Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [9th December]:
That, in view of the approaching winter and the distress prevailing in the country, this House regrets the failure of the Govern-merit to take any effective steps to deal with the currency and exchange situation and the development of international trade, and to produce any plans for dealing with the position of those for whom normal employment is not available or with the problem of high rents now pressing upon a large proportion of the population."—[Sir S. Cripps.]
I understand that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to reply to the questions relating to the exchange position which were put to the Government yesterday by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bristol East (Sir S. Cripps). I understand that there have been discussions with the Bank of International Settlements on this matter, and we are anxious to know whether the Government will be able to assist those who want to carry on their business in this manner. The Chancellor of the Exchequer will know that there are some firms in this country who have been obliged to conduct their business by means of barter instead of through the ordinary means of money and bill transactions. The only other matter on this part of the Motion that I want to emphasise is that the present monetary arrangements, if we are to believe those who are supposed to have a right to speak on this subject, are more or less frozen up; that is to say, that for some reason or another goods which should circulate throughout the world are unable to circulate. I want the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government to consider whether existing monetary arrangements, which result in money in effect stopping the circulation of goods, ought not to be altered. Money in any case ought to be a medium for the circulation of commodities between producers and consumers. There is to-day an abundance of goods in every country in the world. We are not suffering from a shortage of production, but from difficulties of distribution.
I feel rather keenly about this. Whenever I have discussed with business people, and with those connected with the Treasury and other Government Departments, the question of mass migration to any of the Dominions, migration organised on an entirely new system, and whenever I have discussed the question of the development of agriculture, the one thing that has always been thrown up at me, I do not mean in any hostile sense, has been the question: What is it that the world needs? I met some half-dozen shipowners the other day and their answer to me was: What earthly use is it you talking about developing the waste places of the earth and in our own country when we are suffering from a glut of everything? I want those who defend the present industrial and commercial arrangements to tell us how they propose to get over that difficulty. In every discussion in this House we are brought right up against this problem; and it is a problem for which no one except international Socialists, who have not much chance of taking any action, have any remedy to propose. I have discussed this matter with people in the City of London and with American business men. They all seem to think that we must wait for what Sir Josiah Stamp called a few more healthy bankruptcies; after which the thing would right itself. Speaking quite as a child in these matters, I think, if you wait long enough, that you will have a collapse which this civilisation will not be able to stand. You cannot go on with the tremendous unemployment and poverty which exists in all industrial countries and with the masses of the people knowing that the things which they need are there, but that in some way the processes by which they are distributed are being choked. I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will give us an answer to this very difficult question.
Now a word about the mandate, the doctor's mandate. It was said yesterday that it was a doctor's dilemma. I listened to the discussion yesterday and I was struck by the fact that the fiercest opposition to the Government came from those who are supposed to be its supporters. That throws a very lurid light on the statement of the Prime Minister that the confidence of the country had been restored by the united party which supports him. I did not discover very many signs of that unity yesterday. Almost every speaker from the Government Benches found fault with the Government and said much ruder things about them than I should dare to say. But what about the mandate, and the doctors? I do not know whether hon. Members opposite have ever been so sick that there has had to be a consultation about them between two or three specialists, who have disagreed with each other on the particular disease they were asked to diagnose. I should not like to be at the mercy of such men. When the second German Emperor, Frederick William, was very ill with cancer an English physician and surgeon was called in, Sir Morel Mackenzie, and everyone knows the row there was between the German doctors and Sir Morel Mackenzie as to whether the poor unfortunate Emperor had been properly treated. They thoroughly disagreed in their diagnosis and in their treatment, and the patient, although he was an Emperor, died. We have on the benches opposite a set of doctors—
I am going to be respectful. All the doctors opposite agree in one thing, and that is to disagree. These gentlemen have been called together to advise the nation in one of the most severe economic crises the country has ever faced. They tried for about a fortnight to find a formula with which to go to the country. They failed to find a formula and each one went to the country and told his own story. The result was that nobody knew what the other meant when they told their story. They all said something different. If we are not careful the nation will die before they find agreement. All that the Government has done up to the present has been to pass the Statute of Westminster, and we helped them to do that, and loyally stood by them when a section of their own supporters went into the Lobby against them.
When the Indian Debate was on, we thought the Government were right, and we walked into the Lobby in support of them against one who ought to be one of their strongest supporters, the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). But when it comes to real needs, the only legislation we have had has been the trumpery legislation dealing with abnormal importations and, as my hon. and learned Friend said yesterday, the greengrocery Bill. I do not wonder at the attitude of full-blooded Tariff Reformers like the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. G. Balfour). I can quite enter into his feelings, because I have heard him so often tell us how easy it would be, once they had a majority, to put everything right in the country. Why they have outdone the Socialists at that when preaching the benefits of tariffs, and I can also understand how indignant the hon. Baronet the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) must be. I can sympathise with both hon. Members very much, because I agree with my hon. and learned Friend that what the country really needs is some definite policy. If we are to have tariffs, I agree with my hon. and learned Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton)—for goodness sake get on with it, and let us have it at once, for nothing is worse than uncertainty. If the country is determined to have tariffs, let us have them now. We are under no delusions about them. We pin our faith neither to Free Trade nor Tariff Reform, because both systems have been tried and have failed to prevent destitution and unemployment.
Those who want tariffs shut their eyes to a fact which we keep repeating, but no one answers us. Perhaps the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or someone else, will tell us to-day why it is that in countries where they have tariff walls, where they have gold in their vaults, where they have enormous natural wealth and enormous tracts of undeveloped territory—that in countries like America and France there is increasing unemployment, and in this country increasing unemployment, too? Here we have Free Trade; there they have Protection. There must be some common cause that makes for unemployment and poverty, and it is that underlying cause which, we think, is due entirely to the system which produces goods not for use but for profit, and only for profit. Until that system is changed, we are certain that there can be no solution of our problems. But the country has sent 400 or 500 other Members here who believe something else, who believe that the country must have a jolly good dose of what you call Protection, food tariffs, and we say the sooner the country gets an experience of that, the sooner, I think, it will accept our principles, and accept the only solution which is Socialism.
I, too, am one of those guilty ones. I have a guilty past, too. I have not the least objection to saying—I said it during the election, and I would say it anywhere—if I were given the choice of cutting the unemployment benefit and grinding the face of the poor, which was the choice, as I understood it, that I would, only as an alternative, vote for a 10 per cent. revenue tariff. The Prime Minister said yesterday that, we sit here, and all that we do is to grumble and grouse. He did not use those words, but that is what he meant. Of course, it is quite untrue. As I said during one of the earlier discussions, we are perfectly willing to join with the Prime Minister and his Government, or with any Committee of this House, to discuss any proposals that they have to make, if they will, without reservation and honestly and frankly, discuss our proposition. We have our proposition. We think that to deal with trade and industry in this country we have reached a point where the State must interfere. All here are asking the State to interfere. The old days of free competition, the old days when business ran on its own, when Mr. Gladstone and other great economists sat in this House, and would have scorned the notion that Parliament should interfere with business and trade and the organisation of trade and industry—those days have all passed away, and to-day there is no Manchester School politician here, except perhaps the hon. Member for one of the Divisions near Manchester. The bulk of people here of all sections are continually wanting the State to do something. That being the case, we are perfectly willing to discuss, and will be very glad to discuss, what should be done.
Take the iron and steel industry, if you please, or the coal mining industry, or any of these basic industries. We maintain that if the Government do anything in the matter, they should insist on reorganisation under national control, and that these industries, when they displace workmen, should be called upon to compensate those workmen against the loss of their occupation. If the reorganisation means an increase in productive power, and an increase of wealth, we maintain that the workers are entitled to share it. We are against the private monopolist taking industries and monopolising them, ruining whole districts by their reorganisation and leaving vast masses of people to starve. Sometimes it is said the Labour movement makes no practical contribution to these questions. I do not complain that the President of the Board of Trade is not here, but I would like to have it conveyed to him that we on these benches think that when it comes to discussing the iron and steel industry he ought to take into account the proposition put forward by the union that represents the workers in that industry. It has been before the country for many years, and I hope, as I say, that he will take this into consideration. But I want to emphasise the fact that none of us is here merely to get up and talk and act as an Opposition. If the Prime Minister and his Government would allow our proposals to be discussed—the proposals in "Labour and the Nation" which he himself helped to draft—we would he perfectly willing and glad to come before any committee dealing with the matter, and to advocate them, and do our best to convince whatever committee is set up that we are right as against the Tariff Reformers, whom, I think, the right hon. Gentleman would like to have some little help in fighting.
I want now to deal with the Poor Law side of this question as affecting the transitional unemployed. The House, I think, has not yet realised the iniquity of putting these people under the Poor Law. I have always thought that there ought to be one authority for dealing with the able-bodied unemployed, but the Government, rightly from their point of view, but terribly wrongly from my point of view, are determined that nearly 1,000,000 men and women should all at once, without any notice whatsoever, become repicients practically of Poor Law relief. They are sent to the Poor Law, they are treated, as the right hon. Gentleman himself quite honestly said, as any other applicant for Poor Law relief. That has been his case. He has said, "Look at the railwayman; if he has to go for assistance, he cannot go to the Employment Exchange, but must go to the guardians, and submit to all the forms upon which the Poor Law insists." It was because we did not want to put more people under the Poor Law, but, in fact, to take out of the Poor Law the whole of the unemployed, that we so fiercely objected to these men being put there, and all the difficulties which have arisen in reference to family income arose from the fact that under the Poor Law the Minister of Health, though he may stand at that Box and make statements as to what he desires, has no power to order a public assistance authority as to the amount of public assistance which they shall give to any particular applicant.
The right hon. Gentleman who preceded him in that office in the last Conservative Government, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, has again and again said at that Box, when we have brought up cases of insufficient, relief, that the law did not allow him to interfere with the discretion of the guardians, and I agree with him that it does not. The Minister has no power to say that in a particular case the guardians shall or shall not give relief in any form, or what the amount of the relief shall be. When an applicant is inside an institution, the Minister may then see that certain conditions are observed, but in the granting of out-door relief, it does not lie with the right hon. Gentleman to say what shall or shall not be taken into account. The Gentleman who decides that, as the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor has told us again and again, is the auditor, and the auditors in London—I only speak from what I know—have not only said that you shall take into account the 7s. 6d. of the sick benefit, but that you shall take into account old age pensions, widows' and orphans' pensions, War widows' pensions, pensions of children of War widows' and also the need pension of the mother of a dead soldier. I have experienced this myself.
I appeal to the House because I do not believe that hon. Members' sympathy with ex-service men and the men who gave their lives is anything but real and fundamental. I do not believe that human nature could be so bad that hon. Members would want not to do the right thing by these men. I am speaking very dogmatically, but my experience teaches me that this cannot be done without an alteration of the law. If you are determined to keep these people with the public assistance committees, let us have a. one-Clause Bill giving either the Minister of Health or the Minister of Labour—I prefer that it should be the Minister of Labour—power to decide that, free of all Poor Law taint and restrictions, he should lay down what shall or shall not be taken into account. I believe that the House would put a Bill like that through in one sitting and in a, very few minutes. That is the only way in which it can be done, unless you adopt our policy and deal with these people outside the Poor Law. I know that the answer will be, "Yes, but what about the other men who are not insured?" Bring them all in. A good many of them are ex-service men, too, or the sons of ex-service men, or are living at home with mothers who have need pensions, or perhaps with a sister who has a pension because her husband was killed in the War, or because her husband has died and she has an ordinary widow's contributory pension.
I ask the House to face up to these cases, which are to be found in the constituencies everywhere. It is a matter of pure and simple justice. Surely to goodness there is no one here who thinks that a pension, whether in the case of the widow of a man who fought in the War or of a man who was a soldier in the industrial army ought to be taken into account. Surely hon. Members do not think that we ought to put the burden of unemployment upon these people. Lord Snowden once said at this Box what I am saying now, that when you made these people pay you in effect said to them: "You must bear the burden of unemployment." I do not believe that anyone in the House wants that to be done. I appeal to the Minister in his reply to tell us that he will consult his colleagues in the Cabinet as to a short Bill giving public assistance committees orders that they are not to take these things into account. I do not want an answer that the public assistance committee will be told that they may do this or may not do it. A public assistance committee has to act under the law, and the law is as I have stated.
One further thing about unemployment and work. I have never stood in this House or outside for merely giving people money for nothing. I have always maintained that you ought to let people go to work and earn the money they need. As I understand the matter, the Bills that we criticised so severely and which are now in another place, especially the greengrocery Bill, were brought in in order to help the balance of trade. The Minister of Agriculture the other day gave an answer about the work of the Society of Friends. It is well known that the Society of Friends, that magnificent body of public-spirited men and women, a year or two ago started work in Wales and elsewhere, and gave seeds to men who were unemployed and provided them with tools. It is well known, too, that these men produced a very considerable amount of good wholesome food for themselves and their families. During the War there was very much food grown on waste plots of land here in London. I was on a committee called the Vacant Land Cultivation Committee. We took housing sites that were covered with bricks and rubbish, and within a very few weeks they were converted into some of the nicest gardens to be found anywhere.
Outside the Metropolis it ought to be possible, with a little organisation and with a very little money, for the right hon. Gentleman to organise food production on a very extensive scale. I know that some of my friends disagree with me about this, but I hold that when you are taking away from the men the power to buy the food, the least you can do is to give them an opportunity of growing the food. This is a perfectly practicable proposal. It has been worked out and done. But the Government have stopped the grant this year. I think it was something over £100,000. It is certain that if that money was forthcoming now—I would like to see it quadrupled and spread all over the country—you could do very much towards adjusting the balance of trade, and at the same time you would give these people healthy occupation, and probably save the souls as well as the bodies of some of them.
A few words now about rents. I will not read out all the cases that I have in a list here, but I commend it to the Minister of Health who, I understand, is to bring in a Bill to deal with the subject of rents and housing generally. I beg him, first of all, to consider whether he could not send a circular to local authorities, especially in London, requesting them to expedite their housing schemes. What we are suffering from is lack of housing accommodation. The list I have here is only typical of many others that could be compiled in the Poplar area. The conditions have been there since long before I was born. We fought and struggled with the town council and with various Presidents of the Local Government Board and Ministers of Health, but have not been able to get going with them. But under the new Act it is certain that we could have made a very big alteration this year and next year. However, the five years scheme that Mr. Arthur Greenwood induced local authorities to undertake is being held up in all directions. In our district it has been held up because everyone says that we must economise. There are some economies which really mean death.
Listen to this: Nine people in two rooms, nine people in one room, eight in two, nine in two, nine in one, nine in one, 10 in three, 10 in three, eight in one, 10 in three with tuberculosis, 14 in three with tuberculosis, eight in two, 10 in two, eight in two, eight in one, 12 in three, and 10 in three. I asked the official who gave me this list whether there were any more like this, and he said, "You can take it as a, sample of a very large number of cases." It is very bad economy to hold up housing schemes. When the Minister of Health is dealing with rents, let him inform the local authorities that the Government will back them with whatever money is necessary in order to get on with this job.
Slums have been talked about for the last century. We all thought that Mr. Greenwood's Bill was a start along the right road. Do not let it be arrested. Let the right hon. Gentleman signalise his appointment to the office by persuading the Treasury that this is work which is well worth doing from an economic and moral and health point of view. On the question of rents it may be that the right hon. Gentleman will say that there is not time to bring in a Bill before we go for our holidays. I wish that the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth had persuaded the Government to stay on and not adjourn at all, and that we had been kept here until he got his way and we got our way on some of these matters. It would be quite easy for the Minister of Health to follow the example of the Chancellor of the Exchequer who, without the permission of the House and without saying a word to anyone, has stopped the work of land valuation under the Finance Act. The right hon. Gentleman has done that by a stroke of the pen. He has overriden an Act of Parliament and has done it with the approval of hon. Members opposite. One of these days, when there is a Socialist Government here, we shall know quite well how to use the precedents that the present Government are establishing.
My hon. Friends who come from Glasgow have a pitiable story to tell of Glasgow. There is the same story to be told of every industrial area in the country. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman not to put us off with soft words on this matter. The question of housing the people, of providing decent accommodation for children and parents, is one of the most urgent and one of the most important that this House can tackle. Anyone who has had anything to do with any o3 the poorer districts of London knows that, while it is perfectly true that we have cleared slum areas and built some very fine estates, it is equally true that we have not made provision for the people who have to live on very low wages or Poor Law relief or anything of that kind. We have not begun to make provision for these people. The matter is not merely urgent to-day, but is continually urgent, and it will not be settled by any mere words. It will be settled only by action.
My last words are these: We sit here knowing full well that the choice before the nation is not Free Trade or Tariff Reform. The choice before the nation is whether the industries of this country are to be reorganised and rationalised on the basis of service for the community instead of money-making, and profit. The nations of the world have tried capitalism, Free Trade and Protection, and the end of it is what we see to-day—poverty in the midst of abundance. Although we are a small band here today, we Socialists are confident that when the Government have had their trial and when the nation has discovered once more what Protection means, when once again the people endure what they endured in the Hungry Forties, they will rally to our side and give Socialism a chance for the third time.
I think it would be for the convenience of the House if I intervened for a few minutes to say something upon a less exciting subject than that to which the right hon. Gentleman has been addressing himself, but one which, notwithstanding, is of considerable importance and has been imported, possibly as an afterthought, in the Motion before the House. The question of currency and exchange is one which seems to me to offer numerous illustrations of the old saying that "a little learning is a dangerous thing." It is ground which which is continually being covered by theorists. I have been astonished since I undertook my present office by the extraordinary number of correspondents who write to me with some infallible plan for solving all the problems of international trade and for superseding what they regard as old-fashioned notions, like that of the Gold Standard. I notice that they generally embody their ideas in a pamphlet. Most of them are under the impression that the ideas which they send to me are new. When I hand them out to my experienced staff, they are always received with a weary sigh, because the staff at once recognise in them the same old hoary fallacies which have been continually coming to the Treasury ever since the oldest inhabitant can recollect anything about them. The Opposition have perhaps been wiser than some of my correspondents, because with two exceptions they have abstained from bringing forward any plans or solutions of the diffi- culties with which the country is confronted.
The right hon. Gentleman who has just addressed us has given very superficial attention indeed to this part of the Motion and has preferred to confine himself to the latter parts of it with which he is himself more familiar, but the hon. and learned Gentleman who opened the Debate yesterday did make two suggestions. One was that it would be very much better if we had in this country a managed currency, managed by the Government, and the other, apparently was that we should undertake in this country a system of barter through clearing arrangements made by the central banks. With regard to the first of these two suggestions, I cannot imagine anything which would be more likely to send the pound after the rouble than the proposition that we should have such a managed currency. I do not think that the hon. and learned Gentleman will find, outside Russia, any support on the part of any Government of any country for the proposition which he has put forward. I may remind the House that the Macmillan Committee in the course of their report dealing with domestic currency management say:
The managing authority should be the Bank of England. It is not necessary in this country to create a new organ for the centralised control of the monetary system for we have in the Bank of England an excellent instrument for the purpose independent of political influences"—
I do not know whether that has any attraction for the hon. and learned Gentleman—
and which functions wholly in the public interest.
As for the other suggestion that we should institute some system of barter in this country, the Government are watching with interest the somewhat tentative proceedings which have taken place in that direction in one or two rather small neighbouring countries in Europe. But I would remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that, if we were to start a system of barter in this country, while it might conceivably encourage a certain amount of international trade, yet as we are a great creditor country, a system which provides nothing for the payment of debts is not one likely to be very much in our national interest.
I am afraid that, despite the reticence of the Opposition, I detect in this Motion a certain amount of confusion of thought, because I observe that it connects the approaching winter and the distress prevailing in the country with the present condition of the currency. It would appear, therefore, that in the opinion of the Opposition these three things are linked up together. I am afraid I cannot offer any hope that the Government have discovered a plan by which they can avoid or postpone the approach of winter, but, as far as currency is concerned, I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite are not assuming that the internal and external values of the pound are the same thing. The external value of the pound is in relation to other currencies. It is its value in dollars, francs, or other foreign currencies. The internal value is the purchasing power of the pound in this country. It by no means follows that because the relative value of the pound, with regard to foreign currency, suffers a fall, that therefore the internal purchasing power of the pound suffers a corresponding fall. We all know that, as a matter of fact, that is not so. While I do not, of course, for a moment suggest that it is a good thing that we should have an unstable currency here, I do submit that it is important that we should not be led into faulty reasoning because faulty reasoning is likely to result in faulty action.
Having said so much, while I do not think that the recent fall in the exchange value of the pound is one which need give rise to any serious apprehensions, I am quite prepared to admit that I do not consider the present situation to be entirely satisfactory. I think I need not remind the House that it is much easier to say that than it is to see how to improve it, or at any rate how to improve it quickly. We know that all the cards are not in our hands in this country. We know that there are many other matters, and not financial matters only, that there are considerations which are by no means confined to finance, linked up with the financial question. It is quite certain that the Government of any one country cannot, by itself, find a remedy for the existing state of affairs.
Then it has been suggested to me from various parts of the House, and I think it was suggested by the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, that we should call an international conference to settle these matters. It is true that we could summon an international conference to-morrow, but the question is whether anybody would come to it. Before countries are prepared to come into an international conference, they want to know very clearly what the conference is going to confer about. I think it is extremely probable that if we sent out a list of the subjects on which we desired to have international conferences, we should find that some of them would be at once ruled out of consideration by the very countries whose concurrence was absolutely vital and necessary. There are people who attribute a good part of the difficulties of the world and, in particular what the right hon. Gentleman opposite called difficulties of distribution—though I should have thought that they would have been more accurately described as difficulties of price level—there are, I say, people who ascribe those difficulties very largely to the accumulation of gold in the vaults of particular countries. I do not express any opinion as to how far that attribution is justified, but I do say that, although the United States and France have their troubles, although they have budget deficits of considerable size, although they have their unemployment, yet they do not show any sign of desiring to come into conference with the hope that they are going to solve their problems or cure their problems by international agreement on credit policy, or I may add to the right hon. Gentleman opposite, for the reduction of tariffs. He asked me why it was that the United States which has tariffs, none the less has unemployment. I might retort by asking him why it is that the United States which has unemployment, yet refuses to lower its tariffs.
There is one question which it seems to me, if wisely handled and wisely settled, might have a greater effect than anything else that I can think of in restoring that general confidence in the world, the lack of which is at the base of most of our international and financial troubles. I mean the settlement of the Reparations question with which is bound up the question of war debts. The House knows that steps are being taken in that matter at the present time. The special Advisory Committee under the Young Plan is sitting in Basle. I hope it may be able to make a report, if not before, at any rate soon after the end of the year. When that report has been received, it is to be followed by a meeting of Governments. I earnestly trust that that meeting of Governments may succeed in finding some agreement or some arrangement on this question of Reparations which will be satisfactory to the world, in that it will restore confidence in Germany's ability to meet her commercial obligations, and, in that way, thaw out this ice jam in international credit affairs. In the meantime, the Government will pursue its policy of maintaining as steadily as possible the internal purchasing power of the pound. The stability of the currency of this country is essential to healthy trading throughout the world. While it is not possible, for obvious reasons, now, to say at what time or even at what level we shall ultimately stabilise the pound, yet it is our declared object to effect that stabilisation, and I may say that we are prepared to take any steps which seem to us to be practicable in order to bring about that stabilisation at the earliest possible moment.
If I may return for a moment to the external value of the pound, I would like to say a word about some of the rumours which I have been told have been circulating about the policy of His Majesty's Government, not at home, but abroad. It has been suggested that the depreciation of our currency was a voluntary and deliberate act on our part, that we did it in order to force down wages and costs, in order to give some special advantage and stimulus to our industries; and that suggestion has been reinforced and supported by a reference to the fact that some time ago there was a slight increase in the fiduciary issue. This, it is said, is the beginning of inflation. I hope it is not necessary in this House to say that there is no truth whatever in suggestions of that kind. We did our best in this country to remain on the Gold Standard, and when we were forced off, it was owing to causes which were entirely beyond our control at that time.
As to the note issue, as a matter of fact the total note circulation at this time is rather less than it was 12 months ago. Hon. Members are aware that the note issue is in two parts. There is the part which corresponds to its backing in gold, and there is the fiduciary issue. It is true that last August there was a slight increase in the fiduciary issue, but that was subsequently set off by a decrease in the issue backed by gold to correspond to the loss of gold that took place in November. The effect of those two operations, one in the one direction and the other in the other direction, was to leave the total note circulation unchanged, and now, as I say, it is actually less than it was a year ago. I do not think that people abroad altogether realise that the situation in this country is to-day entirely different from that which obtained, let us say, in France or in Germany at the time of the depreciation of the franc or the mark. There were large gaps in the Budgets of those countries; they were uncovered, and had to be met by the use of the printing press. There was a time when we came rather near that.
By the formation of the National Government, and the measures that were taken by that Government, that risk has completely gone. There is not any ground for imagining that there is going to be any deficit, or at any rate any serious deficit, in the Budget of this year, and still less in the Budget of next year, and I have every reason to suppose that the Government will lie able to meet all their obligations out of current annual revenue and at the same time make a substantial contribution to the provision for debt redemption.
What are the causes which have led to the recent fall in the external value of sterling? There are a number, which have happened to coincide. In the first place, this is a time of year when normally there is extra pressure upon the exchange in order to meet our seasonal imports, for example, in the shape of cotton and wheat. In addition to that, there is the extra pressure which has been put on by the abnormal importations which were taking place a little while ago, but which have now been stopped by the measures which we have taken. The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite says that these are pinpricks, and that they will not serve to correct the adverse balance of trade. We never claimed that they would. What we did claim was that they would prevent the situation from being seriously prejudiced, as it would have been if those abnormal importations had been allowed to continue. As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows very well, our long-term policy for the correction of the adverse balance of trade is now the subject of consideration by the Government and will, I hope, be the subject of a statement at a very early date when we meet again next year.
No doubt there have been withdrawals from this country of balances held by foreign holders. I should like to say, in this connection, that, although I have seen rumours or statements to the contrary, those withdrawals have not been made either by the French Government or by the Bank of France. They have, on the contrary, left their balances here undisturbed; but there have been others who have removed their balances, partly, I think—indeed, I am inclined to think largely—because of want of confidence, not in the state of things over here, but in their own countries, and because they thought it desirable to have liquid resources available. I am glad to think that our own people have maintained that steadiness of heart and steadiness of nerve for which the world has been accustomed to look from the people of Great Britain. They can help the currency question to-day by buying British, and they can help by abstaining from foreign travel merely for the purposes of pleasure. I fancy that those foreigners who have been taking their balances away to-day, at the present level of the pound, thereby incurring a loss, will very much regret some day what they have done, when they find, as I am confident that they will find, that their action was totally unnecessary.
I said nothing about the stabilisation of the pound. I merely said that probably some day they will find that they have made a bad bargain. Do not let us forget that, although at the moment we may have some difficulty in collecting our foreign debts, still we remain the greatest creditor nation in the world, and when the world conditions settle down and calm, then I have not the slightest doubt that we shall find sterling resuming its place as the principal standard of international trade and credit.
I think that all Members of the House will admit that it would be a comparatively easy thing to make a criticism of the actions, or the failures to act, of the present Government; but whether such a criticism would be of any use whatsoever, either to the House or to the country, at the present juncture, is much more doubtful. Therefore I will, in criticising the Government, criticise them from a point of view which they may possibly find helpful in. the great task that lies before them. It so happens that I am probably more closely in touch with those centres of the population which are suffering most at the present time, and have suffered most during the last few years, than Members of the Government, and in the course of my remarks I hope I may be able to convey to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the other Members of the Government some appreciation of what we are going through at the present time in the industrial North.
I say that it would be easy to criticise, and I suppose I may claim that it would be easier for myself to criticise than for any other Member of this House, inasmuch as I think the House will remember that all those Measures which successive Governments have passed ever since the War, and which are now recognised universally as being the root cause of our present discontents, have consistently, during the whole of that period, been opposed by myself—every single one of them. I do not think any other Member of the House can claim that he has opposed all those Measures of housing, of unemployment insurance, in fact, all those follies which have been perpetrated by all three parties in the State ever since the War. But, as I say, it is not my function to say, "I told you so"; it is my function to do what I can, from the experience of practical things which forms my daily life, and has done for the last 30 years, my experience of industry and of the lives of the poor, to help the Government in the task before them.
The remarks of the Chancellor of the Exchequer contribute very largely to a realisation by this House of the problem which is before the Government, but there were one or two points to which I may take exception, not as it were to set my opinion against that of the right hon. Gentleman, but to ask him, on a subsequent occasion when the opportunity offers, to go rather more deeply into those problems upon which he touched, in my opinion, somewhat lightly. He spoke, for instance, as if it were in the power of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, suddenly, by his mere ipse dixit, to stabilise sterling at any given level that recommended itself to him at any given time. Surely, the impression which he gave was not the impression that he intended, and surely all that the Government can do in relation to these matters is simply to register their appreciation of something which has happened without any regard to any action taken by the Government or the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
What does "coming off the Gold Standard" mean? It simply means that circumstances have arisen in which it is unsafe to require the Bank of England to give gold for its paper. That is all that it means, and coming off the Gold Standard really is simply the registration of that fact by the Government of this country for the time being. Towards stabilisation the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself can do a very great deal, not directly, but indirectly. He can, for example, produce a Budget—and, I hope, a very different Budget from the revised Budget of this year—which will render it perfectly obvious that this country as a nation is paying its debts from year to year and is not, by concealed borrowing, running deeper and deeper into the mire in which we find ourselves to-day.
I think it is generally admitted that the revised Budget of this year will not in actual fact produce a real balance. It may produce a balance on paper, but it will riot be a real balance, and particularly on this account, that the balancing of the Budget, even on paper, involves an immense addition to the burden of taxation upon the industries of this country; and we are not really much better off if the Government themselves avoid borrowing to balance their accounts, and force upon industry the necessity of doing an equal amount of borrowing to pay the taxes which relieve the Government from the necessity of borrowing themselves to balance their Budget. It comes in the long run to very much the same thing, whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself borrows the money, or whether the forces the taxpayer to borrow it instead of borrowing it himself.
The fundamental task of the Government is different from that. It is surely to reduce that appalling burden of taxation which is the root cause of unemployment and of the fall in the value of sterling in the markets abroad; and to my mind those economies which have been proposed and which are being carried out to-day are totally insufficient to give that relief to industry which is essential if we are really, to any great extent, to reduce the numbers of those unfortunate people who cannot find employment in this country to-day. The trouble is—and it is only too obvious to Members of the Government—that any effective action on their part to that end involves the most cruel, severe, and drastic treatment of great sections of the population who already are very little above the line of poverty and even of privation. It is only too clear that it is perfectly useless to go on taxing the well-to-do more and more in order to balance the Budget. That does not really meet the problem, the problem being that the average standard of living which we have enjoyed in this country during the last dozen years has been vastly in excess of the standard of living which the economic situation justified. The fall in the value of our currency amounting at the present to some 30 per cent. of its original value, is simply the registration of the amount by which we have been living beyond our income, taking the nation as a whole. It is all very well for those of us who are well-to-do to reduce our own standard of living drastically, as many of us have done—some of us voluntarily and some of us because we have been forced to do it. The amount of actual definite material effect thus produced is a mere fleabite, although the moral effect is of infinite value to the nation. The unhappy fact remains that it is the masses, and par- ticularly some of the worst paid people in our country, upon whom the burden must inevitably and of necessity fall, and that is the problem which this Government have to face.
If we turn back to the time of the General Election, I think that the real interpretation of the enormous majority which was given for the National Government is somewhat on the following lines. We all know that when the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) gets up and says that the huge majority was simply the electors of Great Britain rising in their might and demanding a full and high tariff system for this country, that the hon. and gallant Gentleman himself believes it; but there are very few hon. Members who have the same degree of credulity as the hon. and gallant Member. The interpretation of the election is something which does far more credit to the people of this country than that. Surely the true interpretation is that the people of Great Britain, even the poorest among them, and even that vast mass of our unemployed men themselves, did realise that the country was in danger. They were frightened; but mark this, they did not panic, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer hinted in his speech. There was practically no sign whatever of anything in the nature of panic among even the poorest of our people at the time of the election. Here and there, we know, there were small withdrawals of balances from saving banks and small sales of War Bonds and such like securities among the poor, but it would be utterly untrue to say that there was anything whatever in the nature of a panic among the voters at the last election.
On the other hand, they were frightened, and they did realise how dangerous was the situation into which they had been led by those who formerly occupied the Government Bench. Surely, in giving that enormous majority to the National Government what they really meant was this: "We know that action to be effective will have to be cruel and drastic almost beyond words; we know that we are going to suffer in many cases terrible privation, and we want the Government which is to give these cruel orders to be a strong Government so that it can set about its job, and so that we can get back to sound economic conditions at the earliest moment and our sufferings and privations brought to an end." That, I believe, is the true interpretation of the vote of the last election. My own constituency, as many hon. Members know, is one that has suffered as much as, or even more than, any other district in the country. It consists of cotton workers, iron workers, miners and such like, and our percentage of unemployment is probably as high as that of any other part of the country, except a few of the valleys in the South Wales steam coal district.
I found throughout the election that I was met by a populace who were undoubtedly suffering bitterly. There was no question whatever about it. Again and again during the last few years I have been brought in contact with men and women who clearly for months had not been getting really enough to eat. These were the people to whom I had to go at my election and from whom I had to secure votes to return me to this House. To them I honesty told the truth that any means which would get us out of our trouble and give us the possibility of security and prosperity in future would be cruel almost beyond words; and that was necessary, therefore, that those whom they sent to this House to give those bitterly cruel orders should, at any rate, be people that they knew and whom they could trust. They sent me here on that basis purely and simply—on the basis that horrible things had got to be done, and they preferred that I should be responsible for doing them rather than a stranger.
The question then comes up, How is that work to be done without creating such discontent and such civic discord that we may have greater difficulty than we have had, even since the end of the War, in keeping our country in such a state that industry can be carried on and that the livelihood of the people can be secured? I admit that the problem is a difficult one, and here is my criticism of the Government. At the time of the election, the spirit of the people was raised to perhaps the highest pitch to which it has been raised since the beginning of the War in 1914, and I think that the Government are open to criticism for not having proceeded at once to those necessary, but most unpleasant Measures, which they know in their hearts are absolutely inevitable if we are to get our financial and trade position safe. That is the whole sum of the criticism that I have to make, and I hope that the Government during the Recess will steel their hearts to do these things, so that when they come back to the House after the Recess we may know that they are really dealing with the fundamental problems and not merely patching up symptoms, as I regret to say they have been doing this Session.
We have to remember that during the time that has elapsed since the General Election, the patience and spirit of our people have been affected. Anyone in close touch with working-class districts will agree that the spirit of the people now is certainly not what it was six weeks ago. That is really the reason why I criticise the Government. They are making it more and more difficult for themselves when the time comes, as come it must, when they have to put into force really drastic legislation and drastic measures of administration to deal with the situation. The further question is: What can we in this House do? In consultation with my people at home I have formed a definite opinion with regard to a certain matter concerning Members in this House which, although it seems at first sight a small thing, will immensely help the Government when they come to face the real crisis. As the Chancellor pointed out quite rightly, the fall in the value of sterling up to the present has not been accompanied by any appreciable rise in the cost of living, and that is a thing for which we have to be devoutly thankful.
Surely the reason why that rise in the cost of living, which might well have been expected, has not in fact taken place is that there was an enormous margin, an altogether excessive margin, between wholesale and retail prices before the fall in sterling occurred; and that what we are doing at the present time is merely contracting that gap. That process must ultimately come to an end, and we must see a rise in prices as soon as retail prices come more definitely in relation to wholesale prices than they have been during the last two or three years. Therefore I think that—and I have no doubt that the Govern- ment will agree—although at the moment the question of a rise in prices has not become acute, we have to anticipate a rise in the cost of living, particularly for working-class families. That rise has unhappily to coincide with drastically lessened monetary receipts on the part of the unfortunate people whom that cost of living will affect in the greatest degree. The poorer the man is, the more bread he consumes, and as bread is one of those foodstuffs which is dependent very largely upon our being able to make purchases abroad, it is bread more than any other commodity that will be affected as soon as we readjust ourselves and as soon as retail prices have closed up the gap between themselves and wholesale prices.
There is the problem before us. Any measures, of course, are measures taken by us here in the House of Commons under the direction of the Government, and to that extent every Member is personally responsible in a greater or less degree for those orders which are going to produce a very serious state of privation for many of our population. The first thing is that Members of this House should be absolutely free of any possibility of being reproached by those to whom their orders will come as such a terrible blow when those orders do come. I hold strongly that it is utterly wrong for us in this House to pass legislation or agree to administrative orders reducing, for example, the amounts paid in unemployment benefit to men and women by 10 per cent., while we in this House are going to reduce our unearned salary at the most by a similar percentage. The mistake that has been made is—and it is a very serious mistake—inventing that catchword "equality of sacrifice," and interpreting it in this wise, that the man with £10,000 a year shall reduce his income by 10 per cent. and the man drawing 17s. a week in unemployment benefit shall reduce his receipts by 10 per cent. also. Equality of sacrifice is a farcical business, and nothing can help us except inequality of sacrifice of the vastest proportions, so that those of us who have to give the orders will sacrifice our interests in a vastly greater degree than those who have to obey the orders that we give.
Therefore I suggest to the House that when we come together after the Recess we should at once get rid of the scandal of our receiving £400 a year and travelling expenses, and then ordering a reduction of 10 per cent. in the amount of unemployment benefit to both the married and the single man. That would do more than anything to ease the path of the Government when they do eventually deal with the underlying difficulties of the time, as deal they must, because the measures taken hitherto are utterly ineffectual in producing a real balance of our Budget and relieving the industries of the country to such an extent that they can afford to take back their men and restore prosperity once more to our people. Therefore, will hon. Members consider this matter during the Recess? I would not even have made such a suggestion unless I were under the impression that I am perhaps as badly off as any Member of the House. If there are some Members who cannot really afford to knock along without that money, could we not introduce some form of means test for them as well as for the unemployed? It seems to me that transitional payments are really very much on the same basis as the payment of £400 a year and travelling expenses to Members of this House. If this House, by voluntary action, would take steps to provide, on the basis of a means test, for those Members who really cannot get on without a salary, the impression produced upon the most unfortunate part of our population would be such that the Government could deal safely with the situation in a way they could not so long as we in this House are putting our fingers into the public purse. I leave that suggestion to the consideration of the House.
In conclusion, surely the Members of this House, especially those who value its traditions, as I have always valued them myself, must all agree that this House and Parliamentary institutions are on their trial at the present time. In one country after another we have seen the Parliamentary system go down, and in every case it has been due on the one side to a bad economic policy producing financial chaos, and on the other side to the growth of a contempt for the Parliament, or the equivalent of Parliament, which has ultimately swept it on one side, because the people of the country did not value it enough to fight for its preservation. To my mind the whole future of our Parliamentary institutions depends upon the way His Majesty's Government use the immense majority which the people have conferred upon it. It seems to me that we cannot go on in the old way, with this interchange of badinage between one Front Bench and another, that we are up against it at last, that the people of the country are up against it as they have never been before. The people have a prospect of suffering such as they have not seen for generations past in the North of England, and the one thing that this House can do is to conduct its affairs, particularly in regard to the matter to which I have referred, in such a way that it can regain the confidence and, I hope, the affection of the people of Great Britain.
I would like to say a word or two on the subject of rents, in view of the statement of the Prime Minister that it is the intention of the Government, on the return of the House in February, to take some action with regard to the rents paid at the present time by people, particularly in de-controlled houses. I have particulars of scores of cases in which people are paying not only twice as much as they would be required to pay if they were in controlled houses, and in one or two cases three times as much. There are many other disadvantages suffered by a large number of people living in de-controlled houses. I received from the Minister of Health to-day a reply to a question which I put to him, and as the Parliamentary Secretary is present now it may interest him to know, when he is making inquiries into the particular case to which I referred, that of the nine families who are now under notice to get out of their houses, one has lived in that street for over 50 years, another for 60 years, the third for 20 years, the fourth for 20 years, the fifth for 24 years, the sixth for 44 years, the seventh for 41 years, the eighth for 26 years, and the ninth for 51 years. The total number of people in those nine families is 41. They are to be removed because the houses they are living in are said to be no longer habitable.
If houses get into that condition no one will complain if it should become necessary to remove the residents, but we have a right to ask that reasonable alternative accommodation shall be provided for them. In cases such as this, with which as a local administrator I have had to deal on many occasions, we are up against the question of rents. In the cases to which I have referred the rents varied between 5s. 6d. and 7s. a week, and I know that the provision of alternative accommodation for such tenants in a place like Westminster must be a difficult proposition for the Westminster City Council. In this case, however, a site of considerably more than two acres has been offered to the Westminster City Council absolutely free of any charge whatever, and on that site it ought to be possible to provide alternative accommodation.
At a conference at Blackpool recently it was rightly stated that at the present time there is a very considerable shortage of houses for people with low incomes, incomes which are being further reduced by the activities of the present Government. The result is that medical officers of health in practically every industrial district, and in many agricultural districts also, are agreed that the health of the people is suffering seriously. In many of the slums children are dying in far greater numbers than in any of the districts where greater accommodation is available for the people. Is it unreasonable to criticise the present Government or any other Government, if this state of things is allowed to go on year after year with no evidence of any effort being made to deal with the situation on a large scale?
I am critical of the present Government in this respect, and I was critical of the last Government, though I had no reason to be critical to the same extent. When in the last Government the present Prime Minister was criticised by the hon. Members who are now supporting him for not doing a good many things the reason he gave was that the Government were in a minority, and that without the support of a considerable number of the Opposition it was impossible to carry through the Measures it was desired to bring forward. That appeared to me then to be a reasonable excuse why certain things were not done, but that excuse cannot be put forward by the present Government. They are all-powerful in the matter of legislation, and can, if they so desire, make provision on a very large scale to do away with some of the miseries from which we are suffering. As one step, I suggest to the Government that they should go into the question of the necessity for providing more housing accommodation.
As one who has had a long experience in the building industry I say that it is possible by organisation, by introducing bulk purchases and mass production, to get a reduction of not less than 15 per cent. in the prices now current as quoted by the Ministry in its monthly returns. Some steps should be taken towards organising the industry, which is one of the worst industries in the country from the point of view of organisation. At least inquiries ought to be made to see whether better results could not be obtained by such organisation. However, I do not suppose that is the policy of the Prime Minister now. A year or so ago it would have been his policy, if he had then had the power to take advantage of the opportunity. It may be that the Prime Minister is not in a position to do that in present circumstances, because those associated with him in the National Government do not hold the views that he at least used to hold in regard to the nationalisation of industry. It may not be possible for him to induce them to support him in organising any industry on a national scale.
There is another suggestion which I would like to put before the hon. Member who is at present representing the Ministry of Health on the Treasury Bench. If he will look at the Development Act, 1929, he will find that the Treasury has certain powers of guaranteeing or loaning money to public, utility societies. Those societies, however, are clearly defined in that Act, and must be what are generally known as statutory public utility societies, such as railways, dock and harbour boards, electricity and gas undertakings, etc. If there were any real desire on the part of the Ministry to get the advantages that are to be obtained through bulk purchases and other methods of standardisation it could be done. Those advantages have been referred to more than once in this House by a close friend of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry, whose name I cannot remember at the moment, who used to speak from the benches just be- hind me in the last Government. If he will refer to some of those speeches he will find that the advantages which that hon. Member derived when building on a large scale were not less, and in some cases more, than those I have indicated. An easy way by which a large contribution could be made towards the solution of our housing difficulties, without any lengthy discussions or waste of time, would be by an extension of the Development Act, 1929. I do not know that it is even necessary to extend the Act, and if we had an extension of the definition of public utility societies, it would be an advantage to the nation that housing should be included. We see electricity undertakings and harbour schemes mentioned as public utilities, and surely every Member of the House will agree that it is more important that we should build more houses for the people than organise gas or electricity undertakings, which cannot get financial support from the National Exchequer.
I suggest that there should be an extension of the Development Act in the way which I have indicated, bringing in public utility societies, and dealing with the subjects which I have mentioned, such as the housing schemes of local authorities who have satisfied the Ministry of Health that they are necessary for the well-being of the people. I am sure if that were done it would make a considerable contribution towards the comfort of those people who are now living in unhealthy surroundings. I was interested in the statement made yesterday by the Prime Minister that the Labour party, instead of grumbling generally, should make some contribution to a solution of the difficulties under which the nation has been recently labouring. The Leader of the Opposition made it clear to-day that every Member of the Labour party would welcome the opportunity of putting forward their points of view in order to make some contribution by way of suggestions if the Prime Minister is really in earnest. But is the right hon. Gentleman in earnest? Frankly, I do not believe that any suggestion put forward on behalf of the Labour party would receive that consideration which the Prime Minister gives to suggestions from hon. Members opposite. We have now had a definite statement made by the Leader of the Opposition that if the Prime Minister is in earnest, and he will afford hon. Members on this side an opportunity to put forward suggestions, they will do so, and they will do it in the knowledge that they will be considered just in the same way as if they were put forward by hon. Members supporting the Government.
What is the real difficulty? I do not think anyone will be prepared to challenge my statement that whether hon. Members believe in tariffs or Free Trade, there is one outstanding feature in every country of the civilised world, and that is that the great bulk of the people are living in poverty, and they get worse off year by year. That being so, there must be, and there is, some real fundamental reason why the people are always poor, and why a certain number of the people in this country always manage to live in comfort and even luxury, and render no service to the society in which they live. That fact ought to be clear to every Member of this House who gives the smallest consideration to the matter. If any man living in this country, or any other country, is not rendering to the society in which he lives some form of service or work in either production or distribution, obviously he is living on the labours of some other persons who are rendering service to the community. The Prime Minister, and hon. Members opposite who follow him, are well aware that the reason for the poverty of the people in this country is that they are robbed by another set of people, who draw largely from the earnings of the community without giving anything in return. If a man is physically and mentally strong, and is rendering no service whatever to the community, and drawing lots of wealth year by year, will anybody dare to deny that that man has no moral right to that wealth? It is perfectly clear that if a man in that position he is taking year by year the wealth which has been produced by somebody else for which he gives nothing in return, and that is the main cause of the poverty of the people of this country at the present time.
Some time before I came into this House I was a carpenter and joiner able to earn my own living, and I was a law- abiding and a good citizen. I walked about the streets of London looking for an opportunity to earn my living, and there are hundreds of thousands of people doing the same to-day. Many of them are men who have been trained in all kinds of occupations, who have attended schools in order to improve their skill, and yet they cannot find employment. There are millions or men and women in this country who have acquired great skill in all kinds of occupations and are capable of producing wealth, and yet they are almost starving, and you see those people outside the Employment Exchanges waiting to draw the dole.
Yes, and foreign goods are coming in all the time. There are thousands of people in this country who have not got boots to wear. In my own constituency we have a boot fund committee to provide boots for the poor children, so that they may be able to go to school. Every week there are thousands of children who cannot go to school in the winter because they have no boots, and yet, in my constituency, their fathers are outside the boot factories capable of making boots, but the machinery is kept idle and the men out of work, and we have not the common sense to organise the labour of men and women to produce boots for the children who need them badly. There is something wrong with the system, and the cause is neither tariffs nor Free Trade. Profit is the only basis on which things are produced in this country. If the whole of the working class of the nation was starving, those who control industry would take no part in it unless at the end there was some possibility of making profit. Profit is the only thing that determines production in this country. I suppose that the Prime Minister still claims to be a Socialist, and he knows the things which are so much required to alleviate suffering. The National Government, we are told, cannot do everything because they do not control foreign countries as well as our own. At any rate, it is possible for the Government to organise the resources of our own country, and use them in the interests of our own people.
I have no wish whatever lo embarrass the Government in any way, and I am already embarrassed enough myself, because I am addressing hon. Members for the first time. The Government have a difficult task to perform and I realise that they have been vested with authority greater than anyone could have predicted. Power has been placed in their hands, and a heavy responsibility rests on their shoulders a responsibility which must rest upon them more heavily than the burden of Atlas. I do not wish to say anything to upset their equilibrium or to jeopardise the national character of the Government which the people so solemnly insisted upon at the last election. At the same time, we who fought, and fought successfully, some of the most difficult constituencies have a right to expect something more than a mere exhibition of passive strength on the part of those whom we are now asked to follow. I do not wish, on an occasion that calls for extreme humility, in any way to appear presumptuous, but I must say that His Majesty's Ministers cannot expect the new blood of this House to sit here day after day inactive and inert, with the rapt adoration of neophyte Fascisti at the feet of miniature Mussolinis. After all, the final responsibility rests upon this House as a whole, and it is this House which represents the sovereign voice of the people. I have no doubt what the voice of the people really is at this time. If the extraordinary majority which the Government achieved at the last election and the remarkable majorities which hon. Members obtained meant anything at all, they surely meant that the people of this country were prepared to face any sacrifice, any difficulty, any abandonment of past theories and practice which might restore some kind of equilibrium to the position of our international trade.
It is in those circumstances that I desire to utter a vigorous protest against what seems to me to be the inclination of some right hon. Gentlemen in the Cabinet to be swayed by past theories, and their inclination to be scared by the same old ghosts and bogies which the people of this country have surely sent us here to lay. In any case, when we come down to the practical side of this matter of fiscal policy, we cannot consider ourselves to be to-day a Free Trade country. We have considerable experience of tariffs, both for revenue and for protective purposes. In fact, on analysing the fiscal position of this country, I find that, on the basis of the import figures for 1930, there are at the present time subject to Customs duties articles amounting to more than one-eighth of our total imports. We have the Key Industry Duties, the McKenna Duties, the Silk and Safeguarding Duties, the two Abnormal Importations Orders, and the Agricultural products covered by the Resolution of this House of 30th November; and to this list we must add the Petrol Duty. All these classes together, in 1930, covered £135,000,000 of our imports, the total value of which was £1,045,000,000. It seems to me that here we have the anomaly of a Government which has been prepared to sanction and maintain heavy taxation on one-eighth of our total imports, but which nevertheless at the present time, in my humble opinion, is jibbing unreasonably at extending the benefits of those tariffs to other industries which in the past have employed a great number of our people.
I have in mind particularly the iron and steel industry, but I realise that the question of tariffs for that industry was thoroughly thrashed out in the Debate in this House yesterday, and I do not wish to weary the House by thrashing a tired horse. I may, perhaps, say, however, that the total value of our iron and steel imports in the year 1930 was just over £23,000,000. Is that really a very high figure compared with the £135,000,000 of imports into this country which are already subject to taxation I Would the Government be doing anything very drastic, or, to use the words of the Prime Minister last night, would the Government be acting rashly and swiftly, if they were to consider the inclusion of an industry whose total imports in 1930 were only £23,000,000?
There are one or two other industries which, naturally, I have in mind, as being prominent in my own constituency, and in this connection perhaps I might mention that the annual imports of foreign hosiery other than silk are only £4,500,000, while, in the case of the paper industry, the total annual imports of non-dutiable paper amount to no more than £17,000,000. Adding these imports to those of iron and steel, we have a total of not more than £44,500,000. I would ask the Government, therefore, seriously to consider whether, having swallowed the principle of import duties on £135,000,000 worth of goods, they will not consider extending the benefits of such duties to staple industries the revival of which would do more than anything else to scare away that grim spectre of unemployment which is still stalking in our midst—the problem which we young National Members of this House, on every platform in our constituencies, said we should be able to do something to ameliorate if a National Government were returned with a sufficiently large majority.
The feet of these young men are now marking time, but we are, not unnaturally, anxious and impatient to break into quick step as soon as possible. We are prepared to be patient in certain directions, and not to complain when the Government ask for time to consider what shall be done, but in other directions I do not think we can be expected to be satisfied for too long with the role of mute adorers of the Prime Minister, the central figure, I might say, of the tableau which, unfortunately, I am not in a position yet to call a tableau vivant. I would like, if I may, to issue this humble warning, that we shall not be prepared for too long to wait in silent contemplation and mute adoration. I trust that, in the weeks that are before us, the Government will act briskly and vigorously, and will fulfil the hope which those who supported me at least in my constituency have in the National Government.
I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Sir A. Baillie) on the very clear and concise speech which he has just delivered to the House. He has spoken with considerable conviction, and I feel sure that in future Debates in this Rouse he will take his proper part. I am going to follow the exhortation laid down by Mr. Speaker on the day of his election in this House, that Members taking part in our Debates should, in the interests of the House, be as brief as possible in their speeches, and I sincerely trust that my small example may be emulated by later speakers.
I find myself in agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow in regard to the iron and steel trade. I had intended to say something about iron and steel in this Debate, but that subject was more or less disposed of yesterday. I take it, however, that I am in order in referring, on the question of policy, to the speech made yesterday by the Noble Lord the Member for Wednesbury (Viscount Ednam), in which, dealing with the question of iron and steel, he referred to what he called something like a betrayal of trust on the part of the Government, and instanced the fact that 102,000 men are to-day unemployed in the iron and steel trade. I take it that, like my hon. Friend who has just spoken, we were all elected to this House on the manifesto of the Prime Minister. That manifesto was at the same time very clear and very indefinite, but it ruled out no measures that would be considered necessary by the Government to deal with the very serious national situation. I am not aware that up to the present the Government have not acted up to the terms of that manifesto. In my judgment they have made an exceedingly good beginning, and I hope that they will go on in the same spirit and in the same desire for progress.
Observations are made from time to time in this House about the Government with which I at least have not the slightest sympathy. In the speech of the Noble Lord the Member for Wednesbury, and also in the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft), it was more than hinted that the Government at the present time are being prevented from taking proper fiscal action by the fact that they do not wish to embarrass their Liberal colleagues in the Cabinet. I see no proof of that. Certainly, the initial Measure which they have placed before this House, relating to abnormal imports, would not bear that interpretation. I would remind those who make accusations of that kind that a good many of us who have been Free Traders have come to the conclusion, rightly or wrongly, that a change in the fiscal system of this country is not only essential, but inevitable. I have been a Free Trader, not because there was any moral principle involved in Free Trade, but because Free Trade, on balance, paid this country. But I realise that new world conditions must affect old political standards, and I have no use for the policy of looking on at an adverse trade balance, rising unemployment figures, and increased misery and want in the country, without making any comment except to say that I am a Free Trader. The time for that policy has long passed, and I welcome an examination of our fiscal position in the interests of the whole country.
While that is the case, however, I deprecate very strongly any hasty or ill-considered action in regard either to iron and steel or any other commodities. I can conceive that a hasty remedy might be worse than the disease, and I venture to say to the House that hon. Members who believe that a policy of full-blooded Protection is the remedy for all our economic ills are labouring under a profound delusion. We are suffering with the rest of the world in a time of great depression, and I am quite aware that protected countries have serious financial and economic difficulties, but, while that is so, I should like to urge the most careful examination of our own fiscal position, in order that everything possible may be done in the interests of employment and for the redress of the very serious adverse trade balance. I need not remind the House that, altogether apart from the influence of sales of sterling abroad upon the value of the pound, the value of the pound is very largely decided by the approximation or disparity between our visible imports and exports.
I promised not to detain the House for very long, and I know that some of my hon. Friends are extremely anxious to take part in the Debate, so I will conclude with one word of warning in regard to fiscal policy. As I have said, I approach this subject now with an open mind, and I shall support unhesitatingly any fiscal Measures which this Government may introduce after careful examination of all the issues involved; but let the House not forget, as it does forget sometimes, that our whole economic structure in this country is built upon the basis of Free Trade, and that it has extended over a very long period of years. I suggest that a change is essential, but if hasty and ill-considered action is taken without having regard to all the possibilities and dangers of the situation, a scheme of full-blooded Protection, hastily imposed, would be something like throwing a spanner into the heart of a delicate and intricate machine. I feel sure the Government will not do anything of the kind, but, when they are urged to take what my hon. Friend called a quick step—I sympathise with him—I think we ought to keep in mind that Members of the Government are just as deeply interested as any private Member in all these problems, are just as anxious for a solution and are not in the least desirous to evade any issue or to put on one side any possible remedy that is going to help the situation generally. I would urge the Prime Minister and his advisers to take no mega action, but to look at all these questions from a national point of view, upon the basis of which this Parliament was returned, direct their attention to placing the country as soon as possible upon a sound financial basis, and to recollect that one of the first elements towards that desired end is the redressing of this adverse balance of trade. With these ends in view, I advise them to go forward unafraid, satisfied that they have the full confidence of the country, on the one band undeterred by any fear of doctrinaire Free Traders and, on the other hand, undismayed by the somewhat menacing demands of full-blooded Protectionists.
There are few things more unpleasant than to listen to a Scottish Liberal talking Protection. If there is one thing that is worse, it is muddled economics coming from Scotland, and the consolation of the House must be that we have not had any light or leading in any direction from Scotland. I, therefore, propose to deal with currency instead of replying to the hon. Member. The balance of trade is the vital thing. What is the best way of correcting the balance of trade? A fall in the value of the pound. What is the worst way of putting things right? Trying to support the value of the pound in order to prevent trade naturally balancing itself. There could be no greater disaster to the trade of the country than a rise in the value of the pound. It is about time that was said, for so many speeches, particularly from the Front Government Bench, are directed towards showing that their policy will improve the value of the pound. If their policy did improve the value of the pound, the export trades would lose their chance of exporting, and thereby balancing the imports that come into the country. If we are all really anxious before anything else that trade should balance, for goodness sake do not let us try to stop it balancing automatically by a fall in the value of the pound, which would stimulate exports and stop imports. I do not like imports being stopped, but you cannot help it. I am not a Protectionist, but I say here is a natural law in operation. We have been buying too much. We have been running into debt. We cannot go on buying, and the fall in the value of the pound automatically checks our buying and increases our sales.
That is unpleasant, I know, to some people. Those who listened to the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer will realise that we have a Government that is desperately anxious to keep the pound up, and is wisely determined not to stabilise too soon. Apparently, we are to wait for stabilisation till reparations have been settled, and an international conference has been held. That is all right. I am not anxious to stabilise. But I warn the House that an international conference is not perhaps the best way in the national interest of settling the value to which the pound shall rise, because all those countries which have gold will naturally desire stabilisation to be at a high price, whereby they will get full value for what they send us, whereas our interest is that we shall have the pound naturally stabilised by a balance of trade, restoring our exports and checking our imports. In any international conference in which we take part we shall be bound to have the two great gold-owning countries trying to drive the pound up. Everyone has seen during the last few months how anxious the French are to revive sterling to its pristine value. Not even the Member for the City of London is so anxious to see the pound sterling at 20s. again as is the French Ministry. If you go into a conference with these people, with their representatives anxious to put the pound high, we shall be carrying the baby again, as we have been doing for 12 years. That is my first point, that it would be disastrous to our trade if the pound should rise before trade is balanced.
We have tried common honesty for 11 years, and we are so anxious to be commonly honest that we have 3,000,000 unemployed. We have been so anxious to be commonly honest that we have destroyed our export trade. We have been so anxious to be commonly honest that everything has been sacrificed to the City of London and the Gold Standard, and, now that we have come off it, there are people who are not jolly thankful that we have given up that struggle for common honesty. I am not one of them. It is a good, sound moral argument, and it is a branch of morality to which people who have lent money always appeal.
Apart from that argument, every argument in favour of getting on with the job again, starting our trade, and starting our prosperity once more, depends upon wiping off our losses. What are the Government doing? Why am I less anxious to support the Government than I otherwise should be in this matter? Simply because I see the Government doing everything they can to keep the value of the pound up, to interfere with the natural law of supply and demand, and to interfere with the balance of our trade. In the first place, you have the restriction on forward exchange. That is intended to prevent speculators driving down the value of the pound, or indeed driving it up. But during the collapse of the currency in France and Germany we saw, in exactly the same way, that every fall was attributed to speculators and every rise attributed to speculators. To my mind, frequent dealings in forward exchange, or in present exchange, whether of a speculative nature or not, help to stabilise the pound and enable merchants and manufacturers to make their prices ahead.
The evils of speculation are very much over-estimated. Speculation is a very valuable way of arriving at a just con- clusion as to the value of anything. In particular, we are having the pound fluctuating to-day by enormous amounts compared with the time when we were on the Gold Standard, largely because the transactions are so few. It is only when the exporter has to get foreign currency, or the importer to get sterling, that a transaction takes place. Consequently, the absence of an open market involves very wide limits between buyer and seller, and very rapid fluctuations in the articles traded in. So that the prohibition of forward exchange, intended to prevent speculation in sterling, really injures the trade and industry of the country by making it less difficult to judge ahead what your contracts will produce, and provides a wider margin and, therefore, large profits to the middleman owing to the fewness of the transactions. For both those reasons, every one in the City is anxious to allow dealings in forward exchange, and is exasperated with the Government for not doing it. I should like to know exactly why they are prohibiting these dealings in forward exchange, and whether, if that reason is solely to support the value of sterling, that is not a reason that ought not to be argued by a Government which really desires to secure the balance of trade whatever the value of the pound may be which produces that balance.
In the same way they prohibit dealings in foreign bonds. They prohibit flotation of foreign loans on the London market for the very same reason, that it means sterling going down in price. It means that there would be a certain amount of the floating balances held in this country in sterling transferred abroad in those loans. There, too, to prohibit this is to support the value of the pound. Why do you want to support the value of the pound? Common honesty! If it is not common honesty, if your real desire is to support the value of the pound because you believe it is in the interest of trade, the argument will not work. You are preventing the natural balance of trade. By prohibiting the export of British capital, you are preventing trade balancing automatically. Take by far the most serious prop to the pound—the 6 per cent. Bank Rate. It is costing the Treasury very large sums, owing to the necessity of renewing short term bills. But that is a fleabite to the injury that it is causing to industry. Every merchant has to consider that for the credit that he is giving to the foreign purchaser he has to pay 7 per cent. on his overdraft. We are all working on an overdraft—1 per cent. above Bank Rate. It is always 1 per cent, above Bank Rate. You have other transactions. Whether it be the extension of a factory or the taking on of an order for a shopkeeper in this country or for a shopkeeper abroad, you have to remember that every moment that your money is outstanding there is 7 per cent. upon it. That checks trade enormously. It prevents the development of new factories.
Why do we do it? I know that we shall be told, just as if we were children, that the Bank Rate is fixed by the Bank of England. In the old days the Bank Rate was fixed theoretically and properly by the Bank of England. As our stocks of gold fell, so the Bank Rate had to rise to keep foreign investments, and therefore increase the reserve of gold and bring it back to normal. The Bank Rate in the old days rose and fell with the fall and rise of our gold reserves. But we are off gold, and all that old theory about how the Bank Rate should be regulated by gold goes to the wall. Now it depends absolutely and solely upon the Treasury. I believe that to-day the Bank of England and the Treasury consult together as to what the Bank Rate should be. The Treasury is just as much to blame as Sir Montagu Norman and the Bank of England for the high Bank Rate at the present time. The Bank Rate is kept up artificially simply in order to prevent the short-term loans in sterling which have been lent to this country from depreciating in value, and in order to enable our foreign customers to get back a larger sum in their currency for their sterling deposits in this country.
It has been said quite openly—and I have it on the best authority—that the real fear is that the French, if they have not done so already, and the other foreign countries which still have sterling balances in this country would withdraw their balances if the Bank Rate dropped from 6 per cent. You might almost say that the Bank Rate is not fixed by the Treasury or by the Bank of England, but that it is being fixed by the Bank of France. If the Bank Rate falls, they say, "We will withdraw all our balances." Well, let them. What would happen if they did? Are we going to be governed in the interests of France or the Bank of Rome, or are we going to be governed in the interests of this country? The high Bank Rate is to preserve those balances in this country, and yet if they took the balances out, in the first place, the effect would soon send sterling clown, and they would get less for their money. In fact, when I had a large investment in French loan, I could regard the position with complete confidence. Are we going to prevent this country from taking full advantage of the fall in the currency by keeping a high Bank Rate, not in the interest of the Bank of England or Treasury, but solely in the interest of the Bank of France, which has got those foreign credits?
The Government, in spite of their lip service to securing the balance of trade, are doing everything they can at the present time to prevent trade balancing by keeping up the value of the pound so that our export trades shall not get the full benefit of the fall in the value of the pound, and so that imports may still come into this country. If our Protectionist friends below the Gangway will try to understand what comes about when the pound falls in value, they will talk less about iron and steel, and a little more about gold. You have the State props. You have the prohibition in dealing with forward exchange which prevents speculators operating, and at the same time prevents you from being able to know what your sales will produce and prevents you from getting a close market for sterling. You have the embargo on foreign loans, the embargo on the purchase of other bonds and the embargo on investments abroad, also devised to keep up the price of sterling. Finally, you have this 6 per cent. rate based, not in the least upon the gold in the Bank of England which is no longer of the slightest interest to our currency, but solely upon the desire of maintaining in London those foreign rates, by giving them a higher rate of interest for their money and tempting them to leave it over here. If they took it away from here, the only thing that would happen would be a further fall in the pound, a further benefit to our export trade and the chance of trade balancing.
The Government, having unfortunately been wrong in August last, and having decided in August last that they ought to sacrifice not their last penny but £130,000,000 of our money in trying to support sterling on a gold parity, have not been able, even with the results of the General Election, to clear their minds of the old fallacies. They have not been able to teach the Treasury anything. Until both the Government and the Treasury realise that their first duty is to balance trade, and that trade can best be balanced by the pound finding its automatic level without any State props, the Government, will he hampering the trade of the country and preventing a recovery, and we on these benches shall continue to vote against them with complete satisfaction.
In rising to address the House for the first time, I would ask for that sympathy and indulgence which the House is always willing to give to those who throw themselves upon its mercy, as I do. I would like, if it were possible, to ask even for a greater measure of that indulgence. His maiden speech must always, I think, be a great ordeal to a new Member coming here, and in my case the ordeal is intensified by the fact that by getting up to speak I must inevitably challenge a comparison, which cannot be favourable to me, with one whose name I bear, one who, for many years, took a, leading part in the Debates in this House, and loved this House as much as he was beloved by it. I would say, at the outset, that I support the Government in no spirit of mere formality, and not only from a sense of loyalty to the Government, to support which I was sent to this House, but I support it even with enthusiasm. I believe that in the short time in which they have been in office the Government have done a very great deal in the performance of their immensely difficult task. I know that there are many who support the Government in this House, and, I believe, in the country also, who would like to see a great many things done that have not yet in fact been done, but I think that no Government, not even the National Government, can do everything at one and the same time. The Government have at least made a start, and they have taken the first step. In one of his footnotes, Gibbon, in a very different connection, said:
The distance does not matter; it is the first step that counts.
As far as the Government and this Parliament are concerned, I do not think that the House will altogether support that view. The first step is enormously important, but I think we all realise that the Government have got a very long way to go, and that the distance does count for a great deal, also. I have no doubt that the country as a whole will be seriously disappointed if the first step is not succeeded, in the not too remote future, by other steps. As the Government have shown that they know how to march, when they are marching along this long and difficult road, the country will be disappointed, I think, if they do not drop into an unmistakable double.
I understand that when the Government have completed its survey of the industrial field of the country they will mature their plans for dealing with the trade situation and with the unemployment situation. I most earnestly ask that the Government in their survey should not leave out of account one industry which is of very great importance to this country, both from the point of view of the numbers of people who are employed in it and from the point of view of the national welfare as a whole. I refer to the fishing industry. I think that those who are unconnected with the fishing industry do not fully realise the immensity and complexity of its operations, and what an enormous disaster it would be if this industry, which is already failing, were allowed to fall into a condition of irretrievable decay. I would like to give a few figures to illustrate what I mean. The fishing industry employs. directly 60,000 men, and indirectly something like another 200,000 men and women. In one section of the industry alone—the trawling section—there is invested in ships and in industrial plant ashore something like £14,000,000 worth of capital. The trawling industry alone pays £4,000,000 in wages, and consumes in the form of fuel for its ships something like 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 tons of coal, which, I believe, gives employment to 10,000 miners at full time during a year. In addition, it employs a great number of people in shipbuilding yards, steelworks and transport works and other kinds of industry in this country.
The House will agree that it can give this volume of employment throughout the country only on one condition. It can provide this employment only if the fishing industry as a whole is in an economically sound condition, and if it is not only paying its way but even making a fair profit. That condition is not being fulfilled now. The fishing industry is not, or is barely, making a profit. It is certainly not in a condition to expand. It is in a condition when it is having, through no fault of its own, to restrict its operations, and, as a consequence, to throw out of employment large numbers of its own people and people in those industries which are dependent upon it. The causes of the depression in the fishing industry are numerous, and they are not all easy to tackle. But there is one cause which, I believe, it is in the power of the Government of the country to remedy without doing any injustice to any section of the population. The industry is very vitally affected by the enormous importations of foreign-caught fish which are coming into the country to-day. These importations are nothing new. The industry has always had to face foreign competition, and up to the present it has been able to face it in a manner very satisfactory to itself. But there are one or two new features about this competition which deserve the consideration of the Government.
Owing to the collapse of the markets in various parts of the world, particularly in South America and Spain, the increase in the tariff on fish in France and the unsettled economic condition of parts of Central Europe, a great amount of fish food formerly exported to America and the Continent of Europe is now being sent here. It is being sent here in a form which does the most harm to the fishing industry. It does not come into our great fishing ports or into our great wholesale fish markets. It is being sent direct to the retailers in the inland towns of this country—Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and other places. In other words, it is coming in by the back door, as it were. As a result, and this is an interesting fact, nearly all the branches of the fishing industry have determined that these importations ought, if possible, to be stopped. It is not only the producing side of the industry which is anxious to stop these importations, but the distributing side of the industry, the merchants who deal with the fish, are more and more coming to realise that they cannot themselves be prosperous unless the home producing industry as a whole is also prosperous. More and more both sides of the industry are coming to believe that something must be done to stop these importations of foreign caught fish.
It is often said as regards the fishing industry, as well as in regard to other industries, that any trouble of markets and uneconomic prices ought to be met not by a system of tariffs but by some regulation of supply and by some reorganisation of marketing. You cannot regulate your supply and reorganise your markets if you have no sort of control over your markets, and when any arrangement to which you may come is liable to be upset, without any notice whatever, by some enormous and unexpected foreign importation. An example came to my notice a short time ago in the fishing port of which I have the honour to share the representation in this House. Owing to a glut of fish one fishing vessel owner diverted one of his ships from fishing in the Arctic regions, where the supply was particularly heavy, to the herring fishery. He had to spend a certain amount of money in re-equipping the vessel for fishing for herrings. The vessel went out and it was away for a week, and when it came back it was discovered that there had already berthed in the harbour that morning four French fishing boats. The French fishing boats had already got rid of their cargoes, and only one basket of British-caught fish was sold that day. You cannot send a steamship to sea for a week on the proceeds of one basket of fish. That experiment in herring fishery had to be abandoned. It is an interesting fact in this connection that these French boats were the first French boats which had been seen in Hull for a considerable time. That shows how impossible it is for the producer, however carefully he makes his plans, to control his own market and to regulate his own supply.
Another interesting fact is that, in the same week or at any rate within a very few weeks of the incident which I have described, the French Government raised their tax against British-caught fish by nearly 100 per cent. That tax had nothing whatever to do with any question of depreciated currency. It was purely a protective measure to protect their own fishermen. I do not think that the fishing industry has anything to hope for from reorganisation of markets or regulation of supply, unless it is, first of all, given some form of protection by the Government of this country. I should like to urge the claims of the fishing industry upon the Government. I know that the Government are considering what can be done in the matter, and I should like to urge very strongly one or two reasons which I think deserve some attention in regard to the claim of the fishing industry. If Protection were given to the fishing industry not only the fishing vessel owners would benefit but the fishermen also, because the fishing industry is organised very largely on a share basis. Every fisherman has a share in his catch, so that in proportion to the profits to the shareholders in the shipping companies, there will automatically be an increase in the wages of those who are dependent upon the industry and who go to sea for their livelihood. I do not see how a tax sufficient to restrict imports of fish and to bring the industry on to a paying basis once again can possibly affect the price of fish to the consumer. The disproportion between the cost of production and the cost of distribution is so enormous that a tax of one farthing or one halfpenny a pound, which is all that would be necessary, could not conceivably make any difference to the cost of the fish when it is sold in the shops.
I have given some economic reasons for supporting the industry at this time, but there is one further consideration which I would most earnestly bring to the attention of the Government and the House. Ever since the War we in this country have pursued a policy of limitation in regard to the Navy. We have, in fact, surrendered our position of supremacy on the seas. That policy which we have been pursuing may have been right and inevitable, or it may have been wrong, but whatever difference of opinion there may be in regard to that, it is a fact that this country remains an island and that in the late War we had to rely, to an extent which few of us realise, upon the fishing fleets of this country to keep the channels clear and to ensure that food came into the country. We may, as we did, improvise an Army in a very short space of time. We improvised a magnificent Army during the War, but, unfortunately, you cannot improvise seamen in the same way, and if we allow this industry to fall into decay we shall lose as a nation certain qualities of fortitude, steadfastness and even heroism which we cannot easily replace or breed again. For these reasons, I would urge most earnestly upon the Government the claims of the fishing industry, because that industry can contribute a great deal to the solution of our industrial and our unemployment problem generally.
I should like sincerely to congratulate the hon. Member who has just spoken. His father was a very dear friend of mine. He will be received in this House for his father's sake, and I hope also for his own sake, with the very best of encouragement from all hon. Members. The Motion which we are discussing is amusing. It certainly shows a lack of a sense of humour on the part of the Opposition, because they complain that the present Government have done little or nothing during the four weeks that they have been in office. Hon. Members opposite do not seem to realise that we had a General Election on the 27th October, and that the country gave a very decided opinion with regard to the last Government. Before the election the present Opposition occupied this side of the House and we sat on that side. If hon. Members opposite will compare the composition of the House to-day with what it was before the election, they will realise the ridiculous character of their Resolution. I rose more particularly to speak on the very serious question of the protection of our industries. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) gave a lucid description, yesterday, of the position in regard to the iron and steel industry.
One cannot help regretting the attitude of the President of the Board of Trade. He does not seem to realise that in this country we are, or we were, the principal producers of every kind of iron and steel. We have our own ironstone, and before our competitors went in for very high Protection and took the business from us we were the principal producers and the principal suppliers of iron and steel to the rest of the world. It is all very well for the President of the Board of Trade to come to the House and pretend that he cannot come along too quickly because of the different products that are made from iron and steel. He tells us that he cannot put a general tariff on iron and steel because there are so many different trades connected with iron and steel which are very important and that it is impossible to put on a protective duty without injuring these different industries. That is not the view taken by the large majority of the people of this country, who want protection for the iron and steel industry. I agree that these different trades are very necessary, but the fact remains that we used to produce these goods ourselves, and that our competitors forced us to abandon the manufacture of these different articles when they became protective countries and commenced to undersell us.
The right hon. Gentleman referred, among other things, to the question of tin plates. I agree that they are absolutely necessary, but we can produce them and, indeed, we used to produce them. We want protection for our manufactures so that we may produce them again and supply our own markets. If our markets were protected we should be able to recapture our export trade in all these articles, and at the same time help the financial position of the country by being able to stop the importation of these various grades of manufactured goods. The President of the Board of Trade does not realise the enormous importance to the steel industry of safeguarding our own markets and then recapturing those industries which used to belong to us. I cannot conceive that the Government or the President of the Board of Trade will be satisfied to sit down and say: "Well, it is perfectly true that we have lost these different branches of the industry by competition but we are satisfied to leave them alone and let our competitors retain these industries."
The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned steel ship plates. If there is anything about which he ought to know something it is ship plates. He has had a great deal to do with shipbuilding. Everybody knows that at the present time British plates are being used. It is also well known that in the cost of a steamer the difference, even if you put a duty on ship plates, is so small that it would not make any material difference to the cost of the ship. The President of the Board of Trade knows that if you have a steamer of 10,000 tons deadweight capacity, carrying 10,000 tons of cargo, the total amount of steel is only about 2,500 tons. If you put the cost of that at about £16,000, at the outside £20,000, and realise that the ship costs £80,000 it will be realised that a duty would have a very small effect on the cost of the ship. As a matter of fact, labour is the principal cost, the material is nothing, and in the £20,000 of material the bulk of the cost is labour again. I want to point out another disadvantage in allowing our markets to be free whilst we have to compete with foreign countries.
Some time ago a railway was to be constructed in Japan and my firm had the contract for buying all the materials. We stipulated that the material should all be British, but when it came to buying the steel rails the result was disastrous. When we tried to buy them in this country we found that we could not do so except at an advance of 30s. per ton to America and Germany. On making inquiries we found that there was a pool, arranged by different steelworks, under which British manufacturers were allowed 8,000,000 tons—and they had sold their allotment—Germany was allowed 15,000,000 tons and America 28,000,000 tons. The British firms were only allowed to accept that offer on the condition that they paid 30s. per ton to Germany and America. This was brought about entirely by the combine saying to the British firms that if they dared to sell more than their allotment they would swamp our market with steel rails, and owing to the fact that our market was open to this attack we were obliged to take the minimum quantity of capacity to prevent the Americans and Germans swamping our market.
I hold that if any other country is entitled to the use of our market we are entitled to claim toll by way of duties to protect our own industries. By importing steel into this country we throw our miners out of work. For every ton of steel imported we are losing the production of three tons of coal and, there- fore, if we import 3,000,000 tons of steel we are putting out of work the production of 9,000,000 tons of coal. I ask the Labour party whether they are satisfied to allow that to continue. We do not want to take any drastic measures, but I would impress upon the Government the necessity for the protection of iron and steel for two reasons. First of all for the benefit of our own workpeople. We should be able to find employment for them. In the two industries of steel and coal we could find employment for over 100,000 men. That would relieve our financial position considerably, which would again find employment about which the Motion speaks. We should be able, in addition, to receive money and save money by not importing commodities for which we have to pay in gold.
The great industry of agriculture has also been mentioned. We must realise the serious position of this great industry, the greatest in the world. When this country became industrialised it somewhat neglected agriculture, because we were able to give full employment to most of our population. Agriculture was allowed to decline, virtually to die out. To-day the position is entirely different. We import something like 26,000,000 quarters of wheat alone, besides barley and oats and other cereals. I am not going to weary the House by quoting all the different products, but I think it is the duty of the Government not to wait until February next or perhaps later, but immediately to take steps to assist the industry very materially, even if they cannot give it protection. They can at least make farming a paying proposition instead of a losing proposition, as it is to-day. And what is more important, they could pass a Bill immediately which would bring in to the Exchequer, which is nearly bankrupt, right away £1,000,000 a month, or perhaps more.
It is all very well to say that they are examining the position. Everybody knows the position. They will never satisfy everybody; and it is only a fool who would try. They will never satisfy the agriculturist and the miller. What they have to do is to make up what they call their mind as to the attitude they are going to take. It is no use asking a farmer what he wants because every farmer you ask will say something different. It is no use going to the miller and asking him what he wants, because the millers are men who have put up mills—I suppose the great co-operative societies are the largest millers in the country—at the port where they land their grain, and the consequence is that they absolutely refuse to do anything to assist the farmer under the quota system. The Government will have to decide the question for themselves, bearing in mind that time is going on and that every day means more money out of their pockets. They are losing what they could get by a duty on the importation of wheat. We cannot necessarily produce a sufficient quantity. We shall always have to import it. If other countries want to take advantage of our market, make them pay for it. Wherever we go, whether it is to our Colonies or to other countries abroad, we have to pay our footing and pay duties on what we sell in those countries. The plan that could best be carried through here, if the Government would make up their minds, would be a duty of 4s. per quarter on foreign wheat. Foreign wheat at the present time is at the lowest price on record, at about 26s. a quarter. There should be a 4s. duty on foreign wheat and a 2s. duty on Colonial imports. We produce in this country about 5,000,000 quarters. At the present time the farmer is losing money, and therefore he must be guaranteed a price of at least from 40s. to 45s. a quarter on home-grown wheat, and it must be made compulsory that the miller should use about 15 per cent. of home-grown wheat. That would work out at 33s. per quarter as an average over the home-grown and imported wheat. If you compare it with the price of wheat even in 1929, when it was 67s., it will be realised by anybody who goes into the calculations that it would have very little or no effect on the cost of living. In the milling, you could use the offal for feeding cattle and pigs. You could also have a duty on bacon. In fact, you could find employment for 200,000 or 300,000 people, taking them off the dole and making them happy and contended by putting them on the land. I think the Government, if they can only make up what they are pleased to call their mind, would be able to relieve the country from a great deal of unemployment and also turn farming into a commercial proposition which would enable the country to get along.
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down started off by castigating us for putting this Motion of Censure on the Paper, and ended by being very violent and rude to his own Government. I do not propose to imitate his belligerency, because I want to address an argument to the House rather removed from that of the hon. Member. This Debate, and other Debates in this House, have revealed that there are two grounds of agreement among Members generally. The first ground is that we all take the situation of trade in this country, and of the commerce of the world, very seriously indeed. There has been no attempt on the part of Members on these benches to under-estimate the gravity of the crisis. There was no attempt on our part to under-estimate it at the election, and we are certainly not doing so to-day. We hold the view that industry in this country and the world is passing through the greatest crisis for the last 150 years. We are pessimistic enough to fail to perceive any signs of radical improvement.
It would be foolish for hon. Members to say, as some have said, that the crisis is due to 2½ years of Socialist Government. That is too frivolous, because it ignores the fact that in countries which have not enjoyed the advantages of a Socialist Government the crisis is even worse. In France, Germany, and America serious concern exists among all classes of the community as to the future of trade and commerce, so it is beside the point to say that some of our difficulties are the consequences of the existence of the Socialist Government. If that were so, the defeat of that Government and the mere coming into existence of a National Government would have resuscitated British industry, and it would be showing signs of immediate revival, whereas it is lying as prostrate as ever.
The second point of agreement is more important. I think it should lie stressed, because this Parliament is going to be historic. We have now a general agreement in the House, and among all sections of opinion, that this crisis cannot be solved by leaving finance and industry to work out their own salvation. Laissez faire is dead. It was killed at the last election. Many Members of the Government, have been its most pedantic de- fenders. I wish merely to point out that it has now been generally agreed that some form of State intervention, of State action, and of State regulation is necessary if private enterprise—and I am using the term simply to compare the whole of our finance and trade—is to be again recuperated, and a further period of industrial expansion enjoyed by these Islands and the industrial countries of the world.
We on these benches welcome that changed outlook. We welcome the fact that the country is now looking for the solution of its industrial troubles to governmental action. That helps to focus and concentrate the essential problem of the day. When people believed a solution would come from individual and privately inspired enterprise, or the courage of a capitalist here and there, the responsibility was so dispersed that it was very difficult for members of the Socialist party to make the country realise that the underlying principle was responsible for the good or ill of capitalism. So we welcome the fact that Conservatives have destroyed laissez faire and are now engaged in burying it. We are delighted for it to be admitted that a State plan or intervention is necessary in a modern world.
From now on, it will not be necessary for us to argue where the responsibility lies. It will be necessary only to argue the merits of one State plan as against another State plan. It will only be necessary for us to discuss whether the steps taken by a Nationalist Government or a Conservative Government to come to the rescue of private enterprise are adequate or not. We shall he able to set off against any plan which is adopted, the plan which the Socialist party have been attempting to put before the country for generations. I think everywhere and in every party there will be rejoicing at this clarifying of the political world. Muddle and blurred perspective is good for no one, and in the past this country's politics have been obfuscated by considerations largely irrelevant in a modern economic world. Therefore, I say we are pleased at what has arisen, and we shall wait with considerable interest and even anxiety for the Government to produce its schemes.
If it is agreed that some form of government intervention is necessary, and if it is agreed that from this House and from the Government we are to produce plans for British industry and commerce and finance, we have to answer one question. It is: "What sort of England do we want our plans to create?" It is no use our saying merely that we are going to have a plan, that we are going to have Safeguarding or Protection, because once action becomes deliberative then it is to be judged by the principles to which it devotes itself. The Government will have to ask themselves what sort of England they want to produce. What industries do we want to encourage, and what do we want to discourage, because we cannot have them all. One would judge by the clamour of Protectionists in the House that we want all of them, but it must be admitted on cold examination that there are certain industries that we shall have to relinquish, and others that we shall have to foster. We have to make up our minds, if we are to have any ordered plan, as to what plan should subsist between one industry and another. I consider that the answer to that question is the major difficulty with which the Government are confronted. Are we to declare as a part of governmental design that we are to retain for ourselves the right to produce certain goods and services, and then say that definitely, as part of Government policy, we are to allow other goods and services of a different kind to be produced by our customers.
Even if the tariffists have conspired together and made their Eldorado in this country, we still have to have customers. That point of view has not been represented very forcibly in this House yet, but I think it will be agreed that if we are to obtain raw materials and primary products from the rest of the world, we shall have to sell to the rest of the world. In other words, we shall not be able, by any tariff method, to have any economic self-sufficiency in. these islands, and there will still have to subsist between ourselves and the rest of the world the economic relationship necessary for the welfare of both. Therefore, we have to consider what sort of economic relationship we want to have with the rest of the world. We have to consider what products we intend to send overseas, and what products we are prepared to let foreigners or the Empire send to us. It is not the function of a fiscal policy in this country to aim at keeping the greatest diversity of industry within our borders. Its aim should be to consolidate and to regularise the division of labour between ourselves and the rest of the world, to try to introduce into our economic relations with the rest of the world as much security and certainty as possible, and not to wage a fiscal war upon the rest of the world. These questions have to be answered if the proposals of the Government are to be justified.
There is another question. If we are deliberately going to decide what industries are to be allowed to flourish in this country, ought not the Government, the State, to have some say as to the location of those industries? I can imagine no higher price that a country can pay for economic change than the drift of industry in Great Britain from the industrial west and north to the south. There is absolutely no economic justification for many of the finishing trades growing up in the south-east of England. They are increasing the difficulties of London enormously and they are adding terrifically to the social overhead costs of industry in this country. In the Midlands, in the Black Country and in South Wales, industries which are the foundation of the economic life of the country are being drawn to new localities, and we shah have to shift the whole population. Problems of bankruptcy, of local government, of housing, of roads and sewerage and schools, in fact every social problem faces us as a consequence of this new industrial revolution. The country has hardly yet succeeded in surviving the consequences of the old industrial revolution. The terrific industrial migration which is taking place is having a profound effect not only on the face of the country but on the psychology of our people.
Industrial migration is not of itself a good thing, even if men should be attracted from one job to a comparatively better one. I sympathise ardently with the plea of those who represent rural communities, that their life should not be denuded and that the country should not be destroyed, but that regard should be had to rural amenities. For aesthetic reasons it is a tragedy that the best parts of rural England should be destroyed when there are old industrial communities with all the social equipment ready to do the work that has to be done. If we are to have anything like concessions granted to private enterprise, if private enterprise is to be made more profitable, certain terms should be exacted from it. If people are to be encouraged to build factories behind our tariff barrier, the State should have the power to say where those factories should be situated. It would pay the State in many cases to give the sites rather than have the anarchy and chaos which exist at the present time. It is of no use hon. Members thinking that all we have to do is to put a tariff and "everything else will be added unto you."
Take the case of a tariff on iron and steel. The effect in South Wales will be to accelerate the drift that has already taken place. Such is the financial condition of the old iron and steel works that they will be unable to benefit by any higher price level; it will not be possible for the steel works to begin a new life in the places where they have been situated for 100 years unless, from the State end, it is possible to dictate terms and lay down conditions as to how and where the steel is to be produced. It is suggested that because the iron ore comes to South Wales from Portugal the cost of transporting the ore from the coast to the site of the old steelworks is a cost that modern industry ought not to bear. But modern industry has to bear, in the shape of taxation, the cost of shifting the whole community 20 miles to the coast itself. On balance I think it would pay the community to subsidise the transport of raw material and so to keep the steel works in their old localities.
I am not so optimistic or credulous as to think that we are going to have from this Government any inspired movement. I see no evidence of that at all. Look at the people from whom we are to have any plan—all the failures of the last 10 years, including the ones that we gave the Government; second-rate Tories and Liberals, led by a second-hand Socialist. That is the Government. No one has more sympathy with the young Tory or the young Liberal, brought up in circumstances different from mine, who wants to see in this country and in this Government some inherent purpose, some political symmetry. No one feels greater sympathy than I do with some of the young Conservatives who have come into this House inspired by Imperial idealism, inspired by a desire to see the Government tackle these problems upon modern lines; no one feels more sympathy with them than I do, when I see synicism taking the place of hope. The right hon. Gentleman who is now head of the Government is in my experience a past master in the art of using the appropriate gesture. He is never at a loss. Even when he was leader of this party he always knew what to do, or at any rate how to give the right symbol. He would always say the right word and apparently do the right thing. When everybody in the country asked, "What is wrong that there is no proper governmental machine for dealing with unemployment"; when it was said that the Departments were not co-ordinated to deal with the problem, that they had no central purpose, and no drive—then along came the right hon. Gentleman and said: "I will provide the required machine." He said: "I will give the Lord Privy Seal and two other Ministers the duty of providing the correct strategy for dealing with the situation." And everybody sat back and said, "At last a man has been found." We are still sitting back. [Interruption.] An hon. Member behind me remarks that we shall be sitting even further back than we are sitting now. It may be so, but we shall not be as far back as the hon. Member will be after this Government. He will get so far back that he will fall off. Then we had a period of calm and everybody in the country said that what was wrong was that the Government had not the assistance of the best intelligence in the country. So the right hon. Gentleman appointed the Economic Advisory Council. As was pointed out by a distinguished Member of the present Government that council included almost every economist. It was a debating chamber in which the right hon. Gentleman brought together the people who had the greatest number of points of disagreement with each other. They could agree upon nothing. The right hon. Gentleman knew that they could agree upon nothing, and he appointed them in order that he might be able to point to their disagreement as a reason for doing nothing.
That is precisely how the National Government has been formed. The Prime Minister knows what the country wants, and he gives it the right gesture, but never gives it the reality. He gives the shadow, but never the substance. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman behind me wants to make a speech, I shall listen to him with great pleasure, but he is not entitled to make a series of speeches by way of interruption. I am not putting this statement forward merely as Parliamentary satire. I am stating seriously the psychology which dominates the National Government. The Conservative Members in this House think that they are going to have a developing tariff and a well-thought out Safeguarding scheme. But the Prime Minister who is a past master in these arts puts a pedantic Free Trader into the Presidency of the Board of Trade and appoints a rabid Safeguarder as Chancellor of the Exchequer, in order that in the ensuing tug of war they may cancel each other out and also in order that he can get the maximum delay. Last night the President of the Board of Trade asked the House to be patient with him and to sympathise with him, because he, as a Free Trader, had sacrificed himself. "Look at my poor wounds," be said. "Look at what I have suffered already and do not press me too much." Everybody agreed that the right hon. Gentleman had sacrificed a good many of his principles and many hon. Members said: "Do not let us ask him, too early, to immolate himself completely."
That is the situation in the National Government. The Prime Minister will preside over its deliberations, but, because of its constitution, there can never emerge from it any plan to solve the economic problems of the country. Nor indeed will any plan come from this Government which will satisfy the demands of the Tories in this House. They had better make an end of it as quickly as possible, because the Prime Minister's plan is to make tariffs as unpalatable to the country as possible. His intention is to make the Free Traders as vocal as possible and then use them against the Safeguarders in this House. If that is not his intention, then he is a sincere convert to Safeguarding. If so, he lays himself open to the charge of duplicity, because he assured the House of Commons that he was as good a Free Trader as ever he was and that all he was doing at present was attempting to get Great Britain over the worst of this crisis. That is the psychology of the Prime Minister—
The psychology of the Prime Minister and his Government and the attitude of mind of the Government—these are matters of paramount importance in considering this issue. If you have a certain purpose in view, you seek for the right instruments to carry out that purpose, and the National Government, if it is to justify itself, must declare its purpose and its plan. It is stronger than any party Government could be. It is strong enough to set aside any vested interests which may stand in the way of the execution of its plans. Unless it is prepared to do so, then it is merely a miserable compromise between conflicting interests, and it will be unable to produce anything at all. Has there been any indication of the production of a Government plan? Is it not obvious that the Prime Minister is merely fobbing off the House of Commons with one tit-bit after another in the hope that time will come to his rescue? I would prefer to see in power a strong party Government with a party programme, clearly thought-out and boldly executed, than this stalemate, this miserable conspiracy which to-day is called a National Government.
I, therefore, make this appeal to the House. Let us face our problems in a spirit of realism. The Debates of the last few weeks have been miserable spectacles. We have not seen the British House of Commons deliberating the well-considered plans of a Government. We have merely seen the anarchy, the cutthroat competition which is going on in industry transferred to the House of Commons. We have seen a miserable, squalid, scramble by the bandits of industry to get a proper share of the swag. At Question Time one hon. Member after another is asking "Where is my share of the booty?" The House of Commons has lost dignity and self-respect during the course of the last few weeks. It has been said that the House of Commons has degenerated in the course of the last few years, but has any deliberative assembly ever degenerated to the miserable level of this House in the last few weeks? State policy cannot be discussed because the National Government has not spoken with a clear voice and has not said: "This or that particular interest cannot be safeguarded, because it is not in keeping with our plans of economy for Great Britain that it should be safeguarded." They dare not say that to any particular industry. They dare not say to the iron and steel trade: "You shall prosper, or you shall be killed." They dare not say to the coal trade that it should have its interests safeguarded as against those of some miserable little industry which is demanding Protection against France or Belgium. It dare not say so because it is not an instrument for over-riding vested interests. It is but a compromise between the vested interests themselves.
Do not let us "kid" ourselves into believing that anything is going to come from this National Government. Let us make an end of it as soon as possible. It may drag along its miserable carcase for a few more months. It may still seek to persuade the country that we have a real National Government, but in fact it is only cumbering the ground and preventing this House from grappling with the problems which face the country. We in this party are anxious, if any plans can be produced, if any solutions of our difficulties are forthcoming, to see those plans and those solutions as early as possible, but they are not be be expected from this Government. The Government is not a collection of Heaven-inspired statesmen. They have come together, not for the purpose of rescuing this country from the evils which afflict it but because they themselves are the authors of our troubles and they desire to conceal their own responsibility. For a time they concealed their deformities behind the ample folds of the Union Jack and a glittering facade of generalities such as the Prime Minister is a master at constructing. But the time is soon coming when the country will see this Government for what it is—a collection of political gangsters, using the sacred emblems of patriotism in furtherance of the "racket" of protecting profits.
The House is indebted to the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) for his speech. He has delivered one of the very few speeches which make us realise that we are debating a Motion of Censure. In the first part of his speech there was much with which the whole House would agree, when he invited us to consider national plans. In the latter part the hon. Member—I will not say descended but I will say ascended—the path which leads to the pure Motion of Censure style and castigated the Government to the best of his ability. His speech was strangely reminiscent to one who recollected the Mosley Memorandum. Then, the hon. Member castigated the previous Government and used just the same arguments against them and against the leaders of that day.
Surely this Motion of Censure has produced one of the most remarkable Censure Debates that any of us have ever heard. In the main, it has been purely a tariff reform discussion, and those who have been most hostile to the Government are those on whose support in the Division Lobby the Government can most certainly rely. On the other hand, the opponents of tariff reform on the Opposition benches are those who are going to vote for the Motion of Censure. The Prime Minister pointed out that the Motion itself had suffered a curious change in the course of the days which preceded the Debate. It was first in one form and then in another. Curiously, the Amendment which we put down has not suffered at all from the change in the original Motion. It remains, I think, an expression of the sober wishes of the House as a whole. I believe that the House wishes to congratulate rather than condemn the Government, and, although I do not propose to move our Amendment, because the Opposition are entitled to a straight vote on their own Motion, I regret that we cannot move it in the form in which we have put it on the Paper, because I believe that those words express the prevailing view of the House. I speak for all those who have, quite unregretfully, followed the Prime Minister in the course which he has taken when I say that we congratulate the Government on rapid action.
The main opposition to the Government in this Debate, so far as there has been opposition, has been a denial of rapid action or at least of effective action. From hon. Members opposite I do not think any objection can lie against the present Government on the ground that its action has not been sufficiently rapid. I say, confidently, that the present Government have taken a larger number of effective steps in four weeks than their predecessors took in four months. Therefore, I think they are not entitled to accuse the Government of sloth. When we come to the quality of the action, that is a different matter, and they are entitled to say that the action has not been effective, has not indeed been expressed in any very clear and decisive manner. But that I deny. I believe, in fact, that the action of the Government has been singularly lucid, and that it has been understood by the great bulk of the country outside, and above all by the world at large.
In the course of the last few weeks this country has said to the world something very remarkable and very original. We have told them that we have watched year after year, and suffered from, the lunacy of an excessive economic nationalism. That has been going on year after year, and we have told them: "If you continue your growing rigidity of economic nationalism, you will drive us not merely to minor forms of self-help, but to an ever-growing rigidity of Imperial economy." We continue to invite the world to co-operate in expanding the arena of mutual trade, but if the world shows, as it has shown in the past few years, a determination to continue in the paths of excessive economic nationalism, I think we have made it clear to the whole world that we will protect our own markets.
If I have clearly represented what the Government have told the, world in these last four weeks, surely that is a message of the most profound importance. After all, we have been on Free Trade for some 80 years and more, and in four weeks we have told the world that we are going off Free Trade, that we desire to do so with the maximum amount of help- fulness to the world at large, and with the minimum injury that our forsaking of Free Trade must cause to all the world, and to some industries of our own—that we want the maximum amount of benefit, but that we are going to do this thing. If we have effectively given that message, then I say that to accuse the Government of lack of action is a complete misunderstanding of the position.
When I listened to the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), whose speech was as forceful and interesting as all his speeches are, I thought he was suffering from a certain deficiency in the normal robustness of his faith. I pictured him rather as Joshua gazing upon the walls of Jericho with pained surprise because they had fallen at the end of the first time round. That is an unreasonable thing to expect. Let him wait until the Government have had proper time to make these very elaborate and difficult plans, and I have no reason to think that he will be disappointed when he sees the results. If that is so, I assert that the change which has taken place is of a magnitude such as no previous Government has achieved in its first four weeks.
The Amendment that we have put down asserts exactly what the previous speaker asserted in the earlier parts of his speech, namely, the need for national planning. We who support the National Government, and who will do all in our power to prevent it slipping into a party Government, want national planning, and we desire the Government to undertake it. So far from agreeing with the Vote of Censure, we want not less national government but more, and I want it to function long after it has solved the more immediate difficulties of the crisis with which we are faced. Is there not a very large field of national planning that a National Government can tackle better than any party Government could? Surely we shall all agree that that is so, and let me remind the Government that they have resources in this House such as no previous Government of our time has had. They have two very particular sources of strength. They have at their disposal not only a number of ex-Ministers of long Parliamentary experience, but also a rich endowment of vigorous youth.
I listened this afternoon with delight to a speech by one hon. Member, who, I am afraid, has gone out, the hon. Member for South West Hull (Mr. Law). It was a singular pleasure to listen to that speech, because he showed all that easy facility of lucid argument that I remember for so many years from his father on the Front Opposition Bench, and I recognise in him an acquisition, not only to his party, but to the House as a whole. The Government are singularly rich in youth, very individual and of great political interest, which will doubtless bring vigour to our Debates; and I ask the Government to make reasonable use of the material at their disposal. Every Government knows that one of its great dangers is the underemployed private Member. Even an ordinary Government, with an ordinarily sized majority, has that difficulty to face, as the last Government will remember, but, of course, that difficulty is exaggerated where the great mass of the House belongs to one party supporting the Government. The Government must recollect that in finding work for semi-idle hands to do, it is up against an old and formidable competitor, and frankly I want the Government to get in first. Let me indicate the kind of work that might be done. Of course, the Cabinet cannot do this kind of wider planning, because it will be up to the eyes in day-to-day work for a long period, and probably for its whole life. No Cabinet has the leisure to think out large political plans at any time. We shall all of us have our own particular schemes of planning that we should like to suggest, but, merely by way of illustration, let me suggest a piece of constitutional planning that could be done very usefully by the party on behalf of the Government.
We all know in this House that we have been growingly incapable of performing the necessary functions of a Parliament, that we have been more and more clogged with legislation of a highly detailed and intimate kind, and that we have been less and less able to complete the arrears of work that have grown up. Curiously enough, the way of a solution has been put before us by an institution that one would least expect to blaze the trail, and that is the Church of England. Those of you who are accustomed to the ways of Church Measures will know the process. I am not going to develop this, because it would not be strictly relevant to the Motion, but by way of illustration I think I can show the kind of planning which would be very valuable. Church Measures are Measures originating in a specialist Assembly, that come before a Committee of both Houses, the Committee becoming very rapidly, by the nature of its work, a specialist committee. That Committee, of which I have had experience, examines a Measure, discusses it, debates it with representatives of the Assembly, suggests changes, refers it back perhaps, and generally shapes that Measure into a form in which it thinks the House will accept it. It then comes to the House for acceptance or rejection.
That, I say, is the sort of procedure that I should wish adopted, not possibly in its entirely, but as a precedent and a device that can be developed. I believe it is a solution of the real constitutional difficulties of this country. You can think of it in the ease of agriculture. You can think of a, specialist agricultural assembly, with a specialist agricultural committee, producing legislation with which the House can agree or disagree. You can think of it in the case of transport. Transport, no doubt, will need legislation very soon. The recent Traffic Act will presumably need some Amendment, and we all know that the whole road and rail position is one that needs co-ordination. A traffic assembly, approaching us through an expert traffic committee of both Houses, finally producing something for the House to accept or reject, is a method by which you could get appropriate legislation submitted to this House and properly dealt with.
Then there is a much wider case, in which that device could be far more useful, namely, an industrial Assembly, which would deal with most of the work of the Ministry of Labour, with some of the work of the Home Office, and even of the Board of Trade, and perhaps with some of that of the Ministry of Health. That sort of device, a specialist Assembly, given work by this Hour; or originating work of their own, rationed as to finance by this House, submitting to us their conclusions for acceptance or rejection, would make once more possible that this House should be an efficient legislative machine. It has certainly decreased in efficiency in the course of my own experience of it.
I should like that, not only because of this House, but because of the influence which that kind of change would have on our General Elections. Those who contrast recent General Elections with those of, say, 1910, will realise how complete is the change in the political atmosphere of an election. In 1910 we had big political problems to discuss, important matters in which the electorate were interested. The questions that we got at our meetings in those days were questions of high political policy. We know now that so intimate has the legislation of this House become, in the details of the lives of the people, that large questions of policy never get referred to.
In the course of this first portion of the Session we have had world-shaking Debates in this House, but how many Members referred to either of those questions during the General Election—either to the problem of India or to that of our Imperial organisation? We all know that those things are not things that could be discussed at a modern general election. I do not for a moment deny the importance of the things that were discussed, but in detail those things are not subjects that should be dealt with at a General Election to send Members to this House, and those details would be far better relegated to specialist Assemblies. I have given that as a mere illustration of the kind of national planning work that can be done by a National Government, and that, I think we shall all agree, would not in fact ever be done by a party Government. For purposes of this kind, I hope this Government will not only get over this particular Vote of Censure, but will have a longish life.
Let me conclude by a few words on the practical difficulties with which we are faced. We all know that the greatest difficulty with which any party is confronted is the difficulty of the Conservatives. They have to show rather high qualities of patience and imaginative sympathy with other points of view, and it is not an easy job. Lesser parties have also to show rather different qualities and an avoidance, I think, of that sort of timorous niggling that destroys all good fellowship. That equally has to be avoided. I see no reason why this Government should not carry on with the united support that is based upon a real good fellowship between the groups which support them. It is a question of spirit that matters. We cannot work a Government of this kind on the basis of huckstering and bargaining between its parts. The task of the Conservatives is a hard one. They have not only to maintain the National Government, but they have to keep the Government national, which is a somewhat harder task. If they fail, the country will be profoundly disappointed, but if they succeed the country will realise that it owes them a great debt which it will not forgot.
I hope that the House will extend to me its usual generous indulgence on the occasion of my maiden speech. My excuse for addressing the House for the first time so shortly after the election is that since this Parliament assembled there has not been one speech by any Member on the problem of unemployment in the cotton trade and the means to remedy that unemployment. I hope, therefore, that the House will accept that excuse as a reasonable justification for making my maiden speech. The unemployment in the cotton trade is very acute; many thousands of cotton operatives are out of work, many mills are lying derelict, and many others are working short time with great loss. Only a very few are working anywhere near their full capacity, and even in those cases, owing to the chaotic conditions that exist, and owing to the free imports, they are not working at any profit.
It is my intention to show that such a condition of affairs can be remedied without in any way causing disaster to other industries. I know of only one class of people who will suffer from the policy I am going to suggest, and they are the foreigners who import goods into this country. They are the people whom I want to suffer. We have in this country been far too long concerned about the foreigner. Is it not time that we had regard to the old adage that charity begins at home, and that we devoted all our time and energy to an attempt to improve the standard of life of the cotton operatives in Lancashire? Is it not about time that we thought of allowing some economic return to those people in Lancashire who have invested their all in that industry, who for 10 years have had no return on their investments, and who now see their capital valueless, and in many cases worse than valueless, an ever-increasing liability? I hope that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will forgive me if what I say may, in the fight of subsequent events, prove to be ungrateful. I am the last person in the world to be ungenerous in my thanks to anybody who assists me or the people for whom I am speaking.
I know that my right hon. Friend has had some startling statistics presented to him of abnormal imports relative to the cotton trade. I am certain that his examination of those figures by the application of the cold logic of which he is so abundantly possessed will result in a decision overwhelmingly in favour of the industry. We in Lancashire cannot now afford to wait on chances or "ifs." The majority of Lancashire Members were elected on promises sincerely given that, whereas the Socialist Government failed to implement their pledges of 1929, we under the aegis of a National Government would speedily bring about a different orientation of the fortunes of the cotton trade. I dare not go back to my constituents and say that not only have we done nothing in the House of Commons for the cotton trade, but that there has not been a single voice raised in protest against the procrastination of the Government with regard to the cotton industry.
I regret that the President of the Board of Trade has up to now not thought fit to include in his Orders under the Abnormal Importations (Customs Duties) Act the imports of foreign yarn, cotton piece goods and other manufactures. Ignoring altogether the sustained chronic imports of these goods, which have increased year by year and driven thousands of our cotton operatives on to the Employment Exchanges, the figures of abnormal importations this year should have justified their inclusion in one of the first two Orders. I dislike quoting statistics in a speech, but, in order to prove my point, it is Hobson's choice. In the case of cotton yarns, the imports for August, September and October this year were 596,442 lbs., 876,131 lbs., and 1,246,850 lbs. respectively—more than 100 per cent. increase in October over August, and 50 per cent. increase in October over September. The increase in October over August this year was 650,408 lbs. The corresponding increase in 1930 was 328,641 lbs., and in 1929, 166,654 lbs. The increase this year was 400 per cent. greater than the increase in 1929. Surely that can truthfully be described as abnormal.
My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade justified the inclusion of woollen yarn in No. 2 Order because there had been a 35 per cent. increase in imports in October this year compared with the average monthly import of last year. Last week my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton (Sir J. Haslam) expressed surprise that preference should have been given to the woollen industry over the Lancashire cotton industry. Everybody in Lancashire is also surprised with what I hope was only an inadvertent oversight. In the case of cotton piece goods, the importation in October over August in 1929 amounted to 1,550,573 square yards. In 1931, for the corresponding months, the increase was 3,773,765 square yards—an increase of nearly 150 per cent. on the increase of 1929. Let me point out further that in August this year we imported roughly 6,000,000 square yards of cotton piece goods; in September, 8,750,000 square yards; and in October, 9,750,000 square yards. No further figures with reference to this class of goods are necessary to prove abnormal importation. As regards other cotton imports fully and partly manufactured, the increase in value for October over August in 1929 was £59,539; and in 1930 £112,106. The increase this year for the corresponding months was no less than £158,047.
I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will give full consideration to these abnormal importations, and if he is possessed, as he is, of such a sapient mind, he will recognise the justice of my claim that these goods should be included in his next Order. If he will do that, I can guarantee that it will at one stroke reduce the figure of unemployment in Lancashire by 100,000, taking into consideration the effect on the subsidiary and ancillary trades. Even on the sustained chronic importations of these goods which has taken place since 1924, some change in the fiscal policy is desirable in the interests of the unemployed. The returns for the first ten months of this year of importations of cotton piece goods show that they were 97.8 greater than in 1924. When I go about my native Lancashire and see hundreds of mills lying idle, when I see thousands of my fellow countrymen and women demoralised through too long an association with the dole, when I observe the cost of that to the State and its corresponding burden on other industries, is it any wonder, when I try to bring to bear a business mind on this problem, that I say: "Stop this rot; cease talking about imports paying for exports; and let us have some sane common sense brought to bear on this matter, and put an end to all this dumping of cotton goods into the country."
There is another aspect of the policy to which I desire to call the attention of His Majesty's Government. In my opinion, if they took action along the lines I suggest, it would be a means of greatly increasing production in the Lancashire cotton industry. It is now the settled policy of the Government to set up three committees to go out to India to investigate outstanding problems in connection with the future Constitution of India. I read very carefully the statement of the Prime Minister at the Round Table Conference, and followed very attentively his speech and the speech of the Secretary of State for India in the Debate in this House, without gaining any enlightenment as to the duties of those committees or the terms of reference. After all my labours I failed to find any reference to the question of trade with India. Right away I would ask the Prime Minister what is the chief reason why we want an amicable settlement with India? Is it not because with peace in the Indian Empire we can again enjoy some degree of our former trade with that country, and because the cotton trade represents the major portion of our trade with India?
The decline in the Indian trade has seriously affected employment in Lancashire. Our total exports of cotton goods to India in the first 10 months of 1929 amounted to £37,000,000; in the first 10 months of 1930 the value was £24,500,000; whereas in the first 10 months of this year the amount was only £12,500,000. In view of those figures, and of the fact that the value of our cotton exports for the first 10 months of this year represented nearly one-half of our total exports to India, I suggest in all humility, but with profound sincerity, that it would be a wise policy to set up another committee, the trade committee. It should be composed of keen practical business men, representative of industries in proportion to their importance, and should go out to India to study the trade question and evolve some system which will be to the mutual advantage of this country and India. I am fully aware of the many difficulties which will have to be surmounted, but "Where there's a will there's a way." For many years the business men of Lancashire have had the will, and all they want is the way. If by any chance the Government should look with favour on this suggestion and decide to set up a trade committee, they ought to select the major proportion of its personnel from the Lancashire cotton trade. It would be farcical, in my opinion, if Lancashire were not fully represented. I am convinced that such a committee could make recommendations which, if adopted, would bring a great deal of happiness to Lancashire and a corresponding increase in employment in that unhappy county.
Unless the Government are prepared to adopt some such measures as I have advocated, there is nothing but ruin for the Lancashire cotton trade and starvation for the operatives. I appeal to the Government not to disappoint the people of Lancashire. They were badly let down in 1929 by the Socialist Government. Promises were then made which were alluring and full of vain hopes which never materialised. Pledges were given which radiated with mirages, beautiful visions which never fructified but receded further and further as they were supposed to be drawing nearer. That is the Socialist pathway. I credit them with having had the best of intentions when they set out on that pathway, but like the way to ruin and perdition their policy in regard to the cotton industry was paved only with good intentions.
I have no desire to embarrass the Government, and I shall vote against the Amendment, because just as Rome was not built in a day, so the National Government cannot achieve in so short a space of time all that we desire of them. I shall vote for the Government because I believe they have achieved more in the last five weeks than the Socialist party could have done had they been in power. I realise that the value of the pound in face of the dollar is now only 13s. 6d. I know that the chief cause for that has been abnormal importations into this country, which have increased our adverse trade balance. I know that when the effects of those abnormal importations have worn off there will be a gradual improvement in the value of the pound. But I also know another thing, and that is that the policy of the Socialist Government could never hope to deal with such an unusual situation. For all these reasons, and with the knowledge that this Amendment was conceived in vengeance, born in jealousy, and will meet with a well-merited end, I shall strenuously oppose it. My last words to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and his colleague the Lord President of the Council, are these: Have courage, have faith in the policy you are now persuing. If you do, you will lead us on to the only road, hard though it may be, uphill, and difficult to climb, along which the people of this country will find happiness, and the only road by which our industries will ever achieve any degree of their former prosperity.
I would like in the name of the House to congratulate the hon. Member for North Salford (Mr. J. Morris) on the speech he has just delivered. So far as we are concerned, we welcome his criticism, and on another occasion when he may criticise us again we shall be able to reply to him, but it is not in accordance with the courtesies of the House to reply to any criticisms that may be contained in a maiden speech. I have risen to deal with a matter which has suddenly arisen and affects quite a number of people in this country. It is rather awkward for the Government that such a situation should have arisen, because it was due to the fact that a previous Government had given guarantees of a certain character that this particular undertaking was started. In to-night's Press there appears a report—a report which was known last night—that work on the great Cunarder which is being built in the Clydebank shipyard is to cease at the end of this week. No reason for this is stated in the Press, but the obvious reason that is being circulated is that the company are unable to get their bills discounted because of the high Bank Rate. I wish to put it to the Minister of Health who, I take it, is representing the Government, that at a time when the speakers of this Government are congratulating themselves upon the reduction in the numbers of the unemployed and upon the manner in which industry—according to them—seems to be reviving, it is rather a hard slap in the face to find that work is to be stopped on the greatest creation of the shipbuilding and engineering trades on account of stringency in the money market.
What is the intention of the Government with regard to this particular matter? This question does not affect so much the particular town in which the ship is being built. What is being carried on in regard to the ship affects towns far away from Clydebank, places like Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield. A good deal of the work is being carried on in a number of towns in England as well as in Scotland providing the furnishings, the machinery and other equipment for this giant liner. If the work is going to be closed down in Clydebank, work will have to be closed down in other parts of the country, and that will mean that large numbers of people are going to be unemployed. Once the Government allow it to go out to the world that the work on this particular liner, which was to be the challenger of every nation in the world and every ship-building company, is going to be stopped because of the financial instability of this country, that will make matters very hard for the Government in the future. There is a State guarantee for certain matters in regard to this liner, and I hope that some responsible Minister will give an assurance that they will insist on the continuance of the work, and see that the liner is completed within the period arranged. That will show that they have faith in their own Government and they should insist upon carrying on employment in that great undertaking.
This is my maiden speech, and, in. making it, I hope that shall not be misunderstood if I do not voice the traditional formula "craving the indulgence of the House." Although I have only recently been elected, I have at least been here long enough to realise that the House never hesitates to lend its ear to a speaker who is sincere in his desire to make an honest even though humble contribution to the Debate. I do not apologise for having the temerity to give vocal expression to the demand of my constituents that the Government should at once tackle resolutely and courageously the terrible problem of unemployment. My constituents have every reason by virtue of their great suffering during recent years to make such a demand. My division, which is adjacent to that of the Prime Minister, in addition to including the ancient historic City of Durham is situated right in the very heart of the great Durham coalfield, and the great mass of the electorate of my constituency are members of the mining industry. Until recently this mining community was represented by nominees of the Miners' Federation, but, although the majority of those Labour Members were swept away in the deluge of the last election, I hope it will be possible to demonstrate that the miners of Durham are no less adequately represented at the present time in the House of Commons. It is for that reason that I wish to urge the special claim of those people that the unemployment problem should be immediately grappled with, because, for nearly a decade, the miners in my constituency have been existing in an atmosphere of distress and desolation.
The difficulties which are created by unemployment in mining districts are totally different from those created in similar circumstances in the average industrial town. In a mining district you have a great mass of people living in structures which have been erected in close proximity to the coal pits, and there they remain even when they are unemployed. It will, at once be realised by the House that the whole future and prosperity of those people depend upon whether the pits are working or not, and, if by any chance they cease work, then the whole of that community from the highest to the lowest is plunged into the depths of despair. There is no alternative employment available, and there those people must remain, hoping against hope, waiting for that revival of their industry which has not yet appeared on the horizon, and which to-day seems to be as far off as ever.
There are districts in which poverty and privation are rampant, where tragic misfortune lurks on the threshold of every house, where courage and misery go hand in hand. The miners include some of the finest and noblest people in the whole length and breadth of the land, and they are having that brave spirit which they have displayed in the midst of all the adversity of the last few years gradually and surely crushed out of their very beings. Life for them has simply become a mere monotony of endless tomorrows, their hopes and aspirations receding further and still further as the days, weeks, and months pass by. The iron is beginning to enter their souls, and I plead with the Government to leave no stone unturned, no avenue unexplored in their efforts to deal with this problem. Let me make it perfectly clear that I do not in the slightest degree associate myself with this Motion of Censure. That the Labour Opposition, after the lamentable display of ineptitude given by the Labour Governments in recent years should have tabled this Motion after only one solitary month has elapsed since the Government took office seems to me to be the epitome of political blasphemy and an unmitigated impertinence. However, because the Labour party have so miserably failed the people of this country, for God's sake do not let the National Government fail also. That would, indeed, be the last straw.
I understand, of course, the immensity of the task which confronts the Government—a task which has been aggravated beyond measure by the incompetence of previous administrations. I must confess that recent Debates in this House make me feel somewhat uneasy. Large sections of Members of the House appear to be labouring under the delusion that the result of the last General Election was, in a way, a mandate for Protection. It was nothing of the sort, and I hope that that mistaken idea will not be persisted in. The Government must remain national, not only in name but in reality, and the sooner the idea that it is merely a Protectionist Government is got rid of the better. It should be clearly borne in mind that the only real mandate which was given to this Government was a mandate to deal effectively with the canker of unemployment which has been eating into the very vitals of our national life for so long. I beseech the Government to give their unstinted attention to this paramount problem during the weeks of the Recess, which the members of the Government, free from all the drudgery and the thrust and parry of everyday Parliamentary procedure, should devote to finding some effective and definite measures for dealing with this problem of unemployment.
As to those measures, may I he permitted, in all humility and with the greatest respect, to put forward one or two suggestions? In the first place, it seems to be generally agreed that there cannot possibly be any rosy feature for the mining industry on present lines. Mere perfection of organisation, and the revision of wage agreements and so on, would not appear to deal sufficiently with the position. Year after year the industry is just staggering along under an intolerable economic burden, and I would like to say here that any further lowering of the standard of life of the miners of this country is entirely unthinkable. If anything is to be accomplished, there must be a new departure, and I suggest that low temperature carbonisation of coal and its conversion into fuel oil represents the only real hope for the mining industry of this country.
Question after question has been put in regard to this matter during the past few weeks in this House, and in this connection I am indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) for his persistence in raising this matter. Each time, however, that the question is put we are simply fobbed off by being told that the Government is keeping its eye open, and only the other day we were told from the Front Bench that this important question of the utilisation of coal is a matter primarily for the business and commercial interests concerned. But is it? Why should it be? Why should we leave the perfection of a process, which may well mean the difference between life and death to the great coal-mining industry of this country, to the tender mercies of business and commercial interests, whose activities may be hampered and circumscribed by lack of available capital? I ask the Government in all seriousness to change their attitude in regard to this matter from one that is merely passive to one that is positive. When proposals and ideas are put forward which are so important to the coal-mining industry of this country, why should we simply stand idly by and await developments? I ask the Government to take the initiative forthwith, to take such steps as may be necessary to ensure that whatever potentialities may be inherent in this scheme shall be brought to fruition with the least possible delay. While the mining industry languishes the Government cannot afford to be idle.
There is one other suggestion which I should like to make, if the House will with me for a little longer. It may be a somewhat revolutionary suggestion; it may have its crudenesses and its rough edges; but at any rate I submit that it has possibilities which are entitled to examination. At the moment, one of the greatest handicaps from which this country is suffering is the tremendous economic burden which is placed upon it by the huge cost of maintaining our army of unemployed, and it occurs to me that that cost might be materially reduced if we were able to devise some means whereby the services of a section of the unemployed could be utilised to provide the primary necessities of life for the remaining unemployed. Those primary necessities are, as is well known, food, housing, warmth, boots and clothing. I realise, of course, that there are very great difficulties in the way of producing in this country food for distribution in kind, and I appreciate that perhaps in that regard we may have to remain on the basis of some cash distribution. To take boots, however, surely it is not beyond the bounds of practicability to take the unemployed of the boot-making industry, give them something more than mere unemployment benefit, and engage them on the job of providing boots for others who are unemployed. The same thing could be done in regard to clothing, housing and the distribution of coal in the severity of the winter months.
I know I shall be told that these things could only be done at the expense of the manufacturers, the wholesalers and the retailers. That is just my point. It would do nothing of the sort, in my opinion, for the simple reason that the great mass of the unemployed to-day are entirely unable to buy these things except in very meagre and insufficient quantities. When a single man is only receiving 15s. 3d., and a married man with a wife and child is only receiving 23s. 3d. a week, after paying something for rent and buying only sufficient food to keep body and soul together, what possible margin can there be for buying coal and boots and clothing? It is manifestly absurd to suggest that the retailer and the manufacturer will be deprived of a market which, in my opinion, they cannot possibly possess to-day. I urge the Government to explore these proposals, because I believe they contain certain potentialities, and I believe at least one-third of the unemployed could be mobilised for the purpose of providing primary necessities for the remaining mass of the people who are in a similar unfortunate plight. I think that could be done not with loss, but with gain to the State, and without in the slightest degree disturbing or injuring the commercial interests concerned. I must apologise for having taken so long on the occasion of a maiden speech. My only excuse is that I feel so very deeply on the question. I will again plead with the Government to take some definite action to deal with the problem with energy and decision. The Government is favoured with great national prestige. It has a tremendous majority behind it. I ask it to use its great resources in solving this greatest problem of our time and, in so doing, bringing joy and renewed life and hope into the drab existence of hundreds of thousands of our fellow-people.
I find myself in a little bit of a dilemma, because in making a maiden speech myself, I must congratulate the hon. Member on the admirable way in which he has made his. In making my speech, may I also ask the same indulgence that has been granted to my hon. Friend? It is now, I believe, 8¾ years since a representative of the Kingswinford Division addressed the House, and it is, therefore, with considerable temerity that I rise to break a tradition which, I am sure, you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, by virtue of your office, would approve most strongly. I do it for one reason only, that I come from a constituency which is very much poverty-stricken and where there is a tremendous amount of unemployment. In the two Employment Exchanges in my Division I believe no fewer than 10,000 unemployed are registered. I am certain that all my constituents approve very strongly the measures which the Government have taken so far. They are prepared to wait patiently for a little time longer in order that things may become better. They are satisfied, I think, with the duties that have been put on under the Abnormal Importations Act. It is a first step, and a very satisfactory and a very good step. They are not, however, prepared to wait indefinitely because, if this Government was returned on any mandate at all, it was, in my opinion, a mandate to do things immediately and to take action at once. That was the chief motive in the mind of the electors and that is the chief reason for which the Government have been returned. In my Division people are very satisfied with the duties that have been placed on glass. They are sorry that illuminating glass has not been included but that, I believe, is under the consideration of the Board of Trade and I very much hope that it will be included in some future Order.
I must say one or two things again about the iron and steel industry, although I know I ought not to do so because it was so fully discussed yesterday, but there were certain things in the speech of the President of the Board of Trade which I thought were rather misleading. He told us how much the production of pig iron and steel had fallen off in foreign countries. He showed that it had fallen very considerably during the last two or three years, but he failed to tell us that the figures he took were based on years when in France and Germany the production of pig iron and steel was at its height, while all that time we have been suffering from this depression. The figures, therefore, of the falling off in our production were not comparable, as I see it, in any way with the figures that he quoted of the falling off in France and Germany. Between June, 1930, and 1931, in Western Europe pig iron fell 16.7 per cent. and in the United Kingdom 37.3 per cent., and in steel pro- duction the fall in Western Europe was 7.8 per cent. and in the United Kingdom 28.3 per cent. If my figures are right, I feel that, if this Government is going to live up to the mandate which it was given, it has first of all to tackle the iron and steel industry. That seems to me to be absolutely the crux of the whole question.
It seems rather surprising to me that the Government are prepared to consider a wheat quota and are not prepared to consider the iron and steel industry at the same time, because the wheat quota, in my view, is neither fish, flesh nor fowl. It seems to me to be quite a different thing from a tariff and very much more difficult to operate. I have been in the flour milling business here and in Canada and I was somewhat surprised when I found that the Government were prepared to tackle this most intricate question of a wheat quota and were not prepared to tackle the crux of the whole industrial question which, in my opinion, is the iron and steel industry. I was also somewhat surprised when the right hon. Gentleman told us he was receiving letters from manufacturers in ancillary industries rather doubting the wisdom of putting on a tax. I have written to the Parliamentary Secretary to ask him to come to Staffordshire with me and, for every hundred employers I introduce him to who want a tax, he will not find more than one in every hundred who does not want it. That applies to employés as well as employers. That is quite definitely the opinion in the Black country, where there is so much unemployment, and I believe that is the opinion throughout the country. I beg the right hon. Gentleman once more to consider the question of the iron and steel industry and other industries such as the chain industry, which is ancillary thereto. I have made these few observations because you, Sir, were kind enough to say you would let me speak for one or two minutes on the subject. I will support the Government and vote for them because I know what they are doing is right so long as they do it quickly and follow the mandate which the country has given them. I am somewhat surprised that hon. Gentlemen opposite, greatly daring, and with little sense of the ridiculous, have brought forward this particular Motion of Censure considering their own record in regard to unemployment.
I assume that it falls to me to congratulate the two hon. Members who have just spoken, because I do not really think that the congratulation of one maiden Member by another could be regarded as meeting the necessities of the occasion. I congratulate them both very heartily, and I cannot even find it in my heart to chide the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. McKeag) for the very strong language he permitted himself in dealing with the record of my hon. and right hon. Friends above the Gangway. I cannot do that because he kept within the bounds of order, and I recollected, when he was making his rather strong remarks, that in my maiden speech I did not manage to keep within the rules of order. Now that I am in the sere and yellow leaf, I find it much more easy. I would suggest to him and to the hon. Gentleman behind me that there are very few Members in this House who are in a position to speak freely in terms of one political party, because all the existing political parties have their share of responsibility for the existing position to bear.
I remember, when I was making speeches in the meetings of the Labour party during the last Parliament which the Prime Minister and I were both permitted to attend, the defence in those days for the Labour Government not doing Socialist things was the gang of Liberals who sat here and held them back at every turn. I hope that at the end of the Parliamentary period of this Government the wail of the Conservative will not be: "Oh, we would have done great things. We would have saved the country if it had not been for the so and so and so and so Liberals, who were holding stragetical positions in the Cabinet and were not without influence on the back benches". I am really concerned for the interests of the Conservative back benchers, because they are the predominating element in the present Government. As I see their position, they are getting led up precisely the same street up which the Labour party was led during the last Labour Government, and, if it should be that four or five years hence the Conservative Govern- ment find themselves in a negligible minority on these benches with a great mastery of Labourists sitting behind the same Prime Minister—[Interruption]. Well, do not come back to me and say that I did not tell you.
The hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) while he is allowed great latitude in this House for reasons of which we are all aware, must not misrepresent the facts. We were hoofed out, and the hon. Member for Silvertown assisted in the operation.
We will leave the subject. I was not concerned with the hon. Member for Silvertown, but with the Prime Minister, and particularly with the Prime Minister's enunciation of the mandate of the Government on the matter of foreign trade. The Prime Minister read three quotations:
The Government must therefore be free to consider every proposal likely to help, including tariffs. The election will not give instructions to apply, but it will give instructions to examine.
Speaking at Leeds, he quoted the Lord President of the Council as saying:
I am prepared to examine the question of tariffs in the light of all the circumstances and with the utmost care and impartiality.
The Prime Minister quoted a further statement from the "Glasgow Herald" about examining. It seemed to me that he emphasised that examination so much that he convinced me that, this Government had no mandate to apply tariffs at all, but only a, mandate to examine. If, after examination of all the possible ways of guarding national trade, it was proved that tariffs were the way of doing it, then it seemed to me, after the right hon. Gentleman's emphasised statement, that it, would be absolutely necessary for the National Government to go to the country for a fresh mandate to apply tariffs. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not likely!"] An hon. Member says "Not likely." I do not know the intentions of the Government, but the Prime Minister certainly emphasised the point that the mandate was merely to examine and not to apply.
The right hon. Gentleman said:
I ventured at Tamworth to make the point quite clear in another form of language. I said:
'The election will not give instructions to apply'"—
I will go on, but I do not want the Prime Minister to go away from that definite sentence:
The election will not give instructions to apply."—
[HON. MEMBERS: "Read on!"] I am going to read the whole. Do be patient. You will have five years of this Government.
but it will give instructions to examine in relation to trade problems, if and how we can consider tariffs advantageous."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th December, 1931; col. 1909, Vol. 260.]
There is nothing there which says that you have the right to apply. There is a definite, statement against applying, and two references, one to examination and the other to consideration. It seems to me that perhaps the Prime Minister over-emphasised his case. I remember that, in the old days, he once gave me a terrible lecture about the danger of making your case a wee bit too strong. He certainly
made the case yesterday that the mandate was for examination and consideration. What about the President of the Board of Trade? He told us last night of the difficulties there were in the iron and steel industry. I congratulate him upon the way that he had mugged up his exercises, as we used to say when we were studying. He showed to the House that in the few weeks he had been at the Board of Trade he had learned what, if the hon. Member opposite will excuse me, I would describe as the patter of the job. He had got up his stuff about iron and steel. He told us of all the difficulties that were in the way of doing anything for steel. Both the Prime Minister and the President of the Board of Trade made a tremendous impression on the House, that they must have a long period of time to consider action, because there were difficulties.
I am going to say this for the Labour Opposition, if they will excuse me saying a kind word of them, that they were also as fully aware of the difficulties as anybody on the Government side of the House to-night. I saw them beginning to consider the difficulties. Afterwards, I saw the difficulties looming larger and larger, and at the end I saw the Labour party down on the ground, with the difficulties on the top of them. That is precisely what is happening now. I made a remark yesterday when the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) said that it was a struggle in the Cabinet between the Christian Scientists and the surgeons. I said: "Yes, and up to date it is the herbalists that have won." A poor, miserable result for a Government that was not sent in to examine difficulties or to quarrel how to tackle obstacles. Essentially, it was a Government of action. Among the reasons that have been given for the overwhelming success of the National Government at the poll was that the National Government were going to throw up into responsible governmental positions the experienced heads of all the great parties of the State who had held office before, who did not come into office as mere tyros who had to learn the job from the beginning, but as men who had their minds made up, their views dear and knew what they were going to do. The Cabinet was not going to be a debating society. It was going to be something different. It was going to do things. That is just precisely what it has not done up till now.
I would ask hon. Members to note the programme of business that was intimated to-day for the first week in February. We are told: "Don't rush, don't be impatient." The Lord President at Aberdeen, last week, made a speech of which I could find a duplicate two years ago from his brother, the Prime Minister. "Patience! We have to work as a team. No stabbing in the back. No petty pinpricks. You have to give us time. After a short Session, we have to get shaken down and to find out one another's points of view. After the Christmas Recess, then the big things will be doing." And after Christmas we are to have the Town and Country Planning Bill, the Children Bill, something about the Load Line, and one Private Members' day. Where is your big policy there? Every one of these things is good enough in its way, but they have no application to the crisis that is supposed to confront us. Every Member in every party can get up and speak at large on every one of these subjects with a complete—[Interruption]. Yes, and you are one of them. You will go into the Lobby to-night in favour of it.
Your reproof is quite merited. Each one of these subjects is a subject for consuming Parliamentary time, one upon which no party principles are involved, and on which we can all be one united happy family, but not one of them has any attachment, near or remote, to the crisis which the Government were elected to deal with. Therefore, so far from deserving strictures for bringing forward this Vote of Censure, the Labour Opposition are performing their right and proper service to the country in doing it. If I have one criticism to make it is that in the few weeks we have been here there ought to have been two votes of censure, because they have both been merited.
Let me refer to one matter which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean) as manifesting what the people have to face while the Government are complacent, examining and inquiring. That speech was made when the Prime Minister was not present. It referred to the intimation in the newspapers to-night that all the operations on the great Cunard liner that was being constructed at Clydebank are to be stopped. All operations are to be stopped; the reason given being that the company cannot get the accommodation they require from the banks except at an exorbitant rate of interest. It is precisely the type of problem with which the National Government are supposed to deal; a money problem, to make it possible to carry on the ordinary business and industrial operations of the country, to make the necessary sinews of war available for industry. And we have the answer to-day. The building of this ship, which could go on during a Labour Government and during the disastrous period of the panic, when the Labour Government was out of office, is under the strongest National Government to be stopped at the end of this week, and 3,000 people in the Clydebank constituency will go on to the streets while the National Government are examining what they are going to do with the crisis. It affects not only Clydebank but the little town of Barrhead where I live, where we are solely dependent on one industry, the big sanitary engineering concern of Shanks and Company, which has a sub-contract for fitting out the ship.
Last Saturday morning I saw the biggest queue at the Employment Exchange that ever I have seen. There has always been a queue of unemployed from the time of the first Coalition right on through every Government since, but the biggest one I have ever seen was last Saturday morning, and I am positively ashamed after nine years in this House to face these men, although I have tried to do my bit here. Some of these fellows I have known from my boyhood days; they were at school with me. They are clever and capable in intellect and handicraft, and when we go away for our Christmas Recess we shall have to tell them that there is absolutely nothing doing. I ask the Prime Minister to make this stoppage of the work on this ship his personal consideration so that tomorrow morning, when my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank (Mr. Kirkwood) raises it as a matter of urgency, there will be some message of hope to send to these people. To us, the great maritime nation of the world, the greatest shipbuilding nation of the world, the fact that we should stop operations in such a way on this mammoth liner, which has attracted the eyes of shipping people throughout the world, will be a deadly blow which will have much wider repercussions.
I am not going to attempt to give my alternative views for dealing with the situation except this, that as long as Governments continue looking for work they will fail in solving the unemployment problem. It is starting at the wrong end. The Government should start by considering what are the needs of the people and the nation, what is a decent standard of life for 40,000,000 of people in these islands—house, light, fuel, food, coal; a national Domesday Book, if you like, counting up what may be required in the way of all the various things to give everybody in these islands a decent standard of life, to make that estimate, to start and examine your capacity to produce these things, organise your industries and your production in order to provide all your people with a standard of life that is well within your productive capacity when you are organised. In that way, starting at the other end, starting at the end of meeting the people's needs instead of at the end of finding the people work, you will be going in the natural and intelligent way, and you will find your solution for your problems as you go along.
I ask hon. Members not to dismiss this request of mine as wild Socialistic raving. I have seen the other policy pursued by every Government up till now, every one of them with the very best of intentions and every one of them with able men in their ranks. I have seen them trying to perform the task of making work instead of setting out to do what is the Government's duty, to provide the materials for a happier life for every one of its citizens. The Prime Minister has a big mandate, a wide mandate, and I ask him to turn the problem upside down, to stop looking at it in the way we have all been looking at it in the past and to look at it from the point of view of human needs and not from the point of view of human labour. The solutions are bound to present themselves to any body of intelligent men.
Any speech from the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) is a solace and a refreshment; like a spring of water in a dry land where no water is. I have listened to many censure motions, but I have never listened to one that has been so unreal from the end of the opening speech of the hon. and learned Member for Bristol East (Sir S. Cripps) until the speech to which we have just listened, with the exception of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) in regard to iron and steel. The Leader of the Opposition this afternoon was speaking to a hybrid Motion and perhaps it was natural that while it was the voice of Bow and Bromley the hand was the hand of Bridgeton. For that reason the right hon. Gentleman did not speak so convincingly or with such an appearance of personal conviction as he frequently does. Until the speech of the hon. Member for Bridgeton we have had interesting little discussions about trade and industry generally. The withers of the Government have not been wrung. Nay, more, no one has tried to wring them. Even when we come to the speech which has just concluded we are still left in a quandary. It is quite true that up to the moment that the hon. Member spoke the Debate was like a valley of dried bones, and he has breathed a spirit of life into them, but even now it is difficult to know precisely what those who support this Motion are driving at.
The hon. Member spoke in a very moving way about the possible result of the cessation of work on that big Cunard liner up North. That I understand is going to be dealt with more in detail to-morrow morning. I am bound to say that in considering the question of unemployment it seems to me that to invert the problem as the hon. Member asked the Prime Minister to invert it, is to go about meeting it in the most foolish way and the one which is most likely to be unsuccessful from the point of view of the people who are most concerned. We really are in a quandary. We do not know what the Motion of Censure is really driving at. Does the right hon. Gentleman who moved it want the Government to remove the cuts in unemployment benefit? I imagine that he does. Does he want the Government to remove the means test? I could not really gather from his speech whether he really wanted that or not.
Now we know how far he will go and we know quite well how far the hon. Member for Bridgeton will go. It is a pity that they should vote together in the same Lobby under the impression that they are both wanting the same thing, because it is quite clear that they are not. The only thing in which perhaps they are alike is that they will go into the Lobby together, not because they want the same thing, but because they both want to have a dig at the Government and for no other reason. Lastly, do they really want the Government to see that those who are at present unemployed should get work? When one looks at these items in the Vote of Censure it seems strange that by a curious lapse of memory no one who has spoken in support of the Vote of Censure has yet drawn attention to the extraordinary increase in work that there has been since the General Election and in the last two months. Since the election the live register has fallen by 100,000 and in the last two months it has fallen by 190,000. That has occurred during the time of the year when normally the unemployment figure is rising.
It is during those months that this reduction has occurred, and let no one imagine for one moment that it is just because of disqualifications. It is absolutely clear that the vast proportion of that decrease in the live register has been due to the fact that additional people have got work at their own trade who were out of employment before.
If we are left in doubt as to what is the meaning of this Vote of Censure with regard to unemployment, it is quite clear that we are equally left in doubt about it in regard to the position of the pound sterling. The Motion runs like this:
this House regrets the failure of the Government to take any effective steps to deal with the currency and exchange situation and the development of international trade.
What is the opinion of the Opposition? What result of such steps do they wish to see? Do they wish to see the pound kept at a higher level than it is to-day or set down to a lower level? No inkling whatever has reached us on this side except the speech of the right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood). His opinion was that the pound should have full liberty and licence without restraint to go down to whatever level might be necessary to restore the complete balance of trade between visible imports and exports at once. Fortunately the right hon. and gallant Member belongs to that class which is described as "Blessed are they who expect nothing for they shall get what they expect." As far as the rest of the Opposition are concerned, we do not know, after two day's Debate, what it is that they really want with regard to the pound sterling. Do they want it to stand higher or lower? We have had no answer of any sort or kind.
I would ask the House what is actually wrong with the present situation that this Vote of Censure should have been moved? The pound sterling may be standing at a level of about $3.30. We are not alone in the present position, and this is the all-important matter. There are other countries in the same position and they form the vast majority. There are very few countries indeed who are really on the Gold Standard to-day. The vast majority of them are in the same position as Great Britain and some of them openly so. While some are apparently on a Gold Standard, it is purely artificial because it is due to exchange restrictions which, once removed, would bring them down to the same position that we are in to-day.
There is another fact which is not so generally recognised as it ought to be, and that is that the pound sterling, as it is to-day, is able to purchase a volume of imports from overseas as great as it could a year ago before it went off the Gold Standard. Therefore taking these two facts together, there are some interesting inferences and conclusions which might be drawn. One is that, if there is a fault in the present circumstances, that fault lies less with the pound sterling, perhaps, than with gold. Another is this, it accounts for the absence of any serious rise in prices! In his speech yesterday the late Solicitor-General referred to the suggestion that prices were rising, and he was challenged on the point. The fact is that the rise in prices is scarcely appreciable at all. With regard to the cost of living the rise is less than the seasonal rise has been during any recent year since the last great fall in prices ended in 1922. Every single year since that date the rise by November has been greater than that of this year; and when it comes to the whole range of commodity prices generally, and not merely to the cost of living, again the rise in prices has been less than in a normal year. From that point of view it seems to me that the whole of the indictment contained in the Motion fails completely upon analysis.
Not only is that the case with the pound sterling, but I ask the House to consider what are the alternatives which the Leader of the Opposition himself suggested. The Chancellor of the Exchequer to-day referred to one of the suggestions of the late Solicitor-General, but he omitted two others. The first was that in order to maintain control of the position the Government should take over control not only of the Bank of England, but of all the great deposit banks. I ask the House to think of that suggestion. Suppose that the right hon. Gentleman opposite and his colleagues, or his former colleagues, were still in power to-day, would they for one moment take the step that they are urging upon the Government? It is perfectly clear that the moment they came into a position of responsibility they would never dream of taking the step that they are urging.
Then if I have no right to say it I apologise for saying it. I can only add that if the step were taken, I do not believe there is one man in 100 in this country or one man in 50 amongst the Socialists themselves who would not be aghast at the prospect, because the step would send the exchange rattling down to a level below that which it has reached. It would fall as the German mark fell.
That is only the right hon. Gentleman's opinion, but the statement that he made was that we would not, if we had the power, do the thing that we said we would do. That is what I objected to. The people who are responsible for the suggestion are the present Lord Snowden and the present Prime Minister.
Then I apologise and withdraw at once as regards the right hon. Gentleman himself. I am glad to do so because I am sure that if he put that before the country in a crisis, there would be no possible chance of his being able to carry out his threat. So far as Lord Snowden and the present Prime Minister are concerned, they entirely bear out what I said, because when faced with this crisis they have foreborne to take such a step on account of the crash to the pound sterling that would result. What was the other solution that commended itself to the late Solicitor-General? He suggested that the Government should take control of the general financial situation. Let me again ask the House to observe where is the real centre of the whole disturbance. The whole essence of the problem lies in the question of international trade and international indebtedness. It lies in the question of reparations, in the question of governent debts, commercial debts and other short-term debts. It lies in the question of gold as connected with these. Talk about taking control of the general financial situation! The crux of the situation does not lie in this country; the crux of the situation lies abroad, in Germany, in what is going to happen as regards Germany, and in the question as to what is to be the attitude of other countries such as the United States and France.
To suggest that this Government could possibly take control of such a financial situation is to suggest what would merely invite a worse state of affairs than that which at present exists. It is a condition of affairs, one would imagine, where not even a fool would rush in, and no angel or archangel, if he had to tread there, would do so without extraordinary discretion and care. That is the situation at the moment. We are offered no solutions from the other side except those which, if they were persisted in by those in responsible positions, would make the situation infinitely worse than it is to-day. The real problem, as it occurs to me is, what is going to be done to keep the pound sterling either where it is or on a parity with the currency of most of the other countries, to preserve its external value from completely running away? That depends more than anything else on the opinion which is held of us by other nations, determined in the first place by what happens to the Budget here, and in the next place by what happens to the trade balance.
As regards the Budget, I do not suppose there is anyone in the House who envies the Chancellor of the Exchequer the task that lies before him. But that task is not really made easier by the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. What would happen if those proposals were carried out? I gather from the right hon. Gentleman's previous speeches and from the speech of the late Solicitor-General that they do not want a great debacle in the British currency. Yet on the other hand we are being asked to replace the cuts in unemployment benefit, to do away with the means test in transitional benefit and in the Poor Law, and, if the hon. Member for Bridgeton could have his way, to do away with the Anomalies Act altogether. What does that mean? It will be difficult enough to balance the Budget in any case, but if those economies were repealed, to balance it would be impossible, and that would be the first step to destroy public confidence in this country. To maintain two inconsistent opinions is a thing which, I am told, can only be done successfully by an Oriental. I am sure that the Leader of the Opposition, despite the experience which he has had recently of some of those who are of the most subtle Oriental minds, would not be able to fill that role sufficiently well that he could reconcile the two.
A few words about the trade balance. Let me make one statement of personal opinion. I think I am as strongly in favour of a tariff on iron and steel as almost any Member of the House, but I feel bound to say that I differ from some of my friends in this matter. I do not think it is fair to demand of the Government a, full-fledged, fully-developed policy on iron and steel before the Spring. I am bound to say so. On the other hand, I do think it essential that all the necessary steps should be taken to safeguard the value of the pound sterling between now and the end of January next. It is clear that it is not possible to restore equality in the ordinary trade balance between now and then. The difference is too great. Moreover it is not necessary to do so. Our invisible exports from our income from foreign in vestments and other sources, like shipping profits, are shrunken, but it is quite clear that, if and when normal times return, they will again be restored. It therefore is not necessary at once completely to restore the balance between exports and imports. What really is necessary is to restore confidence in foreign countries and confidence can be restored if they realise that as far as the trade balance is concerned, this country is on the upgrade and not on the downgrade. That is what is most necessary.
I am not criticising or cavilling at the Government when I ask them whether they are satisfied that they have sufficient powers to deal with the situation in the interval between now and the end of January. Will the Abnormal Importations Act be adequate? If not, and if they want more powers to act by Order in Council during the interval, then let them say so, and we will give them those powers. I want to make it clear that I do not want to force the hands of the Government. I want to strengthen them. I would like to see them armed with ample powers to deal with any contingency which may arise in the interval. I believe that the very fact that Parliament is ready to give them those powers, will cause foreign countries to realise that we, as a country, are determined not to let things go too far. I believe, too, that there is an immense, inherent strength in this old country which can make that determination effective.
This Debate has now lasted for two days and I think that a good many of those who have made speeches—if nobody else—are inclined to be grateful to the Opposition for having given them the opportunity of making those speeches, even though some have used that opportunity to attack the Opposition. The Debate has also given the Government the opportunity of stating their policy on three of the four subjects dealt with in the Resolution. The Government have said what they are going to do on the financial question. We have been told that as soon as the experts at Basle have finished their conference steps will be taken to call the Governments of the various countries together for the purpose of considering matters arising out of that conference which have been mentioned in this discussion. The Government have also told us what they are going to do on the rents question, namely, that they are going to legislate on the lines of the majority report of the Inter-Departmental Committee. I am not so sure that some of those Members who want safeguarding of iron and steel will give us a vote of thanks for having provided the Government with an opportunity of stating their position on that subject. I thought at first that the Government had told the House what they were going to do about iron and steel but when I come to think over the matter I find that they have not really done so.
One thing, however, which the Government have not told us what they are going to do about, is the question of unemployment this winter. We have not been told what they are going to do for the people who are receiving transitional payments through the public assistance committees. It has struck me during our discussions on unemployment of the last, few days that there is an idea in the minds of hon. Members that we are dealing with the same old unemployment question as that which existed in pre-War days; that unemployment is a kind of cyclical affair, and that if you only got Protection you could solve that question. I daresay there are also those who think that if you could only get full Free Trade you would solve it. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Yale (Mr. A. Bevan) in a very able speech to-night drove home the fact that this unemployment question is no mere affair of cycles; that it is a permanent matter with which we have to deal, as the result of a change in industry, and that only in so far as we deal with the fundamental matters of industry are we likely to face the unemployment problem effectively.
When I first came to this House we were discussing unemployment and we used to be told that if we could only get people to emigrate we would solve the problem. Conservative Members in the House and I daresay many of them also in speeches on the platform, made plain their view that if men were willing to emigrate then, if we did not solve the problem, we would at least go far towards doing so. What are the facts to-day? They must be well known to hon. Members but they are worth restating. Before the War—in 1912—we sent 250,000 people to the British Colonies and the United States. In the five years before the War an average of 200,000 people a year went oversea. If we had sent that average oversea since the War we would now have sent about the exact number of our unemployed to-day. But the fact is that people are not going to the Colonies because the Colonies do not want them. What is more we have the amazing position recently that actually more workers have returned from the Colonies than have gone out there. They have been deported by the Colonial representatives because the Colonies simply did not know what to do with them. We have our unemployment problem, not because we have not had emigration, but for the same reason as the Colonials have theirs.
The next stage that began in this country was the idea that if we could only get people to transfer from one part of the country to another, we could go far towards solving the unemployment problem. Well, men have transferred so eagerly and done it so well that the very people who invited them to do it are crying out against it, and what is the position now? It is necessary to a thorough understanding of the position in which people find themselves this winter that we should state it. The position is that the unemployed are getting frozen in different areas in the country. My right hon. Friend this afternoon gave figures which showed quite clearly that there is not even that ease of movement in the country that there used to be. The Ministry of Labour has one of the most wonderful machines that there is in the world to-day for sending people about the country. They placed through their organisation no fewer than 1,000,000 in the first six months of this year, but it will fall far below that figure in the last six months.
The point that I want to make is that the unemployment problem, bad as it is when the numbers are spread all over the country, becomes a real tragedy when the greater part of them lie in a few pockets in the country, and have been there for years. They are not men who might be odds and ends on the ragged edges of industry, as in the days before the War, but a whole mass of good workmen who are at the very top of their form as far as skill and experience are concerned. These people are confined to comparatively few areas, and they have been there for years. They have used up their own resources, the resources of their friends, and the resources of the community. I have been looking at some figures issued by the Ministry of Health, which make very sad reading indeed. The average number of persons receiving out-relief throughout the country is 254 per 10,000, but if you take an area like Durham, it is 529, and if you go to Glamorgan, it is nearly 600, as against the general average of 254, while if you take places like Sunderland, it has got to between 700 and 800 to the 10,000.
I have said that this matter lies in comparatively small areas, but on the top of these years of the undermining of their personal resources, their friends' resources, and their communities' re- sources, there has come this drastic cut in unemployment benefit and the second cut that comes upon those who are on transitional benefit. I want to tell the Minister of Health that I think we are entitled to an answer on this matter. The unemployed suffered a 10 per cent. reduction. That was £12,800,000, or roughly £13,000,000, but those on transitional benefit not only suffered the 10 per cent. reduction, but suffered to the extent of £10,000,000, as I showed the other night, because they are on transition. That means that they have to make their contribution towards £23,000,000, and that is £450,000 a week.
Nobody can deny that the position of these people is going to be really lamentable this winter, and there is one fact that stands out clearly. Public assistance committees, individuals in the country, Members of this House from all parts, have condemned the method of administering this transitional benefit. I have not heard a single Member on either side of the House who has defended the administration of this benefit. Liberals and Conservatives as well as ourselves have asked the Minister to issue new regulations to guide and advise the committees. The Minister of Labour has not even defended in the House, he has not attempted to defend, what is known as the L.A. 3 Circular that was supposed to guide the committees. I feel strongly about this question, because I come from one of the areas and see evidences of this kind of thing on the people whom I meet.
I do not want the House to think that I am merely sentimental when I say, as I have often said, that I think the British people are among the kindest people on this earth. I have had experience of that. I knew it for the greater part of the year when the working class people of London sent masses of clothes and boots, and things of which they actually deprived themselves, in order to help the miners in the North of England. I can say the same about people of all classes, people who are highly placed, and even people who are titled, people who, surreptitiously, to their credit, gave of their substance during those days. I can assure the House that the position is no better now than it was then. This is a new House. It has more young blood in it, it is said, than it has ever had before. Is it beyond the bounds of possibility for this House to turn its fresh mind and its fresh spirit to this question and to demand that the Minister shall interpret that spirit so that at least this transitional benefit shall be administered in such a way that the men and women who are dependent upon it shall be assured of some decent income this winter?
We, of course, are not satisfied with that at all; we do not believe, as my right hon. Friend has said, in workers who are in the full flame of their skill and craft being placed under the Poor Law at all; but if it is to be done, at any rate the right hon. Gentleman might see to it that the people who are administering the law should know what they are administering, and that, in regard to some of these things, such as disability pensions, compensation, needs pensions, and matters of that kind, which are being included, they shall have definite instructions to exclude them. I have heard my hon. Friends repeatedly ask if it is impossible that the Government should seek to give these people work in those areas, and especially the juveniles. It is necessary not only that juveniles should be kept out of mischief, but that their hands, their eyes and their fingers should be kept alert. Is it impossible that the Government should give special consideration to them through the Unemployment Grants Committee?
It is a very poor economy to keep idle people, who have been idle for years. Really the Minister of Health must look into this matter and the effect that the call for economy has had in the country generally. I wonder if he is aware that as the result of the local authorities responding to the call for economy they have abandoned building work to the value of £33,000,000. I have this statement from my hon. Friend who represents the building trade workers. He has the whole list in detail, and I am assured by him that this economy means that no less than 200,000 building trade workers will lose six months' work. The Prime Minister yesterday made an appeal to local authorities not to use this call for economy as a stunt for their own purposes. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to say whether he is not prepared to take steps with the local authorities about this matter. Surely, there was never a time when building was more necessary that it is to-day; the very tragedy of the rent ramp has arisen because there are not sufficient houses.
The rent situation is very bad indeed. I am a member of the Haig Memorial Home Committee, and I had a letter from a soldier some time ago telling me that he was troubled with tuberculosis and was living in two rooms in a basement for which he was paying 26s. 6d. a week. We were able to get him in one of the homes. That gives an idea of the extent to which this problem is affecting people who are deserving of better things. Some of my hon. Friends and I have been meeting the right hon. Gentleman to-day about rents in mining areas. In the mining areas they were urged to build houses, and they tried to honour the call that was made to them. Large numbers of houses were built, and now they are faced with the fact that the houses are being let at very high rents. In addition, people who own private houses for letting purposes have used the decontrol Acts to such effect that they have brought their standard of rent up to the standard of the houses built in 1919. They are using the situation unscrupulously, and, if they do that in rural areas, what is taking place in areas such as London?
With regard to the unemployment problem, when my hon. Friends say that they are neither Protectionists nor Free Traders it is not because they want to avoid the issue; it is because they want to drive home to the House and the country the fact that the only way in which the unemployment problem will be met fundamentally is by the definite organisation of industry and its direction and use for State purposes. I have heard Members of this House, like the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. G. Balfour), alluding to the coal quota. I am pleased that I have one of them here to-night to hear what I have to say about it. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale pointed out that the one thing that we have in common with many of the Conservatives is that we do not believe in laissez faire. They do not believe in it except in this country, however; they believe that it should stop at the borders. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Hampstead, however, is interested in an industrial movement in which they see to it that there is no price cutting. He does not believe in laissez faire for industry when it touches large-scale purposes like electricity. He was one of the most enthusiastic advocates of that great electricity monopoly Bill, of which even people who believe in State control were doubtful because of the powers that it gave.
I agree that the hon. Gentleman had his particular point of view, because he fought it for particular interests. It does not make any difference to the fact that he is the champion of the principle of the Measure.
The hon. Gentleman must, allow me, as he has seen fit to attack me. I opposed that Bill all the time from motives of public policy, although it would well have suited my personal interest to support the Bill.
I do not want to do the hon. Gentleman any injury, but my memory is so definite upon this point that I shall not withdraw, and my hon. Friends will support me in the view that I am putting forward. The point I want to put to the hon. Gentleman is that one of the most important things that this Parliament must deal with has scarcely been mentioned in the Debate yet; that is the matter of the miners' hours. That is allied to the question of organisation. The hon. Gentleman and his friends want that which happened when the eight hours Act was in operation. In 1925 they used their power to get the Eight Hours Act put into operation. I remember well that we were told what it would do. The result of the Act from 1925 to 1930 was that 250,000 men had to leave the industry. That was before the quota came into operation. I ask those who have been influenced by Press propaganda in this matter to remember that before one man lost his job through the quota, there were 250,000 shut out of the industry as a result of the Eight Hours Act. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is not true."] At any rate, 250,000 went out of the industry before the quota came into operation.
I will tell the hon. Gentleman what happened under the Seven Hours Act in a few minutes. During the operation of the eight-hours day, the miners increased their output by 3½ cwt. or 20 per cent., and costs were reduced by 3s. 6d. per ton. Wages were reduced by nearly 2s. a day. They took the old men out of the industry—sorted them out; they were hand-picked, as we say in the North; but in the end there was an ever-widening breach between profit and loss for the companies. Some of the most able and intelligent men in the companies saw that they had to bring about some organisation of the industry in order to save themselves. It is true that there was trouble over the question of the 7-hour day, but no body of intelligent men—and we should not respect them if they did—would stand for their hours being increased while output was increasing in a, miraculous way and while the capacity for production was increasing.
There is the root of the whole matter as regards unemployment, whether in the pit or on the prairies of Canada. It is the coming of the machine. And there can be no peace, and no solution of our problems, until this country, and every other country, is prepared so to direct industry that the leisure of the workers may be increased and their standard of living improved. Some of my friends and I used to work in the pit in the days when machinery was first introduced. First of all we did the work by hand—and I think that if they had paid us 10s. a week more we would have been satisfied. We did not grumble, we had a certain pride in our work, a certain feeling of independence. Then came the conveyor along the coal face. We had to throw the coal on to the conveyor. Next came the coal cutter; and then the heavy machinery. And, mark, what has hap- pened now! They are abolishing some of the men who fill coal. They are actually getting what they call a scooper to scoop the coal into the tubs, and one man is working now where four were working before. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I agree that it is a good thing, but, sooner or later, there will have to be organisation so that the workers get benefit from this in the form of leisure as well as a higher standard of life.
In some quarters of this House there is a reliance upon tariffs. Those who are relying on tariffs must remember that the worker in industry cannot be ignored nowadays. If we get tariffs the worker is going to have his share; he is going to be called into consultation; he is going to claim his part. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am very pleased to hear that there is agreement. I would remind hon. Members that when tariffs were put into operation in Australia they did not visualise the state of things which finally came about—a Minimum Wage Bill. Both hours and wages will have to receive consideration along those lines. The previous Government put the Mines Act into operation, and almost for the first time for years the gap between profit and loss has been bridged. I wonder whether the hon. Member for Hampstead knows that for the first time for years the gap between profit and loss has been bridged—at any rate in the northern area of the mining industry—as a result of some organisation. It is certain that we are going to have more organisation. A convention for a 7¼-hour day has been passed, and I trust the Government will stand to the terms of that convention and give expression to it; because the House will have to deal seriously with the hours problem in the coming months, and I hope they will lose no opportunity of knitting the industry together, increasing its organisation, and directing it for the well-being of the workers and of the country generally.
May I, in conclusion, ask the Government if they will give serious attention to this problem of the unemployed, both from the point of view of the Unemployment Grants Committee and the Road Fund and attending to the juvenile centres? I ask the Government more particularly to give the House some definite and effective answer on the question of the administration of transitional benefit. The Prime Minister is present, and I know that the right hon. Gentleman fully believed that during the election disabled soldiers' pensions were not going to be taken into consideration when transitional benefit was administered by the public assistance committees. Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that? I understand that he believes that that was so. At any rate, that was the impression I got during the election. But whatever was agreed to, I think it should be understood in this House that there is not a single Member on any side, or a public assistance committee outside, who will defend the lack of guidance from the Ministry in regard to unemployment benefit. I hope we are to get a frank answer about this matter. The public assistance committees ought not to be troubled about it at all, and it is not right that hon. Members of this House should have their post bags filled with complaints about this matter. I ask the Minister of Health to give us an answer to the principal aspects of the Censure Motion, and I hope he will give us a definite and practical answer as to the policy of the Government in regard to unemployment during the coming winter. I know that hon. Members opposite are going to vote with the Government and that is to be expected. We are going into the Lobby in support of this Vote of Censure, and, although we are only 40 strong, we know that unless the Government deal effectively with this question and give some definite evidence of practical sympathy they will share the fate of all past Conservative Governments.
There have been two outstanding features in this Debate. The first has been the large number of maiden speeches, and, in referring to them, I cannot refrain from mentioning, in particular, one which brought back to memory the name of one of the most persuasive and most dangerous of all the debaters of our time. It is some compensation for the fact that the father is no longer with us that we have had the pleasure of being present to listen to the son in the place where the father was so beloved and so admired.
The second outstanding feature of this Vote of Censure Debate has been the almost entire absence from it of censure of the Government. We have had little of that commodity, but we have had plenty of another commodity, the commodity of "ginger," which, if I may say so, was both more appropriate and more welcome to an infant government. The only difficulty which presents itself, as it always does on these occasions, is that, although the dose of "ginger" was prescribed with the agreed object of inducing action in some direction, there was rather less agreement of opinion as to what the direction ought to be.
There has been a great variety of subjects raised in the Debate, and, indeed, the Debate has been more remarkable for the interest in its by-products than for the interest in the question of censuring the Government. We have had a Debate on iron and steel, to which a reply has been given by the President of the Board of Trade, and a Debate on financial matters, to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer replied, while the question of the general policy of the Government has also been raised, and a reply has been given by the Prime Minister; and it remains for me to deal with the one or two matters which are more directly relevant to the Ministry of Health. Let me pause, however, to answer a question which was asked of me specifically by the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean) with regard to the new Cunard liner. Let me say that, before that question was raised in this Debate, a Private Notice Question for answer to-morrow had been put down by the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), whose constituency is particularly concerned, and it has been arranged that a statement on the subject shall be made by the President of the Board of Trade after Questions to-morrow.
I now turn to two questions which have been cropping up at repeated intervals throughout the Debate—the question of transitional relief payments and the question of rent. It will have been clear to the House that the vigour of the attack on the matter of transitional payments was nothing less than a recurrence of the attack upon the whole principle of a means or needs test. We have found the familiar arguments, to which we became used in the last Parliament, underlying the speeches of the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury). I will not cover that controversy once more, but will content myself with saying that it was decided at the General Election, and that this House has been pledged to carry out the means test as a principle of administration.
Let me ask the House to consider for a moment what that means. It means that we have undertaken a task of exceptional difficulty, and even unpopularity, and let us not blink the fact that the difficulties and distastefulness are going constantly to recur in connection with it. What we have constantly to bear in mind is that we must not halt by the way, but must continue with this task, which the country has pronounced to be essential for the restoration of its financial soundness, and its social soundness as well. I would ask the House to consider what the implications of that decision were. Is this not the basis of the whole question of the means test, that will enable us to get a clearer mind about some of these cases which have been raised to-day? Means and needs are simply a question of fact. It is a question of fact as to what an applicant for relief, whether it was the old public assistance relief or whether it is now transitional relief, needs. Every artificial rule that you superimpose upon that simple basic question of fact tends to conceal the realities of the position.
We have heard many complaints to-day of there being undue variations in administration. Let sue ask the House to consider this, in the first place. If it is true, as I have contended, that the means quesion is a question of fact, then there is only one question of fact, whether the means test is in respect of Poor Law relief or of transitional payments, and you must expect and you must demand to see substantially the same standard applied to the one as to the other. At present, and always throughout the history of the administration of Poor Law relief, there have been variation in local practices and standards. Those variations are wholesome and are due to local variations of circumstances. You must, therefore, expect to see returning in transitional benefit relief a certain amount of variation which is simply due to this wholesome variation between locality and locality. That is not to be wondered at. It is rather to be welcomed.
Let me ask the House, again, to remember that we are dealing here in transitional payments, with a wholly new region of practice and administration. Does the House expect that, in the course of the few weeks that have elapsed since it began, everything would already be running on a smooth keel? That, of course, would be beyond any possible practical expectation. You must not, as it were, jump down the throats of public assistance committees before they have had time to find out where they are. It is possible, nay I will admit it is the case, that you will at present find undue variations. Some of those are due to the fact that public assistance committees have not yet got hold of the principle that the means test is a question of fact, and that there is only one question of fact whatever the form of the relief may be.
What is the appropriate remedy for this? I suggest that the appropriate remedy at this stage of our organisation of this wholly new region of administration is not to confuse and burden the local authorities with repeated circulars issued before you are in full possession of the facts of the case, but that you should ascertain—and it takes a reasonable amount of time to ascertain—how the practice is being established in various localities. Having ascertained that, you should judge on the facts of the case as you have ascertained them whether there is any need for any fresh directions and, if there is, what fresh directions should be given. I can give this assurance to the House as to the attitude of the Government towards this question. It will watch it with the closest scrutiny from day to day in its infant days when practices are being established and see whether it is being developed in the right way, and, if need is found for action by guidance or direction, that guidance and direction will immediately be given. The Leader of the Opposition, of course, wants to precipitate matters and to urge us to go a great deal further. He wants to press us to undertake fresh legislation on the subject. That, I believe, is unnecessary.
The principal matters which have been the cause for anxiety obviously in the minds of Members, as has been revealed by the Debate, may be grouped under these headings. There is the question of disability pensions, the question of housing property, the question of the basis of the family income, and the question of the maximum income for a single man, and, finally, the question of liquid assets. I would like to deal with one of those particular cases which are in the minds of hon. Members, and on which there is, perhaps, the most misapprehension. That is the question of disability pensions. The matter has already been dealt with by way of question and answer in the House both by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and by myself, and I have observed that after the situation has been explained, it has usually satisfied the inquirers.
Let me explain it once more to-night and see whether it does not bring equal satisfaction. The generosity of mankind towards the disabled man desires that he should possess some special compensation and advantage for his special suffering. In consideration of that, the disability pension has been granted as to part, for compensation, and part for subsistence. What is the prescribed state of the law and practice? Because the practice is in conformity with the law of the old Poor Law relief, which is now also the law in respect of transitional payment. One has to go a little roundabout to describe how it works under the law, but I think that the House will agree that we shall arrive after our detour at a conclusion, based on common sense and justice. The public assistance committee must start by taking into account the disability pension. After it has done that it must consider the special needs of the disabled man and those special needs are, in this case, his disability. It must consider that those special needs of his give him a claim to higher relief than others who have not such a disability. It goes in stages. It takes into account that the needs of the disability pensioner are above, the needs of those of the ordinary man, and grants an additional relief in respect of additional needs. The really practical consequence is that the disabled man gets additional relief in respect of his disability—[Interruption]. That is the fact. [HON. MEMBERS: No!"] I will not go into those other matters to-night, because as I have said—and I think it is the attitude of reason—this is not the time to jump the fence.
But I would say in general about those other matters which have been advanced in the House, that in my belief there is ample adaptability in the existing practice and the existing powers of public assistance committees to enable the adjustment of this new region of relief in accordance with the requirements of common sense and of fairness to the applicants in the light of the present needs of the country. The hon. and learned Member for East Bristol made a statement in the course of his criticism on this subject that there were public assistance committees which, at the present time, were under the impression that they were unable to give relief in addition to the full scale of benefit to those who claim for transitional payments. I have come across no case in which the public assistance committee was under that impression.
That, if I may say so, was another contention of the hon. and learned Member with which it is my intention to deal, but at present I am dealing with another separate suggestion which is, as far as I know, not supported by facts. In any case, let sue take this opportunity of clearing up the misapprehension. It may be a misapprehension, indeed I take it from the hon. and learned Gentleman, since he has made the statement, that there is such a misapprehension in the minds of some public assistance committee. There is absolutely no such limitation in the law or in the practice of public assistance committees. If in the case of any applicant there are needs which require greater relief than that laid down in the full scale of benefits, they are entitled to grant extra relief.
I come to the second statement of the hon. and learned Member, that public assistance committees have been reducing their scales of relief, under the impression that they had to bring them into relation with the scale of unemployment benefit. Again, I know of no such case. I have made search, and I have tried to ascertain whether any records of such cases have come to the notice of my Department. I cannot trace any such case. A scale may be changed without making any difference to the actual result. What may have given origin to the misapprehension is that some, public assistance committee may have reduced its scale of general relief at some time—I do not know what time—in relation to the cost of living, or on grounds other than any connection with the administration of unemployment benefit.
In general, let me beg of the House to bear in mind that it is not in the interests of those who are seeking relief, nor is it in the interests of the community as a whole, or of the taxpayer, to seek in too absolute and iron a manner to fasten upon the necks of local authorities a direction and control even of the Minister of Health. Our administration of this sort in the past has had the characteristic merit of the independence and the local discretion of the authorities, freedom from, any cast-iron rules laid down by the central authority, and freedom from the arbitrary interference of the Minister. We have heard the Leader of the Opposition asking to-day for legislation which could only take one form, a scale of national relief laid down and imposed from the centre by the action of this Parliament and the direction of the Minister of Health. I ask the House to recoil from setting out upon a path of that sort. It would lead the administration of Poor Law relief into channels which we have tried to avoid, and which we believe would be most mischievous in the interests of the individual and the community. Much of what we have listened to in to-day's Debate on the subject of this administration has been really nothing more or less than an attack upon the administration of the public assistance committees.
Then it is because hon. Members opposite have not been able to understand the implication of their own arguments. I am sure that it will be so understood by public assistance committees.
I am perfectly prepared to believe that it was not the intention of hon. Members, but let me say, having noted that that was the effect if not the intention of the attack, that any such criticism at this stage on the administration of public assistance committees is most unjustified, because they have undertaken a new and difficult task with a public spirit which one would expect, and undertaken it with remarkable success. It is only from a few parts of the country that we have any complaints at all or any difficulties, and I think that we owe them gratitude and congratulation for the way in which they have undertaken this difficult task. I return to what I have already said, that if and when difficulties should appear we shall be promptly informed of them and proper administrative measures will be taken to try and remove any variations and give any possible assistance to public assistance committees in carrying out their task.
Let me turn to the other question which has been constantly appearing in. criticism, and that is the attack, if I may dignify it by that name, upon the administration of the Government in the matter of rents and houses. This attack has really consisted in nothing more than the re-employment of an old rhetorical trick. You take one of the general ills of humanity, of as wide an application as may be—and what evil is of more wide application than the evil of paying one's rent—and you then search out all the hardest and most unfortunate cases which provoke most sympathy in connection with that universal evil of humanity and then ascribe them all to the malevolence and incompetency of the Government of the day. I have known that device applied with more force and success than it has been to-day; but what seemed to me very unconvincing about it to-day was that hon. Members using these arguments, some of them with great knowledge, must have been perfectly aware that all the cases they quoted and all the admitted hardships and injustices which moved the chords of sympathy in our hearts were evils and abuses which have been going on for years.
Let me look at one or two particular aspects, and in particular at some of the atmosphere skilfully introduced in the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Bristol, East. Listening to the delicate touches of colour introduced into his speech one would imagine that there was a crisis of evictions in the country of such a terrible and heartrending nature that immediate and drastic steps should be taken to deal with anything so disastrous. I am not going to say a word to minimise the evil of eviction in any case, but I am going to say that any attempt to represent it as a crisis in the country is based upon no foundation of any sort or kind whatever. Since the hon. and learned Member made his speech I have been at some pains to ascertain the true facts of the case. Naturally I cannot have carried out a general statistical inquiry in the course of the last 12 hours, but I have tested the matter in one or two centres of population since last night. I have tested it by an application to Birmingham, and my report about the local authority of that city, which owns 34,000 houses, is that evictions last year in respect of working-class houses were negligible. I applied to Manchester, where the local authority owns about 16,000 houses, and here the report is that there have been four evictions this year on the ground of non-payment of rents. I applied, of course, to London. The Council controls 56,000 lettings and here, again, in the same words used in the case of Birmingham, the number has been negligible.
Let us turn our minds away from attempts to colour the situation worse than it is. Is it really what the situation needs at present, that we should try to find an imaginary crisis, as though we have not got enough real crises and real difficulties of our own without painting them in exaggerated colours for the discontent of our own people and for the misinformation of the foreigner? Nobody is going to pretend that at the present time the housing situation does not need measures of remedy and relief, but I do say that it is not turning our eyes in the right direction to ask us, as the Opposition does, to look for greater interference by the Government. I have had the impression that what your housing industry and housing accommodation suffer from is not too little Government interference, but too much. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and the hon. Member for Chester- le-Street (Mr. Lawson) have urged me to send circulars to housing authorities to ask them, and to impel them, to increase their housing programmes. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street did so when he asserted that the local authorities had abandoned their building programmes to the extent of £33,000,000. I can only say that I cannot accept that assertion. I wonder if the hon. Member really thinks it represents anything in relation to the fact? It represents no actual or significant fact of the housing situation at the present day of any sort or kind whatever.
One of the first inquiries that it was necessary for me to make was an inquiry as to the present activities of the local authorities with regard to the housing situation. Let me say that, as a result of that inquiry, I am confident that there will be more employment on assisted housing this winter than there was last winter. That is one of the facts which it is so necessary to appreciate in order to grasp what the actual situation is. On this point I would say there is no need whatever at the present time to impel local authorities to any additional activities. There is a reasonable activity on their part, and no actual sign of any reckless abandonment of reasonable programmes of housing. I do sometimes wish, when I listen to such utterances as we have heard to-day on the housing problem from hon. Members opposite, that we could detect in their utterances at least the beginning of the glimmering of an idea that it was necessary to relate our activities in these days to our changed financial situation. Surely hon. Gentlemen opposite ought to begin to understand the financial situation of the present time, and all those circumstances for the creation of which they have themselves been so largely responsible.
In the very few moments that remain I would like to discharge an important task, and that is to fill up by as many words as it is possible for me to use upon this occasion, the important announcement made yesterday by the Prime Minister in respect of the housing legislation to be introduced next Session. The Prime Minister told us it was to be legislation to enforce the general recommendations of the majority of the Departmental Committee, representing the three parties, which recently sat upon the ques- tion of housing policy. The House will not expect me to give any details of the proposals, because these will be introduced in due course.
It is no good an hon. Member saying they are no use before he knows what they are to be. I know that the Bill will meet with much criticism, but that is the sort of criticism which no one need fear. I have only time to mention one or two of the leading principles of the Bill. First of all, it is now an ascertained fact that there is a serious shortage, unremedied, of the smallest type of houses to be let to the working-classes. It is equally recognised now that the process of decontrol of that type of house is causing acute and unnecessary local grievances. It is also recognised that private effort with public assistance, but principally private effort, has already succeeded in getting pretty well forward with the supply of houses of the larger type, and that the best work for the industry is to be done by releasing a larger area, as it were, of that type of house to be supplied by private enterprise, having a free field to itself. Those are the general lines of the Bill. But everyone will at once perceive that that outline of policy would not be complete unless it was coupled with this: That when you are, as it were, perpetuating control of the smaller houses, you must couple that with a concentration of effort to build the houses by means of subsidy. Those are the policies to be carried out.
These two matters appear to me to be typical of the line of action to be followed by a National Government under present conditions—to carry out the decision of the country with regard to the means test, to have full regard to the rights of the individual in the light of the financial circumstances of the time, and, as to housing, to apply a national policy, also with regard to our national circumstances.
For the benefit of the House and on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) I would like to inform the Minister of Health that the figures which I gave my hon. Friend for use in this Debate—not having had an oppor- tunity of intervening myself—have been collected from every municipal authority in this country. I am quite willing to supply a copy of those figures to the Minister of Health. They show that municipal authorities have reduced their building programmes since the appeal for national economy by £33,000,000.
this House regrets the failure of the Government to take any effective steps to deal with the currency and exchange situation and the development of international trade, and to produce any plans for dealing with the position of those for whom normal employment is not available or with the problem of high rents now pressing upon a large proportion of the population."
|Division No. 42.]||AYES.||[11.0 p.m.]|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South)||Grundy, Thomas W.||McGovern, John|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton)||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)|
|Batey, Joseph||Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Maxton, James|
|Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw vale)||Hicks, Ernest George||Milner, Major James|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield)||Hirst, George Henry||Price, Gabriel|
|Buchanan, George||Jenkins, Sir William||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Cape, Thomas||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Watts-Morgan, Lieut.-Col. David|
|Cove, William G.||Kirkwood, David||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Cripps, Sir Stafford||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)|
|Daggar, George||Lawson, John James||Williams, Dr. John H. (Llanelly)|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Leonard, William||Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Logan, David Gilbert|
|Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||Lunn, William||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||Mr. Charles Edwards and Mr. John.|
|Groves, Thomas E.||McEntee, Valentine L.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough)||Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.)||Brass, Captain Sir William||Crooke, J. Smedley|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.||Briant, Frank||Crookshank, Col. C. de Windt (Bootle)|
|Ainsworth, Lieut.-Colonel Charles||Briscoe, Richard George||Croom-Johnson, R. P.|
|Albery, Irving James||Broadbent, Colonel John||Cross, R. H.|
|Alexander, Sir William||Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Crossley, A. C.|
|Allen, Sir J. Sandeman (Liverp'l, W.)||Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks, Newb'y)||Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard|
|Allen, William (Stoke-on-Trent)||Buchan, John||Curry, A. C.|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Davidson, Bt. Hon. J. C. C.|
|Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K.||Bullock, Captain Malcolm||Davies, Maj. Geo. F.(Somerset, Yeovil)|
|Apsley, Lord||Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie||Davison, Sir William Henry|
|Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W.||Burnett, John George||Dawson, Sir Philip|
|Aske, Sir William Robert||Butler, Richard Austen||Denman, Hon. R. D.|
|Astbury, Lieut.-Com. Frederick Wolfe||Butt, Sir Alfred||Denville, Alfred|
|Astor, Maj. Hn. John J.(Kent, Dover)||Campbell, Edward Taswell (Bromley)||Despencer-Robertson, Major J. A. F.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Campbell, Rear-Adml. G. (Burnley)||Dickie, John P.|
|Atkinson, Cyril||Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm||Donner, P. W.|
|Bailey, Eric Alfred George||Caporn, Arthur Cecil||Doran, Edward|
|Baillie, Sir. Adrian W. B.||Carver, Major William H.||Dower, Captain A. V. G.|
|Baldwin-Webb, Colonel J.||Cassels, James Dale||Drewe, Cedric|
|Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet)||Castlereagh, Viscount||Duckworth, George A. V.|
|Balniel, Lord||Castle Stewart, Earl||Dugdale, Captain Thomas Lionel|
|Banks, Sir Reginald Mitchell||Cayzer, Sir Charles (Chester, City)||Duggan, Hubert John|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Cayzer, Maj. Sir H. R. ([...], S.)||Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.)|
|Barrie, Sir Charles Coupar||Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Dunglass, Lord|
|Barton, Capt. Basil Kelsey||Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)||Eady, George H.|
|Bateman, A. L.||Chalmers, John, Rutherford||Eastwood, John Francis|
|Beauchamp, Sir Brograve Campbell||Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. N. (Edgbaston)||Eden, Robert Anthony|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks., Aylesbury)||Chapman, Sir Samuel (Edinburgh, S.)||Edmondson, Major A. J.|
|Beaumont, R. E. B. (Portsm'th, Centr'l)||Chorlton, Alan Ernest Leofric||Ednam, Viscount|
|Beit, Sir Alfred L.||Chotzner, Alfred James||Ellis, Robert Geoffrey|
|Benn, Sir Arthur Shirley||Christie, James Archibald||Elliston, Captain George Sampson|
|Bernays, Robert||Clarry, Reginald George||Elmley, Viscount|
|Betterton, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry B.||Clayton, Dr. George C.||Emmott, Charles E. G. C.|
|Bevan, Stuart James (Holborn)||Clydesdale, Marquess of||Emrys-Evans, P. V.|
|Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman||Collins, Sir Godfrey||Entwistle, Major Cyril Fullard|
|Bird, Sir Robert B. (Welverh'pton W.)||Colman, N. C. D.||Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare)|
|Blaker, Sir Reginald||Colville, Major David John||Erskine-Bolst, Capt. C. C. (Blackpool)|
|Blindell, James||Conant, R. J. E.||Essenhigh, Reginald Clare|
|Borodale, viscount||Cook, Thomas A.||Evans, Capt. Arthur (Cardiff, S.)|
|Bossom, A. C.||Cooke, James D.||Everard, W. Lindsay|
|Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vanalttart||Cooper, A. Duff||Falle, Sir Bertram G.|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||Courtauld, Major John Sewell||Ferguson, Sir John|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Courthope, Colonel Sir George L.||Fielden, Edward Brocklehurst|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Sir Archibald||Craddock, Sir Reginald Henry||Flanagan, W. H.|
|Braithwaite, Maj. A. N. (Yorks, E. R.)||Cranborne, Viscount||Flint, Abraham John|
|Foot, Dingle (Dundee)||Kimball, Lawrence||O'Connor, Terence James|
|Foot, Isaac (Cornwall, Bodmin)||Kirkpatrick, William M.||O'Donovan, Dr. William James|
|Fraser, Captain Ian||Knatchbull, Captain Hon. M. K. R.||Oman, Sir Charles William C.|
|Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Knebworth, Viscount||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. sir Hugh|
|Fuller, Captain A. E. G.||Knight, Holford||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A.|
|Galbraith, James Francis Wallace||Knox, Sir Alfred||Palmer, Francis Noel|
|Ganzoni, Sir John||Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton||Patrick, Colin M.|
|Gault, Lieut.-Col. A. Hamilton||Lambert, Rt. Hon. George||Pearson, William G.|
|Gillett, Sir George Masterman||Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.)||Peat, Charles U.|
|Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Leckie, J. A.||Penny, Sir George|
|Gledhill, Gilbert||Leech, Dr. J. W.||Percy, Lord Eustace|
|Glossop, C. W. H.||Lees-Jones, John||Perkins, Walter R. D.|
|Gluckstein, Louis Halle||Leigh, Sir John||Peters, Dr. Sidney John|
|Glyn, Major Ralph G. C.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Petherick, M.|
|Goldie, Noel B.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Bilston)|
|Goodman, Colonel Albert W.||Levy, Thomas||Pickford, Hon. Mary Ada|
|Gower, Sir Robert||Lewis, Oswald||Potter, John|
|Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)||Lindsay, Noel Ker||Powell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H.|
|Granville, Edgar||Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Cunliffe-||Power, Sir John Cecil|
|Grattan-Doyle, Sir Nicholas||Little, Graham-, Sir Ernest||Pownall, Sir Assheton|
|Graves, Marjorle||Llewellin, Major John J.||Procter, Major Henry Adam|
|Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter||Llewellyn-Jones, Frederick||Purbrick, R.|
|Greene, William P. C.||Locker-Lampson, Rt. Hn. G.(Wd. Gr'n)||Pybus, Percy John|
|Grenfell, E. C. (City of London)||Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (H'ndsw'th)||Raikes, Hector Victor Alpin|
|Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Lockwood, John C. (Hackney, C.)||Ramsay, Alexander (W. Bromwich)|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro', W.)||Lockwood, Capt. J. H. (Shipley)||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)|
|Grimston, R. V.||Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander||Ramsbotham, Herswald|
|Gritten, W. G. Howard||Lumley, Captain Lawrence H.||Ratcliffe, Arthur|
|Guinness, Thomas L. E. B.||Lymington, Viscount||Rawson, Sir Cooper|
|Gunston, Captain D. W.||Lyons, Abraham Montagu||Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)|
|Guy, J. C. Morrison||Mabane, William||Reid, William Allan (Derby)|
|Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||MacAndrew, Maj. C. G. (Partick)||Rentoul Sir Gervals S.|
|Hales, Harold K.||MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr)||Renwick, Major Gustav A.|
|Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||McCorquodale, M. S.||Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.|
|Hall, Capt. W. D'Arcy (Brecon)||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Seaham)||Roberts, Aled (Wrexham)|
|Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)||MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)||Robinson, John Roland|
|Hamilton, Sir R. W.(Orkney & Zetl'nd)||Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Rodd, Rt. Hon. sir James Rennell|
|Hammersley, Samuel S.||McKeag, William||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Hanbury, Cecil||McKie, John Hamilton||Ross, Ronald D.|
|Hanley, Dennis A.||Maclay, Hon. Joseph Paton||Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)|
|Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||McLean, Major Alan||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel E. A.|
|Harris, Percy A.||Maclean, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (Corn'll N.)||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter|
|Hartington, Marquess of||McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)||Runge, Norah Cecil|
|Hartland, George A.||Macmillan, Maurice Harold||Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy)|
|Harvey, George (Lambeth, Kenningt'n)||Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I.||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Haslam, H. C. (Lindsay, Horncastle)||Macquisten, Frederick Alexander||Russell, Hamer Field (Sheffield, B'tslde)|
|Haslam, Sir John (Bolton)||Magnay, Thomas||Rutherford, Sir John Hugo|
|Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M.||Maitland, Adam||Salmon, Major Isidore|
|Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.||Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Chelmsford)||Mallalieu, Edward Lancelot||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)|
|Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Mander, Geoffrey le M.||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Herbert, George (Rotherham)||Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart|
|Hillman, Dr. George B.||Marjoribanks, Edward||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D.|
|Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller||Marsden, Commander Arthur||Savery, Samuel Servington|
|Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Martin, Thomas B.||Scone, Lord|
|Holdsworth, Herbert||Mason, David M. (Edinburgh, E.)||Selley, Harry R.|
|Hope, Sydney (Chester, Stalybridge)||Mason, Col. Glyn K. (Croydon, N.)||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)|
|Hopkinson, Austin||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar)|
|Hore-Belisha, Leslie||Meller, Richard James||Shepperson, Sir Ernest W.|
|Hornby, Frank||Merriman, Sr. F. Boyd||Simmonds, Oliver Edwin|
|Horobin, Ian M.||Millar, James Duncan||Sinclair, Maj. Rt. Hn. Sir A. (C'thness)|
|Horsbrugh, Florence||Mills, Sir Frederick||Skelton, Archibald Noel|
|Howard, Tom Forrest||Milne, Charles||Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.|
|Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.||Milne, John Sydney Wardlaw-||Smith, Sir Jonah W. (Barrow-In-F.)|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Mitchell, Harold P. (Br'tf'd & Chisw'k)||Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)|
|Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport)||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)|
|Hume, Sir George Hopwood||Mitcheson, G. G.||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)||Monsell, Rt. Hon. Sir B. Eyres||Smithers, Waldron|
|Hunter, Capt. M. J. (Brigg)||Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr)||Somervell, Donald Bradley|
|Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer||Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.||Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)|
|Hurd, Percy A.||Morris, John Patrick (Salford, N.)||Samerville, D. G. (Willesden, East)|
|Hurst, Sir Gerald B.||Morris, Owen Temple (Cardiff, E.)||Soper, Richard|
|Hutchison, Maj.-Gen. Sir R.(Montr'se)||Morris, Rhys Hopkin (Cardigan)||Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.|
|Inskip, Sir Thomas W. H.||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Spender-Clay, Rt. Hon. Herbert H.|
|Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.)||Moss, Captain H. J.||Stanley, Lord (Lancaster, Fylde)|
|James, Wing-Com. A. W. H.||Muirhead, Major A. J.||Stanley, Hon. O. F. c (Westmorland)|
|Jamieson, Douglas||Munro, Patrick||Steel-Maitland, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur|
|Janner, Barnett||Nathan, Major H. L.||Stewart, William J.|
|Jennings, Roland||Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Stones, James|
|Jesson, Major Thomas E.||Newton, Sir Douglas George C.||Stourton, Hon. John J.|
|Joel, Dudley J. Barnato||Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)||Strauss, Edward A.|
|Johnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields)||Nicholson, Rt. Hn. W. G. (Petersf'ld)||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Jones, Lewis (Swansea, West)||Normand, Wilfrid Guild||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Ker, J. Campbell||North, Captain Edward T.||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton-|
|Kerr, Hamilton W.||Nunn, William||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray F.|
|Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart||Turton, Robert Hugh||Wills, Wilfrid D.|
|Summersby, Charles H.||Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyon||Wilson, Clyde T. (West Toxteth)|
|Sutcliffe, Harold||Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Taylor, Vice-Admiral E.A.(P'dd'gt'n,S.)||Wallace, John (Dunfermline)||Wise, Alfred R.|
|Templeton, William P.||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)||Withers, Sir John James|
|Thomas, James p. L. (Hereford)||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)||Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount|
|Thomas, Major J. B. (King's Norton)||Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)||Womersley, Walter James|
|Thompson, Luke||Waterhouse, Captain Charles||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir H. Kingsley|
|Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles||Watt, Captain George Steven H.||Wood, Major M. McKenzie (Banff)|
|Thomson, Mitchell-, Rt. Hon. Sir W.||Wayland, Sir William A||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Thorp, Linton Theodore||Wedderburn, Henry James Scrymgeour-||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'noaks)|
|Titchfield, Major the Marquess of||Wells, Sydney Richard||Young, Ernest J. (Middlesbrough, E.)|
|Todd, Capt, A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)||Weymouth, Viscount|
|Todd, A. L. S. (Kingswinford)||White, Henry Graham||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Touche, Gordon Cosmo||Whiteside, Borras Noel H.||Captain Margesson and Mr. Russell Rea.|
|Train, John||Whyte, Jardine Bell|
|Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|