Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [15th December]:
That this House regrets that His Majesty's Government are neglecting their first duty, namely, to concentrate with full energy upon the most urgent and essential tasks of the re-conversion of our industries from war-time production to that of peace, the provision of houses, the speedy release of men and women from the Forces to industry, and the drastic curtailment of our swollen national expenditure and deplores the preoccupation of His Majesty's Ministers, impelled by Socialist theory, with the formulation of long-term schemes for nationalisation creating uncertainty over the whole field of industrial and economic activity, in direct opposition to the best interest of the nation, which demands food, work and homes.
§ Question again proposed.
§ 3.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Churchill (Woodford)
We are here today on a Motion of Censure, but it is not the Opposition who have introduced acrimony into our proceedings. When we met for the first time four months ago, we refrained from conflict. I pointed out that there never had been a Parliament in which there was so great a body of work to be done in which all had an equal interest, or of legislation to be passed to which all parties were committed. Ideological differences may be deep and wide, but I certainly hoped that there would have been a very bread and continuing measure of co-operation upon practical tasks, and that these would have priority. We therefore did not divide upon the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech, and the Leader of the House taunted us the oilier day for not having done so. I went out of my way, perhaps further than I should have gone, to mitigate any shock to our credit abroad which might have been caused by the Government's announcement of the nationalisation of the Bank of England, only to be derided by the Leader of the House for speaking in less alarmist terms than I had done in the heat of the Election.
Throughout we have done our best, even when we did not entirely agree, to make easy and nationally united the course of foreign politics. The Prime Minister found it convenient to refer appreciatively to this in 2531 his speech to the American Congress. But when the Government insisted upon keeping on for five years by legislation all the extraordinary controls, which even in the heat of war we only renewed from year to year, and when they rejected our friendly proposal for a two-year period, they showed that they were imbued with the spirit of faction. They showed a desire to humiliate their defeated opponents, and a desire to have every economic detail of the social life of our country held in a war time grip indefinitely, and obviously for purposes far beyond those of the transition from war to peace. The Leader of the House actually complained, as no man charged with the duty of leading the House of Commons has ever done in my recollection, that we were not having enough first-class rows. The whole attitude of the Leader of the House, seconded by the Minister of Health—I hope he will be allowed out of his dug-out before I finish—is to offend, wound, injure and provoke those over whom they have got so great a Parliamentary majority, but who nevertheless represent half the nation, and will shortly represent a large majority out of doors.
The Prime Minister may not be aware of all this, though he has had a long and intimate experience of the personalities and methods of both the Ministers to whom I have referred. The Prime Minister has not sought in any way to embitter or inflame our proceedings. Perhaps he will have to hurry up and toe the line this afternoon, but he has no interest in doing so. The Prime Minister's prevailing interest must be the success of his Administration. He does not need to grind his personal axe, and will probably be content if he can keep hold of it. We are, therefore, glad he is here and safely back. It is my first submission to the House and the country that the Government, through their leading mouthpieces in the House of Commons, and through their aggressive policy, (have deliberately sought to aggravate the division which unhappily exists in our country, and that not only their policy but their methods and their manners are intended to provoke and exacerbate. That is my first submission.
There is another theory which may be put forward to explain the Government's behaviour, or the behaviour of the Minis- 2532 ters who have acted in this way. They are under heavy pressure, behind the scenes, from their extremists to do more and go faster even than they themselves think possible. Unless they can show they are hurting, injuring, provoking their political opponents, they will not be able to placate their wild men, or control some odd elements that nestle under their wing. If that be so, they may at this moment be congratulating themselves on this Motion of Censure, and rejoicing that they have lured us into their trap. What ever the explanation may be, it leaves the Government convicted of the offence of faction for faction's sake, at a time when they have an immense duty to perform, and when they need the help of all parties for their large spheres of activity at home and abroad.
Last night the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Nally) drew an affecting picture of my personal position; the noble stag was dying, the curs were at his throat; his own friends behind him were hogs: and the hon. Member spoke of the pathos and tragedy of the scene. Let me reassure him that so far as my personal feelings are concerned, I only remain in politics because I think it my duty to try to prevent the great position we won in the war being cast away by folly, and worse than folly, on the morrow of our victory. The hoots and howls of the curs—the hounds, as the hon. Member for Bilston put it—do not worry me at all. So long' as I am acting from duty and conviction, I am indifferent to taunts and jeers. I think they will probably do me more good than harm. I must say that the maiden glance of the hon. Member for Bilston at the House of Commons should impress us somewhat with the unfavourable impression we produce upon him. Here are hogs, there are hounds. I trust that a longer experience of this Chamber will make him realise that both those branches of the animal kingdom have their virtues. I am not at all worried about anything that may be said about me. Nobody would attempt to take part in controversial politics and not expect to be attacked.
What I am deeply distressed about is the state of our affairs and the prospects ahead. Our economic plight is not only grave, but extremely perplexing. We have the enormous administrative task to fulfil of repatriating and demobilising the Armies, and changing over to peacetime 2533 industry. The housing shortage for the returning troops gapes upon us. Conditions are hard, the authority of the responsible trade union leaders is challenged in many disquieting ways. Abroad, our relations with the United States have become more distant, and those with Russia more obscure. We are told the Big Three are never to meet again, which I heard with great grief. As for the five Foreign Secretaries who were to prepare so many-things, all that seems to have fallen through. The condition of Europe is a nightmare. Fateful and difficult decisions await us in India.
I am not blaming the present Government for all this. The greater part was inherited, in the consequence of the war and in our faithful, unstinted and prolonged exertions for the common cause. But I wonder what would have been said if a Conservative or even a National Coalition Government had been in office and had no better showing to offer than what we see at present. Why should the Government choose this moment of all others in our history, or their life, to proclaim great new departures in political theory, and why should they try to stir far-reaching changes in every mode of thought and every walk in life? Why should they raise this great schism of militant Socialism in the land, and divide us with what must involve increasing bitter ness and lack of mutual comprehension with every further step they take? Can we afford an internal struggle of such a character, at such a time? Could there be a worse occasion for deep-seated organic changes in the life of Britain, now when she is exhausted and overburdened in a fearful degree? Certainly it is a moment peculiarly difficult. One would have thought we might at least have been allowed to recover normal mentality, that we might let people regain their ordinary homes after these strenuous years, and that at any rate there would have been reasonable restoration of our national life, before we were weakened and torn by the bitter political and social strife into which the Government or some Members of the Government seek to plunge us.
Certainly it was a very difficult and harassing inheritance for the new Ministry, but it was also a noble opportunity. Especially was this so after the swift defeat of Japan had cleared the way for the great steps of release and liberation and of 2534 transition from war to peace. If the Labour Party could have done this well, the country, realising all the difficulties of the task, would indeed have awarded them the meed of lasting praise. Why can they not, even now, set aside every impediment, and concentrate upon the splendid though formidable task which they have demanded and obtained from the nation the right to discharge? Alas, it is primarily a partisan and doctrinal triumph which they seek, and not that fame and honour which would come to them from a great national task rapidly, efficiently and brilliantly executed. It is upon them that the responsibility must lie for the growing division and consequent weakening of the nation. It is they who are the innovators, they who are the disturbers.
I should have thought that the first endeavour of responsible Ministers would be to secure the greatest measure of co-operation between all parties and all forms of national activity. I do not mean a coalition, but a concerted effort. It would take all our united strength to make our way out of the dangers and embarrassments by which we are surrounded and to give the masses of the people, who have done so well and endured so long, a fair chance of renewing their lives after the harsh sunderings of war. If I had obtained a substantial majority at the last Election my first thought would have been to seek the co-operation of the minority, and gather together the widest and strongest measure of agreement over the largest possible area. Very different is the treatment which has been meted out to us, and which has already produced party antagonism, bitter as anything I have seen in my long life of political conflict. I charge the Government with deliberately trying to exalt their partisan and faction interests at the cost not only of the national unity but of our recovery and of our vital interest. There is the foundation and the gravamen of this Motion of Censure.
For my part, I believe profoundly that the attempt to turn Great Britain into a Socialist State will, as it develops, produce widespread political strife, misery and ruin at home and that, if this at tempt involves nationalisation of all the means of production, distribution and exchange—to quote the orthodox phrase which I understand was reaffirmed at the Labour Party meeting in May —then this 2535 island will not be able to support above three-quarters of the population which now inhabits it. Not only is this the worst time for such experiments, but this country is the least fitted of all large communities to endure such a convulsion. I was pointing out the other day how intricate, delicate, complex and pre carious are our methods of gaining a living in a hard competitive world. We are not like Russia with its vast oceans of land to develop. We are an old, and, since the population expanded so largely, highly artificial country, more like Venice which built an empire on piles driven into the lagoons, or like Holland whose dykes keep out the sea, or like Egypt whose life is the Nile and irrigation. Here we have 48,000,000 of people and more than half of them must be fed from afar. Surely a measure of common prudence should regulate the actions of the British Government and restrain their triumph over their fellow countrymen.
I wish now to speak of the effect of these political party and ideological antagonisms, which the Government have caused, which I fear they feel it necessary to their internal vigour to foment, upon all the vast processes of trade and manufacture by which alone we live. Let me make it clear that it is the duty of every man in this country, wage-earner or employer, to do his best for the welfare and survival of the nation from day to day, irrespective of his political views or dislike or fear of the administration. If the bitterness which Socialist politicians are injecting into party and party life were to find its counterpart or its ally in the whole relations of capital and labour throughout the land, our misfortunes' would accumulate with a hideous momentum. Every effort must be made by capitalist employers, in every form of private enterprise, to do the best possible for their businesses and for the country under the conditions which prevail. They must not allow themselves to be deflected by the hostility shown to them and their class and their functions by Socialist Ministers. They must seek for the utmost possible production of which they are capable and which is permitted to them.
The Government for their part also have to face realities. If industry and enter prise are weighted down by colossal con- 2536 fiscatory wartime taxation it will not be able to revive. If industry and enterprise are fettered, hampered and hobbled at every step by an ever-spreading network of controls and regulations, and if every act of commerce is first to take taxation into account, and secondly, to obtain the innumerable permits required, there will be a vast loss or even arrest of energy at a time when we can least spare it. We have had all kinds of Governments in Britain, but never in this commercial trading island a Government which set itself out to stigmatise, and so far as they dare to eliminate, as if it were an abuse or even a crime, the profit motive by which the commercial affairs of the vast majority of human beings in almost every land have been regulated since the dawn of civilisation. There has never been a Government which set out to revive our properity on such a confidence-killing, impulse-sapping theory as that. Undoubtedly, if the warfare which the Government are carrying out against their opponents in Parliament is extended to the class and interest they dislike in industry they will, at this most critical juncture in our national existence, enforce an enormous handicap upon the whole productive, inventive and resilient element inherent in our race and culture.
I will now deal with the affairs of the four Ministers who are directly responsible for the key departments at home— the Minister responsible for demobilisation, the Minister responsible for housing, the Minister responsible for trade and the Minister responsible for our national solvency. Here my complaint touches not only failure through political prejudice, but failure through a lack of confidence and lack of management which has already slowed down the whole movement of the Government machine, except where partisan and doctrinal stimuli are at work. Surely the taproot of everything is demobilisation. Have the Government justified themselves upon this great task or not? We know well that they have changed their minds. Their original scheme, put forward with all their authority, has proved by their own ad mission and corrective action to be utterly out of relation to the problem. Very considerable concessions have been wrung from them by pressure which they resent, and by criticism which the Minister of Labour— who ought to be grateful—described as mischievous and irresponsible.
2537 What are the facts to-day? What is the first fact which stares us in the face? There are still upwards of 4,000,000 per sons detained by compulsion in the Armed Forces of the Crown. At what rate is this enormous total being reduced? We have been told that a rate of 12,000 a day has now been developed and will be maintained till the end of the year. That is certainly an improvement, but why, then, are we to prepare ourselves for a contraction of this rate to less than 9,000 in the New Year? Why in the New Year, when transport ought to be more abundant and there has been a long time to make arrangements for using transport efficiency? I ask specifically that this drop from 12,000 to 9,000 at the turn of the year should be prevented. I ask specifically that that step should be taken. What are the Americans doing? My right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttleton), in a massive and weighty opening speech yesterday, mentioned that in the three months after the end of the Japanese war the Americans demobilised at the rate of 35,000 a day. They are now demobilising at the rate of 50,000 per day as compared with 9,000 a day to which, we are told, unless something is done about it, we are to conform in the New Year. There is no excuse for our not demobilising at the same proportion ate rate as the United States. They are 2¾ times as numerous as we are, but their demobilisation is 5½times as fast, in fact double the British rate. As my right hon. Friend said, there is really no excuse for this. The distances over which the Americans have to repatriate large masses across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans are undoubtedly far greater in man miles than those with which we are concerned, having regard to the" immense body of troops in this country, and other great bodies separated from us only by the distances from Italy and Germany to this island.
No one would object, at the present time, to any man or woman being kept in the Forces who wishes to stay on, or for whom there is a job to do. But in the circumstances with which we are confronted, is it not absolute madness to keep very large numbers of people against their wish, on full pay and at great expense, doing nothing,' or toiling at artificially invented work? How will it help comparatively small bodies of men in the Far East, who have, to some extent to lag 2538 behind in demobilisation through failures in the Ministry of War Transport, to know that for each one of them, eight, nine 01 ten men in England, Italy or Germany are 'kept needlessly crunching the gravel of the barrack squares or gathering seaweed by the salt sea waves? What advantage can it be to us a year hence, to have kept many hundreds of thousands of men and women on the treadmill of compulsory idleness for one, two, three, four, five or even six months extra? Anyhow, a year or 18 months hence, even on the Government's programme, they will have been released. What will it have availed us to feel they have stood about all this time, making up at our expense, a sense less accumulation of man-days of uniformed unemployment?
On the other hand, how great is the need for these men and women. On every side, the cry for more labour arises, not only for key men but for the great body of soldiers, airmen and sailors who arc longed for in their homes and needed in their jobs, which are often waiting for them. I am well aware there is a counter case to this. I say, let the two cases be considered one against the other, and it will be only too plain where the balance of national advantage lies. We must do what I called the other day the greatest good to the greatest number. The Government have already departed, in important respects, from the Bevin scheme. Let preference in obtaining employment—I use the word preference deliberately, be cause my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Lonsdale Division (Sir I. Fraser), who is so much in touch with the British Legion and other bodies, says this is what they really care about—let preference in obtaining employment and other compensations be awarded to men retained, not deliberately but because of transport shortage or transport mismanagement beyond their proper order of release. But set the great mass free and above all set the women free as soon as they can be spared, f have never admitted for a moment that the principles of the Bevin scheme have an application in regard to women. If a woman is needed to allow a man of higher category to be released, it is another matter, but, to keep women needlessly, just because of tidiness, is, at this juncture, the quintessence of super-idiocy. I rest, in this matter, on the decisive figures that in January the Americans will be demobilising 50,000 2539 men a day and we 9,000. That figure has a vital bearing on world recovery, and on our position in world markets at this peculiarly difficult moment.
I turn to home industry. President Truman told us last week that within 60 days of the end of the war with Japan, 93 percent. of the munitions industry of the United States had already been converted from war to peace conditions. That is a prodigious fact; not only because of its static but even more because of its dynamic significance. What proportion of our munitions industry has been reconverted? It must be remembered that the end of the Japanese war meant much less to us and the end of the German war meant much more to us proportionately than to the United States. At the end of September, when America was 93 percent. converted, we were only 43 percent. Much vital time was evidently lost, to judge by the number of men and women still employed on supplies and equipment for the Forces, and by the end of this year, the Government hope to achieve 72 percent. reconversion. I recognise the improvement, and I under stand the difficulties, but it certainly is an astounding fact that, even at the end of this year, we shall be employing 670,000 more workers on making obsolete weapons of war, or adding obsolete weapons of war to the enormous piles, 'the mountain our piles, which exist more than six months after the German war is over, that we should be employing 670,000 more people than in the summer of 1939, when all these horrors were about to break out upon us.
Apart from the waste of labour, look at the waste of materials and fuel, light and power. I would rather give the people leave, than that they should be made to waste materials as well as insult their own souls and the honour and dignity of labour, by doing absolutely useless treadmill work. At any rate, whether in the demobilisation of the Armed Forces or in the reconversion of the munitions industry, there is an un doubted need for far greater effort, exertion and efficiency than we are receiving now and every spur like this Motion of Censure should be applied to the Government who, after having held out enormous expectations, have produced results, 2540 so meagre and disappointing as to lead us, day by day, nearer to disaster.
I come next to housing. I am glad to see the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health has emerged from the recess and taken his place on the fire-step. Contrary to the advice of the great Lord Bacon in his "Essay on Public Offices," the Minister of Health is consistently reflecting on his predecessor and dilating on the legacy of muddle and incompetency he has inherited from Mr. Sandys and Lord Portal. No doubt it is an attempt to excuse himself in advance, from the impending failure of his own administration. I do not deny that the right hon. Gentle man inherited a legacy from the past. It is a rich legacy of achievement and preparation. This legacy he has squandered with a jaunty profligacy which has rarely been equalled by a Minister who has still to make a reputation. Taking all the difficulties of the years between the wars, the British housebuilding industry grew in strength and efficiency until its output, in relation to the size of the population, was greater than that of any other country in the world. This highly developed housebuilding machine, and the network of well-equipped manufacturing industries which support it and are almost inextricably interwoven with it, are part of the right hon. Gentleman's legacy.
The policy of the Coalition Government —not a Conservative Government—was to enlist the help of all housebuilding agencies of every kind. In addition to the emergency factory-made temporary-houses, and to the normal houses built by local authorities, we intended, as soon as we were free from the day to day burden of the war at its peak—as soon as we got the men—to mobilise the full experience, initiative and organisation of the independent free enterprise house builders, including the small builder, and to produce lower priced houses both to sell and to let. The present Government, however, have decided to deny all financial assistance to this very important section of the building industry, and to restrict their scope in all directions. Everything, in fact, is being done to make it more difficult for the independent builder to produce any large number of houses, and to place him at a disadvantage in relation to the heavily subsidised local authority. Moreover, when it comes to the allocation of labour and materials, the independent house- 2541 builder is evidently to be kept at the back of the queue. Government supporters, new-comers and experienced Parliamentarians alike, had better face this blunt fact. Without liberating, using, and encouraging the private, capitalist, profit seeking, housebuilding industry to the full, as well as all other agencies, the housing problem will not be solved, and the people will suffer.
The Minister of Health, having decided to stake all on the local authorities, would surely do well to give them more practical evidence of his confidence in them. At present, they are, so I am told, ham strung and restricted at every turn by the involved procedure of licences and approvals which have to be obtained from Government Departments, before the first brick can be laid. If free enterprise house building is to be chilled and checked to the utmost, cannot the local authorities be given the freedom to get on with the overwhelming task which has been piled upon them? Housing was put in the very forefront of the Labour Party's election campaign. Socialist speakers up and down the country told the electors that their party would know how to build houses at a rate undreamt of under Conservative administrations.If the Labour Party is returned to power, housing can be dealt with in a fortnight.According to the "Western Daily Press" of 23rd June, this was uttered by the President of the Board of Trade. [Interruption.] Well, he must have said something, you know.
§ The President of the Board of Trade (Sir Stafford Cripps)
The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly right. I said some thing, but not that.
§ Mr. Churchill
The right hon. Gentle man is very prudent in not endeavouring to inform us of the actual words, which he undoubtedly did use, and which were of so sanguine a nature as to give the impression that he was jumping at office like a dog at a bone. "Five million houses in quick time," was the promise of the Foreign Secretary. Let us see what progress there is to report. Until the German war was over and the builders were released, no Government could have produced any substantial number of completed permanent houses. We should, however, have expected to see by now signs of permanent house building start- 2542 ing up on an appreciable scale through out the country, whereas, as every one knows, it is still a very rare event to see a permanent house in course of construction.
The Minister of Health has allowed four months of excellent building weather to slip away. Instead of helping the house building industry to start up again, he has been what is called "shadow boxing,'' against his own pet bugbear. All his opponents are racketeers, profiteers, monopolists, ring makers, and no doubt it may be that in a short time we shall be called also Fascist beasts. We have not come to that yet. Instead of tackling this essentially practical task in a responsible and objective manner, he has been swayed at the start by partisan spite and prejudice and by the hope of exploiting these vices to his own personal political ambitions. Both the industry and the local authorities have been waiting for a precise statement of the Government's policy and programme. Instead, the right hon. Gentleman's repeated evasions and vague threats have created a haze of uncertainty and suspicion, destroying confidence and paralysing initiative. Not only has he deprived himself of the most experienced sections of the housebuilding industry but he has insulted and discouraged the great building societies, who, before the war, did so much to help people with small means to buy their own homes. All their historic work at a time when thought was not at all advanced on social subjects is dismissed as mere money lending.
While the right hon. Gentleman de livers lectures about the need for low housing costs, he has allowed the Cripps temporary bungalow to creep up to a price beyond the maximum which he allows for a full-size permanent brick house. He has callously discarded the Rural Housing Act, which provided financial assistance for the reconditioning of cottages for agricultural workers. In stead, he promises at some unspecified date to build prefabricated skyscrapers over the countryside. The right hon. Gentleman threatened us the other night with the disclosure of certain scandals if we asked questions about figures— "putrefying corpses," he called them—for which his predecessors, presumably Mr. Sandys and Lord Portal, were responsible. It is his duty to produce these facts. We cannot have a Minister of 2543 Health living among a lot of putrefying corpses. Anything would be better for these ex-Ministers, I am sure, than receiving a favour from the right hon. Gentleman. I am sure they would say with the great Duke of Wellington, when he was blackmailed by a harlot, "Publish and be damned." No doubt inspired by their colleague's example, the Minister of Works and the Minister of Supply have been busily spreading doubt and dismay throughout the whole of the building materials industry. They have announced in an airy fashion that they intend to go in for the manufacture and distribution of building materials in a big way, a ruthless State competition with the existing industry of the country. When this important announcement was made the building materials manufacturers over a very wide area of production had still not been informed of the articles they were to be expected to produce, or what materials the Government themselves intended to manufacture. In these circumstances it will not be surprising if materials and components of the right kind are not ready when they come to be needed.
The Government have reaffirmed the policy which I declared in my day of tackling house building with the vigour of a military operation. I stand by that. The first essential of a military operation is to decide upon your objective. The Government have never made up their mind on the number of houses they hope to build by given dates, or, if they have, they are ashamed to publish the figure. The Minister of Health said, indeed, in one of his expansive and informative moments, that in the first 15 months after the war he would build very many more houses than were built by the Coalition Government after the last war. He did not mention, I notice, that the Minister of Health during most of that period was his colleague in the present Government, Lord Addison, who was sacked for his performance; nor did he mention that in the 15 months following the 1918 Armistice only about 1,000 houses? Were built throughout the land. Of course, if that is the yard stick by which the Government are going to measure their achievements, they certainly will not be accused of aiming too high.
2544 The main difference between the situation now and the situation in 1918 is that the late Coalition Government, profiting by the experiences of the last war, made many of the necessary preparations for re starting house building long before hostilities ceased. Does the Prime Minister wish to pass a Vote of Censure on him self? I am speaking of the Coalition Government, of which he was a most important Member, and I think it is true to say that many of the necessary preparations were made long before hostilities ceased. The result was that when the war came to an end last summer most of the essential legislation was already passed, and great numbers of actual building sites had already been cleared or approved and in many cases were already in course of development. The objective of the Coalition Government was to provide 300,000 permanent houses, built or building, within two years of the end of the German war. This programme was ridiculed by the Lord Privy Seal before the Election. He called it "chicken food." However, now that the election is over a new name is required, and the Minister of Health presents us with the term '' crystal gazing." From chicken food to crystal gazing. All these tactics will be ex posed by events at no distant date, and I say today that unless the right hon. Gentleman changes his policy and methods and moves without the slightest delay, he will be as great a curse to this country in time of peace, as he was a squalid nuisance in time of war.
The course of my remarks now reaches the President of the Board of Trade. Everyone knows the distinguished talents which the right hon. Gentleman brings unstintedly to the services of his fellow-countrymen. No one had made more sustained exertions to contribute to the common pot and few take less out of it than he does. I have got ray vegetarian too, my honoured friend Lord Cherwell. These ethereal beings certainly do produce a very high level and a very great volume of intellectual output, with the minimum of working costs in fuel. When I learned that the right hon. Gentleman opposite had been sent to the Board of Trade I thought to myself, "If he will only deal with this mighty business in a matter-of-fact, practical spirit, to produce definite results in a comparatively short space of time, he may render an enormous service 2545 to us all and even get us round the corner." I have not yet abandoned my hopes, though certainly up to the present moment his career at the Board of Trade has not only been disappointing to his friends, but disastrous to us all.
The right hon. Gentleman must dismiss from his mind the idea that it is within the power or thought of any human being at the present time, in the present organisation of society and with the present nature of man, to regulate in detail the entire movement and process by which our 48,000,000 people can earn their daily bread. He must clear his conscience of the awful question he has to ask himself so many times a day, "In giving this or that decision, am I betraying Socialism or not?" If he would only rid himself of these obsessions and inhibitions he could still be of great value to the fortunes of Britain. Human beings, happily for them, do not have to direct all their bodily functions themselves. They do not have to plan in advance how many heartbeats they are to have in the next 24 hours or what relation their temperature or blood pressure would bear to those heartbeats. They do not have to decide, as a part of the daily routine, what secretions are to be made by the liver or kidneys. No official quota is set for lymph or bile. Otherwise I fear the President of the Board of Trade would find he had over drawn his account very much. Providence has relegated these problems to the subconscious mind and left the commanding sphere to human reason.
Let the President of the Board of Trade reassure himself. We can breathe without him, if he will permit us. The country will never be without its volitions and impulses if only the Government will let it start. I assert that the revival of this country is at this moment being stopped, stifled, even strangled, by the resolve of the Board of Trade, followed by other cognate Departments of the Government, to regulate everything. Why can they not realise that the impulse and volume of national productive ingenuity and progress is overwhelmingly greater and far more fertile than anything that can be produced by Government officials or party planners? If the right hon. Gentleman would only realise the limitations of beneficial Government functions, if he would not harden his heart, like Pharaoh, and would set the people free, half his problems would at least end themselves. From 2546 every side we hear the complaint that the hands of initiative and enterprise are tied, and that permits have to be obtained for everything even in the smallest details.
The President of the Board of Trade is trying to teach all the trades in the country how they should get back their business. He is rapidly gaining half-knowledge over a vast field. He wishes to hold everything gripped and frozen until he can form a general view and reconcile that view with the orthodox tenets of his Socialist religion. Mean-while, the days, weeks and months are slipping away. It was with a chill that I read that in the second quarter after the end of the German war, our exports had not leapt up as enormously as one had hoped, but had actually fallen below the level of the previous quarter. I hope there is an explanation for that. With the highest ideals, with the finest intelligence and the best intentions, the right hon. Gentleman may inflict upon this country injuries which will long last and will, as they bite deeper, bring ever greater hardship to the mass of the weekly wage earners whom he sincerely desires to help.
The right hon. Gentleman has greatly disheartened, and still more severely hampered, the productive commercial energies of our people, and his Socialistic tenets have exercised an undue bias upon him in all his work. After all, so far as we know, in the next two, three, four or five years, the Government must rely upon private enterprise for between 80 and 90 percent. of their entire production from which the Chancellor of the Exchequer draws his revenue, and an even higher proportion rules in the export field. Why, then, harry and maltreat these thousand and one delicate and complicated productive processes? What is the use of adhering to a system of 80 percent. Private enterprise for the next five years, and then declaring that the profit motive is a form of moral delinquency? Fancy a Government in a position of such economic peril and stress relying for 80 per cent. of the national production upon private enterprise, and then setting themselves to denounce and, if possible, destroy the mainspring 01 private enter prise and, one of the main tests of its efficiency generally, private profit and general consequential benefit. The right hon. Gentleman propounded an argument 2547 from a sentence of mine taken from the report of my speech some days ago:Whoever thought of taking the home trade for export until the home market was satisfied?I never uttered such a sentence as that. The right hon. Gentleman got it from "The Times," and in these days of paper shortage all reports are telescoped. This particular jumble was made out of several sentences and bears no relation to any thing I have said or to anything which had a coherent meaning. I will not weary the House with what I actually did say, because "The Times" newspaper has printed the proper text, but I stand by what I said, and it in no way contradicts any other statement I made about the vital importance of the export trade at the present time, or the exceptional and fleeting opportunities which may be opened in that field. All these matters are very urgent.
I referred a little while ago to Mr. Truman's statement. There is another point which should not be overlooked. President Truman said that by the middle of 1946 the metal working trades of the United States would be producing by June next year two and a half times their 1939 rate—by "rate" I presume is meant "volume"—of output of consumer goods. There is not a single peacetime manufactory in Britain which will be producing 100 percent., and many will be far short of 60 and 70 percent. at that date. All this has its bearing on our power to reoccupy or retain the markets we have long held, and by which we have paid for our vital imports. The matter is very urgent indeed. We can see what the competition is going to be from this mighty community across the ocean, in all the neutral markets and markets on which we depend for our very daily bread.
Coming to this business of planning, the President of the Board of Trade, sup ported by his colleagues, demands a nationalised, planned, economic, social and financial policy. No one will deny that the Government have a great part to play in modern life and international trade. I stand by my declaration of 1943, some part of which was quoted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) yesterday. But are there not some very large questions which require State plans and Cabi- 2548 net decisions, of which we have not heard much? Instead of devoting their energies to questions of ownership and of day-to-day fiddling with the multitudinous activities of this island I would invite the Ministers to pay some attention to the real economic problems facing this country and to try to formulate some plan for their solution. What, for instance, is their wages policy? There are economic arguments for keeping wages down and there are social arguments for letting them rise, although one thing is certainly wrong, and that is to allow decisions to be reached haphazardly and disconnectedly, as is apparently taking place now. If the Government believe in planning, let them plan here.
Then there is the export problem. In stead of upbraiding the motoring industry, why does not the President of the Board of Trade take the responsibility for evolving an export policy of his own and relating it to the internal trade of the industry, an internal trade sufficient to sustain it, and put his plans forward for everyone to see? The only plan that I have heard put forward was received with howls of "Tripe" from his assembled hosts—a form of hospitality which I cannot recommend and cannot commend, and which, in any case, would be of no use to him. What do the Government plan in capital policy? From where are the resources coming for all the projects of industrial development and much else that are in the air and that are being spoken of? A Government can usually raise money and can always print it, but the labour and materials represented by the money come in a different category. Labour and the savings of the community are the key. The prewar unemployed have been absorbed, and possibly some of the women who have been drawn into industry will stay. We shall be very lucky if we have as much as a million more at work than we had in 1938.
How, then, do the projects which are afoot relate to our resources? How can our resources and saving power be expanded and be made more fertile in order to meet our resources? The comments of the planners upon this situation would certainly be of interest and possibly of value. We have had no information, nor even sensible statement, from Ministers on any of these matters. The beginning of our story is the release of manpower. 2549 The end of our tale is finance. When we come to the discussions on the Budget next year, it will be necessary to unfold in a searching manner what other countries undoubtedly already know, namely, our most difficult financial position. Ours is the only country which was for almost six years in the war and which fought with its utmost strength in the workshops and in the field through all that awful peril. Very early in the days of the National Government the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Kingsley Wood, raised direct taxation as a war time measure to -levels never attempted by any other modern society and to levels which cannot be surpassed, because on the higher ranges of income the amount is a complete confiscation. Every other form of taxation was also raised, and the financial conduct of the war stood at a level of strictness and severity unequalled in any other country or at any time. It is quite impossible that such scales of taxation should be maintained after the dire compulsions of war have passed away.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has certainly clone nothing to give confidence to the taxpayer or the investor, and, if he will allow me to say so, he has shown an altogether undue and unpleasant propensity to win party cheers by grinning and gloating over harsh financial measures. He speaks as if he had an in come of £5,500,000,000 a year from which he has been graciously pleased to make an independent gift to the nation in his interim Budget of a net £90,000,000, and next year, no doubt, there will be a further benefit to come. But in the main, he plans to maintain the wartime taxes as a permanent feature of our economic life. It will be vain to look for trade revival or for the return of a general measure of easement or wellbeing in the nation as a whole. First of all, the right hon. Gentleman who holds the proud position of Chancellor of the Exchequer should insist upon the return of the man power to civil life, and strike these millions of men and women off the useless charge account of the State. Next he should aim at giving to the taxpayer large scale and massive relief, both direct and indirect, both small and large. He should force the President of the Board of Trade to stimulate internal production as well as export trade, and thus secure at all costs some output in goods and desirable 2550 Commodities to absorb the hard won savings and purchasing power of the people. Perhaps he would not get so many cheers for this as he does in his policy of soaking the rich, so far as they exist, but a year or two hence he may win a reward in the respect of those who are acquainted with his problems and in the obvious relief in the life of the broad masses of the people. No reduction of taxation can be secured apart from a great reduction of expenditure.
Is it not a shocking thing—and this is one of the elements which led us to our Motion—that out of £5,500,000,000 provided by Parliament for the purposes of Cull scale war against Germany and Japan in the present financial year, only £200,000,000 should be saved when the war will have lasted for the equivalent of three or four months only out of the 12? Of course, if you keep one and a half million men drumming their heels when they should be recreating our vanished wealth it is easy to cast away the public treasure. However—this is a very small divagation—there is one economy which has been effected, and which might well have been dispensed with, and that is the £500 which the Government have secured by selling Hitler's bust to a parcel of malignant crackpots. I think that with all the millions flowing out, we might have denied ourselves that small appropriation in aid. Of course, if trade and industry are so hampered, disturbed and alarmed that their life thrust is diminished or arrested, it does not matter how high the taxes are pitched, the revenue will gain no advantage, or gain an advantage in an inflated currency alone.
We shall hear tonight what the Government have settled about the American loan. I trust, indeed, that agreement has been reached, but this above all other things I would say: Such a loan would give us, at the best, a couple of years' easement in our vital and primary import needs. We should be buying two years of grace, but for what? To set our house in order and to get our life energies on the move. If the Government are to borrow from the United States, and if strict terms are imposed by the United States, all the more is there an obligation upon Ministers to deal with our affairs upon their merits and on the dead level, and to clear away all this party and doctrinal trash and rubbish in these 2551 perilous days. Otherwise we shall come to the end of these 'two years with uncommon swiftness, and find ourselves in a position most hateful, namely, of being dependent upon the kindness, which may or may not be forthcoming, of a foreign Power.
As Leader of the Opposition, I have a very difficult task to discharge. I cannot bear to see so much squandered that has been so hard won, without making an effort to reverse the process. The Government reproach us with making their task more difficult, but what do they expect? Can we, with our convictions, as honourable men, as a great party in the State, afford, for the sake of appearances of unity, to acquiesce in a destructive downward trend in all our affairs at home and abroad? Arc we not bound in honour to give our warnings in good time about the future, and to record our censure on the present? Would we not be blame worthy before history if we sat supine and silent, while one folly and neglect is piled on top of another, and much that we fought for together is lost or frittered away? The only excuse for silence and inaction would be despair, and despair is not to be tolerated among Britons. Moreover, I am as firmly convinced as I was in 1940, that we have our future in our own hands, that we are still "masters of our fate and captains of our soul." But reflecting on all we have overcome, and, by the mercy of Providence, survived, I cannot believe that we shall find ourselves destroyed by incompetence or partisanship. In order that Great Britain may enjoy the glory she has won, and deserved, I call upon all who value her name and fame to drive home, before it is too late, by a Vote of Censure, the hard truths of the time upon a quite well-meaning, but misguided and inactive Government.
§ 4.33 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition opened today on a quiet note of injured innocence. We were the people, according to him, who had driven this public-spirited Opposition into putting down a Motion of Censure, we were the people who had driven a wedge between the parties in the State. I have not forgotten the right hon. Gentleman's broadcast at the beginning of the Election, nor have the people of this country. 2552 That was when any partisan tone was introduced, and I have also had the plea sure of reading the right hon. Gentleman's speech the other day to his party. It was a very different style of speech from that which we have had this after noon. The burden of the right hon. Gentleman's speech is this: He said: Why, when you were elected to carry out a Socialist programme, did you not carry out a Conservative programme? To the right hon. Gentleman everything that is Conservative is normal, anything that sees a changing world and wishes to change it must be wrong. We are always asked to rally round, to be patriotic and keep things as they are. We were not returned for that purpose.
The right hon. Gentleman earned, rightly, the respect of this country as a great man who inspired our fighting Forces. Today, quite rightly, on a Vote of Censure, he is coming forward as a partisan and his speech, although studiously couched in terms to suggest that he was only considering the good of the country, was, in fact, an entirely partisan speech. Anybody who differed from him was following some fetish, but whenever he spoke and whenever he suggested we should carry on the good old Conservative policies, he was speaking for the nation. We do not accept that.
I have seen a number of Motions of Censure in this House and I have moved a good number myself, but this is a very peculiar one, when one looks at its origin, because the right hon. Gentleman seemed to suggest that the Opposition had been stung to action by the attitude of my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, and stung to action by the Government having extended certain necessary Regulations, after a great many other Regulations had been swept away, from two years to five years. The Motion of Censure did not arise out of that at all. As a matter of fact, its inception was due to an incident in this House when the bowling on the Opposition side had been temporarily entrusted to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton). Unfortunately, the occasion was a statement, not announcing a new and extended programme of Socialism— that we have already had in the King's Speech—but stating exactly where the limits of that programme were to be, and reassuring private enterprise that it could 2553 go ahead because they were not being taken over. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot bowled a few wides; he was then no-balled by Mr. Speaker for trying to deal with matters of legislation upon the Adjournment, and he got a severer reproof from the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg). There-after, it became quite a critical position. The young Conservatives were followed up by a Member of light and leading, the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) who passed some very unpleasant comments, I understand, at the Conservative Conference. He is, as we know, a faithful exponent of one who has been described as the conscience of the Conservative Party, though himself not exactly a still small voice—Lord Beaverbrook. Faced with this problem obviously some thing had to be done. There was discontent. I have known it before in my time, the criticism of the back benches against the front benches.
The first idea was to follow up the line of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot and have an attack on nationalisation, but it was thought better to deck this rather academic sentiment with a few references to general discontent which would give all Members of the Opposition some talking points. Meantime, the right hon. Gentleman had, at the Conservative Party meeting, given the key note. We all agree that it is a good thing to have an active and well-knit Opposition and, therefore, I am not the least surprised that this opportunity has been taken, and no one will grudge the Opposition a couple of days to get together.
The main attack has been delivered against the Socialist policy on which we stood at the Election, but, before dealing with that issue, 1 would like to say a word or two about some of the trimmings. The right hon. Gentleman gave us a great survey. He dealt with a number of subjects. My only regret is that he was not there dealing with those subjects at the proper time. He dealt with finance. We have just had a Finance Bill. We have had a Budget, and all those points could have been made most effectively there. There have been many Debates on housing. Why could not these points have been made then? There have been Debates on trade and industry, and plenty of Debates on demobilisation. It would be better if these were made on 2554 the regular Debates which come along in the House. His followers could have done their cheering not just once a fortnight but every day in the fight in the House, and the appropriate Minister would then have got up and answered it. But we have had this kind of omni bus Motion. I do not intend to deal at any length with the Board of Trade questions. I think—and I think most people think—that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade dealt very effectively with them.
I would like to turn, therefore, first of all, to a matter which the right hon. Gentleman has made the basis of his whole position, and that is, demobilisation—a very difficult and dangerous question, and no one knows more of its dangers and difficulties than the right hon. Gentleman opposite. I heard him half a dozen times describe the scenes which took place at the end of the first world war. What he told me then made a deep impression on me. I and my colleagues in the General Election campaign took every opportunity to stress the need for sticking closely to an agreed scheme. [Interruption..] Take any speech I made, and hon. Members will find that I said that. In his book, "The Aftermath," the right hon. Gentleman described graphically how fatal was the cost of yielding to the clamour of interested per sons to release particular categories of men. The House of Commons was then full of representatives of big business interests and they clamoured for the men they wanted. Unfortunately, the scheme was based mainly on, what? On the release of key men. On just what the right hon. Gentleman has been putting up: Do not worry about the feelings of the men, you must get on with trade and industry. The right hon. Gentleman says in his book:The prime object was, naturally, the re starting of industry, and questions of the feelings and discipline of the troops themselves were not accorded proper weight.What was the result? Chaos, mutiny, dangerous scenes everywhere. The right hon. Gentleman had to face them, and he did face them, and he did meet them. Let us just see how he met them. He adopted certain proposals. He sets them out in his book. First of all:Soldiers as a general rule should only be released from the Front in accordance with age and length of service. Everyone must take their turn in accordance with this order2555 That is precisely what we are doing; that is precisely the plan that was adopted, with the strong support of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, by the Coalition Government. I have not heard—I have listened to a number of speeches—any experienced ex-Serviceman in this House, from either side of the House, suggest that it is wise to depart from it. And yet the complaint against it is that you must not stick to that plan. If you have people idle in any way, then rush them out, no matter what the feelings of the men. The second point of the right hon. Gentleman was that the pay of the Army must be increased. Fortunately, the Government of which we were both Members took steps to increase pay, without waiting for a mutiny. Thirdly:Young lads must be retained compulsorily and sent abroad, to release the men who have foughtAgain, precisely the policy we are following. The right hon. Gentleman claims, with justice, that those measures restored the situation. We pledged our word to the troops. Now we are urged to depart from it. I say that if the right hon. Gentleman were in office and if he had the responsibilities of troops overseas in many parts of the world—in pretty critical and unpleasant situations many of them—I am quite certain that he would do nothing to suggest that the Government were breaking their word. He would be the very first to insist upon sticking to the plan. I know, from abundant letters from men overseas and from others, that they demand not immediate return; they demand a just and equitable scheme of demobilisation. The right hon. Gentleman was responsible at the end of the last war. He laid down that scheme. Let us see what he accomplished. He took, I think, a justifiable pride in his achievements. He says that, for a period of nearly six months we managed an average of 10,000 a day discharged to civil life. A very good record. Seventy thousand men a week. Yet this despised Government that is said to lag so far behind, well, we are doing 12,000 a day, 100,000 a week, and that is going to continue, I tell the right hon. Gentleman. It is not ending at the end of the year. It is being carried on. On his own showing—
§ Mr. Churchill
We are glad to hear that quite clearly. We do not drop from 12,000 to 9,000 at the end of the year?
§ The Prime Minister
Yes. I am pointing out to the House that at the present we are doing better, very much better, 12,000 against 10,000, than what he said he did. What was the position at the end of the last war?
§ The Prime Minister
I do not think so. The men there were much more easily brought across. They were only just across on the Continent. The difficulties of shipping were nothing like what they are today. I claim, therefore, that this is very largely a stunt. In the same way, Class B releases were difficult. The right hon. Gentleman found at the end of the last war how difficult it is to have special releases for special men without upsetting the rest. We have been working on that principle, the application of which has been improved. The right hon. Gentleman rather sneered that we had managed to alter things. After all, we have to watch events and see how they move, shipping changes and the like. There has been a constant acceleration of the demobilisation programme; it has been stepped up, and it is being stepped up again today. In the same way, Class B releases were largely held back through the unwillingness of the men to accept it, but conditions have now been made better, and the releases are actually today between 10 percent. and 15 percent. of the Class A.
I claim that just here is one of the points where I should like to have more of the spirit of which the right hon. Gentleman talked, that is of all trying to help in this difficult situation. In a matter of this kind there are thousands of people with their family feelings, thousands of troops longing to get home. It does not rest with anybody to make vague statements about "incredible slowness" and all the rest of it. It is not merely a matter of home policy, either. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that one of the things that hampered the Government immediately after the last war was that they had not any troops to send anywhere. The whole thing was in a state of flux. We have to be very careful in 2557 dealing with these things, and look at the foreign situation as well as the home situation. These releases are being done on a carefully-thought-out plan, I must say a much better plan than at the end Of the first world war, and a great deal more consideration is being shown to the men who fought. At the end of the last war they were thrown out with a fortnight's pay and the key of the street, and endless bitterness arose from the way in which they were dismissed after the last war. We have our record; 1,500,000 will be discharged by the end of the year. I ark the right hon Gentleman, Does he want us to scrap this plan? Does he want us to keep this plan —on nominally but sap it away so that it becomes nugatory by allowing all kinds of exceptions?— [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."]— Does the right hon. Gentleman want us to scrap the basis of the Bevin plan of age and length of service?
§ Mr. Churchill
It is difficult to answer in a few words. There is great difference in the situation now and the one which we had after the last war. After the last war we had no people East of Suez, but we had great problems too in one sphere. What has come to be a great difficulty in the present situation is that we have a comparatively small number of men far off beyond Suez in the East, and that is holding up an otherwise perfectly normal rate of discharge which would be possible in all the other theatres. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] The new question is, how far is it possible to release those from the nearer theatres— [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer "]—and how long must great numbers be kept waiting about, because of the great difficulty of releasing a very few from the distance?
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman has pointed out that conditions have changed, because the Japanese war has come to an end, but this position, which was adopted by the late Government, was under the general idea that the Japanese war would continue and that you would have people there and you would have people at home; yet that position was strongly put by the right hon. Gentleman about the morale of the men, and that we must maintain it. Believe me, the need for keeping up the morale of men who are scattered all over Asia and elsewhere is just as strong.
§ The Prime Minister
And then the question is as to shipping. It is easy to say there are ships. We have scoured the place for ships. We have managed to speed it up. The right hon. Gentle man knows that demobilisation is not just a question of pulling out men here and there. You have to think of the efficiency of the units when rapidly taking away all the older men and all the rest of it. I do not need to tell the right hon. Gentle man that it is not an easy process and therefore people should not talk lightly about it.
The next point I would like to take up with the right hon. Gentleman is one which—I hope I have the quotation correctly, I only depended on "The Times" —occurs in part of his speech when he was speaking among friends. He said:Every effort is being made by the Socialist Government to restrain and diminish the purchasing or consuming power of the public; spending must be damped down or there might be the danger of inflation.The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think this was very wrong of us. I would like to stress the words of the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) on the Budget:I entirely agree that it is right, prudent and proper to hold back purchasing power as far as possible until supplies of goods are more freely available." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th October, 1945; Vol. 414, c. 2017.]A Paper was issued by the late Government. I am sure that it is familiar to the right hon. Gentleman. It was called "Employment Policy." It saidThe danger will come when people relax from the discipline and strain of war and look round for opportunities to spend the money they have saved. If there were then a scramble to buy while there was still a shortage of goods prices would rise. This would mean an inflation boom bringing with it social injustices and economic disturbances.The right hon. Gentleman suggested that all of this was due to a fad of the Socialists for austerity. He said:It is not the speedy recovery of our country's trade and industry. According to the Government, when we have got all this austerity, we do not get a revival, we only get to the half-baked nationalisation plans of the Socialist doctrinaires.Well, it was not "according to the Government." There is not a word of truth in the statement. The right hon. 2559 Gentleman says, quite rightly, that the remedy is increased production. It is all very well to throw that out at a Party meeting or in this House on a Motion of Censure, but let us sec the more considered language of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues in the White Paper:Peace-time production like war production will necessarily take some time to get into its stride….Civilian production when it is resumed may concentrate on the wrong things, from the point of view of national needs.The right hon. Gentleman says, in that breezy way of his, "Look at the United States of America, amighty evolution taking place in a violent, convulsive, passionate manner, which causes great commotion and disturbance, but which has already led to an enormous increase, in output of necessary things for the home market with an immense, ever-growing overspill for foreign exports.But has it? This is what a woman reporter of the "Sunday Times" says—and this is from New York—Purchasers are pushing notes across the counters for luxury items ranging from ruby-tipped hat-pins costing £50 to Piper Cub aeroplanes ….Women run their hands lovingly over the sensuous smoothness of mink-lined mink coats—reversible fur—with, the equally fanciful price-tag of£3,000. At a nearby salon a tiny perfume ampule, set with sapphires, was selling for£75 … Despite the 'get it at any price' psychology"—and despite the right hon. Gentleman's confidence, I might add—of the first peacetime Christmas since 1940, real shortages exist in many fields. Would-be buyers of men's clothing, children's toys and household appliances are met by harassed store-owners' vague talk of slowed reconversion, and bare shelves.In every industry in this country catering for the ordinary simple people's wants, there has been a steady increase of labour and of output. I freely admit that we have not done anything about mink coats or sapphire ampules. It is so easy to suggest that nothing is being done. Take the furniture industry: a rise in the labour force of 4,000 in two months; production of utility units today is over 50 percent. above the monthly average in the first half of the year. In the carpet industry the labour increase was more than 50 percent between May and October, and production for the present quarter is 40 percent. up on the last quarter. What is the picture we get from the other side? And let me say that that kind of thing does not do us any good 2560 abroad and I should suggest that right hon. Gentlemen who believe in and want to support the foreign polio of this country should not cry "stinking fish" all the time. In the linoleum industry, the labour force is 25 percent. higher. So I might go on the whole way— clothing, hosiery, cotton, all those things which are just the simple things that people want.
I give another fact not quite realised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot. He complained that the labour force in the heavy electrical industry had fallen since the end of the Japanese war. I know he has only recently taken over, but he must realise that this fall is the measure of the cut the Government has made in munitions production. It completely contradicts the complaint he made of the slowness in cut ting munitions production. The hard fact is that the labour force in the munitions industries is going rapidly and steadily down, and the labour force in civilian industries is going rapidly and steadily up. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about factory building. My right hon. Friend the President of the' Board of Trade dealt with all those hampering restrictions invented by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. [HON. MEMBERS: ''No."] Oh, yes. I am quite aware that in the war we were not erecting factories, but this was provision for the post war period. He appears to be unaware that 80- new factories are being built at this moment in the development areas.
Let me turn for a moment to finance, a subject on which I move with some delicacy—I am not even as much at ease perhaps as the right hon. Gentleman opposite. He said that at least £800,000,000 could have been saved this year by sensible, vigorous administration of our finances.
§ The Prime Minister
Yes—by setting free at an early date millions of men and women now kept in unemployment. I should like to know whether there is any basis for that figure. Any one can say ££ 800,000,000, or even £1,600,000,000, but where does it come from? Was it given to him by the distinguished physicist who supplies him with economic information? I would ask whether, in rendering that figure, he has taken into account all the additional expenditure which arises on the 2561 termination of a war. Let us look at the facts. Demobilisation charges do not stop directly men are demobilised. There is leave of eight weeks, plus foreign service leave, during which they draw pay and allowances. They are paid their war gratuities. Does he want to cut that off, out of the £800,000,000? This is actually an increase in expenditure, and for the Army alone this amounts to£100,000,000 in the current year. You cannot escape that. As regards munitions, despite substantial progress payments, when a con tract is terminated, arrears of payment fall due, and that is a very large item. Then we have the cost of a very large haul of prisoners—he has forgotten that. There is requisitioned property, which when vacated involves heavy compensation. There is Lend-Lease, which ceased at the end of the war. For food alone there is an additional charge of £150,000,000, as the direct consequence of the termination of hostilities. This is not all, as the right hon. Gentleman said, paying people for doing nothing. They are putting up houses and factories in the development areas, for returning Servicemen. All those things are of the nature of capital investment by the community. I dare say these were not noticed.
Estimates will be presented next year in the House and we shall be able to take them in detail. But, as a matter of fact, reductions in expenditure are being tackled vigorously. Let me say here that I do not believe anybody would imagine that directly a war stops you can stop all munition making. Certain supplies have to go on; you cannot close the whole thing straight away, and it is not always worth while closing it straight away. In spite of that, Ministry of Supply expenditure in August, September and October was 40 percent, lower than for the corresponding months in 1944. Eleven thousand five hundred Ministry of Sup ply contracts were immediately terminated and 16,000 were allowed to run out. From the picture that is painted, one would think everything was going on as before. On our naval construction, mainly owing to cancellation since VI Day, a saving of over £70,000,000 will be achieved. At the end of the war the Treasury immediately issued instructions for a strict review of expenditure. Why-should the right hon. Gentleman imagine that because my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer prudently 2562 took a Vote of Credit to cover the whole period, that necessarily means that it will be spent?
Having dealt with that, I do not think I need say very much about the housing position, which has been very fully ex pounded in Debates in this House. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health has replied to these points over and over again, and it is not true that when we came in everything was fit for a start. There were grave difficulties; in particular there were key men who were not out of the Forces, and you have to have some key men, architects and the rest. Also let me say that it is not easy to start get ting a vast number of houses up when you are coming on into the winter season. You cannot expect to see them all finished. But this point has been dealt with so often in so many housing De bates that I do not want to keep the House on it.
I must turn now to the right hon. Gentleman's main indictment:these gloomy vultures of nationalisation hovering over our basic industries.I have no doubt the right hon. Gentle man knows all about vultures. The vultures never fed on him because he kept alive, fortunately for us all; vultures feed on rotten carrion. Is it his view that our basic industries arc so rotten that they attract the vultures? Is that his view of private enterprise? He talks about growing uncertainty. There is no growing uncertainty whatever.[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Well, really, if hon. Members are uncertain, they have been asleep for a. long time. Our party has stood for nationalisation programmes for 40 years or more, and even an hon. Member opposite might have realised that when we got a majority we should naturally go in for nationalisation. At the same time, we put it quite clearly in the King's Speech that we intended to nationalise certain industries. Reassurances were given to others by Ministers, and particularly by my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, and really there is no growing uncertainty. [An HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."] If the hon. Member, instead of shouting "No, no," would read the speeches of intelligent industrialists like the president of F.B.I., and many others, they would find that they know a great deal more about their business than he does. I noticed with interest the difference between the wild 2563 and whirling words of the right hon. Gentleman opposite at the Friends Meeting House and the speech of the right hon. Gentleman whom we are so glad to welcome back to the House, the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan). Characteristically, he continues to tread the middle way, while the right hon. Gentleman right back in the Conservative Party goes down the primrose path, which everybody remembers, leads to the eternal bonfire.
The right hon. Gentleman says that our proposals on nationalisation divert the Government from the immediate task. That is an example of a static mind. The idea is that private enterprise is the only way in which our economic affairs can be managed. The right hon. Gentleman has grown up with that idea and he cannot get it out of his head. I am quite sure, had he been born in one of those countries where the railways had, from the start, belonged to the State, he would have thought it a perfectly natural thing. [An HON. MEMBERS: "Which countries?"] A great many countries. Any handbook will show which they are. The right hon. Gentleman's general pro position seems to be that things should be left as they are. Is he satisfied with the coal industry? Has he been satisfied at any time in the last 25 years with the organisation of the coal industry? What ever happens, something has to be done with the coal industry, on the admission of the people who run it. It is a question as to which is the best way to deal with that particular piece of economic machinery, our way or their way. We have had 20 years and more of fiddling about with their way, and in consonance with the view of every authoritative commission, we now intend to take our way. I think we hardly need mention the Bank of England, because it has gone through so quietly. Electricity—that was half done by a Conservative Government. I very well remember that Bill going through; there were no cries about this "wicked Socialist Measure.
§ The Prime Minister
I know. It was introduced by the chairman of the Anti-Socialist Union. I may say he got it through with the help of a Socialist who was leading the Labour side of the Com- 2564 mittee upstairs, and myself. And now gas; here we have the report of the Heyworth Committee on gas. The people who were on that committee, I may say, were not Socialist nominees. The Minister was not a Socialist. Here you have a report not based on any theories or ideologies but on the plain facts as they presented themselves to commonsense men.
As a matter of fact, although this Motion of Censure is nominally directed against the Government, it seems really to be more a Motion of Censure on the electors for returning Socialists. It seems to be a terrible shock—quite naturally perhaps for people who remember 1935—that a Government should come in prepared to carry out its policy. We all remember 1935, the great victory for collective security and sanctions— followed by Hoare-Laval. Now we have a wonderful cry which the party opposite are putting forward—" the people versus the Socialists." This is right in line with the right hon. Gentleman's propaganda at the time of the General Election. Then the Tory Party was the nation. They are now the people. "Truly ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you." I am quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman's mind, when he was thinking of "the people versus the Socialists," must have gone back to an earlier epoch, to the epoch of the people's Budget, when he and Mr. Lloyd George were standing for the people, against the Tory Party.
Only a few years back the right hon. Gentleman was telling us that the Conservative Party was ruining the country. He was himself called to the Premiership, not by the Tory Party, by whom he was despised and rejected, but by the action and with the support of the doctrinaire Socialists, the vultures, the people who are not really allowed to belong to the nation now. As a matter of fact, no one who does not believe in the right hon. Gentleman is any part of the people. No one who does not belong to the party which, for the time being, he has selected for the honour of supporting him really belongs to the people. We were all of the people for five years, but I am afraid we are out of it now. The right hon. Gentleman said that the vote at the General Election wasone of the greatest disasters that has smitten us in our long and chequered history.2565 Here I am not quite sure that I have the correct report "The Times" said:Our long and chequered historyThat might have meant cither the Conservative Party or even, in a regal mood, the right hon. Gentleman himself. I checked it up with something that was nearer and dearer, the "Daily Express," and it reported that it was''one of the greatest disasters which have smitten this countryThat was because the electors did not accept the right hon. Gentleman. Because the alternative to Labour and a Socialist programme was the right hon. Gentleman. Throughout the Election he had the spotlight. All those able and experienced Front Benchers, and those who have fallen by the wayside, were, after all, mere chorus girls; the prima donna held the stage. The very candidates, hon. Gentlemen opposite, were commended to the electors not on their individual merits, but as the chosen supporters of the right hon. Gentleman. We all remember those posters. The whole thing was epitomised by a witty man in the City of Oxford who wrote on one of them "Love me, love my Hogg." I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows by now that that was not good tactics at the General Election, that this country does not like one-man shows, and therefore, will not accept this Motion of Censure as anything more than a party move of a politician in difficulties and will not accept the cry of "the people against the Socialists." We shall go for ward with our policy, the policy on which we were returned to power by the votes of the electors. We intend to carry out both our short-term programme, dealing with immediate problems, and our long-term programme of reconstruction, and I believe that in doing that we shall have the steady support of the vast majority of the people of this country, workers and employers alike.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Boothby (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Eastern)
I would like to make clear at the outset that, much as I enjoyed the very agreeable, vigorous and humorous speech of the Prime Minister, I did not rise to my feet in order to cheer him. We all enjoyed the right hon. Gentleman's speech, which, although it had little relevance to the Motion under discussion, was great fun. There is one point in that 2566 speech which I would like to take up at once. The Prime Minister taunted my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for his long and honourable association, both in peace and war, with Mr. Lloyd George. I suggest to the Prime Minister that at the end of the day, and in the history books of this country, my right hon. Friend will have no more cause to be ashamed of his association with Mr. Lloyd George than the Prime Minister will have cause to be ashamed of his association with my right hon. Friend during five years of war.
The Prime Minister's speech did not answer any of the questions that have been put in this Debate so far, except one. He made a very important statement on the subject of demobilisation. He told us there is now to be a constant acceleration. Why? I suggest it is because of the pressure that has been exercised from this side of the House unremittingly, day in and day out, for the last few months. The Prime Minister said that our war industries are going rapidly and steadily down, and our civilian industries are going rapidly and steadily up. I must, I suppose, take his word for it; but he gave no figures, and we are left completely in the dark as to what "rapidly and steadily" means in cither case. In fact, we are being left in the dark at the present time about far too much in this country. Our complaint against the Government is not of what they have done; our complaint is that they have not done enough. It is of what they are not doing.
I ask hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to reflect upon what was the policy and programme that gave them a great victory at the General Election. I suggest there were four main points. First of all, they gave an impression, and a promise, to the electorate that they would get the men and women in the Forces back home and out of the Forces as quickly as possible. They have not done so. Secondly, they gave the impression, and many of them gave specific promises, that they would build houses and homes for the people of this country quickly— I emphasise the word "quickly." Are they going to do that? I do not think so. Nobody denies that, as the years roll by, the Minister of Health will produce a considerable number of houses; but there is no doubt that he will not produce a large number of houses during the next 18 2567 months or two years. That is our complaint. We say that if he had set up a national housing corporation to standardise production, to make bulk purchases, and to bring every single agency in this country, private or public, into the emergency construction of houses, as if it were a war operation, we should have had an infinitely larger number of houses than we are going to have during this present emergency.
The third impression which the Labour Party gave to the electors was that, some how or other, if they got back into power, they would make life in this country more agreeable and easier, especially for the workers, after six years of war. I ask any hon. Member to travel round the country, if he has the courage and strength to do it, and to say at the end of the journey how much more agreeable life is in any part of the country. The full austerity and rigour of war presses upon every part of the country at the pre sent time, and there is no alleviation in any direction. Lastly—and this was a great vote winner—practically every hon. Member opposite said that if the Labour Party got back they would increase old age pensions at once; and they taunted hon. Members on this side for not having done so. I say to the Prime Minister and to hon. Members opposite that if, instead of deluging the House with a mass of de tailed legislation designed to perpetuate every kind and form of control, they had come to the House with a short Measure for the alleviation of the conditions of the old people during these winter months, they would have found very little opposition from these benches; and I certainly would have supported such a Measure.
What is the main cause of trouble in this country at the present time? Every hon. Member on both sides of the House admits that it is shortage of labour. Shortage of labour is universal; and at this stage it is inexcusable, on the scale which prevails at the present time. In one industry of which I know something, agriculture, the shortage of labour for "every purpose is alarming; and if some thing of a drastic nature is not done now, we are heading for a crisis of the first order in the agricultural industry. With the removal of prisoners of war, we shall not be able to get in next year's harvest unless the Government takes much more vigorous action. The Minister of Labour 2568 has himself said that peacetime industries require an additional 5,000,000 workers to restore them to the 1939 level. The Prime Minister has just admitted that the question boils down to demobilisation. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, there are still 4,000,000 men and women in the Armed Forces. By the end of September only 1,200,000 had been released. Now we have been promised by the Prime Minister further substantial releases, but how many of these people will be available for industry? We do not know. How many-are women? We do not know. How many key men are getting out of the Forces at the present time—key men upon whom the industrial and economic recovery of the country mainly depends? All we do know is that they are far too few. The Prime Minister referred to the "vague statements" that had been made by hon. Members on this side about demobilisation. Let me give him a concrete statement from a squadron leader in Maintenance Command from whom I received a letter only yesterday:The whole Command is grossly over-established—at least, that is our opinion—as many technical officers, including myself, have had no serious employment for six months or more, and further, expect to be doing even less in the future. Despite these facts, men are being kept idle overseas to sweat it out, and be driven round the bend by the futility and stupidity of it all. There ought to be a civilian commission despatched to conduct an unimpeded and thorough investigation.That is not a vague statement. I submit to the House that this vast army of uniformed unemployed still in this country and overseas is a scandal. With all the emphasis at my command, I want to put two suggestions to His Majesty's Government. The first is that they should alter the conditions of Class B releases; and quickly, so as to quadruple the rate of Class B releases of key men upon whom the revival of this country depends. The second suggestion is that I believe the emergency is so great that the Government ought to call a halt, for the next couple of years at any rate, to the call up of apprentices. I have a letter from a firm of engineers which has an emergency order to re-engine a fishing boat which it is unable to fulfil because, it says, it is now losing men to the Forces at such a rate that it is unable to obtain others to take their places; and that if this goes on there will be no prospect of doing any more overhauls.
2569 This brings me to the final, and long-term, aspect of this particular problem; and that is the permanent strength of our armed Forces. Now that the Prime Minister has announced to-day the Government's plans on the speeding up of demobilisation, we must all hope and pray that demobilisation in the Empire will be over within the next six or nine months at any rate. After that, we have to consider the permanent established strength of our Armed Forces. In one of the first speeches which he made in this Parliament, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition asked the Government to decide now what, in their opinion, should be the permanent strength of the Armed Forces of this country, in relation to their commitments. He was told that the question was mischievous and irresponsible. It was the most sensible question that has been asked in this House since this Parliament began. Of course we have commitments, but they are not unlimited; and one thing is quite possible, and that is that the swollen garrisons in Europe at the present time could very quickly be cut down without any danger to this country. Take the case of Austria. Between the whole of the Allies we have 900,000 troops in Austria—one soldier to every three Austrians to prevent them rising. But they have shown not the slightest inclination to rise.
Take the case of the Navy. It is apparently to be maintained at a strength four or five times greater than it was prewar. Why? There is only one other navy afloat at the present time, and that is the Navy of the United States. I asked the First Lord of the Admiralty the other day what was the present strength of the Pacific Fleet, the Mediterranean Fleet and the Home Fleet, and I asked him whether we were building any battleships, and if so what was their cost. The First Lord replied that it would not be in the public interest to give me that information. All I can say is that, unless he is contemplating an early invasion of the United States, I cannot see why it should not be in the public interest to give the House that in formation; and, indeed, the House of Commons has a right to know the strength of our Armed Forces, and not only their strength, but how much money we are pending on them.
The question of manpower has been laboured to a considerable extent in this 2570 Debate, but it is most important. I turn now to the question of industry, upon which, in the final analysis, all else depends. I am most anxious to give the Government full credit where credit is their due. There is one industry in this country which is booming at the present time, and in a state of great prosperity as a result of their efforts; and that is the black market. I was told yesterday that I could get a petrol coupon for 50 gallons for a fiver, and I thought that was a very reasonable offer. But1 hasten to tell the House that I did not succumo to the temptation. I have not got a motor car. I would like to tell the Government why this black market is so successful, for nobody can deny that it is flourishing. It is flourishing like a damp clammy hand over this country because practically' everything is in short supply. Too short supply for the situation in which we find ourselves, and for the length of time which has elapsed since the conclusion of the war.
To revert from the black market to the more respectable industries, the Government have confided, on their own admission, over 80 percent of our industrial effort to private enterprise. We, in this House, of course, like to work in the public service; and we work very hard just for the pleasure of working. But the ordinary business man, and indeed the ordinary civilian in this and every other country, so far, has always worked be cause he got something out of it; and does not really enjoy working just for the pleasure of it. In order to get the ordinary man to work hard, you have to give him either a kick or a carrot. You have either to compel him to work, which is alien to all our traditions; or you have to give him some incentive to work. The Government give him neither of these things. They give him neither kick nor carrot. They give him lectures; and the lecturers-in-chief are the Lord President of the Council and the President of the Board of Trade. The Lord President is the more truculent, and the President of the Board of Trade is the more gloomy; but neither of these lecturers has had a very stimulating effect upon the trade of this country.
A friend of mine went to listen to the speech of the President of the Board of Trade to 2,000 business men in Manchester; and, afterwards, I asked him what he felt like. He said, "I felt like 2571 suicide; but I changed it to a double whisky." If that is the frame of mind which the President induces in the leaders and captains of industry in this country, it is not much good. It is no use teaching your grandmother to suck eggs if you have not got any eggs; and the first thing the President has to do is to get some eggs. There are two essential conditions for the working of the capitalist system, on which the Government places an almost pathetic reliance so far as the export trade is concerned, although they are prepared to play about with some services and industries not affecting our exports. When it comes to exports, on which the life of the country depends, they say "Hands off," and will not even touch the shipping industry. This capitalist system, on which they rely so much, depends on two things—the profit motive and confidence—and our complaint is that the Government have done their best to remove the former and undermine the latter.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer fiddled about with E.P.T. in his Budget. Why did he not remove it? He admitted it was a rotten tax, and not much use from the point of view of the revenue. Why did he not also give back the allowances on earned income? Like E.P.T., Income Tax at the lower levels, falls on marginal earnings. Let me give one example from the industrial field. I want to ask the Government if they regard the motor industry of this country as a revenue producing or an export industry; because they can have it one way or the other, but not both ways. This change to cubic capacity is mere —the small steps ensure that we shall continue to produce endless models of small cars quite unsuitable for foreign markets. The general weight of taxation and the continuance of the Purchase Tax ensure that production for the home market will not be expanded sufficiently to sustain an export trade for motor cars at reasonable prices. We are already 7,500 cars behind schedule.
Why is this weight of taxation retained? Why will not the Chancellor either restore to us the Income Tax allowances, or take off the Purchase Tax? The reason is because of our fantastic rate of current expenditure; and we have at present neither the information nor the oppor- 2572 tunity given to us by the Government to exercise the slightest control over that expenditure. We do not even know what it is; nor can we check extravagance or waste of any kind.
Now I come to the question of controls. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) made a most formidable attack on the President of the Board of Trade, which that Minister made not the slightest attempt to answer. The President simply said that the right hon. Gentleman was talking nonsense, that the controls are beautifully run by his Department, when everyone knows they are not, and that was the end of it. The present licensing system was designed to throttle, not stimulate civilian production. There was no plan, apart from the urgent demands of the Service Departments, which had to be met and were given full priority over everything. What is the plan today? In industry after industry, the tendency today, as a result of these restrictions and controls, is towards monopoly and contraction rather than towards expansion; and little or no chance is given to the small man, and, particularly, to the small man who wants to start up in business. The whole of this fossilised structure of licensing and control prevents the entry of any new man into industry, when practically all licences are granted to people in relation to their 1938 volume of trade. This rule is laid down in far too many cases, and in far too many industries, and the result is that nobody can get in who was not there before the war.
I am not talking about nationalisation. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bromley (Mr. Harold Macmillan) that, so far as services are concerned, this business of nationalisation should be treated, not in accordance with any theoretical dogma, but on its merits. I think there may be quite a good psychological case for the nationalisation of the coal-mining industry; and quite a good economic case, on the basis of the Report published yesterday, for the nationalisation of the gas industry. I am therefore not talking about doctrinaire theories of nationalisation, but I am referring to industry as a whole; and who can deny — who knows anything about it—that industry today is riddled with red tape, and that delays extend over the whole field? I believe this has been greatly 2573 aggravated by the policy of departmental separatism.
Take the exporter who wants to export goods. He has to go to the Board of Trade, to the Department of Overseas Trade, to the Treasury, of course, the Ministry of Supply, the Export Credits Department; and now, I understand, as the administration of the Consular Services has been taken away from the Department of Overseas Trade and given to the Foreign Office, he now will have to go to the Foreign Office as well—a total of six Departments. It is in fact almost a physical impossibility to export goods from this country at the present time. I ask the Government to believe it. I have had some experience; and it is no use for the President to ride off the whole question by saying that the controls are all right because he is running them. That just is not true.
The gravamen of our complaint is first that the administration, particularly that of the Board of Trade, is cumbrous, in efficient and overburdened; and, secondly, that new ideas, innovations, new entrants to industry and improvements to plant are alike discouraged by the present policy of the Government. Everywhere in this country there is a sense of frustration. The Government cannot completely dismiss Lord Woolton as negligible, because he was a great administrator, one of the very greatest we have ever had. I had the privilege of serving under him; and he is also a great business man. Listen to what he has to say:The truth is that the Government has taken on more than it can do: the business of government is to lay clown broad principles for the well 'being and good conduct of the country. When it attempts to determine the detail of operations, it is taking on a task for which it has neither competent staff nor the quick machinery that detailed commercial decisions demand. The great trade drive of Britain is being stifled at its birth—and the first fruits of failure will fall on the wage-earning classes.And now a last point on planning. The party which I have the honour to adorn has often in the past been infected by the doctrine of laissez-faire; but never, in its whole history, has it embraced it. Mr. Amery, one of our most distinguished leaders, wrote long ago:Only a planned trade and industrial policy ran sustain a planned social system in a highly competitive world. The economic stability, and progress, upon which depends all future progress in social reform, cannot be left to the chances of unaided individual enterprise in a 2574 world of promiscuous international competitionWe subscribe to that; and in any successful modern society, there must be control over the issue of credit and the management of money, the export of capital, and the import of essential raw materials, including food.
These vital controls, exercised at the summit of power, need not interfere unnecessarily or unduy with the ordinary life and day-to-day work of the individual business man in this country. But what we want to know on this side of the House is, have the Government any coherent national policy of planned economic expansion at the present time? They are pledged to stabilise the cost of living. Have they a national wage policy? The question has already been asked by the Leader of the Opposition. And if they have not, is the taxpayer to foot the whole bill in the event of general wage rises taking place; and, if that be so, how are they to avoid a swinging inflation within the next two years? Have they an export policy? Have they really thought out their export policy? The volume of exports in the third quarter of this year was only 46 percent. of the 1938 level. What is the target for next year? Does it still stand at 50 percent. above our pre-war exports? Is it still £1000 million of exports? They have not told us yet what they are aiming at. If that is what they are aiming at, how do they propose to reach that target?
Our complaint is that there is plenty of planning, far too much planning, at the lower levels in this country; and far too little constructive planning at the highest level of all. What are the Government now proposing? To hand over the vital, strategic controls which I mentioned just now to an international authority upon which we in this country will be in a minority; and retain all the pettifogging red-tape controls at the lower levels, which are throttling production at the present time? It really is fantastic. I am one of those, as some hon. Members know, who voted in favour of the nationalisation of the Bank of England, because I think we ought to have a national control over the issue of credit and the management of money in this country. But I do not think I would have bothered to do so if I had known that, so soon after, we should have been handing over 2575 the control of credit to an international fund in the United States of America, over which we shall have no control at all. It is really, in the circumstances, rather a waste of time to have bothered to nationalise the Bank of England. We might as well have handed it over to America right away, and saved a good deal of time. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister referred to the Bank of England as having "gone over so quietly." I wonder whether he was referring to the transfer of ownership to the Government, or the transfer across the Atlantic Ocean. I only hope, as far as I am concerned, that it will not go so quietly over the Atlantic Ocean as it has crossed from Thread needle Street to Whitehall.
Now one word, in conclusion, about the Party to which I belong. We have had a great many sneers in this Debate, and before, during, and since the Election. I read a little time ago a comment by one of our brightest and most intelligent political writers that there was a danger of the Tory Party developing into nothing more than a "Society of Distressed Gentlefolk." I do not think there is the slightest danger of that; but I do see some danger in the propagation of this false legend of Tory stupidity. We read a great deal about the Socialist "intelligentsia." It is about time we started reading some thing about the Conservative "intelligentsia." [An HON. MEMBER: "About time you got some."] We have lots of intelligence. We are extremely able people on this side of the House. We are much cleverer than hon. Gentlemen opposite. The only difference is that we do not show off to the same extent. We have a great tradition. Viscount Bolingbroke may have had his faults—he was one of the founders of our party—but I have never heard it maintained that he was a stupid man; and I cannot think that, in the circumstances of the time, the choice of Disraeli as leader was based upon his appearance. I think rather that it was because he displayed, on occasion, flashes of intense intelligence. Nor have we ever been afraid in this party to find leaders outside our ranks, if they looked intelligent enough and the occasion demanded it. [An HON. MEMBER: "You had to."] There were Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, Mr. Lloyd George and, although by that time he had come back to the fold, I think 2576 I might perhaps add our present Prime Minister whom we made Prime Minister in the nick of time—I beg pardon, leader we still think of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) as the Prime Minister.
There was only one serious slip this party ever made, and that was the occasion when, for a brief and unhappy period, they turned for leadership to the Party opposite. No one can now say that Mr. Ramsay. MacDonald or Mr. Snowden was a fortunate choice from our point of view. This legend of stupidity is really just a hangover from the days of Lord Baldwin, one of the shrewdest of politicians, who, in his emotional reaction against Mr. Lloyd George, managed to persuade the country for a time that intelligence and amorality were synonymous. He was such an able politician, and he propagandied so effectively, that he managed to persuade the country that the party to which I belong was, in fact, stupid. I say to hon. Members opposite, that the country will very shortly find out that that is the mistake of their lives. We shall show them in the next few months, not only that we are intelligent but, if they are prepared to give us half a chance, and abandon doctrinaire theory in favour of effective practice, that we will assist them in every way that lies in our power to pull this country through one of the most difficult periods which it has ever confronted; because the battle that lies ahead of us is an economic battle no less serious than the military battle that confronted us in 1940.
We have no desire to see this Government fail on the economic front. I do not share the enthusiasm of the President of the Board of Trade for high thinking and hard living, just for the hell of it— as the Americans say. I look forward to four more years of bleak and black and totalitarian austerity with morbid apprehension; and I certainly would do any thing that lay in my power to avoid it 1 think that the President of the Board of Trade and the Lord President of the Council are the very worst people to lecture and guide the industrialists of this country at the present time. The Lord President has always loved ordering people about. He has revelled in it. One of his more dubious claims to fame is that, in order to make up for his lack of enthusiasm about the last war, in this 2577 war he has imprisoned more people with out charge or trial than anybody since King John. I feel that his natural instinct would be to lock up every industrialist who did not conform to his ideas at any given moment. But the British worker, as well as the British industrialist, is a stubborn individual; and if you try to order him about, he just will not function. A great many people in this country, not only in the employing class but also amongst the workers, think that they are being pushed about too far, and to too great an extent at the present time; only most of them would use a harsher verb than I have done.
§ Flying-Officer Lever (Manchester, Exchange)
Would the hon. Gentleman allow me? I interrupt in a helpful spirit. He said that the Lord President of the Council had locked up more people than anybody since King John. Is it not the fact that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) was the one who locked them up and it was the Lord President of the Council who released them?
§ Mr. Boothby
My right hon. Friend locked up some, and the Lord President of the Council locked up more; and the Lord President 0of the Council kept the whole lot in till the end of the war.
In conclusion, I would like to say, at the end of what has been far too long a speech, that the conclusion of the whole matter, and the gravamen of our complaint, and the justification for this Motion of Censure, is that the answer to the problem, both at home and abroad, in this country at the present time as I believe every hon. Member will agree, is production—one word: production; output per man hour. This is the answer, and the only answer. If we all pull together we can get it; but if we throttle industry from morning to night in the way I have described, we shall never get it; and in that case we shall never get through. All we say at the moment is that we have hopes for the future— heaven knows, we all have hopes—but we also say that, judged by this single test, the only test that matters— production-the failure of this Government, up to date, has been lamentable.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Captain Noel-Baker (Brentford and Chiswick)
I hope that hon. Members will appreciate that it is in some ways 2578 a rather testing experience for a maiden speaker to break into a Debate after the display of Parliamentary oratory that we have heard since the discussion on this Motion was resumed this afternoon. 1 hope, therefore, that, as one of the youngest Members in this House, I shall be able to count on even more than the usual kindly sympathy with which it is the custom of this House to listen to maiden speeches.
Since yesterday the House has been reviewing the work started by His Majesty's Ministers four months ago, and has been considering the prospects for the future welfare of the people of this country as, one by one, the pledges which we made to them during the Election are put into practice. Listening to the earnest protests of hon. Members on the other side of the House against the implementation of those pledges, I have often been reminded of a conversation which was overheard on the morning of 25th July somewhere in London. It may even have been in the lobby of Claridge's Hotel. A lady was watching the tape machine as the results of the General Election came through, and, after one particularly striking Labour triumph, when it became clear what the final result was going to be, she said, "But this is terrible. They have elected a Labour Government and the country will never stand for that." That, it seems to be, is the kind of spirit in which the Motion that we are now discussing has been tabled. His Majesty's Ministers, as the Motion complains, are indeed impelled by Socialist principles. The programme of His Majesty's Government is indeed a Socialist programme. There is surely no cause for surprise in that, unless the precedents set after other Elections by other parties— and I recall pledges given in 1918 about homes for heroes, in 1931 about the gold standard, and in 1935 about collective security— are to be considered as the criterion today, and happily for this country they are not.
When, four months ago, the British people declared their conviction that the best interest of the nation was the implementation of Socialist principles and of a Socialist programme, they had already been told as clearly as possible, and in as much detail as possible, exactly what that implementation in practical terms would mean. And let me say, in answer to many 2579 interpolations from hon. Gentlemen opposite, that we on this side of the House were very careful, all of us, at the time of the General Election not to indulge in facile promises, because we knew, as the people of this country knew, that to recover from six years of war, and not only from the ravages of the second world war but also from the ravages of 20 grim and dismal years when this country was governed by Ministers not impelled by Socialist theory—that the task of recovery from the devastations of the war years and the between-war years would be a gigantic task which would call for a great deal of effort and a great deal of hard work, and that is what we told the people of Great Britain. And the British people, with bitter memories of the past and with a very clear understanding of the difficulties of the future, understood what we told them and gave us their mandate.
Surely nothing could be clearer than their response. When they elected this Socialist Government with this over whelming Socialist majority, what they were asking for was a Socialist programme, nothing more and nothing less. So that if this Motion—which in my view has been so unwisely and so untimely tabled by the Opposition—has any real significance, it is to express their disapproval, their distrust, their dislike, not of His Majesty's present Ministers, but of the electorate of the United Kingdom.
Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House have spent a great deal of time in talking about controls. The President of the Board of Trade told them yesterday how the controls that still exist are being applied, what controls had become unnecessary and are being dispensed with, and what the Government's motives are. I should like to add to that an invitation to hon. Members, like the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), who still have doubt, to go to other countries which have been through the war as we have and where there have been no controls, and see what is happening there. I should like them to go to Greece, or any one of the other liberated countries of Europe and study conditions there. On the one hand, they will see a vast mass of people desperately struggling to obtain' the bare vital necessities of their daily life, and on the other hand, a small minority of racketeers and profiteers thriving, at their 2580 expense, on the black market. Is that what they want to see in this country? It is hard for anyone who has not personally experienced the contrast to realise how very fortunate the people in this country are—despite all the hardships and restrictions that they have to bear— in knowing that at least the daily necessities of their lives are controlled and distributed in such a way that the supply is guaranteed. The irresponsible scrapping of controls so often advocated from the other side of the House, could not fail to produce again the economic chaos that we had here after the last war, and which is now assailing less wise and less fortunate nations at the present time.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has given us the example of the United States, where, as he said last week, the problem of reconversion from war to peace and in particular the question of demobilisation are being tackled in a violent, passionate and convulsive manner. But what is the result of all this violence and passion and convulsion? By next spring the American Administration expects to have 8,000,000 men unemployed— the trade unions say 10,000,000— and by the end of the year many authorities believe that there will be 18,000,000 Americans on the dole. Whereas, in this country, apart from the temporary pockets of unemployment, which the President of the Board of Trade described yesterday, and which are, as hon. Gentlemen on all sides of the House admit inevitable—a part from these temporary pockets of unemployment, the conversion of manpower from war to peace in this country has so far gone for ward in an astonishingly smooth way. Let us compare the industrial unrest of today with what happened after the last war. The amount of time lost in strikes is less than one-twelfth of what it was during the comparable period then. Compare that with what is happening in America or even with the conditions during the most decisive period of the offensive after D-Day last year. The loss of time is far less heavy now than it was even then. It may be that demobilisation is not going fast enough, and that we shall later on exceed the average of almost 90,000 men released per week. But it took two years to get 2,000,000 people away from peacetime activities and into the Armed Forces, and three years to mobilise the 2,000,000 women who were not wage- 2581 carners before the war. By the end of this year—in a little over six months—we shall have transferred almost 4,000,000 men and women back to their peacetime activities. Again, let hon. Members opposite compare the progress of the present Government, and the results achieved at home, with what happened after the last war.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition deplores the preoccupation of hon. Members and Ministers with long-term schemes. Indeed, the Motion which we are now discussing has been drafted as though this country had only one more year to live— as though the British people were already in the condemned cell— and, so, indeed, our old prewar capitalist system is. But not the people, nor, I venture to suggest, H.M. Government. Very far from it. If a part of the efforts of my right hon. Friends is very wisely being directed towards long-term planning, a good part of the immediate nationalisation programme is being put through to meet immediate needs. After years of private mismanagement, the coal industry of this country— to take one example— is in such a state of chaos that the nationalisation of that industry is an immediate priority, if the people of this country are to have any coal to burn in their grates next winter or the winter after, or the miners any hope of a tolerably decent human existence. Much the same applies to the gas industry, about which a good deal has been said during this Debate. In both cases, it is a simple question of achieving productive efficiency, and there is no other way of doing it except by nationalisation.
But to go back to long-term planning, the right hon. Gentleman the Member or Woodford (Mr. Churchill) knows as well as I do, that it is quicker to run up a gimcrack, jerry-built, inadequate, potential slum dwelling than to build a solid lasting house on good strong foundations. The latter needs careful, long-term planning; the former does not. We are working on the assumption that that part of the national edifice which we have been commissioned by the people of this country to build is going to last. That is why H.M. Ministers are not only interested in devising solutions for the immediate problems that confront them, but are also going ahead with long-term planning in much the same way as the 2582 Leader of the Opposition himself did, when he started to build up the war potential of this country in the dark days of 1940.
When I first read this Motion, and when I read the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the opposition to the Conservative Party last week— that party which in the past he has so often, so trenchantly, and in my view so rightly de nounced— when I heard the speeches of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite during this Debate, there was all the time at the back of my mind, a growing feeling of bewilderment and uneasiness. That was not because I have any fears for the future of this particular Motion, nor, indeed, for His Majesty's Socialist Government, of His Majesty's Socialist Government's Socialist programme— we in this House, and the people of this country, will look after that— but because I cannot — or perhaps because I do not want to—bring myself to understand the motives of the Opposition. Here we have a Motion which offers not one word of anything constructive; which flies in the face of the recent and overwhelming decision of the British people; which asks His Majesty's Government to repudiate the clear and specific pledges which they have just given to the electorate; and which apparently deliberately seeks to undermine the confidence of the people of this country in their powers of recovery. In the interests of what? Can it be that their only motive—the only consideration which carries weight with the Opposition—is to try to salvage the tattered remnants of 20 years of prewar political failure, of 20 years of national disaster and international disgrace? Can it be that they are just out to make trouble, cheaply and irresponsibly, in the interests of their Conservative Party machine, and at the expense of the revival of their country? I should like to believe that it is not so. I should like to believe that they will readopt their old, old slogan, so often misused, of "country before party," and today "country" means the future prosperity and welfare of all the ordinary men and women of Great Britain.
It may be that I have said more than is proper in a maiden speech, and that I ought to have sat down without saying what I really believe, but I ask the House to remember that I belong to the generation that grew up in the years between the wars. Ever since I can remember 2583 taking an interest in politics— and that in my case goes back fairly far into my short life—things have been going wrong. One after another, I have had to watch the failures, the disillusionments, there treats, the disasters, national and inter national, which have followed each other in dismal, desolating succession. So that when at last the war came, it was to us some thing of a relief. We thought that now at least from all the slaughter and destruction and bloodshed some new hope for the future of our generation and of the world might at long last be born.
Now military victory has come for those of us who have survived to see it. Again our hopes are high; we have a new confidence in the future; our eyes are upon this House; and may I beg hon. Members on all sides of the House to remember what they owe to the fighting men and to the people of this country, and to see that no petty motive, no selfish interest, no paltry spirit, such as that manifest in the Motion before us today, is allowed again to shatter our hopes—hopes of a democratic, free and prosperous British people, working in partnership with the free and prosperous peoples of the world; hopes that can easily be realised if all the great qualities of courage and endurance, initiative and imagination which our people showed during the war are now turned to the tasks of peace.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
Speaking for the first time in this House, I ask for the indulgence usually accorded to those who undergo this ordeal, and particularly necessary in my case, because speaking on a Motion of Censure it is difficult not to be censorious. I will try very hard not to be as controversial as some others to whose maiden speeches I have listened.
Although a stranger to politics, I am not a stranger to certain aspects of nationalisation,. For over 27 years I served in the only wholly, totally nationalised force in this country. Therefore I think I have a very intimate acquaintance with it. During those 27 years I have found that theory and practice were intimate bed fellows, but in time of war the searchlight of practical experience is frequently brought to bear on theory, which is always suspect, and very frequently dangerous weaknesses are brought to light.
2584 As a practical man, I have considered this subject very carefully, and for a very long time I have taken part in discussions all over the world, in discussion groups, on the question of nationalisation. The first and, I suggest, the most elementary step which anyone takes when investigating a proposal, is to search the past and see whether there have been instances of failure or success in the application of the principle involved. If there have been no instances at all, then one starts with a clean sheet and uses one's imagination. If there have been instances of failure one seeks to discover the reasons for that failure. I looked into all the cases of nationalisation, in free countries in this world, to find instances of success.
What did I find? Nothing but failure after failure— in New Zealand, Australia, America and in Europe. I will not weary the House with facts and figures, but these failures occurred in coalmining, railways, cement works, electric light, hotels, shipping lines and so on. It was clear during the Election that this great electorate of ours, who had been reading the propaganda coming out year after year, in little yellow covers, was quite unaware of this. When I suggested to them that I had a list of failures which I could show to them their faces were worth studying. They did not know. If I had been asked to ride in a race a horse with such a history of disaster behind it as the record of nationalisation shows, I should most emphatically have declined, and 1 suggest that this is what this electorate of ours is being asked to do. They have been asked to ride a horse which has been covered with beautiful rugs, but they have not had a look at the form book. What of the employees under nationalisation? Have they seriously considered what will be their position vis-à-vis the right to strike if they are employed by the Government. That is one of the greatest problems. What is the solution? Has anybody proposed a solution? Are they aware of the tremendous problems?
Have we not seen quite "recently in the two of the near-nationalised industries of this country exactly what will happen when nationalisation takes place? Why is it that the trade unions have been impotent to follow their traditional role of mediating between the workers and the employers? Why is it that the strikers have found it necessary to break away 2585 from the trade unions and strike on their own? They know that under the system as it exists at this moment, as one hon. Member opposite said yesterday, the trade unions are the supporters of the Government. That has to be faced. I want to know what the solution is. I do not pretend I am here to try to persuade any one hon. Member opposite against his convictions, but 1 am curious. We have had no explanation. We know that the problems are there, they know they are there, but they do not give us the slightest indication that they are prepared to produce some concrete answer. These things have failed all over the world. Why should they not fail here? They have failed in Australia and New Zealand; why not in this country? Let us know what the reasons were, let us know how the Government intend to combat them.
Having served in the greatest nationalised Force of this country, the British Army, I consider that nationalisation will not succeed without direction of labour, rigid discipline and possibly the withdrawal of the right to strike. That is my own private opinion. I do not see how it can be worked otherwise. It remains to be seen and it will be very interesting to see what the Government's explanation is, and how they propose to solve that problem. I might remind those who read "The Times" that it contained on 27th November a report of a speech by the Socialist Prime Minister of Australia about the labour troubles in New South Wales. He said that the trade unions were in the most appalling state of chaos, and that labour there was. in a very grave condition indeed. His words were:I do not want to take from the workers the right to strike …I think that was very significant.
I turn to the question of housing, as it affects my own constituency and in relation to what I have seen with my own eyes. I know all about these wonderful plans, these castles which are being built in the air…plans which, as far as we can see at the moment, are bearing no fruit at all. I would like to suggest some of the reasons why, because I spend a certain amount of time in my own town hall, and I am interested to find out what is going on. This is the sort of thing that is happening. Just as plans are worked out, down comes another directive, another circular; that plan is scrapped, put 2586 Into the wastepaper basket and the whole thing has to be started over again. That has happened no fewer than three times. What is happening about this question of subsidies? Plans of local councils cannot proceed one inch further until the authorities concerned know the amount of money they are to be given. We were told the other day that the Minister would not be able to give the amount until he knew what the cost of materials and houses was to be. But there is such a thing as a percentage basis? Why not give a percentage of the cost, so that they can get on with their planning? That matter has been holding them up for nearly three months.
There has been a rapid increase in the derequisitioning of houses, but what has happened since they have been derequisitioned? They have been standing empty for weeks and weeks, while 2,000 people who want accommodation have their names on a list at the town hall… men coming back from the Forces… because some small infinitesimal repair cannot be carried out because a permit will not be granted. There are rows of houses in which small repairs are required, while train loads of men go to London every day to continue with bomb damage repair in London. That is quite right up to a point, but has not the time arrived when some of the people on the South Coast should be considered?
The first of my two final points relates to the ignoring of the human factor. In my experience of planning, one of the greatest factors, one of the basic factors in any plan is the human factor. If you ignore that your plan is built on sand. I suggest that one of the greatest characteristics of the average Briton is the fact that he dislikes being ordered about and regimented. I am certain that the way to get the best out of an Englishman is to make him like what you are going to tell him to do first, and tell him to do it afterwards. If nationalisation is to depend on the direction of labour, and I cannot see how it can be otherwise, there will be trouble. There is trouble now. Some right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench are no doubt too busy to get away at the weekend to their constituencies. Some of us have the time. I have been in my constituency and in others as well, and I have seen the same thing wherever I have been. Owing to the fact that men are doing work they dislike, that they 2587 are in an area they do not want to be in, they are not producing the amount of work which they would be producing if they were doing jobs they did like.
The other point is that before we can get the production of this country on its legs we must raise the production perm an-hour somehow. We want an inspiring clarion call to the workers of this country, to let them realise how desperately serious the situation is, not these ideological plans which mean absolutely nothing to them. And, finally, what of the housewife, who for six years has carried on and is still carrying on just as hard as she did in the war, whereas the rest of us have had a little relaxation from the 16 hours a day or what it was that we were doing. They are still continuing under as bad, if not worse conditions. I saw a woman sitting on a pavement crying her eyes out. There were holes in her shoes. She was saying, "I cannot stand it any longer." She had been at it for six years. And so have all the house-wives of England. I am sure that right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench do not realise this, or realise how hard they are being driven.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. W. J. Brown (Rugby)
I rise to oppose the Motion of Censure. But before dealing with that Motion, and giving my reasons for the vote I shall cast later on, it gives me pleasure to offer congratulations on behalf of the House to the two new Members who have just made their maiden speeches. The hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) evidently feels strongly on some of the issues that come before this House. Strength of feeling in politics is, in my view, a virtue, and not a vice. On this occasion he was fairly non-controversial. The next time I hope he will be completely controversial, and say what he thinks, regardless of consequences. As regards the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Captain Noel-Baker) I would like to say that his father is an old and very respected Member of this House, respected by all sides of the House on the grounds of personal character, even where people dissent from him politically. My only regret while listening to his speech was that his father was not here. I think it would have done his father's heart good. Certainly we who 2588 have heard it will tell his father how promising a beginning his son has made to the most difficult of all jobs, the job of being a good Member of Parliament. We hope that he will take a prominent part in our future Debates.
I want to oppose the Motion of Censure, but not because I object to a motion of censure in principle. If one takes the view that Governments are good things, then of course votes of censure are bad, and indeed can be regarded as positively blasphemous. I do not take the view that Government is a good thing. I take the view that, at best, it is a necessary evil. The existence of Government derives from man's inability to treat his fellow men on the basis of common brotherhood and humanity, without external compulsion. Government is, in fact, the consequence and the evidence of sin. Therefore, it is well that it should be keenly and constantly opposed, and a Motion of Censure is of course that form of opposition to government which is most direct, pointed and final.
But I hold the view that when a vote of censure is moved; four things ought to be true of it. The first is that it should be prompted by the right motive. The second is that it should come at the right time. The third is that it should come from the right quarter. And the fourth is that it shall deal with the right issues. If it satisfies those four criteria there is a case for the Motion of Censure. If it satisfies none of them there is no case for it. It is my submission that this Motion of Censure is not motivated aright, that it is not timed aright, that it did not come from the right quarter, and that it does not deal with the right issues. Apart from those objections I find no great quarrel with the terms of the Vote of Censure!
What is the motive of this Motion of Censure? Is it really to censure the Government? In my opinion that is not its purpose at all. Its purpose is not to censure the Government but to rehabilitate the Opposition. For the truth is that the Opposition in this House is in a very bad way.
§ Mr. Brown
I not only believe it, I am about to demonstrate it. It cannot make up its mind about either of the two courses open to the Opposition at this point in 2589 time. There are two courses for the Gentleman above the Gangway to take. One is to accept the verdict of the electorate at the recent General Election on the main issues submitted to the country, and then wait for new issues of Opposition to arise in the natural course of events, which invariably they do. The other is to oppose everything the Government does, right or Wong, Right or Left, on principle, on the basis that it is the duty of an Opposition to oppose. It is impossible to get unity in that party on either of those two lines of policy. You cannot get unity on the first line of accepting the verdict of the electors, because they do not like the verdict.
I have told this story before, but I do not apologise for telling it again, because it is a good story. It is the story of Bill Smith and his bat. When I was a school boy, schools were not so well equipped for sports as they are now. On one occasion in my school the headmaster tried to get up a cricket game. He said "Who's got a bat?" and Bill Smith, it appeared, had a bat. "Who's got any wickets?" and Tom Jones, it seemed, had some wickets. "Who's got a ball?" and so by one volunteer and another we eventually scraped up a game of cricket. We tossed up for sides, and we tossed up for innings, and the batting team went in. The master, having started us off on our game, went across to the side of the field to take part in a conversation. While he was talking, one of the boys came running up to him, and said in a state of great excitement, and in a very loud voice, "Bill Smith's out!" The headmaster replied, "Well, well "The boy in a still louder voice said, "But Bill Smith's out!" All right," said the master "what about it?" Well, sir, Bill Smith says he won't come out!" The master said, "Why does he say he won't come out?" "Please, teacher, he says it is his bat!" That roughly is the position of the Tory Party. They will not come out. They will not come out, because they say it is their bat; and they do not propose to give up if they can possibly avoid it. [An HON. MEMBER: "They are on a sticky wicket!"] I do not want to carry the sporting metaphor too far, because when I have been on a sticky wicket I run the risk of falling down, and I do not want that to happen this afternoon.
2590 The problem of the Opposition is that it has to make up its mind what line of opposition the party should take. That it has not so far been able to do, and in the circumstances its only remedy is to curse the Government. On that one point there is complete unanimity, if on nothing else, and therefore the motive in this Motion of Censure is not really to censure the Government but is merely an attempt to rehabilitate the Opposition. Secondly, it has not come at the right time. The Government may be all that the Opposition says it is. It may be that the qualms, fears, and apprehensions of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway will be fulfilled in full measure— pressed down", heaped up, and running over. It may be! But it is months and years too early to assume that it will be. A Government, who have been in office for four months only, are not in a position to deliver the goods on any major issue of policy. If this Motion had come two years hence— [Interruption]. Well, that would not be too long to try, say, the nationalisation of the mines, or the rail ways— if it came two years hence it might be possible to muster evidence in support of this Motion. But you cannot, with any shadow of reason, move a Motion of Censure on a new Government who have not been in office for more than four months.
Thirdly, I have said that it comes from the wrong quarter. It comes from those who have held power in Britain practically uninterruptedly for the whole of my adult life. From 1916, when a new Government was formed under Mr. Lloyd George, until four months ago, the Tories have been in power, directly or in directly, for the whole of those 30 years, with a single brief spell of interruption in 1923–24, and another in 1929–31. They have enjoyed complete power. Your Tory is a deep fellow. He does not mind whether he exercises power in his own right, or under an alias. And the motto of the Tories has always been: "Take power yourself, and hold it a? Long as you can in your own right. If ever that becomes impossible, form a Coalition, but take care that all the really important jobs are kept on your side. Sustain the Coalition as long as you think it necessary, until you think you can again recover power. Then burst the Coalition, and resume as a Conservative Government." It is a well thought out technique, 2591 and I do no more than give clear articulation to a modus operandi perfectly well known throughout the whole of my life time and before that.
Whatever the condition of this country is today the major responsibility—as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) said in a speech some time ago which has not been quoted —the responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of those men who possessed the power in Britain.And the people who possessed the power in Britain for those 30 years were the Conservative Party in this country. I would like to say this, too. It is in the mind of many Conservatives that what happened at the last election was a sort of leap tide flowing a little stronger than usual, but certain to recede, and that, therefore, at the next election, the Tories might hope to get back again. In the meantime their job is to bring the next Election on as soon as possible. I do not believe that what happened in July of this year was a leap tide. When the sea comes in it recedes again. But when the earth shifts on its axis, ever so slightly, and as a result the water pours over the land, it stays there. And what happened last July was more a shifting of the earth's surface than the mere coming in of a tide. I believe that Toryism is not merely dead in Britain. I believe it is damned. I use the word quite deliberately. I believe England has passed judgment on Toryism, and that it is not a temporary or an impulsive judgment, but a firm and final judgment. I agree with what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) said yesterday, when he said that if the Government did fail, it is not to the Conservative Party that the country will then turn. It will turn further left rather than turning back to the right.
The Motion therefore comes from the wrong quarter. It was the Conservative Party in Britain which allowed 3,000,000 men to rot in idleness year after year. It was the Conservative Party in Britain which allowed agriculture to fall to the lowest level known in our history. It was the Tory Party which landed us into a war which need never have come, and would have never have come if we had grappled with foreign events in time. And 2592 finally, it was the Tory Party which landed this country into war less prepared than ever before for a major war. The country has passed its judgment, and it is a final judgment. And in my opinion no party manipulation or manoeuvre will alter that judgment!
Fourthly, I say that this Motion does not deal with the right issues. There are plenty of issues upon which this Government ought to revise their policy. I will menton one or two, but I do so not with the object of discrediting the Government. I want to sustain the Government against this vote of censure, and any other from the same quarter. But I hope the Government, where criticism has been reasonable, will take notice of that criticism. There are indeed two or three matters to which they must give serious thought to the future. Mention has been made of the absence of a wages policy. This question is going to loom very large in the ensuing months. Whatever is done in this period, there are bound to be difficulties in wages adjustment. You cannot avoid it. But it will be even more difficult if there is no informed policy behind what is done. For instance, in the early days of the war, in order to avoid runaway inflation, the Government issued advice to employers about wage adjustments during the war period. I am not arguing whether that was right or wrong. But the Government did formulate a policy which it recommended to the country. And now we have got to formulate some policy which can be explained to the country. In default of that you will have large groups of workers each of them fighting to get the best terms they can. There will be the ordinary disbalance of the transfer from war to peace, and the further disbalance of irregular and ill co-ordinated individual action in relation to any section of the wages question. Already the job has been half done by the stabilisation of prices. The other half is the wages policy, and the Government ought to formulate one at once, and make it intelligible to the country.
Next we must have a trade union policy. I think it is fair to say that at the moment the policy of the Ministry of Labour in dealing with industrial disputes is a negative policy. He is taking a line that I can quite understand him taking. He says he will do nothing which will weaken or undermine the authority of the trade union. I am not against that, 2593 but I am telling the Minister of Labour that he must extract something from the trade unions in return. And that must be efficiency in trade union management, promptness in the handling of disputes, and an adequate information service to keep the membership of the trade union movement informed of what is happening. It is obvious that ignorance of what has been happening has been behind the three or four disputes which have taken place recently. Where the Minister finds that the unions arc not giving the service that they ought to their membership, he ought not to put the whole of the State authority behind the unions without first of all getting the unions themselves to put their own house in order. We have had a series of unofficial disputes. No sensible trade union leader likes that. I have been a trade union leader for 30 years in an industry which does not strike, but which I think people sometimes wish would strike— especially in the tax collecting service. No sensible trade unionist wants unofficial strikes. But the unofficial strike is an almost infallible sign that a trade union is not doing its job. And there should be no blank cheques signed by the Minister of Labour, because if he gives blank cheques, the unions are not inclined to reform themselves. And if they do not we shall see a much bigger strike wave in Britain than we have seen so far. We must have a policy about the public service. I have spent most of my lifetime in the public service, and no words of praise I can utter about its probity, honesty and disinterested service would be too high. But our Civil Service was designed to discharge one set of functions and we shall add, by the Government's programme, a new and radically different type of function to the work of the public service. It is roughly true to say that the past functions of the Service have been to administer a fairly static body of legislation. Now, we are going to impose on it the business of running a consider able sector of industry. And we have to organise our Civil Service as something like an industrial Civil Service if it is to do the job. I beg Ministers— and I would beg the Chancellor if he was here— to get out of that age-old habit of assessing Civil Service wages and conditions on the basis of giving the least that will attract the men. That is the negative policy, of the past, and that policy will not do. If the State is going into industry on a large 2594 scale it has to get industrialists inside the Civil Service as good as on the outside. And it will not do to continue the penny-wise pound-foolish policy of the past.
I want to say one word, if I may, about what I think is a natural apprehension in the country, and which is a political problem of the first order. I think there is no doubt at all that the country has made up its mind as to whether it wants a planned economy, or capitalist anarchy, in Britain. But there is a lingering doubt on the subject of the liberty of the individual within a planned community. And a Labour Administration which proposes to nationalise a wide sector of industry should be very careful to give evidence of its concern, at every stage, for individual liberty within the area of the planned economy. We ought to move away from the Essential Work Order as rapidly as we can. For example, in the public service, to quote the industry I know best, we have not had the Essential Work Order all through the war. But now it has just been imposed on them. After the war with Germany and after the war with Japan is over, the Essential Work Order has suddenly been clamped down. I know the psychological effect of that. You do not get good work out of people who want to go some where else. We must move away from the controls of the Essential Work Order, and substitute for that the attraction of rewards and conditions of service in place of compulsion from the outside. And we must do that at the earliest possible moment. Particularly is it necessary for a Labour Government to do that.
The Government might do another thing, I do not suppose they will, but T hope they will set a good example in the ranks of the Parliamentary Labour Party by getting rid of that rigid, unrighteous, repressive, disciplinary Standing Order which forbids a member of the Labour Party ever to vote in the Lobbies down stairs against the decision of the party sitting upstairs.
§ Mr. Cluse (Islington, South)
As far as this Debate is concerned, are not hon. Members on the other side in exactly the same position?
§ Mr. Brown
I think it is historically the case that the only party that has that sort of rule in its Standing Orders is the 2595 Labour Party. I regard this as the complete antithesis of Parliamentary democracy, and I think they can get the results they want without it. The abandonment of it would do the party a great deal of good in the country, and would allow me to look upon it with a more favourable eye.
§ Mr. Brown
I do not know what the point of that is. I left the party in 1931, and I may say that most of its difficulties since then arc due to the fact that it has not yet applied for reaffiliation with me.
The last thing want to say is a personal word—and I hope it will not be taken unkindly—about the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford. I was distressed yesterday at parts of the Debate. It shocked me, and rather shamed me, to see the old lion being made the victim of bear-baiting. I want to say this, that those of us who sat in earlier Parliaments, the last Parliament particularly, however much we might disagree with the right hon. Gentleman, will never lose an eternal sense of indebtedness to him for his services to the country in the past. I know it is difficult, because he is as combative now as he was when he was an adolescent; he has never ceased to be a great boy, and it is extraordinarily difficult when he makes provocative speeches such as he has made. Personally, I think sometimes the best service he could render the country would be to write that history of the great war which ought to be written, and which he alone could write as it should be written. The longer he uses his great position to bolster up the Tory Party the worse it will become. Already, he has passed from admonishment to menace. And at his present rate of progress it will not be long before he passes from menace to Mosley!
§ Mr. Brown
The speech he delivered to the party meeting of the Conservative Party in the mouth of a man who more than any other knows the value of words — [An. HON. MEMBER: "You were not there."] —I take the reports 'of speeches which appear. The language used by the right hon. Gentleman then was a deliberate incitement to class war in Britain. And 2596 when it is followed up by the formation of strong-arm gangs by Tory headquarters one does wonder a little where we are getting to. Personally, I think the right hon. Gentleman's position is bound to go from bad to worse while he uses his incomparable authority to back up a party upon which the country has passed judgment, a judgment which I believe will not be recanted. I have never heard a case for a Motion of Censure so weak as the one made to-day! I have no doubt we shall defeat it overwhelmingly in the Lobbies. It is a good thing there should be a strong and vigorous Opposition in the Lobbies. But this Opposition will never function effectively unless it makes a mental note that there was an Election last July and that the verdict of that Election is not likely to be reversed.
§ 6.55 p.m.
Mr. Kings mill (Yeovil)
I rise with deference to claim the indulgence which this House always gives to a Member who is addressing himself to it in Debate for the first time, and I find myself in rather a quandary because it is a custom that one should be non-controversial in a maiden speech. I only wish I had taken the advice of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) who, when he was congratulating two maiden speakers last night, said that it was far better to be as controversial as one could on these occasions because it was the only time one could be controversial without being answered back.
If we examine the field of our present practical difficulties and look at the difficulties in housing, in mining, in agriculture, and in industry generally, we find one common denominator which goes through them all, and that is shortage of manpower. Each has its own particular difficulty, but that is common to all. One cannot but agree that the present scheme for demobilisation is good on its merits. It was, admittedly, put into operation at a time when we could not foresee the end of the Japanese war. It has worked, by and large, very well, but right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite have told us this afternoon that it is impossible to break it, because if we do, we have nothing to fall back on. I suggest that the Bevin Scheme as it is generally termed, has not been working 100 per cent. for some time past. There are hundreds of officers, non-commis- 2597 sioned officers and men who are well past their release dates now, and who are now serving in foreign theatres of war because they are essential to some particular job.
That being the case, I feel that we should attack this problem in a realistic rather than a sentimental sense, and I think this can be done. We know that the great difficulty of the moment, so far as the Far East is concerned, is shortage of shipping. That being the case, are we to keep the scheme going for that one reason? I suggest it is not necessary. We have heard also from hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the other side, that there is no adquate compensation which could be paid to a man who remains in the Armed Forces after his date of release, but I suggest that that argument carries no weight. To state that you cannot adequately compensate someone is surely no excuse at all for not attempting some form of compensation. One might as well say it is impossible adequately to compensate someone who loses his employment through no fault of his own and that, therefore, unemployment benefit should be withheld from him. It is childish.
Therefore, I would like to make a constructive suggestion on this subject. If it is found possible to demobilise the majority of men quicker than is being done now let us remember, a most important thing, that the essence of wise government is to do the greatest good to the greatest number. If it is accepted that we can demobilise men quicker compensation should be paid to those who may, through no fault of their own, have to remain behind. As a basis of compensation I suggest that whereas nowadays they are drawing 6d. a day as postwar credit the postwar credits of those men, and non-commissioned officers, should be raised to 7s. a day, which they can draw with their credits when their time comes to leave the Service. They will then find they have earned 10 guineas a month more than they would otherwise have been entitled to for that extra period. That would not in any way lower their morale, I think it would raise it, and there would be very few grumbles from any body. The same sort of scheme could apply to the commissioned officers of the three Services. I put forward that suggestion in all seriousness.
Everybody will agree that the releases under Class B scheme have not come up 2598 to expectations. Let us examine why that is the case. To my mind it is due to one major factor, and that is that the men who come out under Class B, and they are men who are essential to industry, do not draw their credits when they are released under Class B but have to wait until their age group is released to become eligible for them. A man who comes out under Class B has exactly the same commitments to meet in civil life as a man under Class A and to make Class B releases more attractive, 100 percent successful, I suggest that a man be allowed to draw his credit when he comes out under Class B.
I should like to address one word to the President of the Board of Trade, who has spent a long time upon setting up working parties in many of the major industries of the country, and to put in a plea for the smaller industries. Some 90 percent. of the industrial wealth of this country is in small firms employing fewer than 100 workpeople, and they can make a very great contribution to our export trade. To take an example from my own constituency of Yeovil, we are the home of the great craft of glove-making, all of it done in small factories which have been compressed together during the war but which are anxious to do their best. They are held up by two things; first, lack of manpower and releases from the Forces; secondly, a lack of material, imported skins, which they use. Whereas the skins they use come in the vast majority of cases from South Africa and India, in other words from the sterling area, the glove trade have informed me—at least two of the bigger manufacturers in Yeovil have in formed me—that if they could get extra skins they could export the whole of their present turnover in gloves to South America, thereby getting dollar exchange. I hope the President of the Board of Trade will do his best to see that they are allowed to get that dollar exchange.
Lastly, I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman opposite that we are wasting or losing a lot of trained material in the Services because the men in the Services have been given no indication of the terms and conditions of future service. The Secretary of State for War will agree, I think, that the major shortage in the Army today is a shortage of those officers who will make company commanders and of N.C.O.s in the senior classes. They 2599 are all due for early release under their age and service groups, and they do not know what the terms of their engagement will be if they stay on. Surely it is possible to publish those terms now and save some of those men who really want to stay in the Army from leaving it. By doing this we should get a well-balanced, well-trained and well-educated—from the point of view of military prowess—body of people in charge of our minor units. I know two officers and nine other ranks —one of the officers won a decoration and four of the other ranks won decorations—who have left the Army recently be cause they could not learn what the terms of service would be if they agreed to stay-on, as they were prepared to do. That is another aspect of the case which we shall have to face if we want to get 100 percent. efficiency in the Armed Forces of the Crown now that peace is here.