HC Deb 16 April 1931 vol 251 cc490-4

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. T. Kennedy.]


I wish to raise the question of the delay in the issue of the report of the Macmillan Committee. In reply to a question to-day I was informed that the Government were not in a position to say when the report of the committee would be completed. That reply follows upon a series of questions which have been asked over a period of weeks and, indeed, months. I should like to direct the attention of the chairman of that committee and his colleagues to the fact that there is a feeling of anxiety on the part of Members of this House by reason of the long delay. The question of the appointment of this committee was first raised on 15th July, 1929–21 months ago. On 4th November, 1929, the committee was appointed. No one will fail to recognise the importance of getting a report from this committee. The terms of reference to that committee were: To inquire into banking finance and credit, paying regard to the factors both internal and international which govern their operation, and to make recommendations calculated to enable these agencies to promote the development of trade and commerce and the employment of labour. How useful the report of that Committee would have been for to-day's Debate! And how important it is that the recommendations of that distinguished body of men should be available for consideration before the introduction of the Budget. Even after this delay I had hoped that at least something in the nature of an interim report might he in the hands of hon. Members before the introduction of the Budget. It is a long time since the urgency of this matter was first impressed on the Government. My right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) on the 24th July last year, speaking on the Board of Trade Vote, drew attention to the importance of the matters remitted to this Committee, and expressed the hope that the Committee was pressing on the inquiry with all speed, and that it would not prove to be one of those investigations which dragged on month after month, and year after year. One might almost say that it bids fair to fulfil even the worst forebodings of my right hon. Friend.

It is not from the Liberal Benches alone that this question has been raised. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) has pressed the matter on the attention of the House more than once. The President of the Board of Trade, speaking in July, 1930, expressed the hope that that committee would report at the earliest date, and that it would make recommendations going down to the root of the financial side of one of the large questions before the country, namely: Have we touched bottom in commodity prices? This is one of the vital questions without guidance upon which it is difficult to discuss intelligently the problems of unemployment, and impossible I would almost say, to discuss, with the care which they require, the problems of finance which will be presented to this House in so short a time. I have, beginning in October, asked a series of questions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer designed to expedite the presentation of this report, and I directed attention weeks ago, as I have again to-day, to the importance of the report being available before the opening of the Budget.

I know that the Financial Secretary will say, and with justice, that he is not responsible for the preparation of the report, but I venture the opinion that a Government which appoints a responsible committee to deal with matters of vast importance to all classes and sections of the community in this country, has a responsibility to urge and impress upon the chairman of such a committee and upon his colleagues the vital necessity of directing their minds to the production, of the information for which the House of Commons waits, and which the House of Commons wishes them to obtain. It is even more for the purpose of obtaining an assurance from the hon. Gentleman that he will bring this matter emphatically and without ambiguity to the notice of the chairman of the committee, rather than for the purpose of imputing—as I do not—any blame to the Government, that I raise this question.

The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence)

I think it is a matter of very considerable regret that the hon. and gallant Member should have raised this question in the way that he has done to-night. He has brought it forward in a way that has been a kind of Vote of Censure. It is not censure, as he is kind enough to say, upon me, or upon the Government, but it is a covert censure upon the chairman of committee, and the committee as a whole. It is, as I shall show the hon. and gallant Member in a moment, a matter of great regret that he has taken that line. The questions which are before this committee are of very great importance. The subject is one of world-wide importance, and, I may add, of world-wide complexity. The question of currency is one than which there is no other as complex, as difficult and as full of divergencies of opinion among experts, and when a matter like this is being discussed by a committee of eminent persons, it is of vital importance that every aspect of the question should be carefully and fully considered, and that no hurried report should be produced.

What are the facts with regard to this committee? It might have been supposed, from the speech of criticism which has been delivered by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, that this body has been lazy, dilatory, has been meeting only occasionally, and has otherwise neglected its duty. That is very far from being the case. All those gentlemen who form this committee, including the distinguished chairman, are men with very great business to do, but they have given unsparingly of their time. There have been no less than 70 meetings of the full committee, and a very large number of witnesses have been heard; and the witnesses, it may be taken for granted, have expressed very diverse views.

It is well known that on this question widely divergent views are held by experts. The evidence, I understand, has wholly or mainly been completed some time back, and, that having been done, the report has to be prepared. It is true that with many committees the preparation of the report, after the evidence has been delivered, is a comparatively simple matter, because you have testimony which unavoidably points in a certain direction. It is easily understood that in a case of this kind you have an entirely different proposition. You have evidence given in all sorts of directions and with all sorts of tendencies, and the preparation of the report must be done with very great care and precision. If we were to have a hastily-put-together report which did not fully carry out the views of the members of the committee, we should have something which would be utterly worthless. What we require is a report which will give the full judgment of these distinguished people who have been invited to give their time to the subject. Under these circumstances, it is not at all unreasonable that they should take a considerable time to prepare their report.

Although they have taken some time, it is not because they have only met occasionally; they have been constantly meeting. The members who are charged with drafting the report have been in almost daily consultation for a considerable period of time. I am informed that in this current week they have had three sittings, and, in addition, there have been individual consultations. It is quite untrue to suggest or imply that there has been any dilatoriness on the part of the committee, and I regard it as very unfair to a body of public men, who have given time and thought, and their labours, voluntarily, to a discussion of this subject that any imputation of dilatoriness should be brought against them. I have spoken strongly on this point, because I feel that it is not right that when public men are invited to give their services criticism and censure of this kind should be levelled against them.


I am rather surprised at the heat which has been shown by the Financial Secretary, who is generally so courteous and placid about these matters. As a matter of fact, he seems to have misconceived entirely, through some preconceived notion about dilatoriness, the whole temper and object of the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend. I should have thought that he would have welcomed the opportunity of giving the House the information which he has been able to give. It will, undoubtedly, reassure a great many people in the country who feel deeply about this question to know that the Committee has had the number of meetings which has been mentioned. I should have thought that instead of blaming my hon. and gallant Friend, he would have been only too glad of the opportunity of making a statement. So far from attaching any blame to the Committee, my hon. and gallant Friend's question and his previous questions are a tribute to his deep feeling, and to that of many other people in all parts of the House and outside as to the importance of the subject. We should be very glad to know at an early date when the House and the country may expect the report with its far reaching implications.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine Minutes after Eleven o'Clock.