§ [THIRD DAY]
Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [6th March]:
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addresed to both Houses of Parliament"—[Mr. Dye.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ Mr. Speaker
I would inform the House that tomorrow I propose to call the Amendment relating to steel, and then on Friday I shall open the Debate again in the hope that I shall be able to give some time for discussion of each of the subjects many of which are down in Amendments. On Monday, which is the last day, we shall deal with the final Opposition Amendment on housing.
§ Mr. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
Would it be appropriate to ask you, Sir, or whoever is acting for the Leader of the House, whether it is true that tomorrow the House will sit later and that the Division will not he called until 11 o'clock so as to enable a certain event outside to go to its conclusion?
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
May I ask whether it is your intention, Sir, to announce, perhaps tomorrow, what Amendments you propose to call on Friday?
§ 3.9 p.m.
Colonel Gonune-Duncan (Perth and East Perthshire)
When the House adjourned last night, I was on the point of mentioning one or two facts in connection with the Gracious Speech, and I am glad to have this opportunity of doing so today. I want to make it quite clear that 299 when yesterday I said there was no mention of Scotland in the Gracious Speech, I was very slightly in error. There is mention of it in connection with allotments, and allotments only. Therefore, for my purpose I think I can stick to what I meant, and that is that there is nothing of material advantage or disadvantage to Scotland in the Gracious Speech; it is just ignored.
It is important to realise that a million people and more have signed what in Scotland is known as the Covenant, and although I realise that that does not bind anybody, and especially the Government of the day, what I wish to emphasise is that a million people do not sign a Covenant of that kind without having behind them some very good reasons for doing so. While, as I mentioned last night, there were certain frivolous signatures, there is no doubt that, taken as a whole, the people who signed the Covenant were intensely interested in improving the relationship of Scotland and England, and in particular in Parliament here.
It is also a fact which we must bear in mind that the Scottish National Party signally failed at the General Election to obtain any material support from the people of Scotland. I think I am right in saying that they polled 9,708 votes in the whole of Scotland, which is something like 0.36 per cent. of the total poll. From that point of view, I think it is pretty clear that the people of Scotland do not want what is the main point of the Scottish National Party's policy—political separation from England. We also have the fact that the Liberal Party included in their manifesto at the General Election the suggestion that there should be a Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh for purely Scottish affairs, and I do not think that the support given to the Liberal Party in Scotland, as elsewhere, indicates that that point in their manifesto had any effect on their political fortunes. I think we have to realise, therefore, that so far as political separation is concerned there is very little support in Scotland for that proposal.
That, I think, might lead to this danger —that the Government might think that the signing of the Covenant by a million people does not merit further notice, because the voting has gone against one 300 of the items in that Covenant. I wish to assure Ministers that nothing could be more dangerous than to assume that. The fact of the matter is that the people of Scotland have been very much moved in recent months by the fact, which they are now beginning to realise but which some of us have realised for some time past, that all is not well in the set-up as between Scotland and England in Parliament at Westminster.
I do not think the Government have any longer any reason for refusing what we requested and were refused during the last Parliament, and that is a proper fact-finding commission set up under the highest authority—in other words, a Royal Commission—to give us the facts and figures to which the people of Scotland and the people of England are entitled—facts and figures in connection with their relationships with each other, economic and otherwise. How much does Scotland put into the Treasury and how much does she take out? South of the Border I find the general impression is that she takes out far more than she puts in. North of the Border I find the general impression is that she puts in far more than she takes out. We can go on arguing about this until we are black in the face and we shall get nowhere nearer a solution. Why cannot we have the facts and figures? Why have the Government refused them—or rather, why did the last Government refuse them, because it is possible that this Government may not do so? It seems fair to the people of both countries that they should have these facts and figures upon which so much of their life depends.
Before the war the Treasury and the Board of Trade used to issue most valuable figures in connection with the difference between Scotland and England in trade and so on. Why cannot that be done today? In the last Parliament the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that it would take up too much time and there was much work to do, or words to that effect, but his Department of the Treasury and the Board of Trade, the other Department most concerned, have vastly greater staffs available today than they had before the war when they used to give us the figures, and it seems to me that some of those staffs might very profitably be employed in giving the facts and figures for 301 which we consider there is an unanswerable case. At any rate, that is the only way of settling many of the arguments of Scottish Nationalists, Covenanters and others, and I see no reason why we should not have that information.
I take this opportunity of welcoming the new Secretary of State for Scotland, in absentia, to his new post. I hope he will show in the Cabinet that same determination which he has shown in the far-flung councils of the world, across the Atlantic, in dealing with difficult people— and I believe he will have to deal with difficult people. I hope we shall know that we have in the Cabinet a representative who is not afraid to speak his mind and to insist upon what he says having fair consideration. I think, ladies and gentlemen—I apologise, Mr. Speaker, for forgetting for one moment that I was back safely, very safely, in this illustrious Chamber, and I beg your pardon.
The next matter I want to mention, and one upon which I hope the Government will say something, is that of the nationalised industries. We on this side of the House recognise that it may not be possible to put back some of these industries to free enterprise at the stage which they have now reached. But what we want to ensure is this: where it is not possible to put a nationalised industry back to free enterprise, we must have executive authority, with full powers, set up in Scotland to ensure that the rights and interests of Scotland in these industries are fully safeguarded.
That we regard as a fundamental necessity and, according to the present set-up, what we have in some of these industries is nothing of the kind, but is a sort of little branch office which merely carries out the orders from the centre. If anything has damaged Scotland and her interests in recent years more than another, and if anything has contributed more than another to this outburst of feeling in Scotland in the ways I have been discussing, as is evidenced by the Covenant and other things—this boiling up and boiling over—it is the nationalisation of industries affecting Scotland, because it cannot be denied that the control of these industries has moved to London, and where the control is in human affairs most of the benefits are usually found also.
302 We insist, therefore, that it is absolutely vital to the interests of Scotland in these industries—and they are vital to her life—that there shall be executive authority set up for the proper solution of the problem and the proper safeguarding of Scotland's interests. In the case of transport, for example, we believe it to be imperative that road transport should be returned to private enterprise, which understands it, at the earliest possible moment. Some buses and trams which have hitherto been most efficiently run in our great cities in Scotland have now been taken over, and in some cases they are already showing signs of diminishing efficiency.
I want to make two further points on the subject of the nationalised industries, and one concerns civil aviation, which has almost ceased to exist in Scotland. In spite of the most glowing promises from Ministers, there is now between Turnhouse and Aberdeen, in that great area of Scotland, no chance of getting into an aeroplane to travel anywhere at all. That is a very different thing from what was promised us in the glowing days just after 1945. I hope it will be perfectly clearly understood by the Government that this question of civil aviation requires immediate attention as far as Scotland is concerned. We know that proposals have been made by companies to run services to cover areas which are not at present covered by air transport, and that these proposals have been turned down merely because the Government say that they, the Government, could not make them pay.
§ Mrs. Mann (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman please include England in his plea for civil aviation, because England is not nearly so well catered for as is Scotland in this respect?
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
Naturally, I am very interested in the well-being of England, as I am in that of Scotland; but I was for the moment talking about Scotland, and I think I had better confine myself to Scotland's civil aviation, otherwise I shall start on a much wider subject, and that will not help my remarks. I am dealing with civil aviation in Scotland, which has practically ceased to exist.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
It is no good the hon. Lady saying "Nonsense," because it is a fact. I could go into proposals for others of these nationalised industries, such as the gas industry, which hitherto has been run so effectively and efficiently by local authorities in Scotland. We say that it should go back to those local authorities, where they wish to take it over. As for electricity, I say without hesitation that the whole of the electrical development and production in Scotland should be under one body similar to the North Scotland Hydro-Electric Board, which is running efficiently today.
Where United Kingdom Ministries are retained—and we recognise that they must be, because there are certain services which cater for the whole of Great Britain and must have, we believe, a central, United Kingdom, Ministry—there must be an improvement in the position of Scotland in relation to those Ministries, and in the representation of Scotland in those United Kingdom Ministries and in the running of the Scottish parts of the United Kingdom covered by these controlled services; and there must be much better liaison than there is at present between the central Ministries in London and the far, outlying parts of Scotland.
I turn for a moment to the question of the local authorities. The local authorities, we believe—and I have always been convinced that this is so—are really the backbone of government in any country. Local government, after all, is older than central government, and it is much closer to the people, and it understands the little details of their lives far better than a national Parliament. However, the effect of centralisation under the present regime has been ever to take more and more powers and responsibilities away from the local authorities while at the same time giving them more and more work to do, and they have rapidly become literally rubber stamps of the central Government. Now, that is not democratic local government as we understand it in this country, and I maintain that until we restore very largely authority and powers to the local authorities in both town and country, we shall never get proper government of the people in Scotland in their own interests.
Then there is this other question. We have made, thanks largely to the Unionist Party, improvements in the last five years 304 to the discussion and consideration of Scottish business in Parliament. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes. But there are still points which require very drastic alteration, and the first is this. I hope it is not going to happen in this present Parliament, as happened in the last, that it will be impossible, owing to the demands on their time, for Scottish Members to be represented on other Committees than the Scottish Grand Committee because other Committees sit at the same time as the Scottish Grand Committee—those other Committees on which Scottish Members should have full representation. It is of the greatest importance to us; and I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will insist that, when there are Committees, including the Scottish Grand Committee, considering matters affecting the whole of Great Britain, which are meant to work simultaneously, the hours of business will be arranged so that Scottish Members have a full chance of attending, not only the Committee on Scottish affairs, but those other Committees sitting elsewhere. It is fatal that, just because we come from Scotland and represent as best we can Scottish interests, people should think that therefore we are not part and parcel of the Government of Great Britain and are not concerned with its interests in the great world outside. Parochialism has always been a danger—
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
—to Scottish Members. It is an attitude which it is very easy to get into—just as it is for lady Members to think, perhaps, for a moment that they are here only to deal with matters affecting their own sex.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
I am sorry, but I cannot give way because I wish to sit down almost immediately, and far more important speakers than I are about to claim attention. I am not making any allegations against lady Members. I am merely saying that it is possible that they may think—some of them—only of women's affairs. I do not say that they do. I say only that there is that danger that they may. There is a danger also that Scottish Members may become parochial. I do not think they want to, but I think they sometimes do.
305 I say with all the sincerity at my command that a great improvement is urgently needed in the handling of Scottish affairs at Westminster. I am not being anti-English in saying that. Far from it. What I think we have to realise is that there are two partners in Great Britain, to which we are proud to belong. One is Scotland and the other is England. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about Wales?"] Scotland and England are two sovereign States united in a Treaty of Union. The Scots are a nation just as are the English. A distinguished predecessor in your great office, Sir—I think, Mr. Speaker Smith— at the time of the Union said, "We have catch't the Scotch and we mean to hold them fast." It is perfectly clear that his constituency must have been much farther away from the Border than is the one you represent, Sir. Certainly he would never have made a remark like that if he had been close to the Border. I find he was safely representing Andover in Hampshire, where it was much safer in 1707 to say that type of thing than it was in Northumberland.
We Scots are a sovereign nation. There are two parts of Great Britain, two States united, and they are both nations. We must get that perfectly clearly into the head of everybody, and into the heads of hon. Members for English, Welsh and Northern Ireland constituencies, who decide these things, for they are by far in the greatest majority in this House. That is why I appeal to them to realise that we have two States as partners, Scotland and England.
In the few suggestions which I have tried to make, I believe we have a solution. With a new Secretary of State and a new Under-Secretary of State, I believe that we have a chance to start again. Scotland is going to have this put right, and I believe in doing it by thoroughly constitutional means, and not by the more violent means which may follow if we do not have the thing properly settled. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Oh, yes. Nobody is going to pretend that if rights are not as they should be, and accepted, trouble may not follow. Surely, that is the basis of democracy—that we fight for our rights and have things put right. I think the tragic example of Ireland is one that we should have at the back of our minds, though we pray and hope that it will never be repeated.
306 That is why I urge so strongly that this matter should be put right, and put right now.
§ 3.29 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. George Brown)
It is not for me to follow the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) in the somewhat dangerous line on which he seemed to be embarking towards the end of his speech. I began to understand, while he was making those remarks, why earlier in his speech he did not seem clear whom he was addressing.
I want to go back to that part of the Gracious Speech—the very early part of it—which gives such very great prominence to the agricultural industry, and to the part which the countryside is playing and could play in the recovery of our national economy, and which sets out the kind of steps which the Government intend to take, as it is put in the Gracious Speech, "to increase output by every efficient means," and to continue to improve rural amenities. May I begin by saying that if ever I had any.doubts as to whether a catalogue of what has been done was needed, those doubts have been removed by the speeches made lately by Members of the party opposite. It seems completely to have escaped their notice that we have been engaged in this country on the task of increasing agricultural output pretty steadily over the last two years, since the expansion programme was inaugurated. If it had not escaped their notice, they would not be so frequently promising to try to do what we have already performed.
I think that is the keynote on which one should start this Debate. Their words, their figures, their phrases—the whole description as it appears in the speeches of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite—as I will show with regard to one of them later—have been lifted bodily either from my right hon. Friend's announcement in 1945, the Agriculture Act, 1947, or from my right hon. Friend's announcement about the expansion programme made in 1947. I think that we must recognise—and this applies particularly to the speech of the hon. Gentleman who still sits, I hope, for Aberdeen and Kincardine, Central (Mr. Spence)—
§ Mr. Brown
That gets me out of trouble, and I hope it means that there will be no civil war this side of the Recess.
Let me tell the House what has been done in the realm of total agricultural production. If we take 100 as the basis of calculation for the years 1936–39, we find that for 1946 to 1947—the year before the expansion programme was launched—the figure stood at 123, and 1948 at 135–35 per cent. over the level of production which we had reached at the end of the period before the war; and in the year in which we are now embarking we shall see a considerable increase in our total agricultural production. We are just about half-way towards the expansion programme targets—the targets which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite still talk about as if they were something new. We are half-way there in the matter of time and more than halfway in terms of actual output. Hon. Members opposite talk as if they had suddenly discovered the figure of 50 per cent. increase, but let them realise how far we are towards it in the first two years of our expansion programme.
If we bear in mind that a scheme of this kind dealing with agricultural production necessarily takes time to get under way and' to gather momentum, I think we can see that the industry is achieving, under the policy which the Government introduced, what we set out to do, and what the Opposition promised they would try to do if they had the chance. The Leader of the Opposition implied in his speech—particularly in his reference to his speech at Luton Hoo, to which I will refer again—that we had been making achievement impossible because of the lack of labour, houses and machinery. The figures which I have given of increased agricultural output already achieved show that that clearly cannot be so.
308 Let me give some further figures of production, and then let me turn to some of these things, the lack of which, it is alleged, is holding us back. May I give some figures of our cattle population? Last night we were told about pigs, and I interjected then to say that in the nature of our agriculture it was very misleading to take one particular form of livestock husbandry and not pay attention to the other forms. If one looks at the whole picture, one gets a very different impression. Calves under 12 months—so important to our policy of getting more home-killed meat—now amount to 2,061,000, which is 400,000, in round figures, more than before the war, and the figures have been steadily increasing throughout the expansion programme. Dairy cattle at 3,900,000 are very considerably above anything that we reached before. Our total cattle population is 9,129,000, which is well over one million more than before the war, and again is higher than the figures in between.
Our sheep population at 14,500,000 is less by five million than the figure before the war, but I think that the hon. Gentleman who pointed this out failed to remember 1947. The sheep figure would in fact be considerably higher had it not been for the fact that it has taken from 1947 until now to make up for the enormous losses of sheep, ewes and lambs in the disastrous winter of 1947. The point that I am making is that we have now succeeded so well in that campaign of recovery that our sheep figure is 1,500,000 more than it was at the time of that disaster.
§ Mr. Spence
Will the hon. Gentleman give the rate of slaughter in December, 1946, which was an all-time high record?
§ Mr. Brown
The problem is to restore our sheep farming to the level which it used to have. The point I am making is that if one looks at the trend and remembers 1947, the picture of the sheep population is much more encouraging than the bare figure which the hon. Gentleman gave last night.
The pig population of 2,600,000 is still one million or so below the pre-war figure, but nevertheless represents since the end of the war an increase of something like 800,000, which again shows a continuing considerable increase in the right direction. Our fowls now number 46,500,000 and are considerably higher 309 than anything we achieved even before the war. The total of poultry at 50 million is very much higher indeed. So far as we can make statistics of this kind take on any life at all—
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) may find considerable difficulty, but in his regular contributions to one national newspaper he seems to manage quite well to present figures that suit him. I think that he had better look at the others. Whether the hon. Gentleman finds difficulty in making them live or not, they show that in every single aspect of livestock husbandry we are making considerable progress. The hon. Member for West Aberdeen (Mr. Spence) replied to an interjection which I made last night. He thought that we were concentrating too much on cereal production. I hope to say something about cereal production and its place in the scheme of things. I think that if we take the whole of the figures, we shall find that the two things are being balanced at the moment and we are getting a considerable increase in our animal and cattle population.
§ Mr. Snadden (Kinross and West Perthshire)
is it not a fact that while cattle have increased in numbers, home-killed beef has fallen since pre-war by 27 per cent.?
§ Mr. Brown
I cannot give the exact figure offhand. I will see that an attempt is made to produce it during the Debate. My impression is that that is not so. If I am wrong, I shall say so when the figure is produced. There is no great point about it, anyway. In any case, the important thing is that for cattle under 12 months' old and between 12 months and two years, which are the important classes for the future, we have in both groups a considerable increase, amounting indeed to hundreds of thousands. Whatever the position today, we are obviously getting near the time when we shall be able to increase the slaughtering of animals for beef at the right sort of age and development.
Let me now give another figure, which I hope will live a little better in the minds of hon. Members opposite, and that is the figure of pigs coming to the bacon 310 factories. I think there is a very significant figure available here. In January, 1948, the bacon factories of this country handled an average of 7,500 pigs per week; in January, 1949, an average of 21,000; in January, 1950, an average of 36,000; and in the last week for which I can give hon. Members figures, they have handled 52,900. We have, therefore, in a little over two years, gone from 7,000 a week to 52,000 a week—an increase of sixfold. I should have thought that was very great evidence that we were getting the right sort of emphasis on livestock production. I hope those figures, anyhow, will live for a bit in the minds of hon. Members opposite. For eggs the figures show the same sort of increase and steady progress.
I know there have been hon. Members who have rather doubted whether the targets for cereal production that we have set the industry were achievable consistent with a good husbandry policy. Last summer my right hon. Friend took very great care to initiate and himself participate in discussions, which began at the county level between the N.F.U. and the county agricultural executive committees, and which were conducted nationally as well, to see whether this was in fact so. The general conclusion reached was that, provided the tillage acreage was adequate, the prospects of achieving the increased production called for in these targets for increased acreage and increased yields are very good, and we have no reason to think that the targets my right hon. Friend has set the industry are inconsistent with the demands of good husbandry.
Now let me say a word about feeding-stuffs, in respect of which it is widely alleged that we have not obtained what we ought to have done. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members say "Hear, hear," but I think it is important that we should discuss this sensibly and clearly. The figures which were given last night of pigs per head of the population here and pigs per head of the population in Denmark seem to me, with great respect, to be wholly irrelevant. The make-up of the population in this country, the degree of industrialisation and the degree to which we live in towns, is wholly different from that in Denmark, and whether or not there is one pig per head of the population here and four pigs per head 311 of the population in Denmark seems to me to prove almost nothing.
The question is: Have we been doing what we ought to have done to obtain adequate supplies of feedingstuffs to enable the expansion programme to go on? My right hon. Friend has taken the view, solidly and steadily right the way through, that it was not right, and would be no help at all, to pin our faith on getting feedingstuffs by using Marshall Aid dollars. I believe that the figures of our animal population now, particularly our growing pig and fowl populations—and indeed the whole picture—show what a shortsighted and dangerous policy that would have been.
It has seemed to us that we ought to tell the farmer pretty clearly and vigorously what the position is. I think I have been into every county in England and Wales in the last two and a half years, meeting farmers individually and in groups, the county people, and so on, and tried to explain this. On the whole they understand it pretty well; they understand that in present conditions in the world our surest source of supply must be, first of all, our own fields. If we were to use Marshall Aid dollars, which will not be available to us at a later stage, to breed animals, for the feedingstuffs for which we shall not then have the dollars we have come to rely on, the only result would be the grave danger of a slaughtering of the surplus animals which we had bred beyond our capacity to feed them.
The right thing was to encourage the farmer to build up his tillage acreage, to build up the capacity from our own fields to supply feedingstuffs, and thus match the growing number of animals with a growing supply of feedingstuffs, in order to make sure that the thing works without a hitch at the end of that time.
§ Mr. Gerald Williams (Tonbridge)
Why, then, in July, 1947, did the Lord President promise us that he would spend even scarce dollars in order to bring feedingstuffs over to this country?
§ Mr. Brown
It is an awful tragedy that hon. Members opposite are so much keener to score what they think to be debating points than they are to deal with the merits of the argument I am putting forward. I must say, with great respect, that the farmers in the country under- 312 stand better than some hon. Members in this House that the merit of the argument is on the side of the line taken by my right hon. Friend.
I will, however, deal with the point the hon. Gentleman makes about what the Lord President said, because it does not seem to me to be clearly enough understood; it certainly was not appreciated in the Debate last night. Last year we provided for the industry over 80 per cent. of all the feedingstuffs that we had pre-war, and we are much nearer to having as much feedingstuffs—although there are certain particular causes of difficulty, especially with proteins—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members opposite are only happy when they hear of some little point that is not as good as the rest. Instead of cheering the one point at which we are trying to bring things up to the general level, it would be much better if they recognised that the general level is so good, and that we have got to within 10 or 15 per cent. of our pre-war figure.
The aim of my right hon. Friend and the Government has been, first to obtain as much as we could from non-dollar sources, and that we have done; and second, to obtain the highest production we could from our own home sources. The undertaking of the Lord President was intended to cover the contingency which would arise if those two together had not been what they have been. Because they have been as good as they have, and for the reasons I have given—which I really do invite hon. Members opposite to address themselves to—we have taken the view that it would be wrong to encourage farmers or the industry to take the somewhat easier line about breeding and feeding instead of realising that later on their own strong arm will be their own sure defence. Because this has happened we have had the various rationing schemes continuously under review in the past two years, and considerable increases and beneficial adjustments have been made, particularly in the past year.
Now, we have given a warning to dairy farmers about the position after next October, and the change we then hope to make. The reason for this is, of course, that we have to face the fact that for a considerable number of farmers their acreage, siting and other 313 considerations are such that they cannot be as self-sufficient as some of the other chaps. Therefore, we want to reserve as much of the general ration pool as we can in order to help those who really have not the same opportunities as others to make themselves self-sufficient. I believe that in that regard my right hon. Friend has followed a policy which commends itself to the industry, and I think to most hon. Members in their less prejudiced moments.
May I, while dealing with feedingstuffs, say a word or two about grassland? It is quite obvious that the attention we pay and the treatment we give to our considerable areas of grassland are very closely associated with the whole problem of self-sufficiency, and with the size of the tillage acreage. I think it is true to say that after a somewhat sketchy start—largely, I think, because in the county committees some opportunities were a little muffed during the war, when we made the first shot at this—the need for improved and better conservation of our grass is at last beginning to catch on.
The first year in which we got a really significant bump up in the amount of silage was 1948, when the amount was doubled. The number of pits dug in 1949 by agricultural executive committees services and private contractors constituted a record. There is no doubt at all that silage has taken a solid hold and will greatly increase. We had a drought last summer which meant a setback to the programme, but that was outside the control of anyone; otherwise, last year we should have had a greater increase in the supply of good grass. In spite of the increase in stock, the supply of grass might have outrun the demand.
I should like to give some figures of the grass-drying and silage installations. The number of new grass-drying installations erected in 1949 was about 250, which is roughly half as many as we had in operation in 1948. We had 19 cooperative schemes operating in 1948, 30 in 1949, and we shall have 60 operating in 1950. There were some arguments during the Committee stage of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill whether we were wise to include the provision for grant-aiding farmers' co-operative ventures for the setting up of these grass-drying installations. An Amendment was moved by Members opposite 314 and negatived. I hope they now feel that we were right to hold our course, despite the advice tendered to us.
§ Mr. Brown
They are United Kingdom figures.
May I now turn to efficiency in the industry? The Gracious Speech mentions increasing output by every efficient means, and the Leader of the Opposition singled our labour, housing and machinery for his comments in this field. Broadly speaking, the labour force has steadily increased since my right hon. Friend began his new era for agriculture after the war. One way or another we have offset very largely the prisoners of war who were still available in large numbers when the programme began. It is very difficult to measure productivity in this or any other field, but there is no doubt that there has been a steady and marked increase in productivity, enabling the job to be done, which is so much bigger than two years ago, with a smaller labour force than would have been required on the 1946 standards of farming and mechanisation. Our labour figures are really most encouraging. I remind hon. Members opposite—it is a fair point—although I know they do not like history being recalled on this or many other matters, that the marked feature when they were in command was the heavy drift of agricultural workers away from the land. That was the one thing that marked village and rural life, and no doubt we shall have another attempt during this Debate to rewrite that history.
Since we have been applying our policy, we have had an altogether different picture. Instead of a drift away from the land, which went on steadily from the repeal of the corn production Acts right up to 1939, we have had an increase in the labour force. The December figures show a slight falling off, I agree, but that was due to the exceptional harvesting conditions. As I have said, the general trend has been an upward one and not a downward one. I would say to the Leader of the Opposition and to his friends that they must have some regard for the facts, not only of history but of the present.
May I now say a word about housing, which obviously has a great bearing on 315 this matter? No one who knows rural England will deny that there is a great problem of housing to be dealt with in the countryside. It is a problem, let me remind hon. Members opposite, that arises from the tremendous neglect of the past. Villages in my constituency, if I may speak of what I know best, had virtually had no houses built to let for agricultural or other workers for a quarter of a century before the war. What we had was a considerable amount of building by speculators in the suburbs of large towns at the expense of almost every village. In my constituency, there are villages less than five miles from large towns which did not see a house built during the whole of that period. These villages are now for the first time getting their allocation of houses to keep the men on the land. That is a real factor which makes the problem so difficult.
Let us look again at the figures. I do not put them forward in order to be complacent or to suggest that we have overtaken the problem; nevertheless, they do show a considerable meed of progress. Taking the rural authorities, 82,824 permanent local authority houses were built up to the end of last year, and a further 25,700 were under construction. I again invite the attention of Members opposite to this interesting point, that 25 per cent. of that large figure is for houses for letting to agricultural workers. Mention was made last night of the tied cottage, but I am not going to involve myself at this stage in that controversy. I warn Members opposite, in passing, that if we are to make loose remarks on what is a delicate problem, we may end by having a very real problem indeed.
§ Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
Since the hon. Member is making rather loose remarks about rural housing between the wars, will he give the figures? The number of houses built by rural authorities between 1934 and 1939 was 850,000 which is at the rate of 40,000 a year.
§ Mr. Brown
It is no good bleating "Give us the facts," because that figure of 850,000 houses hardly included any houses for agricultural workers. The figure includes a lot of housing for other people just outside the towns, and it is this change that I am trying to get across to Members opposite.
One in four of the houses built have been let to agricultural workers, who for the first time in their lives can afford even to pay present-day council house rents, and could never have afforded to pay the much lower rents which applied before the war because of the neglect of Members opposite adequately to reward those working on the land. In addition, there have been 33,179 private licences issued in the rural areas, of which 27,000 houses have been completed. I draw to the attention of Members opposite, who are apt to talk about ratios, that 27,400 private enterprise houses out of a total of 82,000 houses have been completed. There is no evidence here for the allegation that we have applied a doctrinaire mind to the problem. Last year 30,000 local authority houses were completed, and of these 8,119, which is far more than the one-in-four ratio, were let to agricultural workers.
I suggest, therefore, that the attempt to say that housing has held back the provision of an adequate labour force is disproved by the figures of the labour force itself and by the housing figures.
I should like to say a word about mechanisation, which was the subject of another allegation by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, who talked about the reckless way in which we had exported agricultural machinery and made it impossible for our own farmers to do the job. That is really as far from the true facts of the situation as could possibly be the case. In 1947,. when we began our expansion programme, we had to step up the steel allocation for this particular purpose and we doubled' it in a few months. The whole of the agricultural machinery going on to our farms in 1948 was over £40 million, and in 1949 it has been very little less.
The export market also was maintained. It would have been fantastically foolish to have cut ourselves off from the export market, and to have lost the valuable currency that it earned for the nation. It is extraordinary the way in which we 317 are told by the Opposition that we should use dollars to buy feedingstuffs, but we are advised not to export the machines which would earn those dollars. Agricultural machinery earned currency which we badly needed, and it provided a market for the agricultural machinery industry, which could be expanded when the home market became filled up with our machines.
Our exports, running at the rate of between £15 million and £20 million a quarter, have not affected the output of machinery for the home agricultural market. We have largely freed ourselves from dependence on North American supplies of machinery. The tractor population, which was 80,000 before the war, is well over 400,000 now. Of course, it is growing now at a reduced rate, but it is evident that our tractor industry would have been in difficulties if we had not taken steps to see that the other market was, in fact, there, because we could not go on multiplying tractors for home use at the same pace. Large tractors, including crawlers are of very considerable importance at the moment, and are being made in great numbers in this country. In combined harvesters and pick-up balers we have established an important home production industry. We have 9,000 combined harvesters compared with 150 in 1939.
What attracts me even more particularly about this labour problem is that we are at last beginning to find the answer to the problem of mechanisation and the harvesting of sugar beet and potatoes. It is a big problem, and it is no use thinking that we are ever going to have again as we once had the teams following behind picking up the potatoes. A really efficient sugar-beet harvester is most important. We began from scratch on this matter. Last year we had in operation some 1,800 small machines operating for the first time to give us an effective mechanised sugar-beet harvester. There is considerable leeway still to be made up, but what I have said shows that it is far from true to suggest that we have held back the industry because we are not willing to supply the tools for the job, which we said would be available when we began the whole programme.
§ Mr. Osborne (Louth)
Before the Minister leaves the question of the export of machinery to dollar areas, can he tell 318 us what proportion of the machinery went to dollar markets?
§ Mr. Brown
I know the hon. Member is asking for it now, but that figure does not happen to be one that I have with me at the moment. If we get it before the end of the Debate it will be produced, but if the hon. Member troubles to look for it he can find it in HANSARD. We have given it in the House time and time again.
The great lesson in this increased mechanisation, like the increase in the number of houses which are actually let for agricultural workers, and which have been erected under the policy which we have been following and which the Gracious Speech states will be continued, is that, just as the agricultural workers for the first time can afford houses, so for the first time the bulk of our smaller farmers can afford machines to carry on their farming. That is really a very important thing.
There is another side to this efficiency question which I have not time to deal with at length, but which I ought to touch on, and that is the question of yields. It would be wrong to leave the farmer with the impression that the whole of our efficiency is going to come in the ways that I have been describing. We have got to raise the yields of our crops and of our animals to a far greater extent. We have now got to use far more than we have been doing what we know about selective weed killers, what science has told us, and so on. It is our intention through the Advisory Service and in other ways to step up the yield of our crops so that we can get the increases which we want.
The Gracious Speech also refers to our intention to speed up and attack with greater vigour the question of marginal land production. We have a large area in this country of so-called marginal land which is capable of producing considerably more food if the owners and occupiers are able to carry out the necessary improvements. We have a variety of methods by which we have been trying to help. The Hill Farming Act has been a great deal more helpful than right hon. 319 and hon. Gentlemen opposite realise. It has been getting under way during this last year. I will not give the figures now, but my right hon. Friend will be doing so later on in the Debate.
There is also a marginal production scheme of a limited nature. Nevertheless, it has been of considerable help to those whose need was perhaps the greatest and who could not carry out any improvements at all on their own financial resources. Those of us who have been associated with the countryside know that very often the sort of chap who gets that sort of marginal land, and who is faced with the problem of carrying out improvements, is the man with the least capital to do it. Both the schemes to which I have referred have helped.
It would be silly to plunge with both feet and hands into some new vast scheme of marginal land improvement without having a most careful survey of the whole problem and consideration of what the likely results are. We have a body of experts surveying this question, and we hope very soon to be in a position to consider their report. No time will be lost at all in considering what further steps will be taken to improve by all practical measures the use that we make at the present time of our marginal land.
I was sorry that the Leader of the Opposition made that quip about cattle grids, and that the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire adopted the same sort of line. Anyone who knows the problem of farming particularly in the uplands knows how great an improvement will be effected by these cattle grids in the highways. The law at the moment is in such a condition that few highway authorities are prepared to take the risk connected with their erection, and what we propose to do will in a matter of production 1?e out of all proportion to the actual size of the Measure itself.
There are other items which I should like to mention, but I must leave them to my right hon. Friend who will speak later. Moreover, there is one small matter —it looks small but it is of considerable importance—which has also been the subject of a quip from the other side of the House. I refer to the Allotments Bill, to which reference is made in the King's Speech. I have the great honour of being 320 chairman of a committee set up by my right hon. Friend to go into the question of allotment legislation in the light of the Charter produced by the National Allotments and Gardens Society. We had a committee representative of the Society and local authorities, and it was concerned with allotment holders' security of tenure and such matters of importance to them. Obviously they produce, particularly in the towns, a large amount of food, and they ease the demand upon our own industry and upon our imports at a time when and in a place where easing of that demand is most necessary.
Some of the recommendations of the committee can be put into operation by administrative action, and that we shall try to do. Particularly is that the case with the recommendation laying down standards for the provision of allotments in relation to population. Those recommendations dealing with matters like notice to quit and the compensation payable on quitting cannot be implemented without legislation. That is the job which the Bill which my right hon. Friend will introduce relating to England and Wales, and the later Bill relating to Scotland, will endeavour to do. I think those Measures will have a great influence upon this very important question of domestic food production.
In the time at my disposal I have not been able to touch on a number of aspects of the industry, despite my capacity, of which I am always told, for moving verbally at a fairly fast speed. I should have liked to say a word about water supplies and vegetables, but my right hon. Friend may refer to these matters later. In the light of what the Gracious Speech indicates for the future, under the Labour Party's policy, it cannot be said that agriculture is suffering from lack of imagination, or from a lack of vigour and drive in the industry itself or on the part of the people in the counties who are called upon to do the job.
In spite of difficulties here and there, I believe that the picture is of a healthy and vigorous industry, for the first time in my lifetime—which may not have been very long—and in the period during which I have been associated with the industry. Agriculture is energetically taking the opportunities which are now open to it and are now being given to it to play its proper part in the national wellbeing. We 321 are sometimes told that there is too much planning, but without the planning which has been done it would not have been possible to have diverted resources to agricultural production at the unprecedented level of more than £80 million a year, as we have done.
I should like to say a word upon my favourite hobby horse. I do not think that enough recognition is given to the tremendous work done by voluntary workers on county committees and district committees. Those people do a tremendous job. They often get far more kicks than ha'pence, but they have managed to make the administration of the Agriculture Act a human thing without the difficulties that one would associate with, perhaps, the greater efficiency but much less human methods of bureaucratic control. I hope that hon. and right hon. Members will resist the temptation to take cracks at those chaps, who are doing, as I have seen in county after county, an enormous job at such cost to themselves on their own farms and in their daily work.
Mr. Vane (Westmorland)
Let us see their accounts.
§ Mr. Brown
That, I think, is the whole point. It may well be a valid criticism to see their accounts and see what they have been doing, but to say: "Let us see their accounts" with the emphasis on the "their" is merely writing down the efforts of a lot of voluntary workers, very few of whom can be our political friends —let me remind hon. Members of that—but are honest farmers, farm workers, land workers and others. They are trying to do a good job of work in the interests of the industry they love and in the interests of the job.
§ Mr. Brown
That is a point which the hon. Member can make in a perpendicular position later on, if he has the opportunity, rather than from the horizontal position he occupies at the moment.
Before I sit down, I want to refer to something that was said yesterday by the Leader of the Opposition about a policy he initiated in the speech which he made at Luton Hoo in 1948. One thing that can be said about the Luton Hoo speech 322 is that it made much more pleasing reading for the agricultural industry than the speech which was made in 1938 at Kettering by the last Tory Prime Minister. I have always remembered the sense of utter frustration at being cast down into the pit that we all felt when that famous Kettering speech was made by Mr. Neville Chamberlain. We thought it was a real death blow delivered at British agriculture.
§ Mr. Brown
No, I am sorry, I cannot give way. I want to deal with this point. The hon. Member may have a chance later on. The change in attitude on the benches opposite is worth noting. The right hon. Gentleman now says, and said in 1948, that anyone can see that the vigorous production of food in these islands must hold first place. Let us be under no misapprehension about it; it is what one does when one has the power that matters, and not what one says when one has not the power. The last Tory Prime Minister, with all the power he had to help the agricultural industry, said:I have seen it said that we ought ourselves to grow at home all the food that we need. I assume that we could, but I will tell you why I think that is a wrong point of view. What would happen?He went on to talk about the effect upon the industry, and he added:In the end the final sufferer would be the farmer himself.I welcome very much the apparent change of heart. I hope it would stand the translation from Opposition to power. I am afraid that the Tory Central Office failed to point out to the Leader of the Opposition when he was briefed for that speech at Luton Hoo that what he thought he was initiating had already been put on the Statute Book a year before by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture. When he thought he was initiating a new policy and a new drive, the fact was that my right hon. Friend had initiated them in 1945 and in the launching of the expansion programme in 1947, the better part of a year before the 1948 speech was made.
I believe that the kind of proposal referred to in the Gracious Speech, when added to and allied with the tremendous work that has been done during the last five years, will mean that the agricultural 323 industry will for the first time be able to be true to itself. It will be able to justify itself and to justify the faith of those who work and live in it, and it will be equal to the demands which the country makes upon it.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler (Saffron Walden)
I understand that the Parliamentary Secretary was taken somewhat by surprise, as he had intended to speak later in the Debate. He has, with his usual skill, strung together the material so readily provided for him and he has dressed it up in a form with which I cannot agree but which the House will feel has at least covered the subject. The duty I thought I had was to open the Debate upon the rural situation in the light of the fact that the King's Speech gave such tremendous importance to the matter. In view of the late hour which we have now reached, after only two speeches, I will attempt to curtail my remarks somewhat and not to go into some of those larger considerations with which I had intended to weary the House.
As I see it, this Debate should not be a continuation merely of the General Election. It should be a continuation of the Debate on the Address. Judging by the speeches of the Lord President of the Council, of the Parliamentary Secretary, and of many other hon. Members who have spoken from that side of the House, the objective of hon. Members opposite is to continue the General Election. If that be the case we are ready to carry the General Election to its logical conclusion and to do that at the earliest possible date. We shall then show hon. Members opposite that the countryside has supported us on this occasion to a far greater extent than it did at the last election, an extent which I shall now reveal to the House. The seats held in the English counties by our own party and by our friends have risen from some 113 to 144 in this election. Whereas in 1945 the Socialists polled 200,000 votes more than we did in the English counties, on this occasion we polled no fewer than 300,000 more than they did in those counties.
These facts are the answer to the specious arguments in which the Parliamentary Secretary indulged, and I would recommend him, having shown so much 324 promise as he has done in his office, and at the beginning of what may be a fine official career, not to spend his time looking backwards. He should look forward to the day when we shall be governing the country and looking after the interests of agriculture.
I had intended to make some general remarks about the economic situation and to put the agricultural picture against that background, but I will answer as quickly as possible some of the more detailed points of the hon. Gentleman. First, however, may I make an appeal to the House on this, the third, day on which we are discussing the King's Speech? We are all aware of the strange chance which has placed us in almost equal proportions opposite one another. My appeal is that we should use this Parliament for the purpose, among others, of giving a real encouragement and fillip not only to the agricultural industry but to the countryside as a whole. Any remarks I make today will be made in that spirit although, in order to keep up the general fun of the party, I shall be ready to answer some of the backward looking arguments used by the Parliamentary Secretary, and particularly those used by the Lord President of the Council.
In general, however, let us leave the other side to look backwards and ourselves look forward to the day when we can give to the agricultural industry—which has always feared the ending of a war, because it knows that agriculture may then decline again—a feeling of security for the future and a feeling that it must play a really prominent part in our economy.
To give shortly the background of the economic situation, we had published yesterday the most up-to-date report of E.C.A. operations, Command 7890, from which it is clear that the situation of this country, although improving in regard to our exports, can be much improved. For example, United Kingdom dollar exports rose after devaluation but not enough by the end of the year to offset the lower rate of exchange. Exports actually went up by 15 per cent., but we have received 17 per cent. less dollars. When one looks at the balance of payments figure, based on the latest information of the Government, we are still aware that the deficit on our current account amounts to roughly £110 million for the 1949 period.
325 In the latest report on the E.C.A. operations there is a general assumption that there will be no general inflation in the non-dollar world—an assumption we find it hard to recognise in the economy of our own country—and that the volume of production and trade will continue to expand. I must here emphasise that unless we can face up to this problem of inflation with a great deal more determination than the Government are showing no expansion of the agricultural industry alone can bridge the dollar gap or save our economic position. Having seen not only the supplementary estimates, which we shall discuss later, but also the comments in the Press today—such as the expression "out of control" used by "The Times"—I must impress upon the Government that it is no use the King's Speech relying solely on the improvement of our agriculture and the development of the countryside to bridge the dollar gap which still remains the outstanding problem of this country.
It is in the agricultural sphere that we see the greatest tendency on the part of Government economists to use the price mechanism. I was reading a document issued by the Oxford University Institute of Statistics, which said this:The over-confidence in the ability of persuasion to counter financial forces seems to pervade Government thinking.We have had quite enough of the sermons and sermonising of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, quite enough of the over-elaborate organisation of the county agricultural committees, and quite enough efforts to try to improve agriculture by the wrong kind of persuasion. I trust now that the Government are realising—as I believe they are in the agricultural industry, if not in the rest of the economy —that the best incentive to increased production is a good price. I will not comment on the February Price Review, because that is at present under consideration and it would be out of order to do so. I will confine myself to saying that a good price is vital to the production targets to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
Now I come to some of those production targets. When we look at bread grains we find that the actual target for June, 1949, was down by over 350,000 tons compared with the possible target we expected to get. In the case of linseed, instead of a production of 100,000 tons. the total achieved in June. 1949.
326 was only 23,000 tons. Therefore, I think it right to say to the hon. Gentleman that his optimistic observations about the targets are not justified by a close examination of the facts in every case. As to his references to proteins, it is important to recognise that linseed is a most important protein feedingstuff and has fallen far short of the forecast. If the hon. Gentleman is to depend upon home produced feedingstuffs and not, as the Lord President told us in 1947, on feedingstuffs purchased by dollars, then the production of linseed must be improved. If I am in any way mistaken I hope the Minister will give us a reassurance on this point later.
That leads me to mention the remarks of the hon. Gentleman on feedingstuffs. I do not want to denigrate the efforts made either by the Government or, even more, by the farmers and growers to meet the production of feedingstuffs in this country. We should rightly welcome any improvement in the present difficult state of our country. However, his answer was no answer to the argument put from this side to the deliberate statement of the Lord President that we should encourage the purchase of feedingstuffs by using dollar exchange. It is no answer to say that we have achieved the same object by encouraging home-grown feedingstuffs.
Why is it that we among all European countries, as appears from the tables of O.E.E.C., have appeared to spend less on feedingstuffs than any other country receiving E.C.A. grants? Why is it that there has been no answer to the argument put with devastating success by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Sir T. Dugdale) to the Minister of Food, namely, that it is cheaper to import feedingstuffs than to import carcases or the finished product?
§ Mr. Butler
Perhaps the Minister will answer the case put by my hon. and gallant Friend, of which he is well aware—
§ Mr. Williams
To what feedingstuffs and what price does the right hon. Gentleman refer, when he says it is cheaper to import them?
§ Mr. Butler
I refer to the case put by my hon. and gallant Friend, to which 327 no answer has been given from the Government benches and which I do not propose to state, because he himself is speaking later.
§ Mr. Williams
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will not object if I express the hope that, when that statement is repeated, later in the day, we shall know the price to which it refers. Is it 3 dollar coarse grain, 3 dollar wheat, or at what price will it become cheaper to import feedingstuffs?
§ Mr. Butler
The prices referred to were the prices at the time when my hon. and gallant Friend was speaking. There is no doubt that the case he made out for purchasing feedingstuffs and growing the product here has never been answered from the Government side of the House, and is, indeed, unanswerable.
The Parliamentary Secretary, in his general pursuit of targets, did not mention the subject of horticulture and did not remind us that during 1949 there has been a tremendous fall in the output of the horticultural industry. The January statistics of the Ministry of Agriculture show a reduction of 32,900 acres between December, 1948, and December, 1949. I notice in the Gracious Speech a reference to the Annecy discussions and a reference to the fact that there is to be a revision in our Customs arrangements. I have also noted the statement made at Cambridge by the Minister himself on the subject of altering the open licence system and I have read the comment of Mr. Knowles, the General Secretary of the N.F.U., about Government policy, in which he says:The utter failure to reconcile the official statement "—that is, the Minister's —either with the industry's programme or with the Minister of Agriculture's statement at Cambridge undermines the whole complicated structure of horticultural marketing, and with it the confidence of home producers which is essential if regular supplies are to be available at reasonable prices to the consumers in this country.The Ministry and the Government have not dealt with the problems of the horticultural industry. In reading the E.C.A. document, to which I referred in my opening remarks, it seems clear that certain portions of the horticultural industry are to be sacrificed. We on this 328 side of the House consider that the horticulturists of Essex, Kent and Worcester —not looking further afield, though one could look further afield—can produce as efficient products as any in Europe or any other part of the world. The omission to restrict imports of tomatoes in June and the omission of apples and pears from the list of products subject to import restriction are grave omissions which are having a very deleterious effect upon our home producers. The additional fact that horticulture is not covered properly by considerations of the Schedule of the 1947 Act, or by the present discussions, makes it imperative for the Minister to give us some further information on this subject to relieve the anxiety of growers.
The hon. Gentleman referred also to rural housing. The Minister, in his many soothing-syrup peregrinations around the country, in which he was trying to prove that the ultimate aim of the Labour Party was not to nationalise the land, visited East Anglia during his tour. I had the honour of following him around on many occasions. I am glad to say that I had no eggs directed at me, and I regret that we should have shown discourtesy of this kind in that part of England. During his tour the Minister came to Sudbury, which I had the honour to visit a few days later. He said there that 28,500 houses had been built yearly in rural areas since December 1945. That coincides, broadly, with the latest information given by the Parliamentary Secretary.
The answer to the hon. Gentleman, however, surely is that between 1919 and 1943 there was an average which corresponds very roughly to the figure, given by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), of 36,275 houses being built annually when we had the honour of forming a Government. That is the answer to the complaint that housing in the rural areas was not being conducted with the same drive between the wars as it is today. In fact, an extra 10,000 per annum were being built in the rural areas and many more, probably, were going the way of agricultural workers than the small pittance which was referred to by the hon. Gentleman as the Government's total programme.
It is possible to continue indefinitely taking up the individual points of the Parliamentary Secretary. For example 329 in the case of labour he neglected to tell us that when the Socialist Government were in power between 1929 and 1931 some 50,000 agricultural labourers left the land. He attempted to make the argument that all was bad in the days between the wars and that all is perfectly well now. He also neglected to tell us that in these more difficult days up to the recent past, there has been a ring fence or cattle grid round the agricultural industry in the shape of the Control of Engagement Order, and that it has been impossible for a man to go out of the industry if he wants to.
§ Mr. G. Brown indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Butler
If the hon. Gentleman wants to debate—which, after all, is the secret of the life of this House—he should look up his facts a little more carefully.
§ Mr. Butler
That is my separate point. I am delighted to welcome the fact that men are coming into the agricultural industry. Living, as I have, in the middle of agriculture for many years and having daily contact with it, I think the reason is not due to some statistical abstract which can be produced in London. It is because young men prefer the mechanised conditions which they find on the land today and for which we have all been steadily working since we have been in public life.
In view of the statement of the Lord President, it is necessary to say one or two words in answer to his "looking backward" remarks on agriculture yesterday In this House or outside it, we of the Opposition are ready to take on the Government either on the past, on the present, or on the future. On whatever ground we take them, we are sufficiently well-equipped to defeat them on every hand. I have always been informed that the Corn Production Act is the most touchy ground upon which an argument can develop but I propose to refer to that point, which was raised by the Lord President of the Council. The right hon. Gentleman did not refer to the 330 fact that the Prime Minister of that day was Mr. Lloyd George, a Liberal leader.
§ Mr. Butler
I do not see a large contingent of the Liberal Party here today. I should like to remind hon. Members of another point, which I have been investigating since the speech of the right hon. Gentleman yesterday. Before the Act of 1920, which was the positive Act before the repeal of the Corn Production Act, there was set up a Royal Commission, which consisted of some 23 members, of whom six were Socialists. I have been investigating what those six Socialist Members decided. They issued or signed a Report to the effect that the guaranteed price system should not continue. if, therefore, we are to be attacked as far back as 1923—and I am tempted to congratulate the Government on having come into such modern times—I am quite ready to answer back every single argument that is put forward.
I should like to remind hon. Members of some of the Socialist records between the wars. Our friends in the country districts, who gave us such overwhelming support, would like to know a few of these facts afresh. Take, first, the period up to 1929. On the first sugar beet industry Bill, which the Conservative Party introduced to save the sugar beet industry, the Socialists behaved fairly well. They were hopelessly split but at least 81 of them were in favour of the Bill. When we come to the second sugar subsidy Bill in 1934, however, we find that there were no Socialists in favour either of the Bill in 1934 or the Bill of 1935 and that in each case the Socialists present—and there were a great many absentees, according to the figures I have produced—voted against the sugar beet subsidy. When we come to consider some of the other Bills we find, for example, that 58 Socialists were against the Merchandise Marks Bill. On the Housing (Rural Workers) Bill, 1926, the charter of the farmworker, which afforded a great deal of good in reconditioning the countryside—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Never."] —there were 72 Socialists against.
On the Agricultural Credits Bill, 107 Socialists voted against, on the Agricultural Produce (Grading and Marketing) Bill 97 Socialists voted against, and so on, until we come to a Measure which has really been the sheet anchor, at any 331 rate in East Anglia, of the wheat-growing districts—the Wheat Act of 1932. In this case not only did 41 Socialists vote against the Second Reading and 42 against the Third Reading but there were several absent. The Minister himself, whose personal integrity is quite beyond question and whose personal position is one we should not set about, used these words on 7th April, 1932:our policy, instead of the policy embodied in this Bill, would be, first of all, to nationalise the land."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th April, 1932; Vol. 264, c. 424.]This is the record of the Socialist Government between the wars. I must confess that when it was originally suggested that I should speak on rural matters I had not intended to make this inquest. The Lord President said this was an inquest of the nation but it is an inquest on the Socialist Party in the rural districts. I could pursue it through the Livestock Industry Act, where there was the same dismal record of solid Socialist voting against all progress.
I should like to end this inquest on a positive note. That is to give some conception of the general improvement in farming which occurred during this period. The total value of the crops between 1931 and 1939, when we had retrieved agriculture from the disasters which overtook her between 1929 and 1931, increased by some £15 million. Livestock numbers increased and crop sales went up by £6 million, pigs by nearly £8 million, milk by £18 million and the total sales of livestock and livestock products went up by nearly £31 million. That gives some conception of the aid given by the Conservative Party to agriculture and the dismal record of hon. Members opposite.
I do not want to detain the House too long, but, as we were treated to a debating speech by the Lord President of the Council, I am debating and answering him on these points and I wish to make some observations on marginal land. We are told, in "Let us Win through Together," the Labour Party's programme, which has proved such a dismal failure:Where the job is too big for individual farmers to tackle, public ownership will be used as the means of bringing into sound cultivation good food-producing land not fully used.I want the Minister to tell us, quite frankly, whether that is or is not the 332 policy of the Socialist Party at the present time. The Parliamentary Secretary skated round this and made no mention of the policy in "Let us Win Through Together," so let us have a straight answer from the Minister. While discussing the question of nationalisation, we would like to hear what is the latest news of nationalisation in connection with the nationalisation of the land, because his colleague, Mr. Lewis Silkin, said at Southwick, Sussex, on 19th February:This is not an issue of the election, because we do not propose to nationalise the land during the next five years. It will be in some future programme.We want to know from the Government if they are simply duping the countryside by saying that in this field there will be no nationalisation of the land, whereas we have learned from the Prime Minister's recently republished book that nationalisation of the land remains the objective of the Socialist Party.
On the question of marginal land, it is possible to go into a long discussion. I think I had better refer hon. Members who are interested to a paper read as lately as 6th March to a farmers' club by Mr. Griffiths. He says there are at least five million acres of this land which could be brought back into production, with an additional 60,000 tons of lamb and mutton and 80,000 tons of beef annually. If that is the case, and that is the latest authoritative speech I have seen on marginal land, let us apply our minds in this Parliament to improving marginal land because it may be a fruitful means of improving our meat ration which is so woefully short.
I do not think that the Government's marginal production scheme, published in May, 1949, which allowed marginal farmers a fund of £300,000 which, some people say, would amount to 6d. per acre, is a sufficient inducement to encourage the use of marginal land. Nor do I think that the administration of the Hill Farming Act is sufficient to bring about the improvement which is so much desired. I hope the Minister will tell us what is his public policy and that he will eliminate public ownership as one of his remedies.
I propose to confine my observations on water supplies to some four questions, to which I hope the Minister may give the answer. First, what priority are the Government prepared to give in the supply of necessary materials for rural water 333 supplies? Secondly, are the Government satisfied that our export of iron and steel pipes—which, I notice, were 42 per cent. higher in 1949 than in 1947—is not impeding home rural water development? Are not the vast bulk of these exports of pipes going to soft currency countries and a fair proportion going as unrequited exports? I am putting these questions concisely because I think that is the secret of the whole rural water programme. We know that the Minister of Health has said that nationalisation itself is no remedy. He said at Margate in 1947, at the Labour Party Conference:You can alter the machinery of Government as much as you like; you can carry this resolution and alter that Act of Parliament, and you would not get a single drop more water.Therefore, if the problem is one of machinery and pipes, let the Minister reply to us today and tell us that there will be a reduced export of these pipes and more opportunity of using them for the improvement of rural,water supplies. Will the Government also give an undertaking not to delay the improvement of minor schemes in an effort to get some sort of tidy, general scheme to cover a whole area? That applies particularly to Wales and it applies to my own area. Between the wars, we were able to cover two out of three areas, but the Halstead district is still without a proper rural water supply. The scheme is still with the Minister and I hope he will expedite it.
Finally, why has he not established the local advisory water committees provided for under the Act of 1945, without which the improvement of local water supplies contemplated by the Act is difficult? Our claim is that the Minister has all the machinery he needs in the Act passed by the Coalition Government. Our claim is that the Minister has delayed the improvement of schemes that insufficient grants have been provided and too many pipes are being exported and that the whole of rural development is being held up. I trust the Government may, as they mention in the Gracious Speech, give some push to this development of expediting rural water supplies, not only for houses, but also for farming and stock.
I sum up by saying that if we are to indulge in this game of looking back on past records, the Government will slip back, as they have been doing, in the 334 affection and esteem of the rural areas. If we are to spend our time in this Parliament simply on quips and retorts we cannot devote our whole energies to the agricultural situation. Credit must be given where credit is due and we hope the Government will continue with their task of improving agricultural policy and producing the agricultural output we need. As the great Coke of Norfolk warned his son, before he died:Those who work against the laws of nature can achieve no results in the countryside.Do not let our agricultural policy be artificial. Let us work with nature and follow nature's laws. If we do that and put all our drive behind it, we may achieve something really lasting for the good of our country.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Miss Burton (Coventry, South)
When it was suggested that I should try to catch your eye this week, Mr. Speaker, I was asked if I knew that it was customary to request the forbearance of the House. I do. There is no new Member who could not but feel himself or herself inadequate on such an occasion, and I would ask not only for the forbearance of the House but would crave its indulgence for any errors I may make in the course of this speech.
Earlier this week, the Prime Minister referred to the uncertainty of the Parliamentary weather and I am well aware that I shall not experience such calm, settled conditions on any future occasion. But in common with most other Members I experienced during the last month conditions which were far from calm. In my own constituency it was very stormy and very wet. I say that because in spite of the stormy weather the results in our part of the country were such as to cause a certain satisfaction on these benches. This is the first time that the city which represent has returned a woman Member, but I hasten to add that this is said in no spirit of self-complacency. We have in the centre of my city the statue of a lady much more famous than any modern woman can hope to become, though, I hasten to add, not famous for her modesty.
The Gracious Speech mentioned the sustained endeavour and increased industrial production which hashelped our country forward to greater prosperity.335 I have the honour to represent a city in the heart of the industrial Midlands which I believe to be truly representative of the heart of this great country, particularly because that city contains citizens from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Such a conglomeration produces a spirit which is capable of looking at affairs as a national rather than a parochial business.
This constituency made a great contribution to the war effort and is now, in common with many other cities, making an equal contribution to peace. In 1948 I spent three months in America, and I say three months because I know that nothing is more trying than a person who goes to another country and comes back assuming that he or she knows all about it. I do not. I was there three months. In January, 1948, the American Ambassador to this country speaking to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that Britain had dedicated more of her resources—man-power, financial and other—to the winning of the war than any other participating country, including Germany. Mr. Douglas also said that weapproximated 71 or 72 per cent. of the total activity of the nation.We know that very well, but I mention it here because when I was in America, many American people were surprised to hear that. They are dependent upon what they read and hear, and during my three months in that country I saw—I say this without in any sense being controversial —many things in American newspaper headlines for which we must not blame the Americans. They were things which had been said in this country, decrying the peace-time recovery efforts of this country. On the humble basis of a three months' stay I say that they did this country a great deal of harm in America at a very critical time.
In passing, I would say that on one of the few occasions when I was riding in a taxi in Washington D.C., the taxi-driver pointed out a house, the roof of which had fallen down. He said "You know, ma'am—" I gather that every woman is ma'am in America irrespective of her age—"two or three people were hurt when that roof came down." I thought, as hon. Members would have thought, of the cities, including that which I represent, where the falling down of one roof 336 would not have occasioned much comment in view of what had happened in the war, and it was borne upon me that it is unreasonable of us to expect people to understand what they have neither experienced nor seen.
As the two major parties in this House are not quite but, at all events, more evenly balanced than they were in the last Parliament, I hope that efforts will not be made inside or outside this House to decry the recovery of this country, a recovery which has been made by people of all parties and in all jobs. In 1949 we had a record unequalled anywhere in Europe, a record of rising production, steady wages, more jobs and fewer disputes. I wish here to pay tribute to our great trade union movement, for a very material reason. In 1949 wage increases in Britain were the smallest since the war. That, at a time of full employment, reflects great credit upon the statesmanship and patriotism of our trade unions and workers.
I said that that record was unequalled in Europe. In the first quarter of 1949 we surpassed even what I might call mechanised America. In that quarter our average output in industry was 22 per cent. above that of pre-war, whereas in America the increase was 20 per cent. I would add one more point to that. Taking the whole period from 1945 to 1949—and I quote Mr. Kenney, who has already been quoted in this House this week on both sides of the House—the hours lost per worker, since the war, in industrial disputes in the United Kingdom, were one-ninth of the hours lost per worker in industrial disputes in the United States. I do not say that in any way to disparage American workers, but I feel that tribute should be paid to the stabilisation of the workers and working conditions in this country.
This sustained endeavour of increased industrial production, as mentioned in the Gracious Speech, has raised particular problems in blitzed cities. I refer particularly to building, whether of houses, or a city centre, schools or hospitals. I know that I must not abuse the calmness of the atmosphere in this Chamber by entering into controversy, but perhaps I might make one statement of fact. From 1918 to the autumn of 1922—I know that is going back a long time, but I shall deal with the present a little 337 later—the number of houses built in this country was 210,237. If we take the same period, from 1945 to the end of August, 1949, the number of new permanent houses, leaving out of account prefabricated buildings, conversions or adaptations, was 556,087. As a matter of arithmetic, that total is two-and-a-half times greater than the other. It would not be proper for me to comment on it here, but there are many hon. Members on the other side of the House, and people outside, who are anxious to compare the progress of four-and-a-half years after one war with 18 years after another. It seems to me that the perspective is not quite accurate. One does not compare a child of four-and-a-half with a person of 18. Perhaps in 1963, if hon. Members opposite are still here and wish to do so, we on this side would be glad to make the relevant comparisons.
Though there are doubtless many more, there are five factors affecting this question of housing in so far as my own constituency is concerned. The first one—and, obviously, I must not enlarge on this—is the legacy which we received from the past. Opinions may differ as to whether it was good or bad, but in my city it was bad. The second factor is a serious one. I refer to the great effort being made by Coventry in production today. The population of Coventry at the end of the war was 223,000. Today, it is 255,000, an increase of 32,000. Taking 1949 alone we have an increase of 3,057; or, taking it monthly, 255 per month. If we bring it right up to date the increase for January and February, the first two months of this year, amounts to 936. Obviously, I need not stress that problem.
The third point is that the building force available in my constituency today is no bigger than pre-war. The fourth point, and one in which we on this side of the House take great pleasure—and so I am sure do hon. Members opposite—is the question of full employment. In the 1930's there were in this country, during the summer months, which are good months for building, never fewer than 100,000 building operatives out of work. In the whole of the 1930's, and not taking the summer months alone, there was never less than 10 per cent. of unemployment in the building industry. Today, and 338 "today" I put as February, because that was the last date on which I could get a figure, in the employment exchange in Coventry we have registered as unemployed, men and women together, a total of 1,476; and we have at the same time a total of 1,795 jobs registered at that same exchange. We have a surplus of vacancies over people looking for them, and although that has produced these difficulties we are glad of the reason.
It is not only the difficulty of building fast enough, and of having no more building labour to draw upon. There is the problem of rents. As there is no building labour available in my city, when houses are tendered for, or when contracts are placed, building labour has to be brought in; and in the end it is the local authority which has to find that additional charge. There are no subsistence allowances as there were during the war. We are very concerned with this problem, and I have raised it here, because doubtless hon. Members representing blitzed cities elsewhere have the same experience.
The Gracious Speech mentioned that any measures necessary for the maintenance of full employment and the national well-being would be taken, even if they prove contentious. I wish to be noncontroversial, but may I say how much I and my constituency welcome that statement in the Gracious Speech? I do not wish to take one or two or three years—that would be unfair—but if we take every year of the 20 years between the wars—and that is a long time—there were, in our distressed areas, on an average, no fewer than 500,000 people unemployed for every year of the 20 years. It is very difficult, however kind one may be, to understand that unless one has suffered. Without being disparaging I do believe that many hon. Members on these benches do know something of what that means.
I turn from the spiritual and moral aspect to the purely financial. That cost the country £125 million per year for every year of the 20 years in goods and services to the nation. That was more than the fall in the standard of living by the sale of all our foreign investments incurred in the last war. It would be easy to have enough houses if we had people unemployed, out of work and unable to pay rents. I am glad that we are short of houses if that is the reason. We hear much talk about levelling up or 339 levelling down. We on this side of the House believe in levelling up, but I appreciate that it depends from which side of the scale one starts.
This last General Election was the first in British history in which privilege was removed from voting. It was the first occasion on which every man's vote was as good as the other man's. There was one vote, one person. I know it is the policy of hon. Members opposite—I am not being controversial; it is a stated policy—to restore' the privilege of voting in so far as one section, the universities, are concerned. I would merely say that in a democracy I do not believe in privilege for any section of the community. whether it be the universities, the shop stewards or the housewives. We believe in this process of levelling up; one man, one vote.
During last month I went into many small shops in my constituency. I went into one on a very wet day, and the moment I got inside I knew that the proprietor did not think very much about me. He said, "I don't know why you have come here, I have not done well since your lot got into power. I am a pawnbroker." I suggest that the test of a good Government, and I use the word "good" in the sense that one speaks of a good man or a good woman or a good scheme, is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have plenty, but whether we provide enough for those who have too little. On this side of the House we are now trying to win a peace, and it is infinitely harder to win a peace than a war. I contend that on this side of the House we have tried, in the years since the war, to put human considerations first. I do not believe that we can talk about the freedom of the individual with millions on the dole. I have never yet met one person who had been in this pool of reserve labour who recommended it to anyone else.
I believe that in the past wealth and privilege did mean better housing, better education, better living and better health. But I would suggest, still being noncontroversial, that those facts belong to an age which is dead. We are now going forward in the battle for humanity; and when we have won, as we shall, the victory will be much greater than any 340 military victory because we shall have won the battle for mankind.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Maclay (Renfrew, West)
It is my very great pleasure to have the opportunity to congratulate the hon. Member for South Coventry (Miss Burton) on such an extremely able maiden speech. I do so with the greater enthusiasm because I am one of those who, for reasons not entirely within my own control, only made his maiden speech in this House after I had been a Member for four years and nine months. That a speech such as we have heard should be delivered in the third day of a new Parliament by a new Member is remarkable, and we congratulate her with deep sincerity. All I would add is that possibly the city fathers may be seriously contemplating a site for yet another statue—with due regard for changed circumstances.
One of the problems in this Debate is that of preserving a reasonable continuity of argument. I must confess that I am grateful to the hon. Lady because she moved from me the responsibility of departing somewhat from the agricultural subjects with which we were dealing earlier this afternoon. Certain remarks have been made in the previous two days of this Debate which must be picked up and followed through, and certain aspects of the Speech or what is not in the Speech must be dealt with. It was most interesting during the first two days to note the number of times references were made to the composition of the bench on which I sit. It started with the Prime Minister who made this remark when referring to us. He referred to us as a…curious contradictory variety of nomenclatures that adorns the third bench below the Gangway."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th March, 1950; Vol. 472, c. 65.]A little later the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) described those of us who sit on this bench by a name which is that of a most acceptable commodity which is extremely popular among all sections of the community. I do not know whether he quite realised that fact when he made the remark.
All this merely confirms what we already knew and observed during the election—that the movement which my colleagues and I represent is one of the greatest importance. What is more, it 341 is one which is causing grave concern above all to those whose declared policies —I refer to hon. Members opposite and their supporters in the country—are utterly alien to the principles which we and those who work with us share. It is also possible that this interest arises from another reason, and that is that some people may have discovered that 57 candidates stood in the General Election as an expression of the conviction of a great many Liberals and Conservatives that those who believe in the same fundamental principles should work together in the united and constructive defence of the principles which they are convinced are those which should determine the future of the country. I might say that I am not frightened of the figure 57 either, because both nationally and internationally it is a highly respected numeral.
A point which I think has not yet been fully realised, though it may be realised gradually, is that these 57 candidates polled more than 1,000,000 votes in total. They polled an average of almost 17,000 votes per candidate. It is at least of passing interest that those Liberals who sought to assert what I respectfully suggest is an unrealistic independence failed to average more than 5,500 votes per candidate. These are statistics and people may make such use of them as they, wish. One can do a great deal with statistics; but one point is clear and that is that respect for the individual, respect for human personality, is an instinct that is stronger than ever in Britain today. The result of the election shows very definitely indeed that a substantial majority of the electors of Britain already recognise that the Socialist policies of the Labour Party demand the destruction of those principles which are not the prerogative of any section of the Liberal Party but which are very fully shared by the Conservative Party of today.
I apologise for dealing with this subject, but a good deal has been said, not only in the last two days but throughout the campaign, about the combined constituencies. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery referred yesterday to party manœuvring about the use of the word "Liberal." I really was rather surprised that that should come from him. Throughout the election, and previous to its start, there was a steady campaign of misrepresenta- 342 tion of the good faith of those Liberals and Conservatives who in a very large number of constituencies throughout Britain came together in a common cause. I will not bore the House with the details. They were fully dealt with in articles in national and local newspapers and in speeches. In spite of that, the nonsense continued to be repeated by responsible people outside the House that there was something bogus about these constituencies. I flatly deny that.
I have intimate and detailed knowledge of what lead up to the formation of most of those constituency arrangements, and all I can say is that the argument might have had some validity if it could be said that no Liberal who had ever voted for or backed a National Liberal had a right to call himself a Liberal. If that argument is advanced, as it was in one letter in a national newspaper, I urge anybody who is thinking on this subject to study most carefully the admittedly unco-ordinated activities of those who occupied the bench below me in the last Parliament and to study carefully the programme on which that party fought the 1945 election. Those who have been consistently and steadily true to basic Liberal principles are those who sit on this bench beside me. I am not casting any reflection on the Liberalism of the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery. I know that at heart he is truly a Liberal and that many of his colleagues are also. I suggest that for a variety of reasons which I have never been able to understand they have fallen into a series of aberrations and heresies which I earnestly ask them to consider very carefully before they perpetrate any more.
It is only right that before finishing this part of my speech I should try to make our position absolutely clear. Those of us who have been returned to this Parliament by the united action of Liberals and Conservatives in our respective constituencies believe above all that the great arguments which in the past divided Liberals and Conservatives have almost completely been settled and resolved. What is more, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) pointed out yesterday, these arguments were not on matters which were fundamental to our whole system of life and society. On the other 343 hand, we believe that the great political argument of today which is between Socialism and the rest of us is a direct challenge to the whole structure of our national life. That belief is the basis of all our actions. We intend to work together in the closest co-operation with any individuals or parties in whatever way is most likely to be effective in the constructive defence of the principles in which we believe.
Finally, we are convinced that in facing the very grave problems of the years ahead the traditional Liberal approach has a distinctive and extremely important contribution to make. We who sit on this bench represent a large number of Liberals and Conservatives. We will continue to do our utmost to make that distinctive contribution properly mellowed by the views of our Conservative colleagues. I apologise for having taken up the time of the House, but there has been so much said that I felt I must make our position absolutely clear.
I turn briefly to what I am afraid is not in the Gracious Speech. I start with iron and steel. That links up with the previous subject of agriculture. I see some of my former iron and steel protagonists in the House. When one studies the results of the election, one gets claims that the steel producing districts did certain things. Do let us remember that a very large part of this country contains users of steel. It so happens that politically I have recently been translated from the East to the West of Scotland, and the constituency which I fought at this election and now represent is a very great user of steel. It further happens—I do not know whether there is cause and effect in this or not —that I fought my entire campaign almost exclusively on the nationalisation of iron and steel, and a constituency which is a great user of steel put me back into this House of Commons. That is of only passing importance, I agree, but agriculture, of course, and the whole industrial life of our country depends on what happens to steel in the next few years.
I would remind the Prime Minister and the members of the Government that if they want this Parliament to be constructive and not excessively contentious, 344 and want it to get down to its proper job of taking our country another stage through the extremely difficult times we are now in, the right hon. Gentleman should have opened his speech by making it clear that if it remained in power the Labour Party would undertake that iron and steel should not be touched. I must remind hon. Members opposite that the so-called mandate of 1945 was, in fact, four and a half lines, not one phrase of which was substantiated during the Debate which went on for so long in the last Parliament.
I would further remind hon. Members opposite, in case they have forgotten, that the vote on the Second and Third Readings of the Iron and Steel Bill in the last Parliament gave no justification. in a nation with an unwritten Constitution, for making an alteration in the fundamental structure of the State, for that is what nationalisation of iron and steel means. Where there is an unwritten Constitution and no clear evidence of overwhelming support for an action which must change for a very long time to come the structure of the State, then one should not go ahead and act until one is dead certain that the substantial majority of the people are behind one.
Throughout the election campaign I read the newspapers to find just how much was going to be said about iron and steel. To my opponent's credit he fought the campaign on nationalisation, and here is the result of that particular case. But I listened closely on the wireless, on the one night that I was free to listen to it, and I read the papers afterwards, but I could find very little about it. What is more, I studied "Let Us Win Through Together." This great industry, vital to this nation's industrial life, was given exactly one and a half lines in 12 pages. The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. J. Jones) is probably going to say—I hope he will be ready to say—that, after all, his party dealt with that in the previous Parliament. In that case, can hon. Members opposite tell me why that very great industry, the cement industry, only got two and a half lines in 12 pages? There we see what was really happening.
§ Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that details of a Bill should be submitted in a manifesto, and is he quarrelling with a decision 345 on principle because it only took two and a half lines to submit, although it has been supported by the steel workers of the country?
§ Mr. Maclay
I must give the hon. Gentleman every advantage he can claim. Four and a half lines in 1945—that was pretty generous—and one and a half lines on steel in this Election which said nothing about the effect of the nationalisation of steel on our economic life. It does not make sense. It is quite clear that the Labour Party leaders realised what the whole nation is rapidly realising, that nationalisation of our basic industries is not wanted by the great majority of the electors of this country. They kept as quiet about it as they possibly could, with a few honourable exceptions, and they hoped to get away with Socialism on a lot of other grounds. The nation is beginning to realise—and a great many people have already realised—that Socialism and social progress are very different things indeed. When that is realised all over the country, I am afraid the Labour Party will have to give up its Socialism or it will disappear as a party. We will make a very careful selection and see if there is a little more room at that time along this bench.
My last subject is the question of international trade. It is extremely unfortunate that we are not going to have a full opportunity for an economic discussion for some time to come. I do not think that any hon. Member or anyone in the country should forget the very grave words of warning uttered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in November last year when he said that if we failed to conquer the hard currency markets,our industries, our standards of living, indeed our civilisation itself must fade and wither away."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1949; Vol. 468, c. 1353.]We heard extraordinarily little about that in the course of the Election. Indeed, we heard a very different story over the wireless and everywhere else. I think it showed great irresponsibility on the part of the leaders of the Labour Party that they should so quickly forget the very grave warning of their own Chancellor of the Exchequer.
It is only reasonable to say that not only in this country, but in many others people have been waiting to see what would be the attitude of the next Govern- 346 ment of the United Kingdom towards the whole question of foreign trade. Is there going to be a genuine attempt to get away from the ineffective rigidity of State-controlled trade?
This is a question which I have been asked by many foreigners and a point which one gathers when reading foreign newspapers on the subject. It is not only of importance to us for what we need in this country, but of great importance to the future development of the flow of foreign trade. So long as the balance of production in the world is out of phase there must, I agree, be some strategic direction of our foreign trade, but I do suggest that rigid and detailed direction of trade can never solve the problem.
Then there is the question of bilateral treaties. Are we going to have any more of these things? They may, from time to time, be the only possible solution of an immediate problem. I do not know; it is impossible to judge unless one is working inside the appropriate Department. But I would urge the Government that if any more bilateral treaties of the kind we have had in the last five years are contemplated they should see that, in the interest of Britain's reputation in the world, all the nations affected by such treaties—not just the two—are given proper warning of what is going to happen. They should consider what the consequence will be, and if there is any other alternative. For goodness sake do not let us conclude a bilateral treaty until the other nations have been persuaded that it is necessary.
I cannot forget what happened at the time of the Argentine Trade Agreement. I was in Canada at the time, and I remember the feeling that was raised against Britain as a result of that agreement. It was very serious indeed in Canada, and even more intense in the United States. I do not know what measures were taken to inform the Government of Canada of what was happening, or what measures were taken to inform the Government of the United States. All I know is that neither of those Governments had any opportunity of preparing their merchants, traders and general public for the announcement of that agreement when it was made. Such things are very serious indeed for international relations. I could quote other examples, but I will not do so this afternoon.
347 Another thing which I think ought to be said is that I find it difficult to believe that the long-term solution to the dollar problem can ever be found in direct trans-Atlantic trade. Obviously it is extremely important to increase our exports to Canada and the United States by every means within our power. But I cannot think that this can ever take the place of a reasonably flexible world trade.
Our only hope of a rising standard of living is the restoration of a proper balance of world production. There is a lot of confusion on this subject, not only in this country but overseas. There are many of us, and I am one of them, who believe that the key to the restoration of the balance of world production is the Commonwealth and Empire. Until the Commonwealth and Empire is producing as much as it possibly can, we can never get a proper balance. This must inevitably involve the continuance of some form of preference system and of regional trading arrangements. Any development of the Commonwealth and Empire must move hand in hand with that of the free nations of Western Europe and their overseas dependencies. But may I emphasise that neither of these objectives is an end in itself. That is where there is misunderstanding abroad, particularly in the United States, about our Imperial Preference system. They seem to believe that we want to create trading areas which would exclude them from participation.
It is, I suggest, glaringly obvious that we can only build up the productive resources of the non-dollar area if we get the maximum and closest co-operation from the United States—both the United States Government and the free investments of American investors. If we are to get the best results for Britain, and a rising standard of living for ourselves and the rest of the world—which must be the objective of everyone of us once we are free of immediate difficulties—we must 'use Imperial Preference and regional trading arrangements to get a proper balance. The ultimate objective, however, can only be an overflow into a very flexible system of multilateral trade. I do not think any of these objectives are inconsistent.
348 I earnestly appeal to this Government, which may be in office for a very short time, or for a good time yet, that in all matters relating to Britain's foreign trade it makes certain that there is full and constant consultation with the Governments of the Dominions and, of equal importance, with the Government of the United States. We have, of course, already the elaborate machinery for consultation with the western European democracies. It is no use acting in Britain and then sending explanatory telegrams when action has been taken. I urge that the most serious attention be given to constant international consultations.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Mr. William Elwyn Jones (Conway)
I must ask for that indulgence which the House traditionally accords to those who address it for the first time. My contribution to this Debate relates to a matter which, perhaps, is more modest than those already discussed but which, nevertheless, is of supreme importance to many thousands of people in this country. I refer to the promise contained in the Gracious Speech that legislation will be introduced, on receipt of the report of the appropriate committee, regarding the law of leasehold in this country, and that in due course Ministers will consider what legislation is appropriate to amend the law relating to residential and business premises.
This matter has been canvassed in British politics for nearly 80 years. I recently had occasion to read the address which my illustrious predecessor in this House, David Lloyd George, addressed to the electors of the Caernarvon Boroughs when he first solicited their support in the month of February, 1890. In that address he expressed his belief that the time was ripe for leasehold enfranchisement, and that the law of leaseholds required immediate reform. It appears that this is the first time that the matter has been referred to in the Gracious Speech from the Throne. Therefore it is almost precisely 60 years to the day when David Lloyd George took his seat in this House that the matter has been mentioned in the Gracious Speech. In this matter the Parliamentary mills have been grinding very slowly indeed. In the intervening years the evils of the system have become more evident, and the need for reform has become more clamant.
349 The main argument which used to be advanced in favour of the leasehold system was that it enabled the owner of the land to develop the land in accordance with a definite and preconceived plan, and so avoid sporadic and ill-designed building. With the passing of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, this argument no longer has any validity. Extensive powers to secure proper development are now vested in planning authorities. These powers are quite adequate to protect the amenities of any neighbourhood. Therefore the time is opportune for us to review the matter in the light of the experience of the last few years.
Those who come from large cities, such as Liverpool and Cardiff, are aware of the activities of certain syndicates which are operating in those cities at the moment. These activities have created social and economic evil of some considerable magnitude. These syndicates, having acquired the freehold reversion to the leases, immediately serve notice of dilapidation on the unhappy leaseholder. They call upon him to spend a large sum on repairs and then, as the time of expiration of the lease draws near, very large premiums are extracted in order to secure the renewal of the lease. At the same time a greatly increased ground rent is demanded from the lessee.
Furthermore, when the property actually falls in, the position of the occupier of the premises is very uncertain and precarious. He has no protection under the Rent Restrictions Acts. He can be evicted at any time or can be exploited by extracting from him a large rent. A recent decision by the Court of Appeal indicates how precarious is the tenure of a tenant of a house where the head lease has expired. It appears that, where the ground rent is less than two-thirds of the rateable value of the land, the tenant, whoever he may be, can be evicted from the house. Above all, there is the evil that at the expiration of the lease the owner of the house can lose his property without any kind of compensation. This seems to me to be a base form of expropriation. Legislation regarding residential property requires the urgent attention of this House. It is a major evil. The time is long overdue for its reform.
350 May I touch upon the position of owners of small business premises? They carry on a valuable business and make a very valuable contribution to the commercial life of this country. They are entitled to far greater protection than they are at present receiving under existing legislation. It is well known that the Act passed in Parliament in 1927 is utterly and completely inadequate in order to protect the lessees of business premises. It is notorious that in various parts of the country, and in particular in London, as the leases of business premises expire large sums have been extracted in the form of premiums, and considerable increases in rent occur.
The committee which was appointed in December, 1948, has already issued an interim report on this matter. The promise which is contained in the Gracious Speech is indeed qualified by the statement that action will not be taken until the receipt of the report of this committee. I would, therefore, urge that appropriate action be taken to expedite the proceedings of this committee, because it is important that legislation should be introduced into this House during the present Session of Parliament.
It seems to me that legislation to deal with this grave social problem would be eminently suitable in this present House. It would enable the Liberals to give effect to a reform which they have long desired. It would further enable the Conservative Opposition to give tangible proof of their expressed desire to promote the extension of a property-owning democracy, and it would, above all, remedy an injustice which has brought pain and distress to many thousands of people in this country.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Captain Waterhouse (Leicester, South-East)
It is my privilege, although I feel a newcomer myself after an unfortunate absence of a few years, to congratulate the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. W. E. Jones) who has just made so admirable a maiden speech. He is fortunate in having had in the Gracious Speech from the Throne a reference to a subject of which he has obviously made considerable study, and I know that at a later period the House will listen with great interest to his advice, although we on this side of the House cannot all guarantee in advance to accept all he says.
351 I have listened to several maiden speeches which have been made from both sides of the House in the few days since my return, and they augur well for the Debates of this more equally balanced assembly. In his speech the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay) dealt with the occupants of two benches. I, in my ignorance, had a little difficulty when I first came into the House because I first sat on the third bench and found that I was very near a Liberal boss. Then I moved up nearer to our brave allies and found it was a more overcrowded bench, so I have now come up one bench higher for safety.
The Lord President of the Council charged the Leader of the Opposition with some uncertainty as to whether or not the election had been finished when he made his speech, and it did not seem to me to be a very fair or sensible charge to make because we on this side of the House endeavour to put before the country the same ideas, ideals and criticisms as we put forward in this House. I think it is our duty now to repeat in some measure some of the criticisms that we found it necessary to make during the last three weeks.
The first criticism I want to level against the present Government is that throughout the country as a whole there is unhappily a feeling of doubt and uncertainty today, and that feeling of doubt and uncertainty is in a measure reflected in the even balance of parties in this House. We are enjoying, it is true, a superficial prosperity. Employment is good, wages are fairly high, but no one, whether employer or employed, can look ahead for a few months, much less a few years, with any feeling that the prosperity of today will be with us at that future time. I do not want to be a Jonah, but I do state that I have the honour of sitting for part of a great industrial centre, and there are already undoubted signs in that area that this prosperity of the last four or five years is beginning to wane. Order books are becoming a great deal emptier than they have been for a great many years. Warehouses, both wholesalers' and manufacturers,' are in some directions becoming full. Short time is already being worked in some industries, notably in the boot and shoe 352 trade in Northampton and in parts of Leicester.
All these are unpleasant indications of what, it would appear, must come. I say it must come for one fundamental reason —because our costs are too high and are still rising. As long as costs are rising, markets are bound to be harder to find, and we must remember also that for the last four years we have had in industry the tremendous advantage of being rid of the competition of both Germany and Japan. When right hon. and hon. Members opposite congratulate themselves, as they so constantly do, on having achieved full employment, they rarely remember that our two main competitors in many sections of our trade have not been competing at all during these past years. As they come back into the market that competition will increase. It will be felt largely in the textile trades and it will be felt heavily amongst what are called the general consumer goods markets.
The Government are throwing into the air masses of brightly coloured confetti to try to form a fog through which we cannot see the realities of the situation. The House has already been reminded of a quotation from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I will remind the House of another. The Chancellor said that we had been moving from crisis to crisis by a series of expedients and that every time one expedient was exhausted a crisis arose and a fresh expedient had to be devised. I do not believe the House will feel that that is a basis for any assurance of prosperity in trade. Last autumn, as the House well knows, we had devaluation, which was not mentioned in the Gracious Speech from the Throne and which was scarcely mentioned in the Socialists' own manifesto. The effect of that measure has never been admitted outside this House in any speech that I have read. The effects are twofold and we might as well face them.
First, there is a permanent reduction in the standard of living of the people in this country, and secondly there is a permanent reduction in the savings which were made during, before and after the war at the behest of successive Governments. In my view, and I believe in the view of everyone on this side of the House at least, there is only one thing that can remedy our present position, and that is increased production 353 throughout the whole of the industrial and agricultural sphere.
§ Mr. John Lewis (Bolton, West)
Will the hon. and gallant Member explain how he is able to reconcile his statement of two moments ago that there are not so many orders and that the warehouses are full, with the statement he has just made that the way to solve our problems is to get increased production?
§ Captain Waterhouse
There is nothing more simple in the world, because if we can increase production per pair of hands per week, we can get down our costs and get back our markets. I suggest that His Majesty's Government and their supporters have removed the urgency to work in this country, and they have done it in several ways. First, they have done it by taxation on a penal scale—by direct taxation which is affecting directly the will to work extra time, the will to gain more in piece-work and the will to work overtime. Secondly, they have done it indirectly, notably by the Purchase Tax which, again, works in various ways.
One point which right hon. Gentlemen opposite should bear in mind, because it is very much up their street or up the street in which they pretend to be walking, is that Purchase Tax today is curtailing the experimental stage in industry. The difficulty of selling better-class goods and new classes of goods is increasing the whole time. Unless we have a home market for these goods, there is no chance of their being tried out and unless they are tried out at home there is no chance of our entering markets abroad with them. In the past British trade has been based upon these new methods and new styles. It would be a very great pity if, because the Government had not properly considered methods of remodelling their tax, we were to fail in removing what is proving to be a great hampering factor in at least one of our great industries, the textile industry.
I accuse the Government of spreading doubts and dissensions between employees and employed. I saw only one suggestion in the manifesto and that was the formation of industrial councils. Industrial councils may be successful enough if they can be introduced by agreement between the two sides, but when they are forced unwillingly upon one side or the other, the obvious thought in the mind of the 354 opposing side, if it be the employers, the instance, is that there is believed to be something inefficient in the management. Can any hon. Member opposite imagine a worse start for an increased effort in any works than for the idea to spread that the Government are of the opinion that the management is bad or faulty and should be modified or turned out?
The Government have never tired of denouncing profits, but what is a profit? Surely a profit is a premium earned by efficiency, and hon. Members on that side of the House, as well as my hon. Friends, know full well that profits are not so easily earned when one gets into business and tries to earn them. It is much easier to make a loss than to make a profit in any industry, and that is not confined to private enterprise. I suggest that a wise Government would praise and commend and would not condemn those who are trying to make profits. After all, profits and the taxation of profits are earning the money on which the whole of our social services depend to a very large extent. Profits are earning the money on which all industrial development must depend, and on industrial development depends the employment of our people in future years.
What nonsense it is for any Government which stands before the nation as one appealing for a greater effort by all concerned, to condemn one section of the people because it is earning a profit which is for the general as well as the particular benefit. Possibly worst of all is the fiction of what hon. Members opposite, and especially the Prime Minister, call the welfare state. We have heard a very great deal of the welfare state during this last election. I say it is a fiction because it is based on foreign dole and, therefore, it is very difficult to see how any welfare can arise from it. It is very hard to understand, moreover, how any state with a housing shortage such as ours could possibly be called a welfare state.
It is even worse than that. The expression "welfare State" is very closely allied to Mr. Lloyd George's expression after the First World War—" Homes for heroes to live in." It was a grand expression, but a very disastrous one. It set the wrong tempo to the whole nation then, just as this new expression is setting it to the nation now. We do not want "homes for heroes to live in." We do not 355 want a "welfare State." If we do want to coin an expression, let us say that we want "a land for warriors to work in." —[Interruption.] I heard the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. J. Lewis) interrupt and I remember what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday—any chance word which might be dropped will be taken up and twisted. I will, therefore, go back to what I was saying so that it cannot be twisted.
§ Captain Waterhouse
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) for giving me that useful piece of information. What we need is a new urgency in the whole of our life and a new spirit of endeavour throughout the whole country, a real will for everybody in industry and in agriculture to be up and doing, to get down to the job and get on with the job, to do it quickly, to work hard and not to imagine, as hon. Members opposite do imagine, that we are happily living in a leisured welfare state.
Immediately I came back to the House on Tuesday for the first time for five years, I noticed that in the yard there was a row of six or eight or ten great cars, each one with a chauffeur waiting to carry right hon. Gentlemen in state back to their offices. [An HON. MEMBER: "That happened before the wan"] That is entirely new; hon. Members opposite are quite wrong, for no such thing ever happened before the war. It is a bad example to the country that these cars should be standing there for hours, each with a chauffeur waiting to take a right hon. Gentleman a few yards across the road, at a time when an appeal is being made for greater and greater production and more urgent work.
§ Mr. J. Lewis
As the hon. Member has accused the Government of wasting money by having essential vehicles to take them from the House of Commons to their offices, will he say whether he himself has a chauffeur and a car to convey him to his office?
§ Captain Waterhouse
Unhappily I am not in the position of having a chauffeur 356 and I have not even a car in London. I am quite content to take a bus.
§ Captain Waterhouse
The hon. Member has had two or three chances. I cannot give way to him again.
Let me go back to the experience we have had in the last two or three weeks. Let me take another example of this same easy, leisured feeling which pervades the country. I think many hon. Members on this side of the House, and possibly on that side, too, will agree with me in what I am going to say about the counting of our votes after the election. I know that in some cases it took six or seven hours to count the votes. In my own constituency the results were always out on the night of the poll. Last time there were results which were not known until five o'clock or six o'clock the next day. But what was the result of that? The result was that several hundreds of people were doing nothing for the whole of 24 hours. It may not matter at all, but it is a sign of the times. It is a sign of the way we are going. It is a thoroughly bad sign, and it is a sign that ought to be eradicated.
I know workshops where production is 20 per cent. and 30 per cent. less per man per week than it was before the war.
§ Captain Waterhouse
I am not in the habit of getting up and telling lies. I am speaking of what I know. I am not saying that all workshops are that way. If the hon. Member had listened, he would have heard me say that I know workshops that are that way—that is the absolute truth. They are workshops, too —the ones I have in mind—that employ 400 or 500 or 600 men, which I call extremely efficient units, and workshops that have spent considerable sums in refurnishing themselves with new machinery even since the war.
§ Captain Waterhouse
No. I told the hon. Member that these factories are not in Leicester. Therefore, I am sorry to deprive him of a rather cheap political point. Hon. Members opposite, perhaps, will not challenge their own Girdwood Committee's Report on housing, which very clearly stated that, far from there being any increase in the production of houses, there has been a very marked decline in the production of houses per bricklayer.
§ Captain Waterhouse
Hon. Members opposite will not like to hear it, but let me remind them that the miners of this country are producing 20 tons of deep mined coal less per miner than they were before the war.
§ Captain Waterhouse
I am not giving reasons; I am not apportioning blame—except only to blame the Government for the spirit they have evoked in the country. I am not blaming the miners. I am not blaming the workpeople. I am blaming hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite for the fact that they have induced a lackadaisical, leisurely feeling in the country.
§ Sir Richard Acland (Kent, Gravesend)
Do the Opposition take no blame for four and a half years of propaganda telling the country it had no real reason for having any difficulties at all?
§ Captain Waterhouse
If the Opposition had involved themselves in such propaganda, they would have been very greatly to blame, but I myself have been working on the lines of communication, helping my hon.. Friends who were Members of this House, and I know that the case has been the very opposite. During those four,and a half years they have been telling the people the exact opposite, pointing out—
§ Captain Waterhouse
During the whole four and a half years they have been pointing out to hon. Members opposite that our position, far from improving, was getting worse; and when they did so 358 point it out, hon. Members opposite accused them, saying, "Are you disparaging our country?" What nonsense. We are disparaging nothing at all—except the Government.
I do not want to take up much more of your time, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. [HON. MEMBERS: "Go on."] I could quite easily, if it were really desired. I could go on quite nicely. However, I close by listing one or two things that might be done by this Government if they really wanted to earn the title of a Government worthy of Britain after two great victories.
The first thing is that they had better start at the top with rigorous economies. Let them start with Ministers themselves in such directions as I have indicated. Let Ministers themselves go through their own Departments with a fine tooth comb to see what they can cut out and how much they can save of the nation's money. Let them even take the advice of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) who, like me, had the advantage once of being in the Board of Trade, and, in his words, "Comb the Departments. Abolish some of the Departments and combine others." Those are the words of one of the Government's supporters. Let them take that advice, and then they can begin to talk to the country about industrial improvement and increased activity.
Most important of all, I urge them to stop their class and sectional strife; to stop the whole-time blackguarding of the employers; to stop the whole-time disparaging of the managements. Let them do that. Let them first put their own house in order. Let them go along that Front Bench and make quite certain that everybody there puts Britain before Russia. If they do not like that, let them make sure that everybody on that bench puts common sense before Communism. When they have done those things, then let them turn to the country and o make an appeal for increased production, and I believe the country will turn again, as it has done in the past, and realise its difficulties, and will rise again, like a strong man from his sleep.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
I also crave the indulgence of 359 this House, especially after the experience of the last quarter of an hour. I am a new Member here, and represent Falmouth and Camborne in Cornwall. It has not been customary in this century to see Cornishmen representing Cornish constituencies. Nor, I think, has it been usual before this century for a child of workingclass parents to become a Member of Parliament. That has been my great privilege, and although, perhaps, I am not a pioneer in that respect, at least I am one from the "Delectable Duchy." I am very conscious that in this House there have been very illustrious Cornishmen in the past. I cannot hope to emulate their political prowess, but I shall try to emulate their sincerity.
My constituency contains many varied interests, apart from containing some of the loveliest parts of Britain. We have in our area one of the oldest industries of the country, tin mining. Tin mining has declined during this century until only two mines are left, and I therefore hope that the Ministers concerned will give earnest consideration to whatever proposals may be brought forward for reviving that industry, and also for providing good working conditions in the mines themselves. Allied to the tin mining industry there is the School of Metalliferous Mining of Camborne, which sends mining engineers the world over, and we have also in Camborne-Redruth industries allied to mining production, whose products are largely for export.
In Falmouth we have an important ship repairing industry, and I hope that whatever committee may be considering the future of ship repairing will bear in mind that Falmouth is as important in peace-time as in war-time. During the inter-war years, we had very severe unemployment in our area, so much so that the small industrial centre of Camborne-Redruth, with a population of 35,000, had an unemployment figure at one time exceeding 50 per cent. and was one of the 12 most distressed areas in this country. In Falmouth, in Penryn, and in Hayle they also had severe unemployment. We hope, therefore, that the Government will take measures to ensure that such terrible unemployment will never again return to our area.
360 We are grateful to the President of the Board of Trade and to his predecessor for all that they have done to direct new light industries to our constituency. They have done much to absorb the unemployed, but even so we still have a figure of unemployment much higher than the average for the country, and we trust that every effort will be made to see that other industries are directed to us to absorb the whole of our unemployed people. I should also like to say that we have a Remploy factory that has given new hope to men who have been disabled and unemployed for many years.
I welcome the statement in the Gracious Speech that the Government will take all steps to see that full employment is maintained. We need it so much in our area. I should also say that one of our most important industries is agriculture and horticulture, and we hope that the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Food will do all that is possible to help not only the production of vegetables vital to the country—broccoli and new potatoes—but also assist marketing and grading schemes and afford some protection against unfair foreign imports, always provided, of course, that the interests of the consumer are protected.
If I may end on a personal note, I would say that of the four great freedoms, freedom from want has been the one primary object of my life, and I hope that this Parliament will do all in its power to secure this freedom for all our people.
§ 6.14. p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Corbett (Ludlow)
My first duty is to congratulate the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) on his successful maiden speech. I hope that we shall hear much more from him in the future about the doings of Cornwall and the horticultural industry. I am sure that his contributions will be very valuable to our Debates.
I want to follow the rural ramble which was started by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture. He spoke with great pride of the achievements of the present Government in the field of agriculture. It is true that considerable improvements have been made in farming during recent years and, of course, during the war. It is only 361 natural that agriculture should flourish and that farmers should do well while the whole of our vast industrial population are walking the streets with their ration books in their pockets. It requires no special effort of the Minister of Agriculture to persuade farmers to grow food when everyone wants all that they can buy.
The real test of the ability of the Minister of Agriculture comes when he has to sustain prices and provide a market for the produce of our land. That time has not occurred up to now, except in a few cases; and, as we have just heard from the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne, the horticultural industry is one of those which has had difficult times during recent years. Indeed, where the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Agriculture could have helped by providing a market for produce, they have done nothing to protect our farmers from imports from foreign countries. Where they have had the opportunity of proving their worth, they have been found wanting.
The agricultural industry has always suffered from a policy of Liberal free trade, and indeed from the policy of the party opposite which has invariably demanded unrestricted imports of cheap food. My right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) has already told the House that we are prepared to argue the case for agriculture during any era. The Conservative Party have always stood for protection, and have always done their best for the agricultural industry in that respect against fearsome odds in past years.
§ Mr. Daines (East Ham, North)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has told us how the Liberal Party's policy failed and how the Labour Party's policy failed. Will he explain to us how the Conservative Party's policy succeeded before the war in agriculture?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Corbett
It is a pity that the hon. Gentleman was not in his place when my right hon. Friend was addressing the House. I will certainly tell him. I will repeat at his request, Mr. Speaker, a very few points in which the Conservative Party's policy helped the agricultural industry in the inter-war years. I noticed that during the election speeches were made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer 362 saying that nothing was done, or using words to the effect that nothing was done, to help the farmers by Tory Ministers of Agriculture during those years, and the Attorney-General and others were quoted in "The Times," I think, on 17th February as saying that farmers were now well off because of the policy of assured markets and fixed prices.
If we look into those inter-war years, Members will remember that considerable steps were taken not only to provide protection by the Import Duties Acts and the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1932, but also to give an assured market to our farmers in pre-war days. There was, for instance, the Wheat Act, the Sugar Beet Corporation and the Milk Marketing Board, all of which provided the farmers with agreed prices and helped considerably to give security to the industry. In fact, during the six or seven years immediately preceding the last war, the agricultural industry recovered considerably. We have also been given to understand, all too often, that the present system of marketing was introduced by the Socialist Government, when in fact it was brought into existence during the war.
Mr. T. Williams
Surely the hon. and gallant Gentleman must know that, not only the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) but the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler), and in fact all the Members on the Opposition Front Bench who were in opposition in 1931, voted against the Agricultural Marketing Act when it was in Committee upstairs.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Corbett
The present system of the price schedule was introduced during the war, and not by the Minister now in charge of our agricultural affairs. That is what I was referring to in that instance.
There are one or two points about agricultural policy which have been brought to my attention during the election, on which I should like to remark. First, there is a universal demand for greater opportunity to get a farm. I find a great many young men, in all sorts of walks of life, who are anxious to enter the industry, and it would be interesting if the Minister would tell us something about the progress of his smallholdings' scheme. I do not think that many new 363 opportunities have been given through that scheme up to the present time.
It is also a matter for consideration whether the increased security of tenure given by the 1947 Act has not proved to be a two-edged sword. There is no doubt at all that farms become available less frequently to newcomers who wish to enter the industry; and in some cases farms that do become available are let as additional holdings to landlords' existing tenants, or may even be farmed by landlords themselves, owing to the fact that they may not be satisfied that they can find the ideal men whom they are prepared to take on as tenants for life under the principle of increased security. As a result of this, there has been a considerable increase in the price of those holdings which come on the market with vacant possession, making it more difficult for newcomers to buy their own farms and to start up as owner-occupiers.
In the Gracious Speech we are promised some steps for the improvement of marginal land, and I hope the Minister will produce some scheme and give effect to it in the near future. Many of us on this side of the House have for the last three or four years been demanding some such scheme to assist production from such land, but nothing has happened. I hope the Minister will also give us a review of the effect of the Hill Farming Act, because as far as one can discover very little has been done to give effect to that Act up to date.
There are many aspects of the marginal land problem which I do not wish to deal with this evening, because they are subjects of their own. However, I ask the Minister to bear in mind that his present policy of making farmers more and more self-supporting, and encouraging them to provide their own feedingstuffs, is not necessarily applicable to marginal land. There are many farms on the hills and in the dales of my part of the world, and indeed of Wales, where corn growing, for instance, is, if not impossible, at least unprofitable; the climate and geographical conditions are unsuitable, and farms in such areas require a better share of feedingstuffs in order to assist them in the increased production of livestock. I cannot help feeling that it is now time that the Minister considered the abolition of rationing of home-grown feedingstuffs 364 —cereals at any rate. There are vast corn-growing areas in other parts of England where farmers do not keep livestock to the same extent that they could do in the hills where the production of cereals is difficult, if not impossible.
There are many other ways in which farmers in the marginal areas could be assisted. Above all, they require electricity and water. Some time ago in this House we had an Adjournment Debate on the subject of electricity, when the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power, who is now in his place, informed us that an inquiry was being held into the installation costs and the system of the spread of electricity. If any benefit could have been derived from nationalisation, the greatest boon would have been some system by which electricity was taken to distant regions without heavy installation costs. As it is, farmers now hope and even expect that in due course, as a result of nationalisation, they may get the grid brought to their land at a reduced price; but in effect since nationalisation installation charges and guarantees of current consumption have been increased. It is high time that further consideration was given to this problem, and that people were told quite definitely where they stand, so that they will no longer be kept waiting, wondering what will be the outcome of the inquiry.
Water is also greatly needed in many of our rural areas to help the production of good clean milk and the spread of attested herds. The Government promise to take action to spread water through rural areas, but there is already perfectly good legislation on the Statute Book to which no effect has been given during the last four and a half years. Perhaps the Minister will say when he really does propose to take steps to start water schemes in rural areas. To my knowledge in Shropshire they have been prepared and ready to be put into effect for the past two or three years, but no money or manpower has been allowed to be expended.
The Minister may rest assured that the farmers will produce the extra food required provided they are given the opportunity to do so. The Debate yesterday disclosed considerable increases in certain spheres. For instance, the number of poultry now kept in this country has increased above the pre-war level, whereas 365 the number of pigs lags behind. The Minister's method of adjusting the balance of agriculture should be through the price review, and I hope that he will give up the system of exhortation, backed by the threat of cropping orders, to which we became so accustomed in the last Parliament, and will rely entirely upon price incentives. His motto for the future should be "Price, not propaganda." I am quite certain that if the farmers are given encouragement and a lead, and if the Minister takes prices for his motto instead of propaganda, he will soon see the targets he has set achieved.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Major Wise (King's Lynn)
I am glad to have this opportunity to intervene in this Debate and to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Ludlow (Lieut.-Colonel Corbett). I want to take up the hon. and gallant Member on one or two of his points, and I am quite certain, as we are old friends, he will know that I do so in a kindly way. I want to call the attention of the Opposition to the fact that in a section of Norfolk, a highly important area, there are still three Labour Members, which says much for the success of our agricultural policy in that area.
Let us first take the question of water. If the hon. and gallant Member would go to my constituency, he would find that there are many miles of country roads already excavated, with the pipes laid, and several of our villages are now obtaining the water which has been promised for generations past. The water is there, and it is going to the farms and villages.
Let us turn now to electricity. The hon. and gallant Member spoke of the cost of installing electricity. Many years ago I happened to be living two miles from a village where electricity was laid on. I asked the privately-owned electricity company how much they would charge to bring electricity to my farm and house. I received a quotation of £600 per mile; it was a pretty costly business. Needless to say, I did not have electricity laid on, but put in my own plant at about £200 or £300. That is the difference between the costs of today and the costs some 10 or 12 years ago. It is a fact that more electricity could be supplied to farms if the farmers would use electrical power on the farms and not just for their household lighting.
366 I want to come to grips with Members opposite on the agricultural position generally. They are claiming that the present position is due to their efforts. I can say, as one of a small group of Socialist farmers, that over 20 years ago we were speaking in our election addresses of the policy we have now adopted. That was long before the Tories ever thought about it. We were years ahead of them in our agricultural views and knowledge. I am one of the few farmers on this side of the House who was farming between the wars. I know the position between the wars, and I do not need the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler), or anyone else, to come along and give me the figures to show what was happening. I know from experience. In spite of the claims of the Tory Party, we farmers in those interwar years did not know from day to day what we would get for our produce or where were our markets. In spite of the Corn Production Act, wheat quotas and acreage penalties imposed by the Tory Government, we farmers were in a pretty sorry position. But that is not now the case. I am happy to say that, having farmed through the lean inter-war years under a Tory administration, through the war years, and after farming for five years under a Labour Administration, I was able to retire last Michaelmas. I could not have done that in the pre-war years, when things were totally different. I say to the farmers of Britain that they can now go on from prosperity to prosperity.
The right hon. Gentleman also spoke about housing. Some few hours ago I was passing through part of his constituency and I saw those pre-war houses. They were not council houses, nor comfortable houses for people to live in, but a series of little bungalows along the roadside. That is how the Tory Party account for the large building schemes they suggest were in operation between the wars.
§ Major Wise
They were all built for private occupation.
I will now turn to another matter in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman which I deplored. He spoke about the shortage of bread grains and linseed. He was really condemning his own people, 367 the farmers. There was a request from the Government that we should increase these acreages, and to say that such has not been the case is a criticism of the farmers of the country, irrespective of weather uncertainties.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Corbett
Surely the hon. and gallant Member is bearing out what I said? I was complaining that there was no price emphasis to encourage these crops. Up to now it has paid more to grow barley than wheat, and it is only this year and last year that the emphasis has been put on wheat. The Minister can now be sure that he will get his wheat.
§ Major Wise
That is not the case. I have argued before in the House that the price of wheat should go up and be married to the price of barley. That has happened, and there has been an incentive to grow wheat and linseed. That is because a reasonable price has been fixed.
I should also like to say a few kindly words to the Minister. It is obvious from the experiences of the last few weeks that we have got to turn our attention to horticulture in the same way as in the past we turned our attention to ordinary agricultural production. I hope that before much longer we shall be able to assure the horticulturists of Britain that, in conjunction with the consumers, they will have a fair crack of the whip. Horticulturists have had four years in which to put their house in order. I believe schemes have been invited from them, and only today, talking to a horticulturist in the train, I discovered that the tomato and cucumber scheme, which was initiated about two years ago as a national marketing scheme, has, in his own words, "died a natural death." On this side of the House we invite the horticulturists of Britain to get together, and if they do I am certain the Government will support any scheme which they produce.
§ Lord Dunglass (Lanark)
As a matter of fact, I do not think it is true to say that the marketing scheme has died a natural death, for it is still being considered by the Minister. Could the Minister tell us what the position is? It is rather important.
§ Major Wise
I will leave that to the Minister. This horticulturist told me that, 368 so far as he understood the position, the scheme had died a natural death, but it is likely to be revived and if the horticulturists are to operate it, it is all to the good. I am certain the Government will support them.
I should like to mention the question of smallholdings and allotments. In my division and in other marsh lands we are concerned with the situation that the smallholding scheme under the Agriculture Act, 1947, provides only for full-time small holdings. In a rich marsh land it is possible for a man who has been connected with agriculture or horticulture to get a very reasonable living on a small area without a house and buildings. Could the Minister enlighten me as to whether there is to be any curtailment whatever in regard to smallholdings in the richer areas of Britain and in the marsh land and fen country, and if it will be possible for the man who lives at home and profitably works from four to five acres of land to be included? It is an important point in the fen country, and I hope there will be no curtailment of a particular scheme whether it is a smallholding scheme or a scheme relative to allotments.
I should like to conclude on this point: in this House we are inclined to pay too much attention to the farmers. We are always considering how farmers can secure prices or markets and increase efficiency and productivity. In doing that we are creating a situation in the countryside which is detrimental to the industry. I want the House to look in full measure to the position of the agricultural worker. By and large, he is the main producer in this country, and by co-operation and collaboration between the Ministries we shall be able not only to improve the condition of the workers, their rations, their cottages and other standards of life which are very material to them, and which must matter so much, but also the productive efforts of this country. I am essentially a countryman, and I have lived all my life in the country. I farmed for a great number of years, and I am concerned that the people of the countryside should have a fair deal in every respect.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Duthie (Banff)
I should like to touch upon a consideration affecting food production, namely, the question of oats.
369 Oats are grown very largely in the north, because we are circumscribed by nature to grow two cereal crops only, barley and oats, and I should like the House to realise what has been happening to an industry which is absolutely essential to successful food growing in this country. I refer to the oatmeal milling industry. I suggest that the Government's attitude and action in connection with that industry are a complete negation of planning. I accuse the Government of more or less throwing that industry to the wolves.
As far as my information goes the position is—and I speak with a certain amount of knowledge because it fell to my lot to be engaged in the Ministry of Food in a somewhat senior administrative capacity during the war—that at the beginning of the war we made an appeal, through the Minister of Food, to the oatmeal millers to increase their production to the greatest possible extent. Facilities were put in their way to enable them to increase the capacity of their plants by acquiring machinery and extending their buildings. They responded splendidly, and by the end of the war the output from our oatmeal mills was double that of 1939.
In that appeal there was implicit the undertaking that the oatmeal millers could look to markets for their output being assured when the war was ended. Soon after the war ended the Ministry of Food, with the compliance of the Ministry of Agriculture, started to juggle about with oatmeal. I might mention here that a good market for good quality milling oats is essential to Scottish agriculture on a long-term basis. There was implicit in that request to the oatmeal millers a promise that their product would be looked after when the war was over.
Shortly after the cessation of hostilities oatmeal was put on points, with the result that sales dropped. We on this side of the House prayed unsuccessfully against that Order, but on account of the agitation that was occasioned in the Scottish N.F.U., the points were removed and oatmeal again had a free market. Suddenly, the subsidy was taken off, and oatmeal rocketed to twice the former price and practically to twice the price of subsidised wheat flour. The result has been that the sale of oatmeal as a house- 370 hold commodity for human consumption south of the Border has practically ceased. In the south of Scotland it is less than one-third of the normal, and even in areas in the north of Scotland, where large quantites of oatmeal are normally consumed, consumption is less than half. Many housewives in my own constituency, as well as in neighbouring constituencies, are unable, on account of the price, to buy all the oatmeal which their families require.
I strongly urge the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Agriculture to have a look at this situation, because I look upon this cereal crop, which is of high nutritional value, as a most important agricultural product in Scotland. Remembering the experience which I had myself during the war years, when we made an appeal for an increased quantity of this farinaceous product, I say that it would be the cheapest kind of national insurance to restore the subsidy to oatmeal and bring down the price to that of the price of subsidised flour. We cannot afford to be without readily available supplies of oatmeal. The restoration of the subsidy would be the cheapest kind of national insurance of national safety. In the interests of those whom I represent, and in the interests of Scottish agriculture, I commend that suggestion, right from my heart, to the Minister of Agriculture.
During the Debate today we have heard of nothing but agriculture. Any casual visitor to the House might be astonished to learn that the Minister of Agriculture is also the Minister of Fisheries. The reference to the fishing industry in the Gracious Speech merely speaks of a Bill to provide better accommodation at sea for the crews of trawlers. That may be a very commendable thing, but it is slurring over the risks and dangers which imperil the fishing industry at present. I would almost go as far as to say that the reference in the Gracious Speech to fishing is a somewhat light-hearted allusion to that industry. We are up against the problem of over-fishing. For long distance trawlers, such as those proceeding to the White Sea, the Faroe Islands and Iceland, the situation is reasonable, but that is not so with the middle distance, men who go only as far afield as the Faroes or like distances for about 10 days or so. Then there are the weekly trawlers who fish from Monday to Friday night. Those are not paying their way today.
371 The seine net boats, and vessels who operate a baited line, are suffering very great hardships today. That is all entirely due to over-fishing. As one who represents the fishing industry, and is talking of an industry in which he was born and brought up, I have been almost filled with despair at the lack of sympathetic action on the part of the Government during the last five years. There is an international convention for the regulation of fishing methods in waters which are common to the fishing countries of Europe, but nothing is being done about it because some of the countries will not sign the convention or are not prepared to ratify it after they have signed it. We must have control of the size of mesh that is being used to catch fish. Otherwise, the entire fish population of the North Sea will disappear. That must be done urgently, and I plead with the Minister of Agriculture to take a lead in having that convention put into effect in all waters. We must have, concurrently with the establishment of the provisions of that convention, international policing of the fishing grounds. It should be possible when any vessel, irrespective of its nationality, is in our domestic waters, or when one of our vessels is in Norwegian or Icelandic waters, for a fishery cruiser to have the right to examine the gear and the methods by which the fishing is being carried on. Without that right we are absolutely selling the pass.
I am sure that many hon. Members do not appreciate the tremendous paradox and anomaly that exists in connection with fishing in our domestic waters by foreign vessels. This is not a new problem; it is one that has been shelved by various Governments for the last 50 years in this House. It is a problem which has become more pressing than ever in recent years. it concerns nothing less than the right of foreign trawlers to fish in our own territorial waters. There are two areas in Scotland which are regarded as the chief territorial fishing waters in the British Isles. That happens on account of the shape and partially land-locked formation. One is the Moray Firth and the other is the Firth of Clyde. For something like 75 years it has been illegal for any trawler to fish in those waters. That has been the law. In 1902 a Danish vessel was caught red-handed in the 372 Moray Firth. It was ordered to port and was "had up." A conviction on summary jurisdiction was obtained. The skipper was fined £100 and the gear was confiscated. On account of some squeamishness here the Foreign Secretary had that conviction quashed and the fine refunded. Since that time foreign trawlers have been able to come into our territorial waters and scoop up the fish while our own trawlers are excluded. A fishery cruiser can pounce upon a British fishing vessel in those waters while foreign vessels can fish there with impunity.
Through the agency of the Inshore Fishing Industry Act and the Herring Industry Act we have a large fleet of a new type of dual purpose vessel which operates a seine net during the white fishing season and herring nets during the herring season. The cod season is just finishing. It lasts from about the beginning of January until the first week in March. Our seine net boats have been getting good markings of cod. That means that they have spotted cod shoals and have put down their marks. When they started to fish the marks foreign trawlers were immediately on the scene, scooping the fish up. What is worse is that the foreign trawlers had been destroying the gear of our own men in the process. At the end of the last Parliament I put two cases of this kind in the hands of the Secretary of State for Scotland. Two of our fishing vessels were operating around their own marks in the Moray Firth when two Belgian trawlers came along. Our men signalled to the Belgians that they were working, but the Belgians paid no attention. The Belgians trawled across our vessels, dragged up their nets and with hatchets hacked the gear of our men away from their trawls. That was a barefaced act of contravention of the rules of courtesy of the sea, a deliberate act of sabotage in our domestic waters by trawlers which had no right to be there.
This is an extremely serious matter at any time, and it is more serious now than ever before. The fishing shoals are becoming depleted and our vessels, which represent the entire belongings of our fishermen and the livelihood of our seaboard, are being imperilled by foreigners around our own coasts. If ever there was a time when a strong line should be taken it is now. I entreat the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries to use his 373 best offices in having something done in this matter of the serious encroachment of foreigners. We have a three-mile limit in operation in the North Sea, which has been established for generations. Within that limit young fish ought to have an opportunity to come to maturity. Some of our smaller Seine net vessels are obliged, through grim circumstances, to break the three-mile limit if they are to make any kind of living at all. If the foreign trawler menace were removed from our territorial waters our men would be able to make a livelihood in waters which are theirs by right.
I will touch on the herring industry, which requires the most indulgent treatment by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and by his colleague the Secretary of State for Scotland. We have a good instrument in the Herring Board, but that Board must be given more power. It must be given complete power in the marketing of herring in all markets. At present, it is responsible for the export of herring, but the domestic market is reserved for the Ministry of Food. That is the worst kind of anachronism. The entire selling end should be in the hands of the Herring Board, and I sincerely trust that this matter will be put right in the relatively near future.
The Government are missing a glorious opportunity to create a home industry which would be not only a great national food asset but a first line of defence in the event of any emergency. I refer to the production of edible oil from herring. At present o we are playing with this matter. Yet incalculable possibilities are there if the Government would be prepared to go forward. I am not being critical of any attempt of the Government which has misfired for the moment when I say that if only one-tenth of the money invested in the East African groundnut venture had been channelled into the herring industry for the provision of herring oil, we could have had first-rate factories operating in our herring ports giving employment to many people, and we would have been assured of an abundance of first quality edible oil. The Norwegians are using herring oil almost solely for domestic purposes. Why cannot we do the same? Moreover, should 374 an emergency arise, here is an oil producing industry of our own which would be completely independent of overseas transport.
I believe there will be an opportunity on another occasion to talk of rising costs in the industry, but before I sit down there is one point of major importance I must mention if our fishing industry in the North is to survive on a comparative basis with the fishing industries of the Shields, Hull, Grimsby, and so on. I refer to the flat rate for fish transport which, I understand, may be taken away. If the flat rate for fish transport is abolished and fish from Scottish ports has to stand in addition, the 163 per cent. increase in freight rates, then the inshore fishermen and trawler men operating from Aberdeen and the other Scottish ports may well be dealt a death blow. I know it will be a death blow so far as the inshore fishermen of the Moray Firth are concerned. It will also be a death blow for the inshore fishermen operating in the West Coast of Scotland.
I have indicated those matters which I consider to be of primary importance with regard to food production in the fields with which I am intimate—oatmeal and the fishing industry. The points which I have put before the Minister demand immediate action, and I trust that it will be forthcoming.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Reid (Swindon)
I do not intend to follow previous speakers on agriculture, though I listened with great pleasure to the speech of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who brought us back to reality and, by facts and figures, enabled us to realise what a splendid job has been done by the Ministry of Agriculture since 1945. I shall speak about another subject which has been much under discussion in this Debate, housing. Hon. Members on all sides are aware that there is still a great demand for houses, but from some of the speeches and the propaganda going around the country one would imagine that the Labour Government had gone to sleep over housing for the last four and a half years.
§ Mr. Reid
The hon. Member says "Hear, hear" but I will now give the 375 House the cold facts, in imitation of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary.
The Coalition Government estimated that when 750,000 new houses had been built the back of the housing problem would have been broken. That turned out to be a quite erroneous presumption. Yet the propaganda going around the country compares housing carried out 12 or 15 years after the First World War with the housing carried out in the four and a half years immediately after the Second World War. Of course, there is a complete fallacy there. At the end of a war there is chaos and bankruptcy, shortage of materials and dislocation of industry, which makes it impossible even to start building houses for a considerable time. Hon. Members know that quite well. In fact, the Leader of the Opposition said that at the end of the last war we would be bankrupt and returning soldiers would have little to come home to.
Let us, then, compare like with like; compare what was done after the First World War by hon. Members opposite and what was done after the Second World War. Then we shall get down to cold realities and' facts, which are what the electorate love. In the 11 months after the First World War the noble sum of 124 houses was built. In 15 months, 715 houses were built. In the four years after the First World War the total number of houses built in England and Wales was about 210,000.
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to ask a question? He said that we should compare like with like. Does he wish the House to believe that local authorities in 1918 and 1919 had the same experience in house building as they had in 1945?
§ Mr. Reid
That is a foolish question. I can assure the hon. Member that housing authorities after the First World War knew well how to build houses and had ample experience, but there was no Government scheme for building houses such as we had after this war. I will go back to the figures I was quoting. In the four years after the Second World War better and bigger houses were built to the tune of 683,000. What a contrast! In the four and a half years after this last war, 994,000 new homes were built. In addition, about 700,000 which were bomb- 376 damaged were repaired. In the town of Swindon, which I have the honour to represent, to date 1,000 houses have been built. In fact, when one compares the two periods, the amount of housing carried out after the last world war was about five times as great as that achieved after the first. These are facts which cannot be controverted. The Labour Government have established a magnificent record in their housing programme since 1945, and well hon. Members opposite know it.
On the other hand, in our election programme of 1945 we stated that other things besides houses had to be built—factories, schools, shipping, and various other things. The point I want to stress is that after the last war a totally different approach was made to the problems of housing and of rebuilding our shattered wealth. We have undertaken the task of planning and have concentrated not on houses alone. Had we done so we could have built even more houses, but because materials like timber, steel, cement and other things were in short supply, our requirements have suffered. We have planned and taken control of the industrial life of the country. That is the fundamental difference between the way in which we have tackled our problems and the way in which the Conservatives tackled their problems after the First World War.
Our planning consisted, of course, of a control over capital investment and over the location of industry, and was designed to concentrate on capital investment goods rather than on consumption goods. The magnificent result which has been achieved is that, starting from bankruptcy and ruin in 1945 to rebuild our wealth, over-all production is now 30 per cent. above pre-war. This astonishing result is unparalleled in any other country in Europe which suffered equally with us during the war. I hope that hon. Members opposite will give an authoritative answer to the question which I propose to ask. I have read very carefully the Tory manifestos and will now quote a few sentences from them:We have too much planning and control. We believe that free enterprise is necessary. The Government should act only where the industries themselves are unable to succeed.Then, the Leader of the Opposition has gone round the country openly proclaiming that the Conservatives would set the people free from controls. He has said 377 that over and over again. We on this side say that over-all planning of our financial and economic life is necessary. I want to know what the Opposition have to say on this subject.
We say that the chief cause of having full employment for the last four and a half years was, not American aid, but the fact that our industrial and economic life was planned; that is what we believe implicitly. In America today, where they have 10 acres of land for our one, where they have enormous natural resources which we lack, but where they do not have the same planning of their economic and industrial life, they have mass unemployment, while we have not.
§ Mr. Osborne
The hon. Member says he does not believe that full employment was due to American aid. Does he think, therefore, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Health were wrong and tried deliberately to deceive the country in saying that that was so?
§ Mr. Reid
I am not here to state that my right hon. Friends were either wrong or untrue: they were perfectly candid. What I say is that American aid was not the sole cause of our full employment. I said distinctly that the chief cause of the prevention of unemployment here was economic and industrial planning. I repeat that America, with 10 acres of land to our one, with vast natural resources which we lack and with that great and richest country in the world, has mass unemployment and we have not. The reason is that America has no economic planning or control. Without over-all planning of our economic and industrial life, there is bound to be mass unemployment. I ask any impartial economist to deny that. After all, we are only carrying out what Lord Keynes in his books advocated for years: that is, to keep a balance between consumption goods and capital goods. That is what we have done, and year after year we have devoted something like £2,000 million to the creation of capital goods to build up the wealth of our shattered country.
Whatever might suit America, we in Britain, with very limited national resources and a country which lives precariously on its imports and exports, must plan our economic and industrial 378 life. Do hon. Members opposite really say that if they came into power they would scrap all the planning organisation which we have evolved and set the people free from the [...]irksome economic and financial restrictions and controls involved? My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House yesterday taunted the Opposition with the fact that they will not say whether they are in favour of planning and of the Supplies and Services Act. I asked that question during the election and I press it again now. I challenge hon. Members opposite to say whether or not they favour planning of our financial and economic life and whether they will scrap the Supplies and Services Act—which gives to the Government the necessary powers —when it expires at the end of the year. Hon. Members opposite should give an authoritative and unambiguous statement on this, the fundamental difference between us on economic matters. Why, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said yesterday, the Conservatives will not answer that simple question, I do not know. Is it their intention, if returned to power, to set the people free from economic controls, or was their promise to do so merely a piece of demagogy?
I pass now to another item, which affects me directly. I have the honour to represent a great railway centreSwindon—and am very well acquainted with railway employees of all grades. All these employees, and not merely those in Swindon alone, are very uneasy about their fate should a Conservative Government be returned to power. Hundreds of thousands of people—employees and their wives and families—share this anxiety for their future. I assure hon. Members opposite, if they do not already know it, that in trade union branches and in other places these things are discussed, and discussed very intelligently, by these people, who despise third-rate propaganda.
The Labour Party propose to take over large sections of road transport, to amalgamate road transport with the railways and canals and to have a unified service for the nation. Hon. Members in all parts of the House will know that long before the war this question was investigated by various commissions. The trend of opinion in all their reports 379 was in favour, not necessarily of nationalisation, but of unification of transport. Are hon. Members opposite opposed to the unification of transport, contrary to the views of all those commissions? I hope that in the course of the Debate we shall be given an answer.
In their manifesto the Conservative Party say that they do not like to create discord by de-nationalising industry; yet they propose to incur discord by denationalising road transport. What do they think will happen to the railways if the Labour Party's scheme of amalgamating and unifying transport is discarded? Who will pay for the railways? Is it thought that the railways, either here or in any other country, can pay their way now that there is competition from the roads, canals. and the rest? In practically every country railways have to be subsidised or protected in some way from road transport, which takes away the cream of the traffic and the profits.
Why do the Opposition propose to de-nationalise road transport and yet leave the railways alone, knowing that it means ruin to the railways, and that they cannot pay their way? Is it their intention to hand over the railways lock, stock and barrel, to the taxpayer, and do they think that employees of the railways look forward with any joy to that kind of solution of their problem? Those employees are very uneasy when they realise that if that policy were carried out the railways would be living on the charity of the taxpayer. That is a prospect which holds no attraction whatever for them.
In Conservative propaganda I have read a very remarkable sentence:The Government should only act where industries themselves are unable to succeed.Is that the Tory policy, that as long as an industry can pay its way, whether in the interests of the country or not, it must be left severely alone? Must road transport be left alone because it is lucrative, and must only the railways, a part of transport which is a fit subject for unification, be handed over to the taxpayer because there is no money in them?
The issues I have raised are, in my opinion, fundamental. They were the chief issues in the General Election, as I and other candidates have stated over 380 and over again. I ask the party opposite to favour the House with an authoritative unambiguous and unequivocal statement tonight as to what is their policy. Do they reject the whole system of planning and the irksome controls over our economic and industrial life which planning involves? I also ask how they propose to run the railways after they have de-nationalised road transport, in the very unlikely event of their coming to power again.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Major Sir Thomas Dugdale (Richmond, Yorks)
The hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. T. Reid) will forgive me if I do not follow in detail his arguments on the policy of our party. If he goes to any bookstall he can buy interesting literature on the subject and he will then be better acquainted with our views.
At the outset I ask the Minister of Agriculture, in his capacity as Minister of Fisheries, if he will pay particular note to the speech which was delivered by my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) about the present very serious position of the fishing industry and especially the part of his speech which urged on the Government the necessity of an international convention being reached at the earliest possible moment, although I am well aware that the Minister is not solely responsible for that. It would appear that the great resources of the sea will dry up before many years have past unless some effective action is taken by international agreement. I also draw the attention of the Government to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrewshire (Mr. Maclay) which, I know, impressed the House and the economic arguments he used about the ignorance of our affairs in many parts of the world.
Turning to the main theme of our Debate today, agriculture, I, like many Members in different parts of the House, am very glad that this industry is given such a prominent place in the Gracious Speech, as I know it is agreed on all sides that the importance of this industry to our national economy is very great. In the months and years before us we must not only maintain our present production, but increase it. In view of this agreement, which, I think, exists in all parts of the House, it seemed surprising to hear the remarks which fell from the Lord 381 President of the Council yesterday. My right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler) has dealt most effectively with those remarks, but I assure the House that in my considered view those remarks will be resented by everybody in the country districts, irrespective of the political views they hold. It seemed most unfortunate that he should drag this great industry into the realm of party politics when we on this side of the House have done our utmost to get an agreed working system for the industry. The industry has been brought into the arena but we should get away from the election myths and face the very difficult problems that confront the country at present.
I would add only one further point to those put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden in dealing with the position between the wars. The question was raised by one whose political views are certainly not the political views of my hon. Friends on this side of the House, Sir John Boyd Orr, now Lord Boyd Orr, who, referring to the acute depression of the period 1929–1931, wrote, in February, 1938:In 1930 the drastic fall in the prices of agricultural products called for emergency measures to save the basic industry of the country from collapse. By the rigorous action of the Minister of Agriculture"—who happened to be my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvin-grove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot)—who used every means at his disposal, the crisis was averted and agriculture has become relatively prosperous.I rely on that statement of an entirely independent authority and I hope we may now leave the remarks of the Lord President of the Council—
§ Sir T. Dugdale
It came from "The Times" newspaper of 1st February, 1938. Not only are we agreed upon the importance of our industry and what it can fulfil for the national well-being but, broadly speaking, we are agreed on the method by which we shall proceed. We are agreed that the right method is under the system of guaranteed prices and assured markets based upon an annual price review. I ask the Minister if he really believes that he invented that 382 system? Does he really believe that? If so, he will believe anything. That system was started by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) in conjunction with the present Minister in the war years, when they worked together in the Coalition Government. One of the many reasons why it was a success was because the industry itself was determined to give the best service to the country. Under the guidance of my right hon. Friend, supported by the present Minister, the system came into force and was so successful that, when there was a change of Government in 1945, the present Minister quite rightly continued the system and put it into legislative form. All parties were responsible and no one more than my right hon. Friend who was Minister of Agriculture in the Coalition Government, so I hope we can get out of the mist of electioneering talk and down to the realities of the position.
As negotiations are now in progress for the annual price review, I do not propose to go into the question of prices. I would, however, like to ask the Minister one or two questions, not on prices themselves, but on subjects which are germane to the whole discussion. I hope he will give an assurance that where producer subsidies are abolished the loss of income to the producers will be taken into account in present and future price reviews. It is vitally important that the industry should know. In that connection I should like to draw the attention of the House to the fact that at present a large number of producers, especially small producers, in different parts of the country are becoming extremely embarrassed by the increased cost of production. They are extremely anxious about the future and the future services which they may be able to render, not only to themselves and their own livelihood but to the nation.
I ask the Minister of Agriculture if, during next month, he will think very seriously about the fertiliser subsidy. I have an idea—I do not know whether I am right or not; I hope the Minister may enlighten us on this point—that the announcement that the subsidy on fertilisers was to be dropped was slipped through when everyone was thinking of great national events, just before the approach of the General Election. I feel that the 383 Minister must now consider it to be a mistake. It is not that we on this side of the House are against eliminating these indirect subsidies when and as soon as possible, but I would ask him if he can tell us exactly how much the fertiliser subsidy is costing the Exchequer?
How is it paid? I understood that it is paid not through his Department or the Ministry of Food but through an arrangement between the Board of Trade and the manufacturers. Exactly how much is the sum involved which has to be done away with, as I understand the proposal, in two equal parts, the first part in 1950 and the second, in 1951? This particular loss will fall heaviest upon the small farmer on marginal land, whom all parties are pledged to try and help to increase his production. I agree that every penny of national expenditure is important, but I do not believe that the sum involved in this proposal is anything like so much as is generally believed. I believe that the sum involved is comparatively small.
We are just beginning to see the results of the education of small farmers and farmers on marginal land in the use of fertilisers. There has been a considerable advance in the use of fertilisers in recent years. Farmers throughout the country —I am speaking about small farmers in particular—are gradually learning what results they will get if they use fertilisers in the right way. When they see the results they achieve it encourages them and their neighbours to embark on further extensive use of fertilisers. If at this moment the Government decide to remove this subsidy it will, although I do not believe the sum involved to be very great, increase the cost to the producer, who pays £10 per ton today, to £15 per ton.
There is another way of dealing with the matter. The view could be taken, "Take the subsidy off and "—as I think is agreed on all sides of the House as a general principle—" let us deal with the matter in the annual price review." But if that is done, it is necessary, in order to safeguard the position of the small man and the man on marginal land, to raise the price much higher than is necessary in the case of the big farmer on the good land, because the latter will continue to use fertilisers because he will be able to afford to do so. I urge the Minister 384 to give the House as much information as he can upon this question, and I ask him if he will see if he can do something about it in the very near future.
I suggest to him that the right way to deal with this subsidy would be to defer taking any action until 1952, after which the situation can be reviewed again. Then it might be possible, over a longer period, to eliminate the subsidy. Just before the General Election the Minister started a great campaign which he called "Plough for Plenty." He desires to have another two million acres under tillage by 1952. What will ordinary farmers throughout the country think when they are asked to increase the output from their holdings and their farms, and, just at the moment when they are asked by the Minister to do so, supported, I hope, by the Members of this House and the country, they find the price of their fertilisers increased by anything from 25 to 35 per cent.? I stress that point because I believe it to be of great importance to the industry from the point of view of increased production.
That brings me to the problem of marginal land, which is specifically mentioned in the Gracious Speech. Will the Minister be able this evening to give the House details of his proposals? If not can he say when he will be ready to explain his ideas to us? In his opening speech, the Parliamentary Secretary referred to the careful survey which is necessary before taking any action in this matter. I must remind the House that this careful survey has been going on for years and that we really have not got very far. I hope the Minister will be able to tell us when he will be able to put his suggestions before the House.
I would refer the right hon. Gentleman to the speech which was made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan) on Monday on this subject. I believe that, in the first instance, much can be done on the lines suggested in that speech before large areas of marginal land are dealt with, and that is by dealing with small parcels of such land, thousands of which exist on many farms throughout the country. We on this side of the House still believe that the most effective way of dealing with this admittedly most difficult problem would be to extend the 385 provisions of the Hill Farming Act to include marginal land, and, in order to speed up its effective action, to ease off all the various regulations which at present operate under that Act. By extending the Act to marginal land I believe we will get results more quickly than in any other way. In view of the controversy which raged during the last three weeks I hope the Minister will say whether or not he is determined to nationalise—or that the State shall take over—certain areas of marginal land, as suggested in the election manifesto of his party. We ought to be quite clear on, that point.
I wish to refer to marketing, because I think the tithe has now come when the Government ought to give the fullest possible opportunity to producers to provide the best possible service for consumers. Now that we have reached our target in milk production the Milk Marketing Board should be released from its present restrictions and its full statutory powers restored. The sooner that action is taken the better it will be for the Board, the producers and also the consumers of milk. My right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden mentioned the horticultural section of the industry during his speech. It is vitally important that confidence should be restored to that section of the industry. We on this side of the House are hopeful that the Ministry of Food, which is now under new management, may be able to run on parallel lines with the Ministry of Agriculture.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
But they go in the same direction, and it does not matter if they do not meet so long as they are going in the same direction. Up till now they appear to us to have been pulling in diametrically opposite directions. There has been a great reduction in horticultural output over the last 18 months, and it is vitally important to our country that confidence should be restored to this section of the industry. To ensure that confidence we believe that the horticultural industry must be protected against destructive imports just before and during the time that home crops are ready for the market. That is the only way in which it can be achieved. We shall look 386 forward with interest to the new relationship between the Minister of Food and the Minister of Agriculture, and we hope that the co-operation between them will be close and beneficial to both sections of the industry, and to the country as a whole.
My right hon. Friend spoke about rural water supplies and asked the Minister certain questions, so I shall not dwell upon that, except to say I am certain the House will agree that in modern farming a piped water supply is essential. There is no doubt that during recent years the Government have given a far too low priority to the provision of plant and materials for rural water supplies. The legislation is on the Statute Book, and if it had been acted upon effectively we should have made a much greater advance during this last two or three years than it has been possible to make.
I wish to say a word on the subject of seasonal rations for agricultural workers —a matter which was raised by the hon. and gallant Member for King's Lynn (Major Wise). As we have new management in the Ministry of Food I would like the Minister of Agriculture to consult with his colleague about the method of distribution of extra seasonal rations for farm workers. My hon. Friends have raised this matter both in the form of Questions and also in Debates. My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) raised the matter nearly two years ago, and we had a Debate on it.
It seems wrong that these seasonal rations cannot be drawn by the people who will consume them. I have never understood the argument used against, except that for some extraordinary and unknown reason the T.U.C. are against it; and they told their supporters to keep off the grass. But I have never been able to understand why they should be against it. If additional rations are to be given to those working on the land surely, in the name of commonsense, the people to give them to are those who will consume them. We should not ask the farmer and his wife to draw the rations and cut them up. That is to the great disadvantage of everyone concerned. I ask the Minister to look at the problem again, because I think all sections of the agricultural industry are in favour of this change being made.
387 I cannot close this short Debate on agriculture without saying a word about land use. In the months and years to come we are to have a drive for still greater production from the soil of our country, both in the form of crops and livestock. Yet at the same time as we are doing all we can to increase our production, I think it is true, although it is impossible to get accurate figures, that 50,000 acres a year are being taken away from agriculture and used for other purposes. We on this side of the House maintain that no fertile land should be taken from agricultural production without the fullest inquiry; and in every case, at an early stage, consultation should take place with the county agriculture committees. I press the Minister to pay particular attention to this serious question. What is the use of extensive schemes to increase production when, at the same time, fertile land is taken away from the industry?
That brings me to the question of county committees. I hope the Minister will take an early opportunity of reviewing the work of the county committees. We believe that the county committee system is a good one, provided that the services of the best possible people can be obtained. That will only go on and can only go on if such people are given a wide measure of responsibility in their own counties, if they can depend on leadership from the Minister, and are relieved from much of the present unnecessary paper work which is gradually cluttering them up. Members of county committees have performed, and are still performing, a great service to the country and the industry. I consider it vital that at this stage the Minister should give his personal consideration to their future. Otherwise, he will not be able to keep the type of people he wishes to keep on these committees, namely, those who have the greatest knowledge of the industry.
As has already been said, great issues of principle divide us at present in a House which is practically equally balanced. We are assured by the Minister, in speeches which he has made in the country, that he does not propose to nationalise the land. His colleagues may think differently; I do not know. For the present it should be the duty of this House and of all its Members to help 388 those engaged in the agricultural industry and enable them to make the greatest possible contribution in the national interest.
§ 7.50 p.m.
The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)
The right hon. Gentleman who opened this Debate did so on a very cheery note indeed. He patted himself and his party on the back for a wonderful rural victory. It seemed to me that the right hon. Gentleman was patting himself in order to cheer himself up, because neither the facts nor the figures for the countryside are really cheerful for the Conservative Party. Indeed, as I read the figures the writing is on the wall for the Conservative Party in the rural areas.
I wonder whether by any chance the right hon. Gentleman looked at the Dorset figures. Leaving out the division of Poole, which is more a town division than a rural one, he will note that the Labour vote in the three rural constituencies increased by 16 per cent. and that the Conservative vote went down by 19 per cent. If one looks at the figures for Wiltshire, Berkshire and Somerset, and bears in mind also the three Labour Members returned for the three rural constituencies in Norfolk, again there is not too much to be cheerful about for the Conservatives. The right hon. Gentleman told us how well the Conservative Party had done in these various areas, but he was careful not to say who were the voters. He did not claim, for instance, that all the farmers and farm workers voted for the Conservative Party. He knows the constitution of a rural area better than most people in this House, and he knows that apart from those who earn their living by working on the land, there are a large number of others who do not, but who live there and therefore vote. I am satisfied with the results of the 1950 Election.
Referring to the general situation in agriculture, the right hon. Gentleman said that the best incentive of all to get increased food production was the incentive of price. I need hardly tell the right hon. Gentleman, or indeed the House, that prices paid to farmers over the past several years were never higher. Farmers were never more prosperous, and the countryside as a whole—that is, those who are dependent on the agri- 389 cultural industry—were never more prosperous than they are at this moment. Then the right hon. Gentleman went on to quote certain figures with some sort of anxiety or dismay—I did not quite gather which—and he quoted the fact that last year our wheat acreage was down something like 300,000 acres compared with the target.
It is true, unfortunately, but perhaps the right hon. Gentleman has forgotten the kind of weather we had in this country in the autumn of 1948. If he will take his mind back those 15 months, perhaps he will recall that our shortage in the wheat target was entirely due to the weather conditions in the autumn of 1948. But side by side with that, I think I ought to quote only two other figures to show that there really is no need for dismay, for while in pre-war days we were producing some 5,300,000 acres of cereals all told, last year we had something like 8,200,000 acres of cereals, on top of which we had 1,300,000 acres of potatoes, which is double the pre-war acreage. So that there is nothing really to be worried about there.
Next the right hon. Gentleman recalled a statement made by the Lord President of the Council, repeated so often in this House over the past two years, about providing the industry with the tools for the job, when he said that if necessary we would not hesitate to provide some very scarce dollars to purchase feedingstuffs. The right hon. Gentleman, repeating the question that has been put to me and the Lord President so often in this House, asked why we did not spend dollars on coarse grains. The explanation is very simple, and I think the Parliamentary Secretary answered the question before it was actually put by the right hon. Gentleman. Our trade agreements with Russia, where we have been able to buy 750,000 tons or one million tons of coarse grains in one year, our agreement with the Argentine, where we have been able to buy 1,600,000 tons in one year, and what we have been able to purchase from Australia, Yugoslavia and elsewhere, rendered it unnecessary to spend scarce dollars which were required for raw materials for our general industries while we were building up our livestock in this country.
390 In fact, what with the increased purchases abroad plus the greater efforts at self-sufficiency on the part of our own farmers, I think our livestock production over the past two years has gone up just about as fast as the farmers could breed livestock, whatever the quantities of feedingstuffs they may have had.
§ Mr. Williams
If the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) wishes to challenge me, let me tell him before I go any further that at this moment the feedingstuffs available for farmers in the form of bonuses are not all being taken up by any means.
§ Mr. Williams
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will let me deal with the argument in my own sweet way. After all, the right hon. Gentleman quite properly raised the point and is entitled to have an answer. I am trying to give it to him. I say, therefore, that the reason we did not spend scarce dollars which are required for that part of our food which we must buy from North America, plus cotton and various metals for our other industries, was because of our trade agreements with Russia, the Argentine and elsewhere, and the magnificent efforts on the part of the British farmers themselves in the production of dried grass and silage as well as coarse grains, which have placed them in this position at this moment. In 1946–47 we released 2,700,000 tons of feeding-stuffs; in 1947–48, 3.6 million tons; 1948–49, 4.5 million tons; 1949–50, 6 million tons, on top of which we can add another 4 million tons which are produced in this country and used on the farms. In other words, the farmers—and they are not complaining—are receiving at this moment five-sixths of the total feedingstuffs they had in the days before the war. That is the reason those scarce dollars were not spent upon feedingstuffs.
The right hon. Gentleman, again quite properly, asked why, when Denmark and some other countries were using scarce dollars for feedingstuffs, we had not done so in this country. I think we were very wise not to do anything of the kind. We shall be in a much less vulnerable position at the end of the Marshall Aid period than those who depend upon dollar feedingstuffs and who will have no dollars with which to buy dollar feedingstuffs.
§ Mr. Turton
Would the right hon. Gentleman regard as satisfactory the fact that France and the other continental countries have increased their livestock production by so much more than this country?
§ Mr. Williams
That is not so. It may be so in Denmark, but there is no parallel between Denmark and this country. This country must live by exporting its industrial goods. Denmark is totally different. Look at the population and the layout of the nation. Trying to draw a parallel between Denmark and this country is too absurd for words. Our prudence will leave us less vulnerable at the end of Marshall Aid than those who depend upon using Marshall Aid to purchase imported feedingstuffs.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me a question about horticulture and horticultural produce generally. Broadly, the detailed arrangements that have now been settled aim at giving the producer a measure of protection similar to that granted to him over the past three years, and in addition they set some limits to the imports of various fruits, such as cherries, plums and strawberries. In drawing up the list of periods for restricted imports and the provisional quantities of any imports to be licensed during such periods, the Government have endeavoured to hold the balance fairly even between the interests of producer and consumer. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we must also have regard to the general policy for liberalisation of trade. It is no use hon. Members in any part of the House advocating the cause of one section of the country without having, regard to the other sections of the country. It would lead horticulturists and farmers generally, or indeed any section, into an unfortunate situation if it were felt that consumer interests were completely abrogated to the interests of horticulturists. I am sure we should not desire that that should happen.
It is a question of getting the right balance, and I know that the right hon. Gentleman would be the first to admit that, since this country never did and is not likely to produce all its vegetables for every period in the year or all its fruit, we must import some at some time, and the best efforts of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Food, combined with the Board of Trade, ought to 392 be, and indeed are at the moment, as I can assure hon. Members, to try and make those imports complementary to and not antagonistic to our home production. That has been our policy and if there have been unfortunate incidents, such as the onion position two years ago—
§ Mr. Williams
There were lots of things before the war and I shall come to them if hon. Members will permit me. I think our policy has been the right one, and so longs as we can, with these arrangements, make imports complementary and not antagonistic at the peak of our own season, that is the way we ought to work.
There is one other thing I ought to say with regard to horticultural producers. We have been encouraging marketing schemes since 1931. There has been a period of suspension and we all readily understand the cause for that, but in 1948 a tomato and cucumber scheme was submitted, and some amendments to the scheme were shown to be necessary as a result of a public inquiry and examination by the Government. The precise nature of these amendments is now under discussion with the promoters of the scheme, and we hope it will soon be possible for the scheme to be presented to Parliament. This will enable the marketing board to be set up in good time to deal with the crop of 1951. I hope that once the tomato and cucumber scheme is established, it may be followed by many other schemes which will help horticultural producers to help themselves by better packing, better grading, better presentation and better marketing.
The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned the question of houses built in rural areas for agricultural workers both in the inter-war years and since the end of the war. I have not the figures of how many houses for agricultural workers were built by the Government in rural areas after the First World War, but I have the figures of what has happened under this Government during the last four and a half years. If we take the over-all housing situation in the two periods we know that there were 225,000 houses built in the first four years after the First World War compared with 780,000 in the four years after the Second World War—and 393 there was a Conservative-dominated Government between 1918 and 1922. That was the situation.
Since the end of the last war, houses in rural areas have been erected in large numbers. I wish, as does every other hon. Member, that there could have been more houses, for the more houses there are available for agricultural workers the more agricultural workers we shall recruit for permanent employment, but the fact is that something over 82,000 have already been completed, of which over 25 per cent. have gone to agricultural workers, and that is a greater contribution to agricultural workers as such than we had between 1918 and 1939. I do not think there is any doubt about that.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he did not like to refer to the past. He brought to my mind what one of my friends said on one occasion:What is wrong with the Conservative Party is that they are halted by their past while we are inspired by our future.Well, it is true. However, the right hon. Gentleman did say that he was prepared to take us on on the past, present and future, and he then proceeded to refer to the Corn Production Act. Like Wilfred Pickles, I am always ready to "have a go" on the past, present or future of the party opposite. The right hon. Gentleman quoted the Corn Production Act and said what six Labour Party Members did who were on the Commission that dealt with it. I understand that on that Commission there were 23 members. I do not know whether I am right or wrong; but what were the.17 other members doing in allowing the six to do what they did—in allowing the tail to wag the dog? Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what the other 17 did?
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
The detail of the matter is that, of course, the Royal Commission was established before the Act of 1920, which was prior to the repeal of 1921, and there was a majority report and a minority report, and the six Labour Members took part with 11 others who reported against the guaranteed price system.
§ Mr. Williams
I have no objection to the right hon. Gentleman's making that quotation, but it is a simple fact that it was a Conservative-dominated Government that repealed the Corn Production 394 Act, and no amount of jiggery-pokery will get away from that simple fact.
Then the right hon. Gentleman proceeded to enjoy himself, and he referred to the Members of the Labour Party, and to their numbers, and to the legislation about market grading, and the Wheat Act, and several other Acts. Curiously enough, there was one he did not mention, and that was the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1931. The right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler), the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), and Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all from that Front Bench, all voted against the Marketing Bill of 1931. The hon. Baronet the Member for Richmond a little earlier talked about the "wonderful" Milk Marketing Board. I agree with that definition. I think it has done a magnificent job of work. However, if it had been left to the Conservative leaders in 1931 there would not have been a Marketing Act and there would not have been a Marketing Board.
§ Mr. Baldwin (Leominster)
Is the Minister aware that the reason the Conservative Party voted against that Bill was that without control of imports the Bill was not worth the paper it was written on?
§ Mr. Williams
I remember also that one hon. Member of this House at that time, who would have made a good twin with the hon. Member for Leominster, described the Marketing Bill as nothing short of sheer nationalisation. The right hon. Gentleman quite rightly claimed credit for the Wheat Act and certain other Acts passed between 1919 and 1923, and from 1924 to 1929, and from 1931 to 1939. I give him credit for all of them. However, summed up, what did all these wonderful pieces of legislation on the Statute Book amount to? In the period when those Acts were being passed about 8,000 farmers went bankrupt; millions of acres of agricultural land went out of cultivation farmers' incomes were never so low; and agricultural workers' wages were between 25s. and 35s. a week.
§ Mr. Williams
That was after all these wonderful Acts passed by the various Conservative Governments between 1918 and 1939.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
Will the right hon. Gentleman give the exact figure of the number of bankruptcies between 1929 and 1931, which he will find is a record for farming?
§ Mr. Williams
I would not be a bit surprised. Anybody farming between 1929 and 1931 under Conservative legislation was bound to go bankrupt. Today farming is really prosperous and the wage of the agricultural worker is at least 94s. a week. What is more to the point is that the nation is getting the food.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me about water schemes, main and minor. For the 12 months to 31st March, 1949, the Minister of Health approved schemes to the value of £6½ million, which was a good deal in excess of the record prewar figure of £2½ million in taking main water schemes to rural areas—[Interruption]—Even if the hon. Member who interjected doubles the £2½ million, the figure for the year ending March, 1949, is still a record over the biggest and best that the Conservative Government ever did in 1935–6. On top of that, the hon. Member must bear in mind that in 1935–6–7 there was no shortage of steel pipes, no keen competition for pipes by oil, electricity and gas undertakings and for urban water supplies, sewerage and other schemes, and there was no shortage of labour.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Hyde
Will the Minister tell us how many of the schemes that have been authorised of this £6½ million have actually been started and how many have been completed?
§ Mr. Williams
I should like to compliment the hon. Gentleman on his maiden speech, and I hope I shall have many more interventions at the right time.
The total value of schemes for rural areas for which tenders have been obtained, upon which either work has been started or can be begun, since the end of the war to the end of December, 1949, was over £14 million. In addition 396 schemes to the value of a further £2 million were ready to go to tender. At the end of December, 1949, schemes approved in principle by the Minister of Health and now in the final stage of plans were estimated to cost over £14 million, so that the total value of work completed, in the course of construction, or approved in principle to the end of December, 1949, was £30 million. If right hon. and hon. Gentlemen will look back, they will find that there is not a period in the existence of Conservative Governments in which half as much was done in the same period of time as has been done during the past four and a half years.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
Will the right hon. Gentleman give the total of the grants paid hitherto? That is a very different figure, according to my information.
§ Mr. Williams
I am afraid I could not say offhand what grant from the Government all these schemes will attract, but if the right hon. Gentleman is interested I shall be glad to let him have the figure later.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me a series of questions about water supply, with which I will deal later. As some hon. Members know, there are schemes to take water to a farm where livestock constitutes part of the farm, for which grants are made, and approximately 37,600 farm schemes have been approved in England and Wales since July, 1941, to the end of December, 1949. The cost of the work involved is £.8¾ million, and the grant aid is approximately £4 million. Schemes are now being approved at the rate of about 7,800 annually, and power to give such aid, originally started as a war-time expedient, is now extended by Section 96 of the Agriculture Act, 1947, to at least the autumn of 1952, and it may be continued for two years if Parliament so decides. So that on the question of main water supply schemes, bearing in mind the shortage of pipes available to us and during the early days the shortage of steel, and the minor schemes, I think the Government have done reasonably well.
The right hon. Gentleman also asked a question about marginal land, and said: "I hope the Minister will give us a straight answer." Well, the right hon. Gentleman knows that I always give a straight answer, and there was no point 397 in that. He made reference to the Labour Party's manifesto issued during the election campaign. The words in the manifesto say exactly what was meant. There is no sign of nationalisation there; there is no more sign of nationalisation in that manifesto in its reference to marginal land than there is in the 1947 Act referring to other areas of land in the country which, for one reason or another, cannot or will not be dealt with by the owner. The right hon. Gentleman knows that under the 1947 Act an Agricultural Land Commission was set up, and if there is an area of land where the owners arc known not to have the capital, or if they have not the will, to provide the buildings, equipment and so on to ensure that that area of land is cultivated in the interests of the nation, then the Agricultural Land Commission, after thorough investigation and after consulting the owners, can make a report to the Minister to buy or not to buy. The Minister can then, under the terms of the 1947 Act approve the buying of the land where the owners will not undertake to invest the appropriate amount of capital. Two or three cases have already been dealt with.
As hon. Members will recall, the first case was Romney Marsh, where it was found in respect of land which, apart from sheep runs, had been brought into cultivation during the course of the war for the first time for very many years, a large sum of capital would have to be expended on housing, buildings, and so on, to keep that land under arable cultivation. There the owners were willing to put up the money, so that when the Agricultural Land Commission reported to me I was satisfied that the land would be kept in cultivation and that the money would be spent. That is all the Government and Parliament ask for. On the other hand, in another case down in Anglesey, which has been troubling Governments for 30 years, the report is different; the capital is not forthcoming, and nobody is going to do anything about it. Therefore, on the basis of a report of this properly constituted Agricultural Land Commission, the nation is entitled to take over that area of land to see that it is worked in the interests of the nation.
The reference to marginal land is exactly the same. Under the Hill Farming Act, 1946, we present to any farmer or landowner 50. per cent. of the total cost 398 of any one or number of 23 different improvements, if he will undertake the job. Once a proper scheme is available for marginal land, if it is found that the landowner or the tenant, or both jointly, are unable or unwilling to undertake a scheme, where genuine improvement can be effected the Government have the right at the moment to take over. That is only in those areas where the owners do not want to or will not bring about an improvement, even with a Government grant. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will accept that as a straight reply with regard to nationalisation.
He also said that we ought not to be duped. From my tour of some counties, and from my experience of a lot of the publicity issued, there were tens of thousands of electors duped into believing that this party believes in nationalisation. Not all the votes were obtained under reasonable and fair pretences. The simple fact is—and again this is the straight answer to the right hon. Gentleman—that land nationalisation forms no part of our programme and policy today. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman, as a policy builder, will agree that no party will produce at the last election a policy for after the next election. That is really going a bit too far. When Members, perhaps quite genuinely, still fear that there is some possibility of land nationalisation and make that suggestion or express that fear, it is quite clear to me they have not yet learned that we passed a Town and Country Planning Act in the last Parliament.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)
Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that under the 1947 Act, the Town and Country Planning Act and each of the nationalisation Acts, especially the Transport Act, coupled with the policy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer of accepting land in lieu of Death Duties, the Government have power to nationalise land, in quite a big way by steady degrees? Will he say whether it is the Government's policy to make use of these powers?
§ Mr. Williams
That is typical of a National Liberal intervention. The hon. Member knows that it is an abuse of the English language to suggest that the power contained in the 1947 Act can be used for the purpose of nationalising the land of the country. It can be used only in areas, such as the one I have referred 399 to, following a report by the Agricultural Land Commission, where it is proved that the land is not being used in the best interests of the nation.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Is it not the case that every one of those Acts was passed through the House of Commons without Tory opposition?
§ Mr. Williams
Certainly without a Division. I am perfectly certain that if the same Bill came before the same House with the same Members, they would do the same thing again.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me whether I could make a statement about the marginal scheme referred to in the King's Speech. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said that we were having a scientific survey made into the possibilities of increased food production and in regard to potential costs. We anticipate a report at a very early date, and I can assure Members that we will waste no time once we understand the size of the problem, what are the costs, and what food we are likely to get as a result.
I ought to make a short statement on the Hill Farming Act. I notice that the Conservative Party, in their manifesto, tell the world what they are going to do about that Act, that they are going to push on and make it work faster. If they did that, they would want more money than the 1946 Act provides. They will recall that we provided £4 million for schemes, with the possibility of a further £1 million, meaning £10 million of improvements to hill farms. I am satisfied, from the number of schemes already submitted and under investigation, that every penny of the £5 million will be called for, which means that we shall improve our hill farms to the extent of £10 million worth of work.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me a whole series of questions about what priority we had given for water schemes; what is the truth about the export of pipes to soft currency countries, and so on. I could perhaps give him an answer by telling him that farm water schemes are given a special symbol, what is called WS, on the steel authorisation. This has given a limited advantage, and at the beginning of last year we had on hand 400 a stock of pipes for approved water schemes. The Government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, purchased about 50 per cent. of our estimated requirements. We have taken delivery of a considerable quantity of this order, and we should be able to supply water pipes for all approved water supplies where stocks cannot be obtained through the trade. In other words, we exercise some power of planning to ensure that every part of the country gets a fair share.
As to cast-iron main pipes, I understand from the Ministry of Health that there is no special priority, but the Ministry are in touch with the manufacturers. We are fully aware of the schemes which have been undertaken by statutory water undertakings, and I understand that a large proportion of these pipes have been allocated for this purpose, but production is limited. On the question of exports, I have not been able in the time available to ascertain if the export of iron and steel pipes to soft currency countries has been increasing. I understand, though, that the arrangement is made by the Ministry of Supply, and is bound up with rather special questions of foreign trade. The pipes required for farm water supply schemes have accounted for only a small proportion of the output, probably not more than I per cent., and the export of pipes has had little or no effect upon our work. I hope that is a reasonably satisfactory answer to the right hon. Gentleman.
I do not think I need waste the time of the House with saying more than hearty congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) and to my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton), both of whom we hope to hear on many occasions in the future. The hon. and gallant Member for Ludlow (Lieut.-Colonel Corbett) referred to the Milk Marketing Board. I understand that that has already been dealt with, and I would only warn him to do a bit of educating on his Front Bench now that he has realised what the Marketing Act, 1931, has enabled the farmers to do with the Milk Marketing Board and many other schemes.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Corbett
I was only stating that agreed prices were not the innovation of the Socialist. Government, 401 but that they existed before the war for milk, sugar beet and wheat.
§ Mr. Williams
I believe that between 1931 and 1935 the Government passed one of their Acts under which they guaranteed that if the price of milk sold by farmers for the manufacture of cheese or butter fell below 4½d. a gallon, the Government would make it up. That is one of the guarantees to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred. The hon. and gallant Gentleman also said there were large demands for farms. I believe that is true from Cornwall to Northumberland, and is the measure of the success of the Labour Government's agricultural policy. Farms cannot be bought unless at excessive prices. The hon. and gallant Gentleman also referred to marginal farms having special priority for feedingstuffs. The hon. and gallant Member is well behind. Right throughout the war and in the years of peace our county executive committees have had discretionary powers to assist those on marginal land who could not produce feedingstuffs for themselves so that they could keep on producing milk.
The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) will get a reply to some of his questions from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. I can assure him, however, that this question of over-fishing is ever present in our minds, and I am sure he will recollect that it was the Labour Government which initiated the conference, which brought into operation the Over-fishing Convention, and that we were one of the first Governments to ratify it. Since that time, the Foreign Secretary has constantly urged other nations who attended the conference to ratify the Convention, since we are willing at any given moment to apply the Convention with those who signed, regardless of countries who have not yet signed. I appreciate the seriousness of the problem. I see the diminishing returns to the middle- and near-water fishermen. If this Government can use any influence with other Governments. we want to see the Convention brought into action.
§ Mr. Williams
I am afraid that that is beyond by province. I shall have to leave it to one of my colleagues from 402 Scotland. The hon. Member's reference to the factory and what transpired was quite new to me, and I shall have to make inquiries about it.
The hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Richmond asked me, where producer subsidies are abolished, whether they would be taken into account in the February review. They always were and they always will be. That applies to the fertiliser subsidy, too. That matter is under consideration in a dual form at this moment. There have been 10 years of the fertiliser subsidy, and farmers ought by now to know the value of the increased yields from the right kind of fertiliser. Even if part of the fertiliser subsidy goes, I hope that farmers will continue to use the fertilisers that have given such increased yields over the last few years.
In regard to land use, the county executive committees are consulted in every case where land is taken over for agricultural purposes. We are perhaps doing more to preserve good agricultural land than was ever done before. As to county agricultural executive committees, all I need say is that we are obliged to take three of our members from lists supplied by the National Farmers' Union. As far as they can, they endeavour to provide us with names of people of the right type so that the county committees are well manned. That applies to the Central Landowners' Association and to the Agricultural Workers' Union.
My last point is that for the last four and a half years there has been some sense of continuity and I believe there have been improvements on the war-time system. We have changed from direction and compulsion on every field and on every farm to a large measure of leadership, persuasion, technical help and guidance. I think we have got a greater measure of goodwill and prosperity in the countryside than ever before. What is more to the point is that our very limited acres are making a bigger contribution to the wellbeing of this country than they have ever made before.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Leather (Somerset, North)
I rise with more than the ordinary temerity of the maiden speaker to ask for the indulgence of the House, because I did not realise that upon this occasion I would have to follow two Front Bench Members.
403 I would therefore ask the House to bear with me if I should change the subject and go rather further afield than the very interesting Debate we have had on agriculture. I confess that I am almost sorry to do that. If it were not for the fact that as a maiden speaker I must not be too contentious I should very much have enjoyed following the Minister on nationalisation of the land, which is one of my pet subjects.
I ask the House now to look abroad at foreign and Empire affairs, which have not yet been mentioned, because I am sure that hon. Members on all benches of this House would agree that no matter how important our domestic reforms may be—whether we nationalise or not or whether we tax or not—all this is unimportant compared with the vital question of preventing another war. I would remind the House of the moving and telling words of the Archbishop of York at the start of this last election, that if, as a result of concentrating all our efforts and our energies and our thoughts on our domestic problems, which, undoubtedly, are more pressing in the minds of our people at election time, we completely miss the boat abroad and we allow our country, through weakness or error or anything else, to drift into war then we will have served our country ill.
I have the honour to follow in this House as the Conservative representative for my constituency the late Mrs. Mavis Tate who served with great distinction here for many years. Many older Members will know that she was a war casualty just as surely as if she had served in the front line. I represent North Somerset, which is a strange mixture of half farming and half coal mining. It may be odd to some hon. Members opposite at first thought that there are representatives of coal mining constituencies on this side of the House, but I am glad that there are and I hope this will continue.
It might appear at first glance that our miners and our farmers have little in common. Indeed, I have been almost forced to the conclusion that the only safe policy I can advocate in my constituency to please both fractions is higher wages for everybody, because one cannot sympathise with one without getting into trouble with the other. However, I think 404 it is a classical illustration that the common interest of those two sections in preserving peace is infinitely more important than any differences we may have either in our jobs or in our politics.
With all due respect to the United Nations and all the other great international bodies that have been set up, I persist in my belief that if we are to prevent war and protect the lives of all our people, we must rely a great deal more on our own strength and vigour than on any paper treaties. I believe that strength can only be based on a strong foreign policy and that the root of any strong British foreign policy must be based on the British Empire. Some hon. Members opposite may be puzzled at my Somerset accent. My accent is Canadian. I am proud to think that, although I have the honour to represent North Somerset, I was born 6,000 miles from this country. I was born in a free, independent nation that is still proud to call itself a member of the British Empire. And I write those words in block capitals. and repeat "British Empire" and not "The Blank Commonwealth."
I cannot believe that in the last five years the British Empire has been the top priority of the Government. Hon. Members in the Labour Party like to talk about exploitation in the Empire. Like the right hon. and learned Member for South-East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), who is a neighbour of mine in the West Country, they have always said that the liquidation of the Empire is fundamental to Socialism. I believe that such a course would be a disastrous blow at the standard of living of the working people of this country. I say this as one of those working people and as a working trade unionist. I would suggest to hon. Members opposite, if I may, that while they can, and undoubtedly do, disagree, they must not be surprised if those of us who come from the Empire are annoyed at 50 years' abuse of the Empire by their party, of its institutions, and everything that it has done in this world. It has been the bedrock of our strength in the past and, unless it is so again, we stand very little chance of preventing war.
I should like to put a question which, I hope, someone in the Government will answer before the end of the Debate. I have been referring to the Dominions and would like now to refer to the 405 Colonies. It has been actively canvassed in all the papers—and papers that would be regarded as responsible and irresponsible on both sides of the House—that the appointment of the new Colonial Secretary is designed to give him freedom to devote his attentions to the management of the Labour Party. I hope we can be assured that that is not so. Now, more than ever before, we need a strong and powerful lead at the Colonial Office. The development of the Empire is, I submit to hon. Members opposite, even more important than the development of Socialism and of their own party. I hope we will see the Colonial Secretary and his Under Secretary and his Minister of State devoting their interests to the affairs of the Colonies and not using their offices as sinecures to allow them to devote their interests to party affairs.
I will endeavour not to be contentious, but there is one point which I must put very strongly to the Government. The way in which the Labour Government have treated the Dominions in the last five years has been shameful. I know perfectly well that hon. Members opposite deny that, and that the President of the Board of Trade, who, I am very glad to see, has now entered the Chamber, denies it. He denied it when he went to Canada. He put up very interesting and technical arguments to deny that the Government had not treated the Dominions, and particularly Canada, shamefully. But the President of the Board of Trade knows as well as I do that the people of Canada think they have been treated shamefully. That is the unfortunate fact. It is the old story that where there is smoke there must be somebody smoking. That is the impression which people in the Dominions have got, and it is a disastrous one.
The question of Empire co-operation is not a matter of grandiose schemes and ideas: it is a question of day-to-day cooperation in detailed matters, which has been sadly lacking in the last five years. I would very much like to know the views of the Government on the suggestion put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) about converting the function of the Bank of England into a sterling area reserve bank, a suggestion which I wholeheartedly support. Does the Government agree? If not, what is their reason?
406 I should also like to know the reaction of the Government to an Amendment on the Order Paper in the names of many of my hon. Friends and myself requesting an Imperial economic conference at which the Colonial Empire should be adequately represented. The Government have conducted their foreign and Empire affairs in watertight compartments. Heaven knows, nobody would say we have not had enough conferences—I am inclined to think that we have had far too many; but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) said at the opening of the Debate, there seems Ito be no consistent pattern or theme. One day it is a conference on South-East Asia; another day, it is on something else. At no stage in the last five years have the Government made any concerted effort to carry all the Dominions forward with them together.
I should like to refer to a speech made some time ago by Field-Marshal Montgomery at the United Services Institute, words that created great thought and bewilderment in other countries but which passed almost unnoticed here. Field-Marshal Montgomery, upon whom the Government have placed the responsibility for maintaining our strength to prevent war, said in that speech:Under the Western Pact as now framed I have not the power to make us strong enough to deter Russia from thoughts of war.'Why not? Field-Marshal Montgomery should have that power, should he not? Is not the primary task of any Government to prevent war more important than any of our domestic reforms? Yet here we have the position in which a technical officer, a servant of the Government, is placed in a position to do that job and publicly states that he has not the power. Why has he not the power? It surely cannot be that enough money has not been spent. Is it because of political obstacles? If there are political obstacles can we not be told what they are? Surely we have a right to know what they are.
I believe that if this country would give the lead which I know the Dominions want, and we all know M. Spaak and many statesmen in Western Europe want, and the United States are praying us to give, we can go forward and overcome those obstacles no matter how difficult they may be. In the Dominions—not only on these benches—and not only among 407 those who believe in free enterprise in the Dominions, but among all parties, there is a feeling that the Government have moved in these matters only when they have been kicked into moving by the Leader of the Opposition. [Laughter.] The hon. Member may laugh; I do not know how much he has travelled in the Dominions and Colonies, but I can assure him of that. I put it to the President of the Board of Trade that one may deny these things but, unfortunately, they exist in the minds of other people. It is the old story; not only must justice be done but justice must be seen to be done.
I believe that it is political obstacles which are preventing us from moving forward and that the Government are afraid to, or for some reason best known to themselves will not, tackle the problems of Empire co-operation and co-operation with the countries of Western Europe as we believe they must be tackled. If that is so, I ask the Government to tell us what are these obstacles? If the obstacle is that progress would demand sacrifice of national sovereignty, and pooling or common arrangements with the Dominions why cannot we be told?
I may be rash, but I believe the people of this country are not nearly so much concerned with the niceties of national sovereignties as are most politicians. If we are asked to pool many aspects of our sovereignties, particularly with the Dominions and the Empire, I believe that should be done. I believe it is long overdue and that many people in the Dominions and many politicians would welcome a lead and an opportunity now. I do not say this could have happened 10 or 15 years ago. One may ask why it was not done before but the attitude and the view was not there in the Dominions; it has been brought about since the war, but it has been awaiting a lead from this country which has not been forthcoming. I believe that the most vital task of the Government, if they are to make our country strong and go forward with a strong foreign policy, is to give Field Marshal Montgomery the power he has publicly stated he has not got and base that policy on the bedrock of the cooperation of the British peoples.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
According to ancient tradition and with 408 great pleasure I venture to offer to the last speaker a welcome to this House and congratulations upon his maiden speech. I am sure I am voicing the views of all here when I say that we enjoyed his speech very much, eloquent and well phrased as it was, but we are not necessarily persuaded by it. Like many speakers from his side of the House, he looks far afield with the fresh view of a Canadian and with a charming accent, to which he referred, and to which I would not have referred had he not mentioned it. He expressed the ingenuous views of youth upon the British Empire and the British Commonwealth of Nations, between which he himself confessed he sees no difference or distinction.
I shall not be drawn into any controversy with him upon that topic or upon any other, because I wish to say a few words about that reference in the Gracious Speech to the food supply of the nation, which has indeed been the topic of discussion all afternoon, and in particular about its bearing upon the trade of Scotland and the danger of unemployment in the City of Aberdeen. The reference in the Gracious Speech which I have in mind is that which says:You will be invited to pass a Bill to regulate and improve the living conditions of the crews of fishing trawlers.I was very sorry to hear the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) referring to that passage in the Gracious Speech as being light-hearted and seeming to imply that it did not, as I think it does, imply a definite promise of legislation which has been overdue for at least 30 years.
I hope that the House will consider it as a promise of legislation upon this matter, and I hope that the Government will give the Bill which is there mentioned a high priority. Everyone here will agree that trawler crews were shockingly neglected before and during the last war. They have been much praised in war and much neglected in peace. There have been inquiries and commissions galore but the reports from them have been shelved. I am sure the House will agree that the Bill which is foreshadowed in the passage to which I have referred should excite no opposition in principle, because no one will have the hardihood to say that the trawler crews are not 409 worthy of better conditions than they have at present. This Bill should, on the contrary, attract competition between the parties to pass it into law to improve the lives of the trawler crews and to make their lives more tolerable and happy than they have ever been.
On all sides it is admitted that trawler crews serve the country well in war and in peace. In war and peace alike their work is characterised by courage, technical skill, perseverance, and self-sacrifice. These qualities, developed in peace, have helped to bring this country to victory in war. Trawler crews represent a hardy race who live along our shores. In peace they bring ample supplies of nourishing food to the large consuming centres. It is a sad thing to realise that these men who perform such great services in war and peace, become forgotten men in time of peace. Then they are too much taken for granted and their conditions are too little considered. That is why I hope that the Bill foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech will be given a high priority by the Government.
The Labour Government, in the last Parliament, indeed did something more than earlier Governments had done for the fishermen. They passed two inshore fisheries Acts: they passed the White Fish and Herring Industry Acts. Under these grants and loans were provided to enable fishermen to buy gear and ships and to repair their ships. So successful have these three Statutes been that all the money that has been available under them has been quickly used up. I am sure the House will agree that the beneficient features of those Statutes should be extended by future legislation. There are other aspects of this industry which require attention. The industry is the victim of abrupt changes in conditions of supply and demand. It requires stability in structure and technique. It suffers from an inefficient system of distribution, and on the production side it needs new equipment, more and better boats and better methods of storing and handling the catch. It needs modernisation and reorganisation of freezing plants afloat and ashore.
The passage in the Gracious Speech to which I have referred directs attention to an aspect of the industry which is very urgent. Items which require immediate attention are the health, hygiene, hours 410 wages, food, accommodation and security of trawler crews. Their conditions have not kept pace with the conditions of workers ashore. During the last 100 years industry ashore has been benefited by a long series of Factory Acts which have greatly improved.the conditions of workers ashore, but little of that kind has been done for the trawler crews, and I am sure the House will welcome the passage in the Gracious Speech to which I have referred.
Let me give one example of the legislative lethargy which has characterised the fates and lives of trawler crews. On 5th August, 1943, the Scottish Council of Industry appointed a Committee to investigate the position of the Scottish white fish and shell fish industries.
§ Mr. Hughes
I have already given the date-5th August, 1943. That Committee issued two Reports containing in all 94 recommendations, a very few of which have been implemented. The first Report was issued on 5th February, 1945, before the Labour Government came into power, and nothing was done about it. But when the Labour Government came into power, as I have already said, two inshore fishery Acts were passed as well as the other Statute, the Herring Industry Act. I hope those Statutes will be brought up to date. I am not going to weary the House by referring at any length to these Reports but there are four items in the first Report that I should mention:1. The requirements of the Scottish Fishing Fleet should be given special consideration in determining priorities for post-war ship building.2. Immediate consideration should be given to the effect of the uncertainty in building costs of trawlers.3. Arrangements should he made for loans to be available for rebuilding trawlers.8. Grants and loans should be made available where necessary for reconditioning de-requisitioned offshore vessels and for the provision of new gear.The second Report has a more particular reference to the passage in the Gracious Speech to which I have referred. That Report contained these recommendations:(3) the position of the Trawling Industry could be improved
- (a) by use of modern vessels
- (b) by improving the grade of product, thus attracting higher prices, and
- (c) by preserving fish in glut periods by freezing, canning and dehydration.(4) Accommodation for trawler crews is unsatisfactory and improved accommodation in new built trawlers should be insisted upon.(5) Crews should be given time off at sea to keep their quarters clean and tidy and shore gangs should be employed to paint accommodation as necessary. Owners and unions should support efforts to maintain a standard of cleanliness.I mention this for the purpose of submitting, through the Minister, the things which I hope will be dealt with in the Bill which is foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech. There is one other aspect of this industry to which I should like to refer before I sit down, and it is one of the utmost importance to the city of Aberdeen which I have the honour to represent. It is referred to in the same Report on page 62 in this way:Aberdeen is the principal white fishing port in Scotland, and the third in the United Kingdom. It owes its development as a trawling port to the natural advantages it possessed in the early days. because of its proximity to fishing grounds, its excellent harbour, and its good railway connections.Having regard to its position 500 miles north of the big consuming centres there has been a flat rate for the carriage of fish. I understand that there is some danger that that flat rate may be withdrawn because, I gather, the control on the price of fish is about to be withdrawn. I want to submit that the price control of fish is not inseparably associated with the flat rate for transport of fish, and that even if price control goes the flat rate could be continued. if the flat rate is abolished it will have a very serious effect upon this great industry upon which a large section of the people of Aberdeen subsist. It will injure the fish trade, it will cause much unemployment in Aberdeen and it will deprive the large consuming centres in the south of the benefits of the succulent fish brought from Aberdeen.
I hope, therefore, that the Bill which is foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech will be given a very high priority, not only in the interest of the trade of Scotland in general, but in the interest of the health and happiness of the consuming public in the south of these islands.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Miss Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
I am tempted to say a word or two about the 412 somewhat provocative speech which was made by the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. T. Reid), who talked a great deal, and rightly so, about the security of employment for those engaged on British Railways. I also happen to represent a certain number of railwaymen and I would point out that part of their security of employment is threatened by the high price of nationalised coal and its lower calorific value. If the future of our railwaymen is to be safeguarded it is necessary to co-ordinate the nationalised industries so as to ensure that all sections of the community have some protection and some security from the State, which now professes to run those industries.
I was also interested in the somewhat complacent attitude in the Debate. I have noticed during the Debate the frequent quotation of figures in relation to the housing programme with reference to the years immediately after the First World War and to the years since the Socialists acquired power in this country. Well, if I have to make two comparisons on one particular issue, I cannot refrain from making one comparison on another issue which is also of very great importance to the people of this country.
If I understand rightly we are now spending something like £500 million in food subsidies, and we have succeeded, with the expenditure of those vast sums, in keeping only three commodities below the price value of food after the First World War. Those commodities are eggs, sugar, and butter.
§ Miss Ward
That was by the large expenditure of £500 million, which has added considerably to the ever rising cost of living to the housewife. I think that is one example of planning which might be reconsidered by the Socialist Government.
However, I really rose to refer to one or two points in the Gracious Speech. It raises many problems of very great interest, but I propose tonight to refer, very briefly, to only two, which are of vital interest to Tyneside, my part of the world. I observed with very great interest the reference that was made to legislation dealing with accommodation for the trawler crews. I very much regret that 413 before the Minister of Agriculture finished his speech and left the Chamber he handed over a further reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) about the fishing industry to the Secretary of State for Scotland. I regret it because I myself come from the Percy side of the Border, and my constituency is also very closely associated, at North Shields, with the fishing industry, and I wanted to ask the Minister of Agriculture whether the statement about new accommodation for trawler crews was the only policy which was to be dealt with by the Government in relation to the fishing industry.
During this Debate we have heard a very great deal about the maintenance of full employment. I am interested in the maintenance of full employment of all sections of the community, and I shall be very disappointed indeed if the Government take no further adequate steps to protect the interests of those who seek their livelihood by fishing. Therefore, I should like to know conclusively from the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries whether there is going to be any further legislation to help those who man and own the trawlers and fish the high seas. I am, of course, a newcomer to the fishing industry, and I do not profess to have expert knowledge, such as was displayed by the hon. Member for Banff and by the hon. and learned Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Hector Hughes), but I have observed, since I have represented fishing interests, that those interests complain that all political parties and all Governments, whatever their complexion may have been, have not, in fact, acted fairly and squarely by this great and important industry.
There are today some vital questions which have to be answered if we are to ensure the full employment of those in this industry. First of all, the ever-rising cost of coal is inflicting great hardship to trawler owners. Secondly, the unregulated import of foreign fish is a great menace to those who are engaged in the British fishing industry. The Minister of Agriculture emphasised his regret and apprehension at the serious over-fishing and the lack of ratification of the various international agreements by other countries, but I should like to hear from the Foreign Secretary, if he is the appropriate Minister, what action he proposes to take in this connection.
414 In my part of the world, there has been considerable comment on the fact that the Socialist Government negotiated a loan with Iceland, which, I understand, was one of the countries which has not ratified the convention which is so important to the future interests of our fishing. I should like to hear from the Foreign Secretary his views on these matters, and whether he is prepared, in specific terms, to make representations to the countries who are menacing the future of those engaged in our industry.
I want to raise one other point on the Gracious Speech. I was very pleased to see in the Speech that further legislation is foreshadowed with regard to the transference of industrial undertakings into the special development areas. I am a Tynesider. I have battled on Tyneside's behalf just as hard as any of the Members opposite for the solution of our problem of unemployment, and I am glad to say that we have succeeded, up to a point, in obtaining a balanced industrial economy.
A great deal of our heavy unemployment, dating, in particular, from 1929 to 1931—[Laughter.] It is no use Members opposite laughing because I was there, and I know that I was not popular always with my own party when I raised the interests of Tyneside. I give place to no one in the efforts I have made to see that in future all our eggs are not in one industrial basket. The Socialist Government of 1929, in cutting our naval shipbuilding, produced an immense amount of unemployment on the Tyne. The fact that we were so dependent on heavy industries—coal, shipbuilding, ship-repairing and engineering—proved, in modern world circumstances, a very difficult situation for us to cope with; we decided that we must have a balanced industrial economy, so that we had dependence both on heavy industry and on light industry.
During the time that I was in the House of Commons, the first National Government, predominantly Conservative, introduced an Act, the original Act, with the object of creating a situation which would enable light industries to be introduced into the special areas. That Act was followed by a Measure called the Location of Industries Act, which was passed during the lifetime of the Coalition Government. I am delighted to know 415 that further legislation is foreshadowed, and I shall await with great interest the decision as to what we may expect when that Bill is introduced in Parliament. I would, however, say—because we take note of these things on the North-East Coast—that the light industries which have come to Tyneside and are helping us to obtain this balanced economy have been industries run by private enterprise, and that I have not noticed that nationalised industries have made any contribution at all towards solving the problem. I think it is just as well that that angle of the problem should be emphasised.
We are, of course, still dependent to a very large extent on our major heavy industries, and I was very disconcerted to read the following sentence in an independent journal issued by the National Provincial Bank, with contributions by people who know what they are talking about:Pockets of unemployment in small industries are reported from North Wales, but the area giving the greatest anxiety is that of the Tyne where, for reasons already explained, the outlook for ship repairing is not so bright.When I hear right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite giving vent to expressions of complacency and self-satisfaction on the maintenance of full employment I ask the Government Front Bench: what are they going to do to safeguard our future interests on the Tyne?
It has not escaped notice—I am not making any observations on it, because I know it is part of a general policy on world trade—that, after all, it was the Socialist Government which removed the restrictions on shipowners having their ships repaired in foreign yards. Neither have I forgotten that once when we were hard put to it for orders on Tyneside, the Scottish Wholesale Society had a ship built in Holland to save the expense of having that ship built in the United Kingdom. I want to know, the Socialist Government having now freed shipowners to have their ships repaired in any part of the world, what steps they are taking to prevent rising costs of our raw materials? My greatest opposition to the nationalisation of the iron and steel industry is because of the fact that if the cost of our main raw material rises 416 the security of employment of those who work in our shipbuilding yards and our ship-repairing yards will again be threatened.
Though, as I say, I am delighted to read in the Gracious Speech that we are to have further legislation, which will, presumably, help us on Tyneside even further to balance our industrial economy, the major portion of those who earn their living on that great river earn it in ship-building, ship-repairing, coal mining and engineering. I want to know specifically from whoever is the responsible Minister what steps the Government are taking to deal with the situation now that the people's verdict has been given and the situation on the Tyne is giving rise to grave anxiety? What steps are the Government taking to protect the interests of those engaged in our major industries, to prevent a rise in the cost of their raw materials which will reduce our competitive powers? Lastly, what steps are the Government taking to safeguard the interests of those who earn their living in the fishing industry?
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Padley (Ogmore)
In making my first speech in this House, I do so with the trepidation that will be appreciated by many other Members. I crave the indulgence of the House, and if some parts of my speech appear contentious, I ask Members to remember that the constituency I have the honour to repre sent has a contentious history. That contentious history gives rise to contentious problems which require solutions in the present and in the future. I have the honour to represent the Ogmore division in mid-Glamorgan, a division which in the days gone by has produced many doughty fighters on the Labour benches. I am encouraged, in making this speech, because I am following the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Miss Ward), who made reference to the development areas.
My constituency demonstrates conclusively how effective Socialist planning and public ownership of key industries is in the reconstruction of Britain. It is an area, depending in pre-war days principally upon mining, which was left to rot in idleness in the inter-war years, that has been steadily re-built by measures of financial and industrial control. The hon. Member for Tynemouth says she has not observed that nationalised industries have 417 made a contribution to the re-building of the development areas. So far as the Ogmore division is concerned, the rejuvenation of its basic industry, coal-mining, is the foundation of the present record levels of peace-time employment.
But side by side with the rejuvenation of the coal industry are ambitious schemes of re-organisation and development, which together with the variety of new industries that have been growing up, have given balance to the industrial structure and provided employment for the people. Make no mistake. If the Tory Party had set the people free and done away with irksome controls in 1945, then these new industries would not be appearing in the Ogmore, Garw and Maesteg valleys of South Wales. A few weeks ago it was my pleasure to visit the site of a new paper mill in the Maesteg Valley. These paper mills are there, firstly, because of the Distribution of Industry Act, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), as a Coalition Minister, piloted through the House accompanied by the jeers of many Members opposite. I do not claim to know what the fate of that Act would be under a hypothetical Tory Government of the future. When I visited the site I saw tons of steel already erected, making the shell of the factory and there were also tons of steel lying on the site. How did the steel and the other building materials get to the Maesteg Valley? By those very Acts and controls which Members opposite are prone to denounce.
I read in the Press at the weekend that a not undistinguished leader of the British motor industry, Mr. Lord, was denouncing the "fatheads" who allocated steel. Many Conservative Members of this House to my knowledge also denounced the Acts and controls which govern the allocation of steel and other key materials. I say that the "fatheads" did a good job when steel was allocated for building alternative industries in the Ogmore division.
Without public ownership and the rejuvenation of the coal industry and without financial and industrial controls, the grim shadow of unemployment would be cast over the lives of the men and women I represent. Hon. Members opposite find it irksome that we on this side of the House sometimes remind them of the days 418 gone by, but a country which does not know its own history is in the position of a man who has lost his memory. I do not believe for one moment that the formidable problems which we must tackle in the future can be solved by men who have lost their memory.
During the election the Tory Party circulated a General Election news sheet. On page 2 there was one of those references to history. At the top of the page there was a photograph of a woman looking into a shop and below that one of an attractive young lady. There was an analysis of her personal expenditure beginning with a complaint about Purchase Tax on lipstick, and underneath the question asked at the top, "When was the picture taken?" was answered. It was taken in the year 1933, and the Tory news sheet went on to say, "1933, the days when food was plentiful in the shops, the days when the housewife's task was easy." I do not know the reaction in any other part of the country, but in the Ogmore division there was the memory that on the last Sunday in January of that year when the picture was taken the miners' leader in the Maesteg Valley delivered the Good Cause appeal on the B.B.C. for the Maesteg and district children's boot fund. I have the text of that broadcast here and it is very moving. That will enlighten hon. Members about those days when there was no Purchase Tax on lipstick. I say with the Tory General Election news sheet that "those days can come again" if we abandon the policy of Socialist economic planning founded on financial and industrial controls.
While on that point, let me add that in 1933 the infantile mortality rate in the Maesteg area was 90 per 1,000. It has now been cut to 50. Through you, Mr. Speaker, I should like to inform the hon. Member for Luton (Dr. Hill) that it was not done by M and B and penicillin but by M.P.s and politics, and by work, wages and social services. That is what has saved babies born of the common people. It was done by the first majority Labour Government and by peace-time records of employment resulting from wise planning and the rebuilding of the Development Areas. We cannot repair the ravages of decades in four and a half short years. A tough problem still remains, not only in my constituency but in constituencies represented by other hon. Members.
419 In my constituency the unemployment rate is more than double the national average, and if we include miners disabled with pneumoconiosis it rises still further. I recognise that within the framework of industrial and financial controls some private firms have done a good job, but the fact remains that there are State-provided factories untenanted and idle. Therefore, in extending a warm welcome to the promise of legislation in the Gracious Speech to solve the employment problems of the Development Areas, I would make a plea to right hon. Gentlemen on our own Front Bench. Where private enterprise demonstrably fails to bring employment to the people, Ministers should act on the Socialist principles which inspired our party through the years and in its victory in the recent General Election. Where private enterprise fails to take up a State-provided factory, the Government should give serious consideration to plans whereby existing nationalised industries can utilise that factory space, or to establishing some new corporation which will run, competitive public industries. I am convinced that the problems still remaining in my constituency and in other parts of South Wales, complicated as they are by pneumoconiosis, will be fully solved only by the application of public-ownership measures to do the job which private enterprise has failed to do.
At this point I turn to broader issues. There have been attempts in this House and outside to predict that the balance of forces in this House will precipitate quarrels and divisions in the British Labour movement. We have got used to hon. Members opposite suggesting that there is an impending split between the Labour Party and the trade unions or between this wing and the other wing. As the President of one of the largest trade unions in Britain, I would make it clear that the leaders of our Government can count on the same devoted loyalty which has characterised the last four and a half years.
I am confident that organised labour in the trade unions will welcome the firm declaration of the Prime Minister in response to the challenge from the other side of the House on the question of iron and steel. If our Government retain 420 Socialist initiative and tread the path outlined by our General Election programme, I am convinced that this Parliament will go down in history as one of the Parliaments during which we in Britain built our democratic Socialist society, offering the world an alternative both to the economic anarchy of Capitalism and to the political tyranny of Communism. In that sense I believe that this House, like the former House, can prove historic.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Nutting (Melton)
It falls to my lot to congratulate the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley) upon his maiden speech. If he did not exactly follow the usual non-contentious pattern of maiden speeches, but seemed to indulge in what appeared to us on this side of the House rather more like a bang-over from the General Election, he can certainly rest happy tonight in the thought that his speech has struck us all as not only sincere but also as audible. [HON. MEMBERS: "Speak up."] Unfortunately, I cannot emulate the hon. Gentleman. Not only will the House look forward to future contributions of his on occasions when hon. Members may be more able to join issue with him, but I can also assure him that our friends who compile the OFFICIAL REPORT Of this House will look upon him as a worthy addition to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Town and Country Planning.
I make no apology to the House, even at this late hour, for returning to the issue of foreign policy which received but scant mention in the Gracious Speech. My right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) said rightly that there was no clear theme on foreign policy in the King's Speech. I would go further and add that to me there seems to be no sense of urgency either. In the few clipped and short sentences which dealt with foreign policy, there seemed to me to be, in the Gracious Speech, that same complacency and that same tendency for the Government to isolate themselves from world developments which has so characterised the foreign policy of His Majesty's Government in the last five years.
It really is no answer whatever to the problems which we face abroad today for the Prime Minister to stand at the Despatch Box and announce to the 421 House of Commons that we have, after all, recognised the Communist Government in China. One might just as well say that in 1940 we recognised Dunkirk. After Dunkirk, however, Government, Parliament and people were at least galvanised into action. Who can say that the Gracious Speech shows that the Government are now galvanised into action in the Far East?
Neither is it enough for the Government to say that they approve the initiative of the new Australian Foreign Secretary at the Colombo Conference. For, according to the speech of the Prime Minister in opening the Debate, the Colombo Conference has "not yet been fully considered." The House is entitled to ask the Prime Minister and the Government, why not? We really must ask for a little more information than the Prime Minister has vouchsafed, not only about the Colombo Conference and what took place there, but about the resulting intentions of the Government in the Far East and in South-East Asia.
Events in the Far East are moving rapidly against us. According to the Colombo communique, Mr. Malcolm Macdonald, the representative of the Government in Singapore, drew the attention of the Conference tothe, possible repercussions throughout South-East Asia of the Communist victory in China, including the danger of intensified guerrilla tactics and propaganda and the presence in the countries concerned of a large potential fifth column of local Communists and Chinese sympathisers.Mr. Macdonald went on to say thatthe infiltration into Indo-China from China with the object of driving out the Bao Dai regime would endanger both Siam and Burma and would bring the Communists to the frontiers of India and Pakistan.That is the position as revealed by the official representative of His Majesty's Government in Singapore. I have searched through the Gracious Speech and the speech of the Prime Minister but I can find no sign whatever that the Government are seized with the crucial nature of the Communist threat in the Far East and in South-East Asia to British interests and territory; no word or sentence to match this very sombre warning by Mr. Macdonald at Colombo.
It is deplorable that, according to the right hon. Gentleman, we must wait until 422 May for the Spender Plan, which was brought forward at the conference, to be considered at above the official level. Does this mean that the Consultative Committee that was set up at Colombo will not meet before May; if not, why not? After all the Spender Plan is the first—indeed, the only—truly imaginative proposal which has emerged in the last five years for tackling in a positive way the difficulties which confront us in the Far East.
I had the opportunity last year to visit Australia and, in particular, to have talks with the new Prime Minister and the new Foreign Secretary in that Dominion. I know from my talks with Mr. Robert Menzies and Mr. Spender that both of these gentlemen are really anxious to contribute to a peaceful settlement in the Far East, not only to stave off the threat of Communism to Australian interests, but so that they may play their part as loyal and active partners in the British Empire and Commonwealth in defending British interests, wherever their resources will allow.
In the Spender Plan we have a bold and imaginative proposal to maintain and improve the standard of life in South-East Asia—a constructive policy of providing consumption goods, technical advice and assistance, capital equipment for industrial and agricultural development and, where possible, sterling loans. That is a pretty broad and imaginative plan designed to bring real and material assistance to people threatened by the Communist advance. It holds out to them some hope that the British Empire will support them in their struggle for existence and survival. But so far as we can judge from the very scanty and miserable information given to the House in this Debate, the response of the Government has been at best half-hearted and no action has been taken to implement these proposals, which, we are told, are not even to be considered for another three months.
What is more, it appears from the Prime Minister's speech that there has been no consultation as a result of the Colombo Conference at the official or any other level with the United States Government. The right hon. Gentleman said:The Spender Plan envisages consultation with the Commonwealth countries first, and 423 doubtless after that we shall be consulting with the United States."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 6th March, 1950; Vol. 472, c. 69.]Surely the Colombo Conference was "consultation with the Commonwealth countries" and, surely, despite the fact that a General Election has intervened, there should have been some consultation between the Foreign Office and the United States State Department. But as far as we can judge from the information given by the Prime Minister no such consultation has yet taken place. If action proceeds at the present leisurely pace no consultation on these plans and proposals will take place with the United States until well after May; in other words, not for another four or five months.
Before leaving the question of the Colombo Conference, there are two further questions I wish to put to the Government. Can we be told what has happened about the Japanese Peace Treaty? The Colombo communiqué said that the Empire Foreign Ministers had discussed this matter and made recommendations to their Governments. The Prime Minister said nothing about this whatever, but the House is surely entitled to know something of the recommendations which were made by the Foreign Secretary to the British Government and what action His Majesty's Government propose to take on those recommendations. I need not remind the House that at the Canberra Conference in October, 1947, it was hoped, in spite of the uncooperative attitude the Soviet Government had already shown in the matter, that it would still be possible to sign the peace treaty in mid-1948. Eighteen months have elapsed since then and nothing whatever has happened; as far as one can make out there has been very little discussion and very little action taken by His Majesty's Government.
The second question perhaps relates to the past, but it is none the less important and I feel we should have an answer to it. It has been asked by other hon. Members, notably my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans). I would ask the Government to give us more information about it. It is the question of the recognition accorded by the Government to the Chinese Government in China. Was it really necessary for His Majesty's Government to give the appearance of a completely unilateral decision 424 to recognise the Chinese Government on the eve of the Colombo Conference when such matters were bound to figure and, in fact, did figure in the discussions which took place at Colombo?
I have very carefully said "to give the appearance of a unilateral decision" because I am quite prepared to believe that consultation did in fact take place between His Majesty's Government and the Dominion Governments concerned by telegram in the usual way between the Dominion Prime Ministers and the Prime Minister of this country. But the public at large do not appreciate these niceties, and the public at large were most definitely left with the impression that His Majesty's Government were in such a hurry to give recognition to the Communist Government in China that they could not wait three days to consult with the Dominion Governments involved.
For some time it seems to have been the policy of the Government in the Far East, as in Europe also, to act in isolation and to avoid open co-operation with the other countries, European, and Empire countries, involved in Far Eastern affairs. It has been held that such overt co-operation would lend weight to Communist propaganda among the native populations in South-East Asia that the Western Powers are "ganging up" to suppress native interests and national aspirations. I suggest to the Government that that is precisely the dilemma which the Communists want to create for us and, through its creation, to follow the pattern of aggression made so popular by Herr Hitler—"Divide and conquer." One does not solve a dilemma by sitting, as this Government have done in the Far East, paralysed before it. All that has resulted from our reluctance to range ourselves with the other countries involved in the Far East has been to throw this country on to the defensive, and an isolated defensive at that, seeking desperately and alone to contain the threat in those territories actually menaced by Communist aggression. In other words, we have in the Far East, as elsewhere, allowed the Soviet Union to seize and to hold the initiative.
There can surely be only one solution, namely, an imaginative programme of economic and military aid to South-East Asia, the foundations of which have been laid in the Spender Plan adopted by the 425 Colombo Conference. Much of the aid envisaged in the Australian proposals must clearly come from the United States. I submit that much help can also be given by the sterling area countries and territories involved such as Australia and New Zealand, and, up to a point, by the European nations involved and concerned in that area. But Britain, as the banker of the sterling area, and as the heart and centre of any Empire effort of the kind envisaged, has a large part to play.
It is true that we cannot do anything in these matters in that theatre without the co-operation of America and the Commonwealth, but I submit that equally they cannot do anything without we in Britain setting the pace and giving the initiative. I earnestly hope that despite the rather feeble phrases in the Gracious Speech His Majesty's Government may yet be persuaded to show some sense of urgency in this matter; that we shall not have a repetition, in the matter of organising and stabilising South-East Asia, of the long-drawn-out delay which characterised our approach to the organisation of Western Europe. I pray that in the Far East we shall act in real co-operation with the Empire and European nations involved, and not in that very unsplendid isolation which has marked our dealings in Europe with such countries as France and in the unnecessarily antagonistic manner in which we have treated Italy and Western Germany.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) has said in speeches in the country and in this House, Britain lies at the centre of the three great unities of Western civilisation—the unity between Britain and the British Empire; the unity between Britain and Western Europe; and the unity across the Atlantic. I earnestly beg the Government to rise to the level of this occasion and of the responsibility of Britain's position in the world, to recognise the very real threat to Western civilisation and interests now especially concentrated in the Far East, and to seize the opportunities now before them to bring a little hope and help to those teeming millions whose survival is a responsibility which we in this country dare not shirk.
§ 9.55 p.m.
§ Mr. F. Elwyn Jones (West Ham, South)
In the few minutes that remain to me, I have time to deal only with one or two of the myths about the policy of His Majesty's Government perpetrated by the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Nutting) and by his predecessor who spoke upon foreign policy. The two main myths are, first, that the Labour Government have neglected the British Empire, and secondly, that they have neglected their duty of co-operation with the rest of Europe and the rest of the world. You may think, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that those taunts from the Conservative Opposition come badly from their mouths. When I recollect what the condition of the British Empire was in 1945 when the Labour Government took office, and compare it with its condition now, it is indeed a matter of pride to me, as one who has supported His Majesty's Government, to see what remarkable achievements this Government has created in the field of Empire policy and development.
Let me take the Far East, for instance. When His Majesty's Government took office the huge continent of India was in -a tumult of revolt against Britain. The strongest movement in India was the "Quit India movement" which was, it is true, restrained by the remarkable personality and philosophy of Gandhi whose influence was in danger in India of being replaced by very different elements and very different conduct. It was the genius and wisdom of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and his colleagues that saved the peace in the Far East, that created in the great Dominions and in the great Empire area of India and Pakistan a territory which, from being hostile to Britain, has become friendly to Britain.
I remember with great pleasure attending a conference of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Rome about 18 months ago — the hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Colonel Stoddart-Scott) will remembers it with as much emotion and happiness as I do—when the representatives of 51 Parliaments were discussing various matters, and in all matters which the British delegation supported we were enthusiastically supported by the representatives of India. 427 Pakistan and Ceylon. That is typical of the new spirit governing the relations of Britain, and that area of 400 million people which the enlightened policy of His Majesty's Government has made possible. We transformed a territory of 400 million potential enemies of Britain into a territory where a real bulwark of stability, be it painfully, is being built up at the present time.
The hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Leather) spoke about the Labour Government's neglect of the Colonies. What an extraordinary taunt from the Tory Party. The Labour Government have in fact, encouraged the economic development of the British Colonies more than any Tory administration; they are engaging in more trade with the Colonies than any Tory Administration ever did, and they are developing the political life of the colonial areas in a way in which the Tory Opposition are incapable of developing the insurgent desire of other peoples to be free to organise themselves in democratic institutions. Under the Labour Government the spirit of the Colonial Office is a new and liberating spirit which is introducing into great areas, which could go the way of many of the territories in the Far East, into areas where democratic institutions are slowly being created and where a spirit of loyalty to Britain will result in consequence.
The only aspect of the speech of the hon. Member for Melton with which I found myself in agreement was his own expressed desire for the improvement of economic aid to the territories of the Far East and the territories of the Empire. That has been the very essence of the policy pursued by His Majesty's Government. In the matter of economic co-operation we have done more than our share, more than other nations have done, to help with our limited resources the development of other areas, and it amazes me, when there is an opportunity for us proudly to say to the world that we have done our part, that Tory Members always seek to denigrate the efforts of this country.
§ It being Ten o'Clock the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.