HC Deb 12 April 1943 vol 388 cc937-41

The external costs of a country are met in ordinary circumstances by exporting goods and services for sale abroad. For the first two years of the war we relied largely upon this policy, but now we cannot spare the labour and the materials to produce the exports or the shipping to convey them. Recently the volume of our exports available to be sold abroad has fallen to about a quarter of what it was before the war. A new unifying method has been found in the great new system characteristic of the finance of this war known as Lend-Lease, or Reciprocal Aid. The institution of this plan by the President of the United States is one of the most striking and far-reaching acts of the war. It rests upon the principle that in a common war all shall give all they can to the common task. There is no question of reckoning mutual financial indebtedness. Where one Ally ships its own produce or gives it own services to another Ally, it makes the whole or part of this available without charge. Of the total goods and services which the United States supplies to this country and to Russia, China and the other members of the United Nations, 80 per cent. are on Lend-Lease terms. At first the larger part of what we received from them was in the form of food, but now the major proportion is in munitions of war and other supplies, which we are receiving in great quantity. I am not using idle words when I say once again that the people of this country do not and will not forget this splendid action of the people of the United States.

I spoke last year of the great gift of one billion dollars from Canada, which meant so much to us at that time. This year Canada has again come forward in the same generous spirit and is proposing to share her production of essential war supplies with us and the other United Nations on the basis of strategic needs. She is proposing an appropriation of a billion dollars in the current year for this purpose. In addition, she is proposing to take over the whole cost of the Royal Canadian Air Force squadrons serving overseas, which will shortly be again increased in numbers, as well as to provide the pay and allowances of the Royal Canadian Air Force personnel serving in the Royal Air Force. This is a considerable financial contribution as well as a splendid addition to Canada's share in the deeds and the renown of the Air Forces of the United Nations. I take this opportunity—and I am sure the Committee will join with me—of expressing again to Canada how much we appreciate this new manifestation of their splendid co-operation in the common cause, magnificent in total and great-hearted in the manner of doing. The people of Canada are not yet very numerous, and they have not yet accumulated wealth like that of their great neighbours, but their action has been on a grand scale, the action of a nation conscious of its power and its place.

I do not think anyone still believes that this traffic of Lend-Lease is one sided as far as Britain is concerned, or that we receive all and give nothing or little; but all have not a complete conception of what we have in fact accomplished. If we look at the total volume of supplies which have reached us from North America since the beginning of the war, we have in fact paid for a substantial proportion of them. This country has actually spent some £1,500,000,000 in the United States since the outbreak of the war on supplies, munitions and the provision of capital equipment for the prosecution of the war. Now we on our side are applying the Lend-Lease principle to all munitions and military supplies and services, including shipping, which we furnish to the United States, Russia, China and certain Allied European Governments. Our commercial exports for which we ask payment have, as I say, fallen to a small fraction of the normal figure. The supplies which we are contributing in this way to the common task have increased greatly in the last year. The whole conception of the plan does not and is not intended to lend itself to close accounting. The American people have never put the dollar sign in the help that they have given us, and we are not putting the pound sign in the help we give back to them or give to others.

Let me illustrate why precise reckoning is beside the mark. Let us first take our great and gallant Ally, Russia. On Red Army day my right hon. Friend the Minister of Production stated that from the beginning of October, 1941, to the end of December, 1942, we had despatched to Russia some 3,000 tanks, 2,500 aircraft, 70,000,000 rounds of small arms ammunition and 50,000 tons of precious stocks of rubber. In very round figures the value, if we sought for a moment to estimate it, of the munitions that we have already given to Russia is about £170,000,000. More than that, the Northern waters on the way to Russia tell the story not only of how British ships and men have taken the cargoes safely through, but of British ships sunk and British lives lost in our determination not only to give these supplies but to get them to Russia. We do not make a balance-sheet of items like these any more than we can ever compute in such terms the defence and victory of Stalingrad or the debt we and the whole world owe to Russia for its wonderful and outstanding achievement in the common cause. To other European Allies we are giving aid in the same spirit and in the same way. We are also giving aid on Lend-Lease terms to China to assist in her stout-hearted resistance against Japanese aggression. Transport difficulties at present reduce the full flow of that aid, but stocks are being steadily accumulated, and as transport improves they will go forward to play their part in the final and complete destruction of our common enemy Japan.

It is natural that the largest amount of our Reciprocal Aid goes to the Americans, and that for a quite simple reason. The growing American Forces who are in this country or who are stationed within the areas for which we are responsible receive, apart from their pay and from the necessary supplies they bring with them, everything that they ask for, which we are able to give, as Reciprocal Aid. Much of this Reciprocal Aid takes the form of services whose value neither they nor we seek to reckon. Who puts a price upon the service we gave when we took over, largely in our own ships, the American Expeditionary Force safely to North Africa? Who puts a value on the free access we have gladly given them to all our important war inventions or lessons of experience in the production and supply of war equipment? It may, however, be said, by way of example, that we are spending about £150,000,000 in constructing aerodromes, barracks, hospitals and other buildings expressly for American use. Mr. Stettinius, the Administrator of Lend-Lease in the United States, gave Congress a remarkable inventory of the type of aid we provide to the American Forces, and Major Spiegelberg, the staff member of the Lend-Lease Administration in London, quoted a vivid figure to show how completely we had tried to provide the American Forces in this country with all they wanted.

From June to January last the total expenditure of the American Army authorities in making purchases in this country was no more than £250,000. As Major Spiegelberg said, this is a drop in the bucket compared with the cost of maintaining an army. All the rest of the articles, equipment, facilities and services required for the United States Forces and available in the United Kingdom are procured as Reciprocal Aid from the British. In the last seven months of last year from our own resources we furnished to the American Forces in the United Kingdom a quantity of supplies which would have involved 1,200,000 tons of shipping, which was more than the Americans themselves shipped to their own troops in the same period. We provided about 1,600,000 tons of construction materials and made available 700,000 dead-weight tons of shipping for American military operations. It seems a long time since the Prime Minister, in prophetic utterance, said that we and the Americans would find ourselves greatly mixed up during the war. We are all liking and benefiting from the mixture, and we shall continue it.

The Committee will appreciate that the total cost of all this reciprocal aid is a very large sum. We do not attempt to keep close accounts. It would take a whole division of accountants and clerks to keep such figures, and we cannot spare them for such a purpose. If we take the Lend-Lease aid now being furnished to the United Kingdom, apart from the additional aid to British Armies overseas, and make a rough comparison on the same scale of costs and values, the Committee should know that, large though the help from the United States is, it is no greater than the help we ourselves are affording to all our Allies without charge. Having regard to the comparative size of our population and to the proportion of men and women we have already absorbed in the Forces and to the longer period in which we have been bearing the struggle, the scale of our reciprocal help is one of which we need not be ashamed. We should not forget that Reciprocal Aid is operating also on a considerable scale in Australia and New Zealand, as well as in India and in the Colonial Empire. This is a further source of strength to the Allied cause.