Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question—[9th June]:
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as followeth:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.—[Mr. Simon.]
On a point of order. We are now to have a debate on Service questions, and I hope that the House will be treated with a little more courtesy than it was on Friday. Although part of the debate then was given over to discussions of Service questions, at no time during the debate was there a Service Minister present. I think that we should have a Service Minister present this afternoon.
When the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) was speaking on Friday—whatever the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) may say now—I do not think it was generally understood that there was to be a discussion of Service matters. Therefore, if a Minister was not present I think he can be acquitted of discourtesy on the ground that he did not know that a debate on the subject was to take place.
We are now given an opportunity of considering Service matters, and I should like to take up some of the points raised by the right hon. Member for Dundee, West. I am sorry that he is not in his place, because I should have told him about my intention if I had known that I was to have this opportunity of speaking. The right hon. Gentleman referred to what he considered to be a grave omission from the Gracious Speech, namely, the question of the steps which Her Majesty's Government are taking to deal with defence. Quite honestly, I do not find any such grave omission. Almost at the end of the last Parliament the Government made very clear, in a White Paper on Defence and in the debates on the Service Estimates, what their plans were. They also showed exactly where they stood on the issue of National Service, and as a result of the General Election we still stand there. I do not think there is any great obligation upon Her Majesty's Government at the present time to reiterate what is generally known by hon. Members.
What is known is that we are confronted with a particular difficult and complex defence system, in which the rapid advance of nuclear physics makes planning and development of arms even more complicated than it has been in the past. I should have thought that the statement in the Gracious Speech which gives a general indication of the Government's intention in this direction was perfectly adequate, but I would take up the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman that Her Majesty's Government showed no signs of reconsidering the burden of National Service.
We had a very long debate on that subject at the conclusion of the last Parliament, and it was made abundantly clear that Her Majesty's Government had every intention of reconsidering, at the earliest possible opportunity, this very considerable burden, because it is a burden which is admitted by everyone who has any knowledge of the subject. Therefore, to say that Her Majesty's Government have given no indication of considering the matter is simply not in accordance with the facts.
Once again we had a reiteration of the argument produced so often by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite that National Service was introduced because of Korea and various other commitments which have now been reduced. There again the argument is false, because not only was National Service introduced because of Korea, but as my right hon. Friend—
With great respect, I am quite sure that my right hon. Friend did not say that National Service was introduced because of the emergency in Korea. What he probably said was that it had been lengthened to two years because of the emergency in Korea, that that was a temporary increase, and that it was expected there would be a reduction when the Korean war was over.
It was not as clearly and succinctly put as it has been by the hon. Gentleman, but I accept his interpretation.
The argument still holds good that, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War so clearly said during the debate on the Army Estimates, Korea itself was only a symbol of possible developments. I think it has been shown that the developments are liable to recur in various parts of the world, and until we are quite satisfied that conditions have been established which will prevent that recurrence it would not be safe to reduce National Service.
During the course of the debate last Session, the position of Her Majesty's Government was made abundantly clear. The right hon. Member for Dundee, West was very careful, in his arguments, to draw no line of differentiation between the preparations that we have to make for cold-war conditions and the preparations which are essential if there should unfortunately be any hot-war developments. Once again the point has been made from the benches opposite that since we now have nuclear development many of the preparations which we are making for more conventional conditions are no longer effective.
That seems to me to be a false point, because if we can prevent the hot war it is essential that we should provide the necessary authority behind our diplomacy. That sanction is provided by conventional arms. If conventional armaments are dropped because of the threat of the H-bomb, then those who possess the greater number of conventional armaments will, in fact, be able to impose their diplomatic will. I should have thought that to be a perfectly evident state of affairs. What is necessary is that the work now going ahead should prosper, and that the cause and friction behind all war should be removed. Then we can have universal disarmament.
The other proposition is dangerous and would quite conceivably lead to a very considerable deterioration in international affairs. Therefore, I do not think we can accept that argument; and we must entirely endorse the attitude of Her Majesty's Government in dealing with this problem.
As a result of the reduction in our commitments we are today building up a strategic reserve in this country. It has been suggested that the strategic reserve could be stationed elsewhere. I do not think that that is a sound proposition at all. I am certain that a strategic reserve, if it is to be a strategic reserve, must be centred in this country and must be available to go at any time to any place where it is required. That means that those concerned must be available for the purpose and that the reserve must not be committed in any way to any particular place.
That in itself disposes of the absurd argument heard from time to time that the troops in Germany could be regarded as a strategic reserve. That is, of course, nonsense. The troops in Germany are committed to the German theatre and they cannot be removed from that theatre without special agreement. They therefore cannot be regarded in any circumstances as a strategic reserve.
I believe there is a very considerable need for the development of methods of movement of our reserves. I hope Her Majesty's Government will look very closely at the situation of our air transport, because one of the things to make the strategic reserve more effective is that it should be able to move with great speed to the place where an emergency has occurred. That will require a greater degree of mobility by air than is at present possessed by Her Majesty's Forces.
The right hon. Member for Dundee, West suggested that the strategic reserve might in the future completely replace all other forms of manning our commitments. I do not think that that is a tenable proposition, because it is very important to anyone moving a reserve from its home base to a position where it is required that there should be a point where it can be received. If there is not then the problems of movement to any place will be very much more complicated. Therefore, I cannot accept the view that the whole of our commitments can at any forseeable point in the future be held by a highly mobile reserve in this country, although I believe that a highly mobile reserve is an important development to which we must turn our attention.
The aspect of our Services to which I wish to draw attention particularly this afternoon is one that has not received the same amount of attention as has National Service, and that is the position of the voluntary Services. As a result of the many changes which have occurred in the last four years or more, many of our conceptions of voluntary service have been completely altered, and many of the tasks that our voluntary Services have been undertaking have been changed. I hope, therefore, that Her Majesty's Government will now look at this problem in its entirety and not in a piecemeal manner.
I take first the Territorial Army. When Anti-Aircraft Command was abolished a large proportion of the Territorial Army ceased to have a practical function in the defence structure. Incidentally, I hope that we shall hear a little more about the alternative to anti-aircraft defence which the R.A.F. will provide. At the moment there is a tendency towards a gap in this operation. Although the operational control of anti-aircraft defence against aggression has always been vested in the R.A.F., there used to be Army formations operating under it. I do not see where those formations come into the picture today, because, although there are independent Army units manning antiaircraft posts, there are no R.A.F. formations in the same position as the former Army formations.
That is not the interpretation I would put on it, but I do agree that it was necessary to dispense with Anti-Aircraft Command because it was not performing a useful function, and there is no point in keeping people in an operational position if they are not performing a useful function. Even the hon. and gallant Gentleman will agree with me on that. However, I believe that the speed of transition has left us in the position at present of being a little unmanned and the time has come when that should be considered. I hope, therefore, that we shall hear from Her Majesty's Government in the near future about their plans in that respect.
With the reduction of the Territorial Army commitments, it is necessary to look at the rôle and organisation of the Territorial Army associations, which have large ramifications in the military makeup that were justified when the T.A. had a considerable part to play. Now, however, they should be looked at in a constructively critical light to see whether it is necessary to have quite such a large organisation or, indeed, such an organisation at all to deal with that operation.
Now I come to a matter which was once very controversial in this House, the Home Guard. These men have come forward loyally and have done splendid work in building up the new organisation, but we must look at the new Home Guard to see what is its rôle under modern conditions. There is no question of the Home Guard being involved in cold-war operations, since those operations are not likely to extend to actual military operations in this country. On the other hand, I do not think that the Home Guard has a strong rôle to play in hot-war operations, although I believe there is a considerable task to be performed at present by those in the Home Guard. This is a point to which I will return in a moment.
Another adjustment occurred during the last Parliament—the change in operation of the R.A.F. Volunteer Reserve squadrons. That was caused largely by the fact that the handling of the aircraft is now so technical that it is difficult to have volunteers for a sufficient time to master the types. I question whether those men are completely employed or employable, and the Government should ascertain whether that is the case.
As regards the Observer Corps, I do not see how it is possible, with supersonic speed, to perform effectively the task of spotting an aircraft which is at the back of the observer's head before he has seen it coming at him. That is a difficult task in itself, but the problem of communicating the information after getting it must be even more complicated.
I mention these things because all these volunteer tasks have undergone a complete transformation as a result of the developments mentioned by the right hon. Member for Dundee, West in his speech. I am certain that Her Majesty's Government are fully aware of these problems and that they are covered under the terms of the Gracious Speech, but we ought to know at an early date the plans that are being put in hand.
In this field there is the important function of Civil Defence, and whereas in the military services many volunteers are not fully employed at the moment, I believe there is a growing field for their employment in a reconstituted Civil Defence organisation. In the Defence White Paper published just before the last Parliament ended, there were proposals for a new mobile corps which I understand are now being implemented. We have also heard a great deal about the mobile column development, and it is clear that the entire structure of Civil Defence has to be reorganised.
That reorganisation must be of the highest standard because if the home front is not secure no military operation can be undertaken, since no one will operate the military services if they feel that the home front is not securely held. Therefore, Civil Defence requires reorganising in the light of all these changes, and I suggest humbly to Her Majesty's Government that there are considerable voluntary resources available which could be transferred to the Civil Defence sphere. Such a transference would not be successful merely by an act or an instruction. It could be made effective only by the creation of the right psychological atmosphere in which people really felt that the Civil Defence function was every bit as important as any other defence tasks performed by the other arms of the Services.
It would be dangerous if the whole of Civil Defence were placed under military control. The requirement is for a Regular element in the Home Defence service which is being established. That Regular element, with the mobile corps, should be placed under a greater military control than it is today, and the co-ordination of its home defence task with the military home defence operation should be more specific. Here is a very clear case, I am certain, for Civil Defence, or home defence, as I prefer to call it, being represented in the highest military counsels.
At the same time, there are very important aspects of home defence that are associated with local authorities which must not be disbanded and must not be left to military control, because they are essentially local government organisations which must be maintained. The Civil Defence Corps requires a Regular basis and a volunteer element, and I submit to the Government that it also requires the same status under the National Service Acts as the other Services have.
We have to consider an adjustment of the National Service Acts at an early date to make it possible to call up men for Civil Defence in the same way as they are called up for the other Services. Unless we give to permanent Civil Defence the psychological importance of the other Services, the people of this country, however important they may realise the task to be, will not accept it as such, and unless we get that acceptance we shall not achieve the necessary response to any organisation that may be evolved.
I believe, as the right hon. Member for Dundee, West clearly said, that this problem of defence is a heavy economic charge upon the nation. It is one which we can bear, but it is also one which we wish to reduce. How much it can be reduced will depend very much on reducing our commitments and making our resources more effective. Our commitments are not fixed by us, but are created by the position of foreign affairs in general. The resources are provided by us, and what we have to do, as I see it, in the future is to try to see that we get the job done by fewer people.
The main structure of our Forces must, I am certain, lie in a really effective Regular corps, highly trained, highly equipped and very efficient, and a voluntary element capable of expanding at short notice, upon which hard nucleus can be built a much greater organisation. We have to turn our attention very seriously to the reorganisation of that voluntary element and the tasks which it will be called upon to undertake. Volunteers have other things to do, and if they are to be called upon to give their time, they must be absolutely certain that that time is not wasted and that the things which they are doing are effective things that really contribute to the maximum to the national effort.
I am in agreement with all those who believe that, when it is practicable to do so, we must reduce the demands of National Service upon our manpower and upon our economy, because unless we can do that we shall be faced with a very heavy burden which will make it very difficult for us to apply our economic resources to those aims to which all of us really desire to apply them.
I intervene for one moment, but the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey), in his most interesting speech, has referred to the problem of Civil Defence and the strategic reserve, which is of some concern to the War Office. I rise to ask the Government whom they intend to have here on the Front Bench in order to deal with these matters. We are all glad to see the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty here, but this is not within the hon. and gallant Gentleman's province. We have also a representative of the Whips' Office here. The hon. Member for Harrow, East announced at the beginning of his speech that he proposed to deal with these matters, which do not concern the Admiralty in particular, but which very much concern the Service Ministers.
I do not know what other duties these Ministers have, although I am sure other matters are waiting for them, but there is more than one Minister in a Department. At any rate, out of courtesy to the hon. Gentleman opposite and the House as a whole, if we are to debate all these problems, such as the creation of a strategic reserve, we should have someone on the Front Bench who is able to deal with these matters. I should like to ask either the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty or the Government Chief Whip to tell us what are the Government's intentions, and to provide us with a Minister on the Front Bench who can deal with these matters.
If I may answer the point raised by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), may I say that, as I think he knows, these defence subjects were raised at rather short notice, but I am taking very careful note of what hon. Gentlemen are saying, and it is hoped that one Service Minister will be here very shortly.
The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) is such an authority on defence and such a loyal supporter of his party that he is in some danger of suffering from schizophrenia. He opened his speech by telling us how pleased he was with the statements in the Gracious Speech, but the rest of what he had to say rather contradicted that. If it is a choice between loyalty to his party and his own intelligence, in the long run I think his intelligence will win, and then he and I may well find ourselves in almost complete agreement.
I am very sorry indeed that the Secretary of State for War is not present at the moment, because much of what I have to say concerns the right hon. Gentleman. He was good enough to tell us, in his speech on the Army Estimates on 8th March:
There is no Government which will ever have a policy other than of reducing National Service by as much as it can as soon as it can. The reduction of National Service is one of the very few aspects of defence in which there are a few votes. Otherwise, I do not believe there is a vote in the whole of the defence programme."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1955; Vol. 538, c. 359.]
I call in aid the Secretary of State for War to establish the fact that both during and after the Election there were and are no votes in the subject of defence. It is simply a matter of the Opposition doing what it has always done—discharging its public duty—in looking at the Government's policy and examining it with care in order to see whether we are getting value for the money which we are voting and that we have adequate defences.
I think that perhaps the Government are a little misled by speeches such as that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) on Friday, because I think my right hon. Friend tends, and always has tended, to over-emphasise the part of commitments in relation to our manpower policy. Of course, it is true that, at the time of Korea, as a temporary measure, the period of National Service was raised to two years, and, subsequently, with the liquidation of the Korean problem and the easing of the Middle East difficulties, the need for two-year National Service is not so acute. Those who think along these lines can properly argue that the time has now come to look once again at our manpower policy to see if there can be a reduction in the length of National Service.
But that is not all the story. The Government have certainly from time to time fallen back on the same argument. During the General Election the Prime Minister himself fell back on a topical aspect of the same argument. In fact, he charged my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition with being irresponsible in suggesting that we should look at the problem of National Service at this time because, he argued, we are on the verge of four-Power talks and his hand was strengthened by the continuance of two years' military service.
I dissent 100 per cent. from those who advance such an argument, whether it be the Prime Minister or my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West. The reason we have two years' compulsory National Service in this country, and are very likely going to continue it in this country for ever and ever, amen, is not because of Korea, it is not because of the Middle East, it is not because of the necessity for a strategic reserve, nor is it because we hope to be having four-Power discussions at the summit. The reason is that the Government's manpower policy is a complete failure.
Let me here give proof of what I am saying. I go back to the beginning of the unfortunate period when Britain once more had a Conservative Government. In November, 1951, it was true that the Army found it difficult to get recruits. An excessive number of men was being drawn off from the Army into the Air Force. Without stopping to think, the Secretary of State for War introduced a new engagement of three years with the Colours and four years with the Reserve. And at first sight the increase in recruiting made it appear that the policy was a success.
The success, however, was not due to the length of service. It was due to the introduction of the pay differential by the Labour Government. Take the case of a young man facing an obligation of two years' military service and seeing that he could get 7s. a day by doing three years as opposed to 4s. a day by doing two years, and, in addition, would have no Reserve liability if he undertook the longer engagement. There was a tendency for a considerable number of young men to opt for three years as opposed to two years. That is such a simple proposition that it is utterly beyond me why the Secretary of State for War does not realise the validity of the differential argument: but he does not. Really, it is not fair to say that he does not. He understands the arguments perfectly. His political credit, however, is bound up with the matter and, therefore, he refuses to face the facts.
On 9th March, 1953, the Secretary of State for War came to the House on the occasion of our consideration of the Army Estimates and said:
We should be all right if 33 per cent. of the three-year men stayed for six years. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th March, 1953; Vol. 512, c. 855.]
The test of the Government's manpower policy must, therefore, be judged on the extent to which Regular recruits undertake the engagement of three years with the Colours and four years with the Reserve and the extent to which they extend their service. I have never had any doubt from the time this lunacy was first introduced by the Secretary of State what the answer would be.
If hon. Gentlemen will take the trouble to read an admirable article, which appeared in "Brassey's Annual" for 1953, written by the then Director of Personnel at the War Office, they will see the basis upon which manpower policy in the War Office is worked out. It is done not on the basis of the numbers of men who enlist but on the basis of the number of man-years recruited. It is obvious that if a man with a legal liability to do two years' National Service undertakes a three-year engagement, the addition to the Army as a result of the man's Regular engagement is one year: whereas if the man undertook the five-year engagement which was running during the period of office of the Labour Government the addition to the Army would be three years.
If hon. Gentlemen will go a little further and examine the figures which are available in HANSARD, as a result of Questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) and myself, they will find that, at much less cost to the public than the policy of the present Government, the Labour Government were recruiting more man-years than the Conservative Government are doing.
From time to time my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme and I have tried to ascertain the facts. We have done our best to get the matter put on a non-party basis. For the benefit of hon. Members who are in the House for the first time, I should like to repeat the argument, which was underlined by the Secretary of State for War himself, that there are no votes in this business. We are all in this together. Unless we can get the maximum amount of effective defence from the minimum amount of expenditure—in other words, unless we have a defence policy which is not beyond our economic strength—in the long run we shall break our economic back and shall not get effective defence.
None of us on this side of the House has ever argued for an inquiry into the workings of the National Service system purely in terms of ascertaining the facts. We readily agree that merely in order to get the facts the appointment of a Select Committee or Royal Commission would be a very cumbersome and longwinded method. What we have said—what I, certainly, have said—over and over again is that the problem is so complex and so politically "hot" that no one party, and not even a Government with a majority like the present Government, can tackle the problem alone.
The responsibility for finding a solution to the manpower problem of the Services is one that ought to be borne by all parties. The only way I know in which the responsibility can be shared by all parties is by having an inquiry by all parties behind closed doors so that all parties can pool their brains and try to find some solution and some sort of approach, as was found by the Select Committee which inquired into the workings of the Army Act. That is the case for an inquiry. The case has never been put forward, before the General Election, during the General Election, or now, with any idea of making political capital.
I want to underline the gravity of the situation facing us. If I am making any political attack—let me be frank—it is not on the Government, although it is certainly on a member of the Government, and that is the Secretary of State for War. I must say that in all honesty because I know that to be true. It was the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the three-year engagement. If it had been a success he would have been entitled to the political credit for it. However, let us see what happened. On 9th March, 1953, he referred to the 33 per cent., and said that that was what he was after. For full measure, during that debate the then Under-Secretary of State for War, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Scotstoun (Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison), said the same thing. The Government's policy was, thus, 33 per cent. Regular prolongations; one man in every three was to undertake further service if the policy was to work.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme and I have asked Question after Question about the matter and raised it in debate after debate, and, finally, in the early part of this year we were told that the figures would be available in May. My last act in the late Parliament—I thought it would be as well that the electorate should know before the General Election what the figures were—was to put a Question down on 3rd May. May had arrived. The Secretary of State for War replied:
Figures of prolongations in the form requested will, as stated, be available during the month of May."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd May, 1955; Vol. 540, c. 1501.]
I agree that 31st May is in the month of May as much as 1st May is. Thus, we had to wait until after the General Election. My first act once re-elected was to put down the same Question to the Secretary of State for War.
As soon as my Question appeared on the Order Paper, along came a letter. It was not in May, of course; the letter was dated 10th June, but I make no complaint about that. I think I ought to read the Secretary of State's reply because it concerns all the young men
who are doing two years' National Service, their parents, and hon. Members. These figures supplied by the Secretary of State for War have to be measured against his statement on 9th March, 1953, when he said that he hoped to get 33 per cent. of the men signing on. His letter read:
Between 1st November, 1951, and 31st March, 1952, 19,117 men enlisted. Of these, 15,315 were on a Regular engagement of three years with the Colours, and 3,802 enlisted on the old engagements, the majority being for five years. Of the three-year men, 821 have prolonged their service, and 12,714 have been transferred to the Reserve. Of the remaining 1,780, the majority can be accounted for by the normal wastage. …
Therefore, as a result of this policy the Secretary of State for War got 821 prolongations out of a total of 15,315 Regulars, which is 5·4 per cent. I never thought the figure would be as low as that. I had always prophesied—I am on record in HANSARD—that it would be 10 per cent. or about that figure.
I wish the Secretary of State for War were here now. For brazen-faced audacity, the rest of his letter is hard to beat. I have often said in the past that he ought to have been a plumber because of the leaks which occurred when the Labour Government were in power, but now I think that in between plumbing, in the fine weather when the pipes are not frozen, he ought to be selling corn cures in the market place, for he has all the attributes for that.
He then has the impertinence to go on:
You will appreciate that it is difficult to form any reliable estimate of the trend of prolongation from these figures because it is impossible to be certain what proportion of the 3,802 men enlisting on the old engagements at the time when both types of engagements were open would have stayed on had they enlisted on a three-year instead of five-year engagement.
These were men serving under engagements which the Labour Government had established and which the Secretary of State for War was the first to tear up.
He tore up that scheme in November, 1951. He asked us to assume that all 3,802 men who had continued their service and would have continued their service had then been serving this three-year engagement and had all decided to remain in the Army. The percentage of continuance would then have been as high as 24.
So, if he takes our policy and his policy, and putting into percentage of makeweight our figures, he would have got 24 per cent. In other words, by cooking the figures to the best possible advantage he would have had only 24 per cent. as against the estimate of 33 per cent. The basic fact that faces us every day, every month, every year is that of the 15,315 men taking Regular engagements, from 1st November to 31st March, a period of five months, only 821 re-engaged, namely, 5·4 per cent. The consequences if only one in 20 is to prolong his service are plain. They inevitably mean that the age level of warrant officers and N.C.O.s is bound to fall. On this question I am party-free. I hold the view that the backbone of the Army depends on the long-term warrant officers and N.C.O.s.
I believe that if we examine in detail what happened from 1914 to 1918 and why, in 1914, we had the finest Army the world has ever seen, we shall see that it was because it was a long-service Army. The men outmarched, outfought and out-shot the Germans, because they belonged to a long-service corps. When one tampers with this long-service corps, frankly I do not know the way back. I am not making a post-Election confession. I made it before the Election. Once one introduces a soft option of three years with the Colours, as opposed to what I regard—certainly for the infantry—as essential, seven years with the Colours, I do not know the way back. Certainly I do not think there is any quick answer. Once one has reached this position, it may be 20 years before one can get back. That is why I say that we have two years' National Service now and will have it for a very long time.
I do not want to detain the House for very long, and I am aware that I have said some hard things about the Secretary of State for War. I am prepared to forgive him, difficult though that may be, not for the injuries he has done me, but for the injuries he has done to the Army. I will forgive all if the Service Ministers will go back to the Minister of Defence and once again put to him the responsible view which is held on this side of the House. From the most senior to the most junior of our party, we accept the view that there are not votes to be gained from this topic and, even if there were, they would be four years hence.
So let us try and approach this matter on an all-party responsibility. Let us realise that one cannot have a Council of State across the floor of the House. Let us see if it is not possible to work out terms of reference for a Select Committee, or a Royal Commission, or even some other way to tackle this very grave and serious problem. It is a problem which is with us now and which, as I said during the debate on the Army Estimates, will not have improved next March, and which will be infinitely worse the March after that, because the longer it goes on the worse the problem becomes.
I am sure that in a unit there is a fashion about prolongation. People either accept prolongation and stay on, or regard one who stays as the village idiot. Once the trend is against one, the situation will not improve. I was very heartened by the speech of the present Foreign Secretary when he addressed the House for the first time as the Minister of Defence. To him I made the same plea as I am making now, although at that time my belief was based not on the figures supplied by the Secretary of State for War but on my estimate, which was that there would be a 10 per cent. rate of prolongation and not one of 5·4.
The next day I read with great care the report of his speech in the OFFICIAL REPORT, and I noticed that he went out of his way not to turn down the suggestion of an all-party approach to this problem. I hope that whoever replies, whether a Service Minister or the Minister of Defence, will say that this is a problem which is so great, and which so affects every single one of us, that something will be done along the lines I have suggested.
Mr. Deputy-Speaker, may I seek your guidance at this juncture? It will be within your recollection that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty indicated a little earlier, before my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) rose, that some Minister from the War Office would presently arrive. We now have the First Lord and the Under-Secretary of State for Air. We are delighted to see them, as we are delighted to see the Minister of Fuel and Power, but this is a matter which affects the War Office more than any other Minister. The Minister of Defence now sits in the Commons, but neither a representative of the War Office nor of the Ministry of Defence has been courteous enough to come here to listen to what is being said. I notice that the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) is about to rise. He would like the Minister of Defence to be here. Shall I be in order if I move that the debate be now adjourned?
I rise to give a very warm welcome to the programme outlined in the Gracious Speech, and to give especial support to two sections of the programme. The first is:
My Government will actively promote the development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
The second section I wish warmly to support is contained in the words:
My Ministers will bring forward legislation to reduce the pollution of the air by smoke and other causes.
I hope I may be forgiven some personal gratification if I refer first to the second of these passages. It will be within the recollection of many right hon. and hon. Members that it was my good fortune to win first place in the Private Members' Ballot in the final Session of the late Parliament. I used this place for bringing in a Private Member's Clean Air Bill, the purpose of which was to implement the principal recommendations of the Beaver Committee.
Against an assurance that Her Majesty's Government would bring in comprehensive legislation on this subject during the last Session, I withdrew my Bill, but the General Election overtook us. It is not without significance that both the Socialist Party and the Conservative Party included in their respective manifestoes an undertaking to bring in legislation of this kind. I am delighted that in the first Session of the new Parliament the Conservative Government have undertaken to implement the proposals of the Beaver Committee and introduce such comprehensive legislation. A special reason why we should all urge expedition upon Her Majesty's Ministers in this regard is the gravity of the present coal position. I shall allude to that in greater detail in a few moments.
As to the development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, I feel sure that the overwhelming majority of Members on both sides of the House will support me when I say that it will not be possible for our living standards progressively and continuously to rise unless we can provide the means of furnishing electrical energy to support the expanding industrial production year by year, which is involved. Last October my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer expressed this optimistic programme correctly when he said that there was no reason why British industry should not be responsible for doubling our living standards within 25 years. He called for a programme of investment in success.
So far as I can see from the present fuel and power position, the one thing which is likely to negative our continuing rise in living standards is a shortage of fuel and power resources, resting as they must, for the most part, upon the output of coal.
At the outset, therefore, I should like to give a few figures about our coal position which cannot be adjudged as of a controversial character, because they are established facts. Coal production in this country has risen scarcely at all in the last three years. In 1954, it was about 224¾ million tons; in 1953 it was about 224½ million tons; and in 1952 it was about 224·9 million tons. It has been practically static. General industrial production in 1954, on the other hand, rose by 6½ per cent. as compared with the previous year, and all the indications are that during 1955 it is continuing to rise at the same rate.
All these developments place a very much greater burden upon the coal mining industry to provide, year by year, increasing quantities of coal to underwrite or finance, if I may put it in that way, the needs of an expanding industrial economy. It is not only the production of coal but also the production of the principal refined product of coal, namely, electricity, which is so supremely important in the next 10 to 20 years if we are to continue increasing our industrial output.
Let me take the example of electricity. We all know that, excluding only the war years, the demand for electric current during the last 20 years has doubled every 10 years. In other words, by arithmetical progression, the increase in the demand for electricity represents an average of 10 per cent. per annum. In 1954, the consumption demand for electricity rose by 11 per cent., whereas the output of electrical energy, as provided by the new installations and power stations and improved efficiency, increased by only 8 per cent. As in the case of coal, the demand for electricity is greatly outrunning the facilities for supplying it.
It is for that reason that the emphasis which the Gracious Speech places upon the development of nuclear power for peaceful purposes is of supreme importance. It is no good talking of doubling living standards within the next quarter of a century—remembering that this involves a tremendous increase in the demand for electric power—unless we can match that aim of increasing industrial production by ensuring, in arithmetical progression, year by year, a big increase in electricity output.
On 15th February last, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power announced that we were embarking upon a large programme for building atomic power stations. He said that 10 such power stations would be constructed during the period 1955–65; that the first of those stations, namely, Calder Hall, would be followed by a second at Dounreay, in the North of Scotland; that within 10 years the construction of these stations would lead to a saving of 5 million or 6 million tons of coal a year and, by 1975, namely, in the next 20 years, it should be possible to save more than 20 million tons of coal a year by replacing coal by nuclear energy as a means of generating electricity.
In view of the statement contained in the Gracious Speech, I venture to submit that we are proceeding with our development of atomic power for peaceful purposes—notably for the provision of electricity—in much too leisurely a fashion. I should like to ask my right hon. Friend what is the restricting factor. It cannot be a scientific factor; our scientists and engineers—especially our chemical engineers—know how to build nuclear reactors for the purpose of driving atomic power stations. They are already doing so. It has already been widely stated that the electricity produced by nuclear methods will be at least as cheap as that produced by conventional methods from coal-driven power stations. It cannot be a question of scientific or mechanical limitation.
Therefore, I ask whether it is a question of financial investment limitation—for, if it is, I submit that the supremely important form of investment in the civil field is the concentration of maximum financial resources upon the objective of furnishing large-scale nuclear power at a much earlier date than was outlined in the programme submitted to the House a few months ago. If it is not a question of financial limitation, what other limitation can there be?
I am sure the hon. Member does not seriously make that charge.
It was only three or four years ago that we evolved the first very limited prototype reactor for generating electricity by nuclear methods; in fact, the late Conservative Government, between 1952 and 1955, displayed greater enthusiasm and alacrity in this important regard than did the Labour Government in the whole six years which preceded that period.
The hon. Member misunderstands me if he thinks that this is a criticism.
What I am saying is that as a result of Conservative economic and financial policy our industrial expansion in the last three years has proceeded, at an even greater pace than we had anticipated, and has outrun the coal and electricity resources necessary to continue to support such a rate of expansion. As coal output is absolutely static, and we are now resorting to large-scale coal imports, it is imperative that we should concentrate the utmost financial resources upon this important alternative of providing nuclear power.
I should like to refresh the memory of hon. Gentlemen in all parts of the House with the fact that the Minister, in the later days of the last Parliament, outlined the policy of Her Majesty's Government on fuel and power in words to this effect: "Firstly, it is our policy to mine more coal; secondly, to use coal more efficiently, and thirdly, to provide alternatives to coal for furnishing fuel and the sources of energy and electric power." It is on those last few words that the success or otherwise of our Conservative policy for the continued expansion of industry will largely depend in the next four or five years.
It certainly will not depend upon the policy advocated by the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) and his hon. Friends of nationalising the means of production, distribution and exchange. It will largely depend upon free enterprise expansion. Sad to relate, the failure of the coal mining industry to increase production has made it doubly necessary to find alternative sources of energy to promote that industrial expansion.
I cannot give way. The hon. and learned Member has the habit of arriving late in our debates and then seeking to interrupt.
I want to ask my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power three questions concerning nuclear power. Is there any prospect of speeding up the programme for the first 10 atomic power stations? Secondly, have Her Majesty's Government and the Atomic Energy Authority yet settled the sites of those stations? Thirdly, in the absence of any scientific or mechanical limitation upon the development of those nuclear power-stations, is any financial limitation or any limitation upon the rate of investment envisaged by Her Majesty's Government; or are they prepared to give every financial support required by the scientists and the Atomic Energy Authority for the ambitious "Atoms for Peace" programme outlined in the Gracious Speech?
I am sure that the House appreciates with some sympathy my feelings in going to the other place and listening to the Gracious Speech, and that those feelings were felt by many other Members not only because of what the Speech contains but what it fails to contain.
My first impression was that the Gracious Speech was a skeleton on which a programme could be built. After listening to the Prime Minister, I thought it was probably a framework. Having listened to further speeches, I come back to my first impression, that the Gracious Speech is merely a skeleton, which will probably end up in the same place as other skeletons.
On Thursday, I listened with interest to a Scottish Member bemoaning that the Gracious Speech contained little for Scotland. If he had been on the hustings in my constituency he would have found that we have a number of British subjects there who emigrated from Northern Ireland into Birmingham, which is now a boom city.
Unfortunately, one of the candidates in the General Election had been briefed by the Conservative Central Office. When asked by one of my constituents what the Government intended to do for Northern Ireland he said that they were transferring shipbuilding there. The questioner, who was a lady, was equally well-briefed. She replied that the amount of work which the Government were transferring would occupy only 160 people for 12 months. That is not much work in a place where unemployment is fairly rife and conditions are very poor. In this country, where we are said to be enjoying prosperity, another part of the United Kingdom, as well as Scotland, will have ample opportunity of wondering whether it has not been forgotten in the Gracious Speech.
There is no reference in the Speech to the Government's intentions about the social services. Hon. Members must have listened, as I did, with very great care to the Gracious Speech, noting its contents on the items in which they were particularly interested. I am interested in hospitals. When I heard that Her Majesty's Government intended to consider the question of teachers' superannuation I thought it was inevitable that they would also consider the position of nursing staffs. It may he true that we have difficulty in recruiting teachers, but we have far more difficulty in recruiting nursing staffs.
It might be an embarrassment to the Government, as a right hon. Gentleman said, that so many people are now applying to go into the teaching colleges, but I never heard anyone say that the Government are becoming embarrassed by applications to become trainee nurses. The Government would do well to give priority to this part of the social services, particularly in pay and methods of recruitment. If we are to maintain in the hospital service the high standard that all hon. Members desire, something more must be done to recruit nurses and improve their salaries and conditions.
One part of the Gracious Speech gave me encouragement, as I have been a railway servant for nearly 35 years. The speech said that the Government intended to
provide improved working conditions for railway workers.
It seems that we are approaching the millennium if the Government are prepared to recognise the need for improved conditions of railway workers.
With regard to the paragraph of the Gracious Speech that says:
My Government will press forward their far-reaching programme of road construction and improvement and their plans to ease the flow of traffic and reduce danger on the roads. …
I would put in a plea for a part of my constituency where dual roads are needed. Plans have been submitted. When the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation is considering them I hope he will also consider that we cannot go ahead with this scheme until river diversions have taken place. We have been tied up with scheme A, scheme B, scheme C, and so on, but nobody seems to be able to give authority to go ahead because of the enormous expense involved.
As a result, the inhabitants in the area are flooded every time there is a storm. We had a storm last week which invaded this House and put the lifts out of order. My thoughts immediately went back to the people I had interviewed during the flooding in the Perry Barr division, but we cannot go ahead until approval has been given and the plans are brought forward.
My next reference to the Gracious Speech concerns the 10s. widow, which is rather a cynical method of describing women who are suffering unnecessary hardship. There is no reason for delaying finding ways and means of alleviating the distress of these widows. This afternoon we were told that consultations were proceeding, but no one would object to an immediate increase for these people. There are women in Birmingham who cannot go to work at all and who, because of their age and their late husbands' circumstances, get only the 10s.
The Trade Union movement has met with, and pressed, this point continually. One wishes, of course, to see an increase in the old-age pensions, but the plight of these 10s. widows is paramount. I hope that in his consideration the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance will give them priority and bring forward proposals at the earliest possible moment.
It is my great privilege to follow the hon. Member for Perry Barr (Mr. Howell) and to compliment him with great sincerity for touching on a number of problems in which the House is deeply interested. He did so with obvious knowledge and sincerity. He said that he came from the boom city of Birmingham. Perhaps I should also add my congratulations that, in what was almost a landslide in that part of the world as a result of the very prosperous conditions there and at Coventry and elsewhere, he at least has been returned to this House to follow his predecessor who was greatly respected.
But I imagine they are looking over their shoulders at those reduced majorities rather more anxiously than before the General Election.
The hon. Member for Perry Barr succeeded most ably in keeping his speech non-controversial. Coming so fresh from the hustings, it must have been a little difficult to tone his remarks to that noncontroversial level which is expected on such occasions in this House.
I want to direct attention to something which happened before the General Election and to draw one or two conclusions from it. I refer to the May Day fly-past of the Russian air force. This is always an event of tremendous importance to the Russian people. It is an occasion when the rest of the world, and particularly those interested in defence, examine the new weapons which are shown and try to draw conclusions from them.
In that May Day fly-past were seen some of the most advanced aircraft that have ever been produced. They were seen, not singly, but in considerable numbers. They are aircraft which are at present not matched by any in large-scale production in this country and hardly matched by any in the United States of America. I speak of some 12 four-jet bombers of extremely advanced design which were seen then for the first time. It is true that a prototype flew in a previous year, but it was then felt by the free nations that it might take a very long time to develop it, to put it into production and produce it in sufficient numbers to form a squadron.
As I say, on this occasion 12 four-jet bombers were seen flying over Moscow. That is extremely revealing as showing the tremendous progress Russia has made in solving scientific and production problems. At the same time a fighter, MIG 17, was seen in very substantial numbers. That is a supersonic fighter which is the equal of anything we are producing here. There is also a report that the Russians now have an all-weather fighter and a turbo-prop bomber of advanced design in full-scale production. I would not ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State—whom I see on the Front Bench—to comment on these developments at this stage. I am sure that the reports are being examined and conclusions being drawn from them.
Russian technicians have produced aircraft of very advanced design, with engines of terrific thrust. I am talking not of engines with 10,000 1b. thrust but, perhaps, even of 20,000 1b. thrust, which puts them in a world-beating class. None of these things would have been achieved if Russia had not paid tremendous attention in the last decade to the production and training of scientific personnel. It is very difficult to get exact figures, but it seems that for every thousand head of population Russia has 10 whole-time scientific students, the United States approximately one-third of that number, Switzerland about one-tenth and the United Kingdom one-twentieth.
This augurs extremely ill not only for our future in defence, but for our future economic stability, exports and prosperity. No matter what Government is in power, it is no good launching great schemes for atomic power stations—a subject which has been mentioned today by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro); and I also see the Minister responsible for this matter in his place—if we are lacking the scientific manpower necessary to carry them out. The power stations are of complicated construction and most advanced design, and we are woefully short of that manpower. We have also launched an advanced rail programme—replacement of rolling stock, entirely new diesel engines and many other advances in that sphere. That again makes a call on our scientific manpower. The whole of our road programme is gathering momentum, and so is our building programme of schools, houses, hospitals and factories. These all demand the most scientific and up-to-date methods, as also does our agricultural programme both here and overseas.
Superimposed on all these needs is the need to make scientific manpower available for investment in our overseas territories for new installations, new equipment and new methods. It is all very well to lend lip-service to the Colombo Plan, but if we have not enough manpower for our own needs I do not see the best of our people being lent to those countries.
When the Labour Government were in power the House did me the honour to make me a governor of the Imperial College of Science. We have there a very advanced and ambitious programme for increasing the student population. I can only say that I hope other expansion programmes for technical manpower are going ahead a good deal faster than they are in that instance. I have some knowledge of the difficulties and obstacles which are appearing in our path.
The Gracious Speech says:
Secondary schools will be encouraged to provide a choice of courses; and facilities for technical education will be extended.
I hope that the Government will drive that intention through with the zest and energy with which they drove through the programme of 300,000 houses. It will be absolutely impossible to achieve all these new capital construction programmes, a huge export programme and a gigantic defence programme if we do not match up to the needs of this age in scientific manpower.
I wish to refer to that part of the Gracious Speech which contains these words:
My Government welcome the progress which has recently been made in the United Nations' discussions on disarmament and will zealously maintain their efforts to reach agreement on a comprehensive disarmament plan designed to bring peace and security to all countries.
We need to examine that part of the Gracious Speech in the light of what was said earlier this afternoon about defence. There is no doubt that that part of the Gracious Speech must have a direct bearing upon the defence requirements of our country and upon the colossal sum of money that we are spending upon our rearmament programme. It must also have a bearing upon manpower and the rehabilitation of redundant manpower in other employment.
I am sure we all agree that it is necessary that the country's defence should be adequately maintained. At the same time, I am sure we all welcomed the information given by the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs this afternoon about the progress which is being made with the Soviet Union in particular on disarmament. He said, among other things, that tentative agreement had been reached on the basis of reducing our Armed Forces to 650,000. If we can look forward in the next year or two to a considerable easing of international tension, which I. think we can reasonably do in the light of the new atmosphere which appears to be developing, and if we can envisage a disarmament agreement, we shall need to spend much less money upon defence and particularly upon rearmament, and, in addition, there will be the prospect of reducing the period of National Service and the number of men required to serve in the forces.
If the rearmament programme is to be run down—and I think that at present we are spending about £1,500 million a year on the rearmament programme—there will be a measure of redundancy in industry. When the rearmament programme was begun, about four years ago, many industries had to adapt themselves to the new defence and rearmament requirements. Therefore, if the rearmament programme is to be run down in the light of the greater security which appears to be on the horizon, it will involve redundancy in many of our industrial enterprises, and unless the Government do something about this, unemployment will result.
I should like to know what policy the Government have to meet this contingency. It is inconceivable that we should go on spending the vast sums of money which we now spend upon rearmament. It is inconceivable, too, that we should need to maintain the same manpower in the forces. What are the Government doing to meet those possibilities? I want to know what plans the Government have for absorbing redundant manpower in industry now engaged on producing for defence and rearmament requirements, and what programme they have for absorbing into industry the number of men who will be released from the Armed Forces.
That is a very important question which hon. Members opposite ought to be able to answer. But there is no indication in the Gracious Speech that the Government are aware of this problem that will inevitably arise as a consequence of a disarmament agreement and the easing of international tension. Are we to have again the formation of a pool of labour? Are we to revive a pool of unemployment? Quite a few people would welcome that. They think that over-full employment is not economically good for the country, and that if there were a pool of labour a good many problems between management and labour in industry would be solved. But we on this side of the House do not agree with that view. We know what will happen in industry if we once recreate the conditions which existed between the wars.
Therefore, we are entitled to demand from the Government their positive policies for absorbing into industry men now engaged in manufacturing arms, who will not be required in the future. I hope that before the debate on the Gracious Speech comes to an end we shall hear from the Government that they are alive to this problem and that they have plans ready to deal with the situation. As I have said, there is no indication in the Gracious Speech that they are even faintly aware of the economic consequences which will inevitably follow more peaceful conditions in the world.
I want, also, to refer to two other sentences in the Gracious Speech. The first one is:
My Ministers will ensure that steady progress is made with the modernisation and re-equipment of the railways, so that they may give better service to the public and provide improved working conditions for railway workers.
The next one is intimately connected with it:
My Government will press forward their far-reaching programme of road construction and improvement and their plans to ease the flow of traffic and reduce danger on the roads. A measure will be laid before you to amend the Road Traffic Acts.
I listened with interest to what the Prime Minister said on the question of railway modernisation. I have spent the greater part of my life in the railway industry, and, frankly, I was appalled at the way that the Prime Minister approached this question. He seemed to think that the provision of a few more diesel engines would solve the problems of the railways. This will not solve the problem which British Railways are facing today, which is the fall-off in traffic. If British Railways are ever to become prosperous and efficient they must have more traffic. I doubt whether, today, they are using much more than 75 per cent. of their carrying capacity, putting the figure at its highest.
We thus have a redundant carrying capacity on British Railways which must be utilised if ever they are to stand upon economically sound ground. The provision of diesel engines will not solve the problem. The modernisation programme itself will not do it. The only way in which a sound basis for British Railways can be achieved is for them to acquire more traffic and to use a greater proportion of their transport carrying capacity.
The Government's policy in the last three and a half years has been deliberately to deplete the volume of traffic flowing to the railways. The denationalisation of road haulage completely disorganised the integration of long-distance road and rail traffic, and the Government have now set up and encouraged a competitive road organisation which is designed to reduce the use of the carrying capacity of British Railways.
Ironical though it may be, the very fact that the Government are promoting a Bill to make the roads more efficient—which is a good thing in principle—will make it easier for more traffic to be taken to the roads from the railways. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite will find themselves in a dilemma if they improve the roads and enable them to carry more traffic than they are carrying now, which must be the general object of their policy; for that must denude British Railways of traffic. More traffic will leave the railways for the roads, and if that takes place the modernisation plans for the railways will be of very little use.
The conception of the Government that it is a good thing for the country for road and rail to compete with each other for traffic is the economics of lunacy. The money which we shall spend on the modernisation of British Railways will be so much wasted money unless the railways can secure a greater proportion of traffic than they are carrying at present. The obvious answer to the problem is not the encouragement of competition betwen road and rail but the encouragement of co-operation and co-ordination.
Some hon. Members opposite may smile at that, but Lord Glyn, who sat in this House for many years as the Member for Abingdon, would, I am sure, agree with what I am saying. On many occasions I have heard him advance very clearly similar thoughts to those which I am putting before the House. He was a practical railwayman and could see, as we can all see who have been engaged in the industry for all our lives, that we cannot have a sound transport organisation unless we have closer co-operation and co-ordination between long-distance road haulage and British Railways.
The Government's policy towards British Railways and road traffic is, therefore, full of weaknesses. It is not a positive policy and, if carried out, will only add more confusion to the already confused state which exists in the transport organisation of this country today.
In conclusion, I appeal to the Government to reconsider this matter and to bring to an end their denationalisation of road haulage in respect of the British Transport Commission's undertaking.
When the hon. Member says that there are others sabotaging it, he must remember that we must get back to the original sinners—and the original sinners are those who sit opposite and who have sabotaged British Railways by their denationalisation of road haulage.
People who live in glass houses should not throw stones. The hon. Member should be very careful because, if he talks to some people outside, that is what he will be told, and it will be very difficult for him to answer. The Government have laid down the challenge and hon. Members opposite must be careful how they approach the problem.
The Government have attempted to carry out their policy of denationalising and selling off the British Transport Commission's road haulage services. They have had a good try and they ought now to call a halt in the interests of the country, of British Railways and of road haulage itself. The dog fight which has been going on for the last three years should be brought to an end. The only salvation for transport in this country is the closest co-operation and co-ordination between rail and road traffic. By that means we shall establish a sound transport policy. The alternative means chaos, waste and disintegration, followed by industrial disputes and internal dissension within the industries themselves.
The House will realise that I am in no fit condition to follow the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) into the intricacies of road or rail transport, a subject about which I am almost entirely ignorant. The House will appreciate the state of mind in which I address them for the first time. I feel rather like that member of another place who dreamt that he was making a speech there and woke up to find that he was.
As the first representative of the Chigwell constituency, I am the child of redistribution. I represent a constituency which includes some of the most commodious of London's dormitory areas—fine housing estates, like that of Debden, which is such a credit to the council which planned it—as well as the productive and beautiful farming district of Ongar. Unlike many right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House, and unlike the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), I am no farmer, but I know enough to rejoice at the words I find in the Gracious Speech:
My Ministers recognise the need for maximum economic production from our land. They will continue, through guaranteed prices and assured markets, to ensure a fair return to producers, and will encourage the efficient marketing of food.
The present system of guaranteed prices and assured markets has not been working for very long, I have no doubt that improvements will be called for as time confers experience, but I am quite sure that no Government—least of all a Tory Government can ever contemplate policies which will not provide for the security of British agriculture today and in the future.
It was once possible to argue that British agriculture should be depressed, even that British agriculture should be ruined, in order that wages might be kept down and the cost of our industrial products and exports could be kept down. That was always a cruel policy, a wrong policy, but it could be justified on arguable, though fallacious, economic grounds. Times have changed; in the world today there are 70,000 more people to breakfast every morning than there were the day before. In future, countries will not be found willing to go on short commons in order that our islanders may be fed cheaply. Countries in the Commonwealth and outside have turned their hands to industry. I have heard it said, although I do not know whether it will be so, that the time may come when Australia will be a net importer of food. National economies today are tending to become more balanced. The same will be true, I believe, of our economy at home.
It follows that the stability and prosperity of this island must be founded upon a flourishing and expanding agricultural production. We shall have to grow more food and more feedingstuffs at home. No more, therefore, can the farmworker be regarded as though he were an unskilled worker to be treated on a lower level than industrial workers in the towns. I am glad to read in the Gracious Speech:
Legislation will be introduced to safeguard the health and provide for the safety and welfare of those employed in agriculture and forestry.
It is also gratifying to read that Her Majesty's Ministers
will encourage action to secure the more rapid clearance of slums in both town and country.
During the recent Election campaign, I addressed many meetings in village schools. Many of those schools were not worthy of the children of those villages. Electricity, water and sewerage schemes, providing for elementary decencies and amenities, have gone forward in Essex and elsewhere under the present Administration, but no one can rest satisfied—least of all someone who claims to speak for a farming community—until these basic needs are supplied in every cottage home.
The last meeting I addressed in my constituency was in a village called Blackmore. Blackmore has a sewerage scheme. It began 50 years ago, but the First World War put many schemes like that into the waste paper basket, so another scheme was begun after that war. Lest any right hon. or hon. Member should think that I am venturing into controversial fields, may I say that the Governments which have been in office since the second—not the first—Blackmore sewerage scheme was initiated included two National Governments, a Coalition Government beaded by my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), his Caretaker Government which followed, two Labour Governments head by the right hon. Member the Leader of the Opposition, and finally the present Conservative Administration. I believe that it will be in the lifetime of the present Government that sewers will be provided for the people of Blackmore.
It is clear that the farming community—farm workers in particular must share in the new standards of national well-being we now enjoy. Our life is in the land, our life is also in our trade, and it follows that our life is in the Commonwealth and Empire. At a time of fiercer competition for export markets, at a time when the world will face new problems which will be imposed by automatic factories, it is a matter of common prudence to promote in partnership the fullest development of the resources and commerce of the Commonwealth of Nations. I am very glad that this has received full mention in the Gracious Speech.
References in the Gracious Speech to the Commonwealth and Empire I should like to take in conjunction with the sentence:
My Government will actively promote the development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
I believe that British scientists hold the lead today in the civil uses of nuclear power. The House knows that in the Commonwealth and Empire overseas are deposits of fissile material which are unrivalled in the territories of the other great empires of the world. I hope and pray that the Commonwealth, in unity, will take full advantage of this great opportunity and that we shall not let the sceptre slip into the grasping hands of others. I hope and pray that from these new springs of infinite and awesome power we in the Commonwealth of Nations will draw the strength and the means to provide safety and enrichment for all our far-spread peoples.
I have very great pleasure indeed in congratulating the hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) on what, I am sure, we have all felt to be an excellent maiden speech. He has shown a sensitivity to the needs of the countryside and of England's need for her countryside, a need which is not primarily economic but is social and cultural within the balance of our community. The hon. Member expressed that with very great feeling.
It was in connection with the subject of defence, with which I want to deal, that I first met the hon. Member, for we then had the education of serving together in an expedition which epitomised everything which should not be done in a military adventure. We went to Dakar together. He was a young Marine officer and I was the chap who was supposed to land him on that shore. Mercifully, it did not come to that. I remember that we were in the first landing craft that had ever been seen. We travelled on lorries straight across England equipped with tropical gear. On our very secret expedition, when I arrived at the docks at Liverpool and asked for my ship, I was asked whether I was for the Dakar expedition. Off we went, and, meanwhile, the only person who did not know about the Dakar expedition, apparently, was the admiral-in-charge at Gibraltar, because he led two cruisers through to stop us.
Even then, we went on and we came to Dakar. On the one day upon which there was a heavy fog and an absolutely calm sea, we had our chance to land, but, unfortunately, a bombardment had been laid on so we went round in circles waiting for the fog to move; and then the bombardment came from the other way and we had to go home. It was a lamentable event, and I remember then having various political conversations with the hon. Member. I remember counselling him political moderation, and when I see him sitting on the benches opposite I have a feeling perhaps of having been a little too successful.
The main subject to which I wish to revert is what I consider to be the gravest omission in the Gracious Speech; that is, the failure to recognise as a major task of Government a radical readjustment of our Armed Forces to meet our needs in a totally new context, the context which results from the decision taken at N.A.T.O. that Europe can be defended by atomic means, and atomic means alone.
When I look at the Front Bench opposite I must admit to a slight feeling of alarm, which does not detract in any way from the feelings of affection and respect which I feel for the individual Ministers. When I feel that those are the men selected by the Conservative Party to match the power of the Service chiefs, backing the vested interests of existing establishment, and when I realise that they have to match not only the power and influence of those Service chiefs within their Services, but their power and influence within the Conservative Party, I feel that if anything really is to be done, it needs a major figure—might one perhaps mention Lord Salisbury, somebody of that power—within the Conservative Party to be in charge of carrying out the degree of reform which is necessary within the Armed Services.
Let us look at the context of what we are doing and let us look, first, at the functions of the Army. We have to provide four divisions in Germany. I immediately recognise that these are the most essential single thing in world peace today. The hope of stabilising the world depends upon an integration of Europe that brings in Germany. That is the real reason we require German rearmament. It is not because, within an atomic age, so many more ground troops are very important one way or the other. It is that by bringing Germans in as a contribution to the defence of Europe, with an Army integrated, commanded, supplied and armed from N.A.T.O., we create an integration within Europe which is not available in either the political or the economic fields.
Our divisions in Europe are the guarantee of that integration. They are Germany's guarantee against France and France's guarantee against Germany. They are the guarantees against the fears of Europe, and that they should be there, and there permanently, is of vital importance. They have that great political function. But the fact that they have a political function does not seem to me to be a really adequate reason for organising them in such a manner that they could not possibly perform a military function. That is how I see it today.
Let us realise this. Those divisions can only be used in atomic warfare. There can be no other form of European war, because our N.A.T.O. Command is completely committed to an atomic defence against attack. And yet these divisions are organised upon last-war experience, upon the conception of a division that might be required, as occurred in our seizure of Antwerp, to move 300 miles a day with absolute air superiority. On the road with their transport they occupy more than 100 miles of road. They are nearly twice the size in manpower of a Russian division and have less firepower. They are organised on that basis to provide them with a mobility which will be fundamentally unavailable in atomic circumstances.
What we have to realise is that if we are to meet an invasion with atomic weapons, we must have highly trained troops who are capable of dispersion such as we have yet to experience and who are able to maintain their cohesion although organised in very small and widely distributed groups. That is a job for a professional, and not a National Service, army.
What we need is divisions of about half the present size, of highly trained, long-service men, trained to do with a third of their present transport, trained to operate in small units under dispersion such that they do not provide the atomic target but can infiltrate into the atomic gaps which we create. Such divisions will still perform their political function and will also be able to perform a military function which they cannot at present.
I have been—and I am most grateful to the Secretary of State for War for providing me with the opportunity—to all the manoeuvres that have been held in Germany. It has been an intensely interesting experience. However, as year has passed year, the total unreality of those manoeuvres, with the present organisation and the present levels of concentration, has borne itself more and more on my mind. This primarily German commitment requires four professional divisions very much smaller than the present divisions.
What are the other commitments? In the Pacific we have to maintain fairly heavy forces at the moment in Hong Kong. There is no question about that. From a prestige point of view it would be very dangerous to reduce the forces there, although, personally, I am not optimistic as to what they could do in the event of an invasion. They might be able to cover a civilian evacuation. However, politically they are a necessity, although I hope it will be a transitory one and that the level of forces we have there will not be a commitment which will run very long if we can persuade our American friends to be a little more reasonable in their Pacific policy.
Then there is the Malayan commitment. It is about time that we said to our Commonwealth friends, "You live in this sea, and this is something which you ought to do something about." I think that the time in which this island has to carry the whole peace-time commitments of the Commonwealth has passed. There is no reason why Canada and Australia and New Zealand, all of which abut upon the Pacific Ocean, should not be asked now to take over the Pacific commitment. They, after all, are as dependent, perhaps more dependent, than we are upon the contribution of Malaya to the sterling area, and they can and should do something about that, and it is high time the Government had the courage to say to the other members of the Commonwealth, "You have got a job here, too."
Then, as far as the Mediterranean commitment is concerned—
The hon. and learned Gentleman is putting forward a very interesting and important point. He has suggested that the Commonwealth should play a part in dealing with commitments we have, up till now, taken on alone. Is he now suggesting that all the Dominions should have with this country a common foreign policy, and will he deny the Dominions the right to have their own?
I should say that the world will certainly be in an unhappy position if the British Commonwealth cannot agree about its foreign policy. I will go further, as I have done before, and say that I believe that the peace of the world depends very much on both sides of this House agreeing on foreign policy, too. However, I do not really think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman's interjection was entirely relevant to the argument I was putting.
As far as the Mediterranean is concerned, I hope that we shall not commit the folly in Cyprus which we committed in Ireland, in Israel and in Egypt, of trying to make ourselves a base sur- rounded by a population becoming progressively more hostile. The whole purpose of a base is to provide one with mobility. The essential value of a base is not that it is a place one can stay in, but that one can move out of. That is what one wants a base for: it is to provide one with mobility. As soon as a base becomes a garrison, then it becomes a commitment, and it reduces, instead of enlarges, one's mobility. To try to use Cyprus once the population is hostile means, not obtaining mobility, but simply fighting for our lives until we eventually move out. Because although we say in principle that we never submit to violence, when the violence gets strong enough we do. And so does any sensible person when he is in the wrong. That is the reality.
I believe that what we require is a reserve for cold war purposes here in Britain. It should be an airborne reserve, either through co-operation with our air transport companies, which would give us a call upon some of their capacity in case of emergency, or by an extension of Transport Command. We require two of the smaller-sized modern divisions of about 8,000 men here, capable of immediately being put in the air and moved where required. I believe that the airborne forces here are far nearer a danger spot in the Middle East, in terms of time, than the garrison which has to move itself out of Cyprus.
Yes. I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman.
As far as Africa is concerned, we have at present—the right hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong—the best part of two divisions, I think, tied down in Kenya doing what is essentially a police job. It is as though we had Rolls-Royces to open tin cans, for this is a police operation against a primitive people. That should not engage and commit forces which we require for a major war.
What we should do is to raise one or two divisions of Africans in Africa, perhaps one on each coast. They have unemployment; they have a backward community; and the chance of enlisting, as, indeed, the King's African Rifles has shown, is one which is searched out by Africans. There are queues of people wanting to enlist. Provide them with the opportunity. I know that will mean a call upon us for officers and for N.C.O.s, but I think it provides a rather different type of career for a rather different type of man. It would provide a new opportunity and outlook for Africans, and as we once had an Indian Army, so now, I believe, we require an African Army.
It seems to me quite ludicrous that we should have a battalion of British troops tied up in British Guiana, with the shuttle service of changing and relieving the men, particularly when there is a surplus of manpower looking for employment in the West Indies. For the West Indian commitment, let us raise one or two battalions in Jamaica and the islands, for doing what is a semi-police job. We do not equip that force, or equip the African troops, with the vastly expensive level of equipment necessary for a modern war. Equip it and arm it upon the levels necessary for doing the primitive, semi-police operation for which we require it.
If that general layout were accepted, then the white troops, if I may put it in that way, that we should require for a commitment of this kind would be for four Regular divisions of 8,000 in Germany and two at home, plus some more troops in Hong Kong. But it seems to come within the sort of scale with which 180,000 to 200.000 Regulars could cope, and that is the number which, over a long period, appears to be prepared to adopt a professional Army life. I believe that we would have a definite increase in Regular recruiting if we got away from National Service commitments, because the Regular soldier wants a unit which becomes the surrounding of his life. He is annoyed by the continual influx of the recruits who are later going out to civilian life. It disturbs his balance. If we get away from National Service we can look to an increase in Regular recruiting, and these seem to be the sort of figures that we want in our Regular commitments.
As to the original purpose of National Service, which was to provide us with a reserve, it seems to me that we must recognise that in atomic warfare this island cannot conceivably be used as a base from which we can supply the Continent. It would be totally impossible to mobilise reserve divisions in this island in circumstances of atomic war. I suggest that our National Service should be limited to six months. I do not say that this can be done at once. This is a steady reorganisation programme.
Our aim should be to limit National Service to six months and keep it to a strictly local basis. The National Service man would be called up and trained with the unit with which he would serve and, as a kind of extended Home Guard, he would exist to provide the local resistance which alone would be possible in an England which had been atom bombed. He would also provide what I believe to be the most necessary military contribution within this island, that is government. It is only within a military organisation that we should have the means of command left. The whole machinery of civil government would have disappeared. These are matters which we must consider if we are to face this problem of defence realistically.
I want to say a few words about the Air Force and the Navy. In the case of the Navy, I cannot conceive that a war which had spread to the oceans of the world could be other than an atomic war. Therefore, I can see little object in antisubmarine preparations. Within the first 24 hours of an atomic war, I believe that we should be in a position to guarantee that the Russians did not have a submarine base. The submarine bases would be atomised, and that seems a conclusive answer to the submarine danger. Again, I find it almost impossible to discover within atomic war a rôle for the major surface ships, except to escape as quickly as possible and as far as possible from these islands. To my mind, the idea of a submarine menace is not a reality in the context of atomic warfare. Neither side would have the ports or the bases from which alone submarines could operate.
I also believe that the idea of an air defence of Britain is entirely futile. We have heard from the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing) a technical description of the new Russian bombers. In the last war, at our best we could stop 10 per cent. of the Luftwaffe and that was enough to stop the bombing effort of an air fleet which had to come night after night. The atom and hydrogen bomber has to call only once. How can we imagine that we can step up a maximum success of 10 per cent. against aeroplanes which flew at half the height and speed to 100 per cent.—and nothing less is serviceable—against an enemy which will fly at twice the previous heights and speeds? Even if we succeeded in designing homing weapons—and I think that it will always be scientifically easier to divert than to home these weapons—by the time we did so we should have the rocket attacks, which nobody pretends we can turn away.
The conclusion, therefore, is that in atomic war this island is indefensible from atomic attack. It cannot be used as a base. Its job will be to provide for the survival of as many as will survive the initial attack. That will be its war role. We do not reduce our danger by going in for a facade of defence which we and a potential enemy know perfectly well is made of cardboard. If the bee stings he dies, but nobody invites the sting of the bee and his sting gives him a very effective defence. Our defence against the atom bomb is our power to retaliate. We should make that clear.
The free world requires an inner ring of airfields—Alaska, Northern Canada, Norway, Britain, France, Italy, Turkey, Iraq and Pakistan, but that is not where we should keep our bombers. Our bombers should be in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the southern states of America. That gives an enemy an assurance. He knows that until our bombers are moved he cannot be "Pearl Harboured." He also knows that he cannot possibly "Pearl Harbour" us, and that, whatever destruction he can wreak, he can destroy everything except our power to retaliate, because that moves in by wireless direction to the fields which are still available. Then conies the crushing attack which he can no more parry than we can parry his. These should be our general lines of defence—and they provide opportunities for economy.
These are the things which the Government ought to be thinking out. Defence reorganisation ought to be given a priority of importance within the Conservative Party. We ought to have a defence Front Bench powerful enough to meet the vested interests in existing establishments possessed by the powerful and able men who lead our Armed Forces. We need a Government with the will to impose reforms which are never welcome and almost never acceptable to the professionals themselves.
I could not resist this chance of intervening in the debate, to make a small appeal to the Minister of Health. My right hon. Friend is not here, but I am sure that he will do me the honour of reading my speech tomorrow. In the meantime, the large bevy of Ministers who are connected with defence can go away with impunity for a few minutes, because I intend to speak about foot troubles.
We are very proud of our National Health Service. It is probably the most complete in the whole world, but it is not quite complete. Among the commonest complaints in the country today are com plaints about foot troubles—corns, bunions and other horrid things which affect the feet of men and women.
These complaints are preventing people from working well and, in some cases, preventing people from working at all. If they are looked after in their infancy, many more people will be able to do their job competently and well. Among the elderly there is a very large percentage of people suffering from foot troubles. If it is true to say that an Army marches on its stomach, it is also true to say that the average man or woman lives on his or her feet. It is very important to realise that a good deal depends on their feet being in good condition, so that they can do their work properly.
I want to draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that there is no proper scheme for giving hospital attention to people wanting expert chiropodist service. If they are in hospital they can have their feet attended to if necessary; there is always someone there to do it. But if they are attending hospital as outpatients, in most hospitals there is no one there to look after them if they have foot trouble. Some hospitals have qualified chiropodists, but one has to be certified by the local surgeon that one's feet are very bad before the chiropodist is able to give his services.
At some clinics run by the National Health Service chiropodist service is available, and there are voluntary services promoted by the British Red Cross Society and other organisations to which the National Health Service contributes. There are, however, not nearly enough of these services. I know that many hon. Members will have received complaints from elderly people who want their feet looked after, and who have to pay for the treatment themselves. The Government get interested and excited about people having healthy teeth. A lot of publicity has been given to the care and attention of children's teeth and to the fact that by looking after their teeth in the early stages there is less trouble later and less money to be spent later on looking after their teeth.
No such publicity is given about the care of the feet. The Minister of Health does not seem interested in keeping people's feet healthy. Instead of not providing a service for them, he should advertise a service, as he does in the case of teeth and other things. Many of the people who have to have their feet attended to are elderly, and they have to spend a few precious shillings out of only a few pounds for that attention; yet we are boasting of our great, free National Health Service. Cannot the Minister see that a properly qualified chiropodist is attached to every hospital? I know that it is probably his intention to do something about it some day, but I am urging that it is an economic proposition to do it now.
Cannot the Minister give high priority to having chiropodists attached to hospitals? And cannot he do something about it at once? I have had several people approach me on this subject in my own constituency, and that is why I have spoken about it this evening. I hope that the Minister will see what he can do to make the chiropodist service complete, so that people may have their feet looked after.
I want now to say a word about a small matter which has been brought to light as a result of the recent General Election. That is, that there is no postal vote for a man or woman away on holiday. We are becoming very postalvote-minded. Everyone understands it and likes it. The postal vote is not giving a lot of trouble or causing a lot of expense. But it seems quite silly that a man living at Beckenham, who goes to the Chelsea Flower Show to do a job of work during an Election, can have a vote by post, but another man from Beckenham who is on holiday in Devonshire cannot have a postal vote.
That seems to be a matter which could easily be put right. The result of there not being postal votes for those on holiday is that some people can afford to come back to vote, while others cannot afford to do so. This helps those who are better off. This is an injustice which ought to be put right. I am sure that I shall have support on this from many hon. Members on these benches today, and no doubt other hon. Members will make further points about giving postal votes to those on holiday. It is no sin to go on holiday, and I think that this injustice should be put right as soon as possible.
I am sorry that the patience of the Secretary of State for War has been exhausted, but I can understand how difficult it is to sit in the House for a long time hoping to be called. I wanted to take about five minutes in bringing to his notice what I believe is a human problem—an individual problem for many of those who are serving in the Forces.
With many of my hon. Friends, I regret that there was no statement and no promise of any sort in the Gracious Speech that there would be an inquiry into National Service and, possibly, into the length of National Service. Frankly, I wish that we could dispense with it entirely, but so long as we have military service or service of any sort, I believe that the method we have adopted is unquestionably a fair method to everybody concerned. In that respect, I support it, having had two of my own boys in the Services.
However, I recall that, not only in statements in the House but even in the television broadcast of the Prime Minister, there have been indications of an easing in world tension. We more or less have had a settlement in Korea. We have evacuated, or are evacuating, Egypt. We have come to a satisfactory conclusion over the Trieste problem, and so on. Because of all these things, there are those of us who think that there should have been a proposal in the Gracious Speech to hold an inquiry into our Service commitments. I want to lay particular stress this afternoon, not so much upon the two-year period of service and whether it ought to be 18 months, but on our treatment of young men after they have done their National Service and come to undertake their Territorial training obligations. Obviously I speak with some experience, and that is why I am intervening in the debate.
It is true that many of these boys have at least temporarily suffered disadvantage through their service in regard to their normal civilian employment. They have seen other people—those, for example, who have been found unfit for military service and have not been called up—get their feet on the first rung of the promotion ladder in their industry or profession while they have been away doing their service. They have found on their return to civilian life at the age of 20 or 21, or even 22 or 23, that to recover the ground they have lost during the time of their service they have to apply their minds and their time very diligently to improving their technical or professional knowledge. What is more, if they intend to make any sort of progress in industry or in their profession they will have to take highly specialised training courses at an evening institute. So they become involved for perhaps three or four evenings a week during the winter months with an enormous amount of home work. Side by side with that they have to face responsibilities which we in this House have imposed upon them of doing Territorial Army service on perhaps some evening or at weekends, as well as their annual training in camp.
I admit that the training during midweek is not usually severe. The Army has not been difficult about this. I think the tendency is rather for a man to be called for weekend training, which he is glad to do in order to absorb the given number of hours within a given period of time. But he has in addition to do his fortnight's annual training in camp.
We have to remember that these fellows have returned to civilian life and regard themselves as civilians with a certain military commitment. They enter into the ordinary commitments of civilian life, as they have a perfect right to do. I have in mind the young man who at 21 is
courting or is married. He decides to go away on a holiday and books accommodation early in the year, because in certain parts of south-west England he is going to be very unlucky about a holiday in August if he does not book up in January. So he enters into such a commitment. But suddenly he finds an instruction from his Army unit, written in typical Army language.
You are hereby directed to report for training at … at 13,00 hours. You will acknowledge receipt of this notice immediately on the attached pro forma.
This is what I would particularly call to the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary in the absence of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War.
As there are no range facilities"—
that is, the Army cannot provide range facilities at the annual training camp—
to he available at your camp, this is the only occasion for classification, so there can be no exemptions.
This is really a serious matter.
I have the honour to represent one of the Bristol constituencies, and in that city there are many large industrial undertakings. For what reason I cannot say, but it so happens that nearly all the large factories in the city have their annual holidays during the last week of July and the first week of August. Any of these boys subject to military training might very well have booked in all good faith their summer holidays well in advance of this time, but here they are told that they will be granted no exemption. No matter what may happen there can be no excuses. We all know what the situation is immediately before the August Bank Holiday and the difficulties in which these men would be placed on receipt of such an order as that which I have read.
What I am saying to the Secretary of State for War applies equally to the other Services. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), I am not going to attempt to throw across the Floor of the House mathematical calculations of where we can put a third of that and two-thirds of something else. I believe that many of the difficulties confronting us in the Services are largely human considerations.
I was most impressed by the speech—and I want to refer to it today—of the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) in one of our debates in the last Parliament. I wish that the Service Ministers and the Government would pay some attention to that speech. The hon. and gallant Member pleaded that the House should treat our serving men as individuals who can appreciate the privileges of civilian life and to make available to them facilities for living at home, in the case of the Navy, when their ships are in harbour.
Those are considerations which we will have to take into account if we hope to get men to enlist for periods of service beyond their National Service, that is to say, for three, five or seven-year periods. If we want our men to feel satisfied in their training, we must take these human considerations into account.
By and large, these fellows are not jibbing at these commitments. The majority of them have accepted this as a responsibility placed upon them because of the needs of the country. They accept it, but it is the pinpricking that annoys them—the tedious little things that happen afterwards, the voice of authority which says, "Anything you have arranged must be upset and you must come to this place, at this time and on the date which we have set forth." There is no use anyone making any representation to the powers that be, and no consideration for remission will be given to these men in the light of other commitments.
My period of service was 1917–1919, which is a long time ago. I want to tell the House about it, because I believe it illustrates what I am trying to say. I left the Royal Navy in 1919 with one grievance, and that was that for two years I had been treated more as a child than as a man. The discipline was of the most childish nature in my opinion, and the most churlish actions were taken by the first senior officer. I have complete contempt for one lieutenant-commander whose name I could give, because his treatment of me will never leave my memory.
I had been nine months in the Service without a day's leave, which was due to circumstances over which neither the Navy nor I had any control at the time. I went to Portsmouth Barracks and I asked to see the lieutenant-commander about some leave. All I wanted was a weekend leave, Saturday and Sunday. I thought I was on a good wicket. He said to me, "Why do you want it?" I replied, "I have not had any leave for nine months." Without any more questions at all, he said, "Not granted." So I got drafted.
The ship was in the harbour, and when I went aboard that night I asked whether there was any chance of getting a weekend leave. I was told, "Yes, you go and see the master-at-arms." I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Croydon, North-East will not take this too seriously. I did see the master-at-arms, and I had my weekend leave.
They had me in close confinement for some considerable time, but not in detention. Seriously, I have related that simply to illustrate what I had in mind, namely, pettifogging irritations which could so easily be removed, thereby bringing much more harmony and willing service from our Service men. May I, therefore, ask the Under-Secretary of State for War to talk to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War with a view to issuing a different instruction which would cause the least inconvenience for the shortest period of time to the serving soldier called up for National Service?
The House followed with interest and sympathy the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins), and I am sure we all shared his sense of injustice and irritation. However, we felt also a sense of relief that a safety valve was provided for him, and we are pleased that such speeches can be made in this House in order to voice genuine feelings in such circumstances. I know that my hon. Friend will give careful consideration to the points raised by the hon. Gentleman.
A number of interesting points have been raised about defence matters and with regard to manpower, and I have been asked by my hon. Friends to say that these will be considered carefully. I would like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr (Mr. Howell) on his speech, and also my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) on his constructive reference to the question of atomic and nuclear power—a subject which was also dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). It is with that subject that I rise to deal this afternoon.
I was interested and very much in agreement with my hon. Friend when he stressed the necessity of more energy in order to raise the standard of living. Of course, it is not merely a question of fuel and power in this country; one might call it an economic law of universal application. When one inquires into the prosperity of the different countries and their energy consumption, nothing is more striking than to see how closely the two are related. I have before me a list and a graph showing the national income per head and the energy consumption per head of nearly all the nations. It shows the connection clearly. At the peak of prosperity are countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom with, from a world point of view, a high consumption of fuel and power per head and a high national income. At the bottom are the under-developed countries where conditions of great poverty prevail and where the fuel and power consumption is negligible by our standards.
This is not merely clear from the point of view of the relation of the different countries; it is clear also with regard to the history of the economic development of different countries. It is extremely striking when one studies the changes in the relative growth of prosperity of this country and of the United States in the last 100 years. It is striking to see the way in which the fuel and power consumption of this country rose during the earlier years of the nineteenth century and continued to rise during the whole of that century.
In the United States the gradient of the rise of energy consumption at first was comparatively slow, but in the 70's, and even well on in the 80's, the gradient of the American increase in consumption went up rapidly. It could be seen by anybody who studied the figures or made a graph in those days—if they had confidence in the trends shown—that round about the year 1900 the American consumption of fuel and power would pass right through that of the United Kingdom. This, in fact, happened and from being less than half that of the United Kingdom it is now double that of this country.
Yes, and it is accompanied by the high standard of living which we know to exist in that country at present.
I wish to make one reference to our own great staple source of energy, namely, coal. This still continues to give the Government great anxiety. Full employment—vital as we all know that it is—imposes two serious disabilities on the coalmining industry: First, the industry cannot get enough men and, second, the demands made on it by a bounding economy have exceeded the available supplies of coal by millions of tons each year.
Even making allowances for this, however, the performance of the industry during the winter and in recent months has not been good. Nowhere is that more felt than by the National Coal Board and by the miners' leaders themselves. This makes it all the more tragic that we should have had an unnecessary loss of no less than a million tons of coal incurred by the recent unofficial strike in Yorkshire. Thus there has been a growing deficit that has had to be met by imports and these are now running at a rate of 1 million tons a month. This will result in a worsening of our balance of payments in 1955 of about £80 million. What makes it worse is that a large part of it must be in dollars for American coal.
I pass from this great and old industry to an industry which is new, still small, but rapidly growing. I refer to the industry of nuclear energy. This is an industry which I am sure will transform the world in due course more completely than its economic life was transformed by the development of the steam engine.
I have told the House in the past that the Government are going full speed ahead with the development of atomic power. I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster that the limitations are in no sense financial; the limitations are technical and there are limitations of skilled personnel. The question of skilled personnel is perhaps the most important of all. I remember telling the House recently that courses had been started by the Atomic Energy Authority for the training of the new nuclear engineers who will have to do the work of developing this great industry in this country. I can say now that four main industrial groups have been formed. They are all centred round one group of manufacturers accustomed to the manufacture of conventional electrical power equipment. They have taken into their partnership boilermakers and other specialists connected with this work.
I can tell the House that engineers from these groups who have been attending the Atomic Energy Authority courses completed their training by the end of May. They have left their courses at the Atomic Energy Authority and have gone back to their own organisations. They are now forming their own technical design staffs and their own staffs of nuclear engineers for the work of design that lies ahead. In the case of the Atomic Energy Authority, good progress is being made in this work and these new design organisations, under the engineers trained by the Atomic Energy Authority, have started work and are beginning to produce ideas of their own—a very encouraging fact. At the same time, they will still keep in close touch with the engineers of the Atomic Energy Authority, and there will be regular two-monthly meetings between the Authority and the groups of engineers who are now working on their own, and that will be a time which will enable the Authority to co-ordinate and criticise the work being done by the new nuclear engineering organisations.
The actual work of designing the power stations for which firms will have to quote to the Central Electricity Authority will take place by the second quarter of 1956, and the actual start of the physical work will be made in the first half of 1957; but, of course, while all this work on design is going on, we should lose a great deal of time if we were not also attending to the question of siting the new power stations.
Here is a very interesting development, because in recent years power stations have not been popular with various local authorities, for reasons connected with the Bill which the Government hope to introduce during this Session, and which so much interests my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster. Now there has been a complete change of heart. In recent months I have had a queue of hon. Members asking me whether they can have atomic power stations in their constituencies. This development is a very big change, and I have in each case referred these requests to the Central Electricity Authority, whose job it is under the existing legislation and under the Government scheme to be the first authority in choosing the sites of the power stations.
Rather different considerations enter into the choice of sites for atomic power stations than enter into that for the ordinary power stations. The obvious one is that they have no need to be near the coalfields and do not need to have very elaborate railway sidings or water access for the purpose of bringing in large quantities of coal. Indeed, it is perhaps ironic to remember today that many of the large power stations need five trains a day to serve them with the necessary coal. Although it is true that atomic power stations do not need water access and do not need elaborate railway sidings, nevertheless there is one need which still remains, and that is the need for large quantities of cooling water. As we know, an atomic furnace is only a furnace, if we may use that word, and it leaves the conventional generating equipment the same as it was before. Therefore cooling water is required, and that is why coastal sites and sites on rivers are likely to prove the most suitable.
There is, however, one other point that I should mention, and it is that the reactors are very heavy and it is not all types of soil that can stand their weight. Therefore one of the principal jobs that is having to be done in choosing the sites for these power stations is very careful boring to make sure that the subsoil is sufficiently strong to stand the massive weight of atomic reactors. One other interesting point about these power stations is that there is not the need for the same high chimneys which the conventional power stations have, and, quite apart from the question of air pollution, that is quite a good point from the angle of aerial navigation as well. In regard to work on the sites, it is going ahead fast and is comprehensive, and we are well on the way to the choice of the sites for the first two atomic power stations.
So far, I have been dealing entirely with the development of the civil programme as I announced it to the House some months ago, but I am now going to make an announcement on behalf of the Government with regard to the atomic programme in general, which does not relate solely to the civil programme. New additions to Britain's atomic programme are announced by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. Six more atomic reactors designed to produce fissile material for military purposes as well as electricity, of the same type as the two now being constructed at Calder Hall, are to be built. These reactors are additional to those proposed in the £300 million programme announced by the Government in February. Two will be sited at Calder Hall, and the remaining four will be on a site chosen for its suitability and proximity to the chemical processing plants at Windscale in Cumberland. This work is to go full speed ahead, and it will produce a useful contribution of electricity to the grid within the lifetime of the present Parliament.
Important as is the programme of atomic power development for the future fuel supplies of this country, it is also an essential preparation and the basis from which this country and its engineers may make their contribution to the development of nuclear power supplies for the world at large. Therefore, it is particularly interesting to find a developing interest in atomic work spreading right through industry and into all the professional organisations. I think the House will be interested to observe that some of the great professional organisations which have played such a considerable part in the development of particular industries on more conventional lines, such as the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Institutions of Mechanical and Electrical Engineers, and the Institute of Physical and Chemical Engineering, are pooling their professional abilities and taking a large interest in a co-ordinated way in these problems of the development of nuclear industry.
There will be six new reactors altogether, and two of them will be sited in the Calder Hall area.
I think that another most interesting development, particularly when we think of the development of atomic energy outside this country and also of the development of an export industry by the manufacturers of this country for the provision of atomic energy in the world at large, is the conference and exhibition which will take place under the auspices of the United Nations at Geneva in August of this year, when 700 scientists from over 50 countries will be attending an international conference.
For the United Kingdom, this is really the first opportunity for what we may call a British atomic energy shop window to the world, and we want to take part in it. Therefore, we shall have certain exhibits. Three thousand square feet of the conference building will be devoted to a special exhibition for the delegates—that is, the scientists and engineers actually attending the conference. It will explain our nuclear energy programme, which has had a tremendous reception throughout the world, because of its size and because it is the first one in history, and it will give full details of our first atomic power station at Calder Hall. It will show by diagrams and models various research reactors that are in use or under construction at Harwell, the very interesting research reactors with regard to materials, the new design of the fuel elements in fissile materials and so forth. This will be an exhibition of high scientific content which I am sure will be of great interest to scientists from many countries.
We are also to arrange a second exhibition, open both to conference delegates and to the general public in the City of Geneva. This will be done by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority in cooperation with about 40 British firms who are concerned in the development of nuclear energy. This is a particularly fruitful form of co-operation, because there will have to be the closest possible co-operation among the Atomic Energy Authority, the Central Electricity Authority and the large and increasing number of British firms who are participating in the different aspects—which are many and various—of this new industry. This exhibition will cover between 25,000 and 30,000 square feet and will deal with all the applications of atomic energy in the fields of medicine, agriculture and industry. The firms themselves have set up an organising committee to assist in this co-operation.
I will mention one broader thought in this wider atomic energy development. We have heard a great deal in recent years of the contrast between the active industrial countries and the so-called "underdeveloped" countries. Indeed, I hark back a little to what I said in the earlier part of my speech, that there is really a division between what we might call the "haves" and the "have-nots," among the nations. Fundamentally, it is a division between the nations which have coal, oil or some other fine source of energy and fuel and power, and those which have them not. Those who have, and have been energetic and been able to develop them, are prosperous. Those who have not got them, even though they may be populous and energetic, have not usually been able to rise to anything like the same level of prosperity as the countries that possess them.
Atomic energy may act as an equaliser between the nations, between the haves and the have-nots, in regard to fuel. This source of fuel and power is mobile and is not dependent upon geography or geology. Therefore it may be that great parts of the world, like India and parts of Africa, and even perhaps the Polar regions themselves, may gain special benefit from the development of atomic energy.
At the same time, although atomic energy may act as an equaliser between the nations in the way that I have mentioned, nevertheless, because of the enormous capital that is necessary and the tremendous industrial and technical know-how that is absolutely vital to the installation of atomic power stations, the under- developed nations will still depend for as long ahead as we can see, upon the help that can be given by industrially leading and technical nations like ourselves. The development of atomic energy seems to be a sphere in which not only with regard to ourselves but with regard to the world at large, idealism and self-interest mingle in a peculiarly happy way.
Can the right hon. Gentleman give the House any indication of the status of the engineers who have been trained by the atomic energy people, and approximately the wages or salaries they are receiving?
I am not going into detail upon that, but when we brought in the programme of nuclear power development we indicated that we were paying the very greatest attention to that aspect of the matter.
Is there to be any attempt to get the engineering unions to advertise the fact that training facilities are now available for people with an engineering background, in order to ensure that we get a good supply of apprentices in this new atomic energy engineering?
I hope that the Minister of Fuel and Power is not in a hurry to leave, because there are one or two special points I wish to raise with him, and I am glad of the opportunity to do so.
I recognise that the Minister has made a very important statement which hon. Members will wish to study carefully. We are all very concerned that the best brains of the country should be devoted to the speediest possible development of this great new public enterprise of the constructive use of atomic energy. We welcome any statement which implies that there will be speedy development of this new source of power, particularly if it indicates the possibility of giving aid to others.
Nevertheless, hon. Members will agree that many of these possibilities of solving our power and energy problems lie well into the future, and that, in the meantime, the right hon. Gentleman must be concerned with what he has virtually admitted to be a serious situation. The country still depends upon coal as a source of power and energy, and we are still, as the Minister said, in the situation where the rate of demand for power and energy is outstripping the rate of development in the production of coal. That is a serious position. Anybody who comes from a coal mining district knows just how serious it is.
It is no new position. It has been a conditioning factor in the last 10 years, ever since the end of the war, and during the war. There has been the introduction of full employment in peace time, and increasing demands for coal are being made by the two public enterprises of gas and electricity. The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) overlooked those facts, I am afraid. Those two public enterprises have been calling upon the public enterprise of the coal industry to produce much more. The rate of industrial expansion with full employment has developed so fast, and there is such a colossal potential pull for more energy, that the coal industry has remained in a critical position.
There are still not enough coal workers or an adequate rate of investment. The original programme of the National Coal Board for capital investment has not been achieved year after year in the last five years. In the earlier years it fell well behind. There has not been an adequate rate of capital investment, and certainly today—
I agree with what the hon. Member says, but I think we should take note of the very considerable progress which has taken place in the last three years; that the rate of capital investment in collieries is now three times greater than it was four years ago and will increase still further, and that for the first year we have reached the proper rate for the plan for coal.
The Minister says that we have now, for the first year, reached the rate. In the previous five years the rate has been too low, and considerably below the programme of investment which was actually fixed.
The coal mining industry does not attract enough people to work in it. In that respect, as the hon. Member for Kidderminster says, we have a static position. As one goes about the country one still hears widespread criticism of the people who work in the mines. The trouble is that there is no widespread enthusiasm to work in them. We need a greater spread of the desire to come in and to solve the immediate problems of the coal mining industry by taking up the very many jobs, for example, in and around the West Midlands, that are now going begging.
The Coal Board today is faced with some particular problems that many people outside the mining areas simply do not understand. They do not understand many of the technical problems that prevent the smooth flow, or the smooth rise of production and productivity; nor do they understand some of the very great problems now involved in transferring mineworkers from one part of the country to another. I have been particularly concerned about that in my own constituency and in other parts of the West Midlands.
I hope that the Ministry as well the Coal Board, will pay great attention to studying some of the economic and social consequences of transferring people from one coalfield to another—from Durham to Staffordshire, or from South Wales to Warwickshire. These resettlement and social problems which arise on entering a new community very considerably affect the productive capacities, as well as the industrial relations, which exist in many of the pits. Recently, there has moved from one part of the country to another a quite considerable population to whom the ways and customs are strange and many of the wage rates and economic conditions quite different. Some of the problems of production are very much bound up with these difficulties of settlement.
I say that only by way of introduction to the point which, in my view, the Minister—besides being very much and urgently concerned with the future in terms of atomic energy and atomic power stations—must, if he is to solve the immediate problem of getting rising coal production, pay more attention. The Minister has fallen down on the job, and I wish to draw the attention of the House to what I regard as a deplorable failure on the part of the Minister since he has been in office.
I refer to the problem of mining subsidence. If there is one problem which the people in the coal mining areas want dealt with—and dealt with urgently, because it considerably affects the welfare as well as the attractiveness of mining districts—it is the consequences of mining subsidence. In addition to all the hazards and dangers of working in the mines, there is the problem of the sterilisation of land because of the danger of subsidence. Houses are being broken up, shops being damaged, sewers being opened up, and water pipes bursting week in and week out. Those hon. Members from other coal mining areas know that I am not exaggerating.
I know, also, that to a great extent the responsibility for dealing with all these problems is still laid upon the people in those districts. Although the nation has at last taken responsibility, thank goodness, for the coal mining industry, for the planning of its resources, for attempting to attract into it enough workers, and for the solution of its problems, it has still not taken responsibility for all the consequences of coal mining which the people to whom I refer have to suffer and for which they have to pay.
The Minister knows very well that the Labour Government set up a committee, following upon a Royal Commission which had sat nearly twenty years before, to inquire into the whole problem. That committee went into the subject exhaustively over a period of four years. Two hon. Members of this House, one for each side, were on that committee, under Mr. Turner's chairmanship, and it reported in 1949. What did it find? Let me remind the Minister that the Turner Committee on Mining Subsidence found
… an illogical and chaotic state of the law affecting specific properties and types of property. Out of this chaos has grown much of that real sense of grievance and unnecessary hardship which has led to the appointment of this Committee.
As the Minister knows, in place of that illogical, chaotic state the Turner Com-
mittee recommended that there should be introduced
… a new and comprehensive scheme of compensation for all existing rights of compensation whether these were acquired by contract or by statute and whether they provide for restoration of the surface or otherwise.
The Minister knows that a few months after the Turner Committee's Report was published the Labour Government acted upon it. In 1950 a Bill was produced, which became an Act of Parliament, to give a first instalment to implement this survey of the rights of compensation for mining subsidence. That was the Coal-mining (Subsidence) Act, 1950, which dealt with dwelling-houses of a rateable value of up to £32. That was merely a first instalment. It was generally recognised that another Bill—or several Bills—would have to be introduced if all of these problems were to be dealt with and if the owners and occupiers of houses and of shop and factory premises—as well as the local authorities with their undertakings—were to be properly covered.
One of the very considerable grievances in the mining areas is, of course, the way in which the rates are affected, because whenever local authority undertakings are damaged by mining subsidence it is the local authority there that has to meet the cost of the repairs. There is no system whereby any financial grant is made from the Exchequer to help them. It falls on the ratepayers of the mining districts. They have to suffer the consequences of the interference with their services and have also to pay in full to have those services repaired.
We feel that that is unjust. It was recognised by the Turner Committee as unjust. It is unjust that the Minister, after occupying his office for more than three and a half years, still cannot produce any legislation and will not even indicate when he will produce such legislation to compensate local authorities in mining districts for what they are suffering in this respect, and cannot produce also a comprehensive scheme of compensation as was outlined in the Turner Report.
The hon. Member for Kidderminster referred this afternoon to the action of the Minister on the Beaver Report. Certainly we in North Staffordshire warmly welcome drastic action to cleanse the atmosphere. We have certainly suffered too long from what goes on up above, or rather from what is spewed up above. We are also concerned with what goes on underneath, and we wish that the Minister would act—one cannot say promptly, because more than five years have elapsed since the Turner Committee reported; but we wish that the Minister would search the pigeon-holes of his Department, where there must exist draft legislation to implement the recommendations of the Turner Committee.
If the Minister would do that, he would, at any rate, indicate to the people in the mining districts that he was paying some attention to their needs and problems, and he might thereby go some part of the way towards attracting more people to the mining districts. What is certain is that if the Minister continues deliberately to disregard these problems of the mining districts the people there will feel that their problems are not receiving proper attention higher up, and nobody will be attracted into these districts or induced to work harder to get the coal. The Minister is the fellow who is on strike in this matter and is contributing to the loss of coal. Not until he plays fair with the mining districts by dealing with such problems as this, which have been on the stocks for many years, can he expect enthusiasm in the mining districts for increasing coal production. I shall continue saying this until a Bill providing comprehensive compensation for coal mining subsidence is produced by this or another Government.
Having said that, let me turn briefly to another problem which has been raised in this debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) referred to another acute manpower problem which confronts the Government. He referred to manpower in the Armed Forces, and I want to say a few words on the subject while the Under-Secretary of State for War is here. No doubt, the Secretary of State has gone away to ponder what my hon. Friend was saying.
Now that the Election is over, I hope that the Service Ministers will be able, in the cool of their offices, to reconsider some of the matters which have arisen. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley has said, nobody can be accused now of raising the question of the National Service period or the recruitment programme as an electoral issue.
We now have some time in which to deal with these matters, and we are anxious that the Service Ministers should now forget some of the things they said before the Election. We shall be reasonable in forgiving them for some of their past misdeeds, and perhaps they will now reconsider some of the suggestions which we have put forward.
It is obvious that people in general, including hon. Members, are no longer convinced that this country must have a period of conscription as long as two years on the ground of commitments. Most of the other countries of N.A.T.O. and of the Commonwealth do not have so long a period. Some people still argue on the ground of commitments, but now that we have withdrawn from the Suez Canal and from Trieste, and now that the Korean War has come to an end, sensible citizens are no longer convinced that we must have two years' conscription on the ground of commitments.
At the same time, intelligent people are no longer convinced that we must have two years conscription to get massive reserves in preparation for a third world war. They know, because they have been told by the Government, that the preparations for a third world war are of a totally different character. In any case, there are masses of reserves at the disposal of the Services and no more reservists are required. In fact, some of the Services are embarrassed by the number of reservists they have got. They simply do not know what to do with all the reservists.
It is becoming plain to everybody who has studied the question that this matter of reducing the conscription period depends upon getting a proper balance of manpower within the Armed Forces, and the Government have fallen down on the job. In particular, the Secretary of State for War has failed in what should have been his principal job of getting a proper balance of volunteer Regular members of the Army as against conscripts, so as to enable him, with the reduction of commitments and the removal of the necessity to build up even more massive reserves, to effect an immediate reduction in the period of National Service.
Here is the evidence in the letter from the Secretary of State for War to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley. In this letter are now revealed the facts about the three-year engagement which the Secretary of State introduced with such a blare of trumpets and such a hullabaloo as the solution to the problem of recruiting to the Armed Forces. He said it was intended to induce men to join and then agree to prolong their periods of National Service in order to build up the regular content of the Army. That plan has failed. It is now revealed that in the initially attractive period only 5 per cent. of the men have prolonged their engagements. Only 5 per cent. of those who have chosen to volunteer for three years instead of being called up for two years have prolonged their engagements, and, therefore, the Minister now finds that he is worse off.
We have a right to request that the Minister should publish to this House regularly the numbers of men prolonging their engagements, having signed on for three years in 1952. When the next Army Estimates debate takes place we want to be in possession of that information so that we may review what has taken place in the first year of this three-year engagement scheme. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley suggested that if we were in possession of these facts we might be able to give to the Secretary of State for War some sort of Christmas present when the Army Estimates debate comes along.
Naturally, we expect that the figure will not fall as low as 5 per cent. in the future. If it does, the Army will be in the most deplorable position of a continuous decline in voluntary recruitment. Nevertheless, nobody can now expect to achieve what the Secretary of State described as a desirable figure—one-third of the men prolonging their engagements beyond three years. Nobody can think that there is any hope of that being achieved, and it certainly appears that the three-year engagement has failed to attract the additional number of man-years, if we can put it that way, to solve the problem.
This is a desperately serious matter because it means an increasing dependence upon conscript forces. At a time when we should be able to expect the dependence upon conscripts by the Army to be declining rapidly, we have a situation in which the Army has to lean more and more upon those who are called up and might even have to consider extend- ing the period of conscription because of the lack of voluntary recruits. Surely there should now be from the new Minister of Defence a response to the plea of the Opposition that this whole matter ought to be discussed and investigated exhaustively by a Select Committee of the House. We had an extremely successful Select Committee on the administration of the Army. We had to do a good deal of work to persuade the Secretary of State that that was a desirable thing, but it was a great success which was welcomed on all sides.
So many of the arguments for the two years period of National Service have now gone by the board; they are completely hollow arguments and totally unconvincing to the people of the country. Now that we have one more example of the Government's deplorable failure to attract sufficient recruits to the Regular Army, surely it is apparent that before we enter into extremely partisan conflict on the matter a body should be set up by the House to go into the whole question of the Government's manpower policy for the forces, examining all the aspects of our commitments, all the arguments for reserves and the balance between volunteers and conscripts in the Armed Forces, so that we may carry out what is the responsibility of Parliament—the exercise of proper democratic control over the Armed Forces.
I wish to refer to a paragraph in the Gracious Speech dealing with education to which, I was glad to observe, the Prime Minister paid particular attention when he spoke on the opening day of the debate on the Address. It referred, first, to
the continued expansion in the building and improvement of schools
the number and needs of the teaching profession.
Nobody could fail to welcome that reference, but we must hope that the Government's achievements during the life-time of this Parliament will be greater than those in the life-time of the last Parliament, because, when all is said and done, we are faced with the fact that on a quantitative measurement of educational achievement, at the end of the last Parliament we had gone backward and not forward. The pupil-teacher ratio is less
satisfactory and the number and proportion of our children being educated in unreasonably sized classes is greater now than three and a half years ago.
There have been signs of some change of heart and of policy. In a circular issued towards the end of the last Parliament the Government gave some modest encouragement to educational progress. Nevertheless, I do not think it will be disputed that if we are to deal with education as it needs to be dealt with we must be prepared to go a good deal further than anything which the Ministry has so far envisaged. We shall have to see this nation spending a larger proportion of its national income on education than it is spending now. It is a remarkable fact that this country nowadays spends a smaller proportion of its national income on education than it spent before the war, despite the fact that everybody agrees—indeed, it is one of the commonplaces of argument—that we are living at a time when the need for a great supply of well-trained, well-educated people is more acute than it has ever been before.
If we are to spend a higher proportion of our national income on education, it will create a serious problem for local authorities. As things now stand it would be possible for the nation itself to be able to afford a good deal more for the materials of educational advance—bricks and mortar and the supply of teachers—but for local authorities to have to come to the Ministry and say, "Under present arrangements of local authority finance, although the nation as a whole can afford it, we cannot. It will put a greater burden on our rates than our citizens are prepared to meet."
Some people advocate, as a way of cutting that knot, that a bigger proportion of educational expenditure should be met by the central Government and a smaller proportion by the local authorities. There have even been proposals that particular items—large items—of educational expenditure ought to be made an exclusive charge on the central government. Personally, I should regret it very much if that solution were adopted for I think it would weaken once more the interest of the public in local authorities.
Another solution is possible—that of so reforming local authority finance as a whole that greater revenues are available to local authorities so that they can meet their proper share of the cost of educational advance. In that connection we read with interest the paragraph of the Gracious Speech which deals with the reform of local government. It is very much to be hoped that when that question is being examined the need to give local authorities greater revenue-raising powers, so that they can deal with their educational duties, among other things, will be very carefully scrutinised, because if that is not done, and if we are to make any advance in education at all, we shall be forced back to what I regard as the make-shift and unsatisfactory solution of passing a greater share of educational expenditure on to the central Government.
Educational advance will mean not only more money and more buildings; it will mean, more difficult than either of those, a greater supply of teachers. The Prime Minister told us with very natural gratification that there is a crowd of entrants at the doors of the training colleges. We should be pleased to think that this is so and that the accommodation available for the training of teachers is not to stand idle and unused.
But do not let us suppose that the fact that the training colleges are at the moment over-subscribed is any ground for believing that the position of the supply of teachers is satisfactory, because unless we can get an annual increase in the profession, possibly as much as 50 per cent. greater than it is today, we shall not be able, over the next five years, to make a real onslaught on the size of classes. We need a big increase in the number of teachers if we are to deal with the problem of the bulge, which is now entering the secondary schools, and if we are to go further than that and reduce the size of classes we must have a still morn marked increase in the numbers of the teaching profession.
What we are told about the training colleges surely means that at the moment there is a danger that they will be the bottleneck in this problem. If the number of entrants is greater than we can accept, the lesson to be drawn is not that the position is satisfactory but that we have to make more accommodation and more facilities available for the training of those who want to be teachers. I stress this particularly, because I hope we shall have in mind, as one of our objectives, lengthening the period of training of teachers.
At present, a great many people are going into the profession after only two years' training. Many of them do very creditable and distinguished work, but that does not alter the fact that two years' training is not enough. They are quite young when they go into the training college. In their first year they are, mentally, still looking back to their school days and in the second year they are looking forward to the time when they will be at work. We want to set as targets a three-year training course; we want, also, to increase the number of graduates in the profession as a whole.
The Gracious Speech also mentioned the importance of technical education. No one disputes that. Industry and commerce are crying out repeatedly for more people with technical education. What are some of the problems which the Minister has to face if technical education is to be properly handled? One is the status of technical colleges. Ought they to be regarded as comprising among themselves a kind of university which could set to work first to establish and then to raise proper standards of educational attainment, or should we rather think of linking technical colleges with the universities in whose neighbourhood they are? There is a great deal of argument about those two possible, but not the only, approaches to the problem. The Ministry has to consider its view on that question.
At a more junior level in the sphere of technical education, we shall not make satisfactory progress unless our technical schools have better and more up-to-date equipment than many have at present. In a speech which the Minister of Education made at Scarborough, not long ago, he expressed some hostility to the idea of large schools. I would suggest to him that one of the advantages of a fairly large school—I am not thinking of a school of fantastic or monstrous size—is that it has sufficient customers, as it were, to make worth while a generous provision of the equipment necessary for good technical education. That cannot be done in school units which are too small.
While emphasising the importance of technical education, I do not think we ought to overlook the fact that we shall do very great injury to this country if we concentrate solely on increasing the number of well trained technicians without also ensuring that they are people of reasonably good general education. One of the general troubles of mankind is that man's technical cleverness has outstripped his wisdom. Recipes to increase the numbers of human beings who are technically skilled without, at the same time, doing something to increase the store of human wisdom as contrasted with cleverness, are possibly the surest recipes for the destruction of mankind. We have to consider supplying to the nation from our educational system not only more and better trained technicians, but more technicians with a good general education.
For that reason I could not but regret another passage in the speech of the Minister at Scarborough where, apparently, he pictured a society in which something between 15 per cent. and 25 per cent. only of the population would be receiving either grammar or technical education. I am profoundly convinced that even if one admits the desirability—which I do not—of that rigid division of education into grammar, technical and modern, to talk of 25 per cent. as the maximum—not the average—who shall receive either grammar or technical education is completely to underestimate the needs of modern society both for technicians and people with a good general education.
The very fact that the Gracious Speech mentions technical education draws attention to the fact that it is now admitted that the curriculum of schools—the question of what subjects are taught in schools—is a matter with which the Government should be concerned. It has often been said that one of the special features of the English educational system is that, in contrast to some Continental countries, the Minister of Education in this country does not prescribe what shall be taught in schools. Even the local authority, except in most general terms, does not prescribe that. We like to leave a great deal of freedom in that respect to the teaching profession. By repeating such phrases, however, we ought not to be led into the belief that it is of no concern to society as a whole what subjects are taught in schools and what comparative emphasis is given to them.
We are now admitting by the stress we are laying on scientific and technical education that the public authority, the Government, cannot dodge some measure of responsibility, not for dictating, but for giving guidance and making suggestions as to curricula. The Gracious Speech goes further on this matter of curricula and says:
Secondary schools will be encouraged to provide a choice of courses.
If that means what it says it is very difficult to reconcile it with some of the pronouncements and actions of the Government in the realm of education.
It may mean one of two things. It may mean that if we take all secondary schools together, considered as a lump, they should be providing a variety of courses. If so, it is a mere platitude. It may mean that in any given secondary school we ought to try to provide a variety of courses. If so, I heartily agree, but that is not in line with the policy of the Government of pouring cold water on the idea of a fairly large school or the idea of comprehensive schools. I hope that the Government will try to free their minds of prejudice and past controversies and to reconsider the real needs of the nation in this matter. Secondary schools should be encouraged to provide a variety of courses, but, if that is to be done, the Government have to reconsider some of their pronouncements and some of the attitudes which, perhaps too hastily and without sufficient consideration, they have adopted.
We ail know that very great influence is exercised over the curricula of secondary schools and even of primary schools by the judgments and requirements of universities. Here, again, we like to say that it is part of our educational system that the universities are independent of the Government. We are so jealous of that that the financial assistance given to universities comes directly from the Treasury and not from the Ministry of Education, but we also know that the decisions which the Ministry and local authorities have to make about grants for students mean, in effect, that the Government are exercising a great deal of influence over the question of what kinds of people go to universities. Whether we like it or not there is bound to be a considerable connection between the Ministry of Education and the policy pursued by universities.
Certainly, no one would suggest that the Ministry ought to tell universities how they should handle the matter of education. What I am suggesting is that time has come for the Government as a whole—if we want to preserve the idea that the Ministry of Education does not interfere with universities, let it be done as an act of the Government as a whole —to hold a first-class inquiry into what we believe universities are for today and whether they are doing the job for which they are really intended.
To some extent, a university is a collection of vocational schools. It trains people to be lawyers, doctors and members of other learned professions. As a whole, it does that vocational job very well indeed, though we are not happy about the proportion in which it turns out people for the various professions and for scientific occupations. We ought to consider whether the university is doing its vocational job properly.
Secondly, a university is supposed to be something much more than a collection of vocational colleges. It is supposed to be an instrument through which what we rather loosely call the traditions and culture of Western civilisation are handed on from one generation to another. The time has come when we have to ask ourselves what exactly is this thing which we call rather loosely, in a rather insular fashion, Western civilisation.
What are the traditions and the standards of value which, we believe, the universities ought to be handing on? If we have any idea what they are, how do the universities set about the job of handing them on? One of the newer universities in Staffordshire has consciously and deliberately attempted that task. In older universities, the idea is somehow to absorb Western civilisation by looking at the buildings.
I do not pretend to know the answers to these questions. What I do suggest is that it is time that a high-powered inquiry was made to try to find out, first, what we believe a university is for; secondly, whether it is doing what its job is really supposed to be; and thirdly, what is the influence of universities on school curricula and to what extent is it a desirable influence.
What I am suggesting is that although the Minister has direct and immediate responsibilities for such practical, necessary material matters as school buildings and the size of classes, he must not conceive his job too narrowly, otherwise there is a danger that we shall produce the sort of highly specialised society producing a certain number of academics, a certain number of people whose training is exclusively technical and a certain number of people, starting with those who are not lucky at 11-plus, who do not get a particularly good education of any kind. That would be most mischievous for society and there is a danger that unless these larger questions are looked at, that is what we shall do.
The Minister now starts in a new Parliament with, perhaps, some years of office before him. I hope that he will make progress in the direct and material responsibilities which are his. I hope that he will also find time and energy and spiritual resources to look at some of these larger questions.
I was impressed by what I took my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) to mean when he spoke about the dangers of our losing sight of the real function of education: that is, the production of an individual personality and character and of a human being who can fit into the society into which he happens to be born.
We tend too often to look upon education as being something to fit a person simply for a particular job. I know that people have to have an education in mathematics and science or a commercial education to fit them for a job, but that is not the only function of education. I regard education as being primarily and essentially the helping of a child and an adolescent to become a complete, balanced person who can enjoy all the various aspects of life and an appreciation of life and of living. I believe that only by an approach to education in that manner shall we move towards that higher society that we hope to get in which we shall have more leisure.
We will have that extra leisure if we get the guaranteed wage in British industry, as, I see, one American industry is proposing. I am sure that the union of which I am a member would appreciate very much an annual wage for every worker, for we would look upon three months spent not in the factory as being three months of leisure rather than three months of unemployment. If we are to have that, what my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham says is quite correct: we shall have to have a wider education for all citizens even though they fail the 11-plus examination.
To turn to the Gracious Speech, I was bitterly disappointed because I could not get much out of it. It contains a statement that the Government will do all in their power to move towards a system of freer trade and freer international payments. But before that, the Speech says that sanctions will be imposed against dumping. I do not know what the definition of "dumping" may be in a certain context, but my experience in industry has always been that we get what we can for our products in the home market and that anything else that we get out of the capital we employ is exported abroad and we get paid for it. More often than not, the cost of the whole production is paid for by what we sell on the home market, especially when a company reaches a monopoly position.
I well remember the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) saying that a prosperous foreign trade was based upon a prosperous home trade, and I thought at the time how right he was. Obviously, if somebody who has a monopoly position in his own country and who commands a fixed price by a trade organisation can get an agreement among producers in this country to fix the home market price, what he can produce in excess of what the home market requires can be sold abroad at any price he likes.
I remember that a company for which I worked sold its products abroad at half the price for which it sold them at home. We were in the privileged position of being a monopoly and could command our price on the home market. That enabled us to undercut everybody else on the foreign market. I do not know whether that is what the Government propose by this contradictory statement in the Gracious Speech and whether we are to have a flourishing home market, monopolies over prices and a rigging of the market and of prices, enabling the monopolies to make such a profit here that they can compete in the foreign market. Of course, the foreigners would say that that was dumping; they would say that we were dumping on them. But when they try to do it on us, the Government will take action to stop them from doing it. How this will free trade, I do not know.
The Speech says that the Government will take action against the jeopardising of full employment. By whom? Who will jeopardise full employment? I know of no industrial worker who is anxious to jeopardise employment. Surely, no worker or anyone in industry would do anything consciously to jeopardise employment. Perhaps some hon. Members opposite think that it may be that the workers who cause strikes are jeopardising employment But it is not the workers on the floor of the factory who cause strikes. I have been in a few factory strikes in my time, and we did not strike just for fun. More often than not, the fault for the strikes in which I have been involved was the action of a very foolish manager or foreman. I remember a strike in a factory where I was a trade union official, and the justice of the strikers' case was so clear that the manager responsible for the injustice got the sack on the spot.
There is too much propaganda from the other side of the House and from the national newspapers to the effect that strikes in industry are caused always by hot-heads or Communists. I have seen many strikes, and I can tell the House that more often than not spontaneous unofficial strikes are caused by tactless and foolish departmental managers or foremen who are not fit for their jobs because they do not understand psychology.
The Gracious Speech talks loosely and almost in platitudes about
expansion of production …
What we in Scotland want to know is where production is to be expanded. Is it to be expanded down in the South and contracted up in the North? It is not good enough to tell us merely that the Government are to expand production. In Scotland, we are very concerned about the bringing of more industry into Scotland.
There is a double problem here. There is a huge concentration of population with industry in the South; we are liable to have a contraction of population in the North, where we want more industry. In the North coal mines are becoming extinct, but no alternative employment is provided in those mining areas. There is a drift of population to the South, or a drift out of the country. I should have thought that the party opposite would have been a little concerned about that. They had some propaganda about it in Scotland, particularly in my own constituency, where my opponent at the General Election said, "We want Scotsmen to represent Scottish constituencies."
I should have thought that the question of expansion of production in Scotland would have been mentioned in the Gracious Speech, because that is what we in Scotland are interested in. There are many difficulties for our industries in Scotland at the moment. In the shipbuilding industry thing are getting very difficult. Six or seven berths are now idle on the Clyde. They are good berths, in which 10,000-tons ships can be laid down.
There is a dearth of light industry. It is estimated that the mines of Dunbartonshire will be exhausted in ten years' time. Are the Government to do nothing to encourage new industry there, where about 30,000 people are at present dependent on the mining industry? The locomotive industry in Scotland is in difficulties. That industry is not centred in my constituency, but in Glasgow. There was a deputation led by my hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Lee). It was composed of hon. Friends of mine who are members of the Amalgamated Engineering Union. We were accompanied by my hon. Friend the Member for Springburn (Mr. Forman). The deputation met the Minister of State, Board of Trade, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply, and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, to discuss the serious situation of the locomotive industry in Scotland.
When the Government talk about the expansion of production, then the people of Glasgow, the people of Scotland as a whole, want to know what action the Government intend to take about the expansion of industry in Scotland, where it is more necessary than it is in the South. The Renfrew Maintenance Base is being moved from Renfrew to London, and that, far from meaning an expansion of industry in Scotland, means a further contraction of industrial employment in Scotland. Instead of expansion there is contraction of industry in Scotland after three and a half years of a Conservative Government.
The statement in the Gracious Speech about monopolies is the most amazing statement I have ever come across. There is the merest mention of them. What do the Government propose to do? Monopolies are becoming intolerable. The County Council of Dunbartonshire invited tenders for carrying out work. It sent out the invitations to various companies in Scotland. It had a reply from the secretary to the organisation to which those companies belong, and that secretary informed the council that as it had included in the invitation a clause to the effect that the prices would have to be fixed, and not variable prices, the companies concerned would not tender.
This is not a rare instance. There was the Bristol case recently. All over the country, wherever one goes, one finds that every essential commodity is tied up by price rings and trade associations. A complete system of control over prices exists in this country—without rationing, I would remind hon. Gentlemen opposite. When do the Government propose to control prices in industry for the sake of the consumer?
People are frightened by the high-pressure salesmanship technique of the party opposite that if there is price control there must be rationing. Ever since I was ten years of age I remember that the Imperial Tobacco Company have controlled tobacco prices without rationing. Kellogg's Corn Flakes are price-controlled, without rationing. Milk is price-controlled without rationing and so is bread, but the people fall for that kind of propaganda. Something really drastic must be done about monopolies.
It may be that some of the economic experts will tell me that it is impracticable, but I believe that although we have a Companies Act which compels companies to publish their profit and loss accounts, to show that their business is not "phoney," we have reached such a stage in huge monopolies and trade associations that we should also have some public accountability of the way in which companies arrive at their prices. It would be interesting to find out the expenditure of some of these companies and the direction in which they spend to build up the costs which lead to the fantastic prices of some of their commodities. I know of some commodities the prices of which could be considerably reduced and still show a reasonable profit on the cost of production.
On the subject of education, the Gracious Speech refers to a change in the scheme of superannuation for teachers and to improvements in secondary schools, but there is not a word about the dire need to increase the number of private schools. In East Dunbartonshire the situation is almost intolerable. Only a fortnight ago there was a threatened strike of mothers on Clydebank because their children were being moved from one school to another to make room for children who could not be accommodated in high school.
Dunbartonshire is spending thousands of pounds a year in moving children from their homes in the housing areas to the schools, because in 1952 the Conservative Government kept down expenditure on school building. The school in Killmardinny has not yet been started. It has been held up time and time again. The children have had to be bundled into all sorts of places.
As long as there is this overcrowding in our schools a child has no chance of learning and a teacher no chance of teaching properly. The situation is the entire responsibility of the last Adminis' ration, because of their stupid cutting down of school building from 1952 onwards. There are chronic cases of school building being held up in East Dunbartonshire. Permits for building have been refused The consequence is that we have extensive overcrowding and, in some cases, children have to be transported by bus for many miles in order to get them into some school or other.
I have brought to the notice of the Government a case which shows how stupid is the whole situation. One of my constituents wrote to me to say that she had been refused free milk for a child of five, because now that it was of an age to go to school the provision of milk was the responsibility of the education authority. When the education authority was approached the reply was that the child was not in school and, therefore, the authority was not responsible. Here was a child of five who was unlikely to start school until it was six years of age, but the mother could not obtain free milk from the Ministry because the child was of school age and could not obtain it from the education authority because the child was not in school. What an absurd situation. After about three months' argument we managed to get free milk for this child.
The Gracious Speech also refers to the
problems of local government.
I wish that on these occasions we could have some information from the Government as to what is meant by "problems of local government." I do not like raising this same old issue time and time again, but I must do so because it is a very serious matter.
The last time that I raised it I was ruled out of order, and I hope that I shall not be this time. I have more confidence in raising it this time because there is an hon. Member opposite who resides in my constituency. Although he will probably not support me today, no doubt I shall get his support on many future occasions on this particular question.
Two years ago the Burgh of Kirkintilloch drafted, on the advice of the Scottish Office, a new sewerage scheme. The Burgh of Kirkintilloch is noted for its thrift. It does not waste a penny. It is a very sober Scottish burgh, and I mean "sober" in every sense of the word. When the Burgh submitted its plan, the Scottish Office sent it back saying, "It is a waste of time; let us have a full-blooded, proper job. This sewerage scheme is hundreds of years out of date; let us have a new job." So the burgh spent £800 to £1,000 on surveying and preparing a new scheme. It was sent back to the Scottish Office, which approved it, but now there is no grant. It has been cut off. There has been this delay because of the fault of the Scottish Office.
The burgh has drafted this scheme and spent all this money. If it tries to do the work itself out of its own resources it will cost about 4s. 1d. on the rates, and it just cannot afford to do it. The rates have already gone up high enough through the fiscal policy of the late Government. If the Government put up the Bank Rate again, I do not know where we shall be.
If the Government say that they will do something about the problems of local authorities, can we be given an assurance that this kind of problem will be faced? Can I have an assurance that the Burgh of Kirkintilloch is to get its new sewerage scheme? After all, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has given hundreds of millions of pounds away to big business. I know that this burgh is not a big business or a big company, but it is a beautiful burgh. I do not see why the Chancellor, if he can afford £100 million for these big companies, cannot spare about £200,000 for this scheme, because that is all it will cost.
The Joint Under-Secretary of State is not a Scotsman, but I know that he will look favourably on Scotsmen because he represents a Scottish seat. I do not object to that. I have no objection to a non-Scot representing a Scottish seat or a Scotsman representing an English seat. I happen to be a Welshman. I know that the hon. Gentleman is very sympathetic in some directions, and I am sure that he will do all that he can to solve this problem of local government—the financing of all the enterprises which have to be undertaken in the small industrial burghs which have not a great rating valuation.
Small burghs cannot do these things out of their own resources. There are some burghs where there are huge industries making big profits, and if they were rated at the valuation at which they ought to be rated the position might be somewhat different, especially as they have been relieved of a good deal of taxation on their profits. It might be a good thing if we abolished derating and re-rated some of these industries which are making fabulous profits.
I am rather surprised that there is no mention in the Gracious Speech about the old folk. There is talk of inflation. Inflation has come to stay. I do not know whether the Government have the secret intention of returning to convertibility, but I saw a suggestion in the financial columns of the "Glasgow Herald" about a floating £. I know what a floating vote is. A floating voter is one who has to be caught by some political speculation by a political gambler. It is said there are millions of them, and the party opposite are after them with all sorts of confidence tricks.
Is the floating £ in the same position? Is the floating £ something with which the international gambler and speculator can play? I am not an economist, nor am I a financier, but I should like to know what this floating £ is. I do not know whether the Government have any intention of creating a floating £. I heard that a floating voter was one who lived in a house with a bathroom. I do not know how one would describe a floating £.
If the Government do not do something about inflation I wonder what is to happen to the old-age pensioners. A number of these people spoke to me during the General Election. I will quote a case of one old gentleman of 85, who is thrifty and well respected in the Burgh of Clydebank. He has got 42s. or 47s.— I am not sure which—from his retirement pension and National Assistance. He lives alone. He got this increase of 2s. 6d. in his pension, but when he went for his National Assistance he found that that amount was knocked off.
He is in a hopeless position. His underclothes are almost worn out and he cannot afford to replace them. It was suggested that he should apply for a clothing grant of £5, and then he was told that if he got it he would have to pay it back at 3s. 6d. a week. I believe this man. He would not tell me a fairy tale. The officials suggested to him that he could have a clothing grant of £5 to buy himself some underclothes, but he would have to pay it back at 3s. 6d. a week. He told them that he had budgeted as narrowly as he could in the last fortnight and that he had 1s. 6d. left over. How, then, could he start paying back 3s. 6d. a week? It was impossible for him to say. That is not the only case.
Many people came to me who, three or four years ago, could have got a grant for clothes, but now, time and again, officials are saying, "We will give you a grant, but we will deduct it from your National Assistance at the rate of 2s. 6d. or 5s. a week." Is that really happening all over the country?
Is that what it is? I cannot repeat here what this old man in my constituency said about it. That would be quite out of order. I get out of order often enough without repeating language which, I am sure, would be absolutely out of order. But I cannot for the life of me see how the party opposite got back to power when this sort of thing is happening all over the country.
I would ask the Joint Under-Secretary to get the Treasury to help in this Kirkintilloch scheme because it was prepared at the insistence of the Scottish Office in order to get a grant. The burgh spent money on drafting it and putting it before the Scottish Office for approval. It was a serious blow when it was turned down. I believe that it did me some good, and even if it is approved before the next Election takes place it will help me. I hope the hon. Gentleman will see what can be done about this sewerage scheme.
I would also urge the hon. Gentleman to get the Scottish Department of Education to push on with the new schools at Killmardinny, Lenzie and Clydebank, because we do not want the parents going on strike and we do not want the children periodically walking from one school to another to make room for another crowd coming in. In East Dunbartonshire we are just about "fed up" with it.
I do not intend to delay the House for more than a few minutes as there are only two things to which I wish to refer. I am sorry that I was not here at the beginning of the speech of the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence), but I thought I heard him mention the question of countervailing and anti-dumping duties. I want to speak about these first, because there is a reference to them in the Gracious Speech, namely, that legislation will be introduced to enable us to impose these duties on imported goods when such action is deemed to be necessary. This should give considerable satisfaction in Lancashire, where the great staple industry of cotton textiles is particularly vulnerable to this sort of competition.
I realise that the definition of dumping is that of selling goods in export markets at prices below those at which they are sold in the country of origin. I hope, however, that when it is necessary to decide upon the definition of dumping, due consideration will be given to the practice which is becoming prevalent in many countries of allowing manufacturers in those countries to obtain their raw materials, from which the goods are made, at prices based on subsidised rates.
That kind of competition is causing much concern in the cotton textile industry in Lancashire. Just prior to the dissolution of the previous Parliament many references were made to countries such as India, where we know there has been a practice of allowing the India spinners to obtain their cotton at about 10d. a lb. cheaper than spinners in the rest of the world can buy it. This has enabled India to export her goods to this country at prices with which it is impossible for our own spinners and manufacturers to compete. The Portuguese and the Egyptians have been doing the same in a lesser way because of the specially assisted rates at which they are able to get their cotton. The Portuguese grow cotton in their African territories. The Egyptians grow cotton in their own country. These reduced rates have enabled them to send yarn into this country at prices ridiculously low, and at which they could not produce it if it were not for the special assistance they get in procuring their raw material.
Another thing which is causing great concern particularly to Lancashire concerns the Ottawa Agreement. We know that just before the dissolution of Parliament negotiations were afoot to try to induce India to limit her exports of cheap cotton goods to this country. I believe that one of the things which has impeded any arrangement being made between our Government and the Government of India, and possibly Hong Kong, which is also responsible for sending in many cheap goods, is the agreement which was made 23 years ago and which is known as the Ottawa Agreement.
In the early years of the 'thirties the country was in the grip of a slump in trade, and the member countries of the Empire, as it was then known, got together in order to try to arrange a sort of family trading arrangement amongst themselves. They met together at Ottawa in 1932, and the basis of the Ottawa Agreement was that Empire or Commonwealth countries should be allowed to export their products to this country duty free and, in return, the Empire or Commonwealth countries would allow a special preference with any duties which they might impose against goods going into their countries. That was known as Empire Preference or Imperial Preference, and there is not the slightest doubt that it worked very well at that time and that it was largely instrumental in reviving trade within the Empire up to the year 1939, just before the war.
The whole object of the Ottawa Agreement when it was signed as declared and expressed by people at the conference was that it should be mutually advantageous to all the countries concerned and harmful to none. I hope that hon. Members will take particular note of that expression —" harmful to none "—because that was what was said when the Agreement was signed. There is no doubt at all that it was a good working arrangement that worked very well.
There is, however, one great difference between the conditions which obtained when that Agreement was signed and the conditions which are obtaining today. In 1932, most of the goods which were exported from the Commonwealth into this country were in the nature of raw materials. I do not believe that at that time it was ever envisaged or intended that manufactured goods should be allowed to come into this country duty free and at such a rate as to put our own people out of work. I am perfectly certain that when the Agreement was signed there was no intention of that kind, but, since that time India and Hong Kong have become largely industrialised and they are now able, owing to these special arrangements in the case of India and Hong Kong, to send their goods into this country.
At the moment, the important part is that the trouble which has been caused today by importing manufactured goods into this country arises from cheap cotton goods, but there is nothing at all to ensure that, as time goes on, other industries will not be similarly affected. As these countries become more and more industrialised, they will be able to export their products, whatever they may be, into this country duty free, and that is a matter which I think should be looked into.
I believe that the time has arrived when the Commonwealth countries should get together and have a look at this Agreement in order to see whether it requires a thorough re-examination, and, possibly, some revision. I do not believe that it was ever intended that manufactured goods should flow into this country to put our own people out of work, because, in those conditions, I am quite certain that we would never have signed it.
I hope something can be done to get the Commonwealth countries to have another look at this Agreement and revise it. If they do, I think it can still be a great instrument which is of worth to the Empire or Commonwealth, but, if they do not, I am afraid that it is in danger of becoming a sort of millstone round the necks of British manufacturers, and I hope that something will be done about it.
I have no wish to follow the arguments of the hon. and gallant Member for Rochdale (Lieut.-Colonel Schofield), but I should like to make one or two comments on two matters.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) pointed out that, in this period of inflation, the Government would have to do something more for the aged. Whether the inflation continues or not, there is no doubt that there is a large number of the aged of whom that is certainly very true. We had a large number of Questions today directed to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance concerning those who find that, as a result of the recent increase in pensions, they are receiving only a part of that increase. It was shocking to hear the Minister hiding behind the National Assistance Board as an excuse for continuing this practice.
If pensioners needed 7s. 6d. increase, it should stand to reason that the poorest pensioners needed it more than those who were more fortunate; and only the poorest have to seek this additional relief. During the Election campaign, I found that a large number of my pensioners did not get it. Some got nothing, some 6d., some ls. and some 1s. 6d. I see the Minister shakes his head. What I say is true. I can give him names out of my pocket now of people who got nothing, 6d. or 1s.
Hon. Gentlemen on the Government benches have gloated since the Election over their victory and have talked rather boastingly of our prosperity. Are the sums that I have mentioned all that a Government who boast about national prosperity can give to the poorest section of the community? Is that the idea of Government supporters of the meaning of prosperity? It is a disgrace, something about which they should rather hang their heads with shame than boast.
All of us have come up against the problems of the aged folk and the chronic sick. There are those whose daughters have been patiently tending them during the best period of their lives. All of us have met the pensioners who need something. I did not realise the extent of this problem until a survey was carried out in Edinburgh a few months ago. About 60 per cent. of doctors co-operated by keeping records during one month of the aged chronic sick who visited them. They recorded 5,086 aged, chronic sick, and 40 per cent. of those people were found to have some need.
It is false of us to talk in terms of boom and prosperity when this great pool of human need exists in our midst. If the figure of 40 per cent. is applied to Great Britain as a whole, we find that between 1 and 2 million aged people have some need which we are not meeting. We should not boast of our achievements when we have this in our midst.
Out of those 5,086 patients, 1,274 required domestic assistance of one kind or another. Many of those, of course, lived alone. Another 1,270 had some medical need which was not being met. Some required financial as well as social help. Before starting to pat ourselves on the back and saying how well we are doing, we really ought to remember these things. There is at the present time an immense need for home helps, home nursing helps and other assistance for these aged people. Ten per cent. of them were found to require physiotherapy. They could have had a much more comfortable life with it, but nothing is done about it.
Before the Election there was announced—and I also raised this matter on the Adjournment just before the Election—the increase in hospital expenditure in Scotland. Many of these people to whom I have referred urgently required long-term hospital accommodation, and some needed short-term accommodation. The expanded programme—which, incidentally, does not commence this year—does not, of course, touch the fringe of this problem. I have raised this point because I see that one of the Scottish Ministers is sitting there. If he speaks in the debate tomorrow, perhaps he will tell us about this, because during the past two years a number of committees in Scotland have inquired into it and, if he could enlighten us, it would be of great assistance to all those people who require this help.
The Queen's Speech says that the law of rating and valuation in Scotland is to be amended in accordance with a Departmental Committee's report. I do not know, but I assume that that means that the Government are to implement the recommendations of the Sorn Committee. We are not even told whether or not that is so; we are fobbed off with this generality in the Queen's Speech. Like the many other things in that Speech, that is all it is—a generality. If I am right in my assumption, I am rather surprised at the speed with which the Government rush in to carry out the wishes of the property owners. That is what this means. The Government are always willing to hasten to the aid of the property owners, but we do not hear so much when it is a matter of helping the aged.
Local Government finance in Scotland will not be solved by the recommendations of the Sorn Committee. Apart from property owners, I know of very few people who want those recommendations implemented. Even Tory local authorities have not said that they want that. To implement those recommendations in no way helps to solve the very serious problem of local government finance in Scotland. That problem is caused by local government expenditure rising so rapidly that local authorities do not know how to get the money. In Edinburgh, under a Tory Government, and with a Tory town council, our rates have increased 50 per cent. in three years. There is no Socialist extravagance there. Nobody can blame the wicked Socialists for being so profligate as to push up the rates. Under a Tory Government and a Tory town council our rates in Edinburgh have risen 50 per cent. in three years. That is the real problem.
The Government would have done far more towards solving this problem had they considered abolishing industrial de-rating, as was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East. In Edinburgh alone if industrial derating were abolished it would be possible to reduce the rates by 8d. It would mean almost an additional £250,000 to Edinburgh. I see that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling) has just entered the Chamber. He was at one time a very distinguished Lord Provost of Edinburgh and has always been anxious that local expenditure and the burden of the rates should be reduced. I should have thought that he would have advocated the abolition of industrial derating so that Edinburgh citizens would be called upon to pay 8d. in the £ less in their rates.
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman was not here earlier. I was pointing out that under a Tory Government and a Tory town council the rates have increased 50 per cent. in the last three years. Surely it is time that the Scottish Office faced this problem and appointed a committee to inquire into alternative methods of raising local government finance or methods of increasing Government assistance to local authorities. Certainly the time is ripe to inquire into the burden of rating. That would be far better than implementing the recommendations of a committee and adopting proposals which, so far as I know, are not generally acceptable in Scotland.
I do not wish to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) except that I would like to emphasise the need for more assistance for our aged people. I am sure that many of us were staggered during the Election by the number of old people who complained how little they were really getting out of the increase in old-age pensions.
My hon. Friend referred to the treatment of the chronic sick. I have asked in this House before that the benefits of physiotherapy and chiropody should be made more readily available. On Friday, the health committee in my own city discussed the fact that while that committee could make a grant to a voluntary body, such as the meals on wheels service, to enable it to give a chiropody service, the local authority was not able to give that service. If this kind of treatment could be given by the local authority, it would be possible for a large number of old people to leave hospital. It would also mean that treatment could be given to all the aged people in that area and not just the few which the voluntary body would contact.
That, however, is not the problem about which I wanted to speak. There is mention in the Gracious Speech of slum clearance. The paragraph states that the Government will
introduce such legislation as may be found necessary to further these objects.
It will be interesting to await the legislation which the Government introduce to deal with slum clearance, because hon. Members on this side of the House cannot forget that the slum problem which confronts us today is a relic of Tory Governments and Tory-controlled local authorities. In the period between the two wars there was plenty of opportunity to clear our slums. Material and labour were available, but nothing was done in slum clearance because it would have affected the interests of those who drew rents from the slums of this country.
I am coming to that. That Act, which was introduced last year, will not touch this problem. It is doing nothing at present to help to clear our slums. We shall need a tremendous initiative and drive to clear away these relics of the mismanagement of Tory Governments and Tory local authorities.
If I may refer to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler), in such cities as my own the problem is intensified by mining subsidence. Houses are continually being affected. Their age, plus mining subsidence, makes it of great urgency that some action should be taken in a local authority such as mine.
If we are to clear the slums we must plan more housing sites and redevelop the existing sites. In North Staffordshire, if I may be excused for mentioning it again, the problem of the provision of sewers and of damage to existing sewers by mining subsidence increases the difficulty and the cost of our housing development.
If the Government introduce legislation to deal with this problem, I hope they will consider the question of protection for persons now being asked to buy slum clearance property. I have a case about which I have written to the Minister today—and it is not the only case—of a woman whose husband died some months ago and who was then persuaded to give up her home. She has a son who is unable to follow his employment full-time. The woman was unhappy, When she saw it advertised in the local paper, she bought a house for £200. She drew £50—all the money she had—out of the Post Office and paid it down as a deposit, agreeing to pay £1 a week of the remainder in rent. Within five weeks of this widow moving into the house she had a notice from the local health authority stating that the house was condemned.
I saw the estate agent who sold the property to her, but there seems to be no redress for her. She has been deliberately robbed of £200—nothing more or less than that. I told her not to go on paying—and I hope she has the sense to follow that advice—and to let others suffer the loss. But, in addition, she is confronted with the cost of pulling down that property within six weeks of having the notice. It is true that she has been rehoused in a council house, but out of the needs, unhappiness and perhaps ignorance of people and the simple trust they put in other people a woman has been forced to pay over £50 in order to get a council house. If legislation is to be introduced, surely that kind of thing must be watched.
In another case a young boy who was getting married put all his savings into buying a house and spent a lot of money and time in putting it into a proper state of repair. Now, in the early years of married life, he is confronted with the fact that he really has not got a home, although he thought he had, and has spent the money which has taken many years to save. I hope that if they introduce legislation the Government will take every step to see that people are protected from the kind of thing that has gone on for many years through some groups of people making profits out of the needs of other people.
Another aspect of almost the same kind of problem is the question of slum schools. I notice in the Gracious Speech that it is proposed that the Government should take some further interest in education. While we are all anxious to see new schools on our housing estates wherever possible in order to meet the needs of children in those areas, we are also anxious that in industrial towns something very much more should be done than is being done to improve the secondary schools of the country. A Select Committee Report has told us how extensive is this problem.
One of the oddest Answers to a Question which I have heard was when my predecessor asked how many slum schools there were in Stoke-on-Trent and he was told, "One." That was a big exercise of imagination by someone, because in a city like mine there are large numbers of schools which cannot be made to meet the needs of modern education. If we are to be allowed to spend money only on minor repairs and those schools are to be prevented from having the necessary craft rooms and accommodation to get the variety of courses mentioned in the Gracious Speech, the children who will suffer will be those who have no other opportunity of a full education outside the secondary modern school. They are not included in the 25 per cent. to which the Minister of Education referred when speaking at Scarborough.
It is for those children that I make an appeal to the Government to look at the figure for minor repairs and improvements, to look again at the problem of some of these schools and how long they can be kept in use if we are to ensure that every child shall have the opportunity of secondary education. If we are not merely expressing platitudes but mean that every child should be able to have a secondary education, we have to do something about the slum schools.
I was glad that my hon. Friend referred to the increasing number of large classes, particularly in the last two years. To recruit more teachers and to reduce the size of classes we have to offer to the teachers at least decent buildings in which to work and decent opportunities to fulfil their desire to give the best possible service through education to the children they serve.
I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mrs. Slater) dealt with two problems which are particularly impotant from the point of view of Members on this side and which should be recognised to be important by the Government and by Members on the opposite side of the House. So far as I have been able to ascertain, my hon. Friend is quite correct in her assessment of the position with regard to slum houses.
Many times in this House I have referred to the fact that many houses have become slums owing to the fact that millions of pounds have gone into the pockets of slum landlords, who, instead of utilising the moneys as they should have done in accordance with the Acts which made provision for that purpose, put the moneys in their pockets and did not do the repairs. Today, we are left with hundreds of thousands of houses which should have been kept in order and which could have been kept in proper condition if only those who owned them had exercised their duty of keeping them in repair. Consequently, we have a much larger slum problem than otherwise we would have had.
Then came the Acts of the last Session, which do not improve the position at all. On the contrary, people are being asked to pay additional amounts for rents. In consequence of their inability to get proper legal advice, they are being driven to pay rents which, in some cases, are two times as much as they were paying before. There is nothing in the Gracious Speech which indicates that they are to be given any relief whatever.
We were told in the last Parliament that there would be an extension of the legal aid provisions. I and many of my hon. Friends on this side of the House kept on pressing that those facilities should be brought into operation at once. We did that because we knew that many tenants were being induced to sign agreements because they were not in a position to take proper advice to enable them to ascertain their legal position. Once those agreements were signed, they were binding and could not be altered by a court or tribunal, even if the person concerned later was in a position to take legal advice and discovered that the amount he was paying was excessive.
An absurd position arose. I see a cynical smile from one of the right hon. Gentlemen opposite, but that is true. This peculiar position has arisen. In the case of a number of flats in the same building, the court has assessed the increased rent at less than the amount which other tenants of similar flats in the same building have agreed to pay. Those other tenants have no alternative whatever, except to throw themselves on the mercy of the landlords. They have no legal right to a reduction in rent. I should have thought that by this time the Government would have realised that that was entirely inequitable and that something would have been said in the Gracious Speech about a revision of this method. Instead, we are told that at some distant date assistance will be given to people who have to take their cases to the county court.
That is bound up with the proposal in the Gracious Speech that the county courts should have extended jurisdiction. This legal aid is intended to be given only when that extended jurisdiction comes into effect, but, of course, by that time the damage to which I have referred will have been almost completed. The period will have elapsed in which repairs have had to be dealt with under the arrangement whereby the basis for increasing the rent was three years out of the previous four. Indeed, that arrangement lasted only a couple of months, so anyone who fell into the trap of signing an agreement on those lines cannot have any redress at all. The other matters of repairs will undoubtedly have been dealt with by the time this provision for extended legal aid comes in. For many tenants of houses and flats this provision of legal aid will be absolutely useless.
That is not playing the game with the people. There is a lot of trickery in all this. It is a confidence trick. I say so, though I do not want to use harsh language even about those incapable of carrying on government. However, I do say that they ought to think again very carefully in order that they may take steps rapidly on that score, instead of delaying action.
A word about education. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North referred to the need for good conditioned schools in the slum districts. I would add that the position in the new districts has been partly overlooked. In my constituency we have had the experience, which still prevails, of young children, even the youngest, being taken considerable distances to a school far from where they live, away from a school in which their brothers and sisters are accommodated. We have had that experience in the country because of the thick-headedness of the Government in desiring to retain buildings as schools in districts where they are no longer necessary. It has involved shifting children from a school district to the next school district.
It is a kind of circus that goes from district to district in the hope that the school accommodation originally provided will be used by the children of other areas. It is a false economy because it means that instead of schools being built where they are most needed, so that the children can be properly accommodated in the new areas, children come into those areas from adjoining ones, the places in schools of their district being taken by children from other areas. It is a costly business. It is costly in transport, and it is costly to industry, because mothers who would otherwise be helping in the works have to take their children to school at a considerable distance away from home. It is a very bad business taking the children all that way in inclement weather, which is not unknown even in my constituency, which is one of the most important in the country and one of the best.
It is high time the Government realised that when they provide for the building of housing estates they should also provide other accommodation. They should not boast about the number of houses built, because a house in itself is not sufficient as an entity. The house has to be accompanied by all the other amenities which are necessary for the community life of the district which is being created. They have failed in that respect. I hope that they will realise that the time was ripe for them to remedy their lamentable failure prior to their appeal to the country.
It is true that the party opposite has been returned to power, but I do not think that the country appreciated what had been left undone by the Conservative Government. Some clever advertising on the part of the party opposite managed to gloss over these unhappy things. Hon. Members opposite say that advertising pays. It certainly paid this time, but when the electors find exactly what was behind it all they will discover that it was not as pleasant as the beautiful posters which were set up for their allurement throughout the country.
I turn now to another omission from the Gracious Speech. Today I asked a Question about the United Nations. I asked it because I am deeply concerned about the Government's lack of interest in some aspects of United Nations' work. The Gracious Speech contains only a very short sentence in reference to the United Nations. Recently, the eleventh session of the Commission on Human Rights was held. I have watched the work of that Commission for a long time. I have been a member of a non-Governmental body and I have tried to do what I can with many others to induce people throughout the world to realise the importance of the United Nations organisation and the need to set its machinery into full force and effect, particularly on the matter of human rights. A very considerable time was taken before a Declaration of Human Rights was drafted, and there was a further considerable period before the stage was reached of an "Actions Programme for the Development of Human Rights."
This afternoon I was given a most evasive reply to my Question. I asked why we had not supported the programme which was put forward at the recent session of the Commission. We and Russia stood out—an interesting combination. The other nations represented at the session passed by a majority proposals contained in an item of the agenda called "The review of programmes and the establishment of priorities." Strangely enough, in view of the opposition to it, the programme had been put forward by the United States. I am sure that the Government would not wish to suggest that they are not in accord with the outlook of that great nation in the desire to establish human rights. This country opposed the resolution and we did not ourselves put forward a positive solution to the problems involved. We did not give any practical alternatives to the resolutions which were proposed.
What were those resolutions? They were: establishment of national committees in each country to assist the Governments in the preparation of reports; regular studies of specific human rights by experts appointed by the Commission or the Secretary-General; discussion of completed studies with a view to preparing recommendations to the Economic and Social Council; the use of the Technical Assistance Programme of the United Nations to help those States which asked for it in developing human rights in their countries.
The majority of these proposals were turned down by us. Why? Do we believe in the United Nations organisation? Do we believe in the Commission on Human Rights? In my view, the future of the world depends on the sincerity with which all nations join in an organisation of that nature. We have no right to put a bar in the way of the progress of the United Nations—and we do it. I have asked in this House on a number of occasions a question on which we should be taking the lead: the question of preventing racial extermination which is now known as the Covenant on Genocide.
What happens? The answer is that we cannot dc anything about it; there are legal technicalities in the way. What nonsense. Why should we—we who stand for the democratic rights of people —stand aside when other nations in the world, some of them members of our own Commonwealth of Nations, are prepared to enter into a bond about the simplest of human rights—the prevention of racial extermination, and similar matters?
Year after year one asks this question. There is nothing in the Gracious Speech which deals with it. The Speech itself contains, as was said by one of my hon. Friends, a lot of generalities, but it does not come down, in the main, to the real problems which we have to face.
What are the Government doing about monopolies? Day after day we hear of instances in which the same price is quoted in tenders almost to a penny in respect of large contracts—it happened, for example, in Bristol the other day. What are the Government doing about that? What is the good of saying in the Gracious Speech that the Government are to deal with these matters if they do not deal with them effectively and straightaway? What is the idea of still allowing private courts to be held in order that tradesmen should be driven into charging high prices at a time when prices are, goodness knows, high enough for the ordinary consumer? What are the Government going to do about that? What have we heard in the Gracious Speech about that?
The hon. and gallant Member for Rochdale (Lieut.-Colonel Schofield) referred to the low prices of certain commodities coming into this country from places like Hong Kong. I have this happening in the knitted glove industry in my constituency in Leicester. I have raised this question time after time. What has been the reply given to me? It has been that there is no unemployment in the knitted glove industry. What utter nonsense. Of course there is no unemployment, because the people who were employed in that industry are now employed in other industries. The knitted glove industry, small though it is in Leicester, is being driven out of existence. In addition to that industry, other industries in Leicester are beginning to feel the pinch of similar inaction. What are the Government going to do about it? Why are we not told? Why is not something effective being done?
The industries of Leicester are important and this one is already being driven to the wall. Others will also be in a similar position unless some consideration is shown to them. What are the Government going to do about it? Why is there not something practical on the subject in the Gracious Speech. I am disappointed, as are many of my hon. Friends, in what is in the Speech.
For a few minutes I should like to refer to a matter which was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. It is the question of the Middle East. Why is there not in the Speech something of a tangible nature about the injustice that is being done to the small State of Israel? Arms are being sent to the adjoining Arab States and treaties entered into with them. The small democratic State of Israel has already shown what democracy can do if it is given a chance. It is extracting life from the soil instead of making it a desert, as so many surrounding territories have done for so many hundreds of years.
What are we doing to show that we believe in the principle of democracy, about which we have been preaching for so many centuries? We believe in democracy and we ought to believe in and support a nation that extracts food from an unwilling soil, giving a proper livelihood to the people, instead of indulging in methods which result in death. Why are we making agreements with surrounding countries without making similar agreements with Israel? Why is not that in the Gracious Speech?
The United Nations, the Middle East, the industries of this country, the housing of our people, education and the other subjects I have mentioned are important. This is not a Gracious Speech which a responsible Government watching the interests of the country should place before us. We want something much more substantial, something that will indicate that, in fact, the Government are keen on creating a fuller life for our people and for the peoples with whom we are connected in democracy. We want something different from the Government than the kind of ingredients, the hotchpotch, which we have in this Speech. The Government must realise that this is not the time to allow any of our people to drop to a lower standard of life, and I hope they will quickly do something about improving the situation, and will offer us much more than is contained in the Gracious Speech.
In the few minutes that remain, I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner). He and I first entered this House on the same day in 1931. He then sat on this side of the House giving semi-support to the national Government of that day.
I was about to say that the House is always pleased to see an old friend back again, even though he has changed his party, and even if we have to listen to the same kind of speech. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on having made a remarkably good Opposition speech. It was a dismal, doleful jeremiad of everything—of the sins of commission of the Government and of the sins of omission from the Gracious Speech.
I could follow the hon. Gentleman through all the various points of his ingenious Opposition speech, but I will confine myself to two points made by him. These are purely domestic matters. The hon. Gentleman emphasised the Housing (Repairs and Rents) Bill sponsored by the Churchill Government in the previous Parliament. He condemned it as having operated hardly and severely for many people in many constituencies, especially in urban and industrial areas where there is a considerable amount of what he would describe as slum property. I do not sit for that kind of constituency, and I cannot speak from first-hand experience—
I have yet to learn that they have received many complaints from their constituents regarding additional hardships in the way of the very moderate increases in rents. The hon. Member for Leicester, North-West, speaking about that Bill, which he castigated so severely, completely failed to refer to the great record of housing of the previous Government—
I am delighted to know that is the case, because it shows that his constituents realise that in the last three and a half years the Conservative Government have proceeded at a very much accelerated speed and they are anxious to see that continue. That is the answer to the hon. Gentleman's interruption.
I come to the other point which I wish to take up in the hon. Gentleman's speech, relating to the paragraphs which deal with education. I hope that we shall here meet upon common, agreed ground. I was delighted at the paragraph which is at the bottom of the second page of the Gracious Speech. [Interruption.] I am not on the Opposition side, and I do not wish to waste the time of the House. I have done that in my time, and perhaps I may have another opportunity in the next 10 years.
The words used by the hon. Member embolden me to believe that he agrees with me that this paragraph is not a pious aspiration which will never be translated into fact. I believe that it will. A very great deal has been done in the last three and a half years. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"] During the recent General Election campaign, I toured a very large area in my constituency from end to end, some 1,600 to 1,800 square miles. I was delighted and surprised to see the transformation which has been effected since the last General Election, in the provision of amenities in the classrooms, in toilet arrangements and in cloakrooms. They were a very great advance on what was achieved in the six years of Labour Government.
I had no reason to suppose that there was to be this paragraph in the Gracious Speech when pleas were made to me by those engaged in the teaching profession, particularly in the rural areas. I am now referring to Scotland. No doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling) will corroborate what I am saying from the urban point of view. Those pleas were made about what the teachers regarded as the rather deplorable state of affairs in the profession. Some of the complaints were about unduly large classes, inadequate staff, low standards and the very—
Yes. I know something about that. They complained of what they regarded as the inadequate remuneration offered to the higher certificated teachers and of the inadequate rate of pensions for those who had given a lifetime of service in the teaching profession. I am speaking entirely from what I have been informed regarding the educational position in Scotland. The Gracious Speech makes no differentiation in this matter between England and Wales and Scotland.
I very much hope that Her Majesty's Ministers will implement, as I feel sure they will, the paragraphs in the Speech relating to this matter, so that those paragraphs will not be a pious aspiration, which is how the Leader of the Opposition described the paragraph about the House of Lords. I feel sure that long before the present Parliament has run its course the teaching profession, particularly in Scotland, will have cause for satisfaction.