§ 3.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Medlicott (Norfolk, Eastern)
I am very glad to have this opportunity of initiating a Debate on the subject of the shortage of consumer goods, a subject of primary concern to the Board of Trade. A few months ago, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade was asked in this House whether it was proposed to set up a consumers' council. In reply, he said that the interests of consumers were best looked after by Parliament and by particular associations. Whether in referring to "particular associations" he had in mind the Housewives League is not for me to say, but he was certainly correct when he said that the interests of the consumer are best looked after by Parliament. I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House will welcome this opportunity today of discussing a problem which is of widespread interest, and, indeed, of widespread concern—the shortage of consumer goods.
It is rather remarkable that, in spite of a good deal of lip service, the interests of the consumer' are not always dealt with as early and as urgently as they ought to be. It used to be the maxim in business that the customer is always right, but now, it seems, that the customer hardly has any rights. When there is an 687 industrial dispute, the claims of everybody else are examined. The workers, the unions, and the management are all represented, but the consumer just has to wait for his goods until the dispute is over. When there is a transport strike, everybody's interests are debated except those of the passenger for whom the service is provided, and whose money keeps it going. While the dispute goes on, he just has to walk. When the coal industry was nationalised, all the interests, except one, were treated as of great importance. The interests of the miners and of the owners were discussed; the functions of the Coal Board, the machinery of operation, the status of the executives, and the powers of the Minister were all discussed with care, and even enthusiasm. But what about the householders for whom, after all, the coal is largely produced? They have to accept what is sent to them, and if they complain that they cannot burn slate, they find that they are just wasting their time. Therefore, we can well afford a day of Parliamentary discussion in the interests of the consumer as a class because he is a universal class—the category which embraces all classes.
What are the items in respect of which we are concerned about shortages nowadays? I am speaking, of course, of those items for which the President of the Board of Trade is responsible. The list is formidable. In passing, I would say that it is rather irritating when the expression "in short supply" is used. When a mother has hunted in every shop in the town for a baby's milk bottle, it is rather irritating for her to be told that they are "in short supply," because, as far as she is concerned, they are non-existent. At first, I thought I might have to spend some time in compiling a list of the shortages in some detail, but I think the President of the Board of Trade will hardly expect me to go over that ground which must be already far too familiar to him, because in recent months the columns of HANSARD have been full of instances of shortages of all kinds.
Without attempting to do more than select one or two examples, and, of course, leaving on one side the basic shortages of timber, fuel and steel, which are outside the right hon. and learned Gentleman's purview, we have shortages of carbon black for tyre manufacture. 688 soda ash for the manufacture of wool textiles, white lead and glycerine for paint manufacture. Those are only four examples of the many items of raw materials of which we are gravely short. In the realm of agriculture and fishing, the items for which the Board of Trade are responsible again show many shortages. Tractors, farm machinery generally and lorry tyres are among those items. The conveyance of sugar beet depends on the ample supply of transport within certain limited times, and that supply is always in jeopardy each year. The -supply of rubber boots and galvanised buckets is also very limited. In the fishing industry, there is, as we all know, a serious shortage of fishing nets, and the manufacturers are unable to promise delivery for a very long time ahead.
It is when we turn to the home that we find that the shortages are still more widespread and serious. Over the whole range of furniture and clothing, the facts are too well known to need recapitulation. Clothing of every description, and especially nylons, is very scarce. Curtain net, perambulators, blankets, china, glass, pottery, footwear and miscellaneous household commodities have been mentioned in this House in recent months, and, to a large extent, the Minister has been very frank and has accepted the fact that there are serious deficiencies. Indeed, one recent statement made by the Minister is overwhelming proof of this. He said that every month he received from the public—I am not sure if it is 90,000 or 900,000 letters—
§ The President of the Board of Trade (Sir Stafford Cripps)
The figure is 1,225,000.
§ Mr. Medlicott
I was almost afraid to quote figures approaching the million mark, but it is indeed a staggering position when the Minister receives over one million letters from members of the public on this problem. One finds, as a rule, that people do not write letters for fun; at least, only a small proportion do so. On the whole, most letters received by Ministers and hon. Members are written with a genuine desire to seek information or to bring forward some bona fidematter. The figure does, indeed, show a very disquieting picture. I am not suggesting that any one of those items in itself is a vital matter. What I suggest 689 is that the cumulative effect is very serious, both from the point of view of public morale and as a symptom of something wrong with the management of our affairs.
I have just returned from a business journey to Belgium, and it was the first time I had been there since I left that country at the end of the war. I was deeply impressed by the difference in the situation today from what it was two years ago. In 1945, the British Forces were living in Belgium on rations, clothing and equipment supplied in great abundance from this country. The Belgians themselves were on short commons. But now the position is reversed, and it is the British visitor who has to ask for cheaper rooms in the hotels and who sees the shops full of those consumer goods which are in such short supply in this country.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Combined English Universities)
Could I ask a question? I also have been to Belgium, and I was told by one of our own officials there that the standard of living of the workers in Belgium was lower than in 1939. One must not be deceived by the shop windows.
§ Mr. Medlicott
That may well be, but, after all, it is the shops from which the consumers obtain their goods. [An HON. MEMBER: "It has the largest black market in the world."] I can only state that in Belgium, without any reference to the black market at all, it is possible to buy a large number of goods which are completely unobtainable here. That is the only point I wish to make, and it is in some respects proof that Belgium has made a quicker recovery than we have. I believe the Belgian war effort was not of the same nature as ours, but she did suffer from occupation. Her economy was disrupted by the Germans. Many of her factories were switched over to processes very different from those of peacetime, and she has had to overcome these difficulties. She has done so in a very interesting way. One is entitled to ask whether it is not due, in some measure, at least, to the fact that her industries and manufacturers have not been subjected to the same amount of Government interference as those in this country
I said that the shortages were bad for morale. I do not wish to exaggerate that 690 aspect of the matter, but it is, nevertheless, a fact. These things do affect the morale of the people in time. We shall, no doubt, be given a large number of reasons for the shortages. We shall be referred to the need of the export trade, as to which we on this side of the House are entirely in agreement. That must be the basis of our return to prosperity. We shall also be told about the financial position, the fuel crisis, the shortage of labour and raw materials, and the magnitude of the task of conversion from war to peace. The most important reason will probably not be mentioned from the other side of the House; that is the crippling effect upon our national economy of the effort to introduce Socialism in our time. Of course, I would hardly expect the Minister to admit that. At one time it used to be said that the Board of Trade was so called because it was not a board and did not do any trade. Nowadays, of course, it does a great deal of trade—or at least it has a great deal to do with trade. There is a distinction. But, without being patronising, I would like to say that the reputation of the Board of Trade and of the Minister in business and industrial circles, stands probably a good deal higher than the reputation of almost any other Minister. That is shown by the answers given in this House to the numerous Questions which are always answered with courtesy and patience.
We are entitled to ask what is the Government's ultimate policy in regard to the trade and business of the nation. Is it doomed to be ultimately strangled by the octopus-like tentacles of nationalisation? Are bulk buying and price control and central direction to be retained as permanent features of our economy? Or is there in due time—but at the earliest possible date—to be a genuine willingness on the part of the Government to restore to British business a real measure of freedom? I mentioned just now some of the many items which are scarce at the present time. They have one feature in common, that in normal and, I think, happier times, they were nearly all the products of British private enterprise; they were the results of the particular genius which the British people have for vigorous and open competition conducted by merchants with the avowed object of making for themselves reasonable profits but, at the same time, providing a wide range of goods 691 for the customers, both at home and abroad, at reasonable prices. I know that to criticise and even to deride British business enterprise, and to attack the profit motive, is part of the normal propaganda of certain sections of hon. Members opposite; although one can welcome the rather more helpful attitude that has been shown by the Board of Trade itself, because, after all, our overseas investments and the favourable balances of trade and the rising standards of life which were built up in prewar and pre-Socialist days were very largely built up by the genius of British merchants and traders, by our inventive genius and by our manufacturing capacity.
§ Mr. Medlicott
There is a tendency to put rather too much emphasis on the shortage of raw materials. There is obviously a grave shortage, but it is not the full explanation of the shortage of consumer goods. The problem of labour is equally acute. The President of the Board of Trade himself, at his production conference in January at Bradford, said that there was an overall shortage then of 750,000 men and women in industry, and that the position could not be cured by getting labour from other industries, as that would only create another shortage. I doubt whether that is, in fact, the whole position. I am going to suggest that there is a definite maldistribution of labour, and that the total available amount of labour has not been used for the output of consumer goods to the extent possible. In 1939, there were approximately 3,287,000 people engaged in what can be described as the "consumer industries"—those producing mainly consumer goods such as clothing, furniture, food processing, and the like. But at the present time the number so employed is only 2,836,000, a drop of 451,000. Therefore, there is a reduction of nearly 500,000 workers in the very industries supplying consumer goods, and I venture to suggest that that is a very legitimate and real factor to be taken into account, and to be dealt with by the Minister, I hope, in his reply.
We shall be interested to know what plans the President of the Board of Trade has for this admitted problem of the 692 labour shortage in the very industries with which we are here concerned. I agree that production of certain articles has shown a substantial increase in the last two years. Footwear, cloth for clothing, and certain items of linen and bedding have all shown an encouraging upward trend in 1946 as compared with 1945; but, even so, it is still far behind the demand, and one wonders what is to happen if and when the Government's housing programme gets well under way. We must not spend too much time discussing hypothetical matters, but the time will come when there will be—we hope there will be soon—a great increase in the number of houses, and, therefore, a great increase in the number of young married couples who will set up home for the first time and who will make an enormous demand on the shops for goods generally. Seeing that already the production of goods is so far behind the actual demand, one wonders what plans the President has in mind to deal with that upward jump which will come upon us in due time.
I want to say a word as to the numbers of men and women who are engaged in the entertainment and gambling industries. I am making no criticism of these callings as such. I am as fond of football and of the theatre and the cinema as anybody. But we can hardly claim that we are carrying out a policy of strict austerity when we have, I believe, upwards of 200,000 people—the figure is difficult to ascertain with precision—engaged in sorting out football pool coupons and showing people into their seats at cinemas and theatres.
§ Mr. Medlicott
Yes, and in training racehorses. However, the fact is we have great numbers engaged in providing amusements. While all that is part of the maintenance of morale, there ought to be some limit.
Mr. Richard Adams (Balham and Tooting)
What does the hon. Member suggest as an answer to these problems?
§ Mr. Medlicott
I was coming to that point. At least, I was going to make a suggestion. Because the idea of the 693 direction of labour is entirely repugnant to this side of the Committee—and, I believe, it is equally so to the other side—I wonder whether all the inducements that would achieve the same end have been thoroughly examined. It would be presumptuous in a private Member to pretend he has a solution to what is an enormously difficult problem. I wonder if the President has conferred with his colleague the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the possibility of dealing with this matter by some form of persuasive taxation; whether, for example, there would be objection to allowing higher tax reliefs, or even a lower rate of tax, on earnings in certain selected industries. The fertile geniuses who devised Pay-As-You-Earn could take a problem like this in their stride.
§ Mr. Beswick (Uxbridge)
According to the Income Tax returns, there are 250,000 people enjoying an average income of £760 a year, none of whom does any work at all. Would the hon. Gentleman suggest the same kind of persuasive taxation to be applied to them?
§ Mr. Medlicott
That is already admitted in principle by the existence of the earned income allowance, which has been an accepted feature of taxation for many years past. This further suggestion is going only one step further in the same direction. It would do away with all the disadvantages of the direction of labour. People would be free entirely to choose their callings, but in those callings where they were making a smaller contribution towards national recovery they would be able to make up for that by paying a slightly higher amount of tax. Anyhow, I do suggest that an inquiry into that type of inducement is well worth pursuing, because it is infinitely better to deal with these matters by way of inducement than by way of direction.
I should like to say a few words on the question of substitutes. Here again, some months ago the President of the Board of Trade urged industrialists to use substitutes wherever they could, as long as they were easily available. That was excellent advice. I am wondering whether British manufacturers have been given the opportunity of having access to that remarkable dossier of trade information which was uncovered by the Allied Joint Intelligence Objectives Committee 694 at the end of the war. This dossier comprises several thousand tons of reports, covering over a million different items, and the information in it, containing complete formulae, is available to American industrialists in the American Department of Commerce, and elsewhere in America. In it there are formulae for the manufacture of special types of porcelain and of synthetic mica; the methods of metal fabrication, of needle manufacture, and processes for making ladderless, run-proof stockings; also formulae covering the whole range of liquid and solid fuels, metallurgy, synthetic rubber, textiles, chemicals, plastics, drugs and dyes. All this information is there for examination and use. These processes were developed by Germany in just such a situation as that with which we are faced today, namely, a grave shortage of raw materials. I believe that the American and Russian industrialists are drawing upon this source of information almost daily, and I should like to know whether our manufacturers have been given an equal opportunity of doing this.
§ Mr. John Lewis (Bolton)
Is not the hon. Member aware that people have been sent to Germany and elsewhere in Europe, and that reports have been published by Government Departments, which are available to manufacturers?
§ Mr. Medlicott
I am aware of the existence of those reports, but I believe this dossier, which is available in the American Chamber of Commerce, is even more comprehensive—possibly on the technical side—than anything we have yet seen. However, I merely ask for the assurance that in this matter we are at least as well equipped, and that our industrialists will at least have equality of access with their American and Russian competitors.
One further point in regard to raw materials is that this is a moment at which the drive for salvage should certainly be intensified. I will mention only one case, and I make a present of it to the Minister. I understand that every year the people of this country break 150 million milk bottles. I thought at first that the figure was a misprint, but I understand that that is, in fact, the number: 150 million milk bottles are broken every year. That is a staggering figure, and I suggest that the Government should do all they can to revivify the 695 salvage campaign. They should draw the i attention of the public to the way in which small wastages can grow into something really serious; and the co-operation of the public should be invited.
During the war the great question was not so much were we going to win—we felt pretty confident of that—but, "how long is it going to last?" I think the same question is being asked today by many people in regard to this matter of austerity: How long is it going to last? To make a somewhat obvious remark, we are today enjoying a welcome spell of sunshine. In case that seems irrelevant, let me add that there are few things more important to good spirits than the weather. But the time is not far distant when we shall be looking ahead to the prospect of another hard, cold winter. It may be a very hard winter, with queues and also cold winds and all those disadvantages which come with our northern climate.
The British public depend, for their sustenance and comfort, largely upon three Ministers—the Minister of Food, the Minister for Fuel and Power, and the President of the Board of Trade. From the Minister of Food we get courtesy and eloquence, but perhaps not very much in the way of variety or stimulation. From the Minister of Fuel and Power we get a good deal of heat, but very little of it is suitable for domestic consumption. From the President of the Board of Trade we hope to get something today, even if it is only a ray of hope.
I do not believe there is anything fundamentally wrong with this country, except possibly the existence of a Socialist Government. But I do believe that we are a little bit jaded and in need of a tonic. Hon. Members opposite have, very rightly, stressed the importance of the five-day week for workers; and I believe they do that largely because of the tonic effect of the altered and reduced hours of labour. I am not saying whether we agree or not; nevertheless, I think the basis of the five-day week is its tonic effect. One wonders whether the Government realise that the nation at large needs a similar tonic. For eight years now we have lived under conditions of strain and austerity; and even now, two years after the end of the war, for many people life is still drab and somewhat colourless.
696 We on this side of the Committee believe that many of the nation's difficulties are due not entirely to external factors, but to the mistaken policies and ineffective administration of the party opposite. The President of the Board of Trade has jurisdiction over many of those little, things which go to make life comfortable and enjoyable, but we believe that he is handicapped, and gravely handicapped, by the doctrines which he advocates. Within the limits of those self-imposed handicaps, we urge him, in all seriousness, to adjust his policy, so that by giving greater scope to the efforts of British manufacturers and British businessmen there may soon flow into British homes a more ample measure of those goods of which they stand in such urgent and serious need at the present time.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Osborne (Louth)
I am very pleased indeed to have been called so early. I have been rather caught on one leg, because I had no idea that I should have the good fortune to catch your eye so soon, Major Milner. The question of shortages is one about which there can be no two opinions. That there are shortages of consumer goods, we all agree. But to realise the extent of those shortages it is necessary, I think, for hon. Members such as the hon.' Member for East Norfolk (Mr. Medlicott) to go to America and to see there the superfluity and abundance of consumer goods in the shops. We have slipped so long and so far that we do not realise how much we have given up of our prewar standards, and it is only by going across to America we can see what life really could be for all classes. [HON. MEMBERS: "In America?"] In America.
§ Mr. R. Adams rose—
§ Mr. Osborne
No, I cannot give way. We have to do that to realise how far we have slipped. I was in America for eight weeks and returned about three weeks ago.
§ Mr. Osborne
One of the astonishing things there is that the country is full of drive, go, and vim. [HON. MEMBERS: "And strikes."] Everybody is enjoying a higher standard of comfort, a standard which I should like to see everybody in 697 this country enjoying. Hon. Members opposite, as is already evident, do not like the comparison between that country and this—
§ Mr. R. Adams rose—
§ Mr. Osborne
No. Let me point out to hon. Members opposite, who are so anxious, that in this week's edition of "Time," an American magazine which is a reasonably reliable paper—[Interruption.]Obviously the evidence is not palatable. Their correspondent from Poland says this:The Polish people are better fed, roughly as well dressed, and almost as well housed as the people of Britain.The President of the Board of Trade can do what he likes with that. In order to establish how far we have declined, I will read what the President of the Board of Trade wrote in a book, which every Member should read, when he was serving under a distinguished Conservative Prime Minister. He wrote this:And look first at the state of our country today, in the closing hours of the greatest world war. There is no unemployment, little or no poverty, and the standard of living and nutrition is higher than ever before the war, because the people can afford proper nourishment.I challenge the right hon. and learned Gentleman to say that the conditions today are as good under the Socialist Government as they were when he wrote those words. The consumer goods are not as available in the shops today as they were during the war.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
Is the hon. Member aware that the country was then living on Lend-Lease and on charity from the United States?
§ Mr. Osborne
Is the hon. Member aware that we are still living on Lend-Lease, although it is now called a loan. For an expert, I am surprised at him. If hon. Members opposite want any further evidence of our deteriorated position, they should read their own newspaper. It is stated, in the headlines of this morning's issue of the "Daily Herald," that the T.U.C. have great anxiety that the electricity position will be worse this winter than last winter. I ask the President of the Board of Trade, if the position is worse this winter, whether it is not reasonable to expect that the production of consumer goods will be worse.
§ Mr. Osborne
We shall, no doubt, have the old excuse from the President of the Board of Trade that there is a shortage of labour and materials. It is a fair excuse.
§ Mr. Osborne
It is obvious that hon. Members opposite do not like the truth. This excuse has been overworked. I wish to give two examples from my own trade, about which I know just a little, namely, the hosiery trade. In 1937, we were putting men's socks on the home market at the rate of 7.5 million pairs per month. According to the Government's own figures, we are today producing 3.3 million. In view of these figures, can it be said that we are better off? I ask hon. Ladies to take note of my next example. In 1937, according to the Governments figures, we were putting on the home market 25 million pairs of ladies' stockings per month, whereas today we are providing only 9.2 million pairs. That is the first fruits of Socialism, and it is some indication of the present poverty of the Socialist administration.
I will now deal with the excuse that materials as well as labour are causing the shortages. Most of our textiles, as the President of the Board of Trade knows, are made of wool. According to the Government's Statistical Abstract, we have in stock 585 million lbs. of wool. Last month, the consumption of wool for the home market came to 35.7 million lbs., which means that we have 18 months' supply of wool in hand. It is utter rubbish to say that in this trade which affects hon. Ladies so seriously, we are short of raw materials. Nothing of the kind. In addition to this huge supply of wool, the Joint Organisation have something like six years' clip available. Instead of having a shortage of materials we have too much, and therefore the excuse in the hosiery trade does not hold good. I claim that the shortages are due to the mismanagement and misplacement of labour, and the fact that we are not getting more than 65 to 70 per cent. out of the labour we should get.
699 One of my factories, in Leicester, was occupied during the war by the Navy. We have got it back now, and it is practically ready to produce. It employed 550 people before the war. Hon. Members know that the hosiery trade is short of 46,000 women as compared with prewar, so how can we get these 550 workers to start this factory? There is no hope of increasing the supply of consumer goods unless such factories are started again. One of the best-known textile houses in the Midlands told me that their labour force is about 51 per cent. compared with prewar. They did get down to 42 per cent., but by hard work they increased the figure to 51 per cent. There is no prospect at the present time of getting back to 100 per cent.
§ Mr. Osborne
Then why ask the question? Not only have they got only 51 per cent. of their prewar labour, but, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, because the turnover of labour in the textile industry is abnormal, with people coming and going, production is dislocated. Because firms cannot get regular runs they attain only 45 to 50 per cent. production. Are we really short of labour in this country? There are approximately the same number of people in this country as there was before the war. I believe that the real reason is that Socialism will not work; it may be all very fine on paper but it will not work in practice. The two factors which make the economic machine go, are, firstly, the hope of award, and secondly, the fear of punishment. The Socialist Government have tried to take away both of these driving forces, with the result that we are not getting the production.
§ Mr. Beswick
Are we to understand that the Government are preventing the hon. Member's firm from offering some form of award to these 550 workers?
§ Mr. Osborne
If the hon. Gentleman will possess his soul in patience, I will tell him. The President of the Board will say to me, "What should be done?"—that is, apart from getting rid of the Socialist Government. The labour force is here, the material is here, the machines are standing idle—why are we not getting the goods? [An HON. MEMBER: "Where is the labour force?"] There are as many people in the country today as there were before the war. The Socialists prefer them to work in football pools instead of making textiles.
What should be done? I suggest to the President of the Board of Trade that there are three things which should be done. First, he should get the workers and the employers together; he should forget the poster campaign, which has failed so badly, and impress on the two organisations the fact that this country is facing a battle of production as important as was the Battle of Britain; and emphasise that if we lose it—and I prefer to believe what the Paymaster-General said, rather than what the Leader of the House said—that we shall be really up against it. If we can only get our people to realise that we are up against it, I think that we shall get the necessary production. What we have to do especially is to say to the men—such as the members of the Railway Clerks' Union who are demanding a 35-hour week, while the women are being asked to do two jobs—"Stop hiding behind the skirts of the women and do an honest day's work." If the President of the Board of Trade could say to the work-people and employers that at the end of 12 months' hard work, shortages would be ended, I think he would get the effort which is needed; he will not otherwise.
Secondly, if we are to get the production we need, we have to alter entirely our basis of taxation. The first thing I would do is to sack the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I think that his ideas of taxation are too rigid and that he and his policy are the greatest hindrances.
§ Mr. Osborne
I must obey your Ruling, Major Milner, but if you will permit me, I will try to establish why this is important.
§ The Chairman
Taxation is not the point at issue. The question that I have to decide is whether it is relevant within the terms of the matters which we are now discussing.
§ Mr. Osborne
I am greatly obliged to you Major Milner, and I will try to keep within your Ruling. When I was in America, I found that a knitter could earn 100 dollars a week quite regularly. Over here, if a man earned £8, £9 or £10 a week for doing the same kind of work, he is lucky.
§ Mr. Osborne
As far as I can remember, the worst-paid women get 30 dollars and the best-paid about 60 dollars, while a man can get between 50 dollars and 100 dollars plus according to his output; but they get the production because there are incentives and rewards. There is something for them to work for. Over here, we cannot get production because we take away the results of a man's labour. I think that is an essential reason why we are not getting production, and why there is a shortage of consumer goods. For example, a single knitter in one of my factories is now earning £6 a week. If I ask him to work harder, and he gets £10 a week, out of the difference of £4 extra, he pays 30s. in Income Tax through P.A.Y.E., and he says, "Sir, I am not going to do it"; and we cannot get the production. In America, taxation is not so oppressive. It does not start so low and it does not go so high.
If hon. Ladies opposite want the things which we in Leicester produce, they will have to encourage the men to work. It is not only that taxation seriously affects the average working man; it affects administration as well and technical management. The President of the Board of Trade knows full well that management today is perhaps the most vital factor in our production drive. I can give an example to the House in which a job was offered at £8,000 a year to a man in the South of England if he would go to the North—an increase in salary from £3,000 to £8,000—but he would not go. He would not move his place of residence because the difference between £3,000 and £8,000, when he had paid taxation, did not make it worth his while. May I give 702 the President of the Board of Trade another example—he need not shake his head at it, either Recently, a man engaged in producing consumer goods spoke to me about building a new factory. It was to cost him £50,000 to build and equip. I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will listen to this. He said that, after consideration, he would not build it because if it were successful, he would get only is in the £ out of what he earned.
§ The Chairman
The hon. Member is dealing with matters which fail to come within the Board of Trade Vote.
§ The Chairman
I think the hon. Member is dealing with Income Tax, which is not the real matter under discussion, although it may have some slight and passing relevance to the Vote.
§ Mr. Osborne
It is not a slight issue; it is a major issue. I think that it is the most vital thing. We are fools not to look at it, if I may say so.
My third suggestion to the President of the Board of Trade is this. I beg of him to suspend for six months the export drive in consumer goods, to put these goods into our own shop windows, and let our people buy them. They will not work harder and produce more goods if they are to have only paper money which they cannot spend. If the export drive were suspended for six months, and the women were allowed to spend their husband's wages, they would see that the men worked harder.
§ Mr. Osborne
I can only think that the hon. Member suffers very badly at home. I believe that if these three things were done—if restrictions on output were lifted, if taxation were altered, and if consumer goods were put in the shops, we should get the economic recovery. Things would move faster, and I believe that we should get the things which we are now lacking.
§ Mr. Harrison (Nottingham, East)
Will the hon. Gentleman develop the point about punishment? The hon. Gentleman and I are very good friends, but I would 703 like him to develop the line which he suggests regarding punishment. I am interested personally, and I am sure that the House is interested.
§ Mr. Osborne
I am afraid that you, Major Milner, would not allow me. I may, however, say this to hon. Members opposite; if we do not have some discipline in our own country, the outside world will discipline us, and I think the President of the Board of Trade will agree with me in that. Finally, when this Socialist Government was returned two years ago with its huge majority, the people of this country, especially the poor people, expected a better and a fuller life.
§ Mr. Osborne
They were entitled to expect it, and we hoped, as everyone hoped, that they would get it, but I think this afternoon's Debate has shown that the shortages have deprived them of their hopes. As my last point, I want to quote what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said on page 78 of his remarkably good book. [HON. MEMBERS: "What is it?"] It is "Towards a Christian Democracy," and I advise all hon. Members opposite to read it. He said this, and he might have written it for this Debate:Continual professions without performance are the most damaging form of advocacy. It drives people away in a bitter disillusionment, and leaves a vacuum of purpose in their mind which can easily be filled by totalitarianism, materialism, paganism or any other evil idea.That is the position we are getting into, and unless something drastic is done, as the leader of the I..L.P. said before he died, the people of this country may turn in disgust from Socialism to something far worse on the Left.
§ 4.33 P.m.
§ The President of the Board of Trade (Sir Stafford Cripps)
It might perhaps be convenient to the Committee if I were to intervene shortly at this stage, though I had hoped that there would be more for me to speak about and answer than has been apparent in the two speeches so far made.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, Southern)
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman had not risen so early in the Debate he might have had a few more arguments to answer.
§ Sir S. Cripps
As a matter of courtesy to the Committee, I was asked to speak early in order to provide perhaps some further facts. At present the Committee seems to be debating without any facts. [Interruption.]The noble Lord can speak presently if he wishes, I am sure. The facts upon which we are now proceeding seem to me to be of importance. It really is no use comparing this country with America, either before or after the war. Our standards have never been the same as those of America, and we do not expect them to be today. I should have thought that the material comparisons were two, first, what we were able to do before the war in our then position in regard to production, and, second, how far in the last two years since the end of the war we have been able to pick up our production from the point to which it had then fallen. I would like to say a word or two about those two comparisons; but, in making the comparison with before the war, one must also take into account the factors which are making the situation today more difficult than it was before the war as far as consumer commodities in this country are concerned. Of course, the principal factor, obviously, is the difficulty about the balance of payments.
Before the war we were receiving a very large volume of imports annually without having to export anything in exchange for them. It was the result of the past indebtedness of other countries, in the form of dividends or of repayments of capital sums, by which means some £100 or £150 million worth of goods or more were received for which we had to make no payment in return. Now, of course, in order to get that volume of imports, we have to send exports out, and we therefore have a much greater emphasis on the export side of our economy than we had before. We must expect, out of our total production, to have to devote a larger proportion to exports and a smaller proportion to consumer goods at home. Therefore, even if we had fully recovered from all the results of destruction by blitz and everything else during six years of war, we should expect now to find that our standard of consumer goods was considerably below what it was before the war, as we have to send a larger proportion of our goods abroad. That is one of the most important factors to bear in mind when 705 comparing our present position with the prewar position.
There is, however, another very important factor so far as the consumer market is concerned, and that is that there is much greater consumer power today in this country than there was before the war. Hon. Members will recall that there was a large volume of unemployment right up to the autumn of T939, and the capacity to purchase and the standard of goods purchased were both much lower than they are today. It is extremely noticeable in a number of goods, to which I will refer in a moment when I am making a comparison between the two, how much the standard has gone up particularly in all goods relating to children, such as prams, children's clothes, children's footwear and so on. People are not only more careful about their children and more anxious to give them what is best for them; they are also able today to get much more for them than they could in the years before the war. In those circumstances, one would not expect to find the demand satisfied even if we had got back to our prewar volume of production, because the standard of production has gone up. There are, therefore, two factors tending to make the standard of consumption rise above the standard of production, first, the export drive which reduces the volume of production of consumer goods here, and, second, the rise of consumption standards above their prewar level.
§ Mr. Osborne
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is not making allowance for any increase of efficiency during the eight years. Surely he must allow for that factor?
§ Sir S. Cripps
I am coming to that in a moment; I am talking now about the volume of demand and supply. So far as manufacturing capacity is concerned, two factors have intervened. One is what one would have got to by the normal growth of efficiency in production, and the other is a war for six and a half years, which, so far as civilian industry is conerned, completely stopped any increase in efficiency of production. There has been no opportunity of introducing new machinery, as the hon. Member knows very well, either in the hosiery trade or in any other. It is just beginning to come in now in small quan- 706 tities. Not only that, but there has been very great destruction and dislocation, and it would be a miracle if today we were able, despite six and a half years of war, to point to a normal increase in the last eight years, of productivity. Indeed, any increase at all would be very surprising.
There has also been the dislocation which both hon. Members have mentioned caused by the shift of the working population. Workers were taken out of many of the older civilian industries and were put into the very newest industries, and it is not surprising that they prefer to remain in the newest industries as long as there is work for them. They do not want to go back to the old industries where conditions are very much worse, and that of course is the great difficulty in Lancashire, where a great many new factories of the most up-to-date character in light engineering and similar trades were placed during the war, and where the demand for labour today is still very great. The engineering industry, as hon. Members know, has engaged in it over 300,000 more people than before the war, and those 300,000 have been taken from somewhere else in the course of the war. People were taken from anywhere and put into the industry, and 300,000 of them have stayed in it, although a great deal of the engineering industry still think they are very short of labour because they have got the markets if only they could- supply more.
Taking that situation and those facts, I should like for a moment to see what has actually happened as regards a comparison with prewar production. In a great many things—and I will touch only the major items—it has not been possible either for labour or raw material reasons to increase output to anything like as much as we should like, but there are a considerable number of items where we have gone well above the prewar production already and yet there is still a greater demand than we can satisfy. Take children's and infants' leather footwear, a matter about which we continually receive complaints of shortage. In 1935, which is the only prewar year for which we have figures but which is a normal year, the output was 29.3 million pairs a year, while the current position is an output at the rate of 39.4 million 707 pairs a year. Despite that, there is a shortage—I am not suggesting there is not—but the industry has responded to the extent of 40 per cent. increase over prewar output and still a shortage remains. One must not decry the efforts of the industry simply because there is still a shortage. I should like to make it clear that neither I nor my Department manufactures any of these goods about which we are talking. These goods are all produced by private enterprise, because all industries for which I am responsible are private enterprise industries.
§ Sir S. Cripps
No, I am dealing at the moment with those items of which there is a greater production than there was prewar. It does not apply to men's and women's shoes, because we have concentrated on children's and infants' shoes inasmuch as we regard these as important. Prams and folders are another item about which I am constantly asked questions, and in 1938 output for the home market was roughly 550,000 a year; in April, 1947, output for the home market was at the rate of 669,000 a year. Despite that, there is still a shortage. I could go through a great number of other kinds of goods like electrical goods of different kinds, safety razors, combs, tobacco, lighters, and sports goods, in all of which there is an increase over actual prewar output. That is not an unsatisfactory element. When we are discussing shortages it is just as well that we should see what is on the credit side as well as what is on the debit side, because it is unfair to the workers and people of this country if we stress only the things of which there is an acute shortage, perhaps for some very good reason, and do not stress those things in which production has come along very well owing to a good effort by management and workers alike.
The second comparison I want to make is between the present time and the end of the war. There, of course, one would expect to find very substantial increases, and increases more or less all along the line. That is, in fact, what one discovers. If I may take some of the major items and the percentage change, comparing April, 1947, with April, 1945—April, 708 1947, is the last figure we have—we find these increases: footwear leather—I am referring to all kinds of footwear—48 per cent.; rubber, 614 per cent.; cloth wool, 37 per cent.; non-wool, 48 per cent.; wool blankets, 43 per cent.; hollowware, 71 per cent.; prams and folders, 108 per cent.; and utility furniture, 345 per cent. Those are the increases in the main blocks of production between the present day and the end of the war. The hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) referred to a passage in a book for which I was responsible, but I think he will see from it that his statement that we were worse off today than we were then was not very accurate. In any class of goods which hon. Members care to take, production today is greater than production was then and greater by a very considerable amount.
§ Mr. Oliver Lyttelton (Aldershot)
We on this side of the Committee are willing to concede the right hon. and learned Gentleman's argument that two years after peace was established, consumption of civilian goods is higher than at the end of the war.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I am glad to hear that, because the right hon. Gentleman's supporter behind him put exactly the opposite argument. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman agrees with me in something so obvious. If we take these figures—they were all published in detail on 3rd May in the "Board of Trade Journal," and I will not go through them now—they all show this very substantial increase, or a very substantial recovery towards the prewar production of 1938, even where they have not yet reached that figure.
There are certain blocks of goods in which there is great difficulty, principally those which depend upon raw materials from overseas, of which there has been an acute world shortage. These raw materials include hard wood, linseed oil and other matters perhaps of similar but less important character; and, second, those articles for which there is ample raw material, but in which there is in the particular preparatory industry a real shortage of labour which we have not been able to cure. When the hon. Member for Louth spoke of the raw material for the hosiery trade being wool he really meant 709 yarn, and the difficulty, as he knows, is to get worsted yarn and woollen yarn.
§ Sir S. Cripps
For this industry the raw material is not there, unfortunately, because the yarn is not there.
§ Sir S. Cripps
Certainly, because of the labour. There is ample wool and cotton in the country but that is not the case with rayon. There is not such a supply of wood pulp, but that is another matter.
There are two categories of these extreme shortages, one of them depending upon the capacity to import raw materials, and the other on the capacity to get labour to work the raw material when it comes into this country and so feed many industries which eventually supply the public. As far as the raw material is concerned, we hope that the world situation for those raw materials, of which we have been particularly short, is now improving. As far as hard wood is concerned, there are quite definite signs of a letting up in the market for it, which should enable us to obtain substantially larger quantities in the coming year than we were able to obtain last year. That should enable us to manufacture considerably more furniture, in which trade there is unfortunately short-time employment and unemployment, entirely due to the shortage of hard wood.
Second, as regards the industries in which there is a shortage of labour for work on ample raw material supplies, the worst, of course, are the textile industries which influence a very large number of other industries, which are bound to use different kinds of textile material in the course of their manufacture. We have done our best to assist the cotton and woollen industries to get a greater input of labour, but eventually the task must be upon the employers in those industries to make conditions attractive enough to draw labour to them. As both hon. Members have said, we are not going to direct labour; that is not part of our policy and therefore there must be means by which industries can be made attractive enough to draw the labour to them, whether it be whole-time or part-time, both of which I hope we shall be able to use in all the 710 textile industries. But at the present time, despite the efforts that are being made on all sides—by the trade unions, by the employers, by the Ministry of Labour, by the Cotton Board and by other people—we cannot get the labour that is required. There has been a Very slow improvement over the last year; indeed it has been extremely slow, and not sufficient to give that increase that we want both for exports and for home consumption.
The hon. Member for East Norfolk (Mr. Medlicott) suggested that the morale of industrial production would be improved if the Labour Party were to change its policy—if I may put it in that shorthand way. I suggest to him that that would be the most devastating thing for the morale of the people of this country. One thing that really cheered them up since the war was the last General Election. [Interruption.]I should not mind a bit trying it again tomorrow with the hon. Member—
§ Sir S. Cripps
If they used the same posters, I would willingly try, and particularly if they had the same broadcasts. But, after all, whether that be right or wrong, the hon. Gentleman can hardly imagine that his suggestion would be taken seriously by any Government. Having been elected to put through a policy which we believe to be right, it would be wrong for us to adopt the Opposition's policy in any circumstances. We shall, therefore, continue with our policy.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I am quite prepared to take the test of what happens. The real trouble with-the hon. Member for East Norfolk was that he could not suggest anything concrete that he would like to see in this situation. Of course, we should all like people to work harder; anyone can say that. We should all like to get more raw materials if we could buy them, and we should all like to see more goods produced and put in the shops to be distributed at lower prices. All that would be admirable, but having followed his speech very carefully I could not deduce any means by which the hon. Gentleman 711 suggested that this desirable state of affairs could be arrived at.
§ Mr. Medlicott
The implication of my remarks was that it would result from the change of Government.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I am obliged to the hon. Member. I thought I was right when I said that that was roughly what his argument came to and that there was nothing more constructive in it. No doubt he will go out into the country trying to get the change of Government, but in the meantime he has no other suggestions to make.
§ Mr. Medlicott
The right hon. and learned Gentleman's Government is charged with the responsibility of dealing with this problem, and we have played our part by drawing attention to its seriousness.
§ Sir S. Cripps
If that is all the reason why this day was chosen for the discussion of the shortage of consumer goods, then I am obliged to the hon. Member for the information. I thought that these occasions were generally chosen in order that hon. Members might make suggestions as to what steps could be taken to improve matters.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
Is not the advocacy of a change of Government a policy in itself? When the right hon. and learned Gentleman was a Member of the Coalition Government and a general in the field had done badly, they put him away and appointed a first-class man like Montgomery in his place. I say that that is an act of policy, and that it would be an act of wisdom to turn this Government out.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I quite appreciate that that is the only policy which the hon. Gentleman has; it is what we call power politics. All he cares about is getting the other side out and getting in himself. He does not mind what he does when he gets in. The hon. Member for Louth raised the question of women's fully-fashioned stockings.
§ Sir S. Cripps
Those are the only kind of stockings to which women pay attention nowadays. The hon. Member said that before the war we were making or 712 using 25 million pairs a month, and that now we were making only 9.2 million. Of course, he knows very well that roughly half of them were imported before the war and that there are substantially no imports today, and that the great difficulty so far as women's stockings are concerned is the shutting off of imports.
§ Mr. Osborne
The average production in this country was 23 million pairs and imports amounted to 2 millions only, which is not a half. I am sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman would not wish to mislead the public.
§ Sir S. Cripps
What I was pointing out to the hon. Gentleman was that he was talking about the number of women's stockings that were available in this country, which included the imported stockings as well as the manufactured ones. The availability of fully-fashioned stockings actually included 50 per cent. that were imported, and it is not to be wondered at that there is a shortage of fully-fashioned hose today seeing that we import practically none. I am merely explaining to the hon. Member that that is another of the reasons why there may be shortages in particular commodities and that although you may be quite prepared to buy, as far as balance of payments or anything else is concerned, you cannot in fact, get the goods because they are not available—at any rate in the form in which you want them. I do not want to go into any of the further details. I have no doubt that hon. Members will mention certain detailed commodities about which they would like particulars, and my hon. Friend who is speaking later in the Debate will be prepared to deal with any of those special cases. All I can say on the general matter is that we are doing our utmost to stimulate private enterprise, along the lines of those improvements which have been suggested by the various working parties to maximum production.
We hope that as soon as the Industrial Organisation and Development Bill has passed through another place, we shall be able to set up in many industries suitable bodies which will give to industries that degree of stimulation which some of them apparently lack today, and we shall hope that by that process—which can be only 713 a gradual one—by an increase or efficiency in industry, and by an increase of manpower where there is now a deficiency of manpower, we shall be able to climb back to the levels of production which existed prewar, and then go even further above that point so as to satisfy the even larger demand that exists today as compared with prewar. That will be the improvement in the standard of living which we hope to reach.
I cannot hold out to the Committee any hope of an immediate or spectacular change. It is inevitably a slow job. We are still suffering and will continue to suffer for some time from the effects of the war, both in manpower and in materials, and until we have been able to overcome them and to get a much freer supply of commodities and raw materials, which we hope to import, we shall not be able to rectify this shortage in consumer goods. In the meantime, we must maintain as large a volume of exports as we possibly can, in order to maintain the balance of payments. We must, of course, have regard to the needs of our own people in making our volume of exports as large as possible. It is a very difficult balance to strike in all the many articles with which we are dealing. We have to deal not only with things like boots but with all the different qualities of boots, or whatever it might be. We have tried wherever possible to export goods which have the greatest value to us for export and to retain at home goods which have a definite utility value for our people. We have managed in addition to keep down prices, especially of the ordinary commodities which are purchased by the ordinary people, and this has enabled them to buy what is available at a reasonable price.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Cooper (Middlesbrough, West)
Could my right hon and learned Friend take the opportunity of dealing more fully with a matter upon which he has just touched—utility clothing. I believe it is of some concern to many manufacturers, who feel it is not worth while to carry on if the utility scheme is to be discontinued.
§ Sir S. Cripps
There is no question of discontinuing the utility clothing scheme until we get to a very much better standard of supply. Discontinuance would mean an enormous loss in volume of garments, and it would also mean a 714 lowering of the standard of those garments. Therefore there is no intention of any sort to discontinue the scheme. On the main Debate, I hope I have been able to answer one or two of the questions that have been put to me. The Parliamentary Secretary will, I hope, try to answer the rest.
§ Mr. Medlicott
Would the President of the Board of Trade, before he sits down, deal with the point that I put to him of making available to British industrialists the rather special kind of information to which I referred?
§ Sir S. Cripps
I beg the hon. Member's pardon. Exactly and precisely the same information as is available in the United States is available to British industrialists through the Board of Trade. In addition to that, there have been published 2,144 reports on specific industries, many hundreds of thousands of copies of which have been sold. They are available in the Stationery Office and if the hon. Gentleman would read those reports I am sure that he would find them interesting and stimulating.
§ 57 P.m.
§ Sir John Mellor (Sutton Coldfield)
I wish to refer to the allocation of certain Government-owned factories at Grantham. During the war those factories were occupied by a company known as British Marco. The affairs of that company were investigated by the Public Accounts Committee in 1942 and a Debate took place in the House of Commons on 7th October that year. There was associated with British Marco a company called Grantham Productions, Limited. The hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Kendall) was managing director of both those companies. I should like to make it clear that I am not here to attack the hon. Member for Grantham. My target is the President of the Board of Trade. If, incidentally, any facts that I may state should cause any pain to the hon. Member for Grantham, I shall be sorry, but I must not be deterred from my purpose.
Before the end of the Coalition Government, these factories were allocated by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was then President of the Board of Trade, to a company named Aveling-Barford, Limited. I should like to state that I have no direct interest whatever in Aveling-Barford, Limited, but 715 bearing in mind the onslaught which was made upon one of my hon. Friends in the early hours of this morning for omitting to disclose that he was a vice-president of a non-commercial body, I should act on the safe side—
§ Mr. Harrison
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. Could the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) inform the Committee in what way the matter to which he is now referring bears upon the question before the Committee?
§ Sir J. Mellor
I am disclosing what interest I have in this company. It is likely to arise through a shareholding in some other company; thus I may have an indirect interest in the affairs of Aveling-Barford, Ltd. These factories were allocated to Aveling-Barford before the end of the Coalition Government by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was then President of the Board of Trade. When the Caretaker Government came in, my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) reconsidered the matter and confirmed the decision of his predecessor that the factories should be allocated to Aveling-Barford, Ltd. After the General Election when the Socialist Government came in—
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, West)
On a point of Order. Is it in Order, in a Debate upon shortages, for an hon. Member to raise matters concerning one particular firm? Can the affairs of Aveling-Barford, Ltd., or of any other firm be brought before this Committee in all their detail?
§ The Chairman
This is a Debate on shortages. I imagine that this matter has a bearing upon the subject. The hon. Member is raising the case of a factory and alleging that its allocation was the responsibility of the Board of Trade. It seems to be perfectly in Order.
§ Sir J. Mellor
The matter I am raising affects the question of shortages. When the President of the Board of Trade Trade assumed office immediately after the General Election, he at first allowed this allocation to stand. Representations were made to him by Grantham Productions, Ltd., and as a result of them he re-opened the matter. In fact. he delegated the decision to his then Parliament- 716 ary Secretary, the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith). The result of the report of that hon. Gentleman was that the right hon. and learned Gentleman changed the allocation. He withdrew it from Aveling-Barford, Ltd., and allocated the factories to Grantham Productions, Ltd. On 19th December, 1946, I asked the President of the Board of Trade why he had reversed the decision of his predecessors in office and—
§ The Chairman
I assume that the hon. Member intends to relate his remarks to the Estimates now before the Committee, namely, those for 1947–48. So far he appears to be dealing with previous years.
§ Sir J. Mellor
The allocation of these factories will affect the year under review, and I submit that it is essential to give the history of this matter, otherwise it will be impossible for the Committee to appreciate whether the action of the President of the Board of Trade has been wise or unwise.
§ The Chairman
I do not quite know what is in the hon. Member's mind. We are mainly discussing the production of civilian goods for the year ending 31st March, 1948. Unless the hon. Member relates his remarks to that question, he will not be in Order. If he assures me that he intends to relate his remarks to that matter, then he will be in Order.
§ Sir J. Mellor
The allocation of these factories must affect the production of goods in that period. Major Milner. The question arises as to what is to be produced in those factories, and that, I submit, would be in Order. As I was saying, on 19th December, 1946, I asked the President of the Board of Trade:Why he reversed the decision of his two immediate predecessors in office that a factory at Grantham should be allocated to Aveling-Barford, Ltd., and allocated it instead to Grantham Productions, Ltd.; and what steps he took to satisfy himself that the latter company had sufficient capital available for the mass production of motor-cars.The right hon. and learned Gentleman replied:of the applicants for this factory, Aveling-Barford, Ltd. at first put forward the strongest case. Subsequently, however, Grantham Productions, Ltd., who were associated with the occupying contractors, supported their claim to retain the factory for peace-time production with evidence of improved financial and productive resources. Having regard to all the circumstances. I 717 decided that Grantham Productions ought not to be denied the opportunity they sought, and that they should, accordingly, be allowed to remain."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th December, 1946; Volt 431, c. 2149.]The evidence of improved financial and production resources proved to have misled the President very much because in November, 1946, that company went into liquidation with £250,000 worth of unsecured creditors, including £23,000 due to the Government for P.A.Y.E. At the same time an associated company, called the Coverley-Kendall, also went into liquidation, in this case compulsory liquidation, and severe strictures were made by the Official Receiver on the management which had caused the failure.
§ The Chairman
I must ask the hon. Member for his assurance that he proposes to relate his long catalogue of events to the production of civilian goods for the year under review. If he is merely going to enter into a catalogue of past events that will not be in Order by itself; he must relate them to the production of goods. Would he give me his assurance on this point?
Sir J. Mellon
I am relating a sequence of events, and I submit that it would be misleading to the Committee if I gave a part of the story and not the whole.
§ The Chairman
If the hon. Member will forgive me, it is not a question of sequence of events; it is a question whether he is now leading up to matters coming within the year 1947–48. If he tells me that he is proposing to do that, I shall accept his assurance, but if he is merely entering into a long catalogue of past events, having no relation to the year under review. he will not be in Order. Would he give me his assurance on this matter?
§ Sir J. Mellor
It is unfortunate that I shall have to cut out a great deal of what I regarded as essential to a clear and comprehensive review of the question.
§ Mr. Walter Fletcher (Bury)
On a point of Order, Major Milner. Surely, if the Committee is to be able to take an intelligent view of this matter and if, as a result of this sequence of events, goods were not produced because a factory was allocated to one company rather than another, a description, step by 718 step, of how that deficiency has come about must be in Order.
§ The Chairman
The hon. Member is probably right, but the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) was entering into a long catalogue of past events. If he tells me that he is leading up to the question of the production or non-production of goods in these factories in 1947–48, I shall accept it.
§ Sir J. Mellor
Surely, Major Milner, in matters of production steps taken in a previous year, leading up to the non-production of motor cars instead of the production of agricultural machinery, must be in Order.
§ The Chairman
That question is not in issue. The issue is the culminating effect of those steps. I must dissociate myself from any knowledge of the circumstances of the case, and if the hon. Member will assure me that he proposes to bring to the notice of the Committee, and the President of the Board of Trade, the fact that there has or has not been production of civilian goods in 1947–48, as a result of the events which he is now relating, I will accept that.
§ The Chairman
No; we are discussing the production of civilian goods for the year ending 31st March, 1948. If that production was affected by events in 1946, or in 1945, it would be in Order to relate them.
§ Sir J. Mellor
I think you will agree. Major Milner, that I am in Order when I say that these factories have been virtually idle since last November. What we are anxious to consider is what their future will be, and I trust that if I stick to that line I shall be in Order. I cut out any references I intended to make to all the discussions which were said to have taken place, and come straight to the occasion when the managing director of Aveling-Barford was invited to go to the Board of Trade, where he saw the Second Secretary. On that occasion he was informed that the factories had been allocated to a group headed by a gentleman named Cotton. That was a very considerable surprise. When this was publicly announced, I 719 asked the President of the Board of Trade the following question:For what reasons the factories recently occupied by Grantham Productions, Ltd.—
§ Mr. Kirkwood (Dumbarton Burghs)
On a point of Order, Major Milner. Is the hon. Member in Order in saying that he put that question to the present President of the Board of Trade. Was it not put to a previous President of the Board of Trade?
§ The Chairman
The question which the hon. Member put is not a point of Order—it should be addressed to the right hon. and learned Member now holding the office of President of the Board of Trade.
§ Sir J. Mellor
I am sorry. I should have said that I asked this Question on 17th June this year. May I repeat the Question? It was to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman:For what reasons the factories recently occupied by Grantham Productions, Ltd., now in liquidation, have been allocated to a syndicate headed by Mr. Cotton; and why no application from other companies has been given equal consideration.The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade replied:The group in question have acquired the assets of Grantham Productions, Ltd., from the liquidators with a view to continuing the production of the tractors for which those factories are already substantially equipped, and we have accordingly agreed that the allocation should continue to them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th June, 1947; Vol. 438. c. 204–5.]The Parliamentary Secretary said that the allocation was made to this group with a view to their continuing the production of tractors, but during the week before that question was answered, Mr. Cotton, as head of the syndicate, had endeavoured to sell the assets, which he acquired from the liquidator of Grantham Productions Ltd., for £110,000, to Aveling-Barford for £300,000—
§ Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)
On a point of Order, Major Milner. I was wondering whether you would give us some indication about this. This appears to be destroying the Debate, which was to have been a good Debate on the general question, if there is one, of an alleged shortage of goods. May I ask whether the hon. Baronet is in order in dealing with these firms, for it seems to me to be a 720 matter which should be raised on the Adjournment. I wonder whether you would give some indication to the Committee that you deprecate this detailed examination of the activities of one firm or another.
§ Mr. J. Lewis
Further to that point of Order, Major Milner. Would the hon. Baronet not be quite in Order if he were discussing the shortage of motor cars or tractors and said that that shortage arose as a result of what happened in the past?
§ The Chairman
I am bound to say that the hon. Baronet seems to be more concerned about relating past events than dealing with the subject before the Committee today. I agree to a large extent with what was said by the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles). Is it not possible for the hon. Baronet to curtail his recital and come to the results of those events?
§ Mr. Kirkwood
On a point of Order, Major Milner. Is it not the case that when you have drawn the attention of an hon. Member to a particular item three times, he is not in Order in proceeding with it. You have drawn the hon. Baronet's attention to this three times. Everybody will support you.
§ The Chairman
It is not a question of my wishing the hon. Baronet not to proceed. It is a question of how far he brings his remarks within the purview of the Board of Trade Vote relating to the production of civilian goods which is before the Committee. I believe I have made myself clear. I have also pointed out that the hon. Baronet seems more concerned about relating past events to this subject than in relating the situation in 1947–48 to it.
§ Sir J. Mellor
I am very much obliged for the way in which you have approached this matter, Major Milner. Perhaps I might explain my point. It is that the Board of Trade have allocated these factories to people who acquired them without any real intention of producing anything and who tried to make a quick profit by acquiring the assets with which, in the view of the Board of Trade 721 apparently, the allocation of the factories must be bound up. Having acquired the assets of Grantham Productions, Ltd., in liquidation, they then tried to dispose of those assets at a considerable profit. Apparently the view of the Board of Trade has been that the factories must follow the assets of the liquidated company. My point is that the President of the Board of Trade should have secured that these factories were occupied by some firm of high standing and experience so that he could rely upon the production of some article which was required and was well proved by experience.
What has happened has been that the President has agreed to the factories passing into the hands of the Cotton Syndicate who purchased the assets of Grantham Productions, Ltd., in liquidation and are not genuine producers at all. For all we know, and for all the Board of Trade know, they have never produced anything. They are just financiers. That was the only reason for my mentioning Aveling-Barford, because they were originally allocated the factories by the two predecessors in office of the President of the Board of Trade. As they were an old-established Grantham firm, they were the obvious alternative. That is the point I wish to pursue, Major Milner. If that is in Order, I hope you will allow me to proceed.
§ The Chairman
The hon. Baronet is proposing to relate his remarks to the current production of civilian goods from these factories?
§ Mr. Lyttelton
On a point of Order, Major Milner. Is it in Order to talk about the allocation of factories by the Board of Trade on the Vote we are now discussing? You have ruled, I suggest, that it is a slightly separate question from the manufacture of civilian goods.
§ The Chairman
The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the Motion on the Order Paper has particular reference to civilian goods produced in the year ending 31st March, 1948, but that does not exclude all other matters within the Votes. I think the Debate must also have some relation to the production of civilian goods.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
With respect, Major Milner, I suggest that the allocation of factories which are not making munitions must come within the terms of the Vote we are now discussing and that the hon. Member is perfectly in Order in criticising the allocation by the President of the Board of Trade to men whom he alleges are not industrialists. I suggest that is in Order. I am trying to be helpful.
§ The Chairman
I understand that the allocation did not take place in the year 1947–48, and, therefore, however much it may be the responsibility of the Board of Trade, it does not come within this Board of Trade Vote. The hon. Baronet must relate the events to 1947–48. He has done so in a word or two in passing.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Belcher)
Perhaps I ought to intervene, Major Milner. The allocation to which exception has been taken did take place in the current year.
§ Sir J. Mellor
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. Naturally we were very anxious to discover the identity of the parties to whom these factories had been allocated, and so I asked the President of the Board of Trade this question on 23rd June:…if he will identify the members of the group to whom he allocated the factories…The reply was:Mr. F. Sidney Cotton has represented the purchasers of the assets of Grantham Productions, Ltd., for whom the allocation of the factories is to continue."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd June, 1947; Vol. 439, c. 34–5.]All he said was that Mr. Cotton represented the purchasers. I wanted to know the identity of the purchasers. I am rather doubtful whether the President of the Board of Trade himself knew their identity, except that they were merely represented by Mr. Cotton. It is very important that that should be known. On 24th June I asked a further question as to what experience and financial resources qualified the group for the production of tractors, and the answer by the Parliamentary Secretary was:We have had adequate assurances concerning the financial resources of the group…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th June, 1947; Vol. 439. c. 33–4]He was entirely silent on the point about experience. The point of experience is at least as important as the question of 723 finance, and this goes to justify my point, which is that the Board of Trade allocated these factories to speculators rather than to producers. It is of the utmost importance at the present time that articles of proved capacity should be turned out, but the tractors produced at these factories are virtually untried. I understand they have no novel feature, and, therefore, no special experimental value. The hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Dye) last Monday, in a supplementary question to one I had asked previously, called attention to the necessity for the models of any tractors being thoroughly tried out on the farms before they are produced at this or any other factory. It was stated in the "Grantham Guardian" of 20th June—a newspaper which I think is controlled by the hon. Member for Grantham—that:Supplies of raw materials have been assured by the only authority in a position to assure them.I ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether that is correct, whether any assurance has been given and, if so, out of what allocation will these supplies, which consist largely of steel, have to come. Existing tractor makers are already very short of steel and if their allocation of steel were increased, then, even with the existing resources of labour and space at their disposal, they would be able to increase their output of well-tried and well-known tractors by at least 20 per cent. Representations have been made to the President of the Board of Trade by the Grantham borough council that these factories should pass speedily into firm hands. Why were no alternatives considered? Why did the President consider himself so irrevocably committed to Grantham Productions, Limited, and then to the purchaser of the assets of that company when it passed into liquidation? There is no reason why the factory should follow the assets. I understand there is no lease, but in any case I feel quite certain that if there were a lease or an agreement of any kind, that agreement could not be assigned without the consent of the President of the Board of Trade. I feel certain that a reservation of that character must have been put in any agreement that the Board of Trade made.
Surely, the President should have taken this line: he should have made it perfectly clear to all concerned that the 724 factory would not necessarily follow the assets unless the purchasers of the assets were people who could be relied upon to produce. As it is, he has allowed these factories to become the sport of speculators. His duty is to secure production and I think it is a great pity in this long, sad story that he does not now decide to pocket his pride, cut his loss, and allow the factories to pass into the hands of some competent firm which will make really good use of them.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Kendall (Grantham)
It is rather unfortunate that this subject has had to be debated today. I certainly agree with the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) that it is spoiling the general tone of the Debate. Nevertheless, because of the tremendous publicity in the newspapers recently, I personally welcome this opportunity of clarifying many things that have been printed, and many of the misstatements made this afternoon by the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor).
I would like to go back a little over the history of these factories. We built them at Grantham, on behalf of the Government, in 1940. We worked hard on them, we defended those factories, we had great loss of life among our personnel. When the war was coming to an end, I looked around to see what we could do to ensure peacetime production at Grantham. I am sure no one will challenge me on the fact that I was seriously concerned with the prosperity of my own Division, as every hon. Member is concerned today with the prosperity of his constituency. The factory developed tractors, and we worked very hard indeed to produce them. They were a good job and a cheap job. For many reasons that I would like to give—and I am sorry this is not the right time to give them—we were not able to get into production, and we had a misfortune at Grantham which has happened to others—indeed, it is not many years since the farmers themselves were in financial difficulties and somebody came to their help. Nobody came to our help, so we had this misfortune. Eventually, a group came along saying that they would guarantee the continuity of that business. I want to correct the hon. Baronet on this point—we never stopped the production of tractors at any time even during the 725 liquidation period, and we have during the last few weeks, been re-hiring personnel to step up that production.
I would like to correct him on another matter. I have this assurance from Mr. Cotton—and so have the Board of Trade—that he never tried to dispose of the assets of Grantham Productions to Bar-ford's at all, but was given to understand that Barfords had some kind of new small tractors that they purchased from some inventor somewhere, and I believe that Cotton tried to get an amalgamation of interests so that both should be made under the same roof. Cotton did, in fact, reject the offer made by Barford's to himself for the purchase of those assets, and I ask, why do Barford's keep on clamouring for these factories? They have their own in Grantham. It is only a few months since they discharged some hundreds of personnel and they have not re-hired them. They claim they have a tremendous shortage of material; presumably they have not got any more. They were assigned two other factories in Grantham known as Sites 12 and II, 36,000 square feet, where we employed 1,700 people. They have a few workmen there. Why this clamour for these other factories? Surely, it cannot be that they want to get a monopoly of the labour of Grantham. All I and my folk want to do is to ensure that there shall be the fullest employment in the town and a diversity of employment. That is our desire, and I am sure the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield cannot suggest for one moment that I have been in that business at Grantham for the purpose of speculation. On the contrary, I have worked extremely hard there—
§ Sir J. Mellor
I did not refer to the hon. Gentleman in that connection. I, was referring to the Cotton group, as it is called, whom the President was unable to identify in answer to my Question and to whom he was unable to attribute any experience of production. It was to all those people I was referring as speculators.
§ Mr. Kendall
That is all very well, but it raises two points. The hon. Baronet, at the beginning of his speech, raised the question of the Public Accounts Committee in 1942. I was involved in that because I over-produced, not because I under-produced. I was criticised by the Public Accounts Committee of that time 726 for having been too good an engineer, doing too good a job, and making too much paper profit. That is what I was criticised for, and I cannot understand the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield suggesting now that I should, by my connection with the Cotton group, have become less of a good engineer than I was before or less of a good production man than I was before. I am still at Grantham when I am not in the House of Commons. That is how I occupy my time—producing and improving those tractors for which we have sales today of something like 35,000 on the order books.
§ Sir J. Mellor
The hon. Member says he is still their production man. It is rather surprising that when I asked the President of the Board of Trade what experience of production this group had, he was not able to give me any answer, and was not even able to refer to the hon. Member for Grantham.
§ Mr. Kendall
Obviously I cannot answer for the Board of Trade. They have not invited me to join them. Because of the many misstatements the hon. Member has made, one presumes he has been badly briefed, and here in the galleries are those who are taking a keen interest in the Debate. I do not know whether they have come for a busman's holiday, but it is very significant. I, and a loyal team of men who have stuck by me through all that troublesome period of time, have had the one desire to work hard and to produce badly-needed tractors. The overwhelming material used in the production of tractors at present is ordinary cast-iron, not steel, for which we have a huge capacity, and we have been able to find it in the country through our own ability. If these factories had been assigned to someone else, about a quarter of a million pounds worth of tractor material would have been thrown on to the scrap heap and not used at all, and 150 to 200 personnel would be fired immediately. I draw the attention of the Committee to this. I am not being mean or nasty, but not one single man to my knowledge who had to be fired during the liquidation period was hired by the Bar-ford Company. They said: "Where do you come from"? and if the answer was "Grantham Products," they were told "We are not interested." Hundreds of men are having to leave Grantham and 727 go out of town. It is my job, not only as an ex-employer of labour, but also as Member for the Division, to do my very utmost to ensure that there shall be a job of work for all who wish to work in that Division.
I am sorry I have to stand on my feet and say these things, from a personal standpoint, but I. welcome the fact that the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield has found this occasion to raise this subject, because the thing which has done us so much harm in recent months has been newspaper publicity. It has put off many folks who were coming into this job, not only to ensure immediate success, but to ensure that we should branch out and "go to town" on this job. I am sure this Debate will stop that kind of publicity which has gone on in the last few days so that we can get down to business, and stop the silly business of who is to get what. We have been assigned the factories and we want to work in them.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Webb (Bradford, Central)
I do not propose to make any comment on the issue which has been raised, except to say that I think it is a very great pity it has been brought before the Committee this afternoon. It may well be that it is a matter which should be investigated by the Committee, but I think it is inappropriate that it should have diverted us from the very important question of the supply of civilian goods.
§ Sir J. Mellor
If the hon. Member agrees that this is a matter which probably ought to be investigated, will he say what opportunity I should take to raise it, if not now?
§ Sir J. Mellor rose—
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield has already spoken on this matter in great detail.
§ Mr. Webb
I want to come back to the subject of the Debate. I think the Committee will feel indebted to the Liberal National Party for choosing this subject. I think a Debate like this is overdue and that in the stress of events we must give a time and place for the hardships and troubles of our own people. One of the greatest of these is the difficulty they are finding in securing adequate supplies of many kinds of consumer goods, particularly in the case of housewives, and the difficulties they have with clothing and looking after their children. I do not feel I am called upon to rebuke those housewives who have been rather exaggerated in their criticisms of the Government and have come down to the House and made rather spectacular demonstrations of their dissatisfaction. It may be that they have been imprudent and unwise, but we must look to the causes of their feelings and the circumstances which cause housewives everywhere to make this kind of demonstration. That is our duty today. Whilst we must recognise the hardships caused by continued shortages—and there are such hardships—I think we should not allow the picture to be distorted by overstating it.
I think there has been a tendency to denigrate the effort this country has made in the last two years—industry as a whole, not merely the Government, but workers and managers in co-operation with the Government. With some assistance from this House they have been responsible for a remarkable achievement in general production in the last few years, and we should not denigrate that achievement. There has been a marked increase in the flow of a very large range of goods and if proof is required of that, we have only to look at the profits of the great distributing firms of the country. There is as good an index as we can get. I see that Marks and Spencers, a firm which lives on consumer goods, yesterday declared a profit of £2,500,000, an increase of £500,000 on last year. It has declared a dividend of 45 per cent., making a total of 60 per cent. on the year, as against 50 per cent. last year. That is pretty good going. The chairman declared, in explaining these figures, that there was a. marked increase in the production of goods last year. The British Home Stores and Woolworth's both declared record dividends, and Gamage's managed 729 to do quite well last year with a profit of 100 per cent. Then there is Lewis's, a firm over which the noble Lord who is leading the Conservative Party out of the wilderness, presides in his spare time. Last week I noticed he was complaining about his shirt tail being guillotined and apparently it is an embarrassing thing for him to go round the country in that state. But when he takes the chair in Lewis's board-room, he has a different story to tell. Declaring an all-time record profit of over £2million, he said:It is due to the large increase that has taken place in the supply of consumption goods.Lewis's have got everything, apparently, except shirt tails. I think it is important for us not to draw the wrong conclusion from these figures. We have to be realist about them. I think they are significant in so far as they register a fairly substantial improvement in consumer goods, but in some cases the profits are due to excessive profit margins and the Board of Trade might look into that. But I think more is due to the supply of trashy, shoddy material which ought not to be made at this time.
That brings me to a suggestion I want to make to the Minister, that he ought to stop the great waste of materials and labour and power which is going on in the production of cheapjack merchandise. Our shops are full of junk. I do not know how they get the materials. So far as I have been able to investigate the matter, it appears that they get them in little pockets, but these little pockets add up to a totality which is quite formidable. I hope that the Board of Trade will have a most stringent examination made of the sources of supply for this cheapjack frippery and nasty nonsense, which are not necessary now, and which are diverting resources from much more essential goods.
My main submission goes much deeper. I believe that one of our major economic weaknesses at this time is that we are producing far too many types and varieties of goods in almost everything which is manufactured. Figures were recently given in the House of the different sizes and types of motor cars. They were quite staggering. Similar figures could be given for almost every kind of household equipment, utensils and 730 fittings. It seems to me that there is an imperative need now for greater standardisation of what we produce. That raises the problem of consumer choice. I believe that consumer choice should be as wide as possible, that the right to select, the ability to exercise one's discretion in purchasing what one wants, is itself a very important element in satisfying need. But this country must now face very hard facts. The fact is that we cannot, in the next five to ten years, have both quantity and unlimited choice. We can have either one or the other, but we cannot have both. For my part, I am for quantity, with some degree of choice.
My main suggestion, therefore, to the Board of Trade is that there ought to be standardisation of fewer well-designed types of goods in almost every field. That would enable us to speed up output enormously, and eliminate much waste of time, labour and materials, and I think would go far towards solving the problem. That is the key to the whole problem, and I would like to know the Minister's view. After all, he is now equipped with the instruments. A Measure has been passed through this House, and there is the whole mechanism of the working parties. They give the Minister the instruments with which he can now influence and guide production. One of the prime jobs to which he should now apply these instruments is to secure greater standardisation and specialisation in industry.
Finally, a word about textiles. I represent Central Bradford at the moment, a constituency which is the centre of the wool textile trade. Standardisation is not easy there, but from talks I have had with people in the industry, I believe it is possible to secure some increase in the output of textile piece goods if there is some degree of greater standardisation. In the textile industry in Bradford we have two much more immediate problems, which I would like briefly to raise. The wool textile industry is still far too short of adequate labour. Everything possible is being done to recruit labour, and the responsibility is finally that of the industry and not of the Board of Trade. The industry really must make its conditions much more attractive, and some employers are trying to do that. We in the West Riding were promised a large sup ply of displaced persons. They seem to 731 have been lost on the way. Only a handful arrived, and there is great disappointment in the industry. When the President of the Board of Trade was recently in Bradford, he undertook to raise the matter with the Minister of Labour. I would like to know from the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies to the Debate, when we may expect in the West Riding a larger supply of displaced persons to increase our labour force.
At the same time it is no use overcoming that if we are to have other bottlenecks and shortages. There is a danger which threatens the whole clothing supply of this country, arising out of the shortage of soda alkali. The woolcombing section of the industry, which is the beginning, where the yarns begin to be fabricated, cannot keep going with the present allocation of soda alkali. It is getting 100 per cent. of last years supply, but the very minimum which it needs to keep the present number of combs running is 120 per cent. of last years supply. If the woolcombing end of the industry does not get soda alkali, to that extent it will slow down production throughout the whole of the industry. This is a most urgent problem. I do not know what is happening about it, but the Board of Trade should be looking at it with the greatest urgency. A factory at Northwich, which is the only producer of soda alkali in this country, says it cannot produce more unless it has more coal. There is a clear case, on the basis of priorities, for that factory at Northwich to have more coal, and I hope that the matter will be looked at.
I have tried to bring the Debate back to the matter before us, and to make one or two suggestions which I think are of some consequence. I think we are entitled, as a country, to take heart from what has been done. The burdens are heavy for us, but they are really not beyond our capacity to bear. They are certainly not beyond our capacity to bear if we can see any hope of some sign of easement and improvement in the near future. I think there are signs of such improvement. It is the prime duty of the Committee, in this Debate, to urge the Board of Trade to give us more of such signs so that we may give encouragement and hope to our people.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Spearman (Scarborough and Whitby)
Perhaps the hon. Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Webb) will allow one who has had considerable experience of standing on one leg to pay a tribute to the very clear and thoughtful speech he made under such physical difficulties, so splendidly overcome. I will show later how much I disagree with certain things the hon. Member said, particularly with what seemed to me the tendency towards complacency in the present situation. I would like to join with him in expressing the view that this Debate should provide an opportunity for ventilating the cause of the consumer. Perhaps too much attention is sometimes paid to vested interests which can bring pressure to bear, and too little to that most important person, the consumer. If, in particular, I refer to the trade union movement, it is not because they are the only vested interest but because at the moment they are the most vocal and perhaps the most restrictive in their influence upon the Government.
We are all aware of the acute shortages there are at the present time, and I know that the President of the Board of Trade has an extraordinarily difficult job. He has to hold the balance between what ought to be exported and what ought to be consumed in the home market. We would naturally like to see more in the home market, and the greater incentive which that would provide, but equally we realise how desperately important it is to increase our export market, particularly at this time, when we have still got a sellers' market, which may not last too long.
I do not feel at all competent to criticise the President of the Board of Trade in the allocations he has made, but I would like to make two passing criticisms. One which I often met in America was in the form of a query as to why we are sending so much of our precious exports, not to America, which is longing for them and which has shown itself very helpful to us, but to those countries from whom we get nothing in return except cancellation of a debt and a debt incurred in defending them. The second point I would like to make is to ask whether we are not devoting too much of our resources to making capital equipment which is mainly exported to soft currency countries, because America and 733 Canada do not want it, rather than consumer goods, not for our consumption but for sale abroad.
Every hon. Member fully realises how desperately serious the position is, but I do not think the country as a whole does. The position is that about one-third of our imports today are not being paid for. They are coming "on tick." Clearly we have to import less or export more. Of course, it may be that when the American Loan, on which we are now depending for something like one-third of our exports, is exhausted, the Govern-men may then say, "We have a large stock of gold, perhaps £700 million, acquired through the repatriation of South African securities, and we will use that." I suggest that, perhaps, that would not be a very wise action. I would be glad if we could have some assurance from the Government on that point. It would seem to me to be rather comparable to a general in battle, in a panic, sending the cooks into the front line. It would not be a very wise course to use up all our gold. Therefore, we must face the fact that we are approaching the time when exports and imports must be made to balance. It may be that we can get another loan, but eventually those two legs have to be the same length. Are we going to concentrate on the painful process of shortening the long leg, by importing less, or lengthen the short leg by exporting more and making them balance in that way?
The President of the Board of Trade suggested that he had had no constructive criticism from hon. Members on this side. I wish to suggest—and here I am in disagreement with the hon. Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Webb)—that perhaps the present system of control is more responsible for the present shortages than is generally recognised. I say that, because I believe that in the country today we are not producing anything like what we are capable of producing. I believe that there is huge concealed unemployment and a huge amount of men who are occupied in making unnecessary goods. Therefore, I think that if we put our back into it, if labour were in the right place, then we could move towards the prospect of balancing our trade accounts. Why are we not doing that? Before the war we depended on what I think is technically 734 Called "price mechanism," which is so often reviled by hon. Members opposite. I will describe what I mean by that. In those days we depended for what was produced on consumers' choice. If the consumers wanted certain articles and were prepared to pay more for them, then manufacturers produced more. They extended their factories and perhaps they increased wages in order to attract more labour. In that manner, the consumers by their choice in the market place were able to exert their pressure on what was produced. It was a system of voting.
By and large, I do not believe that any better system can be used for getting the right things produced in the right place. Naturally, when war came, when there were such shortages, controls had to be imposed to make sure that vital necessities were fairly distributed. Because those controls worked rather better in wartime than we anticipated, I think hon. Members opposite were rather too enthusiastic about the way those controls would work in peacetime when conditions are very different. I suggest that conditions are different for three reasons. First, however brilliant a brains trust the right hon. and learned Gentleman can collect about him, I doubt whether it is possible to plan in Whitehall just what the consumer requires. In wartime what is required depends upon the demands made by military strategy, guns, aeroplanes, etc and it is very much easier to plan production. Secondly, in wartime there is an immense degree of co-operation, from patriotic motives and also because people realise that the hardships and inconveniences are temporary and not permanent. We need only look at the growing black market to see that co-operation is not present today. Thirdly, there was a considerable degree of direction of labour in wartime. I would hate the idea of direction of labour in peacetime, but I suggest that to try to control half of the economy of the country and leave another half out of control is an idea which just does not make sense.
For all these reasons we must face the hard fact that a control system in peacetime in a democratic country will not work without the aid of a machine gun, to put it vividly, to the extent which it will work in wartime. Of course, I do not suggest that we should abandon all controls at once. It may be that some people hold 735 that view and, by so doing, they are the worst possible supporters of their cause. It is unfair of hon. Members opposite if they attribute to those who want a lessening of controls the statement that they want to abolish them entirely and suddenly. One does not blame a doctor if a patient dies of an overdose of medicine. The medicine may be very good, but if the patient-takes the whole bottle in one dose it may well be fatal.
I believe that at present the price level is getting out of line with reality. That is leading to economic frustration, queues, and shortages. I think many hon. Gentlemen opposite believe that the right plan is to control the price of essentials and let luxuries take their way. That, I suggest, will inevitably defeat itself unless the Government are prepared to adopt an extraordinary degree of totalitarian methods. If one looks round the shops today, one sees those worthless luxuries to which the hon. Member for Central Bradford referred. That is what happens if we do not apply the stick to a degree that would be intolerable in a democratic country. Then people will go for the profit motive and will make the things which they can freely sell, regardless of whether or not they are really required. We must face the fact that in a democratic country there must be a great degree of choice. I do not see that this policy is necessarily inconsistent for a Socialist Government.
It is still open to the Government, if they see that a certain section of the community is getting too much, to tax them more. It is open to them, if they think prices are too high for a certain section of the community to be able to buy goods, to give them greater allowances. But to upset the whole system in order to stick to controls would seem to be rather like throwing out the baby with the bath water. Some hon. Members say that to allow prices to rise, not, of course, precipitately, but to let them rise appreciably and allow an automatic control to take place, would create great hardship. Of course it would. I realise that, but I suggest it would cause less hardship than the poverty and unemployment which otherwise we may have if we do not use our resources right. Hon. Members opposite should get a clear perspective on this matter. When the stabilisation 736 policy was introduced, the price level was about 20 per cent. above prewar and wages about 30 per cent. above. Today the price level is the same and wages have gone up by 65 per cent.
About as much is being spent today on beer as is being spent on water, rates and rent. In those conditions, I think we are some way off acute shortage and hardship, through lack of buying facilities. The Government should admit that their policy of running the country on controls and not moving towards price mechanism has proved a failure by the results as we see them. If only that were all, it would not so much matter. It is the prospect of much greater shortages when the American Loan is used up and we move away from a sellers' market and are unable then, however hard we work, to retrieve our position. I believe that the Government are drifting between two policies, the one a firm effective control which would require measures never known before in this country or outside any totalitarian machine, and the other a return to the price mechanism. That drift, inevitably, will be fatal to the economy of the country. At the risk of being gibed at by the President of the Board of Trade, I suggest that if it is really their greatest aim just to maintain the present position—if that is their plan—they had better give way to another Administration who, perhaps with a greater experience, would promise less and perform more.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. John Lewis (Bolton)
I have listened to the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Spearman), and I always follow him very carefully in a Debate on this type of subject which we are now discussing, but I must say that, when he referred to the price level and consumers' choice as the two factors which affected production, I was somewhat surprised. I should have thought that he would have taken into account the availability of raw materials, which existed prior to the war, but which does not exist today, and that he would have regarded that shortage as a salient factor in his argument. I think that the Committee as a whole is bound to agree that, whereas, in normal circumstances where there is no shortage of raw materials, a shortage of civilian goods does not arise, there are certain shortages today which we 737 must be prepared to accept as existing entirely as a result of the war and the fact that there are insufficient goods to go round. I think we must also ask ourselves whether or not any of these shortages are avoidable, and it is to avoidable shortages that I want to apply my remarks.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite have often suggested that the Governments bulk buying policy is responsible to some extent for shortages. I do not say that I accept that argument. I feel that if, as a result of bulk buying, it is possible to do away with speculation in futures in the cotton industry, and if, instead of passing through six hands from grower to spinner, cotton only passes through two or three, it may be justified, but I am not satisfied that bulk buying is a success in all aspects of our economic policy. I am not prepared to accept the suggestion that ganging-up against us in other countries does not take place, and, for that reason, I suggest that the Prime Minister should appoint a special committee to go into this question and report to Parliament, in order that we may be advised in which respects our bulk buying is successful and in which respects it has failed, if it has failed at all. We are told that it is difficult to get certain raw materials in the United States. The Board of Trade makes representations to our Raw Materials Mission in the United States, and sometimes they succeed and at other times they fail, but I know for a fact that, in the United States, there are merchants in every big town who have large stocks of raw materials on their hands, and that, whereas missions have made representations and failed to obtain the materials required, private buyers have gone over there and have purchased them. What I am suggesting is that Parliament should be advised in which respects our bulk buying policy is a success, and that we should face up frankly to those aspects of our programme in which it has failed, if at all.
I was very pleased to hear the President suggest that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, in his winding-up speech tonight, will deal with the specific aspects of shortages of detailed commodities. I intend to apply myself to one specific shortage—that of tyres and of carbon black. A very serious situation has arisen in the tyre industry.
738 When the war was over, it was extremely difficult to acquire the labour force necessary in order to produce the tyres which we need for domestic purposes, for fitting on the motor cars we are exporting, and for export. By dint of great effort, some of the difficulties were overcome, but today we are faced with the situation in which thousands of people in the tyre industry are on short-time and in which there is a tendency on the part of men on short-time to look for jobs in other industries.
This situation is not likely to improve in the near future because the carbon black, which in the main is responsible for the shortage, will not be available in this country in any increased quantity until August. So much is that the case, that manufacturers and unions have combined and issued a document to the workers in the industry asking them to stay in the industry in spite of the fact that they are engaged on short-time and are not earning a full week's wages. What I am going to say to the Committee is that this is a shortage which was avoidable. I am going to argue that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is directly responsible for the shortage. I shall not do so in any vexatious spirit, but I am going to attempt to prove that the President of the Board of Trade has not taken the resolute and positive action which he should have taken, in spite of the fact that he has been warned by myself and others over a period of two years.
I hope that hon. Members who are conversant with this industry will forgive me if I explain for the benefit of others precisely what is the material known as carbon black, because it may also help the Parliamentary Secretary in replying to differentiate between the carbon black which is vitally necessary for the tyre industry and other products to which the term is loosely applied and which are suitable for the paint trade and general pigmentation purposes. Carbon black for the tyre industry is a special form of reinforcing black produced from natural gas. There have been no other materials on which experimentation has taken place which have yet proved a substitute for channel black. There are other form? of carbon black which may be suitable in some respects for incorporation in the synthetic rubber industry such as furnace black. The problem is that of the avail- 739 ability of channel black for our tyre industry. and this comes exclusively from the United States. It is obtained from the burning of the gas from the oil wells in Texas. We have, over 26 years, bought £17 million worth of this material from the United States, and this represents at the present rate a consumption of 44 million dollars over a similar period. Half a million tons of carbon black are produced in America annually, and 95 per cent. of it is used in the tyre industry there. We are using 30,000 tons in our own industry, which has a very much smaller output.
At the moment, as a result of the shortage of this material and of our failure to import the quantity which we require from the United States, our tyre industry is in jeopardy. If all the carbon black in the world was available in August, there is still a possibility of a serious labour shortage in the industry. It is no good suggesting that we should export motor cars without tyres, because the same shortage exists in the United States, who would be unable to help us out. I think I can claim to talk with some authority on the subject, because, during the war, I was responsible, as is well known by the right hon. Gentleman the senior Member for the City of London (Sir A. Duncan), for the compounding of the master batches for a high proportion of our bomber tyre programme, and I know how important it was that every shipment of carbon black should arrive in this country in good time. If it did not, the whole of our transport system might have broken down and we should have been unable to meet the needs of the Service Departments. It is not possible to make tyres without carbon black, using only crude rubber and cotton, as they would last only about 3,000 miles, whereas the carbon black acts as a reinforcing agent and enables a service life of approximately 20,000 miles to be reached.
I told the Committee a moment ago that there is no substitute. I wish to emphasise that point because I believe that in his reply my hon. Friend may make reference to attempts to introduce some form of domestic production of carbon black which is quite unsatisfactory and could not be applied to the tyre industry. No satisfactory substitute has as yet been found for channel black. 740 Before the war, the German chemical industry produced 30,000 tons of carbon black. It was made from anthracene residues, crude naphthalene and employed 2,600 million cubic feet of carrier gas. It does not need my right hon Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power to tell us that we have not that quantity available for this purpose in this country. Every hon. Member knows that. But not only that—the U.S. experts who came over here say that our products are far too expensive to permit an industry to be set up in this country, irrespective of whether or not the resulting product would be suitable for the tyre industry. And as I have said it has not been established that it would be suitable.
Hon. Members might ask what is the alternative, and why I say that it was the responsibility of my right hon and learned Friend the President of the Board of Trade to overcome this difficulty and not to place the tyre industry in the position in which it finds itself at the present time. I believe I can give an effective answer to that. According to a reply given to me by my right hon. and learned Friend, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company's holdings produce 165 million cubic feet of gas every day, which, by employing a simple burning plant, is sufficent to produce 25,000 tons of the carbon black which we need for our tyre industry in this country. That is four-fifths of our national requirements, and would save us, approximately. 4,350,000 dollars.
My right hon. and learned Friend has made it quite clear that we are unable to do anything in this country at the moment, because I am sure that if it were possible for him to provide this material, he would not permit underemployment to take place in the tyre industry. He knows what a serious crisis we are facing in that industry. He has said from time to time that it is necessary for us to conserve our dollar resources because every dollar is valuable. Not only is it vitally necessary, from the point of view of our national dependence, to provide this carbon black from the sterling area, because the United States of America are quite incapable of even supplying their own requirements at the present time, but also because we are faced with the fact that we are having to expend valuable dollars for this com- 741 modity which is available in the Middle East.
Hon. Members will remember that I said that 165 million cubic feet of this gas is escaping into the atmosphere every day instead of being used to produce the carbon black we need. I say that my right hon. and learned Friend is responsible for the present position because he has taken no positive action. I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will be in a position later to say that they have taken effective action. I also say that my right hon. and learned Friend is responsible because he has been warned. He received a warning that this situation would arise.
§ Mr. Brendan Bracken (Bournemouth)
How does the right hon. and learned Gentleman control the Middle East?
§ Mr. Lewis
I will come to that point. In point of fact, my right hon. and learned Friend said that he had been in negotiation with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and that he was not at liberty to disclose the nature of these negotiations. It was pointed out in the Press a day or two ago that the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company have a share capital of approximately £20 million, of which the British Government hold £11,500,000. In these circumstances, one does not need to be an eminent advocate to know that the British Government control the policy of that company because they hold the majority of the shares. Therefore, if my right hon. and learned Friend was incapable of disclosing the deliberations taking place between himself and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, it was because he did not want to reveal discussion's which were virtually taking place between His Majesty's Government and himself.
I was telling the Committee that my right hon. and learned Friend had been warned. I think I ought to make it clear that responsibility for tyre production did not always rest in his hands. When the war ended, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply was the Minister responsible for dealing with this industry. On 25th August, 1945, after the Election, and as a result of the experience which I had gained during the war, I communicated with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply, and I hope that the Committee will bear with me if 742 I read a few words from a letter I addressed to him. I wrote:Resulting from the declaration of the American Government that Lease-Lend is coming to an end, it has occurred to me that consideration should be given immediately to the question of making ourselves self-sufficient in those materials, and particularly in those raw materials in respect of which we have to rely exclusively on the United States of America. As you are no doubt aware, the rubber industry generally, and the tyre industry in particular, have no alternative to the use of carbon black in its process of manufacture, and practically all our supplies have always been obtained from America.The Committee may be interested to know that at that time there was, approximately, a two to three weeks' supply of carbon black in the hands of the larger tyre manufacturers in this country, and that had one shipment failed to reach its destination, the entire industry would have come to a standstill.
In reply to that letter, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply said that he was arranging to send a team of experts to Germany in order to investigate the position. I would point out that there was provision in Germany, as I have already explained, to produce a commodity which is not suitable for incorporation into tyres made from crude rubber. The only type of commodity that is suitable is that which is produced by burning natural gas known as channel black. My right hon. and learned Friend is not able to produce to me any authority which will refute this statement. I was born into this industry, and can claim to have a highly specialised and technical knowledge of it. I challenge my right hon. and learned Friend to prove that the efforts made to produce this material domestically from by-products or primary raw materials, will result in the manufacture of any product suitable for incorporation in tyre compounds. The only alternative supply of carbon black other than that from the American source, on which we have relied for so long, is from Persia—from the sterling area—where this vast quantity of gas is available every day and is being put to no useful purpose.
In 1945, I discussed the matter with my right hon. and learned Friend, and he requested me to draw up a memorandum. On 14th November, 1945, I sent him a memorandum and the following is a short passage which I shall read from it: 743I believe there would be general agreement that we must take steps at the first possible moment to make ourselves independent of American sources of supply, and in view of the critical position in which our tyre industry finds itself at the moment, I suggest that a small committee be set up to consider the whole question as a matter of emergency.As a result of that memorandum, I received a most interesting letter from my right hon. and learned Friend, to which I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will refer in his reply. On 26th November, 1945, my right hon. and learned Friend wrote:I fully share your view that we should lessen our dependence on the U.S.A. for supplies of this material as soon as possible, and I am pleased to be able to tell you that proposals are under consideration to establish its manufacture both at home and abroad in the sterling area.He said also in that letter that he did not think there was any necessity whatsoever to set up a special committee. My right hon. Friend, however, did arrange for me to discuss this matter with Sir Thomas Merton, who is the Scientific Adviser to the Board of Trade, and also with Sir Frank Smith of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. At that time as long ago as 1945, Sir Frank Smith assured me that the gas was available for the production of channel black in large quantities, and he went so far as to suggest that a plant should be acquired from Germany and set up in Persia to produce this material.
The team sent out by the Board of Trade eventually went to Germany. They brought back nothing, and any information which was available could not have assisted us in overcoming our difficulties to the slightest extent, because not only were the raw materials not available in this country but, as I have pointed out and will continue to point out, the product could not be suitably employed in the tyre industry and could be only a second rate substitute.
Time dragged on, and as is usual in these matters, one got no further. On 18th February, 1946, having heard very little, I communicated with an Under-Secretary of the Department with whom my right hon. Friend put me in touch, and at that time I wrote him:The fact that you are waiting until the team returns with information based on the production of raw materials which are not available in ample supply and which it was 744 agreed should only receive consideration should the other project be found to be unworkable, is obviously quite contrary to the arrangement made, and is purely a further procrastination which, having regard to the fact that our tyre industry depends upon the supply of carbon black, is. in my view. inexcusable.There was this procrastination from week to week and month to month, and during that whole period my right hon. and learned Friend was being warned that the situation which we are now facing, the shortage of tyres and unemployment in the tyre industry due to the shortage of carbon black, would arise. Following that, I wrote to my right hon. and learned Friend and asked him for an interview. Subsequently, but not immediately, I had one without result. I shall omit what took place during 1947, and merely say that throughout the period I continued to press him to take some positive action.
On 27th May, 1947, I put down a Question to my right hon. and learned Friend asking him about discussions which had taken place between the Government and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. In his reply my right hon. and learned Friend said that he was not in a position to disclose this confidential information. As I have already pointed out, the British Government hold a majority of the shares in the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and, therefore, in those circumstances, was not my right hon. and learned Friend bound to disclose the precise nature of the negotiations which had taken place? I think this habit of secrecy acquired during wartime has been carried too far. Parliament is entitled to know more, and My right hon. and learned Friend was quite unjustified in failing to disclose this information. It may be that he will be able to satisfy the Committee and myself on this matter. Nothing will please me more than to hear that he is doing something about it, but it is no laughing matter when thousands of men in the tyre industry are out of work. In those circumstances, I feel my right hon. and learned Friend was bound, in accordance with Parliamentary procedure, to disclose precisely what discussions had taken place between him and the company of which the British Government is the largest shareholder.
My right hon. and learned Friend went further. When I asked him to justify the existence of the Inter-departmental Committee which had been set up, he said that 745 he was not bound, in the circumstances, to do what I asked. I do not know as well as other hon. Members who have been in this House much longer than] have, precisely what a Minister of the Crown is expected to disclose to Parliament and what he is entitled to keep to himself, but I do maintain that if a Minister of the Crown sets up an Interdepartmental Committee which is vitally concerned with production, it should be his duty, when called upon by a Member of this House, to say precisely what that committee is doing, and he should also be prepared to justify its existence. I do not say that in a vexatious spirit, but I did feel that an unfortunate element of arrogance and impertinence has entered into the Minister's answers in substitution for the facts. I think that was unjustified and uncalled for.
Parliament is entitled to know what goes on. We are not at the moment in a state of war when the disclosure of vital information would be of benefit to the enemy. I assume that even certain hon. Members opposite have the interests of the nation at heart, but one thing at least can be conceded, and that is that those on this side of the House are entitled to know what is going on as well as anyone else, and my right hon. Friend should have disclosed the information for which he was asked. The carbon black purchasing mission which my right hon. Friend sent to the United States has returned. It has failed to do anything to alleviate the present condition, which is understandable, but one understands that further supplies will be available in August. Until that time at least, this crisis in the tyre industry will continue and the men will be on short time.
I want to put certain questions which I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will answer tonight. First, what is the position in regard to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company? Have any steps whatsoever been taken to establish burning plants in the Middle East? Why have these plants not already been established over the past two years, having regard to the pressure which I and other hon. Members have been putting on my right hon. Friend? Is there any secret agreement with the United States of America, who have a monopoly in the supply of this material, which makes it impossible for the British Government or for the Anglo-Iranian Oil Com- 746 pany to set up these plants? I would also like to ask if working conditions are so bad in Persia that no further expansion of output is possible at present. It may be, having regard to the war and conditions which existed prior to it, that before any further expansion is possible, decent houses would have to be built for the workers and conditions of labour improved. If that is the case, it would be interesting to know how the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company was able to increase its profit by £4 million, bringing the total profit up to £9,500,000 for the current year. Why has the report of the Interdepartmental Committee set up by my right hon. Friend not been published? Why should he set up a committee to compile a report on the supply of an essential raw material upon which thousands of people are dependent, and then say he is not going to publish the report? In that instance again, Parliament and the public are entitled to know what is going on.
Finally, I would like to know what steps my right hon. Friend proposes to take in the event of his being faced with a reduced labour force in the tyre manufacturing industry as a result of the present under-employment. I do not know if my right hon. and learned Friend has been through a compounding plant, but it is one of the dirtiest jobs in the country. The men who work there are stripped naked, the black giving them the appearance of negroes, and it is one of the most unpleasant forms of employment imaginable. They are now on short-time. They are looking elsewhere for employment; I have had consultations with the unions, and they are very much disturbed by the possibility that by the time increased quantities of carbon black are available, the labour force in the tyre industry will be seriously diminished. What steps does my right hon. and learned Friend propose to take in that connection, should he be faced with that situation?
I hope he will appreciate that, having no financial interest in the import or supply of carbon black, I have agitated over a considerable period in order to stress that this waste material—the gas which is escaping at the rate of millions of cubic feet per day in the Middle East—should be put to some useful purpose. If that had been done during the last two years we should not be taced with 747 the present situation. My right hon. Friend has admitted that there is enough there to produce four-fifths of our requirements. I feel I am justified in putting this case and asking him to explain why no positive action was taken, or why today, as a result of the shortage of carbon black, we have under-employment in the tyre industry which is having a serious repercussion on the output of tyres. The Committee is entitled to a frank statement.
Perhaps, I may tell my right hon. Friend something of which he is unaware, and that is that the supply of natural gas in America is drying up. It has been found more useful by piping to employ it for domestic fuel and chemical purposes—so much so that they will not have available for us the quantities necessary for our tyre manufacturing industry. That will make it all the more necessary for some positive action to be taken by the Board of Trade to ensure that our industry shall be self-sufficient in the supply of this material, and independent of the one source of supply, which is the United States. My hon. Friend must say in his reply why nothing has been done over the past two years.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Oliver Lyttelton (Aldershot)
. I hope the Committee will forgive me if I do not follow the hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Lewis) into the intricacies of carbon black. He told us it was a product of natural gas. I trust that the Committee, and least of all the Government, will not regard his speech as a similar product, because I regarded it, personally, as a very weighty speech calling for a number of answers. When the hon. Member was asking the Government why no positive action had been taken in this matter, he made what I thought, if I may say so, was an ingenuous request, for if the Government were required to explain why no positive action had been taken in this or that, the Committee would be kept up for all-night sittings on a great many consecutive nights.
Let me deal, first, with the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. It was a typical speech by leading counsel. He was talking about the shortage of commodities. Certainly, there must be no 748 shortage of red herrings. because he drew one or two or more of them across the trail. In a Debate which concerns the shortage of consumer goods I should have thought that we would have heard rather more than a few toots on his synthetic trumpet that the production of children's and infants' footwear—which we all welcome—had achieved an increase over 1938 figures. If he had had time he would have been able to give us separately figures of perambulators, safety razors, combs and lighters. Really, I think that was hardly worthy of the occasion. He then devoted a large section of his speech to the discovery of that amazing achievement of the Government, namely, that the production of civilian goods two years after the end of the war was higher than it was while the war was in progress. We need hardly come into the Committee to hear that. That was one of those blinding flashes of the obvious to which we are sometimes treated. He then regaled us with a lot of statistics showing how certain items had gone up since 1945. I do not want to follow him into those matters. That speech, delivered as it was in the most courteous tones, added nothing to the sum of human wisdom—only a few red herrings- During the interesting speech of my hon. Friend the Member for East Norfolk (Mr. Medlicott)—
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I never forget my friends, and I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will not, either. My hon. Friend drew a comparison between this country and Belgium, which was received with some derision by hon. Members below the Gangway on the other side. I think they were quite wrong; and I think my hon. Friend was quite right to draw attention to this very interesting comparison. Belgium has been a very well managed country, so far as its economy is concerned, and ours has been a very ill managed one. I thought the comparison was particularly interesting because of the similarities between the economy of Belgium and the economy of our own country. The differences are chiefly of size and not of nature. Belgium is the most highly populated country in Europe, and supports 8,400,000 people within its very narrow frontiers. Ours is a very highly populated country. Belgium has an artificial economy, and 749 ours is not less artificial. Just as Great Britain has only one industrial raw material of importance, namely, coal, so has Belgium. The production of coal in Belgium is today about 25 million tons a year, or roughly, three tons per annum per head of the population. Ours is higher than that, four tons or more per head of the population. The soil of Belgium is not abnormally fertile. Taking the bad with the good, the same is true of our own country. So that Belgium depends for the balance of her economy upon buying raw materials abroad, working them up, and exporting finished articles. I see, Mr. Beaumont, that you are getting a. little restive, but I would assure you that this is only my indirect way of showing how shortages of consumer goods can be overcome, and I am shortly coming back to our economic situation.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that there was no sign of restiveness on my part. It must have been his conscience.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
Unlike that of many Members of the Front Bench opposite, my conscience never gives me any rest. But just as Great Britain has only one natural raw material, so has Belgium, and her economy has to be balanced by buying raw materials and working them up. Let us look for a moment at the situation of Belgium when she was liberated. All of us, particularly those who were Ministers at the time, remember the depths of misery into which she had sunk under the German occupation, and none of us is likely to forget the slender margin and the narrow line that separated that friendly people from famine and starvation. It is a matter of pride to everyone here that we were able to bring some help to her in those days, and the sympathies of Belgians, which have always been with us, I think are warmer towards us now than they have ever been. Admittedly, the material destruction in Belgium was not on the same scale as it was here, but I would remind the Committee that the damage to the Belgian railways was greater beyond all comparison with anything that our railways suffered. It was many months, too, before the Port of Antwerp could be worked efficiently and to its full capacity. It is also true—I am trying to be quite fair—that after Lend Lease ceased the Belgian Government 750 acquired considerable sums of dollars and pounds sterling from Allied spending in their country; but, for purposes of comparison, we have enjoyed since the American Loan, at least a comparable command over dollars.
Taking it as a whole, with these one or two provisos, there is not only a remarkable similarity in the economics of these two countries, our own and Belgium; but, also, a close comparison can be made between the state in which Belgium found herself when she was liberated and that in which we found ourselves when the war was over. There was an hon. Member, whom I do not see in his place now below the Gangway, who characterised my hon. Friend's comparison as "rubbish." I am going into some figures. Let me turn to the economic situation in Belgium. There is no petrol ration; there is no clothing ration; and there is no rationing of boots and shoes.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I shall come to that matter. The hon. Member must possess himself in patience. Though licences are required for domestic and industrial building—and I have been at great pains to check these facts—they are obtained with an ease that would astonish the ordinary British citizen and British applicant, and turn his flushed, angry face green with envy. Let me turn to the production of consumer goods. Let us take 1938—not the period when Belgium was liberated, because that would give astronomical figures dear to the heart of the Board of Trade when taking a false reference period. Let us take 1938 as the reference period, and say that it equals 100. The production of cotton yarn is in. Is that a rubbishy comparison to make with out own position? For wool the figure is 176.6—and these are yarn: cotton cloth is 97; and woollen cloth 159.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I am comparing an industry in a country of nine million people, which is not as big as an industry in a country with 45 million people. I am comparing the state of Belgium now with what it was in 1938, and I suggest there is nothing tendentious whatever in such a comparison. The production of electricity in Belgium is 131.7—
§ Mr. Rhodes (Ashton-under-Lyne)
To be quite fair, the right hon. Member should point out that there was no concentration of industry in Belgium, as there was in this country during the war.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I am much obliged to the hon. Member. I confess I had forgotten that particular point; I would have put it in otherwise. That is quite true; these industries were not concentrated. However, electricity cannot be subjected to the same objection, which I think is a perfectly valid one to the argument. Electricity is 1317; paper, 124; coal, about 90; glass for building, 90 per cent. of prewar. Are these comparisons which my hon. Friend was making to be described as "rubbishy"? I think not. Belgian cigarettes are one-third the price of British—
§ Mr. Lyttelton
Does not the hon. Member think electricity, or coal, or steel, or textiles major industries?
§ Mr. Lyttelton
Certainly. I think I have already given them. The output of finished steel is about go per cent. of prewar, and of raw steel higher than prewar. I have already given the figures for coal. Let me turn to the question of prices and wages. Wages in Belgium, in terms of the Belgian franc, have multiplied by about three; and the prices in terms of the Belgian franc are also about three times prewar. Now those prices which I am quoting are not from any cost-of-living index; they are not weighted averages, but are taken from the actual retail prices in Belgium. That is the answer to the hon. Member's question about the "black market." These are the retail prices of these things in the shops. I am not suggesting, of course, that the standard of life in Belgium has ever been quite as high as our own—I want to be quite fair—but it has restored itself to its prewar state in a way which is altogether different from that which we have been able to achieve in this country. So far from these comparisons being rubbish, I think they contain a great lesson for ourselves, in these figures and in this situation. I believe Belgium has been a well- 752 managed country, and has pursued a policy which has been both sound as to timing and as to objectives. In both these respects I believe our policy to have been unsound. As a consequence, Belgium's recovery has been quicker and more complete in every respect than our own.
Before the right hon. and learned Gentleman tells the Parliamentary Secretary what to say in answer to this little excursion, let me go on to say what are the great differences between the economic policy which Belgium has pursued and the one which we have pursued. They are these. Belgium has concentrated largely upon imports into their country. That was done with two objects: above all, to build up the physical strength of the people; to build up the standard of life, to restore incentive; and, so to speak, to get the population in a fit condition and in a fit state to work hard. These are points which my hon. Friend the Member for East Norfolk raised in his speech. We concentrated upon exports first in time, and at all costs: "Austerity and exports" was the motto of the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
Belgium concentrated on imports, for another reason besides the one I have given, namely, in order to check and reverse the inflation which had been left by the Germans. Their monetary policy was not expansionist, any more than any country's should be in time of scarcity and boom. Ours has been expansionist. The right time to employ an expansionist monetary policy is at a time when the business cycle is in recession. But the Belgians saw this, and therefore it was upon the consumer and import goods that the Belgians concentrated to begin with. They left the export drive till a later date.
How has that worked out? At one time the unfavourable balance of trade, expressed in Belgium francs, reached the figure of 25½ milliards of francs. That was when they were pursuing this policy of concentrating on the domestic consumer. This has been altered, according to the latest figures which I have, to imports of 24 milliards and exports of 17 milliards; or a deficit of only 7 milliards of francs. I very much hope that when we are talking of consumer goods the Government will study this lesson very closely, and will not be too proud to learn 753 from the smaller countries, whose affairs have been very well managed. It is not too late to learn, even for the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
There is one other point about Belgium to force my comparison home. Belgium has not gone "whoring after false gods," even under her Socialist Government, which is another comparison between Belgium and our own country. She has not considered nationalisation as a cure for anything. She has waited for that. I dare say it will come later on. But she has waited for it, very wisely, until some lively industries are in production when that remedy could possibly be applied, which is very poisonous to me but is no doubt very agreeable to other hon. Members. I say the Belgium problem has been the same as our own, but how different has been the policy; how different has been the method, and how practical and sane the approach: In Belgium rapid recovery and steady increase; and in the United Kingdom, some slow recovery and increasing shortage—except, of course, in the matter of combs, lighters and safety razors.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
For the sake of accuracy, may I ask is it not the case that Belgium's recovery has been partly financed by the sale abroad of large quantities of gold which Belgium was able to preserve safely on the other side of the Atlantic during the war, because she was not fighting?
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I do not think the hon. Member can have been in the Committee during the earlier part of my speech. His point is perfectly correct. Belgium disposed of some dollars or gold assets. But since the American loan, nobody can say that we have not had at least a comparable quantity of hard currency per head of the population at our disposal.
§ Mr. Cobb rose—
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I really must get on. I do not want to keep the Committee too long. There was an American Senator who spoke for 10— hours the other day, and I have no wish to emulate his example.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
Honestly. I do not know where the hon. Member gets his facts. If he looks into the matter—I suggest a not very curious action before asking such a question—he will find that the amount of actual gold and hard currency in the possession of Belgium now is higher than it was after the end of the war. I would be quite prepared to explain to the hon. Member how these calculations are made, and to show him the official reply from the Belgian Embassy, which I have outside.
For a short time, I wish to turn to one or two subjects of wider interest; for we are discussing not only consumer goods, but wider matters. I do not want to weary the Committee with another survey of our international balance of payments. I will try to be very short. In the White Paper the Government estimated our unfavourable balance at £350 million; that is for this year. It was quite obvious that, like so much of that White Paper, it was entirely out of date on the day it was published, but somebody had not remembered to alter the figures. Up to the end of April, the unfavourable balance had already amounted to £180 million. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will correct me if I make any slip in the figures.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
Then may I lend the right hon. and learned Gentleman a copy of the Statistical Digest? I should have thought that the figures were so familiar to the President of the Board of Trade that it would have been quite unnecessary to supply him with his own document. After all, this is the central factor in our economic situation, and the President of the Board of Trade ought not to say that he has not got the figures.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I did not understand that we were to discuss the whole economic situation on the Board of Trade Vote.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman looks at the Order Paper, he will see that the Debate can range over a very large area. I did not notice him interrupting his hon. Friend the Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Lewis) who spoke about carbon black.
§ Sir S. Cripps
It happens that the Board of Trade has some responsibility in that matter. I am dealing with the Board of Trade, and I am not responsible for the balance of payments.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
The balance of payments is a result of trade. Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman is suggesting that this unfavourable balance is due to repayment of debts abroad, but if he is not, I should like to know how these figures come out except as a result of trade?
§ Mr. Lyttelton
The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that he is not suggesting anything. I can therefore get on with the speech. As I was saying, up to the end of April, the unfavourable balance had already amounted to nearly £180 million. That is at the rate of £540 million a year, and not £350 million, which is in the Government's White Paper. Out of these exports to the value of £82.6 million in the month of March, only £7 million worth were destined for the North-American continent. The figures are £3.2 million to Canada, and £3.7 million to the United States. It would be conservative to say that the only other hard currency we are collecting in any appreciable quantity is Argentine pesos. If we put the exports to hard currency areas at about £12 million, we should be on the high side, and hon. Members should remember that this is out of a total export of £82 million. It means that about one-seventh of our exports are going to hard currency areas, or about 14 per cent. Our imports for the same month are £130 million, out of which at least £68 million were drawn in that month from hard currency countries. It is not only that our unfavourable balance of trade is running at £540 million a year, but there is the additional and disquieting fact, taking March as a characteristic month, that more than 50 per cent. of our imports are drawn from hard currency countries, while less than 14 per cent. of our exports go there in return.
756 I am aware that the Government take a very serious view of this matter, and I cannot think that anything but good could come out of making some suggestions about measures for meeting the situation. The right hon. and learned Gentleman taunted my hon. Friend for not making enough suggestions, and I cannot, in the time available, make more than one or two. I must, first of all, refer to the subject, which I have discussed with the right hon. and learned Gentleman in private, of fixed or variable prices. I assure him that I only wish to be helpful on this. Let me take a simple example. Suppose that a foreign country made an inquiry for a large number of diesel engines, and the number required meant that delivery would take two or three years. How can the manufacturer of diesel engines, in the uncertainties which surround him, quote a fixed price? On the other hand, how can we expect a foreign country to buy our products if they are subject to variable price alterations?
It is true that when the sellers market was at its height—and it is less of a sellers' market now—the foreign buyer just lumped it, and felt obliged to place orders in spite of the risks involved. These conditions are passing. I am sure we all know cases where American exporters are quoting fixed prices, while we are obliged to quote variable prices. I do not think it is an overstatement to say that we are "obliged" to do that. How can a manufacturer, working on an allocation of solid fuel about which he has no reason whatever to feel any confidence, depending on an allocation of steel from a Government Department or agency, and having no means of hedging on the markets for his requirements of copper or lead, be expected to quote for an uncovered risk of two or three years? The Government will not allow the price mechanism to work, or commodity exchanges to be open; indeed, they are shutting them down, and I see an hon. Member opposite who was responsible for one of these murders. Lastly, there is the threat of nationalisation hanging over us all, and day by day this flickering background of uncertainty widens and deepens.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
That makes it a good deal worse. As the sellers' market gives 757 way to the normal market, and then perhaps to the buyers' market, we shall not be able to quote fixed prices and do business abroad because of these uncertainties. I do not wish to be particularly controversial tonight, but I should like to explain how fallacious is the statement that 80 per cent. of our industry is to be left to private enterprise. It is, perhaps, literally true, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman who made the statement would not wish to say anything misleading if he could help it, but in its application it is untrue. If 80 per cent. of private enterprise is to depend for coal, electricity and transport upon allocations by the Government, how can it be described as private enterprise? It is enterprising only to the extent that the Government allows it to be enterprising, and it is private only to the extent that a public authority is willing to dole out the essential supplies and services.
On top of all this, we hear threats of nationalising iron and steel, which, if applied, will put a "half nelson" upon freedom of private enterprise. No doubt that would be a very agreeable indirect result for the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I should like the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who has already been very helpful over this matter of fixed and variable prices, to say whether he cannot extend the machinery of the Exports Credits Guarantee Department, so that, in the light of our present situation, some insurance facilities might be extended over this widening range of risk. It may involve legislation, but I have not yet found this Government very timid about legislation. Would it not be rather amusing to have a Bill before the House which was really going to help our trade? It would receive great support from this side, and it would be most novel to find a Measure which does something, instead of Measures which are always telling us not to do something. I now wish to turn to the location of industry. This Act was drafted by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer when he was President of the Board of Trade, and it was introduced and passed when I was President of the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
This was merely a historical reference. I did not know that it would be out of Order. I expressed the view that the powers contained in the Bill would seldom have to be used, if ever, and that the Bill would be entirely unnecessary in order to get a proper and well-balanced distribution of our industries. I think that prophecy has turned out to be correct, and I believe that the Board of Trade this year has continued to do good work, as it did last year, for the location of industry. I think that it would be very nice if the Parliamentary Secretary or the President himself were to acknowledge sometimes the very great help he has received from industry in the development areas.
This makes it all the more imperative that the fullest explanation should be given of the extraordinary series of events—I can describe them in no other way—which have taken place at Grantham, and were exposed this afternoon by the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor). The facts which he has put forward deserve the closest attention and the fullest information from whoever is to reply for the Government.. I shall listen with the greatest interest to the reasons advanced to justify this extraordinary action. We now learn with astonishment that the factories themselves have been allocated not to an industrialist, but to a financial syndicate, which is now, within my knowledge, hawking both the assets of Grantham Productions—I am weighing my words very carefully—and also the promise of allocation of the factories, round the City. I cannot understand why the Board of Trade should take so little trouble to identify the antecedents of this syndicate and those who are connected with it, and why, in any case, a middleman who is not an industrialist has been put in possession. I shall await with the utmost interest a very full explanation of these extraordinary events.
I want to take up a few minutes on the subject of allocations of raw materials. I can best do that by an illustration. Allocations of raw material in peace time can only effectively be undertaken by a committee consisting of a bookmaker, a senior wrangler and an astrologer. These gentlemen are in very short supply, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman would say. It is beyond the possibility of human intelligence or cal- 759 culation to get all the priorities into order. Allocation, like most other things, is now being done very badly. I will give the Committee an instance. It is the scientific instrument industry. In passing, I might remark that it is an industry which is very much in front of the United States. The needs of this industry in steel are about 5,000 tons a year, and the total value of the products is £50 million.
§ The Chairman
I think that the right hon. Gentleman is getting a little wide of the Votes under discussion.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I was trying to curtail my remarks. Major Milner. I had intended to say that one of the great mistakes which the Board of Trade made was in parking out the engineering industry on to another Minister. That was a very great organisational blemish and this is the sort of thing to which it leads. There is an important high conversion factor in this industry, and it can only get a trickle of steel.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I am most anxious to keep within your Ruling, Major Milner. I think I have made that point sufficiently clear. I would like to conclude my remarks by dealing with the subject of vicious circles. When we are talking of consumer goods, we shall be told of the vicious circle—the shortage of raw materials, the shortage of consumer goods, shortage of piece goods leading to shortage of groundnuts from West Africa, and so forth. This is a vicious circle. We all know it to be so, and the whole history of the Government in economic matters is crusted with vicious circles. The principal industry in which they are engaged is making vicious circles. "Too much money chasing too few goods."
The result is too many controls, and the controls result in too many officials to apply them, and that leads to lower production and the need for more controls and more controls means more officials, and so on. This is a vicious circle. There are also things called virtuous circles. It is now our duty to break out of these vicious circles wherever we can and take some risks. When we begin, however small the beginning, many problems will start unwinding themselves. We can narrow the gap between money and goods 760 by increasing supplies if only for a short time and decreasing the export of consumer goods, and we can create less money. When the Government have done these things, we shall find that many of the more vexatious controls can be relaxed. Officials can be released who will become available for production, production will be increased, fewer controls will be necessary and the virtuous circle will start unwinding some of the problems.
I end by saying that in these matters the Government have timed the thing wrongly. It is said that the Walker Cup for golf, the Derby Cup for the three-year-olds, and the Davis Cup for lawn tennis have now stamped on them "Export only." We have overdone the export drive in consumer goods, which has resulted in too little incentive, too little work, too low a rate of production; and the right thing to do is to try to release more consumer goods even at the expense of exports, make up on exports by exports of capital goods and get on with that export drive when we have built up our people a little more. That is the sensible way. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is a little too logical in these matters and he must look more to the human side. He has not spent his life in industry. He has always come down as a sort of god from the machine and addressed powerful speeches to the workers; but he has not had the job of spending all his life in dealing with these human problems, and I think he has got the timing wrong.
To sum up, I ask the Government to take a deep breath and look again at the economic background. I ask them to leave nationalisation where it has got to already. Let them leave it until they have tried their fortunes at another General Election. I make no complaint if they get in then and let the thing roll on. At the moment we are all under the threat of nationalisation. Nationalisation is halting the national recovery. I ask them to absorb the lesson of the virtuous circles as well as the vicious circles. Ministers will find it easier if they wake up every morning and say, "Great man that I am, Socialist that I am, my resolution for to day is to relax my grip on somebody or something, however small."
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Cooper (Middlesbrough West)
It is not really for me to antici- 761 pate the Ministerial reply to the speech which has just been delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Alder-shot (Mr. Lyttelton), but I do deprecate somewhat the analogy which he has drawn between Belgium and ourselves, for the reasons that, after all, Belgium did escape something of the hardships of warfare with which we were afflicted, and Belgian industry did not have to produce-the great armaments programme we had to sustain in this country. Furthermore, it will be in the right hon. Gentleman's own memory that in the early stages of the war this country sacrificed a great number of securities to the Americans in order to pay for our war supplies, and that was a great drain on this country at the time. I myself believe that that particular policy need not have been followed; I do not think we need have squandered our assets in that way, but that is past history. Nevertheless, the Government then in power was one with which, in some measure, the right hon. Gentleman was associated.
A point of some importance which has been mentioned by the Opposition concerns the comparison of export prices with import prices. We are having to pay inflated prices for some of our imports of raw materials, while on the other hand—and I think a comment was made on this point in the "Daily Express" only two days ago—the prices we are getting for our exports are, in some cases, greatly disproportionate to the prices we are having to pay for our imports of raw materials. So far as the President of the Board of Trade is able to watch that point, he might encourage the export trade to try to obtain a more equitable price for some of the goods we are now exporting.
The only solution of this problem of supplying the country with the consumer goods it requires is a vast increase in production. It is a question of produce or perish, and I think the President of the Board of Trade has taken the right step in deciding that we must first of all increase our production so as to enable us to export. Comparisons are very often odious, and perhaps the comparison with Belgium will prove to be another example. We do not yet know what the position of Belgium will be, resulting from the particular policy it is following, in comparison with our position under 762 the policy which is being followed by the President of the Board of Trade in endeavouring to keep this country financially solvent, and solvent from the point of view of exports compared with imports.
I would like to reter to one matter in particular which affects the availability of consumer goods in this country, and that is the extent to which a contribution is being made to the availability of those consumer goods by the development areas and the factories which are being built up in them. I have read with considerable interest the report of the Select Committee on Estimates which deals with the administration of the development areas, and I would like to refer to one apparent defect in that report. In making it I do not think the Committee had full regard to the problems which are besetting the tenants of factories in the development areas. The Committee should have gone deep down into industry and should have inquired from those who are actually using the factories whether they were getting the support of the Board of Trade which they really ought to expect. Are industrialists in the development areas in fact getting help from the Board of Trade, or are they experiencing a certain amount of hindrance? I have information—I do not want to be unduly critical, but I think it would be in the interest of the future development of those areas—which I think it would be well for the President of the Board of Trade to take into consideration. I have certain criticisms to make which I believe will be helpful.
First, there is a case in which the Board of Trade did not give all the help it might have given in connection with a factory estate which was being developed in my own constituency in Middlesbrough. I have the facts at first hand. A gun site was encroaching on what was destined to be an area in which factories would be built to produce the consumer goods of which the country is in such need. The Board of Trade in that case did not give the departmental backing it should have given, and which would have enabled the site to be cleared quickly. In the end the fight had to be carried on by the local authority in direct negotiation with the War Office. That was a case where we might have looked for every support from the Board of Trade.
763 In the case of another Tees-side estate 10 factories are scheduled to be built. At the present moment there are only four bricklayers, two trainees and one apprentice working on those factories. That is a very pathetic state of affairs. It is an area in which there was a large amount of unemployment before the war and it is vitally important for those factories to be built as soon as possible. When the matter was raised by those in the district who saw what was going on and wrote to the Regional Board for Industry in Newcastle, they received a letter to say that this was not any concern of theirs. That is the real tragedy. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to take up that sort of thing with the Regional Boards and see that they give such matters their full consideration. If the Regional Board for Industry in an area does not interest itself in such problems as that, to whom else can the industrialists in the area look for assistance?
There was a third example of a number of tenants of factories on the Aycliffe Estate. They reported recently to certain hon. Members of this House their complaints about the difficulties they had met with in various directions in trying to carry out their production programmes. First, they complained of the inefficient administration of the estate. That is something I think the Board of Trade should look into straight away, because it is hindering production. Their second complaint was on the subject of the exessive delays in the completion of factory alterations. The third was that the stores of building materials were being sadly mismanaged; factory alterations were held up for months at a time, and then it was found that the very items required were in the stores. A fourth ground of complaint was the lack of executive authority on the estate. The tenants, in other words, found it difficult to get a decision out of anyone, and in the end had to bring the matter before hon. Members of this House to get their problems attended to. A fifth charge was that the estate development company did not appear to be interested in this particular estate, and that is a serious charge. Again, if the management board of the Estate Development Company does not take an interest in these things, where else are the industrialists to get help ? They made a further 764 comment that there seemed to be an excessive number of consultants employed by the board, which held up decisions. Their sixth point concerned the excessive cost of alterations, and costing statistics have been provided by the tenants to show that they could have got the alterations done very much more cheaply than when the work was done by the Estate Development Company.
Here I come to what I feel to be the important point. If all these problems crop up in this way, what is the best way of solving them quickly? I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that there is a very simple way. The factory tenants themselves put forward a suggestion that a fully representative factory estate committee should be formed. There are such committees at the present time, but they have not yet got the essential power to enable them to speed up decisions. If things go wrong, they can see them going wrong on the spot, but they have no power to put them right. I ask that there should be a large measure of democratic control over the way in which factory estates are managed. They should not be left in the hands of a number of bureaucrats who are distant from the problems and who all the time are bedevilling the decisions which are required. It will, I believe, become almost a classic remark, which was made in this House a short time ago by my hon. Friend the Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn) when he said that if this Government does not break the bureaucracy, bureaucracy will break this Government. It will break the Socialist Government. Let us realise this also, that it is not only this Government which will be overthrown by the bureaucracy. If bureaucracy remains unchecked in its ever-increasing stranglehold it will undermine any Government and it will destroy democracy itself, which is an even more important matter.
In this report of the Select Committee on the administration of the development areas there is a comment made by one of the civil servants themselves on page 9:The whole of the Trading Estate organisation is tied up to our Central Headquarters here in London, in the directorate or industrial estates.I do not think that a truer remark could be made by a civil servant in public, and he had only to add, "tied up with red tape" to make it read correctly. "The 765 Times" two days ago commented on the Prime Minister's remark on the Civil Service. I do not want it to be thought that I am attacking the Civil Service, because we all realise that it is doing in many ways a good job. "The Times" referred to the way in which the Civil Service is deciding upon its own efficiency. As long as it is so deciding, we cannot expect to reduce bureaucracy, and we cannot consider what the new organisation is to be. If the final word is left to the Civil Service and if they are to be both judge and jury in their own case, we shall never change the bureaucracy into something better, and it will not be subject to analysis in the way it would be analysed if outside industrial experts were brought in.
I make a plea therefore for the one solution which I believe is the key to this whole problem. Again I quote from "The Times" of 25th June, from a letter from Mr. J. F. Eccles, referring to the efficiency in building, and this is what he wrote in a letter:The key to the test was the formation of a fully representative joint production committee empowered to discuss any matter relating to the affairs of the building company.He said that that was the key to their success. In other words, he fully understood and fully implemented a scheme of joint consultation. Aiming at achieving the efficiency by which the Civil Service itself functions and in particular the Board of Trade, I suggest it might make use of this method of joint consultation instead of stifling it. On the other hand, I think there are very few people who really understand joint consultation. One case in point where it was understood was a cotton factory in Nelson, that of Messrs. Walter Pollard where they were able to introduce a full scheme of consultation dealing adequately with such things as welfare, and they were able to put up their output by 25 per cent. compared with prewar. That includes a number of additional people recruited in their own factory; but in addition to that, the individual employee has stepped up his output by 5 per cent. compared with prewar.
I think that sort of example shows the importance of joint consultation, and tends to disprove the assertion so often made, that the workers of this country cannot or will not produce in the way they used to do. In other words, if we 766 endeavour to obtain the full co-operation of the workers, explain what is required, and appeal to their intelligence and enthusiasm by setting before them the full facts of the case, we will get their cooperation in every case. There was another case of an engineering firm, the Glacier Metal Company here in London where they have stepped up their production to a considerable degree, and "The Times" made reference to that matter on a leader page article on 20th May. This example, therefore, has been substantiated by public pronouncements. I might add that the chairman of this company, Mr. Wilfred Brown, has broadcast many times on the important matter of joint consultation.
During the war when we were concerned with the vital matter of production, which is quite as important today, the method that was employed was the building up of what is equivalent in peacetime to the regional boards in industry under the Board of Trade. At that time it was under the Ministry of Production. The machinery for clearing the bottlenecks in production was most effective and it hinged on the fact that the workers themselves in the separate works, were encouraged to put forward their criticisms and suggestions as to how production could be improved; and when they realised that they had an important part to play in war production and saw their contact with the over-all problem, they responded in a most remarkable degree. I suggest that if we give them the opportunity to have the same bottleneck clearing system and apply it to some of the bottlenecks, which no doubt unintentionally but which are nevertheless being manufactured by the Departments themselves, we shall get similar results now.
The regional organisation at the present moment is undoubtedly inefficient. It is not producing the results which it did during the war, and I think one of the reasons for this is that the Government themselves are not using it. When the Cabinet, realising the importance of production to this country, started the production drive, on 10th March last year, when the Prime Minister gave his broadcast and appealed for the Dunkirk spirit, they did not think in terms of how that drive was going to be carried through. In other words, they depended on exhortation instead of linking that exhortation 767 with an explanation of the scheme by which the separate industrialists, the trade unions and the workers in the factories could link their individual efforts to the over-all pattern, as was done during the war. I believe the Cabinet, particularly at this time, needs to give a great impetus to the regional organisation for industry, for it could be the means of implementing full joint consultation between the Government and industry.
I gave notice that I would raise this matter on the Adjournment. I put down a Question regarding the organisation for the regional boards for industry and their functions. Very briefly I should like to indicate what occurred. I wanted to explain the Cabinet's production drive in my district and how the workers could best devote their time and attention to implementing the exhortations which they were receiving from Ministers. I asked what the function was and I received most unsatisfactory replies. My suggestion was that the problem would be clearer to the industrialists if they could see the pattern of the organisation for these regional boards and that a diagram of the organisation with a descriptive leaflet should be published The existing leaflet which was issued by the Board of Trade describing the organisation was not very imaginative and did not give a clear picture of the organisation, which I felt was essential if we were to see what the contacts were between the bottom and the top levels.
I received a letter from the President of the Board of Trade, after asking certain Questions in this House. In that letter the President said that the diagram which I had sent him with certain gaps, which I suggested might be filled in by the Board of Trade, could be filled in by me because I had been given the answers to those Questions. That was not a suitable reply for the President of the Board of Trade to give on a matter on which he should himself take full responsibility as the Minister responsible for ensuring the country's industrial co-operation. I believe, in point of fact, that the advisers to the Minister were misleading him when they advised that this letter covered the points, because it was only possible for the impetus to be given to the regional organisation if sponsored by the Minister himself. That was in December of last year. Eventually, in April, I got a letter 768 to say it was intended that a descriptive leaflet should be published. That is too long to wait for such an important matter, and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give me an assurance that this matter will receive his immediate and proper attention because it still has not been published. When the crisis came along the region boards had quite a useful job to fulfil and the chairman of one of the regions, in sheer desperation, himself published a leaflet. It was not adequate and could not be because he had not the full facts before him, but the attempt was there, and it was an indication of the great importance and the necessity of this publicity, which was thereby suggested.
Finally, I should like to ask the President of the Board of Trade if he would give attention to certain points. First of all, I should like the allocation of factories—to which reference has been made by some hon. Members opposite—to be made the responsibility of the regional boards for industry. In that way I think there would be a certain democratic control over those allocations and they would not be made purely on the decision of the Department and, in some cases, without the full knowledge of the local conditions. Then, when this leaflet that has been promised is published, I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that he should get people to put it across who understand what joint consultation really means. When the Department of the Board of Trade dealing with industrial efficiency does have its contact with industrialists I want that section to refer to the regional organisation of industry and to show the industrialists how they can make use of it, and I want the same thing to apply to the Cabinet Ministers when they speak to industrialists. Lastly, I suggest the regional organisation should be taken from the Department and placed under the Lord President of the Council in association with the economic section which is being built up. If economic planners had the use of this machinery, they would see that it is applied generally without the interference of separate Departments which do not, in every instance, realise the importance problems involved, or how to solve them.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Viscountess Davidson (Hemel Hempstead)
I welcome this opportunity of 769 saying a few words from the point of view of the consumer. At the last Election I think we all realised that whatever Government was in office afterwards would have to cope with shortages both of food and of raw materials. Those of us who were wise made no promises, but we hoped that within a reasonable time some improvements could be expected. During the war those of us who were Members of Parliament kept very close to our constituents and I think we helped to keep up their morale. We realised that the people of this country would face anything—restrictions, controls, difficulties—as long as they felt that they were necessary, as long as they felt that the Government were being efficient and, more important than anything, as long as they felt that they had confidence in their leadership; sometimes also, confidence in their own Member of Parliament helped as well.
Shortages now are as great as ever; in fact, they are greater, and people are losing faith in the leadership which is being shown. They are not convinced that the continuation of these restrictions and shortages is really necessary. The Government lay great stress on the need for increased exports, and obviously greatly increased exports are absolutely necessary if we are to live, but we are told that there are to be greater shortages than ever in the home market. Can one blame the women of this country if they register a certain amount of anxiety? May I say that personally I have found that the President of the Board of Trade and his Parliamentary Secretary have always shown the greatest courtesy to me, and have always been very helpful in the many cases I have brought to them? In view of the fact that, according to what the President said today, they now have to deal with some 1,300,000 letters every month, I am really astonished that we receive any replies at all, but it shows the anxiety in the country.
I am convinced that no man can really understand what it means to run a household today even those men who think that they are the greatest help to their wives. They may be excellent at washing up and assisting in similar directions, but although they think that they understand they really cannot, because it is the women who have to do the day-to-day jobs of running about from shop to shop looking for the 770 things needed in everyday life who really realise the difficulties. I cannot run through the whole of the shortages because there are too many, but they include linen, sheets, towels, cups and saucers, linoleums. carpets, floor-coverings, children's footwear and so on. As I have said, it is only those women who have gone from shop to shop searching for these things whose views are worth considering. I know I was fortunate—as many in this House were fortunate and as the President of the Board of Trade was I am sure fortunate in his household—in that at the beginning of the war we had a fairly adequate supply of linen. But I can assure the Committee that today I have not one sheet which is not end to middle and middle to end, with patches all over.
What is the position of the small householder who, during the war, has had to put up a number of evacuees who used her linen and sheets? The Board of Trade gives one the usual quite polite but inhuman reply, "Everybody in the household can give one or two coupons towards more of the necessary towels and sheets." Have those hon. Members who have helped their wives to wash up experienced what it means to dry with towels that are holes all through and are so thin that they never dry at all? But it is the attitude which people are meeting on the part of Ministers and the Government which they resent today. "It is all quite easy and anyone can produce a few coupons." Try to produce a few coupons when you have to clothe four or five growing children—boys who every holiday must have a new pair of shoes at nine coupons a time—and you will soon find that even with the whole of the books in the household pooled there will be very little left for the absolutely necessary linen required to run a home.
The President of the Board of Trade is a very austere man, and I know that he has strong views on uncooked food and the advantages of cold baths, but I am sure even he realises that you cannot run a house without linen, and that to go on expecting that at this stage, after seven years of war, ordinary small householders should have the linen or could possibly spare the coupons is trying the patience, of the public very far. What worries us so much is the attitude of the Government, the self-complacency and, if I may say so, the resentment when there is any 771 criticism from outside. I have always understood that the more able a man was the more willing he was to receive criticism, and that it was only the small-minded person who did not like it.
I beg Ministers to realise that the position is now very serious and that there is real reason for anxiety in the minds of women at the present time. There is no question of politics involved. Why should the Government adopt the attitude that because a certain number of women get together and put forward their views there is some political motive behind it? I assure them that there are housewives in my constituency and I have not the slightest idea whether they are Socialists, Communists or Conservatives. All I know is that they are equally anxious. It is curious that the views of the trade union organisations are welcomed with open arms, and that if they are strongly expressed we generally see the Government taking immediate action. Are not the views of the housewives entitled to be met with the same courtesy and appreciation instead of—I am sorry to say on some occasions—with insult and abuse?
I always feel that just as an hon. Member of this House represents the whole of his constituency without respect in the least to party politics, so the Government should represent the views of the whole country. They should represent all sections of the community, irrespective of politics and should not be suspected of looking after only their own political supporters. I sometimes feel that there is now no freedom of speech unless the views expressed have been blessed by the Minister in question. On this side of the Committee we are not only unhappy at the shortages of the ordinary necessities of life, but we are unhappy at the prices of goods. All goods not pegged by large subsidies are running up in price. The Government's own index of wholesale prices, as opposed to their "phoney" cost-of-living index, has been rising rapidly since the Government took office. The public is beginning to realise this and is becoming extremely anxious as to where the tendency is leading us. The Government will be faced by shortage after shortage, merely because of their attachment to their political creeds, and their profound belief in the principle of the State owning and running everything.
772 I would recall to the Committee what was said just now about bulk buying, because it is so very true. One has only to go abroad to other countries—I have just been to Argentina—to realise what a disaster Government bulk buying is. The Government buyer is heard miles off, like a herd of elephants, and they get ready for him. There is no doubt that it considerably influences the charge which is made for the goods that we require, and then those goods are very often in short supply. The Government should use for this purpose the traders, who know their job, have done it often before, and know the tricks of the trade. [Laughter.]I can assure hon. Members that there is nothing laughable about it. It is a fact that if you know your job you get the best for the public and safeguard their interests. [Interruption.]I am not interested so much in the views of hon. Members opposite as in the views of my constituents. I am speaking on their behalf. If the traders were allowed to do their own work we should see a great difference.
I had an opportunity during the war of sitting upon a committee of inquiry into the Ministry of Food, when Lord Woolton was there. Several hon. Members opposite were my colleagues and we were deeply impressed at the way in which that Ministry was run. Lord Woolton had brought in men who knew their jobs, and they did their own jobs. [An HON. MEMBER: "They are still there."] No, indeed they are not. Many of them have gone. The Ministry was so well run at that time that our committee did not even consider it necessary to make a report.
The Government can never tell the people how long shortages will continue. During the war there was always a very real hope that when Hitler was defeated the worst time would end. The people see in front of them now only increasing austerity. They see more and more shortages, and, in fact, woe on woe. The Government cannot say anything definite because they do not know when the people who are producing will realise the urgency to themselves as well as to the whole population of more production. That is one of the really important points. The workers have to realise that there cannot be an improvement in the situation until they begin themselves to increase production. It means—unfortunately I 773 know hon. Members will not like to hear this—having to undo much of the Socialist propaganda and political education they have carried out during the last 30 or 40 years. That will take a long time for only lately Ministers themselves have taken part in that propaganda. Let me quote one sentence written by the present Minister of Food. He said:Our conclusion is that, however hard the workers work, they will remain workers, and poor workers at that. Hard work will not make the workers any richer, but it will make their employers much richer. It does not take any higher wages to keep a sober, industrious worker, than a 'gay and feckless one. Hence the propaganda in favour of the workers becoming patterns of sobriety, parsimony and thrift. For the exercise of these virtues by the workers would first of all benefit, not them, but their employers.Now these very Ministers are, day after day, begging for better production, begging the nation to pull together as they did in the war. They cannot undo their own propaganda and political education in five minutes. The harm has been done and I am afraid that it will be a long time before it is undone. The whole population must realise that our survival depends on increased production, on pulling together and producing on an ever-increasing scale; otherwise, the present situation is not likely to improve. The Government alone are responsible for the shortages that exist owing to their own economic policy which has created uncertainty in industry, slowed down production, and delayed the recovery of the country.
§ 7.55 P.m.
§ Mrs. Wills (Birmingham, Duddeston)
I am glad to follow the hon. Lady the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Viscountess Davidson) because I agreed with very much that she said. I agree that the women of this country are having a raw deal at the present time. We do want more goods. I do not agree that we are getting fewer than we had before. We are getting some more, but the increase is not quick enough and we want more still. I feel that employers are not putting as much effort as they could into getting this increase of goods.
Not enough attention is paid to part-time workers. I know that the hours of work of part-time workers cannot be regulated very well, because the workers may come in an hour or two late, and 774 they may go an hour or two early. More can be done, as was done during the war, to organise the industry of these part-time workers. We should thus get a lot more work done in the country. When it comes to the question of women workers not going into some of the jobs in which they were employed between the wars, I say that in the main those jobs were in "sweated" industries. The Government of the day had to adopt trade board measures in those industries to force the employers to pay enough wages to keep body and soul together. That is the sort of thing that has left a bad taste in the mouths of women. Women are the mothers of the future. They have daughters, and they watch jolly well that the daughters do not go into those industries in which they themselves have suffered. This is the sort of position we ought to look into. A great deal of this kind of thing was suffered between the wars, and it will take a long time to wash it out of the memories of women.
Let us look at another aspect of this situation. Why are the goods not in the shops? Because they are in people's pantries. I speak from long experience in the distributive trades. Goods which we used to turn over only five times a year are now turned over 10 or perhaps 12 times. We can sell the whole lot of certain classes of goods within half an hour of receiving them, whereas it used to take us very much longer. The reason-is that people have the money to buy them. They need them in their homes. People also need nice homes. Some people have lived their whole lives with the ideal in front of them of a nicely-furnished home. They are now in the position to buy that nicely-furnished home, as soon as things are available for them to accumulate.
I agree that there are shortages, but many people who feel those shortages are those who never felt any shortage before On the other hand, people who did not have enough before can now look round and see how much they have today for which to thank God and to count their blessings in that respect. I am not becoming satisfied with what we are getting; I still think that more could be done. I think the Board of Trade could do with a psychologist in the Department to get their propaganda over properly, and to give encouragement to people to work. I believe we should get more 775 people to work in industry if we said to them, "Work for the glory of Britain," or "Work to satisfy Britain," instead of "Work or want."
When we are talking about this subject we must realise that there are different points of view. I can remember when there were no curtains in the windows of houses, not because shops were not full of curtains, but because there was no money in the houses with which to buy them. We must remember that a poster like "Work or want" applies in some places, but not in others. In Scotland, for instance, there is a surplus of labour, and to put up such a poster before people who have no job is simply ridiculous. So we ought to devise a different kind of publicity from that if we wish to encourage workers to work and employers to give them an opportunity of working. We also ought to get more co-operation, on the regional boards in industry, between employers and workers, because together they can pull any hot chestnut out of the fire. Together they can get over all the difficulties which lie before them.
We must be positive in our appeal. Many people want to know what there is to do. It is no good saying "You can gaze into shop windows"—although that is jolly hard work—or "You can produce something." We must be more positive than that, and the Ministry of Labour can help by talking to women in various parts of the country, particularly in the new housing estates, and could take work to them. I believe that work connected with the clothing industry, which does not need large machinery, could be taken to these women, could be taken to small workshops near their homes.
We want many of the simple things in our homes that we have done without for a long time, things which make all the difference to a home. I agree with the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead that men do not know what it is to manage a home without all the things and comforts which women like to have. We have to try to make do, so that our neighbours do not notice our deficiencies. There are all sorts of trials to the nerves of women. They want a pat on the back, and should be encouraged for what they have done. There are no more faithful members of the community than the women of this country.
776 If they are duly encouraged, I think it is possible to get more out of women than out of men. So I ask all hon. Members to think again about the way in which they approach this problem, because I am convinced it is being wrongly approached today. Those who have had to work hard in the past are not afraid of working hard in the future; they are happy at their work, given the right conditions. If we ask for the job to be done, if we give instructions in the special problems that women have before them, they will do at least one and a half, if not two, jobs in one.
As for what has been said about Lord Wooltons good housekeeping, it is very easy to be hospitable, to be a good house-' keeper if you have a full pantry, and Lord Woolton had a very full pantry. Do not let us forget that. He had Lend-Lease, and food which was imported from other countries which sent it to us in order to win the war. It has been said that women have political views, and, of course, they have, but it has not been the women so much who have been political; it has been the organisers of the political campaigns. When it comes to prices, we are asking for more and not fewer controls, because we want to keep commodities within reach of the population. So I say, let us alter our propaganda, if we can call it that, and urge the women to come forward. Let us tell them how good they are, and how much they can do, and I am sure they will not disappoint us.
§ 8.8. p.m.
§ Mr. Hollis (Devizes)
As a member of the weaker sex, perhaps I may interpose a few observations in this Debate. The thing which has struck me as most extraordinary is that after the President of the Board of Trade made his careful and lucid speech, giving details of commodities which were now in slightly greater supply, it was some hours before my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Spearman) was the first speaker to call attention to the fact that the standard of living we are enjoying today is one which we axe enjoying, not because of the triumphs of Socialist production, but because we are living "on tick," through the American Loan. We are living on the proceeds of a great capitalist civilisation, whether we like it or not. This so-called planned 777 society of ours has been able to go on only because there is an unplanned society which does produce the goods—
§ Mr. Hollis
I am well aware of that. I can assure the hon. Lady the Member for Duddeston (Mrs. Wills), whose speech we so much enjoyed, that Lord Woolton did not have an easy time. She said that he had a full pantry, but the fact is that our ships were being sunk constantly—
§ Mr. Hollis
I do not want to discuss the general question of America on this occasion, although nobody, at times, has been more alarmed at certain tendencies of American policy than myself. Nevertheless, I believe that if an American inquirer tried to discover from Members opposite what was the position of consumer goods in this country, he would be somewhat puzzled. First, he would be told that our people were now eating better than in the past; then he would be told that we were carrying out a vast social reform, that we were introducing a five-day week. Then he would be told that unless we produced more there was grave danger that our rations would be reduced; then he would be told that the Americans were reactionary, that America was a capitalist country, and was riding for a fall, that it was a sign of their own decadence that they still had a six-day week.
America would be asked for a little more money and at the same time they would hear us say, "The Americans are stupid people and do not understand the British point of view." They would be entitled to be puzzled, in the same way as all foreigners are entitled to be puzzled when the people of this country talk about and denounce privileges. In the eyes of the vast majority of the people of the world it is an enormous privilege. to be British at all. This country enjoys a standard of living a little above that of the great majority of the inhabitants of the world. It is a curious moral cowardice that it is held to be wickedness for an individual to want a higher standard than his neighbour, but not for one country to want to have a higher standard of living than another. Nevertheless, I entirely agree that we should enjoy a higher standard of living in this 778 country than the average of the world, 'but clearly we can do so only if we produce the' goods. No one expects other nations to keep us in that condition unless we produce the good for ourselves.
The fundamental problem and the fundamental solution, as has been admitted at other times, is volume of production. In considering what the solution is, I entirely agree with those who say that there is no substitute for hard work by all classes of the community. No one would deny that. I entirely agree that we cannot have a larger cake unless we produce a larger cake. I also entirely agree that the problem is not so much one of shortage of labour as one of maldistribution of labour. One could develop and improve on that point if more time were available. I entirely agree with the hon. Lady the Member for Duddeston about the basic necessity being one of co-operation. These theoretical debates about the best way of organising the industry of the country are highly important and highly proper at their right time, but the fundamental and terrible and serious fact today is that there is still uncertainty. I am not intending to be alarmist; I want to be a realist. There is uncertainty whether we shall get through the next years or months, or not. If we do not get through those next months or years, theoretical debates about the best way of organising industry are unimportant because they will not be realised anyhow. That being so where we differ, we must differ, but where we are able to co-operate we should agree to do so.
We have had a most valuable speech from the hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Lewis), in which he gave an instance from his own deep experience of how certain demands were made by the employers and trade unions in the rubber industry for co-operation. In general, when the White Paper was issued it was most remarkable that the Trades Union Congress and the Federation of British Industries made almost identical demands as to the practical steps that were required in order to pull the country through at any rate, its immediate difficulties. Let us, at any rate, concentrate on those things on which we agree and on which we can pull together, and let us not waste our ammunition and energy on debating and fulminating on issues which are sometimes unreal 779 and on other occasions may have some eventual reality but are irrelevant to the solution of our immediate problems.
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Skeffington (Lewisham, West)
I did not think that I should ever be grateful to the members of the National Liberal section in the House, but I think we are all grateful that they have raised this very important subject today so that we can discuss the real shortages that exist, and, what is of even greater importance, get the picture in its right perspective. If one takes the speeches of the two hon. Ladies who have just spoken and puts them together, one begins to see the sort of problems facing a very large number of our citizens. Before I come on to the one or two special points I want to raise, let me say that I was a little surprised that the major evidence of shortages here, produced by the hon. Member who opened the Debate was a comparison of this country with Belgium. I have not the precise statistics as I thought the Debate was confined to shortages here and not in Belgium, but because there are highly-priced goods in some of the shop windows of the capital of Belgium, it is going a long way to suggest that a successful economy has been built up there.
When that theory was developed by the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) I was amazed, because, frankly I thought many of his facts were bogus. He said there is no petrol rationing in Belgium. What is the proportion of motor cars as a method of transport in Belgium to this country? It bears no relation at all, for there they have largely horse-drawn and animal-drawn vehicles. I think we should find that whereas there is one motor car to 20 persons here, it is one to some hundreds in Belgium'. The short answer is, therefore, that there is no possible comparison with Belgium, with its very compact commitments, and the great commitments of this great victorious Power which has had to spend not only so much in winning the war, but so much after winning the war. We have world-wide commitments, and to pretend that the economy of Belgium can bear any relation to ours was a most extraordinary argument coming from the Conservative Front Bench. We shall soon 780 get a new Pan-Belgium movement if that kind of utterance goes on.
I suggest, however, that in the Debate today there has been very little evidence from hon. Members opposite that the present shortages' are due to Government maladministration. I believe there are certain things the Government are not doing right, and that we brought to point them out if we know them, or if we are convinced that we are right and the Government are wrong. However, we have heard very little from hon. Members opposite on this. It may be a tribute to their discretion or reasonableness, or it may be that it is impossible to say, if one is honest about it, that in the situation after two world wars in 20 years one would not expect to find many of the shortages which now exist.
I was glad that the hon. Member for East Norfolk (Mr. Medlicott) paid some kind of tribute to the Board of Trade in his speech, although I did not altogether like the terms of it.. He said that it was better than some other Government Departments, and that might not be taken as highly complimentary. I think it ought to be said in this Committee that the Board of Trade have had a most distasteful job to do. They have been dealing with the pent-up demands of consumers for seven years during which they have not been able to buy. The whole framework of our economy has been affected by two world wars in 20 years. It was inevitable that some kind of scheme had to operate where there were shortages. That is admitted, even by the Opposition. In an exposition to which I shall not give free publicity. there is a solemn declaration that no control would be removed from any commodity so long as it was in short supply. Therefore, I think the Board of Trade have done their distasteful job with great efficiency. They have been extremely ingenious in the schemes they have put up, and they have tried to see that shortages are fairly shared. I would like to place on record my tribute to the very fine job they have performed.
Before coming to one or two specific cases of shortage which have been brought to my notice, I am wondering whether or not as the hon. Member for Duddeston (Mrs. Wills) said, the Board of Trade puts itself over to the ordinary public, even to the ordinary retailer. It is no use saying, 781 as the President did this afternoon, that all these figures have been given in the "Board of Trade Journal" because, although it has a good circulation among people interested in that kind of reading; it is not read by the average retailer and by the average member of the public. Linked up with the production campaign, there ought to be many more facts about our situation at home, about the difficulties, about the time people will have to wait, and about our achievements. For example, I believe it is a fact that, owing to the conclusion of the Japanese war at a much earlier date than was forecast, we had to have a great acceleration and great diversion of materials to the production of clothing for demobilised men. That was equal, in the period from August, 1945, to August, 1946, to something like 100 million clothing coupons. It was a great achievement of the clothing industry that they were able to produce these articles long before the men left the Services, but it meant that the poor civilians had to wait longer. That is a fact which ought to have been made known, so that the people would get a true appreciation of the position. Too often the Board of Trade is too remote from the ordinary person. I think the publicity should be improved and the Ministry of Food newspaper publicity could be emulated. These problems should be discussed on the wireless so that people could understand some of our difficulties. Why not let an administrator, a manufacturer, a worker and a consumer discuss once a week some specific problem of civilian shortages?
There is a matter which ought to have been raised by one of the lady Members. I must raise it because I have received letters on the question. Although I have a lot of letters I have not many on shortages, but I have had many letters about children's clothing. We have heard the Minister of Health say that there is a high level in the birthrate, and it is not likely to decline. Only today I received a letter from a retailer in my Division expressing concern about shortages of children's clothes. It says that at present there are acute shortages of pyjamas and sleeping suits, small vests and socks. I hope we shall get an indication that some steps are to be taken to increase the supplies of these things. The other day I saw that very soft graded wool is held almost entirely for export, yet certain children's 782 clothing can only be made from soft wool. I would like to know whether that is accurate. I am told that certain types of baby wool can be obtained only on blue coupons, or on green books, and I would like to know if this is correct.
There has been a very big increase in many household supplies. There has been an increase of 71 per cent. in hollowware, but there are gaps even there. There are shortages of cups and saucers. My own Division of West Lewisham has the distinction of having received the greatest weight of high explosive bombs in the war of any district in London. I put a Question to the Board of Trade asking if they were convinced that the distribution of cups and saucers in my Division was sufficient. I received an answer that if I could produce any evidence that the distribution to any retailer was below the average, they would have it looked into. Being a very simple person, I did not know what the average was, but, with the assistance of the Chamber of Commerce, a number of instances have been got out. We found that one retailer's supply is woefully defective as compared with last year. In cups and saucers together the supplies have been 59 per cent. less than last year; in cups only, 62 per cent.; in tea plates, 50 per cent.; in pudding plates, whatever they are, 68 per cent., etc. I should not only like to feel that my Division was getting a square deal, but I should like also to hear more information about the industry. I believe it has been said that the pottery industry is taking a much higher quota of coal than was originally anticipated. No doubt that will help a great deal.
My final point hinges, to some extent, on an observation made by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Webb) in connection with shortages and in connection with the wastage of manpower and materials on certain items. It is true, as he said, that in certain respects there is a great deal of trash in the shops. That is true at any time, but now the waste of manpower and materials is absolutely criminal, whatever the material or whatever the manpower may be. I would like to see the application of two principles which are now familiar to us, and which have worked with a good deal of success in some industries—the fixing of maximum prices on as wide a range of goods as possible, and employing with that a test for minimum quality. It 783 is important, particularly for the poorer sections of the community, that they should not be forced to buy shoddy goods because they are cheaper, goods which in the long run are most uneconomical for them as well as having been most uneconomical to produce.
The linking of price control with a minimum quality standard is essential. I tested the matter by way of Parliamentary Question and I got a satisfactory reply, but it takes time to develop these things. The application of these two principles is vital. It would permit something which hon. Members opposite like, and which I certainly like. If we merely fix a maximum price and a minimum quality it leaves the field open for the very best form of competition. It is not preventing anyone from selling below the maximum price or offering goods of a higher quality than the minimum standard. The great thing is to safeguard the consumer. If we do that we shall be taking steps not only in his interests but in the wider interests of the nation.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Hurd (Newbury)
As I listened to the President of the Board of Trade and to the smooth words that came from him, I could not help wondering whether he and his Department realise how rigorously they control the lives of everyone in this country, and indeed the future conduct and development of our industries. I am a farmer and I know what it is when one wants the smallest piece of timber for repairs and one has to get a licence, and that is only one tiny control. I was interested in the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) about the allocation of the armament factories at Grantham, because the way that space and steel are used will decide whether the farming community in this country are to be properly equipped with tractors for the next year or two and whether we are to retain the export market we are developing today.
The Committee should know that the present makers of tractors—and all of them have to get their steel out of the one agricultural allocation—are only working to 65 per cent. of capacity. That means that if one goes into the Ford Works today they can boast that a new 784 tractor comes off the production line every 3½ minutes, but it could be every 2½minutes, if they could get the steel. They have the men, the equipment and the skill. It is lack of steel that is holding them up. The point which my right hon. Friend raised is relevant to the proper use of labour and resources in food production here. Are we to see tractor producers, not only Ford's but David Brown's and the Standard Company, get a full share of steel so that they can meet the needs of farmers here and be in a strong position to carry on in the export trade when the sellers' market has gone and when American competition in the world will be extremely keen? I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will give a clear and definite reply to the points raised by my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Walkden (Doncaster)
Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied himself, or are his friends satisfied, that the factories which now exist to produce tractors and agricultural machinery are all producing to capacity in accordance with the amount of steel or metal allocated or made available to them?
§ Mr. Walkden
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that during the period of office of the predecessor of my right hon. and learned Friend there was a factory in my Division which ought now to be employing 1,500 engineers? They have been fiddling about since 1945, or 1944, and I doubt whether they have produced half a dozen tractors since then. They ought to have been employing all these engineers, but the factory is now in such a condition that we are ashamed at the progress which has been made.
§ Mr. Hurd
I want to mention as a complete contrast a case where the Board of Trade have failed to show any enterprise 785 or give any forward guidance. I think they have been a little hasty in the Grantham case. I have in my constituency quite another instance. There was before the war an old-established furniture factory which was converted to make aeroplanes during the war years. In 1944 they applied to be allowed to start the manufacture of furniture again, for which they had skilled workers and all the proper equipment. Correspondence went to and fro, and eventually workers at the factory wrote to the President of the Board of Trade. On 25th February they wrote:During 1946 our labours have been dissipated and lost to the country as, throughout the year, we have, through no fault of our own, been practically workless.A month later, on 25th March, the Parliamentary Secretary replied saying that the firm could not be designated for utility production because of shortage of timber for furniture making, although it was recognised that furniture was their sole production before the war. He said he realised the difficulties with which the furniture industry is faced at present, and added:We know that much hardship must in evitably fall upon employees in the industry as a result of the present unfortunate conditions.I echo the words of the hon. Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Skeffington). It is criminal, month after month, to waste skilled labour and resources. If that factory in Newbury could not be allowed the raw materials so that it could return to its proper job of furniture making, a clear indication of that should have been made months ago. The President of the Board of Trade carries a very heavy responsibility and he has not yet told this factory what is to be done We heard today that the right hon. and learned Gentleman hopes that there will soon be some more hard wood coming into this country. I hope and pray that the workers in Newbury will be able to make that hard wood into furniture and that their factory may get to full work again. In conclusion, I ask the President of the Board of Trade to try to do better than he appears to have done in these two cases. He carries very great responsibilities and the manner in which he uses his dictatorial powers will make or mar our country for many years to come.
§ 8.35 P.m.
§ Mr. Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees)
One point which has not emerged sufficiently so far in this Debate, is the really searing effect of the war upon the whole of our economy. A country cannot go through the events of those six or seven years, in the way in which we did, without feeling the effects for a considerable time. It is quite beside the point to try to compare our recovery with that of Belgium, on the one hand, and America, on the other. I think we can say that, before the recent fuel crisis, we had reason to feel proud of the smooth transition which we had made from war to peace production in this country, and that there was every sign at the beginning of this year that, if things had gone on in that direction, there would have been a considerable lessening of austerity throughout this year. It was the fuel crisis in February and March which brought us face to face again with this hardship and shortage and continued austerity. But for this, the promise of better supplies in the shops, more goods on the counters, shorter queues and so on, would, in my opinion, have been a reality.
In spite of the very rapid recovery which we have made since February and March, we still feel the serious effects of that time. For instance, footwear, about which we have heard so much today, fell from 10.4 million pairs in January to 4.5 million pairs in February. Perambulators for sale fell from 59,500 in January to 36,600 in February, and the loss of production of utility furniture was from 3.9 million units to 2.4 million units. If we add those losses to the losses which are due to the shortage of labour, shortage of raw materials, increased demand owing to more wealth being available and owing to the increased birth-rate, we have some idea of the scope of the problem which the Board of Trade, in co-operation with industry, have been trying to solve since the end of the war.
One major factor must be taken into account, but there has been very little mention of it so far. It is important that we should expand our capital equipment, and devote as much of our resources of wealth and materials as we can to expand our basic industries, because, even when we are producing consumer goods, the future will be very 787 dismal indeed. There again, we have a considerable record of which we can be proud. In 1938, we spent £308 million in new capital equipment, and in 1945 we only spent £118 million, but in 1946 we spent £493 million on capital equipment, which was roughly equivalent to the amount we had been spending prewar. From this year's Economic Survey, it is quite clear that we must devote a considerable proportion of our resources to carrying on this redevelopment of our industry, and we cannot expect, as some people wish, to devote the whole of our resources to consumer goods, if we are to succeed in the future. It is reasonably clear that units, dockets and coupons, and all the rest of these irritating necessities have to continue for some time.
I would like to refer to what is, in my opinion, the most acute shortage, at least in my own area, and that is men's clothing. It is virtually impossible to buy a shirt in the North-East, and size 15½ has not been seen for months. People have to wait something like 12 months between the order and getting even a semblance of a response. Together with the effects of the fuel crisis, the recent high level of sales in April, when coupons became available, has really denuded the shops in the North-East. There is a marked shortage of boys' wear, particularly raincoats, and a marked shortage of socks, pants, trunks and shorts. I do not know what the answer is, but, in London, one can walk into shops and buy these things, and there is a considerable increase in supplies to London as against the North-East. I am wondering if this is due to the fact that, now that there is a free market in these goods, the suppliers are supplying those firms who dealt in large quantities before the war, whereas we, in a development area, with a low purchasing power, were not able to get hold of these goods. I wonder if that has something to do with this acute shortage. I would be very grateful if my hon. Friend could look into that important point and let me know whether we are getting a fair and equitable share in the North-East. Can we have a better distribution of clothes? We admit that there is an over-all shortage, but we feel that the distribution could be a little more just.
I have received a letter from a lady in my constituency deploring the shortage 788 of wool. She says that owing to this-shortage, the manufacturers are not now making long combinations, and, as a result, the old ladies in my constituency are suffering from rheumatism because they have to wear short vests, and so on. I do not think that we can do anything about that now. Indeed, I do not think that the younger generation would stand for it. But it is just one of the problems which the Board of Trade have to face.
I would now like to deal with what seems to be a gross misdirection of labour and raw materials. Already, there are signs in the shops of over-production of certain articles. At the end of the war, many firms in the light metal industry, who had rapidly expanded their production, changed over very quickly to peacetime production. Since then, they have been flooding the shops with all kinds of pots and pans, fireguards and companion sets with which to keep the hearth tidy, and so on. During the last few days, I have had a good look round some of the stores in London, and there seems to be a glut of pots and pans, light metal goods, certain small plastics, ash trays—as the Chancellor has cut down smoking these latter do not seem to be necessary—leather bags with zipp fasteners, and lampshades. A few months ago it may have been a desirable thing to have all these goods, but it does not help the harassed housewife to see the shops littered with them. If we are to prevent a similar situation to that which we had last winter, in regard to the over-production of electric fires, now is the time to look into the over-production of non-essential goods to see if we can divert the labour and material into-more useful channels.
I would like to deal with something which, I believe, can help us to better times. There has been a rapid expansion of factory development in the development areas, and, although in the past I have criticised the Board of Trade in this matter, I do not think they have been given sufficient credit for the. amount of new factory space and new employment which has been provided. But the whole of this development is likely to be handicapped in the very near future unless we have a real policy with regard to distribution of raw materials. I have a letter from a firm in the North-East, though not in my own constituency, which had been induced to go there to manufacture dresses, and so on. They say that in the 789 last 17-week period they were able to book only 10,000 yards of material as against 70,000 yards in each of the three previous periods, and are faced with having to sack a large number of men and women, particularly women, unless they can get an increased supply of cloth. But they Say that similar firms in London, Birmingham, and elsewhere in areas of manpower shortage, are getting more than they can handle.
It seems-to me that, although there is a free market in this commodity, the Board of Trade could give a much more positive direction to the suppliers of this material to see that an increased quota is allocated to those firms-which have come to our aid in the development areas. I do not know what action my hon. Friend can take in the matter, but it seems quite reasonable to expect that, even if we took some cloth from firms in good areas, the labour which would be displaced as a result could easily find alternative employment. We could take up the slack in development areas and use it to increase production. That seems a right and proper thing to do. It means the reintroduction of controls, but I think it would be a worth while thing to do. Although we admit that austerity must and will continue, and we cannot see the end of it, if the Board of Trade put across their case properly the public will accept this austerity with a much better heart than has been demonstrated in the past. It should be pointed out that if we produce for export as much as we can, not only shall we survive the present shortages, but the future will be good for the majority of the people in this country.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Lord Willoughby de Eresby (Rutland and Stamford)
I would like to take the Committee back to the very interesting speech which we heard from the hon. Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Webb). May I, a fellow sufferer myself, record my admiration of the way in which he has overcome his grievous difficulty? There must be a certain affinity between those who have lost limbs. The other speech to which I wish to refer is that by my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Spearman).
I agree with a good deal that the hon. Member for Central Bradford said, but I think he produced one extremely fallacious and misleading argument at the 790 beginning of his speech. It will be remembered that he argued that because certain large distributing firms, such as Marks and Spencer, Woolworth's, and Lewis's, with which Lord Woolton was once connected, were making large profits today or had declared increased dividends, therefore, all was happy, business was better and the consumer was being well served and supplied. Hon. Members opposite must realise that they won the last General Election. That may have been rather a shock to some of them, but they must recognise that during the last two years that they have been in power they have virtually brought about an economic revolution in this country. There has been substituted an artificial, Government-controlled price level for the free price mechanism which we knew before the war. That being so, it is useless to take the same yardstick of profit to prove that an industry or business is well conducted and progressive and gives good service. As many hon. Members know, because a firm or industry makes large profits, or even if the worker earns large wages, it does not mean that the industry or the worker are better off than their competitors. If we are to get back to healthy business in this country, we must return to the system of the free price mechanism.
Our present position is unhealthy. I am a producer in a small way. I am connected with one or two productive firms, and conditions today are really too good to be true. It is not particularly difficult to make profits. The workers are satisfied; they are earning good wages. But as a conscientious producer, one feels that something is not quite right. One's business is not as efficient as it ought to be. There is not the drive that one would like to see. One asks oneself what is wrong. Who is suffering? Of course, the person who is suffering, or "taking it," is the consumer. Once we have an artificial economy such as we have today, the producer is fairly safe; he is organised. Labour is fairly safe; that is organised. As the President of the Board of Trade knows, one can exert a certain pressure on Government Departments who decide these questions of prices, but the one large body in the country which is not organised is the consumers. So many hon. Gentlemen opposite who have spoken today have expressed dissatisfaction or annoyance with the fact that we do have these various organisations of housewives in 791 this country. But they are really very understandable, and I should have thought that hon. Gentlemen opposite would have been the first people to recognise that, because they know that until labour was organised it did not get very far. It is rather the same in this case, when we have the other two organised bodies. Until the consumers are organised they suffer.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge)
Is the noble Lord referring to the housewives who are organised by the transport interests?
§ Lord Willoughby de Eresby
I am not. I think I have given a perfectly legitimate argument. When we have the artificial Structure for which Socialism stands, we have the trade unions on the one side and the producers on the other organised, and exercising pressure on the President of the Board of Trade and on other Ministers to keep a price level which will give them profits or good wages; and, as I say, I think the consumer possibly suffers from that. I think the other reason things appear better today than they really are is the fact that we are subsidising inefficiency amongst producers and amongst the workers to a certain extent—with the American Loan, as well. I feel that we are not really going to have a healthy state of business again until we go back to a free price mechanism. I know that hon. Gentlemen opposite will immediately say, "You wish to remove all controls straight away." I only ask the President of the Board of Trade to remember what my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) said, that there is all the difference between waking up in the morning and saying, "What cant I free?" and waking up and saying "What can I restrict?" I also know that when we start removing controls, undoubtedly we are going to cause hardship to a certain number of people in this country. To finish quickly, I would say only that. for myself, I would far sooner subsidise the consumer than—and let us face the fact that we are doing this—subsidise a good many inefficient producers or workers in this country at the moment.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Mallalieu (Huddersfield)
I agree with the noble Lord that the consumer is carrying the baby, but I would not 792 agree with him for one moment that the way to ease the burden would be to return to the ordinary price mechanism. I would not do that until the distribution of income is very much more equal than it is at the present time.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
In the old days the operation of the ordinary price mechanism acted most unfairly. It weighted tremendously the demands of certain people, and made very light the demands of the poorer sections of the population. I think we shall ease the consumers' burden much more by getting the producers— and the Government—to look at this lack of drive of which the noble Lord is conscious in his own business, and see what reason there is for it. I would say that, in the industry which is the main industry in my constituency, and which has been an interest of my family for, perhaps, 500 years, the lack of drive in the wool textile industry at the present time is obviously due to two things: first of all, the difficulty of getting labour back into the mills, and, secondly, the difficulty of getting the best output that is possible from the labour that is in the mills.' The reasons we cannot get labour back into the mills at the present time are many. I have not time to go into the details now. One is the bad conditions of the past—the shockingly bad conditions. They are better now, but still not right. Possibly, another reason has to do with pay. I am not certain. The third and most serious reason why people will not go back into the wool textile industry is the fear of unemployment. We had bad unemployment in the 20 years before the war. We are desperately afraid of getting it again.
The lack of full productivity from the labour that is in the mills seems to me to be due to several reasons. One is that many of the mills are obsolete; the layout is bad. They do not get a steady flow of production. There is a good deal of wasted effort in going from one part of the mill to another. The second reason there is not the fullest possible productivity is the shortage of coal; mills are not getting full-out working. During the winter the mills were stopped for many weeks. We are not working on full capacity, quite part from labour shortages, because of the fact that we are 793 not getting enough coal. It is also a fact that what labour there is is not concentrated in the most efficient mills so that a smaller number of mills could work flat out. The labour is spread out among a large number of mills, and that is wasteful and brings down productivity.
The third reason why I should say productivity in the industry at the present time is not high, is what I can only describe as a lack of interest. That seems at once to be a criticism of the operatives, but it is not a criticism of the operatives at all. It is a criticism of the management. I was always taught—and subsequently when I became an officer was proud to believe—that if the morale in a ship's company was bad, it was not the fault of the men but the fault of the officers. I believe that a great deal of the poor productivity in many of our industries today is the fault of the management, in that they do not go about the job of arousing the interest of the operatives in their work. For instance, I saw one man working in an engineering shop at a very small part, and I asked him what that small part was for, what machine it went into: he did not know; he had not the faintest idea. How can a man possibly have an interest in his job if he does not know the purpose of that job ? The fact that that man did not know the purpose of his job was not so much his fault as the fault of the manager in the shop in which he worked.
We find the same sort of thing in the textile industry. At the present time there are spinners who are letting shoddy yarn go through. When that yarn gets to the weaving shed the weaver gets going on the job, and after a time has to stop the loom, unpick the work and go back. If the spinner had been taught to realise the dependence of the weaving side on good quality spinning, she would have appreciated that any shoddy work by her would penalise not the boss so much as a fellow worker, who would lose wages and time.
There are various solutions to the two difficulties which our industry is facing at the present time. The inability to attract labour and the inability to get the best use out of the labour when we have attracted it are the two problems. The first one I consider to be a job for the Government. With this fear of unemployment we are not in a position at 794 present to tell people that if they go back into the mills in Huddersfield they have a safe job. We cannot possibly tell them that, because we have no data whatever to go on. The only way in which we can get the data is to try—difficult though the job is, and rough though the final conclusion would be—to make an estimate of the sort of capacity we want that industry to have. Once that has been done—and I know it is a difficult job, but I think it ought to be done—we could say, at any rate roughly, that there will be work for many years to come for a certain number of workers. Having worked out the capacity which is wanted from the industry, we should proceed to get it. We should do that, in the first place, by scrapping altogether a great many obsolete mills. In order to make the capacity right we might have to build a few new mills. In any case, whether we build new mills or whether we merely improve the best existing mills, we should give mills we are going to work absolute priority for machinery and equipment. Because that would prevent new machinery from going into obsolete mills, we should cut down the long delivery delays which the machinery manufacturers at present find unavoidable.
By concentrating our textile effort into a smaller number of mills, we should do several things. We should increase the recruitment into the industry, because the fear of unemployment would be diminished and its attractiveness heightened, because the worst types of mills would have been closed down, and only those mills in which the conditions were better would be those into which we should be asking the people to go and work. We should solve our recruitment problem in that way.
But we shall not solve the problem of productivity, until we get down to this question of arousing interest. That can be done in several ways. There is one mill which has a first-class training scheme at the present time. It does not merely give practical training. The trainees are given lectures on the whole of the industry, its various sections, and its relation with other kindred industries. The trainees at the end really know what their job is about. That is one way. The second way of arousing interest is to encourage, by every possible means, the establish- 795 ment of production committees. They would be well worth while, even if they were used only for information. It would make the workers feel part of a team.
But these committees could be used for much more than that. If the boss wants to find but where there is serious waste in his shop, he should go to the people in that shop who know the answer. The production committees should be used, in fact, as an integral part of management, as well as for providing information. If we do these things, we shall be doing a great deal to increase the productivity of the workers, and we shall go a long way towards cutting out the shortages in the shops of textile materials and clothing of all kinds of which we have complained in this Debate.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Butcher (Holland with Boston)
The President of the Board of Trade was hardly fair to my hon. Friend the Member for East Norfolk (Mr. Medlicott) in upbraiding him for not making suggestions on how the difficulties should be overcome. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is surely too old a Parliamentarian not to know that the purpose of a Supply Day is to secure the redress of any grievances before granting the Vote. It is our duty to seek to redress the grievances under which the people are labouring, and it is the duty of the Government to give assurances that these grievances will be removed. Many hard things have been said about the President of the Board of Trade from both sides of the Committee. and I, for my part, may have one or two more hard things to say before I have finished. I dissociate myself from those critics who couple the right hon. and learned Gentleman with the Minister of Fuel and Power and the Minister of Food as being the three architects of shortages. There is an amazing difference between these three right hon. Gentlemen. The President of the Board of Trade thinks before he speaks, and has a magnificent administrative record in the National Government. He puts the national interest before party propaganda. There is also another difference. The two other right hon. Gentlemen have produced positive shortages in coal and potatoes. I wondered, when I read about the strictures of the Lord President of the 796 Council on the Jeremiahs who brought mournful tidings to the people, whether the last person to whom he had been speaking was not the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Despite the increase in production of lighters and razors, the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman was hardly designed to remove the misgivings of the people. Many, hon. Members have spoken of the present serious shortages, and at one point I commenced to make a list of those shortages to which specific reference was made. I do not think any useful purpose would be served if I quoted the list, and in any case it would be wearying in its length and repetition.
I think the motive lying behind all the speeches was this: Who would have thought that more than two years after the achievement of victory the home consumer would be so terribly short? The position in the average home—this is a matter which does not lend itself to statistical definition, as the President knows, but I believe that it is a statement which will be agreed by every man and woman in the country—has not been maintained even since VE day. The people of this country are sufficiently sensible to recognise that while the country was mobilising its efforts for the prosecution of the war, there would have to be a steady deterioration in civilian standards. That was expected; it was welcomed, and all sections of the community accepted it willingly. Nor, indeed, could that be reversed over night. It is impossible until a factory has been reconverted, for it to make any contribution to civilian production. Therefore, I do hot attack the Government because the change over did not take place in May, 1945, or even in September, 1945. My attack is that, having commenced, this process of reconversion went steadily ahead until 1946, since when it has sailed steadily backwards.
During the Election of 1945—which the right hon. and learned Gentleman regarded as one of the best pieces of good news which the people had had for some time—one of his predecessors, the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Chancellor of the Exchequer, did my constituency the honour of visiting it. He saidBefore I left the Board of Trade, one of my last acts was to make arrangement for the new clothing coupon book. In that book there are more coupons for the next rationing period 797 than there were for the last. We can count on increased supplies for the civilian population, not necessarily in the next month or two but during the next rationing period.Of course, he might have been making such a speech at that particular time, in that particular place, for purposes of electioneering. Let me immediately dissociate myself from any such suggestion. [Interruption.] Do hon. Gentlemen opposite suggest that that was the sole purpose why that statement was made? I believe that the right hon. Gentleman now Chancellor of the Exchequer was speaking from the knowledge which he had gained as President of the Board of Trade in the National Government, in which the present right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench also played a distinguished part; and knowing the productive capacity of the people when it was organised for peace as it was organised for war, he promised them increased clothing coupons. In fact, he printed them and incorporated them in the clothing book. The figures of production for 1946 were extraordinarily satisfactory. All the way through, there was a rise which gave us great hope in our hearts. We all thought that the shortages were on the way to be mended, and that, having reached a certain point, there would be a steady working back to the comfort of prewar days. But the shortages in every field seemed to get worse and worse.
§ Sir S. Cripps indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Butcher
The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. In a shop of one of our cities, I saw an ordinary man's shirt, such as the right hon. Gentleman or I would wear. Neither of us, I believe, is particularly fussy about his clothes. There was a ticket on it, which did not say exclusively American or French, but bore the single word "sold." Did anybody in this country imagine that we should ever reach an age when an ordinary man's print shirt would be ticketed in a shop window as sold to prevent a queue forming up outside? On another occasion a business acquaintance of mine was asked whether he had had a successful business trip. "Yes," he said, "indeed I did—I was able to cancel a lovely lot of orders." That is the state to which this country is being reduced under the present Administration. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite laugh, but perhaps they will allow me to read to them 798 some words contained in the "Board of Trade Journal" for 21st June of this year, dealing with' the stocks of civilian clothing:The fall in stocks is more serious for men's and boys' wear than for women's, girls' and infants' garments, since in the former case the stock level is now the lowest yet recorded and stocks of men's garments are down to less than three weeks' sales.That is not Tory propaganda, that is an extract from the "Board of Trade Journal." The hon. Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Webb), who spoke with great eloquence, made a plea for the overcoming of these shortages by greater standardisation. It is an astonishing thing that whereas throughout the world the sellers' market is ending, and the buyers' chance of choice is coming in again, we should have it urged in a most thoughtful and constructive speech by one of the leaders of the Labour Party that we should have greater standardisation of goods. I do not know how far he would carry his standardisation. In some things it is desirable; perhaps there are too many sizes or fittings in a good many things, but how far are we to carry it? One of the worst shortages at the moment is in clothing and in textile goods. Are we to have standardised garments, shapeless in cut and utterly standard in size? How far are we to carry it? Why not, for example, just have bags with a hole cut for the head to protrude through, and as for the material, I feel I am right in suggesting that a suitable material would be sackcloth, and that it should be ornamented with ashes.
There is another matter in which I think distribution is entirely unsatisfactory. We see on all the hoardings these "work or want" posters, but I cannot remember a good word having been spoken for the Governments publicity during the whole of this Debate. Let me say at once that I appreciate the difficulties in distributing goods which are in short supply. The President of the Board of Trade has done an extraordinary difficult task, and he still has a difficult job to continue, but I do think it is time that some of the allocations were reexamined. I refer, as one example of the sort of thing I have in mind, to the allocation of newsprint as between the London daily papers, the provincial daily papers, and the weekly journals. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will realise that I have written to him on 799 this matter, quite recently, and I have had the advantage of a most speedy reply. Evidently, out of his enormous fan mail of 1,225,000 I was specially favoured, and I thank him. But who is advising the President on the distribution of newsprint? Has he really gone to all the sources; have the weekly newspapers as distinct from the daily newspapers been brought into consultation? There is widespread dissatisfaction; is it not time, in those matters where controls must be continued, for the President to say that he will re-examine those matters and start afresh, carrying with him the people concerned as far as possible?
I would also ask the Committee to examine the latest available figures in the "Board of Trade Journal" for certain commodities. I have to pick my way here, but if we take the last available figures for certain months—maybe March or April—and compare the rates of production for those months with the average rates of production for the same commodities for 1946, we find that there has been a diminution in certain commodities, to which of course the fuel shortage has been one contributory factor. The fact remains that on that basis we are producing less leather footwear on the average than the 1946, less cloth, both woollen and non-woollen, fewer units of bedding, less knitting wool, less mending yarn, fewer blankets, fewer utility wardrobes, although we may be producing more utility furniture in other categories, less linoleum and fewer cups and saucers.
The Government have not shown that consideration for the housewife to which she is entitled. Go to any china and glass shop today and it is impossible to buy a decorated tea service, because all these things are for the export market. If one turns from the china counter to the glass counter, it will be far easier to buy a hand painted lemonade set than an ordinary tumbler. It is possible to buy cups, but without saucers and generally cups without handles. There are a number of mugs for those who have not left the adolescent stage, but it is almost impossible to buy vegetable dishes.
The President of the Board of Trade has told us that there is a shortage in leather goods due to the shortage of fuel, and we all realise that. But if that is so why should there not be an increase in the amount of leather allocated for shoe 800 repairs? At a time when there is a shortage of shoes the leather for the repair of footwear should be kept up to the highest possible level. It is interesting to compare these days in which we live with the earlier days before the war. Money only was needed—[Laughter.] Hon. Members may find it amusing, and there was unemployment in those years, including years under Socialist Governments, which even the Minister of Fuel and Power hardly succeeded in surpassing in the early days of this year. In those days millions of people were employed at rates of pay negotiated on their behalf by their trade unions with the appropriate employers' organisation. The shops were full of goods and money was all that was required.
It is interesting to think of the position now and what we require when we purchase goods. Money is still required, but that seems to me the least essential requirement. Secondly, there must be coupons or dockets for certain articles. It is difficult to keep up with all the changes in regard to the rates of coupons or dockets required for articles. If any lady in my constituency said to me, "I have a baby at home which I desire to feed during the night; can I get a Thermos flask without a permit?" I would not be able to answer it without referring to my notes. It is doubtful if the President of the Board of Trade just now could give a categorical assurance on that. He would say, "Surely my production is so good that Thermos flasks are free of dockets." But then he would remember the Minister of Fuel and Power and he would reply, "On the whole, I think it might be better to keep the dockets running." What is still more important is time—time to go to the shops, and time to hunt for the goods we need. Finally there is influence which I am glad to say is not too high in this country—influence to persuade the shopkeeper to keep a customer a few things when that customer is unable to get down to. the shop at the exact time when the goods are due. I am thinking of things like cups, even without saucers.
§ Mr. Butcher
There have recently been appeals from the Government of this country to the women to enter industry, 801 and the hon. Lady for Duddeston (Mrs. Wills), to whom we all listened with great interest because of the knowledge she brought to this matter, suggested that there was a disinclination to enter certain industries because of the unsatisfactory conditions. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mallalieu) referred to the same matter, but there are other things which prevent the average woman who is running a home from entering industry. She has very little time to run her home and do even part-time work. A London firm used to use as an advertisement the phrase "Where's George?" and the answer was "He has gone to Lyonch." We might ask "Where is Elsie?" and the answer might very well be, "Elsie is in the potato queue," or it might be in the queue for shoes, or far more likely in the queue for wool to knit something for her infant child.
§ Mr. Butcher
Yes, it might be the Albert Hall queue. Why not? I do not know whether the hon. Lady for North Bradford (Mrs. Nichol) means that she would be in a queue for a meeting at the Albert Hall of the Labour Women's League or some other women's organisation. If these women make a sacrifice and, listening to the Government's appeal, return to industry, when they have worked and earned their money and have paid back a very large part under P.A.Y.E., as we were reminded by the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), what are they going to buy on their way home ? There is not an awful lot of inducement in asking a woman to go to work to buy additional savings certificates.
I would ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to re-examine this matter and see if more consumer goods cannot be found for the women of this country. The hindrances to production are the disinclination to which the hon. Lady for Duddeston mentioned a few minutes ago, the high taxation, lack of goods to be bought and so forth, and somehow the circle of frustration must be broken. The Government should do more to assist the hard-pressed housewife than they are doing. Take furniture for example. The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) raised the matter of the import of furniture very recently, and he asked why the import of furniture from West Africa 802 could not be increased, to which the President of the. Board of Trade replied that it was due to the fact that British manufacturers were under a limitation. They may very well be, and while I am willing to be sympathetic to the British manufacturer, we have to remember he has got his market in this country. He need not worry about a shortage of furniture for many years to come provided he gets both the wood and the labour, because he has a consumers' demand waiting for him. I am thinking of the housewife and how to bring the goods to help her. The same thing applies to the import of china and glass. I would buy glass and household goods from any part of Europe even if it means treading on the toes of trade unions or employers' federations. Let us try to start thinking about the housewives, and give the women, who are earning money in industry, something to buy on a Saturday night.
I come to the other question of breaking the circle of frustration. I ask the President of the Board of Trade if it is really necessary to send overseas all the goods we are sending at the present time. I agree with everything that has been said about the need for earning hard currency. We must do our best and increase our earnings of dollars and other hard currency, but is it necessary to export the goods on the same widespread scale to Egypt and India which we made such a great sacrifice to defend, or into Colonies like Jamaica, which have never experienced a shadow of the rationing and shortage problems which we are experiencing. I would not go so far as certain friends of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. The present Minister of Fuel and Power said on one occasion:Increased exports are demanded. There was never a greater fallacy in this or in any other assembly. You might imagine from what hon. Members say in the White Paper on Employment that if you fail to increase exports this country's standard of living will diminish.Another of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues, a Cabinet colleague, the present Minister of Health said:By some twist of the Tory mind"—I do not think the right hon. Gentleman's approach to the problem of exports was then fully appreciated—it is good trade to persuade somebody in a remote part of the world to buy our goods but ruinous to allow our goods to be bought by our own people.803 I believe that the right hop. Gentleman, when he is spurring on the Minister of Fuel and Power to increase the supplies of fuel, might take him into a corner and say, "If you will give me a little bit more coal, I will be prepared to accept a little bit of advice from you on this subject of exports." It would be a fair exchange between comrades.
Two years ago the people of this country were deluded into voting the Socialists into power by a promise of a fuller and better life. Instead of It, they see their homes and their clothes getting shabbier and their shortages more acute. They see more difficulty in getting clothes for their children. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary what message of hope he has tonight for the ordinary woman of this country. What is he going to say to the women of Sowerby who voted for him at the last election? The Government believe in planning and forecasting a long-term policy. Is it too much for an ordinary woman to say to the President of the Board of Trade of this Government of planners, "Sir, from your great wisdom, tell me on what date in 1948, 1949 or 1950 I shall be able to buy a pair of sheets without surrendering coupons, or when I will be able to get a pair of shoes for my child on the first time of asking?"
For how much longer have the people of this country to listen to Ministerial promises of better days or to threat of worse to come? While the Paymaster-General fills us with gloom and the Lord President of the Council tells us, "Cheer up through it all," the President of the Board of Trade pursues a course which I can only call restrained pessimism. The people of this country deserve better treatment than they have received over the past two years. We want to know what the future holds for them. Is the Parliamentary Secretary proposing to give them nothing but promises? Hon. and right hon. Members opposite have won one General Election and several by-elections since. Whatever the future may hold for us as individuals, for the country it holds more General Elections and by-elections. Let hon. Gentlemen opposite think about that fact.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Belcher)
The hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. 804 Butcher) has just asked me what I propose to give to the women of Britain. He exhorted me not to content myself with giving them promises. I do not know what else he thinks I can give them tonight. I cannot produce a pair of sheets or a pair of nylon stockings from underneath this Table. I do not think that I or any of those associated with the President of the Board of Trade have indulged in promises to the women of Britain about the glorious times to come in the near future. We have deliberately refrained from so doing, and in that section of the Press which is far more friendly to the hon. Gentleman than it is to ourselves, we have frequently been characterised as austerity-minded. That is because we have pursued a course of realistically estimating our position now and in the future, and have refused to make glorious promises which we know are most unlikely to be fulfilled.
Nevertheless, I am very grateful to Members opposite for giving us this opportunity of discussing the shortage of consumer goods. Let me say straight away that nobody can be satisfied with the supply of consumer goods today, particularly as it affects the housewife and the country. But before I come to the main line of Debate, there are at least two matters with which I ought to deal briefly. The hon. Baronet the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) raised the question of the allocation of factories at Grantham to a group headed by Mr. Cotton. Many of the assertions he made were answered by the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Kendall), who is in a position to know, I suppose, as much as anybody, what has been taking place between Mr. Cotton and the other interested parties—
§ Mr. Lyttelton
Is the hon. Gentleman correct in supposing that the Cotton syndicate is the same thing as the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Kendall), because that is what he is now saying?
§ Mr. Belcher
If the right hon. Gentleman will do what he asks Members on this side to do, possess himself with patience, he will discover that I am not suggesting anything of the kind. What I am suggesting is that since the hon. Member for Grantham is associated with the Cotton group, he may be expected to know something about the negotiations 805 which have been taking place. I do not intend that it is only the voice of the hon. Member for Grantham which shall be heard on this subject; I am quite prepared to say what we know about it, and to justify the action we have taken. Mr. Cotton came to the Board of Trade, and stated that he was prepared to approach—indeed that he had already approached—the liquidators, with a firm offer for the purchase of the plant in the factories, and for the business. He asked that he might be considered for allocation of the factories. Various inquiries were made, and as a result allocation was continued in favour of this new group. In view of the consideration that it was taking over the existing organisation and assets at Grantham for the making of agricultural tractors. which was one of the purposes for which the existing organisation had been designed, and because it meant that there would be little or no loss of production—indeed, production, although small, had never ceased—the views of the Ministry of Agriculture were sought After inspection, they satisfied themselves that the organisation was suitable for the manufacture of agricultural tractors, and that parts were already available which would enable a substantial output to be achieved within a short period.
The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) suggested that we should have in mind the need for the most rapid possible production of tractors. Here was a plant which was equipped for the production of tractors; here was a firm willing to continue that production. It received the blessing of the Ministry of Agriculture, which inspected the plant, and came to the conclusion that it was suitable for that purpose. In our opinion it was right to regard these factors as being favourable. We inquired from the liquidators and learnt from them that a binding agreement had been entered into for the purchase, and we ascertained from the group's bankers—a normal business precaution taken alike by Government Departments and private enterprise undertakings—that Mr. Cotton and his group were well able to provide, out of their existing resources, the necessary capital both for the purchase and for the running of the business.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
Is the Mr. F. S. Cotton against whom a receiving order was made on 15th January, 1937, the same Mr. 806 Cotton with whom the Board of Trade are now in negotiation?
§ Mr. Belcher
I am afraid that I do not know—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—but we did what I am quite sure the right hon. Gentleman would do in his business arrangements—we went to the bankers concerned and asked them. If they assured us that it was well within the resources of the group concerned to meet their obligations, I do not think we can be subjected to any criticism for having taken that very necessary precaution. I think that was a sufficient precaution to take. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman in all his business dealings goes through the bankruptcy records to see if one of the individuals with whom he is doing business has been bankrupt at any time. I believe he would do what we did—go to the bankers and accept their assurances. My latest information is that the purchase has not been completed and that a time limit has been set. I can only assure the Committee that if the deal is not completed, it will be the duty of the Board of Trade to reconsider the allocation, because our only desire in this matter is to see that the factory and the plant shall be used for the purpose of providing employment for the people of Grantham and providing tractors, or whatever else may be produced, for the benefit of the country as a whole.
§ Sir J. Mellor
In view of what the Parliamentary Secretary has said, would he be prepared to withdraw the answer he gave to my Question on 25th June, when I asked the President of the Board of Trade:… what assurances his Department gave to the group which acquired the assets of Grantham Productions, Ltd., before such acquisition, concerning allocation of the factories recently occupied by that company; and what conditions were attached thereto?The answer was:None, Sir."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th June, 1947; Vol. 439, c. 71]It is perfectly evident that assurances were given before the acquisition of the assets because the hon. Gentleman has just said that the transaction is not yet complete. Therefore, those assurances were given. He has admitted that the assurances were given before the acquisition. Will he withdraw the answer he gave?
§ Mr. Belcher
No, Sir. Certainly not. If the hon. Baronet will read tomorrow what I have just said, he will find that what I said was quite in keeping with the answer I gave him the other day. There was no question of giving to this group during the period of their negotiations with the liquidators an undertaking that they would have the allocation. It was not the fact that their agreement with the liquidators was dependent upon the allocation being made to them. As I have just said, after a binding contract was arrived at between the group and the liquidators, it was decided to make the allocation in their favour. That is not the same thing as making the allocation during the course of the negotiations. A binding agreement had been reached, and only afterwards was it decided to continue the allocation in favour of the group.
§ Sir J. Mellor
Will the hon. Gentleman answer this question? Why was he unable to give any answer to my Question as to the identity of the members of this group? He was quite unable to give an answer. Had he made no inquiries as to their identity, or was he merely satisfied with Mr. Cotton as the representative of the group?
§ Mr. Kendall
Would it not have been better if the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) had approached me and visited the factory so that he could have satisfied himself as to the full facts before he made these assertions?
§ Mr. Belcher
Of course, the answer to the hon. Baronet is that it does not necessarily follow that, because I am unable or unwilling to provide him with the names of the other members of the group, the Board of Trade are not aware of those names. In fact, those names were given to the Board of Trade in confidence, and it would have been a betrayal of that confidence to have handed them out in a reply to a Question in the House of Commons. There is nothing wrong in that, and if people give information to a Government Department in confidence, that confidence should not be abused.
§ Sir J. Mellor rose—
§ Mr. Belcher
I would be quite prepared to give way to the hon. Baronet if there were not a great many matters to be dis- 808 cussed, and I am certain it would be wrong to spend more time than is necessary on this matter when the whole tenor of the Debate has been concerned with something different.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
As regards that point of Order, in the early part of the Debate this subject was raised, and it is quite in Order that a reply should be given. May I express the view, however, that I think it is receiving undue prominence?
§ Mr. Lyttelton
The Parliamentary Secretary courteously gave way. I must say that the explanations advanced on these extraordinary actions are entirely unsatisfactory to us, and are of the most perfunctory description, and that we shall take the earliest possible opportunity of considering how the matter can be raised again.
§ Mr. Belcher
I gave way. to the right hon. Gentleman because I thought he was about to say something which would assist the Committee. Instead of that, he has merely accused me of being perfunctory when I have already given ten minutes—one-third of the time at my disposal—to answering—
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I withdraw that. I withdraw "perfunctory"; the rest of my statement stands. I did not intend to be discourteous.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham) rose—
§ Mr. Belcher
If the noble Lord will allow me to continue, the other matter to which I wish to pay attention in the early part of my reply is the matter raised by the hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Lewis), who spoke of carbon black. What he said about the importance of this product is well appreciated both inside and outside the Board of Trade. While it is true that there are difficulties at present, I do not think they are as great as he has suggested. I thought at one time he was going to talk 809 about mass unemployment throughout the tyre industry. There is no mass unemployment. There is a certain amount of interference with production, but as he knows perfectly well, the Board of Trade have been considering ways and means of dealing with this situation for a long period. A committee was set up under the chairmanship of a distinguished industrialist, and has been making extensive inquiries into the possibilities of production here and elsewhere. So far as the possibility of production in Persia is concerned, that has been carefully gone into, and at present, for reasons which it is not politic at this moment to disclose, production in Persia is not a practical proposition. What may happen in the future remains to be seen. We shall receive, towards the end of July, I think, certainly during August, supplies from the United States of America which will enable us to overcome the difficulties affecting the British tyre industry now, and we hope to be able to enable the tyre manufacturers to accumulate stocks.
I would say to my hon. Friend, who talked a long time, that when this Interdepartmental Committee of officials was set up under the chairmanship of Sir Charles Bruce-Gardner to go into the matter, my hon. Friend was invited to go before that committee and give it the benefit of his knowledge and experience in this matter, which he declined to do. I should have thought that, if his interest was as great as he said it was this afternoon, in the national interest he would have been prepared to go before that Committee and tell the members of it some of the things he has been telling the House today.
§ Mr. J. Lewis
My hon. Friend has said that I declined to give evidence before that committee. Is he aware that my reason for declining to give evidence was because my hon. Friend himself wrote me a letter in which he said that the primary purpose of the committee was to investigate production of these materials in this country. With my scientific and technical knowledge of this problem, I knew full well, as has been proved today, that it is quite impossible to produce the materials required for our tyre industry from this type of material. Is my hon. Friend going to leave this point without telling the Committee why we cannot use the 165 million cubic feet 810 of gas escaping to the atmosphere every day in Persia, which can produce four-fifths of the national requirements?
§ Mr. Belcher
—for technical reasons, into which I do not propose to go this evening. It is not feasible to produce in Persia, and technical investigation is going on to see if we can produce in this country. in spite of all the knowledge which my hon. Friend possesses, there are others with just as great a claim to technical knowledge who are not so certain that we cannot produce here, and if we can produce here it is better than producing in the United States or in Persia.
I was glad to hear the two speeches made by the hon. Ladies the Members for Hemel Hempstead (Viscountess Davidson) and Duddeston (Mrs. Wills). Quite obviously, women have a great interest in the main subject of today's Debate. It has been suggested that men do not and cannot know the difficulties which women are facing. I accept that. A man, by reason of his absence from home for the greater part of the day, is unaware of many of the trials and tribulations of the housewife today. But I make this reservation—there are quite a number of us who, because we are fathers—and I do not suppose we are confined to any particular part of the Committee—know what goes on inside the home and know more about the trials and troubles of the working-class housewife than some ladies, unmarried or married, and in comfortable circumstances without children.
When I and my hon. Friends say some of the things we do say about certain organisations, some of us know that many of the most active spirits in these organisations who at the present time are making unpatriotic criticism of this country and its difficulties, are people to whom I have referred, who do not know what the experience of the average working-class housewife is. I am prepared to concede that the mass of the ordinary housewives of the country have had a very difficult time and are still having a very difficult time, but I would hasten to assure the Committee, and 811 ladies outside, that this is not because the Ministry of Food, the Board of Trade or the Ministry of Fuel and Power deliberately restrict supplies. No one in the Board of Trade is anxious to prevent them from getting more sheets. But giving more coupons would not provide them with more sheets.
The matter was discussed by my right hon. and learned Friend this afternoon. He pointed out the reason for shortage of sheets and other textiles at present. It will not be tackled by shouting slogans across the Floor of the House of Commons, nor by demonstrations outside, but by a sober investigation of the possibilities of the position. My right hon. and learned Friend has pointed out that the shortage of labour in the mills of Lancashire is the cause of shortage of sheets. There is a great pent-up demand, which means that as soon as they appear in the shops, whether coupons have to be surrendered or not, they disappear. Even after seven years of non-replacement, the best pair of sheets in 1939 are not likely to be so serviceable in 1947.
I know that there is a similar pent-up demand for linoleum, which arises from the world shortage of linseed oil. When this world shortage is eliminated, there will be more linoleum, but because of the pent-up demand it is bound to be some time before the increased supplies can satisfy that demand. Perambulators were mentioned by the Noble Lady. As my right hon. and learned Friend said, so far as perambulators and folders are concerned, the production is already greater than it was in the last prewar year for which we have information. The answer to the perambulator shortage is that there are a quarter of a million more babies to be catered for. That is something wholly admirable. [Interruption.] The Board of Trade cannot claim responsibility for the whole increase of a quarter of a million. The noble Lady referred to the rising price of certain goods which are not subject to subsidy. Prices which are, not controlled or only loosely controlled, tend to rise when the demand seriously outstrips supply. I ask her to remember that, however prices may be rising at the present time—and the rise is on the whole very well controlled—she will find, if she will take the trouble to consult the figures for the immediate 812 postwar period after the first world war, that the rise taking place today bears no comparison to the rise which was taking place on that occasion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Duddeston spoke about the difficulty of getting people into the industries which are short-staffed at the present time. She referred to the conditions which existed in those industries, and which are making the women who have to work in those industries fearful of sending their girls into the same jobs. However true it is—and it is true—that in those industries there have been great improvements, and enlightened employers are prepared to cooperate with Government Departments in making improvements, there is that legacy of mistrust, that legacy of bad conditions, which it will be difficult to beat down. I hope that we shall secure co-operation in beating down such conditions and establishing better ones. I was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Webb) about the shortage of workers in the textile industry. He asked, "Where are the displaced persons?" It is true that we hope to get into the textile industry large numbers of displaced persons. The principal limiting factor at the present time is shortage of accommodation. We are in the closest consultation with the other Departments concerned on the subject of accommodation. [Laughter.] I assume from the way hon. Members laugh that if they were in office, Government Departments would on no account enter into consultation with one another. We are doing our best in consultation with other Departments, to secure that accommodation. But it is very largely a matter for the industry itself, and it is one in which the inhabitants of the area concerned can be of great assistance to us.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot pursued the course of argument which had been followed by the hon. Member for East Norfolk, of making comparisons between this country, and, in his case, Belgium. I do not feel that there is a great deal of profit in making comparisons between this country and Belgium or the United States or any other country. We are concerned tonight with the shortage of consumer goods in this country, and how best to remedy it. I am disappointed that neither the right hon. Gentleman nor any other speaker from 813 the other side of the Committee has advanced a single positive policy. The principal difference between the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Holland with Boston was that the hon. Member for Holland with Boston informed us at the outset of his speech that he had no intention of advancing a policy. He thought that that was our job. I am prepared to accept that responsibility, but when criticisms are being made I think that an attempt should be made to make those criticisms as constructive as possible.
I should have liked to go over the whole field of today's Debate, but for obvious reasons it is not possible. May I say that I am not dismayed by the appearance or the conditions of our country today? I am in sufficient contact with people who travel about the world to know that whatever may be the facade, in some places behind the facade, which is frequently glamorous, there is more often than not a miserable life for the mass of the people compared with which our own is very much better indeed. I am proud of the stability of our country, having regard to the difficulties through which it has passed and is still passing. One hon. Member referred to conditions during the war years and said that it was only to be expected that we would be short of many things at that time. Surely, after six years of war, after two great world wars in about a quarter of a century, after our country has made the great sacrifices which it did, particularly from 1939 onwards, when the relationship of ourselves to other countries has changed, when we have ceased to be the world's great creditor and become the world's great debtor—surely, after all those experiences it could not be expected that within two years of V.E. Day we should be enjoying a higher standard of living than in the pre-war years. I believe that we can come through provided we are prepared to use the best elements in our country and prepared to co-operate together in this job of getting more production.
Throughout most essential industry today there is a need for greater production. It can be met in some places by greater efficiency and in others by getting 814 more labour. That may involve a transfer of labour from one industry to another, something which we would like to achieve without compulsion, in the way these things have usually been done in this country. Whatever the difficulties at present, I am confident they can be overcome. I am certain that the majority of our people, knowing the truth about our present conditions and the reasons for them, will do their best to work up our production to the point at which a better standard of living can be enjoyed by everybody. It cannot be stressed too often—it is stressed very frequently by hon. Members opposite—that there is no easy answer to this question of providing a higher standard of living. No amount of 'juggling about with coupons and dockets is going to give to the people who need those things bedsteads and sheets. It is only by the greater production of bedsteads and sheets that we are going to be able to satisfy them.
That is why the Government are doing everything they possibly can to encourage increased production. That is why propaganda is being carried out through the regional organisation to which reference has been made. I am very glad to say that we are receiving the most wholehearted co-operation both from the trade union side and from the employing side of industry in setting this regional machinery to work. I hope and believe that, as a result of these efforts, there will be a steady improvement—there cannot be a glamorous improvement—towards the day when the needs of the people of this country will be fully satisfied. In the meantime, it behoves us all to do what we can to work towards that end and to refrain from unnecessary criticism which is neither constructive nor helpful.
§ Mr. Butcher
I beg to move, "That Item Class VI, Vote 1, Board of Trade, be reduced by £5."
I do this in view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply given by the Parliamentary Secretary.
Question put, "That Item VI, Vote 1. Board of Trade, be reduced by £5."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 80: Noes, 188.817
|Division No 288.]||AYES.||[9.59 p.m|
|Barlow, Sir J||Hare, Hon. J H. (Woodbridge)||Nutting, Anthony|
|Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H|
|Bennett, Sir P||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Osborne, C.|
|Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C Wells.||Hogg, Hon. Q.||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.|
|Bossom, A. C||Hollis, M. C.||Ponsonby, Col. C E|
|Bower, N.||Holmes, Sir J. Stanley (Harwich)||Prescott, Stanley|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Hulbert, Wing-Cdr. N. J||Ramsay, Maj. S.|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col W||Hurd, A.||Robinson, Wing-Comdr Roland|
|BLChan-Hepburn, P. G T||Joynson-Hlcks, Hon. L. W||Ropner, Col. L.|
|Challen, C.||Keeling, E. H.||Ross Sir R D. (Londonderry)|
|Channon, H.||Lambert, Hon G||Salter, Rt. Hon, Sir J A.|
|Clarke, Col. R. S||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H||Sanderson, Sir F.|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)||Strauss, H G. (English Universities)|
|Crowder, Capt. John E||Low, Brig. A. R. W.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O||Taylor, C S (Eastbourne|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D||Mackeson, Brig. H. R||Taylor, Vice-Adm E. A. (P'dd't'n, S)|
|Dower, Lt.-Col A. V G. (Penrith)||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Thorneycroft, G. E. P (Monmouth)|
|Drewe, C.||Marples, A E||Thorp, Lt -Col R. A. F|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. Walte.||Marshall, D (Bodmin)||Ward, Hon. G R|
|Fleming, Sqn.-Ldr. E L||Maude, J. C||Wheatley, Colonel M. J|
|Fletcher, W. (Bury)||Mellor, Sir J.||White, J. B. (Canterbury)|
|Fox, Sir G.||Molsor, A. H E.||Willoughby de Eresby Lord|
|Fraser, H. C. P. (Stone)||Morris-Jones, Sir H||Winterton, Rt. Hon Eart|
|Gage, C.||Morrison, Maj. J. C (Salisbury)||York, C|
|Galbraith, Cmdr [...]||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W S. (Cirencester)|
|Gammans, L. D.||Nicholson, G.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Grimston, R. V.||Nield, B. (Chester)||Mr. Medlicott and Mr. Butcher.|
|Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley)||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.|
|Adams, W. T. (Hammersmith, South)||Evans, John (Ogmore)||McKay, J. (Wallsend)|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Evans, S. N (Wednesbury)||McLeavy, F.|
|Alpass, J. H||Fairhurst, F||Macphrson, T (Romford)|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Farthing, W.||Mallalieu, J. P W|
|Ayles, W. H.||Follick, M.||Mann, Mrs. J.|
|Ayrton Gould, Mrs B||Foot, M. M||Marquand, H A|
|Balfour, A.||Freeman, Maj. [...] (Watford)||Medland, H. M|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon A. J.||Ganley, Mrs C S||Messer, F|
|Barstow, P. G.||Gibbins, J.||Middleton, Mrs. L|
|Barton, C.||Gibson, C. W||Mitchison, G. R.|
|Beattie, J. (Belfast, W.)||Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||Monslow, W.|
|Belcher, J. W||Goodrich, H. E.||Moody, A. S|
|Berry, H.||Grenfell, D. R.||Morgan, Dr. H B.|
|Beswick, F.||Grierson, E.||Morley, R.|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)||Morris, P (Swansea, W.)|
|Blyton, W R||Griffiths, W. D. (Moss Side)||Morrison, Rt Hon H (Lewisham, E)|
|Bowden, Flg.-Offr. H. W.||Guest, Dr. L. Haden||Mulvey, A|
|Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)||Guy, W. H.||Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)|
|Braddock, Mrs E. M. (L'pl. Exch'ge)||Hale, Leslie||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P J. (Derby)|
|Bramall, E. A.||Hannan, W. (Maryhill)||Oliver, G. H.|
|Brook, D (Halifax)||Hardy, E. A||Orbach, M.|
|Brooks, T J. (Rothwell)||Haworth, J||Paget, R T|
|Brown, T J. (Ince)||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)|
|Buchanan, G||Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)||Palmer, A. M. F.|
|Burke, W A.||Herbison, Miss M.||Parker, J.|
|Butler, H. W. (Hackney, s.)||Hewltson, Capt. M||Parkin, B. T|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A||Holman, P.||Pearson, A.|
|Chetwynd, G. R||Holmes, H E. (Hemsworth)||Peart, Thomas P.|
|Cobb, F. A.||Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)||Porter, G. (Leeds)|
|Collins, V. J.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Pritt, D. N.|
|Comyns, Dr. L.||H. ghes, H. D. (Wolverhampton, W.)||Proctor, W. T|
|Cooper, Wing-Comdr. G||Hynd, J. B, (Attercliffe)||Ranger, J|
|Corbet, Mrs. F. K (Camb'well, N.W.)||Janner, B.||Pees-Williams, D. R|
|Corlett, Dr. J.||Jeger, G. (Winchester)||Reid T (Swindon)|
|Corvedale, Viscount||Jones, Rt. Hon. A C. (Shipley)||Rhodes, H.|
|Crawley, A.||Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow)||Robens, A.|
|Cripps, Rt. Hon. Sir S||Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)||Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)|
|Cunningham. P||Keenan, W.||Ross, William (Kilmarnock)|
|Daines, P.||Kendall, W. D||Scollan, T.|
|Davies, Edward (Burslem)||Kenyon, C.||Shackleton, E. A. A|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E||Sharp, Granville|
|Davies, Hadyn (St. Paneyas, S.W.)||Kinley, J.||Shawcross, Rt. Hn Sir H. (St. Helens)|
|Davies, S O. (Merthyr)||Kirby, B. V.||Shurmer, P.|
|Deer, G||Layers, S.||Silverman, J. (Erdington)|
|Delargy, H. J.||Lee, F. (Hulme)||Simmons, C. J.|
|Diamond, J.||Leonard, W.||Skeffington A. M|
|Dodds, N. N.||Lewis, J. (Bolton)||Sklnnard, F. W.|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||Lindgren, G. S.||Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)|
|Dumpleton, C. W.||Lyne, A. W||Smith, S. H (Hull, S.W.)|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J C.||McAdam, W.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)||McGhee, H G||Soskice, Maj. Sir F.|
|Stamford, W.||Titterington, M. P||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)|
|Stewart, Michae. (Fulham E.)||Turner-Samuels, M||Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)|
|Swingler, S.||Viant, S. P.||Williams, W R. (Heston)|
|Sylvester, G. O.||Walkden, E||Williamson, T.|
|Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)||Walker, G. H||Wills, Mrs. E. A|
|Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)||Wallace, G, D, (Chislehurst)||Wyatt, W.|
|Taylor, Dr S. (Barnet)||Wallace, H W. (Walthamstow, E.)||Vales, V. F.|
|Thomas, Ivor (Keighley)||Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)||Younger, Hon. Kenneth|
|Thomas, I. O (Wrekin)||West, D. G.||Zilliacus, K|
|Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)||White, H. (Derbyshire N.E.)|
|Thurtle, Ernest||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Tiffany, S.||Wllcock, Group-Capt. C. A. B||Mr. Snow and Mr. Popplewell.|
|Twmons, J||Wilkins, W. A.|
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ It being after Ten o'Clock, and objection being taken to further Proceeding, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.