§ [SECOND DAY]
Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [30th November]:
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as followeth:—
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.—[Mr. J. N. Browne.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I propose the Question again, it may be for the convenience of the House if I say a word about this week's arrangements for the debate on the Address. I understand that among the subjects to be discussed today will be defence. Tomorrow, Thursday, it is desired that food and agriculture should be the main topic, and on Friday, colonial development and mutual aid.
§ Question again proposed.
§ 3.3 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
Although, Mr. Speaker, you have indicated that the subject of defence may be debated in the course of the day, it is not my intention to deal in detail with that subject. It seems to me, however, that there is an unfortunate omission in the Gracious Speech. No reference is made to a possible reduction in defence expenditure although upon more than one occasion we have been promised a review of our military organisation, and suggestions have been made that that review would inevitably effect a substantial reduction in costs.
The Gracious Speech does contain a reference to the creation of a strategic reserve, but that appears to me to be somewhat strange, because, as we know, there has been a sharp decline in Regular recruitment. So far, the Government have not indicated their readiness to agree to the Opposition's proposal, made on more than one occasion, for an inquiry into the operation of the National Service Acts. No reference is made in the 160 Gracious Speech to the Government's intentions about the Army Act, a subject which created considerable controversy in the House some time ago.
I wish to direct the attention of hon. Members to two items of major importance. One is a speech delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister in his constituency of Woodford on 23rd November. The other is the speech delivered by the Foreign Secretary yesterday, in which he made some observations about confidence in the Government's economic and social policy. As I listened to him, I thought that the Foreign Secretary's incursion into the domestic sphere was somewhat unfortunate. I shall say something more about that before I sit down.
The speech delivered by the Prime Minister on 23rd November overshadows much that appears in the Gracious Speech. It is relevant to some items in the Speech; for example, there is a reference to the need for promoting peace with our neighbours, none of the neighbours being excepted. That, I take it, is the desire of every hon. Member of the House. Subject to any explanation which the right hon. Gentleman may offer in elucidation, or any attempt to illuminate and enlighten our minds as to his intentions in making that speech, and also upon the content of the signal alleged to have been sent to Field Marshal Montgomery towards the end of the last war, I would say that—putting it very mildly and without using strong language, however much one might be tempted—it was a most unfortunate and inopportune prelude to a four-Power conference.
The speech undoubtedly sharpened public interest; of that there can be no doubt. There has been considerable excitement, confusion and bewilderment in the public mind, and there are doubts whether the right hon. Gentleman actually intended to say what he did. However, we shall see. I am sorry to engage in controversy with the right hon. Gentleman immediately after his birthday celebrations.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The right hon. Gentleman has advised me to do my duty. That I shall do faithfully—by the right hon. Gentleman and by the British public.
Let us, first, get the facts right. That is very important. What was the statement which the right hon. Gentleman made, as reported in—and here I mention the newspaper—"The Times," a reputable organ which usually supports the Government? The statement was that he had instructed Field Marshal Montgomery—I doubt whether he was a Field Marshal at the time, but there is no doubt who is meant—to collect and stack surrendered German arms so that they could easily be issued again to the German soldiers with whom we should have to work if the Soviet advance continued. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I take note of the approval given to the Prime Minister's comments. I hope that hon. Members opposite will appreciate the implications of that approval.
The whole point is whether he sent such an order, if so, exactly what it contained, and whether, in fact—and this is perhaps more pointed—he contemplated rearming German troops in order to fight the Russians in certain eventualities. That is a fair question on the basis of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. An hon. Member on this side of the House, I think my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman)—he is still my hon. Friend, and we can handle these matters without any help from the other side of the House—did venture to address a Question to the Prime Minister on this subject.
The Prime Minister directed my hon. Friend's attention, in turn, to the last volume of his war memoirs, in which certain signals were published, which the Prime Minister, as I understand him, alleged were in complete agreement with the signal he was alleged to have sent to Field Marshal Montgomery. Now it so happened, quite fortuitously, that I was familiar with that volume. Lt so happened that, after its publication or immediately before actual publication, I was asked to review it for the "Daily Herald," so I was more or less familiar with the telegrams and to my surprise, in view of what the right hon. Gentleman said in his speech, I could not recall any telegram giving specific instructions to 162 Field Marshal Montgomery or General Eisenhower or anybody else in control of the Allied Forces to that effect—none whatever.
If we are to get the facts right, there is no better testament than the right hon. Gentleman's own words, and for the purpose of our argument we had better accept that they are in the book. Let us, therefore, stand by the book. On 12th May, 1945, the Prime Minister sent the following message to President Truman:I am profoundly concerned about the European situation. I learn that half the American Air Force in Europe has already begun to move to the Pacific theatre. The newspapers are full of the great movements of the American armies out of Europe. Our mimics also are, under previous arrangements, likely to undergo a marked reduction. The Canadian Army will certainly leave. The French are weak and difficult to deal with. Anyone can see that in a very short space of time our armed power on the Continent will have vanished, except for moderate forces to hold down Germany.That message, and similar messages to General Eisenhower and the then Foreign Secretary, were obviously in line with the right hon. Gentleman's apprehensions of a Russian advance. Towards the end of the war, the Russians had taken advantage of the situation in the Balkan countries—Roumania, Bulgaria and Hungary—to inspire Communist uprisings. Moreover, it was apprehended, as, indeed, many of us knew at the time, and it was even better known to those in the Government, that the Russians did contemplate an advance to the north towards the Scandinavian theatre.
When discussing the merits or demerits the possibility of a sharp and substantial advance by the Soviet forces naturally created alarms and apprehensions in the mind of the Government and in the minds of the Western allies, because they did know what the Russians were likely to be up to. The Prime Minister, being so apprehensive in the message to which I have just referred, added this:Surely, it is vital now to come to an understanding with Russia, or see where we are with her, before we weaken our armies mortally or retire to the zones of occupation. This can only be done by a personal meeting. I should be most grateful for your opinion and advice. Of course, we may take the view that Russia will behave impeccably, and no doubt that offers the most convenient solution. To sum up this issue of a settlement with Russia before our strength has gone seems to me to dwarf all others.163 No one can take exception to those words. It was quite proper that we should try to reach an understanding with our allies. That is something quite different, however, from sending a message to Field Marshal Montgomery in which he was instructed to stack and collect surrendered German arms in order to contest the issue with Russia in certain eventualities, and, by so doing, continue the war.
§ Mr. Shinwell
All I say at the moment is that there is something quite different—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If hon. Members do not appreciate the distinction between seeking an understanding with our formerally through a conference, and issuing instructions, almost at the same time, as I shall show, to Field Marshal Montgomery to prepare to use German Nazis, indoctrinated Nazis and unscreened Nazis, in order to fight a formerally—if they do not appreciate the distinction there, then there is something wrong either with their judgment or their intelligence, or both.
The Prime Minister sent that signal three days before, on 9th May, to General Eisenhower, and, by the way, it occurs to me that if any instructions of this sort should have been sent, and even if it was desirable to send such instructions at all, they should have been sent to General Eisenhower and not to Field Marshal Montgomery, because General Eisenhower was in control of the allied forces and not Field Marshal Montgomery.
What was the message to General Eisenhower? It was as follows:I have heard"—said the Prime Minister—with some concern that the Germans are to destroy all their aircraft in situ. I hope that this policy will not be adopted in regard to weapons and other forms of equipment We may have great need of these some day, and even now they might be of use, both to France and especially in Italy. I think we ought to keep everything worth keeping. The heavy cannon I preserved from the last war fired constantly from the heights of Dover in this war.There is great joy here.That last remark referred to the fact that the Germans had surrendered.
164 It is, of course, perfectly true that many weapons and much equipment salvaged from the First World War—surrendered by the Germans or captured from them—were used in the Second World War because we were not well enough prepared. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members opposite ought to be careful, because they gave precious little support to the right hon. Gentleman when he made speeches from below the Gangway. [HON. MEMBERS: "Neither did you."] Hon. Members opposite say that neither did we. But one expects it from the supporters of the right hon. Gentleman—from the same party—even if one does not expect it from the official Opposition. The less said by hon. Members opposite about their conduct in that matter, the better.
The following day the right hon. Gentleman sent a further message in which he said:If the Germans are destroying equipment it is in violation of the act of surrender and I shall be glad to have any particulars which will enable me to punish the offenders.Then he sent a message to the Foreign Secretary, who was in San Francisco. All these messages were sent about the same time. In it, he said:Today there are announcements in the newspapers of the large withdrawals of American troops now to begin month by month. What are we to do?Please note the interrogation.Great pressure will soon be put on us [at home] to demobilise partially. In a very short time our armies will have melted, but the Russians may remain with hundreds of divisions in possession of Europe from Lübeck to Trieste, and to the Greek frontier on the Adriatic,and so on.
These were the messages sent to the appropriate authorities, to President Truman, the right hon. Gentleman's opposite number, to General Eisenhower who was in control of the allied forces, and to the Foreign Secretary. All very good. At the same time—I now revert to the right hon. Gentleman's speech at Wood ford—the right hon. Gentleman apparently sent a signal to Field Marshal Montgomery which does not appear in the book. Why this omission from these memoirs? Why, at this late stage—nine years after—is that signal disclosed? What was the purpose of the disclosure—that remarkable revelation? What was 165 the intention? Was the intention to seek an understanding with the Russians? Was this the overture or part of the symphony? The right hon. Gentleman, no doubt, will give us his version of the matter.
I wish to say to the right hon. Gentleman positively—if he will give me his attention, because it concerns him personally—that neither in the message to Truman nor to Eisenhower is there the slightest indication of the intention to use these weapons for rearming the surrendered Germans, and it is to that point that the right hon. Gentleman must reply. Indeed, I cannot find in the book any reference to the rearming of the surrendered Germans.
What was Field Marshal Montgomery's comment when he was asked about the Woodford speech? I have searched both the American Press and the British Press, and all I can find is that Field Marshal Montgomery said that he had received the telegram, but that he was not going to say anything about what happened—a remarkable exhibition of reticence upon his part. I know him well; I have had experience of him, and I have a very great regard for him, as everybody knows.
In view of Field Marshal Montgomery's remarkable reticence, I put these questions to the Prime Minister. I hope that he will take notice of them, because I expect him to reply to them. Did he actually suggest to the Field Marshal that it might be necessary to rearm the German troops and to work with them against the Russians? Did he, before taking this remarkable step, consult Truman or Eisenhower, or, for that matter, any of his Cabinet colleagues? If not, why not? Why did he not refer to this suggestion in his message to Eisenhower on 9th May? Or has something been excised from the published text of that message which is contained in the book?
There is a further question. Was anything more heard of the suggestion when the right hon. Gentleman made it nine years ago? Was it made in a signal and then, having been made, abandoned—nothing more being heard about it until the Prime Minister appeared in Woodford and was inspired to make this remarkable disclosure?
I feel that in the interest of the House as a whole—indeed, in the interest of the 166 Government—and in the interest of the promotion of world peace and of a better understanding with Soviet Russia, which, I understand, is the desire of the right hon. Gentleman, and in the interest of a satisfactory conclusion of a four-Power pact—as everybody appreciates, we are entering on a very difficult phase—we are entitled to have the actual text of the message to Field Marshal Montgomery, and also his answer to it. I think that we are also entitled to a full explanation of why the right hon. Gentleman took this remarkable step in this extraordinary way.
I hope that hon. Members will not be violent with me when I make the observation that perhaps no such message was ever sent.
§ The Prime Ministerindicated assent.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The Prime Minister nods. We shall soon find out, because, after all, the Prime Minister must have the signal, either in the archives of the Foreign Office or in the files of the War Cabinet. It must be somewhere. Even though the right hon. Gentleman brought it out of his head just like that, it must be based on something substantial, on something that happened, if, indeed, it did happen.
On the other hand, the Prime Minister's memory may have been confused. After all, the speech was made nine years after the event. He may have confused the message with some ideas on the subject, and may have thought that he had actually sent such a message. You know the sort of thing that happens, Mr. Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman pays a visit to his constituency on the eve of his birthday celebrations. There is a jollification and a warm welcome—that is natural—and he is with people who do not like the Russians.
He does not like the Russians very much himself. He did not like them very much in 1918, and he does not care very much for them now. Therefore, he thought to himself, "I will say something about these Russians which will surprise you." So he did. He surprised us very much, and also alarmed us. That may have happened, and, as I say, the right hon. Gentleman may have got the messages all mixed up.
Finally, may I put this question to the right hon. Gentleman? Whether there 167 was such a message or not, and even if he had got the messages mixed up, as "The Times" put it, what made him say it?
Did he intend to continue the war? Imagine the effect on the troops, on the gallant remnants of the Desert Rats who were fighting in Normandy at the end of the war, if they had been asked, having destroyed Rommel and his forces, to be associated with the Nazi German troops against our former allies.
Moreover, did the right hon. Gentleman consider the possible reaction on our own people? I can remember what happened during the war: the vast assemblies throughout the country praising our gallant Russian allies, the vast sums of money raised, and hon. Members on the other side of the House helping all they could to glorify Russia. Indeed, it is very doubtful whether we could have gained the victory without the help of our Russian allies.
§ Mr. Rupert Speir (Hexham)rose—
§ Mr. Shinwell
Something remarkable has happened. One would have expected a sharp response to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman from official Soviet sources. It is true that something was said in "Pravda" about "betrayal" as the result of this revelation, but there has been no official comment, so far as I can see. I wondered about that.
I venture to ask this question—I do not know what the answer is but I ask the question, nevertheless: could the Russians have known what the right hon. Gentleman was thinking about at the time, and what he was up to? They might have known, and if they knew that we were prepared to associate with the Nazi forces at that time and to avail ourselves of their support, the knowledge might have coloured their policy and outlook ever since.
Let us not forget that suspicion breeds suspicion and does not help to promote harmony in foreign relations. I must ask the Prime Minister to clear the matter up. Let him produce the telegram, if there is such a telegram. We are entitled to have it. If there is no such telegram, let him be quite frank and forthright with the House and say, "There was no such thing," and that this was a mistake on his part because he was confused 168 about the matter. That is quite acceptable, and we can let it go at that.
I must say to the Prime Minister, rather more in sorrow than in anger, that in view of this disclosure and if there is any substance in what he said, I doubt very much whether he is the right person to engage in negotiation with Soviet Russia. If I had to engage for business purposes somebody who I knew was working against me I should be very careful. Anyway, we shall see.
No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will illuminate our minds on the subject. Let us get the full facts from him. Nothing less will suffice. In this field of foreign relations the right hon. Gentleman, like Caesar's wife, must be above suspicion. [Interruption.] I assure hon. Members that any inference that I am suspecting the right hon. Gentleman of feminine qualities is quite wrong.
§ Mr. Shinwell
That is what I said. I do not require the right hon. Gentleman to correct me. I am familiar with Shakespeare's work; I learned it when I was in prison. Unless the Prime Minister can illuminate our minds on the subject I have dealt with, I am afraid that people abroad as well as at home will hardly feel that the right hon. Gentleman has done the right thing in making that speech.
I do not wish to detain the House for more than a few moments longer. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] There is nothing to prevent hon. Members from leaving the Chamber if they wish. They have my permission. If I am disturbing them, I am sorry. I am entitled to put these questions to the Prime Minister.
I want to make a reference to the Foreign Secretary's speech yesterday and I will come to the point quickly, for the sake of brevity. He said that the present Government had undertaken salvage operations. The characteristic amiability of the right hon. Gentleman appears to have been somewhat marred by an unfortunate omission; he forgot about the salvage operations that we had to undertake in 1945, at the end of a devastating and costly war.
Consider the difficulty then. Practically all our resources had vanished. Many 169 other difficulties presented themselves to the Labour Government at that time, and hon. Gentlemen opposite are well aware of them. If they are not they are more ignorant than I thought. The Foreign Secretary indulged in some boasting about the improved conditions of the people, but he ought not to have forgotten that many of the social Measures now acceptable in all quarters of the House were vigorously opposed by hon. Members opposite.
There is something more. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is not present, but I venture to put this point in his absence. He made a statement the other day in reply to a Question in the House. I am amused by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He is always patting himself on the back, a kind of exercise that no doubt contributes to his excellent physical condition. On that occasion he told the country that there were 18 million people in this country whose wages and salaries were below £500 a year, and that of the 18 million 8 million actually had wages of less than £250 a year. What is the use of talking about confidence, social stability, security, of having solved problems or made a substantial contribution to social requirements, if we have 18 million people who have to live on wages and salaries of that kind in face of the high and increased cost of living?
In spite of what the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance has said this afternoon we propose, in the course of this debate on the Address to challenge the whole range of Government policy. We propose to do more than that. We propose to challenge the Tory Party conception of the organisation of society—of its conception of the right social order. That is our intention—let it face that challenge.
The right hon. Gentleman is very anxious—I can see him straining at the leash—
§ Mr. Shinwell
—to pounce upon me, so I await his reply—it may be his onslaught—without anxiety but with eager expectancy and with interest.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Sir Winston Churchill)
I must say that, considering that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) was making a partisan speech in a controversial debate, I think that he has shown a great consideration for fairness. There is a lot more of that in him than many people would think from watching his ordinary conduct of events. But let me deal with the matter which occupied the main part of his speech, and let me say what I have to say directly to the House.
When I spoke at Woodford, I was under the rooted impression that not only had I sent this telegram to Field Marshal Montgomery, but also that I had published it a year ago in the sixth volume of my account of the Second World War. In fact, the telegram was not published in the book. I am also sorry that, in my speech at Woodford, I failed to observe the rule which I have so often inculcated in others, "Always verify your quotations." Otherwise, I should certainly not have made this particular point, which was in no way necessary to my argument at this time. I must also admit the truth of what the "Manchester Guardian" said, to the effect that historical events are best treated in their context. I hope that I shall remember that next time. Therefore, I express my regrets to the House for what I said last week.
The right hon. Gentleman has asked for the text of the message. Indeed, I should be very glad to give that to the House—when I find it. It may well be that I never used these precise words in a telegram to a general—not a field marshal; I beg pardon for that—to General Montgomery as he was at that time. Indeed, it may be, as the right hon. Gentleman has several times suggested, that it was never sent at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"] I do not want to argue all the way through. At any rate, it has not been traced in the official records, though a search of the utmost extent has been made, and is still continuing. I have asked Field Marshal Montgomery, and he replied that he would be back on the 4th of this month and would, at my request, look through any private records that he may have.
There are, as the right hon. Gentleman said, various explanations of this. I do 171 not exclude one, which he himself suggested, that the message might have been mixed up. He said that I might have been confused in my mind. "You know the sort of thing that happens"—those, I think, were his words.
We all make factual mistakes from, time to time, and the hon. Member below the Gangway who asked me a Written Question, hit the wrong general altogether.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)rose—
§ Mr. Silverman
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman might like to know that, although I did inadvertently omit the name of Field Marshal Montgomery from my Question, it was not a matter of putting down the name of the wrong general but of putting down the name of only one general instead of both. What I had in mind was what my right hon. Friend had in mind; that such a message, if sent, would normally be expected to go to the Commander-in-Chief, who was General Eisenhower.
§ The Prime Minister
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I only introduced the point to show how error is human.
Here are some other reasons, however. It may be that the telegram to General Eisenhower, which has been published in my book, superseded my original intention of sending such a message to General Montgomery. In any case, all was happily overtaken in a few days by events. An entirely new situation presented itself. The immediate emergency did not mature.
No Cabinet assent was sought for this particular telegram. It was only of a precautionary character, and, if it were sent at all, it went only as one of scores of similar messages which were passing at the time about the German surrender. Anyhow, if there is any question of responsibility, and if there is any telegram and any question of responsibility for it, I accept it for myself.
When I come to the facts of what I did in 1945, of what I intended to do—certainly, it was in my mind,; I am not making any concealment of that—of the 172 motives animating them, I have no misgivings. In those days of victory, the thought which filled my mind was that all the efforts we had made to free Europe from a totalitarian regime of one kind might go for naught if we allowed so much of Europe to fall into the grip of another totalitarian regime from the East.
This is the theme of the sixth volume of my book. This was the tragedy which came on us in our hour of triumph. The realisation of it filled many of the messages which I sent at that time. I sent a great many at different levels. I may easily have been in error as to any particular one. The attitude of our Russian allies at that time gave ample grounds for this fear. We had taken up the sword in 1939 on behalf of the independence of Poland. What was happening to Poland in 1945? What has happened to it since?
I also had at this time the gravest anxieties about the fate of Denmark. The time of this is about the first fortnight in May, 1945. If the Soviet forces had overrun Denmark, they would have controlled the Baltic, with all that that involves. In such circumstances, the same kind of situation would have arisen as that which, four years later, compelled the Western world to create N.A.T.O., to contemplate the E.D.C. arrangements, and now to sign the London and Paris Agreements.
The situation which we faced in May, 1945, was grave and threatening. I can find no better words to describe it than those which I used in my telegram of 12th May to President Truman, the telegram which I have called the "Iron Curtain telegram" and which the right hon. Gentleman has done me the honour to quote. I do not think I did anything inconsistent with that, and, as it states absolutely my line of thought, I would ask the indulgence of the House, as it has been quoted, while I read it. This is to President Truman:I am profoundly concerned about the European situation. I learn that halt the American Air Force in Europe has already begun to move to the Pacific theatre. The newspapers are full of the great movement of the American armies out of Europe. Our armies also are, under previous arrangements, likely to undergo a marked reduction. The Canadian Army will certainly leave. The French are weak and difficult to deal with. Anyone can see that in a very short space of time our armed power on the Continent will 173 have vanished, except for moderate forces to hold down Germany.Meanwhile, what is to happen about Russia? I have always worked for friendship with Russia but, like you, I feel deep anxiety because of their misinterpretation of the Yalta decisions, their attitude towards Poland, their overwhelming influence in the Balkans excepting Greece, the difficulties they make about Vienna, the combination of Russian power and the territories under their control or occupied, coupled with the Communist technique in so many other countries, and above all their power to maintain very large armies in the field for a long time. What will be the position in a year or two, when the British and American Armies have melted and the French has not yet been formed on any major scale, when we may have a handful of divisions, mostly French, and when Russia may choose to keep two or three hundred on active service?An iron curtain is drawn down upon their front. We do not know what is going on behind. There seems little doubt that the whole of the regions East of the flue Lubeck-Trieste-Corfu"—right from the north to the Mediterranean—will soon be completely in their hands. To this must be added a further enormous area conquered by the American Armies between Eisenach and the Elbe, which will, I suppose, in a few weeks, be occupied, when the Americans retreat, by the Russian power. All kinds of arrangements will have to be made by General Eisenhower to prevent another immense flight of the German population westward as this enormous Muscovite advance into the centre of Europe takes place. And then the curtain will descend again to a very large extent, if not entirely. Thus a broad band of many hundreds of miles of Russian-occupied territory will isolate us from Poland. Meanwhile, the attention of our peoples will be occupied in inflicting severities upon Germany, which is ruined and prostrate, and it would be open to the Russians in a short time to advance if they chose to the waters of the North Sea and the Atlantic.I will read this following passage again, although it was quoted just now by the right hon. Gentleman, because it governed my thoughts:Surely it is vital now to come to an understanding with Russia, or to see where we are with her, before we weaken our armies mortally or retire to the zones of occupation. This can only be done by a personal meeting. I should be most grateful for your opinion and advice. Of course, we may take the view that Russia will behave impeccably, and no doubt that offers the most convenient solution. To sum up, this issue of a settlement with Russia before our strength has gone seems to me to dwarf all others.I must apologise for having to dwell so much on these quotations. Having done so, I may say that I shall be very glad to place sufficient numbers of copies of 174 my sixth volume in the Reading Room of the House of Commons in case they may serve the convenience of hon. Members in verifying these facts.
Even if the telegram does not exist, in general spirit it is not contrary to my thoughts. In addition to what would inevitably have come to pass had the Soviets continued their advance into the Low countries and towards the sea, there was another set of considerations to be borne in mind. As we had in General Montgomery's theatre alone more than a million disarmed German prisoners of war who had surrendered to us—to us, I say—I felt we were responsible for taking measures for their protection, and if we were unable to carry out our terms of capitulation or to afford them that protection for which we were responsible, it might become a matter of honour as well as of policy to give them back their arms.
No trouble could, in any case, have arisen with the Soviets unless they had continued their advance to a point at which they forced the breaking out of a new war between Russia and her Western allies. To prevent such a disaster, it might have been a help to warn them that we should certainly in that case rearm the German prisoners in our hands, who altogether, including those in Italy, numbered 2½ million. It was never necessary to tell them, because they did not do what I felt we had to consider. In this event, the modest precaution I had in mind of stacking the arms might have been found convenient. However, all those matters are far above the level on which this particular routine business like arrangement was suggested.
I may say that I did not judge the German army of that time, whatever may have been their political label, by that label. I think the majority were ordinary people compelled into military service and fighting desperately in defence of their native land. I also suggest to the House that in modern times war should not be decided on questions of nationality or of the past conduct of any nation, but only on the new guilt of aggression. I am sure that resistance to aggression must be our dominating thought. That was where I stood at the moment of victory in the first part of May, 1945, and that is where I believe a large majority of the House stands today.
175 I am not unduly disheartened by any Russian reaction to what I said last week. "Pravda," like the "Daily Worker," can always be turned on or off at will. In my recent thoughts I have always tried to measure what are the true Russian interests at this present time in history. There lies the key. Personally, I believe their interest is in peace and plenty. "The Times" newspaper, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, in the very full report that it gave of my speech, omitted altogether in any of the editions I have seen the references I made to Soviet Russia which were intended to balance the other statements so fully printed. I suppose they were preoccupied with their leading article.
There is, however, a very good report in the "Manchester Guardian" which I hope the House will forgive me quoting—hon. Members have been very indulgent when I have been quoting so much of myself—because I should like to give publicity to it. This is what I said at Woodford on 23rd November. It ought to be read with what "The Times" has already quoted:But meanwhile another great event has happened. Stalin died, and the new men sharing power together are at the head of Russia. It was in May last year that I' advocated that we, with our allies, should work towards closer contact with Russia in order to make sure whether that great people had undergone any important change of mood and outlook under their new leadership. This is still my purpose.In fact, that is the only explanation of my presence here today. It is still my purpose.Our policy is peace through strength. Nothing could be more foolish than for us to begin these closer contacts with Soviet Russia by a break-up of the unity among themselves of the free nations. That was what threatened us all when the French Chamber refused to ratify the E.D.C. agreements, which they had themselves devised and shaped, and on which so much precious time had been spent.The new arrangements which have been made as a result of Sir Anthony Eden's exertions are, I believe, in many ways an improvement on E.D.C., and when they have been ratified the path will be clear for those contacts with Soviet Russia from which I still hope and, indeed, increasingly hope a peaceful and easier and even more prosperous future for the whole world may spring and grow.That is all I have to say on the personal point that has been raised. I hope that the House will remember that I have 176 done what I have very rarely done, formally expressed my regret for an observation which I made, not on the spur of the moment, in a speech in the country. I am very sorry that I have had to take up so much of the time of the House on what is and has been largely a personal explanation.
The larger issues raised in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington about defence will be answered with other questions by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence when he speaks later in the debate. I will content myself with a few general observations.
The advance of the hydrogen bomb has fundamentally altered the entire problems of defence, and considerations founded even upon the atom bomb have become obsolescent, almost old-fashioned.
§ The Prime Minister
Immense changes are taking place in military facts and in military thoughts. We have for some time past adopted the principle that safety and even survival must be sought in deterrents rather than defence—deterrents—and this, I believe, is the policy which also guides the United States. This does not mean that such precautions as are possible should not be taken. It certainly does not justify any part of the British community in failing in its duty to render all help to these precautions and in reciprocating the measures for ambulance and salvage aids which are being taken by their neighbours.
It is evident that the world as a whole is faced with problems which affect the existence of the human race. While we are trying to solve these, we must not cast away the conventional weapons in which the Soviet Government have a vast superiority. If we were to do so, we should lay it open to the Soviets to subjugate the whole of free Europe and advance to the sea and ocean in a Communist wave without meeting any effective, organised resistance.
Although I have spoken of the overwhelming superiority—I was going to say that I do not think that this should be taken alone, because the mere fact that they are at a disadvantage in the nuclear would make it necessary for them to stake out claims in Western Europe with 177 their great military forces, also so as to have hostages for any negotiations, and also to improve the sites from which they could discharge their missiles of a very dangerous character which they have.
Although I have spoken of the overwhelming superiority in conventional weapons of the Soviets, I would mention that I do not believe that a surprise attack with conventional weapons would be made upon the Western front. There would certainly be discernible movements of troops which would raise both the alert and the alarm, and this would certainly bring the use of nuclear weapons into discussion of a decisive character by the heads of all the great States that are involved.
If the Soviets, as the weaker nuclear Power, resolved to make, which I do not believe they would, a treacherous surprise attack, it is inconceivable, to my mind, that they would begin with ground forces on the Western front and so compromise the advantage of a surprise attack by nuclear weapons. On the other hand, their weakness in nuclear weapons would make it all the more important, as I have said, for them to secure large areas of territory in Western Europe. This question of the nuclear weapons, therefore, remains the supreme issue.
In this interim period, when everything is in a state of transition, it is not possible to present a complete design of defence, allied or national. Certain important practical modifications are being made in our military arrangements, especially in regard to the use of anti-aircraft artillery. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence will deal with this in his speech. The fact that they afford financial relief is not their purpose, but only an incidental effect—a welcome, but an incidental effect. I must advise the House to take their time before discussing in detail the whole of our system of defence. Full opportunities will, of course, be open when the Estimates are considered in the New Year, and I should hope myself to be able to make a far more clear and concrete statement of the position in February than would be possible now. My right hon. Friend proposes this evening, in the main, to confine himself to the actual practical measures, partial though they may be, which will shortly come into operation and which should be made known to the House.
178 I have one more point to make. I cannot help recalling that the late Government, several times, very courteously invited some of our leaders when we were in Opposition to meet them in confidential discussion and consultation. So far, nothing of this kind has taken place in this Parliament. I believe that there would be many advantages in such a conference which, after all, deals with matters that affect all parties equally.
The subjects would not all be suitable, or suitable in all respects, for public debate and discussion at the present time. But an interchange of knowledge and views between leading members of both parties would, I believe, be a real advantage. As there are, as I have said, powerful and recent precedents for it, I hope it may not pass unnoticed. It is for the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition to consider this matter and let us know at his convenience whether he would like this course to be adopted. If so, we should be perfectly willing to make the necessary arrangements. I thank the House for the great indulgence with which it has listened to my statement.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
It is always very difficult for the House to have to listen to an apology from any hon. Member, even though he be one of such importance and prominence as the Prime Minister. The only comment I wish to make on his explanation today is this: it seems to me that even if the right hon. Gentleman finds that telegram it is now quite superfluous, because he has made it clear to the House this afternoon that the contents of the telegram which he thought he sent, or which he may have sent, represents his point of view both then and today.
It is, therefore, on record that the Prime Minister, in his speech at Woodford, was expressing a thought which was in his mind about nine years ago. I should be the last person to condemn him for such a thought, because it is only if we know all the facts which prevailed at that time that we can form a sound judgment. If there were, or had been, a possibility of Russia committing an act of aggression, which would have been the case had she advanced beyond the line agreed with her, then it would have been a very serious moment for this country, just as 179 it was when Hitler attacked Russia, when our entire policy towards Russia was changed in a night and we had to accept her as an ally whether we wanted to do so or not.
With that expression of opinion, I prefer for the moment to leave the matter until we have had time to consider the facts of the situation more carefully. As the right hon. Gentleman has said, we are all fallible, and in speeches outside the House, which, I understand, are not always as fully prepared as speeches in the House, it is possible to say something which should not have been said.
The right hon. Gentleman has "come clean" before the House this afternoon and regretted that he ever made that statement. I do not see that the House can do anything other than accept his apology as he made it—in my opinion, fully and amply. There may be others who disagree with my point of view, but I have been a Member of the House for a long time with the right hon. Gentleman and I know that his motives, as far as the defence of this country is concerned, are genuine and in the interests of the whole country without any regard to party whatever.
The right hon. Gentleman has made an offer this afternoon to the Leader of the Opposition. I cannot say whether that offer will be accepted or rejected, but before I came to the House this afternoon I had turned over in my mind the situation in which the House finds itself, and in which it will always find itself, under our present machinery for discussing defence matters. Once a year the House is permitted a field day, when it can spread itself—and I use that expression advisedly—on defence. What can we know of defence?
The right hon. Gentleman hinted this afternoon that there is a lot to say about defence but that this House, as a House, cannot be told. He has offered to disclose some of that information to the Leader of the Opposition, and perhaps to some of my right hon. Friend's leading colleagues. But we are all concerned in this matter.
The right hon. Gentleman himself knows that during the war we had a succession of secret sittings and on those occasions, even if we were not able to get information from the Government, 180 we were able to express our criticism of the Government in an uninhibited way. I remember those secret sittings, as does the right hon. Gentleman. As a result of some of that criticism he took speedy action to reform the situation, especially in North Africa, with the dismissal of certain generals, which eventually led to that remarkable victory which cleared the whole of the German and Italian armies out of North Africa.
I suggest that it might be possible, through a secret sitting, to impart more information than that which the right hon. Gentleman may feel disposed to give in public; or that, as I should prefer, the House should set up a standing committee, a military affairs committee. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has always opposed this latter suggestion but I hope he will listen to my arguments in favour of it. Such a committee would be able to keep defence constantly under review.
The whole issue of defence is changing from day to day, and what do hon. Members know about it? Quite obviously, we could not be told in a secret sitting that which must be denied in the interest of public security, but we could be told more than we are being told at present in the annual debates on the statement by the Minister of Defence or on the Service Estimates. I have listened to many of those debates, and I believe that today, when there are tremendous forces of which we know very little and of which the Services themselves know very little, as is obvious if we attend their manoeuvres, we should be able, through secret sitting—or a Select Committee—to form a balanced view and to do what the right hon. Gentleman suggested in the closing passages of his speech.
§ The Prime Minister
I have never been opposed to secret sittings and I have never seen them do anything but good. If there were talks between leading Members of both parties on defence that would in no way prevent a secret sitting, let us say, next February, when the Estimates are presented. If we were asked by the other side of the House it would certainly be our duty to consider that request most carefully.
§ Mr. Bellenger
It is quite possible that, not for the first time, I should not carry the whole of my party with me on this issue of a secret sitting.
§ Mr. Bellenger
My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has a point of view which he consistently expresses. It is what I would roughly term the pacifist point of view. I understand it very well, but turning the other cheek to a possible aggressor today is not an answer—
§ Mr. Bellenger
—which, I think, the electors who sent us here would accept.
If we are to have any Army, Navy and Air Force—and I remind the House that Her Majesty's Opposition have supported that policy consistently; they have never opposed the Service Estimates since the war—should we be wrong in asking that those forces should be the most efficient that we can possibly have? All I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire, whose point of view is unique in this House, and whose point of view has been consistently expressed, is that I do not disagree with what he wants; all I disagree with is his method of obtaining it.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
Before my right hon. Friend leaves this question of a secret sitting, we ought to be clear on what kind of secret sitting he means. In the past we have had secret sittings in which the Prime Minister speaks, keeps records of his speeches, and subsequently publishes them, while nobody else has a chance of publishing what they said. That is not a secret sitting, and I should like my right hon. Friend to clear that point up first.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I am not talking about the speeches made in secret sittings. I presume that what it is open to the right hon. Gentleman to do is also open to any of us who can find a publisher willing to publish what we have said. I am not concerned with that issue. It does not matter to me what the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister said in the war.
182 I have already indicated that the purpose of those secret sittings during the war was not to elicit information from the Government, because they told us very little. The real purpose was to give them information which many of us had in relation to tanks and other matters which disturbed the mind of the Prime Minister at that time. We knew something about those matters then because we had a citizen Army—an Army with our friends, relations and others in it, constantly giving us their point of view.
Today, unless we happen to be connected with the Territorial Army, or have access—as the right hon. Gentleman had access before the war to influential people who could, and did, impart information to him—it is impossible for us—
§ Mr. Bellenger
My hon. Friend may call out "leaks," but everyone knows that if one has access to some information, military or otherwise, it enables one to form an opinion.
I hope that that enables a Member of Parliament to come to this House, as the right hon. Gentleman did before the war, and express a point of view, even though in his case it was not in conformity with the point of view of his own Government. On matters of defence I have always adopted that policy. Before the war we had a Military Service Bill. Conscription had hitherto always been opposed by my party, but on that occasion some of us did not go into the Lobby against the Government of the day. In 1947 it was a Labour Government which introduced National Service in a period of peace.
Is it not possible for some hon. Members, even some of my hon. Friends, to recognise that in the matter of defence—faced as we are with aggression which may be possible, even though the Prime Minister said it is not, or that it is not likely—to make up our minds that we are going to take every step to defend this country?
§ Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)rose—
§ Mr. Bellenger
I mean to go on and to express my point of view. That is what I am sent to this House to do and it matters not to me whether the point of view which I am expressing meets with the approval of any hon. Member. I 183 hope it will at any rate meet with the approval of my hon. Friends.
Perhaps I am not putting my point of view too clearly. I am trying to say that in the matter of defence—with which we had to deal when we were in Government—we have to continue that policy which we, as a Labour Government in power, started. Otherwise, we renounce all claim to be the future Government of this country, and the electorate will have the last say. I wanted to try to explain my point of view about a standing committee on military matters. It is not unusual in other democratic Parliaments. The United States of America has one, the French Assembly has one, and so has the German Assembly.
§ The Prime Minister
They do not have the advantage of having Ministers continually in Congress or in the Assembly.
§ Mr. Bellenger
If I may say so with all due respect that is not the point. Whether the Ministers are in the House or not, ultimate control lies with the elected body, in America the Congress. Congress, having to find the money, can at least control the Ministers, whether they are in the House or not.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Not for the first time, my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) disagrees with me. I am stating a point of view which, if he likes, he can refute with argument and evidence.
I say that those assemblies control the Executive and they have the power, as we have here. They decide that the best way in which they can study these matters of military defence is to have committees of the lower House. I am suggesting that it might not be out of place if we in this House of Commons set up a similar standing committee which could examine these matters with at least some access, if not full access, to official sources of information, a facility which is lacking at present.
It is well known that in both parties of this House there are committees of Members having an interest in and experience of military matters. They do their best to examine Estimates so that they can put a cogent and, I hope, concise and lucid point of view when we 184 debate these matters, but they are always at a great disadvantage.
There is the Select Committee on Estimates, which is entrusted with the work of examining the Estimates of Government Departments. From time to time it examines the Estimates of the Service Departments. Only recently we had the Eighth Report of the Select Committee on Estimates, which has been investigating Royal Air Force non-flying establishments. The Committee investigated the administrative side of the Department. Surely it is not implying a new and untraditional move to suggest that we should have a military committee—perhaps a Select Committee—dealing only with defence matters? That is all I am asking for. If my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition responds to the suggestion thrown out by the Prime Minister, I do not quite see how that is to help private Members to put their point of view on defence, which should be put, with informed opinion to back it up.
I suggest, by way of illustration, that evidently something is brewing, if I may pat it that way. We had a reference to it in the Queen's Speech, we have heard it more than once from the Minister of Defence, and we have heard it this afternoon from the Prime Minister. Apparently, the Government are surveying the whole of the defence system of the country. We are led by the Minister of Defence to believe that sooner or later he will come to the House with a White Paper and give us his considered opinion as to how our Armed Forces can be improved.
This afternoon the Prime Minister indicated only too clearly that in many respects some portions of our forces on which we are spending enormous sums of money are obsolete or obsolescent. Hon. Members who know something about the anti-aircraft defences of the country know that today those defences generally are not capable of meeting an attack by high-flying and speedy bombers with the weapons and apparatus with which Anti-Aircraft Command has at its disposal. Yet Anti-Aircraft Command is one of the biggest consumers of manpower and, I suggest, of money, among the commands.
When we pass the Service Estimates which carry into effect the proposals of the Service Ministers—in this case the Secretary of State for War—we are agreeing to things about which we know very 185 little, and which I think hon. Members opposite, particularly the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey), have admitted and stated in this House are not fully modernised to deal with the problem with which they may have to deal at some time or other. Either we hear clever debating speeches by the Minister of Defence or we are refused, on security grounds, the information for which we ask.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Antony Head)indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Bellenger
The Secretary of State for War, who is mostly implicated in this matter, shakes his head.
I asked him recently what numbers of troops he anticipated he would receive from Korea and the Middle East to create his strategic reserve, which is mentioned in the Gracious Speech. The right hon. Gentleman replied that it would not be in the public interest to give me those figures. I asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air how many airmen were in the Middle East, and he gave me a figure of about 15,000. All that we can do with the information which we possess is to guess how many officers and other ranks the Secretary of State for War will have to create his strategic reserve.
I say to the Secretary of State for War and to the Prime Minister that, for our purpose, it is not sufficient to include in the Gracious Speech the bare statement that a strategic reserve is to be created. Many of us have doubts as to whether we shall be able either to house or to train the men properly in this country. Until we know what sort of strategic reserve the right hon. Gentleman is aiming at, how can we come to the House and discuss either Service Estimates or the Ministry of Defence White Paper in a responsible manner?
That is my reason for advocating a standing committee of this House, where hon. Members could be given at all events sufficient information to enable them to judge whether the proposals advanced by the Secretary of State for War, the Secretary of State for Air, the First Lord of the Admiralty or the Minister of Defence are really suitable for the defence of this country.
Perhaps I have been a little unconventional in my suggestions, but in war, an eventuality for which, after all, our Army, 186 Navy and Air Force are prepared, although we all hope it will never come, all sorts of things happen, and happen suddenly. I am asking that the House of Commons shall not be in the same position as it was before the last war, when the Prime Minister himself was coming to the House and warning the Government and the country that our defences were insufficient.
Looking back to those days, who can deny that the Prime Minister was right in warning the country, even though little attention was paid to those warnings by some of his colleagues? But the right hon. Gentleman had an advantage then, as he always has, that we do not possess. He had the advantage of his position, built up over a large number of years. He had the advantage of his contacts with leading men in all walks of life, and he had a great secretarial advantage inasmuch as he was able to collate all that information and then come to the House and make speeches which, looking back, we must all now admit were momentous.
All that I am asking for private Members of the House is this. We have not the contacts, nor have we the money available to investigate this matter in a fit and proper manner. Therefore, it seems to me to follow that very few hon. Members are able to come to the House and examine the Government's defence plans with anything like real knowledge.
There is a lopsided state of affairs. The Government are in possession of all the official information, the curtain before which the Prime Minister now says he will raise to a certain extent for two or three leading members of the Opposition. If that is to be the case, we might just as well renounce all criticism and speeches on White Papers on defence or on the Service Estimates, and deal with the trivialities but not with those wide sweeps and surveys that we ought to be making of defence as a whole. From what little knowledge I have, I suspect that many of our defences today are completely out of date. I do not know, but that is what I suspect from the small information that comes to me from a few sources which, I think, are reliable.
Two hundred thousand National Service men go into the Armed Forces every year. After two years they come back, and sometimes they talk. Whether they talk in ways which are genuine is 187 a matter on which it is difficult to form an opinion. We could better form that opinion if we were placed in possession of the facts. Therefore, I say to the Government—and I ask other hon. Members, in all parts of the House, to support me in this—that we should be given more of the facts, for it is only when we are in possession of these facts that we can make sensible, responsible speeches that will appeal to those electors who sent us here and for whose safety and, perhaps, for whose very lives we are responsible, as we were in 1939.
Those hon. and right hon. Members who sat in the House at that time will know the lamentable state of London's air defences and that the Prime Minister's own son-in-law attempted to give information to the House. Every attempt was made to keep his tongue silent, but he came down to the House and hinted at something which many others had suspected. Now, we know what was the state of London's anti-aircraft defences when war broke out.
Today, we know very little. Therefore, I say that perhaps a secret sitting or a military committee might be the right way to deal with this matter. Hon. Members are groping in the dark, just as many of the military personnel are doing, under the impact of the new destructive forces, which are kept top secret and which, apparently, only the Americans really understand. In the meantime, Field Marshal Montgomery, a field marshal of this country, the deputy-chief of N.A.T.O., goes to Los Angeles and makes a statement to a Press conference that we ought to cease building any more aircraft carriers and that the whole control of N.A.T.O.'s air defences is completely out of date.
What are we to believe? What is the country to understand when eminent, responsible and experienced commanders like Field Marshal Montgomery, say those things and in the meantime we are not able to judge whether they are right or wrong? I make my appeal in all sincerity. Whether it agrees with the policy or thoughts of some other hon. Members matters not to me. I make that appeal, and I hope that I shall be supported from all quarters of the House.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Captain Robert Ryder (Merton and Morden)
The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) has spoken with great force on behalf of the back benchers of this House and has put forward the plea that our debates here are severely handicapped by the cloak of secrecy which surrounds our latest developments in the realms of defence. I do not feel sufficiently experienced as a Parliamentarian to comment upon the precise proposals put forward by the right hon. Gentleman, but, certainly, we are greatly handicapped by the fact to which he has drawn attention. I feel, however, that at the moment we must do the best we can.
What I wish to speak about is the fact that many reports have reached me expressing concern about the position of the Royal Navy in the future. The people who have written to me are aware of the greatly increased costs of modern weapons, notably atomic and nuclear weapons, also the cost of the latest guided projectiles and high speed aircraft. They are aware, too, of the added commitments we now have of land forces on the Continent, and they are aware of the increased costs of military equipment to keep the forces up to date—of the latest tanks and atomic artillery.
They wonder, therefore, what is to be left of the conventional Royal Navy In addition, they note that there is virtually no replacement programme for any of our principal units, apart from frigates and ships of lesser size. They know that over the last few years there has been a steady run down in the numerical strength of naval personnel on Vote A. All this gives rise to uncertainty and misgiving and, if uncorrected, it is bound to be demoralising to the Service itself.
Meanwhile, side by side with this decline in our own naval strength, we are told by the Admiralty of the increasing strength of Russian naval forces. The Admiralty has been right and fair in warning the country. The First Lord did so in this House earlier in the year, and later, in August, the Admiralty issued a Press statement which warned us that in the next two or three years the Russians would have no fewer than 30 powerful cruisers, 150 modern destroyers—these 189 are big figures compared with our 10 cruisers in commission and our comparatively few destroyers—500 submarines, of which there has been much said, and no fewer than 4,000 naval aircraft.
I think it is on naval aircraft that we should now also focus our attention, but two facts, the decline in our own naval strength, which is becoming increasingly more obsolete, and the growing strength of the Russian navy, all of which is in commission, give rise to the feeling of disquiet which I have already mentioned. These are the reasons for the anxieties that have been expressed to me.
In considering these matters, we must, of course, ask ourselves whether shore-based aircraft can now undertake the work of the Fleet and to what extent. I am only an amateur in this. If am not informed about all the latest, most modern developments, but my assessment is that ships will be very vulnerable indeed to air attack by shore-based aircraft in the future, so that the broad effect will be that the oceans and high seas will become a vast no man's land. But that is no good to us. We want to use the sea ourselves. The denial of the sea to the enemy has been only one part of our naval responsibilities in the past. The more important and more difficult part has been to enable our own ships to use the sea.
I will not weary the House with the platitudes about the need we have of sea-borne supplies, but it is my contention that shore-based aircraft cannot possibly now, or in the foreseeable future, provide the necessary fighter protection to cover our ships at sea against air attack. That surely is a point which requires special consideration in view of the sinister figure of 4,000 Russian naval aircraft against which the Admiralty has warned us.
When we review naval problems there is today, I feel, need for some radical thinking about what are the correct responsibilities of the various Services, and I hope that my right hon. Friend, newly come to the office of the Minister of Defence, will be able to review these things in a new light.
Suggestions have been made. Indeed, from the opposite side of the House, the 190 hon. Gentleman the Member for Cardiff. South-East (Mr. Callaghan), for instance, suggested that there should be some kind of fusion between the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy. I am not in a position to commit myself as to the feasibility of this suggestion, but I think that at least this merits the most careful consideration. It will certainly meet the most heated opposition from some senior officers of both Services who are, naturally, imbued with the traditions of their respective Services, after many years of service, but that does not mean that this suggestion is not in the general interest.
What worries me, as I have tried to indicate in what I have said, is that the Navy will be faced with a decline, both in its strength and in its morale, too, because a declining Service is never in a very happy position. That would not at all be in the interests of this country. If people felt that our Royal Navy, with its great traditions, were to be allowed to go into a decline with lowered morale they would be dismayed indeed. I think that if this suggestion could be found practicable it would offer certain great advantages.
It would undoubtedly enable both the Services to contribute their best in a joint effort to solve our problems at sea, and it would avoid inter-Service acrimony, which might otherwise arise with very serious results. I ask my right hon. Friend, therefore, at least to consider what can be done to investigate its feasibility. I myself have repeatedly asked for an impartial inquiry into this matter. This suggestion is, perhaps, another approach to the same problem.
I would like to conclude by asking my right hon. Friend whether, in view of what I have said, he will consider making a statement, not necessarily now but a considered statement as to what is, in fact, to be the future rôle and size of the Royal Navy, and about whether any of its traditional functions are to be transferred to any other Service or Services. I would also ask him whether he can give us the Government's assessment as to what is considered to be the likely use in the event of hostilities of the formidable Soviet naval force which is being built up.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
I was amused when I heard the Prime Minister's confession that his telegram to Field Marshal Montgomery was a figment of his imagination. I was amused, but not surprised; because when I read in the Press the account of his speech and began to consider the evidence that was available it became clear what had happened. Naturally, I feel some sympathy with the Prime Minister in having to come here today and confess that he did not send the telegram, but what must one feel for Field Marshal Montgomery? He is on record in "The Times," under dateline Washington, 24th November, as saying:'It is true,' Lord Montgomery told our correspondent 'I received a telegram, but I'm not saying what happened.'So the Field Marshal admits he received a telegram which the Prime Minister now says that he never sent. That is humorous, but it is also very serious. It is not only the Russians who have been misled, but we must watch the extent to which the British people have been hoodwinked. Since last Wednesday the readers of neither the "Daily Mail" nor the "Daily Express" have yet found out what the Prime Minister is supposed to have said at Woodford, and I suppose it is even money that tomorrow morning they will not be told what he said today.
The Prime Minister has appointed key men in different positions, men who are capable of defending him when the emergency arises. Field Marshal Montgomery sprang to the defence of the Prime Minister, and it did not matter to him whether he was telling the truth or not. I have no confidence in public men holding positions of great responsibility who behave in that way.
Neither have I any confidence in the B.B.C., because the Prime Minister's nominee—another close associate of his—General Sir Ian Jacob, occupies the position of Director-General. I do not think that the British public have been told the truth. I do not think that either the B.B.C. or the British Press has handled with any degree of responsibility what the Prime Minister said since last Wednesday.
It is true that the Prime Minister now says that a telegram was not sent. He says the telegram did not go. Of course, 192 this is what I believed all the time, but that, again, does not underline the serious side of the matter. I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) was right when he said that the serious thing is that there has been no Soviet reaction. The Soviet Union can turn round and say, "We knew this all the time." [Laughter.] Hon. Gentleman on the other side laugh and jeer. They think that, after all, they knew all the time, and that it was the Prime Minister's great prescience that led him to realise that Anglo-Soviet relations might develop in such a way in 1945 that he might be prepared to rearm Nazi troops. Is that a tribute to his great genius?
But the question which this House and the country must ask is the extent to which the Prime Minister's action is responsible for Soviet behaviour in the post-war world. It is a very great responsibility. Here, I want to relate a personal anecdote and make an apology, in so far as my words are able to reach him, to Marshal Voroshilov. It is not my practice to put my fingers to my nose and run away, but there has been something about Soviet policy that has worried me for a long time, and when I had the opportunity of going to the Kremlin I said a few words about it.
It was the fact that the Soviet Union has consistently written down this country's war effort. So far as my support for our rearmament programme is concerned, and, for what it is worth, it has been given not because I wanted any war to break out—God forbid that it should—but because I wanted the voice of this country to be heard in the councils of the nations. That is why I supported rearmament. When I read that in the Great Russian Encyclopædia our war effort had been written off as of no account I realised that this was a very serious matter indeed.
I came to the conclusion that if the Russians could write Britain off in this way, a most difficult situation could arise through an underestimation of our strength and purpose. So, when I accompanied the Parliamentary delegation to Russia, I shocked some of my colleagues—not Lord Coleraine or my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans), because I spoke to Marshal Voroshilov in blunt terms on this 193 subject. I told him that I had been to Stalingrad and had seen the ground over which his troops had fought, and that I had a great admiration for their gallantry. I also told him that I had never doubted that any man, woman or child in Great Britain had not applauded the Russian war effort, but I also went on to say that, having read in the Great Russian Encyclopædia that our war effort was of no account, I must remind him that Great Britain was the only country that came into the war when it started, and that neither Russia nor the United States came in because they wanted to, but because they could not stay out of it.
The Marshal was slightly apologetic, and said that, as far as he was concerned, he never said these things. Mr. Gromyko, of course, is a diplomat, and he just wrung his hands a little and said that, after all, it was a misunderstanding. I told him that it was not a misunderstanding when one could read, as I had read, what appeared in the Great Soviet Encyclopædia, and that I understood what was in the Russian mind.
They knew, and they had every reason to know, that these statements last week were not figments of the Prime Minister's imagination. He may have imagined the telegram. He may have said that it had no political significance at that moment, but here was the great Cassandra looking into the crystal ball to foresee the future, for better or worse, and sometimes for better and sometimes for worse.
I remember some articles written by Walter Lippman in 1946, and I spent some time yesterday and today looking them up, because I remember the rumours at the time these articles were written. The rumours were that Lord Halifax, who was our Ambassador in Washington at that time, had sent for Mr. Lippman and had tried to convince him that there was no truth in what he was writing in the "New York Herald-Tribune," which was also published in the "Daily Mail" here.
I would remind the House, when my hon. Friends are supporting the proposal to keep four of our divisions on the Continent for 44 years, what Lippman said, not at Woodford in 1954, but in the "New York Herald-Tribune" in America and in the "Daily Mail'' here in 1946. He wrote: 194The British, who like to think of the continuity of their foreign policy, even when it is wrong, are reverting to the notion of Neville Chamberlain that Britain can turn Germany against Russia.He went on:There is also a German army, a large and good one, which surrendered to the British. The story of that surrender has still to be told in detail. The story of what happened to that German army after the surrender is still hidden behind a silken curtain. Enough is known to warrant the statement that the corps of officers in this particular army were treated with exceptional consideration, with enough chivalry to justify them in feeling that their careers as professional soldiers were not necessarily and finally terminated. Their treatment may have been, in fact, merely sportsmanship to a loser and chivalry to the vanquished. But it has suited remarkably what these German nationalists most want to believe, namely, that they will live to fight another war in which Germany will recover her territory and her greatness.I hope that the Prime Minister or somebody on the Front Bench opposite will answer that very serious charge that the foundations of this country's post-war policy were, in fact, a return to Chamberlain and the idea that Germany would turn on the Soviet Union, because I do not believe that any public man in 1945 or 1946 could have said that in this country.
Of course, the story now, partly as a result of Russian intransigence and partly because of the disclosures of the Prime Minister, has been made very different. I do not want to deal with this at any length, and I certainly do not want to make political capital out of it. My heart is heavy with foreboding. The British people have not been told the truth about the foundations of our post-war policy, and, in particular, the truth about our defences. Last week, when we had a debate, I was not fortunate enough to catch the eye of Mr. Speaker, but I wanted to make the simple point that it is all very well to say that four divisions of our troops are to stay on the Continent of Europe for 44 years, but, as the hon. and gallant Member for Merton and Morden (Captain Ryder) has just said, we cannot have a great Navy, a great Army and a great Air Force as well.
I do not believe that we can. Those days have gone for ever. We have to remember that Britain in the post-war world is a marginal Power. I have said over and over again that I welcome getting our defence policy and organisa- 195 tion on to a basis upon which there is common agreement, but not in the way my right hon. Friend meant. I want no secret sitting in which the Prime Minister makes his speech, keeps a copy of it, and then publishes it a few years afterwards, whereas if I go outside and say a single word I am charged with a breach of Privilege. That is no sort of way in which to conduct our affairs. Let us start in the simple way—
§ Mr. Bellenger
I do not wish to interrupt my hon. Friend, but I think I ought to say that it was true that during the war any hon. Member of the House, including the Prime Minister, who made a statement outside this House of what happened in a secret sitting was liable to summary treatment, but I understood that that ceased to apply after the war.
§ Mr. Wigg
I have not so much confidence in the rules as that, for it is not so much the rules but the application of the rules and to whom they are applied. I know what would happen to me if, after a secret sitting, I revealed anything that had been said.
I am also aware that the Ministry of Defence and the War Office are among the most "leaky" organisations in the world. When we were the Government of this country, I used to be amused at the speeches of the present Secretary of State for War and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and I spent as much effort in tracking where the leakages came from as I have since last Wednesday before making up my mind about the Prime Minister's telegram. It always seems rather curious to me that these leakages occur mostly when the Conservative Party are on these benches.
The proposal I want to put forward is one which is not new. I do not want any discussion of the subject in a secret sitting nor do I want any collaboration between the party leaders on each side of the House. I will tell the House why. The party leaders on both sides are beyond military age, and so am I for that matter. We ought to have—
§ Mr. Wigg
Again, I find some difficulty in following my hon. Friend. I did not mention anything about coalition. What I said was that a secret sitting, in which one side keeps a record of their speeches and subsequently publishes them while the other side is in danger of censure by the House for a breach of Privilege is not the kind of thing that I am prepared to support.
I was going on to say that if there were a meeting of the leaders of both parties on this subject, we might then find ourselves being told how different things would appear to us if we could be told the truth. We want none of that. It is one of the first requirements of a democrat that he should be able to make up his mind on limited evidence. On a previous occasion I put forward a specific proposal which points the way for us all to be associated, and I will suggest it again.
We had a row over the Army and Air Force Acts, but subsequently we appointed a Select Committee and it did a good job. I believe that the Government are to introduce legislation based on the recommendations of that Committee. That suggests a course which we can follow in the case of the National Service Acts. They are certainly not operating as my right hon. Friends thought they would when they piloted them through this House.
I go further and say that they have broken down. It is equally true that the recruiting programme has also broken down. I have said before, and I say it again, that the main responsibility for that lies on the shoulders of the Secretary of State for War. In November, 1951, he introduced the three-year engagement scheme—three years with the Colours and four years with the Reserve. That scheme had succeeded in the Air Force and he adopted it for the Army, but he failed to appreciate the difference in the Army compared with the Air Force.
197 The right hon. Gentleman's colleague, the then Under-Secretary of State for War, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Scotstoun (Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison), is on record on 9th March, 1953, as saying that his right hon. Friend would be satisfied if he could get 33⅓ per cent. of those who undertook a three-year Regular engagement to extend their service. One in every three was what they wore looking for, but what they got is one in every 27.
In his Written answer last week, the Secretary of State for War told me that of the 13,322 men who undertook short service engagements in the period November, 1951, to March, 1952, only 484 have undertaken prolongations of that engagement. In all parts of the House there are hon. Members who will understand the seriousness of that situation. It means that we are not only cutting into quantity but also into quality, because the recruiting figures have also fallen throughout this year by at least 10 per cent. and they are continuing to fall. As I say, not only are we cutting into quantity, but much more serious we are cutting into quality and we are heading for the time when the senior warrant officers and N.C.Os. are to have only about three years' service.
The right hon. Gentleman must be aware of the seriousness of this position, because he was a Regular soldier and knows what this means. In the British Army at the time of the Battle of Mons I doubt whether there were in the sergeants' messes many men with under seven years' service. A senior N.C.O. has to have years of service to give him the authority to command men in peacetime and in battle. It is absolutely essential in any modern army, if it has to have quality, that there should be a corps of warrant officers and N.C.Os. of great experience. As a result of the policy of the right hon. Gentleman—and he must take personal responsibility for this—the Army is in a parlous condition and that state will continue.
I see the right hon. Gentleman is trying to laugh it off, but let him get up now and tell us that he is satisfied with the present recruiting figures.
§ Mr. Wigg
The right hon. Gentleman is making a cheap appraisal of the position. We never lost sight of the fact that what we were trying to do must be on an all-party basis. He knows that as well, because he used to take part in our early morning operations on the Army Estimates. Many of my hon. Friends on this side of the House also played their part.
What I am asking for is action on an all-party basis just as we had it in the Select Committee on the Army and Air Force Acts. I would plead with the Government to use that same approach here. Let us have a Select Committee, composed of Members of all parties, to inquire into the workings of the National Service Acts and also to look at the Regular recruiting position.
I want to be fair about this. If we change places after the next General Election, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) or my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) again occupy the position of Secretary of State for War, they will not be able very rapidly to put this right. There is no simple answer to this problem. The present Secretary of State for War has done hurt to the Army which will last far beyond his lifetime. The damage he has caused cannot be put right in a generation. The recruiting policy cannot be put right, nor can we have a corps of experienced warrant officers, N.C.Os. and even officers in any short period of time. That is a programme for a period of 25 years, and there is not a single hon. Member in this House, even those with only very brief service, who can deny that.
One can act like a cheap popularity-jack and get quick results by altering the terms of engagement without looking at the long-term problem. That is what the Secretary of State for War did when he failed to appreciate the difference that there is between the Army and the Air Force. If he had any decency he would go outside this House and never show his face here again. That is what he should do, because the record of the achievements of the right hon. Gentleman are to be found in simple figures. Hon. Gentlemen can go to the Vote Office and get a copy of the recruiting figures for this year. After that, let them put down their own Questions about extensions and re-engagements.
199 That is the problem facing this country. We shall not solve it by singing "Happy Birthday to You" or swallowing the apologies of the Prime Minister. Politics concern not only those who are aged, but also those who are taking their first breaths. If we are to do our duty, whilst we pay our adulations to those of 80 years of age, we shall also pay attention to the long-term interests of our country and also to those who are not yet born.
In these last two or three years we have got ourselves into a real mess. It is disguised because we have a dishonest B.B.C. and a dishonest Press. The Russians know the facts, the Germans know the facts, the French know the facts, the Americans know the facts, but the British people still think that, as a result of their efforts and of their expenditure on defence, they now have peace through strength.
It is not true. Any honest man who follows the defence policy of this country knows perfectly well that if there have been any readjustments in the defence position since 1951 they have been in favour of the Soviet Union and not of this country. And they have come about because the Soviet Union has now got the H-bomb. That is the situation and this country is in a position of deadly peril. An economic colossus is being built up in Germany. We may reach the point when the United States may cut into our markets in Asia. We ought to face up to this position.
This subject interests me because it is one which I have spent many years of my life studying. I will not enter into a discussion on economic affairs, but I say that, as far as defence is concerned, we can only afford so much and what we can afford ought to be of the best and ought to be used to the best possible advantage. When we have the best, then perhaps we can argue about foreign policy. But now I am pleading for unity in all parts of the House. I plead with the Minister of Defence to put this problem above party so that we can seek solutions through the pooling of experience and through common responsibility.
In the past we have run away from our obligations because defence is a boring, uncomfortable and unpopular 200 subject. Yet in the kind of world in which we live it has to be faced, and I do not believe that any one party can undertake the measures which have to be undertaken, and undertaken quickly. For that reason I make my plea for the maximum amount of knowledge and understanding, but do not let us try to achieve it through "phoney" secret sittings or "phoney" collaboration between two or three right hon. Members. Let us try to do it the democratic way, on a basis of understanding and mutual responsibility.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Sir Eric Errington (Aldershot)
I hope that the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) will forgive me if, after an absence of nine years from this House, I do not follow the line which he has today. The one point on which I agree with the hon. Gentleman is that so far as the Services are concerned we want the best.
This afternoon, I want to raise a matter of considerable importance not only to my constituents but also to the country. It has been discussed frequently before, and it is the question of the retired pay of Service officers. On a day like this, when we have heard earlier of the proposed increases in retirement pensions and benefits, it is appropriate that this matter should be discussed.
The subject has been bedevilled by complicated provisions and by an attempt to equate the retired pay of Service officers with those of the Civil Service. It is true that there have been improvements. In 1952, the Armed Forces family pensions scheme did a certain amount for families of this type, and in 1954 there was a near restoration of the situation, so far as serving officers were concerned, to the position they had in 1919. However, before dealing with the problem of officers under 1919 pension conditions, I want to make a general observation.
If we desire to get the right type of officers for commitments which are likely to be of a permanent character, it is important that the treatment of these men and of their predecessors should be just and, if possible, generous. One result of our technical and scientific development has been the increased demand for long-service Regular officers. The more technical and complicated scientific developments become, the greater the 201 need for those who are prepared to devote a lifetime to that work. Another modern development is that of recruiting Service officers on a democratic basis and, in consequence, the necessity for them to be able to live up to the recognised conditions of officers on their pay, and on their retired pay, without help from private sources.
As I have said, since the war there has been a tendency to equate the position of Service officers on retirement to that of the Civil Service. I deprecate that for several reasons. It is not possible for a serving officer, because of the demands made upon his resources by constant moves and the education of his children, to make those savings which someone living under more fixed conditions is able to make. An important distinction arises also in regard to the normal age of retirement. Whereas the normal age of retirement of a serving officer is between 45 and 50, in the Civil Service it is probably between 60 and 65. The expenses of a serving officer between the ages of 45 and 50 are very often at their height.
The third distinction, which I think it important to make clear, is that the basis of the amount of retired pay for Service officers is not, as in the case of the Civil Service, related to the last active pay received before retirement. Earlier retirement means a longer period of fixed retired income, and the problem facing the officer who retires at the age of 45 is that there is no certainty that he will be able to obtain suitable work in order to amplify his retired pay.
The Government, very properly, have exhorted people in industry to help in this matter, but, so far as I know, there is no procedure or method—apart from the ordinary Ministry of Labour arrangements—by which officers who retire at this early age can be placed in suitable employment, the remuneration from which will help out their retired pay.
It seems to me that there are two logical alternatives as a long-term policy for this matter. The first is to continue to equate the serving officers with the Civil Service on questions of retirement, but only on the basis that there is guaranteed employment to Regular officers up to 60 years of age, and, in addition, that the retired pay is based on the last active 202 pay received. That is one method, I submit, of giving at any rate some degree of satisfaction in the Services.
The alternative seems to be to treat the Services entirely separately from the Civil Service and to leave pay and retired pay as they are at present, plus the cost-of-living adjustment. Whether or not that be the better way of dealing with this problem, I do not know, but I feel that if we are to get the best officers—and that is what we want in the Services these days—we must offer simplicity and a reasonable degree of satisfaction in the terms and conditions under which they come into the Services.
I now wish to refer to the officers under the 1919 rates. It is not too much to say, I think, that not only are these matters very complicated, but that there is a positive jungle of statutes, prerogative instruments and various other types of official papers. It was summed up in Cmd. 9092 in the following way:For Forces' officers this will have the broad effect of restoring the '9½ per cent. cut' for all those who were affected by it. Thus will be removed what for many years has seemed to many people to be a real injustice.That takes no account, of course, of the 20 per cent. rise and fall in the cost of living which was of the essence of the 1919 arrangement.
Paragraph 26 of Cmd. 9092, under the heading "Stabilisation," states:It was in 1932 that the Government of the day took the decision to abandon the system under which the pay of Forces' officers and civil servants and the pensions of those retiring under the 1919 and 1922 arrangements, respectively, varied with the cost of living. They accepted the recommendation of the Royal Commission in respect of civil servants and made similar recommendation made by the May Committee, Cmd. 3920, in respect of Forces' officers.When I read two paragraphs of the May Committee Report I found, to my surprise, that they did not seem to be any authority for the idea of stabilisation. Paragraph 114, which referred to pay, reads as follows:We think it is not inequitable that as from a date as soon as possible after 1st July, 1931, the rate of deduction should be based on average cost of living over a period of six months before that date, and that it should thereafter be subject to more frequent review.That obviously indicates that the cost of living should be more quickly ascertained and should be represented by quicker adjustment to meet the cost of living.
203 Paragraph 173 states:In the case of officers, in view of the system of cost of living adjustment, it was apparently considered unnecessary to lay down new scales of retired pay in 1930 when the men's pensions were revised. We have already recommended an acceleration of the cost of living adjustment on pay and existing pensions and a similar adjustment should be made on future pensions.Therefore, the position is that the May Report, which is quoted as justifying stabilisation, recommends the opposite of stabilisation—more frequent adjustment following on the cost of living. If that is so, then I submit that Cmd. 9092, which deals with this matter, is based on a completely wrong premise in so far as it deals with the question of the May Committee Report. It should be remembered that the May Committee Report had as its object the making of the most appropriate economies which could be made at a time when economy was the main object of national policy. I suggest, therefore, that it was unfair to stabilise these officers' retired pay.
The situation today is that the difference between the stabilised amount, which was 9½ per cent. below the 1919 rate, has nearly been put back, but that the cost-of-living position has not been dealt with at all in spite of the promise made that there would be a 20 per cent. adjustment in the cost of living, either downwards or upwards.
In comparison with the cost of living, the figure at which the maximum percentage of 20 per cent. would be added is 216. But today the figure stands at 268. So it is obvious that for a long time retired officers in receipt of retired pensions, not having their cost of living addition of up to 20 per cent., have been suffering severe loss.
I could raise a number of consequential matters, but I do not desire to do so, because of their complexity. I suggest, however, that the Government should again look into this matter, and on two bases. The first is to satisfy existing pensioners of the bona fides of the Government and to give them the confidence to recommend a career in the fighting Services to people who seek their advice about the conditions. Secondly, I suggest that it would not be improper for the Government to implement the stated intention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the Blackpool Conservative 204 Party Conference—that the Government must also help the pensioners and those living on fixed incomes, especially the old-age pensioners and ex-Service men and their wives.
The practical suggestions I make to the right hon. Gentleman are either to go back to the original arrangement, by which 20 per cent. could be added to the 1919 basis to meet the increased cost of living, or, if the Government are unwilling to do that, to raise all retired pay for officers to the present rate, which would cost, in the first year, under £2 million. That is a practical and sensible suggestion to achieve my object.
In view of the expressed desire of the Government to help those with fixed incomes, this would be justifiable, not only on grounds of justice to the older retired officers, but on the broader grounds of national policy, in order to secure a more satisfied body of serving officers.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)
I am sure that the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) will join with us in the various Estimates debates in launching an attack on the Government over their treatment of serving officers and men.
§ Sir E. Errington
May I interrupt? I pointed out that the only efforts that have been made to solve this very complicated problem to benefit the retired officers have been made by the Conservative Government.
§ Mr. de Freitas
I am in no way hostile. I am saying that I will welcome the hon. Member's support when we come to deal, at Estimates time, with such problems as the education of the children of serving officers and men.
The hon. Member said that one of the problems arose because Service personnel were moved about a great deal. We discussed that problem in the last debate on the Air Estimates. There are many injustices that serving officers and men suffer from the' very fact that they are constantly moved about. It is not only a question of pensions. The problem arises while men are serving.
The hon. and gallant Member for Merton and Morden (Captain Ryder) made a point which, I hope, will be studied by the Minister. He developed the 205 argument about the need for investigating an amalgamation of the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy. We have to realise that all the admirals and all the air marshals will oppose it. We have to realise that we now have three traditional Services, and on top of that set-up we have the new weapons and the new conceptions of defence.
The R.A.F. was formed out of an amalgamation of parts of the two older Services. It was a compromise Service even in the very uniform. The officers' tunics are in Army style, not with a soft collar, but with a semi-stiff collar, and with naval markings.
The Royal Air Force had an important part to play and was developed to play the rôle which won the Battle of Britain. Similarly, the United States Navy developed its aviation in aircraft carriers and it was developed at just the right time to play a vitally important part in the Pacific War.
But there is nothing fixed about the conditions that may be met either over Europe or in other parts of the world. I ask the Minister of Defence to look at this point and to study it. I am not saying there can be such an amalgamation. I am saying that a study should be made and I am pleased to find so many hon. and gallant Members on both sides of the House supporting that plea.
This afternoon the Prime Minister gave an explanation which has allayed some worries. But that it had to come, that we had to discuss it at all, is most unfortunate in view of the fact that last week, when the speech was made, was the time we were coming into close association with nations on the Continent.
We have to recognise that there is a phrase on the Continent, "perfidious Albion." We have to recognise that throughout the centuries our style of warfare, our style of defending ourselves from an island base, with alliances with one and then alliances with another, has developed on the Continent this suspicious attitude towards us. It is a tragedy that, just at the time we were becoming a Continental Power, this matter should have arisen. In becoming suddenly a Continental land Power there is a danger of becoming Continental minded.
The armaments pool reports which are to be studied by the W.E.U. Assembly, were originally to be studied by the repre- 206 sentatives of the countries of the W.E.U. at the Assembly of the Council of Europe. As hon. Members know, there was a great change between the London text and the Paris text. In London it was decided that those representatives who were to study the military reports were to be merely the Representatives at Strasbourg. Between London and Paris this idea was completely changed and a new Assembly came to be created.
There are several dangers in having this new Assembly—the obvious ones will occur to those who have followed the work of the Council of Europe in recent years. There is the danger that by narrowing down the Assembly to only half the Council of Europe it will become even more parochial than the Council of Europe itself, a very real danger when dealing with military matters, because it tends to ignore even more than does the Council of Europe the fact that today so much power lies outside Europe.
Another danger is that of wasting time—that instead of these representatives considering the military and other reports that come to them they will spend their time on the old wrangles on federation that went on at Strasbourg for years. The third danger of this small Assembly is that the link between these countries and the outside world will be through N.A.T.O. rather than through the Council of Europe, which will be weakened.
That is a serious weakness. N.A.T.O. has a great disadvantage. It is a military defensive alliance. There is no opportunity for evolving institutions which can show that the Atlantic Powers are interested in something besides armed forces. Those who take a contrary view point to Article 2 of the Treaty and say that it refers to the social, political and humanitarian aspects of the alliance. They can point also to the fact that the Secretary-General of N.A.T.O. has put out pamphlets, especially one in April of this year, which emphasised the social, political and humanitarian work of N.A.T.O.
But the fact remains that the public believe, as a result of the regular and widely reported speeches made by the successive generals at N.A.T.O. headquarters, that N.A.T.O. is entirely a military organisation. That is a real disadvantage. There is yet another. Even if N.A.T.O. could evolve institutions which would show that the 207 Atlantic Powers were interested in something besides armed forces, we should have the great problem that two such important countries as Sweden and the Irish Republic are not in the organisation.
Thus we are driven to this position. The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs assured us recently that everything would be done to try to get this W.E.U. Assembly integrated into the Council of Europe. I am glad that that was said. Let us remember that the Council of Europe is a political, social and cultural organisation. Unlike N.A.T.O., it does not start by being compromised. We can give thanks for that when thinking of the development of the Council of Europe into a council of the Atlantic, including Canada and the U.S.A.
There are several difficulties in considering such a development, the first of which is that we have not thought about the problem. When I say "we" I mean this House and the Government. In the last three years we have had only one debate on the Council of Europe. Today, when the Leader of the House was asked a question by the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell) about the business of Members who go to Strasbourg as our representatives, he said that it was a novel point. Of course it was not. It was raised two or three years ago but, obviously, the right hon. Gentleman had not given it any consideration. It is a small point, but it shows how we have neglected the subject in this House.
It is also important to consider this development of the Council of Europe and the results that would follow. The second difficulty is that we are not accustomed to thinking that ordinary Members of Parliament have much power in foreign affairs or in questions of defence. Under our system the Government of the day have the power. That blinds us to the fact that in most foreign countries, especially in the United States, the ordinary private Member has an important part to play in these affairs, and that these private Members would be exposed to international debate sitting among back benchers of other countries.
The third difficulty is seldom realised. The Americans have another disadvantage. They do not appreciate the consul- 208 tative role of a parliamentary body. They do not take easily to that idea, because they think in terms of a legislature. They think that elected people are there to make laws. We know that in most countries that is only part of the function of an elected House and, in may cases, it is not half the function.
I am encouraged that there may be a development of the Council of Europe into a Council of the Atlantic, because younger hon. Members take considerably more interest in the matter than others. When we had a debate on the Council of Europe a year ago all but two or three hon. Members who took part were under the age of 45. The fact that there is an interest in this development of an institution like the Council of Europe gives me a great deal of hope at a time when we are going into Europe through our Armed Forces commitments and linking up with the small Assembly of Seven. This association with a restricted assembly could have serious results in making for parochial discussion and ignoring the power that lies outside Europe and wasting the time of the delegates in fruitless wrangles. Only an Atlantic Council could give a sense of proportion.
Canada, as the natural link between Europe and the United States of America, has the main rôle to play if we are to develop an Atlantic assembly. Canada, with its twin religions, cultures and languages, is a fine example of people living peacefully together, an example which Europeans could well follow.
What would be the chief function of such an assembly with Americans and Canadians added to the Europeans who are there today? It would be, first, to debate general issues of world importance so that we could be exposed to each other's views on such matters as the attitude of the various countries to Asia. We should gain from hearing each other's point of view. I think that the Americans would gain even more than we should.
Secondly, it would be to debate particular issues such as the contributions to N.A.T.O. It is all very well to have the Governments fixing them. They have the responsibility and, in the long run they have to fix the amount. But, for example, we do not understand why the 209 French believe that they are carrying a very heavy load when they have a shorter period of military conscription than we have. Another country does not understand why France thinks that she has a heavy load, and others ask why Belgium has cut her term of military service. We read of these matters only in the newspapers.
This would be a valuable subject for debate among the back benchers representing the various parties in the Parliaments of the countries of the Atlantic. Let me remind the Minister of Defence that, in the long run, it would bring greater understanding and, therefore, greater strength to the important defensive alliance of N.A.T.O. which has been built up over the years, and which is now supported by all hon. Members of this House.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Sir Ian Fraser (Morecambe and Lonsdale)
It seems to me that the most important thing in the domestic field which the Conservative Party have done since they have been in office has been to confirm all the main features of the Welfare State. I, for one, never doubted that they would do so, but there were some who doubted it.
It is now clear beyond a peradventure that the benefit of the Welfare State, designed in war-time, instituted by the Governments after the war, is a lasting and well-established part of our way of life. I rejoice that that is so, but it has had certain consequences. One of them is that the inflation during the war years, which was perhaps inevitable, was carried on for about six years afterwards.
To pay for the war, and for the Welfare State, one of the things which we had to do was to depreciate the value of money, to take away money's worth from a very large section of the community. That section included some rich men—which gratified some people—some middle-class people, a very large body of poorer people, and retired people and people with small incomes who could ill afford it. Many of them have no way of replacing the wealth thus lost. They cannot go to work. They cannot strike—many would not want to. They are wholly dependent upon what money will buy, and they have no way of influencing their own fortunes.
I venture to congratulate the Government upon what I consider to be the 210 second most important thing which they have done in the last three years, namely, to halt the extent to which the special taxation of these classes of persons was going on. It has been halted to a large extent, and a trend has set in in another direction.
I have said that in the domestic field the confirmation of the main features of the Welfare State was the first important thing. The change of trend as regards inflation is the second. I think that the nation owes the Government a great deal for that. I have not the time to develop this argument, beyond saying that it is this state of affairs, and because of these broad conclusions which I have drawn, that it now becomes possible for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance to make what I consider to be the satisfactory statement which he made today.
Passing from these broad general observations to the particular aspects which, alone, are permitted to be debated on this Motion, I wish to say a few words in explanation to colleagues who may not be quite so familiar with these matters as are some of my expert advisers; and also to make clear to many of my friends outside the House who may read HANSARD what, broadly, are the provisions made for war pensioners and widows. I will do so quite briefly.
Inevitably, there will be some disappointments among a large number of war pensioners who receive a proportionately smaller pension than the maximum—men who have an 80 per cent., 70 per cent., 50 per cent. or 40 per cent. disability. Many of them have got into the habit of thinking of a rise for them as if it could be compared with the rises given to men in employment. They read from time to time, or hear on the radio, of this rise or that—8s. or 10s. a week, or so much a shift—occurring every few months or year or two in great branches of industry, and they say, "Where is my lot?" When the time comes for them, the rise in pension which they receive may be only a few shillings.
It is best that these matters should be well understood, and, of course, it is clear that these men are receiving a relatively small amount because they suffer from relatively small disabilities when measured by the medical standards familiar to hon. Members of this House 211 and all those in ex-Service men's organisations who study these matters. They suffer from small disabilities measured by such medical standards, and therefore they get a small proportion of the pension. Their rise accordingly seems a small amount. A matter about which I am sure that some people will feel regret is that the money which could have been available was not enough to raise the basic rate so materially as to give this considerable number of men larger weekly additions to their pensions.
Broadly speaking, the plight in which all these classes of people find themselves is due to the inflation during the war years and the inflation during the six years after the war. According to the statements made by hon. Members opposite from time to time, and the statements from the Government, which have now been formulated in the Minister's statement today, there seems to be an agreement to make up to these classes of ex-Service men for the inflation of the post-war years.
I welcome that, but hon. Members on both sides of the House seem also to have agreed not to do anything about the inflation of the war-time years and I consider that to be a problem which must be dealt with at some time. All classes, rich and poor, strong and weak, must, unhappily, bear the burdens and suffer the dislocations and bereavements of war. But it seems hard that those ex-Service men, especially those who were grievously wounded in the First World War, should be among the people who pay relatively most for that victory and for the prosecution of the Second World War.
Having said that, let me point out some further details of the proposals which have been put before us today. It will be in the minds of hon. Members that the British Legion was asking for a rise in the basic rate to 90s. a week. The present amount is 55s. a week, so that, in effect, the Legion was saying, "Give to the 100 per cent. man an extra 35s."
My right hon. Friend has given a little more than that per week to a small number of most severely disabled men. I will not analyse how that is, but it is so. There are some men known personally to me who will get a little more than the British Legion asked for. Without exaggerating the importance of this, or 212 its cost, I should like the House to know how much that is appreciated.
Then there are the 22,000 men who will benefit by the 10s. rise in the unemployability supplement. The main point on that is that the whole 10s. rise is paid to any person who qualifies for that allowance. If he is a 60 per cent. man, or a 50 per cent. man, he is not graded down; and so it follows that some 22,000 men will get, not the 35s. for which the Legion asked, but a substantial proportion, possibly as much as two-thirds or four-fifths of it, and I thank the Government for that.
Included in that group are some men who will actually get a little more than the Legion asked for. Some men with a 50 per cent. or 60 per cent. pension—in respect of whom we had asked for 50 per cent. or 60 per cent. of 35s.—will now get their percentage of the basic rate plus the whole 10s. unemployability allowance. These are generous aspects of the proposals, for which I tender thanks. There are cases in which the differential—that is, the little extra which is given to ex-Service men and women—has been increased, and not merely maintained. That has occurred in the case of many ex-Service men, and also in the case of all the war widows, and I thank the Government for that.
I should like to place on record—as, I fancy, all hon. Members might like to do were we able to concentrate entirely upon this matter instead of debating so many diverse subjects at once—my appreciation of the way in which these matters have been put before us by the ex-Service societies and, more especially, the British Legion and B.L.E.S.M.A. As the year proceeds, the British Legion, through its very skilled Pensions Committee, its National Council, and at its various conferences, will no doubt study these details to see how they apply to the various classes of men and women in whom it is interested.
In due course the Legion will probably come to a view upon the matter, taking into account its own long-standing campaign, together with the needs of others and the finances of the whole community. It will consider the needs of some others amongst the ex-Service community—certain retired, semi-military police and officers—whose case was so eloquently 213 expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington). It will also consider certain similar cases which I am not able to say are or are not included in the statement made today.
For all those reasons final judgment upon this matter must be suspended, and may be somewhat delayed, but in all the circumstances, taking particularly into account the great burdens which we are now bearing on behalf of our old people, and the fact that all ex-Service men will become old—all those who served in the First World War must now average 64 or 65 years and are very near to being concerned with retirement pensions—it may well be thought that this Parliament, and Members on both sides of the House, will have done more for disabled ex-Service men and widows than any other Parliament has ever done. Even if we have to come back to Parliament later and ask for further consideration of our affairs, I am sure that the ex-Service community would wish me to say "Thank you" to this Parliament.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry Usborne (Birmingham, Yardley)
I was very glad to hear the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) begin his speech by saying that he believed that the Welfare State was now a permanent feature of our island life. I am hopeful that that is true, but I am sometimes a little dubious when hon. Members opposite, who gave us so very little support between 1945 and 1950, when we were trying to build the foundations of the structure, now belatedly say that they approve of the building. I should like to speak at considerable length upon the Gracious Speech, but there are so many things to be said that I must obviously limit my remarks.
I am delighted that the Speech says that the pension rates are to be raised. We were all pleased when we heard today, in more precise detail, the extent of those increases. I have long believed that the pension rates were totally inadequate and that the case for increasing them was overwhelming. Although I did not really sympathise with it, I understood the argument of the Government for delaying any action until they had seen the Actuary's Report.
I suggest that the whole idea of making pensions and benefits contributory is now 214 quite farcical. That system no longer suits the world in which we live, and the sooner we give up the concept that pensions and benefits should be based upon individual contributions the more sensible we shall be. As I see it, contributions are just one form of taxation, or one method of revenue raising. The Chancellor must raise the revenue he requires in the way he thinks best and then, out of the "kitty," through the various Departments, pay for the social benefits that the community requires and Parliament believes are necessary.
I want to address myself primarily to the fourth paragraph of the Gracious Speech, which deals with Britain's attitude to N.A.T.O. and to the London and Paris Agreements. Before dealing specifically with that matter, however, I want to say a few words upon what I might call the "Woodford gaffe." When I read the reports of the Prime Minister's speech I must admit that I was not very surprised. I did not know whether such a telegram had ever been sent in May, 1945; and when I read what Field Marshal Montgomery had said in answer to the correspondence I raised my eyebrows and thought to myself, "No, it never was sent, but Field Marshal Montgomery is not going to let his pal down."
The significant fact is not that the Prime Minister, in a moment of indiscretion, let a cat out of the bag the significance of the matter—if there be any great significance—is that some hon. and right hon. Gentlemen should treat it as though it were really a critical occasion. As an unashamed and admitted world federalist—a man who does not believe that the affairs of the human family can any longer be successfully managed on the basis of dividing the world into national sovereign States—it has always seemed to me quite inevitable that as soon as sovereign nations have finished one war they must, on the very same day, start preparing for the next. As soon as they have demolished the power of the greatest combination which they fear there will immediately arise to take its place the next greatest combination, which then becomes the paramount Power to be feared and fought. It therefore did not surprise me in the very least that as the power of the Nazis was broken and the power of Germany was crushed, 215 at that very moment we would have to take steps automatically to prepare ourselves against the danger of the next hostile Power.
I suppose that anyone who understood that analysis knew perfectly well which Power that would be, as seen from London. Those who make too much of this and who raise more indignation than they can contain are probably saying that it is wrong for the diplomat to let the cat out of the bag. It is true that if the affairs of the human family and of the British in particular have to be conducted on the basis of diplomacy, it is better that our leading statesmen should be diplomatic.
I have read that a diplomat is a man who lies abroad for the good of his country. I would put the word "diplomat" in quotation marks and add, "not always abroad." Those who criticise diplomats and statesmen in general must either say that they believe that the facts of Power politics should always be honourably explained to the public or they must propose some way by which the affairs of the nation will no longer be conducted on the basis of diplomacy.
I disapprove entirely of the fact that there are sovereign States and that diplomacy must be the method by which their negotiations are conducted, but, that being the case, it is abundantly obvious to me that those negotiations can only be conducted on the basis of deluding nine-tenths of the people for nine-tenths of the time. It is obvious that the people of this country, at the end of the war, were more than nine-tenths deluded, and that they had to be.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey (Harrow, East)
Is the hon. Member referring to the result of the 1945 General Election?
§ Mr. Usborne
I was not referring to it, although I could have done so. If I had done so I should not have alluded to it in that fashion. I therefore thank the hon. Member for the interruption and shall pay no further attention to it.
I was referring to the attitude of mind which, I believe, must have been prevalent among all the Ministers in the Cabinet at that time, among all the folk who "knew the score." I should 216 imagine that most public men in both parties must have realised—if they understood what was going on at all—that these kind of precautions were inevitably taken. The only thing that comes out of this affair is that the Prime Minister, in a moment of indiscretion, said something which he obviously now lives to regret. It was very charming and characteristic of him to have the magnanimity to admit that he had made a fool of himself and to say that he is sorry. I admire him greatly for that as for a great many other things.
If a great man makes a fool of himself it is perfectly proper for party politics to be invoked and some party advantages to be scored if possible; but I do urge my colleagues not to press this matter too far. If we do we may only give the impression to the public, who are much more aware of the true facts than we sometimes suppose, that we ourselves are ingenuous and were not aware of the hard facts. I do not think that that will do us any good.
There is one more subject which I want to mention. I admit that it is a digression but, nevertheless, it has some connection with the Prime Minister and is, in a sense, I suppose, another kind of gaffe. I want to refer to the portrait that was presented yesterday on behalf of both Houses to the Prime Minister on his 80th birthday. I happen to hold a view, which is not an idea that has just come to me today, as hon. Members who lunched with me yesterday will admit on recollecting that I then bored them almost to tears. I believe that on this issue Lord Hailsham was right. On reflection, I am ashamed of that picture. It was in very bad taste that we should have given such a portrait to the Prime Minister, but in view of the fact that it was commissioned and painted I doubt whether it would have been very easy not to have given it to him.
I admit straight away that I consider that this portrait is a great painting and that in 50 or 100 years' time it will be regarded as perhaps the greatest portrait of the century, but quite candidly, I do not believe that hon. Members of this House particularly wanted to commission the greatest painting, of the century. They wanted to buy a picture to give to someone they admired who would like it on his 80th birthday.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
In view of the fact that a famous artist has been attacked, and that I sit opposite to the Prime Minister and see more of him than do most people, I should like to pay tribute to an excellent portrait. I see it as a picture of a depressed looking old man thinking of the atom bomb.
§ Mr. Usborne
The character of a man is made up of dozens of different facets and those facets he is apt to present in response to the people with whom he happens to be and the circumstances that prevail at a given moment. It is the function of a portrait painter to try to depict as many of those facets as he can. No human artist can display or even know all the facets which go to make up the complete crystal of the human being. Sutherland obviously decided to depict a number of them and he has wonderfully so done. If I were asked to describe which particular character he has most emphasised, I would say that he has illustrated the Prime Minister at the moment when a delegation of his unfaithful Cabinet colleagues came to present him with a demand for his resignation.
§ Mr. Speaker
With the greatest desire to allow latitude in the debate, I cannot see how these artistic matters pertain to the Address in answer to the Gracious Speech.
§ Mr. Usborne
I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker. It was possibly irrelevant. I would only add that if that was what Sutherland tried to paint I think that he suspected that the Prime Minister would not give way to the delegation which I suggested that he might have imagined.
§ Mr. Rankin
Is it not the case that an hon. Member can deal not merely with what is in the Gracious Speech, but with many things that have been omitted from it, Sir.
§ Mr. Speaker
There are limits to that. If that were not the case, hon. Members could talk about anything in the universe.
§ Mr. Usborne
I would not wish to talk about everything in the universe, nor to continue at length with this topic. I have made my position clear. I thought that it was proper to do so, but I may have been out of order.
218 I shall go on to refer to something else which may also have been a gaffe. I cannot say, but I would commend it to collectors of Churchilliana. It was about a year ago that the Prime Minister made what may become the great prophecy of 1953. The House may remember that in his speech of 11th May, 1953, he mentioned that it was in his mind that one day a kind of Locarno Treaty in Europe might become possible. I believe that a good many people thought that that was a wonderful vision and were inclined to cheer. If it ever does come to pass, I do not think that we should necessarily cheer, and I am certain that a subsequent generation would live not to cheer at all.
I would remind the House of what another great statesman, who also played some part in its drafting, said of the Locarno Treaty. On 11th May the Prime Minister said:The Locarno Treaty of 1925 has been in my mind. It was the highest point we reached between the wars. As Chancellor of the Exchequer in those days I was closely acquainted with it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th May, 1953; Vol. 515. c. 896.]In Lord Cecil's "A Great Experiment," written soon afterwards, appears the following comment:I doubt if Locarno was ever popular, though at the time I thought it was. Perhaps the common people, with their remarkable political sense, recognised that a particular arrangement of this kind could not be a basis for a lasting peace.The fourth paragraph of the Gracious Speech states that the Government are in favour of supporting the North Atlantic Pact and the London and Paris Treaty. I do not share that enthusiasm. I do not believe that the London and Paris Agreements were a good thing at all. I do not think they were a particularly bad thing. In fact, I do not think they were particularly important either way. The pity of it was that there was a great opportunity to take a particular step which would have been worth taking, but that opportunity has not been seized.
Instead, Agreements between a number of sovereign States have been drawn up. It is thought, and hoped, that all the signatories of the London and Paris Agreements will get round to ratifying them. They are merely Agreements between a number of sovereign States to behave in impeccable fashion, and we are trying to get them ratified. A great many 219 simple people apparently believe that the Agreements will mean what they say.
People like myself, who have never had any faith in treaties between sovereign States and regard them all as scraps of paper, are told that the Agreements now create such a complicated infrastructure that the logistical tangles between the military formations of the various States in the alliance are so complex, that the eggs have been so firmly scrambled—if one does firmly scramble eggs—that they cannot possibly be unscrambled; that, therefore, the fears and apprehensions of people like myself are groundless.
Has the House ever considered the fact that although it might be quite impossible to unscramble N.A.T.O. or these Agreements it is, nevertheless, possible to make them absolutely farcical not by unscrambling them but by adding a pinch of something else? Suppose that in a few years' time so signally successful is the balance of power mechanism that it creates a new atmosphere of amicability throughout the great Powers. Everything in the garden will appear to be quite lovely. The Russians will send repeated teams of Spartaks constantly to be defeated by the Western world and all will play the sportsmen. In this future that I foresee the Russians might very well decide to grant complete freedom in East Germany and might release completely their hold on Eastern European States; and they might say, "We have conceded every point. Let us now have a European treaty of mutual security all the way round." They might remind us of the famous prophecy made by the Prime Minister on 11th May, 1953, about the conversion of N.A.T.O. into a Locarno. How should we react, and what would happen?
The purpose of Locarno, signed by a number of high contracting parties, notably Germany, France and Britain, was that each would ensure the integrity of the others in the event of one attacking another. I suspect that Mr. Molotov and the other Russians might say, "Why cannot we come into N.A.T.O., and why cannot N.A.T.O. be formed into a global pact of mutual security?" We should not have to break up the infrastructure; we should merely have to add to the scrambled eggs a pinch of this Russian salt. Suppose the Russians came in and N.A.T.O. became a world Locarno Pact 220 and every nation solemnly said that it would never attack other nations. Could N.A.T.O. then have any meaning?
In 1925, the Minister then responsible was given the highest honour by the Monarch at the time for bringing into being the Locarno Pact. Fifteen years later the high contracting parties were bombing each other. Scarcely another decade has passed before once again a British Foreign Secretary is given the same signal honour. This time it is not for having completed a treaty—the Agreements have not yet been ratified by the French or the Germans—which could very easily, in a few years' time, grow into another Locarno. Then we should reach full circle, from Sir Austen to Sir Anthony and back again.
I believe that the peace of the world and the good fortune of the human family cannot be managed on this basis at all and that the relations of sovereign States are always stupid, always silly and, in the end, senseless and bloody. I believe the time has come to scrap all that. The only way now is to convert this alliance as quickly as we can into a federal union, a far bigger one than Europe; in fact, I believe it ought to be on a world scale. I believe that M. Monnet, who has recently left the Iron and Steel Pool, is right when he says that these things have been inadequate hitherto. I believe that Sir Oliver Franks was right in the Reith lectures when he said that the European nations of the West must be encouraged to federate forthwith; but that he is wrong to believe that they can do so if we, on the sidelines, tell them what to do but will not join in.
I believe that the time has come when we must say that the federation of "Little Europe" is too little and too tight and that we want something geographically very much larger and practically somewhat looser in the sense that less power should be centralised. I believe that the only functions that need to be centralised or federalised are the functions of defence and the making of foreign policy and that that might attract to it the nations of the British Commonwealth, or most of them, all the nations of Western Europe and as many other nations as Britain, West Germany and France between them could attract and persuade to join.
If our present Western alliance can be turned into a federal commonwealth 221 of nations and if, subsequently Russia or any other nation wished to enter the system, I should say, "Delighted! We shall be very glad indeed to have you, but it must be understood that no nation can come into a federal union unless it surrenders to the federation all its national armed forces. All the armed forces of the union must be federal." I believe that that would make sense.
If that is where we hope to go I do not say that it can be achieved overnight—it is high time that the Government of Britain said openly to the world: "We realise that the pattern of old diplomacy and the anarchic institution of the national sovereign State is played out. Let us now create a governed world."
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. John Baldock (Harborough)
I found myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Yardley (Mr. Usborne) in so far as he said that too much is being made of the Prime Minister's remarks at Woodford, and that the situation must have arisen that once a vacuum was created in Germany by the defeat of Germany somebody would have to come in.
I remember very well the occasions when I visited Russia during the war, and some time before the period about which we are speaking. The anxieties of our countrymen who were stationed there was not whether the Russians were going to be able to hold the Germans but what would happen when they started rolling them back, and how they could prevent themselves from being carried on by their own impetus right up to the North Sea and the English Channel. Fortunately, that did not occur, but no prudent Prime Minister could possibly have ignored the danger.
We can only have the Armed Forces we can afford. To have an Army, a Navy and an Air Force as large and as well-equipped as defence considerations only would require would be entirely out of the question. We must obviously have priorities and compromises between what would be desirable from a defence point of view and what is economically possible. It is because I am extremely disturbed about the diminishing resources which are being appropriated for the Royal Navy from the defence Estimates that I have sought this opportunity to speak.
222 British strategy has obviously been profoundly affected by the London and Paris Agreements. Our land forces are now committed to the Continent, and to that extent we have become just another Continental Power. But we still cannot overcome the geographical fact that we are an island and are completely dependent in war and in peace upon seaborne food and raw materials. We are still in many respects the centre of a world-wide Commonwealth, and the mother country and trustee for a large Colonial Empire.
If, in peace-time, Britain's shipping is seldom in need of protection when about its lawful occasions—as long as it remains more than 200 miles from certain dangerous coasts—nevertheless, as the world's principal trading nation, and as the owner of the world's greatest merchant fleet, we are unable totally to abrogate our responsibility for what takes place on the high seas. Occasions arise when the safety of British subjects far removed from this country is imperilled. To carry even a small force and its equipment to protect them is more than the Air Force, as it is now constituted, is able to do, and it requires assistance from ships.
Should there be another war, the position would become immeasurably more grave. Historians will certainly agree that we were as nearly brought to defeat in both world wars from the blockade of our shipping as from any other danger either on the land or from the air. At the present time, we know that the Soviet Union possesses the greatest submarine fleet that has ever been launched in time of peace. Many of the submarines are far more advanced than the German submarines which were in operation at the end of the war.
The Russians have always interested themselves to a considerable degree in mines. They have specialised in this subject and now, with their improvements on the German limpet and other types of mine which they were able to take over after the war, they have an immense stockpile of mines which it would be extremely difficult to sweep if dropped around our coasts. Leaving out of consideration the Russians' cruiser fleet, which could do great damage by ocean raiding, and for which we have launched no counterpart at all since the war, I believe that the threat to our ships would 223 be greater than at any time in the past two wars.
These are the circumstances in which the British Navy has been allowed to decline, so that now, apart from aircraft carriers, there are today few ships at sea of any significance, with really modern equipment and of modern build. Our naval aircraft are, I contend, in still worse shape than our ships. With the small quantities which are ordered and the method of procurement adopted, I doubt whether that position will improve.
Not less serious than these material deficiencies there are, I believe, the beginnings of general anxiety and apprehension in the Service as to the future size, constitution and functions of the Service. Is it to be a small-ship Navy only, composed of frigates and minesweepers? If so, who deals with these new Russian cruisers, if they come out? What are the prospects for naval airmen when they become too old to fly jet fighters? What effect will atomic weapons and push-button warfare have upon the future rôle of the Service?
I am well aware, after voicing these misgivings about the peril of our island if we were to be attacked by a Power of such overwhelming naval strength as Russia is today, of the need to make some suggestion for a remedy. The malady is now so serious that nothing short of a most drastic change of treatment can have any result. There are problems of morale and of money, and of adjustment to the strategy of the air, the atomic bomb and the guided missile.
Within the bounds of what is possible, I think the most hopeful prescription is that which has already been put into operation in the United States, and which has been mentioned by two hon. Members, one on this side of the House and the other on the opposite benches—the merging of our naval and air forces. This proposal will be met with most violent and sincere resistance, but we should not shrink from an examination of it when so much is at stake. I profoundly hope that the Minister of Defence will give that proposal his consideration.
Such a merger would give an opportunity for the transferring of substantial sums of money from the administrative 224 to the fighting arms of those forces, of transferring weight from the tail to the teeth, and of really reducing the tremendous danger in which this country stands from the effect of blockade by surface forces and underwater weapons; and, not least, an opportunity to preserve that tradition for efficiency and service for which the Royal Navy is renowned throughout the world.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham, East)
Many aspects of defence have been referred to in this debate. I want to raise the larger general question of what all these preparations are for and how far they may make sense in the world in which we live.
Two essential facts stare us in the face as we look at the world today. The first is that the world is divided into two great camps, the chief figures in one camp being the Soviet Union and the Chinese Republic, and the chief figures in the other the United States, ourselves and France. That division of the world is one essential fact, whether we like it or not. The other fact is that, to a greater extent than has ever before been true, if those two camps go to war they will wreak unparalleled destruction on themselves and on the whole of mankind.
In the past there has sometimes been a tendency to exaggerate the destructive power of military weapons. Some of the prophecies before the Second World War about what it would do to civilisation proved in the event to have been exaggerated. Even though we may have been over-pessimistic in the past we have to face the present situation. No one, however foolish or wicked, can dodge the conclusion that, if war starts as a result of anyone's wickedness or imprudence, it will involve all mankind in a catastrophe greater than any in living memory or in recorded history.
What does such a situation involve in the spheres of foreign policy and defence? It is useless for us to say that we want a world in which we shall be all friends. That is so obvious a platitude and so far from immediate realisation that it is no guide to action.
Why I disagree so much with my hon. Friend the Member for Yardley (Mr. Usborne), who spoke of federal government, is that, although I agree that if 225 we could get the nations to accept a form of federal government many of our problems would be solved, my hon. Friend assumes the one basic element which is lacking. That element is the capacity for living together which, unfortunately, the nations have not yet developed.
It is no use basing our policy for the immediate future on something which cannot be realised in the immediate future. For the immediate future we must set our sights much lower. What we want for the immediate future is a line across the world. We, on our side of the line, could then say to the Communist world, "If you stay on your side we can all live in peace. If you come over the line you will meet the combined resistance of everyone on this side."
I do not suggest that that is a basis for a permanent settlement of human affairs. Human affairs, of course, never are permanently settled. I do suggest that the more clearly we can get that position defined now the longer breathing space there will be to make a more satisfactory long-term settlement of the word's problems. That is what we immediately want.
We have such a line across Europe. It is not a very happy circumstance, but at least we know where we are. That that line was defined at the time of the blockade of Berlin is one of the reasons why there has been some alleviation of the foreign situation in recent years. We have such a line, not, perhaps, quite so clearly marked, in Korea. We have another line—still less clearly marked—in South-East Asia. The more definite those lines can become, and the more certain it is that they will be defended, the greater our certainty of more time in which to consider fundamental problems.
When we have gone that far we must not only say "Here is the line which we are prepared to defend," but "We are going to make what is on our side of the line worth defending." Where, at the moment, are the weak spots in the defence of the free world? They are not in a nation like Great Britain or Norway. The reliability of the free world's defences does not depend merely on the size and military power of the nations which we are considering.
The weak spots are to be found in certain parts of our Colonial Empire, and in certain parts of Asia in respect of 226 which we must feel uneasily that the people would not leap to the defence of their country against Communism as would our own people or the Norwegians. That is why, once we can get a breathing space from immediate anxieties, we have to devote our attention to making what is on our side of the line worth defending.
I do not propose to pursue that line of argument. It would bring us to the consideration of measures—which ought to be undertaken through the United Nations—to raise not only the standard of life but the standard of education and the self-confidence of some of the backward regions of the world. That is a matter on which some of my hon. Friends, who have made a more detailed study of it than I have done, will no doubt be seeking to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, in debate on Friday.
Once we have a clear line, and have made it certain that it will be defended, we have to consider whether, by agreement with the Powers on the other side of the line, we can, consonantly with our security, get a great reduction in armaments. I do not believe that the world can go on trying to maintain a balance of power at the present high rate of expenditure on armaments on both sides and yet live permanently at peace.
For the moment it may be enough if we can get a standstill. If we can prevent further aggressions we shall have prevented the fever developing further. We have then to get the temperature down. That means a great reduction of armaments. Such a reduction cannot be effected without a top-level meeting of the chief Powers concerned.
It ought not to be necessary to labour the need for such a meeting, since it was admitted by the whole House in the early part of the summer. The Government did not then attempt to resist the Opposition's Motion for a meeting of the chief statesmen of the three greatest Powers in the world. They accepted that Motion, but since then they have taken no serious steps to bring that meeting about. We have simply been offered one excuse after another, and we must take the opportunity of this debate to ask what they now have in mind.
To my mind, the really serious aspect of the Prime Minister's unfortunate remark at Woodford is that it makes one wonder whether, if such a meeting were 227 held, he should be this country's representative at it. Although he made to us a full and frank expression of regret—and it is marvellous what one can get away with in this House if afterwards one expresses full and frank regret—we are still left wondering why, at this juncture, that remark was made.
Had it been made by someone who deliberately wanted to stir up ill-will among the nations, who wanted to prevent any discussions with the Communist world, one could have understood why it was made, but the Prime Minister has told us over and over again that he is anxious that there should be conversations between ourselves and the countries from whom we are now estranged. We are, therefore, still left wondering why he should have made this remark.
Such a top-level discussion cannot be brought about without an approach to the United States. Earlier this year I spent some months travelling in the United States. I met a great many American citizens. Some of them were engaged in public affairs, some in the trade union movement, some in university work—I met all sorts and conditions.
Very many of us in all parts of the House are thinking in terms of reaching a better understanding with the Soviet Union and with China. I welcome any tendency of that kind, but it should be made quite clear that we are not seeking to enlarge our circle of friends in the East at the expense of the friendship and good will of the people of the United States. It is important that we should make clear to the United States that, when we seek the good will of the peoples of Russia and China, it is not that we wish to change our friends but rather that we wish to enlarge our circle of friends.
I agree entirely with what was said in the Gracious Speech about the importance of friendship between Great Britain and the United States. Some months ago my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) made a remark which commanded the agreement of the entire House—a thing which happens rarely to any of us and, if he will allow me to say so, more rarely to him than to some of us. It was to the effect that if one wants the good will of the Government or the people of the United 228 States one must speak quite frankly about one's differences of opinion with them.
I think that that is so, though I have always held that in any criticisms of the United States or in any expression of differences with its Government or people one ought to couple with that an expression of admiration for the immense generosity which the United States has shown in the years since the war, remembering how many hundreds of millions of people, not only in the free world but in Communist countries, are alive today instead of having perished of famine, as a result of free gifts from the people of the United States.
I say that emphatically because what I have now to say involves certain criticisms of the position of the United States in the world today. The point I have in mind is that there is among the people of the United States—and I certainly would not criticise them or dissent from them for this—a profound detestation of Communism. It is not confined to people who, by reason of class privilege or great wealth, might dislike Communism. It is comparable, indeed, to the detestation of Fascism that could be found among British working-class people in the 1930s, and it is based in part on experience of Communist tactics inside the American trade union movement. It is a deep and widespread sentiment.
When invited to discuss foreign affairs with the various people I met, I found that when I put forward to them the thesis that I put to the House a little while ago, that we ought for the immediate future to think in terms of drawing a line and of making it clear that that line would be defended, and being willing to live at peace if we were not made the subject of an aggression, the usual reaction I got from American people of all types was "Yes, we quite agree; that would be reasonable"; but then they would say in a wistful fashion, "Is there not something more positive that we could do to combat Communism?"
Here we have the impatience of a youthful and vigorous nation. When I asked, "What do you mean by 'something more positive'? Are you thinking in terms of some kind of preventive war, or war of liberation against the Communist world?" I was met with an 229 emphatic "No." Indeed, it was significant that when President Syngman Rhee addressed the American Congress and invited them to engage, through the instrumentality of Chiang Kai-shek, in experiments on the mainland of Asia, he was received in stony silence. It was as if he had held up to the American people a mirror which showed them the temptation lurking in their own minds and, having seen it, they rejected it.
I am sure there is no desire on the part of the American people or Government to wage any kind of preventive war against the Soviet Union or against the Republic of China, but having rejected that idea, they hark back to this phrase, "Is there not something more positive that we can do to combat Communism?" There is something more positive, and it is a matter to which I have already referred—the development, again through United Nations agencies, of all those measures which helped to raise the standard of life and self-confidence of the backward peoples of the world.
There is a channel through which the energy, the wealth, and the desire to do something positive in the world, which the people of the United States have, could be expressed without danger and with great positive advantage to mankind. It is, I believe, the task of the British Government to encourage every possible use of United Nations agencies to that end, and to give that direction to this natural and healthy desire on the part of the people of the United States to affirm their belief that the standards of value of the free world are better than the standards of the Communist world.
I believe that in these recent years the leadership given in world affairs by Great Britain has generally been wiser than that given by the United States, but I do not think that is because British people are by nature permanently gifted with more wisdom than Americans. It is simply that we are living at a juncture of world history where patience is of very great importance, and patience comes more easily to a people like ourselves who have been schooled in adversity and whose resources are restricted, than to a younger nation, conscious of its position as the greatest Power, both economically and militarily, that has ever appeared in the history of mankind.
230 It is our task, therefore, to impress upon American Governments two things: first, our unquestioned readiness to stand firmly with them against aggression; secondly, our entire rejection of any conception of crusade or preventive or liberating war. I think we must go further and urge on them the unwisdom of their present policy of refusing to recognise the Chinese People's Republic.
I can well understand why they pursue that policy. In many homes in America there are soldiers who have been brutally treated by their Chinese captors, and it is not easy to urge a nation with those memories to view this matter solely in the light of common sense. Yet we have many times in history been obliged, in the interest of wisdom and world peace, to forget very natural and excusable emotions, and so must the people of the United States on this issue.
One of the criticisms I have of our Government is that they have not been emphatic enough in making these necessities clear to the Government of the United States. I believe there would be a possibility of solving the present dangerous situation in the Far East on these or similar lines; that the Chinese People's Republic should be recognised, should take its rightful seat in the United Nations, that its sovereignty over both the mainland and the island of Formosa should be equally recognised; and that at the same time the solution should be adopted for Korea which was originally proposed—that there should be elections under United Nations supervision throughout the whole of that country, North and South, and the Government chosen by that election should be the Government of the whole of Korea.
Such a solution would involve considerable concessions by both the great Power groupings in the world, and no doubt the first reaction of most hon. Members will be to say that it is quite Utopian. I have noticed recently that the Trieste problem has been solved by agreement. The nature of the agreement is one which an intelligent schoolboy would have proposed years ago once he had been informed of the most elementary facts of the matter—that one country should have one zone and the other country should have the other zone.
Nothing but prejudice and mutual suspicion have prevented the adoption of 231 that solution throughout all these years. I believe that sooner or later a solution on these lines will occur in the Far East, and that its mere inalienable common sense will triumph. I believe it is the duty of our Government to urge a solution of that kind on all the parties concerned.
I would repeat that none of these matters about which we have been talking—defence preparations—will make sense unless we have some idea of where we are going in foreign affairs. In order to do that, we have got to remind ourselves of the unanimous Resolution of the House that there should be a top-level conference of the leading States of the world.
We have got to knit ourselves to the United States, not by a spineless following but by a genuine partnership, assuring the Americans of the firmness of our alliance with them and trying also to temper their impetuosity with perhaps the more practised and subdued state of wisdom at which our nation has arrived. I trust that future events may show that the Government are more willing to act on those lines and more willing to respect the declared wishes of the House than they have shown themselves to be in recent months.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ The Minister of Defence (Mr. Harold Macmillan)
When the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) opened the debate today, he disclaimed any desire to develop it into a general defence debate upon a broad scale. I shall be very glad to follow his example, although he made one or two points on the defence problem to which I should like to make reference. For instance, he referred to the question of the reduction of expenditure, and that, of course, will fall not within the debate on the Gracious Speech but, as he said, in our review of future defence expenditure early next year.
The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the omission from the Gracious Speech of reference to the Army and Air Force Acts. That is because just before the Prorogation, in a debate on a Friday, it was said by general agreement—it almost went without saying—that we hoped to proceed on the lines laid down to us by the admirable work of the Select 232 Committee which sat under my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens).
The right hon. Gentleman said we had made no statement about the future of National Service, and his hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), who was so helpful on the question of the revision of the Army Act, suggested that it might be convenient to have some general review of the National Service system upon a basis parallel to that used for the revision of the Army Act. That suggestion is worth considering, but it falls into a somewhat different category; one involves the responsibility of the Government to advise the House and the other involves a revision on perhaps a rather lower plane of broad decision than the question of National Service itself.
We look with care at any suggestion made by the hon. Member for Dudley, because he has given good service to the cause of the Army and we know his affection for it. If he sometimes covers his requests for impartiality with a somewhat partisan approach, we have learned on this side of the House that his bark is worse than his bite.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington), whom I am very glad to welcome back to the House, made a speech stressing the importance of the status, pay and position of the Regular officer. That goes without saying, but he said it well, and he said what I think we all feel to be true. But I fear that I cannot give him any great hopes that the Government are ready to reconsider, on the specific questions which he raised, the policy published in the White Paper in March, 1954. At the same time, we are glad to feel that, following a statement made earlier today, provision for war pensioners will be made, as was recognised by my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser), upon a scale which the whole House feels to be right and deserved.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart) will forgive me if I do not follow him into the very broad issues which he raised, because I want to come back to the rather narrower field.
Last February, in accordance with normal practice, the Statement on 233 Defence for 1954 was presented to Parliament. In that document the Government set out certain broad conclusions which have been reached on the future of our defence effort. I suppose it is a truism to say that the problem of defence is a continually changing one. That was so even in what we used to call normal times and it is doubly so today. Although the main principles may remain unchanged, that is only in the broadest sense, and the conditions within which we have to work have never been more fluid than they are today. Of course, there is never a perfect answer to all the questions. The right hon. Member for Easington, with his experience, knows that. Yesterday's answer, and even today's answer, is not necessarily the same as tomorrow's.
Nowadays, of course, for those reasons, the preparation of the defence Estimates and the defence policy is not just a periodical exercise carried on in the autumn months, as it was in the old days. It goes on all the time. When I took office, I found that an immense amount of work had been done by my predecessor and by the Service Ministers, and in the course of this work the Government are taking fully into account the new forms of warfare and their strategic and practical consequences.
This review is still proceeding. When we come to present next year's Statement on Defence we shall do our best to explain our conclusions and the reasons for them; the consequences which flow from those conclusions and, broadly, the course which we propose to ask the House to follow. New developments in the field of thermo-nuclear weapons must obviously affect all strategic and national planning including Civil Defence, but, at the same time, it is part of the perplexity of our problems that we must not forget the many diverse roles for which our Armed Forces must always be ready in different parts of the world.
The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger), in a very interesting and very thoughtful speech, asked whether this annual review, this system of debate which we have, is the right one. Does it serve its purpose? We have a great debate once a year and we have the Service Estimates, but is that instrument sufficient in these difficult times for the House to have the control which it ought 234 to have? I have a great deal of sympathy for what the right hon. Gentleman says. We have sat in different places in the House, in Government and in Opposition, and we know the difficulties.
The right hon. Gentleman suggested that it might be valuable to have a secret sitting. That was not quite satisfactory to his hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, but we will certainly consider it and not close our minds to it. The right hon. Gentleman also suggested that we should have a standing defence committee, as some foreign Parliaments have. That is a very big question of organisation in the House and a very novel question, and I should have thought that it was somewhat contrary to the way in which the House has developed, compared with some other Parliaments, where these great powers are placed in standing committees, as we know. I am not sure that it would have altogether a good effect upon the working of the Parliamentary system as a whole. Nevertheless, it was an interesting suggestion.
The Prime Minister himself threw out a suggestion which, I hope, will be further considered by right hon. Gentlemen opposite—that, pending any such larger decisions, there might be the possibility of private talks, on the basis of a well-established precedent, between the leaders of the Government of the day and the leaders of the Opposition. I trust that right hon. Gentlemen opposite will give that proposition serious consideration.
While awaiting this full-dress review, which is not to be today and which will be at the proper time and by whatever means it is finally carried out, we have reached certain conclusions which demand immediate action if we are to avoid waste of time and waste of money. I should, therefore, like to take the opportunity of this debate to inform the House of certain steps which we propose to take although, as I have said, the general background against which these conclusions will have to be judged cannot be given until the defence and Service Estimates are presented next year.
Before I come to them I want to say a word about the Navy and about speeches made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Captain Ryder) and my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Baldock). As I see it, the essential task of the Navy is unchanged. It has the 235 duty of securing the sea communications of our island and the world-wide support of our Commonwealth and trade interests. The perfection of modern weapons and techniques is, in many respects, increasing the ability of the Navy to discharge its historic role. The further development of these weapons and techniques should enable the Royal Navy in future to strike whatever threatens us by sea.
I thought that perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Merton and Morden was a little harsh on some of the developments which have taken place. They must be judged as a whole. During the last year all our operational carriers have been brought up-to-date. Jet aircraft have improved their efficiency and, with the new inventions of the angled deck and mirror landing sights, the risk of accident to these and even faster aircraft has notably decreased. In other words, the carrier is in a much better position as a result of these changes. With regard to new construction, we have virtually completed the conversion programme which has given us new ships for old. Over the past year many new ships have come into existence and are now being commissioned. The Navy is now free to look forward to the next generation of ships which will emerge from the inventions of today.
On the larger issues I cannot speak today. They were raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Merton and Morden and also by the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas), who raised the questions of the combination or amalgamation of the two Services, on which he would not expect me to speak now.
§ Mr. de Freitas
I do not think any of us was suggesting that there should be an amalgamation, but that the question should be looked at and inquired into.
§ Mr. Macmillan
Then it is still easier for me to say I will accept the suggestion that the question should be considered, but the hon. Member will not expect any decision, of course. I do not want to go into detail on the Navy at all except, if I may be allowed to say so without impertinence, that I have been impressed in the short time in which I have held this office by the way in which the Navy is adapting itself to these new conditions 236 and associating itself closely with the advance of new scientific methods in the full recognition that new weapons of war involve new approaches to sea warfare and new devices and techniques to wage it. The House may rest content that the Navy, while retaining its old traditions, is fully aware of new advances.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
The right hon. Gentleman has given us some interesting information about the Navy. Could he tell us whether that means an increase in the expenditure on the Navy or not? We were told to expect that he would cut expenditure.
§ Mr. Macmillan
As the right hon. Member for Easington suggested, I shall not give a preview today or do anything out of turn. I am merely taking the occasion to make some references to the debate we have had, as it is right that a Minister should, and to make certain announcements.
There is one decision about which a statement was made just before I became Minister of Defence and to which I would refer. A great deal of thought has been given to the problem of transport for our land forces. We want to make the transport system much more mobile and less tied to large fixed installations. As so often, it is much easier to pose the problem and to ask questions than it is to answer them. In any case, I do not think it is worth going headlong into an expensive reorganisation until we have good grounds for thinking that we have the answer we want. So the Army and the Royal Air Force are about to form a joint experimental unit.
The tasks of this unit will be to collect information by practical trials to enable the two Services to determine whether helicopters or similar aircraft capable of landing in confined spaces are likely to be a practical, efficient and economical method of solving the Army's problem of mobility in the field. I am sure that the House will welcome the formation of this unit, this new co-operative experiment between these two Services. Meanwhile, I should add that we do not propose to delay. While we are already making these experiments in use we are placing orders and the research and development of helicopters and kindred aircraft are going ahead.
I come to two matters affecting the Army only. In this year's Statement on 237 Defence reference was made to the difficult problem of phasing out old weapons and phasing in the new weapons. There is never any ideal time for doing this. It is always a question of balance of advantage. We have, however, reached the conclusion that the time has now come to reconsider the anti-aircraft gun defences in the United Kingdom. The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw made specific suggestions to us, so I think he will listen with sympathy to the decisions I am about to announce.
The development of nuclear weapons and of long-range aircraft of high speed and capable of operating at great altitude has, in the Government's view, radically reduced the effectiveness of anti-aircraft gun defences. The Government have decided, after most careful consideration, that it is no longer justifiable to continue to spend money or to use manpower on the present scale for the anti-aircraft gun defences in the U.K. They therefore intend to make drastic reductions, and to put these into effect forthwith.
It will he necessary to retain a certain number of heavy anti-aircraft and light anti-aircraft regiments in order to provide the anti-aircraft defence of the field forces and to protect certain vital targets both at home and overseas against which precision bombing may be expected. These will not be sufficient in number to justify the retention of the Anti-Aircraft Command structure, which will be abolished. Those anti-aircraft regiments that remain in the United Kingdom whether for use overseas or at home, will come under the normal Home Command organisation as far as their organisation is concerned.
Only a small proportion of the units in Anti-Aircraft Command are manned by Regulars. The Regular units which become redundant will either be converted to different roles, or abolished and the men absorbed elsewhere into the Regular Army. It is, however, the Territorial Army which provides the bulk of our anti-aircraft defences. This decision will, therefore, lead to the amalgamation or disbandment of a very large number of Territorial Army units. The completion of this Measure will take some time; but, eventually, less than a quarter of the present number of Territorial Army antiaircraft units will remain.
238 This, alas, like all changes, will lead to the abolition of a large number of regiments with a long and honourable tradition.
§ Mr. Shinwellrose—
§ Mr. Macmillan
May I finish on this point? Times and methods change; we are sure that the Territorial Army as a whole will always wish that its tasks and organisation should be adjusted to meet these changing needs. Officers and men, both of the Regular and Territorial Army, who are released by this reorganisation, will be absorbed elsewhere in the Regular and Reserve Army.
On behalf of Her Majesty's Government, I should like to take this opportunity of thanking all ranks of Anti-Aircraft Command for the splendid service they have rendered. None of us will forget that reputation built up by Anti-Aircraft Command during the war, a reputation which has been so well and truly maintained by those who, since the war, have given to it so much of their time and effort.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The right hon. Gentleman has anticipated what I was about to ask. It was obvious when he referred to the diminution of the anti-aircraft units that the Territorial Army was affected, because the great bulk of the anti-aircraft units in this country were composed of members of the Territorial Army. Now he has said that there will be a reduction but that was inevitable anyhow apart from the emergence of new weapons and methods of warfare, because there has been a serious decline in recruitment for the Territorial Army. Is that not so?
§ Mr. Macmillan
That is another point but, as the right hon. Gentleman said, since I was good enough to anticipate his question, I will not repeat what I said. The reorganisation of the Army as such comes under a wider scale of debate which the right hon. Gentleman has said he did not wish to embark on today.
§ Mr. Arthur Henderson (Rowley Regis and Tipton)
Last year, the Secretary of State for War or the Prime Minister made a statement about the use of guided missiles. The House was told that the Royal Air Force was in due course to have responsibility for ground to air defence through the use of guided missiles. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman 239 whether the announcement today relates to the responsibility which is to be given to the R.A.F.?
§ Mr. Macmillan
It is related in the sense that all these changes are related to each other, but I would rather not make any announcement in this debate on this large-scale problem of re-organisation and change of responsibility.
§ Mr. Wigg
As the right hon. Gentleman has now said that the rôle of the Anti-Aircraft Command is redundant, does that mean that the National Service men who are under a liability for part-time service will continue to be called up to carry out a redundant rôle, or will National Service men be relieved of the obligation for part-time service?
§ Mr. Macmillan
No, Sir. National Service men will be willing and proud to take their part wherever they can best serve their country.
The second matter also concerns the organisation of the Army, and this is perhaps more germane to the point which the right hon. Gentleman was about to raise.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Before the right hon. Gentleman proceeds, I should like to assure him that the answer which he has just given to my hon. Friend will require very close examination.
§ Mr. Macmillan
That, I suggest, we should have between now and February.
During 1950–51, certain special measures were taken to increase the size of the Army. Regulars were retained compulsorily with the Colours. Other steps were taken to the same end. All this was done to bring about a rapid increase in the number of units and formations so that we could meet the heavy pressure of our growing commitments. Even then the number of units was insufficient; and in 1951 some additional units, including the 2nd battalions of certain infantry regiments, were formed to relieve the strain on the Army.
As the House has already been informed, the strength of the Army will run down. This is due partly to the run-out of the larger intake of National Service men called up in 1952, and partly to the run-out of Regulars. We hope to create a strategic reserve and to bring 240 home a number of units and formations. When this has been done, and bearing in mind the administrative savings which will result from the reduction in the numbers of our forces overseas which events in Korea, the Middle East and Trieste have made possible, we can contemplate some measure of reorganisation which will enable us to use our available manpower more efficiently.
As part of these measures, we plan to disband the 2nd battalions which were formed in 1951. This process will be spread over the next two or three years. It is with regret that I announce the decision to abolish the 2nd battalions which were formed by those regiments most successful in recruitment and which rapidly reached a very high state of efficiency. Their achievement has been of great importance to the Army and the nation, and it is hard to say how we could have met the very large commitments which confronted us without these additional units. The present situation does not, however, justify their retention.
The Secretary of State for War will be giving much fuller details of the general reorganisation within the Army when he presents the Estimates next year.
§ Mr. Wigg
I take it that these are the seven famous regiments which the Prime Minister formed as soon as he got into power. Can we now take it that these seven famous regiments—they were famous because they were formed by the right hon. Gentleman, as I pointed out at the time—are now abandoned because of the failure of the Government's recruiting programme?
§ Mr. Macmillan
I feel that the hon. Gentleman, who oscillates between a desire to keep all this far above any party considerations in half his speeches, is now tilting the balance in the other half. If he wishes to ask for the names of these regiments, in order to jeer at them—
§ Mr. Macmillan
That comforts me a lot, because both the Prime Minister and the regiments can stand the jeers of the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am sorry that there has been this little fracas—perhaps unavoidable. I am trying to pour oil on troubled waters.
We are all very much concerned about the build-up of our forces. We want to create efficient forces. Is not the trouble that because of the decline in Regular recruitment—I am not saying who is responsible for it—the right hon. Gentleman has to abandon the 2nd battalions and that it is very doubtful indeed whether he can build up the 1st battalions to full strength?
§ Mr. Macmillan
They are two separate points—the question of recruiting and the total numbers, and the question of the run-down of National Service men. Then there is the question of the loss of the special advantage in early call-up which we made to meet the Korean crisis. All these are inter-related. In addition, quite apart from anything else, these particular units are not now required. It is not the best organisation of the Army for the problem we have to solve, so I am informed by my advisers, to keep them in these additional 18 units. We therefore, quite rightly, take the course of making a general reorganisation.
§ Mr. Macmillan
That is another argument altogether.
A third matter relates to the reorganisation of the Auxiliary Air Force. This is a problem which will interest the House very much, and especially the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson), who has done so much for the Air Force. The Government have given a great deal of consideration in past months before I came into my present office to the problems of organisation, equipment and training of the squadrons of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, problems which have become intensified, as 242 the right hon. and learned Gentleman well knows, by the introduction of the sweptwing fighter and the growing complexity of the air defence system of the country.
The squadrons of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force have a very high tradition. They are very keen and efficient at this moment. The country is deeply indebted to their glorious record in war and to the enthusiasm and devotion of those who are serving in them today. The story of these auxiliary squadrons is one of the most splendid examples in our whole history. We have to face the realities that the Hunters and the Swifts, as, I am sure, the right hon. Gentleman knows, represent marked advances in design and performance over the aircraft now being used by the auxiliary squadrons; that these aircraft and their equipment are very much more difficult to maintain; and that their operation as part of the air defence system makes far greater demands upon the pilots.
It would not be possible for the auxiliary squadrons, if they were re-equipped with the swept-wing aircraft, to train to a standard high enough to enable them to take their place in the front line, as squadrons, immediately on the outbreak of war, and that is what all fighter squadrons must be required to do in present conditions, because they are needed at the very first moment. So an effective fighter squadron of modern aircraft must really be a whole-time duty.
The Government have, therefore, decided to alter the organisation of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force in such a way as to enable those auxiliary pilots who can give the time to it to train on swept-wing aircraft. We have decided not to re-equip the squadrons with these machines, but to train the men. By this means the auxiliary squadrons will provide reserves behind the Regular squadrons in war. Each squadron will be linked with a Regular squadron and auxiliary pilots will fly the aircraft of the Regular squadrons. This will be instead of equipping the auxiliary squadrons with machines of their own, with all the difficulties of maintenance. The pilots will fly the new modern machines, but those which are held and maintained in the Regular squadrons.
The auxiliary squadrons will retain their town headquarters and their present airfields, and each squadron will retain 243 a training flight composed of Meteors or Vampires. The auxiliary pilots will fly as necessary to Regular airfields to carry out their training on swept-wing aircraft. Auxiliary ground personnel will continue to be employed at their home airfields, and plans are being considered to train them so that they will be able, in the event of war, to service the latest types of fighter aircraft. These changes will be introduced progressively as the Regular squadrons are re-equipped with modern swept-wing fighters. Affiliation will not begin until Regular squadrons have worked up to full efficiency on their new aircraft.
§ Mr. A. Henderson
Would the right hon. Gentleman make this point clear? Is the House to understand that following these changes, and in the unfortunate event of an emergency in the future, the 20 squadrons, assuming that in the meantime their pilots have been trained on the swept-back wing type of fighter, will be retained, embodied or in a position to be embodied, as part of the second line of defence of the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Macmillan
As individuals they will be asked to be reserve pilots, but they will not be able to be embodied as squadrons on their own.
§ Mr. Macmillan
No. I think that that is not a fair way of putting it. I think it is a perfectly fair way to put it, as, also, it is the sensible way, that the 20 squadrons will be armed with the older machines, Vampire and Meteors, but will not be rearmed with the modern machines for the reasons I have given, and which, I believe, anyone who studies this matter will see are sound—which are to make the officers useful in time of emergency, these officers having been trained by the Regular squadrons with the more modern machines as they come out from time to time. Of course, if we get to the next stage, beyond the Swifts and Hunters, to the even more complicated machines, it will be all the more essential to substitute this method.
§ Mr. Henderson
This is very important, certainly to the members of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. Is the right hon. Gentleman stating that after the 244 auxiliary pilots have received training on the swept-back wing fighters, which may take a year or two years, but whatever the time may be, they will not be in a position to fly the swept-back wing fighters as part of the organisation of their own squadrons, especially as the ground personnel, according to the right hon. Gentleman, are to train to service swept-back wing fighters? Or are they to be drafted individually into Regular squadrons?
§ Mr. Macmillan
I think that on the outbreak of war, if it comes suddenly, the Regular squadrons will have to be at their posts. Of course, in practice these men who are prepared to give this service and to learn the new weapons, although they would not be asked to take full charge of them, would be the first men to step into the shoes of the Regulars, and they would in that sense be reserves. The would not in ordinary conditions operate squadrons of the new machines. They will be reserves.
§ Mr. Wigg
It is fair to say that the absorption of these new reserves into the Regular squadrons in this way is brought about by the failure of the Government's programme to get sufficient recruits—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"]. This is an important matter. These 20 squadrons have to be re-equipped because the technical services are not available for those squadrons, and that has been brought about by the failure of the Government's recruiting programme.
§ Mr. Macmillan
I think the hon. Gentleman has transferred his efforts from the Army to the Air Force with the same lack of any sense of impartiality. What he knows quite well, and what I could prove to him by the advice we have received, is that we cannot ask officers, by part-time flying, to take over these modern machines, and the ones that may follow the Swifts and Hunters.
We shall have machines which cannot be operated on a part-time basis. What we say is this, "Keep your squadrons with all their traditions, keep your town connections, keep your organisation, and spend as much time as you can give on the new machines so that you will be able to stand behind your comrades if the need comes, but, unfortunately, it is 245 not possible, as it was in the old days, to equip you with the new machines." This does not arise from any failure. It arises from the extraordinary complexity and difficulty of the modern mechanisms which we are creating day by day.
§ Mr. Shinwell
This must be looked at. I think there is a lot to be said for it. It is very difficult to maintain expensive auxiliary forces in the present situation, particularly if we are seeking a reduction in defence expenditure, which is difficult enough as it is. However, what I should like to ask is this: what is the purpose of maintaining auxiliary squadrons with the Meteors and other machines which are regarded as obsolete? Is that to be only temporary, or is it to be permanent?
§ Mr. Macmillan
It will all take time. It is sensible that with the aircraft they have they should train and acquire airmanship—if one may use the word. They will continue to be able to do that. It is convenient to have those machines, because they can do their early training on them. They will be able to fly from their own airfields to Regular airfields and do what one may call modern technical training upon the best machines. How long this will go on, I could not pledge myself, but it seems a sensible thing to do in the transitional period.
What I am anxious to see is that the individuality and the traditions of those squadrons shall be maintained. I think that the method chosen does at least achieve that, and that it is the best we can do within the difficulties imposed by the modern type of weapons.
§ Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)
Just to clear the matter up, will the right hon. Gentleman say that although these squadrons are retained as names on the book this change does, perhaps unavoidably, mean the withdrawal of 20 squadrons from the front line order of battle?
§ Mr. Macmillan
Yes. That is what I said. In modern conditions we cannot have in the front line any but those who are in full-time service, on the spot.
I have ventured to intervene rather long in the debate, but I have done so only because we felt that, having reached this decision, we had to explain it to the House. Our first duty was to tell the House as soon as possible the decision 246 which we had reached. We could not act without that, and this was the most convenient moment. The other was not to delay making the decision, because if we delay we are wasting time and money. Therefore, I hope that the House will believe that we have taken the right course—assuming that these are the right decisions—in announcing them without delay and putting them in effect without delay.
I should like to make one final observation in my first speech about the Services in my present office. It is a very long time since I first entered one of the Services, just 40 years ago. Methods and machines change, weapons change and the organisations change, but when one comes back to them in time there is one thing that does not change. The men do not change. The spirit of all ranks in the Services is as good as ever it has been. There is a great sense of tradition and a great loyalty to the Crown and the country. That we can preserve and shall preserve, and that is the fundamental basis upon which our hopes lie.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Miss Elaine Burton (Coventry, South)
At the beginning of the debate you announced, Mr. Speaker, that there would be two main subjects, one being defence and the other the Board of Trade. I should like to speak about the Board of Trade and I am very glad to see that the President is on the Front Bench.
I regret very much the omission in the Gracious Speech of any mention of measures to protect the consumer. It seems all the more extraordinary because on 6th May we had a debate on this subject to which the President listened but did not reply. His Parliamentary Secretary said, speaking of both sides of the House:We all desire that reliable goods of high quality shall be available to the public.He went on to say that there was no difference there between the two sides of the House.
He added, and I should like the President to note this:We all desire that the public shall be able to get good value and we all desire that the law designed for its protection shall be obeyed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th May, 1954; Vol. 527, c. 694.]247 If that is what the President and the Government felt, there is certainly no difference between the two sides of the House, but it is obvious from a reading of the Gracious Speech that there is all the difference in the world between what the Government are prepared to do and what we on this side of the House are prepared to do.
In that debate on 6th May, which dealt with the protection of the consumer, we on this side of the House put forward four points which were obviously proved, because we had no answer to the contrary from the Government. The first was that the guarantees given in this Parliament by the President of the Board of Trade on consumer matters have just not been worth having. I am not being abusive; I am merely stating the fact.
The second point is that the British Standards Institution, upon which the President seems to rely in these matters, has neither the standing nor the authority to demand new standards or to raise the quality of those which already exist. The third point—and I think that the President would admit this—is that a minority of traders and manufacturers have taken advantage of the disinclination of the President to act, to depress the quality of goods supplied to the public. The last point is that the Board of Trade and the Minister at that time—I do not know whether he has changed now—did not realise either the gravity of the situation or how greatly incensed shoppers were becoming.
I wonder what comments the right hon. Gentleman will make on what has happened since the debate of 6th May. I have just stated that one of the points which emerged from that debate was that the Minister did not realise how incensed shoppers are when they go to a shop, buy goods which are not worth having, and can get nothing done about it. There has been a considerable change in what I would call the private approach of the Government to this matter.
It will be within the recollection of the House, and certainly within the recollection of the right hon. Gentleman, that during the past two years I have certainly done my best to bring that fact home to him. I have given him gloves, pillows and sheets, and dealt with the subject of 248 camel-hair. I gave him every piece of evidence I possibly could which he accepted with great reluctance, but I could get no response to the reasons for which those things were given to him.
The House will remember that the right hon. Gentleman said that people who had complaints about shoddy gloves or about pillows which were not filled with down should not bother him but should consult a solicitor. The right hon. Gentleman said on 25th March:It would be absolutely intolerable if every member of the public who thought he was in trouble wrote to the Government about it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th March, 1954; Vol. 525, c. 1430.]That was a very unfortunate utterance. I know that the right hon. Gentleman regrets making it.
I wrote not long ago to the Board of Trade. I had a reply, dated 1st November, to this effect, and I mention no name:Dear Miss Burton,You wrote to the President on 26th October about a dress bought by Mrs. — of —. One of our investigating officers has been asked to call on Mrs. — to make further inquiries. We are meanwhile keeping her letters, the dress and the bill, which we shall need if we find that there is sufficient evidence for a prosecution.I never had a letter like that from the right hon. Gentleman when I tried to raise these matters in the two years prior to 6th May.
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that in the matters which I have tried to raise in the House I am indebted to various trade associations for information. I want to make that clear. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman knows that various people have told me that during the last few months there has been a complete change on the part of the right hon. Gentleman. He is now actually looking for cases. I find it quite extraordinary, because I understand that he is not only looking for them but is positively anxious to have them.
I wonder whether it is the pressure which has been exerted by the Opposition during the past two years that has induced the right hon. Gentleman to change his mind. If the right hon. Gentleman is excessively modest about it, I offer him three additional reasons why he has changed his approach. The first 249 is the attitude of the Conservative Central Office. That may seem a strange source of information for me to quote, but I know that after the debate of 6th May the Conservative Central Office was quite horrified at the effect on the country of the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman's Department towards the protection of the consumer.
The second reason I give him is that during the past two years the right hon. Gentleman's own side of the House has been dismayed at the constant refusal of the President to deal with matters representing the wasted money of people who bought goods which ought never to have been sold in the first place. The third factor is that influential people in the Government, who have some knowledge of the retail trade, made the right hon. Gentleman quite aware that his party stood to lose at least a million votes at the next General Election if the people of this country believed not only that that sort of criticism could be levelled at the Government but that it was justified by the experience of the ordinary shoppers.
So I want to know what the Government are doing in connection with this matter. I have stated that the President has caused it to be made known that privately he is interested—I will put it no higher than that—in cases of people who have bought goods which are not what they were supposed to be. I should like to ask him this question, not just to be troublesome but because ordinary shoppers of the country who want to know the answer—is he prepared to look into cases if the public send him notification about them, or does he still suggest, as he did last Session, that such people should find their own solicitors and not bother him? I see the right hon. Gentleman smiling, but that is a perfectly legitimate query.
The Board of Trade has asked for cases. If the right hon. Gentleman does not know that I can tell him quite categorically that it has, and I can give him privately the name of the associations that it has asked. I want to know from the right hon. Gentleman, from whom does it want these cases? Does it want them privately from Members of Parliament, privately from organisations, or is it willing to help the general public on this matter? If people now buy goods which are shoddy, may they write to the Board 250 of Trade about them and hope that it will deal with them, or is the right hon. Gentleman still not interested?
Then I also want to ask the right hon. Gentleman another question, at the same time regretting the omission from the Gracious Speech of any reference to the protection of the consumer. Are we to understand that the Government are offering support to the new consumers' advisory council which is being set up by the British Standards Institution? Frequently in this House I, in common with other Members, have mentioned the British Standards Institution.
I believe it has done a very good job in connection with heavy industry but not on the side of the consumers' industries. The right hon. Gentleman knows that the reason for that is that his Department has not given the Institution either the authority or the standing that it should have. After the debate of 6th May, which the Opposition initiated, the British Standards Institution, in August decided to set up a consumers' advisory council and it is about that that I want to question the right hon. Gentleman.
There is considerable mystification both in trading circles and among the public about it. I think the fairest thing I could do would be to quote one paragraph from the general Press notice of the Institution. This is what it said:The council"—that is, the consumers' advisory council—is to be a source of information and advice, firstly, to industry about the consumers' needs in relation to domestic and personal goods; and, secondly, to the public about the safeguards, in the way of standards and other facilities, available to them. The council will work in close touch, through the established British Standards Institution Committees, with the women's national organisations and with the industries producing consumer goods. It will be equipped to make the inquiries necessary to present these industries with clear statements of consumer needs and wishes.I hope that the President of the Board of Trade heard that last sentence. I do not expect him to listen to every word, but after all, we are discussing the Board of Trade on this matter, and I should be grateful if he would reply to these facts.
I want to ask what this consumers' advisory council is going to do. It is no use telling the recalcitrant industries about the needs of the consumers. Some 251 of us in this House have been trying to do that for a long time. I want to ask the President whether that council will be able to say to an industry that certain standards are to be worked out, or will it be able to say that the existing standards are too low? I do not know whether the President will feel that he can give us an answer on that particular point.
I am raising this matter because—unless there has been an alteration—the original principles of the British Standards Institution were quite simply, first, that work to a standardisation project should not be undertaken except on receipt of a request from industry; second, that there should be an agreement by all the interested parties before the standard is issued; and, third, that the British Standards Institution staff itself should not initiate proposals for standards. The reason I have raised this with the President is that if the new consumers' advisory council has not the power to make such demands, there is really no point in looking at it any further. It is simply window-dressing on the part of the Government and of the Institution.
If it has the power to make these demands, would the President tell us what action it contemplates taking if the industries themselves refuse to carry out the suggestions? I should be glad if the President, would give me his attention on these particular matters, for, after all, they affect his Department. I have already asked him to give me his attention.
§ The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Peter Thorneycroft)
The hon. Lady is having my attention.
§ Miss Burton
I am very glad.
Could I ask the right hon. Gentleman what would happen if an industry refused to take any notice of what the consumers' advisory council says, because the rayon and cotton industries refused to pay any attention earlier this year to what the President said? Does he think that the council is likely to succeed where the present Government have failed?
The accusation we make on this matter is that the British Standards Institution has been let down very badly through lack of leadership from the Government. 252 We think the Government should have stated what standards were necessary. We also consider that the Government should have given the Institution power to enforce the compilation of such standards, and also their adoption. It was a matter of conjecture in 1952 whether the Government really intended to offer protection to consumers on this matter of standards. We know now it is not a matter of conjecture any longer but a matter of fact—that the Government have allowed the textile industry to superimpose upon their intentions the intentions of the industry itself.
This is quite ridiculous at a time when the taxpayer is subsidising the British Standards Institution to the extent of £100,000 a year. We feel very strongly that this matter and these powers for this new council should be properly dealt with. Unless the President can assure us to the contrary, then this is just a matter of Tory window-dressing and does not go to the root of the question at all. Does the right hon. Gentleman not feel it unfortunate that in the Gracious Speech no suggestion was made about that legislation which would have protected the consumer?
Arising out of that I want to put two questions to the right hon. Gentleman. First, why it was not found possible in the Gracious Speech to foreshadow the introduction of legislation to make compulsory the labelling according to the contents of all goods offered for sale to the public; secondly, the fixing of price tickets on all goods available to the public; and, thirdly, the labelling, according to the percentage fibre content, of all textiles? The right hon. Gentleman has constantly set his face against this type of labelling, but today, when goods which we are exporting, to Australia, the United States and South Africa have to carry his labelling, we cannot see why it should not be made available to the home market.
The point is, of course, that today there is an increasing use of synthetic fibres in goods. That is particularly important and I have raised the matter in the House before. With the increasing use of synthetic fibres today, and with more and more people sending their goods to the laundries—it may be a simple and homely illustration but it is important—it is often found that these 253 goods are ruined because there is no means of the laundries knowing what is in the goods until they have given them the wrong sort of treatment.
Only last week I received notice from the launderers to say that they had been having discussions for 3½ years on this matter, that they had made no progress, and that so long as manufacturers could put in their textiles anything from 1 per cent. to 99 per cent. of synthetic fibres, and not label them, so long would this trouble go on. I can see no reason why the launderers or the right hon. Gentleman could not reach agreement on the labelling of goods for washing.
In France, they have tried coloured labels, using a blue cat to show that goods are suitable for dry cleaning, a red elephant to show that they are colour fast, and a green fish to show that they are fabrics which can be washed in a solution of hot water and soap. I do not want to wish a cat, an elephant, or a fish on to the right hon. Gentleman, but I suggest that coloured labels depicting how goods should be washed could be used, and that on those labels could be put the fibre content. That is a definite suggestion; it may not be a good one, but it is the only one that has come forward.
Why does not the right hon. Gentleman give the British Standards Institution the authority to ask manufacturers to work out standards and, if necessary, to demand that these be completed within a reasonable time? We on this side of the House feel that the Gracious Speech completely ignores the consumer, the person who goes to buy the goods in the shops. We feel that the Government, because of past Opposition pressure, have had to take some notice of the ordinary shopper. If they would be prepared now to admit that the voluntary principle has not worked, would introduce legislation for compulsory labelling, and would strengthen the British Standards Institution, the Gracious Speech would be a better speech in that respect.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)
I hope I may claim the indulgence of the House if my remarks are not substantially on the Board of Trade matters which we are discussing, and I hope, by the same token, that the 254 hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton) will forgive me if I do not follow her in the question she has been discussing. On the contrary, I shall refer to one or two items which are in the Gracious Speech which I welcome.
I notice early in the Gracious Speech the policy which the Government are pursuing and will pursue in the future, namely:social policies directed to the happiness and well-being of all My People.I have always thought that this was the function of Government according to their own ideas and policies.
I welcome, as will all hon. Members, the general statement in the Gracious Speech, and the details which we have had today, in regard to old-age, war disability and war widows' pensions. I should not be in order if I dealt with the details at this stage, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I am sure I shall have your indulgence, and that of the House, if I express our pleasure that we have had at this early stage, and in such a clear fashion, the figures which will mean so much happiness to so many millions of people. We shall have an opportunity to discuss these in detail during the various stages of the Bill.
There is an almost detailed passage in the Gracious Speech of the intention of the Government to deal with the increasingly important and increasingly tragic problem of road safety, and with it, road construction and improvement. In that paragraph there is shown for the first time by any Government in the Gracious Speech a clear realisation of the seriousness of this position. And there appears also, for the consolation of us all, the clear statement that the Government have decided to embark upon an expanded programme of road construction and improvement.
Now, since hon. Members assiduously represent the interests of their constituencies, I shall be bold and mention a matter on which one of my councils and I have been pursuing the Minister and his predecessor. As long as two years ago we had a deputation to endeavour to obtain permission to improve the portion of the Dunstable-Luton road which lies within the Borough of Dunstable.
We are still trying, and I hope that a small part of the programme of road 255 improvement, and the finances which go with it, may be devoted to that end in order to help the great artery between those two towns. This is particularly important now because of the great industrial development taking place on the edge of Dunstable and abutting upon the road. So, as this is a constituency point, I regard it as part of my duty in this House to refer specifically to it, and I hope that my remarks will reach the proper quarter.
Now I pass to the references made to education. The Government have stated clearly that they will encourage the building and improvement of schools and technical colleges. It is not generally realised that any deficiencies in technical education are not apparent until those responsible for them have passed out of public life. In other words, if we neglect our technical and technological education today, the disastrous results will not appear for many years. For that reason I hope we shall pursue a long-term policy in this respect. It is not enough to lead the world today; we must maintain a reserve of technically-trained people in order to retain our reputation for craftsmanship. There were references to this matter in the debate yesterday, but the point cannot be emphasised too often.
In the Gracious Speech there is a reference to village halls. My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) referred to this matter last night, and received an encouraging reply from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education. These halls will be a great boon for many villages and towns where they do not exist at present, and where they are very much needed for the welfare and community life of the inhabitants.
In particular, the Minister of Education is relaxing Circular 245. I hope that he will look in a kindly and beneficial manner upon the efforts of the Leighton Buzzard and Linslade Public Hall Association which is trying to get a hall built for the benefit of both Leighton Buzzard, in my constituency, and Linslade, in the constituency of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckingham (Sir F. Markham). I am sure that the Government will do much for the country if they will allow money to be spent in pro- 256 viding these necessary centres in appropriate places so that people in towns and villages have somewhere to go for their communal life.
We have run rather too fast in imagining that all kinds of community life are vanishing because of the onset of television and developments of that nature. That is not so, and if we can encourage the provision of facilities by means of places where people can meet away from their homes we shall do something to preserve the traditional village and town life which has been a characteristic of our country. In the provision of these village halls the Government will do a useful service for the community.
I want also to refer to something which will probably be dealt with in much more detail tomorrow. The Gracious Speech, in reference to agriculture, says that measures are to be taken by the Government which will enable stability for the industry to be combined with the flexibility of a free market. The two must live side by side. One is the all-important stability and the financial position of the farmer, and the other is protection of the interests of the consumers.
These must be equally important but not divorced objectives; they must be equally important and complementary matters. The one cannot live without the other. Without stability in production we cannot have a fair deal for the consumer, and the consumer cannot have a fair deal if justice is not done to the farmer. I am glad to see the two matters joined together in a happy marriage of stability for the industry and flexibility in the market, with all that they mean to the producer and the consumer.
All in all, it is a remarkable Gracious Speech. Unlike others within my experience, it does not contain a large amount of matter which may lead to legislation. On the contrary, and happily in many ways, it contains a number of matters which affect the daily life of the people of this nation. I believe that in the House and in our constituencies we may find plenty in the Gracious Speech with which to indicate that the Government, sensible though they are of all the necessities of foreign affairs and the peace of the world, are at the same time sensible and conscious of the vital importance of happiness in our home affairs.
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ Mr. James Carmichael (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
Today, we have had some discussion of foreign affairs and defence and we have just been dealing with trade. I am sure it will be in order for a lone Scot in the House to say something about Scotland. The Gracious Speech says:The Report of the Royal Commission on Scottish Affairs has received the close attention of My Ministers and steps are being taken to carry out its recommendations.I make no protest that there are no representatives of the Scottish Office on the Government Front Bench. In a debate of this kind, where we roam widely and discuss all kinds of subjects, it is impossible to request Ministers to be in their places at the right time. Nevertheless, I feel that I should take this opportunity to say something about the inadequacy of the Royal Commission on Scottish Affairs.
The Report says that the Commission is satisfied the Secretary of State can attend with the utmost efficiency to all the offices which he holds. I disagree. Most of the offices for which the Secretary of State is responsible are held by separate Ministers in England. It may be that because of the larger population in England more Ministers are required there. However, no matter how competent the Secretary of State might be, I am satisfied that he cannot handle all these posts with the utmost efficiency. He is responsible for agriculture, education, housing, health, town and country planning, local government, public order and miscellaneous social services, fisheries and hydro-electricity. He might be the most competent person in the world, but it would be impossible for him to handle those Departments with the utmost efficiency.
In addition, all those offices and the permanent chief officials are centred in Edinburgh. In spite of that the Secretary of State and his other Ministers are primarily concerned with being present in this House to handle Scottish affairs. I am satisfied that what is actually happening is that most of those responsibilities are delegated to permanent officials, so that we have a form of bureaucracy. I am not arguing that the officials are not competent, but when people get responsibility of that kind there is always a tendency for them not to want interfere- 258 ence and they do not want the ordinary democratic way of discussing problems.
I know from my long experience of local government that representatives of local authorities have often gone to Edinburgh with reasonably good cases, but the permanent officials have turned them down, not because those officials are obstinate but because they feel that that is the right thing for them to do. Also, I am sure that the Secretary of State would very rarely overrule a permanent official.
That being so, I believe the Report of the Royal Commission to be inadequate. I do not think the Royal Commission dealt with its task properly. The proper method of devolution would be to extend more democratic control to the people of Scotland. There are two ways of doing that. The Royal Commission sent some of its members to study the Parliament of Northern Ireland. I do not want to go into that matter in great detail, but if it is possible to have a democratic government in a divided country it should be much easier to have some form of democratic government in a country which is completely united.
I note that one of the Joint Under-Secretaries of State for Scotland has now entered the Chamber. I do not think that I am responsible for his being here, but I will make the best of it.
I feel sure that there is sound reason for a further examination of the possibility of some form of democratic government in Scotland.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Does not my hon. Friend think that it would have been far better if the members of the Royal Commission had gone to Southern Ireland?
§ Mr. Carmichael
An hon. Member from across the water has just arrived in the Chamber, and it would be far better for him to deal with the situation in the two parts of Ireland. I do not want to go into the political difficulties of a situation of that kind. At the moment, I am more concerned with my native people.
The other point I want to make about the possibility of extending democratic government concerns local government. I am becoming uneasy about the appointment of boards. Electricity boards, gas boards, hydro-electric scheme boards. Scottish health boards—a whole series 259 of boards have been appointed. I do not say this with any narrow political bias, but there is always a tendency, when one appoints boards of this kind, to have a political colour within them.
I do not need to give evidence of how changes have taken place when Governments go out of office. I do not want this country to come to the stage, as in America where when a Government goes out of office one disposes of all the officials and puts in new officials. But there is always that danger. It is very natural, if one is to appoint a board to carry out the policy of the Government, that one should appoint a board that tends to work in the same way as the Government. That is why there is a very good ground for extending the power of local government.
Local authorities in Scotland have handled health services with great efficiency. Many local authorities have handled electricity and gas services. I do not say today one could go to a city like Glasgow and think of it as competent to deal with hospital services, but there is a possibility of regional control over an area wider than the immediate Glasgow area. The same thing is true of the east of Scotland.
The apathy that is associated with local elections today arises because the government of the country is getting further away from the people, getting some services divorced from the people. There are only two ways of destroying democracy. One is by a ruthless form of dictatorship—
§ Mr. Carmichael
—and the other way is to appoint permanent full-time officials in the interests of greater efficiency.
One does not run a democracy merely by having a first-class organisation properly scheduled and with all the machinery so perfect that nobody can interfere with it. The ordinary form of democratic government is discussion around a table with policy argued out. Today, boards are composed of permanent officials, managers and superintendents. The ordinary man in the street, who has been responsible for the evolution of democratic government, does not 260 know who are the responsible people on these boards. Those are very sound reasons for a further examination of the Royal Commission's Report.
The Royal Commission suggested three changes, and amazing suggestions they are. The Report says:Responsibility for highway matters in Scotland should be transferred to the Secretary of State.As was asked in the debate yesterday, what is the purpose of transferring responsibility for the highways of Scotland, if we are still to be shackled by the power of the Treasury? Dealing with highways is a far more serious problem in Scotland than in any other part of the country, because Scotland is thinly populated.
I gather from my experience of parliamentary government that the Treasury is the bugbear of every Department. If that is so, what is the good of transferring this responsibility from the Minister of Transport to the Secretary of State for Scotland, if he is to be shackled by the Treasury in the same way? That needs to be investigated.
The Report also says:Responsibility for the appointment of Justices of the Peace in Scotland … should be transferred to the Secretary of State.What a revolutionary change! Of all the justices of the peace in Scotland, 99.9 per cent. are elected long before the Lord Chancellor knows anything about it. They are usually elected locally. One can usually tell who will be the justices of the peace before the announcement is made by the Lord Chancellor.
Yet a responsible Commission, dealing with the whole economic and social life of Scotland, made that one of its serious recommendations—the appointment of justices of the peace by the Secretary of State for Scotland.
I do not want to argue the point which deals with diseases of animals. The Report says that… other legislation dealing with animal health should be transferred to the Secretary of State.My main purpose is to make the Secretary of State for Scotland realise that, with the best will in the world and with the most competent officials at the Scottish Office, it is quite impossible, with intricate business closely linked to the economic and social life of Scotland, to do justice to the case.
261 My two main points are that there should be some form of devolution, so that some legislation could be enacted in Scotland, and if it is possible, for local government to be extended to look after some of the economic and social services of Scotland in order to be closer to the people.
That is my case tonight. I am satisfied that if we are to develop a healthy democracy it must come from the ordinary man in the street; and the Government should keep close to the man in the street, who must understand the ways of the Government legislatively and administratively. The Scottish Office should have another look at this Royal Commission's Report. In submitting a case to the House, I hope that the Scottish Office will be big enough to re-examine the recommendations of the Royal Commission.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Stan Awbery (Bristol, Central)
It is not my intention to keep the House for very long. I have read the Gracious Speech very carefully, and it appears to me that the Government have been meandering around all the problems they could possibly find in order to seek the best ground for a General Election.
I listened closely to the speech yesterday by the Foreign Secretary, and I want to refer to what he said about the Government undertaking a salvage operation in 1951. He spoke about production being up, employment being down, and the Welfare State going along very satisfactorily. My mind went back to the period nine years after the First World War, and I asked myself how it was that in 1954, nine years after a terrible catastrophe, a speech like that could have been produced to boost what the country has been doing.
In 1928 and 1929, the circumstances were quite different from what they are today. There must be some reason for that. After the 1914–18 war, the people were foolish enough to return a Coalition Government which was predominantly Tory. That Government adopted a purely Tory policy and attempted to go back to the circumstances of pre-war days. What was the result? Shortly after the war ended, we had tremendous unemployment. There was an army of unemployed in almost every town and 262 city in the country. I was a trade union official and was in close touch with the developments of that time. I saw the unemployed army growing, as the men were returning from the Armed Forces. My first job as an official was to meet an employer and try to resist a reduction of 4d. an hour for labourers working on the road.
There has been no reduction in wages since 1945. The South Wales area was a "black" area before the war, with half its skilled miners waiting about at street corners when they ought to have been producing the wealth that was required. If the Tory Party believes now that production is the solution to our problem, why did they believe the reverse after the First World War? They believed then that unemployment was the solution of the problem. Otherwise, we would not have had 2½ million unemployed at that time and for nearly 20 years.
There was then no Welfare State, there was extreme poverty, and there was no development of our social services. It is now nine years after the Second World War; six of those years saw the present Opposition in power. We had the salvaging to do in 1945. We had gone through 20 years of depression and six years of devastating war, leaving this country down and out. Whatever others will say, the Prime Minister told us in 1944 that when the war ended we should be bankrupt and on our beam ends as a nation. Fortunately, a Socialist Party came into power in 1945. We handled the situation then in a far more constructive way than was adopted by the Coalition Government after the First World War.
We started salvaging immediately. Instead of creating an army of unemployed we created conditions in which there was no unemployment, and in which the Foreign Secretary was able to boast to the House, as he did yesterday, that there is no unemployment in this Welfare State.
§ Mr. Paul Williams (Sunderland, South)
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I hope he will not regard it as an impertinence if I try to break down slightly the parallel which he has drawn and which is not quite as perfect as he imagined. There was no American Loan after the First World War, the 263 climate of opinion was completely different and there was no rearmament programme.
§ Mr. Awbery
I am trying to prove that the situation was handled quite differently on this occasion. Previously, there was a Tory Government in office with a Tory outlook, seeing nothing else but the resuscitation of capitalism after the war. At the end of 1945 we had a Socialist Government with a Socialist outlook and with the ideal of restoring the country in a different way from that which was chosen by the Tory Party.
Of course, we had economies in 1920, but in 1945 and 1946 it was not only a question of economy with us; we had to establish the policy of the Welfare State. We did it successfully, with the result that for nine years there has been no unemployment.
§ Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)
I am sure that the hon. Member is not claiming that the Labour Party was solely responsible for the Welfare State, but will agree that it was started by Mr. Lloyd George many, many years ago.
§ Mr. Awbery
If Mr. Lloyd George started the Welfare State many, many years ago I can assure the hon. Member that I was looking, for the Welfare State from 1919 to 1939 and failed to find it.
The real Welfare State of today could have been established by the Tories when they were in power. It cannot be said that the Tories had not the power, because only on two occasions, and for about two years out of 20, were we in office. Even then we were in office without power—a minority Government. We did what we could in very difficult circumstances.
In 1945, the people were wise enough to return us as a majority Government, and we introduced legislation that the historian will recall as the finest work ever done in this House in any comparable period. We established the Welfare State, we got full employment, we believed in increased production. Though the Conservatives are now adopting the same policy, it is the opposite of the 264 policy which they adopted from 1919 to 1935.
The Foreign Secretary stated yesterday that he does not mind if the late Government claim credit for what is being done today. I want, quite deliberately, to claim the credit for a great deal of the benefits now accruing to our people. I claim credit for that work for the Labour Government.
I am keenly interested in the Colonies. The Gracious Speech states:My Ministers will promote the development of the Colonial Empire, and for this purpose will prolong the Colonial Development and Welfare Acts and increase the funds available under them. They will also continue to give full support to the Colombo Plan.While I am grateful for all that has been done for our Colonies, not only by the Labour Government but by the present Government since they have been in power, I believe profoundly that we are not doing as much as we should do. I am convinced that the Colonies are slipping gradually from our grip. If we do not act quickly we shall lose them irretrievably.
I urge the Government to do a little more than they have in the past. There has been a change in the outlook in the Colonies, just as there has been a change in the outlook in this country. We have to meet the situation. It is no use turning a blind eye to our problems in the Colonies, which have generally been regarded as millions of acres of land to be exploited by the capitalists in this country. In addition to the millions of square miles of fertile soil, there are also 66 million human beings, and we must pay more attention to the human side of the matter than we have in the past.
I urge the Government to give direction to our colonial peoples. They want our affection and guidance, and I believe that if we go about the matter in the right spirit we can retain them in the Commonwealth. If we do not, we shall lose them. We shall create an antagonism; they will drift away from us, and when an opportunity arises they will leave the Commonwealth altogether. I am anxious to retain them, and if the Government do the right thing we shall retain all the Colonies within the Commonwealth as a part of our great family.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Moyle (Oldbury and Halesowen)
I noted with great interest the interjection of the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), who sought to claim credit for Lloyd George as the author of the Welfare State. If the hon. Gentleman will study the history of that time, he will discover that, while he is correct in claiming that Lloyd George sought to establish the Welfare State, he was unable to do so because the wages of the majority of workers, particularly agricultural workers, were so low, that he was unable to carry out the scheme that he advocated. Had wages at that time been reasonable, and not so low as they were, I have no doubt that in that situation there would have been a better contribution to the Welfare State than ensued from the efforts that were thwarted by the economic conditions then prevailing.
§ Mr. Osborne
Since the hon. Gentleman has called me to book, perhaps I may intervene. Surely he will agree that Mr. Lloyd George's Liberal Administration from 1906 to 1914 established old-age pensions. They established the beginning of socialised medicine; they improved accident benefits, and they laid the foundations of the Welfare State. Surely I was correct in asking the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Awbery) whether it was not wrong to claim the whole credit for his party for the Welfare State.
§ Mr. Moyle
I am very glad that I have restored the hon. Member for Louth, who had left the Chamber, to his lonely eminence on the opposite benches by my reference to his interjection. I still maintain my contention, and if the hon. Gentleman will look at the OFFICIAL REPORT of the proceedings in this House in connection with the first of the National Health Insurance Acts he will find that half of the workers were, as it were, disenfranchised from that Act because, through low wages, they were unable to pay the contributions which were laid down.
I want to return to my original intention, and that is to say one or two words about the contribution which was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary yesterday when he launched on an excursion into domestic affairs. I am often delighted to hear the right hon. 266 Gentleman, but I did not think his contribution to domestic affairs had the same touch of felicity as that which we normally expect from him when he is dealing with foreign affairs.
I have the OFFICIAL REPORT before me and I note that the right hon. Gentleman made a number of claims which, I thought, had a touch of undue complacency about them and were slightly selective. He claimed, for example, that savings were going up and that people were now investing their savings. He said people had reason to believe that their £ might still be worth 20s. a few years' hence. The fact is that since the return of the present Government there has been a decline in the internal purchasing power of the £.
Among the other claims which the right hon. Gentleman made on the Government's behalf was the following:We have to some extent reached a firmer economic platform, there is a curb on inflation and there is control of public expenditure. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th November, 1954; Vol. 535, c. 25.]I recollect that when the Chancellor introduced his last Budget we were told that the total increase in Government expenditure was such that it was about £500 million in excess of the level of expenditure which we had reached when we left office in 1951.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the firmer economic platform on which we stand. I am very glad to see the Parliamentary Secretary for the Board of Trade here. It may well be that the economic platform to which he referred may well prove to be a trapdoor. I have before me some interesting statistics drawn from the O.E.E.C. Statistical Bulletin, which sets out the volume of international trade in the free world, the total increase which has been registered in the volume of that trade since 1950 and the share of that increase which has come to the United Kingdom and has gone to other competing countries in the free world.
Taking 1950 at 100, I see that world trade increased in volume to 117 by 1953. The United Kingdom share of that figure had somewhat declined, however; in 1953, it had declined from 100 to 98. I am advised, however, that this year the increase has continued in the volume of international trade and that our share 267 of it is about 7 per cent. as against Germany's increase of 17 per cent. for the same period.
In Germany, taking 1950 as 100, their increase of that increasing volume of trade has risen from 100 to 180—an increase of 80 points. If we take the picture in the free world as a whole, instead of this country improving its position in international trade, relatively speaking we have declined in relation to the progress made by other competitive countries.
I ask the Parliamentary Secretary what the Government propose to do about that. The complacency of the right hon. Gentleman when speaking yesterday was unwarranted having regard to the fact that while our export trade is increasing, we are, in relation to the increasing volume of international trade, losing ground compared with progress made by other competitive countries.
One of the pleasing features about the Queen's Speech, which, I hope, will continue, is that by implication the Government have accepted the Welfare State. There is no challenge to the Welfare State. One of the great revolutions in the intellectual outlook of the Tory Party as represented by the Government is their extraordinary revolution towards the Welfare State. No aspect of it is challenged. Indeed, the new plane upon which the Parliamentary battle is being fought—as was certainly indicated by the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance—is, for the first time, to vie with the Opposition in seeking to improve the welfare of old-age pensioners and disabled ex-Service men.
That is a step in the right direction because it means, and I hope it will continue to mean, that Parliament will be concerned about the welfare of the people who work rather than the welfare of the people who own. That is a significant change in the outlook of the Tory Party from the days of 50 years ago, when every scheme of social well-being was regarded by the predecessors of those now on the Front Bench as something approaching calamity and something which could not be sustained economically by the country.
It is a good thing to see how the national dividend is distributed and exactly who benefits from the flow of income as a result of the work of those 268 who toil by hand or brain for the common good. If we take the years 1945 to 1951, when the Labour Party vacated office, we find a continuous and substantial increase in the incomes of those who live by earning. We find that in the same period the position of those who derived their income from rent, interest, dividends and profits remained virtually static. But from 1951 to the present time a stop has been put to that continuous improvement of the wage earners in their increasing share of the national income, as happened when we were in power, in favour of those who live mainly by owning. I am advised by the "Financial Times" that this year dividends have soared by 20 per cent. But workers' wages have risen by only 5 per cent.
The test of good government is the way in which the national income is distributed. What stands out clearly, and cannot be challenged, is that in this development a greater share of the national income is being taken by the earners at the expense of the owners, to which the Prime Minister, in his less responsible days, used to refer as "the incomes of the masses and the finances of the classes." When representing the Liberal Government of his day, the Prime Minister was always proud to claim that, thanks to the Liberal Government, the masses were making greater inroads into the financial territory of the classes of that time.
It is unmistakably true that the workers derived a greater share of the national income during the time we were in power than has been the case last year and this year, for the Government have seen to it that that progress has been arrested. In my view, there is unwarranted complacency on the part of the Government as to the economics of the present situation, both at home and abroad. I hope that we shall hear from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, when he replies to this debate, something about the developments to which I have referred in international trade. We are certainly not holding our own in relation to other countries and the increasing volume of international trade.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Morris (Swansea, West)
In acknowledging the Gracious Speech, I must underline the protest that was made yesterday by my hon. Friend the 269 Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) at the complete omission from the Speech of any reference to Wales. This omission is the more resented when we realise that the rate of unemployment in Wales is double the rate in England and that we have several pockets of unemployment to the extent of 5, 6 and even 7 per cent. We are rather tired of the Government regarding Scotland and Wales as mere appendages. They are useful appendages, I suppose, but we are entitled to more consideration that we have had up to now.
We were extremely disappointed that when the Minister for Welsh Affairs, who made only one speech last week, was replying to the Welsh debate he revealed that spirit of complacency to which my hon. Friend the Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle) has just referred. That is characteristic of the Government's approach to unemployment in Wales. Since that speech last week, figures have been published which indicate that during the past three years no fewer than 8,000 people have left two of the counties in Wales. This emigration from Wales is something that we deeply deplore, for it will be detrimental not only to Wales but to the national interest as a whole.
I remind the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade that his Department has responsibility in this sphere. For example, 819 fewer people were employed in shipbuilding and ship repairing in 1953 compared with 1952. We should like to know what the Government are doing to counter the foreign competition in that business. We can hardly be indifferent to the fact that in 1953, as compared with 1952, 4,600 more people were appealing to the National Assistance Board for help. Indeed, in the aggregate there are thousands of able-bodied people in Wales who have to depend on it for sustenance.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman was quite optimistic—I think that it is generous to use that word—about the position in the steel and tinplate industry. He said that up to now there was no reason for apprehension, and that if a bad position developed the Government would look after it. That will be much too late, and when the new works at Velendre are in full production the condition of the steel and tinplate industry 270 will be very serious indeed. I would remind the Parliamentary Secretary again that if works like the Mannesman tube works at Landore are closed, and 400 to 500 people are displaced, it is no use saying they can go to other work at Corby. Those men are between 45 and 60 years of age, and it is asking too much of them to suggest they should go far north where they have neither homes nor friends, and where employers admit that adequate housing is not yet available.
It is the complacency and the self-satisfaction of the Government of which we complain very strongly. If the Government really mean what they say, that they are concerned about Wales, and think they prove that by appointing a Minister for Welsh Affairs, why did not the Gracious Speech make some reference to what the Government are going to do to prevent the serious unemployment from developing in the Principality? We resent that all the best should be taken from Wales and nothing given in return. Evidence can be produced to show that where the Government are pursuing the plans laid down by the Labour Government things are all right, but this Government for their part have shown no initiative, no enterprise in developing new industries and new spheres of labour.
I regret that because of the lateness of the hour, and because I do not want to hinder my right hon. Friend, I cannot develop these matters. We deprecate the Government's indifference to Wales, and we ask that something more be done on our behalf.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Short (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)
I shall not detain the House for long, but I want to say a few words about the Foreign Secretary's rather trivial and unfortunate incursion into home affairs. He prefaced his remarks by saying that he was speaking with less responsibility than he normally did. The main thesis of his remarks was that for the first three years of this Government's tenure of office they have been carrying out a salvage operation, rescuing the country from insolvency, and that, having done so, they could now go on to necessary and desirable reforms.
Not only the Foreign Secretary has said that. We have heard it in recent weeks from every Tory speaker in the country. It seems that it is to be the Tory theme 271 song from now on, that for the last three years the Tories have been salvaging the country, and that now, in the year before the General Election, they can go on to carry out all sorts of desirable reforms.
In other words, the salvage theory is being used as an alibi for three years of inactivity. The Government, we know quite well, are starting in their last year to do many popular things. They tell us that the imminence of a General Election has nothing whatever to do with this. We are told that the nation has been finally put on its feet—at a very convenient time, a year before the General Election; but that, we are told, is purely coincidental. I want briefly to examine this salvage theory, and to look at the state of the nation in 1945, 1951 and today.
The Foreign Secretary referred to manpower. In 1945, let it not be forgotten, there were 7 million men and women in the Forces. The war in the East was still on and had still to be won. For six years peace-time industries had had no recruits. Indeed, most peace-time industries were non-existent. They had to be rebuilt. Men and women in the Forces had to be demobilised and switched over from war-time to peace-time production, and in a great many cases had to be retrained.
In 1951, we had the highest number of people ever at work in industry in this country, and only 800,000 were left in the Services. Peace-time industry had been re-established and the labour force built up, especially in many of the new industries which have earned so much of our surplus in post-war years. Today, the Foreign Secretary says that there are more people at work than ever before. As far as normal figures are concerned that is true. There are about 250,000 more at work than in 1951, but that is not the way to look at the number of people who are employed.
The more accurate way is to consider the percentage of population which is at work. That has actually dropped since 1951. In 1951, 21.16 per cent, of the population were at work. In 1954, the percentage was 21.12. Therefore there is a slightly smaller percentage of our people working today than there was three years ago. If we add to that the effect of increased unemployment, and if we add to that second factor the increased time lost on industrial stoppages, we have 272 a picture of an economy which is certainly not as healthy as it was three years ago.
The unemployment figure today is 220,000. In 1951, at the time of the General Election, it was 185,000. Therefore, in this year which we are told on every hand, in every Tory newspaper, is the most prosperous year of the century, there were 35,000 more unemployed than there were in the last year of the wicked Labour Government. In the metal-using industries, one of the most vital sectors of all, there are today about 5,000 more people, or almost 20 per cent., more unemployed than there were in 1951.
In 1953, 2,250,000 days were lost by industrial stoppages. That was directly due to the Government's failure to control food prices. That was the biggest loss through stoppages since 1937. In the last three years also the distributive trades, the least productive section of our industrial community, have increased their number of employed by 129,000.
Therefore, if we add these factors—the drop in percentage employed, the greater number unemployed, the gigantic amount of time lost through industrial unrest, and the greater number engaged in unproductive labour, the result is a smaller national productive effort. This smaller productive effort has certainly been masked and hidden by two things—the change in terms of trade, which has been worth about £600 million to this country, and the vast investment programme of the Labour Government. Because of that, the drop in productive activity has not been reflected in a considerable drop in the index of production.
In 1945, the Labour Government found industry tired after six years of intensive day and night effort geared to war. They left it rehabilitated, rebuilt, re-equipped and retooled. We left the industrial production index 30 points higher than it was in 1945. That showed an average yearly increase of 6 points. In the metal-using industries—an important sector from the point of view of earning our living in the world—the average yearly increase was 7.5 points.
In the last three years the Tory Government, by their reduced national productive effort, have depressed this annual increase from 6 or 7 points to 3 points. In other words, the annual improvement under a Tory Government has 273 been less than half of the annual improvement during the six years of Socialism about which we hear So much.
There is no doubt that there would have been a drop in industrial production over the last three years had not the Labour Government put industry on its feet, and had not the terms of trade changed in our favour to the tune of £600 million a year. Six years of Labour rule have put industry in a fit state to afford the luxury of three years of Toryism, but the country and our industry cannot stand much more. If we have much more of the present Government, there is no doubt that we shall see diminishing returns from industry.
Another point of view from which to look at this problem, and to make a comparison, is that of the gold and dollar reserve. The Foreign Secretary referred to it in his speech, saying:It is certainly not an unfair description of the position in respect of balance of payments which was one that was causing, as everybody knows, the most acute anxiety."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th November, 1954; Vol. 535, c 25.]In 1945, the gold and dollar reserve stood at £650 million. Six years later, when the Labour Government went out of office, the national reserve stood at nearly twice that amount, and in the last full year of the Labour Government, 1950, Britain earned the biggest surplus in all its history. In that year we earned a trading surplus of £575 million.
It was that vast reserve earned in 1950 which enabled this country to rearm after Korea. The Tory Party claims constantly to have supported the rearmament programme. Why then do they persistently attempt to ascribe to the policy of the Labour Government the drain which its initial stages made on our balance of payments? They know quite well that the drain which occurred in 1951 and 1952 would have occurred whatever kind of Government had sat on the benches opposite, and to pretend otherwise is dishonest and unworthy of a mature political party.
It was only the balance left behind by the Labour Government that enabled rearmament to be carried out without dislocating the flow of food and raw materials to this country. In other words, in 1951 and 1952 the nation lived on its fat in order to rebuild its military power. I am sure that history will acclaim the 274 Labour Government for accumulating that essential sustenance which enabled us to mobilise our forces in those two years.
So in manpower, in industrial activity and in national reserves—indeed, in every field of our national life—the apparent prosperity of today, precarious and transient though it is, is the direct result of the policies of those six tremendous years after the war. This Government simply reap where Labour sowed. We have no power cuts today because Labour doubled the output of power. There are no bottle-necks, there is no unemployment, because Labour rebuilt industry. The party opposite are living on the tempo we created, but their policy of laissez faire will undoubtedly slacken the tempo. It is already slackening, but that slackening has been masked by the favourable change in the terms of trade.
If this Government remain it is inevitable that there will be a drop in production and greater unemployment, because full employment, a buoyant economy and a rising standard of living cannot be obtained by the laissez faire policies of the Government. The Tory Party in other words can only deliver the goods if they are prepared to abandon Toryism. There is no hope of the leopard changing its spots and there is no hope of the Tory Party abandoning and divesting itself of its philosophy. The only answer is for the country to return a Government which will carry on the great work of the six years immediately after the war.
§ 9 16 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Wilson (Huyton)
No one can complain of a lack of variety in our debate. We have had speeches on the subject of defence, including the speech of the Minister of Defence himself, who seemed to interpret the Prime Minister's phrase, "peace through strength," by a long tale of dissolution of Her Majesty's regiments, or of getting rid of air squadrons, which is bound to make some of us ask, at the right time, what the Government have been doing with the very large sums of money that have been voted for defence purposes and which this party queried in the debate on the last defence Estimates.
Apart from the speeches on defence, the debate has ranged from a few minutes' interjection by my hon. Friend the Member for Yardley (Mr. Usborne) 275 about the qualities or, as he thinks, the lack of qualities of a portrait which most of us saw for the first time yesterday morning, to a speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton) about the very important subject of the marking and quality of consumer goods. All of us rejoice with her that the Board of Trade are at last beginning to yield a little to her pressure on some of the issues that she has been bringing out month after month.
However, I think that for most of us the most extraordinary speech of the day was that of the Prime Minister. I do not think it would be appropriate for me to say much about that this evening. He gave us a very full explanation but we are no clearer than he is whether he ever sent the telegram referred to or not; but in due course we shall be told. Many hon. Members—and not all of them, I think, on this side of the House—will for some time to come be very concerned about the rest of the right hon. Gentleman's speech and will wonder whether his words today were not more serious than the words he was reported to have used at Woodford last week.
There is one thing which struck me very forcibly while the right hon. Gentleman was speaking: whether, in fact, the words used last week were justified. Whether the telegram was sent or was not sent is one thing, but there is no doubt that the effect of such a statement on world relations is obviously a matter of very deep importance. What I could not help thinking about was the tremendous fuss that was made by the party opposite when they were in opposition—I think it was in July, 1950—when my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) was misreported in a speech he made to the country on the Schuman Plan for the Coal and Steel Community.
Then the Opposition insisted on having half a day's debate, attempting to censure my right hon. Friend and the whole Labour Government because, according to the misreported remarks of my right hon. Friend, he had thrown doubt on the desirability of joining the Coal and Steel Community. In fact, if he had said —
§ Mr. Strachey
I was not misreported in saying that I threw doubt on the desir- 276 ability of joining the Coal and Steel Community. I was misreported in another respect.
§ Mr. Wilson
However that may be, I think my right hon. Friend will agree in view of what has happened that everything he said or was alleged to have said has been the policy of this Government on the Schuman Plan since taking office. When one remembers how the Conservative Party brought the present Lord Chancellor to the House to attack my right hon. Friend on an issue of comparatively minor importance, I think it will be obvious that the issue raised this afternoon is one that even the Tory Party will agree will not be forgotten in a matter of minutes or hours.
Having said that, I now wish to join some of my hon. Friends in referring to those parts of the Gracious Speech which deal with industrial production, full employment and overseas trade. There are a number of economic issues which will be dealt with in later stages of the debate on the Address, such as agriculture and food production and colonial development, and there will also be the projected broader debate on the Government's economic and social policies.
The Foreign Secretary yesterday, in his incursion into domestic affairs, referred to full employment and seemed to suggest that the Opposition did not join him in rejoicing at the maintenance of full employment in this country. Of course we rejoice, but what we must ask is whether we should be having full employment today if it were not for the policies pursued by the Labour Government from 1945 to 1951, as has just been pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short).
I will give one illustration—Development Areas. During our period of office, at a time of acute stringency and shortage of materials and building labour, we actually put up 1,700 factories at a cost of £100 million in the old derelict areas. We were, in fact, on a job of salvage. We were clearing up the mess in the derelict areas that we had inherited from pre-war Tory Administrations. It is only right that we should ask the Government what their policy is towards Development Areas today.
277 In 1948, the Labour Government issued a very full and informative White Paper on Development Area policy, and several times since the Conservative Party came into office we have asked them when we can expect a White Paper on their record in the Development Areas. I asked the President of the Board of Trade about this more than two years ago, and he undertook to consider the proposal. Since then, apparently, he has not got very much further than his promise to consider the proposal. I would remind him that when the 1945 Act went through a pledge was given, or at any rate implied, that there would be a report within three years, and it was always intended by Parliament that there should be further reports at three-yearly intervals. It is now more than six years since the last White Paper on Development Area policy. I hope that the Government will give us a full report before long.
This is a particularly urgent matter, because we are all very concerned lest, with the removal of more controls, the Government will not have the power, even if they have the wish, which some of us doubt, to carry out the original Development Area policy. Building licences have gone. They were a very important instrument in building up the industrial potential of the Development Areas. I have no doubt that the Government will say that they can rely upon the location certificates under Section 14 (4) of the Town and Country Planning Act.
However, we were advised—I admit that it was to our surprise—that the legislation dealing with location certificates gave us less power to control the economic distribution of industry in the country than we had thought, and the certificates can be used not for influencing the broad geographical distribution of industry but only for dealing with comparatively local issues of economic balance in a particular area. We are not expecting a reply from the right hon. Gentleman tonight. We shall wait until the Chancellor speaks next week. I hope that we shall have a clear statement from the Government about their intentions on the subject of Development Area policy and, in particular, how they propose to make it effective.
Apart from Development Area policy, it is clear that there would not be full 278 employment today if the Labour Government had not put first things first in the difficult years after the war and kept controls on in order to do it. We had to build up economic capacity, particularly of our basic industries; and when I say "economic capacity" I am talking not about finance but about what really matters, productive capacity. We had to do it not only having regard to the wreckage from the war, but with all the deficiencies, all the gaps, all the obsolete industrial equipment that we inherited from pre-war Governments.
Does anyone think for one moment that we could have full employment today if we had not nationalised the mines? Everyone in the House knows that in 1945 there was not a miner's wife in the country who had not sworn that her son would never go down the pit if he had to face the conditions that his father had to face. Yet the Tories voted against nationalisation of the mines.
We had to expand the steel industry, greatly to expand the size of the chemical industry and electric power generation to about two and a half times the immediate pre-war figure; engineering industries, which now provide the greater part of our exports; the motor car industry, which went on expanding through the period of our stewardship of economic affairs.
Having to do all those things put such a heavy strain on our resources that that is the answer to right hon. Gentlemen opposite who talk about the house building programme. We had first to clear up the situation arising out of the war before we had the resources free to build all the houses we should like to have built. Even so, our record in house building after this war was a great deal better than the record after the First World War.
Then we had to put a tremendous volume of resources into dollar saving and dollar-earning industries. From 1947 to 1949, and even in 1950, this country was still pouring out hundreds of millions of dollars on imported petroleum. But we diverted resources to building up a vast oil refining industry in this country. So today we are spending far fewer dollars, almost no dollars at all, on oil while, at the same time, we are exporting hundreds of millions of pounds worth of refined petroleum to all 279 parts of the world, including parts of the sterling area, which are thereby enabled to save still more dollars.
We remember the sulphur scare of 1951, but the efforts we then made have enabled this Government to save large amounts of dollars on imported sulphur even though capacity for producing sulphuric acid has been rising as a result of the measures we took. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-on-Tyne, Central said the Government were reaping where we sowed. There is no doubt about that. I would put it in the words of one of my right hon. Friends at Scarborough, who said that the Government were gathering the fruit of the trees we planted and not planting any trees themselves. It would be fair to add that the fruit they are gathering is not being shared out as fairly between the better and worse off sections of the community as in our time.
Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary referred to this operation of salvage. Of course, he is new to economic debates and, obviously, still in the stage where he relies on party propaganda leaflets rather than on the facts. We got from him the same attitude that we get at public meetings up and down the country and in some of the documents and leaflets that we see. He was answered by a number of my hon. Friends when they pointed out that the major work of salvage had been done by the Labour Government in 1945 when we carried through that vast and successful demobilisation from war and the switch-over from war to peace.
In doing that we were pressed without cease by right hon. Gentlemen who now sit opposite. It was particularly interesting this afternoon to recall some of the advice we used to receive from the Prime Minister about this question of mobilisation and demobilisation. I remember, and HANSARD shows, that on 22nd October, 1945—this was just five months after the Prime Minister sent the telegram, or did not send a telegram, as the case may be—the right hon. Gentleman said:Get all the great wheels turning, and all the little cog wheels, too. Let them rotate and revolve, spin and hum, and we shall have taken a long step forward towards our deliverance. In order to get them turning, we must bring the men home, and set the men free.280I am disquieted at the slow rate of demobilisation. I would have been ashamed to be responsible for the earliest declarations of His Majesty's Government on this subject. Even now that these have been markedly improved, I have no hesitation in saying that they fall far below what is both possible and necessary.The right hon. Gentleman went on to say:There are no more enemies to conquer; no more fronts to hold.This accords ill with what the right hon. Gentleman told us about the events of only five months before. He added:I mean, of course, in a military sphere. All our foreign foes have been beaten down into unconditional surrender. Now is the time to bring home the men who have conquered, and bring them back to their families and productive work."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd October, 1945; Vol. 414, c. 1688.]Thus encouraged by the right hon. Gentleman, we pressed on with this policy of not merely demobilisation but mobilisation of our economic system for the tasks of peace. All we hear from the Government, as we heard from the Foreign Secretary yesterday, is that after six disastrous years they had to come in and carry out a job of salvage. We know the Government's familiar statistics. There is that sum of £1,100 million a year which was supposed to have been pouring out of this country when the Government came in, and when, thanks to the statesmanship of right hon. Gentlemen opposite, with the Prime Minister at the helm and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the President of the Board of Trade down in the engine-room, or wherever they have been employing themselves, all is now well and now our payments are in balance.
I know that it is not necessary to tell this to the President of the Board of Trade, but in the hope that he will communicate it to the Foreign Secretary perhaps it is well to set out one or two of the simpler facts such as the Foreign Secretary will not read in Tory Central Office literature.
Of the £1,100 million, a great part was a panic outflow of capital. I do not think that any hon. Gentleman opposite will deny that. I remember pointing it out to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in January, 1952. Then there was the great loss of earning power of dollars because of the collapse of primary prices after the post-Korean boom. As the result of 281 that, the sterling area countries who relied on the sale of primary commodities were not able to find any markets for their goods, particularly in the United States of America.
Then, as we all know, the really big improvement in our balance of payments over the last three years has been due to the improvement in the terms of trade. I am sure that the President of the Board of Trade does not take any credit for the movement of world prices, which have been worth, on a conservative estimate, some £600 million a year. Those facts already account for the very high proportion of the £1,100 million about which we are talking.
There is also an improvement in the dollar position of Commonwealth countries. There is reduced United Kingdom dependence on dollar sources of supply, as the result of our efforts in sulphur, in the carbon black industry, the oil refineries and all the rest to which I have been referring. I think I have more than covered the £1,100 million deficit.
On top of all this there is American aid. Last year, the Government received 286 million dollars from American aid. I understand that that is exclusive of what we get from exports of military equipment to other countries, who are able to buy this equipment as the result of dollar subventions.
There was a letter very recently in the "Economist." I do not know that the Government are likely to be able to controvert it. It showed the result of taking into account American aid. We used to hear a lot about American aid when we were in power. Indeed, we brought Marshall Aid to an end in 1950. It was this Government that brought it back again. According to this letter which recently appeared in the "Economist," if one is to exclude aid from the accounts we would now have a real deficit of about 500 million dollars a year. So much for the Foreign Secretary's claims to have salvaged the economic situation.
When my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition yesterday said that the Government were complacent about economic affairs I think that his words were justified, especially about industrial production. I am sure that the President of the Board of Trade will agree that, whatever may be done about finance, whatever may be done about banking, 282 exchange rates, the rate of interest or any of these things, fundamentally this country's balance of payments depends on her industrial production.
In 1953 manufacturing industry production was about 1½ per cent. up on 1951. What a record—after all we heard in the last General Election; the Prime Minister's broadcast, the impression the Government created—put a Government of businessmen on the Treasury Bench and production would leap up. After two years of this Government of businessmen industrial production was 1½ per cent. over what we achieved in 1951.
I agree that this year it has increased faster, and we are all very pleased about that. I imagine that, today, the figures are about 5, 6 or 7 per cent. above the 1951 level. I am here taking not the general index of industrial production but the manufacturing industry index. I am sure that the Government are not going to claim credit for all that has happened in the coalmining industry, for instance; they do not say so much about the imports of coal into the country. It looks, therefore, as though the three years of Tory administration have led to an average increase in the production of manufacturing industry of about 2 per cent. per annum.
That is not expansion—this word we read of in the Gracious Speech. Relatively speaking, it is stagnation because, in the last three years of the Labour Government, production in manufacturing industry rose by about 21 per cent. That is an average of 7 per cent. per annum, or 3 to 3½ times as fast as the Government have been claiming credit for over the last three years.
§ Mr. Wilson
I thought I heard a statistical intervention by an hon. Member who said "Twice nothing is nothing." I would remind him that three times two is six.
What we do feel concerned about, and I think it is true of the Government as well, is the present position of capital investment; not only its total volume but its direction. The Economic Survey, published last April, showed that investment in private industry was lagging very badly indeed. It showed, however, that in 283 publicly-owned industry there was a very remarkable increase in capital investment. We understand, from various Government pronouncements, and from figures published this summer and autumn, that there has been some improvement in capital investment as regards both factory building and machinery installation.
Global figures are no use, and, of course, what we want to ask the Government is what kind of capital investment has been expanded. The trouble with the laissez faire economy—the economy that the Government are building up—is that, in the matter of capital investment, it is completely non-selective. It is all very well to talk of a capital investment increase, but it is really not strengthening the economy of the country, when there is far more capital investment in Coca-Cola and American soft drinks of that kind than there is in the Lancashire cotton industry. That is not what we understand by capital investment.
What is really happening is that, under the Tory Government, the country is turning into a sort of "spivs" and advertisers' paradise. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade gave some figures the other day, based on estimates by the Advertising Association, showing that whereas in 1948 expenditure on advertising was £121 million, in 1953 it was £230 million. The amount spent has nearly doubled in those five years. Everywhere we go we see vast expenditure on advertising.
§ Mr. Wilson
During the summer and autumn this year, when coming to the House, I often saw a vast structure in one of the streets in central London, made not of paper but of some much more expensive material—a model of some tea packets advertising a particular brand of tea, a three-dimensional construction which pressed those who could afford it to buy more of that tea. That structure has been erected at great expense, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer is paying for it. What the country wants is not more expensive advertising about tea, but cheaper tea.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)
To put this very interesting argument into 284 some sort of perspective, will the right hon. Gentleman now tell the House what the advertising expenditure was in this country in 1946 and what it was when his party left office?
§ Mr. Wilson
The figures are on record. I am sorry that I have not got them at my fingertips, but what I do know is that they increased considerably between 1950 and 1952.
§ Mr. Wilson
I hope the hon. Gentleman is not seriously suggesting that, because when the late Sir Stafford Cripps was Chancellor of the Exchequer he proposed what was, in effect, a tax on advertising, saying that only 50 per cent. of advertising expenditure should rank as a trading expense. He then received a clear assurance from the Federation of British Industries that they would keep down advertising expenditure to the existing level if he would drop this tax. Of course, satisfied that they would carry out that assurance, he dropped the tax proposal. If the hon. Gentleman is going to suggest that the real increase in advertising expenditure took place during the administration of the late Sir Stafford Cripps in defiance of that pledge, he is making a much more serious allegation against the F.B.I. than I would like to make.
§ Mr. Shepherd
Since 1946 there has been a continuous and severe increase in the cost of advertising per single column inch. That has to be borne in mind.
§ Mr. Wilson
The figures that I gave were from 1948 and, as I say, the total expenditure on advertising has practically doubled during that period. It does not need statistics to prove it. It is within the knowledge of every hon. Member of this House. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade in answer to Questions said that the value of advertising is something about which even economists have two views. But, whatever one's views on this matter, as I have said, it is the Chancellor who pays.
We have had a detergent war. The right hon. Gentleman must realise that we cannot build up the economic strength of this country on soap suds, an economic 285 system based on more and more beautiful and better packaging for the consumer instead of a stronger economic basis. We are getting neon signs instead of new machine tools, and although it would be very nice in a few weeks' time, for those of us who are lucky enough, to find pretty packaging round our Christmas gifts, it would be much better if we were using bur economic resources for building up our competitive strength against German, Japanese and American competition.
We have today, so we are told—and I think this is confirmed by the facts—a boom in industry. But there are doubts in many sections of industry about the future. In the shipbuilding industry there is great anxiety about the level of orders. Here the Government could do something useful by dealing with the question of restrictions on the export of ships to Eastern European countries. Even so, I do not think it is fair to put the whole of the blame on the Government. They have had their own difficulties. They have been very slow about settling the restriction list relating to ships, but I think it is only fair to say that within the present restrictions, even within what is permitted to be exported, the industry has been backward in taking orders from Eastern European countries. It is fair to the Board of Trade to say that the industry has been losing orders which the Government would have allowed them to accept. That is a very grave disservice both to this country's export trade and to the workers in the shipbuilding industry.
Consider the question of cotton. The "Manchester Guardian" the other day used these words:'It won't last' is what the cotton trade is saying now. The home textile trade, now taking more than two-thirds of the output, may keep up but does not look like expanding any more. Export orders are not being booked fast enough to maintain current export production for long.With these anxieties, what we must emphasise—and I am sure hon. Members in all parts of the House will agree—is that the economic security of the nation depends more on adequate capital investment in our industry than on any other single factor, and we must ask what the Government are doing, what pressure they are using and what incentives they are providing for re-equipment in industry.
Let us be frank: I do not think that either party can confidently claim to have 286 solved the problem of expanding capital investment in the private sector of industry. In the publicly-owned sector of industry the problem has been solved. In the publicly-owned sector we have seen that capital investment can be increased whenever it is Government policy that it should be allowed to increase. I recommend to the President of the Board of Trade the document called "Challenge to Britain," which would greatly extend his knowledge of the economic problems and the solution to them. [Laughter.] In "Challenge to Britain" my colleagues and I have emphasised the importance of the public ownership of industry for this one specific purpose of expanding the rate of capital investment. The right hon. Gentleman may laugh, but on the basis of his own figures in the Economic Survey we find that it is the publicly-owned sector of industry where capital investment has been increasing at a satisfactory rate, while private industry has been lagging behind.
It is difficult to know what is the answer for privately-owned industry. I do not think the kind of controls which we had after the war provided the solution to the problem. They were used mainly to restrain capital investment, because under the Labour Government we had to restrain it. In fact, I remember an eloquent speech by Lord Woolton, who told us that we were not doing enough and that we must cut capital investment still further.
Controls of that kind will not of themselves expand capital investment in private industry. Equally, it is true that we shall not get the incentive from a laissez faire economy. We shall not get it from mere tax incentives. The Chancellor tried to do that in 1952, but capital investment continued to lag behind. These methods are dubious in their effect on the volume of capital investment and totally useless on the direction of capital investment.
When the right hon. Gentleman studies the document, "Challenge to Britain," which I commended to him, he will find that the central theme of the document is that we must make British industry more economic and more efficient. No one who has studied it can call it a vote-catching document. It is a serious statement of the economic problem facing British industry and of the 287 way of solving it. It is no more vote-catching than were the economic policies of Sir Stafford Cripps when he was laying the foundations of our post-war economic recovery, with the Tories making political capital out of it all the time. Now they are glad to reap where Sir Stafford Cripps sowed.
We need to work out in greater detail the problems of this challenge which faces the whole House and the ways in which we can deal with the problem of capital investment—how to give confidence to industry by maintaining markets, expanding markets, and maintaining full employment; because the Foreign Secretary was right yesterday when he referred to the confidence which is born of full employment and the importance of that confidence in creating a new attitude in industry to new methods and to the breaking down of restrictive practices.
The policy needs to be considered whether perhaps we ought to be more generous in writing off capital investment more quickly. Perhaps our policy towards building ought to be changed, as has been suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Rhodes); perhaps we are too conservative in saying that management should provide its own buildings. I know that there has been a break with that policy in the case of Mr. Clore in regard to retail shops.
There may be something in the American idea that property owning should be divorced from the function of industrial management. There is a valuable use for insurance companies' funds in financing these premises. Above all, I believe it should be the duty of the State to build new factories when they are required by industries of national importance and, if necessary, not only the factories but the machinery also; in fact, to extend what is at present done in the Development Areas to the whole country.
There is the special problem of the small firms. The other day Lord Piercy said that we still have—he was not referring to the Minister of Defence—the "Macmillan gap" in the financing of small industries. Hon. Members will know of typical cases in their constituencies—I 288 could give details of some—of small firms which want to expand and build up industrial potential. They have valuable markets open to them and could make a big contribution to the re-equipment of industry, but they are paralysed by the lack of finance. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should give some attention to that question.
I have been referring principally to industrial production, but, as the Gracious Speech rightly implies, there can be no economic security without an expansion of our markets. The right hon. Gentleman has been spending his time recently dealing with the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which has led to some heated debates in this Chamber in the past.
We would all have liked to have seen it amended to give more freedom to increase or create new Imperial Preference; I know that the right hon. Gentleman would. I think that most of us would have liked to have seen a customs union in the Commonwealth as a whole on the basis of complete Free Trade in the Commonwealth, as was suggested by Sir Stafford Cripps and Mr. Ernest Bevin years ago. But it is a fact, which the Minister has discovered, that the Commonwealth is not in favour of that proposal, particularly Canada. We are not even sure that Australia's views about G.A.T.T. relate to closer economic links with this country so much as to protection of its home industries.
I think it is right to say from this Front Opposition Bench that we support the right hon. Gentleman in the line he has taken at Geneva about the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. If it is a question of countries imposing restrictions and quotas on imports no country has more to fear than we in the United Kingdom, with our vast export trade. I think it was right of the President of the Board of Trade, quite fearlessly at Geneva, to emphasise that it was not just a question of minor peccadilloes by small nations, but that big nations must also toe the line. We all knew what nation he was talking about. All our hopes for an expansion of world markets will be frustrated if the United States does not finally and effectively dismantle this policy of Protectionism.
In regard to Japan, we agree that this is a very difficult problem. We hope that 289 the Parliamentary mission visiting that country will be able to bring back useful views about the copying of designs and that sort of thing. My view is that the broader problems will not be solved until Japan is free to trade in her natural market in China. And the right hon. Gentleman should insist quite firmly that we must not be in the position of being condemned by the United States for our attitude to Japan until the United States herself begins to practise what she preaches in the matter of admission of Japanese imports.
There is no time to refer to the broader question of East-West trade. We have put a lot of pressure on the right hon. Gentleman this summer and as the "Radio Times" would say, "By kind permission of Mr. Stassen" he came to the House and hinted at the improvement which was to be made in the strategic list. But I must warn the President of the Board of Trade, not only about the position regarding ships, to which I have referred, but also, in case he has not seen the report this week, about ominous, sinister reports emanating from Washington—they were in the "Manchester Guardian" this week—suggesting that the American Government feels that we have gone too far and that these restrictions must be tightened up once more. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will resist this. If he does, he will have the support of hon. Members in all parts of the House.
But we have still heard nothing from the right hon. Gentleman about China. It is illogical and strategically ineffective to maintain the special boycott on trade with China. Months ago, when the question was raised, we were told that it was necessary to continue the boycott because there was fighting in Korea. That fighting has been over now for 18 months, but the embargo has remained. In the summer, the Foreign Secretary said that there was still fighting in Indo-China, but the fighting there has stopped; and every time we ask the Government whether they will take the initiative in the United Nations in bringing the embargo to an end, they say that they have no statement to make at present.
290 We realise the difficulties. We know how much this question is affected by the state of public opinion in the United States. But the Government know quite well that this embargo is economically damaging to this country and to our export trade, and is strategically ineffective because, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, goods can be sent to Russia and Eastern Europe and shipped from there to China. It is that kind of policy which is at variance with the words in the Gracious Speech calling for an expansion in our markets. We agree, of course, with the words in the Gracious Speech, but we would like to see them translated into action.
We see in the Gracious Speech proposals for winding up the State purchase of sugar and yet maintaining our Commonwealth obligations. We shall be very interested to see how this is to be done. We shall want to see whether it provides any means by which the Government could have done the same for the cotton industry, because of all the insecurity that is being created in the Colonies by the Government's winding up of the Raw Cotton Commission. If the Government have found a technique, let us see whether they can apply it to the cotton industry.
I hope I have said enough tonight to justify my right hon. Friend's charge yesterday of complacency against the Government. Their attitude is, "Let us go on as we are going on"—free-wheeling gently downhill. My party had to do the pushing uphill after the war, and now the Government are able to freewheel, but it will not be an easy road all the way and I fear that there will be a lot of uphill work still ahead of us.
We are faced, above all, as I have said not only with the question of markets, but with the problem of capital investment. Economic security depends more on this than on anything else in the whole economic sphere. I am afraid that nothing in the Gracious Speech or in any recent action of the Government suggests any sense of urgency or of awareness of the economic needs of the times in which we are living.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Wills.]
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.