House Of Commons
Friday, 11th December, 1931.
The House met at Eleven of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair.
Oral Answers To Questions
asked the Minister of Transport whether his attention had been drawn to the verdict of the coroner's jury that inefficient lighting outside the pensions office in the Vale, Acton, was responsible for an accident which caused the death of two women employed in the pensions department; and whether he will take up the matter with the Acton local authorities with a view to improving the lighting in this road?
Yes, Sir. The local authority is responsible for the lighting of the street, and their attention is being drawn to the matter.
Imperial Airways, Limited
asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air if he will state what particular aeroplanes and seaplanes have been lent by the Air Ministry to Imperial Airways, Limited, for operation since 1st April, 1929; on what dates were they handed over to Imperial Airways, Limited; on what dates were they returned to the Air Ministry; and what estimate, if any, has been made as to the value of the machines to Imperial Airways, Limited, while they were on the service of that company?
A Super-marine "Southampton" aircraft belonging to the Air Ministry, with two Napier-Lion engines and one spare engine, was temporarily in the possession of Imperial Airways, Limited, from 15th November, 1929, until 19th February, 1930. This was in consequence of the accidents which had occurred to the company's machines during the latter part of 1929. An appropriate charge was made by the Air Ministry.
Would the Air Minister be prepared to grant similar facilities to any other air transport concern similarly equipped?
I should like to have notice of that question.
asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air how many machines or engines have been handed ever by the Air Ministry to Imperial Airways, Limited, since 1st April 1929; what particular machines or engines have been handed over; what was the cost of each to the Air Ministry; and how much was paid for these machines or engines by the company?
asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air what sums have been granted to Imperial Airways, Limited, in addition to the subsidies, towards the establishment of the England-Egypt, Egypt-India, and the African routes?
The terms on which the Agreement for the Indian Service was negotiated included the free transfer to Imperial Airways of two "Calcutta" Flying boats. In accordance with the arrangements described in Command Paper 3143 of July 1928, the Company paid £40,000 for the two boats, with a per contra lump sum addition of £40,000 to the current year's subsidy. Further, when it was arranged that the sea mileage on the Indian route should be extended, necessitating an addition to Imperial Airways' fleet not allowed for in the original terms, it was decided to make a capital grant of £20,000 to the Company in the form of a contribution towards the first of the new flying boats on the trans-Mediterranean section of that route.
Is the Air Minister prepared to grant similar facilities to any other air transport company?
Perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend will give me notice of that question also.
Trade And Commerce
asked the President of the Board of Trade whether his attention has been called to the recent increase in freight rates to and from Continental ports and the adverse effect such increase is having on trade; whether he has made any representations to the steamship companies concerned with regard to this matter; and, if so, with what result?
asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware of the increased freight charges on British lines to and from Continental ports; that the British steamship companies involved have justified this increase on the grounds of an agreement for equal freight charges as between foreign steamship companies, who have raised their freight charges, and themselves; that this increase is proving an additional burden to the export trades; and what action he intends to take in this matter?
I am aware of the increased freights which are charged in sterling by British and foreign lines to and from Continental ports. The Board of Trade has been in touch with the British shipping companies concerned and is keeping the matter under review, but I am not aware that the increases are adversely affecting trade.
Abnormal Importations Duty
asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is prepared to exempt straw paper from the wrapping-paper duty, since paper made from straw is not made in this country and this duty is having a detrimental effect on the corrugated paper and containers industry?
I have received representations on this matter and am giving them consideration.
Wire And Wire Products (Imports)
asked the President of the Board of Trade if he is now in a position to state the amount of imported wire and wire products for the months of September, October, and November, respectively?
My hon. Friend will find particulars relating to the imports of iron and steel wire and wire manufactures in the "Accounts relating to Trade and Navigation of the United Kingdom" for the months specified.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the grave spirit of unrest in this trade?
Yes. Representations have been made to me on that subject.
asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he has considered the copy sent to him of the Report on Trade with Russia, adopted by the executive council of the Association of British Chambers of Commerce, which urges that an arrangement should be made with Russia to trade on a reciprocal basis on certain specified conditions; and whether he proposes to take steps by means of a trade agreement with the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics to carry out these recommendations?
asked the President of the Board of of Trade whether he has considered the copy sent to him of the report issued by the executive council of the Association of British Chamber of Commerce, in which it is pointed out that the present unequal trade balance between Russia and this country is used by Russia to purchase machinery and tools from Foreign countries who are England's competitors; and whether the Government will see that arrangements are made with Russia so that trade with that country may be on a reciprocal basis, as has been done in the case of other Foreign Powers?
asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he has examined the copy sent to him of the survey of Anglo-Russian trade issued by the Association of British Chambers of Commerce on 7th December; and whether he will act on the suggestion in paragraph 15 that, as the Russian credit balance on British trade is used to pay for goods purchased by Russia from England's competitors, the Government should follow the example of Italy and France and place Anglo-Russian sales and purchases on a reciprocal basis by setting up a clearing house for that purpose?
I have seen the report in question and will give it careful consideration. As has already been stated in reply to previous questions, however, it would be premature to make any statement on the special question of our commercial relations with the Soviet Union while the wider question of our trade balance is under consideration.
Now that the Chambers of Commerce of Great Britain have definitely expressed the opinion that this large trade balance in favour of Russia is directly injurious to our own trade, does the right hon. Gentleman not think that it is high time to consider the advisability of the termination of export credits to Russia, which quite clearly are injuring our trade?
The question of export credits to Russia is another question.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is in existence under the Board of Trade a clearing office for Hungarian debts at Cornwall House, and that it could, without any difficulty, be made to function for the purposes of Anglo-Russian trade?
I am much obliged to my right hon. Friend for the information he has given to me.
France And Russia
asked the Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department if he can give any information as to the negotiations for reciprocal trading arrangements between France and Russia?
References to these negotiations have appeared in the Press, but I have no official information of the progress, if any, which has been made.
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman make inquiries?
I have asked for a report on the subject.
Has the attention of the Overseas Secretary been called to the report of the British Chambers of Commerce to the effect that export credits to Russia should be reviewed, and does he not think, in view of that fact, that the question of export credits should be reviewed?
I am fully aware of the report mentioned, and the whole matter is under consideration.
Have the powers of this House been transferred to the Association of the Chambers of Commerce?
No, Sir, the responsibility rests with the Government.
Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman not think that it is time this dictation by the Chambers of Commerce was stopped?
There is no question of dictation whatever.
asked the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs whether he will, through the Empire Marketing Board, give publicity to the fact that the average butterfat contents of fresh British cream is over 50 per cent., and that of the best imported foreign tinned cream is only 25 per cent., with the result that for equivalent food value the latter is more expensive than the former at the present prices ruling for such articles?
The Empire Marketing Board are always glad to take advantage of suitable opportunities for calling attention to the excellence of Home produce. If the hon. and gallant Member will send my right hon. Friend particulars of the evidence on which the statement contained in his question is based, he will be happy to consider the matter further.
Russia (Debts, Claims, And Counter Claims)
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can inform the House as to the result of his interview with the Russian Soviet Ambassador with regard to the proposal which the late Foreign Secretary made to the Soviet Government in July last in respect of the settlement of the debts and claims of British nationals against the Soviet Government?
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he has any statement to make arising from his recent interview with the Soviet Ambassador?
I would refer my hon. Friends to the reply given to ray hon. Friend, the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Smithers) yesterday.
Is the Under-Secretary aware of the statement made by the Soviet Ambassador yesterday that he was unable to make any proposals on this matter, and seeing that the question of the settlements of these debts was a condition of the resumption of diplomatic relations, can he say what was the reply of the Foreign Secretary to the unsatisfactory statement of the Ambassador?
I stated in reply to a question yesterday that the Soviet Ambassador was not able to make any proposals likely to lead to a satisfactory settlement of that matter. My right hon. Friend now proposes to consult Lord Goschen.
I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter on the Motion for the Adjournment to-day in order that we may have a little more information on the matter.
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has any information regarding the attack by pirates on the British steamship "Hanyang" in Chinese waters on 20th November; and what action has been taken?
The Steamship "Hanyang", belonging to the China Navigation Company (a British concern), was pirated about midnight on the 18th of November while on passage from Shanghai to Amoy. The pirates who were on board, presumably in the guise of passengers, left the ship with their booty at Namoa Island near Swatow. His Majesty's Ship "Sterling"' was despatched to Swatow and, after consultation with His Majesty's Consul and the Chinese authorities, embarked a contingent of Chinese troops and sailed for Namoa Island which was raided by the local Chinese Commander and his troops. I am glad to say that this co-operation between His Majesty's Naval Forces and the Chinese authorities has resulted in the recovery of a large part of the goods taken from the "Hanyang" and the capture of thirty pirates by the Chinese. The raid was still in progress at the time of the last telegraphic report. H.M.S. "Sterling" subsequently continued patrolling off the island to support the Chinese action and prevent the escape of pirates by sea.
Was there a British crew on board that ship?
It was a British ship, but I have no information as to the crew.
I did not quite catch the name of the ship?
Japan And China (British Arms)
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether with a view to the furtherance of friendly relations with other Powers, he will advise the Board of Trade to refuse all licences to export arms to China and Japan, pending the settlement of the dispute in Manchuria?
No, Sir, I am afraid that my right hon. Friend cannot accept the hon. Member's suggestion which would not be likely to serve the purpose he has in view.
The purpose I have in view to avoid war and will the hon. Gentleman, through the League of Nations, take steps to see that we do not supply arms to other countries for war purposes?
The very purpose which the hon. Member has in view will not be served by his question.
asked the Minister of Agriculture whether, in view of the resolution passed and sent to him by the National Association of the British and Irish millers strenuously to oppose the quota system far Home-grown and Dominion wheat, he will have further inquiries made as to the facts of this matter?
I would suggest that the hon. Member defers this matter until the discussion on the Adjournment Motion when, I understand, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs will make a statement.
Local Government Works
asked the Minister of Health if he will consider sending another circular to local authorities and municipalities asking them to carry on with their various schemes of improvement and development, in view of the numbers of such authorities who have stopped all such kinds of works, are buying no materials, and are ceasing to create employment?
I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply given on the 9th instant to the hon. Member for the Platting Division (Mr. Chorlton).
Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that, as a result of the last circular which was sent out to municipal authorities, all kinds of work have been stopped and that there are roughly 50,000 people who cannot be employed in consequence?
I am not aware of anything of the kind. I will send my hon. Friend a copy of the Circular to which he referred, and I think he will find that no such conclusion can be arrived at.
I have seen the Circular.
Air Mail Services (South America)
asked the Postmaster-General whether he is aware that all Great Britain's chief Continental competitors are able to send an air-mail letter to South America for 1s. 6d. or less, their initial weight being five grammes (about one-sixth of an ounce), whereas the minimum cost from this country is 3s. 6d., the initial weight being half-an-ounce; whether he has considered the representations submitted by the Association of British Chambers of Commerce urging the adoption of a minimum weight of a quarter-ounce at a charge not exceeding 2s.; and what would be the cost of adopting their suggestion in connection with this service?
I am aware of the fact that it is possible to send letters by air from certain European countries to South America at a lower minimum charge than it is from this country, but only the lightest letters come within the limit of one-sixth of an ounce. On the other hand, it is appreciably cheaper to send a letter weighing approximately ½-ounce from this country than from any other European country. In my opinion, the remedy for the high initial fees lies, not in a reduction of the unit of weight, but in a reduction of the very high charge for transport on this service, which is ten times greater than the charge made on the Indian Air Service. In regard to the second part of the question, I have considered the representations of the Association of Chambers of Commerce. So far as the third part is concerned, it is not possible at the present time to estimate exactly the additional cost of the proposal, but the service, owing to the fact that payment is made to the French Postal Authorities in gold francs, is now being run at a heavy loss, and I am not prepared to adopt a measure which could only increase that loss.
Shop Raid, Kensington
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether any arrest has yet been made in respect of the smash-and-grab robbery of a jeweller's shop in Kensington High Street in the middle of the day on 5th November, when the robbers escaped with their booty in a motor-car; how many similar robberies have since occurred; and whether he can now announce his decision as to whether the penalty attaching to such robberies should be increased in cases where they are effected with the assistance of a motor-car?
No arrest has yet been made in the case referred to, since the date of which there have been in the Metropolitan Police District 10 other raids on jewellers' shops, and 26 on other shops, in many of which cars were used. There have been five arrests in these cases up to date. Such offences can already be met by sentences up to 14 years' penal servitude, and my right hon. Friend has no reason to believe that the Courts find that there is not enough scope for passing adequate sentences.
Do not the statistics show a tendency to an increase in this class of crime, and is not the way to meet that increase, not by inflicting heavy sentences, but by seeing that the people of this country are decently cared for and have no need to do this kind of thing?
The fact is that taking the year as a whole this class of crime has shown a decrease.
Cunard Steamship Company
(by Private Notice) asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he has been informed that the Cunard Shipping Company has decided to stop the construction of their New Liner in the Clydebank Shipyard; whether he is aware that such a decision involves the dismissal of several thousand people from the yard, and many more from firms engaged with subsidiary contracts; and whether the Government will intervene with a view to prevent this happening?
The Board of Trade were informed confidentially some days ago that the Cunard Company considered it necessary to suspend for the present the building of the new express steamer. The reasons for this decision are given in the statement which the Cunard Company have issued to their shareholders, and which has been quoted in the Press. The salient points are that the company has this year, for the first time for many years, been unable to earn depreciation on its old ships. It is the practice to finance the construction of a ship like the new express steamer by making use of bill market finance, and repaying these liabilities out of the earnings set aside annually to cover the normal depreciation of the fleet, and partly out of the earnings of the ship herself during the first few years of her operation. The company's statement points out that the international crisis has changed the whole financial background and made continued use of this type of finance less easy than formerly.The consequences of the suspension of building were realised, but the inquiries made showed clearly that no stone had been left unturned by those concerned in the effort to avoid suspending the work on this steamer. The question of direct Government assistance was not raised, and, if it had been raised, it would not have been possible to give financial assistance. The Cunard Company is building this ship out of its own resources, and the only assistance asked for from the Government was in respect of insurance, and this was given, with the approval of Parliament, by the Cunard Insurance Agreement Act, 1930. As the Schedule to that Act shows, the company were unwilling to order the building of the vessel until satisfied that they would be able to obtain and maintain sufficient insurances against construction risks and ordinary marine risks on reasonable terms. They therefore asked the Board of Trade to agree to provide insurance for such part of the value of the vessel as the company might from time to time be unable to insure in the open market on reasonable terms. The construction risk on the vessel was placed some time ago, £2,720,000 being taken up by the market and £1,780,000 by the Board of Trade. The suspension of work on this vessel is very much regretted, but I am afraid that any idea of direct Government financial assistance is out of the question, and we can only hope that circumstances will permit the building to be resumed before long. I would add that all bills of exchange current on the ship will be paid off as they mature, out of the company's liquid cash resources, which are ample for the purpose.
Can my right hon. Friend say whether one of the reasons for the suspension of work on this ship was the very high Bank Rate maintained by the Bank of England?
I am afraid I could not express any view on that question.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider his statement that direct Government financial subsidy is out of the question. Will he consider the possibility of Governmental support of some other kind, such as might enable the company to secure a cheaper way of financing operations if the Government were behind it?
I am afraid that the Government cannot undertake to give any direct financial assistance in this case, but, if the company have any proposals to make, they will, of course, be most seriously considered.
Would it not be of great national value to this country to have the fastest ship on the sea in the world?
Is it not a fact that one of the main reasons why the building of this ship cannot be proceeded with is that the ship cannot be run except at great loss to everyone in the existing conditions of shipping?
No doubt the company had that in mind when they decided that they would suspend the construction for the time being.
I wish to put two direct questions to the President of the Board of Trade. The first is: Is he going to wait now until some approach is made to the Government by the firm themselves? My next question is: Have the Government considered how much expenditure they will require to give, not simply as the result of the discharge of 3,000 or 4,000 workers in my constituency, but on account of the fact that it is going to involve about 100,000 workers throughout the length and breadth of Britain? Have the Government considered what that means in expenditure on the Employment Exchanges? Had the right hon. Gentleman considered these things before he gave his answer to my original question?
The hon. Member may rest assured that we have already taken that into account, but the considerations which are set out so fairly by the Cunard Company in their circular must also be taken into account. We have kept in close touch with the builders since the question was first mooted to us, and I am afraid the decision I have announced is the result of that careful consideration and discussion.
I am sorry to press the question, but it is very serious. This is not a matter simply affecting my constituency. The stopping of the ship affects the prestige of Britain. She was being built in order to wrest the blue riband of the Atlantic back to this country, so it is not simply a matter of my local concern or simply of the workpeople who are going to be thrown out. I will raise the matter on the Adjournment today.
Will not the Government try to arrange a consultation between the Cunard Company and the banks responsible for the meeting of their bills to try to find some way out by providing money at cheaper rates of interest, and thereby prevent a great deal of distress over the period of Christmas and the New Year?
The Government have well in mind the necessity for keeping people at work, especially on a great undertaking of this size, but it would be a pity if it became the general idea either inside or outside the House that the Cunard Company's finance was not capable of dealing with the whole of their obligations, and what they have set out in their circular is a plain statement that they do not wish those obligations to go beyond their present means.
Will the obligations for insurance not be greatly increased while this great ship is lying on the stocks?
No, I am informed that they will be in no way affected by that.
Children And Young Persons Bill
"to make further and better provision for the protection and welfare of the young and the treatment of young offenders; to amend the Children Act, 1908, and other enactments relating to the young; and for objects connected with the purposes aforesaid," presented by Mr. Stanley; supported by Secretary Sir Herbert Samuel, Mr. Solicitor General, Mr. Ernest Brown, and Mr. Ramsbotham; to be read a second time upon Tuesday 2nd February, and to be printed. [Bill 16.]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
"That this House at its rising this day do adjourn until Tuesday, 2nd February next; provided always that, if it appears to the satisfaction of Mr. Speaker, after consultation with His Majesty's Government, that the public interest requires that the House should meet at any earlier time during the Adjournment, Mr. Speaker may give notice that he is so satisfied, and thereupon the House shall meet at the time stated in such notice and shall transact its business as if it had been duly adjourned to that time, and any Government Orders of the Day and Notices of Motion that may stand on the Order Book for the 2nd day of February or any subsequent day shall be appointed for the day on which the House shall so meet."—[Captain Margesson.]
I wish to voice what I believe is a widespread regret that this House should be dismissed for some two months without even an indication of the Government policy on any of those issues which were treated as so urgent at the time of the General Election. We rise in ignorance of what policy the Government mean to Pursue in order to correct the gravely adverse balance of trade. The great staple industries of the country, notably iron and steel, are not merely being refused the assistance of which they are so urgently in need; they have not even been vouchsafed any assurance as to the ultimate intention of the Government to afford help which might enable them to carry on the struggle. Apart from the wheat quota, the farmer is left in the unhappy position of not knowing whether he is to throw good money after bad by getting his land ready for cultivation. The Empire is left in complete uncertainty as to whether the Government really mean business or not when they talk about Empire economic co-operation. Everything is to be left to drift, while the Government are to sit down and resume the process of trying to make up their mind as to a policy. I say "resume", because we all remember the curious ten days at the end of the last Parliament when the formula hunt was in progress—a formula which was left unfound. In the end, the Government, incapable of finding even a formula, let alone a policy, decided to go to the country on a slogan—the word "national". They got away with it, largely because the mass of the electors had it in their minds that the word "national" implied a national policy and a policy of action. They really cannot get away with this now. You cannot govern with slogans, or even with formulas. You must have a policy.The Prime Minister now assures us that the Government are going to spend the Christmas holiday in looking for a policy. As a parent, I am rather suspicious of holiday tasks, especially with a pupil who in the past has shown himself so reluctant in facing any serious problem. I do not feel at all certain that, when the House meets again, we shall discover that a policy has been found, or that in the urgent day by day routine before Easter we shall not have one excuse after another for postponing either the announcement or the execution of any policy until the hands of the Government are forced. That is not a satisfactory state of affairs. That is not what the country and the House asked for. The House wants guidance. It wants to feel the hand of a master. It is tired of wondering what is going to arise from the scuffling behind the curtain before the curtain is next drawn up. If I may use a parallel from our earlier experiences, they are wondering how long they have to guess in this game of hunt the slipper with which member of the Cabinet is the elusive slipper of policy finally going to be found. All this would be very entertaining if things were not so serious. That is the real issue. A great many of us feel that the Government are taking a grave risk and a grave responsibility in dismissing the House with so meagre a record of work achieved, with the avowed declaration that they have not at present a policy, and with no certain assurance that when we do meet again there will be a policy or any action to put it into effect. I do not wish to carry my protest any further, but I feel bound to register it in the hope that it may have proved unnecessary and that nothing very serious will happen in the next two or three months, but also with a feeling that things are more serious than the Government are prepared, in their actions at any rate, to admit.
I rise to call attention to the position in which we stand. The House has on occasion sat even up to Christmas when there has been an emergency, and I think that, if the Government had been ready with further proposals to deal with the critical situation which exists in many directions, every indication shows that the House would have been ready and willing to sit to any time in order to do the national business. But we are adjourning long before Christmas, on the 11th December, and the date proposed for the reassembly of Parliament is the 2nd February, although I am relieved to see that in the Motion power is invested in you, Mr. Speaker, after consultation with the Government to call Parliament together at an earlier date should the necessity arise. The 2nd February is putting us perilously near Easter if any business of an important character is to be carried through before that date. Those of us who have experience of Parliamentary practice are well aware of the considerable amount of financial business which must be transacted before the end of the financial year, and that takes time. There is no more important matter to which this House can give attention than financial business at the present time, and ample opportunity should be given to the House to carry out its duty in that respect.We see upon the Order Paper for the re-assembly many little things, minor Bills. No doubt they might be swept away, but indications are not favourable, looking at those minor Measures, that the Government are at all anxious and eager to carry out the pledges to deal with major questions which were given by the Government at the general election. It is true that time might be saved when the House meets if private Members were persuaded to give up their Wednesday evenings and their Fridays. That might obtain if there were emergency measures to be taken. Although the House has always been willing, since I have had the honour of being a Member of this Assembly, to give opportunities to private Members, one might expect confidently in a national emergency that sacrifices would be made. So little has been done and what has to be faced and dealt with is so vast that it causes great anxiety to many of us. There is a strong feeling in many of the constituencies that Parliament is not getting on with the business which it was elected to carry out. We have done nothing effective to deal with the adverse balance of trade which is all the time mounting up against us. We have done little of nothing to relieve the great and distressful load of unemployment which has come to so many of our people. Today an announcement has been made already of a decision which threatens to add to the unemployed in very large numbers. We have done nothing to deal with the cognate question, and I regret,—and I know that there are others in the House who also regret—that that subject has not received the attention of Parliament during the period of the Session which is drawing to a close. Undoubtedly, if the national situation is to be improved, if the pound is to be balanced, and if the burdens of taxation are to be eased as they so urgently need to be on the broad shoulders of the taxpayer, large economies must be made in public expenditure. I will not develop this subject because there are other matters waiting to be considered, but my voice alone is raised to-day to press economy upon the attention of the Government. I wish to voice the very grave anxiety which is felt both in this Chamber and in the constituencies that the House is adjourning for the Christmas Recess, having done so little. We have passed the Statute of Westminster Act which was not before the electorate, and which has caused the gravest misgivings among many of us, and we have passed Measures for dealing with abnormal importations of manufactured goods, but I hope and trust that no one will imagine that we have done anything to establish a tariff. Under that Measure as it has been applied, it has merely been prohibition of certain imported goods by means of very high duties. As many of us expected, it has caused considerable alarm already among the various nations with whom we deal and from whom we buy. The Horticultural Measure, apparently to deal with market gardening and horticulture, suffers in the same way. The whole question of whether the country is to be relieved by tariffs, by quotas or by prohibitions is still not solved. I hope and trust—and I know that I am speaking for many here and many outside—that on occasion the Government will be ready long before the 2nd February and will come to you, Mr. Speaker, to exercise those powers which are to be given to you by the Motion now before the House.
We have received unexpected assistance from various quarters, but I wonder, if we pressed the Motion to a division, whether we should get their support or not. I want to ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether the following points would be included as a matter of public interest requiring that the House should meet at an earlier date than the 2nd February. I put a question to the Prime Minister the other day as to whether, if there were a rise in the cost of living, he would consider raising unemployment pay to its former level. The Prime Minister said that it was a hypothetical question and could not be dealt with. But we are suspending operations for two months and in that time it is expected that something may happen. If the point which I have raised does happen, will the Government call Parliament together to consider it? The next point relates to unemployment. Yesterday, the Minister of Health said that they were considering with the local authorities and the public assistance committees various points arising in regard to the payment of unemployment benefit under the transitional period clause. If it is considered that some alteration should take place in the method of dealing with that matter, not taking into account pensions and compensation, will that be one of the causes to bring Parliament together a little earlier? These two matters are of far greater importance to us than the points raised by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) and the right hon. and gallant Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton). I am prepartd to leave those matters in the hands of the so-called National Government, hut if the points which I have mentioned arise, I want the Government to call Parliament together a little earlier to deal with them.
The very impressive majority with which the Government were supported last night showed that the country was alive to the crisis in October. I cannot help expressing a considerable amount of anxiety as to whether the Government realise the seriousness of the crisis. We are a densely populated country, with a high standard of living, and we are importing five-sixths of our daily bread, our export trade is declining, our currency has been forcibly depreciated by 30 per cent., and to my amazement yesterday the Prime Minister indicated that the business for the 2nd February was the Town and Country Planning Bill; Wednesday, 3rd February, Private Members' Day; Thursday, Children Bill; Friday, Merchant Shipping (Safety and Load Line Conventions) Bill. Could not those matters be postponed, when we have very serious questions to deal with?I went away yesterday very much cheered by the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He told us that there would be no serious deficit in the Budget, but I read this morning in a company report that the increased Beer Duty, for instance, will not bring in anything like the amount of revenue that was estimated by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer. I think the estimate was that it would bring in £4,500,000 up to 1st April next. I understand, however, that instead of the revenue being £4,500,000 from the Beer Duty it is almost resulting in a loss. Then there is the Income Tax. That tax is easy to impose but it is very difficult to collect, as the Government will find out. Unemployment showed signs of decreasing a week or two ago, but that decline has been checked. The last figures are not encouraging, I am very sorry to say. Then there is the matter raised by the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), the suspension of the work on the Cunard ship. The Cunard Company is a splendidly managed company, as the President of the Board of Trade showed to-day. It has a wonderful fleet, but it has suspended the construction of this ship. That is an extremely serious step to take. Three thousand men will be directly affected and many more will be indirectly affected, even going so far, I understand, as the docks at Southampton. I would not like to say how many men will be affected, but the effect on the ancillary trades must be very great. In their statement this morning the company say:
That is the question which I put to the President of the Board of Trade to-day. The bank rate in this country is very high. I saw a notice in the "Times" this morning to this effect:"It is the practice of the company to finance the construction of such a ship as 534 by making use of the bill market."
Why should that be. Why should our bank rate be so much higher than the bank rate in New York and Paris. A year or two ago no one would have had the presumption to criticise those eminent and mysterious gentlemen who control our finances, but they have not been so successful of late, and I am fortified in that expression of opinion by the Midland Bank Review. It is well for the Government to take that into consideration—"In London money is scarce and dear, but in New York it is cheap and in Paris it is cheaper still. The discount rates in Paris are 2 per cent., in New York 3½ per cent. and in London nearly 6 per cent."
The right hon. Gentleman is now going beyond giving reasons why we should meet earlier.
I thought those were good reasons, in that we are very near a crisis coming. If you do not wish me to proceed, I will not do so, but I do assure you, the Government and the House that we are approaching a very serious moment, I wanted to impress upon the Government the necessity of taking some steps to obviate the difficulties in which the country will find itself, but I will not pursue that point if you think it is out of Order. If I must found my argument upon an earlier meeting of Parliament, I will do so by saying that it is essential that we should meet earlier, in January, in order that we may have an agricultural policy put before us. The agricultural policy of the Government seems to be extremely nebulous at the present time. We were told that we should have a quota for wheat. I should like the farmers to know what they are to have; what price they are to have. If the Government could give us earlier some idea as to the price the farmers will get for their wheat, there might be a chance of more wheat being cultivated this year. We are in the position of being suspended in mid-air. As I understand it, there is a quota proposal which has not been approved by the millers. I do not see how you can work it without the millers, I hope the Government will give us some idea of the price we are to get for our wheat. It is all a question of price. I do not care whether you have it by a quota or any other system, but if it is to be adopted we must know the price. To the farmer it is the price that is of real importance.I have risen with a deep sense of responsibility. I think the country is drifting to a more serious crisis than it realises. I do not want to criticise the Government, I want to help them because upon the success of this Government will depend the success of the country. I only make these observations with a view to helping the Government and the country in a time which is extremely serious.
I beg to move, in line 2 to leave out the words "Tuesday, 2nd February" and to insert instead thereof the words "Monday, 4th January".
I have just handed this Amendment in.
I want to raise a serious point of Order. When the Prime Minister gave notice of this Motion last night I at once proceeded to the Table of the House and gave notice that I would raise this point. The moment the House assembled I gave a copy of the Amendment, in writing, to the Clerks at the Table, in the name of the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) and myself, which we intended to move to-day. I want to ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether it is quite fair after we had given this notice for hon. Members, who had not given notice in writing, to get preference over other hon. Members who, have been at some trouble and had shown you all the courtesy to which you are entitled. Are we not entitled to ask that we should get the same courtesy in return?
I understand that the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) is complaining that I have given preference to the Leader of the Opposition.
We will put it that way.
I got a notice this morning from the hon. Member in writing saying that he proposed to move an Amendment. Shortly afterwards I had a similar Motion in writing from the Leader of the Opposition. It is customary in this House to give preference to the Leader of the Official Opposition.
I would have given notice last night if I could. I went to the Clerks at the Table and they said they could not take it until the Prime Minister's motion appeared on the Order Paper. Our notice was in before any other notice. We took deliberate care to consult people to see if any Motion would be put, and one of the most active Members of the Opposition gave no indication in his speech that such a Motion was to be put down. When we come down here and one of our members is standing in his place in order to move the Amendment and is not called it is not giving us that courtesy which ought to be observed either by you, Sir, or anyone else. [Interruption.] It is not fair.
The hon. Member for Gorbals is deliberately accusing me of discourtesy to the House. If he has any grievance against me, he will kindly put a Motion down on the Order Paper.
I will take that remedy.
I want your guidance, Mr. Speaker, as to whether it is in Order for you to call upon a right hon. Gentleman who made no attempt to rise while I and other hon. Members on this Bench have been continually on our feet in order to move our Amendment.
All that can be put in the Motion to be put on the Paper. Mr. Lansbury—
I want to be as orderly as possible. Further to that point of Order, I want for my own benefit to understand the Rules of the House, and I want your guidance. I want to know whether it is in order for you, as Speaker of this House, to call upon a right hon. Gentleman when he is seated and has made no attempt to rise when other Members are on their feet?
On that point—
I do not propose to argue this question with hon. Members. They must put their Motion on the Order Paper.
May I say—
On a point of Order. I want to ask you, Sir—I am not repeating charges against you at all, but to put this point to you very directly—whether, after having sounded the House in the ordinary way as to whether any other section were proposing to put an Amendment of this kind on the Order Paper; if it had been put down by any other section of the House we should not have put it down because they would be better supported than ourselves—but after having sounded the House and found that no other section, either Government back benchers or the Official Opposition, were taking such steps, we took the appropriate steps that are necessary under the rules of the House to Table our Amendment, then when it comes to the point of moving such an Amendment, our spokesman, who is on his feet, is not called while the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, who is not on his feet—
Order, order. The hon. Member is not in order in arguing the matter. He must put a Motion on the Order Paper.
You misunderstand me, Mr. Speaker.
The hon. Member is putting a point of Order.
Further to the point of Order. I am not seeking to argue with you or question your right, but surely I am entitled to be guided by you, as Speaker of this House and as the custodian of the Rules of the House. I have asked you a plain question and up to now you have not answered it. I want to know whether it is in order, and whether your duty allows you to call upon a right hon. Member who is not on his feet and who has shown no indication in that manner that he wants to speak, while I am not called although I am on my feet.
I should like to say that the Whips of the Opposition have had no communication with anybody in regard to this Motion for the Adjournment, and the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) has no right to say that he consulted all sections of the House on the matter.
I did not say that.
The OTTIOIAL REPORT will indicate what the hon. Member did say.
I said "sounded."
I do not know what "sounded" may mean, but I want the House to understand that so far as we are concerned we were not consulted by anyone on this matter. I would also like to say that on the first occasion that I spoke as Leader of the small group which sits here, I said that I would safeguard the rights of the Opposition in this House; and the rights of the Opposition in this House are that they take precedence on an occasion of this kind, as Mr. Speaker has already laid down—[Interruption.] We intend to maintain that position. In moving that the House meets on 4th January, I think we shall have the support of almost every speaker who has so far addressed the House from the Government benches. When I listened to the right hon. and gallant Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) I wondered why he had not voted with us last night. He has said almost exactly what our Resolution said—that the Government had done nothing effective, done nothing for unemployment and, generally speaking that it had been the most incompetent Government of modern times. We ought not to leave the Government in this situation. The book that boys of my generation used to read, "Japhet in search of a Father," is nothing compared with a Cabinet in search of a policy. The going from pillar to post in the way that they are doing really would be amusing if it were not for the seriousness of the position. On the last occasion when a Motion of this kind was carried in this House, within a very short time the Government that brought it forward was dissolved and another Government took its place. I am wondering whether that is going to happen on this occasion, whether out of all the confusion that has arisen we shall not find ourselves confronted with a new kind of National Government in a few weeks time.But, in all seriousness, the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) and the right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) really ought to go into the Lobby with us on this occasion. With regard to the unemployment that will be caused by the stoppage of work on the Cunard steamer, I would mention that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook did not support us last night when we endeavoured to raise the whole question of governmental interference with trade and money. We cannot argue that subject on this Motion for the Adjournment. Exactly what the right hon. Gentleman said is the whole reason why both at the Election and several times during this short part of the Session we have raised the question of money and trade. I believe that from the ordinary point of view of industry, under ordinary normal conditions as they prevail to-day, not under Socialist conditions, if the Government tackled the question of credit and the monetary system we could do a very great deal to ameliorate the position. The Cunard Company probably know their own business best, but it is a fact that when the last Government gave the guarantee for the insurance the building of that ship was looked upon as something which would rehabilitate the passenger shipping industry of this country. Now, out of the blue as it were, has come the news that the company cannot carry on the work. I am sorry there is no Cabinet Minister here and that the President of the Board of Trade has gone. I would have liked to have put it to him, that after all it is not so much a question of someone finding money as it is of someone backing the undertaking. In spite of what has been said in the Memorandum of the Company and what has been said here to-day, I cannot understand that there is any real reason for giving up this work, except the fact that money is too dear at the moment.
Does the right hon. Gentleman allege that the Cunard Company is short of credit? Does he not realise that the ship would have to be run, and that if it is likely to incur immense losses the Company cannot build the ship?
I am aware of all that, and of the fact that a considerable amount of money has been spent, but I also know that the Company cannot pay the high rate of interest now prevailing. The Government could help in this.
On a point of Order. I was pulled up by you, Mr. Speaker, for dealing with this very same subject.
I was taking note of what the right hon. Gentleman was saying. He cannot discuss the merits of the Cunard Company, or the cessation of the building of this ship.
I do not want to dispute your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. I would like to make one suggestion to the Government on the matter, but if I ought not to enlarge the scope of it I will not do so.
Message to attend the Lords Commissioners.
The House went, and having returned—
Mr. SPEAKER, reported the Royal Assent to—
Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
As I am not able to keep myself in order by making the suggestion about the Cunard Company, I content myself with an expression of the hope that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who have made their protest to-day will carry the protest into the Division Lobby, and support us in our proposal for au alteration of the date of re-assembling. I would say that it does not carry any support of our Vote of Censure which we carried to the Division Lobby last night. As a matter of fact, this afternoon we are really helping them to make their protest effective, because the Government will stand any number of speeches. I know that from the couple of years' experience I had. [An HON. MEMBER: "Sit and do nothing."] Quite so. I am sure that when the hon. Member for Bridgeton forms his Cabinet, he will be exactly like every other Prime Minister: the thing that will affect him will be votes, not speeches. I want to say to those Members who support the Government in ordinary times, that to-day they have proved themselves the greatest critics of their own Government. I sometimes feel that we on these benches and hon. Members below the Gangway might quite easily sit still, while right hon. and hon. Members who got elected to support the National Government prove what a futile Government it is. The public, of course, will listen to them much more than to us, because we are said to be prejudiced partisans, and they are supporters of the Government and ought to know better than we do what sort of Government they have installed in power. I hope that they will go into the Lobby and register their opinion by their votes this afternoon.
In the absence of the Prime Minister, who is engaged at a Cabinet meeting, perhaps it would be convenient if I intervened at this stage to say that I shall convey to the Prime Minister the course which this Debate has taken, and tell him of the anxieties expressed by right hon. and hon. Members with regard to the adjournment Motion to-day. At the same time, I think the House will agree that the Government are now entitled to a period for consultation. The Prime Minister has said from this Box that he is going to make an announcement of policy as soon as possible after the House re-assembles in February, and, actually, in the terms of the Motion which is now before the House, it will be seen that powers are taken to recall the House whenever the Government think, after consultation with Mr. Speaker, that it is necessary to do so. In answer to the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), who asked what specific questions were included in that provision, may I say that nothing is excluded and all is included. If the Government think, after consultation with Mr. Speaker, that it is in the public interest to summon the House, that action will be taken. I hope that this Debate may now be brought to a close, in order that the House may get on to the very important subjects which are due for consideration on the Adjournment Motion.
I rise to associate myself with the Amendment which has been moved by the official Opposition that the House should adjourn until 4th January. I am also glad to associate myself, in principle with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton), in saying that during this period of national emergency it is essential that this House should be in almost continuous session to deal with the national and international problems which are arising. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook quite accurately said that this Government was brought into being after the previous Government had attempted to find a formula. I wish to say, in passing, that I have only had experience of the last Labour Government and the present Government. During the period of office of the Government which preceded the last Government I was, unfortunately, unable to be present in this House. I can only say that the present so-called National Government seems to be pursuing the same weak and cowardly lines as those which were pursued by the Labour Government.12.30 p.m. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the 10 days in which that Government attempted to find a formula. The 10 days which shook the Labour Government —and he said that they had discussed and rediscussed the national emergency. I quite understand that according to this Motion it is within the power of Mr. Speaker to call the House together at an earlier date than is here mentioned, if he is satisfied, after consultation with the Government, that the state of finance or, shall we say, the state of poverty in the country justifies that course. But is there not the chance that right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite may be glad of this respite in order to evade the discussions and the gingering up which have been going on during the last five weeks in this House. I think it essential that the National Government, which received such an overwhelming vote in the country, should keep the House in session at a time when, we are told, we are going through a grave national emergency. If we return to our constituencies to-day, we shall meet with the people who were told only five or six weeks ago that there was a great national crisis. Are we to tell them the National Government has dispersed the clouds, that the financial situation has improved, that the state of trade is such that there is no reason for the House to remain in session? Are we to tell them that a splendid improvement has taken place in the situation, and that the upward tendency in the value of the pound, and the general conditions of affairs is such that it is not necessary for us to meet for another two months? During the period of my suspension it was continually thrown at me by those who are now supporters of the Government that I had not bean in this House to represent my constituency during a period of grave national emergency. What is to be the answer to me now if I go to my constituency and say that although the pound has been declining in value, although bad trade has become chronic, although a creeping paralysis is passing over industry, and over many undertakings in this country, yet we have time for two months' holiday in which to play golf, and enjoy ourselves? There is no answer at all. It may be that during those two months an emergency will be created among the working class due to recent legislation. In those circumstances the Government might not desire to calf the House together. We might be anxious to put forward our views on what we would claim to be a national emergency, and a crisis in the lives of the common people of the country. Surely in that case we are entitled to have what is called a democratic assembly, in which to express our point of view, and our discontent during such a period. The National. Government is a powerful government. It was formed for the purpose of preventing a fall in the value of the pound, for dealing with questions of food shortage, or rises in the prices of food, and also for dealing with the figure of unemployment. No matter what may be our particular points of view we are all happy to see the improvement which has been taking place recently in regard to the unemployment figures. But the rot has again set in, and I am afraid that those figures will again be on the upward grade during what is the worst period of the year for most of the people of the country. The effects of the means test are just beginning to be felt. There may be grave reason from the point of View of those who represent industrial areas that this House should be in session to hear the complaints and the evidence of members of the House of the bad working of the means test, and its effect on the life of the community. While we believe in a changed order of society, we are anxious to have an improvement in trade which would assist in the development of certain businesses, but our anxiety on behalf of the great mass of the people tells us that if we believe in democratic government we must plead that this adjournment of the House of Commons should be for as short a period as possible. We do not deny that the harassing duties of the Prime Minister, the Cabinet, and Members of the Government during the last month or two, with the influential deputations that they have been receiving from every single trade in this country, although very few from working class organisations, which have been almost entirely excluded, may require that they should have some sort of stimulating air and a little addition to their relaxation, but when we are told by the Press that a grave emergency and crisis are imminent in Germany, in the United States, in France, in Belgium, and throughout almost every industrial nation in this world, and when we are told that 44 crisis may at any moment break out in its most extreme form and bring every industrial country to its knees, surely we are entitled, after only five weeks' Session, to ask the Government not to adjourn for two months. I should like to know where the Members of the Cabinet are at this moment. There are none of them present, so far as I am aware. I am not too familiar with the faces of all of them. I know the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for the Dominions, but I would like to know where they all are.
I thought the hon. Member was aware, as the rest of the House is, that the Cabinet is now engaged on urgent public business.
You are about the softest egg in this House!
My hon. and learned Friend opposite, who is such a pillar of strength to the National Government during this period of emergency, when he jumps about like a rocking-horse, comes along to advise us that the Cabinet is now in session. I am not interested in that. I am interested in having representatives of that Cabinet to give us real reasons, which have not been given yet, why the House should be dismissed for a period of two months. The Prime Minister and others may find it essential to have the Cabinet meeting. It may be that they cannot trust one of the Members of the Cabinet away, because of the differences that exist in the Cabinet, and it may be that the various cliques cannot trust the others and that therefore they must all be present during the decisions, but surely we are entitled to have a representative of the Cabinet here to give us reasons for going away for two months. Many of us will find our hands full in the constituencies with the effects that the National Government have created, but it is essential, in the interests of real democratic government, if we believe in it, that we should be here continually to put our point of view.We are told that this is a splendid sounding board and an institution where we can put every problem and every idea of the common people before this country. The Prime Minister has stated that the Government are prepared to deal in some way with the question of rents, and I suggest that during the coming two months it is essential that we should know what is the Government's policy and be able to consider its effects during the coming winter. We know that the means test is bound to have the effect of throwing large bodies of people out of their homes. We are not antagonistic to your putting forth a plea on behalf of industrial undertakings, because with the present order of society that is really the basis of giving to the people wages and a certain security for the time being, but we put forth the plea that those who are being denied the ordinary decencies of life, and who are likely to be thrust out of their homes during these months, ought to have the assurance that Parliament can meet and discuss their grievances. I do not think a more brutal and cruel measure than the means test was ever devised, and it will be found in a month or two to have a tremendous effect on every Member in every industrial division. We are told that in the ordinary way we shall have a statement of policy, but the only statement that we have had yet is a statement of inactivity, the same old inactivity that was in evidence from the former Labour Government, the same evidence of that policy of "Wait and see; we will consider, discuss, and examine, but we will never do anything at all." While I am prepared to associate myself in principle with this protest and with those who have spoken, we do not seek to go into the division lobby to create difficulties for any Government. If Governments were sincere and desirous of real action, we would be prepared to support them in this House, but we want to protest as strongly as we can against a two months' holiday during a time when we are drifting to a great national crisis and necessity. It may be one of the antiquated customs of this House that we should have a good holiday while other people are starving, but it gives no satisfaction to me at all. It is outrageous for this House to disperse to-day with a problem that is growing and multiplying and that looks like overcoming and destroying the present order of society, with all the possibilities of suffering that that entails, with difficulties in world trade, with unemployment, the rents question, the means test, and so on. That is the sort of thing that is creating in this country an anti-parliamentary outlook on the part of a large section of the working class. If you want to preserve your institutions and have the respect of the public for them, you must show that you are sincere, that you have faith in them and in democracy, and that you are not only telling the electors that there are national problems and emergencies, but that you believe there is a real national emergency. If you had the serious and sincere outlook of reasonable statesmen, you would meet here, with probably a week or 10 days' respite, and then come here again at the beginning of the year to meet the problems that are bound to arise. I suggest that that course ought to be pursued in the interests of the people of this country, in the interests of industry, and in the interests of national government.
I desire with the rest of the House to follow the advice of the Patronage Secretary and to detain the House for only a moment. Expressions have been used in this discussion which will have the most grievous effect in the country, and as a back bencher I resent them. Someone in this House is entitled to be heard in addition to those gentlemen from Glasgow. We have heard them interminably since the House resumed, and before we separate a word should be said as to the mischievous speeches which they make in this House. As a back bencher, I resent the suggestion that the Government have failed in their duty, or that the House has failed in the attention which it has given to the duties that the Government have placed upon them. When we recollect the quarter from which those suggestions come, allowances will be made. I agree with one thing which the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) says. [Interruption.] I must ask the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) to give me the same courtesy that he usually receives himself. I agree with the hon. Member for Shettleston that there is rising in this land a suspicion that Parliament is a useless machine, and it is not right, when we have met here week after week to do our best for the country in a grievous hour of trial, that expressions of that kind should go forth from this House uncorrected and unchallenged. I personnally resent those expressions, and I believe that I am expressing the view of the overwhelming mass of the Members of the House when I say that we have done our best to carry out the commission which the country gave us. We expect the Government to lose no energy and time in carrying out that commission, and we hope that when we reassemble we shall receive from them further evidence of the energy and enterprise which they have already shown.
I want to say a word with regard to the Amendment which my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) wished to move, that the House of Commons should reassemble at an earlier date. The right hon. Gentleman who leads the Opposition said something to which we are entitled to make some reply. He said that as long as he was the leader of the Opposition he would see that the rights of the Opposition were safeguarded. May I remind him, if I may without unduly appearing to lecture him, that according to the traditions of the House he has not merely to safeguard the rights of his own party. The Leader of the Opposition has generally in the past preserved the rights of other minorities as well as of his own. We now find that the action taken by him was not to defend the rights of other minorities, but was intended to inflict on other minorities as much injury as he can or to take from their rights as much as he can. I am not going to develop that point more than to say this. It is said that we had no consultations. We never said that we had. What was said by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) stands as correct, that within five minutes of the right hon. Gentleman speaking he had no intention of dividing the House. When he came here this morning he had no intention. None of the Opposition had any intention, and the only intention arose when he found that we wanted to do it.
Has the hon. Gentleman a right to charge me with this sort of personal offence I As a matter of fact, I kept my seat, because I did not want to stand between the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) and the House—
If I am a liar, you must allow me to say what I am going to say. I want to say that when I made up my mind to move this Amendment I had not the slightest knowledge that anybody else was going to move an Amendment of this kind, and I sent it up, as I have a right to send it, because I thought it right to do so.
I do not withdraw what I said. It is my considered view, and on another opportunity I will debate the matter more fully. The case for our having shown courtesy to-day is unanswerable, and if given the opportunity, I will return to the charge at the earliest moment.The question before us now is whether we should meet on the 4th January or the 2nd February. We think that the House should meet on the earlier date, because it has certain important work to do. May I say to the hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench that we do not expect the whole Cabinet to be present. My hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston, never asked that. The Cabinet knew that the House was meeting and that this Motion was likely to be debated. In ordinary courtesy to the House of Commons, therefore, the Cabinet should have had a representative here. That is all that we ask. It has been the common custom in the House to do that, and why has that not been carried out on this occasion? Is the reason that the Opposition is small and that they are not entitled to the same courtesy as a big and powerful Opposition I Are the Government afraid of their own majority, or dare they not leave any of their colleagues out of their sight? The hon. Gentleman said that there must be time for plans to be prepared. If the plans are to be far-reaching and a great national effort, the Government will need all the Parliamentary time that they can get. Even if they take up private Members' time, they will, if you take into consideration the financial business that must be got through, have very little time if they want to adjourn again early in August. If the Government are to introduce bold far-reaching plans, they ought to have the extra month. If they want something to do, they have always the Children Bill to go on with. About this first week's business! This point has never been driven home. The putting on of these Bills means, in effect, that the House does not meet even on the 2nd February, because these Bills are only for time-wasting purposes; they are not likely to be passed. We used to have such Bills in the days of the Labour Government, and the Government before that—the 48 Hours Bill, the Representation of the People Bill—all just to take up time. Everybody knew that they would go to another place and then come back and that we should not pass them; but they just filled up time. If the Government need a day or two for consultation while the House is in Session they can just put on one of these Bills. So far as the Government are concerned it has the same effect as if the House were not meeting, only there is this difference, that hon. Members can come here and raise matters which they wish to bring forward. The Bills do not matter; the country would be neither richer nor poorer after they had been passed. The real reason for this "put-off" is a twofold one. First, the Government are rent in twain—absolutely rent in twain ! The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) made a very true remark. He said that for 10 days before the election the Government tried to get a formula, but could not do so. Have we any reason to believe that if they get an adjournment for seven weeks or eight weeks they are likely to produce plans? Not a bit of it! This adjournment for eight weeks is a "put-off". It is eight weeks in which the Government ran escape the criticism of the House of Commons. It is an eight weeks adjournment beloved of the Prime Minister, so that he can go to Lossiemouth—his photograph in every illustrated paper—dining usually with a lady or a lord—strutting about the course so well-beloved of him—making his plans—going from place to place thinking out these deep, deep plans! When the Tories were here and the Labour Government were over there the Tories said of him what I am saying of him now. What has changed? I see the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) is present. He will remember what used to happen. He has been a consistent defender of the Prime Minister in this House. He defended him when the Labour Government were in power, and he is defending him still. His patience seems to be inexhaustible. In the old days the Tories said the Prime Minister was not preparing any plans. The hon. Member for North Paddington (Mr. Bracken) used to be the best at it. He used to say: "Look where he is! He is not preparing plans at all." And the Chief Whip, who is now defending the Prime Minister, used to be behind the scenes arranging for his live young Tories to put questions to the Prime Minister. He used to say to them; "You go and ask him where he is preparing his plans." They used to say then that he was not preparing plans, and what has altered now? Where is the evidence of any alteration? Look at the Postmaster-General! He used to be a prime mover in it, he used to work early-morning shift, day shift and night shift at asking the Prime Minister, "Where are your plans and when will you produce them?" and used to shake his head when they were not forthcoming. They are not forthcoming now. He knows it. If we could get him on the quiet he would say now, "I know he is producing nothing"—not even rabbits. He would say that in private to you. [Interruption.] Well, well, I will not pursue that point any further. 1.0 p.m. My point is that the Prime Minister is producing no plans, and the Conservatives know it. A meeting of a very important Conservative Committee decided to back this Amendment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Never!"] Well, they decided to do so if they could get 100 Members to support them. [Interruption.] Oh, yes. Not having the support of 100 Members they could not do it. They were absolutely discontented, this set, and they are the leaders of the real rebellion. There was a second group who said, "We are discontented, too, but we won't drive things to a division. We will make strong speeches, but we won't divide. We will march our men half-way up the hill and then march them down again." There is a third group who said, "We are discontented, too, but, by God, we can't let those Socialists come back to power! We must support the Government, bad as they are. Don't kick them downstairs; give them a chance." No section of the House is with the Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "Holford Knight!"] The Government do not take him seriously. The Government would like to be without him, I know. He was taken out of personal friendship—the same as they tried to get the Attorney-General taken by Montrose. Why should we not come to this House and say the things that are in our hearts? Why should we play at mockery and foolery, and not say the things that are in our hearts—knowing that nobody is with the Government on this Motion, nobody We know the great mass of Members feel that the House ought to meet earlier. Everyone feels that there is business to be done—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—that there is important work to be done. [HON. MEMBERS "There is no crisis."] This Amendment ought to be carried, and we will divide on it. The right hon. and gallant Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) bailed the provision in the Motion whereby Mr. Speaker can call the House together earlier, if necessary, and after consultation with the Government. Does anybody seriously think we shall be called together to consider any plans? We shall be called together by Mr. Speaker if there is a quarrel in the Cabinet. That was why we were, called back the last time—because there was a quarrel in the Labour Cabinet. If the Minister of Education, the Home Secretary, and the Lord Privy Seal have a bit of a row we shall be called together. But that is not calling Parliament together to deal with a plan; that is not for action. It is for plans and purposes that we ought to meet. The hon. and gallant Member knows well enough that we shall only be called together if there is a row, a stairhead quarrel. We shall be hauled back to patch it up and give a new Government power to carry on for a time. Look at this winter! A winter of distress! The hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) said people were going to suffer a fearful winter. Why should not this House, as the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) said, come and think out a remedy for the distress in the country? Why should we not come back in connection with that Cunard liner being stopped Because we hold these views my hon. Friends and I will divide upon this Amendment, and we hope the House will not register its vote by a mere nodding of the bead, but register the vote that it feels in its heart, and what it really feels is that the House should meet again at an earlier date.
I rise to support the Amendment which has been moved by my hon. Friend. There are several reasons why I do so. At a time when the entire country is being shaken to its very foundation by an imminent crisis instructions have been given in my constituency to stop work on the greatest ship that has ever been built by the Cunard Company. I will read a telegram which I have received from Sir Thomas Bell this morning, who is the managing director of the firm which is building the new liner. I tried to get in touch with Lord Aberconway, who is chairman of the company, but he is ill at the present time. I got through, however, on a trunk call to Sir Thomas Bell, and I have received from him the following telegram:
"Replying to your categorical inquiries on the telephone regarding position of Cunarder, notices were posted in our yard at 7 o'clock this morning, reading as follows:—
that is the number of the ship, because everything is done under numbers in the various departments—"'Notice is hereby given to all employees in Clydebank shipyard engine and boiler departments that all work in connection with contract 534'—
"'is to be stopped as from noon on Saturday, 12th December. The services of all employees will therefore terminate at noon to-morrow. The owners express their profound regret that special circumstances have necessitated this total suspension of all construction work on the hull and machinery of this important contract. Wages will be paid this evening as usual. Lying time will be paid to time workers to-morrow on ceasing work, and to piece workers on Monday, 14th December, at 3 p.m.'
I have received another telegram, but I will not read it. That is an appeal coming from one of the greatest shipbuilders that has ever lived, and he is appealing on behalf of his workmen who are going to be thrown on the streets. My information is that this action is going to affect about 100,000 men and women throughout the length and breadth of Britain who are threatened with a complete stoppage of work. In my own constituency, the men working on this ship are stopped now. Thousands of men have been thrown out of employment, and the men who voted for the National Government are being automatically thrown on the streets out of work, and all that they have to draw from our incomparable social services is 15s. 3d. per week. At a time when this is going on, Members of Parliament and Cabinet Ministers are about to go away for a two months holiday. Here are thousands of men and women who are going to be thrown out on to the streets with nothing but 15s. 3d. a week to live upon. A group of four of us have been doing all we can to avoid these men being thrown out of work, and the Prime Minister and the President of the Board of Trade have been making it more awkward for us. Our group of four back benchers represent the working-classes. Here is the Government of this country—the Government that asked to be returned because they were the tried men, the experienced men—"In addition to these we are at once notifying rolling mills, forges and foundries throughout the country, also sub-contractors for auxiliary machinery and other numberless fittings for the Cunarder, that work on the same must cease at end of this week. I would add to information given to the Press by the Cunard that had work continued it would have involved placing orders in the early future of nearly £2,250,000 value for the whole of the ship's internal passenger accommodation, so under the circumstances all must agree it was their bounden duty to at once call a halt. You naturally ask how long this stoppage of work will continue. Well, unless the Government are prepared to co-operate with the Cunard bankers and take on a share of what otherwise would be transacted in the bill discount market, the stoppage can last three months or six months or even 12 months, for no one can tell how long it will be before the bill discount market will once more be functioning normally.— Thomas Bell.
I must remind the hon. Member that the Question now before the House is whether the House should adjourn until the 2nd February or to some earlier date in January. I have been waiting for the hon. Member to make his argument on that question.
I appreciate very much the latitude which you have allowed me, but I am giving reasons why the Government should not go away, and why this House should continue in Session. If ever there was a period in the history of this country when it was essential that this House of Commons should sit, it is now. I am here speak- ing on behalf of the hardy sons of toil. I am not very much concerned about those who are well off, about those who have about £1,000 a year. I do not think they show value fur it—any of them—or even value for one-half of it, including the trade union leaders. They should only have the one salary. In the case of those who are Members of Parliament, that should satisfy them. That is the means test that should be applied.
You will not get it from them.
I am interested in the working class in particular, but, at the same time, I have to say that the situation is of such a grave character that it is not only the workers in the shipyards, whom I directly represent, that are affected. It is not only the engineers, whom some people—the Labour party—would do all they can to keep me from representing, but I have been a member of my trade union for 40 years, and the whole of the Labour party and the trade union movement will never keep me from representing the engineers, bcause I am an engineer born and bred. To-day it is not simply the ordinary member of the working class that is feeling the draught. There is no section of the community to-day that is not wondering what is going to happen next. Think of the telegram which I have read from Sir Thomas Bell, the managing director of John Brown and Company, Ltd., at Clydebank. Imagine all the thoughts that are surging through the mind of every big industrialist in this country.They do not know in what direction to turn. They put this Government in power. They used all their influence with their employés, not only indirectly, but to my special knowledge they directly used their influence with their employés to get them to vote National—or Tory, because that is what it means—to get them to vote this Government in to deal with this very situation that we are faced with to-day; and now, when they are at their wits' end, the Government goes away for a holiday—two months' holiday. How long are we going to stand it? What is to come of it? I want to say—I am going to see the Prime Minister this afternoon—that, if the Government of this country think that this is a normal crisis, that this is a normal situation, that they can just go away in the hope that, if the House of Commons were not sitting for a month or two, the situation would ease itself in such a fashion that when they come back things would have straightened themselves out, I hope that the Cabinet is not going to behave in such a halfhearted fashion. I hope the Cabinet realize that this crisis is world-wide, and that it is essential that the House should be sitting during the crisis which is affecting every country. Nobody knows better than the Prime Minister the situation in Europe, and they are dreading the situation in Europe. I want to say, and I should like to say to the Prime Minister, that, with all our drawbacks, the criticism of the House of Commons is most essential now. It is essential, in the circumstances in which the people of this country and civilisation in general are living and moving and having their being, that our Government should know the feeling of the people of this country, and, with all our drawbacks and shortcomings, we come here and honestly give expression to the thoughts that go surging through the great mass of the people of this country. That is why we are sent here—because, with all our shortcomings, we are able to give expression to the thoughts that are surging through the minds of the working class. It is not given to every man to be able to do that. The working-class movement has thrown me and my colleagues up in that movement. That is our function which we are fulfilling, and the Government, by acting as they are now acting, are throttling our activities and denying to us, the representatives of the common people, our right of expressing their point of view. This House has always been held to be the great sounding-board for the point of view of the British people, and that sounding-board is going to be closed. When there is a crisis, and when the Government know that there is a crisis, they are shutting off our criticism, they are shutting off our questions. They are doing that at a time when the Cabinet know that we are facing a winter which is bound to be the most hellish winter that the working-class of this country has yet endured, the reason being that the Government have reduced the purchasing power of the poorest people in this country, and our appeal has been refused on all sides when we asked that a Bill should be put through this House to make the reduction of wages illegal in this country. Had we got that, had we got an increase, had this Government done something to ease the situation, had they increased the purchasing power of the working class, they might have made it possible for the working-class mother to buy boots that her children require; they might have made it possible for the working-class mother to buy blankets where there are none, where children at this moment are lying huddled together with not a rag to cover them—no blankets and no bedding. Some members of the Government have been associated with the working-class and have lived in working-class homes when out on propaganda on behalf of the Socialist movement. They know exactly the conditions under which the working-class live. They know that there are thousands of children who never know what it is to have a nice sleep because of the vermin gnawing at their little bodies. They could have said, "That is to cease. No child in this country shall know what it is to go hungry. No little boy or girl during this terrible winter that we are bound to face shall go barefooted." They know perfectly well that there are nearly 250,000 in the building industry unemployed. They could have said, "We will see to it that our people who require houses are going to have them. We are going to stop this stupid idea of paying unemployment benefit to house builders for doing nothing." I wish I could go to the country and say that the Government had exercised their tremendous power on behalf of those least able to defend themselves. If they had done anything to ease the situation, so that when they shuffle off this mortal coil it could be truly said of them that they had ameliorated the terrible lot of the working-class in their day and generation, if I had seen the semblance of any direct move being made along those lines, there would be some excuse for them going on a long holiday. I know from experience that they do not require a holiday. I have worked harder and longer hours than any of them. I and my four colleagues have come to that door for a month at two, three, four and five in the morning.
Unless the hon. Member who is in possession of the House gives way, the hon. Member is not entitled to be on his feet.
A lot of us would like to hear something more about this Cunard question. It is to our interest that the workers of the country should be kept at work, and I am prepared to support the Clydesiders if they would go those lines.
The question of the Cunard Company and what the Government can and cannot do does not arise on this Amendment.
I mentioned it as a reason why the House should sit. I do not want to occupy much more time, because my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) desires to speak for 2½ hours, but I want to make an appeal to the Government that it is not playing the game. I know I shall have to answer for the speech I am making, and I am prepared to answer. This Cunarder is the only ship being built at Clydebank. Rationalisation was the policy of the late Labour Government. We protested against the effects of rationalisation.
The hon. Member is now getting very far from the Amendment. I allowed him to mention the Cunarder at the beginning of his speech as a reason why the Government should come back earlier, but he has already exhausted that.
It was evident that there were some Members who wanted more information, and I was willing to oblige the House and the country. If you, Sir, will allow me two minutes, shall finish. There were two of the greatest shipyards in the world at Clydebank, and the Labour Government closed down one of them. They scrapped it. They not only scrapped Dalmuir, but they scrapped Miller and Napier's, the adjoining shipyard, and now practically the only job on Clydebank has been stopped. In these circumstances, considering not only the local but the national situation, the Government have made one of the greatest mistakes in adopting their present attitude, having regard to the facts and to the tremendous amount of unemployment. It is possible that the shutting off of the Cunard not only means the stopping of thousands of men in my constituency, but it means the putting out of employment of thousands in other parts of the country. That is the position with which we are faced. This is only the beginning of the crisis. I would ask the whole House to vote in the Lobby with us as a protest against the Government going away for two months' holiday in circumstances such as I have tried to describe.
The Motion before the House is that the House shall adjourn until the 2nd of February, to which an Amendment has been moved that the House shall meet on the 4th of January. We have been discussing in this House this afternoon—and the President of the Board of Trade gave certain answers in reply to questions—a matter of national importance. He distinctly stated that if the position was as serious as had been made out and if representations had been made from certain quarters the Government would certainly have considered the position, but as no such move or suggestion had been made it was considered that the company concerned was able to carry on its own business and conduct it in its own way. That was agreed to by some hon. Members in the House, but we have since heard of a telegram having been received from the head of a great firm making known circumstances which were not known to the Minister. I suggest that before the question of the Adjournment is decided the House should consider the matter of great national importance which has been raised. There can be nothing worse than a dislocation of trade at the Christmas period. The Prime Minister has said that there was nothing of a critical nature and that it was quite right that we should go away. The Motion on the Paper states that it shall be open to the Speaker to recall the House if necessary after consultation with the Government. Why should we be recalled some weeks hence when one of the difficulties is here already to be dealt with before we leave. Three of the Clydeside Members have spoken, and we are told that the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) intends to speak for two hours and a half.
No longer than is necessary to state the case.
I agree with what has been said by the three Clydeside Members with regard to the particular difficulties. It would be absurd to argue that because we are going away there is no political crisis and no difficulty in the country. You must either be logical or illogical. Either this nation is in financial difficulties or it is not. Hon. Members must remember that they came here to exercise common sense. Hon. Members opposite cannot expect the Opposition to listen to tomfoolery, but the argument put forward by the Prime Minister is that this House—although we are told that the country is in extremis—can now adjourn for eight weeks, and that if anything should arise the House will be called together again. I think that something has arisen. We are right in the midst of danger. Every newspaper you pick up seems to be better informed than the Members of the House of Commons. But if there be a critical position and if this country is in danger, and if hon. Members have not gulled the public by telling them stories outside and got here under false pretences, what legitimate reason can we have for going away at all I It is the most amazing thing that I have ever struck. There is a fire, and the fire brigade goes away on holiday. The ship has struck the rocks and is sinking, and the captain goes away to have a game of nap. Is it not ridiculous to say that the Government Benches are devoid of Cabinet Ministers, because those Ministers are away on public business? I venture to say that they are now in the train perhaps on their way home.
Wait until the Division and see.
Is it quite fair that a Member of this House should get up and make a statement of that nature when a responsible person on the Treasury Bench has stated that the Cabinet at the present moment are engaged upon urgent business, and that it should go out to the country that that statement has been made? I think that the hon Member should withdraw it.
I have a perfect right to arrive at my own conclusions. I am prepared to pit my capability against that of the hon. Member in any direction from the mental point of view, and I am perfectly justified, in view of the fact that the statement to which he referred was made in the House over an hour ago, in arriving at the conclusion that the Cabinet are not at present doing important business. Proof can be produced by some Cabinet Minister at least being present on the Front Bench. My contention is that it is a game of bluff. I am convinced that right through the piece the national crisis has been a game of bluff, and that the going away on holidays is part and parcel of the customary annual procedure in the clown and pantaloon business at Christmastime. [Interruption.] I may cause amusement. Amusement would have to be of an intellectual character I should imagine to please you; you would not get amusement from the ordinary clown. Hon. Members cannot get rid of responsibility, no matter how much they may enjoy the position and laugh. They cannot get rid of the fact that they have definitely stated that there is a crisis. If their contention is logical, they should be here if there is a crisis. Is there no crisis in regard to shipping? Is there no reason, when 5,000 or 6,000 men may be thrown out of employment at this time of the year, that the Cabinet should see to it they should have employment?The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) reminds me that he is an engineer. My home, so far as my children are concerned, depends upon engineering. Thousands more on Merseyside cannot afford to allow the Government to have eight weeks' holiday. They want to know what is being done. They know that in going home we cannot have any influence. There is no good to be done by talking in the streets. The day for talking on soap-boxes or anything of the kind is finished. This is the place to do business. This is the shop where the business has to be done. Let us talk shop. Where are the Ministers who can talk business? To whom am I to refer with regard to the shipping interests of the Port of Liverpool? A question was put to-day with regard to piracy on board ships near Shanghai; British seamen deposed and Chinese taken on. Have I no right to ask why we should go away for eight weeks' holiday?
Is it not a fact that the Royal Naval ships of this country are the only ships which are suppressing piracy and that they are carrying out a very useful work in doing so?
I am fully aware what the newspapers stated in regard to piracy at Shanghai. I have been wondering whether the piracy at Shanghai that was being suppressed meant that men were being put off the ship at Shanghai and the rush was on the part of the Chinese to get on board to take their jobs. I have absolute evidence of patriotic British shipowners, flying the British flag wanting the protection of this country to protect cheap Chinese labour. Meanwhile, this House is about to go away for its Christmas holidays. We are to have the Santa Claus business, with something in our stockings at Christmas. It is wrong and immoral that we should go back to the large industrial centres and say that we as Members of Parliament are having a holiday. I want no holiday. I came here to do business. I came here to back the National Government, with all its vices, and God knows it has many, to do some constructive thing. I am sick and tired of listening to gibes about "serve you right" that have been thrown at us, because we have been too charitable, even to members of our own party.There is no hon. Member who can say that he can get rid of his responsibility. Is there one hon. Member who can go home honestly and say that for two months he has a right to take two months salary from this House, and do nothing for it? Is there any responsible Minister who thinks that he is justified, in a time of national emergency, with the great poverty that must come, even in normal times and especially in these times in our great industrial and congested areas, in going away in this critical period for a long holiday? I have visited many asylums in my days. [Interruption.] I have seen many like the hon. Member who interrupts who have been let out. We have examined many patients and we have never found any patient in any asylum who, when they were becoming sane, ever thought of going out until there was a complete recovery. When things are absolutely in an insane condition in the country, you are going out to the electorate to tell them that the ship is sinking, everything in the nation is rocking and rotten, but you have to take eight weeks holiday. It is reductio ad absurdum that Members of Parliament, the enlightened intelligentsia, who told the story of how wonderfully clever they were going to be when they got here, should now admit they have got here that they are fed-up, they have no policy and they are going on a long holiday. If any appeal of mine is worth anything I would support that, if we are not able to remain here now, the Government ought be reasonable and curtail the length of the holiday and come back at an earlier date, because the responsibility of the National Government and our responsibility as an Opposition is so great. The people outside, if the National Government do not come to their assistance, may become desperate. We are making Communists, we are making insurrection and looking for trouble that could be avoided by not taking full and honest responsibility.
I support the Amendment that we reassemble the 4th January rather than the date suggested in the Motion. I apologise to the Postmaster-General on behalf of my hon. Friends and myself that he should have been compelled to sit for an extended time on the Front Bench waiting, I understand, to reply to a discussion that is to take place. I regret that he has been detained, but having regard to his own record in Opposition I feel sure that he will be able to look at the thing through our eyes. He knows, as I know, that this particular matter and other particular matters that may be raised on the Adjournment Debate are of a purely academic nature. There is no more futile Debate that takes place in the whole course of the Parliamentary year than the Debate on the Adjournment. The hon. Member who raises a subject knows that there can be no vote on it, he knows that it can have no effect and the Minister knows that too. There is a general feeling of Christian kindliness and benevolence pervading the assembly. The total amount of information that is exchanged between the one side and the other could as adequately be done by the normal process of question and answer which is available to every hon. Member every day during which the House sits.The time that is left over for the ordinary subjects of Adjournment Debate is somewhat limited. I do not think that those who have experience of the House will be unduly heart-broken over that, but, if the Amendment that I am supporting is carried, that we should come back a month earlier than the House has suggested, there will be extra time to deal with matters such as broadcasting and the improper use of broadcasting by the present Government and the equally improper use that would be made of it by any other Government which had the power. These matters can be discussed during the extra month of Parliamentary time that I and my hon. friends are anxious should be available. I am not prepared to go as far as the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan). I am a moderate man. I am not prepared to say, as he does, that the Government are already away on holiday. I think they have been engaged in a Cabinet meeting this morning, although probably I expect they had had lunch for the last half hour. [Interruption.] At any rate, there has been a Cabinet meeting, but I am prepared to bet my hon. Friend below me, the Member for Balham and Tooting (Sir A. Butt)—[An HON. MEMBER: "Not allowed in the House"]—a very, very, small amount, that the Prime Minister will be in the train for Lossiemouth before I am in the train for Glasgow.
The hon. Member must stick to the terms of the Amendment.
Everybody knows that the conception of a Cabinet which wants us out of the road so that they can get down to business for the next seven weeks is a myth. But that is what young Tory Members believe is going to happen. In their childish simplicity, which endears them to all our they believe that the Government want to get us away, we are mere talkers, not workers, [Interruption.] Hon. Members opposite have not to do all the work of their party, like a party of four. They have not to draft Motions, to get questions prepared, to prepare their own speeches, do their own deviling, look after their own correspondence, and then fight for their chance in the House. The conception of a Cabinet that is going to sit in permanent session from the moment they get rid of us at four o'clock until the day we come back in February, is a myth, a fantasy of the imagination. Let me assure new Members on the opposite side that they are being kidded.2.0 p.m. I have seen what has been happening this morning; the old game. You never divide against the Motion for the Adjournment; it is not, good form; it is never done. If new Members do that sort of thing they will put a blot on their parliamentary copy book which they will not be able to erase. "You must keep away from the Chamber, run away. Let them talk; they will soon come to a standstill." I have seen all the moves going on this morning according to plan, all the devices for getting the Government away out of range of the House of Commons, out of range of the common people. At the end of last July a Labour Government was sitting on those benches and they believed all that the Prime Minister told them, like hon. Members opposite are doing to-day. I remember in my early days of Socialist propaganda being in the company of a Labour man who was an enthusiastic Socialist, a member of National Union of Railwaymen. He talked about all the different orators of the Labour and Socialist movement he liked to hear and he came, of course, to the Secretary of State for the Dominions. Hon. Members will excuse the language, it is the language of the railwayman: "Oh I always like to bear Jimmy talk; you cannot believe a damn word he says." I never quite understood how the two parts of that statement hung together, what was the connection between them. At a meeting of the Labour party last summer the Government said that everything was going on quite nicely. "The Government are going to be in for a long time, and we are going away now for a well earned holiday. When we come back again on the 5th October we shall be ready with big new developments, which we will put through and the Government will go on for the next two years in the normal way." That was in July or the beginning of August. We were only beginning to get down to our holiday when we were told that we were in the midst of a crisis. We were brought back by telegram and were told that the country had been within 24 hours of complete collapse. The Cabinet had not been sitting, they had not been working out plans, they had not two ideas upon which they all agreed. The Prime Minister had certainly been thinking, with a card up his sleeve—the joker. It is now on the Front Bench, he has pulled it down. I did not believe then nor do I believe now that in September the country was within 24 hours of catastrophe. I do not believe it. But what I do believe is that you are nearly three months nearer a catastrophe than you were then, and you are going away for your holiday and handing over your responsibility with a complete irresponsibility. Most of the members who are here for the first time are going round their constituencies. To those constituencies they made the promise at the election that they were going to attend to their Parliamentary duties, not as So-and-so had done. They said "We are not going to be the mere plaything of a Government. The Government will not march us into the Lobbies to obey the crack of the Whip. We are there in new circumstances. We are a new type of men specially thrown up by the nation to meet a special crisis. We are not going to be mere Gilbert and Sullivan M.P.'s, who leave their brains outside and do just what their leader tells them. In all my Parliaments I never saw a crowd that collapsed so completely under the atmosphere, under the tradition, under the supposed etiquette, under the conception of what is called good form, as this gang of heroes who came in at the last election to save the nation in its hour of need. Make no doubt about it; to-day we are not discussing an academic Motion; we are discussing a real Motion, a definite Amendment. It is in the power of the 615 men and women who are sent here by confiding constituencies to decide yes or no. I say to hon. Members, your constituents when you got their votes did not know anything about Parliamentary good form, did not know about what is done and what is not done, did not know that a Whip was more important than your conscience. They believed that they had got in you men of out- standing integrity. [Laughter.] Someone laughed when I said that. I do not take that view of the electorate. I did not say that Members returned here are men of outstanding integrity. I said that the constituencies have returned them here believing them to be men of outstanding integrity, men who were prepared to put every consideration, personal, family or business, secondly to their duty to the nation, and above all that they were men who were going to apply their own judgments to the problem presented to them, and that they were going to make their decisions on these problems fearlessly and honestly, and to act on them fearlessly and honestly. I say also to hon. Members, there is not one of you who believes in this long adjournment proposed by the Government—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes"]. There has been a strange silence on the Government side of the House as to any real reason for the extended holiday. Is it the Prime Minister's health? I know the Prime Minister's health as well as I know my own. It is exactly the same kind of health as I have, up and down. A couple of days at the seaside and he is on his feet again, or one round, which he can get at Richmond or Mid-Surrey get it quickly and be in London again if necessary. Is it this idea of working out plans? Is that the excuse they are giving you chaps? If it is working out plans, then the Government were elected on a fraud it was a fraudulent election, because they were returned, as against us, because they had everything ready—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, a free hand."]. Yes, a free hand to do whatever they liktd—[HON. MEMBERS: "After inquiry"]. And they knew what they were going to do—[HON. MEMBERS: "No"]. Then you are back to the Labour Government, and this Government's mandate to-day, in reference to a crisis is exactly the same as that of the last Labour Government—to consider and to inquire. I put it to the House in this way: Here is the Prime Minister. He has been in this House 25 years with a small break, and the Lord Privy Seal precisely the same time. I know, because I worked every time to put him in, and we found the money to pay his wages until parliamentary salaries were passed by the Government for the Buchanans and the Maxtons and the McGoverns and the Kirkwoods. The workers put in their pennies weekly to pay their Prime Minister and the Noble Viscount an annual salary to keep them in the House of Commons. They have been here 25 years. The Lord President of the Council has been here longer, I think. He is one of the senior Members of the House.
No, 22 years. But it does not matter.
At least he is a man of very considerable Parliamentary experience. The same remark applies to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and to every one of them. There is scarcely a man in the Cabinet who has not had a very extended experience of Parliament, and most of them have had experience of responsible office. I put it to the spokesmen of the Front Bench that it is not too much for me to ask that if the House has done without their services now for 3 hours to-day, it is just about time that one of them was showing up. I am not asking for the whole lot. I want to see one. I want them to answer this question. They are all men of considerable Parliamentary and Governmental experience. They have all been in office. They are returned now for action to deal with the crisis, not for consideration of the long-term policy that is to get us into something like permanent security. The House knows that perfectly well. The Government are returned for action to deal with the crisis, and, having dealt with the crisis, there can be as much consideration as you please in the development of our long-term policy. After 25 years or thereabouts of Parliamentary and Governmental experience, if these men do not know what to do, if they have not found the via media for the warring points of view in their Cabinet, they will not find solutions seven weeks from now. They will not find their via media then.It is gross carelessness for this House to allow itself to be dismissed for seven solid weeks without having any power to get together before then. It is true that the Government have power to call us together, but we have no power to call the Government in front of us. The two situations are entirely different. There are two sets of circumstances that may very easily present themselves. One is that the Government would want to meet, and the House would meet; and the other, in which the House would want to meet the Government.
We trust the Government
The hon. Member trusted the last Government right up to the hour of the collapse. Do not let us get out of our responsibilities by saying that we trust the Government.
We do—not you.
I am asking the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) not to get himself out of his responsibilities to Wolverhampton by saying that he trusts the Government. He trusted the last Government. Then, what happened I It can happen once, and it can happen again. The man that can be taken in by one confidence trickster can easily be taken in by another.
The same trickster!
Yes, the same conjurer. If the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton has that type of conscience and intelligence, I am quite sure—if I may say this without profanity—that when he appears before the Old Gentleman, it will not be accepted as a valid excuse for his conduct on various occasions if he says that the Whips told him. I know that the group that sits with me on these benches is not popular in the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] Well, it is a sort of mixed feeling. They do, and they do not. The point of view that we are endeavouring to urge upon this House does not find acceptance with the majority. I want the other groups and sections, and individuals, who are just as keen, as prejudiced, if you like, and as dogmatic and egotistical about their point of view as we are, as they have a right to be, and as we have a right to be, to put aside all the cajolery and the nonsense about what is "done" and what is "not done," and to put this to themselves: "I promised those decent, trusting people, in Wolverhampton, in Walsall, in Durham, in Mile End, in Bridgeton, in the Isle of Thanet, and elsewhere, that, if they returned me, they would find in me a responsible, fearless, honest representative. I promised them that, and to-day, when I have it in my power to show my honesty, my fearlessness and my diligence; by voting for the
Division No. 43.]
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.)||Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare)||Milne, John Sydney Wardlaw.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.||Erskine-Bolst, Capt. C. C. (Blackpool)||Mitchell, Harold P. (Br'tf'd & Chisw'k)|
|Albery, Irving James||Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univ.)||Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.|
|Allen, William (Stoke-on-Trent)||Ferguson, Sir John||Morris, John Patrick (Salford, N.)|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Flanagan, W. H.||Morris, Owen Temple (Cardiff, E.)|
|Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K.||Foot, Dingle (Dundee)||Morris, Rhys Hopkin (Cardigan)|
|Apsley, Lord||Fraser, Captain Ian||Morrison, William Shephard|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Muirhead, Major A. J.|
|Baillie, Sir Adrian W. B.||Fuller, Captain A. E. G.||Munro, Patrick|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Ganzoni, Sir John||Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||North, Captain Edward T.|
|Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet)||Gluckstein, Louis Halle||Nunn, William|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Glyn, Major Ralph G. C.||O'Donovan, Dr. William James|
|Barrie, Sir Charles Coupar||Goodman, Colonel Albert W.||Palmer, Francis Noel|
|Barton, Capt. Basil Kelsey||Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)||Penny, Sir George|
|Beaumont, R. E. B. (Portsm'th, Centr'l)||Granville, Edgar||Perkins, Walter R. D.|
|Belt, Sir Alfred L.||Grattan-Doyle, Sir Nicholas||Peters, Dr. Sidney John|
|Benn, Sir Arthur Shirley||Graves, Marjorie||Petherick, M.|
|Bernays, Robert||Grimston, R. V.||Peto, Geoffrey K.(W'verh'pt'n, Bilston)|
|Betterton, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry B.||Gritten, W. G. Howard||Pickford, Hon. Mary Ada|
|Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman||Guinness, Thomas L. E. B.||Powell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H.|
|Bird, Sir Robert B. (Wolverh'pton W.)||Hales, Harold K.||Power, Sir John Cecil|
|Blaker, Sir Reginald||Hanley, Dennis A.||Pybus, Percy John|
|Blindell, James||Heligers, Captain F. F. A.||Raikes, Hector Victor Alpin|
|Bossom, A. C.||Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Chelmsford)||Ramsay, Alexander (W. Bromwich)|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)|
|Bracken, Brendan||Herbert, George (Rotherham)||Ramsbotham, Herswald|
|Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough)||Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller||Rea, Walter Russell|
|Broadbent, Colonel John||Hope, Sydney (Chester, Stalybridge)||Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Hornby, Frank||Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Horobin, Ian M.||Rodd, Rt. Hon. Sir James Rennell|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Howard, Tom Forrest||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie||Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.||Ross, Ronald D.|
|Burnett, John George||Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport)||Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)|
|Butler, Richard Austen||Hume, Sir George Hopwood||Runge, Norah Cecil|
|Butt, Sir Alfred||Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)||Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy)|
|Campbell, Edward Taswell (Bromley)||Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm||Hurd, Percy A.||Rutherford, Sir John Hugo|
|Caporn, Arthur Cecil||Janner, Barnett||Salmon, Major Isldore|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Joel, Dudley J. Barnato||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)|
|Chalmers, John Rutherford||Johnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields)||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart|
|Chorlton, Alan Ernest Leofric||Kerr, Hamilton W.||Savery, Samuel Servington|
|Chotzner, Alfred James||Knatchbull, Captain Hon. M. H. R.||Scone, Lord|
|Clarke, Frank||Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.)||Selley, Harry R.|
|Clarry, Reginald George||Leckie, J. A.||Simmonds, Oliver Edwin|
|Caiman, N. C. D.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.|
|Colville, Major David John||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Smith, Sir Jonah W. (Barrow-in-F.)|
|Cook, Thomas A.||Lindsay, Noel Ker||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)|
|Cooke, James D.||Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Cunliffe-||Smithers, Waldron|
|Courthope, Colonel Sir George L.||Llewellin, Major John J.||Somervell, Donald Bradley|
|Craddock, Sir Reginald Henry||Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander||Stanley, Hon. O. F. C. (Westmorland)|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Lumley,, Captain Lawrence R.||Stewart, William J.|
|Crookshank, Col. C. de Windt (Bootle)||Lyons, Abraham Montagu.||Strauss, Edward A.|
|Cross, R. H.||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Seaham)||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Crossley, A. C.||MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Curry, A. C.||Maclay, Hon. Joseph Paton||Taylor, Vice-Admiral E. A. (P'dd'gt'n, S.)|
|Davies, Edward C. (Montgomery)||Maclean, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (Corn'll N.)||Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)|
|Davison, Sir William Henry||McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles|
|Dawson, Sir Philip||Macmillan, Maurice Harold||Thomson, Mitchell-, Rt. Hon. Sir W.|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Magnay, Thomas||Todd, A. L. S. (Kingswinford)|
|Denville, Alfred||Maitland, Adam||Touche, Gordon Cosmo|
|Dickle, John p.||Makins Brigadier-General Ernest||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|Donner, P. W.||Mallalieu, Edward Lancelot||Wallace, John (Dunfermline)|
|Doran, Edward||Mander, Geoffrey le M.||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)|
|Duckworth, George A. V.||Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.|
|Duggan, Hubert John||Margesson, Capt. Henry David R.||Watt, Captain George Steven H.|
|Eden, Robert Anthony||Marsden, Commander Arthur||Wayland, Sir William A.|
|Edmondson, Major A. J.||Martin, Thomas B.||Weymouth, Viscount|
|Emmott, Charles E. G. C.||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||White, Henry Graham|
|Entwistle, Cyril Fullard||Mills, Sir Frederick||Whiteside, Borras Noel H.|
Amendment as against the Motion, I am going in to do it."
Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
The House divided: Ayes, 218; Noes, 22.
|Whyte, Jardine Bell||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir H. Kingsley|
TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
|Wills, Wilfrid D.||Wood, Major M. McKenzie (Banff)||Captain Sir George Bowyer and|
|Wilson, Clyde T. (West Toxteth)||Worthington, Dr. John V.||Major George Davies.|
|Womersley, Walter James||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'noaks)|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South)||Edwards, Charles||McGovern, John|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Hicks, Ernest George||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield)||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Maxton, James|
|Buchanan, George||Kirkwood, David||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Josiah|
|Daggar, George||Lawson, John James||Williams, Dr. John H. (Llanelly)|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||Logan, David Gilbert|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||McEntee, Valentine L.|
TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
|Mr. John and Mr. Groves.|
Main Question again proposed.
I wish to know, Mr. Speaker, if it would be in order to move an Amendment to insert, in line 5, after the word "Adjournment," the words "or on receipt of a requisition signed by 40 Members of this House." Such an Amendment would give you power, if you received a requisition from 40 Members, to call the House together. If it is in order, I propose to hand in an Amendment to that effect.
The actual terms or the Amendment would he in order though it would be quite contrary to the usual practice. However, if the hon. Member wishes to move it he can do so.
I beg to move, in line 5, after the word "Adjournment," to insert the words:
I need not occupy much time in connection with this matter. The number of 40 may not, perhaps, be the best number for this purpose, but we feel that some power, apart from the power of the Government, ought to be vested in Members of Parliament to requisition a meeting of the House at a date earlier than that specified in the Motion."or on receipt of a requisition signed by 40 Members of this House."
I beg to second the Amendment.I believe it to be an unusual course to pursue, but at the same time I consider that the circumstances surrounding the national life of this country are also quite unusual and justify unusual courses. While there is power in your hands, Mr. Speaker, to call the House together if the Cabinet should so desire, still there is no power in the hands of the ordinary Members to convene a meeting of this House in what they believe to be circumstances that would justify its being called together. In nearly all local bodies there is that power to call together the assembly if they should deem it expedient or necessary, and therefore I think it is a power which the ordinary Members of this House ought to have. We are desirous, if circumstances should develop during the coming two months, that the House should have the power placed in the hands of Members who are elected by their constituencies, that if 40 of them can get together, and they believe that circumstances justify it, they, the rank and file, who derive their authority from their constituents, should have the right to be heard and have that power placed in their hands. I second the Amendment because I think it is of the essence and in the interests of real democracy.
I suggest that there is no necessity for accepting the Amendment. I think the House can very well leave the matter in the hands of the Government and of Mr. Speaker, and by that means ensure that if there is a real emergency, the House will be called together again. If the Amendment were accepted, it might very well be that 40 Members, who might have their own ideas as to the purposes for which the House ought to return, might compel the whole House to come back. Therefore, I suggest that we should reject the Amendment.
We only proposed to move this Amendment formally and to divide upon it, but the speech of the Postmaster-General compels me to reply, because he wiped the Amendment off with two or three airy sentences. Boiled down to its essence what he said was, "You can trust the Government." [HON. MEM- BERS: "Hear, hear!"] If my hon. Friends will permit me to say so, every Government starts—it is a weakness of our Parliamentary system—with everybody believing in it and trusting in it, and it finishes up with nobody believing in it and trusting in it. If you could reverse the process, it would be all to the good. If you started being very suspicious and making them prove themselves every inch of the road, you would find that it would be better for the general management of the country's affairs than this careless enthusiastic trust at the beginning, gradually degenerating into wholesale condemnation.I want the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster-General to notice that in putting down "40 Members" we did not have any selfish, narrow interests to serve, because with a minimum of 40 we cannot requisition the House for any fantastic reason. It takes a united official Opposition with 40 Members to get the House sitting, or, what is quite conceivable in this Parliament, 40 responsible governmental back benchers. The one set in this House that cannot convene is we who move the Amendment, although I know that whoever convenes it, if it comes together, we shall be here. It is not treating the House with respect to say that 40 Members of it are not capable of deciding what is a serious situation and what is not. You have irresponsibles in all parts of the House, but if you got 40 Members seriously appending their names to such a requisition, in my view it would be the bounden duty of the Government to take that requisition seriously and to have the House specially summoned. We are giving the House the opportunity of retaining some measure of power in its own hands. If it refuses to take that power, we cannot do any more, but we have done our best.
After hearing the speech of the Postmaster-General, and his off-hand way of treating us with contempt, I want to say that we do not stand for anybody treating us with contempt, although it may be for only five minutes. He said that he could not allow the House to be called together by 40 Members. There are not 40 of us, but it is not we who made that rule. Forty Members is a quorum of the House, and why the right hon. Gentleman should take upon himself to deliver such an utterance as that it would not be fitting for the House to be called together by 40 Members, I do not know. It was those who evidently had some better sense of proportion than the Postmaster-General who suggested that idea, and I hope that the House will see to it that the rights and privileges that belong to the House of Commons are retained. Every one of the rights and privileges of the private Members of this House are being torn from us. We are being denied every right, we are being shut out from criticism, we are going to be sent away out into the country, and we are not going to have the right of assembly here. All our idea of democratic representation is being nullified by this Government. First they got away with Orders-in-Council with a free hand, and we are standing here trying to stem this tide of reaction that is setting in to the political life of this country. In other words, it is tantamount to a dictatorship.I would again draw attention to the fact that there is just one Member of the Government, the one and only himself, now present. [Interruption.] Well, there are one or two. On such an important occasion it is essential that the whole Government should be here as far as possible. If they believed that this was such a serious crisis in the political and industrial life of the country, they would be here to answer the questions that they knew were bound to arise. Another telegram has been handed to me, and it makes a further reason in the midst of other reasons why it should be possible for the House to be brought together. It is a telegram from the Town Clerk of Clydebank about the Cunarder. With the permission of the House, I will read it.
The hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Colonel Thom) is in Scotland on Government business. After we have done all that we can to arrest the attention of the House, surely the Government will now concede our humble petition that 40 Members should be allowed to requisition a meeting of Parliament. We do not want to make the House sit continuously, for we want to give Members a chance to get away to their friends and have some fresh air; some of them require it badly; but we ask that the House should come back in the beginning of January. The class that I represent get only five or six days, but they are not holidays; they are idle days because they are not paid for. We are appealing for the working-class who are up against it as they were never up against it before. I have read an appeal from Sir James Bell, and now I present an appeal from the Town Council of Clydebank. They are not Socialists; they are men who are doing what they can to save Britain from wrack and ruin. This House sits idly by when it sees the prestige of Britain being held up to ridicule. That is what the stopping of this Cunarder means. We challenged the world that we would build a ship the like of which was never built before, and gain the blue riband of the Atlantic. No man knows the shipping interests better than the President of the Board of Trade, and he should respond to the request of Members in every quarter who are standing by me to do something to make it known that the Cunarder has to go on. It does not mean simply men being out of work in Clydebank. It means men walking the streets all over the country. I make an appeal to the Government on behalf of Britain—[Laughter.] I see some young Tories laughing. There is not a better specimen in the House of a Briton than I am, and no man has a better right to speak for Britain than I have. I worked for Britain until T was 40 years of age—"My Council requests that you would make representations to the Government with a view to their taking action to prevent any suspension of work on the new Cunarder. Unemployment is very rife in the borough and the surrounding districts, and any suspension would greatly accentuate the unemployment problem and cause increased distress at this time. I have wired Colonel Thom in similar terms and would be obliged if you would keep me advised of any Government action.—Town Clerk, Clydebank."
The Question before the House is whether 40 Members should be able to summon Parliament.
Division No. 44.]
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South)||John, William||Maxton, James|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield)||Kirkwood, David||Williams, Dr. John H. (Llanelly)|
|Buchanan, George||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Lawson, John James|
TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
|Daggar, George||McEntee, Valentine L.||Mr. McGovern and Mr. Groves.|
|Edwards, Charles||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)|
I will get back to the point. I want to thank you for allowing me to read that telegram and to put my point of view in the House. I have drawn attention to the serious state of affairs not only in my own constituency but in the country and every Member who takes any interest in the welfare of Britain knows that I am not exaggerating. It is for this reason that I support my colleagues in the Amendment. I hope that we shall not be required to divide the House. If we do, and we do not carry it, the responsibility rests with those who vote against us.
I am sure that at the back of the minds of the majority of Members of the House there is an uneasy feeling and an anxiety that before we leave the precincts of the House we should be in a position to face our constituents with the certainty that something definite either has been done or is going to be done in the near future. That is more to us than all the questions that are to be settled later on, such as the arrangements of finance and the problem of war debts. Make no mistake, this National Government will be held responsible for all the troubles that come on this country—
The Amendment before the House is that 40 Members should be allowed to summon Parliament. That is the only Question before the House.
I was going to say that the House should be able to go away with a feeling that something is going to be done with regard to protective duties on steel. That is the whole trouble to-day. If the advice of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) bad been taken, and a duty put on finished steel products, we should have accomplished something.
Question put, "That those words be there inserted."
The House divided: Ayes, 17; Noes, 208.
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.)||Edmondson, Major A. J.||Morris, Owen Temple (Cardiff, E.)|
|Albery, Irving James||Emmott, Charles E. G. C.||Morris, Rhys Hopkin (Cardigan)|
|Alexander, Sir William||Entwistle, Cyril Fullard||Morrison, William Shephard|
|Allen, William (Stoke-on-Trent)||Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare)||Muirhead, Major A. J.|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Erskine-Bolst, Capt. C. C. (Blackpool)||Munro, Patrick|
|Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K.||Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univ.)||Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)|
|Apsley, Lord||Ferguson, Sir John||North, Captain Edward T.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Flanagan, W. H.||Nunn, William|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Foot, Dingle (Dundee)||O'Donovan, Dr. William James|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Fraser, Captain ran||Palmer, Francis Noel|
|Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet)||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Penny, Sir George|
|Balniel, Lord||Fuller, Captain A. E. G.||Perkins, Walter R. D.|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Peters, Dr. Sidney John|
|Barrie, Sir Charles Coupar||Gluckstein, Louis Halle||Petherick, M.|
|Barton, Capt. Basil Kelsey||Glyn, Major Ralph G. C.||Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Bilston)|
|Beaumont, R. E. B. (Portsm'th, Centr'l)||Goodman, Colonel Albert W.||Pickford, Hon. Mary Ada|
|Belt, Sir Alfred L.||Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)||Powell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H|
|Benn, Sir Arthur Shirley||Granville, Edgar||Power, Sir John Cecil|
|Bernays, Robert||Grattan-Doyle, Sir Nicholas||Pybus, Percy John|
|Betterton, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry B.||Grimston, R. V.||Raikes, Hector Victor Alpin|
|Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman||Guinness, Thomas L. E. B.||Ramsay, Alexander (W. Bromwich)|
|Bird, Sir Robert B. (Wolverh'pton W.)||Hales, Harold K.||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)|
|Blaker, Sir Reginald||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Rea, Walter Russell|
|Blinded, James||Hanley, Dennis A.||Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)|
|Bossom, A. C.||Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.||Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Chelmsford)||Rodd, Rt. Hon. Sir James Rennell|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Bracken, Brendan||Herbert, George (Rotherham)||Ross, Ronald D.|
|Braithwaite, J. C. (Hillsborough)||Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller||Runge, Norah Cecil|
|Broadbent, Colonel John||Hope, Sydney (Chester, Stalybridge)||Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy)|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Hornby, Frank||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Horobin, Ian M.||Rutherford, Sir John Hugo|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Howard, Tom Forrest||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)|
|Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie||Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport)||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart|
|Burnett, John George||Hume, Sir George Hopwood||Savery, Samuel Servington|
|Burton, Colonel Henry Walter||Hurd, Percy A.||Scone, Lord|
|Butler, Richard Austen||Janner, Barnett||Simmonds, Oliver Edwin|
|Butt, Sir Alfred||Joel, Dudley J. Barnato||Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.|
|Campbell, Edward Taswell (Bromley)||Johnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields)||Smith, Sir Jonah W. (Barrow-in-F.)|
|Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm||Kerr, Hamilton W.||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)|
|Caporn, Arthur Cecil||Knatchbull, Captain Hon. M. H. R.||Smithers, Waldron|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Lambert, Rt. Hon. George||Stanley, Hon. O. F. C. (Westmorland)|
|Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)||Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.)||Stourton, Hon. John J.|
|Chalmers, John Rutherford||Leckie, J. A.||Strauss, Edward A.|
|Chorlton, Alan Ernest Leofric||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Chotzner, Alfred James||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Clarke, Frank||Lindsay, Noel Ker||Taylor, Vice-Admiral E. A. (P'dd'gt'n, S.)|
|Clarry, Reginald George||Liewellin, Major John J.||Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)|
|Colman, N. C. D.||Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles|
|Colville, Major David John||Lumley, Captain Lawrence R.||Thomson, Mitchell-, Rt. Hon. Sir W.|
|Cook, Thomas A.||Lyons, Abraham Montagu||Todd, A. L. S. (Kingswinford)|
|Cooke, James D.||Mabane, William||Touche, Gordon Cosmo|
|Courthope, Colonel Sir George L.||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Seaham)||Wallace, John (Dunfermline)|
|Craddock, Sir Reginald Henry||MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Maclay, Hon. Joseph Paton||Watt, Captain George Steven H.|
|Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Maclean, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (Corn'll N.)||Weymouth, Viscount|
|Crookshank, Col. C. de Windt (Bootle)||McLean, Dr. W H. (Tradeston)||Whiteside, Borras Noel H.|
|Cross, R. H.||Macmillan, Maurice Harold||Whyte, Jardine Bell|
|Crossley, A. C.||Magnay, Thomas||Wills, Wilfrid D.|
|Curry, A. C.||Maitland, Adam||Wilson, Clyde T. (West Toxteth)|
|Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. C. C.||Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest||Wise, Alfred R.|
|Davies, Edward C. (Montgomery)||Mander, Geoffrey le M.||Womersley, Walter James|
|Davison, Sir William Henry||Margesson, Capt. Henry David R.||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir H. Kingsley|
|Dawson, Sir Philip||Marsden, Commander Arthur||Wood, Major M. McKenzie (Banff)|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Martin, Thomas B.||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Dickle, John P.||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'noaks)|
|Donner, P. W.||Mills, Sir Frederick|
|Doran, Edward||Milne, John Sydney Wardlaw-|
TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
|Duckworth, George A. V.||Mitchell, Harold P.(Br'tfd & Chisw'k)||Sir Victor Warrender and Major George Davies.|
|Duggan, Hubert John||Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.|
|Eden, Robert Anthony||Morris, John Patrick (Salford, N.)|
Main Question put, and agreed to.
"That this House at its rising this day do adjourn until Tuesday 2nd February next; provided always that, if it appears to the satisfaction of Mr. Speaker, after consulation with His Majesty's Government, that the public interest requires that the House should meet at any earlier time during the Adjournment, Mr. Speaker may give notice that he is so satisfied, and thereupon the House shall meet at the time stated in such notice and shall transact its business as if it had been duly adjourned to that time, and any Government Orders of the Day and Notices of Motion that may stand on the Order Book for the 2nd day of February or any subsequent day shall be appointed for the day on which the House shall so meet."
Broadcasting (Political Addresses)
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Captain Margesson.]
I desire to raise a question concerning broadcasting. I do not intend in any way to attack the governors or the directors of the British Broadcasting Corporation. They have a very delicate and difficult task, and I think that on the whole they perform it admirably. I have no desire, either, to make a party speech, because I feel that the point I am raising concerns Members of all parties, and is of great importance to the country. Our system of broadcasting has been made a State monopoly. The reasons for that, I imagine, were partly technical and partly grounds of public policy. I suppose that people realised the immense potentialities for good or evil of the wireless service. It is quite clear that with a service providing entertainment and information for nearly 4,000,000 households in the British Isles you have an extraordinarily powerful instrument for moulding public opinion. A dictator could want nothing better than to get hold of the broadcasting system. With it he could outdo all dictators in the past, because he would have direct access to the minds of so many people. When the charter establishing the British Broadcasting Corporation was granted it was decided to put broadcasting into the hands of a body of independent persons. To a certain extent they are under the Postmaster-General, but his powers of interference are very limited.Originally it was thought that the British Broadcasting Corporation should not deal at all in controversial matters. Of course, that at once put the directors of the British Broadcasting Corporation on the horns of a dilemma, because so many people were interested in controversial questions, and consequently they introduced a certain amount of controversial subjects. Since then the programmes of the British Broadcasting Corporation have contained more and more controversial matter. When the Crawford Committee was set up, they recommended that a certain amount of controversial matter should be broadcast provided that it was of a high quality and distributed with scrupulous fairness. From time to time questions were asked in the House of Commons as to whether the British Broadcasting Corporation was using its powers fairly or not in this respect, and those questions had to be answered by various Postmasters-General, including myself. I think we all agreed that the British Broadcasting Corporation was endeavouring to hold the scales very fairly between the political parties. Of course, complaints were made when the Conservatives were in office that broadcasting was being used for an insidious propaganda on behalf of the Conservatives, and when the Labour party was in office the suggestion was made that there was some subtle influence at work on the directors of the British Broadcasting Corporation from Moscow. For a considerable time there was no political broadcasting, but, later on, it was decided to allow a certain amount. Of course, it is very difficult to be absolutely fair and impartial in a matter of this kind. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Croydon (Sir W. Mitchell-Thomson) was Postmaster-General, he laid down that the political parties must agree among themselves, and he said that it was quite impossible for the matter to be left in the hands of the Government. The question was discussed from time to time, and, although it was suggested that there should be a reasonable apportionment of time to the various political parties, no agreement was come to. The matter was discussed, for instance, prior to the 1929 election, and the parties disagreed. The Government said that, if there were to be political broadcasting, they must answer every attack on the Government, and that, therefore, for each Labour speech there must be a Conservative speech, and for each Liberal speech there must be a Conservative speech. On the other hand, it was said, particularly by the Secretary of State for Scotland, that the balance must be held even, and one speech allowed for each party. As a matter of fact, before the 1929 election, broadcast speeches were made on a plan which was only adopted under protest from the Liberal and Labour parties, and which resulted in a series of eight broadcasts, of which four were Conservative, two were Liberal, and two were Labour. During the actual election there were three speeches by three ladies, and three speeches, one Liberal, one Labour, and one Conservative, by men. After that, the question was again raised in the House, it was discussed through the "usual channels"—I was one of the "usual channels"—and an endeavour was made to arrive at a reasonable, normal allocation of political broadcasting between the various parties in what I might call peacetime, that is to say, not at election time. I think the nearest approach to agreement was on an allocation of five Conservative, five Labour and three Liberal speeches, or something like that, but the matter was always complicated because of the difficulty of providing for small groups. There was the question what should be done in regard to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill); there was the question what should be done in regard to Lord Beaver-brook—
And the Clydesiders.
Quite. There was the question what should be done in regard to the economists; there was the question what should be done in regard to Sir Oswald Mosley. The matter was discussed, but no decision was come to. Then we arrived at the very difficult position that arose at the time of the general election and the change of Government, because the idea of an equal allocation between the three parties was altered owing to the establishment of a coalition. I grant that the British Broadcasting Corporation were faced with a unique position, such as has probably not occurred before in this country, though I gather that it has occurred quite often in China, where the leaders of one side suddenly cross over and join the other side. They were faced with the question of what should be done. The contention still was that there should be an endeavour to arrive at a reasonable allocation, and a proportion was suggested which I think was generous on our part, namely two Labour, two Liberal, and two Conservative speeches. During the actual election, however, there were 11 political speeches, and all but three of them went to supporters of the present Government.That is a very serious situation. I do not want to put it on the narrow point of view of what happened to our party, but I want hon. and right hon. Gentlemen to think what may happen to them next time, because there is a profound instability about this National Government, and gentlemen who are now on the Government Bench may find themselves sitting below the Gangway while the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) leads the Government, or it may he the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft). Everyone will agree that conditions political are not very stable, and, therefore, there is a need for arriving at some security of principle in this matter. What happened in fact was that there was no idea of fair play at all, but that someone or other made an allocation, as between the Government parties and the Opposition parties, in the proportion, as I have said, of eight to three. Of course, if the Conservatives had followed the line that they took at the previous election, they would have said that the right thing would have been that the Government should answer each Opposition speech, and they would have treated the Government as one and not as a Coalition, so that there would have been a one-and-one arrangement, because there was a one-and-one fight. But they departed from that, and I want to know on whose authority that was done—whether it was done by the Government or by the British Broadcasting Corporation or whether any pressure was brought to bear on them or why was this allocation made. Before the Election there were a considerable number of broadcasts of a strongly political tendency. Lord Snowden, and later the Prime Minister and others, made what were, in effect, party speeches. Further than that, there was the very curious incident on 2nd September of the broadcast by Professor Clay. We had the privilege of hearing various economists on the situation upstairs, and we beard Professor Keynes and Professor Clay. It was a thoroughly desirable thing that the public should have known what the controversy at the Election was about from the economic point of view by hearing various pundits and professors setting out their views. I should like to know whether it is a fact that at first the idea was that several people should broadcast and why eventually the only economist who broadcast was the economist who, as a matter of fact, is more or less an employé of the Bank of England. That was not holding the balance fair. The final point I want to make is a very serious matter. That is what has been known as the last word which came over the broadcast on the very eve of the poll. The very last words were:
I quite agree that no one could take exception to that, but the point is that the words were used as a slogan. [An [HON. MEMBERS: "Who said that?"] It was said, I do not know on whose authority, by the announcer. Members of the Conservative party remember the days when the Liberals used to stand on the slogan of "Peace, Retrenchment and Reform." They might agree with all those things, but a final broadcast of "Peace, Retrenchment and Reform" would have had a very party meaning. In the same way we on these Benches might have adopted some particular slogan. I have a letter from a man who is not at all inclined to our point of view —quite the contrary. He was listening in, and he says he nearly jumped out of his skin. He turned to his wife and said, "This is the worst thing the British Broadcasting Corporation has done yet." That was the effect of it on him. There can be no doubt to anyone who heard the intonation of voice that that was a political message on behalf of one party. I do not want to argue the rights and wrongs of it from a party point of view, but I put it to hon. Members that you have here a very serious situation. You have never had an instrument like the British Broadcasting Corporation before. It is as if there was only one newspaper in the country which might be controlled by, say, Lord Beaverbrook. If there is one monopolistic instrument such as this, it is of paramount importance, if we are to have reasonable and decent government, that it should be used with absolute impartiality. I want information on these points. I think the British Broadcasting Corporation on the whole have used their power extraordinarily well and have tried to be impartial. The importance of this instance is that for a very large number of us it has shaken our belief in their impartiality. They may have been subject to force majeure. I do not know, but I should like to know. With regard to the general question of the future of political broadcasting, the parties have tried, through the usual channels, to get a reasonable allocation, but it is a very difficult thing to do. I think political broadcasting must go on, but, if so, there should be some proper means of controlling it. I suggest either that there should be set up an advisory committee of Members of all parties to advise on the allocation of political speeches and so forth, or that there should be a Commission set up who should go into the whole question and report on political broadcasting. It is not only a question between the Opposition and the Government, or even between the major political parties. A difficult question may crop up such as that concerning the position of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who is a semi-detached Member of the Conservative party and is, so to speak, on the transfer list. There is the question of Sir Oswald Mosley, and there is the question of the Independent Labour party versus the Labour party. Our contention is that the British Broadcasting Company should be the broadest possible forum for the discussion of political questions, and that there must be some power to secure absolute impartiality. It would be absolutely fatal if we got the idea that at any time, somehow or other, some influence might be brought to bear upon the British Broadcasting Corporation to depart from impartiality. Everyone knows that at a time of crisis people may lose their heads and so forth, and we want the British Broadcasting Corporation to be absolutely above that sort of thing, and to exercise absolute and complete impartiality. Look at the alternatives. If anyone is going to demand the right of the Government always to have the last word, and that the Government should have a double right of reply, we shall get into the position which obtains in some Continental countries where the Government never goes out. In Czechoslovakia the other day there was only one list of candidates, and every one was obliged to vote for those candidates. If we are going to have one method of propaganda, by far the most important method of propaganda to-day, broadcasting, if you allow it to slip into the hands of the Government, anyone who is against the Government temporarily or permanently will be in a position of grave inferiority. It is a subject well worthy of consideration by those who believe in democratic institutions to see that we have not in the British Broadcasting Corporation created a Frankenstein which is going to break up our political life. On the general question of broadcasting, I will say that I have a very great admiration for the British Broadcasting Corporation, and that I do not wish to criticise it at all. I realise that if the British Broadcasting Corporation is criticised it will tend to do just what is not wanted, that is, to drive it into a safety first policy. Everybody knows that that is the effect of criticism. In the British Broadcasting Corporation we have, probably, the most important instrument for the moulding of the national character and for the development of national life. It is most important that the people who control it should not be driven by criticism into a kind of safety first attitude. The ideal should be the open forum. New ideas always offend a certain number of people. If you are running a newspaper or anything like that, you probably have a certain number of old readers who, if you introduce some new features, will probably write objecting. If you continue to think, only of the old readers, they die off in time, and your newspaper dies off as well. The difficulty is that the old reader in looking through his newspaper is bound to see those things which offend him. The great advantage of broadcasting is that the person who does not like an idea has simply to switch off. In every phase of life which is dealt with by broadcasting, whether it be philosophy, religion, politics or science, there must only be room for the heterodox. There must not be only the orthodox. There must not be the idea that on any subject you must rule out the extremist and put in only the safe person. If so, you get a dull level of mediocrity and your biggest minds and biggest brains will not come to the microphone. The British Broadcasting Corporation were very wise in having debates and discussions in which you get the play of one mind against another. That is the real way to get over the difficulty, so that people can get new ideas. I believe that there has been criticism of the British Broadcasting Corporation in regard to talks on books and plays. It is said that there have been talks on plays which are not such that a young girl might take her mother to see them. You always get that sort of objection. The things that scandalise our grandmothers to-day are, no doubt, very different from the things which scandalised their grandmothers. Grandmothers are made to be scandalised by the rising generation. The most important thing for the British Broadcasting Corporation is that it should keep in hail with youth. We are approaching a time when changes are due in the membership of the British Broadcasting Corporation. In the interests of the country there should be representation of youth on the British Broadcasting Corporation. At the present time the generation that has grown up under post-War conditions is not represented on the governing body. I know nothing about the staff and I do not know whether youth is represented there or not, but I do know that the governing body, excellent people, have the disadvantages which come to all of us, that they are rather old. We ought to have some young blood there. I am getting old-fashioned myself and I am scandalised sometimes with what is done by the rising generation, but I am younger, I believe, than the youngest member of the governing body of the British Broadcasting Corporation. You must have plenty of youth on the British Broadcasting Corporation. It is far better that the Corporation should err through experiment and innovation than through timidity and mediocrity. One of their great functions is to make us think and to make the rising generation adjust themselves to the very quickly changing circumstances in which they find themselves. That can only be done by allowing the greatest possible medium of thought and discussion, by the British Broadcasting Corporation holding the balance fairly and by giving each side its chance, but never erring on the side of timidity."On your action or failure to act may depend your own and your children's future and the security and prosperity of your country."
On a point of Order. Is there to be no opportunity of raising any question other than the one that has been raised, before the right hon. Gentleman replies? There are other important questions.
Unfortunately, there is not time. The time of the House has been taken up by other speakers.
May we take it as a precedent that what the hon. Member has said is true, that we can have Debates on broadcasting by raising the Postmaster-General's Vote?
I do not think the hon. Member can say anything of the kind. I should have to hear it before I could say whether it is in order or not.
Is it to be taken as a precedent that according to the hon. Member criticism of the British Broadcasting Association is to be deplored and shut out from this House altogether?
No, I do not think that it the case. It must all depend upon what form the Debate takes.
He deplored criticism. There are serious matters regarding the administration and finance of the British Broadcasting Corporation and its relationship to national questions.
I cannot give a general ruling on that until I hear the Debate.
May I put it to you Mr. Speaker, that there are always two opportunities in the year on which the question of the general policy and administration of the British Broadcasting Corporation can be raised, one being the Expiring Laws Bill, in which the whole control of wireless telegraphy and wireless broadcasting is raised and the other the Postmaster-General's salary.
Take the agreement of June of this year and the sums which become payable on the 1st of January next under that agreement. Will there be any opportunity of discussing the sums that will become payable under that agreement because there are some of us who think that they are ultra vires?
The late Postmaster-General has given his opinion that we can raise questions of broadcasting on the Postmaster-General's salary. Is that therefore a confession from the hon. Member, and a lead to you Mr. Speaker, that the Postmaster-General is actually responsible for the policy of the British Broadcasting Corporation?
I do not think it is. The question can be raised in the future as it has been in the past. It entirely depends on the course of the Debate, and whether it is in order or not.
May I ask what opportunity there will be for discussion in this House? For instance, there are some hon. Members who think the British Broadcasting Corporation are acting ultra vires to its Charter in the administration of its funds. If that is so, it is a serious matter. What opportunity is there of raising that issue of first-class importance?
I shall have to wait and see.
I must apologise for rising at this moment. I am desirous of dealing with any criticisms which may be raised, but I understand that the Secretary of State for the Dominions is snaking a statement in regard to an important matter and it places me in a position of some difficulty in having to intervene between other hon. Members and the criticisms they desire to make. I hope there will be another opportunity for discussing this matter, as I shall be quite prepared to meet any criticisms that are made. The hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) somewhat perplexes me. He commenced by saying that he had no attack to make on the Governors of the British Broadcasting Corporation, and did not desire to make any party speech. He thought that on the whole they had done their work very well. Then the remainder of his speech was an attack of an indefinite nature upon some persons in connection with the political broadcast at the last General Election. The hon. Member knows full well that during the time my right hon. Friend was Postmaster-General and for a number of years the programmes of the British Broadcasting Corporation, which include political broadcasts, under the terms of its charter and under the directions that have been given to the governors, by the Postmaster-General, has been left entirely to the Governors. That is a wise procedure. It would be an intolerable position for the Postmaster-General of the day to be constantly asked as to whether Jack Payne's band should play on Sundays, and matters of that kind. Therefore, as far as the daily programmes are concerned they 'are a matter for the Governors and, as far as I am concerned, I hope that policy will continue to prevail.
Are we to take it that there was no direction under Section (3) to the Governors or interference of any sort?
As far as I am aware, and I have made inquiries, there was not. I have made very full inquiries and I can say that from start to finish the Government of the day took no action whatever in regard to political broadcasts. The arrangements for the broadcasts at the last General Election were made in the same way as they have always been made—namely, with the representatives of the parties; and the Government of the day had no part or lot in them. All parties made protests that due consideration was not given to their claims, but these political broadcasts were made on the same basis as that on which they have been made always, namely, the basis of parties. The hon. Gentleman has complained of three things: First, of the speeches before the election; secondly, of the speeches during the election; and thirdly, of some announcement which was made on the eve of the poll. Before the election the Prime Minister spoke on the formation of the National Government and the Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke on his Budget. They were both national occasions of the first importance, and it was in accordance with precedent that these broadcasts were made. It is true that two other gentlemen spoke on economic matters. Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland gave an address on "Wise spending", and Sir Josiah Stamp and Professor Clay spoke on matters in relation to the Gold Standard.During the election, I believe, particular care was taken to include impartially the speeches of all parties. The arrangements for the political speeches on the eve of the election followed the precedent of the last three General Elections, and in all the circumstances the best arrangements were made. In the result criticisms were made by all sides. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) made the criticism, with a good deal of force, that the Conservatives were badly treated. The fact is that at the last election, although the Conservatives were the largest party, they had only two speeches, and the Labour party had three speeches. Certainly there was no interference by the Government. The most extraordinary complaint of all was that which I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman allowed himself to make, and that was that on the eve of the election a statement was made by the British Broadcasting Corporation as to how voters should vote at the election. This is what was said:
I do not know whether any objection is taken to that. This also was said:"In short, all electors should record their vote and if possible record it early in the day."
Do I understand that the Labour party did not themselves say things very much to that effect? Was the policy which they enunciated on the eve of the poll not of that character? I have not time to go into details, but if the hon. Member will refer to the Labour party's manifesto at the General Election he will find in it almost that exact phrase. The only other criticism, and I noticed that the hon. Member dropped it this afternoon, was that someone in a trade union organ actually went to the extent of saying:"On your action or your failure to act may depend your own and your children's future, and the security and prosperity of your country."
I wish I had a little more time to devote to this matter. One thing I would say is that it is not the number of times that you broadcast that matters so much but what you have to say when you do broadcast. The hon. Gentleman who raised this question ought to congratulate himself that his party did not have more broadcasts than they did. I feel confident that two more broadcasts at the last election would have wiped out Labour representation entirely. I do not think it is very sporting to come forward and make complaints. The thing that struck me most after the General Election was the advice which the official organ of the Labour party gave to its own supporters. I think it was on 29th October that they said, in what I think was a very manly article, and I commend it to the hon. Gentleman and his party when they come forward to make all these complaints:"The other outstanding aspect of political broadcasting which could not pass without comment in a working-class journal was the unconcealed pleasure in the voice of the gentlemen responsible for announcing the election results on the evening of Tuesday, 27th October. A better example of bias and partiality it would be hard to find."
What was needed was not more broadcasts or anything of that kind. What they said was that the policy of the Labour party needed"Let us have no chatter or excuses as to the result of this election."
If the hon. Gentleman will devote himself to that, rather than to criticising the broadcasts of the British Broadcasting Corporation, he will no doubt achieve more on behalf of his party."to be brought up to date and adapted to the existing economic situation of the world."
Imperial Economic Conference
In the few minutes that remain of this part of the Session I will not trespass for many moments on the indulgence of the House. I wish to raise the question of Imperial affairs. The right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) earlier this afternoon, said that the Government had given no indication of its, policy on any major issue. I look forward therefore with keen interest to the statement, that, we were told at Question Time to-day, the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs is to make, in the few minutes which remain at our disposal. Hon. Members from all parts of the House regret the cancellation of the Minister's proposed tour of the Dominions, not only because of the pleasure it would have given him, but because they realise how necessary it is for Members of the Government to understand the point of view of the Dominions before the time conies for the Imperial Conference. No one is better fitted to plead that point of view than the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, who is justly renowned for his tact and good-fellowship. The Conference at Ottawa next year comes just at a time when such shackles as existed have been swept away, much to the horror of some hon. Members who sit below the Gangway. The field is now clear and open for a new arrangement, and a new demand has sprung up in this House, throughout the country and in the Dominions, for new economic links, to take the place of the broken political links. The opportunity of the coming Conference is great, and I feel sure there is no one better able to make the most of that opportunity than the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, now that he is freed from the clogging dead-weight of hon. Members of the Opposition, which hampered his action in the autumn of 1930.
I am sure the House will agree with me in welcoming the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Joel). It is very fitting that he should have chosen as the subject of his maiden speech—and we are sorry that it should have been very much curtailed by the limitations of time—an imperial matter to which we know he has given great consideration. We not only welcome his intervention on this occasion, hut we look forward to further contributions from him in our discussions. In the few minutes at my disposal I wish to answer the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), who expressed what I may describe as grave apprehension as to the attitude of the Government and their lack of preparation or declaration in regard to this matter. In short, my right hon. Friend left for his Christmas holiday, a real Imperialist, very greatly disturbed. I think that is a fair summary of his position. Nothing would disturb me more than to feel that my right hon. Friend above everybody else was uncomfortable at this festive season. If for no other reason than to help him to have a pleasant Christmas, I think I had better make perfectly clear the Government's views on this question.We attach great importance to the Conference: I have no hesitation in saying that failure at the next Imperial Economic Conference at Ottawa is something which must not be contemplated and something which, by the very nature of things, would be absolutely disastrous. Because of that fact it must be recognised and clearly understood that detailed preparations to ensure its success must be undertaken by the Government in advance. No one knows better than my right hon. Friend that, however magnificent may be the ideal of Imperial unity, Imperial co-operation and Imperial sentiment, there are a hundred and one difficulties which must be surmounted in order to attain that ideal. There are no two Dominions whose interests are the same. Canada and Australia doubtless will very readily say, "We are interested mainly in wheat." But it is no good going to South Africa and New Zealand and the Irish Free State and saying, "We have agreed upon a wheat policy." They will immediately say to you, "What about our particular interests?" Equally, it must be kept in mind that, in the main, the great contribution that we can make to their success is in the direction of helping them with their food stuffs. That is essentially the main thing so far as they are concerned, but from our point of view the most important and indeed the only factor is what they will do with regard to our manufactured articles, and in that connection we must also not lose sight of the fact that we are likely—and we may as well face it right away—to strike this situation: In their independent action, in their freedom, they are gradually building up secondary industries to them, but which compete with us; in other words, I do not complain—and I am not going to complain, because I have no right to complain—but I cannot blind myself to facts, and when they say, "Our policy must be Canada first or Australia first and you second," I have to keep clearly in mind what is the interest of this country equally with them. But those very problems, difficult as they are, conflicting often one with another, are secondary, in my judgment, to the overriding importance of keeping in mind the British sentiment, a desire to foster and cement the Empire, a recognition of all the advantages of British citizenship. All those things, in my judgment, compel us to realise that we must all go to the forthcoming Conference, not in a haggling, niggling spirit, but with a single-minded desire to say to each other, "The overriding factor above everything else is a real Imperial unity that must aim at the advantage of us all." If that is the spirit in which we intend to approach this problem, then I am quite sure success will result. In that connection, I may remind the House of the spirit in which the Government are tackling this problem. In the first week of the new Parliament they set up a Ministerial Committee, of which I have the honour to be chairman. We have met every week hammering out every detail of this problem from the Ministerial point of view. We have had working with that Committee, not only weekly and daily, but hourly, an interdepartmental committee that is hammering out all the details that are necessary for a fair examination of the problem. In addition, I have invited every Dominion to send to this country representatives, competent, practical representatives, who can sit down with all the material that is at our disposal in this country and hammer out, from their own particular point of view, all the details that are necessary for a fair examination; and over and above that I have given them the offer of the services of our own Trade Commissioners in every Dominion, so that they on the spot can equally hammer out the details. That, I submit, is the best evidence of our anxiety to show that no detailed examination will be lacking to ensure success. Let me go beyond that. What is the gesture that we have made? My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced on behalf of the Government, a few days ago, that no commitments of any sort or kind would be made that hampered or prejudiced a free and unfettered discussion at Ottawa when it took place. Surely there could be no greater confidence in them than that, when we know what is taking place all over the world to-day. Beyond that, what does the House of Commons say, following the advice of the Government? All the anti-dumping legislation passed by the House had one great exception. It was that it did not apply to the Dominions, and it did not differentiate as between one Dominion and another. We did not say whether the Dominions should be on gold or off gold. We took the broad general view, and said that this is applicable to all. I want to say to the Dominions quite clearly and definitely, having regard to what they did and what they may have been compelled to do, that they must not be unmindful of that magnificent gesture which we made to them in the direction I have indicated. We know perfectly well that we shall be face to face in Ottawa with many problems. Let me take the question of the wheat quota. The Government have decided, subject to a satisfactory arrangement being made and to a real and genuine quid pro quo, that they are prepared to go to Ottawa and offer to the Dominions a guaranteed quota of wheat. No one who was present at the last Economic Conference can minimise the value that that is to the Dominions. No one can gainsay that they attach considerable importance to it—the guarantee not at fixed prices, but at world prices. The details will be hammered out with them and with the representatives of the millers here. We all deplore the advertisements appearing in the Press in the last two days. I made it perfectly clear to the millers that, just as this and the late Govern- ment would not allow any trade union body to dictate its policy, so I told the millers quite clearly that that principle applied to them as well as to anyone else. The House will be pleased to know that I have a letter, which will ultimately appear in the Press, stating that whatever views the millers may have had with regard to the quota, they are prepared to work and to co-operate with the Government in making the scheme a success. I am sorry that I have not more time to develop this question. I have given sufficient indication of the Government's determination to make a great success of this Conference. All the sacrifice must not be on one side. Let there be no mistake. We may be called upon to give up ideas and ideals and fiscal views, but let us do it clearly realising the advantages. Do not let the Dominions forget the great sacrifices that we shall be called upon to make. We shall enter the Conference in that spirit, with a single-minded desire, not to see what we can get out of it, but what we can give. In a changing world such as ours, with Europe in turmoil and difficulties all over the world, who can blame us, representing as we do a quarter of the population of the world with all the potentialities and all the possibilities that our Empire offers, for saying that we intend to utilise to the full the advantages for the Empire as a whole?
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at One minute before Four o'Clock, until Tuesday, 2nd February, pursuant to the Resolution of the House this day.