Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [12th November]
That an humble Address be presented to His M.ajesty, 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."— [Mr. Henry Usborne.]
Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if I indicated which Amendments I propose to call during the next week. On Monday, up to 7 o'Clock, I propose that the general Debate will continue with the idea of discussing the Amendment which is down in the name of the hon. Member for East Coventry (Mr. Crossman) and several of his Friends:
[And express the urgent hope that His Majesty's Government will so review and recast its conduct of International Affairs as to afford the utmost encouragement to, and collaboration with, all Nations and Groups striving to secure full Socialist planning and control of the world's resources and thus provide a democratic and constructive Socialist alternative to an otherwise inevitable conflict between American Capitalism and Soviet Communism in which all hope of World Government would be destroyed.]
[But humbly regret that the Gracious Speech contains no reference to the threat to the personal liberty of workers, members and non-members of trade unions by the enforcement of the closed shop in industry nor gives any indication of the policy of His Majesty's Government in this grave constitutional matter.]
[But humbly submit to your Majesty that, while your Ministers declare the urgent necessity of increased production, there are no practical proposals in the Gracious Speech calculated to unite your Majesty's subjects in a free national effort to this end; but, on the contrary, your Ministers, at this time, propose further measures of nationalisation which must confuse and retard the recovery of the nation.]
When this Debate was adjourned last night I had just completed a few remarks on coal production in the Ruhr at the present time. I now wish to continue that line of argument in connection with the German textile industry. This was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham (Mr. Erroll). There are many of us connected with that industry who know that a report was submitted to the Control Commission at the end of last year, putting forward a number of recommendations as to how that industry could be integrated into the English textile economy, and thereby contribute not only to the recovery of Germany but, also, the textile trade in this country. That report made a number of recommendations and asked for decisions to be made on certain subjects. I wonder whether, in fact, any decisions have been made. The hon. Member for Altrincham first used the word "integration," saying he wished that the German textile industry could be integrated into our textile economy. He pointed out that there was an acute shortage of yarn in both the cotton and wool sections of that industry in this country, and many from the textile industry have approached the Chancellor of the Duchy to see what could be done.
There is a vast amount of textile machinery in Germany lying idle when it could be put to productive use. Whenever the Chancellor has been approached he has always said something about quadripartite or tripartite agreement. He has seemed quite incapable of doing anything on his own, whereas we know that in the other zones the countries responsible have gone ahead with the necessary work. To my mind this would go some way to allay the anxiety that has been expressed on all sides of the House concerning the revival of the Japanese textile industry by the aid of American capital and with American cooperation. Surely if we could do something on our side in Europe to integrate the German textile industry into our own, not in such a way that it would ultimately be in competition with our own businesses but so that it would be complementary to them, I feel that we should have done something to reduce the Japanese menace to both Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire.
Passing from that aspect of the present state of affairs, I would like to say a word on finance. There is nothing in the Gracious Speech dealing with the Chancellor's intention to pursue a sound financial policy. No tribute whatever is paid to the splendid sacrifices of the savers throughout the country. It would not have been surprising if we had seen in the Gracious Speech some such reference as this: "My Chancellor will continue further to depreciate the purchasing power of the pound sterling." I am very glad that nothing of that sort was said, but many people in the country and in this House are concerned about the possibilities of inflation. What exactly does that mean and who can bring out this inflation? The Chancellor and hon. Members opposite talk as if they had no responsibility in this matter. As I see it—and if the Chancellor were here he would correct me if I am wrong—the danger arises when we fail to balance our Budget, or when we fail to balance it by a very considerable margin. During the war we knew perfectly well that we could not balance our Budget because of the special circum-stances at that time. We knew too that during the first few years of peace it would be difficult to bridge the gap that would still exist between our expenditure and revenue. We knew the gap would still be there, and as in war we intended to fill it by borrowing. What happens when the savers of the country are no longer prepared to fill that gap?
That is when the danger arises. Who does fill that gap? There is only one person, and that is the Chancellor. He can either fill it by resorting to the printing press or by creating credit. [An HON. MEMBER: "Fill it by taxation."] I am sorry the hon. Member for South Nottingham (Mr. Norman Smith) is not here today, because he is particularly-interested in this question of creating credit. Now, of course, the Government have nationalised the Bank of England, and the instrument which can create credit is in their hands, and some of us are very apprehensive about how they will use it. Shall we be as certain now as we always were in the past of the figures that the Bank of England produces from time to time of the state of its account? At some future date, may it not be considered by hon. Gentlemen opposite not to be in the national interest to tell the country really what our housekeeping account is like?
I leave that thought with the hon. Gentlemen; it is in their hands, it is in the hands of the Chancellor, to produce the conditions of inflation. He alone has the printing press that prints the notes, he alone controls the Bank of England, which controls credit. It is not a few unfortunate citizens, who find themselves compelled through lack of nourishment, perhaps, to pay a rather higher price for a dozen eggs or anything else, who are creating inflation. It is the Government which creates the conditions under which inflation arises, and no safeguards against it are mentioned in the Gracious Speech.
It does however mention the necessity of controlling our balance of payments and here I would like to say a word on the question of our export drive and sterling balances at the present time. A very great deal of publicity has been given to the question of exports, and the people of this country have been led to believe that for the goods they are sending overseas they are receiving back pound for pound in commodities and raw materials which we require in this country. I do not think that is so. During the six years of war we built up vast debts overseas which our creditors said we need not discharge until hostilities had come to an end, and now we are discharging those debts. While the countries to whom we are repaying the money do of course send us back a certain amount of their own produce, there is no guarantee that they are now sending us back pound for pound, or that they will continue to do so. When we see shortages in this country, when we travel abroad and see many of the commodities that we would like to have ourselves, one of the reasons for this is that those commodities are no longer attracted to our shores. Their producers no longer wish to accumulate sterling; they would rather sell their goods for some other currency. That is an aspect of our export drive which I think the country should be informed about.
The hon. Gentleman opposite who interrupted me when I was referring to the gap between expenditure and revenue said it could be filled by taxation, but only the other day the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave an indication that he hoped at a future date to reduce our very high rate of taxation which he now admits is having a grave effect on the incentive of workers throughout the country to produce to the maximum. I am not sorry that there was no reference in the Gracious Speech to a tax on betting, a matter which had worried quite a number of people in the country. My reason for saying that: I am not sorry is this. At the present time we derive a large part of our revenue from taxes on drink, tobacco and entertainment, and if we were to add to these a tax on betting as well, it would give the Government a vested interest in all those aspects of our lives about which some of us have very special feelings. It is not desirable that the Government should derive a major part of their revenue from those particular items in the budget of the ordinary man and woman. It would be far better if they created a state of affairs whereby there were other things for money to be spent on which would contribute to the higher standard of living they so often talk about and we all so much desire.
I am sorry that there was no reference to endeavours to be made to reduce our vast army of unproductive labour. Hon. Gentlemen know the figures only too well. Our Civil Service has more than doubled since the years before the war. We have a million more people engaged on Government and local authorities work than we have in the whole of our agricultural industry. We have approximately a million more people employed by the Government and the local authorities than we have mine workers. When we are apprehensive of the financial position that this Government are leading us into, we can well ask ourselves whether we can afford this vast army of unproductive labour at the present time. If we read the Gracious Speech, we find that it is envisaged that this army will be increased, and that still more and more public servants are required.
The Gracious Speech makes particular reference to the productivity of industry. The Prime Minister and the Lord President of the Council have made numerous speeches on this subject in recent weeks. To many of us it would seem that they have used as a textbook for these speeches a publication issued before the last Election by some of the more progressive Members on this side of the House. We remember, too, that at the General Election, referring to these three letters, P.M.H.—production per man-hour—Socialists said, "Beware of P.M.H. It is a snare and a delusion." We on this side were the only party which told the country that unless we produced more, we could never achieve that high standard of living for which we all hoped. It is for the Government to provide the incentive, and not just to provide the invective. People are not going to spend their time pulling the chestnuts out of the fire for these bungling planners who are now in control of the country.
There seems to be no cooperation between the various Government Departments and the various Ministers. We have an uneasy feeling that they are so ambitious that they are suspicious of each other. Why cannot they get together and pool their problems? The Board of r Trade are saying one thing about increasing production, and the Ministry of Labour are hanging on to men, or will not obtain the release of members of the Armed Forces who can help to increase production. Even now, 16 months after the end of the war with Germany, we still have much correspondence from those in industry asking for key men to be allowed out of the Army so that they can take part in this great national drive.
I am sorry that there was no reference in the Gracious Speech to any trade pact with Russia. If our Ministers cannot get on with their opposite numbers in that country, perhaps our businessmen might be allowed to get together. I have always said that business is the best ambassador, and if we had a little more prosperity in the world, we would have less talk of war. I should like the Russian people to see more of our products, and to know what are the advantages of Western civilisation. Why should they be deprived of these fruits of our industrial progress over the last few centuries?
Now I must say a word on conscription. We know the difficulty which the Prime Minister had in putting this subject over to Members of his party, both inside and outside the House. It was not received at all well, and we understand that there are quite a number who disagree with him. I am told that his final trump card was this. He said that when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) asked the other day whether there were 200 Russian divisions between the Baltic and the Black Sea, he was right, and that is why he had to introduce conscription at the present time.
Why is the Army so unattractive at the present time? The British Army is "carrying the can" all over the world for the blunders made by the Socialist Government. On their shoulders alone lies the whole responsibility for the troubles in Palestine at the present time, and also for the troubles in India and the difficult times we anticipate in Germany during the coming winter. No wonder the British Army is not attractive We do not mind fighting in war time, but when our job is that of controlling civilian populations in peace, that is not a role which the British Army particularly likes to undertake.
Finally, I should like to say a word on behalf of the poor harassed housewife. She gets a particular mention in the Gracious Speech, but does she get any concrete evidence that anything is to be done for her? It is no good just having these pious protestations which leave the housewife completely cold—not quite so cold as she is probably going to be left by the Minister of Fuel and Power during this coming winter. What the housewives want is more food, more coupons and more dockets, and all they get is a whole list of statistics to show how much better off they are than ever before. Have the Government made a real survey of these matters? Instead the Government spend their time juggling with points, and only the other day I saw that they had increased the points value of chocolate biscuits, tinned tongues and syrup. Do they hope to alleviate the troubles of the housewives by filling the shops with electrical appliances, when as soon as they are switched on the power will be cut off? This is one of the masterpieces of planning which we have had from the present Government during their term of office. The housewives want practical results, but they do not feel that they will get them from their present rulers.
I do not wish to follow the hon. Member who has just spoken in his orgy of superficialities. He has taken us around the globe and has dealt with most of the national economy, but, fortunately for him, he did not stop very long in any one place. It would be perfectly easy to deal with the points which he has raised, but I do not want to take up the time of the House in following him around in his wanderings. I want to concentrate on one point, and to try to examine it a little more profoundly. I wish to make it quite clear that the King's Speech has been received on this side of the House with general satisfaction, but there are bound to be individual points on which we disagree, or which we wish to underline. I very much regret one very important omission from the Speech, and that is the National Assistance Bill. We were hoping that this item of legislation, which was to be the copingstone of our social security Measures, would have been brought forward this Session, but we understand that it has been crowded out for lack of time, and that taking its place in the Parliamentary timetable is the National Service Bill. I am not one of those who are opposing conscription. I believe that one of the effects of the shortage of manpower with which we are faced is the fact that we shall have at home a situation in which there will be jobs—and decent jobs—for the men who, in the past, were driven into the Armed Forces largely by unemployment and by poverty. We shall, therefore, be driven to finding a way of equalising the burden of defence fairly over the people. But I am a little alarmed by the substitution—I would not have minded the addition—for the National Assistance Bill of a Measure concerning conscription. I hope this does not mean that the Government are going to put guns before mothers.
We are aware that there have been, arising out of the social security Measures which we have so far introduced, certain aromalies and gaps which have caused distress and misunderstanding throughout the country. I am afraid there is a considerable amount of apathy towards the social security Measures we have introduced, and I think that apathy is based upon two things. The first is the delay in applying the whole of the National Insurance Act. I cannot understand why it should take two years for the whole of the provisions of that Measure to come into operation. We have—and I welcome it—taken steps to raise old age pensions without waiting for the appointed day for the whole Measure, but I know that in my own constituency some of the most serious cases of hardship do not arise among even the old age pensioners, although they have suffered enough. Some of the worst cases arise among those who have never been insured under previous insurance schemes, and who, when they fall sick, have to go on to public assistance, or people who, having been insured, find that they have merely the 10s. disability pension on which to live when their illness is prolonged. I have had a number of letters from such people bitterly complaining about the delay. It is a long time to wait until 1948 before these serious cases are dealt with.
I am wondering whether one of the reasons for the appointed day being so far distant may not be that we are waiting for the National Assistance Bill in order to get the structure complete before we proceed. I find it extremely difficult to believe that it is the administrative problem which is taking so long to work out. If I am right in my assumption, I think it is all the more inexcusable that the National Assistance Bill should have been Left out of the Gracious Speech and the proposals for this Session. I know it will cause tremendous disappointment and some cynicism, or a sense of defeatism, among people in my constituency and in other parts of the country, who are suffering very gravely from social insecurity at the moment.
There are a number of anomalies under the present social insurance scheme, as there are bound to be under any scheme. In the transitional period, we find that the widow of 50, for example, does not benefit under the National Insurance Act. If she is 50 years of age when it comes into operation, she has to wait until she is 60 for her pension to be raised. That is causing hardship. Then, our old friends the spinsters have been bitterly disappointed over this Measure. They are told that, when they reach the latter years of their life, before they are 60, but certainly beyond the time when they are fit for hard work in the industrial field, they can draw sickness benefit if they are ill, but again, they are condemned to wait until 1948 before that sickness benefit is raised to any standard which is at all near the subsistence level.
But one of the worst confusions into which we are getting—and this is the matter which causes me most concern—is over the whole question of children's benefits. We are in a first-class muddle over this matter, and I believe we shall have to deal with it legislatively very soon, because we are getting into a position which the Government simply cannot defend. I know that the whole trouble started in the bad old days with the Family Allowances Bill, originally the product of the Coalition Government, and finally brought to birth by the Caretaker Government in a form which we know was unsatisfactory to many of my hon. Friends who were in the House at that time. It was the subject of a consider- able amount of argument, and protests were made on two points. The first was the size of the family allowance—the fact that a figure of 5s. was fixed which, even with the payments in kind which were promised, and which cannot come into full operation until we have all the canteens and facilities in the schools for making school meals available free of cost to all, did not bring the family allowance up to the 8s. which Sir William Beveridge had said was the minimum for protecting the child from want, and he was allowing, in addition to that, a calculation of Is. payments in kind.
The second point of protest was the principle which was adopted of no duplication of benefits. This was very fiercely attacked by many of my hon. Friends, and I believe it was only under the threat that the Bill would not go through at all that the present unsatisfactory compromise was reached. It is vary regrettable, in my opinion, that that principle was embodied in the Family Allowances Act, because it has bedevilled the whole of the rest of the steps we have taken since on the question of children's benefit. If one accepts that there may not be duplication of benefit, it means that, whereas family allowance is to be paid to every family regardless of its income level, where the family is in the fortunate enough position to have the wage earner at work, when the wage earner falls out of work and, therefore, is necessarily in a worse position to protect his children and bring them up according to the standard required, there is no family allowance. I do not see how, if we are genuinely fighting for a principle of family endowment and not merely a principle of wage subsidisation, we can possibly justify this principle of no duplication. Indeed, I think the argument has been put far better than I could put it by that very able debater, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan), now Minister of Health. During the Second Reading of the Family Allowances Bill, he said:
If the income going into a family as wages is so small that social insurance has to supplement it, the income is obviously smaller if the family is on unemployment benefit or workmen's compensation or is in receipt of one of the other forms of benefit."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1945; Vol. 408, c. 2345.]
In my own constituency, the public assistance authority had a shock when they found out just what the effect of this principle of no duplication, intro-
duced by hon. Members opposite, was going to be in the case of families really up against it. Let me give two cases. A father was not insured under previous schemes and fell sick. His only recourse was to public assistance. This was a typical case of a man with a wife and two children. The earnings of that man were £3 15s. a week, not a magnificent sum, to which, under the Family Allowances Act, he had another 5s. added when working. When he fell sick and went on public assistance down came his income to £.3 5s yet we say that he does not need the family allowance. Or take another case, this time of a man, his wife and six children, who recently came for relief from public assistance in my constituency. The earnings before sickness were £6 a week, to which we add 25s. a week family allowances for the children. The man fell sick and as he had no benefit he went on to public assistance. Then his income went down to £4 15s a week while the 25s. was denied to him.
It stands to sense that the effect of such instances as these on the people of my constituency is one of complete bewilderment. What is the purpose of family allowances if it is not for -he benefit of the child? Obviously, in those cases, the children need the family allowances more when the father is on public assistance than when he is working. Let us take the effect of family allowances on widows. A widow today gets 10?. for herself, 5s. each for the first two children and 3s. for the rest. She does not begin, therefore, to feel the benefit of family allowances at all on the no duplication system until we get to the third child, and then it is 2s. a week difference. Even if that widow comes to the Assistance Board for supplementation of her benefit she is told that the family allowances must be taken into account in assessing her need for supplementation and that she does not need family allowances in addition.
I was looking up some of these figures the other day and I see that in 1944 some 34,000 widows with children went to the Assistance Board for supplementation. More than half got a supplementation payment of 20s. a week or less, which means that, with the benefit and with the supplementation, such a widow got £2 5s. or less with three children to bring up. Yet we say she does not need the family allowances. The National Insurance Act
will not solve the problem, because in the cases I have stated, when benefit under the new Act is paid, in actual fact, the payment will be less than that paid by the public assistance authority or the assistance board. That is because we have again applied the principle of no duplication to this legislation, so that where childrens' benefit is drawn for any child but the first, that benefit is the family allowance of only 5s. a week. Lord Beveridge who was the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed in the last Parliament, said quite clearly to the House when this figure of 5s. was put forward that it would mean that poverty would not be avoided, and he added:
Where a person has only benefit to live on if he has a large family it is practically certain that the children will be in want."— [OFFICIAL REPORT; 8th March, 1945; Vol. 408, c. 2308.]
That is because we have fixed the family allowances at the paltry sum of 5s. and then said there must be no duplication of benefit.
I want to suggest that we cannot hope to get even a subsistence level in our benefit payments, let alone the additional help we wanted to give through the family allowances scheme, unless the scheme is altered. There are two ways of doing it, one of which is to raise the family allowance so substantially that it is ample for the children of the man on benefit. This means raising it beyond the level needed for many who will be drawing it in addition to other incomes. Alternatively we can abandon this system of duplication. I believe this, in fact, is the only equitable answer to the problem because the principle of no duplication carries behind it a means test implication. If we are giving a payment as a light then we cannot turn round and say, "There is another payment too, so you cannot have the first." It is, in effect, the principle of the means test, only it is a means test that is operated merely at the bottom end of the scale and not at the top end. Nor can we pretend that some great principle of State finance prevents duplication of benefit, because we are doing it now in the case of war pensioners and no one for one moment suggests that we should not do it for them.
We cannot contend that our children are adequately provided for. There are different levels of payments under the Assistance Board, public assistance, and under the Insurance Act presented by my right hon. Friend. All these payments vary so widely that it is quite obvious that we have not begun to get near the principle of subsistence for the children. One may draw 5s. for them, 6s. for them, 7s. 6d. for them or 9s. for them. It varies according to the Measure under which we are helping them or according to the area of the country in which they live, but the future of our children cannot be left to that kind of uncertainty and differentiation. It is imperative that we should stand by our intention to help the children by this method. We are paying family allowances to the mother, yet if unemployment benefit is paid it is paid to the father. In these cases, we have abandoned this idea of giving these payments to the mother to help her bring the children up in the way she wants them to go. We must insist that we stand by the principle of endowing me family and not merely of subsidising wages. I do earnestly ask the Government to give their attention to this problem, because even under the new Measure of national insurance we are going to expose the children of the country to an inadequate standard of life in too many cases and we are going to deprive those who most need it of the help they hope they will have.
I rise to address this House for the first time with a feeling of considerable trepidation, having due regard and respect for its great historical traditions. I would ask for your indulgence Sir, and that of hon. Members for a short period. As a representative of one of the most loyal parts of His Majesty's Kingdom, I count it a great privilege to be permitted to speak on matters arising out of the Gracious Speech from the Throne. That Speech contains a number of subjects, many of which, if carried out to the full, will be widely welcomed throughout the country and it is on these matters that I should like to speak now, generally and briefly.
For a start I should like to deal with the wellbeing and the greater freedom of the people. I would ask the Government to bear in mind the needs of the man who wishes to set up a small concern of his own, the small trader, the small shopkeeper, the man who wishes to be inde- pendent and to be his own master, and above all the ex-Service man. There is a great feeling of frustration throughout the country today, that though the war was fought for freedom, the individual freedom of the subject to choose his or her own trade or occupation is still being hampered and very much restricted. It is this individual freedom of enterprise which has made Great Britain the country that she is and which can keep her in the forefront of the nations of the world in the future, but it is a freedom which is dwindling under large State monopolies. I welcome the statement that the farmer will be given guaranteed prices and assured markets. It is the fear of many in the farming community that now that the war is over, no matter what Government is in power, they will be forgotten, that what they did during the past seven years will count for nothing in the future, and that they will be left to fend for themselves in competing against imports from abroad to the loss and detriment of the home grower. The statement in the Gracious Speech will, I hope, allay many of these fears.
The reference to the burdens of the housewife has, I know, been dealt with very fully in this House already, but I consider that it will meet with wide approval throughout the country. She, more than anyone else, has had, during the war years, to fight an unending battle—a battle to keep her home together and her family healthy and happy. She has had to fight that battle against all sorts of shortages—shortages of her three main requirements, food, fuel and clothing. It was necessary then, but now I consider she deserves not only the sympathy of the Government, but their active assistance in helping her, and in helping her forthwith. I welcome this reference in the Gracious Speech, but I and those whom I represent will welcome it -still more when it has passed the paper stage and we see it actually and tangibly put into practice.
Coupled with the housewife I would say a word on the subject of housing. I notice that in the Gracious Speech delivered in August of last year there was reference to:
increasing by all practical means the number of homes available in both town and country.
There are many in England today who feel that, even allowing for the many post
war building difficulties, much more could have been done in the time. I have no doubt that the Government will do all in their power to rectify this in the future, and I hope that they will also see that the country districts are not neglected, and that the bulk of the houses completed, are not intended for one section of the community only.
Finally, the Armed Forces. The important subject of conscription, and the fact that it is not to be applied to Northern Ireland, I will leave for other Ulster representatives of greater experience and more eloquence than myself, but I should like to touch on the subject of the Reserves. I had the honour for four years prior to the war, and throughout it, to be a member of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. In those years there were many who were willing to give up their time to training for that service and to fitting themselves to undertake responsibility should they be mobilised. That training was excellent, but the facilities provided for it at the various divisional and reserve depots were limited. That, as I understand it, was due to financial restrictions placed upon them. During the war, the Reserves, in one form or another, made up a very large percentage of our total naval strength. Today, with demobilisation, the Fleet—that service which, more than any other, has helped to keep these islands free during many centuries—and I say that with no lack of gratitude or praise to the other fighting units—we are told, is putting to sea undermanned. No doubt, if such is actually the case, the Government will take speedy steps to remedy it, but I would ask them also to bear in mind in future that unheralded and unsung, yet none the less important, part, the Reserves, whether they be in a reconstituted form or otherwise. I would ask that they should be given far greater facilities for training to carry out that for which they joined—namely, the defence of their country—than they have received in the past.
I think we have all listened with considerable interest to the maiden speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Down (Lieut. Mullan). He happens to come from a part of the United Kingdom that has produced many soldiers of eminence, and only recently we were informed that Ulster had produced no fewer than 14 Presidents of the United States. I think we can congratulate the hon. Member in getting over so successfully what is always an ordeal, and I hope that we shall hear him on many occasions in the future.
Representing as I do a very large section of farming communities, I was very glad indeed at the mention made in the King's Speech with regard to the future welfare of agriculture. Agriculture was restored to health during the war by the adoption of measures advocated by the Labour Party. In wartime the output of food was nearly doubled; assured markets and fixed prices gave farmers confidence. Hitherto Britain has been used as a manufacturing country and agriculture was considered to be of comparatively little account, but the war brought home the folly of our having to rely so much upon overseas for our food supplies. Britain certainly has an excellent food market within a very short distance of almost any farm. We produce good livestock and grow vegetables and fruits of the very best kind. Therefore, I say that we must keep the countryside prosperous, and this can best be done by assuring farmers of a definite guaranteed price for their products.
If Britain were under State ownership of land we could follow the good example of Queensland and New Zealand and see that the best use was made of the land. Land was meant for use, not abuse, to grow food instead of wasting acres on blood sports. The tenant farmers should be encouraged in every possible way. What is wanted is not to sink capital in the purchase of land but to follow the good example of the Crofters Act in the fixing of fair rents, security of tenure, and compensation for improvements. We ought to help the tenant farmers by good drainage and water supplies and bring electric power to the remote villages and farms. Land and water being a necessary to life should be held in common for the good of the community. The bounties of nature should be utilised for the good of humanity
I should like,to give a word of warning to those responsible for the Armed Forces. During the war I had, on many occasions, to take up the cases of key men on farms who had been brought into the Armed Forces. I hope that as conscription is to be introduced for some time care will be taken not to remove from the land men who are key men in the various farms. In order to encourage the farm worker to remain on the land he must be guaranteed an adequate wage, a comfortable home and more of the amenities of town life. It is deplorable to think that the oldest craftsman in the world has been too long the poorest paid. But it is good to know that the King's Speech contains reference to the proposals for wage fixing machinery, which we hope will raise the standard of life for the agricultural worker.
There is one omission from the King's Speech which I regret very much. No reference was made to the Commission which has been sitting for some time dealing with conditions in the distributive trades; no mention as to when we are to have the report or of the action which will be taken on that report. No subject has been more before Parliament. No fewer than seven Commissions at difference periods, and no fewer than 30 Bills have been brought in from as far back as 1873. In the past, it has been the practice of Governments when they want to shelve a question to appoint a Commission. I am not suggesting that that has been done in the present instance, because, knowing the Home Secretary as I do, I know that he would not do a thing of that kind. The Home Secretary is known as the best friend the Police Force has ever had, and I hope that he will be the best friend that the shop workers have ever had.
On the question of shops, the medical fraternity has, time and again, protested against the conditions, especially in the case of women and young persons. It is unfortunate that many local authorities have failed in their duty to see that sanitation, ventilation and heating are properly carried out in the shops. If the Government cannot undertake legislation to deal with the questions which I have mentioned affecting the welfare of the distributive workers, I hope that time will be given for some of us to introduce Private Bills. There are two Bills which I would like to have introduced. We have heard a good deal about the small trader, about the freedom of the subject, about the closed shop. A Bill which I would like to introduce would deal with radius agreements. Under these agreements, an assistant or a manager of a multiple firm is not allowed to start a business on his own account, or to accept a situation with any other firm in the same line of business within, usually, the radius of three miles, for a period of three years. That puts him outside almost any town. Surely, it is bad enough to have to crave permission to toil, but it is infinitely worse when employers reserve their rights to prevent one selling one's labour to another, after dispensing with his services.
Another grievance which I would like to deal with concerns the character note. An employer can damn a man's chances in fife by withholding a reference. Employees in multiple firms have been told that if they apply for another situation the prospective employer can either write to the present employer or telephone. If he does not reply, the silence is construed as something against the character of the applicant, and the result is that his chance of getting the job is very remote. Therefore, I want to see a character note Bill to make it compulsory for employers to give a written reference when desired, and that the reference should be an exact copy of any similar document sent to another employer. These are Measures which are long overdue, and I hope to see them on the Statute Book before I leave this Parliament.
We have had two days' Debate, or nearly two days' Debate, upon the Gracious Speech. So far, I think, from the speeches to which I have listened, it would appear that the Gracious Speech has not given very much comfort to the supporters of His Majesty's Government, and has given even less comfort to the Government's supporters in the country. There have been manifest signs in this House of revolt against the Government, both on foreign and domestic aspects of their policy. I was interested to see in this morning's newspapers that overnight the Independent Labour Party had lost 33⅓ per cent. of its voting strength in this House. That is a tendency which I feel may well spread, and which deserves to be encouraged.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick & Leamington (Mr. Eden) have covered the foreign and imperial aspects of the Gracious Speech. The Amendment put down on this morning's Order Paper by my right hon. and hon. Friends on these benches, the official Opposition Amendment, will deal, in the main, with the subject of production. I shall, therefore, confine my remarks to one or two other matters mentioned in the Gracious Speech, and one or two other matters which are rather notable omissions from the Gracious Speech. As regards matters to which so far little attention has been given in the Debate, there is the proposal to bring the railways, canals and electricity undertakings under national ownership and control. There is a curious distinction, which I hope hon. Members will have marked, between the transport services and the electricity services. The transport services are to be brought under national ownership and control, and the electricity supply industry, on the other hand, is apparently only to pass into national ownership. I assume that there is some subtle difference between these two proposals, but I must confess that I have not yet myself succeeded in solving the riddle.
Control is already, of course, in the case of these groups of industries, 100 per cent. It is perfectly clear, therefore, that the effective step which the Government intend to take is transfer of ownership. That seems to me to be all that can be projected by the words used in the Gracious Speech. What benefits do hon. Members opposite expect to obtain for the ordinary common man and woman in this country from these Measures? I hope that before the Debate is concluded, some hon. Member will endeavour to give some reason tending to show that the people of this country will benefit from these two Measures. The Lord President of the Council has more than once roundly declared that the onus of proof is upon the parties proposing the change. So far we have heard no proofs given to the House.
There is not, of course, in the case of the railways, the canals, road transport or electricity, the same forceful psychological argument which could be, and which was, advanced in favour of the proposal for the nationalisation of the coal industry. I always felt that it was a powerful argument—what I call the Pear's soap argument. Hon. Members will remember the advertisements which used to decorate our railway stations of a chubby lad stretching out for a piece of Pear's soap, with the motto underneath, "He won't be happy till he gets it." I have always felt that that psychological argument in the case of the coal mines was the most powerful argument which could be advanced. It was, however, somewhat belied by the statement with which those who advanced it nearly always used to follow it, which was that Pay-as-you-earn was a great deterrent to the production of coal. From that latter statement it appeared that although the miner was not expected to be happy until he was working full time for the State, the idea of working two or three hours for the State on a Friday afternoon under present conditions made no special appeal to him.
These arguments have never been put forward in the cases of transport or electricity. I have never heard it said that the engine drivers will drive faster, that the trains will be more punctual, or that the porters will be more anxious to serve the public if they feel that they are working for the State. In fact, the only changes that I can envisage from the nationalisation of the railways will be two. There will almost certainly be increased fares, but also there will be, following the precedent set by this honourable House in the case of the dining room staff, no tips for the railway porters. Whether they will greet the Measure with enthusiasm on that ground I do not know, nor do I know whether their anxiety to serve the comfort of the over-burdened traveller will be increased by the thought that they will not receive a 6d. or a shilling at the end of the journey to the taxicab which will probably not be there. So far as electricity is concerned, the case seems to me to be very similar, but I can see no immediate benefits accruing to the ordinary man or woman.
On the other hand, where electricity is concerned, the problems of assessing values for the purposes of compensation will be infinitely more complex because there we have both private enterprise and public municipal enterprise in the field. It is a pity that the best brains in the industries will be bound for the next two or three years to be employed on these problems, which will do nothing to advance the efficiency or the development of these enterprises. It seems to me that only a few political theorists will secure any satisfaction from these measures, and that no benefits will accrue to the ordinary working men and women of this country.
I turn for a few moments to some of the more notable omissions from the Gracious Speech. I should not have complained—in fact, I should well have understood it—had the Gracious Speech contained no legislative projects whatever, except those necessary to restore our national economy at the present time. But what is so curious about these omissions from the Gracious Speech is that legislation on these matters has been so often and so firmly promised by His Majesty's Ministers. The hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) talked about our social insurance schemes. She said that a Bill had been promised dealing with national assistance. That finds no place in the Gracious Speech. There are other matters affecting social insurance which are absolutely vital before those great schemes founded on the Beveridge Report can be operated. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of National Insurance knows perfectly well that some legislation based on the report of the Monckton Committee on alternative remedies is an essential preliminary to the coming into force of either the National Insurance Act or the Industrial Injuries Insurance Act. Shortly, the report of the Monckton Committee is concerned with the relation between damages at common law for negligence on the one hand and social insurance benefits on the other. In a state of affairs where everybody in the whole community is fully insured and is entitled to free hospital treatment, free surgical treatment, free habilitation and so on, important questions arise as to whether somebody who has. received injury as a result of the negligence of another person should be entitled to recover sums from the defendant in respect of treatment and so forth.
It was admitted freely by His Majesty's Ministers that this matter would have to be dealt with before days could be. appointed for the social legislation to come into force. In fact, the Lord Privy Seal went so far as to say, in the course of our Debates on these Bills, that the necessary Amendments would be introduced in another place. Nothing, however, was done. There the matter rests. The Monckton Committee has made its report. There was a dissentient minority amongst the members of the Committee. On the most important matter of all the representatives of the Trades Union Congress—if my recollection is clear— disagreed with their colleagues, and I wonder if the real reason why nothing further has been done is that the Government are unable to act in opposition to the wishes of the Trades Union Congress and in accordance with the majority views of that Committee—
Three? There we are—doctors and lawyers cannot always agree.
There is another matter of immense importance upon which the Gracious Speech is totally silent. The Lord President of the Council, when he was Home Secretary, appointed a Committee under Miss Myra Curtis to inquire into the position of some 120,000 children deprived of a normal home life. The Committee made its report two or three months ago, and the public conscience has been seriously shocked by the condition of affairs which that report discloses. That, I think, is admitted on all sides of the House. Only the other day I asked, supporting the hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. K. Lindsay), that the evidence taken before the Committee should be published. What was the Home Secretary's reply? It was that he regarded this matter as so urgent, and he was so anxious to proceed immediately to tackle the grave condition of affairs disclosed by this report, that he was afraid publication of the evidence would cause some delay. The evidence has, of course, been printed already for the benefit of the members of the Committee. It is simply a matter of putting it through the printing press again, and allowing us to read it. I immediately thought that the Government were bringing in a Bill straightaway and that it would be dealt with in the Gracious Speech.
Will the right hon. Member point out in what respects a Bill is necessary? Cannot this be done in the main by administrative action? Is it not at present done in many of the institutions which are run by Labour councils?
No. There are 65 major recommendations of the Curtis Committee. I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that many of them, if not most of them, will require legislation.
You have indicated, Mr. Speaker, that you are going to give part of a day to consideration of an Amendment on this important topic, and I will confine myself to one or two observations on the main principles which the Committee have enunciated. For my part, I agree with nearly everything contained in the recommendations. I am quite sure that the Committee are right in saying that for deprived children adoption is the course which of all is most to be preferred. I am quite sure, also, that they are right in saying that if adoption cannot be arranged, or is unsuitable for a particular case, a foster home is on the whole better than institutional treatment. But hon. Members will observe that when the Committee deal with institutions they pay high tribute to the great voluntary charitable institutions which have done good work in this field in the past. How different are their recommendations in this regard from the action of the Government in regard to the voluntary hospitals. I hope that the Government will not in this field try to bring all institutional treatment under Government direction and control. These great institutions have done splendid work. From my recollection when I was at the Home Office, where powers of inspection over a great many of these institutions were available, broadly speaking they were serving a very good purpose. There were one or two cases where we had no right of entry on account of full endowments, and no list of annual contributors. I am glad to see that the Committee suggest that that lacuna should be filled.
I also favour the recommendations of the Committee that a single Government Department should be concerned with the supervision of these children's lives and' that a special ad hoc committee of the local authority should be charged with their welfare. I personally am opposed to the idea that these children should be handed over to the care of the education authorities. Education authorities are overburdened with the administration of the new Education Act at present, and my view, as a result of some experience in this field, is that the Home Office is the right Department to take charge of the welfare of these children. The Home Office have had the probation service under their charge now for very many years. They have also had a Children and Young Persons Department which, on the whole, has done most admirable service. I am quite sure the education authorities are not the right authorities to exercise the power, which I think should belong to the Home Secretary alone, of detaining against their will any of His Majesty's subjects. Where children have to be detained in remand homes and approved schools, the Home Secretary is the proper Minister to be answerable to this House for the deprivation of their liberty. This question is pressing and urgent, and it is a matter of great surprise and disappointment to me that it finds no place in the Gracious Speech.
There is another matter upon which a few months ago we were promised a great Measure of reform, a field where reform has long been overdue. That is the field of criminal justice and the treatment of offenders. We had a great Bill, as hon. Members know, making its way through the rather slow procedure of Committee and Report before the war. Unfortunately, it had to be dropped. I was happy three or four months ago to read an article in the "Daily Herald," which I study closely, by the hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn) who, I think, is the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Home Secretary. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I beg his pardon. I did not intend any insult. The article certainly seemed to be an inspired article because, knowing what the sort of proposals which were likely to be put forward in this field were, I was surprised at the accuracy of the hon. Gentleman's knowledge. He foreshadowed that the present Home Secretary was just about to bring in a great Measure of penal reform. There again, we have been led up the garden path. There is nothing whatever in the King's Speech dealing with this vitally important topic.
There is another matter, redistribution of Parliamentary seats. We are informed now that the basis upon which the Boundary Commission have proceeded was in some way unsuitable, and that an amending Measure is to be brought before the House. I should have thought that a matter of sufficient importance—it is a matter of great constitutional importance—to have found its place in the King's Speech. I imagine that if such a Measure is intended to be brought in, and we are assured that it is, it must be included in the Measures referred to in the final phrase:
Other Measures will be laid before you if time permits.
I ask the Government, Are they serious about the redistribution of Parliamentary seats, or are they, in fact, playing for time, and hoping that yet another General Election will be fought on a distribution of seats which seems to me to give them such an unfair advantage?
As I said a little earlier, I am not complaining at these omissions so much as at the fact that these promises have been given and are not being fulfilled. I could well understand the Government taking a grave view of the situation of our economy at the present time and saying, "We cannot undertake any legislation at all; we must use all our efforts to restore the position of Great Britain in the world." My complaint also is that, the situation being grave, the Government should be embarking upon theoretical, but complex, measures of nationalisation which, I think, will confer but little benefit upon the common people of this country.
I want to discuss for a few minutes the position of our administration. By that I do not mean His Majesty's Government but the administrative services by which legislation is carried into practice. The hon. Member for West Renfrew (Mr. Scollan), in a very amusing speech upon the question of taking Private Members' time, said the other day that we had passed 84 Measures in the last Session, and the trouble was that we had not got the staff to carry them out. I believe that our Civil Service is stretched beyond its administrative capacity. During the war, of course, the Civil Service was depleted. Many civil servants went away to do other jobs or to join His Majesty's Forces. At present there are a large number of civil servants, but there are not as many as are required in the higher grades to carry out these difficult tasks which the Government are placing upon them. Time and time again during the war the question arose: Will our administrative machinery stand the strain? It is not the slightest use passing Acts of Parliament, putting duties upon the Civil Service, if the machinery is not there to carry them out and to carry them out efficiently. I remember that more than once during the war that great administrator, perhaps the greatest administrator of our time, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) said to me, "I am very doubtful if our machinery can stand the strain which is being placed upon it."
Hon. Members opposite must realise that there is a limit to what our Civil Service, good as it is, can do. I feel sure that it is stretched at present beyond its capacity and that it is in grave danger of breaking down under the burdens which are being placed upon it. I think one of the troubles is that there are so few Ministers who have had previous administrative experience in Government. After all, one cannot expect right hon. Gentlemen like the Minister of Health and the Minister of Fuel and Power, whose Departments are growing day by day and having heavier and heavier burdens placed upon them, to have very much knowledge of what the Civil Service can or cannot do. Nobody knows, or nobody seems to know, the point beyond which it is unfair and unwise to press our administrative machine. A machine will break down if one tries to drive it too hard.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he agrees with the statement made yesterday by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) that we have got too many civil servants?
Really, it is a question of quality. We have too many civil servants; there are too many unnecessary things being done. There are three or four thousand officials administering petrol rationing alone. There are many spheres in which civil servants could be dispensed with altogether. It is amongst the men at the top, in the administrative and executive grades, where there is a shortage of trained people. That is common knowledge to everybody who knows anything at all about the government of this country.
The hon. Member really ought to know this. There are only a few thousand civil servants in the administrative grades, and that is where there is a shortage at present of trained and skilled men. Of course, there are tens of thousands, hundred of thousands, in the clerical and industrial grades and we could dispense with the services of many of them.
Is it not true that the people in the administrative grades were all recruited during the period between the last two wars when there was a Conservative Administration and that they had ample opportunity to recruit the right type of people and to give them the right type of training but they missed that opportunity?
That is why it is unwise to try to press upon our Civil Service tasks to which it is unequal at the moment. There is another matter which is essential if the Civil Service is to function effectively. Civil servants have often said to me, "We do not mind what Ministers decide. We will serve any party"—as they always do with complete loyalty—"but we do want Ministers to decide something." I feel that many great issues are being shelved either from lack of agreement between Ministers or from lack of agreement between His Majesty's Government and outside bodies.
We are suffering from a lack of decision in the Government. There is no real workmanlike plan regarding the priorities of the tasks before the Government. There is no concentration on the real essential, which is the restoration of our national economy. I must remind hon. Members that the sands of the American Loan are running out and that on 15th July next year we have to make sterling fully convertible. Let Government supporters re-read this leaflet, "Let Us Face The Future." I am afraid they will do so with a sense of bitter irony. The fact is that inexperienced and, in some cases, incompetent Ministers, handicapped by a legacy of their own Election promises, are struggling with problems to which they are unequal. If we emerge from our present troubles it will be in spite of the misguided efforts of His Majesty's Ministers and on account of our traditional capacity for muddling through.
I always listen with great interest to the pleasant dialectics of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake), but to say that hon. Members on this side of the House derive no comfort from the proposals of the King's Speech just is not true. There may be criticisms by hon. Members on this side of the House, criticisms which will be constructive when hon. Members apply their minds to legislation before us during this Session, but at least these criticisms will be positive. As yet, from hon. Members opposite, even during the last Parliamentary Session, we never had the constructive criticism which is so necessary. to a Parliamentary democracy. The right hon. Gentleman has waved "Let Us Face The Future" in our faces, but that document is a positive programme. Hon. Members opposite have failed to give this country a positive alternative. They had a delightful circus at Blackpool some time ago when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) and other right hon. Gentlemen now on the Front Bench opposite indulged in some beautiful rhetoric and political escapism. I do not want to lecture the Opposition. I can only say as an individual Member of this House that they have a long time to learn what to do in Opposition. Until they can offer a positive alternative to "Let Us Face The Future," they will remain effete and out of touch with the needs of British democracy.
The Gracious Speech is positive. There may be omissions—I hope to deal with some myself—but it is a continuation of the legislative programme which we successfully accomplished in the last Parliamentary Session. We are working to create a planned economy. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Leeds said, they had no planning in their form of Government before the war. The right hon. Gentleman ridiculed the Socialist plans for a Utopia. The trouble before the war was that Britain under Conservative Party leadership had no plans at all.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I hope he will not get wrong what, in fact, I said. I did not say that the Conservative Government before the war had no plan. I said they were not planning a Socialist Utopia.
I have yet to hear whether the Conservative Party had a plan. I understand that that was why, during the war, a Tory reform committee was sponsored to try to make the official Conservative Party adopt a course of planning. If there is any planning from the Tory point of view, I believe that its logical expression is State capitalism, which is Fascism. The King's Speech does outline further legislation to cover a wide field of public ownership. In the Gracious Speech there are plans for electricity and transport, and these proposals have been criticised in some detail by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Leeds.
The problem to which I want to draw attention is the effect the proposals of the Government will have on the British Constitution. An eminent legal writer, Professor Berriedale-Keith, discussing the effect of wartime legislation on the British Constitution, used the words "a Constitution under strain." I think, that that term is even more apposite and applicable now. In the transition from war to peace, the Constitution has to face the impact of revolutionary legislation. This impact is even more felt in the field of local government. The legislation envisaged in this Session will have a profound effect upon our local government machine. The local authorities have special interest in electricity and transport. In the year before the war, the local authorities sup- plied two-thirds of the population's supply of electricity. They owned approximately two-fifths of the nation's tram, trolley, and bus services. These local government services will all have to be fitted into the general pattern of public ownership. Again, in the Gracious Speech, we have mention of the National Fire Service. A Bill, I understand, is to be introduced to hand back the fire services taken over during the war to the local authorities, Again, local authorities, will have a power to commence civic restaurants.
This House must seriously consider the question whether we can implement the legislation sketched by the King's Speech effectively through the present local government machine, or, again, whether the present local government set-up can meet the demands of a planned economy. I do not think it can. A local government structure which has hardly changed from its 19th century form cannot possibly cater for the needs of a 20th century Britain. In the last Parliamentary Session, the Minister of Health had to face the difficulty. A great new health service could not be administered by the existing local government bodies. In the Minister's examination of the local government hospital system, he remarked, and I quote from HANSARD:
Many of the local authorities in Great Britain have never been able to exercise their hospital powers. They are too poor; they are too small.
And the right hon. Gentleman further remarked:
I have decided that the local authorities could not be effective hospital administration units."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 30th April, 1946; Vol. 422, c. 48–49.]
So the right hon. Gentleman sponsored a new regional authority. The process was inevitable. Again, if I may, with some temerity, refer to the recent demand of Welsh Members of Parliament in the Debate on the White Paper for Wales and Monmouthshire, I would say that the problems of the Principality may partly be solved by some recasting of the machinery of local government and a readjustment of its relation with the Central Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvonshire (Mr. G. Roberts), in that Debate, pleaded eloquently for democratic devolution. I think that his view had the sympathy of the Minister of Health. There is a need for a close examination
of the local government machine with a view to devolution. The more legislation sponsored by the Government, the more urgent becomes the demand for radical reform. This demand will be further emphasised by the redistribution of population which will necessarily follow as the Government vigorously implement the Distribution of Industry Act, which was passed by the Coalition Government during the war.
I was specially pleased to see that, in the King's Speech, there was mention of the needs of the Development Areas. I happen to represent a constituency which lies in the small but exceedingly important Development Area of West Cumberland. With new planning, new factories, and new workers, we shall have to face in that area new centres of population. Again, some changes will, no doubt, take place in the other Development Areas of Durham, Scotland and South Wales. Local authorities in these Development Areas have tremendous tasks ahead. They will have to offer new basic services for a new economy. The local authorities in these areas are doing a fine job, and they have received considerable help even under the Distribution of Industry Act, but, in many cases, the strictures of the Ministry of Health on our hospital set-up are equally applicable to the field of industrial planning.
I say that reform of local government is urgent. Without this reform, Bills presented by Ministers in the present Session will have to face serious difficulties. I think it is unfair to ask a Minister to include in a Bill dealing with a specific public service, measures to circumvent the anomalies of local administration. Such methods of expediency and piecemeal legislation are against sound planning. Moreover, we must see that progressive legislation, as contained in the King's Speech, is not stifled and strangled by a Victorian administrative set-up. Why should the 1888 Act relating to county councils still remain sacrosanct? There are many anomalies in the field of local government, and they are known to every hon. Member on all sides of the House. Before the war, I was myself a member of a local authority in the County of Durham—the Easington Rural District Council. That local authority caters for a population of 90,000 people. Inside that rural district authority there are large towns which are, for certain administra- tive purposes, only parts of parish councils. All over the country that picture is repeated; there are anomalies in the power, size and wealth of local authorities.
Some hon. Members may argue that the reform of local government will only strengthen the hands of the Executive and central Government. There may be some substance in such an argument, but a 20th century Britain cannot afford the luxury of an inefficient local government system A reform of local government would strengthen democracy rather than hinder it. To my mind, democracy does not mean the preservation of archaisms and institutions which have become obsolete. Democracy must be dynamic and not static. I think it is essential that we should preserve the best in our present system. We could still preserve the good parts of local government and develop the machinery of local government. There will be opposition against any attempt at radical reform. The vested interests of local government transcend political barriers. I would ask the Government, and particularly the Minister of Health, to have courage in this field. I am certain that the vast majority of public-spirited men and women now serving on local authorities would welcome radical reform, a reform which would still preserve the spirit of public service and civic pride. I appeal to these people to consider the question of recasting our whole local government system.
Last Sunday week was Mayors' Sunday. I think, if I may parody a world famous phrase, that a fitting message for Mayors' Sunday might well have been, "Mayors of Britain, unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains." I wish to strengthen local government by reform. After all, we all agree that it is the basis of our democracy; it offers a check to bureaucracy. The delegation of responsibility widens the people's share of responsibility in government. We on this side of the House have never advocated a ruling class of civil servants sitting at Whitehall. Our movement has tremendous roots in the field of local government. Many hon. Members, both back and front benchers, have served their political apprenticeship in the field of local government. For that reason, we wish local government to gain in strength, but that strength will only be accomplished if Parliament has the courage to usher in a radical reform. Therefore, I wish that there had been some specific mention of local government reform in the King's Speech. It is so vital to the success of that legislation and to the success of the social revolution which we have set out to accomplish. What shape that reform should take is a matter of conjecture. Should it be regionalisation or, perhaps, a traditional British compromise between the present form of local government and regionalisation? I, personally, would welcome a Royal Commission to investigate the reform of local government in all its aspects. I know that it is the fashion nowadays to ask for a Royal Commission, but I believe that an investigation by a Royal Commission into local government reform is even more necessary and more urgent than a Royal Commission to inquire into the Press monopoly.
I was very interested in what the hon. and gallant Member for Workington (Capt. Peart) said about local government. He questioned whether the present local government structure was capable of carrying out the functions which it has to carry out under modern conditions, and I agree with him that it is not. For example, I think that many local authorities are quite incapable of bearing the burdens which have been placed upon them by the Minister of Health in his present housing policy. That is one of our principal complaints against that policy, and the reason why we think that houses will not be built as quickly as they otherwise could be. Local authorities generally are not equipped to carry out the immense burdens which have been placed on them in that respect.
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but does he not agree that these burdens actually existed before the war? It is not just a question of Socialist legislation. Even before the war, many pieces of legislation imposed burdens, and because of the nature of the local government set-up, that legislation was often frustrated.
I entirely agree with the hon. and gallant Member. I am not seeking to invalidate his argument; I am supporting it. I mentioned that point as an example of the way in which local authorities are being overburdened at the present time, an example which I think I am entitled to give in the light of the remarks he has just made.
I will now turn to one or two other matters. I want to refer to a remark recently made by the Lord President of the Council and to discuss it in relation to a matter to which no reference is made in the Gracious Speech. The Lord President is reported to have said; in a public speech, that the central economic problem facing this country at the present time was that of reconciling planning with freedom. I believe that very few people on these benches would dissent from that remark, though some might disagree as to what constitutes planning and what constitutes freedom, and as to where planning ends and freedom begins. I certainly believe in the kind of strategic planning which seeks to mark out the direction in which enterprise can most profitably be employed, while facilitating the employment of and giving an ample measure of freedom to enterprise itself, which is the motive power without which the whole economic machine would come to a standstill.
What I would like to ask the Lord President and other Members of the Government is, How is it possible to have real strategic planning at the present time in the absence of a wages policy? There is no indication in the Gracious Speech that the Government are intending to turn their attention to that matter. During Question time the other day, an hon. Member opposite said, on the subject of clothes, "We cannot live on wartime rations for ever." It seems to me that that is exactly what we shall have to do. At the present time, we are short of workers in some of the most vital industries in the country, and there is no indication at the moment that the necessary number of workers is being guided, or is likely to be guided, into those channels in which they are most urgently required. We are told that we are short of coalminers, brickmakers, foundry workers and textile workers. It, is very difficult to see how, under conditions of full employment—and, as far as I am aware, this is really the first time that we have had the experience of full employment in this country, except in wartime—a sufficient number of people are going to be induced to undertake the dirty and unpleasant jobs which have to be done when they can earn just as much, or more, by doing jobs which are tar easier and pleasanter.
Therefore, it seems to me that in the absence of a wages policy, we are entering an era when there will be plenty of work and money for everybody, but in which we are all going to be short of coal, houses and clothes. I do not believe that it is any use expecting or relying on the good sense of individual groups of employers and trade unionists to enable these things to settle themselves without some kind of guidance from the Government. If, for example, some particular group of trade union leaders had the necessary forbearance to refrain from pressing for an increase in wages in their own industry, on the ground that such an increase would bring the wage rates in that industry out of relation with those prevailing in some other industry which they recognised to be more highly skilled or more vital in the national interest, they would be immediately attacked by unscrupulous people, who are seeking to capture the unions, on the ground that they were not doing their best for the people whose interests they were supposed to be serving. In my view, their position would quickly be rendered completely untenable, unless they were buttressed and supported by some kind of agreed and concerted policy. For that reason I think it is a great pity that the Government are showing no disposition to grasp that awkward nettle It is an awkward nettle, and I am sorry they are not showing any disposition to grasp it firmly.
There is one other point to which I want to refer, and that is the nationalisation of transport and electricity. As I understand it, there are two main arguments which are put forward by hon. and right hon. Members opposite in favour of nationalisation at the present time. The first is one that has already been very well dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake), namely, the psychological argument, the argument that the people in a nationalised industry will all work far better and much harder and more cheerfully and contentedly if working for the community than if they were working for a private employer. That was, in fact, the principal argument put forward in favour of nationalising the coal industry. Personally, although I always doubted the efficacy of the remedy, I was quite prepared to admit that, in view of the long unhappy history of that industry, of the bad industrial relationships that prevailed between employers and employed over a large number of years, quite a strong case could be made out for the nationalisation of the industry on psychological grounds, though I am bound to say that the first results of that policy hardly seem to justify some of the extravagant hopes which were placed in it by many of those who advocated it.
But, surely, no one can say that the same considerations apply to transport and electricity. I know that there have been one or two railway strikes here and there, and disputes, and so on, from time to time; but taking those two services or industries as a whole, I should have said that the industrial relations have been pretty good over a long period of time—certainly incomparably better, than they have been in the coal mining industry; and that. therefore, the psychological argument could not have been put forward with any real force at all.
The second argument that is put forward is that nationalisation is necessary in order that the Government may be able to control the strategic policy of industry in general, and of the nationalised industries in particular. But it seems to me that the Government have themselves already very largely destroyed the basis of that argument by reason of the second thoughts which they have apparently had in relation to their plans for the iron and steel industry; because there they have apparently reached the conclusion—with which I wholeheartedly agree—that it is perfectly possible to carry through some scheme of reorganisation, to achieve a partnership between the Government and the industry, which will give the Government quite sufficient control over the policy of the industry by a method which falls short of complete public ownership.
I should have thought it was perfectly clear that the Government are making no immediate effort to carry through the proposals which they announced some time ago, when they said they were going to nationalise certain parts of the industry. They have, in the meantime, appointed a board to carry through the process of reorganisation. When they appointed the board they specifically agreed that it should not be required to pay any attention to the question of nationalisation. That was to be ruled out until a much later date, when they had made up their mind what, if anything, they were going to do about it.
Will the hon. Member forgive me? May I suggest to him that the interim board has been set up for the purpose of preventing hon. Members like himself from saying that, by the time nationalisation comes forward, the Government have done nothing to promote modernisation being carried out in the interim period, and that that is the board's job?
The hon. Member can have his own opinion as to why that board was set up. The point that I am trying to make is, that the Government set up the board for the purpose of reorganisation;, though it should be quite clear that they have considered it possible to carry through that programme, and to achieve the sort of partnership that we advocate between the State and industry, by a method which falls short of State ownership. In other words, they do not consider it is necessary to nationalise an industry before one can do anything and can go forward on the real policy of reorganisation and re-equipment. That is the whole of our position, and that is the point I am trying to make, and the Government have clearly admitted that, by the policy they are pursuing in relation to iron and steel.
Therefore, it seems to me that both the two arguments put forward by hon. and right hon. Members opposite in favour of nationalisation at the present time fall completely to the ground. It seems that these projected measures are going to be a complete waste of time. Not only that, but, by reason of the fact that they will occupy so much of the time and energies of so many people, who could be far more usefully employed in dealing with the urgent and immediate practical problems of the day, they will mean that the people of this country are to be condemned to suffer shortages of the principal necessities and amenities of life for far longer than would otherwise be necessary.
First, I should like to allay the anxieties of the hon. Member for West Harrow (Mr. Bower) by assuring him that the Government have every intention of nationalising the iron and steel industry during the lifetime of the present Parliament. Second, I should like to reply on one point to what the right hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) said about electricity supply. The right hon. Member said, as far as I understood him, that the idea of nationalising the electricity supply industry was one which came from political theorists. But, surely, he knows that almost every expert body which has inquired into this industry in the last 10 years has reported that we can only get technical progress and proper reorganisation if we integrate the present innumerable units of all sorts and sizes and ownerships into one organisation under Government control. Surely, he knows that his right hon. Friend and colleague the Member for the City of London (Sir A. Duncan), who is so seldom with us, has always been a believer in reorganisation of the electricity supply industry on those lines. I do not know whether the right hon. Member for North Leeds regards him as a political theorist, but that is his view.
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me? Of course, most of us who have studied this question are familiar with the proposals of the McGowan Committee, which did not involve unification under' State ownership. As regards the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London, I cannot imagine whence the hon. Gentleman got his information, because my information and knowledge is directly to the contrary.
I think we can agree that those two Members have very different views on this subject. In general, I have been struck, while listening to the speeches of hon. Members opposite in this Debate, by the contradiction between the policy they advocate in home affairs and the policy they advocate for foreign affairs. For instance, they criticise the Government for their lax administration in Germany and their failure to keep the economic and food situation under control there; but in home policy apparently they still advocate a general relaxation of controls. This contradiction appeared in the speech of the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), who wanted to send to Germany a major Minister with a full staff, and then complained that we have too many civil servants. To my mind the right hon. Member for North Leeds made the contradiction worse to-day by saying that in some grades of the Civil Service, at any rate, we have too few civil servants.
It also seemed to me that the remarks of the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington about the food situation in Germany were quite out of tune with the spirit of what the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) said in his opening speech on the subject of the food problem generally. The fact of the matter is that we shall never solve the German problem, in which food is the absolutely basic element, unless we retain control of the food supply situation in this country, and unless we are able to obtain increased wheat supplies from across the Atlantic. The food situation, as the Chancellor of the Duchy said yesterday, is absolutely basic for the whole situation in Germany. It is no good talking about de Nazification, democracy, efficiency of administration and so on, if people have no food.
When you have a country, as the British zone of Germany now is, where the people are almost entirely dependent, in the industrial areas anyway, on one particular staple foodstuff, wheat, all other efforts and all other reforms will be of no avail unless we can maintain at least a reasonable food ration. We can not do that, as I think everybody here will admit, unless increased supplies of wheat are obtained from across the Atlantic. I believe, although the Chancellor told us that the food situation in the British zone is, in the short run, happily better, it is still very serious, and we ought now to abandon the conspiracy of silence which was allowed to cover this subject last winter. It is by no means certain that we shall not be faced with a situation in Germany in the next few months in which there is no food at all for perhaps 10 or 15 million people.
We all know how this situation has arisen. It has been said again and again in this Debate that it is mainly due to the failure of the other signatories of the Potsdam Agreement to honour their undertakings for the pooling of economic resources between the zones. What I want to emphasise today is that this situation is basic to the whole German problem, and it can only be solved, and therefore the whole German problem can only be solved, if there is a continuation of the most stringent control and economy in food supplies here and, at any rate to some extent, in the United States.
It is for that reason, because the food situation in Central Europe really is and is likely to remain a great human tragedy rather than a matter of political controversy, that I regret the partisan and, it seems to me, irresponsible attitude exhibited by the Opposition towards this world food problem in the last 15 months. One might have thought, faced with a great human tragedy like this, that we should have had a non-party and statesmanlike attitude. Instead of that, whenever the Government have taken steps to control, to economise and to plan our own immediate food resources, we have had reckless if not hysterical attacks from the party opposite and also from the newspapers which support them. The most reckless and notorious of those attacks was the decision of the Opposition to oppose bread rationing. That decision has brought upon them not merely long-term discredit, as we all knew it would, but it has now brought upon them short-term discredit as well.
I would absolve, I think, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington from having taken much part in that campaign. His speeches become less and less Conservative every time he makes them, and I was particularly interested yesterday to hear him repudiate the decision of his party to oppose bread rationing. He said, as hon. Members will remember, that he, and some of his supporters anyway, favoured controls in the case of any commodity which was short. I suppose hon. Members on that side are not denying that there is a wheat shortage in the world. In that case I can only take the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington as having endorsed the Government's policy of bread rationing. Since he is not here today, perhaps some other Members of the Opposition, who have come in such force to express their sympathy with the harassed housewife today, will tell us whether in that respect he was speaking merely for himself or for the rest of his party.
I am afraid I cannot add my congratulations, however, to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson). He has made many contributions to this food controversy in the last 12 months, but they have contributed neither to the solution nor, I think, to the understanding of the problem. He has contradicted himself repeatedly. In a Debate here on 4th April he told the House that the whole trouble in the world, the whole cause of the wheat shortage, was the feeding of grain to animals; but when the Government in less than two months decided to raise the extraction rate in order to divert wheat from animals to human beings, he attacked the Government throughout his speech on 18th June here for having diminished the supplies of grain available to animals in this country. In another speech here on 4th July he told us that the bread rationing scheme would not save an appreciable quantity of wheat. But this time he was contradicted by the facts, and he did not have to wait very long. As we all know, the bread rationing scheme has in fact saved, even on the admission of the bakers, something like 10 or 15 per cent. of consumption over the whole period, and that was of course largely because of reduced feeding to animals.
The right hon. Member for Woodford has, I think, been more consistent. But he has unfortunately been consistently wrong. In a speech which he made at Blackpool on 8th October, which I think hon. Members on both sides of the House will remember, he made the categorical statement on food that at no time in the two world wars have our people had so little bread, meat, butter, cheese and fruit to eat. In the case of four out of those five commodities the right hon. Gentleman was completely wrong. The fact is that the meat ration today is 2d. higher than at any time since January, 1941. Cheese remains as it was fixed in 1944. Butter remains at the level fixed in 1941, and fruit imports are actually 12 times as
high as they were during 1943. Nevertheless, although that statement was completely wrong in four cases out of five, the right hon. Gentleman repeated it in his opening speech in this Debate. He said:
In the first year of peace it is worse than it was in the last year of war."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th November, 1946; Vol. 430, c 30]
He was speaking of the food situation. He went on to ask for facts and figures to be produced, apparently to prove his case. I have given the facts and figures, and as the right hon. Gentleman is not here, perhaps one of his numerous colleagues on the Front Bench will withdraw that statement on his behalf before this Debate is over.
The plain fact—and this is the main point I want to make before I sit down—is that if you take into account all the chief food commodities, both those whose consumption has gone up since the war and those whose consumption has gone down, and take the whole population, there is no doubt that this country is better fed than it has ever been before. [Interruption.]Hon. Members opposite show by their interruption that they are not very intimately informed on this subject. If they are unable to discover the facts from their contact with the ordinary people of this country, I suggest they look at the published figures.
If that is so, will the hon. Member say why it is that the miners and other groups of workers are continually asking for more meat, and how it is that they are not all full up with food?
I said that the country was better fed than before the war. I did not say that everyone was as well fed as he would like to be. It so happened that they were so badly fed under the Conservative Government before the war that they can be much better fed now without having all they want.
Does the hon. Member seriously contend that the miners and other heavy workers are better fed? Does he not read the papers? One of the complaints is that they cannot get the food which they got before the war.
I meant exactly what I said, and if the noble Lord had waited for a moment I was going to give the facts to prove it. The facts are that the country as a whole are consuming today more liquid milk, more bread, even with rationing, more fish, more jam and marmalade, more potatoes, more dried fruit and more beer. Although I know the quality is lower, we are consuming 30 per cent. more beer than before the war. I could go on to give other individual instances, such as cheese, coffee and cocoa. In the case of liquid milk, and this is a point which hon. Members opposite might do well to note, consumption is 50 per cent. higher today than before the war. That is because in the years before the war, under Tory Governments, there was mass unemployment in many areas, and the unemployed and their families were in fact not drinking milk at all. I will give one further instance, which the noble Lord in particular might listen to and meditate upon. The consumption of liquid milk for South Wales and the North-East coast together is three times what it was.
Can the hon. Member answer my specific question? Why is it that the miners and everyone else in the heavy industries are complaining that they cannot get the food which they obtained before the war? No one denies that there has been an improvement in some respects, but will he answer that specific question?
Yes, Sir, if one can answer a question which implies a fallacy. The answer is that it is not true, and that the miners are not saying that they cannot get as much food as they got before the war. Like many others, they are saying that they would like even more than they are getting today. If I had more time I could give the figures for the total increases in consumption. For instance, the consumption of potatoes is up by 100 per cent. Hon. Members can read the figures in the official Monthly Statistical Digest, and I do not need to give them today. I will mention one further fact, which even the noble, Lord might take note of, and that is that the figures for infant mortality, which are given in the Official Report of the Chief Medical Officer of Health. That Report confirms the statement which I have made that the country as a whole is better fed than before the war. These figures show, and they cannot be denied, that infant mortality has fallen heavily in practically every big industrial town since before the war. I think it is true that the figures have never fallen so heavily in any period of seven to eight years as in the last eight years. The simple fact is that with higher wages, and with equitable distribution and control of food, fewer babies die. That is a fact which some people knew without having to learn it from figures.
The reason why we have been able to build up and maintain this very fine standard of nutrition in a world of shortages and difficulties of every kind, is because we have maintained the system of rationing, and price controls, which apparently hon. Members opposite, excepting the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington, wish to sweep away. The fact is, as we all know, that the chief danger to the standard of nutrition and the food supplies in this country and in the British zone of Germany is the reckless abandonment of controls in the United States. For that reason, I say that when hon. Members opposite criticise the administration in the British zone and at the same time argue in favour of sweeping away food controls here, they really do not carry very much conviction.
I hope that the hon. Member who has just sat down will forgive me if I do not answer at once some of the points he has raised. I have noted some of them further down my list. Mr. Speaker has told us that we can range over a wide field in this Debate. I will not go into too much detail, but I shall take this occasion, which is one of the few opportunities given to the House of Commons, to discuss questions of fundamental principles.
There is one omission from the Gracious Speech which I note, and that is the sentence which appeared in previous Gracious Speeches:
My relations with foreign Powers continue to be friendly.
The hon. and gallant Member for Workington (Captain Peart) referred to the question of how the policy of this Government was affecting the Constitution of the country. I say quite definitely that it is undermining the Constitution of the country. I want to get back to some basic principles. Across the Division Lobby, just outside this Chamber, there is what is called the "Moses Room." I
do not know whether hon. Members had seen that wonderful picture of Moses coming down from the mountain, carrying a tablet of stone "written with the finger of God." There is also a similar tablet in St. Stephen's Chapel. We in Britain have no written Constitution. Our Constitution is based on the Ten Commandments, as fulfilled and explained in the four Gospels. I maintain very strongly that unless men and nations get back to those principles and make them the practical politics of the day the alternative is atomic destruction.
That great thinker and provoker of thought Dean Inge, has written this:
The right to Life and Liberty and the enjoyment of property lawfully come by and conscientiously used have for 2,000 years been regarded as the natural rights secured by the Law of Nature which is older and more sacred than any human enactments. A Government which transgresses these natural rights has no moral claim on the obedience of its citizens.
I say that the legislation in the King's Speech and all the legislation of this Government is transgressing the natural rights of man. The last phrase in the Gracious Speech is the most important of all. Upon it depends the whole of the Gracious Speech:
I pray that Almighty God may give his blessings to your counsels
How can we ask for the blessings of Almighty God upon our counsels with all the legislation of His Majesty's Government which is transgressing the natural law? The Debate, of which I have heard a good deal, has been conducted as if things were more or less normal all over the world. The fact is that the world is faced with the biggest crisis of all time. There is a wave of anti-Christ and anarchy all over the world; riots, terrorism in Palestine, murders in India, unofficial strikes causing inconvenience to thousands of people in this country—[An HON. MEMBER: "And in America."]—and in America—and to face this very serious crisis, the biggest in the world's history, Britain has a third eleven of men who do not know the rules of the game, batting in the biggest test match of all time.
If this Government were to pass an Act that the sun should rise in the West and set in the East, we should say that they were mad, but it is an equally flagrant breach of the natural law to deprive men, unduly, of their freedom. I would ask hon. Members on all sides of the House, in all seriousness, to read an article by Mr. James Gibson Jarvie in the "Daily Graphic" today—one of the most remarkable articles published about the mortal danger of State control which I have yet seen.
If an individual, a family, or a nation through its Government, applies sound principles, the results will be inevitably good; apply the reverse, and the results will be inevitably disastrous. The principles applied by this Government are bad and will bring this country to disaster. They are making the same mistake that Hitler made Hitler made the mistake of putting God on one side and making the State God. and the whole of the policy of this Government is based on materialism and will bring disaster to our people. We are approaching, as I see it, a repetition of the 1931 crisis. I would remind hon. Members how near we were to the precipice in those days. I can speak with some authority about that, because I had the honour of being closely connected with Mr. Neville Chamberlain. I would remind the House of something which Mr. Ramsay MacDonald said after the two years of Coalition Government, when speaking at Kilmarnock on 22nd September, 1933, about the crises of 1929 end 1931. He said:
Two years ago the problem that we had to face was not merely the question of the distribution of wealth; it was the question of the existence of the wealth itself.
That is true today
One of our finest Englishmen Lord Grey of Fallodon, writing to "The Times" on 3rd October, 1931, said of that crisis:
My own belief is that the policy of the present Socialist Opposition would lead to national ruin and consequent distress and suffering, such as this country has never yet seen, and the severity of which is immeasurable.
I say that those words are true of His Majesty's Government today.
War, pestilence and distress among nations are not God's fault; they are the fault of man for refusing to obey God's law. The trouble today with the world is that there is a wave going to the Left. [An HON. MEMBER: "A tidal wave."] It may be a tidal wave which will swamp the world and bring disaster. I would remind the House that the Latin for the "Left" is sinister and for the "Right" is dexter.The only remedy for the problem with which Britain and the world are faced today is for individuals and nations—this is an important point—of their own free will to do first their duty towards God, and then their duty towards their neighbours. It must be of their own free will. We cannot compel men to do that by Acts of Parliament or by international conference.
I want to ask this question: What are the real intention and the policy of His Majesty's Government as foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech? [An HON. MEMBER: "To carry out the Election programme."] The real intention is power; to get power over the people. There is the revolt of the back benchers on foreign policy. I have had no private information, but I understand that those who revolted are going to have disciplinary action taken against them, which is the kind of method employed in Russia, and which was employed in Germany by Hitler. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about Captain Margesson?"] I had a Debate in the Co-operative Hall at Manchester last Sunday week, and there is nothing which hon. Members can do in the way of interruption which is anything like what they can do there. This country would not stand for that.
I saw the Lord President of the Council in the royal procession through the Royal Gallery, and I was glad to see a Socialist in the King's procession. I wondered to what extent the Lord President would agree with Prof. Laski, writing of the Labour Party and the Constitution, when he declared:
No one can doubt that the existence of the Monarchy makes the realisation of Socialism a peculiarly difficult venture. A monarchy and a Socialist democracy are not in the long run easily compatible.
That is why I said, at the beginning of my speech, that the policy of the present Government, if they dare to carry it out, is to undermine the Constitution of the country. I have asked what is the real intention of the Government, and I want to bring that question down to a practical, concrete example. When the President of the Board of Trade was a freelance demagogue, he wrote:
The Socialist Government's first step will be to call Parliament together at the earliest moment and place before it an Emergency Powers Bill to be passed through all its stages on the first day This Bill will be wide enough
in its terms to allow what will be immediately necessary to be done by Ministerial orders. These orders must be incapable of challenge in the Courts. At the present time, it is left to the Courts to decide whether these Ministerial orders are within the powers given by Parliament. This power must be taken from the Court."—
I ask the House, it that is not Hitlerism and dictatorship, what is? —
We have got to seize the economic citadel of capitalism, including finance and the land, which is absolutely vital, and which is the only alternative form of investment. When we have got these we can take the basic industries of the country.
I would add here that the hon. and gallant Member for Workington referred to changes that might be necessary in the working of local government. I world refer him to the advice given by his leader, the Prime Minister, who, elaborating his Socialist plans for local government, wrote:
What is required is a regional authority having jursidiction over a number of existing local government areas The regional authority should be a commissioner. He is not impartial. He is a Socialist rather like the Russian plan of Commissars.
So we have the President of the Board of Trade trying to emulate Hitler's methods and the Prime Minister advocating Russian methods. Although the President of the Board of Trade and the Government could not carry out their policy by having an Emergency Powers Act passed on the first day, that is, in fact, what the Government's policy is. They are taking by compulsion all the real wealth of the country. Hon. Gentlemen opposite know the list, as well as. I do, of what they are taking, or what they are going to take—coal, the railways, iron and steel, gas and electricity, cable and wireless, and so on. I have said that the Government want power. They are taking by compulsion all the real wealth of the country and giving in exchange pieces of paper which are not negotiable; and when they have got all the real wealth of the country, through the Measures in this Gracious Speech—I hope there will not be another one delivered with the present Government in power—what is to stop them tearing up that paper and making it worthless, and even if they have not the courage to do that, and so carry out their principles, what is to stop inflation running riot, and the paper becoming worthless, as it did in Germany after the first World War?
I do not know whether hon. Members have read one of the most remarkable books of our generation, a book which it is a duty we owe to this generation and future generations to read—"The Road to Serfdom, "by Dr. Hayek. One of the chapters is entitled, "Why the worst gets to the top."[Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite may laugh, but I would like to tell them of an experience I had a fortnight ago in a large town in the Midlands. I had the honour of addressing a big meeting, and I happened to notice two very big men sitting in the front row. What I said to the meeting, briefly, was to attack the closed shop. I said that if it were carried out, it would mean an end to trade unionism, and that I was in favour of decent trade unionism and bargaining. I said the closed shop would be another step down the totalitarian road, and that it was run by irresponsible shop stewards who were influenced by Communist propaganda and, no doubt, were paid with Communist money. That, roughly, was what I said.
When the meeting was over, those two big men advanced on me. I thought I was "for it." They said, "You have attacked the shop stewards." I repeated my remarks to them. They said, "We are two of them, and we agree with everything you had to say. You gentlemen in London do not understand what is behind this closed shop business. It means, first, you cannot get your living unless you hold one trade union card; second, you cannot get your living unless you hold the Socialist Party ticket; and third, you cannot get your living unless, you hold a Communist Party ticket." That is what those two shop stewards said to me in the Midlands about ten days ago. They said, "We are Socialists, but we are not Communists like this Government." They said, "Hitler and Stalin got their way by forcible means—concentration camps and prisons and blood baths. This Government is trying to get the same ends by different means." Those two shop stewards made me give my word that I would not give them away because of victimisation and their position and job. What is the good of hanging eleven Nazis at Nuremberg if we do not eradicate the reasons and the cause of their crime? There is no difference in principle between the policy of the Nazis and the policy of this Government. It will not be long before the Government, if there is any justice in the world, find themselves in the dock at the Old Bailey.
An hon. Member has spoken about the world shortage of wheat. I am told by one of the leading produce brokers in the City of London that there is no world shortage of wheat. There are three processes involved—production, manufacture, and distribution—and the one process that has broken down under State control is distribution. No civil servant or body of civil servants in Whitehall, or in the Ministry of Food, can possibly give orders to control the detailed distribution of our food. That brings me to the question of bulk purchases. [Interruption.] I am trying to make a speech, the sentiments of which come from the bottom of my heart, and in which I believe firmly. Government supporters sitting there on the other side of the House are nearly getting up to the level of what occurred at the Cooperative Hall, Manchester. They should sit there and give me a chance.
Bulk purchases are one of the main reasons for the maldistribution of food. If the Government send the Lord President of the Council, Sir Ben Smith, and the present Minister of Food, flying over to America, to ask the American Government for help, we advertise to the whole world that there are 45 million people short of food, or, at any rate, the Government think they are. What is the strongest instinct in every human breast? It is self-preservation. Everybody all over the world who has any food at all first of all thinks of putting some aside for their own use or their wives and children and the next thing they do is to hold the remainder back for higher prices.
I am not saying it is in accordance with the Ten Commandments, but that is what is being done. "We are neither children nor Gods but men in a world of men," as Kipling wrote. If only the produce brokers of the world were allowed to conduct the distribution of food through normal business channels, what food there was could have been distributed equitably and, what is more important; without introducing bread rationing and petrol rationing and engendering international heat. I am told by a representative of one of the biggest oil companies in this country that before the war it was considered adequate for us here to have one month's reserve of petroleum products. We have now four months' reserve of petroleum products, and the real reason these controls are kept on is that the Government can keep their power over the people to inflict on them all this diabolical legislation.
I want to refer to two speeches made on 5th November, one by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade and the other by the Secretary for Overseas Trade. I have read those two speeches very carefully and they are a complete condemnation of the policy of the Socialist party. Now that those gentlemen and their colleagues have got the responsibility of office they have to face facts and the truth, and they are singing a different tune from what they sang at the General Election. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade said this on 5th November:
For many years before the war began, we had maintained in this country a standard of living higher than in most other places …. That was due, to a very considerable extent, to the work of the industries of this country throughout the 19th century—
and I might add here under free enterprise—
when they were the first in the field, and when they made investments abroad which brought, year by year, a considerable income of free imports, hundreds of millions of pounds worth of goods for which we did not have to pay by exporting out of the country. That, and the earnings of the merchant navy, were responsible for quite a large slice of our prewar imports. In fact, we could say that, setting one set of figures against another,—
and I would ask hon. Members to note these figures carefully—
all our wheat, all our meat, all our wool, all our cotton, and all our tobacco came into this country for nothing; in other words, the total volume of the interest on overseas assets was sufficient to have paid for the whole of that import programme."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th November, 1946; Vol. 428, c. 1240–1.]
And yet the President of the Board of Trade is closing the Liverpool Cotton Exchange, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer is doing all he can to destroy that wonderful service given by the City of London, the City of Manchester, the City of Liverpool and other big business centres. The men operating these big business centres are looked upon as gamblers and
as profiteers, but the fact is that the creation of these invisible exports did bring in, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade said, all these commodities which I have just mentioned without us having to export any physical goods against them. That is what the Government are trying to destroy.
Lately, we have had meetings to celebrate I think possibly the centenary, although I am not quite sure, of the Fabian Society. The Fabian Society, in my opinion, by their policy, did more harm to the trade and industry of this country than anyone else. For once in their lifetime the Fabian Society saw the light and told the truth when they wrote this in a pamphlet, "A Word on the Future to British Socialists":
We depend not only for the standards of living to which we have been accustomed, but for any standard that will keep us alive, on a large and flourishing international commerce. It is a mere mirage to suppose that we can exist on our own foodstuffs and our own domestically produced raw materials. In the past we have paid for these and other imports with our exports. But even before the present war we were no longer doing this on a sufficient scale. We were living on capital. If there had been no war, we could not have gone on in that way indefinitely, and the possibility of our continuing to live in that way has disappeared.
Is it any wonder that now the Ministers of the Crown, after 15 months of responsibility in office, are screaming for exports, though they never say, or at least I have never heard them say, that we must export at world competitive prices? I would ask hon. Members in all parts of the House to remember this fact, that Britain is the one country which is not and cannot become self-supporting. In order to live we have to import from a third to one-half of our food and raw materials. With the bulk of our overseas investments gone in the cause of freedom, today we have to export at world competitive prices or starve. I am supported in this connection by what the present Foreign Secretary said on 4th April, 1944:
I. as an old Trade Union official do not want £10 a week if I can only buy £2 of stuff with it. I would rather have £5, with which I could buy £5 of stuff.
He also said:
We have lost our oversea investments, pawned them, sold them, and depreciated them, and after the war we shall have to live on our annual production year by year.
So unless the people of this country are prepared to work just as hard as is necessary to export goods and services at world competitive prices, we are faced with starvation. The sellers' market, I am told authoritatively from big export merchants, is rapidly coming to an end. And, as the right hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) has said, next July the American and Canadian loans come to an end. I voted against the American Loan because, in fact, it would only give more rein to the disastrous policy of this Government and was merely putting off the evil day of reckoning. Sooner or later we shall have to face it, and face it with another £1,100 million of debt _round our necks. Hon. Members may say what they like, but within a week or two of the American Loan what did the Americans do? They took off price controls and whereas the loan was worth £1,100 million, I am told that today it is worth only £600 million or £700 million.
May I point out the very serious position in which this country finds herself today? This is mainly due to the rise in the Civil Estimates. In 1901 the Civil Estimates of this country were £47 million; in 1946 they are £2,090 million, an increase of £1,500 million over last year. At the meetings I have been to all over the country people say that they want more family allowances, more pensions, more this and more that, but unless we have full and adequate production behind our paper money its purchasing power must go down and down. What is the good of £100 a week benefit or old age pension if the money is worthless and there is nothing to buy in the shops? That is the position we are approaching. Another fact we should remember is that the consumer always pays; he pays for our rates, our taxes, and our wages. But the fact is that the foreign consumer refuses to pay for our social services when they are added to the cost of production, as they must be. In an effort to prove what I have said I would point out that the Prime Minister recently warned those present at the National Joint Advisory Council in these words:
… nor can the Government's social services be effectively implemented.
Again, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade said on 5th November:
… it is difficult to see how it is possible for us to do all these many jobs and a good deal more, like building houses, expanding our social services, and so on. We cannot, therefore, have all we want now.
The hon. and gallant Member for Holder-ness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) interjected:
Why did not hon. Members opposite tell the people that at the General Election?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th November, 1946; Vol. 428, c. 1244.]
I claim some right to put these words before the House because on three or four occasions mine has been the only voice in the House raised against these Measures. With humility I would remind hon. Members of what I said in the House on 2nd November, 1944, when speaking in the Debate on the Motion welcoming the Government's intention to establish an enlarged and unified scheme of Social Insurance and a system of family allowances:
The Government are in this position. They may have to come to this House in a few years' time, if these proposals are en-acted, with a big Budget deficit, and say, We are sorry, we cannot pay it except in depreciated pounds'—pieces of paper that you cannot wear and cannot eat. Instead of being a lifebuoy, which many people think the proposals are, they may well be a millstone round our necks"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd November, 1944; Vol. 404, c. 1070.]
I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite and their friends in the country, who are not informed on the economic and financial workings of our export trade and invisible exports, will not keep on repeating the wild promises made at the General Election, because they are not capable of fulfilment. We have further evidence of the working of the Government's policy in the way in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer is what we call "rigging the gilt-edged market." It is like a man with a flat tyre on his car. He attaches a foot pump and blows and blows until the tyre bursts. That is exactly what he is doing with the credit of this country. It is an old device to play with loaded dice and marked cards. I have tried to study the history of world conferences. The first of which I can find any record at all is the Tower of Babel in B.C. 2218. That broke up because those assembled there did not understand one another's speech. Did they at Paris? Do the Western Powers understand the Russian speech? I think not
—and went out into the blue and built an altar unto the Lord and called upon the Lord. He saw that man-made conferences were no good without God's aid. That man's name was Abraham. Then we came to the League of Nations. [Laughter.]Hon. Members opposite do not like these truths; they touch them on the raw and they have no other answers but jibes and laughter. I saw in the newspaper the other day that there had been between 1,500 and 2,000 world conferences in that intervening period. Let us take the League of Nations. The League of Nations failed because the name of God was not mentioned in its covenant. As the result of the recent war we have had conferences at Bretton Woods, Dumbarton Oaks, Berlin, Cairo,, the Crimea, Moscow, Teheran, Copenhagen, Quebec, Paris, and now New York. Allow me to say this with reverence and seriousness. All those conferences will fail for one fundamental reason—because man is trying to bring peace on earth and good will amongst men without taking the God of Love, the Prince of Peace and Spirit of Truth into partnership. Unless they do, the alternative is atomic destruction. As evidence of what I have been trying to say—in spite of interruptions—I want to call to my aid what St. Paul said. It was true then and it is true today:
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
My last words are that the final sentence in the Gracious Speech- is the most important of all, and that upon the fulfilment of that depends the whole future of our world.
I am certain that the doleful dirge to which we have been listening was not encouraging to either His Majesty's Government or His Majesty's Government Opposition. The hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) said that this side of the House reminded him of a third-rate team. I admit that His Majesty's Government are batting on a pretty sticky wicket, but I have been looking at the Opposition benches while the hon. Member for Orpington has been speaking, and I think that if it is left to the outfield to stop us scoring runs, we are bound to win. The Tory Opposition outfield is very thin. There are no Liberals at all in the field. I feel that you, Mr. Speaker, as umpire will at the end of this Debate declare, as the people declared last July, that the Opposition are well and truly out. In my opinion they are going to remain out for some considerable time unless they can produce something better than they have done in this Debate. I am very certain that if a Minister for Mourning were to be set up or if we ever nationalised cremation, I could recommend the hon. Member for Orpington as the Minister.
The criticism in this Debate has ranged all over the world. We have been to Japan. I was interested in a statement that there may be a menace to the cotton industry of Lancashire. I pray God, too, that this menace will never be allowed to operate at the expense of the livelihood of those very gallant people whom I represent in Bolton, the greatest textile town in- the North of England. We also went to Germany. One could speak all the afternoon about one's impressions of Germany. It should be borne in mind that when the Coalition Government wanted personnel to go out and conduct the affairs of Germany, they sent a circular to the industrialists—not the trade unions—asking what men could be spared to do the job and what sort of men they were likely to get. They got the men who were likely to be spared at that time when our manpower was at its very lowest, and the quality of those men was what might have been expected in those conditions.
I want to devote my remarks mainly to the two subjects of oil and steel. The hon. Member for Orpington said that he understood from some high-minded official in the City that we now had reserves in oil four times greater than ever in the past. Perhaps that is a very good thing, because upon oil, as upon coal and steel, depends the economic recovery of this great nation. Recently I had the sopportunity—without any university or diplomatic training—of being sent out at the instigation of the Foreign Minister. May I say that I am wondering what that broad-shouldered individual with that great heart is thinking this morning when he picks up his paper and reads what people said yesterday—and that goes for people on this side of the House, too. There may not be a lot of crypto-Communists about, but I am convinced there are a few crypto-anti-John Bull people. I believe it and I have got to say it, and I am wondering what that great broad-minded, big-hearted, broad-shouldered fellow may be thinking. It is not very helpful. I agree that the Communists, the crypto-Communists, the Socialists and the Conservatives have a perfect right to express their point of view, but there are ways and methods of expressing points of view. The veiled hidden way of getting at our Foreign Minister does not please me, at all events.
I want the House to consider what is happening in Persia. In 1945 we bought from that country just under 17 million tons of oil. There are 260 gallons in a ton, and 260 gallons multiplied by 17 million is certainly a lot of oil. Unless we have a peaceful Persia prepared to work within the oil concessions, we shall not get the oil flowing continuously and peacefully into this country. The Opposition may ask what oil has got to do with this. It has everything to do with it so far as steel is concerned. The demand upon our coal resources is greater than ever in British history. Coal will not last for ever, and steel can only be made with the aid of fuel of some kind. I have heard a lot of moaning this week from the Opposition Benches about the lack of fuel production.
I want to complete this picture about oil. I and others were sent out to look at the situation. We found that 52,000 people had been on strike, and were likely to go on strike again, for the same fundamental reasons for which people have gone on strike in this country. Those people were without houses, food and a. proper economic system. I hope the Foreign Office will take notice of this—unless we send out practical-minded people to do a real job of work for the Government, we are going ahead for more trouble. In the past we have sent out good-looking young fellows with creases in their trousers and university backgrounds, who knew the difference between one cocktail and another and how to dance and how to behave with partners Unless we start sending out people possessed of trade union knowledge and sound, practical, constitutional, local government knowledge to inculcate it into the minds of peoples abroad, we shall not get very far. That is a hint which I hope is worth following. I was pleased to hear the Foreign Secretary say in his speech, which lasted one hour and 50 minutes, that he was proceeding to implement the recommendations of the delegation which went out.
We should continue that type of work and send out practically-minded people with the type of knowledge I have mentioned to prove to people in all parts of the world that our constitutional way of life is better than the infiltration of Communism from Russia and elsewhere. I have no objection to Russia putting her point of view forward, but our healthy constructive policy should be put before the people as well, so that they may decide which is best for them and the interests of their own country. Until His Majesty's Government put forward our healthy policy against what the Russians are doing, these misguided semiliterate people will naturally turn to Communism.
There has been criticism from the Opposition Benches about the lack of steel. Is it because the steel workers are on strike? Is it because the steel workers are not pulling their weight? The answer is, No. It is because the people of the great trade union movement are not prepared to do what they have always done the best they can in the interests of whatever Government has been in power? Of course not. It is because of the ineptitude of those who are at the moment in control and in power so far as the steel industry is concerned.
I interjected not many weeks ago when the hon. Member for the Hallam Division of Sheffield (Mr. Jennings) was speaking—and that is a great producing centre—and said that tens of thousands of cubic feet of gas produced from coal were wasted every weekend in this country. That statement is perfectly true, and I can take any hon. Member, any deputation from the Opposition for preference, into Sheffield, Middlesbrough, South Wales or the Midlands, and show them how from tomorrow noon until Sunday, 2 o'clock, tens of thousands of cubic feet of gas are being driven through empty furnaces. Is that because of the attitude of the trade union movement or the Labour movement? Not at all. It is simply and solely because those companies, which are fairly well modernised, are not prepared to go ahead and allow continuous working, because the other plants complain that they would be at a disadvantage. They quarrel in their own ranks and that is the reason why existing steel plants are not producing the 750,000 tons, or three-quarters of a million tons, more than in the past, per year. They are deliberately wasting coal, but if they had to dig it, they would not be so clever in their criticisms.
I suggest that the Opposition should confine themselves to practical, constructive suggestions in regard to His Majesty's Gracious Speech. The hon. Member for Harrow (Mr. Bower) complained that nationalisation of the steel industry had not been brought into the orbit of the King's Speech. An hon. Member on his left complained that there was too much in the Speech, while another Member complained that we try to do things too quickly. They are like a dog's breakfast, all over the place. They are exactly like a dog nosing around and looking for a bone to pick here, there, and everywhere. Our job on these benches is to go back to our constituents and take the Gracious Speech with us, as I will, to point out all these things and tell the people in the provinces that it really means another step forward in the implementation of the Socialist policy to be carried through in the interests of the common people of the country. If we do that and decide that there shall be less pinpricking from this side of the House, as well as from the other, so soon shall we get the people into that mood in which they can work out their own salvation, and bring themselves into a state of economy in which they can live as God intended decent and honest people should live.
I hope that the senior Member for Bolton (Mr. Jack Jones) will not take it amiss if I take his advice and confine myself to a very few remarks about a particular practical problem, a problem which has aroused a great deal of interest in all quarters of the House, and in the country at large. That problem is the acquisition of land by Service Departments, the omission of mention of which in the Gracious Speech is a matter of concern to many people throughout the country. During the war, Service Departments inevitably had to take much land, and although neither the farmers nor the general public liked surrendering that land, they surrendered it with good grace in the national need, but with the hope, and in some cases with an understood promise, that they would receive it back when the wax ended. When the war ended, the return of the land was much more slow than had been hoped. Just before the summer Recess, my hon. Friend the Member for Woodbridge (Mr. Hare) raised the matter on the Adjournment. The basis of the issue we were then debating was to obtain assurances from the present Secretary of State for War, who was then the Financial Secretary, about the more rapid release of land.
Since then the situation has become more difficult because now there are threats not merely of a slow release of land, but of the large acquisition of new land. We want to face this matter perfectly seriously and fairly. We are not taking a pacifist point of view. We understand the seriousness of the world situation, and that the Service Departments must have land in order to carry out their training. No one is trying to dispute that. The former Secretary of State for War spoke on one or two occasions about seeing whether we could find land for training overseas, in Canada, or Australia. Apparently those proposals have not met with success. I am not saying that it is the fault of the Government, but we have to face the inconvenient fact that new methods of military training, live training, do require vastly greater spaces of land than were required in the past. That is the Services' case, and it is fully appreciated.
On the other hand, there are the cafe for agriculture and the case for the amenities of the countryside at large, which are both very important. The case for agriculture is, perhaps, the more important of the two, looked at from the point of view of defence. Although we must have guns to defend ourselves, we must also have butter to defend ourselves. If we look at agriculture simply at a part of the defence scheme, it merits every consideration. There are those balanced interests, and all I am asking of the Government—I see the Prime Minister has done me the great courtesy of coming here—I am begging of the Government that they should make a very much clearer public statement, if they will not grant position and how one interest is to be a public inquiry into what is the present related to another. The public want to know, more clearly than they have been told up to the present, what is the general principle of acquisition of land for Service Departments. A great question to which there may be an answer, but to which the public have not been given an answer, is why to a large extent this training must be carried on in comparatively populated districts in the South of England, rather than in the unpopulated districts in the North of Scotland, which are crying out for people to be brought into them. We recently put down a Motion, which was supported by hon. Members in all parts of the House. Among those who supported it was my hon. Friend the Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling). He said he supported it because he wanted training to be carried out in Scotland. He was a generous man and thought it would be a fair exchange, as he came from Scotland to England, that the British Army should go to Scotland, to balance things.
There may be an answer to all these things. All I am asking is whether a public inquiry or a very full, detailed statement could be granted, so that the country could be told as soon as possible the principle upon which the competing claims of the different Departments of State are being settled. There is a good deal to be said for something in the nature of a permanent Select Committee which might be set up to keep an eye on these matters. In answer to a Question of mine, the Prime Minister assured us that there was inter-Departmental consultation be-fore these questions were settled. But it is not quite fair to the Service Departments that these matters should be settled in this way. Soldiers have told me that one of the great difficulties is not that the Service Departments are entirely ruthless, but that the Ministry of Agriculture will never give clear direction as to what land they want. I am not seeking to beg the question, I am merely asking that, whoever be to blame, the public should be enabled in some way to discover where the blame lies.
I ask for something in the nature of a general public inquiry, and for much fuller guarantees, and more clear guarantees, on particular inquiries in particular instances, and for full publicity before particular places are taken over. The legal position is that the basis of all these rights to take over land derives from an Act which was passed in 1842 when the Duke of Wellington was Commander-in-Chief. That was some time ago, and I remember the Duke of Wellington at that time—[Laughter]—I do not see why some hon. Members should laugh because some hon. Members do not look their age. The Duke of Wellington at that time thought there was a great danger of invasion of this country because of the invention of the steamship. That was a problem which was somewhat different from those which we have to face today. This Act was passed and the only check upon the seizure of land by a Service Department was the word or veto of the Lord Lieutenant. In point of fact, there was no effective check at all. It had been feared until some months ago that future acquisitions would be under that Act without any right of appeal. Fortunately there have been developments during the last few weeks as a result of which the position by no means will be as bad as mat, though we are not certain just how bad it may be.
About a fortnight ago my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air whether the public would be given every opportunity to object to any proposal by the Government for the acquisition of commons and public open spaces. The Minister replied:
Yes, and under the Act of 1945 that happens automatically since it is laid down that there must be publication of the notices of proposal, that they must be served on the local planning authorities, and that the objections must be considered by the War Works Commission."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd October, 1946; vol. 427, c. 1661.]
That seemed a very satisfactory state of affairs. Even then there were a number of things that were not clear and my hon. Friend pursued his inquiry with diligence. He put down a Question to the Prime Minister in which he asked whether the declared policy of the Government—that was the policy declared by the Under-Secretary—that the public will be given every opportunity, was the accepted policy. The Prime Minister replied:
Part 2 of the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act cannot be used in cases where the land can be otherwise acquired under the Defence Acts. His Majesty's Government have, however, decided that in any case where the proposals now under examination involve the acquisition of a common or public space under the Defence Acts there will be full consultation, through the Minister of Town and Country Planning, with the local authorities and amenity societies which may be concerned.
That was very satisfactory, except for one point which may have been a mere accident. The Question happened to be about common or open public land and the reply made no mention of consultation with the agricultural authorities. If the Prime Minister can give us an assurance that the interests of agriculture will be considered, that would relieve a great deal of anxiety. A supplementary question was put to the Prime Minister by the hon. Member for Twickenham:
Would the Prime Minister confirm the assurance given by the Under-Secretary of State for Air a fortnight ago, that the public will be given an opportunity to object in every future case when the acquisition of a common or open space is proposed?
The Prime Minister replied:
That is precisely what I have answered in reply to the hon. Member's Question.
But, with great respect, the Prime Minister in his first answer said that there would be an inquiry and all proposals now under examination would be examined. My hon. Friend asked whether there would be an inquiry in every future case, and the Prime Minister said:
That is precisely what I have answered in reply to the hon. Member's question."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th November, 1946; Vol. 428, c. 1387.]
With great respect, there is a very different and important further point in my hon. Friend's supplementary question. If the Prime Minister is standing by his answer to the supplementary question, and means that he will grant an inquiry in every case, that is a very important concession indeed and it goes a very great way towards meeting our difficulties.
The short point is that the ordinary course of acquisition of land is by that Act of 1842. There is power for inquiry under the more recent Act, but we have to use the 1842 Act.
It is our intention in every case where there is acquisition now to apply to the operation of the 1842 Act what we are applying under the modern Act. We cannot bind Governments in the future, because the specific point of the 1842 Act is that one may have to acquire land in an emergency when there would not be time for an inquiry. Therefore, I was not prepared to bind future Governments.
I am most grateful to the Prime Minister. It is very important to get this position absolutely clear, and I would like to know whether I understand the situation. Obviously, I understand that the Prime Minister cannot bind his successors and that if we enter into war we have quite a new situation, but so long as the right hon. Gentleman holds his distinguished position, and so long as there is no war, may we take it that there will always be a public inquiry?
I trust that the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) will forgive me if I do not follow him in what he has been saying. He spoke with knowledge on a subject which was very dear to his heart. I want to speak on another limited subject about which I feel equally strongly. I do not propose in any way to criticise what is in the Gracious Speech from the Throne. What I object to is what is not there but what I had very good reason to hope would be there. I want to refer to the dangers of tuberculous milk and how those dangers can be avoided. The hon. Member for North Battersea (Mr. Jay) has told us today that the production of milk has gone up very much since the beginning of the war. He said that production had increased by something like 50 per cent., but there is no evidence that I know of that that milk has improved in safety, that it is less tuberculous than it was, that there is less tuberculosis in the cattle which produce that milk. Accordingly, I suggest that the potential risk is greater, especially when it is remembered that that milk is to a large extent being consumed by children under the milk in schools scheme, and that those children are especially subject to bovine tuberculosis. Therefore, I think the matter deserves the careful attention of the Government.
The record of the Coalition Government as regards milk was a sorry one. In 1943 a White Paper, "Measures to Improve the Quality of Milk," was issued, and in it it was suggested that the Minister of Agriculture should be responsible for both the cleanliness and safety of milk. A Bill to implement this suggestion was approved, but nothing has been done to bring that Act into operation. In 1944 we had the Defence Regulation 55 (G), which gave power to the Minister of Food to designate areas in which it would be decreed that nothing but accredited, tuberculin-tested or pasteurised milk should be sold. But as I learned from a question only a few weeks ago, nothing has been done about this, and no area has been designated so far. It is true that the Coalition Government did something to improve the keeping qualities of milk, but that went only a little way to make it safer.
When the present Government were returned, those who are interested in the nation's health hoped for very much better things, and we were encouraged in that hope because the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture in another place said that the Government had decided that further measures were necessary to improve the quality of the milk supply. Everyone who knows anything about the matter will, I think, agree upon the need for that, and the Minister went on to say that
groups of large urban areas which formed a homogeneous whole will be specified as areas for which the only milk which will be permitted to be sold to the public will be heat-treated milk or tuberculin-tested milk sold as such.
Finally, he told the House that
this will require legislation, which it was proposed to introduce next Session.
Therefore, it will be fully understood that I listened intently to the King's Speech, and that I was very surprised to find that nothing was said about the implementation of that promise.
Why is it that all of us who are concerned with the health of the people are so depressed that nothing has been said about this important matter in the Gracious Speech? It is because, although milk can be a great blessing, it can be a great danger as well. In the 25 years ended 1937, there were in Great Britain 115 epidemics of disease caused by milk and involving 14,000 people. These were serious epidemics, involving enteric or typhoid fever, diphtheria, septic sore throat and so on. But it is to the danger of tuberculosis caused by tuberculous milk that I want to draw the attention of the House this afternoon.
Every hon. Member must realise that tuberculosis may not only affect the lungs, as it most commonly does, but may affect almost any organ or part of the body. We can have tuberculosis inside the skull, in the abdomen and in the bones or joints. People may not also all remember that there are two sorts of tubercle bacillus—human and bovine. Of the non-pulmonary tuberculosis, that is, tuberculosis not of the lungs, some 20 per cent. of the cases are believed to be due to the bovine type. In other words, in Great Britain, there are some 4,000 new cases of tuberculosis of the non-pulmonary type of bovine origin, especially in children, that occur every year. Of these, about 2,000 die every year, and, of those who survive, many are left as cripples, or, less frequently, as chronic invalids. That is a very high figure—2,000 deaths per year due to tuberculous milk. Let me also explain that some 10 or more years ago this figure was considerably higher, and that it is probable that, in the last few years, it has been reduced considerably through the pasteurisation of milk, so that it may not be, and we hope it is so, more than about 1,600 deaths per year at the present time.
May I, very briefly, say something about the different varieties of milk allowed to be sold in this country? There is the ordinary raw milk, and then there are three designated varieties of milk. There is accredited milk, tuberculin-tested milk and pasteurised milk. Accredited milk is milk of which there has been careful inspection as regards cowsheds and dairies and bacteriological tests to see that bacteria are not too numerous in that milk, and there has been also inspection of the cows. Tuberculin-tested milk is similar, but, in addition to these factors, there have been tests made every six months of the individual cows concerned in the production of that milk, and only if these tests come out all right and show that the cows have no tuberculosis are they included in the herd. Then there is pasteurised milk, in which case the milk is heated to 140 degrees Fahrenheit and kept there for 40 minutes, or in which some other means are used to obtain the same result.
What about the extent to which each of these varieties is infected by tuberculosis? It has been said, I believe with truth, that about 40 per cent. of the cows in this country, in the herds which are giving milk, are infected with tuberculosis, but that figure, I think, is misleading, because probably not more than 2 or 3 per cent. of the cows are giving tuberculous milk at any one time. The milk from most dairies does not come from individual cows alone. The milk from the various cows is mixed and put in churns, and the churns, in many places in the country, are moved by lorries to the railway stations. The dairies attached to the railway stations, in many cases, bulk the milk from the churns and put it in large tanks, containing some 3,000 gallons, and, in that way, the milk is carried to the towns for distribution.
A few years ago, the London County Council tested the milk in these big tanks as they came by road or rail to London, and it was found, as a result of many tests, that about 80 per cent. of that milk coming into London was infected with tubercle bacilli. But the L.C.C. also tested the milk in the churns, because some of the milk came direct in churns to London before being bulked. May I give the results of the last six years—1940–1945—in London? These averages are the result of very many observations. Of the ordinary raw or untreated milk arriving in London in churns, or tested from the churns before being bulked into the tanks, 4.7 per cent. contained the tubercle bacillus. Of the T.T, milk, and I would stress this very strongly, 1.0 per cent. contained the tubercle bacillus, and of the accredited milk arriving in London during those same six years, an average of 5.1 per cent. contained tubercle bacilli. It is only fair to say that the amount of tubercle bacilli in accredited milk has been steadily decreasing so that, last year, it was a much lower figure than that. But what is to be done about this serious state of affairs? No doubt it would be a very good thing if milk could be produced all over the country from tuberculin tested cows. But that is not the only danger because, in addition to the cow, the person handling the milk may be a danger as well, and, in that way, the milk may become infected. In my view, the only safe way to deal with the milk is by having all pasteurised. Some people think that It should be permitted to sell tuberculin tested milk unpasteurised. Perhaps that is so, but in Sweden, since 1939, all milk has been pasteurised and I am informed that the American soldiers in this country were not allowed to drink milk unless it came from tuberculin tested cows and was pasteurised as well.
I agree with the Government in the proposal which they put forward in another place, that areas should be designated where no milk should be sold which was not produced either from tuberculin tested cows or pasteurised. What effect does pasteurising have? London has been fortunate in that respect, because the amount of pasteurised milk used in London has steadily increased during the last 20-odd years, so that, at the present time, there is only 1 per cent. of the milk sold retail in London which is not heat treated. The result of that, as regards tuberculosis in children, has been exceedingly striking. Figures have recently been analysed for the years 1921–1944, and during those years the death rate in London from abdominal tuberculosis in children under five, which is commonly due to the bovine bacillus, has decreased markedly. It is now only one-twenty third of what it was in 1921. But what about the other areas; what about the rural districts? In those areas, where little if any of the milk is pasteurised, the decrease during the same period has been much less and the death rate is now only one-quarter of what it was in 1921. In other words the death rate from abdominal tuberculosis in young children in London today, where most of the milk is pasteurised, is only one-tenth of what it is in the combined rural districts in which pasteurisation is the exception.
I could give many other figures showing the great advantage of pasteurisation in the rendering of milk free from the danger of tuberculosis. Perhaps I ought to have said that, as regards the pasteurised milk of London, the County Council made frequent attempts by test over a period of two years to find if the germs of tuberculosis were present in that milk, but never succeeded. Objections have been raised to pasteurisation because of the cost, but the cost is only a farthing a pint. The milk keeps longer, and because it keeps longer deliveries are less frequent and there is less cost in retail distribution Of course, there are some slight disadvantages which do not matter in the slightest degee to most of us and which can be minimised in young children by cod liver oil and orange juice.
Here is an extraordinary opportunity for the Government to save the lives of about 1,600 young children a year in this land and to prevent untold suffering by carrying out their promises and promoting a Bill, which, I think, would be largely non-contentious, to enforce it, in areas designated one after another as the necessary machinery is ready, that no milk should be sold except tuberculin tested or pasteurised milk. In addition, the Government would be doing a good service if it stated that, except in those areas where the milk is pasteurised, all milk used should be boiled if people desire to do the best for their children. As the law stands at present, it is an offence to add water to milk, but it is no offence to sell milk containing the germs of virulent disease. Although it is not in the Gracious Speech, I appeal to the Government to find time during this Parliamentary year to introduce a simple Measure which would gradually, and without undue disturbance to the trade, bring about a relief of a great deal of suffering and save as many as 1,600 lives a year.
It would not be possible for me to follow the argument put forward by the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings), because he is undoubtedly an authority on the subject. However, I would say in passing that I agree with most of what he has said on that particular subject.
I propose to confine my remarks to one subject. Unlike most hon. Members today, who have covered the world on varying subjects, I propose to deal with the question of our future trading relations with Japan. I was very disappointed that nothing was mentioned in the Gracious Speech on this very important subject. In dealing with it, I shall confine my argument to the trading in silk which affects my constituency. I make no apology for so doing because my first duty is to my constituents, and their livelihood is very much wrapped up in how we trade with the Japanese in the next few years. Before the war, Japan dominated the world supply of raw silk. In actual fact, it was responsible for some 80 per cent. of the supply. This enabled Japan to fix the world price of raw silk. The price was not governed by any economic position, but purely by Japan's need to obtain foreign currency in the first place to fight her war with China and, ultimately, to prepare for her treacherous entry into the second world war. In 1930 the price of Japanese silk was reduced far below the cost of production elsewhere.
In fact, we had amongst our Colonies only one Colony, Cyprus, producing silk at all. Cyprus had made a start in this industry, and when the war came along it was more than ever necessary to encourage that particular industry in Cyprus; and, indeed, it was well worth while, because we needed every square inch of silk that could be obtained for the manufacture of parachutes, which saved tens of thousands of lives of Allied air crews. I am afraid now that, unless something is done, this new industry in Cyprus is going to disappear. Furthermore, Japan produced the actual piece goods—silk cloth; and they were sent to this country at prices which were lower than those we paid for the raw silk itself. One could not blame the printing firms in this country who bought the silk, because they had to compete and trade with other nations, and, therefore, they were compelled to buy silk from Japan in its cloth form. But this was done by the Japanese with a view to obtaining foreign exchange. No industry even if 100 per cent. efficient can compete on those lines; it certainly could not hope to compete with Japan.
The silk industry in Great Britain today is fully alive to its postwar responsibilities. Through its joint industrial council, agreements have been reached regarding wages. I am afraid that, unless we are able to compete with other nations, those wages will not be maintained. But I do say, again, that the conditions in the industry are excellent from every point of view. The manufacturers are purchasing machinery. It is difficult to obtain but, nevertheless, they are making every effort to bring their mills up to date. The relations with employees are very good indeed. Furthermore, the skill in the silk industry in this country is world known, particularly in the United States of America, and that is one country where there is tremendous scope for our exports.
It is appreciated by the industry that Japan must export. I think we all realise that; and it is agreed that the standard of living of the Japansese has to go up. But I am not one of those who believe that, by a joint agreement about standards of living, they can go up in a matter of three or four or five years. When dealing with a country like Japan, it takes, possibly, as long as 20 or 30 years to raise the standard of living to something worth while. However that may be, we must bear in mind that it will take time. The Colonial Office, through the Colonial Governments, are investigating the possibility of producing silk in other Colonies besides Cyprus, and that is another reason for seeing we do- get fair competition from Japan, for, otherwise, it will be a wasted effort, and the natives in those Colonies will not make a fair living.
My suggestion is that there should be an international marketing board to deal with the problem of selling Japanese goods. We want the prices of the goods when they are sold to foreign countries, to be such that they will give a fair return. and enable the standard of living to be increased substantially. But unless we take measures to ensure against it. we shall have the old prewar competition, and the undercutting of the prices of goods from this country. I know it is very difficult to achieve anything when it comes to international discussion these days, but I believe that here there is a case where an attempt could be made, because it has got to be dealt with in the immediate future.
To take this one step farther, I am concerned about the United States. They almost alone are controlling matters in Japan, and I am far from satisfied that we, as a nation, are having enough to say in the future of Japanese affairs. My experience, from living in the Far East before the war, was that the Americans were out, in Japan and in China, to get the entire trade, if they possibly could, to the exclusion of everybody else, including ourselves. They are most difficult people to compete with; but I am more concerned, at the present time, because it is almost a closed shop in Japan. We have representatives there, but some of them are not very strong, and I would ask the Government to see that we get stronger representation in Japan in deciding the future of the country, particularly regarding her trade. Since April last year 300 bales of silk have been waiting in Japan to be shipped to this country. I do not know what the shipping position is, but I have been told that it has improved enormously. I have asked Questions at various times in this Chamber regarding our stocks of raw silk and whether the Board of Trade was satisfied regarding these stocks, and I have repeatedly had the assurance that everything was all right. I am now told by the industry that the raw silk in this country has been sold to foreign countries because it was of inferior quality. The first allocation from Japan was of one million lb., and I read in the Press last night that there was to be immediate shipment.
I do ask the Government in dealing with these matters to deal with them properly and not to tolerate delays of six or seven months when raw material is waiting on which our people might be employed. The latest figure of stocks in this country which I have had given to me was down to 60,000 lb. of raw silk for the whole of the industry. Unless silk in substantial quantity is brought to England fairly soon there will be unemployment in the industry and that does not fit in when the industry is expanding, and is going into the development areas at the request of the Government. The industry is spending money and doing all it can to get on a proper footing. I would like the Government to deal with these matters. We hear much about their planning, let them plan on proper lines and visualise the simple things that may happen. Where raw materials are available, shipping should be there on time and the material brought home speedily and delivered to the manufacturer. Having said these few words, I ask the Government to look into the position and see that something is done to protect and help this industry.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) knows full well that the industry he describes is a very specialised one, and is similar therefore to the industry in my Division in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent. Some of the remarks he made with reference to unfair competition must apply also so far as we are concerned when we speak of pottery and ceramics generally. Our experience in the past in connection with Japan has been unfortunate. It is not that we object to normal competition, but we do object to our best designs being imitated, to finding the names of our great potters put underneath the plates, as if they had been made in Staffordshire, to find that the colours are imitated too, and then that the product is sold at one-fifth or one-sixth of our price in our own Dominions and sometimes in Britain. That is all I would say about this subject, but I was very glad indeed to hear it brought up in this way.
A little earlier today the hon. Member for North Battersea (Mr. Jay) spoke about food, and had a little contretemps with the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton). The hon. Member for North Battersea spoke about our food situation. He said that we are, as a nation, better fed today than we had been before or during the war, and the noble Lord took him to task and suggested to him that that could not be so, and gave instances, such as requests from the miners as a group for more food than they were getting. I personally am quite satisfied that we have less food today than we had in 1938 in the country as a whole, and the diminution is roughly 10 per cent. I am also satisfied—
I am content, then—that the quality of our food is worse than it was in 1938. It is worse because we have been pushed over to eating more cereals, as I am sure the hon. and gallant Member opposite will agree, and more potatoes, but less meat and less milk per person as a rule, with fewer eggs and so on. None the less, every word of the hon. Member for North Battersea was true when he said that we, as a nation, as a national group, are better fed and in a better condition. The evidence which he brought forward of the improvement in health of our people and the falling figures for infantile mortality cannot be denied by anyone. It is obviously true that those who have an unlimited amount of money to spend on food do not get all they would like. It is obvious that the one-fifth of our people, who are the most favoured, cannot obtain all which they had in 1938. It is equally true that those other people were worse off in 1938 than today, which accounts for the all-round improvement in the national figures. In 1938 we used to have priorities, the two foremost being unemployment and low purchasing power through low wages.
It was these factors, amongst others, such as mothers of young children working in factories, over-crowding and maldistribution of industry, that gave us our infantile mortality figures. There is no need to go to the Registrar-General or to the medical officer of health in any district if you want to know how children die. All you need to know are the percentages of over-crowding, the latitude of the place, whether it is North or South of Birmingham, and how far, how many men are unemployed, how much unskilled' work there is, and how many women with children are working in factories. From these factors you can find out within one per cent. the death rate of children in an area. That being the case, I was surprised when the noble Lord did not understand or realise the purpose and purport of what was said by my hon. Friend.
The situation in the world as a whole is very depressing, and can hardly be worse. We all had some hope that the Secretary-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, Sir John Orr, would succeed in his ambition to bring about a World Food Board. We were particularly happy to note that in Copenhagen in September there was unanimous agreement by all the delegates that a World Food Board should be set up. We know what arguments had been brought forward for it; that one thousand million people in the world today have less than 2,250 calories—that is a little over 50 per cent. of the people in the world—that less than one-third have over 2,750 calories, and that one-sixth of the people lie between the two figures. We were all convinced by the argument that in the world at any time you have apparent surpluses in some areas and great need and famine conditions in others. Where surpluses seem to exist, there has been no control and planning, and farmers have been brought to the verge of bankruptcy, and sometimes beyond.
We thought that the arguments of Sir John Orr about the functions of a World Food Board would obviously have the support of the whole world. What was there to argue about? Was it not something about which we all agreed? Was it not something which everyone knew was the right thing to do? Everyone knows that the proper thing to do is, firstly, to stabilise prices and provide funds for that purpose, and secondly, to establish a world food reserve which should be used in any time of famine or stress; thirdly, to finance the disposal of surplus goods, because not always can one dispose of one's surplus unless one is prepared to vary the price; and, lastly, co-operation with every other organisation so as to achieve these common aims.
Recent developments in America have given us a feeling of great despondency and disappointment. We feel that what is called by some sections of the community "private enterprise" will bring a great calamity upon the world. We had noted recently that the interest taken by our American friends in the Anglo-Canadian Wheat Agreement was a little less than friendly, and if so-called private enterprise would bring about the destruction of all world planning of our food and agricultural resources, it means that America is throwing away wilfully her opportunity of leading the world; but if she does so and if she is unwilling to listen to the millions of liberal voices in America—for there are tens of millions of people in America who would agree with everything we feel and everything I am saying now—if America loses the lead or wilfully throws it away, that does not mean that Britain. and the Commonwealth and every other country in the world willing to combine with us should not step forward and say that there is no need for people to die unnecessarily; there is no need of a shortage of food when there is a glut in other parts of the world; and we will carry this plan forward and seek our Allies from everybody who wishes to come in and help us. I think that if we do this and assume this type of responsibility and leadership we may well be thanked by the generations who follow us, and we may say to ourselves that whatever else may happen, we have done our best in this way to save the peace of the world.
There are two points to which I wish to draw the attention of the House, and the first is one on which I have already addressed myself to the Home Secretary. It is the question of adopted children. I know that on this subject I am speaking on behalf of many thousands of parents who have adopted children in this country. My point about adopted children is as follows: They are legally adopted by the courts, and under the law as it is at the present time, they are brought up as one of the family and are allowed to believe that their so-called father and so-called mother are their natural parents. The time comes when maybe they are called to the. Armed Forces or maybe they wish to marry. Then they have to produce a birth certificate. A copy is applied for and what do we find on that birth certificate? We find in large letters on the top lefthand corner, "Adopted Children's Register."
I submit to His Majesty's Government that to a child who has been led to believe that he is a natural child of the parents with whom he is living, it is a very sudden and unpleasant shock to find, in fact, that he has lived in a mirage, and a world which is entirely untrue. It has been suggested to me by the Home Secretary that adopted children, adopted by parents in homes of their own, should be told sooner or later the fact that they are so adopted. I would submit that we are up against human nature and human psychology. Let us look upon it, first of all, from the child's point of view. When is that child to be told that he is not, in fact, a natural child of his parents? Is it when he is at school, in which case, will he not suffer from an inferiority complex towards the other children in the school? Is it when he wants to marry, so that he will suddenly find that his parents are not his own, and, therefore, indubitably, will wonder whether he is not an illegitimate child of some unmarried union? I do not suggest for a moment that adopted children are necessarily illegitimate, indeed, I am quite prepared to admit that the vast majority are born in lawful wedlock, and that, owing to the circumstances in which the parents find themselves, they are not in a position to bring up those children in a way which they consider would give them a good start in the world, and so for that reason offer the children for adoption.
I very seriously suggest to the Government that, by penalising these children, by putting in large letters on the copy of their birth certificate the words "Adopted Children's Register," they are starting those children with an almost automatic inferiority complex. I suggest that the present copy of the birth certificate be altered. I see no reason whatever why some suffix or prefix on the serial number of the birth certificate should not be all that is necessary from the legal point of view to show that the child is not a natural child of those particular parents. I am ready to admit that in certain cases of inheritance it may be essential to prove that. That being so, let us have the suffix. There is, in fact, a suffix on the present copy of the birth certificate of an adopted child; not only does it say, on the left hand side, "Adopted Children's Register" in full, but on the righthand top corner it has the letters A.C.R. before the copy number of the certificate. Surely, the letters A.C.R. before the copy number should be ample in law to call attention to the fact that, if there is any discussion or dispute concerning the inheritance from the parents when they die, there is a certain register to look at to prove or disprove the parentage. I ask the Home Secretary seriously to consider cutting out those words, not only in the top lefthand corner, but also in the various instructions below, so that the child should never necessarily know, except in the case of a lawsuit, that he is not, in fact, the child of his parents.
The next thing to which I would like to call attention, and on which I would like to get an assurance from the Government, is agriculture. As I think hon. Members on all sides will agree, agriculture is not only one of the greatest, but equally one of the most important, industries in this country, on which we have relied to no small extent during the dark years of the recent war. I had always understood from the Government that they have plans on foot which, they say, will place agriculture in a position of prosperity, providing good farming is carried out; but I would like to know whether they really and honestly believe that, because, if so, there seems to be a considerable amount of, shall we say, difference of opinion in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. I would like to bring to the notice of the House, and particularly to the notice of the Minister of Agriculture, a letter written by his Department in answer to a constituent of mine, who wrote to ask whether it would be better for his son, who is now 18 years and 4 months, to be put into a farm of his own now, or alternatively, to do his service under the National Service Act and subsequently to go into a farm of his own, and in any case mentioning the fact that he was put down for an agricultural college.
In reply to that letter the Ministry of Agriculture wrote back to this father, and I should like to quote part of that letter:
It is considered that the present time is not opportune for an enterprise of this kind.
That refers to the fact that this man wanted to put his son in farming. It goes on to say:
There is little prospect in the immediate future of any improvement in the feeding stock position and the cost of land continues high.
I think that the next is the most important paragraph of all:
Moreover it is expected that whilst prices of farm produce will tend to fall, labour will remain a comparatively heavy expense.
I always understood that it was of general agreement on both sides of the House that agriculture should be made to pay. I think it is also a general agreement that the cost of producing grain and other commodities in this industry today and wages are not too high nor are prices to the fanner too high. How then can the Ministry of Agriculture reconcile that letter, which says that while the present level of prices will tend to fall whereas the level of wages is not likely to, with the general agreement to which I have referred? I do consider this is a very serious point, and one which the Minister of Agriculture should deny at once if he wishes the farmers of this country to give him wholehearted support in supplying food which we so greatly desire and of which I think we are all agreed we stand so greatly in need.
I do not intend to follow the example of my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) and speak about tuberculosis, but rather do I wish to say a few words about international tuberculosis or mania, whichever is more appropriate. This Debate has shown that the world internationally is in an appalling state. Naturally one expects a great upheaval after a great war, but I wonder if the intransigent statesmen of the world, who are preventing even the signing of the peace treaties, realise how disgusted and indignant the ordinary people of the world are with them. I am perfectly certain if all the States in Europe were democratic and free that some of the rulers of the one-party police States would find themselves out of office. I am told that some of these rulers think that their Communist system is infallible, and therefore, they adhere to their ideas and will not budge an inch, waiting for the others to agree with them, which is not likely to come about for a long time. We see in the case of Germany just how these States are acting. It was agreed, and they agreed, that Germany should be treated as one economic unit, and they have gone back on that agreement. That is half the cause of the trouble in Germany today
Fifteen or sixteen months after the end of the war there is no sign of reliable collective security, the only means hitherto devised of preventing another war. Absolute national sovereignty reigns supreme in the United Nations organisation and it has its device there for ensuring the continuance of absolute sovereignty in the veto. Again, there is not the slightest sign of the formation of an international police force. An embryo force could be formed now to prevent minor aggression and keep the peace in troubled areas, but again that would be an infringement of absolute national sovereignty; so there is not the slightest hope of me formation of even an embryo force. The United Nations has not a gun in its service, whereas the world is full of arms and ammunition. The democratic world is disgusted; as regards the non-democratic world, it is hard to say what the people think. They are being indoctrinated by the poison of claustrophobia. In my opinion the ideological struggle today is mainly between Communism and democracy, because Communism is not democracy. Our Government have stood firmly against the attempt by the Communists to browbeat them, and therefore the Labour Party in Great Britain is in tensely unpopular with the Communists—but it will not suffer for that.
Passing from the international stage to the British Empire, or the British part of the world, there is again a lot of unrest.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) has advised us to run away from the Palestine problem, which was created by ourselves. The following are his words:
give due notice"—
to the United Nations organisation—
of our impending evacuation of that country.'—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th November, 1946; Vol. 430, c. 24.]
Apart from the responsibility which we owe to both Arabs and Jews in view of our promises, and our intervention in Palestine, could anything be more reckless and irresponsible than this suggestion? If we leave, strife is bound to occur between Arab and Jew, and then what would happen? One or both parties would call in some State which is not averse from seizing territory and strategic positions. As I have said, a more irresponsible suggestion could not have been made. Then again, the right hon. Gentleman suggested that the Labour Party was removing from India the European bureaucracy, the steel frame which has been a source of strength and impartiality. The day has passed when a white bureaucracy will be allowed to rule India any longer. Anyone who knows anything about India realises that it has passed, and it is quite useless to talk about keeping the steel frame in India when the Indians themselves will not allow the steel frame to operate.
Owing to the dangerous state of the world we need large Forces in being and in reserve to meet possible emergencies in the future, and I warmly congratulate the Labour Government on their courage in coming forward with the conscription Bill. We on this side of the House are aiming at full employment and I think we shall secure it. We have also brought in a wonderful social security system, and the result is that in future "Recruiting Sergeant Hunger" will not be able to enlist sufficient men for the Forces. Again, hon. Members on this side of the House, and perhaps some on the other, have reached the stage when they will no longer tolerate privileged classes in this country.
If it is suggested that some people should do the rough work of fighting and impair their civilian careers by going into the Forces, while others constitute privileged classes and are not called on to fight but, in the absence of the fighters, have an added opportunity to get on with their careers, I maintain that the country will not tolerate that. In other words, this conscription system is necessary and democratic, and if it is carried out, as I think it will be, on sound educational lines, the young fellows who go into the Forces will come out with a proper sense not only of their rights but of their obligations. They will be better educated than they would otherwise have been and will be useful citizens for the future.
Communist propaganda tries to blame our Foreign Secretary for most of our troubles, and of course he is a stumbling block in their way. He refuses to be browbeaten by them, and the Labour Party refuses to have his position undermined in this country by the Communists. The right hon. Gentleman has the support of nearly the whole of the Labour Party and, in my opinion, of about 98 per cent. of the people of this country. I wish him all success in New York and only hope that he will do one of two things—either end or amend the present deadlock in international affairs.
I have the privilege, Mr. Speaker, of catching your eye during the closing minutes of the general Debate on the Address. Next week, as you have indicated, the House will proceed to particularise on certain problems. I am not quite clear whether the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary wishes to speak before four o'clock—
It eases my position if that is not the case. We have heard this afternoon a number of extremely well-informed speeches on detailed matters—the hon. Member for Barking Creek—[HON. MEMBERS: "The hon. Member for Barking."] No"Creek"—the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) regaled us with his special knowledge on tuberculin-tested milk; the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) upon Japanese competition; the hon. Member for Hanley (Dr. Stross) on the World Food Board; and the hon. and gallant Member for Yeovil (Lieut.-Colonel Kingsmill) on adopted children. We have covered a wide range. I hope the House will bear with me if I return to the general aspect of our affairs. There is a remarkable change in the aspect of hon. Members opposite since we debated the Gracious Speech delivered in August, 1945. Those of us who have the privilege to occupy these benches have seats in the stalls, and it is most striking to us how the happy, confident, cheering—sometimes jeering—countenances of hon. Members opposite have in November, 1946, developed furrowed brows, and of their long faces not the least impressive is that of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power without Fuel.
There are reasons. How far have His Majesty's Government fallen short of those election posters? The rains descended upon us during the summer months, but before they did so, I sent my agent out to photograph some of the posters still to be seen on the hoardings in the Holderness Division—"Enter Labour, exit want"; "Vote for Labour and homes for all"; "Only the Left can understand the Left." How far have we travelled from the glorious days—I should say "the inglorious days" so far as my hon. Friends are concerned—of July, 1945? It is significant to me that in this general Debate upon the Address, hon. Members opposite should have remained so strangely silent on the subject of housing. What would have been the situation if my hon. Friends had occupied the Benches opposite and the housing progress during the past 18 months had been like that? The defence of hon. Gentlemen opposite is a little tactless. Whenever we say that only 22,000 permanent houses have been provided in the first 13 months, hon. Gentlemen opposite immediately retort, "What about 1919, what about the first 18 months which followed the first great war?" "Surely," they say, "we are doing better than that?" If the word "indiscipline" is not out of Order when referring to hon. Members opposite at this juncture of their affairs, it seems to me that that comment is a little unkind, if not undisciplined, towards the venerable Viscount who leads them in another place, the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs. I do not know whether his name is remembered on the Benches opposite, but it was the noble Viscount who was responsible for the rehousing of the people in the months immediately succeeding the first world war. The noble
Viscount used to defend himself in those days with this declaration. It is all on record. He said:
I had no help from organised Labour in this matter from start to finish.
But the Prime Minister of that time, the late Mr. Lloyd George, was unkind enough to say of him that he was the most incompetent Minister who had ever served in lie Coalition Government of that time. I do not think it would be right to apply that description to the noble Viscount today, for he has far more strenuous competition than he had in 1919. He leads the Government in another place, in a suave, agreeable, and generous manner.
The appeal to the people, "Vote for Labour and Homes for all," undoubtedly made a tremendous difference to the way in which they voted in 1945. I remember canvassing a young lady who told me that her husband was coming home from the Forces. She intended to vote for hon. Members opposite, because they meant business in this matter of houses; they would produce things more rapidly, and the programme of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Croydon (Mr Willink), then Minister of Health, for 200,000 permanent houses in the first two years, would not do, but much more rapid progress had to be made. Whether I converted her I know not, as the ballot is secret. At any rate, a sufficient number of people supported me to get me here. But what is the position today? Hon. Members are strangely silent on this matter, but, surely, there is not a single Socialist oppo- site who is satisfied with progress in housing in the last 15 months. They hope all will be well in the sweet by and by. Ten years, I believe, is now the period before everyone will get a permanent home. But I want to be fair. Considerable progress has been made in the erection of prefabricated dwellings. One meets them on the highways of this country coming along loaded on lorries. Prefabricated houses are springing up in considerable quantities on the fringes of our gnat cities. Let this be said to the credit of the planners; they have at least caused two slums to grow where only one grew before. That is the result so far of Socialist control in the House of Commons.
Turning to the question of production, I do not think it will be a matter of controversy between the two sides of the House that the whole question of British productivity and industry rests upon coal. When hon. Members on this side of the House sometimes venture observations on coal, they are apt to be met by the interjection from the opposite side, "Have you ever worked at the coal face? Do you know anything about the coal industry?" That is a disadvantage I share with the Prime Minister, the Lord President of the Council, the President of the Board of Trade, and possibly, I am not sure, with the Minister of Fuel and Power. I think not in his case, but I think I share it with the vast majority of those who sit on the Treasury Bench. It is not a disqualification for offering a few observations on the coal industry that one has not worked at the coal face. Let me say frankly that it is a most onerous, difficult, arduous, and dangerous occupation. But upon the coal industry depends the chance of recovery of our export trade. For 40 years I have been told by hon. Members opposite and their friends that the solution of the coal problem was State control. "Let the mines be nationalised," say the Socialist Party, and the miner will have a song in his heart even more voluble than the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and with far more reason.
The right hon. Gentleman opposite, the Minister of Fuel and Power, with his usual Parliamentary ability, has now piloted through his great Bill, and it is now on the Statute Book. He has appointed a Board of nine gentlemen, of
whom the chairman is reported in "The Times" to have said that he hoped that the vesting date might be postponed for at leas
I believe him to be a divisional officer, and there is more joy in heaven over 99 just persons, whatever they may be. I hope the hon. Gentleman opposite is not denying that Sir Ben Smith is now an important executive in supplying us with less fuel as against less food. That is now agreed. The Smith family have been doing well. I think, perhaps, the Patronage Secretary, although he may not like that term, has been at work in that direction, but I hope that Sir Ben Smith will at least justify the salary which has not yet been disclosed to us. The coal position, as even the Minister himself has told us in his less optimistic moments, is now alarming. During the coming winter, he may have to choose, in fact, I think he will have to choose, between the householder freezing and our factories going on short time. Unemployment may come to us, not as a result of over-production, but of under-production, as was explained at a earlier stage in this Debate.
But there is another aspect of our affairs which has, I think, even greater importance than some of these domestic matters. I do not intend today to refer to the food situation. Much argument has developed about it, and an hon. Member opposite has said something about it, but, of course, everybody knows that, whatever we may deduce in the way of statistics about calories, man does not live by calories alone. What we require is variety in our food, which the Minister of Food has promised us, but which, so far, he has signally failed to produce. May I tell the House a pathetic story from my own constituency? On the day when the Nuremberg sentences were pronounced, an old lady was listening to the wireless and heard that Goering, Ribbentrop and Keitel were to be hanged. When the name of Streicher was mentioned, she said "About time, too; I am fed up with this bread rationing." Fame can be achieved in many ways and in many unexpected quarters.
I would like to refer to the international situation. Hon. Members opposite a year ago felt—and I think not without justification—that the advent of a Socialist Government in this country might well lead to a better understanding with the Soviet Government. Fifteen months have now passed, and mankind is drifting daily nearer to the rapids. We shall have to leave to the historians of future years the events of our day, but I have a feeling that they are going to say something like this: "The year 1945 witnessed the two most remarkable events in the whole of the long and glorious history of British arms—the complete defeat of Germany and the sudden collapse of Japan," which, I may say, was a remarkable windfall for His Majesty's present advisers.
But I think the historian will say this, too—a strange paradox accompanied those victories. Two shattering blows were struck against mankind in the same year of 1945. There was the death of Franklin Roosevelt—I hope that is not a subject of amusement to the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Zilliacus)—and the defeat of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill). Hon. Members are entitled to jeer at that, but do they deny that for lack of a strong hand at the helm mankind is drifting? It has been said by hon. Members opposite in this general Debate that mankind is drifting towards the rapids for lack of a strong hand at the helm. The Americans are evidently of that opinion, judging by their recent elections. I cannot help feeling that there is a lack of grip, a lack of drive, in these great problems, and the handling of the British occupied zone in Germany is but an example. Criticism has been made from both sides of the House about that in the last three days.
On the question of foreign affairs—no representative of the Foreign Office is with us, nor would it be reasonable to expect them on a Friday afternoon—His Majesty's Ministers know perfectly well that if they are to remain strongly entrenched in the line along which they are moving in foreign affairs, from now onwards they are going to look furtively over their shoulders in the direction of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Gateshead and his hon. Friends and with relief and confidence across the Floor to the Tory Party, knowing that if British interests are to be upheld, it is the Opposition who are going to uphold them. Again, when it comes to the maintaining of our defences, the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. T. Reid), who has now left the House, described conscription as a democratic and fair method, without class privilege, of defending the country. I listened to him as one undergoing a second incarnation. He made a speech which was almost word for word one which I delivered on the Military Service Act in April, 1939. I hope that will not do him any harm. It was a speech which was opposed by the full strength of the Opposition, at that time. The Government will have no trouble about conscription from this side of the House but they will have considerable trouble from their own side. That, after all, shows the flexibility of the British Constitution. The electors at statutory intervals select a Government and that Government endeavour to steer through calm waters. Often they encounter storms but I am certain that the spirit of national unity in defence of British interests at home and abroad will make itself felt increasingly during this Parliament, perhaps to the relief of His Majesty's Ministers and certainly to the discomfiture of hon. Members who sit behind them who, if they had the courage of their convictions, would join the Communist Party now.
The hon. Gentleman is unkind enough to say I am not talking sense. Some of my hon. Friends may not take the same view. This is the House of Commons. I think the hon. Member for Gateshead is nodding his head in support of the hon. Gentleman. I am afraid that will do the hon. Member for Rochdale a great deal of harm at the next Election. We have now reached an extremely interesting phase of the first majority Socialist Government in this country. A year ago they were talking about 20 years of power. Is there any hon. Gentleman who would put a modest shilling on them being in power 10 years from now? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] I do not know whether it would be in Order, 'Mr. Speaker, for these transactions to take place across the Floor, but of this I am certain: Their unity, their party spirit, has gravely deteriorated recently. Look at the horrible scenes at the party meetings upstairs. A little earlier today, my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton (Mr. Drayson) made a reference to this. He was challenged by the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) about how he knew what happened upstairs at a Labour Party meeting. Everybody knows. Hon. Members opposite have not yet learned the Parliamentary rule of keeping their mouths shut. Ten minutes after their meetings adjourn, I guarantee to tell anybody what happened. They chatter and natter in all the precincts of this Chamber. Lobby correspondents never had an easier task than in this Parliament; they can get a story any time they like. Far be it from me to discourage hon. Members opposite from this habit of disclosure. Even supposing that we know nothing at all about their party meetings, we do know a good deal about the Order Paper.
The Order Paper discloses the many rifts which are appearing in the lute. Fancy, only 15 months after this great majority came to power, which was going to introduce the brave new Britain era of the common man, having long faces, furrowed brows and silence instead of cheers. A most significant factor has entered our political forces in the last 15 months; the youth of Britain have returned from the war. They have now seen in their own country the miserable results of the glittering promises made to them in July, 1945. They are surveying the new Britain and the era of the common man, and they like not what they see. That is why the Junior Conservative movement is the largest youth movement in the country. The ex-Servicemen are swelling their ranks with every day that passes. This Debate has been illuminating. There is no question of inflation on the benches opposite; deflation has become the order of the day. I shall never cease to be grateful to the electors of Holderness that, in a very bad election for our party, they were good enough to place their crosses opposite my name and to allow me to come to this historic Parliament and to witness this tremendous drama—the decline and fall of the first and last Socialist Government in our beloved land.