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Below is the text of the speech made by Chuka Umunna, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, at the party conference on 16 September 2019.
Conference, it is an honour and a pleasure to be addressing you as a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament and as your Shadow Foreign Secretary.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you for making me feel so welcome. I could not be more at home in the wonderful Liberal Democrat family.
The truth is, all the incredibly difficult decisions I have made on the journey I’ve been on this year were routed in my values and principles. I joined this party out of conviction.
As you know, I am a Remainer and proud of it – we have spent far too long apologising for being pro-European in this country. Because you cannot be pro-Britain and put our national interest first without seeking to put Britain at the heart of Europe.
Be in no doubt: this is the battle of our time and it goes far beyond Britain’s borders.
In essence, the society we seek to build is one where if you work hard and play by the rules, you should be free to lead a happy, prosperous and secure life free of domination of either the state or the market.
I grew up in world in which we took these values for granted.
As a family of mixed heritage – English, Irish and Nigerian – our back story, alongside that of millions of others, stands as an example of Britain’s liberal, open, internationalist spirit.
The notion that we all share the same basic rights and should live together in peace, regardless of background is something we will always fight for.
This is the Britain we know and love – and Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and the peddlers of hate and division in our country better know that this is what we will fight for at the coming election.
It is our job to make sure this country’s heart beats in a liberal and internationalist direction; not nationalist, populist authoritarianism.
This is the new fault line in British politics and we know where we stand.
Because we recognise that these things cannot be achieved in isolation and that the pursuit of individual and social justice does not stop at the border, we seek to work together with other liberal democracies who share our values to overcome cross border obstacles to achieving our goals.
That is why we are internationalists. That is why we are pro-European. Liberalism is needed at home to protect personal freedom and liberty; Liberalism and cooperation are also needed abroad to secure peace, promote democracy and defend human rights.
Of course, the first thing we will do in Government is revoke Article 50 so that, once again, the British people can resume their role of providing leadership as a full and active member of the European Union.
This order is imperfect. It must do far better at reducing inequality and fostering a more inclusive global economic system. But however flawed it may be, this liberal international order has none the less created peace and prosperity.
The trade it has opened up between countries helped ensure global competition no longer resulted in military conflict. In turn, this has helped lift hundreds of millions out of poverty and people are more healthy than before.
Furthermore, the liberal democracies that fall within the order have, in the main, also provided better protection of the rights and civil liberties of their peoples.
And it has forced Extreme nationalism retreat.
Yet the advances made then are now at risk.
Today it is that liberal international order that is now in retreat. As a result the world is becoming a more dangerous place.
Across the world, nationalist populism – the pernicious mantra that nations should be homogeneous and one people is superior to another – is making strides.
Let us be clear: the Liberal Democrats are the only party that can get into office which is capable of meeting this challenge in Britain today.
You see, you cannot defend a liberal, rules based order abroad if you so openly flout the rules at home.
Boris Johnson has facilitated the takeover of Her Majesty’s Government by the remnants of Vote Leave campaign – an outfit that was not only was found guilty of lying during the 2016 referendum in relation to its claims on the NHS by the Statistics Authority, but it was found guilty of cheating and breaking the law by the Electoral Commission.
Now, as he seeks to force through a catastrophic “no deal” Brexit, the Prime Minister has shut down Parliament and is threatening to break the law if necessary.
And, as he seeks to force the UK out of the EU, he will become ever reliant on President Trump, whose political playbook he follows. But President Trump has always been clear – it will be America not Britain First.
This brings me to the Opposition. The Labour Party likes to think of itself as a champion of liberal values at home and abroad.
You cannot be a champion of liberalism if you are currently subject to a formal investigation by the Equality & Human Rights Commission for institutional racism against Jewish people.
You cannot be a champion of liberalism when your leader’s supporters think it is acceptable to abuse, vilify and deselect anyone who dares to question the leader.
And you cannot claim to be liberal when the political editor of the BBC needs to take a bodyguard to your conference.
Of course what unites both Johnson and Corbyn is the fact that they want to leave the EU, the organisation which has been the biggest champion of liberalism in our part of the global neighbourhood. Neither is fit to lead this country.
Its time for a change and someone who I know can provide that leadership: Jo Swinson.
Under Jo’s premiership we can breathe a progressive breath of fresh air into the British foreign policy.
Liberal Democrats are internationalists. This is at the heart of who we are as a party, it flows through everything we do.
We believe in tearing down walls, not building them. We believe in working together through multilateral organisations, not standing alone.
With Jo as our Prime Minister we will revive our reputation on the world stage and get on with helping to improve the lives of those across the world.
As Liberal Democrats we have a duty to do this, to defend the values of human rights, democracy, and equality.
And as your Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary I can promise you that I will stand up for a truly global Britain.
Below is the text of the speech made by Sal Brinton, the President of the Liberal Democrats, at the party conference on 14 September 2019.
Well, hello Conference and hasn’t everything changed since we last met in March!
Wow! Just wow! We asked you to all go on the Stop Brexit march on 20 March to make it clear we are the strongest Remain party.
You did that.
It was my privilege to help lead thousands and thousands of Liberal Democrats along with Vince Cable at that march that had over a million people on the streets of London.
We asked you to go out and give us the best results ever in the local elections.
You did that.
We made over 700 gains, and now control 18 councils. We’re still making gains in by elections too.
We then said please go out and campaign for our best ever European Elections results, in a snap election, with very little time.
You did that. 16 MEPs.
Then we said (after all of that!), please go and help Jane Dodds and our Welsh colleagues in Brecon and Radnorshire.
So you did that too!
Jane Dodds MP has said she could not have won without all the help you provided.
And over the last couple of months you have been pouring into Sheffield Hallam as well – Laura Gordon: we are with you and will do everything we can to ensure you can join Jane Dodds on those green benches soon.
You see, I knew. I knew that your attitude and approach to life had changed. And all we needed to do was to get out there and make sure that people in our local communities felt the same.
And they did.
After the Euro elections, the press said this was a flash in the pan. They said that within weeks we’d plummet back in the polls.
But now, their view has changed.
Because our poll rating has strengthened and solidified. Against all the pundits’ expectations. But they don’t know the reaction we were all getting on the doorsteps from people who have, for years, said “I would vote for you if I thought you could win”. Well, consistently 20% of voters believe we can and will win, and, more importantly believe that Jo Swinson can be our next Prime Minister.
We must not forget those who kept the faith and kept us going. And I want, in my final speech as your President, to pay tribute especially to Tim Farron and Vince Cable, both of whom had a really tough time as Leader holding us together and rebuilding and preparing us for the success we have had this year. I thank them both for that selfless dedication when perhaps only we believed the Liberal Democrats had a future and the outside world just mocked and derided us.
I also want to thank the many staff who worked against all the odds too. People assume that HQ is this large monolith filled with hundreds of people. Not true. Our few staff are brilliant. Not only doing the job they are paid to do, but also during elections, especially General Elections, redeployed into tasks that keep our successful campaign show on the road.
And it is appropriate therefore for me to thank Nick Harvey, our Chief Executive, who has announced he is leaving us at the end of November. Nick, you have done an amazing job, especially in sorting out our key services, such as compliance, supervising the staff side of the new discipline process. Nick, your sage political common sense linking the day-to-day business of the party with the political actions of Lib Dems in parliaments, assemblies and local government.
I have had the privilege of being your President during the most extraordinary five years, which not one of us could have predicted in 2014.
I don’t think that any President has faced two General Elections (so far!), one Referendum, three new Leaders, and two new Chief Execs.
And on top of that, we’ve had major governance changes to make your Federal Board work strategically, and Federal Committees work more effectively.
We’ve consulted and made changes to the Discipline System, which was the one thing you all made clear in 2014 we needed to tackle. That new system is now working, and there are only a few complaints started under the old system still to be resolved by the state and regional parties.
Over these five years we’ve changed the way we campaign. Still out on the streets, but our social media presence has completely changed and – given the small resources compared to others – is outstanding. That is also true of the way we run elections now, much more digital.
But above all, you, the members, still stand up for the party, and stand up against things that you disapprove of. My successor will discover that in your eyes, the President is responsible for absolutely everything that they don’t like or has gone wrong.
This has included complaints to me, for example:
To complain that staff haven’t replied to an email over a bank holiday weekend. AND I think my best though is the member who wrote to me to ask me to go and tell the Leader, they’re an idiot. And to remind me, which I never forget, that with senior positions of power and responsibility, liberals always remain suspicious of the establishment, including the President, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
I have learned so much from you over the last five years, but of one thing I remain certain. The democratic way we exist and operate is the reason that we are united as a party. We can debate, argue, and vote, and whilst there are matters hard fought for, we respect our internal democracy.
At our lowest moments after the 2015 election, I said to you, Conference, to hold the faith. That we would bounce back. That you needed to keep positive, no matter what happened.
We stand at a cross roads of infinite possibilities:
Defending liberalism from nationalist and populists
Defending our country’s place in the European Union
Defending our democracy as unscrupulous Prime Ministers try to subvert it
But we are not the defeated party of those years.
We have a strong and growing political presence in Westminster, in the EU and in local Government.
A party that lives its liberal values by welcoming those made homeless in the current political whirlwind because they didn’t know they are liberals, but are loving coming home to us
We have in Jo Swinson a Leader who has taken the UK political scene by storm.
And we have, in our party, 120,000 people who believe we can, and will transform our country, whatever our opponents throw at us.
This will be our year – took a long time to come.
Below is the text of the statement made by Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, outside 10 Downing Street, London, on 2 September 2019.
Five weeks ago I spoke to you from these steps and said that this Government was not going to hang around and that we would not wait until Brexit day – October 31 – to deliver on the priorities of the British people.
And so I am proud to say that on Wednesday Chancellor Sajid Javid is going to set out the most ambitious spending round for more than a decade.
I said I wanted to make your streets safer – and that is why we are recruiting another 20,000 police officers. I said I wanted to improve your hospital and reduce the waiting times at your GP. And so we are doing 20 new hospital upgrades in addition to the extra £34 billion going into the NHS.
And I said I wanted every child in this country to have a superb education and that’s why I announced last week that we are levelling up funding across the country and spending much more next year in both primary and secondary schools.
And it is to push forward this agenda on these and many other fronts that we need a Queen’s speech in October.
While leaving due time to debate Brexit and other matters. And as we come to that Brexit deadline I am encouraged by the progress we are making. In the last few weeks the chances of a deal have been rising, I believe, for three reasons.
They can see that we want a deal. They can see that we have a clear vision for our future relationship with the EU – something that has perhaps not always been the case. And they can see that we are utterly determined to strengthen our position by getting ready to come out regardless, come what may
But if there is one thing that can hold us back in these talks it is the sense in Brussels that MPs may find some way to cancel the referendum. I don’t think they will. I hope that they won’t. But if they do they will plainly chop the legs out from under the UK position and make any further negotiation absolutely impossible.
I want everybody to know – there are no circumstances in which I will ask Brussels to delay. We are leaving on 31 October, no ifs or buts. We will not accept any attempt to go back on our promises or scrub that referendum. Armed and fortified with that conviction I believe we will get a deal at that crucial summit in October. A deal that parliament will certainly be able to scrutinise. And in the meantime let our negotiators get on with their work without that sword of Damocles over their necks. And without an election, which I don’t want and you don’t want.
Let us get on with the people’s agenda – fighting crime, improving the NHS, boosting schools, cutting the cost of living, and unlocking talent and opportunity across the entire United Kingdom With infrastructure education and technology.
It is a massive agenda. Let’s come together and get it done – and let’s get Brexit done by October 31.
Below is the text of the statement made by Winston Churchill, the then Prime Minister, in the House of Commons on 6 February 1941.
The House will have learned with sorrow of the loss, not only that His Majesty’s Government, but our country and the whole Empire, have sustained in the sudden and unexpected death of the Secretary of State for the Colonies and newly-chosen Leader of the House of Lords. To me the loss is particularly painful. Lord Lloyd and I have been friends for many years and close political associates during the last 12 years. We championed several causes together which did not command the applause of large majorities; but it is just in that kind of cause, where one is swimming against the stream, that one learns the worth and quality of a comrade and friend.
The late Lord Lloyd was a man of high ability. He had energy, he had industry; and these were spurred throughout his life by a consuming desire to serve the country and uphold the British name. He had travelled far and had acquired an immense mass of special knowledge, particularly knowledge of Egypt, East Africa, Arabia and India. He was deeply versed in the affairs of the unhappy countries in the South-East of Europe, which now lie under the shadow of approaching danger and misery. In all these spheres, his opinion and advice were of the highest value. Having served under Lawrence in the Desert War, he had acquired a great love for the Arab race, and he devoted a large part of his life to their interest. His name is known and his death will be mourned in wide circles of the Moslem world. When we remember that the King-Emperor is the ruler of incomparably more Mohammedan subjects than any other Prince of Islam, we may, from this angle, measure the serious nature of the loss we have sustained.
George Lloyd fought for his country on land and in the air. As honorary commodore of an air squadron, he learned to fly a Hurricane aeroplane and obtained a pilot’s certificate when almost 60 years of age, thus proving that it is possible for a man to maintain in very high efficiency eye and hand, even after a lifetime of keen intellectual work. He was a very good friend of the Royal Air Force, and, in recent years, was President of the Navy League. His was the voice which, as far back as 1934, moved a resolution at the National Union of Conservative Associations which led that body to urge upon the then Government a policy of immediate rearmament. Although an Imperialist and, in some ways, an authoritarian, he had a profound, instinctive aversion from Nazism. He foresaw from the beginning the danger of Hitler’s rise to power and above all to armed power, and he lived and acted during the last four or five years under a sense of the rapidly growing danger to this country.
For two long and critical periods, covering together nearly 10 years, he represented the Crown, as Governor of Bombay, or as High Commissioner in Egypt. His administration of the Bombay Presidency was at once firm and progressive, and the Lloyd reservoir across the Indus River in Sind, which is the base of the largest irrigation scheme in the world and irrigates an area, formerly a wilderness, about the size of Wales—this great barrage, the Lloyd barrage, as it is called, is a monument which will link his name to the prosperity of millions yet unborn, who will see around them villages, townships, temples and fertile fields where all was formerly naught but savage scrub and sand.
Lord Lloyd took over the High Commissionership of Egypt in the dark hour after the murder of Sir Lee Stack. He restored, during his tenure, a very great measure of stability and tranquillity to the Nile Valley, and he achieved this without violence or bloodshed. He gained the good will of important elements in Egypt without sacrificing British interests and our relations with Egypt have progressively improved since those days, though other hands and other points of view have played their part in that. If he, like other British statesmen, promised to protect the people of the Egyptian Delta from foreign aggression, he lived long enough to see all the obligations and undertakings of Great Britain to the Egyptian people brilliantly vindicated by the decisions of war.
When I was called upon to form the present Administration, in the heat of the great battle in France, it was a comfort to me to be able to reach out to so trusted a friend. Although his views, like perhaps some of mine, were very often opposed to the Labour party, I say, with the full assent of all his Labour colleagues, that he gained their respect and confidence and their regard in all those trying months, and that they found many deep points of agreement with him of which they had not previously been aware. The departure of Lord Halifax to the United States made it necessary to choose a new Leader for the House of Lords on behalf of the Government, and Lord Lloyd was selected for that important task. This gave him a great deal of satisfaction, and in the evening, two hours before his death, he conversed with others of his friends about the future work which lay before him in an expanding field and spoke with hopefulness and satisfaction about his ability to discharge it. Then, very suddenly, he was removed from us by death.
I would like to think, as one likes to think of every man in this House and elsewhere, that he died at the apex, at the summit, of his career. It is sometimes said that good men are scarce. It is perhaps because the spate of events with which we attempt to cope and strive to control have far exceeded, in this modern age, the old bounds, that they have been swollen up to giant proportions, while, all the time, the stature and intellect of man remain unchanged. All the more, there- fore, do we feel the loss of this high-minded and exceptionally gifted and experienced public servant. I feel I shall only be discharging my duties to the House when I express, in their name, our sympathy for his widow, who has shared so many of his journeys and all the ups and downs of his active life, and who, in her grief, may have the comfort of knowing what men and women of all parties think and feel about the good and faithful servant we have lost.
Below is the text of the speech made by David Grenfell, the then Secretary of State for Mines, in the House of Commons on 4 February 1941.
I am sure the House will be grateful to the hon. Member for the general tenour of his remarks and, in particular, for the quotation from the “Daily Telegraph” which he has read. This problem is one of distribution, transport and right methods of buying and selection. The problem of distribution, particularly, is a serious one, and I think that a solution is to be found in right co- operation between the responsible Ministers. I was disappointed when my hon. Friend referred to the coal shortage and attributed it generally to the inefficiency of the Government. There are many things which we have to endure which are not attributable to the Government. I do not resent taking, as head of the Mines Department, a share of the responsibility, but the hon. Member must know that new problems and difficulties have arisen which are not attributable to the Government. There are war conditions from which many inconveniences arise, and one of the problems is that of internal transport. We are not alone in that. Fortunately, the enemy has the same problems and we have added to his difficulties as he has added to ours.
It is wrong for the hon. Member to say that we might have avoided all the complaints which he said had arisen from various parts of the country. He said the Government were responsible because they had received due warning 12 months ago. If the Government had done nothing in consequence of what happened, then they would have been to blame. Representing the Mines Department, I take a measure of credit to ourselves that we embarked on an ambitious scheme for storing coal in all parts of the country. As a consequence, we were successful in setting aside many million tons. We have stocked nearer 30,000,000 tons of coal than 20,000,000 because of what happened previously and we realised that there might be great danger to our fuel supplies if we did not make preparations in time. I want to assure the hon. Member that these preparations extended as far as Bristol, and there is not a town which has not got a substantially larger quantity of coal in stock than was in stock last year.
The hon. Member said that the reserves in Bristol amounted to 50,000 tons of house coal. The Bristol householders, urged by the Department and by publicity of all kinds—I myself advocated the stocking of coal by householders—set aside, and the merchants disposed of, 113 per cent. more coal last summer than they did in the summer of 1939. We more than doubled the storing of coal in the consumers’ cellars in Bristol compared with the previous summer. There is now no danger of a widespread famine in Bristol because of any unwillingness on the part of the Government to provide stocks in the summer time in readiness for the winter. There are people in Bristol, as elsewhere, who, unfortunately, have no room to stock coal. In all our large cities accommodation for stocking coal and the means to buy it are not available to all. There are people in Bristol about whom we are very much concerned. But it is not true to infer that there is a general famine of house coal in Bristol. There are people there who can go throughout the winter without further supplies. I am not suggesting that there is no shortage, because there is, but there are large stocks of coal in Bristol. The gas company, for instance, holds stocks for five weeks. If no coal went into Bristol at all, there would be no danger for more than five weeks of a discontinuance of operations at the gas works. There are two electricity works there; one has stocks of coal for seven weeks and the other for 16 weeks.
My hon. Friend said there was no reason why more coal should not be brought to Bristol. More coal is being brought to Bristol. We are overcoming some of the difficulties by the very means which he advocated. He suggested that we should make up complete trains which would make the journey direct from the Midlands or Durham to Bristol, and that has been done. They travel to Bristol without further attention at marshalling yards or elsewhere until they reach their destination. Then he suggested that we should pool supplies and that customers should be compelled to take whatever coal is provided for them, that customers should be told, if it is house coal, “This is your ration, and you must take it.” I advise him to try that plan first in a public meeting at Bristol. It is easy to suggest it in this House, and to receive the concurrence of Members here, but it is not very easy in practice; and, further, it is not always the right thing to do. Not all houses have the same equipment for consuming household fuels. There are houses fitted with anthracite stoves, there are houses with wide, low fireplaces that want one kind of household coal, and others in which the draught is not sufficient to burn another type of household coal. In Bristol we are finding it difficult to get people to accept house coal that has been taken from a neighbouring coalfield in order to meet the shortage.
I suggested two or three grades of coal.
I agree that we should produce a number of qualities of house coal, but you cannot compel people to take any coal you choose to offer to them. In the last few weeks we have been able to augment supplies by various means. More trains have been going to Bristol, and we have improvised in ways which I shall not mention in detail, and more coal has been got from the neighbouring coalfields. Bristol does not draw all its coal from distant coalfields. No city of large size is closer to the coalfields than is Bristol. It has a coal mine within the city boundary. It is within 17 miles of the Somerset coalfield and within 40 miles of the Forest of Dean. In these three coalfields there is an output of nearly 2,000,000 tons a year. In those coalfields there is not a sufficient variety of quality compared with the supplies outside those three coalfields, and Bristol actually draws 75 per cent. of its supplies, not from the coalfields near it, but from the Midlands and elsewhere.
The third point made by the hon. Member was in regard to increased production in Somerset. That is not as easy to deal with. He raised a point concerning wages which I have not time to discuss in detail, but it is not true that wages in Somerset have gone up disproportionately. The wages of miners in Somerset, the Welsh coalfields, the Midlands and Scotland have varied in accordance with the increases in the cost of living.
My point was that output had gone down.
The hon. Member said that while wages had gone up by 23 per cent., the output had gone down. If I were speaking to an audience of miners, I could quite easily explain the reason for that. The Somerset coalfield is very difficult.
There is a shortage of labour, strange to say, in the Somerset coalfield. We are trying to attract more labour there. The hon. Member may truly say that output has gone down by a small percentage as compared with 12 months ago, but there are many factors to account for that fact. I can assure him that one of the matters connected with the present output is the dearth of young men; this has not arisen in the last few months and is not due to my presence here. It is due to the general unwillingness of young men to enter this industry. We find ourselves without sufficient young men in the Somerset coalfield, and we are not now likely to get them.
Lord Apsley (Bristol, Central)
Is there not considerable unemployment in the coalfields?
There is a search of coalfields for men of military age. I am sure that I can convince my hon. Friend that no charge rests against the workers concerned, in regard to output. The additions which have been received to wages have been awarded to all the districts in the miners’ organisation in this country and are awarded on a scale in accordance with an increase in the cost of living. I can assure my hon. Friends that the points which have been put to me and to the Minister of Transport have been noted, and that we shall pay attention to what has been said. To the hon. Member who suggested that we should take control of the railways and work them, I would observe that while that is rather a revolutionary proposal I am quite willing for him to endeavour to persuade the House to acquire and control the railways. If he wants to do that, I am a candidate for the post of Minister of Transport in those conditions, but I am afraid the hon. Member will find some difficulty among the people to whom he talks in regard to that proposition. He said that if we were to increase the demurrage, that might have an effect. We have been trying to get people to secure the return of wagons, and we are not at all satisfied that it would be just or expedient to increase the demurrage.
There are difficult conditions for transport in these days. An appeal has been made, and a request, that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Transport and I should work together for the common interest in order to secure and maintain the distribution of coal. I agree entirely, and I am glad that my right hon. and gallant Friend and I have been giver the opportunity to sit together on this Bench to-night to demonstrate our willingness to work together. I can assure the hon. Member that steps are already in operation, and that the outlook for the future is slightly better.
Below is the text of the speech made by Cyril Culverwell, the then Conservative MP for Bristol West, in the House of Commons on 4 February 1941.
I wish to draw the attention of the House to the serious coal shortage which has arisen in many parts of the country and which is largely due to inefficiency and a lack of foresight on the part of the Government. I want to describe the conditions which prevail in Bristol, not because that is the only city affected by the shortage, but because the position there is typical of that which exists, to a greater or lesser degree, in constituencies represented by hon. Members in all parts of the House. It is only because I am familiar with Bristol that I take the conditions in that city as an example. I want, first of all, to remind the House that the Government cannot shelter behind the excuse that they were taken by surprise. Last winter there was an acute coal famine in many parts of the country. At that time, we were living under more or less peace conditions; no bombs had fallen, and coastwise shipping had been very little interfered with.
In the light of that experience, the Bristol Corporation asked permission to build up reserves of coal, but they were informed—and we were all delighted to hear the announcement—that the Government intended to build up reserves of coal all over the country, so that such a catastrophe would never occur again. After months of strenuous effort during the summer, the Mines Department managed to build up the magnificent total of about 5,600 tons of house coal in Bristol—sufficient to last the city for about four days. I have no doubt that the dumps built up in other parts of the country were similarly helpful. No doubt the Minister will tell us that, in addition to this, the Department managed to build up a reserve of about 16,000 tons—it is, I am informed, nearer 10,000 tons—of steam coal, but clearly if an emergency arose it is very unlikely that the gas and electricity undertakings would be allowed to suffer in order that householders might be provided with coal.
The position in Bristol to-day is that, while the average normal weekly consumption of house coal is about 10,000 tons, we have been receiving over the last three months an average of about 5,000 tons—sufficient to last about half the week. Therefore, we are to a large extent living on reserves that have been stored in private cellars. Patriotic and prudent citizens adopted the advice of the Government to build up stocks of coal against an emergency and they did so in Bristol—and no doubt elsewhere—to the extent of over 50,000 tons. But clearly, if the experience of last winter is any guide, when those cellars begin to run out—and probably they will all do so about the same time—the acute shortage will become manifest and grievous. There is no reason why the Government should be complacent because there has not been such a violent outcry up to now as might have been expected. There is plenty of coal available at the pithead. We have lost all our Continental markets, and indeed, we are finding it difficult to find employment for miners who are at present out of work.
The coal famine in Bristol and other parts of the country is partly due to inefficient marketing and distribution methods, but chiefly to the chaotic state of the railway system. Therefore, anything the Minister of Mines can do to assist or relieve our overworked railway system will ameliorate our conditions. I want to put one or two suggestions, not necessarily new, which deserve careful examination as affording a possible relief to the situation. First, I suggest that merchants should be forbidden to order small consignments of coal. It should be the general rule that only complete trainloads should be ordered from the coalfields, and that the order should be given either by merchants in co-operation, or, if that is not practicable, by regional coal officers. It is quite obvious that this system would avoid a lot of shunting of wagons and the making-up of trains, and that thereby the task of the railways would be considerably eased. In small places where accommodation for a complete train is not available, special arrangements should be made for them by conveying the coal by Army lorries or commercial vehicles from dumps and sidings.
Secondly, I suggest that just as we have adopted pool petrol so the time may have come when we should adopt a policy of pool coal. There should be two or three grades of coal at standard prices, and merchants and consumers should be compelled to take whatever kind of coal was available. There should be none of this picking and choosing between one type of coal and another which makes the task much more difficult in these times. Thirdly, I have urged the Minister to develop the output from local collieries which would obviate the necessity of hauling coal by railway from distant coalfields. Where necessary, the Minister should draft labour into these coalfields. I understand there is some unemployment in the coalfields; he could, therefore, draft labour in from the more distant coalfields for this purpose. In this connection I wish to draw my hon. Friend’s attention to some rather disquieting figures from a typical colliery. I do not know whether it is the general state of affairs, but if so it certainly deserves careful and serious examination. These figures show that while the wages of the miner has increased by 23 per cent. since October, 1939, the output per man has gone down by some- thing just over 7 per cent.
That seems to disclose a state of affairs which certainly deserves examination. I do not know whether all my suggestions are workable, but I understand the Minister is moving on these lines. All I am doing is to endeavour to make him move a little quicker. Certainly these suggestions would help to relieve the burden on the railway system.
I turn now to the Minister of Transport. His Department is certainly largely responsible for the present serious state of affairs. We all appreciate the added burdens on the railways and the difficulties with which they are confronted. Indeed, if we were not familiar with them we could quickly learn of their achievements and difficulties from the enormous number of advertisements which appear in the daily Press. I urge the Minister of Transport to try to cut through the red tape and bureaucratic methods which stop the proper functioning of our railways. I am quite convinced, and I think it is the general opinion, that there is a lack of co-ordination and unification in our railways. They are still working in separate compartments, and they are still jealous in these times to guard their profits rather than provide service for the community. The Government should guarantee their profits and take over that side of the work providing we can get the coal and other materials we require transported throughout the country. The Great Western Railway, for instance, I am told will not allow wagons to leave its system until it has an equal number of wagons in exchange.
It seems to me that that is not the kind of thing that should be allowed to continue. I am told also that one railway will not allow another to use its sidings. That seems to me obstruction. We are all aware that wagons lie about for days and weeks, sometimes even for months, being used as warehouses.
When the railways are complaining of lack of wagons, that seems to be a system that should be stopped. The Minister might by further increasing demurrage rates discourage the use of wagons as warehouses. I am told that there is great hindrance at the junctions where one railway system connects up with another—such cases as Bordesley and Banbury. No doubt the railway companies could put forward technical objections, but I am sure, if the Minister exercised drive and pressure, many of them could be overcome.
Another point is that the Government should cut down all unnecessary traffic. They should not consider only the question of price. Last March I brought to the hon. Gentleman’s notice a case in which 60,000 tons of bricks were brought from the London area to build air-raid shelters at Bristol, merely because they were cheaper, overburdening the railways and at the same time throwing local brickyards out of work. Exactly what was foreseen has occurred. Forty per cent. of the local brickyards have closed down, their labour is dispersed and they are unable to start again. In normal times, this serious state of affairs, exhibiting such lack of foresight, inefficiency and lack of drive, would have justified a Vote of Censure on the Government, and it would have been carried by a large majority. As these are not normal times, as one does not want to put difficulties in the way of the Government or dwell on past mistakes, I have couched my remarks in very mild language, but I can assure my hon. Friend that feeling is very strong and, unless he takes energetic steps and brings pressure to bear on the railway companies and the coal merchants to bring their methods up to date and cut through their inefficient methods, we may be faced with a disaster of the first magnitude. I cannot do better, in conclusion, than quote from a leading article in the “Daily Telegraph” yesterday:
“What is needed now is not emphasis on difficulties which should never have been allowed to arise, but more energetic collaboration between the Ministries of Mines and Transport to overcome them. The public, which has shown great patience, will look for immediate measures and concrete results.”
I think I shall be voicing the views of other Members if I say that not only the public but the House will be looking for immediate measures and concrete results.
Below is the text of the statement made by Winston Churchill, the then Prime Minister, in the House of Commons on 28 January 1941.
I beg to move,
“That this House doth agree with the Report of the Committee.”
We cannot, I think, with any advantage attempt to re-try a matter to which the Committee have devoted so many days and so much thought and attention.
The House, as a whole, cannot, in the nature of things, deal with these complicated matters except by the practice which is settled and has been so long adopted of referring them to a Committee of the House. It would be, I venture to think, fatal to the whole of that practice if the House were to disregard the opinion of the Committee unless something had been brought to their notice which showed that the Committee had been misinformed, or unless they had reason to doubt the competence or the impartiality of their Committee. Therefore, I do not propose to enter upon the arguments, and I am bound to say that I do not believe any great advantage will be derived if that should be done in other quarters.
The Committee commended itself to the House by its composition and its high character. It has discharged its distasteful task with efficiency and expedition, and it came unanimously to the conclusions which are contained in the Report. The Chairman of the Committee, one of the oldest Members in the House, is well known to all of us, and it is a tribute to our system and to him that all parties in the House should have agreed in appointing him. The task was an unenviable one, but everybody will agree that it has been discharged to the satisfaction of the House. I do not think that any choice was open to the head of the Government, when the evidence came into our possession by somewhat unusual events connected with war-time conditions, but to bring the matter before a Select Committee and to ask the House to concur in that course. My hon. Friend was a Minister, and the reputation of the Government as well as the House might have been seriously affected if we had neglected to take any further step.
I shall not attempt to add anything to the Report or comment on it in any way. It sets a very high standard, but we have to set a very high standard for the House of Commons, and we have to try to live up to that standard. The fault of my hon. Friend may have been serious. The penalty is most severe. It is at least the interruption of a career of high Parliamentary promise. It causes pain to all.
I am sure that the House has been quite exceptionally distressed by this affair and all that is connected with it; and especially it is a source of great pain to me because, over a good many years, my hon. Friend, as he has reminded the House, has been one of my personal friends, often a supporter at lonely and difficult moments, and I have always entertained a warm personal regard for him. If it is painful to us, it is also a loss to all. It is a loss to His Majesty’s Government, who lose a highly competent and industrious Minister, one of the few of that generation who has attained advancement and who has discharged his tasks with admitted and recognised distinction. It is also a loss to the House. We are none too fertile in talents of the order that have just been displayed to us. Altogether it is a heartbreaking business. The popularity of my hon. Friend, his abilities, and the manner in which during his short tenure of office he conducted himself, all add to the poignancy of our feelings, but I do not think they can influence our course of action. There we must leave this matter. We should accept the Report of the Committee, and that is all we have to do. As for my hon. Friend, one can only say that there are paths of service open in war time which are not open in times of peace; and some of these paths may be paths to honour.
Below is the text of the statement made by Robert Boothby, the then Conservative MP for Aberdeen East, in the House of Commons on 28 January 1941.
This is a very difficult speech for me to make, and I know I have no reason to appeal to the House to accord to me that indulgence which it always does on the melancholy occasions when personal statements have to be made. I am very conscious that much time and energy have already been spent on this unfortunate affair, and this is scarcely a moment when the House can be expected to take much interest in the fate and fortunes of one individual. I know also that the House is anxious to get on to the next Debate. I shall, therefore, be as brief as I possibly can.
Let me say at once that I do not ask the House to reject this Report. It came as a very great shock to me, and the House will appreciate that my first, and instinctive, reaction to it should have been one of resistance. There are certain things in the Report which I find myself unable to accept, and I think I owe it to myself, perhaps not for now but for the future, to explain why. But on the main issue I must abide by the Report of the Committee, and submit myself to the judgment of the House. This, I gladly do.
The Report is so long and detailed a document that it is very difficult for anyone to get from it a clear picture of what actually took place. I find that I am myself still somewhat bewildered by it. What strikes me most forcibly is the very sharp divergence between the impression which was clearly formed on the minds of the Committee by the evidence and the impression formed in my mind during the period—now nearly two years ago—when these events were actually taking place. I think this was probably inevitable. I want to tell the House that when I myself read all the documents which had been taken from Weininger’s tiles and pieced together, and the accompanying memorandum of the Treasury Solicitor, the effect produced on my own mind was one of surprise and dismay. These documents and letters actually dealt with events covering a period of many months, but they can be read in a single hour. Presented in this telescoped, and, if I may so describe it, skeleton, form, they seemed to me to throw a sinister light upon activities of mine which had appeared to me at that time to be not only wholly innocent, but actually praiseworthy. The Committee have found that I did in fact deceive the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
What I want to do is to convince the House that it was never my intention to mislead the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or anyone else, and it, therefore, seems to me that, before I deal with points of detail in the Report which I think I ought to deal with, I had better give to the House a brief outline of the story as I saw it, indicating what I believe to be the salient features, and also what was the state of my mind at different periods—because that is of some importance. It will not take long to do this. First of all, I am sure that the House will accept the fact—which is not disputed by the Select Committee—that my interest in Czecho-Slovakia began, and grew steadily, long before any question of my personal financial affairs arose. I made clear in many speeches in this House, and in articles in the Press outside, my deep feeling about German intentions towards Czecho-Slovakia, and what I feared might happen if these intentions were realised. My anxiety was greatly increased by my visit to the Sudetenland and to Prague in the summer of 1938; and the House will find, in my memorandum in page 236 of the Report, a letter which I wrote to the then Prime Minister, telling him that, according to my information, the German plans were to culminate in an invasion of Czecho-Slovakia between the middle and the end of September. Unfortunately, this forecast proved to be correct. And the reason why I felt so desperately unhappy at the time of Munich was not so much because of what was done—or had to be done—by us, but because of what had been done to Czecho-Slovakia.
I shall not easily forget the morning after Munich, when Weininger and Dr. Janza presented themselves in my flat, and asked for such assistance as I could give them in obtaining a loan for their unfortunate country in its dark hour. I made up my mind, then and there. that anything I could ever do to help the Czechs I would do. It was in these circumstances, and against this background, that Weininger came to me at the beginning of 1939, and told me about the family fortune in Czecho-Slovakia, and of his reasons for wanting to liquidate it; and suggested that if I could help him to do this professionally it might provide an avenue of escape for me from the financial difficulties I was then in. In order to enable me to do this, and to spend what might be a considerable time in Czecho-Slovakia, he made me a payment in advance of £1,000. The evidence discloses the fact that I immediately gave him a promissory note for that amount. The reason I did so is, I think, wholly creditable to me. This was a business proposition, and I regarded that payment simply as a loan, to enable me to do the work which would be necessary, and which might, or might not, prove successful. In this connection I think I ought to make it quite plain to the House that the loan which I had received some months previously from Sir Alfred Butt, who had in days gone by been a client of my firm, was offered to me at a moment of financial panic in the City, to tide me over a difficult period. It was unsecured, and had nothing whatever to do with any business transaction.
Now I come to what I described in my own memorandum, and what has been described in the Report, as the “facade of British interest” which was set up in the Weininger funds. At first sight the expression “facade of British interest” does not, of course, create a good impression. I want to say that it was upon my advice that this was done, and I take full responsibility. My object was a perfectly simple one, and I want the House to be quite clear about this. By the middle of February I knew that the Germans had gone far to establish an absolute stranglehold over the economic and financial life of Czecho-Slovakia; and I felt convinced that it was only a matter of time before they took over the whole government of the country in one form or another. In these circumstances I took the view that if the Weininger fund remained purely a Czech fund, the Germans, sooner or later, would get it. But that if we could point to a specific British interest of some kind there might at least be a chance of saving what was, after all, a considerable fortune from falling into their hands. That was the sole reason for this transaction.
When the Germans marched into Prague on 15th March, 1939, I did everything I could to secure that they should not get the Czech assets in this country. The House will remember that the Austrian assets were not blocked under similar conditions; and they will, I think, accept the fact that my estimate of the amount of the Czech assets here in this country was very much larger than the estimates of other people. I gave this information to the Treasury. The Treasury say that their decision to block the assets was not influenced by it; they would have done it anyway. That may be so. I confess I was a little astonished that Mr. Waley, of the Treasury, had no clearer recollection of the number of times I telephoned to him the day after the German occupation of Prague, because I pestered him—and others, including the present Secretary of State for War—most of that afternoon and evening, simply in order to say that we must block these assets quickly if we were to prevent the Germans from taking them. I did not want to claim any particular credit for myself. The important thing was to stop £17,000,000 going to the Nazis, and that was done. I only wish we had subsequently been able to prevent a further £6,000,000 of gold going to them through the Bank of International Settlements.
As the House knows, Weininger offered to renew his contract with me after the occupation of Prague, but I did not accept this offer, for two reasons—first of all, because I thought he was being unduly generous, and, secondly, because by April I had accepted an obligation to advocate the cause and claims of Czech residents in this country in this House and elsewhere, including refugees from the Nazi terror—and had become chairman of an informal committee of Czech claimants.
Weininger, however, persisted in his determination to relieve me of all financial embarrassment, and to reserve a 10 per cent. proportion of his funds for this purpose. He told me that, contract or no contract, he would take over my debts as soon as he was in a position to do so, and it is an attitude from which he never subsequently deviated. During the summer two things happened which caused me to evolve in my mind a somewhat ambitious scheme for dealing with the claims of Czech, as distinguished from British, holders. The first was the transfer of the gold from the B.I.S. to the Nazis, apparently without any active resistance on the part of the Treasury, which seemed to me at the time to smack of further appeasement; and the second was the opening up of direct negotiations with a representative of the German Government—Herr Wohltat. I want to tell the House frankly that I hoped to bring all the Czech claimants together, to produce a comprehensive scheme which would cover them all, and to be invited to represent their case—in a professional capacity —in the impending negotiations with the German Government. Towards the end of July these hopes of mine crystallised into a strong expectation that this would happen. They were, however, completely shattered at my interview with Lord Simon on 3rd August.
This interview is of considerable importance. It took place a long time ago, and there is some conflict of evidence with regard to it. It is in any case largely a matter of impression. Lord Simon was greatly assisted in the evidence he gave by the fact that before that interview he had prepared an elaborate note, and an equally elaborate memorandum afterwards. In the circumstances, I think, it is perhaps natural that the Committee should have accepted his evidence and rejected mine. All I want to say now to the House is that my own impression of that conversation remains quite clear, and that I cannot alter it. The sole topic under discussion was my position as Chairman of the Committee, and the allegation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—for that was what it amounted to—was that I had been using that position for the purpose of making money. Indeed, that is the only question upon which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had at the time any interest in the matter.
Had I been entrusted at a later stage with the conduct of negotiations on behalf of the whole body of Czech claimants with the Germans I might well have accepted remuneration for my work from the larger claimants, subject, of course, to proper disclosure. But in no other circumstances would I have done so in my capacity as Chairman of the Committee. The day after my interview with the Chancellor I wrote the following letter to Weininger:
“I am afraid it will not now be possible for me to have an agreement of any kind either with you or Zota, because legislation may be necessary, and if I do, I shall not be able to take any further part. I think I must go on, because although the Committee has been disbanded, the Czechs are relying on me to put their case, and the House of Commons would think it very odd if I remained completely silent.
Such is life!”
His immediate response to this letter was to tell me that, whether I had a contract or not, and apart altogether from Czech assets, he still proposed to pay my debts as soon as he was in a position to do so. He said that if he received any money from any source he would use it for this purpose. He offered to visit my creditors personally. And he further offered, if necessary, to place the whole of his funds in Czecho-Slovakia at my disposal as security.
He added that once my debts were safely in his hands, we could discuss the terms of any repayment I might wish to make, or be in a position to make. But in any event I would then be safe, and able to devote myself with a mind free from anxiety to my political work. It was not until after he had said this that I gave the charges which I did give to my creditors. The Select Committee have taken the view that it is inconceivable that Weininger should make such an offer unless it were in return for political services to be rendered. I can only say that they have under-rated this man. There was indeed nothing then that I could possibly do for him in return. Friendship of this order may be rare, but it can and does exist. I see now very clearly that one of the great mistakes I made was to think of Weininger always as a friend rather than as a claimant.
But the House should not suppose that our friendship was entirely one-sided, or that our association in business was confined to Czecho-Slovakia. Immediately after the outbreak of the war I asked him to co-operate with me in work of considerable potential importance and magnitude. I gave some account of this work to the Select Committee, but they decided that it would not be in the public interest to disclose it at present, and I bow to their decision. Some day the full story may be told. In the meantime it is sufficient for the purposes of my argument to repeat what I told the Committee, that this merely reinforced, if it was necessary, Weininger’s determination to give me such financial assistance as I might require.
The Report states correctly that after August, 1939, I did not take any very active political steps in respect of the Czech claims until 23rd January, 1940, when I made a very material speech on the Second Reading of the Czecho-Slovakian (Financial Claims and Refugees) Bill. I think I am entitled to say with regard to that speech that there was nothing new in it, except that I said I thought that claimants with a thousand pounds or less should be paid in full, and first.
So far as my further activities were concerned, they were confined to pressing that all the claims should be met as soon as possible—owing to the war there had been great delay in dealing with the matter—and to clearing up some muddle which appeared to have arisen with regard to the transfer of the Weininger fund to a British company, for which, as hon. Members will recollect, I was mainly responsible.
The House can imagine the distress which I felt personally when, on 17th September last, Weininger was arrested in my presence, in my flat, and removed to Brixton Prison there to be kept in confinement for months without trial or charge. I protested in the strongest possible terms to the Home Office, but could get no satisfactory explanation. In the end I appealed to the Prime Minister himself. I do not know now the reason for his imprisonment, but I do know that he has been a consistent opponent of the Nazi régime from the very beginning and that he rendered notable service to this country after the outbreak of war.
It appears that after his arrest his files were seized, and the evidence before the Committee discloses the fact that the whole case against me was built up from documents and letters extracted from them. This process must have taken some considerable time, but I was not told until it was completed. I was, of course, aware that documents relating to me must have been in Weininger’s files, in view of our long association and business relationship over a period of years, but I think I am entitled to point out to the House that I would have scarcely protested so violently against his arrest and imprisonment as I did if I had been conscious of the slightest guilt in respect of any transactions I have ever had with him.
That, in brief, is the story I have to tell. Now, if hon. Members will forgive me, I propose to deal specifically with two points in the Report. On page 4, paragraph 7—I do not think it will be necessary for hon. Members to refer to it, as I have it here—it states that my counsel having been asked whether he wished to call Weininger as a witness, replied that after reflection he wished to do so. This implies a certain reluctance on his part; but it was always our intention to call Weininger. He was, indeed, our principal witness, and at the first meeting of the inquiry my counsel said to the Committee, “The most important witness I have to call is a gentleman who for a very long time has been a great friend of Mr. Boothby’s, a Czech subject called Weininger.”On page 10, paragraph 37, there is a statement to the effect that there is no evidence that any proposal that the larger Czech claimants should make a contribution for distribution to the poorer Czechs was ever brought before the Committee. This I regard as very important. I want to submit with the greatest respect that this statement was not in accordance with the facts, and can only be justified if the evidence given, not only by myself and Weininger, but also by Dr. Janza, the Counsellor of the Czech Legation, and Dr. Calmon, is rejected. Dr. Calmon, whose evidence can be found on pages 101 and 102, not only referred to such a proposal, but specifically to a suggestion put forward on these lines by himself at our Committee. The question of a comprehensive scheme embracing all Czech claims was one in which I was deeply interested, and, as the House will realise, it has an important bearing on my position. This was the reason why I was so anxious to get the Petscheks to join my Committee, and therefore I am entitled to ask hon. Members not to disregard the formidable weight of evidence given on this particular matter.
I now come to the conclusions of the Report. I am sure hon. Members will acquit me of any discourtesy to the Committee if I say that I feel bound to express my personal dissent from the first five. The first conclusion was that I had expectations from the Hans Weinmann claims. I want to tell the House that I did not know of Weininger’s proposal that his brother-in-law should join him in any financial assistance until the inquiry took place. In paragraph 50 the Committee found that Weininger promised to pay me this considerable sum of money on the understanding that I would render services in return, such services to include political speeches, pressure on Ministers of the Crown and Treasury officials. If that really were the case, I should retire altogether from public life and never have anything more to do with it. I can say to hon. Members—and I will give the House an absolute and unqualified assurance as well—that the question of my rendering political services to Weininger was never at any time discussed or even mentioned between us, nor do I think that in the light of events it can be maintained that there was anything in the nature of a tacit understanding.
On page 182 of the Report hon. Members will find a copy of a letter sent to me by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer on 19th July, in which he told me that foreign nationals, including Czechs, who were and had for some time been ordinarily resident or ordinarily carrying on business in this country should be included in the category of “British holders,” and that he saw no reason why British holders should not count on obtaining an adequate settlement in respect of cash balances. After the receipt of this letter, a copy of which I immediately sent to Weininger, there could be no doubt whatsoever that Weininger’s claims, if valid, must subsequently be met. There was no possibility in these circumstances of my assisting in any way by political effort, and yet it was not until after the receipt of this letter from the then Chancellor of the Exchequer that I accepted his offer of financial assistance. It might conceivably be argued that I did subsequently render Weininger a service by continuing to press for payment of claims as a whole, but I cannot think that hon. Members will seriously think that anybody would offer to pay so large a sum of money simply in return for asking a Government Department to hurry up.
In paragraph 51 of the conclusions of their Report, the Committee say that I could not fail to be influenced in my efforts by the knowledge that Mr. Weininger might withdraw his promise or be unable to fulfil it. Surely, all the evidence shows that Weininger was continually pressing me to accept financial assistance, that it was I who was reluctant to do so, and that I agreed to take advantage of his generosity only when my own financial position became one of acute difficulty. In paragraph 52 the Committee find that the evidence was inconclusive as to whether I had expectations of payment for my services as Chairman of the Czech Committee. I must say that I thought the evidence of Dr. Calmon, on page 101, in which he said:
“There never was, in any member of the Committee’s mind, any idea that Mr. Boothby should get anything from the Committee or in connection with the money we got from the British Government for our claims”—
was decisive. Finally, in paragraph 53, the Committee admit that my interview with the former Chancellor of the Exchequer on 3rd August was regarding the affairs of the Committee of which I was Chairman, and they say that I expressly protested on my honour that I had no financial interest. The implication here is that I was not telling the truth, but in fact I had no financial interest whatsoever in the Committee, or in my capacity as Chairman. The only conceivable interest I had was in Weininger’s promise to help me with my debts. In their penultimate paragraph the Committee say that if I intended to delimit my disclaimer to the Chancellor on 4th August it was essential that I should have stated explicitly what my interest was and what it was not in the whole matter of the Czech assets. This conclusion I accept.
It is easy to be wise after the event. But, looking back, I can see now that I was guilty of a tragic error of judgment. If I had even put a postscript to this letter to the effect that, although the Weininger claims were now technically British claims with which my Committee was not directly concerned, and although I had no legal or enforceable contract with him, nevertheless I had an expectation of financial assistance from him if and when the claims of his family were met, this case could never have been brought against me. Had I done so, it would have made no difference to me personally or to anyone else.
Why did I not do it? Let me try to tell the House what was in my mind, because, in judging of my conduct, that is a matter of some importance. I was very disappointed as a result of my talk with the Chancellor the previous day, when he made it quite clear to me, not only that my services would not be required in connection with any negotiations on behalf of the Czechs, but that he regarded my Committee as redundant. By the very same post I sent a letter to Weininger, which I have already quoted, definitely and finally refusing his offer of a contract. At that moment I felt disheartened, not only because my plans seemed to have come to nothing, but because my motives seemed to have been misunderstood by the Chancellor. When I wrote those two letters I had absolutely no doubt in my own mind not only that I had no financial interest in the Czech claims as such, but that in view of the attitude of the Chancellor I could no longer hope to render the services which I hoped to render to the cause which I had so much at heart and for which I had fought so long.
That is all I wish to say about the Report. I do not intend to raise any constitutional issues nor do I propose to examine the question of whether a Select Committee is the most appropriate tribunal to deal with a case of this kind. That is a matter for the House to decide. I content myself with pointing out that the powers of a Select Committee far exceed those of a court of law and that much of the evidence put in would have been inadmissible in a court. In addition, the decision of a majority in a Select Committee become the findings of the Committee as a whole. As was to be expected, my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General was scrupulously fair throughout the inquiry but it was inevitable that from the outset, the inquiry should take the form of a trial. In those circumstances, I am doubtful in my own mind whether it was altogether right that the memorandum of the Treasury Solicitor together with the documents obtained from Weininger’s files, should have been in the hands of the Committee for a whole week, before I was able to make a reply and that during the course of the inquiry fresh evidence, much of which would ordinarily be privileged, should have been continually demanded and produced and ultimately published. There is both rhyme and reason for the procedure of our courts of law and there is something to be said for adopting it, in a case of this kind.
Sir, I have done. The finding of the Committee has gone against me. Let us be clear what that finding is. It is not suggested that I ever advocated a policy contrary to the public interest in order to further my own interests. The finding is that I ought to have made a full disclosure of any financial interest I may have had in regard to the Czech claims, and that by not doing so I failed to come up to the standard of conduct required by this House of its Members.
This imposes a standard upon hon. Members with regard to disclosure which has pretty wide implications. I want to say to the House now that I sincerely regret not having given fuller information to the Chancellor of the Exchequer with regard to my interest in, or to put it more accurately, my expectations of benefit from the Weininger funds. I want also to say that whether I had an interest or whether I had not, would have made no difference at all to my political activities both inside this House and outside it. It so happened that, at a certain period, Weininger’s personal interests coincided with what I believed, and still believe, to be the public interest. But the Weininger claim was merely an incident in a political campaign on behalf of the Czechs which I had begun long before I ever heard of it, and would have continued if I had never heard of it.
I have been long enough here for the House to know that I am not in the habit of making speeches designed to bring me either financial gain or political advancement. As I told the Committee, I am satisfied in my own mind and conscience that whatever errors of judgment or omission I may have committed, I never in any sense or at any stage acted contrary to the public interest. My two main objectives throughout were to prevent the money going to the Germans and to secure its distribution among Czech residents in this country, many of whom would otherwise have been penniless today. If the House considers that either of those objectives was contrary to the public interest, I have nothing more to say.
Looking back now, the whole unfortunate business seems so unnecessary. A postscript to a letter, a sentence or two in a conversation of a speech—which could have altered neither the facts, nor the course of events, nor my conduct in relation to them—are all, it seems, that were required. But it never occurred to me that they were necessary. It may be that I was thoughtless. The other night I turned, as I always do in times of stress, to one of whom Lord Rosebery has said, that his poems are a treasure-house in which all may find what they want and from which every wayfarer in the journey of life may pluck strength and courage as he passes. I soon found what I wanted:
“The poor inhabitant below
Was quick to learn and wise to know
And keenly felt the friendly glow,
And softer flame;
But thoughtless follies laid him low,
And stained his name!”
In peace-time there is much to be said in favour of not holding office. But in time of war it is hard to give up a post of responsibility in the Government in which one might have been of some service to the country. I am very sorry to leave the Ministry of Food, where I was exceptionally fortunate in having an opportunity of studying at first hand the methods of so great an administrator as Lord Woolton. I am still more sorry that I have had to sever my association with the Prime Minister, in whom I have always had such great faith, and whose star—now, fortunately for this country, in the ascendant—I have followed for many years.
With regard to my future action, I want only to say this at present. The true picture of events is still so clear before my eyes that I am quite unable to comprehend how an interpretation could have been put on them which could make me seem unworthy of membership of this House. It is not true that I suddenly took an interest in Czecho-Slovakian affairs because I was given a financial interest. I helped the Czechs because I did not want them to be robbed by the Germans, not because I wanted to rob them myself. It is not true that I pressed the claims in which I might be held to have had an interest as against others. On the contrary, I pressed in this House that the small claims, in which no one suggests that I had an interest, should be met in full. It is not true that I deliberately deceived the Chancellor or the House. When I disclaimed any financial interest to the Chancellor, I was answering his charge that I and my Committee were working for payment, and that I was being paid as Chairman. It is not true that I advocated any case on account of personal interest. I challenge denial that everything I said or advocated was in the national interest.
Finally, it is not true that I have received one single penny for anything I said or did with regard to the Czech claims. Knowing all this, I cannot, of my own free will, take any action that might even imply an acknowledgement of guilt on my part. Folly I have admitted; guilt I cannot admit. In face of the issues which confront us all my own plight fades into insignificance. Whatever happens, I intend to serve the country to the best of my ability in some capacity. There is only one objective for anyone today and that is to win the war. What else matters? In accordance with precedent, Mr. Speaker, I now propose to withdraw from the Chamber.
The hon. Member then withdrew from the Chamber.
Below is the text of the speech made by Aneurin Bevan, the then Labour MP for Ebbw Vale, in the House of Commons on 28 January 1941.
I beg to move,
“That this House expresses its detestation of the propaganda of the ‘Daily Worker’ in relation to the war, as it is convinced that the future of democratic institutions and the expanding welfare of the people everywhere depend on the successful prosecution of the war till Fascism is finally defeated; but is of the opinion that the confidence of considerable numbers of people can be undermined if it can be shown to them that any newspaper can be suppressed in a manner which leaves that newspaper no chance of stating its case; and therefore regrets that the Home Secretary has not proceeded against the ‘Daily Worker’ and the ‘Week’ under the powers given to him for this purpose, but has taken action under Regulations which were justified to the House by the Government on the sole ground that they might be needed in circumstances of direst peril arising out of physical invasion.”
Last Tuesday, I understood from information which has been brought to me, the Home Secretary met the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association, and informed that Association that he proposed to suppress the “Daily Worker” and the “Week.” At two o’clock on the same day, the Home Secretary met editors of the national newspapers, and that evening these two newspapers were suppressed. Members of the House of Commons had no knowledge of the intentions of the Home Secretary until the following day, and it was clear from the newspapers on the Wednesday morning that with one or two exceptions the newspapers were agreed with the Home Secretary to suppress one of their members; and now we have an opportunity, one week later, of discussing this unprecedented action of the Home Secretary on a Motion by a private Member. I submit that that story by itself shows an extraordinary deterioration in democratic standards in Great Britain. It does not seem to me to have been necessary, if the Home Secretary intended to take action of the kind he did, to secure the connivance of the other newspapers in order to do so. My hon. Friends and myself have made it quite clear in our Motion that we do not share the views of the “Daily Worker.” [An HON. MEMBER: Where is the Home Secretary?] I am very reluctant to make any statement at all without the presence of the Home Secretary. However, I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has now entered the Chamber.
I think it is unnecessary to repeat what I have said, because it will be communicated to him. It is unnecessary, I am sure, to convince hon. Members in all parts of the House that my hon. Friends and I do not share the opinions of the “Daily Worker”; we have made that clear in our Motion. Therefore, it would be irrelevant to quote against us articles in the “Daily Worker” with which we ourselves profoundly disagree, although they may be quoted in justification of the action of the Home Secretary. They cannot be quoted against us because we do not accept them. In the second place, we are firmly of the opinion that the war should be prosecuted to final victory, and it is because we believe that that we have put the Motion upon the Order Paper. It is quite clear to everyone
Mr. Hammersley (Willesden, East)
Do I understand from the hon. Member that anything in the “Daily Worker” is irrelevant?
No, Sir, I did not make any such statement. I think I made myself quite clear, that to quote articles from the newspaper called the “Daily Worker” against us would be irrelevant, because I do not agree with those articles, though of course it is obvious that hon. Members may quote in justification of the Home Secretary’s action. It is perfectly clear to everyone who has thought about the matter for a moment that in any community, whether in peace or war, the amount of liberty to be accorded to any minority or any individual must necessarily be under some restraint. Therefore, there is an element of expediency in all liberty, although that society is the best which can make the most progress with the least restraint.
I accept also that in time of war restrictions upon liberty must be greater than they are in times of peace. It is expedient to give less liberty because society is in greater jeopardy. I am, therefore, not concerned to argue the abstract principle that anyone has a right to absolute liberty. That would be a foolish position to take up. What I am contending is that it was not expedient to suppress the “Daily Worker” because we could still afford the amount of liberty which the newspaper was enjoying. It is, therefore, my first contention that there has been an unnecessary deprivation of the liberty of the subject by the suppressing of the “Daily Worker.” What influence did the “Daily Worker” exercise? It would have had to exercise such influence as to be undermining the war effort, before the right hon. Gentleman would have been justified in taking away its liberty. What evidence is there that the war effort of the country and the morale of the population were being affected? We have stood up against the worst bombardment that any civil population has ever had, and we have been called upon to bear trials which no other population has been called upon to bear. We have sustained them to the admiration of the world. In fact so negligible, so unimportant, so uninfluential was the circulation of the “Daily Worker” that it was unable to undermine the morale of the country when it was exposed to the greatest bombardment in its history. It seems to me quite unnecessary, in circumstances of that description, to take away a liberty which can be shown not to have affected the national war effort.
In the next place, it is because we permitted liberty to the “Daily Worker,” and because we allowed assemblies like the People’s Convention to be held, that the great democratic institutions of Great Britain evoked admiration in America. Newspapers there pointed to the fact that this beleaguered island could carry the indulgence of liberty so far as to include People’s Conventions and the “Daily Worker.” No higher tribute could have been paid to the morale of the country and our determination to fight the war to victory. The Home Secretary by his action has now deprived us of that precious asset. He has made a present to our enemies of the fact that we feel so insecure that we can no longer permit the liberty that this newspaper was enjoying. It was, therefore, unnecessary for the Home Secretary to take this action.
Furthermore, all the by-elections which have been held since the war began have shown that it commands the overwhelming allegiance of the British people. Deposit after deposit has been forfeited whenever the issue has been put to the test. So that this newspaper, opposed to the war, and the organisation which it stimulates, or feeds, or fosters, have been unable to convince any large number of citizens. The public interest was not, on that account, jeopardised in the least.
Why did the right hon. Gentleman think it necessary to silence this voice? He and his Government enjoy more Press support than any Government ever had in our history. Indeed, so large is the measure of support, that the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) pointed out on 31st July that the main trouble was that the Press was in too few hands, some of those hands being in the Government. Nevertheless, enjoying this unprecedented support, enjoying the support of newspapers whose proprietors are associated directly or indirectly with the Government, the right hon. Gentleman suppresses this one small voice. His position is far stronger than was the position of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) in the last war. There was then a far greater minority Press in the country, supported by many influential people and by many in this House. The right hon. Gentleman is there, and some of us are here, because during those years we fought against the war. The right hon. Gentleman’s voice would not have been heard from 1914–18 if, to use an Irishism, he had been Home Secretary then, and this House would have been denied the use of his unrivalled powers.
Mr. Woodburn (Stirling and Clackmannan Eastern)
There was nothing corrupt about the Home Secretary’s opposition to the war.
The hon. Member must not anticipate my arguments. His interruption is evidence that this is the sort of subject which the House of Commons is not fit to discuss judicially. The fact is that the Government enjoys in these circumstances far greater support than the last war Government did, and yet in that war there was no suppression of any daily paper. [Interruption.] My information is that “Forward” was not suppressed. There was interference with the Press but there was no suppression of a newspaper.
Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
It was suppressed for three weeks.
I wish hon Members would pay attention to what I say. I said there was no suppression of a newspaper. Closing down for a day or two is not suppression. In the last war there were no suppressions of newspapers, although there were newspapers of great influence supported by prominent members of the House. The Home Secretary has taken action in circumstances which are far stronger than his predecessor enjoyed. If there is any case at all against the “Daily Worker,” the best thing to do is to state it—to argue it. When the “Daily Worker” was coming out, morning by morning, and its articles could be discussed, as they were discussed, the answer to it arose spontaneously in the minds of its readers, and it was by the atmosphere of public discussion, by the full utilisation of democratic institutions, that its power was kept within bounds. Now that it has been suppressed its views will be disseminated in places where they cannot be replied to. That is the vicious part of suppression. It is not merely that, but in taking away the voice from subversive opinion you take away the opportunity for effective answer to that voice and the people will be denied the opportunity of hearing in public the case that they will hear whispered to them in private. It seems to me that, on those grounds alone, the action of the Home Secretary was extremely unwise.
Take the second ground. A minority has not the right in any society, especially in time of war, to withhold from the Government, from the majority, the instruments of executive action. It is entitled to conduct its propaganda, but is not entitled to take its propaganda to the point where it performs, acts or persuades other people to perform acts which frustrate the will of the majority. That is an abuse of minority rights. In other words, if the “Daily Worker” in an article called upon engineers to ref use to make shells or incited people directly to sabotage the war effort, action could be taken against it for that act alone, because it would be an attempt on the part of the minority to deny to the majority the effective instrument for carrying out the people’s will. Can the right hon. Gentleman say that the “Daily Worker” has been guilty of that? If so, the Home Secretary has his remedy in the courts. He has his powers. He has been given power since the beginning of the war to take action in the courts on specific charges against individuals or collections of individuals for acts of that kind, but he has not done so.
May I say to some of my hon. Friends, particularly on the opposite side of the House, that they really must try and look upon the industrial population of this country with some degree of consistency? On the one hand, they regard the working class as heroes, and, on the other, they regard them as deluded simpletons and fools. They suggest that because there is a dispute in a workshop, a quarrel with a foreman, a strike here and there, these are the result of the vicious propaganda of some evilly disposed person who goes to those poor simpletons the workers, exacerbates their grievances, rouses their blood and persuades them to go on strike. That is a complete distortion of the facts.
Mr. Logan (Liverpool, Scotland Division)
Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that what he has described actually takes place in the workshops and that this agitation by the Communist party is carried on in the workshops?
I admitted in the first part of my case that the Communist party is conducting an agitation which, if it succeeded, would largely undermine the war effort. But we are not alienists, we are not concerned with people’s intentions. We are concerned with what they are able to do, and it is my case that the Communist party and the “Daily Worker” have failed, are failing and will fail in an atmosphere of free discussion. There is no evidence to show, as far as I know, that the workers in the factories have been brought out on strike by any maliciously disposed person. If a worker strikes, he strikes because he has a grievance. There is only one of two ways of dealing with it—either redress it if you can, or, if you cannot, explain clearly why you cannot. Hon. Members will have realised that the workers do not cat, drink and sleep war. They have other interests that claim their attention, such as insufficient rations, low wages and bad housing.
Those are the things that affect the workers. They feel bitter about them and sometimes strike about them and quarrel about them, although they may be 100 per cent. supporters of the war. Why should action upon their part be regarded as sabotage and as subversive? The financial columns of the newspapers re- port every day that many firms are going slow because the Excess Profits Tax destroys their incentive to production. Is that described as sabotage? If the matter is considered idealistically the one is as much sabotage as the other; but we must consider human beings in the round and not as logical abstractions. Those who went to the People’s Convention would be the first to take up rifles if any German set foot in Great Britain.
Idealistically, there would be contradiction between the two actions, but individuals are contradictory beings and often pursue two courses at the same time. Any of us may sit down to a big fat meal, as some of us do, and not consider that we are undermining the war effort. Hon. Members must try to maintain some sense of proportion in this matter.
There is nothing which will provoke a greater sense of dissatisfaction among the industrial population than the belief, which will now be distributed among them independent of the merits of the “Daily Worker,” that a newspaper has been suppressed by a police act of the Home Secretary because it was expressing an unpopular point of view. The other day I had an argument with some prominent Communists about the People’s Convention. I was opposing it. One of the objects of the Convention was the promotion and defence of democratic and trade union rights in Great Britain. I pointed out that there were no greater evidences of the vitality of democratic rights in this country than the publication of the “Daily Worker” and the holding of the People’s Convention. I cannot say that to-day. The right hon. Gentleman has taken that reply away from me; he has taken the defence from me and given the case to our opponents quite unnecessarily. When a meeting is held in Great Britain to-day in support of democratic rights one name will spring to the lips of every person, namely, the “Daily Worker,” and people will say, “Your democracy is so weak you could not afford the voice of opposition.” The right hon. Gentleman has done a real disservice to the cause of democracy by the action he has taken.
Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
Did these thoughts occur to the hon. Gentleman when “Action” was banned?
The hon. Gentleman must be sure of his facts. “Action” was not suppressed.
Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
May I make a friendly interruption to my hon. Friend? I am not influenced by the opinions of the House on one side or the other. I would like to ask him whether he is not aware, whether or not “Action” was technically suppressed, that in fact the Fascist party was brought to an end without a murmur of disapproval by anybody? The whole Fascist party was closed down, including “Action.”
I agree that that was the case, but I was answering the charge that “Action” was suppressed. It was not.
That is a technical point.
Wait a minute. The answer about “Action” is a simple one. The organisers of the Fascist party were direct allies of our enemies, and they were suppressed because of that fact.
Mrs. Tate (Frome)
What about the Communists?
Will hon. Members try to restrain themselves? The Communist party has not been suppressed. We are not discussing the Communist party, but discussing the suppression of the “Daily Worker.” Now that the right hon. Gentleman has decided to suppress the “Daily Worker” because it is undermining national morale and conducting systematic propaganda against the war effort, where does he propose to stop? Will it be illegal to say at a thousand meetings what the “Daily Worker” was saying every day? This is a serious matter, and the seriousness of it will come home to hon. Members in a few weeks’ time.
Meetings are arising in this country, all over the place, it may be stimulated by Communists, but supported by large numbers of people who, while they do not agree with the Communist at all, think that the “Daily Worker” ought not to have been suppressed. At those meetings speeches will be made attacking the right hon. Gentleman and the Government for what they have done. Those meetings will be held systematically for weeks and months, and statements will be made there similar to statements which were written in the ”Daily Worker.” Will that be illegal? Will the right hon. Gentleman stop that? If he does stop it, we shall soon have the whole apparatus of the Gestapo in Great Britain. We shall have espionage, industrial espionage, and agents-provocateur. We shall have the whole apparatus of the “police State.” It would have been much simpler to have allowed this propaganda to go on above ground where it could be met. If the right hon. Gentleman does not take action, he will find himself forced by exactly the same quarters as forced him to take action against the “Daily Worker.”
I should like to ask next why the right hon. Gentleman did not make specific charges against the paper and take the paper into court? This House is not the place in which to discuss matters of this kind. On issues where feelings run so high and so deep we cannot have a judicial mind, and, further, the Whips are at work, and party loyalties are mobilised—against the welfare of the public. My right hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith), the spokesman for the Opposition, is moving the Amendment on the Paper. What is the symbolism of that? It is impossible for the House of Commons to discuss judicially a matter of this sort when party allegiance and party loyalties are ruled by the Whips and when the fortunes of the Government are bound up with the position. Why have we a judiciary which is independent of the House?
Because that judiciary can, after a decent lapse of time, discuss an issue calmly in the austere rooms of a court of law, as little influenced as possible by political bias and prejudice and declare upon the facts without having any political aim in view. That is why it would be so much more desirable to take this matter to a court than to discuss it here. And the right hon. Gentleman is the very last person to have charge of this matter, because I am afraid that he has been fighting the Communist party for so long that he looks under his bed every night to see whether they are there. He is entirely unfit to discharge his duty judicially in this matter.
I have one other thing to say in support of my case. I have referred before to the powerful support which the Government have in the Press of the country. I shall not make any more specific charge against the Press, but I would point out that during the last few days some newspapers which last Wednesday were fully satisfied that the Government had behaved correctly are much more doubtful to-day. The case of the right hon. Gentleman in respect of the “Daily Worker” is so slight that there is only one explanation of why he took action, and that is that it was intended to serve as an instrument of intimidation against the Press as a whole. I do not say that without some justification. It was only a few months ago that some newspaper proprietors, not after an official meeting of newspaper proprietors but, I imagine, after conversations with members of the Government, approached the proprietors of two very important newspapers in Great Britain with very large circulations.
The Government, they were told, were very worried about the line they were taking. The proprietors of those two papers said, “If that be so, we should like to discuss the matter with the Government,” and they saw a member of the War Cabinet. That member of the War Cabinet said—mark his words—that in his view the line taken by those newspapers was subversive—[Interruption.] Yes, the “Daily Mirror” and the “Sunday Pictorial”—and the Cabinet Minister was the Lord Privy Seal.
At that time the propaganda of those two newspapers, which were both supporting the war, was a propaganda against the unwisdom of retaining certain members in the Government. So closely do politicians, when they get into office, identify their welfare and reputation with the well-being of the State. When the Cabinet Minister was asked to point out in what respect the newspapers were subversive he failed to do so. He said their general line was subversive. The conversation ended amicably—but what, now, is the position?
The law is whatever the Government like to make it, because no newspaper has a defence. If the right hon. Gentleman sends for the editor of a newspaper and says, “I do not like your newspaper, I do not like the way it is behaving, I do not like its general line,” the newspaper editor may say, “Well, I am very sorry about that, but what do you object to, because if you object to any particular thing you have your remedy in the courts” “Oh, no,” says the right hon. Gentleman, “you will have no court to go to. I will stop you without going to court at all.” The right hon. Gentleman may never take action against any other newspaper, but the damnable part of it is that that power hangs over every editorial chair in Fleet Street. So long as the Home Secretary can behave in that dictatorial manner, leaving the newspaper no chance of stating its case, he can do almost as much by intimidation and terrorism as by taking action.
Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
Surely the hon. Member has not forgotten the control of this House over the Government.
The hon. Member refers to the control of this House. We see what the control of this House means. It is one of the canons of British law that an accused person shall have a voice in his own defence; not that some other well-disposed persons can, if they so desire, speak up on his behalf. These are not merely democratic forms; behind these forms are five centuries of British history. Magna Carta, Habeas Corpus and the Bill of Rights are behind the right of every individual to appear in his own defence.
Mr. Garro Jones (Aberdeen, North)
Would my hon. Friend illuminate the House on this point: Who, precisely, would be brought before the House to answer for the policy of the “Daily Worker”?
The editorial board; and not before this House, but before a court of law. They would have the opportunity of answering the charges. What do right hon. Gentlemen opposite mean by making speeches about the defence of democracy, if they think this position is right? The Prime Minister makes use of unexampled eloquence over the radio and talks about freedom and democracy. What does freedom mean, if not that men may not be yanked off to court by policemen without having a chance of defending themselves, and that a newspaper may not be suppressed without having a chance of being heard in its own defence? These are not idle forms; they are the citadels of our democratic institutions.
It is more important for us to fortify the souls of our people by confidence in our democratic institutions than by this feeble, panic legislation. The right hon. Gentleman and his Government—they are all in this, I understand—have broken faith with the House of Commons. They received these powers from the House of Commons by what now appears a trick. They got them on 31st July last year. There was another Debate in this House at that time, and I shall not go into the details because another hon. Member is to do that. It was a debate about the Channel Islands being in the hands of the Germans, and we were discussing this matter with imminent invasion over our heads—[HON. MEMBERS: “As it is now.”] Do hon. Gentlemen suggest that the situation is desperate? Can it be more desperate than it was then? Even then, the House of Commons tried to prevent the right hon. Gentleman from having these powers, and he got them by saying that they were not intended to be used except in the circumstances then feared.
Mr. H. Strauss (Norwich)
For the sake of convenience would the hon. Gentleman point to the passages of the speech on which he relies?
Certainly. They are to be found in the OFFICIAL REPORT for 3rst July, 1940.
The right hon. Gentleman then said:
“The whole thing can be put in a nutshell. The reason why it seemed, not merely to the Home Secretary but to the Government, that a Regulation of this kind, admittedly very drastic, was necessary is this: the invasion, the overrunning, in a very short space of time, of Holland, Belgium and part of France brought home to us in a way it had never been brought home to us before that we in this country were exposed to perils of a kind that most of us had never before imagined.”
The right hon. Gentleman went on:
“What we have to ask ourselves, and what the Government had to ask themselves, before deciding to make this very drastic Regulation, was whether, if the direst peril we can imagine were to come upon us…”
What is the direst peril that we could imagine could come upon us? Invasion.
And treachery inside.
My hon. Friend will probably have the opportunity of making his own speech. The right hon. Gentleman went on—and his sentences are almost as long as those of the Prime Minister:
“it would be tolerable that there should at that moment, when the resolution of some of the weakest among us might be shaken or be in danger of being shaken, be allowed even for a short time the systematic publication of matter calculated to foment opposition to the prosecution of the war to a successful issue.” —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st July, 1940; col. 1320, Vol. 363.]
I tell the right hon. Gentleman, in all fairness, that the House understood by that statement that he intended these very unusual powers to be used only in the circumstances then feared by the House, those of invasion. I admit that the higher critics can come along at this stage and, by violating the spirit but considering the letter, argue that some other interpretation is possible. Even conceding that point to the Home Secretary, it is clear that the House was very disquieted on that occasion. Some of my hon. Friends on this side went into the Lobby against the Government, of which their leader was then a Member—60 of them. The Government got a majority of only 38, the smallest of its majorities up to that time.
I submit that there is no situation of such peril, urgency and terror in Great Britain as was envisaged then, and that the Home Secretary has violated a pledge which was given to the House by his predecessor. The right hon. Gentleman is putting us in a very difficult position. Last Tuesday, his colleague the Minister of Labour brought in powers of industrial conscription, without any countervailing powers against property in Great Britain. On the same day, the Home Secretary suppressed the “Daily Worker.” Unless he is very careful, and shows a stronger arm than he has done so far, he will be driving even greater inroads into democratic liberty, as a consequence of the action which he has now taken. The juxtaposition of those two events will have a significance which will be realised in every village and town in the country. That significance will be driven home by evilly disposed persons, who will point out that this is a sinister conjunction.
Those are two Labour Ministers. When the war began, I tried to persuade friends of mine, South Wales miners, to support a resolution. Part of the resolution was that we should support the war, and it was carried by a two-thirds majority. Another part of the resolution was that we support the war on two fronts, namely, that we fight against Hitler abroad and against privilege and reaction at home. We believe in winning the war on two fronts, but the right hon. Gentleman does not. The Government are winning the war against us, and are making Labour Ministers the catspaws of reactionary policy. I say to Conservative Members opposite: You are doing a grave disservice to this State by permitting Labour Ministers to indulge the weaknesses of their temperament in their positions. You are doing a great disservice to the spiritual harmony and unity of this country in time of war. To my hon. Friends on this side of the House I say: For heaven’s sake, take care where you are going. I few years ago we were accusing hon. Members on the other side of the House of leading us to disaster and to war because of loyalty to their party and to the old school tie. They put loyalty to their party above loyalty to their country. To-day they are asking us to do the same thing, to go into the Lobby, not because we believe the Government have done the right thing, but because our Ministers are involved. It is a great disservice.
It is because I detest the point of view of some of those who write in the “Daily Worker,” because I believe that this is the worst possible way to treat them, and because I believe our case is good and can stand the light, that I believe that hon. Members opposite are doing a great disservice in driving these forces underground, in making them subterranean and subversive, where we cannot pursue them and expose them. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not consider that his political future and the future of his Government are involved in clinging to that error. We are living in very unusual circumstances. Ministers have to make difficult decisions in difficult circumstances. This House would not whisper a word of criticism against the Government if they said that the paper had been punished, that they would allow it to be printed again and would prosecute it in the courts where the facts could be known and where concrete charges would be their own propaganda against the paper. I submit that that can be done. If the right hon. Gentleman does not do it, I suggest that he is entering the third phase of the war. The first phase was when the late Mr. Neville Chamberlain ruled over this country disastrously. The second phase was when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) took charge and inspired the country, and the third phase was when Ministers of whom we had a right to expect something greater lost their faith in democracy, lost their confidence in the ordinary people and tried to lead the country to victory by methods which have proven disastrous in other countries in Europe.
Below is the text of the speech made by Ernest Bevin, the then Minister of Labour, in the House of Commons on 21 January 1941.
The Government welcome this opportunity to submit to the House the reasons for the changes that have been made with the object of co-ordinating and expediting our production efforts. The statement which I am now about to submit will deal with four main subjects: the newly-established Governmental machinery, the policy in relation to production, how the powers granted by Parliament have in fact been operated, and the policy to be pursued in the further organisation and use of man-power. First, then, I will deal with the recent modification of the Government machinery for exercising central supervision and control in matters of policy relating to production, imports and economic questions generally. The organisation was explained in a statement issued a few days ago by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. There seems, however, to be some misapprehension about it in certain quarters, and it may be of assistance to the House if, at the outset of this Debate, I set out quite briefly the purpose of the changes which have been made.
The basic principle of the new organisation is that the whole business of production and supply should be gripped and controlled at the top by a small and compact directing body, consisting of the Ministers responsible for the executive Departments concerned. Thus, the Production Executive is composed of the four Ministers responsible for the principal producing Departments, together with the Minister of Labour, representing manpower, the instrument of production. We shall know by the deliveries week by week and month by month whether, as the result of the allocation of materials, the operation of the priorities and the use of man-power, we are meeting the demands made upon our production effort. The Import Executive consists of the five Ministers responsible for the main importing Departments, and has at its service the handling Departments, such as shipping, transport, merchant shipbuilding and repairs.
These Executives, consisting as they do solely of responsible Ministers of high authority who are at the head of the executive Departments concerned, are in a position to reach rapid decisions on matters which are within their competence and can themselves see that these decisions are quickly carried into effect. These bodies are framed for action, and not for debate. There need be no fear of any inconsistency or divergence of policy as between one of these Executives and another, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has retained the responsibility for ensuring that the Executives carry out the policy of the War Cabinet.
In addition, there is the Lord President’s Committee, what my right hon. Friend has called the “steering committee,” which consists of the chairmen of these two executives and of the other main Committees of the War Cabinet which are concerned with the home front, together with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister without Portfolio. They meet under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council. This Committee is there to knit together the work of all those bodies, to settle any differences that may arise in the course of their work, to deal with any residual problems, and finally to consider the larger economic issues which the Government must keep constantly under review but which do not fall directly or completely within the scope of any one of the other executives or committees.
To assist them in these matters, the Committee have the services of a body of economists of high standing who are free from Departmental ties. In the task which the Government have to perform, regard must be had to war strategy. It is essential that some organisation should exist to make sure that the deliveries of necessary supplies and of munitions of war are kept moving forward in unison, thereby meeting the legitimate claims of the Services, so that no branch of our effort is insufficiently equipped. War in its modern development has demonstrated the imperative need for the fighting units to be able to operate as a cohesive whole. It has been alleged by some that the organisation now adopted is inadequate. On the other hand, we must guard against the danger of creating or superimposing forms of organisation upon organisation, and creating opportunities for passing on responsibility for decisions and so causing delay. I repeat that the object now sought is the maintenance of the responsibility for production on the respective Ministers of the great Departments and combining them in executive groups to prevent conflict, bottlenecks and waste. I do not think I need say more at this stage on the question of organisation. If any points are raised in the course of the Debate, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will deal with them in his winding-up speech on the next Sitting Day. He hopes, however, that in this Debate hon. Members will address themselves primarily to practical matters without regard to forms and theories. After all, the real test of any organisation is whether it works.
I now propose to deal with the production position, and there are certain things which I think it as well for the House to appreciate. At the outset of this war preparations for war were on a very limited scale, and if one might take the Ministry of Supply as an example, it is necessary to make two things clear. Its first task was to use the capacity available, which before and after the outbreak of war was limited. The commercial and social life of the country was carrying on, and the available units of production could not be suddenly or entirely swung over to war production in a night. In addition, it had the Royal Ordnance Factories, but obviously their number and capacity had to be greatly expanded. There is under these conditions a long and inevitable delay between the outbreak of war and the bringing into full production of the capacity necessary for our full war effort. This determines the speed at which the organisation of man-power and its subsequent use can be brought into play. In the creation of greater productive capacity the first call is on building material and labour for general constructive work. When the capacity is created you have to switch over and provide a largely different personnel. The services equally did not build up their forces in advance, and in this war there is, as against previous ones, the additional claim of Civil Defence. There were thus three factors operating: first, the claim of the Services for personnel—and they take largely the flower from our productive effort; secondly, Civil Defence; and, thirdly, the expansion of capacity. You are also, to a large extent, governed by the total of raw materials available.
The House will remember the great drive that took place last summer and the long hours then worked. In spite of the shortening of the hours and the increased and determined air attack made by the enemy, I am assured by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply that as far as his Department is concerned, the high production reached in the summer was maintained and in many cases increased in the last quarter of 1940. Indeed, for some of the more important items, our output shows a very considerable increase over anything accomplished in any previous period. The output of all our essential weapons and ammunition is still rising and will represent a formidable advance in the first quarter of 1941. Here, again, I would ask the House to appreciate the fact that nowadays the quantities of equipment required for a given number of men are much larger and performance has to reach much higher standards, necessitating greater complexity of design. Despite all this, I am sure that if I were at liberty to reveal, for example, the rate at which we are now able to equip a division with guns and machine-guns, it would afford the House a great measure of encouragement.
I now turn to the aircraft situation. Here you have a variety of conditions with which to grapple. In comparison with 1914–1918, the production of aircraft involves a far greater percentage of skill and we began with an insufficient amount of it, so that we were faced with the twofold problem of building up capacity and training skilled workers. The expansion of training at the critical moment of the war was limited by the number of skilled men we could afford to release as instructors and by the lack of machine-tools available for the purpose. After May we had to proceed by improvised arrangements which may or may not he subject to criticism. The object was to get the maximum output possible in the shortest possible time in order to meet the imminent invasion danger. We took a census of the man-hours for which machine tools were being worked and this enabled us to make better use of this vital factor in production.
With reference to man-power, while I cannot reveal the figures, I can assure the House that great additions have been made since last May to the numbers of workpeople engaged in the aircraft industry. This increase has been achieved, in the main, by training either in the workshops or in Government training centres. The aeroplane as an instrument of fighting is going through a process of rapid evolution. Scientists are working at top speed, and it is true that, owing to changes of type and method, some of our plants have at times been working at less than full capacity. None the less, the Minister of Aircraft Production tells me that since the beginning of September, with the exception of one week, his Ministry has delivered to the Air Force, week by week, more new operational machines produced in this country than have been lost by the Forces in the air or on the ground, quite apart from the whole vast processes of repair, and that production of aeroplanes continues on its upward course. In the last few months the Royal Air Force has created many new squadrons and sent many aeroplanes abroad; which as the House will know, have contributed in no small measure to the brilliant victories of our Greek Allies and our own Forces in Libya.
Mr. Austin Hopkinson (Mossley)
May I suggest that it would save the right hon. Gentleman trouble if one of the Clerks at the Table were to read this?
Mr. Granville (Eye)
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the number with which he has just been dealing includes training machines?
No, only operational machines.
Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)
Before the right hon. Gentleman proceeds, may I ask you, Mr. Speaker, on a point of Order, whether the House has any protection against remarks such as that made by the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson)?
No point of Order arises. It is only a matter of taste.
I would like to tell the House that I am speaking now not only for the Ministry of Labour but for the Government, and what I have to say I have had put in writing on this occasion so that accuracy might be ensured. But if the hon. Member who made the remark just referred to, likes to test his ability without any such aid, I shall be very glad to take him on—both as regards intelligence and ability. To proceed with what I was saying when interrupted, it is not claimed that the aircraft industry is organised on a perfect basis. Bottle necks have arisen and have not yet entirely disappeared. This was, in our view, inevitable when a programme of production had to be suddenly and sharply speeded up. I am assured that nothing which the Ministry of Aircraft production can contrive has been neglected and special attention has been directed to improving the flow of production. The supply of aircraft which started as a small stream, has grown to a river and will soon reach full flow, and that flow will be added to by aid from the New World. From this combination we are looking forward to the achievement of superiority in the air, which will contribute in no small measure to bring us to final victory. Many aeroplanes from the other side have already been successfully flown across the Atlantic in bad winter weather without loss. This is a tribute to the design and workmanship of the machine and to the efficiency and endurance of the pilots who have flown them.
I now turn to the Admiralty. The Navy has a task to perform that was being done by five navies at the end of the last war. Added to that, it has to meet an intense continuation of attack under the sea and from the air. It has far greater responsibilities than it had in the last war and is entitled to receive, in the use of shipping, in repairs and in production the greatest possible assistance to enable it to carry its burden. Under this head, the results that have been obtained in mercantile and naval construction and in man-power represent no mean achievement. Again, it is impossible in public Session to give the figures relating to naval and other construction or to give details of the numbers of persons employed or where they are employed. But the House may be assured that the naval tonnage under construction at the outbreak of war was already greater than the peak under construction in 1914–18 and, since the outbreak of war, there has been a further great expansion. The number and tonnage of vessels completed shows an even better picture. To appreciate this statement correctly, it must be remembered that warships are incomparably more complex than in the last war.
When we turn to merchant shipping, the demands of essential naval construction and repairs have necessarily set a limit to what can be achieved. None the less, the merchant shipping tonnage completed in the last six months shows a substantial increase—more than one-third—over the figures for the first half of 1940. We must remember that a high place must be given in our effort to the requirements of conversion and repairs of both merchant and naval tonnage. Capacity has also been increased to meet the demands of general engineering and of the metal products necessary for naval work—and equally for the Mercantile Marine—and to cope with the necessities of defensive equipment for our merchant tonnage. There is, however, no doubt that the dismantling of shipyards during the lean years has proved a handicap.
Some have been reinstated, wholly or in part. In the case of the others, labour had become dispersed, and the yards were too far gone to be worth reinstating. On the other hand, great efforts have been made to make the best use of the available capacity. We are also fully alive to the importance of obtaining additional output from the existing personnel, apart from the further manpower required, and active steps are being taken to achieve this object.
The problem of repair and of quick turn-round of shipping is of vital importance. It has a direct bearing on the work of the executive bodies in devising means to secure speedy clearance and adequate storage, and to make the ports places of rapid transit.
The use of man-power, both in handling cargo and in building and repair, must be improved. The casual nature of the work must go. If we are to impose obligations and to insist on continuity of effort, it cannot be done on the basis of our past methods of picking up a man one moment and dropping him the next. The solution to this problem is a permanent, organised and mobile labour force, good co-ordinated management, and a utilisation of every available facility. In this connection, my colleagues and I are having frank consultations with those concerned, with a view to making such changes as are necessary to improve the situation. If the question is tackled with imagination and vigour I am confident that we can enlist the great spirit of the men and of the management, which will bring us nearer to our objective, and make no mean contribution towards maintaining the supply of food and of raw materials and towards sustaining the morale of our people.
Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
When will those consultations be ended?
They are going on now. With regard to export trade, we have had carefully to watch that in the transfer of labour we did not deprive the essential export trade of its necessary personnel and material. On the financial side of the conduct of the war, this is a vital arm; and the most careful examination will continue to see that our connections are main-tamed. We can take credit for the fact that our exports in December were £24,400,000 in value, exceeding the November figure by £2,700,000. When it is remembered that the blockade of continental Europe has deprived us of many markets into which our goods previously entered, that the supply of large quantities of material to the Army of the Nile is not included in the figure, and that our trade in the Eastern Mediterranean is subject to obvious handicaps, we assert that these figures give a great testimonial to the handling of production and balancing of our man-power as well as to the virility of our industries and to the manner in which they have adapted themselves to the changed conditions. I desire to say a word about agriculture. Food production at home is the foundation upon which much of our war effort depends. We regard it as one of the vital arms of defence, and in the terms of reference to the Production Executive it has been laid down that vital considerations affecting agriculture shall be taken into account when dealing with the question of essential imports, and that the necessary man-power shall be available to carry it on.
The building side may be divided into three parts: construction, house repair made necessary by the Blitzkrieg, and demolition and clearance. We have decided to review the whole building programme, with the object of concentrating upon the most vital and urgent necessities and upon that part of the construction programme which can be brought into use at the earliest possible day. Included in our review will be the question of providing hostels and other accommodation for our workpeople to live in. This will assist us in our man-power problem, and will minimise the necessity for long travel. We have collaborated with the Army, and have suggested that the men in the Forces might be used more fully to build their own accommodation, thereby releasing labour which is now employed in building camps, so that we can tackle inure vigorously the problem of house repair. Inside factories we have organised bodies of men to deal with any damage from bombing in their own factories. Clearance requires a large amount of labour which could be employed on building and civil engineering. In passing, I would like to pay tribute to the Army for the way they have assisted the civilian authorities in this and other tasks. A review of the whole subject will, I hope, enable us to organise this building and civil engineering work in such a manner that we shall not continually dislocate the Army and so interrupt their training; and will, at the same time, provide the necessary labour for dealing with each phase of the building programme.
I now turn to the question of powers. Criticism has been made that the powers granted by Parliament last May have not been exercised. I want to correct that impression. In the main, I regard these powers as sanctions in the background, although in some cases they have been exercised. I can assure the House that unless this question is handled with very great care, we might easily do more harm than good, and hinder the war effort. Courage takes two forms. One is to know when to use powers, and the other is to know how to use powers. The fact that they have not had to be used to any great extent is the best evidence that the great majority of the masses of the people of this country are in dead earnest and willing to do almost anything to win this war. I have used, and propose to continue to use, them more in a directory sense than in what is generally understood to be the compulsory sense. I am confident that by far the great majority will be only too willing to accept the directions given, and here will be few cases in which it will be necessary to take further action. The powers given to the Government also give the right to deal with undertakings and property. Generally, the policy adopted has been to institute control of undertakings, but in other cases factories have been taken over and operated under other managements on behalf of the Government. What is more, as the House is well aware, requisitioning has taken place wherever necessary.
The volume of man-power which can effectively be employed is determined by the volume of raw materials and capacity, and the use to which labour is put. I have arranged with the Ministry of Supply for my inspectors to work in close collaboration with officers of that Ministry in regard to all such questions as upgrading, training, and de-skilling of work. This is of great assistance because the Ministry of Supply is in a position to enforce its authority in these matters, and we have their backing in any action which we may agree it is necessary to take. Similarly, the Ministry of Aircraft Production and the Admiralty are arranging to put a drive behind their training effort. In addition, means of production have been adopted which will economise in the use of skilled labour. The net result of all this has been that the number of people engaged in munition production at this moment is greater than it was in July, 1918.
We have to meet the claims of the Services. Here again we have to deal with an entirely new situation. The House will have realised this, as a result of the fighting in the Middle East. The proportion of men in the fighting line is reduced, but the number of skilled men required in the Army to keep a great mechanised force moving is far greater than that required in any previous war. There has been a clamour that skilled men should be returned from the Army.
Here again the War Office, as far as they have been able, have made a magnificent response to meet the claims of industry, but the balance has to be kept with very great care. We must not be open to the charge that we were guilty of so depleting the Army of skilled personnel that at a critical moment it was handicapped in carrying out some great future task. The Army and the Air Force have been instructed to examine the duty of every person at their disposal so as to prevent the calling from industry of more men than they require and to ensure that the skilled personnel are put in positions where their ability can be properly used.
In calling up the numbers now required, it has been arranged that this is to keep in step with the supply of equipment, so that large numbers will not be withdrawn from industry before the equipment is ready. Once the number of divisions was determined, we in the National Service Department conceived it to be our duty to give the Services the man-power necessary to fill them. After the men have been called up, the proper use of that man-power rests upon the Services. Man-power for Civil Defence must be provided, and this represents a drain on our resources of enormous dimensions which has never previously existed. In order to meet the demands of production, we naturally looked, in the first instance, to the surplus manpower available in what has been called the manual classes who were accustomed to obtain their living in industry; and though you get these published figures of unemployment, let me assure the House that the reservoir, as far as men are concerned, is practically dry. We are carefully examining the lists of women who are registered, but we know that many of them are living in districts with families who cannot very well be moved. We are, therefore, considering the best way to bring work to them instead of transferring them away from the work. The Limitation of Supply Orders issued by the Board of Trade, which, as the House is aware, were designed to restrict production of less essential commodities for the Home market, have been operative for some time. The number of persons that have been and will be released as a result of those Orders are now known and organised arrangements have been made so that the release and absorption, as far as possible, takes place simultaneously and work of national importance is found to make use of the industrial capacity thus released.
In dealing with man-power, and especially when you have to transfer it, regard has to be had to the conditions of employment, habitation, recreation, etc. We have paid great attention to the whole question of welfare inside and outside the works, and also to personnel management. In that respect much has been accomplished, though much has yet to be done. In building, the turnover of labour was appalling, largely due to the absence of adequate provision of amenities for the men engaged on those great contracts. In certain cases we found ourselves sending a regular flow of men on to jobs merely to replace those who were leaving. We have made an Order establishing authority to enable proper basic welfare conditions to be applied when the contract is issued in order that there may be proper preparation to receive the men when they go on to the job. In docks no provision had been made for a contingency such as this to feed and care for the men working under most difficult conditions. We are about to issue an Order to correct that, imposing an obligation upon port authorities for canteen and feeding arrangements and other welfare conditions to be established in the whole of the docks of the country.
Lighting was good in the more modern factories but indifferent in some of the older ones, and a new regulation has been made which establishes a new minimum standard. Lighting has a very great bearing upon the total output in any works. Feeding arrangements have been expanded both inside factories and by means of communal kitchens. I am told that up to 70 per cent. of factories employing over 1,000 persons have already provided canteens, and a new Order has been made giving power to direct employers to establish works’ canteens. We regard this, under the circumstances, as vital.
With regard to personnel management, there was practically an absence of this except in the more up-to-date businesses. Discipline had been maintained by fear of unemployment, and firms who had not introduced or given any thought to proper personnel management found themselves ill-equipped to deal with the problem when the shortage of labour developed. It is bad business anyway and involves a tremendous turnover of labour, which is very costly, even in peace-time, and dangerous in war-time. Welfare supervisors and industrial nurses are being specially trained. Medical services for workers in factories have been introduced and nursing services expanded. Emergency hospital arrangements have been extended by the Ministry of Health and made available to munition workers. Some progress has been made with sick bays and day nurseries. Compulsory billeting powers were secured, but in this we have had to meet great competition arising from evacuation and military and other requirements. The mobility of labour is seriously handicapped because of the want of adequate accommodation and shortage of materials necessary for new construction. In studying and grappling with these problems, so important to the use of our labour resources, I have had the valuable aid of the Factory and Welfare Board and, above all, of the Joint Consultative Committee of the Trades Union Congress and the British Employers’ Confederation. Responsibility for seamen’s welfare has now been assumed by the Government and a Board established. Provision for the welfare of seamen is being expanded, not only at home, but, with the assistance of the Consular services, abroad. Voluntary organisations have been grouped and their valuable activities co-ordinated. Where merchant seamen have been injured or sick and landed at a port, arrangements for their benefit and their families are being made similar to those for naval ratings.
May I say a word about wage policy in relation to man-power? To those who suggest there is no wage policy, my reply is that a wise step was taken in relying on the sense of responsibility of the organisations in industry. Wage-negotiating machinery has been expanded enormously in the last quarter of a century. That sense of responsibility is made evident by the careful consideration given by these bodies to each adjustment which has been made, and hon. Members will be interested to compare the increase of wage rates so far granted with the cost-of-living increase. Wage rates should not be confused with earnings; where workpeople increase their earnings as a result of increased production that is a thing which ought to be encouraged. In dealing with these matters, it is not only wages but conditions which have to he taken into account. These problems cannot be segregated and have to he handled delicately. As to the argument that all war adjustments should be made on one basis, that assumes stability in everything else, and rises in wages are seldom the first to occur. To prevent these differences leading to stoppages we made the Wages and Arbitration Order. I claim that one of the greatest testimonies to the wisdom of the policy followed is that the number of stoppages due to trades disputes has been the lowest in history. The value of this method is that it was put into operation—not imposed upon industry, but with their full agreement.
Another advantage of this procedure is that it is not static. The parties are now considering whether there should be any change in method, and in handling this question it is essential that the State and industry should march together and maintain mutual confidence. Personally, I am not attracted by the idea of creating a condition which leads to mass movement in wages and political settlement. In the coming months there will be heavy demands for additional man-power and woman-power for the Services, for munition work and for Civil Defence. In order to meet the requirements of the Services it will be necessary to reduce the numbers covered by the Schedule of Reserved Occupations and to call up further age-groups. The age-groups already registered include men from the ages of 20 to 36. I expect that before long arrangements will have to be made for registering men of 19 as well as those over the age of 36. These demands for the Services will deplete still further the resources from which additional requirements for munitions work and Civil Defence might otherwise be met. We propose to meet this position broadly in two ways—by tapping our unused resources and by ensuring that our labour force is employed to the fullest possible advantage.
As I have said, this reservoir of unemployed men is now exhausted, and the problem of having to obtain a great recruitment of labour force from nonessential occupations of whatever rank, and from the unoccupied, has now to be faced. This will involve a careful survey of many forms of occupation. We must also examine whether work that could he done by women is being performed in the Services by men in uniform. In the case of people employed in offices and on managerial and supervision work of all sorts, firms will have to make a careful survey and see, by a rearrangement of duties, how many men can be placed in productive work instead of office work. We shall ask people engaged in all kinds of occupations, whether on directorates, in businesses or professions or elsewhere, to come forward and play their part especially as capacity develops and demand increases.
Although much has been and will be achieved by voluntary means, we have now reached the stage where it will be necessary to have industrial registration by age-groups and by this means to make a list of those who should be called upon to serve the State in national industry. [An HON. MEMBER: “Everybody?”] Everybody, no matter what their rank. Most people will volunteer.
We shall have to call into service many women who in normal circumstances would not take employment. There is no doubt that as more men are called up for the Forces industry will have to utilise women far more than it is doing, but it must not be assumed that there is the same reservoir of women available for munition work as in the last war. Far more women were in industry in 1939 than in 1914, for the whole situation in workshop, office and factory had changed. There will be a very great need in the women’s Services, in offices and in industry for women to take the place of men who, over the coming months, will be called to the Colours. This involves intricate consideration as to the conditions of employment, transport, living accommodation and feeding.
All these problems must be dealt with. In addition, where married women are concerned, and children have to be cared for, there is the problem of day nurseries or minders for the children. This has now become acute. If women come forward, then the State will have to take a much greater responsibility for the care of the children while the women are rendering national service. Of course, it is no use making these calls until the productive capacity is available to absorb them.
In addition to tapping new sources of labour, much remains to be done in order to use our labour force to the best advantage, and I call special attention to the following proposals. In certain types of vital war work it will have to be laid down that the right of dismissal must be taken out of the hands of the employer, except for misconduct. If a person’s services can no longer be used in a particular place, this will have to be reported to the Employment Department in order that his services may be used elsewhere. The responsibility of the State must be continuous. Similarly, no employee would be permitted to leave such vital work without the permission of a National Service Officer.
Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
Will that apply to all industries? Will no industry be allowed to discharge workmen without the consent of the Ministry of Labour?
It will apply to industries which are declared to be national industries.
Why not make it apply to all industries?
Mr. Shinwell (Seaham)
Is this to be done immediately?
This policy has now been approved by the Cabinet, I am announcing it to the House, and we shall proceed with it forthwith.
Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
Does the Minister propose to indicate the national industries in the Order?
That will be announced. I use the broad definition “war industries” because some industries will probably still remain non-essential, or at least be allowed to go on partially. We want to ensure that any person whose services the State claims and retains must be rendering those services for the national war effort in some capacity or another and not for a private person in the ordinary sense.
As I have said, no employee would be permitted to leave such vital work without the permission of a National Service Officer, although in both these cases there would have to be a right of appeal. If an employer or employee broke these Orders, he would commit an offence. Similarly, if a person had been wrongly stood off and could prove that he had been so treated, he would have to be paid for time lost. On the other hand, if a person stayed away from his production effort he could be ordered to return to his place of employment. Machinery will be necessary to deal with complaints and appeals.
In addition, we propose to make arrangements for securing reinstatement in their former employment of persons directed to transfer, on similar lines to the arrangements applying to persons called up for the Forces. The whole question of restrictions on production will have to be reviewed, but it will have to be made subject to arrangements for definite registration of departures from trade union agreements and customs and for restoration of such agreements and customs at the end of the war. In this latter connection I am sorry that the Bill to deal with the restoration of pre-war practices has not yet been introduced, but it is a subject under discussion between the parties and I hope to have it ready at an early date.
The question of personnel management will have to be brought under control, and where we are satisfied that the arrangements for proper labour management or workshop consultation do not exist, a personnel controller must be appointed for any such undertaking, and on him will rest responsibility for engagements and terminations of employment, and all other matters touching the welfare of the employee as may be determined. Production departments will have to replace any inefficient management. We shall have to take steps to prevent systematic and organised short time, and, if necessary, to prescribe the minimum number of hours of work in any undertaking. These changes to deal with the labour situation represent a very big step, and the directions will only be used for service in the interests of the State and for the war effort.
The winning of this war and the undertaking of the necessary tasks to achieve that purpose are the responsibility of the whole people. It is, however, the duty of the Government to see that these tasks are carried out under as fair and decent conditions as possible. I have no fear as far as the masses of our workpeople are concerned. They will readily respond, for I am satisfied that no one is more grimly determined than they to eradicate the curse of Hitlerism from Europe and from the world. I am confident that there will be a great response to wise leadership, however disagreeable the tasks may be that the people will he called upon to perform, provided they are directed solely to duties which contribute to achieving the great objective. Their overwhelming response will not only surprise the dictators, but will bring victory within our grasp.