HC Deb 11 November 1943 vol 393 cc1295-9
Mr. Pethick - Lawrence

(by Private Notice) asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he has any statement to make with regard to the publica- tion of particulars of the contribution made by this country in the form of mutual aid to our Allies?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir John Anderson)

Yes, Sir. I have to-day laid in the Vote Office, a Report on Mutual Aid, and, with the permission of the House, I shall make a brief statement on that Paper. The oustanding act of statesmanship of the President of the United States in the conception of Lend-Lease is known to all the world. Two and a half years ago, before the United States had entered the war, this aid began to flow towards us. At that time we stood alone, the sole fortress of democracy, and I think we may claim that the use we made of the help from the democratic arsenal in the West fulfilled one purpose of the Lend-Lease Act, whose official title was an "Act to promote the defence of the United States." Since then the British Commonwealth has been joined by a great alliance; Russia has joined us, the United States have joined us, the French Forces in North Africa have joined us, and the countries under the invader's tyranny have rallied their spirit and are contributing every day to the common war. With this help we have been able increasingly, as time went on, to follow the memorable example set by the United States and to develop the pooling of resources among all the Allies. Lend-Lease, therefore, has ceased to flow in one direction only; it has become a system of mutual aid. We ourselves are now furnishing huge supplies without payment, and indeed without calculation, to the United States, to Russia and to our European Allies. I believe that the vast extent of the mutual aid which we are furnishing is not understood in this country, far less abroad.

Some months ago, therefore, my predecessor decided that, just as the President of the United States presents a report to Congress on Lend-Lease, a White Paper should be presented to Parliament on Mutual Aid. As I have said, we furnish this aid without payment, and indeed without calculation. Hon. Members will be able to see from the White Paper that accurate and comprehensive calculation, even had we wished it, is not possible for us without a gross misuse of man-power. A large part of our mutual aid is furnished, so to speak, in retail quantities to the American Forces under training and in the field in many areas. In other cases we are "servicing" their Forces. In the case of Russia we are sending large quantities of essential war equipment of which the value can be reasonably measured, though no one can attach a value to the hazardous task of bringing those supplies safely to Russia.

Complete figures cannot therefore be given, but I thought it right to see how far the Paper which Sir Kingsley Wood had put in hand could be elaborated, so that at least, partial figures up to the end of June should be available. The White Paper shows at the same time that not the least valuable part of our mutual aid is of a kind to which no specific cost of production can be readily assigned. We learned much while we were fighting alone and the price was heavy. Those lessons and that experience have been, as of course they should be, freely at the disposal of our Allies. But I cannot put a budgetary figure on help of that kind. Therefore, it is only in a very limited sense that this White Paper introduces the money symbol and to those, if there are any, who wish to judge these matters as a business deal, the effect is to underestimate the real material cost that falls upon us. I should have preferred not to have introduced the money symbol even partially into this record. But experience has shown that it is almost impossible to convey the order of magnitude of what we are doing without recourse to figures. In using these figures the House will, however, remember that, for the reasons given, the various indications of cost which are found in the White Paper, if they are added up, will not tell the whole story.

When my predecessor was working on the White Paper he decided, with the full approval of the Government, that it was our duty, and consistent with the conception of the pooling of resources, that we should offer to the United States as mutual aid, without payment, essential raw materials, foodstuffs and the associated shipping services, supplied by the United Kingdom and the Colonies to the United States Government. The details of this offer have been under discussion in the meantime, and some particulars concerning it are now made public in the White Paper. This House will appreciate that this brings a whole new category of goods within the field of mutual aid. It means inevitably that our net external indebtedness will be, as a result, correspondingly increased. Nevertheless, the Lend-Lease system is now so comprehensive in its scope that His Majesty's Government have felt they should offer this further extension of our mutual aid; and we offer it without reluctance to mark our whole-hearted acceptance of the principle of a general pooling of resources, so far as it is practicable.

I have also taken the opportunity of this report to give some particulars of another aspect of our external financial burden, the vast scale of which is liable to be overlooked. Over the whole area from Tunis to the frontiers of Burma, we are mainly responsible for very large cash outgoings to cover the various local expenses of the war, which cannot be met by imported goods. Most of this we have to borrow and carry forward as a heavy burden into the times of peace. This is not of the same character as the mutual aid, which is furnished in terms of current goods and services. But it is, of course, a much greater prospective burden, precisely because it cannot be covered by current effort. For this means that we have to borrow the equivalent cost, thus incurring a liability, which hangs over our economic recovery and must, therefore, be taken into account in considering the scale of our external financial effort as a whole and our ability to shoulder any additional burdens.

We have not weighed what we can afford to give to our Allies. I think that the House would wish this to be our policy, strained though our resources have been by the long years of war. But the House and the public should not misunderstand what it means for us. I hope that the House will approve the principles of the Paper and that public opinion will be enabled through its publication to do justice to the extent of our contribution.

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence

While agreeing, in general, with the principle adumbrated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to not giving precise details, in terms of money, of the Lend-Lease services, may the House take it that, from the point of view of accounting, all the expenditure incurred will be brought under the control and audit of the Comptroller and Auditor-General and will be available, as are other matters of this kind, for overlooking by the Public Accounts Committee?

Sir J. Anderson

I can certainly give my right hon. Friend that assurance, and in regard to materials supplied in the field to the Armies of our Allies exactly the same checks and safeguards are applied, outside the sphere of actual accounting, as apply to the supplies furnished to our own troops.

Mr. Molson

Does India come into the scheme of Lend-Lease? Does India benefit from Lend-Lease, and does it give assistance to the other Allies, under the system of Lend-Lease?

Sir J. Anderson

India, like the self-governing Dominions, is subject to separate arrangements between the respective Governments.

Sir H. Williams

Has the right hon. Gentleman made inquiry how it was that a very extensive and reasonably accurate summary of what he has just told us appeared in the newspapers yesterday?