§ 2.41 p.m.
§ LORD ELTON rose to move to resolve, That, in view of the gravity of the economic crisis with which the nation is faced, it is desirable that the leaders of all three Parties should meet in conference forthwith with a view to the issue of an agreed statement as to the measures needed to meet the emergency, and the formation of a National Government to carry them out. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I begin by craving your Lordships' indulgence, because I am only too conscious that a Motion of this character deserves a more authoritative mover. I can plead, perhaps, that the claims of the Motion on your Lordships' attention do not depend on the mover, or even primarily on the interest with which I have no doubt your Lordships will listen to other noble Lords who will support it, but rather on 1156 what might be called the invisible background to the whole of this debate—the dim, persistent instinct of the man in the street that all is not well, that all is much less well than he has yet been permitted to know, and his deep and inarticulate desire for more effective measures before it is too late.
§ Your Lordships will remember that during the recent debate on the Address to the Throne, noble Lords who spoke on behalf of their respective Parties all protested that a National Government was either inopportune or undesirable, or both. I must confess that I was not so discouraged by this unanimity as perhaps I should have been. I could not help reflecting that three months earlier noble Lords would probably not have found it necessary even to protest that a National Government was inopportune. I found myself thinking that, like the lady in Hamlet, maybe they protested too much. Your Lordships must have observed as a matter of common experience that the eligible bachelor who is constantly protesting that he is a life-long misogynist is almost invariably led to the altar within a twelvemonth.
I think I am right in saying that almost all the noble Lords who spoke on that occasion referred to a Coalition and not to a National Government. Such is also the usual practice in the Press of political journalists who, consciously or subconsciously, wish to discredit the idea of National government. But the gulf between a Coalition and a National Government is surely immense. A Coalition Government, which was not uncommon in the comparatively placid waters of Georgian and Victorian politics, was a mere domestic manœuvre at Westminster, arranged between the Front Benches; and Disraeli, on the whole rightly, said in 1852 that
England does not love coalitions.
I wonder if many of us could remember off-hand the purpose of most of the eighteenth and nineteenth century coalitions, but we could all remember the purpose of the National Governments, for a National Government represents the instinctive drawing together in the hour of peril, not merely of the Parties, but of the nation. A National Government is at once the symbol and the instrument of that unity, transcending Party, class and creed, which this nation has always
been able to achieve in its hours of supreme crisis and, achieving, has survived.
§ This takes us at once to the heart of the argument for a temporary national alliance. The positive case for a National Government, as distinct from the negative argument drawn from an inevitable instability and impotence of any conceivable Party Government in the present Parliament, rests on the widespread belief that this nation to-day is facing a time of grave economic and international crisis, of which the full gravity has not yet been revealed to the man in the street. Further, the failure to disclose and to drive home to the public consciousness the whole ugly truth, and the failure to take the very unpopular measures which, if revealed, it would have made inevitable, derive directly from the prolongation of Party government. Most of your Lordships, I do not doubt, are familiar with the main arguments in support of this view. In the debate last November on the late Government's economic emergency measures it was the unanimous thesis of all Opposition speakers that His Majesty's late Government, with the shadow of the approaching Election darkening their counsels, had both glozed over the gravity of the crisis and failed to take measures adequate to deal with it. What was true of our domestic affairs last November was equally true, both of the domestic and of the international scene, in February.
I wonder how many of your Lordships saw a striking retrospective comment on the Election campaign which appeared in a remarkable leading article in The Times on polling day. The writer pointed out that perhaps the most remarkable feature of a remarkable campaign had been the persistence with which all Parties had refrained from discussing the real dangers ahead. To quote the actual words:
Talk of hard times in the future, whatever the result of the Election, has been oddly shunned by both sides.…
What was true in November and February is surely doubly and trebly true to-day, with a Party Government poised precariously on the verge of defeat and perpetually preoccupied with their own prospects in an Election which may be a matter of months or even, for all we know, of weeks. In such circumstances, neither Government nor Opposition are
likely to be in the mood to propose unpalatable measures. We may hear, for example, the Opposition criticising the Government for spending £10,000,000 on American timber. What we shall not hear is either side arguing that if we need the timber and cannot afford the £10,000,000, then we should save the £10,000,000 On tobacco.
§ Your Lordships may have seen an interesting paragraph in the leading article of The Times this morning, in which the writer made precisely this point. He said, in effect, that only disaster can lie ahead so long as the Conservatives persist in refraining from detailing the measures which they consider necessary, however unpalatable they may be, and so long, as the Government continue to plan for the economic crisis by denying its approach. As to the supreme issue of peace and war, was not the central thesis of the striking speech which the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, delivered to your Lordships the other day that we find ourselves to-clay, in relation to Russia, almost precisely where we stood in relation to Hitler in 1938? I do not suppose many of your Lordships would wish seriously to question that thesis. Yet, if a British Government had had to face 1938 with a majority which could be counted on the lingers of one hand, something much worse than Munich would surely have resulted.
Is not all this indulging ourselves in what may perhaps be galled the politics of the ant-hill—a feverish scurrying to and fro about our own immediate petty concerns, while oblivious of the strides of the giant boot which may yet stamp our whole world out of existence? How can we recapture our wowed sense of perspective and our ancient vigour? If the leaders of the Parties could meet in conference and thereafter come together for the limited period needed for a short-term recovery programme, and for facing the crisis of the cold war, not merely should we reap the immeasurable gain of strong government and more effective measures, but, better Still perhaps, swiftly, and for the first time, the nation would be roused to a full sense of the emergency and to that vigorous, instinctive unity of which it is always capable in the hour of need. We should again see what we saw after the General Election which established the National Government in 1931,
when, in the words of Lord Eustace Percy, Members
for the first time for many years came to Westminster commissioned to offer their constituents' services to the nation and not to exploit the nation in their constituents' interests.
It is often said that what we need now is not a milk-and-water compromise but a full-blooded Party Government. Indeed, the epithet "full-blooded" is so regularly used in this connection that I had the curiosity the other day to look it up in my Oxford English Dictionary. I found the meaning to be "strong, vigorous, sensual." It is obviously a most inopportune epithet. Even the warmest admirers of His Majesty's present Administration would not call them strong and vigorous, and I am sure their most malevolent critics would not apply the last epithet to them.
§ It is often said that the Parties would find it almost impossible to agree on a short-term programme. With the greatest possible respect to the authoritative persons who uphold those views, I find that very difficult to believe. Perhaps your Lordships do not all realise that to those hundreds of thousands who belong to no Party, the three Parties, and even the political programmes of the three Parties, bear a curiously strong family resemblance. After all, they have all in their days passed numerous measures of nationalisation. They have all recently publicly committed themselves to the Welfare State and to the high taxation and numerous regulations which the Welfare State makes necessary.
§ Those who support this idea of National government are thinking not of an Election programme, not of a blue print for the shape of society the day after to-morrow, but of a short-term recovery programme of empirical ad hoc expedients. It would be a question not of arguing the pros and cons of further nationalisation, but of discussing such immediate issues as subsidies, import cuts, the wage freeze and, of course, foreign policy and preparations for defence. In fact, it would be just the sort of immediate practical programme on which Ministers of all Parties found no difficulty in co-operating with conspicuous success during the war. I suppose that the present House of Commons contains fewer extremists on either flank 1160 than any Parliament within the last century. I find it difficult to believe that that great solid mass of central opinion could not agree upon a short-term recovery programme without sacrificing some treasured hereditary principle derived from Disraeli, Gladstone or Keir Hardie. And if it be said that we agreed during the war because the enemy was positively at our gates, surely the short answer is that the enemy is at our gates to-day, the only difference being that on this occasion he is invisible.
It is often said, by a different sort of critic, that a National Government is a consummation admittedly to be desired, but that the moment is not opportune. I am somehow reminded of Alice: National Government yesterday and National Government to-morrow, but never National Government to-day. The crisis must deepen and darken first. I have heard even here one noble Lord, for whose opinions I have the greatest possible respect, say that National Government will not be practical politics until the food ships stop coming in. Surely, that is leaving it rather late. As Mr. Churchill said pertinently in another place yesterday.
We may easily get so far downhill that we have not strength left to climb back.
I believe that perhaps the greatest political interrogation mark of our day is still the unanswered question: Must democracy always, as in the past, learn wisdom only after the people have suffered, or can democracy for the first time act in time to forestall suffering? Surely there has never been a greater opportunity than this for leadership. If our leaders refrain from disclosing the whole ugly truth, or forcing the whole ugly truth into the public conscience, and then argue that because the public are not sufficiently alive to the crisis a National Government would not be opportune, they will surely not merely be arguing in a circle but will also be assuming a very heavy responsibility in the eyes of history.
§ And when all is said and done, what is the alternative to a National Government? The crisis of Marshall Aid will be upon us before long; the crisis of Armageddon may be upon us we know not when. Is this a time for the nation to be governed by a Government with a majority of five? "No," say some, "but we can at least make do with the present 1161 precarious Administration and then, after sufficient breathing space, after the Party statisticians have calculated the odds, we can appeal to the electorate again, only hoping that the storm will not break over our heads in the meantime." But, as the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, pertinently pointed out during the debate on the Address to the Throne, there is no good reason 'whatever for supposing that another Election at this time would provide a different result.
§ It is an embarrassing and thankless task to attempt to thrust reluctant lovers into each other's arms, and I have nothing but sympathy with the professional matchmaker and the marriage bureau. But we who support this Motion are addressing our cajolery not merely to the reluctant lover but to the general body of your Lordships and, through you, to the great mass of the British public, to which you have so often given the light of leadership in the hour of need. In the last resort, perhaps this is the essence of the message we would give. Twice within a generation, because at the very eleventh hour it achieved unity through a National Government, this nation has survived a world war by a hair's breadth. Twice, as your Lordships well know, because it was only at the eleventh hour that we achieved unity this nation failed to prevent the outbreak of a world war. If we leave it to the eleventh hour again, it is to be feared that next time we shall neither prevent its outbreak nor survive it. I beg to move.
§ Moved to resolve, That in view of the gravity of the economic crisis with which the nation is faced, it is desirable that the leaders of all three Parties should meet in conference forthwith, with a view to the issue of an agreed statement as to the measures needed to meet the emergency, and the formation of a National Government to carry them out.—(Lord Elton.)
§ 3.6 p.m.
§ LORD AILWYN
My Lords, in rising to support the Motion so ably moved by my noble friend, I could wish that I possessed his powers of eloquence with which to reinforce the cogent arguments which he has advanced and marshalled in such coherent array for your Lordships' consideration. Indeed, he has dealt so effectively with the subject in all its bearings that I Should have supposed, observing the exigencies of the times, that 1162 to a detached and impartial mind the case for a temporary cessation of Party government and a substitution therefor of National government would have been overwhelming and, as I think, unanswerable. To quote Mr. Churchill, the situation can be calledthe supreme economic crisis of our whole history.It may well be, therefore, that I shall find myself in the happy position of addressing an already converted House.
Be that as it may, it augured well for this debate—and what better forum for such a discussion than your Lordships' House?—that in the course of the debate on the Address some weeks ago, to which my noble friend, Lord Elton, has referred, no fewer than five noble Lords, in addition to Lord Elton himself, referred to this subject of a National Government. Lord Elton had to condense his remarks on that occasion to a mere fragment of what he had intended. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, in the course of a remarkable speech made before Lord Elton had spoken, referred to the matter in these words:If there is a catastrophic fall in the position, then the suggestion mile on a previous occasion by the noble Laird, Lord Elton … may come to the forefront. If there were such a catastrophe as I have suggested, then there might have to be a Coalition Government, and no Party would be able to refuse to take part in it.May I say to the noble Viscount, with the greatest respect: Why wait for catastrophe? In his immediately preceding words he had referred to the possibility in the next few months ofmounting prices, growing unemployment, insecure sterling, even a third crisis and another devaluation.Wise words, as one would expect from the noble Viscount—but again, I ask: Why wait for these things to overwhelm us?
We who support this Resolution believe that urgent and far-reaching measures are necessary now in order to forestall these evil things, which hang like the Sword of Damocles over the heads of the nation. We believe further that no single Party can be expected to risk the unpopularity which would almost certainly ensue as a result of their putting these drastic measures into effect. The noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack informed your Lordships that it was in his view impracticable, indeed 1163 impossible, to contemplate the formation of a National Government at the present time. In support of his contention, he quoted certain words of Lord Macaulay, the relevance of which was on that occasion rather questioned by my noble friend Lord Elton. I do not for one moment underestimate the difficulties, but I myself have little doubt that, were such a dispensation to be achieved, a feeling of the deepest thankfulness and relief would sweep the minds of the electorate, the rank and file of the people, as a whole.
I would go further and say that in my view—and here I must make it perfectly clear that I am speaking entirely for myself—if the Conservative Party had gone into the last General Election disclosing the full and unabridged story of our economic plight, and had pledged themselves on that account if successful to initiate conversations and to seek the co-operation of the other Parties, with a view to the setting up of a National Administration for a sufficiently long period to get the country on to its feet again, that Party would have got in "on their heads." And the result would have been that we should now have a stable Government in power, backed by a relatively united people, buttressed by the confidence and knowledge that the grave problems facing the nation were being tackled on a national, non-Party basis. Contrast that happy position with our present plight: an unstable Government in office, shorn of all power, struggling in the morass which they have largely created for themselves; and, worst of all, a deeply divided people.
In passing, if your Lordships will allow a slight digression, may I say how wholeheartedly I agree and sympathise with the views expressed by the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, the other day when he deplored the passing of Independent Members of another place? Democracy has many facets. This seems to be one of the most curious and one of the most unfortunate. To me it is utterly tragic that men of independent views, patriots who put country above Party, should be excluded in this way from another place and that the country should be deprived of the benefit of their opinions at a critical juncture of the nation's history. The direct result of such banishment is, of course, the ever-increasing power of the Executive and a 1164 further decline in the powers of Parliament. That seems to me a very serious matter. I apologise to your Lordships for this digression which is, strictly speaking, not germane to the subject we are discussing.
The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, on that same occasion reminded your Lordships that he had been three times a member of a Coalition Government and, as was to be expected, he used some weighty arguments in opposing the Motion that we are discussing. He will not think me discourteous, I am sure, if I say that I found those arguments unconvincing. After deprecating what he calleda general idea thrown out without a very close consideration of its application,he pursued a broad line of argument that coalition in war was simple because there was, to quote his own wordsone single overriding purpose which all seek and serve.I agree, as of course we all do, with that point. But the noble Viscount then went on to say:In peace the situation is very different,and proceeded to develop that argument by denying the existence in peace time of a common objective. With great respect, it seems to me that it is the noble Viscount who was generalising, and not those of us who are supporting this Motion. We are not considering the genus "peace time"; we are discussing and considering the very serious situation in which the country stands to-day—a situation which threatens to deteriorate progressively unless urgent steps are taken now. In these conditions, I contest the thesis that there is no common objective, and that all men of good will have not the same aim—the rescue of the country from threatened economic ruin.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
The noble Lord has put very fairly up to a point, as he always would, what I said. By "lack of common objective," I did not mean that we did not all want what we considered to be the best interests of our country. My argument was that, whereas in war we approached that end without any preconceived ideas, with the sole object of carrying out a policy which we agreed was right in the circumstances, to-day the country is divided into two diametrically opposed conceptions of what is the right thing to do.
§ LORD AILWYN
My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Viscount. I agree entirely, but he used words that perhaps might be a little misinterpreted:If in fact men are really playing for opposite goals it is hard to see how they can play together in a team.However, I fully accept what the noble Viscount has said.
Those—if there be any—who oppose this measure will surely not deny that in face of the inexorable problems which confront the nation to-day no avenue should be left unexplored. We are asking that the avenue of National government may be explored through the leaders of all Parties meeting in conference. We say that the urgency of our affairs transcends all Party considerations. We think that the Party view at a time like this clouds judgment and obscures the goal. We reject the non possumus attitude as being unhelpful and lacking conviction. We are asking that what was forged in the tribulation of war may be reforged at a time of economic peril such as the present. I venture to think, moreover, that such action would go far towards healing the breach that we are all agreed exists to-day between the two main channels of political thought in the country and which, so far as I can see, threatens to grow wider until it becomes a yawning chasm, impossible to bridge. Furthermore, our existing situation must surely be the greatest misfortune and a source of embarrassment to our friends abroad, to the Commonwealth and Empire. How can they have confidence in their dealings with us when they see the instability of our present Government? Cannot one almost hear the sigh of relief that would go up in the Antipodes, in Canada, and in all our overseas possessions generally, if only a National Government could be installed?
One has a vision of this country of ours being purified by the fresh winds of approval striking our coasts: a gale from the west, a typhoon from the east, a hurricane from the south-east, a cyclone from the south, and a tornado from the south-west, almost blowing our little island out of the water. And what of the world at large? It is no good disguising the fact that in many parts of the world our prestige has fallen very low. A general rot is alleged to have set in; we are thought to be "down and 1166 out." We know that that is not true, so far as the will of our people is concerned, but it is not enough for us to know it. We have to let it be seen that it is not true. Surely there is no time to be lost in taking those steps necessary to prove to the world that that impression is wrong. Above all, what about the United States of America? They make no bones about their distress over our situation and our present way of life. I venture to think that they would hail with great satisfaction the formation here of a National Government. And let it be remembered that the attitude of the United States towards this country is a factor very strongly to be reckoned with. It is unnecessary to refer to-day to their magnanimous; generosity; it is far too well known to recapitulate. All I wish to suggest is that their opinion and reactions have some significance and should not be ignored.
My Lords, I have done. I have said that our situation to-day is serious—many think it is not far removed from critical. But that is far from saying that it is fatal. The country has been in dire straits before. Mr. Arthur Bryant, in an article in the Sunday Times some months ago, reminded us of the desperate state the country was in at the time Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne:The Queen poor, the realm exhausted"—wrote a contemporary—the nobles poor and decayed"—there is a familiar ring about that—all things dear, division among themselves, finances and internal economy bankrupt, misgovernment, inflation.…Mr. Bryant goes on to say:Behind these was a more terrible peril. A great authoritarian Power, founded on an idealism diametrically opposed to that of libertarian England, was bidding for universal dominion.My Lords, substitute for Spain another name to-day, and the analogy is pretty close. England was miraculously delivered at that time by the genius, the statesmanship and the leadership of Elizabeth and the understanding she had of the people of England. She welded them into a united whole—Elizabeth and her chosen Ministers. Leadership and unity. We had those same inestimable blessings in 1940. Will anyone say that we have them to-day? The question at this sombre moment is: Can national unity and pre- 1167 servation be achieved under the auspices of Party government? Those of us who support the Resolution say: "No, not at this time of acute and growing economic peril." As long ago as August, 1947, I ventured to urge upon your Lordships the need for some form of National Government. I ventured to advocate it again in the Economic Debate last November. Let me plead with your Lordships for the third time, that the world may be presented once again with an example of how this country of ours, by her political genius, solves her troubles. I ask your Lordships to support the Resolution before the House, that the fortunes and destiny of our country may be presided over, for a time at least, by a National Government to meet the extremity of the nation's need.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has raised a subject of great importance and certainly of high topicality, and he has done so, as always, in a speech both appealing and cogent. Let me begin by making an apology which, if not made now, might give rise to comment. If your Lordships notice at a later hour in the afternoon that these Benches are untenanted, it will be not because we regard the subject of no importance but because, for a considerable time past, four o'clock this afternoon had been fixed as the hour for one of those meetings in which all Parties indulge from time to time. Therefore, it is out of no disrespect to the noble Lord and his Motion that we shall not be able to listen to some of the speeches in support or in criticism.
There was one point in the noble Lord's speech which I did not quite follow—namely, the distinction which he drew and upon which towards the beginning of his speech he laid some emphasis, between National Governments and Coalition Governments. I still do not quite see what the difference is. I have been privileged to take part in two Governments and to be a supporter of a third which might have been called either "National" or "Coalition." The Asquith Government of 1915 was generally called "the Asquith Coalition." It was followed by the Lloyd George Coalition. It is true that in 1931, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, the Prime Minister, said that the Government he was then 1168 forming was not a Coalition Government but one consisting of individuals. That, however, was not strictly the fact, because it was a coalition between the Conservative and the Liberal Parties which, in those days, constituted the majority in the House of Commons, together with some elements, including important Ministers, from the Labour Party. In 1940, again, the Government was called a National Government, but in fact, that also was a Coalition appointed by the three Parties and approved by their representative organisations.
I gather that the noble Lord draws a distinction between a National and a Coalition Government. He says that the Coalitions in the nineteenth century were not caused through crises which gave rise to this arrangement between Parties, but through political circumstances of more or less a domestic character; while in regard to the other occasions that I have mentioned, and the possible occasion of to-morrow, he said that the emergency was acute and definite and that a National Government so formed should bear that name. I do not think that on consideration he will be able to sustain that difference. However, I am glad to note that the proposal which he and the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, make is intended to be only temporary and specific to a particular emergency, and possibly for a definite, short period. I am glad that that should be so, because, as we all know, a certain body of public opinion in this country disapproves of the Party system as such and is continually saying: "Why should not all men of good will, no matter what their Party is, join together to govern the country to the advantage of the whole population? Why should not that continue indefinitely? Why these constant altercations and this incessant controversy?"
Well, all who are engaged in practical politics know at once that that would mean the withdrawal of the Government from the control of the electorate. It is not because we are anxious to engage in some nefarious and disreputable enterprise in order to secure power and profit for ourselves, but because in this country democracy can work only through the organisations of Parties. The only alternative is the totalitarian system of the single list: I have never heard anyone 1169 who denounces the Party system and supports a conjunction of men of good will give any other alternative to it, except such as have been followed unhappily, to their own disaster, either immediate or prospective, by countries which have embraced Fascism, Nazism or Communism. It is said that Goebbels once told the German people, before a plebiscite was taken in regard to the Nazi régime, that they were free to vote "Yes" or "Yes." That is not our idea of a democracy. Nor is the single-Party list of Russia and the satellite States congenial to, or compatible with, British ideas of liberty.
There is this great disadvantage in such a system of government as is proposed: that when differences between schools of thought arise, they are settled not after open debate and by the publicly expressed votes of electoral bodies, but by adjustment between individuals, by bargaining between Ministers, or by lists of candidates drawn up by Party committees In the end, these systems degenerate into struggles between personalities. There are no stable, recognised policies resting on definite principles between which the nation at large can exercise a judgment. There is this other great disadvantage of Coalitions or National Governments, call them which you please: that while they last there has to be an electoral truce at by-elections. You cannot have Parties fighting one another when all candidates equally approve the policy of the Government then in power. It is hard to enforce this electoral truce, as we found during the 1940-45 Coalition. In many constituencies then it was bitterly resented that the people were not allowed to present their own candidates in order to displace members of whom they strongly disapproved. Sometimes independent candidates came forward and received a large measure of popular support in protest against that very thing: the suppression of free candidatures of people of different views.
If we had in this country a system of government in which all men of good will combined together, we should, inevitably, have revolts among the electoral associations in the constituencies of which literally hundreds of thousands of individuals who are active politicians are members, on matters about which they feel keenly, and they would refuse to obey 1170 the kind of coupon decree which would be handed out to them when there was a vacancy in their particular constituency. Independent candidates would be returned, and those candidates in time would group themselves together into new Parties, in order to make their own action effective action, and the new Parties might prove less stable and responsible.
§ LORD ELTON
Will the noble Viscount forgive my interrupting him? Is he not, in what he has said about a possible one-Party State, and what he is now saying about the gradual building up of a new Opposition, envisaging a much longer term of National government that was suggested in either my remarks or those of my noble friend, Lord Ailwyn?
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
I was coming to that matter in a moment. In the meantime, let me clinch what I am saying by quoting an authority which I am sure will appeal to noble Lords who sit on the other side of the Gangway. Disraeli said:I believe that without Party, Parliamentary government is impossible.Indeed, there must be some organisation or organisations to choose the Parliamentary candidates, to support them at the polls, to frame policies and to present them to the nation, to organise the legislative assemblies both in the one House and in the other, to organise their proceedings and submit proposals. I feel it is an established fact that to this system there is no practical Alternative in this country. A true word on this subject was written by Lecky, who was not only a great historian but also a political philosopher. He wrote:Party rust exist. It must be maintained as an essential condition good Government; but it must be subordinate to the public interests, and it must.n many cases be suspended.When there is a war, and it is agreed that certain policies and methods must be adopted by the nation, there is no difference between Parties: they are all united in a particular task, both as to aims and methods. The only question is, how they can pick and draw together in one Administration the ablest and most efficient men in the country.
Will the noble Viscount forgive my interrupting him? 1171 In the two wars, of which he and I have had recent experience, surely it is true to say the Coalitions were not formed until the wars had been in progress for some time and the Government had had proof in one way or another of their supposed inadequacy.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
Yes, that is so. The emergency was then declared and revealed. It was clear that the war was not going to be short and that it might last for some time. That is true, but I do not think it affects the principle which I am endeavouring to suggest, that it is possible and desirable to adopt this expedient only in very rare and exceptional cases, when a nation will not accept anything else; because it means the overruling of the principle of democracy for the time being. When there is a case which is not one of war, and where the emergency is economic, it is not so clear and obvious. The formation of the Coalition Government of 1931 became a matter of bitter controversy and the methods adopted were controversial. Although named a "National Government" it was not a truly National Government because the great body of the Labour Party were in opposition to it. Nevertheless, those of us who served in it as a temporary measure did so because we thought it was our national duty. But when the emergency was over and the situation was more or less in hand, we of the Liberal Party disagreed with the Conservatives on certain matters and we came out. Some others remained behind, not with our benediction—but still, we hope they prospered by it.
In the present situation there is this difficulty: that there is a disagreement in the nation as to the measures to be adopted, because there is a great division of principle between the Labour Party on the one hand, and the other two Parties on the other hand—the difference between Socialism and non-Socialism. Therefore, if the Labour Government thought that Socialistic measures—define them as you choose—were necessary, desirable and essential to the object in view, it would be very difficult for them to compromise their opinions in order to join a so-called National Government which was in the main not Socialist. They might possibly do so, but I do not think they would be wrong or acting in any way dishonourably 1172 if they did not. The situation is not so clear and obvious as it would be if the emergency were not economic but military and if there were no great divergence of view as to methods to he adopted in dealing with the economic situation.
There might be, as Lord Elton has said, a third situation which would give rise to some form of Coalition or National Government, and that is when the difficulty is not primarily a military crisis nor yet solely an economic crisis but due to a Parliamentary deadlock—and we are not far removed from that now. If the machine does not work, because the electorate send two practically equal bodies of Members to the House of Commons who are at odds with one another, then the mechanism of democracy is liable to come to a standstill and democracy itself is discredited. If the present Parliamentary deadlock were attempted to be resolved by another Election under the same electoral system, with the same Party alignment and with no outstanding new issue before the people, the result would very likely be precisely the same as it is now. There might perhaps be a difference of twenty votes on one side or the other, but it would still not disclose a strong, definite and stable Parliamentary majority for anyone. A second Election of that kind would be a great discredit to the country and a great embarrassment to all political Parties alike.
I remember well the General Elections of 1910. I am one of the survivors—there are not many left now—of the candidates at both those Elections. In January, 1910, the Liberal Government was returned with a majority of 124. A constitutional crisis arose and a second General Election had to be held with regard to the Parliament Bill. The result of it was that the Liberals were returned with a majority not of 124 but of 126. It might be that if the Government were defeated this afternoon and a General Election were to ensue, or within a week or a month, there would be a similar result, or it might be that instead of a Labour majority there would be a Conservative majority of ten or twenty. That would be no guarantee for efficient government during the coming years. All that, I think, is well understood by the three Parties, and the course to be taken must be a matter of deep deliberation and anxious thought.
1173 Your Lordships will readily understand that I am not authorised this afternoon to express any view, either on behalf of my Liberal friends on these Benches or on behalf of the Liberal Party as a whole, as to what course that Party will take at any Election in hypothetical circumstances in the near future. I am sure that noble Lords speaking for the other two will be in the same position. It is not practicable for them, on this occasion and in your Lordships' House, to make any pronouncement of high principled importance about the forthcoming Election. I may be wrong, of course, and it may be that some noble Lords on those Benches will make such a momentous declaration this afternoon. If so, we shall all be delighted to have the honour that this is the theatre and this the occasion on which such a pronouncement should be made. For myself I can only assure the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and those who sympathise with him, that no patriotic man in any Party, and certainly not in the Liberal Party, would close his mind to the reality of the dangers on which the noble Lord has dwelt, or to any of the possibilities which he has adumbrated as the conceivable means to deal with them. We all feel that it is the duty of all Party politicians in the present deadlock, and in the possibility of a continuance of that deadlock, to give this matter the most earnest consideration with the desire to make the democratic machinery efficient and useful and so serve the interests of the nation.
§ 3.42 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF TRURO
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has already described the economic crisis with which this nation is faced, and no words of mine are required to emphasise its gravity. At a time like this the nation needs the full co-operation of its ablest and most experienced political leaders. No one Party claims a monopoly of experience and ability, but experience shows that politicians in fulfilling the rôle of an Opposition can pull only tangentially on the rope of government. The nation now needs a strong pull, a long pull, and a pull all together. Members of the Opposition, however great their ability and experience, however marked their disinterestedness, are necessarily under a serious handicap so far as their political influence goes; for often it is only the 1174 Government who have full information with regard to a problem at issue.
At a time of crisis like this it would be of inestimable value for the nation to have a Government united so far as possible and mobilising the best political ability in the country. At this critical moment, for the country to be governed exclusively by a Party which in February last polled less than 40 per cent. of the electorate is surely far from satisfactory. Common sense calls urgently for a National Government, and that is what a large number of our fellow countrymen desire to have. How many voters desire it we have no means of knowing, unless a plebiscite is taken. Why not take a plebiscite on the point? It would be, of course, an unusual step to take, but the unprecedented difficulties of the times demand unusual steps. From what has been said in another place it seems that neither the leaders of the Labour Party nor the leaders of the Conservative Party are willing at the moment to form a Coalition, but surely they would become willing if they could be convinced that the nation really desired a National Government. In the meantime, we are greatly indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for bringing so forcibly before your Lordships' House some of the main reasons which make a National Government desirable.
In preparation for this debate I have been reading again that great work, The Republic of Plato. It makes stimulating but somewhat depressing reading. The only form of Government of which Plato approves is not within human reach, and he is skilful in picking holes in all the others. Democracy, says Socrates, is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike. He goes on:How sensitive the citizens become. They chafe impatiently at the least touch of authority.In a democracy, says Socrates,the horses and asses have a way of marching along with all the rights and dignities of free men; they will run at anybody who comes in their way if he does not leave the road clear for them; and all things are just ready to burst with liberty.To which Socrates' partner in the dialogue rejoins:When I take a country walk I often experience what you describe.1175 At first sight "just ready to burst with liberty" seems hardly to describe this country at the present time, but on a closer view I think the idea is not wholly inapplicable. When a paper bag is just ready to burst there is tightness and strain over a wide area with a breaking out at a few points. A great many people are very conscious of tightness and strain just now, and there is a breaking out of indiscipline at a number of points. To deal wisely with these cases of indiscipline is so difficult a task that it is not fair to lay it exclusively on the shoulders of one political Party. In this country we have the principle of "one man, one vote," a type of democracy which asks for trouble. But for good or ill that is the form we have; and as we have it, we cannot expect any political Party to take their eyes off the polling booth. Certain measures which may be unpopular with the masses of voters may be needed for the welfare of the nation as a whole. Is that not the case at the present moment? Then let all the political Parties share the burden of disfavour.
It is not only what the Government actually do that matters, but also their general attitude. Prices are too high, for example, in the building trade. The only way to reduce prices is either to reduce wages or to produce more for the same wages. But that truth, obvious though it is, may not be palatable to the majority of wage-earners. There is still a great deal of extravagant spending of public money. We all see instances which we find extremely galling as we remember how we are being "squeezed" to pay for them. The programme of educational building which is dangled before our eyes is by no means sufficiently realistic. Twenty-seven acres of playing fields for a five-stream school on the edge of the country not far from the sea may perhaps be ideal, but in times of stringency other needs are more urgent—for instance, the more adequate payment of the teachers themselves. In the Health Services, though no doubt additional expense must be undertaken in some directions, economies could and should be effected in others. Few of these economies, however, are likely to be welcomed by those most concerned and most of them will meet with passive if not active resistance.
There are, it is true, a number of very desirable but often unpopular reforms 1176 about which experienced and responsible leaders of all the three Parties could agree. These unpopular measures seem to be just those that are urgently needed and a National Government would be the best Government to carry them firmly through. A National Government would also be in a stronger position than any Party Government to help the country in various other ways. They could be more explicit and more convincing about the financial position, especially about the financial position when American aid comes to an end. They could more boldly tackle such problems as the question whether or not this country is over-populated.
These are a few examples of the problems which could be much more confidently and effectively tackled by a National Government than by a Government which represents only one political Party. Many other examples could be given, but I forbear. I should like to underline some of the things which the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, said with regard to the situation abroad. Surely, it would be of great advantage in our dealings with other nations if they knew that we were presenting them with a united front. It would certainly facilitate all our negotiations with our friends in the United States, and, if it did not decrease our difficulties with Russia, it would not be likely to increase them.
In conclusion, I would go a step further and urge that a National Government at this stage is desirable, not only because of the critical condition of our affairs but also as an exercise of statesmanship leading on to a happier democracy than any we have yet known. In a truly happy democracy the majority has no desire to coerce or domineer over the minority. Real democratic government should, so far as possible, be government by agreement. Parties must exist," says Lecky. Perhaps so. But when a Party has been returned to power, then surely it is a good thing for the elected Party still to come to agreed solutions, so far as possible. In the work of Parliamentary Committees this principle is already recognised to a considerable extent; and the principle already receives a good deal of recognition, if I may say so, in your Lordships' House. We had a good example of that only yesterday in connection with the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, with regard to the Town and Country 1177 Planning (Grants) Regulations, to which the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, gave such a cordial reply Government by agreement must be the ideal of any really sound democracy, and to have a National Government now would surely be a timely move in that direction.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF HALIFAX
My Lords, the House always listens with enjoyment to the right reverend Prelate and is stimulated by him, and I am sure your Lordships will be grateful to him for having taken a little time off from his more directly spiritual episcopal duties to re-study Plato and bring some of the wisdom of the Greeks to our consideration of this problem. The Motion which he supported, and which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, introduced, is the direct result of two things: the first is the economic position in which we find ourselves; and the second—and perhaps to a greater extent—is the outcome of the General Election, that has, as Lord Elton said, come near to the creation of a Parliamentary deadlock.
The noble Lords, Lord Elton and Lord Ailwyn argued their case with great force, persuasive power and moderation. Certainly no member of your Lordships' House would be found to deny the gravity and significance of the crisis, or the consequent necessity of doing everything we can to secure the pooling of the best brains and the greatest resources of wisdom that are available to the State. But, to my lay mind, there seems to be one vital consideration to be set upon the other side. As some of your Lordships will remember, I have more than once favoured this proposal for a National Government in speeches I have ventured to address to this House. At the present moment, however, the one consideration which seems to me of outweighing importance on the other side is that, so far as I can judge, not one of the leaders who guide the political Parties appears to want it or is willing to accept it. With all respect to the right reverend Prelate, I doubt certainly speaking for the part of the country with which I am familiar—whether there is at this moment among the great mass of voters any great demand for a National Government, whatever its merits. The electors have, as any noble Lord who took part in the Election will agree, with 1178 great deliberation just recorded their considered Party judgment on the great issues presented to them. There is a great deal to be said for the mariage de convenance (with which we were all familiar in French literature) and in the life of the eighteenth and perhaps the early nineteenth century everybody liked the idea and thought it was advantageous. However, I have reached the conclusion, not without regret, that there is too much back history on the Government's side and too much recent history on both sides connected with this matter to bring the idea within the ambit of practical politics at this moment.
There are one or two other considerations I should like to place before your Lordships, if you do not judge them irrelevant. The first is this. Owing to the way in which British Panties are organised and managed, I feel that combinations, coalitions, or whatever you may call them, are strange things: they are difficult to make, and very difficult to unmake without leaving behind them a dangerous legacy of misunderstanding and ill-will We have all been able to observe in private life that, where feelings of great intimacy have subsisted and, for whatever reason, have been broken, there are apt afterwards to supervene feelings of greater bitterness than in cases where no such intimacy ever prevailed. In my view, it is not otherwise in Parties or in Governments. The other consideration that has always seemed to my mind to raise an objection to the idea of National Government—a consideration which is, in fact, inescapable, and which I do not suppose the noble Lord, Lord Elton, would wish to deny—is that those who dislike the coalition, the combination of the National Government, and its policy, have no other constitutional resource open to them. Therefore, having no constitutional resource, there is a danger that, as we have seen elsewhere, they are driven to unconstitutional remedies to achieve that which they cannot do by methods constitutional.
All those obections might be disregarded if the result promised a wise and fearless Government that would, if not in the process of its work at least at the end of its work, win general approbation by bringing the country through its present difficulties. But here I come to what I think was suggested by the 1179 reference Lord Ailwyn made to my noble friend Lord Swinton's speech on an earlier occasion. It is a real difficulty at this stage of our fortunes that the respective remedies of the two Parties are so different—too different, I think, easily to allow a common programme of decisive action. We have often discussed in this House the implications of Socialist policy, and I am not going to waste time by referring to them now. Whether we agree with one side or the other, we all know what we mean when we say that the implications of the Socialist policy are very profound. As the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, has pointed out with undeniable force to the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, that is what makes the analogy of war misleading. It does not cover the ground that we find ourselves occupying now, for in order to reach agreement each Party would have to set aside its distinctive doctrines that are anathema to the other Party. There we run into what I think is another not negligible difficulty.
I hope noble Lords on the Government Benches will acquit me of discourtesy when I say that I suppose it is easier to specify Socialist doctrines that are anathema to the Conservatives than it is to specify Conservative doctrines that are anathema to Socialists. At any rate, the Socialist proposition to nationalise steel and cement, for example, is something that you can put your hand on; you know where you are with it; you can criticise it and you know it is something concrete. It is easier, therefore, to be annoyed about that than it is to be annoyed and highly critical of the less precise and more kindly Conservative doctrines—a reduction of taxation and liberation of the individual in the State. It therefore follows that the surrender of doctrines by believers in sweeping State action is bound to appear greater to them than the surrender demanded of a Party which does not believe in such sweeping and easy remedies. Therefore, the kind of compromise which would be necessary to my noble friend the Leader of the House would naturally not appear to be an even one. I understand that.
There is another consideration which reinforces the point. I do not know whether noble Lords remember a delightful tale which the late Sir James Barrie records in one of his works. He 1180 told of how, when he was writing one of his plays, he, in his whimsical fashion, made a collaborator of a little boy of six years of age. He went up to see the little boy in bed one night and found him eating chocolates. Barrie said to him, "If you eat so many chocolates you will be sick to-morrow," and the little boy promptly replied, "I shall be sick to-night." On that, Barrie made him a collaborator, and quite rightly. Noble Lords will observe that the diagnosis in both cases was exactly the same, but in the mind of the person principally concerned the sense of urgency was even greater than in the mind of the critic. Your Lordships will observe that those conditions are lacking in this economic crisis and the Parliamentary deadlock which has moved the noble Lord to present his Resolution. I do not think the Government really agree with our diagnosis, and if we are to judge by their speeches they would hardly he thought to recognise the urgency of the case as much as, or certainly not more than, do their critics. Therefore, those conditions are unfulfilled.
What conclusions, therefore, do I personally reach? If it is of any interest to your Lordships, I will ask leave to tell you. From whatever angle I look at it I judge, regretfully, the material for a temporary alliance to be lacking. I do not suppose that there is any more reason to expect an early Election to give a different result than there would be to expect, shall we say, the followers of Liverpool or Arsenal to transfer their allegiance because there had been a tie and the game had to be replayed in a fortnight or a month. What then remains? The King's government has to be carried on. Incidentally, do not let us forget—and we may easily remind ourselves by looking a short distance round the world—the immense stabilising value of that permanent institution of the Crown.
Over one part of the field, foreign and international relations, there does not seem to me much to worry about. There are no substantial differences; all are agreed that closest unity is essential between the member States of the British Commonwealth and between the British Commonwealth as a unit and the United States of America, and with other liberty-loving States. When I hear people 1181 sometimes say that the British Government is tied to the apron strings of America, the only comment in my mind is: God grant that that knot will never come undone. I suggest that for the rest there is only one possible answer. Each Party must, within the limits open to it by its own action and by the action of the other Party, act with a measure of restraint, not provoking the battle that it is not yet in the power of either Party to win. If that, or something like it, is the practical course that ought to be pursued and is pursued in Parliament, it will, of course, impose restrictions on the scope and the temper of Party warfare, and it will be inimical and distasteful to the ardent belligerents on either side. All will want to be rid of that status as soon as they may. How soon will depend upon public opinion. Optimists will have one view and pessimists another, and we can all form our judgment. Meanwhile, however, we have to make the best of what we have; and all responsible persons will hope that on both sides Parties may be so wisely advised that national interests, which all Parties exist to serve, will not suffer avoidable damage. I do not believe we can get nearer to a solution than that.
I have almost finished, and I will make only one further observation before I sit down. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, will Observe that if I have a quarrel with him it is not a quarrel of principle but a quarrel of timing. I can well conceive, as no doubt can every one of your Lordships, circumstances in which the Resolution that Lord Elton has brought before us to-day would almost become effective of its own weight and power. It has such potential value that I do not want the idea to be, tarnished and dimmed in the minds of people who might, in certain circumstances, feel compelled to support it, by being pressed upon our attention at a time when it has no chance of being recognised as a practical proposition in politics.
§ 4.9 p.m.
My Lords, since this debate opened two events have occurred outside this Chamber which I think reinforce the importance of the whole argument. First we have had the result of the most recent by-election in Dumbarton when, with a very heavy poll, there was a majority of only 293, 1182 showing the even balance which has been referred to by several of your Lordships in to-day's debate, and which is likely to continue in the country for some time. Secondly, we have had the first of the Budget Resolutions carried in another place by a majority of five. I do not know whether or not the Conservative Whips, when they use the machinery in the other place, and discover that they have a majority, diplomatically cause a few Members to be absent. I do not know what the manœuvres are, but such a course would not surprise me. But this situation is becoming intolerable as things are. We cannot have a crisis every time there is a Vote on Supply before the House of Commons—which is exactly what is happening now. Whether the King's Government can be sustained or not depends upon whether a few gentlemen have temperatures which are up or down or are, perhaps, in hospital and can come and vote, if at all, only in bath-chairs. That is an absurd situation. We cannot help it—it is the way things went at the Election.
I am the first Peer to speak in support of the Government to-day. I do not know, but I presume that my noble friend Lord Addison will speak on the lines on which Sir Stafford Cripps spoke on Monday in the other place. But cannot something be done to give at any rate a breathing space to Parliament and the country, so that the work of administration and reorganisation can go on, and so that the very lowering and threatening economic difficulties can be dealt with and met? The noble Earl, Lord Halifax, likes the idea which is adumbrated by Lord Elton in his Motion, but he thinks the time is not right. I find myself in this case going even a little further than Lord Halifax, which is rather curious. If we could cut out the last sentence of the Motion referring to de formation of a National Government I should, if Lord Elton went to a Division, support him, because I am in favour of the rest of the Motion. I do not entirely appreciate the idea of an immediate conference. I do not know how long it would last or whether it would be a single conference which would come to an early end. What I advocate now is what we did in your Lordships' House during the last Parliament—I think very successfully, thanks to the good sense of noble Lords opposite and the statesmanship of my noble 1183 friends on this side. We had consultations; and I think that that is what will have to be done now. If on broad principles there can be a policy agreed upon for a certain time, then let it be understood that, except in the case of defeat on a vote of confidence, the Government do not resign: that they would not resign as a result of a snap Division in the House of Commons. If that were done the Government and the Houses of Parliament could get on with their work.
I have sat in the House of Commons when there have been large and small majorities for the Government; and no majorities at all. I see there is present a former Chief Conservative Whip who will no doubt remember them. I do not think the present physical situation can be sustained for long. Vital issues are dependent on the presence or absence of a number of Members, such as can be counted on the fingers of one hand, to support or overthrow the Government. That cannot continue; and I do not think a situation of that sort is doing this country much good in the eyes of our friends abroad. And it may be encouraging our enemies. There is obvious instability, and that is bad for the country in the present state of affairs. Lord Elton and other noble Lords say "Oh yes; then it is an obvious case for a Coalition Cabinet." Not a Coalition Government: the Cabinet are the executive instrument in this case. I have sat in Parliament under three Coalition Governments, two of them in war time and one in peace time. I do not like them in the ordinary way; there is a tendency for the differences in ideologies and policies between the main Parties forming a coalition to be very wide—so wide, in fact, that there is deadlock. My noble friend Lord Addison has served in Coalitions and I think he will bear me out. Except for a limited period to meet a real emergency they do not work well.
But in the present circumstances may I draw attention to this state of affairs? The noble Earl, Lord Halifax, mentioned foreign and international affairs as an area in which there was broad agreement between the Parties. But there are two other most important subjects in which there is broad agreement. One is defence; I do not see any very great differences there. And the other—and here I may 1184 surprise some of your Lordships, and I put forward the matter with due humility—is the economic sphere. I do not think there is really very much difference in our approach to economic problems. If we get down to it, measures which would have to be devised by a Conservative Cabinet to deal with the economic situation would have to be—I use the word in its older sense more than its modern sense—on broadly socialistic lines. A Conservative Cabinet could not help doing so. There would have to be controls, rationing and licensing, and all the rest of it, to deal with an economic situation which may get worse and will certainly continue grave for a considerable period. Even if they had a large majority they would have to adopt what in the old days would have been called broadly socialistic measures.
Therefore, I suggest that there are not to-day tremendously wide differences between the Parties on economic questions, and on the policies necessary to deal with financial and economic difficulties now facing us. That being the case, surely there can be (I understand they do not exist to-day as they did in the previous Parliament) not a spectacular meeting of Party leaders, as I gather was the suggestion in Lord Elton's Resolution, but consultations on the big questions of the day—foreign and international affairs, defence and, above all, the economic situation. On the other hand, with Parliament balanced as it is, however long the present Government are able to continue in office (I hope they will continue for a long time; I believe that as things are it will be for two years) I do not see them introducing any very controversial measures. At the beginning of this Parliament I suggested that there was no real mandate at present for further large measures of nationalisation, and I believe that that is tacitly agreed. Lord Halifax mentioned the nationalisation of steel and cement. I do not think we can claim to have a mandate to go forward with either of those measures; and, seeing that the Government have to rely on a majority of five to get through their Budget Resolutions, I cannot see them introducing any such measures in this present Parliament. That being the case, if this system of consultation were adopted, consultations between the leaders of the Parties—without affecting the integrity and formation 1185 of the Cabinet for the time being—then, perhaps, we should all secure agreement that the King's government could be carried on for a time.
When my old friend the late Lord Snell was leader of the Labour Party in this House, the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, was Leader of the House. He represented an overwhelming majority Coalition Government in time of war. He used to inform Lord Snell, myself, as Lord Snell's Whip, and one or two others, at regular intervals on the great questions of the day. I am sure that that was to our advantage and, possibly, even the noble Earl obtained some ideas from us. If that could be done when there was no political danger whatsoever for the Government, when we, a handful of Peers in this House, represented a great Party outside supporting the Government, why cannot it be done to-day, when we have this situation which everyone realises is precarious, difficult and dangerous and which may become worse? I am not advocating coalition in the sense in which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, does. We have to take cognisance of the present Parliamentary situation, coupled with the general state of the country, and act accordingly. I believe that that is required by the country and desired by the public as a whole. I do not believe the general public wish to have another Election just now. I think that the general opinion amongst the pundits of all Parties is that it is improbable that there would be any great change if there were an Election either now or within the next few months. That being the case, and the situation being as it is, surely the good sense, patriotism and statesmanship of the leaders of the great Parties will allow them to arrange some breathing-space, some truce if you like, for a definite period, so long as the present state of affairs continues.
No doubt it will be said by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, when he replies, if he does me the honour of referring to what I have said, "Oh, but you are trying to get the best of both worlds." I certainly am trying to get the best of both worlds. I am trying to carry on with the Party Executive and Cabinet but with the broad agreement of the Opposition—and that is the best of both worlds for the Party in power. That is the way the balance went in the General Election. What is the best of both worlds here is also the best of 1186 both worlds for the country as a whole, both for our domestic affairs and for our repute and standing abroad.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ LORD CHATFIELD
My Lords, I wish warmly to support the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I feel that he has done a national service in moving it and, despite what my noble friend Lord Halifax has said, I do not think the time is inopportune. I wish to put the problem to your Lordships in perhaps a more practical way than has been done so far. The level of debate in your Lordships' House is always so high that one hesitates to speak. I seldom address your Lordships, because I can speak with any authority only upon one subject. I am moved to address your Lordships to-day, however, because I see on the horizon, coming closer, a movement just as we had two or three years before the war—a development of a situation, not as then of a military danger, but of an economic danger.
In those days, we wanted unity on the defence of the country, and we could not obtain it. The Parties were divided as to what should be done. As the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, will remember, when the Prime Minister saw the trade union leaders, even after war had started, and tried to induce them to ease restrictions and to allow certain things to be done which would improve the production of the country, they refused. Why? Because they said they did not like the Prime Minister. It was a question, largely, though not of course entirely, of personalities; and I feel that to some extent it is a question of personalities today. It was not until 1940 and Dunkirk, when we were at our wits' end to know what to do, that the Party leaders came to their senses; and without any hesitation they formed a National Government. On this occasion, when we face economic disaster, as we have been told by the leaders of all Parties, are we going to wait until it is too late, until the disaster is upon us, before we take some unusual action to deal with unusual circumstances? Surely we are not so bankrupt as that. I feel that the level of the debate in your Lordships' House to-day has been almost too high. Your Lordships have been arguing on constitutional principles and history, but when you are dealing with an emergency you have, if necessary, 1187 to depart from those principles; and to do that you must have the right leadership.
As I see it, the situation with which we are faced to-day is this. We cannot pay our way at the rate at which we are living. Whether or not our leadership is good is a matter on which opinions are divided, but there is no doubt whatever that the nation is not working hard enough or, I should rather say, well enough. You will not get the workers to do that until you have explained to them, much better than has been done before and by the leaders of all Parties in unity, the dangers that face them. Until you do that, you cannot inspire them—and they will not trust you —to do their best. Is there any doubt that there is an economic crisis to-day? Surely there is not. We have been told so, although the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said that a leading article in The Times referred to the last Election as one in which the real problem had not been mentioned. There were, of course, in the Election addresses of all Parties mentions of the crisis. What did the leader of the Conservative Party say? He said this:The Socialists have led us to the verge of bankruptcy".Do the Conservative Party believe that? If so, then they must agree that there is an economic crisis. What did the leader of the Liberal Party say? He said:We have a policy of our own. Only that policy can save the country from the financial disasters that await it.In the circumstances—and I am sorry to see that the Liberal Benches are as empty—
§ LORD CHATFIELD
—as they can be—then, if what they said was true we must be in a very dangerous position. But what did the Chancellor of the Exchequer say to us on innumerable occasions? He said that the only thing to do is to increase the production of this country, and he told us that to do so we must work harder and longer. The people do not know what to make of the situation. They are rather mystified. They want to do what is right, but they read in every newspaper that we are in a dangerous economic condition. They see their leaders divided, abusing each other, trying to trip each other up and to score 1188 small Party victories the one over the other. How pitiful it all is—fiddling while the pound is burning.
My Lords, the old Ship of State is ploughing her way through heavy seas. She has been in action and she is leaking. The ship's company have been put on to the pumps, they are heaving round as hard as they think is right, and they are just keeping the water level in the hold. The man up aloft is calling out "breakers ahead." It is a disturbing situation for the ship's company, because they hear the officers on the quarterdeck and on the bridge abusing each other and quarrelling as to which way the ship should steer. Yet through those reefs ahead there is a channel, if only they could find it; but they will not find it when all the leaders are trying to steer the ship in different directions. Is that not a true picture of the situation that we are in to-day? It is not easy for the people of this country to understand the problem. In 1940 they understood the physical dangers that threatened them—the danger of bombing, of invasion, and the lose of their sons in battle. They could understand that. It has been said that if we had another situation like that we might have another National Government.
It is all a matter of educating the people to the dangers and responsibilities that they have. As I reminded your Lordships, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has told the people that they have got to work harder and longer. My Lords, there is no more depressing inspiration, if I may use the term, than to tell people to work harder and longer. To go out after breakfast thinking that you have got to work harder and longer, especially if it is a wet day and your work is outside, is not a pleasant prospect; and to my mind that is the wrong method of inspiration. It is not a physical urge that the people need to-day; they need a moral urge to do their best for their country. The seriousness of the problem is something that must penetrate into every family in this country if we are to save them from the trouble that awaits them.
We have been told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that we are working better now than we have ever worked; that the output per man in 1948 was more than it was in 1938. Of course, it should 1189 be better, because, to begin with, we have better-equipped factories and better management in our factories. But there is another falsity in that statement. If the output in 1938 had been good it would be something of which to be proud, that we had risen above it. But the output per man in 1938 was a poor one. There is not a man over thirty to-day hut who was brought up in a family where the father would say to the son, "Do riot work too hard, my boy, and there may be a job for your younger brother." That was due to the trade unions. That is also the reason why the trade unions brought in their rules of restriction. Does one blame them? Not I. Why should one? Those were the days of great unemployment, when it seemed morally right to the father of the family to tell his son to share his work with his brother. But, my Lords, if for a generation you teach the people of a country that they must never do their best, you lower the whole moral standard of work in the country, until at last you have no best, because you have never tried to get it.
It is not a question of the quality of work. We all know that the quality of the goods produced by British workmen is probably as high now as it has ever been. It is the quantity of work, the mental and physical effort which they put into it, which is lacking. How are we to get that right? The people must he told the truth. They must be taught that we have become a race which is not hard working, compared with some other countries. I was told by an Oxford professor of Australian birth, who had just come back from a visit to Australia after twenty years' absence, that as he went round the country he came to some farms where all the people were working harder than he had ever seen anybody work in his life. He turned to his Australian friend and said, "Who are these people working like this? They never stop. They seem to be working all day and all night." The answer was, "These are people that we have immigrated from Central Europe. We have tried to explain to them that we do not do that here, but they do not understand our language, and so they cannot understand." That is a perfectly true illustration, and it is not by any means confined to Australia.
1190 It is a fact that to-day we hi this country expect a first-class standard of life when we are giving only second-class work. In saying that, I refer to all people, from the highest to the lowest, in the industrial world. To change this we have got to change the mind of the family. We have got to reach a situation where it will not be the father speaking to the son, but the son speaking to the father and saying, "We must go out and do Our best for our country to-day." Until we achieve that, all our political effort, all the wonderful, grandiose schemes of different Parties, will have no effect whatever in saving the country from the disaster that faces it. That requires a great effort of statesmanship. The people are magnificent; they are worthy of statesmanship If we can reach that situation, without the slightest doubt they will respond.
To say that a Coalition Government would lead to mutiny among the electors in this country is, I submit, entirely unsound. They are not like that. We have a great Party in the middle, the independent Party which decided the last Election. Who will decide the next one? The Tories vote Tory; Labour votes Labour; but it is the middle vote, whichever way it goes, which decides the fate of Parties. Why, therefore, do the Parties not combine? Does any single Party believe that, if there is another Election and it gets in with a big majority, it can lead the country through these economic dangers which I have tried to put to your Lordships? It is impossible that it should do so. Let us imagine that the Conservative Party were to win the next Election with a considerable majority. Do they believe that they can lead the country and make the people do what is wanted, with their opponents hanging on their heels, trying to trip them up at every moment, and contradicting every statement that they make as being designed purely to gain more money for the capitalist classes? Do the Labour Government believe that, if they were returned to power at another Election, they, continuing to follow their present policies and opposed tooth and nail by all the Opposition, would be able to lead the country into economic solvency any better than they are able to do it to-day? I suggest that it would not make any difference. It would not matter a hoot what happened at another Election.
1191 What we should all seek to avoid is having another Election at all. The way to prevent an Election is for the leaders of the Parties to get together. We have in this House three magnificent Party leaders, the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. They are thoroughly trustworthy, highly respected men, each of them filled with patriotism—as, I admit, are all the leaders of the Parties to-day. They are imbued with keenness, and they are men of good will and common sense. Surely it should be easy for them to get together and arrange for an interim Government for, shall we say, one or two years, and to set the right course to take us out of our present troubles. Such men, speaking from the same platforms and urging the people to a higher moral effort, could exert vast influence. If you are playing a cricket match, and there is only a quarter of an hour to go, and you still have two men on the opposing side to get out your captain does not say, "We must work harder, and we must work longer." You cannot work harder and you cannot work longer. What does the captain say? He says: "Come on; we have to win this match." He rouses the spirit of his men, and, without knowing it, without any consciously greater effort, there is better bowling, catches are not missed and the match is won. Nobody knows quite how it has happened. And that is how we want things to go to-day.
It is no use waiting. I was saddened to read that in the debate on the Address in this House the most reverend Primate, the Archbishop of York, said that the time for a Coalition had not yet come. The time never will come if the present attitude is maintained. It will not be said to have come until it is too late, and then we may not be able to recover our position. There is no real difference between the Parties that matters. As has been said recently by many speakers, among them the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, we are united on such matters as defence and foreign policy; we all admit the advantages of social betterment and will do our best to bring it about. The only difference between the Parties is on the question of how to effect that social improvement, and as to what pace it shall be proceeded with, having regard to our income. When the differences are so 1192 small. surely it ought to be possible to put national safety before cherished Party ambitions, and to form a Government of good will which will steer the ship on the right course.
I cannot believe that it is impossible to do so. I believe that, as one speaker today already has said, if any Party—not necessarily the Conservative Party—were to go to the country at another Election and say: "Whatever majority you may give us, when we get to Parliament we will try immediately to form a National Government, as we believe that that is the only answer to our national problems," that Party would sweep the polls. They would find the whole of the middle vote solidly behind them, for those people are alarmed and mystified. They want to see the best men at the helm. They say to the Government: "Tell us what to do and we will do it." I would urge upon your Lordships that we should let it go out from this august Assembly that we ought to take every step we can to avoid inflicting another General Election on the country. It can be done; it is not too late. We have men in this country who can do it. So far as I can ascertain—and I have taken some trouble to make inquiries—the people are ready and anxious to see the leaders of all Parties get together.
§ 4.46 p.m.
My Lords, the whole House will admire the urgency and sincerity of feeling which underlay the speech of the noble and gallant Admiral who has just resumed his seat. I am sure, also, that we realise and appreciate the idealism lying behind the speeches of the noble mover and seconder of this Resolution. We should all very much like to live under the government of a collection of wise and benevolent men who would govern the country for the common good. There is only one disadvantage to that theory, and that is that there are many different opinions as to what is the common good. It depends upon one's viewpoint. That is the origin of Party Government, which has existed for many centuries in this country, under which, on the whole, we have not done too badly, and which has only reluctantly been forsaken in times of the utmost stress. Indeed, as has previously been pointed out in this debate, it took well over a year of the First Great War before the country would accept a Coalition, and it 1193 was not until the time of Dunkirk was almost reached that a National Government was formed in the last war. Therefore, it is only in conditions which the nation recognises as critical that the people are willing to forsake the Party system and to adopt National government.
All the speakers who have supported the Motion—Lord Elton, Lord Ailwyn, Lord Chatfield and others—have presupposed that everyone is agreed that there is a crisis. I think they are wrong. I agree that there is an economic crisis which, I think, will get worse and worse, but I do not believe the supporters of the Labour Party think that at all. I do not think they realise there is anything critical happening. Anyone who took part in the recent Election and had the opportunity of talking to the average voter did not find him in fear of a crisis. Indeed, he has been told so often that there is, or is going to be, a crisis that he has become bored to death with it, and the average Labour voter says: "All I can say is that times are better with me than they have ever been before, and if this is a crisis, long may it remain!" Some two or three months ago I was talking to a builder's foreman in the mews in which I keep my car. He told me that he had had the finest Christmas of his whole career. He had been able to take the family to the seaside, they had all had presents, and in short, he said, everything in the garden was absolutely rosy. After some little political talk, I said to him: "Do you think that these conditions can continue?" He said: "As a matter of fact, I rather doubt it, but you cannot expect me to vote against them so long as there is a good chance of their remaining." I mention this merely because it shows, in my submission, that the 13,000,000 people who voted for the Socialist Party at the last General Election do not believe that there is a crisis in the sense which is in the minds of such men as the noble and gallant Admiral who has just spoken.
Therefore, I come to the second point in the Resolution, which asks that the leaders of the three Parties shall meet together to agree upon measures. Whenever I think of the Liberal Party my mind goes back to the day in 1935 when the two Houses of Parliament assembled in Westminster Hall to congratulate his late Majesty King George V on the attainment of his silver jubilee, and the question arose in another place as to the 1194 most orderly.procedure of moving to Westminster Hall, Mr. Speaker FitzRoy suggested that the best way would be for the members two by two to meet together from opposite Benches and proceed in column of four to Westminster Hall. Whereupon my honourable friend Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd rose and said,While I fully accept that suggestion with regard to the two main Parties, would it not be more appropriate for the Liberal Party to proceed in their normal condition of sixes and sevens?That state of affairs has not improved over the years and I do not think they would be very helpful to cur discussions.
The noble Lords who moved and seconded the Motion seemed to presuppose that having agreed measures would end all opposition, that everybody would accept those measures, whatever they might be, and they would be carried out. I dare say they would be carried out in the first instance, but I venture to 'think that the result of the establishment of a 'National Government in peacetime would be the emergence of a third Party, much more powerful than the Liberal Party, led, perhaps, by such a personality as Mr. Areurin Bevan, and taking the form of a revival of the Independent Labour Party, which would start an Opposition to the National Government. If, as is adumbrated by the supporters of this Motion, the agreed measures will be very unpleasant, then it is certain that the new Party would gain a large number of adherents. Because there is no doubt about one political truth—namely, that no Party or set of individuals will listen to an unpalatable truth until they are frightened or it is forced upon them. That has been proved time and time again, and the latest example is Mr. Stanley Evans.
What are the agreed measures that the noble Lords who moved and seconded this Motion have in mind? It was most noticeable that neither the noble Lord, Lord Elton, nor the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, made any specific recommendation on that 'score at all. The noble and gallant Admiral, Lord Chatfield was more specific. His speech me y be summed up. "Much more work; much better work." That is a doctrine easily preached in this House, but not so easily preached perhaps in a coalfields constituency. I could not help thinking that the sentiments underlying the speeches of Lord Elton and Lord 1195 Ailwyn were directed not so much towards more work as towards less taxation, and I venture to think that in the average Conservative mind less taxation is of paramount consideration. It is a gibe of the Labour Party against the Conservative Party that they will never be specific on that score, and, indeed, the Conservative Party in The Right Road for Britain almost puts it out of their power to make any sensible reduction of taxation. When we read or listen to a Labour speech we know that they used that document as powerful propaganda in their campaign in the last Election. Therefore, I wonder what the noble Lords who moved and seconded the Motion hope to achieve, even if a National Government comes into power. Both Parties are committed to the Welfare State. Therefore, even if they get together, even if Mr. Churchill and Mr. Attlee and Mr. Clement Davies all get round the table, it is exceedingly unlikely that they will agree to measures which will in any way satisfy the mover and seconder of the Motion.
They are refusing to try. It seems to me rather a misapprehension when some speakers say that the difference between the Parties is so small. That is true with regard to defence and foreign affairs and the Welfare State, but surely it is profoundly untrue with regard to economics. It is certainly untrue with regard to the private views of the followers of the two Parties. The Labour Party are very satisfied with the progress of events. They think they have done extremely well. The tone of the speakers on the Labour side in another place is always to that effect. They think they have achieved great things. But we take the opposite view. We think that they are nearing the precipice and about to topple over and then we shall take an almighty crash to the bottom. The Labour Party do not agree. They think they are going steadily ahead and that we are wrong. That is the point which the noble Lords who moved and seconded the Motion do not seem to realise. The Labour Party are extremely satisfied with themselves. They think we are the fools; and we think they are the fools: that is the whole difficulty.
That is true. For the first time in my political career I found myself in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, when he said that we must carry on the King's government, that we must come to some sort of working arrangement. We must not take notice of these ridiculous defeats on minor questions, because we must carry on. We do not want an Election in the near future, for a multitude of reasons. The general public would be annoyed to have one and the Party leaders who look after the purse strings would be even more annoyed. From every point of view, it is extremely undesirable to have a General Election, as nobody can do any harm to the country—and by "nobody" I mean the Labour Party, because they cannot carry a measure like steel nationalisation—
I am willing to take a small bet that by the end of the year Mr. Morrison will propose a further postponement of the vesting date. At any rate, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, that it is necessary for the King's government to be carried on and that the Prime Minister should consider himself bound to go to the King with advice only in the event of the Government being defeated on a direct vote of censure. I hope, for another reason, that there may be a considerable time before there is another Election. This final reason is that the policy of the Welfare State, which can be comprised in four words, "Less work, more pay," has been the foundation stone of the Labour Party ever since its inception by Keir Hardie fifty years ago, and its adherents have worked on that, and that only, ever since. Up to this point they have been assisted by the Conservative and Liberal Parties (I am speaking quite independently and with responsibility to nobody but myself), always one step behind, and always pushed on by agitation into doing these things. The Labour Party think that the Welfare State can continue and improve indefinitely. I do not. If they prove to be right, we shall all have to admit it and have to become followers of the Labour Party; but while this matter is in course of being proved, it is highly desirable that the ultimate responsibility should still lie in their hands.
1197 In the critical years that lie in the future, when Marshall Aid ceases and the sellers' market increasingly declines, with the rising cost of living, the difficulties of the wage freeze, and all the other things—if they can survive those and still continue their Welfare State they will be right, I shall be wrong, and I shall be glad to go and sit on the opposite side of the House with the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. But until that occurs I wish Socialists to be responsible for their own policy. I agree with those who say that the Party in power for the next three years is likely to be out for the following ten. I wish the Socialists to be responsible, and I believe that they will be found utterly wrong.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ LORD HAILEY
My Lords, this Motion put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has been so thoroughly ventilated in the House to-day—and, if I may say so with all respect, so well ventilated—that I am sure your Lordships would not thank me if I were to add in any considerable measure to the length of the discussion. But I was one of those who, before the last Election, joined with Lord Elton and others of my friends in a letter to the Press urging the need of a National Government. I have come to the House to-day, not with any pre-conceived ideas, and certainly not with a pre-written speech, but in order that I might make up my mind whether, in view of the arguments put forward, I should still repeat the support which I then gave to Lord Elton's proposal. I am in some difficulty. I fully admit the obstacles that some of your Lordships—particularly the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, and the noble Earl, Lord Halifax—have expressed as existing in the path of the formation of a National Coalition Government. They are partly difficulties of principle, and partly difficulties arising from purely practical considerations.
Nevertheless, it seems to me that we have a situation in which we have to find some other remedy than a mere willingness to consider a National Government as one of the possible solutions. We have got to go somewhat further than the Japanese are said to go in the matter of religion—namely, that they consider it wise to observe the attitude of politeness towards all possibilities. The noble Lord, Lord Blackford, has said that there 1198 is no feeling among the population at large that an economic crisis exists. Therefore we have to find a means of showing the people that such a crisis does exist, and that somewhat severe measures may have to be taken to meet it.
It seems to me, if one takes the two great Parties in politics at present, that there are inhibitions on both sides. There is an inhibition on the one side owing to the prejudice which, rightly or wrongly, exists against it as a Party which is concerned mainly with the interests of capital or the moneyed classes. There is on the other side an inhibition due to the fact that the Party have a programme which has paid much more attention to the guarantee of certain social improvements than to the organisation of our national economy. It is only through some form of union that these two Parties could bring home to the population at large the actual reality of the crisis that faces us, and the need for taking the somewhat severe measures that will be necessary to meet it.
But there is another consideration, of a more long-term character, which weighs even more with me. It has been said recently that for the fist time in over a thousand years our civilisation has been attacked by another type of civilisation which would make it impossible for us to attain all our ideals, or to maintain the ways of life for which we have stood for so long. To my mind, that is perfectly true, and it is a real and present danger. I ask myself where our friends are to be found who will help us to meet it—friends in the Dominions and in part of the Continent of Europe. I am fully persuaded that the assistance which our friends abroad could give to us in devising measures to meet that attack would be greatly increased if they could see a union of our Parties. It is that long-term view which I regard as so important, and which persuades me that there is no other solution than the union of our great Parties, not only in some form of conference but in united action.
It may well be, as so many have often said on this subject, that a union of this kind—call it a Coalition, or what you will—is never thought out, but is always produced by circumstances. There are no doubt many to-day who view it as a desirable ideal but as only a pious hope. I have in my life seen many of 1199 these pious hopes, which at one time seemed to be almost beyond fulfilment, come to fruition. The list is very long. It includes in the international sphere the Atlantic Pact and, as I may remind your Lordships, in the domestic sphere the coming into power of the Labour Party. Such apparently far-off visions, as at one time they seemed, have a way, when the interest of thoughtful people is aroused, of coming to fulfilment. I hope sincerely that nothing that is said here, or done elsewhere, will stand in the way of the fulfilment ultimately of this great object of a union between our great Parties.
§ 5.10 p.m.
THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY
My Lords, I rise to support this Motion which, in effect, calls for the formation of a National Government. In spite of what the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, said, I feel sure that amongst certain classes of people in this country there is a growing desire for the formation of a National Government, for a limited time and with a definite object, to deal with the dangers with which we are now threatened. In the debate upon the gracious Speech, the Lord Chancellor touched upon this particular point but he dismissed it, as I thought somewhat contemptuously, with these words:Finding as we do that there is not the slightest desire on the part of the followers of either camp to have anything like it at the present time, I consider the suggestion is completely impracticable.At the moment it is rather difficult to understand what some followers in one camp at least do wish. We have just seen what happens to Members of Parliament who hold independent views, and it is obvious at this stage that it is difficult for followers of either camp to say what they desire. May I remind the House of these words of Mr. Churchill:There is an England which stretches far beyond the well-drilled masses which are assembled by Party machinery to salute with suitable acclamation the utterances of their Party fuglemen; an England of wise men who gaze without self-deception at the failing of political Parties.There will always be an England, and if by some terrible catastrophe an explosion occurred which blew up all the members of both Front Benches in both Houses of Parliament, we should still 1200 carry on and have a Government just as good as we have now and as we have had in past years. That, I venture to say, is the difference between a Coalition and a National Government. There were many most successful Ministers in the last National Government who came in from outside because of the national emergency, and I have no doubt that there are many equally good men who would come in now and do their work if called upon. They would be very valuable, because they would have no preconceived notions.
A straw shows which way the wind blows. In the last Parliament considerable reassurance was felt by all those interested in national defence when they heard that the Government intended to consult and inform the leaders of the Opposition upon that vital question. But surely the first consideration of national defence is financial stability. If our financial position is anything like so had as it has been described, both by Ministers and by leaders of the Opposition, it is logical to ask that we should have something done whereby we can take immediate and energetic action. But immediate and energetic action is exactly what we cannot take at this moment. With another Election bound to come in the near future, the Government cannot be expected to take any definite steps, and the Opposition will hesitate to suggest them for fear of their effect upon potential supporters. This was made obvious in the Election speeches, and it has since been confirmed by the Budget statement. The Daily Telegraph aptly described it as "a general policy of standstill". These are not times when we want to stand still. But nobody has made any suggestions, and that is the answer to everyone who says, "What do you want people to agree on?" or, "What we are complaining, about is that we have nothing to bite on; nobody has made any definite proposal." I do not suppose there are many noble Lords here to-day who would stand up and put their hand on their heart and say they have no fear that there will be any cuts in the social services, or that there will be any fall in the standard of living. There is nobody who can say that.
Having a faith in my fellow men, I do not believe that if the leaders of the Parties, or the men whom we should like 1201 to see in a National Government, came together and put aside Party considerations and their interests, they would have any difficulty in soon coming to an agreement on what measures should be taken. They would be able to draw up a policy of retrenchment, including a wage policy, which would not arouse any formidable opposition. I believe that by working together and by cutting away a lot of the dead wood and frills it would be found that the social services could go on very much as they are to-day. But that will not happen unless some agreement is reached. Certainly I do not think it is asking much of patriotic men at least to have a try.
After all, the social service legislation of the last Parliament—as the Opposition have never tired of reminding the Government—was planned by a National Government, and not by a Party Government. That explains the easy passage through, both Houses of Parliament of the necessary Bills to put the schemes into effect. Cannot we learn anything from this? The National Government had the overriding purpose of winning the war, but they found time to bring forward all that social legislation because they were united. I suggest that the country would benefit from a two years' rest from domestic Party strife. That would allow time for us to digest the legislation of the last Parliament, and it would allow of nationalisation having a fair trial, which I do not think anybody can say it has had so far. Incidentally, a National Government might well have the courage to introduce measures so that future Governments would be strong enough to deal with these lightning strikes made, in some cases, by men who now claim to be Government servants. Fifteen thousand troops are going into the docks to do somebody else's work. They are Government servants. I am going to put down a Question to ask how many man-hours have been lost by soldiers from their training.
The result of the Election has been such as everybody foresaw. A weak Government were put into power just at the moment when we needed a strong one. There is a "cat and mouse" period before us, when each side will be manœuvring for position. That, no doubt, is stimulating exercise for Party politicians, but with the state the country 1202 is in at the present time it is a handicap to national recovery. If we were a country geographically situated like Iceland, whose internal politics are of no immediate interest to the rest of the world, it might not matter. But we are not. At this very moment we ought to be speaking with great authority in world councils, and we cannot do that because politically we are an uncertain quantity. Can the Government undertake that in the future we shall be represented abroad at such councils on the same level as we have been heretofore? Will not Ministers and others have to remain within hearing of the Division bells? For the Government to have a majority of five on a great question is a wretched situation for this country. Mr. Bevin went out to Strasbourg to represent Britain and also, I suppose, the Dominions. The night that he arrived the Government to which he belongs were defeated in the House. I think it was an ill-chosen night for that Party sham fiat.
As the senior member of the British Commonwealth and one of the principal members of the Atlantic Pact and Western Union, we ought at this moment to be giving a strong lead. We cannot do that as efficiently as we could if we were united with a National Government. We are almost sure to have another Election in a few months' lime and, as has been said already, there can be no certainty that in six months or nine months we shall not find ourselves in the same situation as we are in to-day. Surely, domestic policies might be given a rest for a time until we can get on a firm footing the measures necessary to restore Britain's position in the world. The voters have shown that they have no strong views upon domestic legislation. It has been sail that anything savouring of a Coalition has always been unpopular in this country. That is because they have usually held on too long after doing their work, and have become unpopular—"The Devil was well. the devil a monk was he!"
This Resolution does not ask for a Coalition Government but for a National Government, formed not only from the Front Benches but from good men outside. Elder statesmen in your Lordships' House have often relate experiences of their youth—and very useful they have been. I do not claim to be an elder 1203 statesman, but I am an elder man in the street, and as a man in the street I can well remember the relief that went through this country three times during my grown-up life on the formation of a National Government. And I can well remember as a young man being thrilled by the clarion cry of a great statesman to "Think imperially." I believe the time has come to ask our political leaders to "think imperially."
It has been said this afternoon, and it has often been said before, that the people of this country do not fully realise the dangers in which we are placed, and that they ought to be better informed. Acceptance of this Motion by your Lordships would bring home to the nation, as nothing else could, the dangers in which we now stand. And it would show the world that we are prepared to face our dangers, as we have done before, as a united nation supporting a National Government.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ LORD TOVEY
My Lords, participating in a debate after so many far more able speakers have addressed your Lordships makes it rather difficult for me to find anything fresh to say. Possibly that is just as well, because my life at sea may have led me to develop a simpleminded philosophy—or perhaps I am flattering myself and it is just a simple mind. One of the difficulties for me in this debate is that the need for a National Government to-day is so obvious to me that I find it almost absurd that it should be necessary to argue the case. That we have had Coalition Governments during both the recent wars is surely a proof in itself of the effectiveness of that type of Government. That it was not introduced until we had been at war for many months I acknowledge, but surely it would have been better if the Coalition had been introduced before the war. If it had been, we should have been better prepared to enter the war than we were. Certainly it was a decision that was welcomed by everyone. Only when the decision was made did I and most others feel really confident that the country would put forth its greatest effort. I find it difficult to believe that anyone would dispute that it was the unity provided by the Coalition Governments that brought us through those 1204 two wars successfully. I understand that should war come again all three Parties would probably seek a Coalition. Surely, our position is serious enough to-day to justify the formation of a National Government now.
But is war to be considered the only danger serious enough to warrant the setting up of the most effective form of Government? Are not a declining standard of living, large-scale unemployment, even, possibly, semi-starvation, in themselves the very seeds of unrest and Bolshevism and sufficient to call for our greatest endeavour? I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blackford, that some of the electorate probably do not see the position in that light, but it is because they have not been told the full danger and they do not know the true position. It is beyond my comprehension how members of the Houses of Parliament, who should be better informed, can fail to realize the urgent need for a National and a united Government. Members of the Government and others have on several occasions proclaimed that what is wanted is the Dunkirk spirit. The reason there was a Dunkirk spirit was that the whole country was, in that time of desperate crisis, united behind a Government which represented everyone. Had there not been that unity there would have been no Dunkirk spirit. If the need was not plain before the last Election, surely it is plain now.
The two Parties as nearly equally divided as they can be. How can either hope to carry the whole country with it? It seems to me questionable that any Party with such a small majority as that which the present Government have should be entitled to claim the right to govern the whole country. However satisfied the Government may he with what they have achieved in the last five years, they have failed to unite the country. And I do not see that the Opposican claim that they have given any indication that they would succeed any better. Never was it more necessary to have the tremendous increase in strength which comes of a united opinion and purpose. This is not the time for narrow Party politics; the country must come first all the time. I wonder sometimes whether politicians realise what very ordinary fellows like myself really think about Party politics. I have no intention 1205 of trying to tell your Lordships. What is wanted, and what the country is crying out for, is a Government of men of the best brains, experience and ability that are available, and they are not to be found in any one Party. The country needs men who will give a strong clear, honest and united lead. This is completely lacking at the present time. It is not merely that delay in achieving unity is delaying our country's recovery and return to normal peace conditions—conditions, incidentally unknown to the younger generation to-day. Each day's delay increases the risk not of cold war but of real, bloody war. I realise that a National Government calls for a great sacrifice by all Parties, particularly, possibly, by the Party in power; but it is a noble sacrifice that is called for, and one which men should be proud to make when their country and, for that matter, the world and Christianity itself are at stake.
§ 5.22 p.m.
My Lords, your Lordships will agree that the wars, cold and hot, now raging over the world are reaching a climax. These wars are variously described, but two titles will suffice—there are many others. They have been described as between Freedom-loving nations and Communism and, in the economic sphere, as between Capitalism and. Communism. These struggles are, I suggest, but to-day's aspects of one that is fundamental and has been waged since mankind came first to live on the earth—that between good and evil. Are we going to devise systems under which international trade will be changed from economic and financial war to a mutually advantageous exchange of goods and services? If we choose economic war each nation will, as in the old duelling days, choose the weapon which suits it best. Therefore, I submit that the vital question is whether in fact we are going to choose economic war, or whether, instead, and before it is too late, we are going to establish economic peace over the world. As things are at the moment, we are on the brink of disaster.
One might suppose that the mounting productivity in Germany and Japan would be a subject of rejoicing in the world. Similarly, one might suppose that the fact that the United States was not only able to produce all she required for her 1206 self but had a large exportable surplus over and above her own needs would also be a cause for satisfaction. In a sane world, it clearly would be so. Instead, we are faced with a situation under which, when Marshall Aid ceases in 1952, the United States will either choke herself with that surplus or produce the same result by accepting a flood of unwanted imports. The reviving economies of Germany and Japan will be used, if permitted—in the case of Japan this is already beginning—to undermine the economies of other nations through underselling them by wide margins in the world's markets. I suggest that international trade when conducted on these lines is not competition in the sense of emulation, but just plain economic aggression which, if successful, can destroy a nation as effectively as physical war. This, surely, is the fundamental problem with which our generation is faced. All other problems, I suggest, are subsidiary to it, and largely arise from it. On this plane, and on this plane alone, can men of good will of all political complexions and all nations unite.
Nearly a decade ago, on November 18, 1941, to be precise, I was privileged to submit suggestions to your Lordships with regard to the compelling need for a new outlook, both national and international, on economics. This debate followed shortly after the signing of the Atlantic Charter, in which the fifth principle affirms the need to bring about the fullest collaboration between all nations in the economic held, with the object of securing for all improved labour standards, economic advancement and social security. The situation has not altered the force of the suggestions then submitted. to your Lordships' House, but makes their translation into effect more urgent and compelling than ever before. It is for these reasons that I support with conviction my noble friend, Lord Elton, and those of your Lordships who have already spoken in support of his Motion. Our country has, in past centuries, in accord with her Christian heritage and tradition, shown by example the way to a fuller arid freer life. As I see it, the freedom-seeking world demands that she should do so again. To give effect to this ideal, it is essential that the best men of all Parties, or of no Party, should be united in a National Government.
§ 5.33 p.m.
My Lords, any Government who take office in present circumstances must be faced with the most serious difficulties. I notice that in all the eloquent speeches that have been made one subject has been rather lightly passed over; that is, what the new Government, whatever they may be—whether Coalition or Party does not matter—will have to do. I should like to call attention to some of the difficulties with which they will be faced. I am immensely struck by the appalling manner in which this country is living on capital. Death duties and special levies are simply capital taxes. Income tax and super-tax up to 19s. in the pound are obviously being paid largely out of capital, and inflation is obviously a capital tax because it reduces the value of the capital.
Then there are both purchase tax and the reduced income which most of the investors in the nationalised industries have been forced to accept. Strictly speaking, these are not capital taxes, but they are certainly admirably calculated to reduce the possibility of the formation of new capital. Of course, I know that part of the taxes that are raised in this way, mostly out of capital, are being used as reinvestment—what Sir Stafford Cripps calls "capital formations"; that is to say, he is building a totally insufficient number of houses, a few roads and things of that kind. But I do not think that anybody would suggest that the new capital which the Government are making by their investments anything like approaches the amount of capital which is torn from the taxpayer. I regret that during this debate I have never heard the word "thrift" mentioned. Thrift is what civilisation depends upon. Thrift is the only thing that has formed civilisation, and it is the only thing that can keep it going. In order that it shall be maintained, there must always be thrift, and thrift is savings.
There is no real difference between large-scale and small-scale thrift. It is all done for the same purpose—that we must not spend to-day what we shall want for to-morrow. But probably the worst feature of the present situation is the all-out attack that has been and is being made upon thrift. Thrift is treated as a crime, to be expiated by large and repeated fines. All people who practise large thrift have been eliminated by 1208 taxation until they can hardly exist, and the people who practise small thrift, which is so carefully preached to us by the Government, have also lost, because anybody who has invested in Government securities during the last five years has lost more in capital value than he has received in interest. So there is absolutely nothing to be got out of saving. What are the Government going to do about that? Sir Stafford Cripps goes on telling us that we must save, and this is the way he treats us. If thrift is really desired, the people who practise thrift must be allowed to keep and use their savings. There is no single thing which would do so much to encourage thrift as the abolition of death duties.
There are other considerable difficulties that would face any Government which took office. One of them is the Health Services. I believe that the Health Services are the greatest single item of expenditure. The cost of the Health Services, from the nature of the case, is obviously practically all provided by the young and the middle-aged, while the people who profit by the Health Services are almost entirely the old. How long will the young and the middle-aged consent to go on being plundered in order to provide constantly increasing comforts for a constantly increasing proportion of old people? Then there is the question of education. The real reason why the young value education is that they have been told that it will enable them to earn more money, and that they will be able to get better jobs. What does education do in the way of providing better jobs? It does not provide any better jobs at all. All that happens is that it increases the competition for those jobs, which is the last thing which the youth of this country want. Then there is that, perhaps most intractable of all labour questions—the displacement of labour. At the present moment, full employment is being secured by employing something like a million clerks to fill up forms, and to do things of that kind which are of no use to anybody. Not only is that of no use, but it is the greatest possible hindrance to our recovery.
Those are a few of the "headaches" that any Government who take office will have to face. My own feeling, I am sorry to say, is that the situation is most serious and nothing except the most drastic action, of which I see not the slightest 1209 sign, can possibly save us. I shudder to think what is going to be the fate of this country when all the capital upon which we are now living has been confiscated. And what the standard of living of the poor will be then, I do not venture to consider.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, in view of the progress made by speakers in this debate, and for the convenience of one or two noble Lords who wish to speak, it may be desirable that we should adjourn now. That will leave us with four speakers on Tuesday. On behalf of my noble friend, Lord Noel-Buxton, I beg to move that the debate stand adjourned until Tuesday next.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Lord Sherherd.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.