Motion made, and Question proposed.
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £6,930, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1944, for the salaries and other expenses in the Department of His Majesty's Treasury and Subordinate Departments, and the salaries and expenses of certain Ministers appointed for special duties.
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence (Edinburgh, East)
In this Vote we are being asked to sanction the creation of a Minister of Reconstruction, and to approve the appointment of Lord Woolton to that office. It is not very easy for us in this Committee, and still less for the general public and the country at large, to judge how far this represents any real change in the attitude of the Government to this question or how far it is merely an attempt to allay criticism which has been steadily gathering head at the Government's handling of the whole of these problems. I doubt whether the Debate to-day will 2050 throw much light on this question, because it is not a matter of words but of deeds, and those deeds will only come into observation a considerable time after the Debate has concluded. Some people take exception to the Vote on the ground that no Ministry of Reconstruction has been brought into being. Other people are worried as to whether the powers that are being conferred upon the new Minister are sufficiently defined or adequate for the purpose. I am not greatly troubled about either of these questions. The real question in my mind is how far the Government mean business in their avowed intention of laying the foundations of reconstruction now while the war is still in progress and how far they are merely seeking to gain time and postpone decisions on all the major issues until the war is over.
So far as the powers of the Minister and so far as the appointment of a Ministry are concerned, it is quite clear to me that whatever action the Minister of Reconstruction takes is bound to affect most intimately the Treasury, the Ministry of Health, the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Foreign Office, and, indeed, all the principal Ministries of the Government. In those circumstances the powers conferred upon the Minister could not in any case be wide enough to enable him to take action on all those matters without the agreement of his colleagues dealing specifically with those matters in their Ministries. Further, however large the Ministry that might be brought into being in conjunction with the Minister, it could never reduplicate all the staffs of all those Ministers with whom he will be interfering. Unless it were so he would be much better advised to find out the facts and get the position from the members of those staffs who are already in being. That being so, in my view the real Minister of Reconstruction, in the sense in which the House and the country want to have one, cannot be this particular Minister but must be the Prime Minister himself. It is he alone who can really co-ordinate the efforts of all the members of the Government, and it is he alone who in the ultimate resort must create the drive that gets the preparations for reconstruction brought into being. Just as the Prime Minister delegates to my right hon. Friend, who, I understand, is to reply, his functions of Prime Minister when he is away, or unhappily is prevented by illness from attend- 2051 ing to his duties, just as he delegates to the Foreign Secretary his functions as Leader of the House of Commons, so it is not unnatural that, his mind being so largely devoted to the prosecution of the war, he should devolve his duties as the Minister who must be finally charged with preparing for the future to a particular Minister, and that is really what he is doing in creating the Minister and appointing Lord Woolton to that post.
If I were to be asked in advance what would be the position when most of the matters concerning the Minister of Reconstruction would be of that kind where his views have to be carried out by some other Ministry, let us say for example the Ministry of Agriculture, it is clear that the result will depend upon the personality of the Minister in question. That brings us to the personality of Lord Woolton himself. The work that Lord Woolton has done at the Ministry of Food has won the approval of the House, and to an astonishing degree of the country as a whole. He has shown himself to be a man of decision, one who has never made a promise until he was sure of fulfilling it and one who carried out in a way agreeable to the country the very difficult and arduous duties of his office. That is all to the good. Therefore, he starts with a good record behind him and the approval of this House and of the country for the work that he has already done. The job to which he has now been appointed is a much more difficult one. It is not a job which can be put into a watertight compartment. It is a job that brings him not, I hope, in conflict, but in close contact with nearly all other members of the Government. He cannot in the least foresee, and I do not imagine that anyone in the Government can, how far his great success at the Ministry of Food will be repeated as Minister of Reconstruction. We can only wish him well in his task and hope that he will bring to bear his undoubtedly great powers in helping the Government to resolve many of the exceedingly intricate questions.
What are the questions which really have to be faced? I am aware that it is not the wish of the Committee, even if it be in Order, to go into great detail as to the work that lies in front of the Minister of Reconstruction, but I think I should be in Order, and I think it 2052 would be the wish of the Committee, if I took a brief look at what are the real tasks in front of him. There are three major points. The first point is that the basis of our post-war life must be broad enough in finance, in questions of the land and the mines, in the question of transport and in the question of manufacture. In finance we have the lamentable story of the events that took place in the inter-war years, when the whole economy of the country was sacrificed to a financial orthodoxy which deliberately made it a contractionist instead of an expansionist economy. With regard to the land and the mines, I am not going to raise to-day the point of view which may separate those on these benches from those mostly sitting on the benches opposite, but I think we must all agree that an attitude must be taken toward the land which sets aside individual prejudice or prerogative in so far as they conflict with the best use of the land for the country as a whole. The same must apply to the valuable material which lies below the surface of the land, whether it be coal or any other of the sub-surface properties. The policy of reconstruction must be so devised that the land and the mines be used for the benefit of the country in the best possible way. How that should be done may divide us, but some means must be found of using these great national assets for the public benefit.
I need not elaborate the matter when we come to the question of transport. During the war, for the purposes of the war, we have said that individual rights or privileges must be subordinated to the successful prosecution of the war, and I believe that the country will take the view that these rights and privileges after the war must equally be subordinated to making the best use of the transport facilities of the country in order to serve the needs of the nation. Finally, when it comes to manufacture and industry of all kinds, whether we are to have public or private enterprise or whether we are to have some of both, as many on both sides of the House realise will probably be the case, it must be, as the Home Secretary once said, enterprise, and it must be designed in the interests of the public as a whole and not merely in order to bring profit or employment, because the nation must come first in peace equally as in war. That is the first 2053 point—the basis of our post-war life in all matters must be broad enough to carry the superstructure of an expanding economy.
The second point is that our internal economy and our external economy must not be allowed to inter-act adversely on one another. That rule was certainly not followed in the inter-war years. I have already mentioned the contraction of our finance. That arose out of the desire to affect our external relations in the matter of finance. We freed ourselves from that in the course of time, and we must on no account limit and contract our internal financial position in order to meet some external financial demand. A way must be found by which we can live financially at peace and in friendly relations with foreign nations without in any way imperilling our internal financial position. When we come to apply that to the question of the land and, in fact, to the production and price-fixing of raw materials as a whole, I see no way out but that the Government should remain the purchaser of raw materials. There are two points of view that seem to conflict: that we must allow our agriculture to continue to produce a considerable part of the needs of our country, and that we want to purchase from abroad a great deal of our food at the lowest price at which we can buy it in the market. I see no solution of that problem if the prices of the two sets of food are to be the same. But if the Government buy the external and the internal food, but not necessarily at the same price, much as they are doing during the war, and pool the products at a price which is such that they do not suffer a loss on the result, it seems to me that that is the only solution which will achieve the double purpose.
I hope that that will be the direction in which the Minister of Reconstruction and the Government will direct their minds. When it comes to some of our own products we may have the same position inverted. It may be, to take the example of coal, that there will have to be a different price for coal which we consume ourselves from that at which we export. That may apply to other products. It is not, of course, a new departure in world economy, though it will have to be carefully worked out in this country. It may raise difficulties in the United States, for instance, where that question is dealt 2054 with in certain instances by the imposition of a tariff.
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence
Yes, it might be one or the other. I am not at this moment saying so, but that is certainly what I had in mind, and that is what is being done with many products in other countries. It may be that that is a desirable process. The point I am making is that we must not necessarily have our internal and external economy so bound up together that the price of one article must be the same internally and externally.
The third special issue is our proper attitude to the human beings in our country. The people are not merely a means to an end; they are that end itself. Our people do not exist in order that there may be production. Production is carried out in order that our people may exist and enjoy in their life the full heritage which is open to them. May I put it in this way? Our people do not live to work; they work to live. That aspect must never be lost sight of. With that in view, in the first place, the State has to secure that our man and woman power must be utilised to the full extent in the best possible way. In the old days men and women could employ themselves. Those days are very largely gone for the bulk of mankind. Men and women have very little power to employ themselves. They nearly all have to be employed by somebody else. In the nineteenth century that was the private employer. Even those days to some extent—and I do not want to raise an issue between the two sides in the Committee—are passing away. The private employer, even with the best intentions, cannot undertake that every man and woman shall be fully employed. It therefore rests ultimately with the Government and the State to make sure that they are. I do not want to pursue that further or I should be going beyond what is legitimate on this Vote. I only state it in those general terms.
That does not exhaust the whole question of the human beings in this country because there are the children who need to be educated, there are the old who need to be cared for in their old age, and there are that vast number who have fallen out owing to ill-health or some other mis- 2055 fortune which prevents them taking their full economic share in the life of the community. The reason we have to change what were the traditions of the 19th century and the early part of this century with regard to these people is that we are a civilised and a Christian country. We cannot afford to have our old people or those who have fallen under in the race of life sinking below a standard which the rest of us regard as essential. The reason we have to look after our children is that they are the future citizens of the country and that it is to them that we look to uphold the traditions of our country. I do not propose to expand these rather general observations, but I would sum them up by saying that these are the fundamental matters, as I see them, in reconstruction.
We ask the Government, in view of the stage of the war at which we have now arrived—none of us can foresee, of course, when the war will end, it may be fairly soon or go on longer than any of us think likely at the present time—that the Minister of Reconstruction shall make up his mind and get decisions from the Government in order that, when the war does come to an end, there may be no delay in putting those decisions into effect. Secondly, we ask it in order that other people such as local authorities, and, to a certain extent, ordinary business firms, may have an idea of what is in the mind of the Government and may attune their policy in accordance therewith. I will not go into details. There are many matters, at home and abroad, on which decisions are essential if progress is to be made towards the future reconstruction. What I have said indicates something of the task which I see is being entrusted to Lord Woolton. It is a task which will require all his judgment and will demand all his driving force and his power of reconciliation inside the Government itself. We may not expect decisions which involve party controversy, but they must be decisions, and there must be give-and-take in the Government if decisions which are to operate after the war are to be made. I wish him well. I do not envy him his task. I know that he will need all his personality and powers if he is to bring this task to successful fruition.
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
I find myself so largely in agreement with the 2056 sentiments that have been expressed by the right hon. Gentleman that I feel it should be of good augury to the new Minister of Reconstruction, if it is, as I am sure it is, his hope and aspiration that the national unity which has existed during the war shall be carried on into the difficult time of reconstruction after the peace. This modest Supplementary Estimate indicates the modest set-up of the new arrangement, and it is right that there shall be no intention to create some great super Department to go again over all the work which has been done in each of the administrative Departments concerned with each branch of reconstruction. Reconstruction can best be undertaken by those Ministers and Departments which have the day-to-day administration of these matters, and I am sure that it would be far beyond the compass of any Department, as well as being a fruitful cause of delay, if there had been set up a single Department which was supposed to deal with all branches of reconstruction. As I understand the position, and as it has been explained by the Minister himself, it is much more his intention to try to keep an eye on the general picture of reconstruction and to make certain that each of the Departments makes its own appropriate contribution to the future edifice. I am glad to have noted that Lord Woolton puts full employment first. What may perhaps divide this Committee, as to what should be the degree of State interference in any particular industry, is very small compared with the realisation we all have that the future strength, prosperity and happiness of this country depend upon making the fullest and most scientific use of all the resources that we have.
It will, therefore, be especially important that the Minister of Reconstruction shall apply his mind to the degree of development that there should be in, for example, agriculture and coal mining, and in each of the different industries.
If we take for instance, agriculture, coal, iron and steel and shipping, different Ministers are responsible for the day-to-day administration of these matters, and for planning what is to be done to maintain those industries or services in prosperity at the end of the war. It is also vitally important that there shall be someone at the head of what I may call a great economic staff who will take a strategic view of 2057 the whole, and will indicate to the Minister of Agriculture, say, what degree of self-sufficiency in food production he believes will be appropriate, without unduly sacrificing the interests of our industrial export industries. Take again, the case of coal. There is a Minister who is, it is true, responsible for fuel and power, but it will also be extremely important that, in planning the reconstruction of the fuel and power industries in this country, the interests of our Mercantile Marine shall be borne in mind. Anything which might result in a great reduction of our exports of coal would have very serious consequences to our Mercantile Marine, and would almost certainly result in a great increase in the cost of importation of foodstuffs from overseas.
I have given these examples in order to illustrate what some of my friends and I are anxious to have reassurance upon. We recognise that Lord Woolton is not himself directly concerned with the initiation of the reconstruction plans, which are in the hands of each departmental Minister, but we are anxious to be assured by the Government that the general reconstruction of the country is being considered as a whole. I trust that we shall not be told that we must wait for decisions to be taken, either in our Dominions or, even less, in foreign countries. It is essential that we should have the courage to take the initiative, while no doubt being willing to make any necessary modifications in our plans, in order to have the maximum international co-operation, and it would be fatal if we were unwilling to give a lead or, as was indicated by the right hon. Gentleman just now, if we were to allow our own internal economics to be unduly affected by overseas interests.
I would like to pass to the next point. Vital as it is there shall be reconstruction of industries, there is also a vital need that, at the end of this war, we shall have a plan for the physical redevelopment and reconstruction of this country. There, again, it appears to fall within the ambit of four, or even five different departmental Ministers. The Ministry of Town and Country Planning has its special and original contribution to make, but it will not be able to embark upon a national plan until it has had guidance from the Board of Trade as to where industry, in- 2058 cluding new industry, is likely to be located after the war. When the Ministry of Town and Country Planning has agreed upon a plan, it will then be the responsibility of the Minister of Health to see that the houses are provided. We have been informed by Lord Woolton that the Minister of Works will be responsible for the technical aspect of all buildings throughout the country. There, again, we find that Lord Woolton is in a specially responsible position to ensure the cordial co-operation and co-ordination of these Ministers and Ministries.
In the third place, there is the whole question of our social services. I have put this last, not because they are not important, but because the only way in which it will be possible to provide the finance for these costly essential services is that we have full employment and are making the utmost use of all our natural resources. Again, it will be, as I see it, Lord Wool-ton's special responsibility to ensure that the Minister of Labour, the Minister of Health, and any other Ministers who may be concerned, shall work together in the preparation of the different plans. I should like to make a suggestion to the Government. Knowing how heavily burdened the time-table of this House is, I think it would be extremely useful if, in the course of the next six months, we had an arranged series of Debates upon a number of different aspects of reconstruction. Let me give an example of what I have in mind. Hon. Friends of mine in all parts have been pressing for a postwar plan for agriculture. We have now made this progress, that the Minister of Agriculture has at last been given permission by the War Cabinet to enter into discussions with the agricultural industry as to what those plans are to be. Almost the only other natural resource which we have in this country is coal. There, alas, we have not yet even taken that first step forward which has been taken in the case of agriculture, and I feel that a week or a fortnight after a Debate upon agriculture it would be most desirable to have a Debate upon what can be done to prepare a general plan for the integration of coal and gas and electricity and all forms of heat and power. Then I would suggest that a little while after that there should be a similar Debate upon the iron and steel industry, itself so entirely dependent upon the prosperity of the coal industry. In this way I believe that gradually, week 2059 by week and month by month, it might be possible for this Committee to survey in detail and in general the whole picture of our reconstruction. That, as I see it, is the special responsibility which rests upon Lord Woolton—not to concern himself overmuch with the details of any particular matter, but, rather, to ensure that each one of the Departments makes its appropriate contribution to the work of the whole.
In conclusion, may I associate myself in particular with what was said by the right hon. Gentleman about the use of land after this war. Many of us are deeply concerned that there is still no announcement on the part of the Minister of Town and Country Planning that there will be put into effect such reforms of the tenure of land as will ensure that the physical reconstruction of this country will become possible.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward)
I am aware that this is the first time that this Estimate has been before the House and that consequently considerable latitude should be given to hon. Members, but the hon. Member should not deal with matters which suggest legislation.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am afraid, Sir Lambert, that you were not present when my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) made a very able speech and presented a number of the principles underlying reconstruction policy. He dealt with land, coal and other matters involving legislation, and it is quite clear, I suggest with great respect, that if a speech of that kind—a very necessary speech—is allowed and subsequent speakers are to be precluded from expressing views on similar lines it is an unfair procedure.
§ The Temporary Chairman
As the hon. Member says, I was not in the Committee when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) spoke. As I said, I think considerable latitude should be allowed, but that restraint should be exercised with regard to what Members say. Otherwise, the Debate will transcend all bounds of Order.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Surely it is quite clear, without entering into details, that the ap- 2060 pointment of a Minister of Reconstruction, because that is the issue before us, itself denotes legislation. It can denote nothing else, and clearly in discussing whether or not we are to agree to the appointment of a Minister of Reconstruction we must discuss the broad outline of the policy he is to present to the country?
§ The Temporary Chairman
I agree with the truth of the hon. Member's remarks, but I still think that restraint should be exercised with regard to the latitude allowed in the Debate.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
Does that mean that as the Debate proceeds future speakers will not be allowed to refer to land, as to whether land should be under public control, or to agriculture, as the hon. Gentleman did so refer? Are we to confine ourselves purely and simply to the functions of this Ministry here in London without reference to what the Ministry has been set up for?
§ Mr. Molson
I will try to keep within your Ruling, Sir Lambert, but with great respect I would point out that the particular function, as we understand it, of the Minister of Reconstruction is to make certain that one Minister makes his special contribution in time to enable another Minister to make his contribution. What I was venturing to suggest was that the Minister of War Transport and the Minister of Health will have their special constructional work to do at the end of this war, and it is therefore vitally important that the Minister of Town and Country Planning shall have made his contribution in order that there may be a national plan within the framework of which other Departments will make their special contributions. As I understand the position Lord Woolton's special responsibility is to bring his colleagues together and to ensure that they agree upon a policy. So without referring unduly to the legislation which may result from it I will conclude by saying that I feel that reconstruction is not likely to make any very great progress until the Government as a whole have agreed upon some alternative to the Uthwatt proposals which will enable a general national plan to be prepared and put into effect.
§ Mr. Shinwell
When, round about three months ago, the Prime Minister appointed Lord Woolton to the post of Minister of Reconstruction that decision met with a warm welcome in this House and in the country. It was assumed that as Lord Woolton had made a success of his activities at the Food Ministry he was, having regard to other considerations, a suitable person to grapple with the intricate and complex problems associated with reconstruction. Of course, Lord Woolton was a success at the Food Ministry, but he was largely a success there, first, because he had an excellent staff and excellent advisers, but also because we had prepared our food policy in war-time before war began. Indeed, the foundations of our war-time food policy were begun as far back as 1935. That is the moral, and a very important moral indeed. If we are to succeed in formulating, and that is only one aspect of the problem, and of applying, which is an even more important aspect, a reconstruction policy, two important principles must be kept constantly in mind. One is that there must be a broad, underlying conception of the picture we intend to enclose in the framework of the post-war world. The second is that we must prepare well in advance. In the sphere of post-war reconstruction we cannot afford to improvise.
It is true, and we are all very conscious of it, that there is frequently a public clamour for speeding up reconstruction policy, for example, as regards our social services, education, housing, the questions comprised in the Beveridge proposals, and the like. One can understand this. It is very natural. The people of the country are apprehensive. They reflect upon the unprecedented depression that confronted the country in the inter-war years. But important as it is to prepare and apply proposals that relate to social security, it is still more important to prepare the foundations in industry, in the use of our productive resources, in the use of our credit facilities, in the use and direction of our land, of our coal resources and the like; it is more important to decide in that regard what is to be done, so that our social security schemes should be permanent in character. I believe that to be fundamental even at the expense and the risks involved of delaying proposals of a social security character. It is better that we should start in the right way, it is 2062 better that we should lay strong foundations, because if we fail in that we shall be deluding the people whom we intend to provide with social benefits. After the last war those in authority led the people of this country up the garden. The people suffered for that long years afterwards. The effects have been detected even in the war effort to-day, although I cannot go into that now.
Therefore, we must see that the proper foundations are laid and the correct approach adopted; and that whatever is done is related to our productive resources, to our minimum needs, to our international, economic and political relations, and, fundamentally, to the desire of all Members, without exception—I believe this to be the truth, in spite of party differences—to promote the highest possible standard of living for the people of this country. That is the sole purpose of this Debate and of all our reconstruction Debates. If we are not concerned about raising the standard of living of our people, what is the use of appointing a Minister of Reconstruction? We could go on in the same old way as in the interwar years, adopting the old devices, and no doubt we could sort things out in a higgledy-piggledy fashion when this war is over, some people getting too much and a large number getting too little. We can go on wasting production, with the wrong use of land and the wrong use of our resources. That was our old system; we cannot afford it in future. Our objective must be raising the standard of living of the people of this country, and assisting to raise the standard of living of the people in the Colonies and, so far as is necessary, in the Dominions; and, for that matter, throughout the world. I doubt whether we can raise the standard of living in this country without concerning ourselves about the raising of the standard of living of the people the world over. If we are to depart from the expedients which dogged our footsteps in the interwar years with such disadvantage, we must adopt unorthodox methods.
Unorthodox methods do not necessarily imply nationalisation and public utility methods on the one hand, or private enterprise on the other. But they do mean that in all matters pertaining to social, economic and industrial policy there must be State direction. The State must determine, on broad lines, what is to be the 2063 economic policy of the country. That cannot be left to individual manufacturers, individual producers, individual entrepreneurs, or even individual workers. That is the essential thing. Whether some industries should be nationalised and some left in the hands of private enterprise is a matter for public decision at a subsequent stage. But there is not the least doubt that throughout the country—on these benches, of course and on those benches opposite—there is a growing recognition that some of our national services may require to be publicly owned, because they are now mature and they lend themselves to national ownership, and they are indispensable from the standpoint of the public weal. [Interruption.] Someone just behind me rather impishly said, "They cease to provide profit." Let us discard all those petty considerations; they do not matter in the least. [An HON. MEMBER: "They do."] If you want to have your political fight, have it: all I am concerned with is getting something for the people of this country when the war is over, and I do not care hew it is done.
I believe that the way to get these things is to make very big changes in our economic and industrial system. But let us examine it and get as rapid an approach to the solution of our problems as we can. For a moment I set aside the question of whether it should be nationalisation or private enterprise. Let us concentrate on the objective. If we are fully agreed on the objective, and determine not to fail in the application of that objective, we shall reach the solution. Some of us may have to discard some of our ideas, and some hon. Members opposite may have to discard some of their ideas. Some may have to discard more than others. My own impression is that hon. Members opposite will have to discard more than we shall—at least, I hope so.
Let us come to the question of Lord Woolton. The reason why we must have a fairly wide Debate to-day is that we cannot appoint a Minister of Reconstruction and ignore the policy on which he is to operate. We provide Lord Woolton and his organisation with a matter of £25,000. The question that immediately emerges is, for what purpose? It is not because we love Lord Woolton's beautiful blue eyes—let us assume that they are 2064 blue—but because we are concerned about the appointment of a Minister of Reconstruction in relation to policy. Policy cannot be ignored. What is the issue? It is whether there shall be a Minister of Reconstruction with a small secretariat, involving an expenditure of £25,000, or whether there shall be a Ministry of Reconstruction. I offer my own view at once. It is not unlike the view expressed by the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson). There seems to be no advantage in setting up a grandiose Ministry of Reconstruction, another Ministry with a huge staff, all getting in each other's way, impinging on the activities of other Departments. Instead of producing speedy results, they may impede them. But there is surely some advantage to be derived from having a Minister of Reconstruction who has at his disposal all the instruments in personnel, and the possibility of research and access to other Departments, who is clothed with full authority, and who can proceed to his task in the full knowledge of the authority he possesses and of the weapons at his disposal. In other words, what we really want is an economic council at the disposal of Lord Woolton, with the best economic experts in the country, the best advisers in the country, men and women fully acquainted with all those problems, who are trying to adapt themselves to those problems, and to escape from the past, recognising that these problems are emerging as other nations are in active competition with us or are certain to be in active competition with us. We do not want to approach this question of reconstruction in an international competitive spirit, but we have to consider the problems of our own people.
My first criticism is not that Lord Woolton is not persona grata, or that Lord Woolton happens to be a Member of another place. Some Members have suggested that the Minister of Reconstruction ought to be a Member of this House, but as long as the other place is a part of the British Constitution I can see no objection to the Prime Minister appointing someone in the other place as Minister of Reconstruction. I hope some day that the other place will not be a part of our Constitution, and then we shall have the Minister here. The criticism is that Lord Woolton is in no wise differently situated 2065 from the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Minister without Portfolio when, before the appointment of a Minister of Reconstruction, he was responsible for reconstruction matters. There has been no change, only a change of personalities, except that my right hon. and learned Friend still remains as a partner, or it may be only as an assistant, to Lord Woolton—one never can tell in these matters. I hope that he remains as a partner; in fact, no self-respecting person, certainly no Member of this House, ought to accept any other position. Lord Woolton, strange as it may seem, is now grappling with the same problems sent up to him by various Departments, reading masses of material, trying to understand the comprehensive nature of the problem which confronts him. That is precisely what my right hon. and learned Friend was doing for a long time. Lord Woolton is also getting in touch with Departments and meeting the War Cabinet. That is precisely what my right hon. and learned Friend was doing. It is not enough.
In the sense of expert guidance and advice, Lord Woolton is dependent not so much on his own staff because he has not got a staff which is really worth while—although some may be really useful people—as on other Departments. Suppose that Lord Woolton wants to pursue a policy relating to foreign trade—and foreign trade is going to be extremely important after the war—what does he do? He goes to the Board of Trade, and the President tells him what is being done. Suppose Lord Woolton wants to pursue a policy in relation to redundant war factories when the war is over. He goes to the President of the Board of Trade, who tells him that he is negotiating on that subject. Suppose Lord Woolton wants to pursue a policy in relation to trade questions generally. He goes to the Board of Trade, and he discovers that the President is negotiating with people on both sides of industry, the trade unions and the employers. Lord Woolton is every time dependent on the activities of the respective Departments. It may be that he can speed up the activities of those Departments if they are too slow; but that is not a satisfactory method. Lord Woolton should be in this position: not with a grandiose Ministry, but with an expert body of people who thoroughly understand these subjects, and then, 2066 having decided a line of policy and gained the approval of the War Cabinet, he should instruct the Departments to carry it out.
This is the method adopted in relation to the war effort by the War Cabinet. You do not leave it to the War Office. They carry out these things administratively. You do not leave it to the Ministry of Aircraft Production. The War Cabinet decides the policy, and, in the case of reconstruction, a similar policy should be decided upon. I put that to my right hon. Friend opposite. I am sorry he did not hear some remarks I ventured to offer on the principles of reconstruction, but no doubt he will be advised of them and can deal with them at a later stage. In any event, there will be ample opportunities, because the question of reconstruction is coming to the forefront. Apart from the gaining of victory over our enemies, there is no question of greater importance than what is to happen when the war is over.
I want to fortify what I have said by indicating the difficulties that confront us in relation to post-war industrial and economic matters. Take, for example, the question of housing. It is a social issue, but it is also industrial in character. If we are to decide on an expanded, large-scale scheme of housing—and such is required, and a suggestion was made in another place this week on the subject—we have to concern ourselves with materials, with labour, with land, with finance, and with something more, location of industry. Is there any sense in creating huge housing estates in industrially desolated areas? There is no advantage in that. If we are to deal with the location of industry, you must deal with the question of whether we have productive resources in certain industries, or whether it is worth while producing in certain industries. We have got to deal with a question perhaps more fundamental, too, and about which very little notice is taken—what are we going to produce? It was all very well in the old days saying "We produce coal; there is plenty of it and a demand for it both at home and abroad; with iron and steel and so on," when there were markets for them. How do we know there will be markets for all these things in future? Therefore, we see the inter-relation, the close connection, the liaison, between the various Departments and their activities, and we must bring 2067 them all together under a single head—not in detail, not administratively, but in the broad conception, which is what is required.
My criticism of Lord Woolton, not personal, of course, is that everything depends on the right approach. But it also depends upon whether we have a conception of what is wanted. We must have a picture, not a picture in detail, not filling in the landscape with every stream and the glint of the sun. I do not want that, but we must have a broad conception of what we want. We must have all the facts ready for when the war is over. Have the Government got all the facts at their disposal? For, if they have not, the sooner they get them the better. That is why we want expert economic advisers round the Minister. He can read a great mass of papers, derive much information and build a picture in that way, but it is a long, long process. The essential thing is to get the picture, and what picture do we get of the future? Is it the old picture in that decaying framework? It will not do. This has nothing to do with political divisions. We cannot build up the future of Great Britain on that basis. It cannot be done. Another question involved is what are we going to do with our industries in future? It is a very big subject, and I cannot enlarge upon it, but I feel so keenly that I must ask hon. Members to bear with me.
Take the question of coal. My friends behind me believe in the nationalisation of the mines. So do I, in principle, but not as we did 30 years ago. Does anyone suppose the nationalisation of the mines, as an isolated act in the future, is going to be of great value? Of course not. So far as coal in the post-war period is concerned, it is no longer a matter of production but a matter of treatment. What are we going to do with the coal when we have produced it? We do not solve the problem by saying, "Low temperature carbonisation or hydrogenation." Some of these theories have been exploded. There have been great advances relating to plastics. We have to be abreast of the times and of what is going on in the United States. I hate to have to say this, but we have to take notice of what was happening in Germany before the war began. They were very 2068 clever, scientifically, and highly technical, and although we do not want to take a leaf out of their barbaric notebook let us not be so hoity-toity when it comes to taking a leaf out of their scientific notebook. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who is?"] An hon. Member says "Who is?" We can only judge by results, and, if I could detect in our discussions, and in our keenness and passion to get things on the move, any sign that we understand what was going on in America and Germany and elsewhere, believe me, I should be less depressed about the future.
Take the case of agriculture. Time and again, I have heard the Government criticised—and, Heaven knows, it is not for me to defend the Government, for they have plenty of defenders—because they have not produced an agricultural policy. I venture to ask how can we build up an agricultural policy until we have determined the general range of our economic policy? We simply cannot decide that we are going to produce this, that and the other thing, and build up the price level, until we consider whether we shall continue buying from abroad, to what extent and also what we are going to buy. Then, what about the mercantile marine? We have to consider all these things. In fact, we cannot consider any aspect of our industrial or economic, or, in fact, our social, policy, except in an inter-related sense. We must do that. That is why the broad conception is required. It seems to me to be commonsense.
I want to leave it at that, and say a word on social issues. I have observed in the House of Commons a trend in the direction of what one may call left-wing economic policy—I will not say left-wing political policy. It is the result of economic pressure and recognition of certain facts presented to us from events abroad, partly as a result of war and so on. We must face that, and I say to the die-hards—and there are still some about, not political, but economic die-hards living in the past—"You have outstayed your welcome; your ideas are not related to the post-war situation." That brings me to my final point—the question of distribution. What is the purpose of optimum production, the elimination of waste and the best use of everything we are producing—coal, iron and steel and high duty oils—unless it is to provide a high standard of life on the basis of more 2069 equitable distribution? What does that imply? It must be said that, in the future, great personal wealth should be regarded as being as much a crime as poverty itself. It ought not to be permitted. Indeed, the only justification for personal wealth on a large scale is if it is ploughed back into our industrial life. I do not object to the man of wealth who constantly throws back into industry what he has gained in profit, and, over and above that, if it is done under State direction, having regard to all the factors concerned. The disparities between rich and poor are going; make no mistake about that. We have to accustom ourselves not to a low standard but to a decent standard of life. That is the object of our reconstruction policy, and if it is not, it is not worth while.
This is only touching the fringe of the subject. I welcome what was said about the need for a succession of Bills. A general Debate, apart from the discussion of broad principles, is not enough. We are shortly to have certain White Papers on social security matters. That is all very well. I do not object; indeed, I welcome them, but we should have a Debate on how we are going to deal with the coal industry of the country in future. There should be another on iron and steel and related industries, and on high-grade oils, and also on agricultural policy, linked up with general economic policy, and on shipbuilding, too. What about our shipbuilding of the future? Are we going to play into the hands of the United States? Shall we allow our shipbuilders to throw themselves on the tender mercies of the shipbuilders of America? We are eternally grateful to the United States for what they have rendered to us and the world, but we are not going to leave ourselves in their hands when the war is over. That we cannot afford to do, We should have a succession of Debates on these subjects. It would do the Government good, because they would not be conducted in a political spirit. It is not in any sense to criticise the Government that I am trying to put forward these proposals. That is the kind of thing the Government should do, and, if we did that, it would benefit Members and advise the House of Commons, for all of us, without exception, in planning this are determined to build up a reconstruction policy that will profit the people of this country.
§ Mr. Spearman (Scarborough and Whitby)
I would like to support what the hon. Member said about having a series of Debates on post-war problems. We are now in the process of passing a Bill which will entail a great expenditure. We hope and believe that the Government are going to produce social reforms which will cost a great deal of money. All of us want these reforms. Most of us are confident that the Government mean to fulfil their promise, but they can only be paid for provided that we can maintain our national income at the highest possible value: the Government cannot expect bricks to appear unless they can provide the straw. Unless we can have the maximum production that is attainable by full employment and by use of the best possible equipment, we cannot expect to have that income which will enable us to fulfil these promises, in which case having made those promises obviously our last state would be much worse than our first.
The hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) in his interesting and stimulating speech, as his speeches always are, has given us a very clear picture of the immense responsibilities and difficulties that Lord Woolton has to face. Lord Woolton has come to his great office with the good will of all of us and with an immense reputation which he has so justly earned but I do not think that that reputation entitles us to relieve ourselves of our responsibilities to see that these immense problems are dealt with. Reconstruction is not just a marvellous opportunity for making all sorts of reforms. We shall not get those reforms, unless we get our industries going.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
There are one or two observations I would like to offer following the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell). The subject of reconstruction is undoubtedly the most important that faces this country at the present time. The war must come first, but, obviously it is equally true that what we are going to do for those who come back after the war, in the light of the promises that have been made, is nearly as important, if not in some senses more important. Therefore, the Minister appointed as the overlord of the whole plan of reconstruction should be someone in whom all of us have the utmost confidence. Some very kind and well-deserved things have been said about Lord Woolton 2071 in his capacity as Minister of Food or as an important captain of industry. We have yet to test him in an office of this kind.
In some ways, it is rather surprising that Lord Woolton should have been appointed to a post of this sort. As far as I know, he has not in the past shown a very great interest in planning and reconstruction and it is obvious that, in spite of his great abilities, he will be coming new to this particular job. Therefore, it is all the more necessary that he should have around him the kind of staff that can help him, and I was rather pleased with the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham that he should have some sort of advisory council. That is essential for two reasons. I have already touched upon one of the reasons, but the other is that Ministers come and go, and it is possible that Lord Woolton may make a mess of the particular post to which he has now been appointed. If he does, it is essential that the man who follows him should have some sort of nucleus to which he can refer, and a staff upon which he can rely. The £18,000, which is the amount put down in this Vote, is not a very great sum and it is obvious that he will not have, at any rate at the present time, the kind of staff that he ought to have to help him.
I remember the last war and how, when we came back in 1918, we found that the Government were talking of reconstruction. Pamphlets were issued, some of which were either written or inspired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood). All that talk and all the planning that then went on went for very little. We had a House of Commons that really was not interested in planning and a Government that apparently did not take the previous promises seriously. That must not happen again. We have to take adequate steps to see that it does not happen again. My generation—the generation of perhaps most hon. Members of this House—was, distinctly and definitely let down at the end of the last war. Promises were not kept to those who came back and to those who served in one capacity or another in that conflict. I do not know whether the temper of this generation is different from that of our generation, but if all that we are told is true, it is dif- 2072 ferent, and the younger folk to-day will not stand for a second betrayal. That makes it all the more important that we should have men who really believe in reconstruction and who are in favour of carrying it out.
I have nothing of a personal kind against Lord Woolton but I have the feeling that he may not necessarily be the man for this particular job, great though his abilities may be in other directions. We are all creatures of the atmosphere in which we have been brought up, and it is obvious that it will be very difficult for a Minister of the Crown, who has spent many years as a captain of industry, to re-orientate his action and his outlook to serve the interests which will have to be served and to refuse to serve the interests which will have to be refused when reconstruction gets into its stride. We ought to realise that no man is absolutely essential and that we must here, in the case of this Ministry, not stop short of building up the nucleus which will serve the Minister whoever he may be in the future. I remember, again going back to the time of the last war, there were two gentlemen who were thought to be absolutely essential to any Government at that time. Their name was Geddes. They became a music-hall jest. I remember on one occasion hearing a song, which had the following refrain:We must have the Geddes,Don't forget the Geddes,We must have the Geddes too.I do not know where these gentlemen are; possibly they have gone to a higher sphere. I remember now that one has been raised to another place, and the other has entered another place. It was then felt that those two gentlemen were absolutely essential to the war effort. There is now a feeling abroad that Lord Woolton, in some peculiar way, is absolutely essential to the war effort. He has done a great job but that does not necessarily mean that he is going to do a great job here. I want to voice the doubt that I feel and to express the hope that the Government should in some way—I know it will be difficult—make this particular Ministry something that is more co-operative than simply the perquisite of one particular man. I would like to see more Labour men with Socialist views associated with that Ministry. It is not right that the two Ministers responsible should be men who have no great political roots—and I refer 2073 to Lord Portal as well as to Lord Woolton—and whose upbringing and whole outlook up to the present time has not been the kind of outlook which will help this country to solve the problems that face it. I, therefore, hope that when my right hon. Friend the Deputy-Prime Minister replies, he will be able to give some of us on these benches the re-assurance that this is not going to be left to one man, and only one man, whose political background is what it is and what it has been.
§ Commander King-Hall (Ormskirk)
In the first instance, I want to support not only in general what the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) said, but in particular, the approach which he made to this problem. Lord Woolton's appointment was received by the whole country with very high hopes and his appointment is now being watched by a very large number of perhaps not very strong party-minded people of this country as a test case as to whether anything is really going to happen, or whether we are going to fall back into the state of affairs described by the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall), when various Committees were set up and reports were published some of the most important of which are now even out of print and cannot be obtained. The threads of many thousands of problems are lying before Lord Wool-ton who has to take them up and try to weave them into some sort of pattern.
It is almost impossible to say where his job and responsibilities end. It certainly covers every aspect of reconstruction in this country and I defy any hon. Member to produce any reconstruction problem in this country which has not got its international link and consequences. It is boundless as far as this is concerned. I agree with the two or three hon. Members who have stressed the need for Lord Woolton to have a small but really adequate advisory staff. That will be extremely difficult for Lord Woolton at this stage of the war. Ali the best people are already in the various Ministries, who will fight most tenaciously not to let them go. The only thing that is certain at the present stage of the war is that the most dangerous person who comes for a job is someone who arrives from a Department with a recommendation. At this stage of the war you have to be suspicious of anyone recommended by any Department. Lord Woolton will have great difficulty 2074 in getting the right people, if indeed, he is to have a staff of the character which has been suggested.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
Is the hon. and gallant Member suggesting that there is no organisation attached to the War Cabinet which can influence civil servants to join one Department or another?
§ Commander King-Hall
Not at all. I am suggesting that any Minister or Permanent Secretary who has a first-class person on his staff would put up every obstacle at the moment in order to keep him there. These people are few and far between and would not easily be released. The disadvantage which Lord Woolton has in this matter is that he has not a permanent secretariat to do his fighting for him in that respect.
The second and final point I want to make is on the question of the nature of this pattern which Lord Woolton has to produce from the threads of all these problems which are floating up towards him. That is where I was particularly interested to hear the approach of the hon. Member for Seaham who, if I understood him aright, clearly said, in effect, that it is ridiculous to approach these different problems from a narrow and prejudiced party point of view. I want Members to start tackling the practical problems in this country which Lord Woolton is co-ordinating—housing, shipping, agriculture. When one remembers that we have to start tackling these problems probably at a time when hostilities with Japan will still be going on, I would suggest to the Committee that one of the most important consequences of Lord Woolton's appointment will be—and Lord Woolton has publicly stated himself that he is not a party man or interested in parties—that if he is to have the slightest chance of making a success of a job which the whole country regards as the key post-war job, it will be absolutely essential for Members of this Committee to do their utmost to keep their party views under pretty strict restraint for at least five years from now.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
I am sorry to interrupt, but surely it is asking too much of us to keep quiet and let the country go forward in the present haphazard fashion, with no controls at all, when we on this side and hon. Members opposite, led 2075 forward by the right group desire the exercise of proper controls. It is asking a lot.
§ Commander King-Hall
I quite agree, but we are asking a lot of Lord Woolton too and if, in fact, my hon. Friend is of the view that there is a difference of opinion between important groups in this part of the Committee, how are we to deal with the relations with the Americans on post-war shipping problems or housing, etc.? If my hon. Friend is convinced there is such a sharp division, then the issue will have to be fought out, but the whole tone of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham was that there is a large measure of common agreement in facing up to these practical problems between Members on both sides of the House. There may be differences between Left and Right but I am confident there is a sufficient mass in the middle to see this thing through.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Kilmarnock)
There was on the staff of my right hon. Friend the Minister without Portfolio (Sir W. Jowitt) before Lord Woolton came along, a number of people who had been working with him for several years. Before we conclude this short Debate, could we have some idea of what has happened to them? I have asked before, whether that staff was taken over by Lord Woolton. After all, they had accumulated a great deal of experience in dealing with a wide variety of problems and we would like to know what help Lord Woolton is now having from the staff point of view. The hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shin-well), with whose speech I am in general agreement, was not in favour of a grandiose Ministry. He came down on the other side and I do too, but we are faced at the moment with a Bill which makes things extremely difficult. Many of us have come to the conclusion that the finance of it will not work—I am speaking of the Education Bill. We are also convinced that the Government's approach to local government on a functional basis bit by bit will not work.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward)
I do not think the Debate can be continued on the Education Bill; that is going too far.
§ Mr. Lindsay
I will then quote another example for that was merely an illustra- 2076 tion. Twenty-five years ago, Lord Haldane issued a report on the Machinery of Government. I believe the Government have reconsidered the basic principles implied in that report. There are two ways of approaching it. You either have a superior Minister like the Prime Minister, with his three Service Departments where he, I gather, gives a final decision on policy, and what I want to ask is: In home affairs does Lord Woolton do the same thing? When we are considering the Vote of a Minister of Reconstruction, we ought to be told a little bit more about his relations to the various sub-Ministries on the home front. That was why I used the illustrations of local government and education. [An HON. MEMBER: "What is the definition of 'sub-Ministry'?"] I am sorry, that was a somewhat loose description. I meant the other Ministries below War Cabinet level represented on the home front. I withdraw the adjective, but what is the relation between the Ministries of Education, Health and Agriculture and the Ministry of Reconstruction? Some of us feel very strongly, with the hon. Member for Seaham, that we would like to see the framework of this picture a little more clearly.
I do not know that we can necessarily put aside the whole party approach. I appreciate that there are honest diferences, but we can approach these questions with frank, intellectual honesty and we shall not go on having these idiotic speeches about control versus de-control but will get down to the actual instrument of control and how it actually affects the man in business. All my friends with whom I have discussed this outside say, "Why does not Parliament get down to the real issue?" I hope the Minister of Reconstruction is going to give us some guidance before long on the general lines of Government policy. If we have that, we shall not have these Debates—the black and the white, control versus decontrol—which very few people in the country think are very helpful. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman himself does not think these are the real issues. Therefore, I am asking first, for a little more information about the machinery of Lord Woolton's Department, how it affects other Ministries on the home front, whether the old staff belonging to my right hon. Friend is still in existence; 2077 and secondly, whether we can get some guidance from the Ministry on a broad line of reconstruction in which many Members in this House and others outside are interested.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Attlee)
We have had a very interesting discussion. I have been here most of the time but a short absence for a very little refreshment prevented me from hearing the speech of the hon. Member for Sea-ham (Mr. Shinwell). There has been a general welcome to my Noble Friend in his office. I think the hon. Member for Come Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) has not been fully informed. Before the last war, in addition to being a Socialist agitator, I was also a social worker, and one of the people I most frequently met at meetings was the then Mr. Marquis, head of the Liverpool Settlement. As a matter of fact, my Noble Friend has a most unusual background, having been a social worker, and then having dealt with very different matters. I think my hon. Friend forgot that point.
The next point raised was with regard to staffing. I was very pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham and my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence), indeed all the Committee, realised that we do not want to build up a grandiose Ministry of Planning. In the Minister of Reconstruction we are, as a matter of fact, following out what some of us urged before we were in the Government, and again afterwards, namely, the need for some Ministers without great detailed departmental responsibility, and with comparatively small staffs. My Noble Friend has not got a large staff: it is a carefully selected staff of a few. He may have to add to that. In addition he has a staff which continues a section of the work started by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister without Portfolio. It is not entirely the same staff. Some have gone but some have carried on and are working in the closest co-operation with the Minister of Reconstruction. Then there is the point with regard to economists. For some of these services it is really not well advised to try to set up specialised sections in every Department. It is useful to have a common service. We do that a great deal with regard to scientific and economic advice, although there are economists in the Department as well, 2078 but it would be a mistake to try to duplicate all these services.
A further point was whether there is a continuing body of experience on reconstruction, or whether all will fall, if anything should happen to my Noble Friend. As a matter of tact, this business of planning and reconstruction has been a continuous one since the days of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood). My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister without Portfolio has continued the work right through but, essentially, there has not been set up a separate Department of Reconstruction. There, I think, would be a danger, and I am inclined to think that danger happened at the end of the last war when there was a Ministry a little bit outside the general machine of Government dealing with reconstruction problems. The essential thing is, that, while we have Lord Woolton as a Minister of Reconstruction, all Departments have to consider the future as well as the present, and Ministers have to take part in the consideration of post-war problems. It must not be imagined that there is an enormous division between what is going on now and what will go on in the future.
Both my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East and my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham pointed out that we must have some kind of basis for planning. We have taken a broad basis. In a recent speech the Prime Minister gave it as a kind of immediate task which would face us in the transition period at the end of the war. We shall look ahead as far as we can, and we shall accumulate all the facts that we can, but it is inevitable that all the facts cannot be known to any of us because we do not know when the war will end, we do not know what the conditions will be when the war does end, and our plans, therefore, must be sufficiently flexible to fit varying circumstances. What struck me in the speeches was that they dealt with various matters, to which I have been giving attention during the past week or fortnight. Every one of them recalled to me questions under discussion by the Government. A very important point was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh, that in our planning for this country we must consider world planning as well, and the place that we are going to hold in the 2079 world in general in the post-war period. That is a matter which, although it does not lend itself necessarily to lengthy treatment at the present moment, is engaging our very close attention. As the hon. Gentleman said very truly we must not allow our internal and external economy to interact adversely.
The hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) and the hon. Member for Seaham stressed the importance of economic planning and economic reconstruction. It does happen that social service plans have been brought before the House first of all and it may be that, in some minds, that has created a feeling that there was neglect of other matters equally important and, indeed, equally vital to social security. That is merely an accident of timing. The hon. Member for Seaham stressed a point that we had to consider the inter-action of these various plans. Social services, in so far as they deal with the better distribution of purchasing power, are vital to any consideration of our internal economy. The point we have to remember is that distribution of purchasing power is vital when you are considering what you are going to produce. These various matters, quite obviously, must be dealt with by one Minister. All Ministers, in a greater or less degree, have to consider problems of reconstruction. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Lindsay) asked about machinery and referred to "sub-Ministries." I think he had a slight misconception of the way things work.
§ Mr. Attlee
It is not a question of under-Ministries or of their being placed under the tutelage of particular Ministers. The tendency nowadays is for groups of functions to be placed under the general supervision of a particular War Cabinet Committee. It is not a matter of giving orders but of bringing people together, of getting the work done in the various Departments and of bringing together those Ministries so that you may get the whole picture. Post-war housing, social services, post-war economics are all, as the hon. Member for Seaham said, closely related. But what you must not do is to destroy the responsibilities of departmental Ministers for their Depart- 2080 ments, for which they have to answer in this House. I think the hon. Member for Kilmarnock will realise that it is not a question of putting some Ministers below somebody, since it is equally necessary that broad decisions must, ultimately, be made by the Cabinet.
The working out of the matter before it comes to the Cabinet for decision will be done by committees of Ministers, and in that work the Minister of Reconstruction has his part to play. In the end the decision must be come to by the War Cabinet. Therefore, there is pertinence in what the hon. and gallant Member for Ormskirk (Commander King-Hall) said. If you are to get anything done by this Government—a Government of all parties—you have to come to agreement, and that means that neither side will get absolutely what they want. What we are faced with in dealing with these matters is the necessity of looking at the actual difficulties of the problems of the post-war world. We must get down to concrete questions, instead of quarrelling about abstractions. When this war ends, there will be need for housing, and it will be necessary to settle practical points about the provision of labour, the acquisition of land and all the rest of it. Those are practical questions which we must face as practical men. The feeding of our people is another practical question and so is the problem of paying our way in the post-war world.
On those practical questions, I hope we shall get a great measure of agreement, when we come to consider them, and a great measure of agreement when they come before the House. We cannot tell when the war will end, but it is our earnest desire to be ready for the immediate postwar period and also, as far as we can, to lay our plans for an even longer period. I think my Noble Friend Lord Woolton is taking the right line as Minister of Reconstruction in not building up a great new Department but in getting the work done in the existing Departments. It is quite true that you can get a few men of first-class calibre but you cannot get very many and in the middel of war a fierce struggle to get them might cause great damage. On the other hand, you have in the Departments the requisite experience and the requisite ability. The essential thing is to see that that ability is directed to the right ends, that it is brought together and that there is no wasteful dupli- 2081 cation or even contest by Departments working separately. I can assure the House that my Noble Friend Lord Woolton is working successfully and harmoniously with his colleagues and I hope that, increasingly, the fruit of his work will be laid before the House of Commons.
§ Mr. J. J. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)
The right hon. Gentleman has told us that he has been dealing, himself, within the last week or two, with many things concerning this matter of reconstruction. He has also told us of the difficulties of co-ordinating Departments and of the unwisdom of taking away responsibility from departmental heads. The right hon. Gentleman will not mind me telling him that we have been told these things many times before. But we are now in the fifth year of war, and there is as far as this Committee is concerned, no sign of action on the part of the Government and no sign of planning in this fifth year of war. I can tell my right hon. Friend, as representing the Government, that the country is getting very greatly disturbed about this situation. I, myself, am gravely disturbed, and I know that local authorities in my area and even the great industrialists, are concerned about this matter.
Everybody agrees that this is a matter of fundamental importance, and everybody agrees that Lord Woolton has done a great service in handling food control in this country. But what we are dealing with now is reconstruction. I do not agree with the appointment of Lord Woolton. I want to see the Minister for Reconstruction in the House of Commons so that we can deal with him from day to day, and week to week. This is a live matter for the country, and I warn hon. Members who have had no experience such as some of us have passed through that we may have when this war is over, as we had after the last war, an industrial revolution. After the last war we were not long in apprehending what was happening. Make no mistake about it. Anybody who knows anything about industry can observe changes taking place now in the world, which may affect great areas of this country, and if we are not careful, we shall have not two or three special areas, but the whole country as a special area.
The question that is disturbing everybody is not that the Government or their 2082 Departments are not doing anything, but that the Government are not taking decisions upon fundamental matters which affect reconstruction. What about the three great Reports on which we are awaiting decisions? Are the Government, because of the interests at stake, afraid to take decisions? Some of us are very much disturbed about this matter and I hope the Government, including the Minister of Reconstruction, will clearly understand that a wastage of men and women is involved in this question.
§ Mr. Boothby (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Eastern)
I am well aware that my rising at all may cause a certain sense of irritation among some of my hon. Friends—[HON. MEMBERS: "No"]—because there is another Debate of great importance to follow. I will only say this in self-defence: that, short of the actual conduct of the war itself, I suppose that the problem of reconstruction is the most important issue before the country to-day. It is even more important than the temporary absence of some 20 Members of this House overseas. I agree that this is not the occasion for a general discussion on economic policy; and I most earnestly hope that we shall have more than one opportunity to debate this subject in the very near future, because Members on both sides have, I think, a good deal to contribute. We have not really discussed these vital matters enough.
We live in an age of revolutionary economic conceptions, quite apart from party politics. I think it is generally admitted now that wealth does not consist of money, either in terms of gold or paper pounds; it consists of goods, produced by the materials and the man-power that are available in this country. I, for one, rather regretted the implication by Lord Woolton, shortly after his new appointment, that we should be a poor country after this war—a view that was apparently shared by General Smuts. I think it is not only a defeatist view, but an entirely erroneous view; and I was glad to see that, in response to a torrent of criticism from every quarter, Lord Woolton later modified his views on that question. The fact remains that the classical nineteenth century school of economists has been blown sky high by the events of the last ten years. One thing upon which I think there is a consensus of agreement is that employment—which 2083 is, after all, the fundamental end of all reconstruction—depends upon total outlay. The price of giving to individuals the right to save is that their savings must be offset by an adequate and, therefore, equivalent capital expenditure. The State must see that that expenditure is effectively undertaken. As several Members on this side have pointed out, this involves direction over a very wide field of Government policy. It involves some direction of investment, the control of credit, the control of imports—on which I shall carry with me members of the Conservative Party—and control of development policy, of which the most important aspect is housing. It also involves trade policy, transport and all the problems arising out of it; and last, but not least, as my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) said, control of the location of industry. All these things are inter-related, inseparately bound up with each other, and most of them have little to do with Socialism, private enterprise or nationalisation.
Leaving aside for the moment all questions of political "isms," beliefs and credos, what I think some of us are concerned about is the astonishing delay on the part of the Government in arriving at decisions on matters which are not in dispute between the political parties. Take, for example, the question of land. It is well known that speculation in land has been proceeding on a wide scale throughout, the country, not only for months but for years. We have had the Uthwatt and Barlow Reports and a Ministry of Town and Country Planning has been set up. Yet we have not had a single decision of fundamental importance on this, one of the most vital aspects of reconstruction. It is the essential basis of our whole future development. That is what people are getting uneasy about. If my right hon. Friend will not listen to us in the House, he will have to listen sooner or later to the series of thundering articles which are appearing in that important national newspaper, "The Times." Even to-day, or it might have been yesterday, there was another severe complaint in connection with the Brighton by-election. The country is becoming uneasy because decisions are not being reached on matters which have nothing to do with party politics or economic theories one way or 2084 the other. My hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), in his most interesting and stimulating speech, referred to Germany and said that we ought not to be afraid to examine carefully some of the achievements of Germany in the economic field both during and prior to the war; and, if necessary, to copy them in certain respects. It is true that Germany subordinated economic policy and technique to political ends with startling success. The fact that those ends were vile detracts in no way from the success of the method. What we have to do is to subordinate our economic policy to good political ends instead of to bad; and, of course, the most important political end of all is full employment.
§ Commander King-Hall
My hon. Friend will, I hope, agree with me that the ultimate end is the production of wealth. There can be productive and unproductive employment.
§ Mr. Boothby
I agree. Before I sit down I would like to say a few words on the subject dealt with by the Deputy Prime Minister, namely, machinery. He referred to the difficulty of collecting a first-rate staff at the present time, and I agree that it is very considerable. We must do the best we can; but in these circumstances I cannot understand the rather churlish attitude of the Government towards Sir William Beveridge's activities in connection with his forthcoming report on unemployment. I would have thought that the Government would have welcomed any responsible private inquiry into such an intricate problem at the present time, instead of practically saying that they would have nothing to do with it. If I were the Government I would welcome any investigation, examination and assistance from any quarter, if I could get it. I would even welcome it from Members of this House. The shortage of staff for a Ministry of Reconstruction seems to me to make it even more necessary that the Government should rely to some extent on outside assistance, beyond the Civil Service, and the Ministerial field. I have always maintained that one day we should have to have a Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, in the Cabinet, with power to co-ordinate policy over the whole field of economics in this country and abroad. I agree with the Deputy Prime Minister about the question of the Departmental responsibility of 2085 Ministers to this House; but I was sorry he said that Lord Woolton, in his capacity as Minister of Reconstruction, would only take part in the deliberations of various Cabinet committees which had been set up. I would like to see the Minister of Reconstruction—or, as I would prefer to call him, "Secretary of State for Economic Affairs"—as permanent chairman of a committee of Ministers.
§ Mr. Attlee
There is a number of different committees and my Noble Friend is Chairman of the Reconstruction Committee.
§ Mr. Boothby
Then I may take it that he is permanent chairman of the Committee of Ministers mainly responsible for reconstruction problems, and economic affairs. I am glad to have extracted that, because it is a matter of immense importance. I believe that what we want in this field is something very similar to what we have in the Prime Minister in the field of the conduct of the war. We want a Minister presiding over a Committee of Ministers, as the Prime Minister does in his capacity as Minister of Defence, who will be able to express in the Cabinet the views of all the separate Departments, and who will also have expert advice from something corresponding to the Chiefs of Staff Committee; so that at last we shall get co-ordination and, we may hope, effective action. The Deputy Prime Minister has done much to reassure me by his interjection, for which I am very grateful, and we will hopefully await the results.
§ Question put, and agreed to
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £6,930, be granted to His Majesty, to defray he charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1944, for the salaries and other expenses in the Department of His Majesty's Treasury and Subordinate Departments, and the salaries and expenses of certain Ministers appointed for special duties.
§ Resolutions to be reported upon the next Sitting Day; Committee to sit again upon the next Sitting Day.