§ 30. Mr. Lawson
asked the President of the Board of Trade whether the evidence given by representatives of his Department before the Royal Commission on Location of Industry represents the policy of the Government on this question; whether he is aware that this evidence is definitely against any interference with the present drift to the South; and whether he will assure the House that this evidence does not commit the Government in advance of the Report of the Royal Commission?
The evidence submitted by the Board of Trade to the Royal Commission on the Geographical Distribution of the Industrial Population related solely, as was emphasised in their memorandum, to the economic aspects of the problem—as distinct from social and strategical considerations which directly concern other Departments. The question whether further measures to influence or regulate the location of industry should be adopted is obviously one to be decided by the Government in the light of all the relevant considerations when the Commission's Report has been received, and there can be no question of the Government being committed in advance.
§ Mr. Lawson
What was the good of the Government setting up a Royal Comission if the Board of Trade give evidence directly against any interference with the 713 present system? Is the Minister aware that the "Times" stated that it read this evidence with astonishment; and that the natural assumption in the minds of most people is that the Government are prejudiced in advance by this evidence?
I think there is some misunderstanding as to what this document is. This is not a statement of Government policy; it is evidence given by a Department to the Royal Commission, and I should consider it both improper on my part and unfair to the Royal Commission if, when my Department took a certain view of the facts, I either withheld it from the Commission or altered it in order to suit a particular line of policy.
§ Mr. Lawson
Does the right hon. Gentleman himself agree with this evidence? Is he aware that, even on economic grounds, this evidence is very definitely challenged by some of the most serious-minded economists in the country?
The whole point of the Royal Commission is that their challenge of that evidence can be heard by the Royal Commission and decided on by the Royal Commission.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Are the opinions expressed in the evidence submitted to the Royal Commission the opinions of the right hon. Gentleman?
My expert advice, for which I take full responsibility, was that in the majority of cases private industry now goes where it is most convenient and economic for it to go; but that evidence expressly excluded any question whatsoever of strategcial or social considerations.
§ Mr. James Griffiths
Did the right hon. Gentleman's experts, in arriving at the evidence which they gave from the economic standpoint, take into consideration the enormous amount of wastage of social capital that is due to the transference of industry?
It was quite definitely stated in the evidence that that question was going to be dealt with by another Department. These social considerations may well outweigh, both in the minds of the Commission and of the Government, any economic considerations put forward by the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. Attlee
Would the right hon. Gentleman say exactly what he means by the views of his Department? Is it the case that the views of his Department are the views of the Minister; or does he say that the Department has a view separate from that of the Minister who is at the head of it?
I, naturally, take full responsibility for what is an expression of opinion upon facts which I have submitted on behalf of my Department, but I would point out that it is not a question of policy.
§ Mr. Lawson
In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the replies which have been given, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment at the first opportunity.