British Settlements Bill
Considered in Committee; reported, without Amendment; read the Third time, and passed.
Chartered And Other Bodies (Resumption Of Elections) Bill (Lords)
Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."This Bill is short and, I am informed, non-controversial which will be rather a change. Just as it was necessary to suspend municipal elections at the outbreak of the war, so it was necessary to suspend elections to various statutory bodies. As a result, the Chartered and Other Bodies (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1939, was passed to enable Orders in Council to be made to suspend elections to various statutory bodies of members and officers, where such postponement appeared to be necessary. Under these provisions Orders in Council were made postponing the elections to various bodies, principally dock and harbour boards, drainage authorities and bodies concerned with the conservation of common lands and open spaces. Some of these Orders have already expired and, in the majority of cases, there is no difficulty of resuming normal elections, and this will be done as early as possible. There are, however, some legal difficulties which still remain. The difficulties arise, mainly, in the case of dock and harbour authorities. Shipowners and companies who use the harbours and normally pay the fees have a right to elect to these authorities their own members and other people who have interests in the harbours. Since the war, ships have been requisitioned by the Government or are under charter to the Government and, as a result, fees are paid not by the shipowners, but by the Government. As the payment of dues is a qualification for the purposes of election to boards, shipowners at the moment are not entitled to elect or be elected to these bodies. It is necessary therefore to rectify by Orders in Council something which, by reason of the war and the circumstances arising out of the war, has deprived the people who were entitled by special Statute to be on the harbour boards. There are one or two other matters which require adjustment by Order in Council. Where, for instance, bodies are appointed for three years, it is desirable that the election should take place as early as possible, but the date of the election may not coincide with the date which is appointed by the special statute. As a result, for the first election a shorter period will have to be provided for until the proper statutory date comes round when the election can take place. It will be necessary to make adjustments in that regard. There are some bodies, too, which, after the postponement of elections, have continued to elect to those bodies, but have not subscribed to the requirements of the Statute, many of which have been almost not understandable because of their number. In consequence, elections have taken place which are not strictly legal. It will be necessary to regularise by means of Orders in Council the position where such things have taken place. It is unnecessary to say that Orders in Council under the Bill will only be granted where the necessity for them is clearly shown. In those cases it will be necessary to lay the Order before both Houses of Parliament, and thus every safeguard will be provided against abuse.
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his clear explanation of the purposes of the Bill which, as he says, is of a non-controversial character. The Chartered and Other Bodies Act, 1939—in the discussions on which, I seem to recollect, the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary took a considerable part, with special reference to the position of the Electricity Commissioners—had two main operative Sections. The first dealt with chartered bodies and provided that the Lord President of the Council might modify the constitution of those bodies without the necessity of their promoting a special Act of Parliament. I should like to be informed by the right hon. Gentleman whether it is intended that that Section shall be of a perpetual character, or whether it is intended at any time to revert to the pre-war position. That Act was passed owing to war conditions and the difficulties in war-time of promoting special Acts of Parliament, in order to modify the constitution of chartered bodies.Section 2 dealt, on the other hand, with bodies constituted under Statute and these are the bodies primarily dealt with by the Bill. The main object of this Measure, as I understand it, is to enable elections to be resumed to these statutory bodies—harbour authorities, drainage boards and bodies of that character. On that matter we have no objections to offer to the Bill. I would only draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to one phrase in it which seems to me capable of varying constructions. It is provided, under Clause 1, that where certain circumstances have arisen—
I am not happy about the word "satisfactory," because what the right hon.Gentleman might regard as a satisfactory election might not be so regarded by my hon. Friends on this side of the House. I suggest that when we come to the Committee stage we might try to devise some happier phrase to ensure that the Act does what it is intended to do."His Majesty may by Order in Council make such modifications in the provisions of the special Act…as appear to him to be necessary or expedient for the purpose of enabling satisfactory elections to be held."
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the response he has given to this Bill. With regard to Section 1 of the principal Act, I understand that it is not necessary for any further statutory enactment to be made in order to ensure that the previous practice shall come into operation. I will, however, look at the point which the right hon. Gentleman has raised between now and the Committee stage. With regard to the question of what is a satisfactory election, it is true that opinions differ, and unfortunately they differ widely in a world where we would desire to be in friendship with all men. The position is that no election can be held in some of these cases, and we get back to the state of Old Sarum and Gatton because the electorate has simply disappeared. In other cases, the most extraordinary results at the moment might be recorded, because certain quite minor interests now monopolise a particular electoral college, and if an election took place in these circumstances, a most unrepresentative body would be elected. I will, however, look at the words to see if it is possible to do something to make it clear that what both sides desire shall be achieved, and I hope I shall be able to meet the right hon. Gentleman when we come to the further stages of the Bill.
Question put, and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House, for Monday next.—[ Captain Bing.]
Burma (Temporary Provisions)
I beg to move,
The House knows that as part of the constitutional reform of 1935, Burma became a distinct political unit with a constitution embodied in the Government of Burma Act, 1935, which came into force in April 1937. On the evacuation of Burma by the British forces in May of 1942 the Governor was directed to proceed to India. A number of his Ministers and senior officials, together with a large number of civil servants, found their way also to India. As it had been possible to evacuate some of the main elements, it was decided to keep the Government of Burma in being. Owing, however, to the impossibility of summoning the legislature, the Government could not be carried on in accordance with the Government of Burma Act, and accordingly on 10th Dec.1942 the Governor issued a Proclamation, under Section 139 of the Act taking over full executive and legislative powers. Section 139, I may say shortly, provides that:"That the Government of Burma (Temporary Provisions) Order, 1945 (S.R. & O., 1945, No. 1210), dated 28th September 1945, made by His Majesty in Council under the provision in Section 157 (1) of the Government of Burma Act, 1945, a copy of which Order was presented on 17th October 1945, be approved.''
It became obvious as time went on, as a result of the Japanese invasion, the long interval of enemy occupation, and active warfare in the territories of Burma, that the country had suffered great damage, not only in the form of material destruction but by the shattering of the foundations of her economic and social life. Until those foundations are restored sufficiently to enable the first essential process to be undertaken—that is, for a general election to be held—it is not possible to re-establish the Burmese Government as it existed in 1941. It is accordingly necessary, so long as the Government of the country cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the 1935 Act, that recourse should continue to be had to the provisions of Section 139 under which, as I have just indicated, the administration is carried on by the Governor in direct responsibility to His Majesty's Government. As the proclamation issued in December 1942, exhausts its validity in December of this year, Parliament on 15th June through the provisions of the Burma (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1945, prolonged its validity until December of 1948. I may say, however, that as soon as possible a general election will be held and a Government established under the normal constitutional methods. Although the initial period of controlled Government is necessary, His Majesty's Government are conscious that all the functions of Government should not in fact be concentrated in the Governor, but that he should be provided with definite means of obtaining Burmese assistance and advice in discharging them, and should have the power to associate with himself, representatives of Burmese opinion, in both the executive and legislative capacities. This is in accordance with the provision of Section 1 of the 1945 Act. There will, of course, remain his ultimate responsibility to the Secretary of State and Parliament for all decisions taken by the members of both his Executive and Legislative Councils. In view of the early termination of the war with Japan and the Governor's return —which was originally fixed for 10th October and actually took place on 16th October—His Majesty's Government considered that it would be most desirable that he should be in a position, very soon after his return, to set up an Executive Council, and to invite political leaders, as representative as possible of all sections of opinion, to join it. It was decided that it would be justifiable to proceed with the necessary Order in Council under the provisions in Section 157 (1) of the 1935 Act, which provides that when Parliament is not in session, the Order in Council may, on account of urgency, be made forthwith and shall cease to have effect 28 days from the beginning of the Session unless affirmative resolutions are passed by both Houses of Parliament within that period. Accordingly, the Order in Council was made on September 28th, and provides for the setting up of an Executive Council consisting of not more than 15 members to be appointed by the Governor to aid and advise him in the exercise of his functions, except in so far as they relate to defence, external affairs, and certain other matters which are specified in Section 7 of the 1935 Act. The members of the Executive Council will have definite portfolios, each Councillor being assigned a department. The House will have seen in the Press today that the Governor has in fact formed an Executive Council of 10 members of whom 5 are Burmese,3 are from the indigenous tribes and 2 are officials. The Order in Council also makes provision for a Legislative Council consisting of not more than 50 members including the members of the Executive Council. The Legislative Council will function in an advisory capacity as a normal legislature so far as circumstances may permit, and the consideration of legislation will be their main business. As regards the choice of members of the Legislative Council, the intention of the Governor is to be largely guided by the advice he may receive from the members of his Executive Council. I would point out that as regards the position of the Legislative Council the object of the Governor will of course be to secure a broad-based representative body. In asking the House to pass this Resolution, I would emphasise that it is the intention of His Majesty's Government to lead Burma to full self-government in the shortest possible time and in an orderly democratic manner."If at any time the Governor is satisfied that a situation has arisen in which the Government of Burma cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Act, he may by Proclamation—(a) declare that his functions shall, to such extent as may be specified in the Proclamation, be exercised by him in his discretion; (b) assume to himself all or any of the powers vested in or exercisable by any body or authority in Burma;"
Before referring to the contents of this Order I should like to make a few comments on its actual machinery. I have to the best of my ability—I must admit that I am not a lawyer—gone through this Order and the Acts to which it refers, as well as the Proclamation, and I must say that I think it is one of the most cumbrous pieces of legislative machinery I have ever come across. It is legislation by reference carried almost to the point of absurdity, and I wonder whether the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree with me that it would be desirable to withdraw the Order issued and reissue it in much simpler terms. Not only is it difficult to understand, but it contains some incongruities which might have awkward consequences.First, it varies the Proclamation without repealing it. What is going to happen to the rest of the Proclamation? Are we going to be faced with a series of Orders varying the Proclamation as the situation changes, or is the Proclamation to be repealed and something else substituted for it? This Order, it seems to me, more or less rides roughshod through the Proclamation and leaves its tattered remains still in existence. My second point is that I am rather puzzled by the deliberate omission of Section 7 of the principal Act in Section 3 of this Order. I think it is rather dangerous to make deliberate exceptions to certain Sections of Acts unless one is quite clear that that does not imply as well that other Sections are not omitted. Section 7 refers to certain specific functions of the Governor which he exercises in his discretion. It is deliberately excepted under this Order, but Section 8, for example, also refers to certain special responsibilities of the Governor which he may or may not exercise in his own discretion, and I cannot help wondering whether it was wise deliberately to specify Section 7. I should be glad if the hon. and learned Gentleman would consider that. The Proclamation itself is quite clear in intent. It suspends the Council of Ministers; it suspends the Office of the Advocate-General and his functions, but omits, no doubt intentionally, although I cannot see the reason for it, Sub-section (1) of Section 17, which remains in operation. That means that it is still the law of the land that
It puzzles me to see how that Sub-section can remain in operation after this Draft Order has been made. I wonder if that is an unintentional omission. Apart from that, the Legislature is suspended in toto. Under Section 33—I may say that I really am making these comments in a genuine search for information and I am perfectly ready to be told that they are mistaken—Section 33, so far as I can see, still remains in operation. It is entitled "Extent of laws of Legislature." and says:"there shall be for Burma a Legislature which shall consist of His Majesty, represented by the Governor, and two Chambers, to be known respectively as the Senate and the House of Representatives.''
and it goes on to specify a list of exceptions about which legislation would not be valid. It seems to me that if this Order is accepted Section 33 should also be suspended. It is not suspended in the Proclamation. Turning to Section 38, Sub-sections (2) and (3) still remain in force, and I cannot see the point of that. The only other point is that Sub-section (3) of Section 59 still appears to remain in force. It begins:"Subject to the provisions of this Act, the Legislature may make laws for the territories of Burma vested in His Majesty or any part thereof,"
It includes debt charges to which the Government of Burma is liable and other things, and it seems to me that in the general confusion of the financial situation it might be as well to reconsider that. Finally, the Proclamation suspends the Railway Board and the Public Service Commission. I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman will make a few references to these. Apart from this rather technical reference to the machinery by which the desires of His Majesty's Government are to be put into force, we on this side of the House—I am authorised to speak for the Opposition—are entirely in agreement with the intention behind this Order. It is, I hope, a happy augury for the new Burma that in this House it is a non-party question and that there are no party differences upon it. I am very much interested that this procedure is to be followed because, in company with a few other Conservative Members in the last Parliament, I was responsible for a short report—we called it "Blue Print for Burma"—in which we recommended precisely this procedure, though we do not flatter ourselves that that has influenced the Government. The Governor and those associated with him will be faced with tremendous difficulties of an intractable nature, and I am anxious that nothing that is said in the House should add to those difficulties. In unhappy Burma complete material reconstruction is called for, and I think I may add, complete moral reconstruction."The following expenditure shall be expenditure charged on the revenues of Burma."
And complete political reconstruction.
I think we are dealing with that today. I believe this is the message that should go out to Burma from this House: that the British interpretation of democracy expressly is intended to guard against any form of totalitarianism. We do not consider that democracy can be defined as the rights of the majority, but that it is the rights of the minorities. Totalitarianism is a fell disease that has swept over part of Europe and it is sweeping like wildfire over Asia. We shall indeed have betrayed our responsibilities to the people of Burma if we allow any form of totalitarian régime or any form of totalitarian ideology to become dominant in that sorely distracted land. From this side of the House we send a message of warmest good will to Burma. We wish to associate ourselves with the messages recently sent by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Burma, and with the Governor's recent Proclamations and broadcasts. We say sincerely, may a free Burma flourish in long and happy relationship with the rest of the British Empire.
The hon. Member for Farnham (Mr.Nicholson) referred to "unhappy Burma." That is, of course, true in several senses. Burma has been very severely ravaged and devastated by war, and is in a state of great economic distress. But I think we can claim that in one respect Burma is less unhappy than some of her neighbours. There has, most fortunately, been none of the bloodshed, the clashes and fighting, which have made the situation in French Indo-China and Dutch Indonesia so critical and distressing. We can attribute this to the wisdom of the policy pursued by the British authorities—both by His Majesty's Government at home and by the Commanders on the spot who have interpreted that policy—and, it is only fair to add, to the reasonableness and moderation of the Burmese political Nationalist leaders who came to meet the British representatives. So that, although Burma certainly is economically unhappy, I hope we may look forward to steadily developing peaceful prosperity and full self-government for Burma at the earliest possible moment. I was interested, incidentally, by the hon. Member's definition of democracy as being the protection of rights of minorities. Of course, the rights of minorities must be protected, but I seem to remember hearing the hon. Member's leader, only the other day, quote another good old definition of democracy—"The greatest good of the greatest number." However, let that pass.It is opportune that this Debate should be taking place today, when, as my hon. and learned Friend has reminded the House, "The Times" and no doubt some other newspapers have published the list of the Executive Council that has been appointed by the Governor of Burma. There are one or two points about the composition of this Executive Council which I should be grateful if my hon. and learned Friend would explain a little further to the House when he winds up the Debate. The Council consists of 10 members. The Order which we are discussing today says that it shall consist of "not more than 15 members." Does that mean, I wonder, that the Governor is expecting in the near future to appoint five more members to that Council, or does it mean that he considers 10 members sufficient for what we hope will be the brief transitional period to self-government? A point which is perhaps worth noting, in passing, is that the 10 members consist of five Burmese, three representatives of the indigenous minorities, and two Britons. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Farnham that the rights of minorities must be protected, but this is certainly very generous protection; five Burmese to three representatives of the minorities is hardly proportional representation, since the Burmese in fact outnumber the minorities by very many millions. The actual composition of the Executive Council of 10 members is interesting. The first three names on it are those of Burmese politicians who were members of the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League. All three of them resigned from the League yesterday, according to the Reuter message, but two of these three had been among the League's nominees for the Executive Council. I wonder whether my hon. and learned Friend can clear up that position for the House. Possibly it is due to the fact that the League made originally rather a strong claim, and asked for 11 seats out of the 15 seats on the Executive Council, and I think also passed a resolution saying that if it could not get 11 seats it would not have any. It may be that these three members of the League resigned in order to be able to accept the Governor's invitation as individuals. It is worth noting that the first two on the list, U Ba On and U Aye, were members of U Saw's party and were politically associated with U Saw, formerly Prime Minister of Burma, who was arrested by us early in the war and has been in confinement ever since because he was found to have been in touch with the Japanese. He was arrested, as hon. Members will remember, on his way back to Burma after a visit to England. Will my hon. and learned Friend say a word or two about the position of U Saw? It is known that U Saw is very much favoured by some of the senior British officials in Burma. He is regarded as a strong man. He is, I think, rather naive politically, he has some dictatorial leanings, and I am not sure that his ideas of public honesty and integrity are any higher than those of some—unfortunately, all too many—of the older generation of Burmese politicians. One of the curses of Burmese public life in the old days before the war was the very widespread corruption, and I hope that is one of the things that will be improved. Perhaps that is what the hon. Member for Farnham meant when he referred to the necessity for moral regeneration in Burma. One of the most hopeful things about the new, young politicians in Burma, the politicians who have emerged in a way roughly parallel, although not exactly comparable, with what has happened in various countries in Europe—France, Jugo-Slavia and other countries—is that these new, young politicians, whose movement has been born of the resistance to the Japanese, who co-operated with the Fourteenth Army, is that they are absolutely incorruptible—fanatical, perhaps, and ardently nationalist, but honest. After an unhappy preliminary period, when they were confused about the situation and about the intentions of the Japanese, they co-operated wholeheartedly with the Fourteenth Army, and I have myself heard that great and fine soldier, General Slim, pay the highest tribute to the work which was done by what was originally called the Burma National Army and later the Burma Patriotic Forces. It is an absolutely new factor that these young men, whose position in public life has grown out of their resistance to the Japanese, are absolutely honest and incorruptible; and I would add, having met and talked at length with many of them, that they are highly educated politically. Some of them are of the Left—of the extreme Left, perhaps; others are not. It would be a gross over-simplification to describe the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League, from which these three Members of the new Council have just resigned, as merely a Left Wing organisation. The fact that it is not so is indicated, for instance, by the adherence to it of the veteran statesman, U Ba Pe. I see that there is one member of U Ba Pe's party on the new Council, U Pu. I do not know very much about him. Perhaps my hon. and learned Friend can tell us something about him. He is, I gather, a very elderly politician. It is, perhaps, surprising that U Ba Pe himself has been omitted, but that may be because he still adheres to the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League. If my hon. and learned Friend can tell us about U Ba Pe and particularly about U Saw, and what is to be done about him—whether he is to be released and taken back to Burma and perhaps to fill one of the five vacant places on the Council—I should be grateful. I am not sure that it would be a wise move, but I am sure that many of our senior officials in Burma would like to see it done. The last two names, other than the British Members of the Council, are those of Sir Paw Tun and Sir Htoon Aung Gyaw, who are both very well known Burmese figures and may be described, without any disrespect, as "Governor's men." They will co-operate wholeheartedly with the Governor and can probably be counted on to vote in the Council as the British Members vote. I am sorry to weary the House by going into such detail about this Council, but Burma is a very important part of the world at the moment. The whole of South East Asia is tremendously important and there are great potentialities for good and for evil there. The whole of Eastern and South Eastern Asia could blaze up any day into the most appalling civil war and that, I am sure, hon. Members in all parts of the House want above everything else to avoid. I would just say, if I may, to the Government and to my hon. and learned Friend, that I hope most earnestly that the composition of this new Council, about which I personally reserve judgement because I do not know enough about the individuals concerned, does not in any way imply the weakening of the good relationships which have existed in the last month or two, since the liberation, between ourselves and the Burmese Nationalist leaders. In particular, I would mention Major-General Aung San, the founder and leader of the Burma Patriotic Forces, who is, in fact, what might be called the Tito of Burma. He is a young man, only about 30 or 31, of great intelligence—great political intelligence as well as military intelligence—and he is undoubtedly—because I have been about Burma in the last month or two and have seen him in various parts of it, and have seen the way the people regard him—the hero of the younger generation in Burma today. It is very important for the peaceful development of Burma towards self-government that we should keep on good terms with Aung San, Than Tun, and the other leaders of the Anti-Fascist People's freedom League, who, as I say, have shown a statemanslike readiness to co-operate with us. I was fortunate enough to be present at the conferences in Kandy between Admiral Mountbatten and his staff, on the one hand, and Aung San and the Burmese delegates, on the other. These conferences were marked by an extremely conciliatory and sensible spirit. They were primarily concerned with military problems, the incorporation of the Burma Patriotic Forces into the Burma Regular Army and so on, but, of course there were informal political discussions as well. I know that since this conference Aung San and his friends have been doing their utmost to maintain that good will. They have urged their followers throughout Burma to co-operate, for instance, with C.A.S.(B.), that is, the Civil Affairs Service in Burma—which has not always been an easy thing for them to do, for various reasons. They have succeeded in restraining extremists amongst their followers—extreme Nationalists of the kind who so regrettably have not been restrained in Dutch Indonesia. I urge, whether it is in the composition of this Council or in wider spheres, that good relations should, so far as possible, be maintained with Aung San and the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League. As I have said, there is one new factor in Burmese political life to-day, since the liberation—the integrity and incorruptibility of these young politicians. The second new factor is that, for the first time, in the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League we have in Burma a real united front organisation, ranging from the fairly extreme Left to the Moderates—one might almost say the right-wing Moderates, such as U Ba Pe. That is a new factor, because, as my hon. Friend opposite is aware, one of the great handicaps of Burmese politicians in the past was their intense petty sectionalism and jealousy of each other. That has largely been overcome and most of the parties—and most of the indigenous minorities also, I am glad to say—are represented in the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League. I, therefore, do urge my hon. and learned Friend, even if he cannot tell the House today, to find out as soon as he can from the Governor what the present reactions of Aung San and the League are to the composition of the Council; what the position is with regard to U Saw; and what is going to be done about the five vacancies on the Council.
Perhaps I may deal with the two points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) in relation to the operation of the proposed Order in Council. I feel that he rather misunderstands the effect of the first Proclamation that was issued in 1942 and which is to be followed by the recent 1945 Proclamation. There are two Sections to which he referred. Section 32 deals with the validity of any proceedings of the Legislature. The Legislature is not operating and no question can arise under Section 32 because the constitution has been suspended.
What about Section 33?
Section 32 deals with the proceedings of the Legislature, and Section 33 deals with the extent of legislation. My point is that the Legislature under the 1935 Act is not in existence.
My trouble is that in the Proclamation it gives a list. It says:
and included in the list are Sections 18 to 32 inclusive and Sections 35 to 37 inclusive, leaving Sections 33 and 34 in suspension."The operation of the following provisions of the Act is hereby suspended"
The fact that the two Sections were not mentioned, does not alter the fact that they depend on the existence and the functioning of the Legislature. That Legislature has not functioned since 1942, and therefore no question could arise as to the operation of any Section which could only operate in the event of the Legislature functioning.
I entirely accept the hon. and learned Gentleman's interpretation of the Proclamation but there exist a number of Sections besides that, which my hon. and learned Friend says will apply equally. I can assure him that there is a real difficulty here.
It is a theoretical point; I really do not think it is a practical point. The Proclamation that operated from 1942 was very similar to the Proclamation of 1945, the only difference being that the Governor, under his powers in Section 139, is authorised to set up an Executive Council and a Legislative Assembly to aid and advise him in carrying out his over-riding functions given to him by Section 139. The whole of the affairs of Burma at the moment are under the direct control and government of the Governor, but the 1945 Proclamation does authorise him to establish these two bodies to assist him.
When the hon. and learned Gentleman says the 1945 "Proclamation," he means this Order. It is not a Proclamation.
A Proclamation has been issued as my hon. Friend knows. My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg)—
Is the hon. and learned Member leaving my points completely? There are certain other Sections which, in my humble judgment, cause considerable confusion and will he have these looked into?
I will certainly look into the points which my hon. Friend has raised, I rather think he suggested that the Order might be withdrawn, because it does not work in its present form. We do not feel any difficulty but I will certainly have the other points examined. My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon asked, in view of the provision in the Order in Council for an elected Council of 15 members, whether, following the announcement this morning that only ten members were to be appointed, I would say when the Governor was likely to appoint another five. On that, I am afraid, I am not in a position to give any more information than has appeared in the Press this morning. I have no doubt that the Governor has, in his discretion, decided to announce the appointment of ten, but that does not rule out, if he so wishes, the appointment of more additional members up to the limit of 15. My hon. Friend asked me about U Saw, and what was likely to happen to him. I am afraid I am not in a position to give any information with regard to him at the moment. Of course, the House knows that he is not in Burma, and, therefore, the question of his intervention in the political activities of the country does not at the moment arise.
Is he still detained?
Yes, he is, but his case is under consideration.My hon. Friend asked about U Ba Pe and I am afraid I am not in a position to give any information about him, or any reason why he has not been included in the Governor's Executive Council. My hon. Friend then appealed for good relations with the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League, the organisation which is headed by General Aung San. I can assure him that there is no reason why good relations should not be maintained with that organisation, but the Governor felt that it was not possible or practicable to meet the demands that they put forward when he was consulting with them as to the form of the Executive Council. At the same time the door is still open and there is no reason whatever why this Anti-Fascist League should not become associated with the Governor in the tasks that lie ahead. I am sure that it is the desire of the Governor that they should assist him and the Executive Council, even if they might not feel able to participate, as members, in the task of reorganising and rehabilitating Burma and preparing for the implementing of the policy of His Majesty's Government. I would like to emphasise that the break between the Governor and the League is not over any question of policy but rather on personalities and offices.
As one who was a member of the Burma Round Table Conference, may I ask whether the hon. and learned Gentleman could bring out the feature of Burma political life which was very prominent in our minds as members of the Conference, namely, that there is, without making criticism of the Burmese, much feeling and resentment between the parties?
That is obviously true as regards the past. It is a little early to say whether this new League to which my hon. Friend referred, will be able to cement the various groups which existed before the war. It is true, as the Noble Lord indicated, that one of the characteristics of Burmese politics prior to 1942 was the fragmentation of parties.
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman think that it is not desirable to have more than two parties?
I was expressing no opinion on the number of parties. On the third point which my hon. Friend referred. I am not in a position to answer to-day, but I will certainly give consideration to it, I would like to say once more that these matters have not arisen over any question of policy, and that the policy of His Majesty's Government remains firmly that we are going to advance, as quickly as possible, in the direction of securing full self-government for Burma at the earliest opportunity.
May I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman a question? He re- ferred to a "break" between the Governor and the League. There has been no actual breaking-off of relations?
No; I meant failure to agree.
I want to ask the hon. and learned Gentleman a question which I am sure will not get an answer. The suggestion was made by an hon. Member on the other side—a Tory Imperialist—that this question of Burma is a non-party question. When I heard that I was immediately suspicious. I want to ask the Under-Secretary if the Government will invite representatives from Yugoslavia, Hungary and Bulgaria to visit Burma, and see that democratic elections are organised and carried through in a democratic manner.
Question put, and agreed to.
"That the Government of Burma (Temporary Provisions) Order, 1945 (S.R. & O., 1945, No. 1210), dated 28th September 1945, made by His Majesty in Council under the provision in Section 157 (1) of the Government of Burma Act, 1945, a copy of which Order was presented on 17th October 1945, be approved."
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Captain Bing.]
It is a far cry from Burma to the subject which I propose raising this afternoon. The subject of juvenile delinquency, however, is of the greatest importance, and, I am sure, one that commands the interest of all parties in the House. Since I put down this subject for Debate, I have been questioned on whether I am a lawyer, a doctor, a teacher, a psychologist or just somebody studying sociology and its various aspects. My only relationship with this subject is that of a layman, and approaching juvenile delinquency as a layman, I feel that I am raising a matter that needs ventilation, and certain aspects of which may have been overlooked by the experts.It is a recognised fact that the main contributory factor in juvenile delin- quency in the past has been poverty due to industrial depression. That poverty has brought with it conditions of squalor and misery in homes throughout the country, which gave rise to much of the juvenile delinquency and much of the crime that followed in the train of adolescent tendencies in that direction. It is a peculiar paradox that, with the coming of the war, we have had a certain dissipation of the poverty which existed, but this has brought in its train other features of an equally evil nature. I refer, first, to the wartime factor of lack of parental control. Throughout the length and breadth of the country, many a father has had to go into the Forces to serve his country; the wife has had to go into a factory, likewise to serve her country, and the children have been left at the mercy of circumstances and the vagaries of life, without any parental control. Then we have seen the effect on many of our young people of the earning, in factories and in commerce, of abnormally high rates of pay. That has not been a commendable feature of present-day life, but it was unavoidable, owing to the shortage of labour. In consequence of it, young people have had an overrated opinion of themselves, and have been able to spend more money than is good for them. A third factor which has contributed largely to the increase in juvenile and adolescent delinquency has been one which is unavoidably associated with war time, and that is the consorting of our young girls with troops. I think it only fair to the troops to say that, in the main, it is not the fault of the Services, in any form at all. In the main, it is the diseased mentality of some of these young girls that leads them to throw themselves at the heads of the troops, and, in some cases, to affect their lives and future for many years to come. I was very interested in the Report issued by the Board of Education entitled, "The Youth Services after the War." I propose to read one passage from the Introduction, which I think has some bearing on the subject under discussion. It is:
If there is to be that courageous attitude of challenge by our young people towards the future, they must be helped to defeat the effects of the aftermath of war and the conditions it has created. I visited Germany last week, and there I saw the wreckage, and the trail of broken lives, and destruction and disease staring one in the face. Even then I thought of the broken lives and wreckage that stare us in the face in this country if we are courageous enough to face the fact. What are the reasons for this? Obviously, there has been a tremendous misuse of leisure amongst the young people of our country, and it is our responsibility to redirect the activities of our young people, in as parental and humane a fashion as possible, into channels that will make for a better life and a better spirit. Certain anomalies exist in our laws that rather puzzle me, and I shall be grateful if the Under-Secretary will give me an answer to these questions. The evil of drink, for instance, is fully recognised. But I do not know whether it was due to the manifestation of too much arsenic in beer, or the incidence of "Red Biddy," that we did eventually develop some agitation— though not without some difficulty— to control the evil of drink. I do not wish to be misrepresented. I do not speak as one who is not partial to a glass of beer now and again; indeed I rather enjoy a glass of beer. But I think all these things should be taken in moderation. If, in the past, we have recognised the evils of drink and created some sort of control of it, then, I submit, we must recognise today certain other evils, that are, in my view, equally important. There may be an opinion that we have overcome, to a great degree, the incidence of the evils of drink, but, if we have, I submit that we have only done so at the Cost of a greater incidence of other evils. Certain other distractions in modern life have turned our young people away from drink, I would refer, firstly, to greyhound racing and, secondly, to public dances. I do not approach this matter in any sense as a prude. I say that, if there is a law against the entry of young people under 18 into a public-house, then, in the same way, we ought to debar them from greyhound racing and public dances. From the information afforded me by the Under-Secretary, I learn that there is no limit to the age of people entering either a public dance hall or a greyhound racing track. I think we must assume, if we look at this in a broadminded spirit, that, on the greyhound racing tracks today, there are many young people under 18 who, whilst not permitted to bet, under the Betting and Lotteries Act, are yet allowed to frequent racecourses. Is one to assume that there is a policeman available to every juvenile, to see that he does not come into contact with evil influences? In regard to public dances, it may well be that our young people today are improving their style in regard to "jitter-bugging," and the other features of acrobatic dancing, but I can hardly feel that it makes them likely to be good citizens in future. I have experience of public dances, particularly in wartime, and I say, in all humility, that they have a bad effect on our young people. I have no quarrel with private dances, because, in the main, at private dances one can be assured of a certain measure of adult association and surveillance. But, at public dances, I would assure the House there is a spirit that is a terrific menace to our young people. I hope that if the Under-Secretary and his Department cannot see their way to the introduction of legislation to prevent those under 18 from entering public dances, perhaps they may view sympathetically an age limit of 16, and make a compromise in this matter. There is another feature in our public life about which I feel most strongly. If I may use the words of the song—and I speak as a Devonian—"It may seem rather late in the day to say anything of the spirit in which our young people have faced the test of total war. But we, who are in daily contact with them, wish to pay our tribute to the enthusiasm and endurance which the vast majority of men have shown, in the Services, in their work, or in. the many and varied voluntary activities they have undertaken. We are convinced that they will respond to the challenge of the post-war world just as courageously as they have met the challentge of war, if only they can be offered as careful and thorough a training for citizenship as they are now given for battle. Given such training, we believe that the great majority of them will grow up to be individuals physically, mentally and spiritually playing their full part as adult members of the kind of society we wish to see, that is, a society which can only function effectively if all its members take an informed and responsible share in its activities. This is the end to which our recommendations are directed."
"In Brixham, down Devon way,
I was shocked to see, in 1941 or 1942, on a Sunday afternoon, a pin-table saloon, of all things. In that picturesque village this was what is euphemistically described in other parts of the country as a "sports palace," or a "sportsdrome," or an "amusement arcade." I feel these things are closely associated with the superficial, garish, harsh forms of life which have developed here to a certain degree by American influences, and I would like to have the views of the Under-Secretary on whether it is proposed to effect some sort of control on pin-table saloons. There is a very dangerous feature in pin-table saloons. It is a well-known fact that humanity is gregarious. Even more so are the youth of the country gregarious. Where do they foregather? In these pin-table saloons planing mischief, because they are tempted by a type of life of which I am sure the House does not approve. Now I come to the major evil and one about which I feel more strongly than any of which I have yet spoken—the influence of Hollywood on our young people. If there were any sense, any rhyme or reason about Hollywood, I would be inclined to view it with a little more toleration. I appreciate the cinematic value of the films, their educative value to our young people, if presented in the proper form, but I would submit that, in the main, Hollywood functions in this country only with regard to box-office profits, and the more mush they can put on the screen, the greater are the box-office profits. So we have our young people leaving the cinemas after two or three hours' session, enraptured by those wonderful profiles they have seen on the screen and confirmed in their view that they themselves resemble whichever sex they may be—Clark Gable, Robert Montgomery, Greta Garbo or one of the most luscious young females who are forced on our vision every day. I submit that it is about time the Home Office, or whatever authority is responsible, did something about this growing menace of Hollywood and its influence. I appreciate that to-day we have the British Board of Film Censors which draws a line of demarcation between "A" and "U" films, but that is not enough. Whilst I did not approve whole-heartedly of the Hayes organisation of America, some such feature might be organised in this country with a view to protecting the minds and the emotions of our young people from some of the worst elements of America protrayed on the screen. I ask hon. Members not to mistunderstand me; I am not referring to the individuals in Hollywood as the worst elements of America—may they rest contented in their glamour. So far I have been destructive and critical. Obviously, there is a duty on my part to try to be constructive. In my view there are various antidotes existing in this country that are not being made use of as well as they might be. At the same time there are certain anomalies existing in this country, the removal of which would make for greater co-ordination in the beneficial treatment of our young people. Firstly, may I say that I fear, in a very large degree, that the age of magistrates functioning in juvenile courts, is often too remote from the ages of those they are trying. I would ask the Home Office to give this matter their immediate attention. If we are to have magistrates who are capable and competent and able in some degree to reflect the attitude and spirit of young people they ought to be younger. They ought to be within reach of the younger generation, those who, shall we say, have children and not grandchildren, from whom to draw their experience.A-nestling by the sea,"
Why should they not have grandchildren?
I am not in any way opposed to magistrates having grandchildren, but I feel that if they think in terms of a grandchild mentality, they are not fitted to deal on the bench with our juvenile offenders. I am not approaching this in a spirit of a Mrs. Grundy, swishing voluminous skirts and trying to stifle public opinion; I am not asking for a censorship of any kind or for a curfew on our young people. I want them to feel unrestricted and at liberty, not asked to go to bed at 9 or 10 o'clock. However, I feel we ought to have some more progressive outlook in this matter than has been the case hitherto. I would suggest then that we do all we can to encourage the development of youth organisations. I am the product of a youth organisation, where I indulged in physical culture and in certain exercises both of a mental and a physical nature. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite may be amused. I may not be an advertisement for physical culture; I may not be an advertisement for youth organisations. But I contend that the youth organisations are essential to the wellbeing of the country, particularly in the light of the conditions existing today.Again, I have often felt that I benefited very greatly as an elementary school boy from the advantages that were offered me by evening-classes, and I would like to see greater encouragement offered to our youth in that respect. A new feature that has developed in wartime has been that of welfare work in factories. I hope this will be retained in the factories, primarily, of course, to deal with the difficulties that arise in the everyday life of the men and women working there, but one salient point in regard to that welfare work has been the treatment they have been able to offer to the young people working in those factories. I suggest, therefore, that the Home Office should do all in its power to encourage welfare work for the young people in our factories. Allied to what I have just said is the question of who is to be instrumental in "putting over" these youth organisations, this development of a new spirit amonst our youth. Would it be possible for the Home Office to cast a kindly eye in the direction of Class B releases for youth leaders? It is within my knowledge that there are in the Services today, many youth leaders who functioned very well in civilian life, and who did an excellent job in trying to mould the minds and the hearts and the spirits of the young people. If, today, we are building houses and reconstructing our social fabric in every shape and form, I submit there is an equally strong case to be made out for the release of youth leaders from the Services to help our young people to lead proper lives. I would end by saying this, that we have seen, willy nilly, the development of a cheap, shallow, superficial outlook on the part of many of our young people and I would use the words of the Lord President of the Council who, in a Debate some time ago, described the spirit abroad as a "Piccadilly Circus atmosphere." What I see today amongst our young people is a Piccadilly Circus spirit allied with the "honky-tonk" of the saloons of America. I feel that spirit is prevalent and recognised throughout the country, and almost every parent to whom I have spoken has expressed concern about the decadence of our young people. I know it is often the case that when we leave adolescence, we like to look back in retrospect and consider how superior we were at that age to the young of today. Making allowance for that—and I speak as a comparatively young man—I feel there is lurking in our midst this menace of a cheap, shallow, artificial atmosphere and spirit amongst our young people. They are lured by the things portrayed on the screen, their senses are corrupted by the everyday influences which I have outlined in some degree. On those grounds I feel certain that I have been justified in raising this most important matter. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will give me a satisfactory reply in regard to the question of legislation prohibiting young people under 18 years of age from entering a greyhound racing track, likewise public dances, and above all I would ask if he can give his attention to the evil of Hollywood and the menace it connotes for the youth of this country.
I am glad this matter has been raised, if only to give the House an opportunity of expressing its appreciation of the work done by voluntary workers for adolescents and those in the upper age ranges of the elementary schools. There are thousands of people up and down this country who have been spending their time and their money in the interests of our young people, and I think they deserve a tribute.This problem is not, of course, a new one. The late Government recognised it and early in the war, in a memorandum they published in 1941, endeavoured to draw the attention of local authorities to it. In the first four months of the war there was an increase of 28 per cent. amongst adolescents guilty of indictable offences, and authorities were circularised with a view to calling their attention to this very important and distressing fact, so that they might exercise such powers as they had to alleviate the situation. Unfortunately, however, by January and April, 1940, that delinquency had increased to 62 per cent. It dropped later, in May and August of that year, to 33 per cent. The counties—and I have in mind Essex and Middlesex—started to make inquiries, and in ten months—that is in 1941 and 1942—they discovered that in Essex, for instance, junior boys were charged with larceny to a considerable extent. There were 14 boys of the age of 17, 11 boys of about 15. Among the seniors there were 55 charged. There were seven junior girls charged and 12 seniors. In the case of senior boys, in June of 1942 there were 41 charged. So there is some evidence that during that period serious crimes were committed by these young people. My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Austin) has dealt with some of the causes of the trouble, so I will not go into those, but I will give some figures as a comparison between 1938 and 1942. The number of boys convicted in the County of Essex in 1938 was 437. By 1939 that figure had increased to 570. In 1940 it was still 570.In 1941 there were 609. Amongst the girls the position was not so bad. In 1938 there were 42; in 1939 there were 28; in 1940 the figure jumped to 55, and in 1941 to 63. However, I do not think those figures give quite the picture, because the child population in Essex decreased as a result of evacuation. The total for both boys and girls showed 74 per cent. in 1939, 97 per cent. in 1940, 98 per cent. in 1941, and 83 per cent. in 1942—just nine months in that particular period.
Has the hon. Member any figures showing the number of men or women—parents—charged with child neglect during this period?
I have not, but I have no reason to believe that the figures went up to any considerable degree, because it would be difficult to charge people who were out at work with child neglect. I have concentrated on the figures relating to adolescent delinquency. Middlesex, which I think the House will agree is a go-ahead county, held an inquiry into this matter, and they, too, found that in those years the problem was becoming a serious one. The number of children brought before juvenile courts in 1938–39 was: boys 2,705, girls 253, total 2,958. In 1939–40 there were 2,939 boys and 422 girls, a total of 3,361. The figures were going up as the war proceeded. In 1940–41 the number of boys went up to 3,327 and girls to 579, a total of 3,906.For those three periods the total of boys and girls was 10,225, out of a child population in that county of 263,000.In the course of that inquiry they took out the age-groups of these juveniles, and of 1,844 offences they found that 381 came into the age group of 16, 368 the age of 15, 268 the age of 14, and 269 the age of 13. From those age-groups down to the age of eight the figures fall, so it would appear that the problem existed largely in the age-groups of 13 to 16.Various explanations of this delinquency were sought, and I will give the view of the medical officer of the Harold Wood, Essex, Remand Home. He divided the boys into different categories: the first group medical defectives, the second group the very dull, the third group below average, the fourth average. He discovered that the first three groups produced 75 per cent. of all the delinquents, so there does seem to be some evidence that this delinquency is found among persons suffering some mental or physical defect. It would appear, also, that there are various causes for this delinquency apart from those referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford. There is the biological factor—young people suffering from either mental or physical subnormality which results in an inferiority complex and a sense of frustration. I have had a long association with the activities of youth clubs, and my experience has been that these young people are not able to take part with their friends in such exercises as boxing, wrestling, football and so on, because such activities do not appeal to them. It is true that the "tough guy" of the films makes some appeal, but when they themselves get down to things that call for physical strain or physical risk they are not prepared to take that risk. Instead they indulge in all sorts of things with a view to attracting attention to themselves. It is the spoilt-child attitude of mind being desirous of attracting attention to themselves. Some of us, I think, do not altogether grow out of that attitude of mind when we reach the adult stage. Then certain social aspects of the problem developed during the war. There were the home conditions; the father had gone and the mother was either at work or, perhaps, did not rise to her responsibilities. Adverse economic circumstances also came in. Again, many of these young people went to work. Owing to the war many local authorities had not been able to keep up their staff of inspectors, and quite a number of young people were able to earn fairly large money and spent it riotously. But it is no good discussing these things unless we have some remedies. It is true that the war has passed and that we are getting nearer to conditions which prevail in peace, but I think this problem is likely to remain with us for some little time. I suggest that there should be greater co-operation between the parent and the teacher, and that every encouragement should be given to the formation of parents' associations in connection with schools, so that direct contact can be maintained. Local authorities have also been handicapped as regards school attendance officers. More often than not quite a number of these juvenile delinquents do not attend school regularly, with the result that such good influences as obtain in school are lost. School attendance should be tightened up, so that fewer get through the mesh. There should also be more provision made for backward children. The evidence of the medical officer of the Harold Wood Remand Home shows that in the main the child who is a delinquent or manifests a tendency to delinquency is suffering from some biological defect, and therefore there should be more provision for backward children. Now I come to an important topic. The Government, recognising the importance of this problem, put through the youth service Acts. We have been administering those Acts wholeheartedly in the county of Essex and we are proud of our activities, but, unfortunately, the provisions that were made were primarily for those of ages ranging between 14 and 21, and whenever a juvenile organisation approached the regional youth committee to get financial assistance the membership roll was inspected to see what proportion were under the age of 14, and if there was a large proportion under 14 and some over 21 the chances of getting a grant under the youth service Acts was not so good as if most of the young people were in the age ranges 14–21. There has been some vexation about that and I feel there ought to be more concentration on children between 12 and 14 in the youth service efforts because it would appear that delinquency is more rampant among children between 12 and 14 than among those between, say, 18 and 21. I think, too, we ought to help bodies that cater for these young people, such as the Boy Scouts, the Girl Guides, the Boys' Brigade and similar organisations, which were in being many years before the war and before the youth service Acts. They were finding the money and giving their time and their services for training these young people. Unquestionably the best youth organisations are associated with the main religious bodies, and we ought to take note of that, and of the importance of providing a religious background in the training of these young people. There must be some sense of moral sanction and responsibility, some thing higher than ourselves, and the religious bodies have provided that, with the result that all the juvenile organisations associated with religious bodies have been very successful. I hope that in the future their work will not be forgotten and that everything will be done to encourage them. The South-West Essex Technical College did arrange a course of lectures with a view to inculcating in parents, particularly young parents, a sense of their responsibility in connection with children. Again, there is the question of sex instruction. Reference was made to young girls consorting with troops. One does not want to go into that rather distasteful matter apart from referring to it, but it has been very disappointing to see young girls, many of whom have probably only just left school, hanging about the places where soldiers congregate. Therefore, there should be some extension of the arrangements for giving sex instruction. I know that this is an exceedingly difficult question and that perhaps more harm than good can be done by clumsy instruction, but we ought to do the best that is possible and provide the best people for the job. Further, I think no child, even when the school-leaving age is raised, should be allowed to go to work whilst attending school. More child guidance clinics should be provided, and more instruction given in the proper use of leisure time. Those are some suggestions which I put forward, and whilst I recognise that the Minister or Ministers responsible may not be able to deal with all these things, if it gets outside that this House is prepared to support all these activities it will be a great encouragement not only to the paid workers but to those who have voluntarily given much time to the service of these young people. There should be co-operation, too, between the probation officer, when he comes into the picture, the parent and the school. If they can be brought together it will be of great help in achieving the object we have in view. Then there is the question of the release of requisitioned halls. I know a number of churches and chapels in my own district that would be prepared to extend their activities in the service of youth and of adolescents if they had their premises. But many halls were taken over for rest centres, or were requisitioned by the military authorities, and are still being used for purposes other than those for which they were intended. The activities of these bodies are, therefore, considerably restricted. I know one chapel which was bombed out of its main hall, and which had one of its minor halls taken over for the storage of timber and odds and ends, why, I do not know. Ordinary meetings are held under difficult circumstances, and it is utterly impossible to carry on the other useful work which they have hitherto done. Enormous sums of money have been spent in the service of youth, and in future I feel that most of it should be devoted to those between the ages of 12 and 14. These young people are the citizens of the future. Already, grave damage has been done, although one cannot apportion blame. There are at our disposal all the instruments that are necessary to do the kind of work that is wanted, provided we can be given a little more freedom in expenditure, particularly on those between the ages of 12 and 14.
I deplore the fact that this House is almost devoid of interest in the subject we are discussing today. Fewer than 30 Members are present, which means that this question will not get the attention it merits. I do not stand here to argue the case that Britain has gone where the Roman Empire went, because only the other day we paid a tribute to millions of clean-minded young people of this nation who kept us from something much worse than what we are now discussing. But the fact remains that we have a problem which merits the serious attention of our nation, and it is our job to seek the remedy. Many Members have left this assembly to go to their homes and I, like them, am very anxious to get to a home where there are six fine young people. The question of what happens in the home and who is responsible for it is what really matters. I do not altogether agree that because children are brought up in a house with two bedrooms they are more prone to do the things that are wrong than some of the people who have been brought up in houses with 30 bedrooms. I often hear from this side of the House accusations against Members opposite of taking part in legalised robbery and many of them have been brought up in the stately homes of England. Just as many criminals come from the so called stately homes as from the homes of the working class population. There is no doubt that overcrowding has a tremendous bearing on certain aspects of immorality and the other curses that beset us.I believe that the breakdown in home life in this country is not altogether attributable to the war; it was breaking down before the war. I believe the things that used to happen in our homes—old-fashioned ideas, some call them—the prayer before bed time, and the reverence that was paid before meals, had a great bearing in keeping our nation on the right path. It does not follow that because we have statistics proving child delinquency we did not have it before the war. More people today are being found out. In the old days this delinquency went undetected; today, more children find themseves before the courts. I do not think we ought to spend too much time discussing why this problem has arisen. We ought to try to find out how to cure it. Although I am a teetotaller and non-smoker I have a drink for my friends at home and I always have cigarettes. I believe sincerely that much can be done by the provision of educational films for matinees on Saturday afternoons and early performances at the cinema, instead of the junk and "tripe" which are being shown to children nowadays. With regard to parental responsibility, a father in the forces and mother coming home from a factory do not feel disposed to spend the same time in looking after their children as our own parents spent in looking after us. Times have changed. Children are encouraged to leave their home surroundings and become what is called "independent." Why not healthy educational films instead of the gangsterdom and the sex business and all other types of film which are displayed for children to see on Saturday afternoons? Nothing has been said about the responsi- bility of the Church. I agree that it has tried to do its job, but the question is: Has it been successful? The answer is that respect for our Church institutions has broken down. A lot has been said about the materialistic things of life, but little about its spiritual side. I do not claim to be better than anyone else, in fact, I never go to church, but I claim that I am as near the Almighty when I do a bit of fishing, or when I am looking after my chickens, as a parson who is in his pulpit. I may be wrong, but that is what I believe. It is not a bit of use decrying the rottenness of our young people, and forgetting the millions of splendid characters there are in the country. I do not want to subscribe to the position as it has been painted, although I agree that it is bad enough. If this House and the Government and all responsible, decent people who believe in things which are Christian and right would direct their attention to this problem with a view to seeing what can be done I am sure that that would be a good thing. I know something of youth movements, but I do not want to say what I personally have seen following meetings of young people of 18 and under. I could give detailed information about what was discovered in the school yards and in and around places where those meetings were held. Therefore, my plea today is that we should spend a little less time in discussing material and financial profit, and more in discussing the spiritual profit that can come about by building up the home life of our people. A big proportion of parents today do not pay the attention to their children that our parents paid to us, and there, in my opinion, lies the root of the trouble. I hope that responsible authorities will be able to do something, and that it will be said in the years ahead that this discussion, among so few, contributed a little, at all events, towards bringing about what we believe ought to be brought about in this country—a spiritual sense, and not only a materialistic sense. I hope that we shall be able to provide for our young people Christian and recreational pursuits so that they will not spend their time in ways that are against the best interests of a happy and prosperous Britain.
I was very depressed indeed by some of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Austin), who seemed to suggest that the problem of juvenile delinquency was greater than I think it to be. I speak with a little authority on this matter, because for three years I was in charge of what was euphemistically termed "a special difficulty class, or centre." For 21 years I worked in a neighbourhood which was the poorest in a very large industrial town, and in which the young people in the area had a very unsavoury reputation. Then, thanks to the vicissitudes of the war, I was able to make certain researches into problems of juvenile delinquency in a delightful rural spot in the Midlands, and I came to the conclusion that very largely it was due to a frustrated sense of adventure. I am aware of the fact that a very large proportion of those who are haled before the juvenile courts are of subnormal mentality, but somewhere in the background, often the one not caught, is the girl or boy who is really responsible for that delinquency. The ones who have been clever enough not to be caught have influenced the subnormal youngsters because they have supplied something for their companions which the community has not troubled to supply.If we had given these children the opportunities of developing their talents, and pursuing their adventures in legitimate, instead of illegitimate, spheres, trouble would not have arisen. If there is one thing we have learnt lately it is that we do not want to waste the pure gold of the talents of these people. During the war we have given the opportunity for adventure for the first time in the lives of many, I am sorry to say, to 6,000,000 young men and women, and praised them for using the same initiative for which we clap kiddies into remand homes. If they had been six years younger, many of the young V.C.'s and D.S.O.'s would have been in Dartmoor, Borstals or remand homes, for exercising the very same valuable instincts of initiative and courage for which they have been rewarded in the Services. We have to redirect a tremendous stream of energy from destructive anti-communal delinquency into channels in which they can prove themselves, and in which they can feel the adventure of life.I always hesitate when anyone begins to suggest to the Home Office or any other Ministry any repressive legisla- tion. If there is one thing which we, who have spent our lives in dealing with young people and trying to lead them—not push them—into the paths of right living believe it is this: "Never say 'Don't,' always say 'Do.' "We are being asked to press the Home Office to introduce repressive legislation, saying "You are not to enter here—you are not to enter dance halls and greyhound racing tracks." Why do the young people flock to these places? I do not believe that they do flock there in the great numbers suggested. I have seen the other side of the picture—a club filled, night after night, by young people, 300 to 400 strong, in a neighbourhood formerly honeycombed with police cases, which it is now a pleasure for a constable to visit. I have seen the result of 20 years' constructive work in one of the poorest districts of North-West London. I have known the day—and this is a confession which I have to make—when for the first six weeks of my volunteering to go down there I walked in fear and trembling. I was pelted and sworn at. It was the most unhappy six weeks of my life—the most unhappy occasion until I came to make my maiden speech in this House, when I was so nervous that I could hardly stand. Yet it is a neighbourhood which, today, I claim as a model of working class neighbourhoods. Its dramatic club has won the all-London award for a magnificent production of "Hamlet." Hamlet in a working class neighbourhood! I would not have dared suggest it 20 years ago. But now, every year during the war, in spite of flying bombs and rockets, the local modern secondary school of working class children—where there used to be a delinquency centre we cannot support it now because we cannot find a delinquent to put there—has produced for the Red Cross fund a full scale production of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera, and there was a full house five nights a week, while the alerts were to be expected hourly. That is the kind of thing that can be done everywhere if we approach this matter from the right angle. "Don't say 'Don't,' always say 'Do.' "Let us say" Here is a chance for you to turn your talents in this direction. What about helping us to do this?" I say this is not the job of the Home Office at all. It is pre-eminently the job of the Minister of Education. I would like to see remand homes and juvenile delinquency homes always under the constructive aegis of the Ministry of Education, and not under the necessarily repressive aegis of the Home Office. I have no doubt that the hon.Gentleman on the Front Bench is very pleased with what I am saying. He does not want more work, and I am sure he sympathises with me, and that he would rather hand over to the Ministry of Education the provision of opportunities for adventure. This is a matter of encouraging young people to find outlets for their energies in a constructive way.
I did not press for legislation to restrict the entry of young people into dance halls and greyhound racing tracks simply for the sake of legislation. I pressed for it on the grounds of parity of legislation, which does not allow young people to go into public houses. I want to make that quite clear. It is a question of bringing the law in regard to certain entertainments, as they are called, on to an equal footing with that which prevails with regard to drink.
I have always believed in adventure, and never believed in seeking security. As Stevenson said:
If there was one thing that ever gave me, when I was a youngster, the incentive to go over the mark dividing right from wrong, it was for someone to say, "You cannot do that; you cannot go there." There are so many places where it is rightful for young people to go, and so many places where there is fine fun and a splendid job of work to do. That is the spirit that has won this war. We have taken these young people into our confidence and tried, during this war, to put square pegs into square holes, and to harness all their energy, courage and resource. We encouraged youth because the country was in desperate need on account of the war. The country is still in desperate need. We have now to wage war against disease and ignorance, and we have to conquer by the same methods and by using the same valuable resources. I was pleased to hear an hon. Member mentioning family life. Family life must be encouraged. We must get back to the little community within the larger. We want to help parents not to shelve their responsibilities, but to realise them more fully, and seek advice and assistance which could be freely offered. I would urge that in the future every county school to which there is not attached a parent-teachers' association should see that there is not only a parents-teachers' association, but that the children are encouraged to form their own clubs and run their own club life. One hon. Member spoke of the horrible things happening when a group of young people met, and there was no one over the age of 18 to take charge. I like to see these young people's clubs run by themselves. I do not want to see venerable-looking old buffers like me do more than start them. I claim that my work fails if young people cannot carry them on by themselves, after I have given an incentive and provided the first essentials of their preparation for community life. A community association should never rest without making complete provision for club life for its young people. The village colleges in Lincolnshire have shown us the way—where the senior school in the village is not only a senior school but akin to the wonderful high schools of the American Middle and Far West which are centres of the live social life of their townships. In Cambridge we had something of that kind. The work done there is worthy of emulation by every county in this country. Presently we are going to have county colleges. Surely one of the jobs we must do in connection with these colleges is to create a community spirit, and then this delinquency problem for the age range within these colleges will disappear. When you know that what you are tempted to do is anti-social and you have been trained to be social, the problem of delinquency disappears. I would like to see a more constructive view in the juvenile courts. The magistrates, I think, have greatly changed their former views. In this and many other parts of the country great help has been afforded to us by getting rid of the worst aspects of juvenile delinquency through the co-operation and understanding of enlightened benches. Now we have understanding instead of repression, and I want to see the juvenile court principle extended and the juvenile court entirely divorced from the police buildings and younger magistrates appointed—the more teachers and young doctors appointed the better I shall be pleased. In every city there should be a juvenile organisation committee to help. Where these committees work properly they do not appear except as a sort of financial fairy godmother. Young people have their own sports association and can get training in social responsibility which they can never have in any other way. One other matter which has been-tried in Dorset is to have juvenile delinquents placed on probation through their teachers. I have also heard it suggested that it would help very much if we were to put parents on probation instead of the children. These are a few suggestions out of 21 years' empiric research in this matter of juvenile delinquency. I am not despairing. I believe that juvenile delinquency is a result very largely of a misdirected, adventurous spirit, so strongly a feature of the make-up of our young people during the war. I would urge that rather than that we should think of ways to stop them from doing wrong or mischievous things, we should use our collective efforts to think of ways of encouraging them to do useful and interesting things."This world is so full of a number of things I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings."
I rise to support especially the remarks of the last speaker. I thought that the Debate was coming on later and I apologise for not hearing the opener. I am glad to agree with the last speaker because on the occasion of his maiden speech, although we were old friends in matters of education, we found ourselves on opposite sides. I agree with his approach to this subject, and I hope that the Under-Secretary is going to give a new lead to the Government in its approach to the subject. At the time of the passing of the Education Bill I pleaded that this problem should come more under education and less under the Home Office. I will put the case to the Home Office as it was put to me in order to destroy it. This is the case I have heard: if you take away this juvenile work from the Home Office you take away one of the most constructive parts of its work. That point has been put by the present Lord President of the Council. If you cease to have this healing work going on in the Home Office, that Department becomes too much concerned with the penal side. I know that the Under-Secretary would not dream of advancing that argument. But it has been put very seriously for many years. There is nothing in it. If the only excuse is that you are going to exercise some sort of healing influence on the general work of the Home Office it is time we stopped talking.Let us look at this question from two angles. First of all take the age of so called delinquency, which is not delinquency at all in many cases; the peak period is between 11 and 14. I put down a question to the right hon. Lady last week asking if she would give assistance to voluntary bodies running clubs for children between the ages of 11 and 14. While I agree that the work done by local authorities is good there are many voluntary people willing to assist in this work. I read her sympathetic answer. I now make a second appeal.Will the Government repeal the tepid circular issued by the Coalition Government, which merely stated that local authorities may do it, and ask them to get a move on? When we issued the circular, "The Service of Youth," we started a campaign up and down the country, we had regional conferences from one end of the country to another, and now, for good or ill, there are several hundred paid persons in that work. In my opinion it is the only thing which stands between the 14–18 group and something about which I am very worried. During the war we had 700,000 boys and girls in pre-Service training units. One boy in every five between 16 and 18 was in the A.T.C. Why did boys, after nine hours' work, cycle a couple of hours to do arithmetic? It was unnatural, even though the arithmetic was called celestial navigation. It was because they wanted to pin "wings" on their breast, preferably with the D.F.C. underneath. There was a specific relation between the training and the objective. I do not suppose that there are today 300,000 or 400,000 in those youth units, and I prophesy that in a year there will be about 100,000 or less. There are many Members on the other side of the House who would welcome that decrease, because they do not like the training. I am no militarist. I do not want to see boys and girls dressed up in uniform for the sake of it, but if there is not to be that there must be an alternative. The problem before the post-war world is to find a moral equivalent for "wings." As far as I see it neither in Europe nor in America is there one person who knows the answer. Sometimes I think that the ideas implicit in the Soviet society may give to their young people some such impetus, but I do not like people being attached merely for political reasons.
If the hon. Member will talk to J. B. Priestley when he comes back he will find that the young people are not necessarily attached to the party. Some are attached to sport and other organisations.
I was not thinking so much of the political attachment but that there is something in the idea behind the system of that great country which seems to give to young people the feeling that they belong to something very much bigger than themselves. It is not necessarily that they are attached to one political group. There was the same sort of feeling during the war in this country. There was one great objective. Now we are getting back to the days when we are to have parties and certainly scores of youth organisations. One is glad to see honest divisions of parties; I do not regret that. I hope that young people will join all kinds of organisations and that there will be a great variety. I have been roaming a little, but only because the previous speaker hit the nail on the head when he said that the only alternative to the present position is a positive policy. My main point is that there must clearly be a positive policy.We want to see a much closer relationship between the school and the home and this problem which is called delinquency. In fact these children are not delinquents; they are bored. I have talked to them in forestry and harvest camps. I have spoken to boys from South Wales. They say, "When we have a month's holiday we stay in the same home and look at the same buildings. We want to get out. If you will have a camp in Scotland we will go, because it is further away." In the same way, Scottish boys want to get somewhere else. Therefore, the problem is. How is this boredom to be relieved? If one goes down to Winchester and sees the best home for backward children in this country at Larkhills, Mr. Duncan, author of "The Ordinary Child," will tell one that the children who come into his home come from 60 in a class—they are bored stiff. They will remain bored until we tackle that problem, and if this Government do not tackle it I have no hope of any Government doing so. I want to see the problem tackled at the primary school end. The problem is as important and as urgent a question as many other things which we discuss in this House. Why should we not have a full dress Debate on this? There are scores of children today in the courts in London who have come back from evacuation. They are not delinquents; but they are personal problems. The chairmen of those courts have said that if they could only give time to them as individuals and get at the root of the problem—very often a broken home—they could, perhaps, begin to mend them again as individuals. There are two points I wish to stress. One is that the whole machinery of juvenile courts and the relationship between the home and the school has to be revolutionised. I do not want to go into details to-day. It means that we must not be quite so anxious to level out all the secondary schools until all the primary schools have been put on a proper basis. First things first, even down to the nursery school. The second thing is: we have to find an alternative to "wings" for the children between 14 and 18.I make only one suggestion. As one goes about the country one sees that there is nothing particularly wrong with young people. Go to the conference I have just left. There is a great interest in this problem, in America, in Belgium and in France. Yet they often look to this country. There the same problem—la jeunesse, in France, la lutte scolaire, in Belgium. It is not a British phenomenon. What is wrong? Young people do not want to be fooled by adults, they will not accept things second hand. They want to work this thing out for themselves, and the only example they will follow is that of craftsmen who know their job—the trade unions might pay a little more attention to the young workers—and to living examples of Christianity, not merely the people who preach. If they see these two things they will follow, not blindly but because basically they are decent. They look around them: they are taught things in school and when they go outside they see a complete denial of what they have been taught. It does not make sense. They are not delinquent for the most part, except those who are victims of diseases, which are as identifiable as typhus. They are a fine lot and our problem now is to provide a great variety of voluntary youth organisations. For these, we need some of the men who are coming back from the Forces, for example, some of the men who trained Commandos. The best side of that Commando training is good enough, it is exciting. I am not talking of the military side. We are losing men every day. There is this week another circular about county colleges—20,000 teachers wanted. Yet, we are losing daily first-class material from the Navy, Army and Air Force, many teachers among them, who have had a unique experience in the world. I would have sent round two years ago and earmarked those men and asked them, "What about a year's training for teaching work in the county colleges?" Now they are going to be solicitors—they have told me so—or going to their family businesses, etc. Give them an opportunity and £700 or £800 a year. Why not? We should probably achieve the renaissance of this country. As the postwar era creeps on, some of us are nervous that the high hopes raised by the war will not be realised. I hope that the Under-Secretary, in his reply, will take this matter out of the atmosphere of his own Department, and say that, in future, the Ministry of Education is to be the major Government Department responsible for children and young people whether in school or in their outside activities.
I intervene for two special reasons. One is that I happen to have been associated for many years now with the organising work of the Howard League for Penal Reform, and in those activities I have at least acquired some knowledge of this very serious problem. The other special reason is that I have myself been a juvenile delinquent. If the present methods of dealing with juvenile delinquents had been in operation when I was a boy, living as I did under the conditions of every normal working class child of my time, I should have figured as a unit in the juvenile delinquency statistics. I am not sure that I should have not have finished up in Borstal, because practically everything with which these children are charged today I did, and the great masses of the children with whom I was associated did precisely the same thing. The difference between myself and most adults of mage is that I have retained the most vivid recollections of my own actions as a child, but great numbers of adults manage completely to submerge their earlier recollections under the later layers of respectability, and are apt, therefore, to judge these children in ways that are completely unjustified.I wish at the outset to try to correct a tendency which is very prevalent to get this problem of juvenile delinquency completely out of focus. There are two problems of juvenile delinquency. There is the one problem which we face at this moment, the completely abnormal swelling of the volume of juvenile delinquency arising out of the disturbances and conditions of totalitarian warfare. I am sure that that is likely to prove a passing phase. What I am anxious to do is to try to bring into its proper focus the permanent problem of juvenile delinquency in peace time. It is a very grave problem, as every Member of this House knows, but no good purpose is served, only bad purposes, in exaggerating and distorting it. I am afraid that some of the remarks in this Debate did not do any good service to those of us who are trying to get effective methods adopted for dealing with this problem. In 1938, which is the last year for which we have any official figures for the state of crime in Great Britain, of the 70,000 indictable offences committed in that year, just half were committed by young people under the age of 17. The peak period of crime for boys is 13 years of age, and for girls 16 plus. No doubt that is an extremely startling figure for indictable offences, offences serious enough to be treated on indictment in our courts, committed by young people under 17 years of age. But please let us try to understand what is involved. A large proportion of the large number of breakings and enter- ings that appear in these criminal statistics were breakings and enterings into unoccupied premises—the sort of thing that I did often enough when I was a boy, breaking a window and entering unoccupied premises, incited to do it, of course, from a sense of adventure and by some sort of desire for exploration. I am convinced that it is precisely that kind of spirit that actuates very many of our juvenile delinquents today to do precisely the same thing. When we are faced with these staggering figures of juvenile delinquency let us realise—I say this without any desire to minimise the seriousness of the problem, but merely in the interests of truth—that very largely, the inflated volume of modern juvenile delinquency is a matter of statistical recording. After every Children's Act in this country we have witnessed within a year a very interesting phenomenon. For instance, after the passing of the Children's Act, 1908, the figures for juvenile delinquency in 1910 shot up by 40 per cent.—40 per cent. in two years. After the passing of the Young Persons' Act, in 1933, the figures for juvenile delinquency shot up by another 30 per cent. in 1934. Obviously, what we have been doing during the last 40 years is to make the large mass of our population conscious of the problem of juvenile delinquency and of the methods for dealing with it, but in addition we have actuated the police in all sorts of ways in which formerly they were not actuated, with the result that we swell these figures enormously. Sir William Clarke Hall, a magistrate with probably more experience of this kind of problem than any other, once wrote in one of his books that the number of juvenile delinquents in any locality can at any time be doubled, trebled or quadrupled merely by the police themselves deciding to tighten-up or to expand their activities in relation to this particular class of crime. Let us first of all get the problem into focus, and then let us remember this extremely heartening fact, which I think proves what I have just been saying, that while those figures of juvenile delinquency have been steadily soaring the general trend of adult crime has been steadily downward. The figures of juvenile delinquency, therefore, have not been expressing themselves in adult criminality, and it is one of the very heartening things that one type of crime particularly—crimes of violence against the person—have been showing a steady and completely unchecked decline since the beginning of this century. We must keep in mind facts of this kind in order to get the picture really into its proper perspective. Having put that point to the House, because I think it is of very great importance, I wish to say how heartily I agree with the two hon. Members who have preceded me in this discussion on the necessity for treating this not as a criminal problem but as an educational problem. It is my view most emphatically, and it has been expressed by others before me, that when we open a school we can close a prison. I use the word "school" in that connection of course, in the sense of education in its widest possible form. Using "education" in that way, I would also relate it to the raising of the general living standards and social conditions of our people, because one very famous penologist, the late Clarence Darrow, once said that if you solve your social problem you will also solve nine-tenths of your problem of criminality, and that is true. I want to add my voice to the other voices which have asked that this problem should no longer be treated as a criminal problem, to be dealt with by penal measures, but as an educational problem, thereby bringing those young delinquents as we know them within the scope and purpose of our education machinery and taking them out of the control of the Home Office altogether. I want to see young children in this country who are proved guilty of offences of this kind, or who in fact are known to have committed them without the formal process of proving guilt, taken out of the criminal courts altogether and dealt with by an extended and developed system of education, which seems to me to be the proper angle of approach to the problem. I desire to make one or two constructive suggestions for the consideration of the Minister before I conclude. First of all, I think a very valuable part in the curative and preventive work of dealing with juvenile delinquency could be played by a wide development of child guidance clinics where expert advice and counsel could be given to distressed and distracted parents who would like to obtain the benefit of such advice. Secondly, there is the problem of the handicapped children—children who are maladjusted physically and mentally and who so often figure in swelling this volume of juvenile crime. Here we want a series of observation centres associated with all the great aggregations of population in the country, where the handicapped and maladjusted child can be diagnosed and given the opportunity for proper corrective treatment. We have seen the beginnings of that by voluntary efforts in one or two parts of the country, and the work done in that direction by voluntary institutions like the Institute for the Scientific Treatment of Delinquency in London is absolutely invaluable to our community. I want to see that sort of thing made available on a much wider scale right throughout the whole country. The third constructive point I wish to make is this. Where we have residential schools which are necessary for certain groups of these difficult children, it is no use trying to make them the responsibility of the local education authority as they are now, getting merely the "fag end" of their attention, because the Home Office cannot think of any better way of dealing with the problem. Residential schools ought to be in proper buildings designed for their purpose and their function. They ought to be properly staffed. They cannot be dealt with by the local authority in the way in which they are dealing with them now. I suggest the Home Office ought to face the problem by taking State responsibility for institutions of this kind so far as financing them is concerned, and having taken that responsibility, placing them for their administration and control under the direction of the education authorities, which may sometimes have to be combined in order to cover the needs of a particular area. The last point I wish to make is that in the treatment of these cases of juvenile delinquency, there ought to be in the minds of the Home Office one governing principle: The worst conceivable thing that anybody can do to an adolescent, or even a child younger than the adolescent stage, who has been found guilty of a social offence, is to put him into a prison even for one day. For me it is one of the saddening factors in the conditions of our time that in the centenary year of Elizabeth Fry, probably the greatest of the prison reformers, we are still sending boys and girls of 15 and 16 to prison. I say frankly that the development of the conditions which make that sort of thing at the moment more or less inevitable are a disgrace to a country calling itself civilized. I therefore ask the Home Office to keep in mind the declared intention of the Criminal Justice Bill, 1938, that every boy and girl under the age of 21 years should be kept out of prison, and that for no reason at all should they find themselves there. I hope the Home Office, in their consideration of this problem and in their proposals and policies in the future, will keep that idea steadfast before them.
The Debate this morning has ranged round a wide number of subjects pertaining to child delinquency, but I think it would be right to say that much of it has been more or less confined to the factors which contribute to making child delinquents. This is an aspect of the matter which, I readily concede, has no place in the Home Office: it is a matter which is essentially one for the Board of Education or some organisation established, not by the Home Office, but by someone connected with an educational institution, whether it be the Minister of Education or a voluntary association. The function of the Home Office is corrective. The function of the Ministry of Education is preventive. To that extent, it is not a matter for which the Home Office alone can be responsible. I heartily agree with the hon. Member for the Combined Universities (Mr. K. Lindsay) that this is a matter which should not be considered from its corrective aspect but as a question of prevention. and this as I say does not lie with the Home Department.I did not share the view of the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Austin), who opened this Debate, when he spoke of the youth of to-day and seemed to suggest that they had lost moral fibre and could not compare with the youth of yesterday. That reminds me very much of arguments which I heard, and I am sure other hon. Members heard, from time to time in their youth, suggesting that they were not as good as their fathers and yet, in a short life-time of 50 years, we have seen the most magnificent scientific achievements and the most productive period in the history of this country. I have no doubt that when the people who did these things were young, they were told by my generation that they had the Piccadilly-life complex and were not as good as their fathers. The same applies to the young men of today. It was the youth of 18, 19, 20 and 21 who won the battle of Britain, turned the course of this war in favour of the Allies, and certainly saved this country. I do not believe that there is any loss of moral fibre in the youth of this country. The problem has a tendency to become a little exaggerated. I am not saying this for the purpose of trying to condone or find an excuse for not dealing with this matter, but we should not overlook the fact that, although there has been an increase in the number of children coming before juvenile courts during the war, when we compare the position of what is called child delinquency with the position during the last war, we get a much better idea of the problem. I want to get this matter into its right perspective. Today the whole subject is inflated by the abnormal circumstances which obtain. The increase of juvenile offences during this war was expected, because of the experience which we had in the last war. We had that experience to guide us. The number of children and young persons charged before juvenile courts rose in 1917, the peak year of that war, by 37 per cent. compared with 1913, but only four years later the number had declined to a figure well below that of 1913. That shows clearly that the circumstances obtaining in war conditions conduced to an increase in child delinquency. For the purpose of comparison between this war and the last, it is better to take the number of juveniles under 17 who were found guilty of indictable offences. This group of offences represents, roughly speaking, the serious offences and excludes the minor contraventions of good manners such as playing football in the street or riding cycles on the footpath. On that basis we get the following results: In 1939, there were 30,543. In 1940, the percentage increase on that figure was 37 per cent. In 1941 it was 42 per cent., and that was the peak year of this war. In 1942 the figure had fallen to 25 per cent.; in 1943 it was slightly more and in 1944 it was slightly less. It is always varying year by year. One or two hon. Members have pointed out that the peak age of crime before the war was at 13 years and that in the succeeding ages crime began to fall. It is a consoling fact that many of the children who find themselves inside a juvenile court today do not continue to lead a life of crime. A very small percentage ever go inside a court again, and they become decent citizens. What are the factors which conduce to this abnormality during wartime? I have drawn the attention of the House to the position in the last war and in this war. The factors conducing have been actually greater in this war than they were in the last—the absence of fathers on war service and the consequent slackening of discipline in the home; mothers out at work and children left to look after themselves; the closing of schools, one of the greatest contributory factors. Schools were closed by reason of the fact that children had to be evacuated, and that generally meant the break-up of the whole of life for the younger children. Could there be a more fertile soil for the dislocation of family life than has been present between 1939 and 1945? For children over school age we recognise the influence of the black-out, the bombing and the consequent being out at night, not to mention the general upset caused by bombing in places like London. These brought a very disturbing element and undoubtedly very largely contributed to the difficulties. It is expected that the figures for 1945 will be much better and by 1946 will be even better, and we shall probably get back to the figure which prevailed in 1939. Thus we shall have had a reproduction of the experience we had during the last war. We now come to the figures for 1939. I do not think that when the abnormal period has passed, the problem of finding some means of reducing what we may call the hard core of 1939 will be beyond the wit of man. I endorse the view of my hon. Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities and my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. Paton). I believe it is possible, by giving youths the opportunity of finding a purpose in life, to minimise child delinquency to a point when only those children with some mental abnormality will be brought before any court. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich that child delinquency and its related problems requires further consideration than I have time in which to deal with it to-day. I have made inquiries of hon. Members and people in different walks of society—parsons, doctors and workmen—and each and all, like my hon. Friend, declare that had they been found out in their early days they would have been juvenile delinquents of their day. Therefore, it is necessary to realise that many of the offences for which children go before juvenile courts are those which are common to children, and it is necessary to find some ways and means of directing their mis-directed energy into useful paths. It has been proved that camps and the Boy Scout and Girl Guide movements have been great contributing factors in finding and keeping the attention of children and making it possible for them to have an interest in life. The records show that there is little trouble from the class of youth who are in such organisations. A number of questions have been put to me with regard to dance halls, pin-table saloons, greyhound racing, cinemas, Hollywood functions and a host of other matters. I do not think any purpose would be served by the Home Office attempting to embark on a lot of prohibitive legislation to prevent children going into dance halls, or to greyhound racing tracks, provided they are not permitted to bet, or to frequent amusement arcades, although I want to say nothing which will encourage them going into these places. The children who go to amusement arcades are no doubt attracted by the bright lights and other interesting things which they find there. It is a duty of the Home Office to consider any of these new features in life which attract the youth, and, if there is any very serious moral effect, to consider what can be done to deal with it. It has been found impracticable to prohibit children frequenting amusement arcades—
Implicit in the answer which I have just been given by the Under-Secretary, has been a case for the removal of the prohibition on young people under 18 going into public houses. My approach to this problem was that there is an equal to the drink traffic, in greyhound racing and dancing, and that there should be the same prohibition in these cases as there is against young people going into public houses.
That may be true, but would my hon. Friend suggest that there is anything immoral in going to a dance; and would he prohibit a young person under 18 from going into a dance hall? That seems to be drawing the bow a little too long. I am sure that 99 per cent. of the Members of this Assembly, as it is now constituted, if they danced in their youth, went into a dance hall before they were 18.
And into a public house.
With regard to a prohibition on young people going to the cinema, that does not come within the province of the Home Office. There is a Board of Film Censors who do their work reasonably well and consider the pictures which are for adults and those for universal exhibition. Because of the rise in juvenile delinquency during the war, it is suggested that there should be some other prohibition on children going into picture houses, but I do not think that would meet with the general assent of the House.
I did not intend that at all. The question is not one of preventing children entering cinemas, but of raising the standard of the films.
I think that we would all agree with that. We would all give moral assent to any factor which would contribute to making the pictures of a higher and more educative standard. It is, however, one thing to make a contribution so far as it lies within one's power, but it is another thing to endeavour to get legislation to prevent these things being shown.I had a number of questions on youth organisations, evening classes, youth leaders being released from the Army, and sex instruction. All these matters do not fall within the compass of my Department. They are questions of general education. Although child delinquency is a question for which the Home Office must take some responsibility insofar as it controls the juvenile courts and things of that kind, I want to make it clear that the Home Secretary does not appoint the magistrates sitting in those courts. That is a matter for the Lord Chancellor's Department. With regard to their age, their looks and their capacity, representations must be made to the Lord Chancellor. Some useful suggestions have been made during the Debate, and I will see that my right hon. Friend's attention is drawn to them. I believe that some substantial progress could be made to deal with the hard core of this problem.
Demobilisation (Agricultural Workers)
I thank you, Sir, for giving me this opportunity of addressing the House for the first time. I have watched many other hon. Members going through this ordeal, and I have often thought that they looked extremely brave and quite unembarrassed, and that when they asked for the indulgence of the House, they were hardly in need of it. I now realise that they were, and I hope hon. Members will forgive me for any shortcomings I display.I want today to press the Minister of Agriculture to try to persuade the Minister of Labour to increase the releases under Class B for agricultural workers. I know that it is just possible for an agricultural worker, provided he is a specialist and an expert, to be released under Class B at the present time, but I personally have tried, as I know other hon. Members have done, to get agricultural workers released, and have found the greatest difficulty in doing so. I ask the House to consider how the agricultural industry stands with regard to labour today. We know that the farmers, under the able leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson), have done a great job during the war. They have increased their output by 70 per cent. But does the House and the country realise that the number of regular workers has decreased from what it was in 1939? That is a very serious situation. Since I have been back in England—I came back before the General Election—I have studied this problem, because it affects me personally, as I am a farmer, and have farmed throughout the war. I have talked to a great many farmers about the labour position, and I would like to review it generally. I consider that there are three main reasons why we have managed to increase production during the war: first, because of all the help we have got from various sources in the field of labour; secondly, because of the extra effort made by the regular workers and the farmers—I do not think that aspect of the case is sufficiently realised—and thirdly, because of improved methods and the extension of mechanisation which has been introduced into the industry during the war. To take the first point, we have had tremendous help from our own Forces, from the Land Army, from harvest camps, and from prisoners of war. If we look at each of those in turn, we see now that we are going to lose some or all of those resources in the near future. We hope that the Government are going to demobilise our own Forces in this country, and if that is done, they will not be able in large units to work on the land next year, or indeed for much longer. We know that the Minister of Agriculture has produced the means by which the Women's Land Army can be released in the near future; so we shall have to accept the fact that we will be losing some of that force. We know, too, that the Italians will have to go back to their own country soon. I do not think people realise how much good has been done by school holidays, and I would like to pay a special tribute to schoolboys. We must accept the fact that next harvest we shall in all probabilty be losing that service. I have had four schoolboys from Manchester Grammar School in my home. They have come for the last four years, and we have been very proud of them. When they went away this year, having given up their whole holiday, I said "We will see you next year," but they said "No; after all, the wars are finished now, this is a voluntary camp, and we think we ought to have a summer holiday." Therefore, out of those resources that I have mentioned, we shall not be able to maintain that great source of casual labour which has been available to the farmers. I would like to enlarge upon the long hours which have been put in by our own farm workers. Most men come to work at seven o'clock in the morning, or in dairying, earlier, and they go home when the day's work is done. They may be supposed to go home at six o'clock, but as a rule through the hay and corn harvests they go home when dusk arrives and when the day's work is done. They have carried on in that way all through the war. I would like to remind the Minister that before the war there was a great drive to organise a system of relief in dairying. We paid considerable attention to it. Suppose that a man has a small farm and keeps from 12 to 20 dairy cows. His idea of a labour force would be three men. There would, of course, be other work to do on the farm. But most of these farmers have only two men, or possibly one man, at the moment, and those men have to work, milking morning and evening, seven days of the week. What we want to see is a proper force available. If they had three men they could arrange reliefs as they liked; they could have one man away for every third weekend. That is what we must aim at, and we must aim at cutting down the long hours which our regular workers have always put in. We have seen pictures in the newspapers of farmers ploughing by night during the war. I would like to remind the House that that has not been the night shift; it has been just extra work. Furthermore, there were last year over 20,000 workers over 65 years of age employed in agriculture, and I would be so bold as to say, although I cannot find out the figures for this year, that probably those 20,000 are still hard at work over 66 years of age. Since I have been a Member of the House, I have been asked by several farmers to obtain release for either sons or workers who were with them before the war. I have looked into their cases, and it has seemed to me that they were good. However, when I sent them forward to the War Agricultural Executive Committee, I received a note back to say that that was nothing exceptional, and now that I have talked to many farmers I find that that is indeed the fact. We cannot expect our farm workers to go on working for ever 60 or 70 hours a week. What we ask is that those men in the Forces who really know the business and who belong to the land should be returned to it quickly. We shall go on producing all the food we can. We should like to increase our output. If necessary, we shall be prepared to work long hours as we always have done on the land, but it is most disheartening to farm workers who do put in these long hours— this is no fairy tale— to see other industries claiming a 40-hour week at greater wages. This is the primary and Most important industry in the country. We claim the right to have our men returned under Class B, and we expect to see every other industry working as hard. The building industry and every other important industry must put in these long hours and overtime as do the food producers of the country. While speaking on the subject of labour, I would like to mention the long-term outlook for agriculture. As I have said, the number of regular workers has decreased during the war, although the output has increased by 70 per cent., and we reckon that we need an increase of regular workers of something like 100,000 to 200,000 in order to keep up the present rate of production. I would remind the Government that they have given a pledge that they will do all sorts of good things for agriculture—that they will keep markets firm, fix prices and keep up production, but let me say that all those good intentions are worth absolutely nothing if we do not have the labour to carry them into action.
The hon. and gallant Member for Ludlow (Lieut.-Colonel Corbett) is much to be congratulated in raising this subject in his maiden speech. He knows this subject, and the House likes a man who speaks from experience. He put the case for agriculture with great skill, and agriculture is an industry which needs to be explained clearly to a House of Commons whose Members are predominantly drawn from the towns. I hope we shall have the opportunity of hearing him again on this subject many times in the future.I want to devote my remarks to the question of Class B releases. As the House knows, a man can only be got out under Class B for work in agriculture if he can be proved to be an individual specialist. The rules governing this category of specialists were published last May, and I think all hon. Members representing rural constituencies now know how few men can get through the net. I believe I am right in saying that up to date only some 600 men have been released under Class B in England and Wales, while the cases of another few hundred are being given favourable con- sideration. This number represents only something like one in fifteen of the applications, and the number of applications, judging from my own county, has been severely restricted because men were told by the Agricultural Committees that they had no chance and so they withdrew their requests. I want the House to compare this small number of 600 men released to this great industry with the food shortage. We all know, and the hon. and gallant Member has just reminded us, that had it not been for the Women's Land Army and the prisoners of war, the output of British grown food would have been very much lower than it is to-day. We know that, sooner or later, the prisoners of war will be repatriated, and that sooner or later the girls will leave the land. What is to happen then? I suggest that food is so short, the crisis that is coming upon agriculture is so serious, that the Government must put labour for the land in the top priority, which they are not doing at present. Let me give one example from milk production in Wiltshire. We are now employing 1,500 temporary milkers, that is to say workers who are either prisoners of war or women. We know that we shall lose those 1,500 before long, and how is the wastage to be made up? We see no prospect of it, and already farmers are coming to me and saying that they must cut down their dairies because they cannot get herdsmen and other skilled workers.
Will the hon. Member allow me to make a suggestion? The best way of attracting people to the land is to make the conditions of their employment comparable with those in the large towns. Does he not agree that until that is done, it will not be possible to get the workers on the land?
The hon. Gentleman is flattering me, because he is repeating in a few words an argument he could have read in my book entitled, "Wages on the Farm," if he had spent a shilling on it. I am now discussing the question of men who want to come back to the land from the Forces but cannot because the rules do not allow them to do so. It is a narrow point compared to the wider issue raised by the hon. Gentleman. I was pointing out that many farmers are going to cut down their dairies if the key men are not released, and that there are key men in the Forces who want to go back, but who cannot do so under Class B as it is operated at the present time. I ask the Government why we cannot treat agriculture on the same basis as the building industry in regard to Class B releases. Will they tell us whether they really consider that food production is not now just as urgent as the building of houses? Evidently, last May, when the Coalition Government published the rules for releases under Class B, they must have taken a decision that food production was not as important as house building. Whatever the situation was in regard to food in May last, it is surely much worse to-day; the end of the war has revealed hunger conditions in Europe beyond our most pessimistic calculations, and to that gloomy picture we must add our own difficulties created by the end of Lend-Lease.I would mention another point. My hon. Friends on this side of the House and I were seriously perturbed last week when the Chancellor of the Exchequer mentioned that he was going to give an unlimited subsidy to keep the cost of living where it is. He said it would certainly cost £300,000,000, and might cost a great deal more. The greater part of that subsidy goes, of course, in maintaining the price of food. With such prospects of unlimited subsidy in front of us, on financial grounds alone the Government should leave nothing undone to increase the home production of food, which would enable us to cut down the proportion of our taxes and savings that has to be devoted to a purpose against which no fixed assets can be created. Any severe drop in the food supply from our own land must mean higher subsidies, because the price of the food which we are buying from abroad today is very high indeed and is likely to continue so for some time. I would ask the Minister of Agriculture to impress upon his right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour the peculiarities of the agricultural industry, which those who have their minds chiefly on the manufacturing industries sometimes overlook. In the first place, farming is a continuous business. The farmer cannot cut down his operations, or shut them down altogether, for a few days. As the hon. and gallant Member just said, the cow is an animal which has to be milked twice a day seven days a week, or else she must be sold. Also, the number of days is limited on which British weather gives a man the opportunity to carry out his cultivations in the fields. If his labour is not handy, he may miss those patches of good weather, and that will spoil the whole season. Industry is not under that handicap. A factory can take men off a machine, or reduce the number of shifts, and nothing very serious happens to the plant. Such opportunities are not open to the farmer; he has to go on every day of the week, every week in the month, and every month in the year. If he shuts down at all it may have a fatal effect on his output. My next point is this. Agriculture is an industry of very small units. There are, I believe, 300,000 farms in England and Wales, and the average labour force is about 3½ workers per farm. That means that the skilled labour is spread much more widely and much more thinly than over manufacturing industry, and therefore the proportion of the total labour force which it is right to consider as key men for the purpose of release under Class B is very much greater than in industries which are organised in big units. After reading these rules governing releases under Class B one must conclude that those who drew them up were very urban-minded. They do not appear to have considered all the peculiarities of the countryside. I ask the Minister to draw the attention of the Ministry of Labour and National Service to these peculiarities of agriculture, which, especially in regard to the definition of key men, do not seem to have been properly considered. I come to a few practical suggestions—four in number. First I want the definition of individual specialists to be considerably widened, and to embrace all those men who really are key men on small farms. Any man who can look after stock, or do one of the complicated operations of farming, like thatching, is really a key man. He cannot be replaced by anybody who has not had years of experience on the land. So, I want the definition of key men to be considerably widened. Secondly, I want the overall shortage of labour in the industry to be taken into consideration when examining the applications for release under Class B. It is not so at present, but surely this is exactly what happens in the building industry, where the overall shortage has been made one of the principal factors for accepting applications for releases under Class B for building workers. The Government would have great difficulty in showing that food production was less in the national interest today than the building of houses. The third point is that I understand no applications, even within the rules as they are now, are accepted for any men whose release groups under Class A are comparatively early numbers. That is a restriction that ought to be removed. It would have been better to have removed it before last harvest, but it is not too late to mend. Many farmers are almost at the end of their tether, and the prospect of getting the men out whom they know well, even a month or two earlier than they could anticipate under Class A, would cheer them up and help them through the winter. My final point is, that I wonder whether the Minister can persuade his Service colleagues to let women in the Forces volunteer to complete their service in the Women's Land Army? I know two or three who would like to do it, and, although we might not get many, even a few would be important because agriculture cannot now attract young people to the industry. The position of the intake is so serious that any young girls who want to come into agriculture should be given the chance now. The Government will be forced by the food shortage to open the gates of Class B releases whatever the position of the scheme as a whole. We know, in fact, that the Scheme has not lived up to expectations and that only between 2 per cent. and 3 per cent. of the releases under Class A have come out under B, that is only about 13,000 instead of 60,000. That being the case, my hon. Friends and I can press the Government to increase the number of releases for agriculture without endangering the principle underlying the relation between the rate in releases under Class A and releases under Class B. I think that that is a very powerful argument. I do not know when the prisoners of war will go home and when the land girls will leave the farms, but I am sure that a crisis of national proportions is blowing up in agriculture on account of the shortage of labour. Nearly all other industries can look forward for the next two years, as demobilisation proceeds, to an increase in their total labour forces. Agriculture can look forward to nothing of the kind. The normal wastage, plus the loss of prisoners of war and of the Land Army, are not going to be made up out of the releases under Class A. That is a most serious position for our food industry. The crisis cannot be averted unless it is tackled in many different ways; but one sensible thing that the Government can do is to speed up the releases under Class B. If they do that, they will get more home-grown food and incidentally, they will reduce the appalling burden on the Exchequer of the subsidy to keep down the cost of living. I would add one last point. All of us who listened to the Debate here a week ago on the situation in Europe must feel the gravest anxiety if we see the Government not doing everything that is possible in their power to enable us to give some help, even if it is only a very little more, to the miserable people on the continent of Europe.
It is appropriate that in my maiden speech I should speak about agriculture, and I am very sorry, that, this afternoon, when we are discussing a subject of such vital importance to the nation, the House should not have been full. There was much in the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) with which I am prepared to agree, but I am not sure whether hon. Gentlemen opposite realise that the complexion on this side of the House at the present time is somewhat different from what it was in the last Parliament. I am happy to say that, on this side, there are now a few Members who are engaged in practical agriculture and, as one of those who obtains his living from farming, I am naturally perturbed, as are hon. Gentlemen opposite, at the way in which the releases are conducted under Class B. I am most anxious that agriculture should have its full quota of men released. During the war period we did great things in farming. We carried on under tremendous difficulties. We were asked to produce the food of the people, and to everybody's credit in the industry, we did what was required of us.Now things are changing. We are losing our men and we have not sufficient skilled men. We may shortly lose the prisoners of war, mostly Italians, and possibly later on the Germans. We are losing our land girls, and as far as I can see we have no surplus labour in the industry with which we can replace the losses we shall suffer in the next few months. That is an extremely grave position. We cannot carry on our industry with a shortage of labour. I am sorry indeed that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour is not here today but I understand that it is not possible for him to be here, possibly because this Debate was arranged at short notice. But we on our side do want to impress upon the Minister the urgency of our case and the necessities of the country, because if we cannot produce, then it means that we shall have to import more, and conditions throughout the country are likely to suffer. We want a prosperous and contented agriculture, and we want, above all things, to supply the good food which the nation requires. Everybody here can see the importance of this matter, and I hope that, when this Debate comes to the notice of the Minister of Labour, he will see the force of the arguments which have been used and will help us in the release of these men. The last speaker referred to the question of the individual specialist. That is a point which has seriously puzzled me. Those of us who are interested in agriculture, and those of us who represent rural constituencies—and as I say there are a good number on this side of the House who represent rural constituencies—are much perplexed by this question of the individual specialist. In many cases, I have been anxious to get back from the Forces boys who are skilled tractor drivers. They are really necessary, and I hope something will be done by which their services can be brought back into the industry. It is very necessary that they should come back to us. In my own Division I represent people who live on some of the finest land in this country, as well as people who live on some of the worst; I have got a happy mixture of the two sorts, but we are all in the same boat. The position is that, as in all producing areas, we require labour for potatoes, sugar beet and so on, while the farmers of our highlands of Norfolk are also short of the skilled men to whom they look for means to carry on. I do not want, in this my maiden speech, to trouble the House further, but I do say that we ought to look to the future of our industry. We have got a job to do—the most important job in this country at any time—and we do want the House, and, particularly, the Minister of Labour, to help us in the work which will come to our hands in the next few months—work which, I hope, will be well done by the whole of our industry.
I give my warm support to the plea which has been made to the Minister, and, in doing so, I would remind the House of two facts which seem to have a very direct bearing on this matter. The first is that, during the war years, agriculture was a reserved occupation, and the second is that, although it was a reserved occupation, a very large number of agricultural workers nevertheless joined up and served in the fighting Forces. From these two facts, the deductions, I suggest, are as follows. The fact that it was a reserved occupation during the war would seem to lend weight to the importance of providing sufficient labour for agriculture now; and the fact that a large number of men joined up, and, in doing so, very frequently left their fathers to carry a heavy burden, means that farming has been denuded of men at a time when they are greatly needed. The fathers are, in many cases, growing old too quickly. They are having to carry a burden which they cannot easily bear very much longer.There would, perhaps, be less need for an increase in the Class B releases, were it not for the fact that the Class C releases are so slow. Both the Class B and Class C releases are so tied up with regulations at this moment that it is extremely difficult for any ready remedy to be found to this problem on account of these restrictions. When I rose to my feet, I was not aware of the fact that the hon. and gallant Gentleman who preceded me was making his maiden speech. Indeed, I am surprised now to find that it is so, because he delivered his speech with great assurance. I learn that he is a practical farmer. As I am not a practical farmer myself, I feel that, by comparison with the time he occupied, I am wasting the time of the House. I am sure we all look forward to his further contributions on these occasions, and that we shall give close attention to what he has to say. I think it is agreed on all sides of the House that we should aim at maximum production on the farms—not merely this year or next year, but always in the future. It has become almost a platitude, but one which will not suffer from being repeated, that in our land we have the greatest possible national asset. In the land, we have a source, not only of great wealth but, I suggest, the solution of a great many of our future problems. The argument which has to be put forward on these occasions is not only the economic and social one; but, as the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) would say, the question is also important morally. If we are not very careful, we may find, when the men are coming out of the Forces and turning their minds to their future occupations, that the possibility of their going on to the land is entirely overlooked. Men coming out of the Forces need a very great deal of encouragement when deciding which job to enter. During the days of the Coalition Government earlier this year, that encouragement was promised by the then Parliamentary-Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture in announcing a scheme for the training of, I think 100,000 men coming out of the Services. We were given to understand that that scheme would be put into operation straight away. My own information is, however, that the scheme is not very well forward. Would it not be a great opportunity to ensure that all the vacancies which can be found under that scheme will be filled straight away, so that the Forces can, under a system of block releases under Class B, at once begin their return to the land? I have another suggestion which I hope may commend itself to the Minister; and I am tempted to put that forward, because in Huntingdonshire, the constituency which I have the honour to represent, it so happens, merely by accident, that we have a very large number of Territorial soldiers who were captured in the early stages of the war in the Far East. Those who have been fortunate enough to survive their terrible experiences are now coming home, and their immediate future in the Services seems uncertain. I suggest that a block release could be made in their favour, and I feel confident that, if that were done, the majority would go back to the land from which most of them came. I most warmly support the request which has been put forward in this Debate.
All I wish to say on this matter is that agriculture is the one industry which cannot afford a temporary shortage of labour. The position is that agriculture cannot run at half speed, because in that way you not merely destroy its immediate production, you destroy its potential production. Take, for instance, a dairy herd. At present, the number of cows which can be maintained, is conditioned by the number of people who can be obtained to milk them. Herds all over the country this winter are being reduced for the simple reason that you cannot get people to milk them. That does not merely mean an immediate loss of milk; it means a loss of calves, and a potential loss of milk in the future. In the same way, if you do not till your land properly this winter, you are not merely losing your next crop; you are damaging the crop after that and the crop after that. That is the position of agriculture this winter.We have carried on with the assistance of the Women's Land Army and with the assistance of the Italians, and the position now is that the Italians are getting sulky. They are working at half-speed. There is something like a "go slow" strike among the Italians at this moment. I am not speaking of the Italians on my own farm—I have been very lucky with them and they have done a wonderfully good job—but I hear it on all sides. They feel they are co-belligerents, they feel the war is over, they are getting news of their own farms in Italy, of the hunger of their own families, and that nothing can go to their own families, and they are desperately anxious to go back to their wives and children. The interest they used to take in their job is disappearing. Again, the Women's Land Army, which did a magnificent job during the war, is not working so satisfactorily now for somewhat different reasons. All those things combine to produce a serious result. One's own workers are getting older and growing tired; the Italians are not doing the work they formerly did, and the Women's Land Army is disappearing. The result is that this winter the work that should be done on the farms is not being done. The consequences will be very serious indeed, not merely to the next harvest but the harvests that will come after; not merely to the herds today but to the herds as they will be in the future. After all, the stock position of our dairy herds is not merely a problem for England; it is a problem for Europe, whose dairy cattle have been slaughtered. We are not producing those dairy cattle which are vitally required, simply because there are not the men to milk them. I urge the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Labour, therefore, to take a very serious view of this. Unless men are released immediately, so that the work on the farms can be done this winter, irreparable damage will be caused.
It is my very pleasant duty to congratulate the hon. Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) on his maiden speech. It seems hard to realise that it was a maiden speech, it was delivered with such assurance and skill. The hon.Gentleman spoke with great sincerity and knowledge, and it is always a pleasure to hear speeches made by hon. Members with first-hand knowledge. I know that the future contributions of the hon. Gentleman to our Debates will be listened to with interest and will be of great value.I would like to say a few words in support of this plea. Those of us who live among the agricultural community know to what very dire straits many farmers are now reduced. In this connection I would like to speak especially on behalf of small farmers who have had practically no help through the war. These very often are old men who have been struggling hard, and they are very tired indeed now. It is only fair that these older men should get some relief. They have the very greatest difficulty in getting any of their sons released from the Forces, and I think we should do something to help them. We all agree on the importance of agriculture, we all agree that it is vital, we all agree that for many years to come we shall have to go on growing a large percentage of the food we eat in these islands—far more than pre-war. Therefore, we shall need more manpower on the land than we had before the war. We should start to get that manpower on to the land now because, unless we do so, where shall we be when the prisoners of war go, and when the Women's Land Army is reduced, as it is bound to be in the course of time? The supply of manpower for agriculture is a vital question for all of us, not only for those in the countryside, but the people in the towns too, because so much of our food supply depends on it and we have to eat. All this is quite obvious, but I think it cannot be stressed too often. It is not enough for the Government to affirm its interest in agriculture, it must do something, and it is really time that we got more of these people back from the Forces on to the land, to make things easier for the agricultural industry which has worked so magnificently during the war, and to which we owe so much.
I am very pleased indeed to have had the opportunity of listening to the tributes which have been paid so generously this afternoon to the agricultural workers of this country. It is perfectly true that, with less labour, we have managed during the war to increase our production by over 70 per cent. That is a remarkable achievement, and because of that I realise how necessary it is that we show in a practical way how much we appreciate the contribution which all engaged in agriculture have contributed to the victory that we celebrated such a short while ago. I, therefore, find myself supporting the appeal to the Minister of Labour to reconsider the decision that apparently has been come to, in regard to the question of Class B releases to agricultural workers who, we all agree, are skilled workers. Seeing that we have, during the war, realised the importance and skill entailed in the proper cultivation of the land, it is difficult to understand why we have not been more generous in both Class B and Class C releases as far as these workers are concerned.I wonder why those who have spoken so far, have placed so much emphasis on Class B releases and have not been so much concerned with the fact that a large proportion of ex-agricultural workers who have been under Class A, are not willingly returning to the land. Although I am not a farmer, I claim to have some knowledge of agriculture in that I have had, for the past 25 years, the honour of representing the agricultural workers on the Kent agricultural wages committee and for the past two years I have been a representative of the agricultural workers on the Central Agricultural Wages Board. If we desire to attract the extra 100,000 or 200,000 workers that have been referred to this afternoon, to this very important industry, then we have to make the conditions under which they work and live sufficiently attractive. I did not hear, when we were discussing the question of the £4 10s. minimum wage for agricultural workers, so much unanimity as to the value of the work performed as I have heard this afternoon, when we are trying to bring pressure to bear upon a Socialist Minister of Labour to release agricultural workers from the Forces. Is there a fear that unless these men are returned to the land under Class B releases, which of course involves a compulsory return to agriculture, we shall not get voluntarily the 100,000 or 200,000 we require? I am not quarrelling with that figure. I think we require that amount of labour on the farms to-day. These men, among whom I have worked practically the whole of my adult life, are often referred to as the "salt of the earth." I know their value, but whilst they appreciate and are grateful for services rendered to them, and will give a fair return for wages that are paid them, they never forget a disservice and they were the victims of great disservice after the last war. Those men had their wages in Kent reduced, in a matter of a few weeks, when the agricultural wages boards and committees were abolished, from 47s. 6d. to 32s. and less. They are expecting that that kind of thing will happen again. It was not until 1924, when a Socialist Government restored the Agricultural Wages Board, that we began very slowly to force the wages up again. I am not unmindful of the difficulties of the farmers; I make it my business to do what I can to keep in contact with the representatives of the National Farmers' Union, because I realise that there are difficulties in connection with this industry that one does not find in general industry and, so far as we are able, we want to meet those difficulties. We are concerned very much about this question of the depopulation of the countryside and I hope that whilst hon.Members opposite are pressing for Class B releases, they will bear in mind the point that they should do something to see that the men who are coming out now, return to an industry which offers them a decent standard of existence.
All of us in this House, who have gone through the same experience ourselves, must naturally feel sympathy with anyone who makes a maiden speech, and I wish to offer congratulations to the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Wells) upon his skilled address. If I agree more with the other Members opposite who are practical farmers, that is, I suppose, natural, but certainly because of the interest the hon. Member for Faversham takes in this vital problem I am sure we all look forward to hearing from him in future in our Debates. I do not propose to discuss the general issue at any length because that has been done very admirably and adequately. I would simply say that I adopt the arguments of the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) who, I think, if it is not impertinent to say so, put them succinctly and with effect. I wish to raise points in connection with Northern Ireland. We are in the unusual position of being an exporting area. We should not have been obliged to resort to rationing at all in eggs, or butter, but we have, as is proper, been part of the general scheme for rationing. We have been subject to rationing, as have people here, and have exported the surplus for the use of our brethren in England and Scotland, and I do not think that throughout the whole period of the war I have had a single complaint from my constituents on that point. I think that is remarkable, because even in Northern Ireland we have unreasonable constituents.We are an area which, through no fault of our own, is not subject to National Service. But every Member for Northern Ireland voted for National Service, and as a matter of fact I acted as a teller against my own party. It has produced this situation, that on some farms the younger men have joined up and the older men said "We will carry on. That is all right, go and fight." No one at that time was thinking of the war lasting six years; one is naturally optimistic about these things. In many cases the older people have broken down, sometimes they have died and sometimes they have become unfit for further work, while on the farms next door, where no one has left, conditions are completely different. On the patriotic farm it is very difficult for them to carry on, and they are very largely family farms. No special consideration has ever been given by the Government to this situation. On the joint release committees there was a representative of the Services concerned, but there was no representative of the Minister of Labour for Northern Ireland, who knew the situation. There was only a representative of the British Ministry of Labour and National Service, who was wholly unacquainted with the situation, and who was dealing with the matter as if it was in an area in which the National Service Acts applied. That has meant injustice. I have known of instances where the Northern Ireland Ministry of Agriculture have recommended the release of a man for agriculture, and have had it turned down by the joint release tribunal. Surely the Minister of Agriculture for the particular area should be the best qualified to judge whether it is in the public interest that a man should be released. I sometimes think that we are rather inclined to pay too much attention to the individual interest, and too little to the public interest. There is no service which is more valuable than the production of foodstuffs, not even housing, because it is no good having a roof over your head if you have nothing to eat. Good men in agriculture are a vital need. As has been said, agriculture cannot stand still. You cannot stop the machine. The skilled agricultural worker is vital and, therefore, as strongly as I can, I would urge the Minister of Agriculture to accept the proposals which have been put here today. In particular I would ask that in any question relating to Northern Ireland he should see that the men who are volunteers and who, in many cases, see their farms being ruined by their not being released, are given the proper degree of justice which their gallant action in volunteering has earned. The farms of those who joined up should not be ruined while the farms of those who did not join up are flourishing.
I would like to say a few words in support of what has been said on this subject today. In my own county, Flintshire, which has a record second to none in this war for the production of food, we have mainly small farms, on which the work is done by the farmer and his sons. The farming community are a very patriotic body, and many farmers' sons volunteered for the Services during the war and, before that, many were in the Territorial Army. So many farms have been reduced in labour force as a result of that that farmers have had to struggle on as best they could, and are now getting too old for their job. They are beginning to break down under the strain, they are suffering from things like hernia, and they cannot carry on very much longer. It is not a question of sons not wanting to come back, or not being keen on agriculture; they are skilled men and are mad keen on getting back. The fact that so many are not doing anything now makes the situation worse. The last man I interviewed, who was trying to get back under Class B, was a sergeant in the R.A.F. I asked him what he was now doing and he said ''I spend my time playing patience in the sergeants' mess." This man has some time to go yet, and no doubt in six months' time he will still be playing patience, providing he can get the cards. This makes people bitter, because they know that when they get back there is great danger that they will find their fathers broken in health, and their farms ruined. The request made today is really to accelerate the Class B release scheme. I feel that the whole demobilisation scheme wants thinking out again from the beginning, and that the present position of the Government will ultimately be untenable. At the moment we are having limited withdrawals to prepared positions, but unless the Government think this matter out again they are in great danger of a rout. I have no doubt that the Minister of Agriculture knows the story of the Gadarene swine, but I believe that rushing down a steep slope into the sea will be a comparatively well-planned move, compared to the ultimate rout of Ministers on this issue, unless the Government think things out again from the beginning.
I would like to add my voice to the plea that agricultural workers should be released freely from the Services to work on farms. It would, of course, be best from the point of view of agricul- ture as a whole if the general scheme of release under Class B could be applied to this industry. I imagine that the present Minister would be very glad if Members pressed him and the Government that this should be so. It is probably not the Minister of Agriculture whom we have to persuade, but other Ministers who have strong claims for other industries and other occupations. As I understand the position, under Class B there are two types of release—general release, and the release of individual specialists, key men. I would like some information about that. Am I right in thinking that a man has to get the support of the war agricultural executive committee if he wants to be released as a key man under Class B?I think of a case of a man who is in the Navy, doing nothing at the moment. He has a small farm, which is being managed by his mother. It is being managed badly. I have pressed this matter during this last nine or 12 months. The farm is not producing the food it ought to produce and, possibly, is being managed so badly now that it ought to be taken over. Yet the man who could manage it is doing nothing whatever at a naval depot, and has been doing nothing since the end of the Japanese war. I took this matter up in the interval between the end of the German war and the end of the Japanese war and I found that restrictions on the war agricultural committees had been tightened up, and that they could not even recommend that man for release because of the rules laid down by the Ministry. I want to know what is the position today, and whether the Minister cannot give very much wider latitude to the labour departments of the war agricultural executives to recommend men who are vitally needed on farms. There might easily be a possibility of getting out individual men in particularly hard cases. The Ministry have a scheme for training ex-Service men for agriculture. I would like to know how that scheme is going. Does the Minister find that men are anxious to avail themselves of the scheme? How many men are being trained? How many farms are available to train them? I suppose that it is not too early to ask for that information, because I think the scheme was an- nounced some time early in the summer. I am doubtful whether that scheme is going to work, and if the Minister has figures or information on how it is going, I should be very glad to have them. This is one way of getting new workers into industry. I hope that the scheme will be successful, but from the information which I have, it appears that it is not appealing very strongly to ex-Service men. There has been a tremendous strain on the small farmers in my part of the world, during the war, to carry out the instructions of the war executive committees. They have had to do far more work, with far less labour, under the difficulties of bad harvests, with the exception of this year's harvest, and shortages of every kind. They are over-taxed with the long war, and I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some help in getting men out to these farms, particularly in cases in which the older people are breaking down under the strain.
I would add a very few words in support of the Minister of Agriculture, in the battle which I feel sure he is prepared to carry on with his colleague, the Minister of Labour. We in Somerset think that that is probably one of the most hardly dealt with places with regard to labour. Of all the counties in England we have done as much as any other to translate our traditional type of farming into modern farming, by taking the plough round the farm at excessive speed, and involving ourselves in the use of machinery and farm implements not in common use in that part of the country. We feel the shortage of labour acutely. We cannot get farm implements and machines serviced in the way they should be serviced, owing to the shortage of labour in local garages and agencies which look after these implements. We cannot get the machines serviced on the farms because they have no labour to service them. This shortage of labour has been felt throughout all farm operations, which, in modern farming, must include the use of machines.I ask the Minister to look very carefully into the subject of releases, and to try to find some means by which cases on the borderline of being considered compassionate cases, are dealt with by the labour committees of the war agricultural committees. I think that the definition of a compassionate case under which they are working now, cannot stand close examinaton. It is a very difficult point for them, as the definition at present stands, and I would ask the Minister to give it consideration. I have known a number of cases turned down simply because a man is told that his is a compassionate case, and must be dealt with in the normal way, through the Services, as a compassionate case. It only needs a little thought to see the difficulties that arise in these borderline cases. I would like to say a word on what was suggested by the hon. Member opposite concerning the responsibility for finding labour to work on the land, and making it possible for men to get out of the Services to work on the land. That responsibility is not confined to this country by any means. We have great world responsibilities. Every ounce of food which we fail to produce here, which could have been produced if we had the labour, adds to the load on the world tonnage and shipping tonnage position. We have to face that fact. We shall not, and this Government will not, stand well in the eyes of the world and of the starving population of Europe, if they are not prepared to use their best endeavours to extract from the Services those who are capable of producing more food from this country, so that we shall make a lesser demand on the food producing markets of the world.
I think that it will be generally agreed that we have had a very interesting Debate, and have listened to some excellent maiden speeches. I think that this Debate could have been even more useful, if we had had the advantage of the presence on the Front Benches of Ministers more directly concerned. Would it be indiscreet to ask the present Minister of Agriculture for his private views on this subject? I suspect, knowing him, and knowing the views I should entertain if I were sitting in his place, that he agrees with practically every word that has been said. The unfortunate thing is that he has not the responsibility. The responsibility is on certain of his colleagues. I cannot help feeling it would have been much more effective if those colleagues could have been present to hear what was said, and get the feeling of the House and the feel- ing of urgency expressed in all parts, rather than obtain it secondhand in HANSARD, or even to listen to it retailed by the right hon. Gentleman.It would be quite easy for the present Minister to make the obvious retort to me that I was a member of the late Coalition Government which laid down the details of Class B. That is perfectly true. It is disclosing no Government secret, I think, to say that I, and many other Ministers responsible for other Departments, tried to get the men for whom they were responsible included in Class B; but the argument against that, at that time, convinced us, and we lost the battle. The position to-day is appreciably more serious than it was, even when Class B arrangements were originally devised. No one can accuse me or the present Minister of having taken an unduly optimistic view of conditions in the world, so far as food is concerned, after the war. He and I, in the Autumn of 1943, in speeches warned the country that conditions after the war were, inevitably, going to be more difficult than they had been during the war; but neither of us, I think, realised how much more difficult, in fact, conditions would prove to be than the worst we anticipated. It is no argument to say that because a scheme was regarded as adequate a year ago, that scheme must be stuck to through thick and thin today. The whole basis of that scheme was that if you made any exception at all from the narrow class of builders and a few key specialists in other industries, you were opening the door so wide that you would destroy the very basis of the general demobilisation scheme. When we were drawing up this Class B scheme, we anticipated that the total releases under that scheme would be of the order of 60,000 to 70,000 persons. That was at a time when we anticipated that the total releases by the end of the year would be of the order of 750,000. But the war has come to an end since then. In deference to pressure, exercised from all quarters of the House, the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour stated that he hoped to speed up demobilisation, and hoped to get 1,000,000 men out. Without any accusation of unfairness to the men still in the Forces, that should automatically increase Class B releases to 100,000 by December. What are the actual figures? The latest we have been given are that some beggarly total of 9,000, 10,000 or 15,000 men have hitherto been released under Class B. Therefore, I submit that without doing any injustice to men in Class A, there is plenty of room now to make a special exception by getting out men who will be engaged in agriculture. My hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) said that it was all very well to say that houses are needed; it is quite true, but equally important is that the people's bellies should be filled. Speaking with all the seriousness at my command, I say that unless something is done, and done quickly, to get more labour for the industry, and it is by including agriculture under Class B that that can be done most quickly, production will break down. Members on all sides have quite rightly pointed out that we have been dependent on prisoner of war and women labour. Now that the Italian prisoners know that they are going home they are working even less well than before. The Italian prisoners I have employed have worked well up to now, but they hear that they are going home, and already they are beginning to work less well, and I am not sure that one can blame them. I have six prisoners working for me. If they go away what am I to do, how am I to keep up production as I have been able to do up to now, still less increase it, as I could do with more men? I have a good deal of sympathy with the right hon. Lady the Minister of Education. She got into a good deal of trouble with other Members of the Cabinet for the speech she made at Jarrow, and I daresay that she was technically wrong. But, after all, she is a woman, with all the natural human instincts of a woman, caring and anxious about what is to happen to other women and children. Though possibly she was technically wrong in saying that there was a danger of bread rationing this winter—she was repudiated rather harshly, I think, by her right hon. Friend the Minister of Food—I am pretty sure that what actually happened was that she was impressed, as I imagine anyone would be, if they could see the figures showing what the actual food stocks in this country are. She may have been technically wrong in saying that bread rationing might be coming, but the present Minister of Agri- culture and I ceased to give directions for wheat growing this winter because we believed that there were ample supplies of wheat coming forward in the world. Bread is not the only thing for which wheat is required. For example, we put on foot arrangements for increased rations for pigs and poultry, not because we had the wheat actually in the country, but because we were confident that when the time came when the stocks of pigs and poultry would be up, by the early part of next year, adequate supplies of wheat would be coming forward. Why should we not be told the actual position? Why should the Minister of Food say that he will not disclose the stocks of food in the country? There cannot at the present time be any question of public interest for not disclosing the facts. It may have been in the public interest not to do so during the war, when there were plenty of occasions when we were very close to the bone. I remember an occasion when bacon stocks were so low that bacon was actually being taken direct from the ship for retail distribution. If that had been said at the time it would have caused undue apprehension at home, and would certainly have given undue encouragement to our enemies. But those conditions do not exist today. Why should not we be told? There cannot be any danger of speculation, of what used to be called forestalling, because the Minister of Food is the importer, he is the purchaser, he has long-term contracts running with overseas suppliers. What is the actual position today? I am bound to say that the only conclusion we can reach, in the absence of any explanation of why this secret should be kept, is that the Government are afraid of letting people know how serious is the position. I do not know what the Minister of Agriculture has in mind for next year for his cropping programme. We decided not to issue directions this year for wheat. In the light of the information we had I think that was a right decision. Not only were there prospects of ample supplies of wheat, but our land had been pushed so hard that it was very desirable to give it a rest, to some extent. It may well be that in the light of circumstances the Minister of Agriculture will next year find himself compelled to demand a bigger acreage of wheat and ask the committees to issue directions. In my view there is not the slightest chance of those directions being complied with, or of his getting that increased acreage, unless he can now provide us with the additional labour. As the hon. and gallant Member for King's Lynn (Major Wise) so rightly said, this is a long-term job. Farmers do not just consider the situation today. They have to look ahead, and they cannot be expected to go on increasing their burdens, increasing their tillage acreage, bringing it back to the peak of two years ago, unless they are reasonably confident that they will have the labour when the time comes, and that they will have the labour now to make the necessary preparations. Unless the right hon. Gentleman can persuade his colleagues in the immediate future, in the course of the next week or two, to modify the existing system and to say that a block release of something of the order of 15,000 or 20,000 men engaged in agriculture shall be included in Class B, and unless he can, in addition, persuade them to alter those restrictive regulations referred to by various speakers, including the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts), there is no prospect whatever of the food production of this country being maintained next year at its present level, and still less of its being increased to meet the greater demands likely to be made upon the farmers of this country.
I will not abuse the consideration extended to me in being allowed a few minutes in which to speak. There is one aspect of the discussion which has not, I think, been sufficiently stressed today. What are the stark economic realities behind the agricultural industry of this country at the present time? After two generations of cheap imports, paid for by the interest on our overseas investments and our invisible exports, it is almost impossible to get people to realise the actual position we have to face today.Those invisible exports have almost disappeared. The interests from our overseas investments have been cut by at least a half, if not more. Therefore, we are faced with a desperate shortage in our capacity to pay for such food as may be available for our people. There is no escaping this blunt and stark fact that unless we produce the very maximum from our own soil, the people in this country are going very hungry indeed, and that is a very modest way of putting it. I am confident that this problem causes the right hon. Gentleman and his colleague, the Minister of Food, many anxious nights. The right hon. Gentleman is charged with this tremendous responsibility which affects the lives of our people in the years to come. It rests also with the Minister of Labour. Either our agricultural force must be increased rapidly and immediately, or else the effects on the people of this country will be disastrous. I would not, for one moment, suggest that the basic principle of demobilisation plan should be altered. I would be very reluctant to say that there should be any priority with regard to the provision of houses. It is no use having a roof over one's head if there is nothing to eat. But there is this plain, blunt, inescapable fact that we have an understaffed, overworked and tired agricultural community, which, in many respects, has reached breaking point. We must recruit substantial numbers of young and skilled men from the Forces; unless we do it we cannot maintain our present standard of production. Most assuredly, we cannot raise it to that pitch which is absolutely essential to give our people the food which they imperatively need. I would, in passing, like to refer to the point which has been raised concerning the man who is anxious to return to his own industry of poultry raising, but who cannot get the assistance which is extended to other single-men businesses. If that is correct, I would like the right hon. Gentleman to look into it. I would also urge, with regard to the war agriculture executive committees, that he should be moreexpeditious than he has been in the past in dealing with applications for compassionate releases. I ask the House to believe that the economic situation of the country is one of terrible severity and that it will not be solved by increases in subsidies. It will only be solved by an increase in our food production. Unless we bend our minds to that problem, there will be very bad things in store for our people in the years to come.
I think perhaps my first duty is to express to the House an apology for the absence of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour who happens to be fulfilling an engagement in Cardiff, I believe, and of his Parliamentary Secretary who is also fulfilling a Government engagement in Paris at the International Labour Conference. I am quite certain that no one will regret his absence more than the right hon. Gentleman himself, except perhaps myself. I know that he has at heart this question of labour, not only on the land but wherever else it may be required. He is not at all unsympathetic, so far as sympathy can extract more men for any purpose when any approach is made to him.I felt, during the course of this Debate, something like the boy who stood on the burning deck and had not even a spoon with which to put out the fire. Indeed, I was almost inspired to make a speech comparable with those that have already been made strengthening the appeal made to my right hon. Friend. [Interruption.] If I did make such an appeal it would be a most satisfactory one, even for the hon. Member for Evesham (Mr. De la Bère). I think this Debate has been extremely useful, and it has been characterised by some very excellent maiden speeches. I wish to compliment the hon. Member who opened the Debate, and several other hon. Members who made maiden speeches subsequently, and particularly my two farmer friends who addressed the House from these benches. I almost felt like shivering when I heard farmers' voices from behind me, having had so frequently to look across the way to see farmers, whatever position one happened to have at any given moment. Most of the speeches have been direct. There have been helpful and constructive contributions. I have no complaint to make, and I am sure my right hon. Friend, had he been here, would have had none to make at any single speech made in the House. I am sure my right hon. Friend, my predecessor, and many other hon. Members in the House will recognise that we all appreciate the difficulty of the labour position in agriculture. No one has been more tireless than my right hon. Friend during the past five years, not only in securing for the time being but in preparing for the future, the maximum amount of labour that might be made available on our farms. Despite the unfortunate diminishing returns we are receiving from the Women's Land Army, I ought to tell the House that there is a redeeming feature and that is that recruitment is going on at quite a nice pace. Despite the fact that we are likely to lose certain prisoners of war, the real fundamental labour problem in agriculture is the fact that we lost nearly a quarter of a million men during the period between the two wars. If those 250,000 skilled men had returned to good conditions with decent homes to live in, and if Parliament had recognised its responsibility to this our first and basic industry, I am quite sure we would not have been suffering from the acute shortage in the countryside that exists today. One hon. Member asked me which I thought was the more important—food or the production of houses. If I gave a reply it would, of course, be one or the other, and if the same question were put to the Minister of Health his reply would also be one or the other. They would not necessarily be the same. But I have to remind the House that agriculture needs both labour and houses, and if one cares to take the long view, I should say that we are not likely ever to get the army of labour required in the countryside to make the best use of our land, until we produce a very large number of decent cottages for the future workers. We have reached the stage when we have to think not only of the agricultural worker himself but of his wife. Unless the man can offer to his wife conditions comparable with those offered in a town or urban area, our job of producing the amount of labour required—
It being Four o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. Mathers.]
I was saying that our job of securing the amount of labour that we all know to be necessary will not be made easier unless we can improve these conditions.I wish to say one thing, not in justification of the category B releases and the figures about which we all know something. That is—and hon. Members will bear it in mind I am sure, when considering the question—that something like 80,000 agricultural workers or young farmers were lost to the industry in the course of the war out of 1,000,000 employed on the land. It is equally true that building has lost something like 600,000 out of 1,000,000. Therefore we cannot speak in terms of equality of man-power between one industry or the other. I am sure that hon. Members will recognise that the Ministry of Labour has to face very urgent and determined demands for the release of mineworkers and teachers. I can assure hon. Members that the labour question has never been forgotten during the past three months, any more than it was forgotten by the right hon. Gentleman opposite when he was responsible for the industry. I can assure the House that at this moment the Minister of Labour and I are actively engaged in discussing the possibility of what changes can be made, without adverse effect upon others, in the category B scheme. Many of the points which have been raised will be helpful in those conversations with my right hon. Friend. One hon. Member asked me why it was that those who were released under category A—and most of those who, being in the Territorials, are either out now or will be out very shortly—were not returning to agriculture. The answer may be very simple. Perhaps it is the wages they had before the war, or their long hours, or the absence of decent houses for them to return to. I hope that time will help us to get over this problem, that within a few weeks these people will be given the confidence to which they are entitled, and that when the trail back to the countryside starts it will be continuous for a long time. I do not want to delay the House further, except to deal with questions put to me about the power of the county war agricultural executive committees, with regard to one or other of the various release categories. So far as category C is concerned, the committees have no power at all. That is exclusively a matter for the Service Departments. If inquiries are made locally, they are made by the Service authorities themselves. With regard to category B, that is, the 10 per cent. of Class A, the quota for the Ministry of Agriculture is undoubtedly a small one. Therefore only those who are recognised to be specialists can be released under category B. We have our own personal view of what is a specialist. I have had the temerity sometimes to think that a boy who was born in an agricultural worker's home, whose father was an agricultural labourer who was throughout his working life on the land, is a specialist in many phases of agricultural activity, but that is merely a personal view. We must for the time being, until further discussion has taken place, accept the position as it is.
The right hon. Gentleman said that inquiries are made locally by the Service concerned, which is exactly the point I made when I spoke, but is it not wiser in investigating compassionate cases, or cases that border on the compassionate, that the Service should call in a representative of the agricultural executive committee, which is in a far better position to judge the effect on the farmer of the conditions existing on the farm which raise the case on to the compassionate level?
My hon. Friend will see that the moment the agricultural executive committee intervene in a category C case, it becomes industrial and not compassionate. Therefore, the Service personnel make their own inquiries into compassionate cases. If, however, one of the three Services wish to use the executive committee to make local investigations on their behalf, every agricultural executive committee in the land will be ready and willing to make such investigations for them. They cannot, however, participate unless the Service Department makes that request.
When a recommendation comes from the Northern Ireland Ministry of Agriculture, in respect of a Northern Ireland application, will that be treated as a sound recommendation? I ask because they have been turned down.
It is my unfortunate position this afternoon that I cannot even reply for the Ministry of Labour. I would not be drawn, despite my right hon. Friend's suggestion, into replying for the Ministry of Food on the wheat question. I am certainly not going to venture a reply for the Home Office, which is responsible for Northern Ireland agriculture. All I can do is to express my thanks to hon. Members who made constructive contributions and to assure them that this matter will be kept under active consideration.
In view of what has been said in the Debate, does the right hon. Gentleman feel that the position is being met when there have been only 600 releases for agriculture under Class B? It is a very small proportion of the 60,000 which was mentioned by the late Minister of Agriculture—
The hon. Member is making a speech.
If I may reply to the hon. and gallant Member, the numbers allocated to agriculture are working out fairly well.
We must all feel sympathetic towards the Minister of Agriculture in dealing with this problem, which, as he has told us, he has much at heart. What he has had to say, I am afraid, will not bring much comfort to those who appreciate the urgency of the problem, its extent and its importance. Those of us who represent agricultural constituencies and who have spoken from both sides of the House, have all spoken in the same way. I was glad when my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), in an excellent maiden speech, supported the arguments that have been put forward for release under Class B being accelerated. That does indicate that the urgency of the problem is beginning to be appreciated, not only in the country, but in the urban areas. The Minister's statement does not bring much comfort to me, in dealing with the letters I am continually getting from constituents asking that their sons should be released, sons who went voluntarily, and who after having to work their way through a network of obstacles, then find Class B release refused. It does not bring much comfort to me to be told that, at this time, labour on the land is very much in the heart of the Minister of Labour; that he is not at all unsympathetic; that he appreciates the difficulty of the labour situation, and is actively engaged in dealing with the problem.What we would like to know is, what is going to be done about it now? It is no use blaming the present position on the past 20 years. The present position is due in a great degree to the war, and we want to know what is going to happen now to avoid a food shortage next winter, which may be very acute and may involve a decrease of rations. I am not going to enter into argument with the right hon. Gentleman as to whether houses in rural areas should have priority over labour on the farms. There is urgent necessity for both, but so far as food production is concerned, if we are to have the food next winter, there is need for urgent action now. Every delay is likely to be most harmful. I have not got a copy of that document which the Chancellor of the Exchequer waved in this House earlier in the week, but speaking from recollection, that document held out promises of great things for those engaged in agriculture. Those promises—and the document was full of promises—can only be fulfilled if the labour is made available on the farms. What the right hon. Gentleman has had to say today, does not give much evidence of action being taken for the prompt fulfilment of those promises. I would conclude by saying that in my view, unless something is done now, those who in that pamphlet asked to be allowed to face the future will, in a short period, regret their request.
May I first thank you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and the Government Whips, for giving me this opportunity of making a statement on the question of the settlement, at any rate for the time being, of the dock strike? I think this House ought to know the proceedings that have led up to this matter, because this is not an end of the strike; it is simply a suspension of the strike for 30 days. On Sunday night last week the position was completely at a deadlock, and the Labour Members for Liverpool were petitioned by the Strike Committee to take some action in the matter, and to intervene because nobody else seemed able to do anything about it. I was given the responsibility of dealing with the matter, and I saw the Minister of Labour at 8 o'clock on Monday night. After some discussion, the guarantee that he gave to this House was reiterated, but that was the only guarantee he was prepared to give—that if the men returned to work, negotiations would be commenced within 24 hours. With that guarantee, I met on Wednesday morning, the Liverpool Strike Committee, and after two hours' discussion found that they were prepared to consider the position. The meeting was adjourned until the full National Strike Committee was called in the afternoon. We met that Committee at 4 o'clock, and we were able to get some agreement as to the terms on which the men were prepared to return to work. I was asked particularly this morning to receive a letter from that Committee stating how they would return to work, and this statement of mine now is the order for the men to resume work on Monday morning at 8 o'clock.I am glad to have this opportunity, because difficulties might have been created, if I had not been able to make a statement. The questions arising from the strike are something which I do not want to discuss here but I do want to say this: that I hope the Government, and particularly the Ministry of Labour, will watch very carefully within the next 30 days the negotiations as they take place. Here let me say that I have never, in all my industrial and political career, found such perfect organisation as the dock strikers have at the moment. They are able to contact anybody they want in any part of the ports of this country at any time they desire. I hope the Gov- ernment will watch the position carefully because I am certain that men who have put in so much work during the war, who have worked under such tremendous difficulties in the ports during the blitzes, would not remain unofficially on strike for five weeks unless there was something fundamentally wrong with their conditions of labour and the position as it exists at the docks today. Having made that statement, which will give the dockers of this country the opportunity of knowing that the matter has been dealt with, and that I have been able to make a statement on their behalf—I am speaking now for the whole of the dockers in this country—I hope that before the end of the 30 days some very definite agreement will have been made in reference to their conditions of labour.
I am sure many hon. Members would wish to join in congratulating the hon. Lady who has just spoken on what is really, I think, a historic speech. I think it is historic, and perhaps unprecedented, that a speech in this House should be, so to speak, the actual operative order in a dispute of this kind. I am sure we are all extremely thankful that, temporarily at any rate, the matter is progressing satisfactorily. I would therefore like to congratulate the hon. Lady—and say, with the greatest possible friendliness, that I would always much rather be on her side than against her in any dispute or negotiations.
Question put, and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at Seventeen Minutes past Four o'Clock, till Monday next.