§ [SECOND DAY]
Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [4th November]:
That an humble Address be presented to Her 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 addressed to both Houses of Parliament"—[Major Anstruther-Gray.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I propose the Question again, I should say to the House that I have been told that it is the general desire that the debate today should be of a general character, and that tomorrow we should debate foreign affairs and on Friday colonial affairs. That is what I have been told.
§ Question again proposed.
§ 2.43 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
When the debate was adjourned last night, I was in the course of drawing attention to the difficult position in which many thousands of families now occupying requisitioned premises are likely to find themselves as a result of certain action that is being taken by the Minister of Housing and Local Government. I drew attention to one statement—probably the most important statement—contained in the Gracious Speech, namely, that it is the intention of the Governmentto reduce the heavy load of Government expenditure.I also drew attention to the fact that there had been issued an Interim Report of the Working Party on Requisitioned Properties in Use for Housing. This Interim Report, which has, I understand, been circulated to all local authorities by the Minister of Health with a covering letter, acquires a rather sinister significance in view of the Government's expressed intention to reduce Government expenditure.
In this connection I must confess that I view the activities of the Minister of Housing and Local Government in this 151 regard with a certain degree of suspicion, if not alarm. The history of this matter goes back to 19th February this year, when the Minister of Housing and Local Government informed local authorities, in effect, that a term must be put to the financial responsibilities of the Government in respect of requisitioned properties. Only the other day, on 30th October, up-to-date statistics were provided in the OFFICIAL REPORT, in answer to a written Question, which revealed this state of affairs—and I quote these figures in summary fashion so that hon. Members may have some idea of the magnitude of the problem involved.
Those statistics reveal that there are at present some 82,000 requisitioned dwellings in England and Wales accommodating 123,000 families. The cost to the Exchequer of that particular form of housing is in the neighbourhood of £5,500,000 a year. It is the intention of the Minister of Housing and Local Government, as far as I can gather, to cut down this £5,500,000 at the earliest possible moment. That is likely to have a very serious effect upon the living standards of all the families to whom I have referred.
The problem will be particularly acute in London, because almost half of the families of England and Wales who are now accommodated in requisitioned properties live in the London area, and in the 29 Metropolitan Boroughs there are no fewer than 59,000 families at the present moment which are accommodated in 34,000 requisitioned properties at a cost to the Exchequer of £3 million. The Metropolitan Borough with which I am particularly acquainted is Lambeth, of which the Brixton division forms part. In that one Metropolitan Borough there are 3,609 families living in 2,567 requisitioned properties.
In this Interim Report of the Working Party to which I have referred, and which has now the official approval of the Minister of Housing and Local Government, various dates are fixed, for de-requisitioning these properties, and the time-table is conditioned by the number of families per thousand of the general population who are living in those requisitioned properties. Where the number of families is up to one per thousand, the date by which de-requisitioning must 152 be completed is December, 1953 between one and two per 1,000, the terminal date is December, 1954. In the case of the Metropolitan Boroughs, the percentage is so high that no date has yet been fixed, but it is the intention of the Minister of Health that the Metropolitan Boroughs shall effect the maximum possible reduction from year to year to get rid of the higher cost properties, review the charges that are now being made to the occupants, and keep repairs to an absolute minimum.
In Lambeth the number of families per 1,000 of the population living in requisitioned properties is no fewer than 16, and it is about the same for the other Metropolitan Boroughs. It ought to be remembered that it is not possible for a local authority, under Ministerial directive, to charge more for a requisitioned property than the appropriate controlled rent, and even if the full controlled rent were charged the income derived from the rent would be less than the compensation rental which is paid by the Exchequer to the owners of these properties.
In the Borough of Lambeth, to quote one example, the income from rent falls short by £100,000 a year. If it is the intention of the Minister of Housing and Local Government to require local authorities to cut out this form of expenditure it would mean, in the Borough of Lambeth at any rate, that the local authority would have to increase the rents of these requisitioned properties by an average of something like 14s. a week, or £35 a year. The average for London would be very much higher—somewhere in the neighbourhood of £1 a week, or £50 a year.
It is ludicrous to expect that a local authority with a long housing list will be able to transfer to the housing list of applicants for new properties all those people now living in requisitioned properties. In Lambeth there are 9,563 applications on the housing waiting list. If the 3,609 families are turned out of their requisitioned properties to satisfy the Minister's requirements, it would represent a very substantial and backbreaking addition to the present list. It would also delay even longer the time for which people now on the list have to wait.
The Minister is asking local authorities to allocate a proportion of the new prop- 153 erties now being built to the occupants of requisitioned properties. That must inevitably mean a longer waiting period for those already on the housing list. On the other hand, it may well be the intention of the Minister that when these people are taken out of the requisitioned property and re-housed, the property should revert to the landlords with vacant possession. If that is so, the owners of the property would be able to reap a very handsome premium through being able to sell property in London and elsewhere with vacant possession.
The danger to which I want to draw attention is that of financial pressure being brought to bear by the Government on local authorities throughout the country, and the suspense in which thousands of people are being kept as a result of this "unhousing" policy upon which the Minister has now embarked.
One of the Minister's suggestions is that local authorities should induce owners to accept the present occupiers as protected tenants under the Rent Restrictions Acts. That will mean in some cases a heavy loss to the owners of these properties unless—which I fear will be the case—the Rent Acts are radically revised, although by some very cautionary process on the part of the Government there is no reference in the Gracious Speech to what was expected to be an attempt by the Government to deal with the question of rent restriction during the present Session. Thousands of property owners throughout the country will be bitterly disappointed with the Conservative Government when they realise that important omission from the Gracious Speech.
Many local authorities are doing their best to provide as much housing as possible. The present Government are entitled to take as much credit as they can for the figures they publish of houses that are being built, but in the Metropolitan Borough of Lambeth the hold-ups caused by the shortage of steel have meant at least a six months' delay in the completion of housing schemes now under construction.
I have made these remarks today because it is right that all these thousands of families should be warned of the dangerous possibilities inherent in the Government's present de-requisitioning policy. In my view, local authorities will have to be on their guard. Even Tory-controlled boroughs in the London area 154 view with considerable disquiet the beginnings of a campaign by the Minister of Housing to squeeze them on the subject of the rents charged to the occupants of these requisitioned properties.
I do not know whether the Chancellor has already decided to capitulate to the "ginger group" that has been formed on the Government benches to introduce a ruthless large-scale measure of economy in a multitude of directions, although it is true that the Chancellor has referred to his dislike of measures which would involve cruelty to any section of the population. In my submission, any imposition of this kind, any attempt to secure economy at the expense of these thousands of people now living in requisitioned property, would be both morally and economically unjustifiable at the present time. Whatever victims are being lined up for the Government's economy campaign, I hope that the occupants of these requisitioned properties will not be at the head of the queue.
§ 2.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Dalton (Bishop Auckland)
Her Majesty's Opposition will place on the Order Paper an Amendment to be debated next week which will cover a number of topics, particularly on the home front. But I do not think that yesterday's debate has even now quite exhausted the problems of the home front, and I therefore propose to say something more about them today.
We were very much puzzled yesterday—I think both sides of the House were, and even Ministers, too—by some passages in the Prime Minister's speech, even after it had been amended by substituting £900 million for £300 million. I understand that the President of the Board of Trade is to follow me in the debate. No doubt there was a certain commotion after the speech last night, of which he may well have formed a peripheral part, and I dare say that he will be able to give us a rather clearer statement today on some of the subjects that were raised by the Prime Minister in connection with the compensation for the railways and the bearing of that upon our transport problem.
The Prime Minister said originally that the £300 million, which he afterwards amended to £900 million, being the total capital valuation that was put on the railways under the nationalisation Act, 155 was a millstone, and he suggested that it was a burden too heavy to be borne, which is what a millstone is. I remember well the debates on this subject in the 1945 Parliament. I had something to do with that Act. Indeed, I was greatly criticised by the party opposite, the Opposition as it then was, for speaking disrespectfully of the railways and using the phrase "a poor bag of physical assets," which I thought accurately represented certain of the assets taken over from the old railway companies.
I was told then that, in spite of all that I might have said in derogation of the value of the assets, we ought to have paid more and not less; that we ought to have provided a heavier millstone. I should like to know whether, following upon the Prime Minister's denunciation restrospectively of the terms of compensation for the railways, the present Government now intend, as one of the new proposals introduced into the Transport Bill, any partial or complete repudiation of that arrangement, and any partial or complete confiscation of the property of this group of property owners. That would seem to follow logically from the words used yesterday.
What we did was to take the Stock Exchange valuation at a given date and pay the gilt-edged rate of interest on that. The gilt-edged rate of interest when the thing came to pass was 3 per cent., and a lot more has to be paid now on gilt-edged than 3 per cent., not to mention 2½ per cent., which was the rate when I spoke in support of the Bill. I am anxious that these property owners should not be unfairly treated by the present Government, and it is also worth noting that this millstone, amounting to some £30 million a year, is substantially less than the total sum paid annually to the original body of shareholders before we nationalised them.
Because the Government guarantee was worth something and is still worth something, therefore, the total income of this group of property owners was diminished by the nationalisation Measure, and we should like to know whether the present Government are going to diminish it still further. I would like the President of the Board of Trade to give a serious reply to this very serious question.
Looking rather further afield, if it is to be laid down now by the Prime Minister 156 that fixed interest on capital is to be regarded as a millstone on the undertaking which has to pay it, that argument will carry us a long distance. There are many other millstones both in the public and private sectors of our industry. I do not know what the Government have in mind with regard to all that, and we should, of course, like to know. The President of the Board of Trade, I am sure, will be able to oblige the House in that regard.
It seemed to me that, when the Prime Minister passed on from the railways to the Town and Country Planning Act, it was not so much, as he himself explained afterwards, a clerical error in his notes, as perhaps that he was substituting one page of his notes for another page, because £300 million does happen to be the appropriate figure for discussion of the Town and Country Planning Act and the compensation payments there.
Here is another millstone, and what is to be done about it? I understand that the Minister of Housing and Local Government may be speaking later in these debates, and I am pleased to see here the Parliamentary Secretary of the Department with which I was once connected. He, no doubt, will take note of this question, but we think that, even at this stage, before the Bill is introduced, we ought to have a general statement from the Government as to what they intend to do with regard to the amendment of the Act.
The Prime Minister did not make it at all clear yesterday. Are they going to make further confiscations of private property? Are they going simply to say, "£300 million is a millstone; we just won't pay it"? Is that the policy, or is that part of the suggested policy, and, if so, what are the other parts? My right hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) is here, and he will have noticed that there was a retrospective passage in the Prime Minister's speech about his old days which has a bearing on this. The Prime Minister said yesterday:I remember the old days, which were my young or younger days, when the taxation of land values and of unearned increments in land was a foremost principle and a lively element in the programme of the Radical Party to which I then belonged."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th November, 1952; Vol. 507, c. 26.]I have looked up one of my favourite bed books, "Liberalism and the Social 157 Problem." The smooth passage of the prose falls on one like the waves of a not too rough sea, and before one falls asleep one is brought into a state of great felicity by the rhythm of those rolling periods. I looked up what the Prime Minister was saying on this subject in his speeches in 1909, and I selected, in order that we might recover that lost atmosphere and perhaps proceed from that to consider whether something on those lines might not even now be worth while, a few sentences of what the Prime Minister said in a speech at Edinburgh. He said:The immemorial custom of nearly every modern State, the mature conclusions of many of the greatest thinkers, has placed the tenure, transfer, and obligations of land in a wholly different category from other classes of property.He went on to explain why.
Then came another passage in which he dealt with the way in which land values are built up almost out of nothing and he speaks of… the enrichment which comes to the landlord"—and all this still goes on—who happens to own a plot of land on the outskirts or at the centre of one of our great cities, who watches the busy population around him making the city larger, richer, more convenient, more famous every day, and all the while sits still and does nothing! Roads are made, streets are made, railway services are improved, electric light turns night into day, electric trams glide swiftly to and fro, water is brought from reservoirs a hundred miles off in the mountains—and all the while the landlord sits still and does nothing!Every one of those improvements is effected by the labour and at the cost of other people. Many of the most important are effected at the cost of the municipality and of the ratepayers. To not one of those improvements does the land monopolist, as a land monopolist, contribute, and yet by every one of them the value of his land is sensibly enhanced. He renders no service to the community, he contributes nothing to the general welfare, he contributes nothing even to the process from which his enrichment is derived.That is noble prose. It is also clear economic thinking, is it not? Does not the President of the Board of Trade agree? We ask now: Are the Government considering the substitution for this development charge, which, they say, has worked not too well, some old-fashioned tax such as is suggested in the speech which I have just quoted? We would like to know. My right hon. Friends and I will keep an open mind on this. While expressing great sympathy with the Prime Minister's aspirations, we should like to 158 see whether this robust rhetoric can be clothed in practical legislative form.
But this would be a possible line of advance. It crossed my own mind when considering this difficult statute in the Department now called Housing and Local Government. It would be possible to substitute for the development charge a tax of some kind on land values. On all that we reserve judgment for the time being.
I think that the greatest weakness in the operation of the Act is that the powers of compulsory purchase are proving not to be so strong as we intended. Landlords are not, as the intention of the statute was, selling land only at existing use value. The intention of the statute, when we passed it through the House in the 1945 Parliament, was that in future the development value should belong to the State—and £300 million compensation was provided to cover that—and, on the other hand, landlords selling land, whether by private purchase or to public authorities, should charge only the existing use value of the land; and the intention was to have in the background certain powers of compulsory purchase which should make that happen if the landlords tried to charge too much.
When I was at the Ministry, then called the Ministry of Local Government and Planning, we had it in mind to amend the Act in such a way as to strengthen the powers of compulsory purchase both for local authorities and the Central Land Board; and certainly something should be done because landlords are undoubtedly profiteering at the present time by charging too much for the land. When I am asked, "In what direction do you want more Socialism now?", a very interesting question—[Interruption.] When the party opposite bring in their miserable little counter-Socialist Measures they may have a little run, but will be repealed in due course, as has often been explained.
I certainly think there should be more Socialism in the future in the ownership of land and other forms of real property by local authorities in urban areas. That may be the key to the housing problem in many important boroughs. At present, the powers of compulsory purchase are inadequate both under the Town and Country Planning Act and other statutes, and they should be strengthened.
159 That would have a bearing on the Rent Restriction Acts. Was it deliberate that no reference was made to the Rent Restriction Acts in the Gracious Speech? Are we to understand that this burning question, on which many people have strong views and about which pressure is applied by various vested interests for a change in the law, is a matter upon which the Government have decided not to legislate this Session, or is it one of the things to be thrown in later on as an after-thought? May we have a definite statement whether or not legislation is contemplated?
In the course of his speech yesterday the Prime Minister referred to historic houses. Here we touch a question which is now familiar: What can be done to preserve that very splendid element in our national heritage, independently of any individual owner or any individual family, those many houses of great historic interest and great architectural beauty?
There was a Gowers Report a little while ago—Sir Ernest Gowers is always producing reports with the aid of other people—relating to what should be done with the historic houses. The Report was quite unacceptable to the late Government. The main proposal was that there should be special tax remissions for the people who happen to inhabit those historic houses. The late Government rejected that, and I hope that the present Government will reject it, too.
But we thought, and I hope the present Government will think so, that some further steps should be taken. Probably the Ministry of Works is the Department which should be active in this matter. When he was Minister of Works, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich was considering—I was concerned with it, too, at the Ministry of Local Government and Planning—whether something could be done to make it possible for a number of these historic houses, without the incidental enrichment of their owners, which should be no part of public policy, to be made, with reasonable access for the public, part in effect, of the property of the nation.
We could use for this purpose the National Trust or the Ministry of Works itself might take over and look after some of these houses, as far as possible finding 160 an actual use for them, partly for residential purposes and partly for educational and other objects, but not just turning them into museums. Since the Prime Minister mentioned this yesterday, we should be glad to hear at some stage what the Government contemplate in this field.
I now pass to the question which is troubling us most—I hope and believe it is troubling hon. Members in all parts of the House—and that is the increased unemployment and the danger that that increase may be greater still in the future. We are living under a shadow, the shadow of fear that the unemployment problem may once again over-master us The figures of unemployment have doubled since the Government came in, and they have only been in a year, and if the figures continue to double each year they will soon become exceedingly serious.
A very serious aspect is also revealed in the fall in the number of vacancies notified to employment exchanges. Last week the "Economist" said:There has been a sharp fall in the number of vacancies notified to the labour exchanges. Vacancies in September have been fewer than the numbers of unemployed for the first time in any September since the war.That is a very grave portent.
When we were in office we were always encouraged by the fact that although, in some areas and some industries, unemployment sometimes rose higher than we had hoped, none the less in the country as a whole there were more unfilled jobs than there were workers seeking employment and not finding it. This was one of the indices of full employment. As soon as that ceases to be true and the balance tilts and we have more workers seeking jobs than we have jobs seeking workers, the foundations of full employment are undermined and we are at the beginning of a slide which may carry us into very deep water. This fact must have a great effect upon any proposal which the Government may have in mind about Development Areas or other plans for stimulating employment.
We often speak of "setting the people free." Nothing done since the war has been so effective in setting the people free as the maintenance of full employment for over six years under the late Government. That set the people free from the fear of the scrapheap and the 161 fear of the dole queue. That was a greater liberating act than any playing around with minor controls, either to take them off or to put them on. It was a major act of liberation that the people were freed from the fear of falling once again into mass unemployment. It looks to me as though, if this trend in the statistics is not corrected, the road is now open back from that freedom into the old slavery.
There is a purely practical consideration with which I do not think the right hon. Gentleman will disagree, but if he does I hope he will say so. It is an antediluvian delusion, entertained by some old-fashioned industrialists and financiers, that the way to make men work harder is to make them fear that, if they do not, they will lose their job. I believe that to be quite wrong as regards industry in general.
I am not talking about individual cases and individual temperaments. But if there is a lot of unemployment about and a prospect of more to come, many men will hesitate to work themselves out of a job and we shall get less industrial effort than if full employment prevails and men know that they can change their employment without being in any great peril of falling out of work.
It may well be that the decline in production which is a marked feature now of the monthly returns, in sharp contrast with those when Labour was in power, is due not only to increasing unemployment, because if fewer people are working the total production must be less, but may also well be due to a discouragement arising in the minds of many industrial workers that in these conditions there may be a danger of their working themselves out of their jobs.
I now turn to unemployment in one or two industries and areas. A most striking and dangerous fact is that unemployment in the docks is becoming very serious indeed. It is obvious that if we have fewer exports and imports there will be fewer ships to be loaded and unloaded. In the London Docks as a whole unemployment among dockers has now reached 20 per cent. I have read that in official reports. I have been told by some of my hon. Friends who represent constituencies in the East End of London that in some of the docks in the London area—not all—it is now 162 worse than it has been at any time during the past 30 years, in the Surrey Docks in particular. This is a very serious state of affairs, and I hope that the Government will grapple with the problem and find a solution.
I turn now to Lancashire, that troubled county. We were all glad to hear that the President of the Board of Trade is now to designate part of north-east Lancashire as a Development Area. We are sorry that he has not done it before. I am not now going to debate what towns should be in or out of it, but there are lively opinions on that subject, and we cannot be taken to be accepting without further consideration the rather narrow boundaries which he indicated in his recent statement to the House. It may very well be that in the debate on the Order which he will make in due course we shall develop the argument that some rather wider area should be marked out. So much for the new Development Area.
One word as to the existing Development Areas. The President of the Board of Trade said the other day that he might be considering removing from the schedule certain existing Development Areas. There was some correspondence in "The Times" on this subject and I was charged with having invented the ugly word "de-scheduled." That was hardly fair, because I was merely quoting the term used by the right hon. Gentleman when he said he was considering whether he should not remove from the list some of the existing Development Areas or some part of them.
The present employment position in these Development Areas is so vulnerable that it would be a very great error and very wrong to remove any of them and take away from those places the benefits which they get under the Distribution of Industry Act, 1945 and other provisions. The right hon. Gentleman will be firmly resisted from this side of the House if he tampers with the boundaries of the existing Development Areas.
Here let me add a point about new industries. I hope that the President of the Board of Trade—this is not primarily his concern, but it is his joint concern with the Minister of Housing and Local Government—will have regard to new industries in the new towns. This is not going to make a very big demand at present upon the total resources of the invest- 163 ment programme, but it is necessary that in the new towns there should be a proper phasing of local employment with local housing arrangements. It is most essential that they should not become dormitory towns, but that new industries should move into the new towns as fast as houses are put up for the new population.
As I say, that is a joint responsibility, but when I was Minister of Local Government and Planning I found that the Board of Trade were not very responsive to representations on this subject. I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will be, and that he will see his way to give the necessary assurances about employment in these new towns which are being built now. All Ministers find that some Departments are not very responsive from time to time; other Ministers as well as I have experienced that. Why should we hush it all up? I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will draw the attention of some of the officials in his Department to the necessity for providing suitable industrial opportunities in the new towns. That is a very harmless way of putting it.
I have another question of which I gave the right hon. Gentleman notice, and it was mentioned yesterday by the Leader of the Opposition. What has happened to the Monopolies Bill? We were promised it a year ago in the last King's Speech, and the right hon. Gentleman, in the debate we had in the House during last Session, attached importance to strengthening the present powers of the Monopolies Commission. We should like to know what has happened to it, because it is agreed by everybody—and this is not a party proposition—that there are a number of monopolistic and restrictive practices in private enterprise which keep prices higher than they ought to be, and which also discourage new men, new methods, new forms of enterprise and up-to-date methods of efficiency from entering particular industries.
Many of the old trade associations are millstones round the necks of the new people who are coming forward in these industries, and it is high time that something was done to encourage these new, more up-to-date and more hopeful industrialists. I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will be able to tell us that it was merely inadvertence which was responsible for leaving the Mono- 164 polies Bill out of the Gracious Speech, as, apparently, was the case with the Bill dealing with historic houses.
I turn briefly to the subject of the reduction of the heavy load of public expenditure, and no doubt supporters of the Government are making all sorts of practical proposals whereby this can be done. At some stage we should like to be brought into the listening circle and told in what direction these reductions are to be made. Since the matter has been emphasised in the Gracious Speech, we might well be told in the course of this debate, at least in broad outline, what the Government proposals are.
There are not many alternatives. There are the food subsidies. Are we going to have a further reduction of them? There are the housing subsidies, the Health Service, education, defence or the National Debt. There is not much else. It must be some of these and we should like to know which. If I am asked to indicate my preference I should say the last. The National Debt is costing too much and we should have a reversal of policy here. [Laughter.] Do not hon. Gentlemen opposite agree that the National Debt is costing too much? It is a millstone around the necks of the community far heavier than that mere £30 million per annum for transport charges.
We think there is an opportunity here to do something. The dear money drive which has been going on during last year might well be put into reverse now. If that were done, the benefits to industry and agriculture would be very great. There is another phrase in the Gracious Speech which I will quote in support of that:My Ministers will encourage all engaged in agriculture, mining and industry to co-operate in increasing productive efficiency and thus to produce at lower cost the goods needed at home and by the export trades.A word now about agriculture. Hope went out of agriculture when this Government came in. Until this Government came in there was a wonderfully steady rise in the production of British agriculture and in the morale of all associated with farming in this country. The farmers and the farm workers were doing their best and getting a reasonable remuneration for what they did. Then this Government came in and what happened? The first thing they did was to 165 put the Minister of Agriculture out of the Cabinet. He was not even fit to sit in the Cabinet, but policy-making was going to be done by an indirect system of overlords.
That has offended the farmers very much. I get representations about it. Many farmers think that they have been downgraded by this Government. They are not as well looked after as when my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) was Minister of Agriculture. They often tell me so, and when the reporters are not present I dare say they tell supporters of this Government, "We never had such a good Minister of Agriculture as the one we had when Labour was in office. He was allowed to sit in the Cabinet and put the case for British agriculture. That does not happen now."
And like a millstone around the neck of this great productive industry is the fact that the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation are now charging 6 per cent. for long-term loans. That is not the way to treat the farmers and encourage them to greater production and to grow more food. It is a most glaring instance of the stupidity of the dear money policy, for it puts a millstone around the neck of the one section of the community which we want to see re-equipped and encouraged to develop their land and so save imports. I see the Minister of State for Economic Affairs present and I am sure he will agree with me that agriculture cannot make its full contribution so long as it has to pay 6 per cent. on long-term loans. I hope that that will go home to the Treasury.
There is only one other matter on which I want to ask questions and to say a word, and that is the coming Commonwealth conference. We are told in the Speech that the conference is to conferon vital problems of finance, commerce and economic policy.The conference is to meet this month. Before it meets we ought to have a statement, again in broad outline, from the Government as to their idea of what that conference ought to do. If we are not careful the House of Commons and the country will find themselves confronted with extremely grave decisions taken without debate in this House.
166 There are many people who wish to embark once again upon the experiment of convertibility. We know that the Canadians are anxious for that to be done and I believe that the present Australian Government are rather inclined that way. We know that there are many people in the City who advise it. Bad advice is easily got from the City. The Prime Minister knows something about that. He got bad advice when we went back to gold in 1925, and lots of us have got it since. We want to know whether those who are advising the return to convertibility have been finally told that that is not the policy of Her Majesty's Government, or whether this danger is still threatening us.
One of the dangers which I sense, indeed I have read about it in many journals where these matters are discussed—I have read it in the "Economist" and elsewhere—is that a proposal will be made in the near future for the setting up of a supranational authority to do what is called "co-ordinating" the trade and economic policies of the countries concerned, including this country. We may find that we shall suffer not merely from a deflation decided upon by Her Majesty's advisers but a deflation dictated by a decision taken by other people whose interests may be very much in conflict with our own.
We may be required to surrender control of our own affairs on essential points regarding the level of employment and prices, and commercial and monetary policy. It is most essential, as we have frequently declared, that we should remain masters in our own house in these matters. These are fears which I hope will be set at rest by a statement on behalf of Her Majesty's Government.
At the end of the last war we were able to draw a sharp contrast between what happened then and what happened at the end of the First World War. Many of us have a bitter recollection of the policy that was followed then, under bad advice, of deliberate deflation, leading to mass unemployment, to the uprooting of whole communities from their homes and to grave social dislocation of many kinds. All that is well remembered. After the Second World War that did not happen. We changed all that while we had the power. Now that the power has passed to others, we ask whether there is not a 167 danger today that history may again begin to repeat itself. It is time we had from the Government a much clearer statement than we have hitherto had of their intentions, and from this House today, we warn the country of what may be in store.
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Peter Thorneycroft)
I rise to reply to the speech which has just been delivered by the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton).
It is, in a sense, something of a lottery for anyone to speak in the opening stages of a debate of this character. The range of topics is so wide and the possible approaches so diverse that no one can foretell with any certainty the subject, let alone the lines, of the speeches that will be made. I am therefore all the more grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for having indicated to me one or two of the topics with which he wishes me to deal.
What seems certain is that a large number of speakers in this debate will go beyond the details of the legislative programme and will go on to consider what, as the right hon. Member for Waltham-stow, West (Mr. Attlee) said yesterday, is the principal concern of us all, the mainlines of economic policy and the main prospects for the coming year. It is those matters to which I wish to draw particular attention in my speech today. Two of the principal Bills have already been presented, and there will be full opportunity for debating them at a later stage. I am sure the opportunity will be seized on all sides of the House.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the omission of the Monopolies Bill. I share very much his regret that it was impossible to accommodate the Bill in the programme for this year. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It was, after all, my child, and I did not like to be parted from it. I comfort myself with the thought that it is not the first time in the history of Governments that a Bill has been mentioned in the Gracious Speech and some delay has afterwards taken place before the Measure was introduced.
I remember that in March, 1950, the King's Speech promised a Measure to deal with the water supplies of the country, a Measure which never saw the light of day. The bitterness of that pill 168 may have been sweetened by the mention, on 31st October, 1950, in the next King's Speech, of a Bill to nationalise sugar. What happened to that? I never spoke harshly to right hon. Gentlemen opposite for having lost those particular Measures, and I hope very much that they will be as tolerant towards me.
I say frankly to the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland that it had been our wish, and still is our eventual intention, to introduce a Bill dealing with this matter; in particular, because we consider that nationalised monopolies should be treated on the same basis as private monopolies. In our view, what was sauce for the private goose is also sauce for the statutory gander. Now that I know that the right hon. Gentleman himself is anxious to press on along those lines, it will be all the easier to find an opportunity of doing so on another occasion.
§ Mr. Dalton
I did not raise the question of whether the Government intended to bring into the Monopolies Bill those bodies who are weighed down by the millstone of fixed interest payments, as distinct from industries which have a prospect of unlimited profit. I only asked what had happened to the Bill.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
The right hon. Gentleman can comfort himself. From the way things are going at the moment, it looks as though there will be many years yet of Conservative Government.
This is an occasion when Members on all sides of the House will wish to look at the broad field of Government policy and to express views, not only on the details of legislation—for which there are many opportunities during the course of the year—but on whether they consider we are on the right road or the wrong one. In the year which lies ahead of us, it may well be that while there will be important amending legislation, it will be in the field of administration and in the application of economic policies that we shall chiefly affect our national future. Hon. Gentlemen will have seen from the Gracious Speech that the general lines of our economic policy are the extension and adaptation of the policy which we have pursued hitherto. The best service that the House of Commons can give in this debate is to test and argue that policy in full discussion. Let us look 169 at what it has achieved and determine what it might achieve in the 12 months that lie ahead. Let us certainly examine any alternative policy from any quarter of the House which hon. Gentlemen may wish to put forward.
If the economic policy of Her Majesty's Government is to be judged by the simple test of whether it works, which is not a bad one, I suggest that policy has hitherto proved a remarkably successful one. In this speech I wish to look principally towards the future, but it is not out of place to review in a few sentences what has happened in the past 12 months in order to understand the point from which we now start.
Twelve months ago our fortunes were at a remarkably low ebb. The United Kingdom was running into debt at the rate of £800 million. The losses from gold reserves in the fourth quarter of 1951 were 934 million dollars, in the first quarter of 1952 635 million dollars, in the second quarter of 1952 they were reduced to 15 million dollars and in the third quarter we balanced.
In the October figures published on Monday the reserves rose by 82 million dollars, of which 37 million dollars represented payments from the European Payments Union earned in September, and 10 million dollars of surplus with the rest of the world. These figures are, on any view, satisfactory to be able to announce. At any rate, they show that for the moment the trend is in the right direction. Our gold and dollar reserves have been stable during the last quarter, and in the last month they have actually risen.
It is equally important not to exaggerate the improvement in our fortunes. We are still at a point where we shall have to pay 100 per cent. in gold for any loss which we incur in the European Payments Union, and we need to earn back another 30 million dollars before we move out of that tranche. Even then we would still be in substantial debt with the European Payments Union. Also, on our general sterling external account, it is a truism to say that our reserves are too low for comfort, even for security. Our earnings must continue to increase, both to build up those reserves and to pursue the larger measures of expansion which we have in mind.
170 However, on a review of those 12 months, we can say that these have been solid achievements. They have not been the achievements of Government alone. I will examine some of the factors in a moment which played a part in that, but one of the major factors was the collective effort of the British people themselves, the sacrifice of those who were prepared to do without and the efforts of all concerned to maintain production. It seems to me that our task in the coming year is to seize that opportunity which the British people have carved out for themselves and to make the most of it.
We have spent a year in trying to get the foundations right, and if one or two of the spectators watching it have said that it was dull, uninteresting and sometimes unpopular work, I still think that history will judge us to be right in getting those foundations in order before we start to build a more ambitious edifice upon them. At any rate, we can say that we are now building on much solider foundations than those which were provided for us in 1951.
I want now to turn to the prospects for the coming year, the background against which our policy and legislative programme must be judged. The first thing I would say is that we can be as proud as we like about what we have done during the last 12 months so long as we are not complacent about the 12 months that lie ahead. There is no reason whatever to suppose that the situation will necessarily become easier. Such improvements as we gain will be brought about by our own efforts or not at all.
I think it is right to observe that some of the factors which assist the United Kingdom balance of payments do not necessarily operate in favour of her export trade. I will give two factors as an example. One is the improvement in the terms of trade, though I would observe that these terms are still less favourable to the United Kingdom than in the period before the Korean conflict. The other is the import cuts. Both those tend to operate against the flow of United Kingdom exports. Primary producers who are earning less money from the sale of their commodities naturally have less money to spend on the import of manufactured goods.
Equally, the imposition of import cuts—which are useful, which indeed are 171 necessary and have been necessary in the economic circumstances in which we find ourselves—certainly do not promote the flow of exports. The danger of import cutting is that it may bring a temporary solution but at the risk of inducing a downward spiral of world trade.
I do not wish to foreshadow the sudden lowering of physical trade barriers, but I do say here to manufacturers that it would be quite wrong to regard import quotas as part of the permanent paraphernalia of our commercial policy. A healthy economy is one in which internal fiscal and monetary policy is so arranged that physical control can be scaled down to the minimum and reliance placed on the more orthodox and preferable means of moderate tariffs. Whatever the difficulties, and recognising that any advance must be gradual, this is the direction in which we wish to move and the object to which we wish to direct our efforts.
Looking ahead, we must expect to see a continuation of the buyers' market. The great weight of post-war demand which sustained exports and production during the post-war boom is now spent. At the same time our fortunes are increasingly affected by the recovery in industrial strength of our principal competitors, notably Germany and Japan. These are the harsh economic facts of the situation and whatever aid a Government can give, it cannot alter those hard economic facts. The truth is that either we must sell at prices, at delivery dates and at qualities which meet the customers' demands, or we shall not sell at all.
During the next 12 months other great industrial nations will be competing for the important markets of the world, and who wins those markets and who loses them will be determined in part by the activities of Government. But let it not be forgotten that it will be determined in large measure, and indeed principally, by action which is taken, not in Whitehall, but at factory level and in merchants' offices. Both management and workers should be under no illusion whatsoever as to the toughness of the struggle that lies ahead of them. Our future largely depends upon their ability to win it.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me to deal with one aspect of our domestic policy, that is, on the distribution of industry, which I should like to touch on 172 now before turning to my main theme. Let me say at once that the economic problems of this country will clearly not be solved either by scheduling or de-scheduling any area of it. The Distribution of Industry Act is not a substitute for an effective policy; it is a limited and useful adjunct to such a policy. The purpose of the Act is to help individual areas. I think all of us agree with that purpose and that it is right to have the Act. And we all agree that it is right that the community as a whole should give assistance to those areas which need that type of help.
The right hon. Gentleman reminded the House that recently I announced that I proposed to invite the House of Commons to approve the scheduling of a new area in North-East Lancashire. Two points are now raised about that. First of all, some hon. Members, I note, wish to see me and press me on the subject of extending the area, and I am naturally very happy to meet hon. Members on that or any other subject; but I must make it plain that, however much we may sympathise with the claims of other areas, there is not an endless reserve of special advantages to be extended, and, indeed, if they are spread too widely, they become quite meaningless.
The area in North-East Lancashire has been chosen after very careful consideration of the claims of many other areas. It is more remote, it is peculiarily dependent on a single section of a single industry, and its rate of wholly unemployed persons is higher than elsewhere and has increased. In my judgment, it is at any rate more in need of special help to obtain new industries than any other area at which I have looked. It is on this basis that it has been selected.
The second point is one which the right hon. Gentleman made and is, in a sense, analogous. If we are to add new areas to the list, is it right that we should examine, on the other side, the possibility of removing the whole or part of the other areas which are already on the list? The Act of 1945, which was introduced by the Coalition Government, clearly anticipated that such areas might be removed in suitable cases, when the need for special help of that character no longer existed. It is, however, one thing to state a principle and another thing to implement it in practice. What we are doing, and what I am doing at present, 173 is to examine some of the practical problems involved. The right hon. Gentleman knows enough about it to appreciate that some quite difficult problems are involved. But I think we should be informed of them in case at some suitable date, and after all the full inquiries envisaged by the Act, it was decided to use that part of it.
I leave the particular and rather more limited field of the Development Areas to turn for a few moments to what I think is the most important aspect of our situation, namely, exports. The daily rate of exports has been falling, and this is due to a number of factors, among them, the end of the sellers' market, the growth of local manufacturing industry and its artificial fostering to some extent in many parts of the world, the return of fierce competition, the growth of financial difficulties in many countries such as the Argentine and Brazil, and also, in some respects, certain weaknesses in our own competitive position, notably our difficulty for various reasons to quote satisfactory delivery dates for some capital goods.
But, if one looks at the export figures, one sees that the main decline in the flow of exports has been to the sterling area. The quarterly average of United Kingdom exports to the rest of the sterling area in 1951 was £328 million. It rose to £390 million in the first quarter of 1952. Since then, it has declined to £300 million in the second quarter and to £265 million in the third quarter.
This decline is essentially connected and associated with the fact that the sterling area is now living within its means, whereas previously it was not. It has not been possible—and no one could have expected it in the time—to make up for this fall in exports to the sterling area by a rise in exports to the non-sterling area, but I am happy to say that within this rather gloomy picture there is a brighter spot—namely, that in the second and third quarters of 1952 there was a slight rise in both quarters in exports to the dollar area.
What I think clearly emerges from any study of the future prospects of our exports is this: that in the future there will not be any easy, soft markets upon which exporters can rely. The sterling area will provide a solid, long-term market for British goods of the right type, but 174 it would be quite unrealistic to hope for a return to the boom selling conditions which were associated with the post-Korean phase.
Some people suggest that we should ease our general export position by a more generous credit policy. I think it has to be remembered that, to a larger extent than almost any other country, we are dependent upon imports of essentials—imports for which we have to pay cash, and generally upon the nail. Our reserves are limited and, fundamentally, one cannot lend money out of a deficit. The extension of credit is clearly limited, therefore; in fact, we need to sell for cash and not for credit in our present condition. As the House knows, we examine each case upon its merits and look sympathetically upon requests for the extension of credit, particularly where important capital goods exports might otherwise be lost.
There is some indication that textile exports will show—indeed they are showing—a small improvement. I do not wish to exaggerate it. Certainly those textile exports—wool and cotton and all other textile exports—must continue to form an important part of our total export effort. Jointly with the cotton industry, I have made arrangements to examine the export field, market by market, to see where we have fallen back and where, if possible, we might push forward.
We have also arranged for a small, hand-picked team to visit certain selected markets at an early date to examine the requirements of those markets on the spot and to report back as to what special efforts need to be made by Lancashire producers and merchants if those exports are to be developed. It is hoped that the first of these teams will go to West Africa very shortly. The rayon industry has devised special methods whereby it can offer a good range of cheap cloths to appropriate markets.
The buyers' market is not confined to textiles. It has spread to metal goods, but the demand is still there for many capital goods, and the arrangements announced last July to make more steel available are helping good exporting firms to get the raw materials which they need.
I want to mention one particular market, namely. South America, for which my noble Friend, Lord Reading, 175 is leaving on a goodwill mission next week. In addition to that, there is a trade mission leaving by air on 10th November for Venezuela, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Mexico, on a six weeks' trade tour. The Mission is led by Brigadier Crosland, managing director of Parson and Crosland. It covers a wide range of engineering, consumer goods and textile industries. It is a powerful team of people with collective experience of these rapidly expanding markets. It follows, if I may say so, the good work done by the engineering students' mission sponsored by the Federation of British Industries. The Export Credit Guarantee Department are backing and reinforcing these efforts by extending the facilities which they offer in these parts of the world.
I turn to one particular matter to which the right hon. Gentleman paid attention and many other hon. Members have mentioned, and that is the question of the production figures. The reason for the recent decline in production is, of course, not far to seek, and it can be quite simply stated. The expansion and rise in prices which followed the outbreak of the Korean war was followed by a world-wide decline in buying. Men bought less and produced less, and particularly is this true of textiles.
No one should suppose that this decline is something of recent origin. In textiles, the production figures were sagging from the first quarter of 1951. No doubt at that time they caused some concern to the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland; in fact, I seem to recollect that he made some speech about them at that period. By the autumn, at any rate, the writing was clearly on the wall, and the decline had spread to some other consumer goods industries.
But I would ask that the House should not exaggerate this decline. To hear some people talk one would think that we were not producing very much at all. The truth is that if the production in textiles had remained at the abnormal 1951 level, there would have been no fall at all in the total production index for all industries for the first half of 1952 compared with the corresponding period for 1951. Moreover, there are some important and bright spots in the picture.
The important metal and engineering group shows an increase in the first half 176 of 1952 over the first half of 1951. The production of bricks and cement is up. Coal and steel production—both central to many other production problems—has steadily increased. In the third quarter of this year steel production increased by 230,000 tons over the corresponding period of 1951. Coal production is about 2½ million tons greater than in the corresponding period of the year before.
Even in textiles, which have had some hard and harsh problems to face, employment is increasing, unemployment is falling, stocks are running down, the production of cotton yarn is rising, and the production of worsted yarn is at its highest level since June, 1951. If we take the over-all production figures, the estimated total for September, after the normal seasonal fall in July and August, shows a rise to a level higher than last June.
§ Mr. Hugh Gaitskell (Leeds, South)
Will the right hon. Gentleman say how it compares with September last year?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I have not the figure by me and could not say without notice. I say these things not because I think there is any ground whatever for complacency, but because I do think it is right that when people talk of these production figures they should be looked at in perspective.
In the concluding moments of my speech, I turn to summarise the main theme of the policy outlined in the Gracious Speech. We enter the coming year proud of our achievements and confident about our future. We have now a balance in our accounts, even recently a small surplus. We cannot afford and do not propose to use that as an excuse for some sudden alteration or relaxation of our policy. Indeed, looking back over the past six years, one is impressed with the tendency to alternate between the blackest pessimism and the wildest optimism.
The worst service we could do to the nation would be to use the relative improvement in our present position as an excuse for relaxation of our efforts. All our fortunes depend in the last resort upon the countries of the sterling area—and not least ourselves—pursuing the right internal policy. We here are faced with special difficulties. We must sustain a substantial armament programme and at the same time make a special 177 effort in the export field. It would be idle to pretend that such a formidable task could be carried out successfully, or at all, against a background of steadily rising Government expenditure in other fields. Economy at home with the development of our resources within the Commonwealth and strength abroad are the essence of the policies we urge.
I believe that they command the large support of great sections of the British people. I think we can be encouraged by the increased vote of confidence which was accorded to us at High Wycombe. I believe that support for these general lines of policy stretches very wide and deep within the British nation. Certainly that kind of policy was most notably sustained by a series of able and courageous speeches by trade union leaders at the Trades Union Congress at Margate.
Aims of this character are not achieved without hard work and sacrifice. They cannot be achieved unless the Government refrain from spending on objects which, in other circumstances and contexts, might be wholly admirable. They can only be pursued in partnership with the Commonwealth and in friendship with the United States of America. That partnership will be carried a stage further in the November Conference. Its aim and object is to ensure that this Commonwealth and Empire can play its part in expanding the trade and strength of the democratic world.
I do not pretend that these measures and measures we have to adopt are necessarily popular or easy. If there is an alternative, let it be put forward, argued and defended. But, in my judgment, it would be hypocrisy to pretend, as some people do, that we can really go out on a policy of developing the world and at the same time preach hatred of the United States of America. It would be hypocrisy to say that we really wanted to put our house in order while opposing Government economies or urging ever more ways of spending public money. Such alternatives as we have so far heard either detract from the objects we seek to pursue or are irrelevant to the purpose we have in mind.
We intend, therefore, to pursue the main lines we have followed so successfully and so far, adapting them and modifying them as changing circum- 178 stances suggest. We offer no easy road, no security that is not won by national effort, no safety that is not got by sacrifice. We offer a goal which a proud people at the centre of a great Commonwealth will not fail to win.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham, East)
The President of the Board of Trade started to console us for the undoubted decline in production figures by suggesting that if production in one of our more important industries had not declined as much as it had, the figures might have been about the same as last year. An argument framed in those terms is not in itself very convincing. We cannot base our judgment of the policy of the Government or of the adequacy of the Gracious Speech to the economic situation on a supposition of something quite different happening in the textile industry from what in fact has happened.
Even if we take the right hon. Gentleman's argument at its face value, what was the utmost he claimed to tell us? That if we made certain favourable imaginings, the figures of production would be possibly no worse than last year. We have to see that judgment against the fact that, month by month and year by year, until this Government came into office, from the starting point in the difficult months immediately after the end of the war, the production figures steadily rose, and what we have now is a break in that continuity which the right hon. Gentleman can cover up only by saying that if we pretended the situation is other than it is, at least it might have got no worse. That is a matter of the very greatest importance. The right hon. Gentleman said, "We have put the foundations right." That is exactly what the Government's policy has not done during the last 12 months.
The improvement in the balance of payments has to be read side by side with the reduction of stocks, with the fact that the terms of trade were more favourable to us during those 12 months than they had been in the period immediately before; and they have to be read in terms of the fact that, as we know from such frequent experience, these movements of the balance of payments are liable to be affected from one quarter to another and from one year to another by factors which it has defeated the ingenuity of Governments of any party to predict.
179 Underneath these figures there lies the ultimate fact which governs the whole of our economic position. That is the plain fact as to how much we produce, how much actual wealth is turned out by a month's, a week's or an hour's work in this country. It is on that plain fact that there depends in the end not only our balance of payment figures but our standard of life, our chance of being able to defend ourselves adequately and our chance of being able to do anything to raise the standard of life of less fortunate sections of mankind, and so assist in some way in alleviating the strain and tension in the world from which the danger of war springs.
§ The Minister of State for Economic Affairs (Sir Arthur Salter)
Will the hon. Member say exactly what he means by "the reduction of stocks"?
§ Mr. Stewart
Yes; that it has proved possible, without more serious inroads on the standard of life of the people of this country, to make cuts in imports which, but for reductions of stocks, could not have been made. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to give figures which will disprove what I am saying, we should be delighted to listen to him.
I know the reason Governments do not give figures of that kind, and in view of that accepted fact all of us are entitled to study the facts available to us and make reasonable deductions from them. Indeed, even the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred at an early stage in the history of this Government to the extent to which he was meeting his difficulties by drawing on the cupboard which his colleagues told us was bare. [Interruption.] If the right hon. Gentleman disagrees with his right hon. Friend, there are other occasions on which he can have it out with him.
If we are to face this fundamental problem, we shall need a much more serious appraisal of the situation than anything in the Gracious Speech leads us to suppose is in the minds of the present Government. We have for example, to endeavour to make this country, not only in the immediate future but in years to come, more self-supporting. I believe that to be the historical pattern which will be imposed upon us in this century. That means, among other things, greater production of food in this country. Apart 180 from a pious phrase or two in the Gracious Speech, there is no indication of what steps the Government propose to take towards that end.
Further, we shall have to see that in our trading relations with the world as a whole our eggs are spread into as many different baskets as possible. There is reference in the Gracious Speech to a forthcoming Commonwealth conference. All of us will be reminded by that reference of the similar reference in the Gracious Speech a year ago to a conference of Commonwealth Finance Ministers which then lay in the future. That conference came and went, and shortly after came actions of policy by the Governments of Australia and New Zealand that caused not merely embarrassment but surprise to Ministers on the Government Front Bench. We were all left wondering what use they had made of that conference. We are all hoping that there will not be a similar tale to tell when the conference foretold in this year's Gracious Speech has come and gone.
Likewise, whatever success or lack of success may attend the Government in matters of foreign trade, we must all realise that a Government with the best intentions or even the greatest ability, such as we have not got at present, cannot compel success in that field. The less success we have there, the more important it is to step up our own production.
What are some of the steps which I believe to be relevant to that end? I believe that we require a Government who look with enthusiasm and good will on the achievements of the publicly-owned industries. It was significant that both the President of the Board of Trade, speaking today, and the Prime Minister yesterday, when somebody reminded him of the problem of production, presented the House with encouraging messages from the record of work of the coal and steel industries. If it were not for that encouraging record, the position both for the Government and the country would be very much more serious than it is.
I believe that there is, in the publicly-owned industries, a great fund of potential good will among the workers in them that even a Government not wedded to a policy of public ownership could tap. The Prime Minister referred to the inflow of men into the coalmining industry. 181 I believe it is true that there is a spirit of growing good will in that industry which is not yet found in some of the other publicly-owned industries.
I believe that by a study of how that position has been achieved in the coal-mining industry, and by the application of those lessons, particularly in the field of giving opportunities for promotion and advancement to the workers in the industry, and making use of their experience and knowledge in the industry, we can make considerable advances in the productive efficiency of the publicly-owned industries.
There is no mention of that sort of thing in the Gracious Speech. In the Speech a year ago, there was a shadowy reference to something of that kind. We heard from Conservative speakers, when the Government were new, reference to the need to de-centralise and humanise—I think that was the phrase—the running of the publicly-controlled industries. I think there are things that could be done in that field. It is discouraging to find, after a Session in which scarcely anything was done to put any substance into the shadowy phrases of last year's Gracious Speech, that any projects of that kind disappear altogether from this year's Gracious Speech.
We have only the references to the partisan and doctrinaire attack that has been made on two of the publicly-owned industries. Where they should conserve, encourage and develop, the Government are more concerned to injure and to destroy. I do not wish to pursue that point now. We shall all have an opportunity to deal with those subjects later when we have had rather longer time to study the Bills and the Prime Minister has been able to distinguish more clearly between the subjects of transport and town and country planning than he seemed to do in his speech yesterday.
Further, if we are to increase production, it is not only a question of the encouragement and help which the Government could give and the great good will and increased production which they could evoke from the publicly-owned industries. I would say in passing that if Members of the Conservative Party wish to serve the country well in this matter, they had better abandon a good deal of the propaganda about the publicly-owned industries which was part of their stock in trade in recent years.
182 The plain fact is that in the problem of keeping down costs and prices, and in the actual figures of production, the publicly-owned industries have a record which compares very favourably with that of the private sector, and it is no use a Government who face this problem responsibly dodging that fact and the lessons and conclusions as to the desirability of the extension of public ownership which must inevitably in time be drawn from it.
If private enterprise has one advantage and one merit claimed for it, it is that it is competitive. That is why we have been surprised and concerned to note the disappearance from the Gracious Speech of any reference to legislation dealing with monopolies. The right hon. Gentleman gave a certain explanation for that. He compared it with the failure to introduce certain Measures that were put in the Speeches from the Throne in the time of the last Government. He need not have gone as far as that. He need only have gone back a year ago to obtain an example of a Speech in which there was some half-a-dozen paragraphs all of which melted into thin air by the time the Session was over.
There was great work to be done for Scotland, for example. That was mentioned in the last Gracious Speech. Twelve months have passed during which the figures of unemployment in that part of the United Kingdom have been going up steadily. And they have not been alleviated in the least by finding two more jobs in the Scottish Office for members of the Government. In last year's Gracious Speech, one finds paragraph after paragraph that have since vanished in that manner.
It could be said at least about the Measures dropped by the late Government, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, that they certainly would have been controversial Measures. But the monopolies Measure of the present Government, if it ever sees the light of day, will not be in that sense a controversial Measure. It may well be that on this side of the House we shall not think that it goes far enough: but the right hon. Gentleman can be assured that on the general principle of such a Measure he will meet with good will. That makes it all the more surprising that it is dropped from the Queen's Speech. Another serious reason for deploring its disappearance is that it is one of the 183 essential steps which this country must take if its production is to be adequate to the needs of the middle of the 20th century.
Another step that needs to be taken if production in this country is to go on rising, as our needs and our place in the world require that it should, is the process of investment. That is investment not only in the material sense of seeing that we are better provided with factories and machines, but what I believe the economic textbooks call "non-material investment"—investment in the minds and the skill of our people.
That is why it is a matter of concern, which was referred to strikingly by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short) last night, to find the declining importance which the Government evidently attach both to factory building and to the provision of schools. In both these fields we find that the actual amount of capital invested in the first half of this year is only a little over a half of what was invested in a similar period last year.
That means that if the Government have had any success in trying to keep up the standard of life of the people during the past 12 months, if they have had any success in other fields, they have bought it very heavily at the expense of the future, both with regard to stocks—of actual material capital—and with regard to training and bringing up the skill and productive powers of our people. That is the exact reverse of the kind of policy which the economic circumstances of the present day require.
There is one final thing which we need, of which again the Queen's Speech shows no appreciation, if this country is really to meet its economic difficulties, not merely to get through the particular balance of payments difficulty of this month or the other quarter or whichever it may be, but to establish itself firmly as a great nation in the world and a country able to give to its people a rising and decent standard of life. If we are to do that we must see to it not only that our people are working hard—which they will always be willing to do—but that they are working efficiently. We must see that they are working in the right industries in proportion to our total manpower and that they are working equipped with 184 the most up-to-date equipment that modern scientific knowledge can provide.
That means not only a quite different policy towards factory building and school building than we have from the present Government. It means also—and there is no reason why we should not think and say this—a determined effort on the part of the working people and of organised labour in this country to accept a rapidly changing and flexible economy. We must have willingness, if the scientific knowledge is there and if the capital investment is there, to welcome new and more efficient methods of production, willingness to realise the need for mobility of labour as between one industry and another.
One task which faces any Government is how to obtain from the working people of this country a ready acceptance of these inevitable propositions which the facts put before us. I believe it can be done. But we cannot ask working people to make so great an advance in ideas unless they are made to feel that they are doing it not merely to meet a temporary crisis, not merely to enable some other section of society to live a little more comfortably, but are doing it in order to create a better and more just kind of society. There have been no signs of that in the past 12 months and it is a matter of which the Gracious Speech shows no appreciation at all.
What are some of the things that have been happening in the past 12 months? Owing to the Chancellor's Budget, quite clearly it has been possible for people, already living fairly comfortably and not making any proportionate return to the community for what they are taking out of it, to live more comfortably still, while at the other end of the scale people are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet. Bit by bit the system of rationing and fair shares has been eaten away, partly by a rise in prices.
That has meant that, although on paper a rationing scheme may be in full swing, gradually, as anyone who goes to a butcher's shop or some other shops week after week may know, the principle of rationing and fair shares is being whittled away. While that goes on, the Government will appeal in vain to the trade unions and to the working people for a great united effort. One cannot ask people to make great sacrifices and adopt 185 new ideas unless they feel that the end for which those things are asked is worth while.
That is why some of us are concerned about the contents of the Gracious Speech. At a time when what is wanted is a radical policy appropriate to the needs of Britain today, what we have had in the terms of the Speech, and what its defence by the President of the Board of Trade today has given us, is in effect the old Conservative justification of an unplanned, undirected casual and unjust society.
§ 4.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
In many years' experience of the debate on the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech from the Throne I think that I can say that I do not remember any one which has been conducted in such a calm, quiet atmosphere as this, with scarcely any rancour at all. After all, one must remember that it is on this occasion that one expects the clash of policies from either side of the House.
The only definite criticisms that I have heard against the Gracious Speech and what is contained in it is that it is meagre and that there is so little in it. Why should it be otherwise? If it were otherwise, if there were a suggested programme of a great deal of new legislation then right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite would be departing from their faith. It is not for them to introduce legislation. Their whole policy is to say "No" to any proposal that should come forward.
But there is possibly another reason, too, for this situation. It is that, quite obviously, the two main Measures to which reference is made in the Gracious Speech, namely, the one dealing with iron and steel and the one dealing with transport, will be highly controversial and will have to be taken on the Floor of the House. That is a matter upon which I have no regrets whatever. I think that Measures which affect the lives of the people, and especially our industries, are Measures which should be taken on the Floor of the House, and not in Committee upstairs.
Too many of those great Measures which came before us in the Parliament of 1945 were debated by the few who are allowed to attend Committees upstairs. There it is; I expect that the coming 186 Session will, to a large extent, be occupied by the Measures to which I have already referred, and I cannot really criticise the Government for being true to their own principles.
I realise that tomorrow is the day upon which we shall be dealing with foreign affairs, and that the following day we shall be discussing colonial matters, but I should like to say a few words about both these matters here and now, when we are dealing with the situation generally. It seems to me that the foreign situation is easing. I feel it is so, and I hope I am right. It is less tense than it has been, and there is a greater desire everywhere for closer understanding, better relationships and closer co-operation.
If one needs any evidence of that, one has only to observe what is happening in Europe. First of all, there was the Schuman Plan, which we all welcomed as a great step forward, and which was taken by the six countries concerned to bring about a closer relationship amounting almost to future federation. My only regret, and I am quite sure that it is also the regret of everyone, is that that movement did not start long ago.
What a different world it would have been if those six countries that are now tending to come together had actually come together 50 years ago. We have learned wisdom only after two merciless world wars, and, even then, we have not learned it all, but are, in fact, learning it only now under the greater threat coming from behind the Iron Curtain.
At any rate, it is something of which we can only be very glad—that there is this desire apparently everywhere for closer co-operation and better understanding. While there are, of course, some difficulties that have to be faced, I hope we shall hear tomorrow from the Foreign Secretary a fuller account of what is happening. One of these difficulties that is really dangerous and might cause a great deal of trouble is the Saar. I know the efforts that have been made by the Foreign Secretary to get this matter settled, but, if it could be settled, I think we could see the road much clearer and much easier towards federation and a better understanding.
The most important sentence in the first part of the Gracious Speech, I 187 believe, is at the beginning of the third paragraph:I earnestly pray that in Korea an early armistice will be arranged.I am sure that is also the solemn prayer of everyone everywhere. Obviously, conditions in Korea were having a very grave effect upon the decision which was arrived at yesterday by the American people. I hope that we shall hear tomorrow from the Foreign Secretary what further steps are being taken in an effort to try to bring about the armistice for which we are all longing.
I will not pause any longer upon that matter, but will pass to another paragraph later in the Gracious Speech dealing with Central African federation, a subject that will be debated on Friday. Apparently, the draft scheme for federation is to be further considered. That is quite right; all these matters should be considered, and I will only say this, and it is what I have said before: that whatever is decided here in regard to federation, whether it is a good thing and ought to come about or not, I sincerely hope that no effort will ever be made by anyone to force it upon unwilling people in Central Africa.
I pass now to home affairs, because the most important matter of all is our economic and financial situation. I did not quite understand what the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition meant yesterday by saying that references to the Steel Bill, the Transport Bill and the Town and Country Planning Bill were irrelevant. I should have thought that they were all relevant to our economic and financial position, since each one of them affects production, distribution and the conditions of our people. However, one need not say anything more on the first two of those Measures, as opportunities will be given to us to debate them in full later.
As for what has been omitted, I was very glad to hear the President of the Board of Trade say that it is proposed to go on with a Measure dealing more firmly with monopolies than has been possible under the Act introduced by the late Government. I protested about that at the time, and I said that it was not wide enough and that it had not got the teeth necessary to deal with the dangers arising from monopolies. I am looking forward 188 to seeing the Bill, which was promised last year, though all that the right hon. Gentleman told us today was that it will be introduced eventually. I wonder what "eventually" means? This Session?
§ Mr. P. Thorneycroft
It is not included for this Session; that is why it is not mentioned in the Gracious Speech. I do, not want the right hon. and learned Gentleman to misunderstand me. I thought I had made the matter clear—that it was not to be in this Session: indeed, I explained why.
§ Mr. Davies
I had hoped that, having been mentioned last year, an attempt would have been made to give it a place this year, but, apparently, it has to go still further back in time, as is suggested by the right hon. Gentleman's use of the word "eventually."
There is one subject to which I regret to find the Gracious Speech makes no reference, and that is the Supplies and Services Act. The House will recall how the situation has developed to the present day. On 3rd September, 1939, this House and another place together handed over immediately to the Government of the day full powers to do all manners of things which, ordinarily, could only be done by Acts of Parliament. It was a temporary power that was handed over to them, and it was to come to an end six months after the cessation of hostilities. That Act was strengthened in May. 1940.
Then what happened? It was suggested by a Coalition Government, and again, I think, by the caretaker Government, that the period of six months was too short, and that it ought to be two years, but not more than two years. The first Bill introduced by the 1945 Labour Government was for an extension for another five years of the powers given temporarily for war purposes.
I agree that there was a certain amount of protest from the other side of the House that it should be limited to two years, but I and my colleagues felt that it should not be extended for more than one year, and we divided the House on that proposal, saying that, if it was found to be impossible to get back to normal in 12 months, the Government of the day should explain the position and ask for further time.
189 It will be remembered that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), in a speech at the Labour Party Conference at Blackpool, said that this Act had worked so well and that he was so enamoured of it that he hoped it would become a permanent feature of our constitution, thus going back to the days before the Commonwealth, when we had to contend with a predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman who also thought it was right to govern the country without the House of Commons.
I clearly understood last year that it was the intention of the Government to bring in a Bill to put an end to this state of affairs whereby all the time the power of Parliament is weakened and lessened. Attention has been called to this, not only in this House, but outside. More Parliaments have probably been created in the last 30 or 40 years than there ever were before that time, but I am sure that there is no Parliament that has not had less power than the Parliaments had 30 years ago. All the time power has been frittered away to go back by substantial steps to a central Government and it is time that that stopped.
It will be remembered that the late Lord Chief Justice, Lord Hewart, as long ago as 1931 or 1932, issued a very well-known book which created a sensation at the time and which was called, "The New Despotism." It dealt with this very subject. So great was its effect that the Lord Chancellor and the Government of the day appointed the Donoughmore Committee to go into the whole matter. The Committee reported unanimously, but nothing has been done. I hope we shall hear more this Session about the weakening of power of Parliament.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)
May I interrupt the right hon. and learned Gentleman? As he knows, I take a great interest in this subject. I am wondering whether he has seen the Motion in the name of the Home Secretary on the Order Paper today?That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty under section seven of the Emergency Laws (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1947, praying that the enactments specified in the Schedule hereto, which would otherwise expire on the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-two, be continued in force for a further period of one year until the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-three.
§ Mr. Davies
I had realised that.
I also regret that there has been no reference to a matter which is becoming highly critical, the condition of housing subject to the Rent Restriction Acts. Everyone knows that these houses are getting in a worse condition; that the owners are in no position to repair them and that they are rapidly becoming slums. What is the position? What is to be the attitude of the Government with regard to them? All these matters are relevant to our whole economic position, and I do not understand what was in the mind of the Leader of the Opposition when he said that all this is irrelevant.
With reference to the economic position, the Government are quite entitled to say that they have succeeded extraordinarily well in bringing about a balance. But it is, as the right hon. Gentleman himself admitted, a very narrow balance. It is a trembling balance which may not remain in being unless we continue to watch the matter with great care and take the necessary action.
There is this to be pointed out. The steps which the Government have taken this year were taken under circumstances extraordinarily favourable to their being effective. The boom in the United States still continues to date. Other countries which might have retaliated did not retaliate to anything like the extent we expected. There were no really substantial cuts made by any of them; and so far, we have not had the full spate of competition which is bound to come, especially from Germany and Japan.
As a result of what has been done, and of the favourable conditions, there is what I might call this trembling balance so that the strain of our reserves is nothing like so severe, and our position is a little more secure. But we have also the position, as the President of the Board of Trade himself has to admit, that the exports, upon which the whole of this country depends, are falling. True the fall in this year has been in the sterling area and not in the non-sterling area, but a fall anywhere is a very dangerous trend which may have a serious effect upon us.
Production, as the right hon. Gentleman tried to explain, will have to go up, for several reasons. Among other things, prices are rising and, therefore, we must 191 have greater production in order to be able to purchase the same quantities. Further, and what is so often passed over, the population in this country is all the time increasing and, therefore, the demand is all the greater. So, continuously, we must see that production increases. It must not be allowed to fall.
Unemployment, although still small so far as the outward figures are concerned, is rising. There is the hidden unemployment which does not appear in any figures. There is a considerable amount of that, of people working short hours, of employers keeping them going and things of that kind, which may make itself felt in open figures in a very short time.
What, therefore, is the position? That we are not producing enough; that present National Savings, as I understand, have been in the range of £900 million. To put ourselves right there will have to be an extra £300 million at least so that we may have an extra £300 million more exports.
There is this excellent statement in the Address about curbing inflation. What steps do the Government propose to take regarding that? How do they propose to curb inflation? So far, what has happened is that they have restricted imports. The effect of that is to increase inflation and not to curb it. There is the other matter which bears directly upon this problem, and the President of the Board of Trade under whose Department this comes did not really deal with it at all. It is to reduce the heavy load of Government expenditure. Cannot we have an idea now of what is expected and what is proposed to be done, and how this heavy load is to be cut? Where is it to be cut, and when are we to begin upon it?
In the Gracious Speech there is the paragraph which states:My Government will proceed resolutely with the task of placing the national economy on a sound foundation. They will not hesitate to take any further steps necessary to hold and improve the more favourable position now reached in our overseas payments.The sentiment is splendid, the words most noble. But what do they mean? What do they really propose to do? When are we to hear about the resolute task of placing the national economy on a sound foundation—it is admitted that it has not anything like reached it—and the steps 192 necessary to hold and improve the position now reached?
It is upon those matters we want further information and further instruction. All we have had so far by the action taken by the Government was well described by the Chancellor himself, when he said that we have gained a breathing space. But we are certainly not going to solve these difficulties by more restrictions. Obviously, what is wanted is more expansion, more trade and more production. That being so, one can look at this from two points of view.
There is the home situation, the task of putting our own house in order as much as possible and of cutting down expenditure so that we can save more and send out more goods to produce the same quantity of raw materials which we so badly need. The home problem is closely related to what we have to do regarding the foreign situation. It is the foreign situation which matters more than all the other things, for they will count for nothing unless we can expand our foreign policy. Three times, as we know, since 1945 we have been on the verge of disaster in this country, and even now that does not seem to be appreciated. Three times we were barely rescued. Therefore, the most important matter is the summoning of this Commonwealth Conference.
The Gracious Speech goes on to say:My Ministers are determined to make ever closer that co-operation with the other Members of the Commonwealth and with the Colonial Empire which must be the keystone of our policy.What is meant by that? Does "closer co-operation" mean another Ottawa? Does it mean the raising of the walls round the perimeter of the Commonwealth, and so creating a new and huge Zollverein?
What is to be the agenda put before the Prime Ministers when they come over here? I cannot really believe that that is going to be the suggestion. Is the suggestion to be, as I hope it is, that there will be greater opportunity for normal trading, that each country will confine itself to doing what it can best do, leaving to the others what the others can best do?
I am heartened in thinking that that must be the right line because of another paragraph in the Gracious Speech: 193It will be My Government's aim to strengthen the unity of Europe. They will work in close association with our neighbours in Western Europe …We cannot increase the unity in Europe or work in closer association with our neighbours or help them if we are to put them on one side behind one barrier and put the Commonwealth on the other side behind another barrier. Nor can I think that that is what is in mind.
The Gracious Speech goes on to say:Active measures will be taken to strengthen the long-standing ties of friendship and of mutual trade between the United Kingdom and the countries of Latin America.I was hoping that I would hear something today of what the active measures are that are to be taken to increase trade with Latin America. I know that Lord Reading is going out on a good will mission, but I would not call that an active measure. I should like to know what is intended by the Government. At any rate, it does show—at least, I hope I am right—that this new conference of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers is not going to mean merely once again a raising of tariff barriers and shutting out all others. We need the help of all the free countries of the world.
Our position, as we all know, is more vulnerable than that of any other country, and that is due to the magnificent past of this country, to the unique position that it has held. Nothing comparable has ever occurred in the past history of any country in the world and nothing comparable can ever occur again. No other country can ever occupy the most important position that the people of these islands occupied up to the first years of this century. We were the bankers of the world, the insurers of the world, the carriers of the world. Sterling was accepted everywhere; contracts were made with other countries, all in sterling.
We were the greatest capital builders in the whole of the world. More capital investment came from this country than from nearly all the other countries of the world, amounting to 43 per cent. of the capital investment by all the countries in the world. The most that the United States were able to do was about 8 per cent., and this country's share was 48 per cent., building, at the same time, a standard of life second to none at that time.
§ Mr. Davies
There was nothing like it, not even in the United States of America. Not only that, but we had built ourselves into such a strong position that one of our greatest Foreign Ministers was able to say that we needed no atlas.
What is our position today? We are a debtor nation. Sterling is not accepted everywhere. We are no longer the great carriers of the world. Instead of doing between 60 and 70 per cent. of the carrying we are today doing only about one-fifth. That is nothing to be ashamed of. The wounds that this country has suffered are honourable wounds. It has sacrificed its all on the altar of liberty on two mighty occasions in the defence of other people. That is the great position of this country.
But it is time we realised that that unique position that we once held has gone. We are now at the beginning of a new era. I am sure that I am not pessimistic. This country is capable of facing that new era. The hon. Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart) was quite right. Give us the tools. The energy is here. The drive and the vision are here. The amazing people are still here who can do this. But we have to bring in the rest of the world with regard to trade. We have got to open new markets.
We are all interdependent today. That is why we have the Truman Fourth Point; that is why we have the Colombo Plan. Those show how dependent we are upon one another. The British Commonwealth cannot ignore the United States, nor can the United States ignore the British Commonwealth. None of us can afford to do without one another. We realise it in defence; but it is time we also realised that we are all interdependent economically.
The safety of this country, therefore, lies in using this new meeting of the Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth to prepare an agenda for a far wider and bigger conference bringing in the world so as to open world trade. Therein lies our safety and that is how we can overcome our economic difficulties.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Walter Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
I am sure that the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) was correct in saying that this is one of the most harmonious debates upon the Gracious Speech that has ever occurred, at least in recent years, and I think it is in a way an indication that the House is anxious to proceed to the more concrete business of the Session, and that its review will be inevitably of a more general nature.
The extreme clash which we have known in past years has, I think, been very markedly absent. Indeed, there were passages in the speech of the hon. Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart) which drew the heartiest applause from this side of the House. I would, however, tell him, if he is pursuing that line of thought, when he rebukes us for attacks upon the great nationalised industries and says we do a bad service to the nation in calling attention to the defects of nationalised industries, that he and his hon. Friends in turn might reciprocate by moderating their attacks upon the private enterprise sector of industry.
I am sure that we will do a deal with them across the Floor of the House. We shall be perfectly willing to abandon our attacks upon the nationalised industries if he and his hon. Friends will place the most favourable interpretation, as Mr. Speaker's phrase goes, upon all the acts of private industry in this country. Indeed, something of the kind will be necessary because it is all very clear that a great sector of industry in this country will be conducted for many years to come, under any Administration, by private free enterprise. The two great sectors will need to learn to work in harmony.
Nothing is more remarkable and more encouraging in the year that has just passed than that all the prophesies that industrial unrest would follow the advent of the Conservative Government have been disproved by facts. I think that was a fear that many people had—including some of us on this side of the House. We thought that the danger that industrial unrest might follow political strife was a very real one. The testimony which was paid by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade to the statesmanlike quality of speeches 196 delivered by trade union leaders was very well merited. They have deserved well of the country and the great industries for which they speak.
But that does not mean that we can entirely avoid the inevitable clash of politics. Many people run down party politics quite unnecessarily and quite wrongly. The two parties are the vice in which the nation grips a problem upon which it desires to operate the working of its tools. We all know that raw materials which are not firmly gripped in the jaws of the vice will slip, and the tools will work uncertainly. The nation cannot get to work with the problems which really perplex it unless they are presented to it firmly and strongly and with vigour by either side of the House.
For that reason the Gracious Speech should be welcomed. It will be welcomed by those on this side of the House and also, I believe, by hon. Members opposite, because it places quite clearly before us certain Measures which the Government of the day will ask the House to approve. There is no reason for us to deplore the fact that the Government comes out boldly in favour of an alteration in the present system with regard to iron and steel, or the situation relating to transport. Both these things need a very considerable amount of revision, and I have no doubt at all that they will get it.
I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery that the proper place for these discussions is upon the Floor of the House. That is where they will get the attention of the whole House, which is really necessary when dealing with these problems. Several of the other Measures which are mentioned will derive their necessity from precisely the omission of those stages. There is more than one Measure which is merely an amendment of a Measure which has already been placed upon the Statute Book.
Reference has been made more than once to the Measure relating to the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947. That is an Act which badly needs amendment. I think that that is agreed in all parts of the House. I doubt whether the system of development charges has a single friend in the House and I shall be surprised if many people stand up to defend it when Measures for its drastic and radical alteration are laid before us.
197 The whole system of the Town and Country Planning Act has overloaded the planners to such an extent that the meticulous interference in every walk of life which this Act controls has begun to stink in the nostrils of ordinary men and women. A man trying to build a bungalow is stung for an enormous charge in respect of a totally unreal value of the land. Someone attempting to develop his own property is suddenly faced with an unreasonable demand—at least it seems unreasonable to me, and very often it seems to be unreasonable to the authorities, because if one quarrels with the authorities they alter their views and say that, after all, perhaps they are wrong. But if one does not challenge them, they persist in their demand.
This meticulous interference has brought a whole system of public administration into disrepute. There are many spheres indeed in which active and vigorous evil is being done under the cover of this Act. In Scotland there is a glen which is adjacent to a large, new and developing coal pit. In this little valley it so happens that geologists from all over the country come to see, laid out in the space of a narrow belt, the whole sequence of the coal measures which were deposited millions of years ago. This belt is tilted like the leaves of a book and it is possible to see the whole set of coal measures—3,500 feet of them.
Under the Town and Country Planning Act it is planned to throw a spoil heap there from the coal mine—to desecrate and destroy the glen and cover up for ever the leaves of this wonderful book. If it were proposed to throw a spoil heap on to a public library there would be great indignation, and yet a public library is much less valuable than a sequence of coal seams laid down over millions of years, as exposed to view in this glen, and which it is proposed should be destroyed for ever under the name of planning.
That is the sort of thing which makes "planning" a very evil word in the minds not merely of stupid or dull or vicious-minded people but of the highest scientists in this country—the coal geologists who are developing and examining these very strata. That Act will certainly need vigorous amendment.
There is another Act in which the Minister of Housing and Local Government 198 who was in the House a few moments ago, is very interested. According to the Gracious Speech:Further measures will be promoted relating, to the Town and Country Planning Acts of 1947, to Local Government superannuation and to the date for depositing new rating valuation lists.This Measure is one which postpones this date. As these new valuations were going through the House, we said again and again that a mine was being laid with a long fuse attached to it, in the hope that it would blow up under somebody else. This proposal will never come into effect. It is impossible that these new valuation lists, as at present proposed, should be applied, and Governments of both complexions have brought in postponing Measures. There is nothing worse for Parliament than that it should pass an Act and then have nothing to do with it for two or three years and then, when the Act is due to come into force, to pass another Act merely to delay its operation.
The fact that there is no great catalogue of legislation in the Queen's Speech is therefore nothing about which we should mourn. There are Measures which we hope will be pressed forward—a Measure dealing with the supply of electricity in Scotland, for instance. I notice the rather odd phrase—that it is being "attentively examined with a view to legislation." We trust that the examination will soon result in fruition and that legislation will be introduced at a fairly early date.
§ Mr. Arthur Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
Now that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has expressed that hope, will he also give us some details of what he hopes will be done? We are not clear what is proposed by the Government in this matter.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The right hon. Gentleman, who, like myself, has had experience both in office and on the back benches, will not expect that from the back benches an authoritative statement of Government policy should be promulgated. As far as I know, it was not his practice when he, like myself, was on the back benches, and I am sure he would not expect me to break a precedent of that kind.
I very much hope that the electricity of Glasgow and Edinburgh will be regu- 199 lated from the capital of Scotland instead of Whitehall. It is fantastic that the great electrical enterprises of the Lowlands of Scotland should be run from Whitehall and an artificial and synthetic electrical frontier drawn across Scotland, on the other side of which a kind of tartan electricity is supposed to be produced and where the engineers apparently go about in kilts. That is a mistake. The normal and natural unity of the country should be accepted. I trust it will be possible for that to be brought about at an early date.
Like the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, I trust that that can be done without interfering with the special position of the Electricity Board for the North of Scotland which, as he said, has social as well as productive duties. We have always taken that view on this side of the House, and I am sure that we shall find it borne out in practice when the legislation is actually laid before the House.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)
I thank the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for giving way. In view of the fact that this point from the Gracious Speech has now been raised from both sides of the House—while accepting the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's explanation that he cannot expound legislation—and that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has now introduced clarification, may we hope that before the debate concludes the Government will confirm it?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
That question might well be addressed to the Government and not to private Members. The Government have repeatedly made their position clear in this matter and have stated that they recognise and hope to maintain the special position of the North of Scotland Board. I have no reason to think that their views have changed.
But the arguments upon which we are engaged go far wider than those covering the matters narrowly relating to one country, even a country as important as the Northern Kingdom. That is why the debate has died down; as somebody once said, "When the hawk is up, the chickens are silent." We have had the smaller bogeys, and they have disappeared, but the great bogey of our position in the world still remains.
200 The fears which have been expressed of the possible advent of unemployment, the dangers inherent in our narrowly poised economy, remain, and it is most necessary that we should examine these problems when we are engaged upon such a general review as this. The hon. Member for Fulham, East spoke of the diminution which has taken place in expenditure on educational buildings, but I think he will be the first to admit that a great deal of educational building has been completed—
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I go further: under this Government is being introduced a Measure which was greeted with hearty approbation by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Scotland (Mr. Logan)—a Measure to make certain changes in the working of the Education Act and in the law affecting voluntary schools. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Scotland praised this Government and blamed his own Government for not having introduced such a Measure. He hailed the advent of this Measure from the present Government. I think it is only right and fair to say that to bring in the voluntary schools in a more extensive way than has been done in the past, is an educational reform of the greatest interest and importance.
I hope right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite will put that to the credit of the Government in cataloguing the things which they say are not included in the Gracious Speech with the prospect of immediate legislation. Voluntary schools were undoubtedly conscious of a grievance, and a Measure is about to be introduced to deal with it. That is a policy of advance in education, it is an advance along the lines which the hon. Member for Fulham, East himself so strongly supported—the development of the nonmaterial resources of this country, the mental investment for which he called and which he said is as important as, or indeed more important than, material investment.
Reference is made to Measures necessaryto curb inflation and to reduce the heavy load of Government expenditure.The capital investment programme of this country is indeed of the very first importance to all sections—to employers and 201 employed; and more, perhaps, to employed than to employers, because unless the workman is provided with the tools he will be unable to begin, let alone to finish, the job.
The great increase in agricultural production, to which the hon. Member for Fulham, East made reference, has largely been made possible by the £88 million of investment in agricultural machinery which has been carried through under the agricultural programmes of this Government and preceding Governments. It is not entirely due, as has been suggested from the other side of the House, to Measures introduced solely by one Government or another. I myself had the honour of introducing several Measures in the early days, when they were not so popular as they are now and when projects involving an increased supply of milk in schools brought the condemnation of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition leading his men into the Lobby in support of an Amendment to reject the Second Reading of the Bill.
Since that time, the development has continued and a great injection of machine power into the agriculture of our country has successfully taken place. Nobody now suggests destroying the sugar beet factories which, again, were the subject of vigorous condemnation by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. During the war those sugar beet factories produced a supply of sugar equal to the domestic ration of every man, woman and child in this country. But for a good deal of hard political fighting in this House they would not have been established or in operation when the war broke out.
But that Measure was greeted with acceptance by those engaged in the industry, by the workers. It is noteworthy that in agriculture we do not find workmen complaining that a machine has been introduced and suggesting that everything must run more slowly because a certain process has been mechanised. It is rather the contrary. They say, "Why not get a machine to do this back-breaking job? Why not get a tractor or a bulldozer or some other piece of machinery?" In agriculture, the advent of new machinery is greeted with enthusiasm and in many places people are not even willing to work on a farm if it is insufficiently mechanised. That is the spirit which we wish to find— 202 this willing acceptance of new tools and power throughout the country as a whole.
It will certainly be very difficult to find the necessary capital resources to produce this capital equipment. Everybody engaged in industry knows the way in which capital is swept into the maw of the Treasury instead of being ploughed back into industry as it should be. The decision to provide a Bill to grant financial help for the building of fishing vessels is a very good thing, but fishing is a boom and slump affair and in many cases the high profits of a crew in one year are swept away by the tax gatherer, so that the natural resources which should lie available for use in developing the industry and for use in watching for the bad year are no longer available when needed.
I often wish that our tax gatherers could have the dream of Pharaoh and could see seven fat kine, because after the seven fat kine came seven lean kine which devoured the whole of the seven fat kine. This is the parable of the lean years which always follow the fat years. If you kill off the fat cattle as fat stock, then when the lean kine come along, they become cannibals and eat the people themselves.
This problem of heavy Government expenditure must indeed be considered. I was struck by a speech made at the annual party congress of the Soviet Union where there was a boast about the enormous amount of electrical development which had taken place. The five Central Soviet Republicswhich have a population of about 17 million people produce three times as much electric power as Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Irak, Egypt, Syria and Afghanistan combined, with a population of 156 million people.Well, allowing for a certain amount of exaggeration in that, as there may well be, I have in fact travelled in those regions and I have seen those great projects going forward and the sinking of great capital sums even at the cost of the amenities or even of the social services of the populations concerned. It is one of the features of that great centre of administration which lies on the far side of the Iron Curtain. In many cases it is the industrial revolution for which they are striving—not the political revolution. In those countries they are not specially interested in the October revolution. 203 They are interested in industrial developments, as the Soviet knows.
The Soviets say, "Come with me and I will show you how to make a great project. Come with me and I will show you how to make iron; or to dam a river and make electric power." I think that is one of the things we ourselves will have to do. The President of the Board of Trade mentioned a trading mission which is going out—I am very glad to hear that—to West Africa for the purpose of expanding sales of textiles in that country, Very good and right. But also what they are interested in in West Africa is the great project of the Volta River Dam, that great project of hydro-electric development, and the production of aluminium thereby.
There is a double investment. There is not merely material investment. There is also the non-material investment of which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham, East spoke—the desire to see some great project accomplished, something which would strike the imagination being created. The medieval ages had that, when they built the cathedrals. They did not add to productive capacity. They added not merely to the glory of God, but to the satisfaction of the people. In the same way, when a great industrial project is going forward, there is an exultation in the people amongst whom it is going on, as well as the thought of the mere money that is going to be made from it.
When a great ship is being launched on the Clyde, the whole City of Glasgow holds its breath so to speak; it stares; there is pride in this great thing which is being done—in this child that is being born of industry; and everyone in Glasgow feels prouder and happier for such a thing happening amongst them, though they may never see that ship again. But the effect of this great project that has been carried through stirs the pride and is an encouragement to all men. That is the spirit we must get not merely in industry in this country but in our development overseas, and it will fall more to us, I think, than we realise at the moment.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery spoke of the elections in the United States. I think we should look very carefully and closely at them. If they mean anything at all they mean that the eyes of the United 204 States have been turned inwards more than outwards. Would it be possible to get a 50 per cent. reduction in the tariffs there with the new Congress which is just coming into being? I do not know.
The importance of the Commonwealth conference is enormously enhanced by recent events. I do not know that G.A.T.T. is such a good project as it was a short while ago. There is a wave of nationalism passing over the whole world, and it is not confined to the dark and backward countries. We ourselves are conscious of it, also. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) spoke with horror of any infringement of our sovereignty which might be about to take place—very different language from what we have heard on previous occasions from those benches. But if this nationalist wave is taking place, then let us work with our brothers. Let us work with the people that we know. Let us work with the people whose strength, when reinforced, will reinforce our strength also. Nor should it be merely confined to Europeans and people of European descent.
We are trustees for these great sections of the world. Somehow or another we shall have to find the capital goods necessary for the capital investment in those countries. I think that is essentially a matter of heavy industry. I fear a little the tendency to rush into plastics and typewriters. The glory of our industry is heavy precision goods. That is what we can do best. Other people can do other things, but we can make heavy electrical machinery; we can make the ships that sail on the sea; we can build great engineering projects.
What the Soviet Union is trying to provide for its dependencies we have to provide for our part of the world. Plastics and typewriters others will make for themselves, but the things wanted for power, the things that bring these children of industry to birth—these, for many years to come, they will have to order from us. It is in our country that we shall get these things; and it is, therefore, in our country we should try to develop that line of heavy industry, heavy precision industry.
I am sure we must have the capital necessary to carry that out. I do not think it can be done only by the Gov- 205 ernment. In Government there is internal friction which makes it difficult to carry out these operations with the flexibility and speed which are vital. Too much energy is used up in getting things through Departments. I have spent many years of my life getting things through Departments, and I know the time lag there is in these matters. It is a slow business.
It is an inevitably slow business—when there is debate and argument and when any hon. Member of this House can put a Question reaching back many years and expecting, in 48 hours, to have an answer, full, detailed, and accurate, so that if it contains the slightest slip it is greeted with jeers and mocking cheers from the Opposition or the Government side as the case may be. It is not easy to carry out projects on the Elizabethan scale in Government Departments. I do not think Drake would have got very far if he had been subject to Questions in the House of Commons. WhenAt Flores in the AzoresSir Richard Grenville lay.I do not think he would have hazarded his thrust into the middle of the Spanish Fleet if he had been liable to have been called up by the Board of the Admiralty and questioned about it.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The hon. Gentleman said he was a pirate. I wish we had more such pirates today. The man who sailed round the world, the man who voyaged round Cape Horn may have been a pirate, but it was a great thing to round Cape Horn. When the hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) has done as much, then he can make his complaint—but not until then.
§ Mr. Rankin rose—
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
No. I cannot give way any more—I do not wish to detain the House.
I am only saying that we are talking now of another Elizabethan age. We all hope it may be so, but we must remember that the first Elizabethan age was not only a time when men played lutes and wrote madrigals, but a time when people were fighting for their lives. It was a time when they had—[An HON. MEMBER: "No re-armament programme."] Heavens above, an armament programme was very necessary in the Elizabethan age. If we had not had 206 armaments when the Spanish Fleet beat up the Channel we should not be sitting here in this House of Commons today.
Armaments were very necessary then as they are very necessary now, and the difficulty and danger of Elizabethan times, and their hardships are things we ought to remember now—as well as the achievements of the poets and the builders and the painters. Those achievements—those beautiful accomplishments were done by men fighting for their lives.
We are fighting for our lives today—fighting against many difficulties and disadvantages, and if we are to succeed we have to get down to the real contacts which only actual measures can bring. That is why I believe that the House is somewhat impatient, and somewhat dull in the debates on the Address, and why arguments about abstract principles are not as keenly pressed as usual. We are conscious that although we have dispelled the small spectres, the great spectre still remains. Until we are sure of our position in the world as a nation, there never will be the same preoccupation with domestic affairs as we have seen in the past, and which I, like other hon. Members, hope we shall be able eventually to see again in the future.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ Mr. P. Bartley (Chester-le-Street)
In my contribution to this debate I intend to devote the main part of my remarks to that part of the Gracious Speech which reads:My Ministers will encourage all engaged in agriculture, mining and industry to co-operate in increasing productive efficiency.I will in due course mention some problems in agriculture, and suggest how I think the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Fuel and Power might show the earnestness of the Government to co-operate in agriculture and to encourage the farmers, particularly those who are farming in our coalfields.
Before proceeding to the main part of my speech, I wish to refer to two other matters. First, I want to associate myself with the speech made yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedge-field (Mr. Slater), in which he emphasised the need for a new coal mines Act and regulations, and deplored the fact that in the Gracious Speech there was no mention of any such new Act and regulations.
207 Anyone with the slightest knowledge of developments in coal mining, especially in recent years, of the great advance that has been made in mechanisation in the industry, the changing methods of extracting and hauling the coal, making roadways, so creating new problems of ventilation and affecting the margin of safety in working in the industry, must agree that a coal mines Act regulation passed by the House more than 40 years ago is, to say the least, very much out of date.
Despite all the regulations and the several orders which have been made during that period in an attempt to bring up to date safety regulations in the industry, there is a need for a codification and a modernisation of the Coal Mines Act and regulations. That need has been stressed and brought to our notice in the unfortunate evidence of some of the most outstanding mine disasters in the last 18 months or two years.
Fresh in our minds are such disasters as those at Cresswell Colliery, Easington Colliery, Knockshinoch and, fortunately to a smaller extent at Eppleton Colliery in Durham County. They all underline and stress the need for the Government to introduce a new Coal Mines Act and regulations as soon as possible, and I trust that the appeal made yesterday by my hon. Friend will be taken note of and action taken by the Minister of Fuel and Power at an early date.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Scotland (Mr. Logan) I am also pleased that, at long last, the Government have announced their intention to introduce a Measure to amend the 1944 Education Act in regard to voluntary schools. I hope that the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) is right in saying that this Measure will remove the grievance which has been borne and felt very severely by the voluntary school people, and will not just deal with a slight aspect of that grievance, which is so real and has been outstanding over so many years.
While the Government can claim some credit for this, there is blame attaching to them for the undue delay in introducing this Measure. It is common knowledge that, 12 months ago, a Bill was ready, including several proposals to deal with aspects of this problem, but 208 one of the many misfortunes of the change of Government at the last Election has been a long delay in introducing this Bill. Nevertheless, I am glad that we see it in sight now, and I hope that this Bill will deal with the whole grievance and not merely a small aspect of it.
Having mentioned those two points, I now proceed to deal with agriculture. It might appear strange that a mining Member should be interested in agricultural problems, but, believe me, farmers in divisions like my own, although predominantly coalmining, have some real problems to contend with, largely as a consequence of the fact that they are farming in our coalfields. I have mentioned before in the House the problem of dealing with the effects of coalmining subsidence damage, and it is a very real one. Many, many thousands of acres of good agricultural land have either been lost to production or are producing only very inferior crops. There are many thousands of such acres even in Durham County.
The Turner Committee, which reported in March, 1949, recognised the seriousness of this problem and made certain recommendations. Neither the previous Government nor this Government have announced any intention to take any steps to implement those recommendations, and I ask the Minister of Fuel and Power earnestly to consider taking steps to do so. It will be remembered that one or two recommendations on this problem dealt with the system of letting or sub-letting farms on damage free tenancy agreements.
That practice is not new in recent years; it prevailed even more in the pre-nationalisation of the coal mining industry days. Coal companies then had a very narrow and more commercial interest in extracting coal and avoiding payment for damage to agricultural land, and made arrangements in tenancy agreements which freed the colliery companies from the liability for such damage. That position is growing and creating a loss of agricultural production, and it ought to be arrested without delay.
In that respect, the Committee on Coal Mining Subsidence recommended that existing tenancy agreements should be allowed to run their course, but that in future such damage free tenancy agreements should be prohibited. That recommendation, I submit, does not require 209 legislation. The National Coal Board itself could implement that recommendation if the Ministry of Fuel and Power would give a decision or a direction to that effect. It merely means that as and when farm tenancies become vacant, any new tenancy agreements would not include this no crop damage claim clause. I am not exaggerating in the least when I say that this matter is causing serious concern and anxiety among farmers in our coalfields, and I think that it ought to be attended to without delay.
The other matter which, I admit, is a bigger issue, but which, nevertheless, should be given the earnest consideration of the Government, concerns the question of whether the Coal Board should continue to be the landlords of agricultural land, and whether they should sub-let farms to farmers in the coalfields. Their prime interest is getting coal and their secondary concern is owning this land. It will be remembered that the Committee on Coal Mining Subsidence recommended that agricultural land should be transferred to the Minister of Agriculture, and the county agricultural committees should be responsible, under the Agricultural Holdings Act, for the obligation of maintaining good estate management.
I think that this would be a good thing both in the social sense and in the individual sense. I know of farms where the farmer has suffered very serious injustice. In one farm in my division, coal mining subsidence had the effect of breaking down the drainage system on the land, and half the farm was affected by that damage and could not be used for a number of years. In the last year or two, arrangements were reached whereby a new drainage scheme was put in. The land was restored, but the farmer had been reduced to such a level that with the restoration of the land he could not afford to restock his large size farm, and a neighbouring farmer was asked to take over the farm. That is a case in which there had been two or three generations working on that land, and they had gradually been forced out of the farm because of coal mining subsidence.
I know of another case where, during the last 20 years, owing to coal mining subsidence damage, acres of land have been frequently under water and, therefore, non-productive. Recently, a scheme, not yet completed, has been agreed for the drainage of that land. But there 210 have been 20 years lost in which that land could have been used. The scheme, I am told, could have been completed in a matter of two months, and it ought to have been applied during that period.
The second problem in which the Government should show earnestness in encouraging farmers also concerns our coal mining areas. It is a matter, in some cases, of the Coal Board not observing what are called the rules of good estate management on their farms. I saw an example quite recently, and I am informed that, before the nationalisation of the coal mining industry, the colliery company had employed estate workers to maintain drainage, clean ditches, mend fences and do all the other things that fall within the term good estate management. But in recent years that has not been done. Consequently, the farmer is having to do that, or the land is deteriorating and only inferior crops are being grown on that land.
I suggest that in this matter the Minister of Agriculture, through the county agricultural executive committees, should take stock of the extent to which the Coal Board are failing to maintain good estate management, both in regard to the non-employment of estate workers to do this work, and also in regard to the effect of coal mining subsidence damage, where nothing is being done to restore the land or to compensate the farmers concerned.
Some argue that farmers who have farms on damage free tenancy agreements are compensated by a lower rent. That, on the face of it, seems a genuine argument. But let me give details of an actual case. I know of a farm which, up to a few years ago, before the nationalisation of the coal mining industry, was on a tenancy agreement, under which the tenant could claim damages. The farmer then received notice and was offered the farm on a new tenancy agreement, namely, the damage free tenancy agreement, meaning that he no longer had any right to claim damages from the colliery company, now the Coal Board, for coal mining subsidence damage to his crops.
At that time, prior to the change of tenancy agreement, the rent of the farm was £240 a year. The average amount of the annual claim for crop damage was about £650 a year, but after the change of the tenancy agreement the rent was 211 reduced from £240 to £160—a reduction of £80—but the farmer had to forfeit the right to claim damages as the result of coal mining subsidence to the extent of £650 a year. I am told that the damage these days is nearer £1,000 a year than £650, as was the case then. It will be seen that while he gets a reduction of rent, in that case, of £80 a year, he had to forfeit claims for damages to the extent of £650 a year, which now would be equal to £1,000 a year. So it is not true to claim that farmers are always compensated by a lower rent. I urge the Ministers concerned with mining subsidence and good estate management to take active steps to deal with the problem.
About a fortnight ago the Minister of Agriculture told me, in reply to a Question, that he is considering the position of sub-tenant farmers, especially on farms in the coalfields. There are parts of the coalfields in which for economic reasons or because the coal is becoming exhausted the Board, as the landlord or the main tenant, wishes to terminate the lease and give notice to quit to the subtenants. As the law stands, the subtenants have no security of tenure and, in certain circumstances, they have no right of appeal against the notice to quit. A case in my division reached the Land Tribunal last week. Because of a certain circumstance the Board lost its appeal against the consent of the Minister. But other farmers are in a similar predicament.
The lease of one estate in my division will terminate in the near future and nine farmers on the estate who are sub-tenants of the Coal Board are very anxious about the future of their tenancies. The families of some of them have been on the land for many generations and have invested a large amount of capital expenditure in it. Yet if notice to quit is served these sub-tenant farmers have no appeal. When the Minister is considering amending the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1948, or issuing regulations under the Act I hope he will give the sub-tenant farmers the security of tenure enjoyed by tenant farmers. At present, there is real injustice.
I hope that attention will be paid to the points which I have raised and that the Government will prove that it is genuine in stating that they wish to encourage 212 agriculture to achieve more efficient production and to produce food at a lower price in the interests of both the home market and the export market.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir (Aberdeen, South)
I hope that the hon. Member for Chesterle-Street (Mr. Bartley) will forgive me if I do not follow his arguments in relation to agriculture and mining. I believe his speech will be recognised on all sides of the House as containing some very constructive points, but the theme running through the debate has been the general concern among all parties as to how we are to increase output in our production effort.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) referred to the paragraph in the Gracious Speech which said:My Ministers will encourage all engaged in agriculture, mining and industry to co-operate in increasing productive efficiency.…The operative word is "encourage." One of the greatest stimulants to greater production is expanding reward for expanding effort. I am glad to see on the Front Bench my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. I hope that between now and the Budget the Government will very seriously consider a direct reduction in taxation.
I was a little concerned at some of the words used by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. He said that the Government hoped to have an extension and adaptation of their present policy. I did not think that sounded very much as if it were to be a policy of expansion. If we really are to try to encourage the production of exports at the competitive prices which are necessary we shall have to see how we can give adequate reward for the work, skill and responsibility involved.
All of us—I hope even hon. Members opposite—must acknowledge that, as far as it has gone, the present policy of the Government has had good results. Nevertheless, on the whole I should call it a restrictive policy. Both sides of the House have shown great concern about the level of employment and the fall in exports, although we can take comfort in the fact that it is mostly in the consumer industry which is in process of adaptation, and, also, we hope to have some steel coming to this country soon. 213 But a continuation of a restrictionist policy would mean a state of affairs where one imported less and less and consequently produced less and less until, in time, nothing was happening at all. Then there would go up from the Treasury Bench a great shout of applause because, on paper, the balance of payments gap would be closed.
Outwith this House the Chancellor of the Exchequer has clearly given indications in several speeches that the need for a policy of expansion is realised, and has also given a delightful hint that there may be some reduction in taxation. He has said that, while the present policy is necessary this year having regard to the situation in which we find ourselves, and while it is doing its job for the moment, nevertheless, with our Commonwealth partners, we must try to follow a policy of expansion.
That is very heartening news. But I am sure that, unless they are too polite, the members of the Commonwealth at the coming conference will tell us that we cannot expect to go on spending more and more on ever-extending welfare services, however desirable and excellent they may be, until we can honestly look the world in the face because we have earned the wherewithal to do so. If we are to try to earn more we must remember that we shall never encourage good business and get real wholehearted effort out of people if they are constantly overtaxed and unable to save and cannot start business because they are unable to obtain fresh capital.
Although without doubt the policy at this time is one of taking risks, surely all enterprise bears risks and this is the time to take them. I was struck by the speech of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot). I found it stimulating. He asked for more capital for investment in industry. This is the time for us, with our Commonwealth partners, to work out a policy for doing this.
Apart from the question of capital investment, I would also make a direct plea for those in this country who have to undertake skilled work while labouring under most difficult taxation conditions. I want for a short time to keep the attention of the House focused on the problems of what are generally called the "professional classes." I do so because, as was said yesterday by my hon. Friend 214 the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. H. A. Price), so much of the ability of this country to export depends on the skill and technical ability of what are called the professional people.
"Professional people" are extremely difficult to define, because they cover so many occupations and come from so many backgrounds. I looked up the word "profession" in the dictionary and it said that profession was something for which a man required education. In other words, as we all know, very often he has to go through many years of training without earning very much money and often having to pay large sums in order to acquire his skill. At the same time, I also ran down the page of the dictionary and came to the word "professional." I wondered what that meant, and I found it was defined as: "Professional means making a business of something not properly to be or regarded as a business as, for example, a professional politician."
I think it is generally acknowledged that the professional people, as we try to term them, comprise, on the whole, about 16 to 18 million of our people, including dependants. They are the people who, to a large extent, occupy organising positions in industry and commerce. They are the lawyers, teachers, medical men, scientists and civil servants. Also, from their ranks a great many have been given to the arts and to statecraft. While in this country those who labour as artisans have had a great deal of thought given to their undoubted most difficult problems, nevertheless I think all of us should give as much thought to those who have acquired these highly trained skills. The whole future of our productive drive depends to a very large extent upon these people and they hold positions of great responsibility throughout our national life. I would say this is the time for us to understand what is the true meaning of the term "partnership," to recognise each other's skill, and to acknowledge our common interest.
I should like, therefore, in trying to support this argument, to give the House a few taxation examples as they are today; because I think that, if we are considering greater prospects for us all, if we kill what is the genius of the professional classes, none of us will advance very far. It is true that since the war 215 the position of many professional people has been very uneven, and, generally speaking, that a large number find themselves worse off in junior positions than they were before the war. They are also worse off not only financially but in certain ways which mean a great deal to their professional position, such as education, travel, holidays and leisure, which are vital to their particular skill and learning.
The Oxford University Institute of Statistics published some very interesting information about taxation levels today and before the war. I give these two examples. A man who in 1938 earned a gross income of £500, if he were to have the same purchasing power today, would need £1,225 gross income. Where in 1938 a man had a gross income of £2,000, in order to have the same purchasing power today, taking into account taxes and everything, he would have to have a gross income of £8,000.
In the evidence given before Mr. Justice Danckwerts in the claim on behalf of 20,000 Health Service doctors, which has since been met, some very interesting statistics were given by Professor Allen, Professor of Statistics at London University, about the general level of wages and salary earnings in this country. He estimated that on the income of £1,500 in 1938 the loss today in the standard of living must be at least 25 per cent. On the other hand, wage earners had gained about 30 per cent. in real consuming power apart from increased social benefits. That is very good and something which we all welcome, but at the same time we also want to give very real attention to the professional people who mean everything in our productivity drive. [HON. MEMBERS: "Not everything."] Not everything, but a very large amount. Professor Allan said that of the wage and salary earners in this country at the present time, only the professional people had, in fact, lost ground.
One of the traditional economic functions in the State for the professional people has, of course, been that of saving. I think that since the war it is true to say that most of them either have had to live on capital or else to realise their assets, and that means, speaking for all of us, that industry must search for new capital largely from the State, which in 216 time means higher taxation and a vicious circle all round.
The savings movement, I am sorry to say, is not entirely universal, but in my own country of Scotland the tradition of Scottish thrift has been quietly tucking a little away. But, generally speaking, the level of withdrawals of savings has been larger than what has been paid in, with very bad results for investment in industry, particularly at a time when we are talking to our partners in the Commonwealth about expanding overseas.
Therefore, I trust that my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will suggest to his right hon. Friend that very serious consideration should be given to some form of taxation relief by the time the next Budget is formed. Any decision in such a direction must have in its effect that people will eagerly seek promotion because it is worth while. It is almost impossible to assess the degree to which people feel it is not worth taking a better post because of the burden of taxation, but one hears it on every hand. It means that all over the country it will slow down the whole tempo of our national life.
I should like to give a few brief examples of certain of these professions, one of which is the legal profession. In that connection, we await with great interest the Report of the Millard Tucker Committee, but in such a large profession I should like to consider one group, and that is the solicitors. Under present taxation conditions, all earnings are liable to tax whether distributed or not, and no reserve may be accumulated for retirement, capital requirements or goodwill obligations. The result is that older men cannot retire and young men cannot enter private practice to a large extent, because they are asked to contribute that capital which before that particular profession saved from earnings when taxation was not so high.
It has been recognised by all political parties in this country that it is essential to have a strong and independent legal profession. Most of the work of that profession is done in private practice, which also bears the burden of the Legal Aid Scheme. Only adequate relief for earnings used for the purposes I have outlined will enable us to keep a sound solicitors' profession.
217 I also want to speak briefly on the problem of what is called N.A.L.G.O.—the National Association of Local Government Officers. Recently a whole tome was prepared of their personal problems, the problems of the assessors, education officers, chemists, inspectors, registrars and so on. They have to undergo tough professional examination; and are very highly trained for responsible tasks. They have, among other things, to administer complicated Acts of Parliament which we in our wisdom here think we have made examples of simplicity. Heavy taxation, together with other costs which they have to bear, have made it very difficult for this section of professional people to carry on. One member of N.A.L.G.O. remarked recently, "We live during our two weeks' holiday, but we merely exist for the other 50."
I will now, quite briefly, consider the position of teachers. I do not want to go into the question of teachers' salaries, although I am very sympathetic on the subject, which has often been spoken of in this House. I want to talk of differentials in skill and experience, not only within the teaching profession but between the teaching profession and other professions. For example, the universities are advertising for lecturers on most abstruse subjects, with starting salaries of about £450, no allowances and no pensions at 65. On the other hand, the Metropolitan Police offer £400 a year for a young man of 20, with a pension in middle age and considerable allowances. There is the difference in payment between the professions.
Within the teaching profession the range of salary from nursery school tuition to university lecturers is far too small, although much devoted work has been done for nearly a century to raise these standards. I submit that the present levels of taxation upon this profession and other professions cannot be to the national advantage.
We are always talking about penalising our capital of brains. Therefore, in considering taxation, we should stress the differences between executive and creative work. I think it is possible to undertake executive work, although it is hard to do so, in almost any conditions, even when one is tired, but creative work is quite another matter. Except with the 218 genius and exceptionally fine and balanced mind, ideas cannot be turned out to order. This applies particularly to authors, thinkers, and to statesmen. Their conditions of living, which are closely affected by the levels of taxation, must be such as to ensure to these people at least some leisure and some privacy. I do not claim that such folk should be protected because they are of finer character or fibre than the labourer. That would be absurd. But I do claim that their work is affected by certain conditions as his is not. That they should spend half the day trying to live the other half is a drain on their energy and creative power that must dull and weaken their mental abilities, to the irreparable loss of us all.
Therefore, I venture to offer these conclusions to the House. Just as the trade unions of this country seek, rightly, to preserve the differentials in pay and conditions between the skilled and the unskilled, so we must, as a nation, seek to create rewards in our national life that are related to work and responsibility. In such a society, the driving force of powerful human virtues would be enlisted, such as the desire to provide for one's family, to be independent, to make opportunities for thought and judgment, and to work for the love of it; and even to undertake that voluntary work in the public service which has played such a fine part in the reputation of this country.
We ought to be careful when we talk of equality that we do not, in our drive for equality of opportunity, become intolerant of equality of reward. Social justice is not to be confused with equality of income. Rather should we all work to make it possible for more and more people to reach professional status, if they so wish. In this technical age we are in the process of creating a larger professional class, and we should have a serious measure of support for their cause from people of all political parties.
Let us try, in arranging the pattern of production and employment in the future, to see that promotion does not automatically carry in its train overwork, unhappiness and worry, but that opportunities shall be such as to make people feel that to work hard and give all they have is really worth while. In so doing they will greatly enrich the prospects of our recovery as a nation.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Hubbard (Kirkcaldy Burghs)
I listened with great interest to the statement made by the noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) about professional people. Among the professional people she mentioned in the early part of her speech were professional politicians, and she said that many of them did not seek promotion because that brought unhappiness. I see no evidence whatever on the other side of the House that hon. Members are not anxious to have promotion or that the prospect of an unhappy life has in any way hindered them.
I have no reason to quibble about professional workers wanting to have a good earning capacity, but I would remind the noble Lady that there are many highly-skilled workers, not only in South Aberdeen and Kirkcaldy but in the whole of Scotland and England, who make a great contribution to the national effort and who earn less than £6 a week. That is not the way to equality. Such comparisons are very bad. It is just as necessary to have highly-skilled miners, engineers, joiners and house-builders as to have highly-skilled professional people; they all make a contribution. I would deplore special legislation to deal with a particular class.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
I hope the hon. Member will do me the justice to recall that I said that a great deal of thought had been given in this House to the problems of the workers but that equal thought must be given to the problems of professional people.
§ Mr. Hubbard
The noble Lady has anticipated me, because I was coming to that very point next. As a matter of fact, people of so-called professional status in this country have had more benefits from the deep thought of those who now sit on these benches than they ever had before. The status of teachers, doctors, nurses and others has been raised almost from starvation conditions as a result of the legislation passed by the Labour Government. If these same professional people are anxious for further improvement in their status, they must do as many others have already done, support a Government that have their minds on these things.
220 Throughout this debate there have been some nice rolling phrases about collective effort, and tributes have been paid to all and sundry—miners, steel workers, agricultural workers. I am very proud of the class in which I was brought up. The ordinary people have stood by this country in a dangerous period, but do not stretch their loyalty too far. I had a most unfortunate experience recently when, on my way to a conference of some miners, I nearly got a smack in the face from some golf bags in a bus carried by people who may have been professional people and who were away to play golf.
§ Mr. Hubbard
They may have been miners, but their conversation did not indicate that, because they asked, "Why are not the miners working?"
If that is what is meant by collective effort, I am afraid that some of our people are beginning to believe that one section makes the effort and another section does the collecting. That is what percolates into the minds of our people when we hear of suggestions for reductions in taxation, when we hear the suggestion of the noble Lady in this House that, in order to have a maximum effort, people who control private enterprise ought to have certain concessions.
Is it not reasonable to suggest that there ought to be the same maximum concessions in order to get effort from the people who do the producing? The greatest capital we have is not £ s. d. but our capacity to produce and manufacture. When will right hon. and hon. Members opposite realise that collective effort means just that? I have listened times without number to hon. Members opposite sneering when the word "nationalisation" is mentioned. Today we have heard about nationalised monopolies as against private monopolies. What is the difference? What is nationalised industry? Industry which belongs to the nation. Is there a different meaning to the word "nation" when it appears in the word "nationalisation"? Is there something wrong in thinking that the country should have some control over the important industries which play a major part in its history?
221 In the Gracious Speech it is suggested that two of our important industries should be handed back to private individuals, with the nation having no control over them, to people not answerable to anyone, any more than the British Iron and Steel Federation was answerable to anyone in the past. Is it not important, when you want a collective effort, to give people a guarantee of security, and, if there is a complaint to be made, it can be brought here—I wish the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) would do me the courtesy either of standing up or shutting up.
§ Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)
I was merely saying that we cannot raise questions in this House on the nationalised industries.
§ Mr. Hubbard
There have been a great many questions in this House lately on the nationalised industries.
§ Mr. Hubbard
Yes. They may not be questions on the day-to-day management of the nationalised industries, but that is another matter. There are people in Scotland and in the steel towns of England who remember the difference between the nationalised steel industry and the privately-owned steel industry. They remember when 70 out of every 100 in those steel towns became unemployed because it was decided to shift the steel industry from Scotland to England. Was there anyone we could approach at that time? Could we go to the people who controlled the industry and say, "This is wrong; the steel industry is a great industry in this country and we depend on it for our exports to a large extent"? Is that what we shall be expected to do again in the future?
If we are asked to make a collective effort, can we accept that as genuine when in the same speech we have a forecast of the disturbance of this industry? No reason has been given why the steel industry should be disturbed. Today we had from the President of the Board of Trade figures of increased production. Will it create further production of steel if we put this industry back where it was before? If some such argument had been made to the House, we might have said there was something to be said for it.
Yet, at a time when we have to pay with exports for the raw materials that we 222 bring into the country, all that is promised to an industry in which almost every employee believes in the benefits of nationalisation is that there will be disturbance of it. Can we expect that there will be a greater collective effort? Will it lead to more harmony in the steel industry? Will it, indeed, lead to more harmony in the road haulage industry where the men also have awful memories of the conditions that existed before the right was given to the elected Members of this House to take an interest in its running?
Why blow hot and cold? Collective effort seems to mean one set of conditions for one lot of people and another set for another lot. It is always the person who does not work six days who tells the others that they should work seven. That is the unfortunate thing about this country. At one time miners are subject to great criticism and at another they are subject to great praise. I would remind the House that one of the things that the miner expects to get from a Government in return for his loyalty is better working conditions, because we cannot dissociate working conditions from wages so far as the miners are concerned.
Every year there are disasters in the pits. I am not trying to make heroes of them, but the men going into the pits do a hard job, and today we are operating the mines under an obsolete Act. Since 19 out of 20 of our industries depend upon coal, one might have thought that, in return for the loyalty of the miners, something would have been said in the Gracious Speech giving guarantees of life and security to the men working in the mines. I say, therefore, that we are entitled to ask the Government to give some security to those people, and bring in a Measure to replace that obsolete Act.
In considering the wages which miners receive, when so much of their money has to be spent on the provision of tools, light and the wear and tear of clothes, and all that is deducted, the maximum a miner receives, unless he is on piece work, is not more than £6 a week at the present time.
What about their relatives and friends as well as themselves? At this very moment hospital boards have been instructed to consider in what way they can reduce their staffs. Is it not horrible that when we are asking people to make a 223 great effort to pull us out of a big hole, at that very moment, after years of research and of attempting to recruit nurses and other workers for hospitals, those hospital boards should be asked by the Ministry of Health and the Scottish Office to see where they can dispense with hospital staff? Is that the sort of thing which will encourage collective effort, especially keeping in mind what happened to those people who required hospitalisation after last year's legislation?
The Gracious Speech tells us that we can expect other Acts of Parliament. What are those Acts? How will they affect our people? This Government will get the people of this country with them the moment the Government give us some evidence that they are with the people, but up to now we have had very little of that kind of evidence. Everything that has happened during the last year in regard to the money policy, the exemptions given to higher wages in the matter of taxation, has not been a spur to the people at the bottom. It has not been the case during the last year that fame is the spur but that fear is the spur. It will be tragic for this country if again we find that the fear of losing their jobs is the motive power that will drive our people into increased productivity. We require increased productivity—we must have it; but with it there must be guarantees to all.
If the mention of Scotland in the Gracious Speech was all that was drawing me to my feet, I might well have sat still. Scotland has indeed had a shabby deal as far as this programme of the Government is concerned. One would have thought that the Government might have remembered the great ships that have been built on the Clyde and the great contribution made by Scottish agriculture, particularly with the finest stock in the country, and that some regard would have been given to the development of Scottish industry and to the great development of hydro-electricity.
When we hear about deflationary policy and about savings, one cannot help wondering whether there is to be a standstill as far as the development of Scottish industry is concerned and whether the hydro-electric scheme is to be developed in the way that was originally planned.
There is an increasing population in this country and in the world, but there 224 has not been an increase in the growing of our food or raw materials. This country is less affected as far as growing is concerned, but it is a manufacturing country and I hope that nothing will be done to stultify the economic development of industry.
I hope that among the other legislation that is foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech, much more consideration will be given to that part of the country north of the Border. Its people have made a great contribution, and have still a great contribution to make. They are part of a great nation, and we are part of a world that is growing smaller because of air travel, wireless and other things. The Government should give us some security. Make us feel that we are part of the plan of the future, and when these guarantees are given to the people we shall get the increased production.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Commander J. F. Maitland (Horncastle)
The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Hubbard) will, I hope, forgive me if I do not follow him in detail, but he has said many things with which I find myself very much in agreement. I agree that if the people are given security, they will produce more. The hon. Member did, however, make a remark which somewhat surprised me. He said that we should not get full production until there was evidence of the Government being with the people. Whatever that may mean, there has today been a certain amount of evidence that the people are with the Government.
The general motive in the debate today has been to discuss the importance and the vital necessity of greater production, and I want to discuss for a short time the peculiar importance of agricultural production vis-a-vis our economic life.
There are two things which are worrying me considerably. When the war was over, it was vitally necessary to give the farmers a sense of financial security, without which we cannot get agricultural production. The chief reason, I suppose, is that all the extra production that we are to get will come from land which, because of its permanent character or its neglect, needs a great deal more capital and risk to be taken with it if it is to provide that extra production which is so vital.
225 After the war, the Government of the day introduced the Agriculture Act, which I think was a very good Act and one that should have given security to the farmers. This applies even more so to the world conditions of today, because if ever there was a time when the farmers and food producers of the country should be able to consider that it is inevitable to require full production, now should be the time.
It is with considerable anxiety, therefore, that I have noticed during the last two years a tendency for farmers to begin to forget that security and to start to become anxious. Anyone who doubts what I say has only to ask a country bank manager or to have a talk with the corn merchants, when he would find a quite different picture of the countryside than that which is so often painted in the House by the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans).
Things are not as easy as they appear to people who do not understand the present-day position of the agricultural industry, and particularly the horticultural industry. It may be argued that horticulture is not producing food which is saving us from having to export in order to buy food. I wish that it were. I think that it should be in that category. The horticulturist will be very pleased and interested to hear of the words spoken today by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade when he said that we must turn our eyes towards moderate tariffs. I sincerely hope he had in mind the horticultural industry, which today is in an increasingly difficult position.
Every ton of agricultural production replaces a ton of imports and as such is directly of export value. We all want to try to encourage the engineering industries, which produce manufactured goods, to be more efficient and more productive in every way, but it is not enough merely to achieve that. In manufactured goods an industry may be extraordinarily efficient, and yet in this present world of contracting markets it may be found that the goods which that industry produces do not find their way into the foreign market.
It is not difficult to find an example. Only recently we had the example of the highly efficient motor car industry, which has not been able to sell its products abroad. With food that we produce at 226 home, however, the position is quite different. There is an assured market. Every ton of food must replace a ton of exports and is of direct assistance in our export drive and a direct help towards closing the gap in our balance of payments. It is a sure winner, and the Government ought to back it for all they are worth.
I know quite well that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture fully appreciates these facts. Last April he set out a very good production plan for the next four years. What I want to talk about now is how we are to bring this about. It is quite easy to find the answer to the question of loss of security and of greater production, but it is more difficult to find the solution. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) mentioned it: it is lack of capital.
I would subdivide the uses of that capital in the agricultural industry into three categories, and in my first category I would take the capital which is necessary for the technical business of farming. My right hon. Friend has taken considerable steps on those lines. We have fertiliser subsidies, a ploughing-up grant which has been extremely successful, a calf subsidy and other subsidies. I believe that is the right place in which to subsidise the industry. I agree with my right hon. Friend there, but I think it is now up to him to see that those subsidies are fully used.
In any plan for greater production in agriculture, I think it is in the national interest—and it is right that it should be so—that the object should also be cheaper food production in the end. We cannot have cheaper food unless we get greater production. I believe that after a certain period has been allowed for full capitalisation and improvement of land, it should be possible to get considerable advantages in the reduction of food prices, but not until that capital assistance has been fully taken up.
There is another form of capital, however, which sometimes is glossed over. Many of the men from whom we are asking production today are not farming good land. They are men farming difficult land. It often happens that even though they can get those grants they have not the farming capital available really to make the best use of their land. That is a very difficult and vital problem 227 which has to be tackled if we are to have greater production. There are many ways in which that assistance can be given. The Chancellor of the Exchequer undoubtedly has helped by making it possible for farmers to borrow more easily than perhaps any other professional men, but even more help is needed. This matter of extra production is so vital that we have got to achieve it. As I said, it is a sure winner and we must back it up.
The second category where capital is required is in the ancillaries of farming, sugar beet factories, bacon factories and driers for use with combines and the like. Each of these has an absolutely direct effect upon our import and export trade and upon our balance of payments. We can show the increase, for example, in sugar which we would get if we were able to install additional sugar beet factories where they are required so that sugar beet does not have to be kept until the sugar content has deteriorated. We are getting lots of combines and we want more facilities for drying grain. If we had not had an easy and dry harvest this year, there would have been a different story to tell. I hope that by next year's harvest it will be possible for more farmers to have more grain drying facilities.
The third category is the capital development programme for country amenities. They also have an absolutely direct bearing on production. Many a farmer in my constituency could take advantage of capital and has the technical skill to avail himself of it to the full, but even if he were given farming capital as well, even then he would not be able to produce to the full because he has no cottage on his farm. Even if he has a cottage, it may not have water or electricity, and he finds he cannot keep a man there. It is essential that the Government should realise that the development of amenities in the countryside is absolutely essential to production. We need these three forms of capital and we need them, not for gambling with the nation's money, nor to make farmers rich, but to produce more food so that the need for imports may be decreased.
The drift away from the land still goes on. These questions have got to be solved, otherwise production will fall because of that drift. I believe they eventu- 228 ally will be solved and I think it will be enormously to our advantage if we solve them quickly. Let us not niggle about trying to assist one part of the industry, or one part of an industry, and then another part. Let us concentrate on this question of agriculture which we know will give a return in the national interest. Then a dream I have always had may come true. The first half of this century has been bitterly noticeable for the flight from the land to the town. I want to see—I believe we shall see—in the last half of this century the return of the people from the towns to the country and the realisation in this country that our countryside, our earth, is still our greatest security.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Richards (Wrexham)
I must apologise to the hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland), because I do not intend to follow his very interesting disquisition concerning the land and its problems.
I wish to take a broad view of the condition of things in this country as I see them at present. Yesterday, as we all know, was an historic occasion for Parliament. It is well over a century since we had anything like what we had yesterday. Over a century ago a young Queen addressed the House as our Gracious Queen did yesterday. She was younger than our present Queen but she was fortunate in one respect—that she occupied the Throne longer than anybody who has ever sat on that Throne.
During that very long period of her reign she saw a complete transformation in the character and history of this country. When she ascended the Throne this country was just an ordinary—and I think a rather backward—agricultural country which was just beginning to move away from reliance on agriculture alone. By the end of her reign, this country had become the leading industrial country in the world.
How was that managed? Can that miracle be repeated? It was managed, I think, primarily for two reasons. First, the motive power then was steam, and we were singularly fortunate in this country in that we had ample provision of first-class coal, which we proceeded to exploit. The other reason was that all the great discoveries of that period were made in this country. It was the era 229 when remarkable developments took place in the weaving and spinning industries in Lancashire and Yorkshire which gave us a pre-eminence that no one else could really rival. Those two factors, the existence of steam and the presence of new discoveries in mechanism, were really concentrated in this country, and during all that long reign we held a position of industrial supremacy which no other country should really challenge.
We are rapidly passing out of that era. The age of steam has gone, the age of electricity is going and we are at the beginning of the era of the atom. There is no doubt that in future this country and every other industrial country in the world will more and more turn their attention to the development of the power that the atom is able to give us. It is vital, if this country is to survive, that in the near future we should attempt to be the leaders of discovery in the field of breaking down the atom.
The future of industry will, I am convinced, depend upon the active development that will be brought about by these wonderful discoveries which we shall see in the very near future. The country that can make the best use of this new power will be the great industrial country. I should like to remind the House, with great humility, that no country will be able, in the future, to exploit the atom as we exploited steam a century ago. Science is, after all, international, and what is known or is discovered in one country today will tomorrow be the possession of the whole world.
It is no use attempting to camouflage the discoveries we are making, as we are doing today. Our only hope lies in a co-operative effort on the part of all nations working together. That is why I feel that international peace is the most important question that is facing the whole world at present. Not only do we want to get rid of wars, not only do we desire that sense of security which we have lost for so long, but the very existence and development of science in the future depends on international understanding. We must reach a position in which we can trust one another and work for the benefit of the whole world.
The Victorian era was one of the great eras in the history of this country. I should like briefly to refer to the other Queen, the first Elizabeth who reigned in this country. She was, I believe, a lady 230 of rather fiery temperament but she was also a very learned lady. That combination is not unknown in my part of the world. That might have derived, or did derive, from her Welsh blood, which made her interested in the arts and at the same time gave her a determination to have her own way and to establish her own position in the world.
It was then that, for the first time, England occupied the supreme position among the nations of the world which she has held until quite recently. The world has changed very much in recent years, and the development of science is very largely responsible for the change that has taken place. I have already suggested that in the future no one nation, not even America or Russia, can hope to control the productive activity of the new era that is about to dawn. Consequently it is imperative, if the new reign is to leave behind a record such as that of the other Elizabethan period or of the Victorian era, that we should realise that we are living in a new world.
I wish to point out briefly another factor which I think is also most important. Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria live today in the annals of our country not merely because, in the case of Queen Victoria, of the tremendous industrial position which we held for a long time, but because of the great contribution they made to the world of literature and music particularly. The Elizabethan age was a great age in the history of musical production in this country.
I hope that we may have a period of peace and prosperity; that is absolutely essential if the welfare of our people is to be preserved and improved, as we have heard tonight from both sides of the House. In addition to that, however, I hope very sincerely that the young Queen, who so graciously delivered her Speech to the House yesterday, will live to see the production of great works of art in literature, in painting and in music, so that her name too may go down in history as that of one of the great Queens of this wonderful Kingdom of ours.
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Thompson (Liverpool, Walton)
No one who has listened to the debates of yesterday and today can fail to have been impressed by one predominant theme—that both sides of the House are in basic agreement about the 231 objective which Government policy must seek to record—that we in this island, with a population of 50 million, are dependent for our existence and whatever standard of living we can manage to achieve upon the success which attends our efforts to trade in the markets of the world in the conditions of today.
I am impressed, as I am sure hon. Members in all parts of the House must have been impressed, by the number of references in the Gracious Speech to matters affecting the trade of this country. References have been made already in the debate to some significant signs, that are coming to the attention of hon. Members, that our position has changed in some degree in the last few months. It is true that there is unemployment in the dock industry in the City of Liverpool as well as in the Port of London. It is a matter of concern to hon. Members on all sides of the House and to Her Majesty's Government.
It is true that ships sailing from the Port of Liverpool in the last few months have been carrying lighter cargoes than for some considerable time past. Ships coming in have been bringing lighter cargoes, too. But I think that it is wise for us, in considering these matters and taking into account whatever significance properly attaches to them, not to lose sight of the fact that we can do no greater harm to the economy of the country and to our prospects of success in the changing conditions of today than to put too great a significance to this temporary and, we hope, passing phase.
I was alarmed, as I think every hon. Member must have been alarmed, to read the speech which was delivered a few days ago by one of the leading figures in the motor industry. I have great admiration for the achievements both of Mr. Lord himself and of the great concern over which he presides. Its achievements for many years have been enormous. But I cannot help thinking that he did no light disservice to the motor manufacturing industry of this country in drawing attention to the fact that new difficulties were being experienced by the industry, which led him to hope that the Government would take some step to help the industry out of them.
We as a Government have set our target, in the words of the Chancellor, as 232 "trade not aid" and it seems to me that no great harm can be done by a very simple re-statement in this House of the circumstances in which the industries of this country conduct their affairs. We have come to think these days in terms of rates of productivity, of dollar balances, of allocations and of licences of one kind or another, and a clear re-statement of the processes of trade surely cannot be out of place.
We as a nation live by buying raw materials in the markets of the world, and to them, in the great factories and industrial plants of this country, we apply the labour, skill and technique of our people in all grades of industry. We then sell our finished products abroad, and the living standards of all our people depend upon the amount of margin that we can obtain between the buying price and the selling price.
I believe that in the last 20 or 30 years a great change has come over the attitude of people in this country to the manner in which this margin is to be shared out among the people and among different sections of our people. I believe that the process of that distribution is proper material for disputation, discussion and debate. I cannot follow the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Hubbard), who I see has vacated his seat, into Victorian debates about attitudes of mind on this subject.
He surely cannot expect the House to accept the view that because he was almost beaten up by a gentleman on a bus who was carrying a bag of golf clubs, ipso facto the carrier of golf clubs was a wicked capitalist grinding the faces of the poor. Surely that is the tone of disputation of 50 years ago and is as remote from today's conditions and attitude of mind as it possibly could be. It is typical, if I may say so, of the reactionary Socialist who has been dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 20th century.
§ Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Hubbard) is not present. Does not the hon. Member remember what the person carrying the golf clubs said in the presence of the miners? He said, "Why do not the miners work more?" when he was going to play golf. That is the point which my hon. Friend was making.
§ Mr. Thompson
The hon. Member, who was here at the time, as I was, cannot have failed to have noticed that that particular part of the speech of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs was singularly unclear. I shall join with the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West in looking up the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow to see what can be read into it.
As the hon. Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart) said as well as probably it has ever been said in this House, we have to clear our minds of that sort of overgrowth and approach this matter in a different way because we are all involved in this together. We have to set about working together in a close and tightly knit community towards this goal, which we are pretty well agreed is a common goal.
I deny, as I think, all hon. Members will deny, the suggestion which is frequently made in all parts of the world that the British workman is incapable of attaining, or unwilling to attain, the same standard of productivity as, for example, the American worker. I have a shrewd suspicion that that is the kind of story put out by some very adroit American industrialists to establish for the American worker a reputation for a higher standard of productivity and, therefore, for the production of better and cheaper goods, thereby strengthening their position in world markets.
By and large, my own experience is that our own people are capable of at least as great an output and as high a quality as anybody in the world. These processes of trade to which I have referred worked very well years ago. I imagine that it was enough in those days for the spur of personal gain to drive the manufacturer, industrialist and commercial adventurer out into the world to do his job.
We are getting a great deal still of exhortation from the Government which the other party, when in power, gave to commercial enterprise and whatever successes our private industrialists claimed during the years of the Labour Government. The conditions have changed very largely. Today almost every process of trade from the buying of the raw material to the final receipt of payment for the finished goods is accompanied at one stage or another by Government intervention of one kind or another.
234 The high taxation of the last six years and of the war years has tended to withhold from the industrialist and manufacturer his command of the personal reserves of his industry. The result is that he is no longer in a position to take commercial risks in the markets of the world, risks which might very well prove disastrous to him and to his shareholders or might prove very fruitful and profitable to all concerned in the industry. Whatever the possible results he is debarred from taking the risks of that enterprise because he is continually subject to controls and has to work on reduced company reserves.
Government intervention has become of enormous significance and this makes it important for the Government to consider very carefully the whole of their attitude not only to taxation policy but also to the policy which they are prepared to pursue in encouraging and helping industrialists to discharge their functions. In the course of the last 12 months we have managed to save the country from going bankrupt and losing the last of the reserves on which the country and the sterling area depend for their ability to continue trading at all. If there are hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the other side who are prepared to go on record in dispute of that statement, I have no doubt that they will have ample opportunity for doing so on a later occasion.
All that has been accomplished by the Government in the last 12 months, and it has been done by a policy of restricting imports and expenditure overseas—a policy which, I can assure the House, meets with little enthusiasm on these benches, but a policy which, for a time, has been necessary. We are now beginning to see that other countries from which we previously bought are now short of sterling and unable to buy from us, and we have to re-orientate our ideas towards this aspect of our commercial policy.
I very much hope that the President of the Board of Trade, and, indeed, the Government as a whole, will look again at the position of our trade negotiations with the various countries which have been affected by the necessary import cuts which we have had to make during the last few months.
I have had occasion previously in the House to draw attention to the position 235 of our trade with Brazil—trade which had reached very considerable proportions when Brazil ran into sterling difficulties and was unable to buy from us, or, if able to buy, was unable to pay for our goods. Here is a typical case upon which the Government is called upon to take definite action and give a positive lead.
Brazil is willing to take the products of this country at this time. We are anxious to make and supply these goods. It seems to me not to be beyond the bounds of human endeavour to bring those two conditions together to the satisfaction of the peoples of both countries, and I very much hope that the President of the Board of Trade will keep this matter very much before him and his colleagues in the Department in the months that are ahead.
I believe, too, even though the power and influence of the Government over industrial activity is so great, industry cannot lean back and leave things to the Government alone. Industry, workers, management and finance interests are all concerned in this. Higher productivity—the phrase we use today—is used too often to cover the need for harder work and better techniques from workers and managements alike at every level of industry.
I very much hope that, whatever has been said in the debate will come to the attention of the workers at every level in industry in order that they may see that a great deal of agreement exists between both sides of the House on the objectives which the country must attain if we are to survive in the years immediately ahead.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)
I was surprised that a Lancashire hon. Member, even from the other side of the House, should take what I considered to be a rather inhuman point of view in regard to the unemployment that exists at the present time. When the hon. Member for Walton (Mr. K. Thompson) was speaking about the unemployment that exists in Liverpool, he said that we should not place too great a significance on these passing phases. These passing phases are causing distress and unemployment to human beings, and we really cannot take this soulless, economist point of view on unemployment even if it is a passing phase.
236 We have to tackle this matter from a humane point of view, and I would remind the hon. Gentleman that it is the declared responsibility of all Governments to plan ahead in order to prevent unemployment and to create full employment. That has been the purpose of government since the time the famous White Paper was published during the war, and that policy was successfully carried out by the Labour Government.
I want to deal particularly with an industrial matter affecting my own constituency, but before I do so, I should like to make a suggestion. I should like to join with other hon. Members who have paid tribute to the way in which Her Majesty read Her Gracious Speech yesterday. I think we all enjoyed that wonderful ceremony, and we all must have regretted that more people could not have seen it. I was interested to notice in this morning's newspapers that, for the first time, Press photographs were taken in the Royal Gallery, and I should like to express the hope that in future years the ceremony should be televised, so that a much wider audience may enjoy it than those of us who are able to enter the House of Lords on this annual occasion.
I am glad to see that the President of the Board of Trade is present, because I want to refer particularly to the important speech which he made this afternoon. It seemed to me that he was being very careful to take a most confident view of the situation, and that he was pretending to be satisfied—far more satisfied than the situation warranted. He said that the Government were proud of their achievements in economic policy, and he went on to say that, if we were to judge the Government's economic policy, we should look at its results. That is just what I should like to do, as they affect my own division at the moment, and, quite frankly and unashamably, I want to be a little parochial in this matter, because I think it is my duty to do so.
The President of the Board of Trade referred to certain figures proving, as he contended, that a better situation now exists than was the case a year ago. I have in front of me the current number of the Board of Trade Journal, and the figures quoted there are, I think, the ones to which the right hon. Gentleman was referring. It seems to me, however, that he was far too selective in his choice of figures. The figures in which I am par- 237 ticularly interested are those in regard to textiles, and, according to the Board of Trade Journal for last week, the situation with regard to textiles is that, taking the average production of 1948 as 100, the index figure for the second quarter of 1951 was 126; for the third quarter 113; for the second quarter of 1952, 85; for the month of June this year, 79, and for the month of July only 77.
These are very serious figures which, I contend, do not bear out the impression which the House must have received from the figures selected by the President of the Board of Trade, and, unfortunately, they are not the only unsatisfactory figures with which we have to contend. My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis) referred to unemployment at the docks, and my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) spoke of unemployment in the textile industry. This unemployment in various parts of the country is causing a great deal of anxiety, of which I hope the Government are well aware.
The President of the Board of Trade took comfort today from what he called the increased vote of confidence which the Government had just received at High Wycombe. I beg him not to place too much value upon an isolated by-election result in a district like that. It would have been more interesting, and I would suggest there might have been a very different result, if we had had a by-election in a Lancashire textile area at the present time. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about one in Ebbw Vale?"]
Take the situation in North-East Lancashire. The President of the Board of Trade made a welcome announcement last week in regard to a new Development Area to be established in that district. At any rate, it was welcome to certain hon. Members on both sides of the House, but it was very unwelcome to me, because it did not include any part of my constituency. I should like to tell the right hon. Gentleman that his announcement caused a great deal of distress and dissatisfaction in the various towns in the Accrington division.
The right hon. Gentleman is well aware of that, because he has received certain representations from those towns; but it seemed to me that he dismissed the matter rather lightly today, perhaps because he was wishing to proceed to another subject in his speech. I hope, however, that 238 he will deal with this matter in a little more detail in the near future. Next week he will be receiving a deputation from certain hon. Members who are particularly concerned. He is getting deputations from various town councils which are concerned, and I hope he will pay close attention to the representations that they will make.
It took the President of the Board of Trade—and I do not complain about this—a fair amount of time to reach a decision at all to agree on a new Development Area. It was necessary, as I well understand, for him to go into the whole of the facts of the situation; but I cannot understand why it was that, having at last decided to make a Development Area, he should restrict it to so small a district. If we take the decision as being governed by the fact that he wanted to select towns which were almost entirely dependent on cotton weaving, he might, at any rate, have selected one of the towns in my division, the town of Oswald-twistle, which, as he has been informed in a letter from the clerk to the council, is predominantly a cotton town and which has suffered greatly during the last few months.
On 13th October there were 66 males wholly unemployed and nine temporarily unemployed. There were 99 females wholly unemployed and 87 temporarily, out of a small population of 12,000. In that town there are two empty mills available for further development and there is no difficulty, or not the same kind of difficulty, about housing as we get in certain other districts.
It may be that the President was advised, by those whose business it is to advise him on these matters, that the situation in cotton weaving had got a bit better lately. I should like to hope that this betterment was permanent, but I am afraid that it may be only temporary. It may only be a question of the replenishment of stocks, perhaps Christmas orders and special items of that kind. There is no guarantee, I assure him from my knowledge of the district, that this will be a permanent betterment in the cotton weaving industry.
Or it may be that, in considering the matter, the President took the view that the town of Accrington, for example, is not only a cotton weaving town but an engineering town. That is perfectly true. But again I must tell him that it is a 239 special kind of engineering, in the form of manufacturing textile machinery, and that that type of engineering is now suffering from very serious unemployment. There are similar factories in other towns in Lancashire, in Oldham, Bolton, Manchester and elsewhere. They are all up against the same difficulty at the present moment, mainly from causes such as the shortage of sterling which the hon. Member for Walton mentioned a moment ago as existing in Brazil at the present time.
In Accrington there is an engineering works where they have already paid off some 600 men; where there will be about a 1,000 paid off before the end of the year, and where another 4,000 workers will be on short time by January. That is a very serious situation which I suggest needs special attention by the Government, whether it is in the form of diverting more orders there, or in any other direction which the Government may think fit. Something needs to be done about it, because the whole town is suffering gravely from that kind of thing.
What I am trying to emphasise is that in Accrington we have not only a cotton weaving unemployment problem but an engineering problem as well. It may be that hon. Members will say to me, "Surely engineers can get jobs elsewhere?" That, of course, is true in the case of the fully skilled engineer. Unfortunately, many of these men are semiskilled and unskilled engineers, and there is no alternative employment for them in the neighbourhood. If they are to get employment at all, which is doubtful, they will have to leave the neighbourhood, and any hon. Member can well understand the problems which that kind of thing will create for the local authorities.
There are other matters in the Gracious Speech with which I should very much like to deal. But for the sake of underlining and emphasising the main problem about unemployment with which we are now faced in my division, I prefer to leave it at that. I ask the President of the Board of Trade to give careful consideration to these matters; and, when he is arguing for the paragraph in the Gracious Speech about placing the national economy on a sound foundation, I ask him not to take the point of view of the hon. Member for Walton.
240 We cannot look at these things from a high economic level, or regard them as a passing phase of which too much notice need not be taken. We must regard them from the human level and try to deal with them as affecting wage earners and their families. And when the President looks at the words in the Gracious Speech about co-operating in industry to increase production, will he please bear in mind that it is no encouragement to engineers to increase production if they know, as is happening in Accrington, that they are working themselves out of a job, and that they will either be unemployed or on short time within the next few weeks.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)
I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd) that unemployment is a problem which must be looked at humanely. I agree still more with him that only those who have been unemployed really know the horror of it. On the other hand, I think it a pity that he and the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) should exaggerate this problem.
May I give him some figures? The number of totally unemployed people in this country in May of this year was 467,000. In June, it was 440,000; in July, 393,000 and in August it went up again to 403,000. In September, it was down to 389,000. Therefore, the total is falling when, normally, at this time of the year it is rising. I would remind the hon. Member, and the House, that the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, defined full employment some time ago as a state where not more than 3 per cent. of the total labour force was out of work. Three per cent. of our labour force gives us a total of 640,000 unemployed and today we have 389,000 unemployed. Therefore, upon the ex-Chancellor's own definition, we have at the present time a high state of employment.
The right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens), who was the Minister of Labour in the recent Administration, said in the House on 3rd March that he was confident there would be a million unemployed in this country by the end of this year. All I have to say is that I hope he will be satisfied that he was wrong.
§ Mr. H. Hynd
This is just what I am complaining about—dealing with this question of unemployment by juggling about with figures, and by talking about nearly 400,000 as a fairly satisfactory figure. That figure of 400,000 is much worse than last year and 400,000 unemployed, with their families, represents a very considerable tragedy in the population.
§ Mr. Osborne
In reply to that I would point out again that a Socialist Chancellor himself defined full employment as not having more than 3 per cent. unemployed; that 3 per cent. would give a figure of 640,000 and that today there are 389,000 unemployed. Therefore, upon the definition of the right hon. Member for Leeds, South we are today in a satisfactory position from that point of view.
Furthermore, as the figures I gave over the last four months show, the total is declining. I say it is a human problem and only those of us—I say those of us—who have been unemployed know what it really means. I say all that, but for goodness' sake do not let us exaggerate.
There are other matters to which I wish to draw the attention of the Minister because they cause us some concern First of all, I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade for his realistic survey and also for his warning against the difficult times that lie ahead. There are three omissions in the Gracious Speech which I regret. First, although it says:I earnestly pray that in Korea an early armistice will be arranged,there is nothing in the Gracious Speech to say how it is to be arranged.
I should like to see a new attempt made to end the war in Korea. Prayers are important, but in this respect they are not enough, and I think we have all got to recognise that negotiations on the spot have failed and that a new attempt at a higher level is necessary. With all respect to the new President of the United States, merely dashing off to Korea will not solve the problem. The problem will only be solved by Marshal Stalin and his immediate advisers in Moscow.
I therefore put to the President of the Board of Trade and, through him, to 242 the Prime Minister, this question; Would not the Prime Minister himself offer to go to Moscow to discuss this matter? The idea has been talked of before. Even if Marshal Stalin slammed the door in his face, his offer to go would have been worth while. I am encouraged to make this suggestion because of something I read in the "Economist" editorial of 11th October:If anything is crystal clear from what has so far been said before the Nineteenth Congress of the Soviet Communist Party, it is that Stalin fears an attack at some time by the United States.It may well be that the very election of General Eisenhower will heighten that fear, if the fear exists. I am completely convinced that that fear is groundless. The United States, in my opinion, has no intention of attacking anyone; and, as I know the American people—and I have many friends in that great country—they would give almost anything for peace so long as it was not at the expense of their security and honour. But if Marshal Stalin does fear an attack from the Americans as the "Economist" suggests, the greatest service the Prime Minister could do in his end days in office would be to make an attempt to solve this deadlock by going to Moscow himself.
It is suggested sometimes that the Prime Minister may retire after the Coronation, and I should like to suggest to him that the finest thing he could do for the whole of the world would be at least to offer to go to Moscow himself to try to settle on the spot the running sore that is affecting the whole world.
§ Mr. David Logan (Liverpool, Scotland Division)
What would the party opposite do if they kept him there?
§ Mr. Osborne
If they kept him there I should say that they knew something which was really worth keeping. If they placed on him the value which the Socialists put on him, they would not keep him.
The other thought on this point is this. If my right hon. Friend's offer were rejected he would at least have convinced hon. Members opposite and their party, I hope, of the wrongness of their claim that he is a warmonger. It would remove that trace of their smear campaign.
The second omission in the Gracious Speech is that, as I see it, there are no adequate preparations proposed to deal 243 with the economic consequences of peace. I was recently in America and Canada for some weeks. I talked with politicians, businessmen, newspapermen and labour leaders, and I asked certain questions of them to which I got no answers. I want to put those questions to the President of the Board of Trade now, because I think they are his responsibility.
When the Korea war ends, as we all hope it will, what is to happen to the stockpiles of strategic raw materials? Are any plans being made to handle them properly and orderly? If they are thrown on to the free world market in any old fashion, they will not only destroy the world price structure of raw materials but will ruin the colonial areas from which most of them are produced.
I would remind my right hon. Friend that although there has been a considerable drop in raw materials prices in the last 12 months, there is still room for enormous drops unless we have international planning to handle very carefully the stockpiles of raw materials which will be there and will not be wanted if war ends. The "Economist" world commodity price indicator in June, 1949, was 73; in March, 1951, at the height of the Korean commodity boom, it reached 182; in July this year it was down to 130; in September, 124; and, in October. 122. It is true that prices are falling, but 122 is the latest figure we have.
Compare that with 73 in June, 1949. There could be a rapid fail in commodity prices if the war ceased, unless we take steps to avoid it. I suggest that something on the lines of the Joint Organisation that handled the stockpiles of wool that accumulated during the war is a system that we might well adopt. But unless there is co-operation between us and the Americans on this matter, I can see the biggest slump that the capitalist system has ever faced.
My next question is this. What plans, if any, are being made to find civilian jobs for the men who will be demobilised? Before the war we had in the Armed Forces 350,000 men. Today, we have 872,000. It is fair to assume that about a quarter of a million will come back looking for jobs once the war in Korea is wound up. They will be coming back just at the time when the re-armament orders have finished and when commodity prices are falling. 244 Surely we are not going to allow those men to come back and join the unemployment queues. I am asking what plans are being made. Is anybody in the top flight of Government sitting and thinking and planning about these things?
§ Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon. North)
Could my hon. Friend tell me whether he thinks that because a settlement is reached in Korea, Russian production and plans in contemplation of an attack on the free world will, in fact, have been lessened? I do not quite follow his argument that we must immediately run down our Armed Forces because peace has been obtained in one of the perimeter spheres.
§ Mr. Osborne
I am hoping that one day the cold war will finish. We are all bound up in the bundle of life together. One half of the world cannot be prosperous while the other half lives in misery. Every sensible man in the civilised world must hope that the cold war will come to an end. Therefore, I plead this the more earnestly, because after the First World War when I came out of the Army I had not a job or a trade. Only those who have been unemployed know what unemployment means.
My third question is this. What plans are being made to deal with the special problems that will arise in the engineering industry when peace returns, when we cease making tanks and we start to make perambulators, refrigerators and other things for civilian use? How long will it take to re-jig and re-tool the engineering industry? Do do not us forget that while that is being done there must be some short time and unemployment in the industry and that this will coincide with the return of the men from the Forces and with the fall in commodity prices. I want to know if anybody is thinking about these things.
When I was in America about a month ago I had lunch at the Bankers' Club on the 29th floor in Wall Street. I put these questions to my banker friends and one of them took me to the window and we looked down from the 29th floor and saw new tenement buildings being erected in what had been a slum area. The American said, "Mr. Englishman, we have lots and lots of slums in America that we could clear up in this way." We have them here, too, and I should like to 245 see plans made for the clearance of our slums and for other similar projects which would use our energies when the cold war comes to an end.
The third omission from the Gracious Speech—and I am afraid that hon. Gentlemen opposite will not be quite so pleased about this—is that there is no gale warning to the nation of the terrible economic blizzard which I believe is just about to blow. When I was in New York five weeks ago I spent four or five days in the headquarters of the United Nations and I found there some figures which so far have not been published here and which startled and frightened me. Income per capita is not an exact indication, but it is a fair guide to our standard of life.
The income per capita in this country, in the three years 1949–51—during which the party of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite were in power—fell from 773 dollars to 639 dollars. That is a fall of 17 per cent. During those same three years, in Canada the income per capita rose from 890 to 1187, which is an increase of 33 per cent. In the United States it rose from 1453 to 1793—an increase of 23 per cent. That indicates that our position was worsening not only actually but relatively. It came to me as a great shock to think that the Canadian position is twice as good as ours and the United States position three times as good. These are facts that few hon. Members comprehend—let alone people outside. These sorts of things should be driven home to our people, for unless some really resolute steps are taken we shall slide into an abyss from which it will take a lot to recover.
I would ask my right hon. Friend to look at some of the trade difficulties which we are facing. Mr. Lord, the Chairman of Austins, knows what he is talking about when he talks of the motor trade. He warned us quite recently of the increased difficulties of selling our cars abroad. He said that the trade recession was already here and he talked about the spectre of unemployment. Coventry might become the new Jarrow. One of my hon. Friends thought he had been exaggerating. I should like to give the President the actual facts which will support what Mr. Lord said.
In the last few years in America they have been absorbing 6½ million motor cars a year, but they now calculate that 246 their backlog is finished and that they will require only 4½ million cars per year for replacement. What is to happen to the 2 million surplus cars? They are going into the world market to compete with our cars, and in price and quality they will beat us. Do our people realise what that means to Coventry and to Birmingham? Do many hon. Members in this House realise it?
§ Mr. Osborne
I am making my point.
While I was in Washington I was told by people who ought to know what they are talking about that before many months were out there would be a world surplus of steel. What would happen to the steel industry of the world if the demand for re-armament in relation to Korea were stopped? What will be the effect of that on our steel industry and what are we doing about it?
When I was out there I was not only trying to learn something about international politics but also to sell the textiles made by one of my companies. I found that in the engineering industry the Germans were beating us and in the textile industry the Italians were catching up with us in what had been our traditional markets in that great country. It is not only a question of price but of quality and speed of delivery which is enabling the Germans in engineering and the Italians in textiles to take from us what used to be our great preserve.
As I see it, our economic position is grim. Our prospects are even grimmer. Nobody will say so to the country for fear of losing votes—and that applies to both sides of the House.
§ Mr. Osborne
That is my story. For its own survival the nation should be made to comprehend these unpleasant facts, and we fail in our duty if we do not present them. The fact of the matter is that ever since 1940 we have been living beyond our income. We have been spending more than we have been earning, during the war and ever since the war. Unless there is a new attitude to work—let us talk about the thing that matters and not about production and productivity—by all classes and sections of the community, we face that catastrophic fall 247 in our standard of living which Sir Stafford Cripps prophesied would be our fate.
§ Mr. Osborne
He wore himself out trying to convince the nation and his own party of the terrible problems with which we are faced.
While I was in the United States I saw a most remarkable advertisement. The headline ran something like this, "Nobody wants to shoot Santa Claus, but he could die from old age and overwork." Behind that advertisement lies a profound truth for us all. In the modern Welfare State nobody wants to shoot Santa Claus because he is the best vote-getter there is—and nobody wants to get rid of the best vote-getter. Therefore we all tend to soften the harsh realities with which this nation is faced.
I would make this plea to my right hon. Friend and, through him, to the Prime Minister. What I regret to see omitted from the Gracious Speech is a warning—that nobody could fail to see—of the grimness of our position. What is wanted is not a bigger and better Santa Claus, who will promise to give everybody something for nothing and pretend to the whole nation that we can continue to live every day of the year in the atmosphere of Christmas, because we know it cannot be done.
What we need is somebody who will inspire us all to work for our country in peace as we fought for it in war. I do not care from which side of the House that inspiration comes. That is the only way we shall get over our difficulties. If someone could come along and get hold of the nation, as it were, by the scruff of the neck and say to those who are strong and able, "It is our duty to put more and more into the common pool of life than we expect to take out," there would be some hope for us; but while both sides preach the gospel that we can all take more out of the common pool of life than we put in there will be no hope.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Hall (Gateshead, West)
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), because I think that he has made a realistic speech, and 248 it would seem from some of the points which he made that he ought to be on this side of the House. I wish to follow him in one sense. He said that there were certain things which had not been mentioned in the Gracious Speech, and I want to point out that there has also been no mention in the Gracious Speech of the intended continuance or otherwise of food rationing.
I am rather surprised that the Government have not tried to relieve the uncertainty of this position by making a pronouncement on it. There is no doubt that after 12 years of food rationing many people would like to see the end of registration and food control. We know that although the Food Minister has closed 300 food offices, he has made no announcement as to whether the Government intend to do away with ration books, and there is a general feeling in the country that it will not be long before it will not be necessary to ration with either the butcher or the grocer. Perhaps this would be looked upon with great appreciation if we had sufficient stocks of food, but there is alarm in the country at the trend of Government policy because it is believed that we are tending to pass from the system of rationing by control to the system of rationing by the purse.
This is a very serious matter. If it is the Government's intention to ration by the purse, they ought to be honest and declare it, rather than to proceed piecemeal to pull down the present structure of price control and then contend that rationing is unnecessary. If this is to be the process, then the ordinary people of this country will have to face a continual rise in the cost of living.
We have seen the relaxation of price controls ever since the present Government were elected. They have removed price controls from some 10 classes of food since they took over. Yet it has also been the policy of the Government to cut down the amount of food coming into the country. While we can perhaps agree that there had to be a reduction in our imports to help us to overcome our balance of payments problem, it surely is wrong to relax price controls when we are still facing food shortages. Just as it ought to be necessary to maintain rationing until we have 101 per cent. supply to meet 100 per cent. demand, so it ought also to be important to maintain 249 price controls until that happy state of affairs is achieved.
I would say that if previous Governments since 1940 have thought it wise to keep on with price controls, surely the case is just as strong today when supplies are still short of demand. I ask: Is it really the intention of the Government to let prices find their own level? If that is to be the case, I wonder what is to happen to the old-age pensioner and all the other people who have to live on small, fixed incomes. Is it to be the case that while this Government are in power that we are to have the wage earners continually asking for more wages to meet the rising cost of living?
The party opposite said that they would reduce the cost of living. But people are worse off today than they were a year ago. As a consequence of the removal of price controls, there have been increases in the prices of many unrationed and unsubsidised foods, and these price increases are in addition to the rise in the cost of living, which was due to the action of the Government in cutting down the food subsidies by £160 million a year. It is difficult to get information about increases in the prices of unrationed foods. I think that the Food Minister is loath to disclose to what extent prices have risen where food has been taken off control, but we do know that the Parliamentary Secretary, on 11th June, admitted that 27 items, apart from seasonal increases in the price of some fresh fruits and vegetables, rose from 4 per cent. to 33 per cent.
Most of the things which have gone up in price are essential in every home. The wage earner's wife depends more upon bread than probably any other housewife in any other income group. Now that she has to pay 25 per cent. more for bread, that means she has less money to spend on other things. But even before she can buy the food and clothing needed by her children, there is all the extra money to be found for the other 26 items which have gone up in price since this Government came into power.
The increases in the price of meat, bacon, cheese, butter and milk are having a serious effect on living standards. People are having to curtail their purchases of these important commodities. As a nation, we have prided ourselves that during the war years and since no 250 one was prevented from buying a fair share of the basic foods by reason of price. Now it is becoming commonplace to hear that the butcher or grocer can allow one more than one's ration of meat or bacon.
The Minister may not agree that people are not taking up their allocation. He may conclude that that is not true because it is not shown in the returns, but, nevertheless, traders like to oblige their customers, and perhaps the trader can see no wrong in passing on to the better off client that which is beyond the means of his poorer customer. So we are getting a lowering of the standard of life through price increases which are directly the action of this Government. We all ought to remember that the poorer people are the harder they are hit by rising food prices. Out of their meagre income a greater proportion has to be spent on food, especially on those foods which are showing the biggest increase in price.
Since the war, the people of this country have had to submit to rising prices, the outstanding reason being the rise in world prices. Prices here are bound to be affected by world prices. But actually, under the policy of the Labour Government, prices went up less in Britain than they did in most other countries. World prices went up most in the period after the Korean war started, when our cost of living went up by about 9 per cent. The rise was much higher in France, Holland, Canada and America in that period, where it was 20 per cent., 12 per cent., 11 per cent. and 10 per cent. respectively.
Since October last year food prices have gone up by 12 per cent. but the prices of imported food have shown an increase of only 2 per cent. and other countries have been able to stabilise their prices with only a small percentage increase. We have lost a great opportunity to establish a state of stability which would be good for our trade and industry.
The relaxation of price controls and the cutting of the food subsidies have reduced the value of the £ and compelled the trade unions to press for higher wages. If we are to maintain and increase our export trade in the face of competition from other industrial countries the Governments should have sought stability in prices instead of causing prices to rise. Soon we shall hear that our goods are 251 too dear and that we cannot sell them abroad because of the increased prices caused by higher wages. Therefore, instead of relaxing controls and allowing prices to find their own level the Government ought to maintain price controls.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerald Williams (Tonbridge)
I can tell the hon. Member for Gateshead, West (Mr. J. Hall) why there was no mention of food rationing in the Queen's Speech. It does not require legislation to take a commodity off the ration. He need not be too pessimistic in feeling that nothing is coming off the ration in the next year or so, because the Government might well free some commodities. But the hon. Member did not seem very keen on rationing being removed because of the fear of what he called "rationing by the purse" taking its place.
The hon. Member said he regretted that the cost of living was rising. Every hon. Member regrets it. But that sort of statement comes hard from the Opposition benches when, for six years, the Socialist Government was the villain of the piece in relation to rising prices. Now that prices are not rising so quickly, it just does not make sense when hon. Members opposite blame the present Government. The cost of living graph is becoming less vicious and I hope that we shall make it turn downwards. To accuse the present Government of causing a rise in the cost of living after six years of rising prices under Socialism is just stupid.
§ Mr. J. D. Murray (Durham, North-West)
Can the hon. Gentleman tell us of any occasion during the time of the Socialist Government when raw ham went up by 1s. 8d. a lb. over the weekend?
§ Mr. Williams
I can very well remember many people going into shops during the time of the Socialist Government to buy ham at 10s. a lb.
§ Mr. Williams
It was tinned ham.
I want to make some constructive suggestions for getting the wheels of industry going so that we can produce more and produce more cheaply as well. The Gracious Speech said that the Govern- 252 ment intended to make economies, and it is the general concensus of opinion that there can be no reduction in taxation unless economies are also made. Conservatism and Conservative principles are based on private enterprise, and private enterprise does not work well without sufficient incentives.
At the moment, taxation is so high that many men who are running small businesses do not really bother about small expenses. An efficient man naturally tries to keep his costs down to enable him to compete with other people, but at the present rate of Income Tax a 2s. telephone call made by his staff represents an expense of only 1s. to him. If a 2s. call cost him 1s. 6d. net he would be more careful about the use of the telephone. Taxation is so high that many people are not taking the trouble which they should over the small expenses, which would amount to a large sum of money in the long run.
The best brains are being lost by industry. Many people who reach the £2,000 a year stage or have been lucky enough to save some money feel that it is not worth while going on. That is very bad, but it is happening. The fact that there is no incentive to continue after a certain stage means that industry is losing some of the brains we so sorely need in order to increase productivity. The same applies to the labourer and his overtime. He certainly has a better chance since the last Budget of earning overtime without paying tax, but I believe more could be done to encourage people to work overtime by reducing taxation further.
I am thinking in terms of a reduction of 2s. in the £. The psychological effect upon all classes and all companies of a reduction of 2s. in the £ in Income Tax would be so great that industry would speed up enormously. I believe that the Chancellor would soon make up any losses which he might think he would suffer in the first year or so. To put it very plainly, a man earning £100 now keeps £55, but if he were to retain £65 it stands to reason that he would work a great deal harder.
I believe it would be possible, with economies, to reduce Income Tax by 2s., but I am also one of those who think that it might even be possible to do that without economies. The Chancellor's criterion should be not, "Have I suffi- 253 cient surplus in my Budget to reduce taxation?" but, "How much greater surplus shall I have if I reduce taxation?" It stands to reason that there would eventually be a greater surplus. Nevertheless, the general opinion is that we must make economies in order to do this.
Another trouble about reducing taxation is the danger of inflation. The answer is to make sure that the money which is released in extra benefits goes into savings. If taxation is reduced by a large amount and people find that they have another £30 or £40 a year, the money will probably find its way into the Post Office Savings Bank or into National Savings certificates, but the benefits from a mere 3d. in the £ off Income Tax would probably just be "blown."
Another way of getting these reliefs into savings would be through the medium of the insurance companies. Premiums are subject to an Income Tax rebate. Could not those rebates be a little more than they are now? The answer will be that it would cost money, but the small cost involved might well result in very great savings. If we cannot do that, can we alter the rebate system a little? At present a man who insures his life for £25 a year gets no greater benefit than a man who pays a premium of £10 a year. It would be much simpler to return to the old 3s. 6d. in the £ rebate on premiums. In any case, I am sure that a great deal could be done to make it more encouraging for the smaller man to insure his life if he were given a bigger rebate of tax.
At present, the scheme is so involved that even the insurance companies find difficulty in explaining it, and the public who pay their Income Tax through P.A.Y.E. cannot work out what rebates they get and they are discouraged from saving. If the Chancellor applies his mind to it, he could produce a simpler scheme and there would be more money put into savings. But, first, he has to allow us the money to put into savings by reducing Income Tax.
The best way of being able to reduce Income Tax is to effect economies in Government expenditure. How much unnecessary expenditure is going on at the present time? I used to play up my Socialist opponent in Elections on this issue. I got a questioner to ask him why the Socialist Government paid £18 15s. 3d.
254 per man per day to live in a Government hospitality hotel. It was going on then and was grossly extravagant, but I gather that it has been stopped now. The other thing I used to accuse the Socialists of was having a fire college at Brighton. It was a very worthy tire college, where excellent men were taught to become excellent firemen, but it cost us at the rate of £40 a week per man, which was more than four times the cost of any public school. Is that still going on?
How about the Civil Service Commissioners? The Commissioners are the people who select our civil servants. Before the war, they cost us £150,000 a year. They now cost £506,000. There may be a reason for this cost going up. The value of money has gone down, and hence the cost must advance. In numbers they were 161 before the war; now they are 786. There may also be some reason for that, because there are twice as many civil servants today compared with before the war, but why take five times as many people to select them? The Civil Service Commissioner has to have his office, pens, and papers and in some cases his car, and so we get the vicious circle going on but always in the wrong way with more and more expenditure mounting up. Is the Government doing anything to cut down in that direction?
The Foreign Office, before the war, cost the modest figure of £3¼ million; it now costs very nearly 10 times that amount. There are no more countries than there were before the war. The Queen's Messengers now number 74 as against 34 before the war, in spite of all the communications we have now which we did not have in those days. The service then cost a mere £11,000 a year, but today it is costing £280,000. This Conservative Government can still go a long way in cutting down expenditure of this kind.
Expenditure on prisons is another case in point. Prisons used to cost, before the war, approximately £2 million; now they cost £6½ million. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) made them too comfortable, but there is the story of a woman who had 14 days to go in gaol and she requested permission to continue with her sentence. The reason was that she had no house to go to when she came out, but today there are more houses and we want to get the people into these fine houses and out of gaol. 255 I am wondering if the re-introduction of flogging would keep a few more people out of prison. The sum we are spending now is three times what it was before the war.
I am just throwing out a few suggestions where economies might be made. I cannot go into all the figures myself for I have not got the books, but the Government have and I am making suggestions to them. There is bulk purchase, of which the Socialists were so proud. They used to buy what we never wanted and they never got the goods we did want. In 1949, 2,000 carcasses went bad through people who were not really keen on their job buying at the wrong time and not looking after what they bought. In the following year 61,000 tons of rabbits went the same way, and in three years of trading in dried fruit there was an actual loss of £4 million. I trust and hope that the Conservatives are not going on those lines.
§ Mr. Williams
As a farmer I am pleased about the number in the country going down, because the rabbit does far more damage than it provides food. It eats the wheat which makes the bread for the people.
§ Mr. Williams
We have done a lot to stop bulk buying, but not enough yet.
There is one further topic on which I wish to question the Government before I sit down, and that is on defence. I do not want to see the defence programme cut until we are safe and it is certain that we can do it. But the atom bomb has now been exploded by this country. A few months ago nobody knew for certain whether we had the atom bomb, and if we had they did not know at that time whether it would go off. It has gone off and it has cost us £100 million. Are we going to get any benefit from that expenditure? It must make our position safer than it was, and having spent that huge sum I should like to get some guidance as to whether it will enable us before long to cut down expenditure on our defence programme.
I have the greatest faith in my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exche- 256 quer. But I hope, that during this debate, which is to last for nearly a week, we shall hear speech after speech on the subject of economies. There will not be a reduction in taxation without economies, and we cannot get the incentives unless we reduce taxation. If we are to increase production, if we are to become the great industrial nation that we ought to be, I hope that the first step will be for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give us that 2s. off the Income Tax.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)
Having listened with considerable interest to the remarks of the hon. Member for Tonbridge (Mr. G. Williams), I am afraid that I have not been able to gather much inspiration from what he said. All I can say is that in his remarks he offered a lot of criticism and advice to the Government. We have also a lot of criticism against the Government and a lot of advice to give them. What the hon. Member overlooked was that economies are being effected by the Government by removing subsidies from the food of the people, and that obviously is not an economy from which they benefit. The hon. Member missed the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, West (Mr. J. Hall), because he did not understand what my hon. Friend was driving at.
§ Mr. G. Williams
Of course, the reduction in the food subsidies has not helped the cost of food, but the hon. Member omitted the benefits which were given at the time of the reduction of the food subsidies to offset that increase in food costs.
§ Mr. Janner
I do not need to be reminded of that, for they were not commensurate with the loss that was sustained by the average person. One thing that is forgotten on the other side of the House is that in these attempts to effect economies, almost on every occasion the people struck at are the people who can least afford it. In fact, I am going to deal specifically with one of those matters later on when I come to the question of the rise in prices.
When the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) spoke about his recent visit to America and to the United Nations headquarters, I wanted to ask him whether he had thought fit to put in an 257 appearance at some of the meetings of the non-governmental organisations of the United Nations which were being held. Had he done so, he would realise that his Government are not fulfilling what is stated in the Gracious Speech, namely, that there isclear proof of My Government's wholehearted attachment to the ideals of the United Nations.The hon. Member would have heard condemnation of our Government for not ratifying certain conventions, one of them the Genocide Convention, in spite of the fact that other members of the Commonwealth have done so. Our Government are still standing aside and refusing to ratify that convention, although 40 nations have already ratified it. We had said that it is important to outlaw genocide, and when the convention was proposed at the United Nations we agreed to it, but we are not yet prepared to fall into line, even with Canada and Australia, both of which have ratified the Genocide Convention. How can the Government say that they are wholeheartedly attached to the ideals of the United Nations in such circumstances?
Further, I have not heard from any Government spokesman what it is proposed to do about the vicious statements recently made by a certain general in Germany, and about preventing the rise of Nazism in that country. What do the Government propose to do to maintain the stand we have taken hitherto about detaining war criminals? Such matters might very well have been referred to in speeches made in this debate. However, since many Members want to speak, I shall confine my speech to some specific points. I shall therefore deal with several problems which have been omitted altogether from the Gracious Speech and about which I am very deeply concerned.
I am concerned about the attempt to break down the important structures we have built up for the steel industry, transport and so on, and I call the proposals of the Government reckless and wrecking. I would almost go so far as to say that in many respects their proposals are reeking.
I cannot understand how the Government can ask for higher production from the people if they are not prepared to consider proper housing of the people; 258 which is one of the most important requirements of those who are called upon to produce. The Government boast that they are building a considerable number of houses, but they do not tell us that the houses are nothing like as good as those built by the Labour Government, or that suitable amenities for educating children are not properly provided where houses are built, or of the kind of risks they are taking against the general social benefits of the country in dealing with these problems.
The Government also carefully avoid pointing out that in their economising they will remove protection from tenants whom the Labour Government protected. This is not a trivial matter. I have been interested in this subject for a very considerable time.
This point affects 8 million houses, and that means, taking an average of four persons to a house, that 32 million tenants are affected. The Rent Acts were provided to protect them. In addition to those 32 million persons there are others who are protected in furnished apartments in houses which do not come within the provisions of the ordinary Rent Acts because their rateable values are higher than those referred to in those Acts. That means, of course, that the average tenant of a house, in addition to all his other troubles, is in constant fear of being turned out and of having to try to find other accommodation; which is not available.
I want to quote a case in which the decisions of the courts, by their interpretation of some of the provisions of the Acts, have nullified the obvious intention of Parliament owing to some defect in the wording of the Acts. This should not be allowed to continue. On the Second Reading of the Landlord and Tenant (Rent Control) Act, which dealt with the protection of people occupying furnished premises, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), who was then Minister of Health, said:As a general rule, I believe the operations of the 1946 Act have been benign. Very large numbers of applications have been made to tribunals. Rents have been reduced and, on the whole, very substantial relief has been given. Furthermore, the experience of tribunals, the conduct of tribunals, the standard of the administration of tribunals"—and I want to underline what follows—have all been very heartening and have gone to show that institutions of this sort can be entrusted with great responsibility.259 I want the House to think about those words because they were uttered after careful consideration of what those tribunals had been doing. He continued:Enough facts have now been revealed, however, to enable us to come to the conclusion that additional protection is required for the tenants. The Bill proposes that where in the first instance three months' security of tenure has been given, the tenant can come back again before the period terminating his tenancy and ask for another extension and can have extensions for three months at a time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th January, 1949; Vol. 460, c. 571.]My right hon. Friend did not come to that conclusion without careful study.
Some of us had pointed out time after time how important it is that a tenant should not be in fear of being turned out if he brings his case to one of these rent tribunals. I was present at all the debates on the 1949 Act and there is no doubt in my mind that when Section 11 of that Act was being considered in the House and in Committee, everybody was of the opinion that this would give the tribunal power to extend the security of tenure for tenants who made applications to the tribunals under the 1946 Act for consecutive periods of three months.
Some little time ago a case was heard in the Divisional Court and later the decision was confirmed in the Court of Appeal. It was the case of Rex v. St. Helens Rent Tribunal ex parte Pickavance. There the Divisional Court held that Section 11 did not protect a tenant, who had applied to the tribunal, if the landlord served the notice after the expiration of the first three months of protection given to the tenant under the 1946 Act.
The result is that landlords now wait until the three months have elapsed, then they give notice to quit; so that a large number of people will no longer go to the rent tribunals to have their rents fixed at reasonable rentals because, when they go, they are turned out. I have asked question after question in this House about this matter and no satisfactory answer has been given. Why have not the Government said that they are prepared to introduce a Measure which will protect those tenants?
May I give the opinion of the chairman of the rent tribunal in my own city on this matter? I have followed carefully the proceedings of that tribunal because this is a matter of considerable 260 importance to us all and I have come to the conclusion that the rent tribunals in general, and the rent tribunal in Leicester in particular, have performed and are performing an extremely valuable service for the community. The chairman of that tribunal writes:As chairman of the tribunal set up under the above Acts for the City of Leicester and the Counties of Leicester and Rutland, I am becoming more and more perturbed regarding the result of the recent decision of the Divisional Court, which has been upheld on Appeal, and which takes away from a tenant who has been before our tribunal to obtain security of tenure, as given by the 1946 Act, the right to come to the tribunal at the end of that period of security and ask for an extension of the same. You will no doubt recollect that I wrote to you"—that means myself—on many occasions during the earlier work of the tribunal and pointed out that lessees"—that is, tenants—hesitated making application to the Tribunal because at the end of the three months' security given by the 1946 Act the landlord cleared them out and they consequently preferred to pay an exorbitant rent"—these are not my words, but those of the experienced chairman of the tribunal in Leicester—and be certain of having a roof over their heads.He continued:Clause 11 had for its intention an extension of the powers of the rent tribunals so as to enable them to give further security of tenure in appropriate cases. I can positively say that after that Act had been brought into operation there was a steady increase in the number of applications my tribunal received, and also these were followed in due course by application for extensions of the period of security.I much regret to say that since the decision of the Divisional and Appeal Courts, the number of applications under the 1946 Act has dwindled to such an extent that they are just trickling in. Several people who had intended making application, when informed of the present position, declined to proceed any further, knowing that the landlord would wait until the end of the period of security given by the 1946 Act and then serve notice to quit, which would leave the tenant with no redress.My colleagues and I cannot understand how the courts have arrived at this decision, but I would like to take the Minister to some of the places which we have visited and show him the awful holes in which some of the people exist and the outrageous rents they are having to pay for the same.According to reports which reach us from time to time from very reliable sources, there are hundreds of cases where tenants are paying exorbitant rents for poor accommodation, and we are also informed that there is 261 no likelihood of any of them making application to the tribunal. If the only security that can be given is the three months afforded by the 1946 Act, they just will not run the risk of that period. Something must be done for these people, many of whom, because of the state of the accommodation, live in a state of squalor it is difficult to believe. I have often heard the expression 'How the poor live,' but it was not until I began this tribunal work that I substituted the word 'exist' for 'live,' because the former word aptly describes their state.He said further:As you probably know, I am no politician and for many years, as clerk of the Leicestershire County Council and, as such, responsible for all Parliamentary elections for the county, I kept aloof from politics altogether. So I am not writing this with or from any political motive but in my position as Chairman of the Tribunal set up under Government auspices to carry out the provisions of two Acts of Parliament. I need scarcely tell you that my heart is in the work, and I think we have been doing good work in that we have alleviated the position of many families and people.Surely the present Government can find the time necessary for a very short Act which would immediately set right the position as envisaged by Section 11 of the 1949 Act and allow the work of these tribunals to proceed.There is very much more that could be said which would be of great interest to the House on this question if I had time to deal with it, but I appeal to the Government to consider that point first.
I come now to the second point. Under the 1920 Rent Act there is a definition of "tenant." The widow of a tenant who occupies a house which is protected by the Rent Acts is entitled to possession of that house as a tenant when her husband dies. If a woman who is the original tenant dies, some other member of the family is entitled to retain possession. What is happening, however, is that that is becoming altogether quite ineffective for the protection of a family.
These Acts have been in force since 1915 and a very large number of the original tenants have died. The result is that the widow, who may be almost as old as the tenant himself, may die within a year, or less than a year, or a little longer, after the death of her husband, and immediately that widow dies the family is turned out and the house becomes empty.
§ Mr. Janner
It does not matter how long they have been there; it may have been 20 or 30 years, but they are turned 262 out. This is happening all over the country, and the result is that, instead of the house becoming available for letting, it is frequently sold. It is sold at an exorbitant price and after its sale it may accommodate only one or two people instead of being utilised for a family.
§ Mr. Janner
It is taking place in Birmingham, in Leicester and all over the country. What is the use of talking about the effect of building further houses when this is happening? I do not deprecate the building of houses—I want as many built as possible—but it is absurd to allow an anomaly of that sort to continue when we know there is a shortage of houses.
Time after time I have put this to the Minister of Housing and Local Government. I am sorry he is not here now. The object of the Rent Acts was to protect tenants. Everyone knew that it would cost money to put the Rent Acts into effect. Not only did we know that it would cost money, but there was a definite instruction in the Rent Acts which said that local authorities were empowered—that meant local authorities ought—to give information in regard to those Acts and do everything possible to protect tenants. Instead, what has happened?
Since 1915 tremendous sums of money have been extracted from tenants who have been paying rents which could not legally have been recoverable. I see an hon. Member on the Front Bench who knows that this is the position, as he happens to be a solicitor. Millions of pounds also have been extracted from tenants for repairs and so on which have never been done, millions of pounds which are not recoverable. Even when the tenants have been told the position, they could only recover two years' overpayment.
Now what do the Government do? Instead of encouraging various bodies to give that information and making available to men and women occupying houses additional sources to enable them to obtain the information which is necessary, they have started a policy of economy in this regard. We heard what has been said about rent tribunals. Not one of us who knows the kind of work the tribunals have been doing does not realise that it is most important work, 263 highly necessary for the community as a whole. But now the Government are cutting down tribunals in order to save expense. To save expense at whose expense? It is at the expense of the people entitled to go to these tribunals.
Time after time we have protested against what has happened in the Liverpool area, but our pleas have just been turned aside. The Minister says that it does not matter because the number of cases is being reduced. Of course they are being reduced, because the people do not know their rights. A large number of the officials who were able to tell them their rights have been taken away in that area, and are being taken away in Kent. Now we are told that they are to be taken away in the East End of London.
This is a shocking attack on a piece of social legislation which is of the highest importance to production in this country, because it means that millions of people are being put into a state which makes them feel insecure and which does not enable them to obtain the rights to which they are entitled. What kind of economy is that and at what expense to so many people? Why should the intention of the Acts be flouted in this way? I think I could give the answer.
The answer is that it is the kind of economy which can be exercised quietly because people will not really understand what is happening. What can the man in the street understand about the position on reading that the tribunal has been taken away? He continues to pay a higher rent, or be thrown out of his house. He does not know his rights because no one is there to tell him. He reads in the newspaper that something is happening, but he is deprived of what it was intended by Parliament he should have—every possible facility for knowing his position. How can the Government expect to be able to get the best out of the people if they themselves are not prepared to remedy situations of that sort? I do not see anything relating to this matter at all in the Gracious Speech.
I hope that the House will forgive me for having occupied some time on this problem for it is an important problem. I wish the Government to understand that we propose to press for this security 264 to be restored to the tenants, and not only that, but that the tenant should be in a position to have as many facilities as possible for getting full information as provided by the Acts.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Denys Bullard (Norfolk, South-West)
I am sure that the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) will forgive me if I do not follow him in the highly technical point which he has been discussing. He said himself however that this debate was the opportunity for us to make a contribution upon points about which we ourselves had particular experience. I wish to ask the House to return for a few moments to the problem which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) raised earlier this afternoon.
I refer to the need for increased food production, to which attention is drawn in the Gracious Speech. Probably many Gracious Speeches in the past have contained the same kind of reference to this matter. I wish to dwell upon only one aspect of the problem, and I apologise to the House in view of the fact that this matter has recently been discussed in the House. Nevertheless, it is a matter which concerns the agricultural industry in relation to other interests in the country, and as there cannot be many agriculturists present, this may be an appropriate point at which to raise this question.
I refer to the manpower position on the land, particularly in relation to the agricultural call-up. This was discussed, as I have mentioned, in an Adjournment debate in the House recently, but I think it was then discussed on the basis of a complete blanket being placed on everybody in the industry, that is to say, it was discussed on the basis of putting agriculture upon an entirely different footing from that of other industries, and of exempting all agricultural workers from the call-up.
I do not believe that that is the right basis on which to tackle this problem. I do not think that anyone in the agricultural industry or outside it is anxious to see the industry put in a position in which it could be described as somewhere where people could go to exempt themselves from military service. That would have a tendency to attract undesirable elements into the industry, and I do not think that either the workers or the farmers 265 ask for that kind of complete blanket. Nevertheless we must admit that to call up a very large number of agricultural workers and at the same time ask for increased food production is in many respects contradictory.
I have a special reason for speaking on this point because it affects my constituency particularly in that at present the main exceptions to the call-up rule in agriculture are, probably very rightly and I do not complain of this, made in the case of people who have charge of stock. To have to distinguish between a man who should be called up and a man who should not is a very invidious task, and those who have to make the distinction deserve our sympathy. It is a difficult decision that they have to make, but I doubt whether any hard-and-fast rule can be applied to this very diversified business.
At present deferments are allowed when there are not more than two workers on the farm. Special cases are also made out where workers have charge of stock. But I can assure the House that there are many instances of small arable farms which are producing exactly along the intensive lines that we want, particularly in the Fen part of my constituency and neighbouring constituencies, where it is virtually impossible to obtain the necessary amount of labour for the heavy work involved in that type of farming if the men are called up.
My appeal is that the present rather arbitrary procedure of having a rule about there being deferment where not more than two men are employed, and so on, should be replaced by a more elastic procedure which would enable cases to be considered on their merits. At present an advisory panel advises the Ministry of Labour on this matter. I believe that the committee consists of farmers, farm workers and an independent representative. I have no doubt that they consider the cases that are brought before them with great care, but all cases are not brought before them. Where there are only two men employed on the farm the case never comes to the advisory panel at all.
I have mentioned the root-growing, intensive farming districts of my constituency. There are areas in the Fen districts where there are very few houses at all and where the land is capable of the most intensive cultivation if the labour 266 is available. Men come from the villages to work in black, dusty conditions to produce very heavy crops. If these men are called away, there is no other source from which labour can be obtained to grow and clear the crops.
When one comes up to London and sees the vast numbers of people emerging from the tube stations and travelling about in this great city and then one goes to the Fens where there is not a soul to be seen for miles and miles, one is made aware of the extraordinary disadvantage in which these people who are trying to do their job well are placed.
I want to re-emphasise the point that I am not asking for the complete exemption of these workers. I do not believe that would be fair to the industry or to other people. But I appeal to the Government to consider establishing a more elastic system for the agricultural call-up in the near future. I shall not disguise from the House the fact that I have always hoped that it might be possible to have a system whereby those engaged in this very important work could do compulsory part-time military service near their homes, where eventually they would be required should an emergency unfortunately come upon us. We are, however, told by the Service Departments that they must have a certain number of men even from the agricultural industry. I would not disguise the fact that I would have favoured the other procedure, but, if men must go, let us have a more reasonable method of dealing with the matter than we have at the present time.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. M. Follick (Loughborough)
It is generally conceded that, in the debate on the Gracious Speech, we can roam all over the place, bring out our pet subjects and talk about any matter we like. It seems to me, however, that most of the time so far has been devoted to discussing our finanical position, and we heard earlier in the debate a lot about our present economic and financial situation.
In spite of that, we have not really come to the fundamental causes of the trouble. This evening, I am going to analyse some these causes, and make suggestions—very different from those that have been made in the debate so far—about how they may be met and remedied.
267 We have had crisis after crisis since the war, but Europe was also beset with crises after the First World War. We had the flight from the franc in France, the disappearance of the escudo in Portugal, and a good many South American countries defaulting on the interest on their loans, while others insisted upon the interest being almost wiped out. This sort of thing went on between the two wars, and there was no end to these crises.
The principal reason for them was that America had cornered the gold of the world. Gradually, America had absorbed the gold which, until the First World War, had been the established basis of the European economy. The Americans took the gold and locked it up in Fort Knox, not using it themselves and depriving the rest of the world of the benefits which that gold would have given to international trade and international economy. I understand that in Fort Knox there is something between 27,000 million and 30,000 million pounds' worth of gold locked away doing nothing. It is just being kept there, for whatever reason I do not know, but certainly no sensible reason at all.
Between the two world wars, America has built up an industry, largely on account of the two world wars, that is now supreme in the world, and, on account of this supremacy and of the freedom from war operations which America enjoyed, they have been able, not only to industrialise themselves, but also to produce the machinery upon which modern civilisation depends for its advancement. On top of that, they have aggravated the position by making the dollar not only a scarce money, but a rare money, so that the peoples of the world who are wanting to buy the machinery and industrial products of America find that they cannot obtain the dollars with which to pay for them. So we have this trouble right throughout the world, including this country, resulting in a crisis which is endangering the very civilisation and prosperity of the European nations.
When Britain was the supreme industrial nation of the world, we gave every nation the possibility of acquiring sterling in order to buy our products. We introduced the system of Free Trade. Now, I have never been a Free Trader, but there is no argument that the present 268 system of the United States in cornering the gold of the world; in making the dollar a rare money; in keeping up high tariffs in the United States so as to prevent people from sending their merchandise into that country to secure the dollars with which they wish to purchase American products, is the basic cause of all these recurring crises in the other nations.
If the United States had followed the policy which Britain adopted when she was the supreme industrial nation, they would have given every other nation the possibility of acquiring dollars by selling their products to the Americans. The Americans are keeping other nations' goods out of their country by high tariffs and by keeping hold of the gold which would help to give stability to other nations. At the same time they are making it impossible for other nations to obtain the dollars to buy the American machinery which they require to carry on their industry.
How are we in this country to overcome this difficulty? At present we are trying to force our products into the United States and thereby to gain the dollars we require to buy the dollar goods that we must have. We are forcing our textiles and other goods on to an unwilling American market. When those markets are worth while to the American industrialists, they will lobby their Congressmen to raise their tariffs to keep out our goods. While the markets are small, the American industrialists will not worry; but the moment those markets become worth while, they will take them away from us, and they can easily do so by raising their tariffs. They have proved that over and over again. We recently had all the trouble about bicycles. The American industrialists were lobbying their Congressmen to raise the tariff against our bicycles which were coming into their country.
In August, I circularised all hon. Members of this House telling them about the dollar-paying countries of Latin America; not the dollar countries of Canada and the United States, but the dollar-paying countries. There are 12 countries in Central America, or in the Caribbean, which are dollar-paying. I must declare my interest, because I have an interest, and it is the tradition of this House to declare one's interest. I have 269 written a book on this matter entitled "The Twelve Republics." The book is doing very well. Several Members of Parliament have read it.
§ Mr. Follick
I think I am doing the right thing, not in order to advertise the book—[Interruption.]—but to declare my interest—
Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hopkin Morris)
I do not think there is any Ministerial responsibility for it.
§ Mr. Follick
I was forced to write this book in the ignorant spelling which hon. Members of this House would understand.
These 12 republics are great friends of Britain. In most cases Britain helped them to achieve their independence. They have a strong sympathy towards Britain, whereas they have no devotion for the United States. The United States have interfered far too much in their countries for them to have sympathy for that country.
If we were to divert our exports of industrial products to those 12 republics—there are between 70 million and 80 million inhabitants; this is not a small matter but a very big one—we could establish markets in those countries, and we would not lose those markets by having competition through the raising of tariffs against us, because these countries are not manufacturing countries. They produce primary materials. This is really a complementary market for us. We could sell them our manufactured goods and they could sell us their primary materials.
I went to each of these countries, discussing the position with them, and they all wanted to have good trading relations with Britain. When I came back I spoke to the late Sir Stafford Cripps about it. He replied, "Well, they are very poor payers. That is the reason why we have not tried to cultivate our trade with them." [Interruption.] I am trying to explain an important point. I am trying to show the possibility of a different market from the United States for our manufactures.
270 Sir Stafford Cripps said that they were poor payers. Well, they were poor payers in the olden days, but today all these countries, with the exception of Costa Rica, are very prosperous. They also have grown wealthy out of two world wars. We in our day were poor payers. We did not settle the American debt and the Americans have not paid us their debts arising from their Civil War.
Since I circularised this House, there have been Questions on the Order Paper about these countries. What is more, I understand that the Secretary for Overseas Trade is now sending a delegation of businessmen to these countries to see what are the business prospects for the interchange of commodities. I congratulate the Secretary for Overseas Trade for at least trying to find an alternative market for British goods.
This summer I went to the countries of the Amazon. I was in Brazil and Peru. I was addressing public bodies and high officials in their own languages. In Brazil I was addressing them in Portuguese. It is true they got me an interpreter, but I told them I did not require one, and they were surprised that a British Member of Parliament could speak Portuguese. I raised the question in this House the week before last about the restriction—
§ Mr. Follick
No, a trade delegation. [Interruption.] May I be allowed to get on with my speech, please? I raised the question in this House of the restriction on the import of Brazil nuts into this country. Some Members began tittering because they did not realise the importance of Brazil nuts to the Brazilian economy. I understand that they are their third biggest export. Brazil nuts are used not only on Christmas tables; they are a commodity of importance in connection with other materials.
This restriction on the importation of Brazil nuts cuts into our shipping on the Amazon. In August the newest, largest and most modern ship in the Booth Line could find only 600 tons of freight on the Amazon, whereas if restrictions had not been imposed on the importation of Brazil nuts they could have found 4,000 or 5,000 tons of freight. Therefore, if some modification could be made to these restrict- 271 tions, we should be helping not only the Brazilians but the British shipping lines on the Amazon.
Our difficulty with Brazil at present is that their cruzeiro, according to our view, is over-valued. It makes their goods too expensive for us to buy. Wherever I went in Brazil the opinion was that they ought to de-value their money. At the present moment I understand that Brazil owes us £40 million or £45 million. They cannot pay the money because they have not got the sterling. We are not buying goods from them because their money is over-valued; so they cannot pay the £45 million which they owe us and our merchants refuse to sell them any more goods until they start paying. If we could come to some arrangement by which we could ease the position of Brazil nuts by cutting out the restrictions, and they were to devalue the cruzeiro, it might be possible for us once more to have good trading relations with Brazil, and that would help our financial situation.
I also visited Peru. I spoke to very high officials there about textiles. Peru used to import large quantities of textiles from us. They told me that they would not introduce any penalising tariffs of any description against British goods; they would not raise their tariffs to keep out British goods in order to support their own industries. They said: "We are a primary material-producing country and if there are textile firms here which cannot live except behind a higher tariff than is necessary, they must go to the ground. We want to sell Britain our primary materials and so we must give Britain the opportunity of using this market for her manufactures."
I am offering this House an alternative to trying to force our goods on to an unwilling American market. The biggest export we make to the United States is whisky. They will buy the whisky anyhow, but not the other exports. I hope that the Secretary for Overseas Trade will give great attention to what this delegation brings back from Central and South America, that he will develop and establish new markets there that will be ours for good, and that he will open up again trading relations with Brazil and Peru. It is in these large tracts of Central and South America that we might find the solution to our present financial and economic difficulties.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Higgs (Bromsgrove)
I found in the words of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Follick) an echo of some of the things that occurred to me at exactly this Parliamentary stage last year. At that time I ventured to make to the House a plea for the smaller businesses of this country, particularly those where craft and skill are employed, and I then anticipated a time when we might find the American market for some of the other articles produced by mass-production methods becoming more and more difficult.
I was particularly interested, too, to hear from the hon. Member that the South American market is a matter which interests him, because quite recently I was approached by people who are becoming more and more concerned about the difficulties of the South American market. I understood that in past times the difficulty was that some countries were found to be poor payers, as the hon. Member said, but I was a little disappointed to hear that quite recently the same difficulty has apparently been met with in certain South American countries, as the result of which the guarantees given to British traders under the export credit guarantee procedure had been curtailed, if not removed altogether.
I had always understood that that procedure provided a sort of insurance; and insurance is needed most when things are difficult. If one insures against fire, it is only when fire comes that one reaps the benefit of the insurance, and if one insures against poor payers it is only when one meets poor payers that one needs one's policy. I must confess that I was a little disappointed to find that just when British manufacturers were in difficulties over exporting for that reason, the help which the British Government could and should have given was either curtailed or withdrawn. I hope that the words of the hon. Gentleman will find receptive ears in the right quarter. I know that in the Midlands and possibly other parts of the country there are those who have the right business and the right goods to sell, and know that they could find a market for them in South America.
But it was not about South America that I sought to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker. I want, first, to say a word about a matter which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, 273 South-West (Mr. Bullard) concerning the call-up of agricultural workers. I am one of those who realise full well the difficulty of agriculture in finding sufficient manpower, and who realises that food production is of the very first importance. But I am not satisfied that the case was made out entirely for the blanket exclusion of agricultural workers. What might be done, and what, I think, the farmers in my part of the world are quite anxious to see done, is to secure, so far as we posssibly can, that those who go from agriculture to serve for a period in the Forces come back to agriculture.
In recent times, all the Services pay very great attention to what a man is going to do when he returns to civilian life. Much of what is done in certain branches of the Armed Forces can provide an opportunity for training which is useful to a man when he returns to civil life. I hope that a way of alleviating the fears of the agricultural community will be found, because I believe that the Forces, particularly when a man reaches the last six months of his training and the rehabilitation period begins can do a great deal to encourage those who come from agriculture not to be lost to it.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
I know from my own experience that life in the Forces has a very unsettling effect upon a young person between 18 and 20 years of age. It is a serious problem with which we have to contend while we are taking boys into the Forces.
§ Mr. Higgs
I entirely agree with the hon. Member.
I believe that the problem can very often be tackled by offering the man employment which will help him on his return to civil life and by showing him that those who are responsible for his welfare in the Army are anxious that he should return to something that he can do with advantage. These days the Army is plentifully supplied with mechanical transport and very much of the training on that could well apply to agricultural machinery.
On the Adjournment last night was raised the very great problem of the conflict between the demands for the use of land which the country is facing in this generation. For some time now all three political parties have been committed to some form of control of the use of land by town and country planning Measures 274 which have developed as time has gone along. The greatest problem in relation to that legislation is to secure a proper balance between urban development of all kinds on one hand and food production on the other.
I am not satisfied that under the present system the general public is made sufficiently aware of the great problem and of the endeavours which are made to solve it. Again and again questions arise as to the use to which a piece of land shall be put. The Minister of Housing and Local Government appoints an inspector to hold a local inquiry at which is put forward the case of all interests who might have a use for the land except the agricultural interest.
In a professional capacity I have attended inquiries at which the owner, the farmer tenant, the local authority and the prospective purchasers have all accepted that the land ought to be used for building houses and even the farmer has been compelled to concede the point because he has always known that that was the intention of the local authority.
Everybody appearing at one inquiry thought the land ought to be used for building houses, and yet it was not used for that purpose, and the reason for that was that it was very good agricultural land. I do not question the decision that it should be maintained as agricultural land, but I would emphasise that at that public inquiry, which aroused the interest of all in the district, the one thing which ought to have been urged was the need to keep the land for agriculture, but nothing of that sort was said.
I asked the inspector who conducted the enquiry why no one was present to put agriculture's case, because we all knew that that was against the use of the land for building. We were told that it was not right that two Ministers should, as it were, quarrel in public over their conflicting claims to land. I could see some force in that argument if it were applied universally, but it is not.
When a conflict arises as to the use of land for housing or for a fire station the Minister of Fuel and Power, by means of an organisation within the industry which he represents, attends to put the case for fuel and power, and when a question arises about the use of land for some purpose in connection with transport, someone attends to put the case of the transport industry.
275 If the Minister of Agriculture is coy and says that he must not put the case of the industry which he represents, surely he can arrange for the country agricultural executive committees or some other organisation to put agriculture's case. All are agreed that it is an important case, and yet at the majority of the public inquiries it is the one case which is not fully argued.
However, I was glad to see that the National Farmers' Union recently came forward to put its case at an inquiry in my constituency. Normally, they do not, and I think it is something that the public ought to see being worked out. Much of what goes on here is rather remote, but when the inquiry is held in the district then the opportunity arises for the thing to be put in a way that the local people can see applied, because local land and local interests are at stake.
There is one other matter relating to town and country planning which I would mention before I sit down. We understand that within a month or so we are to know what the plans of my right hon. Friend are to deal with the Town and Country Planning Act in both its aspects. The development charge is a very intricate problem. It may be it will be found possible to arrive at a solution which will do justice in cases of future development. There is a small plea I want to make if it is not too late, that as far as it is possible to do it steps should be taken to do justice to those who have developed in the past.
As we all know many anomalies have arisen under the 1947 Act. We know, for instance, that the owner of a house which stands upon a small piece of land was told that he could make no claim for compensation on the £300 million global sum because his land had hitherto been developed, but when he sought to convert his house into a little shop he was told that his land was not fully developed and that he had a development charge to pay.
Those people who were allowed to put in claims and who have paid the development charge stand at the moment in the position that they are to get about 16s. in the £ from the £300 million, but to my knowledge there are a number of people who have paid development charges. Although they have not admitted a claim 276 they have been turned down, and, therefore, they have no compensation to set against it. This is one example of the many ways in which the 1947 Act has worked injustices.
My right hon. Friends have problems of other kinds arising out of the necessity to modify or undo the things which have been done in the last six years, and I know it is far more important to see that justice may be done in the future than it is to have regard to the comparatively small number of cases which may have occurred in the past. Nevertheless, very often it is because public opinion—and here we have to have regard to public opinion—attaches greater importance to a small number of injustices, and I hope that my right hon. Friends, in making their plans in town and country planning matters, will endeavour to right the injustices of the past as well as do things better in the future.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
The debate has been devoted, as you said at the commencement of our proceedings, Mr. Speaker, to a general discussion. It is the first time that I have heard Mankind discussed literally from China to Peru, with the added advantage of having an expert from Peru to address us on the subject. There are too many experts about China today, but it was refreshing to hear someone who could speak about Peru, and who gave us a hint where we might learn even more about that delightful country.
I found a sympathetic note stirred in me by the opening remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Scotland (Mr. Logan) when he addressed the House immediately after the Prime Minister sat down. My hon. Friend said:I am not in agreement with the idea that there is a parallel between the times of Elizabeth I and Her Gracious Majesty of today Had I been living in the reign of Elizabeth I, I would have been in the Tower."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th November, 1952: Vol. 507, c. 30.]I would never have been in any such aristocratic place of confinement. It is true that my hon. Friend's spiritual ancestors were there confined, but mine were put in the Clink. It is not the "clink" that some of my hon. Friends have seen from the outside, but a very disreputable and disgraceful prison that 277 was maintained in the Borough of Southwark. The matter went even further, because the Act that that Queen secured for putting the spiritual ancestors of my hon. Friend to death in 1581 was used in 1593 to confer the same fate on my own spiritual ancestors.
My hon. Friend dealt with a topic on which the right hon. Lady the Minister of Education had been questioned a good deal during the previous Session. I congratulate her upon being more lucky than the President of the Board of Trade in getting her Measure into the Gracious Speech. I can only hope that it will not share the fate of those Measures that got into the Speech last year but died an early death, and that we may have an opportunity of considering it. I was somewhat regretful that, in the great spate of business to be taken next Wednesday, her Measure was not included.
I would make this point quite clear. I have seen from time to time the documents on which the right hon. Lady has been discussing topics relating to the Education Act with the various professional, religious and local government bodies who are concerned with the development and carrying on of our education service in all forms. It all confirms what I have seen of what I think is generally regarded as the principal portion of the Measure, and there appears to have been no change effected since the right hon. Lady took office. The matter was under consideration when the late Government left office, and I congratulate her again on being able to secure a sufficient measure and indication of agreement to warrant her proceeding with the matter. That is as far as one ever expects to get in education matters.
I hope, so far as the definition of displaced pupil is concerned, that the right hon. Lady will be able to get the consent of the House to the alteration proposed. I assure her of support from this side of the House. The Bill deals with a situation which actually exists as distinct from the situation which was prophesied as likely to exist when the Chancellor of the Exchequer and myself were engaged in the promotion of the Act of 1944.
I hope, also, that it will be possible to include some arrangement by which, where a voluntary school manages to get a building already in existence, and 278 adapts it for school purposes, that shall rank for the same consideration as if it were a new building. For there can be nothing more foolish, when both the denomination and the State are saving money through the ingenuity of the architects, than that the promoters should be called on to foot the whole of the Bill.
I hope also that it will be possible to do something with regard to those controlled schools where an increase in efficiency and a saving of money is secured by replacing two or three small controlled schools, very expensive in staffing, very difficult to make efficient educationally, by one controlled school. I am quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer will say that he was as much surprised as I was when the lawyers discovered that you could replace one controlled school by another, not necessarily on the same site, but if you did the sensible thing in a village or a small town where there were two or three of these buildings and made a good job of it, the school could not be controlled. I wish somebody would control the lawyers on these occasions.
We were promised by the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, in a discussion we bad on a Private Member's Bill, that there should be a slight amendment of the law relating to the enforcement of school attendance. That had been promised by the Parliamentary Secretary of the right hon. Lady in a Committee upstairs, but, when we got on to the Floor of the House, school attendance was regarded as a Home Office rather than a Ministry of Education matter. However, inasmuch as two Departments, both of which I know from experience to be entirely honourable in the assurances they give to this House, have made these promises I hope that we shall be able to secure that this also shall be enacted.
I noticed with considerable disappointment that the right hon. Lady has agreed to have a friendly action at law with one of the greater—there was a time when I thought it was the greatest—of the local education authorities of the country with regard to defraying the travelling expenses of children who live more than three miles away from school if they are over eight and over two miles if they are under eight.
279 I think the wealthiest county in England might have found a better cause for proceeding to litigation with the right hon. Lady, even if it is friendly, because I am sure that the result of this friendliness will be that some costs will be incurred. I hope that if the right hon. Lady loses she will include at some stage or other a Clause in the Bill to make quite certain that the law shall say what we all meant it to say.
With regard to the position of the voluntary schools, I happen to be the governor of a Roman Catholic girls' grammar school, a Roman Catholic boys' grammar school and of some controlled Church of England schools of which, as a matter of fact, I was a pupil in the last century. [Laughter.] I was not consulted as to when I was to be born; therefore, there is nothing humorous in the fact that the event occurred in the last century.
As the Prime Minister said yesterday, in "my young or younger days" I even heard the first speech the right hon. Gentleman the present Prime Minister made as a Liberal to a gathering where the Liberal leader, David Lloyd George, in presenting him said, "Now I present to you the youngest Liberal of all," and John Morley addressed the meeting to make quite sure that youth was sufficiently admonished by old age.
The Ursuline Convent, of whose school I am one of the representative county council governors, has a very good scheme for its enlargement. The distinguished lady the Mother Superior of the Convent had been away for a year and when she came back she found to her dismay that two things had happened which will press very heavily upon the finances which she has managed to secure.
The first is that the rate of interest which she will have to pay on the loan has been raised. When these people, none of whom is very wealthy, have clubbed together to put up several thousand pounds for the extension of a school and the increase of its efficiency, it comes as a terrible blow to them when they find that annually, over the years, they will have to find more than they bargained for.
The second thing is that the expenses also will be increased, because the school will be enlarged not in one operation, as 280 they had hoped, which would secure a minimum of overhead charges while the operation was taking place; but owing to the policy of starting less in order to build more—a doctrine which I have never been able to understand—they will have to take at least double the time to conclude this very necessary operation, in the interests not merely of the Roman Catholic faith, but of the secular education of the county; they will have to pay more in overhead charges and, again, will have to collect additional money over that which has been subscribed.
I ask the right hon. Lady, in considering the projects of voluntary schools, whether they be Roman Catholic, Church of England or those of any other denomination or of no denomination, to realise that the people who are attempting to carry on this particular variety of schools in a democratic country are faced with very serious difficulties when, in these ways, quite small additions are made to the cost—and on occasion these additions can be very considerable indeed.
I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Scotland said yesterday:It will be necessary for all party differences and sectarian strife to disappear, and for all of us to agree that the right of every citizen to worship God in his own way and to preserve the schools to which he belongs is part of the British Constitution.I know nothing more hopeful in the development of democracy in this country than that in 1952 we can discuss this matter in an atmosphere of good will and agreement when one recollects what happened in 1902. One can only wish that the same tolerance that is now being shown in this country existed in all the countries of the world.
I sincerely hope that this further example of the way in which we can be tolerant, not because we are indifferent, but tolerant because we believe in the essential part of the spiritual life of the nation, can be regarded as an example to some countries where similar feelings are not at present being shown.
I should like to have dealt with the speech of the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), which was distinguished by his usual courage and forthrightness. I wish he would not think that all the sins were on this side of the House. I know that he is a distinguished Methodist, 281 and I say that he ought to have two sermons: one for the sinners in the evening, but one for the saints in the morning. I gathered from some of his very mild admonitions of the President of the Board of Trade and his exhortations that he did think that occasionally the saints could do with a little prodding.
I want to deal with one other matter, the problem of what is called delegated legislation. Last year, of course, the Government were very emphatic about what they were going to do. In the King's Speech, read on 6th November a year ago, a paragraph appeared which said:You will be asked to authorise for a period the continuation in force of certain emergency enactments and defence regulations which are due to expire next month …"—that was December, 1951—My Ministers will, however, review the whole subject with the aim of reducing the number of these controls and regulations and, wherever possible, embodying those which must be kept in legislation requiring annual renewal by Parliament.We had a discussion on 14th November last year—I recollect the date because it was the anniversary of my wedding—in which the right hon. Gentleman developed that theme. On the Order Paper today there appear three notices of Motion not very different from those which appeared last year. A few of our old familiar friends have disappeared, but it is astonishing how large a number have managed to survive the scrutiny of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary during the year. We have also a promise that five or six Regulations, 60M, N2A, 68AB, 70A, 76A and 79CA are to be revoked on the passing of an Emergency Laws (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill which the White Paper in the Vote Office today says is being introduced in the House of Lords simultaneously with the presentation of that Paper.
I want, on behalf of my hon. and right hon. Friends, to protest against legislation of this kind originating in another place. We feel that this sort of legislation so closely affects the liberty of the subject that it ought to originate in this House and that we should have the first opportunity of expressing our opinions upon it.
I am disappointed that so few of the existing Regulations are at this time to 282 be enshrined in permanent legislation because I think it is high time, in the interests of all parties in the House, that we should make up our minds which of these Regulations it is essential should be preserved in permanent legislation. I had hoped that it might have been possible for me to do that.
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not too much distracted from the heavy duties of the Home Office by having to render first aid to other Departments—last year, every time there was trouble about transport it was desired that the House should be addressed and mollified in dignified terms and the right hon. and learned Gentleman was called in; there was the breakdown of the Minister of Transport, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman survived.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Harold Macmillan)
You were Home Secretary and Leader of the House.
§ Mr. Ede
But I took good care only to have the job in the year when I was to have no legislation. The right hon. and learned Gentleman had plenty of legislation. In fact, he hung on to one Bill most tenaciously. It was not in the King's Speech—again, let the President of the Board of Trade take heart—and we thought it was a Bill worth inquiring into when he finally brought it up, and we were told, "Three weeks, and we must have it." We had the Guillotine on it.
Then I went to another place last Thursday, with you, Mr. Speaker, and the Lord Chancellor again uttered the polite fiction that he would read to us a speech in Her Majesty's own words. I listened to hear what, in her own words, Her Majesty would say about that Measure. They are a plucky lot on the Front Bench opposite, but they did not dare to put a single word into Her Majesty's mouth in regard to that Measure. I should think that for the first time in the history of Parliament the principal Measure of the Session appeared neither in the King's Speech at the beginning of the Session nor in the Queen's Speech at the end.
A little bird has whispered to me that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is now taking an interest in leasehold reform. I hope, after the consideration which I have seen given to that Bill elsewhere, that the liberty of the subject is 283 not to be left to the spare moments of the right hon. and learned Gentleman when he is not dealing with that abstruse subject. I should really have thought the Law Officers of the Crown to be competent to deal with that without his help.
With regard to delegated legislation, we feel that the time has come when the House should give serious consideration to the way in which proper control of it can be secured, and the way in which the various Orders made under it can be properly and effectively considered by the House. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, that was a view I took when I was in office, when the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Boothby) was forcing that subject on our attention nightly and in the early hours of the morning.
We on this side of the House have endeavoured, during the past year, to exercise the rights of an Opposition with regard to these Instruments with reasonable discretion. I have a vested interest in the discussion winding up not later than 11.29 p.m., and I have endeavoured to secure that that shall always happen. But even with the utmost discretion and the greatest wisdom on both sides of the House, no one can feel that this system of legislation and administration effectively enables the House to keep control over these matters.
During last Session I made an offer to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, on 14th November last year. I repeat it now on behalf of my hon. and right hon. Friends and myself. We were hoping that during the last Session some consideration could be given to this matter so that everyone could feel that he was able to take a more effective share in dealing with this matter than is the case at present. As far as this coming Session is concerned, we shall continue to behave as we did last Session—[An HON. MEMBER: "Oh!"] I hope that the Government Chief Whip is not going to encourage me do my worst.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. P. G. T. Buchan-Hepburn)
I have not said a word.
§ Mr. Ede
All right. I take the right hon. Gentleman's word for it.
I sincerely hope that in the interests of the House of Commons itself and of the strength of Parliamentary Government, which is a thing which we must all desire to preserve and increase wherever we can, it will be possible to do something during the coming Session to enable this part of our work to be carried out. We cannot entirely avoid this work no matter how anxious we may be to minimise it, because this is an essential part of modern Parliamentary practice. I hope that it may be possible, between the two sides of the House, to have some discussions that will enable us all to feel, no matter on which side of the House we may sit, that this part of our duty is being effectively discharged.
I have not followed hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite over the wider field of discussion which we have had today. I have dealt merely with the two topics of the Education Bill and this problem of delegated legislation, because they are both topics on which we on this side of the House feel we should make an emphatic statement at the beginning of this new Session. I can say only that I have listened with very great interest to a number of speeches today on a wide variety of topics and I think that during the day the House has worthily sustained the burden that is cast upon it by this annual review of the general affairs of the nation.
I sincerely hope that the two topics with which I have dealt may be two on which, during the coming Session, we may make constructive efforts. On the one hand, I hope we shall make a constructive effort to improve the educational facilities of the nation. I heard a speech by the hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) in which he pleaded for greater amenities in the rural districts. To my certain knowledge one of the things that causes some people to be reluctant to live in the country and carry on rural occupations is the belief that their children would not receive as good an education in the villages as they do in the towns. The part of the Gracious Speech dealing with the controlled schools will help the Minister in that respect at least. I sincerely hope that we may be able to approach both the topics which I have mentioned in the 285 way in which my remarks have been received by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite tonight.
§ 9.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)
I have listened, as I am sure the House has listened, with great interest to the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) on both the topics to which he addressed himself. He is an acknowledged expert on education and I would certainly not wish to follow him in that field. But I was extremely interested in what he said on delegated legislation. He will not mind if I say that a large amount of the legislation concerned was introduced and passed by the Government of which he was a Member and that I think that perhaps they might have directed their attention to this very vital subject some little time ago.
The fact remains that the House has lost a great deal of control over this legislation and over the administration of this legislation and that the House feels it. I believe that that is an opinion shared on both sides of the House. 1, for one, welcome most warmly the suggestion put forward by the right hon. Gentleman that there might be consultations between both sides to see to what extent the House as a whole can recapture some measure of control over the administration of Acts which are absolutely vital to the citizens of this country and which far too often go through without any consultation with the House at all.
Having said that, I should like to make a brief reference to one sentence in the Gracious Speech from the Throne. That sentence is:It will be My Government's aim to strengthen the unity of Europe. They will work in close association with our neighbours in Western Europe and give all possible support to their efforts to forge closer links with one another.
§ It being Ten o'Clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.