(in Court dress): I beg to move,
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followcth
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
It is a great honour, not only to myself, but also to my constituency of Rossendale, to have the privilege of moving this Address in reply to the Gracious Speech from the Throne. It requires but a simple calculation to discover that such an event can only, on an average, befall a constituency about once in every 300 years. And it is as such that it will be honoured in the political history of my division. In moving an Address to His Majesty, it is fitting to recall that Rossendale was once a royal forest, a hunting place of Kings and Dukes of Lancaster. In later times it became an industrial district and earned the name of the Golden Valley. Hon. Members will be aware that what Lancashire does to-day, the rest of the world will do to-morrow. It is indeed a fact that the valley of Rossendale aban- doned its golden standard long before His Majesty's Government saw fit to do the same thing.
The Gracious Speech declares that the central purpose of His Majesty's Government in international affairs is to promote and to sustain, by every means in their power, peace in the world, and it further makes reference to the Disarmament Conference. That Conference continues to be watched throughout the length and breadth of the land with the keenest interest. The maintenance of the Conference is largely the result of British initiative, and the British Draft remains the hope of the future. It will, therefore, I believe, be generally conceded that the mantle of moral leadership has fallen upon British shoulders. It imposes responsibilities from which anyone might shrink, the more so as we seem to be on the verge of developments which may prove decisive in world history. We are all anxious that the eventual outcome of that Conference shall be a great measure of disarmament, but, if so much cannot be achieved, then at least must we all hope that some fruitful results will attend their labours, for, should it be otherwise, there will be a weakening of faith in that principle by which we all stand, the principle of settling international differences by means of international arbitration, and there will further be an enfeeblement of the world's only co-operative instrument, the League of Nations.
The Gracious Speech refers also to a new Measure for dealing with unemployment insurance and the assistance of those who unfortunately have no work and are in need. His Majesty's Government have already favoured us with their proposals upon this matter. When recently we adopted a system of protective tariffs we made a change in the practice of less than a hundred years, and we felt that we had made a great break with the past. But in substituting national for local administration of the assistance of those in need we break finally with the tradition and practice of centuries. It may well be that in those earlier days any locality was fairly representative of all sections of the community, but in later times the coming of modern transport had the social disadvantage of tending to separate sections of the community and distribute them in different areas in accordance with their wealth.
It is but just and honest that the burden of the poorer districts should be shared with their more wealthy neighbours. And the final administrative recognition of this fact will meet with an approval far transcending the bounds of party. Indeed, I believe it to be a matter of legitimate national pride that we should be the first country in the world to introduce a Measure dealing comprehensively with all the able-bodied industrial unemployed in our land. Hon. Members will also feel gratified to learn that His Majesty's Government propose to provide free instruction for young persons of from 14 to 18 years of age who are unemployed. There can be no doubt that efforts to mitigate the evil effects of idleness and of lack of discipline at this impressionable age will in principle receive universal support, and I am sure that we all hope that this Measure will in fact prove to be a great step forward in our march of social progress.
If there was one thing more than another in the Gracious Speech that gladdened me, it was the reference to the continued efforts of His Majesty's Government to create favourable conditions for the export trades. Cotton and coal were named, and the House will forgive a son of Lancashire if he pays particular attention to cotton, our country's greatest export trade and the most important industry of his county. Perhaps I may with brevity first recall to the House something of the importance of Lancashire in our national affairs. With all proper respect to my hon. Friend who is to follow me; we hear a good deal about Scotland, which is, of course, a place of some importance. But the population of the whole of Scotland is less than that of the single county of Lancashire; and if we regard the numbers of industrial workers, and particularly the female figures, we find them yet more striking and those of Lancashire are much the larger. This is not the only point at which we compare. It is not sufficiently known that Lancashire has to her credit the record day's bag of that splendid English bird the grouse. For us, however, cotton is a more important matter. Upon it a great part of our livelihood depends, and our situation, though somewhat improved, remains very difficult.
Every Lancashire Member will welcome this reference in the Gracious Speech. No one will expect al] views to be agreed upon the remedies to be adopted, but our apprehension is general. Beyond our shores loss of markets, and, in particular, competition rooted in the low standard of living of the Orient, is causing the gravest misgivings. My own knowledge of this highly intricate situation is enough to enable me to realise that there is no simple straightforward solution; but we must, I believe, all realise that the present difficulties may prove to be but the beginning of yet graver difficulties which we and other Western nations may have to face for another generation or more to come front the Eastern hemisphere. The words of the Gracious Speech clearly indicate that problems connected with the cotton export trade are engaging the serious consideration of His Majesty's Government. Indeed, I hope and believe that I may discern in my own selection for this honourable task to-day an earnest of the Government's lively purpose in this matter.
His Majesty's Government should be much encouraged in entering upon the new Session by the great improvement in trade, industry and employment which has marked their administration during the year that is now drawing to a close. The fact that there are now some 660,000 more insurable persons at work than there were at the beginning of the year is a matter over which everybody will rejoice. His Majesty's Government have dug and planted for the future. Many expected benefits can only be realised in time to come, but the first fruits of their efforts which we are now tasting are doubly sweet for coining in a time of need. We know that this tender growth may be nipped in the bud as a result of conceivable developments in foreign parts. Such things are beyond our control and must be accounted among the ill-chances of life. But in the midst of this troubled world it seems to me we must all draw hope and courage from the fact that we alone among the great Powers possess true stable Parliamentary Government freely elected by the people. No greater proof of the stability and efficiency of our traditional instruments of Government could be either given or demanded. And when these years of difficulty are over I believe that our ancient yet ever adaptable constitu- tion will emerge from its period of trial strengthened anew and yet more deeply founded in the traditions of our country.
(in Court dress): I beg to second the Motion.
The Motion was ably moved with a true sense of locality by my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Cross). It is a curious and, I believe, a unique coincidence that the honour conferred on the ancient and industrial division of Kilmarnock is no new thing for it. Though the odds are heavy against the chance, as my hon. Friend reminded us, no less than five times in the last 26 years has this Motion been Seconded by the hon. Member representing the Kilmarnock Division. One of those distinguished Members was the present hon. and gallant Member for Partick (Lieut.-Colonel MacAndrew); another was the late Mr. W. G. C. Gladstone. I am reminded at this moment that as President of the Union I was privileged to assist in the unveiling ceremony of a memorial to those ex-officers, including Mr. Gladstone, who fell in the Great War. I am reminded at the same moment of the responsibility falling on those of us who survive and those who follow to spend our energies in the overwhelming cause of peace so resolutely desired by every hon. Member. It is not necessary, I believe, to confuse manliness with militarism nor peace with pacifism. Leadership based on informed understanding is the need of the world and the policy of the Government. The honour done to me on this occasion is also due to that broader conception of Scottish nationality which reflects itself so persistently in providing Prime Ministers for this House, and also, if I may say so in the same breadth, minority parties.
May I on this occasion crave very special forbearance for a maiden speech, because, having been rejected by the electorate on three previous occasions by large and enthusiastic majorities, I am more than usually nonplussed in taking my seat and in almost the same breath facing the House in an upright position. But I am encouraged by the words of the Lord President of the Council that fluency of speech was not the first and last virtue. A new Member with 10 days' silent experience coming into this most British of institutions must be the victim of many bewildering impressions. Not the least is the state of parties in this House. Although the convention that the Opposition sits facing the Government is still to some extent accepted, one finds a healthy independence of mind sitting behind the Government and quiet little pools of free-thinking among the forests of official Government supporters. To some this might seem to indicate a decay in Parliamentary institutions. To my mind, it shows their vitality in a world which is not particularly partial to their survival. After all, in an institution it is its exercise rather than its origin, its use rather than its form that matters, and I believe that it is the peculiar genius of the British race to accommodate its institutions to new situations and, as a result, to prove itself both the custodian of the past and the pioneer of progress.
To some people national government is Britain's answer to the logic of world events. To others it is perhaps the beginning of a re-definition of purpose on a new basis of principle and common background. I think that we may say that mankind ever since his earliest ancestry has been living in a state of suspense, at any rate in a time of transition; but this age has a very peculiar reason to be called a time of transition. Two years ago the nation returned a Government not only to avert a crisis but to carry out a policy. Vast changes have already been made, but the Gracious Speech indicates greater changes still to come.
Sound principles both in the control of expenditure and in measures calculated to encourage enterprise.
In those words lie the kernel and philosophy of that policy. It is a policy which seeks to analyse the distress of the world and to apply, not quack remedies, but those developments of sound economic practice which the world demands. The result has been that, relatively to the rest of the world, Great Britain is more prosperous to-day than she has been at any time since the war. This, I submit, is a matter not so much for boasting as for humble gratefulness and for pride
A bold Bill, already referred to by my hon. Friend, charged with explosive material, is shortly to be detonated on the Floor of this House, and no doubt an alert and critical assembly will pay it the close attention which it undoubtedly merits. We may say that Great Britain has made—and is about to reinforce it—the most careful provision and the most elaborate provision of any country in the civilised world for its less fortunate citizens. Along with that provision we may be permitted to note the promise of positive action which has resulted from a series of unspectacular steps and wise administration. Such a Bill is, in fact, only possible now because it has been preceded by two years of good government housekeeping. Other observations in the Gracious Speech referred to improvements in the housing conditions of the people and in the hours, as well as the environment, of the younger wage-earners of the community. No apology is required for sound social legislation and protection for the adolescent.
Finally, I feel sure that all sections of this House must be gratified at the increased employment that has followed on the steady and growing confidence of the business world. May I ask, in conclusion, what is this confidence? Within the framework of careful Measures affecting the stability of our currency and the channels of our trade, the improvement of our marketing and, subject to Protection, the re-organisation of our industrial structure and plant are proceeding. Within that framework, which it is the peculiar province of the State to stimulate, thousands of separate individuals have taken risks and have launched new enterprises, well ordered in their conception and contemporary in their technique. That, I say, is the meaning of confidence in the last few years. Therefore, I say, whether in industry, agriculture, building and housing or in the export trade, is it not essential that the work of the industrialist shall be carried forward in an atmosphere of political security and stability?
We are all united, I believe, in the knowledge that the constructive forces of the country, of whatever party, are dedicated to the effort of ushering in a new era of prosperity to this country and the Empire. I believe that every hon. Member, irrespective of party, must be glad to see those growing signs of individual responsibility, and every hon. Member, irrespective of party, must be encouraged to know that while other countries are pursuing policies not altogether palatable to ourselves we here are forging, almost imperceptibly, new instruments in govern- ment and industry and the social services for our own peace and prosperity.
Perhaps, after all, the miracle of recovery will be achieved by sound adventure and organised common sense. I venture to say, and I crave pardon if, at this point, I break the bounds of the non-controversial, that the people outside this House will condone boldness if it is allied to sanity and common sense, and in this judgment I have no hesitation in asking the concurrence of the hon. Members for Skipton (Mr. G. W. Rickards), Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg) and East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart) who have recently come into this House, in fact of all hon. Members who are not slaves of a private dogma. This language may seem strange, but it is because at this particular moment I see a vision of Britain and I have a blind eye to party. I have pleasure in seconding this Motion, and thank the House for its patience and courtesy.
I shall have to ask the indulgence of the House, owing to the fact that much speaking has made me rather hoarse. It may be rather painful to listen to me, but some satisfaction to myself that it is not painful to inflict it on hon. Members. My first duty is, quite sincerely and without any reservation, to offer my congratulations to the hon. Gentlemen who have moved and seconded the Address. I do not profess to agree with all their conclusions, but both the form and the matter of their speeches are well up to the level of any similar speeches to which it has been my privilege to listen. Beth the Mover and the Seconder were at some pains to take it for granted that all of us were in favour of peace and of prosperity. That is quite true. But both rather harped on the fact that whatever improvement there might be in the present position of affairs was all due to the National Government. That may or may not be true, but I want at the outset to challenge the assumption that the day has come in the history of our country when the conflict of how to accomplish prosperity or get peace in the world should not be discussed in the same manner as the last hon. Gentleman used to discuss it.
We challenge the assumption that the policy of the Government during these two years has been for the ultimate good of the nation, and we are no less lovers of our country and no less lovers of right and haters of wrong than other people when we make that challenge. We do not accept the position that we are living in the days of non-party government. We challenged that assumption during the General Election, and we have challenged it ever since, and a growing body of opinion in the country is on our side. You have only to take the record of the by-elections. Take the record of Kilmarnock or any other by-election since the creation of this Government, and it will be seen that there has been a growing vote against the Government, or abstention on the part of the electors. The policy of the Government has not received the hacking that the two hon. Gentlemen would lead us to imagine. The fact of the matter is that, in spite of the claim of the Mover of the Address that trade is so much better, he knows perfectly well, and this House knows perfectly well, that the great basic industries of the country are, if anything, in a worse plight than two years ago. I am talking of coal and cotton, and also of agriculture. We who sit in this House hear pathetic speeches from representatives of the agricultural divisions and Members from Lancashire which, of themselves, condemn the statements about an improvement which were made this afternoon. About that there cannot be any dispute whatsoever.
I would like to say this about foreign affairs. I do not think there could be a man or woman in the world who loves peace more than I do. On the other hand, it is policy that always counts in the matter of peace. We do not ever think or say that the Government do not want peace as much as we do, but it is because we consider their policy in pursuit of peace, permanent peace, has really broken down, that we say that it is not the right policy and never can attain peace. We maintain what the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. K. Lindsay) and the Prime Minister would have maintained two and a-half years ago that the foundation of peace both at home and abroad must be economic peace. We cannot have real peace in the world without economic peace, and in our view the Government's policy has not been based on the attainment of economic peace. Their whole policy and performance must lead to economic war which, in our view, ultimately leads to the other kind of war. Therefore, when we challenge their policy it is not because we doubt anything of their sincerity in wanting peace, but because they go the wrong way to work to get it.
Both hon. Members spoke of the Unemployment Insurance Bill that is before the House. That reminded me that nowhere in the Speech to which this Address is being moved is there a message of hope for the masses, for the millions of workers who live under conditions under which none of us would choose to live, or for the unemployed generally. Boys and girls from 14 to 18 are to be allowed to go to work, and when they cannot get work are to be allowed to go to school. The idea that we should be grateful for that is one that I should have thought the hon. Member for Kilmarnock would have challenged, and that he would have said what he and hundreds of us have said for many years past, namely, that the right thing to do was to keep the children at school until a reasonable age, rather than to tumble them into the labour market and then to make provision for them when they are unemployed. I think that that is about as mad a scheme as men could create, first to send young persons away from school and then to send them back to school. Surely it would be more economical to keep them at school, rather than to send them backwards and forwards.
One great omission in the Speech is that there is no mention of the Russian negotiations. President Roosevelt took about 10 days to complete a treaty with Russia. Last year we heard some great speeches in this House about America and about what a good policy it would be if Great Britain and America could march hand in hand together. To-day there seems to be a rift within the lute, if we are to believe the newspapers. We ought to be able to get information from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We are told that great international gambling is going on in regard to francs, dollars and the pound, and that the Government plus the Bank of England—or the Bank of England plus the Government—are taking a big hand in that business, and the result is that people are not quite so friendly in their talk in regard to America.
Nevertheless, the American President is, if anything, a realist; he knows perfectly well that his country is a, great manufacturing country, that it has great powers of manufacturing every sort of commodity, and that it needs customers. In spite of everything that is said and written against the Soviet Government, an agreement has been made within 10 days, and trade and commerce are to start between those two great countries. We have been two years, I think, without a proper arrangement, and it is many months since we gave notice to terminate the trade agreement. I understand that negotiations went on during the Recess, and for all that we know they may go on till Doomsday. Usually, when Governments are negotiating, there is a mention in the King's Speech either that those negotiations are going satisfactorily or that they are terminated, but we are told nothing, and I should like the Prime Minister to tell us what is the present position in regard to the Russian negotiations.
On the question of foreign affairs, I wish to join with what I understand is the intention of the Prime Minister and of the Leader of the Liberal Opposition—[Interruption]—well, those who have crossed the Floor. I understand that they will make a reference to Lord Grey. I did not have the privilege of knowing that statesman; I only knew him, as we know one another as Members of the House of Commons, when he was a Member of the Government. Like so many more of the leading men in this country, he probably was misunderstood, but he showed in his life a personal courage that all of us can respect in resigning himself, in the noble manner in which he did, to the terrible affliction that came upon him in his later years. As to his conduct of foreign affairs, none of us, not even the greatest or the best informed in this House is, in my view, capable of judging. We are too near the events, and most people who write about those events are too personally interested in them to be fair judges. History will have to judge whether Lord Grey did right or wrong. All that I can say is that I believe that, of all the men of his time, he was one who strove to do the right, according to his best convictions, and that is all that you can expect of any man.
Finally, with regard to our own affairs: The Government have put their programme before the House and we, as a party, shall do our best to give them every scrap of support in regard to their statement that they wish to help to preserve the League of Nations and cooperation between nations. We do not think that there is anything else to be done by any of the Governments of the world. If the League of Nations goes to pieces, all the rest of the world will form into groups and possibly prepare for that terrible thing, which everybody dislikes but which everybody prepares for, war. The House must forgive me for repeating this. We do not think that a League of Nations of Governments at variance with one another as to their ultimate economic end, can preserve the peace of the world. It is a disaster that the World Economic Conference failed. We think that it was a most terrible and colossal blunder—I was going to say "crime"—that the statesmen of the world could not sit round and discuss how they could find that economic cooperation without which there is no salvation. There is no salvation for this country, either, without economic cooperation between ourselves and others. We stand for economic co-operation, which means that, when there is abundance in the world or in our own country, it should be shared by the people who have produced the abundance. It is because the King's Speech fails, and the Government fail in their policy, in these respects, that we shall continue not to co-operate in what we consider to be a bogus attempt at forming a national policy and a national government.
The first duty, which is always a pleasant one—and never more pleasant than it is this afternoon—of the Leader of the House, is to join the Leader of the Opposition in congratulating the Mover and Seconder of the Motion for the Address. We are uniformly lucky in the selection of those two Members, but to-day I think our luck has been greater than usual. The hon. Member who moved, in those very light and graceful touches, almost endeared us, not only to the history, but to the future prosperity, of the constituency which he has the honour to represent. When the Seconder proceeded to inform us regarding some incidents relating to his own constituency, I think that he proved to the whole House that Kilmarnock justified itself in having such a very high average of seconders of the Address. When Governments in future have to look for someone to do that very useful function, I am quite certain that, if they are stumped, they cannot do better than fall back upon the hon. Member for Kilmarnock, whoever he may be.
The right hon. Gentleman who preceded me has referred to one who was with us for just over 30 years and who, since we met here before, not counting the few days to wind up the old Session, has left us altogether. I refer to Lord Grey. One required to know Lord Grey intimately in order fully to appreciate him. During the years when he was here, he had to face many controversies. He had to stand here and on the other side and defend opinions that were not altogether acceptable in this House. Nevertheless, his wonderful charm of sincerity, and the power of his singleness of purpose, forbade any difference of opinion corroding personal friendships and destroying personal respect. As the right hon. Gentleman reminds us, some men seem to be born to a strange, incongruous fate, which they have to face and go through and cannot avoid. Of Grey I very often feel that a man devoted body and soul to peace will be written of as a Foreign Secretary during whose tenure of office the world War came. One of those chosen ones who loved with fulness of heart the glory of Nature and its visible life was doomed, in his years of quiet, restful enjoyment, to be enshrouded in a thickening darkness; a man whose breath of life was the atmosphere of the domestic fireside was struck blow upon blow on his affections. These experiences bring us up in reality against the inscrutable decrees of Providence. Yet he never faltered in his public sympathies, and he, of all men, could put the motto upon his crest, "I serve." The House without a dissentient voice will pay a reverent tribute to his memory.
Now we must turn to the work of the living. As usual, the Gracious Speech opens with a reference to the friendly relations in which the country is with foreign Powers. There is no doubt at all that we have been passing through trying and difficult times, and the peculiarity of the problems that we are now facing in
the international field is that they are of the nature of ripening harvests. They are the result of deeds done, wisely or unwisely. The situation in Europe to-day is a continuation of stage after stage of the aftermath of the War and of the Peace Treaties. Still, difficult as the time has been, the Government can well have advised His Majesty to say:
My Government remain determined to uphold the work of international co-operation by collective action through the machinery of the League of Nations and in all other ways calculated to further good relations between all States and peoples.
That is the inspiration of the Government in its foreign policy, whatever phase of that policy it may have to face. Peace in the world is the greatest issue that any Government, British or otherwise, can place before itself, registering its determination to keep that issue before it until it is successfully accomplished.
We have had some Debates on disarmament, and I am glad to say that I can add to-day some information regarding the latest position of the question. We know that the pace has been slow; we know that Geneva has not gone fast. But who would expect it to go fast when this House remembers the enormous variety and intricacy of the subjects that have had to be dealt with at. Geneva, and dealt with, not by one nation or by two, but dealt with by over 60 nations each with diverse concerns, diverse responsibilities, diverse systems of tactics and so on every point raised on the programme about the air, about the land, about the sea, being examined by over half-a-hundred representatives of different nations? How could it have gone faster? It had to take its time. There was the stage when there was the great production of plans there was the stage when the plans were examined; there was the stage when nations, desiring to come to agreements and compromises, had to work most actively with the other nations not quite in the same favourable position as themselves to make reasonable compromises so that all the nations might agree together and march in step.
So far as we were concerned, we were never under any delusion about this fact, that any agreement come to at Geneva by the Disarmament Conference that was not an international agreement—a full international agreement—would be of very little use in establishing peace on a secure basis. We placed before us, from the very beginning of the Conference, the goal of an international convention, and at this moment our contribution to that remains in a unique position. In March, it was possible to propose a plan. The plan was not a fancy plan it was not a plan produced by one Government to suit its own conveniences or to express its own views. It was not merely the expression of a vague aspiration. The plan was related to the mind and the needs of nations in so far as they had been revealed at Geneva; and, when all was brought into consideration and the accommodations were made, His Majesty's Government stand up boldly and say that that plan was a substantial one, and, if carried out, would have been a great contribution to the evolving complete disarmament of the nations of the world.
The structure was shaken by political events, which culminated in Germany leaving the Disarmament Conference and the League of Nations. You could have no plan of disarmament at all unless you got confidence in a considerable measure generally distributed over the nations of the world. The British Government, when the shock came, at once saw that the work at Geneva was not only affected adversely by important representatives being absent from its business, but by the new European political situation that had been created. The new German policy of not merely withdrawing for a second time from the Disarmament Conference, but of striking at the League of Nations itself, had undoubtedly affected the work at Geneva adversely. Nat only had it made difficulties in the Bureau, but it created a new situation which itself had to be considered and made the subject of agreement before further rapid progress with the Disarmament Conference could be made.
That the Conference should be carried on was never in question; the only matter in doubt was what was the best immediate procedure. Last week the Cabinet decided that this new situation urgently required consideration at Geneva. The Foreign Secretary, accompanied by the Under-Secretary, therefore, went there last Friday, and has taken part in a series of profitable and amicable consul- tations with the President and the leading representatives of the States there present. My right hon. Friend has just been able to return this morning. He has reported to me that there is a very good and determined spirit of co-operation in Geneva, that there is no intention of allowing the work for disarmament to die, or to fail, or to stop, but that there is a widespread feeling that parallel and supplementary efforts by the use of diplomatic machinery should now be made, in order to make the most effective contribution to the work which the Disarmament Conference has in its charge. The Foreign Secretary went to Geneva as the representative of the Cabinet as a whole, and we are entitled to claim that British help is doing much to bring about that united effort which is so necessary for ultimate success. We hope that Germany may join in these diplomatic exchanges, and that France and Italy will continue the effort which we have been and are still making so cordially together to bring good results out of the Conference. Of course, we shall continue to act, in all these matters, in close touch with the United States. So far as the proverb is true that where there is a will there is a way, the British Government certainly has the will to make the Disarmament Conference succeed, and we shall not lose any opportunity, but we shall make every one we possibly can, to discover that way and to walk through it to its successful end.
There is one thing to which I should like just to refer—a matter which has been a very considerable hampering influence to this country in these international disarmament negotations. The right hon. Gentleman the other day made a very unbalanced attack, as I thought, upon our disarmament genuineness, in the form of statements regarding the activities of armament firms. He said that we supply about one-third of the total world export trade in arms. That is an exaggeration of a rather gross character. As a matter of fact, there are no reliable figures. The figures that there are show that that statement is grossly exaggerated. He went on:
During October; AO skilled armament workers were taken on by Sheffield firms.
That is not accurate, The fact of the matter is—it has been stated by the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, and I
have had it checked—that the work that the armament firms so-called are doing is not armament work. The work that is making them busy and made them take on more labour is work connected with hydrogenation. There is the statement from Sheffield Chamber of Commerce that not more than 20 per cent. of the turnover of the large steel firms is represented by armaments, and of this percentage a large proportion includes quantities of marine propelling machinery for warships being constructed under the ordinary programme. The remainder is represented by work in connection with large schemes for oil extraction from coal, mercantile marine, alloy steel for motor cars and stainless steel. Sir William Larke, who is the Director of the National Federation of Iron and Steel Manufacturers, says that there are at present no foreign orders for armaments in the Whole of Sheffield. Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd.—it is very important that this should be put on record—inform me that the value of orders placed up to date under the hydrogenation scheme for large steel forgings with the English Steel Corporation, work which only the big steel armament firms have the equipment and the experience to carry out—is £300,000. This accounts for a substantial part of the present activity of the Sheffield steel industry. But that is not all. The right hon.
The exports of nickel, a very large percentage of which is used in making armaments, have amounted to 13,000 tons during the past 10 months, an increase of 700 per cent. over the same period last year.
I do not know where he gets his figures. I will give the accurate figures. They are issued for quarters so that I do not give 10 months. I give nine months simply because it is impossible to give official accurate figures for 10 months. The first nine months of 1932 show an export of 1805 tons of nickel. The first nine months of 1933 show a total export of 3,760 tons of nickel. This is not an increase of 700 per cent. but of 100 per cent.
The exports have increased mainly to Germany, France and Russia. We know that there
is a very large consumption of nickel in both Germany and France for additional coinage. No one knows what Russia is using it for.
Imperial Chemical Industries are extending their explosive works at Ardeer.
I am informed that more than 90 per cent. of their explosives are made for industrial purposes. They have recently, however, concentrated their manufactures at Ardeer and have closed works elsewhere. That is the explanation of the extension of their works. He made this final statement:
The capital of Imperial Chemical Industries is £70,000,000. The principal and interest on their 5 per cent. guaranteed debentures "—
Then he paused—
this is a point that I want hon. Members to grasp"—
So do I—
are guaranteed by His Majesty's Government, which means that it is considered necessary to see that Imperial Chemical Industries are kept going so as to be ready when you want a little poison gas.
What are the facts there? Imperial Chemical Industries have no debentures, guaranteed or otherwise. The right hon. Gentleman, however, may have come across this, that in 1925 one of the associated companies, Synthetic Ammonia, Ltd., applied for help under the Trade Facilities Act and they got guarantees of £2,000,000 debentures. This is a subsidiary of Imperial Chemical Industries with works at Billingham. Their output was almost entirely for industrial purposes, fertilisers. On that account presumably they got a guarantee. I want to inform the House—I say this because, if they extend again, we may be told that it is on account of armament and chemical works—that they have now taken on the hydrogenation scheme and may well be extending within the next 12 months.
I wish to draw attention to another part of the same speech. At the end of last week the Birmingham Small Arms Company had their annual meeting. It showed a profitable balance-sheet for the year. I saw that mentioned in a paper the other day as a proof that small arms and war construction companies were doing remarkably well. As a matter of fact, that company is much less a gun-producing company than a civil engine and tool-producing company. I commend
the speech that the chairman made to that meeting. He showed that they were making profits on private and commercial motor cars, especially small cars, cycles and machine tools—and in that connection he referred to the value of Russian contracts—high grade steel, especially tool steels, valve steels and abrasive wheels. On these sections they were making the profits. The remaining branch of the company which he mentions is the manufacture of sporting guns, rifles and machine guns. Of this he says:
We have a considerable amount of capital invested in the factory and plant required to carry out this work, but without orders for military weapons it is not possible to make it a steady profit earner. Our plant for the production of army rifles is at present entirely idle owing to there being no orders for Service arms. We have been fortunate, however, in obtaining some orders for Lewis guns for foreign Governments, which has enabled us to keep together a nucleus of the skilled staff engaged in the small arms side of our business.
I hope those who are conducting this propaganda will remember that, when they talk about ammunition work, they are talking mainly about civil steel and engineering production. I hope, when they quote figures, they will take the precaution to check them, and I hope beyond all that, however much they may feel it their duty—and I know they do—to make their protest strongly and sincerely about the evils that may follow from the private manufacture of arms, they will remember that exaggerated and distorted statements such as we had the other day only make it more difficult for this country in its international relations.
The next section of the Gracious Speech deals with India, and there His Majesty's Government say that they propose to reconstitute the Committee which comes to a natural end with the end of the Session. I may inform the House that we propose to suspend this Debate for to-morrow in order to take that subject, and that we shall resume the general Debate on the Address on Thursday. The Government stand by the White Paper with all its safeguards. We hope that the Committee will be set up to-morrow and will proceed with its work as quickly as possible. I think it but right that we should thank the members of that Committee for the great patience and the tremendous amount of labour that they are putting into it and assure them that we expect a report which will do justice both to the expectations that we have raised in India in the past and to the problems which political evolution has presented to us in the case of Indian Government.
As regards Newfoundland, a White Paper will be issued. It will reveal a somewhat serious state of affairs in the Dominion, and, again, in connection with that, the thanks of the House are largely due to Lord Amulree, who went out as head of the Commission, and has given us so much guidance—wise and sane guidance, as I think the House will find when the White Paper and the Report are published.
I do not propose to deal with the paragraphs dealing with the financial state of the country, and the methods which have produced that present state. With regard to the only question, I think, that has been addressed to me, so far as the Soviet negotations are concerned, they are proceeding quite favourably, and with as little delay as possible, and the delay is certainly not on our part. The times when the negotations have been suspended, and so on, were not owing to anything that we did, or to any obstacles made by us. But as soon as possible, the House will receive a report from the President of the Board of Trade about the results of those agreements. There are other trade agreements also on hand.
Regarding the Unemployment Bill, that will be brought before the House in due time. It is hoped that the general Debate on the Address may finish on Tuesday. Wednesday is a Private Members' day.
Yes, next week. At the moment—I will make a final announcement at the usual time—the intention is to begin the Second Reading Debate on the Unemployment Bill on Thursday next week, so that there will be no delay in bringing the Bill before the House. That will be the main Business of the House until the Christmas Adjournment. Then we shall have our housing scheme—our slum clearance work. We shall push forward with it, because nobody knows better than His Majesty's Government that that change in the social habits of our people is absolutely necessary, and that the Government, along with the local authorities—side by side with the local authorities—have got not only a political but also a moral obligation to our people to see that those changes are made, and made speedily.
What about providing an income to keep the house'?
The PRIME MINISTER: We are doing that. The hon. Member knows perfectly well that the best income that can be provided for anybody is an income from work that is open to them whether they are engaged in professional work or manual work. He knows perfectly well that there is more work being provided for our people to-day than there has been for some two years back. He knows perfectly well that while the economic state of the world is as it is now, so much broken and disrupted, this country has taken a leading part in bringing it together, so that commerce will flow liberally once again down the international channels. He knows perfectly well that that is the only step that to-day can be taken by a Government facing its immediate problems, and not merely looking 100 years ahead. Those are the only steps the Government can take, looking at their immediate troubles, and we are going to take those steps, and continue in the year in front of us exactly the policy laid down in these paragraphs. We are going to extend the experiment of small holdings, and we propose to introduce legislation that will cheer the hearts of everyone. I am not claiming absolute perfection for it. I wish we could, but we are introducing legislation regarding the training of the adolescents and young persons. We are introducing legislation regarding the employment of young persons which, again, will be a substantial contribution to the solution of that problem that is facing us more pressingly now than ever it did, namely, the training of young persons and adolescents. I hope the House will, after due discussion and examination, proceed at the end of the allotted time to the passing of the Unemployment Bill, a Bill which, as has been said to-day, is the most conspicuous example given by any Government of the world in dealing with the state of unemployment with which the world is so familiar to-day.
It would be less than respectful to the House if, rising for the first time from these benches, I were not to say a few sentences by way of explanation, but they will be very few, When the National Government was' formed, and His Majesty entrusted the commission to the right hon. Gentleman, he made this statement to the country:
One thing, and one thing only, will put British credit in a position of security at this moment, and that is a scheme consisting in economies on the one side and further revenue on the other.…That scheme will be produced. In order to do it, a Government has been formed. It is not a Coalition Government. I will take no part in that. It is not a Government which compels any party to change its principles or subordinate its individuality. I should take no part in that either. It is a Government of individuals formed to do this work. … The Election which will follow will not be fought by the Government.
It was upon that basis that the Liberal party co-operated in the combination that was then formed, and, although a few weeks later that basis was changed, and the Government, under pressure from one section of the Cabinet, determined that a General Election should be held, we did not separate from the Government at that time, on account of the extreme gravity of the national crisis. But at no time were we willing to sink our independence; at no time did we pledge ourselves to support whatever policy might in the future be adopted by the majority of the Cabinet, and during the last Session in this House we have found ourselves in frequent divergence from the Government.
I would like here to pay a tribute of thanks for the forbearance which was shown to us on many occasions by the great majority of this House who may have felt some resentment that repeated criticisms should be directed against the Government from those benches, and particularly to the Patronage Secretary to the Treasury, whose patience must sometimes have been sorely tried, but whose courtesy was never at fault. But I know that there must have been in the House a growing feeling that criticisms of that character, directed not once or twice, but repeatedly, ought properly to have been addressed to the House from the seats opposite the Government, and not from the Government Benches. Hon. Mem- bers may disapprove those criticisms. They may condemn many of them, or perhaps all, but if the criticisms had to be made, I think there would be a general feeling in the House of Commons that it would be more in accordance with Parliamentary practice that they should be directed from these benches rather than from the Ministerial Benches to the right of the Chair. It would be more in accordance with Parliamentary traditions that they should be directed towards the Government face to face. Therefore, when we make our opposition from here, the forms of the House will correspond more closely with the facts. Moreover, it would have been impossible for us on those benches to move any Amendment on this occasion to the Address in answer to the King's Speech, as it would not have been in accordance with Parliamentary usage. That is all I have to say on the Parliamentary aspect of this matter. On the general political aspect of this question, I have spoken outside these walls, and will do so again.
Perhaps the House will permit me to make one brief personal observation. It happens that to-day it is 25 years since I had the honour of being sworn a Member of the Privy Council, and during all that long period I have tried faithfully, according to my lights, to serve the State at home and overseas, and, although hon. Members may disagree with my political action in those days, I can assure them that I shall still endeavour to serve the State in what I regard as the interests of the public.
During the last year, as has been recalled by the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister, the country has suffered a loss in the death of Lord Grey of Fallodon, who, for over 30 years, was a Member of the House of Commons, and was Foreign Secretary during the greatest crisis through which this country has passed in its modern history, bearing in those days an unexampled burden of responsibility. Those of us who were his colleagues in the years preceding the War, and especially in those fateful weeks of the summer of 1914, know perhaps best of all the utter sincerity of his desire for peace, and his indefatigable efforts to secure it. He was a man with great qualities—honour, loyalty, patience, patriotism, and human sympathy also; a
man who bore with great courage heavy afflictions; a man of simple directness, and with a great gift for comradeship—one of the type that lends strength and dignity to our public life. Perhaps I may be permitted to add one word also with regard to another old and distinguished Member of this House who passed away yesterday, Augustine Birrell, whose speeches were a delight to the House of Commons and to the public, whose talk was a joy to his friends, and whose writings gave a new zest to our literature. Both those men—Grey and Birrell—were tired, and ready to go. It has been well said that:
Death is not so sad when one has lived." Both of them had lived—fully and well.
The House to-clay is engaged on the Address in answer to the King's Speech. Both the Mover and Seconder acquitted themselves fully up to the highest standard of their predecessors. It must have been for the Seconder, in particular, somewhat of an ordeal to have to combine what, to most of us, has been the terrifying experience of a maiden speech in the House of Commons, with the seconding of the Address in answer to the King's Speech. We must all congratulate him upon the success with which he has achieved his task. Both of them have laid emphasis, in spite of the lethal weapons at their side, on the need for international peace, and the House, like the country, is concerned most of all to-day upon that department of international politics there is the deepest concern and anxiety for the success of the Disarmament Conference. We have heard with the greatest pleasure to-day from the Prime Minister that its efforts are not to be abandoned, that the Foreign Secretary and the Under-Secretary of State have succeeded in maintaining the continuity of its work, and that, if success is not to be achieved along one line, at all events, attempts will be made to pursue those efforts along another line. We all rejoice in that. Nothing would carry more disappointment, I think, into the hearts of the people throughout the country than to know that the Disarmament Conference was a confessed failure and that after all those efforts no results were to be achieved. Peace depends upon a peaceful atmosphere, and the thing which is of the greatest importance these days is to endeavour to remove the
underlying causes of international friction. Upon those matters some of us spoke quite recently, and we shall be speaking again, and I shall not dwell further upon them.
The second paragraph in the Gracious Speech deals with what is, undoubtedly, the second most important subject before us m these days, and that is the constitution for India. Here all that we can do from these benches is to urge the Government to proceed along the path on which they are proceeding without paying too much attention to the vehement opposition of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) and those who follow him. My right hon. Friend always reminds me rather of what Mr. F. S. Oliver said of George II:
Being at once self-willed, wrong-headed and quick-witted, he was for ever in danger of straying from the path of reason.
My right hon. Friend has, I venture to say without disrespect, those qualities, and when he strays from the path of reason, as he is doing on this occasion, we all of us have to beware of following in his footsteps.
Turning to economic matters, the Gracious Speech refers to the need of confidence, of maintaining the confidence of the country, and that, no doubt, is true. But confidence demands two factors. One is that there should be stable government in the country, that its financial position should be secure, that the people should be able to have confidence in the stability of its institutions, and that is one prime requisite. The other is to have commercial confidence so that the manufacturer shall feel confident that he will be able to sell his goods at a remunerative price. Confidence depends upon markets. It depends upon demand. The psychological factor is of importance, no doubt, but it is only a temporary one, and, in the long run, it is the economic factor which tells. There can he no real confidence in the commercial future of the country unless business men, manufacturers, merchants and financiers believe that the goods produced will, in fact, be demanded and consumed. Therefore, the Government are right to have their paragraph in the King's Speech with regard to exports, and we here who have never ceased to declare that this country must export or expire are glad to see this emphasis laid upon that side of our policy. But in the last year, while our exports have shown some growth, largely because the pound has depreciated by 30 per cent. in its value and all our exports have a bounty of 30 per cent. compared with our competitors in France, Belgium and other countries on the Gold Standard, in spite of that enormous stimulus, the increase in our exports, as compared with last year, has been exceedingly small. In our exports to Europe our trade shows a slight decline, and to foreign countries outside Europe a slight increase, and to the Empire, excluding Ireland—and, of course, you must exclude Ireland, because there are several factors greatly affecting exports—our exports to the Empire are almost identical this year with what they were last year. They show an increase of 82,000,000. If we take Canada alone—and I have just returned from a visit to Canada, where I discussed these matters with many people—
The value of the pound has sunk a great deal this year compared with last year. There is a further 10 per cent. decrease this year compared with last year, which is an additional stimulus. While our imports from Canada this year have increased by 10 per cent., our exports to Canada-have shown no appreciable increase since Ottawa. They were almost precisely the same as before Ottawa. If we go back for a period of years and take the figures pre-War, we find that Britain is buying from Canada 50 per cent. more than she was pre-War, and Canada is buying from Britain 30 per cent. less than she bought pre-War. It is largely owing to the influence of the crushing tariffs upon British goods which have been imposed in Canada by the Bennett administration. It is also through the pressure of the Prime Minister of Canada that this country was induced—in our view most wrongly induced—to denounce the Trade Agreement with Russia, and to engage in those prolonged and difficult negotiations which have now been proceeding for so many months. Already last year our export trade with Russia was half what it was pre-War, and this year it has been halved again, and since the denunciation of the Trade Agreement we have lost millions of trade with Russia. In fact, the export trade with Russia which we have lost this year, compared with last year, is twice as great as the increase of trade that has proceeded to various countries of the Empire since the Ottawa Agreements.
The fishing industry, in which many of my hon. Friends are specially interested, is at this moment suffering most severely from depression, largely because it has lost one of its most important markets owing to the denunciation of the Trade Agreement with Russia. It is rather hard on the fishing industry, when demand has fallen off from that cause, for the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries in this House to tell them that they must bear a share of responsibility for their present plight
if in a glut situation they continue to over-produce.
We first destroyed their market through terminating the agreement with Russia, one of the most important markets in the world, with a consequential over-production of fish, and then the Minister of Agriculture says it is largely their own fault because they persist in over-producing under conditions of glut. While for 13 months we have been endeavouring to negotiate a new agreement with Russia, the United States in a few weeks has achieved a trade agreement with Russia which will probably result in a great increase in American trade to the disadvantage of British trade.
With respect to cotton, which finds a mention in the King's Speech, there, again, our exports in cotton this year show another large decline compared with last year. Although Members of the Government are continually saying that our exports show such a satisfactory increase, one after another of our great staple trades shows no increase whatever. If you look at the figures for the first three-quarters of this year compared with last year, they will show a large decline in British cotton exports compared with last year both in yarns and in piece goods. In my constituency, which is one where large numbers of operatives are engaged in cotton production, one-third of the operatives are still unemployed-32 per cent. of the insured population. Millions of our fellow-countrymen are still living at this time in conditions of extreme hardship and depression, and until the trade of the world is restored their situation is not likely adequately to be improved.
One small factory employing 35 people. Over the country as a whole, I believe that the number employed in all the new factories, according to the latest figures stated in the House by the Board of Trade—and my right hon. Friend will, I hope, correct me if I am wrong—was 9,00 persons—persons employed in new factories started by foreign firms here, against an unemployed population still of considerably more than 2,000,000.
The Gracious Speech makes reference to one other Measure which is to be introduced into this. House this Session, and that is a Bill for continuing the beet sugar subsidy. That is one of our remedies for depress: on, and one of the measures of economy, no doubt, which the Government are adopting in view of our serious financial situation. This matter has been frequently before the House, and, in his Budget speech, not of this year but of 1932, the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave a definite undertaking that no further subsidy should be granted to the beet sugar industry until there had been a special inquiry in order that the Government and the House might be informed as to the facts of what many of us regard as a gross financial scandal. These were the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 19th April, 1932:
As to whether this concession should be continued in a future year, or as to what is to happen when the present Subsidy Act expires in 1934, I am not at present in a position to express an opinion, but with a view to receiving guidance on this and other matters, the Government have further decided to appoint a committee to inquire into the conditions of the United Kingdom sugar industry as a whole, including production, refining, and distribution, and to ask this body to report to them before the present Subsidy Act expires."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th April, 1932; col. 143–5, Vol. 264.]
That was 18 months ago. There has been no such committee. No steps have been taken to appoint such a committee and no explanation has been given by
such steps have not been taken. Private negotiations have taken place between the Government and the industry concerned and now, as the Subsidy Act expires next year, this House, without any inquiry, and in defiance of the pledge given publicly at that Box by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget speech, after an interval of a year and a half the House is to be asked to continue the subsidy without full information with respect to the facts of the case.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend would not wish that I should enter into controversy with him across the Floor of the House, but he will know that we have on frequent occasions explained the position, and it is not at all what he represents.
The right hon. Gentleman has not explained the position at all. All that they have said was that they did not propose to appoint a committee. That is the sole explanation which has been given, and the committee may be appointed later on after this Bill, which is now to be introduced, has been passed, and then the House will be fully informed. If I am wrong and there is to be a committee now, before the Bill mentioned in the speech is to be introduced, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will say so.
Certainly. My right hon. Friend is aware that I have repeatedly informed the House that there was to he a thorough inquiry before the present Measure was introduced, that we wished for still further information and that, therefore, we wished to carry it on as a temporary Measure for one year longer. But one very important inquiry has been carried out for the purposes of the Treasury. He knows because I have told him. That further inquiries have to come on, he also knows. It is not a new proposal. It was made last summer.
What the right hon. Gentleman calls an inquiry is merely a Government negotiation with the interests concerned, a purely departmental investigation in regard to the facts of the case. That is not the Committee which was promised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Committee which was promised by him, and which the House expects, is a Royal Commission or a Departmental Committee, constituted of impartial persons, who will elicit all the facts of the case and see where the £30,000,000 or £40,000,000 of public money has gone—it is not a small matter, in maintaining this industry, before we vote further millions in order to continue it for another year.
If the right hon. Gentleman considers that a Treasury enquiry with the aid of an important outside firm of accountants is not an inquiry, then I have no more to say to him.
Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that that was the inquiry which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had in mind when he made that statement on the Budget last year? Was that the kind of inquiry with the House expected would be held, merely that there should be a Treasury inquiry, with the assistance of an accountant, as to how the money has been spent? We want the whole matter brought out into the full light of day. We want to know how much money has gone, how many people have been employed, and whether it is true that 25s. of public money has been spent for every man, for every day that he has been employed. We want to know what justification there is for expenditure upon that scale? I can assure my right hon. Friend that if the proposed Bill is introduced without previous public inquiry, at which witnesses may be heard and the case can be stated on one side and the other, then the Measure will receive the most vehement opposition from these benches, and I believe also from the benches above the Gangway.
The main Bill before the House in the earlier part of the Session, will be an unemployment Measure, a comprehensive and most important Bill to which my hon. Friends and myself are now giving very careful scrutiny. Therefore, I would wish to reserve anything which I might say on that Bill until a later stage, when the Measure is before the House. Let the House remember that a Bill dealing with the unemployed, important and necessary as it may be, is not a Bill dealing with unemployment. To deal with unemployment is far more important. We regard the programme of the Government in that connection as being very inadequate, and particularly in respect of housing. However, there will be, I understand, a full and specific Debate upon that subject, and on that occasion we shall give reasons why we consider these proposals inadequate. Further, it is disappointing to find that Measures in regard to Land Settlement are to be limited to Scotland. It is most important and necessary that there should be a large and comprehensive measure of land settlement for England and Wales. I will not say that the programme is disappointing, because very little was expected. This new Sessional programme, like the speeches of Ministers, indicates a tone and a temper in our present-day politics which falls far below the urgent needs of these difficult times.
After the mover and seconder of the Address have delivered their excellent speeches, after the party leaders, the leaders of great parties and the leader of a once great party, have made their contributions to our knowledge, the House will perhaps be so indulgent as to tolerate a few comments on some aspects of the situation from a back bencher and private Member. Here, let me say by way of parenthesis that it astonishes me, after having listened to the Debate on so many of these occasions, that private Members neglect the opportunities with which an occasion like this could supply them. We often have complaints from them that they have no opportunity of being called—
Allow me to point out to the hon. Member that there will be many hours to-night—the House has no need to adjourn—when a very active discussion could be maintained. With a desire to set an example in that respect, I shall offer a very few observations to the House. It is usual on these occasions for the Prime Minister to give to Parliament and the country a broad survey of public affairs bath at home and abroad and to focus the main issues upon which political controversy is likely to develop in the coming Session between the different parties, but on this occa- sion the Prime Minister, the Leader of the House, has confined himself, except for casual mention of others, to two main topics. He dealt with Foreign Affairs and he dealt with the question of armaments manufactured by private firms. I am bound to say that I thought his argument on the latter subject was very effective and one which might have been reinforced, because I believe it is no exaggeration to say that this country, where we are so busy pillorying the armament firms is, inure than any great country, devoid of the means of making weapons of defence should emergency arise. More than the industry of any country either in Europe or on the northern Continent of America this island has almost lost the capacity to make weapons of defence, if it were required to do so. It is a very odd thing that when the principle, of disarmament has been carried in this island so far as that, even menacing the entire safety of the country, it should receive no recognition from the party opposite, and that those who have disarmed most in the world should still be accused of being jingoes, war-mongers, and protectors of armament firms.
But it is not with that part of the Prime Minister's speech that I wish to deal to-night. I am anxious to follow up for a very short time the discussion which has taken place upon the foreign situation. Europe to-day presents a lamentable scene. There was one phrase in the right hon. Gentleman's speech relating to Foreign Affairs—almost the only phrase in which, I am bound to say, there was any information—in which he dealt with the importance of using diplomatic machinery. He said, and I was very glad to hear him say it, that parallel and supplementary efforts would be made as a result of diplomatic machinery. That is a very desirable thing. There was a time when statesmen never left their own country and there ensued a time when they hardly ever returned. There was a time when the statesmen of different countries hardly ever met each other, but there has come a time when they must be getting frightfully bored with continual propinquity.
I was reading a book the other day by an able young writer, long versed in the affairs of the Foreign Office, Mr. Harold Nicholson, in which he referred to the evils of imprecision in Foreign Affairs. When you get two very distinguished statesmen, representing two different countries, and they meet together, naturally they wish to be extremely polite with one another and naturally they want to make the very best impression. Both desire to have something to take home to their people—this one to show what he has done for his country and what sacrifices he has made of his country's interests for the sake of peace. Each seeks to make an effect with their awn particular public. It is not really a good method of conducting diplomacy. I should have thought that it was much better to use the trained diplomatists more, to use the Ambassadors more, to use the vehicle of carefully considered dispatch, in which the nice terms of meaning and the realities can be stated deftly and clearly, where the situation can be put calmly and patiently in the right way by those men who have made it their life's business to study foreign affairs, and can convey exactly the shadow of meaning which is required. Therefore, I am glad to know, because I made a suggestion on the subject to my right hon. Friend earlier in the year, that we are going to have diplomatic machinery employed again.
The position which we have now reached in Europe is a very lamentable one, and I do not think that this Debate at the opening of the Session, the greatest day in the Session, when the whole field of affairs is open, when the Gracious Speech is made the subject of an Address from the Commons, should pass without some comment on the subject. A most unsatisfactory result has been reached in Europe, and I am going to say, as I have said before, although it will not be at all popular, that the Prime Minister's conduct of foreign affairs, whether as the head of the Socialist Government or as the head of the National, patriotic Government, has been equally attended with misfortune. I do not say for 'me moment that he is responsible for the tremendous turns and twists of events that have occurred in the attitude and demeanour of great countries in Europe, still I must draw the attention of Parliament and the country to the total collapse of all the main matters with which he has been personally concerned in foreign affairs.
Let us look back. There was the London Naval Conference. I do not think there is any doubt whatever to-day among those who study the position of our Navy that that has been a very great hindrance not merely to our naval strength but to our spending such little money as we can afford to spend in a manner calculated to give us the greatest measure of security. Then we come to Lausanne. I have always thought that it was a very great mistake to release our German debtors until we had some security in regard to our credit. What has been the result? We have released them and what have they done with the money that otherwise they would have had to pay across the exchange? They have been buying the nickel referred to by the Prime Minister with the money that ought to have been put across the exchange, whereas we have received no sort of effective release from our creditors elsewhere. I cannot feel that the triumph of Lausanne, the more it is examined, will bring any sense of satisfaction to those who have studied the situation.
Then there is the World Economic Conference. I have heard people say about the Prime Minister that, although he may have his faults and short comings, see how good he is at conferences; that is his speciality. Before the meeting of the World Economic Conference Parliament sent him to the United States on purpose to arrange beforehand and make sure that there were no misunderstandings. All that happened was that we allowed that conference to assemble without any effective common policy with the United States of America, with the result that the nations brought together from all ends of the globe to London were made participators in one of the most painful and melancholy fiascos of international intercourse. Future international relations have to that extent been impaired and the prospect of general co-operation impoverished.
Lastly, there is the Disarmament Conference, which is the main topic upon which I desire to speak. I have often wondered what is the secret of the Prime Minister's success. I have watched him with the greatest interest all these years and I have often been very puzzled how it is that he seems able, in the words of the poet:
to ride in the whirlwind and direct the storm.
I have not the slightest doubt that it is far from his intentions, but I am bound to say that one of the qualities which have led him to the giddy pinnacle which he now holds is an extraordinary aptitude for laying the blame for failure on other people. He was for a long time, two years, the leader of the Socialist Administration, of whom I have expressed the worst possible opinion. It now appears that all the blame rests with hon. Members now sitting on the benches opposite. The right hon. Gentleman the other day spoke about the importance of having a good memory. He has the best kind of memory one can have, a memory which conveniently forgets. His anno domini, his hegira, begins with the end of the year 1931.
Now in regard to our foreign policy, the long series of breakdowns—they cannot be described as anything else—which have reduced diplomacy almost to bankruptcy in Europe, I understand that the blameworthy person is the Foreign Secretary. I have no means of information except the many channels of the public Press, but as far as I can see and from what I hear he is the guilty person. I hold no brief for my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary; indeed, no one has any need to hold a brief for him. He is very good at holding briefs, that is his forte. But where the Foreign Secretary makes a mistake is not in the manner in which he conducts the brief he has taken up, but in his readiness to accept any brief which is tendered to him in the proper manner and with the appropriate fee marked in the corner. He takes up anything which is presented to him, with the consequence that he finds himself, and has found himself on this occasion, placed in a very difficult position.
In regard to the Disarmament Conference, I think that the Foreign Secretary was set an impossible task. The task he was set was to persuade Europe to agree to what is called the MacDonald Plan of Disarmament. The Prime Minister placed this great plan before Europe, making enormous demands upon ourselves and prescribing to the angry and nervous Powers of Europe exactly the size of their armaments and air forces. But the Prime Minister had never worked out the figures. He presented this scheme to Europe, and, as I said at the time, France and other countries, although naturally polite, said they would read it a second time and send it to a committee. I understand that it was only read a first time and then sent up to a committee, and I gather that the Foreign Secretary was entrusted with the difficult business of handling the matter in committee. The French would never agree to let such a plan be read a first time unless they had a perfectly clear plan and method, very proper on their part considering the danger they are in to see that the plan worked no mischief. There was bound to be a breakdown when the matter came into committee.
Look at the formula put forward with so much triumph by the Foreign Secretary. He dealt with it quite tenderly, as one which would reconcile France and Germany. It was, "a system of equality within a system of general security," or was it "equality within a general system of security"? Or was it "qualitative equality within a general system of security"?
What does it all mean? What is the result of all that? When you are trying to get agreement to bridge the gap there is this absurd formula presented, which is really a contradiction in terms. You might just as well say that you are in favour of deep water bathing provided it is certain none of us get wet. Ladened with this tremendous plan, this plan which would make Germany and Italy numerically stronger than France, a plan which would derange entirely existing balances of Europe, and which, I believe, if it were the rule to-day would place us in a position when we should not be far removed from war, the Foreign Secretary goes to the committee and at a certain stage, having tried to cozen the French, has to agree to something which they put in, with the result that the Germans leave the Conference. And he has to bear the blame for that. The responsibility rests on those who, without adequate study, put forward a plan which makes us interfere in the vital life of Europe, a plan which had no chance of being accepted, and then throw the burden of carrying it through upon the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary.
The right hon. Gentleman will allow me to correct him on one point. He will clearly understand that I am just as much responsible for the British plan as anybody else, and I do not disclaim a scrap of that responsibility.
I am well aware of the doctrine of Ministerial responsibility and nothing that I have said contradicts it in any way. The Disarmament Conference has been a danger to the peace of Europe. It has not only made the relations of different countries much worse, but it has undoubtedly had the effect of gravely endangering the League of Nations itself. The Four-Power Pact which the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has been concerned in making is undoubtedly a rival to the League of Nations; it cannot help being so. If hon. Members will watch carefully in the next few weeks the action of Italy they will see that a new centre will be set up which, if it develops, will undoubtedly lead to an immense weakening of the League of Nations as an instrument upon which we can rely. This would be a great misfortune. One of the gravest issues which arises at the present time is a weakening of the League of Nations, first, by trying to do things which it cannot do, thus casting a strain on it which it cannot bear and, secondly, by the great Powers endeavouring to break away and conduct the vital matters of Europe through another agency. In my view, the prudent course for us is to associate ourselves with the League of Nations to defend safety and honour by working not with three or four nations but with 12 or 14 Powers, and doing our part, and no more, in conjunction with those Powers. I have taken the opportunity of the Debate on the Address to bring these matters once more before the House, and I thank them for their indulgence.
I interrupted the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) not because I do not like listening to him, as a matter of fact I get more pleasure out of his speeches than I do from almost any other, but because I think the right hon. Gentleman if he attended a little oftener would realise the fact that back bench Members do take the opportunity of addressing the House when they get a chance of speaking. The difficulty is this that Members of the two Front Benches when they care to get up are called, and then we have the Privy Councillors and ex-Cabinet Ministers, all of whom get their chance before the back bencher, who naturally gets tired sitting hour after hour and not being called. I hope that those who have already attained prominence will allow the back bencher to get his chance just as they got their chance years ago. To-day's Debate has taken a somewhat different turn to what is usual on these occasions. As a rule the time is taken by paying compliments to one another, but last year the Leader of the Opposition altered the procedure and brought in relevant matters for discussion. He has done so again to-day, and has called from the Prime Minister a speech dealing with general matters and also a speech from the Leader of the party now on this side of the House. I am glad that this is the case.
I witnessed the ceremony in the House of Lords to-day and the thought crossed my mind as to whether the pomp and show was really the meaning of Parliament. If so then I am afraid that parliamentary government is almost doomed. Unless it means something more than that it is goodbye to what we call parliamentary government in this country. Therefore I am very glad indeed that we are able this afternoon to get down to something definite on the day that the King's Speech is being discussed, because I wish to call attention to one or two matters that touch me very keenly. There is no mention in the Gracious Speech, or only a slight mention, of the coal business. Something is said about the export trade for coal, but there is no mention at all of the conditions of work of the men who are getting the coal.
I want to give to the House particulars of a personal experience I had during the Recess. I know that hon. Members in various ways try to find out during a Recess what is happening in the country so that they can come back to the House and get reforms carried out. When I was going round my constituency to speak complaints were made to me about the terrible conditions under which the men have to work in deep mining. I got permission from a manager to go down a mine. From what I saw I can give an illustration to the House of the conditions under which the men work, and I shall contend that the time has come when something must be done in the matter. The mine that I descended has a shaft 1,000 yards deep. The workings go down another 300 yards. That gives a distance of 1,300 yards to the place where the men are working. Hon. Members can visualise the conditions under which these men are getting their living. It is generally known that the heat of deep mines is intense. These men were working in an atmosphere of 103 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature in this House is just over 60 degrees. At the seam, which was a yard thick, the men were working naked, and alongside them were the cans of tea or water with which they had to refresh themselves in order to keep at their work. These are conditions which are not mentioned in the King's Speech.
I ask hon. Members, do they expect that the vast number of men who have to slave under these conditions can look with anything like calmness on the show and pomp that we have witnessed to-day, when no attempt is made to deal with their conditions. To emphasise my point as to what can be done, let me quote from the Mines Act:
The air must contain not less than 19 per cent. of oxygen, nor more than 11 per cent. of carbon dioxide.
I ask that something more be done by the Government to bring about better conditions in the mines. Let me state some facts which show that other countries are in advance of us. In Spain, which cannot be called one of the advanced countries of the world, the hours of work are limited to six per day if the temperature is above 91.4 degrees. If the temperature exceeds 107 degrees, -work is prohibited. I have already mentioned 103 degrees as the temperature of the mine I visited. In Holland workers under 20 years of age are not allowed to work if the temperature exceeds 86 degrees. If it exceeds 86 degrees the adult workman is not allowed to work more than six hours a day. If the temperature exceeds 95 degrees special authorisation has to be obtained from the mines inspector before work can be continued. In Germany they are not called upon to work more than six hours a day if the temperature exceeds 82 degrees, and in France if it exceeds 93 degrees. Yet in this country there is nothing in the Act to prevent men working in any degree of heat.
I want to know whether the Government intend to take action in regard to deep mine working. I have taken the trouble to look up the report of the Royal Commission of 1965 on Coal Supplies. It said:
The chief obstacles to deep working are high temperatures and cost.
Then the report stated:
The Coal Commission of 1871 reported that in this country the temperature of the earth is constant at a depth of about 50 feet. At that depth the temperature is 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The rate of the increase of the temperature of the strata in the coal districts of England is in general about one degree Fahrenheit for every 60 feet of depth.
Therefore at the depth I have quoted it is round about 114 degrees. Then the report added:
It is not easy to determine the maximum temperature which is consistent with the healthy exercise of human labour. There seems, however, no difficulty in working at upwards of 90 degrees, provided the ventilation is brisk and the air dry.
Having regard to the circumstances of this country we think it is safer to adopt the conclusions of the Commission of 1871, and to regard 4,000 feet as the limit of practicable working.
The mine that I have mentioned was on 12th October 3,900 feet in depth, or just 100 feet short of the maximum stated as the limit of what is practicable for deep working. Yet the Government are doing nothing Whatever to inquire into the matter or to deal with it. I have put several questions on the subject to the Secretary for Mines, and all I have got from him is that certain inquiries are being made. There has been no answer to my request that something should be done to prevent men working at an excessive depth, or to limit the temperature at which they should work. I appeal to-day to the Prime Minister to keep his mind on the industrial conditions in this country as well as on international affairs. I appeal to him to have some regard for a body of men who in the past have been very loyal to him. He represents a mining constituency, and if he asks these men he will find that there is plenty of substance in what I have said.
Following on that there are other matters that I must mention. The men are not so healthy because of the conditions under which they work. They are subject to boils and other outbreaks. I have appealed to the Government on this matter, but the Home Office have told me that the trouble is not sufficiently prevalent for them to do anything about it. I again appeal to the Government to consider the matter. Then I want to make a further appeal regarding compulsory inshrance under the Workmen's Compensation Act for injured workmen. I did expect something to have been said about that in the King's Speech, for there is a general concensus of opinion throughout the House that something ought to be done about it. We cannot get hon. Members opposite to agree to a comprehensive change in the Workmen s Compensation Act, but I think we could get them to agree to the compulsory insurance of workmen who come under that Act.
It is a matter of vital importance to the coalfields, and to every industry that is under the Act. If a large firm fails a workman gets no compensation. About a month ago a man brought a case into Court, and the judge was very stern indeed with the employer, who was not insured. When the verdict went against the employer the judge was told that there was no money to pay the man. The judge said the employer had no right to be in that position, and that he ought to have insured himself so as to protect the worker. On this subject we have ample evidence to convince the Government that something should be done. Those of us who know what is happening in the industrial districts are glad of the opportunity of raising these subjects on the Address, so that the people who send us here may know that we are trying to do something on their behalf.
As the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) said, there are available tonight hours which back-benchers can claim in this Debate. Whereas we often complain of our lack of facilities, we have only ourselves to blame in this Debate if we do not take full advantage of our opportunities. The right hon. Member for Epping dealt with the question of imprecision, and he drew an example of two statesmen of different countries coming together with diverse views and failing to come to any common understanding of the question which they were discussing, even though each might go away with the impression that he had convinced the other of the merits of his own case. If that exists as regards two statesmen from foreign countries, it is all the more deplorable that it exists in this country at the present time. I believe that most of the citizens of this country, and many of the hon. Members of this House, are entirely befogged as to where we stand in our foreign policy. Fundamentally we lack understanding on the position of Locarno. At the public meeting after our party conference our leader, the Lord Privy Seal, said that we should stand loyally by our obligations at Locarno. But only a few nights later I heard the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs reassure this House and the citizens of this country that we had a perfect right to self-determination under that Treaty. I submit we cannot have it both ways.
If we are completely free we cannot fulfil the obligations under that Treaty without the will of the House of Commons and the will of the people. I am sure that whatever Government attempted now to drag the country, or involve the country, in any war which was not short of territorial invasion of our country or our Dominions, would not get the present House of Commons, irrespective of party, to follow them, and would not get the country to support them even if the House were so unwise as to support them. Therefore, I submit, that we are in an anomalous position, and that we are entitled to ask the Government to give us a clearer exposition of where we stand, and not leave us with the feeling that we are really facing both ways—facing one way to Europe and then turning round and explaining away that position to our own people.
While this Disarmament Conference is in the process of being rebuilt or finally dying—which is happening, I am not quite clear, after having read most of the Press reports from Geneva and even the Prime Minister's message to the House to-day—I want to draw the attention of the House to something which I regret was omitted from the Gracious Speech, and that is the need of essential security which this country must enjoy during the period when the Disarmament Conference is sitting, and the transitional period which must elapse after that Conference has come to a conclusion, and during the time that those conclusions are being brought into force.
We read about the great silent Services, but never have our Services been so silent as in the last few months in this House. The Service Ministers have never said in this House or on public platforms whether they, after consultation with their advisers, are satisfied that their respective Services are adequate for our home and Imperial defence commitments should emergency arise. If they are satisfied then let them say so and the country will be re-assured and will proceed to back up any decision of the Government on disarmament with a greater feeling of confidence than they would have at the present time. If those Ministers are not satisfied however it is their duty to say so openly and fearlessly even if it entails leaving the Government. They would then be fulfilling a greater duty than that which they have to their colleagues, namely, the duty of looking after the great Services which are responsible for the safe keeping of the citizens whom we represent in this House.
I will endeavour to prove my words as to the justifiable misgiving which exists in regard to the present situation. On 26th June, 1923, the present Lord Privy Seal, who was then Prime Minister, outlined our key requirements as decided by the Salisbury Committee, the most powerful defence committee ever set up in this country. The right hon. Gentleman announced that we should have a home defence air force of 52 squadrons, and that this strength would be reviewed in the light of the size of air forces of other countries and the policy pursued by other countries in future. He used these words:
In addition to meeting the essential air power requirements of the Navy, Army, Indian and overseas commitments, British air power most include a Home Defence Air Force of sufficient strength adequately to protect us against air attack by the strongest air force within striking distance Of this country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th June, 1923; col. 2142, Vol. 16,5.]
The right hon. Gentleman at that time considered 52 home defence squadrons essential for the security of this country, and admitted that the situation should be reviewed in the light of future developments. What have the developments been since 1923? Does the right hon. Gentleman consider that the situation has improved I Would he say that the situa-
tion in Europe to-day is more peaceful than the situation was in 1923? Would he say that this country is more secure in relation to France and Italy as regards air defence than it was in 1923? Would he say that there is any less likelihood of war breaking out in Europe to-day than there was in 1923? He knows, as we all know, that since 1923 every other country in Europe has increased its air force while we have reduced ours, and that the political situation in Europe to-day is far less stable than it was in 1923 when he laid down those minimum requirements for this country.
I know that one is liable to be accused of warmongering if one speaks of national defence. One is liable to be accused of advocating warlike measures if one is not living in the fashionable attitude of sentimental pacifism which is so rampant today. Anyone who has been through a war knows better than those who have not been through a 'bar that the last thing which any individual or any family in this country wants is war. I maintain that we have done more than our share since 1923 to set an example. I do not want any panic measures. I do not advocate quick rearmament, or the building of 5,000 aeroplanes overnight or anything uneconomic of that kind. But we must aim at parity—at a one-power standard in the air. Even though we subscribe to the ideals of world disarmament and peace we cannot afford to be 100 per cent. idealistic and nought per cent. practical.
The Government have a dual responsibility—to attain the ideal of world peace and to ensure the security of the citizens whom they represent. The Government are aiming at the first ideal and this country has as I say done more than any other country in that respect. Now it is time for us to think of the practical position of the citizens of this country and we must keep that aspect of the question in mind while the Disarmament Conference is proceeding. When a Draft Convention is signed, as I hope will be the case, let it be a Convention giving us parity. Whether parity is fixed at 500 aeroplanes or at one I do not mind. If it is to be fixed at 1,000 I should rather deplore the fact. If it is to be fixed at 500 I should be less sorry. If it is at 200 I should be very glad and if it is fixed at one aeroplane I should be delighted though I am afraid that idea is a very long way from being practical politics to-day. But, whatever is settled as parity in the Draft Convention, we must build up to that parity slowly during the transition period while other countries are coming down to that parity level. If the need for security was admitted by the Lord Privy Seal in 1923, I am sure he would admit that security is just as essential to-day. If the right hon. Gentleman does not think the position more stable politically, if he agrees as to the danger of the increased air forces which have grown up on the Continent, how can he justify any further measure of disarmament for this country while the present conferences are proceeding, or indeed for the retention of the present dangerous position?
There are two other points in the Gracious Speech from the Throne to which I would refer. The Speech deals with the Unemployment Insurance Bill which we are to debate next week. The Ministry of Labour have done well to produce that Bill, but not quite well enough, and I hope that 'at a later stage it will be possible to insert in it some provisions which will bring a greater degree of fairness in their insurance life to those seasonal workers, those who might be called the "untouchables" of the winter months, in whom I am particularly interested, as are other Members who represent seaside areas where the great industry is that of providing for holidaymakers. Then, as regards slum clearance, if words, if speeches, if newspaper articles could clear away slums we should not have a slum in this country. I hope that those words, those speeches, those articles are now to be translated into action. The Government will find ample support from back benchers and in all parts of the House for whatever steps they may take, however drastic and unconventional, and however they may cut across vested interests, to deal with this problem.
To-day, I believe we are still in the midst of a crisis. It is still essential that we should have national unity even at the sacrifice of party interests. Some of us, frankly, do not like such sacrifices. Nevertheless at the present time it is essential to continue our support of the National Government, and we do so in a spirit which may be represented by these words: "Let the Government make any mistake except the mistake of inaction in any field." I believe that the country will forgive the Government any mistakes provided that there is a definite urge and fire in whatever action the Government may take to deal with our problems. It is extraordinary that this country still relies on the Parliamentary system of government when nearly every other country has gone to some form of dictatorship, Right or Left. I think the youth of this country, however, are discontented. They are surging forward. They are seeking for something. They think that the War generation and the generation which preceded it have made a mess of things. If we here do not justify our existence as a Parliament, if we of the War generation do not justify ourselves as a generation, then youth will seek alsewhere outside our Parliamentary institutions, and we shall have only ourselves to blame.
It is only because of the extreme gravity of the international situation that I venture to intervene in this Debate and to make a few suggestions which I hope may be thought helpful by the Government. Although I greatly deplore the action of the Government during certain phases of the Disarmament Conference in the past two years, I wish now to support them in every posible way. I do not want to go back on the past, but I feel strongly that in the timidity of their action over Manchuria and in their lateness in bringing forward definite, practical proposals at the Disarmament Conference, they have contributed in no small measure to the present situation. If the Prime Minister had only been six months earlier in performing the courageous and admirable act of going to Geneva and producing the draft plan, it might have made all the difference in the world. The right hon. Gentleman took some pride the other day in describing what the policy of the Government during the first few months of the Conference had been. He said that it had been their policy not to put forward a programme but to see what other proposals were made and to find out how far pieces of the proposals of other people could be joined together.
I feel that at the moment we are at the parting of the ways as regards the future of the world, perhaps for generations, and if the Disarmament Conference breaks down, as it may, then all the considerations urged by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour) will be of the utmost importance. There will be a race in armaments. We shall be told that we must have the greatest air force and the greatest navy and all the rest of it—that we must be pre-eminent. Every other country will say the same, and we shall be heading straight towards another 1914. The Prime Minister has told us that there are to be, during the next few weeks or months, certain supplementary conversations through diplomatic channels. I hope they will prove valuable and produce the results which the Government desire, but I am bound to say that I have some scepticism on the point. I do not think our experience of the past year along those lines have led to very happy results. I hope they will succeed, but I venture this suggestion. The Government ought to put forward a bold and clear policy of their own to the world and stand by it and back it with the whole prestige of the British Empire. They have had encouragement to adopt a course of that kind. In leading articles in the "Times" newspaper in the last week or two complaint has been made that the British Government does not seem to have a policy and that it ought to have one. I think that is very sound and wise advice, and I hope that the Government are going to adopt it.
What ought that policy to be? It is the duty of anybody who urges the Government to put forward a policy, to make certain concrete suggestions. I think it is fairer to France and to the other countries concerned to say openly and plainly what we think. It will be much easier for a country to make a surrender, if it is to be so called, to world opinion in that way than in private conversations beforehand, which, as we know, are liable to be misunderstood and are so difficult for the Governments concerned. We ought to return to the MacDonald plan of last March. We ought to make that our sheet anchor and the probationary period should be definitely abandoned. It has failed. If it had been acceptable and had been agreed to all round, as seemed possible at one time, no doubt there would be a great deal to be said for it. But it has failed, and success along those lines cannot be achieved. Let us frankly abandon that, and go back to the Government plan of last March, without any probationary period. Let us further say that we are willing to abandon all the weapons forbidden to Germany in the Treaty of Versailles, because if we do not do that, it undoubtedly means the rearmament of Germany, probably at the termination of the Disarmament Conference, and Germany would be able to re-arm with tanks, heavy mobile artillery, and certain other things.
The right answer to Germany's request to be allowed to arm with those weapons of war is, "You have no need to do so, because we are all proposing to forbid to ourselves in due course, as part of the disarmament plan, the things we forbade to you because they w ere aggressive weapons 14 years ago in the Treaty of Versailles." I suggest that, in addition, we should insist upon budgetary control, which I am sure the Government would be only too glad to include, and, of course, we should insist upon all-round supervision of armaments in every country from the very beginning. I believe that a frank, outspoken proposal of that kind, made either in this House or at Geneva—because it is essential to work through the machinery of the League—or, if it were thought better, by the system of Circular Note to the main Powers of the world interested in this question—because that would have the effect of bringing Germany directly and necessarily into the discussions—I believe that a proposal on those lines, made in one of those ways, might have the effect of bringing the world together and enabling it to come to a satisfactory agreement on these measures of such vital importance to the future of the world for many, many years. I hope the Government will seriously consider whether it might not be wise to proceed on those lines. Of this I am certain, that if they did so, they would have behind them in this country an overwhelming measure of public opinion.
Some two years ago I had what was regarded by some of my friends as the audacity to address this House for the first time during the Debate on the Address, and rather significantly the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander), who has just resumed his scat, was at that time called upon by you, Mr. Speaker, immediately following my own speech. From that time onward I have attempted to study very carefully the speech he then delivered and many of the speeches which have since been delivered on the great subject of armaments, and I would venture to make one suggestion to the hon. Member. As his associations are so strong and influential in the activities of the League of Nations Union, I would ask him to do, in the cause of peace, a great service to the League of Nations Union by suggesting to it that it might caution some of its own speakers, especially some of its own professional staff speakers, as to the line of speech that should be adopted when addressing organisations and meetings throughout the country and the Empire on the great subject of world peace.
We have sufficient insinuations in Sheffield against our ordinary industrial activity without having them added to by official representatives of the League of Nations Union, and I say this because I am convinced that such speeches do more to create a spirit of suspicion, which ultimately leads to war, whether internal or external, than do all the facts or so-called facts that are raked up against us in the matter of the production of armaments. I will quote a speech reported in the "Sheffield Daily Telegraph" by the Rev. H. Hall, who, addressing a meeting of the League of Nations Union in the Victoria Hall the previous evening—this was last week—said:
One-third of the exported arms of the world went from this country. Arms were being exported secretly. Shells had been sent from Sheffield labelled 'Hot water bottles.' It was possible for such things to get through the Customs.
The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton knows that that is not true, and the reverend gentleman who made the statement has since admitted that it referred to a period over six years ago and had nothing in common with the general agitation at the moment in regard to Sheffield's activity in munitions production. I suggest that such misleading statements as those, unqualified in every respect by those who make them, and coming from a representative body such as the League of Nations Union, should,
if that union really desires peace, immediately cease, and that instructions from the union should be sent out that only definite statements of fact must be made by their representatives in the country.
The hon. Member must surely be aware that the League of Nations Union members are drawn from all parties, and that many people speak on its platform. The union never pretends to be, and cannot be, responsible for statements made, but if the hon. Member will give me any particular instances that he has, I shall be glad.
I am glad the hon. Member has interrupted me, because if the League of Nations Union cannot be responsible for the persons who appear on its platform in support of the aims and objects of the League of Nations, I cannot understand how anyone of average intelligence can have any hope whatever or any faith in any activities that may be promoted by that body.
Frankly, I believe, and so do many of my friends, in view of speeches that we have heard from that platform, that there is a spirit more like war than peace emanating from it in a majority of cases. It was two years ago when I appealed to the Government in respect to armaments—coming, as I do, from one of the largest armament-producing centres in the country, the Attercliffe Division of Sheffield—that if they were to pursue a policy of peace and if the pursuit of that policy meant the abolition of armaments so far as this country was concerned, it was the business of the Government to tell the armament producers, both those responsible for the plant and those responsible for the productivity, that their services would be no longer required, and that they could at the earliest available opportunity rationalise such services or reorganise such plant in order that they might be set in the early future on the production of more peaceful commodities. I suggested at that time, when for many years skilled armament workers had been walking the streets with no hope of employment, that it would be better and more humane in every respect if the Government made a definite declaration that, so far as their future activities were con- cerned, they could pursue the production of more peaceful commodities.
While the Government have not taken my advice—I did not expect them to do so—in the form of practical policy, they have in other directions produced a policy which has enabled the industrialists of Sheffield, one-time armament producers, to reorganise and re-equip their old armament plant for the production of more peaceful commodities. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, during the Disarmament Debate the other evening, very unfairly, in my opinion, accused us on this side of having recently placed into regular employment in Sheffield 340 highly skilled armament workers. I am glad the right hon. Gentleman is now in his place, because I am convinced that he would not willingly allow such a statement to go forth if he realised the damage that it would ultimately do to the workers in the Sheffield area. I do not know exactly what he means when he talks of highly skilled armament workers, whether he means shell finishers, shell makers, turners, highly skilled engineers, or others, but I know from my own investigations that the statement that 340 highly skilled armament workers found employment in Sheffield for the first time for a number of years during the month of October is entirely without foundation.
The actual position in so far as steel workers in Sheffield are concerned, which the right hon. Gentleman, in my opinion, wilfully evaded in addressing the House, is that during October no fewer than 3,142 steel workers resumed employment for the first time for a number of years, and the truth of the position is that those steel industries of Sheffield that used to be the hub of armament production are to-day employing, not 340, not a mere handful or bagatelle of skilled steel workers, but no fewer than 16,500 more than they were employing 12 months ago. If the right hon. Gentleman really wanted to be fair to Sheffield and to represent the true position of Sheffield, he should have congratulated the Government on having produced a policy which had created a sufficient amount of confidence and security within the industrial areas of this country to enable Sheffield to give additional employment to no fewer than 16,000 people during the past year.
I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that statements of the nature of that to which I have referred, read in this country, may be regarded with some measure of concern, according to who delivers them and according to the position of power occupied at the time by the person delivering them; but has he any idea how statements such as he made in respect to Sheffield the other evening are received in foreign countries I If he were a Frenchman, a German, an Italian, a Belgian, or a member of any other foreign race, and he read a statement by a responsible Leader of the Opposition in His Majesty's English Parliament that the steel metropolis of the world was rapidly engaged in employing men for the purpose of munitions production, would he take any notice of what that country's Ministers said about our pursuit of a peaceful policy and our determination to bring about peace, no matter to what lengths we must go? He would be suspicious, I am convinced, of any country which one of its own ex-Ministers said was busily engaged in producing armaments, and I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, not only for himself, but for those fellow Members of his party who are at the moment engaged in speaking throughout the country at one by-election after another, to tell the real position, the true position, in respect to armaments, and not the unreal and untrue position. After all, the right hon. Gentleman holds a responsible position, and he above anybody else should never be responsible for irresponsible statements in the country.
The hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), speaking in the country the other day, said that the armament activity in Sheffield was sufficient to make him physically vomit. What exactly physically vomiting means in legal terms I do not know, but coming from the hon. and learned Gentleman, it must have some effect on the mentality of the people of this country. I hope it is not a vomiting effect, but if they would only realise the truthful side, it would be a vomiting effect that would be ultimately advantageous to the wellbeing of the country as a whole. The truth is that in Sheffield, as the Prime Minister said to-day, we are en gaged as hard as we can be to win back the domestic markets of the world and the great industrial markets that were once our possession, and the difficulties that we have had to bear have been placed on our shoulders by circumstances over which we have no control. It was necessary in 1913, 1914 and 1915 to import thousands of men into Sheffield for armament production. These men came from every quarter of the British Empire and at the end of the War did not go back, but remained in Sheffield. The vast majority have remained a charge upon the industrial rates of Sheffield. It is no out-of-place thing to say that until a year ago the industries of Sheffield were more or less strangled by the rates.
The point I was making was that the rate position in Sheffield for a number of years, owing to the necessity of having to import large numbers of men for the production of armaments, has been in itself sufficient to strangle the efforts and energies of industrialists and workmen who have tried, and tried sometimes in vain, to resuscitate the name of Sheffield in the steel markets of the world. We have now achieved that end We have done it for two reasons. The first is that this Government has given new confidence to industry as a whole, and the second is that we have got rid for one budgetary period of the interfering mismanagement of a local Socialist administration. Having had the advantage of sound local administration coupled with sound national administration, Sheffield is nearer to getting back to the avenue of prosperity than she has been since the War.
I appeal to hon. Members not to allow statements to be made which are untrue and based upon misrepresentations, and which are derogatory to one of the finest industrial areas in this country in times of peace, and one of the most needed areas in times of war. I can give a categorical denial to the allegations that have been made by the Leader of the Opposition and his friends, and I would ask that speeches made by prominent industrialists in that centre in respect of their own industrial requirements and developments will he more used by the Opposition as the basis for their speeches than their own trumped-up imaginations. Then, and then alone, will the Opposition have an opportunity of understanding the real prospect of this country under a condition of Socialism.
I was anxious to hear the King's Speech to-day, because I wanted to know what the Government would say about trade and industry. In the Speech at the Prorogation on Friday the Government rejoiced in the steady improvement of employment, and I was reminded of a broadcast by the Lord President of the Council on 13th October when he claimed that the extraordinary improvement which is taking place in the condition of our country was the result of the Government's work. I was expecting something of that kind in the King's Speech to-day, but I confess I was disappointed to find that it was not there. The language is very restrained. It talks about "a steady growth of confidence in the future prospects of British trade and industry," but there is no claiming of credit for the Government. Everybody who has any knowledge of the history of trade knows that in the past we have had cycles of bad trade followed by cycles of good trade, followed again by cycles of bad and good trade. We shall get a cycle of good trade in spite of the Government who are in power, and if there is any growth of confidence to-day in the future prospects, that growth is in spite of what the Government are doing rather than because of the Government's assistance.
I see nothing in the King's Speech of the rejoicing that was in the Speech of last Friday. Rather unfortunately for the Government, the Minister of Labour, answering a question on Friday, said that there were 89,538 unemployed juveniles under 18 years of age registered At the Employment Exchanges. There is nothing in that for the Government to rejoice about. On 7th November the Minister of Labour, answering another question, said that there were 329,283 miners unemployed on 23rd October this year. There is nothing to rejoice about in that. The Minister of Health on the same day said that on 21st October this year there were 1,106,871 receiving Poor Law relief-320,000 more than when the Government came into office. There is nothing for the Government to rejoice about in that. With these facts, and the fact that there were 11,224 more miners unemployed, the Government should hesitate before rejoicing and claiming credit for any slight improvement that may appear at the moment. The Government are playing the part of a man who knocks down another and then helps him to get up, and, because he has helped the other man, claims the credit for putting him on his feet. The Government, having done immense injury to trade and industry, come forward and claim, "We are helping trade to get better; we are putting trade on its feet."
There are two matters in the King's Speech to which I want to refer—the trade agreements and unemployment. I am glad the Minister of Mines is here, because during the Recess he was speaking about the trade agreements, and he put Denmark as the first in his list, because under it we were to get 80 per cent. of Denmark's coal imports. The President of the Board of Trade has a lot to answer for, and I consider him more responsible for fastening Protection on the shoulders of the people of this country than anybody else, but in all his policy the one bright spot is the trade agreement with Denmark. It has resulted in an increase compared with 1931 of 1,000,000 tons of coal exported from this country to Denmark. I am prepared to give the Government all the credit for that. When, however, the President of the Board of Trade was making this agreement with Denmark, the Minister of Agriculture was watching round the corner. He is now pursuing a policy to undo everything that the President of the Board of Trade has done in his trade agreement.
The Minister of Agriculture wants to benefit the farmers. He is keen only on one thing, and that is taking money out of the pockets of the industrial classes and putting it into the pockets of the farmers. In order to benefit the farmers he sought to restrict the import of pigs from Denmark, and he invited the Danish representatives to a conference. They failed to agree, and, in spite of that, the Minister of Agriculture, caring nothing about the trade agreement, issued his order to restrict the number of pigs coming into this country from Denmark. Such a step was sufficient to annoy Denmark. As a matter of fact, the Danish Foreign Office the same day issued a statement with regard to the breakdown of the negotiations, and the
newspaper correspondent who sent the news stated:
The breakdown of the negotiations is regretted here, and is to be greatly deplored. The Minister of Agriculture says that it is very regrettable, and that a further cut in the import quota for bacon will he deeply felt by the Danish agriculturists.
I submit that the Minister of Agriculture, in view of the fact that the trade agreement has been made with Denmark, should have hesitated in taking this action, because he had already this year restricted the import of bacon into this country. As a result, some of us know the difficulty of housewives in the distressed areas in buying bacon, as the price has increased so much. He restricted the imports of bacon into this country in the first 10 months of this year by no less than £3,000,000, and he might have been satisfied with that without taking further action. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, speaking only last week, said the Government proposed to carry out a policy of restrictions. There can only be two effects from a policy of restrictions, especially in the case of Denmark. One is dearer bacon, as the housewives are already realising—and the Government will have to give an account of it some day—and the other is injury to the coal trade. This policy of annoying Denmark, this attitude of carelessness as to whether we annoy another country or not, is leading to the injury of our coal trade. We may find that Denmark, instead of honouring the trade agreement and increasing her imports of British coal, will say, "All right, as you will not buy our pigs, we will not buy your coal." During the Recess, the President of the Board of Trade said we had made our coal markets secure. They are not secure. Our exports of coal were 3,000,000 tons less in the first 10 months of this year as compared with 1931.
The farmers have no room for complaint. This is the farmers' Government. The Government have been the friends of the farmers. They have done everything they could for the farmers. They are simply pulling money out of the pockets of the industrial classes to put money into the pockets of the farmers.
We always hear that. We who represent distressed areas have a right to complain of the policy of the Government in making the cost of living so much dearer for the industrial classes in order to benefit the farmers. I have been dealing with trade agreements and have referred to Denmark, and now I want to mention Germany. The King, in the Gracious Speech, is boasting of trade agreements. We entered into a trade agreement with Germany. Germany is to import 180,000 tons of British coal per month. That is not at all a big figure, because when this Government came into office Germany was importing 300,000 tons. I submit that the policy of our Government since that agreement was made is likely to upset Germany and injure the coal industry. There is a bitter feeling against this country in Germany. They hold this country responsible for the failure to allow Germany to re-arm. I do not want to go into the disarmament question, but I was interested in a remark made to-day by the Prime Minister that our Government had got the will to make the Disarmament Conference a success. The Government have said also that they want to get Germany back into the League of Nations and to have a settlement of the disarmament question, but what Lord Hailsham said, speaking last Friday, was:
We really have reduced our armaments to the very bedrock.
If that is the position of this country, then it is useless to send either the Foreign Secretary or anybody else back to the Disarmament Conference. The Government's policy will be made an excuse for an increased expenditure on armaments in this country, and I am afraid also of its effect on the import of
British coal into Germany. We read last week that Germany had made a new agreement with Poland. If she can make agreements with Poland on boundaries, or any other question, then Poland may become a very big danger to our coal industry. Soon we shall find that Germany, feeling annoyed with this country, will turn to Poland for her coal, and this country will suffer.
Now I want to say a word about Russia. We read last week that the United States had been able to come to an agreement with Russia, and their expectations as to increased trade are very high. The National Government, like the former Conservative Government, have been pursuing a policy of smashing trade agreements with Russia—a most foolish policy. In 1927 there was a bitter feeling against Russia. "Jix" was then Home Secretary, and he bundled all the Russians out of the country and smashed the trade agreement. It needed Labour to come into office to make another trade agreement with Russia, but that trade agreement also was smashed without any hesitation when the trouble occurred over Vickers' engineers. The Government did not wait to see whether Vickers' engineers were guilty or innocent; they immediately broke the trade agreement.
Now we have read that the Secretary for the Overseas Trade Department has been meeting Russian representatives with a view to coming to another trade agreement. To one's surprise one finds that behind the negotiators stand the Canadians. The Canadians are preventing this country from entering into a trade agreement with Russia. I was surprised to hear the Prime Minister stand at that Box to-day and give the impression that the negotiations for a trade agreement with Russia were proceeding satisfactorily, because when one read of the failure of the negotiations so far one also read this statement:
The Canadian High Commissioner, Mr. J. Howard Ferguson, impressed on the Board of Trade the importance of the embargo clause from the point of view of the Canadian timber industry.
I thought it a most atrocious thing for a representative of Canada to press the importance of an embargo upon Russian timber, and to be the means of preventing us from entering into a trade agreement with Russia. We need all the trade we can get, and we ought not to
allow any Canadian influence to prevent us from entering into a trade agreement. The methods of the Government when dealing with foreign countries will not help this country to secure trade and get all our people back to work,
Now I have one or two words on the Government's policy of increasing prices. The Government seem to be committed to a policy of increasing prices, and the Minister of Agriculture has been doing his level best to live up to that policy, wanting to increase prices and not caring what the effects may be on our people. This policy has been pursued for some time, and the cost of living has increased seven points since June. In June the cost of living figure was 36, and this month it is 43—an enormous rise, but not to be wondered at seeing that the Government have given a clear field to the Minister of Agriculture to go on with his policy of increasing prices by increasing the price of food and by restricting the imports of food.
Oh, yes, I am going to give you some. I have no hesitation in saying that the restrictions on the import of food of which I shall speak have resulted in increasing the cost of living. Take the case of bacon. In the first 10 months of this year, as compared with the first 10 months of 1931, we imported £3,000,000 less bacon; of butter we imported £10,000,000 less; of meat—chilled meat, frozen meat, mutton and lamb—we have imported £8,000,000 less. We imported £5,250,000 worth less of eggs in the first 10 months of this year, as against 1931, 6,500,000 cwt. less wheat in the first 10 months of this year, as against 1931.
Then there is the milk question which, in my opinion, is a thorough scandal. The Minister of Agriculture has allowed local committees of producers and re- tailers to be set up. They fix their own prices in the district and nobody can complain. In the North of England we have had a committee sitting in a public house to fix the prices. They fixed the prices up to another public house at 7d. a quart and on the further side of that public house, at 6d. a quart. I do not know what it was inside the public house. A woman living on one side of the public house pays 6d. and a woman living on the other side of the public house pays 7d. That cannot be justified. Either the price ought to be 7d. or 6d., because the milk is all out of the same can, and is sold by the same milkman. That is simply a swindle. The Government are responsible. They have given the power to those milkmen to fix prices.
I notice in the King's Speech a reference to
a new system for the assistance and welfare of the unemployed outside insurance.
We do not believe that there should be any unemployed outside insurance, or that it is necessary to take any steps to provide for anybody outside insurance. We believe that all men, simply because they are unemployed to-day but may be working to-morrow, ought to be inside insurance. I am not only objecting to that, but I object to the dual machinery. There is to be machinery in tae Employment Exchanges to deal with men who are receiving standard benefit, and then there is to be another set of machinery to deal with men who are out of insurance. That double set of machinery, which means double expenditure upon administration, is, in my opinion, a waste of money. When that new machinery is set up and the new system comes into operation, local committees are to have power to apply the means test. We bitterly object to the means test. The committees will also have power to send unemployed men to labour camps, or, as the Government call them, training centres. The Government should not call them training centres, because they are really labour camps. They are cinderella camps. They should not be known by the name of training camps.
I w ill tell you. I will describe the conditions. Men who go to these camps have to work 44 hours per week at forest clearing, trenching, draining, road-making, quarrying and such like, and they are to receive no wages for that. All that they are to receive is 4s. per week out of their unemployment pay. The rest of the pay goes towards their board and lodging. Whatever their allowance is, they will receive 4s. per week.
I have not the Bill here, but there is no question that the Bill does deal with it. In addition to that, it is stated that so far as circumstances permit jobs will be found for as many as possible of those who work hard and show keenness. There are the conditions for this trenching and draining work, at which the men have to work hard and show keenness. If they work hard and show keenness they have a chance of getting a job somewhere else. In addition it is stated that if a man abandons the work without good cause or is dismissed for unsatisfactory conduct, his claim for benefit or transitional payments may be affected. A man who goes to one of those labour camps must remain there, or his benefit will be disallowed. I will tell hon. Members what is going to happen under the new Bill. If a man does not stop at the camp, he can get no poor relief, nor can his family get any poor relief. He and his wife and family have to go to the workhouse, under the new Bill.
The hon. Member cannot tell me anything about the Bill that I do not know. I am objecting that men in these cinderella camps have to work 44 hours a week at hard work for the 4s. per week which they will have left over, to pay for lodgings and to buy clothes and boots. We can imagine that a man will go through some clothes and some boots, and that unless he is able to beg some he will become a real cinderella; he will be in rags. These are going to be cinderella camps, and a disgrace to the Government. One does not like the policy of the Government in this Unemployment Insurance Bill. There is nothing in the King's Speech that is worth the slightest attention of the working classes of this country. There is no hope for them in it, and, at the end of the year, they will, in my opinion, be just as badly off as they were at the beginning.
If, in the little time during which I propose to detain the House, I do not attempt to follow the hon. Gentleman who has just resumed his seat throughout the whole of his wanderings, and to answer one by one the misapprehensions under which he seems to labour I hope that he will forgive me. There are one or two matters in particular, upon which he thought fit to dwell and with which I should like at this stage to deal, by way of preface to my own observations. We heard from him, in his picturesque phrase "cinderella camp," a condemnation of the payment of the weekly sum of 4s. that it is suggested, is under the new Bill, over the maintenance of the men who are receiving instruction. Rightly or wrongly, instructional centres have been a recognised institution for a long time. The training of unemployed at instructional centres is a vital part of national reconstruction. The hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) purposely or unintentionally omitted to tell the House, that, in addition to whatever is to be given to men at instructional centres, there is to be a complete keep of himself and his family by the Board of Commissioners, wherever that family may reside, while that man is being trained. That was omitted by the hon. Gentleman, but it is a fact that in fairness ought to be considered by the House when, now or hereafter, the principles formulated in the Bill are discussed.
Secondly, I wish to refer to a remark which the hon. Gentleman made that we should not bother so much about other nations. It is a new isolationist policy that an hon. Member from those benches should say that we should not bother about other countries. During the time that I have had the privilege of being in this House, as well as during the many years that I have been interested in political work and discussion outside, it has always been my experience that gentlemen of the party to which he belongs take far more interest in bothering about the affairs of other nations than in looking after our own and the things which concern us. They seem to put this country last. I am bound to say that that is the direct opposite to the theory which the hon. Member adumbrated, that we are wrong in the restrictions which we have put upon the exports that come into this country at a time when we do not want them.
Speaking quite roughly, let me take the figures of a nation like Denmark. Something well over £20,000,000 worth in value has been sent to us by them yearly, while they have bought from us in return a good deal less than half of that amount. It is about time that, by restriction, quota, or import control of some sort or other, we should look after our own industries and those of our kith and kin who are engaged therein. The figure I have given is approximate, and, if it is wrong, I hope that it will be corrected by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade who is here. I think that it is only right that we should say to Denmark, or to any other country: "We are going to consider Englishmen and English women in English industries first," and I hope that the Minister will come to this House for whatever additional power is wanted by the Board of Trade and he will get that power readily, in order to give an adequate measure of safeguarding to our industries.
I wish to advert to a statement that was made on the question of peace and disarmament by the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour). He said that in fact we all desire peace, but I will put it this way: The desire for peace and the fervent hope for peace is not the monopoly of any party, section or body of men and women. We all desire peace, but it is a contemptible thing when the desire for peace is brought into party discussions and an attempt is made, for purely sectional or party advantage, to exploit a position of some gravity. I believe that the country is united in its hope for peace. Nobody has laboured more for peace in the years passed than my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and nobody has had a more difficult task or has tried more to discharge that task and to arrive at an agreed basis of discussion than my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. We can take some credit from the fact that we, as a country, put forward at Geneva the really practical basis for discussion. I hope that the tremendous influence which this country has in the counsels of the world will ensure that we shall get every support for the Government and the Government's representatives in their desire for peace, a desire which they indicate on every possible occasion in order to bring about a firm and enduring peace among all the nations of the world.
Another thing is that the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Thanet seems to have misused the word "security." As science advances and invention progresses, alteration is made in the meaning of the word. The security that a country had 20 years ago can no longer be said to apply, when the progress of invention and the march of science are considered in their application to so-called security. I believe that we must give our unwavering support to a Government that is determined to apply its whole mind and strength to bringing about and maintaining national and international peace. We see in the Gracious Speech a reference to
a steady growth of confidence in the future prospects of British trade and industry";
and the Speech states, further, that, in the opinion of the Government
it is of the first importance that this confidence should be maintained and increased, since it lies at the root of any lasting improvement in the condition of the country.
There are one or two things upon which I would touch briefly to-night as being omitted from the Gracious Speech, and which, if I may say so with all deference, might well have been included in it, with a view to maintaining and even increasing the confidence which has been restored up to the present. There is not the slightest doubt that the widespread confidence which exists throughout this country to-day has been promoted through the efforts of the Government, backed by the people, in the last two years; and there is no doubt, either, that the control of imports which was applied
by the Government shortly after its accession to office has been largely responsible for the maintenance and improvement of our trade, for the increase of our exports, and for the reduction of the unemployment figures which we have seen month by month. I feel that some machinery ought to be introduced whereby, quickly and without any undue inquiry, without putting too big an onus on the manufacturers in this country, a tariff might be so altered from time to time as to make it relate to the existing facts and price levels, and in order to meet any question of manipulation of currency, devaluation of currency, or depreciation of currency.
We find to-day, for example, such a depreciation in the American dollar as quoted on the London market that the difference in quotation between the dollar and the pound leaves the pound at a premium which withdraws from any manufacturer in this country who is competing with American manufacturers the benefit of any protective tariff that he may have. No doubt it was in the mind of the Board of Trade when the original duty was applied, at a time when sterling was at a discount as against the dollar or any gold currency, that a small duty should be put on this article or on that, because the manufacturer had in addition the benefit derived from the difference between the dollar rate, or the gold rate, and the pound rate. That benefit has gone. The pound is now at a premium, so that whatever benefit there was from the difference in exchange is wiped out, and, in effect, the whole of the protective duty against goods manufactured in American factories is taken away. I think that that is a matter which might well be considered by the responsible Department in the effort that is being made to maintain the confidence which has been promoted in this country in the last two years.
It may he within the province of the Department, when dealing with that matter, to link with it the question of currency manipulation or repudiation. We are placed in a great difficulty when dealing with a foreign nation that does not hesitate to manipulate its currency or, if necessary, even to repudiate. That puts out of proportion any kind of currency comparison, and I hope that, instead of a Tariff Truce, which I am glad to see is now ended, we may have a currency truce, with some machinery whereby this constant currency war could be ended and we could have a stable, reliable and dependable rate of exchange. Having regard to the disparity which now exists between the pound and the dollar, and to the action of Canada in placing the Canadian dollar at a premium in comparison with the New York dollar, it seems to me that the time is ripe for conversations to take place with a view to the establishment of an Imperial currency.
I note with very great regret the omission from the Gracious Speech of all questions of Empire unity and Empire trade development. I believe that the Ottawa Agreements were but the beginning, and not the end, of what we want to see by way of Empire partnership. I have just come back from a return visit to Canada, where the view is freely indicated that, while Ottawa did good work in starting this country arid the Dominions on the road to Empire unity, it was but a commencement. A lot more remains to be done. Preferences and trading must be extended. I do not desire for a moment to limit the work that is going to be done in Scotland, but I do not see why Scotland only should he preferred for some provision of smallholdings and settlements, when there are great tracts of land overseas waiting to be peopled. Settlement can take place in those countries as well as in Scotland. I venture to hope that this omission will be made good, and a scheme will be introduced further to expand that trading association between this country and the Dominions which was firmly started by the Ottawa agreements, and which, by reciprocal advantages, will help to weld the Empire.
The hon. Member for Spennymoor said that this Government have done everything they could for the farmer. I wish that his colleague who is now fighting a by-election in the Stamford Division, and who condemns this Government for its alleged inaction and failure on behalf of the agricultural community, could have heard what the hon. Member has said. One story is told at the Stamford by-election, while another is told here. Whatever the Government have or have not done for the farmer, they have made great strides on behalf of that industry—more than has been attempted by any Government for many years; and the farmer to-day is recognising it and reaping the benefit. But, without prejudice to the need for aiding the agricultural industry in this country, I would point out that there is tremendous scope for the development of trade by using the productivity of foodstuffs in our Dominions. The hon. Member said just now that we ought not to bother with other countries at all. If he had gone a little further, and said that we ought not to bother with other countries until we had welded together the Empire, a good many of us on this side would have agreed, because we believe that in the development of the British Empire lies the greatest opportunity for British trade. Old outlets do not exist any longer on the same scale as before, but fresh markets are there, and can be linked up with this country in a great British trading commonwealth. We hope that the Government will do whatever may be necessary to assist in the cementing of our great Empire.
There is another omission from the Gracious Speech for which I hope there is some reason. I hope that the Government are not sitting still in the face of a great amount of unfair foreign competition. The textile industry, the cotton industry, and the hosiery trade, benefiting, as they have, from the control of imports which has been in operation, are all suffering to-day from unfair competition. Speaking, as I do to-night, for the city of Leicester, I want to say that there is no need for this great inflow of foreign-made hosiery, made in Japan and other countries at prices which we never want to see here, under conditions which Heaven forbid should ever obtain in the city of Leicester, and coming into this country in unfair competition with the better products that we are proud to make. I know of no answer to the criticism that is directed against this tremendous inflow of unfair foreign competition, from whatever source. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Remer) is here. I do not want to trespass on his preserves, but I do feel time and again that the silk and artificial silk trades, employing large numbers of hands, are entitled to have some kind of protection from this extraordinary inrush of competition, which we cannot check by a small and meagre tariff. I venture to hope, with all deference to the Board of Trade, that they will not sit with folded hands while this takes place, or they may find that a good many of our own workers will be out of employment and entirely submerged by this inflow of goods of inferior quality, made under conditions which are wholly undesirable and which are beyond comparison with any civilised conditions of labour.
So far as regards the employment of young persons, I am sure we shall all welcome any steps that may be taken to improve the conditions under which young people at their most impressionable age work. I hope that at the next conference of nations it will be possible to do something to bring about, by international agreement, a very much shorter working week, so that we can give to those employed in industry not only a guaranteed working day but a guaranteed period of leisure. That can only be done by some kind of international agreement, which I hope will shortly be made. It seems to me that we shall all accept what has been said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Thanet, namely, that we should give the Government every support that is necessary in a great drive finally and entirely to abolish slums. Like my hon. and gallant Friend, if do not think it is enough to placard the hoardings:
Let it be said that in this generation we abolished the slums.
We want to say:
In this generation we have abolished the slums,
and to be able to point to illustrations of back-to-back houses of a shocking type, and say that we have put an end to them and that they no longer exist.
The hon. Member for Spennymoor said that he and his friends do not like the means test. Nobody likes the means test. But the hon. Member knows, and every Member of his party knows, that the means test was dictated by sheer necessity, and that, if there were no means test, there would be no transitional benefit. It is idle for him or his colleagues to say that they stand for the abolition of the means test. The abolition of the means test would mean the abolition of the whole financial structure from which transitional benefits have been maintained, and it would bring about a great injustice to those men and women who are dependent upon transitional benefits for their maintenance. While those benefits may be limited, they are much better than none at all. It was the financial morass created by the hon. Member's colleagues that brought about so great a peril to the men and women of this country who were out of work, as well as to those who were in work.
Next to the hon. Member for Spennymoor is sitting the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), and I want to say at once that with one of the matters to which he rightly called attention I am in complete and unreserved agreement. He spoke about the need for some measure of compulsory insurance under the Workmen's Compensation Act, and he said, although I do not think he really meant it, that for some reason or other we on this side should oppose an alteration in the Workmen's Compensation Act. That Act to-day is a great charter for the men who are at work, and, if it can be improved at all, we on these benches should be glad to support anything in that direction—
I am much obliged to the hon. Member. I thought that I had not, perhaps, appreciated his remark quite correctly. The Bill to which he refers was not, however, a Bill limited to compulsory workmen's compensation insurance. The Workmen's Compensation Act is a very important Measure. A worker in this country is entitled to protection, and to the valuable benefits under the Act; but I have seen many cases where much injustice has occurred—cases in which employers have so run, or neglected to run, their businesses, that, when a man has met with an accident which was covered by the provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Act, a set of circumstances which he could not control has robbed him of the very benefit to which he was entitled under the Act. You have the case of a concern employing a number of men. The concern is not too financially sound, and will not insure, and the result is that, when a man, while at work and complying with every one of the conditions necessary to secure him the benefit of the Act, meets with an accident, as a result of which he becomes a permanent wreck, he becomes a permanent piece of scrap on the industrial market through an accident which is covered by the' Workmen's Compensation Act. He brings his action. There may be no defence in law or in fact. His wife and young family are dependent on the income that he is going to get under the Act to keep him and them for the rest of his life. The company has the liability, but is not in a position financially to meet it, if there is no substantial insurance company behind them the man gets a barren judgment. He and his wife and children are all on the scrap heap together and go eventually to the Poor Law or elsewhere.
I join with the hon. Member in saying that the time is overdue when there should be some machinery which will compel employers, except on the deposit, if they so choose, of some substantial amount, to insure and to make safe for all time the position of that man under the Workmen's Compensation Act. I know that from time to time the Home Office has given very careful consideration and made very careful inquiries into the matter. I hope, without waiting for a private Member to ballot for a Bill, they will come forward with a one Clause Measure to give the workers the indemnity to which they are entitled and which this House desired they should have under the Act of 1906. I hope at the same time, whenever any attempt is made by mutual arrangement to pool an indemnity or insurance, those who are responsible from the employés standpoint will watch with very scrupulous care the solvency or otherwise of those who seek to make the pool.
A word or two was said in condemnation of the Government for its association or lack of association with Russia. The hon. Member, no doubt with a conveniently short memory, sought to make some capital out of the action of the Government in regard to Messrs. Vickers' employés. What the Government said was not that those men should be declared innocent, but merely that they should have some measure of natural justice shown them. The results justified the action that they took, and the Government was supported by the overwhelming mass of opinion in the country. It is not that we want to break off trade relations with Russia. We want to trade with Russia—I believe this Government wants to trade with the world—but, if we are to make a trade agreement, it must be one offering some fair return. It is obvious that, faced with the difficulties with which this Government has been faced, in circumstances of unparalleled -danger, one has had to walk warily and to be mindful of the greater crisis which the Government bad to negotiate. Mistakes may have been made. I join with the hon. Member in saying that we on these benches hope that, if mistakes are made, there will not be the one unforgivable mistake of inaction. I believe this Government has acted, and will act, fearlessly in the interests not of any section but of the people as a whole. I hope it will go forward and let it be said that the country was not only saved from a financial crisis, not only saved from the chaos at its door, but was guided by the Government into a state of prosperity which was reflected throughout industry in general and upon every man and woman dependent on industry through the length and breadth of the country.
I was very interested in a remark by the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) that the Government were doing more for agriculture than any previous Government had done. He went on to speak of some who were unemployed and referred to them as Cinderellas. Our biggest industry has been a Cinderella long enough, and it is very gratifying to many of us who are industrialists and who know not a great deal about agriculture to realise that at last we have a Government which is prepared to give to the agricultural industry a chance which it has not had for many years. I am satisfied that the farmers in part of my division realise that there are more signs of a silver lining to the dark clouds of depression than for many years past. They are looking hopefully to the future, and they have every reason to be gratified that we have a Minister of Agriculture who is prepared to do something for the industry. I have been sick and tired of hearing the Socialists in season and out of season complaining because they might have to pay more for their foodstuffs if something were done for agriculture. My view is that we industrialists have too long been prepared to get our foodstuffs from the agriculturists at an uneconomic price. We have no right to keep on along the line of expecting to get foodstuffs from our agricultural industry at a loss to them. We have a right to pay a proper price for the goods we get, and I hope the Government press on their agricultural policy in order to strengthen the hope which is in the breast of the great industry in the country.
I rose to speak mostly on matters that I understand best, that is, matters affecting trade and industry. I congratulate the Board of Trade on the good work they have done, and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will not feel that I am lacking in gratitude in offering a few words of criticism. I am satisfied that the West Riding of Yorkshire has been saved from disaster by the Government. In Bradford, which was a place of gloom, chaos and disaster two years ago, there are now comparatively few unemployed, and there are all the evidences of prosperity. There are very few unemployed among the 120,000 inhabitants of Huddersfield and other centres of the wool industry. The clothing industry in Leeds employs 40,000 men, and it cannot get any operatives. They have not been so busy for 10 years. That proves that there is greater spending power and a greater degree of prosperity will over the country. Leeds is the headquarters of the wholesale clothing industry and the great chain stores throughout the country have their headquarters there. A manager of one of the big five banks, who is in a better position than I am to judge of the degree of prosperitty throughout the country, told me to-day that he could now say with certainty that there were definite signs of improvement even in the iron and steel trade on the North East coast, represented by an hon. Member who a few moment ago spoke so disparagingly of the work of the Government.
I hope I may be pardoned if I make a reference to the industry with which I am connected. I am told the House never looks deprecatingly on one who speaks about his own industry if he states facts which are helpful to the House. Unemployment in the leather trade has gone down in the last 12 months from 17.4 to 11.2 per cent. My own works are particularly concerned with an article called glace kid, made from goats' skins, 75 per cent. of the world's supply of which is produced in the British Empire. This section of the industry has been until two years ago mainly in the hands of United States manufacturers. One of the vice-presidents of a United States firm, the largest producers in the world, told me a month ago that they have irretrievably lost the English market because, although the duty has only been 10 per cent., it has enabled our manufacturers to increase their production from 40 to 75 per cent. of the requirements of the trade. Further, apart from the increased cost of the raw commodity, the price of the finished article has not increased. Beyond that slight increase it is not costing the boot manufacturers any more than it was doing two years ago, which disproves the assertion I have so often heard from the Opposition Benches that, if we have Protection, our goods will cost us more. Whereas two years ago the imports of glace kid from the United States were about £100,000 a month, to-day they are down to £30,000 or £40,000, and our exports are nearly double what they were two years ago. This is only one of many industries which have benefited enormously from the policy of the Government. I hope the Board of Trade will continue to watch these matters very carefully as they have done in the past.
We read in the Gracious Speech that the past year has been marked by a steady growth of confidence in the future prospects of trade and industry. One might refer in this connection to the question of trade agreements and the Ottawa Agreements. It is very significant that, apart from Germany, where so many hundreds of thousands have been put into brown uniform, and apart from this country, where unemployment has gone down, there are only two countries in the world where unemployment has diminished to any material extent in the past two years, namely, Canada and Australia. There unemployment has diminished tremendously directly as the result of the Ottawa Agreements because of the greatly increased values and volumes of their exports to this country.
I will express some sense of disappointment that on their part the Dominions have not answered the call which was given to them at Ottawa. Even before the Canadian Tariff Board, which has now been set up after waiting two years, only one industry has yet been heard and the decision has not yet been reached. When the second industry will have its hearing, I do not know; perhaps before the end of the year. But the Dominions have not set about the task with expedition nor interpreted the spirit of the Ottawa Agreement as they should.
Australia, in her recent Budget, has given us many preferences which have been greatly appreciated, but nothing has been done even there in connection with the Australian Tariff Board. We in this country have only received very few concessions from the Dominions compared with the enormous concessions we have given them under the Ottawa Agreement. To-day I received some information from my agent in Cape Town in which he says that industrialists in Cape Town are complaining very bitterly about the action of the South African Government in subsidising an Italian shipping firm to the extent of £150,000 a year for five years, to carry shipping between the Mediterranean ports and South Africa. Is that fair to our shipping, which is so dependent upon the freights which it can get in various parts of the Empire It is up to the South African Government to interpret the spirit of Ottawa in a more generous way.
I would ask the Board of Trade to watch the question of the recent German subsidy. Under that arrangement a German who sells any goods in this country is granted, out of the Frozen Funds, in transferring his sterling into marks, 18 marks to the pound as against the normal quotation on the Stock Exchange of 13 marks. This is equivalent to a 20 per cent. subsidy on goods exported from Germany to any other country; it more than offsets the duty granted to many industries in this country. I believe that the Board of Trade holds the view that not a great deal of trade has been done by Germany with this country involving the benefits which Germany receives under this subsidy, but I have a friend in the woollen industry who informed me recently that a German in one week in London sold £100,000 worth of woollen goods. It is only fair to our indus- trialists, if such a state of affairs takes place and larger imports into this country are subsidised in this way, that the Government should consider the advisability of offsetting this subsidy by an increase in the duty.
I wish to congratulate the Board of Trade on their Trade Agreements. I can say from personal knowledge that in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Poland there has been a marvellous change of attitude towards our industries during the past two years. Those countries have become exceedingly pro-British; no doubt they have been influenced by some selfish motives, but at the same time they realise that we are their best markets and that it is up to them to call to a greater extent for the consumption of our goods. In my own factory we have exported more goods to those first four countries during this year than we have exported in any preceding four years. Further, we have the benefit of larger import licences into these countries, because we are the largest importers from them.
One complaint that I must make is in regard to the operation of the most-favoured-nation agreements. In many cases these agreements worked quite satisfactorily, but if the Under-Secretary will allow me, I will point out one case. In one of the agreements there was a reduction in the duty on ball-bearings coining from Sweden, and it naturally followed that the benefit of reduced duty operated favourably to 20 other countries who had agreements with us. Why should America have her duty on ball-bearings reduced when she Las given us no quid pro quo? In this direction the most-favoured-nation agreements operate very harshly against many of our industrialists. Notwithstanding that fact, however, the Government are in the main to be congratulated on these agreements.
I do not speak as a politician, because I have never aspired to be one; I speak as a man who spends his time in industry. I had the honour of following the hon. Gentleman who is at the head of the Department of Overseas Trade, when he left the Associated Chambers of Commerce, as the Chairman of its Overseas Committee. I will say quite frankly that the National Government have saved this country from disaster, and that it is up to the Government to let the country know it. Unfortunately the Government are not fond enough of blowing their own trumpet. The unpopularity of the Government in the North of England is due to the fact that the people listen to the maligning statements of the Opposition—the Socialists—and never hear a good word from the Government themselves. It is time that the Government got their publicity department into working order. What country in the world—and I have been in many of them daring the Recess—can compare with this country, unfortunate as our circumstances are, for happiness and contentment among its people and for the manner in which we have pulled ourselves out of our difficulties? The Government are to be congratulated heartily on the way in which they have managed the affairs of this country during the past two years.