HC Deb 21 October 1947 vol 443 cc7-42
Mr. Blyton (Houghton-le-Spring)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty as follows: Most Gracious Sovereign, We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament. Although I have addressed the House on many occasions, I will ask the indulgence of hon. Members today in what to me is an onerous task. Today is a great event in my life. It is a great honour to me, to my constituency and particularly to the miners from whom I came. My constituency is made up of the overspill of the three boroughs of South Shields, Sunderland and Jarrow—the great mining area in County Durham. Its chief industries are the Mercantile Marine, shipbuilding and mining.

In relation to the Merchant Navy, I think I am speaking the feelings of the House when I say that we owe a great debt of gratitude to them for the services they rendered in the war. Many a time I have watched from the piers of my native town, and have seen the convoys lined up and going to Russia to supply the battlefields with the necessary equipment. Many I have seen that never came back, and in my native town the death roll of those who lost their lives at sea in the war is the heaviest in this country. When the story of the Mercantile Marine comes to be written, it will be an epic story. In shipbuilding, the skill of the craftsmen of the Tyneside and Wearside is known the world over. They worked hard during the war. Today they are working hard to replace the Mercantile Marine that we lost in the war, and I wish them Godspeed in their work which will contribute so much to the improvement of the economic position of this country.

With regard to mining, I would inform the House that I am a miner by profession and a Member of Parliament by accident. At the age of 14 I emerged from an elementary school and went into the coal pits. With the exception of the time that I served in His Majesty's Submarine Service, where I reached the exalted position on the lower deck of Able Seaman, I continued to work in the mines. I have lived among the mines in the last 28 years, during which period can be told the most tragic story of British mining. I myself have worked in the pits, six days a week hard going, and in 1928 have taken to my wife and two children the magnificent sum of £2 a week when the minimum wage was 7s. 1½d. a day. We were the despised and rejected of men in the 1920's and the 1930's. Every hand was against us and we were attacked from all quarters. I was the recipient of Poor Law relief during the 1921 and 1926 strikes. When this House discusses the manpower position of this basic industry, it must consider the question in the light of that background. Miners like myself swore by Heaven above that we would never allow our sons to face the distress and tragedy that we faced. Today the mining stock has practically gone from the mining villages. We are finding that the wastage in the mines is exceeding the intake.

I am now in the position of poacher turned gamekeeper. I have now got to say to the men that in the interests of this nation, now that the future of the industry is assured, it is essential that we should let our lads go back into the pits. Now that the nation's prosperity depends upon the mining community, it ought not to be the miners' sons alone who go into the mines; it ought to be the responsibility of all classes. If this industry is to be built up, it must be built up not by bringing in middle-aged men but by getting young men into the pits to take up mining as a career, so that they can start from the bottom rung of the ladder and become experienced miners at the age of 21. Therefore, I appeal to the nation through this House. This industry can solve many of our economic problems if we do the utmost to develop our coal resources, but there ought to be an inducement for all classes in the nation to go into the pits and so ensure our prosperity in the future.

I am pleased to note in the Gracious Speech that the Government intend to give us, as in every industry, the means to perform the task. I venture to make this prophecy. Given new machinery, spare parts to maintain the present machinery, and tubs and trams to ensure that the maximum amount of face coal is speedily obtainable, with the extra standard of work which the miners will give, the target for next year will be achieved and we shall have some coal for export. I say to my colleagues in the mines, "Your prosperity depends upon maximum production from the mines. If the nation should go down, so will the miners." I appeal to them from this House of Commons to give us all they can in the present economic crisis that this country has to face. I say to my Scottish friends who came out of the pits this week, "Go back to work." I agree they have a case. Already, however, their case is under discussion. Actions of this character will jeopardise the negotiating machinery that it has taken men like those we have on the back benches here, and who have come from the mines themselves, so many many years to build up. The miner has always been generous. In my county there stands a monument to his generosity in the Durham. Aged Miners' Homes that have been built for our aged people. The miner has been praised as a great fighter in war. Believe me, as one who has led the miners in strikes, they are great fighters against injustice. They are prepared at all times to risk their lives in explosions, or in falls; prepared to risk their very existence in the gases that arise from explosions. I do feel grieved when I read statements in the Press made by irresponsible people in all quarters of the House attacking the miner and telling him what he ought to do, while they have no knowledge of mining whatever.

In the Gracious Speech there is raised the question of the direction of labour. This is no new thing. Direction of labour has been in existence under the Unemployment Insurance Acts ever since I knew them. In the northern counties, and in Yorkshire and in Kent, there are thousands of my people who were hounded out of the pits and the factories in the years of depression. Because of the fact that they would have received the disallowance of unemployment benefit for refusing what is termed in the Act "suitable employment," direction by starvation was the lot of our people under the Unemployment Insurance Acts. I was taught at school that every one was equal under British law. If it was equality that my people should have been directed to parts of the country where they would lose their local associations, I see no reason why people who do no useful work at all should not have the same direction as under these Acts, and be directed into suitable work in the hour of crisis in this country.

I welcome in the Gracious Speech the end of the Poor Law. This Act, which originated in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, has been revised and amended many times. All through the Acts of revision there was always the basic principle as far as we were concerned, that poverty was a crime. In the last century Charles Dickens indicted our Poor Law system in his great book, "Oliver Twist," in which he asked for more for the poor. We have the depiction of the people who administered public relief in the parsimonious Board and Bumble the Beadle. We have Noel's criticism of the burial of the poor who died in our institutions: Rattle his bones over the stones. He's only a pauper whom nobody owns. We have had books written by men like the late Lord Passfield on this subject. I remember that the definition of the word "destitution" has never been laid down by Statute. It was applied differently in the country.

I remember as a boy my grandmother receiving Poor Law relief. I remember how she cried after the visitor had accused her of wasting the relief she had received because she was enjoying the luxury of a herring—and herring in my days as a boy were 20 a penny. I remember also when people had to sell their furniture before they were given relief. This law went on until I myself became not only a recipient under it but became an administrator of it in my own local town. If ever there was an Act that people shunned to receive assistance from, it was the Poor Law Act. I am pleased today to be able to play some little part in the funeral of this particular Act of Parliament.

I leave this question by dealing with Poor Law relief in the workhouses. A better name has been found for them now—"institutions." They were built in the last century. They were built like barracks. In many parts of this country we find in them the mental ward on one side; on the other side the hospital; and in the middle we find our own veterans of industry who have had to go into the institutions because they have fallen on evil days. I have seen a couple who had been married 40 years who went into the workhouse, and the wife was sent one way and the man the other—parted at the workhouse gates in the middle of their happy married life. I hope that with the new national assistance Act we shall obliterate this sort of thing from the fair face of England and that those places will be re-adapted, so that if our people fall on evil days and go into the institutions, they will continue to the end of their days to lead their normal married lives.

I come to my last point. I am pleased that in the Gracious Speech it is predicted at long last that areas like mine are to receive fairness of treatment from the Treasury—that is, in the redistribution of the block grant system. The numbers of sick and aged people are always heavier in the big industrial areas. That fact arises from the industrial work. In the inter-war years not only have we had to carry those, but we have had to carry unemployed people as well, and it has meant in the North, where I live and where my constituency is, that we have had to meet terrifically high rates when wealthier boroughs far away from the industrial areas were enjoying a lower rate. The redistribution of the block grant will mean great benefit to the local authorities, enabling them to give to the working class people the amenities that they are entitled to have—as the richer boroughs can. The rates in my area are terrifically high. In my home town they are about 22s. in the £; in Gateshead they are somewhere about 25s. in the £; in Jarrow, of world wide fame, the rates are 20s. 10d. in the £; in Sunderland, 20s. in the £. With the new education estimates to go against them, it would mean, were there no revision of the block grant, that it would be a sheer impossibility for local authorities to carry on. I believe that this message to the local authorities—of the revision of the block grant—will be regarded as a half-way road to victory, because we have all believed that equalisation of the rates was the thing to be aimed at.

I want to conclude. The reference in the Gracious Speech to the Poor Law and to the revision of the block grant are to me and to my constituents like bright metal on a dark background. They are all the brighter because of the sombreness of their surroundings. I have great pleasure in moving the Motion.

4.27 p.m.

Miss Herbison (Lanark, North)

I beg to second the Motion moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) in such an admirable and forthright manner.

It is with no little trepidation that I do so, since, being a Scottish Member, participating usually in Scottish Debates, I have never before had to address such a full House as I am doing now. I am deeply aware of the very great honour conferred not only on me, but particularly on those miners in the pit in which my father worked who nominated me as candidate for the North Lanark Division, and, indeed, on all the people of my constituency—the miners, the industrial workers, the office workers, those people in professions, who worked with a will not only to return a Labour Member to this House to represent them, but who, during the past two years—two years that have not been at all easy for this Government or for this country—have given of their very best to help us to solve our postwar problems. From my contacts with them during the Recess I am absolutely convinced that they are going to continue to give of their best to Britain in order to make her the sort of Britain that we want her to be.

My hon. Friend has dealt with many matters of home policy. I want for a short time to deal with foreign affairs. Today, we often despair at the seeming disunity that there is in the world two years after the most devastating war. The signing of peace treaties takes longer than we should wish. The ideologies and philosophies of the great nations seem to clash and hinder that progress towards a lasting peace, for which I am certain every citizen of every nation longs and prays.

I am glad to see, in the Gracious Speech, the determination of this Government to continue to give full support to the United Nations organisation. I do not wish to deal with the wider field of foreign affairs, but there are two aspects on which I would like to touch for a short time. They are aspects which are very often overlooked when we are despairing generally at what seems to be the disunity of the world. They are two aspects which are of vital importance if we are to get that lasting peace we all desire. I am referring to U.N.E.S.C.O. and the Food and Agriculture Organisation. Surely, on the question of food and the question of education nations can find some common basis on which they can discuss and agree. At the meetings of U.N.E.S.C.O. we have not only the political representatives of the various countries, but we have men and women whose sole aim is to give the benefits of research in science and in education to all the peoples of the world. They have much to give in these two fields, and much to give in bringing about real peace in the world. We, in Scotland, have given one of our most outstanding men to the Food and Agriculture Organisation. I refer to Sir John Boyd Orr. The whole nation is proud of him and of his work. Perhaps I may take a little reflected glory, because he was the only candidate in a university election for whom I voted who did not turn out to be a mere "also-ran" when the results came out.

Both in U.N.E.S.C.O. and in the Food and Agriculture Organisation, this Government of ours have given the greatest support since their inception. We must see to it that the aim of Sir John Boyd Orr, and, indeed, the aim of the whole Food and Agriculture Organisation, which is to give an adequate diet to every single person in this world, no matter of What race, creed or colour, is an aim we must continue to support. Surely, it is a noble aim when we consider not only the thousands of people in our own country who for many years have not had an adequate diet, but those millions of people scattered all over the world who have always been living on the very verge of starvation. I would say to the Government—and I am certain I do not say it in vain—that we have to see to it that the fears which Sir John Boyd Orr has been expressing, the fears that this Organisation will merely be a collector of statistics and data, do not turn out to be realities Britain can play a very great part in seeing that these fears are banished. In giving support to these two organisations—and what Britain can contribute in regard to industrial questions is second to none—we shall be going a very long way towards bringing about the peace which we all want.

I welcome very much indeed the mention in the Gracious Speech of the acceleration of demobilisation of men and women in the Forces. This will not only be of benefit to these men and women who will be able to enjoy civilian life so much more quickly than they expected, but it will be of great benefit to those industries which are so short of manpower; it will also be a very great saving in our overseas expenditure. I am pleased also with the reference to the reorganisation of our Forces on a peacetime footing. I feel that in that reference our Government are fully conscious of the need to make all three of our Forces more democratic than they are today. I remember a question which was put in the higher school leaving certificate examination just before I became a Member of Parliament. The students were asked to say what figure of speech was contained in the following sentence: "Every private may become a Napoleon." Some of my boys polished off that question very quickly in the one word, "hyperbole." But alas, although I was willing to accept it and give them full marks, the powers that be were not. They were aggrieved, and, I felt, rightly so. Unless there is equality of opportunity in promotion for the men who enter the Forces, and great improvements, which I cannot dilate upon at this time, we shall never get into the Forces voluntarily the men whom we need to safeguard our country.

The determination to have the closest joint co-operation in industry, I am certain, will be welcomed by all the workers throughout the country. We have always felt that if we are to get the increase in production necessary for the well being of this country, we must have greater joint consultation between the workers and managements. Our men have not only hands, but brains which they can use, and for that reason alone I welcome joint production. In the economic state of our country today, and indeed of the whole world, it would be quite unforgivable to lose any particle of talent that there is in our country. I welcome it for another reason. The majority of our workers are spending eight hours a day doing a purely mechanical routine job. What could be more frustrating than that? Human beings were never meant to be mere robots, and if our men have the knowledge that they are not just cogs in the machine, but citizens who are to be allowed to play a responsible part in our drive for greater output, we shall get a zest and a return from our workers which we could not otherwise hope to obtain.

I read with very great pleasure the part in the Gracious Speech which deals with deprived children. I am delighted that steps are to be taken during this Session to ensure that many of these children are to have much greater care, attention and supervision than they have ever had before. I would make the plea that we should see to it that as few as possible of these children are cared for in institutions. No matter how well organised or how well supervised, we ought to see to it that our children do not go into institutions. Our aim should be to find a real home for those children, a home, where they will have the love, care, and individual attention which is the birthright of every child, a home where they will be able to put down their roots, to which they can return when they do go out into the world to work, a home in which there is someone who cares about them, who is interested in their successes, difficulties, and failures. It will not be easy to achieve that aim, but when was anything worth while ever achieved without great work?

Scottish farmers and farm workers will welcome the proposed legislation in the Gracious Speech to help with the development of agriculture in our country. We have often felt, in spite of the jokes that are made about the climate of Scotland, that our country could play a much bigger part in the production of food which an industrial nation must have. The new legislation will give an incentive, both to the farmers and to the workers, to produce that necessary food, coupled with the drive for better housing for agricultural workers, and I can envisage many of those parts of Scotland that lost their populations in less prosperous days becoming really prosperous centres, with people producing the food and living a happy life.

The last point I want to make is one which, I feel, applies to almost every constituency. I expect that most Members of this House addressed meetings of workers during the Recess. We explained to them just what were the needs of the nation; we asked them to give of their best, to exert every ounce of energy that they possessed to help Britain to get over her difficulties, and not only Britain but the whole world as well. We were not at all ashamed to place before them the full facts of the situation, not at all ashamed to condemn unofficial strikes, or to ask them to give of their very best. Now I want to say something which some Members may feel is verging on the controversial. I have been told that one must not be controversial on this occasion, but perhaps I shall be forgiven. It was heartening to me to find that our people had the greatest faith in this Government. I would like to emphasise that. It was not only my experience, but the experience of other Members on this side of the House who spent most of the Recess explaining the real facts of the situation.

But it was not only heartening; it was a little terrifying. We are asking much of our people today, and I feel that we have the right to ask for it. For the first time many of our people have a feeling of security. We have the right to ask much from them, but they ask much from us in return. When I addressed meetings of miners and their wives in crowded miners welfare halls, or industrial workers in the part of Glasgow I represent, I talked to people who never before had any security in their lives, but who are willing to put up with shortages and give of their best until our balance of trade is redressed. One cannot possibly address such people without feeling the great sense of responsibility that their very faith in us imposes on us. We as a Government must not fail these people and I am convinced, from the working of this Government in the past two years, and from what is outlined in the Gracious Speech, that we as a Government shall not fail our people.

4.56 p.m.

Mr. Eden (Warwick and Leamington)

Ever since I have been a Member of this House, I have listened to the Member to whose lot it has fallen to make the speech I have to make this afternoon, the Member who has tried to find something new and original to say about the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of the Address. I have heard great orators not entirely contrive to do that, and I, for my part, shall attempt nothing of the kind. I would merely say to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) who moved the Address, and the hon. Lady the Member for North Lanark (Miss Herbison), who seconded it, that we offer them, as I am sure the House as a whole does, our sincere congratulations on the manner in which they carried out their task. If I may say so to the Mover, his speech was obviously actuated by a very deep sincerity. One felt that he was speaking of things near his heart, and as one who was born and bred in his county, may I say that it was good to hear a Durham voice speak so well?

As for the Seconder, I must confess that I have not had the good fortune to hear the hon. Lady before. I suppose it is because I have not been sufficiently assiduous in my attendance of Debates on Scottish affairs. The final observations which the hon. Lady made in the earlier stages of her speech, about foreign affairs, shows that she has made a close study of the subject, and I hope she will give us the opportunity—especially those of us who come from south of the Border—of hearing what she has to say on this subject in future. The hon. Lady said that she felt some trepidation, but I can assure her that she certainly never showed it.

As the hon. Lady referred to foreign affairs, perhaps the House will permit me to make one or two observations about them in the opening part of my speech. The international scene which we are surveying this afternoon is indeed a sombre one. It has darkened almost everywhere since we were met together last August. In particular, the antagonism between the Soviet Union and Russian-imposed and controlled Communist Governments in Eastern Europe, on the one hand, and the Western democracies and the United States of America, on the other, has unhappily sharpened. The Cominform has been brought into being. In France and Italy the activities of the Communists continue, and they are intensified, particularly against the Socialist parties in those countries. In Bulgaria, since we last met, M. Petkov has been judicially murdered. In these conditions, it is not surprising that U.N.O. can contribute very little—anxious as I am, like the hon. Lady, that it should contribute more—except to provide platforms for political exchanges of the utmost violence, exchanges in which M. Vishinsky has been distinguished by the unbridled licence of his language, and the Minister of State by the courage and candour of his. In China vast territories continue to bleed from a civil strife that retards or wrecks recovery. In India whole populations are on the move. They are to be numbered in hundreds of thousands, perhaps in millions. Scenes are being enacted of which no one has seen the like for 200 years at least, perhaps ever.

What is to be done about this scene of international tension and suffering which covers almost the whole world? There is only one course open to us, and I believe that the Minister of State has shown the way. We must hold fast to our own faith in true democracy and in a free way of life, and we must fulfil our obligations under the international instruments to which we have put our name. There is nothing to be gained by seeking to appease others by compromising on essentials. We shall only go all the faster down the slope that way. It really is impossible to accept the protestations of friendship which Marshal Stalin, I understand, recently addressed to some hon. Members of this House, when the Moscow radio can continue to blare, without ceasing day and night, torrents of vilification and abuse of Governments and peoples who were so recently the allies of the Soviet Union on a common battlefield.

In the international sphere, the most important single event since we adjourned is the Marshall initiative, or rather the response of the 16 nations in the plan which His Majesty's Government helped to elaborate. In my judgment, this event far transcends in importance the Communist offensive against the plan. The work of the 16 nations is constructive. It is aimed at rebuilding a shattered Europe, and rebuilding it with American help. It is devoutly to be hoped that rapid progress can now be made with this plan, for it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that upon this the economic survival of Western Europe depends. I am glad to see that our American friends are approaching the problem in that spirit, and a great debt is due to the generous statesmanship which their leaders are showing at this critical period. On the other hand, the Communist offensive is destructive. It seeks to prevent economic co-operation between the nations. It is one more example of that extreme economic nationalism which we have now learned to expect from the Soviet Government. I say these things with regret, but, with the greater freedom which I have as a Member of the Opposition, I think they should be said.

I feel that I must make some comment on the performance of the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Zilliacus) and his colleagues, all of them, as I understand, nominal supporters of the Government, in giving in Warsaw a Press conference which was apparently devoted to vilifying the plan which His Majesty's Government support. The hon. Member for Gateshead, I noticed, also took the opportunity to endorse in Belgrade the Comin-form declaration, which attacks by name both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. There has been in the past a tradition among hon. Members of this House that when we are abroad, although we may speak freely on international affairs generally, we, seek to avoid criticising our own Government. That seems to me to be, generally speaking, a good rule. But, however that may be, it seems to me utterly indefensible that hon. Members should use foreign Press agencies, not only to attack the leaders and the Government of whom they are nominally supporters, but also to make violent charges against a friendly nation—the United States of America.

So far as Communist parties in all lands are concerned, we know what to expect. Both Thorez in France and Togliatti in Italy have used precisely the same methods, not only to hamper, but to wreck the 16 nations' plan. One thing we can say for these men is that they do call themselves Communists. I confess that I understand them rather better than men who seem to be Communists in everything except name.

Before I leave the subject of foreign affairs, I want to make some observations on two matters, as I see that the Foreign Secretary is here. One is about Germany. On the problem of Germany, in respect of which the Government have taken a new decision, and which, no doubt, hon. Members will want to discuss in the course of the Debate, I would like to say this as a preliminary. The Potsdam Agreement, in my judgment, can no longer be regarded by us as having any validity in so far as it concerns the economic treatment of Germany. I say that because the basis of the Potsdam Agreement was, as is known on both sides of the House by those who had anything to do with it, that Germany should have been treated as an economic whole. Personally, I have always thought, and still think, that had that been possible it would have been the better way. It would have been, among other things, the basis of the conviction that the Allies must continue to work together. That has not been possible. It must be frankly said that the fact that it has not been possible is not the fault of His Majesty's Government. This is the position now, as I see it. As the result of the Soviet Government's action, we have to settle these matters now, so far as our zones in the West are concerned, on the basis of what is the best for the future peace of Europe. I have no doubt that what is best is that Germany should make the fullest possible contribution to her own economic recovery, but that she should not be put into a position again to re-arm and thereby to endanger the peace of Europe. About that I think there is no disagreement.

How is that to be brought about? The Government have produced a plan. I do not minimise the difficulties of getting international agreement on such a subject; and I hope that we shall have some more information about the plan in the course of the Debate, and an opportunity perhaps to discuss it. I certainly would not recommend that all German industry should be allowed to be free and uncontrolled, but we have also to understand that there has been great delay in carrying out these plans of dismantling and demolition. By the terms of the Potsdam Agreement, they should have been finished at the end of two years. That, again, is not the fault of His Majesty's Government. All the same, it remains true that any demolition now carried out is bound to seem harsher to the German people. It is, therefore, surely important to try to ensure that none is carried out where a factory is already engaged on peaceful work of economic reconstruction. There was the "Holmag" story published in the Press. I have no idea how far the facts are justified. If there are other cases like that, it would be most disquieting. I hope, therefore, that the Foreign Secretary or the Minister of State will in the course of this Debate give us some more information on this subject.

I have one other observation to make before I leave the foreign field. I cannot do that without paying tribute to the work that has been done by our retiring Ambassador in Paris. Mr. Duff Cooper was appointed to that post to represent us with the French nation at a most exacting time. He has done his work in a manner which has earned him the lasting respect and friendship of Frenchmen in all walks of life, and should also earn him the sincere gratitude of this House. I should also like to extend our own good wishes to his successor.

Now I turn from foreign affairs, where there is little controversy, to the domestic scene, where controversy will be found to be materially more lively. First of all, I observe that since we were last assembled in this House there have been certain modifications in the personnel of the Front Bench opposite. It would be indelicate of me to dwell on those changes in any detail, but I am bound to say that, viewed from this side of the House, the reasons for the dismissal of some Ministers and the retention of others are very hard indeed to understand. I say nothing about transfers; they are completely inexplicable. I would content myself with the quotation of one general comment which came from the no doubt disinterested outlook of the Government back benches. They are always disinterested in discussing new appointments of Ministers. The hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. C. Poole) observed that the Prime Minister has a marked capacity for putting square pegs in round holes.

Whatever the opinions about individual changes, much the most important modification, of course, is the extension of the powers given to the Minister for Economic Affairs. On the whole, we would be inclined to think that this modification should be to the national advantage, but the question immediately arises, how much power has that Minister really got? About this only the Prime Minister can inform us. For instance, what are the new Minister's relations with the Chancellor of the Exchequer? I observe that the Minister for Economic Affairs informed us that the Chancellor goes into bat before him. That is rather a surprising statement. One would have expected them to open the innings together. I should like to know whether this arrangement has been made by the captain, or whether it is just a result of a scramble for the crease. In any event, from the national point of view, it is essential that finance should serve the economic effort and not pursue an independent course. I should have thought that what I am advocating would be very welcome to hon. Members on the other side of the House.

Transcending all other domestic affairs is the gravity of our economic position, and it is essential that we should have, at the earliest moment, a full statement from the Government of the developments during the Recess. What, in particular, is our position now about our gold reserves and the gap in our balance of payments? We have all seen the published figures, and on the face of it, they are disturbing enough. We appear to be losing gold at very much the same rate as we were losing dollars in August. I admit that the published figures do not necessarily give the full picture, but that full picture we must have, for surely everyone will admit—I know that the Chancellor will admit it—that it is a very grave event that we should be expending the gold reserves of the sterling area at this rate. When do the Government expect that the measures they have taken to reduce imports and expand exports are going to have some effect on this still yawning gap? Here I put to the Prime Minister a question which for some time has been troubling me. What is the relation between Britain's part in this plan of the 16 nations and our own effort, as described by the Minister of Economic Affairs, to balance our own payments next year? According to the plan of the 16 nations, we visualise a large, continuing deficit, and that appears to contradict the plan of the Minister for Economic Affairs. I have no doubt that these projects can be reconciled, but we should like to know how in the Government's mind that reconciliation is going to be brought about.

What is essential is that the people of this country should see the picture clearly and as a whole, for as far ahead as possible. We cannot continually ask the people of this country to consume nothing and to export everything, nor can we expect other countries to be prepared indefinitely to take what we send them while we refuse to accept what they wish to send us. That brings me to the question of marketing, the most vexing question of all, because, after all, we are not the only country seeking to increase its exports and restrict its imports. Here again, we must have an exposition of how the Government view the prospects and what action they are taking. Have the Government any plans for extending the use of sterling in the non-dollar areas as a medium for financing international trade, and what is the position about this capital expenditure programme?

The Prime Minister will probably remember that for more than a year some of us have been urging upon the Government the need to produce such a programme, and for many months past the Government have been telling us that they were engaged upon such a programme. Nothing has emerged, and meanwhile the present uncertainty is both confusing and wasteful. Can the Prime Minister tell us when can we expect a programme, and in particular when can we expect to know what decisions have been taken in respect of the housing programme? Everybody admits the difficulties of this capital expenditure programmes, but I must say that the position is becoming infinitely more difficult because of the long delay before the Government announce their proposals. Even so it would be wrong to slash this programme purely on a financial basis. Reductions have to take account of materials as well as of finance.

The Gracious Speech referred to re-imposed labour controls, and the Mover of the Address had something to say about this, drawn from the years of unemployment and his experiences then. He would not deny that there is in all quarters of this House an extreme distaste for any measure for the direction of labour in peace time. It would seem to us that the words in the Gracious Speech go rather beyond anything the Government have hitherto proposed. We ask, therefore, that the Prime Minister should give us an early explanation of what the Government intend, for every step, however small, which abrogates the freedom of choice of the individual is one against which this House ought to react instinctively and one against which the British people will always react instinctively. I am glad to know from the Gracious Speech that there are to be supplementary financial proposals this autumn, but I am also sorry to note that nowhere in the Gracious Speech is there any indication of any need for reduced Government expenditure. Yet those figures continue to stand at staggering heights.

The difficulties of the present situation have resulted in a number of drastic cuts which are pressing severely on all sections of the people. Of course, it is easy to suppose—if anyone does suppose—that the abolition of the basic petrol ration affects the wealthier section of the community. That is not so, and particularly in the country districts, as those of us who have been to our constituencies will know, it is a matter of very real significance to the life of the community. Bus routes are already overcrowded, and the abolition of the basic ration will permanently increase the congestion, lengthen the queues, and mean a definite waste of time and effort. The Government will no doubt have observed that a disturbing feature of this situation is the number of ex-Service men who have invested their savings and gratuities in petrol pump stations, garages and enterprises of that kind. We all know from our own constituencies that that is so. This Government decision will be a staggering blow to those men. I must say that the Government's explanations on this subject have been insufficiently convincing so far. The matter will have to be probed further. So I ask the Prime Minister if he can tell us now what the net saving is to be from the step which the Government are now taking, in contrast, for instance, with what the net saving would have been if they had only halved the basic ration.

Another disturbing feature in this matter of petrol is the number of different Government statements which have followed each other in rapid succession. I would recall to the Prime Minister that on 30th June we were told that petrol supplies to the Services and to commercial users would be cut. A few weeks afterwards, on 6th August, we were told that there would be a cut of one-third in basic petrol. At the end of August we were informed that the basic ration would be abolished. A week after that, the Prime Minister told us that there would be some modification of the supplementary petrol to be given. All those changes of policy give the impression of hesitation and of muddle in the mind of the Government. They also increase the exasperation and the harassing effect upon the general public. The motorist cannot altogether be blamed if he feels that he has been singled out for exceptionally harsh treatment. Nobody can deny that the abolition of the basic petrol ration hits the motorist harder than the corresponding reductions have hit either the cinema-goer or the cigarette smoker.

I pass to another subject. There are many reports in the Press of the course of the negotiations between ourselves and the United States on the subject of tariffs and preferences. We hope very much that the Prime Minister will be able to enlighten us on these matters, for they are of deep and lasting concern to us all. I would remind the Prime Minister of what he said last year to my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) when he reaffirmed an earlier speech. He said—I will quote two sentences: There is no commitment on any country in advance of negotiations to reduce or to eliminate any particular margin of preference. Again: There is thus no question of any unilateral surrender of preferences. There must be adequate compensation for all parties affected."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th December, 1946; Vol. 416, c. 2668.] I would like to be assured that this is still the position. I would also like the Prime Minister to give us any information he can about the course of those discussions. This is an issue which deeply stirs public opinion in this country and, of course, elsewhere in the British Commonwealth and Empire. I trust, therefore, that before we are irrevocably committed the Prime Minister will take the House fully into his confidence. I am well aware of the normal constitutional practice which may be quoted, but this is an issue of transcending importance. Therefore, the claim I make is one that we consider should be met.

I turn for a moment to the question of the cuts in our Armed Forces, and particularly in the Royal Navy. I would remind the Prime Minister of the announcements in Sunday's and yesterday's newspapers that from Friday the strength of the Home Fleet will be reduced to one cruiser and four destroyers. That news was received, I believe, by the whole country with a profound shock. How did it come about that news as grave as this should leak out in this manner and be disclosed by the Press before any official announcement was made? Only a week ago, the Admiralty put out a Press statement which we all noted, explaining some of the difficulties in manning which would be involved in the accelerated rundown of the Forces. No indication was given of the devastating results upon the effective strength of the Navy which those difficulties would entail.

The decision must have been taken by then. Why was not the country told the whole story together? What is the result? The British Fleet is to be reduced this week to one cruiser and four destroyers in the home waters. In other words, we shall have a Fleet in these seas smaller than the Peruvian Navy. What is—I ask the Government—the reason for this decision? Are we really to be told that this is to be done solely in order that 22,000 more men may be released by next March than had been originally allowed for? I am not ignorant, nor is my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford, of the many difficulties involved in the release of these thousands of men from the Royal Navy. We realise full well that a great turnover like that involves training and retraining a large number of men, and that much of that work has to be done ashore. Even allowing for all that, and for the emphasis upon naval aviation, can we be really satisfied that our manpower is being properly used?

Under Vote A next March we shall still have about 140,000 men. Do the Government really maintain that these men will be used to the best advantage, when a cut like this is being made in the Home Fleet and comparable cuts—although we have not been told—are to be made in our Fleets in all other parts of the world? The whole position must cause the gravest concern. There is one assurance which I hope the Prime Minister can give us now. If we are to cut our Services in order to suit our manpower now, we must have an assurance that such reductions are temporary, even transitional, and that research, development and training are continuing so that a strong, modern Fleet may be once again at sea. We must press for that assurance, and for some report of progress from the Prime Minister—I see that the Minister of Defence smiles, but we are concerned.

The Minister of Defence (Mr. A. V. Alexander)

indicated dissent.

Mr. Eden

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would be the last to forget that this nation cannot afford once again to undergo the race against time which we had during the first year of the last war. The next race will be very much shorter.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

What war has the right hon. Gentleman in mind?

Mr. Eden

I would remind the hon. Member of what the First Lord, who is a Member of the Government, said the other day on this very subject, because it seems to answer the hon. Gentleman's question very well. He said: The Royal Navy does not exist merely to engage in war. Indeed, the cause of freedom throughout the world to a large extent has been promoted and maintained by the presence of ships of the Royal Navy in every sea. I believe that statement of the First Lord to be justified.

Now I turn to the distribution of Parliamentary seats. I note that in addition to that subject the Gracious Speech also refers to "Measures to reform franchise procedure." The Prime Minister will remember—the Lord President is here and he will also know—that in recent years Measures of this character have been the outcome of conferences presided over by you, Mr. Speaker. That has been the practice in recent years, and I should have hoped that that practice could have been continued, and that whatever the temptation—and I quite understand the temptation, because of the need for it—we should not approach these matters purely from the point of view of party advantage.

Now I come to the most controversial portion of what I have to say. We note, of course, a phrase in the Gracious Speech that refers to the amendment of the Parliament Act of 1911, and we await the Prime Minister's explanation on this subject. This, however, I must say at once. On the face of it there would seem to be neither justification for such an amendment nor an electoral mandate for it. The matter was dealt with, as hon. Members opposite will no doubt recall, in "Let Us Face The Future" in these words: And in stating it, we give clear notice that we will not tolerate obstruction of the people's will by the House of Lords. [HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear."] All right. Then is it the Government's suggestion that there has been such obstruction? If so, that obstruction must have developed since 9th September last, which was the last occasion on which their Lordships sat, when a quite un-exampled tribute was paid not only on his behalf, but on behalf of the Government, by the Government spokesman in another place. I am, unfortunately, precluded by our rules from quoting the actual words used, but I commend them to the study of hon. Members on that side of the House. I can only say that the First Lord of the Admiralty made it plain that, in the Government's judgment, the Opposition majority had been used in a moderate and statesmanlike way—[Interruption]—that is something like what he said—and in a manner which had given the Government side of the House no real or reasonable complaint. That was the gist of the tribute. If that is so, what really is the obstruction which alone would justify the Government in taking the step which they now propose to take, in accordance with the terms of their document.

May I give them just one other quotation, because I am impressed by it and by the eloquence of some of the noble Lords who are Ministers in another place. This I can quote because it was said in the country. It is by Lord Ammon, also a Member of His Majesty's present Government. He said: I work hard in the House of Lords; as you know, for we do not take things so easily there. We work long hours and we do not get a thousand a year for it. I do not believe any critic of the House of Lords can look around the world and find any second Chamber that he likes better than ours. We are a remarkable reservoir of learning, and we have often saved the House of Commons from falling into bad blunders. What do the Government propose to do with this "powerful reservoir of learning"? I ask the Prime Minister to explain. I also ask him to tell us what has happened since the last sitting of that noble Chamber which has caused the Government entirely to throw over the views of their own spokesman in another place.

I conclude as the Gracious Speech begins. Of all our problems today, the most important by far are our immediate urgent economic necessities. It is on these that the Government ought to concentrate. It is on these that they ought to have been concentrating for the last two years. I am sorry that, from the Gracious Speech, it seems that they have not yet learnt that lesson. In this Speech there are political items which, however important we may think them and however much we may be ready to debate them, can contribute nothing to the immediate solution of these problems. But it is on the handling of these major economic problems that the Government are going to be judged. They are not handling these problems by nationalising the gas industry or amending the Parliament Act. What comfort is that to those who are at present suffering from acute shortages of food, houses and fuel? What contribution do these things make to stop the drain on our gold reserves or to close the gap in our balance of payments? The pursuit of such purely partisan policies will not restore the nation's prosperity, nor bring happiness to our people.

5.36 p.m.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)

I desire to associate myself with the congratulations which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), acting as Leader of the Opposition for the time being, has offered to the Mover and Seconder of the Address. I have heard a great many of these speeches, and I have had to take the part the right hon. Gentleman has taken today on many occasions, and I know the difficulty of finding fresh words. I thought that the Mover, the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) dealt with one of the major factors of our problems, the coal situation, from the depths of personal experience, and I think he gave the kind of background which is required when we are dealing with these economic problems, particularly when we are considering the question of the morale of the people who work in the pits. I thought we had a delightful, charming and sincere speech from the hon. Lady who seconded and who particularly dealt with the social reform side of our proposals.

Before I deal with the matter of the Gracious Speech itself and the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, as usual there are several matters of Business that fall to be dealt with. The announcement of the engagment of Her Royal Highness the Princess Elizabeth has been greeted with great satisfaction throughout the whole country—and I believe that the House would like the opportunity of recording its feelings. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I propose tomorrow at the beginning of Business to move an Address of Congratulation to His Majesty the King, Her Majesty the Queen and Her Royal Highness the Princess Elizabeth on Her Royal Highness's engagement.

The Debate on the Address will occupy the remainder of this week, and under your guidance, Mr. Speaker, we shall endeavour to meet the wishes of the House in regard to the conduct of the general Debate and the discussion of specific subjects. We shall of course allow reasonable time for the Debate, and the proposed arrangements will be announced in the usual way. I hope, however, that the Debate might be concluded next week. I regret to say that it will be necessary for the Government to ask again for the whole time of the House for Government Business and to provide for the presentation of Government Bills only and to stop the ballot for Private Members' Bills and Motions. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] The necessary Motion will appear on the Paper and will be moved tomorrow. I have heard this Motion very many times by very many Governments—[An HON. MEMBER: "Only during war,"]—and it always evokes the same response. I had hoped that it would be possible this year to restore Private Members' time, at least up to Christmas, but the need for an Autumn Budget and of passing before Christmas, in addition to certain departmental Bills, the Burma Independence Bill and the Ceylon Constitution Bill has made this impossible.

The House will see from the Gracious Speech that our legislative programme, though not as extensive as that of last Session, is bound to take up a good deal of time. We shall, of course, as was done last Session, endeavour to provide opportunities for Debate on matters of general interest, and we propose in the interest of Private Members to safeguard the half-hour Adjournment—[An HON. MEMBER: "We are grateful for that."]—at the end of every sitting, not only after exempted Business or when the Rule is suspended, but after a Division or Divisions which may occur at the interruption of Business. It will be necessary to renew the Motion relating to the hours of sitting before the end of today's Business and I hope, therefore, that it will be possible to adjourn the Debate on the Address at a reasonable hour in order that there may be time to consider this Motion before the rising of the House. We are proposing to continue the hours of sitting which were in operation during the last Session. We shall also ask the House at a later stage to renew the arrangements relating to the constitution of Standing Committees and other matters.

I would now like to turn to the legislative programme. We are bringing before the House, as will be seen, a balanced programme of social reform and local government matters relating to our democratic system of Government—all find their place—and there are important Bills dealing with constitutional matters in other parts of the British Commonwealth. The legislative programme shows the completion of a system of social security by the abolition of the remnants of the Poor Law. A great series of reforms carried out over many years will help, this Session, finally to end the old Poor Law and create this new social security system. In this work Governments of various political colours have played their part since the days of the Lloyd George Act, and many other laws passed during Conservative Governments, Liberal Governments and Labour Governments. I should like to take this occasion to pay my tribute to the late Lord Passfield. He played his part in Parliament for some years, but his greatest work was done in the field of social reorganisation. I remember very well 40 years ago the work on the minority report of the Poor Law. I remember how he and I took some small part, how it was publicised throughout the country, and how it had the support of Members of all parties. I wish that Lord Passfield had lived long enough to see the last vestige of the old Poor Law swept away, but he saw sufficient to realise that that work of his had not been in vain. There is another Measure in which he, as the greatest authority on local government, would have been interested, and that is the Bill which the Minister of Health will introduce dealing with the reform of the block grant system and the machinery of valuation.

There are further important matters of legislation to which I would refer. The reform of criminal justice is long overdue. I was one of those who regretted that Sir Samuel Hoare was unable to pass into law the Measure which he introduced, but the Debates on that Bill covered a good deal of ground and revealed a large measure of agreement; and though, no doubt, there will be some controversy, I believe the Bill which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will introduce will gain a very large measure of support from all sides of the House. I believe the same will apply to the Bill for the public care of children.

I said that we were completing great Measures of social reform. We are also intending to complete the process of bringing under public ownership the fuel and power industries by the nationalisation of the gas industry. The House is, of course, aware that this industry is very largely already in public hands and publicly controlled, and in view of the report of the Heyworth Committee, I can really see no reason—apart from what we sometimes call ideological prejudices—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Why not? It is really a logical development. I notice there has been a good deal of talk with regard to another great industry, the iron and steel industry. There are no proposals in this Gracious Speech dealing with that industry. It was put down among other matters to be dealt with in the programme set out in "Let us Face the Future," to which the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington referred just now. I believe there is an overwhelming case in the national interest and I would like to say, in order to avoid any doubt there might be, that it is the intention of His Majesty's Government in the present Parliament to nationalise the relevant portions of the iron and steel industry.

The right hon. Gentleman raised some points with regard to the Redistribution of Seats Bill. That is brought forward from the Speaker's Conference, and I am sure he will await the Bill before he passes any comments on the details of it.

The other Bill to which he referred was the Parliament Bill. I think a great deal of time has passed since the Parliament Act of 1911 and it is quite well worth while looking again at that Act. It would be improper for me to state the exact proposals we intend to bring forward, but the intention is to reduce from two years to one year the period of delay which the other place can now impose. I freely admit, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that up to the present the leadership in the other House has been both wise and statesmanlike. Legislation has been passed which undoubtedly has been distasteful to the majority of that House, but I am bound to have it in mind that under the Parliament Act the first three years of a Parliament's life operate so that Bills can be put through if rejected under the Parliament Act, but after the Government's life has run for a certain time, then that axe begins to hang over the head of any Government. I think it is wise to deal with this matter in time, and before any serious matter has arisen, in order to lessen the danger which might arise should leadership in the other place pass into less responsible hands. We must remember that there is always that great number of noble Lords who do not attend, but they might attend. The right hon. Gentleman said, "Why do it now? You have no quarrel." But it is much better to avoid a quarrel. Why wait to get a fire extinguisher until a fire has actually broken out? It is better to provide yourself with a fire extinguisher at once.

Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite (Holderness)

Economise in fuel.

The Prime Minister

More fuel is consumed if you burn down the whole house.

I will quote from an admirable speech delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) on the First Reading of the Parliament Act of 1911–

Mr. Churchill (Woodford)

The Parliament Bill.

The Prime Minister

He was speaking on the Bill at the time: We believe that Governments are the guides as well as the servants of the nation. We believe that the people should choose their representatives, that they should come to a decision between men, party and policy, judging their character and judging the circum stances of the hour; that they should choose their representatives and then trust them and give them a fair chance within the limits of their commission for a period which should not be unreasonably prolonged; then these representatives should be summoned before their constituents, who should judge them in relation to all the circumstances proper to be considered, and in relation as well to the general effects of their policy, and should either confirm them in their places as representatives or choose other men to take their place.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd February, 1911; Vol. 21, c. 2035.] These principles are, of course, applicable today. The right hon. Gentleman says that the peoples' representatives should be given a fair chance within the limits of their commission for a period which should not be unduly prolonged, and the Parliament Act defined five years as that reasonable period. But I could never see why a Conservavtive Government should be given five years, and a Liberal, or Labour, Government only three years. The Parliament Act of 1911 was a very moderate measure. Here again, I would quote the right hon. Gentleman, this time from the Third Reading of the Parliament Bill: And when we remember that these powers, so far as this Bill is concerned, will remain and be exercised by hereditary Lords who are responsible to no constituency, will be exercised by them, although they nearly all belong to the Conservative Party, will remain to be exercised by them after all the democratic victories of the last six years, I confess so far from feeling myself as participating in a revolution, I stand here not merely astonished at our moderation, but upon occasion I am almost aghast."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th May, 1911; Vol. 25, c. 1771.] After the victories we had, this is a very moderate curbing of the powers of another place. There was also a note of warning: The powers retained by the House of Lords under the Parliament Bill will not merely be effectual, but, as I think has been borne in upon us every day we have discussed this matter, they will be formidable and even menacing."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th May, 1911; Vol. 25, c. 1770.] It so happened that for 34 years prior to the advent of this Government, except for two brief periods of minority Labour Governments, the Conservative Party have had effective power in both Houses; therefore, the issue never arose. But this is a wise precautionary measure—

Mr. Churchill

A deliberate act of social aggression.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman must be in a reminiscent mood He is thinking of the things said to him when he stood at this Box in 1911. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington pointed out that in fact the noble Lords in another place exercise their power with great wisdom and moderation. If, as I hope, the Members of another place are not inclined ever again to exercise those menacing powers in order to render nugatory the decisions of the elected Chamber, then our proposals will do them no harm, but we should be taking away a weapon they have no intention of using. If, on the other hand, they still have the intention to re-assert those powers, which of late have fallen into desuetude, then this Bill will be both effective and timely. At the General Election, we laid perfectly clearly before the electorate that we would not allow the will of the electorate to be thwarted by another place, and I think there is ample justification there for taking precautions and not waiting until the trouble has actually arisen, and not waiting in fact until the trouble might have passed out of hand through the effluxion of time.

So much for the legislative programme. Now I will turn to the points put to me by the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington. He raised certain points on foreign affairs. I think he will agree with me that in the course of the Debate there will be opportunities for speaking on foreign affairs, but I must say we are greatly disturbed at the increasing tension in foreign affairs and the attitude of the U.S.S.R. representatives, which is gravely imperilling the work that was done in trying to build up the United Nations organisation. I would rather leave a fuller discussion to a later time.

The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the discussions at Geneva. I am not today in a position to make a precise statement. A full statement will have to be agreed with the Governments concerned, but the negotiations, as would have been expected, have been very prolonged and difficult. We have every hope that agreement will be reached at Geneva between most, if not all, of the 17 countries there represented. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will, I hope, be making a further statement in a few days' time. I would, however, indicate the principles on which these negotiations are being conducted. First, I would recall the statement I made in the House of Commons on the day when the United States proposals were published. On that occasion, I said there was no question of any unilateral surrender of preferences, and that that could only be considered in relation to, and in return for, a reduction of tariffs and other barriers, which would mean mutually advantageous arrangements for the expansion of trade. There can, therefore, be no question of our abolishing the whole system of Imperial Preference.

Secondly, we have throughout maintained the closest touch with our friends from the other Commonwealth countries. Further, we have kept in mind the principal aim, namely, the need for the restoration of equilibrium in our economic relations with the Western hemisphere, and particularly the United States, and we hope we have secured greater access to markets, for products not only from this country, but from the Colonial Empire, which is very important. They should result in a valuable increase in the dollar earnings in the sterling area as a whole. So far from weakening the economic co-operation between the members of the Commonwealth, I think it will be found that the agreement, and the prospects it holds out, should make for the further economic development of the Commonwealth, and should strengthen our ability to deal with the very serious crisis through which we are passing.

The next point with which I would deal is the question of our Defence Forces. The Government have continued the review of the size of our Forces in relation to the responsibilities which we are called upon to carry out. They also have to have relation to the economic resources of this country. We have considered it right to examine the question of any possible reductions, not only in the remainder of this financial year, but also in the period of 18 months ending 31st March, 1949, and against the background of the needs of our long-term defence policy in so far as they can be foreseen at this time. It is difficult to foresee things at the present time—[Laughter]—in a very disturbed world. I am bound to say that I do not find it a laughing matter. Examination of that policy, as the House knows, is still proceeding, and it would be wrong to expect, at an early date, answers to all the far-reaching and fundamental questions which arise when one begins to consider what may arise in the future. None the less, it is essential to look further ahead, while ensuring that the decisions taken now do not conflict with the long-term needs of our defence policy. Subject to these reservations, the Government have decided upon further substantial reductions in the size of the Armed Forces in the next 18 months. I remember the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition saying that he would like to wield the blue pencil with vigour over our Estimates. I do not know the colour of the pencil, but we have had a look into these things very closely. The Army, which has been bearing—

Mr. Churchill

Does the right hon. Gentleman mean to say that with 140,000 men under the control of the Admiralty, it is possible to man only one cruiser and four destroyers for the Home Fleet?

The Prime Minister

I mean to say nothing of the sort—really, the right hon. Gentleman might wait until I deal with the point. If he will allow me one more page—I am dealing with his right hon. Friend—I will deal with his point. The Army, which has been bearing the major share of our special post-war commitments, naturally shows the most striking reductions. By March, 1949, the Government expect that the Army's overseas responsibilities falling on British manpower will be limited to our share of the occupation of Germany, the requirements of the Middle East, and the small but important garrisons needed at a variety of overseas stations. The reductions in the size of the Army must be related to its special commitments, and the process will therefore still be gradual. It is quite imposible to compress it arbitrarily.

The position in the case of the Navy is different. There has to be a reduction of operational strength, and it has been decided, deliberately, that the strain of this should be taken here and now, even at the expense of some degree of temporary immobility. In view of certain alarmist references which have appeared in the Press, I would emphasise the word "temporary." I do not know where the figures came from. The right hon. Gentleman seems to believe everything he sees in the Press.

Mr. Churchill

What figures?

The Prime Minister

The figures which have been quoted about one cruiser, etc. I do not know where they came from.

Mr. Churchill

The figures were one cruiser and four destroyers for the Home Fleet. If those figures are not true, we shall be glad to hear them contradicted. It is less than the fleet we gave to Russia during the war.

The Prime Minister

Those are not the correct ones. I was not aware that that point would be raised, and I have not the exact figures, but I am quite prepared to give those figures in the course of the Debate.

Mr. Churchill

Surely the right hon. Gentleman has not been made responsible for these grave decisions, which he says they studied with great attention, without having on the tip of his tongue the actual four or five ships, or six or seven ships, which are reserved to the Home Fleet? Surely, as Prime Minister of the country, he ought to know.

The Prime Minister

I cannot give without notice the exact number of ships; it is a point to be raised in Debate. The short point is that any temporary immobility will be during the re-sorting out of the ships and personnel—a purely temporary manning. The suggestion that this is a sudden reduction of the entire Fleet to a kind of care and maintenance basis is quite wrong. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence is perfectly willing to give the facts in the course of the Debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Now."] Hon. Members do not seem to realise that we cannot have two speeches at once.

In the case of the Air Force there will be further reductions in establishments, more especially in overseas commands. The reductions will be spread gradually over the period in the interests of operational efficiency. I will give some actual figures. The 1947 Defence White Paper foreshadowed that the size of the Armed Forces at 31st March, 1948, would be 1,087,000. On 6th August I put the revised Estimate at 1,007,000. We now expect the figure to be 937,000, a reduction of 150,000 on the original forecast. I would also mention that it is expected that industrial labour employed on Service production and related activities will be considerably less at 31st March, 1948, than was anticipated. So far with regard to figures of reductions. I was only proposing at this juncture to give the broad picture. The detail will appear in the Estimates, and the matter can be further debated in the course of these discussions. That covers, I think, almost all the points which the right hon. Gentleman raised.

The right hon. Gentleman rightly said that the major issue facing this country is our economic position. I entirely agree. The problem was very fully discussed and the essentials of the problem were very fully set out before we parted for the summer Adjournment. Since that Debate the world situation has deteriorated. Our own position has necessarily got worse with it. Indeed, the immediate effect of that Debate was to accentuate the dollar drain. Since then we have had the Paris Report of the Committee of European Co-operation, setting out very clearly the whole European position and our position as part of Western Europe. I am quite sure that hon. Members will have seen to what extent our particular difficulties are due to the general causes affecting Western Europe as a whole, and the relation of Europe to the Western Hemisphere.

The House will wish to have a full report on the situation and an account of the measures which have been taken and are going to be taken in this country, to deal with it. My right hon. Friends the Minister of Economic Affairs and the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be speaking in the course of these Debates. With regard to the batting order, that was, I imagine a jocular reference to the particular status of a particular Minister. Generally speaking, the batting order depends on what the opposition is at a particular moment and the state of the pitch. On this occasion, in dealing with economic affairs, the Minister of Economic Affairs and the Chancellor of the Exchequer will both be batting. On other occasions it may be the Lord President of the Council who will be batting first, or the Home Secretary. With regard to the position of the Minister for Economic Affairs, his position is one of co-ordination. There is no question of interfering with the departmental responsibilities of Ministers. His function is, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer—and they act in the closest collaboration—to coordinate the economic effort both at home and abroad in all its various ramifications.

I would like to say one word in regard to the Marshall proposals. It would be quite fatal for us to have wishful thinking and to imagine that we can depend on some other help than our own. We have got to go all out on our own efforts. Whatever assistance we can get—and the greatest assistance may not be direct but could come through a raising of industrial and economic conditions all over the world—we have to set our own house in order. The problem before us, the work we have to do in participating in world recovery, is to get increased production for home and for export, increased exports directed to dealing with our balance of payments, and Colonial development in the interests of the people of the Colonies, of this country, and of the world. We will have to have a reduction of some imports, a reduction of some of our overseas expenditure abroad, a redeployment of our resources at home, a redirection and reduction of capital investment at home, and measures to deal with inflation. These points will be elaborated in the course of this Debate.

Mr. Churchill

What is meant by redirection of capital investment?

The Prime Minister

It means concentrating more on one point and not on the other.

Mr. Churchill

Does it mean that people are to be forbidden to invest such money as they have, as they think wisely, and ordered to invest it in enterprises or securities when they think these are injudicious? What does this word "redirection" mean?

The Prime Minister

I am afraid that I was using the term in a rather technical sense in the way they talk of national investment in capital goods as compared with consumer goods.

Mr. Churchill

It means the direction of the Government's division of the expenditure between capital and current expenditure?

The Prime Minister

It means more than that. There is the sum total going into capital expenditure, part of it Government and part of it private. That makes demands on the available resources of raw materials and labour. In view of the shortage of raw materials in particular, there has to be a redirection, a slowing down, on some sides and acceleration on others. That is all it means.

Mr. Churchill

It is not telling the individual investor what he has to do?

The Prime Minister

No, not at all. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen will exercise their full rights to criticise. I am sure they will claim that there are many things which we are doing now which we ought to have done before. But we must face this extremely difficult situation and it will require the efforts of the whole country.

Mr. Churchill

Why then, by introducing partisan constitutional legislation, do you seek to divide the country?

The Prime Minister

The answer is that the party opposite, unlike the party on this side of the House, seems to claim that because this party has a different point of view from them, therefore they cannot support its efforts. When we were in the war we came into the Government and we did not attempt to upset the capitalist system. We had to accept it because that was the will of the majority of the House. The will of the majority of the House at present is that Government policy should be carried on on the basis of the policy of this party. Hon. Gentlemen opposite say, "We will all work together if only you will adopt the Conservative policy." We cannot do that.

Mr. Quintin Hogg (Oxford)

The right hon. Gentleman was talking about national unity. Does he not realise that the reason we cannot support him at the moment is because we believe that he and his Government are the cause of all our troubles?

The Prime Minister

That was not the view we took when we supported the Conservative Government. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington said that we had very great reason to think of the cause of all the trouble. The short point is that there is a unity of effort in this country that transcends party.

Mr. Hogg

Why do you not encourage it?

The Prime Minister

It takes two to do that. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite should frankly say, "We accept the fact that you have a mandate for this or the other Bill and we will support you." But the line always taken is, "We will support you if you will be Conservative." Well, we will not be. Whatever differences there may be in this country we are all united in our determination to carry this country through this extremely difficult time. I do not attempt to suggest that we are not at a very very serious time. Whatever may be our differences, I am quite sure that the whole country will go all out to restore the prosperity and position of this country in the world.

Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Simmons.]

Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.