§ 3.19 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD JOWITT)
My Lords, we are getting near the time when the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act is coming to its end, and I do not think any of us will be particularly sorry that that Act, necessary though it was for the purposes of war, is now coming to an end. But the gap which will be left by that Act ceasing any longer to apply has to be filled. There can, I think, be no doubt whatever among those who have given study to this question, that a Bill on the lines of the Bill the Second Reading of which I am now moving must be introduced. There may be controversy as to the exact extent of the Bill—the area which it should cover; there may be controversy as to the period for which the Bill should last; but there can, I think, be no controversy at all that some Bill containing drastic powers for some period is absolutely necessary.
The war is over and peace is resuming her reign, but she starts her reign in circumstances of the greatest possible difficulty. Your Lordships are, of course, all aware of the difficulty which we have by reason of the shortage of supplies—the shortage of foodstuffs, of clothing and so on. I think we shall all agree—at any rate it is the policy of His Majesty's Government—that so long as those shortages continue the principle of "fair shares" must go on. It is not only a question of foodstuffs and clothing; there is a very great shortage of raw materials of all kinds, and the difficulty of getting the necessary raw materials is very closely bound up with the manifold difficulties relating to the dollar exchange. It is obvious that we must continue to produce at home everything that we can, both in our fields and 543 in our factories. It is obvious that we must concentrate our production upon the most essential things; first things must come first. It is obvious that we must do everything possible to try to re-establish and get going in the shortest possible time our export trade, for it is by our exports that we pay for the imports on which we live.
At this difficult time we have another difficulty which we must never forget: we have the danger of inflation, a danger which arises from the fact that a comparatively large supply of money is chasing round after a small supply of goods. That makes it absolutely necessary that we should continue financial control in order to avoid this danger. The building problem, the problem of housing our people, both by reason of the fact that a considerable number of houses has been destroyed and still more because during the years of the war no houses were built, is one which in itself is a problem of immense difficulty. It is obvious that we must stop the rise in prices of materials used for housing, which if we did not have an adequate system of control would certainly begin.
The problems of demobilization and resettlement are in themselves, without these other difficulties, of immense complexity and difficulty, and we must remember, in trying to put our affairs straight at home, that we must give whatever assistance we can to foreign countries and persecuted peoples abroad. These are immense problems. They are not made any easier by reason of the fact—which is, I suppose, inevitable—that there is amongst our people to-day a natural reaction against the discipline and the hardships of war. Any Government responsible for the affairs of this country at the present time would have to realize that we have immense problems to face. Having said that, I do not conceal from your Lordships for one moment that we are asking for immense powers to face them. Unless we get from Parliament the tools, we shall not be able to finish the job.
The legal aspect of the matter arises in this way. The Emergency Powers (Defence) Act of 1939, which was passed, I think, on the first day of the war, passed through all its stages in both Houses of Parliament in the course of an afternoon. 544 It conferred upon the Executive, as your Lordships know, powers to make regulations on all sorts of topics, so long as they were for securing the public safety, the defence of the realm, the efficient prosecution of the war, and the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community. Although those powers were altered and amended by the Act of 1940, in substance they have remained the same. The war being over, it is obvious that these powers are—I will not say out of date, but beginning to wear rather thin; and therefore we think it essential to come to Parliament again and get express Parliamentary authority for the use of powers for other than war purposes, for economic purposes.
That necessity has been evident to all the preceding Governments, and accordingly in May of this year, in the time of the old Coalition Government, a Bill was introduced which is the forerunner of the present Bill. It was introduced by Mr. Morrison, who was then Home Secretary, and supported by Captain Lyttelton and Sir Andrew Duncan, and by Sir Donald Somervell, who was then Attorney-General. It will be seen that the ancestor of the present Bill is of very respectable associations and parentage. That Bill differed in some respects from the present Bill, and I shall point out to your Lordships as I go through the present Bill where the differences lie. By far the most important difference is the fact that that Bill was to last for two years, subject to renewal, whereas our Bill is to last for five years subject to renewal. Then the Coalition Government went out, and what was popularly known as the Caretaker Government came in, and that Government decided to extend the Emergency Powers Act for six months. The Act could be extended only for twelve months, and that by appropriate Resolution, so an Act was passed to extend the Emergency Powers Act for six months, with the result that the Emergency Powers Act is now to expire on February 24 of next year.
I should make it quite plain that the Caretaker Government did not jettison the earlier Bill of the Coalition Government; on the contrary, they made it quite plain that they would in due course, if they were returned, reintroduce the Coalition Government's Bill; but to save time and tidy things up they extended the Emer- 545 gency Powers Act. The Labour Government intend, if they get the necessary consent of Parliament, to take the following steps. We intend to allow the Emergency Powers Act to lapse on February 24 of next year. We intend to extend Clause 1 of the Coalition Government's Bill so as to cover demobilization and resettlement and the disposal of surplus material. Then, by a different Bill, we propose to introduce as soon as possible an Emergency Powers (Transitional Provisions) Bill, designed to keep alive for a strictly limited period after February next such residue of the powers of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act as will still be necessary in the transitional period, and which would otherwise lapse in February of next year. The substance of the matter, therefore, is that this Bill is a Bill which authorizes the Government to pass Orders in Council which will have the force of law so long as they are for one of the purposes set out in Clause 1 of the Bill. We can pass Orders in Council reenacting and adapting any of the Regulations in Parts III and IV of the Defence (General) Regulations. Those are, speaking broadly, the regulations dealing with ships, with aircraft, with essential supplies and with works. In the First Schedule to the present Bill you will find various powers set out to which it is hardly necessary to refer at this stage of the proceedings; various matters which the Coalition Government in the first instance—and we agree with them—thought it was necessary to preserve.
Let me, then, glance through the present Bill and point out where the embellishments, and I think I may add the improvements, which we have made on the old Bill of the Coalition Government are to be found. I shall do that quite briefly, and then spend a little longer in considering the question of the period of time. The difference, I think, and, substantially, the only difference, in Clause 1 is that we have put in, as one of our powers, the power which I have already indicated.
Clause 2 is a new clause. It was not to be found in the Coalition Bill. It confers powers to make regulations dealing with price control. Here, I may, perhaps, say this. Price control at the present time is effected in two ways—either by Defence Regulation or by the Goods and Services Price Control Act. Both these methods 546 have their disadvantages. For instance, the Act gives a power to fix prices for classes of goods, using the word "classes" very widely. But you have no power to fix prices for particular species of the genus. For example, I believe I am right in saying that women's frocks are all classed together. Well, even a man knows that one frock differs from another in glory, and, therefore, I suppose, in price. If you proceed under the Defence Acts, those Acts cannot be used unless the fixing of prices is part of a general scheme of control for the industry. There has been some discussion with the industries concerned, and I believe these new methods, which are less rigid, will be acceptable to the industries.
Clause 3 is concerned with the power to revoke or vary those regulations which we may make. Clause 4 is also taken from the Coalition Bill. It provides for extending the Parliamentary control by negative Resolution. Up to the present time, although, under the Emergency Powers Act you have had control in that you can pray against any Defence Regulation, you have not been able to pray against all the various subsidiary instruments made under those regulations. The Coalition Government proposed, and we, believing that they are right, propose also, to extend that power to these subsidiary instruments. It your Lordships will glance at Clause 4 of the Bill—it appears on page three and the passage to which I am alluding comes at about line thirty-three—you will see this:if either House of Parliament, within the period of forty days beginning with the day on which any such Order in Council, order or instrument is laid before it, resolves that it be annulled, it shall cease to have effect.So that either House of Parliament has most complete control. When one of these regulations or subsidiary orders is promulgated, either House of Parliament can pray against it and thereupon it ceases to have effect.
Clause 5 applies certain machinery of the Emergency Powers Act. In subsection (5) it adds to the Coalition Bill by enabling land which is being used for economic purposes to be retained under requisition. That is a subject matter which has received a great deal of attention in another place, and I conceive that it may well be that when the Committee stage is reached your Lordships may 547 desire to look into it. Clause 6 is borrowed from the Coalition Bill. It extends the powers of the Minister of Supply. At the present moment he can only supply articles essential for war purposes or required by Government Departments to discharge their functions. I think that all Governments agree that the Ministry must have its powers widened if it is to play its part in dealing with the difficult problems which lie ahead.
With that very brief review, I now come to the controversial clause—that is Clause 8, which deals with the period of time. In another place, I understand, the Leader of the Opposition said that when the Bill was returned to them from your Lordships' House, if the Government would then agree to two years they could have their Bill without any objection or opposition. From that I infer that it is only this point in Clause 8, the period of time, that is the subject of controversy. Let me give your Lordships the facts as fairly as I can. It is perfectly true that in the Coalition Bill the fixed period of time was two years with, of course, the right to renew every year. It is right to remember that when that period of two years was fixed the Japanese war was still in progress and we did not know how long it would continue. The assumption commonly made was that it would last for a further eighteen months. Secondly, it is true to say that the Emergency Powers Acts, themselves, have always been renewed every year by affirmative Resolution.
Even during the war they have been so renewed, like the Army Annual Act, which, as your Lordships know, has to be passed every year. Looking back over a long Parliamentary experience I do not think that I recall that anyone has ever voted against the Army Annual Act. It is a useful constitutional procedure which enables points of grievance to be made. But no one ever has any doubt that the Army will continue to be an Army and not an illegal assembly. Were it otherwise, and if there was real political doubt as to whether the Army would be allowed to continue after the end of the year, you might not get keen young active soldiers to join up. Neither was there any doubt with regard to the Emergency (Defence) Acts. There never was the slightest doubt that those powers would be renewed. I do not think that 548 there was ever a Division on the question whether or not these Acts should continue.
Why is it—these being the precedents, which I think I have stated fairly—that we are now asking for a fixed period of five years with annual extensions, instead of the two years which was the Coalition's proposal when the war was on, or indeed the one year which some of the Liberal members have indicated is in their view the appropriate time? There are two reasons. The first reason is this. We have recently had an Election, and if any one topic was thoroughly canvassed at that Election it was this question of control; and if there was any one thing—and I venture to say that I can speak with some little authority upon this point for I took a fairly vigorous part in the Election—which the electors made clear, it was their horror of going back to the system which prevailed after the last war, when in the sacred name of liberty you swept aside nearly all controls and regulations that operated during the war. It I have heard it said once I have heard this sort of thing said a dozen times: "Liberty!—the only liberty we had in the period between the wars was the liberty to choose which lamp-post we would lean up against when we went to draw the 'dole'." That is the pronouncement, I believe, which the people of this country have made. They do not want us to worship spurious liberty by taking off controls which will lead to the disastrous situation which followed the last war.
The second reason is this, and this is rather a delicate question, but your Lordships will forgive me if I speak with candour. In the debate on the Address, the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, referred to this difficulty. This Parliament consists of two Chambers and he pointed out that whereas in the lower, the elected Chamber, the Labour Party number nearly two to one against their opponents, in your Lordships' House, an assembly which consists of some 800 members, on paper at any rate, the Conservative Party muster something like four to one. Those are circumstances which we cannot, at the present time, afford to overlook. My noble friend the Leader of the Opposition, in his speech on the same occasion, referred to this matter and made a statement as to what he thought the 549 attitude of the House ought to be under the circumstances, and there is no man whose statement I would more readily accept than his. I know, if he says a thing, that that is his intention.
On the other hand, we cannot pretend that there is not a certain history about these matters. I say this: in the first place, it is quite ridiculous to suppose that all these controls can go in two years or anything like it. It is absolutely ridiculous. Does anyone suppose that the danger of inflation, to take one example only, can be surmounted in the next two years? Does anyone suppose that it is possible to solve satisfactorily the question of pricing materials? To say such a thing is to say that you have not faced up to the complexity of the problem. What would happen? Let us suppose—I hope it is riot a disagreeable assumption to your Lordships—that in two years the Government are still going on, that they are still faced with not inconsiderable problems and that they want to get a renewal of their powers under this Act. They have to come to your Lordships' House and, in order that they should get a renewal, your Lordships have to pass an affirmative Resolution. Otherwise the powers lapse. Have we any certainty that your Lordships will agree to an extension of those powers? Your Lordships might say that on the whole we should guard the national interest, but might not your view of the national interest be that the present Government should go? If they were denied their powers in two years' time, it is very sure that they could not carry on.
The Opposition believe that we are a lot of rather desperate gangsters seeking to abolish a free House of Commons, anxious to establish a Gestapo régime with my noble friend Lord Walkden, the Captain of the Yeoman of the Guard, as head of the Gestapo. If you believe that, I feel you would be bound on grounds of national interest not to entrust us with this power. If my gardener came to me and said that there were some wasps and he wanted some poison to destroy them, if I was satisfied that there were some wasps and that he knew how to use it, I should give him some. If, however, I thought he was going to poison his wife, I should refuse. Equally, if in two years' tint we come cap in hand and ask for an extension of these powers which will 550 enable us to go on, and if your Lordships think, as we know you think, that we are trying to establish a Gestapo, you are bound in the national interest to refuse.
That is one point of view. There is another. Whether or not when, at the end of two years we hand your Lordships the axe and lay our humble neck upon the block, your Lordships will strike it off, I do not know. At least there will be a lot of uncertainty and speculation, and correspondence in the newspapers as to what is going to happen. I ask your Lordships to consider this. How can you work any system of control—I hope we get the willing co-operation of those being controlled—if you are in any real doubt whether the system is going to come to an end in a few months' time? Those are the reasons why, in these circumstances, we say to your Lordships, that if we are going to face up to the terrific problems which surround us, we must ask for these powers. I assure your Lordships that we do not want to burke criticism. Indeed, if any Government which had to carry through these frightful difficulties were deprived of healthy, active, vigorous criticism, it would be deprived of one of its main chances of success. Each one of these regulations will be laid before your Lordships. Let us debate and consider each one of them. If you decide that the regulation, or the subordinate instrument under it, is wrong, you can tear it up. We do not complain of that; we do not complain of the innumerable occasions which your Lordships have of censuring us. We are delighted. It does us good; it does us a world of good, but do not put us in a position of having to come to your Lordships' House in two years' time to ask for a renewal of these powers by affirmative Resolution, when there is bound to be complete uncertainty as to what the conclusions of your Lordships will be.
If I have introduced too much of the cut and thrust of debate into this, I hope your Lordships will forgive me. It is much better to be frank and we cannot regard as being possible anything shorter than a term of five years. It is good to have a giant's strength, particularly in the problems we have to face up to, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant. We realize that we must use these powers sensibly, and that we must use them to 551 get rid of controls one by one and as quickly as we can. I do not believe there will be a position in which the controls will one day be in full force and vigour and the next day they will be off. I believe in the "inevitability of gradualness." Since I have been Lord Chancellor, I have had to take a great interest in the question of stockings! We shall decontrol stockings. The next time it will be cotton goods; then woollen goods.
So it will be with foodstuffs. We shall be able, I hope, over a wide range of foodstuffs, to end rationing. Rationing of building materials, I think it is quite obvious, will have to go on for a long time, and financial control, I suspect, will have to go on as long as the present Parliament, even if it goes its full time. We invite your Lordships' collaboration in scrutinizing all the regulations we put forward. We invite your Lordships' opinion and if necessary your censure if we keep on the regulations too long, but we assure your Lordships that, though we believe in long-term planning, we do not desire to introduce long-term planning by means of this sort of regulation by Orders in Council. We look forward to the time when we shall be able to reduce controls so drastically that your Lordships will hardly realize there are any controls left. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ 3.51 p.m.
§ LORD WOOLTON
My Lords, I congratulate the Government upon having so powerful an advocate of this Bill. Indeed I am sure my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, my late colleague, will forgive me for saying that if I had a case which was really rather doubtful there is nobody on whose eloquence I would rather depend than on his. He has in this Chamber, which rests on inheritance, made considerable play with the fact that the paternity of this Bill has some relation to a previous Government. I see signs of the restraint of the previous Government in it, but there is an old story that, while paternity is a matter of opinion, maternity is a matter of fact. The facts of this Bill are the things with which we are concerned.
I want to make it abundantly clear at, the outset on behalf of the people for 552 whom I speak to-day that in the short-term programme there is no difference between us. We on this side of the House would not for one moment support any proposals for the immediate removal of controls. I found myself in complete agreement with the noble and learned Lord as he developed the earlier part of his proposals. With control over housing, control of prices of housing materials, control of military service, the regulation of imports, the direction of exports, control for the full employment policy which I introduced—all things on which the Home Secretary in another place spoke at considerable length and with great conviction—we are in entire agreement. We agree also with the necessity for continuing rationing. We have, however, to look at this Bill from two angles. There is the first and immediate necessity before us, but before we pass this Bill we must look to see what are the ultimate intentions of the Bill as well as the immediate intentions. It was in the latter part of his speech, when the noble and learned Lord seemed to regard us as possible wasps, that he disclosed, I think, some uneasiness about the ultimate intentions.
The noble and learned Lord said that the people of this country had approved of the existence of controls. I never quite knew why they threw us out, whether it was because we had imposed the controls or whether it was because they thought they had better try some new people, but whichever way it was I have personally only gratitude for them. I wonder, however, whether the noble and learned Lord was not misleading himself and perhaps us when he suggested that the people of this country wanted a continuation of controls. I believe they are looking forward to the end of controls. I believe His Majesty's Government will be mistaken if they think that as a result of the Election they have a mandate for a long period of control over our liberty. The country will tolerate control, however unwillingly and however inconveniently, for a year. I believe they may tolerate it after such an eloquent expression for two years, but I believe that there will be a growing resentment against this continuation of controls if it is carried on for any long period. Perhaps that is why the Government are making hay while the sun shines and getting this power.
553 The business of the Government is to plan for surplus and not to ration restriction. I have sonic authority to speak or this subject of rationing. One of the greatest difficulties I found as Minister of Food in my earlier clays was where people came to me and said: "Here it a difficulty, we shall be able to get over our difficulty by rationing." I always maintained that it was only when we had failed to get supplies that we must put the unhappy people of this country under the necessity for restriction and for rationing. I hope I am speaking for noble Lords en this side of the House when I say that on all the immediate problems facing His Majesty's Government, difficult as they are—and we recognize those difficulties—we will give support for at the necessary controls in order that we may avoid inflation, in order that imports or exports may be regulated. These things are quite clearly necessary for the time being in the national interest. But before we pass this Bill and commit this country to regulations of this nature fm a period of five years, we must look to sec where we are going, to see what sort of powers we are going to give to this Government.
I am bound to say I am personally disappointed at the attitude the Government are taking in this Bill. Some of us who sit on these Benches worked together with members of His Majesty's present Government in producing the White Paper which I had the honour of submitting to your Lordships' House, to which you gave entire approval, the White Paper on Full Employment. It was the best thing that came out of the Ministry of Reconstruction. What was the fundamental basic, of that White Paper? It was that we were going to seek for an expansionist policy in this country. On that members of the Labour Party, as well as Conservatives, and Liberals, were all agreed. I am therefore frankly disappointed that the first measure which this Government propose to your Lordships' House should be one that is encumbered with restrictions rather than with expansion. We shall not gel expansion out of restraint. Expansion calls for enterprise from the people of this country. Expansion and employment that follows expansion call for confidence. You are not going to get either expansion or confidence whilst there is perpetually held over us uncertainty as to what is the 554 Government's economic policy. It is their intentions of which they leave us in doubt. We want to know whether this Bill is for dealing with the transitional position or whether it is a vague statement of Socialist policy. Is it a Bill, or is it a post-election address?
The powers in this Bill are not limited to the aftermath of war. If His Majesty's Government chose to use them for the purpose—and I have some confidence they will not—they are powers that might create an economic revolution in this country. They are holding a threat over the freedom of people; they are holding a threat over enterprise, and, I venture with respect to them to say, they are holding some sort of a threat over Parliament, too. For five years we have served under many forms of restraint in order that we might get freedom. For five years more we are going to serve under this Bill—for what end? I see a great danger in keeping the people of this country rationed and controlled. I see a great danger of a generation arising that knows nothing of freedom, that knows nothing of looking after itself, but is always saying, "The Government will provide."
There is something of a parallel between the philosophy—and I say only the philosophy—of National Socialism and this complete control. I am quite sure of the intentions of His Majesty's Government. I am quite sure of the nobility of those intentions, and I am quite certain that all the Government are trying to do, according to their conception of life, is to serve the State in their generation. But I get a little fearful when we depart from the British way of life—a way of life which, whatever have been the blots on it in the past, has at any rate produced the results that we have been applauding this afternoon. Our generation and our sons have fought and died for some intangible thing called freedom. All I say to His Majesty's Government is this: Do not deprive us of it. Do not deprive us of the hope of it. Whilst you are planning, I do beg that you will try to fit your plans into humanity rather than try to marshal humanity into your plan.
Now may I speak on an aspect of this Bill on which perhaps I am more entitled to speak than on the general political line? I am concerned about the subject of employment, and I am very greatly concerned lest, as a result of the 555 operations of this Bill, we find the trade of the country suffers. We shall require in this country, our trade balances having gone, to develop very considerably our home industries. I had something to do in the period between the wars in bringing several new industries to this country. They were brought by industrialists who came from other countries because they could not get freedom in those countries, and they were prepared to settle here because they knew that here they would not constantly be subject to Government control. They came here to our great benefit; and we shall want very many more. I have some fear lest, if always there is this threat of five years of control hanging over industrialists, we might lose that enterprise and those industries.
Every member of His Majesty's Government who has made an important speech on financial issues lately has told us about the importance of getting export trade. You do not get export trade if constantly the people who are making the goods are having to write in for permission to do this or do that. Export trade is something you have to catch the moment it is there. It is not a trade that is very easily subject to control. Then I wonder how far under this Bill members of His Majesty's Government might go. My home town is Liverpool, and we have been shocked in Liverpool by the casual announcement of the President of the Board of Trade in the course of conversation that he was going to close the Liverpool Cotton Exchange. I suppose he has got the power under this Bill to do it. We have heard that maybe the Wheat Exchange, the Corn Market, will be closed, too. Those things are most dangerous things to do. Here is trade of an international nature. I know that some people with high moral principles who are inexperienced in trade think that everything that happens on a market is gambling and are inclined to deplore this trade. These markets have brought a vast amount of dollars and a great deal of shipping, insurance and banking trade to this country. With powers like these hanging over us, we do not know where we are. That is a very serious matter for a trade or an industry of any country, and particularly of a country that is greatly in need of recovery.
556 Now may I speak of another matter? Control needs controllers. Who are the controllers? Who are the people who are going to control the trade of the nation? Trade is not something you learn out of reading a textbook; it is something you learn by experience, and you learn it better and more completely by a little bitter experience. The gentlemen who are going to control us are not going to be the same people who controlled us during the war because, during the war, all sorts of people came into Government Departments—people of vast experience—and placed themselves under the instructions of Ministers and civil servants. No one has more cause for gratitude than I have for the people who came in and helped in the Ministry of Food. But they are going back to their own businesses. I do not know whether His Majesty's Government would particularly want them 'or not, and, for a long period of time, they ought not to want them. We are going to find ourselves with control in the hands of civil servants. No one has more respect for the civil servants than I have. They are first-class people for the job for which they were appointed, and that job is administration and not an intimate knowledge of business.
And, of course, ultimately, they are going to be under the control of His Majesty's Ministers. I have a great respect for His Majesty's Ministers, as a class; I have a great respect for the gentlemen who sit on the Government Bench. They would be the last people in the world to claim, in their modesty and their self-knowledge, that they had the knowledge or the experience that would enable them to control the trades of the country, and that is what they are going to do in this Bill. We are going to hand over to His Majesty's Ministers, the civil servants under His Majesty's Ministers, great powers for the control of trade. And at what cost, my Lords? What is going to be the cost of all this, the cost of extending Government Departments? What we want for the recovery of this country are producers and sellers of goods, not recorders. I see danger there, and I also see danger to the overhead charges of running businesses. Since I got back to business I have been appalled at the number of people, who have no commercial value, employed in filling in forms and making records merely 557 for the information of His Majesty's Government.
Those are the things that concerned me as I read this Bill and as I listened to the debates in the other place. His Majesty's Government are just as eager as anyone for the restoration of the trade of this country. I wish they would tell us where they are going. Instead of coming to us and saying: "We want these general powers," and, as the Lord Chancellor said, "We will let them go in time; do not worry about that; we will let them go, bit by bit, but give us the power over you," I wish they would say: "Here is our programme." Let them give us confidence.
The industrialists of this country are not people whom His Majesty's Government can afford to do without. They are as patriotic as any other body of people. Both on the grounds of patriotism and self-interest they are most anxious to restore the trade of this country. Unless the Government can restore the trade of this country, they will not, whatever legislation they may pass, stay in office, because the people will rebel against them. Therefore, I say, make it easy for us to develop our trade, to know whether we can risk our money. We are prepared to risk our money in spite of the fact that when we have made a pre fit on it the Chancellor of the Exchequer will take it all. We are still prepared to do that, because we rather like the fun of the game of business, and that is something very precious in the business life of this country. We want a bit of encouragement. I believe the people of this country want a bit of encouragement, too. But instead of giving us encouragement, what do the Government do? They won an Election. The people thought they were going into a brave new world, and then the Government come along to them and say: "No, no, friends, not a brave new world for five years. Our problems are going to be so grave that we cannot possibly see the end of the picture." Five years of unrelieved gloom, without any hope. That was not what the people of the country returned them for. And I do net believe that is going to be the condition of this country, either. I think we shall recover in much less than five years, and that these powers which they are taking now are unnecessary for that duration. I say to these advocates of 558 democracy: "Trust the people of this country. They are the people who will help, but do not saddle them with controls which they will resent."
The black market in this country scarcely existed throughout the war. Why? Not because of our powers of detection, not because of our Gestapos, but because the people of this country said: "These controls are right and we will support them." Whatever the temptation, it was not considered a decent thing for people to go into the black market. But the black market in this country is growing at this moment. If we are going to keep on the prospect of control for five years then, I think, there is real danger that people will begin to think it is all right to do something that is against the Government order. That is bad government, and leads to demoralization. The Lord Chancellor stopped being suave with us at the end, and told us how much he feared our decision in two years' time—how much the Government feared it. They fear their fate too much. If they administer the country well, and if, at the end of two years' time, it is necessary, in the national interest, that there should be controls, why have they not the courage to come to us then and tell us the facts? The body of patriotic people would give them the powers they needed. The Lord Chancellor knew perfectly well that he was on very thin ice there, but the great advocate got over it so pleasantly.
Well, my Lords, so far as we on this side of the House are concerned, we think they are flouting Parliament at the present time. Throughout the war we annually asked Parliament for a renewal of our powers. In the period of the greatest emergency we were always content to go to Parliament, year by year. This new Government, with their vast majority are afraid to go to Parliament year by year and ask for their powers. Of whom are they afraid? Not of us, my Lords. They are afraid of their own Back Benchers. They do not know whether those wise men who sit on the Front Benches in both Houses will be able to control their Back Benchers, those idealistic people who have a world of their own and an economic system of their own, if, in two years' time, they have to drop them. They therefore say, "These people are all fresh; we have a House of Commons that is new and uninstructed, so let us take the whole thing 559 at once." I do not know whether that is wise; at any rate it does not seem to me, whatever else it is, that it is democracy.
The truth is that in the excitement of power the Government have lost their political wisdom; otherwise they would not ask for five years. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that it was excellent to have a giant's strength but tyrannous to use it like a giant; but I am wondering whether that is not precisely what the Government, with their great majority in the House of Commons, are doing. They come to your Lordships' House to see whether you will give them a cause of action against you. That is precisely how the Government are trying to use their power, in a tyrannical manner. I venture to appeal to those who sit behind me, with that calm statesmanship which has always characterized the debates in your Lordships' House, to go on record as taking the view that this Bill is an unwise Bill, so that history may show where we stand at this moment. But I ask you, having gone on record in that sense, to remember that there are immediate questions with which His Majesty's Government are faced, and that those immediate questions call for the powers that are in this Bill. I ask you to condemn the Government for their fear of annual Parliamentary consultation; but, when you have condemned them, I venture to ask you to refrain from voting against this Bill, and to give the Government an example of how people with great power can use that power in the interests of the country.
§ 4.23 p.m.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, in listening recently to the debates in your Lordships' House, and also to some extent in another place, I have been led to wonder whether His Majesty's Government are not somewhat embarrassed by the efforts of everybody else not to embarrass them. I quite realize that for the time being the privilege of criticism is restricted to the supporters of the Government, and anything I say today I would ask those who sit on the Government Front Bench to regard merely as an appeal to their better nature.
Some months ago it was my privilege to put before your Lordships a Motion on this very subject of controls, a Motion 560 which was comprehensive and drastic in its scope, perhaps so much so that it aimed at a counsel of perfection. At the same time, it is right to say that it did command a considerable volume of support, both vocal and silent, not only from your Lordships but, as my subsequent correspondence showed, from a very large number of people throughout the country. The then Government were unable to accept the Motion, but the significant feature of the debate—I am sorry that the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, is no longer in his place—was that it had the unusual effect of ruffling the accustomed paternal urbanity of the noble Viscount who now leads the House. It occurred to me then, as I think it must have occurred to a good many others of your Lordships, that his reaction and the reaction of those who were associated with him was a fairly clear and strong indication that, if when the General Election came they found themselves subsequently in power, they had every intention of using the system of controls as the main munitions depot for their attack upon what remained of the liberties of the individual.
With all respect—and when a member of the Bar says "with all respect" it generally means that he is going to say something disrespectful—to those noble Lords who made speeches against my Motion at that time, I and those who were associated with me were not so foolish as to think that all controls could be removed on the morning after the war came to an end. Indeed, this Bill which we are now discussing was, as has been said, originally the creation of the Coalition Government. But it has been recently reborn. No longer is it the unattractive but tolerable infant that it was in its first incarnation; it now has the very unsightly disfigurement of Clause 8 attached to it. It may be of interest and of value to consider for a moment the arguments used, not only a short while ago by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack but by members of the Government supporting this clause in another place, in order to ingratiate this child with other persons who had a less paternal and therefore more objective approach to its charms. The Lord Chancellor said that the Government were asking for immense powers. There can be no doubt that that is true. He followed that statement up with the plea "Give us the tools." If controls are to 561 continue for a time—and I for one recognize that they must—the Government require the tools, but is it unreasonable to say to them: "You are still only fairly recently engaged as gardeners to the, country. We will give you the tools, but we think that in return the least that we can ask of you is that from tine to time you produce those tools to us and show that you are taking good care of them and keeping them clean and fit for proper use"? That seems a not unreasonable request to make, but apparently it is not to be granted.
The noble and learned Lord Chancellor put his and the Government's preference for five years rather than two upon two main grounds. The first is that the country has recently declared by an overwhelming majority its passionate affection for this system of control. The second is that your Lordships are not to be trustee not to be uncivil about the continuation of this Bill when it is submitted to you again at the end of two years. As regards this eagerness for controls on the part of the country, it is not without interest to recall that in another place one of the arguments used to support five years as distinct from two was that to reduce the period to two years would create a spirit of false optimism 'amongst the people of this country. It is an interesting picture—the spectacle of families all over the country poring over the somewhat sombre sheets of this rather mystically-entitled Bill with sinking hearts until they come to Clause 8 as it originally stood, with two years, and then, when they find that at the end of two years there may possibly be some alleviation of the position, and that they may possibly be freed from these controls for which they voted so enthusiastically, suddenly a rip ale of satisfaction mounting to a roar of rejoicing is heard, and wave after wave of False optimism surges over them at the thought that they might be free from their beloved controls in less than five years. Really I do suggest that that argument has neither weight nor worth.
The second argument is that your Lordships are not to be trusted to play with this dangerous toy. Clause 4 of this Bill gives to either House the right to reject any Order brought before it, after it has been laid on the table and has been considered. If this House were in a vindictive mood and, as I say, not to be trusted with dangerous toys, it would be open 562 to it to reject every one of the Orders in Council, made under this Bill, as it is laid upon the table of this House. If we can be trusted to take a proper, broadminded, patriotic and statesmanlike view of the Orders as they come up, one by one, why cannot the Government have similar confidence in us to take an equally broad-minded, patriotic and statesmanlike view of this Bill as an entire instrument of government?
The other argument used was the argument about five years being the minimum period within which you can begin serious planning. The noble and learned Lord Chancellor, himself, referred to the Army Annual Act—the Act which, I suppose, is becoming obsolescent and which will soon be replaced by the "Atom Annual Act." He went on to add the interesting comment that, although there had never been a Division upon the Army Annual Act, it was a useful constitutional procedure, because it gave the opportunity to the House to examine matters pertaining to the Army, and to express, for the benefit of the Government and for the instruction of public opinion, views upon matters concerning the Army. My Lords, why should not Parliament have, equally, the opportunity, from year to year, to express a view upon what the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack has, himself, only to-day, called immense powers—the biggest powers ever entrusted to any Government? Why should not Parliament have the opportunity to express views, each year, upon the annual statement laid before it by the Government as to the use they have made of those powers?
In another place, there was an argument put forward which was of startling character, but, at the same time, a little in keeping with the whole tenor of this Bill. It was said, very surprisingly, that one of the objections to two years as distinct from five was that you wanted to discourage the undue exercise of criticism. That is a very formidable sentence—to discourage the undue exercise of criticism. What does it mean? Does it mean that the Government are so enamoured of controls that they are now prepared to control criticism of themselves, and to say what criticism is legitimate and what is illegal? If I may, I would make the constructive suggestion that if they are obsessed by that fear they might well put in a new paragraph after paragraph (d) 563 in Clause 1—moulded of course in a way to conform with the rest of the clause—the effect of it being to say that it will be necessary for the Defence Regulation to have effect for, amongst other purposes, the facilitating of the orderly disposal of any person criticizing His Majesty's Government. Then, having got that paragraph through, the Government would be enabled—naturally by Order in Council because that is the way they like to work—to proceed to a system of rationing of rebelliousness and coupons for criticism, and, no doubt, a good time would be had by all.
But it is a serious matter if members of a democratic Government begin talking about undue exercise of criticism. This encroachment of legislation by Order in Council upon the domain of legislation by Act of Parliament has already progressed too fast and too far. It is not, and it cannot be, in the interests of democratic government that Parliament should be thus elbowed out of effectiveness, and, particularly, by those who have so recently gathered a very generous harvest from the institutions of democratic government and should be its firmest and most grateful friends.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ LORD BRABAZON OF TARA
My Lords, I was very much astonished to hear from the Lord Chancellor the remark that only irresponsible people would divide against the Army Annual Bill. I somewhat resented that remark, for I seem to remember spending night after night supporting the Government in debates on Army Annual Bills in which there were constant Divisions the whole time. I quite understand that they were not responsible people who were engaging in criticism, but they were members of the Party to which the noble and learned Lord Chancellor now belongs. The whole history of Parliament has been a struggle, a struggle first of all against the King and also against the Executive. It was a long struggle and we, the people of this country, finally won our privileges. It was indeed to me a very sad day when in the lower House, owing to the war, we handed, so to speak, all our hard-gained liberties on a plate to the Government. That was remarked on at the time, but it was what we had to do under the stress of war. We did hope, however, 564 that when victory had come we should get those liberties back. But not at all. Here we are with this Bill before us, and our brave new world, it seems, is to become a Government of civil servants, for civil servants, by civil servants.
It is, indeed, a gloomy prospect for the future. The noble and learned Lord Chancellor gave as his opinion—I think he is on very dangerous ground—that the Labour Party got their sweeping majority at the Election because the people of this country were looking forward to controls and further controls. Well, of course, people who speak at Elections generally have people of their own political persuasion at the meetings to listen to them, and they are, consequently, liable to think that their speeches convey a great deal of conviction to their audience which is, in fact, already convicted. That is the weight which is sometimes given to speeches made in an Election. It is not really so of course. About one-quarter of one per cent. of the electorate have taken the trouble to go to an election meeting at all, and I am perfectly certain that the Labour Party now enjoys its position not because of its programme, but because of a disgust of the controls, the queues, and the general messing about which this country had to put up with during the war. There is a classical saying that those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad. We can already detect symptoms of incipient imbecility in the Government in various quarters even to-day, and I say myself that it would be a mistake to vote against this Bill. It would be a mistake even to limit the time of control, because it is through controls and by interference with freedom-loving peoples that this Government, or any Government, will destroy themselves. There is no surer way than that to damnation. Why should we at this time save them from suicide?
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ LORD MARLEY
My Lords, I must say that it is always a pleasure to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon. He is always witty and amusing and to-day he has distributed his largesse in the usual pleasant way. He has accused us of incipient insanity, of approaching suicide and of early damnation. He pointed out—I think his history is a little wrong—that the whole history of Parliament has been a struggle against the King and a struggle against certain other 565 elements. He forgot that the history of Parliament has been a struggle against irresponsible landlords and a struggle against irresponsible employers; that Parliament, during the last one hundred years, has had to control and limit the free enterprise employers, who used the Industrial Revolution to lower the standard of the workers of his county to depths so horrible and so terrible that one can hardly mention or remember them without horror and suffering. That was the reason for the controls imposed by Parliament in the last one hundred years which the noble Lord, I think forgot.
We had a speech from the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, and he, I think, forgot that he himself said that Parliament would have the right to examine and criticize as they came up every one of the regulations which are being continued by this Bill. Therefore, it is not a limitation of the powers of Parliament to criticize. It is not a limitation of criticism, for Parliament has full power to criticize, point by point, each one of the regulations. The country is not left in a state of complete uncertainty as to what would happen two years hence. That is the reason why we must continue this measure, if necessary, for the next five years, and I have no doubt that there will be further continuation because in the opinion of many people, five years is by no means long enough to deal with the problems left by the maladministration of twenty years of Tory Government, followed by the mess of six years or world war into which they led us.
Lord Woolton, of course, had a very difficult task. He had, on the one hand, to criticize the Bill and, on the other hand, to pacify his supporters and to make them accept, without a Division, the very factors which have been criticized for so long. As a Back Bencher I am concerned more with general matters in this Bill. I am concerned, with the future standard of living of the ordinary people of this country, the ordinary men and women. I am concerned with the homes of the people, what they are going to get in order to be able to raise their standard of life and how we are going to secure our export trade to bring in, in return, the raw materials which we process in our industries and the food to enable us to live. The whole of oar future standards depends on exports and 566 exports in the future must be on a competitive basis. That is why one of the underlying reasons for this Bill is the need for efficiency in industry. I do not need to remind your Lordships that under Clause 1, subsection (1) (a), the Bill states that it is to secure a sufficiency of supplies and services "essential to the well-being of the community," and paragraph (c) states that it is "to facilitate the readjustment of industry and commerce." That means the re-establishment, the rebuilding, of efficiency, or the maintenance of efficiency acquired in past.
In the First Schedule we have the encouragement of our exports. Mention has been made of Command Paper No. 6527 on "Employment Policy," upon which the Bill has been constructed. I think it is worth while remembering that the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, gave his full support to "Employment Policy" when it was published. That Paper states, in paragraph 17, that the peopleare resolved that, so long as supplies are abnormally short, the most urgent needs shall be met first. Without some of the existing controls this could not be achieved; prices would rise and the limited supplies would go, not to those whose need was the greatest, but to those able to pay the highest price. The Government are confident that the public will continue to give, for as long as is necessary, the same whole-hearted support to the policy of 'fair shares' that it has given in wartime.That is the policy supported by the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, and it seems difficult to see why he should have suddenly changed his mind and opposed the very point he supported in the past.
We have heard from the Lord Chancellor that these controls must apply to such matters as clothing, footwear and textiles. With regard to textiles, it was interesting that the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, gave a pretty picture of seizing the moment for exports, that in exports you must have complete freedom to seize the opportunity the moment it comes. Have the textile manufacturers seized the moments for exports under free enterprise? Do we not see in the textile industry complete elimination of our principal export industry under free enterprise? There was not very much of the seizing of the moment in the textile industry, which is included in this Bill. With reference to furniture and fuel and the building of homes, what was our experience in the 567 last war? The prices of homes went up because of the removal, the rash removal of controls on building materials. Price control is, therefore, a part of the Bill and the object of it.
One of the most important matters involved in price control is the elimination of restrictive practices. A good many noble Lords who have spoken have expressed doubt whether in fact the electorate want the continuation of these controls. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, who said that not more than one quarter of one per cent. of the population ever went to a political, meeting. I think it has been forgotten that the policy of the Party from which the present Government has been formed was based not only on meetings but on documents. There was a very interesting little document which I commend to noble Lords on the opposite side of the House because I think it will be extraordinarily interesting to them to have authoritative knowledge of what is going to be their future. This document is called Let us face the Future and for their information I will say that it can be procured from Transport House at a price far lower than its real value. With an addition to the Surtax they will no doubt be glad to welcome it at a cheap rate. What does this document Let us face the Future say? It was upon this document that the people voted at the last [...]Election. With your Lordships' permission[...] I will quote a few short paragraphs.
The first is this:The shaping of suitable economic and price controls to secure that first things shall come first in the transition from war to peace and that every citizen (including the demobilized Service men and women) shall get fair play. There must be priorities in the use of raw materials, food prices must be held, homes for the people must come before mansions, necessities for all before luxuries for the few. We do not want a short boom followed by collapse as after the last war; we do not want a wild rise in prices and inflation, followed by a smash and widespread unemployment.That was one of the points upon which the people voted at the last Election, because they remembered that the Tory Government after the last war rapidly removed the controls along the lines suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, and thereby got the rise in prices and the smash and widespread unemployment.
§ LORD WOOLTON
I do not like to intervene, but I must say that I did not suggest there should be any immediate reduction of controls. The noble Lord perhaps did not hear me and therefore he will be good enough to accept my correction.
§ LORD MARLEY
I listened to the noble Lord, and what he said, as I understood, was that he wanted controls finished after two years.
§ LORD MARLEY
If I misinterpreted the noble Lord of course I withdraw, but it is interesting to know that he does visualize a continuance of controls after two years on a further consultation with Parliament. That is a good sign in one who speaks from the Front Opposition Bench. It does show that a non-political member of the last Government, as I think he claimed to be, has learnt something from the last war. The second point in this document to which I want to draw attention is this item in the industrial programme of the Labour Party:A firm and clear-cut programme for the export trade. We would give State help in any necessary form to get our export trade on its feet and enable it to pay for the food and raw materials without which Britain must decay and die.So people knew what they were voting for and what we were going to do for our export trade. Even the noble Lord would not suggest Government aid without Government control; at least, I do not think he would.
The third point to which I would draw attention is:Public supervision of monopolies and cartels with the aim of advancing industrial efficiency in the service of the nation.One could, of course, quote a good deal more. The document says, for instance,Each industry must have applied to it the test of national service. If it serves the nation, well and good; if it is inefficient and falls down on its job, the nation must see that things are put right.There is only one other sentence I would quote. It may be of interest to noble Lords to know that the electorate were not asked to abolish the House of Lords. We like it as a museum piece, and think it has much of interest, but this document from which I am quoting says, 569We give clear notice that we will not tolerate obstruction of the people's will by the House of Lords.That is an interesting point which I think is worth remembering in view of the mention of a statement from the other House which I thought was obscure.
Now I want to say a word about industrial efficiency. This country since the Industrial Revolution has been moving to less and less efficiency after the period, some sixty years ago, when foreign competition began to develop. That sixty years has been shown to have been a period of diminishing efficiency. Would the noble Lord suggest that in five years, or in less than five years, we can put industry on its feet again? Would the noble Lord suggest that we can rebuild the efficient basis of industry of this country within five years? Of course, we need much more than that.
§ LORD MARLEY
I agree with the noble Lord. Would be maintain that the building up of restrictive practices, by price rings which are known to be maintainers of the inefficiency of factories, can be eliminated in five years or less than five years? He knows that these things are going to take much longer than that. I therefore venture to suggest that from the point of view of the rebuilding of the efficiency of our great industries and from the point of view of the elimination of restrictive practices, five years is not only not too long but is not long enough. For this reason I feel that we must maintain the full period of five years, and I imagine that when we do come to consult Parliament in five years' time we shall want a further expansion in a number of directions along the line suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Woolton. That is why we expect the House to agree to this Bill—to agree to it in the interests of maintaining our exports and increasing them; and to agree to it in order to give the Government time to help in rebuilding efficiency in industry and in removing obstacles to that vital objective. That is why we believe that the House will be extremely well-advised in giving us to the full the proposals in the present Bill.
§ 5.2 p.m.570
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Lord Pakenham.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.