HC Deb 05 November 1948 vol 457 cc1214-30

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. R. Adams.]

3.17 p.m.

Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)

I desire to draw the attention of the House to the administrative problems of the Board of Trade, with particular reference to the overburdening of the senior staff, to the reduction and simplification of controls, and to the important part which the Board of Trade will have to play in the European economic recovery.

Let me make it clear that I have no criticism to make of the senior staff. I believe them to be men of high calibre and great integrity, who do their best to discharge the most formidable tasks. I should also make it clear that, so far as I am concerned, this is not a party matter. It appears to me to be the duty of Parliament to see that the work that either Parliament or the Government place upon the Civil Service is work which the Civil Service can efficiently do. That is a duty whatever party is in power. Perhaps I should put it beyond doubt that the matter which I am raising has nothing whatever to do with certain inquiries which are taking place elsewhere.

As hon. Members will no doubt agree, it is obvious by now that the activities of the Board of Trade cover an immense territory. Even before the war, its functions went far beyond the kind of regulation which the Board was called upon to perform under, for instance, the Companies Act. It went far beyond mere advice. It had, even before the war, reached the stage of including what Lord Keynes called "The purposive direction of industry and trade." Between 1932 and 1939, the Board was made responsible for the administration of our tariffs system resulting from the Ottawa Agreements and the Import Duties Act. It was also made responsible for making decisions in connection with the special Development Areas. The cotton industry was only one of a few industries which placed upon the Board certain specific tasks in which they had not merely to watch but often to take decisions.

During the war, the whole of the trade and industry of the country had to be harnessed to the chariot of war, and the Board of Trade had to bear most of the brunt of making the harness and seeing that it was fitted and strong enough to bear the strain. This has led to the vast system of controls with which we are all familiar, many of which still remain in spite of the bright little bonfire which the President of the Board of Trade had yesterday. I wish he had made it a bigger one, more worthy of the memory of Mr. Guido Fawkes.

Since the war the Board of Trade has enormously increased its duties, and there has been very little corresponding reduction in its work. We have had a number of Acts of Parliament, of which I need name only perhaps half a dozen to give Members some idea of the immensely increased power which the Board now has. There are the two Acts concerning the cotton industry, the Cotton (Centralised Buying) Act, the Cotton Spinning (Re-Equipment Subsidy) Act. There are the Statistics of Trade Act, which will involve immense work in connection with the census of distribution and production, the Industrial Organisation and Development Act and the voluminous new Companies Act, which will increase rather than reduce the work which the Board was already doing in connection with company law and administration. Then there have been the Development of Inventions Act and the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices (Inquiry and Control) Act. There are others which hon. Members will be able to recollect.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham)

Why does the hon. Member suggest that the Companies Act increases the work of the Board of Trade in any way?

Mr. Renton

I do not want to digress from my main purpose, but as the hon. Member has asked me that question, I would say in a very general way that by making a more detailed set of provisions for the administration of companies in this country, and by placing some further restrictions upon company life. the work of the Board of Trade has been automatically increased. But do not let me digress on this point. The hon. Member knows as well as I do that my main argument——

Mr. Hale

I was only trying to work up a little interest on the other side of the House.

Mr. Renton

I must say that if Mr. Guy Fawkes had wanted to create chaos in this country, rather than blow up Parliament on a Friday afternoon, he might very well have decided to blow up the Board of Trade on any day of the week. In addition to that legislation which I have mentioned, we should note that the Raw Materials Department of the Ministry of Supply has been taken over by the Board of Trade, and that together with the Treasury, the Board of Trade has had a large amount of heavy and detailed work to perform in the negotiations on the Geneva tariff agreements, the Havana Trade Agreement and in connection with other international conferences.

Most of all, to my mind, we should note the fact that this year the major part of the work resulting from the Marshall Plan for economic recovery in Europe has fallen upon the Board of Trade. As the Chancellor told us on Monday, that plan will not succeed unless the flow of trade within Europe itself is increased, and to achieve that increase in trade I presume it will be necessary—the President will correct me if I am wrong—for senior officials of the Board of Trade to meet their opposite numbers in European countries to see how far the obstacles to trade can be removed. That means that a large number of decisions will have to be taken. They will be decisions on matters of detail, but they will have to be taken at a high level.

The present position, therefore, seems to me to be that the Board of Trade still keeps a watchful eye over a great part of industry. It keeps an exceedingly close watch on the whole of our import and export trade, and directly decides the policy for much of that trade. We have been told publicly that the Board receives over one million letters a month, and we know that the Board employs over 14,000 civil servants, 5,000 of whom are in London and the rest in regional offices. We do not hear so much about the senior staff, but inquiry in the usual reference books shows that there is one permanent secretary, two second secretaries, 15 under-secretaries and about three advisers. This, so far as I know, brings to an end the list of officials earning £2,000 a year or over.

In February this year there was appointed an examiner of controls, to whom the President referred yesterday. Incidentally, yesterday's little bonfire was the result of nine months of his work. It seems to me clear, bearing in mind the vast amount of work there is to be done, that these 19 or 20 men, who bear the principal responsibility, and are paid to do so, must be heavily overworked, and can apply their minds only to matters of first priority. It would not be surprising to find that they have never had time to sit down and think out how to tidy up the jungle which flourishes in its growth around them. The President said yesterday that apart from the controls which he has just relaxed a number of others are to be relaxed. He said he would he making an announcement later, and I should like to know when we may expect the next instalment of relaxed controls?

The right hon. Gentleman said there were 200,000 fewer licences to be issued each year as a result of the abolition of the controls he announced yesterday, and I should like to ask how many licences per annum still remain to be issued under the controls which are left? I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman could tell us whether the work of the special examiner of controls, Mr. Merriam, could possibly be speeded up? Is he satisfied that Mr. Merriam has enough help to enable the tempo of his work to be increased? After all, the President is now setting the people free, and the man to whom that honourable task has been delegated must have sufficient help if he is to get it done in reasonably quick time. I should be grateful for an answer to these questions about control.

There is another major matter on which I should welcome the views of the President: with the exception of one Member, I am sure that all those in the House at the moment will share my enthusiasm about the possibility of economic recovery in Europe. But my enthusiasm would flag if I felt that the Board of Trade had so much to do that its responsible senior staff could not be spared for the vitally important tasks which lie ahead, and which I have attempted briefly to describe. Can the right hon. Gentleman say how the Board will do the work which will fall upon it in addition to its existing manifold duties as a result of the Marshall Plan?

The first leading article in "The Times" of today dealt with this im- portant subject in measured and dispassionate terms, and I should have been prepared to rehash that article and make it my own speech. Indeed, I feel almost tempted to quote the whole of it, because it is so material to what I have to say. However, I think I can assume that the President of the Board of Trade has seen it, and that other hon. Members who are interested will give it their attention. Therefore, I will content myself with quoting just the last two sentences of that article in "The Times," which are as follows: Many controls must no doubt remain, but there is a large and still more complex territory still to be tackled—by the Ministry of Food as well as the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Supply."—— This is the real point— The reward for the patient work of clearance which lies ahead will be greater efficiency, in Government as well as in industry, and a much larger incentive to evoke the work and enterprise of business men.

3.31 p.m.

The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Harold Wilson)

I thank the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) for having raised this matter this afternoon, and for giving me the opportunity to remove one or two misconceptions which I think have been floating about on this subject for some time. Like him, I should like to begin by paying a tribute to the very high quality of the senior officials of the Board of Trade. Their quality and their devotion to duty are such that I must count myself extremely fortunate in having at the Board of Trade such men as those to whom the hon. Gentleman referred.

He spoke about the strain on the higher administrative staff of the Board of Trade. It is true that, in this House, there have been on one or two occasions quotations made from an address given by my Permanent Secretary to the Institute of Public Administration. I was glad to see that the hon. Gentleman did not base his argument on that particular article, because I know that he, like any other responsible Member of this House, would not wish to make political capital out of what was a valuable contribution to the proceedings of an important institute. In actual fact, that speech ought to have been delivered by myself, but, at that time, I was in Russia on a short visit for the purpose of negotiating a trade agreement, and my Permanent Secretary deputised for me at short notice, and made what I thought was a profound contribution concerning our administrative problems.

I think it right that I should refer to that address, even though the hon. Gentleman did not dwell on it. In it, my Permanent Secretary talked about the strain on the administrative staff of the Board of Trade as he saw it a year ago. I need not remind the hon. Gentleman that the strain, at that time, was unusually severe, more severe than it is, I think, at the present time, though no one, even now, would wish to regard in any light manner the very heavy strain which my officials are carrying. But if we look back to the time when this address was given—and it has since been the subject of a lot of articles in the Manchester Guardian" and "The Times"—we can see that a very heavy load indeed was placed on high administrative civil servants, especially in all Departments concerned with the balance of payments problem.

It will not be beyond the memory of the hon. Gentleman that, at that time, we had only just been forced to suspend the convertibility of sterling. We were faced with the position where our international trade depended on the negotiation of a large number of bilateral agreements in all parts of the world based on the acceptance of sterling as a method of payment. Therefore, starting off as we were with the negotiation of some 30 or 40 bilateral agreements, it is hardly surprising that the load placed on these officials at the top of the Board of Trade and other Government departments dealing with trade negotiations was extremely heavy.

It is a fact that at the same time the International Trade Conference was in full swing at Havana. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would be the last to suggest that the bilateral agreements or the International Trade Conference could have been postponed to a later date. They were both highly urgent. It is also a fact that at that time we were engaged on the heaviest part of recasting the import and export programmes which have played no small part in that improvement in our balance-of-payments position to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has drawn attention in recent speeches in this House. It would have been impossible to recast those programmes without placing a very heavy load upon my higher officials.

Again, we were in the early stages of working out the programmes and the arrangements which were necessary in connection with the American European Recovery Programme. Naturally, that programme was one with which the Board of Trade were very intimately connected, and while much of the load necessarily fell upon officials of the Foreign Office and of the Treasury, the trading part of it certainly fell upon the Board of Trade. That is an essential part of our administrative arrangements. I am sure that the industrial and trading community in this country, who have so close and intimate a connection with the Board of Trade, would have felt it highly desirable that my officials should play a leading part in drawing up the United Kingdom side of those arrangements. Then, as the hon. Gentleman will recall, all the economic questions at that time necessarily exercising the minds of His Majesty's Ministers again required the advice of my officials, not only in a departmental sense but in order to make their fullest impact on the inter-departmental consideration—including Cabinet consideration—of these important questions.

Again, and here I am only taking up a point which the hon. Gentleman has made, there was a fairly heavy burden of legislation on the Board of Trade at that time. I would defy him to suggest any legislation that could have been postponed. The Cinematograph Films Bill was essential and took a lot of our time, because the Act of 1938 was due to come to an end last March. The Monopolies Bill, which was passed by this House and received commendation and support from all parties, was in its final drafting stages. The Cotton Bill, the Bill relating to research, and the Export Guarantees Bill, were all very much in our minds about the time when my permanent Secretary gave his address. Although I do not want to quote the hon. Gentleman in support, I am sure that he will agree that there was not one of those Bills which was not absolutely essential and required to be passed last Session.

Mr. Renton

The President of the Board of Trade is trying to draw me upon a very wide field. I certainly would not say that some of those Bills could not have been postponed. Indeed, it may very well be that I even voted against one or two of the Bills that he has in mind; so he must not take me as saying that I agree that all those Bills were essential. The main point is that, whether rightly or wrongly, they placed a lot more work on his Department.

Mr. Wilson

The hon. Gentleman has said that he may have voted against some of those Bills. So far as I know, those Bills all had unopposed passages in this House. On one or two aspects of the Monopolies Bill it is possible that the hon. Gentleman did, on Committee or Report stage, get into the wrong Lobby. I am sure that all sections of opinion in this House felt that the Bills were all of some degree of urgency. I agree with him that they all placed a smaller or greater load on the higher administrative officials of the Board of Trade.

It has been suggested that some of the work placed upon the higher officials arose because of Ministers' doctrinaire preoccupation with certain economic theories, but I want to make it clear that every one of those Measures was important and essential for the economic recovery of this country in the particular industry with which it was concerned. Not one of them could be described as in any way a doctrinaire Measure. He referred to the Companies Act, and it is a fact, as he suggested, that about that time we were concerned with having to put through some of the more important regulations that had to be made under the Companies Act which had received the Royal Assent a few months earlier.

In general, I should like to say this to the hon. Member. He will remember from his reading the long arguments which used to take place in this House between various proponents of particular doctrines on the subject of taxation and public expenditure. Later in the century the doctrine was enunciated, I think by Disraeli, that expenditure depends on policy. So it is in the 20th century with staff time and with the strain on the higher administrative officials. If this House wills a particular policy, then that must inevitably place its corresponding strain not only on Ministers but also on the officials who are called upon to advise upon it. Therefore, if there is anyone in this House who feels that that strain must be lightened, the responsibility rests on him of suggesting the particular departments of policy in which we should change our present approach.

It is common ground, I think, that under any Government under present, post-war conditions, we must have a much closer preoccupation with economic policy, a much closer control of industry than we had before the war. I think the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) made a speech in that connection a few weeks ago, and was taken to task by some of his colleagues for his unaccustomed outburst of frankness. Only this week Front Bench speakers from the other side, in so far as they said anything at all, said just what I am saying now. The right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson), in an unusually quiet speech in which he showed more plainly than we have ever seen before the divisions and difficulties which afflict the Tory Front Bench, said this: Hon. Members opposite often accuse us of wanting to abolish all controls. I know of no responsible Member of my party who ever said such a thing. Of course he had not heard of the remarks of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) about setting the people free. Obviously, in the conditions of the world today, it is impossible to go back to pre-war. It is inevitable that the State should play in our affairs a role much bigger than it used to do. Decisions on the balance of payments, for example, are bound to be taken on a scale wholly inappropriate for any private industry, however large. In times of scarcity, there are occasions on which decisions as to supplies must be taken by the State on information that only the State can possess."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd November. 1948; Vol. 457, c. 694 and 695.] The policy which any Government must follow under present conditions, and which places its corresponding burden on high officials, is due not only to our national balance of payments position and to our position as a result of the war. There was a pretty intensive pre-war development of economic policy which, even if there had been no war, would have led to a greater and greater strain on Ministers and officials. One side of this has been mentioned already, the import duties advisory work. Another is the location of industries. I think the hon. Member used the wrong phrase when he talked about pre-war preoccupation with the special development areas. In those days they were designated as special areas, meaning areas that we had to get out of as quickly as possible, and not development areas which, since the war, it has been our policy to develop.

I think it is quite true that what went on in the old depressed areas was something which greatly affronted the national conscience, and it has been a matter of agreement among all parties that in the post-war world we have had to have a much greater responsibility for the location of industries. That, in itself, has placed quite a heavy burden on the higher administrative officials of the Board of Trade and of Departments. What I was not clear about in the hon. Member's speech was that, having diagnosed the difficulties—and I agree with his diagnosis—he has not said what ought to be done to improve the matter.

Mr. Renton

The right hon. Gentleman challenges me to say what ought to be done. I am not going to presume to tell him how to run his Department—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] No, there is no obligation on me whatever and it is not worthy of the right hon. Gentleman to try to "pass the buck" in that way. He is responsible for running his Department and he is responsible for seeing that it runs efficiently. He knows, or should know, the inner workings of his Department. We Members of the House of Commons are entitled to inquire for and obtain assurances from him that all is well, and, if all is not well, that he is doing something about it. It is not for us to propose precisely what should be done.

Mr. Wilson

Of course I did not really expect the hon. Member to give me any useful advice on that point. I want to assure him that I am not "passing the buck" in this connection. As he has abstained from telling me what I ought to do, all I can do is to tell him that I have got as far as he had in the diagnosis of what is wrong and, although his speech is very valuable in ventilating the matter and calling attention to it, he has not told us anything new.

Let us see what things can be suggested for putting the matter right. Some say that we ought to remove controls, and I think that, so far as any positive conclusions arose from the speech of the hon. Member, it was that we had too many controls at present and that if we removed some, the load on higher officials would be that much lighter. As the hon. Member knows, yesterday we removed a considerable number of controls. Here again we have had to do it entirely on our own, without any help from those who for the last three years have been demanding the removal of controls. While I am still awaiting, and most anxiously awaiting, a report of the committee which was appointed by the Conservative Central Office in 1946, which was to publish a list of the controls which we ought to remove and has so far not published anything, we have been getting on with the job and yesterday we removed a very large number of controls. In this connection, I wish to add my tribute and thanks to my Examiner of Controls. He is a well known sportsman and was a rugger blue at the college which the hon. Member himself adorned a little time ago and was also an international. He has torn through some of the controls like a conventional loose forward.

De-control takes even more time and even more attention on the part of higher officials than the maintenance of controls. That is not an argument for keeping controls on unnecessarily. As a matter of fact I am only too anxious to remove them, but when we are concerned with the removal of a control, often against the advice and wishes of the trade association concerned, and often involving the removal of protection and safeguards from certain parts of an industry, it frequently takes more of the time of officials than does the continuation of the control from day to day.

The hon. Member asked a question which I think he was absolutely right to ask and which I will try to answer. He asked if these higher officials had time to think and to get down to the job of clearing up what he described as "the growing jungle of control." It is not growing, but is in fact being cleared away as fast as we can clear it. They have time to think about the big issues of the day; time to think not only about what measures may be necessary departmentally to improve our control system and improve our departmental arrangements, but, what is even more important, they have time to think and advise on the big economic problems, which are not only of departmental, but of inter-departmental, and very often of international concern.

The hon. Member asked two other questions. One of them was how many licences and permits are to be issued after the removal of the 200,000 Board of Trade licences and the 5,000 or 6,000 others which were as the result of yesterday's little bonfire. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that I do not know the answer to that, and it would take far too many of my staff to find out the answer. I am sure that he would not want to place a burden on my staff for that purpose. He asked me if I was satisfied that Mr. Merriam has all the staff he needs. I think he is satisfied, but the hon. Gentleman asked the question and I am sure he wants a full and a complete answer. Mr. Merriam was not given terms of reference which included price control, into which we are continually making a Departmental examination, or, indeed, the clothes rationing scheme, and I have to report to the House that Mr. Merriam has not felt it possible, during the period in which he has been at the Board of Trade and with the limited resources available, to go into the timber and paper controls. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the need for a further investigation of these two controls is very much in my mind, and I am considering what we can do as a preliminary to streamlining these controls, if it is possible in present conditions to get any simplification. Apart from these two controls, I think Mr. Merriam has had all the staff, the resources and freedom of action necessary for carrying out the job, which I think the House will agree has been a very well-conducted inquiry.

The hon. Gentleman's general point has been the heavy burden placed upon Board of Trade officials. I have said that, in so far as that burden is still excessive, it is the result of policies which this House would wish the Board of Trade to carry out. We are continually examining how far the burdens of high officials, and indeed of Ministers, can be lightened by various types of redeployment of staff and other arrangements, but I must tell the hon. Gentleman that most of the critical questions which I have to answer now, not only in this House but in the correspondence to which he referred, are demands, not for fewer controls, but for more.

It is only a few weeks ago that I received in my postbag a parcel containing two ladies' vests, with a letter pointing out that these vests were bought at such a price and for so many coupons, that they had shrunk, and inquiring what I was going to do about it. My answer to that was: Dear Madam. The Board of Trade does not make vests. I do not think that anyone has ever suggested that we should, but so many of the inquiries and comments which I get ask me to improve the quality and interfere here and there to see that the consumer gets proper protection. These are controls which I have not felt ready to undertake, but, probably, it will be some consolation to the hon. Gentleman to know that, not only are we decontrolling wherever we can in accordance with the policy which I outlined yesterday, but we are strenuously resisting demands from the public, and especially from Conservative Members of Parliament for widening the sphere of control.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton (Brixton)

Would my right hon. Friend allow me to put one point to him before he leaves the subject of correspondence? My experience, which is shared by many hon. Members, is that we find that, when we write letters to a Department, it takes very much longer to obtain a reply from the Board of Trade than from any other Department of State. I wonder whether, in the near future, he could direct his attention to this problem so that not for longer than is necessary will my right hon. Friend enjoy the unenviable distinction of taking longer to deal with the complaints of hon. Members than any other Department.

Mr. Wilson

I cannot accept my hon. and gallant Friend's complaint. I have from time to time very carefully surveyed the average length of time required to answer letters from my colleagues in the House, and I have also checked up against other Departments, and I am certainly not aware of the complaint he is making. Perhaps I might explain that, at present, owing to circumstances of which the House is aware, one of my col- leagues is absent on leave, and, in view of the very large amount of correspondence which I get from the House, it is not quite so easy to answer letters as quickly as I should like to do. I can assure him that such delays as have occurred are being reduced, but, though there are some unavoidable delays, I hope it will not be more than a day or two before we get through the mass of correspondence.

Mr. Renton

I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman before he sits down would answer the question I put to him as to whether there would be the necessary senior staff available for dealing with the problems of European Economic Recovery.

Mr. Wilson

It is certainly true that the biggest burden falling on the Board of Trade in that connection both in regard to our side of the American programme and the part which this country is playing—and we are playing a very big part—in economic recovery has been in the last few months. We were able to sustain that burden and I have every confidence that with the arrangements and re-arrangements we have made we will play the full part expected of us in the days to come.

3.56 p.m.

Mr. Skeffington (Lewisham, West)

I apologise for not speaking before my right hon. Friend's reply, but I thought some of my hon. Friends wanted to do so first. There are two comments I should like to make, as I had some experience of working inside the Board of Trade during the war and two general comments besides. We are grateful to the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) for raising this subject. In passing, I must say I am a little astonished that the Debate on a subject which causes so much concern and is the heart of political controversy up and down the country should be so sparsely attended by those who are always talking about controls and criticising the Board of Trade. In fact, of the whole of the anti-Government forces there are only two Members present, the hon. Member for Huntingdon who raised the matter and one hon. Gentleman who we are delighted to see but who is I believe a Conservative Party whip. It is astonishing that not one other Conservative Member of Parliament is here for this important Debate in view of their continuous criticism outside the House which they make on controls. The nation is apt to view controversy cynically when it hears all these attacks outside, but inside the House when the subject is debated the Opposition has almost entirely vanished.

The hon. Member for Huntingdon welcomed the relaxation of controls that was announced yesterday by the President. I hope he was not astonished at these relaxations, because it has always been quite clear from hon. Members on this side of the House that there is no particular control which we wish to retain for its own sake. In the period after the war when a great many materials are short and when many of those we have to import have got to be purchased with dollar resources, it is inevitable that we must allocate them very carefully for those articles which the nation needs most.

It is also true that the question of manpower must be watched. We cannot afford to waste it, but as conditions alter and as deficiencies give way to better supplies, I am quite certain that hon. Members on this side of the House will press for the removal of such controls if the Government were hesitating. However. I am certain that in this period of acute shortage it would be criminal folly for the Government not to see that the best use is made of manpower and raw materials. Many of us have an unfortunate remembrance of the period of depression before the war when luxury cinemas and dog racing tracks were built while our cotton industry, on which so much depends, was not being re-equipped and reconstructed. In the worst possible time now after the war we had to make good the capital investment that ought to have taken place before the war.

I ought to remind my right hon. Friend that in the first six months after this Government were returned to power something like 5,000 to 6,000 controls were abandoned. I hardly ever hear that point made, and I think it is only fair that it should be made because it illustrates the correct attitude of mind of the Government to the problem.

It being Four o'Clock the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question again proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Snow.]

Mr. Skeffington

The hon. Member also referred in his speech only to Members of the administration above the rank of assistant secretary and above.

Mr. Renton

Under-Secretary and above.

Mr. Skeffington

Quite so. I think it is important to realise that even those from the rank of principal upwards actually have very considerable authority and a great deal of influence and, having myself had first-hand experience of watching principal officers in the Board at work, I think it is clear that their share of the responsibility and the effort they make should be recognised. It is of first-class importance. If you bring these principals into the policy-making group you get perhaps a rather better picture of what the Board's real administrative strength is composed.

On a recent Second Reading Debate I made a few remarks about the staff of the Board of Trade and about some other Departments. In the country there is a tendency for members of some political parties opposite—I quite agree that the hon. Member for Huntingdon did not raise this and I do not associated him at all with such remarks—to be continually holding up our public service to contempt. I think that is most nauseating. These public servants are not in a position to defend themselves. There are rare exceptions no doubt but most of our public officers have given great service which, in many instances, would have earned them much better remuneration outside the service of their country. I think the Government and certain hon. Members on this side may not have expressed our admiration for the very great work which civil servants have done.

I think this is especially true in regard to the staff of the Board of Trade. They have a difficult job to do, dealing with the domestic consumer, and the home market, at a time of a shortage of materials and of consumer goods which arises from the circumstances of the war. It has been necessary, for reasons which we all know, to limit goods to the home market in many instances in order to make good the ravages of the war and to win the battle for the balance of pay- ments. I think on the whole the Board has done this delicate job with very great skill, always with very great courtesy and certainly with very great integrity. I should like to place on record my own personal tribute to the Board this afternoon.