Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [29th November]:
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:
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."—[Captain Sidney.]
Last Wednesday, the opening day of this Debate on the King's Speech, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), speaking for the whole of our party, made an appeal to the Government and to the House. He asked that we should dedicate this new Session of Parliament to the fulfilment of the promises which Parliament and the Government have made to the people of this country. He particularly emphasised the desirability of giving some measure of priority to those items of legislation mentioned in the King's Speech, to which the country attach a great deal of importance and which they are rightly expecting that we should pass at the earliest possible moment. Since my right hon. Friend made this statement, supplemented as it was by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) speaking on Friday, we have had two replies upon this aspect of our Debate from the Government. We had a reply from the Prime Minister on Wednesday and a reply from the Foreign Secretary on Friday. Those replies turned round two phrases, one used in the King's Speech and the other used by the Prime Minister. The King's Speech indicates that the Government propose to proceed with legislation on the lines mentioned in the Speech "as opportunity serves." The Prime Minister qualified that by saying that the Government would proceed with legislation as opportunity serves and within the time that is left to this Parliament.
I would like to deal with these two phrases and to put some questions to my right hon. Friend who is to reply on which we would like clarification. It is because we are disturbed and disappointed at the hesitancy of the language in the King's Speech, which has been accentuated by the replies we have had, that we asked for an opportunity of returning to this aspect of this Debate before turning our attention to specific problems during the rest of the week. I would like to say a few words about the question of the time that is left to this Parliament. That time is conditioned by the impending General Election. We know, too, that the General Election in its turn waits upon the termination of the war against Germany in Europe. I notice that since last week there has been a tendency in some Conservative sections of the Press to try and create a feeling of prejudice against my party by trying to saddle on it the responsibility of trying to return quickly to party politics. I notice, for example, that the "Daily Telegraph" to-day talks about the prospects of a return to party politics, due largely to Socialist initiative.
I am a member of the party executive, and I want to make the position of our party clear about the problem of the General Election. There need be no ambiguity about the position of our party. The trouble is that there is ambiguity about the position of other parties, but none about ours. We have made a statement about it, carefully considered and weighed, and publicly issued to the whole country on 7th October. That statement will come before our party conference next week for their approval or rejection—a perfectly proper, democratic procedure. As a party we are not afraid of any charge or accusation of seeking wickedly to return to party politics. As we understand it, the democratic system which we have in this country, which has been built up after centuries of effort and struggle, depends upon parties for its real operation. If during the last few years we have suspended parties, it is because of the impelling reasons of national safety and security, and we believe that, as soon as conditions permit, it is desirable, if we are to retain our democracy, that we should return to the party system.
We have, as I say, made our position clear upon this question, and there are three things about it I would like to say, because they are brought out clearly in the statement our party has issued. There are, first, when we think the election ought to take place; secondly, what kind of election we believe it should be, having regard to the issues involved, and thirdly what the position of our party is. If I may claim the indulgence of hon. Members, I should like to read short quotations from our statement, which clearly show what our view is on all these points. First on, when it should take place, say—
The Parliament elected in 1935 has exceeded its normal time by four years. As soon as possible, having regard to the international situation and to the need for giving the electors, especially those who are in the fighting Services, a full and fair opportunity not only of voting, but of appreciating the issues involved, a General Election must take place.
I put it to any hon. Member belonging to any Party in the House of Commons: Do they disagree with that? Do they think this House should go on voting itself extended terms of life, and do they disagree with the view we have put forward that when it takes place it shall take place on real issues, not on artificially created ones; and in particular that there should be the fullest oppor-
tunity for the men and women who are serving in the Forces to have an opportunity of voting in this election, and of appreciating the issues involved. That is when we think the election ought to take piace—when those conditions are satisfied.
Secondly, on how is it to take place, we say: It is essential that it shall be an election which shall give a real alternative to the people of this country. We therefore reject out of hand any attempt or suggestion that there should be what the people of the country know now as a "coupon Election" when the next Election comes. Thirdly, the position of our own party is made abundantly clear in this sentence:
When it is time for the House of Commons to be renewed the Labour Party, proud of the share it has taken in winning the War and preparing for the Peace, will go before the country with a practical policy based upon the Socialist principles in which it believes and will invite the electors to return a majority pledged to support a Labour Government to implement that policy.
That is the position of the Labour Party on the question of a General Election, when it should take place, what kind of Election it ought to be, and the position of our party. By that we stand, and when the election comes we shall seek to fight in the certain belief that we do not believe the people of this country want to go back to the old Britain but want to go forward to a new Britain—of security and opportunity.
That is the future. In the meantime, what are we to do with the time that is left? How long it is, how short it is, we do not know, and I shall not speculate. The other day the Prime Minister did commit himself to an estimate. Speaking in this House on 31st October, on the Second Reading of the Prolongation of Parliament Bill, he used these words—he had already given a review of the whole of the circumstances that will have to be taken into consideration in deciding the time of the Election:
It follows therefore that if events should take the course I have indicated it would seem that, roughly speaking, there is no likelihood of a General Election for from seven to nine months from now."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st October, 1944; V. 404, c. 665.]
That is, seven to nine months from the end of October. For the purpose of what I want to say I will accept that as being as careful and competent an estimate as
can be made by anyone. A month has already gone, so that instead of saying seven or nine months we should say that six or eight months are left to us. What are we to do with that time? That is a subject to which I wish to devote myself and to say something for my Party?
We say it is our duty as Parliament, it is the Government's duty to Parliament and the nation, to use every available moment of time that is left to carry through as many of the measures outlined in the King's speech as can be accomplished in that time. We say we owe a solemn obligation to the people of this country not to use opportunities as they come, not "as opportunity serves"; we believe we ought to go very much further, and that is our major conflict with the words in the King's Speech and the replies of the Government. We believe we ought not to wait until opportunity serves, we believe that for this purpose we should create opportunity in order to bring about the fulfilment of this programme. If we make up our mind to do it, we can carry through a great deal of this programme. It may be said that we cannot carry through all of it. That is all the more reason why we should carry as much as we possibly can. This programme, which I know, covers a very wide field, foreshadows something like 12 or more Measures. It may be we cannot carry all of these but we can carry a lot of them, I am certain.
I am like many of my hon. Friends; this is our first Parliament, maybe our only one. We have had an example of how this great instrument, this Parliament, can work quickly when there is the will to work quickly. I have been in this House of Commons in one day's Sitting in which 40 Measures were passed, because we were agreed about it, because there was the sense of urgency, there was the war. Are we to send a message to the people of this country that we are only going to tackle business quickly when there is a war, that this instrument of Parliament cannot work quickly for peace, that it can do its job well and quickly when it is a question of war but that when it is a question of peace we dawdle and waste opportunity? We would not wait for opportunity, if this was a war programme; we would create opportunities every day. It is essential that we should send a message to the people in this country, and wherever they are serving and fighting for us outside the country, that we shall be as urgent and as quick and determined and resolute about our peace programme, as about our war programme. If any other idea gets out to those lads in the Forces, it may be a disaster for this country.
I urge that we should make up our minds that we shall use every moment and create opportunities. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. A. Greenwood), speaking for all of us here, said we were prepared to consider and accept any changes that are required—changes in the hours of sitting, the re-establishment of Standing Committees, extension of the days of sitting. We are prepared for the next six or eight months, to work as we have done throughout the war, to carry out and implement as much of this programme as we can. In six or eight months, it may be argued, we cannot carry through this programme fully. Then let us do as we do for war, settle priorities, making up our mind what part of this programme we think ought to be carried out, and give it the first preference. Let those Bills come first.
There are three great groups of problems which our people are anxious and worried about, and for which they are looking to us to find a remedy. First, there is the question of homes. We are to discuss that later in the week. Secondly, there is the question of jobs. That is to be discussed to-morrow. Thirdly, there is this question of security from want, the abolition of fear and want. Let us be under no misunderstanding about this: The experience of the last 20 years has sunk deep into the minds and hearts of our people.
I very often contrast the mood of people in this war and in the last war. In the last war, which came as a kind of bolt from the blue, as a kind of intrusion in our life, people looked forward to the end of that war as the time when they would go back to the old days. There was a nostalgic longing to go back. The important thing about the mood of this country in this war is that people are longing for the victorious end of the war, and they are determined to go on until it has ended victoriously, but their longing for the end of it is accompanied by apprehension about what will take place after it. That is the central feature about the minds of people. That is why these measures of social security have gripped the imagination and the minds and hearts of our people. We would say that high among the priorities which we ourselves would fix for the legislation which we ought to debate and pass into law in these next six or eight months stands this group of social measures—family allowances, the national insurance measures in their two forms, the general one and that for injury allowances, and the health services. The injured men are looking to this House.
We would put these high, and in asking the Government to devote these six or eight months to a real attempt in this House of Commons to implement this programme of national insurance, I urge upon them that it is now two years since the Report by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir W. Beveridge) was presented to the Government and the House. It is 20 months since we debated the Report in this House, and when we did so statements were made, 20 months ago, on behalf of the Government. I want to quote them. Lest it be said that I am quoting one side against the other, I propose to quote the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Home Secretary, both of whom took part for the Government in the Debate. The Chancellor said:
the Government will press forward with the preparation of a Bill or group of Bills, and, when this work has been completed, they will review their policy, and Parliament will have an opportunity of pronouncing on the scheme.
In the course of the Debate I and several other Members had criticised the Chancellor. I think he deserved criticism, and I think so now, because of the reservations he made. Therefore, in his reply he used these words:
No reservations that I have made will affect the speed and vigour of our preparations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th February, 1944; Vol. 386, c. 1678.]
That was 20 months ago. The Home Secretary speaking in the same Debate two days later said:
we shall arrange for a limited but special staff to be concentrated on the general work of preparation. … We cannot give a date … but we are going to lose no essential time. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th February, 1943; Vol. 386, c. 2047–8.]
I put this point. It is 20 months ago since these pledges and promises were made in this House by the Government spokesmen. In the Debate upon national insurance and social insurance my right hon. Friends promised that the preparation would be hurried forward with vigour and no essential time would be lost. We are entitled to ask the Government, Are they ready now, are these Bills ready, any of them or all of them? I want to ask this question in this way. Are we to have any or all of these Bills presented to us this Session? If so, which of them, and in what order? Can we have an idea of the Government's time-table? Can we be told how many of these Bills will be presented to the House before Christmas, and how many before Easter? In other words, is there a time-table? We urge that there should be one. We attach tremendous importance to this next six or eight months being effectively used by this House to carry out the promises that the people have accepted from us. The Government and the House of Commons have promised this legislation to the people of this country. Are we going to say, "There is no time; there is only six or eight months"? In six or eight months we can do a great deal. I put this question to my right hon. Friend, and ask him, not only for myself but for the whole of my party, to answer it. I want to be perfectly frank. The replies that we have had so far leave us completely unsatisfied. We believe that there has been a dodging of the opportunities to introduce this legislation. I would rather put it perfectly frankly like that because I know that then I shall get a frank reply. We are not satisfied with the answer that there is no time, and because of that we have raised this Debate.
This Parliament and this Government, in which we all share, have made great calls upon the people of this country—calls for great sacrifices, calls for great efforts. No call that we have made upon the people of this country—and these are greater calls than have been made in the history of this land before—has gone without a complete answer from the people. They have responded magnificently. That White Paper, published last week, is a testimony to the effort of the common people of this country. We have asked so much from them, and they have given so much in answer to our call. What are we going to give them now? When the war in Europe comes to an end, some of our men—we hope a large number, but that is to be decided by military considerations—who are fighting our battles all over the world, will come back. When the war in Europe is over it is also very clear that a large number of the men and women now engaged in war work will be released from war factories, and will begin to take other jobs. Coming from an industrial area, I know—and my hon. Friends know it too—that there is a word growing up in the industrial areas: the word "redundancy." People are becoming redundant. In other words, they will not be wanted at their present jobs in three or four months' time. They are worried, and they are looking to us. I hope we shall get from the Government the answer that in the next six or eight months we are going to get down to the job of implementing the promises that we made to the people.
Recently an article appeared in the "Spectator." I do not know how many right hon. Members read it. It was written, anonymously of course, by an officer serving with the British Liberation Army. I hope that members of the Government and Members of the House of Commons will read it. It is a disturbing article. I do not know, but it may be that it overdraws the picture one way or the other; but the editor of the "Spectator," commenting upon it, said that what the writer said in the article was confirmed by much that he himself had heard from the war factories, and, even making allowance for the possibility of exaggeration, there was much evidence that among a very wide section of our people there existed these ideas and this mood—because, remember that what we shall have to face at the end of the war is a mood. If the spirit in which the men come back is wrong, it may be a very bad thing for this country, and a very bad thing for this Parliament. The article summed up by saying that the men whom the writer was privileged to lead, fine fellows, brave fellows, great fighters, courageous men, were distrustful of politicians. He had recently been engaged in trying to get men to register for the vote, and they said to him, "It does not matter." He said that he was appalled by the cynicism, the scepticism, and the distrust of Parliament, and of everything that we say; because of the gap between what we say and what we do: because what we say and what we do do not correspond.
I have friends working in the Army Educational Corps, and what they say confirms the statement that these young people are afraid, distrustful, concerning what they are coming back to. They remember what happened to their fathers after the last war, and they are afraid that the same thing is going to happen to them. In the next seven or eight months we have a chance, by the way we implement this programme, to determine whether these men come back to find their distrust justified, or come back satisfied that we have not only called upon them to do things in war, but have used every opportunity to see that they come back to a Britain better than the Britain they left. For five years we have called upon the people of this country. They have kept faith with us. We must keep faith with them too.
I have listened with great interest to what my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) has said. He has spoken with his usual cogency. I want to make a statement on behalf of the Government, although I think that Members should have been satisfied by the speeches made by my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. I would like to deal specifically with the points raised by my hon. Friend. I think it is very important to remember that this is a Parliament, and that you cannot throw things through in large and complicated Measures in the way you would throw something through quickly because it is immediately necessary for the war. You have got to take some time over it. I would ask Members to be very careful not to give people the idea that these things are very easy, that it is only a kind of Government cussedness that prevents them getting along. Believe me, these questions are very complicated.
I was a little disturbed at what my hon. Friend reiterated about the length of time that the Government took to consider these schemes. That point was made also by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir W. Beveridge), in his very interesting speech. There were one or two things which he omitted, and which I might mention now. He omitted to say that when he made his scheme he also asked for two other schemes, for the health service and for full employment, and that those had to be worked out by the Government. They were prerequisites of his scheme. The policy there involved an immense amount of detailed work. I want to remind hon. Members again that it is one thing to be able to work day in day out on a scheme, and quite another thing to have to work on the details of a number of schemes when, at the same time, you are already very heavily burdened with other work. I do not think that that is quite realised. You can get work done for you by officials, you can get work done for you by secretaries; but, if you are a responsible Minister, it ultimately come down to you, working, and working hard, on the details.
These great Measures took up an enormous amount of the time of people who, from the departmental offices they hold and from their weight of experience and importance, were necessarily burdened by an immense amount of other work. In a Government it comes down to a comparatively small number of people who must take decisions, and they cannot take those decisions lightly. I myself have not had the heavy departmental responsibilities of some of my colleagues: I have not been perhaps so closely engaged on the detailed examination of these proposals; but even I found a pretty big addition to my other work. Also, the day-to-day work of carrying on the war is, at the same time, very heavy. There is the work of Parliament; and that is quite heavy on Ministers. If you look at the Prorogation Speech you will see that this House itself has got through a great deal of legislative work. The Government have also taken part in international conferences, again involving the consideration of very far-reaching questions, on which decisions had to be come to, which necessarily fall very largely on the same group of Ministers.
When you look at these proposals in detail, I think you will find that they are not matters, necessarily, of party controversy. Government committees and meetings of Ministers that discussed these proposals spent many long hours on them; and I can assure hon. Members that they were not taken up all the time in inter-party squabbles—far from it. Members of the same party, looking at the same proposals with their background of depart- mental experience, will take slightly different views. That is the main problem in these schemes: the equities between various classes of citizens. They are not very easy. Hon. Members opposite know vastly more than I shall ever know about workmen's compensation. They know that that side of the thing is not simple. I ask hon. Members to believe that there never has been any obstruction of these schemes: work has gone on continuously. But it is inevitable, from the nature of these schemes and the fact that they had to be considered by people with very big responsibilities, in the middle of the war, that they should have extended over many weeks.
My right hon. Friend has said that questions of equity are concerned in all these schemes. Does he not attach full importance to what my right hon. Friend has said: that those questions of equity will be emphasised, acerbated, sharpened, and deepened immensely when the men come back, disappointed with what has been done while they were away?
I am afraid that my hon. Friend has not understood my point. My point was that you have to assemble into one scheme a number of provisions of various kinds, relating to various categories of persons. I was referring to the equities between different classes, such as widows and so on, which have to be worked out to get a fair balance. All of us who have been in the House some time know that, when you are discussing these things, there are a great many detailed points on which hon. Members will insist, and I think we ought to be very careful to get these things right. I only put that as a preliminary point.
My right hon. Friend has made a very interesting statement. He said that, in the discussions on all the Measures coming before the House, there was no real party issue. That seems to be a very important statement. Does it mean that it is on administrative details that difficulties are arising?
I am not being offensive, but my hon. Friend did not quote me quite correctly. I was referring to this particular group of proposals. I did not say that no political question ever arose. I said that a great amount of the work done did not involve party political considerations, but was taken up with administrative details. I said that a great amount of the detailed work was not a matter dividing the parties on political differences. I am sure any hon. Member with experience of these things will know what I mean.
The hon. Member for Llanelly quite reasonably put the question about what we are able to do in this Session. I think anybody who is an experienced Parliamentarian will agree that the Gracious Speech contains a very heavy legislative programme. For any peace-time period, it would be an extremely heavy programme. The Bills that are indicated there fall, broadly speaking, into three groups. First, there are the annual Bills, most of them giving an occasion for debate, though not in very much detail. Then there are a number of Bills which must be passed within a specified time. That is why you cannot afford a priority programme based entirely on the preferences of hon. Members for certain Measures. There are a number of Bills which must be passed within a certain specified time. Some of these are Bills that come forward fairly easily, but others are really quite detailed and quite important. They arise out of other legislation already passed by this House. Then, there are a number of Bills, some dozen or two dozen, perhaps, which are essential for the carrying on of the war and for dealing with matters that will arise immediately after the peace with Germany. All these have to be got on with. Then we come to the reconstruction Bills. There are a large number of these and we find that groups of hon. Members in all parts of the House are interested in them, some in one and others in another. I am sure it would be a great thing if all hon. Members could feel as much interested getting through the Bills in which other hon. Members are interested as in those which are their own pets. That would be extremely helpful.
The Government were, I think, right, with so heavy a programme, to strike a note of caution. The hon. Member for Llanelly has said quite rightly that it is a dangerous thing not to fulfil promises. It would have been wrong for the Government, having regard merely to the volume of legislation with which we have to deal, to say specifically that all these things could be passed into law this Session. We were bound to strike a note of caution. There is another factor, too, which is quite incalculable, and that is the length of the German war. As the hon. Member for Llanelly has explained, and he backed it up with quotations from an excellently-written document produced by the Labour Party, there are reasons why, in a democratic country like this, as soon as conditions allow—physical conditions, conditions of the waging of war and conditions that are going to give electors and would-be elected fair opportunities—there ought to be a General Election. I think that is common ground. No one can say when that situation will arise, but we all hope that, as soon as possible, we may bring the war against Germany to a victorious end, but it has been stated, and I think everybody agrees, that you cannot plunge into a General Election until you have finished the German war.
That is a date which we cannot fix, and that brings an element of uncertainty into the implementation of the programme outlined in the King's Speech. Therefore, we have set out quite fairly that we are going to try to do our best. Our intention is to make the greatest possible progress that we can. With regard to that other group of Bills I mentioned, the annual, essential ones, we all want to get them through or at least as far forward as we possibly can.
There are the social insurance proposals. The Prime Minister, in his speech on the Address, said they were in the forefront, but he was unable to give a complete time-table. I think that, on reflection, the hon. Member for Llanelly will see that it is quite impossible to give an exact time-table. There are the various Bills which have to go forward at different times to be passed by certain dates and so on, but I hope that the Bill providing for family allowances will be presented very soon, and I hope that the Industrial Injury Bill will not be very long behind it. I cannot say when the other Bills will be presented, because an immense amount of work has to be done on them, but my right hon. Friend is using the utmost vigour to get these Bills forward and get the drafting completed. There, again, we must remember that there is a very heavy strain on the quite limited number of skilled draftsmen in this country. It is rather a limiting factor and you have to consider it.
Does what the right hon. Gentleman has said about draftsmanship mean that a lot of preparation is necessary to be applied to the Bill for the comprehensive medical service? The Ministry of Health has been working on it for about three years. Surely, they have arrived at some definite definition?
I would really like to get this point clear, because I was very interested in the way the Government got the Education Act through. That, I think, took about 18 months in the drafting. If it is really a question of a shortage of draftsmen in the country, or in the Government offices, I think we ought to be told.
I mentioned it as one of the factors concerned. You cannot work your officials or Ministers more than a certain amount, and we are already working very long hours. It is a fact, which everybody knows, that there is not a superabundance of skilled draftsmen in this country, and if you are to get a Bill through the House you must have it properly drafted. I have seen plenty of Bills take a very long time in this House through bad drafting. I do not think hon. Members realise the large amount of legislation which has come before the House in the last year. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Lindsay) is always trying to suggest that the real difficulty is disputes and so on——
Yes, but it is the second time, and I have already said that these proposals are agreed and will come before the House, and that, therefore, the hon. Member's point does not arise. Has my hon. Friend got the point?
Quite. We have put forward our proposals and we are going ahead with our proposals, but there are other Measures apart from these, and hon. Members must not think that these things can be brushed aside. There are Measures dealing with our own elections, and with matters of water supply connected with housing, and there is housing itself. You cannot brush them all aside.
I referred to certain priorities, and I mentioned three—jobs, houses and security. I said that houses and jobs were to be discussed separately, and so I would not refer to them.
I do not think we can do that, but we shall get things through just as quickly as we can. There is a limit, however, to the amount of work this House can do. I am quite in agreement with the hon. Member for Llanelly in suggesting that we should work together and adopt any method to get things along, but, having had some experience of these matters, I say that, even with the best will in the world, you will find that it takes time. Take the Education Bill, which was a very remarkable example. Contrasted with other Bills before it, it secured the co-operation of all parties to get it through, and yet, with the best will in the world, merely from the nature of the Bill, it took a considerable time in this House.
I support the plea made by my hon. Friend to all hon. Members of the House to help along the passage of these Bills, because, after all, it depends on what this House does. The Government proposes, but the House disposes. If the House continues in a mood of full co-operation, in which every hon. Member is doing his best to help these things along, we can make great progress, but if we allow political questions to be cropping up all the time and differences to grow and grow, then we may get into a position wherein such a programme as this would be quite impossible. I entirely support the hon. Member for Llanelly in the view that, these Measures having received such a large amount of support in this House and in the country, it is up to us to try and get them through if we possibly can, but it is right that I should warn hon. Members of the physical difficulties and also warn them of the inevitable uncertainties in time of war.
The Prime Minister said that those who were pledged to these great matters of social legislation would feel themselves bound, in a General Election, to make good their promises and commitments to the people. My right hon. Friend did not say that we should not make progress with these Bills in this Session, and I entirely agree with him in his pronouncement. Whatever the Government or whatever the composition of the House, whatever programme parties put forward, I hope that there will be co-operation between all parties so that these great Measures, if not put through at the time of the General Election, can still reach the Statute Book, because they represent an immense amount of work.
It has been dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield and brought up by my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock, there have been discussions by the Government and by officials, discussions in this House, and a wide consideration in the country, and never before has there been such a tremendous measure of support for these proposals. We do not want to suggest to the men in the Fighting Forces that in any part there will be a disposal to waive that work which is being done. Whatever happens, we shall endeavour to put this coping stone on to our provision of social services. There may be differences of detail between people, but do not let differences of detail destroy the great measure of agreement on main principles and the main framework.
I have tried to answer by hon. Friend. I have told him that there are two Measures which, we hope, will be coming along very shortly. I told him that I cannot give the exact order of priority with regard to the others. I say that with regard to all the Measures we have mentioned in the King's Speech, we shall do our very utmost to get them on to the Statute Book. But I say, in conclusion, that we must remember that the Government is not the master but the servant of this House and, in the long run, it depends on the will of this House and what it does as to how far these proposals in the King's Speech can be fully implemented.
I was very interested in the statement that has been made by the Deputy Prime Minister. It reminds me of a long experience in local government work—some 30 years—and it appears, even from to-day's statement, and also from the statement of the Prime Minister a few days ago, that the time is not going to be opportune. It never has been opportune, as far as we have been concerned, in all my experience in local government life. I am very confused to-day as to what is to happen in the future and whether we are actually going to get the social insurance scheme on to the Statute Book. First, we have to wait until the defeat of Germany, and after the defeat of Germany, we shall be able to consider how long it will be before there is a General Election. Therefore, we are very confused as to what is to happen with regard to the Social Insurance Scheme.
I am glad to have an opportunity of saying one or two things about the industrial side of this scheme. I was very glad to hear the Deputy Prime Minister say that the question of family allowances was going to have a very early turn in reference to social insurance and that industrial insurance would, maybe, take the second place. I am hoping that this may happen before there is a Dissolution of this Parliament and before we go to the country. The population have been thrilled by the White Paper, and this House has definitely agreed that the proposals ought to become law as soon as possible. I am glad that workmen's compensation is, by social insurance, to be taken out of the atmosphere of controversy and conflict and established on a sure and sounder foundation. As one who has had a good deal of experience in the courts with reference to compensation, I am glad to see the demise of these Compensation Acts. I understand that these Acts have proved the most expensive that have ever been passed. I have heard it said that it has cost something like £1,000,000 a year on the legal side in order to get for our men either full or part compensation, or none at all. One is glad to see compensation taken out of the arena altogether, and that we are to get a general scheme upon which we can all agree.
In the absence of definite information that an employer shall re-employ an injured workman should there be any incapacity, can we be told whether any definite training centres will be established, or are we to be pushed into the open labour market and have to apply for unemployment benefit? That has been our lot and it is to-day, and if it is to continue so, the waste of manpower will go on, and the position is very serious in the mining and heavy industries. What has been said about treatment? Thousands are cripples to-day because of not having had expert treatment for fractures. Most hon. Members, at least on this side of the House, know that in their own towns there are scores of men who have been very badly injured and are cripples to-day because they did not have early treatment. The men may receive very good treatment in hospitals from the matrons and local doctors but often there are no experts to deal with fractures. It is high time that, in training centres, we should have experts who could put these men right in order that they may he made, if not as good industrial workers as before their injury, very good workmen again. Treatment is as important as the payments that are made to the man and his family.
Is any help to be given in reference to medical appliances, artificial legs and arms and so on? These are not supplied by the insurance companies. All they pay is the compensation, and they pay only what they are forced to pay in accordance with law. In a colliery of from 3,000 to 4,000 men cases of this sort may be happening every week. We have had to supply the appliances. The insurance company, or what is known in the coalfields as the Coalowners Indemnity Association, would do nothing at all except pay compensation and in many cases they have been forced to pay by law. The coalowners and ourselves at many collieries do agree to pay 50 per cent. each towards the purchase of these appliances. The workmen in receipt of social insurance benefits cannot be expected to purchase them. A man who receives from £2 to £2 10s. a week cannot pay £30 or £40 for an artificial leg or arm or afford to pay for an artificial eye or truss or the 101 appliances that are required in accident cases. There are special beds required for men who have sustained broken backs, and invalid chairs are also needed, and are the Government going to make any arrangements in this connection? It may be said that these are matters of detail but we have to make them known now.
I welcome the social insurance scheme and I am glad to know that compensation is not to be related to wages. A man will know exactly what he is to have whatever his earnings may have been; the good will go with the bad, the weak with the strong. Insurance companies only insure good lives. They usually inquire about the lives of our parents and grandparents. This is a very comprehensive scheme and puts us all into the pool together. I hope that no section of the community will be able to contract out of this scheme as they were able to contract out of the last scheme. That would be a retrograde step, perhaps the beginning of the end of what is considered throughout the country to be a comprehensive, sound and vigorous step forward. Mention is made in the King's Speech of wages and conditions but it does not really give us an indication of what it actually means. I want to add a word or two in respect of agriculture in that connection. Agriculture to-day, in this country, they say, is the most highly mechanised in the world and has the best outlook and output. We have congratulated the Department on the very excellent work during the last few years. How shall we fare in this great industry when we lose the services of prisoners of war and the Women's, Land Army, and cannot rely on the thousands of people who have given up their holidays in order to go hay-making and to assist at the harvest and seed time?
How are we going to encourage men and women to come into the industry? Not by the present wage standards, surely. It is interesting to note that our farmhands are actually receiving 1s. 5d. an hour and that there is some talk about their having a penny extra an hour if they work any overtime. Here, surely, is a craftsman's job. An ordinary labourer anywhere in the country receives 1s. 7d. an hour, and these very excellent men, who can milk, plough, thatch, sow and reap, these craftsmen, should be paid better wages than they are being paid to-day. Unless wages and conditions are improved, the men will eventually drift back into the towns and other industries and flood the labour market, as they did between the two wars, when some 250,000 of these men, who had been doing very much better work on farms, came back and did townspeople's jobs.
We should not allow this industry to languish again as it did in the years of poverty and misery after the last war. We have created a great record in this war and our output has gone up 70 per cent. and we are producing now nearly two-thirds of the total food we need in this country. It is a very fine achievement. But are we going to do it in the post-war years? What encouragement are we going to give to get these people back into farming? Do we think that the men who have been out fighting will come back and go into the farming industry at 1s. 5d. an hour. We have to encourage these people. This is a basic industry. There is a lot of talk about improvements, but unless we get the food and get the people on to the land to produce the food we shall be in a very sorry position.
Just one other word, before I close, about the Channel Islands. In "The Times" this morning there is a very strong letter and I think we will have to do something about it. Those Channel Islanders who were able to get to this country in the early part of the war appreciate what has been done for them but they express great concern to me in letters about the condition of people left in those Islands, and the points put to me in writing are well expressed in the letter in "The Times." Is everything being done that could be done regarding food and clothing and the ordinary amenities of life for these people? I appreciate, of course, that the enemy is still in possession. We all know what attack would mean, followed afterwards perhaps by what is known as the scorched earth policy. We do not want that to happen to those beautiful little Islands, but cannot we be more definitely assured here to-day that everything that is humanly possible is being done for the people left in those Islands? So many strong representations are made to me and, I am sure to other hon. Members, that one feels rather irked that we are not able to do more. It is stated in "The Times" this morning that these people feel they have been abandoned by the Mother Country and they cannot think why. It is a terrible position. There has been no message from the B.B.C. to these people for over four years. They had great comfort in June, 1940, when His Majesty the King broadcast a message which they heard and remembered. There is no doubt at all that these people are suffering very great hardship. We have had question and answer about these things, but I ask that we should be given a little more assurance that these people, who are our own and are on our own doorstep, should have better treatment than they have had in the past. We get messages from these Islands: cannot we get something back to them to let them know that we think and care about them?
The words "social security" have been ringing in my ears for years and therefore I think possibly it is appropriate to-day that I should, with the permission of the House, address one or two words to the House upon the matter which is now being debated upon the most Gracious Speech. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) is still here, for I listened with the greatest interest to his observations. May I at the very outset say that I, and I am sure many of my hon. Friends on this side of the House, are as keen as anybody that a scheme of social security in its entirety should be introduced and passed into law at the earliest possible moment? Indeed, I should be the happiest Member of this House if it could be introduced and passed into law before this Parliament ceases to exist.
I am very conscious of what was said by the hon. Member for Llanelly, that there is throughout the country a very grave suspicion whether we in this House, and the Government, are really serious in our intentions with regard to implementing this scheme of social security. That feeling, which I sense in my own constituency and going into the highways and byways throughout the country, causes me considerable disquiet and disturbance of mind in exactly the same way as I know it does the hon. Member for Llanelly. If I may, however, I would with great timidity and sincerity say to my hon. Friend that I do not think it is we in this House who are to blame if that feeling be prevalent in the country. Indeed, I do not think it is the Government which is to blame if that feeling exists in the minds of many millions of men and women in this land. It is, I think, engendered partly by the political spirit which is re-awaking in this country, and by the activities of all, or some, of the political parties. I have always tried, in this House and out of it, to observe the party truce and the party spirit in the fullest form, and I am sure that no words of mine to-day will be misunderstood; but in view of the observations that have fallen from my hon. Friend I think that I should be quite frank and quite honest with the House, if you will allow me, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in putting my views before it with regard to this feeling in the country.
I remember not so very long ago reading a paper, not concerned with my own constituency, in which a candidate-to-be at the next election, not of my own party, made a most spirited and hearty attack on the Tory Party. He alleged that of course it was the Conservatives who were obstructing this progressive legislation, and but for the Conservative Party it would be passed into legislative effect within the next 48 hours or so. Then I read soon afterwards in the same paper that a member of another political party—also a would-be candidate for the same constituency—got up and said that he quite agreed it was the Conservative Party. Then the Member for the constituency went down and said that that was entirely untrue, that his party would most wholeheartedly support this scheme of social security, that he had advocated it in the House of Commons, and would continue to do so, and that he had many hon. and right hon. Friends on his side of the House who were of exactly the same opinion as himself. I am quite sure that the thousands of men and women who read that paper must have said to themselves, "Where does the truth lie? One politican says this, another politician says that; can we believe any of them? Let us disbelieve them all."
If I may interrupt my hon. and gallant Friend, I said that it was two years since we had this report and 20 months since the statement. I also asked, "Are we to tell the people of this country that it will really take as long as that in order to carry this thing through? Is that the speed at which Governments work?" How does my hon. and gallant Friend deal with that?
I quite appreciate that and, if I may, I will deal with it in a moment. The suggestion I am making, in the friendliest and most sincere spirit, is that the attitude which my hon. Friend senses in the country is in no small degree due to the practices which I have mentioned, and I think it is those practices which are largely creating the unhappy spirit in the minds of the people, and which we all deplore so much. I fully appreciate the point which my hon. Friend made in his intervention, that it is a considerable time since the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir William Beveridge) introduced his report, and from that date to when the Government produced their White Paper on social security. The answer I would make, and I have given prolonged and serious thought to this matter, is that this scheme of social security or social insurance or national insurance—call it what you will—is one of the most vast and far-reaching social measures which has ever come before the House of Commons.
I suggest that one cannot introduce and pass into law a measure of this nature in the same spirit or in the same time as one introduces and passes into law, for example, the Education Bill which has been mentioned to-day. A scheme of social security has very wide ramifications, for instance, the question of the medical service. There are many other questions to consider and to solve which have to be weighed in the minds of the Government. Full employment is one. I suggest seriously to the House that while I am prepared, as a back-bencher with very little authority, to bring all the pressure I can to bear on the Government in this matter—I am sure hon. Members in all quarters of the House will adopt exactly the same attitude—we must face facts, and we must realise the vastness of the measures with which we are dealing. However great our desire may be to help the men who are fighting overseas, to give them confidence in the future, to sustain their wives and families at home, nevertheless we must exercise that restraint, that common sense as Members of this House, to which the Government is entitled. That is the submission I put before the House to-day.
I was very glad to hear the speech made by the Deputy Prime Minister because, prior to hearing it, I confess quite frankly that I was not entirely happy with some of the phrases in the Gracious Speech from the Throne. It seemed to me there was a vagueness which was not entirely justifiable; but the Deputy Prime Minister to-day has explained the position and has given assurances with which, for the moment at least, we should rest satisfied; especially when one considers the observations made by the Leader of the House last week, the pledges which were given on behalf of my party, and those which have been given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. A. Greenwood) on behalf of the party opposite. To-day, I hope very sincerely, because I think it is a matter of great importance to the peace of mind of the people of this country, that a message will go out that there really is no prevarication by the Government or by Members of Parliament, that the ordinary men and women of this country, and the men in the Services, need not distrust all politicians, that we are trying to play our part, that the Government are trying to play their part, and, at the earliest possible moment, legislative provisions will be brought before the House to implement this scheme of social security in its entirety. In the meantime, we have had an announcement with regard to family allowances and we have had an announcement with regard to a possible Industrial Injury Bill. They in themselves are matters which in peace time would have been considered of the greatest possible importance. So I do hope that there may be a change of attitude possibly in certain quarters of the Press with regard to this question of social security which I fully admit, with my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly, is one of the three prime factors in the future of this country and the welfare and betterment of all its inhabitants.
I would end with one point which is very near to my heart. It seems to me, rightly or wrongly, that with the best will in the world some considerable time must elapse before this scheme of social security can become effective. There is one section of the community who are not receiving at the moment all to which they are entitled, and for whom I make a plea to-day. One can gain Parliamentary fame in this House by talking on foreign policy and so on, but I very much doubt if one would gain Parliamentary fame by talking on behalf of the old age pensioners. Nevertheless, they are a very worthy section of our community for which I confess I feel very strongly. I think sometimes that hon. Members who represent constituencies in the South of England, or rural agricultural constituencies, do not come into contact with the old people and their present circumstances to the same degree as hon. Members who represent constituencies in the North, or constituencies of an industrial character. In the ten years before the war, especially in Lancashire, the old people really had a very bad time. I quite admit that in view of the comparatively recent amelioration which the Government has effected in old age pensions, those people are not now actually starving or actually in need of food or shelter over their heads.
But they are cut very near to the bone, and they have very little comfort to give them solace in their old age. I therefore make this plea to the Government and to the House. It must, of necessity, be a considerable time before the full scheme of social security will become effective. Is it not, therefore, possible to do something further to benefit the lot of the aged in this country? They are not at the moment having a very happy time. Their age, the war, and other things, have combined to prevent them living a particularly happy life—other Members must have had the same experience—and something more should be done to give them that comfort to which they are entitled.
I know full well that millions of aged people in Europe are to-day without a home and have been subjected to the greatest possible brutalities by the enemy, and that when one is in the middle of a war like this it is hardly becoming to ask for further consideration for old people who have food, clothing and shelter. Nevertheless, I would say that although I do not regard pounds, shillings and pence as meaningless symbols we can afford to do something here and now for our old people. I will end by saying how glad I was that the Government's provisions in the White Paper were more beneficial to present old age pensioners than those contained in the Beveridge Report. I hope the points I have put will receive consideration, and that, above all, it will go forth from the House to-day that there is no prevarication by the Government with regard to this scheme of social security and that notwithstanding the observations of the hon. Member for Llanelly people in this country need not distrust all politicians.
I do not propose to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Darwen (Captain Prescott) in what he has said, although I must say that many of us will applaud the tone and temper of his remarks if we do not agree with all he has said. I do not feel that on this question of the introduction of practical proposals of social security any unusually great amount of time is necessary. All I would say is that the man in the street and the man in the Forces feel that what we have done during this war is evidence of what can be done in the post-war period to bring about the necessary legislation. Besides social security, we are also discussing to-day, in effect, what success we shall have as a nation in the post-war period. Justice for the community is of major importance as a contribution to that success, and I want to speak for the moment as one who represents almost entirely a mining constituency. If we are to be successful in post-war years we must have a plentiful supply of coal. Bound up with these national insurance proposals is workmen's compensation, and I would like to assure the House that in mining districts the lack of social security, via workmen's compensation, has been one of the prime factors as to why there has been a shortage of new entrants into the mining industry.
On the average, every four years a miner is injured while he is doing his job, and if he is not then someone else has a double dose. Let us picture if we have mental vision a procession of the men who were injured or killed at our pits last year. If the procession was four abreast, and each rank one yard apart, it would stretch for over 25 miles. Every 16 yards there would be an ambulance in which there was a seriously injured man, and every 60 yards there would be a hearse containing the body of a dead miner. Those who, like myself, belong to the mining industry would prefer being in a pit with all its risks rather than risking "flak" over Berlin, but, on the other hand, youths coming to manhood prefer to bomb Berlin or to go into a submarine under the sea rather than go into a pit. What a commentary on mining conditions. In 1922 there were, in the pits of Britain, 56,600 boys between 14 and 16. In 1938, that number had fallen to 28,000 and now, despite all the Minister of Labour is doing under his Bevin scheme—and he is doing the best he can under the circumstances—that figure of 28,000 has dropped to 18,000. There is a reason, and part of it is lack of security and the giving of decent conditions to people in that industry. I make no apology for referring to the matter in this Debate, because unless we are assured of a plentiful supply of coal after the war other industries, which are dependent upon coal, will be seriously handicapped.
I have been carried out of mines on a stretcher and have been injured often, and when I have recovered I—and others, too—have always had the thought, "How soon might come the accident which will again put me on half the wages I had while I was working as a fit and sound man?" This 50 per cent. reduction in living standard when one is injured is a factor in workmen's compensation which is deterring not merely our lads but their parents from allowing them to work at the pits. We have not associated with our workman's compensation any rehabilitation scheme in law, and there has been no compulsory medical aid to enable the injured man to make the quickest possible recovery. There has been no guarantee of future employment, particularly if the man has been still partially incapacitated when it has been stated that he has recovered and fit for some work. If a miner has nystagmus, and recovers, there is no compulsion on the coalowner to take him back into employment. By leaving workmen's compensation in private hands with the profit motive, men have been thrown out to seek employment elsewhere because there has been the danger of the recurrence of this disease if they went back to their old work. Further, there has been discrimination when it has been known that a man has received workmen's compensation for industrial diseases. I have been on the road out of work, and when I have been lucky enough to find work I have been asked whether I have received workmen's compensation. If truth is told and if one had the misfortune to have suffered an injury or disease which might recur then there was no possibility of getting a job.
We complain of the vested interests which are associated with workmen's compensation. It is gruesome in all conscience. It was bad enough that the national need for coal should be exploited by private owners, but the fact that traffic in blood is looked upon as profit-making is particularly bad. It is because I am so proud of Britain that I feel that if other countries can adopt schemes which are giving better results we should lose no prestige in saying that we should consider the adoption of similar schemes. I was a few months ago privileged to go to the coalfields of Western Canada, where I worked 30 years ago as a miner, and there I found that the Alberta Legislature had passed a Workmen's Compensation Act which gives better conditions than those set out in our White Paper. This has had a settling effect on the workers and youths proposing to go into the coalfields there. This Albertan Act, passed last year, defines more broadly than we propose to do what constitutes an accident.
They also give definitions of those who are entitled to benefit, which are very good. The definition of a child includes an illegitimate child and any child of a husband or wife by a former marriage. The definition of compensation includes medical aid, and medical aid includes nursing, drugs, dressings, X-ray treatment, surgical appliances, special treatment and transportation to where these things can be acquired. Three Commissioners, subject to the Legislative Assembly, decide what the payment shall be, based upon certain general principles in the Act, and the resultant effect is that whereas to-day, in our Britain, of the premiums that go to the insurance bodies, about a third is spent in administration, under the Albertan Act 98 per cent. of the premiums go where it is intended that they should go, to the injured man or his dependants. For fatal claims they have abolished the lump sum idea. The widow of a miner who is killed receives £28 for burial expenses—I have translated the dollars into pounds—and she receives for pre-burial expenses, presumably garments and the like, another £22. I contrast that with £15 all told in this country, and then only in cases where the family of a dead son receives no compensation. The widow in Canada receives a weekly payment of £2 5s., and each child receives 13s. 6d. a week, not until he starts in active employment, but until he is 18 years of age. Orphan children receive £1 2s. 6d. a week and an invalid child receives 13s. 6d. as long as invalidity continues, irrespective of age. It is true that these payments to widows cease on re-marriage, but a marriage portion of 480 dollars or £106 is paid. In fatal accidents two-thirds of the former wages represents largely the accepted amount paid to the injured workman.
At Barnsley at one period we had three major explosions within 18 months. I saw men who were lucky enough not to be in the mine at the time dashing to the pits to help their comrades in distress. This Albertan Act gives a decent measure of justice to these men who are prepared to do that. It lays down that any helper in an explosion or similar accident receives not two-thirds of his wages if he is injured in rescue work but 100 per cent. There is one important thing about this Measure I speak of which I do not notice in our proposals. We leave unpaid for a month after the accident the first three days of compensation. In the Albertan Act the first three days are given after 14 days. Rehabilitation and the re-training of disabled men are compulsory. Our proposals in the White Paper are a splendid improvement on what we do at present, but I still feel that if we are going to make these hazardous occupations attractive and if we are going to get the entrants that we need we have to make these improvements better still. The first consideration is the injured man and his family but to the districts concerned there is a liability which is not entirely shared by non-industrial districts. A few years ago the compensation of 24s. a week which was the average payment, threw injured workmen after the first week of injury on to the local rates and the trades-men were affected on the one hand by the lower purchasing power of the injured and in the second by the increase of the rates. I hope my right hon. Friend will consider this Albertan Act with a view to following out some of the lines of policy which they have laid down and which were so well received by those concerned.
I hope the hon. Member will forgive me if I do not pursue him into the realms of Albertan legislation. The chief discussion here is with our own legislation and we have little enough time for that without venturing into that of Alberta. It has been rather interesting to observe the issue which has really arisen as between the two sides of the House to-day. It has become manifest that Members of all parties are advocating the introduction and the passage through the House of a National Insurance Bill and the only difference between hon. Members opposite and us is that hon. Members opposite are complaining that it is not being done with enough speed. We see there being already defined the election issues and what is in fact happening is that hon. Members opposite are saying, knowing of course that they cannot improve on the legislation that we propose, that they propose the same legislation but propose it quicker. They either believe that or they do not. If they do not it is dishonest to go about the country saying so. If they do it is evident that they lack what we have always said that they lack, the experience of Government, which is necessary before you can govern.
The truth is that the delay is due to the fact that we are working within the four walls of a democracy. It is all very well for them to stump the country saying you can put this into force in a few weeks, but that just is not true. I have no doubt that you could do it in a few days if you lived under a dictatorship, but you cannot do it under a democracy because there are a number of interests to be consulted and you can only do it by trampling on those interests and completely disregarding them. If you concern yourself with the interests of the great majority of the people it is bound to take time before Measures of this kind can pass on to the Statute Book. The Education Bill is not a clear parallel as the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. K. Lindsay) suggested, because there you have easily recognisable and identifiable interests which can be consulted through well recognised channels. That is not so when you are dealing with the totality of the vast Measures proposed in this programme of social reform.
I understood the hon. and gallant Gentleman to say that both sides of the House were agreed as to the desirability of these social insurance Measures and that it is only a question of time, but if both sides are agreed, what is the difficulty?
That is exactly the question that I was proposing to hon. Members opposite. It is a difficulty that they have to face up to. It is idle for them to say, "We are going to break up the Coalition as soon as possible," and at the same time say they must have this Bill. The difficulty will inevitably arise that, if they break the Coalition, they cannot have the Bill until after the end of this Parliament.
A vast number of people, naturally, are interested in the national health service. There are various bodies with whom the Government have to deal. I want to put forward the general proposition that no medical health service shall be put into operation which takes the control of that service away from the profession that is mainly concerned. I think it would be deplorable if the medical profession were to be subjected in its professional duties to lay control, and I believe it is a matter which has caused considerable alarm among a large number of people. I do not want to say more about that particular matter at this stage.
I come back to one or two generalisations on the question of insurance. As I have said, it seems that we are all entirely agreed, on both sides of the House, on the general principles which we wish to see put on the Statute Book. But I wish I could see, also, some more definite information on the practical workings of these schemes because it is quite clear that we cannot create prosperity by putting an Insurance Bill on the Statute Book. Rather is the reverse the case—you cannot have social insurance without prosperity, and I am a little doubtful whether I have seen enough indication in the Gracious Speech, of any practical measures intended to arrive at a prosperous industry which is the essential foundation.
Nor have I seen what is the other essential—or, perhaps, the first essential—and that is any reference to the keeping of sufficient armed forces to maintain peace in Europe in the future. I would like some outline of how it is proposed to deal with the question of Germany after the war. There are, broadly speaking, two schools of thought on this matter. One is what I would call the hard school and the other the soft school. Those are the two broad distinctions. What I call the misguided soft school believe that we should deal kindly with the Germans because, in that way, we may not engender bitterness which would create a further outbreak of war. I think it is essential for people to understand that the bitterness is already there. There is no question about that, and what we have to be concerned about is how we are to avoid the effects of it. Nothing we do at this stage as, indeed, nothing we were able to do between the two wars, is going to avoid the determination of the Germans to make war on us again at the earliest possible opportunity. That is their declared intention, and, as I understand it, we can only deal with that situation; we cannot avoid their having the intention. We can only deal with the matter by having a foreign policy which will prevent the outbreak at which they will undoubtedly aim in the future. It seems to me, therefore, that we must give further practical attention during the coming years to our alliance with Russia. It is essential that that should be the foundation-stone of our foreign policy, and only by maintaining that alliance, and by working in harmony and good-will with them, which I believe possible, shall we be able to retain peace in Europe in the future.
I would like to come back for a moment to the question of prosperity in this country, to which I was referring. I propose to take advantage of the opportunity of having the Minister of National Insurance here, and hope he will have his ears open to something I have to say in connection with another office which he has been good enough to discharge. That is an inquiry into the position of the coastal areas. It is a comparatively small matter in relation to the others with which we have been concerned, but, seeing the Minister here, I would like to deal with two points in that connection. First, it is proposed, although, perhaps, not generally known in this House, that in coastal areas which have been very badly hit through being defence areas, by being banned to the general coming and going of people, which has so badly affected their trade, to advance money which will enable local authorities to pay up to £150 to start small businesses, small hotels, and so forth, going again. I hope the Minister will not think that anybody is satisfied with that amount. We shall certainly not be satisfied unless we have at least £500.
The other matter to which I want to refer is the question of light industries in these areas. There seems to be some confusion between the various Government Departments concerned, over these matters, but it certainly is clear that a distinction has been drawn between the North of England and the South of England in this respect. While considerable assistance is to be given by the Board of Trade in restarting businesses and industry in the North of England, no real attempt is to be made to assist the restarting of businesses in the South. It is said, rather negatively, that "no obstacle will be put in the way," but that is not enough. We must have more than that. We need affirmative assistance in areas which have been extremely badly hit by the war.
I do not propose to take up much more time, but I am roaming over matters in which I see injustice from time to time, and the presence of the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) reminds me to say that I hope, while they are considering these matters, the Government will take some active steps about the age-barred officers in the Civil Service. They have been scandalously treated, and I feel that theirs is an injustice which can easily be put right; the mere fact that it can be done easily is not a relevant principle for remedying an injustice, although it is perhaps easier to ask for one to be remedied, which you know can be put right easily. I wanted to mention that in passing, because it is a matter which I think deserves immediate attention.
Whatever our proposals for insurance are—because only when we see a Bill shall we know with definitiveness what they are—the first and paramount realisation of the Government will be, as I have said, that no insurance will be of any use until they first direct their minds towards prosperity, and that foremost in any such plan there must be a real effort to deal with the returning ex-Servicemen. At the moment there is no particular indication of how it is proposed to assist such people. There are general indications such as were contained in the White Paper on full employment, but that is not enough for the soldier who has been serving overseas. He wants to be told, in particular, what is being done for him, and he wants to know that he is the person ever in our minds. I hope that the Government will make it clear, as this Session proceeds, that they have something really substantial and concrete for the man who has been fighting, so that when he returns he may be quite sure that his security and his prosperity are ensured for the future.
I am glad to follow the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite about demobilisation, although I propose to speak primarilly on medical services. Before I do that I want to make a brief reference to the discussion which arose this morning in reply to the Question which I put to the Prime Minister on the subject of Greece. I only want to say that I do not propose to pursue that subject now—as, of course, under the Rules of Order, I could do—because an Amendment is being put down by myself and some other hon. Members, on which we hope to raise a discussion at a more appropriate season, and also because I think it is most important that we should not go too far away from following the lines laid down for this Debate, especially when they deal with matters of such tremendous importance to all the people in this country.
I wish to put to my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister a special point about the medical services, in view of what he said this morning. I am sorry that the question of a comprehensive medical service should come in the list—I will not call them the "also rans,"—but in point of fact the comprehensive medical service involves considerations which are very closely related to demobilisation at the end of the war. I do not want to weary the House by dealing with one profession, or its sorrows or grievances, but I do wish to point out that a very large proportion of the medical profession—an overwhelming proportion of the young members of it—are serving in the Forces of the Crown. If some are demobilised at the end of hostilities with Germany, and others a little later, are they to come back to a confused and chaotic situation, in which it is going to be very difficult for them to fit in, or are they to come back to a situation in which they can take their place in a service already constituted?
That is an enormously important point, not only for the doctors themselves, but for the whole country. It has been the practice, unfortunately, for years past for young doctors desiring to enter practice to get loans from insurance companies at fairly heavy rates of interest, the repayments of which were spaced out over a period of many years. Are they to come back to that iniquitous position, because that is the only alternative they will have to working as assistants, or working in some public capacity, unless there is a complete alteration with regard to the medical services in this country, and unless we have a comprehensive scheme. We have been reminded by the Prime Minister that this is the last Session of this Parliament. I hope that in this Session we shall lay the foundation of social security and especially of family and health security. With regard to a comprehensive medical service, may I also remind the House that the Prime Minister, himself, has expressed a very special interest in this question? In his broadcast address of March, 1943, when he talked of what was described at the time as the four-year plan on the assumption of the continuation of a Coalition Government— which, fortunately, as I think, has came to nothing—he laid particular emphasis on the importance of a reorganised and comprehensive medical service. I hope that the Prime Minister has not gone back from that position.
We have had during the war a convincing demonstration of the value of the medical services in what they can do for health in the Army, Navy and Air Force. They have kept men fit and they have prevented infectious diseases in tropical and temperate lands. They have done something that was not attempted in the last war; they have, by special means, increased the individual fitness of men to a very high point. We have had, in addition to all that, a splendid curative and hospital service which has enabled the greater proportion of wounded as well as sick, but especially wounded at the moment, to be not only made well again but so far rehabilitated as to be able to take their places in the original units from which they had to go when they were wounded—a very remarkable medical achievement. The whole of that knowledge, which has been greatly increased in the war, knowledge of keeping fitness, of preventing sickness and improving health, is now available and has been during the war a major contribution to victory. If our men had not been kept so fit our comparatively small force would not have been able to stand the strain, and they would not have been able to do the heroic things which they have done and are continuing to do.
The medical service has been so excellent because of its singleness of purpose. It has been devoted without any question of financial consideration to the one object of improving health and keeping men at a high level of fitness. It has protected them and has maintained and increased their mental and physical powers. A comprehensive medical service for the nation in peace should have the same singleness of purpose. To attain this, the whole of our medical forces must be mobilised to serve the nation. There must be a full domiciliary service, with not only doctors visiting the homes and sitting in their consulting rooms where they can be consulted by private patients, but a full consultant service, a full service of pathological help and a full service of special services, such as X-rays, available for all without question of money passing one way or the other. The nation in peace cannot, with the immense programme of work before us afford the waste of preventible disease and of absence of fitness through the lack of the application of medical knowledge which is abundantly present if people would only use it.
This means that the whole of the medical profession must be integrated. It must be made into a comprehensive service in which the services of men are all working together with one object. There must be health centres as well as private practitioners everywhere. There must be specialist services and the closest co-operation with the public health and maternity services. A complete domiciliary service for all will be of immense value to the ordinary citizen, who has never had it before. May I remind the House of a domestic detail which many Members will know, especially on this side of the House? In the past, and indeed, up to the present time, large numbers of wives of men who are in insurable employment, but who are not themselves insured, do not get medical treatment because they cannot afford the possibility, at the end of the illness, of having a large bill which they do not think their husbands can pay. For the same reason large numbers of children do not get treatment. It will make in millions of working-class homes an immense difference, the difference between good health and chronic bad health, if women and children can get early treatment and have no longer the thought of the financial obligation of having to pay a doctor's bill. A free domiciliary service for all people in the community would by itself be a tremendous benefit to them.
Then there is the question of hospital services. No one but a doctor who is in general practice, as I have been for a long time, or the unfortunate patient or patient's family, know how incredibly difficult it is to get many poor people into hospital. You have to spend an hour or more on the telephone making arrangements. You have to make arrangements for an ambulance, and if there is something to pay for it you have to get a special form exempting payment. Then you have to go from one hospital to another to find accommodation. This condition of things applies not only to poor people, but to people in a better position. It is difficult to get proper treatment for them because the hospital services, which, if you add them altogether, are admirable, are not added together, and it is difficult, therefore, to get the right kind of service you want. A comprehensive hospital service, pooling the voluntary and publicly controlled and owned hospitals together, which will guarantee to every sick person who requires it a bed where he can be treated without question of payment as long as it is necessary for him to be treated, will make 100 per cent. difference in the health of a large number of people and will contribute greatly to the speed and completeness of their recovery.
I want to see another aspect of the Service work in this war carried on into the peace by the integrated hospital service. During the war an enormous amount of work has been done for the Services by the civilian hospitals. What are called in the Army the base hospitals in this country have practically all been provided by the civilian hospitals acting as an Emergency Medical Service. The same thing does not apply, of course, in the United States Army. The majority of men in our Army coming from overseas, who have been treated for sickness or wounds, have been treated in this country in Emergency Medical Service hospitals. That has meant the creation of a big organisation in which the voluntary hospitals and the publicly owned council hospitals and other hospitals have been grouped together and have all worked as one team. It has also meant the building of a great deal of additional accommodation. Many thousands of additional beds have been provided in good solid structures by the Emergency Medical Service hospitals. I want that tradition of co-operation between the voluntary and the publicly controlled and owned hospitals carried on into the peace. The co-operation has met with the greatest success in war time, and there is no reason why it should not be carried on with equally great success in peace time.
Another reason for making the change at the present time is this. We have always been short of beds for the treatment of tuberculosis. If we throw into the pool of hospital accommodation all the additional beds which have been built for the Emergency Medical Service hospitals, we can cope with that. We could add another group of hospitals which have not come to the notice of many hon. Members, namely, the excellent hospitals which have been built in this country by the Government for the United States Forces. There are a large number of them. They are well equipped and well situated, and they will form the basis of a great and valuable addition after the war is happily over to the hospital services of this country. I hope that they will be fully used and that there will be the closest co-operation with them.
I want also to secure that the comprehensive medical service to which I have been referring is got ready so as to provide that when the young medical men come back from the war there will be an organisation into which they can move at once, without having to go through the appalling business of this private buying of practices, with mortgages held over a long term of years. It will relieve the younger generation of a heavy and crippling burden, and it will go a long way to a reform which I think is overdue in this profession, the total abolition of the buying and selling of public practices, panel practices and others. There ought to be no commercial element of that kind in the medical profession. The less commercial element there is in it the better for the people as a whole.
I see the future tasks of the medical profession to build up the health of the population to the optimum, and to release, by medical science, the creative powers of the human individual. I am not talking through my hat, or through the nape of my neck, but of what can be done if this country only has the common sense to apply to the ordinary citizen, from day to day, the medical knowledge we have had for many years, and which the present organisation or disorganisation of the medical services does not allow us to apply. We can reduce infantile mortality to a much greater extent than that to which it has already been reduced. We can reduce maternal mortality, and improve mental and physical well-being and vitality, to an extent which is not realised at the present time by the ordinary citizen. I would put it in this way: We can, in the course of the next generation, make the age of 70 a very ordinary, and what one may call a reasonable middle age, instead of old age. We have examples, even in this House, of people who are 70 and over, and who, compared with the ideas of a few years ago, are to be regarded as only middle aged. But we can make that an average for the average citizen and individual. Some progress in that direction has already been made in the United States in another sphere.
We can extend also, if we have this service, the benefits of a comprehensive medical service, with everything it can do for the individual, to our Colonies. We have left our Colonies too long without a good medical service, and I believe we ought to make our medical service in this country interchangeable with the Colonial medical service, and have one vast Empire service, in which men will serve in tropical or temperate countries, learning and contributing by their experiences new knowledge to medical science which will be of the greatest value. That is a thing which, with our Colonial Empire, we should do—we owe a debt to the Colonial people, because up to the present medical knowledge has not been applied to them as it ought to have been applied. I hope we may also get, in this matter, co-operation with the Dominions. I do not wish to speak too long on this point, but I have emphasised it, because I believe it is of supreme importance that their health should be safeguarded and their vitality should be increased.
We ought not to let the last Session of this long Parliament pass without implementing the promises which have been made to the whole people. There are no irreconcilable differences inside the medical profession in these matters. There are no administrative problems which are insuperable. We must provide a service which is not only worthy of the people of this country, but worthy of those men in the Services who are coming back from the Forces, having done such splendid work, and who will be able to do for the nation, if the nation will give them the chance, the same great tasks of fitting them for health and vigour and full activity as they have done in the Services during the war. The Services have a great deal to teach the civilian medical practitioners in this country at the present time, and—let this be my last sentence on these matters—when we are thinking of the reform and improvement of the comprehensive medical services let us remember that those young men who we are going to emancipate and give their chance, and are only anxious to get their chance and use it, are accustomed to work as a service, and do not want to go back to the drudgery of day-to-day commercial medicine that we have had in the old times.
The hon. Member is not himself in Order. He cannot raise that question, which is a reflection on the Chair, as a point of Order. If he wishes to raise it, there are ways and means in our procedure, but he is not entitled to raise it in the midst of a Debate and on a point of Order.
I would like to express the feeling of gratitude of the people of Lancashire, and indeed the whole of England, for national insurance. I congratulate the Government on improving the original Beveridge Report, a report which was publicised all over the world, and which came to be regarded as some new Aladdin's lamp, that would solve all the difficulties of the future. The Government proposals in one regard, I welcome very much indeed. Under the original Beveridge scheme the old age pensioners were left out in the cold. I am glad to see that the new scheme brings within its scope the existing old age pensioners.
I must point out however that this national insurance scheme is a great venture of faith. It may or it may not succeed, and little we can do in this House by way of talk can guarantee the permanence of this great and monumental work. Viewed in its proper aspect, its success depends on the prosperity of industry through the whole land. No Act of Parliament is a substitute for goods, and without the goods, without the trade, indeed without hard work on the part of everybody in this country, the whole scheme will tumble to the ground. Therefore, I suggest that there should be greater co-ordination now between the Minister of Social Security and the other Government Departments, to open the channels of trade, and remove the hindrances which prevent our manufacturers producing the goods that will provide the wealth for the people who are to pay for national insurance.
Take the case of Lancashire. It is not generally known that, through the operation of Lend-Lease, we cannot supply customers abroad with machines that have been made in Lancashire. Lancashire produces the best textile machinery in the world, and these machines go to every part of the world. If one of these machines wants a new part, small or big, that cannot be sent overseas without permission, because of the operation of Lend-Lease. We have, through the kindness of America, imported American steel on Lend-Lease terms and therefore we cannot send steel goods to South America in order to replace, or to repair machinery made in my constituency. What will be the result if such a policy is allowed to continue? Entire cotton plants will be scrapped, and American machinery put in. That is inevitable. The loss of those markets means the loss of export trade, and the loss of money. A firm in which I am interested received an order from one of the South American countries for nearly £1,000 worth of chemical products in which was £8 worth of Lend-Lease material—a very minute quantity—but so conscientiously do the Government carry out their promises to American that that order could not be delivered until certain modifications had been made and the Lend-Lease materials cut out. Then we had another difficulty. Because of the removal of this minute quantity of Lend-Lease material, the order could not be got into South America, as it did not comply with the specification filed in the Government offices there.
These are a few of the difficulties our manufacturers meet with when they try, not to extend but to preserve, their markets, in order that our boys will have something to come back to after the war.
Another reason why firms would like greater interdepartmental co-ordination is that there is so much delay in getting permits and licences. These bureaucratic controls strangle business. If a man wants to trade abroad, he has to see so many Departments. He is passed from one to another, and months go by before the order can be executed.
If the hon. Gentleman will be patient, I will tell him. What we require is greater co-ordination between Government Departments, so that the restrictions can be eased. I am only asking for simple things. I am not asking for great alterations, I ask that these petty annoyances should be removed at the earliest possible date. This national insurance scheme can only be paid for out of the manufacture and sale of goods. To regain our foreign markets will require great effort and sacrifice.
With that aspect of the matter I now deal. The social security scheme will be paid for by the British taxpayers. We have practically eliminated the rich taxpayer, and the cost will be paid for by the working man directly by his contributions and indirectly out of his Income Tax. While the scheme is welcomed, I am sure that when the full repercussions are felt by the working man, he will not regard it as anything but compulsory saving for his old age. At the moment people regard this national insurance scheme as something to be paid for by that mythical, mystical, entity called the Government, and not by working people themselves. The success or failure of the whole structure of social services depends on industry. In the final analysis, success rests upon the working man. His bread and butter as well as security all depend upon full employment. I ask that the Government as a whole should try to remove at the earliest possible moment every obstacle to getting industry back into its stride so that when the war is over there will be full employment.
The hon. Member is quite right; he has emphasised the point I tried to make. There are three omissions from the King's Speech, which I would like to see filled in. One is the problem of our returning men, as it applies to their housing. I have recently sent out 10,000 letters to serving men and women from my own division. From the hundreds of replies that I have received, it is plain they are anxious whether they are going to get their jobs back, and whether they are going to get a house to live in. I hope that the Government will instruct, or advise, every local authority in the non-blitzed areas that the ex-Serviceman should have priority over everybody else, so that he will be able to set up a home of his own in the town from which he has gone. Another omission from this Speech is that provision has not been made for an amelioration of the lot of the existing old-age pensioner. The Government proposal is a great advance on the original Beveridge proposal, but, through the incidence of war, the old-age pensioner who has by his grit saved money finds the purchasing power of that money reduced, as it may be further reduced by inflation.
The purchasing power of the old-age pensioner to-day is considerably less than it was pre-war. I remember when we could get four cigarettes for a penny, a pint of milk for three-halfpence, an ounce of thick twist for 3d., a pint of beer for 2½d., and a hundredweight of coal for 8d. But, when these things are purchased now by the old-age pensioner, he has to pay considerably more. There are many old men and women who are just able to eke out a precarious existence waiting for the proposals of the Government to increase their pensions. Why not do so at once?
The second omisson from the King's Speech is that of any reference to the mothers of our serving men. They are completely ignored. In the last war, the mothers of serving soldiers got a pension if anything happened to their sons, but, to-day, they do not, unless they are in need, that there are parents—who have had to return to work—old men and women—because their sons went to the war, and lost their lives. If the State thinks they have sufficient to live on, they receive no benefit. Many a mother in Lancashire endures real hardship because there is no provision for a pension for her. True, if they are destitute, parents can get a pension, but in Lancashire there are aged mothers compelled to work who would not be so compelled if their sons had lived or if a pension had been given to those mothers. Therefore I hope that something may be done speedily for the mothers of our soldiers.
The last omission from the King's Speech which I regret is that of any reference to the position of spinsters. I know that the Minister built up a very fine case—an almost unanswerable case—when he met a deputation which I had the honour to attend, but I do not make an appeal for the spinster on actuarial grounds The spinsters' pension is an exceptional case. I regret that the spinsters' cause is not supported by all the women Members of this House. The reason is that the hon. lady Members of this House are largely feminists; they believe that men and women are equal, and if a spinster is given a pension at 55 then logically a bachelor at 55 should receive one also. However, I do not regard a woman as the physical equal of a man. In Lancashire to-day we have many spinsters who have worked in the mills, and who, at 55, are worn out. The average man of 55 is not worn out, but the average woman of 55 is. I hope that the Minister of National Insurance will think again to see if it is possible to give a pension to spinsters because of the physical inability of women of 55 to carry on with their work. This great scheme is a milestone marking the advance of our country towards the fuller life all of us desire to see. Let it be the beginning of an era in which private enterprise, the State and the citizen, working together, will remove from our people the fear for the future, a fear which causes mental anguish to men and women in the evening of their lives.
While agreeing with the latter part of the hon. and gallant Member's speech, may I ask him how it comes about that, in the same breath, or certainly in the same speech, he talks about social security and the policy of the Government inevitably leading to inflation? Which does the hon. and gallant Gentleman want? Which does he believe in? Is there any consistency in his remarks?
By common consent, we are sticking to home affairs, whereas, last Friday, we were dealing with foreign affairs. But there seems to me to be a sort of underlying unity, and a very great similarity in principle, between the Debate that we had last Friday and the Debate we are having to-day. Since I think that that similarity is of great importance to our approach to domestic problems, as well as to our approach to foreign problems, and because I think that it derives from the view that we take of the general historical background of the period through which we are passing, I would, even at the expense of spending a minute on last Friday's Debate, say a word or two about it.
In last Friday's Debate, the broad set-up was that, from this side of the House, there was grave disquiet expressed about British foreign policy, particularly in the now liberated areas, such as Italy, France, Belgium, Greece and so on, and the broad charge was made, from this side of the House, that, by and large, in our foreign policy, we were backing those elements in Europe which belonged to the past, and we were refraining from backing those elements in Europe which were important to our future on the Continent. The reply of the Foreign Secretary to that point, was to deny that the Government were influenced, in its consideration of policy, by the political complexions of the governments with which they had to deal. The right hon. Gentleman denied that they divide them into governments of the Left or Right, and then deliberately favour governments of the Right as against governments of the Left, and he affirmed that our Government's foreign policy was based on an accurate appreciation of the facts, and of the war situation as it existed, uncoloured by any particular Governmental desire here to back forces in those other European countries in any sense hostile to what is desired by their inhabitants.
Let me say that I need no convincing that the Foreign Secretary is not a black- hearted villain who sits up at night considering how he can torpedo the hopes of the future. I do not believe that to be the case. I believe him to be an honest man, bringing what honest judgment he can to bear upon these problems. But what I am very sure of is that he misconceives the character of the period through which Europe is passing and will continue to pass, and because of that fundamental misconception, which is duplicated in our approach to domestic politics, we are giving the wrong answer to many problems of foreign politics at the present time.
The essence of statesmanship is not only to look at facts as they are, but to project the curve of the present into the future. It is to discern to-day tendencies which will be dominant to-morrow, in order that the policies we pursue to-day may not only meet the facts of to-day, but anticipate those of to-morrow as well. I picked up for my Sunday reading last Sunday—a very respectable source—"The Sunday Times." I quote it because on the opposite side of the House it will not be objected to so much as if I quoted from a publication of the Left. I read this from "The Sunday Times" and it is worth notice:
What is Allied policy now? Britain incurs the reproach that she seeks to maintain the Conservative regime in power against the clamant protest of popular opinion. Can this win 'law and order' in operational areas, or the friendship of the people of Europe with whom we shall have to share our destiny in the years after the war? Once more, it would seem, British Foreign Policy must make a fundamental decision. It has been thus before and we may well recall a speech of Palmerston's on the source of England's power. He abandoned Canning's policy of acting as 'umpire between despotism and democracy.' We must side, he argued, with 'Britain's natural allies,' the Constitutional States.
The article went on to say:
When Bonaparte was to be dethroned, the Sovereigns of Europe called up their people to their aid; they invoked them in the sacred names of Freedom and National Independence; the cry went forth throughout Europe; and those whom subsidies had no power to buy, and conscription no force to compel, roused by the magic sound of Constitutional Rights, started spontaneously into arms. The long-suffering Nations of Europe rose up as one man, and by an effort tremendous and wide spreading like a great convulsion of nature, they hurled the conqueror from his throne. But promises made in days of distress were forgotten in the hour of triumph.
The fundamental mistake that we are making in European policy and home policy is that we utterly misconceive the character of the period through which we are passing. Our approach in both cases derives from a conception of this war which I regard as utterly unsound. It conceives of this war as being merely another international war and no more than that. It conceives of it as a national struggle in the course of which we must enlist the support of the oppressed minorities abroad and of our own working class at home, but that when that purely national war is over, then you must do your best to damp down progressive forces in Europe, and damp dawn, too, the hope that we have generated amongst our own people. I affirm that this is not merely an international war, but a continuing and developing social revolution, which will not stop short after the signing of an armistice following the defeat of Germany. It is part of the process which has been going on throughout practically the whole of this century, the development of a growing gap between the protective forces of society and the social and political envelope in which we have sought to contain them. They can no longer be contained within that envelope and as long as we seek to contain them there, they will break out, either in the form of international war, or of domestic upheaval. Unless we recognise that to be the characteristic future of this age, then our approach to foreign policy and domestic policy will be wrong.
We have had a similar approach to-day. The approach that we had to-day on the part of the Government is that while they desire that the social insurance legislation should become law, here again, as in Europe, we must face the facts. The facts are, they say, that, with the best will in the world, it would take a very long time to put these Acts upon the Statute Book, and there is really nothing that can be done about it, because that is how our Parliamentary machine works. There are two answers to that. The first is that it is we who are responsible for the fact that it is only now, on the eve of the death of the Coalition, that we come to deal with these problems at all. It is two years ago since the Beveridge Report was made. I do not quite know how many years ago it is since the Uthwatt Report was made, the Scott Report and the Barlow Report, and all the rest of the reports which must be dealt with as a preliminary to dealing with the post-war situation. Whose responsibility is it that it is only now, in 1944, with the Coalition on the eve of its break-up that, these great issues are posed for discussion here to-day? The Government cannot escape responsibility for that and they cannot shelter behind the cry that there is now very little time before the General Election.
If they are, I am doing my best to pull the shelter away, and to demonstrate that it is the Government who are responsible for that. We have, in all human probability, only a few months before the General Election, in which to deal with these matters of legislation. The second answer is that, whenever this House is asked, in the interests of national security, to carry through legislation at a vastly accelerated rate, it has always found the means of doing it. In 1940, when we were faced with a critical situation, we passed within a few hours the most comprehensive Act of Parliament which has ever been passed through the British House of Commons. We did that because we held that the emergency was so great that we had to compress procedures, which would otherwise have lasted for years, into a matter of hours.
I want to submit that the man in the trenches feels—and he writes to me and says so, and to other Members—that when the Government can do these things in the interests of the war, they ought to be able to develop a corresponding speed in the interests of the warriors who fight for the war. It is a recognition that, when we are dealing with war issues, we can act with great rapidity, but when we are dealing with social issues at home nothing can be done to speed up the pre-war pace of Parliament. It is that recognition which accounts for the kind of bitterness which one finds expressed in a letter published in another respectable Right-wing paper, "The Spectator," only a few days ago quoted in "Cavalcade." A "Captain in the British Liberation Army"—that is how he signs his letter—reports that the soldier of the Second Army believes that we shall lose the peace and precipitate another war
in 10 or 20 years' time. The soldier of the Second army profoundly distrusts what he reads about Germany in the Press, and is convinced that the bankers, bishops and barons will ensure a peace that will make the Third Great War certain. The quotation goes on:
He distrusts all civilian authority, including the Socialists 'now they have become the Tories' bedfellows.' Many soldiers are not interested in the vote. 'A large number of men in my unit will not fill up the form for the electoral register,' he writes, because 'it won't do me any good.'
Reforms are suspect because they are too late and too grudgingly given. The soldier 'doubts whether they will ever be honourably implemented.' He thinks there must 'be a catch in' the White Paper on Social Insurance because of the previous partial rejection of Beveridge.
'He is convinced big business is making a nice thing out of the war. He has read some ugly reports of certain English firms charged in America with trading with the enemy. … He believes the financier was largely the cause of this war and is already thinking of the next war.'
Now it is not my purpose to argue whether those beliefs which I have quoted are justified or not; it is sufficient for me to say that, if any large section of the British people at home, or abroad in the Army, believe what is here attributed to them, that is a post-war political fact of the utmost political importance. If the belief be wrong it is for us to prove it so. If it be right, then it is for us to dispel it by action.
If that is the post-war mood in which the British people face the problems of the peace, then we are moving into a period of very great social danger indeed. I have before expressed in this House the opinion that the social strains and stresses that will come at the end of this war will be vastly greater than those which we experienced at the end of the last war. I have expressed the view that the British people have a genius for avoiding social breakdown which has sometimes led them to appropriate the fruits of other people's revolutions without going through them themselves. I wish to say, however, that the whole of that British genius will have to be called upon if we are not to face a very grave situation at the end of this war. That really is the significance of the Debate to-day, to my way of thinking. The significance is not whether we agree with this detail or that of the Government's White Paper, whether we want it to go a little further or a little less, but whether we are prepared to do what we mean to do, quickly. For if this change be not done before the election comes, if there is a General Election in which the impression will further grow that social issues of this kind are the sport of party politics, and that there is no assurance that these things will ever reach the Statute Book if a majority of this kind or that is returned, then I believe that the intellectual climate, the moral climate, in the light of which we shall face post-war problems in Britain, is going to be a very grave and unhappy one indeed.
Why do not the Government take their courage in their own hands? The other day they told us they had to take away the rights of Private Members in the interests of the prosecution of the war. May I ask this question? Has there been, at any stage in this war, a discussion in the Cabinet as to whether we could not modify Parliamentary procedure for the purpose of securing that we do not get at the end of this war the kind of public outlook which I submit we are in grave danger of getting? Has there been a single Cabinet meeting at which we have collectively considered the possibility of getting all these Bills on the Statute Book before an election takes place? Have we no more to say about the problem of the pace of legislation than has been said up to now? Members of the House know what are the facts. The facts are that under our old orthodox procedure we cannot hope to get through this House more than about a couple of major measures in the course of the year. One hundred years ago that pace might have been all right, but we are now facing a period when what we may have to deal with is not two major measures a year but 20. Let the House consider what we are committed to already: The National Insurance Bill, Workmen's Compensation, Social Insurance, the outcome of the Dumbarton Oaks Conference, and of Bretton Woods, Civil Aviation—problem after problem piling up in the form of White Paper, or international discussion which, sooner or later, has to be brought to the point of a Bill. There are dozens of them, yet under our orthodox procedure we can only deal with about two major measures per annum.
When the Home Secretary draws attention to this, and asks that Parliament, in order to expedite the pace of things, should confine itself to broad issues and let the details be worked out by civil servants or somebody else, there is an immediate outcry against "delegated legislation," and an outcry that we are handing over our destinies to civil servants to dispose of. I notice, however, that those who cry out against "delegated legislation" never lift a finger in this House, and never raise a voice in this House, to urge that the procedure of Parliament should be speeded up in some other way. I notice that, while they attack the Home Secretary on that issue, nobody comes to his help with suggestions for speeding up the pace of Parliament in a way that would free us from the charge that we are having increased delegated legislation.
I take a grave view of this, because I have seen the consequences of social breakdown in Russia, where I spent some months in 1927. However much I admire some of the things that they have done in Russia since, I hope very much that we shall not have to face social breakdown in Britain. That is too big a price for me to want to pay, even for very considerable ultimate social improvements. In my opinion, the social strains and stresses generated by this war, when the actual international aspect of the war comes to an end, will precipitate in every country in Europe a sharp conflict between those who think that society was made for man, and those who think that man was made for society. I think that the prospects of coming peacefully through that period of immense strain and stress, will depend, more than on anything else, on the belief or disbelief of the mass of the men in the army and the mass of the civilian population, in the honesty of the intentions of this House of Commons in dealing with social issues. Do not let either side of the House think that the country is behind it. Do not let the Labour Party think that the country has an unrestrained confidence in them, and none in the Tories; do not let the Tories think that the country has confidence in them, and none in the Labour Party. The truth is that the ordinary man is watching both parties and the whole Parliamentary set-up, with a great deal of suspicion and distrust.
My last word is this, that if the Government want to preserve a belief in Parliamentary democracy, if they want to minimise the social strains and stresses that we have to come through when this war ends, they will subordinate every calculation of electoral expediency, and so will this side of the House, to what I regard as the imperative necessity of getting these Bills on the Statute Book before, and not after, a General Election comes.
I would have liked to have followed my hon. and eloquent friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) in the interesting discussion that he has started but, by the general consent of the House, Sir, and under your direction, we have now an opportunity, for a short time, of discussing something which Members from fishing constituencies greatly desire to discuss, namely, the attitude that we, the country, and the Government ought to adopt to the needs and place of the fishing industry in the days to come. I hope none of us is in any doubt as to the importance of this industry, either in size or in relative value to the nation. We are dealing here not with any secondary, or second-rate, or hole-in-the-corner trade. I am speaking to-day, as my hon. Friends will be speaking after me, for an industry whose products in volume, in money value and in nutritional benefit are of the first concern to the nation; and whose capital equipment in boats, in gear, in harbours and in long experience are, in my view, of primary value in the defence of an island State like ours; whose man-power is second to none, I claim, in those virtues of courage, hardihood, and vigorous independent enterprise, without which I, personally, see no hope of recovery for this nation after the war.
There is no time to give many statistics, but let me recall to the House a few outstanding facts. Landings of fish before the war were worth no less than £15,000,000 a year. The value of boats and gear was then estimated, conservatively, at £10,000,000. I myself estimate that at least 500,000 people were directly or indirectly interested in the prosperity of the industry; and I do not think anyone has yet estimated how many towns and villages, scattered along our hundreds of miles of coast line and which are the very expression of dauntless British character, are almost entirely dependent on the suc- cess of this trade. But for the silent pride of these people we should perhaps have heard a great deal more in this House about their sufferings in the years between the two wars. My hon. Friends and I who come from the coastal regions of Scotland are not unmindful of the contributions of other great industries in the country; we stand in admiration of what these other trades have done in the war years, and I hope we shall continue to maintain a right proportion in these matters. But when we observe the great and costly efforts now being made to improve the lot of miners, farmers, dockers and others we are determined to stake a claim for the men and women whom we represent, and who we believe have as great a contribution to make, in their own way, to the life of the State.
I am not sure the country—and I doubt very much whether this House—realises the extent of the sacrifice which the fishing industry has made in this war. Let me give a fact or two from that part of the country I represent. At Anstruther, in Fife, no less than 90 per cent. of the fishermen are serving in some part of the war machine. They are to be found in every part of the world, in the Merchant Service, the Navy, the Army or the Air Force. There are none left in that port now except the old, the infirm and the maimed. Every boat in that harbour, except three, has gone, either requisitioned or sold or damaged or lost by enemy action. The quays that used to present so picturesque an appearance, that used to be so lively and active, are now practically deserted. The same might be said of the other Fife ports, and no doubt my hon. Friends would produce similar pictures of their areas.
The overseas markets of the fishing industry have been almost completely destroyed by this war, so much so that one is in serious doubt as to whether they can ever be recaptured again. The herring trade looked to oversea markets for much more than half of its total output and no man can predict to-day when these markets will or can be restored. The multifarious gear that fishermen use, nets, ropes and so on, are now either unprocurable or can be procured only at uneconomic prices. Many harbours have suffered damage in the war, and have not obtained the slightest repair. These are the hostages that this industry has given to the war, and I doubt whether, perhaps with the single exception of the shipping trade, any other industry in the country has made such great sacrifices in the nation's interest.
If ever there was a case for national gratitude and for reward for service well done, it seems to me to be here, and the point of this Debate, is to ask what it is that we in this House can do, what steps can be taken, to make that reward in a fitting fashion? The fishermen ask for no charity or any grandmotherly direction from Whitehall or anywhere else. That is not what is wanted. All that they ask—and I think they are entitled to ask—is that Parliament shall provide for them the social and economic conditions within which they themselves can forge prosperity in days to come. That has been the chief function of this House in the past, and will be its inescapable function in the days to come.
I acknowledge at once that some advance has already been made, certainly in the branch of the trade concerned with the herring catch. The Herring Industry Board, which was set up recently following upon the Herring Industry Act of last Session, bids fair to put this particular section of the industry on its feet. But "bids fair," is as far as I am prepared to go at this stage. Until I see a new fleet, up-to-date, economic, efficient, and at a reasonable price, actually upon the waters around our coasts; until the research work now being carried on, and which is so important, into the various methods of processing herring—cold storage, refrigeration, canning, curing, dehydration and all the rest—is translated into a practical commercial organisation; until new markets are available both at home and abroad—and here the Ministry of Food, the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade, carry a heavy responsibility; until all these steps are taken I myself do not feel that this House will have met the obligation which is resting upon us at the present time.
So much for herring. In the region of white fish we have not even reached the stage of preparations, because the Committee of Inquiry has not yet finished its deliberations. I hope its Report will not be very long delayed, because many things hang upon it. The problem of boats, for example, cannot be solved until we have clear in our minds the Government's general policy in regard to white fish, because in many hundreds of cases the same boats will be used for herring as for white fish catching. It is manifest that the Herring Industry Board is going to be hampered in using the powers which we have given it until the Government announces its white fish policy. Speed in this matter is therefore of the greatest importance. I foresee very considerable changes in the organisation and work of the inshore white fish trade. There has been something like a revolution in the business in the last 20 or 30 years. Even so lately as 10 or 12 years ago it was common to see the fisherman's wife baiting the hooks, and spending a large part of almost every day in doing it—cold, dirty, miserable, uncomfortable, ill-paid work. To-day they are no longer ready and willing to do this. That stage has passed and we have to move, whether we like it or not, to the next stage of catching—by means of the seine net. I see a very great development in the use of the seine, but it can only be made profitable and possible if the right boats are provided, at the right price.
The right hon. Gentleman opened an exhibition in Edinburgh the other day and I should like to express my appreciation of the work that has been done there. At very short notice those responsible for the museum, supported no doubt by the Scottish Office and the Food Ministry, have produced a very attractive exhibition of the work of the fishing industry. I think something much bigger than that ought to be our aim, but there could be no more attractive exhibition. It brings public opinion to realise the immense importance of this industry, and I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on what he has done. I, of course, am an enthusiast in this matter of fishing. I should like to see the trade restored to its past prosperity, but I am bound to face facts and to recognise that there must be some limit to expansion if only on account of changes in the world position. I see a real danger in leaving these fishing communities—because it is the communities, the villages and the towns, with which I feel the House should be principally concerned rather than the individual fishermen—with nothing but fishing to depend upon. The sooner we can introduce suitable and adequate ancillary industries of one kind or another the better shall we be serving the people concerned.
In this connection I am a little disturbed about the Government's employment policy, because I find in the White Paper that they intend creating what they call Development Areas, which I understand will in Scotland be more or less the same as the old Special Areas. It is only in these new so-called Development Areas, I understand, that private persons or local authorities are to be permitted to create new factories. Yet without the erection of new factories in these fishing villages there is not likely to be introduced any new industry. By the Government's policy they are prohibited from doing so. I shall be glad if the right hon. Gentleman will undertake to consider my proposition that fishing villages should be considered automatically as part of these Development Areas for getting permission to erect new factories.
May I draw attention to another point? Under the new social insurance scheme fishermen are to be regarded as in Class II, that is to say, employers and not employees. As such, they are going to be very much worse off from the point of sickness benefit and compensation for injury than they are now. It seems to me an extraordinary and paradoxical situation that this great scheme, introduced to improve the social conditions of our people, is, when applied to fishermen, actually going to worsen their present conditions. At present a fisherman who goes sick immediately gets benefit. Under the new scheme he gets no benefit until the expiry of four weeks. Some steps must be taken to deal with that strange anomaly. Under the present scheme he gets compensation for injury. Under the new plan he will get none.
I beg the right hon. Gentleman to regard this great industry and its needs as of the first importance to the nation. Eleven or 12 years ago the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) and I, and he long before I appeared here, pleaded with the Government and every Department of the State to have regard to its value in the national defence. I was told in reply to a question that the Admiralty had no need for fishermen nor for their boats. This war has taught us how stupid that view was. I beg the Government to assure us that never again will the British Government be so foolish.
I support what the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) has so ably said. I think that fishing constituencies all round the coast have reason to be grateful to the hon. Member for raising this topic. I should like to begin my remarks by a brief quotation from one of the great books of our time, "The Social History of England," by the Master of Trinity. Dr. Trevelyan writes:
The two chief nurseries of English seamen were the 'colliers' plying between the Northern ports and London, and the fishermen of Cornwall and Devon, many of whom ventured to the foggy shores of Newfoundland for cod. No less important was the growth in Tudor times of the herring fleets of the East Coast. Camden noted the size of Yarmouth, the out-port of Norwich, now out-stripping its rival Lynn, 'for it seems incredible what a great and throng fair is here at Michaelmas and what quantities of herring and other fish are vended.' The fishermen were favourites of the Government—
I ask my right hon. Friends particularly to take note of that and to compare the record of Queen Elizabeth in this matter and their own record prior to the war—
—because they so often helped to man the mercantile and royal navies. Laws were passed ordering the observance of 'fish days': none of the Queen's subjects were to eat meat during Lent, or on Fridays—sometimes Wednesdays were added. It was expressly stated that the object was not religious but political—to maintain our seafaring population, to revive decayed coast towns, and to prevent the too great consumption of beef and mutton which resulted in the conversion of arable into pasture. These fish laws were enforced by actual penalties. In 1563 we read of a London woman being pilloried for having flesh in her tavern during Lent. … In this and every other way, Secretary Cecil strove to maintain the seafaring population and shipping of the country. He exempted seamen from military service on land; and he enforced Navigation Laws against foreign ships, particularly in the coasting trade. The English marine could not yet carry the whole of English exports, but the Navigation Laws were aiming in that direction.
This was the foundation of the Royal Navy. We can surely take a lesson from Queen Elizabeth, who presided over a great age in the history of this country, for she showed great sense in dealing with the fishing industry.
This Amendment deals with the fishing industry as a whole. Broadly, it can be divided into four sections, each of which has its own problems. There is, first, the great deep-sea white fishing, based on Hull, Grimsby, Fleetwood and Aberdeen. Second, there is the herring fishing industry based on Lerwick, Buckie, Peterhead, Fraserburgh, Yarmouth, Lowestoft, Stornoway and the Clyde. Third, there are the very interesting specialist fishings, such as the sprat and mullet fishing from Brixham, and the pilchard fishing from Falmouth. Finally, there is the great in-shore fishing, the line fishing, based on an infinity of small harbours round our coasts. Each one of these sections has its own separate problems, and it is impossible to deal with them all in a speech of a quarter of an hour's duration.
But there is one motto which can be applied to all sections—"First catch your fish." I would ask my right hon. Friends first of all to consider carefully the whole question of seasons, because it requires most careful investigation in the light of modern knowledge. I have observed in the past that the later the spring fishing in the herring industry began in the Orkney and Shetland Islands, the better the season was likely to be, because fewer immature fish were caught. That can be applied to the other fishings as well.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Fife mentioned the development of seine net fishing and I think that it is full of possibilities. On the other hand, I have had complaints from some of the line fishermen in my constituency, who say that if seine netting is allowed to continue without any control within the three-mile limit, it may result in putting them out of business. I am not qualified to express an opinion on this; but I am sure that this new development of seine netting inshore wants careful investigation by the Government. It may require some regulations to protect the in-shore line fishermen whom we certainly do not want to see put out of business. Then we have the vexed question of deep-sea trawlers fishing close inshore. That has gone on for at least 20 years, and it is still going on. One or two fishery cruisers are not enough to look after that problem. I agree that under war conditions it is difficult to keep a sharp look-out, but after the war there should be some more cruisers—there will be plenty of craft available for the purpose—to see that these deep-sea trawlers do not come close inshore and ruin the livelihood of the small fishermen. In this connection there is also the thorny problem of the Moray Firth. We shall be in a pretty strong position when the war is over and I think the time will then come to say to foreign trawlers, "Keep out of the Moray Firth"; and to make a general proclamation to that effect.
I pass from fish to bases. You cannot fish without adequate bases, just as you cannot conduct naval warfare without bases. The harbours from which the white and herring fishings are conducted should be a national responsibility. They must be well found if the industry is to prosper, and supplied with adequate storage and repair facilities, electric light and power, and the most up-to-date equipment. For the smaller harbours the responsibility must rest on the local authorities. They should be given every facility and encouragement for developing these little harbours, and keeping them in good repair. My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir W. Beveridge) got hold of a good idea the other day when he brought forward the question of local development funds. One of the projects of that fund at Berwick, as I understood it, was not only the improvement of the harbour but also the purchase of four of five small boats in order to supply the inhabitants with fresh fish locally caught in the morning.
On the question of boats, I believe, without being dogmatic, that the future lies with the Diesel engine so far as the fishing industry is concerned, and probably with dual-purpose craft. I want to ask my right hon. Friends whether any experiments are being carried out with regard to the type of craft which will be most suitable for fishing after the war. If there are not, there ought to be. Then we come to the question of releases of craft. It is most important that the largest possible number of craft should he released by the Admiralty at the earliest moment. My hon. Friend the Member for East Fife was right. So far as the fishing industry is concerned the record at the Admiralty is really a shocking one. Over and over again, before the war we pleaded with the Admiralty to make a small contribution for the upkeep of the trawler and drifter fleets, so that the boats could be kept in good order and repair. We were answered by the Admiralty to the effect that if war came the Admiralty would have no use either for the fishermen or their craft. Within a fortnight of the outbreak of war, every serviceable craft in the fishing industry together with the men was commandeered by the Admiralty and now, of course, nobody yields to them in admiration of the fishermen for the services they have rendered in the war. Some of us can never forget the record of the Admiralty in this matter. They never lifted a finger to help the fishing industry in time of peace, but when the emergency came they rushed to it, and commandeered every man and boat they could lay hands on. We hope that will not happen again. Lastly there is the question of the men. They, as well as the boats, must be released; and unless the Government can give them some assurance of being able to earn a decent livelihood, they will not come back to fishing, and nobody can blame them.
On the question of research I must confess that, having once observed a dehydrated herring, I do not think there is a great future for dehydration in the herring industry. I do think, however, that there is a great future in the modern methods of freezing. I believe that if they are developed it will be possible to ensure a continuous supply of fresh herrings all the year round, which would obviously be an enormous advantage. There is also a great future for the canning industry. In this connection, the work that is being done at the Torry Institute at Aberdeen is of the greatest value. I think I must also say a word in defence of the much abused kipper. I am afraid that my hon Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) may not like this. There has been a good deal of nonsense talked in the past about the dyeing of kippers. I agree that kippers should be of the highest quality; but the dye that is put on to them is a pure vegetable dye. They have to be put in a brine solution in any case; and if the dye adds a little yellow, and the public like to see them a little brighter, it does not do the public any harm, and it may do the industry some good. I quite agree that they should be well smoked, and that a minimum standard of smoking might be laid down; but I do not want the impression to get around that because a kipper looks nice and bright it is somehow or other poisonous, because there is not the slightest foundation for that charge.
I turn in conclusion to markets. So far as the home market is concerned, I hope that my right hon. Friend will agree that the pooling of transport charges should be continued after the war. It is of great benefit to the industry as a whole, and there is no reason why fishermen who land their catches at ports far distant from our towns should be penalised. There is also something to be said for the encouragement and revival not only of the country van going round the villages with fresh fish, but also of the hawker, who made a good living in days gone by, and played a considerable part in the distribution of fish. I yield to no one in my admiration for the Ministry of Food, but no one can say that the distribution of fish in this war has been their brightest spot. They might consider quite seriously the problem of the distribution of fish in the rural areas of this country, by rather unorthodox means if necessary. There are many small towns and villages which have not seen a herring in the last four years, even when there was a glut of herring in the North.
We can undoubtedly increase the home consumption of herring; but that side of the trade by itself cannot restore prosperity to the industry. I would remind hon. Members that the herring is the only article of food we export from this country. The great markets were, and will be again, I hope, Russia and Northern and Central Europe. Hon. Members may not realise that before 1914 we exported every year over £1,000,000 worth of herrings to Russia alone. Poland was at that time included in Russia. It was on that export market for cured herrings that the industry as we know it to-day was built up. If we are to build up the industry after the war to anything like its old size, we must recapture that market. This brings up the whole question of international trade, which is to be considered by the House to-morrow. I shall only say this in that connection—I am afraid that not all hon. Members will agree—I do not believe that international trade, as such, is necessarily beneficial in the modern world. I do not believe we should spend the whole of our time trying to get gods out of this country, and nit trying to bring something in. I believe that, in order to be beneficial, trade must be complementary. There are things we need from Russia, timber and other things as well. I believe that, whatever my right hon. Friend may say, the Russians will want Scotch herrings again when this war is over, because they are incomparably better, as everyone knows, than any other herrings in the world; better flavoured, and of better quality; and the Russians were once accustomed to them.
The truth is that in the modern world the uncontrolled interplay of supply and demand upon regulated markets is an impossibility; and a high degree of purposive direction of trade is essential, if chaos is to be averted. In connection with this business of securing an export trade in herrings, I believe two things to be essential. So far as the catches are concerned, we should come to an agreement with the Norwegians and the Dutch, who are our only competitors in the North Sea, in order to avoid cut-throat competition, and the production of herrings at prices which are, in the end, below the cost of production. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to give some assurance that tentative negotiations with the Norwegian and Dutch Governments have already begun. If we can come to an agreement with them as to the rough proportion of herrings we are each to take from the North Sea per annum, we should have taken a long step in the right direction.
The other thing to bear in mind, and I hope it will be borne firmly in mind, is that the conditions of trade vary, not only in respect of industries, but also in respect of different countries. Just as, in the case of meat, overseas producers have now organised themselves to a high degree and would welcome a corresponding organisation of our buying policy, so in the case of selling herrings to Russia, we require to centralise our sales organisation in order to deal with the purchasing organisation of the U.S.S.R. It is no use thinking we can conduct trade with Russia on an individualist competitive basis. This does not mean we have to socialise industries in this country. It simply means that every industry which wishes to do trade with Russia has to centralise its sales organisation in order to conduct trade with that particular country. Unless we do so, I do not see how we can expect to expand our Russian trade. There has to be some body, capable of speaking on behalf of the herring industry, and saying to the Russian buying organisation, "We will guarantee to supply you with so many barrels of herring per annum at a fixed price; and you can give us so much against that." On the other hand, a considerable degree of competition will be desirable in dealing with Holland, Belgium, Poland, Czechoslovakia and what is left of Germany. There is no reason why the sales organisation of the herring industry should not be able to conduct trade both on an organised basis, and a competitive basis. The exporters in the herring fishing industry have in fact come together and formed a company to do this; but they must receive the full backing and whole-hearted support of His Majesty's Government. They are hard bargainers in Moscow; and no sales organisation can expect to a good deal with the Soviet Government unless it has the whole authority and force of His Majesty's Government behind it.
I hope that in to-morrow's Debate the Government will be pressed for a clear definition of commercial discrimination. There would appear at present to be a sharp division of opinion between us and the United States about this, and it needs to be cleared up. They seem to think that non-discrimination means doing away with all forms of preference, all forms of long-term purchase contracts, exchange restrictions, and reciprocal trading or payments agreements. If that view were to prevail, it would be the end of us. After this war we shall only have two assets, our productive capacity and our internal market. Unless we retain the necessary powers to enable us to trade those assets, I cannot see how we can get through, unless we choose to live indefinitely on charity, which I do not think anyone in this country would wish to do.
There is this God-given gift of shoals of most wonderful herrings, swimming round our coasts year after year. They used not to do it. Suddenly, in the reign of Henry VII, they came over here from the Baltic; and, at odd intervals, we have taken advantage of them. But between 1919 and 1940 we made practically no use of them. These herrings, which are to me a form of gold mine, I wish to see utilised to the full. I wish hon. Members could have stood with me at Fraserburgh Harbour this summer and seen this marvellous harvest being landed; hundreds and thousands of crans of herrings of superb quality. My right hon. Friend did see them, and even tasted them; and I am sure he would agree with me that it was a most remarkable and encouraging spectacle. I do not want to see these fish dumped into the sea when the war is over. I believe they could be a source of great wealth for this country. If the Government put their back behind the fishing industry after the war as they never did between the two wars, we have here a source of great prosperity and strength to this country. We want to trade these herrings for goods. Unless we do so there is no great future for the herring industry.
The subject of this Debate is so wide that one must carefully select the items to deal with in the very short time available. As we debated the herring industry only a few months ago, and as my two hon. Friends who have lately spoken have devoted a considerable part of their speeches to herrings, I propose to deal generally with the fishing industry, and with plans for its reconstruction. The subject is so vast that I must concentrate on firing off a series of questions. I am concerned to know whether the Department is preparing now for the immediate post-war situation, the three or four years after the armistice with Germany, when Europe will be half-starved, when there will be a very great shortage of boats, when every boat will be fishing to full capacity and there will be an urgent demand for more. Also, is the Department preparing a long-term policy? Are negotiations going on now for an international convention to regulate fishing in the North Sea? What happened after the last war? In 1919–20 the North Sea was heavily stocked with fish. There were magnificent catches for a few years. Then the North Sea was over-fished; the catches went down and down, and the fish got smaller and smaller. Fifty years ago, in 1893, a Committee of this House, under the chairmanship of the then Mr. Marjoribanks, inquired into North Sea fishing, and in its report it used these words:
No doubt considerable diminution has occurred among flat fish, especially soles and plaice … the great falling-off in the size of the flat fish caught on the older grounds of the North Sea is a matter of universal observation.
Over-fishing results in inventions to increase the catch per boat and man. That reduces stocks, until finally the total catch gets smaller and smaller. It is an extraordinary thing that the total average catch from the North Sea per year between 1928 and 1932 was less than that in the years 1909 to 1913—I have the
figures. In spite of the fact that there had been a great increase in the number of steam trawlers, the size of the trawl, the methods of catching, and the efficiency of the fishing gear, the total catch in the North Sea fell between those years.
Are we after this war to have a repetition of what happened after the last war? Are we to have over-fishing—two or three good years, and then a steady decrease in the size of the catch and in the size of the fish caught in the North Sea—or are we to have international regulation? International regulation has been carried out successfully. Canada and the United States made a treaty in 1930 to regulate the halibut fishing. The result is that the average size of the fish has increased year by year, and the total amount caught in a given period by the combined fishing fleets of the United States and Canada has increased, so that on an average in five months of the year the total catch is as much as used to be caught in nine or 10 months. That means economy, leisure, and efficiency. That is a remarkable result. My first question therefore is, Are we beginning negotiations now with France, Holland, Belgium, and Norway to regulate fishing in the North Sea, as was recommended by a Committee of this House 50 years ago? Are we, at any rate, laying the foundations for this post-war period?
Now I will deal with other matters. First, I would like to support what my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) said. What arrangements are being made for the return by the Admiralty of fishing boats now commandeered? One has a suspicion, probably wrong, that the Admiralty may hang on to these boats longer than is necessary, on the plea that there is a war with Japan. There will be such an urgent demand for them. Every boat will be required. Are negotiations going on now with the Admiralty to arrange for the release of some of the fishing boats? What plans have the Admiralty made for their vast post-armistice programme of mine-sweeping? These mines must be swept up. Are all the fishing vessels to be retained for mine-sweeping for a very long period after the armistice, or are some of them to be released?
I turn to another vital question. Are inquiries being made as to whether any of the Admiralty auxiliary boats which have been built for the war are of any use for the fishing industry? I know that there will be wooden boats—I think 68 feet long—but those boats will be quite useless for fishing. In the last war they built that type of boat. They are of necessity built of unseasoned wood. Some of the fishing people bought them, and they were an appalling expense and a very great failure. Are any other types of boat now being examined by the Minister, in consultation with the Admiralty, for post-war fishing? Is any consideration being given to the examination now of all commandeered fishing vessels, to see which would be suitable for fishing immediately after the war? Some will be so worn, so battered, so out-of-date, that they will be utterly unsuitable. Is a census being taken to decide which vessels will be available, and which will be released? Is any consideration being given to the seizure of enemy fishing vessels after the war, so that we can get fishing going again as quickly as possible?
Are any arrangements being made for the preferential release after the war of young men from the Navy or Merchant Service who wish to go in for fishing? Are any inducements being offered to them? Does A.B.C.A. circulate any notices about the prospects of fishing? We want to do our utmost now, while the war is on, to interest young sailors in the fishing industry, and to attract them. To attract them we have to give them a much better deal than they had in the appalling years between 1920 and 1928. We have got to give them a minimum wage. We must give them a fair share in our plans for social security, but, in addition to that, and I call the attention of the Minister to this, we must give them opportunity. They are enterprising and courageous men, and we want to give them chances to make good and to become skippers and, later on, owners or part-owners of their vessels. We must give that chance to every young man; but here I must issue a word of warning. I hope that the policy of the Department will be to discourage big business and combines from getting hold of our fishing fleets. There are rumours to-day that one big combine is taking a very keen interest in the herring fleet, and I ask my right hon. Friend, by administration and, if necessary, by legislation, to encourage individual seamen to work up to become owners and to discourage big busi- ness and combines reducing the fishing fleets to a kind of uniform machine, in which the individual will never have a chance of rising to become an independent owner.
Are any steps being taken now to assist in the supply of nets for use immediately after the Armistice? I understand that camouflaged netting is no longer a great priority, and that the demand has slackened. A lot of small factories have been making it. Could not they, or some of them, be switched over to begin making the nets for the fishing fleet which will be wanted immediately after the war? Has anything been done about that?
The hon. Member for East Aberdeen referred to markets overseas. We have our representatives of U.N.R.R.A. in all the liberated territories. Is there any liaison between the Department of Fisheries here and U.N.R.R.A.?
Yes, or the Ministry of Food. We want representatives of the Department of Fisheries going out to these countries, making the contacts with U.N.R.R.A. and examining the possibilities for supplying them, immediately after the Armistice, with cured herrings. I think there is a very great opportunity here, but the work should be commenced now and not postponed for a long time.
Perhaps I may be allowed to interrupt. All the cured herrings have now been taken, a small part for consumption in this country and the remainder taken for the relief department of the Allied Expeditionary Force, or S.H.A.E.F., as it is called. All the cured herrings of this year are now going through these organisations to the liberated peoples of Europe.
Arising out of the Minister's statement, is it not a fact that while S.H.A.E.F. has taken all these herrings, U.N.R.R.A. did not take one?
Let me explain the position. The initial burden for relieving the peoples of the liberated countries falls on S.H.A.E.F. U.N.R.R.A. comes along when S.H.A.E.F. hands over and it was thought better to give the herrings to the people who would consume them the more quickly.
There is a further point. I think there are many harbours occupied by the Admiralty. Is the Department in touch with the Admiralty to see if these harbours will be available for fishing? Is there to be uniformity or will some be available before others? If so, it is only fair to the fishing industry that they should know to-day and make their plans accordingly. In making plans for the future, the Herring Board should be given powers now, and, what is more, the advisory Committee should be formed now so that it can get together and start planning for after the war. All these things should be under review by the Department. I wonder if they are. I hope we shall not find, when we begin to tackle the problem, that the foundations have not been prepared. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen referred to the neglect of former years. That must not happen again. I confirm what my hon. Friend said about the way the Admiralty treated those of us who went time after time to ask for help——
This industry has served the country well in two wars. It produces as fine a type of men as any trade or industry in the country. In future, we should judge all our industries not only from the financial and economic point of view, but also take into account in helping them the type and quality of men they breed, and, judged by that test, we should rely on the utmost aid from the Government. I am sure of the good will of the Minister, but, in spite of that, I ask him to see that preparations are made now and that the organisation plans are ready for dealing with the reconstruction of our great fishing industry for a big advance after the war.
I congratulate all the three hon. Members who have spoken so far on their eloquent contributions to this very important subject. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) especially
stressed a number of points which it will now be unnecessary for me to reiterate. Perhaps I may begin by referring back to a Debate which took place last July, when the Secretary of State for Scotland stated the problem before us. If I may use his words, the right hon. Gentleman said of the problem with which we are faced:
… a diminishing catch of most valuable food, ancient and outmoded boats, and gear and equipment practically gone,
Of the fleet, the right hon. Gentleman said:
It now consists, in the main, of very old boats, manned by elderly men and by boys. Nine-tenths of the steam drifters are over 23 years old, and half of them are more than 30 years old.
Referring to the numbers of drifters in use, the right hon. Gentleman said:
Steam drifters in 1913 were 1,407 in number; by 1938, they had been reduced to 685. The total catch was diminished in almost similar proportion."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th July, 1944; Vol. 401, c. 1172–3.]
I think that, in no industry, could there be a worse or more serious decline in such a short time as we have seen in the herring industry. It meant, in terms of boats, that, in 25 years, their numbers had been more than halved. With a similar prospect to that which they had to face after the last war, this would mean that there would be no herring fleet at all in 25 years from now, not allowing for the exceptional losses caused through naval activity of all kinds.
With regard to markets, it was said at that time, in July—and that is the present position—that the falling off of herring consumption in the home market was about 40 per cent. in those 25 years between 1913 and 1938, and that in the foreign market the demand had dropped by about 60 per cent. The Russian market, including Poland and the Baltic States, before the last war accounted for about 70 per cent. of our herring. It is impossible that we shall ever export 70 per cent. of our herring to Russia and the Baltic States again, for the simple reason that the Russians have developed their market to something over 90 times what it was at the end of the last war. I believe that if we cultivate commercial friendships with Russia we can recover a certain amount of that market; nothing like the 70 per cent.; but I still think there is great hope because of the intrinsic quality of the article itself. I believe that in Poland and the Baltic States also we shall be able to recover a relatively greater part of the market than we shall be able to do in Russia. There are possibilities in the South American market, too, which have never been adequately exploited. There is a demand in those countries for salted fish and I do not see why herring should be excluded. With regard to the Middle East and Palestine, the Secretary of State for Scotland used to be very keen upon swapping herring for citrus fruits and things of that kind, and certainly the demand for those fruits will be great after the war, and if the demand for herring in exchange is anything like proportionate we shall be able to obtain quite a market for herring.
In this industry we have had a general picture of decay, with the threat of ultimate extinction. No industry has been so threatened with virtual extinction as the herring industry. Instead of exporting the finest herring in the world, in the immediate pre-war years we were about to start exporting the finest men in our community once again, as we did in the early and middle 20's of this century. Any solution is very much tied up with the question of guaranteed prices for the herring that the men go out to catch. You must at any rate guarantee a minimum price, and I agree too with the hon. Member for East Aberdeen—and I have said this in this House on various occasions before—that you must have a great deal of home propaganda in order to stimulate a taste for herring at home. We have a great opportunity in this war in the Armed Forces for cultivating among people of all classes of the community from all parts of the country a taste for herring and for kipper. I know from personal experience that no people in this world can make a bigger mess of the kipper or herring than Army cooks. At least that was the case in 1939 and 1940. If there was anything to put a man against herring and fish generally it was the way it was dished out in the early morning, half cooked and half cold. It became an absolute misery to the poor soldier. I do not know what happens in the Navy; but that was the feeling among the troops. We lost a special opportunity of creating a taste for this excellent commodity. We can still do a great deal in the home market to cultivate a taste for herring. Everybody knows of its nutri- tional value and that has been brought to the attention of the public in various campaigns. The Secretary of State for Scotland has done a good deal to try and popularise it among the primary products in various competitions and exhibitions and his example might be followed by other Ministries with a great deal of benefit.
An important part of our foreign trade is going to be the long-term agreement method of dealing with Russia and these other countries. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen again was right when he said that you must have a centralised agency for dealing with the Russians. They have a centralised buying system and we must have a similar selling organisation here, while leaving the trade to some extent free to use its own methods with regard to other countries. We remember, for example, in 1938 when dealing with Germany that they, with a state buying organisation, came over to this country during the West Coast fishing season and offered a price so low that the local fishermen were unable to do anything but dump the fish. In that case it would have been beneficial if we had had a strong central selling organisation. Men will fish if they know that they can sell it at a good price. That is what we have to guarantee them. They deserve a good price and nobody seems to argue against that. Everybody thinks that they are fine fellows and that the work they are doing is extremely important, valuable and productive and nobody denies that a good price is deserved. The trouble is that no Government has in peace-time taken the trouble to guarantee continuously a price that will pay them for their trouble and labour. The herring industry's recovery is dependent upon the fishermen being guaranteed a good minimum price, and upon an efficient herring fleet of up-to-date boats based upon modern harbours. These are things which, according to the Secretary of State for Scotland's definition on 5th July last, are absolutely lacking to-day. I am debarred from discussing the white fish industry because, with the hon. and gallant Member for Orkney and Shetlands (Major Neven-Spence), who is chairman, I am serving our committee on white-fishing in Scotland. With regard to piers and harbours, I think that that is among the most acute of all the domestic prob- lems of the herring industry. We must have good boats with gear and equipment. But, you cannot accommodate them in many smaller ports on the West Coast because of lack of adequate harbour space and suitable and substantial piers.
It is no use offering ex-Servicemen a one-third grant of a vessel costing some £2,000 to £5,000. If they were adequately assisted to own their boats it would give them an interest in the fishing and running them properly and efficiently. If you are going to do that, you will have to grant much more to the ex-Servicemen coming back with only a small gratuity than one-third of several thousand pounds with a loan charge interest rate over a long number of years. One-third will not represent an adequate grant at all when they have no prospect of making up the other two-thirds, even with the help of a loan.
I would like to draw the attention of the Secretary of State for Scotland to a number of harbours which deserve special mention, because in them you have perhaps the most enterprising and the most tenacious of the fishing communities, those who have not yet completely given up the struggle with the unequal handicaps with which they are hampered. There is for example a place Portnaguran in the Isle of Lewis where for 50 years or more they have been trying to get a suitable pier for their community of fishermen. Governments came and went and discussions were held with the various Departments concerned. Also, tentative proposals and conditional promises were given. By 1938 a pier was guaranteed with a grant of £11,500. Recently, however, when I wrote to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland, and certain other Departments, all that seemed to be undone once more; there was no certainty whatsoever that the grant would still be available for these fishermen. After 50 years of struggling as a community to make a livelihood there, against all the odds of lack of harbour, piers and so forth, the men are now being told in advance of being demobilised and coming back home to set up the fishing industry again, that even what was granted in 1938 is no longer certain because of the competition of various other priorities in other parts of the country and in other industries. I take it that what happened in the case of that harbour, will also happen in the case of many others, about which the Secretary of State and other Departments have been approached; at Bayble, Back and Tolsta and in other parts of the islands of the Outer Hebrides. It is most discouraging to have to write to these fishermen, and to the families of these men who hope to come back and take advantage of loans and grants and charter arrangements for new fishing boats, and tell them that they are still where they were 50 years ago when they started asking for the minimum of the absolutely essential things on which to base a fishing industry.
May I make one appeal to the Minister on this point? It is hard enough to carry on a fishing industry without suitable harbours or piers, with outmoded and ancient boats, with a lack of modern and adequate gear, but when, along with that, you have the handicap of heavy freights, as you have in the various islands around Scotland, about which I certainly have had many representations, the fishermen and fishing communities in these areas are not being given any chance at all to compete in the open market with other communities nearer the rail and road centres. In war-time the need for the services of these fishing communities has been amply demonstrated and acknowledged. The value of maintaining these communities at full strength is obvious to everybody to-day as a result of their work in the Navy, the Merchant Navy, the Minesweeping service, and so on. In peace-time it is acknowledged that their work is productive of most important food supplies. The industry gives useful productive employment to our people in their own homes; it maintains a population which makes a big contribution in peace, as well as in war, to the prosperity of our country, and has made a big contribution in some of its finest citizens to the Dominions and British Colonies.
There is a point to which I would like to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland especially, and that is the need for technical education in the Hebrides for the boys who are growing up there and may be attracted, that is with good conditions and on good terms and with good prospects assured, into the herring fishing industry. There is no use in sending these boys across to the mainland to be trained, because, in the first place they cannot afford it; secondly, they are not so near to the practical work of the herring fishing, to the environment in which fishermen in the past have grown up and become useful fishermen, useful sailors, and useful members of the Merchant Navy. The best technical education these boys can get is in their own home areas amidst the fishing industry, right in the heart of it, beside the Atlantic, amongst all the lore and tradition of the fishing industry, beside their own fathers and older brothers, among their relatives and friends who are practising fishing. There is a strong demand in the Islands to-day for technical education for a school situated in the Islands where the various aspects of the fishing industry and of navigation can be taught along with agricultural subjects and the various courses when can be given in weaving, design, and so forth—the Harris tweed industry there has developed in a very big way, and needs new technical skill, too. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give his support and consideration to technical education in the Hebrides.
We have witnessed, as the right hon. Gentleman said, a diminishing catch of the most valuable food owing to ancient and outmodel boats, piers and harbours. It has practically gone into decay in a very short period of 25 years, before the very eyes of the Government who, perhaps, thought they would not need again the services of the fishermen and their families in war. That is the picture of the decline and fall of a great industry. The restoration of that industry, its rebuilding and reconstruction, must at least be on as great a scale as that decline and fall. The people, I believe, are calling for a big effort now, and if the effort is not forthcoming, the final disaster will be overwhelming. This industry will not be able to survive unless the Government takes a hand.
There is one final point which is strongly felt in the Hebrides to-day—if I may revert to the technical school. I would like to stress it for the right hon. Gentleman. It is that, when he is dealing with the question of technical education, special emphasis shall be laid upon the fact that it shall not be under the omnibus school arrangement; that it shall be separate and shall also have the fullest practical relationship to the industries themselves in part-time day continuation classes. I do not mean the four hours per week which is allowed for under the coming Scottish Education Bill, but a real practical course of instruction, the boys being engaged part of the time in fishing itself, and the rest of the time in the theoretical education which will give them a chance to become skippers and navigators and masters, all the fine opportunities which they have been denied in the past.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan), who is at present sitting with me on a committee examining white fishing problems in Scotland, has referred to the diminishing catch of herrings in Scotland and the ageing men and boats in that industry. I should like to reinforce what he has said by calling attention to the calamitous fall in the herring catch of Scotland, which has gone down from 4,750,000 cwt. in 1913 to 2,750,000 cwt. in 1938. That has mean a decline in the earnings of the men from just over £2,000,000 to just over £1,000,000. During the same period, the landings of white fish have remained at the same figure, but the value has nearly doubled, and the position of the men themselves is that whilst the herring used to be worth £2,000,000 to them it is now only worth £1,000,000, and the white fish, once worth £1,000,000, is now worth £2,000,000. This is an extremely important industry to Scotland, and I hope that everything that can possibly be done to get it on its feet again will be done.
Reference was made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) to the disposal of herring, and I hope some efforts will be made, when negotiations are entered into with Russia, to get herring placed somewhat higher on the priority list. Agricultural machinery and things like that come at the top of the list, while herring is about fortieth, after harmoniums and mouth-organs and things of that kind. The Russian Government are able to say to their people what they are to eat, and they give them the Black Sea herring, which is definitely not as good as the herring which we can supply. Therefore, I hope it will be possible to induce the Russian Government to take rather more of our herring that they have taken in the past.
The release of boats is an urgent problem; plans must be made now. The supply of boats will be difficult. Fishermen were badly bitten by the standard steam drifter after the last war. I have been to practically every fishing port on the Scottish coast, together with my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles and another member of the Committee, and at every one of them these steam drifters were condemned. They were millstones round the necks of the men, who will never touch them again. Fortunately, other types are available which promise to be economical to run and suitable for their purpose. I found great interest in what the terms will be on which men will get these new boats. The broad terms were laid down in the recent Act, but men are anxiously awaiting the final terms which will be laid down by the Herring Industry Board, and which, I hope, will be published as soon as possible. Generally speaking, the men now engaged in fishing, and who are satisfied with their own position, are anxious about what will be done to help ex-Servicemen, who have not been earning big sums of money and who will need substantial assistance to get going again after the war.
The Scottish trawling industry is in an extremely bad way and it is very unfortunate that there was no standard of profits, as they were not making any profits before the war. When they might now have been accumulating money which they so badly need it is all going in E.P.T. and in other directions, and some help will, obviously, have to be given to enable the industry to get going again. I believe that the trawling industry made representations to the Admiralty, when it was building vessels for mine-sweeping, that it should build trawlers and adapt them for mine-sweeping. But the Admiralty, quite rightly, said "No, we want mine-sweepers. If you want to adapt them afterwards for trawling, all well and good." I know that the Admiralty have recently released 12 slipways for the express purpose of building trawlers for use after the war, but I hope the industry itself will do something for its fishermen. I was disgusted, when looking at some of the older trawlers in Aberdeen, to see the conditions in which men are working. I am sorry that the benches here should be so empty on an occasion when we are talking about labour conditions in this important industry, because we might have had some advice. I believe it is a fact that the modern 60-ft. type of boat has far better accommodation for men than any of the old trawlers of double the length.
Another vitally important point in building new trawlers is that it has been proved by research that white fish will not keep in the best conditions for more than 10 days on ice. If it is not too well handled it will probably keep only seven days. A great quantity of the fish which used to come to this country before the war was iced when caught, and might have been 20 days old when landed. So the trawling industry might give consideration to freezing the first part of their catch, so that it may be landed in good condition. The latter part of their catch could be iced in the ordinary way. Some steps will have to be taken to get priority for the release of fishermen. This is important because a large part of our food supplies comes from the sea. Attention, too, must be given to the question of the release of timber for barrel hoops and staves. Further, for some years past it has been getting more and more difficult to recruit crews of women who normally do the gutting of the herring. Boys have been taking their places in some instances. These girls have a very hard life, conditions are very uncomfortable, and I think a good deal might be done to make things easier and better for them. Superficially, this is a very dirty job, as is the baiting of lines. Wherever we went round the coast we heard that women had "packed up and would not bait any more lines." Personally, I sympathised with them. I do not think this matters very much now, because alternative ways of fishing are now available.
Another important question is whether the future of herring may not lie more with ice than with salt. Research has shown that it is possible to make as good a kipper, and, possibly, even a better one, out of a good frozen herring as a fresh one. There is the possibility of storing herring when the season is on and releasing it later for fresh food or kippering. Here I would say to the Minister of Food that the time has come when the Government ought to take very firm action in relation to dyed kippers. The dyed product we see now is doing a great deal of harm to the fishing industry, because what is commonly bought from the shop- keeper as a kipper is not really a kipper at all; it is a herring which has been very lightly salted, severely dyed and given a whiff of smoke. A proper kipper is neither salted nor dyed; it is properly smoked. The trouble is that if you start with a cran of herring and treat them in the way they are treated at present you will get about 23 boxes of kippers. If you smoke that cran of herring properly you only get 17. That is where the incentive lies for the kipperer to put out this very inferior product. I do not think it will be got over except by stringent regulations as to how kippers are to be produced.
May I utter a word of warning? We often hear about gluts of herring in the sea, and I think people are hoping that freezing may be the answer to the problem. I doubt that very much. A glut of herring is a natural phenomenon and we have about as much hope of controlling it as of controlling an earthquake or a cyclone. When there is a glut of herring, a very large part of the catch is really spoilt for processing in any way. We hear a lot about fish having to be thrown away, but I do not think I have ever heard anyone refer to the very much worse loss that the fishermen themselves sustain when a glut takes place owing to the fact that they frequently lose their nets. The reason why we cannot deal with a glut is that we have only a limited number of crews at the particular place for curing the herrings; the curers provide crews which they think will cope with the largest catch they are likely to get. The only thing that is of any great help is rough packing, by which you can handle three times as much herring as if you were salting and curing them. But here, again, there is a catch, because you cannot treat all herring like this. It is no use treating herring in a fat or oily condition. Whatever we do, we shall always have to face the possibility of herring having to be thrown back into the sea or turned into manure.
I wish to say a word on the subject of boats. The tragedy of the Scottish inshore fishermen, the men who were originally fishers with lines and hooks, is that they have suffered from revolutionary changes in methods of catching. When trawling grew to be more and more important, the impact of that was extremely severe on the line fishermen. They switched over very largely to herring as a way out of their difficulty. That was all right for a time. Then herring fell on bad days, so that very often communities were practically ruined through no longer being able to live by line fishing and getting into great difficulties over herring fishing. But I think there is new hope in this great development of the use of the seine net. At Lossiemouth between 1918 and 1938 landings of white fish went up from 5,000 cwt. valued at £14,000 to 125,000 cwt. valued at £127,000. That is a most startling increase, and Lossiemouth, which was ruined because of its dependence on the herring fishing, is once again the centre of a very prosperous industry, well-equipped with modern boats and gear, nearly all owned by the men themselves. If my right hon. Friend can produce a number of Lossiemouths all round the Scottish coast—I see no reason why it should not be done—I believe he will have done the greatest service to Scotland that it is possible to do, because a prosperous fishing industry is the backbone of all these boroughs and villages round the Scottish coast. It is of the utmost importance that prosperity should be brought back and I believe that seine net fishing points the way.
There is one practical point that I should like to ask about. The Herring Board has been given power to make loans and grants to fishermen. Can my right hon. Friend tell me whether a man who gets help in this way will be able to use his boat for white fishing, or is he tied down to using it for herring? I do not believe we can draw a hard and fast line between herring and white fishing. The ideal set-up for the industry is to have the men provided with all-purpose boats, which can be used for herring fishing, line fishing, seine net fishing or, it may be, ring net fishing. It is a tragedy to see so many men who only fish for herring during part of the year and have to try to live for the rest of the year on their very meagre earnings or else go to sea. I do not believe it is a good plan to have men alternating between the sea and the herring industry. There is no reason why the two methods of fishing should not be run together and the man who is fishing herring from his own port during the height of the herring season use the same boat for carrying on with white fishing during the rest of the year. That is the only way these boats will be able to pay for their overheads—that they should he kept fishing every day they can fish.
There is one point that I hope my right hon. Friend will look into. I am told that the quotation for building a 50-foot boat in Scotland, the hull alone, is the same as the figure for building a complete boat in Arklow, with engine and seine net gear. If that is so, there is something very wrong. I should like to be assured that boat builders are not making a deliberate attempt to walk off with the grant that the men may get to help them to obtain these boats. There can be no excuse for this great difference in price. I should like to quote a remark made the other day by a fisherman who was asked why, in view of all the hard times he has gone through, he was still a fisherman. He said, "Need makes a naked man run." I think it is need which has kept a great many of these men in the industry, and they have hung on to it. The fisherman is a born gambler and has an ever-lasting fund of hope to draw upon. One cannot help being struck in our fishing villages with the extraordinarily fine type of citizen found there—hard working, self-reliant, brave, enterprising men. I do not like to think that men like that, who are ready to risk their lives that we may get our food, should ever fall into the state that so many of them have fallen into between the last war and the present. If my right hon. Friend can do anything to restore prosperity to the industry, he will have done Scotland a very great service indeed.
As the herring fishing industry has been gone into by other hon. Members, I do not propose to refer to it except to take up my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) in his reference to the best herring in the world. He has forgotten the Loch Fyne herring.
I accept that, but the Loch Fyne herring is the best of the Scottish herring. We have just listened to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Orkney and Zetland (Major Neven-Spence) and the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) on the question of the white fish industry, which to my mind is now the most important branch of the Scottish fishing industry to be dealt with. One or two speakers have expressed doubts about what is to come out of the Herring Fishing Act passed in the previous Session. I feel that we should wait to see what advantage and benefit will be derived in due course, but we are very worried as to the position in white fishing. The two hon. Members who have just spoken are engaged on the Commission and have spoken of matters with great technical knowledge. It is to be hoped, therefore, that before long we shall have the benefit of their conferences and negotiations and that some recommendations will be brought before the Government to resuscitate the white fish industry. I know whole areas in the islands off the West coast of Scotland which used to be busily engaged in the white fish industry, and now there is not a single boat or crew to go out.
In trying in a small way to resuscitate this industry, I have taken occasion to put one or two questions to my right hon. Friend as to what assistance fishermen can get by way of loans or grants for boats. The last reply I had was that the question of boats for the inshore and white fishing industry was being referred to the Scottish Council of Industry. Again I hope that something definite will come out of that very quickly. I wish to refer to one question which has not been stressed sufficiently to-day, and that is faulty distribution. I have referred my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Food on many occasions to this question, and I am told that the best possible distribution is made. I would ask him, however, if it is commonsense that while fish are caught round the coast of Scotland towns and villages within a mile or two of where they are caught cannot get fish by hook or by crook. Fish are landed on the Mull of Kintyre and are passed to the rail head at Oban, yet I have had complaints from the Oban local authorities that there is often not a fish to be had there. One of the most important things in connection with the fishing industry to be overhauled is fish distribution.
As the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) indicated, this problem can be divided broadly into two parts. There is not only the problem of production, but the problem of distribution. The problem of production is one to which the Government had given anxious and detailed attention during the past few years. This year our Herring Industry Bill indicated the method of approach to that problem. It passed the House unanimously, and I believe that it affords hope to all the herring fishermen who are producing a commodity which, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) said, is second to none in nutrition. So far as production is concerned, I think the herring industry has set sail for a bright future. On the productive side of white fishing, I can speak for only a moment or two. I feel particularly impressed with the experiments being conducted at Loch Sween. It may be that exaggerated ideas are abroad as to the economic effects of those experiments. Nevertheless, it is true that they can by certain devices feed the plankton and in turn feed the larvæ, which in turn feed the fish, so that they can multiply by 300 per cent. the rate of growth of flat fish in our sea lochs. That is a hopeful experiment in multiplying the food resources of the world, and it may, indeed, be a considerable advantage not only to the people of this country, but to other nations as well.
The hon. Member who opened the discussion referred to the general importance of this industry in our national economy. To everything he said Ministers assent most heartily. In the last pre-war year, 1938, we produced £16,500,000 worth of fish food consisting of herring and white fish and a little in shell. We provided in this industry, either directly or indirectly—indirectly much more than directly—employment for 150,000 men. It is a large and considerable industry. Indeed, no Government could afford to ignore the importance of such an industry in the national economy, and certainly this Government does not. An hon. Gentleman opposite asked a question which was promptly replied to by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Food, as to what preparations were being made for distributing the product. That is a large issue and one which would require a considerable measure of public time to discuss. We are taking steps to increase the consumption in the home market, for instance through the schools. A considerable step has been taken through the schools and by teaching our girls how to cook fish. Apart from raising the home consumption, the hon. Gentleman asked what is being done with a view to selling surplus products abroad.
While my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food said that S.H.A.E.F. this year had taken the entire surplus, with the exception I think of about 1,500 tons that have gone to the Mediterranean white fish market—[Interruption]—they are not the sort of red herrings to which my hon. Friend is referring. The point we have to make up our minds about is that the products of our waters, our sea fishing, should be used first of all for the proper sustenance of the people of this country. Priority in our markets should go here, but we ought to take steps to ensure that there are no restrictions in production until everyone gets enough. That is the policy that the present Government is pursuing. Twelve slipways have been put at the disposal of shipbuilders for the building of 12 new trawlers—certainly a small number, but it is a beginning, even during the war. We hope to see that our industry is equipped, partly from the stocks presently in the possession of the Admiralty, and it may be partly from foreign sources. We hope to see that our industry is equipped at the earliest possible moment with men and boats, efficiently provided, to ensure that our markets will be properly supplied. What more anyone can do than that in the middle of war is beyond me. We have indicated to our Herring Industry Board the lines of our approach, how we think part of the industry can be organised. We go further and say that the home market shall be stimulated in every possible way; and thirdly, we are prepared to organise the proper distribution of the surplus products abroad.
The Government have no possible ground for objecting to any comments that have been made here to-day. On the contrary, we welcome the interest that the House of Commons shows in this great industry. The fact that every Minister concerned has sat on these benches to-day is an indication of our interest in this matter. We can certainly give the assurance not only that anything and everything that can be done will be done to ensure that in the future this great fishing industry of ours in all its phases, herring, white fish, shall be an efficient producer of food, but that we shall assist it to organise its markets. The old chaotic conditions of glut and slump, of scramble—starvation to-day, prosperity to-morrow—must be evened out, and anything and everything His Majesty's Government can do towards that end not only will be done but is being done now.
Would my right hon. Friend give an assurance that his Department and the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Agriculture are in contact with the Admiralty with regard to the release of craft suitable for fishing after the war?
It is impossible during the war for us to do more than we are now doing, that is to get a promise from the Admiralty that at the earliest possible moment ships and personnel will be released for this industry.
I cannot answer that question. I do not know where these trawlers are; the Admiralty know, we do not. All we have is an assurance that at the earliest possible moment every vessel will be returned.
That is rather outside the scope of the discussion this afternoon. In a Debate at an early date the President of the Board of Trade will be dealing with that matter. I can assure the hon. Member that the interests of the fishing industry in this country are not being lost sight of.
The right hon. Gentleman is aware that the White Fish Commission was set up but it had only just got into the saddle when war broke out. It produced a Report which I have seen, a very valuable Report with a lot of useful points in it, which will be of the greatest interest to all branches of the fishing industry. Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to see that that Report is published as soon as possible?
I cannot give an answer to that offhand. It may not lie within my jurisdiction to give an answer. I will look into the matter and let the hon. and gallant Member know.
When my right hon. Friend is making representations with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture about the return of boats, will he do something about getting permission granted for a considerable number of working men, miners in my constituency, along the coast, to be allowed to go out and fish with their boats from the shore?