Clause 7. — (Short title, construction and extent.)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 19th November 1931.

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Photo of Mr George Lansbury Mr George Lansbury , Poplar Bow and Bromley

I thought that probably the right hon. Gentleman was going to say a few words in order to speed the Bill towards another place. I hope I have not, by intervening, stopped him from doing so. I want to say that we propose to divide on the Third Reading of this Bill. We have not put down another Amendment, because we have already stated our objections in an Amendment which has been voted upon. We propose to vote against the Third Reading, and I would like to make a few remarks on the Bill itself. First of all, I should like to say a word to new Members. It will not be necessary in the case of old Members, but there is a large number of new Members who may think that, in opposing this Bill to the extent that we have opposed it, we were rather standing out against the declared will of an overwhelming majority.

I was very much amused when I heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain)—for whom everybody has great respect—rather rebuking us for the line we have taken. My mind went back to the days of the 1906 Parliament when the Tory party had received quite as bad a thrashing as we received at the last election, and were faced with a very big majority. The right hon. Gentleman himself, the late Lord Balfour and the late Mr. Bonar Law and others kept up an incessant campaign from these benches declaring all the time that the mandate which Ministers at that time declared they had received was no mandate at all, but had been got under false pretences, and, therefore, that those who were in opposition, and who had suffered from these false pretences, had the right to strip the mask from them on every conceivable occasion. I remember the late Lord Birkenhead gaining his reputation with the display of oratorical fireworks that he used to give us from these benches.

It is not my purpose to pursue that except to assure the new Members that we are only acting on the lines of tradition and succession to right hon. Gentlemen opposite who belong to the Tory party. In that matter we are as good Tories as they are. I would like also to say with regard to the Amendments, that even though hon. Members in this House may very strongly dissent from a Measure, as we do from this, it is the duty of the Opposition to try to improve that Measure to the best of their ability. Any fair-minded person will say that on each Amendment we have moved to-night—and the fact that they were taken by the Chair is proof that they were Amendments of substance—we had a case to put up, and, although we lost every one of the Amendments, that does not at all take away from the fact that in our judgment the Amendments would very considerably have improved a very bad Bill.

Having said that, I want to say a few words as to our general position, as far as I can within the Rules of Order. I understand that this Bill is put forward to meet a great national emergency. We dissent altogether from the view that the great national emergency which exists today is one that can be even tickled by the Bill which is now going to get a Third Reading. It was said by a writer in reference to some other proposals in connection with another country that a certain proposition was a pill to cure an earthquake. This Bill might be described in that fashion. I do not believe that in his heart the right hon. Gentleman thinks that this Bill will have the least effect on the great financial crisis through which the world is passing, and, even if he does, he knows perfectly well that most financial authorities dissent altogether from the view that with the passing of the Gold Standard a Bill of this kind would assist trade and industry in the way he has been telling us in the past couple of days. The difficulties with which this Bill is designed to deal are difficulties concerned with the distribution of goods in the world. The problem that we and all the nations of the world have to solve is what to do with the enormous productive power which mankind possesses. Until this House and other bodies which have to deal with great economic problems face that fact, we shall not make any progress at all.

I have been very struck sitting here these few days that Parliament has met with the earnestness of many of the speeches of new Members. I do not deny for a moment that they hold their principles as dearly as anyone on these benches, but I cannot understand how anyone can imagine that the restriction of imports and the restriction of the volume of trade between nations and between individuals can deal with the situation with which we are faced. When in this Bill you are told that you are to deal with forestalling by something that the right hon. Gentleman is going to propose in the way of tariffs, is it not the fact that every country which has tariffs is in exactly the same plight as ourselves, only worse? I am not a person who would be wedded either to Free Trade, to tariffs, or to any system. I would support anything that I believe would do even the least good to the mass of the people who need something to be done for them. It is not that at all. I cannot understand why America and France, on the Gold Standard, with plenty of gold, tremendous natural resources and high tariff walls, have the millions of unemployed that they have. The figures in France are going up. So far as it is known, unemployment is increasing quite out of all relationship to the gold wealth, the tariff wealth, and the natural wealth of the country.

11.0 p.m.

I beg every Member who has come here wanting to do something on behalf of the masses who have trusted them to consider with us whether it is not time that we sat down to discover how mankind, and ourselves first, instead of restricting things, should spread abundance abroad. I wish, when the Bill is through, the Government and the House would settle down to consider how we can reorganise the industries of the country. I want them reorganised under public control and public ownership. You, perhaps, want to do it some other way. The one thing we want to secure is that, in that reorganisation and the increased productivity which will come from it, the masses shall share in the increase. There is only one way by which that can be done. As the productive power increases through the use of machinery and better organisation, the workers ought to have higher wages and shorter hours of labour. There is no other way of doing it. If we had the power, that is what we would do.

Our fight against the Bill is because we believe that that would be the more excellent way. We are fond of our country and love our country as much as anybody else in this House. We believe that we are at the crisis of our fate as a great country. We do not believe that you can go on on these lines of trying to put a ring round us and separating us from other people. The right hon. Gentleman said the other day that we claim the right to do in our own country what we think to be right. Of course, no man lives to himself; no nation can live to itself. That is a law which somehow or other has come into the world, and today it is more true than it ever has been in the history of mankind. I do not believe that this nation of ours or the world of capitalism can go on unless we tackle the problem which faces us, that every day our productive power increases and every day machinery and organisation turn out an abundance of commodities, man is less wanted in the business of production. This Bill will do nothing to cure that, nothing at all. I appeal to new Members who have made their speeches to-night to think once more of the problem and of how they are going to bring abundance to the service of mankind. We believe that life ought to be organised on the basis of services and that the more wealth there is in the world the higher should be the standard of life for the whole of the community. It is because we believe that this Bill, instead of doing that, will crush people still deeper down that we shall vote against the Third Reading.