Debate on the Address.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons am ar 6 Tachwedd 1928.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Mr Alfred Jephcott Mr Alfred Jephcott , Birmingham, Yardley

I beg to second the Motion.

I have a privilege conferred on me that is not accorded to many men, especially men in my own social position, and I feel a pleasure in it, because if there is anything democratic in this country, it is illustrated in the action of this House. I am a humble follower of the ideal of progress in this country, and it is a pleasure to know that men of all social positions and conditions shall be accorded the privilege of saying something in this House in relation to that which affects the lives of our people in so near a manner. I entirely agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Banbury (Major Edmondson) the proposer of this Motion in what he has said. I am in sympathy with the language which he has uttered in relation to foreign affairs. I am hopeful, with him, that we shall, at any rate, have peace in our time, so that nations can settle down once more to prosperity, and so that bitterness shall be buried among the nations of the earth.

If the Government and the Opposition and the House, combined, can by their action bring peace, whether through the League of Nations or through the Government themselves, I, for one, will give them cordial support; but I want to remind even my hon. and gallant Friend who moved the Motion, as I would remind the House, that there are things at home vastly more important to us as a nation than even the settlement of the troubles of Europe. There is the social condition and position of our people. There is the looking forward to a renewal of prosperity among our workers. There is at any rate something in which all of us, to whatever political party we may belong, can join, and that is the alleviation of distress, the assisting of those who are sick, the security of those in old age, and the lifting up of our people to a higher level than they have ever attained in the past. I say, therefore, that, great and important as foreign questions are, they are not so important as the contentment and prosperity of our people at home. I say that because the Speech from the Throne relates almost more than one can imagine to the condition of our people at home.

We are told in that Speech that the Government recognise it, that there is a condition operating that, if left alone, may prevent even unemployment benefit being paid to our people, and the Government are coming along with a proposal by which there shall be a large measure of borrowing powers, so that no standstill shat operate in relation to our people who are unemployed. May I put before the House the necessity of a measure of that description? That fund at present is £28,000,000 in debt. None of us, no matter where we sit, want to see that fund exhausted and the men and women thrown on the streets, and if the Government will make a larger provision for the time of emergency—and I know the Opposition will support the idea—I say that if the Government only did that, and was a recipient, I should think they had done a great deal. At any rate, they have recognised in that sense their responsibility to the people who are, unfortunately for themselves, dependent on out-of-work pay for their livelihood.

But that is not all. That will not relieve the problem of unemployment. [Interruption.] I have tightened my belt as well as some hon. Members opposite have, and in a period of time when there was no unemployment benefit, so that I do appreciate the national recognition of responsibility towards those who are unemployed. No one can look around and have a feeling of contentment with the position in which the miners are and in which my own trade is, or with the position generally of the basic trades of this country. It is not a party question, it is a social question; and when we look around and see, on the one hand, that the lesser trades and industries of the country are prosperous, and that the basic trades are in distress and want, surely the Government are called upon not to do something by charity, but something by which the lifting to a firmer position of the industries that are affected can be achieved. If that be so, then I claim that the Government's de-rating proposals—I want to warn my hon. Friends opposite, for they are my friends, that those proposals are not going to bring a new heaven and a now earth in a minute—if honourably carried out, have in them the possibility of recovery for the basic industries of this country.

If we can relieve industry by relieving the rates that press so heavily on industry—and we have to deal with rates, because certain gentlemen—I am among them, though I am not a gentleman[Interruption.]—How readily some of my hon. Friends can think of externals and not the real meaning. Still, there is this position to be faced, that the nation as such has not recognised, and will not for a period at any rate recognise, certain proposals that have been made in the past for the recovery of industry. If they will not recognise and put into operation such proposals, they must look forward to something else, and the Government are justified and wise in endeavouring to meet the difficult industrial situation as we find it by relieving those industries of a large measure of their rates. Hon. Members know as well as I knew that rates are more important to-day than even rents, and if by that relief, whether only to agriculture or partially to our manufacturing industries, we can bring back, not the skill of the workmen, because it is there, not the energy of our commercial men, because that is there, but the opportunity of doing trade by which our workmen can be employed and our commercial life can be prosperous, I do not care personally in what form it is done if it is honourably done. I consider more the contentment and prosperity of the people than the way in which it is done; and if the Government in their de-rating proposals are going to bring a new life, a new energy, a new movement into these basic industries, I for one can confidently appeal to my fellow-workmen at any rate not to damn them, but to give a fair opportunity of seeing whether there is any value in them.

I recognise that the de-rating proposals that will relieve various areas of local government will make it difficult in the future for those local governments to function. I recognise that in the small areas, not rich in themselves, but which may have one large industry or factory or mine operating, for that industry or factory or mine to be relieved of its rates brings a position of burden on that area. I recognise likewise that the 40 years during which local government has been operating have at any rate brought out great weaknesses and that the modern trend and the modern necessity are not to keep small areas in existence, not to keep poor areas operating by the side of richer, but to link them all together, and to make self-contained areas in different parts of the country, so that the poor area shall not bear the burden by itself, but that the rich shall bear its responsibility; and the linking of these two together in the proposals of the Government with regard to local government reform has in it, I say, a real possibility of linking together the varying elements that comprise our local government as a means of strength and as a means, at any rate, of great progression.

If we have the local government foreshadowed by the Government and abolish boards of guardians, we shall not abolish the opportunity of giving assistance to the poor, of helping the sick when they are in hospital, and of seeing to the aged and those who are decrepit. I say unhesitatingly that the linking-up of the work of the small areas with that of the larger areas of the Kingdom, whether county or borough, has in it the possibility, not of lessening the value of local government, but of enlarging its scope and promising a brighter outlook for those who come under its influence and under its work. I am old enough to remember the great outcry m the country when the school boards were abolished. We were told that the local voluntary services—and I joined in the outcry—which were rendered by school boards would be scrapped if the boards were handed over to the county or borough councils. Since that time have been a member of an education committee and I have seen the fears of those who thought that the voluntary services would be scrapped dissolved, and I have known of voluntary service rendered by numberless people in this country, even under the Education Act; they rendered wonderfully progressive service, and even if you abolish the small boards of guardians, the services which they render will still be rendered through the district councils that will be put in their place. I would like to recall and to repeat the words of Macaulay who said: Then none was for a party;Then all were for the State. If, as citizens and as members of all parties, we remember that that should be the basis of our work it will be agreed that, much as they may provoke opposition, the present Government and their work will go down—[Interruption]—they will go down, not unhonoured and unsung, as some people think; the Government will go down to history as having rendered a service in their day that was not little, and a duty that was of some value; and, if you and I were free from party politics and joined in a desire to benefit the interest of my fellow workmen and yours, we should do an immense amount of good in allaying trouble to some extent, and in uplifting to a higher life, not only my friends here, but my friends on the other side.