.
I hope the Government will make it its business to lay Papers before the House explaining exactly what happened at the Ambassadors' Conference, and what were the reasons which determined this country to sign an agreement of which we have so little reason to be proud, and which has too long been hushed up. I trust the Government will also place before the House, the Report of the Special Commission which supervised the investigation and inquiry undertaken by the Greek Government. What the report actually was is suspected but not known. In the interests of fair dealing between nations this report should be published.
Finally, I am curious to know how the Greek Government found the fifty million lire which were paid over to Italy? Were they helped in any way, directly or indirectly, by any outside body or Government to find this money? Had this money been earmarked for Greek refugees, and, if so, from what sources had this sum been originally raised? To return to the Council of Ambassadors, there may be questions arising as between Allies which can best be dealt with by our representatives in Paris, but surely, as the Ambassadors of the nations interested are permanently in Paris, they can be convened each time that such a question arises, and, of course, they must complete whatever work they have in hand. But this body, which has admittedly done the League such serious injury, and which has perhaps done more than any other fact to discredit the League in America, should obviously be done away with at the earliest possible moment, as its action during the Italian-Greek conflict proved it to be one of the very worst survivals of the jobbery and bargaining of pre-War diplomacy at its very worst.
The House has already been invited not to expect from us our proposals in detail at the moment, and, generous as it always is, it has accepted the Prime Minister's general sketch as to what it is for the moment appropriate to know. Therefore my hon. Friends will not expect me, in answer to some questions which have been put, to go into details as to our proposals in connection with the particular subjects of which I am about to speak. The housing question, and the wages question, are the subjects of our most diligent study, and I shall look forward at an early date to more explicitly recounting what we intend. But I might say one thing in answer to the query of the hon. Member for Hertfordshire in relation to the objection he has to the tied-house system. The tied-house problem in the country has always been one of the most urgent problems, and many remedies have been proposed, but there is no remedy so good as the provision of plenty of houses. The proposals Of the Government include a much more generous provision of houses than has hitherto been proposed. There seems to be some misapprehension as to the meaning of the phrase "9s. per week," but that is only an average payment. The Minister of Health intends that there shall be some adaptation, and the rural problem of housing has not been omitted from his calculation. 8.0 P.T.
I come to the wages question. It has been argued that the improvement of farm wages is not a possible thing in the circumstances. No one feels more strongly than I do the responsibility under which we all lie of finding some remedy for the intolerable situation with regard to wages, which will not lead to any decrease of farm activities in this country. The wages question is one which urgently calls for some solution. We have heard some talk about 25s. a week being paid to the agricultural labourers, but the fact is that 25s. per week is something to make the mouth water of many labourers in Norfolk, because they do not get 25s. per week. In that county the standard wage is 6d. per hour, and when you take off the insurance the wages is well under 24s. per week. I need not discourse on the absolute necessity of dealing with the wages problem as soon as possible, because everyone admits its urgency. One or two of my hon. Friends have said that, in order to deal with the wages question, you must give a subsidy. We have been told by one party that a better wage without a subsidy is impossible, but there is another impossibility and that is this Parliament proposing a subsidy at all. There is nothing, it seems to me, upon which the country has pronounced more clearly than that it will not have any artificial aid from the State to provide assistance for agriculture or any other industry.
It has been stated that 1,000,000 acres of land have gone out of arable cultivation during the last year or two. The arable area increased during the War by 3,000,000 acres, but it was increased by compulsion, and the area has now fallen to the exact pre-War area. I do not agree with my hon. Friend that low prices and other things are likely to carry it further.
No, that is not so. The best advice I can get is that we have got down to what is, in these days. since American and other corn began to reach these shores, something like the normal area. We have lost the artificial and very abnormal cultivation we had as a result of the compulsory principle, and those extra 3,000,000 acres were hound to go out of cultivation, because they were badly selected for ploughing, and we could not expect to keep them under cultivation. I was astonished to hear from one of the Members for Norfolk the suggestion of a subsidy. We have been told that it was the Labour party which would finally bring in a, protective Tariff. I should have thought that we would have been gingered up by the Liberal party in the direction of Free Trade and not in the direction of Protection. I agree that the districts alluded to by the hon. Member are the most distressed areas in the country. I should very much like to see assistance given to those who are working the poorer land which is now arable. But however much we might wish to do what we could in that direction, a subsidy is impossible.
There appears to be an idea that we lack sympathy with the farmers; but I can assure the House that my Department and my hon. Friends behind me, who are personally and intimately acquainted with farmers, regard the farmer with the keenest interest, and if any suggestions can be offered to us for helping, within legitimate limits and on legitimate principles, the real interests of the farmers we shall be the first to entertain them, and we shall be the most active in carrying them out. My information is that most happily the distress which prevailed a year ago has already been very much modified. There has been a distinct hardening of prices, which is an encouragement from the farmers' point of view, and there has been a marked improvement in most agricultural products.
Farming in England is not cereal farming, like it is in some other countries, where they are able to grow wheat on the same land year after year.
Most of our farmers here have had a marked improvement in some of their other products last year. It is principally the counties largely dependent on wheat that have not improved whilst other crops have shown some improvement. I may also mention the striking utter-
ances of some of the leading land agents of the country who have drawn attention to the extraordinary demand for farms which prevails, not only in the grass counties, but even in Norfolk. Many people have written to me from Norfolk asking if I can tell them of a farm to let, but I cannot tell them of a single farm which they have even a chance of applying for successfully. More than that, there is a certain tendency to increase rents I know of one farm where there were 60 applicants for it, and there is even a rise of rents. That does not look as if farming was on the certain road to ruin. Even on the very poor land, where it is said that you cannot pay a decent wage, there are many men farming in such an efficient way that they do pay a good wage. There are some places where they pay 30s. per week as a minimum. Sometimes the idea prevails that some sort of bargain should he struck that- if the labourer gets something, the farmer should also have something. I would like to remind the House what was said by a man who is regarded by all parties as being in the highest rank of authority, Lord Ernle. He said:
I do not think it is a satisfactory way, when paying a minimum wage, to say that it is part of the bargain between the State and the agriculturist. I should prefer to put it on higher and more national grounds, and say that it, is absolutely necessary for the national welfare that agricultural wages should be raised.
The 24th April, 1917, when the Corn Production Bill was being introduced. But it is a general statement clearly applicable to any and every period. I might recall the interesting fact that after the passing of the Rating Bill, Sir Robert Sanders sent a circular round pointing out to the farmers that the effect of his proposals made it incumbent upon them to do a great deal more in regard to wages. The National Farmers' Union issued a statement which indicated that on the question of wages they were prepared to consider the application of compulsory powers in connection with Conciliation Committees. To all intents and purposes, it seems to me that the contention that the wage should be compulsorily levied concedes the claim for higher wages. It is not for me to labour this point at the moment, and I shall have more to say at a later stage, but I would like to reaffirm our great anxiety to do whatever is possible for the farmers in a legitimate way.
There is an element amongst the farmers which believes that they can be immensely assisted by the results of research, and I shall at the proper time tell the House of our proposals in that direction. In connection with co-operation, I think hon. Members who are interested in agriculture will feel that the Government are active and sympathetic in a high degree. I have sought advice and proposals from every possible quarter of agricultural authority, and if I have missed any I shall be extremely glad to receive more, because there is nothing I feel to be more incumbent upon us than to help the farmer in every possible way within the proper sphere of government. I acknowledge with high appreciation and gratitude the help already extended to me. I have sought for proposals from every political quarter. It is not merely the prosperity of the farmer that we have in view. The prosperity of the village and of the rural worker is equally our concern. Our proposals for dealing with these conditions must come a little later. If I may summarise my position in regard to the whole question of agriculture, I would like to be allowed to quote an interesting expression that may be found in the recently published letters of the late American ambassador to this country, Mr. Page, where he said that the building up of farm and village life "will restore the equilibrium of our civilisation."
Unfortunately, the Minister for Agriculture has not answered any one of the questions I addressed to him. I would like now to press him to state definitely when the Government intend to introduce the legislation necessary to bring their policy into force, and especially the Bill in connection with agricultural wages.
May I also ask two questions. As a matter of fact, under the Corn Production Act, did not the wages of agricultural labourers rise from 15s. to 46s., and is it not also the fact that the number of agricultural labourers has decreased since the War from 600,00t, to 500,000?
In answer to the hon. and gallant Member for Henley (Captain Terrell), I may say I cannot give the definite date at which legislation will be produced, but I can assure him that we are working hard at it.
Decidedly, it will be this Session. My hon. Friend the Member for Southern Norfolk (Mr. G. Edwards) is perfectly correct in the figures he has given with regard to the increase of wages under the operation of the Wages Board, and as to the decrease in the number of labourers. During the War there was a great increase in the number owing to the compulsion used with regard to ploughing up land, but since compulsion has been abandoned there has been a decrease comparable to that increase during the War.
I wish to take this House for a few moment from the comparatively peaceful subject of agriculture to the more or less thorny one of foreign policy. I refer more particularly to the party who are represented opposite and their association with the Socialist and Labour International. A very great deal of apprehension exists on this subject in this House, and a considerable quantity outside, and when the country mournfully realises and appreciates the position there will be considerably more apprehension and something even greater outside. Whether it is unconscious or wilful. I must say there appears to be a good deal of evasion about the Government attitude and expressions on this subject. I have no desire at the present time to say anything which will embarrass the Government who are starting out to govern the country, but I would like to utter a few words on the subject and to make a suggestion at the end which I feel certain, if adopted by the Government, would be to the advantage not only of the country hut of themselves.
As to the evasions, they ought to be pointed out. The other day a question was asked by the hon. Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison), to which the reply did not seem quite satisfactory. I understood the Prime Minister to say that his party's connection with the Labour and Socialist International was for the purpose of guiding them in their decisions. But the constitution of this International does not permit of any two opinions about that whatsoever. It says definitely that the bodies affiliated to the International must accept its rulings, which are binding. That is not guiding, it is binding, and I want to show presently that this Government is in a rather different position to the ordinary party Government to which we have been used for some years. Hon. Members on the benches behind the Government are practically dictated to by their annual congresses and meetings. They have to obey the resolutions and findings of those bodies.
That is not on all fours at all. There are certain members of the Government who have publicly resigned—automatically resigned, I believe, are the exact words—their position on the Council of the International, but the party is still affiliated to the International, and I. believe representatives went yesterday or to-day--I saw it in the "Daily Herald"—
I understand they have gone as representatives of the British Socialist Labour party to the International. They will come back with certain views and resolutions, and the British Labour and Socialist party is pledged to those resolutions. There can be no question about that. You will find it clearly laid down in the constitution of the International. They will come back and present those resolutions to your congresses, and, if they are adopted, which they have been hitherto, that will be the policy of the Labour party. This Government, which is a Government representing that party, will have to accept them. There is no question about that. If it is doubted—
Very well, I will clear it up. Less than 12 months ago—I think in June, to be exact—the Prime. Minister, speaking before this particular Congress, said, apropos of his party coming into power, that no sane man would take office unless he had at least 340 Members to support him. The House will be surprised, in view of that definite pronouncement, to see those Gentlemen sitting opposite. What has caused that? Is it an example of the opportunism that we saw in the late Coalition Government, or is it merely greed of office, or is it. something much less vicious than that—is it hard necessity The taskmasters of the Government to-day are the Labour and Socialist Congress. How else do you account for the Prime Minister's complete backward somersault? If a better solution of that somersault can be suggested, I am quite prepared to consider it, but I think that that is the explanation. The right hon. Gentleman and the Government have got to accept the findings of this Congress. That, obviously, is a very great danger to this country, and, when the country realises it, it will be heard of on many hands and in many directions. This Labour and Socialist International is not the harmless band of doves that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies would have us believe the other day. I will not quote at length, because I have not very much time to-night, but it may be heard of again.
I know I shall interest hon. Members. I will take just one resolution at the last Congress of the International—the right to move freely between countries. That sounds quite easy, but how are you going to force the United States of America, and the other Continental countries, to throw their countries open? Hon. Members may laugh. I will give the British Socialists credit for this, that they do come home and try to enforce their resolutions, and the result is that we have the slackest of all safeguards for our country from aliens. The International has so worked it that this country is the dumping ground of every undesirable alien when his own country is too hot to hold him. Let me take another few words from one of the principal points in the Constitution—that in conflicts between nations the International shall be regarded as the highest authority. That was not new last year. As far back as 1910 this same matter came before another International, and an explanation was asked for as to how this could be carried out. The explanation came that in countries in conflict a general strike should be called. Whereupon Herr Bebel, the leading German Socialist, got up and said that, whilst lie quite appreciated the resolution of the International, he thought it only fair to say that the German Socialists were Germans first and Socialists afterwards. On this M. Hervé, the French Socialist, excitedly exclaimed, "Well, then, I have lived my life for the King of Prussia."
The House does not need to be reminded of the action the German Socialists took in the last War, but I should like to remind, particularly, those who sit on the benches opposite, of what they do not seem to have learned by experience, namely, that they are being made the dupes of the Continental enemies of this country. And that is not all. There are 30 countries represented in this International, ranging from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation to the Russian Social Revolutionaries. That does not sound like a band of doves looking for peace, and I really do not think that hon. Gentlemen opposite appreciate this from the point of view from which I am looking at it, because even the Joint Secretary of that Association is none other than the infamous Adler, who was an assassin. Hon. Members dare not laugh at that. Where the dove-like attitude comes in it would be difficult to find. I want to put this matter quite frankly. I do not want to make it hot for the Government to-night, though I can confidently assure them that they will have it hot before very long, not only from myself but from others. I think, however, it is only fair to the House and to the country, seeing that the dictation to the Government comes from a Congress which is still affiliated to this International, that, during the time they are in office, they should suspend that affiliation. I think that that is a very reasonable suggestion, and I can say this, that on that. declaration will depend whether Great Britain will govern itself or permit itself to be governed by a con- glomeration of Socialists and foreign fanatics its future destinies.
I had intended for a short time to draw the attention of the House to a question of peculiar urgency, and, as I understand the Secretary for Scotland has to catch a train, I shall make my remarks even more brief than I had intended. I desire to refer to the economic situation in the Highlands of Scotland, the urgency of which is, I think, not understood in this House, and was, I am quite certain, not understood in the Scottish Office under the last Administration. I would in all earnestness beg the House, which has always shown a generous recognition of the part Highlanders have played in building up this Empire of ours, in its government and in its defence in war, to translate that sympathy into prompt and generous treatment at the present time. The situation in the Highlands does call urgently for treatment, and it will brook no delay. We in the Highlands have two principal industries, fishing and agriculture, and they are both hard hit. The general trade depression affects us in the Highlands just as it does those who live in the great cities—It bears more heavily, perhaps, and certainly more obviously, on the great cities, but it hits us in the Highlands, too. The same causes that produce this depression in the great cities—the disorganisation of foreign markets, for example—affect these industries upon which we in the Highlands depend, and it affects us in another way, because it drives back to the countryside the young men who are earning good wages in the cities, and are in many cases enabling their fathers to keep their homes and families together on holdings that would, otherwise, not be economically self-supporting.
I would draw the attention of the House to three important facts affecting the situation. The first is the failure of the white fishing industry That was the first calamity that. we suffered in the North of Scotland. It was due, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) pointed out to the Government last year, mainly to the illegal depredations of trawlers in the inshore fisheries. We constantly drew the atten- tion of the Government to it, and finally, in his indignation at the replies to the effect that, far from improving the policing arrangements, their cost had been found too high and they were going to be cut down, my right hon. Friend pressed for an inquiry into the trawling situation. We were warned, by the able and courteous representative of the Scottish Office in the last House of Commons, to be chary about raising this question because, as we were told, we might find that the Report of the Committee would be precisely in the opposite sense to that which we expected. The Report which the Committee has made, and which has been published in the last three weeks, is not merely a vindication of our faith in the fishermen. It is by implication a stern indictment of the lack of sympathy and the lack of insight which was shown by the Scottish Office in the last Government. Not only did we have this failure of the white fishing, but we had at the same time, by an unhappy coincidence, a failure of the herring fishery, which came from quite different causes. This was not a case of lack of fish. There were plenty of fish. The catch, which was unusually large last year, could not be disposed of. The markets in Germany were entirely disorganised and the markets in Russia were closed. Eighty per cent. of the herring catch is cured and sent abroad, and there was the utmost difficulty in marketing it. The curers, in nearly all cases, just got out, but the share fishermen—the men to a large extent own the ships in which they sail and own the gear—the men who were taking great risks in life and in material and going down to the sea in their ships in many cases got no more than £8, £10 or £20 clear profit as the result of 10 to 14 weeks' work, in some eases they got nothing at all, and in some eases they were left in debt at the end of a whole summer's work. Therefore, we came at the end of the summer to this situation, that there was a failure in the white fishing, which affects the crofting population, too, because a great many of these men till their crofts part of the time and fish part of the time, and there was a failure of the herring fishery and on top of that came the greatest calamity of all, which was the complete and utter failure of the harvest—oats, turnips, and potatoes—a failure which is more complete than that of any since the terrible harvest of 1817.
This is the second year running we have had this failure. We had a partial failure in the harvest before last. The corn was out in Caithness and Sutherland, and harvest work was going on long after election day in November, 1922, and it was out until December, and then I implored the Government last spring to give us this help in seed, oats and potatoes for which I am asking now, and they refused because they said the Estimates were all prepared and no provision had been made. If you have a late harvest in one year it means that the seed you sow from the late corn will probably produce a late harvest the following year. That is a scientific fact which the Secretary for Scotland will not challenge, and as our harvest does not take place in any case until September, a late harvest brings you to October or November, and that means there is a terrible risk that you will never be able to gather your crops at all. Therefore, I tackled the Scottish Office under the last Government and warned them, by means of questions during last summer, that they ought to be prepared for a failure of the harvest, and in July I warned them very strongly, because there had been so much dull, sunless, wet weather that I felt the risk of a failure of the harvest was greatly increased, and now this calamity has come, and unless we get this fresh seed from an earlier country, seed which is grown in a country where the harvest comes earlier, we shall be in the same position the Highlands were in in 1817 when in many districts it took three, four or five years to recover and to get the full productivity of the soil restored. Therefore, although the sturdy independence of these crofters is only surpassed by the pluck with which they face their difficult climate, we should receive now the assistance to which we are entitled under the Congested Districts Act of 1897 and the Small Landholders (Scotland) Act, 1911.
Under the latter Act the powers given to the Congested District Commissioners under the former Act are transferred to the Board of Apiculture, and those powers under the former Act included the power to make grants of seed, oats and potatoes to the crofters, at the discretion of the Board of Agriculture. You could not define a bad harvest. You could not say when it was compulsory for the Board of Agriculture to give the seed, oats and potatoes. There is, therefore, no legal obligation on the Board of Agriculture to give this seed, oats and potatoes, but there is undoubtedly a moral obligation. It is quite clear from the speeches of the Lord Advocate, who introduced the Bill, and of others who supported it, that it was their intention to make these grants when the harvests were bad. You must know that there is a complete and utter failure of the harvest, and that the emergency which was contemplated at the passing of the Act has arisen and you must give us these supplies, not necessarily absolutely free of charge, but at any rate far below cost price. Their oats have been a failure. In some cases they have never even been reaped. Their potatoes are a complete failure, and in many cases they are not worth taking out of the ground. Their roots are a failure. There is no food for themselves or fodder for their cattle, and on top of that the fuel supply has failed because they depend on peat. That has all been soddened with the incessant rains, and they are scraping together what money they can, with the help of their sons abroad in the big cities, to buy a little expensive coal for cooking purposes. There never was such a complete case for insisting that the emergency contemplated in this Act has arisen, and unless the Act is to be allowed to become a dead letter the Secretary for Scotland must take action this spring.
After that I appeal to him to take action to deal with the conditions of unemployment and under-employment which prevails in the Highlands at present. The Prime Minister indicated certain lines upon which he wished unemployment. and under-employment to be dealt with. I would put first the question of drainage. The drainage, to us in the Highlands, is what irrigation is to India and Egypt. It is the one sure, quick method of restoring the productivity of, the soil, and only £30,000 is allowed to the whole great area of Scotland for drainage. I would appeal to the Secretary for Scotland to consult his colleague at the Treasury and see if that grant cannot be increased. The next thing I would refer to its roads. There is a great need of roads, especially country roads, for the people to get about on their ordinary avocations, to cut their peats, and so forth. We are taxed with terrifically high road rates, and all the money goes to keep up the roads for motorists, and we do not get the roads we want for the ordinary avocations of the country people. Rough roads are all we want. We do not want concrete, macadam and tarred surfaces. We want rough country roads, which can be made by unskilled labour, and I press that forward as a way in which the unemployment problem could be dealt with. The Prime Minister referred to light railways. There are at least two which are very urgent. These railways would leave behind an asset of permanent value to the community and would in themselves be an insurance against the repetition of these accumulated calamities. There is a light railway required from Loch Inchard to Lairg, and another from Thurso to Scrabster. I wrote to the late Minister of Transport on this subject. I hope these railways will be taken up as part of the scheme for dealing with unemployment. But you will never get a satisfactory solution of this Highland question until you get land settlement treated in a bold way. The first essential at this moment is to put the existing townships on a self-supporting basis. At the present time there are only little patches of cultivable soil. What is required are the grazings from the deer forests and the sheep farms around. Something has been done. and I believe that, on the whole, we have a sympathetic Board of Agriculture. At any rate, we have a very sympathetic chairman of the Board. But we want to get a push given from behind by the Scottish Office. The first essential is to get these grazings for existing townships rather than large settlement schemes. We must put these townships on an economic basis. Then we want to repopulate the glens and straths of the Highlands. It is a mistake to break up arable farms at the present time. We must first get the grazing from the deer forests and sheep farms in order to provide grazing for the existing townships.
As regards fishing, we must get the recommendations of the Trawling Report carried out in full, and I hope that the Secretary for Scotland will give us an assurance that he will go further than he announced the other day. The policing must be improved, and I urge that the penalties on conviction for illegal trawling should be raised so as to deter the trawlers from illegal depredation. The Moray Firth should be closed. Ono very important point which I wish to impress on the Secretary for Scotland is the need for credit facilities for the fishermen to enable them to replace their old, worn-out, damaged gear. I brought this matter to the attention of the late Government, and they replied, "They are catching more fish than they can market, and there is no greater urgency for legislation." That was true last year. Now, they are having a very prosperous winter's fishing, the herring fishermen are doing well, or, at any rate, those who have nets; but the majority of them, more than half of the fishermen, cannot go to sea because their oredit has gone and they cannot get the necessary gear which will enable them to put, to sea. Therefore I appeal to the Secretary for Scotland to act on the analogy of what is done in Sweden for the fishing industry. By means of fishing banks credit facilities are made available for fishermen in Sweden, and I ask him to make available these credit facilities for our fishermen so that they can replace their lost and damaged gear.
There is another thing of vital importance to the fishing industry, which I ask him to bring to the attention of the Board of Trade or the Minister for Overseas Trade, namely, the extension of the Export Credits Act to Russia. Russia is our great market. In Norway the exports of herrings have been financed with Government assistance, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give that analogy his consideration, and to give that measure of assistance to our fishing industry. There is another matter, as to the treatment of the larger harbours, which are so important to the fishing industry, harbours like Peterhead, Buckie and Wick. The men on the Harbour Trusts give up their time to serving the community in which they live, and for the sake of the people among whom they live, and they have been treated by the public offices in London and Edinburgh as though they were a lot of profit-snatching company promoters I am not exaggerating when I use that description of the situation. Perhaps there may be faults on both sides. certainly bad feeling has become engendered, but the fact remains that the difficulties of these Harbour Trusts have been immense. Some of the harbours have been closed. Wick harbour was closed entirely during the War, and it was impossible for the Harbour Trustees to repay their loans. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman, in the spirit of the Prime Minister's appeal for greater confidence, to put the relations between these Harbour Trusts and his Department on a better footing. I would ask the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, whom I see in his place, also to urge his officials to make a fresh start with these Harbour Trustees, to go into the matter from a more sympathetic standpoint than has been the case hitherto, to realise that these men are only trying to do the best for the community which they are serving, and to discuss the matter freely and frankly with a deputation from them in order to get a fresh start.
There is another subject, and that is fixity of tenure. I would not have raised it, after detaining the House so long, but for the fact that it is a question of great urgency at the present time. These men understood that under the Crofters Act of 1886 and the Small Landowners Act of 1911 they got complete fixity of tenure, and so they had until the War. After the War pressure came, and it was found in many cases that men came in and bought these little holdings and then went to the Land Court and claimed the right to evict the sitting tenant, because it was their only holding and they wished to reside on the holding. The result of that has been scores of evictions in the Highlands, and a feeling of unsettlement, anger and unrest has sprung up all over the Highlands. Unless action is taken before Whitsuntide these men will be faced with the eviction orders and will have to leave their homes. These men have a real, genuine sense of grievance, and I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it is not the true path of statesmanship to leave these honest, law-abiding citizens under this genuine sense of grievance, with all the risk of an explosion before Whitsuntide.
I asked the last Government during the few days of the Autumn Session what they were prepared to do, and I was told that there was a Bill in draft. I do not know what is in the Bill, or whether it is satisfactory, but I ask the right hon. Gentleman to look up the Bill and see whether he cannot introduce it, or, if it is unsatisfactory, to introduce before Whitsuntide a Bill which will be satis- factory, so that these men will not by turned out of their holdings. In conclusion, I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman and to the Prime Minister, who is a kinsman and neighbour of ours, and who, by a sudden turn of the political wheel, is in a position to avert by prompt action the worst consequences of these calamities that have happened in the Highlands. I appeal to him, in the first place, to ensure that we get supplies of seed, oats and potatoes made available, and that, thereafter, whether by a Commission of Inquiry, as the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) suggested, or by some other method, a comprehensive policy should be devised whereby the flood of emigration will be stemmed, the glens and straths will be repopulated, our fishing industry will be enabled to revive, and the foundations will be laid sure and deep of the economic contentment and prosperity of the Highlands.
The SECRETARY for SCOTLAND (Mr. W. Adamson):
I rise to respond to the moving appeal of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) as readily as it is possible for any man to do who has been only three weeks in office, and if I am not able to give a satisfactory reply on all the points that have been put to me by the hon. Baronet, he will understand that it is owing to the limitations which want of time has imposed upon me. The first thing which I would like to say is that this Government and its supporters are as anxious to do all that is necessary for the population in the Highlands and Islands as it is possible for any section of this House or this country to be, and so far as I am personally concerned I can assure the population of the Highlands and Islands that they have a very sympathetic person to deal with in the present occupant of the position of Secretary for Scotland.
One of the first things to which I turned my attention on coming to the office which I have the honour to fill was the position of the Highlands and Islands, because, like the hon. Member and many other Scotsmen, I was very anxious about the position there. I had heard of the distress; I knew of the failure of the harvest on land and the harvest on sea, particularly during the last few years, because of the phenomenally unfavourable weather which we have had, and I was anxious, if special steps were necessary, that these steps should be taken immediately with the view of avoiding starvation. I have been informed that there is no actual starvation. I found on making inquiry that the Departments concerned have had this problem under examination since the prospect of starvation had made itself apparent, and I found that the situation was not nearly so bad as had been reported. In certain districts it was very bad; it was in patches. Some districts were very bad and other districts were more favourably situated, but I found that there was little need for any of the alarmist rumours that have been going round, particularly in view of the measures that have been taken to render assistance.
At the same time, I want, to say that the situation is one that requires to be watched carefully, and I can assure my hon. Friends that it will receive my close attention. The position is worse in Lewis, and there special measures have been taken to assist in the provision of employment. A grant of £20,000 towards road construction was given some time ago. Since then an additional grant of £10,000 has been made available. Parish councils at the same time will assist in relieving the destitution, and a number of them have actually received assistance in the shape of loans which have been approved of by the Committee, and interest on the repayment of these loans will be suspended for a period of years. I also found on making inquiry that the measures taken by the Government and by the local authorities to meet the situation are being supplemented by the friends of the Highlands and Islands bosh at home and abroad. This spontaneous movement, springing from the desire on the part of those who have still a love of the Homeland, and of their kinsmen, to lend a helping hand to those who need it, is aiding the efforts of the Government and the local authorities to overcome the distress that exists. 9.0 P.M.
There was a danger that there would be overlapping on this question, but arrangements have been made between the Lord Lieutenants in the Highland Counties, the Lord Provost of Glasgow, and the Lord Provost of Edinburgh and the Lord Mayor of London, and an organisation has been set up that will supplement the steps which have been taken already by the Government and the local authorities to meet the situation which exists in that part of the country. This supplemental form of assistance is very useful, but we all realise, and no one realises more fully than I, that that by no means relieves the Government of its responsibilities to do everything it can to assist the population of the Highlands and Islands in their hour of need, and in addition to the things which I have already enumerated, as measures designed to mitigate distress and suffering during the winter, it is necessary to look ahead, as the hon. Member has said, to the coming year, and particularly to the requirements of agriculture.
In this connection authority has just been given under which the Board of Agriculture will be empowered to give assistance towards the provision of seed oats and seed potatoes in the necessitous areas. It is proposed that the applications for this particular form of help shall be made through the parish councils. Details of the conditions on which assistance will be given will be announced shortly. I think that it would be a mistake on my part to anticipate that announcement. All I will say now on the matter is that when the announcement is made I think the hon. Member will find that supplies will be given to those for whom they are necessary at less than cost price.
Now with regard to the question of the fisheries, which was also referred to by my hon. Friend. I have asked that I shall be supplied with the fullest information possible regarding the development of the fishing industry of the Highlands and Islands. I recognise that if we are to maintain as big a population in that part of, the country as we desire, we must examine closely the possibility of the economic development of the Highlands and Islands. If our people there are to depend upon the small crofts that are available it will be a miserable existence for them. We must see how we can develop the economic possibilities of the country. With regard to the marketing of the fish, international difficulties, and so on, in reply to a question I pointed out that, so far as international action and legislation were concerned, the matter was receiving my very careful attention. I also stated that the question of protecting the fishermen from the depredations of the trawlers had been under consideration. Already a decision has been reached to supplement the little fleet of cruisers that is used for the purpose of watching the trawlers. Plans have been passed for two small cruisers and for a hydroplane, and certain other alterations are being made in the fleet that will make it far more effective in protecting the fishing industry. I am very hopeful that these additions to the fleet will be available within a very short period. One speaker raised the question of evictions. No section in the House holds more pronounced views on this subject than does the Government. We will not deal with those responsible for evictions in a sympathetic spirit.
The difficulty is not that I suspect the right hon. Gentleman of dealing with this question in an unsympathetic spirit, but that I fear that the Government may have so much on their hands that they will not deal with the question in time, unless the right hon. Gentleman explains to his colleagues the great urgency of settling the matter before Whit Sunday next, at which date scores of these men will be liable to eviction.
The hon. and gallant Member is quite right in saying that the Government has a lot on hand. It's time will be taxed to the uttermost, but I hope that this question will not be forgotten. All the matters that have been referred to to-night are receiving the close attention of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary and myself. We shall do our best to deal with them in the most effective manner. We wish to do everything possible to assist our people, either in the Highlands or the Lowlands, and any step that it is possible for us to take we will take gladly. We are here for one thing only, and that is to serve to the best of our ability the people whom we represent.
In making my first contribution to the Debates of this House, I have no need to ask for indulgence of this House. It may seem a big step from Scotland to Somerset. There may he a great difference between the voice of a Seotchman and that of a Southerner. The one we should expect to sound a note that is stirring and strong; from the other we should expect something soft and warm. Whatever may be expected from the South, I want to say that the same causes which brought Scotsmen to this House with their stirring and strong voices, have brought a Southerner from Somerset to record the same -verdict. However much the speeches on the opposite side of the House have indicted or tried to indict the policy enunciated by the Premier, the fact is that past administrations over a very long period have left at the doorstep of this Government such arrears of work that it is impossible for this Government to get a fair chance. It is this accumulating of arrears of work which, I believe, is causing the unrest and the gravity of the position in the mining areas, the agricultural districts, the Highlands, and the industrial areas of England.
Take, first, the agricultural problem. I come from an area partly devoted to agriculture and partly to mining and other industry. It must be remembered that it is the land problem which is behind the present great agricultural depression. If we are to deal with agriculture, we must get back to landlordism which has not yet been dealt with effectively by this House. We have had land campaigns, we have had rural homes pictured on the hoardings. We had big promises made during the War to the boys who came back. But when we get down to the basic facts of the farming industry as a whole, there is one thing that is glaring, and that is that rents have increased from the pre-War basis by 50, 75, and even 100 per cent. We cannot face that issue by merely talking about. subsidies. We have to face the economic fact that landlordism is depriving the industry of the ability to pay an economic wage. That is one thing which the Labour party must insist upon, in office as well as out of office, whether it comes under review in this Session or not. I have made my pledge and I shall keep my pledge and at every opportunity afforded in this House I shall bring before the Ministry of Agriculture the question of landlordism and of the high rents now being charged.
Take the case of the smallholder. When he asks the County Council for a piece of land, what happens? I can bring up twenty cases where the land has gone up 200 per cent. to the ex-service man over and above what it is in the big farms. These facts cannot be denied, and they have brought to the Labour group in this House an acquisition of power and of membership which will continue to be augmented as long as these evils exist. That is the meaning of the advent of one like myself from Somerset, a county which has so long stood for the interests of Conservatism and Liberalism. We have now broken that cordon and we shall go further South. Next among the great causes of the depression of agriculture I take the burden of rating. I am not here to decry any work that was intended to give immediate relief to the depression of agriculture, but the fact remains that until we can get a co-ordinated review of the whole rating system we cannot solve the problem of rating in the rural and urban areas. These are interrelated, and if you want unity and a proper relationship between rural and urban life, the whole problem must be dealt with as one. We have had put on tat urban properties a rate increase of 1s. 6d. and 1s. 8d. in the £ as a result of the Agricultural Rates Act, 1896, and the last Act. That is merely transferring the injustice from the rural areas to the urban areas, and we want a review of this great issue at. once.
Coming to mining, I was very glad to hear an hon. Member below the Gangway on this side of the House referring to that question. I conic from an area where there are at least 6,000 miners trying to earn their livelihood under the most hideous conditions. I wish all Mem bers of the House had to do a period of work in a coal mine. I believe, were that the case, the Coal Mines Regulation Act and the amendments to the Minimum Wage Act would have had more serious and sympathetic consideration in this House. It ill behoves any member of the Liberal or Conservative parties to twit the Labour party. who come into office with all this wreckage left for them. with the suggestion that they are not able to meet the claims of agriculture and of mining, and to deal with all the arrears which have accrued to them. I should not be faithful to my trust were I not at every opportunity to raise the issue of the conditions of the miners in all the mining areas throughout the country. I believe the situation has been aggravated by the lack of appreciation shown in this House. One thing which has contributed much to the depreciated value of this institution in our country is that it is so Separated from the life of the people. We want to bring about a better relationship between Parliament and the people, and I believe the Labour party is going to relate the problems of rural and industrial life and bring those problems afresh before this assembly where power is wielded.
If we are going to stave off the danger of a conflagration in the mining industry, if we are going to save our country from a dislocation which will harm commercial, social and communal interests, this House will have to consider the impending struggle between the miners and the mineowners in a new spirit. I hope an opportunity will be given by the Government for a discussion on this matter and that this House is going to give a lead in meeting the immediate needs of the situation. We hear talk about co-ordination in the industry. When we asked that it should be unified, when we asked for the pool which was fought for so rigidly and bitterly some months ago, I feel sure that this House did not give those proposals fair, serious and sympathetic consideration. We shall be forced to meet some of the claims of the leaders of the miners, if we are going to keep the peace in the industry. You cannot build peace on the basis of the meagre existence which is allowed these men represented by the wage of £2 or 35s. which is now operating in many areas. I ask hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side, considering the opportunities they have had in the past, if they are now going to give reasonable consideration to the policy which the Government his outlined?
In relation to the unemployment problem I desire to put two points before the House. Here I may assert that if the new Government has done nothing and if it goes out of office to-morrow, its inception in office has given administration such a fillip and has created such a confidence in the country as will never be forgotten in the history of polities. The new administration means a lessening of the pinpricks, of which I may briefly mention two. Take the question of men who have been unemployed because of the closing of mines. They have now been unemployed for 2½ or 3 years and those who are 60 years of age have been ruled out from benefit by the divisional officers on the ground That they are regarded by those officers as no longer likely to secure employment in insurable trades or callings. That means that these men who have had to spend their savings and impoverish their homes are not-pushed upon the Poor Law. If that is to he the view of the Labour Government, then it will be contested by the rank and file. We cannot allow men who have contributed to that fund and who have been flung upon the scrap heap through the misfortunes of the industry to be relegated to the Poor Law. That was not the purpose of the scheme, and I am sure there is sufficient power in this House to carry out the real intentions of the Measure. In regard to the Prime Minister's forecast as to dealing with the whole question of uncovenanted benefit and having the whole system recast, I am hopeful that it is his intention to make the fund an insurance fund against unemployment, irrespective of age; that I believe is most urgently needed. The Prime Minister has also indicated his intention of stopping the gap. There is another gap to which I would draw attention. I cannot see why it should be necessary that a man must be unemployed for six days before he is held to be entitled to become chargeable on the fund. It seems to me that a man is unemployed once he is a full day away from his work. It is necessary to close the first gap which occurs directly the man emerges from factory, field or mine and is put on the unemployed list. I hope that the Minister responsible for considering that issue will bring up to the House proposals which, besides meeting the longer gap, will meet the question of the six days' gap. I thank the House very much for the sympathetic hearing it has given me.
As a new Member representing a Scottish constituency deeply interested in agriculture, I desire to address a few remarks to the Secretary for Scotland on that topic, and I do so the more readily as he was kind enough to invite suggestions to be given him on all topics interesting to Scotland. The Prime Minister's pronouncement has given to agriculturists satisfaction in that he is to tackle the rating question, and give practical assistance to farmers in carrying out co-operation in buying raw materials and marketing goods. It has given satisfaction in that he is to establish a wages board. But while that is so, one may be permitted the criticism, that his policy errs on the side of too much moderation. He has quite properly indicated to the farmer that the time will come, and must come soon, when he will have to stand on his own legs, and the question is how he can best be got on his legs. There must be an incentive to him to make plans, to put his brains and capital and industry into his work, and the best incentive he could get to-day is that he should have an abiding sense of security.
The Scottish farmers at least demand that they should have complete security of tenure. It is true they have a certain security at the present time, but it is not complete, and their demand is for complete security. In fairness they realise that that must be under certain conditions. One of these is that they farm the land according to the rules of good husbandry; another is that they continue to pay a fair rent, and a third is that the land is not acquired for public purposes. The fourth is that they should get adequate and full compensation if and when they leave their farms, for the improvements which they have executed on them. They demand the right to put upon these farms improvements such as are required to adequately carry them on without the necessity of getting the consent of the landlord.
There is another matter in which they require assistance in order to be put upon their feet, and that is that there should be determined in each case what is a fair economic rent for them to pay In Scotland we have had examples of how that has been done in the past. Anyone who knows the history of agriculture will admit the benefits Scotland derived under the Crofters Act by the tribunal which was set up to fix fair rents for the crofter. This has been a source of great national benefit. Again, and quite recently, we have had the Land Courts established to fix fair rent for the smallholders. That Court is composed of practical men, legally guided. If the principle of that Court were applied to the larger farms, I submit it would be found most beneficial. The revision of farm rents by such an impartial and expert Court would go far to place the industry on its legs. There can be no objection to it because the Court knows its business. It is thoroughly impartial, and both sides are entitled to be represented before it. If that Court, with expert knowledge, fixes fair rents, for in the opinion of many eminent agriculturists of the present day rents are far too high, a great start will be given to the farmer, to the farm servant and a benefit to the consuming public.
There are other directions which one can only indicate in which the farmer can be assisted. If he gets his land with security of tenure and at a fair rent, you have also to equip him to take full advantage of these circumstances. That may be done in two directions. It may be done by increasing the facilities for education. I do not refer merely to the extension of the University system, but I refer to this, that in the rural schools the present educational system should be extended to include some technical education for the sons and daughters of farmers and farm servants, so that they would go forward better equipped for the work they are to do. Again, help could be given by the development of scientific investigation into the diseases, not only of animals, but of crops and plants. Recent occurrences remind us at once how important this is. I am informed that the recent outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease has cost the country somewhere between £2,000,000 and £3,000,000 in the loss of animals. That is not the only loss the country has sustained through the ravages of that disease. How far would even £100,000 go in helping research to find out the cause of that and similar diseases?
I would call the attention of the Minister of Agriculture to an injustice under which Scotland is suffering in this respect. You in England have an important fruit-growing industry and we in Scotland have a similar industry. Ours is an important and growing one. You in the South have the advantage of two or three stations which assist growers in any difficulties they have as to what plants they are to set out and how to cultivate them. But we in Scotland are without any such research station, and we feel we are suffering from an injustice in that regard. It would not cost much, and it would be of great assistance to those smallholders who go in for fruit growing. I press that suggestion on the Secretary for Scotland, and I hope he will give it his earnest and sympathetic consideration and provide a research station at once.
There is another matter which I shall briefly mention, but it is one which all are agreed is of great importance to the agricultural community. All are agreed that one of the severest and heaviest burdens under which the industry is groaning at the present time is the excessively extravagant rates for transport of home produce. I cannot bring that more clearly before the House than by giving two examples. In Perthshire there is a farm with an annual rental of £685, and last year the bill for transport of home-grown products was £1,007, or one-third more than the rent which the farmer was paying. The second instance is that of a farmer interested in pig breeding, who purchased five pigs at Ipswich. These were brought by rail to Perthshire and cost £19, putting about £4 per head on the price of each pig. I have only to mention these examples to show that that is a matter to which the Government might give attention at once, because if these railway rates were reduced, even by one-half, it would mean a great thing to the farming community. It would not be the, farming community only who would benefit, but the person who is oftenest forgotten in these controversies, namely, the consumer, would also benefit.
I heard speeches from the hon. Members on these benches referring to the agricultural labourer's wage in England as 25s., but I am glad to say that in this respect at any rate we in Scotland are in advance of you in England, because the agricultural labourer there, with his perquisites, has an average weekly wage of not under 30s. Even that is far too small, and something must be done for him, but there are other directions in which the Government, by extending its policy, might assist him. It might, and will, I hope, assist him in the question of housing, because the condition of the agricultural labourers' houses throughout Scotland is not one of which we can be proud. If he had a good house he would have an inducement to stay on the land. Another thing it must give him, and that is some hope for the future. If the Government will use all its resources to establish small holdings, not scattered about in odd parts of the country, and on land which nobody else can make to pay, but if it will establish colonies of these small holders on good land near towns, giving the small holder the same chance as the big farmer, establishing him at a fair rent, giving him a chance to buy at a reasonable price, it will give an incentive to the farm servant which will do a great deal to revive this industry throughout Scotland.
In conclusion, I hesitate to throw out this suggestion, but I am emboldened to do it because I think it is realised that we in Scotland have an agricultural problem of our own, one different from that of England, and one which requires constant attention, and I make the suggestion not indicating that, Scotland will not get proper attention from the present Minister of Agriculture, but because I think his hands will be too full. The suggestion 1 make is one urged by Scottish agriculture, namely, that there should be a Minister of Agriculture for Scotland.
I welcome the opportunity of intervening for a few moments in this Debate, and of saying a few words on the subject of agricultural policy. The Minister of Agriculture, an hour or so ago, referred to the sympathy which he and his supporters feel for the agricultural industry in its present state of depression, and I think it is up to all of us, on whatever side of the House we may sit, to put forward such suggestions as we feel may be of benefit to those engaged in the industry. It is for that reason that I venture to claim the indulgence of the House and to refer to one or two ways in which I believe the industry could be materially assisted. First of all, I would like to allude to the question. I believe that a great deal could be clone to assist. agriculture if greater interest were paid to this question of research. We suffer now annually, through plant diseases and insect pests, the loss of a huge sum of money, much of which might be saved to cultivators in this country. attention has been paid in the past Ito the question of research. More has been paid recently, and I hope much more will be paid in the future, but the real, root difficulty of this question of research lies in the fact that there is a shortage of trained workers and experts. The rewards open to the research worker are really insufficient. They are not as numerous as they should be, and the research worker, who does much without any satisfactory reward, should be given a better position in our national economy. I hope the Minister of Agriculture may he able to see his way to set up a committee of inquiry in order to see in what way the status of the research worker may be improved and the prospects and the opportunities for advancement made better for him. I see no reason why the research worker should not have the same opportunities for advancement as the civil servant does now in our midst.
I would like to refer to the question of co-operation. Many who have studied the question of co-operation in Denmark, Sweden, and other Continental countries are firmly of opinion that much more might be done along those lines in this country than has so far been carried out. There are those who disparage the co-operative movement, and who say there is no parity between the conditions which obtain in these foreign countries and those which obtain here, that the goods in those foreign countries are all exported, and that, therefore, it is easy to keep a grip on the producer and make him loyal to the co-operative movement. I suggest that the fundamental requirements of co-operation—first of all, education, and, secondly, loyalty amongst the co-operators themselves—can be attained if we attack this problem on bold lines. In order to do that, education must be carried out, and capital must be made available for those who desire to further this co-operative movement. Capital is required in order to give effect to the changes which will have to be made on the farms themselves, and I may point out that with the shadow of the nationalisation of land hanging over the owner-occupiers and landowners, they are none too ready to provide further capital for alterations in farm buildings to carry out a different system of cultivation.
Then, again, capital is required to set up creameries, and I would point out that although there is a great movement in this country for building and establishing bacon factories, the first essential is to set up creameries, because the by- products of the creamery are required in order to produce the pork fur the bacon factory. The whole scheme wants carefully thinking out, the changes on the farm, the setting up of the creameries, the provision of the bacon factories, the egg-branding and egg-packing stations, and breeding centres to provide the right amount and class of animals for the farmers who are linked up with these co-operative societies. It can be done by education in that way, and I would urge, too, that students of ability in our agricultural colleges and elsewhere should be given travelling facilities to visit foreign countries where co-operation has been carried out successfully. There are many difficulties at the present time in the way of the cereals grower, but 1 feel that this co-operation, would be of assistance. It would help the farmer to get his produce to walk off his farm, instead of being carried off in wagons and thus come into competition with the virgin plains overseas.
There is another question to which I would like to allude, and that is the need to take steps to establish an experimental fruit-grading and fruit-packing centre. At the present time foreigners snatch a good deal of the best of the cream of our market, and this matter should be taken up seriously by the Ministry of Agriculture. After all, the Ministry, through the county councils and in other ways, farms thousands of acres, and has thousands of small-holding tenants, and it is up to that great Department of Agriculture to do what it can to assist these small tenants in this direction. There is another matter which needs watching. We are given to understand that the tendency is for the price of petrol to continue to rise. There will come a point when it will be an economic proposition to produce alcohol for power purposes in this country. That question wants watching. An encouragement should be given to the production of alcohol for power purposes as soon as it can be regarded as being in the field as an economic proposition.
There is, too, the question of milk supply. There has been recently a great congress in the United States to study the question of milk production and milk distribution. I hope the Minister of Agriculture will take the opportunity of organising a similar congress on this side of the water. We need the application of the latest scientific methods of milk supply in this country, both in the interest of the consumer and in the interest of the producer. Something like £750,000 of milk goes bad annually through souring in this country. We want up-to-date transportation methods, and we want refrigerator vans and glass-lined tanks such as they have in other countries. I have ventured to put forward these few points for the consideration of the House, because I believe they are practical points that are worth following up in the interests of the producer and consumer alike.
I would like to put one or two points, first to the Minister of Labour, not so much with regard to the question of unemployment as of underemployment. The hon. Member for Frome (Mr. F. Gould) has been dealing with the question of registration, and what he terms the first gap. There is a very great deal in what he has said with regard to many industries, but I venture to say that there are not many industries with such a peculiar feature as the particular industry to which I belong. In the first place, the registration for benefits under the Unemployment Act are supposed to be done by each individual. Very often you will get a particular colliery standing for a short, or, it may be, a long period, and in some instances as many as 2,500 men are expected to troop down from the pit to the employment exchange on purpose to register for their unemployment pay. I want to suggest, in the first place, that there is no necessity whatever for the whole body of men belonging to any undertaking to troop away to the employment exchange, where they have not the means of dealing with them for this particular purpose. I suggest to the Minister of Labour, or whoever may be in charge on behalf of the Government, that it would be sufficient if they got from some responsible official of the colliery a note stating that on certain days the pit or other undertaking was not able to work.
That is only one application of registration. The law, as it stands to-day, demands that the man must take a complete day's holiday before he is entitled to register. That principle has operated more harshly against the mining industry than any other industry, unless it be the dockers, because of its peculiarity. Be- cause of the varying class of coal, it is sometimes essential for the pit to work half a day on purpose to clear away a number of wagons which have to be loaded with a special kind of coal. It means that in the summer time, in some soft coal pits, you will have the men working two days a week, but going four times for it, and there is no necessity for those men to register, because registration is of no value. They can continue to work during the whole of the time on two days a week, and never qualify for the unemployment benefit. I suggest in this connection, that for the purpose of registration, if it is found that it is essential either at a colliery, factory, or any other works, for a man to go four half days in a week to meet the convenience of the industry, the employer and the consumer, it should naturally follow that that man in the week should be considered to have had four days' holiday, which he could not avoid, and they should put down that registration as being four of the six days which are required as a waiting period to entitle the man to get the benefit of the Act.
There is another, and a far more serious aspect. I have already referred to it with regard to this question of short time, I can best bring the question home to the mind of the House by giving a concrete ease, and in no sense an exaggerated case, because, if there is in this House to-night anyone acquainted with a mining constituency or with pits especially soft coal pits, he will corroborate what I am stating with regard to a great number of those pits. In the summer time it very often happens, when it is a brilliant summer, warm and hot. that some of these soft coal pits, for 10 12, 14, or 15 weeks, will not be working, more than two days a, week. In the particular county to which I belong, last year we had a colliery that in eight weeks made 15½ days. During the whole of that period we were not able to get any insurance benefit, simply because the men had to make four half-days a week, except one week when they made three. I am thoroughly convinced of this, that the House will lend a very sympathetic ear to cases of this character, and I want to suggest to the Minister, who has to deal with these problems and these questions, that so far as industries of this character are concerned and with men so situated, that there should be inserted in the Act some principle—whatever it may be—which should be of equal application with regard to the time made in one week, whether that time is made up of half-days or whole days. If it can be found that through the exigencies of trade it is essential for a man to go four half-days a week, surely it ought to be said at the end of the week that those men are entitled to four days out-of-work pay. As the law stands at the present time, instead of getting the four days to which they really ought to be entitled, they get nothing.
A good many speakers have been speaking to-night—and very rightly—with regard to the peculiar circumstances with which they have to deal, and they have been asking from all quarters that more or less assistance of a financial character should be given to the particular industry with which they are connected, or the particular object which they have in view. I am not asking the Government to give a penny. So far as the industry to which I belong is concerned, and so far as my particular county goes, I make this assertion: that not 6d. out of every£ that we are contributing to that fund is going back to the miners of the county. I think, therefore, I am perfectly justified in saying to the Minister, if we are making a point for a particular industry in a county, and there is some peculiar feature which makes it, impossible for the men to get reasonable benefit, that a case has been made out for generous consideration and generous treatment in regard to that particular trade. In view of the peculiar circumstances of the case I am asking that in dealing with this question of unemployment this question of part-employment shall be considered at the same time. Where it is found, either in the mining or the textile industry, or any other, that it is possible for men to work three days or less—never mind how they work them—those men (and women) shall be entitled to unemployment benefit. I should like for one or two minutes, not more, to say a little in regard to the question of ex-service men's pensions. One of the most remarkable phenomena in connection with the political history of this House is the rapid evaporation of enthusiasm and interest of parties in the past for immediate action, for something being done when they have been removed from the seats on the opposite side to those on this side of the House. There was the repeated cry made by the Labour party when we were opposite for immediate action, whether in regard to ex-service men or whatever the question might be. I sincerely hope that there is not going to be a repetition of the common experience so far as the Labour party is concerned. But one or two remarks have recently fallen from various Ministers of varied importance and authority, in one constituency or another, which are disquieting to the members of the. party.
We have been repeatedly told that we must not expect too much: that we ought not to be over-critical, a kind of autosuggestion of predestined failure and ineffectiveness before the party begins! I sincerely hope that the party will drop that attitude altogether. Because there is a wide range and field of possible legislation and administrative effectiveness which can be made of enormous good to the electors of the country. I beg to suggest that in this connection the question of the ex-service men is a very important one. T should like to call the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions to a statement which he is supposed himself to have made, as reported in the "Daily Herald" about a week ago. In that statement the Parliamentary Secretary is reported to have said, in regard to certain cases of pensioners:
That those who had already received notice of reduction which had become operative were given the right to cite fresh evidence against the reduction.
The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of PENSIONS (Mr. J. W. Muir):
I do not want to interrupt my hon. Friend, but I think it is desirable that that statement should be corrected. The report as published is not correct. It is not in accordance with the facts. What the position has been is that any pensioner who has had a dependant's pension reduced shall have the same right of appeal by a fresh statement of fact, a fresh presentation of the facts. No new evidence is necessary at all. I merely want to correct that statement, because it is necessary in the public interest and the interest of the pensioner.
I am very much obliged to my hon. Friend for that assurance. Because the statement as reported has created a very unfavourable impression in many places. As reported, it does nothing more than revert to what we have been receiving from Ministers in charge previous to the present party coming into power. I might say I am pleased for one or two reasons, because when I read this, I thought that this savoured too much of the permanent officials of the Ministry of Pensions, and it did seem to me that this was only repeating the usual stereotyped answer that one had been receiving from the Ministry of Pensions for some considerable time. Furthermore, it seemed to me that it was failing to take proper cognisances of the intentions of the party to which I belong with regard to the question of pensions. Criticisms have been levelled against the Ministry of Pensions, and, apparently, on good grounds. In the past criticism has been levelled against the Ministry on the ground of humanity and the lack of proper feeling within the range and scope of the warrant itself. This criticism has been levelled against the Ministry because it has repeatedly declared that it could not effect any change because the Warrant itself stood in the way. But why do you not come to this House and demand power to alter the Warrant itself? I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary what is going to he the attitude of his Department with regard to the Royal Warrant itself, under which it is impossible to do justice to the ex-service men. I do not believe any party in this House has the moral right to go to the country at election time and flood the constituencies with literature calling the attention of the ex-service men to the gross injustice done to them by the Royal Warrant, and then to come here and fail to carry out the promises given to those men.
In this connection I want to seriously ask the Parliamentary Secretary what the Ministry are going to do in the case of the 18,000 men who have had the diagnosis of their cases changed from "due to service" to "aggravated by service." We have been responsible for flooding the country with literature, and therefore the ex-service men have come forward with new claims because we have lead them to believe that an injustice has been done to them by those who were in office before. If we have led them to believe that an injustice has been done to them, and they have voted believing that a remedy is going to be forthoming, I suggest that the reckoning time has now come, and if it is necessary that the Royal Warrant should be changed in order to do justice to these men, let that be done. It is no use saying, "We cannot do this or that, and you should not demand too much. "Why should you he over-sensitive with regard to your own particular power or limitations. I think you ought to carry out the pledge which has been given to the ex-service, men, and if it requires that the Warrant should be changed, why not come to this House and ask that this reform should be carried out?
I wish to congratulate the hon. Member who has just spoken upon the case he has made out for the ex-service men, and I only wish to say that after that speech he ought to come over and sit on this side of the House. For the past two days we have been discussing the question of agriculture, and a general feeling of regret has been expressed at the indefiniteness with which the Prime Minister referred to this subject. I think there is general disappointment in this House as to what was said on this subject by the Prime Minister, but I do not think that will be anything compared with the disappointment of the agriculturists throughout the country when they read the speech which the Minister of Agriculture has made today. The only definite thing put forward in that speech was that the Government would help the farmers within the proper sphere of Government. That may mean anything or nothing.
Another thing which we have been discussing is the reintroduction of the old system of the Wages Board. What is the good of a Wages Board if there is no money to pay the wages? I entirely disagree with those who are in favour of setting up the Wages Boards, because I think the system of Conciliation Committees is an infinitely better system of adjudicating differences between the farmers and labourers. The Conciliation Committees are composed of three employers and three employed. They all thoroughly understand their industry, and they are able to come to a united and agreed decision. My experience of the Wages Boards was that many of the men sitting on those Boards came from the towns, and often they knew very little about agriculture. I understand the Minister of Agriculture stated that the Farmers' Union were prepared to consider a compulsory minimum wage in connection with the Conciliation Committees. I think that shows of itself that committees have the approval of the farmers, and I believe also have the approval of the farm labourers. For these reasons I am sorry to hear that the. Wages Board is going to be reintroduced.
I was very glad to hear an hon. Member in his maiden speech say that he had been filled with new hope, and his heart had been thrilled by what the Prime Minister told us in his speech about social reforms. I was glad to hear that, because the Prime Minister seems to have based the whole of his reforms on what was contained in the King's Speech introduced at the beginning of the Session by the late Conservative Government. Another hon. Member asserted that there is no necessity for the administration of Employment. Exchanges as well as boards of guardians. I think those two agencies are more than sufficient for the purpose. I am aware that the Member for Poplar is in favour of doing away with the boards of guardians, but I prefer to do away with the Employment Exchanges. Employment Exchanges appear to be very costly with their large buildings and establishments, and, what is more, I do not think any employers go to them to get labour, neither do the employés, in agriculture at any rate, avail themselves of their services. As far as these exchanges are concerned with finding employment for labour, they are really of no use whatsoever, and it would be much preferable if we had one administration. I see no reason why boards of guardians should not take over the whole of the administration both of Poor Law relief and of Insurance benefits. It is an economy which might be beneficial seeing there is such a great waste on administration in the existing Departments. I hope the Government will consider whether economy cannot be effected in that direction.
I have listened with very great interest to the speeches delivered from the benches opposite. If I may be allowed to say so they seem to indicate—or rather they try to create—a fear that the Members on this side of the House are, not behind the Prime Minister in the policy which he outlined in his speech the other day. That is the impression I have gathered from the majority of the speeches we have heard from the benches opposite, and also from the speech of the right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith). Unfortunately, the atmosphere which they have tried to create has got into the Press of the country, and we find the Press saying that the men behind the Prime Minister are dissatisfied with his policy, and that he is not receiving their support. As one who sits behind the Prime Minister, I venture to assert that the policy which he outlined the other night, and the Measures which he promised in order to back up that policy, are such which could not be improved upon, whoever may be Prime Minister. The very first question that requires to be tackled by the Government of the day is that of the pensions of ex-service men, and that, if I remember rightly, was the very first subject mentioned by the Prime Minister in his speech. We certainly do not know what is proposed by the Government, but we have the assurance of the Prime Minister that the question of ex-service men's pensions, as well as the pensions of dependants, is going to be tackled, and that some of the serious grievances that exist are going to be remedied.
The next question the Prime Minister touched upon was the question of housing. I know a little about the difficulties of housing, as I happen to he the convener of a housing committee, and have had to acquaint myself with the details of the subject. The policy of the late Government, so far as housing was concerned, was entirely inadequate to deal with this very grievous problem. The houses that we had to build, and the rents that we had to charge for them, were laid down practically by regulation, and, as has been already said in the course of this Debate, it was utterly impossible for a local authority to build houses and let them at a rent suitable for the artisan or agricultural population of our towns or countryside. The Scottish Board of Health—and I suppose the same thing applied in England—insisted, before the local authority was allowed to fix the rent, on sending down a commissioner, who went over the whole district and ascertained the rents of houses of a comparable size, and the local authority was compelled to fix the rent of the houses it was building at the same figure as for houses of a comparable size in the town. That very regulation meant that houses with two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen and a scullery, had to be rented at something like £24 to £26 per annum. To that must be added the taxes, which were, say, another £10, making an annual rental of £36. No artisan or engineer in Scotland, with his wages below £3 per week, no miner, practically no artisan or manual worker at all in Scotland, could afford to go into those houses.
Some people say, "Build smaller houses, so that people will be able to pay the rent." I hope that the Minister of Health and the Secretary for Scotland will make it quite plain, in whatever Amendments may be made to the Housing Act, 1923, that they are not going to allow houses to be built, of a smaller size than, say, two bedrooms—personally, I would rather have three, but two is the very minimum—a living room, a kitchen, and a bathroom. I hope the Minister of Health and the Secretary for Scotland will see to it that, no matter what the subsidy may be, or however they are going to get this fixed up, they will not allow houses of a smaller size to be built. I will tell you why. In my town there are 7,000 and a few odd hundred houses, of which over 5,000 are one-roomed or two-roomed houses, leaving only some 2,000 houses of three rooms and above. Until we are able to alter that proportion, any party would be doing a wrong thing to permit houses of a smaller size to be built. The Prime Minister said they were hoping to be able to build houses at an average of £500. Some doubt was thrown upon that, but I have with me the last contract, made this year, for 30 houses. 18 of which are three-bedroomed houses and 12 two-bedroomed houses with a living room and scullery, and the average price in open contract was £440, all in, and the Glasgow rate of wages is not at all low so far as the bricklayers and joiners are concerned. We were likely to have a good deal of opposition on the council, but we were able to produce the contracts and on the £6 subsidy far the first 20 years, fixing the rent at £24 for the three-roomed houses and £27or the four-roomed houses. we were able to produce a balance sheet showing a loss of only £12 13s. 5d. per annum on the houses. So I think the statement of the Prime Minister is not exaggerated at all and that he will be able to build houses at an average of £500.
It was an average of 9s. I do not know exactly what is in the mind of the Prime Minister when he talks about an average, but I presume that some might be rented at 12s. a week and some at Os. a week. I hope that there is something like that in his mind and that we are going to face this question in a real scientific manner. Undoubtedly, in some districts people will be able to pay higher rents than in other districts, but so long as the Ministry is prepared to face this very serious problem they ought to receive complete and hearty support from all sides of the House.
May I claim the indulgence of the House? I intervene with reference to a great problem, one of the greatest problems that my right hon. Friends will have to face, and that is the present condition of agriculture. During the past 20 years I have on many occasions spoken with my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. G. Edwards) and I largely agree with a great deal that he said yesterday. The Prime Minister, in his first speech as Leader of the Opposition, raised the hopes of the people living in agricultural areas, hopes that were founded on the idea that he was going to adopt a policy whereby he would carry the agricultural interests jointly with those of the industrial areas. I was one of those who have said, and still think, that the problem of agriculture, and more especially the low wages prevailing in agriculture, is at the root of a great deal of distress in the agricultural areas and in the industrial centres. The problem of the agricultural labourer's wage is one of very great urgency. In my county, like the adjoining county, agricultural labourers to-day are receiving a wage of something like 23s. a week, after deductions, and many of these men have families of anything from seven children downwards. No one in this House can say that that is anything less than a sweated wage and sweated labour.
At the present time there is not the slightest doubt that agriculture is in a very serious condition, and it will need the best brains that my hon. Friends can put into it to save agriculture at the moment. I agree with the hon. Member for South Norfolk that although the farmers in days that are gone have always been, as they are to-day, proverbial grumblers, yet on this occasion I believe there is something in their grumbles. I would like to see many of the great burdens which agriculture is carrying to-day, removed so that the farmers would be enabled to pay to those who work upon the soil, the labourers, a living wage. I believe that could be done if many of the burdens which land is carrying to-day were removed.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Colonel Wedgwood) in regard to the great toll of rent. Another great burden which the land has to bear to-day is that of rates, taxes and so on. I happen to be a member of the West Suffolk County Council, and during the past four or five years we have had an enormous increase in the cost of maintenance of main roads. The main roads, especially in a county like Suffolk, which is a poor agricultural county, should be entirely a national charge, rather than, as at present, being paid for very largely by local rates. Then there is the question of education. In my own county we have had an increase in the education rate of something like ls. 5d. In our county the overwhelming bulk of the children do not remain in Suffolk, but go away. I [...] not blame them, owing to the conditions in which their fathers have been working, and if I were in their position I should try to seek much fairer quarters. The fact is that the over-whelming number of children who have been educated in Suffolk schools have gone elsewhere, into other counties or large centres of populations to create wealth there. And the consequence is that we in Suffolk have to carry a very heavy education rate, while other parts of England receive the benefit of the education which is given in the county of West Suffolk. Again I say that education should be made a national charge rather than a local charge, and that the burden of rates should be relieved in this way so as to help the farmer to pay a living wage.
There are other services like police and others of that kind which in the opinion of a great many of us should be made a national rather than a local charge. Then there is the question of railway rates which affects very largely those who farm in counties like my own, which have to pay, on their local produce, railway rates much heavier than those paid by our competitors who can send stuff across from the Continent, and put it on the London market, more cheaply than we can put the stuff from our own districts. I would like to see the Minister of Agriculture and the Prime Minister deal with these problems at a very early date. I agree with what was said by the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. E. Brown) on the housing question. We have as acute a housing difficulty in rural areas as in the great towns, and we in Suffolk especially have as bad a housing problem as any other county in the whole of England. The present conditions, especially in rural England, with the farm labourer receiving a wage of 20s. a week, as he is at present, and the great existing housing shortage, means that the local authorities themselves cannot deal adequately with this housing problem, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health will have to give very serious consideration to this problem. A right hon. Gentleman, speaking from the front Opposition Bench yesterday, said that the housing problem in the industrial centres ought to receive special consideration. I, as a representative of an agricultural division, wish to say that we in the agricultural districts will protest strongly unless the problem in the rural areas is dealt with equally. As a matter of fact, special consideration will have to be given to the agricultural districts in regard to housing and especially in the case of district councils. It is totally impossible for agricultural labourers to pay a rent of anything like 4s. a week. I ask the Minister of Health, in thinking out his problems so far as the rural districts are concerned, to give special consideration to such areas in the matter of rents.
I had hoped that the Prime Minister would have given us a much better outline yesterday of his policy with regard to agriculture. I would urge the Minister of Agriculture, who comes from a county adjoining that which I represent, to take several matters I have mentioned into his serious consideration, so that at an early date we may have a settlement of these urgent problems.
I crave the indulgence which is given to new Members of the House when making their first speech. It is a difficult task to make one's voice heard for the first time in such a wonderful Chamber as this, but I rise to speak quite early in my career because questions have been raised this evening touching the housing problem, which particularly affect my constituency. It is a constituency which lies just outside Greater London. It is a district having some open spaces on which houses are being built, but many more houses are required. Last year a notorious by election was fought in the constituency upon the housing question, and that question is very prominent in the minds of my constituents to-day. Only this morning I received a resolution passed by the local Labour party, and I was asked to take the matter up as early as possible in accordance with my promise to serve the constituency as a whole, to serve the electors whether they were supporters of mine or members of any other party. I am very glad of the opportunity of bringing this protest before the House. It touches upon a question referred to by an hon. Member who spoke recently from the Labour benches. It states that the signatories protest against the erection of two-bedroom houses as in their opinion these would not assist in relieving the deplorable overcrowding which exists in the dis- trict. I am quite prepared to admit that in many instances two-bedroom houses could not be satisfactory—in cases where there arc several children—but, on the other hand, there are small families for whose requirements two-bedroom houses would be ample.
I thought in this House a certain indulgence was given to hon. Members addressing it for the first time. I would remind the hon. Member that I have fought three Elections and on each occasion I have had the privilege and the educational advantage of fighting Labour opponents. In the last Election my fight was a straight fight against a Labour candidate, and I am therefore not altogether overawed by interruptions such as that which has been made. I think the interruption of the hon. Member is quite irrelevant because whether or not a two-bedroom house would be sufficient for my requirements would depend upon the number of children I had. If I were a married man with one child, the answer would be that such a house was ample for my purpose. If the time arrived when I had more children, possibly I should require more accommodation. The point to be considered is whether two--bedroom houses are sufficient for small families and whether they would not be better than the conditions in which many people find themselves to-day. I ask the Minister of Health when he brings in his scheme to let us know whether the proposal to let houses at 9s. per week inclusive applies to houses with two bedrooms or to houses with three or four bedrooms?
I also ask the right hon. Gentleman to let the country and the local authorities who have entered into building schemes know what is to be the position regarding houses which have been erected at economic rents ranging from 15s. to £1 per week. Are these houses to be deserted by people who will rush for the houses rented at 9s? Are we to leave the local councils under the burden which they have undertaken, or do the Government intend to make some allowance to those local councils to aid them in letting houses at 9s. a week? These are questions which seriously affect my constituents and constituents in many other parts of the country.
An hon. Member opposite who made a strong plea for the disabled soldiers, said his party were not justified in going round the country urging these men to bring along their grievances, and in many cases aggravating those grievances, while not meeting them. I have had the advantage of serving since the inception of war pensions committees, as chairman of a committee. I have had many cases under review, and have had the opportunity of bringing cases to appeal and of assisting the men concerned. My experience has been that, on going deeply into the cases, and assisting the men in their appeals, one found very few cases where the men's claims were not properly satisfied by the Appeal Board. In many cases there has been this constant agitation, this urging of men on, and making them think they had grievances greater than those which really existed. There are grievances which are not adjusted by the Royal Warrant, but those grievances are not remedied by agitating the men. They are remedied by looking deeply into the cases, assisting the man concerned and, if possible, attending him at the presentation of his appeal. Another point I should like to raise is one in which I am deeply interested. I have been through the school which the Labour Members pride themselves on going through. I have been through the district council, the parish council, the county council, and now I have reached the Imperial Parliament. I have also been connected with bodies which administer secondary education. I appeal to the Minister of Education to give attention to the question of the development of secondary education in this country. No expenditure, to my mind, will bear such good fruit as expenditure on secondary education, and if measures be brought forward for the building of secondary schools and developing secondary education, whether they be brought forward on this side of the House or on the other side, they will have My warmest support.
It is very satisfactory that the subject of agriculture has been spoken about on so many occasions during this Debate. Those of us who belong to the Labour movement realise the urgent importance of agriculture. We also realise that some aspects of it are not usually touched upon by those who are now criticising the supposed inadequacy of the Government proposals. I would like to draw attention to some figures in regard to agriculture. I give them on the authority of a late Minister of this House, Sir Charles Fielding, who stated some years ago that the retail value of agricultural produce in this country was £400,000,000. There have been differences since the time he spoke, but that does not affect what I am saying. Sir Charles Fielding said that out of that sum the farmer obtained £150,000,000 a year. We have heard there are roughly 500,000 agricultural labourers in this country. If you add to them the farmers themselves and other grades of labour, you will have the figure at a million. You will find the result is that, if these figures are accurate, the average individual agricultural worker produces goods of the retail value of £400 a year. Out of that retail price the farmer gets £150, and Sir Charles Fielding states that all the requirements of adequate distribution should be met, if there was anything like scientific organisation, by the expediture of an additional £100. That means that the agricultural worker's economic value is from £150 to £200 a year and the reason for there being such a difference between the value of the produce raised upon the farm and the wages of the agricultural labourer is due, more than anything else, to the fact that between the producer and the consumer there are far too many profits to be taken off, to the unscientific management of the whole question of agriculture, and the distribution of agricultural foodstuffs in this country and with regard to the overseas trade.
If I had time, I would like to refer to that other subject which has taken up so much time in this Debate, naturally, because of its urgency and importance, and that is the question of housing. I would like to draw the attention of some of the hon. Members to the fact that. nothing is gained in the solution of this urgent problem by suggesting that the building trade workers have stood, and are standing, in the way of the economic production of houses. We are told that the building trade worker does not produce sufficient. We find it in the Press everywhere, and it has been referred to on several occasions in this House, that t[...] bricklayer, for instance, does not lay a sufficient number of bricks per day. It all depends on the kind of bricks that the bricklayer is laying, and on the circumstances and the kind of houses. One hundred bricks a day is a good day's work for certain kinds of work, whereas in rough work, in footings, and so on, a very much larger production could be obtained, but I would like to draw attention to this fact, that although it may be true, as it was true in other industries, that there was a slackness immediately succeeding the War, you cannot take men away, subject them to camp life and to barrack life and trench life, and expect them to come back and be as productive as before they went away. Granting all that, the London Master Builders' Association, wt its last annual meeting, admitted that the output of the building worker, or at any rate the key men in the building industry, was approximately as good as the output was before the War, so that there is no real point in talking about the building trade worker not producing economically and therefore being responsible for some part, at any rate, of the housing problem.
Then again we have the question of the dilution of the building industry. We are told that the trade unions are standing in the way of dilution. The dilution of the industry is a term which the building trade worker understands as representing the idea of bringing men practically off the streets, of any age whatever, and half training them, because you cannot train them efficiently, to be economic workmen, and that that should be done without any adequate guarantees of their work, uneconomical as it is bound to he, being utilised, either by State guarantees or any other kind. Furthermore, there is the serious problem of the material supplies. The building trade workers say this: To-day the apprenticeship system is being discussed amicably between masters and men. It is possible, not by means of dilution, not by means even of bringing the building labourer up to the status of a bricklayer—because you cannot make economic bricklayers out of building labourers, or only in exceptional circumstances, because a man who until the age of 25 has been using a hod or digging clay has not the experience which may make him an efficient and trained bricklayer, but whoever you may attempt to train, the apprenticeship can be so developed side by side with the development of building material supplies, which are woefully inadequate, that that will be quite sufficient to deal with all that any Government can do during the next year or two in regard to building houses. Seeing that the Government and the employers—and the representative employers have always themselves been opposed to dilution on economic grounds—seeing that the State and the employers and the workers arc conferring together on this question, and that the workmen themselves want their guarantees, and the satisfaction of feeling that they are going to be fairly and decently treated in the future, I would advise that no valuable purpose is served by this constant and ignorant slandering of the building trade worker in regard to the question of housing.
It being Eleven of the Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the Rouse lapsed, without Question put.