Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [26th October]:
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as follows:
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. Bowden.]
I wish to thank you, Mr. Speaker, for offering me the opportunity, in a brief speech, to ask the Lord President of the Council and the Minister of Pensions one or two questions. While still a loyal member of the Conservative Party, and proud of it, I have moved to this notable place on the Independent Benches to demonstrate that the matter about which I am speaking is not a party matter, although there are some who seek to make it such. On the Order Paper of the House of Commons, on Wednesday, there appeared a Notice of Motion in the name of myself and some 220 right hon. and hon. Members of all parties, asking for a Select Committee to be set up to consider war pensions and allowances. Since then, the number supporting this Motion has increased to 258 Members of all parties including 68 members of the Labour Party.
I have had a private communication from four Members, and have heard of one other Member who has taken his name off the Motion, and I wish, with respect, to ask you, Sir, whether you and the Clerks at the Table would look into the question that arises in connection with the taking off of a name. Owing to the shortage of paper, the names of those who support a Notice of Motion are not printed in full, as they were in earlier times, but I believe that the first six names appear on the Paper each day. Consequently, if a name is taken off there is no notification about it. I cannot believe that any Member would wish to get credit in his constituency for being on the list and credit with his Whips for being off. I therefore ask you, Sir, whether you would give some thought to this important though minor point?
The Labour Party held a private meeting in this building recently, and afterwards made a statement that they did not consider that a Select Committee was appropriate or was needed. There are some questions I want to ask about that. First, I wish to ask the Lord President why, in this non-party matter, he should seek a particularly obvious party method of making that statement? When there are over 260 Members—nearly half the House—who have put down a Motion, and when hundreds of branches of the British Legion and other ex-Service societies are interested in this matter, which they have genuinely asked us to raise on a non-party basis, why did the right hon. Gentleman choose the narrowest party method available to announce the Government's decision upon this issue, without any explanation to this House, without hearing any argument, or any case put up, and without himself publishing any argument?
I want to deal for a moment with this non-party aspect, because the "Daily Herald" this morning speaks of the matters that are before the country in relation to war pensions as "A Tory Pensions Lie." Further, in the same article I am referred to—and this I count as an honour—as a Tory M.P., but the implication is that this movement comes from my right hon. and hon. Friends above the Gangway and not from myself or from the British Legion. The origin of this campaign was in the British Legion's Annual Conference, last Whitsun. As their President, making a speech for the first time in my new office, I cautioned moderation. The Chairman of our Pensions Committee, Colonel Grimshaw, tried to resist, from the platform, two of the main resolutions on war pensions, but the meeting, composed of 2,000 delegates from all parts of the country, people of all parties, overwhelmingly voted the platform down, demanded the doubling of the basic rate of war pensions and asked for a national campaign. All that has happened since has arisen out of this strictly non-party inspiration and movement of the people concerned.
My right hon. and hon. Friends above the Gangway and I have taken every opportunity, during the past three months, to present this matter to the House in a manner which would embarrass our Labour friends to the least possible extent. We raised the matter on the Adjournment last Session, when there was no possibility of a vote, and on the Consolidated Fund Bill, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) opened the Debate, and again when there was no possibility of a vote. We have not put down an Amendment to the Address, which we might have done, and which would have permitted of a vote. We wanted to carry Members opposite with the British Legion in this matter, and not to divide the House. The Lord President has taken the most obvious party opportunity which could have been presented to him to give this matter a party flavour.
I have been told that in the Lewisham Division, not long ago, the Lord President met representatives of the British Legion, and that to his surprise he was told that there were some 30 Members of the Labour Party whose names were on the Paper as supporting the Motion, and that he said "They will soon be off." Whether this is the kind of legend that arises when dealing with great men like the Lord President, or whether it is true—as I am informed it is—I do not know. But if it is true, it shows a great vanity or a great servitude.
I cannot believe that there are 60 Members of the party opposite, who have given a promise to the British Legion and have put their names to the Motion, who will now take them off. If there are, I ask that the matter be published, so that we may know exactly where we stand and why they have changed their minds.
On a point of Order. I wish to ask you, Sir, whether the hon. Member opposite is in Order in imputing dishonesty to those Members who took their names off the Motion? I am not one of them, but the hon. Member has plainly said that those who put their names on, as against those who took their names off, were doubledealing, that they were seeking to obtain the credit of the British Legion on the one hand and credit from their Whips on the other. That, I submit, is a clear imputation of dishonesty against Members of this House.
I do not think the hon. Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) meant to impute anything dishonourable, though if he did it would be out of Order because every Member is merely responsible to his own conscience. I do not think the hon. Member said that, but said that what he would like to know was why they had changed their minds. Members are entitled to change their minds if their conscience so dictates
I suggest that the hon. Member made it clear that Members were not guided by their own conscience but by ulterior motives, that they were seeking to obtain credit from the Legion for signing the Motion and credit from their Whips for taking their names off.
I was listening very carefully to what the hon. Member for Lonsdale was saying. He said it might appear that they would obtain credit from the Legion and also from the Whips. These are matters which, after all, anybody can adduce as arguments. Anybody is entitled to change his mind, and one must not say it is dishonourable to do so.
My words were not an emotional outburst but were very carefully thought out. I believe I can recollect exactly what I said. It will be within the recollection of the House that I said: "I am sure no hon. Member or right hon. Member would wish to be placed in that position." I submit that If cannot be accused of having alleged or suggested dishonesty. I am sure it woud not enter anyone's mind.
I turn to the second point. It is said that this Select Committee is inappropriate. That is the word that the Labour Party meeting approved in its statement. I will not argue this case because, Mr. Speaker, you wish me to be very brief, but I submit to the House that the most appropriate method in our hands of dealing with a matter which we want to keep out of party politics is a Select Committee. There is no other body in our power which we can set up—except, of course, an impartial outside tribunal and we are not asking for that—which is fairer or more unprejudiced. Therefore I suggest it is not inappropriate but most appropriate.
Lastly, it is said it is not needed. There are many men disabled in the highest degree, of whom there are about 50,000 in this country, whose pensions, in spite of substantial increases and allowances which have been given in the past ten years by the wartime Government and by the present Government—and I would mention that I have spoken about these allowances and these improvements in every speech I have made—are well below the average wage of today. There are 650,000 people who go to work every day carrying their disability with them. They take it home with them at night and sometimes they find it impossible to sleep because of pain and difficulty. They are being rewarded and compensated now, in the new age, under a new Government, upon a basis scarcely better than that which was their lot 30 years ago. I submit that it is necessary for this matter to be looked into. Therefore, for the Labour Party to say that an inquiry is not needed is not a fair statement of the position. I submit that we are entitled to an answer why this matter was arbitrarily dismissed in a private meeting; why a Select Committee is inappropriate; and why it is not needed.
I am at a little disadvantage, because the information I had as to the hon. Member's intention was very different from what has transpired. Of course, I can only speak again by leave of the House. I had anticipated that this was going to be more or less in the form of question and answer though it could not be a Private Notice Question.
The hon. Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) was good enough to give me information through the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions of the three short points he was going to raise in two or three minutes. We have had quite a speech on the substance of the matter for a quarter of an hour. I am not going to deal with the substance of the matter; what I am going to deal with is what I have been given notice of and the point about Lewisham. If the hon. Member gives notice that in two or three minutes he is going to put three simple questions to get answers and then begins to be involved in a Debate, it is not in accordance with the usual custom of the House, and I think it is perhaps appropriate that the hon. Gentleman is sitting in the quarter of the House in which he is.
When I first raised this matter from these benches with the authority of the party behind me, I expressly stated at the time that we wanted the Government to give consideration to this matter and to give us a reasoned and considered answer to it. We have never had that reasoned and considered answer.
If the noble Lord would not take up the time of the House, that is exactly what I am going to do on the basis of the notice of the three questions put. I have come here at some inconvenience—though I am happy to do so—but it is awkward when a quarter of an hour goes by instead of two or three minutes. Let me say straight away that we have no wish for this to be a party political matter. I am bound to say that in the experience of numbers of my hon. Friends, including myself, and from what has transpired this morning, there is a good deal of evidence that amongst certain elements of the British Legion—I will not say of the Legion universally or as a whole—this matter is being used for party political purposes. The Legion is perfectly competent to choose the hon. Member for Lonsdale as one of its prominent officers although he is a Conservative Member of Parliament.
The deputation from the Lewisham Branch came to see me. I must refer to this matter because what has been reported is not true. The deputation was led by a prominent local Conservative. It is very interesting that it was led by a prominent local Conservative and then a Conservative Member of this House gives a report of what transpired, which, according to my recollection, is untrue. I should have thought that if the hon. Gentleman was going to make an accusation of that sort _across the Floor he might have asked me privately first whether there was substance in it or not. It seems to me that after I met a deputation of my constituents from the British Legion, which I was most happy to receive, and a very courteous discussion took place, the prominent local Conservative who led the deputation apparently gives a wrong report to a Conservative Member of this House. It is not given to me but is flung across the Floor, which seems to me to be a little bit related to political activity. I do not like it.
Well, there it is. I can only say that the deputation was perfectly courteous and I think I was, too. I think it is a pity that, arising out of it, an untruthful statement of this sort should be made. With regard to the three points which I am going to answer and of which I had notice I want to say this—[Interruption.] I see the light of party battle in the eye of the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). The great joy of the hon. Member is this kind of battle and as a party politician he always exhibits it on his face. We have seen it this morning.
If the right hon. Gentleman, when I was making an observation to my noble Friend the Member for Southern Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrook), saw a reflection of party political battle, it may very well be the case that it was a reflection of a very bright light of that character coming from the Despatch Box.
My hon. Friends known the hon. Gentleman too well, and not only the hon. Member but the noble Lord to whom he was speaking.
With regard to the three questions of which I had notice and which I understood were to be put during a brief intervention this morning, I would say this—I understand that the hon. Member for Lonsdale has been active in collecting signatures in support of the Motion on this subject which he has tabled. Naturally, some of my hon. Friends on this side of the House sought information as to the Government's attitude, and they received that information at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party on Wednesday last. I understand that the officers of the party authorized a brief statement to be made public, which it was quite competent for them to do. There is nothing irregular about that; it is perfectly reasonable. Labour Members have consultations among themselves, as do Conservative Members, and they were perfectly entitled to take the course they did and Members of the Government were entitled to give the party information as to their view of the matter.
In the opinion of the Government the case for a Select Committee is not made out, nor do we consider it appropriate in view of the well-established Parliamentary principles in 'regard to the control of public expenditure. The Government considered a proposal for a Select Committee in 1946 but, having just previously made a complete survey of the war pensions provisions and introduced new and increased benefits representing a substantial advance on previous provisions, the Government did not then feel—in 1946—that any further general review by a Select Committee or otherwise was called for. That was stated by the then Minister of Pensions, my right hon. Friend the present Postmaster-General, on 9th May, 1946.
Since 1946 further improvements have been made. The Government have been very reasonable and sympathetic in meeting criticisms and suggestions on this subject and, in all the circumstances, we are not prepared to agree that a Select Committee should be appointed. I would point out, however, that if hon. Members wish to pursue the matter, there are, of course, Parliamentary opportunities, including Supply Days for them to do so.
I was proposing to continue with the ordinary Debate on the Gracious Speech, but I will make just one comment on what the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council has said. We on this side of the House are totally dissatisfied with his answer—I have no doubt he expected that—and we shall continue to press this matter by all the available means in our power. We very much regret having to do so, however, because that means that it does become a party matter, as the right hon. Gentleman obviously wishes but which we on this side of the House, and the British Legion, quite obviously do not wish.
As a very humble member of the British Legion, I was surprised to hear a Minister of the Crown in the responsible position of the right hon. Gentleman making what appeared to be a public attack upon the probity of a large section of the British Legion. But I have no doubt that the British Legion themselves will be able to deal with that, and it would not be appropriate to deal with it here. I will only say that we on this side much regret the decision of the Government in this regard. We believe that what was said by the hon. Member who is President of the British Legion is right, that a Select Committee would have kept this question out of party politics and enabled it to be judged on its merits, which would have been much the best thing.
The hon. and gallant Member has fallen into the same error as that into which hon. Members opposite are falling over and over again in their speeches, in the country and in this House. They are continually looking back, and the reason they are looking back is that they realise that in Socialist policy looking forward is a pretty dismal business. We on this side of the House, on the other hand, are a forward-looking party, and we wish to do the best possible now for the British people who were disabled in the last war and in other wars in saving this country from destruction.
No, we have had enough interruption. The hon. Gentleman made a long speech yesterday.
Overhanging this Debate on the Gracious Speech there has brooded the shadow of international difficulties in almost every speech delivered from either side of the House. I do not wish to say much on that matter, but to devote the few minutes at my disposal to discussing one or two domestic matters. I would like, however, to say—and in doing so I speak entirely for myself—that I have long believed that the last chance we had before the last war of stopping Hitler, without war, from dominating Europe was when he walked into the Rhineland. I believe equally strongly that the Berlin situation is in many respects similar to the situation at that time and that firmness now is possibly our last chance of stopping, without war, the domination of Europe by Communist Russia.
I wish now to turn to home affairs and matters connected with the life of the people of this country, and to discuss two points—the cost of living and the position of the trade union movement in this country under the nationalisation policy, the extension of which is announced in the Gracious Speech. One of the principal anxieties at present of everyone in this country—and especially, I believe, of our womenfolk—is the ever-increasing cost of living, or, to put it another way, the continuing fall in the value of the £ as against the goods we need to buy. No more beneficial service to every individual could be done than to reduce, to call a halt to this continual rise, and then to reduce the cost of living and enable everybody's pay packet to purchase more of the necessities of life.
There is only one way of getting down the cost of living and that is by efficiency in every section of our national life. Efficiency and economy in administration, both national and local, would enable taxes to be reduced. High taxation is one of the most potent causes of the high cost of living. Anyboay who likes to go into a "pub" of an evening or, unlike me, to smoke a cigarette, will surely know that. Efficiency in industry at every level, in management and at the bench alike, can alone give that greater production per man-hour which will enable the country to reduce the cost of living without reducing wages. Those sentiments are agreed by all: indeed, they are what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has over and over again announced to the country. But up to date our universal experience in nationalised industries is that the costs to the consumer go up. It is surprising how quickly they go up. These nationalised industries have not attained that necessary increased production per man-hour. Rather the reverse. In many cases they have become a charge upon the taxpayer, thus requiring more taxes to be raised, and a further charge on the consumer through the increased cost for the goods and services provided. I have only to enumerate railway fares, coal, electricity charges, gas charges——
The prices of clothing, boots and shoes have increased largely because of the cost of the imported raw materials under the bulk buying methods of His Majesty's Government. I happen, through my business, to know a considerable amount about the purchases of cotton by His Majesty's Government, and a lamentable tale that is.
I am discussing problems in this country under nationalisation, and I say that under nationalisation our costs have gone up, and that the costs of living have gone up. We wish to get the costs of living down, and I say that no one who is honestly anxious to get the costs of living down can happily support further nationalisation schemes at the present time.
By bringing efficiency into industry, which, as I said in my opening remarks, is lamentably absent, so far as one can see, from the examples of nationalised industry which we have before us at present.
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the point he was on, might I put this to him? He has just presented an argument in favour of reducing taxation. Is he in favour of reducing the social services which are paid for out of taxation?
No, Sir. If the hon. and learned Member had honoured me—of course, there is no reason why he should—by listening to my remarks before interrupting me, he would have known that I wanted to reduce taxation by increasing efficiency in administration, both national and local. Those are the words I used, and he will be able to see them in the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow.
I now wish to discuss a position which seems to me to be important, and one which is very seldom raised—the position of trade union principles under nationalisation. I may say that yesterday I gave the Government Chief Whip notice that I proposed to raise these matters in case he wished to make any arrangements. I am, and always have been, a convinced supporter of the principle of collective bargaining. The great voluntary trade union movement is one of the essentials of successful collective bargaining, and I therefore support them though I must confess that from time to time I mistrust some of the political activities of some of my trade union friends. However, I do not think—and if the Minister of Labour had been here I think he would have confirmed this—anybody can challenge me with ever having attacked, or done other than endeavour to support and uphold, the principles of collective bargaining and the trade union movement as one of the essential participants in that scheme.
The Labour Gov-ernment of 1929 did not repeal that Act, did they? The fact that I am a supporter of collective bargaining and all that it implies is one of the chief reasons I dislike so much this foreign Socialist nationalisation doctrine, for that doctrine, if pursued, will ultimately, I am quite sure, destroy the trade union movement as it is known in this country. No Government—and I am sure hon. Members if they consider this closely, will agree—elected by the people to govern if they own the great industries of this country under nationalisation, can tolerate indefinitely an organisation which, if it is to do its duty, must at some time or another conflict with the policy of that Government, and the Government would have to take steps to exert their authority over such a movement. Incidentally, I suppose that all hon. Members had a paper sent round to them yesterday from the general secretary of the Post Office Engineering Union. I am not going to quote it, but it does show that in that nationalised industry things are not very happy. I maintain that, in theory and in principle, the Government of a socialised State cannot afford indefinitely to allow a movement to exist which, in the course of its duty to its own members, must from time to time come into conflict with the owner of those industries the State.
Let us see how it works out in practice, because I always think it is better not to rely only on theory but to see how it works out in practice. The two industries in the country which are at present most disturbed by unofficial strikes are coal and the docks. In the docks, although the docks system is not nationalised the labour is controlled by a nationalised or semi-nationalised scheme —the National Dock Labour Scheme. That scheme was brought into being during the war by the present Foreign Seccetary—I hope I may call him my right hon. Friend because I served with him with sincerity and affection during the war—and I had some considerable part to play in bringing it in: and I am not in any way ashamed of that action.
However, I think the matter will have to be looked into; indeed, it is being looked into at the present time. The docks and the mines are the two industries employing labour which have been nationalised or nationally controlled for some considerable time. According to the last report of the Coal Board, the unofficial strikes in the coal industry were 23 per cent.—I think that was the figure—higher last year than they were the year before. That denotes unrest, in spite of the fact that the conditions of the miners have been very much improved.
I understood that the strike of 1926 was not an unofficial strike. I am discussing unofficial strikes. I am discussing them purposely, because as I see it at the moment the problem with which we are faced in this matter —and, believe me, I speak in all sincerity —is the problem of the revolt of the men against their own leaders, and not the problem of the fighting between the two sides in industry. The unofficial strike is a symptom of the loss of confidence of the men in their own elected leaders. It must be. That is the point to which I wish to turn the minds of hon. Members on both sides of the House.
Neither the dockers nor the coal miners are any different in essence from any other section of the community. I do not know personally the miners in Wales, but I have had some meetings with the miners in Yorkshire, and in Yorkshire, at any rate, they are a grand lot of fellows. I well remember, from my official position during the war, what a grand job the docker did, very often in very great danger, both in London and elsewhere. Therefore, the fact that there are, or have been, these unofficial stoppages in these two industries cannot be put down to the fact, or the supposition, that the men are any worse than in any other industry. On the contrary, they are probably no whit worse or better than any normal British person. I suggest, therefore, that we ought to look further into the reasons why we get from time to time these explosions and this lack of confidence between the men and their elected trade union leaders.
May I interrupt the right hon. Gentleman in order to get his facts right? Is not he aware that in the 38 months after 1918 there were 149 million days lost by strikes, while in the period since the last war there have been only eight and a quarter million days lost by strikes, and does not that invalidate his whole argument, whether the strikes were official or unofficial?
I am endeavouring to put forward, to the best of my limited ability, a connected argument on the subject of unofficial strikes being a symptom of loss of confidence in a certain section between the men and their trade union officials. I am one of those who regard that as a most lamentable state of affairs. As a believer in collective bargaining, as I said at the beginning of my speech, I am a supporter of trade unionism, and therefore I must be a supporter of trade unionism being master in its own house. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman, who I believe will possibly have an opportunity to make a speech later, if he has not already spoken, will allow me to get on with my speech. I ask hon. Members to cast their minds back to the big strike during the Summer. Some 20,000 men came out on strike on grounds which I think were described by a Government spokesman as quite trivial.
No; I always believe in learning the lessons of the past in order to operate well in the future. I am making no criticism of that dock strike; I am merely endeavouring to set out the facts, and to suggest that we should draw some conclusions from them. The facts of that dock strike are that some 20,000 men in the London docks came out on strike against the advice of their trade union officials forcibly expressed on a matter which was described officially by the Government as quite trivial.
It is very difficult to break off a picture in the middle. The trade union leaders were shouted down and an unofficial strike committee immediately appeared and took over, obviously prepared long before. The Minister of Labour left, after three days of the strike, for the International Labour Conference at San Francisco. I make no criticism of his going there, but the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Labour was already there, and I think that, in the interests of administration. it is not desirable that both the head of a Department and the Permanent Secretary should be at the other side of the world at the same moment. But that is only in passing. The strike went on—I speak from memory—for just over a fortnight. After a certain amount of prodding from this side, and what we thought was shillyshallying on the other side, the Government decided to take firm action. The Prime Minister made what I thought was an admirable broadcast. Coupled with that, the Government decided to inaugurate a state of emergency and take the necessary powers. What happened? The strike committee called the men together and told them to get back to work.
As a result of both the Prime Minister's speech and the powers taken. The hon. Gentleman may have a different view from me, but I believe that both helped. I do not believe that on these occasions speech without action is of very much advantage, but the two together are cogent allies. The men went back to work, but they went back on the instructions of their strike committee. We see, all the way through this lamentable business, the unofficial strike committee of extremists. The union said they were largely Communist or Communist-dominated. I do not know whether that is true or not—they may well have been. The men went back to work, but the union was unable to exert any of its authority from the beginning to the end.
Why was that? Why did these men commit this anti-social act, as it was, against their fellow men? Why did they show complete disregard of the advice of their own leaders? I believe that Mr. Deakin and the Transport and General Workers' Union have come in for much unmerited blame in this matter. I do not believe it was even largely the fault of the Union. Mr. Deakin, who is a friend of mine, has a very difficult job in following a man who was obviously the biggest figure in trade union life ever—and I do not mean only in size. The Transport and General Workers' Union is a very large organisation and I think that possibly it is over-centralised. I believe that matter is being looked into at the present time.
These symptoms however are only similar to those that have been occurring in the coal industry under a nationalisation policy, where the union is very strong and leaders have expressed themselves very forcibly on the subject of extra production in the mines. What, then, is the reason behind all this unrest? I will give what I believe to be the reason; and I put it forward as a theory. I am not going to be dogmatic and say that I am right and that other people are wrong, but I put forward this view to a large meeting of trade unionists and trade union leaders, and I got a considerable amount of respectful hearing from them. In this matter I do not expect everybody to agree with me entirely in my views on trade unionism, although I have endeavoured to study the theory and practice of it for many years, both in my own industry and in the larger sphere.
It seems to me that in general the men normally regard their trade union leaders as their champions to look after their rights and to see that they get the very best possible out of the management. That is right. After all, that is why they are there. Now they see in these industries which are coming under national control their champions appearing to be joining the other side. I do not believe that the average man, non-politically minded, unlike us in this House, is so frightfully interested in exactly who composes what they regard as the other side, the management side. I believe chiefly that what they are interested in is seeing that they get a good and fair deal. When they see their champions, in whom they have had confidence in the past, apparently joining the other side, whom they have been fighting in the past, they get all mixed up.
I am talking about the dockers. One of the leading dockers in this dispute said to a friend of mine, possibly in rather more picturesque language than would be suitable in this House, "We are all bewildered." Those are not the actual words he used. Then he used these remarkable phrases, and I think that there is a lot in them. He said, "We go to see the boss and we find the trade union leader, and we go to see the trade union leader and we find the Government. We do not know where we are."
As I represent a dockers' constituency and possibly know more about the dock strike than the right hon. Gentleman does, I assure him that that is completely untrue. With regard to the recent dock dispute, in connection with which I spent a great deal of time I was involved with the men in the dispute—the right hon. Gentleman may take it from me that one of the reasons there were so many men on strike is the wonderful, blind sense of loyalty which the dockers have towards one another. It is a sense of loyalty which has grown up as a result of the oppressions of the past. In the dock dispute, in which the men were not so much against their trade union leaders as has been alleged, it would be fair to say that 90 per cent. of the men did not know why they were on strike. It was enough for them to know that some of their colleagues were involved in a dispute. It would be far better if the right hon. Gentleman were to join with us in trying to convey to the men that there is a different atmosphere today and a different type of management. Then the dock workers would give us co-operation.
Is it right for the right hon. Gentleman to use the occasion of a Debate on the Gracious Speech to hold a post-mortem on a strike which took place several months ago?
I am not casting aspersions or holding a post mortem. These are matters of public interest. I am glad that the hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Mellish), who has intimate knowledge of the docks made that contribution. It is helpful. This is a position that we in this House ought to study and face openly. I am expressing views which are not entirely mine but which have been put before me by many people from many walks of life, in the docks and elsewhere. I believe that this is one of the potent causes of our present difficulty. I agree that solidarity amongst the dockers is a thing of which they are proud. I only regret that in this case it was not solidarity with their own trade union leaders. That is the point I am trying to bring home—the lack of authority of their own elected leaders. If I am right and the men get bewildered by these appeals from what they regard as the other side of the fence, by their own trade union leaders in many cases, then in the vacuum that is created another set of self-styled champions is almost bound to appear. What an opportunity for our Communist friends. Surely events have shown that they are not neglectful of seizing such opportunities.
Possibly all of us in this House, with the exception of a few, welcome the action that the leaders of the trade union movement are now taking to eradicate, as far as possible this Communist agitator movement. I suggest to them that they should look to the cause of the opportunities and eradicate, so far as they can, the opportunities which the Communists have of infiltration. That is one of the best methods of defeating this menace. It may well be that by further education and new techniques of approach, trade union activities compatible with State ownership may develop. But we have not got that development now. For goodness sake, let us concentrate first on this and see whether it is possible. Then, if it is possible, the Government could go on with their nationalisation schemes. If it is not possible, why rush ahead and plunge into nationalisation before we have got the most important element in industry—that of personnel and personnel relations—properly worked out?
I know that this question has been. and is, exercising the minds of responsible trade union leaders and officials. There have been articles in the Press by responsible leaders. I assure them that, in my view, it is of the highest importance that this position should be thoroughly explored and not shrugged off, as so many people are apt to shrug it off, by saying, "That will all come right in the end and we need not bother about it."
My personal view, and I must express it, is that it cannot be solved completely. I do not believe that trade unionism, the free voluntary trade unionism which has grown up in this country, trade unionism as we see it today, can long continue under a wide system of State ownership. Trade union members will have to make up their minds which they prefer. Are they prepared to sacrifice much of what they have known in the trade union world for the so-called advantages of State ownership? That is a question which they must solve. I do not believe that they can have both.
That is a question which will come very prominently before this country in the next few years. How lamentable, if this is so, is it that these further nationalisation schemes such as are mentioned in the Gracious Speech should be pushed forward before this vitally important problem of the relations between the trade union leaders and their members in these industries has been solved. I humbly suggest to hon. Members who are interested in these problems that that is a matter which needs much discussion and much care.
I have spoken for longer than I intended. I intend only to make one further point, and that is on the subject of the eight miners in the Midlands who, according to Press reports and I have got nothing but Press reports—not only have been dismissed by the National Coal Board but informed that they will never again get a job under the National Coal Board in Great Britain. I hope that these Press reports are wrong, but nobody has yet denied them officially. This is a terrible state of affairs. Here we have eight men who may have been guilty of all sorts of misdemeanours, but what has happened? Without public trial of any sort, they have been condemned to the status of unskilled men in the labour market for the rest of their days. They have, therefore, been fined—because that is what it means—maybe, £2, £3 or £4 a week for the rest of their working lives, without trial and without being able to say anything in their own defence.
I am delighted to see that the Solicitor-General is here while I am making these remarks, because it seems to me to be monstrous that any Board, even though ultimately under the authority of the Government—and the Government never cease telling us that they have a great deal of free action—or that any body of men, should be able to take a step like that over their fellow men without their fellow men having a proper trial. I hope, and I believe the whole House will be with me in this, that the National Coal Board will look at this matter again, because it smacks most nastily of the worst totalitarian methods.
Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that, in between the wars, the coal owners took that sort of action against men who took an interest in the trade unions? I was one who suffered from it.
There were many coal owners before the war, and if a man could not get a job with one, he could try another. [Interruption.] I have not finished yet. If he became so well-known a character in one coalfield that the other pits fought shy of him, all he had to do was to journey to another coalfield. There was no black list which extended over the different coalfields. [Interruption.] No, there was not, and it is no good hon. Members saying there was. I admit that at certain times a man might make himself so well-known in one coalfield that the other pits might fight shy of him, but all he had to do was to go to the other end of the country, take up his occupation in a coal mine there and continue to earn his living.
I do not wish to intervene in the Debate, and I rise merely to say that I have been asked by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour to express his regret at being prevented from being here this morning owing to a conference which, I understand, is dealing with the very matter to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend will study tomorrow what he has said.
I think we can say to the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken that at least he has put forward a thoughtful speech. Although we disagree with it, it is a speech which indicates that he has studied this matter from the trade union point of view, and I want to tender him my congratulations on some of the remarks he made, although I disagree with many of the conclusions which he reached. If the efficiency of the nationalised coal industry is to be compared with the efficiency of that industry under private enterprise, and if the cost of living is the whole philosophy of private enterprise, which caused such horrible conditions as 6s. 6½. a day for eight hours in the pit, we have no desire to return to that kind of efficiency. When we talk about efficiency in the nationalised industries, I am sure that it cannot have escaped the attention of the right hon. Gentleman that an American, Mr. Paul Hoffman, has made certain remarks about the nationalised industries of this country in comparison with the United States, which I think are sufficient answer to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman.
Then, the right hon. Gentleman referred to the trade union movement in regard to the nationalised industries. The miners take the view that they will carry on as an independent trade union within the nationalised industry, reserving their right to contest even the decisions of the National Coal Board if they think its activities are to the detriment of the men employed in the industry. When we talk of unofficial strikes—with which I do not agree, although I have led many myself —we must remember that the miner has had years and years under private enterprise realising that the only way to get a grievance redressed under that system was to lay the pit idle and to face starvation.
We cannot get rid of a psychology of that character in two years. There must be education and training in the new conciliation machinery, which we hope will come into full effect in the days that lie ahead. In time, the miners themselves will eradicate this unofficial strike movement, even in pits where the conditions are unsatisfactory and in which people have stopped work because they may have become momentarily incensed and felt that their only way of satisfying their grievance was by laying the pits idle. We have to begin to eliminate that feeling, but let us compare what has been achieved with the conditions that previously existed. There were more unofficial strikes under private enterprise than ever there have been in the nationalised industry. If we get out the statistics of unofficial strikes before the war and make a comparison, we shall find that the total number of days lost through unofficial stoppages is far less since the mines were nationalised than it ever was before.
It is also suggested that there is a loss of confidence by the men in their trade union leaders. I do not agree with that. The trade union leaders, both in the national and district sense, lay down the basic conditions under which the men work, but the piece work rates are in the main settled by local lodges. The conciliation officer, who is the men's representative on the Board to deal with labour disputes, will eventually solve this question of the unofficial stoppage. We have no right, however, to put into the nationalised industry the philosophy that we abhorred under private enterprise, and I hope that my voice will he able to reach the National Coal Board in expressing the hope that they will not endeavour to carry on the coal industry under the stigma that created so much tragedy in the days that are gone.
I listened with great sorrow on Tuesday to the speech of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas), and I should have liked him to be present this morning to hear what I have to say. In that speech, remarkable though it was, he stated that there were still people on our side of the House who thought the same as he did on all fundamental Socialist bases with regard to the nationalisation of steel. Should that be true, I would advise those who think that way, to cross the Floor of this House to the party which is compatible with their view so that we should know where we stand and their constituents should know where they stand. I have no claims to any scholastic capabilities, but in my trade union life I learned two things. One was political honesty and the other was loyalty.
The hon. Member for Keighley said that there had been no leadership from Downing Street during the past three years. In my opinion, that was a most disgraceful statement to make in view of the fact that the hon. Member had accepted two Parliamentary Secretaryships from the Government. Whilst the people of Keighley will decide the issue—and I believe the hon. Member will be a casualty—I do suggest that such a statement ought to have been made by him, if he really thought that there had been no leadership or only inefficient leadership from 10, Downing Street, not when he was removed from his official posts, but on resignation if he thought that way. I believe that his speech will be regarded. even by his constituents, as that of a man disappointed and aggrieved at being thrust from office.
I wonder if I might interrupt the hon. Gentleman to make an observation. I believe that the bitterness which is naturally felt at the occasion to which he refers, is something of the type of bitterness which the uninstructed man might feel when his trade union leader appeared to have gone over to the employers' side. I think it is worth while looking at it from that angle.
I have no doubt that the remarks made by a trade unionist about a trade union leader who went over to the other side would be very caustic indeed if one were to hear them in, say the workmens' club.
I now wish to refer to another part of the Gracious Speech. I do not claim to be an expert on foreign affairs, hut I do believe that the people of this country do not want war. They want peace, although not peace at any price. As the Government have had to face the question of rearmament on a certain scale, I shall deal for a moment or two with the question of recruitment. A near relative of mine volunteered for the W.R.N.S. After passing the usual medical examination, she received word from the Admiralty asking whether she could proceed to a certain camp on a specified date. Having replied that she could, she then received a travelling warrant together with a copy of the conditions under which she would be accepted into the camp as a probationer. One of those conditions is, to my mind, disgusting, disgraceful and absolutely callous. On reading the conditions. her parents
were grieved at the conditions of acceptance in the W.R.N.S. This particular condition read as follows:
If, during the probationary period, sickness, injury or death arises from causes not accepted as attributable to service in the W.R.N.S. probationary Wrens will not be entitled to claim for any pay or allowances during sick absence from duty nor to free medical treatment as may be necessary to make her fit to travel home, or, alternatively, to resume duty as a probationer if the sickness is expected to be of short duration.
In other words, the parents are told that if their daughter contracts a cold whilst travelling from the North to the camp, and if that cold develops into bronchitis or pneumonia, she will not receive the medical treatment necessary to make her fit to return to her parents, quite apart from the fact that she will receive no pay during the period of sickness.
I think that is a disgraceful regulation. How hurtful it must be to parents whose daughter is entering the W.R.N.S. to do three years' service. I propose to ask the Ministers on the Front Bench to approach the Admiralty with a view to having this disgusting regulation withdrawn immediately. The cost is a mere bagatelle, and parents should be assured that their daughters on entering the W.R.N.S., or any of the Auxiliary Womens' Forces, will be treated as decent human beings instead of being left in this position if they become ill during the probationary period. I hope that my remarks will be conveyed to the First Lord of the Admiralty and that this ridiculous and scandalous regulation will be withdrawn at once.
I will now deal with one or two of the domestic matters in the Gracious Speech. I heartily welcome the powers to be given to the local authorities in respect of new houses. I hope that the Minister of Health will concentrate on bringing down the cost of building materials, because the rents of new houses are becoming very high for people with small incomes. I appreciate the difficulties, but I hope my right hon. Friend will concentrate his attention on this matter so that such rents will be considerably reduced.
I also welcome the announcement in the Gracious Speech that a Measure will be passed to deal with repairs of property. In some of the big industrial areas this question of repairs is a scandal. There are blocks of property still in existence which, in 1938, were scheduled for demolition under the Slum Clearance Act. No one is to blame for that; it is a result of the war. But the landlords still collect their full rents every week. When the question of repairs arises, they reply that because these properties are scheduled for slum clearance, and they do not know when they will be pulled down, they are not prepared to carry out any repairs to them. I hope that the Bill will be so stringent that, in the circumstances I have described, the landlords will be compelled to do the necessary repairs. I have seen water coming through a ceiling and a bucket having to be placed underneath to catch the water because the landlord will not repair the roof owing to the property being scheduled under the Slum Clearance Act.
I am glad to learn that an Act is to be passed to deal with shared rooms. When I hear the Opposition talking about their housing progress in the interwar years, it makes me desire to tell them that, although I was married in 1919, the first time I got a house of my own was in 1928. For nine years I experienced shared rooms and sub-letting. I have known what it is for one's own children to be a nuisance in someone else's house. I have stayed with unreasonable people, and also with reasonable people. There ought to be something stringent in the Act to stop the exploitation of people who, having no homes of their own, have to live in shared rooms. I hope the Minister will be very particular in ensuring that such people will be protected against people who are prepared to exploit them because of the shortage of houses in certain areas.
I welcome, too, the change in relation to the training of nurses. Nursing has always been said to be a noble profession, and I agree, but it has also been an exploited profession. Salaries have been low and hours of work have been long. I know of a hospital where the day nurses work 13 hours a day and the night nurses work 12 hours at a stretch. How can we expect a training nurse, working those long hours from seven in the morning until eight at night, to study the art of healing in the hours between eight p.m. and seven o'clock the next morning when she has to go back on duty? I hope the Minister of Health will impress upon the Whitley Council the necessity of reducing as quickly as possible the number of working hours of nurses in our hospitals, to give them an eight-hour day and to provide them with some recreation and time in which to study so as to make themselves efficient State registered nurses.
My last point concerns the Convention for the safety of life at sea. We praise our Mercantile Marine. The men in that Service did a brilliant job in the war, but they are likely to be forgotten in time of peace. It is only fair to say that from the very first Convention in 1889 Britain has led the world as a maritime nation in providing for the safety of life at sea. This 1948 Convention, which is now embodied in Regulations, is to be consolidated as an Act of Parliament, and complete changes are to be made in relation to the safety of life at sea. The requirement to carry life-saving appliances will apply to all ships of 500 gross tons and over. That regulation is now only applicable to passenger ships, but soon it will be applicable to cargo ships as well. There will have to be an inspection every two years to ensure that life saving and tire appliances are up to date and are equal to requirements.
There must be a sufficient number of lifeboats on cargo ships to ensure that everyone on board will be able to get into a lifeboat if the ship should meet with disaster. There is to be a requirement for drills and musters. There is also to be a requirement that in every lifeboat there shall be three quarts of water instead of one as there is today. There shall also be a first aid kit—that is not one of the present requirements—and ships must carry distress signals as well as lines capable of being thrown 250 yards with reasonable accuracy. The knowledge that these requirements in the Convention are to be included in an Act of Parliament will be well received by our seafaring community. I conclude by paying my tribute to the National Union of Seamen and also to the Officers' Union for the great work which they have done in laying down the basis of the 1948 Convention for saving the lives of our gallant seamen when they are in distress at sea, now to be embodied in an Act of Parliament.
The speech to which we have just listened was particularly effective and sincere. I do not propose to follow it except in one particular, and that is by way of a brief reference to the speech of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas) to which the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) has just referred. All I wish to say about that speech is that the making of it was not the first occasion upon which some hard common sense has come out of Keighley, for I happened to see the other day an account of a speech made by the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Arthur Greenwood). He said at Keighley on 1st December, 1946:
If by 1950 we have muddled national ownership and have proved to be wrong, the country will not have another Socialist Government in this generation.
I want to pass to a theme which has run through a distressing number of the speeches from the other side during this Debate on the Address. From speaker after speaker I have heard the accusation that the Conservative Party is the war party. That accusation has been made not only in this House by hon. Members opposite, but it has been made consistently in that part of the Press which supports the Labour Party. I refer particularly to the column which is written by the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) in "Reynolds News," which continually harps upon this poisonous and, I think, wholly unhelpful aspect of politics. I am perfectly certain that there are votes in these tactics. I think that if hon. Members opposite choose to hammer home in their constituencies the suggestion that the Tory Party is the war party, a few more of them may he returned to this House at the next election than would otherwise appear to be the case.
There may be votes in it, but I do not feel that there is much idea of national duty behind it. It is distressing for anyone who has fought in a war, who has lost good friends, and who is now a Member of the Conservative Party, to hear someone who is not a member of that party pretending to be sincere, and I suppose being sincere—for I must not question motives—in suggesting that the Conservative Party wants another war. No man who has known the horror and
the tragedy that must accompany war ever wants to see another one or to see any of his own countrymen take part in one; that goes for the Conservative Party as well as the party opposite. It is time hon. Members opposite tried to confine their disagreements to open genuine political disagreements and not to seek political popularity by this sort of poisonous innuendo.
The right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) was most aptly described in an American magazine a week or two ago in this way; the magazine said he was:
a great clarifier of the muddled obvious.
Each of the great speeches he has made, ending with his speech at Llandudno, has underlined the accuracy of that definition, and it is a little disappointing when each effort on the part of the right hon. Gentleman to clarify the muddled obvious seems to be met, with such monotonous regularity, by efforts on the part of hon. Members opposite to muddle once again what has been so obviously made clear.
I wish to pass to the question of steel nationalisation, as foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech, and I know I must confine myself to general terms. I very much hope that when the Government come to defend their intention to push this Measure through they will drop the pretence that they are bound to it by their pledges in "Let Us Face the Future." I shall return to that particular point in a moment, but before I do so, and as a background, I wish to put to the House a proposition which has been put before and which will be put again. Nationalisation generally is showing itself, as hon. Members on this side prophesied would be the case, economically a failure—as indeed it has been abroad—politically a danger and generally a swindle.
I doubt whether any hon. Member of any party could say that nationalisation had as yet proved in any way economically a success. The most that its adherents could say for it would be that it would do so either in the near or far distant future. So far, it has been quite obviously a dismal failure, economically. For instance, in the case of the nationalisation of the coalmines, it is fair comment to say that so far the target, which was admitted to be dangerously low, has never been reached. It is also accurate to say that the nationalised coal industry is running at a loss which the taxpayer has to meet.
Politically, the danger from nationalisation becomes more and more real as we go on. It is a danger which was clearly portrayed in something which was said in New Zealand by a former Minister of the Railways when they were nationalised in that country. In the Budget Debate of 1931 in New Zealand he said he had been subjected to political pressure sufficient to shake the nerves of anyone and there was always the possibility that such pressure would become irresistible. He claimed that the transfer to independent control was a safeguard to sensible men. I see no reason whatever to doubt the wisdom of that observation.
I said that, generally, nationalisation was a swindle and I used that word deliberately. There are two reasons why I did so. The first reason applies to the name of public ownership. That name must be admitted, I should have thought even by hon. Members opposite to be a thoroughly false name because it is perfectly obvious that the nearer an industry gets to what hon. Members opposite like to call public ownership, the less influence the public has on the running of that industry. That seems to be a proposition against which no argument can possibly be made, whatever The Lord President may say about the rights of the consumer. The second reason why I maintain that nationalisation is nothing but a swindle——
Before we leave that point would the hon. Member distinguish between the control over a public or private company and that over a socialist nationalised industry? Surely it is impossible to argue that the public has more control over a public or private company than it has over a nationalised concern. I think in justice to the House the hon. Member should elaborate that and give his reasons.
My intention was to prove that the nearer we got to nationalisation the less control the public has. If there are greater evils in the eyes of the hon. and learned Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Hector Hughes) than nationalisation he is entitled to his own view. I shall not go back down the scales of the various degrees of corporate ownership in which, in certain circumstances, there may be faults. What the hon. and learned Member said is no refutation whatever of my last proposition—none whatever.
The second reason why I hold that nationalisation is a swindle lies in those remarkable admissions which, I trust, will never be forgotten either by the House of Commons or by the public outside which were made by the present Secretary of State for War when he was Minister for Fuel and Power. These are the words, which I think support my case; first of all, this is what he said at Bournemouth on 11th June, 1946, at the Labour Party Conference:
We stated our principles when power appeared to be remote. But now that we have gained power we recognise our limitation and shortcomings in the field of preparation. There has been, I regret to say, very little guidance on detail, and so we have had to improvise in the light of existing circumstances.
At Edinburgh on 2nd May, 1948, he said:
There was far too little detailed preparation in nationalisation, and we found ourselves with legislation that had to be completed without the necessary blue prints, on which we could have proceeded much more expeditiously in the right direction. When mining industry was nationalised, for example—this had been on the Labour Party programme for 50 years—we thought we knew all about it. The fact of the matter was, we did not.
I would say that part of the electorate which was sufficiently impressed by "Let Us Face the Future" to vote the party opposite into power did not vote for Measures of nationalisation which, in the event, had to be improvised "in the light of existing circumstances" and they did not vote for nationalisation about which its sponsors, although they thought they knew everything, eventually admitted through the Minister primarily responsible for the first big Measure, that they knew nothing. That I would go on to suggest completely absolves——
If people do not know all about measures, which they intend to put through, and which affect the lives of the people of this country, then they ought not to come into power. It is a disgraceful admission of half-baked measures put through without any knowledge of how to carry them out. My point is that, so far as steel is concerned, the Government are quite clearly absolved from trying to put through yet another Measure of nationalisation, in view of the fact that this will not be half as easy as hon. Members opposite thought that it would be, during the years when they had power without responsibility. I hope that there will he no question of "Let us Face the Future" excuses when the Government come to put through this Bill. No doubt, they think there are other merits for the Bill, and I hope they will stick to those when the time comes.
I now come to the question of Government extravagance. We are always being asked on this side of the House where we would economise if we were in power. That is a perfectly fair and reasonable question. I am sometimes surprised at the frequency with which that question is asked, considering how often it is answered. Hon. Gentlemen opposite had a full and detailed answer laid before them by the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) during the last Debate on the Estimates, when he went through item after item to show how grossly extravagant the Government were in their administration of the country's affairs. I can assure hon. Gentlemen opposite that we could find subjects for economy without touching the social services, from the Central Office of Information, for instance, whose expenditure amounts to millions, quite unnecessarily, down to the Potato and Carrot Division of the Ministry of Food with its 72 offices and wages and salaries bill amounting to close on half a million pounds.
We can find plenty of examples. Hon. Members may remember one or two. They may remember the account for £10 million for printing of stationery—a perfectly scandalous item. They will perhaps remember also the rise in the cost of staff of the Ministry of Works from £500,000 before the war to no less than £9 million.
May I interrupt my speech to say what a privilege it is to be speaking on the first occasion on which you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, occupy your present office.
I was pointing out to hon. Gentlemen opposite various examples of Government extravagance, and I reminded them of the rise in the cost of the staff of the Ministry of Works from £500,000 of the taxpayers' money in 1938 to £9 million of the taxpayers' money in 1947. They may remember also that farcical and disgraceful incident of the mobile labour force of that Ministry, and that the right hon. and gallant Member for Gains-borough pointed out that there were 469 directors, deputy-directors, assistant deputy-directors, and so on to look after the destiny of 7,005 men. Then there is an example—one of many—from the Ministry of Labour—of the building trades technical school which was built at Sydenham at a cost of £212,000 and which has never been used for that purpose. I could keep the House much longer than I wish to do, repeating this kind of incident for the edification of hon. Members opposite.
I wish to say one more thing about Government extravagance. It is hardly a domestic matter, but it is relevant, and I think that it is something into which His Majesty's Government should look very closely. I refer to U.N.E.S.C.O. In the Civil Estimates, the estimated United Kingdom contribution for 1948 provided for a large sum of £300,500 plus £9,000 for the expenses of delegates. This is a remarkable organisation, but what we want to watch is the tendency to widen the definition of its function so much as to be quite meaningless, and I do not think that it is a good thing that the taxpayers of this country should have a bill for over £300,000 for an organisation so nebulous as U.N.E.S.C.O. obviously is at
the moment. It is described in a recent publication in these words:
The programme is an effort to ease the birth of the educational, cultural and scientific life of a world society.
That, no doubt, is a laudable object, but it must be watched more closely in the future than it has been in the recent past, when the cashier of the organisation managed to get away with the sum of 1,173,000 francs. In the report of the sub-committee which was appointed by the organisation to look into this matter there is a delightful question and answer, which, I feel, the House ought to know, considering that we have had to pay, or partly pay, for what is going on here. Question No. 8 states:
Question: What amount was involved in the defalcations of the cashier? Was any of it recovered?
Answer: The amount was 1,173,339 francs. Unfortunately none of it was recovered. It appears from the proceedings in court that it was lost in gambling.
I hope that His Majesty's Government will not commit the taxpayers of this country to large sums in support of this organisation unless they are quite satisfied that it is going to be properly run. I have said to the House that, in my opinion, the Government have been far too extravagant, and that until they cease from that extravagance there cannot possibly be an economy which alone will enable the people of this country to save once again. I would remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that this country's greatness was built up on the savings of the people, and until the Government cut down their extravagance and reduce taxation in some way, there cannot be the restoration of the foundations of our national economy.
Finally, I wish to say something about the personal record of the Ministers of the Government. We are told and some of us feel—the country is told and the country, feels—that there are serious disagreements between Ministers of the Government and between various sections of the party opposite. Really, all these men are guilty men, even the Prime Minister. I will not waste the time of the House by quoting a great many of the violent denunciations of good things by the Minister of Health. But I would remind the House of one or two things that have been said by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for instance, who is now looked upon by so many as an
example of moderation and sanity, and by the Prime Minister. It was not very long ago that the Chancellor of the Exchequer—it was in Leeds in 1936—said:
If we are plunged into war, I devoutly hope that the workers of this country will use it for the purposes of revolution.
It was also not very long ago that the Prime Minister wrote:
We have to take the strong points of the Russian system and apply them to this country.'
He has changed considerably since those days. It is also not long ago since the Lord President of the Council used these words:
I would sooner the State, through a Labour Government, got into its control key industry after key industry, service after service, until within a reasonable time we are substantially masters of the economic fabric of the community and the means of production and distribution. Make us substantially economic master of the State… Then is the time to take the big decision…then we can make a fair, clean and equitable sweep.
Most of these men now talk rather differently, although of course the Minister of Health has remained consistent in his violent approach. So far as the future is concerned as between the occupant of the Treasury and the occupant of Cliveden Place I would place my money quite definitely on the Cliveden Place set.
In conclusion, I say that our politics must be rooted in one thing, and that is the balance of power in industry. There may be disagreement about methods, but not, I submit, in regard to basic principles. I do not think there is a sensible man in any party who does not think that national unity is what we require for our purpose. There are two alternatives. On the one hand, there is the Labour Party which has lost 40,000 of its members last year, and, on the other hand, there is the Conservative Party which has gained one million members. Members opposite will very soon be finding themselves in Opposition again, and I hope that when that happens, they will have learned the bitterness of the harvest that is inevitably reaped by those who at the same time as they throw promises to the people, throw their integrity to the winds.
At the commencement of my speech, may I add my congratulations to you, Mr. Bowles, on your appointment as Deputy-Speaker, and express the hope that you will have a very successful and long term of office? I listened with very great interest to the remarks of the hon. Member for North Midlothian and Peebles (Lord John Hope). I do not propose to follow him in what he said, except to point out several matters which are apparently not yet obvious to him. In the first place, he talks about this party soon being on the Opposition side of the House, but his memory must be very short indeed in not recollecting the results of the various by-elections which have taken place during the lifetime of this Government. There has been very little indication that what he desires is likely to take place. These by-elections have shown very clearly that the fears he has for the peace of mind of the population arc entirely unfounded, and that nationalisation is acceptable to the people of the country.
The work the Government have done has certainly appealed to the people, and the efforts which have been made to draw red herrings across their path have so far dismally failed. The Housewives' League, and various bodies which have been utilised by Conservatives to frustrate the work of this Government have failed and failed miserably. I ask the noble Lord to remember, when he attempts to attack the Government on the grounds that the public interest is not being served, that he is not expressing the opinion of the people of the country but the hope which lies in his heart and in the hearts of h is colleagues, which unfortunately for him, and fortunately for the country, will not be realised. When the noble Lord criticises the payment of a comparatively small sum to U.N.E.S.C.O., he is merely being consistent with the policy of his party, which is entirely contrary to the interests of the peoples of the world and to the educational facilities which can be provided through that organisation.
If I misunderstood the noble Lord I am prepared to apologise for having done so. He has said that over 1,000,000 francs were taken by a dishonest official. I wish he would visit the criminal courts of this country for one or two days. He would hear of the stupendous amounts that are being extracted from the pockets of shareholders and individuals by dishonest and fraudulent people in private enterprise. He would then realise that there is no distinction between what can be done by dishonest persons in private enterprise and those in public bodies. It was, however, not my intention to deal with these matters.
There are a number of points dealt with in the Gracious Speech which, in my view, are of considerable interest although they do not deal with what appears to be the major issue confronting the country and the world at the present time. I do not propose to deal with that major issue today, but to direct the attention of hon. Members to page 3 of the Gracious Speech so that we may discuss for a few moments matters which are of vital importance to the welfare, happiness and interests of the community as a whole. The Government, in the course of their work, have not only dealt with what are generally accepted as major issues but also with problems relating to the social life of the people which, in fact, are equally important. They have dealt with problems relating to child welfare, poor law reform, prisoners and other matters in a way which has been exemplary, and in the Gracious Speech we have further indications of their intentions in this direction.
I hope that my right hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench will not consider it amiss if, in addition to offering this well-deserved tribute, I deal with a few matters which it seems to me may have escaped their notice. At the end of the Gracious Speech there is a paragraph which reads as follows:
Other measures will be laid before you it time permits; and it is hoped to make further progress with the task of consolidating and revising the Statute Law.
I am extremely anxious that time should be found for Measures of vital importance which have not been specifically referred to and that much time should be spent in consolidating and revising the Statute Law. For instance, I see in the Gracious Speech that legislation will be introduced to improve the organisation of magistrates' courts in England and Wales. In these courts, where justices of tin peace—many of them laymen—are
practising, their powers and duties with respect to persons charged with indictable offences are regulated—and I am quoting from a well-known textbook used in police court proceedings—by the Indictable Offences Act, 1848, as amended by the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1867, the Criminal Justice Administration Act, 1914, and the Criminal Justice Act, 1925.
Further, procedure is also regulated by the Summary Jurisdiction Act, 1848, the Summary Jurisdiction Act, 1879, the Summary Jurisdiction Act, 1884, and the Summary Jurisdiction Act, 1889, as amended by the Criminal Justice Act, 1914, the Criminal Justice Act, 1925, the Service and Processes of Justice Act, 1943, the Money Payment Procedure Act, 1935, and the Summary Proceedings Act, 1937. The Solicitor-General knows very well the tremendous complications that arise because of the plethora of statutes which have to be considered when police court cases arise. I hope we shall have a consolidating Measure which will clarify the position in that and other matters relating to these courts.
There is one very important set of statutes which has caused more trouble to the courts, more concern to the public, and more difficulties than any other—the statutes relating to rent controls. I do not see in the King's Speech any specific reference to the consolidation of these Acts, and I appeal to the Government not only to deal with the important issues which are to come before us in the Bills they are to bring forward, but to consolidate the whole of these Acts, so that even if it is not possible to have a complete Act in the near future we shall know what the present law is. Judge after judge has commented on this point in the courts, in relation to the existing Acts.
I notice that the judgment in a recent case has been considered by the Government in connection with the question of a standard rent, and that it is intended to remedy the position which arose out of that case. A rent tribunal held that a rent was exorbitant, and should be reduced, but the final court of appeal said that the rent, no matter how high it was, must stand because it happened to be the standard rent. As I understand it, the intention is that that position will be remedied in the near future. When we come to deal with the question of houses which have been and will be let and which were not controlled by the 1920–1938 Rent Acts, I hope the courts will be given power to regulate their rents irrespective of what is the present standard rent.
I would point out to the Solicitor-General a trick which is being used at present by those who want to evade the question of a proper standard rent, whereby they put into their agreements a clause providing for a progressive rental. The result is that instead of the rent at the time of letting being the standard rent, the standard rent being the maximum that can be charged, is an absurd figure. For instance, a house could be let at £100 per annum, and the landlord puts in a clause in the agreement to the effect that the following year the rent shall be £300 and the year after £600. Thus, the £600 becomes the standard rent. I hope this point will be dealt with in the new legislation.
I am pleased to see that it is proposed to deal with the results which have emanated from the findings in the case of Neal v. Desoto, where it was held that the letting of a part of the house together with the joint use by the tenant of other rooms meant that the letting was entirely outside the Rent Acts. Some strange conclusions were reached in cases afterwards. One judge held that the joint use of a kitchenette, bathroom and pantry did not put the rooms outside the control of the Rent Acts; whereas another judge held that the joint use of a place for the purpose of a kitchenette and for storing culinary utensils and the like did put the letting outside the Acts. I ask that the anomalies that exist under the present Rent Acts be removed, and that we should have, as speedily as possible, an Act which will not only deal with what is indicated in the Gracious Speech but will go further and embrace the terms of my remarks on this question.
While I am on this subject, I should like to refer to the question of furnished rooms, for that is a subject which I should like to see reconsidered, especially the Furnished Houses (Rent Tribunal) Act, 1946. In Leicester the experience of the chairman of the court set up under that Act is that a large number of people have been dissuaded from taking their cases before the tribunal in consequence of the
fact that there is only three months' cover in relation to protection. I frequently get letters from the chairman of that tribunal in which he says that it is imperative that that Act should be amended. I should like to quote a few words from one of those letters. He wrote to me:
In one case there were seven of the tenants in the house in addition to the man who made the application, all of whom paid far too much, but none of them was prepared to go to the tribunal as they knew it would mean they would have to go at the end of three months. A feature of this case was that the landlords of the house did not reside in it, but ran a large establishment in Skegness where they resided. The fact emerges that this property was farmed out and the owners were enjoying an excessive rent for the accommodation. Here again is an instance where justice is denied to several people because of the ban on the period of security.
The second case I have is almost similar except there are not so many families in the building. There were four of them and all were anxious to apply for a reduction, but none of them was prepared to take the initiative knowing full well that it would be their death warrant.
That is the description he uses, and then he goes on to say:
Nearly every week people come in for advice, but as soon as they know that the utmost protection that they can secure is for three months under the terms of the Act they naturally decline to pursue the matter further, preferring to pay an exorbitant rent and retain a roof over their heads. Naturally the landlords are jubilant, because it enables them to bleed these unfortunate tenants.
Week after week this is happening not only in Leicester but throughout the length and breadth of the land, and I hope it is the intention of the Government to deal with this question and to have a comprehensive Bill which will remove the terrible difficulties that have been shown to exist.
There is one matter which I had hoped might have been mentioned in the Gracious Speech and I would appeal to my right hon. Friends to consider it and see whether they cannot do something about it. It is the question of motorways. In my view there is a need for these motorways, and they have been recognised by the Government in their 10-year highway programme and highways development schemes announced by the Minister of Transport in 1946. I do not see any reference to the subject in the Gracious Speech, but if anything is intended to be done in this regard, I shall be happy to hear about it. I know there are questions of priority, but this seems to be a matter which ought to be dealt with rapidly. The Minister's statement some time ago was to the effect that he hoped to introduce a Roadways Bill when Parliamentary time permitted. I make an appeal for such a scheme now, because I feel, as others have felt, that road transport costs form a much larger part of production costs than is generally realised, and a reduction is in the national interests. The limitation of our roads prevents them from being effective, but if motorways were constructed the maximum efficiency in vehicle operation would be possible. The 10-years programme envisaged in a comprehensive reconstruction of our national highways and the need for an extensive development of the road system are necessary, and costs which were worked out by responsible people indicated quite clearly that there would be a tremendous saving ultimately, not only in the cost of transport itself, but in the cost of repairs and of future operating cost.
I would also point out that the Town and Country Planning Act calls for at least a Measure which will enable these motorways to be planned and proceeded with and so fit in with the picture that was intended to be painted for the country under that Act. Even if there are fly-over bridges, which I think are sometimes necessary, and which I have seen in operation in the United States, they will be extremely effective not only in the saving of transport costs but in time, which in itself is very important. If they were constructed, although costly in the first instance, ultimately there would be a saving all round which would make it well worth while. I hope we shall have some indication that a Measure of this description will be introduced during the coming Session.
For some minutes I want to deal with the question of legal aid. I am happy to see that it is intended to revise on a much more liberal basis the system of granting legal aid to litigants. Those of us who have had occasion to practise in the legal profession know very well that there are large numbers of people who are prevented from continuing perfectly legitimate and well founded actions in consequence of the fact that they have not the wherewithal to pay for such actions. It is true, and I think it ought to be widely known, that the legal profession, about which we get some interesting remarks even in this House, in the matter of giving advice and of assistance under the Poor Persons Rules, has for many years been extremely anxious to do its best and has fulfilled its obligations in that respect, not only to the full but to overflowing.
Thousands upon thousands of cases have been taken by lawyers, both barristers and solicitors—this is not generally known and I think it ought to be known—for years without any payment at all. Although very large sums of money may not be involved in these, most difficult problems frequently are, and from a legal standpoint it is the case involving small sums that very often has much more in it from the point of view of legal disputation than others and requires a tremendous amount of inquiry, which might even cost thousands of pounds under other circumstances. The problem is one which always has called for a wider sphere of possibility for the person who felt himself injured. He had no real opportunity, except from the existing voluntary organisations, of seeking legal advice. The so-called middle-class man might have had to spend the whole of his slender means on an appeal when he felt he had been dealt with wrongly. The result, in some instances, was that people sold up everything they had and found themselves, if not in the bankruptcy court, at least very near to it in consequence of an action with which they had proceeded but which they could not conclude because of the further costs that might be entailed.
I realise it is the intention of the Government to deal with this matter on a much wider scale. I assume that the conclusions of the Rushcliffe Committee will be taken into consideration and that we shall have opportunities of discussing further points when the Bill comes before us. Let me say how pleased are both we in the profession and people outside it in the knowledge that the Government have taken up this great humane work, which will put on a proper basis the position of those people who otherwise would not have opportunities for their legal matters to be dealt with. I commend the Government for this effort on their part.
Also referred to in the Gracious Speech are the establishment of National Parks, the payment of jurors and the abolition, with limited exceptions, of special juries, and a Bill to enable the Government to ratify an international Convention on safety of life at sea. These also are measures which indicate the trend of the Government's policy in dealing with the affairs of men and women on a humane basis—on a Socialist basis, which regards as tremendously important, attention not only to the wider issues but to the lives, the daily affairs, the intimate concerns of men and women. In this regard the country should know that in this Session not only shall we be engaged with major questions of peace and war. We shall continue on the path we have already begun, in our great effort to make the people of this country not only masters in their own homes, but also an example to the rest of the world—as has been done in the last three years—of the way that the progress of their welfare should take place; and to give to men and women in this country those facilities for carrying on normal and happy life to which for many years they were entitled, but which they are only now beginning to receive in proper measure.
May I add my congratulations to those already bestowed on you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and say how happy some of us are to see you sitting in that Chair and that we hope on future occasions we shall very often catch your eye. Clearly, this, seat from which I speak is as independent as the Member who rises from it. My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) has already made a speech from here. We have had a speech also from the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas) and one this morning from a Conservative, the hon. Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser), who spoke on a non-party basis.
I would like to say just this about national unity. It is a very dangerous term. I have seen something of it, both politically and genuinely. There are three questions, I think, upon which the greater the agreement we can secure, the better it will be for the country. One is the ex-Service men's position, the second is the movement for European unity, and the third is recruiting; but as long as parties exist I am somewhat suspicious of the talk of national unity, and I gather that both sides of the House are equally suspicious, if I understand the letters which have recently appeared in "The Times." There is always a tendency for Members of the Conservative Party to think that matters on which they have long had unanimous agreement should be accepted by the whole country and then we would achieve a happy unity all round. At present the boot is rather on the other foot and the question is how far can the present Government pull over —take with them—a larger section, particularly of the middle class, of this country in a policy which has wide commendation.
The right hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) tried to flog this Debate into some sort of life by raising the question of the trade unions under nationalisation. In a Debate on the Address we tend to wander away on many subjects, but the hon. Member for Houghtonle-Spring (Mr. Blyton) made one or two very pertinent remarks on trade unions. Let me say to the right hon. Member for Epsom that he really must not come to this House and say that the increased cost of living in this country is due mainly either to the Labour Government or to nationalisation. I have recently been in America and, if there is one thing that is worrying the Dewey supporters as much as it worries the Truman supporters, it is the appalling rise in the cost of living. I sometimes think that we attribute too easily to the Government of the day the blame for matters which are due in fact to world causes. I sat and listened on the Government Benches for some years to abuse, because of causes which started in America during the great depression and which were very difficult to counteract by any national policy. I believe that at present our Government is in the grip of similar world movements and any other Government would be similarly placed.
I was glad that the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring spoke of the necessity of education and training in the conciliation machinery. I do not pretend to have any special knowledge of these questions, but I do know that nationalisation is not an end in itself; nor are some of the other measures introduced during the last three years. These are only the means to something very much greater, and it will require a great deal of training and education in the community before we get down to a real understanding of the question of incentives and democratic control.
I did not agree with the Noble Lord the Member for North Midlothian and Peebles (Lord John Hope) about the particular remark of the Secretary of State for War. I do not agree always with the remarks of the Secretary of State for War. There was one in particular which, I think, did not do anybody in this country any good, but when he made some rather honest-to-God remarks about nationalisation, I sympathised with him. I thought that he was nearer the truth than anybody else who had actually spoken, though it was, perhaps, something of a confession.
One other point in the Debate which I should like to take up is that of U.N.E.S.C.O., because the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Janner) in correcting certain remarks which were made, obviously could not have known what was the real issue. I could speak for an hour on U.N.E.S.C.O., although I do not propose to do so. It is high time that this House made up its mind whether it wants £300,000, £400,000, £500,000 or £600,000 worth of public money spent on this organisation. All I am saying as a strong supporter of the idea, is that it is a question which needs to be fully discussed by this House.
This Debate has been dominated by three things: fear of Communism; National Defence, and the first round of what promises to be a bitter partisan Session. The argument used by the Opposition, as far as I understand it, is this: the British Labour movement is no guarantee against the infiltration of Communism, as has already been hinted this morning; that Communism is only an extreme form of Socialism; that the Labour Party is half-hearted in its opposition to Communism; and that therefore the country ought at this moment to turn to the only known alternative and replace this Government by a Conservative Government, whose main articles of faith are a redistribution of property, so called——
I am quoting the argument. The hon. Member must remember that historically these three days are days when we discuss general questions, and therefore it is very important that we should try to get some sort of connected argument about the state of the nation. All the questions about which we have just heard from the hon. Member for West Leicester, and the many other questions about which we shall hear today, we shall debate for a whole year; but this is the only chance of talking about the state of the nation.
The Conservative Party's articles of faith—the redistribution of property, freedom of enterprise and a greater consideration of the Empire—have been advocated from the Opposition side of the House. Now, I think this is a thesis which requires very careful analysis. Perhaps I might be permitted to say that the Labour movement has got very deep roots in this country, and derives itself from many sources; some of them are religious, some of them are ethical, some of them are Marxist, some of them are reformist, some of them are trade unionist, and some of them are cooperative. It has taken years and years to weld the elements of these different movements into one party.
Twenty-seven years ago Mr. R. H. Tawney wrote a book called "Sickness of an Acquisitive Society," and I am not aware that any of the volumes which have been produced since—some of them quoted from this side of the House; and some indeed written by Members of the present Government and the party opposite—have really approached the vision and the principles of the book Mr. Tawney wrote 27 years ago. Not only was the social philosophy therein enunciated far more profound and far more human than that of Karl Marx, but it was the only effective answer to Mr. Hilaire Belloc, quoted by the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis), and it was the only effective answer to the Liberal philosophy which up to that time was the alternative philosophy, because the Conservatives had quite frankly said there was no need for a philosophy. Until 1945 the Labour movement was very largely a movement of protest.
Now, for three years—and I want to be very fair—at a time of world dislocation, with our reserves eaten up by two wars, with an ageing and a tired population, they have been in full power. I think comparisons with 1918 and 1922 are of very little value. I always get rather impatient when I hear anybody comparing the number of houses built during that period with the number built during this period, or even the respective balances of trade. It was a different war. There has been no Rupert Brooke and no C. E. Montague to write "Disenchantment" after the last war.
In fact, the air has been thick with disillusion ever since the first atomic bomb was dropped on Japan, and the two great facts which have emerged are the fact of Russia with an increasing population—a population with an annual increase almost as big as the population of England—and the fact of rising nationalism especially in the Asiatic world. Therefore, Britain has had to make adjustments—and major adjustments—in both home and foreign policy in a very changed world, and it is in that respect that I should like to regard the actions, the record and the future of this Government.
I have had occasion to see this Government not only through British eyes but through European and American eyes, and more recently through the eyes of many Members of different Commonwealth Governments. Of course, it all depends on whom one consults, and to whom one looks for supporting arguments; but in going among the normal wage-earners of this country—as I have been trying to do during the last three weeks, with a special eye to this particular question—I have not found any great enthusiasm anywhere for any known alternative Government. I have found that to be so, not only among workers but among a great many businessmen and farmers. But everywhere, especially among students, I have found something else, which has worried me, and that is a sense of frustration. My own belief is that that sense of frustration has got a great deal to do with the international situation, and with the fact of the atomic age.
I have been a Member of Parliament during two decades, and in each what is called the world situation has dominated domestic affairs. And, as I understand it, here we are again, utterly dependent on world trade, again making a series of trade agreements—as had to be made during 1931 to 1939—inevitably interested in the revival of East and West trade in Europe, inevitably wishing to develop the Colonial markets and to increase the raw materials from those sources, and also, of course, to increase our own trade, not only with the Dominions but with India, Pakistan and Ceylon. All this has had to be done with diminished capital resources and equipment run down after six years of war.
I want to say that I do not share the view of the hon. Member for Keighley. I do not know what his position is, but I sit here at the moment as an Independent representative for the English Universities. I have been in and out of them a good deal, and what I find is that there is a very considerable admiration for the relative recovery which has taken place during the last three years. Bearing in mind the facts, remembering what has been done in the field of social services, from the nursery schools to the universities —about which the Chancellor of the Duchy knows something with increased grants to the universities of something like £20 million—£12 million through the Treasury and £8 million through the Ministry of Education for scholarships—considering that the Poor Law is abolished and that the National Health Service is struggling into existence, with children's allowances, and the setting up of care for the deprived child—all this provides a model for the Atlantic, European and Asiatic world to emulate.
When we are criticising the administration—and I can criticise on quite a number of matters, the administration of the one Department I know best—let us not forget that this act of faith is, in a sense, the act of faith of all parties. Although this Government has carried through some of these Measures with great courage and great skill, it is the faith of all parties and the inspiration of many minds—many, alas, who have not lived to see them passed. I think of my late colleague Miss Eleanor Rathbone; when I think of National Parks. I think of my friend Mr. John Dower who literally died in preparing the plans which have now come to fruition, and which will be under discussion in the near future.
Dare I also mention in this House a thing which is not often mentioned? We are in the presence of something like a renaissance, especially in the field of music and in some of the other arts, and all Europe and America honour us for these things, because we do not live by coal alone. Encouragement has been given by the State, but, thank heaven, the work is that of co-operation by public enterprise as at Edinburgh and elsewhere. I have been going about the country and I could mention scores of enterprises up and down the country, at Leicester, at Leyton and in ordinary places, in the field of social and educational affairs, which demonstrate beyond any doubt that in this land one can find a richer pattern of living than anywhere else in the world.
America is a country which is rich in material things. I know it well. I have been in every State in the Union. Believe me, they are worried and puzzled to death at the present moment at the many growths which as Lord Passfield and Mr. Tawney pointed out, often accompany an acquisitive society. Our juvenile delinquency has gone down. A great many social questions as well as the question of industrial relations, are relatively far nearer solution in this country than in that great Republic. There is something to be said for a much greater examination of this society in which we are living.
Of course, there is danger to the standards of education and local initiative in the granting of powers to Whitehall. Very often one notices today not the considerable publicity one used to get, in local government, but a new chain of responsibility from the centre and nobody knows about the details. If this continued on a large scale, I believe we should be destroying something very precious in local initiative in this country. I hope that is not going to be a forgotten practice. In fact what one misses in this House today is the voice of protest and private initiative which should come from any corner of this House and will come more when we have freedom for the Wednesday afternoon Debates and the Friday morning Private Bills, and with every other method of expressing the opinion of the people. I am not con cerned from which side of the House it Comes. We are trying to hammer out a new sort of society in this Island. It is my opinion that the problems that really matter today are nearly always in between not only the parties, but often between the actual Measures which come before Parliament. I could mention half a dozen problems. My right hon. Friend mentioned one this morning about trade unionism in nationalised industries and the question of the administration of manpower. Have we got the teachers and specialists and town planners, and the rest of it, to carry into effect these Measures we are now passing year by year? The whole question of professional manpower comes up from time to time. The Vice Chancellor of Cambridge raised it the other day over the pay of 'professors. It comes up on every question of rewards to specialists. There is no doubt that the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) finds it in the medical profession, and others in the dental profession.
I think we should be a little careful in the process of bringing in a greater equality, that we do not deny to some people what ought to be theirs because it is not possible for everyone. That is not Socialism or common sense. On the other hand, we ought to be careful that while we are bringing up the standard of great masses of the people we do not destroy in the process which is sometimes called levelling down, the standards by which we live because in this Island it is by standards more than anything else that we are bound, whether in trade, social service, education or anything else, and it is by these standards that we affect the world.
There are a great many other questions in between actual Measures which I think could well be discussed in this House for many weeks in this coming Session. I hope that full opportunity will be given to discuss such matters. There are some very practical Measures in the King's Speech which have been referred to already, such as the National parks, the reformation of the law and so forth, and Measures to protect merchant seamen, which many of us will welcome from all parts of the House. I do not believe that we ought to go on telling people abroad that never has this country sunk to a lower ebb. It is my opinion, for what it is worth, that we have made a very considerable recovery during these last three years.
We have still to see that we do not get too great a concentration of power in what is sometimes called the State. We have still to solve the question which the Chancellor of the Exchequer asked at Aberdeen several years ago about the "we" and the "they." I believe that a lot of people in this country still believe, "It is them what does it and not us." That is why nationalisation is only a means to an end. If by these methods we can remove some of the material millstones still hanging round the necks of children and wage earners in this country, if we can achieve a spiritual revival in this country, then these Measures are worth something. But nationalisation and the National Health Service are not ends in themselves. They are not a religion, and it is that mistaken view which is now making many students all over the country begin to be cynical not only of them, but of politics itself.
Therefore, I say, as Horace once said, "Greece, though conquered, held the world in chains." I say Britain, though impoverished, has still much to give the world, and among those gifts I would include a sense of fair play, a great literature and the prospect of free parliamentary government being extended wider and wider.
I wish that I could follow the speech of the hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. Kenneth Lindsay), which was so sensitive, so thoughtful and so sincere. I am sure that we on this side have enjoyed and appreciated it. I am afraid, however, that I have to come down to a rather lower level, because I wish to talk about some of the domestic legislation envisaged in the Gracious Speech. I hope I shall be forgiven if I approach it from a constituency point of view. I represent the Lowestoft Division of East Suffolk, a Division which is concerned with as many special problems as any constituency in the country. It is in regard to some of those special problems which are being met by the legislation envisaged in the Gracious Speech that I should like to detain the House for a very short time. The points which I wish to bring to the notice of the House are the proposal to deal with coast erosion, the institution of national parks and the new legislation in respect of the white fish industry. The coast erosion Measure will follow from the agitation that has been going on in this House for quite a long time, and particularly during the life of the present Parliament, and it was promised in a statement by the Prime Minister over two years ago. There is no part of the coast that has suffered more than Norfolk and Suffolk by the encroaching of the sea. It is very difficult indeed to raise any interest in those hon. Members who represent inland constituencies, and who have not seen the terrible havoc which the sea can make, and to get from them cooperation and pressure. It is gratifying that at last the Government have fulfilled their promise. One of the great criticisms of this Government from outside is not that they have failed to fulfil their promises but that they have fulfilled or are going to fulfil their promises. The promise given by the Prime Minister some time ago is now to he fulfilled by legislation to deal with coast erosion.
Sea defence works and works designed to curb the incursions of the sea are extremely expensive. They impose, and have imposed for a long time, great drains on local authorities some of which are very small. Towns in my constituency such as Lowestoft, Southwold and the rural district of Kessingland have very small resources. The rate demands for sea defences are extremely high. They impose a burden on these local authorities which diverts large sums of money from progressive developments in their towns to sea defence. The Leader of the Opposition told us yesterday with some pride that at Tory meetings they were to open the proceedings with "Rule Britannia." The Tory Party think that they have the copyright of that ballad. I assure hon. Members that unless we are very careful it will not he a question of "Britannia rules the waves"; the waves have been ruling Britannia for a long time and it is time that we put a stop to it. The burden imposed on local authorities in order to maintain adequate sea defences is wholly intolerable.
In my constituency I meet a great many of my political opponents, some of whom are bitterly opposed to nationalisation as a political creed. I have not yet met one who is not wholly in favour of the nationalisation of sea defences and sea works in order to prevent coast erosion. The problem resolves itself into two main elements. The first is cost and the other concerns the technical approach. I hope that the Government will concentrate all the technical and financial activities necessitated by sea defence under one Ministry. It is appropriate that the Minister of Health should be the responsible person. He is intimately connected with the local authorities, he has large engineering resources and he is responsible for building houses. It would be terrible if he were to allow the houses which remain to drop into the sea. There is some encouragement for him to take care of all the houses that we have. The cost is beyond the capacity of the smaller local authorities. The drain on the rates is intolerable. We hope that the cost will be met by substantial grants which I suggest should be up to 100 per cent. in some cases.
There is a strong body of opinion that the neglect of past years has accentuated the difficulty. It is most difficult for those local authorities who, during the war, were denied access to their groynes and foreshores to keep in repair the works that were there. The problem has become so serious that we have had catastrophes such as that at Seaford and, in my constituency, the North Sea wall at Lowestoft which involves the corporation in an expenditure of over £300,000. That is intolerable.
The other consideration which I hope will be borne in mind is the technical coordination of sea defence works. It is not a bit of good indulging in elaborate sea defence works in one section of the coast just for the protection of that part which is under the control of a certain local authority while neglecting adjacent danger spots. The sea will not be denied. If it cannot wreak its havoc at one part it will make an attack close by, on either side of the protected area. It is essential that the Government should approach this problem with powers to compel local authorities to take action, if they are recalcitrant. The Government must have power to help them if they want money and must also be able to initiate works themselves in order to co-ordinate on a regional basis the work of sea defence.
We are very pleased that the Government are redeeming their pledge to introduce legislation to deal with a difficulty which we who suffer from it view with constant anxiety. I had a letter from a lady constituent recently in which she discussed the affairs of one small town in my constituency which is faced with an appalling bill for sea works. She said that she would rather have the town drop into the sea than spend so much money in keeping the sea away from it. That is a defeatist attitude but it reflects the burning anxiety of this lady who is feeling the financial stress of very high rates because of the work of sea defence.
I also wish to discuss the proposal to institute national parks. I speak particularly of one of those scheduled in the Hobhouse Report—the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads. I had hoped that the Minister of Town and Country Planning would be able to make a tour of the Broads so that I could show him the dangers which are apparent, but he has gone on another voyage with another mate. Therefore, I cannot present the picture to him at the moment. The Broads are scheduled in the Hobhouse Report at the bottom of the list. I do not want to make too much of this special pleading. There is no question but that the Broads ought to receive the highest priority. Unless the Government or the National Parks Commission, or whatever body may be set up, are provided with funds and the necessary powers, we shall lose many of the amenities of the Broads.
The Broads are deteriorating. They are becoming a liability instead of a great national asset. The Broads, which attract every year nearly one million visitors are uniquely British in what they offer in the way of traditional sports such as sailing, swimming, fishing, bird-watching——
I will come to that point. They are deteriorating to such a degree that it is essential that they should receive high priority unless we wish them to become such a shadow of their former glory that they will be looked upon as a liability instead of an asset. Attention should be given to the question of arbitrary enclosure by the placing of a barrier across a river and the erection of a notice saying that it is private water. That is illegal. I have described it previously in this House as robbery. There is no justification for it. Someone might just as well put a five-barred gate across Oxford Street and say that it is private. There are the important questions of silting and the accumulation of aquatic vegetation, pollution by sewage, and the terrible bungaloid growth. If we are to retain this glorious natural national park, it should receive most favourable consideration. I urge that the question one of extreme urgency, and I hope that the Government will give it the highest priority when they consider their national parks programme.
I wish to make one important point on the question of the white fish industry. There has been a rather vague announcement that we are to have a White Fish Bill this Session, which interested a great many of us, but the whole thing is wrapped in mystery and we do not know what the Government intend. The Government have already shown a very keen interest in the three national primary producing industries—mining, farming and fishing. We have had two Bills dealing with the fishing industry—the Inshore Fishing Act and the White Fish and Herring Industry Act—and now we are promised another White Fish Bill.
We welcome the interest which the Government are showing in the fishing industry. Very few people realise the extent of the industry or the amount of money involved in the landing of fish, but it amounts to nearly £55 million a year. The landings of fish from British boats are nearly 20 million hundredweights a year, and the foreign landings 4,500,000 cwts. The industry, however, needs rationalising—the spacing of landings, the relationship between British and foreign landings, the conservation of the fishing beds and a great deal more research. We on this side of the House and my constituents welcome this provision, in common with other provisions of a domestic nature mentioned in the Gracious Speech, and I shall do my best to support the Government in all these undertakings.
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member who has just spoken on the topics with which he dealt. Coast erosion does not affect my constituency, which is an entirely landlocked one. Certainly, however, we shall be most interested in the text of the National Parks Bill when it comes before the House. In my constituency, we have some of the most beautiful country in England, and we are naturally anxious that its beauty and amenities should be enjoyed by as many people as possible, provided that we can have sufficient safeguards for the members of the rural community who live there and earn their livelihood.
Just about two years ago, I had the opportunity of addressing this House when we were debating the Gracious Speech, and I put forward then views which I think are still of interest at the present time. It is not an unprofitable pastime to recall some of the things that have been said or that one has said oneself in years gone by, and I certainly commend that to a number of hon. Gentlemen opposite. On that occasion, I dealt to some extent with the German textile industry, and I was encouraged in my remarks by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) who, in an earlier speech, had said that he would like to see that industry integrated within our own economy. The actual words which I used then, and which I think hold good today, were as follows:
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 co-operation. 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."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1946; Vol. 430, c. 388.]
I am encouraged to refer to this matter today because there is a special mention in the Gracious Speech of the position in Germany in the following words:
In the western zones of Germany, economic revival has begun. Currency reform has brought stability and renewed faith in the value of money. The Germans themselves arc working hard to design a democratic constitution for Western Germany.
We are naturally glad that once again affairs in the Western zone of Germany are to occupy our deliberations during the coming Session, and that they will have the earnest attention of the Government.
While the remarks which I made two years ago still hold good, it may be that the opportunity of effecting that beneficial integration has passed for ever. In those days, we could have done it very largely by being the vehicle through which raw materials were provided to the various concerns. We could have made mutual agreements which would have been of benefit to us and later to the German economy as a whole.
I think there must have been some merit in the points I put forward, because I was vigorously attacked by the Russian paper "Izvestia" for the things I said, but, surely, there must be some rewards which go to the victors in a conflict such as that through which we have passed? I would like to ask the Government today if they can tell us now their attitude to British concerns making investments in Germany. We know only too well that the Americans, the French and the Russians in their zones have been taking a very tight grip on a large number of industries, not necessarily on a governmental basis, but through the facilities which they have given to their own financiers and business men to make arrangements with German concerns at the present time. We in this country may not have the resources of capital that are available to others, but we could use the commodities that are at our disposal, or even equipment.
I should like to ask the Government—and I have put this point in a number of supplementary questions, but have never received a satisfactory answer—whether they regard the present German currency, which is referred to in the Gracious Speech, as a hard or a soft currency. We hear so much about hard and soft currencies at the present time. Can the Government tell us whether they regard this currency as hard or soft, and, if their answer is, as it may well be, that it is hard, I think it is a scandal that we, who were victorious in the war, should now have a soft currency, while the defeated German nation should have a currency regarded as hard in the money markets of the world.
It has been said, and I believe it to be true, that there is a large quantity of textile machinery in Yorkshire and Lancashire that will never be manned by operatives again, and it would certainly be my wish that workers should not be asked to mind some of that old machinery but that it should be replaced and those mills re-equipped with modern machines. Why not send some of that old machinery abroad? Surely, it is illogical to bring into this country thousands of European voluntary workers to work in our mills, to aggravate our housing problem and to add to our social difficulties, when it could be a much simpler matter to transfer the machinery on which they are to work, and which would otherwise be redundant, to factories on the continent and to let them work there in close agreement with the British firms concerned, so that the profits that would arise from their work would accrue to our own British economy.
There is the possibility that by sending abroad our old looms and mule spindles we could build up the financial position of the concerns who had integrated their businesses with firms in Germany so that they could later have the financial resources to re-equip their mills with automatic looms and ring spindles and all the latest labour saving devices. Then the problem of a shortage of operatives which we have at present in Lancashire and Yorkshire would solve itself.
As the House will know, a scheme was put forward some time ago—I think it was known as the "Bradford Scheme"—whereby firms in the woollen industry could place orders with German concerns. I understand that that scheme was a complete failure. The reason was that the Board of Trade desired that all the orders which British concerns wished to place in Germany should be executed under a master contract. But one cannot have a master contract in the fashion trade; one must allow the individuals concerned to make personal contact with their opposite numbers, and to give exact instructions as to what designs and other aspects they wish to be considered. Here was a case of the Government trying to impose utility standards on the world market for woollen textile goods. It is all very well to produce millions of yards of a particular cloth if the only country to be supplied is Russia, but not if we hope to do business with all the multitudinous sections of the world. In that case one must pay attention to their individual requirements. Had that been allowed, this scheme would have succeeded.
We then had to try to obviate the bottlenecks and difficulties which had arisen as a consequence of the dislocation due to the war. We had vast stocks of wool with which we were unable to deal, and the idea was that contracts should be made with German firms to do some, or all, of the work for us. Of course, the whole transaction would have been most carefully handled by the Treasury and other Government Departments in order to see that the maximum benefit was obtained by this country. Unfortunately, because of the attitude adopted by the Government in trying to impose this master contract and a utility standard, no success whatever was achieved.
I have spoken about the textile industry, as being a suitable field for integration but I am sure there are similar opportunities in other branches of industry. The electrical goods industry, chemicals, non-ferrous metals and others where suitable arrangements could have been made at the right time by British concerns who, before 1939, had been fearful of the competition of their German rivals, but who could now have come to some complementary arrangement whereby that competition was eliminated and they could both work for the benefit of their respective economies.
I should like to tell the House a story which, at the time it was related to me, I thought was very unsatisfactory. I understand that on the cessation of hostilities in Europe advisers to certain industries went to Germany with the approval of the Government. Their object was to examine German industry as soon as possible, and to obtain what information they could concerning its running and any improvements which might benefit the British industry. My informant who, I understood, was the head of a committee representing his particular industry, went to Germany, and the first thing he did was to go to a rival firm about which he had known before the war, but whose factory he had never been inside. He found that many things in that factory were much better than in his own plant in England.
He had to put in a report as to whether this industry should be allowed to get on its feet again. He said to me, "I went over the plant, which was only slightly damaged at one corner, and I said to myself, If I put in a report saying that this industry can be easily revived with very little expenditure of material I shall be doing something to help the German economy and doing harm to my friends and my own business in England." "Therefore, he said, he put in a bad report, as a result of which the machinery and busineg. remained idle for many months.
But, if integration such as I have suggested had been carried out, actions of that sort would not have been necessary. I know, too, from the speeches of hon. Members opposite that a good deal of the failure of His Majesty's Government in this respect is due to the attitude of the T.U.C.
Does not the hon. Member think that his friend did a great deal of damage in misleading the Government as to the actual conditions in Germany, and that had he told the truth about the matter something could possibly have been done?
I am condemning the action of this individual, but from the remarks I have heard from hon. Members opposite, I believe it has been the declared policy of many members of the trade union movement that the Government should do nothing to revive German industry, because they do not want to be faced with competition at some later stage. The solution I put forward would, of course, have solved that matter. The Americans have been exasperated at the pace at which recovery in our zone has taken place. Only when the two zones were combined was any real progress made.
Two years ago I referred to the difficulty then existing of recruiting for the Regular Army. At that time I said that the British soldier was carrying the can all over the world for the blunders made by the Socialist Government. All I can say now is that if it is damaged he can get the can mended because there is a real tinker in charge of the War Office
at the present time. In the Gracious Speech reference is made to the fact that
the best use shall be made of men called up under the National Service Act.
"Is it suggested that the best use has not been made of these men during the past two years? It is a pity that the speech does not go on to say that the best use shall be made of the vast army of bureaucrats who are swelling the Ministries of this country.
I obtained some satisfaction from that part of the Gracious Speech which says:
It is only by our continued exertions and self-restraint that we shall win through. Inventive thought matched to hard work is necessary to enable workers and management. in common effort and counsel, to make the fullest use of our available resources.
Those sentiments could have been quoted directly from the Conservative Industrial Charter. We are glad to see that the Government have taken note of what we said, and we shall welcome the carrying out of many more of the excellent provisions which exist in that document. I hope Ministers of the Crown, too, will note the words:
continued exertions and self-restraint.'
I do not know what particular self-restraint is referred to—perhaps the demand for higher wages—but I think a little verbal self-restraint on the part of some members of the Government would be as great a help as anything else to solve some of our problems.
I am sorry that no mention has been made, although it may be in mind, of a possible review of the system of P.A.Y.E. Before we reassembled some prominence was given to this matter in the Press. I think it is agreed on all sides that the incidence of Pay-as-you-earn begins to have its effect just at that moment when the worker is considering putting in that little extra effort. If it comes to a question of earning £I more, and having a good part of it taken away in P.A.Y.E., or of enjoying oneself at a football match, or having more leisure, it is not unnatural that the latter alternative should be chosen. What distressed me was to see a suggestion that there might be some readjustment of P.A.Y.E. as it affected the mining industry alone, but no other industry was mentioned. I think it would be most undesirable if there were to be any discrimination in this matter.
I have been glad to put forward today these few points for consideration. The position in Germany must be taken seriously by the Government, as we may find ultimately that the business opportunities which now exist will have slipped by, and it is not so much the business management as the workers in this country who will feel the full effect of German competition and efficiency at a future date. I hope, too, that the Government have some really constructive ideas for dealing with the economic problems which are specially mentioned in the Gracious Speech.
The hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. Drayson) has devoted most Of his time to explaining to the House just how right he was in the past. That is rather a specialist subject peculiar to himself, and I do not feel obliged to follow him.
I am rather anxious to return the Debate to more general themes. I was interested in what I thought was the very thoughtful speech of the right hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale). Personally I was sorry that he was interrupted quite so much. This question of trade union relations in nationalised and near-nationalised industries is obviously of the greatest importance, but I should like him to believe this—and I think I speak for many of my hon. Friends on th' side—that we do not regard nationalisation of the' industries which have already been nationalised as something finished. We look on nationalisation as a continually developing process, and obviously this matter of Labour relations must always be much to the front. We have much to learn. If the Conservative Party, now that they accept the nationalisation of so many of the industries already nationalised—I am going by the Industrial Charter—can learn with us, I think it will be to the good of the country all round.
One of the arguments which has been much to the front in this Debate during the last two or three days has been the argument that for the Government to do what the Labour Party said in 1945 it would do if returned, is to commit treason against national unity. I believe that that argument is both false and dangerous. The British people, in fact, are today probably fundamentally the most united on earth, because they have so successfully mastered the art of agreeing to differ. We do it in peaceful processes of Parliamentary discussion. To argue that the nationalisation of iron and steel should not be attempted because, although it is acceptable to the majority of the House, it does not win the approval of the minority, is to support the classical antidemocratic argument which is that fundamental economic changes cannot be put through by Parliamentary methods. It is that kind of argument, when used so carelessly by the Conservative Party, that plays right into the hands of the Communists and other foes of liberty.
In the Gracious Speech there is a tremendous amount of ground on which it is possible to have a wide measure of national unity. The need to look to the defences of the country, for instance; I believe that should be right above any party controversy. The need to build a strong public opinion in support of Western European unity; I believe that, as far as possible, that should be above party controversy. Also the pressing matter of the restoration of Britain's financial and trading position in the world; I would like to think that that was also above party controversy. There are many good reasons for it, of course. National unity is desirable on those matters because neither adequate defences for the country nor a country free from debt can be achieved without an informed public opinion understanding the reasons for the sometimes unpleasant things that have to be done in order to bring them about. We need to have an informed public opinion in this country, understanding, for instance, the need for continued austerity and personal self-sacrifice.
The other day some of us had the unpleasant experience of listening to the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas). His speech contained many sneers at his former political friends and their policy, but I thought that some of his most stupid references were to the enforced policy of keeping the home market short of goods. It has been forced upon the Government and upon the country by sheer necessity, and it is silly to make the kind of cheap gibe which the hon. Member made the day before yesterday. I much prefer the realism of the "Observer"a few Sundays ago, when their political correspondent, discussing the prospects of a return of Conservative rule in this country—he did not rate the prospects very highly, by the way—said that under a Conservative Government austerity would have to continue because the present international economic position would put any Government in a strait jacket. I am quoting from memory, but I think that is correct, and I thought it was certainly infinitely more realistic than the kind of stuff which the most recent convert to Toryism turned out the day before yesterday.
I believe that unity is desirable in all those things I have mentioned, because they can be fairly easily kept outside the bounds of acute domestic controversy. Allowing for that, however, I still believe that we who are in a majority in this House have a right to say that it is unreasonable for the Opposition to make the price of national unity that we should drop our principles and adopt theirs. I think that is perfectly unreasonable especially when it is remembered, first of all, that the matters where the parties differ—nationalisation, for instance—were debated before the people in 1945, and the people made their choice, and secondly when it is remembered that, with the exception of the Camlachie byelection—where the combined Socialist vote still exceeded the Conservative vote —the Opposition over this last three and a half years have not yet succeeded in replacing a single Labour Member of the House by an Opposition supporter. It is, therefore, presumptuous for the Conservative party to try to dictate the terms of national unity.
I believe it is right that iron and steel should be placed under public ownership for the same reason that it was right to nationalise the coal industry There are many secondary arguments—efficiency, price, labour relations and so on—but they are secondary arguments and the important argument to us on this side is this: here we have great economic power affecting the lives and the work of millions and we believe, according to our philosophy, that it is in the national interest that that great economic power should not be left in private hands. We believe it should be a public trust and a public responsibility.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Keighley is not here and therefore, I will not say many of the things I might have said if he had been here. I mention his speech because it is fairly typical of Conservative speeches at the present time. He spoke about a property-owning democracy, as if the idea of more people owning more property was some new discovery of the Conservative Party. After all, what in the main stands in the way of families having better clothes, owning motor cars, and their own homes for that matter—enjoying in general a better material standard of life? I think the answer is that it is poverty, and it is the Labour movement, the trade union and the Co-operative movement in Britain which have been in the vanguard of the struggle against poverty over the last 50 years.
There are many thousands, many in my own constituency, of excellent trade unionists and Labour supporters who own their own houses, for instance, but they do not thank the Tory Party for the privilege. They thank their own power of organisation in industry, in politics; that is what has done it. Many will go so far as to say they have done it in spite of the Conservative Party. I believe it is an excellent thing—and I am sure, indeed, that the great majority here would be in agreement with me—for a man to save if he can and to buy himself a gramophone, a motor car, or a refrigerator, or a house for his family. But he cannot have his own power station, he cannot have his own coal mine or his own steelworks. That is why the talk about a property-owning democracy alone is so inadequate to meet the needs of the 20th century and the technical fact of the large-scale concentration of economic power in a few hands.
The other day the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft), who spoke with as much force as he always uses, stated that Socialists must decide on which side they fight. For that moment he was the perfect fatalistic Marxist. It it remarkable simplification that you are either for or against Communism, either for or against Capitalism. Where is that going to take the Conservative Party, if they persist in it, in international affairs? It is going to bring them to the point where they will gladly accept Franco as an ally against the Communists. At home what nonsense it is to pretend that there is no choice for the British people except that between Lord Woolton and Harry Pollitt. What a choice! What a prospect!
I believe there is, in fact, a whole nation in between selfish Toryism and totalitarian Communism, and it is the common people of these islands who, under their present hard-working leadership, inspired by the ideals of liberty and social justice, will yet win through to that peace and security which they deserve.
The wide open spaces, if you like. However, on this particular occasion we have in our village at least one very solid curate on the Front Bench. I think one of the great advantages of a Debate of this sort is that there are the "wide open spaces"of discussion to which the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey) has just directed my mind. It is an advantage, as one far older and better versed in the wiles of this House than I am told me this morning; one can speak on anything under the sun. If one is called to Order —and I trust I shall not be called to Order, Sir—one has simply to say that one humbly regrets that what one has mentioned is not mentioned in the Gracious Speech.
Briefly, I wish to impose on the House certain views I have on certain matters which are mentioned in the Gracious Speech. We arc promised that there is to be an increase in housing—special legislation to improve the availability of building for local authorities. The other day the right hon. Gentleman who presides at the Ministry of Health assured us that his target had been reached.
Every hon. Member will agree that they must have a great deal of concern about this in their various constituencies, whether we talk of the targets or the achievements of the housing situation. I find it perfectly shocking and perfectly tragic——
—to have to realise the situation of all too many young and old people in regard, to housing accommodation today. We are not going fast enough; by no means are we going fast enough, and I am far from convinced that we cannot go much faster. Housing of itself is not, as many have endeavoured to make it, a controversial party matter; it is a thing on which we all agree, although we may have different methods of achievement. I am very concerned with the cases which I find, and which I know other hon. Members in this House find in their constituencies.
I want to put in a word on this occasion for those unfortunate public spirited ladies and gentlemen who sit on local authorities and who have the unenviable task of having to decide who among those deserving applicants who come before them shall or shall not be allotted a house. They receive rather more bricks than are available for their housing. That can never be right. I think that the country owes a debt of gratitude to those of our local authorities who are doing their best in very difficult circumstances on housing committees and allocation committees. I would enjoin the Minister of Health not to be satisfied, but to spur on efforts for the far greater production of houses. The situation is had, and it does not seem to be improving half as fast as we were led to believe.
Mention has been made of certain legislation appertaining to the magisterial courts in this country, and I trust that when that legislation is considered by this House attention will be drawn to a matter which is of vital public concern—that is, the increasing power of ministerial officials to impose penalties which are not available to the duly elected magistrates of the petty sessional courts of this country. May I quote one typical instance? That is the prosecutions, of which there are far too many, for illegal slaughtering. I must declare my interest in the case which I am quoting because my professional firm was concerned in it. A butcher appears before the magistrates, those who know their district and who know their butchers, and before whom one is certain of a knowledgeable and fair trial. The offence is proved, and the penalty, even imprisonment—because they are very heavy penalties, quite rightly is inflicted. Then there are steps in another type of sanction—the suspension of that trader's licence to trade. That savours all too much of complete negation of a principle of British justice—that no man shall be punished twice for the same offence.
I have been in correspondence with the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Food on this matter, and we have disagreed in toto from the commencement. She has quite rightly and fairly stated that this system of the right to suspend trading licences was introduced by the Coalition Government in the war days. It has also been quoted against me, equally fairly, that we have, in the case of the Law Society or the General Medical Council, power to withdraw men's qualifications and rights to practise their professions. I am not complaining of the view taken by the Minister of Food that it is their duty to see that those engaged in the distributive side of food supplies shall be of the probity and standing which are necessary for the protection of the public. I agree with that entirely; but I am concerned that sanctions can be imposed by an official—by the Minister himself, or one of his minions—who is completely unknown, and I would prefer, and I think that the country would appreciate that it would be more equitable, if that power were also vested in the magistrates who try and decide the case originally.
I trust that when the legislation referred to in the Gracious Speech comes about, attention will be given to that point—that where there is the imposition of a penalty, of whatever sort, it shall not be at the whim of an anonymous official of this or that Ministry. Our magisterial system on the whole is working well, although it is capable of obvious improvements, which I have no doubt this House will attend to before long, but I feel that the full powers of punishment should be in the hands of magistrates. I trust that the Home Secretary will give some consideration to my reference to this matter.
I am delighted to find in the Gracious Speech that improvement in the Regular Forces is intended. We cannot under existing conditions have a conception of a National Army, such as that which the Secretary of State for War introduced to us in his special appeal in July, and towards which I think we, irrespective of party, are doing our best to contribute by supporting the Territorial recruiting drive. Opposed as I am in principle and conviction to conscription I wholly accept that we must in these days have a National Army on the lines which the right hon. Gentleman envisages, but to my mind we shall not attain that objective until we make our Regular Forces as attractive as any other profession in the country. It is outstandingly obvious by reason of the rates of pay, quarters, and pensions, that our Regular Forces have not appeared attractive to young men of ambition and purpose. Until we improve those conditions, we shall not achieve the essential task of providing a true National Army.
The Territorial recruiting drive has just commenced. We all know that the result of the recruitment for the Territorial Army today has been truly deplorable. It has been a flop; let us face it. We have to obtain a Territorial Army of 150,000 men and women who have had experience of war and Service life, and who can adapt themselves to the National Service men on their return to the Territorial Army. I feel that there are two things preventing the achievement of the National Army which we need, unfortunately, more than ever these days, although I trust that the day is not far distant when we shall not need it. But we must face realities. We need it at the present time desperately.
If we improve the conditions of pay throughout the Regular Services, we shall have no worry on that score. Territorial recruitment is handicapped by a number of things. There are many thousands of good young ex-Service men, ex-Territorials of the last war, who would like to rejoin the Territorial Army, but are prevented by one thing—it may be a small thing, but it is a great thing to them—the vexed question of loss of pay when they go to camp. Every Territorial likes going to camp because, to begin with, it is a holiday away from the missus and a fortnight or so with the boys, but they cannot afford to give up their holiday to the Territorial Service unless the Government are prepared to evolve some scheme to make up the pay they lose. If the Government introduced some Measure whereby the Territorial is voluntarily able to give of his best and go to camp and lose nothing in the way of his family income, half the trouble of achieving the target would be settled.
Finally, I think that we all welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to the improvement of conditions, and, I trust, of pay and general services in the nursing profession. I think that there is no profession in the country which is harder to learn, which is so ill paid, and which gives greater service to the whole country. We have throughout the century been rather blind as to what proper reward such service deserves. I look forward with interest, and, I trust, eventually with pleasure, to seeing the condition of service in that very great profession materially improved both during training and during service.
That leads me to my final point which concerns the Estimates for the National Health Service, and the cost of that service. Something has emerged very quickly to which I think the attention of the Minister should be directed at once. That is the case of the rural doctor. It is all very well for an urban doctor with a full list, under the scheme, but only this week I had a harassed and urgent deputation of doctors from the rural parts of North Wales. They told me, and they convinced me, that the rate of emoluments, particularly as regards expenses, is putting them into the position of having to work at a loss. We all welcome the new Health Service. We regret that there was a little bickering before its introduction, but we look forward to the fulfilment of the kind of service which has always been in the hearts and minds of right-thinking people. Unless the position of rural practitioners is looked into, we shall find our rural areas losing their doctors, because they will be forced into urban areas to avoid having to work at a loss. I know that the B.M.A. are very concerned about this, and I hope that the matter will be taken up. In conclusion, I regret the omission of Wales from the Gracious Speech, which refers only to England and to Scotland. I regard it as a most regrettable omission.
I am afraid that I do not know the trinity. I thought I was correct in saying that the hon. Member for Caernarvon Boroughs (Mr. Price-White) was the only Conservative Member in Wales, but I will give him the other two, for what they are worth.
I welcome the opportunity to take part in this Debate for a personal reason. In view of what happened in this House on Wednesday last, I owe it to my friends, to my constituents and to my own good name and peace of mind to make my personality and political identity perfectly clear. Every William Sykes is not a Bill Sykes, and every Ivor Thomas is not a Doubting Thomas. Therefore, I gladly announce that I am still Ivor Owen Thomas, the Labour Member for The Wrekin Division of Shropshire, and I neither deserve the censures of my friends, nor do I desire the praise and plaudits of my political opponents.
I represent The Wrekin Division of Shropshire as a Labour Member, and I hereby proclaim, on behalf of myself and my constituents who elected me, that I am still in favour of and will continue to support the putting into legislative effect of the full programme upon which this Government was elected in 1945, including the Iron and Steel Bill. I am confident that I shall have the pleasure of seeing this further step towards the socialisation of our principal industries become law. I do not think I would be over-optimistic in stating that the electorate of this country will return this Government to power at the next General Election in order to see that this Measure is fully implemented, and our iron and steel industry become second to none in efficiency and the general well-being of all those engaged in it.
In making this personal explanation, I appeal to the B.B.C. to make it perfectly clear to the general public that there are two Members with similar names in this House, and that the speech which was made last Wednesday was made by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas) and not by the Labour Member for The Wrekin Division of Shropshire—myself.
The King's Speech outlines further proposals for industrial and social legislation. The hon. Member for Keighley, in his lamentable and inept speech, said:
I did, in good faith, pilot one nationalisation Measure through this House"—
as he did when he sat on the Front Bench as the respected representative of the Ministry of Civil Aviation. The hon. Member also said:
The attitude of sensible men in all parties has always been that the public ownership of any industry is a question to be considered on its merits.
While accepting that as a principle, what reason was there for the hon. Member for Keighley to cross the Floor even before he had seen the contents of the Iron and Steel Bill, which was not published until today'? My investigations have gone further than the speech which the hon. Member made on Wednesday. I find that in 1934 a book was published under the title "Coal in the New Era," by Ivor Thomas—not by Ivor Owen Thomas. This publication is really very revealing, especially having regard to certain further statements made in the speech on Wednesday last. The hon. Member for Keighley said:
But the nationalisation of iron and steel and the still wider schemes with which some hon. Members opposite are toying"—
he was, of course, referring to hon. Members on this side of the House—
are in a different class from the public utilities. The attitude of sensible men in all parties has always been that the public ownership of any industry is a question to be considered on its merits in each case.
I think I referred to that before. He also said:
I am certainly not opposed to nationalisation as such."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th October, 1948; Vol. 457, c. 112.]
He then mentions this action in connection with the Civil Aviation Bill. What do we find in this publication of his in 1934? I read these significant words:
When the National Coal Board has bought the mines"—
as was indicated in the scheme which he is putting forward in this book and which to a large extent is incorporated in the Act which is now governing the mines—
it will close down inefficient pits, amalgamate others in larger units, and build up an industry completely unified from the coal mines to the domestic grate and from the pit to the petrol tank.
He did not stop there. In the next paragraph he goes on:
But the Board cannot stop there. Since gas is to be produced at the pithead the relation of the present gas-producing companies calls for discussion. Until the Board has got into its stride the present gas companies will continue to fill a useful place in the life of the community but it will only be temporary. Once the gas grid has been established, the gas companies will be taken over by the Board in the way the mines were. As most of the gas companies are municipally owned and the others are not noticeably obstructive, and while some, such as the Gas, Light and Coke Company, have shown great public spirit and enlightenment, the absorption should not be difficult. Once the gas industry has been taken over the way is ripe for absorbing the electrical industry, which in this country is almost entirely dependent upon coal.
Note that point. Is not the iron and steel industry almost entirely dependent on coal?
The supply of electrical energy in bulk is already under national control and that branch of the industry can easily be absorbed, but the distributive side must also be taken out of private control. Unless that is done the consumer will never reap the full advantages of national control.
Then he goes on to iron and steel. I think I have whetted the appetites of hon. Members. In the next paragraph he says:
The relation of the iron and steel works to the nationalised coal industry must briefly be considered. The iron and steel industry is itself so large that it had better be regarded as a separate entity, and, if the rationalisation
already projected for it can be successfully carried through, that will be a meritorious achievement. But many collieries and iron and steel works are under the same ownership. Some will argue, if the carbonising industries are to be brought under the wing of coal, why not iron and steel? The answer is that the carbonising industry is more closely related to the coal industry than is the iron and steel trade
That was the main reason why he excluded the possibility of the iron and steel industry being nationalised along with the coal industry in those parts where the iron and steel industry was directly connected with the coal industry, but he did not rule out the nationalisation of the iron and steel industry on the basis that it was wrong to nationalise it, because he went on:
But such iron and steel works as are attached to collieries, or have collieries attached to them, can easily be brought into, or left out of, a rationalised coal industry without upsetting the whole scheme. … Ultimately it might be desirable to separate completely the iron and steel trade, but pending complete rationalisation of both the coal and the iron and steel trades a little overlapping is not objectionable.
Now what is the trend of that whole argument? Does it bear any relationship to the miserable recantation of previously declared principles—the recantation of Wednesday last? No, the fact is that this Iron and Steel Measure is in true and direct connection with the fundamental measures of nationalisation which have already found their way to the Statute Book.
I have had long personal experience in the iron and steel industry and can say—without exaggeration, perhaps—that it is in my blood and that of my family for several generations back. Both sides of my family were iron and steel workers, going back to the 40's and 50's of last century. I graduated in the iron and steel industry, not -at Oxford or Cambridge Universities, and I remember in my childhood days the keen competition for employment in, for instance, the tinplate industry of South Wales. There was such an overwhelming desire to fill the labour market from all available sources that my eldest brother was confident enough to sit an examination to prove that he knew sufficient at the age of 13 to be allowed to leave school to become a tinplate worker. Fortunately, he failed to reach the necessary scholastic standard and had to wait a further 12 months before he could go into that industry.
What I am emphasising is that coal, transport, electricity and iron and steel are the fundamental basis of our modern economy and that, if it is right that coal, electricity and transport should be nationalised, brought under one unified control and properly developed for the benefit of the whole community, such a policy is no less desirable for the great iron and steel industry of this country.
Furthermore, it is said by the opponents of nationalisation that the iron and steel industry is in a happy state of industrial peace. Well, I have mentioned that I went into the iron and steel industry at the age of 14, my first wage being 9s. 6d. per week. I went right through the various branches of the tinplate industry in my native town, and in my mind there is absolutely no doubt that the overwhelming opinion of the people who matter in the iron and steel industry—that is, the people who actually produce the iron and steel—is in favour of the national ownership and control of the industry in which they work. And, after all, it is their opinion that counts. I am confident that if the Government were not to pursue the fulfilment of the full nationalisation programme on which they were elected to power in 1945 by the electorate, if they were at this stage to drop the nationalisation of the iron and steel industry, they would be betraying their trust; they would be betraying the people of this country; and I am confident also that they would be doing something which would seriously retard the immediate future industrial development of our country.
Apart from the question whether it is economically sound to socialise an industry like the iron and steel industry, there is another overwhelming argument which has not yet been answered from the Opposition Benches; no attempt has been made to answer it. Is it right that such a mass of wealth, such a mass of power—industrial power and potential political and social power—should remain in the hands of a small number of people? Is it just to the common people of this country that such a fundamental, necessary industry should remain in the hands of the financial interests which have controlled it for so long? We are told that they have made a successful, prosperous industry of the iron and steel industry.
Well, I do not know. The term "prosperity" is probably relative. It has certainly meant prosperity and untold wealth for a small number of people. Even if there has been less unemployment in the iron and steel industry than there has been in the coal industry, it is not correct to say that the iron and steel industry has not suffered from unemployment. I myself have suffered from unemployment in my career in the iron and steel industry. It is childish to argue that the people who are engaged in the production of iron and steel in this country at the present time are so satisfied with their lot that they do not want any change in the present structure, ownership or administration of that industry. That simply is not true.
I repeat: the people engaged in that industry, the people who do the actual production, are overwhelmingly in favour of the national ownership and control of that industry, and in this Parliament we shall see placed upon the Statute Book this further great Measure of socialisation. Iron and steel, along with coal, and the other fuel and power concerns, will become nationally owned, nationally controlled and nationally administered, and once and for all taken out of the hands of a comparatively small group of people, who have previously exploited those industries for the sole purpose of private profit. The welfare of those who have been engaged in those industries has been a minor side of the whole set-up and administration of each branch of the industries concerned.
I hope, therefore, that we shall hear less of this cant and humbug about the notional interests in connection with retaining private ownership in the iron and steel industry. It just does not fit the facts. It is not a question, from the point of view of our political opponents, of national interest in retaining the present structure, the present private ownership set-up, in the iron and steel industry. What concerns them is the power, the privilege and the profit that private ownership of that and other industries has given them for so long. At long last the people of this country are going to call a halt to that policy of unlimited exploitation and say "Thus far and no farther." The people of the country are going to step in and make this industry, as we have already made other industries public corporations, administered for the sake of the general welfare of the community. We are going to cut out once and for all the element of personal profit and private ownership.
Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, will he answer one question? He devoted quite a considerable part of his speech to condemning the action of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas) in changing his views in regard to the nationalisation of iron and steel, views which the hon. Member for Keighley expressed in his book in 1934. Is it the view of the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. I. 0. Thomas) that in the same way that views expressed in 1934 with regard to the iron and steel industry should be maintained today, the Government should maintain the views they expressed in 1934 with regard to the Territorial Army and the Armed Forces of this country?
I do not contend that a man is not entitled to change his mind. What I was pointing out was that when a man changes his mind apparently so lightly and easily, there must be some other reason than a fundamental conviction which has urged him to declare his change of opinion. After such a close scientific analysis of the actual industry as is produced in this book, I cannot conceive it possible that a man can change his opinion in such a short time, especially after the short period which has elapsed since he himself was elected on the programme placed before the electors of this country. In "Let us Face the Future," and after such a short period since he himself held office in the Government and, during that period, never uttered the slightest word of criticism of the Government's policy.
The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. I. 0. Thomas) has made it very clear that his views are not in any way in harmony with those of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas) who happens to share the same name as himself. I think it is true to say that some people live and learn and others only live. In point of fact, of course, the hon. Member for Keighley, as is shown from the quotation that the hon. Member for The Wrekin. has just made, appears never to have held the view that steel should be nationalised. He certainly does not hold that view now. It seems from all that we hear that there are quite a number of hon. Members on the other side of the House who have the same view. They may perhaps be gathered in a kind of crocodile behind the serried ranks of the Cabinet who have, it would appear, reached a decision that was not unanimous on this subject.
However that may be, I have known the hon. Member for Keighley for 20 years and I have always been impressed by his intellectual honesty. It is right that he should do what his conscience dictates. If he thinks that the nationalisation of iron and steel is not the right thing for this country, it is right that he should make clear to the country why he thinks so. He should leave his electors in no doubt about his action.
The hon. Member has made a gross imputation against hon. Members on this side of the House. Will he name those hon. Members and give his reasons for making that imputation?
I am not aware that I have made a gross imputation. I have indicated that there is a difference of opinion on the other side of the House. I should be astonished if that were not so. I should take a much worse view of the party opposite than I do already if I thought that they were completely regimented in their opinions.
It really is time that we stopped talking about this mandate business. Time and again in my constituency I have been at pains to find out who read this beautiful document with a red V on the front. I do not know what it stands for: it certainly does not stand for "veracity." I find that the number of people who read the document was extremely small, yet a good many of them voted Labour. If that is so, it is plain that unless the Labour Party can claim that everybody who voted Labour read that document they have not the right to say that they have a complete mandate to do everything mentioned in it.
The hon. Member for The Wrekin asked whether it was right that industrial power should remain in the hands of a few people. Does he want the iron and steel industry to remain in the hands of the people who know about the industry, or does he want it handed to those who know nothing about it? Either the power must remain where it is, in which case why nationalise the industry if the same people will run it, or, if somebody else is to run the industry, who will that be? Is it likely that they will know more about the industry than the people who are already running it?
A number of shareholders in the steel industry know less about making steel than they know about making porridge. These people will be replaced by the Government. Does the hon. Gentleman tell us that these shareholders who never saw a steel works know more about making steel than the Government know?
I always thought that the idea was to replace the few by the many and that the shareholders were to be replaced not by the tiny oligarchy we see on the Front Bench but by the great masses in the country. I am shocked to hear that that is not the case.
One of the greatest difficulties from which the country suffers at the moment is the uncertainty throughout industry. I know that it is difficult for hon. Members opposite to understand the extent to which that uncertainty is handicapping the efforts of management at present. They do not know what their allocations are going to be, or how much of their output they will be directed to export. I hear an hon. Gentleman on the other side objecting, but let me tell him that there is a perpetual change of policy in this matter. I know of a firm which was ordered to export everything it could. It set to work, printed the necessary labels, got its selling agents going abroad and made advertising contracts. Within a month, it was told to reverse all that and to export no more of that product. How can we run the country on lines like that? Admittedly, the firm concerned got to grips with the Board of Trade on the matter, with the result that the order was reversed, and they were told to complete their contracts, but, after that, to export no more.
I know of another industry not unconnected with the building trade which was ordered to retain everything for home use, because it appeared that the Minister of Health had demanded that something must be done to bolster up his flagging housing campaign. A week later, this particular industry was told to cancel all that and to export as much as it could, because other Members of the Government had begun to exercise their influence and the wheels had been set in motion in entirely the opposite direction.
Take the case of the Purchase Tax. How can industry carry on when it does not know from one day to another how it is to be treated with regard to the Purchase Tax? It is well-known in industry that a difference of only 5 per cent. may have a very great influence on the sales of the products, but, when we get alterations of 33⅓ per cent. or even of 16⅔ per cent., there is a complete halt to the sales of the products of a particular industry. I know of factories which are now stocked up so much with furniture that it is impossible for them to carry on manufacturing at all, and the reason is simply because of the change in the Purchase Tax. If only we could get a Government which was able to convince the people of this country that it was moving towards a greater freedom of enterprise, then we should get confidence and hope.
I represent a rural constituency, and one of the great handicaps at the moment is the absurd treatment of rural areas in the matter of petrol. The allocations that are made seem to be no more generous in these areas, in which vast mileages have to be covered, than in towns. Indeed, the reverse seems to be the case. A taxi in a town, it appears, gets far more petrol than a hire car or taxi in a rural burgh such as Dumfries
The hon. Gentleman says it does more running, but that is not true. The distances to be covered are so much greater in the rural areas. I know of one small village in which I do not believe there is a single taxi or hire car at present with any petrol left of its present allocation. There are cases in which the owner of one hire car has been refused authority to license a second car, even although he has received authority from the local magistrates to do so. He has been refused petrol for the second car, which was to be used in a rural area.
It is for the local authority to decide, obviously in conjunc, tion with the chief constable, how many cars are required, and, having decided that and given the licences, is it right and proper that petrol should subsequently be refused for those cars by the regional petroleum officer?
I am quite prepared to answer reasonable questions, but to ask what a taxi is used for is really quite absurd. In one case, as soon as the licence was given, an option to purchase the car was exercised, and a disabled man was employed to run it. The petrol was refused, and the disabled man had to be sacked.
I have no conception at all as to why it was refused; that is what I am complaining about. The result was that a disabled man was thrown out of work, capital had been locked up in the purchase of the car—omething which need never have happened—and, furthermore, the dignity of the magistrates of Dumfries was seriously affected by this interference with their functions.
This is not limited to taxis; the same applies to the treatment of farmers who are supposed to be given petrol in order to attend markets. In actual fact, they are given very little petrol for that purpose. Indeed, if there is any public transport available, no matter how devious the routes and changes of connection, they are refused petrol. It is not realised that on every occasion that occurs the farmer's time is wasted, which means, in effect, that the country is deprived of food.
There are, of course, other examples. One would have thought that this Government would have been anxious to encourage farmers' co-operatives. In actual fact, however, the same maximum allowances have, apparently, been set for them as for example for commercial travellers. The farmers' co-operatives are unable to function because they can only do so by being in constant touch with the farmers. I also raised in this House the question of the petrol allowance given to insurance agents in the country. Here, again, they receive exactly the same allowance as that given to insurance agents in towns, whereas they sometimes have to cover vast areas extending to 50 miles or more.
Finally, there is the case of a firm which was established with a view to enabling fuel to be saved. It was actually established with the blessing of the Minister of Fuel and Power. Yet this firm is given only 114 gallons of petrol for six months with which to do all its work. It is situated in a town on the borders of Scotland and England served by only a tiny branch line railway and the very minimum of communications. No firm can possibly prosper in such circumstances. How absurd it is that one Department of this Ministry should be encouraging output and production while the other is actually hampering distribution of the same factory.
I thought it right to raise these matters because it is quite clear to me that this Government have no conception of how industry works, or how a rural area can be made to flourish. For that reason, I very much regret that there is no indication in the Gracious Speech as to how His Majesty's Government intend to promote the interests of rural areas. particularly in Scotland.
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate that it would be improper for me to raise any question as to who has been called and who has not been called, and I have no desire to do so, but I would call your attention to a special matter which has occurred today, namely the speech of the hon. Member——
I only want to put this point, with great respect. It has been your Ruling that British Legion business is out of Order in the House today, so that this British Legion speech does not go out to the Press at a time when there is a national controversy on the subject.
I merely told the hon. and gallant Member privately that I did not want British Legion matters raised across the Floor of the House because I thought it was a domestic matter. The hon. Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) directed a question which the Lord President of the Council answered, and I decided that was enough. It would have been out of Order to discuss the merits of the President of the British Legion. That is an affair for the British Legion and not for the House of Commons.
I feel that I must apologise to the House for asking them to leave the consideration of these contentious subjects, and calling their attention to a point in the Gracious Speech which I find interesting and which I regard as important—the question of the training of nurses.
In my view, the coming legislation for the better training of nurses will succeed or fail according to whether it makes possible ultimately the complete separation of the authority for training nurses from the authority for providing treatment for the sick. Nursing has been described as a profession, and truly it is, but this profession must be learned as other professions are learned, and not merely as a form of apprenticeship. It may be all right for an apprentice working all day to go to night schools, but for a profession like nursing I do not think that is sufficient. If, after a spell of duty at night during which they have had to work hard, make decisions and accept great responsibility, nurses have to go to lectures and classes, they cannot pay proper attention to the subject taught. I have lectured to nurses under these conditions. I have watched one after another fall asleep and I have not had the heart to awaken them.
Being a practical subject, nursing can only be learned by the bed side. The same is true of medicine, but in the case of a medical student the education in the wards and its place in the curriculum is determined by the needs of study and not merely by the needs of the hospital. It is this constant conflict between the duty of the nurse to herself as a student, and her duty to her patients, which results in so many nurses leaving the profession before they are completely trained or as soon as they are trained. Who can blame the harassed matron when she finds that there is a sudden need for a nurse in a chronic sick or a tuberculosis ward, choosing the docile student nurse who cannot refuse rather than the staff nurse who can leave at any time?
In my view there is only one solution to the nursing problem, and that is that the authority which trains the nurses should not be the authority responsible for the care of the sick. Only as legislation brings that to pass, perhaps slowly and gradually, shall we solve this problem. There can be no doubt in my view that the employer cannot successfully be the teacher and that the hospital authority which asks the matron to be both is asking her to carry out an impossible task.
In my view, the nurses' course need not be a long one. I agree with the majority report of the working commission that if the curriculum is carefully prepared it can be carried out successfully in two years, but I think sooner or later we shall have to reach a conclusion that the student nurse must be a student like other students; her life must be spent like theirs and as far as possible with them in hostel and home or lodgings.
It may be suggested that, with the present shortage of staff in hospitals, such proposals would be very difficult to carry out. I agree, but only in so far as coming legislation, perhaps by stages, makes this possible will it be successful. I think there can be no doubt that with the present shortage of nurses the giving to the student nurse of true student's status would make difficulties in many hospitals, but we must remember that a student nurse who at present undertakes so much of the work of the hospital is only a student and not a skilled worker. It is often imagined that directly a nurse dons a nursing uniform she becomes an efficient nurse, but of course that is not so and much of the work done by student nurses has to be supervised. Even if the nurse did become a full student she would still have to work in a hospital, for a practical subject can be learned only in this way. We are providing many more nurses part-time. In addition, I feel there is a lot to be done by dilution. Whenever I see two trained nurses making a bed I think it is a waste. Certainly one could do it, with unskilled labour, and it is often quite possible for less skilled people to carry out such work themselves. In Switzerland where they have the same problem as we have, a great deal is being done by dilution.
Another difficulty, it may be suggested, is that the matron of a hospital who is responsible for the care of the patients and also for the training of the nurses would have a very difficult part to play. Of course the matron will have to be in full charge of the nurse while she is in the wards, but only while she is in the wards. Much can be done by arranging the curriculum of the nurse, and the time she spends in the wards, on the same lines as that of the medical student, so that the nurse has sufficient time during her years of preparation to give careful study to her cases. I feel that the success or failure of the new legislation, which all who have the welfare of the nurses at heart welcome, will depend on whether sooner or later it makes it possible for a complete separation to be carried out between the authority that is responsible for the nurses' training and the authority that runs the hospitals.