Tobacco (Customs Duty).

Part of Orders of the Day — Customs and Excise – in the House of Commons on 25th April 1939.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr John McGovern Mr John McGovern , Glasgow Shettleston

I have listened to the Chancellor's statement and to part of the Debate, and frankly, I fail to see why all these congratulations should have been showered upon the Chancellor for the things he has done in the Budget. I rather suspect that a large number of hon. Members opposite have complimented the Chancellor for the things he has not done, the things that they were afraid he might do. There was much holding of heads, quickening of pulses and beating of hearts when they thought there would be some addition to taxation, especially Income Tax. Now that they know the Chancellor has avoided placing taxation on the shoulders that are best able to bear it, there are compliments from all over the House. What has the Chancellor done to-day? He has simply postponed the evil day. He has handed down to posterity the right to tax themselves to the limit in order to pay back to the money-lending fraternity the money which has been lent patriotically at so much per cent, per annum. The people of the country have paid for the preparation for wars and the fighting of wars in that way all through history. During the last War we borrowed£2,000,000,000 at 5 per cent. and the people of this country have since then given their treasure and their lives in order to pay the money-lenders another £2,000,000,000 in interest, and yet we still owe that sum. Then we are told of the spirit of sacrifice that imbues members of the rich fraternity.

I am always sceptical about this desire for national unity in order to prepare ourselves for another Armageddon and to find the money to assist us during the struggle on the battlefield, on the sea and in the air. In this country we are appealing to the people to render some service and to give their energies in preparation for war. It can mean nothing else. It is not preparation for peace; it is preparation for war. Do not let us fool ourselves about that. Germany and Hitler shout out that their preparations are for peace. Before 1914 we were told that the British Navy meant peace, but we knew that in the end it meant war. We are raising money for the purpose of defending the country. What are we defending? We are defending the rights of the bond-holding community, the money-lenders and the landlords who own the country. The workers own nothing but their poverty and slums. When we plead with the Government for an increase in the 10s. a week pension for the old people the familiar bogy is trotted out, "where is the money to come from?" One of the hon. Members from Northern Ireland spoke of the £10,000,000 which is handed back to the Government of Northern Ireland, the puppet Government, the plaything of the Government of this country. That amount would at least provide for the first half a crown towards an increase of old age pensions. The hon. Member told how they were escaping the motor-car duty. If they are escaping something which the British taxpayer has to bear and in addition are having £10,000,000 handed back, there is serious need for inquiry.

The old story of where the money is to come from was heard when better housing was advocated and we were told that the miners would fill their baths with coal because they did not know how to use them. Every Tory argument is put for- ward to prevent justice being done. I want it to be noted that to-day, before we have struck a blow in war, we are raising more money for preparations for war than we spent during the whole of the last War. That money and the interest on it have to be contributed out of the energy and sacrifice of the poor. All wealth comes from human energy. Hitler has said that Germany had no gold reserve or credit, but only the ability of the people to labour. That is the only wealth which any nation possesses when applied to raw material. The people who produce the wealth give their energies and fight and die in agony, and those who survive are given in their old age a meagre 10s. a week on which to live. Let us supplement it in order to make their last few years more tolerable. When we ask that, we have the mean low-spirited cry of the so-called British sportsmen, "Where is the money to come from?" while their own class are languishing in riches and parading their tens of thousands of pounds in the divorce courts and spending their lives in profligacy. Then they say to the poor old people who have lived a decent life that they cannot give them the few extra shillings to enable them to live in some form of comfort.

We are told that the £100,000,000 paid over a long period of years for the unemployment created a financial crisis in 1931. This money was spent to maintain the standard of food, clothing and shelter of a very low order. But the £2,000,000,000, spent before we had struck a blow, has not produced any panic because selfish materialists' possessions are in danger of being assaulted by another crowd of gangsters in another part of the world. The sons of the old men who are denied a comfortable existence are now being asked to fight and to contribute to national unity. On the one hand, there is the Marquess of Bute, who sells £20,000,000 worth of land in Wales, and, on the other hand, the means test victim and the old age pensioners have to join up in common fellowship to defend the possessions of the Marquess of Bute, who refuses to allow houses to be built on the Isle of Bute and orders have to be obtained in the court to compel him. I believe that we are now in the next war. It is not a question of when the war will come. We are in it. There are cunning manoeuvres in the Balkans and on the Continent and they are getting ready for the final assault.

The sons of the men who fought in the last War are now being called upon to fight. I come across many cases of men who are denied pensions, whose disease and failing health are attributable to the last War, yet they are denied pensions. The medical men and the pensions Ministry are paid, not to see that pensions are granted, but to see that no pension is granted in spite of the medical evidence that is brought forward. I wish I could see a change in attitude towards the men who carried our burdens in the last War. I had a case last week of a man whom I knew during the last War. I did everything I could to prevent him joining up. He went to Lord Curzon's meeting in Glasgow when the father-in-law of Sir Oswald Mosley made a great appeal for the Empire and asked for men to go out and light the Germans—those whom his son-in-law is now using all his powers of oratory to protect. That man was carried away by what he heard and joined up. He was a fine type of manhood from the Highlands. When he came back from the War, one could see in him the gradual development of the effects of shell shock. To-day he lies a hopeless wreck, but because he cannot prove that the loss of power of his legs is the result of shell-shock, because it is said that it may have developed in the normal course, there is no pension for him. No evidence will be accepted on behalf of that man.

I knew another man in the same area, a gardener in the employment of the Glasgow Corporation and also a Highlander. He fought in the last War and was wounded and lay for three days in the open. He was wounded three times and as he was anxious to get back his job he did not press for a pension. Finally he got a pension of 8s. a week. That man, because of his inability to carry out his employment, finally landed in Lochgilphead asylum. His case was examined and analysed by every medical and other test and the doctor said that he was a victim of the War but he has been refused any increase in pension and his wife and child are on the Poor Law. They were driven from their home, which was a fine type of home, because they could not keep it going. To-day their son? are being asked to fight in the defence of freedom which means in the defence of the means test and of the ten bob old age pension, and we are expected to get enthusiastic about it.

If the country is to be defended—and I do not say that I am necessarily going to agree with defence even of the country —but if it has to be defended, you could at least say to the men who defended it in the past, "We will see that you get proper pensions and proper treatment. We will see that the fathers and mothers of the men who have created the wealth of the country will get decent treatment." I could understand the present position if there was a shortage of wealth. If we had not the wealth, of course we could not give it, but when a nation can give £10,750 a week for the Monarchy and only 10s. a week to the old age pensioner, it seems that there is something radically wrong in the system. A rearrangement is wanted. If there is a rearrangement of society and if everybody is given a decent stake in the country you could then appeal to us on the basis that we are all in this struggle and that there is something worth defending. We have heard from an hon. Member about certain expenditure which could be abolished and a demand has been made for an inquiry into the expenses of local authorities.

What expense is it suggested should be abolished? There are to-day in Glasgow people living in overcrowded rooms; there are tubercular children living among and infecting healthy children. There are people living under conditions not fit for the brute beasts of the field. They were promised homes by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) at the end of the last War. We were told that that War would give the nation freedom and provide homes for heroes, but these people have been living in those apartments for years. Families have grown up under these conditions. Is it then suggested that expenditure on housing should be abolished? If we had any conscience, we would be trying to quicken the pulse of the nation in this respect, and trying to increase grants in order to solve our tremendous housing problem. In spite of the dictatorship and the brutality in Germany, I have seen around Berlin housing schemes that would do credit to any country. I saw near the Templehof Aerodrome in Berlin, flats built for the German workers, finer than any I have ever seen elsewhere. If we are to set an example to the dictator countries we must eliminate selfishness and meanness and raise the standard of life for our people and give them opportunities for decency and comfort.

Is it suggested that hospital grants should be cut down when there are tens of thousands of people in every working-class area like Lanarkshire, Glasgow, Dumbartonshire, Stirlingshire and Fife-shire, as well as in Wales and other parts of the country, who have been on the waiting lists for months for hospital treatment? Many of them die while on the waiting lists and they cannot be treated in a proper and civilised way. Is it suggested that education grants should be reduced when there are schools with 40 and 50 children in a class? There are even 50 and 60 in a class in some areas in Glasgow where schools are not being built, because the capacity of the people to provide them has been taxed up to the limit. Many old age pensioners are compelled to go to the Poor Law and the money required for them is being found by the local people in areas which are being taxed up to the hilt.

I say that no person in this country should draw more than a certain sum, and all in excess of that sum should be confiscated by the State. These people did not create that wealth; it was created by the workers. These people are enjoying stolen wages, stolen wealth, produced by the energy of the working class. They are living on the proceeds of the workers' labour and a person in that position has no right to own five or six motor cars and have 30 or 40 servants while people of the country are being taxed up to the limit and kept in poverty. The Chancellor has made his speech and has gone off to make other speeches. He is glorying in the sunshine of a great achievement in this House, but behind the scenes we know how much wreckage and poverty exists. I am prepared to advocate that people should fight, but I want to know whether it is necessary to fight and what they are to fight for and whether it is worth fighting for. If there is any struggle, wealth should be put into the common pool.

I am prepared to consider the matter on that basis, but not if we are to be asked to fight the old fight, as in 1914 to 1918, and if, when we come out of it, we are to find that we cannot get houses and cannot get jobs. I am not prepared to consider any such appeal if we are to have means tests and every kind of petty mean persecution, with people going round the doors to find out whether a boy is selling papers and earning an extra half-crown, and looking under beds to see whether a family has been selling bundles of sticks made out of broken boxes in order to get a few coppers; if we are to have inspections to find out whether a woman is making a little extra money by hair-cutting; if we are to have every kind of petty presecution that can only spring from inhuman minds on that bench and behind that bench—for I am not "kidded" into the belief that it is those on the Front Bench who declare policy. There is a power behind the scenes, the power of the financiers, who not only decide the taxation but decide the policy of the Government of the day.

I see this nation going into another bloody struggle. I see money being raised in preparation for it. We are having fire brigades, gas masks, underground tunnels and shelters, ambulances, air wardens, bombing squadrons, aeroplane squadrons; in the Navy aeroplane carriers, submarines, torpedo boats, destroyers—every form of deadly weapon. It is not that human nature is at fault. It is not that the Germans are worse han the British or the British worse than the Germans. It is simply a question of continual warfare owing to the economic struggle of the few who use die many as tools in order to carry out their bloody struggle on the battlefield, and in order to safeguard the bondholding possessions of the ruling class. I realise that there are limits to what capitalism can give, because capitalism is going down and ruining itself owing to the developments of the very system itself. Its trade is being wiped out because the countries which were once your customers are now your opponents. They are producing themselves, and they are all looking for the markets which cannot be found because they are wiped out by the developments which have taken place. That throws the workers at each others' throats. It compels the Government to raise money for these deadly weapons in order to disembowel and blow one another asunder.

After 2,000 years of Christianity we hear a representative of a Government priding himself on the fact that we are raising £2,000,000,000or £3,000,000,000 in order to throw millions of human beings at one anothers' thoats and murder one another on the battlefield. We are preparing for that deadly struggle. There are no limits to the power of the machine, to the power of human energy to produce if it were freed from the shackles and the restraints of capitalist production, but to-day there is a limit everywhere, and therefore you go on encouraging the people to serve. When the people of this country, the people of Germany the people of France, the people of all the countries in the world, once realise that they are periodically used as dupes to defend the possessions of the selfish few, war will come to an end, your bluff, your class antagonism will come to an end, and on that day a new system will be ushered in. It is up to every intelligent man— every Socialist—to point out to the workers that this system is going down in the struggle. It is not their duty to defend it. It is their duty to assist in its complete overthrow, and to appeal to the German workers in the same way to overthrow their tyrants and their rulers. Only then can there be peace in the world. Only then can we live in harmony and raise money, not to destroy one another but to build up and create life, to give the people an opportunity to look forward to long life, happiness, comfort and security. Your capitalist system cannot give that because of the greedy, selfish, soulless class interest which you are out to protect in every land.