§ 3.5 p.m.
§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion moved yesterday by the Earl of Rothes—namely, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as followeth:
§ "Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."
§ EARL JOWITT
My Lords, it now becomes necessary for us to come down from the high peaks of eloquence and good sense to which we listened yesterday from the Mover and Seconder of the Address to the dusty plain of controversy; but I hope that the controversy, as becomes this House, at any rate at this stage will not be unduly embittered. I must say, speaking for myself, that I like this Queen's Speech better than the last one. It seems to me to have more constructive and less destructive elements, though I do not altogether like the proposals about the Raw Cotton Commission, and I am a little afraid about the Town and Country Planning proposals. For the rest, inevitably the proposals are merely heads and will be enlarged upon by White Papers, which will be coming along in a bewildering stream—some of them have already started. It makes it a little difficult for anybody at this stage of the proceedings to speak to the Address, if he does not really know what the proposals are but only that in a few days' time there will be White Papers which will enlarge upon these proposals.
The arrangement we have made, following, I think, upon precedent, is that the main emphasis shall be to-day on home affairs and to-morrow on foreign affairs. To-morrow's debate is to be opened for us by my noble friend Lord Henderson, who, as your Lordships know, speaks on foreign affairs with a kind of inherited wisdom. We have all learnt very much from his contributions. So it does not fall to my lot to-day to deal at any length with foreign affairs, and I 36 confess I am not sorry. It is quite unnecessary for me, therefore, to say anything about Egypt, which obviously must be considered in its complex setting in the Middle East, with Israel and Jordan, and so on. Perhaps it is right, however, that I should say how much I welcome the statement that the four-Power meeting is still considered desirable, and I sincerely hope that Her Majesty's Government will be able to bring it about, because I believe it offers us a chance of easing the cold war.
There is one matter in regard to foreign affairs, however, about which I ought to say something, and that is about Trieste, because I raised the question here in this House with the noble Marquess, and pressed him to allow us to have a debate on the subject. Very naturally, he pointed out that it was not altogether convenient that we should have a debate on the same day as the debate on the subject in another place. I realised that that was so and did not continue to press for my debate; consequently, the matter is rather in the air and I should, I think, say something about it. I do not criticise the broad structure of the scheme which is, as we now know, for Zone A to go to Italy and Zone B to Yugoslavia. I hope consideration will be given to interchange of population, and I feel sure that arrangements will be made to facilitate the use of the Port of Trieste by other persons. It is not so much the substance I object to; I should not feel it right to object to that unless I had a better proposal to make, and I say frankly that I have not. But I do want to criticise the way it was done. There was a scheme, first of all, proposed by the Peace Treaty, which was rendered quite impracticable by the intransigence of the Russians. There were then the 1948 suggestions. They may have been right or they may have been wrong, but they have become quite outmoded by the happy change in the situation with regard to Yugoslavia. I need not say any more upon that, for your Lordships, I am sure, will know what I have in mind.
Our position, I take it, is simply this. We are, and we desire to remain, good friends with both Italy and Yugoslavia. It is no doubt true that it is sometimes necessary—to use a phrase which has already been used in this connection—to "lance the boil." But this is a question of timing. This matter ought to 37 have been dealt with some time ago. A year ago, I think, I pressed that it should be dealt with—I felt that it was getting overripe. Unfortunately, it was not then dealt with. What I object to is the way in which this was done. It strikes me as a most extraordinary thing that the two men concerned, the noble Marquess who leads this House and Mr. Anthony Eden—and speaking from this side of the House I may say that we all have great confidence in their conduct of foreign affairs: we know that they possess great wisdom and great expertise—should have made a mistake which would have been barely excusable in the veriest tyro. What do we want now? The Government are trying to bring about a Five-Power meeting. Good luck to them; I hope they will succeed. But how much easier it would have been to bring about that Five-Power meeting before this declaration was made than it is now; because Signor Pella has made statements from which it is difficult for him to retreat, Marshal Tito has made statements from which it is difficult for him to retreat, and we have made statements from which it is difficult for us to retreat. The result is that now it is going to be no easy matter to bring about that Five-Power meeting which would have been quite easy to bring about if we had approached it before this pronouncement was made. That is how I see this matter.
I am left wondering as to how it came about that this mistake was made. Was it that at long last there was some lack of patience over this intractable problem? The late Mr. Ernest Bevin used to say that perpetual patience was a necessary ingredient in the conduct of foreign affairs. Was it possible that the Ministers concerned were unwell owing to over-work? The noble Earl who seconded the Motion yesterday called attention to the great pressure to which Ministers are subjected to-day and said that it is almost unbearable. Was it that these two excellent men, both concerning themselves with this problem, somehow or other fell down and failed to accomplish a task which either of them by himself would most certainly have carried through satisfactorily? If so, this is another example of President Lincoln's aphorism that one bad general is better than two good ones. I have felt it right to make that criticism, as we did not have 38 a debate on Trieste. Had we had one, that was the criticism I was going to make.
With regard to home affairs we shall certainly all agree that there is no room for complacency. The balance of payments position must still cause us some anxiety, and the position of the export trade is by no means comfortable. My noble friend Lord Hall, in the course of our debate, is going to say something about those matters. Perhaps I may just pick out a few points in the gracious Speech upon which I think I should say something. The Speech announces that further consideration is to be given to the reform of the House of Lords. The noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, in his speech yesterday made a request to me. He asked whether the Labour Party would be prepared to reconsider their decision not to come into an All-Party Conference. I have to tell him that that is quite impracticable. The chance for that—as I think, unfortunately—was allowed to slip, and, as so often happens in life, chances like that do not occur again. What I can say is this. We shall most certainly consider—and consider sensibly and constructively—proposals which may be in due course submitted to us for the reform of the House of Lords. So long always as no extension of the powers of this House is contemplated—because if that were so we should certainly view it with great misgiving—and so long as it is understood that the main function of this House is to be a Revising Chamber and also to be a Chamber in which we can have interesting debates, then I feel certain that we shall listen sympathetically to the result of the consideration of the reform of the House of Lords. After all, this matter has been under consideration for a long time now—something like forty years—and to give it a little extra consideration at the present time will do it no harm.
My Lords, if I may venture to interrupt the noble and learned Earl, I should like to ask him whether he would wish to do away with the powers of this House to initiate Bills.
§ EARL JOWITT
No, I did not mean that at all. I meant that the primary function of this House must be regarded as that of a revising Chamber. I am sure we must not seek to enlarge the existing 39 powers. I have dealt with this matter only because I was asked a question by Lord St. Aldwyn, and I thought it courteous to answer him without delay.
Next as to the subject of television. On this the gracious Speech says:My Ministers will lay before you their proposals for carrying out their policy for television development.In his most interesting speech yesterday, which showed in what fine fettle he is, the Prime Minister pointed out that this Nation was pretty closely divided—14,000,000 people on one side and 14,000,000 on the other, and on most political questions the electorate have given an indication of their views. But I do not believe for a moment that the electorate have given any indication of their views on the subject of television. I should like to say very briefly how the matter strikes me. It is obvious, I think, that we all want to have an alternative television programme. The real problem which divides us is this: How is that programme to be financed? Is it to be financed by the system of licence duty, or is it to be financed by revenue from advertising? I mention that because I want to make it plain that this idea, which the Postmaster General has apparently been developing, that because he has got rid of sponsoring therefore he has got rid of the opposition, is quite untrue. The objection we have is that in the case of a programme financed by revenue derived from advertising, he who pays the piper calls the tune. If the revenue is to come from advertising, then the big business concerns—for they are the only people who will be able to pay the necessary money for advertising in this way—will see that they get what they want. Though they will pay the piper in the first instance, in the last resort the public will pay.
I realise that many sensible people who have looked carefully at this matter sincerely hold that there is a strong case for commercial television. On the other side, there are large numbers of people who hold with equal sincerity the view that it would be a most retrograde step to introduce such a system. As I say, I do not believe that the electorate as a whole has pronounced on the matter at all. Therefore I want to ask a question. I cannot, of course, speak for the House 40 of Commons—I do not know what they will do on this question—but when it comes before our House I shall ask the Government to consider (and I do not necessarily expect them to answer now or even to-morrow) whether this is not a case where we ought to have an absolutely free vote, because I believe it will be found that this controversy cuts right across Party divisions. Knowing that the Government want to do the right thing, I suggest that the right way to find out what people want would be to allow a free vote of the House.
I pass next to what, for me, is a rather delicate question—that is, the position of Judges' salaries. I should hate to think that the Judges themselves were going to become the central figures of some controversy. I am sure that would be a great misfortune. Of course, the proposed Bill is a Money Bill, dealing entirely with money matters, and the fight, if fight there is, will take place in another place; and I have no doubt that after the Bill successfully emerges from that ordeal, it will pass here without the smallest difficulty. It is for another place to consider whether or not this particular claim should be met and whether or not the claim of the Judges should be the claim to be met as opposed to other claims in the queue. On that question I think it would he inadvisable that we in this House should express an opinion.
But I should like to mention this consideration, which may be of use to those who are considering the problem. There can be no doubt in the mind of any sensible person that in a democracy the importance of the due administration of justice cannot be overrated. Therefore, it is essential that we should attract to the profession the best men. One hundred and thirty years ago, at the time when the salaries were fixed, our ancestors may have shown considerable wisdom in fixing salaries which were then very high, in order to attract to the profession the best men, in the hope that they might achieve that position. In my time as Lord Chancellor I have known of men who refused the office of Judge; and I have known of eminent members of the Bar, the sort of men we would have appointed as Judges, leaving the Bar, because they were attracted by other forms of activity—big business and the like—at higher salaries. 41 I think that those who are considering what should be done about this matter ought to bear this consideration in mind; and with that I leave this topic.
The next proposal I want to say a word about is the legislation to be introduced "to facilitate the repair and improvement of existing houses." Since the gracious Speech was delivered we have been told that a White Paper, which I have not had an opportunity of reading, has been issued dealing with this very difficult problem. Therefore, it would be quite wrong for me to attempt to discuss it with your Lordships. However, I should like to say that I should not have the slightest hesitation in depriving the owners of slum property of their property. I would put down slum-property owning as readily as, for instance, I would put down a shop which was selling pornographic literature. I think it deplorable that anybody should make a living out of the rents from slum property, if it really is slum property. So far as concerns property which does not come within that category, I can understand that there may be a case for renovating and repairing it and bringing it up to modern standards. The question there, I suppose, would be whether the property is in such a condition that it is wise to spend money on its renovation or whether it is throwing good money after bad—and that is a matter for the expert. I do not wish to say more about this proposal, which is one that obviously demands, and will receive, our closest consideration; and we shall help, so far as we can, by constructive criticism. I have always had a prejudice in favour of the local authorities in this matter. I would emphasise the part they play, and I should like to see them given greater power with regard to these houses than they have to-day.
We are also promised leasehold reform. I have not any idea of what is involved. I make no complaint of the fact that we have no idea. I think there is a strong case for leasehold reform—so long as we select the right things to reform. In the old days, we could rely on the haggling in the market between landlord and prospective tenant to fix a fair rent, but at the present time the market is so over-weighted in favour of the landlord that we have to consider how we are going to fix fair rents. In saying 42 that, I am not disregarding for one moment the fortunate fact that there are a large number of very good landlords—indeed, if all landlords had been as grasping and unwise as a minority are, this problem would have come to the fore a long time before now. I very much hope that this matter will be borne in mind when we are considering the proposed legislation.
I come to atomic research. We are told, for some reason which is not plain to me, that the responsibility for atomic research is to be taken from the Ministry of Supply and given to a statutory corporation. I should have asked and pressed the question, "Why?"—is it some doctrinaire view which makes this necessary?, but as I notice a White Paper is to be published next week setting out this matter at length I will contain myself until then. I am told that it will be stiff reading when we get it. Apart from that, there is one question which I should like to ask the noble Lord, of which I have given him notice. I saw in a newspaper the other day—I do not pose as an expert in this subject—that a proposal has been made to establish a European laboratory somewhere in Switzerland, at a cost, it was said, of some £10 million. Our obligation was to be a quarter of the cost, about £2½ million, assuming that we keep to the £10 million—though in my experience estimates like that always prove to be hopelessly inadequate.
This laboratory is to be completed in seven years, and will contain both a synchro-cyclotron and proton-cyclotron. Switzerland has insisted on the right to close the laboratory, in the event either of war or of acute danger of war—and of course they are to be the judges. How can we look at the situation at the present time? We have the war going on in Indo-China; we have the situation in Korea, and other situations with which we are all painfully familiar. Is there a danger of war now? Would the laboratory be closed whenever similar circumstances prevail? We are spending a vast amount on atomic research—I do not ask for any figures, but I want to know: are we duplicating our expenditure? I mean, have we already a corresponding institution in this country? If we have, then I think there is something to be said for allowing other nations to use our information and learn from us. If we have not, then I see that there is a case for contri- 43 buting a large part of the cost of this plant in Switzerland.
I read in the paper that the U.N.E.S.C.O. plan is now to be put into effect. U.N.E.S.C.O. is an admirable institution, but it is no substitute for Parliament, and I beg that, before we are finally committed to this matter, it may come before Parliament, in order that we may consider it and, if necessary, press our doubts and misgivings
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, this is a very difficult and tactical question. I should be happy to give the noble and learned Earl the fullest answers. It would fall to me to reply, and not to my noble friend Lord Woolton. My only doubt is this: the answers would necessarily be of a somewhat long and complicated character. I understand that the noble and learned Earl will not be here to-morrow, and, in those circumstances, I do not know whether he would prefer that I should give those answers at a time when he is able to be here. I am entirely in his hands: I am willing to give the answer to-morrow, but if he would prefer me to wait until he is here, I should be happy to do so.
§ EARL JOWITT
It would suit me quite well if the noble Marquess were to consult his own convenience. I should not understand the complicated answer. However, I do want to get this clear: Is it quite plain that Parliament will be able to pronounce on this plan before we are committed to it? If that is so, if the noble Marquess says that the scheme is one which, in some form or another, will be committed to Parliament, so that Parliament will have the right to pronounce on it, I shall be quite satisfied. If, on the other hand, I am told that we are already committed to this because U.N.E.S.C.O. has pronounced on it, I shall be quite dissatisfied.
I should now like to say a few words about agriculture. Here again, I had prepared to deliver myself of an oration on agriculture, for the first time in my life and with considerable trepidation. However, I see that a pronouncement is to be made in the course of the next few days as to what is the policy. All we are told in the gracious Speech is:My Ministers will continue to encourage the agricultural industry to increase food production and improve the quality and efficiency of home output.44 Those are most admirable sentiments. But how are the Government going to bring them about? Are they going to follow the principles of our 1947 Act? Looking at this matter with the impartial eye of the townsman, I must say that to me there seem to be grounds for serious misgiving. In December, 1951, the present Minister of Agriculture promised a long-term policy for agriculture (and these are his words)as soon as I can get my colleagues in the Government to agree on the details.That was in December, 1951. We pressed from this side that the Minister of Agriculture, who is one of the most important Ministers of all, should find his place in the Cabinet, and that has now been done. What are we told in the gracious Speech? It says simply:My Ministers are consulting farmers and the trades concerned about new methods of providing price guarantees and of marketing which will be required as rationing and allocation cease to be necessary.That seems to me to be eminently unsatisfactory. Indeed, there are two inconsistent policies here: one is to continue our policy of guaranteed prices and assured markets, and the other, expressed again in the words of the Minister of Agriculture, is toenable the healthy wind of enterprise and freedom to sweep away the cobwebs of twelve years in control.Each of those sentiments is admirable, but they are quite inconsistent the one with the other. The Minister of Agriculture no doubt can say:How happy could I be with eitherWere ťother dear charmer away.All we have at the present moment are inferior schemes, such as the present marketing arrangements for eggs, and deficiency payments for cereals. We have no indication whatever as to what the policy is to be. I do not wonder that the farmers are deeply concerned about this matter. It is obvious, is it not, that to increase production you must use both the marginal land, and high rainfall land, as well as the best land? No doubt a system of deficiency payments may be made to work, so long as you are not using marginal land. They are based on averages, and they do not, and cannot, meet the case of the marginal farmer. But to increase quality and efficiency you must have the scientific outlook. You must have better marketing arrangements. 45 We do not want "feather-bedding"; but the farmer asks, and I think inevitably so, for some permanent policy to which he can work—because you cannot do these things in a day or a year.
That leads me to ask the Government this simple question: Do you believe in the great expansion of home food production? It is true that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation have reported that food production is now up to pre-war level, and that there have been substantial falls in world prices of wheat and other foodstuffs. But is there a real surplus of food? Surely, if the half-starved people, representing something like 70 per cent. of the world population, were to be properly fed, not only would there not be a surplus but even if you took the whole production of the North American Continent, and doubled it, there would still be a deficiency. That being so, it seems to me that we cannot trust to an adventitious surplus arriving at any one time. If we are to deal with this matter properly, we must produce every ton of food that we possibly can, and we must produce it efficiently. But we must be prepared to pay for it. Prices are falling; but prices are not falling in this country, so far as the housewife is concerned.
I would beg of your Lordships to consider how important this is. I have been indulging in a pastime in which I seldom indulge, that of reading past speeches by the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, who is to reply, and I have two short extracts of which I have already warned him. Here is one, from 1950. He said:When you return a Conservative Government you can rely on it that the cost of your food will not go up. I promise you that you will have a greater choice, better variety, but no higher prices.If ever there was a rash promise, I venture to think that that was one. But I have no doubt that when the noble Viscount, who had a great and deserved reputation as Minister of Food during the war, and upon whose pronouncement everybody felt he could rely, made that statement, it had a tremendous effect on the anxious and doubtful voter. But in 1951 he made a quite specific pronouncement. This is what he said:There is an Election story going about that the Conservatives would cut food subsidies. That is not true.That is a very definite statement.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE DUCHY OF LANCASTER (VISCOUNT WOOLTON)
But not the whole of it.
§ EARL JOWITT
I am afraid that I have not the rest of it. The last thing I want to do is to quote unfairly, and if the statement is qualified, if there is anything the noble Viscount wishes to add, perhaps he will do it now, or later when he comes to reply.
§ VISCOUNT WOOLTON
I have no objection to the noble and learned Earl quoting anything that I said, but I did make it perfectly clear at that time that we would not cut food subsidies unless we made counterbalancing safeguards. I am sure the last thing in the world the noble and learned Earl wants to do is to take political advantage out of the past. I was careful about that, and I think it is only reasonable that I should ask him to take the whole of my speech into consideration.
§ EARL JOWITT
I think that is entirely reasonable. If I had the whole of the speech, I would quote it, but I have only that extract. I hope that the noble Viscount will quote the words he used, because I am the last person to stop in the middle of a context to create an unfair impression. But, so far as I have got it—and the noble Viscount will give us the emendation that ought to be made—that was a definite statement that the Conservatives would not cut food subsidies. However, food prices have risen in a most alarming way, and I think we ought to recognise this. I have here a list—I do not vouch for it, but I believe it to be right—of food prices in November, 1951, and October, 1953. The rise in prices is really startling: bacon (middle), 2s. 8d. to 3s. 8d.; bread, 6d. to 7½d.; butter, 2s. 6d. to 3s. 4d.; cheese, 1s. 2d.to 2s. 2d.; cooking fat, 1s. 4d. to 1s. 8d.; margarine, 1s. 2d. to 1s. 6d.; flour, national, 4d. to 6¾d. flour, self-raising, 4¾d. to 7¼d.; canned corned meat, 2s. 4d. to 4s.; rice, 10d. to 1s. 3d.; sugar, granulated, 6d. to 7½d. and so on. I have the two lists before me as I speak, and the only exception is in the bacon category. There is a class of bacon 47 which is called streaky, and thick streaky bacon was 2s. 1d. and is now 2s. 6d., but thin streaky bacon was 1s. 8d. and is now 1s. 6d. The only exception, therefore, to this general rise in prices is that commodity, with which I am not wholly familiar, called thin streaky bacon—and the noble Viscount may take what unction he can out of thin streaky bacon. At the present moment, the housewives are much disturbed about the whole situation and, I understand, are coming in large numbers to interview Members in another place. As we are to have, in the next few days, a statement about agricultural policy, I thought it would be better to ask for a debate in this House next week (because this House obviously has its contribution to make; it has many Members, on both sides, who understand these problems), in order that we can discuss the matter in the light of the Minister's statement.
Whilst dealing with agriculture and the use of land, may I say a word or two on forestry. Forestry came under me for a short time in the last Government, when it had no Ministerial father at all I looked into it and came to know Lord Robinson. I became a great friend of his, and I believe that the work which Lord Robinson did for forestry was almost beyond praise. I am glad to think that the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, in whom we have great confidence, is now Chairman of the Forestry Commission. In both the last wars we learnt the lesson of the frightful danger in which this country could be placed if no timber were available. Timber is a very bulky cargo, and is difficult to import in the event of war. It might be impossible to bring any timber from the Baltic sources at all. In 1943 the Forestry Commission published their proposals. They were proposals for the planting of 1 million acres in the first decade, and 1½ million acres in the second decade; in all 5 million acres, of which 3 million were to be by a forestation and 2 million were to come from replanting of existing woodlands. We are falling sadly behind in that scheme. I think I am right in saying that the Forestry Commission have carried out about 70 per cent. of what they hoped to do, and private owners have carried out 77 per cent. That scheme of 1943 was, in my view, a bare minimum of safety, and we have "fallen down" on it. The reason why 48 we have "fallen down," I think, is this. It is not that money has been withheld. I believe that money has been available, but that the land has not. At the present moment, there are not sufficient reserves of land. Since I had some interest in this matter in the old days, I beg the Government to look seriously into this matter and to strengthen the hand of the Forestry Commission. They are not necessarily antagonistic to food production—indeed, the reverse is the case. So long as forestry plantations are sited in appropriate places, they may actually assist food production. We have always kept forestry completely out of Party politics. It is a matter of the gravest national importance, and I beg the Government to get on with the job and do something about it.
I wish to add something about the roads. In the last twenty-five years, the number of vehicles has increased from 2 million to 4.7 million, and it is obviously increasing rapidly. The Minister quoted with approval the statement in the Westminster Bank Review, that by 1965 there will be over 6 million vehicles on the roads. Our roads are already inadequate, and they will become utterly inadequate in the near future. The density of traffic on our roads is now 18 per mile. In the United States the density is 17, in France, 7, and in Sweden, 4. Expenditure on roads in the United States is £10 per mile; it is £4 per mile in Portugal, £2 12s. in Sweden, £1 17s. in Belgium and, I think, France, and £1 9s. here. Our road bill equals some £75 million a year, and I believe that only about £1 million or so is on new construction. Before the war, we spent £60 million a year on roads, and consequently we are now spending only about two-thirds, in real value, of what we spent before the war. I do not want to invite the Government to embark on a vast expenditure which we can ill afford, but I do say that every year this problem is left, it will become more expensive to put right. It is a lamentable thing that it was not tackled in 1929, when Mr. Lloyd George proposed his scheme for a great advance in road building. It could have been done then at a fraction of the cost to-day. If the Government leave this matter, sooner or later they will have to deal with it, and it will cost much more than it does to-day.
49 I do not suggest that road policy provides an answer to the terrible tragedy of death on the road. Eighty per cent. of the accidents took place in built-up areas, but I say that we ought to consider the internal roads of cities like London and Manchester, and our other great cities. We have had no building in London for the last forty years since, I think, Kings-way and Aldwych were completed. I beg the Government to look at this matter, which I believe will help towards the accident problem, with which I will not deal this afternoon.
May I briefly mention one other matter? I beg the Government to take seriously this question of what is known to-day as "smog." The result of those three or four days' "smog" last year was extremely serious. I have looked up the figures. In the administrative County of London the deaths of those under one year of age trebled; with people between one and twenty-four there was no appreciable difference; between twenty-five and forty-four they doubled; between forty-five and fifty-four they trebled; and from fifty-five upwards quadrupled. In the National Gallery, of which I was a trustee until recently, we erected air conditioning for the benefit of the pictures, and in one period of four hours the pollution of the filters in the National Gallery was fifty-four times greater than it normally is. That is a very serious matter.
When I was reading about these matters—I speak without technical knowledge—I saw a statement by Dr. Bronowski (who I believe is an eminent scientist in the employ of the Ministry of Fuel and Power) that they have now evolved a method of building up a smokeless fuel which gives greater heat and can be made out of inferior coal. If that is so, I beg the Government to see whether they cannot undertake the manufacture of this type of fuel on a large scale. It is not a question of spending extra money. I believe that in this way we might save money. The noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, will know that Manchester (I think I am right in saying this) has had a smokeless area, where people may not burn raw coal. I saw in the Press to-day that the City of London was contemplating the same thing. In Pittsburg, in the United States, they have had a 70 per cent. reduction 50 of smoke, and one of the leading industrialists has said:I was in on the planning of smoke control, and I can tell you that none of us realised the great spiritual uplift this would bring. If we had we would have been fighting for it long before.I look forward to the time when we may have a Greater London free from the frightful smoke which we have to-day. If we can do away with some of those sulphur oxides, we shall be spared a great deal of the cost which we have today—even in this building, where we see the stone being eaten into by the sulphur. I make this constructive suggestion and I commend it to your Lordships. I fear that I have spoken at great length, but there were many matters in the gracious Speech to which I felt that I ought to refer, though I have tried to deal with them in a comparatively short space.
§ 3.51 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, the noble and learned Earl who has just spoken began by saying that to-day, unlike yesterday, we have entered the field of political controversy. I do not observe that your Lordships are seething at the moment with anything like passion. The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, early in our proceedings spoke of our going into the "rough and tumble of debate." In your Lordships' House no one is ever rough, and no one ever tumbles. In the gracious Speech which we are considering to-day there are no striking declarations of policy; it promises no large and controversial legislative measures; and it does not open a Session which is working towards a General Election. Two years ago it seemed as though the present Government, with a majority obviously small and possibly precarious, would have a short life, and probably not even survive the years of infancy; but that has not occurred—partly, no doubt because it has a Leader of great fame who, as was evident in the striking speech he made yesterday, still retains his full powers of mind and his old boldness of spirit. There seems to be no desire anywhere in the country for an early General Election.
There are periods in our political history of active forward surge—1906 to 1914 was one such period; 1945 to 1950 was another—but afterwards it is often necessary and wholesome to have a stage of consolidation and adjustment; and that 51 is especially so when, as now, times internationally are times of strain and of danger, involving heavy taxation, high prices, and economic difficulties. It is not in such times as those that people look about for dramatic domestic programmes. The Labour Party is experiencing that, and lately, while busily engaged in drafting a new programme, has realised, as we all do from time to time, the great difference there is between having something to say and having to say something.
As to the work of the present Government, I can regard it from a position of more serene impartiality than can the noble and learned Earl the Leader of the Opposition. I think that an impartial observer of the work of the Government must admit that they have achieved two successes in spheres of great importance. One is that they have saved us all from the deadly danger that not long ago seemed imminent and, perhaps, almost inescapable, namely, the difficulty of the international balance, the preservation of the stability of the pound, and the retention and expansion of the reserves, then so rapidly shrinking, of gold and dollars. They were real dangers, there is no denying that: the depreciation of our currency, and soaring prices, shrinking imports of food and raw materials and, possibly, widespread unemployment. The Government tackled that situation with energy, vigour and success. If they had failed, the Government must have fallen. Let me add this on that point of an easier situation; we may hope during this Session that in the next Budget the Government will be able to extend some relief to the taxpayer, who has been patient too long and, in the opinion of many, to an extent more than is really necessitated.
Our taxation still stands at a war-time level, which is a very dangerous position in case of any fresh emergency; and although some relief was given by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer in his last Budget, it was extremely small and by no means what the nation requires. Let him take courage from the example of, for instance, Australia. I know there are many differences there, but still it shows what can be done by one not unimportant country in the present state of the world. In the last Australian Budget, taxation was reduced, 52 I am told, by about 10 per cent. in nearly all classes, bringing to the people relief of tax amounting to £95 millions. I do not suggest any figure that might be aimed at in the next Budget here, but I suggest that the relief should be of some such order as that. With less than that, I think the taxpayer might be entitled to complain. With regard to the effect of taxation, surely we have learned now, through bitter experience, that the right way to stop inflation is not to increase taxation but to reduce it.
The Government's second great success has been in the matter of housing. The former Government had a target of 200,000 new houses a year. The present Government began with that target, but at an annual Party assembly the matter was taken out of the hands of the Leaders and a target of 300,000 was insisted upon. The Labour Party said that that was quite impossible—and, since I wish to be frank, as always, I must confess that the Liberal leaders also, or some of them, said much the same thing: that labour and raw materials would make it impossible to achieve that target. However, thanks largely to the energy and skill of the Minister concerned, Mr. Harold Macmillan, that target is now being attained. Further, in the programme for the present Session, the Government are proceeding to deal with the housing situation along two or three different lines of approach: and let us hope that again with courage they will be able to achieve equal success. It is a matter touching very closely the lives of the people and it may, indeed, give rise to much controversy. But we may hope that success will be achieved in this, as in the other sphere. I am sure your Lordships' House will greatly welcome practical measures which may help to solve this problem, still so serious, which afflicts the people in the matter of their homes.
There is also a new agricultural policy to come forward. I think it is always rather a good plan not to express your opinion on a policy until you know what it is; therefore it may be as well to await the proposals which are to be put before us, no doubt before very long. The same applies to television. Here, indeed, we approach a matter which is likely to give rise to intense and perhaps 53 passionate controversy. If the Government are proposing to put part of television under the control of private financial interests, instead of its being, as now, under the control of a public utility authority, they must expect to be fought with the utmost vehemence and—I will not say violence—energy. The Lord Chancellor smiles. I am afraid that he and I are in close proximity and we may come into somewhat active controversy once again on this subject. I am glad to think that the Mace is behind him and not ready to his hand.
The Queen's Speech ends with a very modest and tentative reference to the reform of this House. In 1948 the question of the House of Lords reform was taken up once more with great energy, and the Government of that day summoned a conference of three Parties, attended by the principal leaders of all of them, with the exception of Mr. Winston Churchill (as he then was). They arrived, strangely enough—I was amazed—at a unanimous conclusion on the heads of the Constitution of a Second Chamber to be submitted to the several Parties for their consideration. When it came to powers, there was disagreement, on a matter which I thought was of trumpery importance but which both the other Parties declared to be a matter of principle. However, owing to that fact the opportunity was let slip; and, as many of us foresaw, once an opportunity of that kind is let slip, as the noble and learned Earl has said, it very often does not recur. What happened afterwards was that the Labour Party got cold feet and the Conservative Party got a bristling tail, and the consequence was that both of them withdrew, or appeared to withdraw, from the positions that they had so optimistically taken up at the beginning.
Now, after forty years of delay, which, as has been quoted, Mr. Asquith said "could not be brooked," another attempt is to be made; but unfortunately this effort is damped at the outset by the declaration which has just been made by the Leader of the Opposition to the effect that his Party will not enter into another conference. I think that is a very great pity. Still, I hope that the Government will not abandon their good intentions but will proceed with the 54 plan in a different form from that which they announced at the last General Election. Then, the Conservative manifesto contained a short sentence saying:The Conservative Government will call an all-Party conference to consider the question of the reform of the House of Lords.I pointed out earlier that a Government cannot call an all-Party conference; they have no authority to do so. They can only invite other Parties to come into conference with them. They are unable now to continue with an all-Party conference, but hope they will enter into some other kind of consultation. So far as the Liberal Party is concerned, I can say without hesitation that we shall gladly enter into any form of consultation which they consider expedient, and I hope that the outcome will be to achieve the success which was so narrowly missed five years ago.
To-day, we are not discussing international affairs, but I would, in only a sentence or two, say how warmly I welcome one fact, both in the Queen's Prorogation Speech and in the Speech from the Throne—namely, the great prominence that is given to the United Nations. The speech of a week ago declared that the Government will continue to give wholehearted support to the United Nations, and similar phrases have been used now at the very forefront of the Queen's Speech. For my own part, I am profoundly convinced that in the United Nations lies the chief hope of the world; and to make it a success, to complete its membership, to bring in all the nations that are now excluded and ensure that all sections in it work together to achieve the great objects it has in view, is the crying need of mankind. I do not regard those phrases in the two royal Speeches as a mere routine formula and the repetition of a familiar platitude, but I believe that the present Government, like the preceding British Governments, have given evidence that this desire is genuine and sincere. But those are not matters for to-day. To-morrow, my noble friend Lord Layton will speak from these Benches on the matters of international concern with which he is so closely familiar.
That is all I have to say on the matters with which it is customary to deal on this occasion, but there is something more that I very much wish to say. After fifty years' experience of public life, I should 55 like to say it now, while I still may. It does not deal with the legislative function of this House; it does not deal with the powers of this House to criticise and, if need be, to control the Executive Government of the day, and it is not specially political at all, but it touches the people as a community. Beyond and beneath all political, economic, financial and even international questions, there is one thing that touches each and is more important than any—that is, the character of the people. The moral state of the nation is at the base of everything else, and in these days there is among careful watchers of the times a feeling of deep anxiety. As for the public virtues of patriotism and courage, we have them in this nation to the full. In two great wars they have been displayed in fighting in the air, fighting under the sea, facing terrible weapons and submitting to attacks on the homes of the people from the air, to a degree that has never been known in the whole history of mankind—a magnificent display of human courage.
We have now, in the civic virtues, an electorate of 30 million people, more serious and intelligent than our former electorate or, I believe, than any electorate is or has ever been. Where we are at fault is in the individual characteristics of a section of the population, not a very large section but large enough not to be negligible. I do not wish to indulge in any sweeping generalisations or condemnations about the present generation or about the young people of to-day, for I think they would be uncalled for and unjust, but the fact remains that there are pockets, one might say, of crime and of immorality in our great cities which are a grave blot upon our civilisation.
When they come within the revealing grasp of statistics, we see in the figures of juvenile delinquency a very grave revelation. I had the privilege years ago, as Under-Secretary at the Home Office, in the years 1907 and 1908 to introduce the measures to establish the probation system and the system of juvenile courts, the later to establish a national system of maternity and child welfare clinics; and these and other measures, and the general improvement of the population, of education and so forth, resulted in 56 a marked fall in juvenile deliquency and in crime in general. There was a time, not long after the First World War, when half the prisons in the country could be closed because the total of inmates had fallen so greatly. Now there is a terrible reaction and, as we all know, the number of young offend has greatly increased. Violent crime also has greatly increased, and every day we read in the papers of cruel and ruthless murders such as are, in an age of education and enlightenment, a disgrace to us all.
Furthermore, there is no question but that sexual laxity is much more than it has been in earlier generations. Marriages are continually breaking up and separations are frequent. We find in literature, in the drama, and in life, that adultery is regarded as a jest and divorce as a mere unimportant incident. A few days ago the newly established Press Council made its first pronouncement, to the effect that it is:deeply concerned by the unwholesome exploitation of sex by certain newspapers and periodicals. It place son record its view that such treatment is calculated to injure public morals, especially because newspapers and periodicals are seen and read by young persons.Now, last of all, we find to our dismay that the vices of Sodom and Gomorrah, of the cities of the Plain, appear to be rife among us. If they spread, if they become common, then retribution will be found, not in earthquake or conflagration but in something much more deadly, an insidious poisoning of the moral sense.
My Lords, we are shy of talking about these things, and many of us think they are not for laymen at all. Here in this House we look rather to the Bishops to speak to us upon this type of subject. But when the moral law is being weakened, all men are concerned. It is weakened partly because the dogmas of the old theologies in regard to a physical Heaven and Hell no longer grip and control conduct; partly because two great wars have shaken faith in a providential order on earth, and partly also because of the development of science, which teaches strange new doctrines in physiology and psychology, tending to weaken individual responsibility. We are told that, after all, each man's actions are the result of the genes that he happens to be born with. We are told that if we really understood we should be 57 slow to blame—"Tout comprendre, c'est tout pardonner"—a kind of humane, amiable, kindly and broadminded view which would lead us to be very tolerant in all these matters.
I believe that that view is quite false and very harmful, and that what is most important is the climate of public opinion, the tone of society. It is not only what kind of genes an individual is born with, but what kind of civilisation he is born into, that matters. The one as much as the other decides the development of his character and the conduct of his life. I believe a great deal of nonsense is talked about this kind of quack psychology, and that we should return to common sense, which is nothing else than a requirement that the rules of conduct should be based upon the universal moral law. That law itself is the outcome of the experience of all men in all lands through all the ages.
My Lords, I am one of those who believe that we may indeed be on the eve of a new Elizabethan Age. Elsewhere I have given reasons for holding that opinion. It is something more than a mere coincidence of names. With a Queen Elizabeth on the Throne we may be setting the standard for a new age, if there is peace and if peace is maintained. If not, then all hopes vanish. Let us enter into this new age in that spirit, Then, indeed, the nation will prosper also in material things, the arts will begin to recover the dignity and greatness which in the present century they have gone far to lose; this Elizabethan Age may even far surpass the other if the whole of our civilisation comes to rest on a firm foundation.
§ 4.16 p.m.
§ LORD GLYN
My Lords, in rising to address your Lordships' House for the first time I would ask your Lordships to extend to me that indulgence for which I asked thirty-five years ago in another place and which was always extended to me there. I may commit many faults in thus addressing your Lordships for the first time, because it is difficult to get out of the practice of the other place.
I wish to-day to draw attention to one or two matters which are not directly mentioned in the gracious Speech but to which I attach tremendous importance, reinforced by the remarkable speech from the noble Viscount to which we have just 58 listened. I feel that while the desire to strengthen the national economy, and to safeguard the high standards of social service and the stability of employment, is placed on record in the gracious Speech, it is high time that a review was made of the whole of our present educational system. I believe that we have to look right down to that to find the causes of the deficiencies in our industrial system and the tremendous lack in this country of that technological education which our competitors in the world markets possess. How that is going to be done is not for me to say, but I believe that the Spens and Norwood Reports, where they divide up the educational system into various classifications, seem to ignore the real importance to-day of equipping our young people with that technical knowledge and skill without which modern industry cannot survive. It has been my good fortune recently, in connection with my work, to visit a great many research stations. I think this country is probably more fortunate than any other in possessing people of outstanding ability who have, by fundamental research at Government establishments, put our country in the lead above all others. But what is lacking, and seriously lacking, is technical engineers to reinforce the knowledge of the scientists, especially when the research work is brought to that stage where it can be applied to industry.
There is one other matter. It is no use our spending large sums of money on laboratories and other equipment in the schools unless we have competent persons to teach in those schools. At the present time, there is no doubt that the higher salaries which are paid by industry for scientists—and nobody can regret that, because it is high time that industry recognised the importance of bringing science into all the work in productiveindustry—inevitably mean that unless there is a flow of suitable people, encouraged in some way, it will not be possible to supply all that is necessary, so that our young people, both boys and girls, if they have an inclination that way, can take full advantage of the equipment that offers. I do not know whether your Lordships realise the number of schools there are to-day in which the laboratories have had to be closed down because there are not enough teachers. I am sure that a great deal 59 more can be done by the educational committees of the counties consulting more with industry; and I believe—and I have always said this in another place—that the more trade unions can cooperate with the educational authorities the better it will be for our country. I say that because I feel that we have now reached a stage when it is absolutely essential for the National Union of Teachers and all those engaged in the direction of education to appreciate that unless something is done very rapidly we cannot possibly implement what appears in the gracious Speech with regard to the necessity for exporting goods from this country, on which our whole standard of life depends.
Another difficulty which, as your Lordships are no doubt well aware, hampers industry to-day, is that of giving any fixed dates for deliveries of the product. There is much uncertainty in this respect. That is due to the heavy taxes on one thing and another, and it is also due to the uncertainties which are inevitable at the present time, if firms are in process of changing over, or modernising factories and equipment with up-to-date materials and have not the skilled personnel to handle that equipment. Therefore, I believe that unless something is done very soon, all those words in the Speech to the effect that our lifeblood (because that is what it is) shall be safeguarded by encouraging export trade, will not produce the trade. What will produce the trade is a real determination to see that industry in this country is as highly equipped as we know it to be in some other countries, that it shall in fact have the best productive machinery that is known in this very modern age.
There is one other point of which mention is made in the gracious Speech, and that is in regard to atomic energy. It so happens that Harwell is near my home, and so is in my old constituency. One has watched the growth of that establishment from the very beginning. Its future, I hope, will be the beginning and the base of a great university, because this new atomic age is an entirely new departure in science, and one with tremendous implications. What is interesting to me, knowing so many of the people who work there, is that they are practically all young. Atomic energy is the younger 60 generation's gift by scientists, and it will be revolutionary in its effect, in a very short time. I believe that in fifteen years atomic energy will be the main source of the production of power in several parts of the country. Therefore one rejoices to see that something is said in the gracious Speech about reorganisation with regard to atomic energy.
There is another reason for satisfaction at its inclusion in the gracious Speech. I do not know how many of your Lordships are aware of the enormous quantity of isotopes that are sent every day from Harwell to all the countries of the continent to help the medical profession to save life. And a great many are being used here also. One of the things I consider so urgent is that there should be no restriction on a great scientific development like this merely on account of the security aspect. We all know that science in the past has progressed, and has progressed successfully, by the interchange of views between people of different countries working on these subjects. This interchange is the lifeblood of science.
Here we have, for the first time, this tremendous power. It is a tremendous power for destruction, and it could be used to wipe out all civilisation. A most remarkable speech was made by the Prime Minister yesterday in another place. I listened to it with great interest, and I think that everyone should ponder it carefully. Sir Winston ended by saying that we should all have a just appreciation of the responsibility that rests on all our shoulders, so far as we in Parliament are concerned. I hope that that will mean that, when this question comes up for consideration, a distinction will be drawn between that aspect of atomic energy which is allied to destructive power and the other aspect of atomic energy which can be for the great advantage of all our people. It may mean tasks being accomplished in a way that has never been thought of before, with savings of fuel and power, thereby rendering more easy the productive effort of this country. Apart from that, it w ill be giving new chances to the medical profession to tackle, through the power of this new force, which is ready to our hand if we choose to put it there, some of those great problems which have never yet been solved. But one must not confuse destruction with construction; one must not 61 confuse the destructive side with the constructive side of atomic energy.
Finally—and I apologise for the length of time I have been speaking—I wish to say just a few words with regard to National Service; what I think it might mean, and does mean, to some young men and women who join the Services. The Royal Air Force, the Navy and the Army have devoted a great deal of attention to the matter of fitting round pegs into round holes when young people are called up. But what industry wants, and what I think the country wants, is a form of continuity, so that when a boy who may have been apprenticed to an engineering firm is called up into one or other of the Services, there shall be some means of keeping in touch with him and helping him with his work in the Services. I do not mean that this help should be given only on the technical side. I suggest that the opportunity should be taken to use National Service as a sort of university education, because it can be made that, provided there are people teaching who are not so politically-minded as some have been in the past. One wants to ensure that the educational authorities in the Services walk in step with the educational authorities of the universities and the schools. I do not think there has been sufficient contact with men at the head of some of our newer universities, like Nottingham, Bristol and Reading. The Vice-Chancellors of those universities could give some very helpful information to the Government with regard to their experience at those universities. They could indicate how far they regard the calling up of men and women for National Service not only as a necessity for our country's defence but as providing a great opportunity for our young men and young women to learn something about those things which will ensure them a place in industry, an industry which research and development is making ever more technical and where, unfortunately, our country so sadly lags behind in its technical and technological forms of education.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
My Lords, it is my pleasant duty on behalf of your Lordships to express our hearty congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Glyn, for what I regard as a very brilliant maiden speech. It was my pleasure and privilege to work 62 with the noble Lord in another place for a considerable number of years—some twenty-five years altogether—and I can assure your Lordships that he enters this House after displaying on many occasions a notable independence of mind. On every occasion when he spoke in debates in the other place he had some practical contributions to make. He will be able to look back with a good deal of pride and pleasure to the speech he has delivered here this afternoon. We trust we shall hear more speeches of that kind, and I hope that the representatives of Her Majesty's Government will take heed of what the noble Lord, Lord Glyn, has rightly said. On mere than one occasion we have had debates in this House on the questions of technological education and technologists, and we have had promises that something would be done. With this added appeal, I trust that Her Majesty's Government will now bring about the changes which they promised some time ago. I should also like to pay tribute to the excellent speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. I thought the high standard he attained at the end of his speech was most marked, and I am sure all noble Lords who listened to it were greatly impressed.
Like my noble and learned Leader, I am not going to deal with the question of foreign affairs, but I should like to say a word on the question of defence, which is referred to in the gracious Speech. I can assure the Government that full support will be given to them to maintain N.A.T.O. as a limited system of collective security in which all members have equal rights, and we will support the maintenance of a defence programme adequate to ensure collective security through the United Nations and the fulfilment of our own international obligations. I should like to refer to the consideration to be given to the extension of National Service. Of course, we shall consider the question of this extension and the proposed legislation about reserves when it is introduced, but I would ask the Government to recognise that our defence programme is a heavy burden on our economy, and that, in view of our Colonial commitments, the defence programme, including National Service, should be reviewed periodically in the light of the international situation and our economic position.
63 I come to the question of our economic position. We all welcome the production returns for September which were issued recently. They indicate, on information so far received, covering manufacturing industries, quarrying, gas and electricity and mining, that a provisional level of 125 to 126 points was reached, taking the figure of 100 for 1948 as a basis. This is the highest point of production recorded since the index was revised. One can understand that, with increasing supplies of raw material and the fine effort in industry of both work-people and employers, production has shown a very quick recovery after the holiday period. This level of 125 compares with 110 in April of this year and 117 for the year 1951. Of course, it must be remembered that from 1946 until 1951 production increased fairly rapidly. I trust that this new spurt will not be just a spurt, but that in future years we shall see an increase in production on the basis of the increases which have taken place during the last four or five years.
Broadly speaking, there is now no scarcity of basic materials, as had been the experience of many industries since the war. There is now enough to increase deliveries of many commodities for the home market and sufficient for export at the right quality and, I hope, at the right price. It is interesting to note that steel production in the first three quarters of this year was an all-time record—over 13 million tons, 1,200,000 tons more than the output for the same period in 1952. The production of motor cars also reached a record. Unfortunately, as is generally known, there has been a fall in the coal output of some 2,500,000 tons for the first three quarters of this year as compared with the figure for the same period last year. It is hoped that the position may be considerably improved between now and the end of the year and that this improvement will enable all our inland requirements to be met and also assist in our exports.
Exports for the first nine months of this year are running slightly below the total for the same period of last year—some £6 million less. Textiles and cotton are making a remarkable recovery in overseas markets—a particularly striking recovery after the slump of last year. The main cause of the reduction in exports this year is a reduction of some £22 million in the 64 value of vehicles, including locomotives, ships and aircraft, and of £15,500,000 in the value of machinery sent abroad. It is rather surprising that there is this reduction in the exports of the engineering industries, because it was upon these industries that we depended so much for the expansion of our export market. The export of motor cars has fallen to a rate well below that of last year. I would repeat what my noble and learned Leader said, that in production, and more so in exports, there is no room for complacency.
It is to be hoped that the announcement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Paris on Thursday last of his proposal to increase the United Kingdom proportion of imports from the Continent to 75 per cent, by the end of the year will assist materially in increasing our exports to the Continent. But we find that competition in almost all markets abroad is now much keener. This competition is coming from both the Continent and the United States of America. European manufacturers are cutting prices and quoting extended credit terms, and it is said that some of our competitors are benefiting from loans made by the World Bank.
I wish I could see greater prospects of extending our trade in Eastern Europe and particularly in China. There is no doubt that there was, and still could be, a large market for goods from this country. Our exports to Eastern Europe and to China during the course of the first eight months of this year were almost infinitesimal. I know that in conjunction with other nations we have applied the embargo on strategic materials, and that, in itself, seems to indicate that these countries where there is a large potential market will not place orders for non-strategic materials unless there is some likelihood at some time, possibly in the near future, of something being done to prevent the continued application of this rigid embargo. Only last week I had the pleasure of meeting one Englishman who still maintains his business in Shanghai. He said that he was getting on very well there and was not going to leave, but that what he was most concerned about was the difficulties of trading, particularly with China. I can quite understand the difficulties of Her Majesty's Government in connection 65 with this matter, but now that the shooting war is over, I hope that they are continuously considering, in conjunction, of course, with the United States of America and the other N.A.T.O. countries, the question of doing something to relieve the situation. It will mean so much for the export trade of this country, because I cannot see that, with the complete loss of these markets, there is any possibility of that recovery in our export trade which we need for the balance of payments, and, indeed, for our own economy.
I am pleased to note in the gracious Speech that it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to introduce legislation toextend the law on the safety, health and welfare of miners and quarrymen,andto provide benefit for certain further cases of disablement from industrial diseases …In every mining community in this country, the sight of the disabled man suffering from silicosis or pneumoconiosis is one of the most tragic scenes that one can see. It is not only the elderly men who suffer, but some middle-aged and younger men. The psychological effect of that in itself is sufficient to prevent many of our young people from entering upon the essential work of coal mining. Anything that the Government can do, not to alleviate the suffering, because they cannot alleviate the suffering, but towards making the remaining period of the lives of these sufferers happier and better than it is at the present time would be most welcome. One thing that would give them more comfort than anything else is to know that, when they have passed on, their wives and children will receive that consideration from the nation which they so richly deserve.
I am not going to deal with the question of the repair and the improvement of houses, which was referred to fully by my noble and learned Leader. Like the noble Lord, Lord Glyn, I am pleased to see in the gracious Speech the proposals which will be laid before Parliament for transferring from the Ministry of Supply to a statutory corporation responsibility for atomic energy. I was rather surprised to see the proposal, and I must not in any way commit myself to the principle set out. I should like to ask whether the White Paper which will be issued next week, and to which some of us are look- 66 ing forward with a great deal of pleasure, will embody in it any of the recommendations of the Waverley Committee. That Committee, under the, able Chairmanship of the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, have sat for some time, and we know that they have reported. I should also like to ask whether it is possible to get the, Waverley Report published.
Further, I would ask—I do not press the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, to reply to-day—whether it is the intention to transfer the whole of the research, both defence research and industrial research, to this statutory corporation. I am sure that all your Lordships welcome the full statement which was made by Sir Christopher Hinton in New York last week on the use of atomic power for industrial purposes. We have from time to time been given Some information as to the possibility of the peaceful use of nuclear power. Sir Christopher has been much more definite; he has informed us that Britain is well ahead in the use of this new source of enormous power, and that in the course of a few years from its use electricity will be pumped into the grid system of this country. Like the noble Lord, Lord Glyn, I agree that this new source of power, if properly used, will inaugurate an entirely new era in the world of power production. It is no longer a subject only of destruction and fear, but if used as we now know it can be used, then it must soon have a direct effect on the peaceful pursuits of the people of this country, and, indeed, of the world. This discovery is most timely for Britain. With little indigenous oil, meeting difficulties in coal production and having a concentrated industry, and with the need for increased productivity, we are a nation which will clearly gain considerably from the application of this new source of power production.
The significance of the use of this power for industrial purposes can be measured by what has already been discovered and its future possibilities. Early next year, the first of two atomic power-propelled submarines will be afloat in America. These submarines are larger than most others: they carry a crew of nearly 100, and are capable of doing a speed, submerged, of twenty knots. The supply of uranium required for each vessel is measured in pounds, and will drive the submarine through the sea for at least two months. I have seen it stated that 67 an atomic power-propelled submarine would have a range of 10,000 miles, and could remain submerged for almost the whole time; and that driven on a small amount of uranium, instead of the hundreds of tons of diesel oil used at the present moment. Atomic engines are now being built not only for submarines, but also for large surface vessels, such as aircraft carriers. Moreover, we are told that there is a possibility of its being used in the near future for aircraft.
The noble Lord, Lord Glyn, referred to the possibility of a large number of plants being established in this country within the next fifteen years to produce electricity. Lord Cherwell, when he visited Australia, is reported to have told the Australian Ministers that Britain proposed to substitute uranium for coal in all its industries, a process which will take thirty years. Britain, of course, wanted to be certain that there would be an uninterrupted supply of uranium from Australia for that period. I hope the noble Lord was satisfied upon that matter, and that he was able to enter into a suitable agreement with that Commonwealth country. If this is so, then every major industry in this country which is dependent upon the production and use of large quantities of power should be informed, as soon as possible, of the potentialities of industrial atomic energy. If they have not been kept fully informed, then the Government should see to it that they are brought into consultation in connection with this matter.
On hearing and reading the gracious Speech, I was surprised to find no reference whatever to food prices. I should like to assure Her Majesty's Government that this is one matter which is causing great and grievous concern in the country at the present time. There is hardly a household where one does not hear some reference to the high cost of food. Now we understand that it is the intention of the Minister of Food—indeed, of Her Majesty's Government—to decontrol condensed milk and dried milk in the early spring, and to deration butter, margarine and cooking fats in the early summer. We can expect that meat, milk and other foods now controlled or rationed will be treated in the same way, and that the Ministry of Food are likely to go out of business. We cannot treat this matter lightly, for it is evident that 68 as a result, I will not say of derationing, but at any rate of decontrol, there has been a substantial increase in the price of food in this country.
Let me refer briefly to the question of milk. Not only have the consumers of milk reason to feel uneasy about this question of decontrol, but so also have the farmers. We know that the farmers have done a magnificent job of work from the commencement of the war until the present time. They have increased the production of milk by 50 per cent. It is said that in September this year they produced a record of something like 117 million gallons of milk. They have built up this additional production largely as a result of assured markets and a guaranteed price. At the present time, as compared with pre-war, milk is dear for the poorer people to buy. It varies in price from 7d. to 8½d. a pint, but to keep the price down to 7d. to 8½d. a pint it requires a subsidy from the Government of no less than £36 million a year. With the free milk for children and expectant mothers, who receive milk for which the Government pay another £40 million, it means that £76 million is going to the milk industry from Government funds. I know that dairy farmers are interested as to what is going to happen. It is true that the Milk Marketing Board has been kept in existence and has done a fine job of work in relation to this matter, but the dairy farmers want to know what the position is. Indeed, the consumer will want to know whether it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to do next year what they are doing this year—that is, to reduce the subsidy by something like one-third. As with the other commodities where subsidies have been taken away, prices have considerably increased; and very few of the working people will be able to pay more than 7d., 8d. or 9½d. a pint for milk. At once, unless the Government meet the situation with courage, there will be a recession in the consumption of milk and a depression among the dairy farmers, as in agriculture generally.
During the course of the last week I have tried to go into this question of high prices, and I see in the Monthly Digest of Statistics that, while the cost of food imported into this country has declined by something like five or six points, the price of food has increased by something like 69 18 per cent. Based upon the cost of food in the first half of this year, the people of this country are spending this year upon the purchase of food £600 million more than they spent in 1951. I am not suggesting for a moment that all that has gone in increased prices. It may be that a section of the community are buying more food; but a large proportion of it is due to increased prices. Food and provisions purchased at some of the large establishments throughout the country between November, 1951, when the present Government took over, and the present time, show an increase of 27 per cent.—I mean increased expenditure.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
That may be, but at the same time, as I have already pointed out, there is an increase in price of 18 per cent. Is it any wonder that there is growing discontent amongst some of the working people of this country? How can one expect that the people will not ask for increases in their wages to correspond with the increased cost of living? Indeed, wage increases have taken place. Wages are up by something like 14 per cent., but there is still this difference between the one and the other. I am not committing myself one way or the other in connection with the new rent proposals. I know the difficulties from both sides. Your Lordships can imagine that the poorer people of this country many of them elderly people, including old age pensioners living on their pensions, are driven to seek public assistance to eke out their meagre resources.
My noble and learned friend referred to the price of bacon, 3s. 8d. per lb.; to the price of gammon or ham, 5s. per lb.; and to butter, 3s. 4d. per lb. He spoke of butter being rationed. The Minister of Food recently referred to the fact that as long as the prices of margarine and cooking fats were reasonable we could afford to take risks about butter. There is no reasonable prospect that within the foreseeable future there will be more butter available, and this means that the price of butter will go up. Of course it will go up, my Lords; but who has to pay? Who has to be deprived of what, after all, we regard as a very essential nutriment, particularly for the elderly people of this country? I must say that 70 in this question of food prices the record of the Government is not a very creditable one; and soon, unless definite steps are undertaken, there will be a strong outcry in the country concerning this matter. The desires of the British people are basically simple and human. They want international peace. They also want to see that the road ahead for them and their children, however rough in places it may be, leads to a free, full and useful life. That, indeed, should be the goal for all of us. They have to be satisfied that they are being given a square deal; and in this question of food prices they are suffering unduly, because of the lack of appreciation of the situation by Her Majesty's Government.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BUCKMASTER
My Lords, although I have not had the opportunity of hearing the noble Lord, Lord Glyn, speak in another place, I have had the good fortune to listen to him to-day. I have the privilege of congratulating him, on his maiden speech and have also the opportunity to express my hope that we may hear from him often on future occasions. I assure the noble Lord that I say that in all sincerity. With your Lordships' permission, I should like to devote a few moments to the part of the gracious Speech dealing with housing, and to the White Paper, in which the sentiments in the gracious Speech are more fully expressed. Your Lordships will appreciate that the matter is complex. The Paper was published at the last moment, and I should be the last person in your Lordships' House to claim a wide or complete understanding of its contents. I believe that it represents a courageous attempt to solve an almost insoluble problem. When this matter was debated nearly a year ago, I was much encouraged by the temperate tone of the discussion. I have always hoped that this question would be approached in a non-Party spirit, and I venture now to express the further hope that the proposals, while clearly they may be criticised by noble Lords opposite, will not be criticised by any section of the community purely from the angle of their personal interests. I hope that neither owners of property nor tenants will criticise these proposals without giving close and careful thought to them, and without some consideration of what possible alternatives there may be.
71 This matter has been before your Lordships on many occasions. I think I have been responsible for bringing it before your Lordships' notice on nearly ten occasions. I have thought as a result that certain principles were accepted by noble Lords opposite, as they clearly have been by noble Lords on this side of the House. The interests of the community must, of course, be paramount, and no action can be taken which is not to the public advantage.
The other principle which I have always done my best to establish is that in present circumstances—I cannot prejudge the future—the landlord should not expect anything unless he does something in return. I am convinced that these two propositions have been accepted in substance in the White Paper. No landlord can receive anything unless he can prove not only that the property is in good repair—the tenant may have been responsible for that—but that he has put it in repair himself and that in the preceding three years he has spent six times the difference between the gross and the net annual value. There is also a ceiling, and with the principle of that ceiling I do not quarrel. The ceiling imposed is that the rent shall not exceed twice the gross annual value. That is a reasonable protection, I suggest, in the case of houses controlled since 1914. There are four million of those houses and even with the 40 per cent. permitted increases, these rents remain extremely low. The ceiling, I consider, guarantees that the increase will be moderate
But one also remembers that there remain large numbers of houses which were decontrolled by the Act of 1923, though, as your Lordships know, control was again imposed in 1939. With regard to these houses, it is true that, being decontrolled, they were let at higher rents; but I believe it also to be true, and to be common knowledge, that local authorities have not always increased the gross annual value to bring it in line with the rental value. In other words, the gross annual value of large numbers of houses remains too low. In such cases, the rental value may be already too high to permit of any increase. Yet these houses are controlled at a level which will make it impossible for the landlord to execute repairs as an economic proposition. As I understand the 72 position, the owners would be debarred from making any increase—which seems tome to cut across the purpose of the White Paper itself and makes no allowance for the increased cost of repairs since 1939. Apart from this point I venture to make two suggestions. One is that there should be a right to charge for the cost of services where these are provided, as I hope and believe is intended. The second is concerned with tribunals. So far as these operate, I hope they will be given specific terms of reference. Your Lordship may also feel that a right of appeal from them is not unreasonable, and I trust that this will be granted.
The noble and learned Earl who spoke first very rightly stressed the importance of the local authorities in the question of the demolition of slum houses. I think he will find what he seeks in Section 47 which, though it may not be more than an expression of hope, nevertheless in its intention follows out the line of thought that the noble and learned Earl had in mind. With regard to the proposal for the improvement and conversion of houses, I personally feel that there will be a real measure of praise. As your Lordships know, there is power in the Rehousing Act, 1949, to give grants for this purpose; but in fact very few grants have ever been made. By doing three things: by removing the price limit on the cost of work, by allowing the owner an increased return on his money, and by lessening the expected life of a house, the proposition becomes immediately more attractive. Still, there has always been one anxiety in my mind—I speak as one who has not much knowledge of local authorities—which is that, as the powers of the local authorities are purely permissive, it is not easy to see how they can be compelled to make these grants, even if under revised and improved conditions the owner seeks them. I can only hope that the local authorities will be inspired and invigorated by the tone of this Paper and will be tempted to do rather more under the new conditions that they have ever done in the past. I feel that these proposals have been made with courage, I believe that in them there is an attempt to combine wisdom with justice, and I hope that they may commend themselves to your Lordships.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ LORD MILNER OF LEEDS
My Lords, the noble Viscount who has just resumed his seat is a great authority on housing. I imagine that the majority of your Lordships, like myself, have not yet been able to appreciate exactly what the White Paper proposes and what the results may be; and we must therefore content ourselves by congratulating the Government on tackling what we all know to be a very difficult and possibly very contentious subject. My noble and learned friend Lord Jowitt and my noble friend Lord Hall have dealt in general terms with a number of matters referred to in the gracious Speech, and I wish for a very few minutes to speak on two paragraphs which refer to the strengthening of the national economy, and in particular the paragraph which says that the Governmentwill strive for a further improvement in the balance of overseas payments by encouraging the expansion of exports and of services earning income from abroad.This is a most important matter, but one which seems to be rather played down, and is not, perhaps, as fully appreciated in some quarters as it ought to be.
I imagine that your Lordships are aware of the general position, which is very serious—indeed, so serious that the President of the Board of Trade, on Monday of this week, said:We are at a moment of great peril in the export field.Exports and re-exports in the first half of 1953 totalled £1,317 million, compared with £1,529 million in the first half of 1952. Observe, therefore, the very considerable reduction in the exports of this country. In the second half of 1952, exports amounted to £1,296 million only. Thus, exports are clearly failing to rise and, in the words of The Times in their survey a little time ago, this would appear to be the biggest single problem which this country has to face at the present time. Your Lordships know the details as well as, and possibly better than, I do of our prospects in the export market. Our best prospects are generally recognised as being in the export of goods that have a high degree of technical skill and experience behind their production and have also a low import content. In practice, this means metal and engineering products. Now, notwithstanding the brave efforts of the motor ear industry, which we must all recog- 74 nise, exports of metals and engineering products were lower by £30 million in 1953 than in the same period of 1952. Not only that, but the productive capacity of the engineering industry would appear to be declining, for the number of employees fell by 50,000 between 1952 and 1953.
Your Lordships will have seen an announcement in yesterday's Times that a contract for a bridge over the Bosphorus, of a value of £25 million—and I need hardly remind your Lordships that the construction of bridges is a field in which we have been conspicuously successful in the past—has gone to Germany. I know also of my own knowledge, having been to Turkey lately on behalf of the Foreign Office, that inquiries have recently been made in this country as to the construction of a number of cement works in Turkey costing many millions of pounds. But the manufacturers here could not give long enough credit, and those inquiries, too, have gone, to Germany. Your Lordships will also have seen in the Financial Times a day or two ago that the export director of the British Electrical and Allied Industries Association said that there would be a drop of from 5 to 7 per cent. in the export of electrical goods this year. A little time ago it was reported that the Indian Government had given an order for locomotives to another European country. Coming from Yorkshire, I have noticed with interest, and some dismay, that Uruguay, of all countries, is now the third largest exporter of wool tops in the world.
These are, I suggest, startling facts, and it is appropriate to ask the Government what they are going to do about them. An appointment of a Minister of State in charge of Overseas Trade, Mr. Heathcoat Amory—an admirable appointment, if I may say so—has been made, but what are his duties? Have they been defined? How will they differ from those of the previous Secretary for Overseas Trade? We have not been told. Then we had the Chancellor of the Exchequer a few days ago, at the Lord Mayor's Banquet, I think, saying that the duty of the Government was to create a climate for international trade. So far as I gather from exporters, or prospective exporters, the export climate ahead is very stormy indeed. They ask what encouragement or help this Government have given, or are 75 proposing to give, to enable manufacturers to go out for export trade. At present, if they are successful they have little reward; if unsuccessful, they lose all. Admittedly, incentives are difficult to provide, but there are a great many facilities which can be made easier. Cannot the Government take a far stronger line with other countries in regard, for example, to pre-entry control, import licensing, quotas, shipping documents and the like? Some of the documents required by other countries, I am told, seem deliberately designed to make importing into those countries difficult. At present, we seem to sit down and accept these obstacles, instead of making some effort, the strongest possible effort, to have them removed, if that is possible.
As I have already mentioned to your Lordships, I was in Turkey recently, and there they were extremely anxious to buy our goods. The complaint made in regard to every commodity was that we could not give them the credit they required. Admittedly, they are in deficit for the time being with the European Payments Union, and are buying twice from this country what we buy from them. I was told that the Germans were willing to give as much as five years' credit and, in consequence, were able to demand a higher price. In some instances, I was told, they are obtaining contracts for orders at a price 15 per cent. in excess of that quoted by our own exporters. Of course, that extra 15 per cent. is no doubt being used in whole or in part to finance the longer credit.
Assuming that other countries can give long credits, I think we are entitled to ask the Government why cannot we do so? I am told that the Export Credits Guarantee Department normally promote or guarantee six months' credit on consumer goods and two years' credit on capital goods. If longer credit is required, then the negotiations take so long that frequently the customers go elsewhere whilst the Department is thinking about it and, it may be, consulting the Treasury. My Lords, surely this is not good enough. We are all aware that taxation, the Budgetary policy, purchase tax and limitations of various kinds on home production—items which would be more appropriately discussed on a Finance 76 Bill—all play a part, as indeed does increased competition, in our export difficulties; but I submit there is a vast field in the way of improved credit facilities, the easing of difficulties in the way of exporters so as to give them a freer hand, in which the Government could operate with great advantage to this country. I invite the Government spokesman to tell us what it is they propose by way of encouraging the essential expansion of exports which they promise in Her Majesty's gracious Speech.
§ 5.22 p.m.
My Lords, I want to confine my remarks to one paragraph in the gracious Speech, but before I come to that I wish to make a point arising out of the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, when he was discussing at some length the effect of the percentage increase in the price of food. Listening to what he said very carefully, I was not quite clear to what extent he had taken account of the increased allowances and tax reliefs which had been granted, which must be offset against any increase in price before one can really consider the matter dispassionately. I am not going to say any more on that matter, but the two things must be put together before one considers what is the effect on the family budget of any percentage increase on certain food materials.
The point I want particularly to deal with concerns the provision which will allow private persons to trade in raw cotton, and also with regard to the proposals to wind up the Raw Cotton Commission. As one who has always been very much concerned about the welfare and development of industry in Lancashire, and as one who was opposed to the Cotton (Centralised Buying) Act when it was going through your Lordships' House in 1947, I was particularly interested when I saw the reference in the gracious Speech to the fact that the purchase of raw cotton by private persons is to be further extended and that the Raw Cotton Commission itself is to be wound up. As I see it, this means that the restricted opportunity that mills have had for the last year or so under the so-called Hopkins Scheme, which arose out of the Report of the Committee presided over by Sir Richard Hopkins, is now to be extended to cover all their purchases.
77 There is no doubt whatever, from the references in this morning's Press from practically all the responsible organisations in the industry, that this announcement has been warmly welcomed, particularly in Lancashire, as being likely to offer the greatest opportunity for mills to purchase the types of cotton they want for their particular product or plant, to buy it as and when they need it or it is available, and, perhaps, even more important, to be able to buy it at prices which are absolutely in keeping with those their overseas competitors have to pay. This last point, the question of price, is to my mind of overriding importance. There is some evidence of what the industry itself thinks about it when one realises that in the current cotton season the extent to which spinners have exercised their options and have purchased privately on their own account now amounts to more than half the cotton supplies for spinning mills. It carries on what has been done elsewhere by increasing the opportunities for freer buying of many other industrial raw materials. I should have thought that the results achieved by that freer opportunity for private purchase could generally be regarded as having proved satisfactory and valuable, and as having contributed to the fall in price of so many industrial raw materials, and therefore as having contributed towards the improvement in our terms of trade.
But this decision of Her Majesty's Government will not be carried through without the necessity to confront and solve various problems. There is the question of insurance cover. It will be remembered that in the second Report issued this summer by Sir Richard Hopkins' Committee, some doubt was expressed as to the propriety of using public funds for providing cover against private trading risks. Evidently Her Majesty's Government have accepted that view. I should like to read the three lines in the Report to which I refer, because your Lordships will remember that the Committee was a very widely drawn Committee and the view they expressed was unanimous. The Committee said:We are unanimously agreed that it is intrinsically undesirable that cover for private trade should be provided at the risk of public funds, and that the time has now come for this issue to be faced.Evidently Her Majesty's Government agree with that. But what is essential, 78 if the Raw Cotton Commission is wound up and its cover scheme comes to an end, is for something to be put in its place.
Although the gracious Speech itself does not, in so many words, say so, I think it is generally recognised and taken for granted that this means that the Liverpool Market will be reopened. Whether it is to be reopened as a spot market as well as a futures market I do not know—presumably, in time, both. However, I am very glad that this decision has been taken now—I emphasise the word "now," because I can well imagine that had it been delayed much longer the remaining available experience for operating what is a highly technical organisation would have been so lost or in some way or other dissipated that it might have been extremely difficult it recreate it at all, and if at all, only after a very long period. I understand, however, that so far as the re-opening of a futures market in Liverpool is concerned, it may at first be possible, to do this only on a purely American cotton contract, and I am wondering (I do not know whether my noble friend will be able to answer this point when he comes to reply) what will be the position for the spinners of Egyptian yarn.
Then there is the question that arises out of our present situation with regard to exchange control and the shortage of dollars. How will the market be able, to operate under those conditions, or what special provisions will be necessary to make that possible? There is also the question of what is going to happen to the stocks of raw cotton at present owned by the Raw Cotton Commission. How are they going to be liquidated? These are just two or three questions that at once come to one's mind, and there may be others. I hope that my noble friend—whom I notified that I was going to raise this matter—will be able to say something about it, and perhaps say something about the immense amount of study and thought which I know has been put into this whole subject for some time past.
There is one other aspect which I should like to touch upon in conclusion. Whilst there has been a wide measure of agreement in the Press and elsewhere as to this decision, there have been some expressions of criticism and perhaps also 79 of misgiving. The noble and learned Earl who leads the Opposition did not say much about this matter, but he certainly did express some misgiving about the whole of this move. Some people have been reported in the Press as saying that this is merely a political move. I feel strongly that that is not so but that it is a genuine and sincere effort to do something for the benefit of industry. But it is the fact that it is so technical that it does perhaps offer some opportunity for a degree of speculation over and above what is essential for the proper functioning of such a market—and some speculation is essential—and I would ask my noble friend to consider whether something cannot be done to bring home to all concerned how far the advantages of doing what Her Majesty's Government propose outweigh those possible criticisms. As I see it, there can be only one criterion by which those proposals can possibly be judged: is our cotton industry going to be better able to compete in world markets or is it not? Everything else pales into insignificance beside that question, because on the answer to it depends the livelihood of all those who are engaged in the industry and the many kindred trades which go with it; and on the answer to that question also depends the great contribution that the cotton industry is to-day making, and can still make, towards our national economy.
§ 5.34 p.m.
LORD FAIRFAX OF CAMERON
My Lords, I believe that Her Majesty's Government are to be greatly complimented upon their programme, as outlined in Her Majesty's Speech, for they certainly have grasped a number of nettles. Amongst the most important questions is certainly that of conditions on the roads. In 1952, more than 200,000 people were casualties, and of this number over 4,500 were killed It is a situation that could almost be likened to what would happen in a small war. Unfortunately, this state of affairs is scarcely one that can be expected to get much better if left to itself. The congestion on our roads grows almost month by month as the number of cars increases. Some manufacturers now are competing with each other to produce smaller and smaller cars, at lower and lower prices, in order 80 to reach more markets. The result will be to put more cars on the roads and to increase congestion. At the same time, there has been a considerable drop in the prices of second-hand cars. Many cars which are capable of very high speeds are now to be bought at quite low prices, and they will be in the hands of many people who were not able to own them before. That, certainly, is not going to make the situation any safer.
Our roads, unfortunately, were not meant to take cars of these modern types; they were made to take vehicles of quite a different kind. In your Lordships' House we often pride ourselves upon being able to say about a particular matter that comes up for discussion that it is not a Party matter, or that it is above politics. One can certainly say—and I think it has often been said—that this question of the roads is not a Party matter. But I am afraid that that is just one of the causes of the present trouble. If this were a Party matter, and if there were votes to be won by those who produced the best roads, we should certainly have better roads now than we in fact have. Unhappily, because there are no votes in this, it is a thing which is apt to be left alone by successive Governments. I believe that in the case of the Road Fund less than 10 per cent. of the money is spent on the roads, the rest being devoted to things of quite a different character. It is a matter for which no particular Government can be blamed. All Governments in the past have allowed this question to go, and we have been paying for that policy over the last thirty years at least. I do not think anyone would deny that the only complete solution, the ideal solution, of the whole problem would be to have a completely up-to-date road system, which, of course, would cost vast sums of money. That is, obviously, quite out of the question now, in view of the other large burdens that the taxpayer has to bear, such as the cost of defence and so on, and it is to be hoped that this burden may be reduced rather than increased. But I believe that the roads can be improved without the taxpayer having to bear great extra burdens.
The first suggestion I should like to make is that toll roads, which are seldom seen in this country but which are used 81 a good deal in the United States, should be constructed for the worst congested areas. I would cite as one instance of these the London to Southampton route, through Staines, Camberley and so on, which is always very congested. Toll roads there and in one or two other parts of the country would relieve the dangerous congestion on the roads to-day and would also speed industrial traffic, with an obvious gain to industry. The money for such toll roads could be raised—this was suggested by Lord Teynham, speaking in your Lordships' House a few months ago—by a Road Loan, to be subscribed to by the public and repaid over a number of years from money derived from the tolls. I believe that that is a practical suggestion, and that it would be one way of building some badly needed new roads to take modern traffic without placing any extra burden on the taxpayer. Existing funds for the roads are, as we know, limited, and it is therefore necessary to be as economical as possible in their use.
One possibility of saving that occurs to me relates to the new blinking beacons which we see now at all zebra crossings. Usually, there are three at each crossing. Perhaps three beacons at a crossing is a substantial waste of money. I believe that one would generally be quite sufficient. After all, what is needed is merely something to show in fog or at night where the crossing is, and one beacon would do that job quite well. I do not believe more are needed. Another thing that often puzzles me and may have puzzled others of your Lordships is that when roads are taken up for purposes of the public services, such as laying drains, telephone cables and so on, often not all the services are laid at once. First the drains are put in and the road put back; a few months later the road comes up again and down go the telephone wires; then a year later the road comes up again and something is done to the gas main. If it were possible for local authorities to do all their repairs and laying of services at the same time, that would be another saving in the money available.
The gracious Speech says that Her Majesty's Ministers are still considering how the Road Traffic Act may be amended, and it might be appropriate to make one or two suggestions which could be taken into account in their 82 ćonsideration. Cyclists are a considerable cause of accidents upon the road and I believe that they should be liable to be summoned for dangerous driving in the same way as motorists. They should have to take notice of traffic signs. How often do we see cyclists come shooting out of a side turning without any regard of the traffic on the main road, and sometimes getting knocked down and killed. I do not think that cyclists should be allowed to ride more than two abreast. Even two abreast they take up a good deal of room, more room than they realise. I should like to support what the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, said yesterday, that where cycle tracks exist, cyclists should be compelled to use them. It is a great waste of money if these tracks are built and not used, although I do not suppose they cost very much to build and they are useful in taking cyclists out of danger's way. Where it is possible to build cycle tracks on busy thoroughfares, I think it is advisable to do so and clear the road for other traffic.
Unfortunately, many accidents centre around children, and children figure so tragically in the road casualty lists that everything possible should be done to protect them. Obviously, the first thing is to teach children road sense. That is already being done, mainly through school classes in which the teachers explain the road signs, how to cross the road, how to use zebra crossings. There is also the question of scholar patrols, a matter which was raised last Session by other noble Lords as well as myself. There is a certain amount of diffidence in this country about having scholar patrols. I think that is a mistake, because where they have been operated on the Continent, in America and in this country, they have operated with great success, and I do not think there has been any real grounds for criticism. I hope that local authorities and school teachers will come round to my view and will be encouraged to organise scholar patrols by transport associations and perhaps even by Her Majesty's Government. Already the Government have made an excellent start with school crossing patrols, and in this connection I hope that soon all patrol officers will be equipped with standard uniforms, be- 83 cause it helps greatly in enabling the public to identify them.
Where zebra crossings exist, I think their use should be enforced, because there is nothing more dangerous than jay walkers wandering across the roads, and the zebra crossings exist to prevent that. I do not think it would be difficult to enforce their use. Her Majesty's Government have a crowded programme. They are to be warmly congratulated for including the question of roads in it, and I am sure every noble Lord will await their proposals with much interest.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ LORD BROCKET
My Lords, we have just heard an interesting speech from the noble Lord, Lord Fairfax of Cameron. I do not intend to follow him on road safety, because he has covered so many good points and I have one or two other things to say; but having served on the Select Committee on Road Accidents before the war, I cannot help hoping that Her Majesty's Government will give consideration to many of the points which were produced by that Committee, presided over by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Alness, not at all because I was a member of that Committee, but because many excellent points were put forward and a great deal of trouble was taken to produce their Report. The problem is even worse now than it was then, and I hope that the recommendations of the Alness Committee may be considered by the Government in any legislation which they propose.
I do not intend to take up much of your Lordships' time but I feel that I must say a word about three or four paragraphs in the gracious Speech. The first is on the question of housing. The gracious Speech says:My Ministers will continue to encourage the building of houses and schools. They will also stimulate a vigorous resumption of slum clearance. Legislation will be introduced to facilitate the repair and improvement of existing houses both by local authorities and private owners.I welcome that paragraph. There is a tremendous amount to be done, but I think much more could be done, even under existing Acts of Parliament. I should like to mention a special point about the improvement of houses, either in the country or in the towns, which is 84 covered on page 15 of the White Paper, in paragraph 78, where it sates:Little more than 3,000 dwellings have been improved with the aid of the grant and only 700 new dwellings created by conversion.In paragraph 76, it says:The scheme must receive the approval of the local authority and the Minister of Housing and Local Government, …It has come to my notice, and to the notice of many other people, that some local authorites are very backward in giving approval to the improvement of houses under these schemes. Under the 1926 Housing (Rural Workers) Act, rural cottages could be reconstructed. Many local authorities used that Act well, but others refused to use it because they said the owners could well afford to improve the cottages themselves. That has been happening too under the later 1949 Act, and I know of one owner of cottages, a Member of your Lordships'House—not myself—who applied to a local authority to improve his cottages and who was turned down. I feel definitely that that was done owing to bias against the land owner, who happened to have different politics from those of the local authority. That is very bad. If it were the other way around, it would be equally bad. I hope that in any legislation arising out of the White Paper local authorities will be encouraged in some way to give grants for the improvement of houses where the cases are necessitous.
I am also glad to see the statements made in the gracious Speech in the paragraph referring to the agricultural industry. I should not be fair to the farming industry in general if I did not say that there is more lack of confidence amongst farmers at this moment than there has been at any time since 1938. I have a good deal to do with farmers and farming, and it is very unfortunate that at this time there should be such a great lack of confidence. Farmers have been encouraged to grow corn crops, but when they have grown these crops they have not been able to sell their corn. We know that there are a great many more combine harvesters at work than there were years ago, but storage capacity is not great enough; and refrigeration capacity for meat is not great enough. There is no doubt that farmers do not know exactly which way their industry is going. With other noble Lords, therefore, I look forward to reading the White Paper on 85 agriculture, which we are promised will be published in the course of the next few days, because the conditions obtaining at present are most unfortunate. Farming being a long-term policy, it is absolutely necessary that farmers should be able to plan ahead. I hope, therefore, that the statement or the White Paper, when it comes out, will relieve the fears of many farmers in this country.
Arising out of the agricultural policy, and out of the question of forestry, which the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, mentioned—and this will not appear in the White Paper—is the subject of finance for farming, housing and forestry. It always has seemed to me sheer madness to take £3 million a year out of the pockets of agricultural land owners, in the form of death duties, and to prevent them from improving their properties, as they would otherwise like to do. That, of course, is a matter for another place, and for the Budget; but I hope that the question of taxation and death duties will be taken into account in any agricultural or forestry programme.
I do not intend to say much more, but I should like to point out that many people have taken note of the last small paragraph in the gracious Speech, which says:My Ministers will give further consideration to the question of reform of the House of Lords.As we all know, that is a very contentious subject. I feel it my duty to state that not only are there many Back Benchers, in your Lordships' House, such as myself, but many people in the country, and Members of the House of Commons, who would view with great seriousness the abolition of the hereditary principle. I do not intend to say more at the moment than that in the 1948 negotiations it was proposed to abolish the hereditary principle, although the phrasing was such that certain people did not recognise the fact. I hope that the Government will realise that there is a considerable opinion which is not in favour of the abolition of the hereditary principle in your Lordships' House.
§ 5.52 p.m.
My Lords, I was glad to see in the gracious Speech that the Government at last propose to tackle this overdue question of the proper salaries for our Judges. I was glad to 86 see, also, that that included the Senators of the College of Justice in Edinburgh, but sorry to see that it did not extend to the sheriffs. The sheriffs and the sheriff-substitutes are law officers of the Crown who do as fine and valuable work as any, but are by far the worst paid. I hope that the Government will bring that business to a speedy conclusion, but I wish also to express the hope that they will not do it in the way that was envisaged in the Judges' Remuneration Bill, which was before the other place during the last Session, but is now a dead letter.
My reason for saying that is that the Inland Revenue always look with great doubt and suspicion upon anybody who gets from his business money by way of expenses. To give your Lordships a case in point, I had a friend some years ago who was gifted with extremely good taste in wine, in food, and things of that kind, and his business principally was to entertain foreign buyers with dinners and other sorts of entertainment. He told me at that time that he was allowed £6,000 a year for entertainment money, and that he needed every penny of it. The Inland Revenue rather tend to think that there is some personal income mixed up with that money. The ordinary business man says: "Not a bit of it. What a good thing the man enjoys his job! It would not suit me. In any case, it will kill him long before his time, and the Inland Revenue will then get their money in death duties." However, the Inland Revenue do not take that view; nor do many Members of the other place, as your Lordships will see if you turn to the Report of the debate on July 23, when a special clause was moved to the Finance Bill to tighten up that very point.
If that should happen, or even in present circumstances, the Judges will have to decide between the taxpayer and the Revenue on precisely that point. I do not know, but should ask myself how the Judges could decide on that point if they themselves were in receipt of a special sum by way of expenses with which the Inland Revenue were not allowed to concern themselves. Moreover, supposing they feel no difficulty, what is the taxpayer going to think if they decide against him? There is that often-quoted phrase that "justice should seem to be done." I am told that one of the objections to any other course is 87 that, in order to give the Judges what they ought to have, it might be necessary to put their gross income up to £40,000 or £50,000 a year. Why not do so?
I am told that another objection is that if that were done, and the rate of tax were lowered, then the salary would have to be altered again. I share the views expressed, or quoted, by the noble and learned Earl who leads the Opposition: that the salaries of our Judges should be sufficient to attract the very best men, and should not be varied. But if they were to be varied, they should be varied on such an occasion as the lowering of taxation. I would point out to your Lordships that at such a time the cost of living would be falling, because you would have greater production with lower taxation, and other people in humbler walks of life would he facing the question of a reduction of income. What better example could be set than that of the highest law officers accepting, at the same time, a reduction in salary? It is not a course that I should like to see adopted, but if it were, it would at any rate be a perfectly logical and proper step.
I feel that the real objection to the course I prefer is that the rate of taxation of personal incomes at the higher levels to-day (I am sorry that my noble friend and opponent Lord Ogmore is not in the House to hear what I am saying now) is so punitive, and so—if I may say so—grossly immoral, that the authorities and those interested in the matter do not wish the public of this country to realise the enormous sum that is taken out of the large income. I believe that is the reason why that Bill was at first put forward in another place as the proper solution. I repeat that I hope that solution will not be the one adopted by Her Majesty's Government; but I also repeat that I very much hope this whole question will be tackled and settled without delay, because, quite apart from the position of the higher law officers of the Crown, I am sure if it is carried through, then the sheriffs of Scotland must be considered also soon afterwards, and they certainly deserve that their case should be considered.
I turn for a moment to another matter in which I am deeply interested, and which I was stimulated to hear mentioned 88 by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, this afternoon—it also attaches in some way to this question. I was sorry that the gracious Speech said nothing about the Government's attitude to the growing trouble we are having with crimes of violence, and, in particular, crimes of violence against young women, young girls and children. If I may say so, I think this is even more important than the aspect brought up by the noble Viscount opposite. I first had my attention drawn to this matter by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, when (I think it was in 1946) he made a speech showing great indignation at the situation at that time. I thought I had his encouragement when I suggested to him one day that one way of attacking this matter would be by insisting upon the payment of compensation to the victims. Accordingly, with the help of noble and learned friends of mine in this House, I drafted an Amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill. But as the noble and learned Earl may recollect, I think he received my Amendment, possibly as it deserved, with a certain amount of scorn and derision. At any rate, the Government did not accept it. I rather gathered from that that the Government were not unduly perturbed at the situation which he himself felt so deeply.
§ EARL JOWITT
I cannot pretend that I remember, but I feel sure that I should never receive an Amendment moved by the noble Lord with either scorn or derision, though I can quite conceive that the Government might not accept it.
My inference from that was not against himself, but against his colleagues, and it was that the Government were satisfied with the situation. I endeavoured to draw some idea of the present Government's views on the Prevention of Crime Bill, when my intervention was not received by them with any great enthusiasm. I will remark, in passing, that there is no country in the world where the women are more respected, or more deserve to be respected, than in Spain, and. I have never heard yet of any Spanish woman who is unable to defend herself. Worse than that, I think, are the attacks on quite young girls. When a child of eleven can be raped in the public street not far from Hyde Park Corner, and when the children of mothers and guardians are 89 molested in gardens, squares and playing fields of the metropolis, and we are told by the park-keepers that it is going on all the time and that there is nothing they can do to stop it, I think it merits acute attention from the Government. I say that for this reason: that whatever other vices are practised, this attacks women through their children, and if the mothers of this country get angry, and justly angry, with the Government, it may lead to a very serious situation. At any rate, I should like to hear whether the Government regard the present situation with equanimity, or whether they have any plans to deal with it.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT WOOLTON
My Lords, perhaps your Lordships will forgive me if my opening words are words of congratulation to my old and dear friend Lord Glyn on the maiden speech that he delivered to-day, which showed, I suppose, what great advantage people have who have spent many years in another place.
The Speech which Her Gracious Majesty delivered to Parliament yesterday covered such a wide area that I am sure your Lordships will approve of the proposal which the Leader of the House made—that we should, without, of course, undue restriction, divide our debate under the two headings of foreign policy and home affairs. We have had a full debate to which I will endeavour to reply, I hope with the sympathy of your Lordships, because I have rather a wide range to cover, and I am conscious of the time. I trust that noble Lords to whose speeches I do not refer in detail will acquit me of any discourtesy in the matter, and that they will not necessarily think that because I do not comment on them, I agree with everything that they have said.
There is a list of over twenty items in the gracious Speech, and it promises a very full Session for us in this House. There are items in it on which obviously opinion will be sharply divided. The Government will present to your Lordships its proposals, some of which—those upon which it is important that the opinion both of the House and of wider circles outside this House should be enlightened—will be preceded by White Papers outlining the intentions and the aims of the Government before these are confined to the legal language which 90 is sometimes better understood by those who sit or have sat on the Woolsack than by the rest of us. There are other items which will be discussed during these last two days, on which the Government are able to rely on the very wide knowledge and experience of Parliament. On some of the issues raised in the legislative programme I believe that this House will be able to make a substantial contribution, for your Lordships have traditionally secured for yourselves freedom from a too strict adherence to the more acute divisions of Party politics. I believe that on both sides of the House there will be a disposition to recognise that parts of the programme propounded in the Queen's Speech show a bold and imaginative approach to some of the problems which face the country, which ever Party chances he in power at the time.
Ever since the middle 'thirties, Governments and the people of this country have had their policies and their actions circumscribed and, indeed, determined by the preparation, the conduct and the consequences of war. Noble Lords who sit opposite and who were members of two post-war Governments are conscious of the obligations of these problems. They tried their own remedies, and the people of this country will receive no benefit out of dwelling on failures unless they use those failures as experience to guide them to the ultimate good of the country, whatever Party allegiance they may have. We have found ourselves, as a Government, facing some of these problems. We have sought in the first place to get our economy into better shape and directed along the road to independence of outside support and to freedom and encouragement of individual initiative among our own people. I think the figures of our balance of payments show that at any rate we have made some progress in this direction, even though, in the process of arriving at it, we have had to abandon some of our hopes and, indeed, face up to the fact that some of our prophecies have been delayed. I am sure that my colleagues were greatly pleased and much encouraged by the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, this afternoon, and the general approval that he gave to what we have done. He will allow me to say how very deeply moved I was—I am sure that all 91 noble Lords in this House were, too—by the closing part of his speech, in which he placed before us issues which are so much greater than any of the things which divide us.
The noble Viscount, Lord Hall, I think, warned us against complacency. I have myself, elsewhere, gone out of my way to warn both the country and those who share my political views against the danger of complacency at the present time. We have gone so far: we have much further to go before we arrive at a position of security. On the home front, as it seems to me, there are two problems that confront us. One of them, to which reference has been made by several speakers this afternoon, is the need to give confidence to British agriculturists that efforts on their part will meet with a proper reward, whilst at the same time giving to the consumers the freedom of choice that they rightly demand in a free society. I am certain that any issues that may divide us on this subject are not issues of intention but issues relating to machinery for carrying out those intentions. I do not think it would be proper for me to go further into this matter this afternoon, because my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries will be speaking on it in another place early next week and it is proper that he should propound the policy for which he is responsible to the Government. But it is right, I think, for me to say that a White Paper dealing with the issues of marketing will be in the Printed Paper Office later this week. I hope that the Minister's speech and the White Paper together will demonstrate to the agricultural community that they need no longer be disturbed by the fears that have beset them in recent months.
The other major problem that faces us is one which has occupied a great deal of your Lordships' time this afternoon, and that is the subject of housing. Here is a problem that has concerned the nation for many years and—let us face up to it—there is no Party advantage in tackling it in the way in which it is proposed to tackle it now. To build new houses, to achieve a high target in this—well, there is advantage there. It has demanded much enterprise and much skill, such as my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government has 92 shown. But to deal with the problem of existing houses—that, too, means skill and enterprise but, above all, it means political courage. There are no votes to be won by actions which might involve the putting up of rents. But no Government that conscientiously faces the position as it is at present would be worthy of the confidence of the country if it did not make an effort now to deal with this problem. I believe that I shall carry the House with me and gain the general support of noble Lords opposite when I say that to make this issue a Party issue would be to degrade Parliament.
When, as Minister of Reconstruction, I worked with the noble and learned Earl opposite for some time in close and, I think, very happy association, we saw the destruction of many houses taking place; we saw others fall into disrepair which we were incapable of handling at the time; and we talked often about the problems. I remember making an appeal at that time, when I chanced to be addressing a meeting of the Urban District Councils Association in the Central Hall, that in the period after the war both Parties should unite, as we were united during that period of Coalition, and that we should tackle this problem of housing apart from the restrictive impediments of Party politics. I was more of a stranger to Party politics in those days than I have since become, and probably it is impossible to do what I then suggested. But at any rate, on the issue as outlined in the gracious Speech and in the speech that the Minister of Housing and Local Government is making in another place at about this time, I hope that we shall be united in our efforts to choose the best that can be obtained for the public.
Sir Winston Churchill, when Prime Minister of the Coalition Government, outlined the primary needs of the people. He spoke, as your Lordships will remember, of "Food, Homes, and Work." Well, my Lords, we have made some progress in the matter of food. Employment, fortunately, is at a high level. But in spite of the large number of new houses that we have built, the problem of housing still remains before us. There are millions of houses, some built fifty, sixty, and even a hundred years ago, conveniently situated to the works and other places in which people earn their livelihood, houses centred round the community in which people have grown 93 up, where they have their friends, where they know one another and where they have common interests, but houses that are below the standard that we in this House consider suitable for the people of this country to live in. Many of those people do not want to be uprooted and removed from their neighbours. But neither are they necessarily short of money; and many of them would be glad to spend a little more of their earnings on rent if they could in the process purchase the amenities which they desire.
The noble and learned Earl and I, when we were laying the foundations for reconstruction after the War, had an ambitious and yet simple slogan. He will remember we talked about "A tap in every home." it seemed to us then to represent almost a minimum reasonable standard of living. I am sure we both still adhere to that; but we cannot improve existing houses or hope that they will even be capable of decent repair unless landlords can at least be recouped for the expenses of doing so; and at the present time, as the noble Earl who seconded the Address yesterday gave evidence, this is not the case. There are many aspects of this problem which I am sure your Lordships will want to debate. You will also want to debate the White Paper, and the Government's proposals in particular. I shall go no further to-day than to ask for your support for the proposals which we have outlined. I am not going to pretend that the proposals in the White Paper will solve all the problems of housing. It does not do anything that will make investment in housing more profitable for landlords, but it does give an opportunity for landlord and tenant together to co-operate to raise the standard of housing and to prevent the decay of properties that can only be replaced at vast cost to the country.
I will endeavour now to deal in more detail with the speeches that have been made this afternoon. I shall for ever be grateful to the noble Viscount who leads the Liberal Party in this House for that delightful opening that he gave us—how many of us will use it in speeches in the future!—when he said that "some people have to say something and some people have something to say." Then he proceeded, when he got to the subject of agriculture, to tell us that "it is good not to express your opinion on policy 94 until you know what that policy is." How wise that was! I always sit at the feet of the noble Viscount and listen to his wisdom. But then with him, as I suppose with everyone at some time, we come to realise that our idols have feet of clay, because what did the noble Viscount say next? He went on to talk about television, and there he apparently abandoned all these noble ideas of not talking about the subject until he knew what the policy was. I was greatly relieved. It makes him even more human. Of course, to so many people what a great asset this problem of commercial television has been during these last few months! We have had such a lot of contention about it. I am sure that it has been a very good thing it has enabled the Government to come to a much wiser conclusion than they would have arrived at if we had not had the discussions.
I was a little alarmed, I am bound to admit, at some of the letters that appeared in the papers—I mean those letters that were signed by a large number of people. I am sorry that the Bishops' Bench is adorned only by a Lord in Waiting, because so many of the Prelates "went to town" with this subject in the Press. I thought it was reasonable, having great respect for their opinion, that I should make some inquiries as to the number of them who had television sets. I had some inquiries made. It may have been modesty that the "H's" did not seem to be rising over their houses—probably they were approaching the subject with unbiased minds. I fail entirely to understand the argument that has been raised—one noble Lord raised it this afternoon—that, if you have advertisements, then the advertisements will inevitably determine the nature of the programmes. Look at our greatest newspapers: full of advertisements, indeed able to keep alive only because of the advertisements; and yet, as your Lordships are well aware, big business is not allowed to determine their policy.
I believe that the noble and learned Earl who leads the Opposition fell into an error which, if he had had wider experience of advertisement, would not have occurred. He said that the consumer paid. The whole economics of advertising are that in fact the consumer does not pay. I assure the noble and learned Earl—and I have had much experience—that the whole basis on which 95 people spend large sums of money in advertising is that they get such a wide turnover for their goods that they do not find themselves damaged by the amount they have to pay. At any rate, all the newspapers, I am sure, will assure him of the truth of the argument I am putting forward, and it was my personal experience. However, we shall in due course have an interesting debate on this problem of television, and we shall present a White Paper to your Lordships, so that you shall have the whole of our policy outlined. Then we shall be able to discuss it, at any rate with a knowledge of what the problems are.
§ VISCOUNT WOOLTON
I should not like to commit myself to that, because it is a problem not only for this House but for the other place too.
The noble and learned Earl spoke on the subject of judges' salaries. I thought he made, if he will allow me to say so, an outstanding case when he quoted from his own experience of seeking the best men for the Bench. All my friends at the Bar tell me that he sought and secured the best men for the Bench during his period on the Woolsack. This is a very small financial matter, and I hope that when it comes to Parliament we shall not allow it to be confused with other issues because, unless we secure the best men for these most honourable positions, the life of the nation may suffer.
I come now to the highly contentious issue of food prices. The noble and learned Earl paid me the compliment of quotation. He told me that he was going to do it, and I felt highly flattered that he had been taking notice of the things that I had said. My note is not very clear, but I gather that he said that one of the things I said was that, when we got away from rationing and from control, we would have more food, a greater variety and not higher prices. I got two out of three, which was not bad shooting. He will acknowledge that sometimes I have been right. Then he quoted a broadcast that I made and he asked me to repeat what I said, and so I sent for it.
§ VISCOUNT WOOLTON
Yes. The important one which the noble and learned Earl quoted was this:There is a story that the Conservatives would cut food subsidies"—and then there is a word I cannot read here in my mimeograph copy—I think it is "out"——
§ EARL JOWITT
No. It says:There is an Election story going about that the Conservatives would cut food subsidies. That is not true.
§ VISCOUNT WOOLTON
This is the other part:There is a story that the Conservatives would cut food subsidies. That is not true. What we want to do is to get rid of the need for food subsidies.Has the noble Earl got that too?
§ VISCOUNT WOOLTON
I do not want to argue it. I submit that it does: that what we had in mind was that we would not cut the food subsidies unless we rendered them unnecessary by some other means. However, if your Lordships do not agree with me as to what our intentions were, I am not now going back over a history that is long past. I said at the time what I believed to be true, and no man can do more than that. Time is necessary for prophecies to be fulfilled.
§ EARL JOWITT
I do not want to keep up this controversy, but the noble Viscount rather suggested that I was misquoting him and stopping in the middle of a sentence, or something of that sort. This was a broadcast, and it was carefully prepared and written out. The reference comes twice. On neither occasion can I see any sort of qualification to the broad general statement that the Conservatives would not cut food subsidies.
§ VISCOUNT WOOLTON
I do not propose to carry it any further. I said what I believed at that time to be true, and I most certainly had it in my mind at the time (because indeed we had discussed it in detail) that we would not cut food subsidies unless we rendered them unnecessary by one thing or another.
§ VISCOUNT WOOLTON
No; nor have we cut them below the level prevailing, I believe, at the time. Of course, the man who confines himself to platitudes in political speeches need never have any fear that he will be quoted. In the long run, free competition is, I believe, much better than Government monopoly. So long as the noble and learned Earl is quoting me, perhaps he will also remember that I said something which pleased your Lordships greatly—namely, about red meat, and on that issue I have perhaps proved to be right.
§ VISCOUNT WOOLTON
I said that a little more red meat would not do us any harm. My Lords, let me proceed. State trading was necessary during the war, but it was very expensive. I believe that free markets will be a check on rising prices, and I should like just to take a wider view for a moment than food. Let us look at what has happened. Lead we returned to private enterprise in 1952, and the price fell from £131 a ton to £95 a ton.
§ VISCOUNT WOOLTON
I am not talking about food, and I am at liberty to cover a wider range. Zinc fell from £110 to £75; aluminium and copper have both fallen. Price control on clothing and household goods has been removed, and prices have fallen. Noble Lords opposite are concerned—though they are not the only people who are concerned—about the rise in the cost of living since July of 1952. What are the facts? They are that the cost of living index has risen by two points, 1½ per cent., since July, 1952. Members of the last Administration must be careful about these figures; they must be careful that they do not try to make Party capital, because they know what the difficulties were. They know the confusion in our finances that was brought about by the subsidy policy. They know that their Chancellor of the Exchequer, our old friend, Sir Stafford Cripps, also felt that it was necessary to call some halt on this question of food subsidies; and the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, told us this afternoon a figure that 98 I am sure will surprise many people: that at the present time we are paying £70 million as a subsidy for milk alone. Let me deal with these figures.
§ VISCOUNT WOOLTON
I have not finished with this. If the noble Viscount will let me go on, I am going to deal with his figures. Noble Lords know that in the last fifteen months of their Administration, the cost of living index rose by 14 per cent., and it was still rising. I obtained from the Box this afternoon these figures: food prices rose by 7 per cent. from September, 1951, to January, 1952, and by 9 per cent. from January, 1952, to December, 1952. Food prices do not stop rising immediately a new Government come in; they kept on rising, and that is where the difference between the noble Viscount's figures and mine occurs, because I am taking my figures from July, 1952.
§ VISCOUNT WOOLTON
I am endeavouring to show your Lordships that this process of the rise in prices has been retarded, and that whilst it had gone up by 14 per cent. it has at the present time gene up by only 2 per cent. and has, in fact., remained stationary for the last six months.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
No. The figures which I have taken out of the Monthly Digest of Statistics for the last month give these figures. On October 16, 1951, the index figure was 142.8, an increase upon the base of 1947; from October 16, 1951, to January 15, 1952, there was an increase of 7 per cent. Then there was fixed a new index base of 100, and from February of 1952 until August of this year, there is an increase of 11 per cent. Eleven per cent. added to 7 per cent., from October, 1951, to January, 1952, makes 18 per cent., and not the 2 per cent. referred to by the noble Viscount.
§ VISCOUNT WOOLTON
I cannot carry the argument any further. The figures that have been given to me are quite clear. They show, at any rate, this to be true—let us agree on something if we can—that the cost of living is not now going up; that during the last six months, as I am told, it ha; been stationary.
99 I am not going to disguise for one moment from your Lordships the fact that this is a constant concern to the Government. We do not want the cost of living to go up. We are very glad about one thing, however: that people are eating more food. I am sure that is a good thing. There are always two issues: one is, what is the cost of living index; and the other is, are the people of this country better off? As the noble and learned Earl said a moment ago, you cannot eat lead; nor can you eat figures—though sometimes we have to try. The fact is that people are getting more food. I am told by the Ministry of Food that in the first eight months of this year 46 per cent. more meat, 25 per cent. more bacon, and 6 per cent. more sugar were being eaten than was the case in the comparable period of 1951. Retail prices are up, but retail sales are up by more than retail prices because people are eating more. Do not let us assume that all this food is going to the wealthy, because that really is not true. Someone has got out these amusing figures for me. If people with incomes of over £2,000 a year, and their families, were eating all this extra food, they would have to be eating 1 cwt. of meat, 18 lb. of bacon and 19 lb. of sugar over and above what they were eating in 1951. People are better off now, and let us be glad that they are. The noble Viscount, Lord Hall, as he always does, has drawn our attention to the poorer section of the people—the old age pensioners, and those who have not the capacity to look after themselves. Your Lordships will agree, I hope, that this Government have done a great deal to relieve the situation in that respect.
§ EARL JOWITT
May I interrupt the noble Viscount in order to put one further question? He knows the facts much better than I do, of course, but I understand him to say that food prices have remained stationary over the last six months. I was a little surprised to hear that, but I accept it from him. The significant thing, however, is this. Is it not true that during these six months world prices have fallen? The noble Viscount will not suggest, I suppose, that there is the slightest trace of a fall in food prices. I should have thought that what has been happening in the last six 100 months is that some of them have risen. Am I wrong?
§ VISCOUNT WOOLTON
I am advised that there has not been a rise during the last two months. There has been a fall in the price of imports by 5 per cent., as the noble and learned Earl has just indicated. That is a figure which was given to me this afternoon.
May I now leave the subject of food and turn to the less agreeable subject of "smog"? As the noble and learned Earl indicated, I had the advantage of being brought up in an atmosphere which enabled me to grow more accustomed, perhaps, to fogs than most of your Lordships who were brought up in other places. People like the noble Lord, Lord Kershaw, and myself, became accustomed to fogs early in life and we have survived. Maybe our survival is due to the fact that we did get accustomed to fogs. And it is said that some of us who come from Manchester have fairly good constitutions. Now in this connection there is a danger. "Smog" is a good word. It is a new word; and it is a word which has come into general currency. I have no doubt about the seriousness of the problem, but do not let us exaggerate it. Do not let us arrive at a position in which people in this country get so frightened of what is going to happen to them if there is a fog that they will become victims of their own imaginations.
I can assure your Lordships that the Government is very much alarmed about this problem. I was occupied elsewhere last year when the "smog" was on in London—otherwise, perhaps, I should not be here now. But, as I say, the Government is very much concerned about the matter. My right honourable friend the Minister of Fuel and Power, as your Lordships know, appointed a Committee to advise on it. That Committee has not yet reported, but I understand that an interim report is due very soon. The Manchester experiment was very interesting. They created a smokeless ring, and I think it was indicative, because if Manchester can do it it certainly looks as though other places, less industrialised places, might be able to do it also. Meanwhile the Government is pressing on with the increased production of these new fuels which science has brought to our aid.
101 The noble and learned Earl and my noble friend Lord Fairfax of Cameron have talked to us about roads. This is a matter which is occupying the immediate attention of a Committee of the Cabinet. We realise the dangers, and we realise something else—namely, that it would be very easy to have enormous expenditure on this problem. I am sure that the wise thing will be for the Government to deal with the danger issues first and then to have a policy—and not only to have a policy but to have in preparation a plan—whereby if there should come to this country in the future some increase in unemployment, preparations will be ready and work can immediately be begun.
Now I come to the last matter that was brought up, and it relates to cotton. The question has been raised as to the exact implications of the mention in the gracious Speech of the proposal to introduce a Bill to deal with cotton. Your Lordships will forgive me if I read this, because it is a matter of considerable importance to numbers of people outside this House. Your Lordships are aware that since this Government came into office it has been our consistent policy to eliminate State trading in commodities wherever this could be done. For example, we have made it possible for the London Metal Exchange to resume its dealings in all the commodities with which it dealt before the war. We have returned aluminium to private trade, and such State trading in timber as we found still in operation has been abandoned. Even during my own short period at the Ministry of Materials I have made arrangements for the reversion of time hemp and magnesium to private trade. And there is more to come.
But, of course, these operations cannot be carried out by a wave of a wand or by making speeches. Trades and industries which have been accustomed to buying their materials from a monopoly supplier, which has taken most of the risks of the rising and falling of markets, need time to get the machinery of private trade into operation once more. And I need not remind your Lordships of the foreign exchange situation which faced us when we came into office and which, in itself, imposed upon us—as doubtless it imposed on the previous Government—a cautious approach to any change which 102 might lead to greater expenditure of foreign currency. Still, we have made much progress and, indeed, in my own field as Minister of Materials we are near to the end of this road.
All the reversions to private trade of which I have teen speaking could be carried out by arrangement between the Government and the trades and industries concerned without any need for legislation. But this is not so in the case of cotton. Here we are faced with two problems. The Cotton (Centralized Buying) Act, 1947, established a Government financed monopoly organisation, the Raw Cotton Commission, to import cotton into this country. Furthermore, that Act empowered the Commission to operate what have come to be called "cover" schemes. These schemes were intended to provide a substitute for the futures market which was operated on the Liverpool Cotton Exchange before the war. But a futures market depends upon free access to cotton from all parts of the world, including, in particular, the United States of America. In the foreign exchange conditions of 1951 we could not contemplate allowing such free access.
Your Lordships are aware, I hope, that two successive Committees representative of the Lancashire cotton industry in its widest sense, under the able chairmanship of Sir Richard Hopkins, a distinguished civil servant who has placed his services at the disposal of the State on his retirement, for which we are very grateful, recommended a system under which, within the provisions of the 1947 Act, we were able to give the cotton industry the option of buying its cotton directly or through the Raw Cotton Commission. We accepted those recommendations. In the first year of operation of the scheme about 30 per cent. of cotton was imported privately, and in the current year the proportion has risen to about 56 per cent. But the Commission's "cover" scheme has had to continue for both those who bought cotton through the Commission and those who bought cotton directly, though the second Hopkins Committee recommended—and endorsed that policy—that it was intrinsically undesirable that "cover" for private trade should be provided indefinitely at the risk of public funds.
The Bill referred to in the gracious Speech has already been introduced in 103 another place by my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade, and, of course, our intentions will be fully explained by my right honourable friend on the Second Reading of that Bill. The text of the Bill has been printed and I hope it will be available to your Lordships to-morrow. Briefly, the purpose of the Bill is to follow out in the case of cotton the policy of which I have been speaking, to put an end wherever practicable to the system of public trading in commodities. As a result of the improvement in our general situation, the Government find themselves in a position to provide the necessary facilities in the way of free access to cotton from all sources, including the United States, which should enable a futures market to be reopened in Liverpool.
The Bill is an enabling Bill. Our intention is that the Raw Cotton Commission shall cease to provide "cover" and shall cease to trade, except in so far as it may have outstanding obligations, at the end of the current cotton buying season—that is to say, at the end of August, 1954. Thereafter, the Raw Cotton Commission will be wound up as soon as we can conveniently arrange for this process to take place. Your Lordships will see that the Bill provides for payment of compensation to the Commission's staff. I should like to pay tribute to the way in which the members of the Raw Cotton Commission have served their country and their industry in the very difficult transitional period of the last two years. Especially, I would single out for mention the Chairman, Sir Ralph Lacey, without whose high skill and personal prestige and integrity I do not believe it would have been possible to maintain the standard of the Raw Cotton Commission during this difficult period. In the early summer of this year Sir Ralph Lacey intimated that he wished to be relieved of his duties at a convenient date in order that in due course he might return to private business. He has made so many sacrifices in the national interest that I 104 found it impossible to refuse this request. He will be leaving the Commission in the course of January, 1954.
Your Lordships have been very tolerant and patient with a speech that has wandered so far over so many topics, and I am grateful to you for it.
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Henderson, I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned until to-morrow.
§ Moved, That this debate be now adjourned until to-morrow.—(The Earl of Lucan.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.